Wednesday, November 25, 2009

D&D 4E: Where Did The Cursed Items Go?

As I think I've mentioned before: I like Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition. And yes, I am aware of its flaws. Well aware.

D&D has never had good XP guidelines for actual role-playing, so the fact that it isn't really present here, either, is not a surprise to me. D&D has always been about kicking down the door, killing the monster, and taking its treasure. If you take 4E as the latest iteration of the same formula, then some of its flaws are less important.

But 4E has one gap that is really starting to bother me: There are no cursed items. In fact, PC's can pretty much auto-recognize magical items with no need for special spells or the assist of a Bard (or Artificer). It's a bit annoying to me. I admit: part of that is because I used to play Bards. My party relied on me to tell them items were safe for use. Or, more accurately, my party relied on me to be able to point out actively hostile items as opposed to the dangerous-but-sometimes-useful items (like the Deck of Many Things - remember those?).

I know that flat-out cursed items don't fit into 4E. I've accepted that. But what about items which aren't ... necessarily good? For example: The Sword of Empires.

If you're a player, now would be a good time to stop reading. If you're a DM, please feel free to continue.

Using the Sword of Empires requires two things:
1) There is some sort of cyclic Empire in your campaign setting. Either it's risen and fallen multiple times through the centuries, or there are a variety of near-identical empires which keep showing up in the same region.
2) The culture is one where dead people are buried with their valuables. Since most Western cultures do this to a limited extent, this should not be a big problem.

Start with your PC's investigating some ruins of the Empire That Was. Maybe the town is having issues with undead (real or imagined), and blame it on the nearby ruins. Maybe the party is a roving band of treasure-seekers. Either way, they will eventually wind up in the Crypt.

As they approach the crypt, an image of a long-dead Wizard will appear to them and speak to them in the Old Tongue. Wizards will understand, Clerics will probably comprehend it. The message is basically, "This is the Burial Place of the Emperor, woe will befall you if you disturb his slumber." Being PC's, they'll assume that the Emperor is some sort of Undead Liche Lord, arisen after centuries of rest to reclaim his empire, and they'll probably burst into his burial chamber.

What they'll find there is an ancient corpse, outfitted in ceremonial armor with his sword clutched in his skeletal grip.  He is clearly dead (and does not appear to be Undead).  He is, in fact, the sword's current Wielder (see below).

If they’re like typical PC’s, they’ll loot the place. If they don’t, then you may need to prod them a bit – use the Sword’s “Take Me” power (below). It should grab at least one of your PC’s.

Now we need to differentiate between the sword's Wielder and its Bearer.  In short: The Wielder is the character who is attuned to the sword.  To become the Wielder, you need to kill the previous Wielder (which requires using the Sword).  The Bearer is simply the character who is carrying and/or using the sword.  It is possible to be both the Wielder and the Bearer simultaneously.

The Bearer may not even realize that there is a difference between being the sword's Wielder and being its Bearer.

So what does the sword do?

1)  The Sword's Bearer can treat it as though it were a Sword of Sharpness +3. In fact, that is what identification rolls will reveal it to me (without a critical success). It's a powerful item, and definately worth holding onto.  The DM can grant one or more Daily or Encounter powers, as well.  Ideally, the Sword's power set make it desirable to the PC, as its goal is to increase the power and health of the Wielder.

2)  The Sword's Wielder can only be killed by the Sword.  While the Wielder can be reduced to zero (and fewer) hit points, the Sword's Daily "Bring 'Em Back" power will always work to return them to one hit point.  The Sword's Wielder gains no special immunities, but they do lose all of their Healing Surges.  This means that they cannot be healed by most Cleric abilities.

3)  The Sword itself has powers that are controlled by ... the Sword itself.  I can't do HTML formating, so you don't get convenient charts for these.  I suggest that the GM roll an initiative number with no modifier for the Sword.

Heal Him Up
At-Will * Weapon
Immediate Reaction   Melee
Trigger: The Bearer attacks and does damage with the Sword.
Effect: The Wielder gains hit points equal to the damage dealt with the Sword by this attack.  This Power cannot be used if the Wielder has less than one hit point.

Restore Him
Encounter * Weapon
Standard Action   Melee
Effect:  If the Wielder has less than one hit point, return the Wielder to one hit point.  This Power can only be used after the second round of combat.

Take Me
Daily * Weapon, Charm
Standard Action   Close Burst 3
Target: Each creature in burst
Attack: +10 vs. Will
Hit: The Target must attempt to obtain the Sword for their side of the conflict. If an ally already has the Sword, then defending that ally becomes the top priority for the Target, even at the cost of their own lives.

Notice: None of these powers is necessarily evil or bad - the Sword is designed to support the health of its Wielder. The Take Me power should keep the Sword in the hands of the stronger faction, when there is a division.

If the PC's manage to resurrect a long-dead Emperor in this manner, it may not be a bad thing. It's not as though the Emperor will wake up with a pre-assembled Empire. They will have to start from scratch and work their way up. And not all Emperors are bad, either. For every Caligula, History has a Constantine.

Either way, it drops a few possible hooks into the campaign that can take years to develop - if they ever develop.

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