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 whatever.

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 the item.

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 used

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 each month

User has a 5% cumulative chance per use of being stricken by incurable lycanthropy

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 artifact.

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 your campaign.

Table of Contents