An artifact is a rare and powerful magic item in Dungeons & Dragons. The means to create artifacts are either unavailable to mortal ken, or else long forgotten. Artifacts are often unique or finite in number, and cannot be destroyed except by specific means.

Defining traits[edit | edit source]

Certain properties distinguish an artifact from a normal magic item.

Uniqueness[edit | edit source]

An artifact is distinguished from normal magic items by its uniqueness. For example, while there may be many vorpal swords in the world, there is only one Sword of Kas. Each artifact is a thing of legend.

A key defining trait of an artifact is that it cannot be recreated by any known means. Some artifacts were forged by gods or powerful beings, using methods or power beyond the capability of any mortal. Others were crafted by powerful spellcasters of long ago, whose powerful magic or technology is lost to us today.

Despite this definition, some lesser artifacts are thought to exist in multiple copies. The staff of the magi, sphere of annihilation and book of vile darkness are known to exist in more than one instance. These are still often considered to be artifacts, since they cannot be recreated by known means, although they are classifed by some as minor artifacts.[1]

Power[edit | edit source]

Artifacts are by definition more powerful and dangerous than normal magic items.

Each artifact grants its bearer unique abilities, and usually multiple such abilities.

Drawbacks[edit | edit source]

Many artifacts afflict detrimental effects on mortals who attempt to wield them, or have some other drawback.

Examples include forcing the bearer to change alignment, inflicting madness, requiring the bearer to eat and drink more, causing nearby potions to dilute to water, and making it impossible for anyone to rest in the artifact's presence.[2]

Destruction[edit | edit source]

An artifact cannot be destroyed by normal means. Each artifact can only be destroyed by its own unique method, the details of which are an obscure secret.[2]

Destroying an artifact is likely to require an entire special quest. For example, it may be necessary to travel through dangerous territory and throw an artifact ring into the volcano where it was originally forged. An artifact is invulnerable to any attempts to destroy it by other means, such as spells or physical damage.

Classification[edit | edit source]

Artifacts are sometimes divided into two categories: major artifacts, and minor artifacts. Additionally, some are referred to as relics. These distinctions are not used by all sources, and are applied inconsistently.

Major artifacts[edit | edit source]

A major artifact is one which is truly unique, and only one of each exists in the multiverse. They cannot be destroyed except by a single obscure and extremely difficult method, and are extremely powerful and dangerous.[1]

Examples of major artifacts include the Hand and Eye of Vecna and the Sword of Kas, only one of each exist.

Minor artifacts[edit | edit source]

A minor artifact is a less powerful artifact. They still cannot be replicated by any known method, but in some cases multiples of this item exist. The might be destroyed more easily than a major artifact, or by multiple different methods.[1]

Examples of minor artifacts is the sphere of annihilation, which can be destroyed by a rod of cancellation or the 9th level spell gate; or the staff of the magi, which can be intentionally broken to perform a retributive strike.

Relics[edit | edit source]

A relic is a general term for any artifact which once either belonged to a noteworthy individual, or formed part of that creature's body. The best known of these are the Hand and Eye of Vecna. A relic may also be considered either a minor or major artifact.

Notable artifacts[edit | edit source]

For a list of artifacts, see Category:Artifacts.

While all artifacts are noteworthy items, a few are particularly well known.

Publication history[edit | edit source]

Original D&D[edit | edit source]

Basic D&D[edit | edit source]

AD&D 1st edition[edit | edit source]

AD&D 2nd edition[edit | edit source]

D&D 3rd edition[edit | edit source]

D&D 4th edition[edit | edit source]

D&D 5th edition[edit | edit source]

Creative origins[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dungeon Master's Guide (3.5) (2003), p.277-282.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dungeon Master's Guide (5e) (2014), p.219-227.
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