By Tony Williams
This exercise was far more difficult than previous character sheet designs I’ve done. My first problem was getting past the intimidating presence of the great art in itself and then the second was doing something I felt lived up to the design work put into the book.
I was flummoxed trying to think how I was going to incorporate the art into the character sheet; part of the problem is that the design work is meant to fade into the background behind the character stats so how could I use “artwork” and then hide it anyway ? Besides which art should I use ? Who actually represents *all* surrealists ?
I had put the problem on the backburner but later the decorating was looming and I needed an escape project ( I am a master procrastinator ).
So I turned my attention back to the problem and considered how I had approached my Bookhounds character sheet. The idea for that had been “What would one find on the desk of a Bookhound in the rear of his shop ?” Thus: “What would be found lying around the table of a Dreamhound in their dingy garret ?” Suddenly things seemed to fall into place.
Finding decent representational iconography required a lot more strenuous Google-Fu than previous sheet designs but finally I managed to find the stuff I needed to collage the sheet together. There was a lot more “hacking” the pictures in GIMP this time around as well, but I got there in the end.
Here’s a bit of design explanation:
The general tone is greens ( absinthe ) and murky browns ( down at heel ). I learned how to turn an electric blue pencil into a green pencil in GIMP this time around.
Surrealism – the starving Dreamhound was in his bathroom practising drawing his own eye in the cracked wall mirror when he needed to sharpen his pencil. The nearest thing to hand was, of course, his razor. He put the razor down casually across his drawing when he noticed a trail of ants on the floor and had to follow them out into his bedsit to foil the little beggars. He found them supping on a sugar cube he had left next to his absinthe spoon – curses! To calm his nerves he needed a little pipe tobacco whilst he perused the catalogue for the upcoming “Exposition Internationale du Surrealism” at the Galerie Beaux-Arts. If I have to spell it out for people – the pipe is a nod to Magritte, the razor on the eye is Buñuel’s “Un Chien Andalou” and the catalogue is self-explanatory ( durr… ).
Paris – well, ( Mon Dieu! ) the Galerie Beaux-Arts is *in* Paris, for Pete’s sake ! Absinthe seems an appropriate Dreamhound Parisian drink and any good absinthe drinker needs a supply of sugar cubes and an absinthe spoon. A photo of a typical Parisian street in the Pigalle area would be an easy representation of the city too.
Lovecraft – hmmm… that photo looks suspiciously like two investigators approaching Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol with great trepidation to me.
I chose an empty square to represent running out of Instability to reflect the ‘void’ of creativity it brings, it is also meant to be a blank canvas ( since you can no longer create meaningful art ) and a vague reference to the fact you are now a ‘square’ ( in the beat poet sense ) rather than a ‘happening’ radical artist.
And how come that absinthe spoon looks somewhat like a silver key – coincidence ? I think not !
Finally, a technical point – the General Abilities that can have Dreamscaping pool points added to their test rolls when in the Dreamlands are in a brown font rather than the standard black. As represented by the brown “think bubble” next to the Dreamscaping ability. ( Even finding the “right” think bubble was a saga in itself. )
Sadly I’m not happy with the sugar cube. Finding a top-down picture of a sugar cube results in few decent hits – “Damn you interweb !” ( shakes fist ). Maybe I’ll actually resort to photography for a fix down the line…but don’t hold your breath as I have some bloody decorating to do now. I don’t mean “bloody” as in I’m going to murder someone, or *do* I ? Ha, ha, ha, ha…
You can download Tony’s character sheets here:
- Download Dreamhounds of Paris character sheet (A4)
- Download Dreamhounds of Paris character sheet (US letter)
This toy version of GUMSHOE introduces you to the basic concepts of the system which powers Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists and Night’s Black Agents. Note, I’m not a game designer (whatever wikipedia says), and this version of GUMSHOE really is just for demonstration purposes.
GUMSHOE was designed to power games which feature some investigative elements. The GUMSHOE system itself is very simple and each GUMSHOE game adds system elements to support the gameplay the designer of that iteration intends, which adds complexity to the base. This version strips GUMSHOE down so you can see how it works, a bit like a model suspension bridge made from string and card does for, well, suspension bridges.
The most current version of a GUMSHOE game, with the most up-to-date advice, is Esoterrorists 2nd Edition.
We’ll learn the game and you can create a character as we go along.
Every character has investigative abilities, rated from 1 to 4. Even one point in an ability means you are highly proficient in that ability.
Investigative abilities have three functions.
- First, they allow your character interact with a game scene and extract essential information in play, information which points you to other game scenes. This information (called a core clue) can be a location, a person, an item – anything that points you at a future game scene. You do not spend from your pool to get a core clue.
- Second, you can extract any information your character would reasonably know without effort, also at zero cost.
- Third, you can use the ability to gain special benefits related to those abilities. These benefits can offer information which allows you to overcome or avoid danger, a bonus on a General Ability test, they can make you look cool, or form a connection with and NPC. Special benefits cost points from the ability pool.
It’s possible to gain certain kinds of information from a scene, obvious to anyone, without having an ability. This is called a simple search. A simple search might get you a matchbook, whereas an investigative ability might get you the fingerprints and then the identity of the last person to touch it.
Using Investigative Abilities In Play
To use an ability in a scene, you either describe what a character with that ability would do in that scene, or describe what you’d do in the scene and the GM will suggest an ability. You can seek information actively, for example, “I use Art to determine the provenance of that painting.” Sometimes the GM will provide information a character with your abilities would know without asking, for example, “With Science you can see the particles’ motion defies known laws.” Likewise, in a scene, you can suggest special benefits or they can offered by the GM. In general, GMs do not need to mention in play that a piece of information is a core clue or distinguish it from a zero-point clue.
Any ability which could reasonably get information can be used to get that information. The ability can be predetermined or improvised by the GM or emerge from roleplaying in game scenes.
If you are used to playing games where you use abilities for which you roll dice to determine success, roleplay exactly as you would do in those games.
Assign Your Investigative Abilities
The investigative abilities in Toy GUMSHOE are Who You Are, Science, Art, Technical and Interpersonal. Who You Are is an adjective -noun combination describing your character. You get 2 points in Who You Are. Pick any of the following combination of numbers, and assign them to the other four abilities.
Game Design Aside: What Abilities do
Investigative abilities offer niche protection, so that each player has a chance to interact with scenes in a way specific to their character; and spotlight management, so players get an equal chance to shine through the special benefits they use. Special benefit spends deplete abilties, so they also encourage more interesting And varied choices, and add a frisson to the end game as those choices become constrained.
General Abilities cover any action you want to do which doesn’t acquire information, and for which an element of randomness is fun, and has an important consequence. In toy GUMSHOE, there are Body, Mind, Moves, Fighting and Senses.
- Body is your current level of resistance to a potentially damaging event doing you harm.
- Mind is your level current resilience to the the effects of mental stress.
- Moves are anything physical you attempt to do, except fighting.
- Fighting is used to restrain or harm an opponent.
- Senses make you aware of danger, of being watched or potentially ambushed.
Testing General Abilities
If you face an important challenge in play not related to gathering information, you make a test. The GM determines a Difficulty, a number ranging from 3 to 8, with 4 as a standard. Spend points from the appropriate general ability pool, then roll a d6. Add the number of points you’ve spent to the die roll. If the total matches or beats the Difficulty number, you succeed. If not you fail. In most GUMSHOE games the GM does not tell you the Difficulty number before you make the choice.
Assign Your General Abilities
You get 4 points free in each of Body and Mind, and an additional 24 points to split between the five abilities. No ability may be higher than 10. (You could add a “What you do” skill to General abilities as the General equivalent of “Who you are”)
Game Design Aside: Abilities and Setting
Most GUMSHOE games have ten or more abilities fine-tuned and flavoured to the setting, with just the right amount of granularity. GMs work to provide information and benefits which match the investigative abilities and challenges which match the general ones. So in Mutant City Blues there are a multitude of specialist abilities to investigate a crime scene; in Fear Itself, just one. Toy GUMSHOE is generic, but you can add any abilities you want to the list, or subdivide the abilities to match your match the setting.
Next Up: Interpersonal Interaction, Fighting and Chasing
My booth pitch for Hillfolk describes its rules engine, DramaSystem, as emulating the structure of serialized cable TV shows. So let’s take an example heavily watched in geekland, “Game of Thrones.” Here’s a scene breakdown of the first episode of the fifth season with an eye toward identifying the petitioner and the granter and seeing who earns the drama token at the end. “Game of Thrones” presents so many featured characters that it would need an unworkably huge player group. Leaving that aside, I’ve treated only obvious foil characters, who exist only to highlight the main protagonists, as GM characters. I’m also leaving out scene snippets that in the game would be narrative bits at the head of a scene, or show us what would otherwise be revealed in dialogue. Unsurprisingly, the scene calling order doesn’t match the rotation you’d see in a game either.
You’ll want to watch the episode before reading.
And yes, I had to look up half the character names to do this.
In a flashback to childhood, Cersei seeks to establish her power over a witchy oracle, who denies her with an ominous prophecy. Cersei ‘s petition is denied, so her player gets the drama token.
An attendant petitions present-day Cersei to be considerate of the nobles gathered at Tywin’s funeral. She imperiously shuts him down, giving the GM a drama token.
Jaime petitions her to be more cognizant of politics and less worried for vengeanc towards Tyrion. She shuts him down hard, and he gets the drama token. (With her father dead, Cersei now has an easy shot reclaiming her spot as the show’s most prolific refuser of petitions.)
Safely on another continent, Varys petitions Tyrion to get himself together. He’s more interested in staying drunk so Varys gains the drama token.
Daenerys’ courtiers petition her for caution regarding the slaveowner’s resistance movement. She favors boldness and the GM gets the drama token.
Missandei (Daenerys’ translator) seeks a hint of intimacy from the Unsullied leader Grey Worm; he remains stoic and gives the GM, playing her, another drama token.
Meanwhile, back in the snowy bit, Gilly petitions Samwell for assurance that they will be safe; he tries but fails to assure her so she gets the drama token.
Melisande tries to establish her power over Jon Snow by weirdly coming on to him; her enigmatic smile at scene’s end suggests that she got what she wanted, so he gets the token.
Stannis asks John Snow to talk to Mance Rayder; he agrees and gets the token.
Brienne wants to dump her self-pity on self-appointed squire Podrick. He takes it, giving her what she wants and gaining a token to the GM, who has to be playing this classic sounding board character. character.
Sansa seeks information from Littlefinger and kind of gets it, so he earns the token.
Lancel, one of Cersei’s former minor paramours now turned penitent, asks for Circe’s forgiveness. She’s not interested so GM gets the token.
Loras Tyrell’s new boyfriend seeks for intimacy from him and gets it, so Loras gets the token.
Margaery Tyrell petitions Loras, her brother, to be cautious about his love affairs. Apparently unaware that characters who lead with their hearts don’t last long on this show, he’s not having it and his player hands hers the token he just earned in the previous scene.
Varys tries again with Tyrion and this time gets him to very reluctantly concede his interest in staying in the titular game. So the drama token goes to Tyrion.
We cut back to Daenerys’ court, where the rep for the rebelling former masters asks for a concession in exchange for peace. She denies it, giving the GM a token.
Later, in bed, Daario counsels her to reverse her decision on that, and also to regain her mantle as Mother of Dragons. Although we don’t see it here, in the next scene we realize that she has agreed to try and so she gets the token.
She then petitions the dragons for reconciliation and they breathe fire at her, transferring a drama token from the GM to her.
Jon Snow begs Rayder to bend the knee before Stannis but he refuses, so the token goes to Snow.
Finally, when Rayder is burned at the stake, Jon Snow answers his wordless petition for a more merciful death by shooting an arrow into his heart, earning the final drama token of the episode.
As you might expect in a game with twenty or so player characters, some of whom only get to call one scene per session, the GM playing all of their foils enjoys an advantage on the drama token front. She winds up with 5 of them.
Running a close second is Jon Snow, with 4.
In The Dracula Dossier, one of my favorite campaign frames — inserted at Simon’s insistence, and written mostly by Gareth — is “Unto the Fourth Generation,” in which you play the whole saga of Operation Edom from 1894 to 1940 to 1977 to now. That’s right, you begin as the original 1894 heroic band — the cast of Dracula.
- It looks like Mina has found some sort of dossier.
Sadly, space considerations prevent us from inserting full-on character sheets for the original 1894 band into the Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook. (It’s a quarter of a million words long, people.) But perhaps we’ll mock up some lovely Victorian Night’s Black Agents character sheets and put the following pre-gen stats into them as a freebie PDF for backers and buyers. Until then, here are the numbers raw, as Van Helsing might say.
N.B: These builds use the Victorian agent builds from Double Tap. They also feature 20 Investigative points per character (assuming a party of 5 or more agents) and 60 General build points per character (assuming mostly civilians, not yet trained badass vampire hunters). For the same reason, these pre-gens don’t receive free points in Streetwise, Tradecraft, Network, or Cover. They show “float points,” indicating build points unassigned at the start: assign those as you need them in play. Each character gets a dramatic 3 rating in their individual specialty; some character abilities are a tiny stretch (Mina’s skill at shorthand probably wouldn’t really convey Cryptography ability) in order to make sure all the abilities are covered.
Jonathan Harker, Solicitor and Free-Climber
Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (German, Latin), Law 3, Research 1, Bullshit Detector 1, Bureaucracy 1, Middle Class 2, Interrogation 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (4 Investigative float points)
Athletics 8, Conceal 4, Driving 1, Health 6, Infiltration 2, Network 7, Riding 1, Sense Trouble 5, Stability 6, Weapons 5 (23 General float points)
Wilhelmina Murray, Instinctive Analyst with a Tasty Neck
Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 2, Below Stairs 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Cryptography 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 3, Notice 1, Traffic Analysis 2 (2 Investigative float points)
Athletics 5, Health 7, Medic 2, Network 8, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 8, Shrink 5, Stability 8, Surveillance 3 (16 General float points)
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Polymathic Vampire Slayer
Art History 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 2, Human Terrain 1, Languages 3 (English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latin), Law 1, Occult Studies 1, Research 1, Vampirology 3, Bullshit Detector 1, Middle Class 1, Astronomy 1, Forensic Pathology 1, Geology 1, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1 (0 Investigative float points)
Athletics 4, Driving 1, Health 4, Hypnosis 8, Infiltration 4, Mechanics 2, Medic 8, Network 10, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 6, Shrink 4, Stability 4, Weapons 4 (3 General float points)
Dr. Jack Seward, Mad Doctor and Fifth Wheel
Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 3, Languages 1 (Latin), Research 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Flirting 0, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forensic Pathology 2, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)
Athletics 6, Driving 1, Hand-to-Hand 5, Health 8, Infiltration 2, Mechanics 3, Medic 8, Network 5, Shrink 10, Stability 5, Weapons 4 (10 General float points)
The Hon. Arthur Holmwood, Wealthy Aristocrat and Steam-Engine Enthusiast
Architecture 1, Art History 1, History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 2 (French, Greek, Latin), Military Science 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 2, High Society 3, Intimidation 2, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (1 Investigative float point)
Athletics 4, Driving 2, Gambling 3, Hand-to-Hand 2, Health 5, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Network 6, Piloting 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 4, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 6, Stability 5, Surveillance 3, Weapons 4 (0 General float points)
Quincey Morris, Texan Adventurer Who Brings Both a Gun and a Knife to a Knife-Fight
Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (Spanish), Military Science 2, Bullshit Detector 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Intimidation 1, Middle Class 2, Reassurance 1, Tradecraft 1, Geology 1, Notice 2, Outdoor Survival 3 (1 Investigative float point)
Athletics 8, Driving 2, Explosive Devices 2, Gambling 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Medic 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 5, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 8, Stability 5, Surveillance 4, Weapons 6 (0 General float points)
Kate Reed, Girl Reporter Not Appearing in this Novel
Accounting 1, Art History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 3, Bullshit Detector 3, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Interrogation 1, Middle Class 1, Notice 2, Telegraphy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)
Athletics 5, Conceal 3, Cover 4, Disguise 4, Driving 2, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Network 7, Preparedness 4, Riding 2, Sense Trouble 6, Stability 7, Surveillance 8 (9 General float points)
Inspector George Cotford, Deleted Detective of Scotland Yard
Criminology 2, Human Terrain 1, Law 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Cop Talk 3, Interrogation 3, Intimidation 2, Middle Class 1, Streetwise 2, Working Class 1, Notice 2, Urban Survival 1 (0 Investigative float points)
Athletics 6, Conceal 4, Driving 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 7, Preparedness 4, Sense Trouble 8, Shooting 4, Stability 8, Surveillance 6, Weapons 6 (9 General float points)
Francis Aytown, Sensitive Artist Airbrushed Out of the Picture
Archaeology 1, Art History 3, Languages 2 (French, German, Italian), Bullshit Detector 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Streetwise 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forgery 2, Photography 2 (2 Investigative float points)
Art (Painting) 8, Athletics 5, Conceal 5, Disguise 6, Explosive Devices 2, Filch 2, Health 5, Mechanics 4, Network 5, Sense Trouble 8, Stability 5 (12 General float points)
Here is an example of Trail of Cthulhu combat, in which three plucky adventures confront a crypt-dwelling corpse-eater.
The consumptive Professor Oberon Lankwiller
Health 5, [no rating in Firearms], Scuffling 4
Weapon: Webley revolver +0
Hit Threshold: 3
The brash Tag Hunter
Health 13, Firearms 10, Weapons 8, Scuffling 2
Weapons: Remington M32 double barreled shotgun +1 (+2 point blank, +1 when fired both barrels), machette +0
Hit Threshold: 4 (Athletics is greater than eight)
The trigger-happy Anabelle Swift
Health 10, Firearms 8, Scuffling 6, Weapons 4
Weapons: Twin Colt Revolvers +0 (You can fire two revolvers in a Pulp game if your Firearms is 5+), hat pin (-1).
Athletics 9, Health 7, Scuffling 9
Hit Threshold: 4 (5 underground)
Weapon: two claws +1 and a bite +0. Two bites in a row means it latches on. Ghouls take half damage (round up) from firearms.
The Investigators are cautiously exploring a tunnel which runs under the Arkham municipal burial ground. They disturb a ghoul, partially concealed behind a stone slab, which is sucking the marrow from some cracked bones, .
They must all make a 4-point Stability roll when they see the ghoul (you see a supernatural creature up close). After Stability rolls, a combat ensues.
The order of action is determined at the beginning of combat, just once, according to the characters’ current pool in their chosen method of combat. This gives us:
- The Ghoul
- The Prof*
The Prof has no Firearms skill so goes last, and Larry has to decide in advance what to do. He chooses “shoot the Ghoul”
Tag gives the ghoul both barrels at point-blank range. It has partial cover, so the ghoul’s Hit Threshold is unchanged at 5. Tina spends four points from the Firearms pool to ensure a hit. She rolls a 2 for damage, +4 for the double barreled shotgun fired at point-blank range gives six, halved because of Ghoul Armor. The Ghoul’s Health tumbles to 4.
The Ghoul launches itself at Tag, and makes its three attacks.
The Keeper spends 2 points from Scuffling on the first claw and rolls a 3 making 5, a hit for 4 damage. He spends 2 on the second claw, rolls a 5, another hit for 5 damage. Then it’s a bite (2-point spend and 5 damage). The Ghoul’s Scuffling is now 3. Tag’s Health is now -1 – Hurt. (In theory, Tag must make a Conciousness roll but the Difficulty is 1 – an automatic success.)
Annabelle wants to distract the creature from its feast, so she jabs it with her hat pin, spending all of her 4 Weapons points to ensure a hit. She rolls a 3, causing 1 point of damage (you can effectively miss or do no damage with lesser weapons and fists). The Ghoul has 3 Health points left.
The Professor closes his eyes and squeezes the trigger of the unfamiliar Webley. He has no Firearms skill (see p. 60 sidebar), and unfortunately rolls a 1. The Keeper decides that he shoots himself in the foot. He rolls a 3 – minus 2 because of his unfamiliarity – knocking his Health down to 4.
Tag frantically wrestles with the ghoul, trying to hold its festering mouth away from his face. That’s Scuffling. He spends his remaining 2 points on his roll. The Difficulty is the ghoul’s Hit Threshold (5) plus 1 because Tag is Hurt. He needs a 6. He rolls a 2 plus the 2 for his Scuffling, a 4 – not enough. It’s not looking good for Tag
The Keeper decides to spend 2 on a ghoul claw roll to finish off Tag. He rolls a 1 – making 3, a miss. He spends 0 on the next roll and gets another 1. He spends the final point on the bite, rolling a 6. As this is is second succesful bite attack, he does double damage. He rolls a 3, for the bite for a total of 6. Tag’s Health tumbles to -7. Tina opts not to make a Conciousness roll for Tag (which would require Health expenditure) and Tag falls into merciful oblivion. He is Seriously Wounded, and requires First Aid and hospitalisation if he survives.
Annabelle opts to fire both pistols at the creature (a Pulp-only option). She spends a Firearms point to do this. She spends 3 points on the each roll (as they are simulataneous Andrea needs to decide before rolling both dice), and she rolls 6 and 6 doing 2 (3 halved and rounded up) points and 1 point of damage. The ghoul only had 3 points of Health, so it is down.
Larry opt to spends two points of the Professor’s First Aid to stabilise Tag. If they can get him out of the crypt, Tag needs to spend a week in hospital recuperating.
In the shadows, creatures drawn by Tag’s pooling blood gather and watch for weakness.
As the galactic vengeance-seekers of The Gaean Reach Roleplaying Game, you may from time to time find it necessary to invoke the legal system as a tool in your hunt for Quandos Vorn. Naturally you will not in the end turn this arch-villain over to the proper authorities, but rather exact your own revenge. Still, to earn the reluctant cooperation of foot-dragging local enforcement officers, a claim to connections in the Interworld Police Coordinating Company may prove essential.
Officials of various sub-jurisdictions take an interest in particular crimes that might best be described as capricious. You will thus be well-served to be able to cite a wide range of charges lodged against Quandos Vorn, especially those of recent vintage. Parochial constables may react differently depending on the planet making the charge. For example, an officer of the Connatic knows well to exercise skepticism regarding criminal offenses alleged on Copus, as these are frequently made to obtain leverage in disputes over bar tabs. On the other hand, planets heavily engaged in the pold trade take warrants issued on Nion quite seriously, lest their traders face a commercial disadvantage at contract renegotiation time.
With this in mind, pay heed to these recent charges laid against Quandos Vorn, sorted by jurisdiction. Some may be spurious, but is that your concern?
Capella IX: Assault, Aggravated Assault, Murder, Torture, Excessive Blinking.
Fallorne: Assault, Imposture, Reckless Operation of an Aerial Vehicle, Reckless Operation of a Ground Vehicle, Reckless Operation of a Space Vehicle, Reckless Inhabitation of a Stationary Vehicle, Murder.
Jimper’s World: Slander, Libel, Counterfeiting, Trademark Violation, Consumption of Unlicensed Entertainment Content, Encouraging Intellectual Property Violation By Minors, Murder, Cannibalism.
Ladaque-Royale: Theft of an Animal (under 10 kg), Theft of an Animal (over 100 kg; multiple counts), Interference with an Animal, Ecosystem Shock, Murder, Forced Trepanation.
Mossambey: Possession of Distilled Essence, Skin Theft, Hair Removal, Grandiosity, Murder (Involuntary), Manslaughter (Voluntary.)
Tacityl: Genetic Despiraling, Petty Theft, Grand Theft, Macroeconomic Theft, Murder (Direct), Murder (Sociological.)
Unicorn: Assault, Ritual Mockery, Sumptuary Violations, Importuning an Aristocrat, Kidnapping, Murder, Social Mobility, Intent to Commit Poisoning
Wittenmond: Aggravated Disrespect, Crimes Against the Reinheitsgebot, Murder, Improper Disposal of Human Remains, Improper Contamination of a Beer Vat.
Xion: Assault, Organ Trafficking (Human), Organ Trafficking (Inhuman), Overage Drinking, Murder.
Zeck: Murder (Economic), Murder (Recreational), Murder (Economic with Recreational Overtones.)
The Gaean Reach, the Roleplaying Game of Interstellar Vengeance, brings to your tabletop the legendary cycle of science fiction classics by the great Jack Vance. This ingenious hybrid fuses the investigative clarity of the GUMSHOE system with the lethal wit of the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game. Purchase The Gaean Reach in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
In the latest episode of their hyper-compressed podcast, Ken and Robin talk tone, Fomenko’s chronology, banished phrases and John Murray Spear.
Ignoring the vagaries of its publishing history, Pierton’s Night Jungle makes a great setting for gaming. If you just want to tell stories in the mode of the Kalamane Cycle, where heroic fantasy heroes battle monsters and weird sorcery, then you can just grab a copy of 13th Age and wait until next month when we’ll summarize the key gameable elements of the Otherworld. However, if you want to recreate the original stories of “Professor Bravo” (or, less ambitiously, the original ill-fated 80s game), the best approach is a GUMSHOE hack.
In this game, the players play people from our world, Earth, who find themselves transported into the Night Jungle. Like Professor Bravo, they discover they are ‘oscillating’ back and forth between the two worlds, jumping from Earth to the Night Jungle again in times of stress.
# of players Investigative Build Points
Player have 60 General Ability points. You can trade Investigative Build Points for General, or vice versa, at a 1-for-3 rate.
Most of the abilities are self-explanatory if you’ve played another GUMSHOE game. The new or obscure ones – Courtesy and Command are used when dealing with higher- or lower-status people, especially in the Otherworld. Deceive covers bluffing, impersonation and con games as well as seeing through them. Insight gives, well, insight into other people’s motivations and beliefs – the classic GUMSHOE ability of Bullshit Detector exists at the intersection of those two.
Orienteering is a combination of navigation, cartography, and working out spatial relations – it’s doubly important when trying to make your way through the perilous labyrinth of the Night Jungle, or when you’re trying to work out which place on Earth corresponds to a location in the Otherworld.
Pierton Trivia measures knowledge of the Otherworld novels and spin-offs and those involved in publishing them, as well as the fandom around them.
Craft covers improvised repair and operating
Contacts works like Network in Night’s Black Agents or Correspondence in Trail of Cthulhu.
Travelling is for avoiding Health loss or other penalties when trekking through the jungle.
Player characters from Earth can’t take these Investigative Abilities at the start of the game, but can buy them with experience points. If you’re allowing players to roll up Otherworld characters, then they can take these abilities as well as any other investigative ability marked with a * in the list above.
Alchemy: Brewing up potions and poisons from the strange fruits of the Night Jungle, as well as identifying them by their effects.
Beast-Lore: Knowledge of the monsters that haunt the Night Jungle – and how to kill them.
Land-Lore: Knowledge of the various lands swallowed by the Jungle, and what remains of them.
Other-Seeming: How to blend in when you’re outside your home reality. Putting points into this ability lets a character hide the fact that they’re from Earth. The idea that creatures from the Otherworld can cross into our reality, just like Professor Bravo crosses into theirs, is hinted at several times in Pierton’s stories; this ability works the other way for them, letting them blend into modern society.
Sorcery: The perilous use of magic. In Pierton’s novels, sorcery carried terrible costs and was solely the province of malicious or insane wizards.
River-Trade: Navigating the network of rivers that are the main trade routes through the jungle, and dealing with the Shell-Dwarfs who control the waters.
A character’s Oscillation rating measures their ability to jump between realities. Most people – on both Earth and the Night Jungle have a rating of 0. Player characters start with a rating of 2.
Oscillation is capped at 10.
Spending a point of Oscillation lets a character start the process of travelling from one world to another with an effort of will. This usually takes several hours – the character feels more and more disconnected from their current reality, and glimpses elements of their destination, until finally they jump completely. Spending extra points of Oscillation can:
- Make the transition faster
- Bring large or heavy objects across
- Temporarily manifest conditions from the other side (need to get a cellphone signal in the Night Jungle? Need an alchemical potion to work to full effect on Earth?)
- Manifest in a chosen location in the other world (you need to have visited or at least be familiar with the location)
- Follow someone else across (you end up near wherever they’re going)
- Resist involuntary transitions
Refreshing and Improving Oscillation
Oscillation pools refresh after each adventure. The GM may also declare that the characters have unconsciously jumped, and give them a few Oscillation points in compensation. (This is a great way to deal with missing players – if Bob doesn’t make it to this week’s session, then Bob’s PC involuntarily travels to the opposite reality to the rest of the group. Next week, he shows up again with a refreshed Oscillation pool).
Oscillation cannot be increased by experience points; the only way to improve it is by visiting sites of power and possessing potent relics, especially items that came from one world but spent long periods in the other. Finding something as potent as Professor Bravo’s Diary might improve Oscillation by 3 points.
If a character with Oscillation is reduced to -12 Health, they’re not killed. Instead, they Avoid Fate by instantly and uncontrollably jumping to the other world. A character can Avoid Fate in this fashion a limited number of times.
Oscillation Rating Fates Avoided
NPCs who Avoid Fate may find themselves stuck, unable to travel again until they increase their Oscillation rating. Player characters aren’t usually subject to this limitation.
In the latest installment of their highly dramatic podcast, Ken and Robin talk GMing Hillfolk, Chandragupta Maurya, socially conscious RPGs, and ransomed Michelangelo letters.
For a minimal prep game, I use a potted version of the suggestions in the Trail book, that is, work backwards from the Horrible Truth to the Hook. I’ll do this now on the fly.
Professor Legato is a puppet controlled by Mi-Go. He is performing sinister experiments on paid subjects. The Mi-Go are using the data. We’ll set it in Cambridge 1931, and I’ll make him a Professor of physics.
I turn to the trusty internet archive and root out the Baedeker guide to Great Britain and old OS maps site to get a plan of the town. I google “Cambridge 1930s physics” and get “The discovery of the neutron in 1932 by James Chadwick, a physicist at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, allowed physicists to theorize that the nucleus was composed of protons and neutrons.” So, Legato is a colleague of Chadwick. Check out Chadwick.
Legato has installed a device which allows people to conceive the true nature of the atom, a revelation of crushing power which shows them their utter insignificance.
Trail of Clues
The volunteers go on to perform horrible crimes, commit suicide or just behave strangely. They were all in debt and without many friends; some were mental patients. What evidence would this leave?
When I think of clues, I don’t worry too much about the abilities. These links are straightforward to improvise, and players usually suggest them.
- Newspaper reports
- Peter Higley in police custody, and crime reports
- Recent patients at the local hospital mental health ward.
- PCs find out their connections to the lab, through perhaps a newspaper clipping (an advert) found in their digs.
- The newspaper has details of who placed the ad, and all those people who responded.
These clues will tend to be free floating – so I can place them in scenes where it is appropriate.
At least one of the volunteer, say Horrace Limnal, a street lighter, is dangerous. He has locked himself in his house. He has painted all the windows black and constructed a model of what he saw out of everything he found in his room. He hides in the cupboard and attacks them when they come in, screaming about the terrible light.
If it’s needed, have a Mi-Go puppet watching Limnal’s apartment notice them and trail them, eventually attempting to confront them in a very non-human fashion (think that android in Alien trying to kill Ripley with the magazine.)
I always use the personal element. Look at the PCs and their Drives. Make them all friends/colleagues at one of the colleges and have one of their friends/offsping of a friend be one of the affected. How about a student goes on a mad rampage during a party – one of the volunteers?
I’d look at all the character sheets and incoporate their abilities into the clues. For example – Astronomy – A weird meteor shower five weeks ago (signalling the arrival of the Mi-Go). Be ready to dole out interesting special benefits, too. In Cambridge there will be tons of academics who will offer help, for example.
Finally I grab a list of names, and I’m ready to go. That’s about enough for a session – and later sessions are much easier.