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I want to create an artifact, but I want it to be “balanced” with the others presented in the books.

What I'm stuck on is what defines the difference between a Major artifact and a Minor artifact. For examples of things I don't know how to categorize:

  • Whether a helm that allows the wearer to command an army of 100 wood golems a Minor or Major artifact
  • Whether a major artifact can have the power to create (or destroy) other artifacts

In general, what criteria make an artifact Major or Minor? What is the difference between Minor and Major artifacts, and how do you measure a homebrewed artifact's power to make sure it's no more powerful than the other artifacts presented in the Pathfinder books?

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According to d20pfsrd, the major difference between a major and minor artifact is how many there are. It even point out that "Minor artifacts are not necessarily unique items", just that they merely can no longer be created by common mortals. A major artifact on the other hand is one-of-a-kind, there are no copies and most likely never will be.

The problem with balancing or measuring the power of artifacts is that they are intended to possess unimaginable amounts of power. I would not worry about trying to balance the artifact with others 1) because they are not intended to be balanced and 2) because you'd have a difficult time creating something vastly more powerful than those already created. The main point of artifacts is to drive the plot, usually by either destroying or protecting them.

Finally on the point of actually creating a custom artifact. This has already been covered by a question here: Do rules exist for creating artefacts? and general consensus is that there are no rules to create an artifact.

In short, artifacts are incredibly powerful and not meant to have any balance with other items. They should mainly be used to drive the plot. And finally, there are no rules about creating them, so go wild with it; do whatever will make your campaign just a bit more epic.

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From the core rulebook's definition:

Minor artifacts

Minor artifacts are not necessarily unique items. Even so, they are magic items that no longer can be created, at least by common mortal means but still will likely have a great impact on the adventurers and societies through whose hands they pass. Minor artifacts are typically distinguished as artifact-level treasures of which multiple copies exist. This doesn’t mean minor artifacts actually prove significantly more common or less dangerous than major artifacts, though, or that GMs shouldn’t consider the same issues when choosing to add such potent magic items to their game.

From that we can say that Major Artifacts are items of legends, with tons of stories and mythologies around them, and are truly unique. While minor artifacts are simply magic items that cannot be duplicated anymore, you can't possibly come up with a formula to create them because the magic process was lost.

About balancing them, artifacts normally don't follow any balance rules, because they can be as weak as change your clothes at-will, to all powerful orbs of dragonkind, to devices capable of destroying realities. Artifacts are truly unique items that can challenge the power of the gods, have godly powers, or simply have powers that even the gods can't duplicate.

When i create artifacts, i start from scracth, a simple +1 item, then i start adding properties. I pick a proprerty that i feel that makes sense, then i check it's value. And keep repeating that until i feel the item's level is appropriate to the level they will obtain it. The item doesn't have to be balanced, but it cant completely break the game either.

For example, last year we ran a ravenloft campaign from lv1 til 8, and as soon as 3rd level they found out they had to seek a certain sword forged in ice, with a silver blade capable of destroying undead and werewolves with a single strike. At first, i thought this would be a +1 frost silver-coated longsword (+2 total enhancement, and a special material. I wrote that down and put it in my campaign notes. But the campaign went on and on, and the sword was getting stronger in my notes just as the group kept leveling up, and the item's properties didn't feel epic enough in my eyes... I wanted something that once they identified all properties they would go "woah... look at this thing dude!". And when they finally found it, they were lv9, and the sword had enough properties to be worth around 200 thousand gold pieces, with a bunch of unique mechanics, one of them being a pool of Ice Power, that could be used to fuel a couple of magic-related spell-like abilities the sword had, just like a staff, but that would replenish completely after 24 hours or one point after an hour immersed in ice. The effects went from simple things as a Orb of Frost and Hailstorm, to a 10 point (all charges) spell that was save or become a permanent block of ice.

The sword seemed overpowered, and that was the intent. The mechanics would balance themselves when they fought enemies that were resistant to ice (mostly undeads), and those abilities would need to be put to good use, the players would need to be clever on how to use them.

That Ice Power mechanic was more interesting to them, as it made it a sword that had staff-like powers, than the frost, keen or undead-bane abilities the sword also had at that level. They simply loved the idea of being able to summon blizzards at their enemies every day.

That's what you gotta have in mind when designing artifacts: What makes this artifact unique?

Paizo's Artifacts and Legends has a few guidelines on how to use and design artifacts to your campaign, i recommend it.

Earthdawn RPG will completely blow your mind when next you look at magic items, it is an old rpg (90's) that was made by the same creators of Shadowrun. On this setting, the more you know about certain magic item, the more powers you obtain from it. If you know the magic sword's name, you now have a +1 sword, then later you find out that this sword was forged by elementals in the plane of fire, now you unlocked the Flaming property on yoursword. And later you learn from a book that this sword was used to slain the giant-king Aghmon of the Scarred Lands, now your sword is also a Giantsbane sword. And so on, it is a pretty cool setting by itself, but the read on how it handles magic items is truly Epic.

To define an artifact you have to ask yourself: What makes this item special? If it has something that no other magic item has, you can call it a Minor Artifact.

Then ask yourself: What makes this item unique? That uniqueness defines a Major Artifact

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I have often used intelligence as a "fair" measure of control when it comes to overly powerful game items.

The trick is to give the artifact a personality and if a particular usage is against such alignment the artifact may refuse to invoke an ability.

The players may or may not have a way to communicate with the item, but that is for another story...

If intelligent items do not work in your campaign then consider the alignment and intent of the original creator. If the artifact is used for an act against its original design then it may not work when invoked.

On the same note, powerful artifacts should only work when certain conditions are met.

And intelligent wizard would never make a weapon that could be used against himself.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can use explain this more, focusing on practical application of your method of balancing artifacts using intelligence? Keep in mind that RPG.se is not a discussion forum, this page is not a thread (the posts are sorted differently for different users), and answers are expected to be direct answers to the question instead of adding to a conversation. For more information, take the tour for more information about how our Q&A is supposed to work. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 29 '15 at 2:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't really work for non-intelligent artefacts. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jul 29 '15 at 3:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I hope my edits clarify what my intentions were behind the post since there are no actual rules for balancing your artifacts the only true way is to limit them in some way or make them difficult to use. \$\endgroup\$ – UhlBelk Jul 29 '15 at 13:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Some examples being the One Ring although it never spoke directly it certainly acted to get back to its master. That would be a major artifact. A minor artifact would be the stone door into the Dwarven domain that could only be opened when the moon was just right. \$\endgroup\$ – UhlBelk Jul 29 '15 at 13:46

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