by Kevin Kulp

As mentioned when we looked at Conan, it’s fun to see how a hero you know translates into Swords of the Serpentine. Let’s take a look at two ways to play Michael Moorcock’s classic antihero Elric of Melniboné using the SotS rules.

You’ve probably heard of Elric or seen pictures of him even if you’ve never read Moorcock’s work: skinny with long white hair and red eyes, cloaked in black armor, wielding the soul-devouring blade Stormbringer. The naturally frail Elric uses Stormbringer’s power for health and strength, as the blade’s fell magic replaces the expensive alchemical potions Elric used to take to survive. Sure, Stormbringer tends to kill and drain the soul from anyone Elric likes or loves, but isn’t that a small price to pay?

(As a hero, Elric might be a tiny bit flawed. *cough*)

There are a few aspects of Elric that we want to capture when we recreate him as a Swords of the Serpentine hero.

  • Stormbringer eats souls and is hard or impossible to get rid of
  • Emperor Elric is a noble sorcerer who summons demons and gods to do his bidding, but is also manipulated by them (especially by his patron god of chaos, Arioch)
  • He’s weak and frail unless he consumes rare and expensive alchemical supplements, or unless his sword Stormbringer consumes souls to heal him

Option One: Elric, Sorcerer of Demons and Blades

In this option we create Elric as a sorcerer who has the spheres Blades, Chaos, and Demonology, all affecting health. We don’t give him a single rank of Warfare. “But Kevin,” you ask, “Elric spends all his time stabbing people with Stormbringer! What gives?”

Good question. If you want to play Elric your first inclination is probably to ask the GM for a magic sword like Stormbringer. Problems are that you haven’t done anything to earn it, SotS a game about your own personal capabilities and not those of your items, and you don’t want to risk so iconic an item being lost, destroyed, stolen, or taken away by the GM.

Stormbringer

There’s an easy solution. SotS is predicated on “your abilities define your capabilities, and you describe those capabilities however you want.” Use Sorcery instead of Warfare, select the Blades sphere, and describe your attacks as swinging Stormbringer. You decide the fate of anyone you defeat, so when you defeat someone announce “their souls are devoured by my sword.” Flavorful, tragic, and effective.

Narratively, Stormbringer is a pitch-black demon-sword with red runes; mechanically it’s just the form your Sorcery damage takes. You attack using Sorcery, your base attack does 1d6+1 damage to Health, and you can boost damage with Investigative spends as normal. This is very different from (say) D&D’s approach to magic items, but fits right into how Swords of the Serpentine handles player narrative control.

Elric’s Demon-Summoning

For this version of Elric, demon-summoning ancient gods is handled with the normal Sorcery rules alongside the Demonology sphere. You may choose to save your Corruption spends for particularly powerful demon-summoning to emulate Arioch or other gods laying waste to your enemies for you. You probably gain your sorcerous power from Elric’s patron Arioch, God of Chaos.

Frail Health

So how do we handle Elric’s frail Health? Here we may need to ask the GM for a house rule.

“How do you feel about me losing one point of Health every new scene (until I reach -5 Health), and to balance this I’m healed one point of Health for every Refresh token I create when killing enemies?”

Is it fair, balanced, and fun? The GM considers this and says yes (the effect is similar to the mace Lifedrinker on page 189 of Swords of the Serpentine’s Adventurer’s Edition) – and adds that you could also spend 2 Repute each adventure to procure rare alchemical drugs that would pause your Health loss for the adventure.

Option One’s Elric

Name: Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné

Mournful, Frail, Albino, Regal, Introspective

Drives: Blood and souls for my Lord Arioch!; All the books, ALL OF THEM; Balancing between Law and Chaos

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3, Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Morale 8

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 10 vs. Health; Damage Modifier +1 (Stormbringer/Blades, Chaos, Demonology)

Offense – Sway: Sway 3; Damage Modifier +1 (haughty)

Investigative Abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 3; Corruption 3, Forgotten Lore 1, Leechcraft 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 1; Ally: Sorcerous Cabals 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 6, Preparedness 3, Stealth 3, Sorcery 10 (Blast), Sway 3

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Health) Blades; Chaos; Demonology

Gear: Distaste for your degenerate culture; patron gods who manipulate you; a head full of powerful summonings; a black-bladed, rune-covered sword named Stormbringer; a frail body kept alive only by alchemy or magic; black plate armor; weighty responsibilities; far too many dead friends and lovers; a cousin who’s trying to overthrow you; red eyes, pale skin, and white hair

Special: You lose 1 Health at the start of every new scene, down to -5 Health; prevent this by spending 2 Repute per adventure on rare alchemical concoctions. When defeating adversaries with Stormbringer, you can drain their souls to heal 1 Health per Refresh token you earn.

Option Two: A Two-Hero Approach

Want to team up with a friend? One of you plays Elric… and one of you plays Stormbringer.

There’s no real reason why your Hero in Swords of the Serpentine can’t be a sentient sword. The main challenge to consider is “how does a sword exert its will on the world?”, and there are lots of way to show that. You might be able to fly, or have a human act for you, or possess others, or have limited nearby telekinesis. As long as you can still do the same sorts of things a human could, you aren’t bending any rules or creating a power imbalance. In this case, you settle on Stormbringer manipulating humans around it, or subconsciously communicating through its wielder.

If you and your friend want to play partners like Stormbringer and Elric, and your GM says okay, go for it. Maybe you even switch off every few games. Just make sure the player with Stormbringer feels like they are making a difference in the narrative.

Both Elric and Stormbringer are considered Heroes and each gets an attack during a round, making it look to enemies like Elric is an incredibly accomplished warrior. Delightfully, give Stormbringer ranks of Bind Wounds so that it can heal its wielder.

Option Two’s Elric

This Elric is almost the same as above, but with no Bind Wounds ability and 8 ranks of Warfare.

Name: Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné

Mournful, Frail, Albino, Regal, Introspective

Drives: Blood and souls for my Lord Arioch!; All the books, ALL OF THEM; Balancing between Law and Chaos

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3, Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (duty), Morale 8

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 8 vs. Health; Damage Modifier +1 (Blades, Chaos, Demonology)

Offense – Sway: Sway 3; Damage Modifier +1 (haughty)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8; Damage Modifier +2 (Stormbringer)

Investigative Abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 3; Corruption 3, Forgotten Lore 1, Leechcraft 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 1; Ally: Sorcerous Cabals 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Preparedness 3, Stealth 3, Sorcery 8 (Blast), Sway 3, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Health) Blades; Chaos; Demonology

Gear: Distaste for your degenerate culture; patron gods who manipulate you; a head full of powerful summonings; a black-bladed, rune-covered sword named Stormbringer; a frail body, kept alive only by alchemy or magic; black plate armor; weighty responsibilities; far too many dead friends and lovers; a cousin who’s trying to overthrow you; red eyes, pale skin, and white hair

Special: You lose 1 Health at the start of every new scene, down to -5 Health; prevent this by spending 2 Repute per adventure on rare alchemical concoctions. When defeating adversaries with Stormbringer, you can drain their souls to heal 1 Health per Refresh token you earn.

Option Two’s Stormbringer

Name: Stormbringer, a greatsword of power

Demon-haunted, soul-devouring, deceitful, deadly, hungry

Drives: Blood and souls for Lord Arioch!; keep Elric safe and victorious; destroy everyone Elric loves or cares for

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3 (demon-forged steel), Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (deviousness), Morale 8

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 8 vs. Morale; Damage Modifier +1 (Fear)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8; Damage Modifier +2 (razor-sharp blade)

Investigative Abilities: Intimidation 3; Corruption 1, Spot Frailty 2, Tactics of Death 4

Allegiances: Ally: Mercenaries 1; Ally: Outlanders 1; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General Abilities: Bind Wounds 6, Stealth 8 (Where’d It Go?), Sorcery 8 (Blast), Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Morale) Fear

Gear: Growing impatience, mollified by blood; envy of anyone Elric seems to care for; a burning joy of chaos; faded memories of being a free demon; a body shaped like a night-black blade with glowing red runes; knowledge of Elric’s terrible need; a shameful desire for partnership

Special: You can’t walk or fly, but if left behind you can use Stealth to reappear wherever you would like, including within your scabbard. You must swallow the soul of any creature defeated by your blade. You can only apply your Bind Wounds to yourself or your wielder. You have a subtle mental link with your wielder that allows you to communicate.

 


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, to be published in 2021. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

By Kevin Kulp

Swords of the Serpentine’s pre-layout PDF is available for everyone who has pre-ordered the game, so here’s another free adventure seed to use alongside of (or instead of) A Corpse Astray from the rulebook. This adventure seed should fill one or two game sessions, and the supporting characters here can be integrated into ongoing plots in your game. Due to space limitations you’ll want to fill this adventure in during your own play, adding clues, supporting characters, adversaries, and complexity.

Please don’t read farther if you’re a player, or you will find yourself spoiled.

Adventure Premise

A corrupt commander of the City Watch is being stalked by a penanggalan, a monstrosity in the shape of a (mostly) bodiless woman who sniffs out and devours sin. She is starting to systematically kill and consume his corrupt associates and partners, drawing ever close to the commander himself in the same way that a wild animal circles its prey. Unwilling to involve the Watch due to a fear that his own crimes will be exposed, the commander instead hires the Heroes to find and exterminate her. Whether they do, or whether they spare her and expose the corrupt Watch Officer instead, depends on their actions and decisions during the adventure.  Although combat can occur, this isn’t a combat-heavy adventure; the drama is the heroes making difficult decisions when they realize the human who hired them is more monstrous than the actual monster.

Background

Watch Commander Antonio Teldi handles the Night Watch (pp. 334-335) in Harbor Approach (p. 311), the district of Eversink filled primarily with piers, shipping warehouses, and Mercanti mansions. A great amount of smuggling and other illicit crimes comes through Harbor Approach, and Teldi is arranging or getting paid off for almost all of it. Major thieves’ guilds have him on their secret bribe lists, as Commander Teldi has the authority to steer his Watch officers away from night-time illegal operations.. or towards illegal operations that haven’t yet bribed him sufficiently. His men hate him for being high-handed, politically connected, and mostly incompetent, but they don’t know that Teldi is corrupt. Teldi sure wants to keep it that way; one hint of his many, many illegal activities and his house of cards will collapse in a bonfire of public shame and scandal. Luckily there isn’t much violent crime in Harbor Approach, something Teldi has nothing to do with but gets credit for anyways.

The Mercanti merchant Lara Marano co-owns Marano’s, a small Harbor Approach storefront that uses vinegar, salt, and herbs to make some of Eversink’s finest pickles. Lara and her wife Sialia employ about twenty commoners for cooking and delivery; Lara runs the operation during the day, and Sialia (reputedly a night owl) watches the property overnight so that they don’t need to pay for extra mercenary guards. They’re unlikely to be robbed; Marano’s pickles are much-loved, and anyone who tried to hurt the merchants would face the wrath of many elite chefs across the city.

Unknown to anyone except her wife Lara, Sialia is also a penanggalan (pp. 236-237), a cursed monstrosity who each night separates her head and her dangling viscera from her body cavity and rises into the darkness to feed on sin and depravity. In this regard her role is one of vigilante; even as she feeds on the cruel and corrupt, she works to keep Harbor Approach safer and a better place to live. After all, she lives there too! She’s a monster but not an unthinking one. She has recently run across Teldi’s many corrupt operations and is planning on destroying him. Before she does, she plans to kill and destroy as many of his associates as she can, to make him fear her – and that fear will make his sin and shame taste all the sweeter.

Commander Teldi doesn’t know what’s killing his various confederates and criminal associates, but he’s terrified of it. Worse, he can’t turn the problem over to the Watch because it would only be a matter of time before an officer connects him to the victims. Better, he thinks, to hire outsiders and pay them well for their success and silence.

Scene 1: The Offer

Lead-in: none

Lead-out: Scene 2 or Scene 4

In scene 1, Commander Antonio Teldi of the City Watch arrives in plain clothes to hire the Heroes for a monster hunt and extermination.

Why he comes to these Heroes depends on their Allegiances. If anyone has 1 or more ranks of Ally: City Watch, that’s reason enough. If not, 1 or more ranks of Ally: Thieves’ Guilds might imply that Teldi’s less reputable contacts recommended the Heroes as people who were trustworthy. Find a reason to explain his approach.

Teldi will explain that in the last week there have been two different but unusual break-ins and murders in Harbor Approach. He fears it is an inhuman monster, and he’s not sure that’s something a Watch officer should face; their job is arresting criminals and keeping order, not fighting creatures of the night. So as not to alarm them, he is coming to the Heroes for quiet assistance in this matter, and he can pay them (2-3 Wealth apiece) for their trouble out of personal funds and a Watch slush fund if they find and slay the murderer, whether it is a monster or not. He’ll lend them a Badge of Office (p. 170) with two pool points of Favor: City Watch, good for this adventure.

Note that these details are true (and won’t set off Liar’s Tell), but there’s also a huge amount that Teldi isn’t telling: that he knew the victims due to illegal connections, that he has covered up his involvement at the crime scenes, that he’s scared, and that he has secret wealth that he hopes to flee with if everything really goes sour. Regardless, Teldi genuinely intends to pay the Heroes their reward for killing the monster; he’s dealt with powerful people enough to know that you don’t cheat them, ever.

Design note: You can change, eliminate, or add to these murder scenes as you like. The goal is to send the Heroes to find clues to the murderer, and as they do so discover that all the people murdered were particularly bad folks, and that all had a link to Commander Teldi. If you also want a game with a more wicked monstrosity, you can change the penanggalan to make her much less sympathetic.

Teldi explains that the two murder scenes are as follows, all committed in the last two days:

  • A powerful and badly-scarred woman is killed in her cheap apartment, stabbed by more than half a dozen of her own weapons a night or two ago.
  • The second floor of a grain warehouse, where a young man working at night was set on fire early this morning.

He chooses not to give them much more information, telling them to draw their own conclusions. Teldi will give the Heroes the addresses of both locations in Harbor Approach; the stabbing is closer.

The crime scenes haven’t been examined by the Watch yet since Teldi is keeping it quiet, and he encourages the Heroes to tell him if they think they aren’t up to the job. He emphasizes that they don’t need to worry about how or if the crimes are linked, he and the Watch will take care of that. Just find and kill that monster!

Commander Antonio Teldi

Impressive, apparently competent, secretly corrupt

Use the stats for Watch Commander in the rules, with the following changes.

Special Abilities:  The “Allies” and “Summoning” special abilities only functions if Teldi has not been revealed to his fellow officers as corrupt.

Description: Teldi looks the very model of a smart, well-presenting Watch Commander – good posture, direct gaze, and a confident commanding tone. He uses these tricks to hide his cowardice and greed.

Scene 2 (optional): Enemy Interference

Lead-in: Scene 1

Lead-out: Scene 3 or Scene 5

If you have enough time in your game session for an optional encounter, one of the Heroes’ enemies hassles them as they travel across the city towards Harbor Approach. This could be a group of snide nobles, irritated City Watch, or any Enemy faction you wish. This encounter has nothing to do with the main plot and serves to remind players that Enemies exist for a reason. Make this encounter interesting and memorable, but short, as befits a flavorful side encounter.

Scene 3: Stabbing

Lead-in: Scene 2 or Scene 5

Lead-out: Scene 4 or Scene 6

This murder took place in a seedy apartment two nights ago; locked from the inside, the door was broken down when Commander Teldi found her last night and has since been jammed shut. The Heroes are let in by a landlord who will also answer simple questions. In the single room a strong and heavily scarred woman lies on the floor, pierced by a half-dozen different weapons. There is surprisingly little blood.

Clues

  • The landlord (or another neighbor) reports that her name was Zarra. She was an outlander mercenary who settled in Eversink a few years ago. She wasn’t a nice person; she had a job as muscle for someone powerful and important, she broke limbs and cracked heads, but never seemed to have any fear of getting arrested. She paid her rent on time and drank extensively. (any Social ability)
  • Zarra worked for someone in the government or City Watch who was also running some business on the side; Zarra’s job was picking up extorted protection money for them, and for extorting protection money from regular businesses as well. No one knows exactly who she worked for because she never discussed her employer. (Scurrilous Rumors)
  • Items in the apartment are smashed; Zarra put up a fight. There are no footprints other than her own. Her body is covered with punctures and strange abrasions, as if being strangled or restrained by some sort of cable. There’s a mark on the ceiling that looks like a bloody mop was thrown against it during the fight, when Zarra briefly managed to fling her attacker upwards. (Tactics of Death)
  • Zarra was drained of blood before she was impaled by any weapon, probably from the strange punctures on her body. (Leechcraft)
  • The weapons she has been impaled by are her own favorite weapons from sheaths around the apartment, weapons chosen by her to be terrifying as well as deadly. She also has her favorite blackjack shoved into her mouth. Someone was trying to send a warning. (core – Felonious Intent or Skullduggery)
  • Each of the weapons has a faint stickiness of dried blood on it; the blood smells vaguely like vinegar. Similarly, there is a patch coating the closed and locked window. (Vigilance)
  • There are several blood-matted long red hairs clinging to Zarra’s clenched hands. (Felonious Intent or Vigilance)
  • If befriended, a neighbor says she saw something weird in the sky two nights ago, something that looked like a cluster of fireflies. No one else nearby reports hearing anything other than a muffled thumping that they thought was Zarra falling down drunk. (Trustworthy)
  • The landlord didn’t see who found Zarra and broke open her door, but was alerted to the problem by a watch commander (Teldi) early this morning who told him to keep this quiet and keep the room secured until agents of the commander arrived. Maybe the Commander broke down the door himself, he doesn’t know, but SOMEONE owes him a new door! (any social ability)
  • Hidden under a desk drawer is a notebook where Zarra tracks her extortions and collections. It’s written in a code that can be read by anyone with ranks in Skullduggery. The name of the person she works for is not on there, but anyone checking it again after Scene 7 will notice that Zarra expanded her territory and asked Murano’s Pickles for protection money last month for the first time.
  • Zarra has no ghost; anyone with Spirit Sight seeking it out senses that somehow, someone has already created a funerary statue of her. It’s unclear who, but probably the same person who found her body. (Spirit Sight)
  • (Only if the Heroes ask) There are old folktales of a monster that looks like a human woman during the day but which separate their head and organs from their bodies at night, flying through the night with trailing viscera as they look for sin and blood to drink. They twinkle like fireflies while on the hunt. Called penanggalans, they can only shrink their swollen organs enough to fit back into their body by soaking them in vinegar. (Forgotten Lore or Know Monstrosities)
  • (Only if the Heroes ask) The only way to kill a penanggalan permanently is to destroy their empty torso while the head is away. (Know Monstrosities)

Scene 4: Montage

Lead-in: Scene 3 or Scene 5

Lead-out: Scene 3 or Scene 5

Between the two murder sites, run a single travel montage (p. 260) of moving across Harbor Approach: have one player say something that goes wrong, have a second player make it worse, then ask a third player to resolve it. Before or after this, casually mention a food cart selling deliciously fresh fried fish on a stick, along with the vinegary scent of the best pickles in town (Marano’s pickles). Make the food vendor as entertaining as you like if anyone stops to grab lunch. The mention of the pickles shouldn’t be obvious but becomes important as foreshadowing after investigating Scene 5.

Scene 5: Poisonous Fire

Lead-in: Scene 2 or Scene 4

Lead-out: Scene 4 or Scene 6

This murder took place last night on the upstairs offices of a grain warehouse, where at first glance it appears a young man working at night was somehow set on fire amidst a variety of discarded alchemical vials.

In truth, this office is rented by a middle-aged criminal named Belto (no known family name) who works for a thieves guild connected to poisoners and assassins. Belto contracts with corrupt alchemists across Eversink to make illegal and deadly alchemical poisons. He uses this space to repackage and label the poisons, and then sells them himself in Sag Harbor’s secret Night Markets. He does so with the knowledge and consent of Commander Teldi, who is paid handsomely for not interfering.

Belto was murdered in the wee hours of this morning when Sialia, in her form as a penanggalan, squeezed up through the floorboards. She dodged the vial Belto threw at her in panic, entangled him in her intestines, and drained his blood. Then she used her prehensile intestines to empty nine vials of alchemical poison into his throat; after she left, the chemicals reacted badly with each other, setting the corpse on fire and largely incinerating his upper torso.

Clues

  • There is the faint tang of vinegar in the air, oddly out of place. It’s not pure vinegar; there are aromatic salts and herbs mixed into the scent as well. (core – Vigilance)
  • The corpse is burned terribly from an acidic internal fire that started in the throat and stomach, but he was dead and completely drained of blood by the time the fire started. The blood was drained from numerous puncture wounds; no blood spatters the floor or walls. (Leechcraft)
  • The internal fire was started by mixing many alchemical poisons, at least nine, all poured down his throat after he was dead. Sticky dried fluid coats the outside of the discarded vials; it smells like blood mixed with vinegar. (Leechcraft)
  • These empty alchemical vials are labeled with the names of deadly potions, all in the victim’s handwriting, as if being readied to be put out for sale (Leechcraft, Skullduggery, or Ally: Thieves’ Guild)
  • Tracks on the floor (and on the ceiling of the floor below) seem to indicate that something squeezed through a crack in the floorboards somehow and then moved across the room, leaving a sticky trail behind. The trail looks almost like intestines and organs instead of feet. (Felonious Intent or Tactics of Death)
  • (If asked) The warehouse foreman can confirm that deliveries arrive and depart for Belto almost daily. While the foreman never sees Watch officers nearby, once a month a woman matching Zorra’s description arrives to pick up a satchel. (any social abilities)
  • Hidden in the room is an incomprehensively coded scroll written over many months, legible to someone with ranks of Skullduggery. Translated it tells of money coming in from sales of poisons, and money going out to alchemists, politicians, and Watch officers. No names are given other than Belto’s, although payments to Zarra (and thus Teldi) can be identified by the day she’d arrive to pick up payments. (Skullduggery)
  • Belto’s ghost is present, but his will was broken by the fight with the penanggalan and it is currently ranting and hard to understand as it tries to pull out its own intestines and internal organs in horror. It can confirm anything Belto knew, assuming someone with Spirit Sight is patient and soothing with it (which may require a Trustworthy spend or spending Sway to restore its lost Morale). If asked Belto’s ghost can describe the monstrosity that killed him, a hideous red-haired woman’s head with a nose ring and prehensile dangling intestines. (Spirit Sight)
  • There are old folktales of a monster that looks like a human woman during the day but which separate their head and organs from their bodies at night, flying through the night with trailing viscera as they look for sin and blood to drink. They twinkle like fireflies while on the hunt. Called penanggalans, they can only shrink their swollen organs enough to fit back into their body by soaking them in vinegar. (Forgotten Lore or Know Monstrosities)
  • (Only if the Heroes ask) The only way to kill a penanggalan permanently is to destroy their empty torso while the head is away. (Know Monstrosities)

Scene 6: The Cleaners

Lead-in: Scene 5

Lead-out: Scene 4 or Scene 7

Right when the investigation in Scene 5 starts to become boring, the Heroes hear feet on the stairs and the door to the office is kicked open. Six men and women are there, the leader of which is Leardo, a heavy man about as broad as he is tall. He’ll demand to know who the Heroes are and will demand for them to leave if they don’t want trouble.

Leardo is a commoner who works for the same thieves’ guild who employed Belto. He’s hostile and aggressive unless he recognizes any of the Heroes (2+ ranks of Ally: Commoners or Ally: Thieves’ Guilds), or unless one of the Heroes calms him down (perhaps by spending a point of Charm or Trustworthy, or by pretending to be from the City Watch). He and his brutes are there to clean out any sign of illegality from the murder site.

If the Heroes can get Leardo to talk instead of fight, he’ll ask “Who are you working for? Is it Teldi? We pay that worm a lot of money so that exactly this doesn’t happen. He BETTER make it right.” Once they have Leardo’s trust (or have defeated him and his group), he can confirm that Belto paid Scarra every month to get protection from the City Watch, as engineered by Watch Commander Teldi. He’s grieving Belto and doesn’t have any patience for a corrupt Watch officer who doesn’t live up to his end of a crooked bargain.

Use game statistics of “Brutish Lieutenant” for Leardo, and of “Brute” for his 5 assistants.

Clues

  • Belto was paying protection money to Watch Commander Teldi, who is completely corrupt. (core – any social ability)

Scene 7: Epiphany

Lead-in: Scene 3 or Scene 6

Lead-out: Scene 8 or Scene 9

By the time they have investigated the second murder site and dealt with Leardo, the Heroes should know the following:

  • The Heroes were hired by Watch Commander Teldi to destroy the monstrosity and nothing else.
  • Teldi is exceptionally corrupt, and is personally extorting money from criminal enterprises in Harbor Approach in exchange for Watch protection.
  • Teldi is scared and probably hired the Heroes because both victims were associated with him and were killed to send him a message. He didn’t want honest Watch officers to catch wind of his crimes.
  • The murderer is a red-haired penanggalan and must soak her viscera in vinegar to fit it back in her body.
  • The faint scent of vinegar wasn’t normal vinegar either; the scent was reminiscent of exceptional food. It actually smells like the delicious pickles available at many food carts around the city.
  • Penanggalan are said to sniff out and devour sin and wickedness.

The heroes are likely to take one of two paths at this point: track down the penanggalan or confront Teldi.

Finding the Penanggalan

The one clear clue to the monstrosity is the scent of highly unusual vinegar.

There are several sources of vinegar in Eversink, including a guild in Sag Harbor who make it in bulk. The only source with that unique scent, however, and the only real source in Harbor Approach, is a family business that runs Murano’s Pickles (core – City Secrets or Ally: Mercanti). The delicious scent of Murano’s Pickles matches the same unique quality found in the scent at the crime scene. While they are in food stalls all over the city, the best source of their vinegar brine would be the business itself. Proceed to Scene 8.

Confronting Teldi

Teldi works the Night Watch and sleeps during the day in a Harbor Approach apartment. He talks a good game but is easily intimidated by anyone who threatens him with revealing his secret. He’ll only fight if forced, preferring for others to fight his battles for him. The murder of Scarra, his hand-picked enforcer for more than three years, has shaken him and he is considering making a run for it.

If the Heroes confront him, he’ll deny it at first, check to see if he can have them arrested and then killed in custody, but ultimately he’ll try to buy them off with his illegally earned savings (kept at a bank). He suggests paying 5 Wealth per Hero for their silence. Once they agree to his offer and leave him alone, he’ll go get his money and make a run for it, buying passage on the first ship out of Eversink. If the Heroes kill him, they’ll likely have to deal with the problems that come with murdering an apparently good Watch Commander.

Scene 8: Murano’s

Lead-in: Scene 7

Lead-out: None

Murano’s Pickles is nestled near the docks in a secluded section of Harbor Approach. Lara Murano and her wife Sialia own the well-cared-for building; there’s a kitchen and manufacturing area where the pickles are made, and a shipping and warehouse area where supplies are unloaded from boats and where full barrels of pickles are shipped out to customers around the city. Lara handles paperwork in a small office, and above the office is the couples’ home. Sialia spends her day supervising the pickling process and handling quality control. Murano’s has been around for three generations, but the quality of their pickles became spectacular once Sialia married into the family. She reputedly has a nearly supernatural sense of smell and taste, enough that she’s fine-tuned the recipes exquisitely. And yes – those pickles are delicious.

At nighttime the factory closes and the workers go home. Several paid guards patrol the property, and Lara and Sialia head upstairs to their cozy home. If a Hero breaks in, the only odd thing about their home is the barrel of pickling brine that sits next to a straight-backed chair in their bathroom. That’s where Sialia’s body sits at night while her head and intestines are out hunting.

If met during the daytime, both Lara and Sialia are kind, busy, extremely competent businesswomen in their late 40s or early 50s. Lara knows her wife’s secret and would die to protect her despite having no combat skills whatsoever. Similarly, Sialia would die to protect Lara – and if the Heroes hurt Lara while trying to destroy Sialia’s body, the penanggalan will do her best to destroy the Heroes.

Clues

  • If approached during the day, pretending to be an important customer can get the Heroes a tour of the factory, and they can meet both Lara and Sialia (a friendly but private red-haired woman with a nose ring, in her early 40s.) (Command, Nobility, Trustworthy, or Ally: Mercanti)
  • Spying into their home will reveal the vat of pickle brine in their bedroom – possibly with Sialia’s body sitting next to it, depending on the time (Skullduggery)
  • Penanggalans don’t have to kill to feed; if they feed primarily on sin, their victim stays unconscious for a few days before slowly returning to their old self. (Forgotten Lore or Know Monstrosities)
  • Gaining Lara’s trust will let her take the Heroes into her confidence, if she feels it’s a matter of life and death. Lara explains that her wife is trying to eliminate a corrupt Watch Officer and his network, because no one else seems to want to. (core – Trustworthy)

Sialia Murano, Penanggalan

Vigilante, nightmarish, just trying to get along in the world, a spectacular cook

Defense — Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 2 (sorcerous resilience), Health 10 per Hero

Defense — Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 2 (unbreakable hunger), Morale 5 per Hero

Offense — Warfare: +2; Damage Modifier +2 (fanged maw and blood-slurping sharpened tongue)

Offense — Sway: +1; Damage Modifier +1 (convincing)

Abilities: Malus 18

Special Abilities: Fluid (cost 6), Monstrous Ability (cost 3), Flight, Regenerate (cost 0 – regenerates entirely at the end of a scene if her headless body has not been destroyed)

Misc: Alertness Modifier +2 (scents blood and sin only), Stealth Modifier +2

Refresh Tokens: 7

Description: Sialia is a penanggalan, a cursed woman who can monstrously detach her head from her torso, flying through the night with her stomach and entrails dangling beneath her, the organs twinkling like fireflies in the darkness. When she does so she leaves her headless body behind in her home.

Sialia hunts wickedness — and the more dire the sin, the tastier her meal. She squeezes herself up through the floorboards, moves around the room using her intestines as tentacles, and slurps her victims’ fresh blood through her long, sharpened, tube-like tongue. She gains memories and secrets from these victims, and she may bargain with those secrets if her life is put in danger.

Upon returning to her home, she must soak her organs in vinegar to let them shrink enough to fit back into her body. In human form, she carries a faint scent of vinegar. Luckily, she makes pickles for a living.

Destroying Sialia’s head in combat only inconveniences her briefly. The only method for truly destroying a penanggalan is to place broken glass into her body’s neck cavity while she is away, or by burning her headless body so that she has nowhere to return to.

Conclusion

In playtests the Heroes met the Muranos, learned that Sialia started hunting Teldi when Zarra demanded protection money from them, learned that Sialia doesn’t have to kill to feed – but that she feels she’s keeping everyone safer if she does. The Heroes then faked Sialia’s death and used the knowledge she accumulated to take down the corrupt Watch Commander.

What happens in your own game is up to you and the players. Want a big fight? Have Sialia be far more wicked, have the Cleaners be murderous, or have Teldi be less of a coward. Want social change in Eversink? Have their exposure of Teldi’s crimes significantly improve Harbor Approach. In a game about the consequences of heroic actions, this is the Heroes’ chance to make a difference.


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, currently available for pre-order. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

A group of people in silhouette at sunsetFour Six Heroes #3: Swords of the Serpentine pre-made adventuring party

By Kevin Kulp

This month we’re cheating and giving you six heroes instead of four; these are the pre-generated heroes used in The Dripping Throne adventure at Gen Con Online 2020, playtested with four or five different player groups. Most of the Heroes have excellent niche protection in their profession. They’re intimately tied to the city of Eversink using the “Freelance Slinks” origin (p. 29 of the SotS Adventurer’s Edition), and can be transplanted to a different setting with only a small amount of work.

The Heroes include an inquisitor with imposter syndrome, a sorcerer who’s been shunned by their family, an extremely likable (and lucky!) thief, a warrior who apparently doesn’t age, an elderly prophet forced out of the church, and their young acolyte with big secrets and big plans.  These Heroes are built assuming a 5+ player game. If you have fewer players and want to use any of these heroes, add in more Investigative abilities, as noted under “Investigative Abilities” in chapter 2 of the rules.

Sentinel

Name: Inquisitor Hastus

Inquisitive, Suspicious, Intimidating, Over-prepared, Insecure

Drives: Punishing the iniquitous; Catching others in a falsehood; The respect of your friends and peers

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 2, Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1, Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 4: Damage Modifier +1 (threats)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8: Damage Modifier +1 (sword)

Investigative Abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 2, Liar’s Tell 1, Felonious Intent 2, Laws & Traditions 1, Spirit Sight 2, Vigilance 2

Allies and Enemies: Ally: Church of Denari 1; Ally: The Triskadane 1; Enemy: Sorcerous Cabals 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 2, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 3, Sway 4, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Gear: Shining chainmail and inquisitorial uniform; badge of authority; sword (dmg +1); Imposter’s syndrome about whether you have what it takes to be an inquisitor; holy coin of Denari; multiple fallback plans for any eventuality; impressive shield; the dried hand of your father, severed after he was convicted for spreading Corruption, and somehow you never noticed while there was still time to save him

Design Notes: Hastus is a good solid Sentinel, loaded down with the authority of the church and the government, and yet second-guessing his authority until he figures out this role in the world. He has enough Vigilance to notice most hidden details without having to roll, and enough Spirit Sight to rip open the space between worlds and walk in the land of ghosts and memories. Relying on his Flashback ability for backup plans, he uses his Intimidation to scare the truth out of people the group doesn’t feel the need to befriend.

Sorcerer

Name: Amadeo (“Deo”) Iaconi, disinherited nobility

Charming, Presumptuous, Genteel, Manipulative, Socially disgraced

Drives: Repaying any who have wronged you; Defeating your enemies with STYLE, not just raw force; Being worthy of your friends’ trust in you

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Health 7

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1, Morale 11

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 8 vs. Morale: Damage Modifier +1

Offense – Sway: Sway 1: Damage Modifier +1 (dismissive)

Investigative Abilities: Charm 1, Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 2, Corruption 3, Forgotten Lore 2

Allies and Enemies: Ally: Mercanti 1; Ally: Sorcerous Cabals 1; Enemy: Ancient Nobility 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 2, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 3, Sorcery 8 (Blast), Sway 1, Warfare 3

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Morale) Illusion; Memory; Secrets

Gear: Sketchpad and paintbrushes; this season’s most stylish sword (never used); stylish clothing you can barely afford; the (justified) hatred of your parents; Mercanti contracts for negotiation; the unfortunate attention of the inquisition; a demon squirming inside your soul who offers you true power; debts you can’t currently pay; party invitations you can’t afford to turn down

Design Notes: Deo is a thoroughly flawed hero with the chance to redeem himself. He was forced out of his family when they realized he could manipulate secrets and memories, and you really can’t blame them. So now he ekes out a living working for his family’s enemies, and he is what you might call conflicted. How he uses his abilities, and how he treats his family, determines his fate as a hero.

If you prefer sorcerous spheres that affect Health instead, these mental spheres are easily swapped out for spheres that affect Health instead. Go with something like Stone, Water, and Air (or Fire) for a terrifying elementalist; or Flesh, Ghosts, and Necromancy for a much-reviled necromancer.

Thief

Name: Talia Songward, everyone’s friend

Likable, Funny, Bold, Lucky, Rude

Drives: A cold drink with good friends; Tricking someone you don’t trust; Helping people who can’t help themselves

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1, Morale 8

Offense – Sway: Sway 8: Damage Modifier +1 (likeable)

Offense – Warfare Warfare 1: Damage Modifier +1 (stolen sword)

Investigative Abilities: Charm 3, Liar’s Tell 1, Servility 1, Trustworthy 1, City’s Secrets 1, Ridiculous Luck 2, Scurrilous Rumors 1

Allies and Enemies: Ally: Commoners 3; Enemy: Ancient Nobility 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Burglary 5, Preparedness 3, Stealth 8 (Where’d She Go?), Sway 8 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 1

Gear: Instinctive knowledge of what makes people tick; an amazing smile; friends in low places; a huge bar tab; a stolen sword you haven’t used in months (dmg +1); curiosity about others’ secrets; a snazzy hat; scars you probably deserved; a good singing voice; a hearty dislike of bullies

Design Notes: The goals here were “make a clever thief who feels like a bard” and “local hero makes good”. Talia covers most of the Thief abilities (with a healthy focus on Ridiculous Luck, but no Skulduggery, an ability covered by Greca below) and is otherwise is focused on social abilities that say “I’m likeable, I’m immensely popular with Commoners, and people trust me.” She’s designed to be a hero of the people, with no social pretensions other than being naturally charismatic and particularly convincing. As she advances in experience, she might add ranks in Command or even more ranks of Ally: Commoners to emphasize this aspect of being a neighborhood hero.

Warrior

Name: Niccolo Acaldi

Ageless, Steady, Welcoming, Encouraging, Surprisingly deadly

Drives: Turning enemies into friends; Killing enemies who stay enemies; Turning a profit

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 1, Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1, Morale 8

Offense – Sway: Sway 8: Damage Modifier +1 (authoritative)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 10: Damage Modifier +1 (antique sword)

Investigative Abilities: Charm 1, Command 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Servility 1, Trustworthy 1, Spot Frailty 2, Tactics of Death 3, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allies and Enemies: Ally: Mercenaries 1; Ally: The Triskadane 1; Enemy: Monstrosities 1

General Abilities: Athletics 8 (Dodge), Preparedness 2, Stealth 2, Sway 8 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 10 (Cleave)

Gear: A comfortable sense of style; very well-worn leather armor; a favorite pipe; a sword as old as you are (dmg +1); a good smile; very few living enemies; an unexplained (and secret) inability to age (you’re 600? 700? You forget); surprisingly few memories for someone as old as you are; a well-established career of helping people who need help but can’t get it officially

Design Notes: Niccolo is a nice, unassuming guy who also happens to be one of the most deadly warriors you’ll meet. He stopped aging more than half a millennium ago, but he’s not wracked by angst; instead, he’s a happy, settled ex-mercenary with a successful investigative practice and few regrets. Why he stopped aging all those years ago is up to the GM and player, but in my own head I suspect he had an illicit affair with the Goddess Denari and she gave him this as a gift, even as she stole away the memories of their passion.

Mixed Profession: Sorcerer and Thief

Name: Master-seer Bennoc, Retired Church Prophet

Elderly, Adventurous, Risk-taking, Pious, Making up for lost time

Drives: Doing, instead of just telling others to do; Manipulating fate to serve you; Proving to yourself you’re not too old for this

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Health 6

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1, Morale 12

Offense – Sway: Sway 8: Damage Modifier +1 (mysterious)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 1: Damage Modifier +0 (any convenient object)

Investigative Abilities: Liar’s Tell 1, Trustworthy 1, Forgotten Lore 1, Leechcraft 2, Prophecy 3, City’s Secrets 1, Scurrilous Rumors 1

Allies and Enemies: Ally: Church of Denari 1; Ally: City Watch 1; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General Abilities: Athletics 4, Bind Wounds 8 (Plenty of Leeches), Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 1, Sway 8 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 1

Gear: Mandatory retirement letter forcing you from the church’s service; the pitying glances of your former friends who thought your sanity was breaking; the urge to prove yourself once again before it’s too late; the constant whispering knowledge of events in the world; a church-assigned acolyte and servant whose name you forget, but she makes good tea

Design Notes: Prophecy is a joy for the GM because it means they can feed the player visions and clues as needed. Just remember that Prophecy always points to a person or a place that has the information a Hero needs, instead of giving the Hero that information directly.

Bennoc is a crotchety old man with a huge chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Let the player pick the method of prophecy, whether it is mystical visions in a copper tub or his own garbled memories from the future. He’s a great choice for players who enjoy playing untraditional heroes and for those who like access to (or declaring for themselves) hidden information about the world.

Mixed Profession: Sentinel, Sorcerer, and Thief

Name: Greca Leoni, Under-Acolyte in Training

Willful, Creative, Innocent-looking, Rebellious, Eager to learn

Drives: Not getting caught; Blaming it on someone else; Learning how to do it even better

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 1, Health 9

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1, Morale 9

Offense – Sway: Sway 4: Damage Modifier +1 (sarcastic)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 6: Damage Modifier +0 (dagger)

Investigative Abilities: Charm 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Servility 1, Taunt 1, Laws & Traditions 1, Leechcraft 1, City’s Secrets 1, Ridiculous Luck 1, Skulduggery 2

Allies and Enemies: Ally: Thieves’ Guilds 1; Ally: Church of Denari 1; Enemy: City Watch 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 1, Burglary 8 (Fast Hands), Preparedness 2, Stealth 4, Sway 4, Warfare 6

Gear: A talent for seeming helpless; very fast hands; old enemies who want you dead; the protection of the church (at least for now); reinforced peasant’s dress (Armor 1); a burning desire to learn from anyone who will teach you; a sharp, slim dagger (dmg +0); a talent with improvised weapons; a dislike of rules; a church-contract of indentured servitude you look forward to buying off

Design Notes: Greca is a wonderfully willful kid of undetermined age (we assume she’s about 12) who robbed the wrong person, took shelter with the Church, and who now has been assigned to Master-Seer Bennoc as punishment. She has plans of her own and who isn’t afraid to manipulate the adults around her to get it. As a child, we want to emulate her relative inexperience in combat even though she’s built with as many points as everyone else. We do this in three ways:

  • With her Health and Morale balanced at 9 each, this makes both her Health and Morale Thresholds 3 instead of 4. In combat she’ll get hit more often than other Heroes.
  • Other than Skulduggery, she hasn’t specialized in any one Investigative ability. This gives her wide capabilities but relatively low burst damage in a fight.
  • Neither her Sway nor Warfare is 8+, so Greca doesn’t get combat Boosters. This makes her more effective at targeting a single foe instead of large numbers of Mooks at once. And hey, with Stealth and the Fast Hands talent, she can steal an enemy’s sword out of their sheath before they even realize she’s there.

Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, currently available for pre-order. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

By Kevin Kulp

Swords of the Serpentine doesn’t use Robin D. Laws’s One-2-One rules (including Edge and Problem cards), but the game is designed to play superbly with only one player and one GM. This type of adventure echoes the model of classic fantasy literature such as Conan or Elric where a main hero tackles their adventures alone, or at most with a companion or sidekick.

For one-Hero play you’ll need to make a small number of changes during character creation, and there’s some specialized advice for both GM and player.

Character Creation

As noted on p. 36 of the Adventurer’s Edition of SotS, if you’re the only player you’ll gain 14 Investigative Build points to create your Hero. That’s 4 more than you’d get with a full 5-person group. You can get an additional bonus point if you keep to only one profession, but that’s not always a good choice for one-Hero play; diversifying gives you more options when looking for leads.

The GM chapter on p. 269 of the Adventurer’s Edition has additional information, including that in one-Hero play the Hero gets an additional Ally point.

Example

Let’s say you want to play a hero patterned after the accomplishments of the real-world Ching Shih the pirate, making your hero a deposed pirate queen who’s fled to Eversink to regain her strength.

Five Players?

Were there five players or more, the Hero might look like this:

Fayne Chaskin, aka Captain Chask, deposed pirate queen of Min

Canny, diplomatic, strong-willed, middle-aged, murderous, loyal

Drives (what is best in life?): Wielding deadly force; following your own course; making an example for others to see

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 1 (the leather hide of a great kraken), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (confidence), Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 5: Damage Modifier +1 (commanding)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8: Damage Modifier +1 (rapier)

Investigative abilities: Command 2, Intimidation 1, Nobility 1, Servility 1; Scurrilous Rumors 1, Skullduggery 3

Allegiances: Ally: Ancient Nobility 1, Ally: Outlanders 3; Enemy: Mercanti 1

General abilities: Athletics 4, Burglary 2, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 3, Sway 5, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Gear: A now-lost fleet of 800 ships (and almost 50,000 sailors) stolen from you by the Witch-Queen of Min; international warrants for your arrest and execution; a surprising sense of optimism; a desperate need to lay low; a perverse desire to crash the parties and balls of the nobility; your flagship The Savage Crown, moored unnoticed in a hidden swamp cove a day away; a handful of very important blackmail documents; fond memories of your gambling house and salt trading days; a jeweled hair comb from your mother, looted by her from Eversink nobility while you were still an infant; kraken-hide armor (Armor 1); a rapier whose hilt is fashioned from some kingdom’s stolen royal scepter, you aren’t sure whose (Damage Modifier +1)

One Player?

With only one Hero, though, you might build her Investigative abilities and Allegiances like this with the extra points:

Investigative abilities: Command 3, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 1, Servility 1; Ridiculous Luck 1, Scurrilous Rumors 1, Skullduggery 4

Allegiances: Ally: Ancient Nobility 1, Outlanders 4; Enemy: Mercanti 1

 

With Flashback from a high Preparedness, and 3 ranks of Ally: Outlanders, Captain Chask in a 5-player game has great narrative flexibility and wields substantial political pressure – and she can spend those points to have her still-loyal pirates show up in almost any circumstance to act as decoys, extra muscle, inside men, and assistants.

When you’re the only player, you have a Hero who is even better at having her commands obeyed; you can tell when someone is lying to you; you have a small amount of ridiculous luck; you’re even better at illegal activities (amongst the best in the city!); and your ties to your still-loyal pirates are remarkably strong. What you can’t do yourself, you can usually get someone else to do for you.

Player Advice

When adventuring you’ll run into the need for useful abilities you don’t have. Think like a fantasy hero: use a different ability creatively or find someone else in the city who might know what you need. If the GM gives you an interesting sidekick with a few abilities, they can help fill in for your weak spots.

You’re probably mighty in a fight, but you’re only one person – and your biggest weakness is facing lots of people at once in combat. If you’re facing a lot of enemies at once, you have a few options. You could surrender (although it’s probably more fun to make them work for it) and fight your way out later; you could spend a point of Taunt to challenge their leader to single combat, completely side-stepping the mooks; or you could spend points of an ability like Intimidation to buy yourself time to talk with your foes instead of fighting them. You could even use Flashback and spend a point of Charm to establish yourself as an old friend of the enemy leader. Consider creative solutions and pick the one that makes for the best or most exciting story.

Still want to fight? That’s solid heroing! If you’re facing Mooks and you have Warfare, Sway or Sorcery at 8+ ranks, spend all your combat ability at the start of the fight in a single amazing attack to try and down as many Mooks as possible as quickly as possible. You’re likely to defeat as many as 4 or 5 in that sudden flurry, and that will get you Refresh tokens AND buy you some time. You can spend Investigative points to briefly boost your defenses (p. 75); in a tough fight, that may well mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Finally, spend your Ally points to draw on your Allies in any situation where you want backup. That’s especially useful if you don’t already have a sidekick; a convenient nearby ally can help heal you, can bolster your Morale, may have knowledge and expertise you lack, and can pitch in during a fight. Intimidating your foe by having a dozen mercenaries or thieves suddenly show themselves is an excellent use of that resource.

GM Advice

GMs will find advice for one-Hero play on pp. 269-270 of the Adventurer’s Edition. Try not to toss the hero into an adventure that they’re particularly ill-suited for; without access to Teamwork, setting a Warfare-based hero against a monstrosity that can only be defeated by reducing their Morale is just going to be frustrating. More fun is an adventure where the Hero’s strengths can shine, and where the foes are not prepared for a single dangerous assailant.

As mentioned above, we like the idea of a sidekick during one-Hero play. It’s particularly useful for offering Investigative abilities that a Hero may lack, for emergency healing that keeps the Hero on their feet, and for giving you someone particularly fun to roleplay.

If converting existing adventures, handwave or eliminate large numbers of Mooks. A single Hero will likely focus on the most dramatically interesting target in the fight, and while they might need to fight their way through some speedbumps to get there, that shouldn’t necessarily be the focus of the scene.

Since your player won’t have any other players to bounce clues off of, don’t be at all shy about summarizing and talking through what they’ve learned, who’ve they’ve talked to, and where they’ve been so far in the adventure. It’ll help make sure they don’t accidentally bump into dead ends.


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, currently available for pre-order. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

By Kevin Kulp

Swords of the Serpentine’s pre-layout PDF is available for everyone who has pre-ordered the game, so we wanted to sketch out an adventure seed to use alongside of (or instead of) A Corpse Astray from the rulebook. This seed is a solid session or two of adventure, easily customized for your own game. Note that due to space limitations you’ll want to fill this adventure in during your own play, adding clues, supporting characters, adversaries, and complexity to an extent that makes you happy.

Please don’t read farther if you’re a player, or you will find yourself spoiled.

Adventure Premise

The ghost of a murdered merchant asks the Heroes to investigate his murder. Doing so lands the Heroes in deep danger from a seemingly innocuous source, and presents them with a difficult decision: what happens when the thing that helps people isn’t the thing that’s both ethically and morally right?

You see, it turns out that Eversink’s Fishing Guild is run by a small sorcerous cabal who sacrifice human life in exchange for a bountiful catch. The ghostly merchant was this month’s sacrifice to the guild’s ancient fish god. Is one life a month a reasonable trade for a hundred thousand people staying well-fed?

Scene 1: The Ghost

In scene 1, a ghost hires the Heroes. The ghost is an Outlander merchant from wherever you choose, here in the city to purchase ceramics to bring home. (Pick whatever you wish, the more boring the better, to steer the Heroes away from his purchases being important.)

If a Hero has at least one rank of Spirit Sight, the ghost can hire them personally. If they don’t, the ghost will find a beggar that can see spirits and harass them until they approach the Heroes. Make the ghost entertaining, likeable, and angry he got killed in a way that left few traces. He’ll ask the Heroes to retrieve his body and avenge him, and offer them the Wealth he brought to the city in exchange (you can decide how much that is; make it 4 Wealth per Hero if you want to give them a taste of prosperity.)

Clues:

  • The ghost can sense where his body is and will guide the Heroes there if they hire a boat. It floated out of the harbor on the turn of the tide, and has floated into a swampy inlet some miles north of the city. (Optional clue; go to Scene 2)
  • The ghost remembers getting accosted by two smelly people at night while drunk in Harbor Approach, but didn’t see their faces. He knows where he was – on the docks near where The Scarlet Ruse was docked – and remembers that there was a toothless old beggar nearby who he’d just given coin to in a traditional exchange. Perhaps she saw who attacked him. (Core clue; go to Scene 3)

Scene 2: The Cove

In scene 2 (which is optional), the Heroes learn that ‘Sinkish citizens have been murdered monthly for about three generations, and their corpses have somehow ended up in one particular spot. Something supernatural is involved.

Ask the players to narrate a travel montage (p. 260 of the Adventurer’s edition) during their trip away from the city.

The ghost will lead them to an isolated marsh inlet north of the city, in an area of the swampy shoreline with a slightly treacherous tidal pattern. Follow the twisting tidal channel into the high marsh grass and you’ll find yourself in a large pond that’s full of fish, birds, and other small scavengers. Drifting lazily in the middle of the pond is the ghost’s corpse, mostly eaten by fish.

Clues:

  • The victim was hit on the head, then while he was alive his chest was cut open and his heart and intestines removed in a way that reminds you of gutting a large fish. Then the corpse was thrown into the outgoing tide. (Leechcraft)
  • The corpse shouldn’t have drifted to this spot on its own, based on tidal patterns. (Wilderness Mastery)
  • This pond is full of bones. FULL. Perhaps 800 corpses and skeletons lie under the water if anyone chooses to check. They vary tremendously by age, the oldest being perhaps 80 years dead, and a series that are clearly from the last year. Based on the progression, it reasonable to assume that one drifts in every month before being eaten by fish and sinking. (Core clue: Vigilance)

The Heroes will be attacked by hostile fish on their way back, two waves of a dog-sized leaping and biting fish named boneteeth that will leap into the boat to devour the Heroes. Think large, angry salt-water barracuda. There are two waves of coordinated attacks, with two boneteeth per Hero per wave; split these up into two or three Mook groups in the Initiative so that not all the fish attack at once. (So if there are 4 Heroes, the group is attacked by 8 boneteeth per wave, for two waves.) Use the advice on p. 198 to create a final larger, more dangerous fishy foe at the end of the fight if that would be fun for the group.

Boneteeth

Unnaturally hungry

Defense – Health: Health Threshold 3, Health 1

Defense – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Morale 1 (see below)

Offense – Warfare: +0; Fixed Damage 3

Special Abilities: Anyone swimming in a boneteeth swarm automatically takes 3 Morale damage per round from fear

Misc: Boneteeth don’t understand speech and thus are immune to language-based Morale attacks, but scare them with Sway and they’ll retreat

Refresh Tokens: 1

 

Scene 3: The Witness

In scene 3, the Heroes use the ghost’s descriptions to find a witness to his murder, and then one of the murderers himself.

The ghost was knocked unconscious on the docks after midnight on the night of a new moon. He remembers where he was killed, even if he didn’t see who attacked him. Living near that spot is an elderly toothless beggar named Crow. She’ll refuse to talk unless befriended with money, food, or kindness by someone with ranks of Trustworthy; a Hero with ranks in Servility or Ally: Commoners can also get her to talk if no one with ranks in Nobility is nearby.

Crow saw the murder, although she doesn’t think the murderers saw her. She describes one of the murderers as a fisherman she only knows as Eel. After he and his partner knocked out the stranger, they put his unconscious body in a boat and rowed into the darkness towards Sag Harbor.

Clues

  • Eel is a professional fisherman, out fishing every day from before dawn to sunset, but he drinks in the fisherfolk’s bar attached to Fish Hall in Sag Harbor. He rents a room there in the Guild Hall as well. Eel is a big, powerful, burly man with fish tattoos on his hands and arms. He’s not educated, but he’s considered solid, dependable, and deliberate. (Core clue: Scurrilous Rumors or Ally: Commoners)
  • Eel is a long-time trusted member of the Glorious Assemblage of Attentive Fisherfolk, the formal name of Eversink’s fishing guild. Their guild house, known as Fish Hall, is at the western end of Sag Harbor near the docks. The building stinks of fish and always looks like it’s about to sink underwater, but it’s been there in one form or another for centuries. (City Secrets or Ally: Mercanti)

You can decide for yourself who Eel’s partner was, and build the adversary using the rules in Chapter 7 (likely reworking an existing Adversary). For the most fun, make them quite different than Eel, but also a ranking and trusted member of Fish Hall.

At the end of this scene, Eel’s partner realizes that they never created a funerary statue for their victim to put his soul to rest. They do, and the ghost will disappear suddenly, shouting to the Heroes as he does that he is being drawn into Denari’s heaven. Remind the players how funerary statues work in Eversink (p. 274), and what must have just happened.

Scene 4: The Accusation

The Heroes can observe or approach Eel however they wish. Eel’s daily pattern is to leave Fish Hall before dawn, fish all day with a 5-person crew, return back with his catch before dusk, then eat and drink in Fish Hall until he falls into bed. The one exception is when the Fishing Guild has formal meetings; he never misses these. Eel doesn’t attend Denari’s services weekly, something that is slightly odd.

Confronting Eel about the murder will almost always result in violence unless he’s tricked. He knows the Guild will support him, and so he’d rather capture any accusers while rumors of what he does can still be contained. Eel will Summon friends (use Drunken Sailor stats on p. 221) and call on his Allies (use Brute stats on p. 225) to support him in a fight. Of course, his partner that you’ve created will try to protect him as well, but may cut and run if things look poorly.

If Eel or his partner die (as opposed to being defeated and left alive), and word reaches Fish Hall, they  will put out the word for the Heroes to be killed: Heroes receive the penalty of Enemies: Commoners 1. If Eel or his partner are just defeated, the Heroes receive Grudge: Commoners 1.

Ideally, have this fight somewhere interesting and use the environment in interesting ways. Swinging ropes, thrown anchors, swaying footbridges, unsteady ship decks, live fish, and slippery wood all help contribute to an interesting fight.

Eel, a fisherman

Loyal, pious, dependable, murderous

Defense — Health: Health Threshold 4, Health 10 per Hero

Defense — Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Morale 5 per Hero

Offense — Warfare: +1 (surprising strength); Damage Modifier +3 (fish-gutting knife)

Offense — Sway: +0; Damage Modifier +1 (threats)

Abilities: Malus 15

Special Abilities: Allies (cost 3 – Fish Hall), Strength, Summoning (cost 3 – Fisherfolk)

Misc: Stealth Modifier +1

Refresh Tokens: 5

Description: Eel is a huge broad-shouldered fisherman. He has been methodically gathering victims for the monthly sacrifice for over ten years, since he took over from the previous fisherman. He agonizes over every single one but knows in his heart that he’s helping the city he loves, even if it means a stranger had to die.

Amongst his possessions is a ring of keys that will open most locked doors in Fish Hall.

Clues

If no one is left alive to question:

  • The ring of keys Eel possesses will unlock many of the doors in Fish Hall. The fish image stamped into the metalwork is unmistakable, as it matches the guild’s symbol. (Core clue: Skullduggery)
  • Eel’s spirit (and the spirit of Eel’s partner) are stamped with the spiritual stink of rotting fish. There’s little or no room left for the goddess Denari in that spiritual space (Spirit Sight)
  • Eel’s back is covered with a homemade tattoo. It’s labeled “heroes of Eversink” and has 123 hashmarks on it. The last one is brand new, the next-to-last one looks about a month old, and so on. There is an old tradition that this is done when an executioner or a priest wishes to honor the memory of their sacrifices. (Laws & Traditions)

If Eel or his partner are left alive to question, Intimidation or another appropriate Social ability will reveal the following:

  • The Fishing Guild is also a church, but not to Denari. There is an ancient and primal small god who guarantees the guild a bountiful catch in exchange for a single sacrifice each month. Eel believes that a single death each month is worth guaranteeing food for a hundred thousand citizens. It’s regrettable, but he considers himself a hero. (Core clue)
  • Eel and his partner are loyal and willing servants. The high priestess of the small sorcerous cabal is Julliana Fishhall, the Guildmistress for over 40 years. She will do anything to keep or cover up this secret, because she thinks the city will starve if word gets out.
  • Eel doesn’t know for sure but assumes that the Triskadane knows about what happens in Fish Hall, and deliberately turns away their gaze. (Whether this is true is up to you, the GM)
  • Deep in the basements in Fish Hall is a throne that weeps seawater. The seat of the throne is made from the cornerstone of Eversink’s first bridge a thousand years ago. Victims’ viscera are placed on the throne during the new moon to be presented to the god. Doing so will guarantee that the corpse will drift away on the outgoing tide to be eaten by fish.

If Eel or his partner aren’t left alive, the Heroes can learn this information in Scene 5 from the guildmistress or one of her trusted confederates.

Scene 5: Resolution

It’s up to the Heroes how to handle this, and you’ll need to follow their lead. They could destroy the cabal and suffer consequences, join the conspiracy, or find some middle ground.

The following are likely possibilities:

  • They reach a point where they decide that Fish Hall is doing something good, and allow them to continue. If they do this, the guild will refrain from trying to have them killed and will reward them monetarily for their forbearance and silence.
  • They decide to expose the truth about Fish Hall without putting themselves in danger doing so. Church inquisitors, bolstered by the church militant and mercenaries, raid the guildhall several days later. The resulting scandal is quickly covered up, if possible. It’s up to you whether Julliana Fishhall and the Dripping Throne escape to continue their sacrifices. If they don’t, it’s up to you whether the rich fishing turns bad, or whether that was a lie all along and the sacrifices only fed a lying god.
  • They raid Fish Hall themselves, possibly calling for aid from their Allies when they do. Have fun with this! The fisherfolk in the building (use the Drunken Sailor and Obsessed Cultist adversaries) won’t be plentiful if the raid is done during the daytime when everyone is out fishing, but they’ll mount an impassioned but unprofessional defense. The Heroes will pass through a room of small clay funerary statues from almost every sacrificial victim over 70 years, and will encounter elderly Guildmistress Julliana Fishhall (use the Cruel Sorcerer stats and ocean/fish spheres), her entourage (use Sorcerous Apprentice stats), and the Dripping Throne deep in the sunken and flooded basements. Their god may have a fish-monstrosity there as a representative and guardian as well (re-skin the Chuggut swamp shaman as a hideous fish-thing). Follow advice in Chapter 8 on pacing and structure as you create encounters in Fish Hall, and throw in a water- or fishing-themed trap from Chapter 3 for extra fun. Just remember that you don’t need to map the building; instead, think through the three or four areas where the Heroes are likely to face opposition, and ask your players to help you describe only those spaces.

Conclusion

Heroic actions creating lasting change is what this game is about. What happens to Eversink’s fishing fleet and their previously remarkable success? Are the Heroes considered pariahs or saviours, especially in the eyes of the Church of Denari? The difficult decisions the players make in this adventure will affect their Heroes going forward; supporting characters met in this adventure can reappear in future adventures as well.


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, currently available for pre-order. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

By Kevin Kulp

We’re moving towards the official PDF release of Swords of the Serpentine, so here are more examples of what’s possible with hero creation. These blog posts feature a sample Hero for each class (or a mixture of classes) to use as a good example, a pre-generated character, or an example of how to use the rules to create the hero you want. We’ll often break out from traditional sword & sorcery stereotypes, and heroes will usually be rooted in SotS’s city of Eversink, where the goddess of civilization and commerce holds sway.

This month features a god-made-flesh and several heroes with a huge amount of political power, created by allocating more of their Build points into their Allegiances. As always, these Heroes are built assuming a 5+ player game. If you have fewer players and want to use one of these heroes, add in more Investigative abilities, as noted under “Investigative Abilities” in chapter 2 of the rules.

Sentinel

Exalted Arbiter Tebriel, Head of the Church of Denari

Pompous, prideful, spoiled, worried, disguised, willing to learn

Drives (what is best in life?): Reacquiring your Goddess’s good graces; acting with humility; regaining what you’ve lost

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 0 (robes), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (authority), Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 10: Damage Modifier +1 (faith)

Investigative abilities: Command 2, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 1, Trustworthy 1; Laws & Traditions 2, Spirit Sight 1

Allegiances: Ally: Church of Denari 5; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General abilities: Athletics 4, Bind Wounds 8 (Plenty of Leeches), Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Sway 10 (Play to the Crowd)

Gear: Authority over the entire church of Denari (not that you can use it directly without revealing yourself); divine censure ordering you out into the dregs of humanity to learn humility; vast suites of rooms you’ve left vacant; a second-in-command who is probably betraying you even as you speak; a deep embarrassment about your lack of life skills; a deep and abiding desire to do the right thing.

Design Notes: What if you went out for an adventure with a group of friends, and then discovered one was secretly the Pope? That’s the situation with Tebriel, who I picture as a pompous and distant autocrat whose high-handed lack of humility offended his goddess. She gave him an ultimatum: disappear from the church, go among the common people, and learn humility – or perish. Tebriel was probably shocked, being someone who probably thought he was doing a perfectly fine job! So now he tries to learn what it’s like to be a kind and normal person with a modicum of humility, all while trying to use his secret to help those who really need it. Meanwhile, his enemies in the church hunt him and work to undo all that he’s accomplished.

You can do something similar by reducing the ranks of Ally: Church of Denari from 5 to 3 or 4, then put those extra points in other allies (showing who Tebriel has made friends with over the years), in more Social Investigative abilities, or more ranks of Laws and Traditions to represent his ability to literally define divine law.

Sorcerer

Ctol-Cwogohatl (goes by “Catol”), flesh-bound divinity of the Tides

Changing, resentful, motivated, damp, adventurous, androgynous, responsible

Drives (what is best in life?): Ushering in change, sweeping away debris, taking vengeance

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3 to 6 (shield), Armor 1 (the fading memory of divine awe), Health 6

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (self-assured), Morale 12

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 10 vs. Health: Damage Modifier +1

Offense – Sway: Sway 5: Damage Modifier +1 (majesty)

Investigative abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Nobility 1; Corruption 3 (Blood, Earth, Water), Forgotten Lore 1, Laws & Traditions 1, Wilderness Mastery 2

Allegiances: Allies: Guild of Architects and Canal-Watchers 1, Monstrosities 1; Enemy: Mercanti 1

General abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 3, Preparedness 4, Stealth 3, Sorcery 10 (Blast), Sway 5

Gear: An old unmarked shield you picked up somewhere; an ancient congregation of worshippers who once venerated you; a fleshy bipedal androgynous prison your divine nature seems unable to escape; the eternal responsibility of making sure the tides continue to rise and fall; a blue cloak that chooses to act as your armor (Armor 1); a gender that changes with whim and the tides; a hostile secret society who hopes to bind you to their will; very, very old eyes the exact color of the ocean; and a really nice pair of boots

Design Notes: The philosophy behind Swords of the Serpentine (that your power is measured by game mechanics, and you can describe those mechanics and that power however you choose) is never more clear than when you decide you want your hero to be a freakin’ god. There’s no reason you can’t; playing an old, small god trapped in a human form is a great roleplaying challenge and is easily covered by the rules with no rules hacking required.

In this case, Catol is an ancient small god of the tides, and believes themself to be responsible for the tides rising and falling each day. It’s automatic, caused by their existence; but for reasons they don’t understand they’re trapped in human form. A curse? A punishment by Denari? That’ll be discovered while adventuring – and in the mean time, they’re both hunted by a Mercanti secret society who wants power over tides to help their shipping, and troublesome worshippers who wish to venerate Catol.

This hero’s Investigative abilities come from the Sorcerer, Sentinel, and Warrior classes, creating a unique mixture. Their sorcerous spheres of Earth, Blood, and Water are everything a god of the tides could ask for.

Thief

Mother Silgada, Grandmother of Thieves

Elderly, humble, hidden, manipulative, inquisitive, powerful

Drives (what is best in life?): Solidifying your influence; protecting your many many “children”; leaving a legacy

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 0 (threadbare clothes), Health 6

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (self-assured), Morale 12

Offense – Sway: Sway 11: Damage Modifier +1 (persuasive)

Investigative abilities: Charm 1, Intimidate 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Servility 2; City’s Secrets 1, Scurrilous Rumors 1, Skullduggery 1

Allegiances: Ally: Thieves’ Guild 5; Enemy: City Watch 1

General abilities: Athletics 3, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 8, Sway 11 (Play to the Crowd)

Gear: a magnificent guildhouse beneath the city streets; hundreds of thieves, all loyal to you and your lieutenants (or pretending to be); rooms of beautiful objects you largely ignore; a keen awareness of how easy you’d be to topple; a hidden family you can’t expose; a running tab at the best food-cart in the city.

Design Notes: What if your grandmother ran the thieves’ guild? That’s the idea behind Mother Silgada, a charming little old lady who (with 5 ranks of Allies: Thieves’ Guilds) controls a surprising amount of Eversink’s criminal activity. She rules primarily from behind the scenes, with a charismatic underling to act as figurehead; meanwhile, people die at her word. That gives her the freedom to go out on adventures and amuse herself with normal folks, all while keeping an eye on the underworld to make sure no rivals attempt a coup. If you ever read Lies of Locke Lamora and thought “I want to run a thieves’ guild,” this is one way to do so. I love the idea of a charming and self-assured little old lady with such hidden power; not only do her Allegiances gain her tremendous information, she can spend those point to orchestrate crimes anywhere she wants within Eversink.

For a more “thiefy” thief, reduce the ranks of Allies: Thieves’ Guild to add more Skullduggery; and reduce Preparedness to add ranks in Burglary.

Warrior

Hessia, Mercenary and liaison to the City Defense Committee

Aggressive, stubborn, funny, loyal, vindictive, imaginative

Drives (what is best in life?): Crushing your foes; supporting your allies in times of danger; making the world a better place

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3 (engraved ceremonial plate mail), Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (stubborn), Morale 8

Offense – Sway: Sway 8: Damage Modifier +1 (persuasive)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8: Damage Modifier +1 (Bargainer, official symbol of her role as liaison)

Investigative abilities: Charm 2, Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1; Tactics of Death 1, Spot Frailty 2, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Allies: Mercenaries 3, Triskadane 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General abilities: Athletics 8 (Dodge), Preparedness 3, Stealth 3, Sway 8 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Gear: Beautifully polished and engraved ceremonial chain mail that is bound to drown you some day (Armor 3, Swim penalty -6); exceptional grooming; subtle, expensive perfume; Bargainer, the symbol of your role as Mercenary liaison to the City Defense Committee (Damage Modifier +1); memories of two dozen different battles, up to your knees in blood and mud; an experienced orderly who handles your gear; boredom at the thought of yet another interminable meeting

Design Notes: Hessia is a soldier thrown into the role of a diplomat, something she’s not entirely prepared for. I’d argue she’s the person appointed by the freelance mercenary companies to negotiate with the unreasonable demands from the Triskadane, Eversink’s government. As such, this (as modeled by 3 ranks of Ally: Mercenaries and 1 rank of Ally: Triskadane) she has the ability to decide whether the mercenary companies come to Eversink’s aid, and at what cost. In truth, this will seldom come up in a game; her joy is in adventuring, and this backstory is nothing more than a great supplier of political schemes and enemies for her to fight. But wow, if she needs military force to back of her boasts or threats, she sure has it.

And that’s really the point of Allegiances, right? You can use them as chess pieces to try and influence others, but they establish your role in the society and the city, giving you a place of power from which to adventure.


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, to be published in 2020. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

By Kevin Kulp

As we enter June 2020 and Swords of the Serpentine’s pre-layout PDF reaches everyone who has pre-ordered the game, we want to make sure you have examples of what’s possible with hero creation. With a limited series of blog posts entitled Four Heroes, we’ll feature a sample Hero for each profession (or a mixture of professions) to use as a good example of a pre-generated character, or an example of how to use the rules to create the hero you want. These will often break out from traditional sword & sorcery stereotypes, and will usually be rooted in SotS’s city of Eversink, where the goddess of civilization and commerce holds sway.

Sentinel

Sister Claris, Inquisitor of Denari

Cynical, stubborn, plain, righteous, proud, probably disappointed in you

Drives (what is best in life?): Addressing the wicked and vainglorious; changing the world; exalting your friends

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3 to 6 (shield), Armor 2 (coin armor), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (high standards), Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 10: Damage Modifier +1 (guilt)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 5: Damage Modifier +1 (flail)

Investigative abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Taunt 2, Trustworthy 1; Felonious Intent 2, Laws & Traditions 1, Spirit Sight 1, Vigilance 1

Allegiances: Ally: Church of Denari 2; Enemy: Sorcerous Cabals 1

General abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 3, Preparedness 5, Stealth 2, Sway 10 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 5

Gear: Round shield with the heraldry of Denari; collection of astonishingly good tea; badge of authority; official letter from the Lord High Inquisitor assigning you to independent investigation; shining silver armor made partially of coins; your grandmother’s flail (Damage Modifier +1); Holy book of tax laws and prayer; keys to your mostly-empty room in the church dormitories; painting of you with your adventuring friends; a bright and shining holy coin

Design Notes: Don’t call the inquisitor a lonely and sour stick-in-the-mud. She is, mind you, but she’d look at you with disappointment in her eyes. Claris is a sentinel of the church, tasked with seeking out law-breaking sorcerers and their corruption. She’s hard to hit (especially when she hides behind her shield, although this penalizes her other actions), stubborn, and experienced at guilting her quarry into surrendering. Her capabilities as a sentinel are diversified, with a focus on detecting mischief, and she’s superb at social interaction. Just don’t expect her to be charming.

Sorcerer

Exorius of the Inner Eye, sorcerer, master of time and space

Pretentious, amused, spoiled, covetous

Drives (what is best in life?): Revealing your true power; having others indebted to you; being a key part of important events

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 1 (entropy), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (prescience), Morale 10

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 10 vs. Health: Damage Modifier +1 (aging)

Offense – Sway: Sway 3: Damage Modifier +1 (bombastic)

Investigative abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1; Corruption 5, Forgotten Lore 1, Prophecy 2 (talking to your future self)

Allegiances: Ally: Sorcerous Cabal 2; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 2, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 2, Sorcery 10 (Blast), Sway 3

Sorcerous Spheres: Aging, Art, Decay/Entropy, Mirrors, Transportation

Gear: Shimmering robes that always look new; a pouch that leads to the pocket of a differently-aged version of yourself; dismissible mirrors that circle you and slowly spin, each showing a different time and place; throne that appears whenever you wish to sit; ever-present loneliness; several framed paintings with sorcerously-imprisoned enemies trapped within them; the worry of never being quite relevant enough; a key tucked inside an old, poorly-written letter from your late mother, addressed to your real name of Cosimo

Design Notes: Ever suffered from imposter’s syndrome? Yeah, so does Exorious.

Inspired originally by Ningauble of the Seven Eyes in Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Exorious is a spectacularly powerful sorcerer, and he makes sure people know it. None of this whole “skulking around in the shadows” nonsense; he’s a sorcerer’s sorcerer, and he just makes sure never to let Corruption slip into the world when he is within Eversink’s city limits. Note how many of his signature gear simply explains his abilities; the pouch to a future or past self gives him an excuse for Preparedness, for instance, and the magically rotating mirrors are nothing more than a showy and ostentatious way to use his Prophecy.

Thief

Vincenzo, town crier (and hereditary King of Eversink?)

Friendly, inquisitive, helpful, polite, honest

Drives (what is best in life?): Staying alive; spreading the truth; protecting your friends

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 0 (threadbare clothes), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (incredulous), Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 12: Damage Modifier +1 (convincing)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 1: Damage Modifier +0 (unarmed)

Investigative abilities: Charm 1, Command 2, Liar’s Tell 1, Servility 2, Trustworthy 1; City’s Secrets 1, Scurrilous Rumors 3

Allegiances: Ally: Commoners 2; Enemy: Triskadane 1

General abilities: Athletics 4, Bind Wounds 4, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 1, Sway 12 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 1

Gear: Clean but thread-bare clothing; list of today’s stories to announce; a daily route through The Tangle; a small bag of coins; a group of Royalist nut-jobs who keep claiming your great-great-grandmother was Queen of Eversink; an invitation to “meet your destiny (i.e. “commit treason”) that you’re studiously ignoring; a really annoying birthmark you try not to think about; a warm and much-loved hovel; a true bounty of trusted friends

Design Notes: Vincenzo is an unusual thief. By setting him up as a friendly and mild-mannered town crier (with a large amount of Scurrilous Rumors) we give him an excuse to be unusually convincing. He lacks classic thief skills such as Burglary and Stealth, but Vincenzo knows almost everything that’s happening in the city, and if he doesn’t he knows someone who does. We make sure this doesn’t get boring by establishing that Vincenzo is also technically the heir to the crown, which doesn’t help him at all because Eversink hasn’t had a monarchy in five generations. Vincenzo is a nice and simple hero at the center of people wanting to manipulate him, and that’s bound to make him fun to play.

For anyone who’s a fan of the TV show Galavant, we picture Vincenzo as played by Darren Evans, the same actor who plays Chef.

Warrior

Foyle, Professional Monster Hunter

Pessimist, cheery, planner, thorough, insightful, pious, proud

Drives (what is best in life?): Eradicating the inhuman; a great plan; a narrow escape

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4 to 7 (dented great shield), Armor 2 (heavily scarred chainmail), Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (focus), Morale 8

Offense – Sway: Sway 5: Damage Modifier +1 (prayer)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8: Damage Modifier +1 (Trial, ancient battleaxe)

Investigative abilities: Taunt 1, Trustworthy 1; Know Monstrosities 3, Leechcraft 1, Prophecy 1, Spot Frailty 2, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Allies: Church of Denari 1, Monstrosities 1; Enemy: Monstrosities 1

General abilities: Athletics 8 (Dodge), Bind Wounds 4, Preparedness 4, Sway 6, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Gear: New but heavily scarred chainmail (Armor 2, Swim penalty -4); new but badly dented great shield (+0 to +3 for Hit Threshold); Trial, an ancient battleaxe once belonging to your grandfather (Damage Modifier +1); the resigned annoyance that no one ever wants to believe you; two dozen conspiracy theories about monsters in Eversink, all true; a depressing lack of close friends who are human; a deep and abiding faith

Design Notes: Foyle has a few cross-profession Investigative abilities that give him prophetic hunches and a knowledge of disease and poison. He’s a monster-hunter in a city where the most dangerous predator is usually human, and that means that most people aren’t quite sure what to do with him. Foyle is actually friends with a handful of monstrosities he hasn’t tried to destroy (as per his Allegiances), and he’s one of the few people with access to the inhuman demimonde that exists in Eversink but which no one in authority cares to admit to. One thing is certain: Foyle notices the mental and physical weaknesses in everyone he meets, and he’s happy to exploit that if it gains him an edge in combat.


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, to be published in 2020. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

By Kevin Kulp

There’s value in seeing how a hero you know translates into Swords of the Serpentine, especially when that hero changes over time.

SotS lets you play fledgling (less experienced) and sovereign (exceptionally experienced) versions of the same character, jumping back and forth in time between adventures in the same way a collection of fantasy short stories might jump between different eras of the same hero’s life.

For comparison, a sovereign Hero has about 16 adventures worth of experience over a standard Hero, and a standard Hero has about 17 adventures more experience than a fledgling Hero. That’s enough of a power and capability difference to feel like you’re at very different stages of the Hero’s career. A fun scenario might be to run three adventures: one at standard level to showcase a threat or problem, then one at fledgling level to show how the threat or problem originated, and finally one at sovereign level to let your Heroes crush the threat once and for all.

For a look at how you might translate this concept into a game character, let’s look at an iconic barbarian modeled on Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Note that we don’t pick Conan so you can play this exact character; there are plenty of really amazing RPGs that let you do exactly that, including one by our friends from Modiphius. Our goal here is to show you how a Hero might change between stages of their career, not to capture the literary Conan perfectly.

As always in Swords of the Serpentine, you should be able to know a character just by reading their Adjectives, Drives (or “what three things are best in life?”), and Gear.

Fledgling

At fledgling power, we have is a Conan who is more thief than warrior. He’s adept at breaking and entering, good in a fight (especially if he fights unconventionally) but without tactical mastery. He’s young, and only knows how to relate to others through posturing and insults.

Conan, fledgling thief (as in The Tower of the Elephant)

Naïve, adventurous, hostile, greedy

Drives (what is best in life?): To stand alone against danger, to gain another’s wealth, to buy respect with blood and steel

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 0 (loincloth), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (stubbornness), Morale 7

Offense – Sway: Sway 3: Damage Modifier +1 (hostility)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 6: Damage Modifier +1 (sword)

Investigative abilities: Intimidation 1, Taunt 1; Skullduggery 2, Spot Frailty 1, Vigilance 1, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 2; Enemy: City Watch 1

General abilities: Athletics 8 (Dodge), Burglary 4, Stealth 4, Sway 3, Warfare 6

Gear: Loincloth, well-honed sword, stolen dagger, rope and grappling hook that need only survive this one adventure, empty coin purse, empty skin of wine, empty belly, but a full and endless supply of disdain for the soft and the civilized.

Standard

At the power of a typical Hero, Conan excels at battle. His charm is more evident now, although he still excels at terrifying or angering his enemies; he sees the weaknesses in his enemies’ defenses and he’s quick to exploit any advantage this gives him. His allegiances have shifted due to his life of piracy, and his skill with a blade now allows him to cleave his way through foes with nary a pause.

Conan, barbarian conqueror (as in Queen of the Black Coast)

Confident, canny, territorial, vengeful

Drives (what is best in life?): To risk all for an ally, to conquering the weak, and to uncovering that which is hidden

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 2 (chain, assuming he’s bothering to wear a shirt at all), Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (stubbornness), Morale 8

Offense – Sway: Sway 5: Damage Modifier +1 (hostility)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8: Damage Modifier +2 (great sword)

Investigative abilities: Charm 1, Intimidation 1, Taunt 1; Spot Frailty 2, Tactics of Death 3, Vigilance 1, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 1, Ally: Pirates 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General abilities: Athletics 8 (Dodge), Preparedness 3, Stealth 6, Sway 5, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Gear: worn chain armor, great sword, smoldering blue gaze, panther-like demeanor, full skin of wine, urge for adventure, and still a full and endless supply of disdain for the soft and the civilized.

 

Sovereign

Late in life, Conan is almost unmatched in battle and tactics. He may sit in a throne room uneasily, as his skills are meant for the battlefield. He’s cleverer and better at threats than he was in his youth, and his ability to conquer is buttressed by good luck and a lifetime of battle. One thing is for sure, though; enemies from multiple nations want his head, and more than one sorcerer falls asleep at night dreaming of the tortures they wish to inflict upon him.

Conan, sovereign warrior (as in The Scarlet Citadel)

Masterful, impatient, driven, vengeful

Drives (what is best in life?): To crush your enemies, to rule your conquered nations, and to put your enemies to the sword

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (stubbornness), Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 5: Damage Modifier +1 (hostility)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 10: Damage Modifier +2 (great sword)

Investigative abilities: Charm 1, Command 1, Intimidation 1, Taunt 1; Ridiculous Luck 1, Spot Frailty 2, Tactics of Death 4, Vigilance 1, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 2; Enemy: Outlanders 2, Enemy: Sorcerous Cabals 1

General abilities: Athletics 10 (Dodge), Preparedness 4, Stealth 6, Sway 5, Warfare 10 (Cleave)

Gear: rich robes that seem out of place, disdainfully-worn crown, look of boredom, the hatred of treasonous nobles, nostalgia for the battlefield.

In a campaign, the GM can flip back and forth between heroes of different abilities, just as the stories in a fantasy anthology may jump back and forth in time. It’s a nice way to emphasize how a hero grows over time.

 


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, currently available for pre-order. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

 

Pelgrane Press writer and production apprentice Noah Lloyd readies himself for intrigue on twisting fantasy streets with his pick for favorite GUMSHOE ability.


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

Kevin Kulp teases the upcoming Swords of the Serpentine as he reveals his favorite GUMSHOE ability. Or abilities.


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

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