If you're like me, those tables have fascinated you for decades. To look at Baba Yaga's hut and know it was an artifact of mythic power but not know what powers it had, was tantalizing. It makes me long to either find the Hut as a player, or run a campaign as a DM that the has the Hut.
In a way, that evocative uncertainty is what makes D&D work. We know of dragons, and wizards, and the City of Brass. But we don't really know about those things. Nothing definite; I don't know the street plan of the City of Brass, though I feel it's more real for me than a city like Baltimore, or Ottawa, places I've also never been but that evoke nothing for me personally. Likewise, we've all read about powerful mages, but the stories all differ. And so each DM can have their own vision of such wondrous things as wizards, and dragons, and Baba Yaga's Hut.
This is especially fascinating in that it's counter to the whole Gygaxian tendency to codify everything in 1e. It really is a quirk of a wargamey desire to not have players knowing all the game secrets that ended up giving DMs some creative breathing room.
I'll go farther and say those tables are the best thing in the 1e DM's guide and their real benefit was unintended.*
And it's interesting how we can have this cross-blog conversation about artifacts using this simple system of roman numerals and understand each other. I think that other loose but simple standards might help us DIYers communicate back and forth, maybe poison types, or treasure types, anything that would benefit from a kind of communal short hand.
- Artifact power tables are a perfect example of just the amount of detail in a game product; enough backstory to get me interested but not so much I can't make it my own.
- The system used for categorizing their magical effects is a simple and useful tool for facilitating communication between all of us.
(*I don't mean to be provocative, but this is why I don't get all starry-eyed thinking about Gygax. Yes he helped create something really new under the sun. But I don't think he really understood it, because he almost immediately started down a path to make D&D more centralized, codified, and focused on tournament play. All features in no way new under the sun. If he had only focused on empowering DMs the way he had in B1, B2 and these tables, rather than constraining them, imagine what we might have had by now.)