Pelgrane Press

 

Pelgrane Press Ltd

Cocktails From Carcosa

Jul 15 2019

Are you afflicted by reality slippage? Seeing pallid-masked pursuers behind every tree? Waiting for the final results of a terrifying printing process that has left you on the precipice of your Final Shock Card? It’s summertime in the Pelgrane’s Nest, and that means cocktail recipes to cool your brow and chill your blood. Remember, always bow to the Hyades responsibly.

RUBY OF CASSILDA

1 ¼ oz dark rum

¾ oz hazelnut liqueur

½ can San Pellegrino aranciata rossa

Serve on the rocks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 


BLOODY HALI

4 basil leaves, sliced, then muddled in bottom of glass

Juice of ½ lime

2 oz cachaça

Tomato juice to taste

3 drops liquid smoke

Serve on the rocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


MR. WILDE’S CAT

1 ½ oz bourbon

½ oz port

4 oz Jarritos pineapple soda

4 oz club soda

Absent Jarrritos, sub in the pineapple soda you can find.

Serve on the rocks.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: We’ve Still Got that Other Folder

Jul 12 2019

In the latest episode of their ENnie-nominated podcast, Ken and Robin talk scenario openings, critical term drift, radicalized FALL OF DELTA GREEN and Livonian werewolves.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: The Molticore

Jul 5 2019

In the latest episode of their leonine podcast, Ken and Robin talk invisibility problems, Daniel Defoe’s spying, manticores and a king knighted by a robot saint.

View From the Pelgrane’s Nest – July 2019

Jul 4 2019

The Nest is aflurry this month with today’s news of the 2019 ENnie Award nominations. It is always an honour to be nominated by the hard-working judging team, and this year in particular we’re sharing the nomination field with an impressive breadth of games and industry colleagues. We’ve been nominated in four categories:

Beloved Pelgranistas Ken & Robin have also been nominated in the Best Podcast category, for Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

Voting for Fan Favourite Best Publisher is open now, and we’d be grateful if you would consider voting for us – click on this link to go to the voting page. Voting for the 2019 ENnies will open next Wednesday, July 10th.

NEW! Pelgrane Press merchandise

Over the years, a number of people have asked if they can get Pelgrane t-shirts and other merchandise, and it’s been in the works for a while. This month, we’re launching a pop-up merchandise store, with items from t-shirts, hoodies, and phone cases to mugs, wall art, and stickers. You can access the Pelgrane merchandise store here. It’s still in its infancy, and designer Will Hindmarch is individually hand-selecting what is available in each category. Our plan, if there’s sufficient demand, is to have a core range, with seasonal stock available for a few months at a time, so if there’s anything you’d love to see in there let us know in the comments!

Work in progress update: Night’s Black Agents: GM Screen & Resource Guide

These have been printed, and are on their way across the seas to our US & UK fulfilment centres. Our printers have told us it will arrive at both locations around July 15th, so we’ll be sending out an email to all pre-orderers in the next few weeks to confirm your shipping addresses, and check whether you’d like it shipped to you, or if you’d prefer to pick up your copy at Gen Con to save on shipping.

Work in progress update: Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops

Layout of this is now finished, and the final PDF is available to all pre-orderers – download it now from your Pelgrane Press bookshelf. We’re currently trying to find a printer who would be able to print and ship these this month – if we can, we’ll be sending out an email to all pre-orderers in the next few weeks to confirm your shipping addresses, and check whether you’d like it shipped to you, or if you’d prefer to pick up your copy at Gen Con to save on shipping.

Work in progress update: Shards of the Broken Sky

This is also at the mercy of the printers, who are claiming it will be shipping to our mail order distribution warehouses on July 15th. We’ll be emailing pre-orderers in the next few weeks to confirm your shipping addresses. The final PDF is available to all pre-orderers – download it now from your Pelgrane Press bookshelf.

Work in progress update: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

Jen McCleary, layout artist extraordinaire, has had to redo the layout of this, as the first version was unusable. She’s sent through a second draft now, which is very close to completion; we’re hoping to get this to the printers in mid-July, and to start shipping out to pre-orderers towards the end of August. We should have the final PDF ready for pre-orderers by mid-July.

Work in progress update: The Yellow King RPG

We’ve just posted an update for Kickstarter backers, the TL;DR of which was that our print liaison left the company suddenly for mental health reasons, and so we’ve had to rescue our (printed) Yellow King RPG books from the dusty corner of the warehouse they were abandoned to on his departure. The books are all printed, and we’ve made contact with the slipcase printer; they’re starting work on the slipcases & GM screens now, and estimate they’ll have them finished within a month, and they will then be able to ship out the completed books-in-slipcases to our US & UK fulfilment houses. So at the moment, we’re hoping to be able to start shipping everything to backers in early August, with the pre-orderer books shipping as soon as they’re finished.

In the meantime, anyone who pre-ordered the print books has the following new files on their bookshelf:

  • All Shock, Injury, Goal, Hit and Chit cards, from each of the four YKRPG books, in PNG format. Ideal for sharing with players electronically, for your online games, or pop a couple into a Word document for easy printing before a game.
  • Blank templates for creating your own Shock, Injury, Goal Hit and Chit cards. In GIMP and PSD format.
  • The official YKRPG Shock and Injury decks in PDF format. Robin has chosen 76 Shock cards, and 76 Injury cards, to form the official decks.
  • The 2019 Free RPG Day book
  • The YKRPG Suite – Official music for the Yellow King RPG

Pelgranes in the Wild!! part 3 – Gen Con, booth #1417

We’re less than a month (aaaaaaargh!) from Gen Con, and preparations for our biggest show of the year are frantically underway in the Nest. I’ll be on the Pelgrane booth for the weekend along with Simon, Ken, Robin, Rob Heinsoo, Sadhbh and (hopefully!) our as-yet-unnamed Admin Assistant. You can also spot Pelgranes in the wild at the ENnie Awards ceremony on Friday night, and at our seminars:

  • Gaming with the King in Yellow Robin D. Laws, Sarah Saltiel & John Harness bring the reality-bending horror of Robert W Chambers to your table. Our mavens of terror are here to tear off their pallid masks and reveal the shattering secrets of the Hyades. Thursday 1st August 16:00 -17:00 Stadium : Meeting Rm 8
  • 13th Age Monster Workshop Join Rob Heinsoo and seasoned 13th Age designers to build a brand-new monster that takes advantage of the game’s mechanics to deliver some nasty surprises at the table. Friday 2nd August 11:00 – 12:00 Stadium : Meeting Rm 12
  • Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Robin D. Laws & Kenneth Hite talk roleplaying, history, conspiracy, occultism, writing, food, movies & whatever you ask them about in this live edition of their award-winning podcast. Friday 2nd August 13:00-14:00 Stadium : Meeting Rm 8
  • Investigative Roleplaying MasterClass Mystery scenario masters Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws train their magnifying glasses on clue-gathering adventures to reveal the unlikely suspects behind your tabletop woes. Friday 2nd August 17:00-18:00 Westin : Grand Bllrm IV
  • Swords, Spies & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel Join Simon Rogers, Cat Tobin & others from the Pelgrane team for a behind-the-scenes look at what the award-winning UK publisher’s been up to this year, & what they’ve planned for the coming year. Saturday 3rd August 14:00-15:00 Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn A
  • Dramatic Interaction Masterclass Robin D. Laws, Cat Tobin, Kate Bullock & John Harness teach structures & techniques to turn emotional confrontations between PCs frustrating roadblocks into rich moments of human drama. Saturday 3rd August 16:00-17:00 JW : 202

If you’re going (it’s on in the Indianapolis Convention Centre, from Thursday, August 1st to Sunday, August 5th), be sure to swing by booth #1417 and say hi. You might even be able to pick up a rare Pelgrane GM ribbon or button – if you volunteer to GM one of the games we’re still seeking GMs for (the list is here), you’re guaranteed one of each. Drop us an email at support@pelgranepress.com if you’re available!

Playtesting: The Borellus Connection, revised

We’ve had a number of dropouts for playtesting for the eight adventures in The Fall of DELTA GREEN adventure collection, The Borellus Connection, so we’re putting them back up for playtesting again this month. As a reminder, these adventures 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.

 

See Page XX – July 2019

Jul 4 2019

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

It’s the Fourth of July, and to those readers celebrating the declaration of independence of the United States of America, we wish you a happy holiday. To everyone else, happy summer! We’re celebrating some special occasions here, too – as well as having been nominated for four ENnies, we’re launching a pop-up shop, featuring a (currently modest) selection of Pelgrane- and GUMSHOE-branded goodness, which we’ll be extending if it proves popular.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

See Page XX: DELTA GREEN Meets the Dreamhounds (Part 2)

Jul 4 2019

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Continuing from last month, we look at the Dreamhounds of Paris player characters who survived to the 1960s and how they might make cameo appearances as sources of information in The Fall of Delta Green.

Agents seeking Giorgio de Chirico (1888- 1978), painter of eerie, depopulated landscapes strewn with Classical debris, find him in his home near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Still busily at work on new canvases, he long ago abandoned his so-called metaphysical style, no longer wanting anything to do with the Dreamlands. Should agents show up brandishing one of his old paintings, he declares it a forgery. Ironically, it may be a forgery of his own creation, as his old style commands higher prices than his current, Rubens-inspired work, and he sometimes pays the rent by dashing one off and signing an old date to it. Art might spot the fraud, giving the group leverage to gain the info they seek from him. He may confess that he still occasionally slips back to the Dreamlands, where he tries his best to revert it to its pre-surrealist state. Nowadays that means removing the Oldenburg stuffed hamburgers and the field of Warhol electric chairs.

Previous to his death in 1968 at 81, agents can locate the cerebral granddaddy of conceptual artists, Marcel Duchamp either in the Greenwich Village New York studio where he secretly putters away on new projects, or at home in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Age has left undimmed the sardonic twinkle in his eyes. Prying information from a reluctant Duchamp may require an agent to lose to him at chess (not a difficult feat), followed by Flattery of his playing skill. The old man might be lured back to the Dreamlands, doubtless in the dream-form of his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy, by the opportunity to play a Grandmaster there. Duchamp remains fast friends with Man Ray, a frequent visitor at Neuilly-sur-Seine.

After a lengthy sojourn in Sedona, New Mexico, the German-born painter, collagist and bird avatar Max Ernst (1891-1976) moved back to France. The agents find him working in his Provence studio alongside his American wife, Dorothea Tanning, also a surrealist painter. Finally financially secure, he ruefully recalls the hunger and occasional danger of his Dreamhounds days. Having once painted a gruesome protective mural to aid his late friend Paul Éluard against a Mythos entity, he might do the same for the team on an Inspiration spend.

Largely retired from a career devoted to theatrical set design, Valentine Hugo lives modestly in a Paris flat. When visited by agents, she maintains a decades-long pretense, claiming to have abandoned painting and drawing. HUMINT shows that she’s lying—and indeed, a locked room contains countless visual works, including one on the easel right now. Even then she says she has stopped showing her work out of shyness, when really she’s doing it for Pickmanesque reasons. Or the paintings act as a portal to the Dreamlands, Leng or Yuggoth. Or she has enemies trapped in the confines of her delicate linework. Hugo dies in 1968, at 80.

René Magritte lives long enough to see his paintings of impossible realism, suffused with deadpan wit, embraced by the counterculture generation. A man of regular habits even during his interactions with the 30s surrealists, he leads a quiet life with his wife Georgette near Brussels. Though he never admits to participation in any supernatural event, he tells the agents what they want to know by couching his memories as fiction. As his final year, 1967, approaches, agents may note outward signs of his pancreatic cancer. After meeting him, the agents are pursued by faceless, bowler-hatted men clad like Belgian bankers.

The painter André Masson (1896 – 1987) has returned to the automatism he practiced in his surrealist days, now through his present viewpoint as a Zen Buddhist. His new faith tempers his turbulent, anarchic personality. The agents may be drawn to Paris flat after learning of his support for Algerian independence, for which he is arrested in 1961. Leveraging this with the aid of French intelligence contacts may allow them to subject him to Interrogation. Secrets he may harbor include not only his Dreamlands activity but Mythos involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which he witnessed first hand. (Thus allowing you to dragoon your copy of Soldiers of Pen and Ink into DELTA GREEN service.)

Even for DELTA GREEN agents, getting access to the world’s most famous artist isn’t easy. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) might take a shine to them if pick up on and echo his contempt for his longtime personal and ideological enemy André Breton. HUMINT shows that his claims never to have been involved with or influenced by the surrealists include a healthy dollop of protesting too much. Picasso still works feverishly at an array of paintings and sculptures, never mind the critics who call them passé and perverse. An unflinching Stalinist (at least in public), his Party connections may be of as much interest to agents as his long-ago Dreamlands jaunts.

The American surrealist photographer and experimental filmmaker Man Ray (1890-1976) lives in Paris’ St. Germain des Pres neighborhood with his wife, the dancer Juliet Browner. Agents may find him in a retrospective mood, as he is either working on his 1963 autobiography Self-Portrait or still has his notes lying around. Naturally the published version omits all the details of filming an experimental film in a supernatural realm, or the time he was nearly devoured by the disembodied lips of ex-lover Lee Miller near the Nameless Rock. Streetwise may permit agents to filch undeveloped film canisters bearing the legend “les fouet de Dylath-Leen.”

Dadaist poet and performance artist Tristan Tzara has stepped back from public life after antagonizing fellow Communists by supporting Hungary’s liberalization movement. His grudge against André Breton continues: his old nemesis deepened his troubles by agreeing with him too loudly. Tzara accepts the occasional prize for his contributions to poetry, studies the works of 15th century poet-criminal François Villon, and promotes African art. When agents ask for his help, he conditions it on a favor in return. They must banish the invisible entity that pursues him. Half a decade ago, it moved into his apartment in Zurich, trapping him there. Now, his health mysteriously failing, he feels its inexorably nearing presence. He’ll tell them anything—anything—so long as they banish it. Presumably the agents do a partial job at best, as Tzara dies of unknown causes on Christmas of 1963.


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.

The Plain People of Gaming: Tactical Goals in Trail of Cthulhu

Jul 4 2019

Tactical Objectives in Trail of Cthulhu

Knowing that the Thing could surely overtake the Alert until steam was fully up, he resolved on a desperate chance; and, setting the engine for full speed, ran lightning-like on deck and reversed the wheel. There was a mighty eddying and foaming in the noisome brine, and as the steam mounted higher and higher the brave Norwegian drove his vessel head on against the pursuing jelly which rose above the unclean froth like the stern of a daemon galleon. The awful squid-head with writhing feelers came nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly.

  • The Call of Cthulhu

The Trail of Cthulhu combat rules work perfectly well when dealing with small numbers of human-scale foes – a lone Deep One or Byakhee, a few cultists – but they’re less suited to coping with gigantic creatures like shoggoths, vampirish vapours or dark young, or hosts of horrors like ghoul packs or flocks of bat-things. Now, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that such encounters are more the province of pure narrative, or out of keeping with the mood of the game, but sometimes – especially in Pulp adventures – you want to be able to blow up the shoggoth by luring it onto Professor Frank’s experimental electrical generator.

These rules are (very) loosely inspired by the Ashen Stars space combat system and the Yellow King RPG rules.

At the start of an encounter, the players collectively choose one of the starting goals (Retreat, Drive Away/Break Through, Hide, Wound, or Lure). They then make ability tests as normal, trying to rack up successes collectively to meet the number required by a goal.

 

Goal Format

Here’s the format for goals.

Description. What you’re trying to do achieve by pursuing this goal.

Leads-In: What goals you need to achieve before attempting this one.

Leads-Out: What goals you can try for after completing this one.

Successes Required: How many successes you need to achieve this goal.

Abilities: What General Abilities can be used to score successes. One successful General Ability test grants one success.

The difficulty for these tests depends on the monster you’re fighting. In general

Human-size foes: Difficulty 4

Huge creatures: Difficulty 5-6

Cyclopean monsters: Difficulty 6-7

Great Old Ones: Difficulty 8+

Abilities may be tagged asRisky or Vulnerable.

Special: Any special rules that apply to this goal.

Effect: What happens if the group achieve their goal.

Risky & Vulnerable

If a character uses a Risky ability, then if that character fails, the monster gets to make an attack on that character.

If a character uses a Vulnerable ability, then that character gets attacked by the monster after the ability test, regardless of the outcome of the test.

The monster can attack as many times as opportunities present themselves – if six investigators attempt something Risky and fail, the monster gets to make six attacks.

Defending Others

Instead of making an ability test to accrue successes, an investigator can defend another investigator. This requires a test of Scufflingor Shooting; a kind Keeper might also allow the use of Athletics orDriving in some circumstances. Defending others is Risky – if the defender fails the test, they get attacked by the monster.

Switching Goals

If you change goal midway through an attempt, you lose all your accumulated successes. You can only switch to a starting goal.

Investigative Spends

If the player can justify it, an investigative spend might allow:

  • A different general ability to be used to generate successes towards the goal (I use Physics to tune the radio into the star vampire’s frequency – now I can lure it with Electrical Repair)
  • Increase the number of successes yielded by a successful test (Can I use Chemistry for a bigger bang from these Explosives tests?)

Armour and Vulnerabilities

Some Mythos entities are incredibly tough, or even immune to some forms of attack. Others are unusually vulnerable to a particular weapon or substance. Adjust the Difficulty for attacks using Shooting, Scuffling or Weapons as follows:

The monster’s magically vulnerable to this attack: -2

Low armour, big gun: -1

Most attacks: +0

High armour or partial immunity: +1

            Chances of injuring the monster are slim: +2

No chance of hurting monster: Ability cannot be used.

Example: (The Dunwich Horror) In the end the three men from Arkham—old, white-bearded Dr. Armitage, stocky, iron-grey Professor Rice, and lean, youngish Dr. Morgan—ascended the mountain alone. They began with the Hide goal, racking up some successes by trying to spot the invisible monster, then switched to Lure (“through the lenses were discernible three tiny figures, apparently running toward the summit as fast as the steep incline allowed.”) before finally attempting Banish on the mountain-top.

 

Tactical Goals

Flee

You’re trying to get the hell out of there! Everyone just turns and runs at top speed. It’s undignified, but it might keep you alive. Devil take the hindmost!

Leads-In: Any. You can switch to this goal at any time.

Leads-Out:

Successes Required: Successes are tracked individually. The first character to escape needs one success, the second needs two successes, the third needs three and so forth. Add one to the total needed if a character’s bringing a non-combatant along.

Abilities: Risky: Fleeing, Athletics

Special: You can reroll a failed test if you describe how your panicked retreat leads to some misfortune – you drop your weapon, you fall over a cliff, you get separated from the rest of the company.

Effect: You escape. There are no guarantees about your condition or situation when you make your escape – you may fainting, or get lost in the wilderness, or suffer some other humiliation – but at least you’re out of immediate danger.

 

Retreat

You intend to retreat in good order, staying together and leaving nobody behind.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: If you switch to Flee, you can keep half your accrued successes.

Successes Required: Two per investigator.

Abilities: Risky:Athletics, Stealth, Stability, Riding (to maintain discipline)

Vulnerable:Fleeing

If the group’s in a vehicle, then add Vulnerable: Driving, Piloting (but successes count double)

Effect: The group escapes the encounter with the monster.

 

Hide

You try to observe the monster

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: Retreat, Lure, Drive Away/Break Through

Successes Required: 0.

Abilities: Vulnerable: Shadowing, Sense Trouble, Preparedness

Special: You must move on from this goal once the enemy is aware of your presence.

Effect: You may apply half your successes from this goal to your next goal.

 

Drive Away/Break Through

You try to force your way past the enemy, or force the monster into briefly retreating.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: None or Wound

Successes Required: Target’s Health /4

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special:Track the number of natural 6s rolled during ability tests. If the group wishes to immediately attempt the Wound or Hold Out goals after completing this goal, they start with one success in Wound or Hold Out for every six rolled.

Effect: The monster retreats. Add another d6 successes to the number required if the investigators try for the same goal again in a future encounter.

 

Wound

You attempt to actually damage the monster.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: Maim, Retreat

Successes Required: Target’s Health/4

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special: If a character rolls a 1-2 on an ability test, their next action is automatically Vulnerable.

Effect: The monster’s hurt. This doesn’t affect the creature’s abilities, but it’s the first step in destroying the horror (and analysis of the ichor or blood spilled might provide vital clues).

Lure

You try to draw the monster towards a particular location.

Leads-In: None.

Leads-Out: Trap, Bind/Banish

Successes Required: 6

Abilities: Risky:Athletics, Shadowing, Riding

Effect: The monster follows the investigators to a particular location nearby.

Hold Out

You secure yourself in a safe, defensible place and try to hold out for as long as possible. This might involve barricading the entrances, securing all entry points, or trying to endure this monstrous siege.

Leads-In: Retreat, Drive Away/Break Through

Leads-Out: Trap

Successes Required: 4 per investigator

Abilities: Vulnerable:Electrical Repair,Mechanical Repair, Preparedness.

Effect: The investigators hold out until dawn, or until help arrives, or until the attackers depart.

Maim

You attempt to kill the monster. If dealing with a host of horrors, you try to slaughter the greater number of them.

Leads-In: Wound, Trap

Leads-Out: None

Successes Required: Target’s Health/2

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons, Explosives

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special: If a character rolls a 1-2 on an ability test, their next action is automatically Vulnerable and they cannot benefit from another investigator defending them.

Effect: The monster is destroyed, or at least discorporated.

Trap

You’re going to trap the monster in a physical or magical prison.

Leads-In: Lure, Hold Out

Leads-Out: Wound, Bind/Banish

Successes Required: 4; 6 if the monster is especially strong, fast, agile, can fly, or moves through alien dimensions; 8 if it falls into multiple categories

Abilities: Vulnerable:Athletics, Electrical Repair, Explosives, Magic, Mechanical Repair

Effect: The difficulty of tests in the next goal is reduced by 2.

Bind/Banish

You’re going to use eldritch sorcery or hypergeometry to dismiss the monster.

Leads-In: Lure, Trap.

Lure is only necessary if the monster can only be banished at a particular place (within a magical sigil, atop Sentinel Hill, in direct sunlight).

Trap is optional, but unless the monster is constrained, then it may be able to flee instead of being banished.

Leads-Out: What goals you can try for after completing this one.

Successes Required: Spell’s Inertia/2

Abilities: Vulnerable:Stability

Effect: As per the spell


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The Cost of Corruption: Sorcery in Swords of the Serpentine

Jul 4 2019

By Kevin Kulp

Along with political manipulation and potent social abilities, Swords of the Serpentine has four primary professions for your Hero: Warrior, Thief, Sentinel (think “city guard or inquisitor”), and Sorcerer. Let’s talk about that last one. If you’re wondering how you can rip a stone tower in two with a wave of your hand, or turn your defeated enemies inside-out just to horrify your remaining foes, read on.

Sorcery is Never “Nice”

“Sorcery is rare and dangerous, and seldom can be trusted. Sorcery corrupts and has a cost. Its rules and origins are little-known.” – A Swords of the Serpentine design mantra

Unless the GM decides otherwise, this game’s Sorcery (as in most swords and sorcery novels) is dark and dangerous. We wanted something that had bite to it, that was tremendously flexible (just as classic fantasy sorcery can be), that maintained a sense of wonder, and that relied heavily on player creativity and imagination. That said, I didn’t want rules that required their own sub-system. So how the heck do you allow for powerful magic that remains balanced with other GUMSHOE abilities?

The answer lies in both game mechanics and narrative fiction.

The Mechanics

Mechanically we pull this off with a General ability (Sorcery) and an Investigative ability (Corruption). You’ll use Sorcery like any other General ability; this is what you attack with, and a rank of 8 or more means that your attacks might affect more than one foe when you attack. In combat you’ll be spending Sorcery points to hurt your enemies, and then you’ll describe what those attacks look like by taking inspiration from your Spheres (see below).

Your Sorcerer has the Plant sphere. You attack a mercenary using the General ability Sorcery, successfully hit, and roll 5 points of damage (a number you could, but choose not to, increase at a cost). You describe how the vegetables this mercenary ate for lunch sprout in their stomach and send vines up their windpipe to choke them. You did enough damage to defeat them, so you describe how their corpse falls and quickly erupts into sessile vines. You leave it behind you as you head deeper into your enemy’s mansion.

The power of your Sorcerous potential is measured by your Corruption rank. Corruption is an Investigative ability, and the more ranks of Corruption you have the greater your potential for remaking the world around you. You can spend Corruption to do extra damage, or to create an effect that can’t be explained any other way. Stopping time, melting walls, flying – if the effect falls within your Spheres, you can spend Corruption (with the appropriate risks) and describe what happens on the spot. No spell preparation required. Of course, Investigative pool points like Corruption don’t refresh until the end of an adventure, so you’ll only be able to cast such powerful spells when it really counts.

You stand in a small city park and draw upon your Corruption points. You’re a plant Sorcerer, so you tell the GM that you’re animating every tree in the park and sending them to rip apart the front of the assassin’s guild stone by stone. You spend 2 points of Corruption (about right for a spell of this power that’s just meant to flush out your enemy in an incredibly showy way), psychically polluting the world around you as you do, and then follow the many trees down the street as you wait to pick off your fleeing foe.

A Hero with only 1 rank of Corruption but a high Sorcery rank has an excellent grasp of sorcerous dueling technique, but not much raw power. A Sorcerer with a high Corruption rank but not many points in sorcery can create incredible world-altering effects, but isn’t at all trained in combat. A Sorcerer skilled in both areas is one others probably find terrifying.

The Fiction

Your ability as a Sorcerer probably came from one of two sources. Did you encounter the ancient writings of the Serpentine folk, long-dead snake people who dwelled here thousands of years before humans arrived? If so, squirming writing leapt off a tablet and into your mind, where it coils and writhes and demands to be cast. If you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, this might be comparable to how Rincewind learned the impossibly powerful spells that he was in no way prepared to cast.

Or perhaps you made a deal with a small god or paid obeisance at a long-banished demon’s forgotten stone altar deep in the swamp. Now that unique entity has literally taken up residence within your soul, and in return for fear or prayer or respect, it grants you the ability to perform impossible magics. If you squint a little, Elric of Melnibone’s black soul-devouring sword Stormbringer could be compared to such a demon, granting Elric strength and power in exchange for victims.

[[[sidebar]]]

As I mentioned on social media recently, the only reason small gods and demons got included in the first place is so I had something snarky to roleplay in a voice only that player could hear.

Sorcerer player, to NPC: “Thanks, it’s been…”

Kevin, in a rising growl, RPing sorcerer’s demon: “Kill him! Flay him alive and dedicate his death to me, and I will promise you such delights as you can not conceive!”

Player: “…really nice to meet you. Shut up shut up shut up!”

NPC: “Wait, what, sorry?”

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Either way, now you have access to Sorcery. Your Sorcery affects either a victim’s Health (it physically hurts people) or their Morale (it terrifies or mentally exhausts them), decided when you create your Hero. You’ll have one or more Sorcerous Spheres: themes you can make up that affect what your Sorcery looks like and what it’s capable of. Everything you do involving Sorcery needs to be described by you as fitting within those Spheres.

For instance, let’s take inspiration from the classic Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser short story “Ill-Met in Lankhmar” by Fritz Lieber. You decide you want to play a Sorcerer similar to Hristimilo, allied to the thieves’ guild, and you choose to have your Sorcery affects Health. With 2 ranks of Corruption (see below), you claim the Rat and Smoke spheres. Every bit of magic you do needs to be described as involving rats or black, clinging city fogs; you might describe your attacks as your enemies being gnawed on by a host of vermin, or black smoke wreathed into a strangler’s noose around your enemy’s neck. You’re inflicting the same amount of damage with your attack either way, but how you describe it is all about style.

And frankly, that’s important. Swords of the Serpentine’s rules dictate how much damage your attack does, and then you describe that attack however you want.  We want Sorcery to feel unique and mysterious, different from person to person. Allowing players to define their own Sorcery’s nature helps.

You can use Sorcery (no roll required!) to describe anything you could do normally – the sorcerer above could use rats or foul black vapors to fling a door shut, since he or she could just as easily get up and close it the old-fashioned way – and you can attack with it safely. If you’re trying to find a lead or a clue related to Sorcery, you’ll never even need to roll or spend points for that. You only put yourself or others at risk when you want to create rules-breaking effects that couldn’t be created in the game any other way. You’ll create these more powerful effects by spending Corruption Investigative pool points (again, see below), and the results can be remarkable. If you had the Stone sphere, for instance, you could spend 3 or so Corruption points to literally rip a stone building in half.. handy when you’re bad at picking locks. But you won’t be creating fire, because that doesn’t have anything to do with stone.

There’s a cost to powerful magic. As we said, Sorcery is never a nice thing. The power is channeled from a corrupt, unnatural reality that sickens and distorts the area around it. When casting powerful spells and creating Corruption, it’s always your choice as to whether you pollute the area around you (hurting your allies’ Morale and creating spiritual pollution) or channel the Corruption into your own body (changing something small about your appearance). If you’ve ever wondered why swords & sorcery sorcerers wear cloaks and sometimes have unnatural appearances, like Ningauble of the Seven Eyes outside of Lankhmar, this would be why.

If you like the idea of Sorcery but hate the idea of Corruption, look at the Witchery variant. This allows you access to the spheres of Alchemy, Poison, Disease, Mesmerism, and the like without any risk of Corruption. There are other rules if you want to get fancy: true names you’ll bargain with unnatural entities for, death curses, and sorcerous items. At its heart, though, Sorcery allows you to create unique effects you can’t get any way else. Just remember that you’re going to have to pay the price in Corruption.


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, to be published in 2019. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

Pepys’ Broadsides

Jul 4 2019

A Bookhounds of London adventure seed by Adam Gauntlett

The Bookhounds are asked whether or not some broadside ballads found by a builder really belonged to famed diarist Samuel Pepys, only to discover that the ballads might get them killed.

Broadside Ballads

This information is a 0 point spend, Bibliography, History, Library Use or similar:

So called because they are printed on broadside sheets, these single-page narrative poems tell gossipy stories, spread political news, and promulgate scurrilous lies. Broadsides are early children of the printing press, popular from the 16th century, and reach their apogee in the 18th century. They’re cheap to make and easy to distribute, and though they’re very disposable some collectors prize them. Samuel Pepys was one.

Also a 0 point:

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was Chief Secretary of the Navy and a Member of Parliament, but he’s most famous for his Diaries, which tell a colloquial tale of London life during the Restoration. His book collection is justly famous, and was donated to Magdalene College, Cambridge, after his death. He once lived in a house on Axe Yard, near Downing Street; the exact address is unknown.

This information is a 1 point spend:

Pepys had a passion for order and conformity. He wanted a definite aesthetic look for his collection, and to achieve it he cut down ballads to the appropriate size for his albums, arranging his finds in identical album sets. He obsessively catalogued everything he collected, and his broadside collection was given to Magdalene College, along with the rest of his library.

Also a 1 point:

The Pepys Club, founded 1903 by a small group of Garrick Club members, is the best place to find out odd and obscure facts about the life of Samuel Pepys. Cultivating a member, say through a 2 point Flattery spend or similar, creates a 2-point dedicated pool concerning the life, times and loves of Samuel Pepys.

Bob Chapman’s Lucky Find

Bob’s a builder, a subcontractor for Bentley’s, a general contracting firm. While on the job – a renovation at Axe Yard, in Westminster – he ‘recovered’ some items from the rubble skip, including this old bag with funny papers in it. Is it worth anything?

Assess Honesty (0 point): Bob’s not lying, exactly, but he’s being very careful with the truth. He did get it from the Axe Yard job site, but not from the skip. It was hidden behind the wall he was meant to be repairing, and one careless swing with the sledgehammer revealed the hidden alcove. He knows his boss, Mr. Bentley, would take it for himself, if he knew about it. Bob admits as much, if pressed.

Bob Chapman, Lucky Builder: Athletics 6, Fleeing 6, Health 4, Scuffling 4; Architecture 1, Craft (Bricklaying) 1. Tall, slim, shock of curly black hair, eager as a puppy. “Well I’ll be blowed!”

Broadsides: This collection doesn’t conform to the Pepys standard. Pepys cut his sheets down to fit inside a leatherbound book approximately 340 by 358 mm, usually about 70 mm thick. Most of Bob’s find are older broadsides, which would have gone into Volume 1 of Pepys’ bound books. Bob’s find is unbound, uncut, stuffed loosely inside a battered leather folder. They could be papers Pepys didn’t bother to put into his main collection, but it’s difficult to imagine why, since Pepys was an obsessive collector. Condition’s not good, not after several centuries stuffed inside a damp wall alcove, but the ballads are interesting. Some are quite scurrilous tales about prancers [highwaymen], lascivious pricklouse [tailor, pejorative], roaring boys, and rigges [wanton women] playing with correl [toy dildoes]. Law (0 point): It’s just on the edge of prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act, but it would have been tame stuff for Pepys’ generation.

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 0 point: Some of the sheets have been annotated, whether by Pepys or someone else is anyone’s guess. Still, if it could be proved it was Pepys, the price goes up. Not that Bob realizes this …

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 1 point: The paper’s genuine and of the period. There’s odd insect pattern damage on some of the sheets, as if a collection of small spiders got caught between the pages and decayed there. No solid matter, just liquefied imprints on the paper.

Bargain gets it from Bob, cheaply. No spend, no broadsides. Filch gets the most interesting sheets, without Bob noticing.

Axe Yard

If the Hounds go to Axe Yard, they find the house Bob’s working on. Some of the twenty-five houses on this lane have already been swallowed up by the Government for offices, but the general outline of the Yard can still be seen. Nobody’s sure which of these would have been Pepys’ ‘poor little house.’

Streetwise or Sense Trouble Difficulty 5 notices a beggar hanging round near the skip, a pasty gent in ragged clothing, who retreats as soon as someone notices him. In a Fleeing contest his parting trick is to vanish down a drain or sewer outlet, leaving his clothes behind. There’s an odd, wet residue on the skip near where he stood – and a tiny, spidery creature that runs off quick.

Bentley’s Drama

However the negotiation with Bob goes, Bentley’s finds out about it, somehow. If Bob sold the papers, it’s because Bob talked too freely at the pub. If Bob didn’t sell, it’s because he blabbed to his foreman, bragging about how he’d get rich from his find.

Mr. Bentley is outraged. He thinks the Hounds put one over on Bob, and stole property that rightfully belongs to Bentley’s. Mr. Bentley is a devotee of the Pepys Club; one of the reasons he took this job was so he could work at Axe Yard. If Bob didn’t sell to the Hounds then Mr. Bentley now has the broadsides, and accuses the Hounds of stealing the best ones, when they inspected the bundle. If the Hounds have the broadsides, then he demands their return.

Mr. Bentley: Athletics 3, Filch 3, Health 6; Architecture 3 (Restoration era). Melancholic, pipe smoker, unkind to animals, especially cats. “Dear me! My solicitor will be here any second, and then you’ll be for it!”

If things get unpleasant. Mr. Bentley knows a lot of builders willing to do him a favor. Treat them as Rough Lads for combat purposes.

Further Examination

Several of the broadsides deal with Mythos subjects, in particular a series called ‘The Beggar’s Daughters.’ This is the most insect-stained and annotated set of broadsides, and there are four of them, all variations on the same theme. A pale, blind beggar has four daughters, all of whom wish to marry. They go out in search of swains, but their chosen beloved – the gallant young knight, the gentleman’s son, the merchant and the publican – are horrified on their wedding night, when they discover their pretty maids are not what they seem. The scenes at the church during the wedding are gruesome, but water damage makes the worst bits unreadable. Study confers 1 Mythos, concerning Eihort and its Brood.

Whoever collected this was making a study of variant Beggars in different broadsides, and drew a map on the back of one of them. The Knowledge realizes these are streets near the Hoop & Toy pub, Kensington. The Hoop & Toy, built 1760, is said to be haunted by five specters; priests, according to the legend. Their crypt, in the Hoop & Toy’s basement, was long forgotten until rediscovered, and destroyed, during the construction of the Circle underground tunnel in the 1870s. The ghosts wander eternally, looking for a way back to the church they once served. Occult spends can work out where the ghosts are most often seen, and what they look like – pale, nondescript people, with skin like wax. They leave a strange, wet residue wherever they go. The basement of the Hoop & Toy, it’s said, is alive with peculiar spiders.

The map on the broadside shows a church, where the Hoop & Toy currently stands.

The Ghastly Brood

Eihort’s strange children are the ‘ghosts’ at the Hoop & Toy. The crypt that the underground workers disturbed all those years ago once belonged to a blasphemous church which held strange ceremonies in its crypt, in honor of the Pale Beast. Those who wished to learn hideous secrets sought to parley with the creature, but Eihort is only interested in its Bargain, and spreading its Brood.

After the destruction of the church Eihort no longer visits its Fane, but its Brood remain. They use it as a kind of meeting place, where hundreds of thousands of Brood gather in the basement to mingle, and share secrets. Seeing this massive wave of Brood in one place is a Stability 5 challenge, possibly going as high as Stability 7 if the Brood attack.

The Brood are very interested in the broadsides, for one of several reasons:

  • They want to establish a final link with those of the Brood whose physical form became imprinted in the broadside paper.
  • They want to see if humans are still interested in making a Bargain with Eihort, as they did before.
  • They want to prevent anyone from finding the location of the Fane.

They will seek out the Beggar’s Daughters broadsides, injuring or killing the ones who have them, as needed.

The Last Word

It’s impossible to determine beyond question whether the broadsides, and their annotations, are Pepys’. However it’s a nice find, and counts as 1 point book stock, History (Restoration London).

Though Pepys was superstitious, he’s not known for being anything other than conventionally superstitious. Charms for luck, or against disease, yes. Rollicking battles against the Mythos, no. Still, they had peculiar notions in Pepys’ day. Perhaps that library at Magdalen is worth a visit, to see what Pepys really did believe …

The basement of the Hoop & Toy is a Fane, a place of power, and can be drawn on by necromancers and would-be magical power places. See Rough Magicks for further details. If not using Rough Magicks, assume the place provides 1 point of Magic potential/year, and can be used as a Megapolisomantic lever. Of course, the Brood will have something to say about that …

Bob the brickie would never bargain with Eihort, but Mr. Bentley might.

13th Age T-Shirt Slogan Competition

Jul 4 2019

Pelgrane Press has a new merchandise store, and soon you’ll be able to buy 13th Age merch there! Hurrah! To celebrate the store’s launch, we’re running a 13th Age t-shirt slogan competition:

  • Email your cleverest, funniest, and/or most badass 13th Age t-shirt slogan ideas to support@pelgranepress.com with the subject line “13th Age t-shirt competition”.
  • Only one entry per person: You can send us as many slogan ideas as you want, but they have to all be in one email.
  • Deadline for entries is 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time (GMT -7) on July 21, 2019
  • Each slogan must be 50 characters or less (not counting spaces).
  • You can submit slogans related to the 13th Age RPG in general, any of the 13 icons in the core book, and the 13th Age Alliance organized play program. Slogans that could be used for any d20-rolling fantasy RPG, not just 13th Age, are much less likely to be chosen as winners. (For example, slogans about traditional character classes and races, classic mechanics such as rolling for initiative, non-living dungeons, the joys of looting treasure, etc.)
  • The actual t-shirt designs only have images and text on the front, but for this contest, you can feel free to send us front-and-back slogans.
  • All entries to this competition become the property of Pelgrane Press.
  • After the July 21st deadline, the judges will evaluate the entries and award prizes as follows:
    • GRAND PRIZE: A $20 credit at the Pelgrane Press merchandise store
    • SECOND PRIZE: A $10 credit at the Pelgrane Press merchandise store
    • THIRD PRIZE: A $5 credit at the Pelgrane Press merchandise store
  • Winners will be announced in the August See Page XX newsletter.

We look forward to seeing your ideas!

 


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.

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