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I am the GM for a set of players who can be considered to hold graduate degrees in Rules Lawyering and Rules-As-Written Studies. Their PCs are Chaotic Greedy I mean Chaotic Good.

I would like to give them opponents who are an evil cult. These enemy NPC Clerics are well organized and well funded. The clerics have magic gear, but they don't want their most valuable top end gear used against them. I have not decided on the cleric domains: Evil, Destruction, Magic and more are all options here.

As a GM, I want to slow down my PCs from acquiring stacks and stacks of magic gear. I understand "wealth by level" and my players have no complaints to date.

I see Break Enchantment and Bestow Curse and Remove Curse on the Cleric spell list. I'm thinking that these NPC Clerics could come up with something that has the effect of "When a Member of the Cult uses this magic item, it works normally. When a PC tries to use it, it does not work normally." Perhaps the bonus disappears. Perhaps a curse activates. I am not sure how to build this RAW for my Pathfinder 1e game. I kind of like the idea that NPC Clerics use their own cursed gear without penalty.

I am aware of how Intelligent Items can be given a purpose which can lead to Ego battles. This is a rare thing that I would pull out once or twice. I'm looking for something else I could use more frequently.

I am aware of duration limited effects, like how Magic Weapon, Greater only lasts for a certain period of time. This is what I was thinking of using liberally.

Is there other precedent, either in the existing rules or a Pathfinder module or somewhere else, for a spellcaster to create a weapon that functions normally when held by a True Believer, but functions as cursed for someone who is not part of the cult?

EDIT based on comments: My larger goal here is to give the PCs an enemy force with enough resources to challenge the PCs but not so many resources winding up in the PCs hands that the PCs blow by the Wealth By Level guidelines. I am thinking ahead to when the PCs reach levels 11 to 15.

  1. I am aware of how Fire Trap and Explosive Runes allow a wizard to do what I'm getting at, with duration Permanent Until Discharged. Mark an item in such a way that the wizard can use it, but if an enemy rogue steals the item, it explodes. Yes, I could house-rule an equivalent special spell for clerics in this cult. I am wondering if there's already a precedent in some bonus book for Clerics doing something similar with curses. I thought that would be thematic for a cult of evil clerics.

  2. From the 3.5 answer "A new magic item can be created so that its power is reduced if it's in the wrong creature's possession." This is one option to pursue. I will look at this more closely, thanks.

  3. WRT "What kinds of permanent items are you expecting the PCs to keep?" As a GM, I want the clerics to pose a threat to the PCs. One way to do that is to give several clerics a +3 mace each. Then the PCs wind up with a several +3 maces. Another option is to give several clerics a Masterwork mace and at least one of the clerics is on Magic Weapon, Greater duty for the day with the Extend Spell feat, draining slots. I was thinking there might be a third option already existing which I have not heard of.

  4. I agree, "PCs sell the stuff they take from enemies to buy the stuff they actually want" is what will happen. As GM I have multiple ways to challenge the PCs. Maybe instead of giving the evil clerics More Stuff with strings attached, I just supply the evil clerics with more summoned demons that don't have Stuff and manage Wealth By Level that way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ RE: The bad guys "don't want their most valuable top end gear used against them." I am surprised that this is a concern. My experience has always been that PCs sell the stuff they take from enemies to buy the stuff they actually want. What kinds of permanent items are you expecting the PCs to keep? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 3 at 22:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ While it may not initially appear so—it's for D&D 3.5 and covers greater ground—, you may be interested in this answer. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 3 at 22:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason you're not comfortable using a homebrew solution/custom magic items? Are you concerned the players would turn on you, despite Rule 0, if you were to provide them the same results without being able to cite a different ruleset? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Mar 3 at 23:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd say "Just use Glyph of Warding!", but any sane cleric spends the Glyph budget on warding the lair to blow up intruders before he dies, not blow up his gear after he dies. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phoenices
    Mar 4 at 1:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why do the NPC's need expensive magic items to keep up with the party? If you're already not pulling from the Bestiaries, it seems like you could just give them e.g. +4 to Wisdom instead of a +4 Wisdom headband \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Mar 4 at 4:03

2 Answers 2

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Items can be restricted to specific classes/alignments.

...but it's a bit of a double-edged sword. Personally, when I've run PF, I've basically ignored this bit from the magic item crafting guidelines because it's extremely easy to abuse:

Other Considerations: Once you have a cost figure, reduce that number if either of the following conditions applies:

Item Requires Skill to Use: Some items require a specific skill to get them to function. This factor should reduce the cost about 10%.

Item Requires Specific Class or Alignment to Use: Even more restrictive than requiring a skill, this limitation cuts the price by 30%.

It doesn't clarify whether these stack, but arguably an item that's restricted to a lawful evil cleric with ten ranks in knowledge (religion) and profession (torturer) would have an 80% price reduction, so they'd only be able to sell the items on the market for 20% the list price of a given item. If a player character tried to use one of the items, they could leverage use magic device to use them, but they'd need to make separate DC 20 and DC 30 checks every hour (to emulate a class and alignment, assuming you take "emulate a class feature" as allowing general class emulation) in addition to having those skills, as there's no option in UMD to emulate having a skill.

Why is this a double-edged sword? Because player characters often craft items that they have no intention of selling, making a cost reduction a pure benefit. As soon as you say "these items only sell for 20% of their sticker price because they're restricted to [class] and [alignment] and require [skill]," players may ask why they can't craft their own items with that steep discount. This gives you a way to add items that are (borderline if not outright) unusable by the players and sell for a fraction of their original value, but it introduces a problematic mechanic to an already-abusable system.

There's something vaguely like this in Rise of the Runelords.

The Runeforge from Rise of the Runelords allows characters to dip a weapon into it to make it into a runeforged weapon, counting as a +2 bonus and granting a variable power.

If you're willing to use this as a jumping-off point, it's not too far off to have a lesser version of this that instead grants a temporary bonus instead of a permanent one. Perhaps there's an unhallowed pool steeped with their deity's magic — maybe even actively monitored by the deity or one of their agents — that imbues weapons with a 24h buff that is only granted to that deity's faithful.

This could be tied into something similar flavor-wise, if not directly mechanically, to deific obedience, where followers of a god can perform a deity-specific obedience once daily (usually in the morning) to receive some sort of boon. The base ability of boons are often static bonuses, but many are niche or outright useless in combat.

If you just want higher bonuses, why not just give them?

If you're just planning to dole out +3 weapons or equivalent, either raising the levels of the clerics or having them cast greater magic weapon seems like the simplest route to the same destination. Custom magic items with restrictions would allow for much more specific magic items that fit within RAW guidelines if you wanted something more esoteric like existing or custom wondrous items, but if you're looking for having a pile of temporary +3 maces, a level 12 NPC cleric could churn out six extended GWMs per day with no items boosting their capacity.

If you just want higher stats overall, you could simply raise the level of the clerics. If the concern is that they would get access to stronger spells, you could give them a template representing power bestowed by their deity (or some local artifact that could be destroyed by the players, etc.) that would increase certain combat potencies without raising their spell levels.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not RAW, but since skill/class/etc. restrictions are essentially a feature (or at least a non-issue) when crafting the item, I usually apply the house-rule that the price discount simply does not apply to crafting cost. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4 at 8:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ "players often craft items that they have no intention of selling, making a cost reduction a pure benefit"- I don't follow. A reduction in sales price does not imply a reduction in cost. In fact, based on just these considerations, it's even possible that adding the "specific alignment" restriction comes at an extra cost. \$\endgroup\$
    – MSalters
    Mar 4 at 13:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MSalters: The cited rule actually uses both cost and price => if a specific skill is required, that's a 10% cost reduction, whereas if a specific class or alignment is required that's a 30% price reduction. I'm not sure if the vocabulary is intentional here, but if we suppose that "cost" is the basis cost for crafting while "price" is the price at which an item can be sold, then indeed a specific class + specific alignment does NOT decrease the initial crafting cost, but does decrease the price by 60%. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ It’s written vaguely. It says “reduce [the number for cost] if either of the following conditions apply,” so although they mix cost and price, the initial sentence says both are reducing cost. Sometimes they’re treating them as discrete values (such as in the section prior to what I quoted from) and sometimes they conflate them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shivers
    Mar 4 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Side bit here: The items that require skills to use normally require relevant skills to use--it improves your existing ability to do X, it doesn't grant the ability to do X. Requires 10 ranks of torturer would be relevant if it were a torture implement, but doesn't make sense for a weapon. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4 at 21:55
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Don't rely (solely) on items: use boons,

Magnimar canonically has a dozen or so monuments which grant a boon for those who do a thing at their steps; for example: the Cenotaph requires that one pray for 10 minutes and succeed at a DC 15 knowledge (religion) check to gain a +1 morale bonus on fort saves for 24 hours. Perhaps the cult distributes shrines that grant +1 or +2 to attack for a similar - or more sinister - service?

I also recall, but cannot now find, guidelines for "location as treasure" in 3.5. The basic idea was similar: instead of yet another magic sword, the PCs are rewarded with access to a location which confers benefits to those who spend time there.

So, tying into Shivers' answer: perhaps part of why the cultists chose the locations they did for their hideout is that there's a pool empowered by Orcus into which they can dip their weapons to gain a profane bonus for a month, so long as they sacrifice a prepubescent humanoid in the dark of the new moon.

more ammo...

Especially once the cultists catch on to the PCs as an active threat, perhaps they hand out a few appropriate bane arrows or bolts to their archers? Even before the PCs become a problem, a few arrows of bane against the more common local humanoids would be reasonable. And, since magic arrows can be fired from mundane - even non-masterwork - bows while retaining their full bonus to attack and damage, they arguably make an even better investment for the cult's archers.

... and other consumables,

A single +2 weapon is 8k gp. A scroll of greater magic weapon at caster level 8 would cost 600 gp (3rd level spell * cl 8 * 25 gp), so you could by 13.3 scrolls for the cost of that one weapon. And, each scroll would empower the weapon - or 50 projectiles - for 8 hours. A couple of scrolls used on the armory after the alarm has been raised could make a world of difference for not much cash (relatively speaking).

For 300 gp, a defender can quaff a potion of Bull's Strength to gain a +4 to strength, translating into a +2 to their attack and damage rolls. It only lasts a couple of minutes, but if they have a round of notice... They did alarm the area, right?

At the higher end, consumables like a bead of force or necklace of fireballs (possibly re-skinned; for some reason, replacing the fire with an acid burst seems more cult-ey to me) can provide a decent amount of oomph without giving the party too much treasure.

and don't discount teamwork.

A cult seems like the perfect time to bring in some teamwork feats. Subtle options like bonded mind could allow for silent communication to summon reinforcements or destroy incriminating documents; outflank doesn't add to damage, but it does increase the attack bonus - and it encourages the players to move around the battlefield; and, don't forget about betrayal feats (wild flanking seems to pair nicely with outflank).

Finally, remember the rules.

Combat modifiers include two things that I wager 95% of tables forget about (or choose to ignore): invisible attackers gain a +2 bonus on attacks, and melee attacks from higher ground gain a +1 bonus on the attack.

While being "on higher ground" isn't specifically defined (other than a mention that a mounted character attacking a non-mounted creature smaller than the mount gains the bonus), it shouldn't be hard to find reasons to grant cultists that bonus fairly often - especially if they can choose the battleground, and doubly so if they can do so while invisible!

Of course, that does mean that the PCs can try to get higher ground. On the plus side, that can encourage actually moving around the battlefield, which is something I see very rarely at the tables I regularly join.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Or you could have said pool that simply provides said benefit to the faithful within range without dipping weapons or even knowing about it. The cultists at large know that part of their rituals is obtaining a suitable sacrifice but they don't know what's being done so the secret won't leak if somebody gets interrogated. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4 at 22:03

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