SotS is the upcoming fantasy GUMSHOE game from Kevin Kulp (TimeWatch) and Emily Dresner (the Dungeonomics column at www.critical-hits.com). The full game will be available in 2019, traditionally published by Pelgrane Press with advance pre-orders, and we’ll open up those pre-orders in the months before publication.
Meanwhile, let’s see what you think. There’s a lot in the playtest, so here’s what you’ll want to know to get the most out of the game.
Page 0. We open up with a quick note about how to give us playtest feedback.
Chapter 1: The Basics. Want to know if you’re going to like Eversink, the city where Swords of the Serpentine is set? Skim this short chapter. You’ll know by the time you’re done.
Chapter 2: Your Hero. This tells you how to create a Hero. All the Investigative and General abilities are described here, along with rules for advancement and Fledgling/Aged play (where you skip around in a Hero’s career from one adventure to the next).
- This is a game where players have quite a bit of narrative control. You help create the world while you play, and you have some abilities that let you actively world-build when you desperately need it the most. For instance, spending a point of the Investigative ability Laws and Traditions allows you to literally make up a law or a cultural tradition that remains true for the rest of the campaign, which is handy when you’ve just been confronted by the City Watch and you desperately need a loophole.
- You can attack Morale in addition to Health. It’s possible to defeat a foe without ever laying a finger on them. Thanks to Teamwork attacks, a Hero who never once touches a weapon and who gets by on their sharp wits is a perfectly viable build.
- There are four loose classes – Sentinel, Sorcerer, Thief, and Warrior – and each class has four unique Investigative abilities that define it. For instance, thieves have access to City’s Secrets, Ridiculous Luck, Scurrilous Rumors, and Skullduggery; Sorcerers have Corruption, Forgotten Lore, Leechcraft, and Prophecy. Mix and match class abilities between professions if you don’t mind trading a little power for flexibility.
- Investigative abilities give you leads and clues, and spending those Investigative pool points allow you to do some remarkable things, including inflicting extra damage in combat (sometimes a lot of extra damage).
- We’ve got quick-start templates for both Heroes and campaign set-ups. There are a lot of ways to play this game – gang of con men and thieves? Officers in the City Watch? Roaming adventurers? Decadent nobility? Inquisitors? Desperate rat-catchers? Master Sorcerer and apprentices? – and we want to make it easy for you to choose.
- Eversink is a city controlled by a dozen or so powerful factions. You’ll be allied with one or two of them – and you’ll have at least one as an enemy. The Allegiance system treats these allies and enemies as Investigative abilities, where the more ranks you possess the more you can guide or manipulate the faction. Pick up leads from your allies, and then spend points to influence the movers and shakers of the city. If you want to literally rule as a conqueror-king, it may take you a while, but this is how you get there.
Chapter 3: Rules. How to kill things and avoid being killed (amongst other rules.)
- You can attack your foe’s Health with a Warfare attack or their Morale with a Sway attack. Sorcery might attack either, depending on what you pick when you create your Hero.
- Combat encourages you to defeat nameless mooks quickly, because doing so gives you refresh tokens you can use to power even more attacks. We want it to feel like a great hero hacking their way across a battlefield, gaining strength with every foolish enemy they cut down.
- Your minimum damage is the number of points you spent on the attack. Want to guarantee max damage? Spend 6 points to attack your foe – and hey, that’s likely to crit, inflicting even more damage in the process.
- We’ve got sections on how to be as effective (and interesting) as possible in combat, and on how to avoid damage when it looks like you’re about to be skewered.
- Traps in buildings or tombs are treated like puzzles, assuming you even spot them. Use your abilities to figure them out (or to bypass them) if you aren’t a fan of setting them off!
Chapter 4: Sorcery. Details on how to be a Sorcerer or an Alchemist, with all the tradeoffs this entails.
- Sorcery is powered by Investigative ability named Corruption. Invoking Corruption is never a good choice, but it’s the only way to power your really damaging or unique spells. Spending Corruption either pollutes the area around you or permanently changes something minor about your body.
- Every Sorcerer is themed with Spheres, one for each rank of Corruption they have. For instance, a Sorcerer with the Time sphere might describe their attacks as aging their defeated foes into decrepitude or leaving them wandering around as toddlers; a Sorcerer with the Water sphere might drown their foes on dry land or hideously dehydrate them. There are dozens of suggested spheres, and it’s simple to make up your own.
- There are two types of Sorcerers: those who learned their magic when ancient Serpentine writings squirmed off a stone tablet into your brain, where they eagerly wait to be cast; and Sorcerers who have a demon or a small god bound to their soul, exchanging power for attention and veneration.
- Don’t want to fuss with Corruption? The Witchery rules allow you to be a classic Conan-style sorcerer, one who focuses on alchemy, poisons and mesmerism without the benefits or trade-offs of Corruption.
- You’ll find rules for true names (useful when facing powerful foes, even if they come with a horrible price), curses, sorcerous glyph traps, and for creating your own Sorcerous items. If you’ve ever wanted to curse a tower to be overrun with vines while everyone falls asleep for a century, you’ll find out how to do so here.
Chapter 5: Wealth and Lifestyle. Find Wealth! Spend Wealth! Live the astonishing lifestyle of an adventurer who doesn’t know how to save their treasures for tomorrow, and gain mechanical advantages for doing so!
- The loot you bring in is measured in Wealth, not coin, and there’s a simple system for spending your Wealth to determine your Lifestyle for the adventure.
- You can sometimes spend Wealth to boost Preparedness tests, but usually you’ll be using it to fuel your Lifestyle. A Squalid Lifestyle is going to create some challenges as others discriminate against you, while living Richer Than the Goddess for the adventure gives you bonus Investigative points you can use to manipulate others.
Chapter 6: Gear, Both Sorcerous and Mundane. Here’s where to look for weapons, armor, and Sorcerous items.
- Your Hero’s innate abilities are a lot more important than their gear, but it’s always good to know what’s available.
- Sorcerous items aren’t always kind, but there are grimoires, staves, weapons, runes, protection, and more. They’re heavy on flavor, and every good item should tell (or create) a story.
Chapter 7: Adversaries. You may want someone to stab. Here’s where to start.
- Easy-to-read Stat blocks for Adversaries from every faction.
- 25 sample non-human monstrosities to fight including serpentine monstrosities, winged apes, skeletal giants, and flocks of carnivorous seabirds. You know. The usual.
- Powerful and interesting Special abilities to customize your adversaries, powered by a special General ability named Malus.
Chapter 8: GM Advice. If you’re running the game, it’s useful to read.
- You get guidelines for Customizing the rules for your own group and play style. Want no physical combat, or a different setting, or one-on-one play? Can do!
- Character construction tips are included to help players prevent analysis paralysis.
- You’ll find tips on running fights, making monsters more effective, creating great mysteries, constructing adventures, and more.
Now we dig into the setting.
Chapter 9: Introduction to Eversink. Everything you need to know about the city at a glance.
- Why is the city so famous? Why are the buildings all sinking? What’s with all the funerary statues? Is it safe to drink the canal water? What do you mean, the city and the Goddess are one?
- Quick summaries of the twelve factions and of daily life in Eversink – the food, the politics, the sports, the customs, and the architecture. If you want to play eelball (hint: you don’t), understand how small gods work, or buy suspicious food from a street vendor, read this first.
Chapter 10: The City of Eversink.
- We give you guides to 7 major neighborhoods, loaded down with a huge number of plot hooks.
- Knowledge about Eversink’s government, committees, laws, and punishments (otherwise known as “hey, why is that handless and tongueless man hanging in a crow cage over the harbor, guarded by church inquisitors?”)
- You’ll learn about History – with an emphasis on encouraging you to make your own.
- We talk a fair amount about Eversink’s economics and trade. This game is a bit unusual in that if you want to play kingmaker, you can rule kingdoms or topple economies with the same core mechanics you use to seek out adventure. Here’s what you need to know if that’s a thing you find fun.
Chapter 11: The Factions. This is a detailed look at all twelve factions that you can use as allies and enemies to drive (or solve) adventures.
- Dive into a class struggle with the Ancient Nobility, Mercanti, and Commoners, with hired Mercenaries to provide the muscle.
- The Church of Denari hunts down the Sorcerous Cabal and non-human Monstrosities, while visiting Outlanders ignore the laws to do what’s right.
- The Triskadane runs the government from a secret council, the Guild of Architects and Canal-Watchers keeps the city upright, the City Watch keeps it safe, and the Thieves Guilds try to rob it.
Chapter 12: The World. A city like Eversink can’t exist in isolation. Here’s what to know about the world, geography, and rival nations.
- More than eight other countries for international intrigue, dangerous exploration, or potential armed conflict.
- We talk about the ruins of the Serpentine Empire atop the Destroyed Plateau, where magic runs wild and ancient demons stalk the wind.
Chapter 13: Corpse Astray is our sample adventure. Want to see how an adventure works? Want a fast and easy way to play (we’ll provide sample characters as well for an even faster start.) Here’s where to go!
- Designed for just about any campaign set-up or types of Heroes.
- Relatively fast (3-4 hours), with unusual roleplaying and a very memorable fight.
- A good introduction to Eversink.
So, that’s the playtest, and we hope you love it and give us feedback. Talk about it online using the hashtag #SerpentineRPG, and talk to the authors on Twitter at @kevinkulp and @multiplexer (or at @pelgranepress). You can weigh in on Facebook’s GUMSHOE forum or here in the See Page XX comments.