Swords of the Serpentine guidelines

Swords of the Serpentine, by Emily Dresner and Kevin Kulp, is Fantasy GUMSHOE as seen through a lens of classic swords and sorcery. That means different things to different people, though, so we wanted to share with you the set of collected guidelines we’ve used when writing the game.

  • Adventures are episodic. Months or years may pass between when adventures are set, and a Hero’s fortunes may rise or fall from one adventure to the next. Adventures may occur out of chronological order.
  • The actions of Heroes change the world around them in fundamentally important ways.
  • A Hero’s own abilities are far more important than their gear. Gear gets lost, abandoned, and stolen, but when you’re shipwrecked or taken captive, you can always rely on yourself.
  • The gear that’s most important is the gear that’s named.
  • Sorcery is rare and dangerous, and seldom can be trusted. Sorcery corrupts and has a cost. Its rules and origins are little-known.
  • Not all secrets in the world should, or need to, be known.
  • There are few, if any, non-human societies. Those that exist tend to be horrific or alien.
  • A Hero’s motivations may start out simple: survival, vengeance, and wealth. Motivations and Drives likely grow more complex and sophisticated over time.
  • The world is hard and seldom fair. All too often, “justice” varies based on your wealth and importance.
  • The world (and Heroes) are filled with moral shades of gray and are seldom black and white.
  • The great Heroes carry their reputation before them.
  • The phrase “mighty thews” shows up way more often than you would probably expect.
  • Quests tend to be small, personal, and centered around self-interest and small groups instead of saving a nation or the world.
  • Wealth is transitory. Heroes live for today; they may find great wealth, but they’re impoverished again before you know it. Money slips away or is squandered, and Heroes must seek risks to capture more.
  • The sly and clever villain is not necessarily puissant in combat. That, of course, is why they hire protection.
  • Villains linger, as do their plans.
  • The unknown conceals horror, and is seldom safe.
  • The boundaries of kingdoms are fluid and are seldom set in stone. They vary based on the actions of the strong.
  • The world is old and crumbling, and lost history abounds.
  • Whimsy lurks in unexpected places, and cleverness is everywhere.

In the comments below, let us know if there are aspects of swords & sorcery in your own game that you’d add or change on this list.

In the coming months we’ll talk more about what Swords of the Serpentine does, including the Sorcery rules, a brand new combat system designed to make fantasy combat as exciting and cinematic as you’d dream it could be, player narrative control, and how the core mechanics handle everything from dungeon crawling to manipulating the most important people in the city. Thanks for staying with us.

For more information, follow Emily (@multiplexer) and Kevin (@kevinkulp) on Twitter at #serpentineRPG or #gumthews, and look for more articles in See Page XX leading up to next year’s release.

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