Cameo: UK4 When A Star Falls…

UK4 Cover

I’ve always really liked this module for some reason – 30+ years after it’s publication (1984), I believe it still ranks as one of the best IMO and my opinion is shared by some others. A unique beginning, followed by several other unique plot elements, of which the meteorite ruined derro lair is one of the more interesting.

A product of the ill-fated and short-lived UK division of TSR, it’s setting agnostic (although it fits well into a “standard” setting like Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms or more recently Golarion and/or Midgard).

Published just after their original statistics appeared in Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (1982)(never used in the module, however) and then the Monster Manual II (1983), the derro featured herein are effectively “setting agnostic” or fairly original in concept, before the later accretions such as their deities or origins. It would be very interesting to convert the adventure using more the modern concepts now associated with derro or even retain the basic structure of the adventure but shift the focus of the adventure to being part of a larger derro plot…

Continue reading “Cameo: UK4 When A Star Falls…”


Weapons: Fauchards, Aklys et al.

The derro are noted for their unusual weapons, specifically weapons designed to subdue or capture rather than kill opponents to haul them off to slavery and experimentation. The canonical examples are the aklys, the fauchard (see below the jump for these).

Their poisoned repeating light crossbow bolts are infamous but Derro poison is probably worth a whole other post…

However, any weapon with the ability to trip, grapple and/or impose pin, tie and entangle effects may be substituted, particularly when combined with feats like Improved Disarm, Improved Grapple, Improved Trip and Net Adept for any derro with combat class levels.

Enter the Derro…

Suggested (Exotic) Derro Slaver Weapons

The following weapons used to disarm, trip, grapple and entangle are all considered Exotic Weapons unless otherwise noted in their descriptions. At the GM’s discretion, any or all of these may be considered martial weapons by standard derro and encountered as armaments of a derro slaver mob.

Further details for each weapon can be found in the d20PFSRD, as well as specific rules for the various special attacks.

Axe, Hooked

Technically a martial weapon (equivalent to a battleaxe) unless used to disarm, this makes a good substitute for the otherwise inspiring standard short sword. It just looks more evil for a start.


Technically only a martial weapon, the bill is somewhat inferior reach weapon when compared to a fauchard and is used to disarm rather than trip. Unlike a fauchard, it can also be used to brace against attacks.

Bolas, Brutal

A trip attack weapon but with less range than the traditional aklys and no melee attack, it provides a reasonable substitute option.

Derro with guisarme?


Also technically only a martial weapon, the guisarme is a reach weapon similar to the superior fauchard that can be used to both trip and brace.

The derro in the insert picture is probably using this weapon rather than a fauchard. Not to be confused with a glaive or a glaive-guisarme…


A great candidate for a derro melee weapon, the lasso cannot trip opponents but can force them to become entangled. As essentially a length of rope with a knot at one end, it can also tie up opponents.


An uncommon and unwieldy weapon but one well suited to potentially capturing either Small or Medium opponents with a grapple combat maneuver after a reach touch attack. Without the Improved Grapple feat, this presumably still provokes an attack of opportunity.

Net / Snag Net

Able to cause an opponent to become entangled (and for a snag net, provoke a trip attack), these weapons are well suited to derro slavers.

Steadfast Grapple / Grappling Hook

Although more a tool than a weapon, this Wondrous Item, and its non-magical equivalent can be used to move throughout the environment or attack an opponent, fixing the grapple to the opponent with a successful attack. Like a lasso, it’s line can also be used to tie up grappled opponents.

Continue reading “Weapons: Fauchards, Aklys et al.”

Traditional Derro Savant Spells

In initial descriptions, derro savants knew 1d4+5 of the following spells:

affect normal fires, anti-magic shell, blink, cloudkill, ESP hypnotic pattern, ice storm, invisibility, levitate, light, lightning bolt, minor creation, paralyzation, repulsion, shadow magic, spider climb, ventriloquism, wall of fog, wall of force.

Derro Idol

Breaking this down into PFRPG schools yields the following list:

Abjuration: anti-magic shell*, repulsion
cloudkill, fog cloud
Divination: can use comprehend languages and read magic at will
Enchantment: ESP**, paralyzation***
ice storm, light, lightning bolt, wall of force.
hypnotic pattern, invisibility, shadow magic****, ventriloquism
 affect normal fires*****, blink, levitate, spider climb

*as PFRPG anti-magic field
** as PFRPG detect thoughts
*** no direct PFRPG correlate, consider hold person
**** as PFRPG shadow evocation
**** no direct PFRPG correlate

And classified by level (as per Sorcerer class):

0th: light
1st: ventriloquism
2nd: detect thoughts, fog cloud, hypnotic pattern, invisibility, levitate, spider climb
3rd: blink, hold person, lightning bolt
4th: ice storm
5th: cloudkill, shadow evocation, wall of force
6th: anti-magic field, repulsion

So in summary: spells involving misdirection and allowing capture of prisoners are favoured, with some conjuration and evocation effects whereas necromancy appears to be passed over completely.

Note: these are all core spells, excluding spells from later supplements

Savants from Earlier Editions

In 2E D&D and even 1st edition, the derro savant was a notable aberrancy – not due to their insanity but as an advanced HD creature without classes that threw together additional combat effectiveness with a suite of seemingly random additional spell-like abilities and several selected spells of widely different level.

How very, very Gygax you might think.

I’m looking at you, drow…

Continue reading “Savants from Earlier Editions”

A Savant by Any Other Name…


The defining “boss-type” of the derro in D&D, the crazed magic users of their chaotic settlements and the leaders of the “Uniting War”… savants are undeniably an essential part of the derro.

No discussion of derro is complete without savants.

Part sage, part warrior chieftain, the derro savants are paragons of their race and in earlier conceptions proxy for the religious leaders (priests, shamans) of other cultures.

I’m going to be talking about and exploring a lot about savants here, not only in terms of their background and origin but also their classification and variations across the different editions and game systems.



Into the Mysterious Depths…

2E Derro

I’ve always been intrigued by the derro, the strange degenerate dwarf/human hybrids first introduced in Gary Gygax’s S4 Caverns of Tsojcanth.

They were then portrayed as the crazed albino remnants of the Suel Imperium beneath the Forgotten City in his 3rd “Gord the Rogue novel”, Sea of Death.

Derro were also one of my favorite adversaries in the classic UK4: When a Star Falls module, as well as appearing in Carl Sargent’s Night Below campaign box.

Ah, those were the days…

Fast forward 15+ years later and I’ve become interested again in the Pathfinder RPG system and their representations of the derro. Detailed in the Tome of Classic Horrors and Into the Darklands supplements, the PFRPG derro are an even darker version tracing back to their potential 1940s roots in the Richard Sharp Shaver stories first presented in Amazing Magazine as a story entitled “I Remember Lemuria” that came to be collectively known as “The Shaver Mysteries“.

Listen to this radio interview for some of Shaver’s ideas.

Although these derro of Golarion, the default Paizo Pathfinder campaign setting, have a variant origin as devolved fey, the “Shaverian” aspects are played up significantly, with derro enclaves canonically situated in the highest level of Nar-Voth beneath every major city. Their noted obsession with the “Overburn” (the world above) has now become an overriding theme, leading to their insane experiments on their captives.

The derro of Open Design’s Midgard Setting, presented in Advanced Races 12: Derro (Pathfinder RPG) vary slightly from their cousins in Golarion, but likewise draw heavily on “Shaverian” influences and are foremost a race of insane slavers. The supplement presents the derro as a possible balanced playable PC race, “Lesser Derro” and reintroduces one of their signature weapons, the fauchard.

I’m going to use this blog to explore aspects of the derro from older editions and alternative settings that might work well in a PFRPG game, as well as extrapolate from some related “Shaverian” concepts and my own ideas to produce original not-for-profit material under the Open Game Licence.

And so now, let’s start on our journey into Lemuria…