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Dwarves in strange moods will create legendary artifacts, unique, "named" items which are of unsurpassable quality (and often value as well). An artifact is the ultimate expression of a dwarf's desires, fears, memories and hopes in art form, and each dwarf will produce at most only one in their lives (or die trying). Dwarves that create an artifact immediately gain enough experience to boost them to legendary level in the affected skill unless they were possessed.
Dwarves drop artifacts in the workshop as soon as they are made. They cannot be traded, but can be used just like any item of its type, except for clothing and with some limitations to armor and weapons (see below). A list of all artifacts that the fortress has created can be seen by pressing l.
Artifacts cannot be destroyed unless lost in a chasm or dropped to the magma, though the heat generated by a Spirit of fire seems to be able to melt artifacts not made from magma-safe materials. They can be stolen by thieves; an artifact lost to you will have a note to that effect in the Artifacts screen (l).
Dwarves will normally use anywhere from one to ten items in their construction. If you view (q) the workshop a dwarf has seized while the dwarf is in it, you can see what materials he or she plans to use (see strange moods for further details). Once the dwarf has started to construct the artifact, you can also use t to see exactly what materials have been tasked (although some may be tasked to be hauled away).
It's worth noting that artifacts can be made out of materials that normally could not produce the base furniture or item in question. For example, you may get platinum armor, stone beds, or even gem furniture. Further, these artifacts could be produced in workshops by professions that could not normally build such an item, such as a bone door being made by a bonecarver in a Craftsdwarf's workshop.
Workshops which normally require fuel (a forge or glass furnace) do not require and will not use fuel to make an artifact at that shop. Magma versions which lose power, however, will immediately cause the moody dwarf's mood to end (with disastrous consequences).
Artifacts will automatically have one "free" decoration of the same material as its base material. For instance, a "Perfect Ruby" might have "Images of mangrove trees in Ruby". This decoration doesn't consume additional materials: in the above example, only one ruby was used.
Item types which normally require multiple objects to create (such as Platemail) will cause the moody dwarf to acquire that number of objects, but each such object will also contribute a decoration - basically, the item receives multiple free decorations. For example, artifact gold platemail will use a minimum of 3 objects (3 bars of gold), and have 3 gold decorations.
Decorations are sometimes simple rings or spikes, or shapes or images (often drawn from preferences of the creator), or events in the history of the fortress or world history.
Artifacts can range in value from 2,400☼ (all-stone furniture or finished good) to 6,780,000☼ (adamantine Platemail fully decorated with raw adamantine). Since immigration totals are, among other factors, based on your fortress's "Created Wealth" (and held/worn items count double in the total), expensive artifacts are often the driving factor behind how many immigrants show up in the first years.
It has been reported that artifacts can occasionally glitch in the number of materials needed, with a corresponding increase in value.
When an artifact's details are viewed, all "craftsdwarfship" will always be listed as being "of the highest quality". Artifact items have a value modifier of 120×. This is applied on top of the item's base value, its decorations and the value of all materials used in its construction.
Artifact armor and weapons have at least the damage/protection modifier of masterful (×2.0) quality items. Many players suspect it's (much) higher, but this has yet to be confirmed one way or the other. (Needs more research*.)
- (* The problem is that only a hero ("Great" skill level) or legendary champion can wield an artifact weapon, and even just a masterful silver weapon (with a relatively low damage multiplier) in the hands of such a hero will insta-kill or dismember almost anything it hits with one strike - so, since an artifact weapon is significantly better than that, how does one tell the difference, much less quantify it? Who can tell the difference between "dead" and "doubly dead"? (It's possible that such a difference would only be discernible against megabeasts, whales and other huge creatures.) For similar reasons, it's also unclear whether an artifact weapon of a lesser material is better than a normal-quality adamantine one (at least a 4:1 material value multiplier).)
- With regards to artifact armor, without tedious combat logging of the highly-random combat system, again, it's very difficult to tell whether a strike that bounces off artifact armor would not have been blocked by masterful steel, etc. etc.
Artifacts of types which can be built (furniture, animal traps, chains, etc...) can be used as normal. Weapons can be built into traps in the room. Mechanisms can become triggers or other mechanism-appropriate buildings. Often artifacts of this nature are used to meet noble room requirements or establish high-quality dining halls as a single artifact is typically capable of bumping a room up to royal quality on its own; however, a particularly poor artifact may turn it to at least grand. Object types which are used for storage in stockpiles (bins, barrels) will be used by your dwarves without regard to their status.
Artifacts which are crafts or clothing cannot be so used, nor will a stockpile that contains them count toward room value.
Object types which require a dwarf to wear or use the item will generally not be used by your dwarves, with the exception of artifact weapons and armor, which can only be used by heroes and champions.
Artifact Weapons & Armor
Artifact weapons and armor will only be equipped by heroes and champions (even if they are novice in the artifact's weapon skill). This means that an artifact axe can be wielded by an Axe Lord but cannot be used for woodcutting, as a dwarf that reaches Elite status can never return to civilian life. Similarly, an artifact pick will never be used by your miners.
Be warned that when a dwarf equips an artifact, he will never drop it - artifacts cannot be marked for Dumping (or Melting), and changing the weapon or armor setting in the military screen won't help either. Items held are dropped when dwarves lose consciousness; you may wish to set up a simple cave-in trap. Your only other options are to get really lucky and have it wrestled out of his hand in combat, or for the dwarf to be killed.
A dwarf may carry around several artifact weapons in each hand [Verify] .
Of course, you might not see a champion swordsdwarf wielding eight artifact adamantine scimitars as a bad thing.
Unfortunately, Holding 8 adamantine scimitars is bad as the hero/champion is probably holding 7 in one hand, thus making the weapons useless.