Latter Kairnlaw (revised and expanded)

The Kairns came to the Kairnlaw in two major waves of migration separated by an interval of about four hundred years. It was the northwest corner of the continent that received both influxes, for east of the Ikon Mountains luxuriant grasslands stretch practically unbroken for three hundred leagues to the coast. This gently rolling land, thickly braided with rivers, is the realm called Prior Kairnlaw. It is superlative grazing land. The Kairns who held it first were loath to share it with their late-coming cousins, and indeed, did not do so, for their cousins—more numerous and hungrier than they—drove them out of it, and into the western plateaus, the colder, rockier, more arid half of the continent known today as Latter Kairnlaw.

Kine Gather lies in Latter Kairnlaw not far from the Bone Axe Mountains, a northern branching of the Ikons. Like its sister-cities of this area—White Lick, Crossgulch, Bailey’s Yards—it grew from a cattle market on a river, a rough-and-ready sort of place where stock could be auctioned and shipped by enterprising men unwilling to endure tedious inquiries into their herds’ provenance or prior ownership. And, again like their neighbours, Kine Gather’s citizens retain even in the moderate prosperity they currently enjoy all the predilections of their city’s founders: raiding, cattle-rustling, passionate quarrels over boundaries, and blood-feuds.

Most Latter-Kairns share these traits, and this is understandable. Their sparse-grown, harsh-wintered terrain compels their herdsmen to arduous seasonal pilgrimages to keep their animals in pasture. Only the hostility of that land to any other economy—combined with what might be called a very stubborn cultural spirit—keeps them at their historic trade. And yet, for all their pains, they can expect to raise only maculate hornbow and dwarf-ox with any success, while in Prior Kairnlaw both these breeds thrive and four others besides: palomino hornbow, crucicorn, plodd and jab√≥bo (of which last, more presently). If scarcity alone had not made cattle thieves of the Latter-Kairns, their enduringly bitter sense of dispossession would have done it. Inevitably they have robbed one another, but they have always preferred the richer plunder and the prestige among their fellows to be won by raiding their homeland’s usurpers.
Nift the Lean

The Greater and Lesser Kairnlaws may claim to have many differences, but religion is not one of them. A pragmatic people, they always know what God to speak to for every eventuality. They're not so arrogant to assume that any one being can solve all their problems, so much so that even converts to Vorn or Qadhi will be sure to stay on good terms with the local Gods. It would be a very brave citizen of the Kairnlaw  who would go on a journey without a quick word to The Bartlet, or visit his mistress without an offering to Judith.

Holy men of the Kairnlaw are bottomless fonts of knowledge regarding who to appeal to at any specific time. They are one of the few people who are equally welcome in Greater and Lesser, respected for their deep knowledge and god-given skills.

Gods of the Kairnlaw

To gain the ability to meaningfully interact with the Kairnic pantheon one must demonstrate intimate knowledge of their vast family. Every time the player creates a fully realised god for the pantheon they have a 50% chance of gaining the right to ask one favour per day. To use said favour they must complete the appropriate invocation.

Loose these powers if on water (temporary), since the gods avert their eyes.

Our Lady Judith, Sister in Sin, patron of cheating husbands.

Many a man has offered up a prayer to her while creeping out a forbidden paramour's window. However her attention is fickle and she is prone to allowing them to be caught by enraged husbands and vengeful wives. In polite circles a wayward husband is said to be "visiting Aunt Judith"

Invocation: Burn a small amount of your pubic hair. One strand would do.

Gift: Those who have talked to Judith can lie utterly believably to women, getting them to believe the most ridiculous things. However 1 in 6 times it will be an embarrassingly awful lie and get you immediately caught out.

The Bartlet, patron of sore feet and wasted journeys.

No one is quite sure why The Bartlet is named so but they continue to put up a prayer to them whenever they set out their door. The Bartlet is typically pictured as an anthropomorphic cat with a permanent look of disappointment, sitting by the roadside. These images are almost exclusively found in remote roadside inns.

Invocation: Throwing a shoe over your left shoulder while offering up a prayer.

Gift: Ensure an unpleasant journey on a chosen party, unwanted pursuers perhaps. This help is oblique: sore feet slowing them down ever so slightly, taking a marginally longer route. 1 in 6 chance it helps enough to make a difference.

Darrow, god of fish suppers.

Fish for breakfast, 
fish for tea,
fish for you and
fish for me! 

A variation on the rhyme is heard on the way home from the harbour, sung with no great gusto. Children sick of the fish they've been gutting all season often don't appreciate the gift that Darrow and their mothers have waiting for them at home.

Invocation: Singing or humming Darrows rhyme while preparing your fishy supper.

Gift: Can prepare even the most foul and rotten fish, turning it into a barely tolerable meal.

The Turnsmith, God of shoe repair and thresholds.

Nemesis of The Bartlet, The Turnsmith is often depicted quietly fixing shoes just inside the door of his house or chasing cats out of his workshop. In Kairnish society cats are considered to be lazy and pessimistic, traits which can rub off wherever they sleep. Cats almost exclusively live outside in Kairnish society, and are most certainly not allowed to sleep where people work.

Many small industries operate from the home. These are advertised by performing the trade by the open door to your house. Thus The Turnsmith is often associated with cottage industry.

Invocation: Leaving a small amount of leftover material from the repair by someone's front door at the earliest possible opportunity. Not doing so will see your work undone.

Gift: Can perform small repairs on mundane items and always seems to have a needle and thread handy.

Lusta-Fi, god of goatherds and lazy boys.

The Kairnlaw has innumerable gods dedicated to every possible aspect of livestock care. Understandable for a people who derive the vast majority of their food and wealth from their panoply of domesticated creatures.

Lusta-Fi looks after the young ones, who are traditionally set to watching the goats, the least important and most annoying of herds. While they sleep or play, Lusta-Fi is said to be keeping an eye on the herd. You'll often hear parents chiding their boys for letting Lusta-Fi watch the goats, that they told them not to listen to him.

Invocation: Build a small pile of rocks, a few inches high or more, on top of a small denomination coin or sweet treat. Then paint a pair of eyes on it facing what you want watched. The offering will be gone when you return, and the eyes will be closed.

Gift: They can leave one mundane situation per day and it'll be fine while they attend to other things. The situation must be low stakes (such as watching a herd, a small child, or a boiling kettle) and not require great intervention to be okay. He would not prevent the goats being stolen, but he could prevent them from walking off a cliff.

The Augot, god of drowning, broken fishing lines and loneliness.

No gods hold sway over the oceon, if one believes the Kairn. Indeed, they do not rule but some live there, such as Augot, spurned lover of Judith. Once he was the god of brotherly love but that all changed when She chased him into the sea. Now he may not break the surface out of fear of Judith getting her hands on him.

The gods are known for their narrow sight which may account for The Augot's new portfolio. Desperately lonely, this god of fraternal love drags fishermen to their deaths in a desperate bid to find company.

Invocation: You must speak into a body of salt water for no less than ten minutes in a friendly manner (a large bowl will do). Keep it light.

Gift: Though the gods lose sight of you over water The Augot can still pull you down. If he is placated before a sea voyage you may ignore the first mishap that afflicts you.

Vockachella, goddess of hunger and children

"I'm so hungry I could eat my husband!" you'll hear the herdswives exclaim as they sit down to another slim meal. The story of Vockachella is a reminder for all good husbands to provide their families with the milk and meat of the herd and to treat them with a gentle hand.

Violent or lackadaisical herdsmen will often find their lives unravelling, piece by piece.  

Invocation: Spit milk in the target's face (this is a dire insult in Kairn society)

Gift: For each favour the gods owe you, you may cause the target to fail at an action.

Destur, god of traditions and failed hunts

The Kairn rarely hunt for food, they consider it to be beneath them. The civilised man has his meat quietly sitting in his grasslands waiting to be eaten. However hunting is still required when a white ape tribe descends from the mountains, or a panther wanders too far from the shade of the Fern Court. 

Destur would disagree with this. His remit is of consistency and cultural bureaucracy. In his eyes everything is judged by how it relates to proper Kairn values, and hunting is not one of them. To spare you from the shame of eating filthy wild creatures he ensures you never find them.

Invocation: Snap an arrow over your knee and with it cut the hand that will slay the beast

Gift: Once Destur is tricked into believing the hunt has already failed you are free to pursue your quarry without interference. The hunter whos hand was cut may reroll one bushcraft test per caster's level.


Obviously Vorn wasn't invented by me, it was made by this guy. In fact, assume everything here is stolen in some way shape or form, I've lost track of where anything came from. This represents Vorn as my group uses him and is mostly intended as reference material for my players.

Vorn flanked by a gaggle of saints. Source

Vorn is concerned with rust, rain and the proper working of the world. "Proper", being rather a subjective term, is a source of unending debate and public altercations amongst the hoi paloi yet the Church itself is in no doubt as to the working order. They may not always be correct, but the blessings they receive from their tired God is evidence enough that they are in essence right and true to His order.

The powers Vorn bestows are inherently linked to the hierarchy of the Church. As one rises is stature one learns to subsume one's petty logic to better view His unfolding plan. An altogether purer instrument of faith. When a lay brother dons the chains and takes up his holy mission he enters an organisation of Byzantine avenues and arbitrary superiors. A Deacon may ask that you collect all the beetles to be found on the southern wall of the Windowless Tower and bring mass to the lower city, feeding said beetles to all who receive it. There will be no reason given, no reward and no results. It is to be done and is part of Vorn's plan.

Each time a priest strengthens Vorn's order at the behest of the Church there is a chance that it was indeed the correct interpretation (5%). If the task is of suitable proportions then you can expect a greater chance of correctly finding the trail of His ineffable plan (50% if it's an adventure, more if it's really big). Roll on the following table each time you get it right.

Loose all powers if you ever use magic, including scrolls or other spell making devices. Magic items can be judged on a case by case basis. 
Loose all powers if you deliberately strike anyone with anything other than a bladed weapon. Force is final.

  1. No Harm But Mine. The priest's touch rusts metal. It can be used as a response to being struck, whereupon the weapon bursts into a shower of rust falling like evening snow. Once per day per wisdom modifier, save vs magic if the thing being rusted is attached to someone.
  2. Baptise in Iron. Once per day per wisdom modifier you may baptise yourself or another, healing 1d8 damage. It need not be full immersion or fully brown, a rusty nail in a glass of water will do.
  3. He Was Born in Battlehymn. Priests of Vorn are no strangers to violence, add your wisdom modifier to all attack rolls.
  4. Rain, Walk With Me. You can never be hurt by any rainy weather related unpleasantness.
  5. Tears of St. Paitr. Target cries brown rusty water. Uncontrollable guilt overpowers one touched person for one turn per level (save vs magic), during which they can't do anything but cry. If they are attacked they will defend themselves and snap out of it. Used at will.
  6. Blood of the Martyr, Blood of Mine. You are part of the plan, your death will be too. When you die you do not lose any experience.
  7. The Bounds of Love. Tie them up with iron chains and they won't dare lie. They must save vs. magic or answer truthfully to any questions, each correct answer deals 1d4 damage to them as the chains tighten (the truth hurts).
  8. At the Roots of the Earth I Lay Sleeping. Once per week the priests can cast someone down and let the earth take them. If the priest can physically throw someone to the floor they must save vs. magic or they will fall into a small encystment where they shall be sustained in perpetuity. If the save is successful they are instead thrown down with great force, fracturing the earth and taking 1d8 damage per priest level.

Godrickson's Corruption

[As seen in slightly modified form in The Undercroft issue 1, by Alex Clements]

Vector: Touching or eating spores
Infection Save: Poison -5

Created by the alchemist-mage Franz Godrickson in order to blackmail city officials, the corruption is a horrific and incredibly deadly disease, however it is entirely asymptomatic until the body of the infected is exposed to a very specific sonic frequency. Vials of the spores are normally sold (for extremely high sums) with a tuning fork that vibrates just so. The infected character must make an Infection Save every hour, but will show no sign of ill health until they are exposed to the frequency, at which point they suffer the consequences, listed in the table below, in full. If they survive, the disease continues to progress, but the Infection Save is made without the -5 modifier.

Number of
failed saves
Body parts liquefied
Finger prints, eye-lashes, most hair is left permanently patchy.
All hair and the tips of fingers and toes. Survivors suffer a permanent -1 to attack rolls and any other physical tasks. They always count as being 1 encumbrance level higher.
Fingers, toes, the tip of the nose and tongue. They can no longer speak well enough to cast spells and cannot hold any items. They always count as being 3 encumbrance levels higher.
Hands, feet, nose, lips, tongue, eyelids and male genitalia. They can no longer speak at all and count as being immobilized.
Limbs up to forearms/calves. Ears are sealed and eyes are useless. The character is considered blind and helpless.
Arms and legs entirely. Lower jaw entirely. No organs function except the heart, lungs and brain. The character will die within a few hours. If in a clean room with someone to give them water, they will survive one to two days.
Sploosh! All that is left of the character is their brain and nervous system, which is left utterly unaffected by the corruption, lying in a pool of stinking goo.


It's easy to forget why I called this thing What Would Conan Do? Other than making me giggle it was what got me into and through university and everything since. What would Conan do? We're not talking 1970s beefcake in a nappy Conan, we're talking R. E. Howard Conan.

Conan would win. He'd defeat it regardless of cost or moral ambiguity, express his will in the most direct manner. Conan wasn't a nice guy. He was a powerful part of Mr. Howard, who said he felt his hand upon the pen when it came time to write. Conan was exerting his will again.

You could build a convincing argument for Conan being Howard. Their relationship was powerful and peculiar, their lives mirrored in unusual ways. Maybe it was the reverse? Howard became Conan as time went on, the relationship turned. He fought imagined enemies and stalked his town in a black poncho and matching hat. When you start asking what Conan would do it leads to odd places.

And then the doctors told him that his mother was about to die. Without a second thought he left his father at her side, walked back to the car, and shot himself in the head. I'm not sure what this says.

Alternative Magic-Users

It's reasonable to assume that magic varies from people to people and possibly even within any given culture there will be some variety. It's even safer to assume that players could use a hand in thinking widely on what kind of magic fellow they want to be.

It's very simple. Pick a philosophy and take their starting spell instead of Read Magic. They all work the same as each other, they just have different approaches and theories. I'll be expanding on this in the future, one is already planned for issue #3 of The Undercroft.

Hedge witch - Unseen Servant

Talented men and women who choose to live lives of solitude on the outskirts of civilisation but not entirely apart from it. Their homesteads are visited regularly by young women seeking love potions, old men with unsightly sores, and small children who linger at the tree line and dare each other to peek in the filthy windows.

They possess a typical practitioners distance from the unenlightened but lack the drive and hunger for power of more the more classical paths to magic. Thus they live poorly on the kindness of woodsmen and farmers in the hopes they don't one day get dragged from their home and thrown in a river when one of them births a child that isn't quite right.

Nganga - Protection from Evil

A mediator between the material realm and that of the spirits and ancestors. A saviour of lives who plays an honourable role in the religious and social order. As a healer of the body the nganga works in close proximity to the spirits, bridging the world of the living and of the ancestors. Witch, priest, prophet, of all the users of magic they are the most integral to the people they come from.

To the nganga and their people, the living world is full of pain and stifling order while the ancestors exist in wild happiness. Through music, trance and divination they can touch this world to bring a measure of true magic to the body of the people.

Necromancer - Cure Light Wounds

Concerned with the power of life and death, their magic comes from that balance. Magic, to them, is the lifeforce which flows through everything, and the necromancer knows how to sense and direct its course. The flow is not as inexorable as some might think, the flow can be slowed or even stopped, it's powers used to turn the wheel of an infinite expanse of power.

Some cultures view their philosophies as offensive in the extreme, denying the dead their place in the afterlife. The necromancers would dispute this naive view of what "lifeforce" is, maybe explaining that one can drink from the river without diminishing it, that the water will return and flow through them. But it is hard to discuss magical theory while on fire.

Demonologist - Summon

Charismatic negotiators with excellent memories for the names and tittles of the denizens of the sub-realms. One of the most academic and arguably scientific of the schools of thought, it is well researched and has a long pedigree of guided instruction from teacher to pupil.

Remorselessly practical, a demonologist requires an encyclopaedic knowledge of their craft lest it fly out of control and ends them. There is very little room for artistry for the demonologist as minor mistakes will ensure they do not live to spread their fruity thoughts.

Alchemist - Purify Food and Drink

Concerned with the refining of the soul into higher orders. Referring to their craft as magic might insult some of the more conservative of their society who would be quick to correct you. What they do is elevate matter, adjust the humours, and scale the pyramid of divinity.

True, they hold showy magics to be a crass misuse of their science, but this does necessarily mean that their research has not led them to theories that could melt your eyeballs out of their sockets.

Ultimately an alchemists aim is the refinement, spiritually and physically, of the base.

Mystic - Bless

The healers, the gurus, the dirty men that sit on poles and commune with the wind. There is no school to go to, few teachers willing or still possessing the mental faculties to teach. No, it is a personal path, a return to the roots of magic as learned by our ancestors.

They very rarely rise to any real power but it is common for one to stumble onto what was once forgotten knowledge now overlooked by more traditional and less laterally minded schools. They are often sought out for their very peculiar learnings.

Classically Trained Sorcerer - Read Magic

Tutored by an old master or hack conjurer. Regardless of quality or integrity they took you in and taught you how to let the spells sit comfortably in your head. Between cleaning floors and lancing boils you found time to read your masters books and get what knowledge they had to offer.

Thus is the story of the average classical sorcerer. They pass knowledge, part art part science, down through apprentices like any other craft (though one that finds few gifted in it).

Enchanter - Charm Person

They know that appearances are everything. Magic happens as a conversation between reality and our expectations of it and enchanters can guide the topic to areas that interest them.

They know that reality is an illusion created by the mind, that the "truth" of anything is subjective and subject to change.

They know that the mind is weak and malleable, yet theirs is strong.

Solipsist - Sleep

Your mind is the universe, nothing is not of you. Magic is just an expression of your desire, instances of your reaching out and swirling the waters. Anything is possible if you will it.