Magic items in Dungeons & Dragons are half of what make the game fun to play. The chance to extend your abilities beyond their ordinary limits, to do really cool stuff, and to become powerful beyond your wildest dreams are at least half of what make adventuring worth it all.
Then, there’s the cursed items. Magic items that come with some pretty serious drawbacks, usually designed to hamper the players in some ways, or kill them in others. Cursed items are what every adventurer fears. Picking up a new item after a tough battle, always wondering in the back of their mind if this is going to be awesome, or terrible keeps players on their toes.
The best DM’s limit the appearance of cursed items, so as not to break the enjoyment of the game itself, which is as it should be. Having one pop up on really rare occasions is enough to make players wary forever, after all, which adds to the excitement without making it a punishment orgy.
Unless punishment orgies are your thing, then go for it. I’m not judging.
Cursed items don’t have to be game breakers, though, or even punishment. I learned a long time ago that the very best cursed items are the ones players don’t really want to get rid, but can’t stand to keep. It creates a new dynamic as they try to figure out if having the thing is worth the drawbacks, which aren’t really damaging to the character, but do serve as an annoyance to them.
For the player, it should be something that gives them a benefit they are loath to part with, enough so the negative side effects are just worth it enough to keep it. The fun is in how much it annoys everyone else in the party.
Again, I’m not talking about items that destroy the fun of playing, but enhance the game in new and different ways. Ways that challenge the entire party to figure out how to deal with, creating opportunities for role playing, and even quests they never would have had.
Below are four cursed items you can add to your campaign designed to annoy everyone in the party but the person who has them
The Mood Ring… OF DOOM!!
How you use this one depends entirely on the party. It can be foisted onto the player who routinely grates on everyone’s nerves, to give a player a chance to do something different with their character, or as a fun thing you and player cook up to create an interesting sub-plot for the rest of the group. How and why you use it is up to you.
The Mood Ring of Doom, very simply, changes a characters personality. Not their alignment, just how they behave. This can be a very fine distinction to make, but it is crucial.
How the ring is presented to the game, and what it does are crucial. If the item is going to a melee character, then give it a high armor class bonus, or a bonus attack. It if goes to a spell caster, give it an equally useful effect, such as a boost to their spell DC, or extra spell slots. Something that will make the player not want to take it off.
Only after they have it on does the curse become apparent, having lain dormant and undetectable without a high caster level. When it does, the characters personality does a complete 180. Be sure to stress to the player that their alignment has not changed, just how their character behaves and conducts himself. A Neutral Evil character will still stab the entire party in the back, he’ll just be super polite about it and apologize the whole time.
The two best ways to use it in a game come down to what kind of players you have. Everything should revolve around the players after all, and this is no different.
The first way is as an actual punishment for that really obnoxious player. You know the one. They are always talking over the others, trying to hog the limelight, and be the hero in every instance. Once the ring is on, explain that it has made them a meek introvert, and they will get bonus XP for playing their character right. They, being the power hungry player they are, would rather play their new personality than part with the bonus the ring grants. At least, most of the time.
Naturally, I recommend that you talk with the player out of game about their behavior first. Never resort to in game punishment unless you have no other choice. If it comes to it, slap them with the ring, and offer the carrot of extra XP for rolling with it. Sooner or later, the problem player will figure it out and become better about their behavior.
The second way is as a plot device in which the receiving player knows it’s coming. Have them make a character that irks the whole party, then drop the ring in there to irk them in new ways. The fun of this is in watching the rest of the group decide if they like the character better with or without the ring.
Fr an example, have one of the players make a really meek and passive mage. The kind who would rather write a strongly worded letter condemning the actions of the rampaging dragon than attack it. The kind who tries to make the Beholder feel like it’s in a safe space to talk about it’s problems. The kind who says M’Kay a lot.
Once the ring is on, they do a total change into a loud, foul mouthed, hard drinking womanizer that is always quick to fireball something. The point here is to give the rest of the party the chance to figure out which version of their mage they would rather work with. The one who says “Snickerdoodles” or the one who hits on every girl, or guy, in sight.
Let this be a whole story arc, or a sub-plot that runs through several, as they struggle with it. Don’t hesitate to really make them work for it, either, by having anti-magic fields come into play often. Suddenly facing a fearsome foe is bad enough when all your magic items suddenly stop working, but having their tanking mage suddenly blurt out “Oh, fiddlesticks!” will up the tension, as well as make the choice between the two versions that much harder to make.
As with all things, it’s all in how you use the item itself the effect it will have.
The Sword Of Emo Power
What melee class doesn’t love getting a weapon with a nifty effect. In this instance, the Sword of Emo Power should have a nice attack and damage bonus, as well as some effect, such as inflicting the status of exhaustion on a foe with every strike.
Oh, and it’s an intelligent weapon, which is emo.
Here’s where the curse comes in. Any time the player rolls a natural one, the sword simply stops working. It’ll cry and listen to sad music, and do nothing. All bonuses go away until a long rest. If the player tries to point out they are in the middle of a battle with a group of zombie mind flayers, the sword just screams that it’s sorry it’s such a disappointment, and suddenly becomes too heavy to wield. It spends the rest of the fight just laying there, crying.
The player can’t discard it, either, or the sword will feel even more unloved and never work for them again. They have to keep fighting, as best they can, while Nirvana plays in the background, and their sword writes poetry about how much it sucks, which it then reads.
Yeah, we’ve all known a fighter who deserved that sword.
This can actually be applied to any weapon, and is at it’s most hysterical for everyone when it ends up with the Barbarian of the party. Watching them attempt to deal with their very sad weapon, much less listen to its poetry, can be great fun for everyone.
At least until the zombie mind flayers eat their brains.
The Stone Of Obnoxious Power
Similar to the Mood Ring of Doom, the Stone of Obnoxious Power should offer some sort of irresistible buff to a character. Once it is attached, however, flies suddenly swarm around that character as they begin to give off a noxious order. Kind of like rotten eggs left laying in the sun, amidst a pool of sewage, in the hot part of summer.
Obviously, there’s a big Charisma negative here, and any dealings the player has are at disadvantage. The entire party gets to share this whenever they talk to an NPC when the character wielding the stone is around.
Unlike the Mood Ring, it’s a simple matter to ditch this one when you don’t need it, which is why it attaches itself and cannot be removed. Suddenly the whole party is off on a quest to learn how to make their friend smell less horrible. Make the quest difficult, with lot of combat, leading the player to wonder if keeping it and putting up with the stench is worth it.
If you play it right, the real fight comes when the player suddenly decides they’d rather smell like crap than part with the buffs.
The Boots Of Meh
Everybody loves Boots of Haste. Move further, attack more, and be the envy of your party. Why would anyone not want Boots of Haste. I mean, unless they were bunny slippers of haste.
Actually, no. I’d totally be down for handing out some bunny slippers of haste. The big, fluffy pink kind. Yeah. Do that sometime just to watch the players reaction.
The Boots of Meh are basically just Boots of Haste, but with a big negative. They can be used multiple times per day, as many as you care to grant, but each use inflicts a level of exhaustion, with one level never going away unless the boots are removed and a full rest is had.
Beyond that, the Boots of Meh make the character extremely lethargic. Really encourage the role play with this, as it’s tons of fun for everyone when one of their party members suddenly becomes Garfield the cat.
Need to save a town from rampaging goblin hordes? *Yawn*
Need to end a Lich’s tyrannical oppression of an entire country? *Drifts to sleep standing there*
Need to save the world from a fallen god of evil? *Goes to take a nap*
To really get the player to keep the boots, give the haste effect a bunch of uses per day, like six to eight. That’s way to valuable an item to give up, even if it does involve making the character super snoozy.
Whatever kind of cursed items you want to incorporate into your game, find a way to make it fun for the players. As the DM, your main role is to make sure the players have fun. Even when handing them cursed bunny slippers of haste.