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…

It’s interesting to note however that a Savant Class was actually detailed by Vince Garcia later in 1988’s DRAGON Magazine #140, pages 16-22. It’s an interesting article in itself, but beyond the scope of this post…

Let’s therefore fast forward to 3/3.5E and PFRPG and savants are represented by the Sorcerer class – a reasonably good fit given their more limited but spontaneous Cha based magic and clever pairing of the Use Magic Device class skill (itself also Cha based).

Given the evolution of the modern D&D game, specifically PFRPG, is towards attempts to have balanced encounters,  I’m going to look at the features originally presented in the 1E version and see if I can capture the essential and thematic elements, for use in informing an attempt to develop a more modern take on derro savants that builds on this legacy.

So, by way of introduction, let’s start with the following excerpt from the original S4 Caverns of Tsojcanth description circa 1982:

Savant derro are sage-like, able to use any sort of magical item and weapon. Savants know 1d4+5 of the following spells, learned at random: 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.

So from this  initial paragraph we can extrapolate the following core features for use emulating the original savant in later editions / PFRPG:

  • “Sage-like”, eh? Seems merely descriptive at first but in fact this a critical thematic element of savants that I’ll discuss more below.
  • Their ready use of magical items is consistent with Use Magic Device as a class skill, so this weighs into class selection (Sorcerer – check, Occultist – check) or should be strongly considered through the use of archetypes. Given the skill is Cha based, a derro’s high base Cha score is clearly an advantage.
  • Although most spell-casting classes have a more limited weapon and armor proficiency, in Open Desing’s AR12: Derro, all derro are noted to have a racial ability to use their unusual racial weapons (aklys, fauchard, chakram, injection spear and by inference the repeating light crossbow). Presumably this also applies to savants or otherwise savants might choose the Exotic Weapon Proficiency Feat, or take class levels in a  combat class to expand the range of weapons and armor they can utilise. I’d favour the racial ability approach for now.
  • The limited spell selection seems initially based on a Gygaxian whim, although it’s worthwhile remembering it’s drawn from the base 1E spell-lists before Unearthed Arcana. There’s actually some method to the madness however s we’d expect from these little blighters, and so more on savant spells later in a separate post.

Moving on to the next original paragraph:

Savants have 5-8 Hit Dice, and carry two or three useful magical items. Typical magical items are any potion, any scroll, rings of fire resistance, invisibility, protection, and spell storing, any wand, studded leather armor +1, shields, weapons up to +3, bracers of defense,brooches of shielding, cloaks of protection, and so on.

  • This is readily modelled by an additional 3-5 class levels in sorcerer or a similar spell-casting class, with assignment of the usual NPC gear for creatures with class levels. The following paragraph in the description on students suggest that students are simply those derro with less class levels. Easy enough.

Now comes the interesting part:

Savants can instinctively comprehend languages and read magic (as the spells).

At will abilities are always a concern for balance, even if low level, but these are utility spells rather than combat, defense or travel spells. This access to otherwise secret knowledge is a pretty consistent theme of savants throughout editions and links into the next paragraph on sage abilities below – although spellcasters, a savant is more about esoteric knowledge than raw power.

  • Read magic is now a 0th level spell (orizon / cantrip / knack) in PFRPG and accessible to all relevant classes, allowing the reading of scrolls which fits well with the knowledge and sage themes. Adding this to a class as a class feature is probably a waste as most spontaneous classes can use a higher level slot if needed to cast a 0th level spell.
  • Comprehend languages is a 1st level spell still, but not necessarily available to all spellcasting classes initially. It could be readily added via an archetype in place of a 2nd level class feature.

OK, so now back to the final paragraph of the original description:

Savants are also capable of acting as sages in one to three areas of study (Editor’s note: see OSRIC, pages 138-141 for specific details)

  • This can be readily reflected mechanically by investing skill ranks heavily in Knowledge skills, particularly Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (planes), Knowledge (religion) but also Knowledge (forbidden lore) introduced in Open Design’s AR12: Derro, page 10. Other Knowledge skills would include dungeoneering (for aberrations, oozes etc), engineering (especially if combined with the Technologist feat if using technological themes) and geography (which covers astronomy).

To me this final paragraph encapsulates one of the key themes of the savant, the pursuit of esoteric (and forbidden) knowledge. It’s here that the 1E derro’s link back to “the Shaver Mysteries” and to possible Lovecraftian elements begins, and it’s something I’d like to explore further throughout these articles.


So in summary, elements of a 1E derro savant for PFRPG are:

  • Additional 3-5+ class levels
  • Proficiency with several racial Exotic Weapons
  • Limited spontaneous magic (sorcerer-like)
  • Ability to read magic and comprehend languages
  • Use Magic Device as class skill
  • Knowledge (various) as class skills
    • Possible bonuses to Knowledge checks
  • NPC Magic Items based on level

Something to keep in mind for later on…




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