The Deluxe Edition hardback is a compilation of the first three issues of Vaults of Vaarn. I have generally restricted the changes to correcting obvious errors and expanding on some parts of the core rules that were ambiguous. An example would be that the first issue includes several monsters that dealt damage directly to a PC’s ability defense scores, but never states how fast ability defenses depleted in this manner recover (the answer is: at the rate of one point per day).

However, there are a few departures from the basic rules as presented in the first issue, so I wanted to highlight these evolutions and explain the thinking behind them.


The advancement rules have changed significantly. In Issue #1 they read as follows:

As you adventure in Vaarn, your character will grow from a relative novice into a more seasoned explorer. This is represented by your Level. All new characters start at Level 1, and advance by completing Expeditions. The precise nature of a single Expedition will be defined by the GM, but they usually involve extended journeys during which the characters solve problems, negotiate with or battle opponents, and discover more about the world of Vaarn. Completing an Expedition will gain you one experience point or XP. When your XP equals your current Level, increase your Level by one and erase all XP tallies.

When you level up, you receive 3 points which you may use to increase your Abilities. Abilities may never be raised higher than 20/ +10. You may also roll a d8 and add the result to your maximum HP.

Once a character has reached Level 10, they are considered complete. Each subsequent level will grant one extra HP, and they cannot increase their Abilities further. It is recommended that they recruit an Apprentice to accompany them on Expeditions. Once they have gained a few Levels, this Apprentice can become your new main character.

Vaults of Vaarn #1

So XP here is earned through completing ‘Expeditions’. It’s a little bit vague about what exactly counts as an Expedition, which is purposeful, but I envisioned them to be extended trips into a dungeon, or dangerous journeys from one place to another.

In the Deluxe Edition, the Advancement rules read as follows:

As PCs adventure in Vaarn, they will grow from novices into seasoned explorers. All new characters start at Level 1 and advance by trading in Exotica at settlements or oases. Trading in an item of Exotica will automatically raise a PC to their next Level. A PC’s maximum Level is 10. When a PC’s Level increases:

• They get three points to allocate to any Abilities of their choosing. Abilities may never be raised higher than 20 /+10.
• They roll a d8 and add the result to their maximum HP.

A single Exotica can only be used to raise the Level of one PC, not the entire party. This will create important decisions for the party, as most likely only one PC will be able to level up at a time. If the Referee wants a faster campaign, have all PCs level up for each one Exotica traded, excluding that of the starting equipment.

Vaults of Vaarn: Deluxe Edition

The Advancement system here runs on a totally different engine, essentially ‘Exotica for XP’. The reason for this is simple: when I submitted the first draft to my editor, he said that he didn’t get what the PCs were expected to be doing from session to session. When writing Vaults of Vaarn I had intended that the PCs be treasure hunters and explorers, who seek out the dangerous and forgotten places beneath Vaarn’s desert in order to plunder them of Exotica.

We talked a bit about plunder and pillaging, and the ‘gold for XP’ incentive economy that drives B/X and its derivatives. Vaarn doesn’t have a fiat currency, instead operating on barter and the water standard, so we talked about ‘fresh water for XP’ as a direction to explore, but it never quite stuck. Fresh water is your currency, but I never saw it as your trigger for advancement. The PCs are intended to be tomb robbers and treasure hunters, not water prospectors. What seemed obvious to me was the idea of ‘Exotica for XP’: you unearth the super-science relics of the fallen civilizations that preceded your own, and trade them in at settlements or oases to get XP and level up. This is quite ‘board gamey’ in a sense, but it creates a clear game loop: you find a vault, steal some Exotica from it, take them back to town and gain a Level, then you can go deeper into the same vault and repeat.

It also introduces another decision point that was interesting to me: whether or not a particular item of Exotica was too useful to trade in for XP. Really good Exotica, like a cloaking device or a gross cyborg heart that can revive you after death, are probably too powerful to want to trade in for a Level. Exotica with questionable utility can make your stats better instead, so it’s still good to bring them out of the vaults and into town.

The other advantage is that it’s much easier to know how many rewards to place in an adventure location, as opposed to the B/X system, where you need to place ever-increasing quantities of gold and treasure. With this system, I can stock a vault by coming up with four or five items of Exotica, and seeding them in a mixture of locations and scenarios: some Exotica that are obvious but guarded, some Exotica that are hidden, and some Exotica that belong to friendly or neutral NPCs who will be outraged if you try to steal their prized possession, to give a few examples.

I expect this to be a change that sparks discussion, and I’m not particularly fussed if people decide to use a different Advancement system, or stick with the rules outlined in Issue #1. However, I would suggest giving the Exotica for XP system a try, especially if you’re playing with a new group and want a quick ‘you’re treasure hunters, go to this weird place’ type of hook.

Mystic Gifts and Psyche Slots

The original zines used a system of Psyche Slots, which were basically spell slots where PCs stored their Mystic Gifts. The relevant rules read as follows:

Characters use their Gift in play by stating what they want to accomplish,and then paying an HP cost set by the referee, usually of d6. This represents the toll that unnatural powers take upon the body. Using a Gift in combat will result in a d8 damage roll, but this amount can be increased by paying more HP (paying d8 HP would grant a d10 damage roll, and so on).The same ratio applies to Gifts that heal allies’ HP.

Gifts fill up psyche slots. Your maximum psyche slots cannot exceed your Psyche bonus.

Vaults of Vaarn #1

Pretty simple I think. In the Deluxe Edition, the rules regarding Gifts have changed. They now read as follows:

Vaarn is a world where religion, science, and magic are indistinguishable. Devout faith, mastery of arcane nano-machines, abuse of psychoactive fungus, or mental mutation can grant the mind uncanny influence over the material world. All such powers, abilities, and boons are referred to as Gifts (see page 22).

• Each Mystic Gift uses one item slot; this represents the burden these unnatural powers exert on the body of the wielder.

• Using a Gift costs HP, determined by the Referee once the player describes what they want to accomplish. The baseline cost for using a Gift is d6 HP.

• Combat Gifts always hit their target, dealing damage of one dice size higher than the user paid in HP, plus the character’s PSY bonus. (Example: paying d6 HP results in a damage of d8 + PSY bonus).

• The same ratio applies when healing an ally using a Gift. Gifts like mind control or force barriers can be used for extended durations. In such cases the character must pay d6 HP for each ten-minute period that the Gift is active.

Vaults of Vaarn: Deluxe Edition

There are two major changes here. The first is that Psyche Slots are no longer a concern; instead Mystic Gifts occupy regular item slots. The second change is that PCs now add their PSY bonus when rolling for damage or healing caused by their Gift.

I wanted to streamline the system and make sure every part of the core rules was as elegant as it could be. I realised that Psyche Slots weren’t doing a whole lot that was interesting to me, and I had basically forgotten about them in my own campaign. I had once intended for the Psyche Slots to hold other types of ‘mental item’ as well, like ideologies, fears, and memories, but I never did anything with that concept and it was time to admit that I probably never would. I think ultimately Ben Milton had the right idea writing vanilla Knave, which makes the 20 item slot limit a core gameplay mechanic that all types of character ‘build’ have to work with. I decided to follow suit, so espers and mystics now have to level up their CON stat if they want to have lots of different Mystic Gifts.

This is objectively a nerf to Gifts, since they’re now competing for valuable item slot space. I wanted to make sure they’re still worth the investment, and ensure the PSY stat was still important if you’re making a character that relies on Gifts, so I added the PSY bonus to damage or healing from Gifts. This can get as high as a +10 on a PC with maxed out PSY, so it’s something worth pursuing. An esper build in Vaults of Vaarn now needs to level up CON and PSY, as well as EGO to protect themselves from mind control.

There’s one more rules I added regarding Gifts that’s probably worth noting:


There is a subtle peril associated with expanding one’s mind too extravagantly. PCs with five or more Mystic Gifts are considered to ‘shine’; they are visible to other psychic creatures at great distances and may be contacted by them. PCs with ten or more Gifts are blazing beacons that will attract the attention of dedicated psychic hunters and extradimensional predators.

Vaults of Vaarn: Deluxe Edition

This rule has been quietly sitting on the SRD for ages, but I thought I would highlight it here. The rule is lifted from Caves of Qud, where esper characters will find themselves pursued by ever more powerful hunters. This isn’t super codified, but I wanted to give permission to the Referee to place PCs with big powerful galaxy brains into situations where their incandescent psychic presence gives them away or allows them to be contacted by nasty entities. I just think it’s fun.

Monster Levels

This is just a terminology change, but I wanted to call attention to it. Monster stats remain identical in function, but the ‘Hit Dice’ value has been renamed ‘Level’. My editor and I were talking about what the stat blocks might look like to someone who hasn’t encountered TTRPGs before, and I remembered that when I first found the OSR blogsphere, I was completely baffled by what ‘HD’ was supposed to be. Once I learned it meant ‘Hit Dice’ I was only slightly less confused. Were these the dice the monster rolled to hit you? To avoid being hit? It raised more questions than it answered.

Level: A measure of the adversary’s power, used to determine its Hit Points (HP) and bonuses. To calculate HP, multiply the level by 4 (or 5 if you’re feeling mean) …

Abilities: Adversaries have ability bonuses equal to their level, with the corresponding defenses. (Example: a Level 4 adversary has an attack bonus of +4 and a defense of 14 in all of its abilities, unless modified by the Referee.)

Vaults of Vaarn: Deluxe Edition

I took this opportunity to change this stat in the Deluxe Edition. NPCs and monsters now have a Level, just like PCs do. The rules are identical; you still add the monster’s Level to a d20 roll when it is trying to hit a PC, and a monster’s assumed Ability defenses are still 10 + Level, capping out at 20. You can roll a number of d8s equal to a monster’s Level to generate its HP, or multiply its Level by four if you want a quick average.

I think NPCs having a Level makes more intuitive sense, and it indicates their relative power to the PCs in a more transparent way. Going forward, all Vaults of Vaarn stat-blocks will use Level in place of HD.

That’s all for now. When I actually have the book in my possession, I’m planning to do a Creator’s Commentary read through, and explain some of the influences and thinking behind the contents. This will likely be in video format for length reasons.


    1. The Psy Slots are definitely something I went back and forth on, but I finally realised they weren’t coming up in my home game at all, and I think if a mechanic is consistently overlooked and not referred to, it could be an indication that it’s not doing much for the core gameplay.

      That said, I still don’t hate the idea of tracking mental equipment and burdens, I had originally wanted to do something like Disco Elysium’s ‘Thought Cabinet’ where you get to mull over ideologies and ideas in your head. If I ever come back to the idea I’ll want to work on that so the PSY slots aren’t just for casters.


      1. Agreed, everyone’s ideas on the Discord were really strong, I do believe there’s something more that can be done with Psy slots. A task for another day perhaps.

        Liked by 1 person

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