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Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: 2) Get In Too Deep

Mar 23 2018

In the latest episode of their meddling podcast, Ken and Robin talk escaping captivity, operational slush funds, gaming Scooby-Doo and native American statehood.

Free RPG Day 2018 – Doors of Silver/A Cable’s Length from Shore

Mar 20 2018

We are excited to be taking part in Free RPG Day again for 2018. This year’s free Pelgrane giveaway features both an adventure and quickstart rules for Cthulhu Confidential and The Fall of Delta Green.


Cthulhu Confidential – A Cable’s Length from Shore

A GUMSHOE One-2-One Adventure

You are Phyllis Oakley, a dealer in rare books.

You know all the tricks of the trade. You scour second-hand stalls, private auctions, secret bibliophile clubs, looking for what your clients seek. You have contacts all over London, lesser book-hunters and traders and barrow-rummagers who sometimes turn up something valuable. One of your most valuable contacts was Alf Fulbrow.

Six months ago, you attended his funeral. Drowned, his daughter said.

So who left that rare occult book on your doorstep last night?

What ancient force, awoken from the slumber of three thousand years, stalks the streets of London?

Cthulhu Confidential is a game for two – one player, and one Game Moderator. All alone against the darkness, can you navigate the mystery and survive the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos?

The Fall of Delta Green – On A Bank, By Moonlight

1968. Two people in the small town of Milltown, NY die on the same night. One was a tragic car accident; the other, shot in self-defence by the police. Both were members of the same commune of hippies and drop-outs that’s taken over a farm just outside town.

Police reports contain references to chanting. To carven idols. To strange ceremonies by moonlight.

As Agents of DELTA GREEN, a top-secret branch of the US Government, your mission is to investigate those deaths, find out the truth – and take whatever action is necessary to eradicate any unnatural influence. When your predecessors raided Innsmouth in 1928, DELTA GREEN saw what the unnatural can do if it takes root in America.

It cannot be allowed to happen again.

The Fall of DELTA GREEN is the GUMSHOE adaption of the classic DELTA GREEN campaign of government agents battling the Cthulhu Mythos. The Fall of DELTA GREEN is a complete game, set in the organisation’s heyday in the 1960s – before the occult disaster in Vietnam that led to DELTA GREEN’s dissolution and resurrection as an illegal conspiracy. Before the Fall…


Stock #: PELGDGCC01
Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Jen McCleary Pages: 40-page PDF


Playing to Lift: Making Characters Shine

Mar 20 2018

by Elina Gouliou

The “Play to Lift” Technique

Vanessa James / Yannick Bonheur demonstrate a star position – image David W. Carmichael

There are some game sessions where all the characters shine and the action is awesome and cinematic. I thought it was a matter of luck or circumstance, until I encountered the Play to Lift technique and realised that it is often the result of all the players around the table (including the GM) lifting each other up and making their characters look cool.

This technique, also known as “Playing Up,” is used in some live action roleplay (larp) traditions, but it can easily be used in tabletop RPGs. With this approach, each player actively reacts to the other players’ characters in the way they want their characters to be portrayed. For example, if I want to play an intimidating and mysterious Seer, the characters of the other players will “lift my play” in their interactions with me, being fearful and respectful towards my character and believing in her prophecies. They may even turn their plot around so that the prophecies turn out true, or interpret events to fit these prophecies. This makes my Seer come alive in a way that I could never achieve without my fellow players’ buy-in.

A good example of playing someone up is in relation to their character’s status. High status can never be demanded in character; it can only be conferred freely by the people around the character. This includes the NPCs who are often controlled by the GM but it also includes the other player characters. If someone has asked to be played up as high status, I would talk to them in character with deference, give them priority and step to the side to allow them past. The same concept also applies if someone is meant to be low status, a great orator, or physically intimidating.

If my D&D character has a high Charisma, then that telegraphs to the other players that my character is particularly appealing in manner or speech. If my character’s Dexterity is low, then my character might be heavily built or clumsy. But there are many different variations of these broad characteristics. If someone has a high value in Intimidation, that might just mean their demeanour, or their overall behaviour. Play to Lift can be applied to any element that a player wants to emphasise for their character during play, including those not defined by stats, such as confident, overbearing, motherly, creepy or empathetic.

Playing to Lift is not just for character strengths, but also for weaknesses. So, if I want my character to be portrayed as clumsy or really absent-minded, then this is something that the other characters would pick up and comment on. The importance is that this is a characteristic that the player of that character wants to be emphasised, even though it is negative.

The opposite is “Playing Down.” This means playing on a trait that the player did not intend for their character and does not really want conferred on the character. For example, if I fail one Dexterity roll and another character says “well, you are always clumsy, remember that time…” or they cut a character mid-speech despite this character being a captivating orator. This creates a negative feeling of “but I did not want my character to be perceived like that” and either I need to negate the fiction (which means breaking character and trying to reverse engineer what has been established) or go along with it (essentially feeling forced to accept a character trait that I did not want). Playing someone down has a negative effect on the game.

Elements of the Play to Lift Technique

We need to know what attributes everyone around the table wants to be lifted. Where the attribute to be played up is a mechanical one, that attribute should match the strength or weakness. There is no point in asking for a character with a low fighting ability to be played up as a mighty warrior. In some cases, you can instinctively feel what the player wants and just give it to them. But the most fail-safe way is to ask in advance. This is best done at the beginning of the game when people introduce their character out of game. It’s a quick and easy process. For example “I am Elina, and I am playing Lucilla the Bard. I would love it if people could play up my musical skills”. Or “I am playing Lucilla the Bard. I have a terrible voice and no musical skill and I would love if you could play up how untalented I am.”

The play to lift technique relies on three elements: reciprocity, recognition and good communication.

The first element is reciprocity. You play me up, I play you up and we both get the story we want to tell. We actively make each other’s characters look cool.

The next element is the recognition – the idea that every player around the table is responsible for each other’s fun and for telling a great story. This also means that players realise that it is often a characters’ weakness what makes them interesting. If someone wants to be played up to be invincible, the best at everything, then it is pretty boring and it does not lead to a dramatic story.

What to Do When Play to Lift Requests Clash

Sometimes it can be that the players’ wishes for elements to be played up may conflict. That is where good communication comes in. A brief discussion around the table will make sure that everyone is on the same page about the style of game they want. At that stage, you should establish if (a) you can make the character concepts and play up requests fit together, (b) it is possible to tweak some of the characters to accommodate the request or (c) the play up requests really do not work, so that the other players cannot play up this aspect. It is infinitely better for players to know, than for hours of frustration because they are not getting the support they want and their character needs.

If someone wants to be played up in a direction the others do not like, then that might show a misunderstanding or at least different expectations of the game we are about to start. If I want to play angsty family drama and the others want to play “killing goblins and taking their stuff” then there is definitely some misunderstanding about what type of game we are playing and someone will end up disappointed.

Lifting someone’s character does not have to, and does not usually, dominate the plot. It is about the little things: a nod of respect, a sign of unease or a short side scene to persuade the reluctant hero. If your friend wants to play a dark and broody loner you can have a mini scene where he is trying to come to terms with their turmoil and follow the adventure should also explain that this will not be the focus of the game.

In my experience, there are only very few instances where it is genuinely not possible to marry two characters’ play-ups. Most of the times, it will be possible to accommodate everyone with some creative thinking. Let’s say that I want to be lifted up in being intimidating and my fellow player Cat wants to be lifted up in being a fearless, undaunted adventurer. With a quick first glance, it seems that these two requests are not compatible. However, there are many ways to accommodate them both. For example it may be that Cat’s fearless pulpy adventurer is usually undaunted, but my intimidating seer somehow sets her on edge. Imagine how scary the Seer must be to make even a brave adventurer feel unnerved!

Or it may be that the other characters are not scared themselves of the Seer but they can see the reaction of others. They describe how the villagers shy away from the Seer and how the town becomes deserted and everyone shuts themselves in and closes the shutters when the party approaches. This falls to a great extent on the GM who controls the NPCs but the other players can contribute with ideas. Perhaps the other characters wonder and ask themselves what she has done to make her so terrifying that even the mention of her name make people shake.

When the Dice Are Not on Your Side

What happens when I want to be played up but just failed my die roll in the ability I want played up?

First of all, a dice roll can be interpreted in many different ways. So, for example, if I lose in a fight that can be interpreted as “your character is really not scary, he is a weakling, you just lost in a simple fight, ha ha ha!” or “OMG!!!, David just took down Goliath, what a turn out!, this is incredible!!!” In the first interpretation, the character who lost is no longer scary, and if I wanted my scariness to be played up, this would totally negate that. In the second interpretation, the character maintains its scariness and the dice results are considered an outlier event that is very rare.

Secondly, sometimes the dice tell us something about the character and it is cool to incorporate that in the fiction if the player decides they want to. So, if I have rolled a one five times in a row, I may decide that my character is really jinxed, clumsy or weak. I may choose to incorporate that in my character’s play-ups. It is important that decision should come from the player themselves and not imposed by the others around the table. My group has been playing The One Ring for about a year now, and our ranger has been constantly failing his Travel rolls. The player has decided to make it into a feature of the game and he is making jokes about it. But it was the player who decided to incorporate that failing into his character, not the other players.

Play to Lift in Player v Player Situations

Playing someone up is more difficult in a PvP setting but it is also more important than in cooperative play. Because it is essential that, while the characters are at each other’s’ throats, the players are absolutely happy with it and with the direction the conflict is going. As a player I love it when another character back-stabs my character in a Hot War or Game of Thrones game. My character is furious, devastated or angry, but, as a player, I am loving it.

Of course, in a heavy PvP game it is not usually possible to avoid all difficult PvP interactions (as the game revolves around that) and therfore it is important to communicate up-front the style of the game. But it is possible to avoid areas that the other player does not want for their character and to dial down the escalation. Ultimately, the player’s happiness and well-being is more important than the game. If I am not sure, I will just check-in out of character with the player that they are happy with the direction the game is taking.

Finally, we must remember that it is possible to play up two characters who are conflicting, without undermining the other one. So, the fact that David won in the biblical story did not really make Goliath any less scary. It just lifted David without undermining the incredible strength and scariness of the giant. With practice it is possible to play up two characters on the same trait without undermining each other. And that makes for the best PvP fight, because there are two bad-asses fighting each other, both played up in awesomeness by the other player. And is that not the epic fight we always want to see in movies, TV series and ultimately at our gaming table?

Playing to Lift as GM

GMs can Play to Lift, too and to some extent they are the biggest influence in how the characters are perceived by the outside world, as they control the whole world environment and the NPCs. Where the other players can be the outliers, the GM can provide the reaction of the norm, the common folk. Respect, status, reputation often is cemented by these reactions.

As a GM it is important to remember that Playing to Lift does not mean winning without opposition. That would not be dramatic, nor cinematic. Playing to Lift means giving an amazing challenge to the characters while ensuring that everyone gets a chance to get the spotlight and shine. It means being the number one fan of the player character’s stories.


Some may argue that “we are already doing this in our gaming group.” I totally agree. I have seen many tabletop players who do this instinctively. I think that I used to do it sometimes. But since I heard of the technique and saw how effective it is, I actively think about “what does the other player want?” much more than before. It is as if I have put a vocabulary to my instincts and thus, I am trying to play people up much more frequently and proactively than before. I may still fail occasionally but when I do, I know what I have done “wrong” in terms of how I want to play.

When people lift each other up, everyone wins; when they play each other down, everyone loses.


Susanne Vejdemo, Play to Lift, not Just to Lose. Nordic Larp

Bøckman, Petter. (2003) The Three Way Model: Revision of the Threefold Model. In Gade, Thorup, Sander. When Larp Grows Up – Theory and Methods in Larp. Pp 12-16.

Willer Piironen & Kristoffer Thurøe. 2014. An Introduction to the Nordic Player Culture. In Saitta, Holm-Andersen & Back: The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp, pp 33-36.

Elina Gouliou divides her gaming time between a wide variety of tabletop games such as Monsterhearts, Hot War and Fate Accelerated, and live action roleplaying games both large- and small-scale. She loves games that focus on the drama rather than rules and enjoys the process of co-creating a captivating story.


Instant Pareidolia’s Gonna Getcha

Mar 19 2018

The Internet has certainly jacked up standards for what a GM is supposed to improvise these days.

My home group’s Yellow King Roleplaying Game series has now progressed to the final sequence, the contemporary reality horror of This is Normal Now.

Accordingly, a recent session found several characters wearing Urchins, Fitbit-like devices that can’t be removed, appear to exhibit some kind of sentience, and may be linked to the powers of Carcosa. Or maybe they’re just part of a weird marketing campaign, as at least one PC persists in believing.

Once hooked up to the accompanying phone app, the voice of the Urchin supplies information and exhortations in an unpleasantly chipper manner. Often it concludes its answers with the rote signoff, “Urchin — it’s a lifestyle brand!”

Being stuck in an urchin has already driven one PC to suicide. On the plus side, it has wildly increased another’s Instagram following.

Given verbal access to this possible Yellow King surrogate led one player, Justin Mohareb, to put me to the improvisational test.

He asked Urchin to compose a poem for him.

That had me scrambling to the Quick Poem Generator, which asks for three words of input. I chose Urchin (something belonging to a person) and the two adjectives Carcosan and yellow. This is what it returned, for me to perform aloud in Urchin’s friendly singsong:

Whose urchin is that? I think I know.
Its owner is quite happy though.
Full of joy like a vivid rainbow,
I watch him laugh. I cry hello.
He gives his urchin a shake,
And laughs until her belly aches.
The only other sound’s the break,
Of distant waves and birds awake.
The urchin is yellow, Carcosan and deep,
But he has promises to keep,
After cake and lots of sleep.
Sweet dreams come to him cheap.
He rises from his gentle bed,
With thoughts of kittens in his head,
He eats his jam with lots of bread.
Ready for the day ahead.

All trembled at this chillingly cheerful verse.

In another victory for pattern-seeking within randomness, the reference to “kittens in his head” created an accidental callback to events featuring alternate versions of the PCs in Aftermath. There a swarm of cats came to follow one of the investigators after they got involved with The Process, a franchised service promising to relieve people of their traumatic memories.

In these oh-so normal times, reality horror remains just a Google search away.


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Pelgrane’s upcoming RPG of reality horror inspired by the classic tales of Robert W. Chambers, Kickstarted last summer and remains on track for a December 2018 release.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: There’s Always a Worse Writer Death

Mar 16 2018

In the latest episode of their option-filled podcast, Ken and Robin talk The Fall of DELTA GREEN, shaping dramatic scenes, choice & game design, and Savitri Devi.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: It’s Just a Tumor Tree

Mar 9 2018

In the latest episode of their bear-greased podcast, Ken and Robin talk skeptical PCs in horror, the Boy Jones, the Witches Tree and Springheeled Jack.

Competing with Amazon

Mar 9 2018

by Brian Dalrymple

I understand shopping on price. Running a game shop means being budget-conscious nearly all of the time. I track what I spend on products, concessions, necessities, food, gas, and so on. I’ll drive an extra couple of miles to fuel up at the station that’s a few pennies less per gallon. I use Amazon for little things I need that might be more expensive elsewhere. I recently got a new phone, so my phone case, SD card and extra charging cable all came from Amazon. I may even buy a book from them every now and then.

What I don’t do – what I think most people don’t do, is shop on Amazon. I mean, really shop – stroll the aisles, see what catches my eye. Spend an hour or more looking around. Pick stuff up. Skim through, try it out. I don’t hang out at Amazon, or get into a good, Clerks-style conversation with the staff, or other shoppers there. I certainly don’t game there.

As stores with physical locations, we have strengths Amazon and other online sellers can’t compete with, and by playing to these strengths, you can position yourself to thrive, even as online “shopping” increases around us.

This is possible because we don’t sell anything people need to have. There’s nothing in my shop that people would have a hard time going about their daily lives without. Everything I carry is a luxury. People need food, every day. They need gas if they have to drive. They have to buy them, so they try to find them at the best price. It’s a regular purchase. Not so with games. People buy games because they want them. What’s more, most game purchases are impulse purchases. One could make an argument that all of them are.

Quick access to price comparisons via smart phone can postpone this impulse, or at least redirect it, if the shopper has the patience to trade immediate ownership for savings. The difference in price has to large enough to motivate that choice.

So, other than having the product on the shelf, what else can you do to encourage that purchase is made in your store?

You could match the discount, or try to come close, and probably make the sale, but shaving your margin thin likely isn’t going to help you. It might make your customer happy, but brick and mortar retailers usually can’t afford to do this as a matter of course and expect to stay open. Online discounters, and especially Amazon, operate under entirely different models that do not work for individual stores.

So, what else? Under what circumstances are people less concerned with whether they are saving a little, and freer with their spending?

Think about what you’re like when you’re on vacation. Having lived in Florida my whole life – home of Walt Disney World, Miami Beach, the top cruise terminals – I witness a lot of tourism, and I know people who provide service to tourists. When people are having a good time and getting great service – when they are in the midst of an experience – they aren’t as concerned about expense.

Your store is a special place to the people who visit it. If someone comes in once a week, or once a month, that visit is a highlight of their week. It’s a mini-vacation from the rest of their time, and your store is a mini-Disney World. If they’re coming to game at your store, even more so. It’s a trip to Middle Earth, or the far future, or the cyclopean towers of R’lyeh, where they can join with other travelers and have a great time ducking tentacled horrors and vampires. This is your strength, and Amazon can’t touch it.

For people who visit more regularly, your store is that “third place” Starbucks wants to be, but better. You can find good conversation, and enjoy yourself for hours.  It’s Cheers, except the Guinness is a game of Night’s Black Agents, or 13th Age. Heck, maybe you serve Guinness, too.

Any manifestation of your store – the theme park, the community pub, the daily convention – can be enhanced by running special events. Workshops, designer visits, painting clinics, Game Master roundtables, all day mega games – use your imagination. The more special the event, the more your customers value your store, the more it makes a difference to them, the more they’ll understand you’re not just a business that offers things they might want, you’re a place that matters. People will want to support places that are part of their community that matter to them.

Amazon can’t offer any of that.

What about the new customer who brings a product up to your register and asks if you can match Amazon’s, or some other online discounter’s price?  What you decide is up to you. I usually say I can’t, but I try to make sure they know about the things we do. I show them around the shop. I let them know about upcoming events. I try to get them to sample the experience of my store beyond the transaction of the game purchase. It doesn’t always work – but sometimes it does, and I wind up with a repeat customer.

There have been times I’ve watched someone enjoy a demo in store, and then go to the shelf to retrieve a copy of the game they just played, look at the price tag, take out their phone, and re-shelve it a moment later.  That can be heartbreaking, but I realize there can be a lot of reasons for the no-sale. Real monetary reasons.

The internet has trained a segment of our consumer base that paying MSRP for a game, whatever the circumstances, is foolish. Ironically, many in that same group routinely pay more than they have to for coffee, or beer. They also value social experiences and unique events to the extent they’ll pay to be a part of them, so maybe, for that segment, sell the experience. Many stores are seeing enthusiastic participation in RPG night events as interest in roleplaying increases, and are able charge a fee. Maybe even sell them the coffee or beer, if you can.

If you work to make your store a community focal point, offer a good selection, great service, a mini-universe of escapes from the day to day, and unique events people will want to be a part of – make your store a great store, and Amazon will be less of a problem. It also helps tremendously when our publishers offer tools like Bits & Mortar, which is a great reward for preorders (and something you can’t get from Amazon) or MAPP programs to lower that critical difference in price to get that impulse sale. Publishers want brick & mortar stores to be healthy. They know they’d be in much worse shape it were just Amazon out there, so share your ideas with them, and ask how they can support your efforts.

Brian Dalrymple owns The Adventure Game Store & Dragon’s Lair in South Florida, and is a partner in Alligator Alley Entertainment, publisher of The Esper Genesis Heroic Sci-Fi RPG, and Witch Hunter: The Invisible World. He has worked at every level in the games industry, and has been actively involved in the Game Manufacturers Association for more than 20 years. Find him on Twitter @AdvGameStore

New See Page XX out now!

Mar 2 2018

The latest edition of See Page XX is out now!

Featuring the release of the pre-order of The Fall of Delta Green, how the lessons of the early dungeon wars led to a culture of GM vs player in The History of No, Nepalese crash site outcomes, and how to use montages in 13th Age.

It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Haunted Anarchist Texts

Mar 2 2018

In the latest episode of their tinsel-spattered podcast, Ken and Robin talk fights that advance the story, 2017 movie top tens and the Ritman online occult library.

13th Age character builds: Thrash Paladin

Mar 1 2018



Paladins are among the simplest class to play—high hp, high AC, and hitting the unrighteous with a big weapon. They have no special powers, and are in some ways even simpler than barbarians.

The first paladin build of these two plays to those strengths—focused on smiting others as hard as they can.

The second paladin build is a holy warrior, optimized for smiting and using cleric-style powers that work alongside the paladin’s smite ability.

Thrash Paladin

Download the Thrash Paladin character sheets here.

This paladin is focused around beating up the bad guys in melee combat, and not much else. They are a ‘glass cannon’ in that their AC and hp are relatively low (for a front-line combatant)… but what a cannon! Your smite attacks will be the envy of all other warriors.

Your tactics are to hit hard and fast, finish enemies quickly, and hope for healing to pick you back up; this build is best for groups with strong teamwork, where you can depend on the support of a healer character. Thankfully your lay on hands talent means that you can do some self-healing when the situation calls for it.

This paladin uses a halberd (a combined spear and battle-ax) which we’ll be pairing with the reach trick feat for once-per-battle unexpected attacks. Smite early and often, using it to clear out mobs of mooks or hammer tougher foes into the dirt. Save your lay on hands healing for yourself, you’ll need it! If possible avoid using bastion to take damage for allies, unless you are protecting the party healer in which case protect them at all costs (and remind them of that fact when you need healing).

This paladin’s third talent implies that they are not entirely righteous—perhaps they are an avowed servant of evil, or merely a tarnished knight seeking redemption. Don’t be afraid to ‘kill-steal’ with your smite attack, it lets you avoid expending it and your allies are freed up to go fight something else.



A +1 bonus to AC, and the ability to aid allies by taking the brunt of blows.

Lay on Hands

Heal an ally (or most likely yourself) when the going gets tough.

Way of Evil Bastards

When we smite somebody to death that use of smite is not expended.


We need something with a Constitution bonus to get our hit points as high as possible. The dwarf’s is that your best shot? power makes sense for a paladin who is likely to need a mid-battle pick-me-up.


This build is all about high charisma to gain as many smites per day as possible, and high Strength to hit enemies: Str 19 (+4) Con 10 (+0) Dex 8 (-1) Int 8 (-1) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 19 (+4).

1st level

Attributes: Str 19 (+4) Con 10 (+0) Dex 8 (-1) Int 8 (-1) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 19 (+4).

Racial Power: is that your best shot?

Talents: bastion, lay on hands, way of evil bastards

Feat: reach trick

2nd level

New feat (smite evil).

3rd level

New feat (lay on hands).

4th level

+1 to three attributes (Strength, Constitution, Charisma), new feat (way of evil bastards).

5th level

New talent (implacable), new feat (smite evil).

6th level

New feat (lay on hands).

7th level

+1 to three attributes (Strength, Constitution, Charisma), new feat (way of evil bastards).

8th level

New talent (fearless), new feat (smite evil).

9th level

New feat (lay on hands).

10th level

+1 to three attributes (Strength, Constitution, Charisma), new feat (implacable).

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