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.
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.
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.
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.
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.