Inq. of the Week: The Frogurt is Also Cursed

In the last Inquisition, Danny solicited ideas for relieving us of all this stuff we’ve accumulated. We’re definitely going to moving ahead with a few of those ideas (one announcement to come this Wednesday), but please feel free to go there and suggest more!

Let’s talk cursed items for a minute. You remember those, right? Those items you found in random treasure piles that you think might be awesome, and before you know it, they’re changing your gender or biting your back. That helmet that you risked life and limb against a dragon to recover? Your Paladin puts that sucker on, and BAM, Chaotic Evil, lose all powers, and start making sinister shifty eyes at the rest of the party. That Sphere of Annihilation? It’s now coming for you and your stuff.

Some lately have tackled the idea of cursed items for 4e. Scott looked at the results of magic items found in the cursed lands of Martidge. Quinn of At-Will has used his Tragic Imprint series to look at what works and what doesn’t in cursed items and give some examples of items that give power at a price. I’m sure there will be some more takes on the concept coming soon.

Here’s the question then, about the use of cursed items in your RPG campaign:

[poll id=”162″]

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. i rather like the cursed item that i have, a dagger that can wake up, hungry for blood and reveal my location if it wants to. He even “answers” questions with his own brand of responses. If i could get a returning enhancement on him, id use it alot more.

  2. I’m not a huge fan of cursed items, and when they’re used, I’d much rather the curse be an interesting story effect, rather than “ha ha, you’re dead”. Cursed items, in my experience, tend to lead the players into too-many-traps syndrome, where they become ultra-paranoid about everything. While I believe players should feel the consequences of being too reckless, tipping too far in the other direction is much, much worse in practice, since it encourages inaction over action and “I check the wardrobe for traps. I check the windowbox for traps. I check the cat for traps” over actual gameplay. While cursed items can be deployed appropriately, treasure-as-minefield is generally an unsatisfactory way to go about it in my experience.

  3. I definitely think that cursed items have a place in 4E and all RPG’s. However they should always have some enticement attached with the bad aspects as well. The idea that your going to get a cursed item that only gives you a negative effect can be extremely off putting. However a cursed item that increases the flavour and story of the game while still providing you with some bonuses can sometimes be worth any negatives that may be associated with it. Personally, sentient evil items on good players are my favourite, nothing beats that voice of evil constantly tempting the player. ‘Go on, kill that guard, and steal the dwarven treasures. I beat they are really rare and powerful. You know you want to…’


  4. The Stray says:

    I’m a fan of the “curses are more like drawbacks on normally always useful items” camp. I had a lot of fun with 3e’s drawback table for this reason, though most of the drawbacks on it…weren’t. And the “evil item thing” is fun, but only if it is a temptation. I once got an insanely powerful intelligent item that could seize control of my character. It wasn’t much fun when it made me go on a murder spree. On the other hand, we came across an evil MacGuffin we had to destroy, and that tried to tempt us and mock us but didn’t seize control, and it was a fun interaction.

  5. Shilling says:

    That article title made me laugh a good deal.

    I like cursed items, but they should be a plot hook, for a minor quest at least (the quest of getting rid of the darn thing). They don’t work if they are just mechanical accoutrements like most regular magic items have become.

  6. I believe that curses on items should, in general, be the result of player character choice. The item gives a benefit for doing something, something that is usually defined as bad or at least unpleasant. The more the user indulges the item, the better the benefit and the more ‘cursed’ the character becomes.

    I created an entire cycle of cursed items around that idea for 3.x/Pathfinder.
    .-= Sean Holland´s last blog ..Badgerkin (“Brave Folk”) =-.

  7. TheMainEvent says:

    I think that throwing a few cursed items around, none of which are particularly game breaking, is fun and lead’s to creativity. My party in 2E Dark Sun found an obsidian dagger -1, that always returned to its wielder. Rather than grouse about being stuck with a crap dagger, the party gladiator used it as his ranged weapon of choice, hurling it with nary a care at enemies, confident it would show up again… someday.

    And thus, The Knave’s Dagger was born.

  8. I’ve found over many years of gaming that cursed items are equivalent to a slap in the face to a party. They destroy the entire concept of Risk vs. Reward, and generally just force the adventurers to nip off to the first shrine they locate and pay out hard-earned gold to fix a “reward” that the DM turned into an insult.

    I don’t like cursed items, but I like quirked items instead. Give the Characters an item, works fine and up to spec, but give it an odd, possibly dangerous quirk. Like a wand that occasionally backfires or a sword that hits a party member on a natural 1. The quirk could be potentially life-threatening at the wrong time, but it only happens on a 1 in 20. Characters are now faced with an item they want to use, but are a little afraid of, rather than an item they cannot use, and was just there to ruin their day.

  9. I hate random cursed items. The idea of cursed items is fine, but they should be used as plot devices (IE specifically put there by the DM) just like Artifacts. They should not just show up randomly in treasure hoards because that punishes players for no reason.

    I suppose in this context, you could consider cursed items to be the sucky counterpart to artifacts. You might even try giving them similar abilities, including concordance.

  10. highbulp says:

    I’m actually not a huge fan of magic items in general. I have no problem with what they do for game math (and I do like how they open up design space by providing new abilities), but the “you find a magic sword in the dungeon!” motif is not something I’m interested in. Thus I would use “cursed” magic items as the same way I want to use other magic items: as a plot element. For me, a cursed item would be the same as an artifact (to most people)–something that affects the game in a significant way, though the “curse” may happen to make it more problematic for the players than not. Special magic items are special.

    Besides, once you’ve gotten to the point where you’re doing risk/reward calculations (“I can use the magic dagger for a +1 to hit, but if I roll a one it will hurt me instead”), you’ve defeated the point of the cursed item to begin with. Risk/reward decisions aren’t what makes D&D fun for me–I want to be able to tell a cool story about my character, and make neat tactical decisions in a fight that support my character being awesome. Determine whether the risk of using an item or ability outweighs the potential reward doesn’t do that. Note that this is somewhat different from determining “costs”–I get to make the same kind of “should I/shouldn’t I” decision in my Star Wars game by choosing whether to call on the Dark Side. I’m not gambling with that choice–I’m deciding whether it’s worth the investment. Make sense? It’s a little subtle, but I think it’s an important distinction (though may not apply to everyone–some people like gambling ;p)

  11. I helped a friend come up with a set of risk/reward rings for a 3.5 campaign a few years ago. iirc…

    Ring of Strength – also changed species to Warforged
    Ring of Climbing – also changed species to monkey
    Ring of Animal Friendship – animal was a Pseudodragon. (the ranger got this one; quite the rivalry between the attention-craving dragon and the wolf companion!)
    Ring of Protection – also secretly a ring of wishes with a very lax activation; ie, the first three things the player suggested, happened (“I bet that chest is a Mimic.”)

    forget the other two.

  12. I don’t know if this has been creted somewhere, but:

    A gamemaster gave me a sword that did an extra 1d6 damage IF I chose to spend a healing surge. Let’s just say the extra damage I did in that game also brought me closer to death on more than a few occasions.

    …damn devious DM

    .-= Tourq´s last blog ..Quetsen Sisten, the Loyal Slave – Steal this Background =-.


  1. […] some talk over at Critical Hits about cursed items, and whether or not they have a place in 4e. Personally, I […]

  2. […] poll about cursed frogurt…errr, no I mean cursed items, from two weeks ago showed that a whopping 55% of you like cursed items depending upon their […]