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Inspired by this question, it occurred to me to wonder if artifacts are considered equivalent to epic items... or more to the point, are epic items equal to artifacts?

From what little information has been given on the creation of artifacts (I seem to recall a caster level being mentioned once or twice) they would certainly seem to be in a similar realm as epic items, however, artifacts are also unique due to relative indestructibility in particular. Epic items have a reasonable amount of how-to information for item creation, which is helpful, regardless of the relative merits and demerits of the epic rules.

So in other words, are all epic items automatically considered artifacts or is there some distinguishing quality between artifacts and epic items?

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Epic items and artifacts are distinctly different, though the line is a bit blurry. While epic items can approach or even overtake the power and abilities of some, artifacts cannot be created (outside DM permission, of course) because the secret to their construction has been lost to the ages.

The Minor Artifacts section of the epic rules lays this out:

Minor artifacts are not necessarily unique items, but rather magic items that no longer can be made by common mortal means—even by the hands of epic creators.

A footnote in the Epic Spellcasting section states this explicitly for major artifacts as well:

Only major artifacts, which are beyond the means of even epic characters to create...

As far as epic items being considered artifacts, it could certainly be flavored that way, though the game terms are quite distinct. A low- to mid-level character looking at your epic weapon that can tear holes in reality would be hard pressed to tell the difference.

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