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This weapon is, without a doubt, extremely powerful, especially when compared with most items. However, it is a unique item in a campaign where I intend for all players to have at least one such artifact-level item; the rogue who winds up wielding this item shouldn't be too far out of line with the others.

For these items, I use the pattern from the Tal'dorei setting guide, in which players are rewarded for dramatic roleplay moments and leveling up by a deepened connection with the weapon-- which manifests as improved stats. Generally, the guidance is for the base level to be suitable around level 5, awakened at level 10, and exalted at level 15.

This weapon is intended to be the same one as is seen in Planescape: Torment, which is a video game, albeit an officially licensed D&D one. The stats of the dagger in the game are as follows:

Damage: 2-7 Piercing

Enchanted: +2

Special: 2-12 Poison Damage

THAC0: +2

Speed: 1

Weight: 1

I will freely admit to not being familiar enough with the mechanics of AD&D 2e to have any idea of how these numbers shake out in the context of the tabletop game. However, given the bounded accuracy thing in 5e, I don't think it matters too much whether or not this dagger would make sense within 2e, since it would require a full rebalance to make sense in 5e in any case.

Here is my attempt at recreating this weapon for 5e:

Ravel’s Fingernail

Weapon(dagger), legendary(requires attunement)

This twisted fingernail of extruded night hag skin has got to be one of the ugliest things you have ever seen. Its mottled green, red, and black surface is almost a foot long, and it seems like it was used alternately as a scratching aid, nose-picking tool, and gardening trowel.

You have a +1 to damage and attack rolls made with this dagger. On a hit, the target must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, the target takes 1d10 poison damage and is poisoned for the next minute.

Awakened:

When a character awakens Ravel’s Fingernail, apply the following changes to the item’s traits:

  • The dagger becomes a +2 dagger, instead of a +1 dagger.

  • The DC to save against the poison damage increases to 15.

Exalted:

When a character exalts Ravel’s Fingernail, apply the following changes to the item’s traits:

  • The dagger becomes a +3 dagger, instead of a +2 dagger.

  • The damage from the poison effect increases to 1d12.

The dagger winds up being one level higher than the original dagger, but this is because of the three-tiered system for this sort of artifact.

The poison is significantly more dangerous than the most similar weapon currently existing, the Dagger of Venom; it damages on every hit, rather than once per day, although the damage on Ravel's Fingernail is half of that from the Dagger of Venom. This is intentional. The Dagger of Venom is a rare item, and I would like this artifact to feel noticeably more powerful and cool than that.

Mostly, I'm concerned with the poison damage and poisoned condition on this weapon, but any other feedback regarding how balanced this weapon (remembering that it is an artifact weapon) is would be welcome.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe it's a mixup of terms, but don't you start by answering your own question? "Without a doubt, overpowered" is an answer to "Is this balanced?", but I suspect you may want to clarify the reference points here. Is this to be balanced -- of equivalent power -- to published legendary items in general or the Taldorei weapons (or I suppose the set of weapons you're handing out which means those would need to be evaluated as a set, but I'm not sure I like the scope of that Q). \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jul 16 at 18:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil Hm, I can see where that wording would be confusing! \$\endgroup\$ – Cooper Jul 16 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also realized that being a WoW player meant I repeatedly used legendary in the wrong context, which can't have helped. \$\endgroup\$ – Cooper Jul 16 at 18:17
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You've almost created Wildemount's Lash of Shadows.

Explorer's Guide to Wildemount officially introduced the Arms of the Betrayers as the weapon analog of Vestiges of Divergence. In comparison to these official items, your Ravel's Fingernail is exceedingly similar to one of these Arms, the Lash of Shadows. But we need to do some fixing, the poisoning condition is much too strong.

The poison condition effect is probably too strong.

The top end of this weapon seems a little strong to me, but you will definitely find that having a chance to inflict poison every hit will prove much too powerful from levels 5-9 or so, and possibly through every level of play. To compare to the Arms of the Betrayers, the Lash of Shadows introduces a similar poison condition in its dormant state as a once per day feature, with unlimited uses of an extra damage feature. A chance to poison every hit is pretty strong for a weapon received at 15th level, but definitely too strong for earlier levels. I'd recommend something like adding one use per day per tier, so 1/day Dormant, 2/day Awakened, and 3/day Exalted. The progression mirrors the Lash of Shadows, at each stage it introduces a once per day poisoning feature, having three options available per day at Exalted level.

The Lash of Shadows is probably exactly what you're looking for here.

As I've worked through the several revisions of this answer, my evaluation of your item has essentially turned into "you should just make this like the Lash of Shadows". The balancing suggestions I've proposed in the previous section have turned your item into a slightly less interesting version of the Lash.

If you want an Artifact level weapon, just reskin the Lash of Shadows as a dagger. If you want a legendary level weapon, keep the +1, +2, +3 hit and damage progression, make the poison damage saving throw unlimited uses, and make the poison condition (1,2,3) per day based on its current state.

To be clear, the Lash of Shadows is still crazy strong. The unlimited uses poison damage effect is 3d6, with half on a successful save. If this is too strong for your taste, just scale it back a bit, or make it no damage on a successful save.

On Artifacts and "balance".

As a final note, I would like to offer some commentary on the idea of "balance". If you're making an artifact, balance in a more traditional sense isn't exactly what you're looking for. The Dungeon Master's Guide describes artifact as being tremendously powerful:

An artifact is a unique magic item of tremendous power, with its own origin and history. An artifact might have been created by gods or mortals of awesome power. It could have been created in the midst of a crisis that threatened a kingdom, a world, or the entire multiverse, and carry the weight of that pivotal moment in history.

Some artifacts appear when they are needed most. For others, the reverse is true; when discovered, the world trembles at the ramifications of the find. In either case, introducing an artifact into a campaign requires forethought. The artifact could be an item that opposing sides are hoping to claim, or it might be something the adventurers need to overcome their greatest challenge.

Introducing an artifact into your campaign will likely be inherently unbalanced, in the sense that you will have to present the players with significantly more difficult challenges than you would have otherwise. Balance is something of a relative term. If you give an artifact or three to the party without accounting for it in your encounter design, the artifacts will become an automatic win button, and things will got uninteresting quickly. So balance here is going to be about accounting for the power of the items in your encounter design.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it the poisoned condition that's too strong, or the poison damage that's too strong? Both? \$\endgroup\$ – Cooper Jul 16 at 18:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ The condition is too strong. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jul 16 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Cooper check out the description of the Poisoned condition (PHB, p. 292): "A poisoned creature has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks". The latter effect is probably not as impactful in combat, but the disadvantage on attack rolls is HUGE. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Jul 17 at 12:14

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