Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sorcery: Cursed Items

Some people argue this is
what magic should have been
all along.
Evil characters make evil things, right? Well, Thaumatology - Sorcery doesn't really have rules for calculating the cost and energy of a ring that gives a curse, but I asked on the forum, and got some advice from some forum goers, and even the author that I think helps solve the problem. Below, I go a bit further, and then offer a worked example or two.

Mechanics of a Curse

To start off with, a Curse, in this context, is a permanent (or pseudo-permanent) disadvantage that is brought on by a magical item. First, let's look at the anatomy of a curse.
  • The curse advantage is based on an affliction
  • That affliction has the malediction and the aura enhancements and limitations
  • It uses the magical power modifier instead of the sorcery power modifier
  • It requires the Cosmic Enhancement "Immune to Dispel" and Extended Duration, Permanent enhancements
  • As a consequence of that, a method to defeat a curse must be described.
  • Whether or not the cursed equipment is stuck is a 0 point feature for a small item like a ring, bracelet, or necklace. As a consequence of the previous point, the method of defeating the curse may be removing one's finger, hand... or head.
Those things are the fundamentals and probably exist in 99/100 cases for cursed items that give someone a disadvantage. In addition consider this:
  • No signature can be made optional, but a curse should be nigh evident for anyone that has a mundane expert skill at identifying the type of accursed item, eg, a player with Jeweler can tell with a normal roll that a ring with the normal signature is cursed. This is something to think about if players should be able to thwart the curse before it is too late.
  • A curse probably shouldn't have a power modifier on the actual disadvantage. What happens in a no mana zone when you put on a cursed ring where the affliction has a power modifier, but the disadvantage doesn't? What if someone leaves the no mana zone while wearing a cursed item?
  • If a curse can only work once, and then it is done, consider the fact that it can be discounted to 1/5 the cost.
  • If a GM wants the effects to be subtle, be careful about the type of curse you choose. A mental self control trait can manifest at a time when a player doesn't realize it, making it harder to understand when and why they have started needing to roll self control around fire.
With all of that preamble established, let's try making up a few cursed items.

Worked Examples

The heroes decide the only way to defeat a powerful warlord is a curse of Pacifism, the Self-Defense Only variety for -15 points. This will be delivered in the form of a sword hilt that will be attached to a sword presented as a gift to him. The base ability that will be enchanted into the hilt will be the following:

Stop All The Fighting! (+425%): Affliction 1 (Will; Based on a different Attribute, Will, +20%; Cosmic, Immune to dispel, +50%; Extended Duration, Permanent, +150%; Malediction 1, +100%; Aura, +80%; No Signature, +20%; Disadvantage, Pacifism (Self-Defense Only), +15%; Magical -10%) [53]

We look up the form multiplier, and I decided Weapon, Metal is the closest match, and with that we find this item requires 24 enchantment points. That costs $7,680 to commission someone to inflict a sword with the curse, and the sword needs to cost more than $150. Well, it better cost more than that if you are trying to curse a warrior king despot with an impressive sword. Better hope the enchanter had an impressive will, or that the despot doesn't. Oh, and a method to break the curse. The bearer must save the life of the person who cursed him.

Another example, a copper wants a magic interrogation device that inflicts Truthfulness on a victim. This could be statted out like this:

I cannot tell a lie! (+430%): Affliction 1 (Will; Based on a different Attribute, Will, +20%; Cosmic, Immune to dispel, +50%; Extended Duration, Permanent, +150%; Malediction 1, +100%; Aura, +80%; No Signature, +20%; Disadvantage, Truthfulness (Auto-Fail), +20%; Magical -10%) [53]

This is exactly the same amount of points. As a necklace that needs to be placed on a prisoner, it has 27 enchantment points. The necklace must cost a minimum of $200, and the price of the enchantment for the retail value is $17,280. The condition for removing the curse is that the first (still living) thing to have asked a question to you since dawning the necklace must remove it for you.
The cops will be displeased when someone uses telepathy to ask him a question first, right before starting a jail break.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

I feel like these kind of items could be extremely useful. Obviously, a lot of cursed items are plot devices that drive the players to go on a quest to undo it... or an inconvenience until a cleric undoes the curse. But for some reason, these tools aren't often leveraged by players. Maybe it is because there is a taboo against mind-control-ish abilities? If you want to design a piece of equipment with pros and cons, you can get some discount instead by using Temporary disadvantage from p.115 of the Basic Set, but it is so weak, you could probably game things up by giving a very cheap advantage with Temporary Disadvantage delivering something mind bogglingly awful.
The curses are pretty expensive, so remember to consider using the pricing for one time use curse elixirs.

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