Magical Artifacts in the Age of Ruins

Persian Amulet / Photo: Tamoikins Museum

Items of power lie waiting in forgotten temples and forbidden tombs throughout the world. Many an adventurer risks life and limb in pursuit of such items. However, in order to fully utilize a magical artifact, a character must learn the nature of the item they wield.

The most rudimentary of magical qualities can be discerned through a simple casting of Detect Arcana. This reveals the magical aura around an item and gives the caster a general impression of its strength. In the case of artifacts with an obvious function, such as swords and armor, this also reveals to the players the basic bonuses to damage, Fighting, Parry, or Toughness such items provide. Also, any obvious “always on” effect can be easily determined (such as how much extra fire damage is done by a sword constantly wreathed in flame).

More esoteric or specialized powers, however, need to be determined through research or foreknowledge. This includes extra effects a magical weapon may be capable of (such as damage bonuses against specific foes or elemental damage that needs to be activated), as well as any function of items such as rings, robes, amulets, or wands. Until these powers are understood, a character cannot use or benefit from them, even if the benefit is passive (such as a belt granting great strength). Seeing another character use an item provides foreknowledge of the item’s power, but only as it relates to the function witnessed. Otherwise, any character with Knowledge Arcana may roll at -4 to see if they recognize the discovered artifact. Should this roll fail, research is required.

In order to research an artifact’s nature, a character must have access to some store of knowledge. This can range from a personal collection of tomes and notes to a great library buried among the ruins of a fallen city. The minimum amount of time a character must spend in research is 5 days, at the end of which the character makes a Knowledge Arcana check. Every full 5 days additional the character spends in research prior to the check adds +1 to the roll. Based on the quality and extent of research sources, an additional modifier ranging from -2 to +2 should be applied to the roll.

Some magical items contain tremendous power that the wielder must exert willpower to summon, such as staves and wands. When attempting to activate the power contained within these items, the wielder must roll either their Spellcasting skill or their Knowledge Arcana skill, whichever is lower. If the roll fails, the wielder is shaken. If the wielder rolls a 1 on the skill die, regardless of the result of the wild die, then they suffer backlash. For most items, this is the same effect as spellcasting backlash, but certain powerful artifacts may have their own unique backlash effects. As always, the Perilous Practice rule applies.

Pitiless Blades of Apoth-Rün
These khopesh swords (damage as long sword) were created by the cultists of the demon prince Apoth-Rün, the Vizier of Exquisite Agony. They are enchanted with a +1 bonus to damage and do 2d6 extra damage on a Fighting raise (instead of the usual 1d6, not in addition).

Staff of Haantrax
Carved by an ancient Arethi mage who dwelt deep in the Tarkash Mountains, this pure ebony staff is topped with a brilliant, swirling opal. When activated, anyone within a cone template must make a Spirit roll at -2; failure results in a wound. Any targets incapacitated as a result of this wound die screaming in horrendous pain as their flesh and organs rapidly melt away from their bones. If the wielder incurs backlash, they take 3d8 damage and suffer the same fate if incapacitated. Even if the wielder survives, their skin sags and resolidifies, distorting and disfiguring their appearance. A permanent -1 modifier is applied to the wielder’s Charisma for every wound suffered from backlash.

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Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

2 thoughts on “Magical Artifacts in the Age of Ruins”

  1. I’ve missed a few of your posts so I’m going back and reading now.

    I find this is an Idea I’ve always wanted to try. The problem I face is how do you judge the player’s ability to handle a threat if they don’t know what their resources are?

    In Savage Worlds do the items a party has access to relate directly to their power level? If they have an item or two but don’t know what the powers are they can’t use them. Do you lower the effectiveness of the threat to compensate? What happens if they discover the power earlier than you intended? Do you increase the threat to compensate then?

  2. The first pertinent thing, Bry, is that Savage Worlds is neither class/level based nor is it explicitly intended for medieval fantasy. It’s a generic ruleset, albeit one that puts emphasis on a slightly pulpy style regardless of genre. Because of that, there is nothing baked into the rules as written that create any expectation of characters ever coming to posses magical gear. The magical artifact system that is presented in the Fantasy Companion provides for a lot of stuff that enhances characters, but not in an overly dramatic fashion.

    Regarding threats, I try to make sure encounters I throw at the characters aren’t too extreme for them to handle, but I do like tough encounters. And if I am presenting an encounter that the players have every opportunity to avoid, I don’t worry about balancing the threat at all there — it’s up to them to decide if they want to try something crazy. Since the function of a magic item can’t be used until it is known, the way I see it the players are totally aware of what their resources are. If, however, I was applying magical bonuses behind the screen without them knowing what it was coming from and when, then they would have a skewed sense of resources.

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