It’s like a lot of things, said the smith. Do the least part of it wrong and ye’d just as well to do it all wrong.
Setting: Not every cursed item started that way. Sometimes something is just made wrong. Sometimes some confluence of ill events turns something wrong. Sometimes things just are what they are. Roll d10.
1: A shard of flint and a steel peg. When struck together they produce a ball of blossoming flame the size of a bonfire.
2: A well-worn leathern rucksack. When items are placed within and carried over distance, something will disappear as though out a hole in the bottom. But there isn’t a hole.
3: A hempen rope. Whenever it is knotted it instantly snarls, snags, and shortens to an almost undisentangleable mass.
4: A cord of pacecount beads of the sort used by scouts to keep record of distance walked. When used the navigator becomes terribly lost, and no others can find her.
5: A torch formed of twisted tow dipped in wax. When lit it becomes unmovable until doused.
6: A fireblackened iron frypan. When food is cooked within, half the food imperceptibly disappears. If it is ever broken,1 all of the food it has ever consumed reappears, fresh and hot.
7: A stoppered goatskin. Any liquid put within becomes seawater.
8: A boiled-leather tube and pair of lenses, assemblable into a spyglass. It sees an hour ago.
9: An iron kettle. Heat freezes the contents; cold heats them.
10: A rude sheepskin poncho. Donning it turns you into an ordinary lamb for a day.
And what happens when you realize that a boon is often just a curse flipped on its head?
1 Have you ever tried to break a cast-iron skillet?
Off the Queen’s Road, past the thorp of Wightrise, is an old estate across the cataract from the millroad. But what sort of estate is it?
I like maps like this, because they are alive with possibility. They lend themselves to multiple types of adventures. Sometimes I wonder if less really is more: with no grid, no directions, merely a space, any GM can fit such a map into her campaign. Perhaps the archetypal use would be a simple explore and loot.
1: Crossroads. The millroad leads from Wightrise up to the ford in Erran’s Run where the stream slows enough for the mill to take advantage. The overgrown path turns to the bridge leading to Erranton Estate.
2: Bridge. Built in the days when craftsmen cared for their work, this wooden bridge spans the gash that separates the road from the homestead.
3: Home. The ancestral Erranton home backs up against the woods. In former days the family lived here; now it crumbles down upon itself, pressed down by the inexorable weight of time and rain and indifference.
4: Caretaker’s Cottage. Formerly the hearth and home of the servants that managed the estate.
5: Outbuildings. A smokehouse, chicken coop, and root cellar. Located away from the main house to keep the odors down.
6: Stables. Stables and paddock. Shelter for livestock and a place to graze; tools and equipment.
7: Well. Reliable water source; center of daily life.
8: Gardens. Self-sufficiency garden for the estate.
So, now we’ve got the environs. What sort of adventures can we set here?
Option 1: Dungeon Crawl: The PCs have heard that the old Erranton place has been ransacked and overrun by goblins/orcs/bandits. The PCs go out there, fight the monsters, explore the place, and loot it.
Option 2: Reverse Dungeon: The PCs have been sent by their patron/mentor/employer to go to the Erranton Estate and negotiate to purchase something. The Errantons have the something, and are surprisingly reasonable about the transaction. The catch? At an inopportune moment someone else appears at the crossroads looking to ransack the Estate. Now the PCs have to team up with the Errantons to defend the homestead. It could be monsters being monsters, troops looking to collect back taxes, or just adventurers raiding other peoples’ homes just to steal their stuff. Can you hold the bridge?
Option 3: Swords & Shadowruns: The PCs are hired by Guildmaster Johnson to assassinate the scion of the Erranton family line. Old Man Erranton is on his last legs anyway, but his son has aspirations to local power, and someone doesn’t want that. But the PCs need to be quiet and make it look like an accident. No door-kicking and fireballing. Can the PCs get in, get done, and get out?
Option 4: The Returned: The old Erranton place has been avoided for years. Recently the local Order lured all the Returned into the house and burned it down around them, lighting the bridge aflame as they withdrew. But as of a month ago, the house and bridge still stand–and look just as they always have. A scarecrow stands in the field, eternally shouting something in an elder tongue. How can the PCs clear out the house for good? Why is the stableyard covered in fresh furrows? Why is there fresh meat in the root cellar? And why is that little girl standing on the lip of the well?
Option 4a: The Glamour: Everyone knows the old Erranton place is haunted, a place where the dead walk and maintain a mockery of a farm. But what no one knows is that there are no dead at the homestead. How long will it take the PCs to figure out that reclusive fae have taken the place for their own, and are using magic to frighten interlopers away? And how will the PCs react when they discover that they’re the invaders, and the fae aren’t even wicked?