Jul 24 2017
Carnivals have always exuded a faint fetor of menace. Itinerant strangers come to town, some of them dressed as clowns, and try to trick you or exploit the basest depths of your curiosity. They exist to break down boundaries, give you permission to indulge, and then move on, leaving you, the seemingly innocent townsfolk, to reckon with what you got up to under the garish light of the midway.
When you set a scene in a Fear Itself, Trail of Cthulhu, or Esoterrorists scenario at a sideshow or circus, the players know to expect creepiness.
You know what the real story is. But what are the rumors the investigators encounter before parting the wrong curtain and finally beholding that terrible truth?
Here are 7 rumors for townsfolk and carnies to spout at the PCs before the real horror surfaces.
- “They did a test on the corn dogs and found that 1% of the contents were human flesh.”
- “Last year when the carnival came by Mamie Jones just up and vanished. The sheriffs caught up with them down in Dixville but they said they’d never laid eyes on her.”
- “Before the authorities clamped down on the freak show, they had an alligator man who was a little too real, if you know what I mean.”
- “Some of the most prominent people in our town worship the devil. And their high priest and priestess are the owners of this carnival, who travel from place to place renewing the vows of apparently ordinary folk to Satan himself.”
- “They stopped using their old Ferris wheel. Ten years one of the cars came loose and a girl fell to her death. That old ride was haunted. People who rode by themselves would sometimes look over and see her, weeping gluey tears from her faceless head. I don’t suppose a ghost could transfer from an old Ferris wheel to a new one, could it?”
- “Last year one of the roustabouts lost an eye in a bar fight. Guys from the local mill started it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some bloody revenge broke out later tonight.”
- “A friend of my cousin’s went into that hall of mirrors back in the 90s. He stepped outside and he coulda sworn he was in the 1890s! He turned around and ran back in and says he can’t even look at a mirror nowadays.”
And as always, if the players care more about a tall tale than they do about the main plot line, why maybe it’s not so untrue after all…
Jul 21 2017
In the latest episode of their peripatetic podcast, Ken and Robin talk Tour de Lovecraft: the Destinations, laconic GMing, narrative sharing and the Chicago Phantom.
Jul 19 2017
Jul 18 2017
The ENnie award nominations have been announced, and the voting booth is open.
The ENnies are annual awards which celebrate and reward the year’s best roleplaying game releases. They are run by ENworld – a huge and popular forum devoted primarily to roleplaying games. Each year at Gen Con they host a ceremony which acknowledges and rewards that year’s roleplaying game highlights. As with many awards the recipients get more excited about them than the customers who buy the products. But we are recipients, and this article is about our excitement!
First the judges examine all the entries to select the nominees, then it goes to a popular vote.
There are six Pelgrane and five Pelgrane-adjacent nominations. The Edom Files, a collection of Dracula Dossier adventures gets a nod for Best Adventure. Timewatch, written by Kevin Kulp is nominated for Best Game and Product of the Year. The Book of Changing Years, a multi-author in-world journal for TimeWatch is up for Best Writing. Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan wrote Swords Against the Dead and The Van Helsing Letter, a 13th Age and Night’s Black Agents adventure which is nominated as Best Free Product, and is available as part of the KWAS and 13th Age Monthly subscriptions. Pelgrane is the executive producer of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff– a multi-award winning podcast.
Our friends at Evil Hat published the GUMSHOE-powered teen detective roleplaying game Bubblegumshoe, and it’s received an amazing four nominations. Many props to Emily Care Boss, Kenneth Hite, and Lisa Steele.
Finally, Campaign Coins produced the beautiful 13th Age Icon Tokens.
The Edom Files (Pelgrane Press)
13th Age Icon Tokens (Campaign Coins)
Best Family Game
Bubblegumshoe (Evil Hat)
Best Free Product
Free RPG Day Flipbook – Swords Against the Dead and The Van Helsing Letter (Pelgrane Press)
The Book of Changing Years (Pelgrane Press)
Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff
Bubblegumshoe (Evil Hat)
Jul 17 2017
In a previous post I laid out the basics of Shock and Injury cards in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game (now on Kickstarter.)
Let’s now dive in a bit more detail into the way certain of the cards evoke the sense of a multi-step recovery.
Like anything in GUMSHOE, they emulate the way things work in fictional stories, rather than simulating reality. Often in a genre narrative the hero will be in a hospital bed in one scene, limping in the next, and basically as capable as ever after another little while.
YKRPG handles this with cards that replace the full discard with a trade. You fulfill a condition and get a less onerous card, but aren’t out of the woods yet.
An example appears on the card you receive when your character gets shot.
This, you will note, is a card the player will want to deal with rather than leave in hand.
On the Mend belongs to a class of staple cards. It represents a step down from a number of worse Injury cards.
An equivalent Shock card is Unease; among the more serious Shocks that require you to trade for it is Dread.
With YKRPG cards the fun often lies in the way specialized cards break from established formulas.
After your players have grown used to getting Shot, winding up In the Blast Radius or suffering from Massive Injuries, and then trading down to On the Mend, they might see it as a bit of a curveball when one of them receives this:
And then trading down to this:
We’ve all seen TV episodes where the hero who leapt out of his hospital bed does well for a while, then collapses. The cards allow you to emulate that—but only in specific circumstances, unlike a wound track hard-coded into the core rules.
Sometimes wounds work one way, sometimes another—just as they do in serialized genre storytelling.
Jul 17 2017
By ASH LAW
In this series by ASH LAW, we feature two different builds for every 13th Age character class, at all levels. ASH suggests how the builds might be used, and offers tips on playing each character. Stats are based on the point-buy method, and the characters have no non-standard elements.
This time, we look at two different takes on the Cleric.
The Cleric is the core of most adventuring groups, able to heal and buff their fellow adventurers, while laying the hurt on enemies.
The 13TH AGE Cleric has some interesting wrinkles to the class—things like spells that can be cast for power or for broad effect, invoking domains, and a resurrection spell with an increasing cost.
The cleric has only two class features. Firstly, you get to cast the spell heal twice per battle as a quick action. You can take extra healing spells, but all clerics can heal as a class feature.
Secondly just like the wizard class you get ritual casting, letting you cast spells as more powerful and unusual versions of themselves if you take an hour or so and make some skill checks.
HEALING TANK CLERIC
Download the Healing Tank Cleric character sheets here.
This cleric build is focused on healing and buffing party members, and on devastating melee combat. Hammer of faith and the Strength Domain are used to bolster attacks, with buff spells cast for wide effect so the cleric can benefit from them too. This cleric probably serves a god or goddess of battle, or the chief deity of a pantheon.
All your healing is more powerful, and when you use your daily invocation you get an extra use of heal.
Wield big weapons without penalty, and invoke to give you and your allies x3 damage with crits. The feats give you extra damage once per battle on a hit.
Allies get a bonus to attack enemies that you make melee attacks against, invoke to increase the escalation die.
Aasimar get a halo which helps protect them in battle, useful for a melee-focused cleric. Aasimar also play thematically into a touched-by-the-divine origin.
Wisdom and Strength are paramount, so including bonuses from race and class we get: Str 18 (+4) Con 14 (+2) Dex 10 (0) Int 8 (-1) Wis 18 (+4) Cha 8 (-1).
Attributes: Str 18 (+4) Con 14 (+2) Dex 10 (0) Int 8 (-1) Wis 18 (+4) Cha 8 (-1).
Racial Power: Halo
Talents: healing domain, strength domain, war domain
Spells: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith, shield of faith
New spells (1st level: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith, shield of faith, turn undead), new feat (healing domain).
New spells (1st level: shield of faith, turn undead / 3rd level: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith), new feat (strength domain).
+1 to three attributes (Strength, Constitution, Wisdom), new spells (1st level: turn undead / 3rd level: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith, shield of faith, mighty healing), new feat (war domain).
New spells (3rd level: shield of faith, turn undead / 5th level: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith, mighty healing), new feat (strength domain).
New spells (3rd level: turn undead / 5th level: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith, mighty healing, shield of faith, sphere of radiance), new feat (healing domain).
+1 to three attributes (Strength, Constitution, Wisdom), new spells (5th level: turn undead, shield of faith / 7th level: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith, mighty healing, sphere of radiance) new feat (halo).
New spells (5th level: turn undead / 7th level: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith, mighty healing, sphere of radiance, shield of faith, resurrection), new feat (strength domain).
New spells (7th level: resurrection, turn undead / 9th level: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith, mighty healing, sphere of radiance, shield of faith), new feat (healing domain).
+1 to three attributes (Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma), new spells (7th level: resurrection / 9th level: bless, cure wounds, hammer of faith, mighty healing, sphere of radiance, shield of faith, turn undead, prayer for readiness), new feat (mighty healing).
Jul 14 2017
Ken and Robin talk for the 250th time, which can only mean… LIGHTNING ROUND!!!
Jul 13 2017
As those who’ve read the preview draft of the Yellow King Roleplaying Game (available to all backers of its Kickstarter) already know, its iteration of GUMSHOE takes a new approach to the emotional and physical wounds horror characters suffer in the course of their exploits.
When something debilitating happens to your character you receive Shock cards, which result from mental hazards, or Injury cards, which you can get either when attacked in combat, or when you wind up on the wrong side of other sources of physical harm: fire, artillery shells, falls from balconies and the like.
When you receive either a third Shock card or a third Injury card, your character is either dead or otherwise irreparably damaged and out of the game.
You can however have 1 Shock card and 2 Injuries or vice versa and still continue.
So instead of losing a resource you want to hold onto (like hit points, or Health and Stability in other GUMSHOE games), you’re getting stuck with a thing you want to get rid of.
Whether you’re engaged in a fight or dodging harm by making Composure, Health or Athletics tests, these cards come in pairs: Minor and Major.
If you do poorly in a fight, you will get the Major Injury your foe deals out, unless you pay a toll of pool points keyed to the foe’s relative strength. Then you get a Minor Injury card.
When you do well in a fight, you might still get nicked—taking a Minor Injury unless you pay the toll.
Here are the Minor and Major cards you might wind up with after a fight with violent fellow students—an all too common problem in 1895 Paris.
(Note: prototype only. Ace graphic designer Christian Knutsson’s final versions will look much better than mine.)
Against an impersonal hazard or mentally stressful situation, you take a Minor Injury if you fail the test by 2 or less, or a Major card when you fail by more than 2.
Here’s the Minor and Major cards you might take after failing the Composure test that comes when, for the first time in your life, someone tries to murder you:
The text of a card probably imposes some sort of negative consequence on your character. Although just having a card is bad, because you’re one step closer to some sort of doom.
The card often, but not always, includes a discard condition, telling you what you have to do to get rid of it. Sometimes it requires you to do something on the mechanical side, like receive a successful First Aid test performed by another player, or score a failure on another test in the future. Or it can require you to do something in the story: punch somebody, go indulge in a vice, or kill the creature who did this to you.
A card without a discard condition leaves your hand only at the end of the scenario.
When a Shock or Injury changes you permanently, possibly irrevocably, it becomes a Continuity card. Until you somehow discard it, it stays with you from one scenario to the next.
And those are your basics. Just those few elements allow for a huge range of possibilities and surprises in play.
At this moment the stretch goal up for grabs on the Kickstarter is for Card Design Workshop, a section in the GM advice chapter of This is Normal Now that will help you design new cards from these basics.
In a future post or two I’ll go into some examples in detail, unveiling some of my favorite cards—including ones that will be new even to careful perusers of the current preview draft.
Jul 12 2017
The elements of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game Game currently exciting folks who’ve read the preview version are its new, quick, player-facing combat system and the alluring status effects of its Shock and Injury cards.
What players who take part in your campaign will most remember about are the interconnections their different characters experience between the game’s four variously shattered realities.
How this works can be a little hard to spot in the preview version, because the key bits appear in the character generation rules for the three later segments: The Wars, Aftermath, and This is Normal Now. Their simple elements create an emergent dynamic in play. Once it happens, any GM capable of basic improv will see what’s going on, react accordingly, and before you know it, you’ll see all the possibilities for an epic, player-driven arc flower before your Yellow Sign-besotted eyes. Trust yourself, and the tools provided to you by the game, and when you need it to turn on, the light bulb will turn on.
I’ll be getting at this more directly in the finished books with additional detailed GM guidance, thanks to the room supplied by a recently-toppled stretch goal.
But for the moment, let’s look at a bit of actual play from my own in-house game.
A couple of weeks back we switched settings for the second time, moving on from The Wars to the Aftermath segment.
As previously described, the versions of the characters fighting The Wars were bedeviled by awful fox creatures. They were introduced into the arc by a player who made a creepy fox part of her Damned Peculiar Thing. Each player supplies this vignette of haunted backstory during character creation.
(The foxes do not appear in the books. Rather than supply you prefab foxes to creep out your players, the game gives you a mechanism encouraging players to make up their own equivalents.)
Now another player—admittedly one who has just joined us and has a more sanguine attitude about the foxes—brought them back in with this segment’s equivalent of the Damned Peculiar Thing. When he described his Worst Memory, as a flashback from the successful revolution the heroes of Aftermath recently fought in, there were the foxes, grinning at him and eating people.
Needless to say this provoked a degree of groaning from other players.
But what kind of continuity doesn’t from time to time bring back its big bad in a new guise and context?
That’s basically what you’re shooting for—the idea that elements from past segments show up as Easter eggs in the current one. They may remain as cool references, or return to occupy center stage once more.
The last session of The Wars began to heavily suggest the interleaving of the settings. While house-to-house fighting raged overhead, the squad met a villain from 1895 and some weirdly modern opponents in the sewers of Marseille.
Whether this reality leakage becomes a big element of Aftermath or fades into the scenery for a while depends on what feels right as we explore this new reality and the similar-but-different set of characters.
Seeing the fox move, another member of my crew decided to try it in reverse. He figured that he could introduce into dialogue the fact that they’d killed an antagonist from the first few segments. He said that they’d killed an enemy clearly meant to be the vampire who scared and frustrated both in Paris and The Wars.
Of course, this was a throwaway line of dialogue, not part of his character creation.
I guess that completely stymies me because there’s no possible way as GM I can think how to bring back a vampire the heroes think they’ve bumped off. He couldn’t think that the vampire is dead but turn out to be wrong about that. Nope, the beginning of every Hammer Dracula movie offers me no guidance whatsoever.
On the other hand, I could let this stand for this segment, as a change of pace and establish that she really is dead in this go-round.
As I said, the way it unfolds will become apparent by doing.
Just don’t tell the players who had to be absent that night about the foxes…
Jul 7 2017
…or so concluded Melissa Gay, artist for The Wars, one of the four books conjuring the interwoven, skewed realities of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game (now on Kickstarter.)
Technically I asked Melissa to draw not an ornithopter but an odanathopter, as this aircraft from the weird battle zones of Europe’s 1947 Continental War is called a dragonfly.
I supplied Melissa with the decription from the game:
This helicopter equivalent consists of a glassed-in cockpit divided into two bubbles recalling the eyes of its eponymous insect. A segmented body section houses up to eight soldiers. Combat dragonflies have mounted machine guns for gunners to strafe the battlefield. These do not appear for craft detailed for medical or cargo use. Special grabbers attached to the bottom of the fuselage allow for added cargo. The dragonfly’s four wings flap up and down, granting it flight in either vertical or horizontal mode. Each wing consists of a wrought iron frame into which dozens of stained glass panels are fitted. These panels are made from levitation glass, a Carcosan technology. The dragonfly’s great maneuverability comes at the cost of fragility: dragonflies are vulnerable to small arms fire and crash all too frequently.
Melissa prepared this visual to show her preparation for the illustration:
Her model turned into the following piece, in which dragonflies take fire from one of the highly ornamented artillery pieces typical of this conflict.
Note the Yellow Sign on the fuselage, drawing energies from the King in Yellow’s realm to power the levitation glass.
When Melissa came on board the project I created a mood board of references, prominently featuring war art of the 20th century. When giving artists inspiration like this, you’re hoping that they’ll pick up on a color palette and an emotional quality. You don’t expect them to so fully immerse them in the style that they replicate it and then make it their own, but that’s exactly what Melissa has done here.
Our current stretch goal is a 13th Age crossover. After backers put that away, the next one in the queue will see Melissa converting some of her concept sketches into schematic’s for the war’s alternate reality battle machinery.