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.
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