This is an explanation of the homebrew Wizard School I created for my wife, based on The Old Kingdom book series by Garth Nix. If you haven’t read my introduction to this homebrew, go check it out in my previous post.
Here I’ll go through how I translated The Old Kingdom’s Abhorsen role into a comprehensive D&D homebrew, as well as some tools for a DM to incorporate this school into game play. You can find the full downloadable PDF of the homebrew Wizard School and related spell lists at the bottom of this post.
Translating the Abhorsen’s Bells into D&D
The Abhorsen uses seven bells to channel magical energy, each bell with a specific name and special characteristics which determine its abilities. For example, Ranna is known as “the Sleeper” and generally has abilities including inducing sleep in characters, but more broadly could be seen as calming charged emotions, slowing opponents, etc. Saraneth, on the other hand, is known as “the Binder,” and is one of the most powerful bells as it is able to bind the will of creatures and command them to do certain things.
But I didn’t want the player to be limited to bells in my homebrew version. I allowed for any instruments the player wants, as long as the instrument works the same way using the seven key sounds. My wife, for example, chose panpipes as her instrument rather than the classic bells since in The Old Kingdom this is another instrument typically used by the Abhorsen-in-Waiting.
In my homebrew class of the Abhorsen, each of the seven bells or sounds would have D&D abilities in battle and out of battle including cantrips and higher level spells, each of which must correspond thematically with the original characteristics of the bell in The Old Kingdom series.
Take the bell Mosrael, “the Waker” for example. In Sabriel, this bell casts the ringer further into Death, while drawing the listeners from Death further towards Life. In more concrete terms of the book, the bell might literally cast Sabriel from Life into the First Precinct of Death, in exchange for moving another character from the First Precinct back into Life, as well as less literal effects. To translate this into D&D, I looked for all the spells that corresponded to this theme of bringing others into Life, but the ringer closer to Death. This would include “Charter” spells that restore health other characters, but also “Necromantic” spells such as those that raise the dead to fight.
For Mosrael’s corresponding cantrip I modified the classic spell “Spare the Dying” to reflect Mosrael’s theme:
Mosrael’s Spare the Dying cantrip
Casting time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet (or within range of hearing the sound in the case of an unusual situation)
The Abhorsen plays their instrument using the power of Mosrael, targeting a fallen ally with zero HP. The target must be able to hear the Abhorsen’s instrument (must not be deafened or out of hearing range). The Abhorsen rolls a 1d4 and takes that much necromantic damage. If the damage is 1 or 2, the target becomes stable. If the damage is 3 or 4, the target regains 1 HP. Starting at Level 3 the Abhorsen can instead choose to raise a character from 0 to 1 HP by taking 1 necromantic damage for every level of the character being revived.
Many other D&D spells fit the theme of Mosrael, and these spells would make up the “spell list” for Mosrael to which the Abhorsen would later gain access and capability. Examples include “Raise Dead,” “Revivify,” “Remove Curse,” “Life Transference,” etc. You’ll notice that some of these spells such as Spare the Dying and Life Transference represent using the power of Mosrael for “good,” as would the faithful Abhorsen, whereas some other spells like Raise Dead or Summon Greater Demon represent the evil, necromantic side of Mosrael.
Other bells were slightly harder to translate into D&D. Take Saraneth, “the Binder,” for example. In the books, Saraneth breaks the will of the target, sometimes allowing the Abhorsen to control the target. There are many spells which fit easily into the higher level magic abilities for this bell (command, compelled duel, banishment, dominate person, dominate monster, power word stun, hold monster/person), however I had to make the cantrip from scratch to represent its ability in D&D. Hence, the cantrip known as “Bind.”
Saraneth’s Bind cantrip
The Abhorsen plays an instrument channeling the power of Saraneth, in attempt to Bind the target to his/her will. The ability to bind target(s) depends on the number and power of the intended targets (see chart below), with your choice of charmed/stunned/ frightened on a success, with creature able to perform wisdom/constitution/strength ST at the beginning of each turn. Maintaining the effect of Saraneth takes your action every turn until your concentration is broken or you choose to end it as bonus action on your turn. Creatures bound by Saraneth’s Bind cantrip have disadvantage to all other STs other than the one to break this spell, and all attacks on them (melee, ranged, spell, etc) have advantage to hit. Out of battle, it can compel some simple creatures to do some simple things at DM’s discretion.
Here’s an example using the table below. Let’s say our Level 2 Abhorsen is trying to Bind a white dragon wyrmling using Saraneth (yes, she really tried this). We would use the first row of the chart – level 1, since the character hasn’t yet reached proficiency of that bell at level 4. I counted the wyrmling as a Greater Free Magic creature for the campaign. Therefore, the Abhorsen would have to roll a 20 on her D20 die in order to bind this creature (spoiler alert: She failed. Three times.). Even if she had bound it, the wyrmling would have had advantage when trying to break the spell at the beginning of it’s next turn. At this level, the wyrmling would have also had it’s choice of ST between Wisdom, Constitution, and Strength.
|Saraneth Bind Cantrip Level (based on character level)||Lesser Dead/Free Magic||Greater Dead/Free Magic||Really really bad guys/gals/things|
(creature’s choice of ST: Wis/Con/Str)
|D20 = 20/15/10/5 for 4/3/2/1 targets, must choose prospectively||D20 = 20 for 1 creature, opponent always has advantage breaking spell||Bad guy laughs at you and captures it with iphone to show his friends later|
(creature’s choice of ST)
|D20 = 20/15/10/5 for 5/4/3/2 targets, must choose prospectively||D20 = 15 for 1 creature||D20 = 20 for 1 target; opponent always has advantage breaking spell; spell can’t last more than 2 opponent turns|
(your choice of ST)
|Same as level 4, but opponents have disadvantage to breaking spell||D20 = 15 for 1 creature, creature has disadvantage for breaking spell||D20=19 for 1 target; opponent always has advantage breaking spell; spell can’t last more than 3 opponent turns|
The Slippery Slope of Necromancy
As you know, the Abhorsen does have the power to use her magic in necromantic ways, but is sworn to avoid becoming corrupted by this power as is the case for Necromancers. The Abhorsen always feels the temptation of the powerful necromantic spells, yet knows that performing necromancy (even if for initially good purposes) would put her at risk for being overwhelmed by desire for more power, eventually ending in corruption of the soul and formation of a powerful force of evil.
So I had to come up with an interesting way to represent this internal struggle, using the mechanics of D&D. Here’s an excerpt from the Book of the Dead explaining this further:
“In the School of the Abhorsen, it is formally forbidden to use necromantic spells. But as a competent wielder of free magic you are always tempted to do so, as it would come so easily to one so skilled as you. The Book of the Dead knows your secret desires and capabilities, and will teach you any necromancy spell you want for free during a long rest. They do not count toward your prepared spells (they are always prepared via the Book of the Dead). You can use these spells at a discount of 3 spells slot levels (ex: you can cast a 5th level necromancy spell using a single 2nd level spell slot; you can use a 3rd level spell or lower as a cantrip). Each time you do this, you regain HP equal to the damage you dealt (if you dealt damage), and you can choose to divert any or all healing into yourself or any other creatures you choose within 30 feet of you. Each time you perform a necromancy spell, you must separately roll a d20 for a “corrupted mind effect” (see table in appendix), which symbolizes your struggle to remain good instead of turning into an evil necromancer.”
In other words, each time the Abhorsen chooses to use a powerful necromancy spell, she must roll a d20 to determine whether she must then roll d100 for a “Corrupted Mind Effect.” The effects are shown in the table below, ranging from harmless but hilariously adverse visual or behavioral effects to crippling weaknesses or restrictions that make it more likely to continue the descent down the slippery slope into Necromantic corruption!
Corrupted Mind Effects Table
A Note on “Necromancy” Spells for the Abhorsen
Many spells that are labeled as Necromancy spells in D&D would not count as Necromancy spells for the Abhorsen in The Old Kingdom world. Instead they would just be part of the Abhorsen’s role and would not be subject to the Necromancy spell conditions listed above. For example, Gentle Repose is counted as a Necromancy spell in D&D but could be considered good in The Old Kingdom world, depending on how it was cast. An Abhorsen casting this spell to prevent a corpse from becoming undead would fit in well with the sworn role of the Abhorsen to protect the kingdom from the undead.
But a D&D Necromancy spell such as Raise Dead would go strongly against the role of the Abhorsen, and would have the conditions above for Necromancy spells apply (both the bonuses for using these spells and the roll for the Corrupted Mind Effects table).
There should be a discussion between the player and DM about what will constitute a Necromancy spell in The Old Kingdom world for the Abhorsen player. So far we have made these determinations by comparing the spirit and motives of the Abhorsen position to the spell’s actions to see if it counts as a Necromantic spell in this setting.
Lastly, I had to translate the fact that the Bells sometimes have a mind of their own. They are, after all, powerful free magic constructs that the Abhorsen must train for years to control. New Abhorsens often find that the Bells yearn to ring of their own accord, causing unpredictable results. To translate this into my homebrew D&D quest, I drew inspiration from the “Wild Magic” of Sorcerers on page 103-104 of the Player’s Handbook (PHB).
Each time the Abhorsen uses the power of the Bells, she must roll a d20 to determine whether a “Free Magic Surge Event” happens by accident. On a failed roll, the player must then roll d100 to determine which of the events on page 104 of the PHB occurs. This forces the player to respect the powerful free magic of the bells, and not to cast spells casually or carelessly. As the Abhorsen levels up, they learn more and more how to control the free magic of the Bells and prevent unwanted effects. This proficiency is reflected mechanistically by requiring lower and lower d20 rolls to avoid Free Magic Surge Events as the player progresses.
Bell Proficiency Table
|Abhorsen Character Level|
|Bell Name||Not proficient
(d20 = 10)
(d20 = 5)
(d20 = 1)
Wizard School of the Abhorsen PDF Downloads
Eventually I came up with abilities for each of the seven bells. These include both in-combat abilities and out-of-combat abilities which allow for creative role playing and clever shenanigans.
See the freely available “Book of the Dead” I created which goes into detail on all seven bells, and the rules of how one progresses as Abhorsen as your character levels up. If you want to make a DIY cover for your Book of the Dead like we did, check out our aging paper tutorial!
Below are the extended spell lists for each of the bells as well (we made these using D&D-Spells, its a great online tool for putting together a spell list)
And check back to follow our homebrew quest with our Quest Friends Chronicles to see how the homebrew rules and story line play out! Once my players make it further into their quest I’ll be able to share more about how I modified the Tales from the Yawning Portal modules to fit this homebrew world.