Today I am going to be talking about a variety of RPG artifacts. No, I’m not talking about the various body parts of Vecna, rather I’m going to be talking about physical things that are created before or during play that last long after the game they were created for is done and over with.
This topic is inspired by episode 358 of the Misdirected Mark Gaming Podcast where the hosts also discussed this topic but with a much narrower focus. Some debate in the chatroom during that show led to one of the hosts challenging us to also cover this topic. So here we are.
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Where does this topic of RPG artifacts come from?
If you want some background on where this topic comes from you to need to check out The Misdirected Mark Podcast episode 358. Originally the episode was called “RPG Artifacts” and then later the name was updated to “Game Generated RPG Artifacts”.
If you haven’t listed to the MMP before, it’s a great show. It’s one of my favourite RPG round table style shows, where they talk games and game mastering and cover a huge range of topics. I’ve learned more about playing and running RPGs from this show than from any other source.
During episode 358, there was quite a bit of debate over MMP’s definition of artifact and exactly what the topic of the show was meant to be. Eventually, they nailed down exactly what they were talking about but some of us in the chatroom, myself included, found their definition to be a bit more narrow. Which leads me to this article, where I will be talking about all kinds of RPG Artifacts, both those generated during play and those created outside of play.
While the majority of this topic is RPG focused, I will also be noting a few examples of artifacts that are created by board games. You can find that at the end of this article.
What do I mean when I say RPG artifact?
For this discussion on RPG artifacts, we aren’t talking about things like the eye of Vecna or the Deck of Many Things. What we are talking about are physical artifacts that are left over once the game you are playing is done. The bits and bobs that you can hold on to and go back to weeks, months, or years after the game is done.
Some of these items may simply be souvenirs that bring back fond memories of the game, while others may be things that were made and that can be re-used over and over again. Many of these artifacts can be reminders of things that happened in the past if they are brought into a future game. These reminders are especially useful for when you play a game then take a break and return to a long time later. In some cases, the artifact is the game itself as we make permanent changes during play.
What are some of the various RPG artifacts and mementoes that are created while playing RPGs?
Here you will find a list of the wide variety of items that we create before or during play that last after the game is done. I’ve listed everything we could think of below, but this list should not be considered exhaustive. I’m sure there are items we missed (and if you spot any be sure to leave me a comment on this post pointing it out).
Character Sheets – When it comes to physical items left over when the game is done, the first thing I think of is all of a player’s character sheets. Character sheets are a fantastic memento of an RPG session or campaign. Almost every gamer I know keeps their character sheets. I myself have character sheets going back to some of my first ever RPG experiences. In addition to being fond reminders of games gone, past Character Sheets also offer up the promise that your favourite character may get played again.
Campaign Notes and Stories – Many players take notes while playing in roleplaying games. Some players even go so far as to convert these session notes into full-blown stories. Both of these make for great mementos. In addition to being something to remind you of past glories, these notes can often serve as inspiration for future characters and future games.
Background Information – Most players I know like to create some form of backstory for their characters. Some people do more work than others in this regard, writing up extensive background information for every character. Hopefully, all of this pre-game work comes in handy during play. It can also make for a useful artifact. Backgrounds are great for reminding yourself who a character is if you return to that character after a long break. They can also be a great reminder of past experiences with that character and can be an inspiration for future games.
GM Notes – Unless you are playing a heavy improv game, most RPGs require the player running the game to create a ton of things both before the game starts and during play. Most GMs have extensive campaign notes including story background, locations, world-building, setting information, plots, encounters, and so much more. All of these become artifacts once the game is done and all of these can serve multiple uses. Anything that wasn’t used can be taken and used in another future game, sometimes directly and other times as inspiration.
I find great joy going through my old GM binders for various games I’ve run over the years. This brings back a ton of fond memories for me, as well as giving me the desire to try to recreate those fun times again. Nothing makes me want to run an RPG more than looking back on my successful games of the past.
Maps – Maps are very common RPG artifacts. While many maps are created before the game, by the player running the game, there is also a long tradition of player-created maps. This goes back to the early days of Dungeons & Dragons when one of the players at the table was “The Mapper”. I have to admit, I don’t miss the days of the mapper misunderstanding something the DM said and getting our party completely lost.
Many modern games now have the entire group create the game map. Games like Hydro Hacker Operatives, Dresden Files, Iron Edda and The Quiet Year, have the entire group work together to create maps of the campaign area and places important to the characters before the game begins, often having players update the map as the game is played.
While there may or may not be an actual map involved, I think things like keep building, stronghold creation or designing a superhero group headquarters also falls under this category. Depending on the game, some of this may be created out of play or it may be part of the gameplay itself. In the end though, you have someplace new in the game world that can be a fond reminder or become something that becomes part of the world in all future games.
Maps also don’t have to be dungeons or top-down overland views of outside areas either. Maps could be an area map of an alleyway with the ally, the fire-escape, the rooftop and the street being different zones. Relationship maps also fall under this category as does a string covered cork board clue map created during an investigation.
Miniatures and Scenery – Miniatures have been a part of roleplaying since the hobby was first invented and many groups still like to use them. Sometimes they are used tactically in a grid-based combat system but other times players just like to have something physical to represent their character or Game Masters love to toss down on the table a miniature of an iconic baddie. While all miniatures used during a game could be considered artifacts, the real mementos are those that players personalize by converting and painting.
For many years now every time I make a new Dungeons & Dragons character I spend time picking out the right miniature, then paint that miniature. Along with that I even go out and buy a set of dice that match the colours I used when painting the miniature. All of these become a great keepsake for me at the end of the campaign.
Along with miniatures, some players also create scenery. This could be anything from some 3D tables and chairs to a full-blown dungeon like the one we saw at our 2019 Extra Life event. These also last long after the game is done and have the benefit of being able to be used for any future games.
Props – While I’ve never been one to include props in many of my games I know many love them. Over the years I’ve seen weapons, puzzles, treasure chests, tea-soaked maps, keyrings and all manner of props used during roleplaying games. Props are awesome for making aspects of the game or a specific character stick out and they make for great mementos once the game is done. Props that are an affectation of a single character serve as a great reminder of the good times had when playing that character, while other props may bring back memories of a great in game or campaign moment. Some generic props may even get reused in game after game.
Player handouts are a specific kind of prop handed out from the player running the game to the other players and include a number of things like maps, notes from non-player characters, letters from home, clues, and more. While these are used to drive play during the game they can also be great reminders of the experience after the game is done.
Artwork – It’s not uncommon for all players at the table to create some form of artwork during a game. Many character sheets have a spot on them for a character picture or portrait and many players love to draw events, characters and adversaries from their games. Some players even go so far as to commission an artist to create artwork for elements of their games.
With more and more people sharing their actual plays with the public there’s a new trend in RPG artwork and that’s fan art. Any gift of artwork from a fan is an amazing memento of that game that should be truly cherished.
Along with this is artwork gathered for inspiration and for highlighting things during a game. Back in the day, I used to cut things out of magazines or show my players pages of White Dwarf magazine. Today this has gone mostly digital with many players and GMs using Pinterest for their image finding needs.
Costumes – The growing popularity of Cosplay has led to an increase in the number of people who dress up as their character to play RPGs. These costumes become fantastic keepsakes and reminders of games gone past. I know at least one player who has a number of mannequins in their apartment for keeping all of their previous characters’ costumes on display and I know other players that love to don these costumes at conventions and costumed events.
New Rules and Mechanics – One type of artifact that you may not realize is an artifact of play are any new rules or mechanics you create for your games. These could include things like creating new spells, potions, magic items and monsters in a Pathfinder game or new moves for Apocalypse World or other PbtA games. Any new rules you add to the game become artifacts that can easily be ported over to future games as well as acting as inspiration for future game design.
One subset of this is House Rules. These are created whenever the group decides they don’t like an existing rule in a game and changes it to better suit their needs. Your group-specific set of rules for playing Dungeons and Dragons are an artifact of your group and something that is important to make sure you share with anyone new joining the group so that you are all on the same page.
Self Improvement Tools – This is an interesting artifact that came up when we discussed this topic on our podcast. Sean, my co-host, had purchased a tool for improving his accents when playing certain characters. Similarly, I have purchased a number of books on gaming and game mastering such as Never Unprepared and Play Unsafe. Research materials you purchase to improve your games are definitely artifacts that last after the game is done and are great artifacts you can continue to reference for future games.
Actual Plays – While we tend to think of RPG Actual Plays as something new, players have been recording their games for years. It’s just sharing them with the general public that has become more and more prevalent nowadays. Any time you record your play you are creating an artifact, one that can be used to entertain others, act as a reminder of things that happened for future games, be a self-help tool for the group to improve their future play or just be something to look back on and laugh about with your group years later.
Some board games also create artifacts that last after the game is done:
While not as common as RPG artifacts I have seen some examples of artifacts and mementos coming out of the board gaming side of the hobby. Here are some of the ones we thought of:
Legacy Games – The first thing that comes to mind when I think of board gaming artifacts are legacy board games. These, of course, are games where during play you make permanent changes to your actual game. Some of these games, like Risk Legacy and Clank Legacy, actually leave you at the end of the campaign with a playable game that is completely unique to your group. Others, such as Pandemic Legacy or Gloomhaven, have a finite ending but leave you with your sticker filled, written on board.
I know a number of gamers who like to take their finished legacy game boards and mount them on the walls of their game rooms as a reminder of past experiences.
Box Toping and Play Logs – While it’s never been something I’ve done with my own collection, there are a number of board gamers out there that like to keep track of when their games are played, by who and who won each play. Many people do this using a system called Box Topping where they will write down the information in the top of the game box. Other people like to include a play log in the box with the game for players to fill out. These are great artifacts for figuring out how often your games get played, who you’ve played them with and player win ratios.
Board Game Geek Stats – Many board game players like to log the games they have played. Some go further to log where they played, who with, what the scores were, how long the game took, etc. The most common place to log all of this information is on Board Game Geek. Your BGG data can be a very useful artifact of all of your gameplays. As a content creator, I use it for keeping track of how often I’ve played a game, when I’ve played it, what games I still have to get to the table and more.
Besides practical applications, I sometimes find great joy in going back say ten years in the past and seeing what games I was playing then and thinking about how I feel about those games now. Which am I still playing? What should I really get to the table and experience again?
Scoresheets – One artifact that is unique to board games are scoresheets. Now personally, I admit I have no emotional tie to these and just toss them out after the game but I do know other gamers who keep all of their scoresheets in with the games they play so that they can look back and see how their scores have progressed game after game. This can provide useful information and be a reminder of past games as well as show how often a game is getting played. I know some players who find this important enough to them that they create sheets for games that don’t come with one.
Board Game Bling – Anything you add to improve your game could be considered an artifact for that game. For example, upgrading cardboard counters and chits with 3D resources, painting the miniatures, replacing cubes or counters with miniatures, creating player boards, reference sheets, standees, etc. While most of these are going to be game-specific some can be carried over from game to game, like picking up a set of Iron Clays to replace the money in any game.
Actual Plays – Just like with roleplaying games, it’s becoming more and more common for groups to record their board gameplays. This can be done for entertainment, posterity or perhaps even for research using past plays to learn from your mistakes and improve future play.
House Rules – While house ruling games is common in RPGs where the rules are more of a framework and suggestion, there are some groups who will house rule certain board games. While I don’t do it often, it has happened. A recent example is my suggestion of combining the 2nd and 3rd-floor decks in Talisman Batman Super-Villains Edition. These house rules become artifacts for your game group. Again I stress, just be sure you point any house rules out to new players BEFORE the game starts.
So there you have a number of tabletop gaming artifacts. While I did manage to come up with a bunch of them, I know there are more out there. I would love to hear about the artifacts you have created before or during your games. Tell me all about them in the comments below!