Using Cursed Items to Their Fullest

Woman on hill with urn releasing magical essence, inspired by Greek mythology.

From the One Ring of Middle-earth to the Stormbringer sword of the Elric saga, cursed items are a staple of fantasy literature and have naturally found their way into tabletop RPGs. Few elements draw players in quite like the enigmatic presence of cursed items. Such items are rarely just tools; they come with stories, legends, and a past, which makes them more than mere objects.

What makes these items so compelling is the duality they represent. While a cursed sword might grant its wielder unparalleled strength, it could also exact a price with each use. This delicate balance between boon and bane creates tense decisions, where players must weigh the immediate benefits against the long-term costs.

While a standard magical item might offer a set of defined benefits, a cursed item is more capricious. These items tend to have minds of their own, sometimes literally. Their effects can range from mild inconveniences to debilitating curses. Often, their true nature remains hidden until the most dramatic (or inopportune) moment.

Advice for GMs

For Game Masters, it’s crucial to set the right tone when introducing a cursed item. The goal isn’t to deter players from picking up loot, but to create a sense of respect or caution. Clues about the curse might be scratched in the margin of a dungeon map, chiselled as inscription on a tomb, or whispered as rumours in taverns. This atmospheric buildup not only heightens the suspense but ensures players recognize signals for the potential for great peril.

10 Tips for Incorporating Cursed Items

  1. The Right Moment: Consider introducing the cursed item at a pivotal moment or a lull in the campaign to keep players engaged. Ensure it aligns with the campaign’s progression and doesn’t overpower or underwhelm the current situation.
  2. Matching the Tone: A horror-themed campaign might have more sinister curses, while a comedic campaign could have lighter, whimsical drawbacks. The curse should enhance, not detract from, the atmosphere you’ve established.
  3. Benign Appearance: Disguise the curse by making the item seem mundane or beneficial. An ornate ring might promise wealth but instead delivers misfortune. A plain-looking dagger may have a bloodlust only revealed under specific conditions.
  4. Tying It to the Campaign: Anchor the item to your world’s lore. Perhaps it belonged to a famous warlord, was forged during a celestial event, or is sought after by a present villain. Providing personal stakes adds deeper connections for the players.
  5. Dole Out Information: Spread knowledge about the curse across various sources—ancient libraries, reclusive hermits, or enigmatic puzzles. This drives players to seek out and piece together hints about the curse.
  6. Introducing Benefits First: Let players enjoy the item’s boons first. Once they’re attached or reliant on it, gradually unveil its cursed nature, creating a dilemma of whether to keep or discard it.
  7. Memorable Reveal: Build anticipation. Use dramatic events, like a betrayal or a significant defeat, to reveal the curse. This can ensure it becomes a memorable campaign moment.
  8. Make A Rich Backstory: Maybe the item was cursed by a scorned lover, owned by a doomed monarch, or has a trail of previous owners who met unfortunate ends. Such tales can provide hints to the item’s nature and potential solutions.
  9. Plot Device: Perhaps the curse angers a deity, drawing the ire of its followers, or the item might occasionally teleport the wielder to a dangerous location. This sets the stage for a side adventure.
  10. Quest For A Cure: Design a challenging journey, requiring players to confront formidable foes, solve intricate riddles, or make moral sacrifices, emphasizing the weight of lifting the curse.


Cursed items offer an opportunity for rich narratives, compelling character arcs, and challenging decisions. These artifacts can push boundaries and reshape stories in unpredictable ways. Their very nature creates the potential for memorable narratives is undeniable.

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