I'm thinking about creating a world where anything with magical powers are known to make their wielder both blessed and cursed in some way, some more severe than others, sometimes in equal measure. The world is also low-magic.

If the cursed item is always giving a disadvantage, players will just sell the item, but if it's designed well they can use it to their advantage.

An example could be an armor piece which gives you immunity to fire, but you receive double cold damage. I would add a rule that you can't have two of each in effect and they disable eachother, otherwise you could be immune to every type of damage for example. We wouldn't want that, right?

I've found a question with an answer that I really liked, where the party has received a +4 sword, but the wielder goes into a frenzy mode and attacks on sight until everyone has died, including allies. Maybe not all items are this way, but more like legendary items or something.

How do I create magical weapons with side-effects in a low-magic world in a way that players still want to use said items?


4 Answers 4


In a campaign with few magic items, any magic item will be valuable

If the GM explains beforehand that the campaign will have very few magic items, and it's level 6 before the PCs get their first +1 longsword, the PCs won't care that while the +1 longsword is wielded, the wielder's hair turns blue or his fingernails get all pointy, but they will care if every time the sword's swung someone the wielder loves bursts into flames and dies.

In other words, a curse must be appropriate for the item's power.

Fortunately, Pathfinder already breaks down magic items into six broad power categories—lesser and greater minor, medium, and major items (e.g. magic armor, wondrous items)—, and Pathfinder provides a list of common curses found on items, the Drawbacks table probably being the most useful. You'll have to develop house rules from there depending on how cursed you want items to be, but that's a reasonable place to look for inspiration. (I suspect most PCs would be wary but still use magic items if the magic items had 1 drawback if minor items, 2 if medium, and 3 if major and adding an additional drawback if greater, but I can imagine a campaign wherein magic items were hated and feared if these numbers were, for example, doubled.)

An alternative: Blood Artisan as the default

That is, make cursed items common but also cheaper. The Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 ancestor feat Blood Artisan has the following as its benefit:

When you make magic arms and armor or wondrous items, you pay only 75% of the normal gold-piece cost to create the item. However, the item is always cursed; with the curse randomly determined by the Dungeon Master, using the tables in Chapter 7 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. (Dragon #318 39)

Having this feat's effect be the default effect for all item creation feats and there being no way (or only a secret way or a way that's onerous like taking another feat such as, hypothetically, the feat Improved Craft Wondrous Item) to make uncursed items makes for a campaign in which magic items are cheaper and still readily available but usually cursed. Then PCs must shop around for items having the least bad curses, which, while it might be initially interesting, is liable to become dull in the long run.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your answer, it will certainly help me to create items with curses :) And you might be right concerning things becoming dull in the long run. \$\endgroup\$
    – C_Hawk
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 21:29

I've not tried this in Pathfinder, but below is the recipe I use when I want to make an out-of-the-ordinary cursed item:

  1. Select, at random, a generic type for the item.
  2. Identify the primary use of that type of item.
  3. Select, at random, a different generic type of item.
  4. Identify a use—possibly a secondary or very specific use—of that second type of item.
  5. Select, at random, a kind of ability score.
  6. Imagine a way for an item of the type from step 1 to fulfill the purpose from step 4. Look to require the ability from step 5.
  7. Exaggerate the unusual quality from step 6 in ways that make the item unsuitable for the purpose from step 1. Require the ability from step 5 if step 6 hasn't already.
  8. Give the item a name that players will remember.

Some examples from campaigns I've run where the players used the tradeoffs to their advantage (though not always as the recipe anticipated):

  1. Footwear
  2. Walking, running, etc.
  3. Rope
  4. Climbing
  5. Strength
  6. The footwear lets an athletic wearer climb walls and ledges.
  7. The boots are incredibly sticky, both inside and out. The wearer who tries to walk in them or doff them must make a strength check to do so. But the boots will cling to ice, walls, ceilings, even the underside of a tightrope.
  8. Boots of Adhesion (a.k.a. The Boots not Made for Walking)
  1. Shield
  2. Deflecting blows
  3. Torch
  4. Mapping out the nearby area
  5. Intelligence
  6. The shield, when activated, forms a map of the wielder's surroundings on its surface.
  7. The shield is actually a jigsaw puzzle. When fully assembled and struck by an enemy of the wielder, it activates, but it also shatters, and the pieces fly everywhere. With a successful intelligence check, a character can reassemble the shield to reveal the newly formed map.
  8. Jigsaw Shield
  1. Melee weapon
  2. Hitting monsters
  3. Wagon
  4. Transporting goods
  5. Charisma
  6. The weapon is an animated floating whip; its ends can be tied to items, which it will then carry when it moves.
  7. The whip is not only animated, but semi-intelligent, and absolutely afraid of monsters. A scary monster story (charisma check) will send it flying off into the distance, never mind actual combat. It prefers to sleep with a night light.
  8. 'Fraidy Cat o' Nine Tails
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's certainly an interesting way of making cursed items and I will try it out sometime, but Hey I Can Chan's answer is using source material, so I picked that one. \$\endgroup\$
    – C_Hawk
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 21:42

For your world, the curse is a cost to use the items. This appears to scale from "some negative effect" up to "negative effect equal to the positive effect".

Some of the possible costs could be:

  • Damage
  • Vulnerability
  • Monetary
  • Social

Damage is the most straight forward and the easiest to scale. 1 damage received per point inflicted would be "equal measure", with lesser ratios or flat values being easier on the user.

The Vicious ability from D&D 3.5 would be an example of this kind of cursed weapon. It deals an extra +2d6 damage to the opponent, but deals 1d6 damage to the user.

Inflicting a vulnerability on the user can be useful, but only if the vulnerability comes in to play. Trading double damage to cold for immunity (or half-damage) to fire sounds equitable, unless the character is adventuring through the Elemental Plane of Fire, or (as you mentioned) if the character is already protected against cold.

One example of a curse that gives fire immunity would be to make the character completely unable to get warm from a campfire.

Monetary payment to use the item is also a valid option. Single use items would be the easiest to calculate a cost for. If a single-use arrow in your system costs 1 copper, then a cursed wand that allows attacks for similar damage might somehow cost 2 copper per attack. Whether that is directly paid to the spirit of the wand, or must be spent on oils and inks to charge the wand, the item costs a set amount to work.

Social penalties may be the trickiest to work out as the character or party would actually have to care about social situations. Finding the exact amount of "cursedness" could be tricky. A character could likely put up with an item that created a pervasive smell, but may have a harder time if it yells out "The King is a Fink!" whenever within earshot of the Royal Guardsmen.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Edited, hopefully a better answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 20:40

First of all, talk to your players. Flawed (because you’re not really looking for cursed, which should be a burden to all characters, while flaws could affect the user only) items are a lot of fun, but in my experience that depend on individual preferences of the players. For example, consider these categories (they could overlap, so just talk to the players, what do they prefer):

1. Likes roleplaying his character.

Add fluffy flaws. Uncontrolled bursts of laughter, rude remarks in the middle of a conversation with a powerful wizard, occasional gluttony - for those who like a little bit of slapstick. Amnesia, disturbing memories, nightmares - for those who prefer darker themes. The effects should not be too exaggerated - not to exclude other characters, but to make it clear that using the item is not without consequences.

2. Likes book-keeping her character.

Add crunchy flaws. Make a sword that collects charges with each hit and allows to spend them for increased to-hit chance, better crit range or energy damage. But make sure the sword can never have 0 or more than X charges, so that the “sword economy” is always a challenge. Or pool some items together - make a sword, an armor and and a belt of mighty constitution share a bonus: you can split a +3 every day between the three items.

3. Likes rolling dice

Add random flaws. Some flaws from the list of drawbacks seem well designed for this purpose. Make a sword that requires additional d6 roll after each critical hit and you select an effect from a random table. Make sure these effects do not affect other players too much, but sacrificing some money, fatigue, temporary ability penalty should be ok.

4. All players like to work together

Make items dependent on each other, similar to teamwork feats. This wand will only work if the rogue is fighting with that dagger and the fighter is using this shield. But if the rogue switched to this bow, the cleric could use that rod.

But again, discuss with your players. They can even design the flaws themselves (with you guidance and/or approval). Of course they should really be flaws - a fluffy flaw affecting social situations will not work well in a dungeon crawl, where you mostly meet dumb monsters. Dependent items won’t work if you have an ever-changing group of players.

Also, these items could grow with the players (a good idea for a low-magic world), gaining new flaws and new advantages.


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