Welcome to "Eberron Under the Glass," a new column that looks at how to handle staple themes of D&D adventure in an Eberron campaign. Whether it's a search for a lost artifact, unearthing lore in an old tome, or dealing with a goblin uprising, Eberron campaigns do things a little differently. This series helps Eberron players and DMs get the right feel in the setting.
This first article looks at the different role lost artifacts play in an Eberron campaign.
What Do You Mean, "Artifact?"
In a typical campaign, the artifact (and its divine counterpart, the relic) is normally a very old and powerful magic item, often with undesirable side effects. When rumors of an artifact surface, adventurers assemble to locate and recover the item, sometimes for themselves and sometimes on behalf of another group such as a church, guild, or government. Adventurers who get their hands on an artifact are often tempted to keep its powers for themselves rather than handing it over, even for a price (though the associated curses may make them regret that decision later).
In an Eberron campaign, several factors make an artifact quest different.
Artifacts May Be New: Though "new" is a relative term, the legacy of the Last War means that many powerful and valuable objects of recent manufacture were lost through battles, sabotage, monster raids, or the creation of the Mournland. Rather than being the thousand-year-old product of an ancient civilization created with methods lost to time, a lost artifact in Eberron may be only ten years old. There probably are people still alive who have seen it or even used it and who want it back or want to make sure it remains lost. The more recent the artifact, the more people know about it and the more groups can be trying to find it.
Artifacts May Be Mechanical: In a world that mixes technology and magic, an artifact may be a piece of technology or a component to a larger item. It doesn't need to be technologically advanced; a control mechanism for an old lightning rail coach is an artifact of interest for House Orien, and House Cannith and the Lord of Blades would love to acquire the head of an unfinished warforged titan. Don't be afraid to make or adapt a nonmagical source for an artifact quest.
Artifacts May Have No Adventuring Value: Many items described or hinted at in the Eberron campaign setting are incredibly valuable to certain people but not useable by adventurers. There's little temptation for the PCs to hold onto such an item, and they shouldn't need to be railroaded into turning it over to the people who do want it. The lightning rail control mechanism mentioned above is useless to PCs unless they plan to build their own rail coach (which would take a lot of time, research, and money, besides displeasing House Orien). A complete but unactivated warforged body has no value to PCs except as spare parts but is quite useful to someone with a secret creation forge or someone with the know-how to imprint a soul and consciousness on the raw form. Unless characters plan to build their own lightning rail line, a cache of salvaged conductor stones does the PCs no good -- plus they're hard to carry around because of their tendency to repel each other.
This is not to say that an artifact quest in an Eberron campaign should always be about items with no value for the PCs. Tempting characters with more power than they can handle can lead to exciting, if tragic, adventures. Using "adventurer-valueless" items, however, allows low-level characters to quest after an interesting item without it disrupting the power level of the campaign should the PCs decide to keep it.
Everyone is Suspect: Because Eberron's divine spellcasters aren't limited by the "one step" rule for alignment, it's entirely possible that an evil member of a good church is the person responsible for sending the PCs after the artifact. In a standard campaign it's normal to assume that a cleric in high standing with a good church has good intentions -- after all, they have to be good if they're a cleric of a good deity. In Eberron, a corrupt cleric of Dol Arrah might desire a psionic artifact to dominate and control an entire city, eliminating crime and dissent at the cost of free will (not entirely unreasonable to a corrupt mindset, as Dol Arrah is the goddess of self-sacrifice, and making sacrifices for the greater good certainly falls within that realm). The cleric may explain that the item uses psionics to locate criminals and prevent hostility, neglecting to mention that it does so by reading and controlling minds. Just because a quest comes from "good" patrons doesn't guarantee they have good motivations or that success will have good consequences.
An artifact in Eberron isn't necessarily a dust-covered antique pried from the hand of a withered skeleton on a throne in a cavern miles under the earth. Artifacts can be buried under a snowfall from last winter. They can be mundane as well as magical. They don't need to be something an adventurer could use to destroy an army. They don't need to be in the hands of an evil cult to cause evil in the world. When building an artifact quest (or a scavenger hunt, as the Eberron Campaign Setting calls it), examine your preconceptions about artifacts and consider how you can introduce an interesting twist. If you're a player in an Eberron campaign, don't let preconceived notions about what an artifact should be blind you to the possibility that it and the people who want it could be entirely unexpected.
About the Author
Sean K Reynolds lives in Encinitas, California, and recently left his job at a video game company. His D&D credits include the Monster Manual, the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, and Savage Species. You can find more game material at Sean's website.