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

By Kevin Kulp

This is the eighth 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), Constructs, the fungal Drowned, fey Hidden Folk, Intelligent Animals, and Unsleeping Advisors (secret undead). This month’s Ancestry is inspired by the Conan story The God in the Bowl, along with the eponymous monstrosities whom Eversink’s founders fled a thousand years ago. Be sure to read the previously published rules on Non-Human Heroes if you haven’t already.


Ancestry abilities: Ancestry (Serpentine), Corruption, Forgotten Lore, Know Monstrosities

You are Serpentine, a member of the ancient god-race whose empire once conquered and ruled this continent. The humans believe your kind to be long-dead. The humans are wrong.

Your natural form is that of a 15’ long scaled greenish viper with arms and an inhuman head. Your natural magic and exceptional strength of mind allow you to shift your form into that of a human or half- Serpentine if you wish, but you always appear as the same human whenever you shift. Your disguise lapses if you fall unconscious and some humans have ways of seeing your true form; be ever-vigilant. It would not do to reveal your presence.

As per your Ancestry abilities, you possess the legacy of your empire’s triumph and fall: a mastery of sorcery without the use of demons or small gods (with a cultural preference for the spheres of memory control and mind control), forgotten and forbidden lore, and encyclopedic memories of the monstrosities you once flesh-shaped and set loose upon the world for your entertainment.

Designer Notes: Ancestral Terror and the Serpentine

The biggest challenge we see in playing a Serpentine is avoiding making them just a “human in a snake-suit”. You can and should change their background as much as you want, but in the core Eversink setting Serpentine are intended to be mythical figures of terror and mystery. Anyone who knows their legend is likely to run screaming from an uncloaked Serpentine. Give some thought as how you want to handle this in your own game; the rules are mechanically balanced, so there’s no rules reason not to play one, but you should make sure your ideas mesh with the GM’s fiction.

The humans have minor folk magic that repels you. As mentioned on SotS p. 137, you take 5 Morale damage and have difficulty entering any door with a Snake’s Eye charm.

Note that with a longbow and the sorcerous spheres of transmutation, statues, or stone, you can build a serpentine hero into a creditable gorgon from Greek mythology.

Investigative ability: Ancestry (Serpentine)

You have secure knowledge of your own superiority; you seldom if ever feel self-doubt. You have knowledge of pre- and post-catastrophe Serpentine culture, behavior, history, superstitions, art, tactics, and territory.  You speak the hissing Serpentine language as well as a human tongue.

This Investigative ability points you towards leads and clues that are linked to the Serpentine as a people or historical culture. You will need to rely on other Investigative abilities to gain leads from specific Serpentine.

Sample spend: Appear unremarkably human to someone examining you with Spirit Sight. Erase the memory of your Serpentine nature from any Mooks who learn it. Unhinge your jaw to swallow and hide something large. Spit poison for an extra die of damage on a successful Warfare attack. Pacify hostile snakes, preventing them from attacking you.

Sample Hero – Serpentine

Januss, family advisor to the ancient and powerful

Sycophantic, convincing, reputable, sly, self-concerned, arrogant

Drives (what is best in life?): Manipulating others; Revealing the truth before a foe falls; Safety, comfort, and respect

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 1 (natural scales), Health 8

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

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 10 vs Morale: Damage Modifier +1 (Illusion, Memory, Mind Control)

Offense – Sway: Sway 1: Damage Modifier +1 (insinuating)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 3: Damage Modifier +1 (fangs or claws)

Investigative abilities: Liar’s Tell 1, Servility 2, Trustworthy 2; Corruption 3, Forgotten Lore 1, Ancestry (Serpentine) 2

Allegiances: Ally: Ancient Nobility 1, Ally: Monstrosities 1; Enemy: Commoners 1

General abilities: Athletics 6, Preparedness 3, Stealth 8 (Where’d She Go?), Sorcery 10 (Blast), Sway 1, Warfare 3

Gear: The trust of your patron’s family; respectably dour (if outdated) clothing that tends to rustle; an excellent memory compared to those around you; a jeweled baby rattle whose sound you enjoy; access to your patron’s remarkable library; an unnerving gaze; a hearty appetite for one so skinny; boundless ambition

Sample Adversary – Serpentine

Mother Lissa, Serpentine Matriarch

Ancient, wicked, manipulative

Defense — Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3 (hardened scales), Health 10 per Hero

Defense — Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 2 (utter disdain), Morale 15 per Hero

Offense — Warfare: +2; Damage Modifier +3 (bite – plus Venom) or the Restrain Maneuver at +2 Difficulty (coils))

Offense — Sorcery: +2 (vs. Health); Damage Modifier +2 (Spheres of Shadow, Memory Control, and Mind Control)

Offense — Sway: +0; Damage Modifier +1 (hypnotic whispers)

Abilities: Malus 30

Special Abilities: Disguise (cost 1), Extra Action (cost 3), Lightning Speed (cost 3), Monstrous Ability (cost 3), Oracle (cost 3), Spellcasting (cost 3 – 3 uses), Venom (cost 3 – Daze)

Misc: Alertness Modifier +1, Stealth Modifier +2

Refresh Tokens: 7

Description: Beneath Sag Harbor is The Palace, a night market where wicked things are traded and bartered. The market never changes location, but its location is always forgotten the moment you once again reach the surface. Anyone is welcome there as long as they carry no coin, for coin is the symbol of Denari, and that is not a place that Denari can see.

The Palace is controlled by an emotionless caretaker named Mother Lissa. Lissa never blinks and always seems to be exactly where she needs to be, at the time she needs to be there. Her helpers in The Palace are former patrons who acted out in some way; now they seem emotionless and utterly loyal, having abandoned their old life entirely. If one ever displeases Mother Lissa, they vanish for good soon after — and for the next week or so, Lissa seems heavier and more listless than usual.

Lissa seems to care little for the day-to-day schemes of Eversink, but grows strong on the wickedness and vice that is traded within her market. Destroy her and you cut Eversink off from a major clearinghouse of poison, crime, and deliberate evils.

Sample Allegiances

Establishing Serpentine as a unique faction instead of including them as Monstrosities indicates that they have reemerged from the shadows and are once again attempting to resume their mantle of control over humanity. You will likely be considered a traitor if you’re a human allied with the Serpentine; to say that they don’t have humanity’s best interests in mind is an understatement. The one advantage you may have is that they work slowly and deliberately, and they may even seem to assist humanity against a worse threat for a time before the truth is revealed.

Having serpentine as Allies means that you have access to ancient, ancient secrets about sorcery, geography, and history. They may also share secrets about any humans they have mind controlled or replaced. Serpentine will seldom if ever reveal themselves to aid you, but may assist through a human proxy.

Having serpentine as Enemies means that they may hate and scorn all of humanity, but they particularly hate you. With power stemming from sorcery that affects memory and mind control, they’ll go out of their way to thwart you. The only thing holding them in check is a desire for secrecy and a tendency to act through proxies or catspaws.

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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