Rewind - Artifacts

Rewind - Artifacts

Artifacts are a great way to make your player’s character feel like a God. Usually artifacts are items of incredible power and they give abilities that your characters could only dream of. They’ve been around since 1e, but the focus has moved away from a long list of artifacts with rich histories and detailed descriptions, to a smaller number of items (still with amazing backgrounds), with the focus on letting DMs be able to create their own artifacts, relic and intelligent items. That’s pretty cool. But let’s go back and take a look at some of these amazing items throughout the editions from 1e an see how they influenced the artifacts of today.

While we would love to talk about all of the artifacts and their amazing history in DnD, but… that would create such a long article, that I’m not sure we could ever finish writing it. So instead, we have grabbed a few of our favorite artifacts from the various editions and want to share them with you! Hopefully you can throw a few of these in your own campaigns!

Artifacts in AD&D

Machine of Lum the Mad

Perhaps this strange device was built by gods long forgotten and survived the eons since their passing, for it is incredibly ancient and of workmanship unlike anything known today. The Machine was used by Baron Lum to build an empire, but what has since become of this ponderous mechanism none can say. Legends report that it has 60 levers, 40 dials, and 20 switches (but only about one-half still function). Singly or in combination, these controls will generate all sorts of powers and effects.

The Machine is delicate, intricate, bulky and very heavy (5,500 pounds). It cannot be moved normally, and any serious jolt will set off and then destroy 1-4 functions of the artifact which can never be restored. It has a booth of a size suitable for 4 man-sized creatures (4' X 5' X 7') to stand inside, and if a creature or object is placed therein and the Machine's controls are worked, something might happen.

You must matrix the 60 levers, 40 dials, and 20 switches, showing which will perform functions. You may apt to include powers and/or effects of your own devising: 15 Minor Benign Powers, 15 Major Benign Powers, 10 Minor Malevolent Powers, 10 Major Malevolent Powers, 15 Prime Powers, 5 Side Effects.

Book of Artifacts,  1993 TSR Inc.

Book of Artifacts, 1993 TSR Inc.

There are so many cool artifacts from the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide and it was incredibly difficult to pick. But let’s start here, with Lum the Mad. The cool thing about the artifacts in AD&D is that since the game was in its infancy, Gygax and crew could make up whatever they wanted with whatever background they felt like, and the Machine of Mad the Lum is a great example of that… as well as being one of our favorites.

Upon first reading the description of this artifact, you can picture a big organ like musical device, but realize that wasn’t what they were describing at all. Remember, this was 1979. I think it was based more on the first giant computers, with a large phone booth attached to it for people to stand in. Looking at it with today’s eyes, I envision some sort of crazy steampunk machine, or a mini version of the TARDIS from Doctor Who.

However you picture it, this machine must be huge. It has a ridiculous number of levers, dials and switches and, as stated, is stupid heavy. To put into perspective, that is approximately the same weight as your average Large Truck or SUV. So how the hell do you move this thing? Going through the AD&D spell list isn’t much help. You can’t levitate it (100 lbs per wizard level), and even if you could, you couldn’t push it. You can’t teleport it, since that spell also has a weight limit you’d never reach (250 lbs + 150 lbs for each level over 10th). It’s a nope on any of the Bigby’s hand spells in AD&D too.

Even making friends with a giant to have them help you move it wouldn’t work, although you could get 3 of them to help you but… giants aren’t know for their delicate nature, and as described above, it breaks easily. I guess you could cast wish and have it transported to a location… and that seems like the only real way to do it without risking the machine.

The list of powers that the Machine has are quite extensive, and the DM had even more options available to him considering there are 48,000 combinations you could come up with based on the number of levels, dials, and switches. The DMG says that only about half of them work, but that’s sill 24,000 combinations.

A number that big makes my head hurt, so lets just go with the 70 the DMG lists. You and three of your closest friends stand in the “phone booth”, while someone outside starts flipping switches. The right combination of switches and levers may bestow upon them great powers, or can screw you over. Hopefully you have a manual on which dials to turn or you could end up losing all interest in sex (Minor Malevolent Effect H, pg. 162 Dungeon Master’s Guide).

So now what. You just found this insanely powerful artifact and you can’t carry it, move it or doing anything really, just use it in the location that it’s in. Here’s the scenario we think makes sense if you were to use this artifact in game. Remember that AD&D was a much different game than the current 5th edition. Most classes capped out at 11th level and it was incredibly hard to get there. Starting around 7th level, players weren’t just wandering around looking for monsters to kill. For many, it was time for you to get a castle, hire some henchmen and wage war on your neighbors. You have heard that a neighboring castle has this magical machine that bestows upon its warriors amazing powers. Time to storm a castle folks! Sure, it will be hard because the machine is there, but we have faith in you!

The Teeth of Dahlver-Nor

 If any cleric was more powerful than the re-nowned Dahlver-Nor, histories do not tell us. The gods themselves gave special powers to him, and these have passed on to others by means of the great relics of Dahlver-Nor, his teeth. Each of the Teeth has some power, and if one character manages to gain a full quarter, half, or all of them, other grand benefits accrue. In order to gain the power of one of these teeth, however, the character must place it into his or her mouth, where it will graft itself in the place of a like missing tooth. The teeth can never be removed once so emplaced short of the demise of the possessor. Their powers/effects are: way too many to list!

This artifact could be the driving source behind someone creating the most epic easter egg hunt campaign ever. There are a total of 32 teeth that you can find with each tooth a power associated to it. They are as follows:

  • 21 Minor Benign Powers

  • 4 Major Benign Powers

  • 4 Minor Malevolent Powers

  • 3 Major Malevolent Powers

But you also get additional powers based on the number or sets of teeth you are able to find:

  • 1-8 teeth - 1 Major Benign Power & 1 Side Effect

  • 9-16 teeth - 1 Major Benign Power & 1 Major Malevolent Power

  • 14-24 teeth - 1 Major Benign Power & 1 Minor Malevolent Power

  • 25-32 teeth - 1 Major Benign Power & 1 Minor Malevolent Power

And just a bit more:

  • 1-16 teeth - 1 Prime Power

  • 17-31 teeth - 1 Prime Power

  • All 32 teeth - 1 Prime Power

All the powers are cumulative. That means if you find all the teeth you can have up to 43 powers! You could create one epic quest to find all 32 teeth, either fighting through hordes of ever more dangerous monsters, and/or have the party fight one superhero BBEG for the final tooth, the one that allows the possessor to cast wish once per day (Prime Power KK, pg. 164 Dungeon Master’s Guide). I’m going to have to talk to Stephen about this. If he ever finishes his Archipelago Island Adventure, this could be the Dump Stat opus.

Now, I will address the elephant in the room… It’s a little gross that to be able to use the tooth, the character must remove a similar tooth, and insert the new tooth into their mouth. But powerful magic sometimes comes with horrible dental hygiene. I’d be more than willing to stick some 1,000 year old guys tooth in my mouth if it gave me the ability to cast Meteor Swarm once a day.

Destroying an AD&D Artifact

Listed in the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide on page 163 are ways to destroy an Artifact or Relic. They are as follows:

1. Melt it down in the fiery furnace, pit, mountain, forge, crucible or kiln in which it was created.

2. Drop it into or bury it beneath (1) the Well of Time, (2) the Abyss, (3) the Earth Wound, (4) Adonais' Deep, (5) the Spring of Eternity, (6) Marion's Trench, (7) the Living Stone, (8) Mountain of Thunder, (9) 100 adult red dragon skulls, (10) the Tree of the Universe.

3. Cause it to be devoured by (1) Cerebus, (2) a Lernaean Hydra, (3) a Titan, (4) an ancient Dragon Turtle.

4. Cause it to be broken against/by or crushed by (1) Talos a triple iron golem, (2) the Gates of Hell, (3) the Cornerstone of the World, (4)Artur's Dolmen, (5) the Juggernaut of the Endless Labyrinth, (6) the heel of a god, (7) the Clashing Rocks, (8) the foot of a humble ant.

5. Expose it to the penetrating light and flame of (1) the Ray of Eternal Shrinking, (2) the Sun, (3) Truth: that which is pure will become Light, that which is impure will surely wither.

6. Cause it to be steeped in either the encephalic fluids of the brain of Bahamut (the platinum dragon), or in the black and foul blood from the heart of Tiamat the Chromatic Dragon.

7. Cause it to be seared by the odious flames of Geryon's destroyed soul or disintegrated in the putrid ichor of Juiblex's deliquescing flesh.

8. Sprinkle it with/baptize it in the (1) Well of Life, (2) River Styx, (3) River of Flame, (4) River Lethe (the river of forgetfulness).

Not sure why’d you want to destroy your new Artifact, but those are the ways you can do it. I don’t care how bad the Malevolent Powers or Side Effects are. Reading through this list, it doesn’t seem worth trying any of them. I mean really, are you going to walk up to Tiamat and explain to the most powerful dragon in D&D lore, that sorry, but you have to kill her cause you need the blood from her heart? I’m sure that will go over well… though I’d love to see my party’s face when they take their new artifact on a picnic and an ant steps on it!

Artifacts in 2e

Codex of the Infinite Planes

The Codex is a massive tome, far larger than any book has a right to be. It is said that two strong men can barely lift the volume. The covers are made of flawless black obsidian and the pages therein are sheets of lead hammered so thin that they flex like paper. These are illuminated with strange writings in languages unknown and illustrations both beautiful and horrific. No matter how many pages are turned, there is always one more.

Invoked. All powers of the Codex are triggered by reading, if one knows where to look. The Codex can open a portal to any plane, demiplane, or prime material world at any location. The book, however, has no index or table of contents. The only other known power is to summon a greater fiend to serve for 24 hours (1/month).
Random. 4 from Table 26: Minor Spell-Like Powers, 4 from Table 25: Major Spell-Like Powers
Curse. Every page read, whether useful or not, has a 1% cumulative chance of triggering an awful fate (by accidentally opening the wrong portal)—irreversible madness, the arrival of a greater tanar'ri, 10-mile radius clouds of deadly poison (no saving throw), or worse. No character can read more than 99 pages before doom befalls them.

Book of Artifacts,  1993 TSR Inc.

Book of Artifacts, 1993 TSR Inc.

Oh boy… Now this is an artifact of some freaky shit. On page 27 of The Book of Artifacts, the codex is just asking to be used in a campaign, and the book even gives some helpful hints as to when you should introduce the Codex into your games. They recommend for high level campaigns ready to explore the planes and your players should only find it through a series of strange catastrophes, and they shouldn’t be allowed to keep it for long as it will spell doom for the party.

This codex is everything I ever wanted in an artifact, it has strange powers, it’ll kill the characters and… puts a larger focuses on the planes! Who doesn’t love saving the planes from a massive destructive force?

Artifacts in 2e have a lot of information that goes along with them, and we continue with having random minor and major powers that go along with them from 1e. One of main differences between 1e and 2e artifacts is that they now have specific ways to destroy them, instead of just generic ways.

Destroying an Artifact in 2e

• It cannot be destroyed, only safely hidden where it can cause no harm.
• Every page of its infinite pages must be read.
• One page of the book opens a portal upon the book itself, wiping it out of existence.

With each artifact having it’s own way of being destroyed, it can range from the absurd, like reading every page of infinity, to something a bit more doable… like hitting it until it is destroyed (The Machine of Lum the Mad, every hit destroys 1d4 levers).

Artifacts in 3e/3.5e

The Moaning Diamond

Said to have been ripped from the ground in a ritual that tortured the earth itself, the Moaning Diamond appears to be an uncut diamond the size of a human fist. At all times, it gives forth a baleful moaning sound, as if in pain. Despite the noise, the Moaning Diamond is not evil (although it was birthed in torture). The wielder of the stone can, three times per day, call upon it to reshape earth and stone as if by the spell stone shape, affecting 5,000 cubic feet of material. The Moaning Diamond can summon an elder earth elemental with maximum hit points that serves the caster until it is slain. Only one such elemental can be summoned at a time; if it is slain, a new creature cannot be summoned for 24 hours. Tales from the past tell of the Moaning Diamond creating stone structures, opening under-ground chambers where there had been none before, and collapsing entire castles.

This seems like a pretty weak major artifact, and that’s the reason that we added it to the list. Not all artifacts, even major ones, are so overpowered that they break the game. The Diamond doesn’t have 43 cumulative powers like the gross teeth, but what you can do is pretty interesting. Of course, that constant moaning may get old really quick and you may end up chucking it into a cavern of its own making.

The possessor can cast the stone shape spell three times a day; that spell allows you to form an existing piece of stone into any shape that suits your purpose. It’s possible to make crude coffers, doors, and so forth with stone shape, fine detail isn’t possible. There is a 30% chance that any shape, including moving parts, simply doesn’t work.

Now the spell only allows you to shape 10 cubic feet, + 1 foot per caster level. The Diamond allows you to shape 5000 cubic feet. I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out just how much that is, and the best I could come up with is… that it’s a shit ton. But the question is what good does that do you. Two things popped into my head immediately. First, you could build a moat. You probably should have a castle, but if you do, it would sure save on the labor cost.

The second idea I have was a bit more practical for combat situations. You’re being attacked by 1,000 kobolds. Don’t know what you did to piss them off, but here they come. You touch the ground in front of you and create a giant hole in the ground, swallowing up all thousand of those kobolds. While you deal with the kobold army in a round, everyone has plenty of time to finish working on that moat you ordered constructed!

Now the best part of the Diamond is it allows the owner to summon an Elder Earth Elemental. When you call forth your new best friend, you get quite a bit out of him:

Earth Elemental, Elder Huge Elemental
Hit Dice - 24d8 + 120. Max Hit Points: 312
(–1) | Speed 30 ft. (6 squares)
Armor Class 22 (–2 size, –1 Dex, +15 natural) touch 7, flat-footed 22
Base Attack/Grapple +18/+37
Attack Slam +27 melee (2d10+11/19–20)
Full Attack 2 Slams +27 melee (2d10+11/19–20)
Space/Reach 15 ft./15 ft.
Special Attacks Earth mastery, push
Special Qualities Damage reduction 10/–, earth glide, darkvision 60 ft., elemental traits
Saves Fort +19 | Ref +7 | Will +10
Str 33 | Dex 8 | Con 21 | Int 10 | Wis 11 | Cha 11
Skills Listen +29, Spot +29
Feats Alertness, Awesome Blow, Cleave, Great Cleave, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Critical (slam), Improved Sunder, Iron Will, Power Attack
CR 11

I may have been wrong about this being a weak artifact. In fact, after looking at this stat block and realize you can summon one of these guys every 24 hours after your latest one dies, I know I’m wrong (I being Chris. Stephen claims he’s never wrong). The players have probably hit close to their max level if they find this artifact, but having a Huge Earth Elemental at your disposal with two attacks and nine feats is crazy good. Not to mention that an Elder Elemental is 40 feet tall and weighs 60,000 pounds. Most sane creatures will run away as fast as possible when they see your buddy… though I think we know who we can get to move our Machine of Lum the Mad!

Destroying an Artifact in 3.5e

3e/3.5e is a bit more to the point about how to destroy an artifact; the DM chooses one option from the following list as the only means of destruction for an artifact:

1. Throwing it into the volcano lair of the dragon Uthrax.

2. Crushed under the heel of a demigod.

3. Buried in the Rift of Corrosion in the Abyss.

4. Disintegrated while placed at the base of the Infinite Staircase.

5. Devoured by Talos, the triple iron golem.

6. Immersed in the Fountain of Light in the holy Halls of Heironeous himself.

As with AD&D, none of these seem like a very good idea if you want to continue breathing. The Dungeon Master’s Guide even states as much, saying that since it’s so hard to destroy artifacts, they are usually just buried in a deep vault, cast into the astral plane or guarded by some unsuspecting, but extremely powerful guardian. Plus, if people did go around feeding artifacts to Talos, how would our adventurers find these stupidly powerful items?

Artifacts in 4e

Amulet of Passage

The Amulet of Passage is appropriate for heroic level characters.

This fine silver chain is unassuming, bearing a single arrowhead shaped jewel. While you wear this amulet, it stirs thoughts of legendary battles and heroic deeds.

The Amulet of Passage is a +2 magic amulet with the following properties and powers.

Item Slot: Neck
Enhancement: Fortitude, Reflex, and Will
Property: You gain a +2 item bonus to Acrobatics and Athletics checks to escape, and to Thievery checks to open locks.
Power (At Will) Standard Action: You attune an ally to the Amulet. While attuned and within 10 squares of you, an ally can use the Amulet's powers (but not its enhancement bonus or properties) as if he or she were wearing it.
Power (Daily ♦ Teleportation Move Action): You and each attuned ally can each use this power once per day. You teleport a number of squares equal to your speed

Amulet of Passage Lore
Religion DC 16: An ancient tale describes how Asmodeus, seeking to thwart the power of fate, placed obstacles in the paths of those mortal beings with the greatest destinies. To counter this affront, the Raven Queen crafted the Amulet of Passage to guide the greatest mortal heroes back to the path that fate had laid ow for them.
Religion DC 21: Another legend claims that Avandra made the Amulet to help heroes pursue their own dreams and goals. The Amulet grants extraordinary powers of movement—not just to its owner, but to its owner's allies as well.

Goals of the Amulet of Passage
Find those that could become legendary heroes and guide them toward their destined paths. Continue to move through the world in search of new heroes.

Dungeon Master’s Guide II,  2009 WotC

Dungeon Master’s Guide II, 2009 WotC

As usual, 4e doesn’t make things easy. But they do add some interesting artifacts to D&D. It’s cool that they make the player do a religion check to see what they know about the artifact. Not sure why it isn’t history too, but religion it is.

Something else that is pretty awesome is that the entire party can gain benefits from the item even if they aren’t the main wielder of it. The 4e Dungeon Master’s Guide has a section on artifacts for multiple players that stated that such items are a reward for working together. Of course, if they don’t work together and are attuned to the item, bad things can happen to them… like actively harming them during encounters.

Concordance is another part of artifacts that I wished they had carried over to 5e. Once you gain possession of an artifact, it will communicate with the new owner and tell them the goals of the artifact. The artifact starts off neutral towards you, a concordance of 5 without any racial or class bonuses, and based on a chart that each artifact gets, you can increase or decrease your Concordance with the item. Depending on what your Concordance is, it may decide to grant more abilities, powers and other effects… or it may try to actively harm or even kill you (Eye of Vecna).

This adds an interesting flavor to the role of gameplay and how you interact with the artifact. Since the artifact tells the owner what its powers and goals are, they must work towards getting said powers… it could be even that the artifact has goals that will create an awesome side story arc through the planes!

It’s a slow slog to get to the next tier (Satisfied) since you can only gain up to a +2 Concordance per task, except for when you gain a level (1d10 roll). There are five levels of Concordance: Pleased (16-20), Satisfied (12-15), Normal (5-11), Unsatisfied (1-4) and Angered (0 or Lower). Each level has specific things that that artifact will grant, like the Amulet of Passage can grant bonuses to Athletics/Acrobatic checks, Thievery checks and teleportation powers.

Destroying an Artifact in 4e

There is no mention of how an artifact can be destroyed in 4e. Artifacts “move on” from its owner when it’s task is complete, or it decides that it’s served the purpose it was meant to and needs to find a new owner. As stated in the 4e DMG:

Whatever their nature, all artifacts share one behavioral trait in common: They move on. When a character acquires the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, she instinctively realizes that, as with all the heroes and villains before her who have held the artifact, her ownership will be temporary.

Every artifact has unique goals. When a wielder has advanced the artifact’s goals or proven to be a hopeless case, the artifact moves on. For a few levels, make the artifact’s intentions part of your story line and the PCs’ possible quest. Consider the artifact’s probable exit points before you allow a character to gain possession of an artifact.

Artifacts in 5e

Book of Exalted Deeds - 5e

Wondrous item, artifact (requires attunement by a creature of good alignment)
The definitive treatise on all that is good in the multiverse, the fabled Book of Exalted Deeds figures prominently in many religions. Rather than being a scripture devoted to a particular faith, the book's various authors filled the pages with their own vision of true virtue, providing guidance for defeating evil. The Book of Exalted Deeds rarely lingers in one place. As soon as the book is read, it vanishes to some other corner of the multiverse where its moral guidance can bring light to a darkened world. Although attempts have been made to copy the work, efforts to do so fail to capture its magical nature or translate the benefits it offers to those pure of heart and firm of purpose.

A heavy clasp, wrought to look like angel wings, keeps the book's contents secure. Only a creature of good alignment that is attuned to the book can release the clasp that holds it shut. Once the book is opened, the attuned creature must spend 80 hours reading and studying the book to digest its contents and gain its benefits. Other creatures that peruse the book's open pages can read the text but glean no deeper meaning and reap no benefits. An evil creature that tries to read from the book takes 24d6 radiant damage. This damage ignores resistance and immunity, and can't be reduced or avoided by any means. A creature reduced to 0 hit points by this damage disappears in a blinding flash is destroyed, leaving its possessions behind. Benefits granted by the Book of Exalted Deeds last only as long as you strive to do good. If you fail to perform at least one act of kindness or generosity within the span of 10 days, or if you willingly perform an evil act, you lose all the benefits granted by the book.

Random Properties. The Book of Exalted Deeds has the following random properties: 2 minor beneficial properties / 2 major beneficial properties
Increased Wisdom. After you spend the requisite amount of time reading and studying the book, your Wisdom score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24. You can't gain this benefit from the book more than once.
Enlightened Magic. Once you've read and studied the book, any spell slot you expend to cast a cleric or paladin spell counts as a spell slot of one level higher.
Halo. Once you've read and studied the book, you gain a protective halo. This halo sheds bright light in a 10 foot radius and dim light for an additional 10 feet. You can dismiss or manifest the halo as a bonus action. While present, the halo gives you advantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks made to interact with good creatures and Charisma (Intimidation) checks made to interact with evil creatures. In addition, fiends and undead within the halo's bright light make attack rolls against you with disadvantage.

Dungeon Master’s Guide,  2014 WotC

Dungeon Master’s Guide, 2014 WotC

I know this is a Rewind, but we wanted to add in a 5e artifact to show how they have changed from 1e to 5e. It’s interesting because while the number of listed artifacts is reduced dramatically from 1e to 5e, the description are once again rich and detailed, and they are better for it. The description doesn’t go too deep into its lore, but the detailed that are given are rich and deep. The description also fills in a lot of blanks that earlier editions left open to interpretation. You can’t copy it. You have to spend a pre-determined amount of time to be able to use it. The penalties for using the book if you aren’t the right alignment, and so on and so forth.

The Book of Exalted Deeds is an example of how well balanced artifacts are now. Remember our Machine of Lum the Mad? While it had some drawbacks, it was a game breaker. 5e gives you some crazy good powers, but not so much that the game is ruined by one single item. The limits placed upon the properties of the Book do not lessen the power of the artifact. 2 minor and major properties is really great, plus it’s unique abilities are good, but not overpowering amazing. I’m not sure how much I’d like walking around with a halo all the time, but I’ll deal with it for advantage on some Charisma checks and putting those pesky fiends and undead at disadvantage.

Destroying an Artifact in 5e

Each artifact in 5e has it’s own way of destroying it though none of them are as insane as find a humble ant to step on them, a lot of them are a bit more doable or just flat our can’t be destroyed… like the Book of Exalted Deeds:

It is rumored that the Book of Exalted Deeds can't be destroyed as long as good exists in the multiverse. However, drowning the book in the River Styx removes all writing and imagery from its pages and renders the book powerless for l d100 years.


Artifacts are a fun part of the game, especially when the players are reaching 20th level and looking for something other than gold in their treasure hoards. Whether making the search for an artifact be the party’s final quest, or having them find it so they can defeat a god and save the universe, artifacts can be used to give the party that one amazing item they have been waiting for.

We really enjoy going through these old editions, looking for artifacts is a great way to bring even more shenanigans to your table. Just imagine the table’s faces when you reveal to them the Machine of Lum the Mad or inform them that to use their brand new artifact… they are going to have to put some dead dude’s teeth in their mouth… gag!

We have gone ahead and updated a few of these artifacts for 5e! We hope you enjoy and let us know your favorite artifacts down below!

Header Art Credit: Book of Artifacts, 1993 TSR Inc.

Deep Dive - The Sahuagin

Deep Dive - The Sahuagin

Deep Dive - The Xorn

Deep Dive - The Xorn