Don't throw out red herrings in an open-ended quest if you aren't prepared to turn those herrings *into* the quest, but don't be afraid of making narrative sushi when the situation calls for it. That fish can be delicious.
This card is unabashedly inspired by the ruby-hilted dagger from the Wheel of Time series. I wanted to play with the idea of an artifact that is assumed to be from a place like Shadar Logoth, but where the truth behind it isn't a linear reversal of those assumptions. There's something fun about palpable evil as an aesthetic, but it doesn't have the best legs as a narrative driver; the main avenue it gives you for rolling out background details tends to be a treadmill of edginess, which gets boring pretty quickly.
The direction I opted to go with here — the script on the weapon describes laws and punishments, with the implication that the weapon was somehow used in the enforcement of those laws — creates a great hook for a lawful evil precursor culture. You can attach all sorts of implications to a government-issue sword that inspires pants-shitting terror when you kill someone with it.
Mechanics-wise, the strength of this scimitar depends a fair bit on the size/length of the encounter. The 'ignore the frightened condition at the cost of gaining levels of exhaustion' mechanic doesn't have a huge impact on 4-8 round encounters, since the creatures affected by it tend to die before they accumulate enough levels of exhaustion for it to truly matter. For longer fights, though, the exhaustion can stack up in a way that encourages retreating (for both in-character and meta reasons), which can be either great or annoying depending on your campaign style.
It's important to remember that the fear mechanic doesn't discriminate between allies and enemies; any creature that isn't immune to the frightened condition, that is within 15ft of someone killed with the scimitar, that has line-of-sight to the victim, is going to need to make that Wisdom save and find themselves a therapist. For most parties, whoever ends up with the scimitar isn't going to use it in every combat encounter.
There's a fair chance I'll add a clause about creatures gaining a short-term immunity to the fear effect once they succeed on the Wisdom save when I have a chance to do a round of revisions. It's something I debated adding to this initial version, but I haven't had enough time to test it to say for sure.
Jan 28th: Grammar my day job should've prepared me for.
May 18th: Template Update