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Avernum - Escape from the Pit 1/2

Avernum adventuring party – the N’Guyen siblings


Context

Avernum: Escape from the Pit is an old-school, D&D-esque computer role-playing game. It was released in 2011, but it is a remake of a game originally published in 1995. It features an isometric view and turn-based combat.

This article provides an overview of the setting, and presents a sample adventuring party of 4. This group is based on a typical fighter/fighter/sorcerer/priest optimised party, circa level 20, on the Hard difficulty setting. There are very minor S P O I L E R S in the History section.

The background of the party itself is completely made-up as an example. There’s no information about them in the game itself.

Writeups.org also includes a strategy guide to play Avernum: Escape from the Pit.


Background

  • Real Name: Nguyễn Thị Thuỳ ; Nguyễn Thị Thanh ; Nguyễn Văn Đức ; Nguyễn Thợ Nam.
  • Marital Status: All are single.
  • Known Relatives: The Mountain Master (father), the Forest Master (father) and various mothers (names unrevealed).
  • Group Affiliation: None.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile throughout Avernum.
  • Height: Varies Weight: Varies.
  • Eyes: Brown Hair: Black (shaved bald for Thuỳ).


Video

A one-minute trailer for the game, to see typical environments.


Powers & Abilities

The Nguyễn siblings are part of a magical bloodline giving them extraordinary magical and/or martial talents. It also confers a long life expectancy, in the unlikely case they die of natural causes.

They do need to train – in fact they can train with extraordinary intensity. But their skills can rise to extraordinary levels as they use them, and they never plateau.

Their areas of expertise are :

  • Thị Thuỳ is an aggressive, dual-wielding  swordswoman.
  • Văn Đức is a stolid, more defensive swordsman.
  • Thợ Nam is a combat sorcerer wielding the five elements.
  • Thị Thanh is a more defensive sorceress and magical healer.

All siblings are trained in commerce, the Stone Ox body-reinforcing exercises and occult lore.

Avernum player character Duc N'Guyen

Nguyễn Văn Đức. Click here for a larger version.

Nam’s spells

Nam’s spells include :

  • Bolts of fire.
  • Large waves of lightning.
  • Small bursting clouds of super-freezing rain.
  • Ethereal explosions that daze and slow opponents.
  • Speeding-up enchantments cast on his allies.
  • Very large jets of fire.

His most common contributions are keeping the team sped up, entangling large groups of opponent, and well-angled lightning waves catching as many opponents as possible.

Thanh’s spells

Thanh’s spells include :

  • Protection against blows, elemental spells or mental spells.
  • Conjuring the ghost of her mother.
  • Healing (often of all four siblings at once, plus her mother’s ghost).
  • Bolts of holy energy.
  • Waves of divine wind.
  • Smiting pillars of fire.

She spends most of her time in combat healing the team and maintaining an appropriate protective aura. But sometimes she joins Nam with broad-area fire strikes as they concentrate on burning down large groups of opponents to clear the field. The best defense, etc.

The ghost of Thanh’s mother isn’t fast or smart, and is mostly material. But it is surprisingly resilient, has huge claws, and its scream is a jet of magical cold. It is also immune to cold, which comes in handy against certain opponents.


Cast into the Pit

This sword-and-sorcery game world is ruled by the totalitarian, authoritarian Empire. It conquered pretty much all known lands. Ruled by mad Emperor Hawthorne, the Empire takes a dim view of what isn’t itself. For instance, it killed off all dragons it could find as a source of potential danger and forbidden knowledge.

The Empire eventually discovered a network of titanic caverns. They sent in a mighty force called the First Expedition. However, the caves and tunnels were populated by innumerable and often formidable monsters. The First Expedition was eventually killed off.

The Empire named this underworld “Avernum”, after an old term for Hell, or “the Pit”.

Avernum player character Thuy N'Guyen

Nguyễn Thị Thuỳ. Click here for a larger version.

In time, Avernum was turned into a land of exile and probable death for dissidents. The Empire built a one-way magical portal to the caves, and closed off all natural tunnels leading down to Avernum.

The corrupt Empire’s need for prisons were already vast, and having such a convenient, no-cost, unlimited penitentiary only increased those needs. Even venial contestation or faults eventually became grounds for being cast into the Pit.

The Empire also drove into Avernum an entire species – the ferocious, barbaric cat-people called Nephilim. The Empire closed off ways the Nephilim found to the underground, which were the last tunnels to be discovered. In Avernum, the Nephilim became a significant power, and bitter rivals of Human exiles.

StalaCtites hang from the Ceiling

Life in Avernum is squalid and very dangerous. There are but a few mitigating factors :

  • The caverns are truly gigantic (way larger than any real-world one), have phosphorescent moss providing passable illumination, and have a rich ecosystem.
  • The Empire occasionally send in supplies for unclear reasons, including the occasional cow. There is also a secret Empire liaison in Avernum who gets supplies used to pay mercenaries and stir trouble.
  • The more civic-minded exiles created a government and several burgs. These have guards, fortifications, patrols and even some war machines (mostly ballistae) and mages.
    • Some mages also worked on magically mutating mushrooms, both to create a food source and to grow a poor substitute for wood. The big mushrooms aren’t tasty, but they are by far the most common Avernite food, either straight or by making mushroom bread.
    • Much of this work was conducted by the archmage Erika Redmark. She also made it possible for the earliest outcasts to survive, organised the mages, and occasionally conducted special rituals to steal items from the surface (primarily books).
    • One city to the North of the caves network found enough ore to produce significant quantities of pig iron and even a little steel, providing a key resource for self-defence.
    • The self-proclaimed ruler of Avernum, King Micah, is actually competent and charismatic and works well with the Human mayors.
    • However, the Tower of Magi — the main concentration of mages — is… troubled. It still serves Micah, but the Triad — its historical ruling council — has pretty much disintegrated. Erika, the mightiest and wisest, and Solberg both essentially retired to become bitter, lone hermits. Only Linda, the least formidable of the three, is still active.

StalaGmites rise from the Ground

Avernites have also “domesticated” giant lizards. In scare quotes, since the foul beasts need to be defanged and declawed. Even then they remain very aggressive and dangerous, and need to regularly be beaten off as they try to kill their handlers.

Avernum: Escape from the pit - world map

A large part of Human exiles become roaming bandits. Those who attempt living in Human forts and burgs but commit crimes are exiled to the Abyss, a remote corner of Avernus.

The six burgs (and various small forts) answer to the Castle, which is more or less the capital. The burgmeisters have enchanted necklace to communicate with Castle liaisons.

A dissident, anarchistic power called the Freehold is also trying to establish itself in its own corner of the caverns.

And other speleological mnemonic stuff

Beyond the Human exiles and the bloodthirsty Nephilim refugees, the main power is likely the Slithzerai. Strong and fast, these lizardmen did not welcome alien encroachment. They have been fighting hard to repel the newcomers.

Hated by humans, the “Sliths” aren’t actually native to Avernum — though most assume they are. They are actually exiles too, the result of a schism after some Slithzerais started worshipping chaos and evil rather than the usual, far more benign Slith divine principles.

Avernum player character Nam N'Guyen

Nguyễn Thợ Nam. Click here for a larger version.

After the exile there was a further schism. Some Slithzerai returned to the old faith and reclaimed their heritage. The evil Sliths hate them, and though the neo-traditionalists have tried to establish good relationships with Humans this is not working very well due to Human/Slith history.

More local powers include ogres, no less than five dragons, very silly but embarrassingly friendly giant spiders, evil spell-casting giant spiders called aranea, giants who herd huge lizards, the Spire (the main Abyss burg), the undead, and gremlins (a sort of alcoholic, anthropophagous, sordid, very strong goblin race).

The remains of even stranger species can also occasionally be found.


History

This sub-section is almost entirely made up, since there is no detail about the party in the game itself.

The tempestuous Nguyễn siblings comes from a small, remote kingdom which the Empire has been trying to absorb for decades. Though partly under Empire military rule, the locals still wage spirited guerrilla warfare.

Avernum: Escape from the pit - a gigantic inhabited cavern

An important local tradition is the Blood of Heroes. This is a magical bloodline often granting extraordinary talents to its scions, as well as a fiery temper. Those with the Blood are often great leaders. The two main guerrilla leaders — the Mountain Master and the Forest Master — are of the Blood.

Though they both prefer men — and specifically each other, though their on-again off-again relationship is a trainwreck — the Masters have courted women. Their goal was to sire children who might have the Blood, and defend freedom in its hour of need. So far, four children have clearly evidenced the Blood.

Young blood

Roughly the same age, the children were introduced to their fathers for training when they were 8. But the Empire offered an impressive reward for their scalps.

Correctly concerned about traitors, the Masters set up a sort of underground railroad. Thus, the children never spend much time in any given place. They were given an eclectic, hands-on education by a number of tutors.

Each Master spent about three months per year with the progeny. Once the kids reached 15 and thus adulthood, they were given a cover as gems merchants. This way, they could keep moving and liaise with their resistance instructors – then travel within turf firmly under Empire control to learn how it’s done.

However, their career as terrorists (or freedom fighters) never quite got off the ground. When they were on Empire ground, they decided that they disliked a competing gems merchant. The siblings started undercutting him and creating trouble.

Unbeknownst to them, this man was the illegitimate nephew of a semi-important official. The siblings were caught cold as they fell asleep after a night of carousing.

Since he couldn’t be bothered to actually press charge or draw attention to his bastard nephew, the official had them deported straight to Avernum without any judicial process.

Hot-blooded

At this point we switch to actual in-game events.

Though a subterranean thug was trying to run a toll racket, the siblings made it to Fort Avernum. It was a small fort meant to welcome new exiles and give them some food so they wouldn’t have to immediately resort to crime to survive.

Avernum player character Thanh N'Guyen

Nguyễn Thị Thanh. Click here for a larger version.

The furious brood intended to do much more than survive, though. They lusted for revenge. They immediately set out to right wrongs, cultivate alliances and get money – the latter by raiding monsters and bandit for loot. They quickly became agents of Avernum, elite allies of the Freehold of Kyass and of peaceful sliths, and mercenaries for Avernum’s Tower of Magic.

Their exploits included :

  • Many raids against hostile sliths, gremlins, bandits, goblins, giants, nephilims, undead, etc..
  • Putting an end to the lich Drath, the dragon Pyrog, the curse of the Spiral Pit and others.
  • Slaying the powerful demon that had driven insane Linda, the last active member of the Triad, and was corrupting the Tower of Magi.
  • Tracking down the most powerful magic items that had been brought there by the First Expedition – starting with reforging the sword Demonslayer.
  • Re-establishing contact with the heremitic Erika Redmark, who had learned of a way… to return to the surface !

Armed to the teeth and hardened to the degree even the deadly Dervishes serving Hawthorne would envy, the mighty Nguyễn siblings came up with their own mad plan… kill the Emperor.


Description

Avernum is very poor and materials-deprived. Most goods, weapons, clothing, pieces of armour, etc. are ragged, dirty and heavily patched up.

Everybody is also as pale as their natural skin tone will allow, since there is never any sunlight.


Personality

Trouble would be their middle name if they didn’t already have one. The Blood flows hot, and grows fiercer with conflict and danger. The Nguyễn brood is volatile, brash, opinionated and believes in doing whatever the ngục they want.

They are constantly bickering, disagreeing and trying to outdo each other. But any outside menace will immediately unite them.

By sibling

  • Đức is kind of, sort of the leader (though all siblings are equally convinced that *they* are the leader). He’s stolid and unimaginative, but actually developed an interest in their cover as gemstones merchant. Thus, he likes reading about geology. He doesn’t get to talk about geology much since all other siblings makes fun of it as being the most boring thing imaginable.
  • Thuỳ is probably the more bloodthirsty of the lot, and a born brawler and fighter. She is an advanced student of the martial arts form developed by her father, the Mountain Master. She keeps her head shaven and has a certain kung-fu nun vibe.
    She claims to be the most ferocious of the lot, though all siblings are equally convinced that *they* are the most ferocious. She is passionately anti-racist, and played an important role in collaborating with sliths and nephilims.

Avernum: Escape from the pit - heavily armored guards next to the gate

  • Nam wants to be a novelist. Most of the paper he carries is actually his own writing rather than spellbooks. He doesn’t write poetry, but will often recite famous poems, including in the middle of combat. He’s certain that he’s a talented writer, though all other siblings maintain that he’s crap (not that they’ve actually read his stuff).
  • Thanh, like Đức, developed an interest in their cover. She loves jewellery and precious fabrics, but never actually wears any of it. She’s interested in the craftsmanship and natural beauty of these, not in using them as adornments. Thanh is actually a competent gemcutter and jeweller. Though all siblings think they do a bang-up job with their cover, she’s the only one who actually does.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Nguyễn Văn Đức

Dex: 04 Str: 04 Bod: 05 Motivation: Revenge
Int: 04 Wil: 03 Min: 05 Occupation: Adventurer
Inf: 04 Aur: 03 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 006
Init: 012 HP: 035

Powers:
Damage Transference: 03

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • All Powers are Mystic-Linked and have a Minor Burnout.
  • Damage Transference doesn’t harm the user.

Skills:
Charisma (Haggling): 04, Medicine (First aid): 02, Occultism (Occult lore): 03, Survival (Cavern): 02, Weaponry (Melee): 06, Weaponry (Missile): 04

Advantages
Connoisseur, Dream Team (rupture condition – be disavowed by their fathers), Familiarity (Geology), Local Hero (Avernum), Schtick (Flashing Blades).

Connections:
None.

Drawbacks:
MIA toward Flamboyant temper, Minor Rage.

Equipment:

  • CHAINMAIL [BODY 04, Invulnerability: 04, Skin armor: 02, Limitation : Invulnerability and Skin armor only vs. slashing and piercing weapons ; Real Armour].
  • MEDIUM SHIELD [BODY (Hardened Defenses) 06, EV 03 (05 w/STR), Recommended STR 02, Note: OV/RV bonus when using the Block Manoeuvre is 2 APs, Note: the OV bonus for the Shield Cover Manoeuvre is 2 APs].
  • Magical sword [BODY 07, EV 04 (05 w/STR)].
  • VARIOUS PROTECTIVE MAGIC ITEMS [BODY 02, Corrosive immunity: 01, Systemic antidote: 01].
  • Bow [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 03, Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 03, R#02, Bow Advantage (effective EV is 04, effective Range is 06), Limitation : Low Penetration].

Nguyễn Thị Thuỳ

Dex: 05 Str: 04 Bod: 04 Motivation: Revenge
Int: 04 Wil: 03 Min: 05 Occupation: Adventurer
Inf: 04 Aur: 03 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 006
Init: 017 HP: 035

Skills:
Charisma (Haggling): 04, Martial artist: 05, Occultism (Occult lore): 03, Survival (Cavern): 02, Weaponry (Melee): 06, Weaponry (Missile): 04

Advantages
Connoisseur, Dream Team (rupture condition – be disavowed by their fathers), Lightning Reflexes, Local Hero (Avernum).

Connections:
None.

Drawbacks:
MIA toward Flamboyant temper, Minor Rage.

Equipment:

  • Bag of holding [BODY 03, Extra-dimensional storage: 05, Limitation: the bag must be emptied all at once – it is impossible to recover a given item, or even one random item].
  • Leather and chainmail [BODY 04, Skin armor: 01 ; Real Armour].
  • Magical sword (x2) [BODY 07, EV 04 (05 w/STR), Enhanced Initiative: 01, Note: the resultant two additional points of Initiative were factored into the stats block above].
  • VARIOUS PROTECTIVE MAGIC ITEMS [BODY 02, Corrosive immunity: 01, Systemic antidote: 01].
  • Bow [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 03, Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 03, R#02, Bow Advantage (effective EV is 04, effective Range is 06), Limitation : Low Penetration].

Avernum: Escape from the pit - a huge demon stalks a man in a cavern


Nguyễn Thợ Nam

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 03 Motivation: Revenge
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 05 Occupation: Adventurer
Inf: 04 Aur: 03 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 006
Init: 012 HP: 035

Powers:
Damage Transference: 04, Enchantment: 01, Flame project: 05, Ice production: 05, Lightning: 06, Pyrokinesis: 06, Snare: 03, Split: 04, Stagger: 05

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • All Powers are Mystic-Linked and have a Minor Burnout.
  • Damage Transference doesn’t harm the user.
  • Enchantment only works for four Phases, and can only increase DEX and Skills that can be DEX-Linked.
  • Flame Project has Scattershot.
  • Ice Production only to attack with cold.
  • Ice Production has a 2 APs Area of Effect and is Indirect.
  • Lightning and Pyrokinesis have No Range, but an Area of Effect (a cone 3 APs long, and 2 APs wide).
  • Snare has a 2 APs Area of Effect.
  • Split has No APs Loss but can only be used on Enchantment effects (thus raising four distinct scores by one AP).
  • Stagger has a 2 APs area of effect and can be resisted by Growth, Self-Link (Animate Dead) and Magic Field.

Skills:
Artist (Writer): 02, Charisma (Haggling): 04, Occultism (Occult lore): 03, Thief (Locks and safes): 02, Weaponry (Melee): 04, Weaponry (Missile): 04

Advantages
Connoisseur, Dream Team (rupture condition – be disavowed by their fathers), Familiarity (Poetry), Local Hero (Avernum).

Connections:
None.

Drawbacks:
MIA toward Flamboyant temper, Minor Rage.

Equipment:

  • Lava-forged halberd [BODY 06, EV 04].
  • Self bow [BODY 02, Projectile weapon: 02, Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 02, R#03, Bow Advantage (effective EV is 03, effective Range is 04), Limitation : Low Penetration].

Nguyễn Thị Thanh

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 03 Motivation: Revenge
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 05 Occupation: Adventurer
Inf: 04 Aur: 03 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 006
Init: 012 HP: 035

Powers:
Damage transference: 05, Energy blast: 05, Flame project: 06, Magic field: 01, Skin armour: 01, Split: 04, Superbreath: 04

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • All Powers are Mystic-Linked and have a Minor Burnout.
  • Damage Transference doesn’t harm the user and is Partywide.
  • Flame Project has a 1 AP Area of Effect and is Indirect, but is Spiritually Fatiguing.
  • Magic field has a 2 APs selective Area of Effect.
  • Magic field cannot be employed when Skin Armour is up, and can either protect against mental or energy attacks. Changing this setting takes a Dice Action.
  • Skin armour can either work normally *or* work against energy attack. All instances of Skin Armour (via Split) must use the same setting, and changing the setting takes a Dice Action.
  • Skin armour is Partywide.
  • Superbreath has No Range, but an Area of Effect (a cone 3 APs long, and 2 APs wide).

Skills:
Artist (Jeweller): 04, Charisma (Haggling): 04, Occultism (Occult lore): 03, Thief (Locks and safes): 05, Weaponry (Melee): 04, Weaponry (Missile): 04

Advantages
Connoisseur, Dream Team (rupture condition – be disavowed by their fathers), Familiarity (Gemmology), Local Hero (Avernum), Pet (Shade).

Connections:
None.

Drawbacks:
MIA toward Flamboyant temper, Minor Rage.

Equipment:

  • Discipline blade [BODY 07, EV 04, Weaponry (Melee): 05].
  • Self bow [BODY 02, Projectile weapon: 02, Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 02, R#03, Bow Advantage (effective EV is 03, effective Range is 04), Limitation : Low Penetration].

Thanh’s Pet: mother’s shade

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 04 Motivation: N.A.
Int: 01 Wil: /// Min: /// Occupation: N.A.
Inf: 02 Aur: /// Spi: 04 Resources {or Wealth}: N.A.
Init: 006 HP: 000

Powers:
Air-walking: 00, Cold immunity: 06, Self-Link (Animate dead): 06, Claws: 06, Dispersal: 01, Ice production: 04

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Air-Walking and Dispersal are Always On.
  • Ice production only to attack with Cold and has No Range, but forms a cone 1 AP long and 1 AP wide in front of the shade’s mouth.

Design notes

The siblings routinely Team Attack, for instance for their Survival or Occultist rolls or when negotiating prices. The Avernum combat system doesn’t have a notion of team-attacking, but given the emphasis on focus fire, crowd control and complementary tactics on harder difficulties, Team Attacks in combat are a reasonable equivalent.

Obviously, the spellcasting was streamlined rather than attempt to reproduce the exact mechanics. And as usual, the levelling mechanics and their implications were abstracted away.

Connoisseur should prolly provide a bonus to the specialised Charisma (Haggling) Subskill. Use the standard Connoisseur OV bonus when haggling about an item that could be assessed using Connoisseur. OTOH most everybody on Avernum will have an OV/RV bonus against haggling attempts due to the poverty and scarce resources.

Survival (Cave) can also be used to spot hidden natural areas, caches and valuable plants (that is its main use in the game). And Occultist (Occult Lore) likewise can be used to decipher spellbooks and other notes about spells to learn spellcasting from them.

The reputation mechanism was partly integrated to the INF/AUR scores.


By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Avernum: Escape from the pit.

Helper(s): Darci.

Non-portrait illustrations ©Spiderweb Software.

Writeup completed on the 15th of April, 2014.

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