Mutant_City_Blues_Cover01Continuing Ken’s theme of looting 13th Age for GUMSHOE twists, let’s talk about monsters. In 13th Age, monsters have a sort of rudimentary AI – instead of the GM deciding to use their special abilities in advance, they’re triggered by the result of the attack roll. So, for example, if a ghoul gets a natural even hit, it gets to make its target vulnerable. If a frost giant rolls a 16 or higher when attacking, it also gets to freeze its foe.

For example, here’s a basic human thug:

13th Age Human Thug 

1st Level troop [Humanoid]

Initiative: +3

Heavy Mace +5 vs AC - 4 damage

Natural even hit or miss: The thug deals +6 damage with its next attack this battle. (GM, be sure to let the PCs know this is coming; it’s not a secret.)

AC17

PD14    HP 27

MD12

Automating monsters like that makes the GM’s life easier. Instead of having to make decisions before rolling the dice, the GM can just attack and let the triggered abilities make the fight more interesting and complex. The thugs, for example, encourage the player characters to focus their fire or dodge away from the ones who have extra damage lined up for next round. Some of the work of making the monster cool gets shifted from the actual play part of the game to pre-game preparation, leaving the GM free to concentrate on evocative descriptions. tactics and other immediate concerns. (Triggered powers can also surprise the GM, which is always fun.)

GUMSHOE monsters and foes have a limited number of points to spend on their attacks, possibly mediated by an attack pattern. While the attack pattern does take some of the heavy lifting away, the GM still has to make decisions about when to spend the bad guy’s ability pools. Let’s try taking away as much resource management as possible from the GM. For general abilities, for every 4 points a creature has in its pool, give it a +1 bonus, to a maximum of +3, and modelling special abilities as special-case rules or powers triggered by a dice roll instead of the GM having to make a choice. Health, obviously, is unchanged.

Obviously, GUMSHOE’s smaller range of random results means that you’ll have to be a little more restrained when it comes to special powers – there’s a big difference between a power that triggers on a natural 20 in 13th Age and a natural 6 in GUMSHOE. Possible triggers for powers include:

  • Natural even or odd rolls – good for alternate attacks or special effects
  • Natural 1s or 6s
  • 5s & 6s – generically ‘good rolls’, useful for foes that have a chance of doing extra damage or inflicting some special condition, like stunning or knocking prone
  • Health reaches a certain threshold – perfect for countdown mechanics, where the fie gets nastier towards the end of the fight
  • The attacking player character has no points left in a pool – if you’re out of Shooting, the alien monster breaks from cover and rushes towards yo

You can also have a power be limited to a certain number of uses – a ghoul in Night’s Black Agents might get an extra attack on the first three times it rolls a natural 6, but no more.

All these rules are just for monsters and NPCs – player characters still get to juggle points and manage their resources as per the standard GUMSHOE rules.

 

Esoterrorist Security Guard

General Abilities: Scuffling +1, Shooting +2,

Health 4

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +0

Damage Modifier: +0 (Pistol), -1 (nightstick)

Freeze!: +2 bonus to Shooting in the first round of combat if the security guard isn’t surprised.

Natural 1: The guard calls for backup. If help’s available, it’ll arrive in the next few minutes. The guard misses his next attack. Treat further natural 1s as simple misses.

 

Night’s Black Agents Thug (pg. 70)

General abilities: Athletics +2, Driving +1, Hand to Hand +2, Shooting +1, Weapons +2

Health 6

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: -1

Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), +0 (club), +1 (9mm pistol)

Wall of Fire: If three or more thugs shoot at the same target, the last thug gets +1 Shooting

Gang Assault: If three or more thugs attack the same target with Hand to Hand or Weapons, they all get +1 damage.

 

Night’s Black Agents Bodyguard (pg. 69)

General abilities: Athletics +3, Driving +2, Hand to Hand +3, Medic +1, Shooting +2, Weapons +2

Health 8

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: -0

Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), -1 (flexible baton), +1 (9mm pistol)

Armor: -1 vs bullets

Protect the Principal: On a natural 5 or 6 when making an Athletics, Driving or Shooting test, the Hit Threshold of whoever the bodyguard’s guarding increases by +2 for the rest of the round.

Stunning Blow: On a natural 6 when making a Hand to Hand attack, the target loses their next action unless they spend 3 Health or Athletics.

 

Ashen Stars All-Shredder Klorn

General abilities: Athletics +3, Scuffling +3

Health 30

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: -3

Damage Modifier: +6

Armor: -3

Natural Even Roll: +2 bonus to Scuffling

Natural Odd Roll: Smash! The klorn destroys some obstacle or object nearby – it breaks through a wall, kicks over a computer console, smashes its spiked tail through the engine coolant tanks, knocks over a nearby ground car or something equally cinematic.

Natural 6: The klorn’s target is impaled on its spear-teeth; +4 bonus damage

Frenzy: When the klorn’s reduced to 10 or less Health, it immediately makes a free Scuffling attack on the nearest foe.

Special: Refreshes health pool when struck by non-lethal disruption fire

 

 

 


A scenario premise for Ashen Stars

The lasers take a contract to stop an isolated planetary despot from starting a disastrous, self-destructive war. The mystery: how to do that.

Since the Mohilar War the the planet Endemia has retreated from the rest of the Bleed. Their economy locked into a failed policy of self-determination, its people suffer utter deprivation. As far as anyone can tell, given the way the end of that war scrambled memories of its key events, Endemia, like the Durugh, allied with the foes of the Combine, the now forcibly forgotten Mohilar. It split away from Democir, a culturally similar twin planet in the same system that remained loyal to their mutual Terran heritage. Endemian leaders have rewritten history to argue that their former brothers were in fact the betrayers, whose slanders have unfairly blackened the reputation of an entire world.

Years of isolation have left Endemia’s already ragtag armaments and ships in a shocking state of disrepair. But no one wants to tell that to their paranoid, perpetually enemy-hunting Global Emperor Xongta III. Omnipresent propaganda machine has told a generation of starving citizens that they still field a mighty space navy. Now, spurred on by internal politics no outsiders have the inside info to parse, the Endemian politburo prepares to launch a massive assault against the hated Democirs. As soon as the Endemian fleet meets the resistance posed by their wealthy and well-equipped targets, hundreds of thousands of its ill-trained conscripts will die. “Like balls of paper hitting a wall of flame,” as one military analyst puts it.

An Endemian ex-pat puts out a laser contract looking for a team to stop this doomed assault from ever leaving the launch pads. before it begins. Can your lasers penetrate this fear-driven, closed society and stop its leader from bringing disaster upon his people? Once on the ground, do they limit their actions to the terms of the contract, or try to do more and topple Xongta II from his precarious perch?

Ripped from this headline.


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.

From the planet Sumter the call goes out: the wargames are on. Before the Mohilar War, Sumter existed as a synthculture planet. It appealed to both permanent and transient populations wishing to relive the period of the US Civil War, including its major battles. Those reenactments took place with fake weapons and robust technological safeguards.

Sumpter’s new martial sports unfold in a hail of live, lethal fire. They attract damaged and discontented veterans of the past war who feel they fit in only when fighting for their lives. Remaining 19th-century trappings include uniforms and energy beam rifles shaped like muskets. Most combatants regard these as irrelevant curiosities. The war they’re here to relive isn’t ancient history, but is torn from their own biographies.

Your laser crew has been hired to find an enlistee in the upcoming wargames. Former atmospheric paratrooper Xino Voss intends to fight until she dies. Haunted by the wartime loss of her comrades, for which she blames herself, she aims to go down in a blaze of glory.

Her rich and terminally ill mother has other ideas. She wants the lasers to find her daughter, administer her anti-trauma meds (forcibly if necessary) and extract her before she achieves her death wish. That requires them to wade onto the games’ vast playing field, half a continent of live fire zone. There the green and purple teams fight to the death as pieces in a brutal struggle devoid of strategic goals or political meaning. Once the lasers step into the playing space, they become targets for both sides. If they’re there, they’re worth points, even if they wear the armbands of neither side.

Investigation involves finding the target, identifying a safe way to approach her, figuring out how to get her out against her will, and then escaping intact. Along the way, they might also discover the formless energy parasite who is stoking the wargames in order to nourish itself on the agony of death and the adrenaline of combat. Neutralizing the parasite ends the wargame, as the vast majority of players realizes they’ve been acting not out of their own desires, but due to the siren psychic call of an alien intelligence.


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.

A while back we learned of the vials of supposedly destroyed smallpox virus that turned up in a laboratory storage room in Bethesda, Maryland. Luckily, no one was exposed to the deadly disease, allowing us to guiltlessly mine the incident for scenario inspiration. How you might use it depends on the game you’re currently running:

Ashen Stars: The lasers get a contract to find out what happened to an archaeological survey team tasked to explore the ancient alien ruins of the outlying world Cophetus. They arrive to find the team’s base, with evidence that they had located the tomb of a great emperor and were set to open its entry hatches. The team’s interpretation of the hieroglyphs found on the side of the complex alert them to a different story—this was the tomb of the ancient pathogen that nearly extinguished this mystery civilization. Can the team learn enough to locate, rescue and decontaminate the archaeologists before they succumb to the disease—or spread it to the stars?

Mutant City Blues: Conspiracy blogger Warner Osterman is found dead in your jurisdiction, a .22 bullet in his brain. His last story was about finding serum sample vials in a disused military laboratory. According to the contents of his laptop, Osterman believed these contained a version of the disease that caused people around the world to gain super powers ten years ago. That’s the angle that gets the case assigned to the HCIU. Did Osterman die because he got too close to the secret of the Sudden Mutation Event? Or just because he made people think he did?

Dying Earth: Locals in an isolated village your neer-do-wells happen to traipse through run a lucrative sideline in waylaying treasure hunters. When visitors come, they let slip the presence of an ancient treasure vault, one they pretend to be too superstitious to venture near. Over many years they’ve learned the right words to trigger the greed of arrogant freebooters. The adventurers head off to plunder the ancient temple, which in fact is the repository of an enervating energy left behind by a heedlessly experimental arch-magician. The magical plague kills off the visitors. Then, armed with protective amulets, villagers head on down to strip their corpses of valuables. Can our anti-heroes escape the fate of so many likeminded troublemakers before them. If so, do they turn the tables on the rubes who so impertinently used their own greed against them?

NASA’s Cassini probe has detected any icy object in Saturn’s rings that may be a nascent moon.

The small object may already be falling apart, making for a story less less impressive than the “baby moon” headlines suggest. So let’s fix that by ripping it from the science headlines for Ashen Stars.

The lasers snag a contract to investigate and retrieve the object of an unusual theft. The Xeno-Eco Foundation a balla-run organization created to curb environmental crimes in the Bleed, hires the crew to find out who stole a moon. Remote probes located in the Athos Outzone detected the formation of a new moon in the rings of the gas giant Ninurta. They also spotted what looked like a battered hauler entering the rings, capturing it with a tractor beam, and taking it away. In accordance with Combine anti-poaching laws, the Xeno-Ecos want the moon pirates identified and their ship destroyed. As a bonus, they hope that the lasers can restore the moon to its rightful spot around Ninurta.

The twist comes when the lasers use stellar forensics to track the missing moon to its new location just outside the absorption zone of a black hole. The hauler that stole it belongs to the ragtag, wayfaring fleet of a nufaith colony. Its adherents believe that Ninurta is the material manifestation of an evil goddess destined to devour the known galaxy. Whenever Ninurta births a moon, they believe, it is their duty to take it away and destroy it, before it blossoms fully into a marauding engine of death that will eventually undo the big bang and unravel the universe. As the lasers arrive, sect leaders have commenced the multi-day ritual, after which they’ll tip the baby moon into the black hole.

How do the lasers reconcile the conflict between ecological protection and sincerely held religious belief?

The Justice Trade reducedOver on RPGNet, Kafka has picked up The Justice Trade and given it a once-over.

Kafka says “Each of these adventures add more colour and flavour to the Ashen Stars universe with each containing a mystery waiting to jump out and shock the players. This collection is unreservedly recommended for the setting and the Gumshoe system, and even for other SFRPGs (once you master the tropes specific to Ashen Stars).”

Ending with the high praise, “So, if you need inspiration to create your own adventures or are a lazy sod like myself (who would rather steal…I mean adapt) this package of adventures is guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing along with creating a great night guaranteed to thrill and in some cases give your players the willies”, Kafka rates The Justice Trade an excellent 5 for Style and Substance.

You can read the full review here.

Artemis Tau systemAn Accretion Disk forms around massive bodies in space. Gravity drags in random objects and debris, spinning them around and bringing them in closer and closer, faster and faster, hotter and hotter, until something explodes.

It holds true for stars and black holes – and for politics and crime, too.

And let’s face it – you’re the ones who are going to be standing in the path of that explosive release. Better get ready.

Accretion Disk: The Ashen Stars Expansion Book includes:

  • Sample clues, special spend benefits, and added data on each Investigative ability. Learn how to use Kinetics to escape VR simulations, identify alien interference in pre-contact cultures, and trace viro-augmented criminals with endocrinological profiling.
  • More options and tactics for general abilities, including species-specific ones. Master zero-g martial arts, detect weapons as they charge up, and acquire corporate sponsorship for your Laser team to boost your cash flow!
  • Take your stations on board ship with options and tactics for each warpside and groundside role, then delve into player-drive Arcs and Drives. Guide your own destiny amid the guttering Ashen Stars.
  • Explore new character options with six new playable races.
  • Deckplans for every class of ship show you what it’s like on board – and new ship options and bolt-ons open up tactics for ship-board adventures.
  • When you hit dirtside, break out any of the dozens of new weapons, equipment items, cyberware or viroware – if you can afford the upkeep!
  • Hot Contracts gives a roster of jobs that only a Laser crew can handle. Pick your own challenge hot off the Bleed, and get to work!
  • Finally, twelve new hostile aliens ensure that the Bleed stays dark and bloody…

Writers: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Kevin Kulp, Kieran Turley

Status: In Development

Ashen Stars Review

A thorough review of Ashen Stars from Matthew Pook.

In fact, in comparison with other Gumshoe System RPGs, Ashen Stars is fundamentally straightforward and unfussy. Were it not for what the RPG does to the genre it is emulating, that is rework it as an investigation game, Ashen Stars would be considered to be a very traditional RPG. Instead it highlights and makes its focus upon the usually ignored investigative nature of the genre, the feature of Ashen Stars and so refreshes the genre.

Justice Trade cover

Now the war’s over, and you and your crew of freelance effectuators patrol the edge of civilized space, trying to pay the bills while you keep the peace.   But the competition in this line is fierce, and sometimes you have to cut corners — which makes you wonder if justice bought and paid for is any justice at all…   The Justice Trade contains three adventures for Ashen Stars – The Justice Trade, Terra Nova and Tartarus – written by Leonard Balsera, author of Profane Miracles and co-author of the smash hit Dresden Files; GUMSHOE designer and gaming luminary Robin D. Laws, and Bill White, author of The Big Hoodoo. It also includes a bonus twenty-minute demo game by Kevin Kulp to introduce players to the world of Ashen Stars.     The Justice Trade When the PCs answer a distress call from the planet Cabochon, they become embroiled in the political machinations of two powerful figures who each seek to shape the future of the Bleed. Will they choose to do good and make the Bleed a better place – or to do well for themselves? Tartarus In a devastatingly hostile environment,  hard-bitten lasers – who know enough not […]

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Jontheman over at TheRPGSite.com has reviewed the new music for Ashen Stars, All We Have Forgotten, by James Semple, Marie-Anne Fischer and Yaiza Varona.

All in all it’s an excellent album with some great music, and it’s suitable not only for Ashen Stars but for any science-fiction game. I can see this music working well for sci-fi horror, cyberpunk or a general exploration game.

You can read the full review here.

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