I’ve got some catching up to do. GenCon, plus some website issues stopped us publishing the previous episode of Page XX, but this double issue should more than compensate.
First and foremost – The Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted are on pre-order, the product of a full time work from Kenneth Hite, Gareth Hanrahan and Cat Tobin for pretty much the entire year. Get both books in a bundle at 10% off – the first 200 bundle pre-orderers get a colour 8.5″ x 11″ print of Dracula’s Castle with their books. The scope, quality and ambition of the project is way beyond what I envisaged. The PDFs are available now as part of a print pre-order – to be shipped by November. Dracula Dossier Kickstarter backers should read today’s update for details of the Hawkins Papers, and their current shipping schedule.
This month in KWAS the Wendigo stalks the subarctic tundra to feast on the lives and souls of unsuspecting travellers, and for subscribers, The Hunting Horror screeches and swoops through the dimensions. In July’s 13th Age Monthly, we offered the Sharpe Initiative: Earthgouger – a perfectly formed 3-4th level adventure which works as a stand-alone, or follows on from The Strangling Sea. This month it’s Jonathan Tweets take on the Icons for his home campaign – 7 icons instead of 13 in the 7 Icons Campaign.
Books on Preorder
Books Out Now
- The Eternal Lies limited edition: collect a piece of history with this signed, limited edition
- Strangling Sea: A rip-roaring salt-encrusted sea adventure for the 13th Age
- Accretion Disk: Ship deckplans, new species, kits and options for Ashen Stars
Without a multitude of huge headline releases this year, our sales were a little lower, but still very good. We sold a disproportionate number of GUMSHOE Core Books, and think a lot of this is down to the vast number of games our GMs ran – over 734 seats filled, beaten only by Catalyst, D&D and Paizo. We came back with three ENnies, for Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, Ken Writes About Stuff and The Archmage’s Orrery, and in a new found spirit of efficiency had meetings with just about everyone. This ate into our Pelgrane-y chinwagging and informal idea making time, which we will compensate for at Dragonmeet.
The big news is the start new season of the Organized Play. In short, the first year’s 13 adventures are free and will remain free, as are the next three. The other nine adventures will be available as part of the 13th Age Monthly. Read more here.
The 13th Age GM’s Screen is a go! We hope to have it out by the end of the year. Written by Cal Moore and Wade Rockett, it will feature art of the original 13th Age pair: Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell.
Battle Scenes is being broken into manageable, icon-featured chunks, starting with High Magic & Low Cunning: Battle Scenes for Five Icons which will feature Archmage, High Druid, Orc Lord, Prince of Shadows, The Three.
We’ve commisioned a book of followers for these five icons, Magic Circles and Dread Massacres.
We are also working the first book of class expansions which incorporate a Bestiary-like take on each class, a sprinkling of icon involvement, suggested builds, working well with others, tactics and multiclass mash-ups. We suggest organisations they could be part of, class-specific items and new talents, feats and spells.
Trail of Cthulhu
The Out of the Woods collection, our follow up to Out of Space and Out of Time is well under way. Ruth Tillman, Lauren Roy, Adam Gauntlett, Aaron Vanek and Chris Spivey have written pitches which feature a stolen tome, mysterious deaths in the frozen wastes and the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Paula Dempsey has submitted the first draft of the Book of Albion, a prequel to the Book of the Smoke, which stands as a companion volume to Steve Dempsey’s Fearful Symmetries, which is in outline, due for playtesting at the end of September.
The Investigator’s Handbook has been lined up, with Steve Long rooting through his archive to find wiki-proof 30s facts, and add a host of locations, NPCs and player options to Trail of Cthulhu.
We are pleased to announce that next year we’ll be kickstarting a Trail of Cthulhu Starter Set – a box for beginning roleplayers, but also anyone new to GUMSHOE.
Kevin Kulp is 95% of the way through editing the first draft of TimeWatch, and the supplementary books are well in hand. I don’t know for sure if we’ll get the core book out this year, but it’s our goal.
The Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted are on the presses, but I am not in a position to speculate on delivery dates – Kickstarter backers should check for updates.
One reviewer, Karloff who has seen the PDFs said “I’d recommend a new Director buy this even if that Director never plays it as written. It’s a masterclass in how the game is constructed, and how it can be played.”
Robin Laws ran a session of the forthcoming GUMSHOE One2One with me. I played detective Dex Raymond in a 1937 LA, troubled by criminal gangs, red baiting and corruption – plus the Mythos. It was fascinating being on the receiving end of a pre-written GUMSHOE adventure and comparing the narrative it generated with the adventure as written. GUMSHOE adventure design when done properly really is a toolkit for the construction of a wide variety of narratives out of the same text, despite its formula. It makes the idea that it’s a railroad seem quite ridiculous.
I am very pleased and surprised it works so well on a virtual tabletop (we used roll20). The main disadvantage of virtual table tops to me is handling multiple players – and this simply isn’t a problem with two players. In the virtual arena a map, photos cards and the tokens help engage with the shared imaginary space. So we are considering a simultaneous release on that platform.
The new system is entirely player facing, with the character building up problems and offsetting them with edges, but only if those edges are used in play. The problems the character collects won’t kill that character during the adventure, but will be used to describe the denouement.
Cat is playtesting it this week, and it will go out for general playtest in October.
You may have noticed we didn’t quite get around to a July edition of See Page XX, largely due to our getting ready for an amazing Gen Con year – we ran more than 130 games (according to RPG Geeker Bruce’s listing back in May, fifth out of all companies at Gen Con). Roleplaying is our passion and focus, and we’re delighted we had so many GMs to help us show Gen Con attendees how important games are to us – thanks to everyone who ran games!
Last month’s loss is this month’s massive edition. Production of the two core Dracula Dossier books dominated last month, but we still found time for a big, new launch in the form of a beautiful new hardback collection of the relentlessly purist Cthulhu Apocalypse rules and adventures. One month on, we’ve also got the long-awaited Dracula Dossier books: The Director’s Handbook, and Dracula Unredacted available to pre-order, either individually, or as a bundle with a 10% discount – plus, the first 200 bundle pre-orderers get a colour 8.5″ x 11″ print of Dracula’s Castle with their books.
We’ve also got the August edition of KWAS, Hideous Creatures: Wendigo, now available in the webstore, as is the August edition of 13th Age Monthly, 7 Icons Campaign. KWAS Vol. 3 subscribers now have the September edition, Hideous Creatures: Hunting Horror on their order receipt pages – this will be available to non-subscribers at the end of September.
- View from the Pelgrane’s Nest – All sorts of new things, and what’s next by Simon Rogers
- See Page XX: The Gentle Art of Playtest Feedback Wrangling – Robin D. Laws explains how to pull together playtest feedback
- The Many Faces of Dracula – James Palmer looks at in-play options for the Man Himself
- Druggist Frank Warren: Sinister, Innocuous, or Stalwart? – Robin D. Laws goes through options for a Trail of Cthulhu GMC
- Call of Chicago: Icons for the Dracula Dossier – Kenneth Hite looks at the Dracula Dossier equivalent of the 13th Age Icons
- Too Many McGuffins – A scenario premise for Ashen Stars, by Robin D. Laws
- Hidden Treasures – Simon Rogers looks at some under-loved Pelgrane products, and wonders why
- Adjusting the Circuitry – Robin D. Laws invents new words for old problems (and then solves them)
- Call of Chicago: Who Lives at 66 College Street? – While in Providence, RI, Kenneth Hite looks up who lives at HPL’s old place
- Emerging Vituperations of the Gaean Reach – Robin D. Laws keeps you fresh with space-slang for The Gaean Reach
- The RPG Geek One Sheet GUMSHOE Contest 2015 – Read the winners of the RPG Geek One Sheet GUMSHOE contest, run by Yohann Delalande
- Gamer Film Reference Library: Deliver Us From Evil – Robin D. Laws recommends an Esoterrorists-flavoured film
- Dracula Dossier All Rolled Ups – The Story – Paul Baldowski reminisces on how we came to have All Rolled Ups in the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter
- The Old Centipede Trick – How players can use their scene narration to can keep the story dramatic in Hillfolk, by Robin D. Laws
- Eternal Lies Whisper From the Vault – Simon Rogers looks at what makes the Limited Edition of Eternal Lies so special
- God is Between the Frequencies – Robin D. Laws investigates Onandeteria, a nufaith for Ashen Stars
- Double Moon – a Fear Itself scenario seed by Robin D. Laws
See Page XX Poll
by Yohann Delalande
[Editor’s Note: Yohann ran the the One Sheet GUMSHOE competition
on rpggeek, which had an extraordinary 18 entries. Congratulations to all the entrants .You c
an download all the entries here
One of the recurring obstacles every GM has met at least once concerns time vs preparation work. After all, it is usually considered that a good session relies heavily on the amount of details they have gathered upstream in order to create an engaging plot.
However, one among many of the advantages the GUMSHOE system offers to any GMs lies on its flexibility and versatility. As we can see with sandboxy campaigns like The Armitage Files for Trail of Cthulhu and The Dracula Dossier for Night’s Black Agents, most of the investigative work is done in-game, by the players themselves, thus lifting some of the prep work off the GM’s shoulders.
So, what about reducing all that prep work to make an adventure that would be easy and ready to run in a 10-minute read, especially in configurations like pick-up games or con games?
This is actually the idea behind Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s adventure The Haunting and Robin Laws’ The Frosh Week.
So when Simon Rogers asked me if I’d be interested in running a new contest on RPG Geek, I immediately saw how useful a handful of new scenarios would be for GUMSHOE GMs like me.
However, it turned out that the handful I expected became a score of amazing submissions sent to the RPG Geek One Sheet GUMSHOE Contest 2015. The instructions were simple: write a two-page adventure for the GUMSHOE game of your choice and send it to the contest organizer. Then when the time comes, cast your vote.
And among our 18 submissions, three really stood out:
- Our 1st place winner: The Keepers of the Woods, written by Frederick Foulds, for Trail of Cthulhu. This murder mystery in a Devonshire village will lead the investigators to the discovery of a cult worshipping an ancient god.
- Our 2nd place winner: The Barreville Flap, written by Michael Grasso, for Moon Dust Men. In the town of Barreville, Montana, strange UFO sightings prompts agents of Project Moon Dust to collect intelligence and technologies, but also to disinform its inhabitants.
- Our 3rd place winner: Monster Squad Control, written by Tom McGrenery, for the GUMSHOE SRD. Monster Squad is an internet-based monster hunting start-up with control room administrators (the players) working from home while their agent (the GM), is on the field doing all the dirty work.
However, I would also like to highlight the fantastic quality of the other 15 submissions which truly deserve some praise – you can find the whole list s here (registration to RPG Geek is 100% free).
Obviously, we at RPG Geek, would all love to see you read, run, play, enjoy, and comment all the submissions that catch your interest. But most importantly, we really hope they will incite you to write your own One Sheet GUMSHOE adventure and share them with us.
Now it is your turn to amaze us and enthral us with your own trail of clues.
You can download all the entries here.
Many great nations and peoples have measured the passage of time through myriad methods, too numerous for me to list or spend the time trawling Wikipedia for information. I imagine few – if any – have ever ticked off the passage of time by gaming conventions. However, when you’re the wingman to a woman who has created a highly popular alternative to the common or garden dice bag, conventions become like the ominous ticking of a great clock.
In retrospect, I’ve struggled to pin down the exact moment that All Rolled Up got mixed up in Pelgrane Press’s highly successful Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. I have the feeling that it might have been somewhere in Milton Keynes at the thoroughly friendly twice-yearly event known as Concrete Cow. We have known Cat Tobin for a little while. It’s possible our acquaintance arose from my other reason for attending conventions – gamemastering. I’m pretty sure I’d offered to run games at one event or another, and then that led to Cat and Fil meeting. She was one of our earliest customers, at UK Games Expo in 2013 (and I wrote an article about where the idea came from published on this site in July 2013).
At Concrete Cow, in March 2014, All Rolled Up had been running for almost a year. We had sold hundreds and Fil was just getting into the swing of being her own boss, finding her way through the complexities of weekly quotas and taxes. Cat loved the product and I dare say we might have talked with her about doing something for one of Pelgrane Press’s games.
UK Games Expo swung around at the end of May. Expo that year felt a bit special as the All Rolled Up game roll was included in the event’s gaming awards as Best New Expansion or Accessory. I had the chance to meet Monte Cook and Shanna Germain, as well as Chris Barrie (AKA Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf) who presented our certificate when we won that award. There might have been some discussions at Expo, but I’m not sure. The event always has so much energy, so much going on.
Something must have happened at the Expo, because come November we were talking fabrics. Well, I wasn’t. I’m rarely trusted with making decisions about the finer details of mix and match textiles. I remember Fil having swatches upon which she and Cat talked at some length toward the end of the event. I think the Kickstarter had already started, but Cat was happy with the colours and the proposal of two different All Rolled Up – and soon after a bunch of new pledge levels appeared. And in fairly short order, those pledge levels sold out.
That took us by surprise.
We kept a keen watch on the Kickstarter throughout. Each day we’d count up the number of people pledging for levels with an All Rolled Up in. When they eventually sold out, it started to dawn how much work would be involved – not least the sourcing of such a large volume of fabric. Fil has prototypes ready for Dragonmeet – so Cat, Simon Rogers and Ken Hite could all have a look. I contributed the badge design for the outside – or at least the prototype version.
After the thrill of seeing the Kickstarter end so well and all the All Rolled Up claimed, the New Year meant we had to prepare and plan. The business has a regular supply of online orders, as well as necessary stocking up for big events. And fabric takes time from the suppliers.
By early Spring and the next Concrete Cow, we’d firmed up the supplies and I had a dozen alternate designs for the Dracula Dossier badge that would go with it. UK Games Expo in May absorbed all sewing efforts thereafter, so we didn’t get down to the nitty-gritty until summer.
In the following three months, Fil set to cutting, sorting, organizing and sewing the component parts of the two designs – with my assistance and our youngest son, David. Bit by bit they came together and I spent time finalising the badge design and getting it printed up. The time wasn’t without challenges, for when you rely upon machines they invariably let you down just to remind you how much you depend on them. However, as the pictures show, slowly and surely the game rolls came together.
BackerKit made life interesting. As the pledge levels didn’t commit to anything more than an All Rolled Up, we had to wait until completion of the BackerKit entries to discover the balance of black and red. We had early calls that provided a rough ratio – black winning over red – but only a couple of weeks back did we get the finalised figures. In addition, we had to make extra, because when you run a Kickstarter you need to allow for those unexpected eventualities.
Last weekend, we rooted through the garage and rooted out the biggest box. As it happens, with just enough padding, it holds all the All Rolled Up rather neatly. Once Fil completed the game rolls, I designed the labels for the packaging. Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and I came up with the names – The Black Archive and The Red Room, respectively. It seemed appropriate to get one of the game designers involved!
Next week, secured in individual plastic bags, labelled and pressed, they’ll all travel cross-country to Pelgrane Press in preparation for the final release. We’ll have done our bit and we hope you’ll make great use of the All Rolled Up when you get them.
You’ll find the pocket in the far side of the pen and pencil tidy has more than enough room to hold your favourite, seasoned wooden stake.
by James Palmer
Dracula the Warlord – In life, Vlad Tepes was a man who would go to any end to win. In death, he’s worse. Being a vampire is only one part of his toolkit, and while he uses it, he’ll never become dependent on it. You pull a cross? He pulls a gun. You don’t invite him in? He blows your house up from outside. He loses his powers in day, when he is merely a centuries-old warlord who has mastered every weapon known to man, controls a small country, has his tendrils across Europe, and has a coterie of loyal-unto-death bodyguards around him.
Try making this explicit in game terms by giving him a Preparedness ability, like the Agents, ranked at 14-20 or so, and openly spending and rolling for it. That way Dracula always having a back-up plan or the right counter doesn’t feel so much like Director fiat, and Agents can plot multiple approaches, eventualities, and bluffs to try to outthink the master (by exhausting his pool.)
Showman – He’s watched every depiction of himself – his lair has a library of movies, TV, video games – and they’ve soaked into him. Sometimes he’s Bela Lugosi, sometimes he’s Gary Oldman, sometimes he’s Christopher Lee; you can never be sure what his real face is, or if he even has one anymore. Maybe he was Vlad Tepes in life, maybe he just liked his style, maybe he can’t remember anyway. He loves the grand speeches about his ancestry, regardless of whether they’re true or not.
He’s a giant ham, but he’s a ham like the Joker’s a ham. Everything amuses him, whether it’s making his minions shave their hair like a bat or laying out the corpses of an Agent’s family in an obscene tableau animated by necromancy. Life and death are jokes, and the punchline is always “The Aristocrats!”
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get the average group of players riled up, it’s an NPC who laughs at them. Whether it’s in pre-recorded videos, dream visions, or scrawled messages in blood, the Showman will taunt and tease the Agents across Europe. He favors keeping his favorite foes alive, because after all, he needs a truly appreciative audience, but he’ll strip everything away from them so that in the end, it’s just him and them on a bare stage.
[mirror] The Showman is highly likely to follow the real life Vlad Tepes’ habit of disguising himself to travel among his enemies. He may disguise himself as a friendly NPC (especially if he’s indistinguishable from human during the day) to accompany the group, be their secret patron, or even kidnap and take the shape of an Agent (if you have a compliant player) for a session or two.
Stalker – He’s driven by love, you see. That’s what the world just doesn’t understand. When he crawled back from the dead, it was for love. When he killed that family, it was for love. When he terrorizes and coerces and forces a woman into letting him turn her, it’s for love. Until he realizes that they’re not the One, and they become a hungry Bride trapped behind his walls …
This is the Dracula who turns and abandons Lucy, then fixates on Mina. He probably doesn’t have a grand plot; EDOM is using him, not the other way round – his unlife is one long routine of repeating the same pattern.
The Stalker is a grim parody of the “romantic vampire” that’s become so popular, the centuries-old creature of the night who fixates on teenage girls. Maybe he’s looking for the “reincarnated spirit” of the wife he “lost” – because he killed her. Maybe he just has a type. Maybe he sparkles in sunlight, an otherworldly, terrible glare that rips the sanity or souls out of onlookers. Whichever it is, finding a suitable victim makes for great bait in the Agents’ trap – if they’re willing to risk an innocent.
The Executive Megalomaniac – Dracula wanted to go to England because it exemplified the modernity of 1897; the sweeping, new power that was carrying the world on its back. Now he doesn’t care about England. He wants to go to Silicon Valley. Or Guangzhou. A fading mid-ranked power – that’s just a stepping stone, through control of the City. Dracula wants to rule the world.
The Executive wears tailored suits, long ago shaved that mustache, and prefers mesmerism and persuasion to extreme violence, though that’s always an option in a pinch. He loves technology, though he’s more an end user than a hacker (he has people for that) – trace him by running through the Apple Watch pre-order list for Bucharest. He’s absurdly mega-rich, on the scale that only several lifetimes of Swiss bank accounts and the kind of insider trading you can do by reading people’s dreams can manage.
For the Executive, try swapping his Vampyramid reactions with that of EDOMs. Dracula becomes the one reaching out to and trying to coopt the Agents – after all, why waste talented assets? – while EDOM is the paranoid, ruthless organization striking back (with its suborned vampiric minions) at any possible threat.
The Director’s Handbook, together with Dracula Unredacted, comprises The Dracula Dossier — an epic improvised, collaborative campaign for Night’s Black Agents, our award-winning vampire spy thriller RPG. Pre-order it in our webstore now.
The scene: your Trail of Cthulhu game.
The speaker: A player.
“All right, I’m sick of being fed bafflegab by these mystic jerks, and I don’t want to read any more books that will keep me up for a calendar month with waking nightmares. We take the train to Providence, Rhode Island, go to” [quick Google on cell phone] “66 College Street, ring the door, and ask H.P. Lovecraft his own bad self what’s going on.”
[into the stunned silence that follows]
- Why, it’s haunted by yoooooou!
Who answers the door?
An author of weird fiction. Unless approached with faultless gentility (Credit Rating 5+), or perhaps with an introduction from one of his friends, he claims to be too busy writing to talk. It will take plenty of roleplaying and Reassurance spends to convince him that any of his “creations” have parallels in the real world: he is a staunch materialist. He might disappear mysteriously after speaking to them, or become a nervous, impossibly leak-prone ally, or even (in a very meta sort of game) act as the Investigators’ “M,” handing out missions based on his dreams and vast correspondence. This, by the way, is the Derlethian interpretation: the Lovecraft story collection The Outsider and Others appears in many Derleth and Lumley stories (and in Bloch’s wonderful Strange Eons, to be fair) as one more Mythos tome! (HPL’s collected fiction in game values is like the Pnakotic Manuscripts at best or a corrupted edition of Nameless Cults at worst.)
A paranoid racist propagandist. He claims to be too busy writing to talk, but as long as the Investigators are white (or can “pass” with a 1-point Disguise spend) he talks their ears off anyway about the white race and the need to ally with Hitler and the Jewish threat and the Chinese swarming polyglot pullulating &c. &c. Gossip with journalists and local politicians (Oral History) is probably the best way to find out that Lovecraft is funded by the German-American Bund, and has been since 1923, when he gave up weird fiction for politics. It takes more digging (Scuffling with Bundists, perhaps) to uncover Lovecraft’s handler: fascist, occultist, poet, and horror maven George Sylvester Viereck. Meanwhile, HPL has decided the Investigators are race-mongrels spying on him, and alerts his allies. Whether Lovecraft’s racist manifestos and rants contain usable Mythos truths (sifted out with an Occult spend by an Investigator with Cthulhu Mythos, perhaps) is up to the Keeper. If they try to flip or fight Lovecraft, the local Bund and maybe a Lemurian go after them.
Annie Phillips Gamwell
A gentle, confused, elderly woman. She insists nobody by that name lives there, and shuts the door abruptly. Assess Honesty tells you she’s truthful but recognized the name, and painfully. Library Use at the Providence Journal (or perhaps Cop Talk at the local precinct) reveals that her nephew Howard drowned himself after his mother’s death in May of 1921, leaving behind a peculiar suicide note headed “Ex Oblivione.” Mrs. Gamwell threw out her nephew’s papers, although with a month and a 2-point Library Use spend, or an even more intensive Interpersonal correspondence, the Investigators might find a few of his tales in amateur press publications. (Aside from “Dagon” and “Nyarlathotep,” they have little Mythos significance.) Strange visions begin to haunt them, whether they read those tales or not: of a titanic arm reaching through a window, the word DOOM on a wall covered by lizards, a white ape. They attend a magic-lantern show and behold apocalyptic visions, hear cats yowling in anger, see a woodcut of a cannibal feast in books they leaf through. They have tapped into some kind of psychic whirlpool, and their only clues are fragmentary remnants of a stunted literary dream.
Robert Harrison Blake
An artist and horror writer. Lovecraft gave his own address to Blake in “The Haunter From the Dark,” in which Blake moves to Providence in October 1934 and dies in the lightning storm on August 9, 1935. The Keeper can move those dates around to ensure that the Investigators wind up right spang in the middle of the Shining Trapezohedron’s campaign to unleash the Haunter on Providence — perhaps they catch a glimpse of one of Blake’s canvases, so his visions follow them even if they leave town.
Lewis Theobald, Jr.
A mystic dreamer and occult scholar. Robert Bloch (on whom Lovecraft based Blake) wrote a clear Lovecraft manqué into “The Shambler From the Stars,” in which the narrator accidentally burns down the mystic dreamer’s house during a summoning of a star vampire. (The name is HPL’s most common pseudonym; Bloch’s dreamer is nameless in the story.) Again, the Investigators can arrive in the middle of the story — Theobald is an obsessive, and promises to answer all their questions once they find him a copy of De Vermis Mysteriis. Cue summoning …
The Reverend Ward Phillips
A minister at the First Baptist Church in Providence, and the author of a number of well-received ghost stories. He doesn’t recognize the names the Investigators fling at him, but he does let them dig around in his family papers — his ancestor, who lived in Arkham, wrote Thaumaturgical Prodigies of the New-English Canaan (1st ed. 1788, 2nd ed. 1794, 3rd ed. 1801). People say he still visits the St. John’s Burying Ground! Ha-ha, of course whenever anyone looks into the sighting, there’s nothing but large doglike footprints there. Phillips also possesses an antique Moorish lamp he uses at night: Chemistry cleans the copper well enough to read the Arabic inscription: al-Azrad (“the devourer”). Lots of opportunities to wind up dead — and still baffled — in other words.
Note the First: Lovecraft only moved to 66 College Street (for extra confusion, now located at 65 Prospect Street) in 1933. Before then, your horked-off player must go to 10 Barnes Street, where instead of Robert Blake, he might meet Dr. Marius Bicknell Willett, who lived there in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
Note the Second: I’m in Providence right now, at NecronomiCon, which is why this posted a little bit late for Lovecraft’s 125th birthday. It’s okay, he didn’t mind stale cake.
I had Intentions of writing this post on the Monday of Gencon itself, when it was due. That’s the sort of stupid idea you have after six days of little sleep and absurd heat. Plus, we had a Pelgrane planning meeting, where we discussed awesome things to come, and how we’re going to celebrate the 10th anniversary of GUMSHOE.
Between panels and selling books, I ran a few demos, including another run-through of my toy 13th Age demo, Midnight in the Bazaar. I’ve run it at multiple cons, and it’s done yeoman service. The text of it is below, although in all those multitudinous demos at many cons, I’ve never played it quite as written. The trick to 13th Age demos is to grab the players’ One Unique Things and run with them.
For example, this year I had four wonderful players who came up with:
- I’m the ambitious daughter of the Dwarf Lord
(6th 3rd in line for the throne)
- I’ve got Seven Evil Exes from my time studying at the Diabolist’s Academy
- I’m always fashionably dressed, no matter what the situation
- I’m a spy for the Blue Dragon (I may be misremembering this one, but the player definitely had a Positive Relationship with the Three).
(I may have also completely forgotten the line in the adventure where the PCs are all supposed to have a 1-point relationship with the Emperor. Sunday of Gencon – don’t stop there, it’s bat country.)
With that set, I dropped the initial hook entirely, and instead had the Dwarf noble attending a wedding at Glitterhaegen where the groom got kidnapped by some of the Seven Evil Exes, so the party had to chase after the kidnappers and rescue the poor fellow. The wedding covered the two “social” OUTs, and I just reskinned the Diabolist foes described below to match how the player described the Evil Exes. Pigeons from Hell, for example, became a breath weapon attack.
For Icon rolls, the only 5s and 6s were a double 6 for the Dwarf Lord and a 6 for the Three. I gave away a magic item for the Dwarf Lord roll – I don’t generally like giving items for Icon rolls, but it’s fine for a quick demo. I promised to work the Three benefit into the game, and had a fantastic opportunity to do so when one of the players described the Bazaar as being guarded by lizard men, so I was able to hint at a plot by the Black Dragon to infiltrate Glitterhaegen with his lizard mercenaries, and let the player spend that benefit to recruit some lizard men scouts to help him find the missing groom.
Midnight in the Bazaar
A 45 minute (or less) 13th Age demo
The characters have finally tracked down the vile instigator of the evils that have befallen the city of Glitterhaegen. Now, they’re about to confront him in the great marketplace just as he puts his scheme into motion.
The pregenerated characters have their ability scores, attacks and spells pre-selected, as well as brief notes on how each power works. What they don’t have are:
- Full Icon Relationships
- One Unique Things
For Icon Relationships, all the characters have a 1-point positive relationship with the Emperor – they’re a band of adventurers and troubleshooters with a good reputation.
Each player now chooses their remaining Icons. Use these as a guideline to pick the nature of the bad guy. If there’s a clear majority for one villain, then the bad guy works for him and uses the appropriate theming and mooks.
What’s Going On?
A mysterious foe has done something evil in the city. The nature of the threat depends on who the bad guy’s working for:
- Lich King: There’s a necromancer in town, the Grey Rat, stirring up the catacombs and awakening the dead. The characters have spent weeks crawling through dungeons and hunting zombies. The necromancer seems to be concentrating on the tombs of the wealthy families.
- The Grey Rat’s secretly interrogating the dead; he’s searching for the location of the fabled Bank of the Dead, a secret treasury managed by undead merchants who rise once a century to make long-term investments.
- Orc Lord: An orc army approaches from the west, and there’s a Traitor in the city, trying to weaken Glitterhagen’s defences before the siege begins. Many have already fled the city.
- The Traitor is secretly a pirate captain – by sparking panic, he’s forcing all the rich nobles to flee by ship, and his pirate armada’s going to sweep in and loot the laden refugee ships
- Diabolist: The characters were hired to investigate a spate of possessions and strange events, and they’ve learned that the one thing all the victims had in common was that they bargained with a mysterious merchant – a Soul Broker – in the marketplace.
- All those souls are going to get used in a ritual to invoke a demon of greed.
Now, the characters are on the verge of tracking down their foe in the Grand Bazaar.
Ask a player who got a 5 or 6 on an Icon roll how their Icon ally helped them find the villain. (If no-one got an appropriate 5 or 6, then go for the most suitable background and ask the player how they tracked down the villain).
If you can, use the other 5s or 6s now – maybe hand out a +1 weapon or some other benefit. Put any outstanding 5s and 6s in front of the players and explain that they can use them in the game if they can think of something suitably cool.
Next, go around the table, focusing on players who didn’t get Icon benefits, and flesh the scene out with leading questions.
- The Bazaar is a huge open-air market square. Lots of booths and tents. What’s the biggest landmark in the Bazaar?
- How do you arrive in the Bazaar? Are you going for speed or stealth as you pursue your quarry?
- Something’s happening in the Bazaar that’s going to be an obstacle. What is it?
- The guard in the Bazaar are unusual in some way. How so?
- You’ve got a bad feeling about this. What’s worrying you?
The villain’s somewhere in the Bazaar, moving through the crowds. The characters arrive and hunt for him, using whatever tools or clues they’ve established. After a few minutes’ hunting, they spot the villain approaching an ornate purple tent. As they move to stop him…
A Note On Timing
Intro, Character Setup, Basics – 15 minutes
Lead into first fight – 5 minutes
First fight – 15 minutes
Lead into second fight – 5 minutes
Second fight – 10 minutes
The Grey Rat (Lich King villain): The ground of the bazaar suddenly collapses. The old city catacombs run under the bazaar – they run under everywhere – and undead creatures swarm out. The Grey Rat scurries down into the catacombs. To get to him, the characters must fight through the skeletal horde.
2nd Level Troop [UNDEAD]
Spear +8 vs. AC – 6 damage
Resist Weapons 16+
PD 14 HP 26
1nd Level Mook [UNDEAD]
Spear +6 vs. AC – 3 damage
Resist Weapons 16+
PD 14 HP 7 (mook)
Once the undead are defeated (or bypassed), the characters can search the tent and find a map of the catacombs, clearly drawn by interrogating the dead. He’s pinpointed the location of the Bank of the Dead beneath the city. It’s located directly beneath the Well of Foresight, and there’s an old tradition that various trading houses throw copies of their annual reports down the well.
The characters then pursue the villain into the catacombs, following him to the vault of the Bank of the Dead. There are lots of coffins containing slumbering bank-liches, and lots of gold. The characters can either battle the villain and his Decrepit Skeleton horde, or else change the most recent financial reports to awaken the Dread Bankers.
2nd Level Triple-Strength Caster [Humanoid]
Staff +7 vs AC – 15 damage
C: Death Curse +7 vs. PD (all nearby foes) – 7 damage, creates one Decrepit Skeleton per hit
Ratform (1/battle) – turn into a rat. Turns into a rat, avoiding one attack and disengaging.
PD 12 HP 70
The Traitor (Orc Lord villain): Suddenly, orcs emerge from the purple tent and start hacking and slashing. Most of the orcs are illusions, but there are a few orc warriors who are real and solid. The Traitor pops into the tent and flees through the sewers.
2nd Level Troop [Humanoid]
Greataxe +7 vs. AC – 8 damage
Dangerous: Crit range increases by 3 unless staggered
PD 15 HP 30
1nd Level Mook [Illusion]
Axe +6 vs. AC – 6 damage
Illusion: A partially damaged illusion is destroyed
PD14 HP7 (mook)
The orc attack starts a panic in the market. People hurry down to the docks towards the ships, and the great exodus begins. It’s clear that anyone who has a ship to go to is leaving the city.
The Traitor ran into a sewer entrance. Pursuing him through the sewers, the characters find their way to an exit on a waterside warehouse. There, they see a ship departing, its sails filled by a magical wind. The traitor’s standing at the tiller. The characters need to leap on board or otherwise stop the ship from leaving the harbor, or else the Traitor will send in his pirate fleet!
The Pirate Captain
2nd Level Triple-Strength Wrecker [Humanoid]
Cutlass +7 vs AC (2 attacks) – 13 damage
Natural even hit: Swashbuckle! The captain moves, making the target vulnerable until they move to counter.
Miss: 6 damage
Ring of Illusion: When the captain is staggered, he adopts the illusion of one of the player characters.
PD 16 HP 90
The Soul Broker (Diabolist villain): The Soul Broker ducks into a strange curiosity shop down a side street – but when the characters try to follow him, the purple tent comes to life and attacks. Demonic imps pour of it, while the tent itself flails at them with viciously sharp tentpegs and whipping guy-ropes.
2nd Level Triple-Strength Blocker [Construct]
Ropes +7 vs. AC – 7 damage
Natural 16+: Target is grabbed
Engulf +7 vs. PD (grabbed targets only) – engulfed victim takes 10 ongoing damage
PD 16 HP 90
1st level Mook [Demon]
Claws +6 vs. AC – 4 damage
Mockery: If a character misses an attack on an imp, he takes 3 damage
PD 11 HP 7 (mook)
The curiosity shop is larger on the inside than on the outside, as the dimensions inside stretch absurdly. After blundering through aisles lined with strange things, the characters find their way onto the roof, where the Soul Broker’s engaged in a strange ritual with a flock of doves and a dozen glowing glass baubles. Each bauble contains a soul, and the broker argues that the rich nobles and spoiled brats whose souls he obtained had already damned themselves through greed. By incarnating them as birds, he’s giving them a chance to earn redemption – and the characters won’t stop him!
The characters must defeat the mad diabolist and his pigeons from hell.
2nd Level Triple-Strength Caster [Humanoid]
Staff +7 vs AC – 15 damage
C: Madness +7 vs. MD – 14 damage, and target is Confused (save ends)
Pigeons from Hell – free +7 vs AC attack on all nearby foes, 5 damage
PD 12 HP 70
Robin Laws’ multi-award-winning Hillfolk is a great game in its own right, but its DramaSystem engine includes a toolkit for describing and dissecting characters that can be used in other games. One of these tools is the concept of dramatic poles.
To quote Robin: “Driving any compelling dramatic character in
any story form is an internal contradiction. The character is torn between two opposed dramatic poles. Each pole suggests a choice of identities for the character, each at war with the other. Events in the story pull the character from one pole to the next. Were your character’s story to conclude, her final scenes would once and for all establish one of the identities as the dominant one… In many cases, you can conceive your dramatic poles as your desire, on one hand, and, on the other, the character trait that makes you least likely to attain it.”
In 13th Age, the player characters have relationships with one or more Icons – rulers and other powerful NPCs who shape the world from behind the scenes. As a relationship can be Positive, Negative or Conflicted, a well-designed Icon is always divided on some level. Even the most heroic Icon needs a little hint of darkness; even the vilest villain needs some redeeming quality. In the Dragon Empire setting, for example, the Lich King may be an undead tyrant who wants to conquer the lands of the living and restore his lost empire, but he still thinks of himself as the rightful ruler and has some sense of obligation towards his prospective ‘subjects’. The Priestess may be the mystic champion of all the Gods of Light, a shining vessel for their blazing kindness, but her overwhelming niceness might be hiding a secret agenda.
A well-designed Icon, therefore, is torn between two dramatic poles – usually, one that might draw the player characters to serve or support that Icon, and another that makes the Icon seem suspicious, dangerous or destructive. Evil Icons flip that around, so they’ve got one pole that makes them villainous and ghastly, and another that doesn’t redeem them, but makes them more nuanced and interesting than straight villains.
For the default Icons, I usually go with the pairs of poles below. Your own interpretations may differ, of course – and if you’re creating your own Icons, then you may find these helpful as inspiration.
Archmage: Benevolence versus Hubris – is the Archmage building a utopia, or a house of cards?
Crusader: Necessity versus Humanity – what does it profit a man to raze Hell to the ground, but still lose his soul?
Diabolist: Power versus Self-Interest – does the Diabolist have the courage of her convictions, or it all just a game?
Dwarf King: Tradition versus Friendship – can the dwarves move past the grudges and debts of their ancestors?
Elf Queen: High versus Wood versus Dark (yep, three poles) – which aspect of Elvendom holds sway?
Emperor: Law versus Truth – can the Emperor save the Empire from the intrigues and double-dealing of his courtiers and governors
Great Gold Wyrm: Heroism versus Sanity – mainly for the Wyrm’s followers, when does divine inspiration become indistinguishable from madness
High Druid: Nature versus Humanity (the concept that of Icon – and its followers – being pulled between elemental forces and humanity shows up a lot in my games).
Lich King: Death versus Obligation – what do the dead owe the living, and vice versa?
Orc Lord: Destruction versus Destiny – is the Orc Lord a disaster, or an opportunity?
Priestess: Divinity versus Humanity – can a mortal embody the gods and remind human?
Prince of Shadows: Anarchy versus Civilisation – what’s beneath the Prince’s mask?
The Three: Hunger versus Intrigue versus Malice (three poles again) – which head of the Three is dominant?
This month, in See Page XX, pre-order Cthulhu Apocalypse for Trail of Cthulhu, find out about our ENnie nominations, get advice about using interpersonal abilities and pyramids to drive story in your games, and playtest some one-shot story games.
- Our new releases include Cthulhu Apocalypse; the KWAS edition Hideous Creatures: The Great Race of Yith, Mutant City Spies for KWAS subscribers, and Summoning Spells for 13th Age Monthly.
- In our articles Robin D. Laws tries his hand at a 1-sheet GUMSHOE entry, Kenneth Hite has a quick and dirty look at Varna, Simon interviews Pelgrane writer and GM Ruth Tillman, and Rob posts the answers to last month’s trivia challenge.
- June playtesting opportunities include two story games; play adventurers about to set off on what might be their final battle in Before the Storm, or a family with a difficult choice in Acceptable Losses.
Check out the new Page XX now!
June has been a busy month! Our trips to two big conventions (UK Games Expo and the Origins Game Fair) have meant we’ve been on the road for a lot of June. Still, it’s always great to catch with Pelgrane fans, writers and GMs. Roll on Gen Con!
Production of the two core Dracula Dossier books have dominated this month, but we’ve still found time for a big, new launch in the form of a beautful new hardback collection of the relentlessly purist Cthulhu Apocalypse rules and adventures. We’ve also got the June edition of KWAS, Hideous Creatures: The Great Race of Yith, now available in the webstore, as is the June edition of 13th Age Monthly, Summoning Spells. KWAS Vol. 3 subscribers now have the latest edition, Mutant City Spies, on their order receipt pages – this will be available to non-subscribers at the end of July. And another two brand-new story games are available to playtest, from our upcoming story games anthology.
See Page XX Poll