Dungeon World: Artifacts

Something we've been tinkering with in our A Sundered World campaign (in addition to, well, the campaign setting itself), are the Dungeon World equivalent of artifacts.

The concept was originally pitched by Chris, who is playing a psion that wields a soul-devouring intelligent sword, whose full name I can never remember. Geist...something or other.

What I do know is that the sword wants him to eat certain souls. This isn't always a...prudent course of action, but when he does it gains XP, and when it gains a certain amount of XP it "levels up", gaining a new ability or move.

The system is partially inspired by artifacts from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, which have concordance scores that determined what sort of bonuses or penalties you received (the higher, the better).

Concordance can be raised or lowered depending on your race, alignment, maybe skills and other capabilities, but the major factor that affects it are your actions. If you do what it wants, your concordance goes up, and you gain more bonuses. Go against it, and your concordance goes down, which can result in losing bonuses or even gaining penalties.

This system is a bit simpler: each artifact has an instinct, and when you do what the item wants it gains XP. Like characters, when it gains enough XP the artifact can improve in some manner. Here's a very rough example of what we're talking about:

EGO is how willful the artifact is. EGO is subtracted from your WIS when you attempt to resist the artifact: artifacts with an EGO of -1 are easy to resist, while those with an EGO of 3 are far more difficult.

Instinct is why the artifact was created, or what it currently desires most. Again, when you do what the item wants/fulfill its instinct, the item marks XP. Not sure if this should be a once per session thing (part of the End of Session move), or done every time you do what it wants. Maybe instinct can be once per session, and doing its bidding nets it one each time.

Improvements are the new abilities and moves that you can buy with the artifact's XP. Not sure if artifacts should improve along a set track, or just let you pick whatever you want. I'm inclined towards the latter, because not all improvements will be useful for everyone (like, say, removing the clumsy tag).

Something to keep in mind is that—not that Dungeon World magic items themselves are "balanced"—artifacts are intended to be some of the most powerful magic items you can find in a campaign, though they aren't without risk: defy the artifact and it will try to gain control of you in order to get what it wants.

When you attempt to resist the artifact's desires, roll+WIS-EGO. ✴On a 10+, you retain control. ✴On a 7-9, you are able to resist, but it requires all of your concentration: you take -1 ongoing until you rest for a while, and cannot maintain any abilities that require your full concentration. ✴On a miss, the item gains control of you—the GM will tell you what happens.

When you mentally commune with the artifact, roll+WIS. ✴On a 7+, take +1 forward if you do what it desires, and you are resisting it if you refuse. ✴On a 10+, you also mark XP if you do what it desires. ✴On a miss, you take -1 forward.


When you mentally commune with the artifact, it will tell you what it wants you to do. If you do, mark XP. If you refuse, then you are resisting it.

So what do you think? Good? Bad? [x thing] needs changing, or it needs [y thing]? Assuming this design is sound/interesting enough, we could make an entire magic item book based around this.


  1. This is a solid concept, I look forward to them

  2. I have enjoyed play testing this and I know that there are some that say losing control of your character is no fun blah blah blah.

    Sometimes stuff happens that you can't control.

    Elric is a great example of this. That guy was a wreck because of Stormbringer. And he is one of the greatest Sword and Sorcery characters there is.

    and to those that still dont like losing control... Geist Zerstörer (Spirit Destroyer) is looking forward to meeting you and having a few drinks... of your soul.

  3. This sounds great, actually. Having the powers the artifact increase in strength with time means that the adventure will be more inclined to keep it key the long haul, which certainly can add some story plot points.

  4. I look forward to using something like this. My players just claimed the Ashen Crown and I was wondering how I would handle concordance.

  5. Looks cool, although you haven't mentioned how many XP an artifact needs per advance. An even simpler take might be something like...

    Artifacts are intelligent and communicate their desires to their wielder. When you end a session, if you acted in accordance with your artifact's Instinct, mark 1 concordance. Artifacts reveal new abilities to their wielder when certain concordance thresholds are reached as noted in their description. The GM may revoke points of concordance as necessary if you defy the artifact's whims. Wielders who fail to build concordance find their artifacts move on before too long.

  6. Sorry for the delay in responding to these comments. The past few days have been a frenzied blur of getting our store-fronts managed.

    @Chris: I hear that. I think that magic items shouldn't necessarily feel "safe". I mean, some might, but others might be considerably more than you bargained for.

    @Christopher: Glad you like the concept. Other options I'd been considered were to be able to "buy" off drawbacks from the artifact, and even lower its EGO (kind of a reverse of AW, where you can up a stat with an improvement).

    @Elstiko: The Ashen Crown? That's an...Eberron thing, right? Have any ideas for the crown's abilities?

    @Marshall: Haven't really decided. I could see it just being 5 and it "levels up", or scaling as with characters. Maybe more powerful artifacts demand more?

    I also dig that move. What about having it so that you can automatically defy the artifact, but it loses 1 concordance? Another player in our SW campaign wants a pair of artifact swords, so we'll be getting in more playtesting!

  7. What about the 7-9 on a resist being a choose one with options like: it takes your full concentration; take -1 ongoing; it loses 1 concordance. Those aren't really balanced against one another, but you get the idea.

    Also, I prefer the alternate commune. It's simple and accomplishes what I'd expect/want from a commune ability without the hassle of possibly failing and taking a penalty for trying to find out how to appease the item. >.< I could see that being an interesting wrinkle for a cursed/evil/uber chaotic artifact perhaps, but not for artifacts in general.

    1. @Svafa: Yeah, I don't think that all artifacts should operate universally. Maybe a "cursed" (or evil/corrupting) artifact is just more dangerous to tap into.

      I like that.


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