By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Rite Publishingis 23 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving us 19 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
This installment of the 30-series presents us with new cursed items, but you will have gleaned so much from the title – after some paragraphs of fluff we’re introduced to the presentation of the respective treasures, which include information on price, DCs for figuring general things out, a price, a physical description, extensive histories for the items, a trigger that will, well, trigger the curse and also a section on a suggested removal.
And oh boy, do we get a selection of interesting items! Since these items are cursed (and yet somewhat useful), the following review contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.
Still here? All right! Let’s take the tragic tale of Bertram Zane’s flask: In a twist of the classic Jeckyll/Hyde-trope, the alchemist was press-ganged by a thieves guild via kidnapping his fiancée into working for them, only to have him hastily gulp down an experimental mutagen, killing the thieves – but also the love of his life, ending his transformation in a tragic, yet poetically beautiful twist that saw the lovers plunge to death together. Now, the spirit of his perished love may be the only way to put an end to the curse still lingering on the flask…
Other cursed treasures include coins put on the eyes to condemn the dead to an eternity in Charon’s realm, a crown of an elven king that committed genocide against animals to defeat druids and lumberjacks and a twisted set of earrings that tries to drown the possessor: Spawned from a low-born wench’s love for her lord, the story they tell is grisly and twisted: In order to marry into nobility and claim her love, the star-crossed maid chose to drown all her competitors in a pond and, when her murderous actions became known, drowned herself as well. In order to lift that particular curse, the families of the lowborn maid and the lord have to be joined in marriage – against the grudge and the rigid class-system still in place. Or, if you’re more into less morally ambiguous stories, what about a bowl crafted from the top skull of a saint by dread vampires, still locked away, including its desecrating effects…
Or take Iztali, the nightmare diamond that punishes its wearer for violent actions – in their dreams, essentially forcing them to become pacifists. The curse can only be broken by actually brokering peace between powerful factions. This item is gold in high-intrigue settings and may actually be used by the PCs to force stubborn people to refrain from violence – with all they shades of grey that entails. Or take a gem that forces its bearer to help those around them and perform one action of mercy, one of compassion and one of love to get rid of the sapphire.
There is also the comb of a beautiful exotic maiden, betrayed by her lover, which now imparts an inability to handle rejection. What about the tragic tale of a free-willed flesh golem, who got lynched for his compassion and now his platinum rose may bring salvation – if a maid spends a night with his remains. There is also a gem that changes you slowly into a new kind of aberrant creature, a so-called Vynnder creature, which comes with an additional template and a lore-section as well.
Editing and formatting…well, I come out and say it: Is not up to the standard set by Rite Publishing. There are quite a lot of editing glitches herein as well as a couple of minor formatting glitches. While they do not impede usability per se, they do manage to detract from the excellent prose and oftentimes tragic background stories expertly crafted by author John Bennett. Layout adheres to RiP’s 2-column full-color standard, artworks are stock and the pdf comes with full bookmarks.
I was really looking forward to this installment of the #30-series and is delivers – John Bennett has not only created great cursed treasures, but ones that may spawn an adventure of their own – each one of them. Where the 101-cursed item book featured more generic curses, these are all steeped in very detailed mythologies and background stories that are evocative, exciting and smart while still being easy to integrate into your campaign. And this is also why I hate being a reviewer this time around: Personally, I love the content. I consider it evocative, interesting and is uses some established cultural tropes, but always adds an interesting and exciting twist to customs and items, creating a panoply of near-familiarity that nevertheless remains foreign enough to evoke the sense of wonder crucial for fantasy to work. However, I can’t with any good conscience give this pdf the full 5 stars. In fact, were it not for the excellent writing, I’d rate this probably at about 3 stars due to the glitches – a verdict the pdf simply does not deserve. Thus, my final verdict, with a heavy heart, will be 4 stars.
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