Playtesting: the fungal Drowned (Non-Human Heroes) in Swords of the Serpentine

By Kevin Kulp

This is the sixth in our series on non-human heroes which has so far covered the spider-like Arakene, the Considerata (humans whose souls are contractually linked to gods), ConstructsIntelligent Animals, and Unsleeping Advisors (secret undead). This month’s Ancestry is inspired by the cordyceps fungus, The Last of Us, and terrifying hiveminds. Be sure to read the previously published rules on Non-Human Heroes if you haven’t already..

The Drowned

Ancestry abilities: Ancestry (Drowned), Felonious Intent, Scurrilous Rumors, Wilderness Mastery

  • Ancestry (Drowned) reflects the extent of your link to the fungal hivemind, and the strength of the fungus growing inside your body
  • Felonious Intent represents the hivemind’s ability to watch or remember an individual from multiple angles over an extended time, and to draw conclusions based on their past behavior
  • Scurrilous Rumors represents your fungal hivemind’s link to sources of gossip from multiple locations throughout the city
  • Wilderness Mastery reflects your inhuman fungal nature and new ability to survive or thrive even when there is a lack of traditional sources of food and shelter

Special: You may not possess any ranks of the Investigative ability Liar’s Tell. If you have ranks of Liar’s Tell when you become Drowned, reassign these ranks to other Investigative abilities.

You contracted the disease wetlung after almost drowning in a canal. This has turned you into a secret member of Eversink’s fungal hivemind the Drowned, absorbed into the collective known as “Colony”; you are happily content with this fact and probably don’t mind the occasional wet cough. You probably look normal, but wetlung has left you as more than human. As far as you can tell you maintain your free will, but you also have near-instant mental access to information from other members of Colony across the city. As the fungus grows within you, you continue to become more powerful and knowledgeable.

Play one of the Drowned if you accidentally got infected, if you want bizarre fungal powers, if being an autonomous part of a hivemind sounds fun to you, and if the idea of the cordyceps fungus (search the internet for “cordyceps zombie fungi”) is more fascinating than horrifying.

Designer Notes: The Drowned

The Drowned played a major role in our first playtest campaign for Swords of the Serpentine, serving as both enemy and ally as Colony pursued its own agenda to infect the goddess Denari Herself. Regardless of how they show up in your own game, the Drowned make excellent members of a secret conspiracy due to their ability to instantly pass information to the central fungus and the ability to theoretically infect almost anyone.

Investigative ability: Ancestry (Drowned)

The Drowned don’t have their own culture, but they do have a shared understanding; you always feel loved, and you never feel lonely or alone. When you wish you may mentally exchange understanding with any and all other members of the hivemind. While this doesn’t go as far as exchanging words or recognizing specific identities, you know roughly where they are located and their current emotional state and intent. You recognize other Drowned on sight.

You only know how to physically reach Colony if it specifically summons you, and that’s rare. When Colony nudges you with a request, you may refuse at the cost of 1 Morale damage. If Colony insists or attempts to possess you fully, you may resist at the cost of 6 Morale damage. If this defeats you, special circumstances occur (SotS p. 87).

Sample spend: Use the fungus growing within you to increase your strength, dealing an additional die of damage on a Warfare attack, or to take less damage by triggering a Protective Ward that affects only you. Spend a point to infect a defeated foe with Wetlung (SotS p. 87). Spend a point to trigger hallucinogenic happiness within you, restoring 6 Morale. Spend a point to enable the Adversary special ability of Hivemind (SotS p. 162), allowing you to coordinate your attacks with others on the hivemind who have also triggered this power.

Sample Hero – The Drowned

Landel Coincounter, former counting-house clerk who dreams of great adventure

Mild, shy, nervous, cautious, dreamer, self-effacing, unaware of his own potential

Drives (what is best in life?): Doing something – anything! – worthy of stories; Breaking out of your normal rut; Showing that you can carry your own weight

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 0 (clerk’s clothing), Health 6

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (Colony’s reassurance), Morale 12

Offense – Sway: Sway 7: Damage Modifier +1 (pedantic bureaucracy)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 3: Damage Modifier +0 (improvised weapon)

Investigative abilities: Servility 2, Trustworthy 2; Ancestry (Drowned) 5, Felonious Intent 1, Scurrilous Rumors 1

Allegiances: Ally: Mercanti 1, Ally: Monstrosities 1; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General abilities: Athletics 3, Bind Wounds 5, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 4, Sway 7, Warfare 3

Gear: Ledgers, ink, and quills; daily diary; fragile spectacles; a high and often tremulous voice; unremarkable clothing; doting and proud parents; a sharpened letter-opener; a constant murmur of assurance in his head; quiet shame over your unremarkable life to date; quiet pride that you finally seems to be bulking up with muscle.

Sample Adversary – The Drowned

Drowned Elder

Unconcerned, informed, remarkably fungal

Defense — Health: Health Threshold 4, Health 10 per Hero

Defense — Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 3 (fungal indifference), Morale 8 per Hero

Offense — Warfare: +2; Damage Modifier +3 (fungal strength)

Offense — Sway: +1; Damage Modifier +1 (alien persuasiveness)

Abilities: Malus 15

Special Abilities: Infection, Hivemind, Monstrous Ability (cost 3), Regenerate (half of health damage inflicted), Strength, Summoning (cost 3 – other Drowned)

Refresh Tokens: 5

Description: Anyone will tell you that “the Drowned” is a ridiculous conspiracy and that the rumors aren’t true. Often, the person telling you this is already a member of the Drowned.

Created by the disease wetlung, the Drowned are humans who can be puppeteered and possessed by Colony, an underwater fungal hivemind somewhere beneath the city. They can instantly communicate with each other when Colony wishes and use this hivemind communication to focus on and efficiently eliminate one enemy at a time. The Drowned seek to put themselves in positions of influence and power, all the better to promote the fungal intelligence’s inscrutable plans.

See the disease description (SotS p. 87) for more information about the Drowned, including their most common method of death.

The Drowned are surprisingly strong, mostly because the fungus that controls them has little concern about ripping apart an infected’s muscles after they’ve revealed themselves.

Sample Allegiances

Establishing the Drowned as a new faction (instead of being included under Monstrosities as they normally are) indicates that Colony has goals of its own and has chosen to use its hivemind to subvert existing politics, whether blatantly or as a secret conspiracy. It’s also possible that Colony surfaces for a time as a formidable political force, is thwarted, and fades in political importance.

In a setting outside of Eversink, a faction of the Drowned could indicate a city-state or nation of fungus-linked humans who are trying to colonize others in a twisted belief of manifest destiny, a terrifying force for imperialistic expansion.

Having the Drowned as Allies means that the fungal hivemind considers you trustworthy and useful (even if you aren’t! The Drowned are notoriously bad at noticing when someone lies to them). It will try to keep you safe, will attempt to convince you to willingly join the hivemind, and will expect you to keep its existence a secret. Use your allegiance to gain information from any of Colony’s infected drones, or to learn about Eversink’s history within the past few centuries.

Having the Drowned as Enemies means that Colony considers you an enemy and a threat. It will tirelessly work to infect you, exile you, or kill you – whatever it needs to do to eliminate you as a threat. Expect danger from anyone, because other than an examination with Leechcraft there’s no easy way to tell who is infected.

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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