Driven By Our Loves
A New Sources of Stability System for Trail of Cthulhu by Cat Ramen
Trail of Cthulhu makes it clear that the Investigators are not simply pushed by their own need to investigative the Mythos; they also need the support of the people closest to them, their Sources of Stability. This system expands on the basic rules to give players and Keepers more options for using Sources of Stability. While it can work in conjunction with Pillars of Sanity, it can also serve as a replacement for them.
There are two components of this system: a statement for the PCs Drive and each Source of Stability, indicating what the Drive or Source means to him or her; and the use of hard and soft Drivers by the Keeper on the Sources, using the Statements as guides to the form the Drivers will take.
A Value Statement is a brief sentence indicating how the PC views that Source or Drive. A good Statement will provide a hook for the Keeper to introduce negative elements of that Drive or relationship in play.
For example, Joyce Summers is a pilot with long experience of fighting the creatures of the Mythos. Her drive is adventure, so her player writes “Violence is always an option” as her Drive statement. Joyce’s player can expect the Keeper to give her Drivers pushing Joyce towards violent action even when not appropriate.
Janet is an investigative reporter who has been caught up in the fight against the Mythos. One of her Sources of Stability is a private investigator named Jimmy Wright; their relationship is ambiguous, leading her player to write “Whatever else, Jimmy always protects me” as her statement. We can expect her Keeper to give her Drivers about how she feels about Jimmy’s latest rescue mission.
Drivers and Statements
During play, the Keeper can introduce Drivers against Sources of Stability as well as against a PCs Drive. These can be hard or soft Drivers, as per the rules on pp. 72-73 in the Trail of Cthulhu corebook. However, the Keeper should use the Values Statements to guide the form the Driver takes; a PC who has the Statement “I always tell Father Brown my worries” should get Drivers urging him to go to Confession, even if the summoning ritual is happening later that day…
As the player characters adventure, their experiences will change them, causing them to examine their values in a new light. At certain dramatically appropriate moments, doing so may give them a sudden surge of resolve. This process is called Challenging a Statement.
When a player Challenges a Value Statement, she should tell everyone which value she’s Challenging, and explain why what she’s doing or about to do is causing her to change the value. She can then refresh a number of General Ability points equal to her PCs Sanity. She can even use these points to refresh Stability or Health, but not Sanity. For the rest of the session:
- She cannot Challenge that Value.
- She cannot recover Stability from that Source. She can still lose Stability for refusing a Driver against that Value.
At the end of the session, she must rewrite the Value to reflect how it has changed.
Any session in which a player character Challenges a Value earns the PC an extra experience point, to reflect their growth as a person.
For example, Joyce Summers currently has her Drive’s value as “Violence is always an option.” Trying to escape from an insane asylum, one of Joyce’s companions convinces her that attacking a guard will be too noisy and attract too much attention. Joyce’s player decides to Challenge her Drive’s Value, and uses the refresh on her Stealth, enabling her to escape. At the end of the session, Joyce’s player changes the Drive Value to: “Sometimes it’s better to strike unnoticed.”
Sometimes, the Mythos overwhelms a person, forever changing their relationship with the world. This can result in a Value Statement becoming shattered.
This works essentially the same as Shattering a Pillar of Sanity (see pp. 75-6 in the Trail of Cthulhu rules). The player character takes the same penalty–6 Stability and 2 Sanity. Whatever that Source of Stability associated with the Shattered Value is, the PC can never recover Stability from that Source again.
Like an invalidated Drive, player characters are still subject to Soft and Hard Drivers from the Keeper against the Shattered Value.
At the end of the session, players should rewrite any Shattered Values to reflect how their PCs have lost all hope in what they once held dear. Players can change them at the end of any future sessions if they like, but they’ll never be able to Challenge them or utilize that Source of Stability.
For example, Janet has suffered some bad times, but has managed to hold on to her Drive’s value of “The Truth will break the spell.” In a horrific moment she discovers that all along she has been manipulated by Nyarlathotep, and nothing she has done will stop his plans. Her Value shatters, and she changes it to “Plaything of the Immortals.”
Recovering Shattered Values
In some campaign modes, it may be possible to recover lost Sanity. For every two points of Sanity a PC recovers, he or she can rebuild a Shattered Value, and thus regain use of that Source of Stability–although, depending on how the player writes the new Value, it may make more sense to change Sources as well.
Sidney Pryce wants the protagonists’ help to set up a Big Store, to sucker a rich American into thinking he’s buying into a Burnt Auction. The rewards, Pryce promises, are incalculable; but soon after Pryce enlists their help, strange bird-creatures haunt the protagonists. How, they wonder, does Japanese folklore figure into it?
The Long Con is a new stand-alone Trail of Cthulhu scenario from the pen of Adam Gauntlett (Soldiers of Pen and Ink, Dulce et Decorum Est, and many more).
|Stock #: PELGT41D
||Author: Adam Gauntlett
|Artist: Pat Loboyko, Eric Quigley
||Type: 32-page PDF
The Secret War is coming to England. Will you be ready?
It is 1927. As Britain continues her slow recovery, August Darcy, a young journalist, is seized with a strange obsession. He must recover the very essence of England – her traditions, customs, and legends – and he must do that even at the cost of his livelihood; even if he loses the woman who is to be his wife.
The Book is replete with mythic sites, occult rumours, and clues which will guide you on your quest for forbidden knowledge.
Then, in the early 1930s, England experiences the first portents of a magical war. Darcy’s mythic sites are the hidden battle fields; and that forbidden knowledge, the esoteric ordnance of the forthcoming conflict.
Within these covers are the never-before-published early writings of the author of the Book of the Smoke. Sketches of English life, in his unique style, are interspersed with private letters and diary extracts to offer an extraordinary insight into the victim of England’s most notorious occult crime. These are not romantic yearnings for a golden age long gone, but a timely reminder that the terrors of our forefathers still linger on the fringe of modernity.
Written as the companion volume to Fearful Symmetries for Trail of Cthulhu, the Book of the New Jerusalem can be used as a Keeper’s resource as well as an in-game artefact for players in any Mythos game.
Status: In development
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
– William Blake, The Four Zoas (from Ephesians 6:12)
The Secret War is coming to England. And you are the warriors.
Albion, the primeval and perfect England of William Blake, is broken – by war in heaven, and turmoil amongst mankind. Heroes arise to build Jerusalem anew in the Green & Pleasant Land guided by Blake’s visionary poetry.
In this supplement to Trail of Cthulhu, you play a group of magicians exploring the magickal revival; wielding the terrible, double-edged power that grants both dominion and degeneration.
With its companion volume, The Book of the New Jerusalem, Fearful Symmetries gives the Keeper guidelines for building an improvised campaign with dangers drawn from English folklore and Mythos abomination. Four systems of magic are described, along with locations, threats, tomes, and characters. Use Fearful Symmetries to flesh out the struggle between the lurking horror, and the shrivelled good intentions of those who think such power can be contained, and controlled, by mere mortals.
The magical battle for England is coming. Is your humanity the price of victory?
If you go down the down to woods today…
The shadowy depths of the primeval forest are the ancient source of our collective fears. But there is worse in the woods than timber wolves and fairy tales; you can lose not just your way, but your mind, too. This brand new collection of Trail of Cthulhu adventures explores hidden groves and endless avenues – the hideous soul of Lovecraft’s forest.
- Midnight Sub Rosa. The diary of Ezekiel de la Poer, a colonial-era French necromancer hanged for child-murder in 1736 was stolen at the home of an emeritus professor in the small town of Rosa, Alabama. His house lives in the eaves of a forest of white ash. Can the Investigators find the book before its thief becomes something else entirely?
- The Silence Mill In a small village in Brittany close on the Arthurian forest of Brocéliande, a friend of the Investigators stands accused of serial murder, cannibalism and even lycanthropy. Can they ascertain the truth, or will the truth find them?
- Dreaming of a Better Tomorrow for 30 Dollars a Month Amongst crowded green precipices and muttering forest streams of Vermont, labourers from one of Roosevelt’s integrated Civilian Conservation Corps camps disappear. In an atmosphere fraught with political intrigue and Jim Crow laws, can a mixed bag of Investigators find the primordial peril which threatens more than just one camp, or even one State?
- The Coldest Walk. Deep in Wisconsin’s northern woods lies the town of Four Pines – a quiet, almost forgettable community. However, whenever the aurora flashes in the sky the inhabitants have a terrible choice to make. Can the Investigators stop the inevitable, or must they take the Walk for themselves?
- Trembling Giant In 1937, the United States government transferred 300 acres to the newly recognized Koosharem Band of Paiute Indians. But this new land is throttled by distorted trees and stalked by unnatural beasts. Nightmares grip the shaman and warning totems shatter – what is the legacy of this ancient land, and can the tribesfolk fight this ancient evil?
Out of the Woods features three writers new to Trail, and two old hands to take your hand and lead you through the eaves and into the darkness…
…you are in for a big surprise!
In Playtest: Apply here
The Poison Tree is an epic campaign for Trail of Cthulhu, which takes the form of a generational saga that spans the globe and 350 years of history. Matthew Sanderson, Paul Fricker and Scott Dorward have been developing it for the last 18 months, and are now well into internal playtesting. While this isn’t the first campaign they have co-authored, it is the most ambitious in size, scope and structure.
The campaign is made up of seven chapters and eight vignettes, beginning in rural Wales in the seventeenth century, passing through settings as diverse as revolutionary-era Massachusetts, the Welsh settlement of Patagonia, France at the tail end of World War I and Berkeley in the full psychedelic throes of the 1960s, and culminating in world-changing events in the present day. From the playtesting indications, it looks like it will take around 50 three-hour sessions to play through.
The varied time periods and the strange abilities of the family whose tainted bloodline drives the story have demanded some minor tailoring of the GUMSHOE mechanics. These new options should provide some entertaining twists, even for experienced Trail of Cthulhu players.
Status: In Development
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.
Ruth, over on the Illuminerdy, reviewed the Doomsday Edition of Cthulhu Apocalypse. Thanks Ruth! You can find the entire review on the Illuminerdy. Ruth says,
“I found the Apocalypse Machine engaging in its versatility. It allows for an immense variety of apocalypses with even more resulting situations. A lot of post-apocalyptic writing, even in gaming, locks you into a very specific vision of the apocalypse. I think when it comes to horror gaming, the effectiveness depends in part on what people find personally horrifying. The machine allows a GM to tinker to her and/or her players’ fears about the end of the world and provides ample support for creating whatever world they end up in.”
“That part of the book fascinated me more because it had potentials I haven’t seen in most other post-apocalyptic games. What I appreciated most about the scenarios was that the path they followed was one which again diverges from the “standard” post-apocalyptic game settings.”
“Ultimately, if you want to play Trail of Cthulhu but you’re tired of stopping the apocalypse and want to try something different, this is the book for you. I found it thorough in imagining how things might play out, throwing off suggestions while leaving room for your improvisation. The character-building section was a strong Trail hack. And whether or not you play the scenarios as written, reading them will help any GM who’s trying to figure out how to run post-apocalyptic Investigations vs. post-apocalyptic shoot-em-ups.”
Pick up Cthulhu Apocalypse at the Pelgrane booth at GenCon, or pre-order in the store (PDF included).
A Column about Roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
When we of the Pelgrane-Industrial Complex write and test GUMSHOE scenarios, we take care to avoid short circuits—moments that, early in play, could conceivably allow the investigators to abruptly move to the end of the story. The dissatisfactions of short-circuiting are various. The players miss out on all the fun interactions, problems, and thrills set out for them to explore, leading to a feeling of anti-climax. You never want to end a scenario with the players wondering, aloud or implicitly, “Is that all there is?” Nor do you want to end a play session after an hour when the group expected at least their standard three to four hours.
Less well considered than the problem of short-circuiting is its opposite number, the need to hot-wire. Hot-wiring, a term I just made up*, refers to the process of cutting material from a scenario to fit a rapidly diminishing time window. You may need to hot-wire because:
- you have too much adventure left for one session, but not enough for two.
- one or more key players won’t be able to make it next time.
- you’re running a one-shot, perhaps at a convention.
- a key player has to bail early on this session.
The less linkage between scenes in an RPG scenario, the easier they are to hot-wire. In an F20 game like 13th Age, you can drop a couple of the fights. Where the connective tissue between battles seems too hardy to dispense with entirely, you can even elide your way to the climax with a few lines of description: “After several days fighting your way through the orc lands, you finally find yourselves standing at the foot of the Crusader’s grim tower.” Hillfolk’s scenes are so modular that you can stop at any time. Additionally, the narrative driving remains as much up to the players as the GM. And of course in The Dying Earth the picaresque characters continually skate on the edge of comeuppance, with a closing explosion of chaos to rain down on them never further away than the nearest Pelgrane nest.
GUMSHOE, however runs on way scenes connect to one another. Ripping out those circuits means finding the quickest route between where the characters currently are and a climax that makes sense and feels right. GUMSHOE is an investigative game, meaning that players want to come away feeling that they investigated something. Finding clues is the core activity, so you can’t elide that away from them. It would be like skipping not only the connecting fights but the epic final throwdown in a 13th Age run.
To hot-wire a GUMSHOE scenario, find the final scene you want to land on. Some scenarios present multiple climactic scenes based on player choices. Most converge the story into a single final scene, in which certain choices may be foreclosed, penalized or rewarded depending on what the protagonists have already done so far.
Given a choice of climaxes, pick the one that you think the players can work toward most efficiently without feeling that you shoved them onto a greased slide. The ideal hot-wire job doesn’t appear as such to the players. The way to achieve this is to still give them opportunities to be clever. The difference now is that the reward of that cleverness becomes a faster propulsion toward the finish line.
If given one final scene that can play out in various ways, quickly scan for the payoffs it provides to past decisions. See how many of them the players have already made, and how many still lie uncovered. If you can find a way to route them through some or all of those choices on the fast lane to the climax, great. Otherwise, them’s the breaks when you’re rewiring on the fly.
Your main task? Identify the shortest logical-seeming route from the current scene to the end point. Look at the section headers for the various Lead-Ins to that scene. Skip back to those scenes and locate the core clues that enable the investigations to reach it. You may find one or several.
Linear scenarios can be harder to hot-wire than ones that provide multiple routes to the conclusion. A journey investigation as found in Mythos Expeditions may have to use the narrative elision technique to get from the problem at point C in the wilderness to the final one at point J.
Where the climax boasts more than one lead-in, pick the core clue that you can most easily drop into the situation at hand. Or find a core clue that gets you to that penultimate scene, letting the players take it from there.
Let’s say you’re running a modern Trail of Cthulhu scenario** using abilities imported from The Esoterrorists. The climax occurs after hours at an aquarium theme park, where Deep Ones orgiastically empower themselves by tormenting killer whales. The investigators are partway through the scenario, having discovered the fatally slashed corpse of a rogue marine biologist in a gas station bathroom. As written, the corpse lacks ID and the investigators have to crack other scenes to learn who the victim was and then discover she was onto something fishy† at the aquarium. The investigators can discover the latter clue one of two ways: by tracking down and winning over her justifiably paranoid wife, or cracking her notes, as found in an off-site backup.
To hot-wire that scene to lead directly to the orca-torturing aquarium orgy, plant a clue to the off-site backup on the corpse. In the original, the murderers took her purse and car, to cover their tracks. After you hot-wire the scene, they were interrupted by a station employee while trying to steal the vehicle, and fled. This allows the team to find the victim’s tablet on the back seat of her car and use her Dropbox app to access her file. Present this so they have to, as would be usual, search the car for clues, and then figure out that her files might be accessible from a file storage interface app. That way they still get to feel like they’re doing the work of GUMSHOE investigators, feeling a sense of accomplishment as they screech toward their final assignation at that theme park.
*In its roleplaying context. Settle down, car theft enthusiasts.
**Warning: scenario does not yet exist. But GUMSHOE is OGL now, hint hint.
†Honestly extremely sorry about that. I am writing this the day before Gen Con, and it is also very, very hot.
A Trail of Cthulhu GMC in Armitage Files format
Name: Frank Warren
Physical Description: late 50s, papery complexion, thinning hair
Sinister: Frank Warren became a pharmacist to make use of the alchemical secrets his father taught him from the family collection of moldering Renaissance manuscripts. He chose to operate in this desperate urban neighborhood because it supplies him with an inexhaustible list of test subjects who will never be missed should something go wrong. In his insane rambles through the New England countryside he has stumbled across various remnants of creatures that should not be. These scraps of flesh he has distilled into an assortment of elixirs. Eventually he hopes to invent a cure for death, without the vulnerabilities of the quack system discovered by that fool, Dr. Muñoz. This noble ambition surely compensates for any number of quasi-indigents slightly hastened to their graves. Should Warren sense that the investigators pose a threat to him, he attempts to dose them with one of his more lethal concoctions.
Innocuous: Warren first set up shop when this was a nice neighborhood, before the rot set in. He notices the terrible things moving in the shadows, but doesn’t say anything. Who would believe him? Frank just wants to get home to his ailing wife Helen, bolt shut all three locks on his apartment door, and stay out of trouble.
Stalwart: Warren learned his profession at Miskatonic University. He could have established a pharmacy in the rich, safe part of town, but instead took over his father’s drug store. Here, people need him. He has only just begun to notice the moving shadows down on Fourteenth Street. Every time the hairs on his neck rise up, he makes a note with a stubby pencil in his notebook. Any day now he may ring up his old friend Armitage at the university to share his observations.
Alternate Names: Bob Du Brey, Sidney Alden, Wilfred Brecher
Alternate Descriptions (1): mid 40s, wavy hair, luxuriant mustache
(2): late 60s, inexplicably resembles Mark Twain
(3): early 60s, rounded glasses, forbidding brow
Defining Quirks: (1) suffers terrible hay fever; (2) hums songs from Astaire-Rogers movies; (3) looks at his fingernails when nervous
Academic and Technical Abilities: Medicine, Pharmacy
General Abilities: Athletics 2, First Aid 8, Fleeing 2, Health 2
Alertness Modifier: 1
Stealth Modifier: –1
Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.