Sep 16 2019
When organizing an RPG corebook a tension typically arises between its two roles as a tutorial document and a reference guide. The perfect organization remains an impossible ideal, perhaps humming along on some Platonic plane but not in this reality. Learning and playing an RPG isn’t nonlinear, in that you start doing it and eventually wind up having done it. But the line you and your group follow winds up being different from anyone else’s.
With that in mind I broadly structure GUMSHOE core sets to follow the players’ experience of the game, then move on to material both players and GMs need, and finally to GM-only sections, including setting, GM tips, and the intro scenario. Within each section, however, I follow reference guide principles. So you get all of the combat rules together, in an order roughly patterned on the way a fight plays out. But within that, sections are also ordered in conceptual order. This means that if subsystem H requires the use of core rule 3, that core rule has to appear before the subsystem. (Sometimes I’ll tuck a needed but infrequently used subsystem in an appendix, where it isn’t looking all complicated and confusing in the main body of the rules.)
Whatever the book structure, it’s not what happens when a GM teaches the game to others.
If I got to choose how everyone does it, I’d recommend keeping rules explanation to an absolute minimum until needed in play, with the following stages:
1. general intro to the setting, core activity, and, if unfamiliar to the group, the basic style and ethos of the rules set. (“You play ultra-competent occult investigators who fight an occult conspiracy on behalf of an international secret agency. It uses GUMSHOE, rules tuned specifically for investigative storytelling.”)
2. character generation, focusing on player choices, with only the rules details needed to understand the choices before them. (“These are your investigative abilities, which you use to reliably get information when you look in the right place. The numbers next to them provide special benefits beyond that, which I’ll explain in play.”)
3. the first scenario, with rules explanations supplied when they come up. (“Okay, this is one of the general abilities we talked about earlier. You’re rolling a six-sided die, hoping to hit a target number, usually 4. You can spend any number of points from your pool to increase the chances of success.”)
When players ask questions during character generation, answer until they’re satisfied. They’re probably not looking for the whole spiel. In most cases you’ll find they’re focused on imagining their characters and aren’t primed to also fully absorb even the comparatively simple rules found in GUMSHOE.
This way they don’t feel overwhelmed with information, and get to reserve their attention to the creative side of character generation. When the time comes to use a rule in play, it’s more likely to stick. You’re demonstrating it by example, with an attached emotional resonance from the story situation.
This method also allows learning in short bursts, also a key to memorizing abstractions.
Sep 13 2019
Friday the 13th Age is upon us once again! From Friday the 13th September through Sunday the 15th September, 13th Age Roleplaying Game products are on sale for 13% off at the Pelgrane store store, through this special link or using voucher code FRI@13THAGE in the store.
The discount applies to our full range of 13th Age products, including the Battle Scenes bundles, but excluding other bundles, 13th Age Glorantha and Campaign Coins (which aren’t Pelgrane products).
If you’re looking to fill the missing gaps in your own 13th Age collection, this is a great opportunity. And feel free to forward this email to anyone you know who might enjoy 13th Age—now’s a good time for them to buy the essentials.
Want to participate in the event on Twitter? Use and follow the hashtag #FridayThe13thAge
Useful 13th Age links:
- Follow the official 13th Age accounts on Twitter and Facebook
- Join the 13th Age community on Facebook
- Check out the 13th Age FAQ for answers to our most-asked questions
- Get Free 13th Age Downloads and Resources
Sep 5 2019
Gen Con has yet again swallowed up an issue of See Page XX, and so this is the combined August/September edition of your friendly neighbourhood Pelgrane update. New this month are the Trail of Cthulhu cluebooks, for all your note-capturing needs. Alongside our new Pelgrane-themed merch, they’ll let you demonstrate your Pelgrane credentials at your autumn convention gaming table.
- Trail of Cthulhu Cluebook – A 5” x 7”, 32-page journal for recording and remembering all the vital details of your Trail of Cthulhu game
- Pelgrane Press merchandise – A temporary pop-up shop of Pelgrane-themed t-shirts, wall art and other accessories
- Shards of the Broken Sky – The flying realm of Vantage crashes to earth, offering opportunities for glory, plunder, and/or heroic sacrifice in this 13th Age sandbox campaign
- Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops – The modern-day spy thriller Night’s Black Agents, adapted for one player, one GM games using the GUMSHOE One-to-One system
- Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition – Pre-order the updated and expanded mutant-powered police procedural GUMSHOE game, and get the pre-layout PDF now
- Even Death Can Die – Pre-order this adventure collection for Cthulhu Confidential and get the pre-edit draft PDF now
- View from the Pelgrane’s Nest – Cat Tobin with what’s new in the Nest
- See Page XX: Getting Betrayal Right with the Ordo Veritatis – Robin D. Laws looks at how – although it would never happen – the Ordo could betray The Esoterrorists PCs
- The Plain People of Gaming: Hideously Oblique Documents – Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan on creating in-world handouts, like in Hideous Creatures, for your players
- Cocktails From Carcosa – Robin D. Laws with some tasty and thirst-quenching ways to drown your printing sorrows
- The Café of the Broken Heart – The Surrealists must decide whether a friend is worth going to the wall for in this Dreamhounds of Paris adventure seed by Adam Gauntlett
- See the Black Book GM Tools, then Join the Beta! – Steven Hammond, creator of the GUMSHOE character generator The Black Book, on its new GM tools
- Hazards of the Rung Sat Swamp – Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan has snipped some hazards from the swamps of Vietnam, from Ken’s Operation ALONSO for The Borellus Connection
- Many Verities – Robin D. Laws with some suggestions on what your Mr. Verity could look like in The Esoterrorists
- Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops Free Downloads and Resources – We’ve added a collection of resources for Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops
- Introduction to Becky – Welcome to our newest team member, Becky Smith!
- 13th Sage: How to Use Backgrounds in a Modern Setting – Wade Rockett on porting the Backgrounds from 13th Age to add depth and character focus to a modern-day campaign
- 13th Sage: Lands Beyond the Dragon Empire – Wade Rockett on the strange and mysterious lands outside the Dragon Empire, core setting of 13th Age
- 13th Age T-Shirt Slogan Competition Results – The results of our t-shirt slogan competition are in!
- The Iconic podcast has made it into their third season! You can listen to the latest episodes here:
Sep 5 2019
It seems like forever ago, and yet it’s only a month since it finished. We had a particularly good time at Gen Con last year – our sales were up on last year, we had new and enthusiastic booth staff, and we won the Gold ENnie for Best Setting for The Fall of DELTA GREEN. (Also, Ken and Robin won the Gold ENnie for Best Podcast, and we discovered that Ken and Robin will be hosting the ENnie Awards next year!). It continues to be an exhausting week, though, and it casts a long shadow over our productivity in the months preceding (and weeks succeeding, although in my case, I went off to run the RPG section at Dublin 2019 – An Irish Worldcon, so it’s my own fault my August disappeared).
NEW! Trail of Cthulhu cluebook
I have a terrible memory, and so it’s vital that I take notes in games or I’ll have completely forgotten what’s happened by the next session. As a Keeper for Trail of Cthulhu, it’s even more important to have all the important details of your game available at your fingertips. This Art Deco-styled custom 5” x 7” cluebook helps Keepers hold their campaign in focus. It’s got custom pages for recording everything you need, from Investigators’ abilities, to key NPCs, and maps of significant locales along with the clues they contain.
The GUMSHOE Community Content program
We announced this in our Swords, Spies and Shoggoths panel at Gen Con (which you can listen to here, thanks to our friends at the Plot Points podcast), and here’s a bit more on the rollout plans. At the end of this month, we’ll be officially launching the GUMSHOE Community Content program, making Ashen Stars available to creators. If you’re not familiar with the Community Content concept, it means we’ll be making some elements of Ashen Stars (e.g. some IP elements, art, and layout assets) open for members of the community (that is, you!) to write and publish your own Ashen Stars content on DriveThruRPG.
We’re currently working with a number of people to have some interesting and varied content available for launch, so you can better visualise the creative possibilities. Confirmed content includes long-time Pelgrane GM Chris Sellers’s Rogues’ Gallery – a supplement to play Ashen Stars as a morally dubious crew; a new adventure from Ashen Stars fan Jakob Schmidt, and new ship schematics from cartographer extraordinare Ralf Schemmann. We’ll be releasing full details on how to take part later this month, so watch this space!
Work in progress update: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition
I’ve dropped the ball on this in all the Gen Con and Worldcon kerfuffling. Jen McCleary’s been waiting patiently for me to get back to her with a review of her first draft layout, which is my #1 priority now that I’m back in the office. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the layout finalised in the next month, and then it’s in the hands of The Printers.
Work in progress update: Even Death Can Die
Christian Knutsson has taken over the layout of this, and will be adding new art and graphical elements, as well as cleaning up the layout of the existing PDF products. We’re also hoping we can get the layout of this finalised in the next month so it can join MCB2 at the printers.
Work in progress update: The Borellus Connection
Once we’d pulled together all the adventures, and made all the post-playtest feedback edits, this turned out big. Too big, realistically. And so Gareth’s been hacking away at it for the last while, trying to wrangle it into a more manageable shape so it can move on through the Arc Dream approval process and on to production. You can see the result of his hacks in his Rung Sat Swamp article here.
Pelgranes in the Wild!! – Tabletop Gaming Live
Now that we’ve got UK-based Becky on board (and I hope you’ll join me in giving her a warm and positive welcome to our community!), we’ll hopefully be better resourced to attend more UK-based conventions, starting this month with Tabletop Gaming Live in the Alexandra Palace in London. Becky and I will be trying out a Pelgrane booth there for the first time, so please do come along and say hello, if you’re around!
Until next time,
Sep 5 2019
One of my favourite bits of working on Hideous Creatures – and the infamous H*wk*ns P*p*rs, for that matter – was writing up the in-character handouts that accompany each monster. Part of the joy was obviously seeing what artistic wonders Dean Engelhardt would come up with, of course, but even if you’re not blessed with a brilliant layout artist, you can still have fun generating fiendishly oblique handouts that hint at greater horror.
First, pick one or two aspects of the creature you want to highlight or foreshadow. These might be:
- Horrible portents associated with the creature, so the players recognise them when they encounter them later on. A stench, a distinctive sound, a bizarre physical phenomenon, a sensation – anything that heralds the approach of the horror.
- A distinctive way of killing, so the players recognise the creature’s victims for what they are.
- A supernatural ability or phenomenon associated with the monster
- A thematic association – if you’ve got a crocodile monster, your handout should reference something crocodile-related – Egypt? Rivers? Survivals from primeval times? Eggs? Lurking dangers? Floating logs? Teeth?
The trick is to find something that’s strongly associated with the monster in the scenario, but is still deliciously ambiguous. A bloodless corpse with neck wounds screams ‘vampire’ a bit too loudly, but unexplained illness with the symptoms of anaemia – that’s great, especially if you describe it in such a way that the players worry about other possible horrors too. Is the anaemia caused by a bloodsucking horror, by weird radiation, by an internal parasite? Foreshadow, don’t fore-explain. In handouts like this, aim for ambiguity that only gets resolved when the players actually encounter the monster.
You can be quite subtle here – the simple existence of the document means the players will give it added weight, and comb the document for hints. For example, say your monster is associated with weird time dilation. You could write a short diary entry where a young heiress talks about how she went out riding one morning after breakfast near the old standing stones, and lost track of time – she thought she was only out for a short time, but she arrived back to find it was already mid-afternoon. On its own, that’s a dull piece of text – but the fact it’s a handout means the players will pay added attention to it. (Note that they’ll also pay attention to irrelevant pieces of it – expect the players to get jumpy at mentions of horses, investigate the family history of the heiress, and investigate the old standing stones.)
(Also – the incongruous placement of a handout is a really great technique. Finding a heiress’ journal in a country house is unremarkably – it’s part of the conceptual furnishings. Finding that same journal in a ruined lighthouse, or a cult hideout in a slum, or in a tomb that hasn’t been disturbed since it was sealed 3,000 years ago – that’s a lot more intriguing!)
Second, catch ye hare. Think of the sort of handout you want. Try starting with a real piece of text to get a sense of language and phrasing. A diary from the 1920s is going to read differently from a diary from the 1960s – and that’s going to be very different to a blog post from 2008. Diaries and letters are the most flexible sort of handout, but they’re a bit cliche. Newspaper articles are always good as a starting point, but can’t get too close to the real mystery (unless you can hint at a sinister reason why the journalist was prevented from investigating and digging deeper). Official accounts, like coroner’s reports, are good when you want to summarise an incident (or describe a mutilated corpse in detail, which can be really handy – it lets investigators use forensic techniques on a death from maby years ago), but hard to keep to short, and the best handouts are short and punchy. Shorter documents – records, auction listings, classified ads – are tricky, as you’ve got to tell the story entirely in implications. (Using google image search can often find scans of old articles and clippings for a visual reference).
Third, have a purpose in mind. A handout might:
- Tell a story: Usually, the story of how someone else suffered a horrible fate at the hands of the monster; you want to hint at what might happen to the player characters if they’re unlucky.
- Suggest a line of inquiry or course of action: Mentioning a location, object, book or individual in a handout can be prompt to the players to investigate
- Foreshadow the monster: This sort of handout is really just to add foreboding; it doesn’t need to tell the players much, other than “there’s something bad out there, and here’s one trait associated with it”.
- Hint at unplumbed depths: Handouts are great because they give exactly as much information as you want, and no more. The players can’t ask more questions of a piece of paper; they can’t spend points of Interrogation or Intimidation to learn any more. Therefore, if you want to include vast conspiracies, lost civilisations, or deeper mysteries that are outside the scope of your intended game, use a handout to drop hints of those greater depths.
Here’s a worked example of how to build such a handout.
We’ll start with a Trail monster that isn’t in Hideous Creatures – the Masqut. They’re the reptilian denizens of the Nameless City of the Arabian desert – the things of whom it is written that is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die. The entry in the Trail core rulebook – and in Lovecraft’s story – doesn’t give much detail on the monsters. They’re like crocodiles or seals, they walk on all fours, some of them are mummified, they hate humanity, and there are more of them in a vast cavern underground. Oh, and there’s a spooky wind.
I’m immediately put in mind of Feejee mermaids and other monsters of taxidermy. Maybe an art dealer bought what he thought was an amusing fake, but was actually a real mummified masqut… and then, to highlight the underground nature of the monsters, maybe the earth collapsed under him. “Art” plus “underground collapse” makes me think of Paris and its catacombs; even if my adventure isn’t set in Paris, I can incongruously place this handout in the belongings of some victim of the masqut, prompting the players to wonder what Parisian taxidermy articles have to do with the disappearance of their pal the archaeologist in Arabia.
A quick google turns up this clipping (from https://parisianfields.com/2015/09/13/a-city-built-on-air/). That’s a mundane and explicable tragedy, but we can build off that – if we set up our incident as an unexplained coda to it, we can refer back to that earlier collapse and reuse some of the same language, giving us:
SECOND TRAGEDY IN PARIS
The collapse of another building in Paris is likely linked to recent rain storms and flooding, giving rise to fears that the foundations of the city are being eaten away. The most recent incident involved a warehouse owned by M. Salon, an art dealer and taxidermist, which collapsed into a hitherto undetected gulf below. M. Salon and two of his staff perished in the accident, and his newest acquisition, described as a ‘mummified cockatrice’, was also lost, entombed once more in the depths of the earth.
A little over-wrought, perhaps, but enough to disturb the players…
Sep 5 2019
A 13th Age GM recently asked for advice on using Backgrounds in a modern setting. At first I didn’t see the problem—”Former circus performer” should work the same in the modern world as it does in the Dragon Empire, right?
But when I really gave it some thought, I saw the difficulty. “Former circus performer” in the Dragon Empire lets the player do loads of world-building, unconstrained by real-world facts and enhanced by the magic of the setting. Likewise, the GM has complete freedom to use that Background to create adventure and campaign hooks relevant to that character.
However, if your game is set in the modern wold it becomes more difficult, especially if you care about some degree of accuracy, and real-world believability. It’s can be even harder if that Background is connected to a region or a culture you aren’t very familiar with. What, realistically, could a modern-day character with the Background “subsistence farmer” do with it? What if they were a subsistence farmer in New England? Rural Japan? A tiny island near Madagascar? What compelling and believable adventure and campaign hooks could the GM create?
Here’s how I’d handle this.
First, remember that a GM needs to know just enough about a thing to make it believable and entertaining at the table, and no more.
Also, remember that Backgrounds, like other character creation mechanics, exist to generate fun.
Third, recall that 13th Age players and GMs work together to build out the world, and create adventures that are relevant to the characters.
Let’s say I’m running a modern-day campaign set in the United States, where the player characters are a ragtag band of wandering misfits who roam the country, get involved in some local troubles, resolve them, and then head off into the sunset. One player decides that her character, who is Chinese-American, has the Background, “Former circus performer in China”.
For the purposes of gaming at our table we could leave it at that, in which case the player occasionally says something like, “I squeeze through the bars of this jail cell using a trick I learned from the contortionist at the circus.” That’s fine!
However, if that player made the circus Background a +5, that player is telling me she wants this part of her character’s life to be an important element of the game. If it’s connected to a One Unique Thing and/or icon relationships, she might want it to be one of the things that defines the campaign.
In order to find ways to incorporate this Background into the campaign story arc. I’d ask questions like:
- How did you come to join the circus?
- What made that circus different from others?
- Was it successful? Struggling?
- How long were you in it?
- What was your role—your job, but also your place in the society within the circus?
- What was your relationship with the owners? The performers? Other employees?
- When did you leave, and how?
- Why did you leave? Was it on good terms, or bad terms? Were you able to leave freely, or did you escape?
Guided by these answers, I would do some research on circuses, especially ones in China—just enough to create compelling story hooks relevant to that character, ones that would feel believable in play.
Hmm. Wikipedia* has very little on circuses in China. Here’s what I found just now:
- In the 1800s, a Frenchman named Louis Soullier was one of three early circus owners who introduced the circus to China. He was the first circus owner to introduce Chinese acrobatics to the European circus.
- “Chinese variety art” is the English translation of a Chinese term which covers a wide range of acrobatic acts and other demonstrations of physical skill traditionally performed by a troupe in China. These include plate-spinning, Shaolin monks who resist projectiles thrown or fired at them, kung fu demonstrations, unicycling, balancing on balls, and contorting.
- “Circus” refers to a Western-style circus, which may include Chinese variety art. The Chinese State Circus is a touring circus presenting these arts to European audiences.
- Both Eastern and Western circuses have undergone a revival and transformation since the 1970s, with elaborate themed productions, often telling a story through characters which reappear throughout the show. In the Chinese State Circus, this is the figure of the legendary Monkey King.
Whoa. Wait a second. As described in the Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West, the Monkey King rebelled against the divine Jade Emperor and was imprisoned by the Buddha in a mountain. He was released 500 years later, and atoned for his crimes by protecting the monk Tang Sanzang. The Monkey King does all kinds of amazing feats—the kind you’d see in…a circus featuring Chinese variety art.
Not only do I now have some background information to work with in handling skill checks, I’ve made an important thematic connection in my head. I’m reminded that “circus performer” is more than a set of skills: it’s an archetype, an iconic outsider figure who uses skill, cleverness, unpredictability, and humor to overcome obstacles and enemies (often the forces of law and order).
Here’s what I might challenge this player character with:
- Physical obstacles that put these skills and qualities to the test, and which resemble the sorts of challenges overcome in Chinese variety arts and circuses.
- Enemies who are their opposite number: solid, straightforward, and serious.
- Enemies who are their distorted mirror image: skillful, clever, and unpredictable outsiders. Maybe this includes a recurring villain, someone who’s very much like the PC but with an important difference that puts them at odds.
Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s fine for circuses, which are fun and interesting. What about the boring Background, ‘I am a former page in the United States Congress’? How do I give that depth, and find story hooks for it?”
Just as we did in the example above, you learn a bit about how it works, ask questions, and find the fun. You might find out he got the highly-coveted job of page because his late father blackmailed a senator who had ties to a powerful Mob boss. If that’s the case, you could run an adventure where the group arrives in a town to discover that the character’s father, who vanished recently, now lives there as part of a witness protection program. And guess who else just figured this out, and sent a car full of hit men?
This works for auto salvage yard owners, tax preparers, homemakers, and every sort of life path.
If a character’s Backgrounds are really just bundles of skills, summarized in a sentence, that’s okay. But if inspiration strikes, your players might be incredibly entertained when a shadowy conspiracy comes after the former tax preparer because the client he helped five years ago was a time traveler from the future, changing history one tax return at a time.
*Wikipedia is sufficient if all I’m doing is running a game for my friends. If I’m turning this into a published adventure or campaign, I’m going to do a lot of thorough research, and take steps to ensure I’m representing real-world cultures accurately and respectfully.
13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
Sep 5 2019
A column about roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
One of my core dicta for The Esoterrorists setting is that its good-guy, anti-occult covert agency, the Ordo Veritatis, never turns out to be have been the secret villains all along. Although this horror game draws heavily on the technothriller, where betrayals of protagonists by superiors remains an evergreen stock element, I recommend striking that particular chestnut from the scenario writer’s kitbag.
I do this for several reasons:
- It punishes players for buying in. The setting and the case-of-the-week structure demand reliable Ordo contacts.
- The setting’s hard horror is already bleak and horrible enough. As a counter to that I want players to feel that they can rely on the people giving them the mission—even if they mostly have to solve problems without calling in backup.
- Thanks to Shadowrun’s Mr. Johnson trope, it lands as an even more common cliché in RPGs than in other media.
- In an RPG context, the loyalty switcheroo particularly annoys players, who respond by vandalizing the fourth wall. They know the cliché, expect the cliché, and are probably talking about the cliché during the scene where they get their briefing from the GMC you need them to trust. Though in general I treat narrative tropes as useful tools for improvised storytelling, this one encourages the sort of out-of-character tactical discussion we disdainfully call metagaming.
Having said all that, you might be seeking s a way to take the familiar theme of betrayal and do it up right. Two simple principles allow you to to flirt with this motif without injuring the players’ trust in the Ordo, the setting—and you, the GM.
Don’t Make It the Twist
Characters in fiction might well be surprised when their allies turn out to be heels. Anyone who’s played more than a handful of RPG sessions expects this as the default. Avoid the dread deflation of unsurprising surprise by setting up a betrayal as part of the mission premise.
- Mr. Verity, the briefer who gives you the mission, betrays you right away. She* shows up with guns blazing. After you neutralize her as a threat, learning why she tried to execute her team becomes the initial spur of your investigation.
- In mid briefing, an alien parasite erupts from Mr. Verity, killing him. After stomping it into ichor, you have to find out how it infected him and what that has to do with his briefcase full of documents.
- Mr. Verity assigns you a mole hunt mission. The Ordo has learned that a member of another team has been compromised—but they don’t know which one. You’re sent to shadow your counterparts and identify the agent who’s gone over to the Outer Dark. Since teams only come together when working a case, you also have to deal with the supernatural threat they’re tracking. Since you’re PCs and they’re GMCs, it goes without saying that you discover something crucial about their Outer Dark Entities that they need to know to save their lives, or those of others. How do you communicate your intel without blowing your mole hunt? Does their case connect to the double agent’s scheme, or is it a side complication?
- You’re ordered to track down a former agent who has gone rogue and already now leads an Esoterror cell. A past personal connection links him to the team. He can identify them, complicating their effort to get at him. But for plot device reasons they’re the ones with the best chance of apprehending him.
- Mr. Verity gives an apparently normal briefing, except the character with Bullshit Detector can sense that they’re lying their ass off.
Also, think thrice before saddling players with the unintentional betrayals of institutional incompetence. As Ken would quickly interject if this was a segment of our podcast, that’s unrealistic in the light of real life espionage, the history of which buckles under the weight of various epic blunders. If you’d like to explore that in your game, look at THE FALL OF DELTA GREEN, which bakes massive institutional failure into its premise, and thus the implicit player-GM contract. Let Ordo agents face a panoply of other awful obstacles, but spare them from being screwed by superiors’ stupidity or venal interference from the upper echelons.
Maybe that’s why the other agencies fail so often—the smart people all got recruited by the Ordo. As mundane agencies flounder, it operates on a lofty, world-saving plane above the rolling ineptitude epidemic of contemporary politics.
Leave the Ordo Like You Found It
Construct your scenario premise to avoid blowing the entire agency as a resource the PCs can trust in the future.
- For your antagonist, use a single rogue agent or team, not the top leadership of the entire agency.
- The conspiracy doesn’t go all the way to the top, but has only corrupted a particular field office or specialist department.
- At the end of the scenario, a favorite past Mr. Verity steps in to confidently take charge, assuring the group that all the weeds have been successfully pulled.
- Use the Bullshit Detector ability to your advantage. When a high-placed GMC makes a statement the PCs can trust, tell the relevant character that they can treat it as 100% reliable.
- Treat betrayal as a one-off, not a staple. One betrayal from agents corrupted by perverse beings of unspeakable torment is misfortune. More than that is carelessness—your carelessness as a GM.
Players get overwhelmed easily in a horror mystery scenario. Preserve the benevolent yet distant hand of the Ordo Veritatis as a backstop they can resort to when you need to nudge them out of a hole they’ve dug themselves into.
* All briefers use this code name regardless of the honorific normally attached to their real identities.
The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
Sep 5 2019
Thanks to everyone who sent in their fun 13th Age t-shirt slogan ideas! Rob Heinsoo and I read and discussed them, and together we chose our three favorites.
Grand Prize goes to Tim Baker: “Well, that escalated quickly.”
Second and Third Place go to Michael Keon:
“Ask me how 3 + 4 equals 13”
“I got eaten by the Stone Thief, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”
Tim, Michael, keep an eye on your email inboxes—we’ll be sending you credit to use at the Pelgrane Press merch store!
Sep 5 2019
A Dreamhounds of Paris scenario seed by Adam Gauntlett
In which the Surrealists must decide whether a friend is worth going to the wall for.
This scenario, and the character of Achille Flamant, is inspired by stories that first appeared in Leonard Merrick’s A Chair on the Boulevard, published 1921, available via Project Gutenberg.
A Card Arrives
Each Surrealist receives a cabinet card, a photographic portrait card with personal information on the reverse, usually given to introduce someone. The photograph is an uninspired copy of Man Ray’s work, and the reverse has the following inscribed:
Monsieur Achille Flamant, Artist
Forewarns you of the
Death of His Career
The Internment will take place at the
Café of the Broken Heart
On December 31st.
Valedictory N.B. – A sympathetic costume. Victuals will be appreciated. 7 p.m.
The characters recognize the name. Achille Flamant is the son of a rentier, a bourgeoisie who lives on his investments, who has subsidized his son’s artistic adventures. The father’s patience has run out. Now the boy must go to work as a secretary for one of his father’s friends.
Flamant is not a strong talent, and never has been. Andre Breton expelled him from the movement some time ago, accusing him of sympathizing with capitalists and desiring material success, rather than artistic merit. This is true, as far as it goes; Flamant’s father insists on material success, and Achille is too weak-willed to resist. There were some who regretted it, as Achille is a pleasant young man, but no amount of pleasantry excuses lack of talent. There is no silk purse to be made out of this sow’s ear.
The Café of the Broken Heart, near the Cemetery of Montmartre, is a homely little place with an impressive collection of funerary art, photographs of funeral parades, and ephemera that (Cthulhu Mythos, 1 point clue) is reminiscent of ghoulish found object art. It is owned and operated by M. Pitou, a man of exceeding height and mournful expression, who is himself part ghoul – a fact known to very few.
Attendance Is Not Mandatory
Dreamhounds who do not attend move straight to the House of Suicides scene. Their lack of attendance drives Flamant to despair, and he relinquishes his artistic ambitions, and his life, altogether. This creates the dreamscape Rue Sombre, where Flamant’s dream finally dies. The next time they see him will be at the House of Suicides, now a permanent Dreamlands locale, with Flamant swinging from the rafters with the rest of the Putrefacto.
An Evening at the Broken Heart
A scattering of surrealists and fringe members show up, bearing food, mostly out of curiosity. Potential instability loss 3, fraternizing with an expelled surrealist. Salvador Dali is the only one of the core group who attends, mostly out of curiosity, and if the Dreamhounds weren’t there his attendance would be very brief – assuming Dali is not being played by one of the group.
Dali suspects that something’s up with Flamant. “He seems almost … inspired, tonight. I doubt he’ll ever be a talent, but this threat hanging over him fans the flame – such a little spark, it is.”
Flamant’s behavior at the gathering is serene, a new calmness having taken possession of him. He is dressed in his best, and spends much of the evening making presents of his possessions, giving away his favorite books, art, and other things. Those with Evidence Collection, Medicine or similar might guess that Flamant contemplates suicide, and is preparing for the end.
- Pitou has a secret. He can trace his bloodline to Nicholas Flamel, who guards the oneiric gate to the Dreamlands that exists in Paris’ catacombs. There is an entrance to the catacombs in the Café cellar, and for the last few weeks Flamant, who knows the secret, has been begging Pitou for an introduction. Tonight Pitou gives way, and guides Flamant through the catacombs to the gate. Flamant manages to persuade Flamel to let him through, and from there Flamant creates the Rue Sombre, and the House of Suicides.
The Dreamhounds might overhear Flamant talking to M. Pitou, see them sneaking down to the catacomb entrance, or know through Occult, Cthulhu Mythos, Dream Lore or similar that the connection exists. If so, they can follow the two as they go to see Flamel. Otherwise the next encounter with Flamant will be in dreams, at the Rue Sombre. They will be drawn to their friend’s last spark of genius, though they arrive as things are at their worst.
The Dreamhounds may be able to influence the situation, if they realize Flamant contemplates suicide. Card Reading, preferably with a rosy outcome for Flamant, helps his state of mind. Inflating his opinion of his art, Seduction, or similar, helps. He’ll still go to the Rue Sombre, but with a better frame of mind to resist temptation.
The Rue Sombre
At the end of the evening, Flamant goes with M. Pitou to Flamel’s oneiric gate. It’s Flamant’s first visit, and in his current state he has only one response to the sudden change in his circumstances: he creates a quiet, moonlit Parisian street, at one end of which is a house that is being rebuilt. There is no door, the roof is off, and the rafters have been exposed. This is the House of Suicides.
From each rafter hangs a corpse. They are similar to Putrefacto, in that it requires a Difficulty 4 Health rolls to go near them. Those who fail suffer +2 to all Difficulty checks thereafter in the scene. However unlike the usual type, they are not dressed like priests or authority figures, nor do they have donkeys. They are dressed exactly as Flamant is dressed, and they have his father’s voice. [Putrefacto N=P+2].
These represent Flamant’s current state of mind, and were accidentally created by him as part of the House of Suicides. Their role is to persuade Flamant to join them, swinging from the rafters, and there is a rope set aside for him as well as a chair to reach it. If successful, Flamant becomes a Putrefacto, and the House of Suicides becomes a permanent presence in the Dreamscape, perhaps threatening other artists.
This becomes a Dreamscaping battle between the Putrefacto and the Dreamhounds, with Flamant as the prize. Whenever the Dreamhounds try to prevent Flamant’s suicide, either through blatant Dreamscaping or by General abilities augmented with Dreamscaping, the Putrefacto use their Strangle ability, but this is an altered version from the norm: they use their hangman’s nooses, swinging them round a Dreamhound’s neck and dragging them up to hang.
Outside the House, ghasts gather, peeping in through the windows. They can’t believe their luck – so many edibles, just hanging there for the taking. As the Dreamhounds battle, the ghasts chatter among themselves in ghastly echo of the party at the Café only a short time before. One imitates Dali, or some other prominent party guest, making sarcastic comments about the Dreamhounds’ progress or lack thereof. The ghasts will not engage in combat; they’re far too cowardly for that.
If the House of Suicides becomes permanent, ghasts haunt it always, creeping from somber chamber to somber chamber, snacking every so often and commenting on the lackluster qualities of the lives prematurely snuffed out at the end of a rope.
If the Dreamhounds managed to raise Flamant’s spirits at the party at the Café, then the Difficulty of all tests in this scene is reduced by -2. Otherwise Difficulty is standard, unless the Dreamhound failed the Putrefacto test, in which case it is higher.
The Dreamhounds may decide to abandon Flamant to his fate. After all, it’s his lack of talent that got him here; whatever happens next is his own doing. In that event the House of Suicides becomes permanent, and adds to its collection of corpses whenever it can. Whenever it adds more corpses than the building can hold, the building expands. Given time, its many halls and rooms may spread over a vast distance. It is as capable of killing Dreamlands residents as artists, and a truly massive House might contain all manner of strangled curiosities.
If Flamant is saved, his artistic career is at an end and he suffers dream-death. A shadow of his artistic self is cast adrift, wandering the Dreamlands, and if that shadow ever dies in dream then it becomes a Putrefacto. His mortal form forgets the Dreamlands, and goes to work as a secretary. The Dreamhounds may be able to sponge the price of a meal off him now and again, in memory of former happiness.
Physical: slight, fair, perpetually strokes a bare lip in hope it will encourage his moustache.
General: Art-Making 4, Athletics 3, Fleeing 6, Health 5, Instability 2, Sanity 3. For purposes of this scenario only he has Dreamscaping 10, used involuntarily to create the House of Suicides, but he cannot spend that pool on any other dream-scape.
Sep 5 2019
The upcoming Borellus Connection is a gigantic, titanic, cyclopean campaign for Fall of DELTA GREEN. It’s so huge, in fact, that it could not (in its original form) be contained by any binding ritual that could be worked by our printers. It was just huge. Therefore, we’ve a got a wealth of cut material from the campaign that we’ll be presenting as Page XX articles in the months to come. As a taster, here’s a write-up of hazards from the swamps of Vietnam and Ken’s Operation ALONSO, where the Agents are sent to investigate the remnants of the Cthulhu cult that might be lurking in the Rung Sat…
Handlers may not feel the Rung Sat deadly enough with just the provided Encounters, or may wish to throw something more in for flavor or tension-building. Alternatively, Agents who operate carelessly (or roll a natural 1 on an Athletics or Stealth test, making noise and waves) may invite dramatic retribution.
Abilities:Athletics 7, Fighting 9, Health 4
Hit Threshold:4 (quick)
Weapon:strike (Diff 6 Health test; minor:d+2, Hurt; major: L2; -2 Health and -1 Athletics every hour)
Deadly Strike:A cobra automatically spends 3 points of Fighting (if available) when it strikes.
Agents encounter d+2 crocodiles at a time.
Abilities:Athletics 8, Fighting 17, Health 13
Alertness Modifier:+0 (+1 for splashing targets)
Stealth Modifier:+1 (+2 mostly submerged)
Weapon:bite (d+4), tail swipe (d+2 to a foe in the rear, can be combined with another attack)
Armor:-5 vs any (thick scaly hide)
Aquatic:Crocodiles have contest advantage (FoDG,p. 086) in the water.
Primal Horror:Being attacked by a crocodile triggers a 4-point Stability test (Violence).
A swarm of flies (or other insects) cannot be effectively hit. As long as targets remain inside the cloud, each person suffers d-3 damage per round. In the normal course of things, a cloud of flies is only d-1 rounds “wide.” (Use this same damage for red ant bites, but ants only spend one round on a victim unless he’s tied down.)
Being inside a swarm of angry insects triggers a 3-point Stability (Helplessness) test; those who fail must attempt to leave the cloud, throwing down heavy equipment or leaving the trail to do so.
Flame weapons (white phosphorus grenades, flamethrowers) can briefly damage or disperse a cloud of flies. Only chemical fog permanently disperses an insect swarm.
Among other hideous things, the Rung Sat houses the giant forest scorpion. Any good hit on one of these six-inch monsters (Hit Threshold 3) kills it, but if the Agent fails a Sense Trouble test (Difficulty 5, or 4 if the Agent has Survival) it stings first.
Onset:d-2 hours (minimum 5 minutes); Health test Difficulty:4; Minor: d-1; Severe:Hurt (paralyzed), d+2 to both Health and Athletics
A layer of mud covers a sinkhole or fumarole, producing a sucking vacuum when an Agent steps through it. It takes a Difficulty 6 Sense Trouble to notice the slight depression in the middle of the mud flat (Difficulty 5 with Survival).
Anyone who fails becomes stuck in the mud, sinking rapidly as the low pressure below sucks him under. It requires an Athletics test (Difficulty 3) to avoid going under; +3 Difficulty to escape entirely. Reduce the Difficulty by -1 if they have a rope to cling to or climb up. Each round, the Difficulty increases by 1. Someone stuck in the mud can Cooperate on this test, but only with someone on firmer ground – and on a failed 1, both go into the mud.
Someone who goes under the mud begins drowning immediately, losing d+3 Athletics and Health (divided however they like) each round from inhaling mud.
VC Booby Trap
Punji stake traps (FoDG,p. 140) don’t work without soil to dig in, although the VC might booby trap a seemingly solid section of ground that way.
In the Rung Sat, the guerrillas prefer grenade traps triggered by tripwires around trees or in the shallow water near their bases. Spotting a tripwire requires a test of Conceal or Demolitions (Difficulty 4) or Sense Trouble (Difficulty 5). Not spotting a tripwire triggers a grenade (L1*). Disarming it takes a quick snip of the wire (Mechanics Difficulty 3 or Demolitions Difficulty 2); stepping over it just takes a round of otherwise undistracted movement.