When I was a kid, one of the most exciting bits in the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was the section on artifacts. It was some combination of “customizable magic items” and “magic items with mixed effects” and “this part of the book makes sense, the rest doesn’t”. What can I say? I was perhaps nine years old and hadn’t read the Player’s Handbook.
The 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide seems to have returned to a similar model, with each artifact having a baseline set of abilities and a few slots for (possibly randomly) chosen abilities, positive and negative.
Most other editions of D&D treat artifacts as unusual magic items with unvarying abilities. This includes AD&D 2e, D&D 3.x, Pathfinder, and I believe FantasyCraft (most I’ve checked, a couple from memory).
There is an oddity, though. The 4e Dungeon Master’s Guide presented a variation that intrigues me. The artifact definitions are fixed, but the artifact powers applicable can vary by how the wielder interacts with the item and the item’s interests. This led me to the Player’s Handbook, specifically the magic item section, and now I need to resist the urge to dive deeper right now.
Right now I’m trying to focus on Divine Trappings, and miring myself in 4e magic item rules is not going to get that done.
I started this post thinking I would talk about the artefact gifts from Classic Play: Book of Immortals, but I’m going to call the topic derailed. I’ll have to come back after I look more at 4e magic items.
I am right there with you! The Sword of Kas? Eye and Hand of Vecna? Those were mysterious and fantastic and so very Quest-worthy!
4e for all its grief did some very cool things and I love how magic items can change and scale even with the characters themselves.
Tim Brannan, The Other Side: 2021: The A to Z of Monsters