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I have a few specific questions, but I think they can all be sufficiently generalized as follows:

Do cursed items which activate upon being worn, held or seen affect creatures that do not willingly wear, hold or look at such cursed items?

Normally I try to avoid playing rules lawyer, but I'm somewhat curious about this. Specific examples follow.

  1. Necklace of strangulation: an assassin sneaks up behind you and successfully executes a melee touch attack, combat maneuver, etc. to place the necklace around your neck. You then die in HP/6 rounds, unless somebody comes up with a way to get it off, of which there don't appear to be many.
  2. Poisonous cloak and/or robe of powerlessness: a hero rushes into the evil arch mage's lair, upon which the mage cackles, raises his hand, and causes the vestment to fly up from behind the hero, giving a reflex save to avoid being robed/cloaked.
  3. Scarab of death: the grand hero is sleeping, paralyzed, unconscious, or otherwise sufficiently weakened that the BBEG is able to put the little guy into the palm of the hero's hand. Happy saving throw!
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I am not sure any of those 'actions' you provided are RAW actions, so it is hard to provide RAW analysis for them. However there is a spell which could easily aid any BBEG in placing cursed items on PC characters. d20pfsrd.com/magic/all-spells/b/beguiling-gift –  Colin D Oct 30 '13 at 16:07
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Interesting question. I suspect this may be up to the GM and how they imagine the curse attaches to someone. Making it only due to willful choice is thematically quite different (more about morals and temptation) from making it due to simple contact (more science-y). –  SevenSidedDie Oct 30 '13 at 16:16
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@ColinD Granted, the examples may not suggest the most appropriate roll/check to perform in order to do the deed. However, these are relatively mundane actions which would be very unusual for the rules to explicitly disallow, even if they don't rule on the mechanics. The focus of the question is really on whether cursed items require that the cursed person willingly used the item; I've sort of assumed there are mechanics that can cover these situations (e.g., sleight of hand, rules for nets, mage hand, combat maneuvers, etc.) –  Patrick87 Oct 30 '13 at 16:43
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@SevenSidedDie Good point, and this is sort of where I was headed with this. I suppose this is probably another question to handle on a game-by-game, or maybe even situation-by-situation, basis. It may even depend specifically on the item and the curse: for instance, while the Berserking Sword might require a choice by the wielder (deals with morals and emotions), does forcing someone to drink a Potion of Poison not work if they didn't want to drink it? The former seems plausible, the latter less so (it's more science-y). –  Patrick87 Oct 30 '13 at 16:46

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Cursed magic items are just normal magic items with hidden, usually negative, magic properties. Therefore they should function just like normal magical items, except for when trying to detect the properties of the item.

If the BBEG is able to equip/place the item on the player appropriatly, then the curse should take affect.

If not, then Dimensional Shackles would lose a lot of their intended functionality.

These shackles have magical runes traced across their cold iron links.

Any creature bound within them is affected as if a dimensional anchor spell were cast upon it (no save). They fit any Small to Large creature. The DC to break or slip out of the shackles is 30.

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I struggle for many seconds, when trying to put a necklace on a girl's neck. And she is not resisting. I guess in the example with the assassin, it would be much much easier to just slash the throat of the hero. –  Vorac Oct 30 '13 at 17:02
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@Patrick87 Grapple-> Pin -> tie up seems appropriate for the shackles. Alternately, anything that makes the target helpless would work. As well as tricking/forcing them to be willing through either roleplaying or compulsion spells. –  Colin D Oct 30 '13 at 17:53
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Are the shackles actually cursed though? Cursed items are items normally beneficial to the user, but the curse reverses this. I don't believe these shackles are actually cursed; they are rather magical items designed for use on others, just like a non-cursed wand of fireballs is. A cursed pair of dimensional shackles, would, I imagine, do something unpleasant to the person who trying to use them on another, backfiring in some ironic way. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 30 '13 at 18:01
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@SevenSidedDie Good point: 'Cursed items are magic items with some sort of potentially negative impact' paizo.com/prd/magicItems/cursedItems.html Cursed items should not function any differently than normal magic items except for detecting the true magic properties of the item. –  Colin D Oct 30 '13 at 18:38
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@SevenSidedDie Interesting; are all cursed items like the monkey's paw, only hindering and never helping those who try to use their powers intentionally? Or, do cursed items always cause their effects when activated, intentionally or unintentionally as the case may be? I mean, even something as trivial as a Delusion curse on a sword might give a fighter (undeserved) confidence; might a GM rule that the fighter gets a buff to social skills (bluff, intimidate, persuade) when trying to convince others of the same? The description of opposite effect/target even says the effect may be beneficial. –  Patrick87 Oct 30 '13 at 23:41

It's possible. But the thing to keep in mind is that "cursed item" is a misnomer: they're just items with a use that doesn't intuitively match with what they look like, and happens to make the intuitive use of the item dangerous. Clever players will find ways to make these things useful.

Your necklace of strangulation and scarab of death are perfect examples of this: fire-and-forget tools of assassination. I'm a little less sure of your poisonous cloak, just because I'm not sure most telekinesis effects grant enough control to actually get them properly onto a person, but that's only an implementation detail: there are other ways to get the job done.

You can fight this with rules, but it rapidly gets strange. Better to just roll with it. Let players figure out awesome uses for "cursed" items a few times. Then stories of their deeds start to spread, and other folks start to get inspired by them... including folks that the players might wish hadn't heard. This is where you get to have your fun: I don't recommend using cursed stuff directly against the players (too much), but they can be used in the background as plot hooks. Consider an assassin who swapped out the crown prince's sword for a berserking sword just before an important battle: the poor prince charged headlong into enemy lines and got himself killed.

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Pathfinder seems to have even encouraged this use of such items with the bard spell Beguiling Gift

http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/advanced/spells/beguilingGift.html#_beguiling-gift

Save vs. will or get messed up, all at first level!

So, pick your opponents weakest saving throw and cackle maniacally.

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