Pushing Your Luck: Enchantment Gone Wrong

A-Z 2016 "P"When enchanting magic items in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, part of the process requires that you make a skill check (usually Spellcraft) with a DC equal to 5 + caster level. This is usually pretty trivial for most crafters — a caster who has maximum ranks in Spellcraft and Spellcraft as a class skill will roll (functionally) caster level +3, failing only on a natural 1, before considering Intelligence bonuses, Skill Focus, or any other modifier. However, items have requirements for their creation, and each missed requirement adds 5 to the skill DC, and that almost-can’t-fail becomes probably-will-fail pretty quickly.

If the roll fails by 1..4 points, the enchantment doesn’t take and the time and materials are lost. Bummer.

If the roll fails by 5 or more, though, the item is cursed — enchanted, but not the way you want.

I’m thinking of expanding on this a bit.

Enchantment Failure Options

A few days ago I looked at new ways to use unchanged item perks and flaws. After doing some more research in other references, I think I’ll amend and extend that idea somewhat.

Perks are grade 1 qualities, since they generally improve the item they’re attached to.

Quirks are minor oddities and unintended but largely cosmetic or superficial ‘features’. Or bugs. Possibly many bugs if you get the ‘infested’ quirk. I’m not entirely sure I’ll use these, but I’m tempted to include a quirk if the check succeeds by less than 5. I’m tempted also to allow a ‘free quirk’ if it is appropriate to the item and the crafter — quirks should be generally neutral in effect and thus not be imbalancing.

Flaws happen any time the skill check barely fails. If the check fails by 1..4 points, the item is enchanted but has a flaw. Flaws generally don’t prevent the item from working, but don’t render the item useless. (This is a change from before; previously it was one flaw per point of failure.)

Curses are outright undesirable and unwanted consequences, and range from barely tolerable (and possible intolerable) to rendering the item useless for purpose. If the check fails by 5 or more it is cursed, if the check fails by 10 or more it is very cursed, and if the check fails by 15 or more it could be lethally cursed.

To illustrate the difference, the fire gauntlet of Allioch is a grade 10 item (base DC 15 to craft, increases with missed requirements and so on).

  • On a successful roll of 20 or more, the item is crafted normally and works normally.
  • On a successful roll of 15..19 or more, the item is crafted almost perfectly; it works, but has a quirk.
  • On a check of 11..14, the item has a flaw, selected randomly. It might be fragile (half normal hit points), delicate (hardness 5 lower than usual), impotent (caster level 1 lower than usual — still enough to cast its spells, just not as well, and fewer charges available), and so on.
  • On a check of 6..10, the item has a minor curse (I’ll be revising the curse list). Let’s say it’s dependent, and works only at night… or bears the curse of the demon’s visage (wearer’s face replaced by that of a demon: allies, friends, and neutral creatures must save or flee in terror; no additional effect on enemies).
  • On a check of 5 or less, the item has a major curse: curse of the bull’s eye, all missiles shot at a target within 30 feet of the wearer are drawn to the wearer instead of the intended target, and gain a +4 bonus to the attack roll.
  • Hopefully there is no way to get a check of 0 or less, or the item could have a lethal curse: it draws the ire of a demon lord, who wants to do something very personal and unpleasant to the crafter… and his friends, family, and pets.

The specific flaws and curses should be deliberately picked by the GM to align with the nature of the object. Flaws might be generally annoying (but sometimes useful), minor curses irritating but do not render the item useless or particularly hazardous to use, major curses can render the item generally useless for purpose or dangerous to the user.

I expect I’ll refine this more as I continue my research. I haven’t gotten into the Ravenloft books yet, and I know they have much more to say about curses than I’ve really touched on so far.

List of Resources

Because I asked in a public forum, and was asked for what we found, here are some references I’ll be using in addition to references in the PRD.

  • Castles & Crusades: 100 Calamitous Curses idea mining for curses, need to be converted to fit the core rules
  • Castles & Crusades: 100 More Calamitous Curses idea mining for curses, need to be converted to fit the core rules
  • Tainted Troves: A Collection of Cursed Items appears very relevant to my interests, including a section on creating (by the DM, not crafting) cursed items.. though there is also a Malign Artificer prestige class that does just that.
  • Ravenloft (3.0) I based the results above on guidelines for grades of curse: embarrassing (quirk), frustrating (flaw), troublesome (minor), dangerous (major), lethal (shouldn’t come up).
    • Succeed by less than 5, the item has a quirk. It works, but it’s not quite right.
    • Fail by less than 5, the item is flawed and has some element that makes it less useful than it should be.
    • Fail by 5-9 and it’s got a minor curse, something particularly and specifically unpleasant that happens to the user (probably just when used or carried, depending).
    • Fail by 10-14 and it’s got a major curse, something that inhibits the user much of the time even when the item is not present.
    • Fail by 15 or more (which requires talent; it means you’re swinging way above your weight in enchanting) and there’s a lethal curse that might kill the enchanter altogether, or make the item so dangerous to use that it becomes a means of last resort.
    • I might also let the effect be reduced if it affects the wielder and allies — a major curse might have the effect of a minor curse, on all affected allies.
  • Diablo II: Diablerie (I see a few minor curse effects I’ve not seen elsewhere)
  • Mythic Mastery: Mythic Curses implementation may need to be cut down slightly to remove the mythic effects…
  • Mythic Mastery: Mythic Curses II … but these two have some good ideas in them
  • Mythic Minis 42: Mythic Curses (ditto above… but if you’re interested in Mythic Minis, grab the bundle: 80 Mythic Minis for $8.88 — I almost freaked, shows $0 for me because I’ve got it)
  • #30 Cursed Treasures shows me a few things I didn’t think of (such as an explicit ‘trigger’ for the curse)
  • 101 Legendary Curses gives some more samples I can mine ideas from
  • The Genius Guide to the Talented Witch, I’m told has some content on cursing people…
  • The Genius Guide to More Witch Talents … not precisely what I’m looking for, but close.

I think that’ll give me enough to start with… but I’m open to suggestions of other curse-related resources.


  1. Pingback: Quirk, Flaw, Curse: What’s the Difference? | In My Campaign - Thoughts on RPG design and play

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