Cursed Items

Posted on : 12-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, FATE, House Rules, Indie Games, Links, Spirit of the Century


There’s some talk over at Critical Hits about cursed items, and whether or not they have a place in 4e. Personally, I really like the idea of cursed items, but I’m not a fan of how previous editions handled them. I don’t like items that are just arbitrarily bad and nearly impossible to get rid of; that’s not fun for anyone. What I do like are items that give power for a price.

For my money, these rules work pretty well for modeling cursed items in 4e. I like the idea of magic items that are somewhat more potent than others at their level, but come with a trade-off that could occasionally screw you. However, I’d probably make one change to the way cursed items worked in my own game: I’d make the effect of the curse inextricably tied to the most potent aspect of the item.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I like the idea of aspects in D&D, though the implementation in my own game left something to be desired. I think that cursed items are a perfect place to use aspect-like mechanics; namely, the ‘compel’ action that the GM can use in games like Spirit of the Century. Effectively, the cursed item would have an aspect that could be compelled from time to time by the DM, forcing the player to act in a certain way . . . if he accepts the power that comes with the compel. Here’s an example of what I mean.

The Blood-Soaked Blade
Considered an ill omen by most, the blood-soaked blade demands to be soaked in the blood of the innocent, but grants power in exchange
Lvl 5
1,000 gp
Weapon: Light Blade, Heavy Blade
Critical: +1d6 necrotic damage, or +1d12 necrotic damage if the weapon’s curse is active.
Enhancement: +1 attack rolls and damage rolls
Property: This item gains a +2 item bonus on damage rolls against bloodied targets while the curse is active.
Power (Encounter): Free action. Use this power when you hit with the weapon. The target takes ongoing 5 damage and you can spend a healing surge. This power can only be used while the curse is active.
Curse: The blood-soaked blade demands to be soaked in the blood of the innocent. In order to activate the curse, you must slay a sentient, innocent being. This causes the curse to become active until the start of your next short rest. If, in addition, you spend a short rest (5 minutes) bathing the blade in the innocent’s blood, the curse becomes active until the start of your next extended rest.

In retrospect, the curse on this item bears only a passing resemblance to a true compel, though the idea is the same: do something that the item wants you to do, and you’ll be rewarded. In the case of the blood-soaked blade, you are offered fairly considerable combat prowess (extra damage against bloodied targets, extra crit damage, and an encounter power that deals ongoing damage and heals you), but in order to gain access to any of it, you have to actively engage in an act that is unequivocally evil. If you don’t satisfy the curse, you’ve effectively got a +1 magic sword, and not much else.

If you hand out a weapon like this, try to make sure it falls into the hands of someone with an alignment and personality opposed to to such an act, and tempt the hell out of them. Play up the weapons malevolent influence, suggesting courses of action to the player (in the voice of the weapon) that would allow the player to satisfy the curse. If you really want to put the screws to the player, put them in a situation where those powers would come in really handy, and let them know about the situation beforehand so that they have the opportunity to satisfy the curse.

SotC plus D&D

Posted on : 24-10-2009 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, House Rules, Indie Games, Links, Spirit of the Century


I’ve been reading Spirit of the Century recently in preparation for a freelance project that I’m about to start working on, and it’s giving me ideas. Specifically, I’ve been coming up with ways to incorporate some of the ideas and mechanics in Spirit into my regular D&D game. I’ll try to explain this in such a way that people who aren’t familiar with Spirit can still understand what I’m talking about.

Aspects: This is the big one, the obvious one. In Spirit, each character starts with ten aspects; these are words or short phrases that collectively give an overall impression of who the character is. They may be physical characteristics, personality traits, notable quotes, goals, important NPCs, or other, similar things. In addition, players get fate points that they can use to invoke their aspects. Whenever a player makes a roll, he or she can spend a fate point and invoke a relevant aspect in order to get a bonus to the roll after the fact, or re-roll the roll altogether (though the second roll sticks, unless another aspect is invoked and another fate point is spent). You can also tag other peoples’ aspects, which is functionally the same as invoking an aspect except that you’re doing it to someone else’s aspect for your benefit. Finally, the GM can compel an aspect, offering the player a fate point in return for the player acting in accordance with the aspect in question; this typically restricts behavior in some way, and often complicates things for the players.
In D&D: I plan on starting each PC with one aspect from the outset, as well as two aspects that they can choose at a later time, whenever it seems dramatically appropriate. When a player invokes or tags an aspect, it can grant one of three effects. First, it can allow the player to reroll the d20 roll, taking the second result. Second, it can grant a +5 bonus to the roll, after the roll is made but before success or failure is determined. Third, and this is really a very D&D combat-specific use of an aspect, if an d20 roll comes up 18 or higher on the die, an aspect can be invoked to treat it as a natural 20. Compels work in much the same way as described above; there’s really no need to convert.

Declarations: Spirit has a number of skills that can be used for gaining information, such as Academics, Mysteries, Art, or even Burglary. Gaining information is one thing, but players can actually make skill rolls in order to declare facts about a situation. For example, let’s say the players walk into an ancient temple full of traps. A player could say, “According to my extensive knowledge of the history of this temple, I know for a fact that there are numerous secret passages that we can use to our advantage.” The GM then calls for a roll, maybe Academics, and if it’s high enough, the statement is true. In Spirit, this usually means placing an aspect on the scene, one that can be tagged later for the players’ benefit.
In D&D: The knowledge skills (Arcana, Dungeoneering, History, Nature, and Religion) can all be used to make declarations as above. I’d also allow skills like Insight, Perception, or Streetwise to be used to make declarations given sufficient justification or under the right circumstances. Declaration can cause a narrative effect, can place an aspect on the scene or on a person that can be tagged, just like in Spirit, or might create a terrain feature or power that can be used during an encounter. Now, to limit how often this happens, I’d probably cap declaration usage at once per scene per player, a scene being roughly equivalent to an encounter.