Homer: Ooh, that's bad.
Creepy Old Man: But it comes with a free frogurt!
Homer: That's good!
Creepy Old Man: The frogurt is also cursed.
After a hard encounter spent hack-and-slashing some goblins, you rummage through their loot and find a suspiciously ornate-looking treasure chest. And what should be inside but a Slashmaster +15 sword? That's a whole +1 better than your precious Slashmaster +14! Eager to try out your new find, you toss aside your old sword and hoist the new one over your head. Suddenly, like the divine voice of the gods, a lightning bolt crackles down out of the clear sky and strikes you. No, it doesn't give you new powers - it just really, really hurts. And it doesn't stop. It seems every time you lift this magnificent new sword above chest height, you invite a painful shock, anytime, anywhere - even in the depths of a dungeon surrounded by rock a mile beneath the surface. Also, you can't drop it. Ever. Especially not to pick up another sword that won't shock you any time you try to raise it.
Looks like you should've gotten that sword identified before you equipped it - it's clearly a Cursed Item!
Cursed items, as the name implies, are objects which have been cursed to inflict some deleterious effect on whatever poor schmuck tries to make use of them. There are as many different kinds of curse as there are cursed items, but the effects generally fall into one of two categories.
- Ineffective: The cursed item does the opposite of what it's supposed to; a cursed sword that refuses to cut anything (or inflicts wounds on its wielder), cursed armor that fails to protect from harm (or makes inflicted harm even worse), a cursed bag that devours anything placed inside, etc.
- Side Effects: The cursed item functions as expected, but carries some additional harmful baggage, e.g. a magic talisman that lets the wearer breathe underwater but also makes them irresistible to sharks and piranha.
Some clever individuals may figure out ways to mitigate the effects of a curse or even turn it to their benefit, but a useful curse is still a curse!
Cursed items may come into existence in a myriad of different ways as well. Some items become cursed through deliberate malicious intent, like magical booby traps disguised as legitimate treasure to cripple or kill unsuspecting or greedy adventurers, or precious possessions turned into deadly detriments as a form of punishment or revenge. Others may be the result of well-intentioned magical effects with unintended side effects, like a cloak that keeps its wearer warm to the point of setting them on fire. Occasionally, a curse may be designed to afflict everyone but the item's intended wielder; a popular option is for such items to become impossibly heavy when not wielded by The Chosen One. They may also comprise the entire stock at The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday. When these items are narratively significant, they may prove to be an Artifact of Death or even an Artifact of Doom.
Cursed items also rarely if ever betray any outward sign of their cursed nature. In tabletop RPGs and video games, identifying items will often reveal any curses, though particularly nasty curses may resist identification (or even outright misidentify themselves as different, beneficial effects). Getting rid of cursed items can also be tricky, as they often become impossible to remove or drop once the curse takes hold - unless there's a priest or some holy water handy to break the curse (which often breaks the item as well).
- The Sea of Flames diamond in All The Light We Cannot See. It brings immortality to the person who possesses it, but brings bad luck and grief to the people around that person, the people that the possessor cares about.
- In The Elric Saga, Michael Moorcock has his doomed hero Elric dependent on hard-to-obtain alchemical preparations to maintain his strength and vitality against his debilitating sickness. Then Elric discovers Stormbringer - The Black Sword which does away with the need for drugs. But this comes at an awful price; every time, Stormbringer kills and sucks the soul-energy from the victim to obliterate them and sustain Elric. And the sword isn't fussy about who it kills: one by one Elric's closest friends and lovers die to keep him alive. The sword is also a corrupting influence on Elric's soul.
- These turn up in quite a few different Fighting Fantasy books, where picking up a cursed item will permanently reduce one of your stats (usually Skill).
- Many of these are mentioned throughout the Harry Potter series, and a major part of Arthur Weasley's job involves tracking down seemingly ordinary objects that have been cursed to attack Muggles. Cursed objects and artifacts seen in the series have included:
- A cursed hat that made Bill's ears shrivel up.
- A pair of shoes that eats the wearer's feet and are impossible to remove, given to a random minor character seen at St. Mungo's Hospital.
- Harry's Nimbus 2000 becomes one during a Quidditch game, when a curse is placed on it that causes the broom to try to knock Harry off.
- A necklace seen in Borgin and Burke's that is said to have caused the deaths of many owners. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Katie Bell is given the necklace and touches an absolutely miniscule part of it, leaving her catatonic and comatose for months. Fortunately, Snape is able to recognize right away that it holds a powerful curse, and stores it away securely without any further harm.
- Harry has had many items confiscated from him just on suspicion of being cursed items sent to kill him, such as when he first received his Firebolt, and later, all the items he inherited from Dumbledore.
- All of Voldemort's Horcruxes in varying ways:
- The locket slowly corrupts whoever happens to be wearing it, causing them to be more pessimistic and depressed. It also prevents whoever is wearing it from casting a Patronus. It's implied, but not confirmed, that this is also true for all of the other Horcruxes.
- The journal lets you communicate with a 16-year-old Voldemort (then known as Tom Riddle), but as you put yourself into it, it starts putting itself into you, eventually giving it mind-control abilities and ultimately letting the spirit in the book step out into the real world. Harry prevents this by stabbing it with a basilisk fang, destroying the soul fragment within.
- Marvolo Gaunt's ring, in addition to being a Horcrux, also carries a powerful curse. When Dumbledore destroys it prior to the events of The Half-Blood Prince, he dooms himself to a slow and inevitable death. This is in contrast to other Horcruxes in the series, which have a corrupting influence but are not necessarily outright fatal.
- The Monkey's Paw: This horror story concerns a mummified monkey's paw said to grant three wishes, but using it leads to tragic outcomes for the owners.
- The Larry Niven story "Not Long Before the End" features a magic sword named Glirendree which is extremely powerful, but cursed to (ultimately) destroy its wielder. The wielder at the time of the story doesn't seem too dismayed when he finds out about the curse. It's possible he thinks the person who told him about the curse was lying, or he may honestly consider death after a year or so of living like a conquering king a fair trade. It's definitely the "clingy" type, as he's already tried to put it down and been unable to. That's because it's not really a sword, it's a demon in the shape of a sword, and it's got its fangs into his hand.
- The One Ring from the The Lord of the Rings. Wearing it too much begins to drain away the bearer's soul, and attracts the attention of Sauron and the Nazgul. Even just being near it causes any but the purest-of-heart to be tempted to use its power, and several characters explicitly state that while they may initially use it for good, even the truest spirit will eventually be corrupted and use it for evil. In addition, the Ring is a Clingy MacGuffin, in that the more that one uses it, the more protective of it they become, and the more eager they are to use it.
- This was the central premise of Friday the 13th: The Series. Two distant cousins discover that their late uncle had been selling cursed items (courtesy of a Deal with the Devil) from his antiques store. The items themselves bestow something beneficial to the owner (luck, beauty, wealth, power, etc.), but require them to murder someone else in order to function or to maintain the benefits they have already given.
- Common in Dungeons & Dragons. Curses can range from relatively benign like the Medallion of Thought Projection (a mind-reading amulet that came out backwards), to debilitating like the Backbiter Spear (which sometimes attacks its owner) to downright lethal like the Necklace of Strangulation. They're explained as being sometimes made with malicious intent and sometimes the result of a Magic Misfire in the enchantment process.
- The One Ring: When a Player Character finds a magic item in a treasure hoard, it has a 50% chance of being tainted by the Shadow. Until they complete a Sidequest to lift the curse, it brings some form of misfortune on the bearer, like worsening Critical Failures, distracting them, turning its intended benefit into a penalty, or luring in creatures of darkness.
- Many artifacts in World of Darkness are also cursed, tempering the benefits with terrible drawbacks.
- BIONICLE: The Ignika, Mask of Life, protects itself by inflicting curses on nearly anyone who touches it, save for those deemed worth to hold it. Given it is a very powerful object, this is necessary to prevent it from being misused by evil.
- Animal Crossing: The King Tut Mask grants the player bad luck. This means that, while wearing it, they will trip, have a higher chance of being caught by a scorpion or tarantula, and increasing friendship with other villagers will be more difficult, in addition to other bad effects.
- In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, scattered throughout the game are cursed items that look like normal, unidentified enchanted items until you identify them. These items have powerful effects, but equally debilitating drawbacks. For example, a cursed ring that makes you invisible as long as you wear it also continuously damages you as long as you wear it.
- In Azure Dreams some of the weapons and armor you can find are cursed lowering their effectiveness. These curses can be removed making the equipment more usable.
- The Binding of Isaac has a few such items or trinkets:
- Cursed Eye replaces your normal tears with a powerful charged attack, but if you take damage while the eye is charging, you're teleported out of the room. That means whatever enemies were in room will be back to life, forcing you to clear them again. This extends to bosses.
- Guppy's Tail greatly increases the chance for golden chests to spawn... at the cost of heavily reducing the chance to find keys to open them with.
- Curse of the Tower is a deliberate Troll item that makes you spawn six bombs whenever you take damage. These bombs can hit enemies, but they can also hit Isaac himself.
- Mom's Toenail is a trinket that causes Mom to stomp on you every minute, dealing a full heart of damage. You'll want to swap it out for another trinket as soon as possible.
- Broken Shovel, which has the flavour text "It feels cursed", causes Mom to attempt to stomp you repeatedly, only stopping for one room if you activate the item. The shovel is part of the long, complex way to unlock a secret character.
- The third installment of the Boktai series features a set of equipment — the Wolf Fang, Bat Wing, Undead Fingernail, and Bat Tail. Individually, they impose a debilitating effect, including weakening your elemental damage, draining your Energy meter, and halving earned experience. When they're all equipped at the same time, however, the debilitating effects are reversed and become boons, on top of extending Django's Vampire Trance.
- The Chocobo's Dungeon series features cursed equipment. You won't know if equipment is cursed unless you use an identification item on it or you equip it. If you equip it, you can't remove it unless you have dispel tonic, or you wear the gear out.
- Cursed items appear in many of the games in Dragon Quest. While there is no direct way to know if an item is cursed without equipping it, they are often described as having "an air of danger". These items tend to be very powerful for where they are found to entice the player to equip them. The drawback though is that someone wearing a cursed item often cannot attack in combat, and all items are of the Stuck Items variety requiring a visit to the church to remove them.
- Dragon Quest III had a special cursed weapon that was only cursed until you left the dungeon you found it in. A special golden claw weapon could be found in an extra path of the pyramid. The claw is an Artifact of Attraction and while it is in your inventory just about every step you take will lead to an encounter.
- Dragon Quest IV introduces a staple of the series, the sword-edged sword. It's actually quite good, but is technically cursed (gets the music and everything) that it inflicts a percentage of the damage it causes to monsters to its wielder. Despite this, people just equip it to a high HP meatshield and go to town.
- Dragon Quest VIII featured some Gameplay and Story Integration regarding the hero and cursed items. Ostensibly, the hero was immune to curses and the Curse status effect because he was hit with a powerful Dragovian curse as a child that nullifies any other curse on him. For this reason, the hero can equip and remove cursed equipment without penalty.
- Dragon Quest XI features a cursed item as part of the story, a magic necklace that allows its wearer to turn whatever they touch to gold. However after wearing for some time the wearer becomes a gold statue themself.
- Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara has the Cursed Blade, which causes you to take damage every time you attack with it, and the Cursed Blade 2, which causes you to fall asleep instead of attacking. If you attack with the Cursed Blade enough times, it will eventually turn into the Sword of Legend, but this will probably kill you at least two or three times before it happens. If the Cleric tries to pick up the Cursed Blade 2 enough times, it turns into the Holy Avenger, but as he can't use swords this makes it impossible to actually get the weapon in a single-player game.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- Throughout the series, the sword Umbra is stated to be one. Umbra is a legendary Empathic Weapon forged by a witch and commissioned by Clavicus Vile, the Daedric Prince of Bargains and Wishes. It takes the appearance of an Ebony claymore or longsword, and is one of the most powerful bladed weapons in the series. Additionally, It also steals the souls of its victims, and its personality eventually takes over the mind of its wielder, turning them into a Blood Knight who refers to themself as "Umbra". (Thankfully, this never happens to the Player Character.)
- Morrowind has the Boots of Blinding Speed, available as a side-quest reward, which do Exactly What It Says on the Tin - they massively boost your Speed, but also blind you. Naturally, most players discard them as a Joke Item, but with a little bit of magic resistance, the blindness can be overcome.
- In Oblivion, the Staff of the Everscamp is one of the artifacts of Sheogorath, Daedric Prince of Madness, and seems to exist for the sole purpose of Trolling mortals. The staff's owner is constantly followed by four Scamps that give off a horrible smell, generally make the owner's life miserable, and can't be permanently killed. Furthermore, the staff's owner feels a compulsion to keep it on their person at all times, and can only get rid of it if another person willingly agrees to become the staff's owner or by leaving it at one of Sheogorath's shrines.
- In Skyrim, a Daedric quest has you pick up Hircine's ring from someone cursed by Hircine. It is impossible to remove and randomly transforms you into a werewolf. If you complete the associated quest and save the cursed guy, the ring will have its curse removed and allow unlimited transformations, unlike normal werewolves that are limited to once per day.
- Final Fantasy IV has the Cursed Ring that reduces the stats of those who equip it. However, what's not mentioned is that it changes any elemental resistance on the wearer into elemental absorption, letting them No-Sell some harmful attacks.
- Final Fantasy VI has the famous Cursed Shield. Equipping it will nerf the bearer's stats and inflict all of the Standard Status Effects. This can be mitigated by also equipping a Ribbon, which grants immunity to most of those effects. So why go to all that trouble? Enduring the suffering through 255 battles breaks the curse and changes it into the Paladin's Shield.
- Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones: According to a support conversation between Dussel and Cormag, Valter had grabbed Dussel's cursed lance that turned him into an Axe-Crazy person as he is in the present. While the cursed lance doesn't appear in the game, it does exist as a unique item in Fire Emblem Heroes for Valter, granting +2 in Attack and Speed as well as accelerates Special trigger at the cost of taking 4 damage after combat.
- Actually, most Fire Emblem titles have a cursed weapon lying around somewhere. The most infamous is the Devil's Axe, the most powerful axe in many of the games. It grants eight times the regular weapon experience, too- but it has a 21% chance of injuring the wielder instead of the foe. Thankfully, this chance can be reduced if your character has high Luck, but since the cap is 20, it's always a chance.
- Golden Sun: Cursed gear tends to be powerful (the Darksword has a higher attack than the Sol Blade, the game's final weapon), but randomly paralyzes the user during battle (the Cleric's Ring prevents this, but there's only one) and can only be unequipped at a sanctum.
- Hearthstone: Warriors can use the Cursed Blade, a 1 mana 2/3 weapon (very strong for its cost) that has the downside of doubling all damage your hero takes while it's equipped. Not only do you take double damage while swinging, it extends over to your opponent's turn too, making the sword very much Awesome, but Impractical.
- In the first and second Heroes of Might and Magic games, the Fizbin of Misfortune is the only magic item with a negative trait, bestowing a -2 luck penalty on the hero unfortunate enough to be carrying it.
- Interplay's Infinity Engine games, being based on Dungeons & Dragons had numerous cursed items. Interestingly, as the games all had a Lore skill that could be used to identify magic items and cursed items always required 100 Lore to identify, if you had a character with a reasonably high lore, any items they couldn't identify were almost always cursed.
- Baldur's Gate had cursed items like the Bracers of Binding or the Ring of Idiocy that gave nasty penalties to your ability scores. It also had the Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity, which caused whoever put it on to change from male to female, which was rather useless given the game's almost Purely Aesthetic Gender, the Helm of Opposite Alignment (good characters become evil, evil characters become good, actually useful if you wanted Vicona in a good-aligned party), and the Two-Handed Sword of Berserking, which was a powerful sword that caused the wielder to automatically attack the closest character every time combat began.
- Planescape: Torment was interesting in that many of the "cursed" items in the game had no negative effects other than requiring a Remove Curse spell to take them off. There were a few others that had effects that were legitimately detrimental, like Nordom's Beer Goggles, which gave a huge penalty to his attack and made him permanently drunk while he was wearing them.
- The cursed medal from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword which prevent you from opening your bag until you have them specially removed.
- Lufia & The Fortress of Doom has cursed equipment that can't be removed except by a special rare item or a priest. Once removed these will retain the curse, activating again if re-equipped.
- Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals also has cursed equipment that can't be removed except by a special rare item or a priest. In this entry uncursed items will change completely to become new items.
- Minecraft: Enchanted items not made using an enchanting station along with those that are found in the world are sometimes cursed.
- The Curse Of Binding, makes armor with it stick to you until it breaks or you die.
- The Curse Of Vanishing, makes anything with it disappear when you die, unable to be picked up.
- NetHack has Cursed items, harmful versions of items which actively hinder the player and cannot be removed once equipped. Items can be found cursed, or cursed through a number of means. There are also a number of methods to remove a cursed item. Of note is that a few cursed items do have potential uses to the player though many require other capabilities to be used effectively.
- Nuclear Throne has Cursed Weapons, which drop from Cursed Chests and can be more powerful than weapons that are normally obtainable at the current level. The catch is that they can't be removed from your inventory, except for swapping with another Cursed Weapon - if you happen to run out of ammo or see a better weapon you want, too bad. You can remove the curse in three ways: taking the Last Wish mutation, getting a crown in a Crown Vault, or looping the game. Getting a cursed weapon before the Crystal Caves in any loop and taking it there with you turns them into the Cursed Crystal Caves, which is full of cursed crystal enemies and has the only Large Cursed Weapon Chest in the game, which drops three Cursed Weapons from potentially further in the game than normal Cursed Chests.
- Pokémon: There are a number of held items which at first glance only seem to have negative effects.
- The Toxic Orb and the Flame Orb are strange items that place a status condition on the Pokemon holding them. Though negative, this can be useful, when the Pokemon has an item swapping move or the move Facade, which does more damage when the user is affected by a status condition. Abilities come in play here as well: Toxic Orb can be helpful for Pokemon with abilities like Toxic Boost (raises attack power when poisoned), Quick Feet (raises Speed when hit by a status condition) or Poison Heal (Exactly What It Says on the Tin), and in case with Flame Orb, it is usually given to the Pokemon with Guts ability, so that they will receive boost to Attack instead of drop when burnt (Toxic Orb's damage increases over time, making Flame Orb more practical in use with Guts than Toxic Orb, outside of cases when Flame Orb cannot be used, such as for Flareon).
- The same (with the swapping part, too) can be said about Iron Ball, Ring Target, Sticky Barb or, in most cases, Black Sludge. Iron Ball makes the holder always go last (though it hits really hard and painful if thrown away with Fling), and Ring Target lets your opponent always be able to hit you. Sticky Barb damages the holder every turn (but it has the possibility to stick to an opponent if a contact move is made and the opponent is free of items), and Black Sludge does the same — yet, when Black Sludge is held by Poison-types, it heals them instead.
- In Runescape, some items augmented by the Invention skill can become this, as even though the skill enables a Player Character to add beneficial traits to wielded items, there is also a random chance of generating a detrimental effect in the same "gizmo" as a helpful effectnote . Clingy Macguffin is not in effect, however, as any such items do not have to be wielded and used, and the same skill provides methods for removing augmentations from an item to leave space for a new effect.
- A few of the special boards in Snowboard Kids and its sequels inflict negative effects on the user. Examples include the Ice Board, which makes all surfaces feel as slick as ice; and the Poverty Board, which continuously drains money from whoever's riding it.
- In Suikoden the soul eater rune is also known as the cursed rune. Its curse is that those who wear it will find the people who are closest to them will die.
- In Sword of Vermilion cursed items will act as Stuck Items and can only be removed by visiting a church, further they prevent any spells from being cast while worn. Only three cursed items exist in the game Dark Swords, the Death Sword, and the Old Nick Armor.
- Uninvited for the NES has the Ruby, which will gradually drive you insane and eventually make you succumb to a demonic spirit, ending the game, unless you get rid of it. Amazingly, the NES port of the game made it easier by tying the gradual insanity to this item, while all other versions have the PC suffering from this regardless of inventory.
- Warcraft III: On finding Frostmourne, Muradin realizes the blade is cursed and tries to leave. Arthas decides to take it anyway, ready to do anything to have his revenge, and it flies out and kills Muradin. Although in this case the sword wasn't so much cursed as it was a direct link to the Lich King's mind, allowing him to quickly turn over Arthas to the Undead.
- Wild Arms 3 has the corpse ring which cannot be removed and reduces the health of your entire party to one. The cursed is only removed once you escape the dungeon it is found in exposing the ring to sunlight.
- In Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land you can find cursed items while in the labyrinth initially as unidentified items. Vigger the shopkeeper is the only one who can remove a cursed item. These items often lower the stats of whoever equips them but some can still be useful.
- Darths & Droids: When Chewbacca and R2-D2 play a tabletop RPG, Chewie anticipates that R2 might backstab him for loot. So he carries a cursed item in his own inventory, to punish R2 for such treachery.
R2-D2: Heh heh heh. Let's see what loot I got from your corpse.
R2-D2: Only 13 gold coins? And what's this?
Chewbacca: You may find that your combat stats are no longer as impressive as you recall.
R2-D2: You put a cursed item in your own coin purse?! What sort of deviant would do that?!
Han Solo: I warned you.
Chewbacca: Let's discuss how you're going to pay for my resurrection, shall we?
- The Order of the Stick: The Order finds a Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity, which inflicts a Gender Bender on the wearer and can only be removed by an Anti-Magic spell. Roy, much to his annoyance, has to use it to bluff his way out of an ambush, and is glad to have a teammate with the necessary spell at the ready.
- Graven Hunter Files novel Death by Demon has Sye first attempt to wield his families ancestral sword, only to suffer a horrific curse placed on the sword by Nagefilir, who's son was killed by Sye's ancestor. Sye has to convince Nagefilir to let go of his grudge to lift the curse.
- The League of S.T.E.A.M.. In "Curses!", the team has a cursed artifact appraised in a curio shop run by Grant Imahara that apparently specializes in Artifacts of Doom. When our heroes realize what they have, they keep passing it to each other, greatly confusing the Mummy that's sneaking up on them with hands outstretched.
- In one episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim summons up a suit of armor for Billy to wear, but forgets to mention that the armor is cursed. Billy finds this out when he attempts to go to the bathroom only to be unable to take the armor off. The only way to remove the armor is to win a challenge.
- In the Rick and Morty episode "Something Ricked This Way Comes", the Devil opens up a store "selling" items ("You don't pay...with money!") that all have curses attached, such as a potion that makes the drinker irresistible to women but also renders them impotent. Rick quickly undermines this operation by inventing a device that can identify and remove all the curses, allowing people to use the items with no ill effects.
- Parodied in The Simpsons Halloween episode about a cursed Krusty doll, as quoted at the top. Homer buys the doll from a creepy shop and is informed that it is cursed. However, it comes with a free frogurt... which is also cursed. But, you get a free topping. Except the toppings contain potassium benzoate. (That's bad.)
- The What A Cartoon! Show short "Awfully Lucky" features a pearl that will grant alternating extremely good luck and extremely bad luck. The user can discard the pearl at any time, but the protagonist, Luther, holds on to it for most of the short due to his willingness to take on a lot of nonlethal punishment.