Artifact Depletion (or lack thereof)

Published October 6, 2014 by in Mechanics

I want to start a bit of a conversation here, so this won’t be a long post. But I’m definitely curious about what other people’s thoughts are about this mechanic. This started after digging into Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera and looking at some of the new artifacts that they included and having a conversation about it with one of my players (who agreed with what I’m going to propose below).

What I want to talk about are items like Bloodblade, which has no depletion roll on it. Or the Ultimate Grapnel, which has a 1 in 1d100 (1%) roll. It seems like there are actually quite a few artifacts in the book that fall into this category of low/no depletion rolls, where you have less than a 5% chance of the artifact being used up.

Simply put, I don’t like that.

I feel like, in the spirit of the game, no/low depletion on an artifact should be extremely rare. Part of the fun in artifacts is this idea that there’s at least some real risk to it failing after how many millennium it’s been sitting around. Even seemingly “passive” devices can and should run the risk of simply breaking due to wear and tear. The force of time is comparatively strong against even the most resilient fabrications of living beings. So while we accept the sci-fi-fantasy of energy cells that can last thousands of years, I think that’s a lot different from the idea that there are perpetual energy sources in some of these devices. Likewise, the materials they are made from can and should reasonably fail eventually. Even something like the Bloodblade, which physically interfaces with the body. The idea that it would fail and you’d be stuck with an ordinary (or better yet, broken) blade sticking out of your arm is part of the flavor a player should have to struggle with.

The house rule idea we came up with is relatively straightforward. Unless it arguably makes sense to have it otherwise, no artifact should ever have a depletion roll less than 1 in 1d20 (5%). Yes, you could also do failure via GM Intrusions, but I feel like that would just get to where it’s more of a “punishment” that’s inflicted on the players once a GM is tired of them slinging the artifact around which would wear on the players’ attitudes.

Now your part. Let me know down in the comments what your opinion is. Do you like that approach? Are you okay with super low depletion chances?

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