StoryGuide’s Codex

Running the Story

Many great books, podcasts, and videos are already out there helping you become a great Gamemaster (GM), so this section will focus on helping you create, run, and enjoy SagaBorn and Dark Return games. In SagaBorn, we call the GM the StoryGuide (SG). The following are suggestions and optional rules, but they can be used to set the foundational guidelines for your games. 

The Story Guide Motto for SagaBorn:

The StoryGuide (SG) is a fan of the player. The StoryGuide should make rulings in favor of the players during ties, rules interpretations, and cinematic flair. 

Running in the World of the Dark Return

Atheles has long suffered under the shadow of many catastrophes, and its cultures and people reflect that. They have long been afraid of what might come in the next cycle or what lurks out in the dark, empty woods between settlements. You should convey this to your players as they begin their adventure. Those who brave the wilds have just as often disappeared and then returned. 

In addition, the past 30 years have seen the Dark Return of magic and monsters. Seven hundred years ago, the Disappearance occurred, leaving Atheles barren of arcane and mystical forces, artifacts, and creatures. Species bound with magic just vanished. Slowly, they have begun to creep back into the world, returning from the misty limbo between the worlds, throwing Atheles into chaos and turmoil. The actions of the player-heroes, the SagaBorn, will define and characterize this world and its stories. 

Adventure Hooks

The world of Uteria is fraught with crises and conflicts, any of which is a dire threat to the peoples of the lands.

Invasion From the Navirim

Eldritch horrors and bloodthirsty demons find their way into the world from the Navirim. Stopping their invasion might be a fool’s errand, but you are among the few who stand against the onslaught nonetheless.

The Return of Magic

The return of magic has brought peril and uncertainty to some and power to others. Will a hero who employs magic be hunted by the powerful or pious for their arcane usage? Will the local people suffer under the new yoke of an all-powerful sorcerer-queen/king? 

The Uthgard Empire

A rising new star in the north, a new King has begun amassing power for the old Kingdom of Uthgard. His armies defeated the invading giants from the tundra, and he has now turned his attention to the lands in the South that once swore fealty to his throne.

Rebellion in Kowal

The city of Kowal has recently sworn allegiance to the Uthgard Kingdom. A catastrophe ended the old power structures, but a new one, emboldened by the Ministry of the Arts and the Uthgard Royal Army, has brought an iron fist down on the city. The Duke enjoys the wealth of the metalwork factories relighting their fires. Still, whispers of rebellion skitter along the avenues and alleys of the grey city.

Demons From the Never

As magic has returned, so have the fae and elves. But that is not all: demons and other Navirites have made their way from beyond the veil and invaded Atheles. The dark places of the world now have new inhabitants.

Storms and Disaster

The Dark Return has brought massive storms to the continent. Acid rain that burns the skin or storms whose green lighting turns vast swaths of land to waste pummels the land relentlessly. The ecological fallout from these storms is enormous, and scholars have no idea how to combat them.

Non-Player Characters

Stats for NPCs

These are base numbers that can be assigned to your non-player characters (NPCs).

SagaBorn (reserved for rare encounters or story arc villains): 19 points;  +4, +2, +1, +1, 0, -1 PLUS standard legacy items; Treasure x4

Heroic: 19 points;  +4, +2, +1, +1, 0, -1; Treasure x2

Standard: 15 points; +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2; Treasure x1

Commoner: 12 points; +2, +1, 0, 0, -1, -2; Treasure x1/2

Horde Rules

Hordes are groups of low hit-point creatures that hinder adventurers due to their numbers. They are intended to be used in groups, and they always have 1 hit point. 

In most myths and stories, the heroes must face hordes of minions they must slay to escape, or the “Big Bad” has henchmen who make the battle more treacherous. This can be very difficult to simulate with baseline creatures, hence these Horde Rules. A horde can be an encounter on its own meant to give characters fear and an ego boost or additional mobs in a “boss” fight. 

Horde Initiative

All the creatures in a Horde Group share the same initiative. Each member of a Horde Group gets its two actions but must take them in succession.

Horde Stats

A horde creature has the same stats as the base creature, but only 1 HP. Horde creatures are always 1 or less Challenge Rating than the party’s average level. A horde creature only gets one attack per round. 

Horde Treasure

Horde equipment is often overly used, rusted, cracked, or in disrepair. Any items taken from a horde mob are worth only 1/4 of their normal cost. 

Making Adventures Fun

Skill Challenge

A skill challenge is a way to handle a non-combat encounter, allowing the players to use their characters’ skills to overcome obstacles. It can be used as a way to describe traveling, handling large social encounters, or events such as a chase scene.

The SG will set a DC (Difficulty Class), and the players must roll skill checks to beat the DC. The SG determines the number of skill rolls needed to overcome the challenge. The resulting number of successes and failures of these rolls defines the outcome of the challenge. More successes mean the players have an easier time with the encounter, and more failures mean a harder encounter.

When making a skill challenge check, no player can go twice in a row, and no player can use the skills they’ve already used until at least 3 separate skills have been used. A player must explain how that skill is being used to overcome the challenge.

  • Standard DC for a moderate skill challenge is DC 13-15
  • A standard number of rolls is 3 or 5, , assigning an odd number, so there is always a tiebreaker.

Example Skill Challenge rolls for Traveling:

5 rolls, DC 14

5 successes – Beneficial encounter, merchant, find extra treasure

4 successes – Routine travel, arrive on time

3 – Easy encounter 

2 – Moderate encounter 

1 – Hard encounter

0 – RUN AWAY! 


Sometimes a player just needs to see how lucky they are. We often use this randomly to see if the players get a benefit when the odds are stacked against them. A simple d20 roll, high being beneficial and low being negative.



Treasure is based on a challenging encounter equal to the character level. This is an average, suggested amount of treasure. Items and equipment count towards this total as retail cost.

Encounter LevelTreasure Value
1100 gp
2300 gp
3450 gp
4600 gp
5800 gp
61,000 gp
71,300 gp
81,700 gp
92,250 gp
102,900 gp
113,750 gp
12+5,000 gp

Types of Rewards

  • Gold, of course
  • Spells
  • Charged Magic Items
  • Expertise
  • Renown

Story Guide Reward Checklist

Start of Session:

  • Starting Saga Point

After or During Session:

Encounter XP

  • Extra Saga Points
  • Expertise
  • Renown


The economy in the world of Atheles is a struggling one, with most people relying on agriculture, fishing, and hunting to make a living. The wealthy and powerful people in the world hold most of the wealth, and the poor and downtrodden are often left to fend for themselves. The warring factions fight over resources, which further destabilizes the economy. Inflation is rampant, and many find it difficult to make ends meet.

How to deal with treasure in Atheles:

  • Make money worth something
  • Goods are scarce; not every shop has everything adventurers want. Many shops have little operating funds, and thus a smaller selection of items. Make the adventurers covet good gear and goods.
  • Money can be spent on finding equipment, building strongholds, and paying allies.

Spell Worth

What is a spell worth? You may find a scroll in a treasure hoard or ask a trusted mentor to teach you a spell. These spells have a value that may fluctuate but generally follow the chart below in average cost.

Variable600 gp
125 gp
3150 gp
5300 gp
7500 gp


Traps as Puzzles

We suggest running traps in Sagaborn as puzzles as opposed to a “gotcha” moment. No one likes a bunch of boulders just dropping on their head without a chance to discover that in advance or how to avoid triggering it. Traps should make the experience fun and discourage players from slowing down gameplay with their constant fear of traps. A common occurrence we have seen is that once a player encounters a trap, they spend the rest of the night tapping every stone with a 10’ pole. That is decidedly not fun for anyone. 

The best way to counter this is to treat the trap as a puzzle for the players to solve. We want to build a sense of wariness, mystery, and suspense, but we don’t want wariness devolving into tedium. The mechanical change we have made to trapfinding is that the SG initiates the search for the trap rather than the players, an approach that is very different than other d20 systems.

When a trap is in an area, the SG should call for an Awareness check. If there is a rogue in the party, they should be the first to search (Rogues can also use their Thievery skill instead of Awareness). Otherwise, the party picks someone in their group to roll the check. If the roll is equal to or greater than the trap’s Awareness DC, they are aware of the trap and given a clue as to how it works. The party can now determine if they want to try to circumvent the trap or attempt to disable it. 

Example: Success in Discovering a Trap 

The adventurers are heading down a narrow hallway, with Krimson the Rogue is second from the lead. There is a poisoned dart trap in the hall. The SG calls for an Awareness check and states that Krimson may use his Awareness or Thievery as he wishes. Krimson chooses Thievery and rolls a 23, which beats the trap’s DC. The SG tells Krimson he sees three small, round openings in the wall and that the floor looks different under those holes. Krimson inspects the trap and sees that it is a poisoned dart trap with a pressure plate. The problem is the pressure plate is as wide as the hall and six feet in length. Either he disables the trap, which then uses the trap’s disarm DC, or the party tries to jump over it. Good luck.

Example: Failure in Discovering a Trap 

Using the example above, Krimson rolls a 15 Thievery check, failing to spot the trap. Milentus, in the lead, walks onto the pressure plate and springs the trap.

Basic Trap Stats

Challenge Rating (CR)Average DamageBase AttackBase Skill DC (Awareness, Thievery)Base Cost
CR11d6+1016100 gp
CR22d6+1220200 gp
CR33d6+1422300 gp
CR44d6+1624400 gp

Poisons and Disease



When a character takes damage from an attack with a poisoned weapon, touches an item smeared with contact poison, consumes poisoned food or drink, or is otherwise poisoned (by a venomous creature or environmental hazard), they must make a Fortitude saving throw. If they fail, they take the poison’s initial damage (usually ability damage). Even if they succeed, they typically face more damage 1 minute (10 rounds) later, which can also be avoided with a successful Fortitude saving throw. Delivery methods and damage are summarized in the Table Poisons below.

One dose of poison smeared on a weapon or some other object affects just a single target. A poisoned weapon or object retains its poison until the weapon scores a hit or the object is touched (unless the poison is wiped off). Any poison smeared on an object or exposed to the elements in any way remains potent until it is touched or used.

Poisons can be divided into four basic types according to the method by which their effect is delivered, as follows.

Merely touching this type of poison necessitates a saving throw. It can be actively delivered via a weapon or a touch attack. Even if a creature has sufficient damage reduction to avoid taking any damage from the attack, the poison can still affect it. A chest or other object can be smeared with contact poison as part of a trap.

Ingested poisons are virtually impossible to utilize in a combat situation. A poisoner could administer a potion to an unconscious creature or attempt to dupe someone into drinking or eating something poisoned. Assassins and other characters tend to use ingested poisons outside of combat.

Inhaled poisons are usually contained in fragile vials or eggshells, effective upon aerial release. They can be thrown as a ranged attack with a range increment of 10 feet. When the vial strikes a hard surface (or is struck hard), the container releases its poison. One dose spreads to fill the volume of a 10-foot cube. Each creature within the area must make a saving throw. Holding one’s breath is ineffective against inhaled poisons; they affect the nasal membranes, tear ducts, and other parts of the body.

This poison must be delivered through a wound. If a creature has sufficient damage reduction to avoid taking any damage from the attack, the poison does not affect it. Traps that cause damage from weapons, needles, and the like sometimes contain injury poisons.

Poison Characteristics

The poison’s method of delivery (contact, ingested, inhaled, or via an injury) and the Fortitude save DC to avoid the poison’s damage.

The effect the character takes immediately upon failing the saving throw against this poison. Damage is done to the Ability modifier. Ability damage is temporary unless marked with an asterisk (*), in which case the loss is a permanent drain.

The cost of one dose (one vial) of the poison. It is not possible to use or apply poison in any quantity smaller than one dose. The purchase and possession of poison are always illegal, and even in big cities, it can be obtained only from specialized, less-than-reputable sources.

Poison Immunities
Creatures with natural poison attacks are immune to their own poison. Non-living creatures (constructs and undead) and creatures without metabolisms (such as elementals) are always immune to poison. Oozes, plants, and certain kinds of outsiders are also immune to poison, although conceivably special poisons could be concocted specifically to harm them.

Table: Poisons

Basic Poisons

PoisonTypeFort DCOnsetEffectCurePrice
KonkIngested, Inhaled, Injury12InstantFall asleep for 2 minutesSuccessful save40 gp
BloodboilIngested, Inhaled, Injury12Instant1d6 damageSuccessful save40 gp
Wooley EyeIngested, Inhaled, Injury12InstantDazed for 3 roundsSuccessful save40 gp

Harvested/Extracted Poisons

PoisonTypeFort DCOnsetEffectCurePrice
Death’s Eye SpiderInjury12Instant1 Str Successful save40 gp
DuskmossInhaled13InstantUnconscious 1 hrSuccessful save120 gp
Ettercap PoisonInjury15Instant2d3 DexSuccessful save750 gp
FeyrootInjury11Instant1 ConSuccessful save40 gp
Giant Centipede PoisonInjury13Instant1 Dex Successful save80gp
Grelm SalivaInjury14Instant1 ConSuccessful save490 gp
Neela Leaf ExtractContact16Instant1 ConSuccessful save300 gp
Sleepstill WeedInjury or Ingested14InstantSleep 10 minutesSuccessful save200 gp
Snake VenomInjury11Instant1d3 ConSuccessful save130 gp
Tentacle Crawler PoisonInjury16Instant1 StrSuccessful save500 gp
Wyvere VemonInjury17Instant2d3 ConSuccessful save3,000 gp


When a character is injured by a contaminated attack, touches an item smeared with diseased matter, or consumes disease-tainted food or drink, they must make an immediate Fortitude saving throw. If they succeed, the disease has no effect—their immune system has fought off the infection. If they fail, they take damage after an incubation period. Once per day afterward, they must make a successful Fortitude saving throw to avoid repeated damage. Two successful saving throws in a row indicate that they have fought off the disease and recover, taking no more damage.

If a disease is Permanent, it can only be cured with a cure disease spell. Most permanent diseases have herbal medicines that can negate the ill effects for a limited time.

These Fortitude saving throws can be rolled secretly so that the player doesn’t know whether the disease has taken hold.

Disease Descriptions
Diseases have various symptoms and are spread through a number of vectors. The characteristics of several typical diseases are summarized on Table: Diseases and defined below.

The disease’s method of delivery—ingested, inhaled, via injury, or contact. Keep in mind that some injury diseases may be transmitted by as small an injury as a flea bite and that most inhaled diseases can also be ingested (and vice versa).

The Difficulty Class for the Fortitude saving throws to prevent infection, or (if the character has been infected), to prevent each instance of repeated damage, and to recover from the disease.

Incubation Period
The time before damage begins.

The ability damage the character takes after incubation and each day afterward.

Table: Diseases

DiseaseTypeFort DCIncubationFrequencyCureEffect
Blinding sicknessIngested161d3 days1/dayTwo consecutive saves2 Str
Cackle feverInhaled161 day1/dayTwo consecutive saves3 Wis
Daevar FeverInjury131 day1/dayTwo consecutive saves1 Con, 1d3 Str
Demon feverInjury181 day1/dayTwo consecutive saves2 Con
Devil chillsInjury141d4 days1/dayThree consecutive saves2 Str
Filth feverInjury121d3 days1/dayTwo consecutive saves1 Dex, 1 Con
Ghoul FeverInjury121 day1/dayTwo consecutive saves or 2 weeks time1d3 Con, 1d3 Dex
MindfireInhaled121 day1/dayTwo consecutive saves2 Int
Mummy rotContact161 day1/dayRemove curse, remove disease2 Con, 2 Cha
Neem DiseaseInjury177 days1/dayRemove disease, seppa root medicine 2 Con, -3 to Fort saves
Red acheInjury151d3 days1/dayTwo consecutive saves3 Str
ShakesContact131 day1/dayTwo consecutive saves4 Dex
Slimy doomContact141 day1/dayTwo consecutive saves2 Con


The weather in Atheles is erratic and dangerous. One day the sun can bake the lands, leaving nothing behind dust and cracked mud. The next, a raging acid rain storm moves through, burning the characters and any animals caught out in it.

Spring/Summer, % roll

  • 1-50: Clear
  • 51-70: Overcast, Slight chance of rain.
  • 71-85: Rain
  • 86-95: Heavy Thunderstorm
  • 96: Dust Storm
  • 97: Tornado
  • 98-99: Acid Rain Storm – 1d6 damage per hour in the rain.
  • 100: Acid Rain electric storm – 1d6 damage per hour in the rain, massive lightning. 50% Chance for Demon Spawn.

Fall/Winter, % roll

  • 1-25: Clear Moderate
  • 26-50: Clear Cold
  • 51-59: Overcast, Slight chance of rain. Cold but tolerable.
  • 60-70: Overcast, Slight chance of freezing rain. Cold. Biting Wind.
  • 71-85: Rain
  • 86-95: Thundersnow
  • 96: Blizzard
  • 97: Tornado
  • 98-99: Acid Snow Storm – 1d6 damage per hour in the rain.
  • 100: Freezing Acid Rain electric storm – d6 damage per hour in the rain, massive lightning. 60% Chance for Demon Spawn.



As adventurers travel together, they talk, help, console, or annoy each other. When long periods of downtime or travel occur, they often Bond. An adventurer chooses someone else in the party, rolls d20 plus Cha, and refers to the chart below.

17+: Bonding 

8-16: Reveal

7 or lower: Enmity

Bonding: The chosen character bonds with the other over a specific event or discussion.

Reveal: The chosen character reveals something about themselves to the other.

Enmity: The chosen character upsets the other with an action or conversation.

These interactions should be recorded in the Notes section of the player’s character sheet.