Tag Archives: Pahvelorn


Lucicrucilest (illustration by Gus L.)

Lucicrucilest (illustration by Gus L.)

Fragment of a dispatch from the Sage Strodastin of Zorfath to High Merchant Thracle.

Also know as chiastons by western mercenaries, crucilests are seemingly magical weapons used by the invaders known as tangles†. The weapon name comes from a heavy crossbar which always occurs near the business end of the weapon, giving an appearance something like a crossbow without string or lever. Speculation: the similarity between the symbol of the Old Empire and this weapon can’t possibly be a coincidence. In some instances, the crossbar curves forward, like horns.

Crucilests discovered so far include:

  • Electrocrucilest: a stocked weapon of approximately the bulk of a heavy crossbow. So named because it seems to discharge a ray of lightning.
    [Range as crossbow, to-hit as normal, 4d6 damage, save for half, may ignite flammables.]
  • Lucicrucilest: similar to the electrocrucilest in appearance, this weapon emits a beam of light as thick around as a clenched fist. The colors and strengths of lucicrucilest emissions seem to vary, and some devices have been seen with complicated crystal arrays at their tips. These crystals are of no mineral that I have so far encountered.
    [Range as crossbow, auto-hit, save versus death ray or die.]
  • Cumulocrucilest: similar in size to the electrocrucilest, this device emits a wide fan of malefic discharge, melting and burning all in its path.
    [Area of effect 45 degree fan, 60′ radius, Xd6 damage, save versus breath weapon for half.]
  • Tridoform Crucilest: a melee weapon, often with three prongs, used to deliver a powerful blast of corruption.
    [Melee range, to-hit as normal, 1d6 damage and save versus death ray or die.]

Forgive the impertinence, Lord, but I have named the devices myself for ease of reference. If you believe that other names might be more appropriate commercially, especially for sale in the north, please let me know your preferences at your earliest convenience.

The ammunition used by these weapons is unknown, and the tinkers we have hired to examine (and disassemble, in one case, with disastrous consequences) have not been able to make heads or tails of their workings. Crystals embedded in the device seem to reflect the shots remaining.

My Lord will be pleased to note that the few examples of these foreign artifacts that have come into stock at the Zorfath branch of the Grand Emporium have generated princely profits.

† The etymology of this word is unclear, but I have reason to believe that it originated with the soldiers of fortune known as The Company of Gavin, previously based here in Zorfath, but now in unknown locations. One of my apprentices, however, believes the term is derogatory, and derived from mercenaries operating in the service of Efulziton Necromanticus in the west.

Note to Pahvelorn players: the tangle weapons you have found so far are a lucicrucilest and tridoform crucilest (these were the first found early on in the Vaults) and a 4d6 cumulocrucilest (which devastated the party in the northwestern cliff barrows).


James Tissot - Noah's Sacrifice

James Tissot – Noah’s Sacrifice (source)

This is an extension and refinement (I hope) of some recent ideas regarding cleric magic. It has some atmosphere that I like, but I worry that it is A) too complicated and B) overpowered. Opinions on both of those aspects would be appreciated.

There are four categories of cleric magic, called petitions. All require calling upon holy power, and thus are subject to mysterious divine whims. The four categories are commands, prayers, rituals, and abjurations. The first three types of cleric powers map to the three game timescales: combat rounds, dungeon exploration turns, and days (the turn unit for wilderness exploration). A petition requires the given amount of time to attempt, at the end of which a petition check is made (see below). Thus, commands are the only petitions that can be used during combat since they only require a round. No petitions need to be prepared beforehand, with the exception of abjurations.

The petition check uses 2d6 and works much like a reaction roll. Half level (round up) is added as a bonus. An unmodified 2 is always a failure and an unmodified 12 is always a success. An abjuration petition check of 2 ends the abjuration. Thus, if you roll a 2 for turn undead, your deity has deserted you. A vial of holy water may be used for a +1 bonus to the petition check (holy water is encumbering, may be used no more than once per check, and is consumed when used in this way). Petition checks for commands and abjurations are opposed (penalized) by enemy hit dice. Other petition checks have a difficulty numer (equivalent to the old spell level ranking) which is listed in the table of petitions below (in parentheses).

Petition Roll
2d6 Result
2 or less Abandoned (given petition no longer available this session, abjuration ends)
3, 4, 5 Spurned (further attempting this petition is at -1)
6, 7, 8 Ignored (failure, may try again with no penalties)
9, 10, 11 Answered (standard success)
12 or more Rewarded (double effect, demons or undead destroyed, etc)

Abjurations are defensive magics, and only one can be active at any given time. The player must decide which before the session starts. They function like rituals in that they require a day of preparation, but they then remain active during the entire following day. Petition checks are used when the abjuration is challenged rather than when the ritual is performed. So, for example, if a demon attempts to touch a cleric that has protection from evil active, then the player rolls a petition check (penalized by the demon’s HD) to see if the demon is able to overcome the holy protection. Abjurations also have their dangers: in some situations, they may function as beacons.

Cleric Petitions
Level Command Prayer Ritual Abjuration
1 turn undead
2 cure light wounds (1)
detect evil (1)
detect magic (1)
light (1)
purify food & water (1) protection from evil
4 hold person speak with animals (2)
find traps (2)
6 sticks to snakes neutralize poison (4)
cure serious wounds (4)
speak with plants (4)
remove curse (3)
cure disease (3)
locate object (3)
protection from evil, 10’r (4)
create water (4)
continual light
7 dispel evil
raise dead (5)
commune (5)
insect plague (5)
create food (5)

The metaconcept of spell level has been discarded (though you can still see some of the spell levels show up as difficulty numbers), and the various petitions have been bound to character level directly. The levels that various powers are gained at is the same as in the 3 LBBs. I’m pretty sure this is not the best arrangement; the various powers should probably be more evenly distributed around the levels (that’s probably a task for a future post). It is particularly odd that the level 3 and 4 spells both become available at cleric level 6 in the original rules. It may seem like cleric levels 3 and 5 are “dead,” but this is actually not the case as the “half level” (competency) bonus is incremented at both of those levels.

Some specific spell interpretations using this system. Cure spells may not be used more than once per character per encounter (and may cause aging). Continual light is a ward against shadows, functions as sunlight, penalizes or prevents hide in shadows (depending on situation) and moves with the person of the cleric. Purify food & water is not usable offensively against water weirds unless you can force them to sit still for a long time.

These changes may grant the cleric more power. The petition check system introduces the chance of failure in any given situation and also consumes diegetic time (potentially exposing the PCs to random encounters). Despite those balancing factors, it seems like the cleric should formally become the “medium armor” adventurer (as she probably always should have been) so that heavy armor can become the purview of the fighter.

Some petition check examples:

  1. A level 6 cleric prays for speak with plants. Spend 1 dungeon exploration turn in prayer, then roll 2d6 +3 -4, which simplifies to 2d6 -1, and consult the petition roll table. If the result is a failure (but not a 2 or less), the cleric can try again if another turn is spent.
  2. A 2 HD demon attempts to challenge the protection from evil abjuration of a fifth level cleric. Player rolls 2d6 +3 -2, which simplifies to 2d6 +1, and consults the petition roll table to see if the abjuration holds the demon at bay. Even if the demon overcomes the abjuration, as long as a 2 or less is not rolled, the abjuration endures and the demon will need to overcome it again for further attacks.

The system is designed to almost guarantee success (just like how I handle thief skills) as long as enough time is spent, assuming 2 or less is not rolled.

Raise dead

In OD&D, clerics gain access to the raise dead spell upon reaching seventh level. One of the cleric characters in my current campaign is at fifth level right now, and has a pile of unspent treasure. The ability to restore life is right around the corner. This spell is potentially game-changing, and thus requires careful consideration. First, let’s look at the text (Men & Magic, page 33):

Raise Dead: The Cleric simply points his finger, utters the incantation, and the dead person is raised. This spell works with men, elves, and dwarves only. For each level the Cleric has progressed beyond the 8th, the time limit for resurrection extends another four days. Thus, an 8th level Cleric can raise a body dead up to four days, a 9th level Cleric can raise a body dead up to eight days, and so on. Naturally, if the character’s Constitution was weak, the spell will not bring him back to life. In any event raised characters must spend two game weeks time recuperating from the ordeal.

This description is characteristically ambiguous and demands interpretation. The way I read the timing rules, a seventh level cleric can only raise those freshly slain (one turn? one day?), since the example given has an 8th level cleric able to raise those that have been dead for four days, and that deadline increases by four days every further level gained.

The most obvious need for a ruling relates to constitution. What defines a “weak” constitution? Does this refer to the “withstand adversity” or survival chances given on page 11 of Men & Magic? (You can see the chances in my OD&D ability scores post.) That seems like a reasonable interpretation. I think a constitution check would be a more elegant resolution system, but I want to stay close to the original rules where possible.

The “two game weeks” recuperation fits nicely into how I have been handing time passage already. I assume that one week passes between sessions, representing downtime and recovery, unless there is some urgent reason compelling continuous adventuring (this happened once that I can remember, when the PCs were in pursuit of a sorcerer). So a raised PC would be unable to participate in the following session (the player could temporarily run a retainer). In game terms, this seems like a small XP progression speed bump (if a PC dies and is raised, they miss out on one session worth of XP).

The spell description says nothing about side effects, and of course there should be some. What marks are left on a character’s body or mind from a layover in the land of the dead? Are there cosmic consequences to calling someone back from eternal rest? Perhaps the land of the dead is forever drawn closer to the land of the living at the site of a raising. Perhaps there is a chance that something else comes back along with the soul of raised character. I have some half-baked thoughts on raise dead consequences here.

Here is a preliminary ruling. A raised character must make a survival check (using the percentage as determined by constitution score). Failure means the character is not raised, and can never be raised. If the check is successful, the character is restored to life but also loses a point of constitution permanently. Further, life and death are not to be trifled with, and there will almost certainly be some other consequence to tampering with the order of things.

Necrology: Drona

During the previous Vaults of Pahvelorn session (February 3), there was another PC death. In fact, it came perilously close to a TPK. The setup was as follows: there were two chambers, one external (pictured to the south in the map) and one internal. The external room was a makeshift shrine to demonic invaders and was guarded by several fanatical savage worshippers and a priest dressed in demon-lookalike armor. These foes were dispatched quickly but without great stealth.

Following that fight, the party went through the door leading to the inner chamber, and encountered a black armored demon warrior (actually, these creatures have armor as skin, much like an exoskeleton). He was positioned behind a heavy table on the northern side of the room.

Both sides were aware of the other, so there was no need to check for surprise. We went directly to initiative, which the black armored demon warrior won. I asked the players where all the PCs were to confirm that no characters had stayed behind in the previous room, and they verified that everyone was in the 10′ x 20′ hallway leading to the chamber. The demon warrior then discharged an energy weapon, which was 4d6 area effect damage (save versus spells for half).

All PCs and retainers were in the weapon’s area of effect. The damage dice came up 16 in total, so even those that made the save still took 8 damage. The PC Drona (fighter 3) was killed, as were two retainers (Eraria’s apprentice Genk and Drona’s retainer Gillim). Given that this was combat damage that reduced them to 0 HP, the various characters also got the standard death saving throw that I use to determine if 0 HP means true death or just unconsciousness, and those three mentioned above all failed that save as well (if I recall correctly, Eraria and a few other characters were also reduced to 0 HP, but made their death saving throw and so were successfully revived after the combat).

Session as recounted by the player of Drona:

The party returns to the barrow, which looks to have been fortified since their last visit. Tarvis and Darulin foolishly step into a snare trap, and the party are ambushed in the entry way. They make quick work of the savages that attack them, and charm their leader. The party makes their way into the barrow, led by the charmed man. Entering the second level, the party is ambushed once more. They make short work of the fellows and continue South. Beyond that path leads to a room full of more savages. A sleep spell gets rid of most of the group, and Fitzwalter gets rid of their leader. Drona and Gillum run the rest of the sleeping fellows through. Beyond the final door is a short corridor leading into a small room. At a desk sits a demon, similar to tangle. He shoots the party with a crazy magical crossbow. DEAD!

Final thoughts. Engaging in a frontal assault robbed the party of potential surprise. Also, approaching in a tight formation exposed everyone to the demon’s weapon.

RIP Drona, fighter 3 (picture by Gus L)

Necrology: Satyavati

Tomb/prison of Ibarkaju

It seems like analyzing player character deaths might be a good way to discuss the issues of risk and fairness, so I am going to make this a regular feature. This exercise is not intended to be a celebration of lethality or a collection of macabre DM trophies. Instead, I want to think about the interplay between clues, hazards, and player decision-making. Basically, I’m interested in reflecting on the actual play experience of specific character deaths because I think they can help inform scenario design. Rulings required to adjudicate will also be noted.

The first entry is a relatively straightforward death. The magic-user Satyavati was slain by animated statues that were guarding the tomb or prison of an ancient wizard. This is how the session went down. The party entered a 50′ x 30′ hexagonal chamber that had pillars carved in the form of stately warriors running down the room. At the north end was a plain stone slab upon which was lain a perfectly preserved body in loin cloth. There was writing all over the body and slab recounting wizardly crimes. The figure on the slab was holding a stone tablet over his chest that was inscribed with magical symbols.

Satyavati cast read magic on the tablet, and it turned out to be the equivalent of a scroll of protection from evil, which he cast. As the characters were investigating the area around the body, two of the columns animated, stepped down from their pedestals, and attacked. There were several rounds of combat (one of the PCs needed to make a save against paralysis, which was successful; though the players didn’t know what it was for, it still scared them and they retreated).

As they moved away from the slab, the statues disengaged and resumed their pedestal positions. Safely at the south end of the room, the characters regrouped. Someone suggested that Satyavati approach and continue to investigate since he still had protection from evil active and had not been attacked previously. They didn’t know whether or not it would ward away the statues, but thought that it would be worth a shot. As he approached, the statues animated and attacked again. Satyavati lost initiative, and was reduced to 0 HP by the attacks. He then needed to make a save versus death (we don’t play with auto death at 0 or negative HP, but instead use a saving throw) which was automatically failed due to a previous effect (which the player knew about).

Ramanan (the player of Satyavati) described the session thusly:

The party ventures off to the glass forest of Pahvelorn. They investigate the statue of St. Azedemar, the disgraced cleric / wizard killer. They move on toward the Ziggurats, and come across some 6-legged moles, who are being eaten by a werid fury centepede snake. A battle ensues, but the party of Gavin are victorious. Entering the Ziggurat, a staircase leads down to a submerged chamber. The party manages to cross the first room they find, despite a giant ooze that makes their life difficult. The second room contains an altar, which the party decides to muck around with–twice: Satyvati didn’t survive the second time. My next saving throw is a automatic fail. DEAD!

Referee note: the chamber with the ooze was partially flooded, not totally submerged. The “automatic fail” saving throw was the result of a “natural 1s” LotFP table (from Green Devil Face 5) that we have been using, the text of which is:

7. Your next saving throw attempt automatically fails.

Yes, this effect is dissociated, but we have been having lots of fun with this table.
Were any rulings required? I needed to decide if animated statues counted as evil for the purposes of the protection from evil spell. This is something that I had already determined beforehand, though the players did not know the mechanics. Undead and summoned creatures are “evil” but constructs are not unless they are possessed by a spirit. I’m in favor of things like this being mysterious and requiring experimentation and discovery. The danger was clear here, and the choice to potentially reengage with the statues was made explicitly. Further, there were a number of second chances involved (initiative, statue attack & damage rolls), so chance could have still saved the intrepid magic-user.

RIP Satyavati, magic-user 2 (picture by Gus L)

Giants of Pahvelorn

Image from Dark Classics

Before the coming of Lord Arios, giants ruled the Whiskerknife Hills and surrounding areas. The giant-bane Arios, along with his companion the wizard Ismahir, drove the big folk away and built the fortress of Pahvelorn. Some say the giants retreated to the dark places of the earth, others that they were driven south into the Cobramurk Mountains.

The giants themselves believe that they came from the sky. Each glittering star in the evening night, they say, is a palace of their forbearers. The terrestrial giants are divided about the events which brought them to the ground world. Some believe there was a civil war above, and that the giants of the hills and mountains are the remnants of the defeated. Others aver that the over-world was menaced by some great doom, forcing its dwellers into the imperfect world below.

Giants have two uses for humans: meat and slave labor. In the legends, they keep and breed humans like humans keep cattle and dogs. The dull and small ones are intended from the start for the cook pot, but they have also developed a hardier breed which they use for other tasks. These are called drudges. They are large compared to most humans, often seven or eight feet tall, with tough skill and thick, ropy muscles. They cannot speak, and only usually understand a few crude words. Even the best drudges grow old however, at which point they too are destined for the great cleavers of the giant kitchens.

Drudges roll 12 + 1d6 for strength and constitution each, 2d6 for dexterity, and 2 + 1d6 for intelligence (other ability scores are 3d6). They worship all giants as gods incarnate and have no talent for sorcery.

Basic wands

Image from Dark Classics

Image from Dark Classics

There are three main types of elemental wands: flame, cold, and lightning. Magic-users may craft any of these wands beginning at first level. Crafting requires a sympathetic component, which is not necessarily required to be valuable. Some examples: a bonfire, the remains of a monster with an elemental affinity, a hand lost to frostbite, a branch struck by lightning. In addition to the sympathetic component, 100 GP worth of components are required per wand level, along with one week of work. Thus, a third level wand costs 300 GP and takes one week to create.

Along with the sympathetic component and ritual materials, an object for the wand itself must be procured. Simple objects may be used for the wand (such as a yew rod or a bone), though wands made from such mundane materials crumble to dust, shatter, or otherwise fall apart when exhausted. More finely crafted wands will simply cease to function when used up and can be enchanted again in another wand creation ritual. Traditionally, wands are batons, though this is not required. For example, consider the famous jewelled storm gauntlet of Hyssiasto of Urtar.

The use of a wand does not require an attack roll. Instead, enemies must make a saving throw versus wands and then take 1d6 damage upon failure. Damage from wands is considered magical. Range is as thrown weapon. Especially vulnerable targets may take extra damage (for example, a creature of fire might be vulnerable to a cold wand, and soldiers in metal armor are vulnerable to lightning). In general, this is operationalized as penalty of 1 to the wand saving throw and +1 damage per die. A natural saving throw of 1 results in two dice of damage.

The destructive potential of any given wand is not unlimited. At the end of any combat during which a wand is used, 1d6 is rolled for exhaustion. On a roll of 1 or less, the wand has lost its enchantment. If wands are used outside of combat, exhaustion is checked for at the end of an exploration turn.

The three types of wands also have the following additional effects:

  • Flame: ignite oil or flammable materials such as paper
  • Cold: slowing and penalty to actions requiring fine motor control
  • Lightning: also damages those touching target (or in water with, etc)

Wand level has several different effects. A higher level wand in the hands of a more experienced magic-user is more difficult to resist. Enemies take a save penalty equal to the lesser of wand level and wand user spell capability. Spell capability is the highest level of spell that can be prepared (which is pretty much magic-user level / 2). That is, higher level wands must be crafted to take advantage of a higher level magic-user’s power. For example, the targets of a fifth level magic-user’s third level wand make saves at -3 (because the highest level of spell that a fifth level magic-user can cast is 3). The same magic-user would have the same effectiveness with a fifth level wand, because of being unable to fully take advantage of the wand’s power. Additionally, the wand level is used as a bonus to item saving throws that the wand needs to make.

In addition to the standard attack, there are two alternate ways that wands may be used: surge and final strike. Surges do one extra point of damage per wand level (assuming the target fails the save) but require an immediate check for wand exhaustion. Final strikes do one extra full die of damage per wand level (assuming the target fails the save), but also automatically exhaust the wand.

Having two or more wands of different elemental affinities in close proximity can be dangerous. If either of the wands are subject to an event that would require a saving throw (such as being blasted by dragon fire), both must succeed at an item saving throw. If either wand fails the save, the wands rip apart in a vortex of unleashed magic power. The detonation causes 1d6 damage per wand level to any spiritually attuned (that is, spell casting) creature within five feet. Additionally, a wild surge or magical mishap occurs (roll on any such table, maybe this one or this one). Thus, most sane magic-users carry only one type of wand. Note that this risk of meltdown is only present due to miscibility; having a single type of wand does not carry the same risk, even if the wand is destroyed.

There are legends of many other kinds of wands, but the methods needed for their creation are more obscure. Magical research or the discovery of ancient manuals is required.

Shield saves

Image from Wikipedia

I would like to experiment with an “active defense” option for shield use. Here is the proposal.

Shields provide the following benefits.

  • +1 AC
  • 1 shield parry per round
  • +4 to saves versus appropriate area effects
All of the benefits only apply when a shield user has freedom of movement during combat (so not against traps).
At the beginning of a combat round, characters must decide which enemy they will primarily direct their shield against. The shield parry is a reaction, and may be used against a successful hit by that enemy. Fighters use their most favorable saving throw, other classes use their least favorable saving throw. Note also the ability of axes to destroy shields.
Use of a shield save requires a full action for characters without armor skill (e.g., zero level humans and magic-users). In other words, a “full defense” type of action will allow the use of a shield saving throw even for a non-combatant class character.
Appropriate area attacks would include dragon breath and fireballs, but not, for example, cloudkill.
Hopefully, this will not prove cumbersome (an attack in addition to a save versus poison does not seem cumbersome, so I don’t see how this will be much different, though I suppose getting hit happens more frequently than getting hit and poisoned). In any case, figuring things like this out is what testing is for.

I think this rule would also work with my recent 2d6 fantasy game, without the +1 AC bonus (since the numeric armor scale is less extensive), and with only +1 to saving throws versus area effects.


Image from Wikipedia

Also known as gatecrashers, petards are incendiaries designed to blow open doors or other small fortifications. Petards are second level concoctions, and thus cost 1000 GP in components in addition to special ingredients, given a functional recipe. One recipe involves ash that was used in the ritual to summon a fire elemental.

Petards are designed to be more targeted than firebombs, and also use slow fuses, so they are not as effective in direct combat (though they can make excellent diversions or surprise attacks, if used tactically). The standard, and safest, use of a petard uses a full slow fuse and takes one turn. The fuse may also be trimmed for faster detonation (within 1d6 combat rounds; on a roll of 1 the detonation is premature and the petardier is caught in the blast). Any standard (even reinforced) door will be blown open by a petard charge. Solid metal doors will be blown on 3 in 6 and stone doors on 1 in 6. Anyone within 10′ of a petard detonation takes 2 dice of damage (save for half).

Longer fuses may be used, but for each turn worth of extension there is a 1 in 6 chance the fuse will go out before it reaches the petard. For example, a petard with a 4 turn fuse has a 3 in 6 chance of not detonating. Stacked petards will blow each other, but will never do more than one extra die of damage (so 10 petards results in 10 chances to blow a door but only 3 dice of damage).


Image from Wikipedia

The firebomb is a device that fighters can create given an appropriate recipe. The most common such recipe involves certain glands of a fire beetle. This is a first level concoction, following the potion crafting rules, and thus costs 500 GP of components in addition to the special ingredients. Crafting time is one week.

Firebombs inflict two dice of damage on a direct hit (standard thrown weapon attack), and one die of damage to all within a 10′ radius of the explosion (save versus breath for half damage; this applies to the primary target as well if the initial attack was missed). Further, flammable targets may be ignited. The market price for firebombs is around 1000 GP, assuming there are buyers and sellers.

Alchemists and apothecaries can sometimes craft firebombs as well, but they are usually not as well designed for combat purposes (for example, they may consist of liquid in two flasks that must be combined and thrown).

Fighters are generally the only class that knows how to make incendiaries, but, like all things, if someone really wants to play a hybrid class (like a magic user that can craft bombs), we can make that happen (probably in place of being able to create potions, for example).