Welcome once again to the weekly Nerdarchy Newsletter. This week we are talking about artifacts — uber-powerful magic items that can reshape your D&D campaign world. But before we dive into that, an update on the Facebook page. I’ve regained access, but I wouldn’t say control. The forces of evil are still listed as the owners of the page. I’ve got it unpublished but not deleted. These people won’t have to be subjected to the nonsense that has been going over there. I’m convinced I won’t be booted off the page by these evildoers again. We are fighting to get it back before we initiate the self destruct mechanism. We are leaving that for the last resort.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
When should you introduce an artifact into your game? Right away. Why wait? If you’ve decided your campaign is going to involve an item of immense power, then set the tone right away.
It could be just rumors from the next kingdom over. It could be a story of a great cataclysmic event that has taken place. Or perhaps a miracle instead. Once you’ve made a conscious decision to add an artifact to your game you should own it. This artifact should be a huge part of the campaign and should leave it completely changed afterward.
The real question is how much buildup to do you want? Would you like to have a mystery your players slowly unravel throughout their adventures? Or perhaps right from the get go, you want them to know what the stakes are.
One thing is certain — once you’ve decided to introduce an artifact you have decided on an epic campaign arc.
Some questions to answer:
Will the campaign be like Lord of Rings? Are your players like the companions setting out to deliver the One Ring to Mount Doom?
Is it going to be a race to try to beat the villains to this artifact of power like Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Must the characters quest for some great artifact of power to use against forces of evil, like Aquaman retrieving Poseidon’s Trident?
You don’t have to plan everything out from 1st level, but having an idea where your D&D campaign is going will help. I recommend not planning too far ahead. Instead, adjust to what your players do and see what direction they go in to save the world.
From Ted’s Head
Ellastreana’s Enchanted Expedition
Even from a young age Ellastreana was always wandering away from her parents. She always wanted to see what was over there. When she was grown she set out to explore the world. Given the long lifespan of an elf, she thought she would be able to see it all. Her travels brought her to many places and she met many interesting and knowledgeable people. One such person began teaching her magic that would allow her to travel places not easy to get to.
She began using her magic to augment her walking speed so she could see more in a day, every day. She began using her magic to repair her boots and protect her and her boots from harsh elements. Over the centuries these boots captured a small fraction, an infinitesimal portion, of every casting she made. But over hundreds of years, the amount of power imbued into the boots was considerable.
No one rightly knows whether it was the combination of where she went, the magic she used, or whether it was just the magic. Eventually, the boots took on a life of their own. Powers she had been using each day were no longer necessary. So she moved to more complex magics and it started to absorb those as well.
Ellastreana always said the most important part of a journey was a comfortable pair of boots. As she traveled the world and made maps of every little thing she could, these boots went everywhere and captured a piece of everything she did. These well-worn boots are indestructible even under the harshest of conditions or magic. They are as comfortable as any pair of boots can be and enable the wearer to travel twice as far in a day before suffering any exhaustion.
While the boots are not sentient, they can confer knowledge of the places Ellastreana has been. Because of this any Intelligence checks you make to figure out where you are or where you are going are made with double proficiency bonus. You also make Wisdom (Survival) checks to follow a path with the same bonus.
The boots have done so much and can protect you with ease from harsh environments. You suffer no penalties for harsh climates while attuned to these boots. These boots allow you to walk across water, lava, and ice without fear of damage, sinking in or suffering any damage. Desert sand acts as no more than soft soil and ice will not even crack under your weight. You also leave no footprints behind, masking any trail. Magical means of tracking, or if you drop something, still allow tracking but normal means to track movement have no chance of success.
The wanderlust and joy of travel are imparted to you and your attitude is adjusted two steps higher when you are traveling. The rain smells sweet, the breeze carries the fragrance of flowers and the sun shines ever brightly are simple phrases you might find yourself thinking or saying aloud.
While attuned to the boots you can cast the following spells:
2/day — Expeditious retreat
2/day — Spider climb
2/day — Pass without a trace
2/day — Longstrider
1/day — Freedom of movement
Of all the power imbued into Ellasreana’s boots, something of her desire and wanderlust was captured, too. The need to explore and travel is imparted into you. At the end of 30 days where you take any long rest within 10 miles of a location where you have already taken a long rest, you must succeed on a DC 11 Wisdom saving throw or feel an intense desire to leave. Failure means you are compelled to set off on a journey, traveling in a direction away from where you are towards somewhere you have not been and must travel for at least 1 day.
Should another 30 days pass and you are still attuned, repeat the saving throw but it is now DC 13. This process is repeated every 30 days, adding 2 to the DC each time, until you must succeed on a DC 21 Wisdom saving throw. If you succeed on this saving throw you will hear a telepathic message of farewell in a female elven voice. The boots will break the attunement and walk away in a random direction seeking a new owner.
Should you be bound or otherwise unable to move you still feel this compulsion. Despite this, the boots’ need to travel will force the separation as above. Those immune to charm effects are not immune to the compulsions of these boots
From the Nerditor’s Desk
“An artifact is a unique magic item of tremendous power, with its origin and history. An artifact might have been created by gods or mortals of awesome power. It could have been created in the midst of a crisis that threatened a kingdom, a world, or the entire multiverse, and carry the weight of that pivotal moment in history.”
In the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, artifacts are described thusly. These incredibly powerful items have a distinct place in D&D, and many of the examples described in the DMG go all the way back to the game’s earliest days. The Hand and Eye of Vecna, Orb of Dragonkind, Axe of the Dwarvish Lords and others have been around through every edition of D&D.
But aside from these game-changing items, often the focal points of entire campaigns, an artifact in general is any object made by a human being (or in D&D terms a sentient creature), typically with cultural or historical interest.
Looking at artifacts in D&D from this perspective, your campaign world is filled with them. Many campaign settings operate on the premise of modern-day civilizations built on the remains of fallen ones. The official D&D 5E campaign setting Forgotten Realms is no exception to this, as well as others like Dark Sun, the Land Between Two Rivers setting in Jim Davis from Web DM’s live play game, and Nerdarchy’s own Chimes of Discordia home game campaign setting. All of these settings are rife with artifacts from these previous ages.
When characters discover these artifacts from the past, it’s a great opportunity to help make your world become more realistic for the players. Even something as simple as the style of art on an old ceramic vase or the shape and stamp of coins found as treasure can enrich the experience for the players and intrigue the characters.
Protip: As a Game Master you don’t have to plan centuries-spanning history for your world with all the culture and development of the entire planet in advance. Right before a session or even on the spur of the moment during a game, you can add flourish and flair to a D&D game with nothing more than one line of description. Just be prepared for an innocuous description to send the party on any number of side quests. (That’s an extra protip for you — wind up the players and let them go, they’ll come up with their own adventure hooks!)
“As you Investigate the bookshelf, a small porcelain bowl catches your eye. It’s clearly very old, and delicate. The design painted on the outside of the bowl is peculiar, but you’re not sure exactly how or why. Inside the bowl is a worn key and a few coins. The stamp on the coins is worn and hard to discern what it depicts, and the coins have an unusual triangular shape unlike the currency of any realm you’ve been to.”
You know there’s not much to this bowl and its contents. The necromancer who the party defeated in the previous room used this old thing they got at a flea market to toss their keys and pocket change in when they got home to the lair. But your description has opened a window into your world the players can look through and see there’s more to life than killing monsters and taking the treasure.
The worlds of our D&D games are living places. They existed before the characters took on their first adventure and they’ll persist long after. (Or maybe not, that could be a cool campaign concept…) The point is, artifacts inform the players of what their characters already know. The world is a vibrant place. When you describe the artifacts characters encounter — and especially if you let the players help build the world — GMs and players alike discover new corners of their game and enrich the storytelling experience.
When it comes to artifacts, sometimes the Bowl of Loose Change and Keys can spark adventures as surely as the Wand of Orcus. All it takes is a little bit of colorful description to ignite imaginations. For some more ideas on enhancing your game with description, put a pin in this post from the Nerdarchy website. And let me know about some of the artifacts in your game (so I can steal your ideas…I mean…get inspired by your ideas!)