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Secret of Serpent Tor is another Demon hunting dungeon crawl from Gethsemane
Games for their “Spelldancer” adventure, but again, you could convert it to any
percentile based system with not much effort. The dungeon isn’t huge, but it is
big enough. Getting into it isn’t that easy as the snake dudes are watching for
The party could very easily end this adventure incredibly rich, as the gold
statue that is one of the main “hooks” for the adventure (the other being
rescuing fellow imperial citizens that have been taken by the snake demons) is
worth a fortune! At first i had my doubts about the wisdom of such a massively
valuable treasure, then I read the troubleshooting and “expanding the adventure”
notes and realised just how easy it is to make the statue more of a curse than a
blessing. It isn’t the first Spelldancer adventure where taking something
valuable can get you into all sorts of trouble down the line (remember the horse
in “Trouble at the troubadours rest?) and just holding onto the statue or
managing to sell it could become the centre of quite a long and very fun
campaign. Also, at least the demons in this one aren't as gross as Sulphur
pits. Snakies are quite cute, the demon maggots of Sulphur pits were ikky!
Sulphur pits of Nathazda is an adventure for the Spelldancer RPG but could be
easily modified to work with any percentile based system. This is not one for
inexperienced characters, but with the Spelldancer system you can create
experience characters right from the start. The adventure includes some sample
characters you could either use as NPCs or PCs.
Like other Gethsemane Games adventures part of the dangers the party will face
are from the environment itself not just from the creatures within. In this
case the creatures are demons and ewwww, some of them are gross! Demon maggots
anyone? The adventure also answers the question of what happened to one of the
missing Demon Lords of the Malmori, and in our game we actually found ourselves
making an alliance with it to defeat the demon we had come to kill! As usual
there are some interesting ideas for expanding the adventure.
At first glance it looks like a fairly short dungeon crawl, and it is ( about 2
nights play perhaps?) but then in Spelldancer you don’t want to be in a dungeon
too long as a few good hits will put you in a bad way, and believe me, in this
adventure characters are going to get hit sooner or later!
I loved the feel of this adventure and it was just long enough for us, any
longer and we wouldn’t have been able to complete it without coming out, healing
up and then going back in. your players should be prepared for the very real
possibility of having a character or two killed in this adventure, especially in
the final showdown.
Spelldancer is the fantasy RPG by Gethsemane games, set in their “Elizium”
fantasy setting (although you don’t need to use the setting if you have another
you would rather use).
Character generation is points based and the number of points you start with
depends on your age. Old characters get more starting experience than younger
ones BUT they also have more disadvantage points. Disadvantages are handled
differently to other games. Here you don’t buy disadvantages to gain more
experience points. Instead you start with one quarter your age in disadvantage
points you have to buy off or else you lose some of those experience points.
There are a lot of skills to chose from, but you don’t always need to roll to
check a skill when you use it. If the circumstances are ideal, you pass just by
owning the skill. You only roll if you are under pressure or circumstances
Combat is skill based, and there are a lot of special manoeuvres you can use to
get advantages to your chance to hit, or the damage you do. The better you are
with a weapon skill, the more damage you are probably going to do, which I like.
Damage is handled by comparing your Killing Power to your enemies Resistance
Factor. Killing Power is made up of how much you passed your skill roll with
your weapon by plus any Killing Power Adjustment you have from your Strength and
that the weapon itself has. It is possible to score a hit then do no damage if
your final KP was too low - this represents the minor bumps and bruises. The
system also builds results like being knocked out, having your arm broken, being
stunned or knocked over and even concussed into the basic combat and doesn't
seem to slow play down much at all but adds a lot to the game play.
Magic is split into types, called “Arcaniums” and each arcanium has it’s own
spells that relate to an idea, like Necromancy (death magic), Vivamancy (life
magic), the 4 elemental magics, Dracology 9magic relating to dragons) and so on.
there is also a “minor” arcanium which you must learn before you can take the
specialist or “major” arcaniums.
The races of the game are very interesting. they are split into Wyrm kind
(several types of dragon), Beast men (that have evolved from animals), Corporeal
spirits (that are a sort of minor demon that takes on a permanent physical form,
Umbra spirits (demos that have to be summoned to enter the world), Undead,
giants and animals. Humans are considered beast men and get on best with other
beast men races. The standard fantasy staples like elves and dwarves are
Corporeal spirits which makes them feel more like the Elves and goblins of old
European mythology than the standard RPG interpretation. It also makes them
feel a lot more alien. Sprits have a hard time understanding death - because
they can’t die - they just go “home” to the umbra. This means even the
“friendly” ones are likely to kill you if you are in their way, because they
don’t realise what a big deal death is to other races. Demons are very nicely
done, they are quite flexible and the GM can use the demon creation rules to
create just about anything!
Magic items are also very fixable, and are built on a points system that lets
you make customisable items. Oh and the rules for mages creating familiars are
nice and flexable too. If I’m reading this right (and I think I am 0 there is
no real limit to how many familiars a mage can have. Be careful though, the
bigger and more powerful an animal you select for your familiar the fewer points
you will have to give it special powers. In our game we had a mage with 2
familiars, one was a cat the other a snake, and they had very different powers
I like this game a lot, and it is great for customizing and making it into what
you want. the setting material is really cool to, although I would have loved
to have more of it. The town of Tolar is a great place to get started, right
between the civilized empire and the wild, unclaimed lands to the south. the
town “feels” alive and is bursting with ideas. The culture of the Empire is
just different enough to feel like it wasn’t lifted from the authors favourite
period of history without finding it hard to get into.
Skills are percentile based, combat is deadly, magic even more so, a lot of the
monsters are quite powerful 9but not impossibly so). So if you like realistic
combat and percentile based systems this is for you, if you don’t, it isn’t.
Okay let me just say right from the start, I am now a Gethsemane Games sqeeing
fan girl. This game is now my favourite RPG of all time, even over their
fantasy game Spelldancer. A lot of work has gone into researching the mythology
of the creatures and the magical traditions in the game.
Character generation is very similar to Spelldancer (pretty much the same but
with more skills available). The older your character is when you start the
more experience points they start with – you use these to buy or improve skills,
spells or psychic powers. Be careful though, ‘cos the older you are the more
disadvantage points you have and you have to buy them off by either taking
disadvantages or sacrificing experience. Psychic powers are new – they didn’t
appear in Spelldancer but are a must for a Horror Game. The magic system is all
new too. Gone are the Arcaniums and the flashy magic of the Fantasy game. This
magic system “feels” more like a horror games magic system should.
Practitioners of magic much select a tradition that dictates what spells they
can and can’t learn. Each tradition has spells they specialise in – which are
the easiest to learn and cast, “neutral” spells which the practitioners of the
tradition can use but it cost more to learn them and you will not be as
efficient, and excluded spells, which practitioners of that tradition can never
learn. Spells aren’t the only things that mark out the traditions either.
There are other things that make them all feel different from each other. The
3 fold law of the new way wiccans or the way Zoroastrian magi lose willpower for
performing “Druj” (evil) actions with their magic.
The curses are neat too but are lifted directly from Spelldancer. The diseases
section is great, and with so many creatures that can infect you it is very
The monsters are a mix of classic Horror beasties and some more obscure ones,
but everything is taken from real world folklore and mythology. On the besties,
the “preturnatural abilities” gives them a range of supernatural powers that
humans can’t learn.
Ghosts are very well handled as well, with fettered and unfettered ghosts, be
careful not to destroy a ghosts fetter till you are sure that is the right way
to destroy the ghost, ‘cos they get a lot more dangerous if you accidentally
unfettered one – that just lifts it’s limitations!
I love how flexible the game is and the way you can set it in any historical
period – although most of the art and the examples are Victorian.
Again, the layout is noting special but this makes it far easier on the printer
ink, although I could have done without the full page picture of the vampire at
the end of the vampire section which will just use printer ink I didn’t need to
I like this adventure, I like that it mixes horror and fantasy, One thing I
would say right at the start though is that it might be for inexperienced
characters but I recon you need to be an experienced GM to run it. Not
experienced at Spelldancer, just experienced at being a GM.
I don’t want to give much away but the second part of the adventure needs a GM
who can add lib a lot. The bad guys are up to some thing but exactly how they
act and what they do depends a lot on what the PCS do. I’ve played this game
twice now and it was different each time. The first group got distracted by the
red herrings which was a lot of fun, and when they did figure out what was going
on it gave them a nasty fright. The second lot got the plot right away but even
that was cool ‘cos they had to figure out what to do about it.
The bad guys are realy well thought out too. They all have their motivations
and some of them are quite tragic. One of my groups refused to hurt some of
them and let them get away with what they had done when they found out why and
the main bag guy was dead.
The adventure is very flexible as well – like most Gethsemane Games products.
You can get to a solution in a lot of ways. You could just turn it into a
slugfest and fight it out, if that is what you like, but you can come up with
better ways to deal with most of the problems, all but one anyway.
That reminds me, I’ve not talked about the first part of the adventure. Like
other GG adventures, some of the threats the party have to face are in the shape
of the environment. A flood and a dangerous storm, a rickety bridge over a
river that is bursting it’s banks. Getting to the inn is fun in itself never
mind what happens when you get there!
This isn’t a long adventure, maybe 1 or 2 sessions, but when we played it they
were session we will remember for a long time.
I liked the trouble shooting bit as well that gives you ideas of how to deal
with players that throw you something you hadn’t expected. It’s not an
adventure that forces the Players to act one way it gives the tools to figure
out what to do if they come up with something you didn’t see coming.
I’m looking forward to the rest of the “Declavion Design” series. Even though
you don’t have to play this as part of the series, now I’ve played it it makes
me want to.
The details on the Twin Kingdoms are nice as well. It makes them feel real, and
the expanded info on the cult at the centre of the adventure makes you want to
use them more. A couple of new spells are also handy and I like the section on
expanding the adventure. Some of the ides I’d not have thought of and they let
you run games that have nothing to do with the cult but still feel like they are
tyed in to the adventure at the Inn. Who would have though a horse could get
you in so much trouble for example.
The layout is nothing special, and their isn’t much art, but then I don’t care
about that, if I want art I buy it. What little there is gives you the feel of
what is going on and I’d rather have the 26 pages of adventure and setting than
a bunch of pictures I’ll not use again.
I’m not real big on war games as a whole, I prefer RPGs, but then that’s kinda’
how I came across The Wars of Magic. The war game is set 1000 years before the
age of the beast men in the “Elizium” setting that I first came across in the
Spelldancer RPG. Now I love Spelldancer and the idea of a war game set during
it’s mage-wars was enough to get me to pick this game up and I’m glad I did.
There is no reason why you have to set the game during the wars of the magi or
even on Elizium come to that. I love how flexible this game is, and that is a
theme that runs through a lot of Gethsemane Games stuff – flexability. You can
play this game in any scale you like, with any miniatures you like and in any
setting you like.
Serious war gamers will be happy as well, the game is designed to take account
of formations, tactics and discipline (which is separated from morale). In the
games we have played we found that a force that is inferior on paper can defeat
a superior force by taking advantage of formations, cohesion and tactics to get
the best out of what the troops have. A small force of human spearmen in a
shield wall left a very big pile of dead demons on the ground and held until the
enemies mage ran out of points to summon more, at which point the balance swang
in our favour.
Units get a number of points to spend improving one of their statistics when
created, and the points depend on their level of training and expertise. An
elite force can be more than a match for an almost identical equipped and sized
unit of regulars, but again, make sure to use those formations and tactics to
your advantage to get the very best out of them.
I love the “Battle Honours” system as well, that is basically a form of
experience points system for units. When you get enough of them you can buy an
extra point to enhance your units statistics. If you have a lot of them, and
display them on a flag, you might even cause less experienced enemies to retreat
just by attacking them.
Not sure about the Bravado system, or the rules for capturing your enemies
colours. They seem a bit much detail for a novice like me, but I bet
experienced war game players will love them.
On to the rules for Characters (which is actually given fairly early in the
rules, just after creating your units). Love these too! Character models can
be anything from just above average members of their species to godlike heros
(most godlike heroes will be wizards as well and you don’t have to make a
character that is either a wizard or a warrior, they can be both – Elric here I
come!). Heros can make a difference in the game, but they are not so tough that
a unit of regulars can’t bring them down if they try and their moral holds.
Weight of numbers will tell in the end. We tried a “Magnificent 7” style battle
and it was a blast. 5 of the 7 heros died but they eventually won the day –
Layout isn’t too fancy, but then I didn’t buy the book to look good. I can’t
quite get my head around the Vivimancer magic, especially the healing spells
when used on rank and file troops, but that may just be me.
As a novice I think I’d like to see more examples and maybee a sample battle.
I don’t know yet how it handles big battles, we have only done little ones of
about 50 guys a side but my friend who has played more wargames than me recons
it should handle much bigger battles quite well.
My main criticism is that I’m not sure how the d10 based rules and the stats tyy
in with the RPG and I’d like to use it to play some battles in my RPG campaign
if I can figure out how to convert the RPG characters to this war game. Oh and
this war game seems to have rules for monsters that aren’t in the spelldancer
RPG, but I hear that Gethsemane Games are going to release a monsters book for
Spelldancer this year.. Or maybe some of the monster races in the war game were
wiped out in the wars of magic?
Not much art either, but then that helps when printing the PDF out.