Every Dungeons & Dragons character seeks magical items for their abilities. But some wizards aren't interested in making powerful relics; they're interested in making nonsense, because they're crazy, or things that will screw your character over, because they're jerks. The result? These ridiculous artifacts from D&D's golden days.
1) Ring of Contrariness
The first of many magical items that I will simply call "Artifacts of Dickishness." See, magic items have to be crafted by wizards; they require time, power, and a great many resources. So why would anyone waste their time making a magic item whose only result is making someone kind of annoying? The Ring of Contrariness -- which, as you might have suspected, forces the wearer to disagree with everything anyone says -- it a prime example of some wizard wasting his time.
2) Bountiful Spade
Official description: "Characters who use this enchanted farm implement to turn over the earth prior to planting a field receive a +3 bonus on their agriculture proficiency check for that year." I feel confident in saying that any D&D game that needs its player to perform an agriculture proficiency check for an entire year is the worst D&D game ever.
3) Bell's Palette of Identity
I can only assume Bell the Wizard was reading The Picture of Dorian Grey when he was inspired to make this magic art palette, which, when used to paint a self-portrait, allows all status effects -- basically anything you'd make a saving throw for -- get transferred to the portrait instead. Nice, right? Alas, Bell clearly didn't finish Dorian Grey, or else he might have released that leaving the painting at home was a key part of its power. Users of the Palette must carry their self-portraits around wherever they go; if they don't have the paintings literally on their body, its powers are useless. So close, Bell!
4) Gourd of Travel
Lots of items allow players to teleport: helms, scrolls, rods, weapons, and more. And then there's a gourd. A gourd that lets you teleport. While holding, and presumably carrying around, a gourd. Why a gourd, and why not, say, a ring of teleportation? A wand, mayhap? Or even a cloak or an amulet? Discovering the answer to that sounds like an adventure of its own.
5) Ring of Bureaucratic Wizardry
I swear this is real. The official description: "When a wizard casts any spell while wearing the ring, a sheaf of papers and a quill pen suddenly appear in his hand. The papers are forms that must be filled out in triplicate explaining the effects of the spell, why the wizard wishes to cast it, whether it is for business or pleasure, and so on. The forms must be filled out before the effects of the spell will occur. The higher the level of the spell cast, the more complicated the forms become. Filling out the forms requires one round per level of spell." If you ever had a Dungeon Master give you this ring, I believe you were legally allowed to murder him.
6) Bag of Beans
Ha ha, yeah, like Jack and the Beanstalk, right? Gotta have some magic beans in D&D! Except they aren't. When planted, these beans usually turn into monsters that attack you. But not instantly; you have to put them specifically in the ground and water them for them to turn into monsters that attack you. So not only are these beans actively harmful to you, you have to put in effort for them to work at all. But my favourite part? If the beans are removed from their bag by any method other than somebody's hand, they just outright explode.
7) Potion of Pebble Flesh
This potion is basically The Potion of Being The Thing from Fantastic Four -- you rub it all over yourself, go to sleep, and when you wake up ... well, you have pebble flesh. It gives you a natural armour, but it lowers your Dexterity, your movement rate, and of course makes you look like a hideous monster. The question is this: Since magic in D&D can do anything, why wouldn't you take a little extra time and brew a potion that upgrades your Armour Class without making the needless flaws?
8) Wand of Misplaced Objects
Although an Artifact of Dickishness, the Wand of Misplaced Objects is slightly more useful in that it's technically an offensive weapon for its bearer. Technically. Using the wand causes the target to become surrounded by golden orbs which spin around him. When they disappear, the target discovers all his shit has been moved -- his sword is back in its sheath, things in his pockets are in his backpack, his shoe is on his hand, etc. Annoying? Certainly. More effective than just blasting the dude with a fireball spell? I think not.
9) Wand of Wonder
The Wand of Wonder -- as in, the Wand of Wondering What The Lunatic That Made This Thing Was Thinking Of. When used, it performs one of 20 completely random functions, which can include 1) a powerful gust of wind, 2) 600 butterflies appearing out of nowhere, 3) shrinking the wand holder, and 4) making leaves grow on the target for some reason. Say you were a soldier. Would you bring a gun that would randomly fire bullets, water, or 600 freaking butterflies into battle? Exactly.
10) Bone Seed
So this is a tiny bone fragment that when planted turns into a giant tree made of bones. Does it look awesome? Probably. Would it be perfect landscaping addition for an evil wizard or someone trying to make a heavy metal album cover? Absolutely. Is it useful in any other way? No. Well, technically you can grab one of the bones and try to stab somebody with them, but this is D&D; if you weren't already carrying a weapon you'd have died minutes after beginning your adventure. Oh, also: "If a bone seed is planted in a burial ground, there is a 10% chance that it will produce a monkey skull." Well all right then.
11) Bowl of Watery Death
This Artifact of Dickishness is a touch more on the murder-y side; anyone who puts water in this bowl (it appears to be a Bowl Commanding Water Elementals) gets shrunk to "the size of a small ant" and falls into the bowl. Cruel? Yes. Efficient? Not really. Again, I have to wonder what wizard out there is spending his time enchanting deadly bowls and leaving them around dungeons for random adventurers to find.
12) Crystal Parrot
To be fair, the Crystal Parrot does have a clear and genuinely useful purpose -- you turn it on, and it watches over the room you've set it in. If intruders come in, the parrot sends you a telepathic message that you have uninvited guests. It can be turned on for up to 30 full days! The catch is that whenever you turn it off, it stays off for 30 full days, which defeats the purpose of the damn thing for six months out of the year. Still, it's quite bizarre knowing that D&D created the equivalent of the nanny-cam before reality did.
13) Druid's Yoke
If you're in a D&D campaign where you need to do any kind of farming, you have bigger problems than any magical item can fix. But this yoke allows characters to -- when they put it on themselves -- turn into an ox. Not a magical ox; a regular ox. Then you can till your field yourself! You can't do it any faster, because again, you're just a goddamned ox, but it does allow you to ... do the horrible manual labour ... instead of the animal you've bred for this exact purpose. So that's ... something someone would totally want. The best part? Once you've put it on, you can't take the yoke off; someone else has to do it for you. Because you're a goddamned ox.
14) Brooch of Number Numbing
I still can't believe this exists in D&D, but let me try to explain it. It's a brooch someone wears. People who look at the brooch, uh ... forget numbers. Like they forget five is more than three, how currency exchange works, and more. This is such a bizarre, esoteric thing, and one that seemingly has only one use -- screwing people out of their money. Which is what I thought Thieves were for. Basically, add the Brooch of Number Numbing with the Ring of Bureaucratic Wizardry and you've made a D&D campaign with all the fun of a visit to the RMS.
15) Robe of Vermin
This list could be filled with Artifacts of Dickishness; there are books that make you stupid, potions that drive you insane, and even bags that eat your stuff. But the Robe of Vermin is especially messed up. Put on the robe, and it seems fine until you enter combat, at which point unseen rats basically start biting your character over his/her entire body. They don't cause actual damage, but they render you more or less useless during every combat session, which means your character is very likely getting murdered before you find a way to remove the robe's curse. And you will die while being eaten by magic rats. Whee!
16) Fish Dust
A dust which, when thrown into a body of water, paralyses fish and causes them to float to the surface. Although it has the same terrifying effect that dumping toxic radiation into the water might have, it's probably fine, being magic and all. It's perfect for the player for whom saying out loud "My character fishes for an hour" is just too much work.
17) Horn of Baubles
As you might suspect, this horn issues out a blast useless trinkets, equal to the first level of Chuck E. Cheese ticket prizes, when blown. It's not even slightly useful because again, by definition, what comes forth from the horn are baubles. But as an added kick, when used there's a cumulative 10% chance that the blower will be sucked into the mouth of the horn and transformed into the aforementioned stream of useless trinkets, not only killing him, but destroying his body completely, rendering him unable to be resurrected without a Wish spell. Truly, the Horn of Baubles is the pre-eminent Artifact of Dickishness.
18) Horn of Bubbles
The Horn of Bubbles is decent second to the Horn of Baubles, though. It obviously spews out bubbles, which of course do nothing to attackers, but blind the blowers. If you're a bard, there's a 5% chance you get sucked into the horn and turned into a stream of bubbles, which, when they all pop, mean you're dead. Since only bards suffer the chance of the death by bubble, the Horn of Baubles reign supreme in Dickishness, but still, if you find a horn in a pile of treasure, don't blow it. It's just not worth the risk.
19) Puchezma's Powder of Edible Objects
Interestingly, this odd item is one of the few D&D magical items that does have a back-story; apparently the unfortunately named Puchezma was a cheapskate who inadvertently created a powder that allowed him to eat any chewable material while trying to make a spice that would allow him to eat cheaper and cheaper food. With it, people can eat anything from cotton to tree leaves instead of bread and salted beef! Now, I would say if you're carrying around cotton, you might as well be carrying food. I would also say that if you plan on your player-character eating tree leaves to save fictional money you are very much missing the greater point of D&D.
20) Mirror of Simple Order
"When a character steps in front of this mirror, he sees a strangely distorted image of himself. There are eyes, a mouth, and a nose, but all lack character. Although the figure moves as the character does, it is shorter or taller than he is, adjusted in whatever direction approaches the average height of the character's race. Any clothing worn by the character is altered as well. Bright colours will be muted, appearing to be shades of grey. Any ornamental work on armour, weapons, or clothing will be gone. He retains his level and class, but is not as exceptional as he might have been. He is bland and boring. The character's alignment changes to lawful neutral, and he becomes interested in little else other than setting order to the world." So there's a magical item that turns you into a soulless bureaucrat. I guess that's whose making those damn rings.