An 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
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?
In a devastatingly hostile environment, hard-bitten lasers – who know enough not to touch the gooey stuff or take off their helmets in an untested biosphere – investigate the demise of a survey crew doomed by the above mistakes.
The Terra Nova, last of the great luxury liners from the Combine’s heyday, is dead, a victim of disaster now drifting in the space between worlds. The last of the survivors clutch desperately to life, waiting for rescue. All but one; who waits only for a chance to finish the job, uncovering a secret which the Terra Nova has kept hidden for decades.
A twenty-minute demo, which is a great introduction to Ashen Stars and includes six pre-generated characters.
|Stock #: PELGA07
||Author: Leonard Balsera, Kevin Kulp, Robin D. Laws, Bill White
|Artist: Chris Huth, Pascal Quidault, Kyle Strahm
||Pages: 96pg Perfect Bound
See P. XX
A column on roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
SRD or SDD?
With editorial for Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow completed, it’s time to take a break from DramaSystem to work on another of the obligations arising from our November Kickstarter. That would be the System Reference Document for Open GUMSHOE.
On one level, this seems like an exercise in cutting and pasting, taking the basic iteration of the rules as found in the upcoming Esoterrorists Enhanced Edition (the text of which you can grab now as a preorder benefit), cutting out the setting-specific bits and then adding in elements from the other GUMSHOE games. It does however require some thought on what an SRD ought to be doing.
When you decide to throw a game system open to all comers, you naturally give up control over what happens to it as others present it for their own creative purposes. This is a concern because GUMSHOE departs from some standard assumptions and becomes a better play experience when GMs and players understand where, how and why it does this.
For example, rating points in abilities mostly don’t represent a simulated resource in the fictional world. Instead they function as a sort of narrative conceit, measuring the characters’ spotlight time and how they grab it. (A few abilities, like Health and Stability, can be regarded as measurable resources in the game reality—although of course they’re still an abstraction. When you break your leg, you can’t consult a numbered meter to see how many points you’ve lost.) GUMSHOE seems confusing to some players until they grasp this. This explanation, though not a rule, strictly speaking, serves as a key tool to enhance play. So while you might categorize it as GM advice or a player note, it’s really a pivotal component of the game. As such, the explanatory text should be available to anyone publishing their own GUMSHOE adaptation. We can’t require adopters of the license to use it—as indeed, we can’t force them to make any particular choice. We call this Open GUMSHOE, not Passive Aggressively Controlling GUMSHOE. Still, we can encourage people to include it by making it part of the standard boilerplate text in the document.
This reflects a broader priority. We’ve chosen to make GUMSHOE available to other designers. Yet we remain its foremost custodians. If we’re going to let it out of the nest like this, we’d better provide excellent care and feeding instructions. We want others not only to produce GUMSHOE games, but to design great GUMSHOE games. It should therefore contain at least some guidance on how to do this.
The GUMSHOE SRD differs from the most famous versions of its breed, the D20 and its descendant, the Pathfinder document, in that it won’t also comprise a playable game unto itself. It’s not The Esoterrorists with the IP elements scrubbed out, but rather the set of components you need to build your new game on the GUMSHOE chassis.
If you’re designing a GUMSHOE game, we want you to be able to do it well. So it has to contain at least some signposting showing you how to adapt it to your needs.
For example, the build point totals for purchasing investigative ratings vary with each iteration of the game, depending on how many of those abilities the game includes. So the SRD can’t just give you the flat numbers as they appear in The Esoterrorists or Ashen Stars or whatever, because you might include a different number of investigative abilities in your GUMSHOE game. The document has to break from the text as third-party publishers might incorporate it into their rulebooks to provide the formula to calculate what the build point totals should be.
At least in these passages, the System Reference Document becomes something else—a System Design Document. We’ve gone from SRD to SDD.
Extensive passages on how to design GUMSHOE games go beyond the scope of the project. That sort of thing is better saved for occasional columns like this one. But the SRD does have to provide designers with the basic tools to construct GUMSHOE games without having to reverse engineer from the existing books. A balance must be struck here. If the document contains too much advice, it might create preconceptions that might lead other designers away from what would otherwise be brilliant leaps away from the game’s current assumptions. Too little, and it doesn’t give them enough to simply reproduce what we’ve already established in another setting.
GUMSHOE is not a generic system, but a chassis on which you can construct an emulation of any investigative genre. For a classic example, see the grenade. Grenades in the real world work the same regardless of the context in which they’re exploded. In fiction, they can work quite differently, depending on the reality level of the genre at hand. So in the Tom Clancy-meets-postmodernism-meets-visceral horror mix of The Esoterrorists, grenades are pretty deadly. Mutant City Blues treats them as less effective than the super powers at the heart of that setting. If you for some inexplicable reason decided to fuse high energy action movies with investigation, you might make yet a third choice, depicting them as wildly damaging to property and inanimate objects, while allowing people to escape harm from them simply by jumping and being carried away by the massive fiery explosions they generate.
So again the SRD can’t just pick one grenade rule and make that the default for all genres. It has to provide a quick design note about genre emulation and point you toward the solution that works for your design goals.
Likewise we won’t be providing a complete list of mutant powers from MCB or virology implants from Ashen Stars. But we will give you examples of each special rule structure so you can then kitbash it for your own purposes.
In the process I might even learn something new about my own game, as I figure out what is and isn’t essential to it.
The GUMSHOE system by Robin D. Laws revolutionized the investigative roleplaying game, and is the basis for RPGs that will appeal to fans of many genres: space opera, spy thriller, Lovecraftian horror and two-fisted pulp adventure — with more to come.
Its central premise, though, can be challenging for newcomers to wrap their heads around. What do you mean investigative skills automatically work? If we don’t roll dice to find clues, what do we do?
One of the best ways to introduce new players to GUMSHOE is to run one of our 20-minute GUMSHOE demo adventures for them. These scenarios have been tested through convention play, and provide a solid intro to the rules as well as to individual games based on the system. If you are running something else with your game group, 20 minutes isn’t a hard sell to run at the beginning of a session.
Currently you can download three short GUMSHOE demos:
20-minute demos for Esoterrorists, Fear Itself and Mutant City Blues will be up next. Give these scenarios a try, and let us know how your session went in the forum.
Halloween is drawing near, and you might be looking for appropriately spooky games to run for your players. Here’s a quick roundup of seven Pelgrane Press games and adventures that might fit the bill:
- Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite - The designer of this mashup of the spy thriller and horror genres describes it as “The Bourne Identity, if Treadstone were vampires.” The Zalozhniy Quartet by Gareth Hanrahan is a Bourne-style Night’s Black Agents run-and-gun adventure in four parts that can be played in any order.
- Ashen Stars by Robin D. Laws - An ENnie Award-winning science fiction game where the players are freelance troubleshooters and law enforcers in a rough sector called the Bleed. Tartarus is an adventure with a setup that strongly resembles a sequel to a recent SF/horror blockbuster movie: an interstellar corporation hires the players to investigate the disappearance of a survey team on the notorious Bad Planet of Tartarus.
- The Book of the Smoke: The Investigator’s Guide to Occult London by Paula Dempsey - 2012 Gold ENnie award winner for Best Writing, this supplement to the horror RPG Trail of Cthulhu takes the form of a guidebook to the actual (if somewhat fictionalized) occult landscape of 1930s London. In addition to being a rich source of horror adventure hooks, the book itself gives readers an opportunity to unravel the mysterious death of its fictional author — though nobody’s succeeded yet.
- Fear Itself - A game of psychological horror, where ordinary people face the terrors of the Outer Black.
- The Esoterrorists - Elite investigators take on occult terrorists bent on tearing open the fabric of reality.
- The Book of Unremitting Horror - A supplement for Fear Itself and Esoterrorists that’s so unsettling a reviewer on RPG.net deducted a star from his rating because it crossed too many boundaries. Not for the faint of heart.
- Invasive Procedures – 2012 ENnie nominee for Best Adventure. In this adventure for Fear Itself and Trail of Cthulhu, players are patients in a hospital where something horrible is happening. There’s no chance to stop it — all they can do is try to get out alive. Listen to an Actual Play session on Role Playing Public Radio in which everyone who played the game died of terror. (Possibly. I haven’t listened to the whole thing, yet.)
Have fun rolling the bones…
All We Have Forgotten has been nominated for a 2013 ENnie Award as Best Aid / Accessory. More on this here.
All We Have Forgotten is music for Ashen Stars by James Semple, Marie-Anne Fischer and Yaiza Varona, the talent behind the chilling Eternal Lies Suite.
All We Have Forgotten contains 10 original tracks and 4 stings, short bursts of music to mark the end of a scene. The tracks are supplied as MP3s so can be quickly loaded onto any player to add that extra dimension and atmosphere to your game.
The music has been designed to be used with Ashen Stars but can, of course, be used with any number of sci-fi games.
You can listen to a sample here -
Read the reviews to date here.
By Robin D. Laws
The voraciously anticipated Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s reboot of the Alien franchise touched down to howls of disappointment from the fans who wanted it most. So much so that we’re plotting some remedial catharsis, in the form of an Ashen Stars scenario called Tartarus. Without encroaching on the intellectual property preserve of 20th Century Fox, it allows gamers to follow their characters to an irredeemably hostile planet and make terrifying discoveries without necessarily making a series of gobsmacking rookie blunders along the way.
The Alien movies, the new one included, function as procedural narratives. The characters tackle a series of practical obstacles in furtherance of a physical goal. In the first four movies, that goal is survival. With Prometheus the goals get a little opaque, but basically the ensemble is exploring an alien world in an attempt to understand the significance of a series of archaeological finds back on Earth.
To engage with a procedural, we have to be with the protagonists as they struggle against their obstacles. We need to see them want to achieve their goals. This may happen because we approve of those goals, or because we like the characters and want them to succeed. Often both factors come into play. Sometimes all you need is a riveting urgency of intent.
The phenomenon known as “idiot plotting” disrupts that connection between character and audience. This happens when the character creates or worsens his own obstacles by making foolhardy mistakes of simple judgment.
Here we’re not taking of the grand errors that drive a tragic hero to horrible realization and final destruction. Those occur in dramatic scenes, in which characters pursue inner, emotional goals. Lear’s error in abdicating in favor of his flattering daughters bodes ill as he makes it, but we see and understand the misplaced pride behind it. It’s a telling emotional error, not a petty practical mistake.
A petty procedural mistake would be taking off your helmet in the unknown alien environment just because your suit tells you the air is breathable. Or reaching out to touch the albino cobra vagina creature. Or deciding, upon retrieving an ancient alien severed head, that one’s first step ought to be reviving and interrogating it.
As gamers we find these moments especially painful because so much of a typical RPG session is taken up by debates over the best course of practical action. RPGs teach us to err on the side of caution, perhaps too much so. We look for the traps in situations and try to think our way past them.
When players engage in reckless actions like the above, it’s usually deliberate, and happens as the others cry for you to stop. The player may be bored and trying to start some trouble for the characters to confront. She may be acting according to her conception of the character—that is, making an emotional error instead of a practical mistake. Or she might be required to act by a rules mechanism, like GUMSHOE’s drives, that pushes the characters out of their cautious shells and into interesting danger.
In the last case, the other players have to take this with equanimity. As risk-averse as they might be, they know their characters have to take part in conflicts and face hazards.
The middle example depends on how convincingly the player portrays the emotional error, and thus how intuitively the rest of the group relates to it. If every character you play routinely gets the rest of the group in trouble by pursuing suspiciously similar inner goals, you can expect this habit to wear thin. That suggests that you start out wanting the power within the group that comes from being recalcitrant or a troublemaker, and then backwards-engineer the motivations needed to justify that behavior. By doing this too obviously, you create the same kind of sympathy breakdown we experience when we see idiot plotting on screen—the rest of the group withdraws from your character, seeing the contrivance behind the misstep.
The first case—the blatant, unmotivated lurch into trouble—earns resentment not only from other players, but from the GM, who has to find a satisfying response to your actions that doesn’t spin the session’s narrative into a credibility-draining comedy of errors.
(Unless, of course, that’s part of the premise, and you’re all knowingly working toward it, as you would in a Skulduggery or Dying Earth session.)
The disastrous mistake that gets the best response at the gaming table is the one that no one sees coming, that the players stumble into as unwittingly as their characters do. The resulting groan resounds with mordant recognition, as the pieces of the disaster fall into place. Here the group retains its sympathy for the blunderer, because they didn’t see the result coming, either.
That’s part of the problem with idiot plotting in other story forms: it fails to deliver this sense of surprise. It’s predictable. Yes, we may feel suspense during the gap between the action and consequence. Exciting narratives hand us reversals—they set up an outcome, misdirect us away from it, and back toward it. Or they make us believe that the terrible thing is going to happen, then provide a rescue that surprises us while also paying off an earlier set-up. In both cases, we are surprised and have our expectations met at the same time. Creating expectations and then straightforwardly realizing them adds structural insult to the basic injury at play here.
That core injury breaches the implicit trust between character and audience, leading us to withdraw our identification from foolhardy characters.
Just as we get annoyed with a disruptive player who veers the narrative into tediously predictable negative paths, we refuse to invest in characters who betray our concern for them. We can root for sociopaths, megalomaniacs, the cosmically misdirected, and anti-heroes of all dimensions. In comedy, we can hope for the ultimate victories of the hapless, hopeless, and clueless. But, whether at the tabletop or on the big screen, we can’t make ourselves care about people who should know better, but do dumb stuff for no apparent reason. As gamers, we see this more acutely, and can maybe better articulate why more precautions should have been taken with all those alien contaminants, but everyone feels it.
A new adventure for Ashen Stars from Robin D Laws.
In this scenario of exploration and confrontation in a devastatingly hostile environment, hard-bitten lasers, who know enough not to touch the gooey stuff or take off their helmets in an untested biosphere, investigate the demise of a survey crew doomed by the above mistakes, and more.
The interstellar corporation Shrawley-Gosha Industries offers a contract for an extraction operation on a notorious Bad Planet called Tartarus. A recent SGI survey mission went awry there, with all hands presumed lost. The company seeks a crew to retrieve DNA samples from the dead team members, to see if they were exposed to an experimental viroware treatment, and, if so, whether it contributed to the mission’s failure. As a secondary objective, the lasers are to gather enough evidence to reconstruct the sequence of events leading to whatever catastrophe destroyed the original team.
To be released as a stand-alone PDF and in a print bundle with Terra Nova.
|Stock #: PELGA05D
||Author: Robin D Laws
||Pages: 27pg PDF
A revolt against a planetary despot disrupts your rescue mission. Do you intervene or stick to the brief? The latest installment of my StoryCraft column for The Ancient Scroll is eminently suitable for Ashen Stars. Check it out.
By Robin D. Laws
This is the second of two installments covering additional combat options for Ashen Stars. See part one for explanation and disclaimers. While the rules themselves are from the Esoterror Fact Book, the enhancements and gear are new and have not been playtested. Because, seriously, who playtests columns?
When your raw die roll on an attack attempt is a 6, and your total result after pool expenditures are taken into account exceeds the target’s Hit Threshold by 5 or more, you score a critical hit, rolling two instances of damage and adding them together.
Nadia, escaping from an organ harvesting complex run by radical cybes, punches a guard, whose Hit Threshold is 4. Her player, Piera, spends 3 Scuffling points on the attack, then rolls a 6, for a final result of 9. This exceeds the Threshold by 5, allowing a critical hit. Nadia deals damage equal to two punches, with a -2 damage value. Piera rolls a 5, for a modified result of 3 damage, and a 6, which modifies to 4 damage. The guard loses 7 Health, going from 5 to -2.
If PCs can score critical hits, their dramatically important enemies can, too.
Viroware Enhancement: Occipital Overclocker
Initial Therapy Cost: 1
This enhancement allows you to divert your brain’s processing power to visual acuity and hand-eye coordination, briefly granting you a supranormal ability to zero an enemy’s weak spot and execute the perfect attack against it.
Spend X academic or technical investigative points to turn any successful hit, regardless of your die roll or the difference between result and Hit Threshold, into a critical hit.
The value of X starts at 2 and doubles each time you use the occipital overclocker over the course of a single case. When a new case begins, the cost resets to 2. So in one case, the cost accelerates from 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 and so on.
By going into defensive mode, you can opt to decrease both your chance of being hit and your chance of hitting anyone else. For every 2 Athletics points you spend, your Hit Threshold increases by 1, up to a maximum increase of 3. When you try to hit anyone else, their Hit Thresholds against you increase by 2 for every 1 point your Hit Threshold increased. While in defensive mode, you duck, weave, backtrack, and otherwise concentrate on not being hit. Announce that you’re going defensive at the beginning of your action for the round; doing so does not cost an action itself. The effects last until the beginning of your next action, at which point you can renew them (provided you can afford the cost.)
Badly pressed and running out of Scuffling points, Nadia attempts to fend off a lipovore while waiting for her fellow lasers to swoop by on their shuttle, dangling an escape-ready rope ladder. Her player, Alex, declares evasive action and spends 4 Athletics on a 2 point Hit Threshold increase, taking Nadia’s threshold from 4 to 6. The lipovore’s Threshold increases (against Blake’s attacks only) from 4 to 8.
Viroware Enhancement: Limbic Defender
Initial Therapy Cost: X
The Limbic Defender virus harnesses the power of your fight-or-flight reflex, flooding your body with additional adrenaline. You needn’t spend Athletics to go into Defensive Mode. Instead, you may, once per case, add X, the cost you chose to spend when installing the enhancement, to your Hit Threshold. When you attack others, add 2X to their Hit Thresholds. The effect lasts for the duration of a single fight.
By fighting all-out, taking no precautions against being hit yourself, you can increase your chances of hitting your opponent—at additional risk of being hit yourself. Spend 1 Athletics to decrease both your and a chosen opponent’s Hit Threshold by up to 3 points. The minimum Hit Threshold achievable through a reckless attack is 1. Your opponent’s Hit Threshold decreases only against you, but your decrease occurs against all potential opponents. The decreases last until the beginning of your next action, at which point you can renew them by paying another Athletics point.
Confident that his clones will flee if their genetic exemplar is taken down, Nadia fights recklessly against the nufaith crusader Eln Tholar. Piera spends 1 Athletics point and decides on a 2-point decrease. Eln Tholar’s Threshold decreases from 3 to 1, but only against Nadia’s attack. Against the attacks of her crewmate, gunner Maggie Flatt, the exemplar’s Hit Threshold remains 3. However, Eln Tholar’s clones strike at Nadia as if her Hit Threshold is 1.
Viroware Enhancement: Rageaholic’s Delight
Initial Therapy Cost: X
This colorfully named virus awakens the latent aggression of your lizard brain (or lizard-like primordial evolutionary precursor, in the case of non-human species.) You needn’t spend Athletics to take Reckless Attacks. Instead, you may, once per case, subtract X, the cost you chose to spend when installing the enhancement, to your Hit Threshold, and from the Hit Threshold of a designated opponent (but only against your attacks.) The effect lasts for the duration of a single fight.
If you are a Tavak and use this enhancement in a fight, the Difficulty of any Resist Battle Frenzy tests taken for the rest of the interval increases by X.
If your Athletics rating is 8 or more, you may perform support moves. In a support move, you use your action to execute an Athletics maneuver, which then places one of your comrades in a superior position against an opponent. Describe, in exciting detail, how you intend the action to either improve your comrade’s position, or degrade an opponent’s. If your suggestion seems plausible, the GM clears you to make an Athletics test. Although your GM can adjust Difficulties according to described circumstances, you usually test against a Difficulty of 4. If successful, you allow your comrade to add the difference between your result and difficulty to a Shooting or Scuffling roll against the designated opponent. If the comrade fails to attack that opponent as his next action, the benefit is lost.
On New Peru’s windswept mountains, Nadia finds herself pinned in a narrow crevasse as a gelatinous native organism attempts to melt her face. Maggie, higher up on the cliff face, has dropped her rifle but wants to assist her comrade. Her player, Livia, describes a support move: “I rappel down and kick a loose chunk of rock so that it sinks through the thing’s outer translucence into the brain tissue below!” The GM rules that this is possible and not extra difficult (though dangerous—if Maggie fails, she’ll have to pass a second Athletics test or fall and hurt herself.) Livia adds 3 to her Athletics roll of 6 for a final result of 9. The creature attacks Nadia, reducing her Health from 11 to 5 as the flesh of her skin puckers and fizzes. Now it’s Nadia’s turn to act; she may apply a bonus of 5 (the difference between Maggie’s difficulty and result) to her roll. Piera spends a Scuffling point of her own, for a total bonus of 6, and rolls a 1, for a result of 7. This is just enough for Nadia to overcome the creature’s very high Hit Threshold and deal it the first of two stun attacks needed to down it.