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Ashen Stars Cover
Ashen Stars is the ENnie and Golden Geek-nominated SF GUMSHOE game from RPG legend, Robin D. Laws.

They call you lasers. Sometimes you’re called scrubbers, regulators, or shinestars. To the lawless denizens of the Bleed, whether they be pirates, gangsters or tyrants, you’re known in less flattering terms. According to official Combine terminology, the members of your hard-bitten starship crew are known as Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators. You’re the seasoned freelancers local leaders call when a situation proves too tough, too baffling, or simply too weird to handle on their own. In the abandoned fringe of inhabited planets known as the Bleed, you’re as close to a higher authority as they come.

In this gritty space opera game, the PCs are Lasers, freelance troubleshooters and law enforcers operating in a remote sector called the Bleed. They’re needed in the wake of a massive retreat by the Combine,  the utopian empire that colonized it. Amid the ashes of a devastating war, the lasers solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space—all on a contract basis. They balance the immediate rewards of a quick buck against their need to maintain their reputation, so that they can continue to quickly secure lucrative contracts and pay the upkeep on their ship and their cyber- and viroware enhancements.

Featuring seven new and highly detailed playable species -

  • The eerily beautiful, nature-loving, emotion-fearing balla
  • The cybes, former humans radically altered by cybernetic and genetic science
  • The durugh, hunched, furtive ex-enemies of the Combine who can momentarily phase through solid matter.
  • The humans, adaptable, resourceful, and numerous. They comprise the majority of a typical laser crew.
  • The kch-thk, warrior locust people who migrate to new bodies when their old ones are destroyed.
  • The armadillo-like tavak, followers of a serene warrior ethic.
  • The vas mal, former near-omnisicent energy beings devolved by disaster into misshapen humanoid form.

Ashen Stars also contains extensive, streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues gallery of NPC threats and hostile species’ and a short adventure to get you started in the Bleed.

Read feedback, reviews and see sample chapters here.

Status: Out Now. Includes PDF.

Price: $44.95

Buy

A scenario premise for Ashen Stars

The lasers take a contract to stop an isolated planetary despot from starting a disastrous, self-destructive war. The mystery: how to do that.

Since the Mohilar War the the planet Endemia has retreated from the rest of the Bleed. Their economy locked into a failed policy of self-determination, its people suffer utter deprivation. As far as anyone can tell, given the way the end of that war scrambled memories of its key events, Endemia, like the Durugh, allied with the foes of the Combine, the now forcibly forgotten Mohilar. It split away from Democir, a culturally similar twin planet in the same system that remained loyal to their mutual Terran heritage. Endemian leaders have rewritten history to argue that their former brothers were in fact the betrayers, whose slanders have unfairly blackened the reputation of an entire world.

Years of isolation have left Endemia’s already ragtag armaments and ships in a shocking state of disrepair. But no one wants to tell that to their paranoid, perpetually enemy-hunting Global Emperor Xongta III. Omnipresent propaganda machine has told a generation of starving citizens that they still field a mighty space navy. Now, spurred on by internal politics no outsiders have the inside info to parse, the Endemian politburo prepares to launch a massive assault against the hated Democirs. As soon as the Endemian fleet meets the resistance posed by their wealthy and well-equipped targets, hundreds of thousands of its ill-trained conscripts will die. “Like balls of paper hitting a wall of flame,” as one military analyst puts it.

An Endemian ex-pat puts out a laser contract looking for a team to stop this doomed assault from ever leaving the launch pads. before it begins. Can your lasers penetrate this fear-driven, closed society and stop its leader from bringing disaster upon his people? Once on the ground, do they limit their actions to the terms of the contract, or try to do more and topple Xongta II from his precarious perch?

Ripped from this headline.


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In this week’s very special episode, Ken and Robin talk live from Gen Con!

Forfeit

Forfeit

Creep

Creep

Forgery ColourHave you ever noticed that having one really beautiful set of mechanics next to another really beautiful set of mechanics leads to lots and lots of friction and unforeseen attraction between them? It’s like the set of a CW show up in this Pelgrane design space, sometimes.

Here’s how to take the wonderful Relationship rules from 13th Age (pp. 35-37, 179-183) and use them to add still more behind-the-scenes action and maneuvering to your Night’s Black Agents game.

Relationship Points

At the beginning of the game, each player may spend up to 3 build points (total) on Relationships with … not Icons, exactly, but mighty powers with their own agenda and overweening ego. You know, like the CIA. The Relationships need to be with entities capable of operating at a distance most places in the world, and capable of low-profile, high-power maneuvering: intelligence agencies, multinationals, major NGOs, the Vatican, non-vampire conspiracies, etc. (All right, Icons it is.) All Icons are Ambiguous or Villainous, except in Stakes-mode games, where agencies of the good guys (defined however) can be Heroic. Likewise, the game group’s politics likely determines which are which.

You can put all 3 points in one Relationship, split them up, whatever. (In Mirror mode, you can save them to be “revealed” later.) You then characterize each Relationship, as in 13th Age, as Positive, Conflicted, or Negative. So you might have: CIA (Positive) 1, Mossad (Negative) 1, Royal Dutch Shell Oil 1 (Conflicted). This doesn’t outweigh your Network contacts (or any other spends) with individuals in those agencies; this is a “default” based on your dossier, past, and general rep with the Icon. But a Positive agency asset NPC might be open to Reassurance in a way a Negative agency operator wouldn’t.

Relationship build points come out of the General build point pool.

In Burn-mode games, no Icon Relationship can be Positive.

In Mirror-mode games, starting with a Positive Relationship gives that Icon 2 Trust points from your agent. Each time you get a 6 on a Relationship roll for that Icon, it gets 1 more Trust point from you.

Relationship Rolls

Just like in 13th Age, at the beginning of each session (or if the Director suspects this will introduce too much chaos, at the beginning of each operation), roll one die per Relationship point. 6s and 5s are just like it says in 13th Age: positive boons from the Relationship, or favors with strings very much attached.

However, in the darker world of espionage, you also need to look at 1s. Those mean someone will screw you over — maybe send a wet-worker after you, maybe just rat you out to the locals and raise your Heat (by +1 per 1 rolled), maybe anything the Director’s cruel heart can surmise. And yes, the Director can absolutely save up those 1s for a less propitious time. Who, exactly, is gunning for you depends on your Relationship: If it’s Negative, it’s the Icon or one of its cut-outs; if Conflicted, it might just be extra Heat or unwanted interference; if it’s Positive, it’s not the Icon but its enemies who are griefing you — your CIA (Positive) earns you the enmity of the Chinese MSS or al-Qaeda. (And vice-versa for 6s from Negative Relationships, of course.)

If your Relationship is part of (or has been infiltrated by) the Conspiracy — if, in our example above, Shell Oil is vampire-riddled — that should get some story juice (blood) flowing for sure. Clever players may even be able to guess at such vampiric subversion when a few too many of their Shell favors come with a side of Renfield attacks.

Relationship Spends

You can also spend Relationship points as a dedicated Investigative ability pool for finding things out involving that Icon. You can also spend 1 Relationship pool point to get a +2 on a related General test; e.g., spending 1 pool point of FSB for +2 on an Infiltration test to break into an FSB facility, or on a Surveillance test to shed FSB watchers. Relationship pool points refresh like Investigative pool points, at the end of an operation.

You can also spend Relationship pool points (1 for only +1) on Network contact tests if the contact is either part of that Icon or actively opposing the Icon in that test.

Relationship rolls are based on ratings, not pools, so “spending yourself invisible” is impossible.

Relationship Shifts

While at Heat 6+ your Relationship automatically shifts to Conflicted or stays Negative; it shifts back one session after the Heat dies back down.

The Director may also shift your Relationship negatively if she senses you’ve abused it too much; conversely, she may just have the Icon demand a favor right now at the most inconvenient possible time in order to “balance the books.”

If you are the sort of teacher’s pet agents who go around doing favors for globally powerful entities (or if in a Stakes-mode game you do something unimpeachably heroic) you might be able to shift a Relationship from Conflicted to Positive. Only in the sunniest possible game can you shift a Negative Relationship to Conflicted, much less to Positive.

huth_GR_gaztechThe Gaean Reach Resources

 

  • Download blank character sheet
  • Download the Gaean Reach Series Premise
  • Download the three sets of Build Cards (Knowledge, Persona, Life)
  • Download a set of Vancian taglines
  • Download the taglines for The Cerulean Duke
  • Download a Vengeance-Seeker Ability Matrix
  • Download a Scenario Worksheet
  • Download an Antagonist Record Sheet

Articles

 

We found the shark man washed up on the shore, north of the spot where the Old Wall reaches the sea. The others, eager as always to declare themselves free from the constraints of mercy, would not aid him. I gave him a share of my meager catch and went hungry myself. He ate sparingly; a few hours later he rallied enough to speak. Cursed as I am to question and chronicle, I asked him of life beneath the waves. These are the words, as I marked them down.

“Though I thank you for the food, you should know that I am dreaming now. This waterless surface world, though you might believe it to be real, is but a place we go in nightmares, when the waters grow turbid and sleep eludes us.”

Surely this could not be true, I told him. The might of our 13 icons surely intrudes below the waves, undeniably affecting the lives of air- and water-breathers alike. Yet deny it the shark-man did:

“Your supposed icons are but strange reflections of the 13 true icons, who rule the lightless depths,” he said.

“First among them is the Shark Mother, queen and progenitor of my people, who keeps the waves safe for our hunting and slakes our ceaseless hunger.

“Our greatest enemy is the Lizard King, potentate of the accursed reptile men, who dare to compete with us for cruelty.

“Others, like the Colony, neither oppose our aims or force us to oppose them. The Colony rises from the ocean floor, a vast complex of colorful spires, always building and creating.

“The Vent sends lava and dust into the seas from its deepest trench. She keeps the demons from draining the waters of life-giving air.

“Her daughter, the restless Crab, scours the world for stray demons, yet eats many others in her compulsive quest to clean it all.

“Opposing her is the Shell-Borer and its many drilling minions, who pierce through shells and armor and seek to split the Vent for good.

“The Mermaid rules the sunken cities of men who once breathed air, but now swim with the tails of fishes. Her people fear us, though they are not so good to eat as they assume.

“Kelp Woman protects the vegetation, and the things that are neither plant nor animal. This is good, for without her bounty, the things we eat could not maintain their numbers.

“The Phantom imposes a semblance of order on the revenants of sunken sailors. Some of you dreamlings call him Davy Jones, though I don’t know why.

“Many-Arms waits for us to falter, so that his formless servitors may take our hunting grounds. We fear only the largest of them.

“The Collector fills a palace with the messages from the distant gods, imprinted on the surfaces and mottles of shells. In them he reads omens, from which his ever-changing doctrines grow.

“Sharpjaw aids the weak and darting creatures. Beneath his japes and jests lies deadly intent. Feel the currents and sense his presence.

“Of Leviathan I will not speak. To name him is to summon him, and his wrath is a mountain.”

My companions, who fate had rendered impecunious, chose to take the shark man inland in hopes of selling him to an Imperial official. A few days into the journey his skin dried out, and he piteously died.

Because I breathe air and not water, I have never managed to confirm the truth or fancy of his account. Yet chronicle I must.


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

Hello again, friends. It’s me, Enigmatic Icon, back from my too-hot-for-early-1990s-daytime-TV summer vacation. I really let my moss down this year, with holidays at Stonehenge, Amsterdam, and Little Rock, Arkansas. I even saw the Rolling Stones, and between you, me, and the snails in my cavernous nostrils, those rock stars are getting even older than me…Anyway, that was my dream vacation, I actually spent most of the summer eating Roquefort cheese while watching reruns of the Rockford Files. Luckily for you, my bosses at Stone Skin Press have been a lot more productive–here’s a taste of what they’ve been up to.

 

I’m getting tired again just looking at all that. Plus, there are even more announcements right around the corner, but for now I’m going to get back to daydreaming of the summer that could have been. Seems like all I did was lay waste to foreign temples, but I really ought to quit–I just read that smoking ziggurats is bad for your health. See you next time, Stone Skinners and Pelgraneteers…

The Eyes of the Stone Thief, like the eponymous beast, is a monster. It’s on a par with the Ennie-Award winning Trial of Cthulhu campaign, Eternal Lies, and may well be the largest book we’ve ever published. I was intending for it to be monochrome, as Eternal Lies is, but then I saw the beautiful maps, and the idea of full colour grew on me. By this stage, the art, all monochrome, was pretty much in.

 the_grove_04

So I broached the subject, gingerly, with my colleagues.

I want colour, I said. Surely the artists could just colour the pictures in? You know, get the crayons out and stay within lines? My ten-year-old can do that.

Gareth Hanrahan was all flappy-handed about it on Skype, though full of “Can Do” as always. I interpreted the flappy hands as “No”. Cat Tobin fixed me with a steely glare and said “this book is ready to lay out.” She also pointed out that “colouring in” is not a technical term artists recognise and I should not mention my ten-year-old’s artistic endeavours in this context. Robin D Laws, in a spirit of compromise suggested we do colour plates. Rob Heinsoo laughed with pleasure at the sheer foolishness of it.

Gar approached each artist and asked them to colour one piece each. The colour art in 13th Age uses washes of colour, which mades colouration slightly less problematic. This is what we got.

Rich Longmore

richmaw richmaw colourPat Loboyko

castleonedgefinal

castleonedgecolortestlores Anna Kryczkowska

Godtick

GodTick_project_1

Juha Makkon

http://raide4.com/commissions/pelgranepress/10_1_gamblingskeletons_inks_lores.jpg

http://raide4.com/commissions/pelgranepress/10_1_gamblingskeletons_colors_lores.jpg

This is working, I thought.

All the artists stepped up and promised to colourize their art for the difference in cost between colour and monochrome, and do it by the end of September.  To keep us on schedule, Chris Huth is doing the layout in colour and using the monochrome pieces as placeholders, to drop in the colour when we have them. This plan was enough to gain acceptance.

I hope the scope, ambition and pure fun of this epic adventure is enough to interest our audience. I have no idea if, commercially, colour is the right choice – the book wil certainly be more expensive. In this case, I’m really doing this just because I want to and because I can, and because it made Rob Heinsoo laugh.

 

When the stunning photographs taken by Harry Burton of the Carter expedition’s discovery of Tutankhamun in 1922 were recently exhibited at Oxford’s Ashmolean museum, one print was conspicuously not considered for display.

Those of you with high Cthulhu Mythos ratings know that Nitocris, possible last pharaoh of the 6th dynasty, became a ghoul after her death. So perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that Burton, a Metropolitan Museum of Art photographer on loan to Carter, took an image of in which her blurry outline can clearly be seen. She intruded into Burton’s picture of guardian statues in an outer funerary chamber. Burton, engrossed in his composition, saw her only after he developed the picture. His lack of alarm likely saved him from a gruesome fate.

Why was Nitocris prowling around in Tutankhamun’s tomb, you ask. Who do you think administers the ancient curses of the pharaohs against the plunderers of their grave, anyway?

The photograph, the first ever taken of this particularly numinous ghoul, captured a sliver of her spirit essence. Those who gaze too long on the image form an unwitting bond with Nitocris. No matter where they are in the world, the ghoul queen sends her minions. Individuals judged to be valuable to the ghoul community are devoured and excreted as freshly reborn ghouls. (Yes, that’s how the process works. Your other Lovecraftian sources have been too genteel to tell you this.) The rest are marked for later consumption, after they die.

Flash back to the time of your series, in the 1930s. Renegade NYU Egyptology professor Nathaniel Stonebridge has stumbled onto the secret of the photograph. Driven by a heedless thirst for knowledge, he wants to be the first mortal to witness and document the hideous rebirthing ceremony by which Nitocris brings new ghouls into her flock. To this end he gained access to the suppressed Burton image, normally housed in the Metropolitan’s securest vault. By threatening Metropolitan archivist Norman Lanning with the revelation of certain details of his unsavory private life, Stonebridge got him to strike new prints of the negative. These Stonebridge has been circulating to his many enemies in occult academia, in hopes that Nitocris will choose one of them, and he can watch it all happen.

Since letting Stonebridge strike new prints from the negative, Lanning has vanished. His superiors, afraid that the Nitocris image has fallen into the wrong hands, approach the investigators to find out just what has happened to him.


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.

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