As a Dungeon Master there are few things more enjoyable than tossing your players a few cursed items. While we’ve talked about cursed objects before, the topic of discussion is far from over. The 5e core rule books actually have some fun cursed items built right in, but why stop there? There are so many things you can do!
Pre-made 5e Cursed Items
The Dungeon Master’s Guide includes ideas for details you could give cursed items in its list of magical items, but in a very general way. The items that are cursed are just mixed right in with other magical objects. They are labeled with a small Curse heading, indicating that the item is in fact cursed and does something fun. You can look up all the specifics in the DMG, but we’ll run through some of the fun uses and ways to trick your players with the pre-made stuff.
Official Cursed Items
- Armor of Vulnerability – This armor seems a lot like Armor of Invulnerability. However, instead of making your player resistant to all weapon damage types, it gives resistance to one type of damage, but vulnerability to two other types. Imagine giving it to your players before a particularly hard challenge with the knowledge of this ahead of time. It might save them immediately, but doom them in the long run. This is a fun twist to give your team the choice.
- Bag of Devouring – While technically not cursed, this bag acts like a curse if your players don’t know its specifics. Players often have an items on them for a long time before realizing what it is, especially if the party doesn’t have anyone who can cast the Identify spell. The bag of devouring has a 50% chance to pull a living creature in whenever it is used. This item is great for shock value and adds an interesting challenge to groups when the something gets pulled in.
A way to expand on the idea of this item is to give the properties of the bag to the pockets of a jacket or have it be a side pouch of a Handy Haversack. You can also lower the chance of a player getting sucked in, since spending 1 round in the bag will kill a player. Alternatively, when players get sucked into the bag they discover it is actually a portal to another place, be it realm or plane of existence.
- Berserker Axe – While this item can throw characters into a frenzied rage at the drop of a hat, it’s a wonderful gift to the murder hobo barbarian in your group. The Berserker Axe is a +1 weapon that a character, once cursed, refuses to part with. They gain hit points equal to their level, but also have disadvantage with all other weapons. The downside is that the axe causes players to go berserk: they cannot distinguish between friend or foe and must simply attack. If the players know how the axe works, the party barbarian becomes a cruise missile. Point at an enemy, launch the barbarian. Depending on how the party is set up, you can even have the spell casters work to clump enemy targets together and minimize the downside to the party. This item is still pretty bad, but the bonuses can sometimes feel worth it.
- Demon Armor – Great if the party never fights demons and the player is fine with living in their armor. This plate armor makes unarmed strikes hit like a truck, raises AC, and punches deal slashing damage instead of bludgeoning. Major downsides: players can’t take it off and demons are harder to hit. Players will also have disadvantage on climbing, swimming, and stealth. They’ll also have a lower carry capacity (since armor is heavy), and per the rules in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything they won’t be able to sleep normally. This is another fun one to give players with the knowledge of what it does. It also makes a really good “gift” from demon deals.
- Shield of Missile Attraction – Of all the 5e cursed items, this one seems the to be the most useful. This shield curses you to be the target of all ranged weapon attacks that would target anything within 10 ft. of you. The benefits of this shield are having resistance to damage from ranged weapons, so again, it’s a trade off. If your players know this you could easily get someone picking this up to act as the defender of your back line spell casters. What your players won’t know right away is that removing the shield does not remove the curse. So having the shield be destroyed or lost can make the negative effects much, much worse than they normally would be.
- Sword of Vengeance – This sword simply makes a player vengeful: if a player takes damage and fails a wisdom save, they will attack the source of the damage until it dies. This one is fun for role play reasons because its curse comes from the weapon being possessed by a vengeful spirit. Players can explore the history of the curse. Banishment will remove the curse as well as the normal methods. Alternatively, you can tie curse removal to the story behind the curse. This is a curse template that is really versatile in that it can be applied to any weapon or armor.
That’s about all there is in the DMG when it comes to 5e cursed items. It’s not a lot, but realistically the items provided should act as a template for you to create your own. As we talked about in our previous Cursed Items article, there is no special guidelines for making cursed items. The best ones are the ones your players want to use.
Balance In All Things: Easy Cursed Items
If you want to make a cursed item but don’t have any fun ideas, you can lean on a simple trick that can’t steer you too far in the wrong direction. Balance the items based on what they do. If you have a ring that increases an ability score, have it reduce a different one. If you grant resistance to one type of damage, add vulnerability to another. If the items gives you any type of benefit in one regard, you can negate it in another. This is something we see in the pre-made items, particularly the Armor of Vulnerability and the Shield of Missile Attraction. You can adjust the severity of the downside or benefit of any item to make using it more or less punishing for your players. While this isn’t the most creative use of cursed items, it is the quickest way to work them into the game.
Non-Combat Cursed Items
Most cursed objects in DnD affect combat, but consider giving your players non-combat cursed items. The trick here is to work items into the story or role play of the game. While it is hilarious to give a player a heavy rock that is always in their inventory, it just makes the players have to do more math and is not super fun or relevant to the game. If an item won’t be used in combat, its curse effects should extend outside of combat as well.
As an example, you can make a ring of gluttony that makes someone devour twice as many rations. It’s not a combat effect, but it does affect the team on exploration and traveling. Another example would be a bedroll that disrupts a character’s sleep, hampering the benefits of being well-rested. There’s really a wealth of things you can do with cursed objects and you should try to make sure that the effects are not only combat related.
More About Curses
Making magical items and curses is one of the most fun parts of DnD for the Dungeon master. While the 5e Cursed Items are limited, your imagination is not! We’ll keep working on more about cursed items for you, but in the meantime get to cursing your players yourself! We here at Master the Dungeon love cursed items, home brew magic, and all sorts of fun stuff you can put into DnD. If you have any curses you like using in your games, we’d love to hear about them. Now go create some chaos!