February 14, 2012

Curses to the Cursed!

Reading through some of 'The Book of Marvelous Magic' earlier rekindled a pet peeve of mine: cursed items in fantasy role-play. Why, say you? Simple: they're nothing but a dick move by the DM unless handled properly.

Now before we get far I want to point out that I have nothing wrong with the idea of the cursed item, but rather how it is implemented. Just like any good magic item, a good cursed item needs to have a reason for its existence. Otherwise it is little more than DM fiat and the source of sour expressions turning to the crook behind his screen.

Furthermore is the cursed item a dick move when we have this item not only "just" in a pile of assumed loot, but it also appears exactly like a very useful and beneficial magical artifact. Sure, this is a fun lure for your resident meta-gamer, but there is no reason for it to imitate another object, if only to make player characters suffer.

In my worlds, even if the players lack a wizard or other source of discovering, or recalling the lore of magic items, I will refrain from placing any magical object in the world that doesn't have a reason for existing. It could be a simple sentence of description for a minor thing, or a good paragraph dedicated to the wizard, Pelacelcus the Dimple-Foot and his need for a ring of martini summons. But all the same, there is essence to the object, and not just a convenient/inconvenient item drop.

But what this means for cursed items is a reason for why they are cursed to begin with. Perhaps they were mundane possessions in times passed, later saturated with hateful magicks in an ancient battle against a mage. We could even apply this logic to items that appear as others to explain their dastardly trickery. And maybe yet, some of these items aren't truly cursed in the sense, but act as so when wielded or in possession of those that shouldn't have such things. Like Sauron's One Ring.

Or yet still, a small number of these evil objects were simply made to cause havoc for the victims of circumstance. Like a necklace of strangulation, or barrel of poverty. These are the lamest excuses for killing characters ever; a player should be the death of themselves, not the determination of the one other player, the DM.

Maybe it's just 'cause I'm not the sort that uses lurkers above and floor and wall mimics, nor executioner's hoods, and am rather conservative in my application of killer bed sheets?

1 comment:

  1. Great food for thought Joshua. I'll definitely be keeping this in mind next time I DM.