The World of Xoth

Where cold iron meets non-Euclidean geometry!

28 August

5E skills and how to use them

Skills in D&D 5E are very loosely defined. This is a feature, not a bug. It keeps the rules simple and allows for fast play. No skill system, no matter how detailed, can cover all eventualities, so the 5E system doesn’t even try, instead letting the GM make rulings when necessary.

Some players, particularly those coming from a 3E background, may be uncomfortable with the lack of detailed skill descriptions in the 5E rules. This document aims to bridge the gap between editions, by collecting and presenting some specific rules for skill use in 5E.

General rules for skill use in 5E

When you are using a skill, you are in fact making an ability check using one of your six ability scores (but note that no skills are associated with Constitution). You roll 1d20 and add your ability score modifier.

If you are proficient with a skill, you also add your proficiency bonus to the ability check. If you have expertise with a skill, you add double your proficiency bonus to the ability check.

You roll against a Difficulty Class (DC). The general scale of DCs is given below. Usually, the difficulty will be between 10 and 20.

  • Very Easy: DC 5
  • Easy: DC 10
  • Moderate: DC 15
  • Hard: DC 20
  • Very Hard: DC 25
  • Nearly Impossible: DC 30


A Strength check can model any attempt to lift, push, pull, or break something, to force your body through a space, or to otherwise apply brute force to a situation.

  • Pure Strength checks
    • Force open a stuck (DC 15), locked (DC 20), or barred (DC 25) door
    • Break free of bonds, such as rope (DC 15) or metal manacles (DC 20)
    • Bend metal bars (DC 20)
    • Tip over a medium (DC 15), large (DC 20) or huge (DC 25) statue
    • Keep a large (DC 15) or huge (DC 20) boulder from rolling
  • Athletics
    • Climb: With a successful Strength (Athletics) check, you can move up, down, or across a wall or other steep incline at half your normal speed (because each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot when climbing). If you fail by 4 or less, you make no progress. If you fail by 5 or more, you fall from whatever height you have already attained. The DC of the check depends on the conditions of the climb, such as knotted rope (DC 0), ship’s rigging (DC 5), tree (DC 10), dungeon wall (DC 15), building (DC 20), smooth wall (DC 25). A slippery surface or strong wind may give disadvantage to the roll.
    • Jump: The base DC to make a jump is equal to the distance to be crossed (if horizontal) or four times the height to be reached (if vertical). These DCs double if you do not have at least 10 feet of space to get a running start. If you fail this check by 4 or less, you can attempt a Dexterity saving throw (DC 15) to grab hold of the other side after having missed the jump. If you fail by 5 or more, you fail to make the jump and fall (or land prone, in the case of a vertical jump). Each foot you clear on the jump costs a foot of movement.
    • Swim: Make a Strength (Athletics) check once per round while you are in the water. Success means you may move in the desired direction at half speed (because each foot of movement costs 1 extra foot in water). If you fail by 4 or less, you make no progress. If you fail by 5 or more, you go underwater. The DC depends on the conditions, such as calm water (DC 10), rough water (DC 15), or stormy water (DC 20). If you are wearing heavy armor, you suffer disadvantage on the roll.
    • Grapple: The target must be no more than one size larger than you and must be within your reach. Using at least one free hand, you try to seize the target by making a grapple check instead of an attack roll: a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). If you succeed, you subject the target to the grappled condition.
    • Shove: The target must be no more than one size larger than you and must be within your reach. Instead of making an attack roll, you make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). If you win the contest, you either knock the target prone or push it 5 feet away from you. You can attempt to push the target 5 feet in any direction (not just away from you) by taking disadvantage on the check.
    • Overrun: You can try to force your way through a hostile creature’s space by overrunning the hostile creature. As an action or a bonus action, you make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the hostile creature’s Strength (Athletics) check. You have advantage on this check if you are larger than the hostile creature, or disadvantage if you are smaller. If you win the contest, you can move through the hostile creature’s space once this turn. Note that the hostile creature’s space still counts as difficult terrain for you.


A Dexterity check can model any attempt to move nimbly, quickly, or quietly, or to keep from falling on tricky footing.

  • Pure Dexterity checks
    • Securely tie up a prisoner (DC 15)
    • Wriggle free of rope bonds (DC 15) or metal manacles (DC 20). By suffering disadvantage on the check, you can escape bonds without being noticed.
  • Dexterity checks that require equipment (thieves’ tools)
    • Pick a lock (tool proficiency required): To pick a lock, you must be proficient with thieves’ tools (and if you are proficient with the tool, you can apply your proficiency bonus to the check). The DC varies by lock; standard locks and manacles (DC 15), high quality locks (DC 20), or superior locks (DC 25 or more). If you fail by 5 or more, you damage the internal mechanism of the lock, and further attempts at picking the lock become impossible.
    • Disable a trap: To disable a trap, you usually need a set of thieves’ tools (and if you are proficient with the tool, you can apply your proficiency bonus to the check). The DC varies by trap. If you fail the check, the trap is triggered.
  • Acrobatics
    • Escape a grapple: You can use your action to roll Dexterity (Acrobatics) against the Escape DC of the grappling creature.
    • Roll with fall: When you deliberately fall any distance, even as a result of a missed jump, a successful check allows you to ignore the first 10 feet fallen (DC 15) or the first 20 feet fallen (DC 20). You become prone if you take damage from a fall.
    • Tumble: You can try to tumble through a hostile creature’s space, ducking and weaving past the opponent. As an action or a bonus action, you make a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check contested by the hostile creature’s Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If you win the contest, you can move through the hostile creature’s space once this turn. Note that the hostile creature’s space still counts as difficult terrain for you.
  • Sleight of Hand
    • Planting an object on someone else: This is a check against the target’s passive Wisdom (Perception). You suffer disadvantage on the check unless the item is tiny.
    • Conceal item: Concealing a small object (DC 10) or small weapon (DC 15) on your person. You may only hide a light or one-handed weapon on your body. Later, when you make an attack with the hidden weapon, you gain advantage on your first attack. Anyone who searches you must make a Wisdom (Perception) check opposed by your Sleight of Hand check to find the weapon.
    • Steal item: You can attempt to take something from an adjacent creature. The difficulty varies, from a coin pouch dangling from the target’s belt (DC 10), something held in the target’s hand (DC 15), or reaching into the target’s backpack (DC 20). If your check result is below the target’s passive Wisdom (Perception) score, the target notices the attempt, regardless of whether you got the item. If the target is alert or suspicious, it rolls with advantage to notice you. You cannot use this skill to take an object from another creature during combat if the creature is aware of your presence.
  • Stealth
    • Move undetected: Make a Dexterity (Stealth) check when you attempt to conceal yourself from enemies, slink past guards, slip away without being noticed, or sneak up on someone without being seen or heard. Your check is opposed by the Passive Wisdom (Perception) of the target. Note that some types of armor give you disadvantage on the roll.
    • Hide in combat: When you take the Hide action, you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check in an attempt to hide, following the rules for hiding. Note that some types of armor give you disadvantage on the roll. Until you are discovered or you stop hiding, that check’s total is contested by the Wisdom (Perception) check of any creature that actively searches for signs of your presence, or by Passive Perception even if they aren’t searching. When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it. If you are hidden–both unseen and unheard–when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.


An Intelligence check comes into play when you need to draw on logic, education, memory, or deductive reasoning. 

  • Pure Intelligence checks
    • Communicate with a creature without using words, for simple (DC 10), more complex (DC 15), and advanced (DC 20) concepts
    • Estimate the value of a precious item, including common items (DC 10), rare items (DC 15), and very rare items (DC 20). If you have a relevant set of tools (such as jeweler’s tools for gems and jewelry, or smith’s tools for armour and weapons) and are proficient with it, you can add your proficiency bonus to the roll.
    • Forge a document, such as a simple letter (DC 10), a common document (DC 15), or an official certificate (DC 20). If you have a forgery kit and are proficient with it, you can add your proficiency bonus to the roll.
  • Arcana
    • Identify magical materials (requires proficiency): After 1 minute of careful examination and a successful Intelligence (Arcana) check (DC 15) you know whether an item is magical or not, although you do not identify its exact properties. If the item is cursed or trapped, your examination triggers the adverse effect.
    • Identify spell being cast (requires proficiency): You can attempt to identify a spell that someone else is casting or that was already cast. To do so, you can use your reaction to identify a spell as it’s being cast, or you can use an action on your turn to identify a spell by its effect after it is cast. The DC equals 15 + the spell’s level. If the spell is cast as a class spell and you are a member of that class, the check is made with advantage.
    • Disarm magic trap: You can attempt to disarm a magic trap with an Intelligence (Arcana) check against the DC noted in the trap’s description. If you fail the check, the trap is triggered.
    • Arcane lore (requires proficiency): You have knowledge about spells, magic items, eldritch symbols, magical traditions, the planes of existence, and the inhabitants of those planes. The DC varies from 10 to 20 or more.
    • Creature lore (requires proficiency): A successful check allows you to remember a bit of useful information about aberrations, constructs, dragons, elementals, and monstrosities. The DC is 10 + the creature’s Challenge rating. For every 5 points by which your check result exceeds the DC, you recall another piece of useful information.
  • History
    • Legends and lore (requires proficiency): You have knowledge about historical events, legendary people, ancient kingdoms, past disputes, recent wars, and lost civilizations. The DC varies from 10 to 20 or more.
    • Creature lore (requires proficiency): A successful check allows you to remember a bit of useful information about giants and humanoids. The DC is 10 + the creature’s Challenge rating. For every 5 points by which your check result exceeds the DC, you recall another piece of useful information. For humans, you can also determine their race, culture and nationality (DC 10), and recall information about local rulers, laws, taboos or strange customs (DC 15).
  • Investigation
    • Detect secret doors: If you are actively looking for a secret or concealed door, you can spend 1 minute (for a small area) or 10 minutes (for a large area) and attempt an Intelligence (Investigation) check against the door’s DC. Otherwise, the GM uses each character’s passive Intelligence (Investigation) score to determine whether anyone in the party notices the door in passing. Note that you can discover a secret door without making an ability check if your actions would clearly reveal the door’s presence. For example, if you twist the head of a statue and the revolving door in the library opens, you have found the trigger and no check is required.
    • Find traps: If you are actively looking for a trap, you can spend 1 minute (for a small area) or 10 minutes (for a large area) and attempt an Intelligence (Investigation) check against the trap’s DC. Otherwise, the GM uses each character’s passive Intelligence (Investigation) score to determine whether anyone in the party notices the trap in passing. Note that you can discover a trap without making an ability check if your actions would clearly reveal the trap’s presence. For example, if you lift a rug that conceals a pressure plate, you have found the trigger and no check is required.
    • Gather local information: You can use Intelligence (Investigation) to gather information about a specific local topic or individual. To do this, you must spend at least 1d4 hours at local taverns, markets, and gathering places. The DC of this check depends on the obscurity of the information sought; from commonly known facts or rumors (DC 10), to obscure or secret knowledge (DC 20 or higher). While seeking out news and information, you can choose to keep a low profile; you suffer disadvantage on your attempts, but you avoid leaving any clues about the information you seek. If you fail your Intelligence (Investigation) check by 5 or more, you are automatically noticed as someone seeking information about the subject.
    • Perform library research (requires proficiency): By poring over dusty tomes and crumbling scrolls in a library, you can obtain answers to questions and insight into the campaign’s mysteries. When you begin your research, the GM determines whether the information is available, how many days of downtime it will take to find it, and whether there are any restrictions on your research (such as needing to seek out a specific individual, tome, or location). At the end of your research, if you make a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check, you learn the information if it is available. The difficulty varies, from common knowledge (DC 10), uncommon knowledge (DC 15), to obscure or secret knowledge (DC 20 or higher). If you do not have access to a proper library, you roll with disadvantage. For each day of research, you must spend 1 gp to cover your expenses. This cost is in addition to your normal lifestyle expenses.
  • Nature
    • Natural lore (requires proficiency): Your Intelligence (Nature) check measures your ability to recall lore about terrain, plants and animals, the weather, and natural cycles. The DC varies from 10 to 20 or more.
    • Creature lore (requires proficiency): A successful check allows you to remember a bit of useful information about beasts, fey, oozes, and plants. The DC is 10 + the creature’s Challenge rating. For every 5 points by which your check result exceeds the DC, you recall another piece of useful information.
  • Religion
    • Ritual lore (requires proficiency): Your Intelligence (Religion) check measures your ability to recall lore about deities, rites and prayers, religious hierarchies, holy symbols, and the practices of secret cults. The DC varies from 10 to 20 or more.
    • Creature lore (requires proficiency): A successful check allows you to remember a bit of useful information about celestials, fiends, and undead. The DC is 10 + the creature’s Challenge rating. For every 5 points by which your check result exceeds the DC, you recall another piece of useful information.


A Wisdom check might reflect an effort to read body language, understand someone’s feelings, notice things about the environment, or care for an injured person. 

  • Pure Wisdom checks
    • Get a gut feeling about what course of action to follow (DC 15)
    • Discern whether a seemingly dead or living creature is undead (DC 15)
  • Animal Handling
    • Calm animal: You can keep a mount from getting spooked by a sudden sound (DC 10), or calm down a domesticated animal such as an enraged bull or guard dog (DC 15).
    • Control mount: You can attempt a risky maneuver, such as getting your horse to jump through fire or across a chasm (DC 15).
  • Insight
    • Detect lie: You can make a Wisdom (Insight) check opposed by another creature’s Charisma (Deception) check to get a hunch that somebody is lying or otherwise trying to deceive you.
  • Medicine
    • Stabilize a dying companion: You can use your action to administer first aid to an unconscious creature and attempt to stabilize it (DC 10).
    • Diagnose patient (requires proficiency): You can spend 10 minutes to examine a creature, attempting to identify if it suffers from a common (DC 10), uncommon (DC 15) or rare (DC 20) disease or poisoning.
    • Treat wounds (requires proficiency): You can spend 10 minutes to tend to a single humanoid creature’s wounds. If you make a successful Wisdom (Medicine) check (DC 15, +1 for each Hit Dice the creature has already spent since its last long rest), the creature can immediately spend one Hit Dice to restore lost hit points, without waiting for a short rest to do so. If you fail the check by 5 or more, the creature suffers 1d4 piercing damage. Unless you expend one use of a healer’s kit to treat the wounds, you roll with disadvantage.
  • Perception
    • Spot: If you make an active attempt to detect the presence of a creature, you roll a Wisdom (Perception) check, opposed by the creature’s Stealth check result. Otherwise, the GM uses each character’s passive Wisdom (Perception) score to determine whether anyone in the party notices the creature in passing.
    • Listen: You might try to eavesdrop under an open window (DC 10), hear a conversation through a closed door (DC 15), or listen for monsters moving stealthily in the forest (opposed by their Stealth check).
    • Search in combat: When you take the Search action, you devote your attention to finding someone. Make a Wisdom (Perception) check, opposed by the hidden creature’s Stealth check result.
  • Survival
    • Follow tracks: To find tracks or to follow them requires a successful Wisdom (Survival) check. You must make another Survival check every time the tracks become difficult to follow, such as when the terrain changes. You move at half your normal speed while following tracks (or at your normal speed by suffering disadvantage). The difficulty depends on the terrain, from soft ground (DC 10), to firm ground (DC 15), and hard ground (DC 20). You gain advantage if following a huge creature, or a large group of creatures, and you suffer disadvantage if the trail is old, it has been raining or snowing, or you are tracking at night. If you are not proficient with Survival, you make the check with disadvantage.
    • Hunting and foraging: While traveling at normal or slow pace, you can gather food and water. The difficulty depends on the region, from fertile land with abundant food and water sources (DC 10), more barren areas (DC 15), or desolate wastes (DC 20). On a successful check, you gather 1d6 + your Wisdom bonus in pounds of food, and 1d6 + your Wisdom bonus in pounds of water (alternatively, instead of rolling, you can provide food and water for yourself and up to five companions for a day). On a failed check, you find nothing. If you are not proficient with Survival, you make the check with disadvantage.
    • Predict weather: You can attempt to predict the local weather for the next 24 hours (DC 10), the next three days (DC 15), or the next 10 days (DC 20).
    • Avoid natural hazards: You can detect natural hazards such as quicksand (DC 15), sandstorms (DC 15), unsafe ice (DC 15), and avalanches (DC 20), giving you and your companions the chance to avoid the hazard or time to seek shelter. If you are not proficient with Survival, you make the check with disadvantage.


A Charisma check might arise when you try to influence or entertain others, when you try to make an impression or tell a convincing lie, or when you are navigating a tricky social situation.

  • Pure Charisma checks
    • Find the best person to talk to for news, rumors, and gossip (DC 15)
  • Deception
    • Hide truth: Your Charisma (Deception) check determines whether you can convincingly hide the truth, either verbally or through your actions. This deception can encompass everything from misleading others through ambiguity to telling outright lies. Typical situations include trying to fast-talk a guard, con a merchant, pass yourself off in a disguise, dull someone’s suspicions with false assurances, or maintain a straight face while telling a blatant lie. Your check is opposed by the target’s Wisdom (Insight) check. If your lie is unconvincing, you roll with disadvantage.
  • Intimidation
    • Threatening influence: When you attempt to influence someone through overt threats, hostile actions, and physical violence, make a Charisma (Intimidation) check. Examples include trying to pry information out of a prisoner (DC 10), convincing street thugs to back down from a confrontation (DC 15), or using the edge of a broken bottle to convince a sneering vizier to reconsider a decision (DC 20). If you appear to pose no real threat to the target, you roll with disadvantage.
  • Performance
    • Entertain crowd (requires proficiency): Your Charisma (Performance) check determines how well you can delight an audience with music, dance, acting, storytelling, or some other form of entertainment. You can improve the crowd’s initial reaction one step (DC 15) or two steps (DC 20). If you fail by 5 or more, the crowd’s initial reaction worsens by one step (for example, from friendly to indifferent, or from indifferent to hostile).
    • Earn a good living (requires proficiency): If you have proficiency in the Performance skill and put your performance skill to use during your downtime, you earn enough to support a wealthy lifestyle.
  • Persuasion
    • Make friendly request: When you attempt to influence someone or a group of people with tact, social graces, or good nature, make a Charisma (Persuasion) check. Typically, you use persuasion when acting in good faith, to foster friendships, make cordial requests, or exhibit proper etiquette. Examples of persuading others include inspiring a crowd of townsfolk (DC 10), convincing a chamberlain to let your party see the local ruler (DC 15), or negotiating peace between warring tribes (DC 20). If your pitch is unconvincing, you roll with disadvantage.

14 January

By these (5E) rules I axe!

The Player’s Guide to the World of Xoth for 5E contains character creation rules, including races and cultures, new classes, new equipment, new spells, and so on.

Here are some additional 5E house rules for my own campaigns:

Ability Scores

  • A high Intelligence score gives bonus languages (and a low Intelligence score reduces the number of languages you know)
  • You can choose to add your Intelligence bonus to Initiative instead of your Dexterity bonus


  • The following feats are considered overpowered and therefore banned
    • Lucky
    • Sharpshooter
    • Great Weapon Master


  • Wisdom (Perception) is used to detect creatures (only), and Intelligence (Investigation) is used to detect traps and secret doors
  • See also 5E skills and how to use them for specific details on skill usage


  • Flanking: This gives a +1 bonus to attack rolls against the flanked creature.
  • Standing up from prone: You suffer disadvantage on attacks on the creature that pushed you down, if it is still within 5 feet of you, for the duration of your turn.
  • Picking up weapon from ground after disarm: You suffer disadvantage on attacks on the creature that disarmed you, if it is still within 5 feet of you, for the duration of your turn.

Damage and Healing

  • If you are knocked down to 0 hp and then get back to positive hp (through healing or by rolling a 20 on a death save), you gain a level of exhaustion.
  • If you suffer a critical hit, you can use a reaction to turn it into a normal hit by sacrificing a (medium) shield or a (non-light) melee weapon. You must be holding the item when you are hit, and the item is destroyed.
  • Options for using a healing potion:
    • Drink as a bonus action (roll normally for hit points restored)
    • Drink as an action (max result on all potion dice, ie a regular healing potion restores 10 hit points)
    • Administer to another creature as an action (roll normally for hit points restored)


  • A long rest restores all Hit Dice (not just half your Hit Dice as per the standard rules).
  • Some areas (a swamp filled with biting insects, a dungeon with roaming undead, etc) may not offer sufficient tranquility to provide any benefits of a long rest. In other words, a long rest requires a fairly friendly and safe environment, such as a fortress or a tavern or at a minimum a fortified camp. The GM decides on a case-by-case basis.


  • See the “Sorcery” chapter in the Player’s Guide (link at the top of this blog post) Pfor details on changes to magic and spellcasting.
  • Some additional house rules:
    • Levitate: An unwilling target is allowed a new saving throw each round.

23 February

Announcing the RPG Manager, an online tool for Game Masters and players

Today I am excited to tell you about my latest project, which is an online tool for Game Masters and players to manage campaigns and characters. It is not intended to replace face to face gaming, but rather to be a digital companion to traditional pen and paper gaming.

This tool, called simply the RPG Manager, or RpgMan for short, helps you manage your campaigns, game sessions, XP awards, monster and NPC stats, treasure and inventory, notes and maps, random tables, and much more. During combat it tracks initiative, hit points and conditions of each combatant.

And not only does it help you as a Game Master, but your players can also login to view and update their own character sheets, manage their inventory and distribute party treasure, and view campaign lore that you have made visible to them.

Dashboard page for the Game Master with quick access to sessions, creatures and event logs

This is not an app that you need to download and install, but simply a website where you login to access your data. It works on any device, from desktop computer to tablet and mobile phone. You’ll have access to your campaign notes, adventure maps, game session logs and monster stats all in one place, available from anywhere! A monthly subscription covers the cost of keeping the system up and running, safely storing and backing up your data every night, as well as continuing development of new features.

Manage creatures, both player monsters and player characters

Many of the features (such as campaign and session management, notes and files, random tables, etc) are completely system-neutral. The creature/character database can be used for any kind of D&D-inspired game based on the standard six attributes, hit points, armor class, to-hit bonus, etc. Specifically, it is designed to work well with 5E and Pathfinder, but also works fine for older systems such as Original Edition (0E and “retroclones”), 1E and 2E, as the stat block templates are customized for each different ruleset. You can mix and match different rulesets within a campaign, and even within an encounter. If you want, you can have 5E characters battling monsters from Pathfinder, or vice versa! 🙂

Manage encounters and track initiative, hit points and conditions

The system will be developed with even more features over the coming months and years. By signing up and becoming an early adopter, you can participate and help shape the tool based on your feedback.

For more information, go to and sign up today!

03 April

By these rules I axe!

Worried DM in the front; scheming min/maxing players in the back...

These are the house rules in effect for my World of Xoth campaign.

The World


  • Pathfinder Core Rulebook: By default, everything from the Core Rulebook is allowed, with specific exceptions listed below.
  • Advanced Player’s Guide (APG): Players must get explicit permission to use any material from the APG (but permission is very likely to be given, unless it “breaks the spirit” of the house rules below).

Ability Scores

  • 20 point buy


  • Human only
  • You must select a cultural archetype
  • Special variant “races” (such as pygmies and others) allowed on a case-by-case basis. Note that as a general rule, the party can only include a single non-human (or special variant race) character


The following classes are allowed:

  • Alchemist (APG)
  • Aristocrat
  • Barbarian
  • Bard
  • Cavalier (APG)
  • Commoner
  • Cultist (a variant of Oracle [APG])
  • Druid*
  • Expert
  • Fighter
  • Monk
  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Warrior
  • Witch**

Most of the alternative class features from the APG are also available, but ask for permission.

* The Druid’s class features are modified as follows:

  • Wild Shape: The druid class does not gain the Wild Shape ability. The character gets a bonus feat per daily use of Wild Shape instead.

** The Witch’s class features are modified as follows:

  • Healing hex:  “The healing hex can be used a number of times per day equal to 3 + the witch’s Intelligence modifier.”
  • Slumber hex:  “This hex can affect a creature of any HD, but if the target has more HD or levels than the witch, he simply becomes drowsy (treat as staggered) instead of falling asleep. This effect can be removed by the same means as awakening a sleeping creature (ie. rousing the creature using a standard action, or dealing damage to the creature).


  • No item creation feats, except Brew Potion and Scribe Scroll


  • No changes


  • Regional equipment (more on this later)
  • Weapons and armor created by master-smiths get “quality” bonuses that are equivalent to enchantment bonuses in all respects. Such equipment is very rare and expensive.


Magic Items

  • True magic items are very rare, usually unique relics from older civilizations. The art of crafting magic items has been lost.

Character Improvement (Training)

  • Characters can spend time and money on “training” to increase ability scores or gain permanent bonuses to saving throws, armor class. (This will be further explained in a separate post.)

Other Rules

  • No alignment
  • Players roll all the dice
  • Hero Points from the APG (just the points; not the feats, spells and items)
  • If an item/equipment is not on your character sheet, then you don’t have it. If the party has a list of shared treasure, the list must specify which party member carries each item; otherwise the party has lost the item.
  • By group agreement (majority vote), the Coup de Grace action cannot be used (exception: NPCs can use it against each other).
03 April

The mysteries of magic

“And having written, I shall enclose the pages in a sealed cylinder of orichalchum, and shall cast the cylinder from a high window into the sea, lest that which I am doomed to become should haply destroy the writing. And it may be that mariners from Lephara, passing to Umb and Pneor in their tall triremes, will fnd the cylinder; or fishers will draw it from the wave in their seines of byssus; and having read my story, men will learn the truth and take warning; and no man’s feet, henceforward, will approach the pale and demon-haunted house of Avyctes.” — Clark Ashton Smith: The Double Shadow

The core magic rules of the Pathfinder system are based on the assumption that magic pervades the world and is used almost as a substitute for technology.

But, ironically, having too much magic takes away much of the wonder and awe of magic.

At the same time, taking away too much magic or making the magic rules overly restrictive and harsh tends to alienate players, who might consider it unfair that only non-player character should have access to powerful magic. Plus, tampering with the magic rules puts an additional burden on the players, who have to learn the new rules.

Thus, the philosophy of campaigns in the World of Xoth is to change as little as possible of the actual magic rules. The sword and sorcery feel can be achieved in a campaign by restricting or changing a few key elements of the core rules which interfere with the low-magic paradigm, without totally abandoning the fantasy that players expect and enjoy.

Restricting Spell Lists

First of all, certain spells from the core rules simply do not fit well in a sword and sorcery world. Any class with access to spells should have a spell list

customized for the proper atmosphere. Spells can be excluded if they fall into any of the categories below.

Artillery Spells: Avoid spells that turn the spellcaster into a walking piece of artillery, able to wipe out a small army of opponents with a single spell. Fireball and its derivatives (delayed blast fireball, meteor swarm, flame strike, etc.) fall into this category (but burning hands does not). On the other hand, note that certain fire-cults are able to use spells such as wall of fire and flame strike, because that is their special niche and such awesome displays of power remain closely guarded secrets among them.

Life-Restoring Magic: Death is final, and characters cannot count on being raised or resurrected. In the extremely rare cases where someone is brought back from the dead, it will always be through black magic (probably requiring blood sacrifce), and always as some hideous mockery of their former selves, whether a soulless zombie, wizened mummy, or restless, mad spirit.

Convenience Spells: Rope trick is only a 2nd-level spell, yet it creates an extradimensional space where an entire party can hide from the rest of the world; hardly fitting for gritty sword and sorcery. The spell create water is certainly convenient, but the wilderness becomes a more dangerous (and interesting) place without such spells. Similarly, characters should rely on their swimming skills and their Constitution scores instead of depending on water breathing. And so on.

Instant Transportation: Teleport and its varieties make a mockery of long wilderness treks and quests into uncharted waters. Neither should dimension door and other short-range teleportation spells be allowed, because they make it too easy to circumvent defenses and penetrate castle and city walls. In a low-magic world, there are simply no adequate countermeasures against such spells.

Powerful Low-Level Divinations: Detect magic might seem innocent enough, but in the hands of power-gamers it tends to be used as a “radar” to scan areas for anything interesting (such as magical items or traps). Roleplaying improves when there is no such clear distinction of what is magical and what is not. Detect evil does not apply to a world without alignments. Comprehend languages is a mere 1st-level spell, but allows you to understand all written languages. That might not seem very important when dungeon-crawling, but if such a spell exists, there is little point in learning ancient and forgotten languages, and the role-playing aspects of trying to decipher ancient grimoires are lost.

“Superhero” Spells: Flying (through the fly spell) and turning invisible (through invisibility and improved invisibility) are examples of powers rarely seen in sword and sorcery stories. These abilities are especially powerful (and therefore unbalancing) in low-magic settings, where there are few countermeasures available.

Magical items that duplicate these types of spells do not exist either (although there are no rules without exceptions).

It becomes apparent that in many cases, skills become more important for characters when magic spells are restricted. Skills such as Climb, Heal, Linguistics, Perception, Sense Motive, Survival, Swim, and the various Knowledge skills are good substitutes for many of the spells listed above.

21 October

Undetectable Alignment

I’ve never cared much for the “alignment” system that has been a part of our favorite roleplaying game from the early days.

Therefore, in the World of Xoth campaign setting, just like in our own world, the behaviour of individuals are shaped by their culture and personal beliefs, ambitions and ethics, rather than by some artificial “alignment” system that divide people conveniently into groups of good and evil. Having characters act according to their own motivation creates far more interesting situations than a simplistic “I’m good, you’re evil” worldview.

Think of it as “shades of grey” rather than “black and white”.

18 October

The Sign of Xoth

At another house, where people were stirring, he asked questions about the gods, and whether they danced often upon Lerion; but the farmer and his wife would only make the Elder Sign and tell him the way to Nir and Ulthar.

— H. P. Lovecraft: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

Many spells and other rules are based on alignments, and they need some adjustment when the alignment system is not used.

Let’s start with Protection from Evil. In the World of Xoth, this common warding spell is called Protection from Witchcraft, and is also known as the Sign of Xoth.

The spell is identical to the description in the rulebook, except replace all instances of “evil creatures” with “magic-using creatures and supernatural creatures”. Note that any spellcaster is a “magic-using creature” under this definition. A “supernatural creature” is a creature that has one or more supernatural (Su) or spell-like (Sp) abilities.

Magic Circle against Evil is called Magic Circle against Witchcraft (or simply Magic Circle).

13 October

The Cultist class

The Cultist class is a variant character class for the PathFinder RPG, based on the Oracle class from the Advanced Player’s Guide (APG).

A Cultist is a member of a religious organisation devoted to the worship of a powerful entity, such as a god or demon. The Cultist starts out as an acolyte, whose duties include studies of the cult’s secret texts, as well as guarding the cult’s temple and protecting its interests. As he rises in the ranks of the cult, the Cultist becomes a teacher of acolytes, standing at the center of rituals of worship and sacrifice. Eventually, he may become high priest of the cult, with full and undisputed control over its temples, treasures, relics and priests.

Class Features

The Cultist class is identical to the Oracle class, except for the differences described below.

Cult Membership (Ex): At 1st level, you must select a cult. Assuming that you pass the Initiation Rite (see below), you become an acolyte of the cult. As an acolyte, you receive free food and shelter in the cult’s local temple, and receive a +2 circumstance bonus to Diplomacy and Intimidate checks in areas where your cult holds power, as long as it is apparent that you belong to the cult.

At 7th level, you become a cult priest. You gain Leadership as a bonus feat, with followers drawn from the cult’s acolytes. You can stay as long as you want in any temple belonging to your cult, and you can also bring up to one guest per Cultist level, who will receive basic food and shelter for free. Your circumstance bonus to Diplomacy and Intimidate rises to +4.

If you leave the cult, you lose all cult-specific benefits, including Cult Spells and Cult Secrets. If you try to join another cult, you are declared anathema and no member of your old cult will rest before you are dead.

[This class feature replaces Mystery.]

Initiation Rite: Before you can become a proper Cultist, you must undergo the cult’s initiation rite. This is different for every cult; see the cult’s description for details. Until the rite has been successfully completed, you cannot use any Cultist class features, except the hit dice, base attack bonus, saving throw bonuses, weapon and armor proficiencies, and class skills that are not cult-specific.

At the end of the initiation rite, a sufficiently high-level cult leader has the option of casting a special Mark of Justice spell upon you, to ensure your loyalty to the cult. This works as per the spell description, except that your own spells (such as Break Enchantment cast by you) are always ineffective against it.

[This class feature replaces Oracle’s Curse.]

Cult Secret: As you advance in levels as a Cultist, you learn new secrets that grant you powers and abilities. At 1st level, 3rd level, and every four levels thereafter (7th, 11th, and so on), you select a new secret from the list of cult secrets listed in the cult’s description. Unless otherwise noted, activating the power of a cult secret is a standard action.

[This class feature replaces Revelation.]

Cult Spells: At 2nd level, and every two levels thereafter, you learn an additional spell taught by your cult. These spells are in addition to the number of spells given on the Spells Known table. They cannot be exchanged for different spells at higher levels.

[This class feature is similar to the Bonus Spells feature of the Oracle’s Mystery.]

Cult Hierarch (Ex): At 20th level, you become the leader of your cult, with full control of the cult’s temples, treasures and relics, and you can command the lesser cult members as you desire. As a cult hierarch, the social circumstance bonuses you receive on Diplomacy and Intimidate checks increase to +8.

If there is already a 20th-level Cultist in your cult, you must defeat him to gain your title and privileges. Likewise, you must be prepared to defend your position against those that rise in the ranks below you.

[This class feature replaces Final Revelation.]


Each cultist must choose a cult. For examples of cults, and their initiation rites and secrets, see the cults in the World of Xoth.


21 March

SPQR d20

Now here’s a little something to impress your gamer friends with: A twenty-sided die from the second century AD. A tad expensive, though…

The notes tell us that “Modern scholarship has not yet established the game for which these dice were used.” But we know better, of course…!

19 March

Cultural Archetypes

In a typical sword and sorcery campaign such as the World of Xoth, the traditional demihumans do not exist, and the majority of player characters and non-player characters are human. The following broad cultural archetypes can be used to distinguish between characters who would otherwise have the same racial abilities.


Savages include warriors from the frozen north and witch-doctors from the snake-infested jungles of the south. Savages tend to have a close connection with nature, but remain ignorant of many developments that more civilized people take for granted.

Savages have the following racial traits:

  • +2 to Strength
  • Sturdy: Permanent benefit as per the endure elements spell, and a +1 natural bonus to Armor Class.
  • Feral: Savages gain a +2 racial bonus to Perception checks.
  • Superstitious: Before attacking any supernatural or magic-using creature, the savage must succeed on a Will save (DC 10 + half level or Hit Dice of creature) or suffer a -4 penalty to attack rolls against that creature until the end of the encounter. Exception: If the character has more levels in spellcasting classes than non-spellcasting classes, the character instead casts spells with a +1 bonus to effective caster level.


Nomads roam the empty wastes beyond the civilized cities; quick to strike and bound by no laws. Nomads live with their animals and usually ride into battle with them; they feel ill at ease without them.

Nomads have the following racial traits:

  • +2 to Dexterity
  • Proud: Iron Will as bonus feat.
  • Unpredictable: The character gains a “wild card” feat. As a standard action, the character can select any feat for which he meets the prerequisites. The selected feat remains active for the rest of the day. After the character rests for eight hours, the wild card feat slot resets to empty.
  • Bowlegged: Base land speed 20 ft.


Savages and nomads eventually gather together to cultivate the land, build great cities, develop trade, and study medicine, mathematics and languages. In the civilized lands dwell noble knights, wise kings, and learned sages — as well as greedy merchants and cunning thieves.

Civilized people have the following racial traits:

  • +2 to one ability score: Civilized characters get a +2 bonus to one ability score of their choice at creation to represent their versatile nature.
  • Educated: One bonus feat at first level, and one extra skill point at each level.
  • Frail: Civilized people have a -2 penalty to saving throws against poison and disease.


A few great civilizations rise above others and gain half-mythical status. Learned beyond normal men, people of enlightened cultures are builders of cyclopean pyramids and towers that pierce the skies. Their magnificent buildings can last forever, and likewise the flesh of the enlightened ones can withstand the passage of time like no other mortals.

Enlightened people have the following racial traits:

  • +2 to Wisdom
  • Uncanny: Once per day, the enlightened can re-roll any dice roll, but must keep the second result, regardless of the outcome. Also, enlightened characters who reach at least 2nd level before the normal human Middle Age (35 years) gain longevity and use the following age categories instead: Middle Age (100 years), Old (200 years), Venerable (300 years), Maximum Age (300 + 3d100 years).
  • Expert Builder: Enlightened ones receive a +2 bonus on Perception checks to potentially notice unusual stonework, such as traps and hidden doors located in stone walls or floors. They receive a check to notice such features whenever they pass within 10 feet of them, whether or not they are actively looking.
  • Conceited: Too confident in their own abilities, enlightened ones often underestimate their enemies. They suffer a -4 penalty to Initiative checks.


Great civilizations reach their peak and eventually start to decline. Such fallen empires are ruled by jaded nobles, corrupt priests and wicked slave-traders. Demon-worship, human sacrifice and drug abuse is all too common in these cultures.

Decadent people have the following racial traits:

  • +2 to Charisma
  • Insidious: +2 bonus to Bluff, Knowledge and Stealth checks, and an additional +1d6 of sneak attack damage if the character has the sneak attack class ability.
  • Arcane Adept: Add +1 to the DC of any saving throw when casting spells.
  • Corrupt: -2 penalty to Will saving throws.


The last survivors of decadent civilizations start to feud over dwindling resources, or are driven away by stronger cultures. Fleeing into the wilderness, or deep underground beneath their ruins, they start to inbreed and devolve into something no longer entirely human. Degenerates may outwardly resemble savages, but they carry the evil taint of fallen empires.

Degenerates have the following racial traits:

  • +2 to Constitution
  • Nocturnal: Degenerates can see twice as far as normal humans in conditions of dim light.
  • Ferocious: Once per day, when a degenerate is brought below 0 hit points but not killed, he can fight on for one more round as if disabled. At the end of his next turn, unless brought to above 0 hit points, he immediately falls unconscious and begins dying.
  • Unwholesome: Degenerates always have a physical deformity or a mental illness, caused by inbreeding, that sets them apart from other humans. This unwholesomeness can never be fully concealed. Degenerates suffer a -4 penalty on Bluff and Diplomacy checks (except when interacting with other degenerates), and the initial reaction of other cultural archetypes will never be better than Unfriendly.