Vain the Sword


Updated July 15, 2020

art by Thor? Larsen

“But vain the sword and vain the bow. They never can work war’s overthrow.” -the Grey Monk



Generating a Character

Ideals and Testing Ideals

  • Inventory slots

  • DODGE score

  • Hit points

  • Language points

  • Testing Ideals

Core Rules


Basic Lots

  • Dreamer

  • Eunuch

  • Practitioner

  • Thief

  • Warrior

  • Witness

  • Wizard


  • Example Kens


  • Armor

  • Melee Weapons

  • Ranged Weapons

  • Drugs

  • Carry Supplies

  • Light

  • Writing

  • Animals

  • Other Supplies


  • Learning a Spell

  • Casting Without Memorizing


Adventuring and Advancement

  • Light and Critical Fumbles

  • Exploring

  • Healing

  • Levelling Up

Further Reading


  • Battle Cry

  • Filling a Turn

  • Attacks

  • Defense

  • Stuck-In

Death and Dismemberment


  • Opposition

  • Describing a Scene

  • Dungeons

  • Treasure

  • Travel

  • Encounter Table

Advanced Lots

  • Acolyte

  • Band

  • Iron Warden

  • Nephil


Arcane Compendium


  • Example Gigres

Warrior Disciplines

Appendix N

Example Adventure

Choosing Adventure

  • D6 Reaction Roll

  • General Standards

Brenton’s Bride

  • Random Encounters

  • Redcap Riddles

  • The Cinder Throne

  • The Court

  • The Golemry

  • The Western Approach

  • After the Adventure

Example Character Sheet


Vain the Sword is a version of GLOG, a role-playing game ruleset based on old-school Dungeons and Dragons. It was written with constant inspiration from the vast and varied GLOG community, and borrows freely from many creators. I have tried to credit everyone whose influence can be directly tracked, but cannot name every inspiration. This game does not seek to be the single authoritative ruleset for all purposes. This document encodes the way that I run the kind of games I enjoy, and seeks to be the best ruleset for those games. It tries to reward thoughtful, strategic, creative play, and to be easy for 

Dungeon Masters to run. Games in Vain the

Sword can be run in many ways, but the baseline will imply certain contents and tones.

The ruleset below depicts a world that is dangerous, but not necessarily grim. It is a world with no strong distinction between what is natural and what is supernatural. It is a world where bronze weapons are commonly used, where the influence of gods is felt at all levels in society, and where the use of holy drugs called gigre confers a moral power. It suggests a broadly “bronze age” setting, but freely adds anachronistic artificial marvels.


To generate starting player character, use the following steps. If this is your first time reading this section, skip ahead first to learn how to play.


  1. Roll 4d4 and add them up for each ideal, in order. (p. 4)

  2. Then, pick a folk. Each folk has a perk, a quirk, and a designated ideal. Roll 4d4 again and compare it to your folk’s designated ideal. If it is higher, that roll becomes the new score for that ideal. (p. 6)

  3. Calculate your DODGE and hit points. (p. 4)

  1. Pick your lot. (p. 9) Gain any starting kens (p. 17), equipment (p. 18), and first-level abilities. 

  2. Specify your starting languages. (p. 22)

  3. Come up with a name, appearance, and personality.


Vain the Sword is played like a classic D&D game. One player acts as the Dungeon Master and the others act out the role of the main characters. It uses the traditional role-playing dice, especially the twenty-sided die.

Most rolls you have to make are attempts to roll equal to or under one of your six IDEALS: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. Sometimes this will be modified by circumstances. For example, if you are trying to hit an opponent, you will get a penalty based on the power of their defenses. Starting characters roll 4d4 for each ideal, in order.

STRENGTH: your physical capacity, used to strike a foe or lift a heavy object. You also have a number of inventory slots equal to your STRENGTH score. You can carry one item in each slot, assuming that you can reasonably fit it all on you. Items like packs don’t take up inventory slots. For each item carried in excess, you’ll get a -1 to physical tests, BLOCKs, and DODGEs. Similar small items can be bundled into one slot.

DEXTERITY: your swiftness and precision, used to escape a foe or land a sling stone. It also determines your DODGE score, which is equal to your DEXTERITY minus ten.

CONSTITUTION: your hardiness, used to resist poison or disease. It also modifies your hit points, which start at four and increase by three with each further level attained. Additionally, add 1 every level if your CONSTITUTION is 13 or higher and subtract 1 if it is 7 or lower. 

INTELLIGENCE: your analytical ability, used to decipher script or invent a device. It also grants knowledge of additional languages. For every point above ten your starting INTELLIGENCE is, you get a language point. One language point is enough to partially speak a language. Two language points are enough to speak such a language fluently.

WISDOM: your perceptiveness and will, used to spot a hidden foe or diligently follow a ritual. 

CHARISMA: the grace to compel, charm, and lead— but this power does not belong to you. CHARISMA is god-given, and can be used to induce loyalty or give a fearsome battle cry. 

Advice on Ideals: While the six ideals give an idea of what a character is capable of, that character can always aspire to more. You are well-served to come up with ways to avoid having to roll dice and, if reasonable, a Dungeon Master should not call for a die roll. Players might think of themselves as advisors to their characters, lending their creativity and problem-solving ability.
Testing Ideals: Rolling a d20 and attempting to get equal to or under an ideal’s score is the main resolution mechanic in Vain the Sword, and is called “testing” that ideal. If a DM decides a roll is necessary but doesn’t know which ideal, it is recommended that they consider the ideals in “reverse order,” checking if the test is appropriate to CHARISMA, then WISDOM, all the way up to STRENGTH.


Races, Lots, Kens, Equipment, Spellcasting, Languages, Adventuring and Advancement

art by Thor? Larsen

“Those who arm themselves with the weapons of their enemies are ever likely to fail.” -Treguard


Each character belongs to one of thirteen folk. Each folk has a perk and quirk, detailed below, and may reroll one of their main ideals, taking the higher of the two rolls. In most parts of the world, humans predominate but there is endless variety to be found. The DM should designate which sorts of creatures are endemic to the area in which the game is set to guide selection of PC folk.

These folk are not like the differing ethnicities of real-world humanity. They are

species; their only commonality is divinity:

the soul which marks them as creations of the gods. Just as a tiger differs from a lamb, so does a gnoll differ from a hobbit. Each folk has variety as great or greater than humanity in cultures, phenotypes, customs, and ethnicities.

If you wish to play a member of a random non-human folk, roll 1d12+1. If you wish to play a member of a random folk in a human-centric setting, roll a d20 and let a roll of 14 or higher result in a human.





  1. Human




  1. Golem




  1. Orc




  1. Gnoll




  1. Locust

Gossamer Wings



  1. Hobbit




  1. Kaf-Tsadhi

Change Shape



  1. Talking Animal

Natural Gift



  1. Elf

Cruel Affinity



  1. Eulogy




  1. Gnome




  1. Preskeleton

Bone Casting

Ill Omens


  1. Serset




Human: Learn an extra ken. When testing an ideal to avoid possession by a demon or by mob mentality, get -4. Reroll any one ideal.

Golem: You can turn off pain, install modifications, and go into sleep mode instantly. You need to tend yourself to heal naturally, and need to use clay or a mechanical item as rations. Reroll STRENGTH.
Golems are created for a variety of reasons, in a variety of ways. Many live as former soldiers and servants, and come to regard the intention behind their creation as being not much different from the intention behind the creation of other folk.

Orc: You can see in darkness as though it were bright daylight, but actual daylight is as impenetrable to you as a moonless night. Reroll STRENGTH.
The orcs of the isolated continent of Nuf wait for a ship to stray too close, so they may learn the secret of sailing and invade the world. You are presumably a different kind of orc, performing the proper rituals to avoid the attention of a hateful god.

Gnoll: You gain a bonus based on the last significant creature you ate. If it was an intelligent folk, get a +2 to the reroll that folk gets. If it is a monstrous creature, gain an ability based on its capabilities. When you would oppose the consensus of your group, test CHARISMA or go resentfully along with them. Reroll CONSTITUTION.
A species of hyena-esque beastmen, gnolls are prized in many utopian and dystopian societies for their hierarchical adroitness. They are prone to pica, identifying with animals, social anxiety, nationalism, courage, and mental endurance.

Locust:  You may flutter 40 feet in a round. Test against madness if you don’t get a full night’s sleep. Reroll CONSTITUTION.
Like overgrown grasshoppers, a locust is born on soft, clear wings. These folk typically hibernate seven years out of eight, but some sacrifice their lifespan and sanity to stay awake for longer. They are said to have old souls, and to go senile quickly.

Hobbit: Whenever the party has a meal, you may take the time to describe what you’re eating and how you make it taste good. If you do, everyone heals 1 extra HP. Get a -4 to tests of ideals for running fast, and procrastinate when planning journeys. Reroll DEXTERITY.
It was hobbits who first used currency and carts. Many hobbits tend to assimilate into their dominant culture, but maintain a private passion for their ways and gods. It is common for hobbits to let others make what they will of them.

Kaf-Tsadhi: You may take on a human appearance and reproduce with humans. You regain no HP when sleeping in civilized spaces. Reroll DEXTERITY.
These are the first of all folk, from whom humans are descended. They are descended themselves from foxes, and have vulpine features. They traditionally speak antediluvian, the first of all tongues.

Talking Animal: Depending on your species, you might have a natural weapon, ability, or mobility. Despite this, your form might prevent you from normal actions like holding an item or climbing a ladder. Reroll INTELLIGENCE.
For lo, you have the form of a simple animal, and may not speak mortal languages very fluently. 

Elf: You speak a few words of the Vermin, Detritivore and Borgian languages. When apologizing or dealing with what you consider ugly, take 1 hp damage. Also, you have no soul. Reroll INTELLIGENCE.
Elves are the only folk who evolved naturally, rather than being created by a god or gods. This leaves them with dozens of vestigial organs, as well as webbed digits and a total lack of moral instinct. Tumors are a common affliction among this long-lived race, and many turn to demonic bargains to stave off illness. While elves have no instinct for kindness or selflessness, they can still value these things for intellectual reasons.

Eulogy: Your snakey form allows you to be prone without penalty, to coil yourself into small spaces, and to slither through tight corridors. However, you cannot heal without a source of heat and die in the cold. Reroll WISDOM.

Eulogy take the form of snake-like humanoids with long tails and scales. They vary widely in how “snake-shaped” versus “human-shaped” they are. A small number possess human-like legs, and are considered deformed by their peers.

Gnome: Also called a gremlin, sylph, or goblin. Whenever someone breaks a promise to you, you know of it and know roughly where they are. Name all inventory items you possess for over a session. If you lose a named item, take 1 hp damage. Reroll WISDOM.
Gnomes represent a wide array of fey and fey-like creatures, their perspective shaped by enduring desires, rules, and shtick. They seldom tire of their endless interests.

Preskeleton: Once per day, you can throw bones to foresee whether a course of action will bring you weal or woe. Garlic, silver, and other classic monster anathemas repel you. When you die, a skeleton hatches from your corpse. Reroll CHARISMA.

Preskeletons often look like gaunt members of another folk, but some look indistinguishable from a “normal” person. Others show obvious signs of ripening in anticipation of death. They frequently develop alien hand syndrome, bone-itis, and bone deformities. Preskeletons are often accepted by living skeletons as one of their own, and can even learn with the fabled osteo-martial artist masters.

Serset: When you crawl into a target’s ear, you can access the brain and pilot them. This does not require a test, though you are basically helpless when you’re outside a host. You start with a host of your choice, and can read basic emotions it feels. In your true form, you are a near-blind slug. Your physical attributes outside of your host have a score of one. Hosts do not add bonuses to your abilities; your primary attributes are a measure of how you use your body, not the body you have. As long as your host is alive, you can burrow out of its ear. If your host dies while you inhabit it, you will be trapped and suffocate in an hour. Reroll CHARISMA.
Serset are about six inches long, green or pale yellow. They usually experience extensive “bleed” with their hosts, acquiring some of their quirks. Amid lawful serset society, most of their hosts are the comatose or criminal rejects of other folk.


Lots represent the varied backgrounds of adventurers, and each has four “levels” of attainment. A starting player character picks a lot, which determines their starting ken, any starting equipment, and abilities gained, listed as the first-level ability of that lot. There are no restrictions for lots; they are available regardless of status, morality, or identity. If a character acquires enough experience points (XP,) they may then either advance to the next level of their lot or advance to the first level of another lot. If they do the latter, they do not gain the starting ken or equipment of the new lot.

Some lots are linear, and require no additional choices when attained. Others offer the chance to specialize and specify. This is especially true when a lot offers the ability to cast spells. Rules for spellcasting can be found in the “Spellcasting” section. In further rules, the “Advanced Lots” section 

lays out other lots which either are not suitable for starting player characters or are too setting-specific to easily adapt on the fly.

Basic Lots:

  • The dreamer, who learns and acts in the realm of dreams. (p. 10)

  • The eunuch, who acts as a useful servant and politician. (p. 11)

  • The practitioner, who uses  holy drugs even as they are bound by them. (p. 12)

  • The thief, who creates and exploits advantages. (p. 13)

  • The warrior, who is violent. (p. 14)

  • The witness, who inspires and gathers knowledge. (p. 15)

  • The wizard, who collects magical spells. (p. 16)

-EXAMPLE LOT- (instance, sample, model)

Starting Equipment: none

Starting Ken: expositing and one other

1: ability 1, ability 2

2: ability 3

3: ability 2 upgrade

4: ability 4, a +1 bonus to a score that won’t be listed below

  • Ability 1 description

  • Ability 2 description, mentioning upgrade at level 3

  • Ability 3 description

  • Ability 4 description

-DREAMER- (etherist, dreamwalker, astral projector)

Starting Equipment: a satchel, a tent, knife (light) or sling (light) and ten sling stones, a dose of opium

Starting Ken: Any one, plus others based on your languages. see the Languages section (p. 22)

1: Dream Hunting, +1 language point

2: Unconscious Lore, +1 MD, +1 language point

3: Vex to Nightmare, +1 language point

4: Nocturnal Lot, +1 MD, +1 language point

  • Dream Hunting: Twice per night per dreamer level, you may enter another person’s dream. If you know roughly where they are, you may seek them out. Otherwise, you can invade a random dream. If in a dungeon or similar area, the DM will roll on the random encounter table to determine who. If you are reduced to 0 or less HP in a dream, roll for any nightmare injury (p. 26), then wake up. This prevents you from returning to sleep that night, but events in the dream are usually not permanent.

  • Unconscious Lore: Learn two random spells. Each further level, learn one random spell. No  magical preparation is needed to cast these spells beyond sleep.

  • Magic dice (MD): INTELLIGENCE is your casting ideal. You can learn new spells from other dreamers or their dream journals. (p. 21)

  • Vex to Nightmare: you may now act as though awake while dreaming. This means you can be simultaneously walking around adventuring and interrogating a dreamer. While you do this, widen both your critical blow and critical fumble range by one. Anyone you kill while dreaming will rise as a skeleton, draugr, or vampire.

  • Nocturnal Lot: When in someone's dream, you gain the first level abilities of their lot.

d6 Dreamer Spells

  1. Bite Augury: Get bitten by something to read the future. The DM selects an important event in the near future and answers [dice]x[damage taken by the bite] questions.

  2. Dream Drop: Send up to [sum] physical objects to someone who is dreaming of you. 

  3. Silent Hound: Summon a silent (but vicious) greyhound that serves you for an hour. Invest 2 MD to make it a silent wolf.

  4. Blind-fight: fill your ears with deep darkness. You can sense any movements perfectly regardless of light for [dice] hours.

  5. Argue with Birds: learn the bird languages temporarily. Take ten minutes to be corrected on [dice] confident statements about the area.

  6. Ward Body: Prevent a corpse from rising as undead or being troubled by dark forces. You must throw an item belonging to the deceased into running water, place a holy wafer in their mouth, or invoke a similar protection. Invest 2 MD to prevent all mortals from interfering with the body.

-EUNUCH- (advisor, vizier, concubine)

Starting Equipment: burlap sack, a mirror, a ring, a dagger (light) or staff (light), four tablets and a chisel, a dose of wine

Starting Ken: logistics or mathematics, and one other.

1: Forgettable OR Resonant Frequency

2: Coup

3: Ostentation 

4: Machinations

  • Forgettable: You seem inherently non-threatening. Also, you may increase the critical failure chance by 1 for nearby creatures of your choice.

  • Resonant Frequency: You can sing to shatter objects. Test your CHARISMA to inflict damage on an object as though you had busted it up with a sledgehammer for ten minutes. Cannot repeat the performance until you get rest and water.

  • Coup: If you can talk in private with someone willing or corruptible for 1d4 hours, you can instil a desire to achieve some aggrandizing ambition. Upright or intelligent characters can test their WISDOM to resist this. 

  • Ostentation: For every equipment slot of fine clothing you are wearing, get a +1 bonus to CHARISMA tests with your betters. You have excellent poise, and can balance a book on your head while moving at full speed. When you attack a friend by surprise, deal an additional d6 damage.

  • Machinations: Once per day, while you are working on behalf of your master, you may forgo a roll on the death and dismemberment table. Your servants also gain this ability, but only if their orders are not made on behalf of your master.

-PRACTITIONER- (alchemist, witch, paladin)

Starting Equipment: a burlap sack, gigre, quilted linen armor (light), a spear (medium), a dose of absynthe

Starting Ken: drugcrafting, and one other.

1: +1 CD, Plenty

2: See Evil, Smite

3: +1 CD, Tribulation,

4: Reckoning

  • Chemic Dice (CD): WISDOM is your casting ideal. You begin play knowing three random spells. More can be learned through study. To cast a spell, you invest at least one chemic die. For each die invested, you roll 1d6. Rolls of 1-3 are lost for the day. (p. 21)

  • Plenty: You can automatically gather enough ingredients to dose one person with any gigre whose recipe you know per day. You start with knowledge of one gigre. (p. 48.)

  • See Evil: Name three things which would make someone evil by your standards. At a glance, you can choose to identify who before you is evil by this definition.

  • Smite: If a foe is evil, you may spend a wisp of gigre to deal an extra +1d6 damage to that target for the rest of a combat.

  • Tribulation: When you reduce an opponent to 0 HP, you may immediately cast a spell. Also, you can test your WISDOM to tweak formulae in minor ways as you cast them.

  • Reckoning: When you lay low an evil foe, regain a lost chemic die.

d10 Practitioner Spells

  1. Alter Disease: convince a disease to act differently.

  2. Wisp: you gain [dice] extra wisps of a drug.

  3. Acute Quintessence: The weapon grants +[sum] to Attack. The next blow deals +1d6+[dice] damage, then the spell ends

  4. Alter Self: Change your physical appearance, adjusting your height/weight by [dice]x10%.  2+ CD changes voice to match.

  5. Rubbery Body: +3 BLOCK against bludgeoning. Immune to fall damage and similar things. Amazing contortions. Lasts [dice] minutes.

  6. Shrink: For [dice] hours, target becomes half their size.

  7. Adhesive Spittle: ranged attack to stick target in place for [sum] rounds.

  8. Truth paste: when consumed, cannot lie. 2+ CD, must answer all questions.

  9. Torque: automatically fail initiative and move slowly, but roll advantage on physical rolls. Lasts [sum] rounds.

  10. Transparency: +2 DODGE and +5 stealth for each CD.

-THIEF- (rogue, expert, swashbuckler)

Starting Equipment: carrier bag, burlap sack, dagger (light), shortspear (light) or sling (light) and ten sling stones

Starting Ken: artifice or prestidigitation, and one other.

1: Finesse

2: Here’s the Plan

3: Hidden Pockets

4: Great Escape

  • Finesse: when you catch someone by surprise or outnumber them, deal an additional d6 damage. Once per day per thief level, add a d6 to your DEXTERITY to succeed in a DEXTERITY test.

  • Here’s the Plan: 1/day, when a situation occurs you could have plausibly prepared for, you may retroactively have prepared for it. Preparations must be straightforward.

  • Hidden Pockets: You can stack ten light weapons in an inventory slot, ten valuables in an inventory slot, and 2,000 coins in an inventory slot. As long as you are wearing clothing, it is always considered plausible for you to be able to carry all of this.

  • Great Escape: You slip bonds like they are nothing, and get +4 to tests to escape others’ grasp.

-WARRIOR- (champion, soldier, barbarian)

Starting Equipment: marching pole and satchel, a medium weapon, leather armor (light), dose of wine

Starting Ken: weather prediction, the hunt, war, or sailing, and one other.

1: Parry, +1 attack bonus

2: +1 attack per round

3: Tricky, +1 attack bonus

4: Cut Down

  • Parry: Once per combat, reduce damage from an incoming blow by 1d6.

  • Tricky: +2 to combat maneuver tests.

  • Cut Down: Instead of making attacks in a round, lay low 1d6 level 1 characters.

art by Thor? Larsen

-WITNESS- (skald, bard, scholar)

Starting Equipment: satchel, heavy cloak (light), scroll, sling (light) and ten slingstones, dose of absynthe
Starting Ken: history, and one other.
1: Eidetic Memory, Witness
2: Stratagem
3: Group Witness
4: Legends Born

  • Eidetic Memory: You automatically remember everything that you see.

  • Witness: Before another player rolls, use your next action to witness them, which allows them to roll twice and use the better roll. You may do this a number of times per day equal to your witness level.

  • Stratagem: You are acquainted with many historical silver bullets: Trojan horses, tying the sacred animal of your foes to your shields, and the like. When attempting such a stratagem, test your INTELLIGENCE to get a greater bonus (or overcome implausibility.)

  • Group Witness: As Witness, but you can use it at the beginning of a round to grant your entire party the buff. Unlike Witness, you can only use this ability once per day.

  • Legends Born: Spend a turn to give an ally a natural 1 on their next roll. Usable once per session.

-WIZARD- (magus, sorcerer, warlock)

Starting Equipment: burlap sack, heavy cloak (light), chakram (light), spellbook, dose of absynthe
Starting Ken: some oddly specific expertise, and one other.
1: +1 MD, strange discipline
2: +1 MD, Reverse Spell
3: +1 MD, speedreader
4: +1 MD, Master of Magic

  • Magic Dice (MD): INTELLIGENCE is your casting ideal. You begin play knowing two cantrips and three random spells, all collected in a spellbook or similar record. More spells can be learned through study. (p. 21)

  • Strange Discipline: you are part of some mystical tradition that focuses your studies. This determines your starting cantrips and spells you are likely to study from.(p. 41)

  • Reverse Spell: When you cast a spell that you have memorized, you may cast it “reversed.” This creates an effect opposite its usual one, such as a light spell creating darkness or a truth spell creating lies.

  • Speedreader: You do not need to take an additional turn to cast spells from a book.

  • Master of Magic: Automatically learn any six spells or one arcane secret.

D3 Example Wizard Cantrips

  1. Detect Magic

  2. Culpa: pull a bone knife from your hand

  3. Alter enchantment: can ask magical items to act differently.

D10 Example Wizard Spells

  1. Become Ooze: lasts [sum]2 minutes. 

  2. Arson: 10 ft. per die of fire created.

  3. Blast: target tests their DEXTERITY. [sum] damage, half if they succeed.

  4. Summon Monster: for one hour, summon a creature as strong as a wolf. For each die past the first, specify an extra capability for it that an animal possesses.

  5. False Image: create an illusion to [dice] senses.

  6. Feathery Wings: for an hour, glide. With more [dice], fly, and at increasing speed.

  7. Sympathy: two similar items borrow each other’s temperature, direction, or light. Strength of the bond increases with [dice].

  8. Augury: Read the future in the patterns of birds. Ask [dice] questions about the future, and learn whether something would be for weal or woe.

  9. Dispel Magic: test INTELLIGENCE to suppress or end magical effects. For each die past the first, suppress another effect. 

  10. Invisibility: lasts [sum] minutes.


The world is defined not by expertise and mundane skill, but by deep understanding, and god-given skill. Sailors make their way home when the shore is gone from their sight not through what they know, but through what they feel, the experience of their art that cannot be explained. Thus, Vain the Sword focuses less on mundane skill and more on this supernaturally based “ken.”

Players and the Dungeon Master can decide amongst themselves what is reasonable for a character to know. An apothecary does not need the ken of healing to heal a wound, nor does a politician require the ken of rhetoric to successfully rile a crowd. But for what ken a character has accumulated, they have acquired a supernatural understanding and instinct for that area of knowledge. Dungeon Masters should allow such characters to push the natural bounds of such a skill— the characters live in a supernatural world, and there is no strict line between a magical knack and normal mastery.

There is no total list of kens. This is something that will change between and during campaigns. There can be a ken at the apex of almost any skill, but the best kens are found in what skills historical people considered to be supernatural in and of themselves. From the prophetic ventriloquism of the Greeks to the occult mathematics of the Vikings, the ken of what we would now consider mundane was seen for the divinity that it is.

Examples of Ken

  1. Animal Charming

  2. Artifice

  3. Augury

  4. Begging

  5. Brewing

  6. Cosmology

  7. Dancing

  8. Drugcrafting

  9. Diligence

  10. Endurance

  11. Escape artistry

  12. Fecundity

  13. Healing

  14. Heraldry

  15. History 

  16. Logistics

  17. Massage 

  18. Mathematics 

  19. Mimicry 

  20. Music

  21. Numerology

  22. Prestidigitation

  23. Racing 

  24. Rhetoric

  25. Sailing

  26. Singing

  27. The Hunt

  28. Ventriloquism

  29. War

  30. Weather Prediction



This section gives special rules for  only some of the accoutrement needed on the average adventure. This is because beyond weapons and armor, the use of such items is apparent. All equipment have been broken up into sections, and lists not only

the effect of such items but also how many equipment slots they take up. Costs are not provided, as this will vary based on setting. Notably, many places will not have a standard currency at all.



  • Light (1 equipment slot) +2 BLOCK

    • Ex. Quilted linen, leather, heavy cloak

  • Medium (2 equipment slots) +4 BLOCK, -2 stealth

    • Ex. Cuirass, plaited reed, lamellar

  • Heavy (3 equipment slots) +6 BLOCK, -4 stealth

    • Ex. Scale, plate panoply

  • Shield (1 equipment slot) +1 BLOCK, 1/combat parry 1d6 damage

    • Ex. Buckler, round shield, wicker shield

  • Ostentation (1 equipment slot) reroll specific spell’s MD or WORD

    • Ex. Tefillin of Become Ooze, amulet of Rubbery Body, mantle of BE

  • Narcomanta (4 equipment slots) +2 BLOCK, drugs have contagious effects on allies

    • Ex. Soaked flag, censer-tree, burning sashimono

Melee Weapons

  • Light (1 equipment slot) 1d6 damage. +1 DODGE if held in your off-hand.

    • Ex. Dagger, shortspear, chakram

  • Medium (2 equipment slots) 1d6 damage, or 1d8 in two hands

    • Ex. Spear, sickle sword, socketed axe, club, staff

  • Heavy (3 equipment slots) 1d10 damage, must be used in two hands.

    • Ex. Longspear, greatclub, lance

  • Talisman (1 equipment slot) Cast a spell with exactly one MD

    • Ex. Wand, staff, scroll

Ranged Weapons

  • Light (1 equipment slot) 1d6 damage, -1 to hit every 20 feet

    • Ex. Sling, javelin

  • Medium (2 equipment slots) 1d8 damage, -1 to hit every 30 feet

    • Ex. Bow

Drugs (3/day, use ability)

  • Wine (1 equipment slot) Helps to resist curses. You can get a feeling of whether divine magic is at play. Attacking your guest or host is unclean to you.

  • Opium (1 equipment slot) Helps to befriend intoxicated people. You can get a feeling of whether chemic is at play. Manual work is unclean to you.

  • Absynthe (1 equipment slot) Helps to resist charms. You can get a feeling of whether arcane magic is at play. Attentiveness is unclean to you.

  • Gigre (1 equipment slot) see the “Gigres” section (p. 48)

Carrying Supplies

  • Amphora (2 equipment slots)

  • Burlap Sack (0 equipment slots)

  • Cloak Bag (0 equipment slots)

  • Knapsack (0 equipment slots)

  • Marching Pole (0 equipment slots)

  • Net Bag (0 equipment slots)

  • Satchel (0 equipment slots)

  • Scroll Case (0 equipment slots)

  • Sled (0 equipment slots)

  • Tinderbox (0 equipment slots)

  • Urn (1 equipment slots)


  • Candelabrum (shares a slot with up to 10 candles) burns 10’ for 10 hours.

  • Torch (up to 4 to a slot) burns 40’ for 4 hours

  • Lamp: (shares a slot with up to 6 pints of oil) burns 60’ for 6 hours per pint.


  • Chalk (0 equipment slots)

  • Paper or parchment (up to 100 pages in one slot)

  • Tablet (up to 4 tablets and a chisel in one slot)

  • Ink (50 pages’ worth in one slot)


  • Sheep (grants 2 equipment slots)

  • Goat (grants 3 equipment slots)

  • Dog (grants 4 equipment slots)

  • Tamed Hemione/Onager (grants 6 equipment slots)

  • Donkey (grants 8 equipment slots)

  • Horse (grants 10 equipment slots)

  • Mule (grants 12 equipment slots)

  • Two-horse Chariot (grants 25 equipment slots)

  • Four-horse Chariot (grants 40 equipment slots)

  • Wagon (grants 50 equipment slots) drawn by two horses

  • Barge (grants 50 equipment slots) drawn by one horses

Other Supplies

  • Air bladder (1 equipment slot) holds 30 minutes of air.

  • Bronze Crow (1 equipment slot) +2 STRENGTH for prying. 1d6 damage.

  • Coin ring (0 equipment slots, +1 per 200 coins.)

  • Cord or hemp rope (1 equipment slot per 30 feet, with hook or block and tackle)

  • Hammer or mallet (1 equipment slot for hammer and up to ten stakes or spikes)

  • Iron (varies) Weapons forged from iron ignore non-iron armor and sever the soul. Armor forged from iron grant +1 block.

  • Lard (1 equipment slot per 2 gallons)

  • Mattock (1 equipment slot) used for digging. 1d6 damage.

  • Mithril (varies) Weapons forged from mithril ignore armor. Armor forged from mithril grant +1 block.

  • Non-bearded axe (1 equipment slot) used for cutting wood or for 1d6 damage.

  • Poison (four doses per equipment slot)

  • Shovel (1 equipment slot) used for digging. 1d6 damage.

  • Soap (1 equipment slot per 2 gallons)

  • Stilt shoes (1 equipment slot, 0 when worn)

  • Wooden ladder (3 equipment slots per 5 feet of height)


Those with a spellcasting lot may memorize a number of spells each day equal to their casting ideal minus 10, to a minimum of 0. A spellcaster can learn any number of spells, but each day they might only memorize some.
Wizards and practitioners cast spells by invoking magic dice (or chemic dice) gathered from a spellcaster’s levels. Magic dice are d6s rolled as the spell is cast. On a 4-6, a magic die is spent for the day. On a 1-3, the die can be used again.
Learning a spell: takes a day of focused studying, or at least two days if one is travelling. One must have a copy of the spell to study— a wizard’s spellbook, a dreamer’s journal, a practitioner’s formula book, a scroll, or sometimes a relevant magical item. You can then write the spell in your own spellbook or on a loose scroll.
Casting without memorizing: Anyone can cast a spell they have learned by casting it from a spellbook, but this takes an extra round in combat and they must test their INTELLIGENCE. So the spells you memorize are for when you would prefer to act quickly without getting out your spellbook.
Talismans are objects that act as small spellbooks. Anyone can test their INTELLIGENCE to cast a spell from a talisman. The scroll “contains” its own magic die, so investing dice is not required of the caster, but the spell will only ever have the potency of 1 MD. 

What is a Spell?: In a modern perspective, we accept causation as a theoretically unbroken chain of events. But in fact, the world is full of hidden correspondences, things with casualties we not only don’t understand but won’t understand.

Language is made up of these hidden correspondences. We summon people by calling their name (if they are in earshot.) We induce fear, anger, love, and all human emotion through the magic of speech and conversation. Accordingly, many recorded magics are invocations, songs, rituals with semantic components. 

Chemistry is made up of these hidden correspondences. Inert materials combine to form poisons, potions, drugs, and holy drugs. Dangerous compounds unite to form order from chaos. Accordingly, magic men have often been doctors, chemists, healers, and experimenters. 

All events, natural and social, are made up of these hidden correspondences. A horse misused upon the road calls to Heaven for human blood. A dog starved at his master’s gate predicts the ruin of the state. Every society in human ken recalls the auspice in the troubled hen. Accordingly, we read the correspondences in the augury of birds, the haruspicy of entrails, the numerology of sums, by the sticks’ pattern on the I Ching and the audacity of the novel dream.

Whatever is written on a scroll, it is not simple. It sets out an explanation for casting a spell, and the method is always a little particular. It is not the sort of thing a normal person could easily memorize without dropping everything and studying full-time.


A language is usually the purview of a certain place, species, or profession. Each confers a different ability to someone of the dreamer lot, (p. 10) and this will be denoted in brackets.
Starting characters speak their native language fluently, and if they have an INTELLIGENCE of 11 or more can speak more. Each point of INTELLIGENCE above 10 gives a language point to spend. Spending one will give partial fluency, and two will give total fluency. Characters can also learn languages through the course of play. For every month they spend immersed in a culture, they may test their CHARISMA to gain a language point in that culture’s language. For every two months spent studying the language, they may test their INTELLIGENCE to gain a language point. These two methods may be applied separately or together without penalty.

  • Antediluvian [recitation]- the original language. Spoken by Kaf-Tsadhi and locusts.

  • Atlantean [conspiracy]- Spoken in western Niv.

  • Bird [augury]- spoken by flying non-draconic creatures.

  • Borgian [law]- spoken by demons, necromancers, and in some magical traditions.

  • Enochian [singing]- spoken by some astral creatures. Uninterruptible. 

  • Common [mathematics]- spoken in Niv.

  • Dan Dan [sailing]- spoken among Dan Dan peoples.

  • Detritivore [weather prediction]-  spoken by millipedes, dung flies, slugs, worms, sea stars, sea cucumbers, fiddler crabs, and elves

  • Fian [war]- Spoken in Fianyu, among Pulphogamanians, and donkeys.

  • Kieran [stealth]- spoken in the liturgies of Hobbits

  • Legalese [babble]- trade language of bureaucrats, barristers, and the like.

  • Leper [busking]- a type of dialect spoken in leper colonies

  • Lizardese [counting]- spoken by reptiles and minor draconic creatures.

  • Meso [courtesy]- spoken along trade routes between Fianyu and Noual.

  • Plant [gesticulation]- spoken by trees, flowers, grasses, and hard-working lichen.

  • Selmati [history]- spoken in Holy Selmat.

  • Stone [meditation]- spoken by rocks, minerals, metals, and some soils.

  • Sign Lexicon [theology]- found among the deaf, mute, and their families, as well as some monastic orders. Lacks grammar and mostly lacks verbs.

  • Tengor [logistics]- spoken among Tengor peoples.

  • Thief’s Cant [rumor]- spoken by anti-nobility among thieves, fences, beggars, and others.

  • Vermin [knots]- spoken by rodents, insects, and elves.


Light and Critical Fumbles: sunlight or areas lit by two or more good lights confer ideal light conditions. Areas with one good light or many small lights are dimly lit, and critical failures occur on any d20 roll of 18 or higher. Areas with no light are fully dark, and critical failures occur on rolls of 15 or higher.
Exploring: navigating a dungeon can take a lot of time, but for simplicity characters are assumed to be moving quickly and efficiently when in dangerous areas. The exception is when characters need to stop for extended periods to search something thoroughly, camp, take lunch, or clear obstructions. In such cases, about an hour might pass as the DM notes this for the burning down of torches or the approach of strangers. In many dungeons, denizens are most likely to happen on an invading party only when alerted, or when the party slows down in this way.
Healing: characters heal 1d6 HP, plus one for each level they possess, every night that they have sleep and a source of heat. During the day, they can heal the same amount once when they consume rations. Adverse conditions can cause the accumulation of fatigue, which fills inventory slots. After a day of rest without travelling, characters heal 1d4 fatigue.

Levelling up: Depending on the nature of the game, the DM might award experience points (XP) for different character actions. Once a character has reached a certain threshold, they may advance to the next level of their lot or gain the first-level abilities of a new lot. Some lots are not available without certain in-game achievements. The changes wrought on a character during play will outpace abilities gotten through levelling up, and no character will ever attain more than ten levels.
Experience Awards: Player characters earn XP for journeys travelled (5 per hex), marvellous or strange things overcome (10 times a number representing difficulty), or anything else appropriate to the campaign.

Cumulative experience Needed to Reach Each Level:

  1. 200

  2. 400

  3. 700

  4. 1,100

  5. 1,600

  6. 2,200

  7. 2,900

  8. 3,700

  9. 4,600


Combat, Death and Dismemberment, Procedures, Advanced Lots, Deities, Arcane Compendium, Gigres, Disciplines

art by Thor? Larsen

“I am dungeon master and referee in the greater game of luck and glory.” -Tregard


Battle Cry: At the start of a combat in which the order of turns is not obvious, each character gives a battle cry or flyte, then rolls a d20 and adds their entire CHARISMA score. A bonus may be given for especially significant cries or incisive taunts. Combat proceeds in descending order. Tied rolls are resolved at the same time.
A large group acting together uses their leader's CHARISMA. If there is no leader, they go last.
Defenses: Each character has a DODGE and BLOCK score, either of which reduces a foe's chance to harm them. DODGE is determined by DEXTERITY. BLOCK is determined by armor.  Some attacks will only be affected by one or the other, but often which is used will be based on how the attacker strikes at someone and how the defender acted on their last turn. Since these scores will usually be different, characters are constantly trying to get the edge to strike at their opponent's weaknesses in melee.
Filling a Turn: Since a combat round can last up to a minute, you have time to make an attack roll and attempt some kind of maneuver. This can be another offensive action like grappling, aiming, or disarming, or an action that will help specify whether your attack rolls against your foe's BLOCK or DODGE score. Major effects require additional tests of some sort, while maneuvering to target a foe’s defenses always works if you can explain how it should.  

Attacks: Make a STRENGTH test for a melee strike or DEXTERITY test for a ranged missile, with a penalty equal to your opponent’s DODGE or BLOCK. On a hit, inflict damage based on your weapon, modified by your ideal modifier. If you naturally roll a 1 to hit, roll double the normal damage dice— this is a critical blow. If you naturally roll a 20 to hit, you miss and might fumble somehow. This “critical failure” chance increases in lower light.
Stuck In: If attacking someone who has much greater reach than you from the size of your foe or the size of their weapon, they get a free attack against you. If they miss, you are STUCK IN and they cannot effectively attack you until they can create distance or switch to some closer attack

d12 Battle Cries or Flytes

  1. Name-drop of your liege or hometown

  2. Bagpipes, bugles, and/or conches

  3. Shouting that you slept with your enemy's sibling or parent

  4. Inarticulate war dance

  5.  Onomatopoeic nonsense sounds

  6. A curse of sickness

  7. Imitating the call of a wolf, raptor, dragon, or bear

  8. Eerie fighting song about how much you love killing

  9. Political slogan or religious motto

  10. Inviting the afterlife's attention

  11. Swashbuckling or otherwise smashing your gear together

  12. A heraldic slogan


If you are reduced to 0 or less HP, immediately roll on the appropriate section of the following chart. If the attack is physical, roll 1d6 for target if it is ambiguous. Roll 1d12+HP under 0. Effects are cumulative.

1 Arm

2 Leg

3-4 Torso

5-6 Head


Disabled X days

Disabled X days

Bruised X days

Concussed X days



1 fatal wound


1 fatal wound


1 fatal wound


1 fatal wound




X-14 fatal wounds

X-14 fatal wounds

X-14 fatal wounds

X-14 fatal wounds







Burned X days

Numb X days

Burned X days

Unclean X days



1 fatal wound

Save vs blind

1 fatal wound


1 fatal wound

Save vs Deaf

1 fatal wound

Save vs leprosy



X-14 fatal wounds

X-14 fatal wounds

X-14 fatal wounds

X-14 fatal wounds


Fatal Wounds: A PC with a fatal wound dies in three rounds. Each round, they may roll a d6; on a 6 they stabilize one wound. Up to two characters a round may triage them, granting a reroll of the d6 or, if the aiding character has medical skill, testing their intelligence to stabilize the dying character’s wound. A character with a fatal wound might still be conscious, but cannot do anything more helpful than screaming their head off.

Blind: Cannot see. -8 to attacks and defenses. Automatically hit by area attacks.

Bruised: Get -1 maximum HP per level.

Burned: Cannot wear armor.

Cracked: Test your CONSTITUTION or lose 1 point of a random mental ideal.

Crushed: Test your CONSTITUTION or lose 1 point of a random physical ideal.

Concussed: You always give a battle cry after everyone else. Also, your spells and WORDs have a 1-in-6 chance of failing.

Deaf: Cannot hear. When flanked, get -4 to defenses.

Disabled: Limb becomes unusable. If the limb is a leg, you fall prone.

Frozen: Test your CONSTITUTION to lose 1d4 digits. If you fail, lose a random hand or foot.

Leprosy: Test your CHARISMA or become afflicted with leprosy and take 1 additional damage from all attacks.

Mangled: Test your CONSTITUTION or lose the limb. 

Numb: Your DEXTERITY becomes 4 for tasks of precision.

Unclean: cannot benefit from holy magic or chemic. You are also unlucky— if something bad happens to someone, it happens to you. You may take an hour ritually cleaning yourself in a holy place to remove the condition.


The moment-to-moment and session-to-session running of a game requires discretion on the part of a Dungeon Master to flow smoothly and naturally. They are encouraged to alter or dispense with any content included here which they find unhelpful. These procedures lay out the “default” game, one where every sort of ability and item available to player characters will sometimes be needed. Players should feel their decisions have weight and consequences. This is felt equally when a preparation they make pays off, and when they come up short against an unexpected challenge.

Opposition: the Dungeon Master is responsible for playing (or delegating) the role of all characters the players encounter during a game. Challenges posed by hostile creatures should not vary based on how well players prepare for them, and some challenges should be both easy and difficult. The Dungeon Master is free to design characters using any method they wish, whether they make a character using the typical lots available to players or simply improvise a creature with set HP, STRENGTH, BLOCK and DODGE, and some unique ability.

Describing a Scene: The basic “loop” of gameplay starts with the Dungeon Master describing what the player characters observe in the game world, the players describe an action their character takes, and if necessary rolls are made to resolve the action. Then, the Dungeon Master describes the result, returning to the beginning of the loop. It is imperative for the Dungeon master to give clear information and for the players to clearly explain their intent. This loop holds true in

a combat, exploring a room, and studying ancient battle plans

Dungeons: Dungeons and other dangerous areas require both Dungeon Master and party to carefully track resources such as time and light. These areas are usually inhabited by creatures that are active, and that will respond sensibly to the presence of the player characters. If the dungeon denizens are alerted to the presence of the party, or if the party spends a significant amount of time in the dungeon, they should encounter one or more mobile denizens. Many dungeons will have wandering monster tables to randomly determine what sort of threats a party will encounter. In general, a party should encounter wandering monsters if they are moving quickly and efficiently. They would be “wandering monsters” to the dungeon denizens. Dangers should be varied between obstacles and foes. Obstacles include dangerous terrain, travel complexities, animals, puzzles, or anything that requires some kind of tool to overcome. Foes should be both unintelligent and intelligent. The presence of divinity, magic, chemic, and dreams saturates the world, and should be used as much as possible.

Treasure: Loot found in dangerous areas should not only be valuable, but imply setting information and offer natural advancement to characters of many different lots. In general, a dungeon of moderate danger and size should have at least one major magical item or other amazing prize, as well as other wealth strewn throughout the dungeon. There should be doses of unique gigres, spell scrolls, strange arms and armor, equipment, talismans, and ostentations. 


Travel: In games where travel is a significant feature, a light version of the “hexcrawl” method is recommended. First, the Dungeon master overlays a grid of hexes on a regional map, at a scale where one hex is equivalent in approximate distance to one day’s travel. For areas where terrain is agreeable, this is about 12 miles. For areas heavily wooded, hilly, or treacherous, this might be six or fewer. Note where terrain is more or less forgiving and allow travel through such areas to be modified. For example, on a hexmap of twelve-mile hexes, a party travels one hex in a day through most of the country, two hexes a day when taking a barge downstream, and one hexes in two days walking along the mountainsides.

Each hex should have some unique feature, most of which would be apparent to someone travelling through it. This includes cities, towns, geographic oddities, dangerous dungeons, notable animals, and NPCs. This feature is unlikely to wander away from its starting hex.

Encounter Table: For each day of travel through a region, roll a d20 on that region’s encounter table. The magnitude and frequency of encounters characterizes the nature of the land. For example, in the tumultuous land of Mesomergos, a party has a fifty percent chance of an encounter each day, and might run into animal oracles, naked sacrifices, partisan groups at war, or future versions of themselves. A more sane and safe region might have an even lower chance of encounter, and when they occur they might be much more mundane.

This encounter table should have prompts for Dungeon Masters, each concrete and helpful in communicating the themes of that region and the game in total. So an Arthurian encounter table may have a prompt such as “knight guardian challenges 

you to a duel” or “foreigner/northerner insults your liege” or “a hermit offers you shelter.” As in dungeon design and treasure distribution, attention

should be paid to the different kinds of problems that characters of different folks and lots are inclined to solving, as well as to those challenges which they have an especially hard time with. For Vain the Sword, a good encounter table should send players referring to all parts of the book, it should be made specific to the region it corresponds to, and it should be adaptable to the features of the hex in which it takes place.

D20 Encounter Table Prompt-Template

  1. You are attacked

  2. Cunning is called for

  3. A brush with the divine

  4. A problem in the real world, presaged by dreams

  5. You are offered hospitality by someone you dare not offend

  6. A gigre user presents a problem

  7. An ancient taboo complicates travel

  8. A magic user attempts to get the better of you

  9. Some kind of obstacle you would find in a dungeon impedes progress

  10. Weather impedes progress

  11. Someone seeks to serve or help you

  12. An item is lost or broken

  13. Anyone chasing you catches up

  14. Any disease advances

  15. You see a familiar face

  16. No encounter

  17. No encounter

  18. No encounter

  19. No encounter

  20. No encounter


Like basic lots, advanced lots represent different kinds of adventurers. Some are not appropriate for starting characters, and some have less than four levels. If a character can start with this lot, it will list a starting ken and any starting equipment, There are no definite restrictions for advanced lots, but some of them might require mentoring or other in-game achievement for a character to advance into that lot. 

The acolyte lot is acceptable for starting player characters, but its play depends on the prevalence of different deities in the setting that the Dungeon Master sets out.

The Band is acceptable for starting player characters(es) if the Dungeon Master doesn’t mind a player controlling a large group of people. It is also useful as an NPC lot to represent large groups of people, mixed with other lots as necessary.

The Iron Warden is acceptable for starting player characters, but is mostly only appropriate for campaigns that feature multiple dungeons.

The nephil is probably not an acceptable starting lot, and is better served as a vague promise of reward to those who seek out hidden secrets and ancient rites.

Advanced Lots:

  • The Acolyte, empowered by a deity to change the course of history (p. 30)

  • The Band, a collection of many people in a mass (p. 32)

  • The Iron Warden, a hunter of demons and righter of ghostly wrongs (p. 33)

  • The Nephil, an ancient and colossal beast (p. 34)

-ACOLYTE- (cleric, prophet, psion)

Starting Equipment: a staff, a wrath, a robe, a garlic clove, a sack and twine, a dose of wine

Starting Ken: Cosmology, and one other.

1: Deity, WORD, choose a preferred Dictate

2: +1 WORD, Domain, random Dictate

3: +1 WORD, Devotees, choose a preferred Dictate

4: +1 WORD, Choose a Dictate, random Dictate

  • You owe your power to a specific deity. See the section on deities to learn what WORDs are available to you. (p. 35)

  • WORD: You start with knowledge of one WORD, and learn a new one with each level. To wield your holy powers, compose a sentence that uses a WORD as the main verb. Roll 1d6 for each word in the sentence, plus 1 for each time you have WORDed that day. If the total equals or is under 15, the command works as intended. For each point exceeding 15, consult your god’s curse chart. Your holy powers only work within line of sight, and you can only have a number of words in effect at the same time equal to your CHARISMA.
    In general, when you WORD to harm someone, they take damage equal to your rolled total and may suffer an additional effect. In general, when you WORD to harm many people, they take damage equal to the dice rolled and may suffer an additional effect.

  • Dictates: Whenever you gain a dictate, if it is a preferred dictate of your god, choose one that is common to your faith. If it is random, roll a d20 and gain that ability, If you already follow that dictate, choose the next available one down. (p. 31)

  • Domain: You can tell when something or someone is dedicated to or against your deity. You can also detect the presence and rough direction of objects and symbols considered holy within 60’, with precision varying by the strength of association.

  • Devotees: As you travel through populated areas, you collect disciples through the sheer power of your presence. You have up to 10 hangers-on, collecting d6 in each town you come across (step the die up or down in settlements of other sizes). Some will seek you out from far and wide. They will follow orders that you cloak in authority and mysticism.

Acolyte Dictates

Aeon: Your WORD transcends time itself. Temporal prepositions like when, tomorrow, in an hour, etc. do not contribute d6s to your roll.
Animator: Your sentences can animate objects to perform your WORD. When you make a sentence, you can have an object around you wield your WORD as if it was speaking the sentence.
Ascetic: When you speak a sentence of six or more WORDS, heal 1d6 or ignore your need for a ration that day.
Empath: You hear thoughts of creatures within line of sight that align with your WORD. You can test INTELLIGENCE to view a memory that aligns with your WORD.
Eucharist: When you eat something, you can choose a WORD it is. That WORD does not contribute d6s to your sentence. You can only have three words eaten at a time
Far Traveller: You can teleport to anywhere you have been before that is under the effect of one of your sentences. You may do this once per day per acolyte level.
Flesh-Speaker: Your body is malleable, shaped by your WORD. References to you and your biology don’t contribute d6s in your sentences.
Icon: You get +1d6 in tests involving your WORD, so long as you have an audience of at least 10 who know what you're doing.
Intensifier: Intensification or diminutive adjectives don't count towards your word limit or contribute d6s to your roll.
Inquisitor: Your devotion is far deeper than others. Others you can see must make a CHA save to WORD without your permission.

Kaballist: You can also wield WORDs that are anagrams (whole or partial) of your WORD. If you do, it counts as 3 words.
Lawgiver: You may pronounce a WORDed sentence as LAW; test your CHARISMA to allow previous LAWs to remain in place even if this would exceed your CHA in words.
Missionary: You can implant thoughts with your WORD in others' minds by testing CHARISMA. If you can read minds, you can also remove thoughts or memories with your WORD by testing CHARISMA.
Punctual: Invent a piece of punctuation. You can use it in your sentences.
Scribe: You can wield WORDs that are one letter different from your WORD, either by replacement, addition, or deletion. If you do, it counts as 3 words for your sentence.
Seer: You can divine when a specific action related to your WORD will take place. Compose and roll for a sentence as if you were trying to wield your WORD. If you succeed, you know when and where that action will next occur. Failure prevents future attempts.
Truenamer: Names do not contribute d6s to your sentence.
Universal Linguist: Have your Dungeon Master randomly determine a verb. You gain that verb as a WORD.
Warmind: Acts of violence you commit with your WORD will always cause harm to the target you intended.
World Poet: You can also wield words that rhyme with your WORD. If you do, it counts as 3 words for your sentence.


-BAND- (crew, mob, menagerie)

Starting Equipment: chose ten copies of the starting equipment of any core class.

Starting Ken:Any one. Also, gain +2 extra HP every level.

1: Shared Totals

2: +1 Named Character

3: +1 Named Character, Use Thing

4: +1 Named Character, Horde

  • Shared totals: You are an indeterminately sized group of some sort. Single-target Save or Die effects instead cause you to lose 1 HP in a dramatic way. Other single-target spells either affect the whole band or fail completely. If a band “dies,” the only survivors will be the Named Characters. If the Named Characters manage to recruit a new band within 1 session, they can become a Band again, with half as many levels. The Band has 5 inventory slots total. They can carry more things but they will inevitably lose, smash, ruin, sell, or eat all but 5 items. Weapons and Charges are carried separately and do not occupy inventory slots, but they can't be used for special activities (you can't borrow a sword from them). In order to gain any benefit from a weapon or item, the Crew needs 10 copies. Give them 10 swords and they deal sword damage, etc.

  • Named Character: one character in the swarm has earned a recognizable identity. Once per encounter, for one round, the named character can do something different than the rest of the Band.

  • Use Thing: the Band can now be given unique items or special, possibly supernatural, tools. They can use them once per encounter, collectively. This could be a Named Character action.

  • Horde: You are a wave of humanity. Anyone in the middle of you must test their DEXTERITY to not be moved with you when you move, and neutral characters nearby must test their CHARISMA to avoid getting pulled into the throng when drastic action is proposed.


-IRON WARDEN- (exorcist, placater, dungeon hacker)

1:  Speak with Dead, Chorus
2: Sever

  • Speak with Dead: you can speak with a number of dead creatures a number of times equal to your level.

  • Chorus: Thankful souls are the source of your power.  You start with two.  Each does a favor for you when released from their bottle, and returns at the witching hour. Each time you reach a new place of death, you can acquire a new bottled ghost.  Suitable areas include: dungeons, old battlegrounds, and cemeteries. The ghost will request something of you before it can move on:

  1. Give me an appropriate burial.

  2. Give someone else an inappropriate burial.

  3. Avenge me!

  4. Transport my remains.

  5. Bring some item to my surviving family.

  6. Consecrate some room in the dungeon.

  • Sever: During your battle cry, shout benedictions against one non-mortal foe and roll a d10.  For every point less than your level, you get +1 to hit and damage against that enemy.

D6 Thankful Souls

  1. Analytical: ask one question about the nature of an enemy. Spend two to ask three questions. If you have three (expended or not), you can tell if a foe is more powerful than you at a glance.

  2. Clairvoyant: see through any known point, like a wall or door. Spend two to hear and see in the dark as well.If you have three (expended or not), you can fight blind without penalty.

  3. Controlling: command an unintelligent undead creature. Spend two to charm it instead.If you have three (expended or not), you can speak with the dead as often as you want.

  4. Will-O-Wisp: light or plunge a room into darkness. Spend two to turn undead.If you have three (expended or not), you can see in the dark.

  5. Poltergeist: lock or unlock a door. Spend two to befriend a door.If you have three (expended or not), you can telepathically move objects that weigh less than five pounds.

  6. Curious: map three rooms. Spend two to also find hidden doors. If you have three (expended or not), you can teleport your party out of a dungeon, each testing DEXTERITY or losing an item, and appearing miles away from each other.

-NEPHIL- (Giant, Kaiju, Monster)

Starting Equipment: stone knife, cosmetics, dose of wine
Starting Ken: cosmology, and one other.
Special Rule: For each nephil level, you may grow up to five times your current size.
1: Great Form, Eternal Warrior
2: Vast Legs, Eternal Obsession
3: Tide of Flesh, Eternal Reign
4: Colossal Wreck, Eternal Rite

  • Great Form: You take half-damage from normal-sized weapons, and require four times the dose of any potion, drug, or any other consumable in order for it to take effect. Most items no longer take up item slots, but carrying such small things can be tricky.

  • Eternal Warrior: You no longer age. 

  • Vast Legs: Your strides pass over entire lands. It takes you one hour to cross a normal-sized kingdom or other land.

  • Eternal Obsession: Something consumes you and makes you act irrationally. You might horde gold, abide by riddle-wagers, or eat only the offspring of a certain noble line. If you act against this obsession, take 1 hp damage.

  • Tide of Flesh: You no longer strike individuals but areas. Attacks you make now damage everything within 30 feet of your target.

  • Eternal Reign: When you consume your infant child, gain 100 XP.

  • Colossal Wreck: If you are killed, from your body will be born a new world, or at least a major continent.

  • Eternal Rite: No matter how cruel or indifferent you are, your grandeur inspires devotion. Every year, at least one 1st-level acolyte  will be ordained in your service for each level you possess.


Acolytes in the VtS variant of GLOG each serve a god, a higher being and source of moral law. This determines the acolyte’s WORDs, curses  and chosens dicates. It also suggests starting outlook and theology, though much diversity can be found in followers of any one faith.

Example Astral God WORDS

  1. Detect

  2. Call

  3. Speak

  4. Trade

Example Astral God Preferred Dictates

  1. Ascetic

  2. Lawgiver

  3. Icon

  4. Scribe

  5. Seer

  6. Truenamer

Example Astral God Curse Chart

  1. Minor admonition

  2. Cosmetic effect

  3. Neutral effect for a turn

  4. Minor penalty for a turn

  5. Major penalty for a turn

  6. Disruption for a scene

  7. Minor penalty for a scene

  8. Major penalty for a scene

  9. Indefinite penalty

  10. Major indefinite penalty

  11. Direct danger

  12. Mortal peril


Mithras WORDS

  1. Plant

  2. Consume

  3. See

  4. Train

  5. Shape

  6. Exalt

Mithras Preferred Dictates

  1. Aeon

  2. Kaballist

  3. Eucharist

  4. Intensifier

  5. Punctual

  6. Truenamer

  7. Universal linguist

Mithras, Who So Loved the World

Belief: Mithrism

Adherent: Mithrist

Collective: Gathery

Epithets: Father of Mimes, Born of the menagerie, He who deliberates, Master of seers, Withholder, The Club, Consumer of the Cosmos

Holy City: Gath

Holy Symbols: Chains, metal, circles, birds, mithril.

The dwarves of Gath, whose eyes see for the gods, claim that in their ancient hold the metal god Mithras lies supporting the fundament of the world, that his blood is mithril, and that those gods we worship are their own, through a distorted mirror.

Mithras Curse Chart

  1. You see things as geometric shapes.

  2. Plants around you grow.

  3. Half damage dealt to you and by you for a turn.

  4. You feel a great burden. Takes up 4 equipment slots for a turn.

  5. Cannot move for a turn.

  6. Plants burst from the ground, creating difficult terrain.

  7. You forget all language for a scene.

  8. You forget all memories for a scene.

  9. Become unclean

  10. Permanent blindness

  11. Earthquake

  12. Demons fall from the sky to take you out.

Religious Concept: Universalism

Who should believe in a faith, and who should be devoted to it? In many modern religions, it is imperative that all of humanity have faith, for each human is a deep concern of that religion’s god. In some other faiths, especially in the occult and mystical faiths of the past, worship of certain gods was never thought to be the purview of most people. Even when a faith claims a central role in the world, it may not require or allow the mass of people to dedicate itself to its inner revelations.


Rektrine WORDS

  1. Flood

  2. Glow

  3. Know

  4. Commit

  5. Proscribe

Rektrine Preferred Dictates

  1. Ascetic

  2. Empath

  3. Far traveller

  4. Lawgiver

  5. Scribe

  6. Seer

  7. world-poet

Rektrine, the Myriad

Belief: Biritism

Adherent: Biritist

Collective: The Pan-Trine

Epithets: The myriad, Served of lions, The raiser of Tides, Starnamer, The builder of souls, He who has selected us, The Justifier

Holy City: Birit

Holy Symbols: Tern, four-pointed star, obelisk, full moon, orange

The tutelary god of Holy Selmat, Rektrine is a god of sacrifices and high holidays, celebrations and solemnities. Lacking a formal hierarchy, his many temples maintain genealogies and calendars. Renown cloaks an aspiration to humility for those Biritists in their ancient land.

Rektrine Curse Chart

  1. An admonition to do better next time

  2. Infertile for a day

  3. Turn astral for a turn, half chance to hit or be hit.

  4. Unhelpful visions. -2 to actions next turn.

  5. Cannot attack or cast a spell next turn.

  6. A localized tide fills the room 1d4 feet.

  7. You tear your robes. Get -1 BLOCK for the encounter.

  8. You can only see as if in a starry night. Fire helps.

  9. Become unclean.

  10. Permanent leprosy.

  11. A pride of 4d4 hostile lions appear.

  12. Test WISDOM or ascend bodily into Heaven. May list excuses why you have to stay on Earth, getting +1 for each separate reason never used before.

Religious Concept: Tutelary Deities

Many ancient faiths are used to define the group that practice them. There is a concept of “our god” and a concept of “their god.” A tutelary deity is one that favors a particular land or people. Most gods are tutelary, and demand the foremost devotion of their followers. This does not necessarily preclude their belief in the fact of other deities.


Noryawes WORDS

  1. Burn

  2. Avenge

  3. Charm

  4. Create

  5. Scare

  6. Ennoble

Noryawes Preferred Dictates

  1. Animator

  2. Inquisitor

  3. Flesh-speaker

  4. Icon

  5. Missionary

  6. warmind

Noryawes, the Betrayed

Belief: Noryism

Adherent: Noryist

Collective: Noryawend

Epithets: The fire and the lever, the Betrayed, Headman, Terror, Bringer of Summer, Occulted, His from the moon, The engineer, The miller, The erotic, Law-kind

Holy City: Anwak

Holy Symbols:Wheat, sword, plow, flame, ox, spurs, crescent moon

A god of vengeance and technical skill, Noryawes was exiled from a distant land by the fellows of his pantheon for the murder of his adulterous wife. His followers, beset by fanatics of the old world, horrible homunculi, and those who reject them, maintain a pleasant but strict society of technical marvels.

Noryawes Curse Chart

  1. An admonition to learn from this.

  2. Your eyes blaze a moment.

  3. Everyone becomes afraid.

  4. Must use some kind of item next turn.

  5. Must spend next turn shouting grievances.

  6. Everyone is silhouetted for a scene, removing all distinguishing features.

  7. -1 to all tool checks, including armed attacks, for the encounter.

  8. You become greatly drunk.

  9. Indefinitely concussed

  10. Permanent syphilis 

  11. A hostile doppelganger appears.

  12. Hanging hammer. The next blow a foe deals you inflicts x3 damage.

Religious Concept: Evolution of Faith

The traditions of a faith were cutting-edge in an earlier iteration. Often, the artifacts of a previous orthodoxy are apparent, other times the wit of theologians is required to tease them out. Especially when the practice of a faith spills out beyond its birthing lands, new context and new understanding of old traditions is mingled into the religion.



  1. Be

  2. Deny

  3. Conquer

  4. Multiply

  5. Destroy

  6. Want

Gnon Preferred Dictates

  1. Aeon

  2. Flesh-speaker

  3. Eucharist

  4. Intensifier

  5. Warmind

  6. world-poet

Gnon, the Cruel Fact

Belief: Gnon Religion

Adherent: Gnon Believer

 Collective: The Teem

Epithets: God of the Copybook Heading, Nature’s God, Tragedy of the Commons

Holy City: no locus of power

Holy Symbols: rats, snares, spears, bears, ladders, pits

Orcs are on an isolated continent called Nuf, and are destined to destroy the world. They worship a god called Gnon, and under his banner slew every other thing on Nuf. Now they mass, waiting for a traitor from another civilization to teach them the secret of sailing. 

Gnon Curse Chart

  1. No effect.

  2. A rat appears.

  3. The scene becomes silent for a turn.

  4. Take 1 damage, and any attacks against you inflict +1 damage until your next turn.

  5. All non-attack rolls you make fail next turn.

  6. A tide of blood 1d4 feet high appears.

  7. Minor penalty for a scene.

  8. You are wrapped in chains, immobilizing you.

  9. Deep wounds deal 2d4 damage to you, scarring you greatly.

  10. You must indefinitely carry chains, each link a weak moment in your life. 4 equipment slots.

  11. An angel falls from the sky to take you out.

  12. Test WISDOM or ascend bodily into the afterlife. May list excuses why your life is worth living (if any), getting +1 for each separate reason never used before.

Religious Concept: Dystheism

Sometimes devotion to a god does not mean worship of a god. Dystheism is a negative faith, a belief in and resentment of a deity. Priests in such a tradition preach of an unjust but unfixable cosmological order that mirrors the unjust temporal world. Prayers in such a tradition are prayers of abnegation, making oneself seem unimportant to ones’ god, or making painful bargains for reprieve.



  1. End

  2. Find

  3. Ruin

  4. Shatter

  5. Call

  6. Accept

Iron Preferred Dictates

  1. Animator

  2. Inquisitor

  3. Icon

  4. Lawgiver

  5. Truenamer

  6. warmind

Iron, the Inanimate God

Belief: Ironism. 

Adherent: Worshipper of Iron.

 Collective: All Irony

Epithets: The evil metal, Starmetal

Holy City: formally none, in principle any desecrated holy city of another god.

Holy Symbols: anything made of iron, a wavy dagger, a falling star, a bracelet with 26 beads, a dowsing rod.

Worshippers of Iron delight in one rite above all others; the sacrifice of humans using iron weapons. To die by iron is to have your very soul annihilated, and its wanton use is regarded by others as the worst form of barbarism.

Iron Curse Chart

  1. An admonition to anger not the Iron god.

  2. Your blood chills.

  3. Metal grows twice as heavy in the scene for a turn.

  4. Anything you are carrying cuts you, dealing 1 damage and causing you to drop it.

  5. The next spell you cast or WORD you WORD backfires at least a little.

  6. Tempers grow hot. Kindness turns to combat, and combat to frenzy.

  7. Take 1d6 damage.

  8. You cannot tell friend from foe for the rest of the scene, and must attack at least every other round.

  9. Suffer a random minor injury effect.

  10. Suffer a random moderate injury effect.

  11. All metal in the scene attempts to crush and bludgeon you.

  12. All weapons used against you count as iron.

Religious Concept: Rightness vs. Goodness

A god is a source of moral law, but it does not necessarily follow that this makes gods definitionally good. Some faiths are not concerned with doing what is good. It is possible, if unintuitive, for a faith to preach that it is right to do what is not good. The nihilist, certainly, thinks they are right to say there is no good or evil. Not everyone is the hero of their own story, not even when they get to make the rules.


Wizards in the VtS variant of GLOG each belong to a strange discipline, a tradition and focus for their magical studies. This determines the wizard’s two starting cantrips and three starting spells. It also suggests one or more starting kens. A discipline may also entail a description, arcane secrets, or special magic items.

Example Wizard Cantrips:

  1. Detect Magic

  2. Culpa: pull a bone knife from your hand

  3. Alter enchantment: can direct magical items to act differently.

Example Wizard Spells:

  1. Become Ooze: lasts [sum]2 minutes. 

  2. Arson: 10 ft. per die of fire created.

  3. Blast: target tests their DEXTERITY. [sum] damage, half if they succeed.

  4. Summon Monster: for one hour, summon a creature as strong as a wolf. For each die past the first, specify an extra capability for it that an animal possesses.

  5. False Image: create an illusion to [dice] senses.

  6. Feathery Wings: for an hour, glide. With more [dice], fly, and at increasing speed.

  7. Sympathy: two similar items borrow each other’s temperature, direction, or light. Strength of the bond increases with [dice].

  8. Augury: Read the future in the patterns of birds. Ask [dice] questions about the future, and learn whether something would be for weal or woe.

  9. Dispel Magic: test INTELLIGENCE to suppress or end magical effects. For each die past the first, suppress another effect. 

  10. Invisibility: lasts [sum] minutes.

Selmati Hermit

Suggested ken: cosmology, and one other.


  1. Smell drug

  2. Translucency (not invisibility)

  3. Share dream (willing ally who sleeps touching you)


  1. Rubbery body

  2. Speak with disease

  3. Divine laguna (temporarily isolate from divine influence)

  4. Torque (act slowly, but with inertia)

  5. Ehud’s Skimming (get the gist of a written text)

  6. Revert to Form (makes a creature act according to its most characteristic behavior)

  7. Starmap (navigate by starlight, see constellations)

  8. Deceive animals

  9. Vouchsafed excavation (dig quickly and safely)

  10. Flawless function (mechanism works without defect)

  11. Walk on Air

  12. Stick to Snakes


Suggested ken: biology, and one other.

Restrictions: cannot command hirelings or mounts other than baboons or baboon-adjacent creatures, or else face the wrath of your baboons.

Boons: You start with a size 1 liver. Every liver of a magical creature eaten increases your liver by 1 size, up to the HD of the magical creature minus 1. You always start with the command baboons cantrip and create baboon spell. Treat your baboons as a single entity.  For every 4 points of damage the baboons take, one of the baboons dies. the horde makes a single attack, with +1 STRENGTH and damage per baboon. The baboons will not do anything helpful unless commanded to.


  1. Command Baboons (Up to three words. Group of up to 1+liver size. Can only affect one group at a time)

  2. Groom

  3. Dye Fur


  1. create baboon (requires 8 hours, a fresh liver, and a live mammal.)

  2. calm

  3. rage

  4. Shadoom's serpecation (Target is cured of a poison, which they vomit out in the form of a serpent.  The form of serpent depends on the type of the poison.)

  5. speak with beast

  6. weigh heart (You hold a heart in your hands.  The creature does not get a save, but [sum] must equal or exceed its Level.  You learn the best and worst thing that the creature has ever done (in the creature's own estimation).)

  7. psychography (your baboons do the writing)

  8. spider climb

  9. overload baboon (Gets +1 STRENGTH and damage, but 25% chance of exploding every round.)

  10. secret beasts (hide [dice] creatures or [sum] baboons on your body. They leave small marks or omens.)

  11. golden needle (duraton [dice]*2 rounds. After spell ends, target takes rounds*2 damage. You can end the spell early.)

  12. possess baboon


Suggested ken: herbalism, and one other.


  1. Dim

  2. Warg (perceive through animal’s eyes. friendly animal only)

  3. Threshold (know if someone has passed through a space you feel ownership of)


  1. Shadow form (Transform into an oily formless creature with your face that has one of the following traits per [die]: move quickly, fly, swim, burrow, or squeeze.)

  2. Frightening Presence

  3. Telekinesis

  4. Shrivel

  5. Call Animal

  6. Charm

  7. Sleep

  8. Scry

  9. Alter self

  10. Curse (you may cast this for free as you die.)

  11. Detect Broken Promises

  12. Speak With Spooky Creatures

Drowned Wizard

Suggested ken: climbing, and one other.

Bygone Brotherhood: You are the descendant of a civilization that was swallowed by the sea. Rulers who respect tradition will try to treat you kindly. You inherit a decrepit and extensive spy network.

Diluvian Doom: The sea loves you and wants to drown you. The first time you roll triples on casting a spell, you forget how to swim. The next time, you develop aquaphobia. The next time, the tide rises up to drown you.


  1. Dry

  2. Deflect

  3. Face in the Crowd (people who only see you in passing forget that they did.)


  1. Command coins

  2. Detect metal

  3. Magic missile

  4. Dessicate

  5. Grease

  6. Dessicate

  7. Light

  8. Coup (If you can talk in private with someone willing or corruptible for 1d4 hours, you can instil a desire to achieve some aggrandizing ambition.)

  9. Wisp: you gain [dice] extra wisps of a drug.

  10. Arcane lock (devise a riddle that must be solved to unlock a portal or container)

  11. Fog

  12. Stumble

Architect Wizard

Suggested ken: architecture or artifice, and one other.

Architectural Lettering: anyone trained in architecture or mechanics can read your scrolls without testing their INTELLIGENCE.


  1. Drill

  2. Level

  3. Measure distance


  1. Arcane lock (devise a riddle that must be solved to unlock a portal or container)

  2. Sympathy (two similar items borrow each other’s temperature, direction, or light. STRENGTH of the bond increases with [dice].)

  3. Light

  4. Magic Mouth

  5. Flawless function (mechanism works without defect)

  6. Alarm

  7. Dig

  8. Speak with Devices

  9. Wardline (invisible line of magic that can be triggered and can exert slight force or activate a spell)

  10. Disassemble 


Suggested ken: anatomy, and one other.

Midnight Oil: Instead of randomly determining two starting spells, you may select one of your choice. Your spellbook counts as ostentatious jewelry for that spell, allowing you to reroll a MD for it once per day.


  1. Tell Tales (ask recently dead one question)

  2. Exorcism

  3. Grisly Salvage (make a simple item from a body)


  1. Raise dead (1 MD needed per two HD of raised creature. Duration 2 hours)

  2. Raise spirit (command up to twice HD at a time)

  3. Explode corpse ([dice]*5 radius. Damage based on size— humanoid 2d6)

  4. Speak with the dead

  5. Command undead

  6. Finger of death (MD must equal HD)

  7. Corpse Mask

  8. Horcrux

  9. Viscerakinesis

  10. Runaway Limb

  11. Manipulate Wound

  12. Shaper (duration [sum] hours. Gain a bonus based on the last significant creature you ate. If it was an intelligent folk, get a +2 to the reroll that folk gets. If it is a monstrous creature, gain a themed ability based on its capabilities.)



Practitioners in Vain the Sword each follow the commandments of a gigre, a traditional narcotic that grants supernatural powers. Any character under the effects of a drug has three “wisps” they may spend to use that drug’s ability. Breaking a commandment makes you Unclean. Unclean characters cannot benefit 

from holy magic or chemic. They are also unlucky— if something bad happens to someone, it happens to them. An hour of ritual cleansing removes the condition. If the commandment is a mortal sin, ritual cleansing is only effective after undertaking a labor or quest to atone.


Example Gigres

Gigre of Angled Sight: Must remain silent every seventh day. On all other days, must compose a stanza. Must only eat seeds and meat. Indiscretion is a mortal sin. Additionally, you can see around corners but dead bodies are unclean to you.
Gigre of Justification: Must drink saltwater daily and only travel by starlight. Must keep a servant. Gullibility is a mortal sin. Additionally, you have an affinity with lions but the touch of a wolf is unclean.
Gigre of Sensual Embers: Must obey all laws. Must mark yourself with the blood of a relative. Betrayal is a mortal sin. Additionally, menstruation is unclean but if you would become pregnant, you instead gain a temporary level for nine months.
Gigre of Cannibal Honor: Must consume the brain of an intelligent creature weekly. Must give your true name to anyone who asks it. Cannot imprison anyone. Weakness is a mortal sin. Additionally, you are immune to charms and staggering but holy days are unclean to you.
Gigre of the Hearth: Must make sacrifices after a significant victory. Must keep all oaths. Cannot ignore pleas for aid. Accepting destiny 

is a mortal sin. You can entice someone to share a meal with you (or similar.) 

Gigre of Natal Strength: Must carry a weapon at all times. Must abstain from non-gigre drugs. Cannot take another life, even that of a fly. Abandonment is a mortal sin. Additionally, ease all births.
Gigre of Circumlocution: Must keep all secrets. Must avoid direct sunlight when possible. Cannot tell the truth about yourself. Submission is a mortal sin. Additionally, you can pass through walls but entrapment is unclean to you.
Gigre of the Smiths: Must sleep indoors. Must flagellate self daily (1d4 damage). Vandalism is a mortal sin. Cannot be suspicious. You can transmute items but meditation is unclean to you.
Gigre of Revealed Wisdoms: Must engage in hedonistic acts whenever possible. Must accept all challenges and wagers. You get hunches about whether an act would be for weal and/or woe but firelight is unclean to you.


The warrior of the core rules is an all-around combatant. With a Dungeon Master’s discretion, variations on the warrior can be introduced, either fully replacing the warrior or as competing versions of the same lot. In either case, one character should probably not be able to take multiple versions of the same lot.

Willingly fighting people is dangerous, and for most characters it should be something to avoid. Accordingly, in designing new disciplines for warriors, survivability should be available from the onset. Some kind of noncombat specialization should also develop fairly early because it makes the warrior relevant in more situations sooner.

Example Warrior Template

Starting equipment: a specific weapon, at least one non-combat piece

Starting skill: something as specific to the discipline as possible.

1: defensive ability, offensive ability

2: noncombat specialization and/or niche combat ability.

3: ability that widens options in combat

4: a “capstone”— something that demonstrates mastery of the discipline

Blue Blade of Gal-Suzaz

You walk that thin line between heroism and folly, and never ask why. When you were just a shiftless bravo a man spared your life, and you will make that act of kindness a foundation for a life of adventure for the Right. Devout but easy-going, you perform deeds which jaded soldiers call impossible.

Starting equipment: knapsack, studded leather armor (light), back-scabbard, blue greatsword (all blades you own turn blue)

Starting ken: rumor or parasite lore, and one other.

1: Arrow Snatch, Mark

2: Useful Fool

3: Sword Throwing

4: Quixoticism 

  • Arrow Snatch: whenever an arrow, bullet, or other missile would hit you, you may test DEXTERITY to catch it from the air. You might need to drop something you’re holding.

  • Mark: Wounds you inflict bleed blue. Your attacks deal +1d6 damage against foes bleeding blue blood.

  • Useful Fool: whenever you fail to ingratiate yourself to an authority, a plausible person of lower rank will try to favor you. This will usually lead to a request to participate in some ill-conceived plot.

  • Sword Throwing: you may launch any bladed weapon up to 30 ft. without penalty.

  • Quixoticism: If someone you’ve wounded survives combat with you, they test CHARISMA or are afflicted with a desire to live heroically and take needless risks. If they level up, they must level up in the Blue Blade of Gal-Suzaz discipline.

Enclave Remnant

You are a warrior from a land quickly fading into the dim memory of history, eager to give up your ignominious people for a new land and a higher purpose. Even as you journey for a new homeland and a new tradition, your indivisible Enclave ethos grows to define you. It is taboo among the remnants of the Enclave to teach their language or the arts of its martial discipline.

Starting equipment: satchel, spear (medium), lamellar armor (medium), d4 javelins (light), salt lick

Starting ken: acculturation, and one other.

1: Formation, Ambidextrous

2: Confounding Dreams

3: Holy Mist

4: Mass Attack

  • Formation: You get +1 BLOCK and DODGE for each adjacent ally.

  • Ambidextrous: You can fight effectively with two weapons, and you can wield weapons with your feet. As long as you are holding two weapons, you can attack with each. (Hopping on one foot slows you dramatically and gives a penalty to DEXTERITY.)

  • Confounding Dreams: once per night while sleeping, do one of the following: gain a ken of the DM’s choosing for a day, learn about a significant NPC you are likely to meet, or get +1d20-10 to your next battle cry the following day.

  • Holy Mist: while under the effect of gigre or other drugs, you may spend a wisp to make a free combat maneuver.

  • Mass Attack: adjacent allies may use your STRENGTH for melee attacks and use your DEXTERITY for ranged attacks.

Repentant Hexchild

The child of a witch’s ritual, an infant swapped with a changeling, or the orphan of a raid against a monstrous race; you were raised to reject wickedness and magic. Authorities have explained how you are already damned, and how only a life of service can cleanse the sin of your origins.

Starting equipment: mace (medium), consecrated helm (light), and a writ of permission or morose familiar

Starting ken: rhetoric, and one other.

1: Suffer Not, Keep Back

2:  Smell Magic

3: Mob

4:  Counter

  • Suffer Not: once per day, test a relevant attribute to resist an ongoing ill such as curses, paralysis, or a disabled limb.

  • Keep Back: When attacking while holding a torch or other light, any adjacent foes must save or catch fire (1d4 ongoing damage.)

  • Smell Magic: You can detect the presence of magic within smelling distance. Different kinds of magic have different scents, and you start out with only rumors of what kinds smell like what.

  • Mob: If you are fighting alongside hirelings or gullible nobodies, you may act for them on your turn instead of acting yourself.

  • Counter: whenever an adjacent foe uses magic, you may take 1d6 damage to automatically spoil one of their magic dice. This die does not contribute to the spell or return to their pool.


You seldom have the clarity to realize that your relationship with your sword is more important than your relationship with any other person.

Starting equipment: a khopesh or grip-tongue sword (medium), a mattock, a hemione with a lead

Starting ken: Artifice, and one other.

1: Desperate Dodge, Find the Opening

2: Bronze Tongue

3: Alloy

4: ‘Til Death do we Part

  • Desperate Dodge: Once per combat, you may drop 1d4 items to negate the damage of an incoming attack. These items are randomly selected from among what you are carrying, other than your held weapon and any armor. If you do not have enough items to drop, the attack goes through.

  • Find the Opening: When attacking foes who attacked you on their turn, deal +1d6 damage and choose whether to strike against their BLOCK or DODGE score.

  • Bronze Tongue: you can speak with metal weapons of all types, and have a natural affinity with all blades. 

  • Alloy: You can freely mix multiple different substances in any weapon you forge or reforge, gaining new abilities with each. For each substance beyond what is typical, your weapon gains a point of brittleness. Upon rolling a 20 to make an attack roll with the weapon, it is shattered. For each further point of brittleness, this range increases by one. If you can collect all of the weapon’s pieces, it can be reforged.

Example alloy substances and effects:

  1. Aluminum: weapon can be folded, taking up half the usual inventory slots.

  2. Antimony: you have this weapon with you in all dreams and visions.

  3. Arsenic: target rolls with a +1 on all injury rolls per arsenic strike.

  4. Bismuth: weapon as reflective as a mirror

  5. Bone: +2 to maneuvers used to sunder.

  6. Gold: +1d6 damage against ordena.

  7. Gigre particulate: +1 to hit while under the effects of drugs

  8. Iron: as iron, but requires 1/3 the usual amount of metal. (p. 19)

  9. Lead: takes up an extra inventory slot. Target saves or takes 1 fatigue.

  10. Mercury: a day later, target tests their CONSTITUTION or suffers from madness.

  11. Mithril: as mithril, but requires 1/3 the usual amount of metal. (p. 19)

  12. Phosphorus: weapon now glows in the dark, as a torch.

  13. Silver: +1d6 damage against werewolves and preskeletons.

  14. Zinc: no longer naturally tarnishes

  • ‘Til Death do we Part: As long as you are holding a sword of your own power, you may ignore fatal wounds.

Urumi’s Wielder

You are a martial artist who has proven disciplined and skilled enough to be trusted with the urumi, a bladed metal whip. Training to master it has won you many cuts, but now you have advanced to the point where you can only improve through the crucible of adventure. Your relationship with your weapon is reverant, and many Wielders think of themselves as the noble opposite of the Demon Blade’s chariot.

Starting equipment: urumi (long sword whip, medium), silk armor (light), prayer book, 

Starting ken: massage, and one other.

1: Posture, Coiling Blade

2:  Vital Points

3: Sword Tricks

4:  Cloud of Steel

  • Posture: twice per combat, reduce a combat maneuver test against you by 1d6.

  • Coiling blade: Once per round, if any enemy approaches you, get a free attack against them.

  • Vital Points: massage someone for an hour during a rest to let them heal an extra d6. If they are an NPC, you may make a CHARISMA test and ask a question. If you succeed, they answer without noticing that you asked.

  • Sword Tricks: you are implausibly precise with an urumi, whip, or similar weapon, and can strike any object within 10 feet without a test, wrap your urumi around a beam like a rope, etc.

  • Cloud of Steel: deal d8 damage to everyone within 10 feet, friend or foe. Armored people can save to negate this. Any formations or mobs affected test morale or flee.

Secret Rules

Some things are common knowledge in-universe, but it is cumbersome to mention when introducing someone to the game. My solution is to list these things near the end of the VtS system document without pointing it out. If you, the player, choose to read this section, feel free to bring it up when appropriate.

  • If someone is dying, they may curse the person who wrongfully afflicted them, and this curse has a chance to come true.

  • Whenever a wizard or acolyte gains a level, they are entitled to claim a grandiose title such as “oracle of the spheres” or “known to the gnolls as Zax Harsenion.” Whenever they invoke such titles, they get +1 per title to dispel or counter the spells of their enemies.

  • If a devil is ever trying to claim your soul, you are entitled to a celestial legal defense.

  • People can increase their lifespans by injecting the blood of younger people.

  • The demon code prevents them from declining a musical challenge.

  • In much of the world, it is taboo for a guest to attack a host or vice versa. This bond is sealed in the sharing of alcohol.

  • When two or more people have grabbed a magical item, if none of them are in clear possession of it this can trigger a “Xiaolin Showdown,” a magical wager/competition for ownership of the item.

art by Thor? Larsen


In the tradition of RPG books and rulesets, “Appendix N” is the term applied to mediographies meant to inspire readers, pointing them to fiction and reference material and give cues to how stories created through the game might feel. 

Alliterative Morte Arthure

Autumn of the Patriarch Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Child Ballads

A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry Bret Devereaux

Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel Milorad Pavi?

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

The Gardens of Ynn Emmy Allen

God Hates Orcs Arnold K.

The Gods of the Copybook Heading Rudyard Kipling

Hadestown Ana?s Mitchell

The Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh or Old Testament)

Histories Herodotus

Homage to Catalonia George Orwell
Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends Gertrude Landa


The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula LeGuin

The Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien

Lives of the Prophets

The Matter of Seggri Ursula LeGuin

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell William Blake

Memoirs of Usama Ibn-Munqidh Philip Hitti

7 Myths Everyone Believes About Druids Arnold K.

The Old Astronomer and His Pupil Sadie Williams

The Once and Future King T.H. White

Rocannon’s World Ursula LeGuin

The Second Coming William Butler Yeats

A Series of Unfortunate Events Lemony Snicket

Tales of the Marvelous and News of the Strange

UNSONG Scott Alexander


Choosing Adventure, Brenton’s Bride, The Cinder Throne, After the Adventure

art by Thor? Larsen


To many, RPGs are synonymous with the dungeon. Little storytelling exposition is preferred, and little in the way of dungeon ecology is required. For others, other milieus and the different challenges they offer is integral. This section’s example edventure, “Brenton’s Bride” starts at the mouth of a dungeon, with a simple motivation to throw first-level characters into play as soon as possible. The “After the Adventure'' section describes how the game can transition into other adventures, some of which focusing on clearing dungeons and others on social relationships and renown.

Setting details are kept to a minimum in the text, and Dungeon Masters are assured that changing them will not derail the dungeon, though reworking the “after the Adventure” section might be necessary.

When dungeon denizens encounter a group of  PCs, it is recommend to roll a d6 for their reaction, possibly adding a modifier:

D6 Reaction Roll

  1. Aggressive. If outmatched, will scatter if possible.

  2. Hunting. Hostile, but won't start an outright fight. If attacked, will give a fighting retreat.

  3. Mixed. Upset, incensed, or worried. If a group, some are aggressive.

  4. Flighty. Will retreat at first sign of trouble.

  5. Curious. Inquisitive, but ready to fight. If attacked, will give a fighting retreat.

  6. Friendly. If outmatched, will scatter if possible.

Vain the Sword is built to be compatible with other GLOG content and even other old school-style games, if the Dungeon Master applies some common sense in adapting. “Statblocks” describing creatures’ mechanical capabilities are left bare-bones, and a Dungeon Master is expected to be judicious in interpreting them.

General Standards:

  • Monetary treasure found assumes 1 gold piece equals 1 XP.

  • “Leather armor” grants 2 block, “chain” grants 4 block, “plate” grants 6  block.

  • “HD” and “Hit Dice” should confer about HD*4 hit points and be analogous to levels for abilities.

  • Spears and slings are the “default” weapons, rather than swords and bows.

  • Mechanical locks are incredibly rare. Doors are usually just barred or enchanted with a riddle password.

  • It is assumed PCs will not try to fight every foe in a fair duel.

  • Names used are not generic and might need to be modified to fit another setting

Standard Statblock Format

Name: # HP. Dodge [score], Block [score]. STR [strength ideal value], [damage and kind of attack]. [any abilities, magic dice, etc.]. [any spells] [example battle cry +charisma score]

Example Statblock

Skeleton Lout: 7 HP. Dodge 3, Block 2. STR 14, 1d4 knuckles. 2 maneuvers per round, 1 MD. Cast inebriate. Put ‘em up! +12


Crisis! Lord Brenton’s marriage to the foreign princess Asterga was to be the wedding of the century until she was kidnapped by the zombie of an ancient Eunuch, who insisted that the emperor’s approval must be given. There has been no emperor for over a hundred years. Brenton offers riches to whomever can rescue her.

The Cinder Throne was a mountain holdout made by Brenton’s ancestors, abandoned amidst rumors of ghosts and amnesia. Now the Eunuch’s army of terra cotta golems have secured it. These golems have made peace with a court of redcaps to the west, mostly because they are bored. Roll on the random encounter table once as players approach the dungeon. If they fight the PCs, the golems will attempt to capture them and take them to the storage room (3) for the Eunuch’s inspection. Any hostile redcaps will either attempt to eat the PCs or take them to Tree of Cinders (22) to remake them.

Abbreviated Abilities

Golem: 2 HP. Dodge 0, Block 2. STR 14, 1d6 shortspear. For the emperor! +8

Redcap: 4 HP. Dodge 1, Block 0. STR 12,  1d4 brawl. We’ll suck your blood and sup your meat! Such vague and weary meals to eat! +13

Alligator: 8 HP. Dodge 1, Block 4. STR 16, 1d8 bite. Roar +5

Eunuch: 12 HP. Dodge 1, Block 2. STR 10, 1d6 rod damage. Resonant Frequency. 2 MD. Cast mutual charm, raise the dead, mutual scry. This is all unauthorized! +15

Random Encounters: Roll whenever a significant period of time passes. Roll a d10 in the Golemry or approaching the dungeon, a d6+4 in the Court, and a d4 in the Western Approach.

  1. A Redcap looking for new riddles. Demands the party tell them a new one.

  2. Patrol of 1d4+2 Redcaps, seeking to disperse intruders.

  3. Single redcap with a bell demands the answer to a riddle (See below.) Will call guards if answered false.

  4. No encounter, but the distant call of strange music and laughter.

  5. 1d4 golem renovators, here to clean and repair.

  6. Quartermaster, the golem quartermaster. Wishes to observe the effects of drugs and gigre upon non-golems.

  7. Pima Lon, a sculptor employed by the eunuch, followed by an exquisite golem. (Stats as redcap, but with dagger)

  8. Patrol of 1d4+1 golems, one carrying a wizard’s spell scroll

Redcap Riddles: 

Lord Li eats food containing enough deathly poison to kill him twice over. The next day, Lord Li is alive and well. How? (Answer: Li’s son of the same name poisoned him and took his position.

What eats old food faster than new food? (Answer: a fire, which burns dry wood faster than green wood.)

What takes half a day to fall to the ground?

(Answer: the sun.)

Map by Dyson Logos, released under a free, royalty-free, commercial license.


The Court (1-9):

1: entrance. This hallway is dimly lit by torches. To the west faint speech can be heard.

2: murals cover the falls and pillars. A pair of golems guard this room. Stone face in the north door, glowing in the dark, is missing an eye, requires both in place to open from this room. In the western wall, pressing a treasure chest depicted in the mural opens a secret door.

3: storage. Three urns full of sesame oil. In the east, a former midden sealed with stone plug that has holy inscriptions. Prying it open requires a tool, and leads to fume pool (5)

4: guest quarters. Bedroll next to broken bedframe and travel supplies. A peasant waits here for an audience. (He thinks the eunuch can bring his daughter back to life.)

5: fume pool. Intense smell. Fires in this chamber explode. Spending time here causes you to test CONSTITUTION or forget recent memories. Any longer and test CONSTITUTION to stay conscious. To the north, a stone plug leads up.

6: bride’s quarters. She is trapped in this well-appointed room, unable to lift a stone plug that leads to the fume pool (6). In the north section, a bedchamber.

7: cinder throne. The Eunuch sits here, composing a letter to the emperor. He wears a ciclatoun robe worth 40 GP.

8: treasury. 200 gold pieces, tally sticks that act as receipts for ancient taxes.

9: cultural artifacts. Torcs, a cauldron, and holy symbols worth 50 gold pieces. A lukasa worth 100 gp to a historian.


The Golemry (10-17): 

10: concourse. A band of redcaps attempt to teach golems how to dance. A pair of logs cover up access to a gator pit (16), coins gleaming

11: golem storage. 15 golems stand waiting for orders. Occasionally sing together.

12: travel supplies. Wine, marching poles, satchels, torches, tablets, chisels, hammers, stakes.

13: additional supplies. mattocks, burlap sacks, “court robes” made of clay. Also, a bowl full of stone eyes, meant to confuse those who would access the cinder throne (7). The true stone eye is the only one which glows in the dark.

14: wooden barricade, guarded by a pair of golems with spears to poke through the fencing. Easy to sneak up to, difficult to break through.

15: Eunuch’s bedroom. His personal effects are here, including 2d4 spare robes (10 gold each), a silver-hafted spear carved to look like a dragon (30 gold), and a talisman charm (p. 18) of raise the dead, covered in a cloying green poison. (Test constitution or be afflicted with Tarantism.)

16: alligator pit. Under the concourse (10), a handful of copper and silver coins catch the light. An alligator waits hungrily. In the south of the pit, a corpse clutches a treasure map a week east of here. The gator speaks lizardese.

17: fey revels. Roll for encounters twice. Also, a quartet of redcaps sample gigre of the Hearth (p. 48.) Its recipe and 1d4+1 doses are found here.



The Western Approach (18-25):

18: cellar. Behind a wall with refurbished bricks, ancient wine sits in 5 clay pots.

19: an ancient golem meditates. She thinks it is 400 years ago, and awaits orders.

20: shrine to Rektrine. An obelisk inscribed with scripture. Coins are laid here in offering. Those who make an offering here will dream of a random room in the dungeon.

21: Corpses. The half-eaten remains of adventurers. Random assortment of equipment and weapons. An axe of exquisite make that sings when held. Semi-intelligent, as a level 1 witness. Gold can be sacrificed to it to increase its XP 1=1, eventually gaining more witness abilities.

22: The Tree of Cinders. Redcaps have offered 3d10 gold pieces before a makeshift altar. Further on, this strange fire curses all whom it damages, making gold Unclean for them.

23: magic mirror. Your brazen reflection in this bronze mirror pretends to have prophetic knowledge, and seeks to pull you into its reflection-world.

24: redcap camp. Seven redcaps ostensibly on guard. The way past is unstable. Anyone heavier than a redcap must test their dexterity or collapse the sandy tunnel, falling down to the corridor between 21 and 22.

25: western approach. A sedate stream rolls away from the hideout. Roll 1d4 for an encounter.

After the Adventure: If the party manages to rescue Asterga, Brenton will reward them with riches— 1,000 silver pieces each, or perhaps a position in his court. If not, he is likely to run them out of town with no chance to recover their belongings. If more adventures are desired, there is plenty to spin off from this dungeon, based on the interest of the playing group.

For a party interested in dungeoneering, letters can be found in the Eunuch’s bedroom alluding to a greater dungeon belonging to his creator, the gnoll-lich Aische. Such a dungeon would be a good opportunity for a Dungeon Master to express their creativity.

For groups that enjoy social quandaries, the circumstances of Brenton and Asterga’s marriage offers an adventure of its own. The lord owns a magical bed that informs him of those who sleep in it, and uses it to enforce the custom of his country— that any who are not maids when they marry him are to be put to death. If they are in his good graces, he may hire them after his wedding night to investigate a strange issue. According to his magic bed, while he has married a maid it was not a maid he has bedded. The heart of this mystery is a strange secret. Asterga, knowing the law of the land, sent her bodyguard Lan in her place on her wedding night, trusting to the dim light of the bedchamber. Unknown to even her, the man whom she lost her maidenhood to was none other than Brenton in the days of his youth. He gave her a token, a green ring, that she keeps to this day. Players will have a hell of a time untangling this complicated tale. Add to that some kind of exterior time pressure for a memorable problem to solve.


Folk: Perk:Quirk:
































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