Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Concerning Bells

This is part of a series of pieces for Death Comes To Wyverley, a playset for Beyond the Wall inspired by Garth Nix’ Old Kingdom series. This should be considered a fan work.


The Bells carried by the Abhorsen (or a Necromancer) are nicely described in the Wikipedia Page. In addition there is the Garth Nix Wiki which has decent pages for all the bells — these are linked below.

Anyone can ring the bells, but doing so carelessly (or unskilled) will cause all the negative effects of the bell to be reflected on the bearer (and maybe other party members too).

Making the Bells (or Pipes)

As many OSR games have mechanics for building your own magic items. Beyond the Wall has various rituals that can be turned to the purpose, and in particular Further Afield describes different levels of rituals for increasing power of magic items. Suggest that to make a complete set of bells a Third Enchantment may be needed (up to the GM whether the First and Second Enchantments are capable of producing the weaker bells).

Each bell must be made in a particular Precinct of Death (a high cost already):

  • Ranna (1st)
  • Mosrael (2nd)
  • Kibeth (4th)
  • Dyrim (5th)
  • Belgaer (6th)
  • Saraneth (7th)
  • Astarael (8th)

These are individually crafted items and probably take on some of the character of their maker. Also if pipes are allowed as an alternative to bells, what about other instruments — say, a seven-stringed viol?

(bells work better if you want to hold a weapon in the other hand, of course)

Clearly the manufacturing requirements of these items are pretty onerous, so it’s much more likely they will be found rather than made, particularly if they’re found by low-level PCs. And being low-level, those characters won’t have much expertise in using such items safely. The GM should be prepared to activate each bell’s downside if it’s misused, and give the bells personalities of their own — to the point that each bell wants to be rung.

These are magic items to be feared, not played with.

Using the Bells

Using each bell is a kind of Ritual, although only taking a few moments. If you don’t know the ritual, you’re at a severe disadvantage to use them safely.

All such rituals are Range: Near. In all cases if the Ritual roll is failed, the normal effects happen but so do the consequences of failure.

The more powerful bells involve downsides such as manipulating memory and behaviour.

Ranna (Wisdom)
Level 1
Duration: Instant

The smallest of the Bells; the Sleepbringer. Its effect is to induce calm or sleepiness in humans and Dead alike.

Effect: All who hear Ranna make a Save vs. Magic. Failure means the target is at -2 to all actions, and must make a further save or fall asleep. The Abhorsen’s allies get +8 on their save. Especially weak Dead (zombies, individual gore crows) may be cast back into Death.

Complication: If the Abhorsen makes an error, both she and her allies must make a save with no bonus or be affected.

Mosrael (Charisma)
Level 2
Duration: 1 hour/level, or Permanent with a body

The Waker; used by Necromancers to call the Dead to Life.

Effect: the bell calls the Dead into Life. How long they stay will depend on whether there is a suitable vessel for them to occupy.

Complication: if misused, this bell with throw the bearer into Death.

Kibeth (Dexterity) Level 3 Duration: Permanent

Kibeth is the Walker. It can animate the Dead in Life and also make them walk through the gates of Death.

Effect: a Necromancer will use Kibeth to animate a corpse; no saving throw is required of the target. An Abhorsen will use the bell in the opposite fashion, to cast the Dead into Death and beyond the First Gate. When it is used in this way, the target must Save vs. Spells or be forced to move into Death. The spell must be used once to force the Dead to cross over, and again to make them go through the First Gate.

Complication: a misuse will require the bearer to make a save or be directed to cross over into Death and walk towards the First Gate. Use the same rules as those for falling into Death after hitting 0 HP.

Dyrim (Wisdom)
Level 4
Duration: Permanent

Dyrim gives the Dead a voice, or silences the living.

Effect: whether Dead or Alive the target should make a Save vs. Spells. Several effects are possible: a lightening of mood (changing reaction rolls), silence (preventing spell casting etc.), or allowing the Dead to speak.

Complication: misuse will rebound on the bearer, rendering them unable to speak; a save vs spells can be attempted every 10 mins to shake off the effect.

Belgaer (Intelligence)
Level 5
Duration: Instant

Belgaer affects memories, unlocking those of the Dead, or suppressing them.

Effect: if the bell is used to suppress a memory, the target must save against Spells; a failure means the bearer may erase or suppress the memories of the target. If the bell is instead used to bring back memories that have been erased by Death no save is required.

Complication: if the ritual is misused, there is a risk of the bearer’s memory being affected. They may lose

  • a skill
  • a recent memory (of adventuring with the other characters)
  • a distant memory (e.g. something from their playbooks)

A save against Spells should be allowed on a weekly basis to recover the memory.

Saraneth (Wisdom)
Level 6
Duration: Instant

Saraneth is the Binder, used to bind the Dead (or Free Magic creatures) to the will of the Abhorsen.

Effect: the effect is not unlike Kibeth, but the magic is sufficiently strong that the user may force the target through the Ninth Gate.

Complication: a misuse will cause the user to become a slave to Saraneth for a while. The GM should take control of the PC and make them go where the bell desires — be that in Life or Death. A saving throw once per day may be attempted to shake the effects off.

Asatrael (Intelligence)
Level 7
Duration: Instant

When rung properly Astarael the Sorrowful sends everyone who hears it deep into death — including the bearer.

Effect: the effect is similar to Kibeth except the transition is instant and affects everyone in the area. The GM should randomise which Precinct everyone arrives in. Roll 1d20:

1-5: third precinct 6-10: fourth precinct 11-14: fifth precinct 15-18: sixth precinct 19: seventh precinct 20: eighth precinct

Complication: with a misuse, when the PCs land in Death they are considered to be falling into Death, and should start making saving throws against Death to regain their footing, or accidentally walk further down through the gates.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Free and the Dead

This is part of a series of pieces for Death Comes To Wyverley, a playset for Beyond the Wall inspired by Garth Nix’ Old Kingdom series. This should be considered a fan work.


An OSR game is nothing without “monsters”. In DctW there are four types:

  • Human antagonists
  • Wild Animals
  • The Dead
  • Free Magic Elementals

I’m not going to bother with stat blocks, because at the very least anyone reading this will have the excellent BtW bestairy (and probably plenty of other resources, too). Instead I’ll just suggest the different resources you might want to use for each category.


There are two different types of human antagonist. From North of the Wall there are Necromancers and other Free Magic users. South of the Wall, human antagonists could be bureaucrats from Corvere who have Ancelstierre’s security at heart; they think they’re heroes and protectors, but their ignorance and zeal makes them monstrous too.

Mechanically, Free Magic is no different from Charter Magic, although it feels wrong to anyone who isn’t Free Magic aligned; it’s like a sharp metallic odour in the air, and can cause nausea in anyone who isn’t Free Magic aligned (saving throw against Death or Magic is required to not be at some kind of functional penalty).

Necromancers and others will probably threaten by being the source of some ritual magic or change in the landscape (most obviously the Dead rising). Bureaucrats may work a little differently, being able to enter Wyverley itself and upset the various relationships there, restricting access and imposing curfews, etc.

Wild Animals

Wild animals who are territorial, hungry, or otherwise hostile to people and cannot be reasoned with.

Wyverley’s surroundings are rural farming land with a lot of natural space and places for animals to make dens. Wild animal populations will not be controlled as effectively as they are today, and a lot of this rural area will be unlit at night. Animals will pretty much only form threats when the characters are travelling, unless something very odd happens like wolves appearing on the Wyverley grounds.

Note that the Dead can be forced into the bodies of animals (e.g. Gore Crows), so animals behaving strangely may turn out to be animated corpses with a Dead spirit providing impotus.

The Dead

The Dead are one of the two classes of true “monsters” in the setting. Dead creatures — whether Greater or Lesser Dead — originate from human souls who refuse to accept Death, or from Necromancers who have called those souls into a body in Life. There are a number of different Dead described in the books. The main resource for these are the Sabriel page on Wikipedia and the Old Kingdom Wiki.

  • Greater Dead — a spirit (usually a necromancer) with enough power to pull themselves and others our of Death.
  • Lesser Dead — dead that refuse to pass on but aren’t powerful enough to get back to Life without the help of the Greater Dead.
  • Dead Hands — animated corpses.
  • Shadow Hands — dead spirits with no body.
  • Gore Crows — one spirit animating a flock of crow corpses.
  • Mordaut — a controlling spirit that directs a living host.
  • Mordicant — appears to be some kind of golem.
  • Fifth Gate Rester should probably be regarded as synonymous with Greater Dead

Stat blocks and special powers can be drawn from any undead bestiary — the ghoul, spectre, lich, sluagh, spirit, wight, vampire and the Nameless One and various demons from the Beyond the Wall main book should do well for lesser and greater dead with a bit of cosmetic tweaking. The common feature of all these monsters is they were once human, even if they’re horribly misshapen.

Free Magic Elementals

Creatures of Free Magic (elementals and such) are weird and alien, and frequently dangerous to humans. There aren’t many descriptions of Free Magic elementals — here are some from the books (courtesy of the Old Kingdom Wiki):

  • Ferenk, a creature of stone and mud
  • Stilken, an attractive woman with hooks for arms
  • Hrule, described in the Creature in the Case
  • Aziminil and Baazalann are described in Clariel
  • The summoning of two Hish “impossibly thin, vaguely human things with flesh of swiftly moving mist and bones of blue-white fire” is described in Lirael’s prologue

Some common features of Free Magic elementals:

  1. They’re alien creatures that pre-date (and escaped) the forming of the Charter. They are not the same as the Dead, who were once human and now twisted by Death.
  2. They are frequently summoned by Free Magic sorcerors.
  3. Charter mages tend to do the reverse, that is to seal them up in artifacts or different forms (e.g. a cat).
  4. In general they don’t die, they can only be rendered immobile.
  5. Many of them are of humanoid appearence. There a hint in Clariel that they can choose other shapes, and before the Charter they did have many other shapes (such as that of a dragon). Whether they choose to reflect the shape of humans, or appear the way they do for another reason isn’t clear.
  6. Their touch is often corrosive and inimical to life.
  7. Frequently they are immune to mundane weapons.
  8. They have various magical powers.
  9. Many appear as breeds of certain types (the Hish, Hrule, Ferenk and Stilken), but some others are named and may be unique (Aziminil).

Plenty of fantastic creatures from the BtW or other bestiaries can be re-purposed — possibly changing the shape of the creature as the GM sees fit. Clearly there’s a precedent for mythical beasts such as dragons, cockatrices, unicorns and others to have existed, so a mythology that refers to these creatures is reasonable. Other resources you could try include the vast and detailed Summon spell in Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules and Magic book. In general:

  • give all such magical creatures an individual personality
  • make them hard to kill (non-spelled weapons do no or less damage)
  • make them hazardous to be near (requiring saving throws, crossing off hit points, etc.)


Stilken fan-art added to Wiki by user FandomMemorandum

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Death Comes To Wyverley: Walking Through Death

This is part of a series of pieces for Death Comes To Wyverley, a playset for Beyond the Wall inspired by Garth Nix’ Old Kingdom series. This should be considered a fan work.


This is the follow-on piece to the alternative damage and healing rules — something I started to lay down following this discussion.


Originally I was going to represent different stages of Death by negative HP, but that doesn’t work so well with scaling, or with the implication of negative HP. What does being at negative HP mean? Usually the PC is “incapacitated” so they don’t really participate in the game other that wait to die.

I don’t want my players to wait to die — I want them to either be In Life or In Death. So, 0 HP is the threshold between Life and Death (“Death’s Door”). If a PC arrives at or goes below 0 HP, they make a save against Death (= Poison) or their spirit gets swept into the First Precinct. The saving throw is modified thus:

  • if the last damage the PC took would have taken them to negative HP, that number is applied as a penalty
  • if the PC has any major wounds, subtract 2 from the worst wound and apply the number as a penalty (cumulative with above)

While the spirit is in the First Precinct they can be brought back by strong healing. However the spirit won’t hang around there for long — and once beyond the First Gate, no healing can save them; the Abhorsen or a Necromancer must venture Into Death to pull them back into life.


In the Abhorsen trilogy, Death is a series of Precincts separated by Gates. Although the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre are on two different planes of existence it seems Death connects both (as both Sameth and Hedge enter Death south of The Wall). Possibly Death is easier to reach when the North Wind blows.

Falling or Walking Into Death

Newly dead souls get disoriented when they’re swept into Death, and may find themselves in any Precinct.

  • every round the new soul rolls an unmodified save vs Death. If they pass they get to stay in the First Precinct, otherwise they will pass through the First Gate.
  • if the soul makes 3 checks in a row they are no longer disoriented and can resist the pull of the First Gate (but they’re still dead).
  • If they get swept past the First Gate they get to continue making checks in the Second and subsequent Precincts. Fails mean they get swept through the next Gate, success means they stay, and with 2 saves in succession they regain their senses and can choose to remain in that Precinct.

An Abhorsen or a Necromancer can just walk into Death and keep their wits. When they do this, rime frost may form on their body and clothes in Life, and their body is potentially vulnerable.

Environmental Hazards

Once in Death the Precincts and Gates are negotiated like other physical obstacles. The Gates and Precincts are well described on this page, so I won’t reiterate them here.

Negotiating the various waves, sinkholes, whirlpools and flares is at the GM’s discretion, but in general if a character fails a check they are at risk of being swept away, and should make a save against Death or become disoriented. A second save (should the first be failed) or help from another is required to avoid stumbling into the next Gate.

The Dead

The Dead are an obvious threat in any Precinct, and the deeper down one goes the more powerful the Dead are. Combat should be handled just as in Life, and the noncorporeal body will have the same hit points, etc.

The types of dead encountered will generally be:

  • degenerate souls which have taken on different forms (features of insect, worm, etc.) with only animal intelligence
  • human souls retaining intelligence and memory, who may speak (assuming they’re not immediately violent)
  • powerful dead like the Fifth Gate Resters

Death as a Dungeon?

In theory Death could be developed into a dungeon, however there’s not a lot of value unless the whole party is able to venture into Death — for now the loose descriptions of the Precincts and Gates will be enough.