Words of the Serpentine: Finishing the Book

By Kevin Kulp

My dining room table is covered by the Swords of the Serpentine printer’s proof, finished.

Well, almost finished: we’re flagging a cropping issue on the non-color proof, there’s a handful of “we’re worried the ink won’t dry!” image saturation issues that inimitable publisher Cat Tobin will hammer out with the printer’s customer service, and (weirdly) two apostrophes on section heading pages didn’t print. Other than that, the book looks gorgeous. I love that the chapters are color-coded, that the designer, player, and GM-sidebars are easily discernible, and that if you look at Jerome Huguenin’s cover and maps you immediately want to dive into the game’s setting.

It’s a six-week printing process between giving a full thumbs-up and having the book ready to ship. That means we’re looking at a late March/early April shipping (unless anything weird happens at this point, like a delay in resolving the image saturation issues.) And of course, if you pre-ordered the PDF is available RIGHT NOW on your Pelgrane bookshelf.

Writing a book like SotS means that we over-write and then kill our darlings. Hopefully, most of what Emily Dresner and I needed to cut will find its way into a future book or blog post. Rules for making sorcerous items? Set aside for playtesting. A floating island nation, with the island made up of lashed-together vessels? Saved for an adventure or supplement. Really detailed descriptions of all the factions? Set aside for a later book. A clever system for staged disease and poison? Cut completely, because (hopefully) this isn’t actually a game about getting diseases. We still ended up at 180,000 words, which works out to be 400 pages of words and art. It’s a solid book!

Design is iterative, and the game rules changed as we went along. I redesigned Maneuvers (a new type of GUMSHOE rule) after playtesters assured me they were broken and I quickly concluded that they were 100% correct. Having turned Maneuvers into something much more fun, I realized the Trap chapter also needed rewriting to include the new rules. That made me realize that Sorcery ALSO needed rewriting for the same reason. Changes cascade through a book, but that’s well worth it if the end result is more fun.

The setting barely changed at all. I pitched my initial ideas to Emily, based on a city I’d thought up a decade ago, and she took it and made it a hundred times better. Neighborhoods, factions, geography, landmarks, notable people: everything is a plot hook, and adventure is everywhere.

One of our favorite things to write were sidebars; I focused on rules and Emily focused on setting. We have sidebars for player advice, GM advice, and (perhaps most importantly) designer intent. You shouldn’t have to second-guess at why rules exist, and it was a lot of fun to tell you what we were thinking when we wrote a rule. We also got to build in even more plot hooks; I could build a half-dozen adventures around Revelation Belltower alone.

So, we’re on the end stretch. We’ll soon announce adventures and other fun future plans, but for now? Grab the PDF if you pre-ordered, make fun Heroes, and look for the book that’s coming soon.

Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, the PDF of which is currently waiting for you on your Pelgrane bookshelf if you pre-ordered the game. 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.




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