Playtesting: Unsleeping Advisors (Non-Human Heroes) in Swords of the Serpentine

by Kevin Kulp

Last month we explained rules for non-humans and gave you our first Ancestry for Swords of the Serpentine: Intelligent Animals. This month’s Ancestry is originally inspired by The Serpent’s Tongue, a piece of very Eversinkish art by artist Tom Bagshaw.

Unsleeping Advisor

Ancestry abilities: Ancestry (Unsleeping Advisor), Forgotten Lore, Laws and Traditions, Prophecy

  • Ancestry (Unsleeping Advisor) reflects your exhaustive recollection of your family or organization’s history, along with an understanding of new (or missed) opportunities for advancing your family’s prestige and reputation
  • Forgotten Lore represents the inexplicable way that you can recall otherwise forgotten knowledge, much of it eerie or terrible
  • Laws and Traditions reflects your encyclopedic recall of customs, traditions, and laws, as well as a keen instinct for finding legal loopholes
  • Prophecy models your ability to see the past, present and future of Eversink when such events might interest or threaten your family or organization

You are an unsleeping advisor, a skeletal corpse who remains within Eversink to promote the best interests of your descendants and ancestral name.

In Eversink, the weight of family responsibility is rarely such that a soul lingers even when a funerary statue for them exists. These souls reinhabit their corpse and regenerate their mortal remains to a skeletal state. Refusing the call of the funerary statue ties these people into the fabric and history of the city somehow; unsleeping advisors (sometimes called “bone counsels”) instinctively know things, terrible things many others have forgotten, and they aren’t shy about using this knowledge to advance the prestige of their own living families or causes. While they’re most common in the Ancient Nobility, unsleeping advisors can occur in any proud family including the Mercanti and commoners. Sometimes they discard family ties entirely and instead attach themselves to an organization they were passionate about in life, such as an assassin’s guild or a legal firm.

Unsleeping advisors stay hidden or disguised; there’s a tacit unspoken cultural tradition in Eversink that an advisor is never discussed if kept private, but that any unsleeping advisors who venture out into the open are considered shameful and taboo, often earning other members of that family or organization a Grudge once word gets around. An advisor will often crouch in basements, cloaked in the rotting remnants of their ancient finery, and use their abilities to advise their still-living descendants. An unsleeping advisor who ventures out is typically motivated by secret goals, creeping boredom, or doesn’t find the peace that undeath brings to others of their kind.

Play an unsleeping advisor if you want to try and move secretly in public, if you like exercising narrative control and making up obscure facts, and if you want your hero to generally terrify others.

Investigative ability: Ancestry (Unsleeping Advisor)

You have deep but specific knowledge of your family’s or organization’s culture, behavior, history, politics, art, and enemies within their city, from the present to the misty past. You often aren’t knowledgeable about current events, but you excel at putting events into a historical context.

This Investigative ability points you towards leads and clues that are somehow linked to your family or organization, even if they include societal opinions, politics, and historical events that might otherwise be kept private. You can identify actions that are likely to result in Grudges or Enemies for members of your family or organization.

Sample spend: Add one die of damage to a Sway attack, radiating fear or shaming others with some of your many secrets. Make a living member of your family or organization accept you as a respected and trusted advisor. Spread rumors about your family or those who directly interact with it, as if spending a point of Scurrilous Rumors. If killed while Defeated, automatically spend a point upon your death to return in future adventures.

Character Creation Advice

  • Decide how your Heroes met (SotS p. 8) before you create your character. Playing an unsleeping advisor is most fun when your family or organization features prominently in adventures, and ensuring that gets much easier once you’ve agreed on how everyone knows each other. If your Heroes don’t have a primary family or organization to rally around, talk to your GM to make sure this Ancestry makes sense.
  • You have a pipeline to otherwise-unknown historical information, so select your abilities to take advantage of that. Putting ranks into Forgotten Lore, Prophecy, and your Ancestry ability make this easier.
  • Consider what your Hero did when they were alive and fill out your other abilities accordingly. If you were a legendary warrior, you may want to emphasize Warfare and even put ranks into Tactics of Death. If you were a sorcerer in life and decide that you still possess some lingering power, take some ranks of Corruption and Sorcery.
  • Terrifying undead who appear unexpectedly behind their foe are fun. Consider ranks in Intimidate and 8+ ranks in Stealth if you want to lean into this archetype.

Sample Hero – Unsleeping Advisor

Bellana Carsi, family advisor and information broker

Cautious, curious, manipulative, persnickety, loyal

Drives (what is best in life?): Helping your family reputation, manipulating the future, knowing all there is to know

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 1 (lack of flesh), Health 8

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

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

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 1: Damage Modifier +1 (unholy strength)

Investigative abilities: Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 1; Forgotten Lore 2, Laws & Traditions 1, Prophecy 1, Scurrilous Rumors 1, Skulduggery 1, Ancestry (Unsleeping Advisor) 1

Allegiances: Ally: Ancient Nobility 2; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General abilities: Athletics 5, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 5, Sway 11 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 1

Gear: Encyclopedic memory; comprehensive histories of ‘Sinkish nobility; beautiful but decaying gowns; a dark veil; flawless penmanship; Carsi signet ring; ancient secrets best left forgotten

Sample Adversary – Unsleeping Advisor

Magistrate Zilio, Unsleeping Advisor

Patrician, cunning, emotionless

Defense — Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3 (hardened bones), Health 15 per Hero

Defense — Morale: Morale Threshold 5, Grit 5 (detached), Morale 20 per Hero

Offense — Warfare: +0; Damage Modifier +1 (sharpened fingerbones)

Offense — Sway: +2; Damage Modifier +3 (unsettling truths)

Abilities: Malus 30

Special Abilities: Allies (cost 3 – Triskadane, Black Swans), Disguise (cost 1 – appears human until taking Health damage), Extra Damage (cost 3 – per die of bonus damage, 2 dice max), Flashback (cost 5 – per Flashback), Mastermind, Monstrous Ability (cost 3 – can be used for Laws & Traditions spends), Regenerate (returns healed next day if killed within city limits), Universal Attack (cost 6 – Sway only)

Refresh Tokens: 7

Description: Magistrate Zilo was the most brilliant legal mind of his generation. Recruited by the Triskadane’s secret police force The Black Swans, during his life Zilo manipulated large swathes of Eversink from behind the scenes. Death didn’t stop this. Current leadership of the Black Swans recognizes that Zilo is incredibly dangerous and focused on different goals than the organization, but he’s too dangerous and valuable to destroy so they have politically sidelined him. This has inspired Zilo to operate secretly on his own, building networks of loyal informants and executing whatever long term nefarious plans he thinks are best for the city. Unfortunately, he’s much more interested in organizations than he is in actual people.

Use Zilo as a long term major threat, someone at the top of the conspiracy pyramid who systematically manipulates both heroes and villains to his own end. Clever heroes might be able to turn The Black Swans against him, but attempting this is extraordinarily dangerous. Zilo is the kind of enemy who strikes at you indirectly through Eversink’s bureaucracy instead of him approaching you directly, and there’s certainly a lot of bureaucracy that he can use as a weapon.

Sample Allegiances

Establishing unsleeping advisors as a unique faction suggests that something remarkable has happened: instead of being loyal to their families, they have secretly banded together to communally influence the fate of the city. Such a conspiracy would be exceptionally effective and hard to discover due to the Ancestry’s taboo nature.

Having unsleeping advisors as Allies means that you have access to long-forgotten history, tradition, and family secrets, as well as advice for future events regarding those families. Their knowledge is typically narrow in scope but unusually detailed.

Having unsleeping advisors as Enemies means that few if any of your family secrets are safe. Almost anything about your family’s past might be known or uncovered by your enemies, who will then get it into the hands of people who can hurt you the most. Expect them to stay in the shadows as they work against you, passing laws and regulations intended to thwart your ambitions.

Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, out now in hardback and PDF. 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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