Solo Tabletop RPG Review – Artefact

Artefact (Mousehole Press)
Created and Designed by Jack Harrison

The world of solo tabletop roleplaying is made up of a lot (but not entirely) of what you could classify as world-building exercises. These are some extremely fun games that could be easily used to spark ideas for a campaign in another, more complex system. I saw someone refer to these types of games as toys for the GM, something the person planning sessions can play that also helps build the background of stories. One of the best options in this subcategory is Artefact, a brilliant game where you play a magical item, telling your story over the course of anywhere from a decade to millennia. Your life is framed through the Keepers who wielded you over time.

To start you choose the type of Artefact you will be. Your choices are The Weapon, The Shield, The Instrument, The Ornament, The Deck, The Footwear, The Staff, The Tome, or The Automaton. To create your Artefact you begin by answering the opening questions unique to that particular type of item. For example, The Weapon begins with “You were tempered in the heat of a great forge by a legendary smith—describe them, their materials and their smithy.” Then you can select three traits that describe you from a list or choose three of your own. As you play and time passes your item will be affected which means you will need to change things. This could be a trait, a physical appearance, something in the world, or respond to a question about your particular item.

The game follows a play structure as follows: You will describe your Keeper with a name and some details. That’s followed by answering two prompts about them and how they used you. Next is a memorable event where this Keeper used you and the outcome of that. If it was positive you choose from the Victories & Valour list. If it was a negative outcome you choose from Neglect & Mischief. These lists are where the Changes occur and your item evolves. Then you determine what the circumstances are that caused your Keeper to lose you. The game ends after you have gone through three Keepers however there are mechanics included to help you extend that if you wish.

When it comes to Keepers you are also given options. Your first Keeper will be from a list of bold, independent archetypes. Your second Keeper will come from an era of glory and heroism. The final Keeper is meant to represent a time of ruin, when things take a darker turn. In between each Keeper you are asked to observe the passing of time, which is a mechanic I found particularly affecting. You choose how much time passes between one Keeper to the next from a list and the longer the time, the longer you are asked to sit in silence and think about the story. A month between Keepers is twenty seconds. A century is a whole two minutes. A millennium is four minutes. If you choose one of these longer periods of neglect you will be asked to choose a prompt from Shifts & Currents or Dust & Rust. These also create Changes with the former pointing to stability while the latter means your world decays. 

By the end you have an object with a compelling history behind it and the author advises that this can be placed somewhere in the world of your ongoing campaign. It can be given stats from your system of choice and become something player characters can come across in their journeys. Or it can just be a small story you tell about an item that was important to some people in a fantastical world. The author emphasizes this is about contemplative play and I found the mechanics are perfectly centered around that idea.

I can’t say I have delved as deep as one could with the game quite yet but I did play through once to see how it felt and had a lot of fun. Because I always have to be difficult, and because fantasy just isn’t a genre I know all too well, I decided to make my Artefact something from the world of superhero comics. Below is my journal I wrote from my playthrough:

The Cosmic Gauntlets – alien, indestructible, star-powered

Made by Professor Jacob Kohnfelder, a Jewish man living in Brooklyn in the 1930s. He sought to create a weapon that could be used to fight the Nazi scourge. As luck would have it, an alien vessel crashed in upstate New York while Dr. Kohnfelder was spending time star-gazing there. The pilot died and then faded away, leaving behind a pair of devices that could be worn on the hand. They were severely damaged in the crash and not designed for human appendages. Dr. Kohnfelder brought them back to his lab to repair & augment them.

Keeper #1 – Jim Gleason (A Rogue Without a Master)

A sleeper cell of Nazi agents had been lying in wait to steal Dr. Kohnfelder’s inventions and believed he was still upstate. When they arrived & found the doctor there, it was clear he would have to die. Kohnfelder was shot but fled into the streets of his Brooklyn neighborhood. Out of work, Jim Gleason found the poor old man bleeding out. With his dying breath, he handed Gleason the Cosmic Gauntlets. Gleason made quick work of Hitler’s boys, not realizing how powerful the weapons were, multiplying his punches with the energies of distant stars. Gleason took the nom de hero Captain Cosmos, one of the great American mystery men in the Golden Age of Heroes. 

During the height of World War II, Captain Cosmos acted as a member of the Heroes Alliance and fought back the Axis Powers valiantly. During one skirmish, the Nazi supervillain Ultima Thule trapped the speedster Zephyr in a castle in Wewelsburg using a variety of occult incantations. Unknown to the rest of the Heroes Alliance & the general public because they were both men, Cosmos and Zephyr were lovers, so the good Captain could not let his partner be killed at the hands of the Nazis. Zephyr had also saved Cosmos several times, so he owed the man. At this moment, I attained sentience; something about the emotions flowing through Captain Cosmos gave me self-awareness. I would do whatever it took to save the speedster. Wewelsburg Castle was left as rubble when we got done with it. Captain Cosmos & Zephyr reunited while I ensured Ultima Thule’s escape route, a mystic arch to the Demon Lands, crushed him before he could fully cross.

I’ve come to think of Captain Cosmos as a passionate human, something I admire in this species. I have faint memories of the world I came from, and my thoughts are fragmented. Yet, I feel much more like a part of Earth than that distant world. What binds me to Earth is the humans’ ability to love, almost in defiance of the cold cruelty of the sphere. 

A Decade Passes

Poor Jim. When McCarthy started his witch hunt, the mystery men were the first on the chopping block. Working with the sniveling Dr. Cornelius Berthold, reams of psychological profiles were released of the members of the Hero Alliance, citing them as all variety of degenerates. The day Jim couldn’t wield me any longer was a sad one, bittersweet. He abandoned the Captain Cosmos identity, as did Zephyr with his persona. They left the States, moving to Europe. Many years later, I would learn they resided there until old age, Jim passing first and then his husband less than a year later. As for me, I remained hidden in a vault the Heroes Alliance had set aside for their powerful weapons, ensuring they didn’t fall into the wrong hands. However, I knew there would be more to my story, so I waited…

Keeper #2 – Space Agent/Marian Waters (A Monster Hunter)

Light. The door of the vault moved away. It was 1964. A group of young people camping out in the Catskills stumbled across the hidden storage facility created by the Hero Alliance. I was picked up by Marian, a college student at Upstate University. My activation must have triggered a beacon of some kind as we were both suddenly transported across space to a distant world, likely the place of my birth. Marian couldn’t separate herself from me much to the annoyance of the alien warlords who had kidnapped her. But, using my incredible power, she escaped their stronghold and set off across a sea of strange new worlds. Eventually, she became a Space Agent, an officer that was a member of the Intergalactic Peacekeepers. Partnered with the uptight Dag Manin, Marian used me to fight some of the deadliest foes in the universe.

I was constantly with her for eighteen years until the Omniversal War threatened to tear apart the fabric of all-known realities. Marian and a small band of heroes gathered from across the infinite planes of existence and journeyed deep into the heart of Astrolax’s Citadel of Doom. In this remote base, Astrolax pulled at the threads of time, causing immeasurable tumult. Heroes lived. But many others died. Marian leaped into the fray as she always did, fearless and focused. I pushed myself to the brink for her. How could I do any less? The crackling blast of Omniversal energy took Marian’s life, and with her last bit of energy, she channeled my power through Astrolax’s chassis, disintegrating his energy-form within. The Space Agent was a hero in death & I said goodbye to her silently. I was strained, sparking, sure that I, too, was done. It had been a remarkable run.

A Millennium passes

With Marian’s death, I was no longer a part of her, tumbling from her hands for the first time in almost twenty years. Her allies were focused more on returning her body to her respective Earth for burial, so I was forgotten. The Citadel of Doom existed in a plane on a slightly different vibration than my origins, and so for a thousand years, I floated on this barren rock, damaged & now silent. Though this pocket universe is cold & often lonely, it was not empty. A space-faring protoplasm happened to land on this particular asteroid and swallow me up as it oozed across the landscape, feeding on micro-mites. This reactivated my circuits which intermingled with the vibrations of the protoplasm, creating a small tear in space-time. We tumbled through, and once on the other side, my slimy companion spat me out. Here I was, back in the universe I came from, but so much had changed. 

Keeper #3 – Kid Cosmos (A Foolhardy Warrior)

This was the end, but I did not know it then. There was more to do before the darkening. I was found by a scavenging ship in The Tamoda System. The Incon tinkerers operating the vessel didn’t know what I was or how to use me, so I was sold on the floating bazaar-asteroid Sidnyx. There I was bought by Bremlix Rondor, a youth who aspired to be invited into The Centurions of Freedom, a band of hundreds of adolescent superhumans from across the galaxy. Rondor was a veritable database of superhero history and correctly identified me as the gauntlets used by Captain Cosmos. Then he made the connection that I was the same weapon used by the Space Agent. Taking the name Kid Kosmos, Rondor began “helping” out citizens of his sector, often making their problems worse and ultimately drawing the attention of the Throkkul Empire.

Throkkul. My homeworld. Now I know its name, and I understand my purpose. Rondor never figured it out, not fully understanding what I was intended to be. Before I came to know myself, I was a tool used by the Throkkul to annihilate entire worlds that would not submit their rule. Billions have died by my power. I understood I could only be destroyed in the forges of what remained of Throkkul Prime. By failing to act at the proper time, I caused Kid Kosmos to be captured by the desperate Throkkul, who wanted me back after all this time. 

I knew they would bring me to the forges to reshape to fit their anatomy, so I let the Throkkul batter & beat poor Rondor. It had to be this way. They cleaved his hands off and tossed him, stunned & shocked, into deep magma pits. I began charging my circuits, ready to destroy myself, the Throkkul, and what was left of this world to protect the galaxy. It was my turn to be a hero in the same way my previous bearers had shown me. I unleashed my power, feeling my form crack & split. Boiling white-hot energies poured forth, incinerating the forges, the Throkkul, and finally myself.


3 thoughts on “Solo Tabletop RPG Review – Artefact”

  1. This is fabulous and an awfully amazing writing tool – What you captured in your journal was so good! would you mind if I read it and used is as a portfolio piece for my Voice Actor work? I’ll intro with title and your author and close with a spoken “link” back to this article or blog as you prefer. I just feel that I could really sink my reading teeth into this or an excerpt! (I couldn’t find an email to ask you privately)

    1. Thank you for the kind words. You are completely welcome to use the text for your voice actor portfolio. If you are able to share, I’d love to hear the final product.

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