Occultism Skill Rework and Grimoires [LotFP]

It’s been a few years, and a good bit of play, since I posted the Occult skill here. Anon asked about it today, and I figured I might as well go root out my hardcopy notes and post the revisions here.
I’ve loosened the day-to-day bookkeeping restrictions in favor of a more intuitive system, and added a bit more gambling to the mix. The additional rules for bonuses are encouraging my players to do weird stupid shit, like carrying around live chickens for sacrificial purposes and cranking themselves on Red Lotus in inappropriate places, and it also allows me to throw in more evidence and clues when the PCs are dealing with cultists/EHPs/witches and diabolists. Those folks can also be a serious, time-sensitive threat to the party without needing to have a level 9 Magic-User running around. It’s also a lot more dangerous than using a regular skill, but still useful enough to tempt players. Finally, the Grimoire rules place a sharp limitation on ritual spellcasting while adding a new and desirable form of treasure to the DM’s options.


Harry Clarke – Faust – Faustus Appears


The Skeleton Key (Magic Item/LotFP)

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. That’s not what it does…

A brass cylinder roughly a handspan long, and about as big around as a little finger. At the top, the cylinder pierces a twisted ring. It is incised with a well-worn images. The obverse shows a skeletonized body, greatly elongated, tied by its wrists to the top of the hoop, while the reverse shows a bound hermaphroditic figure in the same posture. The images are blackish-green at the top of the ring, fading to a deep russet black near the end, and the base of the key is also blackened badly. A thin slot is visible at the tip of the cylinder on the end furthest from the hoop.

Spoilers follow. Players beware.


FtA: Oathbreaker, The Sundering Breath (New magic weapons)

Came up with a new magic item while reading the old Judges’ Guild adventure “Zienteck”, when considering ways to fix a rather boring weapon tucked into an interesting place. The second pair of weapons (Oathbreaker) were the sidearms of one of my Vampire: The Masquerade characters ages ago, herein modified for D&D/LotFP. If you’re interested, it’s got the basic Vampire stats afterward.

The Sundering Breath:
Created by a former Cleric to aid him in unmaking the Golems and other Things given Unlife in his maddened experiments. He would eventually be consumed by his belief that all Men drew breath stolen from He That Is, weakening the font of force from which all Clerics draw their power. The fallen Wizard would embark on a one-man Crusade to return himself to his former Grace and power by uncoupling the Spirits stolen to craft the Unliving, and rejoin them to the true Breath. That he did so with a stolen spirit speaks volumes of his corruption..

The Breath is a heavy and inelegant Crow’s-beaked warhammer. It is faintly transparent, and the inscribed pattern of golden Kabbalistic runes and precisely-positioned number tables seems to writhe in the hands of its owner. It does only half damage (1d4) to any target that is not imbued with an Animating Genius. When it is used to smite Things so imbued (including, but not limited to: most Undead, Soul Gems, Phylacteries, Golems, and many magic items), the Sunderer has a cumulative 10% chance per purposeful blow of breaking its enchantment. Be wary, however, as the force(s) released may not be especially friendly. It can only strike corporeal things, but this includes binding circles/fields or the like which are currently containing a living or Unliving spirit.
Items of Angelic and Demonic magic are immune to its effect, as are certain types of naturally-occurring Undead; only those made with stolen or bound life force or spirits are vulnerable. Elemental spirits are freed but not destroyed.
The Sundering Breath may also be used to cure a victim of possession – but the target must be struck with the hammer, and with full intent to harm (normal attack roll, and 1d4 damage per blow). Mortals slain by the Sunderer may not be reincarnated, resurrected, or reanimated through any means short of direct Divine intervention (id est, not a Cleric saying “can you do a brother a solid”, but YWH Himself shoving a metaphorical finger up the corpse’s nose).
If a character successfully frees a spirit or Genius with nowhere to go, it will haunt his dreams until guided to the proper Reward.

These ancient weapons are said to have been forged in the fires of the wars against Cain’s Brood, seen the battles that threw down Enoch and Nod. The Man who carries them is a Pariah, a kingbreaker, destroying falsehoods and truth alike in his wake.

Stats, LotFP/D&D:
The Oathbreakers are a pair of ancient, unbreakable bronze short swords, each marked with an indecipherable rune that causes revulsion in all who view it. Its pommels are unlovely chunks of a plain, gray stone indelibly stained with blood, supposedly cut from the weapon of the First Murder. Each sword calls out to its mate: when owned for one full week, the bearer will become consumed by visions and dreams. At first, these will be from the point of view of the owner of its twin, or from the twinned sword itself if it is unowned. Eventually, the character will begin to have visions of flying to the area in which the sword can be found, or the dying dreams and days of its last owner. The owner will also see the Mark of Cain (the same as on the sword-blade) branded on the forehead and right hand of any being who has killed another in anger and with intent. This latter power is shared with anyone touching any piece of the First Weapon, whether deliberately or accidentally.
The blades do 1d6 damage per round, per Small weapons; dual wielding the blades uses the normal rules for your edition (in my case, roll twice for damage and pick the best). Against any creature which has the Mark of Cain, however, they ignore all special defenses, including incorporeality, the need for cold iron or silver, the requirement for certain “plus” ratings, etc.
If invoked, by crossing both blades before the face of another being and speaking the phrase “I give you Freedom” in Enochian, all magical or divine enforcement of oaths they have sworn will be severed. It also dispels many curses, at the GM’s discretion. Finally, a character who is carrying or owns either blade becomes unable to take any enforceable oath for any reason; they will be overcome by chills and nausea, and their tongue will cleave to the roof of their mouth, rendering the character dumb for 1d4 rounds. Likewise, no other being may swear an oath to the owner of either of the swords.
(They can wound, but not kill, Cain himself. Yes, this came up. No, I will not explain how.)

Stats, oWoD: 5-point Artifact. Does one die of Aggravated Damage for each point of True Faith the wielder possesses to anyone who has committed murder, in addition to its normal damage. When crossed, and the formula is uttered, all Blood Bonds owed by anyone who views them are dissolved

Off-line for a couple days (also, Vance, and Wizards vs. Magic-users)

Heading out of town for a few days.
In the meantime, I’ve been reading me some Jack Vance – it’s amazing how many things, subtle things, that D&D jacked from him.

You hear “Vancian Magic” way too often in this hobby from people who don’t understand what it means. Yes, the disposable spells and imprisoning/memorizing them is Vance to the core.
It also implies a bunch of other shit. Research, experimentation, Lost Spells in the Dark and Weird places of the world, barely-controlled Tech and Nanotech. One of the reasons I’ve always had a problem with the 3x + (and even 2e to an extent) is that they simultaneously make research less-attractive/non-existent, and make magic too mundane.

See, a “Wizard” is different than a “Magic-User”. Magic-users, what the common folk call “wizard”, simply have magic. I’ve used several in the past that were 0-level NPCs and/or other classes, but had access to a magical tool, even a toy, or some internal mutation that gave them power.
A Magic-user is a deceptive bastard who uses fear and magic to keep himself off the pyre and serve his needs. Magic-users wield nothing more than a tool; they are laborers, not craftsmen, of Magic – and by 4e, they are all that remains.

(Reginald Balfour) This guy? Candles of Hypnosis and glasses that let him read any code. Boom - "Wizard".

(Reginald Balfour)
This guy? Candles of Hypnosis and glasses that let him read any code. Boom – “Wizard”.

Wizards and Magi, though? They almost understand magic, even are magic to some degree. A Wizard hunts power, knowledge, tools. He hoards as the Dragon, jealous of power, laboring to keep it hard by and thieve it from the less-worthy. A true Wizard does not have equals, but enemies, masters, inferiors, puppets; those with a hold on his soul or his power, and those who depend upon them. Wizards deceive, yes, but also play with Magic in a way a simple “user” never will.
Wizards study, and often die for, their Art – for a Wizard is an Artist, a Craftsman, a maker of Wonder.

The longer or more tightly-regulated the spell description (with limited exceptions), the closer you move to nothing but Magic-“Users”. When Grease stops conjuring a layer of bacon fat in an area and starts becoming “You can but make someone slip, or disarm them”, a Wizard isn’t the only one who loses out.
The entire game feels the hurt, for creativity and “breaking the rules” with magic are the very substance of the fairy tales and sagas we draw from.
More importantly, these acts should be part of the stories we write on our own every time we hit the table. Our tales are of finding wealth and creeping under the weight of dread, exultation and mourning, and above all being clever gits who do what we shouldn’t with every tool we have, because that’s the way Humanity works. It’s what we’ve done ever since we rejected the Garden, and it’s our fucking inheritance right alongside the weight of Adam’s Curse.
The Game shouldn’t be an endless walk down a barren corridor, whose seamless and indestructible walls lead into an unbranching infinity forever interrupted with doors, should not consist of hunting for the one and only key on our collective belt that will fit this lock.

Branch the corridor, tear down the walls. Give your players toys, not just tools; marvel at what they make of broad, Weird powers instead of simple rayguns and a really big sack they fill with FPS-style first-aid kits.


(From John William Waterhouse)
When’s the last time one of your PCs had to do this to use a magic item?

New Magic Item, and a revised house rule

Courtesy of an idea by Fractalbat, I’ve revised my rules for using the Occultism skill for ritual casting: if you fail, you can now burn HP equal to the Margin of Failure to cast the spell anyway. I normally roll skill checks on a secret sliding-base roll (IE, I roll a d6 at the same time, and whatever’s on it becomes the “1” the other die is compared to), so I’m trying to decide whether to:
a) keep the results secret until the player chooses to burn HP (and possibly stop the burn at 1 HP to keep them alive/give them the option to burn out instead)
b) Roll the base die in the open on this one to give them a little more info.
I think having the choice to burn HP after casting, or keep gambling on better rolls next turn, makes for a little more exciting play. Plus, it means higher-level ritualists are going to be burning “just one more HP” a lot more often, making the skill more consistent in the middling levels but still giving proper Magi the edge. And, of course, with Magi starting out with a middling skill in Occultism to begin with, it gives them another avenue for repeat casting without becoming (as Fractalbat put it) superheroes off slinging Shocking Grasp every round. It also means that the Mage will be prepping casting-time-sensitive spells, but still have some access to “utility” stuff at low levels.
Edit: decided that burning years of your life expectancy once you run out of HP/instead of HP is a better trade. Plus, Koura, man. Koura (different video than the one below).

I’ve also reworded it so that Chaotics/Lawfuls with Occultism can’t cast spells from the other side (they’ve already sold their souls, remember..).

The Magic item’s deets are after the break. On that note, I’ve been reading 18th-century histories and the Arabian Nights lately. Can you tell?

The item is a casket made of some ancient and weatherbeaten bone or ivory. It is carefully and extensively inscribed with floral Arabesques and a flowing decorative script (Players fluent in pre-Islamic Arabic will recognize references to Suleiman and a “Thirsting Djhann”). It contains a “fluffy” white sand; when disturbed or poured out, the sand will slowly flow back into the box, through the hinges or keyhole if necessary.

For the Archive: New Magic Items for Lamentations of the Flame Princess/D&D

Both of these items are related to my upcoming campaign; my players should kindly bugger off.
They are intended for a campaign involving Arabic/esque mages, and one will probably be pretty useless to most PCs (other than as a source of cash, that is)

Evil Vizier courtesy of Reginald Balfour's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Evil Vizier courtesy of Reginald Balfour’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam


For the Archive: Lehana Mzeruzeru (NPC, Magic Item, Wizard)

Spent last night out on the town with my folks for a surprise birthday dinner, so it delayed my writing a bit. But then an image and a poem crisscrossed in my head..

Tiger cape

There was a young lady from Nyger
who smiled as she rode on a Tyger.
They returned from the ride
with the Lady inside
and the smile on the face of the Tyger.

Over a century ago, the Wizard now known as Lehana wandered out of the jungles and into what passed for civilization. She meanders freely through the countryside, displaying an almost insatiable curiosity for matters grand, mean, strange and mundane. She rarely speaks, and that only (usually) to decline some offering or gesture of hospitality. The villagers living in the areas she visits have nicknamed her “the contrary Albino”, whilst informing her that it was the title of a local deity. To this, as to most things in the spheres of Men, she seems indifferent. Lehana moves as she will; doors and guard animals obey her command, and no warrior remaining alive will challenge her if she gestures for entry.

Most people assume she maintains a holdfast somewhere in the local barrows or in the Jungle, and she disappears for days or weeks at a time, often with some item she has taken on her expeditions. No-one has tracked her long enough to determine her Sanctum’s location, and the few who have sworn to find it never return.

She wears a gown, clearly of Western manufacture, and a cloak made from the skins of dozens of animals – mostly predators. Tribal Elders say the type and number of skins in her cloak have changed drastically over the years. Neither the cloak nor her voluminous dress seem to cause her distress despite the crushing heat. Her only other possessions seem to be a small book and occasionally small metal hand tools; she has never been seen with a weapon.

Stats (LotFP)
5 HD, attacks as 0-level Human, saves as 5th-level Magic-user.
Attributes: Cha 4 (to Men and all other Things), 16 (to Beasts); Int 17, Wis 14, all others average.
Skills: Occultism 2, Survival 5.
Languages: Ki-Swahili (poor), Latin. Has not responded to any other.
Powers: Command of the Cloak of Manifold Beasts, slowed or arrested aging, heightened endurance of hunger, thirst, heat, and lack of sleep.
Spells: Detect Magic, Identify, Item, Be Impressive, Charm Animal: Speak with Animals, Forget, Invisibility, Knock, Locate Object: Speak with Dead, Detect Illusion, Dispel Magic.
Equipment: Spellbook, 2 sacks of various small delicacies and gold hidden within the Cloak and under the influence of an Item spell, the Cloak, and the Ring of Displacement. May be carrying small gardening tools or magnifying and surveying devices. Occasionally bears a scroll inscribed with divinational spells.
She also possesses a Labratory and Library in her hidden home, which is worth approximately 6,000 SP; much of this “library” is in fact a Cabinet of Wonders, with each item serving to trigger the Wizard’s mind to travel some Aetheric path even as her body traveled to discover it. Her home is well-hidden in the nearby jungles, and a number of fanatically loyal animal servants tend it. They will attempt to lead interlopers astray or intimidate them, only attacking if the sanctum seems in imminent danger of violation.

The Cloak of Manifold Beasts
This strange device is a riot of clashing furs, scales, and taxidermy. Each patch of hide is an animal who has sworn service to the owner and been absorbed into an unknown Limbo. Beasts “stored” may thereafter be summoned, with the corresponding pelt disappearing from its weave; it will be under the absolute control of the user until the next moonrise. While the user may call forth any number of beasts, however, only one can be controlled by it at any given time. Any further animals called forth must make an immediate Reaction roll, and may well attack the caster or flee.
The Cloak may bind one beast each Lunar month. Each time a Beast is bound, however, its inherent wild essence seeks a new home. The closest human being other than the wielder when the Cloak absorbs an animal is affected by a Howl of the Moon spell; the duration is based on the HD of the creature absorbed, with each HD counting as a caster level. The duration bonus for casting on the Full Moon applies. Any animal who offers service of any kind, even unwittingly, to the bearer can come under the sway of the cloak – though an unwilling subject may save vs Spells to resist absorption, and will likely be ill-disposed to the cloak’s owner in any case thereafter. Further, any given beast can be bound only once by the Cloak; once freed it may never rejoin it.
Lehana has been rather industrious over the last century. The Cloak currently contains at least 3 tigers and as many panthers, a crocodile, a pack of hyenas, several wolves, an assortment of smaller creatures, and one extremely distressed Indian elephant.

The Displacing Ring:
The ring is a slender hoop of intricately-carved and inlaid bone. The bearer’s discomforts and bodily cares are spread among every person within a 1-mile radius, with the caster suffering only the proportional remainder. In a densely-populated area, the bearer effectively need never eat, drink, or sleep again. Likewise, someone suffering the thousandth part of another’s exposure or lack of sleep and food is quite unlikely to realize he is parasitized.
In a rural area, however, or a small group, the effects will be much more noticeable. Finally, any wielder of Magic (both Lawful and Chaotic) can feel the ring’s tug on their essence, and the web it weaves when worn may be seen instantly under the effects of a Detect Magic spell.

For the Archive: A Sealed Laboratory (room, trap, magic item)

Occasionally I get hit with random inspiration, usually on the bus. In this case, it’s a modular room, suitable for pretty much any environment with savage spellcasters and more organized arcanists. It includes a low-powered magic item, a trap, and monsters. Deets after the break for my players, if I had any :b


Magic Items: Stygian Mirrors

The Stygian Mirror
Not truly a mirror, but a thin layer of the jet-black waters of the river Styx pressed into a hollow lens of glass. Legend ascribes many marvelous powers to the mirrors, but the magic on most has faded as the water stagnates and loses its connection with the River. Even the most debased of the Stygian Mirrors retain a most singular power; when light passes through it, one who has – or should have – crossed the Styx is afflicted with illusionary stigmata in the sight of all. These have included water pooling at the feet, pennies on the eyes (only on those dead but a short time), winding-sheets and other paraphernalia of the grave, or the sudden appearance of lethal wounds. 072

Heathen Clerics and pagans treasure the waters of the Styx for another reason; if even a drop touches the most accursed undead, they say, it will summon forth the Ferryman to take back what is his. But leave the Devil’s works to his own..

Review: Bluholme: The Maze of Neuromen

Picked up this module for free from RPGNow; you can get it here. Been flipping through it all day.

The short and vicious:
Gorgeous art, good ideas, inspiring – but many parts seem badly uninspired. You get far more than you pay for. I’m a cheapass and I’d probably drop $15 on a print version.
More after the jump (and, of course, spoilers)

Resolution status

Kept  for the day. Wrote a page into my dungeon module, created a new magic item, and wrote a half-page of errata for TRO: Prototypes. Sooooo much more work on that last one. I’m working up a compilation of errata now for a good dozen publications, because I’m sick of the massive decline in publication quality from Catalyst.

Anyway, magic item (intended for Lamentations of the Flame Princess):
An untarnished, unmarred blue-steel knife inside a crumbling leather sheath. It will never rust, but it inflicts decay on objects (made from non-living materials) it touches until Time’s accounts are settled. Inscribed on the blade is the phrase “Corruption surrounds the Pure”
This could be dangerous as Hell in the right hands, and if you know what it is.. but it’s still dangerous to its user. It won’t corrode a stone wall (they last thousands of years, after all), but a wooden door might explode into dust if there’s enough stress on the knife; on the other hand, no sheath will hold it for long. This one’s been sitting on the floor for a thousand years…

From the Archives #2

Today’s installment is the arsenal of my longest-running character, a fallen ranger who became a very, very dangerous assassin (he actually transitioned to 3e as a lv. 26 character, if that gives you any idea). He only used a small handful of magic items, several of which were commissioned as payment for his “services” or looted from particularly unpleasant enemies.

This gear is from the period when I was palling around with Silence the Bladesinger* (the actual comic and the pictures he commissioned from this lady appear long gone, these ten years by..). Anyway, since (almost) no-one actually cares about old characters..

First, a word about common poisons. I had a very accommodating GM once upon a time: together, we drew up poison research rules much like the spell research rules in 2e (I can post those in a future Archive). I poisoned the hell out of some daggers, and kept them in specially prepped throwing sheaths. These weapons, however, were almost never poisoned, since my favorite one was an anti-magic poison and I didn’t particularly want to hose a custom dweomer…

The Twin Terrors of Eric the Faithless
A matched pair of long, heavy throwing knives; they sheathe into opposite ends of the same plain brown leather scabbard. The handles are of ridged bone, with ring of dancing skeletal figures holding hands engraved around the pommels. The blades are blued Damascus steel, chased with silver.
They are +1 knives (not daggers) balanced for throwing. When drawn and thrown, the user may call one of three command phrases. The command words are engraved on the blade in the form of an Elvish poem: “Dance, my Darlings/Feet swift and true/Round and round you go”
On “Dance, my darlings” the blades attack autonomously for 1d4 rounds with a THAC0 of 13*, then fall to the floor.
On “Feet swift and true”, the weapons gain an additional +2 bonus to hit and damage.
On “Round and round you go” the blades will reappear in their sheath at the end of the next round.
These powers are only accessible if a phrase is spoken as the weapons are drawn and thrown simultaneously; thus, only one can be active at a time.
Rules: +1 Throwing knives with various additional effects if used properly. Personal property of Elthir.
*Attack as a 4HD monster(B/X) / 4th level Fighter (3x)

At character creation, he had a low Dex (8 or 9, I believe), which I wrote off as having lost an eye as a youth. He wore a one-eyed, featureless mask on assignment after becoming an assassin. His final payment, shortly before I retired the character, was this;

The Mask of the Faithless
A shaped, but featureless orihalcon mask. Into its single eye socket is inserted a ruby lens – a uniquely crafted Gem of True Seeing. Upon concentrating briefly, the user is also made aware of the exact range to any single creature or object in his sight: this cancels the negative modifier for fighting with one eye closed (or missing). The deep red tint of the gem can, however, obscure certain things from the user’s sight (at the GM’s discretion) and badly affects his night vision. The user is Blinded for one round after removing the mask.

He also routinely wore the Shadowcloak, a 2e magic item from the Complete Book of Thieves (not reproduced here). I later created a similar item for 3e, which I’ve back-translated into earlier AD&D rules.

Cloak of the Shadows, Lesser
This shimmering, midnight black cloak is crafted from the hide of a ritually flayed animate shadow (which must be skinned with a blessed silver blade). The cloak appears to be a soft velvet, as long as you don’t look at it too hard…
The cloak grants the user a 25% chance of invisibility in shadows if he remains motionless, and improves standard Hide in Shadows and Surprise rolls by 15% / +1. Once per day, the user may cast the reversed form of Light. They may also choose to invoke the cloak once per day. This makes them incorporeal (and therefore silent) for 1d6 rounds – but they still take normal damage from silvered or magical weapons, and double all damage from light-based sources.While in this form, the wearer gains infravision (60′), if they do not already possess it.
The wearer is at -1 to hit and -5% to use all skills in very bright light, and takes an additional point of damage from all light-based sources and silvered weapons: in addition, if they must save against a Light spell cast upon the eyes, they do so at a -2. Touching silver causes the wearer to feel an intense burning itch, but this has no mechanical effect.
3x: The user gains a +1 enchantment bonus per level to Hide in Shadows if he is not moving. Cast reversed Light 1/day. Become Ethereal and Silent 1/day for 1d6 Rounds (silvered or magic weapons will still hit them in this form).
The user becomes vulnerable to silver, and suffers a -2 circumstance penalty to all saving throws from light-based damage.  They also suffer a -2 circumstance penalty to all skills and BAB when in direct sunlight or the equivalent.

As more of a “mundane” magic item; using the Shadowcloak‘s powers, he enchanted a number of small stones and caltrops with reversed Continual Light and kept them in a sack at his belt for minelaying purposes and fast escapes. These were the primary original (ish) magic items: he also used a Lifestealer +2 and very occasionally got ahold of an Arrow of Slaying or an Arrow of Harming.

Finally, a sword I made and put in The Archives to honor old Quelthelas Arundel. The enchantment on it is one of his original spells – we used the SHIT out of the optional parrying rules, and Shadowblade was his answer (I just sicced the Twins on them and then came in from the shadows/out of the darkness)

Arath’ve, the Shadow-shroud.
Arath’ve is an ancient renegade Elven weapon, forged from the dancing unlight at the core of the Shadow Plane. It radiates Shadow and Illusion magic. The handle and sheath are crafted from soft white leather, and the fittings are of silver. The pommel is a simple acorn-type, with a small rondel of Jet.
When drawn, the pitch-black blade seems to explode into a loosely-connected swarm of blades and shards, each dark as night: they suck the light forth from the room, deepening shadows and softening the light. Even the user finds this disconcerting: each time he draws it, he must make a save vs. spells. Until he passes, he must either fight blind or fight as though he was not proficient with the weapon. This effect is cancelled after the user saves for the first time.
(Variable standard bonuses as appropriate); in addition, the sword gains a bonus of +1 to hit, and generates 2-5 mirror images of itself when drawn. If the sword is parried, randomly determine the blade that was hit: images are dispelled on “impact”, and the parry has no effect. Mirror images are generated the first time the sword is drawn each day, and are not regenerated until the following evening as the sun crosses the horizon.
Rules: (Enchanted Sword, casts Silence’s Shadowed Blade upon itself when drawn)

As you can see, I’m fond of drawbacks on my items, but also of powerful(ish) ones. I’ve always felt that the ying-yang should apply to magic –  all but the nastiest cursed items should have a little good (tempt the players to use them!).

Secondly, it keeps the wonder flowing – even fairly mundane weapons &c can be made much more interesting with a simple random 1st-level spell thrown on them (Heheh, Mouse would be amusing..); randomly generating them ahead of time and slapping them in The Archive means I’ll always have something to draw on when the party hits paydirt. I have a feeling this will come in handy when I start the new LotFP campaign…

*For those of you that care, I helped edit the Slayers fic “Shards of Chaos” up until he dropped it upon moving to Japan. Just looking for the pics of Silence brought back serious memories from the ’90s –  seeing the fragments of Amethyst Angel‘s old fanart site she put up when she was hosting the fics,  and Queeny‘s new page.. Damn. Now I think I have to go grab a beer and watch some Slayers in memory of friends I’ve lost touch with.

From the Archives, Vol. 1: Vorphalach

This is one of the oldest magic items that I created that’s still in a readable condition, and it shows. Every so often I find him and poke at the wording, but this has actually been a pretty constant weapon.  Only one player ever got his hands on it, but he was killed shortly thereafter by that most insidious of TPKS: gamer ADD.

Stats are for AD&D 1e, as far as I can tell. This was mostly randomly rolled, then rather extensively interpreted from the combination of effects.


(named after a member of Dimmu Borgir, so I was about 18 when I wrote this)

Frostbrand +1, +4 vs.  disgraced Clerics [addendum; and fallen Paladins]

Int 12, Ego 12, Faint empathy, Lawful Evil. (Note that its powers affect good and evil alike, and the sword does not blast characters of other alignments: see below)

Powers: Detect Apostate 10′ radius, detect sloping passage 10′ radius.

Special Purpose Power: +2 on saving throws, -1 on all dice of damage sustained.

Vorphalach was once a faithful servant of the god of Death. On his demise, he begged to be allowed to continue to serve his master on the Prime. As punishment, the priest was granted his wish: he became the animus of a magic blade. His newfound purpose in his prison is punishing religious Oathbreakers (any such person attempting to wield him, regardless of alignment, is blasted for 2D6 damage). He still finds satisfaction in slaying Undead, serving his Master’s original designs, but this is not technically part of his remit.

The sword has a hilt of petrified bone (the priest’s thighbone), and a plain but very sharp blade tinged with hoarfrost.  There is a faint scent of jasmine flowers and blood when the sword is drawn: the scent and extent of the frost intensify when the blade is blooded. On the command word “Morituri salutamus*“, or a close variation in any language, the blade is transfigured into a glowing amber crystal as the Frostbrand powers activate. The floral scent becomes choking, and the blade cannot be sheathed until it the owner dies or slays an intelligent being.  If the sword is left in this form, its curse has a 20% chance of striking per hour until the blade is sated.

The scabbard and hilt are bound in blue dragon-leather, and the chape depicts a dark elf stabbing a dragon in the base of the skull.  The sword remembers much of his history, but can neither speak nor communicate with telepathy on his own – only faint emotions emanating from the blade hint of its intelligence.

There is one exception to his memory: the blade is Cursed. Each day an intelligent being is not killed in the wielder’s presence, there is a cumulative 1% chance that the sword will attempt to possess the user (as per normal artifact possession).  This chance resets following a kill. If the user draws the sword for a purpose other than combat, it will occur immediately. Otherwise, the curse will activate as soon as the user attempts to sleep. In either case, when possessed the user draws  the sword, speaks its command word, then challenges and attacks the closest intelligent being at full strength for one combat round.

If the user succumbs to possession, neither he nor the sword will remember the incident, even under the influence of a Zone of Truth. If the holder of the blade succeeds, he will (drawing the blade) feel a sudden wash of blinding murderous intent, then nothing or (if sleeping) have a nightmare of killing the person he loves most in gruesome detail. This curse affected Vorphalach in life, and it is now bound nigh-inextricably with his soul.

Order of powers for Identify: A very powerful dweomer: powers of ice, a bane to the apostate, it will lead you to them, it will defend you against them, the sword has a mind of its own, it can find hidden geometries.

(false powers for 1e Identify) a bane to dragons and their kin; grants its full powers in the hand of an Elf; the scent of flowers grows stronger when Wyrms come near.


He must drink, or other payment will be taken.

Only the man who is already dead can know his true powers. Honor death, and be rewarded (command phrase)

Hold fast to your vows, and fear not the Oathbreaker. But woe betide the Fallen should he wind them.

*”We who are already dead salute you”

For 3x/Pathfinder (sorry, you’ll have to work out XP value/cost yourself):

An intelligent, LE Unholy Frostbrand (+1d4 ice damage, +1d4 Unholy damage, Bane vs. earth-based and heat-based creatures). Bane vs. any being that has broken a religious vow and not Atoned.

Base 1% chance, checked once per day (cumulative until triggered, when it resets) that the sword will lash out and attack the nearest person to the user when first drawn. The sword is unaware of this curse.