January 27, 2010

On Cursed Items In 4E

Save Versus Death just joined the RPG Bloggers' network, and one of his articles is about cursed items in 4E. That reminded me that I should get working on my own article on the subject.

See, cursed items in D&D are weird with their universal badness. The One Ring was evil in all sorts of ways, but it was still a perfectly usable ring of invisibility. Stormbringer too... well, a perfectly usable sword of murderation +5. But in D&D, cursed weapons are almost all bad. You touch one, it gets stuck to your hand (head, body, whichever), and there's never an upside to the item.

(As an aside, Nethack handles this in an interesting way. Wearables can be cursed, non-cursed or blessed, but their effects can be good or bad, and have no bearing on the cursedness.)

Anyway, I figure that if I add cursed items to my game, I would want there to be an interesting choice to make. Take the classic Backbiter spear, for example. A perfectly functional +X spear, but on a natural attack roll of 1, it curves around to hit the wielder. Or the Armor of Arrow Attraction - I wouldn't quite use a -15 penalty vs ranged attacks, probably just say that the attraction cancels out the enchantment bonus of the armor against ranged attacks. Armor of Rage is a third option.

Even funnier would be an "Armor of Rage" that gave you bonuses for reckless combat behaviour and penalized careful tactics. Oh wait, that's the Berserking Sword.

(Seems there are a bunch of semi-useful cursed items anyway. Still, the concept is totally absent in core D&D4.)

Anyway, interesting drawbacks to otherwise useful items, not huge minuses making you want to get rid of the item ASAP. Those are my five cents on the matter.


David said...

I like that. Might be difficult to figure where that fits into treasure parcels. Is it possible to remove the curse without removing the benefit? Could make for a good side quest, or even a major quest for a really powerful item.

Sersa V said...

I really like where you're headed with this idea! :)

I never would have thought to implement items that were both cursed AND (sometimes/often) useful!

This also seems to be a way to get around the issues I've had with straight-up cursed weapons, armour, implements, and other essentials.

When forging my next batch of cursed items, I'll definitely take your insight to heart.

Philo Pharynx said...

Part of this is figuring out why there are cursed items in your games. This idea makes sense if items are cursed by being connected with world-changing magic, hanging around the shadowfell or there was a mistake in making them. They still have the base enchantment, it's just changed a little. If somebody's making cursed items, it's probably to kill somebody. Those would probably seem to be normal until the bad effect kicks in at the worst possible time. I can imagine effects like a protective amulet that also gave a penalty to a death save. Or armor that adds an extra die of damage when the wearer is hit by a crit. Or a sword that gives no bonuses against demons.

By having them be effective in many circumstances, then you don't need the superglue effect*. It becomes an interesting balance play - especially when the benefit is above the range the party would normally have. I can see artifacts having some negative attributes that get less as the player gets more attuned to it.

*A great book about a sword that sometimes has the superglue effect is The Misenchanted Sword by Lawrence Watt-Evans. It's a great book and the sword there is one with an interesting mix of advantages and disadvantages.