May 24 2019
In the latest episode of their robed, scholarly podcast, Ken and Robin talk 13th Age icons in other games, Nathan Paoletta, The Repairer of Reputations and the Neoplatonic Academy.
May 17 2019
In the latest episode of their world classic podcast, Ken and Robin talk skill lists, Criterion Collection basics, Robert W. Chambers, and the Book of Jasher.
May 13 2019
Officially, the Delta Green setting never indicates that the Dreamlands underwent a radical transformation at the hands of Parisian surrealists in the 1920s and 30s.
Careers of key surrealists continued for decades after the Trail of Cthulhu period. As I researched Dreamhounds, I saw how events might unfold after its era—an extended continuity I had no place for. Until now.
The period of surrealist involvement with the Dreamlands reaches a natural endpoint when most of its cast of historical characters flees France in advance of the Paris Occupation.
The book hints that their departure triggers a freezing over of the Dreamlands. The few surrealists who remain in Paris, like the heroic and doomed Robert Desnos, use it as an otherworldly transport and staging area for their Resistance activities.
The post-war period finds the surrealists swept aside by art world trends. In Paris, hardcore Stalinists, including recent convert Picasso, shut them out of the avant garde scene. The center of art world gravity shifts to New York, where abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock and color field painters including Mark Rothko take painting far from the psychological and pseudo-mystical imagery that gave Ernst, Dali, Tanguy and the gang the ability to reshape the Dreamlands.
The sleeping realm thaws out but remains static in reaction to the austerity of the artistic times. The surrealists’ bulb-headed automatons and melting clocks might remain. Or maybe the place reverted back to its old Symbolist, Dunsanian imagery, as seen in Lovecraft’s tales.
In the 60s and on into the 70s, simultaneous with Delta Green’s collision with the Age of Aquarius, a new generation of artists takes inspiration from the surrealists, and from pop culture images previously deemed unsuitable for museum consumption. To various degrees, the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Kiki Kogelnik draw on the influence of advertising and entertainment on the psyche. This allows them to enter the Dreamlands, achieve lucidity there, and begin to alter its environment, just as the surrealists did before them. When your Delta Green agents arrive there, they find its skies dripping with Campbell’s soup cans, weeping comic strip duotone, and cotton-candy colored skulls. Sixties rock mainstreams both surrealism and pop art. In the Dreamlands, this development could find ghouls bobbing their head to a Zappa polyrhythm and Hendrix riffs reverberating through Dyath-Leen.
Agents might look to these new oneironauts for information, or seek out the old school surrealists now enjoying rediscovery and a fame that eluded them during their peak creative years.
Next up in See Page XX, I’ll survey the Dreamhounds characters active in the 60s to see what they might be up to when Delta Green drops in on them for a consultation.
The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
May 10 2019
In the latest episode of their daring daylight podcast, Ken and Robin talk alternate history games, the North Korean embassy raid, Mark Morrison, and Franz Nopsca.
May 3 2019
In the latest episode of their sweet and flaky podcast, Ken and Robin talk playing Janet Armstrong, Chicago politics, Canadian desserts and the Gárgola de Barceloneta
May 1 2019
Don’t let the May Day bonfires deter your vampiric purchases in yet another Night’s Black Agents-packed release month. We’ve got the PDF release of the era- and Europe-spanning campaign The Persephone Extraction, along with the pre-orders for the four-panel Director’s Screen and Resource Guide, and the solitary Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops. Also still on pre-order are the long-awaited 13th Age sandbox campaign Shards of the Broken Sky, and the simultaneously gritty and super-powered police procedural Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition.
- The Persephone Extraction PDF – The digital version of this campaign for Night’s Black Agents, combining ancient horrors from classical mythology with the modern terrors of conspiracy and bioterrorism.
- Shards of the Broken Sky – Pre-order this 13th Age sandbox campaign, and get the pre-layout PDF now
- Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition – Pre-order the updated and expanded mutant-powered police procedural GUMSHOE game, and get the pre-layout PDF now
- Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops – Pre-order the new GUMSHOE One-2-One game with a Night’s Black Agents flavour, 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
- Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen and Resource Guide – Pre-order the full-colour, 4-panel Director’s Screen for Night’s Black Agents, and get the PDF now
- View from the Pelgrane’s Nest – Cat Tobin with what’s new in the Nest
- See P. XX: 5 Tips to Sharpen Your RPG Prose – Robin D. Laws with some critical advice for all RPG writers
- Call of Chicago: Pulling Strings, Part 1– Kenneth Hite on some strings that The Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents might pull, and outcomes they might pursue
- The Plain People of Gaming: (S)Entry – Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan adapts the Night’s Black Agents introductory adventure for Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops
- Strange Bedfellows: Manipulating Politics in Swords of the Serpentine – Kevin Kulp on political allegiances in Swords of the Serpentine
- The No-BS Guide to a Key GUMSHOE Ability – Robin D. Laws on using Bullshit Detector in your games
- Hungry Ghosts – Adam Gauntlett with a 1930s Hong Kong scenario seed for Trail of Cthulhu
- GMs wanted for Gen Con and Origins – It’s that time of year again! Here are all the instructions on how to join our GM team for 2019
- May playtesting – Playtest the two remaining adventures for The Fall of DELTA GREEN adventure collection, The Borellus Connection
See Page XX Poll
Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
May 1 2019
NEW! The Persephone Extraction PDF
Some of the books we publish sail through the process without ever touching the side, and some…are not like that. The Persephone Extraction was the first book we released for Night’s Black Agents after The Dracula Dossier collection, and I suspect that the foul Count still hadn’t forgiven us for setting so many brilliant players and GMs up to take him down when we started working on Persephone. Once we got the manuscript in from the writers, pretty much everything that could go wrong with a book, has gone wrong with The Persephone Extraction at some point.
With the PDF release of this ambitious NBA campaign – and it is ambitious in its scope, drawing from the ancient horrors of classical mythology all the way up to the modern terrors of conspiracy and bioterrorism – I’m hopeful that we’ve finally got it finished. (As always, though, contact us at our support address if there’s anything we could do to improve it). If you’d previously ordered The Persephone Extraction in print format, an updated PDF is now available to download from your bookshelf.
Work in progress update: Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen & Resource Guide
I know I just posted about the Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen last month, but I just got through the print proofs for the revised screen and it looks very cool, so I wanted to share more photos with you. I mentioned last month how hefty and solid this new four-fold screen is, but the updated screen art really makes it shine. Of course, what it *also* makes me want to do is more hefty four-fold screens, so let us know if that’s something you’d like to see more of.
If you’ve already picked up the NBA Director’s Screen and Resource Guide, the updated screen PDF is now available to download from your bookshelf.
Work in progress update: NBA: Solo Ops
The incredibly talented Jen McCleary (The Fall of DELTA GREEN) has been working her magic on the interior of Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, and has finished the layout, which looks great – a perfect blend of the ultramodern Night’s Black Agents with the GUMSHOE One-2-One aesthetic. She’s now handed that over to me for indexing, while she works on the layout of longtime Artist of the Pelgranes Jérôme Huguenin’s perfect cover. On the left is a draft WIP version he’s sent through.
Now shipping: Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos
The epic tomes of mythos beastiness arrived in our UK & US shipping points a week ago, and so if you’ve pre-ordered Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos, it should be winging its way to you as I type. Let us know on social media when it arrives with you!
Pelgranes in the Wild!! part 1 – UK Games Expo
Regular readers of our scribblings may recall that we have been (very sadly) absent from UK Games Expo for the last couple of years, due to the convention organisers’ refusal to implement an anti-harassment policy (we believe they’re vital to establishing and ensuring safe spaces for all Pelgranistas to play games, and will only support conventions that have them). We’re delighted to be going back to the UK’s largest gaming convention this year, sharing a booth with our good buddies Kixto (who do all our non-US & Canada mail order fulfillment) and our sister (through-our-shared-father) company, ProFantasy Software. If you’re going to UK Games Expo (May 31st to June 2nd in the Birmingham NEC), swing by our booth (1-594) and say hello to me and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan!
Playtesting: The Borellus Connection, continued
Two months ago, we released six of the eight adventures in The Fall of DELTA GREEN adventure collection, The Borellus Connection, for playtesting. This month, the remaining two thematically linked operations are up for playtesting. These can serve as part of a connected campaign, or as stand-alone operations the Handler can drop into the course of an ongoing investigation. So if you’re interested, drop us an email.
YET ANOTHER call for help!!
Are you going to Gen Con Indianapolis this year? Every year, the good Events People at Gen Con contact us to let us know our games are sold out, and ask if we can run more events, so if you’re able to run 13th Age, Night’s Black Agents, Trail of Cthulhu – or any other Pelgrane game! – at Gen Con 2019, you can see the list of slots available here. Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share our great games with even more people this year! You can see the full list of adventures available here.
May 1 2019
See P. XX
a column about roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
As the field of roleplaying expands its audience, and new platforms appear to provide an ever wider array of ways to get material into the hands of gamers, more folks than ever have jumped in to try their hand at writing. Whether you’re working, as an emerging RPG writer, on supplements, adventures, or games, you can increase the appeal of your work by adopting key techniques to sharpen your prose style.
Most writers, myself included, prefer to focus on style nitty-gritty when revising. Worry about it too much during the first draft and you’ll bog down, losing both your thread of meaning and your will to go on. After a while you’ll absorb techniques like the ones given here and instinctively adopt them into your initial writing phase. When you do revise, you’ll then be working from a stronger starting point.
Many of the tips below elevate any piece of writing, but let’s look at them from an RPG perspective.
Before the tips, a caveat: with rules text in particular, you want clear and stylish prose. When those two values conflict, technical precision outweighs style concerns. You may for example need to repeat the same word multiple times in close succession, which you wouldn’t do even in other, more story-oriented sections of the same game book.
1. Replace Inactive Verbs
Almost every emerging writer over-relies on a few frequently used, dead verbs: is, are, be, have. When you can, reconfigure your sentences to favor more specific, dynamic alternatives. Altering sentences to weed out inactive verbs forces you to tune up a sentences in other ways, finding greater specificity or concision.
Mercutio is a hot-blooded young man, driven by a churning intellect and a presentiment of his own doom.
Mercutio’s hot blood, churning intellect and a presentiment of doom drive him to flights of poetic fancy.
The first describes him in a static state. The second puts him in action. Nipping out the “is” led us to show the GM more directly what Mercutio might do in a scenario.
The renderers are figures of terror throughout the neighborhood.
The renderers spread terror throughout the neighborhood.
Again, this moves us from situation to action.
The agents must be careful to keep up the pretense, or be attacked by the mutons.
The agents must keep up the pretense, or face a muton attack.
This distills the action into a simpler, shorter, punchier sentence.
Don’t expect to altogether avoid inactive verbs. You’ll find yourself testing and rejecting alternates because they confuse your sequence of thoughts, or require many more words than the original, inactive version.
2. Strike Instances of “Will”
RPG writing frequently puts us in the unusual position of describing a hypothetical future action:
The octopus will pick up the phone.
The monster will run at the PCs.
Amy will withhold that information until she’s sure the group can be trusted.
Dropping the “will” excises an unnecessary word, tightens the sentence, and allows the reader to envision the described action:
The octopus picks up the phone.
The monster runs at the PCs.
Amy withholds that information until she’s sure the group can be trusted.
I’ve been writing RPG books for a long time now, and still during my revision pass spot instances of the dreaded “will” begging to be cut.
3. Shorten Your Sentences
In RPG writing we can get caught up in a tumble of creative thought. As we get those thoughts up on the screen, we tumble from one idea to the next. That leads to overlong sentences that try to express too much. Almost any submission draft from a starting writer arrives full of sentences whose commas beg to be turned into periods. Get chopping!
Under the neon bridge the garoons thrash and cry, haunted by memories of their past lives, seldom heeding the worries of Old Chan, who gazes at them with a worried expression and silently rolls and lights another cigarette, because that’s what he’s been reduced to now.
Under the neon bridge the garoons thrash and cry. Memories of their past lives haunt them. Seldom do they heed the worries of Old Chan. He gazes at them and silently rolls and lights another cigarette. Fate has reduced him to this, he thinks.
Periods give the reader time to stop and take in each idea before moving on to the next. Resist the impulse to slap rope together with a kit-bag of conjunctions. The appearance of “and” near the end of a lengthy sentence often marks a trouble spot in your sentence. Look carefully at the final clauses of your sentences. Many times you can cut them entirely. In other cases you’ll see that they bear little relation to the rest of your thought and should break free to become their own sentences.
4. Remove Passive Construction
This standard piece of style advice still bears repeating. Except when used for (usually ironic) effect, cut out sentences that bury their subjects by shunting them to the end of the sentence, or omitting them entirely.
Dogs all around the neighborhood were terrified by ravager activity.
The ravagers terrified neighborhood dogs.
5. Strip Out Introductory Flab
When revising text, take an extra hard squint at passages introducing new subjects. You may see that you eased your way into the topic with a series of broad introductory statements. If you did, you were probably getting your mental gears going as you found your way to what you really wanted to say. See how many initial sentences you can pare away without cutting into the true meat of your piece.
Ever since the dawn of time humankind has feared the dark. Throughout the ages people have whispered of strange doings in the woods. Combining the dark and the woods together creates unique and special fears. The shadowy beings known as woodhaunts stalk the forests of southeastern Poland.
The shadowy beings known as woodhaunts stalk the forests of southeastern Poland.
May 1 2019
A scenario seed for Trail of Cthulhu by Adam Gauntlett
The return of a Deep One infected with bubonic plague causes a public health crisis in 1930s Hong Kong.
Hong Kong in the 1930s is a sophisticated and wealthy British colony, administered largely by British Ta-Pan. Its laws are British, its culture is Chinese, and there is a demarcation between the two: British Tai-Pan control the east portion of the territory as a kind of Little England, while Chinese culture dominates the west portion. The territory lives under British law, enforced by European, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian policemen. By the 1930s the law is stricter and more effective than it was during the bad old days of piracy and bribery, but Hong Kong is still Hong Kong – mercantile, and willing to do all kinds of business.
The territory suffered greatly during the Third Pandemic of bubonic plague, which broke out in China in the mid-1800s. More than 12 million died in China and India, and at its height 100 people a day died in Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the territory when plague hit, and plague continued to be a problem for many decades after the initial, deadly sweep.
If the Keeper doesn’t want to play a scenario set in Hong Kong, the action could be moved to a coast city with significant Chinese population, like San Francisco.
Hungry Ghost Folklore
A hungry ghost is the soul of someone who died with bad deeds or evil intent staining them, and thus ended up in the hell of hungry ghosts. This is rare, and should not be confused with the more common ancestral dead. The bad deeds the hungry ghosts committed in life transform them into animalistic spirit-demons, obsessed in death with whatever it was that they committed crimes for in life. So a man who drives children away from water, keeping it all himself, will become a hungry ghost obsessed with water. Anything a person might have coveted or become gluttonous for – food, drink and sex are common drivers – can inspire a hungry ghost.
Hungry Ghosts are portrayed as emaciated corpse-like beings, often with shrunken throats or needle-point small mouths, as this prevents them from consuming the one thing they want to consume. The object of their desire might disintegrate or burn to nothing when they try to devour it.
The chief difference between ancestral ghosts and hungry ones is that an ordinary ghost will fade over time and vanish, if not properly taken care of. This is why, at ghost festivals, people take care to offer sacrifices, food, drink, hell money, to care for their dead. Whereas a hungry ghost will never fade, but it will bring bad luck to whoever attracts its attention. Some traditions have it that a hungry ghost is a beloved ancestor who was ignored after death, or whose descendants didn’t pay the proper respect during ghost festivals – all the more reason to be generous.
These happen in the 7th month of the lunar calendar. The realms of heaven and hell open up and disgorge their dead, and the living celebrate the return of beloved souls while at the same time fending off the attentions of unclean spirits, Representations of physical things – houses, clothing, money – are sacrificed, or burnt, to help the beloved souls, and keep them safe and happy. Prosperity incense is burnt to guarantee a bright year ahead. Miniature paper boats and lanterns are let loose fourteen days after the end of the festival to guide those spirits home again.
This scenario takes place shortly before the festival.
The Return of Zhao Fei Hong
The family Zhao have been shipbuilders since time immemorial, and from the early 1800s onwards some of the family have succumbed to Deep One promises. The minions of Cthulhu said they would show the Zhao the secrets of shipbuilding, and in particular the right rituals and magics to perform in order to ensure theirs were the best and fastest chuan afloat. There was a price, and from that alliance came a number of Deep One hybrids who settled in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Docks.
During the plague outbreak one hybrid, Fei Hong, fled the colony, but was too late to avoid infection. As a hybrid, Fei Hong could not be killed by the disease, but a quirk of his hybridization meant he became a carrier, and was subject to crippling, painful symptoms.
After many years in isolation – for not even his fellow Deep Ones welcomed the poor sufferer – Fei Hong has returned to Hong Kong seeking a cure. Medicine has improved since he ran away in the 1860s. Surely there is something that can be done to purge him of this hideous taint?
Some of the family Zhao have taken him in, out of familial loyalty, while others reject the prodigal. However none of them will betray the family secret. They seek a solution, one way or the other.
Two tales circulate.
The plague has returned! This story is particularly common among dock workers, sailors and those who work in Kowloon opium dens and boozers. According to popular report there have been several small outbreaks of plague, which the colonial authorities are either ignoring or covering up. Some doctors are taking this seriously and carrying out their own investigations. Some of these so-called doctors are no better than quacks, which doesn’t help credibility.
Hungry Ghosts Haunt Kowloon! Spending 1 point Oral History traces this tale to members of the Zhao family. According to rumor, hungry ghosts have returned to plague honest citizens in Kowloon, only a few days before the Ghost Festival. People are terrified, crying out for spiritual aid. Anyone who can settle this unquiet spirit is welcome. Many charlatans and would-be exorcists flood the district, promising anything and everything in exchange for cold, hard cash. Keeper’s note: this rumor is being spread by the dissident Zhao, who are treating Fei Hong as a hungry ghost. Even those friendly to Fei Hong are superstitiously afraid of what he represents – a cursed immortal, in great pain, who cannot die.
Doctor Victor Richard, a French researcher and philanthropist, is seized at his clinic by armed gunmen, an event that shocks the colony to its core. The Tai-Pan are outraged, and the colonial administration goes into action. Police raid the usual suspects – any would-be Chinese Tongmenghui revolutionaries, known Triad hangouts, anyone who hasn’t paid enough bribes – but nothing is found.
Enquiry either among police officers (Cop Talk) or the employees and patients who were at the clinic when it happened (Oral History), or diligent study of news reports (Library Use) notices this core clue: the gunmen were wearing many luck amulets and charms, intended to ward off evil spirits and hungry ghosts. A point spend further discovers that they weren’t your usual Triad thugs, but were roughnecks, manual laborers and, judging by tattoos, dock workers.
Doctor Richard’s specialty is treatment of infectious diseases, and bubonic plague in particular. In the most recent outbreak in India, he achieved fame by his brave and relentless fight against the disease. When he came to Hong Kong he acquired notoriety because he offered to treat poor Chinese for free, behavior his Tai Pan neighbors thought eccentric.
Investigators who check find that there are isolated incidences of plague, particularly in or near Kowloon Docks. So far there haven’t been more than a dozen, but they are documented, genuine cases of plague. The media’s been told to keep quiet to avoid panic, but doctors are pressing for full disclosure so people can take some preventative action. Any investigator who checks (Medicine, Evidence Collection) can trace the outbreak to a particular section of Kowloon Docks, where the family Zhao have their shipbuilding business.
Tracing the rumors, evidence concerning the criminals, or evidence concerning the plague, leads to the Zhao dockyard.
Only some of the family support Fei Hong, and it’s those who captured Doctor Richard and are keeping him in an old junk tied up at the wharf. He’s guarded by two armed men at all times. His patient is Fei Hong, who finds movement difficult and breathing painful. However for purposes of combat the hybrid Deep One has the same statistics as any other Deep One. Fei Hong knows a spell, Wrack, which when he casts it makes the target feel as if they’re suffering the final stages of bubonic plague.
There are from three to six other Deep Ones at the dockyard; the precise number is up to the Keeper, and should depend on the investigators’ fighting strength. If they come well-armed with high-caliber firearms, add more Deep Ones. These are Fei Hong’s companions, and are also members of the family Zhao. None of them know spells.
If the investigators try to win the support of those Zhao who want rid of Fei Hong, this can be done through Streetwise spends. For every point spent, remove one Deep One. In story, the rebel Zhao take care of those Deep Ones so the investigators don’t have to.
In total, there are a half-dozen dedicated, armed human cultists willing to fight to keep Fei Hong safe, or cover his escape. None have any weapon more dangerous than a handgun, and most have knives or clubs.
May 1 2019
The wicker golem appears in Shards of the Broken Sky, where it’s one of several golems performing various magical maintenance functions. But its inspiration, of course, is the 1973 British horror film The Wicker Man—making it a great monster for a creepy adventure set deep in the High Druid’s woods, where the people still hold fast to the Old Ways…
It burns well, you’d just better hope you are not inside it at the time. Some use wicker golems as a means of capturing rather than killing, others to sacrifice their enemies mid-battle.
Huge 0 level wrecker [CONSTRUCT]Initiative: +4
Wicker hands +5 vs. AC (two attacks)—5 damage. If at least one attack hits a target, the target is grabbed.
Entrap: If a grabbed target does not escape the grab by the end of its next turn, the golem stuffs the target into its body cavity. Once a target is in the golem’s body cavity, it moves with the golem until it escapes and is stuck, dazed, and unable to affect anything except the wicker golem. The target also takes any fire damage the wicker golem takes. If the target deals 5 or more damage with an attack, the golem’s body cavity briefly pops open and the target can make a disengage check to try to escape.
Golem immunity: Wicker golems are immune to effects. They can’t be dazed, weakened, confused, made vulnerable, or touched by ongoing damage (except fire damage).
Burning man: Whenever the wicker golem takes fire damage, it also takes 5 ongoing fire damage. While the wicker golem takes ongoing fire damage, a natural even hit with wicker hands does the same amount of ongoing fire damage to its target.
Deliberate conflagration: If the golem has an enemy trapped inside, it may set itself on fire (5 ongoing fire damage) at any time.
Blood sacrifice: If a non-mook creature is reduced to 0 hp while within the golem’s body cavity, the golem immediately heals to 55 hp.
PD 14 HP 55
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. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 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.