Master Your Cursed Items

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0721

Cursed items aren’t working for me.

They feel punitive.

“When you put the helm on, your eyes go blank, your mouth hangs open, and you start to drool. Your INT is 3 sucka! And try as you might, the helm can’t be taken off. Hahaha.”

That’s a whole lot of suck for the player experience. Unfun.

And my D&D 5E Murder Hobos group has not yet settled on a comfortable house rule for detecting flaws and curses in magic items. With the attunement rules, you get to know an item’s properties. Including the curses, I guess. That’s boring.

“A -1 sword, Johnn? Are you kidding? I throw it away.”

However, I recently stumbled onto an interesting idea over at the Bag of Holding blog (which is a great site, btw):

Every cursed item, when its curse is thwarted, becomes a useful magic item for the user who mastered it.

So, what if characters could remove the flaws, drawbacks, and curses from items through gameplay? And the items become regular, wondrous, wonderful magic items when cured or mastered — I like BoH’s word for this — mastered.

Whether it’s a quest, ritual, or some other mechanism to cleanse or master items, this would surely motivate players to keep cursed items and take actions to fix them.

Further, it drives gameplay. You can’t master the item with a simple dice roll. You have to play it out to find out what happens. Now you’ve got player motivation, character motivation, and more hooks than you can shake a fish at.

Bonus: If using cursed items, perhaps with a certain number of successes or if wielded in a key and dramatic way, is part of the rehabilitation scheme, then players not only keep your damn cursed items, but they want to use them too! It seems a whole lot easier to “create” awesome magic items in your campaign this way. Make the short-term sacrifice less than just building a new item from scratch, and the game is on. Yet, you still have that magical situation of gathering ingredients, discovering exotic locations, and puzzling out weird rituals that comes with item creation to fuel PCs’ mastering their cursed loot.

I haven’t talked about Mythic Gods & Monsters in awhile, but this is exactly the kind of thing I had in mind when producing that book. The gods send a cursed item down as a test. Or the cursed item is the origin story of a monster or villain, and now you have the means to craft a wicked plot of atonement. Just use the templates in the book. (Here’s a 30% off coupon for the weekend if you want to grab the book.)

What do you think? Cool idea or no? P.S. If you choose this path, I’d love to hear recipes you come up with for PCs to master their cursed items.