Friday, April 10, 2009

A Few Thoughts on the Origins of Cursed Magic Items

In taking stock of the cursed magical items offered in the Dungeon Masters Guides of olde, I notice a certain tit-for-tat pattern, one that is seemingly an echo of the early days of the game where DMs and players engaged in a playful match of wits, each camp attempting to overcome the challenges posed by the other. One can readily envision how it started: 
Fighter: “This magical bag is amazing! I’ve already put three sets of magical armor in there, all the gold I used to store back at the keep, my two iron golems, food, torches, all my magic treasure … everything I own! No matter how much I put in there, there’s always room for more!” 
Magic-user: “Next time we go under Greyhawk, I’m gonna find me one of those.” 
Elf: “Me too. Why keep stuff at home when you take it all adventuring with you?” 
Nasty, sneaky, tricksy DMes: “Hmmmm…” 
 Ever notice how most of the cursed loot looks just like the sweet loot? Bag of holding, meet bag of devouring. Girdle of manly strength, meet girdle of Playtex. Go on, flip to the back of the classic DMG and take it right down the line—from braziers and chimes to pipes and scarabs, you won’t find many cursed items that don’t look just like the nice versions.

You can almost see the magic items tennis match taking place.
F: “That time we took out the monks at the Pagoda of Inverness? Gary set me up with this Gong of Amazing Blessings!”
MU: “Man, I thought I found one of those up north when we took out that toad temple, but Dave saddled me with a Gong of Horrible Nastiness instead. Looked just like yours. My dude is still deaf. Have you seen my Libram of Leveling Up?”
E: “Far out. Where’d you get it?!?”
DM: “Hmmmmm.”
Just why do most cursed items, at least to me, lack something in the way of personality? Could it be because they weren’t created to stand on their own, but merely as a return volley?

Tune in on Sunday for Part II of our Cursed Items series, in which we put a bit of personality on those nasty bits of glowing goodness.

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