Design & Development04/07/2006

Designing Your Own Vestige, Part 2

We're hoping this column becomes your window into roleplaying design and development -- or at least the way we approach these things here at Wizards of the Coast. We'll handle a wide range of topics in weeks to come, from frank discussions about over- or underpowered material, to the design goals of a certain supplement, to what we think are the next big ideas for the Dungeons & Dragons game. All of this comes bundled with a healthy look at the people and events that are roleplaying R&D.

This week, Matthew Sernett provides part 2 of a Tome of Magic web enhancement—explaining how you can design and develop your own unique vestiges.

In part 1 of Tome off Magic: Designing Your Own Vestige, we looked at how to create new vestiges. While doing so, I used my campaign as an example for how I plan on using the vestiges, and provided details about a vestige I was creating (Vanus). This article reveals the full description of that vestige and some of the reasoning behind the design of his granted abilities.

Several of the vestiges presented in Tome of Magic and elsewhere take the name of characters from D&D campaign settings and older editions of the game. I did this to offer fans of those products an “Easter egg” feature they can enjoy, while at the same time keeping the information from being so specific that it intrudes upon the experience of someone unfamiliar with them.

It’s important to note that although the vestiges bear those characters’ names, the stories associated with them are essentially apocryphal among binders. An individual legend might be allegorical, absolute truth, or pure fiction—that’s up to you. Thus, if you’re looking for an answer to what happened to one of these characters, you can find it. Of course, the answer given doesn’t have to be the truth.

Here’s a run down of these Easter-egg personages and what they pull from. See if you can recall some of the products in which the characters were mentioned (without using Google). Note that Greyhawk is listed when the product was set in Greyhawk, not merely when the product bore a Greyhawk logo.

Vestiges from Tome of Magic
Acererak Greyhawk
Dhalver-Nar D&D
Geryon Planescape/D&D
Karsus Forgotten Realms
Tenebrous Planescape
Vestiges from Dragon Magazine #341
Kas Greyhawk/Ravenloft
Primus Planescape

In addition, other vestiges use important personages and places from D&D history and campaign settings to bring new D&D mythology to light. If that appeals to you, you should check out the legends of Andromalius, Chupoclops, Eligor, Haagenti, Leraje, Naberius, Otiax, Savnok, Shax, and Zagan. All build on the mythology that D&D presents.


Vanus, The Reviled One
Vestige Level: 6th.
Binding DC: 29.
Special Requirement: Yes.

Hated out of proportion for his sins, the smiling Vanus remains an enigma to binders. Vanus provides binders with the ability to frighten and punish weaker foes, hear evil afoot with uncanny perception, and free allies from constraints.

Special Requirement: Vanus will not appear before a binder if his seal is drawn within sight of a doorway or window of any kind. If such apertures can be hidden from view, Vanus submits to being summoned, but the moment Vanus sees a door or window, he shrieks and vanishes in a gout of blue flame. Should the binding attempt be aborted in this manner, Vanus will not appear before the binder for three days.

Legend: Legend remembers Vanus by many epithets: the Betrayer, the Craven One, the Foul Prince, the Maggot, the Fearmonger, and even the Hellbringer. Binders simply call him the Reviled One. The hatred traditionally heaped upon Vanus seems out of proportion to his faults, a mystery that binders have yet to unravel.

The story of Vanus begins in a grand kingdom, a peaceful empire that existed long before the current age. Human legend ascribes the kingdom to dwarves, while the dwarven story of Vanus claims elves to be that realm’s rulers. Elven mythology lays no claim to Vanus, relating instead that the kingdom belonged to a still more ancient race now largely gone from the world, similar to titans. Despite this difference and other variations, the basics of the tale remain the same.

The ancient kingdom prospered in peace for years because of the evil it kept trapped at it heart. Before the kingdom existed, the founders of that great nation fought a terrible battle against a powerful fiend (such as a balor or pit fiend). Although they could not kill their enemy, they did manage to trap it beneath the earth. To be certain they could keep their foe in check, they built a castle upon that unholy ground. That castle became the capitol of their kingdom.

While goodness flowed from that fortress, evil lingered there, ever watchful, always waiting. The leaders of the country posted a continual guard on the dungeon the fiend remained trapped within, wary of any attempt to escape. For centuries it remained thus, until the fateful night Vanus took over as guardian.

Vanus was a vain prince of the realm, selfish and obsessed with frivolity. To punish the prince for an embarrassment his petulance caused, the king commanded Vanus to serve with the guards of the dungeon during the party to celebrate the monarch’s birthday. Deep in the dark and clammy halls, Vanus determined to ignore the chatter of the guards and strained to hear the noise of the celebration above. He could hear little, just the distant tones of music punctuated by laughter. As he listened, the sound of one voice became clearer. A deep and commanding speaker was saying something Vanus could not quite discern. As Vanus neared the door to the fiend’s prison, the voice became even clearer, and Vanus thus moved past the guards and closed the distance to the ancient portal.

When Vanus put his ear to the door, he heard a voice unlike any other, and what it told him terrified him. Vanus ran from the dungeon screaming that the fiend was escaping. The guards, knowing they were not like the heroes of old, and seeing the prince of the realm in panic, also fled. The prince ran through the party, ranting about their coming doom, and soon the whole castle was being evacuated.

Panic spread across the countryside, and the people fought with one another in their haste to escape. Battles erupted between families and towns, and the citizen of that ancient kingdom left their lands a war-torn ruin. In the conflicts that followed, the people forgot their original cause for leaving and focused on their new enmity. The kingdom dissolved, the castle fell into ruin, and the fiend laughed in its prison.

Some legends say that the fiend then freed itself, and the gods cursed Vanus for his gullibility and cowardice. Others say that Vanus returned and freed the fiend, and the gods cursed him for this evil. Still other legends claim that Vanus became the fomenter of wars and breeder of terror, assuming the fiend’s place in the cosmos, becoming imprisoned by his fears even as the fiend’s evil spread beyond the walls of the dungeon.

Manifestation: Vanus appears in his seal as though stepping down from a carriage not visible to the binder. He always takes the form of a handsome male member of the binder’s race, dressed in fine clothing as a person of wealth and privilege. Vanus smiles and bows low to his summoner, but when he rises, his visage will have changed. Vanus then appears demonic, with six black horns growing from his face, and his skin covered in dark boils that swim with maggots. Blood wells up in his eyes like tears and pours down his smiling face to where he licks his lips. In this form, Vanus again bows. When he rises once more, he retains his demonic body and awaits his summoner’s pleasure.

Sign: When a binder makes a pact with the Reviled One, a boil appears on his body. Within the ruddy fluid in this boil swims a maggot. Should the boil be broken, the maggot slides swiftly across the binder’s body, eluding any attempt to catch it, and digs again beneath the skin. Before the original boil can scab over, another grows and the maggot appears within. Only by ending the pact with Vanus can the binder be rid of the foul insect and the disgusting homes it makes for itself.

Influence: Under the influence of Vanus, you take every opportunity to revel. Even small victories seem like cause for grand celebrations, and if you’re happy, you want everyone around to share your joy. If you see others in the act of celebration, you must join in. If you achieve victory in combat, you must immediately spend a full-round action crowing about your triumph.

Granted Abilities: Vanus grants you tremendous hearing, the ability to foment fear by your presence alone, skill at fighting foes weaker than yourself, and the power to free allies from imprisonment.

Fear Aura: Enemies that you are aware of who come within 10 feet must succeed at a Will save (DC 10 + 1/2 effective binder level + Cha modifier). Those who fail are either shaken or frightened; you decide which for each. Foes remain shaken or frightened for a number of rounds equal to half your binder level. Creatures that fail the save must roll again if they again come within 10 feet after the duration expires, but not before. A creature that makes its save against this ability need not make another save for 24 hours. This is a mind-affecting fear effect.

Free Ally: You may designate any ally within 5 feet per binder level to gain the benefits of the freedom of movement spell or the gaseous form spell. The ally may also take an immediate move action that it can only use to move (and not to draw a weapon, etc.). The benefits the ally gains apply only during your turn. Thus, at the end of your turn, the ally reverts to its natural form.

You can instead use this ability to free a creature from an imprisonment spell or Halphax’s imprison ability if you witnessed its imprisonment.

You cannot use this ability on yourself. Once you have used this ability you cannot do so again for 5 rounds.

Noble Disdain: When attacking a foe of fewer Hit Dice than yourself with a ranged or melee weapon, you deal +1d6 points of damage.

Vanus’s Ears: Being bound to Vanus grants you a +5 bonus on Listen checks. This bonus increases to +10 if the creature making the noise is evil.

Setting Vanus’s Vestige Level

When I started designing Vanus, I thought I’d try to set his vestige level at 7th. Yet as I devised his powers and found them a place among those of other vestiges, it began to look like Vanus wouldn’t measure up. Rather than design a whole new set of abilities, I decided to examine how powerful his abilities are in order to set his vestige level appropriately.

Vanus grants two constant abilities and two abilities with a 5-round delay. As stated in the previous Tome of Magic article, constant abilities should be measured against what a warlock of the same level can accomplish, and abilities with a 5-round delay should be measured against the highest level a wizard of any given level can cast.

Free ally is similar to freedom of movement and gaseous form, but the short duration and immediate move action granted to an ally changes the equation. Gaseous form is a 3rd-level spell, and freedom of movement is a 4th-level spell. In theory, the shorter duration should diminish the “level” of the ability for a binder, but the immediate move action for an ally is an ability the binder will likely use in every fight, and the power has great advantages outside of combat to get an allies through barriers and across dangers safely. Thus I figure the ability is about equal to a 4th-level spell. You could also compare the spell to the 9th-level freedom spell, but that spell seems more versatile due to its ability to free a creature from other conditions and spells.

Fear aura is a powerful constant ability that allows a binder to have a significant effect on the battlefield without taking any action. No warlock ability seems comparable, but the fear spell is a good parallel. The ability is something like having a fear spell available as a swift action at will, but there are limitations, such as creatures who make the save being immune for 24 hours, and a shorter duration. Because those who succeed can’t be affected, and those who are affected can’t be affected again until the duration expires, it seems equitable to a fear spell cast once per encounter. Fear is a 4th-level spell, so this ability seems about as powerful as the free ally ability.

An ability equitable to a 4th-level spell with a 5-round waiting period to use it again means that Vanus should be available to a PC at about 7th level, but having two abilities of such power available moves it up a level. Looking at the binder advancement chart in Tome of Magic, I see that at 7th level, binders gain access to 4th-level vestiges. To limit Vanus’s accessibility to a higher level, I have to reset his vestige level at 5th, which means a binder must be 10th level to summon him.

The other abilities Vanus grants, although certainly very useful, seem to be weaker, so a comparison to other 5th-level vestiges seems in order. Acereak, Balam, Dantalion, Geryon, and Otiax all have a vestige level of 5th. Examining their abilities, I find that Vanus seems more versatile and somewhat more potent. Thus, an examination of 6th-level vestiges is in order.

Chupoclops, Haures, Ipos, Shax, and Zagan seem to be of comparable power, with both Chupoclops and Shax granting abilities that seem particularly on par. Vanus thus has a final vestige level of 6th. It’s not quite what I originally aimed for, but it does reserve use of Vanus for higher-level play like I wanted.

And Now, Your Turn

We hope you’ve enjoyed this two-part web enhancement for Tome of Magic. Our goal was to take an inside look at the book’s pact magic, helping show how vestiges were created and offering you the tools to design your own.

Of course, we’d also like to hear your thoughts on the matter. Is there a figure, from D&D’s storied history, your own campaigns, or even real-world legends that you feel would make a good vestige (and perhaps plan to develop for your game)? Tell us who they are, at

About the Authors

Once editor-in-chief of Dragon Magazine and now a game designer at Wizards of the Coast, Matthew Sernett was Lead Designer for Tome of Magic. He wrote in a Dragon editorial that there's nothing in D&D he likes better than when the adventurers flee through the dungeon, running pell-mell through traps and past monsters because what chases them is worse. When he wrote that, Matthew was thinking about Undermountain—a feature that also appears on the official D&D website.

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