“Apart from their unusual appearance and psychotic temperament, the derro’s most unique feature is their inability to tolerate sunlight. While artificial light causes some discomfort (unsurprising for a subterranean species), actual sunlight kills derro.
Within an hour of exposure their skin is covered in blisters and within a couple of days they are nothing but a festering mass of bloody scabs, burnt flesh and bones. Some have noticed how similar this is to radiation burns.”
This is a key thematic element for derro and I note that it’s evolved over editions to now become enshrined in the mechanics of 3/3.5E and PFRPG through derro all possessing vulnerability to sunlight as a radiation-like Con damage per hour, to the point of being fatal if exposed for too long…
Note: 5E derro as per OotA seem less vulnerable / less “Shaverian” in their sensitivity and just have disadvantage on attack rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks involving sight in direct sunlight – a lesser nonfatal impediment in some ways but one that carries more immediate mechanical effects than the hourly Con damage inflicted on PFRPG derro. Perhaps this implies the former effect is more physical / sensory and the latter effect is more psychological or spiritual?
The quest to conquer the Overburn and understand the surface races seems a much more dominant driving motivation for Golarion / PFRPG derro, although their insanity leads them off onto very tangential paths to try and achieve their ends that seem doomed to failure from the beginning. This is all compounded by their paranoia and complete lack of cooperation or knowledge sharing.
In terms of practical mechanics, as derro in the PFSRD have default Con 18, even with 8 hours of *direct* sunlight, a derro can last 2 or more days depending on the opportunity for shelter and healing. Sure blistering “similar to radiation burns” is presumably excruciatingly painful, but one does wonder why they don’t just wear masks and cover up like the Tuareg and Bedouin desert nomads or Fremen of Frank Herbert’s Dune?
So I’ve tracked down some additional 5E resources across various source pages for use in accompanying Out of The Abyss and to continue some of my thoughts in an earlier post…
The following PDF title is drawn from DriveThru RPG and in effect this post is the beginning of a series of mini-reviews skewed towards the derro aspects unsurprisingly.
So the first in order of historic search appearance:
UNLIKELY HEROES for 5th Edition (Kobold Press)
This supplement from Kobold Press features a 3-page section on Derro (pages 4-6) written by Dan Dillon with additional material by the great Wolfgang Bauer. Adding resources for playing derro as player characters, it adds to the minimal 5E information presented on pages 224-225 of the 5E supplement Outof the Abyss.
My comments relate specifically to the derro content and are not an overall review.
The first module of the second Adventure Path” “Curse of the Crimson Throne” written by Nicholas Logue back in 2008, before the advent of the PFRPG proper, this module is set in Korvosa, in the northern country of Varisia.
The adventure features a small derro contingent at the finale, the first appearance of the race in the Pathfinder series. As such, it’s a seminal work and set the scene for a lot of the thematic flavour of the derro of Golarion, casting them in sharp contrast to their previous incarnations as former Suloise slaves in the 2E Flanaess or the irrevocably warped escaped mind flayer thralls of the 3E Forgotten Realms setting.
Yes, the derro beneath Korvosa are something different again…
A rogue-like game set in a bizarre underground environment linked to their previous Fallen London offering, the player controls a ship that ventures through the subterranean ocean or “Unterzee” in search of profit, adventure and reputation. As a game it good but definitely requires patience and a sense of fatalism, tempered by persistence – it’s not an easy games or one for the novice or faint-hearted.
As a setting though it’s pretty interesting.. and reminiscent of the Sunless Sea from D1-2 or the Night Below, but with a further Lovecraftian element refracted through a Victorian perspective.
And just who would be crazy enough to captain a ship on a subterranean ocean littered with massive stalagmites and unseen horrors.
The article “By Any Other Name: Races of the Underdark, by Owen K.C. Stephens first appeared in DRAGON #281 (March 2001).
It’s first section contains some example prefixes for derro names, but the player is encouraged to mix and match with name fragments from other articles in the series (dwarves, elves) or alternatively combine with the duergar and svirfneblin name fragments on the other tables within the article.
I’ve listed the derro name prefixes here for reference:
Thus the two main derro deities with names of Diirinka may mean “treacherous wizard” or “lucky savant” whereas Diinkarazan may be loosely translated as “lost cursed brother” and secari is an “ornamental dagger” as described in early derro descriptions.
Other supplements have used other naming conventions with variable consistency, which I aim to compile as a list at some stage as a resource.
Addit April 2018: the Kobold Press supplement “Unlikely Heroes for 5th Edition” has some suggested derro names as discussed in this later blog post.
A living wall of albino apes was coming through the doorway. Their faces twisted in snarling expressions, showing their yellow canines but making no sound, the mute, baboon-like things began to plow through the opening. The front wave had impacted the partially open door and pushed it inward. Because they had paused outside the door and thereby lost their momentum, and because the portal was heavy and not easily moved, the beasts’ initial entry was slow. The apes behind the first wave had an opportunity to build up some speed in the corridor, and they ran over the ones in front of them. The result was that a few of the apes were stunned or injured by their allies, and the haphazard nature of the charge gave the adventurers inside the room a few valuable seconds to prepare for the onslaught.
– Chapter 12, Sea of Death, by Gary Gygax 1987
An evocative scene from the 3rd Gord the Rogue novel (the first one after Gygax’s falling out with TSR) where the heroes are attacked by a reckless horde… nay, a swarm of angry albino apelings led by “pale midgets”.
I was originally going to title this post Derro Clerics, Seriously?, but given the focus of the discussion is really going to be about derro as Divine spellcasters that most use Wis as their primary ability, it’s probably worth expanding on to include all these:
Plus quite a long list from the other major core PFRPG sources readily available on the PFSRD:
Note an Oracle (APG) uses Cha however… more on that later.
Overall it’s an idea almost as crazy as this guy here:
This landmark article, written by Roger E. Moore and published in DRAGON #241 (Nov 1997) is one of my favourite pieces of roleplaying history, with extensive 2E mechanics on playing PCs from the lost albino Lerara tribe (first tantalisingly mentioned in the original Greyhawk boxed set), derro, the diminutive jermlaine or even a unique albino su-doppelganger.
The fiction material in this piece forms the basis of much of the Greyhawk derro lore, detailing and expanding on the now classic Suloise slave origin story first hinted at in Gary Gygax’s third Gord the Rogue novel, Sea of Death, which details the exploration of the Forgotten City.
Much of the background fiction is in the form of a letter:
This is Buppido, a derro prisoner encountered at the start of WotC’s 5E supplement, Out of the Abyss, the tabletop component of their latest epic cross platform event, Rage of Demons.
Further details, background and motivations / goals for Buppido are given on page 6, but it will come as no surprise that he’s mad, bad and quite certainly dangerous to know on so many levels… but for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I’ll leave the extent of his primary personality traits for your to find out yourselves
But he’s not the only derro in the supplement, which is the first 5E product to give us the latest incarnation of derro, there’s a whole ghetto of a duergar city known as Gracklstugh filled with the degenerates…
The following post below may contain some spoilers, so reader beware!
2018 Addit:I’ve now added some more thoughts on 5E derro in a later post…
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 Fallsmodule, 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“.
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…