One of my personal complaints with fantasy RPGs is that sometimes magical treasure loses its wonder. Take Pathfinder for example. Some magical treasures are almost required to meet the game’s balance expectations. Even within the context of the world and story of the campaign many magical items are set dressing at best. A few unique items have histories and cool story elements but they are exceptions.
Worse, even the unique items rarely offer a great deal of mystery and within a roll or two powers and charges are all revealed. Now in a world where wizards and clerics wield fundamental forces unknown in our reality some of this is to be expected. And playing with some predictable magic is fun but I still want more wonder and mystery in my games even on items that don’t rise to the power of artifacts.
I’ve talked on the blog before about my fondness for Numenera and the Cypher System. One of the elements I really liked about Numenera was the “magical” treasure one could find. Most of it came in one of three varieties: oddities, cyphers, and artifacts.
Today I’m most interested in the Cypher System’s artifacts. These are not artifacts in the same way as Pathfinder artifacts. Cypher system artifacts fill the niches of magical weapons, armor, staves, rods, wondrous items, etc. These are items with a single magical effect and an unknown number of charges. Unknown because each time an artifact is used a depletion roll is made. Depletion is expressed as a range and a die, for example, one item might have a 1 in 1d10 while another might have a 1-2 in 1d6. If the depletion roll is within the listed range the item ceases to function.
I like the uncertainty this creates.
I’m also quite fond of the existing artifact model. Highly unique items impossible to replicate…or at least not easily replicated because not every unique item needs to be of such colossal power. So with that as a basis, I’ve begun thinking about trivial artifacts. These items are rare if not singularly unique and may not reveal all of their secrets when identified.
Vial of Stars
Aura strong divination; CL 18
Slot none, Weight —
When the stopper is pulled from this faceted crystal vial it seems to pulse with a faint inner glow for a mere moment. To the eyes of the wielder motes of candle bright light spring into existence creating an area of dim light in a 90-foot radius of the vial. A wielder with darkvision finds this has no adverse effect on their sight but color returns to things viewed within the vial’s effective radius. The vial casts its dim light even through magical darkness.
Depletion 1 in 1d20 per hour of use.
Possible Secrets for the vial of stars: The pattern of lights viewed is not random but forms a specific series of constellations. In a Starfinder campaign, it might be an actual magical stellar map that might require a second piece be inserted in the uncapped vial to reveal the exact location of a particular campaign McGuffin.
Aura strong transmutation; CL 18
Slot neck, Weight —
This pendant features a brightly shining double headed gold coin. Both sides of the coin bear the true likeness of the person holding or wearing the pendant although sometimes one of the heads is that of an enraged red dragon. The pendant may be activated as an immediate action whenever the bearer fails any attack roll, caster level check, saving throw or skill check. When activated there is the faint but audible ring of a flipped coin. For the user, time seems to rewind by a bare moment. Just long enough that the bearer may reroll the initial check with an additional d20 and take the highest of the two new results. Unlike other trivial artifacts, when the Destiny Coin is depleted it doesn’t become inert instead it vanishes and reappears somewhere else in the world.
Depletion 1-3 in 1d20 Destruction it must be melted down in the fire of a colossal dragon.
Possible secrets of the Destiny Coin: The coin once was the centerpiece of a dragon’s hoard but it was stolen. The dragon had grown too dependent on the coin’s luck and soon perished. Haunted by the loss of its prized treasure the now undead dragon seeks it out and can hear every flip of the coin where ever in the world it is. Worse in the presence of the undead dragon the power of the coin warps and both heads on the coin take on the likeness of the red dragon. While appearing like this the bearer may still reroll a d20 check per the normal power, but instead of taking the best of two results the bearer must take the worst of the two results. In this case, an alternate depletion effect might be that instead of vanishing the coin teleports the dragon to wherever the bearer is.
The bearer might also discover they can speak draconic while they wear the coin this ability doesn’t deplete the item.