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The relevant part of the description of the druid's Wild Shape feature says:

  • You choose whether your equipment falls to the ground in your space, merges into your new form, or is worn by it. Worn equipment functions as normal, but the DM decides whether it is practical for the new form to wear a piece of equipment, based on the creature’s shape and size. Your equipment doesn’t change size or shape to match the new form, and any equipment that the new form can’t wear must either fall to the ground or merge with it. Equipment that merges with the form has no effect until you leave the form.

Let's assume there's a cursed item, that makes its user smell like garlic (passive effect) and also lets him change outfit, but only to something Lady Gaga has publicly worn (activated effect).

A druid attunes to this item and then uses Wild Shape to transform into a housecat.

  • Can he choose to let the item just drop to the floor and then walk away, eventually breaking the attunement?
  • Can he choose to let the item merge into the new form, temporarily suspending all effects?
  • The third option - wear the item and retain all the effects - seems like the default one in this case.

It seems like the first option makes cursed items way less of a problem and is probably not intended. Compare that with identify that could also easily nerf the cursed items, but deliberately doesn't.

The second option, with temporarily suspending all effects, seems powerful but reasonable. Cherry-picking effects doesn't make much sense since it's hard to say what is a blessing and what is a curse.

On the other hand, if all the effects are suspended then is the curse suspended too? Can the druid then spend a short rest in wild shape to unattune from cursed item? That doesn't look reasonable if available at low levels. Doesn't seem to be a problem at my table (gritty realism), but could be a problem in more vanilla rulesets.

The only passage about cursed items I could find says (DMG, p. 138-139):

Most methods of identifying items, including the identify spell, fail to reveal such a curse, although lore might hint at it. A curse should be a surprise to the item’s user when the curse’s effects are revealed. Attunement to a cursed item can’t be ended voluntarily unless the curse is broken first, such as with the remove curse spell.

It seems "can’t be ended voluntarily" most likely talks about a mechanic for ending an attunement on short rest, and not some sort of compulsion.

So, how does Wild Shape interact with cursed magic items?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's an XY problem, you don't need to get rid of cursed item. \$\endgroup\$ – Daerdemandt Sep 9 at 23:34
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It depends on the curse

You must look at an actual item to find out what happens. And how effective leaving it on the ground would be.

Lets look at the Shield of missile attraction:

This shield is cursed. Attuning to it curses you until you are targeted by the remove curse spell or similar magic. Removing the shield fails to end the curse on you. Whenever a ranged weapon attack is made against a target within 10 feet of you, the curse causes you to become the target instead.

It very specifically states removing the shield has no effect on the curse. So you could drop it on the ground, but your bear would still have missiles chasing it.

And the Stone of Ill Luck (Tales from the Yawning Portal, p. 229):

Curse. This item is cursed. While it is on your person, you take a −2 penalty to ability checks and saving throws. Until the curse is discovered, the DM secretly applies this penalty, assuming you are adding the item’s bonus. You are unwilling to part with the stone until the curse is broken with remove curse or similar magic.

You would simply be unable to choose to drop the item when wildshaping, as you are unwilling to do so.

Basically, it takes more than physically removing an item to end a curse. Some literally are unable to be removed (being more specific than wildshape, it would take precedence), some you are unwilling to remove, and others merely continue with or without the item.

Ending the attunement

Fortunately, there is a big benefit in leaving a cursed item on the ground. You cannot willingly end the attunement; however, if you look at the attunement rules, there are ways to unwillingly end attunement:

A creature's attunement to an item ends if the creature no longer satisfies the prerequisites for attunement, if the item has been more than 100 feet away for at least 24 hours, if the creature dies, or if another creature attunes to the item.

So you could be "forced" to break attunement if you move away from the item, or if some other hapless victim finds it and attunes to it. Some DMs may consider the act of leaving it over 100 feet away as voluntary and therefore not allow that to break the attunement.

Keep in mind that even if you break the attunement, it doesn't automatically end the curse. It does however at least allow you to attune to a new (hopefully not cursed) item in the meantime.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by more specific than Wild Shape? There are cursed items that are special Wild Shape options? I think you are misunderstanding specificity... \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Aug 21 at 17:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was merely referencing the 5e rule that Specific beats General. Basically the more specific a rule is, it takes precedence over a more general rule. So a specific rule on a particular magic item is more specific than the class feature Wildshape. However wildshape is more specific than general armor rules, so I would likely let you wildshape and drop armor, even though normally it takes its doff time to remove. \$\endgroup\$ – Daveman Aug 21 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although it's ambiguous what do they mean by "willingly breaking the attunement", the mechanic for it is literally described in the previous paragraph, so I think they're talking about the short rest route. I thought 5e had a similar rule to older edition in that you cannot willingly just part with the item, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Either way, looks like breaking attunement doesn't matter - the curse will remain there anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Daerdemandt Aug 21 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure if I found out I was unwilling to part with something by trying to do so I'm going to assume it's cursed, and will probably try some curse-busting thing against it. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aug 22 at 3:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Player, of course, in character it would be more just you think you should keep it and not lose this valuable item. \$\endgroup\$ – Daveman Aug 22 at 4:02

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