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It’s been bitterly cold and miserable here in London for the last few weeks, so we’ve been keeping ourselves warm with frenetic activity. This has paid off in the form of not one, but two new products for 13th Age – the launch of our 13th Age subscription product, 13th Age Monthly, with the Dragon Riding edition and a fantastic 13th Age Soundtrack album by composer James Semple and some scarily famous musicians. KWAS subscribers are well treated this month with the bumper latest edition, GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia, and the January edition, Hideous Creatures: Rat-Things is now available in the webstore.

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  • Trail of Cthulhu – A new page for newer GMs and players featuring questions, Actual Play videos and audio is available here

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Dice imageIf you are interested any of these games, please email me with the game you wish to playtest in the subject line.

 

 

Battle Scenes

System: 13th Age

Author: Cal Moore

Deadline: February 28th

Description:

Iconic Battles Scenes consistent of 39 sets of themed encounters, one Adventure, one Champion and one Epic level for each icon. Go white water rafting with orcs, face a demonic circus and clean out a crime lord’s HQ. You add the story elements and slot them into your campaign.

Each adventure takes around two hours to play out, more if you play every scene and include a lot of linking story elements.

Worldbreaker

System: Esoterrorists 2nd Edition

Author: Robin D. Laws

Deadline: February 28th

Description:

As they investigate what appear to be disparate mysteries, the team slowly uncovers a conspiracy to rip open the membrane in a single global panic event. We’ve had separate adventures, and a two-parter, for The Esoterrorists, but never a linked series of scenarios, or a globe-spanning campaign book that tips the hat to Masks of Nyarlathotep. This book fills that gap.

Except for the last installment, these scenarios take place in any order. Appendices show you how to link them. Additional scenario hooks show GMs how to expand the campaign with even more related episodes, if desired.

The Mysteries of Interpretative Dance

System: The Gaean Reach

Author: Jim Webster

Duration: One to two sessions

Deadline: February 28th

Description:

For reasons entirely of his own Quandos Vorn does occasionally need to be contacted. He also wishes to keep open lines of communication to his past. Thus and so, chance has placed at his disposal Tris; performance artist, poet, and artist. Could Tris be the way of getting to Vorn the players have been looking for?

TacticsBrought to you by experienced players and GMs, this is the advice novice TimeWatch agents wished they’d had before they were swallowed by a chronal anomaly, infected with clock plague or unexisted in a Ray-Jar Vu.

TimeWatch offers players some subtle tactics that it’s possible to miss, especially when playing for the first time. Here are some strategies that you’ll want to
come back to, especially when your agents are in trouble and you’re looking for some creative solutions.

You’re going to get hurt a lot. Plan accordingly.
Attack pools means that even mooks often hit you the first time they attack; enemies’ accuracy will decrease as they get more tired. Expect that a
significant adversary is likely to hit you, so have enough Health that you’re not going to drop right away. If you never increase your Health over the
default value of 6, and since you drop out of a fight at -6, you’ll be able to withstand at least two or three typical hits. Bumping your Health to 8 or 10
points during character creation, increasing your Hit Threshold to 4 (by having an Athletics of 8 or higher), having a dedicated team medic, using evasive
maneuvers (see p. 109), or increasing your armor or Hit Threshold through Preparedness or Science! spends (such as with a personal forcefield) will help
you stay alive.

Stitches speed things up.
You can use stitches to do more damage, take less damage, avoid making a travel test when time traveling, refresh pools enough that you can guarantee
success on an important roll, and offer teamwork that helps an ally succeed. Do so. They’re around to make the game more convenient for you, so you should
spend them accordingly.

If you don’t have enough pool points, hand out more stitches.
The frequency at which you gain stitches, and thus the frequency in which your character is able to refresh their pools, is almost entirely in the hands of
the players. If it feels like you don’t have enough, other players feel that way too; set a standard by rewarding behavior that you think is fun, clever or
awesome. This might be as simple as tossing one to someone who is kind to another player, or giving a stitch to the guy who brought snacks. Once your group
gets the hang of positively reinforcing awesome behavior, you’ll probably find you have enough to make interesting tactical decisions.

And hey, if you don’t, your GM can always award stitches to the group (or allow you to refresh combat pools) to make sure you can stay in the fight. Remind
her if necessary.

If you’ve hit your Hoarding Limit but are given a 4th stitch, spend one of the ones you have.
Having more stitches than you can use is a good problem to have. If you’re at the max of 3, and you get more, use your existing stitches immediately to
refresh pools that aren’t maxed out. If you need to, use Medic or Reality Anchor to help a fellow agent recover damage, then refresh your pool. In a worst
case scenario, use Preparedness to establish that you have a piece of particularly cool or useful technology that you expect to need—who doesn’t need a ray
gun?—and then refresh your Preparedness pool.

Don’t hang on to stitches greedily. The game is most fun when they come and go quickly.

Remember your armor.
If you’re wearing your TimeWatch uniform, subtract 1 point from every instance of Shooting and Scuffling damage you take.

When you absolutely positively don’t want to get hit, try Evasive Maneuvers.
Every 2 Athletics points you spend boosts your Hit Threshold by 1 until the beginning of your next action, up to a maximum of +3. Of course, you probably
aren’t going to hit anything—your enemies’ hit thresholds go up by +2 every time yours goes up by +1—but who cares? Your job for the round is surviving. If
you’ve just spent a point in Taunt to get your foes’ attention, and you’ve used evasive maneuvers to boost your Hit Threshold to 7, they’re all going to be
too busy trying and failing to shoot you for you to mind your own inaccuracy.

Use Stitches to reduce damage.
Even with your armor, are you getting smacked for more damage than you want to take? Each stitch you spend reduces damage by one point. It may save your
life.

Don’t charge a gunman.
A foe who has a ranged weapon drawn and ready will get a free bonus attack on you if you try and rush him. That’s why people in movies don’t charge gunmen.
If you don’t want to get shot, wait until he’s distracted by something before closing, or try to create a distraction yourself (possibly with time travel
or by spending an investigative point) before closing in.

If you can close with him, he’ll be at a disadvantage unless he switches to Scuffling. As noted on p. 104, Shooters in close combat have a 1 in 6 chance to
shoot themselves or an ally by mistake.

Use Taunt to draw an enemy’s fire.
The investigative ability Taunt does more than just make people so angry at you that they reveal what they know. Spend a point in a fight, and you can draw
an enemy’s attention (and attacks) away from someone else. They may even chase you. If you can survive it, it’s a good way to draw someone into an ambush.

Make ludicrous chronal stability tests, just make sure you have friends with Reality Anchor there to back you up.
We’ve found in playtest that players are often very conservative with their chronal stability and reality anchor points. They exist in part so that you can
use them to do cool time tricks when avoiding paradoxes can’t solve your problem, so don’t be afraid to use them when your back is up against the wall.
Reality Anchor restores other peoples’ chronal stability by 2 points for every point you spend, and it’s an efficient way of restoring someone who’s just
endangered himself to try something clever.

Time heals all wounds.
If you can get away from combat and time travel without being followed in a time chase, you can go to a future hospital and get medical treatment. A day or
two of rest and recovery, and you can return to the fight with full Health and full pools of Athletics, Scuffling, Shooting and Vehicles. The tricky part,
of course, is getting away from the fight safely.

In a pinch, and assuming that you have a Medic rating of 1 or higher, don’t forget that you can exchange an investigative point of Medical Expertise for 3
points of Medic. That’s enough to heal allies 6 points of damage.

You could also trade Preparedness or Tinkering for Healing. It’s not unreasonable to assume that a technological device could provide you with a temporary
medical-related benefit in case of emergency—either restoring a small amount of Health points, or keeping you automatically conscious for a Consciousness
test. An agent with Flashback (the booster gained with 8 or more points of Preparedness) can even state after-the-fact that such a medical booster
was acquired and in place. It’s not much, but it’s much better than dying.

If the GM gets lucky and rolls well, fall back and regroup.
You’re exceptionally competent agents, but you aren’t invulnerable and you aren’t superhuman. You’re much better off negotiating or retreating than you are
dying. Sometimes, combat is far from the best solution.

Recruit Allies.
Spending Investigative points from History or Anthropology might allow you to recruit allies from out of history. If your plan depends on an extinct and
ancient Pacific Island tribe that worships you as a god, or a doomed spaceship crew from the far future, you might as well get use out of them by leading
them into battle. Likewise, you can make friends with the best and brightest minds in history. Nothing’s more amusing than discovering that the Mona Lisa
is actually a painting of your own character, just because you spent a History point and turned out to be an old friend of Leonardo da Vinci.

Play the long con.
TimeWatch agents gain an extended lifespan, so don’t be afraid of the long path to success. Need to live with someone for a few years as their roommate so
that forty years hence they’ll tell you what you need to know? Need to go back in time a few months and get a job as a laboratory guard, just so you’re
there at the right time to let in your friends? If you can spare the time, it’s sometimes a creative solution.

Boost your damage with Tinkering.
If you have points in Tinkering and are worried you won’t have cause to use them, never fear. A tinkering test on your ranged weapon during downtime will
increase the amount of damage the next shot does by 1 point. If you tinker with a PaciFist, you can raise the Stun level from 5 to 6. Better yet, if you
have 8 or more points in Tinkering, you can do this quickly enough that it becomes part of your combat action. Combined with spending stitches for extra
damage, it’s a good way to quickly inflict pain on your foes.

Spend Investigative points to boost attacks.
If you can justify it, you can spend any Investigative point to gain +3 on a General ability test. Out of Scuffling points and need to hit someone?
Spending a Military Tactics (“I’ve studied tactics”), Intimidation (“I raise my fist and while he’s flinching, I hit him”), Streetwise (“I know dirty
fighting; I’ll kick out his knee”) or even Authority (“He’s ex-military? I scream ‘Attention!’ like a drill sergeant and hit him while he’s trying not to
instinctively salute”) point can boost your roll by +3—and if you’re clever about how you do it, the GM or one of your fellow players will probably toss
you a stitch as well for doing something fun.

You may also be able to use Investigative ability spends to boost your damage instead. Spending a point of Medical Expertise, for instance, reasonably lets
you know the most painful place to hit a foe, letting you raise all the damage you inflict by +1 for the rest of the fight.

Spend investigative points to disrupt combat.
Losing a fight horribly? Want to pause it long enough to get a word in edgewise with diplomacy, or to try to escape? Spending one or more points from a
social skill might cause hostilities to cease for a minute against all but the most determined foes. Of course, make a hostile move and you can expect the
fight to spring back up.

Use the initiative system to your advantage.
You have great control over who goes when in a round. Ask your fellow players who wants to go next, and you can make sure they do. Be wary of letting the
bad guys go last in a round; it means that if they want to, they’ll be able to go twice in a row.

Flee into time.
You can use the initiative system to escape a fight in your autochron without risking its destruction from stray fire. If the bad guys have already gone in
the round, fire up your autochron, and then just make sure that your character goes first in the next round before your adversaries have a chance to act.
It’s a little sneaky, but it’s completely legitimate. Just hope that your enemies don’t have the ability to chase you through time; if they do, ready
yourself for a time chase when they come after you.

Use Science! points for concentrated awesomeness.
Want nifty gear—force fields, more powerful weapons, smoke bombs or concentrated explosives—but you’re short on Preparedness and don’t have time to use
Tinkering to build them? Spend a point of Science!. With the GM’s okay, it’s a fast way to confirm that you have an item you want without having to roll
for it.

Imagination Counts.
You have access to the future, and that means you can describe just about any technology you want to the GM. She’ll increase the Preparedness cost for
acquiring more powerful gear, of course, but feel free to consider high-tech solutions to simple problems. Night vision contact lenses, portable EMP
generators, zero-point gravity guns, jetpacks; fun and useful! Acquiring something like this is a good use of Preparedness, especially when you
have more stitches than you need and can immediately refresh your Preparedness pool.

Adopt a signature weapon or piece of gear.
As noted on p. 140, you can spend build points to start each game with a piece of unique tech that you particularly love. If your character is always known
for his disintegrator pistol or jet pack, that’s how to always have it around.

Help Yourself — Literally.
When you’re in dire straits and need backup, you can be your own backup. Declare that you’re going to remember to have your future self show up and save
you. You’ll need to spend a Paradox Prevention point and make a chronal stability test, but it means that you can double your attacks. Sure, if your
younger self dies anyways you’ve created massive paradox (and triggered a chronal stability test for your fellow agents), but you’ll probably be beyond
caring at that point, and the extra help may just save the day.

Help Others.
Is your friend dying, but you can’t get to him in time? Pay a point of Paradox Prevention, make the chronal stability test, and your future self can show
up to heal him. This is just like duplicating yourself to help be your own ally in a battle, but it lets you provide tactical support to an ally instead.

Save a few build points.
If you can, save a few build points when creating your character or after each mission. These don’t disappear if you don’t immediately assign them;
instead, you can assign them on the fly during a mission to immediately get access to an ability.

Paradox Prevention points: your wild card.
If want a clever time-or causality-related effect, but it’s a little too powerful to do casually, ask your GM if you can spend a Paradox Prevention point
to do so. These serve as “wild card” points for temporal effects, letting you take unique time-related actions without over-balancing the game. Paradox
Prevention points, like all investigative points, don’t refresh until the end of the mission; plan their use accordingly.

Spend Paradox Prevention to save chronal stability.
You can sometimes get in a bind with low chronal stability, needing to spend chronal stability in order to make a test that you can’t afford to fail.
Consider spending an extra point of Paradox Prevention instead. This gives you +3 on your chronal stability test, making it automatically in all but the
most dire of circumstances, without spending any more points.

Note that this is different than the point of Paradox Prevention you’ll need to spend for certain chronal hijinks like duplicating yourself in a scene.

Finish off foes.
Badly injured supporting characters are at a disadvantage in combat, but not a huge one. If your enemies aren’t mooks, your team is best of focusing fire
to drop one target before moving on to the next. You’re better off having 1 downed foe and 2 uninjured ones than 3 slightly injured enemies.

If you’re fighting mooks, unnamed supporting characters with low hit points (you’ll probably be able to guess by the GM’s description), take out as many as
you can as quickly as possible. They hit hard but drop fast. And hey, as you’d expect in a cinematic game, eliminating the unnamed characters before taking
on the main villain is practically traditional.

Stun those mooks.
Unlike more important adversaries, mooks don’t even have the opportunity to make a Stun test when you hit them with a neural disruptor. If you hit them
with your PaciFist, they’ll automatically go unconscious. It’s a good tactic when you want to damage history as little as possible. This is an especially
good tactic for agents with 8 or more points in Shooting, who can fire twice in a round.

You may fight an enemy more than once.
The tricky thing about time travel is that you may fight an elderly adversary, then later on fight a younger version of the same person—and you can’t kill
him without triggering a major chronal stability test, because doing so would create paradox. You may have to think creatively to get around this
restriction.

Make sure someone knows how to drive.
You need to put physical distance between yourself and anyone chasing you through time, and that means outrunning them during a time chase. These get much
easier and much more fun when at least one agent has 8 or more points of Vehicles. You won’t need it every mission, but you’ll be grateful for it when it’s
needed.

A closed door is your friend.
Why? Because thanks to Preparedness and time travel, it hides exactly what you need right now, and are going to put behind it later.

Beam weapons are deadlier than firearms.
They’re also a lot more obvious, as you’d expect when shooting a laser pistol in a science fiction game. Nevertheless, beam weapons do more damage on
average than other weapons, and can have some handy improvements like disintegration. They’re a reasonable use of Preparedness points.

Use weapons when Scuffling.
Just like in real life, smacking someone with a weapon does more damage than hitting them with your fist. You’re encouraged to describe grabbing weapons
from the environment to use, but you’ve got a fallback. A deactivated autochron is nice and sturdy, and serves as a handy club.

When to stun, when to kill.
Stun attacks are mechanically balanced with firearms. Shoot or hit someone with a PaciFist, and if they’re not stunned it may seem like you wasted your
attack. Not so. Three things happen when a foe successfully makes a Stun test:

  • They’re dazed, so the Difficulty goes up on any other tests they make (including more Stun tests) between your attack and their next turn, making them
    easier for other agents to stun.
  • They’ve likely spent some Health points in order to boost their chances of success, so you’re about as well off as you’d be if you shot them with
    bullets.
  • Mooks drop immediately when shot with a neural disruptor—no Stun test required.

PaciFists keep the target alive, and are great for stealth. Bullets, beam weapons, knives and fists leave the target marked and bloody, and (beam weapons
aside) don’t run the risk of appearing like magic or future technology to less advanced societies. Which you choose depends on the effect you want to
achieve.

Think outside the box.
This is a time travel game. If the building gate guard doesn’t let you in, time travel in. Or go back in time and get a job in building security yourself.
Or go back in time and become a family friend of the gate guard. Or spend a point of architecture to go back and alter the building blueprints, giving you
access that no one else knows about.

Similarly, you’ll have multiple options when taking down a bad guy. Go back to stop him before he ever started his plans, or in the middle of them before
they succeed, or right at the key moment; just be careful not to risk severe chronal stability tests by causing paradox. You can often get around that with
some clever planning that makes history work out correctly, but you’ll want to consider your line of attack.

Research locks in reality.
When history has changed, you usually have the option of time traveling into the future and reading about an event in (alternate) history books. Doing so,
however, locks it in as an established fact; change it after that, and you’ll need to make a chronal stability test as time shifts away from what you know
is true.

[Note to self – musn’t use pie charts. Steve Dempsey says they are bad.]

It’s been another great year. Reading last year’s post, this post is like a sequel to last year’s – in a Godfather 2 rather than Highlander 2 way.

The key phrase for this year is mid-tier. We aspire to the median heights of mid-tierness. Everything we publish, how we sell our books; everything we post online or email we think – would a mid-tier company do this? So far, this has guided us well.

The figures show our turnover has increased by 45%. This is somewhat misleading – 2013 had no Kickstarter income, and 2014 had two Kickstarters, and I consider Kickstarters to be unhatched chickens – we sit on the money as a pre-payment for costs, not as a big pot of working capital. If we exclude Kickstarter, the increase was around 16% – still impressive.

 

Why the increase?

In part the new shininess of 13th Age supported by the OP team, improved social media presence, but also Cat Tobin’s amazing efforts in unclogging the production pipeline and releasing so many new books. I also think the release of 5th Edition and the general increase in the size of the audience has something to do with it. 13th Age continues to be our top-selling product. Once again, though, sales of non-13th Age products have increased – by 10% (excluding Kickstarter)

We absolutely punch below our weight in marketing terms.

Once again, and despite everything we learned in 2014, we released a huge number of products at GenCon, as you can see from the spikes in the sales graph.

Our Different Lines – By Units

The 13th Age core book outsold every other core book by a long shot – as you might expect.Trail continues to sell reliably, and Night’s Black Agents figures got a modest boost from the Dossier. though not all of the extra sales are included in the figures.

Hillfolk is selling much better through distribution than I thought, and is holding up, too. Blood on the Snow and the cards have sold through. So, I will look at ways we can support the line.

The picture looks a little different when you add all the supplements in. It’s a little misleading to look only at unit sales, of course, because Trail includes many modestly-priced supplements.

Finally, just for fun, all sales from all lines since records began:

Channels

The big differences between 2013 and 2014 were – no Kickstarter in 2014, and the emergence of The Bundle of Holding. Amazon, much to my regret, plays a more significant role, but only really to sell copies of 13th Age Core Book as a gateway, and with very little margin. If we exclude these, the proportion of sales through other channels were pretty much the same.

Here you see how print and PDF compare – 38% of our unit sales by PDF.  OBS is rpgnow.com and dtrpg.com. This excludes the Bundle of Holding – on a per-unit basis this would skew the chart wildly. What’s also important here is the role of distribution. Despite the low margins, retailers still play an important role. 13th Age has attracted casual sales through retail we wouldn’t typically get.

Expenses

Margins in our corner RPG business remain, and now that we are mid-tier, I have to take the whole thing a lot more seriously, as a slip up could cost thousands, and full time employees and freelancers depend on us. People, printers and shippers get our money. I’m very pleased to be able to employ three people permanently, while I am a part timer. Cat is taking a more central role in running the business.

Shipping costs are brutal. Customers outside the US are effectively getting heavily subsidised shipping. US to Canada shipping is just mad. Lower oil costs might help, but I’m not counting on it.

This year we have two Kickstarters to fulfil. We’ve built in a little wiggle room on the shipping costs, but I still think we’ll end up down on costs. despite what we’ve reluctantly had to allow.

The Future

The very best thing for us to do to increase our margins is to increase unit sales, enabling us to pay artists and other creators more money. Our products are beautiful and award-winning, but compared with other similar companies, our marketing is not nearly what it could be. So this year we are devoting more of our resources to social media, building organised play programs and International Pelgrane Day. It’s hard not to spend all day making and planning new products, but we need to sell them, too.

I think last year was exceptional – running two big Kickstarters in year and getting the revenue in for them is very unusual. I expect this year to be steady on the sales side, and revenue to be down on 2014, and that won’t concern me. We have to deliver what we promised on TimeWatch and The Dracula Dossier.

13th Age from a business point of view is a great fit for Pelgrane Press – it’s enabled us to grow, and I think we’ve bought a touch of our magic to it, too. So creatively and as a gamer, too, I’m very happy to have published it.

The work I did to produce this rerport shows I need to have better and more consolidated access to the data. Margins by channel and type are very hard to work out, for example.

It’s what a mid-tier company would do.

 

Eyes of the Stone Thief, the megadungeon campaign for 13th Age Roleplaying Game, is now available to pre-order! Order your copy here and you can download the PDF immediately.

Trapped InGodTick_project_1 The Stone Thief

To the Stone Thief, people are the irritating meaty grist in the delicious cities it consumes. Most of the unlucky souls swallowed by the dungeon are crushed to death, or fall victim to one of the many monsters that lurk in the depths. Some survivors, though, still wander the endlessly shifting corridors within the living dungeon. Here are seven NPCs that your players might meet in the Stone Thief. Use them to foreshadow future perils, or to give the players an informed choice about which parts of the dungeon to tackle next.

Beka Salander

She’s human, about eight years old, and she’s survived longer in the dungeon than most adventurers. The Stone Thief ate her village – she doesn’t know what happened to her parents, but they’re probably dead. Everyone dies down here, sooner or later. If the monsters don’t get them, the walls do.

The adventurers encounter Beka close to wherever she’s been hiding all these long, horrific months. Maybe she’s taken refuge in the Chapel in the Ossuary (p. 133), or in the pig caves outside Deep Keep (p. 174), or in the ruined monastery in the Grove (p. 151). If the adventurers show her any kindness – and, more importantly, show her that they can slay the monsters – then she adopts one of them as a foster parent of sorts. She knows how to survive in the dungeon, about the important of Sanctuaries (p. 21) and can describe the biggest threats near her hiding place.

Three-fingered Arix

If you’re desperate and greedy enough, then willingly entering a living dungeon in search of treasure might seem like a good idea. Arix is a former lieutenant of the Prince of Shadows, and he’s heard that the Prince is somehow able to smuggle consumed treasures out of the Stone Thief and back t the surface. Arix hoped to grab a share of the action for himself; now, he’d be happy to escape with his remaining fingers intact.

Arix turns up early in the dungeon, maybe in the Gizzard (p. 80) as a prisoner of the orcs, or slumped at the bottom of the Well of Blades (p. 52). He can tell the players what little he knows of the smugglers in Dungeon Town (p. 98) and that the Prince has an agent among the Orcs of Deep Keep (p. 176). He’s also heard stories about the Stone Thief’s treasure room (p. 277).

Ashbless, the Talking Tree

Ashbless is a magical talking tree – a previous High Druid (or Elf Queen) woke him up long ago. Now, unfortunately, he’s stuck in the dungeon and can never leave. His roots have sunk deep into the tainted mortar and stone, and it’s having a deleterious effect on his mind. About half the time, he’s sane enough to welcome and aid the player characters; at other times, the hatred of the Stone Thief rises through him like hot sap, and he’ll trick or mislead them. Thanks to his root network of spies, he can tell the player characters about nearby parts of the dungeon in great detail. He’ll aid fellow servants of the High Druid freely; other adventurers may have to prove their worth by carrying a cutting of Ashbless back to the surface.

The obvious place to plant Ashbless is in the Grove (p. 137), but he might equally have been shunted to some small lightless room in the Gauntlet (maybe the harpies on page 60 nest in his branches) or transplanted to the Pit of Undigested Ages as a curiosity to be toyed with later (p. 208).

Kalaya the Philosopher

Kalaya seeks to brew a potion of enlightenment, a consciousness-expanding draft of concentrated wisdom. Her experiments in esoteric alchemy proved dangerous, so she left her home city of Horizon and built a laboratory on a small island in the Midland Sea. The Stone Thief swallowed the island, laboratory and all, and she barely escaped with her life. She’s not an adventurer – when encountered, she’s being chased by some dangerous monster that the player characters must slay.

Kalaya can be a useful ally for the player characters, if they set her up with a suitable laboratory. Her old lab is at the bottom of the Sunken Sea now (p. 102, although the players could drain the sea from the control panel at the bottom of the Cascade on p. 121). Possible replacements include Myrdin’s Snail (p. 99), the Blind Spire (p. 145), the Ritual Chamber (p. 236) or the Serpent Temple (p. 210). Once set up in a place where she can work, Kalaya could make healing potions and oils for the adventurers, or set them on the quest for way to poison the dungeon (p. 354, probably involving a Koru Orchid, p. 152, and some Koru Ichor, p. 321).

Facecleaver the Orc

Even monsters aren’t safe in the Stone Thief. Facecleaver’s an Orc from the fortress of Deep Keep who got cut off from the rest of his warband and is now lost and alone. He’s wounded, exhausted, and willing to make a deal with the player characters when they find him. He should be encountered above Deep Keep, perhaps trapped in the Ossuary (p. 123) or the Sunken Sea (p. 102).

Facecleaver’s a follow of Greyface (p. 179), and in his grumblings about Fangrot’s laziness, Grimtusk’s greed and the growing belligerence of the Stoneborn Orcs, the player characters can piece together the complex politics of Deep Keep (p. 160) in time to come up with a plan. For an orc, Facecleaver’s an honourable sort – he’ll murder the player characters once he’s sure he can survive without them, but he’ll tell them that he’s going to kill them first instead of cutting their throats while they sleep.

Crossbow Ben

Like Alix, Crossbow Ben’s another former associate of the Prince of Shadows. In fact, Ben was one of the original gang of thieves who stole the Eyes of the Stole Thief (p. 313) and blinded the dungeon. Unfortunately for Ben, he got left behind when the furious dungeon slammed all the exits shut, and he’s been stuck in the depths ever since. After many years of torment, all he craves is sunlight on his face and maybe a little bit of cheese. Maybe he made it to Dungeon Town (p. 98), but more likely he’s trapped in the Pit of Undigested Ages (p. 208) or even lost in the Labyrinth of Darkness (p. 247).

If rescued, he tells the player characters all about the Prince (as filtered through Ben’s not-especially-lucid recollections) and the powers of the Eyes. He’s also managed to squirrel away a cache of magic items that might be useful to the adventurers.

Rani Silverhair

Rani is a diplomat from the court of the Dwarf King. She was part of the retinue of Lord Sunhammer (p. 235) on his visit to the Artalins of Marblehall (p. 227). Fortunately for her, she stepped outside to take a breath of fresh air during the feast, so she wasn’t placed under a curse by the Witch of Marblehall. She knows she’s trapped in a living dungeon, but has no way to escape it.

The adventurers might meet her in the Pit of Undigested Ages (p. 208), where she can tell them of the importance of the Lost Treasury (p. 216), or maybe she’s making her way up the Maddening Stair (p. 189) in which case she warns the PCs about the duplicitous Maeglor (p. 204) and the dangers of the Shifting Stairs (p. 200). Either way, she begs the PCs to rescue Lord Sunhammer in the name of the Dwarf King, and to slay the perfidous witch who dragged both the dwarves and her family down into this hellish dungeon!

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13th Age answers the question, “What if Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, lead designers of the 3rd and 4th editions of the World’s Oldest RPG, had free rein to make the d20-rolling game they most wanted to play?” Create truly unique characters with rich backgrounds, prepare adventures in minutes, easily build your own custom monsters, and enjoy fast, freewheeling battles full of unexpected twists. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Dice imageIf you are interested any of these games, please email me with the game you wish to playtest in the subject line.

 

 

Battle Scenes

System: 13th Age

Author: Cal Moore

Deadline: January 31st

Description:

Iconic Battles Scenes consistent of 39 sets of themed encounters, one Adventure, one Champion and one Epic level for each icon. Go white water rafting with orcs, face a demonic circus and clean out a crime lord’s HQ. You add the story elements and slot them into your campaign.

Each adventure takes around two hours to play out, more if you play every scene and include a lot of linking story elements.

Worldbreaker

System: Esoterrorists 2nd Edition

Author: Robin D. Laws

Deadline: January 31st

Description:

As they investigate what appear to be disparate mysteries, the team slowly uncovers a conspiracy to rip open the membrane in a single global panic event. We’ve had separate adventures, and a two-parter, for The Esoterrorists, but never a linked series of scenarios, or a globe-spanning campaign book that tips the hat to Masks of Nyarlathotep. This book fills that gap.

Except for the last installment, these scenarios take place in any order. Appendices show you how to link them. Additional scenario hooks show GMs how to expand the campaign with even more related episodes, if desired.

The Mysteries of Interpretative Dance

System: The Gaean Reach

Author: Jim Webster

Duration: One to two sessions

Deadline: January 31st

Description:

For reasons entirely of his own Quandos Vorn does occasionally need to be contacted. He also wishes to keep open lines of communication to his past. Thus and so, chance has placed at his disposal Tris; performance artist, poet, and artist. Could Tris be the way of getting to Vorn the players have been looking for?

Shards of the Broken Sky

System: 13th Age

Author: ASH LAW

Deadline: January 31st

Description:

Imagine YOU are the Archmage. A big part of your job is eliminating terrible threats that could destroy the Empire, or at least severely damage big chunks of it. But some of those threats can’t be destroyed, only suppressed. So what do you choose?

Option A) Stash the suppressed threats in hiding places all over the map, each protected by smaller wards.

Option B) Create one super-powerful warded area and dump a steady pile of the threats you can’t quite deal with under that ward, damping them down and keeping them hidden from everyone else.

If you answered Option A, you are not this campaign’s Archmage, good luck in all your future endeavors!

If you answered Option B, welcome to Shards of the Broken Sky!

This sandbox adventure for characters of all levels dumps the player characters into the mess left by the destruction of the Archmage’s super-ward. What was a peaceful valley is now a conglomeration of resummoned monster armies! What’s left of the Archmage’s wards falls upon the valley as half-ruined magical dungeons! Are you going to clean up the mess, or just loot it? And will the plots of the evil icons give you enough time to decide?

Shards of the Broken Sky contains multiple adventures and dungeons for every tier. Depending on how much of the material you decide to use, and when, you should be able to use it twice in separate campaigns and face all-new adventures.

Playtest note: Playtesting in a straight shot through every adventure probably isn’t possible during a normal campaign because some of the choices are meant to lead away from each other. Choose your path, play as you like, use as much as you can and tell us about the path you chose.

 

 

 

by James Semple

Having recently completed the 13th Age Suite I was interested in writing something more contemporary again. While music for the Night’s Black Agents Dracula Dossier is on the horizon, I felt it had been far, far too long since I’d last written anything for The Esoterrorists. I remember that ever since I’d read The Esoterror Fact Book I’d had an idea for some music which I never got around to writing. Now I had a moment of spare time I thought it was time to revisit this idea!

The first thing I realised was that it was important to differentiate the music of The Esoterrorists from the music of Night’s Black Agents. After all they’re both contemporary action dramas with strong elements of the occult. It would be easy to end up with fairly interchangeable music between the two. With that in mind I reviewed the music I’d written for both and then drew out a list of elements that were specific to Esoterrorists and distinct from NBA.

Stylistically I felt that The Esoterrorists has a heavier focus on action and less on tension. The music is a little more muscular with overt nods to military snares and heavy rock guitar. Perhaps almost a sense of New World confidence in contrast to the more world-weary European quality of NBA. There’s definitely an action movie quality there. This is particularly emphasised on tracks focusing on the Special Suppression Forces.

Another important aspect is the usage of musique concrete and reversed sound design to represent the Membrane, particularly highlighted in the track The Membrane. This felt like a very useful colour to again help differentiate the Esoterrorist sound.

Finally I have also been wanting to write music for the Ordo Veritatis itself. I have many ideas for this going around but there’s likely to be something in the style of brass chorale and perhaps something with choirs as well. Maybe a hymn or even a march. There is a definite sense of noble duty I’d like to capture.

Anyway having suitably established my Esoterrorists sound I decided to crack on and write the track itself. It’s called Irrawaddy Landing and is the first scene in Operation Whirlwind Reaper, the scenario in The Esoterror Fact Book. As soon as I read this scene I wanted to write music for it.

Imagine rice fields in Myanmar at night … peaceful and calm. Suddenly a military plane comes into view. We see the Special Suppression Forces getting ready. There’s a brief quiet moment of noble duty and then they jump. Cue the hero music! Finally they land and the music gets more creepy as they begin sneaking into dangerous territory. I’ve written the music as though I was scoring this scene but of course you don’t have to use it in this way.


by Scott Dorward

A Poison Tree, which was announced late last year, is an epic campaign for Trail of Cthulhu. This takes the form of a generational saga that spans the globe and 350 years of history. Matthew Sanderson, Paul Fricker and I have been developing it for the last 18 months, and we are now well into internal playtesting. While this isn’t the first campaign we have co-authored, it is the most ambitious in size, scope and structure.

The campaign is made up of seven chapters and eight vignettes, beginning in rural Wales in the seventeenth century, passing through settings as diverse as revolutionary-era Massachusetts, the Welsh settlement of Patagonia, France at the tail end of World War I and Berkeley in the full psychedelic throes of the 1960s, and culminating in world-changing events in the present day. If our playtesting is any indication, this will take around 50 three-hour sessions to play through.

The varied time periods and the strange abilities of the family whose tainted bloodline drives the story have demanded some minor tailoring of the GUMSHOE mechanics. These new options should provide some entertaining twists, even for experienced Trail of Cthulhu players.

A Poison Tree is the fifth book that Paul, Matt and I have worked on together. The fact that we all live within ten miles of each other helps greatly with our collaborations. This allows us to meet in person for regular planning meetings, usually at Buskers, our favourite café in Wolverton.

We divide the writing between us by each of us taking ownership of individual chapters and vignettes. We brainstorm these chapters at our planning meetings, but the owner of each is ultimately responsible for its content.

We also meet weekly to record our podcast (The Good Friends of Jackson Elias) and use this opportunity to discuss how playtesting is going.

Playtesting is the foundation of our development process. We all run the entire campaign for our own groups, making copious notes. This gives each of us a second chance to shape the content of each others’ chapters, based on what we have learned in play. Some of our best ideas come from moments of improvisation at the gaming table. This proves especially useful when one of us discovers a new way to link parts of the campaign together in an unexpected manner. This process means that every part of the campaign is a collaboration between all three of us.

Based on previous experience, by the time the campaign has been through all this planning, testing and honing, actually writing it up will be straightforward, although time-consuming simply because of the sheer size of the project. Once we have done this, it will be ready for third-party playtesting, followed by rewrites based on this feedback.

Growing this Poison Tree is not a fast process. It will be at least another year before we finish our own playtesting, and then another few months to write it all up. The feedback from our internal playtesters has been encouragingly positive so far, and we believe that we are creating something quite unique. We can’t wait to share the fruits with you.

 

As the song goes, it’s beginning to look a lot like fishmen, and we’ve got a big haul of seasonal freebies for you, including new music from James Semple for The Esoterrorists, great resources for the DramaSystem by Jon Cole, bonus characters for Bill White’s adventure The Big Hoodoo, a new blank agent dossier and a German translation of Matt Breen’s awesome Night’s Black Agents character sheet. As well as this, we’ve got all the 13th Age PDFs you’ve been waiting for – 13 True WaysShadows of Eldolan and The Book of Loot. KWAS subscribers will get the properly awful Hideous Creatures: Rat-Things, and the Fear Itself/Owl Hoot Trail Weird West edition, Vendetta Run, is now available in the webstore.  Happy holidays!

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A column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

 

When we think of doing a haunted house horror scenario, we tend to look to The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise) and its cousin The Legend of Hell House (1973, John Hough.) This plot template pits a seasoned group of paranormal investigators against a home infested by supernatural menace.

You can follow it in The Esoterrorists or Trail of Cthulhu.

In the first case, prior urban legends surround the house. A famous hoax, like the one really at the core of the Amityville franchise, might have been staged there. An Esoterror cell now elects to use the ambient anxiety townsfolk feel about the place to summon Outer Dark Entities. The extra-planar monsters generate actual manifestations, attacking the Stability of the house’s current residents.

Maybe the original structure was razed years ago. So long as people remember where it was, the cell has enough psychic energy to work with to attract some suitable ODEs.

If the building still exists but lies abandoned, the entities go after occasional visitors, from meter readers to thrill-seeking amateur ghost hunters.

Believers in literal ghosts, unaware that something much nastier is behind the knocks, door closings, and apparitions, don’t stand a chance in there. The ODEs toy with them, as they do with all mortals, breaking them over time. The agents must find the cell, learn what ritual element binds the entities to the house, and destroy it. The item most likely consists of a box containing artifacts associated with the original case, or the family presently occupying the house.

In Trail of Cthulhu, non-Euclidean space has intruded into the house, eating away at anyone unfortunate enough to come into contact with it. The planar disturbance might have been conjured by witchcraft, as in “Dreams of the Witch House”, or “From Beyond”-style scientific inquiry into Things That Must Not Be Known. Either way, the investigation probes the same question: what do we need to know to sever the connection between the house and this unfathomable other dimension?

If a witch caused this and is still present, investigators have to to figure out how to find her and how to banish her. Along the way they must avoid countermeasures taken by scuttling rat-being familiars—or some other less canonical secondary threat the players aren’t expecting.

If the gate to non-Euclidean space lingers as the remnant of an old summoning, the group must discover that, identify the nature of the entities now taking opportunistic advantage of it, and find a way to close the portal. Step three may require fighting the beings mentioned in step two.

When weird science has opened the portal, the team must reconstruct the mad experiment so they can then work out how to reverse it. The scientist, now transformed and probably running about waggling his pineal gland at any who dare enter, serves as main antagonist. Or maybe the victims of the manifestations all become possessed by Lovecraftian aliens.

A third option has the malleable reality of the Dreamlands bleeding into the house. For example, your Dreamhounds of Paris surrealists could discover that a rich patron’s chateau has been infected by their nocturnal activity. Now, it might be useful to have an easy way of entering the Dreamlands while awake, especially if you’ve annoyed Nicolas Flamel and his ghouls of the Paris Catacombs. Still, you also don’t want one of your few financial supporters to become forever lost in the vale of sleep. Your task then becomes to journey into the Dreamlands and use your shaping powers to erect a wall barring its denizens from entering the chateau. Your opposition consists of dream beings who enjoy entering our world and want to keep on doing it, no matter how many people of the Wakelands they drive insane.

Fear Itself suggests another possibility: you play the family in the house. Way more haunted house movies, in keeping with their themes of the family under threat and the anxieties of property, focus on a mom, dad and kids. Paranormal experts may show up to provide exposition and perhaps exorcism, but our attention stays with the distressed family unit. Examples include Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper), Sinister (2012, Scott Derrickson), Insidious (2010, James Wan), and the alien variant Dark Skies (2013, Scott Stewart.)

Here you create new characters, all closely related: father, mother, and one to three kids. You can also throw in a live-in extended family member to fill out the group: a grandmother, uncle, or a nanny who has been with the family so long she’s treated like a blood relative. In place of the Worst Things the characters ever did, one random character gets designated as the Mistake Maker. The Mistake is the decision that started the family’s collision with the supernatural. The most common Mistake is buying the haunted house. If you go with this, both the mom and the dad can be the Mistake Maker. Or the one who pushed for the purchase over the objections of the other bears that burden alone. Other Mistakes:

  • finding that weird stuff in the attic
  • opening that tunnel under the house
  • messing around in the cemetery next door
  • playing with an Ouija board (or otherwise messing with the occult)
  • arousing the ire of someone with the power to bestow curses
  • (for a disturbed kid character) torturing those animals

The GM hands out Mistake cards, some of them blank, the others including red herring Mistakes. The Mistake Maker gets the card with the real answer on it. To end the haunting, the family must determine what the real Mistake was and then somehow undo it. As ever, simply leaving the house never works—the dark forces have awakened and will now infest whatever place you run to.

Admitting your Mistake to everyone else might cost Stability points, or require you to do something in the story to gain permission to reveal it. GMC paranormal investigators can help, but might also push you further into insanity when the entities destroy their minds or bodies. The GM might further pare the Fear Itself ability roster, making sure that those left to the group are the only ones needed to answer the scenario’s questions.

To take the most obvious choice, run the family-based haunted house scenario as a one-shot. It could on the other hand make an interesting way into an ongoing Fear Itself series where the family uses what it learns in this first scenario to go out and fight other occult dangers. Think “Supernatural” with an entire family unit instead of two brothers.

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