Serpents and Sewers

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Serpents and Sewers is a very large collection of homebrewing for D&D 3.5, covering almost every single aspects of the game. In the base text form, it contains more than 170 pages, and I dont think I have ever seen a similar large collection of houserules.

The changes within this modifications are written with a certain objective, and therefore are certainly not looking like a good idea for everyone. Balance, for once, was never a major issue for the development of Serpents and Sewers, so that it does not play a major role within these rules; they are propably better balanced than the standard rules, but that is more a kind of a positive coincidence instead of an actively pursued aim.

Instead, the major agenda behind these rules was to improve the system's versimilitude and favor for heroism and suspense. This means, that the characters in Serpents and Sewers are on the one hand more powerful and self-reliable than in the Standard rules, but on the other hand they also gain much less magical items and equipment. Instead of being a hatstand for awesome stuff, they are meant to be awesome in themself.

The focus on heroism and suspense means that the general risk of the game is increased and the power gap between high power and low power characters, NPCs and monsters is a lot smaller. Heroism is about overcoming obstacles and facing chalenges; if the chalenges aren't chalenging, the triumph of defeating them is cheapened.

This more heroic approach means also that spellcasting is not nearly as powerful as it was before (since it is less heroic than a melee brawl) and much rarer to protect a sense of wonder; one of the gravest mistakes of D&D is the inflationary use of magic, which is a certain way to banalise it. These houserules do their best to make magic what it is supposed to be: something mystical, rare an exotic, which is not always understandable or controlable by mere mortals and which is certainly not an appearance of daily life.

The second main pillar of Serpents and Sewers is the idea to add more deepth and possibilities to the characters, so that it becomes easier to add additional layers with a relevance for the game to the character. Normal D&D characters consists mainly out of two of these layers - race and class- whereby the race is mostly irrelevant. By adding a third layer - the heroic path - and more variability and options to classes as well as species, characters gain almost automatically more depth by making some choices more relevant.

For people who like to have large collections of magical items, or powerful common magic or just the flashiness of the Tome of Battle, there is admittedly not much interesting in here. For those who are more intersted in a character-focused, or a low-magic, or a slightly grittier version of D&D, this may contain a nugget of good ideas or two.


Serpents and Sewers follows a simple structure. As the complete collection of changes, rules, and basic elements such as classes and species would take more than 250 pages of normal text (on paper), this structure is also inevitable.

General Rules includes all basic rule changes including character creation. Most of the changes of the original rules can be found here, even though this is quantitavily one of the smallest parts of the overall homebrew.

Arts of War lists the different martial knacks and techniques which are only available to dedicated warriors in Serpents and Sewers and which work as substitute, highly adaptable class features for martial classes, just like spells are highly adaptable class features for spellcasters.

The Feats list includes some specific feats unique to Serpents and Sewers. These are not the only feats in the game, but a few additional ones specifically for the Serpents and Sewers rules.

Combat Rules contains the changed and expanded rules for combat and injuries which make combats more deadly and suspenseful.

The Magic chapter includes all rules about spellcasting and the use of magical powers, one of the largest differences between Serpents and Sewers and standard D&D. For instance, Serpents and Sewers' magic is neither overpowering, nor based on Vancian spellcasting.

Different from Magic, Psionics in Serpents and Sewers are completely feat-based powers which offer a tad of supernatural abilities in addition to the normal class traits, without slowing the class progression down. Psionics is an optional rule for Serpents and Sewers, but a good one. They were included to simulate Dark Sun and are still under construction.

Species and Templates contains write-ups for most species found in the D&D corebooks and several additional ones, as well as a number of templates. In Serpents and Sewers, species play a bigger role than in standard D&D and are generally "more powerful"; as a rule of thumb, a normal species in Serpents and Sewers is about equal in power to a stronger LA+1 race in standard D&D. The S&S species are therefore not balanced to the standard races but to each other.

Background Traits includes the Serpents and Sewers equivalent to racial varieties - regional, cultural as well as physical, mental and supernatural traits that help to individualise a character by offering a number of background traits with a significant influence on the character.

Character Classes includes the aspired 30 base classes of Serpents and Sewers (now, there are 24 completely done, 2 who are in playtesting and two which only consist of a basic skeleton of an idea), which share some similiarities with their progenitors, but are guaranteed to achieve new abilities on every single levels. Especially purely martial characters are much more competitive in Serpents and Sewers than in standard D&D.

Heroic Paths includes a novelty to the standard system, a third layer in the character development apart from class and race. Heroic Paths can both be used to grant a character a broader range of abilities or to put an even stronger focus on the character's primary role.

Running Serpents and Sewers is the final component that is primarily to gamemasters and include hints an tipps for the creation of a more mature and suspenseful game based on this homebrew.

The Dark Eye D20 is more like an easteregg of this game, a conversion of the immensely popular German Roleplaying game The Dark Eye ("Das Schwarze Auge") into D20, through the application of Serpents and Sewers.

Concerning Language

I am not an English native speaker. And while my language skills are certainly quite well for an average German historian in training, they are far from perfect, so it is quite likely that every text dealing with Serpents and Sewers is probably full of little stupid mistakes. I am sorry for this, and I am trying to do my best, but it is not very likely that I suddenly stop making stupid grammar mistakes or become to unconcentrated to find all spelling mistakes. Please, feel free to ignore them.

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