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Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: I Don’t Want To Say Tax Dodge

Nov 17 2017

In the latest episode of their copiously authenticated podcast, Ken and Robin talk forgery vs magic, drama scenes that matter, and Ken vs Powell’s.

Sense Trouble by Proxy

Nov 13 2017

Here’s an expanded use for the Sense Trouble ability one of my players, Chris Huth, sold me on recently. The basic principle can apply to any GUMSHOE game that includes this general ability.

We’ve reached the Aftermath sequence of our Yellow King Roleplaying Game playtest.

In its alternate 2017, landlines remain the basic telephonic technology. Answering machines do not yet exist. (A hundred years of tyranny has a stultifying effect on consumer electronics.)

To get messages about developments in a case, the team has to check in with an answering service hired by Chris’ character, Jerry Jean-Leon.

On learning that a police detective had called to ask them to come in for an interview, Jerry asked the answering service receptionist whether the tone of the call sounded routine, or worrisome.

I started by playing her as not savvy enough to tell that on a call from a cop. As standard procedure, he’d be pretty good at keeping it neutral. The receptionist wasn’t a trained investigator.

Chris wanted to specify that he went out of his way to hire someone who would actually be able to read that kind of nuance, even from a pro. He offered to make a Sense Trouble test to get this result.

We normally think of Sense Trouble as happening in the here and now, as reflecting what the hero can directly sense.

Here we were talking about a situation where the sensing would be done by another character, a GMC some distance away.

Plus, it would reflect an action taken in the past—Jerry’s extra cautious effort to make sure he had hired a messaging service with ultra-sharp employees.

GUMSHOE precedent already exists for tests that establish an action you’ve undertaken in the past. The Preparedness test lets you declare that you happen to have already packed a particular item you need.

The end result would still stem from Jerry’s ability to anticipate trouble, so I agreed with Chris that this could work. Finding an answering machine service with security instincts sounded tough to me, so I set a Difficulty one point higher than the standard 4.

Chris made the test, so the receptionist told him that indeed, the detective sounded like he was after them, but trying to be cool about it.

In any game where the PCs might have made arrangements with a functionary like the answering service receptionist, you could likewise use Sense Trouble to measure that person’s ability to anticipate danger. Whether it appears as a robotic monitoring device, an Ordo Veritatis auxiliary on stakeout duty or a blood magic ward depends on which flavor of GUMSHOE you’re playing.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: The First Two Things are Metaphors For the Third

Nov 10 2017

In the latest episode of their luxurious robe-wearing podcast, Ken and Robin talk riffed murder suspects, Chicago film fest, our stand against vampires and Josephin Pela About Stuff.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Moral Crisis Dungeon Tile

Nov 3 2017

In the latest episode of their ultraterrestrial-busting podcast, Ken and Robin talk social spirals, Jeanne Rousseau, Abramsification and the Aurora Airship Crash.

New See Page XX out now!

Nov 2 2017

The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring the limited edition Cthulhu Confidential, along with High Voltage Kill, the next Dex Raymond PDF adventure, and the PDF of the 13th Age Bestiary 2, plus a number of spookily-themed articles for Hallowe’en and tips on gamifying TV shows like Star Trek: Discovery and Stranger Things S2.

It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!

October 2017: View from the Pelgrane’s Nest

Oct 31 2017

The LARP season is upon us. Cat and I are off to Poland to play Fairweather Manor, then it’s Consequences, and On Location. I am relatively new to live action roleplaying, but I’ve really taken to it – I recommend it to anyone who enjoys table top roleplaying.  With our recruitment of an administrative assistant underway as well, we are rather squeezed for time, so this will be short. Nonetheless, we have a new Dex Raymond adventure for Cthulhu Confidential High Voltage Killour gorgeous new limited edition  Cthulhu Confidential Limited Edition, and The 13th Age Bestiary 2 is out as a PDF.

13th Age

The Book of Demons has been polished into shape, and it’s finally ready to lay out. I am sorry it’s taken so long – the Demonologist has been a tricky class to create, but it’s been thoroughly playtested, and it’s ready to step out of the shadows and summon up some trouble.

Fire & Faith and the Map Folio is with the printers.

Rob continues to work on Book of Ages and Shards of the Broken Sky.

And, The 13th Age Bestiary 2 is available for order now as a PDF.

Everything Else

Sorry for my brevity – there will be a fuller article next month.

 

See Page XX – October 2017

Oct 31 2017

Happy Hallowe’en! We’ve got a spookily themed See Page XX for you this month, with articles on incorporating this most gamerish of holidays into your Pelgrane games, as well as looks at GUMSHOE-adjacent TV shows like Stranger Things 2 and Star Trek: Discovery.

We were very excited to see the beautiful Cthulhu Confidential Limited Edition at Gen Con, and this month, it can be yours, too. We’ve also got the PDF of the 13th Age Bestiary 2, and the latest PDF adventure for Cthulhu Confidential, the Dex Raymond adventure High Voltage Kill, available now.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

See Page XX Poll

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

See Page XX: Halloween in Yellow

Oct 31 2017

No one celebrates Halloween in 1895 Paris, the first sequence of the reality-spanning Yellow King Roleplaying Game. Observance of that holiday won’t start until sometime in the 20s or 30s in the United States.

However, the proximity of All Soul’s Day may provoke an uptick in the ghostly activity triggered by the publication of a certain madness-inducing play.

In the spirit of the holiday, check out this trio of supernatural foes, among those added to the game thanks to the stretch goal-busting actions of our well-attired and sophisticated Kickstarter backers.

Egregore

Investigators with the Occultism ability know the concept of the egregore. Believers describe them as discarnate thoughtforms capable of influencing groups of people. Some describe them as the great forces that move human history. While certain ritual magicians seek them out as sources of arcane insight, Christian occultists like the Martinists warn that they are really a form of demon.

As with so many other occult beliefs, the opening of the gates to Carcosa have realized that which was once imaginary. This egregore is the shade of a dead Carcosan noble, held together by spite and glee in the suffering of others. Translucent and insubstantial, it acts as a spirit guide to questing occultists. It uses its ghostly powers to grant would-be magicians the entirely illusory impression of spiritual progress. Sometimes the deluded protege undergoes experiences convincing him that he can manipulate external events through magic.

In return for these gifts, the egregore requires the protege to commit acts of calculated cruelty. Seemingly trivial at first, the entity steadily escalates them to encompass sabotage, assault, kidnapping and murder. Egregores gain a particular charge from acts of cultural desecration, from arson in churches to the destruction of beloved art works.

To remain anchored to a protege, the egregore must arrange for its true name to be hidden in a place significant to the manipulated person. If the investigators discover this, and then find the name, they can call it out, causing the egregore to assume substantial form, which can then be physically dispatched in a fight.

An insubstantial egregore cannot be captured or killed, and deals out shocks instead of injuries.

Numbers: 1

Difficulty: Superior 6 / 8

Difficulty Adjustments: +2 for each character who can fight but doesn’t;

Toll: 2

Injuries, Minor and Major:

Korrigan

In Breton folklore the term “korrigan” may refer to any faerie creature, or to a version of the classic alluring faerie maiden who lures young men away from this world into an unholy supernatural realm.

Do these tales reflect past eras of Carcosan influence on earth, when they came here to take slaves?

With the gates open (perhaps again) between our world and Carcosa, slave-hunters, either following an old pattern or mimicking folk tale imagery, have come here to collect healthy young human specimens to serve its noble courts.

Korrigans look like red-haired humans of great physical allure, but of indeterminate age. Their delicate beauty may strike wary observers as alien or eerie. When aroused to anger or passion, their eyes glow a fiery red.

They hunt by emotional entrapment, winning the love of their victims over a period of weeks or months. At the end of the mysterious courtship, the target signs an agreement consigning his (or, more rarely, her) soul to the korrigan. The korrigan then takes the subject to Carcosa and sells the contract to the head of a noble Carcosan household. The victim loses vitality but does not otherwise age, regretfully toiling for his new masters for many generations before fading away into nothingness.

Korrigans prefer flight, or the use of psychic influence, to combat. A few prove physically formidable when cornered. PCs resist the psychic attack dealing a korrigan’s Shock cards, which it can use on one investigator per scene, with Difficulty 5 Composure tests. Once one character has one of these cards, it reuses its power only when desperate.

When revealed or pressed, the hypnotic beauty of the korrigan may give way to the pale, mask-like visage typical of Carcosans.

Numbers: 1

Difficulty: Evenly Matched 5 / 7

Difficulty Adjustments: +2 for each character who can fight but doesn’t;

Toll: 2

Shocks, Minor and Major:

Injuries, Minor and Major:

Petroleuse

During the Commune a cadre of female anarchists terrorized the bourgeoisie by roaming the city with gasoline bottles, which they set alight and tossed through the basement windows of well-appointed homes. Compared to vengeful maenads, they sometimes committed these acts of revolutionary arson with their children in tow.

The Yellow Book has conjured them back, in ghostly form, translucent and wreathed in flame.

Numbers: equals number of player characters

Difficulty: Evenly Matched 5 / 7

Difficulty Adjustments: -1 if the party has already learned of the historical significance of the petroleuses, +1 if not

Toll: 2

Injuries, Minor and Major:

Download the cards here.

The Yellow King pre-order is about to vanish like the ghost of a murdered arsonist. Jump on before it’s gone!

The Plain People of Gaming: Behind Vampire Lines

Oct 31 2017

Cthulhu City, our new Trail of Cthulhu setting about a monstrous, mythos-haunted city adapts the Night’s Black Agents Heat mechanics to model Suspicion. Think of Suspicion as a slow simmer compared to Heat’s flash-fry. Rising Heat means police SWAT teams chasing you through the streets and airports shutting down; rising Suspicion implies police detectives knocking at your door in the middle of the night, or mysterious figures sabotaging your car to stop you leaving.

If your Night’s Black Agents game involves the characters spending extended time behind enemy lines, you may want to use these Suspicion mechanics in stead of Heat. Maybe they’re in a vampire-controlled city in Eastern Europe or maybe you’re running a historical Edom scenario with the Agents operating being the Iron Curtain, or a post-apocalyptic fantasy where greedy, sociopathic, inhuman monsters rule the world.

(Hat tip to “Nooch” over on rpg.net for requesting this adaptation.)

Suspicion

While in occupied territory, investigations into strange events and other vampire hunting activity may draw unwanted attention. This  is measured in Suspicion. The entire group of Agents has one Suspicion score in common; they are each other’s known associates. The group’s Suspicion begins at 0.

The groups’ Suspicion only rises once per game session; use the highest Suspicion gain incurred in the session.

Gaining Suspicion

Criminal acts, especially assault or murder, are the most common route to increased Suspicion, but showing undue knowledge of the supernatural or the Conspiracy also draws unwanted attention. Anything that raises Heat boosts Suspicion, but so do actions like:

  • purchasing large amounts of garlic or UV lamps
  • acquiring occult books
  • associating with other suspects
  • trespassing in vampire-controlled areas
  • possession of a foreign passport or legal-but-suspicious equipment like bugging devices
  • forbidden web searches
  • travelling by night
  • having no visible source of financial support

Averting Suspicion

Precautions: The agents can avoid increases in their Suspicion by ensuring that the city authorities do not connect the suspicious events with the hunters. Such precautions usually require spends from abilities. For example:

  • Make extra spends of Bargain, Intimidation or Reassurance to convince witnesses not to mention the agents’ presence to the authorities
  • Spend Cop Talk to convince police to look the other way
  • Spend Evidence Collection or Forensics to wipe away fingerprints and sanitise a crime scene
  • Hide incriminating notes with Cryptography
  • Make untraceable home-made explosives with Chemistry instead of purchasing them on the black market
  • Use Disguise or Infiltration to avoid unfriendly eyes

Averted Suspicion can come back to burn the agents if circumstances warrant. If a witness comes forward later, or new evidence comes to light, or the investigators’ deceptions are penetrated, the Agents can gain Suspicion for older actions. Old Suspicion gains are automatically reduced by 1 point, representing the authorities’ lack of urgency in prosecuting old offences.

Losing Suspicion

There are three ways to lose Suspicion.

  • Wait It Out: Low levels of Suspicion diminish over time. If the agents’ Suspicion score is 2 or less, then reduce it by one point after a game session in which they avoid adding to their Suspicion. Suspicion scores of 3 or more do not diminish over time.
  • Buy It Off: A good Credit Rating and friends in high places can avert the attention of the authorities. The agents may reduce their Suspicion by one if, as a group, they spend Cop Talk, Reassurance, High Society or Tradecraft points equal to the number of agents multiplied by their current Suspicion score. For example, if four agents have a Suspicion score of 3, then they could reduce that score to 2 by spending 12 points from the listed Investigative Abilities.

These points don’t have to be spent all at once; the agents can put a few points aside after every game session until they have enough to buy down their Suspicion. However, if the agents gain any more Suspicion, then points allocated but unspent are lost.

  • Make A Deal: Various powerful patrons can intercede on the investigators’ behalf to shield them from the authorities.

Effects of Suspicion

Increased Scrutiny: As Suspicion rises, so does scrutiny of the Agents. At low levels of Suspicion, that’s largely cosmetic – mysterious figures watching them from across the street, threatening letters shoved through their door. It escalates through surveillance (phone tapping, bugs, intercepted emails, mysterious figures following them) and harassment (associates and contacts get arrested and questioned) until the agents themselves get arrested and questioned on suspicion of being vampire hunters.

Increased Watchfulness: Generally increased security – more guards, more alarms, more supernatural guardians.

Blowback: Rising Suspicion may also draw blowback from whatever Vampyramid you’re using.

Cover Identities

Suspicion acquired by different Covers is tracked separately; however, if a Cover is blown, then double the Suspicion attached to that cover and add it to the agents’ total.

 

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Fearful Things: The Demogorgon

Oct 31 2017

(No spoilers for Season 2 in here.)

Even if this column appeared somewhere other than a website for tabletop roleplayers, it’d be impossible to write about Stranger Things without talking about gaming. Gaming is the metaphor the series uses to talk about monsters and dimensions, but it’s also how the kids see themselves, and how the show-runners and writers structure the plot – which makes it insanely ripe for conversion and dissection here. The show has three distinct tiers of ‘player character’ – the kids, the teens and parents, and the combat experts (Hoppers and Eleven). They’re clearly using the skill cap rules, but one character in each tier can be an exception and buy a few points in a combat ability normally reserved for the next tier. So, Dustin’s wrist rocket lets him Scuffle with an adult, and Nancy has that 4-point Shooting pool. (Presumably, the kids have all invested in Hiding and Fleeing, or just given a pile of build points each over to Eleven’s character so she can keep buying new Psychic Powers.)

In Fear Itself terms, the show nicely illustrates the concept of the Spiral of Misery setup. In the first season, you’ve got Will Byers at the centre of the spiral; he’s connected to the other kids, to his mother Joyce, and to his brother Jonathan; Joyce connects to Sheriff Hopper, Jonathan and Mike connect to Nancy, and the whole cast gets pulled in through those connections.

The show’s monsters are also perfectly set up for gaming. The Demogorgon pops in and out of our dimension, showing up to threaten the player characters before vanishing, leaving behind only clues that will get ignored by the authorities and picked up by the player character using their Investigative Abilities. It can move quickly enough to threaten the player characters wherever they are, but it’s also got plenty of tells (the flickering lights, the ‘scar tissue’ in the dimensional breaches) to give the players a chance to detect and prepare for its emergence.

 

Demogorgon

Abilities: Aberrance 9, Athletics 10, Health 12, Scuffling 16

Hit Threshold: 4

Armour: None, but firearms attacks only deal one point of damage.

Awareness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +1

Damage Modifier: +1 (claw), or +3 (‘bite’). It can only bite downed or stunned foes.

Dimensional Tear: By spending 3 Aberrance, the Demogorgon can open a portal connecting the parallel reality of the Upside Down with our reality. These portals appear like wounds or breaches on a surface like a wall, floor or the bole of a tree. Once created, a breach remains active for some time (usually a few minutes, but it’s proportional to the size of the breach). The Demogorgon can pass through an active breach for free; other creatures can also wriggle through breaches, but it requires an Athletics test (Difficulty 4). Even after a breach reseals itself, reality is still wounded in that spot; the Demogorgon can reopen an old breach with a 1-point Aberrance spend.

Feed: The Demogorgon regains Aberrance when it eats.

Its hunger means the creature’s drawn to the smell of blood or the presence of meat.

Regeneration: When in the Upside Down, the Demogorgon may heal using Aberrance. 1 Aberrance point restores 2 Health.

Telekinesis: The Demogorgon may spend Aberrance as Telekinesis.

Unnatural Speed: For 2 Aberrance, the Demogorgon may:

  • Make another claw attack
  • Cover a short distance instantly
  • Automatically dodge a Shooting attack.

 

All That Remains

  • Investigative Procedure: The victim was mauled and partially eaten – but the bite marks look more like the mess that would be left by a shark.
  • Mechanics: Hey, those electric lights are flickering. Someone should check the circuit.
  • Notice: Hey, what’s this weird slime on the tree. It’s like a scab on reality. What happens when I pick at it?
  • Outdoor Survival: It’s hunting us by scent. It can smell our blood.
  • Science: But what if this gate already existed? Well, if it did, I I think we’d know. It would disrupt gravity, the magnetic field, our environment. It would deflect compass needles, cause electrical surges…
  • Trivia: It’s in the Monster Manual!

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