Jeff Vogel has now recreated his Exile trilogy in three Avernum games. The three games in this series (titled simply Avernum, Avernum 2, and Avernum 3) follow storylines identical in the large to those of the Exile games, but with many expansions and improvements.

To make a long and twisted trio of stories short: Avernum, the place, is a prison colony in the caves deep beneath the cruel Empire which rules the surface. It's full of monsters, political dissenters, criminals, misfits, rebels, wizards, and stranger beasts. Only strong magic makes it livable at all, and the best thing there is to drink is beer brewed from dried mushrooms. Avernum, the first game, is about securing this dangerous home from the terrors of the caverns, and avenging the Empire's injustices. Avernum 2 is about first contact with an alien race deep in the caverns, and a war between the surface and the cave dwellers. Avernum 3 is about rapprochement between the two nations, a quest to rid the surface of plagues of monsters to make way for the Avernites' return, and the mystery of who's trying to despoil the surface world.

Some things to look for in Avernum if you've played Exile include:

  • Semi-3D user interface. The game appearance is that used in Nethergate, Vogel's game set in a magical Roman-era Britain. It's nothing fancy -- reminiscent of a mix of Ultima V and VI -- but it does quite nicely for the game.
  • Vastly expanded world. The world of Avernum is some ungodly factor larger than that of Exile. There are more towns and dungeons, more side quests, more stuff to find, and more backstory.
  • Better game balance. In Exile, mages kicked fighters' ass. In Avernum, fighters do vastly more damage in a single blow, but offensive mage spells target more opponents.
  • Expanded skills system. There's much more flexibility in growing your characters, thanks to a number of special skills they can pick up. Each skill comes with an illustrative cartoon by none other than Phil Foglio in the stats display, too.
  • And yes, the little joke at Elf Sternberg's expense is still in there.

The Avernum games are available for both Mac OS (Classic) and Windows. Carbonized versions are slated for fall 2002, and Blades of Avernum -- an adventure construction set based on Blades of Exile has been mentioned.

Title: Avernum
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Publisher: Spiderweb Software
Date Published: June 14, 2000
Platforms: PC, Macintosh

The Avernum series is a remake of the classic Exile series by Spiderweb Software. Featuring a huge, open-ended world, a point-based character creation system, and a gameplay experience that will make old-school RPG fans weep with nostalgia, this game is a wonderful thing for those of us who miss the days of Wizardry and Ultima. And with three full games comprising the series, there is enough to keep even the most hardcore of gamers busy for quite some time.

Getting the game

It's easy. Just go to, and download the demo. The great thing is, you're not just downloading the demo. The entire game is in the download, but once you get to a certain point within the game, you have to send a payment to Spiderweb Software in order to receive an activation code that will unlock the rest of the game. It's the very essence of shareware.


The story of Avernum spans the course of three games. The basis behind the entire series is the struggle against those who live in Avernum, the underworld, versus the Empire, led by Emporer Hawthorne. The Empire controls everything on the surface, and maintains order with an iron fist. Back in the olden days, dissenters and naysayers of the Empire were summarily executed. Now, in these enlightened days, dissenters and naysayers are exiled through a magic portal into the extensive network of caverns and tunnels beneath the empire. This has been going on for about five decades.

The name for this underworld is Avernum. It is a dangerous, lightless place, and the best thing here by far is their mushroom beer, which by all accounts, isn't all that good.

From here on out, this section will contain spoilers. Skip this if you don't want to hear them.

The first game begins with your exile into Avernum. The exact nature of your crime is left to your imagination, but most likely it has to do with speaking out against the rule of the Empire. You start out stumbling through the portal into Fort Avernum, where you are welcomed and integrated into the society of the underworld. After some time delving into the world of Avernum, you learn that not only thieves, naysayers, and misfits were exiled into Avernum. There are several archmages who were also exiled. Most of these are content to improve the quality of life for the exiles, but one archmage, Erika Redmark, isn't content with doing that. She wants revenge, and a group of adventurers hardened by surviving the rigors of the underworld would be perfect to execute that...

After a wild, dangerous, and ultimately successful adventure, Emporer Hawthorne lies dead, assassinated in his own throne room.

The second game begins after the assassination of Emporer Hawthorne. The Empire has become more wise, and has realized that having a den of vipers under their feet whose only common thread is their hatred of the Empire is probably *NOT* a very good idea. The main portal to Avernum is closed, and no more people are sent through. Then the Empire began to open other portals, into remote areas of Avernum. Through these portals they began to send troops, who are bent on only one thing.


Fortunately, teleporting people is a draining and tiring task, so there aren't hordes of soldiers invading Avernum, but there are enough that they have taken a quarter of the cities and forts the Avernites had tried to defend.

You begin far away from the front of this war, in a tiny garrison called Fort Ganrick. And no, you are not the same party that assassinated Emporer Hawthorne. You are commissioned to help take out a nasty little den of Nephilim. This is hardly the biggest threat facing Avernum, but it isn't long before you're swept into the biggest battle ever to face the underworld.

And the existence of everyone there may very well depend on the discovery of a strange, previously unknown race living in the deep caverns...

The third game begins years after the narrow defeat of the Empire. The Avernites chafe at their imprisonment below ground. They have found a way to the surface, but before they can go up and resettle, a scouting group needs to be sent up to see who is there, and whether it is safe to come out. You are this scouting group, and you must go on an adventure that will bring you from the very tips of the overworld, and even back down into the depths of Avernum...

Character Creation

Character creation is based on an open, point based system, which is perfect for creating a balanced party. You have four characters to create, and in Avernum 2 and on, three basic races to choose from.


  • Humans - No particular bonuses or penalties
  • Nephilim - More nimble, bonus to missile weapons. 10% xp penalty
  • Slith - Resistant to fire, bonus to pole weapons. 20% xp penalty

The Nephilim are a savage, feral race of cat-like people, while the Slith are basically lizard-men.

Once you select the race for your character, you have two choices. You can go with the pre-crafted character templates (not recommended), or you can use the custom character generator to assign your abilities point-by-point. You have 60 points to spend in varying increments to start out your character.

Character Stats

  • Strength (STR) - Increases the weight you can carry, and the damage of your attacks.
  • Dexterity (DEX) - Helps you hit more often, act sooner in combat, and dodge enemy attacks.
  • Intelligence (INT) - Determines the power of your spells, as well as your available spell points.
  • Endurance (END) - Determines your hit points, as well as your resistance to poison.

Combat Skills

  • Melee Weapons (MEL) - Determines your chance to hit with melee weapons, such as daggers and swords. You have a chance to hit a creature equal to 30% + 5% * MEL. The base rank of this skill is (STR + DEX) / 3.
  • Pole Weapons (POL) - Determines your chance to hit with polearms and spears. You have a chance to hit a creature equal to 30% + 5% * POL. The base rank of this skill is (STR + DEX) / 3.
  • Bows (BOW) - Determines your chance to hit with bows and crossbows. You have a chance to hit a creature equal to 40% + 5% * BOW. The base rank of this skill is DEX / 2.
  • Thrown Weapons (THR) - Determines your chance to hit with thrown daggers and rocks. You have a chance to hit a creature equal to 40% + 5% * THR. The base rank of this skill is DEX / 2. This is a cheap skill to upgrade, and is recommended for mages.
  • Hardiness (HRD) - This is your character's natural body armor. Each rank in this bestows a chance to reduce damage taken by one point. The base rank is STR / 4.
  • Defense (DEF) - Each rank in this skill reduces your character's chance of being hit in combat by 4%. The base rank of this skill is DEX / 4.
  • Assassination (ASS) - This skill allows fighters to do more damage against weaker opponents. The amount of damage increases as your level does.

Magic Skills

  • Mage Spells (MAG) - This determines what mage spells you can cast, as well as the effectiveness of them. Each mage spell has a minimum requirement in this skill in order to cast it. You need at least 18 ranks in this to cast the most powerful mage spells.
  • Priest Spells (PRI) - This determines what priest spells you can cast, as well as the effectiveness of them. Each priest spell has a minimum requirement in this skill in order to cast it. You need at least 18 ranks in this to cast the most powerful priest spells.
  • Arcane Lore (ARC) - This determines how well you read runes and identify magical items. The base value for this is INT / 2.
  • Potion Making (POT) - This increases your chance of successfully making potions from the various herbs you'll find around Avernum. 15 ranks in this skill will make every potion you make successful.

Useful Skills

  • Tool Use (TUS) - This skill effects your chance of picking locks and disarming traps. The base value of this skill is DEX / 2.
  • Cave Lore (CLO) - This skill effects your chance of finding potion ingredients, avoiding certain monster encounters, and also is helpful in some scripted events.
  • First Aid (AID) - This skill allows you to tend a characters wounds. More ranks in this skill will allow you to heal more damage, but a poorly trained character might actually cause harm.
  • Luck (LCK) - Luck gives a small bonus to all of your skills, and helps with certain random events. Several of your resistances are based on luck.

Secondary Skills

Some statistics in Avernum are indirectly affected by your ranks in other skills. Listed below are these statistics, and the formulas used to calculate them.

  • Health - This is how much damage you can take before you die. Base: (7 + END * (1 + Level / 2))
  • Spell Energy - This is what you use to cast spells. Base: (2 * INT + 2 * MAG + 2 * PRI) (This means that hybrid spellcasters will have FAR more spell energy)
  • Poison Resistance - Each rank in this skill adds 5% to your chance to resist poison or disease. Base: (END + LCK + HRD / 2)
  • Magic Resistance - Each rank in this skill adds 5% to your chance to resist magical attacks. Base: (MAG / 2 + LCK)
  • Willpower - Each rank in this skill adds 5% to your chance to resist charming, paralysis, and other mental attacks. Base: (INT + MAG / 2 + PRI / 2 + LCK)
  • Resist Elements - Each rank in this skill adds 5% to your chance to resist elemental attacks. Base: (DEX / 4 + HRD / 2 + LCK)
  • Item Lore - This helps you identify items. Base: (INT / 2 + MAG / 2 + ARC)
  • Rune Reading - This helps you identify arcane texts found in your adventure. Base: (INT / 2 + PRI / 2 + ARC)

Special Skills

Certain skills can be found and learned within the game by completing certain quests.

  • Barter (BAR) - This helps you trade with shopkeepers. This skill is trainable.
  • Find Herbs (HRB) - This skill helps you find more herbs in the wilderness. This skill is not trainable.
  • Blademaster (BLD) - This skill increases your proficiency in hitting and damaging with hand-to-hand weapons. This skill is trainable.
  • Anatomy (ANT) - This skill increases your damage against humanoid creatures, and also increases your first aid. This skill is trainable.
  • Gymnastics (GYM) - This skill greatly increases your agility, making you harder to hit and granting them more action points in combat. This skill is trainable.
  • Pathfinder (PAT) - This skill helps you with moving through hostile terrain, such as swamps. This skill is trainable.
  • Magery (MGR) - This increases the effectiveness of any mage spells you cast. This skill is not trainable.
  • Parry (PRY) - This increases your chance of avoiding blows in combat. This skill is not trainable.
  • Vahnatai Lore (VAH) - Helps you with certain encounters involving the Vahnatai. This skill is not trainable.
  • Dread Curse (N/A) - This makes you a little worse at everything you do. It takes 500 coins in the Tower of Magi to get rid of. This skill is, of course, not trainable.

Special Skills

These skills add onto the skills that you already have. None of these are trainable.

  • Improved Bows
  • Improved Cave Lore
  • Improved Blademaster
  • Improved Mage Spells

Advantages and Disadvantages

At character creation, you have the option of adding up to two traits to your characters, whether for good or ill. Each of these traits carries a certain XP penalty or bonus, represented by the percent after the name of the trait. Good traits, naturally, carry an XP penalty, while the bad traits give you an XP bonus.

Good Traits

  • Great Reknown - 10%: You were well known on the surface, enough that your fame has spread down into Avernum. You gain a bonus to your beginning reputation.
  • Nimble Fingers - 15%: You are particularly adept at picking locks and disarming traps.
  • Beastmaster - 15%: You have a connection with animals. Once per day, you may use the "Summon Animal" ability to call a creature to fight for you.
  • Strong Will - 15%: You have a greater resistance to mind-effecting attacks.
  • Good Education - 15%: You are well educated. This bestows a greater chance to decipher runes.
  • Toughness - 20%: You are very tough. You have a greater chance of resisting poison and disease, and also a greater chance of resisting damage in hostile situations.
  • Fast on Feet - 20%: You are very quick. You will act sooner in combat, and you will sometimes receive bonus action points in combat.
  • Natural Mage - 25%: A must for any spellcaster, this increases the effectiveness of your spells, and allows mages to cast spells even while wearing encumbering armor.
  • Elite Warrior - 30%: This increases your ability to hit and damage opponents, and also allows you to go into a berserk rage once per day.
  • Divinely Touched - 40%: There is a touch of divine blood flowing through your veins. Everything you do, you do well, and you get a small number of special abilities that can be used once per day. (Regenerate, Call Spirit, and Divine Aid)

Bad Traits

  • Cursed at Birth - 20%: A mage took a disliking to your parents, and you were cursed at birth. You sometimes take a penalty to your actions, and magical effects sometimes effect you more.
  • Sickness Prone - 20%: You were a sickly child that grew into a sickly adult. You will be more affected by poison and disease.
  • Sluggish - 30%: The opposite of "Fast on Feet". You will act later in combat, and receive fewer action points.
  • Brittle Bones - 30%: You had an unfortunate childhood disease that left your bones brittle. Going into combat may be a bad idea, as enemy blows will be devastating.
  • Completely Inept - 40%: How I feel sometimes. This trait means that adventuring is probably a REALLY bad choice for you, as you just suck at everything. The wind blows, you catch a cold. An enemy draws their sword, you fall on it. Basically any character with this trait is an accident-prone pack mule.


Once you get the character created, you're on the way to exploring the huge, painstaking detailed world of Avernum!

And believe me, there is a *LOT* to explore here. I don't even want to think of the number of hours I burned on Avernum 3 alone. There are about 80 cities in any given Avernum game, and miles and miles of world to explore. And with the completely open-ended, nonlinear style of gameplay, you have complete freedom to explore it as you choose.

The game is driven by a point-and-click menu interface, although you can practically play the entire thing using keyboard shortcuts. The game runs in an isometric view, which works wonderfully for its concept.

The combat system will be very familiar to those who enjoyed Ultima: Exodus, although it is slightly different. Combat is run on a overhead-view tile-based map, and characters take turns depending on their stats. Each round, each character receives a certain number of Action Points which may be used to move, attack, or cast spells, with each action costing a different number of points. Even if an action takes three action points (such as an attack), you can perform it even if you only have one left. Haste spells, which greatly increase your action points, will play heavily in combat.

The aquiring of magic and magic spells is also a large part of gameplay. Each spell must be learned, usually by examining musty old tomes, but learning it often isn't enough. Each spell has three levels of power that can be aquired through completing certain quests, and certain spells, such as Farsight, Dispel Barrier, and Passwall, will become requirements for further progression into the game.

Aquiring equipment, of course, is also a large part of the game, but even more so than usual, because many of the weapons you start with are made of stone. Upgrading to metal equipment will be one of your first priorities for a beginning party.

In the end, it's the gameplay that makes Avernum so wonderful. With a huge, detailed world, and hours and hours of quests to complete, almost all RPG fans will have a field day with this series.

Avernum also comes with a built in savegame editor, which can come in really handy if you get your party caught in a tight spot. You can use this to restore health, spell points, remove poison and disease, uncurse items, and even to remove your characters if they are trapped in a town. You can also adjust any of your stats to your liking, as well as adding on spells and magical items. There is also an option to disable the save game editor, for those of us who don't like the temptation of having it there.

I had to throw this part in, and I figure this is the best place to do it. One of my keyboard-throwing moments I had playing this game was when I noticed a lone sign at the other end of a HUGEUNGOUS swamp. In case you don't already know, swamps in this game are *VERY* deadly. I figured the out-of-the-way location meant that there was something important on that sign, so I saved my game, and began my trek to to the sign. 15 steps and two dead characters later, I finally get to the sign and read it.

Danger: Swamp!

(This may very well be the most useless sign you've ever seen)

To my credit, I didn't actually throw the keyboard.


For the time period, atrocious. Really. Tile-based graphics mean that many of the enviromental features look cut and pasted across the game, and many of the models for characters look little better than stick figures. If you're looking for a graphical extravaganza ala Final Fantasy 7 and up, you are going to be SORELY disappointed, because they really do suck. But for those of us who are more interested in an immersive story line and deep gameplay, the graphics can be overlooked, and even add a certain element of nostalgia for many of us. One of the wonderful things in this category is that each statistic for your character includes an illustration by none other than Phil Foglio of Girl Genius fame.


Again, completely atrocious. Really. There is no music to speak of, except on the title screen, and there it's actually pretty good. The sound effects leave just a bit to be desired, but again, we aren't here for the multimedia eye candy.

Final Thoughts

This game is living proof that it doesn't take a mind-blowing plethora of graphical and sound effects to make a solid game. Using some of the most simple graphics and sound possible, Spiderweb Software has managed to make an absolute gem of a game, and it is well worth every penny they ask for it. I love it, and I would heartily recommend it for anyone who enjoys RPGs.

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