OSR: Pirate Artifacts

More ideas for the Pirate GLOG system (now released). In a low magic setting, a simple artifact or tool can change the course of an entire game. Consider the following items from the Pirates of the Caribbean films: not particularly impressive in a game with fireballs and dragons, but very powerful in isolation.
1. A compass that points to whatever you desire most.
2a. A cursed chest of gold coins. If any coins are removed, the person who removed them is cursed to a joyless, passionless, unending life until all the coins are returned.
     2b. An enchantment on the coins that calls to said unliving people if the coin touches seawater.
3a. A huge murderous vaguely controllable sea beast.
     3b. A black spot, cursed to draw said murderous sea beast to the bearer.
          3c. A device to wake up the sea beast and draw it (impossibly quickly) to the location.
4a. A piece of cloth with a key drawn on it that, impossibly, feels exactly like the actual key.
     4b. A chest with the heart of a very powerful magical figure and his submersible death ship.
5. A map that shows routes to impossible places.
6. Nine mundane items that collectively bind a sea god.
7. The fountain of youth. Requires cups and a mermaid's tear. Drains years of life from one person, gives them to another.
8. A sword that controls the rigging of a ship.
9. A method to put sunken or captured vessels into bottles, preserving them in a timeless diorama.
10. Pulp horror voodoo dolls.
Since your players may have seen the films, it might be useful to have "new" campaign-defining magical tools.
The Titans of Brahma
1. The 3 Faction Rule
Everything should have at least 3 sides: the PCs and 2 other factions. The other factions should have goals that are semi-sympathetic - the PCs could stomach allying with them - but mutually exclusive with the PCs' plans if followed to their logical conclusion.
E.g. There's a stone that lets you raise or sink an island, but only once. The PCs want to use it to raise the Isla del Big Heaps of Treasure. The Valois want to use it to sink the island of Wexland (or at least threaten to). And the slave republic of Lost Chains wants to use it to sink a major Valoch island to end their control of the region. Added layer of complication: the PCs have entrenched allies on the Valoch island and family home in Wexland.
So. The PCs don't want either faction to succeed, but they can work with them to gain information or a brief advantage.

2. Artifacts Are Environmental
A sword of +5 head-removal isn't an artifact you can build a campaign around. It's got one use; head removal, and only one person can use it. You can remove heads with a regular sword. 

Artifacts change the world, not the PC. They might have side effects that change the wielder, but they reach outwards, not inwards. They call, summon, lead, lift, drop, destroy, create, predict, etc.

3. Artifacts Are Legend Fuel
Get one and people will never forget you. They'll tell stories of what you did until the seas dry up and the land blows away. For a pirate, with no easy retirement prospects, temperamental heirs, and a near daily risk of death, a legend may be the only way to secure a permanent legacy.

Becoming a "dread" pirate is an informal process. It happens when people shorten your name to one word, like a curse. It happens when you enter a tavern and everyone stops moving, not to reach for their weapons, but to very carefully look for the exits. It happens when you run up the black and your flag causes sailors on the ship ahead to dive into shark infested water and swim for the nearest continent.
Igor Kieryluk

Example Pirate Artifacts

Some major, some minor.

The Seaglass Staff 
Carved from a single piece of green-grey glass. Almost primordial. Bits of rock are still stuck to it. Once per day, strike one end against a solid surface and the sea freezes for a mile in every direction. Not cold, not ice, just water solidifying like glass. Waves tower like mountains with snowcovered peaks. Ships are locked in place in the glassy plane. The effect lasts until the wielder drops the staff or chooses to end the effect.

The staff is currently in a bubble at the bottom of a sea trench. Water above, a thin wall of glass-water, then air, then a skeleton in gold robes clutching the staff. Sure, you can remove it, but a mile of water will come crashing down on your head. Hope you have a plan.

Captain Kale's Coin
A slightly bent gold coin with a front side, a back side, and a third side. Front has a skull, back has an eagle, third side has a blurred fingerprint and a bloodstain. Whoever owns it can name two outcomes and flip the coin. E.g. "Heads we go left, tails we go right" or "Heads says you're a liar". The coin is mundane and the results are random. The bearer can spend 1 HP to have the coin come up heads or tails. If the wager pertains to some imminent supernatural event, the coin lands on the third side. The coin can be given away or taken from the corpse of the bearer, but it can't be lost or stolen.

Roc Caller
A huge metal tube tied to the mast, attached to a horn and a set of bellows. Requires a great deal of pumping to build pressure. The tube produces a hideous wailing whine that calls a Roc, a bird larger than two elephants with the intellectual capacity and moral compass of a chicken. The Roc will circle overhead and attack anything that isn't making the correct droning noise, flying off when it's reduced below 1/2 HP or there are no more targets.

The Groaning Spyglass

A standard ornate spyglass, bent and dented, with a cracked lens. Look at something and twist the end of the spyglass. If you are on the water, you begin to move towards the target at a very accelerated pace. Waves break like the beat of a drum. You should probably reinforce your ship. Wind and tide are no matter. A half turn takes you to the horizon (~5 miles) in five minutes. A full turn takes you 100 miles in 10 minutes and involves a great deal of warping, bending, and folding of reality. Try not to hit an island. When you arrive, everyone has to spend 1d6 rounds staggering about and going "argh!" or "FUCK" or "bwah?"

The Extra Hour
A leftover piece of time from Creation. Try not to think about it too hard. When activated (there's a ritual), everyone near the object gets one extra hour. It's as though time has frozen for everyone else. The ritual participants could rob a fortress, assassinate a city, or walk into a volcano's heart.

Bound Name
A ritual, and a complex one at that. Bind your name (pseudonyms work) to a simple condition (holding a type of coin, holding a murder weapon, fully immersed in sea water, dying). Whenever someone speaks your name, anywhere in the world, while they meet the condition, you see through their eyes for a half second and get a general impression of their location. The closer you are, the more accurate the location. Don't pick too general a condition or you'll never see anything but impressions.  
Someone can inherit a name if they perform the ritual and kill the current name-bearer in the final step.


A horse's skull, bleached and carved with curses and symbols. In its inactive state, its effects have a radius of 1 mile. Active, they have a radius of 100 miles. Activating Faminecaller requires a ritual, and the ritual requires someone to deliberately starve to death out of spite, defiance, rage, or sorrow. Under its power, uncooked food rots in 24hrs. Crops grow just enough to offer hope. The flesh of beasts grows corrupt and full of worms, and even the worms carry only misery and disease. 

Dagger of Body-Switching

Stab a person (enough to draw blood and pierce flesh, but it doesn't need to be fatal). You switch bodies with them. They are holding the dagger. Seems simple enough... until you consider court politics in the 16th century. Plot twist: there are actually two daggers.

The Rebel's Stone
Turns rice into gunpowder. Change the crop to suit the plot, but the basic effect is dangerous enough. A short ritual can turn a warehouse into an apocalyptic bomb.

Moon Gate

As the moon sets, sail towards it on a calm sea, traveling along the silver path as you hold the moon gate before you. If everything works you'll end up on the foggy mercury oceans of the moon and steal heaps of pure silver from the white marble palaces of the moon lords.

Other Artifacts

If you're not using OSR Search... why?
20 ideas from Arnold K
20 more ideas from Arnold K
5 ideas and some theory from Scrap Princess
3 more and some additional theory notes from Scrap Princess
Whole bunch of little artifacts
from John Arendt

Black Auction items by Dunkey Halton 
15 ideas from Swords and Stitchery 


  1. What about 16th century court politics makes this difficult?

    1. It's not quite my area of expertise, but off the top of my head: pretenders to the throne, lots of outside factions, competition for access to the monarch, rising and falling families, constant shifts in alliance, the opening of the new world, religious strife and schism, and a number of strong monarchs with clear goals. There's just so many reasons to want to body-switch your way into power.

  2. Your comment about changing the world, not the PCs, is bang on. An artifact should be more than just a super powerful sword/wand...

    The quest for the Moon Gate is a campaign that almost writes itself.