Feb 17 2017
In the latest episode of their imperious podcast, Ken and Robin talk connecting with other players, CIA files, political thrillers and Emperor Norton.
Feb 16 2017
Feb 16 2017
Win one of three signed limited editions of Cthulhu Confidential!
GUMSHOE One-2-One is designed for a GM and one player who investigates Mythos mysteries solo. We want to know which fictional character YOU would most like to star as in a One-2-One adventure!
So, tell us who you’d One-2-One with and why in under 100 words (or 140 characters on Twitter), and our judges will choose winners to receive a signed, numbered, limited edition copy of Cthulhu Confidential.
We asked the Pelgranistas—as well as some friends of Pelgrane—which characters they’d most like to have a GUMSHOE One-2-One with. You can read their answers here for inspiration.
You can enter in one or more of the following places:
- Post in the comments below. Be sure to include your email address. Comments are moderated, so your idea might be have been pipped by someone else, even though you can’t see it.
- Post in the comments on this thread on Facebook
- Tweet with the hashtag #MyOne2One.
- You can enter once on each channel, as long as each answer is a different character.
- If there are duplicate characters in each channel, or across channels, any submissions after the first will not be considered.
- The competition will close on 28th February 2017.
- Additional rules for Pelgrane Press competitions can be found here.
Feb 15 2017
by Mike Shea
For many of us, the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons was an excellent refinement of the tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs) we’ve enjoyed for 30 years. For some of us, it was our first exposure to D&D in any form. If 4th Edition wasn’t your bag, there are probably other reviews of 13th Age that will serve you better. Today we’re going to talk in particular about what 13th Age means for a 4th Edition D&D player and dungeon master.
Like 4th Editon, 13th Age is a tabletop fantasy roleplaying game by Rob Heinsoo, one of the developers of 4th Edition D&D, and Jonathan Tweet, one of the developers of the 3rd Edition of D&D. 13th Age is their love letter to the game they (and many of us) love dearly.
The world of tabletop RPGs has changed greatly over the past couple of years. With D&D Next on the horizon and Kickstarter giving birth to loads of new high quality RPGs, we have a whole new landscape of game systems and worlds to explore. For a 4th Edition player, however, 13th Age brings the most familiar elements of the game we love while smoothing out the rough edges. If you loved 4th Edition, you’ll definitely want to take a look at 13th Age.
Here are a few reasons why a 4th edition player might enjoy 13th Age.
Empowered Characters with Lots of Options
As a 4e player or GM, much of 13th Age will feel familiar to you. As in 4e, characters in 13th Age begin as empowered heroes, even at level 1. Level 1 characters are tough. They represent the heroes of the world, not just farmers with swords. Level 1 characters have a good amount of choices to make, many of which feel like your traditional 4th edition character powers. Unlike the core set of 4th Edition classes, character classes in 13th Age won’t feel similar. The classes in 13th Age follow a track of complexity from the simple and straightforward barbarian to the detailed and complicated bard. The complexity of your preferred play style will dictate which classes you’re likely to want to play.
Like 4th Edition, 13th Age includes a robust list of feats which will feel familiar to you —with one exception. Many of your feat choices focus directly on specific powers so you can improve the parts of your character you use and enjoy the most.
The level spread in 13th Age will seem quite different from what you’re used to seeing in 4th Edition. There are only ten levels in 13th Age, but these levels span the full range of power you’d expect in a PC. A level 10 13th Age character will feel a lot like a mid-epic character in 4th Edition. This has the effect of matching spell levels to character levels and ensures that characters get a lot of interesting new things every time they level.
Backgrounds, Not Skills
4e players will find 13th Age’s background system to be a bit different from the rigid skill lists we’re used to in D&D. In 13th Age, skills are abstracted into large pools that form a character’s background. For example, the “Advisor of the Royal Court of the Dragon Emperor” background would bundle up a bunch of potential skills such as history and diplomacy while also tying the PC closer to the game world. These backgrounds serve both to define your character and as an open-ended skill system. It’s a refreshing difference.
Tactical Combat and Distance Abstraction
With 4e’s focus on combat, 13th Age’s combat system will be one of the biggest aspects on which 4e players will focus. The basic mechanics of combat in 13th Age will be very familiar to 4e players: Roll a 20, add a modifier, check it against a defense. The defenses in 13th Age are simplified to AC, Physical Defense, and Mental Defense but act the same as AC, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will defenses. Attack and defense modifiers go up every level instead of every other level, which fits the power growth of PCs in 13th Age across its ten character levels.
You’ll notice that damage scales up quite a bit in 13th Age as well. Melee attacks add an additional die of damage every level and lower level spells can be memorized at higher levels to increase their damage and effectiveness. This spell progression will look odd to many D&D players since you lose lower level spell slots as you gain higher level ones. It makes sense as soon as you see that Magic Missile can be memorized at level 9 for a whopping 10d6 damage.
Unlike 4e’s focus on gridded tabletop combat, 13th Age is designed to be played with or without maps and miniatures. 13th Age abstracts distances instead of using squares or feet for movement and ranges. Instead of “5 squares,” 13th age uses terms like “nearby,” “far away,” “grouped,” and “engaged” to describe distance. Spells and effects use these same terms. Effects that hit more than one creature usually use a term such as “1d3 nearby enemies” so you don’t have to worry about exact positioning.
On the surface, one might think that 13th Age’s distance abstraction would make it a poor choice for maps and miniatures. It turns out that’s not true at all. 13th Age is a fantastic system for playing with maps, minis, and terrain. One could certainly not use the adjective “tactical” to describe such combat but the freeform abstract nature of 13th Age combat ends up opening up a lot of fun possibilities. If a player wants to use a large miniature to represent “the largest woman in the world,” doing so doesn’t hose up combat. Who cares how big a miniature is when squares aren’t important? Want to use that gargantuan black dragon “miniature” to represent the dragon who’s only “large?” Go for it!
There’s one other mechanical component of 13th Age combat worth noting — the escalation die. 4e battles can take 60 to 90 minutes to run, and this was well known by Rob and Jonathan when they wrote 13th Age. The escalation die helps ensure that battles speed up the more rounds go by. Every round after the first, all PCs get +1 to attack on all attacks. This is represented by a six-sided die on the one position. Every additional round, the die and the bonus increases by one. This increase ends up ensuring PCs begin to hit more and more as the battle goes on. It’s a built in system for speeding up fights the longer they go on. Some PC powers and even powerful monsters trigger interesting effects based on the escalation die as well.
All of these refinements to the tactical combat we found and loved in 4th edition end up making 13th Age combat fast, furious, and fun.
Icon Relationships and the One Unique Thing
13th Age adds quite a few other features to catch our eye including icon relationships and each PC’s one-unique-thing. There really isn’t a similar construct in 4th edition to compare these to. Rather than describe these features here, take a look at Rob Donohue’s 13th Age review and my own 13th Age review on Critical Hits to learn more about them.
For the Game Master
So far we’ve covered much of what a 4e player will find interesting in 13th Age but there is a lot of love for game masters as well. 13th Age follows 4th Edition’s approach of treating monsters completely differently from PCs. 13th Age monsters have simple stat blocks designed to make them easy to run at the table. 13th Age also includes easy-to-use tables for improvised damage and quick monster math, something those of us who fell in love with page 42 of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide are sure to use.
Because 13th Age abstracts many of the game elements we’re used to seeing well refined in 4th Edition D&D, a GM running 13th Age is given much more authority and responsibility to make rulings instead of following codified rules. How far is “far away?” Can a PC use that particular background for that particular scene? How will an icon relationship manifest in tonight’s adventure? The GM must adjudicate each of these questions directly and must wield that responsibility well to ensure the game is fun for everyone.
Using 13th Age to Houserule 4e
Beyond being a full game system, 13th Age can also act as a set of well-designed house rules you can drop right into your 4th edition game. Want battles to go a little faster? Add the escalation die. Want to abstract the skill system? Add in 13th Age’s backgrounds. Want to tie PCs closer to the main NPC drivers of your campaign? Add in the icon system. Any of these components plug right into 4e with hardly any core changes to 4e.
A Refinement of the Game We Love
It’s clear that Rob and Jonathan love D&D as much as we do. They poured that love into a game that showcases the parts of 4th edition D&D we loved the most and helps polish down the rough edges. While 4e’s combat encounters ended up monopolizing much of the time we played, 13th Age slims combat down without removing PC empowerment and adds in story elements sure to entertain us for years to come.
Even if you have no intent of leaving your 4e games behind, 13th Age has a lot to offer. Give it a try.
About The Author
Mike Shea is a writer, gamer, technologist, and webmaster for the D&D website Sly Flourish. Mike has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and wrote the books Sly Flourish’s Dungeon Master Tips and The Lazy Dungeon Master. Mike lives in Vienna, Virginia with his gamer wife Michelle and their gamer dog Jebu.
Feb 13 2017
I acknowledge that the Forensic Entomology ability, as seen in The Esoterrorists, can be hard to love. It’s icky and creepy.
And that’s what’s good about it.
Also a favorite of forensics procedural shows, for exactly that reason, I included it as a separate item in The Esoterrorists precisely because it dovetails so well with the horror genre.
Yet it can be hard to come up with new uses for the skill in scenarios.
Once you’ve used the old saw of timing the cause of death of a corpse from the state of the maggots and flies infested the flesh, where do you go?
Sure, you can have a victim infested with a bug or parasite that only comes from certain areas. For example, a body found in a non-tropical environment could show the distinctive flesh-eating qualities of leishmaniasis. The protozoans responsible for this body horror get into people via sandfly bites. That core clue could lead you to discover that the victim recently returned from the cursed city of a monkey god. (You’re all itching to point out that leishmaniasis is not nearly as uncommon as the article implies, with 12 million victims around the world at any time. But hey, when you’re proving there’s a monkey god curse, you have to take what nature gives you to work with.)
But here’s another great ghoulish detail: the apparent blood spatter at your crime scene could turn out to be nothing more than fly spit.
Once your character uses the test described in that last link, she can exonerate the innocent family member accused of a gruesome slaying on the basis of that falsely identified blood spatter.
Having ruled that out, you can then move on to hunt down the Outer Dark Entity that really committed the crime. Maybe it specializes in framing victims, and impelled the flies to spit in a particularly incriminating manner.
Whether you go that far or not, this kind of test is all in a day’s work for our nation’s undersung heroes, the forensic entomologists.
Feb 10 2017
In the latest episode of their always sagacious podcast, Ken and Robin talk player idiot plotting, Trumped Republicans, 30s L.A. gangland and the blood of Atlantis.
Feb 6 2017
There are a lot of books in the pipeline right now, but none of them are quite cooked yet, so here’s a little bit of whimsy before the cannon of self-promotion is brought to bear on this space. As you know, Bob, Icons are a lovely little mechanic from 13th Age that model the player characters’ relationships with various powerful individuals/factions – the Archmage, the Emperor, the Lich King and so forth. (There’ll be lots of new – or rather, old – Icons in the upcoming Book of Ages, but I said I’d save the self-promotion).
We’ve adapted Icons to other GUMSHOE games before – here’s Ken talking about Icons in Night’s Black Agents, and in the Dracula Dossier, and in Trail of Cthulhu, and now that I think about it I should really do a set for Cthulhu City (more self-promotion – for shame!). They work especially well, though, in the wild and vasty space of the Bleed in Ashen Stars.
Quick rules reminder. Each player gets three Relationship dice to allocate among the Icons. Relationships can be positive, negative or conflicted. At the start of each session, everyone rolls their Icon Relationships (d6s); a 6 indicates that that Icon is going to get worked into the adventure somehow in a way that benefits the player, and a 5 means that things are complicated and messy. And, given this is Ashen Stars, a spend from an appropriate Investigative Ability like Cybe Culture gives a re-roll for the matching relationship.
Rasal, The Practitioner
Coordinator of the Combine’s reconstruction and redevelopment projects, Rasal embodies the distant, technocratic civilisation in its efforts to reclaim the Bleed. Rasal makes little effort to hide his distaste for the rough, chaotic region, and makes as many trips back to the safety of the Proper as he can. Whenever he returns, though, he brings vast resources – both financial and technological – to help solve the problems of these war-torn stars.
Allies: The Viceroy, the Princess in Exile, the Merchant
Enemies: The Rebel, The Transer
Judy Coyle, The Viceroy
The commander of Ossa One, the Special Legate to the Far Settlements is in charge of keeping law and order in the Bleed. She’s responsible for licensing Laser crews, as well as commanding the Combine naval forces in the region. Coyle must balance her loyalty to her distant superiors in the Ministry of Settlement to the needs of the local worlds.
Allies: The Practitioner, Grand Arbiter Koket, the Merchant
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, The Seeker, the Rebel
Azela Shaw, The Rebel of the Bleed
The most outspoken of the Bleedists, Shaw is a former naval officer who now rejects Combine control of the region. She’s proved to be a formidable organiser, rallying the disparate groups and worlds that oppose the Combine into an ad hoc alliance. Coyle claims that Shaw’s rumoured criminal connections taint the whole alliance, but Shaw’s allies dismiss such claims as Combine mudslinging.
Allies: The Healer, the Merchant, The Transer
Enemies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur
The Master of the Plunderbund
The Plunderbund is a syndicate of criminal gangs, pirates, thieves, unscrupulous mercenaries and shady corporations – a shadow economy, even a shadow government, slithering into the gaps left by the shattered Combine. The Plunderbund, for all its many faults, gets things done – if you need something, they can get it for you, but at a high price. The mysterious Master of the Plunderbund is an elusive figure, and may be the figurehead for a ring of crime lords.
Allies: The Rebel, The Princess in Exile, the Connoisseur
Enemies: The Viceroy, The Merchant, Grand Arbiter Koket
Klaadarr, The Seeker
The stagnant, sterile Combine is a secular realm, devoid of spirituality. The Bleed, though, is afire with mystic revelation and revitalized nufaiths. New religions – or resurrected old ones – boil across the stars, finding eager converts and fanatical followers on worlds desperate for something to believe in now that the Combine is gone. Into this tumult comes the Seeker, an alien prophet of all Nufaiths and none, who claims that that God can be found in the Bleed. Listen to him – he’s right.
Allies: The Transer, the Healer
Enemies: The Meddler, the Pracitioner
Anacar Inatuy, The Merchant
Inatuy and her corporate allies made their fortune in the Bleed in the chaotic years after the war. There is still unimaginable wealth to be made out here, in the wild frontier, as long as they can thread a course between the stultifying control of the Combine and the apocalyptic chaos of a galaxy without law or justice. Of course, moral ambiguity is very much within the Merchant’s wheelhouse.
Inatuy is merely the most visible member of a cabal of corporate magnates and industrialists; the Connoisseur remains aloof from this cabal, and while he may be wealthier than any one of them individually, they vastly outmatch him as a group.
Allies: The Pracitioner, The Rebel, the Princess in Exile
Enemies: The Healer, The Connoisseur, the Transer, the Master of the Plunderbund
Starwind, The Healer (Balla)
Starwind led an exodus of Balla artists, scientists and adventurers out of Combine space to settle in the Bleed. Her movement seeks to channel Balla emotional energy into healing and remaking the galaxy, instead of suppressing it. Her followers – the Chorus – have the potential to accomplish wonders, but might equally drag the Bleed down with them into madness.
Allies: The Transer, the Viceroy, the Seeker
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Rebel
Grand Arbiter Koket (Tavak)
Koket is a legend back in the Combine – a decorated general, an accomplished philosopher, and a legal scholar who helped shape the decisions of the Combine Bench for decades. He was rumoured to be a candidate for Chief Justice, but instead chose to travel to the Bleed instead. While semi-retired, he retains his status as a judge, and serves as arbiter or investigator in especially complex or controversial cases.
Allies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Transer
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Princess in Exile
Krtch-Ick, The Connoisseur (Kch-thk)
Krtch-Ick is an immensely wealthy Kch-thk; he made his fortune back during the Mohilar War in dubious circumstances, and moved to the Bleed to evade Combine jurisdiction. He collects all manner of things – new foodstuffs, alien artefacts, “interesting people”, wrecked starships, military hardware. Whole planets, on occasion.
He owns corporations too – among his assets is the Freedom Egg, a Bleed-wide media conglomerate that broadcasts news and entertainment across the region. Krtch-Ick’s word can shape opinion throughout the Bleed, so rumours that he’s becoming more unstable with each reincarnation worry the authorities.
Allies: The Rebel, the Seeker, the Master of the Plunderbund
Enemies: The Merchant, the Viceroy
Ukshqnza, The Princess in Exile (Durugh)
The death of martyred King Ukshqa and the Mohilar War transformed Durugh society. The old police state hierarchy collapsed, leaving their civilisation in a state of near-anarchy. Princess Ukshqnza was one of the few members of the king’s immediate family who escaped the chaos. She fled to the Bleed with an entourage of loyalists – not to mention several warships, a large portion of the Durugh state coffers, and (allegedly) a complete copy of the fabled Silent Gallery, the archive of Durugh espionage and blackmail. While the Durugh are now part of the Combine and Ukshqnza has no official standing, many Durugh see her as their ruler in exile, and the Combine look warily at her as a rallying symbol for Durugh separatists in the Bleed. At the same time, her combination of military force and unmatched intelligence-gathering capabilities make her a vital ally to Combine forces trying to keep order in wild space.
Allies: The Practitioner, the Master of the Plunderbund, the Meddler
Enemies: Grand Arbiter Koket, the Transer
Remaker, The Transer (Cybe)
The military records that might have identified who Remaker was before she was transformed were lost in the war. She emerged onto the political scene in the Bleed full-formed like Athena, as the champion of a wide-ranging coalition of cybe veterans. Remaker’s allies include mercenary legions and charitable foundations, cybe researchers and prophets, raiders and lasers alike – wherever one finds cybes, there too are her followers. Her avowed goal is to establish an independent cybe state in the Bleed; rumours connect her to illegal experimentation in creating new cybes, and some claim that her secret aim is to transform the entire population of the Bleed into her mind-slaves.
Allies: The Rebel, The Healer, the Seeker
Enemies: The Viceroy, The Practitioner
The Meddler (Vas Mal)
The mysterious Meddler is a Vas Mal who retained considerably more of his cosmic awareness than the rest of his kind. He can, it seems, see the future, and can also see the temporal nexuses and pressure points that can change that future if poked in just the right way. The Meddler manipulates events and individuals to bring about those changes.
Allies: The Seeker, the Princess in Exile
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur, the Merchant
The Ashen Shadow (Mohilar)
And they are still out there, moving in the dark places between the stars. Their recent defeat stripped away much of their power and has shown them they are not invincible. They must work in secret, through agents and intermediaries – until the stars turn dark, and the Mohilar can return…
Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
Feb 3 2017
In the latest episode of our supercalifragilisticexpialidocious podcast, Ken and i talk Mythos Disney, Robert Fortune, spy movies 101 and the Ripley Scrolls.
Feb 2 2017
Feb 1 2017
The latest issue of See Page XX is out now! New releases include the Dreamhounds of Paris limited edition, The Crown Commands and Map Folio PDF bundle, and a Low and Slow Looking Glass: Hong Kong, for all your GUMSHOE city setting needs.
Articles include some blasphemous tomes and cryptic relics culled from the pages of Cthulhu City, a procedural guide for The Esoterrorists field agents, a welcome to our new Production Assistant along with notes on how we found her, using TimeWatch as a teaching aid, and playtesting The Fall of Delta Green. It’s all in the new See Page XX!