Serpents and Sewers: General Rules

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Serpents and Sewers uses most of the D20 rules, most of the time. there are significant differences, though. These differences and several details of the gameplay are going to be described and explained in this part.


Character Creation and Character Development


All species in the reviewed rules of Serpents and Sewers are a bit stronger – especially those who were not on par with the others originally (for example the half-orc). Every race should be as a little bit stronger than an original LA+1 race, to have more room for diversity and abilities which stay relevant during the character's career. Additionally, characters gain additional species features when they advance in level. Every 4 levels, a character gains an additional species template feature. There are no subspecies; different upbringing, culture or background is represented through background traits.

Ability Scores

Serpents and Sewers makes use of three fixed settings of ability scores for Player characters. Every player chose one of the settings and distribute the scores as ever he or she wants wants.

Score one “standard”: 16, 16, 14, 14, 12 10

Score two “focused”: 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8

Score three “universalist”: 14,14, 14, 14, 14, 14

Ability modifiers per species or background trait are distributed afterwards.

Background Traits

At character creation, every character gains two background traits, which represent physical or mental character traits, upbringing, environment or social background of a character. These should help to make the character more unique and give the player the possibility to get an additional mean of influence on the character’s overall appearance and world view, as well as a better grasp on the cultural and social heritage of the character.

There are two important addendums: Spellcasting Characters (with the exception of the Paladin) require one of the “Gift” traits. Without these, only magical dabbling is possible. Secondly, only ‘normal sized’ characters can take traits that change the character’s size category or similar features.

Heroic Paths

Apart from the other existing layers of characters featured in Serpents and Sewers - the Species and its individual adjustment through Background Traits and the various Character Classes - Serpents and Sewers offers an additional layer of character identitiy and development to the game to further individualize the different characters and put different emphasizes on individual traits and strengths -the heroic paths.

Every character in S&S chose one path during the creation process, which cannot be changed afterwards anymore. The heroic path grants several additional abilities or features when the character advances in level. Unlike a class, a path cannot be changed and most path features are less significant than class features. Most paths have no requirements but a few have.

It is quite possible that a Heroic Path and a Background Trait cover a very similar aspect of a character. In comparison, the Path is much more significant for your character than the Background Traits, since the path qualities improve over time. You can try to cover a broader spectrum of abilities by choosing Background traits that are quite diverse from your Path or you can focus on a more directed approach.

Your background traits describe where you come from and what you have done in the past. Your Heroic Path describes what you are and what you strive for and your class describes what you have learned and what you do. The idea of the additional Paths and Background is not only a way to increase a character’s power – it is also meant as a guideline to create more versatile, more well-rounded and generally less stereotypic characters. The first commandment for the choice of Path and background should be based on the question “What makes the most interesting character?”, Not “How can I become extra powerful?”

The whole path concept is very similar to the bloodlines found in Unearthed Arcana, even though they originally derived from the excellent Midnight campaign setting. Characters receive path abilities on 2nd level at first and every three levels later (5, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 20).


All character classes in Serpents and Sewers are significantly changed in comparison to their progenitors in D&D core. The classical melee classes are improved, most spellcasters are somewhat weakened (but rarely to an amount that would make them significantly weaker). Especially dead levels were hunted down and are now nearly extinct, as well as alignment restrictions. Every mundane class gets a new class feature on every single level. Spellcasting classes get a lot less class features, but spells instead.

Character Development Table

Level Feat Progression Ability Bonuses Species Features Path Progression
1st 1st - - 1st
2nd - - - 2nd
3rd 2nd one ability +1 - -
4th - - 1st -
5th 3rd - - 3rd
6th - one ability +1 - -
7th 4th - - -
8th - - 2nd 4th
9th 5th one ability +1 - -
10th - all abilities +1 - -
11th 6th - - 5th
12th - one ability +1 3rd -
13th 7th - - -
14th - - - 6th
15th 8th one ability +1 - -
16th - - 4th -
17th 9th - - 7th
18th - one ability +1 - -
19th 10th - - -
20th - all abilities +1 5th 8th

Character Options


In Serpents and Sewers, the alignment system is almost completely ignored. Anyone who tries to use childish terms like good or evil in an arguement is to be undressed, covered in mustard and tossed into the next dog pound. Alignment is taken for outsiders and influence-based only. All creatures from the material plane, except those born from an alignment restrictive parent, have the alignment of neutral for detection and effects purposes. The alignment is a cosmic concept, and not a character defining one. Alignments will only apply to creatures born from one influenced outer plane or another or directly touched by said planes. An Aasimar will always be considered 'good’ for the purpose of spells and effects such as Detect Good, even when she is a homicidal maniac.

For the purpose of spell effects, item effects, and similar, these creatures will represent the alignment of their planes and not their actions/intents. This also applies to magic and beings formed of magic. Magic that is inherently evil (evil descriptor) will be 'evil', and anything made from such magic will be as well, including the creation of all undead creatures. This may still apply to the same intent bindings as the above as well, for example, if a necromancer raises an army of dead to, lets say, help reconstruct a ravaged town for the sake of the people - completely 'good' intent - the undead will still be evil for the purposes of spells and effects.

It is rare that a being without extraplanar ancestors would ever get an alignment apart from ‘true neutral’. This can be achieved only through supernatural effects but is mostly temporary or the result of a spell. For example, a character who becomes undead automatically becomes ‘evil’ as well. The terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are only kept because of tradition; ‘celestial’ and ‘infernal’ would be more appropriate terms.

Codes of Honor

A character can decide to follow a code of honor – a more or less restrictive moral code. A character with a code of honor receives a bonus to his will saves and a skill checks were his word, honor, etc. has an influence, as long as the character does not violate the code. The stricter the code is, the higher is the received bonus. Being honorable has nothing to do with being ‘good’ though. A hobgoblin raider who would never attack one of his comrades or lie to an ally is honorable, even though he spends much of his time with plundering, raping and pillaging. The significance of a Code of Honor is determined by the obligations the code includes. A minor code consists of tree amendments, a significant one contains 5, and a major code contains 8. It is up to the player to determine the code’s rules, but the DM must agree to them. Any of these rules must be significant enough to be relevant. A rule like “Assist all albino dwarves without beard growth” is not sufficient. A character, who violates his codex loses all bonuses and suffer from as penalty to social skills equal to the former bonus. A character can make up for a code violation through a heroic deed.

Code Will Save Bonus Social Bonus Obligations
Minor +1 +1 3
Significant +2 +2 5
Major +3 +3 8

Example Codes: Barbarian Clansmen (minor): Never break your word to an honorable person. Always respect the laws of hospitality. Revenge any crime against you, your clan or your clan’s honor.

Professional Mercenary (minor): Stays bought. Follow your leader’s commands in spirit, not in words. Be loyal to your unit and your comrades.

Honorable Bandit (significant): Take from the rich, give to the poor. Be loyal to your comrades. Fights among comrades must be fair. Never make deals with the gentry. Never take from the underprivileged.

Chivalrous Knight (major): Protect those who are weaker than you. Protect the realm’s laws. Help women, widows and orphans. Don’t lie. Punish the guilty. Fights among men of honor must be fair. Follow the orders of your liege lord. Treat your subordinates well.


The importance of the ability bonuses for the skills has been increased in the homebrew. In Serpents and Sewers every skillis based on two ability bonuses instead of one. In addition, class skills and cross-class skills cost the exact same amount of skill points, while the maximum number of skill ranks stays the same. The more flexible skills like Craft or Perform which require a specialisation can have very different ability modifiers. While these skills all have one ability bonus in common, different specialisations also include different ability bonuses. in the list below, these changeable abilities are represented through a ?.

One of the more intriguing ideas published in the 4th edition rules of D&D was a strongly simplified list of skills, which got rid of redundant skills and comprimented others together into more general rules. This is intriguing, as the shorter skill list is more straightforward and easier to use. On the other hand, the reduction of the skill list was too radical, as all skills with only a secondary or atmospheric roles were eliminated without replacement, which hurts both the game's versimilitude and the makes the development of multi-facetted characters more difficult. The elimination of skill points was another terrible choice, as it doesn't make the game significantly easier, but makes a finer adjustment of competences and preferences almost impossible

Serpents and Sewers offer an alternative skill system that is the best of both worlds - the fine-tuning and individual adjustment of the 3.5 rules, in combination with the manageable, shortened list of skills without the redundancies.

Alternate Use of Intimidate: Demoralize Opponent You can use Intimidate to weaken an opponent’s resolve in combat. To do so, make an Intimidate check opposed by the target’s will save. If you win, the target becomes shaken for 1d6 turns.

List of Skills

Acrobatics (2xDEX)

Athletics (STR + CON)

Concentration (CON + WIS)

Craft (INT+?)

Disable Device (DEX + INT)

Handle Animals (WIS + CHA)

Heal (DEX + WIS)

Intimidate (CHA + STR)

Intrigue (2x CHA)

Knowledge (2x INT)

Languages (INT + CHA)

Legerdemain (DEX + CHA)

Perception (CON + WIS)

Perform (CHA+?)

Profession (WIS +?)

Ride (DEX + CHA)

Sense Motive (WIS + CHA)

Spellcraft (INT + WIS)

Stealth (DEX + CON)

Survival (WIS + CON)

Use Magical Device (2x CHA)


Acrobatics: Include Tumble, Balance and all maneuvers that require agility, mobility, etc.

Athletics: Include Climb, Swim and Jump. All skills that require physical prowess, body control and endurance.

Concentration: Keep your cool under pressure, the elementary spellcasting skill.

Craft: Anything you build, construct or form; specialization is necessary. The applied ability bonuses depend on the specialization.

Disable Device: Includes Disable Device and Open Locks. The skill of disarming traps, using a lockpick and manipulate all kinds of mechanisms.

Handle Animals: How to deal with animals and how to train them.

Heal: Care and Treatment of wounds and illnesses.

Intimidate: Fill the hearts of your opponents with fear

Intrigue: Includes Bluff and Diplomacy. Lying, Manipulating and Deceiving for fun and profit.

Knowledge: How to know things. Requires a specialization

Languages: The ability to learn new languages and decipher written texts.

Legerdemain: Includes Pickpocket and Sleight of Hand; the ability to do things with your hands while no one is watching or recognizing what you are doing.

Perception: How to Spot, Search and Listen for things, persons, etc.

Perform: Different forms of entertainment and Arts. This skill requires a specification, the applied ability bonuses depend on the specialization.

Profession: Doing a job. This skill requires a specification, the applied ability bonuses depend on the specialization.

Ride: The skill of not falling out of the saddle.

Sense Motive: Look through lies, deceives and such like.

Spellcraft: The understanding of the magical ways.

Stealth: The skill of moving silently, hiding and shadowing other people.

Survival: General applied Wilderness and Nature lore

Use Magical Device: How to trick a magical item into doing your bidding

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