Designing an Artifact or Relic
When you do decide to introduce an artifact or relic, you design it specially
for your campaign. Some examples are given at the end of this section, but
artifacts should always be made to fit your campaign, not the other way around. In
this way, the players will never know what to expect—not its shape, its
history, its powers, or its purpose. All these things will make the discovery and use
of the item more exciting. In addition, you will have the knowledge that you
have created something major, perhaps the most significant thing, for your
campaign. That is no small accomplishment.
Appearance: The first step in creating an artifact is to decide its form. It could be
anything: a weapon, a hut with chicken legs, a book, a mask, a crown, a tooth, a
throne, a mechanical nightingale, a crystal orb, a plain ring, a wand, or
History: After you know what it looks like, create a history for it. This history will
guide you in deciding what powers the artifact has and what it is used for. In
this history, decide who created the item and what their reasons for creating
it were. Then, outline what has befallen the item over the centuries—where has
it surfaced and what has happened at those times? Finally, embellish this
history with clues to its powers and the erroneous legends that have come to surround
Alignment: Choose an appropriate alignment for the artifact (all artifacts are heavily
identified with an alignment).
Minor Powers: After you have a history of the item, begin to assign it powers. Artifacts
normally have a number of relatively minor powers and one or two major abilities.
Some minor abilities are:
• Cast a given 1st-level spell at will
• Cast a 5th-level or lesser spell once per day or week
• Cast a spell of 3rd level or less once or twice per day
• Cure serious wounds, disease, blindness, or deafness one or more times per day
• Detect good/evil, invisibility, charm, or magic at will
• Double the character's movement rate
• Freedom from hunger and fatigue
• Grant the possessor immunity to one type of harm: poison, fear, disease, gas,
normal missiles, acid, normal fire or cold, etc.
• Grant water breathing when held
• Improve the wielder's Armor Class by one or more points
• Increase an ability score by one point
• Paralyze at a touch
• Regenerate 2 hp per turn
• Speak with dead once per day
• Speak with plants or animals at will
• Turn undead as a cleric of the PC's level
• Understand any spoken language
• Understand any written language
Major Powers: After choosing minor powers, you can select the major powers. There should
normally be no more than one or two of these. The major power must be in keeping
with the history of the item. If you describe a sword wielded by a bloodthirsty
and depraved tyrant, it makes little sense for the major power to be to
resurrect others once per day. Rather one would expect something terrible—deliquescing
an enemy or summoning some extra-planar beast to kill upon command. Some
suggested major powers are:
• Automatically warn of impending danger
• Bestow magic resistance of 50% to 70% when held
• Cast a 9th-level spell or less once per day or week
• Death ray with no saving throw once per day
• Permanently raise all ability scores to their maximum
• Polymorph self at will
• Restore youth upon touch once per month
• Summon a djinni once per day
• Summon and control elementals once per day
• Teleport at will with no error
• Total immunity to all types of fire or cold
• Total immunity to all types of mental attacks (charms, etc.)
Dangers: After designing the beneficial or useful powers of the artifact, create the
dangers inherent in its use. All artifacts have grave risks—such is the nature of
their power. The item was originally used by someone of great will and power,
and even they placed themselves in danger to use the power the artifact
possessed. For the player characters, such danger is nearly inescapable. These dangers
are usually drastic physical side effects that affect the character. Again you
want the drawbacks of the artifact to mesh with the history you have created.
Some suggested drawbacks include:
• Alignment gradually becomes that of the item
• All plants within 10 feet of character wither and die
• All who see the artifact covet it
• Artifact always causes user to attack specific creature types
• Artifact drains one level of experience from user whenever a major power is
• Character is controlled by artifact if saving throw is failed
• Holy water burns the character
• User ages 3d10 years with each use until he is reduced to a zombie
• User causes fear in all who see him
• User contracts an incurable disease that reduces ability scores by 1 point
• User has a 5% cumulative chance per use of being stricken by incurable
• User's touch causes petrification
Corrupting Effect: As if this weren't enough, all artifacts have a corrupting effect. Characters
become suspicious of others and possessive of the item. They begin to see
threats where none were intended. Ultimately they will turn upon their friends and
companions, seeing them as scheming enemies out to destroy them and steal the
As with the drawbacks, this effect is caused by the fact that the player
character is not the one the artifact was first intended for. His personality is
different, and no matter how great he is, he lacks the force of will of the great
hero, arch-wizard, high priest, or demigod, who originally wielded the item.
Weakness: Finally, prepare some method by which the artifact can be destroyed.
Destroying an artifact is never easy—in fact, it's nearly impossible. Artifacts and
relics are impervious to all normal harm and magical attacks. They cannot be
crushed, dissolved in acid, melted or broken normally.
At best, the physical form can be disrupted for a period of time, but within a
century or less it will re-form in some new location. To truly destroy an
artifact, the characters must fulfill some exacting set of conditions as unique as
the artifact itself. Possible ways to destroy an artifact include:
• Carry it to the Outer Planes and presume upon the deity that made it to strip
it of its power.
• Cast it into the searing flames of the Sun.
• Crush it under the heel of an honest man (harder than it seems).
• Dissolve it in the Universal Solvent (which eats through anything).
• Expose it to the blinding light of the Lamp of Pure Reason.
• Feed it to the Earth Serpent who coils at the base of the World Tree.
• Melt it down in the heart of the volcano where it was forged.
• Place it at the very bottom of the Well of Decay.
• Utter aloud its 5,000,001 secret names.
• Weld it into the Gates of Hel.
Once all this is done, you will have an artifact or relic ready for use in
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