Three Questions About That Fantastic Item your PCs Just Recovered…

Your PC just located an artifact of immense power while diving into a dungeon on the far side of the world. S/he knows it has fantastic abilities because s/he can feel the power thrumming from within. But you’ve seen other characters burned (literally or figuratively) by the power of such items before and want to know more about it before your character gets too crazy. It’s certainly an understandable caution.

item-provenanceYour PC decides he’s going to take it to this guy s/he knows… Someone who can evaluate not only the authenticity of the item, but offer some guidance on what it does. So you stop by and the miserly creature behind the counter asks three questions:

  1. Where’d you find it?
  2. Who owned it before?
  3. And who created it?

Pretty standard. He’s just trying to establish a bit of item provenance to figure out not only what it is you’ve brought him, but any clues that might illuminate its purpose and history.

As a GM, you’re left with a what might be a bit of a problem. The PC (and player) may know where they found it in the immediate past – i.e. “I found it in a dungeon in the far east.” But they’re not going to know the rest, unless there was a lot of easily accessible history and the item is one known to the world. Unless it’s the “Eye of Vecna”, “Baba Yaga’s Hut,” or the “Wand of Orcus” – something folks already know about – you’re going to have to fly by the seat of your pants a bit.

Sure, it could be a problem. But really it’s a fantastic opportunity to build some more history into the world.

So let’s start with question number 1. “Where’d you find it?” We’ve already established that the PC found it while delving in a dungeon. Let’s answer a few more questions to round out our knowledge of the “find spot” for this item.

  • Where is the dungeon?
  • Who built the dungeon?
  • Where in the dungeon was the item found?

You probably have some of these details figured out already. The location of the dungeon on the map and the area of the dungeon in which the item was found should be pretty easy to come up with if the PC was just there. Was it someone’s home? Was it a vault used for storing other precious items? Was it a lost cache stashed away in some dark place in case of emergency? Or was the place an actual museum, where items were put out for display?

Who built the dungeon goes back to a bit more history. Was it built to house political prisoners? Was it built as a vault? Or perhaps a hidden temple to some forgotten eldritch god? Did the PCs find it just resting in a chest somewhere, unguarded? Were the denizens of the dungeon the ones who built it? Or were they just squatting there?

All of these questions might lead you to a better understanding of who owned this item last.

So that leads you to question #2 – who owned it previously? It’s possible, especially if it’s a powerful artifact or a priceless piece of art or history, that the owner may have even left a chain of ownership in some written form with the item, though I can’t say I’ve ever seen that happening in a dungeon myself. It’s more likely that the piece was stolen directly or purchased/acquired from someone who stole it.

Your PCs may be able to answer the most recent details they have for where they found it and who had it last. But it’s much less likely that they know who created it.

That’s question #3 – who created it? This gets very interesting and as a GM you have some intriguing possibilities to explore.

If this is a unique item, it’s likely that the creator left his or her mark somewhere. Some ideas might include (but not be limited to):

  • A maker’s mark
  • A signature
  • An inscription
  • A property mark or ID
  • A distinct material
  • A special style

Any of these has the potential to lead the investigator to find hooks to other stories and parts of your world’s history. And the fun part is that ANY item the PCs discover can potentially be a clue to some other part of your ongoing plot.

Perhaps a fancy sword was manufactured by an ancient group of blacksmiths known to have created fantastic weapons of old (consider Bilbo’s “Sting” like Glamdring and Orcrist as a product of the Elven smiths in Elder Days in the Hobbit or the swords made of Valyrian steel in the Game of Thrones). Or a magical wand known to Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter‘s world. The possibilities are endless and each item could offer hints as to ancient work or new wonders.

So the next time your PCs find some random item in a crate of loot in a dungeon – perhaps you can use it to your advantage and spin it into something much more than a mundane weapon or artifact. Make it a piece of history!

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