Bile roachAvoiding the Gimmick

by Kevin Kulp

TimeWatch, Pelgrane Press’s recently Kickstarted game of investigative time travel, falls into the same category of games that play quite differently as a one-shot than they do as a continuing campaign. Feng Shui, Trail of Cthulhu, and Night’s Black Agents fall into this category as well, as does Paranoia… okay, who am I kidding? I’m having a little trouble imagining a game of Paranoia that isn’t a one-shot. I’ve played several games where the character death count was 35 out of 36.

But I digress.

In these games, the assumption and goals for a one-shot game may be very different than for a campaign. Loot and (most) character development doesn’t matter, and neither do the long-term consequences of the characters’ actions. It doesn’t matter if five of your six Lovecraftian investigators die or are driven screamingly insane, so long as the hideous evil is thwarted. It’s okay if your secret agents blow up Cartagena; law enforcement heat doesn’t carry over into the next one-shot. And your Feng Shui everyman hero probably isn’t going to be all that different at the end of a one-shot adventure than he was at the beginning of play.

If you’re in a long-term campaign, however, these things matter. Your investigator will probably prefer to keep her sanity and a portion of her health. Those agents discover that any massive assault that makes international news has consequences. Your everyman hero may fall in love, develop allies, and decide there are things in this world he’d give his life for.

That brings us to TimeWatch. I designed the game to provide an intuitive and self-contained one-shot adventure. That’s evident in the default mission structure: get a mission, time travel, investigate the time disturbance, try to fix history, and take down the bad guys before they use time travel to detect and assault you first. It’s fun, allows huge amounts of flexibility, and (surprisingly for a time travel game) like any one-shot has a minimum of real consequences. Each mission is self-contained, and there’s not necessarily much character development in the process. History is restored, but have the characters fundamentally changed? You had to replace Abraham Lincoln with a cyborg after accidentally getting him killed early, but will anyone notice before Ford’s Theater?

That’s where the concept of a TimeWatch continuing campaign comes in. Here are three rules to remember as you settle into a TimeWatch campaign:

  • Relationships and secrets matter
  • Enemies remember and multiply
  • Small changes add up

Relationships and Secrets Matter. If you’re playing more than a game or two, pay attention to whom your character meets, trusts, and loves. Maybe you live embedded in the normal time stream while not working, with a normal job, boss, family and set of friends who care for you, and from whom you need to keep secrets. Perhaps you have relationships with TimeWatch coworkers, never quite knowing who in the vast organization is on your side and who may be subtly working against you. Do hidden secrets turn allies to enemies — and are you the one to blame? This is why characters have secrets, and GMs are encouraged to exploit and draw on them for adventure ideas.

Your GM may include factions, secret organizations or cabals within both TimeWatch and history as a whole, giving you and your group secret and personal missions to accomplish alongside your normal history-saving work. When you aren’t quite sure why you’ve been asked to accomplish something, the long-term ramifications of your actions become a lot more interesting.

Enemies Remember and Multiply. You may have to fight an arch-nemesis long before you’ve ever met her for the first time. You may have the allies of an enemy come calling at the time when you’re the most vulnerable. Any history you let be known might conceivably be exploited by your foes, and don’t be surprised if unexplained and mysterious enemies show up at exceptionally inconvenient moments. They’ll strike to eliminate you from TimeWatch if you let them, and that may mean a tactic as insidious as ensuring that you have an incredibly happy childhood, just so you’re never tempted to lead a life of adventure.

You can use this same game feature against your enemies. Try to discover the earliest point when they might be vulnerable. Strike against their friends, relatives, or history. Harass them at a half dozen different places in their life, in the hopes of stopping their ultimate plans. Just be cautious not to be the cause of their hostility in the first place.

Ultimately, continuing play becomes personal. It becomes more about the agents and what they experience during their missions, than it does about solving the mission itself and saving history. The best games are a combination of the two.

Small Changes Add Up. If you end up with some sloppy solutions to alternate history, enemies may try to leverage and exploit these for their own gain. Say, for instance, that you teach some jolly Austrian children baseball while on a mission in the 19th century. That’s the sort of thing that history usually takes care of on its own, reabsorbing the knowledge back into the river of time until Abner Doubleday reads about the Austrian game and decides to re-invent it. A clever GM might have your enemies try to pry that small shift into a much larger breach, changing the timestream in unexpected ways just to try to open some weaknesses in the flow of history. Continuity in multiple missions is a joy, mostly because you may find yourself dodging and hiding from your younger selves from three missions ago, just to reduce the chance of paradox.

Work to avoid the gimmick. That’s really what time travel is –  a fabulous gimmick, but it’s a means to an end just as much as it is an integral part of your everyday adventures. Once you get used to the flexibility and problem-solving that a time machine gives you, you should break the pattern and experience a mission or an adventure that might be solved almost completely without your time machine. As your missions transition to become more personal, and you find your character changing in both power and attitude as a result, you’ll be well settled in for long-term campaign play.

Just remember, unlike Paranoia, every TimeWatch character doesn’t start the game with six disposable and identical clones. Your character development may benefit as a result.

You can still pledge to TimeWatch until April 1st 2014; see details at


book_readerHello, my name is Kendall Jung and I’m one of the mods on the Pelgrane 13th Age forums, host of Vault of the 13th Age ( and I have also taken up the mantle of “Official GM Wrangler” for GenCon and Origins this year.  Together with Cat Tobin and Wade Rockett, we’re feverishly working towards making Pelgrane’s convention presence this year one to remember.

With that goal in mind, last month, we asked you to fill out a GenCon Survey – so we could get a feel as to who all was coming to GenCon, what games they would like to see, and so forth. The responses we got were pretty surprising – even if we did offer an incentive in the form of Pelgrane credit – but we’ll get to that in a bit.

First, I wanted to share some of the datum we gathered:

  • Total Responses: 138

  • Days Attending GenCon: 3.37 (average)

  • Volunteer GM’s: 43

That is a great response for our survey – and the fact that more than 25% of the people who responded wanted to run games for us at GenCon is even more amazing. Cat and I are in process now of contacting our GM’s and starting to schedule game slots over the Best 4 Days in Gaming, so keep an eye out for an email!

Some more points of data:

  • Top Games GM’s Volunteered For:

    • 13th Age

    • Trail of Cthulu

    • Night’s Black Agents

    • TimeWatch / Owl Hoot Trail (they tied)

While 13th Age had a very large following, all of Pelgrane’s titles made a good showing of requests. We’re looking at balancing out our GMs versus what games they want to run, and hope to accommodate everyone’s gaming desires and schedules.

When it comes to games you want to see, one of the things we asked people would be their interest in a 2-night tournament where you were scored against other tables / teams. Only 19 of our 139 respondents were interested in that – so that’s maybe an idea we’ll keep on the shelf for next year.

Overall the strongest desires for survey responses broke down into three categories:

  • Organized Play  Games

  • Standard, 4 Hour Games

  • 2 hour “Demo” Games

As a final note, before I announce the lucky random-winner of our survey, I wanted to also let you guys know that we are looking for volunteer GM’s for Origins as well. Please email cat@pelgranepress with the subject line “I want to be an Origins GM!” and we’ll add you to our list.  (Please include # of hours / game sessions you would like to run, and if you have any preferred scheduled times you would like to run.)

Again, we want to thank everyone for answering our survey. Each of you will receive a $5 Pelgrane Press voucher – good for products at the web store. However, one lucky survey-entree has won an ultra-shiny $50 credit voucher – and here is where we find out who it is.  (Note: I have failed as a gamer – as I don’t have a d138 in my dice bag – so I went online and generated a random number). Congratulations to Brent Killackey!

During his survey, Brent had this to say:

“This year will be my first GenCon and I’m looking forward to playing many games, but 13th Age has to be tops on my list.”

Congratulations! We have already reached out to Brent about the win and $50 Pelgrane voucher.

Thank you to all of our survey responders – this gives us a good feel as to what you all want, and we hope that you will be very happy at GenCon and Origins this year!



by Casey Peavler and Ryven Cedrylle

Art by Kaitlynn Peavler

A moment of concentration brought a shadow into Tullie’s hand, the misty substance hardening into a stiletto dagger as light as a feather and harder than dragon bones. Her prey was currently occupied with the entertainment he had paid for tonight, and judging by the noises from behind the closed door he was getting his money’s worth.

Good for him, even a slaver deserved a good memory before he died. His blood was needed to open the Rose Gate, but a drop would have sufficed. How sad for him that the last descendant of the Flower Czar was a waste of flesh and bone. Her senses were focused on the room before her, waiting for the indication that it was time to strike. Hopefully it would be soon, he sounded like a braying donkey in there.




Play Style

Whether they are heroic or villainous, all Lurkers are thoroughly in touch with their predatory nature. Lurkers operate best when striking from the dark after spending time observing the behavior of their target, but even without time to prepare they are dangerous foes. Misdirection and deceit serve them as thoroughly as a Paladin’s shield and armor, and the dark powers they call upon bolster them like the powers of a Cleric.


Ability Scores

Dexterity and Lurkers go together like a knife and a kidney. Your attacks are based off Dexterity, and it augments your ability to stalk and hunt silently. Charisma is a close second, several of your Class Features have feats which grant you bonuses based off your Charisma score. Your recoveries are a precious commodity, so make certain you don’t neglect your Constitution score.

Lurkers get a +2 class bonus to Dexterity or Charisma, whichever you don’t get from your race




Demontouched and Dark Elves have an innate bond to the dark energies that make them superb candidates for this class. The innate vitality of Dwarves and Steelborn provide a boon of health and stamina which can make a large difference if a Lurker ends up in the worst imaginable situation: a fair fight.



The backgrounds of Lurkers tend to be headed in the same direction as the Rogue, but coming from a more supernatural background. Whereas rogues gain their stealth and cunning from pure physical and mental perfection, Lurkers have taken a dark and (some might say) easier path to power. Easy power often comes with a price however, consider painting your backgrounds with hints of ancient curses and faustian bargains gone wrong.


Revived by the Prince of Shadows, Killed the Emperor’s Heir, Son of the Diabolist, Graduate of the Shadow Academy, Cursed by the Midnight Serpent, Nightmare Refugee, Half-turned Vampire, Vengeful Revenant, Rode With the Wild Hunt.



The Prince of Shadows seems at first glance to be an ideal candidate for a positive relationship, but he seems to disdain Lurkers for some reason. Perhaps he sees a little too much of himself in them? Your dark power could easily draw the attention of the Diabolist or the Lich King, whether you like it or not. A particularly crafty Lurker might secure the allegiance of the Crusader or the Great Gold Wyrm, using her dark power to hunt down demons that have managed to manifest within the mortal world.





At 1st level Lurkers start with one or two melee weapons, a ranged weapon if preferred, light armor, and any nonmagical gear that would be appropriate. Some Lurkers prefer to wield a light shield or buckler as well. Lurkers who are frugal with their money start with 25 gp, while those who lead a riskier start with 1d6 x 10 gp in their pockets.



Anything beyond minimal armor is little more than a hindrance to Lurkers. Heavy armor restricts movement and creates noise, both of which are less than beneficial to a warrior that favors stealth and speed above all else.


Type               Base AC

None               12

Light                12

Heavy              15 (-2 Attacks)

Shield              +1



To a Lurker a weapon isn’t nearly as important as the creative and deadly ways it can be used. Still, there is something to be said for comfort and familiarity. Most are comfortable with light weapons; cudgels, daggers, hatchets, even the rapier. Most find that larger battlefield weapons inhibit their deceitful fighting style, but some tap into their dark legacy to wield bastard swords, battle axes, or even their bare hands with unparalleled efficiency. Their preference is for melee weapons almost exclusively, but if a crossbow is needed they’re comfortable enough with them to wield them effectively.



Melee Weapons

One Handed                                       Two Handed



1d4                                                      1d6


Light or Simple

1d6                                                      1d8


Heavy or Martial

1d8 (-2 to attack)                                1d10 (-2 to attack)





Thrown                        Crossbow                   Bow



1d4                              1d4                              –


Light or Simple

1d6                              1d6                              1d6


Heavy or Martial

–                                  1d8 (-1 attack)                        1d8 (-2 attack)


Basic Attacks


Melee Attack                                                               Ranged Attack

At-Will                                                                          At-Will

Target: One enemy                                                     Target: One enemy

Attack: Dexterity + Level vs AC                                 Attack: Dexterity + Level vs AC

Hit: Weapon + Dexterity Damage                              Hit: Weapon + Dexterity Damage

Miss: Damage equal to your level                              Miss: –


Lurker Level Progression


Lurker Level Total Hit Points Total Feats Lurker Talents Level-up Ability Bonuses Damage Bonus From Ability Scores
Level 1 (7+CON mod) x 3 1 Adventurer 3 ability modifier
Level 2 (7+CON mod) x 4 2 Adventurer 3 ability modifier
Level 3 (7+CON mod) x 5 3 Adventurer 3 ability modifier
Level 4 (7+CON mod) x 6 4 Adventurer 3 +1 to 3 Abilities ability modifier
Level 5 (7+CON mod) x 8 4 Adventurer, 1 Champion 4 2 x ability modifier
Level 6 (7+CON mod) x 10 4 Adventurer, 2 Champion 4 2 x ability modifier
Level 7 (7+CON mod) x 12 4 Adventurer, 3 Champion, 4 +1 to 3 Abilities 2 x ability modifier
Level 8 (7+CON mod) x 16 4 Adventurer, 3 Champion, 1 Epic 5 3 x ability modifier
Level 9 (7+CON mod) x 20 4 Adventurer, 3 Champion, 2 Epic 5 3 x ability modifier
Level 10 (7+CON mod) x 24 4 Adventurer, 3 Champion, 3 Epic 5 +1 to 3 Abilities 3 x ability modifier



Lurker Stats

Initiative, AC, PD, MD, Hit Points, Recovery Dice, Feats, and some Talents are level dependent.


Ability Bonus                                                +2 Dexterity or Charisma (different from racial bonus)

Initiative                                             Dex mod + level

Armor Class (light or no armor)        12 + middle of Con/Dex/Wis + Level

Armor Class (light or no with shield) 13 + middle of Con/Dex/Wis + Level

Physical Defense                              11 + middle of Str/Con/Dex   + Level

Mental Defense                                 10 + middle of Int/Wis/Cha    + Level

Hit Points                                           See Level Progression Chart

Recoveries                                         3

Recovery Dice                                   (1d8 x Level) + Con mod

Backgrounds                                     8 points, max 5 in any one background

Icon Relationships                            3

Talents                                               See Level Progression Chart

Feats                                                   1 Per Level



Class Features

All Lurkers start at Level 1 with the following Class Features.


Place of Power

At the start of each session designate one location to be a Place of Power, a location that has special significance to you or has an abundance of the same dark energies that fuel your unnatural might. It could be a town’s cemetery, your home, your coffin, the site of a nearby murder. Given the dark nature of this class it should usually be something sinister, creepy, or dark.


Bloody Immortal

You have only three recoveries. Perhaps your dark magick has drained your vitality or you hunger for sentient life. You monstrously heal all of your HP without spending any recoveries OR regain all of your recoveries during a short rest. During the rest, you may also roll a normal save. If you succeed, regain both your recoveries and your HP. If you ever have 0 HP and no recoveries, you must take on a shadowy form and retreat to a place of personal power else you crumble to dust and your soul is lost. You return from your place of power at the end of the next short rest with full HP and recoveries.


Death’s Mark

As a standard action, you can Mark one creature you can see and sustain it for subsequent rounds as a quick action. The target’s vulnerable points and the gaps in their defense glow red to your terrible sight. While the creature is Marked, increase its vulnerability to your attacks by 2. Marked creatures are not aware that they are Marked.

Heroic Feat: On an even hit, a Marked target takes extra damage equal to your charisma modifier if you are the only creature engaged with it.

Champion Feat: Increase vulnerability by 4 instead of 2.

Epic Feat: You no longer need to be the only creature engaged with the target to gain your bonus damage.


Finishing Move

When you deal damage that reduces a creature to 5hp, you execute a finishing move. The target is reduced to 0hp. Describe a second attack that ends your enemy in a grisly fashion. Increase to 10hp at champion, 20hp at epic.

Adventurer Feat: When the Escalation Die is 5 or higher, double the HP needed to trigger.

Champion Feat: When the Escalation Die is 4 or higher, double the HP needed to trigger.

Epic Feat: If you execute a Finishing Move on a Critical Hit, increase the Escalation Dice by 1.





Class Talents

Choose three talents at level 1. Gain an extra talent at levels 5 and 8.



Midnight Noose

Whenever you have a free hand you may attack nearby enemies with a shadowy noose with a dice size of d6, other than the range extension this is considered a melee attack for all intents and purposes. You may expend a recovery to force your target to become engaged with you. Your noose disappears after this attack is concluded.

Adventurer Feat: The noose no longer dissipates at the end of your attack. Instead it lasts until you dismiss it as a free action. The rope can be up to fifteen feet in length and is as strong as the strongest nonmagical rope.

Champion Feat: If you pull a creature to you with this power, it is considered grabbed by you.

Epic Feat: While you have a creature grabbed with your noose you can shank them as a standard action. You do not need to roll an attack, and instead automatically deal half the normal damage you would do with a one-handed melee attack.



Dark Hideaway

You and only you can reach into a shadowy pocket dimension and store or retrieve nonliving objects in it as a standard action. This pocket dimension can safely hold up to 250 pounds until the next sunrise. At sunrise roll a d6, on a 1 all objects inside the Dark Hideaway return to where you were when they were put into it.

Heroic Feat: Once per day you can reach through your Dark Hideaway into your Place of Power and retrieve a single object.

Champion Feat: Once per day you can reach into solid objects and open them the same way you reach into your Dark Hideaway. Doing hole creates a hole two feet wide and six feet deep for ten minutes. Move quickly.

Epic Feat: Remove the “nonliving” restriction and increase the weight limit to 4,000 pounds. Remove the d6 risk dice at sunrise.


GM Note: “Sunrise is in one hour. You’ve gotta ditch that dead body you stored in there fast.”



Vampiric Might

Dark energy strengthens your body, eliminating the usefulness of weapons altogether. Your hands, feet, and any other useful appendage now do qualify as one-handed melee Heavy Weapons, and you no longer take the penalty for wielding a heavy weapon. You cannot take this if you have taken Ebon Smithing.

On a natural odd hit you gain temporary hit points equal to twice your level. You can also use Dexterity in place of Strength for any skill checks that would call for it.

Adventurer Feat: Once per day you can gain temporary hit points from this talent with an even hit.

Champion: Once per encounter you can gain temporary hit points from this talent with an even hit.

Epic: Once combat per day add the level of the creature you hit to the amount of temporary hit points gained with this talent.



Ebon Smithing

You can craft weapons out of raw shadow and have no need to carry a dedicated weapon on your person. You no longer take the penalty for wielding a Heavy Weapon when wielding an Ebon Weapon. You cannot take this if you have taken Vampiric Might.

Adventurer Feat: Once per day when you reduce an enemy to less than 0hp, apply the surplus damage to another engaged creature.

Champion: One encounter per day, your shadow weapon deals d12 damage. It also looks way cooler for this encounter.

Epic: Once per encounter when you reduce an enemy to less than 0hp, apply the surplus damage to another engaged creature.



Nightmare Venom

Poison condensed into solid form from the maddening energies of a mortal nightmare. Roll 1d6 at the start of each turn, if you roll equal to or lower than the Escalation Dice you snag a recent nightmare off a nearby enemy, and cannot grab another nightmare until the next encounter. The next time you hit the creature you snagged a nightmare from it takes ongoing 5 damage per tier until the end of the encounter (no save). You can apply the venom to a different creature on a hit instead, but the damage becomes save ends.

Adventurer Feat: Targets under the effect of Nightmare Venom are also Dazed (Save Ends). If the Venom’s effect is already a Save Ends, one save ends all related effects.

Champion Feat: Gain one additional use of Nightmare Venom per day. This additional use pulls a random memory from the target rather than a nightmare, fully removing the memory from the target’s mind. To pull a specific memory you must pass a skill check determined by the tier of the target.

Epic Feat:Targets under the effect of Nightmare Venom are confused (save ends). If the Venom’s effect is already a Save Ends, one save ends all related effects.


GM Note: The Champion Tier feat here seems like a really powerful option, and it is. It’s also your best friend for railroading ignorant players who are not following your finely crafted narrative.



Deadman’s Lantern

You can summon a Deadman’s Lantern at-will. While holding a Deadman’s Lantern it provides light that only you can see, functioning the same as if you had Darkvision. While holding it, you also deal an extra 1d4 fire damage per tier while holding it.

Heroic Tier: Increase the bonus damage to 1d6.

Champion Tier: Your allies now benefit from the Deadman Lantern’s light.

Epic Tier: Increase the bonus damage to 1d8.



The Evil Eye

Apply curse when you hit with odd or when a nearby creature rolls a 13 on an attack. While cursed, the target creature subtracts the escalation dice from its attack rolls until the end of your next turn.

Adventurer Feat: Once per day you can force a cursed creature to reroll an attack and take the lower result.

Champion Feat: Curse becomes Save Ends.

Epic Feat: Once per day force a cursed creature to apply its attack to a target of your designation.




When you are not engaged with an enemy you can teleport to being engaged with any creature physically involved in the encounter (i.e. they’re on the map) as a move action.

Adventurer Feat: Once per day when you teleport, you can make a basic attack as a quick action.

Champion Feat: The next basic attack you make after you teleport can hit vs. PD instead of AC.

Epic Feat: Once per encounter when you teleport, you can make a basic attack as a quick action.



Mist Form

Once per day when you rally you become immune to attacks versus AC or PD and cannot make attacks against AC or PD until the start of your next turn.

Adventurer Feat:You also gain resistance 16+ to attacks vs. MD.

Champion Feat: Once per day you can make an attack Cha vs PD as a Standard Action, on a hit the target acts as if they had gone into Mist Form without regaining any hit points. This does not count as your use of Mist Form for the day. The Escalation Die does not increase at the start of the next round.

Epic Feat: You can choose to exude traces of your mist form at-will. When you do, you and all enemies engaged with you can’t make opportunity attacks.



Cruel Grimoire

Create a dark copy of a spell from another class.

Pick a spellcasting class, you may take one spell of your level or lower from that class. Rename the power to reflect the dark taint that your power places upon it. Cure Light Wounds could be Necromantic Healing, reflecting you funneling the life energy of a slain foe into an ally. Burning Hands could be Skeletal Hands, where the attack takes the form of skeletal burning digits that lash out at your foes. If the spell has feats available, you may take those feats as well.

Adventurer Tier: The spell you’ve taken uses your Charisma score for both attack and damage.

Champion Tier: You gain the Ritual Caster feat, and also gain the ability to sacrifice one of your Recoveries (or perhaps the recovery of a willing ally) in place of a daily spell.

Epic Tier: Write a second spell from the same class as your first down in your Necronomicon. You gain a dark copy of that spell in addition to the first spell.



Shadow Minion

You gain a small minion, mechanically identical to the Wizard’s Familiar talent. The minion should be suitably twisted or macabre in description. A spider is good. A spider with a human face is better. A spider with a human child’s face is best.

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


The truth, or something like it

System: Ashen Stars

Authors: Piers Beckley

Deadline: March 30th


50 years ago, at the height of the Utopian era, the most powerful starship ever launched disappeared after a battle on the edge of the Bleed. Everyone on board was listed as missing, presumed dead.

Today, the lasers answer a distress call to find that the Mercator is back – and that the survivors haven’t aged a day. But how and why have they travelled through time?

Eyes of the Stone Thief

System: 13th Age

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Duration: 1-2 sessions

Deadline: 31st March


There’s one Living Dungeon out there that’s different, one that’s unique. It doesn’t claw its way blindly to the surface, to survive or perish as fate dictates. This dungeon is awake, aware, and cunning like some wild beast made of stone and iron.

It’s called the Stone Thief.

It hates you.

And it’s going to destroy people and things you love until you hate it too.

And then one or the other of you will have to die.


The New World

System: The New World

Author: Bill White

Duration: 3-4 sessions

Deadline: 31st March

The New World is a story-telling game about cultures in collision, and about the struggles of the people who are caught up in the middle of that clash. It is “slipstream” history, not quite fantasy or science fiction but not quite mainstream either, characterized by a cavalier impatience with the specifics of historical detail in favor of a license for the active exercise of the historical imagination. To play the game, players invent or choose a quasi-historical setting—an alternate reality, a parallel Earth, or a historical pastiche—to be the backdrop against which their characters strive to achieve ambitions that will allow them to bequeath some sort of legacy to the world they will leave behind them.

ChemistryAnd so the time has begun for teases of Dracula Dossier content. Not least because the time is being taken up writing Dracula Dossier content instead of “Call of Chicago” content for See p. XX, but be that as it may. (If you’re wondering what The Dracula Dossier might be with all this content of a sudden, here’s the link.) Those of you fortunate ones who remember The Armitage Files will recognize this as a close variant of its “Artifact and Tome” format, in which a device might turn up in any one of many ontological states.

So why an Earthquake Device? Because there is a weird sub-theme in Stoker’s novel concerning volcanism, earthquakes, and other sorts of tectonic Gothic mayhem … including a full-on volcanic eruption that Stoker cut from the final version of the novel. For some reason. And when I started researching this book, I uncovered huge earthquakes in Romania — in the Carpathians, even — in 1893, 1940, and 1977. Exactly and specifically the earlier time frames the campaign refers to. There’s a lot more that I found out, but you’ll have to wait for the Big One to see it thrust up to the surface.

For now, I give you …

The Earthquake Device

Appearance: This object resembles a set of pistons held together by a ring around a central shaft. It rests on a set of splayed feet, allowing the central shaft to rise and fall when fed electrical power. Leads for a truck battery are visible in a recess on the side of the ring. On the ring and the bottom of the central shaft appear tiny symbols and words in another language: Serbo-Croatian, perhaps? An Investigative use of Mechanics can tell that this device was not mass-produced, but it may not be unique.

Supposed History: Agents with Occult Studies (or Fringe Science, if the campaign uses that possible version of the ability) or a 1-point Mechanics spend recognize this device as a version of Nikola Tesla’s oscillator. In 1893, Tesla patented a machine intended as a steam-driven electrical generator, but soon realized that its regular oscillations actually tuned themselves to the resonant frequency of the building – or country – it operated within. During one test in 1898, so the story goes, he accidentally triggered an earthquake centered on his laboratory, and had to demolish the prototype with a sledgehammer before the whole building came down around his ears.

Major Item: This device, as Tesla feared, can actually trigger earthquakes. Edom bought or stole a prototype from Tesla’s laboratory (or Morris brought one over from America) and used it to awaken Dracula in 1893 – and to trigger the volcano that put him back to sleep a year later. This specific device was issued to the 1940 Edom team in Romania; Edom (or Dracula’s mole within Edom) may also have used it (or another like it) to awaken Dracula (or leave a false seismic trail) in 1977. By now, the British government has far more sophisticated truck-mounted (or satellite-mounted) earthquake machines, which explains why the agents can misappropriate this one.

To operate the earthquake machine requires a continuous supply of electricity for three days (three truck batteries is sufficient) and a successful Difficulty 6 Mechanics test each day. The severity of the earthquake that results depends on the tectonic instability of the machine’s location. Getting out of the earthquake zone with the machine may be a bigger challenge than starting the earthquake in the first place!

[[DA]] In a campaign emphasizing the sorcerous, necromantic aspects of Dracula, the device is actually a Seal of Agares, a demon given power over earthquakes. The tiny symbols are the Name of Agares and certain geomantic emblems; the strange words UUSUR and ITAR channel Agares’ power into an earthquake. A 1-point Occult Studies spend (or a 1-point Research spend in a well-stocked occult library; or a 2-point Research spend and a good Internet connection; or a 0-point spend of Occult Studies while consulting Le Dragon Noir) recognizes all of the above.

To activate the earthquake device requires a simple battery discharge (Difficulty 3 Mechanics test, replacing the traditional lightning-strike), a supply of blood (at least 4 Health) decanted into the “pistons” each night, a specialized pentacle containing the Seal and the caster, three nights of spell casting, and a successful Difficulty 7 Stability test each night. The severity of the earthquake that results depends on the amount of blood sacrificed, and perhaps on the tectonic instability of the Seal’s location. Dracula can cast the spell more rapidly, if he needs to.

The specific spell is not available online; discovering it requires a week’s Research (3 point spend) or two days’ Occult Studies (2 point spend) in a well-stocked occult library, or access to Le Dragon Noir. With a 1-point Occult Studies spend, an agent knows that the spell is in Le Dragon Noir. The Director may well rule that only Le Dragon Noir (and possibly an Edom field manual somewhere) has the spell, and no amount of research outside the Scholomance can uncover it.

Minor Item: The device is actually a field seismometer dating back to 1893, used by the Harker team to find Castle Dracula by triangulating on temblors. Its design is more rugged and portable than a standard Milne seismograph. The central shaft holds the heavy pendulum; the other “pistons” hold mercury bubbles (viewed through a glass underneath the piston cap) and a battery: the “battery leads” are actually intended to connect to a telegraph key and line. A 1-point Geology spend recognizes it for what it is, and can even “read” it, although without a telegraph hookup, its output is less useful.

Fraudulent: The object is a fake “Tesla” device built by the mole to send Edom on a wild goose chase through the worlds of seismology: there is no direct connection between Dracula and earthquakes, except for the coincidence of his awakening and the 1893 quakes, and perhaps of the 1940 quake knocking Harker’s Kukri loose from his chest.

If the Director would like to keep the Dracula-earthquake connection alive, the device might still be authentic, but was left out in the Romanian countryside long enough to get broken and rusted beyond repair.

Connections: The Former Gehlen Org and Van Sloan  know of the device’s existence, as does the Old Seismologist. The object itself might be in Van Sloan’s house, or in a neglected corner of the HMS Proserpine, Ring, or the Citta della Scienza Museum.

wrist comIn The Zalozhniy Quartet, there’s a scene (not really a spoiler) where the PCs are outmatched and are ‘supposed’ to flee, leading into a tense chase. Expecting player characters to take a particular action is always hazardous design – you can set up a situation where there’s only one valid route for the PCs to follow, and they’ll still stall and try a hundred alternate approaches before doing the obvious. In this case, waiting for the players to decide the situation was untenable and choose to retreat wasn’t an option – the scene involves a direct confrontation with… things they’re not equipped to deal with.

In my initial draft, I suggested a bunch of ways for the Director to make it clear to the PCs that running away was their best – indeed, only – option. Sense Trouble rolls. Having the bad guys beat up the PCs with ease. Having the NPCs soldiers accompanying the mission heroically sacrifice themselves, giving the PCs a chance to escape.

The solution, as pointed out by Robin, was to make the overwhelming odds a Core Clue, obtained with Military Science. The player character – a veteran of a hundred black operations and brush wars – instantly sizes up the situation, and realizes that hanging around is suicide. They’ve got to run. Making it a core clue changes the dynamic from “the GM forces the PCs to act” to “the PCs, by dint of their superior skills and experience, fight their way out of a lethal ambush and escape to safety”.

What makes this especially interesting, from a scenario design point of view, is that Military Science isn’t often used passively. It’s the sort of skill that a player brings up when they’re spying on a furtive meeting between two mercenaries, or when they’re trying to bluff their way onto a military base. Writing a scene that takes a skill normally used as an active, ‘I ferret out the clues thusly’ and just handing a clue to the players can produce interesting results.

Esoterrorists – Document Analysis: While paying for take-out at a nearby diner, you spot a cheque in the drawer of the cash register. The handwriting on the check matches that of the author of the Esoterror manifesto you’re in town to find. The check was right on top of the drawer – the target might still be right here in the restaurant.

Recalled Information & Flashbacks

Revealing facts to players as Core Clues (or as a benefit for spending points) is the core of GUMSHOE. A Mutant City Blues player uses Ballistics, and you describe how they work out that the killer must have been standing on the third floor balcony of the building across the street. Searching CCTV camera footage with Data Retrieval gets them a photo of the gunman, and running that through a police database with Research gets them a name.

Or, in Trail of Cthulhu, they use Occult, and learn that the owl sigil they found is associated with the Minervan League, and then use Credit Rating to get an invitation to a League-sponsored lecture.

You can go further than that. A Ballistics clue could equally point the characters towards a roleplaying scene.

“At that range, with the weather that night, it would have been a hell of a shot. You know one guy who could have pulled it off – an old army buddy of yours, an ex-sniper who’s now a shooting instructor. He probably knows all the good marksmen in this region. Maybe he knows the shooter; it’s definitely worth talking to him”


You’ve seen this symbol before. You remember reading a book in the restricted stacks of the Orne Library, back at good old Miskatonic. The owl sigil is used by a sect called the Minervan league. In fact, you recall that that particular book was donated to the library collection after the death of its previous owner. Thinking about it, he lived near here. Maybe his family know more.”

More ambitiously, you can embed scenes inside other scenes, by means of a flashback. Keep flashbacks short, and be prepared to improvise in response to player actions in the ‘past’.

Occult: “You recognise that symbol – it’s the sign of the Minervan League. You know that because in your youth, you were acquainted with a member of the league. You even applied for membership, but weren’t accepted – did an existing member blackball you, or did you back out at the last minute?

Anyway, you remember your friend hinting about the league’s secret purpose. He started to say something about a Great Work… then he fell silent, as if suddenly frightened. What did you do?”  

NPCs as Clues

A clue – especially an Interpersonal one – can be incarnated in the form of an NPC from the PCs’ past. Instead of, say, getting information from the waitress at the bar through Flirting, maybe the waitress is an ex-girlfriend of the Flirting player character. She’ll tell you what she overheard – but only if you apologise for what happened the last time she saw you.

If a PC has a high Intimidate, then presumably they’ve intimidated people in the past. So, when the PCs are combing the dark streets of the city, ask who’s got the highest Intimidate – the PC with the second highest rating is the one who gets jumped by the vengeful goons. (Of course they don’t go after the highest rating – that guy’s scary). Beating up the goons yields the next Core Clue.

A Core Clue points the way to another scene. It doesn’t have to be evidence interpreted by the PCs. Anything that opens up a new avenue of investigation works. Mix up the way you present core clues whenever you feel your game is getting repetitive!


Blood Corpse ProfileUndead

by Casey Peavler and Ryven Cedrylle

+2 to Con or +2 to Cha


It’s not hard to understand why undead are feared and reviled by all cultures and all races. Mindless monsters, recently dead loved ones risen from the grave to feed on their family. The haunted spirits of those long-dead. Nothing in particular would make them especially endearing to the average humanoid. Their reputation is not undeserved, as they are products of curses or dark magic or other foul circumstances. Occasionally an undead arises who has retained his or her senses and sometimes even their memories despite their dark curse. Sometimes the undead are called back from beyond the grave to inhabit bodies which will no longer bear their mortal flesh but must soldier on anyways. Some are ancient phantoms who died in the pursuit of a noble cause, and who carry on until that cause or one equally worthy is fulfilled.




Bony Physique

While the Escalation Dice is at 0, take half damage from physical attacks.

Champion Feat: Take half damage from physical attacks while Escalation Dice is at 1, too.




Spectral Form


Minor Action

Effect:Create an effect related to being dead that you and your GM can agree on. If the desired effect is something that directly affects another creature, roll it as an attack using your highest ability score against either the target’s PD or MD as the DM deems appropriate.

Champion Feat: At the end of combat, roll a d20. On a 16+, your effect recharges.




Life Drain


Free Action

Trigger: You hit an enemy with an attack

Effect: Deal half damage and spend a recovery.

Champion Feat: The recovery you spend grants temporary hit points instead.

Page XX logoSpring has arrived in London; birds are singing, flowers are blooming and even the sun has deigned to shine on us. Infused with the joys of the season, we’ve planted article seeds in people’s heads and can now show you what we’ve cultivated.

New in the shop this month are the conclusion to the Cthulhu Apocalypse setting, Slaves of the Mother, as well as the final edition of this year’s KWAS subscription about Lilith. There’s also a new Series Pitch of the Month club edition by ASH LAW. Articles this month include Simon’s View from the Pelgrane’s Nest, an article from Robin D. Laws about reducing the tendency towards violence in DramaSystem one-shots while Kenneth Hite teases us with Dracula Dossier titbits. Kevin Kulp is also looking at one-shots, but making TimeWatch better by avoiding gimmicks and; Gareth is helping you get clues to players more effectively and Kendall Jung talks about our Gen Con GMing plans.

Over in 13th Age corner, Casey Peavler and Ryven Cedrylle have been hard at work coming up with a whole series of new races, and one new class, while ASH LAW explains how to repurpose 4e monsters for 13th Age. Martin Killman has come up with some new barbarian talents, and Wade Rockett explains the special Pelgrane customer deal for the Midgard Bestiary.

New Releases


Resource page updates

  • Ashen Stars – Sam Carter has created a fillable, saveable Ashen Stars character sheet
  • 13th Age – A high-resolution Dragon Empire map is now available for download

13th Age

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Page XX logo We’re into the final days of Kevin Kulp’s TimeWatch Kickstarter, so there’s not much time left to get this latest GUMSHOE game at a knockdown price (unless you have your own time machine). The $80,000 stretch level is just under $500 away as I type, so if you haven’t already backed it, go and do it now. I’ll wait for you.

Now you’re back, here are this month’s articles – as well as Simon’s View from the Pelgrane’s Nest, Robin D. Laws has done a DramaSystem mini-Series Pitch and Kenneth Hite’s Call of Chicago teaches you how to gain the kind of instant expertise he’s become famous for. Over in 13th Age corner, your sorcerer and barbarian are about to get a makeover thanks to Brian Slaby and Martin Killmann; Gar Ryder-Hanrahan looks back to a time when all this was dominions, and Lawrence Mingoa creates a new monster inspired by Phillipine mythology. And you have another two weeks to enter the Owlbear Cub and Bronze Golem competition, so get your entries in now!

New Releases


13th Age

Resource page updates

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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.



13 True Ways – Monk, Commander and Druid playtest classes

System: 13th Age

Authors: Rob Heinsoo & Jonathan Tweet


These three classes are now available for playtesting. Full instructions are in the download PDF, now available from your 13th Age order receipt form.

The Strangling Sea

System: 13th Age

Author: Robin D. Laws

Duration: 2-3 sessions

Deadline: 28th February


In this 13th Age adventure for a party of 4-6 1st-level adventurers, our heroes attempt to retrieve the enigmatic engineer Inigo Sharpe from his unfortunate imprisonment in the Stranglesea. This fantastical equivalent of our world’s Sargasso Sea traps wrecked ships, strands castaways, and supports an array of dangerous animal life.

All Along the Watchtower

System: Trail of Cthulhu

Author: Bill White

Duration: 1-2 sessions

Deadline: 28th February

There is havoc in the streets of Chicago as disaffected youth protest war and injustice during the Democratic National Convention of 1968. But some darker purpose is at work, and an unlikely band of investigators that includes Gary Gygax, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jimi Hendrix comes together in a desperate hour to confront a nameless evil that threatens the very idea of America!


The New World

System: The New World

Author: Bill White

Duration: 3-4 sessions

Deadline: 28th February

The New World is a story-telling game about cultures in collision, and about the struggles of the people who are caught up in the middle of that clash. It is “slipstream” history, not quite fantasy or science fiction but not quite mainstream either, characterized by a cavalier impatience with the specifics of historical detail in favor of a license for the active exercise of the historical imagination. To play the game, players invent or choose a quasi-historical setting—an alternate reality, a parallel Earth, or a historical pastiche—to be the backdrop against which their characters strive to achieve ambitions that will allow them to bequeath some sort of legacy to the world they will leave behind them.

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