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In the campaign I'm running, one of the villains is a cursed artifact that could (and did) take control of its user. For an easier time on explaining my problem with those mechanics, I'll simply use the Eye of Vecna here since it has very similar properties.

So according to the description of the Eye of Vecna, it has a number of charges that can be used to cast spells, but also states the following rule about using said charges (Dungeon Master's Guide, p. 224):

Each time you cast a spell from the eye, there is a 5 percent chance that Vecna tears your soul your body, devours it, and then takes control of the body like a puppet. If that happens, you become an NPC under the DM's control.

However the descriptions of this and other items capable of possession don't really seem to elaborate on what happens to the item itself after its conscience has taken control of the being attuned to it, and the only other instance outside of a sentient item's description regarding possession I found is in the DMG regarding conflicts between the user and the sentient item (item can try to take control, saving throws are rolled etc.).

Is there anything in the rules as written detailing whether a cursed artifact that succeeds at possessing the user who is attuned to it can still use its own properties normally?
For instance, would the Eye of Vecna (as in Vecna's consciousness) still have access to all of its artifact properties as if it were just a normal user (minus the risk of possession)?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Am I understanding your question correctly? Are you asking if a person, who has been taken over by Vecna via the eye of Vecna, is still able to use the spells provided by the eye of Vecna? The final sentences make it seem like you are asking if the eye is able to act independantly. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 0:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AllanMills you are, that's correct. The item isn't acting independently from the user as an item but rather has essentially become the user by taking over their body. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 0:27
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A sentient magic item always controls its own abilities

The section of the DMG (p. 214) on sentient magic items (and the corresponding part of the basic rules) contains a passage relevant to your question:

Sentient magic items function as NPCs under the DM’s control. Any activated property of the item is under the item’s control, not its wielder’s. As long as the wielder maintains a good relationship with the item, the wielder can access those properties normally. If the relationship is strained, the item can suppress its activated properties or even turn them against the wielder.

So even if the item takes control of or possesses its wielder, it doesn't matter whether or not that possessed wielder can still access the item's abilities, because the wielder was never truly in control of the item's abilities to begin with. The item already had control of its abilities, and it maintains that control after possessing its wielder.

The Eye of Vecna is not a sentient item

Note carefully the wording of who possesses the user of the Eye of Vecna (DMG, p. 224; emphasis added):

Vecna tears your soul from your body, devours it, and then takes control of the body like a puppet

The Eye of Vecna is not itself a sentient item. It is merely the eye of the deity named Vecna, and this deity, not the eye, is what possesses the eye's hapless user. There is no reason that Vecna would not be able to use his own eye after possessing the newly soulless body of its user. One has to assume he has prior experience with it, after all.

Your homebrew artifact works however you say it does

Obviously, the reasoning I've given above for the Eye of Vecna is very specific to the nature of that artifact. But that is always going to be the case for artifacts. Artifacts are not just ordinary magic items that happen to be super rare and super powerful. They are a special category of magic item, distinct from all others, and furthermore each artifact is unique, as mentioned in the DMG's section on artifacts (p. 219; emphasis added):

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. [...]

[...]

Characters don’t typically find artifacts in the normal course of adventuring. In fact, artifacts only appear when you want them to, for they are as much plot devices as magic items. Tracking down and recovering an artifact is often the main goal of an adventure. [...]

The point is, every artifact is different from every other artifact. Just because the Eye of Vecna works as I've described doesn't mean your artifact has to work that way. For example, you could have a circlet containing a gem that houses the soul of a powerful archmage, and when it possesses its user the circlet disappears and the gem permanently embeds itself it the user's forehead, destroying the item and effectively replacing the user with the archmage. Or it could be a sentient item that simply takes command of its user (similar to a Dominate Person spell) without killing them or destroying their soul, while remaining a distinct item that the user can continue using as normal (at the item's command, of course).

Remember, an artifact is a plot device first and a giant block of rules text second. So first think about what makes sense for the nature of the item as you've envisioned it, and then write the rules text to match it. (But if you think this is something likely to fall into the PCs' hands, you should consider having a way to undo the possession.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I made the Stat block for the artifact just in case the party (or more specifically the barbarian) somehow manages to kill its current host, but I'd say a "this thing is 100% cursed" in-game warning, plus 50% chance of them not having to roll a wisdom saving throw when taking a long rest, plus having to fail 5 consecutive saving throws before possession happens, plus a 6 day period to rescue the possessed victim before a wish becomes the only solution (longer if they strike a deal with the Artifact) should give them more than enough time and chances to prevent a pc death by evil Item. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6 at 2:12
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This is not explained.

There is no “rules as written” answer to your question. I can’t really prove it to you other than to suggest reading through the artifact rules in the DMG.

That said, it probably doesn’t matter. The Eye of Vecna says:

Vecna tears your soul from your body, devours it, and then takes control of the body like a puppet.

The Eye does not take control of your body, Vecna himself takes control. While there is no official Vecna stat block, it is common knowledge that Vecna is one of the most powerful liches in the multiverse. He has his own extensive spellcasting repertoire.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Vecna might be in control of the character's body - but I don't expect that the character effectively becomes Vecna. If Vecna took control of a level 5 fighter, I'd expect that they'd still only have the abilities of a level 5 fighter. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 3:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AllanMills The lich Vecna hardly concerns himself with what you'd expect. 😁 \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 12:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast He's tied up getting dunked on by Matt Mercer's podcast company. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 12:21

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