*Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the organizations named in this review, nor have I received any form of compensation. I paid for my copy of the game through the original Kickstarter.
A couple of years ago, I reviewed a beta version of a solo RPG titled, The Artefact. (The link for that review is here.) This follow-up review is late. My apologies, especially to the game’s author if they were hoping for a more timely treatment of the final product. Unfortunately, this is something I’ve been putting off for a while. Fortunately, the game being discussed isn’t impacted by the tardiness of my updated examination of the final version of the game. For anyone that might be unfamiliar with The Artefact, the idea is that an individual player will write a story from the perspective of an inanimate object. The game is a short, zine-style RPG that is available in both digital and physical formats.
When I first played through the game in the beta version, my impression was that the game was more of a creative writing exercise than anything else. There was a wide variety of artifacts, as well as some interesting prompts to kickstart the writing process. When I ran through the game, I was left with a unique item that had a relatively complete story about its existence. I was happy with the result and wanted to find a game I plug my item into.
Where that original run-through of the game faltered was, I believe, at least partially, the result of its incomplete status. It was the beta version, but it had no end. I arrived at the “end” of the game, and there was no resolution. I had simply run out of game to play, as there were no more pages in the book.
The final iteration of the game, which can be purchased here, is a significant improvement over the beta version. The game does now have a resolution. Using the charts, the object that lies at the heart of the story will probably have a different life span for each play of the game. Once that lifespan has run its course, the game ends. While the object in question may linger on, the story terminates with the object being lost, damaged, forgotten, or what have you. Yet, the object created had a life, regardless of how that span plays out.
My main takeaway after playing through this game, both the final version and the beta, is that I had something that I could drop into a TTRPG with no issue. If nothing else, The Artefact is a worthwhile tool for creating compelling content for other games. So much so that it was included in the Bundle of Holding for Novel Writing Tools that corresponds to the annual “National November Writing Month”, aka NaNoWriMo. (At the time this article was written there were 14 days left to purchase the bundle.)
I enjoyed creating a timeline for my artifact, a shield to be specific, and got to build out a meaningful tale around it. In this story, the game ended with the shield having been locked away in a vault for safe keeping, and ultimately was forgotten, along with everything else it was stored with. A fitting ending for a revered item, but one that leaves room for the story to grow. Perhaps adventurers stumble onto this vault, discover the shield, and then are able to piece together its history. It would be a compelling game in and of itself to do that kind of sleuthing, and it’s easy to see how using something like The Artefact could significantly add depth to a regular game.
What’s more, it can be a way to circumvent writer’s block since all the player needs to do is respond to prompts, rather can concoct the story from their own imagination. After I played it, I was left with pages of a compelling story (2,118 words to be exact) that worked as much of an explanation of my shield, as it did to articulate the world the shield was a part of. If I wanted to explore all of this further I’d be able to develop a sort of archaeological approach to worldbuilding that could be very fruitful.
None of this is to say that everyone needs to play this game. It’s purely optional, and really only suggested for those that enjoy writing these kinds of backstories. There are lots of gamers that prefer things be kept as simple as possible. A few lines or a couple of short paragraphs are all that some people require for their own games, and that’s fine. If you’re one of these people, then The Artefact, and games like it probably aren’t for you. However, if you enjoy writing, then I would suggest you consider picking this game up. It’s a short, affordable, and infinitely re-playable solo game that can be an excellent complement to creative writing, as well as numerous TTRPGs.