It can be a great driver of your story...buuuut it can also destroy your character's entire world.
This week’s plot device manipulates, corrupts, terrorizes, and sometimes kills the characters we love dearly. It has no agency of its own but is capable of bringing down entire civilizations.
I'm talking, of course, about the Artifact of Doom.
Dun, dun, duuuuuuun…
Let’s take a look at these dastardly plot device dynamics. But first...
What Is a Plot Device, anyway?
Plot devices are tried-and-true narrative techniques that writers can use to affect the plot of their story. In the case of Artifacts of Doom, MacGuffins, and Artifacts of Attraction, they are physical objects that fuel the plot.
More Plot Devices: Everything You Need to Know About Love Triangles (in Movies & TV)
What is an Artifact of Doom?
Pretty much exactly what it sounds like — an object that somehow causes terrible disaster or destruction.
Yes, it’s just an object, and yes, it’s often relatively small in size, but Artifacts of Doom should not be underestimated just because they’re shiny (just ask Gollum).
Artifacts of Doom are evil, if not inherently, then because of their immense potential power if used for evil. These plot devices can make someone the most powerful wizard in the world, cause eternal sleep, erase half the population of the universe, or create an army of the undead.
These plot devices are powerful, inanimate objects. They pose a huge threat, but if and only if people interact with them.
But an object — no matter how evil — has no agency of its own. So the power of an Artifact of Doom lies in what it could be used for, how it manipulates or affects the person who uses it, or what might happen if it’s interacted with.
One of the hallmarks of an Artifact of Doom is that if the character had just left it alone and minded his or her own business, nothing bad would’ve happened. That’s where the story comes from.
Hold on, Isn't That a MacGuffin?
They may seem like MacGuffins, but there’s a key difference.
MacGuffins could be swapped out for something else with no impact on the narrative and can appear as objects, characters, information, or events. Artifacts of Doom are just that — artifacts — and what they are is crucial to the story itself (you definitely couldn’t swap the Infinity Gauntlet for a regular old glove and have Endgame remain unchanged).
Not only that, but Artifacts of Doom pose an ever-present threat to the characters. While MacGuffins may lead characters into dangerous situations, Artifacts of Doom are dangerous in and of themselves.
How Artifacts of Doom Function Within Stories
Artifacts of Doom are powerful objects, usually powerful magical objects. Therefore, they most often show up in fantasy or sci-fi stories.
But the impact these dangerous objects have on the plot is the same regardless of genre.
No matter what it is, the Artifact of Doom creates the plot of the story.
The existence of that spinning wheel is the reason Sleeping Beauty’s parents sent her to live with a trio of fairies in the woods. Thanos’ plan to use the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe forces the Avengers to try and stop him.
The Artifact of Doom isn’t enough to sustain a story without interesting characters, and it isn’t why a viewer will connect with a story — it’s just an object, after all — but it does lead directly to the plot.
In stories that use this plot device, the character using an Artifact of Doom must be stopped or the Artifact of Doom itself must be destroyed. This must be done at all costs, or else whatever Doom the Artifact can cause will come to fruition.
Now that you know what this plot device is, let’s examine a few movies that center around an Artifact of Doom.
The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings
This Artifact of Doom is alluded to right in the title.
After helping with the creation of the Rings of Power, the Dark Lord Sauron of Middle-earth secretly forged the all-powerful One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.
While the other rings were inherently powerful, Sauron had to infuse the One Ring with his own power, which created a paradox. With the Ring, Sauron was much more powerful than before, but because he used his own power to create it, he became dependent on having it.
The One Ring grants power to anyone who wields it and is nearly indestructible, which would make it an Artifact of Attraction all on its own… but that’s not all!
Because the One Ring contains Sauron’s evil power, it will slowly corrupt anyone who encounters it. (Just look at poor Sméagol.)
The mere existence of the One Ring fuels the plot of the entire series, including the prequel The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins finds the One Ring in The Hobbit and passes it on to his cousin Frodo, causing the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The Kragle in The LEGO Movie
Imagine the world is made of LEGOs. But not just buildings and whatnot… you’re made of LEGOs too. What could be the worst possible thing to happen if you were made of LEGOs?
Krazy Glue, that’s what.
And that’s basically the premise of The LEGO Movie.
The evil Lord Business plans to use the Kragle (known to us humans as Krazy Glue) to permanently freeze everything in the LEGO world, so an everyLEGOman named Emmet leads a resistance movement to stop him.
The Kragle is the Artifact of Doom, Emmet stumbles upon the Piece de Resistance (which looks a lot like the glue bottle’s cap), teams up with some wacky sidekicks, and the journey is underway.
Other Examples of Artifacts of Doom
- The Infinity Gauntlet (AKA: all six of the Infinity Stones used together) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
- The Deathly Hallows in Harry Potter
- Maleficent’s spinning wheel in Sleeping Beauty
- The videotape in The Ring
- The titular cauldron in The Black Cauldron
- The Lament Configuration in the Hellraiser films
- The board game in Jumanji
- Pick an episode, any episode, of Warehouse 13, a TV series based entirely on various Artifacts of Doom
How to Use an Artifact of Doom in Your Story
To be frank, Artifacts of Doom don’t work in most stories.
Since they’re woven into the narrative itself (there wouldn’t be a story without the existence of whatever the Artifact of Doom is), you can’t just throw an Artifact of Doom into your story and assume it will work.
Sometimes plot devices can be used in any story, but that’s just not the case with these. It might sound a little cheesy but listen to your story. If it needs an Artifact of Doom, it’ll let you know.
If you are using an Artifact of Doom, just remember that they’re all about stakes — establishing, raising, and maintaining the stakes of a story.
Since the object causes a terrible catastrophe of some kind, these stories function on the highest level in terms of stakes. Audiences will be invested because, most of the time, the stakes are literally life or death for the main character.
Preventing whatever Doom the Artifact will bring often comes at great personal risk or loss for the main character. Throughout the journey to destroy the Artifact of Doom, the character typically wrestles with morality or the temptation of power.
Artifacts of Doom can be dangerous, so use them at your own risk.
Like the characters in these stories… it’s usually best if you leave Artifacts of Doom alone and pretend like they don’t exist. If your story has one or needs one, you’ll know.
Check out our other plot device breakdowns from this series here!
Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller from the middle of nowhere, Ohio. She’s had jobs in travel writing, movie trailers, and podcasting, and is currently getting her MFA in Screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin. When not writing, Britton is most likely belting along to Broadway musical soundtracks, carefully making miniature bookshelves, or napping with her dog, Indiana Jones. Find more of her writing on her website or follow her on Instagram.