I'm looking to homebrew some custom artifacts for a D&D 5e campaign. I want something high risk/high reward that requires the player to make a skill check whenever they try to use it. I also want multiple 'levels' of fail to allow for bad outcomes without it being a binary 'save or suck'.

What I want to know is, are there any official guidelines or published examples for this type of custom item?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Any more details on what you're thinking of can help narrow down the search here. You had fumble as a tag before, were you looking for something that has some sort of increased failure on a natural 1? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 22, 2022 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking strictly at items? There are spells and features that have fail states that may be used for reference/guidelines. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Mar 22, 2022 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm looking strictly at items. For reference, think of something like the One Ring in LOTR. Something you might be tempted to use when out of options, but every activation comes with test of will to see if you can resist the power. Just as a rough idea, a minor fail would be something like rolling on the wild magic table. A major fail would result in rage or confusion where you can't tell friend from foe. Crit failure would initiate a 'death save' where failing 3 times causes permanent madness. \$\endgroup\$
    – pbuchheit
    Mar 22, 2022 at 19:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, will you accept items from previous editions? I seem to recall 1st edition had a number of artifacts that could potentially screw over a character. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Mar 22, 2022 at 20:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ The DMG has a section about Degrees of Failure on p.242; are you looking for rules about how to handle degrees of failure, or specifically items that use degrees of failure? If the latter, what sort of answer would be helpful to you? Are you looking for assistance in balancing such an item or what? I can point as several examples of rules that have a harsher penalty if you fail by a margin of 5 or 10, but not items. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 22, 2022 at 21:25

2 Answers 2


I'd suggest looking at the Mizzium Apparatus.

Not a particularly powerful item (it's only an Uncommon) but it lets a spellcaster attempt to cast any spell on their spell list. But it requires an ability check to get the spell cast, and on a failure, you'll cast a random other spell. The more powerful the spell you're trying to cast, the higher the DC and the more potent the random spell that happens if you fail it.

It's a binary check on any specific use, but has a lot of different fail-states depending on what you're trying to do.


You will want to look at artifacts, rather than normal magic items.

Most, if not all, official magic items have strictly beneficial effects, or ones that at worst miss/have no effect (like a normal attack or spell).

Artifacts, however, being more powerful, may have negative consequences. (This fits well with your example of the One Ring, which is almost certainly an artifact-rarity item, even if the characters mostly use it as a merely-legendary Ring of Invisibility)

From the Orb of Dragonkind in the DMG:

While attuned to an orb, you can use an action to peer into the orb's depths and speak its command word. You must then make a DC 15 Charisma check. On a successful check, you control the orb for as long as you remain attuned to it. On a failed check, you become charmed by the orb for as long as you remain attuned to it.

And the Hand of Vecna:

Each time you cast a spell from the hand, it casts the suggestion spell on you (save DC 18), demanding that you commit an evil act. The hand might have a specific act in mind or leave it up to you.

Even then, there aren't that many officially-published examples of this, and they are reserved for extremely powerful artifacts.

You make want to look at older editions such as pathfinder as well for inspiration (e.g. Codex of the Infinite Planes) Keep in mind the math for DCs is very different in 3.x systems.


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