In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk Mutant City Spies, vegetables, the Pelgrane pipeline, and Trotsky gone Hollywood.

A nufaith For Ashen Stars

After the disaster of the Mohilar War, new religious movements swept the ravaged region of galactic civilization called the Bleed. Among these so-called nufaiths is a belief system dependent on the personal detachment inherent in long-distance electronic communications. Onandeteria, named after its balla founder, Onandeter, teaches that great spiritual force has always suffused the universe. Prophets of all religions accessed this, understanding it through a multiplicity of cultural experiences. However, the still-mysterious disaster that ended the war threatened to entirely destroy spiritual energy throughout known space. In order to survive, or perhaps as a unpredicted side effect of whatever happened at the war’s end, the universal reservoir of spiritual harmony fled into the deepest harmonics of communications grid. Now, say the Onandeterians, you can interact with divine energy only at a remove, filtered through various telecommunications technologies. This force, which they call the teleteleos, underpins all, giving purpose to an otherwise meaningless interstellar existence. Practitioners pray together only in virtual places of worship, beaming in their holopresences to chant, sing, and commune in fellowship. The more of these virtual services you attend, the holier you become. Devout attendance, the holopriests promise, brings a form of immortality of consciousness, allowing one to permanently harmonize with the teleteleos after death. However, physically touching another worshiper dissipates all of your spiritual attainment. Some sects say this puts you back where you started before you joined the cult. More extreme believers hold that such a disastrous event forever cuts you off from the teleteleos, no matter what you try to do to atone. This happens even when practitioners come into contact unknowingly. As isolated worshipers who appear to one another cloaked in various holographic avatars, accidentally bumps become all too possible. This encourages worshipers to become shut-ins, paranoiacally avoiding all unmediated interaction. Accordingly Onandeteria provides an ideal faith for fugitives and recluses.

The freelance law enforcers of your Ashen Stars crew may be looking for one of these fugitives as part of a bounty contract. They might have to find a way to intercept transmissions used for church attendance, to track a worshiper to his meatspace lair. Or they might be hired by one of the faithful to avenge a scheme that led to their inadvertently touching another worshiper. Another plot hook might have them tracking down the blackmailer who is accessing all the juicy data stored on a confessional server.

The scene: your Trail of Cthulhu game.

The speaker: A player.

“All right, I’m sick of being fed bafflegab by these mystic jerks, and I don’t want to read any more books that will keep me up for a calendar month with waking nightmares. We take the train to Providence, Rhode Island, go to” [quick Google on cell phone] “66 College Street, ring the door, and ask H.P. Lovecraft his own bad self what’s going on.”

[into the stunned silence that follows]

“Bing-bong.”

Why, it’s haunted by yoooooou!

Who answers the door?

H.P. Lovecraft

An author of weird fiction. Unless approached with faultless gentility (Credit Rating 5+), or perhaps with an introduction from one of his friends, he claims to be too busy writing to talk. It will take plenty of roleplaying and Reassurance spends to convince him that any of his “creations” have parallels in the real world: he is a staunch materialist. He might disappear mysteriously after speaking to them, or become a nervous, impossibly leak-prone ally, or even (in a very meta sort of game) act as the Investigators’ “M,” handing out missions based on his dreams and vast correspondence. This, by the way, is the Derlethian interpretation: the Lovecraft story collection The Outsider and Others appears in many Derleth and Lumley stories (and in Bloch’s wonderful Strange Eons, to be fair) as one more Mythos tome! (HPL’s collected fiction in game values is like the Pnakotic Manuscripts at best or a corrupted edition of Nameless Cults at worst.)

H.P. Lovecraft

A paranoid racist propagandist. He claims to be too busy writing to talk, but as long as the Investigators are white (or can “pass” with a 1-point Disguise spend) he talks their ears off anyway about the white race and the need to ally with Hitler and the Jewish threat and the Chinese swarming polyglot pullulating &c. &c. Gossip with journalists and local politicians (Oral History) is probably the best way to find out that Lovecraft is funded by the German-American Bund, and has been since 1923, when he gave up weird fiction for politics. It takes more digging (Scuffling with Bundists, perhaps) to uncover Lovecraft’s handler: fascist, occultist, poet, and horror maven George Sylvester Viereck. Meanwhile, HPL has decided the Investigators are race-mongrels spying on him, and alerts his allies. Whether Lovecraft’s racist manifestos and rants contain usable Mythos truths (sifted out with an Occult spend by an Investigator with Cthulhu Mythos, perhaps) is up to the Keeper. If they try to flip or fight Lovecraft, the local Bund and maybe a Lemurian go after them.

Annie Phillips Gamwell

A gentle, confused, elderly woman.  She insists nobody by that name lives there, and shuts the door abruptly. Assess Honesty tells you she’s truthful but recognized the name, and painfully. Library Use at the Providence Journal (or perhaps Cop Talk at the local precinct) reveals that her nephew Howard drowned himself after his mother’s death in May of 1921, leaving behind a peculiar suicide note headed “Ex Oblivione.” Mrs. Gamwell threw out her nephew’s papers, although with a month and a 2-point Library Use spend, or an even more intensive Interpersonal correspondence, the Investigators might find a few of his tales in amateur press publications. (Aside from “Dagon” and “Nyarlathotep,” they have little Mythos significance.) Strange visions begin to haunt them, whether they read those tales or not: of a titanic arm reaching through a window, the word DOOM on a wall covered by lizards, a white ape. They attend a magic-lantern show and behold apocalyptic visions, hear cats yowling in anger, see a woodcut of a cannibal feast in books they leaf through. They have tapped into some kind of psychic whirlpool, and their only clues are fragmentary remnants of a stunted literary dream.

Robert Harrison Blake

An artist and horror writer. Lovecraft gave his own address to Blake in “The Haunter From the Dark,” in which Blake moves to Providence in October 1934 and dies in the lightning storm on August 9, 1935. The Keeper can move those dates around to ensure that the Investigators wind up right spang in the middle of the Shining Trapezohedron’s campaign to unleash the Haunter on Providence — perhaps they catch a glimpse of one of Blake’s canvases, so his visions follow them even if they leave town.

Lewis Theobald, Jr.

A mystic dreamer and occult scholar. Robert Bloch (on whom Lovecraft based Blake) wrote a clear Lovecraft manqué into “The Shambler From the Stars,” in which the narrator accidentally burns down the mystic dreamer’s house during a summoning of a star vampire. (The name is HPL’s most common pseudonym; Bloch’s dreamer is nameless in the story.) Again, the Investigators can arrive in the middle of the story — Theobald is an obsessive, and promises to answer all their questions once they find him a copy of De Vermis Mysteriis. Cue summoning …

The Reverend Ward Phillips

A minister at the First Baptist Church in Providence, and the author of a number of well-received ghost stories. He doesn’t recognize the names the Investigators fling at him, but he does let them dig around in his family papers — his ancestor, who lived in Arkham, wrote Thaumaturgical Prodigies of the New-English Canaan (1st ed. 1788, 2nd ed. 1794, 3rd ed. 1801). People say he still visits the St. John’s Burying Ground! Ha-ha, of course whenever anyone looks into the sighting, there’s nothing but large doglike footprints there. Phillips also possesses an antique Moorish lamp he uses at night: Chemistry cleans the copper well enough to read the Arabic inscription: al-Azrad (“the devourer”). Lots of opportunities to wind up dead — and still baffled — in other words.

 

Note the First: Lovecraft only moved to 66 College Street (for extra confusion, now located at 65 Prospect Street) in 1933. Before then, your horked-off player must go to 10 Barnes Street, where instead of Robert Blake, he might meet Dr. Marius Bicknell Willett, who lived there in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

Note the Second: I’m in Providence right now, at NecronomiCon, which is why this posted a little bit late for Lovecraft’s 125th birthday. It’s okay, he didn’t mind stale cake.

Hidden Treasures

Treasure Mixed_VHFollowing on from my 2012 post about unappreciated Pelgrane products. I present to you two more such treasures, and my speculation as to why they are neglected.

The Gaean Reach RPG

“…this is a dead simple, easy to learn, quick to play science-fiction romp well worthy of a few evenings and weekends of your life.”

What it is: Across the vastness of the Oikumene a few individualGaean cover blogsizes of exceptional infamy project their lust for power. Fear of their names spreads from planet to planet like a cancer.None of these evokes greater loathing and terror than the world-spanning criminal mastermind Quandos Vorn. He is your nemesis, and you must defeat him.

Why it’s hidden: This game has been published almost solely because of my love of Jack Vance. I’m guessing now that most of you didn’t even connect the author of the Dying Earth with his SF setting called in general, The Gaean Reach. Perhaps I should have called it “Jack Vance, the writer of the Dying Earth, wrote SF books and this is the game about them.” Like most games based in an existing setting, there is an assumption that readers are expected to be familiar with it.

Why its a treasure: It’s a game with a unique premise – the players devise the most horrible, devious and grabby enemy they can, then set out to defeat that nemesis. It combines the wit and human foibles of the Dying Earth, with the GUMSHOE investigative system, with additions which make sure you don’t kill your nemesis (and she you) too early in the narrative. You don’t need any knowledge of the setting to play, though the setting is wonderful and in some cases creepy.

Read more here, or get it from the store.

13th Age Soundtrack

13a_soundtrack_cover_edited“It’s an amazing selection of music and I can’t see any gaming group not getting something out of it. More than anything, it’s unique; there are no movies, shows or games that have this music so the player’s will not have heard any of it before and will always equate it with their 13th Age games, or whatever ongoing RPG setting they’re gaming in. If that’s not perfect for a gaming group then I don’t know what is.”

What it is: a huge collection of music and sound loops for the 13th Age.

Why it’s hidden: This one is a puzzle. Maybe fantasy roleplayers don’t use music with their games as much as with other games types. Maybe our marketing has been remiss.

Why it’s treasure: an epic collection of music, soundscapes and loops which paint a huge Turner-like picture of the Dragon Empire, created with crazy professional standards an orchestration and live musicians. It’s beyond what many fully-fledged video games or movies would expect.  Listen and wonder!

Read more here, or get if from the store.

13th Age theme:

Dreams of a Lost Age:

Exploration:

 

As you scour the spacelanes of the Gaean Reach for traces of Quandos Vorn, the interstellar arch-criminal you have sworn at all costs to destroy, you may find it advantageous to familiarize yourself with the very latest terms of abuse. Although humanity in its vast sprawl through the galaxy has retained a common language, local slang terms continue to form, mutate, spread, then fall into disuse. Spurred by ever-present bureaucratic obstruction, the language hungrily seeks new ways to express frustration, contempt and calumny. You may need to know these terms to understand when you are being mocked, or to spur the laggardly into satisfactory action.

Armback: a stupid and/or gullible person. As in, you could convince him he has a third arm growing out of his back.

“No, you wretched armback! I don’t want you to perform the emergency procedure! I want you to learn the emergency procedure!”

Blurniquet: a generally useless person or thing. Derives from the story of Blurn of Blurn’s Planet, notorious for selling substandard or quack medical supplies.

“Don’t just lie there like a blurniquet! The leopards are invading the station!”

Borb: a person whose conversation one immediately wishes to extricate oneself from.

“Why in the name of Diana’s moons did you not rescue me from that unrelenting borb?”

Corruction: to punish with enforced party attendance. Often connotes metaphorical or literal coercion to consume heavy intoxicating or psychoactive substances.

“Beware, Spavine, or we shall subject you to corruction at the nearest star port.”

Glummiker: a complainer or congenital pessimist, especially one who cannot respond in kind to any expression of hope or pride.

“Well, we see who the glummiker is on this mission.”

Goyster: a person or situation that fails to live up to initial promise. Named from the delicious-looking false oysters of Goyanus Prime, a rare example of a food whose nutritional content is negative.

“The intersplit drive looked like a bargain, until I got under the console and saw it was an utter goyster.”

Hasbad: a once fearsome, now risible, individual.

“Take the projac, for all the good it will do you, you pathetic hasbad!”

Quasling: a wishy washy person, who is neither here nor there. A waffler.

“After six hours of interminable blather the quasling would still not definitively say if he has the supplies we need.”

 


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.

screenThere has been talk on our social media channels about the orientation of the 13th Age GM’s Screen. It’s going to be portrait, and I wanted to talk about that choice.

Our Keeper’s Screen for Trail of Cthulhu is three-fold and portrait-oriented. We’ve just reprinted it. Strangely, I have never had any push back or comments on the portrait vs landscape version Keeper’s Screen since it was released many years ago, so the comments were unexpected.

The first thing to say is that there are strong arguments for both – in fact, it’s purely a matter of taste. However, it’s a binary choice so it’s literally impossible for us to please both groups without doing two screens.

I chose vertical for the Keeper’s Screen because the primary purpose of a Keeper’s Screen is to hide the Keeper’s notes. Portrait screens do that job better. They have the downside of hiding more of the GM, but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to make them landscape. From an aesthetic point of view, I think the potrait oriented screen has a more pleasing aspect ratio, closer to traditional triptychstriptych.

The same reasoning applies to the 13th Age GM’s screen.

This did lead me to wonder – am I in a minority? So, I contacted Danny O’Neill of Hammerdog Games, who produces the World’s Greatest Screen who offers both a landscape and a portrait version and has no skin the game.

He told me that portrait screens sell marginally better than landscape screens, but there’s not much in it. It’s a truly even split.

So what can you hardened Landscapers do? Well, one of our forum members has created a landscape-oriented screen you can print out here. And who knows, we might do a landscape version in future.

Now, with that dealt with, I’m waiting for the four-fold crowd to kick off.

[Update: it will definitely be potrait. Find out why here.]

The original team of Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnel are creating the artwork for the 13th Age GM’s Screen.

I believe you need a dragon on an f20 screen, and we don’t want to do things by halves, or even thirds, so our screen features the tripart Icon – The Three. Why they’ve come together from the black marshes (the Black), the outskirts of the Empire (the Red) and Drakenhall (the Blue), who knows, but it can’t be good -perhaps freeing the Green from the guardianship of the Elf Queen?

I love the light and depth in the image of the The Three with their sorcerers in the foreground, and what this promises for the final image. Click on the image to see its full glory.

 

screen

Deliver Us From Evil belongs to a cinematic category well-known to roleplayers: the movie that doesn’t really pay off, but serves as a strong mood and tone reference for a game. Specifically, it comes as close as anything in the DVD racks to conveying the feel of The Esoterrorists. In this entry in the based-on-supposedly-real-life-story horror sub-genre Eric Bana plays NYPD police detective Ralph Sarchie. With a gung ho partner played by Community’s Joel McHale, he investigates a series of crimes connected by symptoms of demonic possession. He finds a connection between the cases in the uncovering of an ancient evil by US soldiers in Iraq. For much of its runtime, through Scott Derrickson’s direction, it presents a compelling fusion of the hard-boiled modern cop drama with supernatural horror. Along the way the story picks up a third player character role model, a hipster priest with a dark past played by Edgar Ramirez.

Like many mash-ups the film falters in the stretch, when it has to decide which genre it will maintain its loyalty to and jumps back into the conventional. Deliver Us From Evil sticks to its supposedly real roots by concluding with a not terribly fresh or exciting exorcism sequence, distinguished only by the fact that it takes place in a police interrogation room. If you’ve seen one cinematic exorcism, you seen this one too. However, since the direction, particularly its fusion of creepy mood with cop drama elements, far outclasses the material, you can select choice snippets and sequences to inspire your Esoterrorists players. The entering the creepy basement with guns and flashlights drawn sequence would serve particularly well in this respect. Also useful for this purpose are squad room scenes in which the cops scour security footage and find signs of the uncanny. Swap in Outer Dark Entities for the 70s paperback demons and you’ll be cooking with gas.

For an actually fully recommendable Derrickson movie, check out Sinister with Ethan Hawke and a supernatural enemy very much like an ODE. Derrickson is now in development on the Marvel Dr. Strange movie. The many Steve Ditko frames he’s posting on social media are raising my hopes for his take on psychedelic occultism. In the meantime, if you spot Deliver Us From Evil on disc at a bargain price, snap it to excerpt it as tone fodder for your next Esoterrorists run.

 

 


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

I had Intentions of writing this post on the Monday of Gencon itself, when it was due. That’s the sort of stupid idea you have after six days of little sleep and absurd heat. Plus, we had a Pelgrane planning meeting, where we discussed awesome things to come, and how we’re going to celebrate the 10th anniversary of GUMSHOE.

Between panels and selling books, I ran a few demos, including another run-through of my toy 13th Age demo, Midnight in the Bazaar. I’ve run it at multiple cons, and it’s done yeoman service. The text of it is below, although in all those multitudinous demos at many cons, I’ve never played it quite as written. The trick to 13th Age demos is to grab the players’ One Unique Things and run with them.

For example, this year I had four wonderful players who came up with:

  • I’m the ambitious daughter of the Dwarf Lord (6th 3rd in line for the throne)
  • I’ve got Seven Evil Exes from my time studying at the Diabolist’s Academy
  • I’m always fashionably dressed, no matter what the situation
  • I’m a spy for the Blue Dragon (I may be misremembering this one, but the player definitely had a Positive Relationship with the Three).

(I may have also completely forgotten the line in the adventure where the PCs are all supposed to have a 1-point relationship with the Emperor. Sunday of Gencon – don’t stop there, it’s bat country.)

With that set, I dropped the initial hook entirely, and instead had the Dwarf noble attending a wedding at Glitterhaegen where the groom got kidnapped by some of the Seven Evil Exes, so the party had to chase after the kidnappers and rescue the poor fellow. The wedding covered the two “social” OUTs, and I just reskinned the Diabolist foes described below to match how the player described the Evil Exes. Pigeons from Hell, for example, became a breath weapon attack.

For Icon rolls, the only 5s and 6s were a double 6 for the Dwarf Lord and a 6 for the Three. I gave away a magic item for the Dwarf Lord roll – I don’t generally like giving items for Icon rolls, but it’s fine for a quick demo. I promised to work the Three benefit into the game, and had a fantastic opportunity to do so when one of the players described the Bazaar as being guarded by lizard men, so I was able to hint at a plot by the Black Dragon to infiltrate Glitterhaegen with his lizard mercenaries, and let the player spend that benefit to recruit some lizard men scouts to help him find the missing groom.

13th Age - The Three

Midnight in the Bazaar

A 45 minute (or less) 13th Age demo

The characters have finally tracked down the vile instigator of the evils that have befallen the city of Glitterhaegen. Now, they’re about to confront him in the great marketplace just as he puts his scheme into motion.

Character Creation

The pregenerated characters have their ability scores, attacks and spells pre-selected, as well as brief notes on how each power works. What they don’t have are:

  • Full Icon Relationships
  • Backgrounds
  • One Unique Things

For Icon Relationships, all the characters have a 1-point positive relationship with the Emperor – they’re a band of adventurers and troubleshooters with a good reputation.

Each player now chooses their remaining Icons. Use these as a guideline to pick the nature of the bad guy. If there’s a clear majority for one villain, then the bad guy works for him and uses the appropriate theming and mooks.

 

 

What’s Going On?

A mysterious foe has done something evil in the city. The nature of the threat depends on who the bad guy’s working for:

  • Lich King: There’s a necromancer in town, the Grey Rat, stirring up the catacombs and awakening the dead. The characters have spent weeks crawling through dungeons and hunting zombies. The necromancer seems to be concentrating on the tombs of the wealthy families.
    • The Grey Rat’s secretly interrogating the dead; he’s searching for the location of the fabled Bank of the Dead, a secret treasury managed by undead merchants who rise once a century to make long-term investments.
  • Orc Lord: An orc army approaches from the west, and there’s a Traitor in the city, trying to weaken Glitterhagen’s defences before the siege begins. Many have already fled the city.
    • The Traitor is secretly a pirate captain – by sparking panic, he’s forcing all the rich nobles to flee by ship, and his pirate armada’s going to sweep in and loot the laden refugee ships
  • Diabolist: The characters were hired to investigate a spate of possessions and strange events, and they’ve learned that the one thing all the victims had in common was that they bargained with a mysterious merchant – a Soul Broker – in the marketplace.
    • All those souls are going to get used in a ritual to invoke a demon of greed.

Now, the characters are on the verge of tracking down their foe in the Grand Bazaar.

Scene Setup

Ask a player who got a 5 or 6 on an Icon roll how their Icon ally helped them find the villain. (If no-one got an appropriate 5 or 6, then go for the most suitable background and ask the player how they tracked down the villain).

If you can, use the other 5s or 6s now – maybe hand out a +1 weapon or some other benefit. Put any outstanding 5s and 6s in front of the players and explain that they can use them in the game if they can think of something suitably cool.

Next, go around the table, focusing on players who didn’t get Icon benefits, and flesh the scene out with leading questions.

  • The Bazaar is a huge open-air market square. Lots of booths and tents. What’s the biggest landmark in the Bazaar?
  • How do you arrive in the Bazaar? Are you going for speed or stealth as you pursue your quarry?
  • Something’s happening in the Bazaar that’s going to be an obstacle. What is it?
  • The guard in the Bazaar are unusual in some way. How so?
  • You’ve got a bad feeling about this. What’s worrying you?

The villain’s somewhere in the Bazaar, moving through the crowds. The characters arrive and hunt for him, using whatever tools or clues they’ve established. After a few minutes’ hunting, they spot the villain approaching an ornate purple tent. As they move to stop him…

A Note On Timing

Intro, Character Setup, Basics – 15 minutes

Lead into first fight – 5 minutes

First fight – 15 minutes

Lead into second fight – 5 minutes

Second fight – 10 minutes

The Grey Rat (Lich King villain): The ground of the bazaar suddenly collapses. The old city catacombs run under the bazaar – they run under everywhere – and undead creatures swarm out. The Grey Rat scurries down into the catacombs. To get to him, the characters must fight through the skeletal horde.

Bazaar Fight

3 PCs 4 PCs 5 PCs 6 PCs
Skeleton Warriors 2 2 3 3
Decrepit Skeletons 5 10 10 15

Skeleton Warriors

2nd Level Troop [UNDEAD]

Initiative +8

Vulnerability: Holy

Spear +8 vs. AC – 6 damage

Resist Weapons 16+

 

AC16

PD 14 HP 26

MD 11

 

Decrepit Skeletons

1nd Level Mook [UNDEAD]

Initiative +6

Vulnerability: Holy

Spear +6 vs. AC – 3 damage

Resist Weapons 16+

AC 16

PD 14 HP 7 (mook)

MD 10

Once the undead are defeated (or bypassed), the characters can search the tent and find a map of the catacombs, clearly drawn by interrogating the dead. He’s pinpointed the location of the Bank of the Dead beneath the city. It’s located directly beneath the Well of Foresight, and there’s an old tradition that various trading houses throw copies of their annual reports down the well.

The characters then pursue the villain into the catacombs, following him to the vault of the Bank of the Dead. There are lots of coffins containing slumbering bank-liches, and lots of gold. The characters can either battle the villain and his Decrepit Skeleton horde, or else change the most recent financial reports to awaken the Dread Bankers.

Bank Fight

3 PCs 4 PCs 5 PCs 6 PCs
Grey Rat 1 1 1 1
Decrepit Skeletons 0 5 10 15

Grey Rat

2nd Level Triple-Strength Caster [Humanoid]

Initiative +7

Staff +7 vs AC – 15 damage

C: Death Curse +7 vs. PD (all nearby foes) – 7 damage, creates one Decrepit Skeleton per hit

Ratform (1/battle) – turn into a rat. Turns into a rat, avoiding one attack and disengaging.

AC 18

PD 12 HP 70

MD 16

The Traitor (Orc Lord villain): Suddenly, orcs emerge from the purple tent and start hacking and slashing. Most of the orcs are illusions, but there are a few orc warriors who are real and solid. The Traitor pops into the tent and flees through the sewers.

3 PCs 4 PCs 5 PCs 6 PCs
Orc Berserkers 2 2 3 3
Illusionary Orcs 5 10 10 15

Orc Berserkers

 

2nd Level Troop [Humanoid]

 

Initiative +5

 

Greataxe +7 vs. AC – 8 damage

Dangerous: Crit range increases by 3 unless staggered

AC 16

PD 15 HP 30

MD 13

 

Illusionary Orcs

1nd Level Mook [Illusion]

Initiative +3

 

Axe +6 vs. AC – 6 damage

Illusion: A partially damaged illusion is destroyed

AC16

PD14 HP7 (mook)

MD10

 

The orc attack starts a panic in the market. People hurry down to the docks towards the ships, and the great exodus begins. It’s clear that anyone who has a ship to go to is leaving the city.

The Traitor ran into a sewer entrance. Pursuing him through the sewers, the characters find their way to an exit on a waterside warehouse. There, they see a ship departing, its sails filled by a magical wind. The traitor’s standing at the tiller. The characters need to leap on board or otherwise stop the ship from leaving the harbor, or else the Traitor will send in his pirate fleet!

The Pirate Captain

2nd Level Triple-Strength Wrecker [Humanoid]

Initiative +8

Cutlass +7 vs AC (2 attacks) – 13 damage

Natural even hit: Swashbuckle! The captain moves, making the target vulnerable until they move to counter.

Miss: 6 damage

Ring of Illusion: When the captain is staggered, he adopts the illusion of one of the player characters.

AC 18

PD 16 HP 90

MD 12

The Soul Broker (Diabolist villain): The Soul Broker ducks into a strange curiosity shop down a side street – but when the characters try to follow him, the purple tent comes to life and attacks. Demonic imps pour of it, while the tent itself flails at them with viciously sharp tentpegs and whipping guy-ropes.

3 PCs 4 PCs 5 PCs 6 PCs
The Tent 1 1 1 1
Demon Imps 0 5 10 15

The Tent

2nd Level Triple-Strength Blocker [Construct]

Initiative +5

Ropes +7 vs. AC – 7 damage

Natural 16+: Target is grabbed

Engulf +7 vs. PD (grabbed targets only) – engulfed victim takes 10 ongoing damage

AC 18

PD 16 HP 90

MD 12

Demon Imps

1st level Mook [Demon]

Initiative +5

Claws +6 vs. AC – 4 damage

Mockery: If a character misses an attack on an imp, he takes 3 damage

AC 16

PD 11 HP 7 (mook)

MD 16

The curiosity shop is larger on the inside than on the outside, as the dimensions inside stretch absurdly. After blundering through aisles lined with strange things, the characters find their way onto the roof, where the Soul Broker’s engaged in a strange ritual with a flock of doves and a dozen glowing glass baubles. Each bauble contains a soul, and the broker argues that the rich nobles and spoiled brats whose souls he obtained had already damned themselves through greed. By incarnating them as birds, he’s giving them a chance to earn redemption – and the characters won’t stop him!

The characters must defeat the mad diabolist and his pigeons from hell.

Soul Broker

2nd Level Triple-Strength Caster [Humanoid]

Initiative +7

Staff +7 vs AC – 15 damage

C: Madness +7 vs. MD – 14 damage, and target is Confused (save ends)

Pigeons from Hell – free +7 vs AC attack on all nearby foes, 5 damage

AC 18

PD 12 HP 70

MD 16

The play advice in Hillfolk largely focuses on the GM as the source of external pressure that keeps the player characters at odds with one another, generating new and compelling drama. However, as a DramaSystem player, you may well enjoy the process of tightening the screws on, or delivering comeuppances to, other players’ characters. A crass application of this technique can tip the game into unwanted PvP territory. But a sneakier, more subtle use of your scene-narrating powers can crank up the fun for everyone.

For example, in a recent game of the Alma Mater Magica series I’m currently running, stuffy, pedantic wizard Dr. “Doc” Jacobsen (Paul Jackson) finally took it upon himself to destroy a parasite criminal French elves had installed in colleague Dr. Stephen Kim (Scott Wachter) in order to remotely monitor group activities. The parasite, a centipede named Maurice, had been a staple of the series over many sessions. No one had bothered to do much about him, in part because they probably reckoned that I as GM would somehow stop them, but mostly because Maurice had sparked too many fun scenes to get rid of. Yet now his presence had finally precipitated its long-foreshadowed catastrophe. The time for an exorcism had come. Paul described the scene in which the parasite was removed and Maurice apparently met his end.

Until Chris Hüth, playing reluctant returnee to the world of magic Earl Pudgely, decided that Maurice was still too fun to lose, even if he was no longer clinging to Stephen’s pancreas. So he narrated his next scene to describe a bent and broken but still very much alive Maurice crawling away. That’s the sort of thing a GM would do, but Chris, author of Blood on the Snow’s article on playing DramaSystem to win, saw an opportunity to confront another player with an entertaining turnaround and took it.

When stumped for a scene to call, you too might look to see if you can envision any scenes that will delightfully complicate the lives of other cast members.

As of this writing, Maurice still lives, having inveigled his way into the life of yet another PC, just barely convincing her of his value as a familiar. And because it was Chris who made it happen and not me, it doesn’t feel like the editorial hand of the GM pressing down to keep things moving in a certain direction, or granting script immunity to a treasured GMC.

So when you try this at home, think of it as the Old Centipede Trick.

Le mille-pattes est mort! Vive le mille-pattes!

Image credit: Matt Reinbold, via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0


Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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