Serpents and Sewers: Combat Rules

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Combat in Serpents and Sewers is meant to be quick and deadly, and less abstract than in standard D&D. The degree of abstraction in standard D&D made combats quick, but also was a hindrance for their suspense, a mediocre exchange at best. I don't think that it is a good idea to sacrifice tension for speed, and I also don't think that quick yet dull combats - like in standard D&D are a desirable concept. Serpents and Sewers sacrifices parts of the speed of the progenitor system in favor of more dramatic, suspenseful and overall interesting combats.


Hitpoints and Injuries

Determination of Hitpoints

In Serpents and Sewers character’s hitpoints are not determined by rolling any dice. Instead, a fixed and somewhat lower amount of hitpoints every level. The starting amount of hitpoints on the other hand is increased. The Constitution bonus is still added to the gained amount of hitpoints per level.

Hit Dice Hitpoints per level
D4 1 + Con Modifier
D6 2 + Con Modifier
D8 3 + Con Modifier
D10 4 + Con Modifier
D12 5 + Con Modifier

Hitpoints are also scaled by size. Smaller creatures get lesser, bigger creatures more hitpoints per level. Every character get at least one hitpoint per level.

Size Category Hitpoints modifier per hit dice
fine -4
diminutive -3
tiny -2
small -1
medium 0
large +1
huge +2
gargantuan +3
collossal +4

Damage Steps and Wounds

The more a character is injured the harder it gets for him to fight on. There are for different damage steps which brings penalties to all throws, checks and saves (including damage) based upon the relation of total hitpoints to suffered damage.

Damage Steps Injury Penalties
Full Hitpoints (unharmed) None
75% of Hitpoints left (Hurt) -1
50% of Hitpoints left (Wounded) -2
25% of Hitpoints left (Mauled) -3

Example: A knight with 40 total hitpoints takes a heavy hit by an ogre’s club, dealing him 11 points of net damage. His Hipoints sink under the ¾ margin, and he suffers a –1 penalty to his throws.

Crippling Strikes

Due to the lower total hitpoints, the massive damage rule is not used in Serpents and Sewers. Instead, there are Crippling Strikes: Whenever a creature suffers damage equal to more than 50% of its total hitpoints or its Constitution score, which ever is lower, through a single hit, it must make a Fortitude save against a DC of 15. If the Save fails, the creature is nauseated from the pain until healing magic or first aid can be applied. If the save succeeds, the victim of the attack is sickened from the pain for 1d4 turns.

Defense and Armor

In Serpents and Sewers, there is no AC. Instead, every class has a basic defense bonus similar to the BAB. Defense work like a Save, and is increased by the dexterity bonus. Shields, Dodge and Deflection bonus increases the defense. Armor, however, does not.

Defense Formula

Basic Defense Bonus (BDB) +Dexterity + other Bonus (e.g. Shields)+ Size Modifier+D20 = Defense

Defense is rolled once per attack, not once per turn. In case of a draft, the attack counts as a miss; to succesfully defend oneself, a character must roll equal or higher to the attack roll.

Other Defenses

Flatfooted: When caught flatfooted, only the basic defense bonus of the class and size are used – any additional benefits from equipment are not applied.

Touch Attack: Touch attacks give a flat +4 bonus to hit.


In Serpents and Sewers, armor gives Damage Reduction equal to its former AC. So does natural armor and all stuff, which is not better suited to be calculated as a defense bonus, like shields or items that offer a dodge bonus. The DR of armors count as DR/Adamantium but does not protect against any form of energy damage.

Combat Actions and Iterative Attacks

Multiple Attacks

A character can use all his iterative attacks when using a standard action to attack. A full attack grants an additional attack at the highest attack bonus. A Charge allows attacks with all potential iterative attacks. The Pounce ability allows using an additional attack with the highest attack Bonus.

Multiple Defenses

The more often a character is attacked, the harder it becomes to defend oneself. Each addtional defense roll per turn after the first suffers from a stacking -2 penalty, which increases with each further attack (-2 for the second attack, -4 for the third etc.). It doesn't matter if these attacks come from one single source or multiple attackers. The penalties are the same, no matter how many people do attack the same target. A warrior who allows his enemies to surround him has made a grave mistake.

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