I have been hesitant to give out Artifacts and Cursed Items to players in my Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Artifacts have intimidated me to a certain degree since it is one more facet of the game the players and I would need to track. I did not want to add another complication to the plot of the adventure, which has admittedly gotten away from me at times during the campaign. I could also never figure out how to adequately roleplay an Artifact, although experiencing the Narrator from Bastion gave me a fantastic template to bring an Artifact to life. I did give the party an Artifact in recent months, but they have ignored it for the most part (another article for another day).
Below I detail the circumstances that led to me giving out a cursed item to the players. I discuss how I provided clues to the players that the item was not all it appeared to be and emphasis how the item fit into the story of the campaign. I discuss how the players have handled the discovery of the cursed item and conclude with alternatives to the specific Removing An Item Curse rules listed in Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium (p. 111), which seem quite anticlimactic.
My campaign finally reached its Heroic Tier finale last weekend. If you can indulge me, I’d like to discuss the progression to the final string of battles and the ultimate climax that now has the party moving on to Paragon Tier. Along the way, I’ll cover few house rules that might improve your game and present my creative process, which is certainly fueled by desperation. I realize discussing my campaign at length like this could be boring, but perhaps you can learn from some mistakes I made during the first 10 Levels in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.
The seeds for the final string of encounters were planted during the first night of the campaign. The party woke up from being unconscious and found themselves in prison at the start of Level 1. An attack from an unknown source on the prison distracted the guards and allowed the party to exit the jail. But along the way, they interacted with another prisoner that begged for freedom. They allowed him to escape; many months later, they learned the NPC they released was a notorious pirate that was plaguing the coast. They were tasked with bringing the pirate, Captain Lockes, to justice.
The pirate plot lasted for several months (we play every other Friday if schedules permit). The party had to find a ship, discover the source of the pirate attacks, and capture Lockes. Instead of establishing a straight line to that goal, I allowed the party to branch off in various directions. As they did this, the base for Captain Lockes and the pirate band took on a life of its own.
I used Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3) to make the following map of Ernsmaw Island. I asked one of the players in the party to come up with rumors of a pirate island. His Halfling Rogue had a background of working on riverboats and it made sense that he would hear such rumors. I gave the player a few brief prompts and let him run with the rumors, informing him that some would likely be true while others would be false information. He came up with a name that was a bit too long, so I chopped it down to Ernsmaw Island. CC3 is a fun program to use and quite powerful once you learn the controls. I have only scratched the surface of what it is capable of, but I’m happy with the island below.
The party found the map after patrolling the coast and battling a lesser pirate, Lezoe. I borrowed heavily from the Waves of Fate downloadable delve at Sarah Darkmagic to relieve some of the burden of encounter planning. During the battle with Lezoe, I spent some type crafting (literally) a special healing potion for the group. I used the old Character Builder to modify a potion and created Lezoe’s Rot Gut. The potion allows the PC to spend a healing surge but gain double the surge value; however, the PC suffers a -2 to Reflex and Fortitude until the end of the encounter.
Please visit Stuffer Shack for the complete presentation of Brother Laurence of the Chizoba Sect and other great roleplaying gear and information. I know players from my campaign read this blog, and I warn them there are spoilers regarding Brother Laurence that have not yet been divulged in the campaign. To my players, if you can resist the urge, then hold off on reading the article . . . but still check out the rest of Stuffer Shack.
For my homebrew Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition campaign, I started my world with the idea that a religious/military organization acted as the King’s right hand to protect the kingdom, enforce laws and provide spiritual guidance to the citizenry. All the other details about my world flowed from that single idea. If you are intrigued by the story of Brother Laurence and the Chizoba Sect, or if you would like to incorporate Religion more thoroughly in your campaign, then I highly recommend reading Johnn Four’s article on using Religion as a focal point in your campaign.
Final note, the artwork for Brother Laurence was a commission completed by freelance illustrator, Grant Gould. He also designed my website and mascot, Iddy the Lich. Check out his site and buy his great art!