In this series, Kenneth Hite looks at the creatures, species, and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos from every non-Euclidean angle. Alternate versions and new explanations provide the same jolt of mythic bisociation that the gods and titans receive in the TRAIL OF CTHULHU corebook. Hite traces these foul things through their legendary history, and provides further clues for any Investigator to follow. Horrific scenario seeds burst and bloom, story spines protrude and deform, in a blasphemous garden any Keeper can harvest.
“As to what the things were — explanations naturally varied.” So are described the Mi-Go, the fungi from Yuggoth, the half-crustacean haunters of the hillside, the malevolent alien miners … are also opponents of the Yellow Sign and tireless questers for science. And that’s just one story! Are they servants of Nyarlathotep or fellow sentients trapped in a hellish cosmos? Listen for their whispers in tales of kobolds and kallikanzarai, look for their traces in Himalayan snows and heartland crop circles.
HIDEOUS CREATURES: MI-GO is the fifth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you’re a KWAS subscriber, it’s now on your existing order page) or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.
|Stock #: PELH06D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artists: Ian Schofield, Stefano Azzalin
||Pages: 11pg PDF
A stand-alone roleplaying game by Robin D Laws
You are elite investigators combating the plots of the Esoterrorists, a loose affiliation of occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world. The Esoterrorists introduces the GUMSHOE rules system, which revolutionizes investigative scenarios by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward.
Upgrades, Improvements and New Content for the 2nd Edition.
This new edition of The Esoterrorists is 4 times longer and allows you to:
- Equip your characters with fine-grained investigative abilities, ranging from Interrogation and Data Retrieval to the ever-popular Forensic Entomology and always useful Bullshit Detector.
- Round them out with 13 crucial action abilities, which help you fight, run away, and retain your mental stability when the horrors come knocking.
- Absorb the latest, in-depth intelligence data on the terrifying world of the Esoterrorists.
- Learn the never-before-revealed inner workings of the Ordo Veritatis, the secret international agency that sends you out to smash the foe.
- Recoil at raw reports detailing all-new creatures of unremitting horror.
- Root yourself in a site of small town menace with the new Station Duty campaign frame and scenario.
- Confront fever dreams of the apocalypse in a brand new introductory scenario, OPERATION: PROPHET BUNCO!
Also included, for gamemasters:
- Data on the terrifying world of the Esoterrorists, and the Ordo Veritatis, the benevolent global conspiracy that fights them
- Creatures of unremitting horror.
- Detailed instructions on structuring investigative scenarios for the innovative GUMSHOE system
- Advice on bringing those scenarios to life in play
- Operation Slaughterhouse, an advanced example scenario of geopolitical horror
The Esoterrorists is easy to learn, easy to play and replayable by design.
Incorporating years of advice, actual play experience, and design evolution, The Esoterrorists Enhanced Edition includes all the rules you need to play the game that revolutionized investigative roleplaying. Dripping with ichor and jammed with content, this is the heftier, meatier, definitive tome gamers have been crying out for ever since they laid their paws on the original.
Reviews of The Esoterrorists:
… the game does deliver on its promise. You could easily explain the rules to someone in 15 minutes enough so that they could play. You can also learn them enough to run the game in about an hour.
I was apprehensive about the system but I was wrong – it worked really well for me.
The rules are incredible – I honestly think this is the best investigation-based RPG ever printed.
|Stock #: PELG012
||Author: Robin D. Laws with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
|Artist: Phil Reeves, Kyle Strahm
||Pages: 160 page perfect bound
See P. XX
A column on roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
For a pivotal feature of the roleplaying experience, the ability of players to make choices that alter the course of events can be awfully easy to lose track of.
The way in which an adventure is devised and delivered tends to alter both the number of choices given to the players, and the impact of those choices.
In a purely improvised adventure, a collaborative GM can most easily respond to player initiative. She doesn’t have to envision a complex set of branching eventualities. When the party encounters a challenge, players tell her what they plan to do about it. They conference about this before arriving at a proposal, giving the GM time to imagine likely approaches and outcomes. Or she can sit there attending to some other bit of planning and respond with well-honed common sense to whatever the plan of action turns out to be. Through some combination of rules resolution and fiat, she works out whether the plan succeeds or fails. Then she narrates the consequences of that outcome. Bingo, the players have made a choice, seen a result of that choice, and now move on from that result to their next obstacle, where the pass/fail cycle repeats itself. Choices not made remain invisible, except to the extent that the players consider making them during the conference phase, but then don’t.
In a prepared adventure, and most particularly in an adventure written by a designer for another GM to run, the introduction and communication of choice points complicates itself.
When you prep an adventure for yourself, you’re probably leaving in room for adjustment and improvisation as you go. You likely don’t write it out in full prose, as a designer of a published adventure has to do. You only need enough notes to remind you of what had in mind ahead of time. Within the bullet points lies lots of room to improvise.
Published adventures have to spell out much more of the author’s intention. In this process the author can constrict his intention, limiting player choice—or force you to compensate on the fly when you hit a result that should have been accounted for. To compensate for this, adventures should explicitly include plenty of choice points and make it easy for GMs to spot and deploy them.
A couple of obstacles stand in the way of that, though.
One, it’s all too easy even for an experienced adventurer writer to slip into full-on narrative mode, describing what’s happening as if in a screenplay, rather than sticking to a blueprint for the GM so she can tell the story. Some of my earliest adventures fall into this trap. You might call this the distinction between story-mapping, in which you lay out choices for the GM to set out in front of the players, and storytelling, in which you present a vivid chain of events she somehow has to wrangle them into. Storytelling tempts the adventure writer because it is more fun to write and therefore to read. People who buy adventures to imagine running them, as opposed to actually running them, may enjoy a storytelling style more—it’s clearer and more exciting.
A story-mapping style, on the other hand, bursts with if-statements.
- If the PCs go down into the basement, they encounter the charioteer’s ghost.
- If they decline to go down there, they’re confronted by the caretaker.
- If they present themselves to the caretaker as reliable citizens, he warns them to leave.
- If they upset him somehow, he calls the cops.
To test an adventure for choice points, see if it keeps using, along with a profusion of ifs, words like might, probably, possibly, perhaps and maybe. A story-mapped adventure has to lay out a variety of roads, most of which will not be taken, and their consequences. Then it has to make them easy to find during play.
Certain tricks can aid in this. If the main choice before the players is which scenes they involve themselves in, and in what order, the individual scenes don’t necessarily require a ton of if-statements that chain into other if-statements. On a macro level, GUMSHOE scenarios often work like this. It doesn’t mean much, though, unless the order in which scenes occur makes a difference to the overall outcome of the story, or introduces some other long-term effect into the series.
Zooming in further, a GUMSHOE investigative scene also poses the choice of where to look for clues, how to gather them, and, most importantly, how to put those clues together to either move forward toward the ultimate solution of the mystery.
Fight scenes offer an array of choices—perhaps too many if you like your scraps simple but the rules system doesn’t. As with the clues in an investigative game, these are baked into the structure of the rules set. The designer or GM drops the creature stats, terrain and situation into play, and the game’s basic dynamic takes care of the rest. When the fight starts, players decide who to engage, what to hit them with, and then how to change the situation to their benefit as the dust-up continues. That’s why they work so well and are such a staple of roleplaying, as we see gloriously celebrated in 13th Age. Fights offer an array of choices all bundled together outside a messy nest of if-statements.
It’s scenes between the extremes of mystery solving and head-bashing that require the greatest attention to bake in meaningful choices. These scenes include negotiation, politicking, and exploration, to name a few.
As pure text, even with bullet points, a scene consisting of possibilities and if-statements can prove hard to decipher. For a recent Pelgrane adventure I visually mapped a couple of particularly branchy scenes to bring the text into focus. This is not only clearer for the GM who has to untangle the thicket of choice points, but forces you as adventure designer to consider dangling options and ensure that the choices matter to the players.
This is a model any GM can follow when prepping a scene. When writing an adventure only for yourself, branching diagrams might largely replace text. That makes your adventure not only tighter and richer, but faster to notate.
In this diagram, you’ve chosen to grant the most benefit to the risky move of hiding from the caretaker—if it succeeds. The less dangerous choice of talking to him misses out on the documents, which happen to be wherever the group chooses to hide.
During the game, refer to your scene map not only to bring in the choice points, but to remind you to show the players that their choices mattered. Find a way to hint that they did something well, and that it helped them in a concrete way. In the above example, you might note that if they hadn’t hidden from the caretaker, they would never have found the documents.
Worm of Sixty Winters is a full-length campaign for The Esoterrorists. It works as a stand alone adventure, or as the conclusion of Albion’s Ransom: Little Girl Lost.
An Esoterrorist weather control ritual has brought sudden blizzards and extreme temperatures to an unsuspecting England. This they hope will be the first stage of the Fimbulvetr of Norse mythology – a dreadful winter that lasts three full years and heralds Ragnarok, the Viking apocalypse.
You are the American team – brought in as experts in your field – that failed to stop that ritual.
Now only you can prevent the Esoterrorists from causing irreparable damage to the Membrane. In a hazardous chase across a snow-covered Britain, facing sinister cultists, terrifying bikers and ordinary people taking desperate measures to survive the extraordinary circumstances, you must use all your resourcefulness just to carry on.
Featuring additional adventure seeds by Matthew Sanderson which focus on individual tales of horror to personalise the impact of Britain under snow, Worms of Sixty Winters allows your players to fully experience the breakdown of society in the Esoterrorists’ greatest threat to the Membrane.
Given one final chance to make things right, can you prevent the Esoterrorist plot to unleash Fimbulvetr?
|Stock #: PELG013
||Author: Ian Sturrock with Matthew Sanderson
|Artist: Claude Bernier-Tremblay & Jérôme Huguenin
||Pages: 80pg Perfect Bound
According to the legend, in 1944 the SS built a mysterious device deep in a Silesian mine shaft. Its bell-like shape gave it the nickname “die Glocke,” or “the Bell,” but the purpose of “Project Lantern-Bearer” remains a mystery to this day. Was it a time machine? A zero-point energy generator? A gateway to another world? Die Glocke cuts through the legend to the truth — and then piles on a bunch more legend. Plus, a look at “die Glocke” as a NIGHT’S BLACK AGENTS node, a TRAIL OF CTHULHU seed, or a ESOTERRORIST black site
Die Glocke is the fourth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store. If you have subscribed to KWAS, Die Glocke is now on your order receipt, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).
|Stock #: PELH05D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artist: David Winship
||Pages: 10pg PDF
As I begin planning future Ken Writes About Stuff pieces, a number of solid GUMSHOE campaign frames occur to me. Longer than the frames in the corebooks, but not super complex, such settings make good KWAS PDFs. They might not support a whole book (although then again they might, if sales of the basic PDF drive me to write sequels or expansions) but they are worth exploring for a few thousand words. Frames like 1970s UFO investigation, or menagerie hunters in a fantastic Byzantine Empire, or cyberpunk resistance in a Soviet-occupied Japan, or superpowered spies a la S.H.I.E.L.D. or Suicide Squad are easy to adapt. Roles for both Investigative and General abilities are clear; the stories feel like other GUMSHOE games already.
Sometimes, however, the potential campaign frame needs something else.
As one might expect of a longtime Lovecraftian and sometime consulting occultist, I am a great admirer of William Hope Hodgson’s horror fiction. I first discovered Hodgson in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition of The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig,’ an inescapably weird blend of sea story and horror sequence. But as a game designer, I am drawn inexorably to Hodgson’s nine tales (written between 1910 and 1918) of Carnacki, the “Ghost Finder.” (One of those tales, “The Hog,” shares enough imagery in common with Hodgson’s 1908 novel The House on the Borderland to make that magnificent haunted-house thriller also part of the Carnacki-verse.) Carnacki acts as a sort of proto-steampunk private occult detective, looking into reputed hauntings and, if he finds them genuine, using his “electric pentacle” to thwart the evil spirits responsible.
If you haven’t read any Carnacki stories, the rest of this column may constitute spoilers. So go read them.
Pretty much everyone’s favorite parts of Carnacki are the strange supernatural elements (the Sigsand Manuscript, the Aeiirii and Saiitii Entities, the Saamaa Ritual), the weird technology (not just electric pentacles but dream-readers, “repellent vibration apparatus,” and a whole hinted world of ghost-breaking scholarship), and the wild proto-Derlethian cosmology of Outer Beings formed from the ether held in check by sunlight and the occasional Protective Presence. You can add those to your Trail of Cthulhu or Esoterrorists game and move on happily.
But to model the actual Carnacki stories requires us to drill down and find out how those stories work in GUMSHOE. The Investigative abilities are very obvious and fairly standard — Carnacki spends Architecture in almost every tale, for example, to make sure there isn’t a mundane explanation such as creaking floorboards or drafts. So it’s the General ability opportunities that we’re looking for.What are their big conflicts? Where, in GUMSHOE terms, is the threat of failure truly present and interesting?
Real fast, then: Here are the threat points in each of the nine stories, presented in a deliberately bald and stripped-down fashion. (They’re much better than these summaries make them sound.) The General Abilities Carnacki seems to use are in parentheses afterward.
- “The Gateway of the Monster”: Investigating a haunted room, Carnacki nearly upsets his own pentacle three times. The next night, he foolishly brings a magic ring he found inside his pentacle but resists its power, and manages to jump the pentacle and escape in time. (Stability, Athletics)
- “The House Among the Laurels”: Carnacki’s investigation proves that the so-called haunting is caused by a criminal gang. When he returns with the police, the party makes too much noise and the gang escapes, but Carnacki has “laid the ghost.” (Stealth)
- “The Whistling Room”: After discovering the horror in the room, Carnacki is tricked into entering it by the mimicked voice of his client. An unknown voice chants an incantation allowing him to jump out the window and free himself. (Stability? Athletics?)
- “The Horse of the Invisible”: Carnacki and his client wound a jilted suitor in a fight, exposing his attempt to fake a haunting. A genuine ghost then kills the suitor and the hauntings stop (for now). (Firearms and Scuffling, used at penalties for darkness)
- “The Searcher of the End House”: Carnacki successfully traps the man who has been trying to scare the tenants from the house, which is coincidentally haunted by two presences. Carnacki doesn’t even try to exorcise the presences. (Mechanics)
- “The Thing Invisible”: Carnacki’s investigation discovers a deadly booby-trap with no supernatural component.
- “The Hog”: A horrible monster slowly overwhelms Carnacki’s defenses. At the last minute, a defending spirit rescues Carnacki and his client. (Mechanics? Stability)
- “The Haunted Jarvee“: Carnacki’s attempts to cleanse a haunted ship of evil vibrations fail, as a demonic storm overturns his devices. (Mechanics)
- “The Find”: Pure deduction unravels the mystery of a no-longer-unique (and non-supernatural) book. Excellent seed for a Book-Hounds of London scenario, though.
In GUMSHOE terms, “The Thing Invisible” and “The Find” use Investigative abilities exclusively. “End House,” “Laurels,” and even “Horse of the Invisible” are conventional “Scooby-Doo” type stories, with the occasional haunting as unnerving scenery: again, mostly Investigative abilities, with a few Mechanics, Stealth, or Weapons ability tests at the end against human foes. All very standard stuff, Hodgson’s engaging prose notwithstanding.
What we really need is a system to model the confrontations with the “ab-Human” entities in “Gateway,” “Whistling Room,” “The Hog,” and “Jarvee.” These confrontations have two big systemic problems:
- the ab-Human foes cannot be weakened (although Carnacki tries in “Jarvee” with his “repellent vibration emitter”) — this means only the PCs’ defensive rolls count. This is boring, the mechanical equivalent of “roll ten CON saves against dying in the desert.” Similarly …
- a single failure by Carnacki means doom. This essentially one-and-done format makes the final scene anticlimactic, or a death trap. Worse, a boring death trap. (“Roll again. You survived? Roll again. You survived? Roll again.”)
Mechanically, this leads to passive, un-suspenseful, irritating play. Hodgson covers up the essential passivity of Carnacki by vigorous narration (including the cocksure “summing up” at the end), and covers the essential lack of suspense (we know Carnacki survived, because he’s telling the story after surviving it) during the confrontation with evocative, terrifying prose. But a game system can’t depend on such things. Even Hodgson had to pull a GM fiat out of his hat and have NPC “Protective Forces” show up in two of the four tales. So how do we build Carnacki-style confrontations with the supernatural (“sittings”) into GUMSHOE?
I can think of two options using existing GUMSHOE mechanics:
- Change the cosmology such that a “sitting” becomes a fight; perhaps each “round” is an hour of sitting. (Hours the contest goes on = hours of nightfall, or from midnight to dawn.) Carnacki rolls and spends from his Pentacle ability pool, weakening the Ab-human’s Aberrance. (The better the pentacle, the higher the bonus, just like weapons.) The Ab-human rolls and spends from its Aberrance ability pool, weakening Carnacki’s Stability. (Does the creature gain Hit Threshold from being super-Aberrant, or do bonus Stability damage, or both? Should Stability damage vary by manifestation?) When Aberrance reaches 0, the thing is exorcised or prevented from harmful manifestation until the next sundown. When Stability reaches 0 (or -6), Carnacki does something panicky or twitchy to open the pentacle, and he gets munched.
- Run the sitting as a Thriller Chase, as in Night’s Black Agents. Again, perhaps each “round” is an hour of sitting. Carnacki rolls and spends from his Stability pool; the Ab-human rolls and spends from its Aberrance pool. The side with the higher result moves the Psychic Balance toward 0 (exorcism/prevention) or toward 10 (pentacle overwhelmed; Carnacki munched). Pentacles add bonuses to Stability rolls (or act as “armor” against Aberrance rolls; same thing mechanically).
Ab-humans might have automatic “spends” on every roll, being inhuman; or, possibly, just add an automatic bonus, like an Alertness Modifier (Vileness modifier?), such that the Ab-human has no pool to drain. This provides mechanical distinction (an Ab-human now doesn’t “feel” like a normal GUMSHOE monster) but the invariance might flatten the contests back out.
Maybe the Pentacle always depends on a Mechanics test to set up, preventing the “oh, well, it’s just a poltergeist and my pentacle automatically gives me +3″ ennui. Further, maybe the difficulty of the Mechanics test varies depending on how much of the underlying manifestation Carnacki understands. This works once (the first time the GM reveals the modifier) but not consistently, but adding one more mystery factor might still be worth it.
Like combats and Thriller Chases, both will still depend on GM and player narration to add color to the bald dice contest, but at least we’ve got a contest in both directions. I suspect a little thought will give us ways to use other abilities to influence the contest, as with Tactical Fact-Finding Bonuses. If the Ab-human powers vary, and the NPCs can be counted on to respond in dangerous and panicky fashion, that also varies the showdowns.
That takes care of the first big problem; for the second, we could possibly add a Fleeing/Athletics parachute (as in “Gateway” and possibly “Whistling Room”) to allow Carnacki to get away from the haunting site alive, though scarred somehow. Or, if a successful exorcism grants Carnacki XP (to apply to better pentacles, etc.) then a sudden life-saving intervention (as in “Whistling Room” and “The Hog”) costs XP.
Even then, potential Carnacki Files GMs should probably follow Hodgson’s lead and restrict pure “sittings” to a minority of adventures. Lots of other mundane plots, or manifestations that don’t rise to the level of catastrophic, or excellent steampunk adventures, can be fit into the Carnacki frame. And when I figure out exactly which system to use (or if my so-far inchoate notion of rolling all the Ab-human’s dice at the beginning and applying them throughout the haunt pans out) then I’ll have a frame to fit them into.
Out you go!
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.
We have learned that last year’s operation in Morristown, New Jersey failed to end the vampire threat. Kenneth Hite and John Adamus urgently request assistance at DEXCON 16 from 10:00AM – 6:00PM, Saturday, July 6, 2013 to counter yet another assault by the undead…
…or to participate in it.
The Operation: The 2013 World Night’s Black Agents Championship will be run in two rounds by Night’s Black Agents designer Kenneth Hite, assisted by John Adamus. Players can come for either, or both sessions:
- The first round is a LIVE ACTION session in which players portray agents, vampires, and the holders of the clues to a terrifying conspiracy.
- Surviving agents follow those clues to an explosive final tabletop round.
Prizes: Up to five winners (determined by survival and excellence) will receive FREE 2014 combo memberships to METATOPIA 2013, DREAMATION 2014 and DEXCON 17.
Get more details, and order Night’s Black Agents from the Pelgrane Shop.
Night’s Black Agents brings the GUMSHOE engine to the spy thriller genre, combining the propulsive paranoia of movies like Ronin and The Bourne Identity with supernatural horror straight out of Bram Stoker. Investigation is crucial, but it never slows down the action, which explodes with expanded options for bone-crunching combat, high-tech tradecraft, and adrenaline-fueled chases.
I gotta say, it’s a good thing I already wrote GUMSHOE rules for expeditions. Because now I’m not surprised when everything takes longer and seems harder than it did when we planned this thing. Mythos Expeditions has, like its namesake, run into its share of excitement along the way. Promising paths had to be neglected, heroic comrades fell along the trail, and I can’t get the sound of those drums out of my head! The drums! The drums! Oh, hold on, I’ve got Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” on repeat on iTunes. My bad. I blame FX’ The Americans, which is giving me a Cold War nostalgia that is very dangerous in a man with an espionage RPG line. Very dangerous. Hmm. Oh, right. Where were we? Or, rather, when were we?
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself as the adventures for Mythos Expeditions have come in. One or two are still out gathering firewood or looking for fresh water, but I’m fairly confident that we’ve got our table of contents right here, right after “GUMSHOE Rules for Expeditions”:
“The Gobi Sleepers,” by Steven S. Long
Maverick paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews is making one last trip to the wilds of Mongolia, to uncover primordial fossils revealing the true heritage of mankind. At the edge of the world, on the brink of an invasion, the expedition must sift the dust of the Gobi and survive the truth. Andrews’ last expedition was in 1930, but time tends to get weird out in Inner Mongolia.
“Ravenous Silences,” by Anthony Warren
Plague and rebellion grip Liberia in West Africa, but the brave scholars of the Miskatonic Medical Relief Expedition are undaunted. And, so far, undevoured! The Kru Rebellion ran from 1931 to 1936, and this adventure can run likewise.
“Lost on a Sea of Dreams,” by Adam Gauntlett
Oceanographer William Beebe has invented an amazing device, the bathysphere, that promises to revolutionize deep exploration forever. A team of Miskatonic scholars is bringing him an improved model … sailing on a course leading through the Bermuda Triangle. Beebe’s Bermuda expeditions ran from 1930 to 1934, opening up a vast horizon of chronological possibilities.
“An Incident at the Border,” by Kenneth Hite
Set in a Paraguay battling for its life against Bolivian invasion, this expedition takes Miskatonic geologists — and a helpful oil company engineer — deep into the desolate heart of the Gran Chaco. Artillery strikes, vampire bats, dust storms: Paraguay’s got it all during the Chaco War (1932-1935).
“The Jaguars of El-Thar,” by Tristan J. Tarwater
An unstable anthropologist in the wilds of Mayan Yucatan. The prestige (and expedition budget) of Miskatonic’s Mayan studies program is on the line, in a remote province thrown into turmoil by Depression, rebellion, and the return of unwelcome outsiders. Riffs off the Mayan “Caste War” ending in April 1933, as well as another event that year that might spoil the adventure if I revealed it here.
“Tongued With Fire,” by Bill White
The historical roots of the Prester John legend — perhaps of the beginnings of Christianity in India — draw Miskatonic scholars to the hills above the Punjab to uncover the true significance of an ancient artifact that may have been touched by John the Baptist! Flashing back to Kipling’s Raj and forward to Gandhi’s revolution, this expedition likely launches between 1936 and 1939.
“Whistle and I’ll Come to You,” by Emma Marlow
A mysterious stone whistle carved by an unknown tribe in the interior of a New Guinea island! Cannibals! Limestone caverns no human eye has ever seen! Errol Freaking Flynn! And I haven’t even teased the best thing about this scenario yet. If you have a single pulp-gamer bone in your body, you will run this adventure set in May, 1937. Trust me.
“A Load of Blarney,” by Lauren Roy
A curious shape in a cargo of iron leads Miskatonic’s finest on a tangled trail through Irish history, past rath and grange and standing stone, through the Moon-Bog of the Barrys, and into a mythic terror. It begins with the historical sinking of the steamship Annagher in December 1937, and ends … well, that would be telling, would it not?
“Cerulean Halo,” by Matthew Sanderson
President Roosevelt wants to return to Clipperton Island, an isolated speck in the Pacific hundreds of miles south of Mexico, an island legendary for its deep-sea fishing and haunted by its murderous past. Miskatonic University wants FDR to take along a Miskatonic naturalist who knows the island. There isn’t one, so the Investigators will have to do instead. The President did indeed visit Clipperton in July 1938, so you must have found nothing amiss before then, right?
You’ll note I’ve put those adventures in rough chronological order. Why is that? I will explain, in the manner common to such things, by means of a rambling exposition. Mythos Expeditions is a collection of scenarios, not a campaign. The basic expedition structure is fairly inescapable: Investigators travel through danger, meet horror, escape/overcome it or die/go mad/both. When the only core clue you really need is marked with a big red “X” on the map, the advantage, the killer app (heh), the key to a good expedition scenario is the scenery: the setting, the horror, the sense of, yes, travel to a strange far place. Running all these adventures in a row strains those advantages. Fodor’s Disease sets in: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgian Congo.”
Ideally, you’ll parcel them out over years of play, tossing an expedition into the middle of an ongoing series of urban Arkham adventures, rural Massachusetts bonfires, and campus intrigues. Putting these scenarios in chronological order, then, helps you plant seeds ahead of time. It lets you know when “sweeps week” might be coming for your campaign, and gives you big events to build up to. Sure, you can change things up — only a churl would cavil if you extended the Yucatan Caste War, or moved FDR’s second Clipperton fishing trip up to his first term. You’re not tied to the real history (which is oddly bereft of Yithians and blasphemous frog-people, anyhow) — but you can always play in it, if you want. I think that’s more fun. Maybe that’s just me.
And if you further differ with me, and want to run them all in a row, who am I to say you can’t? I say no such thing. However you want to play, spaced out or time-shifted, this book will also contain guidelines for using these adventures as the spine of an Armitage Inquiry campaign. Rules for bringing knowledge back to the Orne Library, so that everyone in the Inquiry can build up those dedicated pool points. If I have time, maybe a sub-system for playing through an academic career (student or faculty) at Miskatonic University, where “publish or perish” takes on a whole new meaning. Or maybe that will have to go in a later issue of Ken Writes About Stuff. It’s hard to say. I just have to keep striding forward, toward that big red “X” on the map. And somehow stop these maddening drums.
by Kevin Kulp
[Ed Kevin Kulp is working on a GUMSHOE setting involving time travel - this is from his introduction to the system.]
General Abilities are how you get stuff done.
Sneaking, fighting, running… all these are done with General Abilities. If you have a General Ability rating of 8 or higher, you’re incredibly talented at that activity (and may get access to cool bonus stuff when using it, depending on which GUMSHOE game you’re playing). If you don’t have any rating at all in a General Ability, you stink at it and won’t generally succeed at non-trivial tasks. A 0 in Driving, for instance, lets you drive to the store and back but you’d fail at any driving maneuvers difficult enough to require a die roll. In comparison, an 8 in Driving makes you an expert wheelman. Similarly, a 0 in Shooting means you’re no good whatsoever at using firearms, while an 8 or higher in Shooting makes you an expert marksman. You get the idea.
It’s traumatic for your dicebag, but in GUMSHOE you’ll only need one die: a d6. Roll it. Your Target Number is usually 4; remember that. If you roll a 4 or higher with a General Ability like Athletics, you probably succeed.
Obviously, that would mean you only succeed half the time. You raise these odds by spending points from your General Ability pools and adding them to your d6 roll. Want to shoot someone? Spend 2 points from your shooting pool, add it to your d6, and you usually only fail if you roll a 1. Spend 3 points and you’re guaranteed to hit even on a d6 roll of 1 (as 1 + 3 = the target number of 4). When your pool drops to 0, you’re stuck just rolling a d6 until you get a rest and the GM says your pool refreshes.
Don’t be shy about spending these points. Dropping enemies quickly is a great idea, and you’ll have chances for your pools to refresh.
Investigative Abilities are how you learn stuff.
They’re what makes GUMSHOE games unique. Ignore your General Abilities for a second and look over at your Investigative Abilities. These are broken into three sections to make things easier to find – academic, interpersonal and technical knowledge – but they all work pretty much the same way. If you have 1 or more points in any of these, you’re an expert at it. This matters because during the game, all you need to do is tell the GM that you’re using an appropriate ability and you’ll automatically get the clue if there is one. Yes, automatically, no roll required. The fun here is in what you do with that information, not how you get it.
So let’s say you’re searching a private library for vital information. The GM may ask, “Do you have any points in Research?” Say yes and she’ll tell you everything you can find out. No roll is ever required. Same thing with Interpersonal Abilities; if you have Flattery, tell the GM you’re flattering someone (or better yet, roleplay it) and it will pay off.
Spend these points to get cool in-game advantages. Take the interpersonal ability Flirting, for example. You meet the evil mastermind’s stunningly attractive protégé. Tell the GM you’re Flirting with the NPC, and he or she will let slip important clues during the banter. Tell the GM you’re spending 1 or more Flirting points to get cool stuff, though, and you’ll get a special benefit; in this case, the protégé may become infatuated with you and double-cross his or her boss at the best possible time.
Just remember, spending a point from an Investigative Ability doesn’t stop you from knowing that topic. It just limits how many times in a game you can ask for special cool stuff.
And really? That’s it. Your GM can tell you anything else you need to know.