Artifacts and Relics (Optional Rules)

Vastly more potent than the most powerful magical items are extremely rare items of ancient power and majesty—artifacts, constructs of the utmost wizardly might, and relics, the remains of awesome powers and the greatest of holy men. These are items of great import and effect, so their use must be strictly controlled. The following absolute conditions are always in effect when dealing with artifacts and relics.

The appearance of an artifact or relic must always be the basis of an adventure. These items should never be casually introduced into play.

Characteristics of Artifacts and Relics: Each artifact and relic is unique. There can only be one of that item in existence in a given campaign. It appears in a campaign only when it has been placed there by the DM. These devices never form part of a randomly placed treasure and so are not on any treasure table. The DM must choose to include each particular artifact in his game.

Artifacts and relics always possess dangerous and possibly deadly side effects. These effects are all but irreversible, unaffected by wishes and most greater powers. Artifacts can only be destroyed by extraordinary means.

Artifacts and relics can never be transferred from one campaign to another. If player characters from another DM's campaign enter yours, they automatically do so without any artifacts they might possess.

So, given all these warnings and admonitions, just what is it that makes artifacts and relics so potentially dangerous to use in a role-playing game?

At the top of the list is the fact that, in game terms, artifacts and relics are nothing more than excuses for the DM to break any and every rule he cares to. Upon learning the proper command, an artifact or relic might allow a character to raise all his ability scores immediately to their maximum or turn an enemy's bones to jelly.

The artifact might allow the character to summon meteor swarms, utter a power word, resurrect, or stop time once per day at will. He might be able to summon powerful monsters and easily bend them to his will. He could discover the power to dominate the minds of others, enslaving them to his desires. And this might only be a small part of what the artifact would allow him to do. In short, there is no limit to what you, as the DM, decide an artifact can accomplish.

Origins of Artifacts and Relics: All of these items have been handed down from ancient times and have histories shrouded in myth and legend. An artifact has the same background and aura about it as, for example, King Arthur's Excalibur, the skin of the Nemean lion worn by Hercules, Pandora's box, the Golden Fleece, the sword, jewels, and mirror of ancient Japan, or the hammer of Thor.

These unique objects were once held and used by gods and mortals far greater and more powerful than normal men. Often these items existed for an express purpose—to be used by a particular hero, to fight a particular foe. So closely associated is an artifact with a person, time, or place that its powers can seldom be fully used except by specific individuals who meet certain standards. A weakling could not hurl Thor's hammer, nor could just anyone command Baba Yaga's hut. An artifact may show its full powers only to deal with particular, very specific, threats or dangers. Artifacts have purposes, sometimes fulfilled long in the past and sometimes never-ending.

Introducing Artifacts and Relics into a Campaign: Because the impact of an artifact is so great, you should use them only in the most earth-shaking adventures you can devise. You must always have a reason for bringing an artifact into your game. It should never appear just because you want to give the characters something bigger and better.

If discovered at the beginning of an adventure, it should be the prelude to some great threat to the kingdom, empire, continent, or world where the item will make a difference. Rather than simply giving the item to the characters, you can introduce the danger first and then set the player characters searching for the artifact that will defeat or stem the tide of evil that threatens to oversweep the land. Alternatively, the player characters could be faced with the worst of all situations—one in which the artifact is in the hands of the enemy and the players must get it away from them. Each of these creates an adventure or, more likely, a series of adventures centered around the device.

Once the adventure is over, it is best for you to find some way to get the artifact out of the players' hands. In essence, the artifact was a MacGuffin—the thing that made the plot go—not something you want to remain in your campaign now that the need for the item is gone. This is very much in keeping with the nature of artifacts and relics, since they have a maddening habit of disappearing once their task is done. To leave the artifact in the campaign is to invite abuse by the player characters, perhaps for noble ends, but abuse all the same. There are, even in a fantasy game, "some things man was not meant to know."

Because of their grand impact and titanic significance in the scheme of things, artifacts should be used sparingly. There are only so many times the characters can save the world before it becomes old hat.

Don't be too eager to introduce these items into play and don't bring them in too often. Artifacts and relics represent the epitome of magical items. They are going to lose a lot of effect if every king in every kingdom has one in his treasure chambers. If characters only find one artifact in their entire careers, it will be enough. Well-played for all its drama, it will lead to an adventure the players will remember for a long time to come.

Table of Contents