We’ve already talked a lot about both the cursed items provided in the DMG as well as what makes a good cursed item, but today we want to tackle making cursed items for your game quickly. Throwing cursed items in with regular loot can be fun, but figuring out the curse can be a bit of time investment. This guide puts together simple step by step instructions for creating cursed items on the fly.
Step 1. Choose Your Item
The cursed object could be anything. You could choose a weapon, custom item, or even balance out a magical weapon. You can even pick mundane items if you like. If something is going to be cursed, players need a reason to interact with it. As cool as your cursed ball of yarn might be, a player’s not going to pick that up (probably).
Step 2. Choose Your Curse
While there are a million different ways you can curse an object, the list below covers most of your basic options and can be applied pretty much anything. If a curse requires specific item types it will be noted in different sections.
Pick one or more of the following to add to the curse:
- Binding – This item cannot be unequipped or discarded once picked up. Attempting to throw away the item results in it magically reappearing on your person.
- Sapping – Choose a stat. That stat is reduced by 1d4 points until the curse is removed.
- Draining – Choose a stat and either a day, week, or month. Each time that period elapses, decrease the chosen stat by 1 point.
- Voices – Upon obtaining the item the player who first touched it hears voices compelling them to do things.
- Clumsy – Upon rolling a 1 in combat the afflicted player drops their weapon.
- Slow – Reduce a player’s speed by 5 ft.
- Poor – Player magically looses 1d20 gold everyday.
- Tarnishing – A player’s metal goods and items begin to deteriorate. If not removed, weapons and armor may break without constant upkeep.
- Loading – These items are binding, but also heavy and add a specified weight to the player.
- Heavy – This item is unnaturally heavy.
- Unlucky – Players re-roll 20s.
- Tiring – Adds one level of exhaustion.
- Doomed – Choose a time period. After that time has elapsed, the player is attacked by an Avatar of Death until they have died or are at 0 HP.
- Terminal – Healing spells no longer affect the target.
- Empty – Players with spell slots loose one slot of their highest level.
- Frightening – The affected player appears horrific to those who see them, either as a monster or severely disfigured. Affected players fail all Charisma checks.
- Inscrutable – The player’s speech cannot be understood by anyone.
- Blinding – The item causes blindness upon pickup.
- Uneducated – The affected player’s character looses the ability to read and write.
- Deafening – The affected player’s character is deafened.
- Numbing – The character becomes unable to feel pain. The player may no longer look at or record their own HP.
- Haunting – An illusory figure that can only be seen by the affected character appears and messes with them.
- Two-handed – The item inexplicably needs two hands to wield it.
- Dull – The weapon cannot crit.
- Merciful – The item cannot be used to make attacks of opportunity.
- Painful – The weapon deals 1d4 damage to the user upon dealing damage to a target.
- Jealous – The affected character may only equip this weapon.
- Disadvantageous – The weapon grants disadvantage on attack rolls.
- Shallow – The weapon’s attack dice is reduced by one type (i.e. 1d6 becomes 1d4).
Step 3. Determine Curse Duration
Curses can last for a long time, a short time, or forever. It’s up to you choose when and how a curse affects a player.
Typically a curse falls into one of the following duration categories:
- The curse is active as long as they have the object.
- The curse occurs on contact and lasts X days.
- The curse occurs on contact and must be removed magically (Dispel Magic/Remove Curse).
- The curse occurs on contact and the item must be destroyed or purified.
- The curse occurs on contact after X time passes and then is removed according to one of the above options.
- The curse activates conditionally. For example:
- Upon being exposed to the sun.
- In the presence of certain creatures.
- When the player fails a save.
- The curse deactivates conditionally (examples as above).
When you choose a duration of condition for the curse to be applied, try to be fair with it. Players might not know a curse is removed, so keep it to yourself in case you need to make it easier to remove later.
Step 4. Describe Your Item
While this isn’t something you do for every object, it makes sense for cursed objects. When you describe an object a player thinks it’s important and they will likely interact with it. If you do included a cursed item in a chest of other loot, even if it’s mundane, describe it fully. While this may be a bit of a trap for players (as it grabs their curiosity), it also makes sense that a cursed object would want to be noticed and in its own way demand a character see it.
When you put together a description for a cursed object don’t be over the top. Just describe the object plainly and in detail. You’ll be surprised at how much a difference this makes.
Final Notes on Cursed Items
When using cursed objects, be careful. While they can be fun in some cases, they can just as easily be no fun for some players. Also note that many cursed objects will give off a magical aura. 9 times out of 10 it will be the School of Enchantment, but feel free to put on whatever weird aura properties you like to help give your players hints about what the object does.
Have fun cursing your players and as always, Happy DMing!