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Variations on an Eldritch Theme: Relics

I am not wearing that thing! I don’t care how powerful it is… didn’t you see where it came from?” ~ A Reluctant Adventurer

In my last blog, I discussed a new type of item, called a trophy.   Trophies are items that can be added to an already exiting magic item in order to make it more impressive to others.  In doing so, it can give a tangible benefit to a Player-Characters social skills, giving a “trophy bonus” to skills such as Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate.
transparent treasure trove
But there is another type of magic item that I have been thinking about adding to my campaigns, and I recently did a write up for it in my recent product release (shameless plug!), Kill or Be Killed #1.  These items are called Relics, and as some of you may remember, used to exist in older editions of D&D.

What is the definition of a Relic?

In the mundane world, a relic typically refers to a holy religious item that was once owned by, touched by, or actually a part of a saint or other holy personage.  Relics exist in almost all major religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.), and can be items of clothing, jewelry, holy symbols, or even the body parts of important religious historical figures.  Early Roman Catholics even graded relics, based upon their holiness and power, attributing the highest grade, a “First Class Relic”, to items such as the hair of a saint, or a piece of the True Cross.

Early Christians also believed that “pagan” items were also relics, containing an animus that could cause harm.  That belief led to many statues and shrines were destroyed to prevent a non-Christian relic from hurting God-fearing folk.

In previous editions of D&D, there was little distinction between a relic and an artifact.  Both artifacts and relics were considered powerful magical items that had powers that could both help and harm a wielder.  In D&D 4e, the concept of relics was not needed, as the term artifact dealt with any powerful magic item that a Player-Character had to “appease” in order to control it properly.

However, it occurred to me that artifacts had to have a start somewhere, and they don’t just appear in the world as full-fledged ultra-powerful items with a will of their own.  Artifacts all have histories that often spans centuries, if not millennia, which means that they had to have an origin from which their myth comes.  And in my campaign, that origin is a relic.

Relics in D&D 4e

In this rules variant, put simply, a relic is a proto-artifact, which comes from the remains of a unique and very powerful being.   By some mystical transference, usually at the moment of death, a part of the essence (or spirit or life-force) of a powerful entity remains in a relic.  This is what makes it more powerful than a standard magic item.

Some relics might have been a part of an enemy’s regalia, such as a piece of armor, a weapon, or an implement.  Other relics may actually be some part of a creature, such as an eye, limb, or organ.  But whether it is a body part or a crafted item, relics share the following traits:

  • Is unique and one of a kind.
  • Is imbued with some of the essence of a powerful entity or creature.
  • Is more powerful than a standard magic item.

So artifacts such as the Hand of Vecna, the Sword of Kos, and the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd are all items that most likely started as relics, and then grew in power over time to become the extremely powerful artifacts as they exist in most campaigns.  But it is unlikely that a relic will develop into an artifact over the lifetime of any single hero, and many relics are lost or destroyed before they achieve true artifact status.

And unlike artifacts, relics do not have a purpose yet, and do not have to be appeased in order to achieve full usage by an adventurer.  But still, relics are more powerful than a standard magic item, and are unique and irreplaceable.

As such, they cannot be re-created by an Enchant Item ritual, nor can their magic be moved to a new item by a Transfer Enchantment ritual.  And like artifacts, relics have no level and no gold piece value, and are categorized for the Tier (Heroic, Paragon, or Epic) for which they are appropriate.

Making a Relic

Making a relic from a standard magic item is fairly simple, and takes only a little modification by a Dungeon Master.  Typically, an artifact has three or more powers and properties, so you don’t want to add too much to a magic item to make it a relic.  In power level, a relic should be between a standard magic item and an artifact.

For instance, the relics I made for the release of Kill or Be Killed #1, I took an existing, level-appropriate magic item, and made modifications like:

  • Added an extra daily power, appropriate to the originating “boss” monster.
  • Upgraded what would normally be a daily power to an encounter power.
  • Added a bonus to saving throws against a particular ongoing effect.
  • Added a magic item bonus to one or two skill checks.

The other part of the “relic scheme” is to change the description of the item, so that it matches either part of the bodily remains, or the equipment and regalia, of the powerful boss it “dropped” from.  Adding a creepy description is helpful for giving an item a relic-feel, particularly if the item is actually a body part of the monster.

Even items such as a gauntlet or sword can be described as having a very unusual appearance, and even some quirk to its nature, like a sound or a sensation when used.   Relics are, after all, haunted items, and the spirit of the relic will grow over time to be a powerful artifact, which will make serious demands on anyone who picks it up!

So if you have any feedback or suggestions regarding relics, or if you have created similar items in your own campaigns, please feel free to comment.  I’d love to hear about your own ideas regarding powerful magic items.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


2 Responses to “Variations on an Eldritch Theme: Relics

  1. Swordgleam says:

    I really like this idea. It strikes me that, if the relics are still growing in power, they probably take on aspects of each heroic wielder. Players love to feel like their PCs will have a legacy. And it also accounts for good relics being corrupted by evil owners.

    And can you just picture it? “I am NOT using the Hammer of Moradin’s Blessed Scion to bash down that door! Think of the precedent! You’ll just have to find another way.”

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