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Play the gritty reboot of your favorite science fiction TV series.
Winner of the 2012 Silver ENnie award for Best Setting, designed by RPG legend Robin D. Laws and powered by the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system.
Out here in the Bleed, you’re the closest thing there is to a higher authority. You’re Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators —”lasers” for short. You’re the seasoned freelancers that local leaders call whenever a situation is too tough, too baffling, or simply too weird for them to handle. It’s a dirty job, but it pays. And sometimes, you get to make a difference.
In Ashen Stars you take on the role of freelance troubleshooters and law enforcers operating in a remote sector of space called the Bleed. Amid the ashes of a devastating war that ended with a massive retreat by the Combine, you’ll solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — balancing the promise of a quick buck against the need to maintain a reputation that wins you lucrative contracts, and pays the upkeep on your ship and your cyber- and viroware enhancements.
Play one of seven 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.
- 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 includes:
- Extensive, streamlined rules for space combat
- 14 different types of ship
- A rogues gallery of NPC threats and hostile species
- A short adventure to get you started in the Bleed.
Read reviews and sample chapters.
Status: Out Now. Includes PDF.
You are receiving this memo as an Ordo Veritatis field agent certified to perform the forensic duties of a medical examiner.
At your earliest convenience, please access, through the amended usual protocols, the research paper entitled “The Neurological Implications and Structural Alterations Associated with Outer Dark Entity Involvement” (Catalogue #90UODS9) by Dr. Sheldon Saperstein, [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. In brief, the paper establishes that the mental traumas induced by contact with ODEs are frequently of neurological origin. Alarmingly, Saperstein et al posit that mere remote visual observation of these creatures on our plane of existence may induce structural alterations in the brain. These induce a variety of debilitating symptoms ranging from the commonplace (PTSD, temporal lobe epilepsy) to the exotic (Capgras syndrome, circumstantiality).
When autopsying victims in the field, please aid our research by examining their brains for structural anomalies. Follow this protocol regardless of apparent cause of death. Numerous instances occur where fresh brain traumas accompany fatal ODE attacks that do not directly target the brain. Instead the direct cause of death might be, to name but a few examples, asphyxiation, hypothermia or exsanguination.
It is the hope of the Forensic Anthropology Research Department to assemble over time a database correlating particular brain structure alterations to specific Outer Dark creatures. Whether such correspondences can be clearly established remains a question which can only be answered by thorough evidence gathering.
To this end you will find in your updated protocols package an organ donation form. We strongly request that all field agents explicitly consign their brains to the organization for thorough examination upon their demises, including natural ones. You may already exhibit neurological features of keen interest to the department .
On a related personal note, those of you in the greater New York area might wish to attend memorial services for Dr. Saperstein at the [REDACTED] Synagogue on [REDACTED] on [REDACTED]. His colleagues carry on, his work and sacrifice an inspiration to us all.
The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
By Tony Williams
This exercise was far more difficult than previous character sheet designs I’ve done. My first problem was getting past the intimidating presence of the great art in itself and then the second was doing something I felt lived up to the design work put into the book.
I was flummoxed trying to think how I was going to incorporate the art into the character sheet; part of the problem is that the design work is meant to fade into the background behind the character stats so how could I use “artwork” and then hide it anyway ? Besides which art should I use ? Who actually represents *all* surrealists ?
I had put the problem on the backburner but later the decorating was looming and I needed an escape project ( I am a master procrastinator ).
So I turned my attention back to the problem and considered how I had approached my Bookhounds character sheet. The idea for that had been “What would one find on the desk of a Bookhound in the rear of his shop ?” Thus: “What would be found lying around the table of a Dreamhound in their dingy garret ?” Suddenly things seemed to fall into place.
Finding decent representational iconography required a lot more strenuous Google-Fu than previous sheet designs but finally I managed to find the stuff I needed to collage the sheet together. There was a lot more “hacking” the pictures in GIMP this time around as well, but I got there in the end.
Here’s a bit of design explanation:
The general tone is greens ( absinthe ) and murky browns ( down at heel ). I learned how to turn an electric blue pencil into a green pencil in GIMP this time around.
Surrealism – the starving Dreamhound was in his bathroom practising drawing his own eye in the cracked wall mirror when he needed to sharpen his pencil. The nearest thing to hand was, of course, his razor. He put the razor down casually across his drawing when he noticed a trail of ants on the floor and had to follow them out into his bedsit to foil the little beggars. He found them supping on a sugar cube he had left next to his absinthe spoon – curses! To calm his nerves he needed a little pipe tobacco whilst he perused the catalogue for the upcoming “Exposition Internationale du Surrealism” at the Galerie Beaux-Arts. If I have to spell it out for people – the pipe is a nod to Magritte, the razor on the eye is Buñuel’s “Un Chien Andalou” and the catalogue is self-explanatory ( durr… ).
Paris – well, ( Mon Dieu! ) the Galerie Beaux-Arts is *in* Paris, for Pete’s sake ! Absinthe seems an appropriate Dreamhound Parisian drink and any good absinthe drinker needs a supply of sugar cubes and an absinthe spoon. A photo of a typical Parisian street in the Pigalle area would be an easy representation of the city too.
Lovecraft – hmmm… that photo looks suspiciously like two investigators approaching Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol with great trepidation to me.
I chose an empty square to represent running out of Instability to reflect the ‘void’ of creativity it brings, it is also meant to be a blank canvas ( since you can no longer create meaningful art ) and a vague reference to the fact you are now a ‘square’ ( in the beat poet sense ) rather than a ‘happening’ radical artist.
And how come that absinthe spoon looks somewhat like a silver key – coincidence ? I think not !
Finally, a technical point – the General Abilities that can have Dreamscaping pool points added to their test rolls when in the Dreamlands are in a brown font rather than the standard black. As represented by the brown “think bubble” next to the Dreamscaping ability. ( Even finding the “right” think bubble was a saga in itself. )
Sadly I’m not happy with the sugar cube. Finding a top-down picture of a sugar cube results in few decent hits – “Damn you interweb !” ( shakes fist ). Maybe I’ll actually resort to photography for a fix down the line…but don’t hold your breath as I have some bloody decorating to do now. I don’t mean “bloody” as in I’m going to murder someone, or *do* I ? Ha, ha, ha, ha…
You can download Tony’s character sheets here:
- Download Dreamhounds of Paris character sheet (A4)
- Download Dreamhounds of Paris character sheet (US letter)
Improvising With GUMSHOE by Steve Dempsey
This article discusses an improvised variant of the GUMSHOE rules. It can be just as easily used for Fear Itself, Esoterrorists, or any other GUMSHOE game.
Most games of GUMSHOE are played using a scenario that the GM has written. Not only does she introduce each scene and play the non player characters but she also decides in advance what the clues are. Although the GM does not dictate the path the players will take through the adventure, she has a strong hand on the tiller as the clues she chooses will determine to a rather large extent what the players do.
There are some good reasons not to always play this way. Stephen King says in On Writing, “I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.” When you tie this in with the GM’s creed, “No scenario ever survives contact with the players”, you will see that the improvised game has some advantages over one written by the GM.
What you might lose on intricate plotting you are likely to gain on player involvement in the creative process and character play. Players will be much freer to take the scenario in directions that seem more natural to them and their input will have a greater impact on the story.
Improvisation is nothing terribly difficult to do, the main impact of playing this variant is that the game is not planned up front by a GM but is developed in play by players and GM alike. This means no prep for GMs, other than learning the rules. I’ll be discussing the details of how to do this in three easy stages. Finally I’ll give an example that shows how this works in play.
1. The set-up
As with any improvisation, you have to have a theme. It’s an improvisation on something. If you don’t have a theme, then the players won’t know what kind of characters to make.
So start with a theme. It doesn’t really matter how you come by this as long as there is some consensus within the group. You could let the GM choose (“You’re all students at a Japanese high school, getting ready for a school trip”) or you could have a group discussion about what sounds cool (“I want things lurking in doorways”, “I want magical rituals that take years to cast”, “I want a scene in an 80s disco”). You could also choose something that relates to a moral question (“How far are you prepared to go to stop the monsters?”) or a dilemma (“Family or Job?”).
But remember that this is GUMSHOE: Fear Itself, Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu, and Mutant City Blues. It’s all about investigation. Some terrible crime has been committed, the bastions of reality are under threat, and the characters are the ones to deal with it.
For your theme you should also discuss the nature of this threat or crime, even if you don’t want to know the details at this stage. For example, the Japanese schoolgirls are a shoe-in for some kind of mad slasher and the 80’s disco idea smacks of Son of Sam or Zodiac.
You could discuss who the villain of the piece is going to be. This could be oblique (some Mythos deity) or explicit (one of the schoolgirls). It helps the game if you have some idea of what you are aiming for. It should also help with pacing. You don’t want the bad guy to be revealed to the characters in the first five minutes.
It’s a good idea, although not necessary, to write down the outcome of your discussions regarding the theme. It’s a handy resource for players and GM alike who can refer to it when making decisions about characters or plot.
Once you know what the theme is, make up some characters. In many games, this is down in utmost secrecy lest anyone steal your cool idea. In improv, we have a different way of doing things. You all do your characters together. Talk about your characters to each other and say when you like something. Give positive feedback.
Improv thrives on feedback. You are the audience as well as the actors so big yourselves up. It’s not just about getting a good vibe, this is also about riffing off each other’s characters. If you’ve gone the schoolgirl route, you’ll need to know who is the class swot, who is the cheerleader and who has psychic powers. You’re characters don’t necessarily need to know, but your players do. You need to know where conflicts will arise because that’s what makes the game interesting.
You can do this by each introducing your character once generation has been done, but that’s a short cut that misses out the links that you can forge between your characters if you do the job collaboratively.
In improv GUMSHOE, investigative skills work differently. They still allow characters to automatically find core clues or to be spent on supplementary clues. That much does not change. However, because there is no prewritten scenario, the choice of skills determines what the characters are going to encounter. If no one has Art History as a skill, the characters aren’t going to be looking at many paintings. If they all have high trivia scores, then what happened in last week’s episode of Full Metal Alchemist is going to be much more important.
Decide how long you want the game to last. This can be done by deciding on the number of core clues. One is generally not enough but you can play a decent one session game with only three or four core clues. Don’t forget that some scenes will not be about clues but for transition or colour. Whilst you might like to go for a mammoth ten core clue game, this is probably a bit much and I imagine is best broken down into smaller three or four clue episodes, each with their own internal logic but all building blocks in the greater plot arc.
2. What do we do now?
Now you play. Without any kind of pre-existing scenario this sounds a bit scary but you do have something to go on, namely all the work that you’ve put in so far to create the theme and the characters. You should all have a pretty good idea of how the general direction of the game so now what you do is ask for scenes.
Anyone can ask for a scene, player or GM, but the GM gets to decide the order in which they are played. The first scene is usually called for by the GM who will use it to introduce the game, the characters and perhaps something about the mystery that’s about to be investigated.
A scene is where a least one character will attempt some kind of action. An action is where a character finds a clue, has social interaction with a PC or NPC or uses their general skills to some end. It’s a fairly loose definition but you’ll know one when you see one. For a scene to work it has to have some kind of danger, excitement, threat or drive the plot of the game.
It’s the GM’s job to set-up scenes and to play NPCs. They can take account of player wishes but ultimately it is there responsibility to decide who and what is in the scene.
It’s also the GM’s job to make sure that transitions between scenes are handled. This is essentially narration. It’s the bits in 24 that happen during the ad breaks when Jack Bauer drives to the next action packed scene, or at the start when the voice says “Previously on Heroes”. Transitions are important because they tie everything together. They can also have bits of exposition such as when a PC talks to his critically ill wife in hospital, flashbacks to a scene in the life of the villain or even foreshadowing of future events. The extent to which you expose plot to the players in these scenes is very much up to the will of the group. Some don’t want out of character knowledge but some relish the TV show style construction that has interposed shots of the bad guy committing his latest dastardly crime, think Skylar in Heroes.
3. How to improvise
Here are some techniques that you can use to help with your improvisation. If you want more information on improvisation for roleplaying I recommend the Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley).
These techniques are not difficult to use and they have been shown in theatre sports (see Impro by Keith Johnstone) to improve stories generated through improvisation.
Don’t try to be too clever
If your character goes into a bar for the first time, they should probably order a drink, they probably wouldn’t do a back flip over the bar and shoot the pianist. If you do this kind of thing, you ruin spoil the narrative by doing things for which the other players can’t see the justification. Characters should act in character and do what’s natural for them to do. You’ll find that acting naturally helps the game along much better because the other players will come to know what to expect from your character.
This follows on from the first technique. You won’t be able to understand what the other characters are like if you try to block everything they do. So if a character proposes going into a bar, you probably shouldn’t say “It’s closed” or “I don’t go in bars”. It’s fine to say, “Well, I wouldn’t usually, but just this once”. In fact this is very good because this reveals something about your character as well as encouraging the other player’s development of the game.
Build on what’s already happened. If an NPC gets mentioned by name in an early scene, bring them back later on. If a detail is mentioned, make it appear in a later scene under a different light, make it more or less important than it was. The reason behind reincorporation is because it reinforces the narrative by drawing attention to the salient points.
Reincorporation is also known as Chekov’s Gun because he once wrote in a letter to a friend, “”If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
4. An example of play
So here’s an example. Brenda is running a game for Steve and Anya. They decide that they want to play Fear Itself set in the London in the 70s. The player characters will all be involved in the punk scene, the tone will be gritty and the game should involve some kind of parasitical infection.
Steve’s character is called Sanjit, a fanzine writer from Bromley. His writing has some influence in the small milieu but he’s not necessarily well liked, mainly because of the sarcastic tone of his writing. He’s unemployed.
Anya’s character, Ariadne, has come down to London from Birmingham, to escape from Heavy Metal. She’s a competent drummer and has got a gig with a band called Dole Kids. Ariadne and Sanjit share a grotty room in Berwick St.
Brenda thinks that the plot probably involves something to do with some chord progression carrying the infection but that’s not something she can decide. But it is her job to frame the first scene . Given the theme, there’s nowhere better to start the game that at a club. (This is Not Being Too Clever .)
It’s a Friday night and the Dive, a club in Camden pub basement, is heaving. The floor is sticky with beer, the walls and ceiling dripping with sweat. Dole Kids are just coming off having done a decent set. Sanjit is in the off-stage area having a discussion with Molly, lead singer of Kick in the Head who are due on next. Molly has taken umbrage at something Sanjit wrote in his last fanzine. Her band is on stage and waiting for her.
The scene is played out to introduce the characters and any NPCs. From what happens it’s clear that Molly will feature later in the game. On this occasion Molly storms off up the steps to the stage barging into Ariadne. This only escalates the arguments. She spits at the group and she runs up to sing. They follow her and end up being beaten up by Kick in the Head and their loyal following. Molly takes pity on the PCs and gets them back to her dressing room where they share a joint.
Next, Anya calls for a Core Clue scene. As there hasn’t been anything horrible happen yet, this scene should introduce the first elements of horror. It’s probably time for someone to die.
Anya asks for the scene to take place at the after show party. Brenda sets the scene but allows the players to place their own characters. It’s after the gig at a party in a squat next to a kebab shop. There is no electricity in the building and it’s entirely lit by candles. Someone has a grotty tape player which is blasting out the rather indistinct sounds of Iggy Pop and the Stooges.
Anya says that Ariadne is snogging some groupie in a wrecked bathroom, candles reflecting off broken bits of mirror. Steve decides that Sanjit is holding forth in a damp and grimy kitchen to a small coterie of fanzine fans.
Brenda narrates what happens next. Suddenly a scream comes from upstairs. A teenage goth staggers into a stairwell, his face contorted in horror. He collapses and falls. People run up to see what’s going on. As Anya called the scene, it’s up to her what the clue is. She can take suggestions from the other players. Ariadne comes out to see what’s going on and uses Intimidation to get everyone else to back off so she can get to the clue. Anya says that the boy has passed out, he’s got a joint tightly clenched in his hand. Ariadne checks him out and takes the joint. (This is Reincorporation of the joint.) She goes to take a puff but just before she does, notices something strange in the joint. Brenda suggests that this might be some kind of small wriggly worm, and Steve adds that perhaps as Ariadne is leaning over the boy she notices something pass across his eyeball, although it’s not clear what.
Anya decides to go with the wriggling worm in the joint. Steve also decides on a supplementary clue, spending a point of Streetwise, he decides that Sanjit knows the unconscious lad. He’s a pagan called Perdition,also from Bromley who Sanjit knows is into some “heavy magic shit”.
Brenda narrates what happens next. Perdition wakes up with a start and looks around. He smiles strangely and attempts to kiss Ariadne. He is superhumanly strong but together they manage to force him outside. He chases after someone else. Everyone else has run away at this point, except for Molly, who announces “Oh my God, I’ve got the same dealer as that monster!” She gets out her weed and it too is infected with worms.
We have a plot! Everyone has smoked the infected weed, who knows what might happen to them now? The game will continue long into the night.
You now have some tools that you can use to improvise games. If you give this a go, remember that a light touch is often needed with this kind of game, don’t go trampling all over other people’s ideas, give them space and time to come to fruition. It’s a question of mutual respect.
Finally, the improvisation may well not work at all. You might find that you’ve painted yourselves into some kind of dead-end story. But don’t worry about it. Improv, like any other game technique, doesn’t always work. The thing is not to worry to much about this and to just try again from a bit before when things started to go off the rails.
With a bit of patience, you’ll seen be off again.
Steve Dempsey, the author of this piece, has written for Armitage Files and Dreamhounds of Paris, and is our most experienced GM.
GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.
(originally posted in Dec 2007 Page XX)
This toy version of GUMSHOE introduces you to the basic concepts of the system which powers Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists and Night’s Black Agents. Note, I’m not a game designer (whatever wikipedia says), and this version of GUMSHOE really is just for demonstration purposes.
GUMSHOE was designed to power games which feature some investigative elements. The GUMSHOE system itself is very simple and each GUMSHOE game adds system elements to support the gameplay the designer of that iteration intends, which adds complexity to the base. This version strips GUMSHOE down so you can see how it works, a bit like a model suspension bridge made from string and card does for, well, suspension bridges.
The most current version of a GUMSHOE game, with the most up-to-date advice, is Esoterrorists 2nd Edition.
We’ll learn the game and you can create a character as we go along.
Every character has investigative abilities, rated from 1 to 4. Even one point in an ability means you are highly proficient in that ability.
Investigative abilities have three functions.
- First, they allow your character interact with a game scene and extract essential information in play, information which points you to other game scenes. This information (called a core clue) can be a location, a person, an item – anything that points you at a future game scene. You do not spend from your pool to get a core clue.
- Second, you can extract any information your character would reasonably know without effort, also at zero cost.
- Third, you can use the ability to gain special benefits related to those abilities. These benefits can offer information which allows you to overcome or avoid danger, a bonus on a General Ability test, they can make you look cool, or form a connection with and NPC. Special benefits cost points from the ability pool.
It’s possible to gain certain kinds of information from a scene, obvious to anyone, without having an ability. This is called a simple search. A simple search might get you a matchbook, whereas an investigative ability might get you the fingerprints and then the identity of the last person to touch it.
Using Investigative Abilities In Play
To use an ability in a scene, you either describe what a character with that ability would do in that scene, or describe what you’d do in the scene and the GM will suggest an ability. You can seek information actively, for example, “I use Art to determine the provenance of that painting.” Sometimes the GM will provide information a character with your abilities would know without asking, for example, “With Science you can see the particles’ motion defies known laws.” Likewise, in a scene, you can suggest special benefits or they can offered by the GM. In general, GMs do not need to mention in play that a piece of information is a core clue or distinguish it from a zero-point clue.
Any ability which could reasonably get information can be used to get that information. The ability can be predetermined or improvised by the GM or emerge from roleplaying in game scenes.
If you are used to playing games where you use abilities for which you roll dice to determine success, roleplay exactly as you would do in those games.
Assign Your Investigative Abilities
The investigative abilities in Toy GUMSHOE are Who You Are, Science, Art, Technical and Interpersonal. Who You Are is an adjective -noun combination describing your character. You get 2 points in Who You Are. Pick any of the following combination of numbers, and assign them to the other four abilities.
Game Design Aside: What Abilities do
Investigative abilities offer niche protection, so that each player has a chance to interact with scenes in a way specific to their character; and spotlight management, so players get an equal chance to shine through the special benefits they use. Special benefit spends deplete abilties, so they also encourage more interesting And varied choices, and add a frisson to the end game as those choices become constrained.
General Abilities cover any action you want to do which doesn’t acquire information, and for which an element of randomness is fun, and has an important consequence. In toy GUMSHOE, there are Body, Mind, Moves, Fighting and Senses.
- Body is your current level of resistance to a potentially damaging event doing you harm.
- Mind is your level current resilience to the the effects of mental stress.
- Moves are anything physical you attempt to do, except fighting.
- Fighting is used to restrain or harm an opponent.
- Senses make you aware of danger, of being watched or potentially ambushed.
Testing General Abilities
If you face an important challenge in play not related to gathering information, you make a test. The GM determines a Difficulty, a number ranging from 3 to 8, with 4 as a standard. Spend points from the appropriate general ability pool, then roll a d6. Add the number of points you’ve spent to the die roll. If the total matches or beats the Difficulty number, you succeed. If not you fail. In most GUMSHOE games the GM does not tell you the Difficulty number before you make the choice.
Assign Your General Abilities
You get 4 points free in each of Body and Mind, and an additional 24 points to split between the five abilities. No ability may be higher than 10. (You could add a “What you do” skill to General abilities as the General equivalent of “Who you are”)
Game Design Aside: Abilities and Setting
Most GUMSHOE games have ten or more abilities fine-tuned and flavoured to the setting, with just the right amount of granularity. GMs work to provide information and benefits which match the investigative abilities and challenges which match the general ones. So in Mutant City Blues there are a multitude of specialist abilities to investigate a crime scene; in Fear Itself, just one. Toy GUMSHOE is generic, but you can add any abilities you want to the list, or subdivide the abilities to match your match the setting.
Next Up: Interpersonal Interaction, Fighting and Chasing
My booth pitch for Hillfolk describes its rules engine, DramaSystem, as emulating the structure of serialized cable TV shows. So let’s take an example heavily watched in geekland, “Game of Thrones.” Here’s a scene breakdown of the first episode of the fifth season with an eye toward identifying the petitioner and the granter and seeing who earns the drama token at the end. “Game of Thrones” presents so many featured characters that it would need an unworkably huge player group. Leaving that aside, I’ve treated only obvious foil characters, who exist only to highlight the main protagonists, as GM characters. I’m also leaving out scene snippets that in the game would be narrative bits at the head of a scene, or show us what would otherwise be revealed in dialogue. Unsurprisingly, the scene calling order doesn’t match the rotation you’d see in a game either.
You’ll want to watch the episode before reading.
And yes, I had to look up half the character names to do this.
In a flashback to childhood, Cersei seeks to establish her power over a witchy oracle, who denies her with an ominous prophecy. Cersei ‘s petition is denied, so her player gets the drama token.
An attendant petitions present-day Cersei to be considerate of the nobles gathered at Tywin’s funeral. She imperiously shuts him down, giving the GM a drama token.
Jaime petitions her to be more cognizant of politics and less worried for vengeanc towards Tyrion. She shuts him down hard, and he gets the drama token. (With her father dead, Cersei now has an easy shot reclaiming her spot as the show’s most prolific refuser of petitions.)
Safely on another continent, Varys petitions Tyrion to get himself together. He’s more interested in staying drunk so Varys gains the drama token.
Daenerys’ courtiers petition her for caution regarding the slaveowner’s resistance movement. She favors boldness and the GM gets the drama token.
Missandei (Daenerys’ translator) seeks a hint of intimacy from the Unsullied leader Grey Worm; he remains stoic and gives the GM, playing her, another drama token.
Meanwhile, back in the snowy bit, Gilly petitions Samwell for assurance that they will be safe; he tries but fails to assure her so she gets the drama token.
Melisande tries to establish her power over Jon Snow by weirdly coming on to him; her enigmatic smile at scene’s end suggests that she got what she wanted, so he gets the token.
Stannis asks John Snow to talk to Mance Rayder; he agrees and gets the token.
Brienne wants to dump her self-pity on self-appointed squire Podrick. He takes it, giving her what she wants and gaining a token to the GM, who has to be playing this classic sounding board character. character.
Sansa seeks information from Littlefinger and kind of gets it, so he earns the token.
Lancel, one of Cersei’s former minor paramours now turned penitent, asks for Circe’s forgiveness. She’s not interested so GM gets the token.
Loras Tyrell’s new boyfriend seeks for intimacy from him and gets it, so Loras gets the token.
Margaery Tyrell petitions Loras, her brother, to be cautious about his love affairs. Apparently unaware that characters who lead with their hearts don’t last long on this show, he’s not having it and his player hands hers the token he just earned in the previous scene.
Varys tries again with Tyrion and this time gets him to very reluctantly concede his interest in staying in the titular game. So the drama token goes to Tyrion.
We cut back to Daenerys’ court, where the rep for the rebelling former masters asks for a concession in exchange for peace. She denies it, giving the GM a token.
Later, in bed, Daario counsels her to reverse her decision on that, and also to regain her mantle as Mother of Dragons. Although we don’t see it here, in the next scene we realize that she has agreed to try and so she gets the token.
She then petitions the dragons for reconciliation and they breathe fire at her, transferring a drama token from the GM to her.
Jon Snow begs Rayder to bend the knee before Stannis but he refuses, so the token goes to Snow.
Finally, when Rayder is burned at the stake, Jon Snow answers his wordless petition for a more merciful death by shooting an arrow into his heart, earning the final drama token of the episode.
As you might expect in a game with twenty or so player characters, some of whom only get to call one scene per session, the GM playing all of their foils enjoys an advantage on the drama token front. She winds up with 5 of them.
Running a close second is Jon Snow, with 4.
In The Dracula Dossier, one of my favorite campaign frames — inserted at Simon’s insistence, and written mostly by Gareth — is “Unto the Fourth Generation,” in which you play the whole saga of Operation Edom from 1894 to 1940 to 1977 to now. That’s right, you begin as the original 1894 heroic band — the cast of Dracula.
- It looks like Mina has found some sort of dossier.
Sadly, space considerations prevent us from inserting full-on character sheets for the original 1894 band into the Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook. (It’s a quarter of a million words long, people.) But perhaps we’ll mock up some lovely Victorian Night’s Black Agents character sheets and put the following pre-gen stats into them as a freebie PDF for backers and buyers. Until then, here are the numbers raw, as Van Helsing might say.
N.B: These builds use the Victorian agent builds from Double Tap. They also feature 20 Investigative points per character (assuming a party of 5 or more agents) and 60 General build points per character (assuming mostly civilians, not yet trained badass vampire hunters). For the same reason, these pre-gens don’t receive free points in Streetwise, Tradecraft, Network, or Cover. They show “float points,” indicating build points unassigned at the start: assign those as you need them in play. Each character gets a dramatic 3 rating in their individual specialty; some character abilities are a tiny stretch (Mina’s skill at shorthand probably wouldn’t really convey Cryptography ability) in order to make sure all the abilities are covered.
Jonathan Harker, Solicitor and Free-Climber
Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (German, Latin), Law 3, Research 1, Bullshit Detector 1, Bureaucracy 1, Middle Class 2, Interrogation 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (4 Investigative float points)
Athletics 8, Conceal 4, Driving 1, Health 6, Infiltration 2, Network 7, Riding 1, Sense Trouble 5, Stability 6, Weapons 5 (23 General float points)
Wilhelmina Murray, Instinctive Analyst with a Tasty Neck
Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 2, Below Stairs 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Cryptography 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 3, Notice 1, Traffic Analysis 2 (2 Investigative float points)
Athletics 5, Health 7, Medic 2, Network 8, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 8, Shrink 5, Stability 8, Surveillance 3 (16 General float points)
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Polymathic Vampire Slayer
Art History 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 2, Human Terrain 1, Languages 3 (English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latin), Law 1, Occult Studies 1, Research 1, Vampirology 3, Bullshit Detector 1, Middle Class 1, Astronomy 1, Forensic Pathology 1, Geology 1, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1 (0 Investigative float points)
Athletics 4, Driving 1, Health 4, Hypnosis 8, Infiltration 4, Mechanics 2, Medic 8, Network 10, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 6, Shrink 4, Stability 4, Weapons 4 (3 General float points)
Dr. Jack Seward, Mad Doctor and Fifth Wheel
Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 3, Languages 1 (Latin), Research 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Flirting 0, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forensic Pathology 2, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)
Athletics 6, Driving 1, Hand-to-Hand 5, Health 8, Infiltration 2, Mechanics 3, Medic 8, Network 5, Shrink 10, Stability 5, Weapons 4 (10 General float points)
The Hon. Arthur Holmwood, Wealthy Aristocrat and Steam-Engine Enthusiast
Architecture 1, Art History 1, History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 2 (French, Greek, Latin), Military Science 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 2, High Society 3, Intimidation 2, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (1 Investigative float point)
Athletics 4, Driving 2, Gambling 3, Hand-to-Hand 2, Health 5, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Network 6, Piloting 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 4, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 6, Stability 5, Surveillance 3, Weapons 4 (0 General float points)
Quincey Morris, Texan Adventurer Who Brings Both a Gun and a Knife to a Knife-Fight
Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (Spanish), Military Science 2, Bullshit Detector 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Intimidation 1, Middle Class 2, Reassurance 1, Tradecraft 1, Geology 1, Notice 2, Outdoor Survival 3 (1 Investigative float point)
Athletics 8, Driving 2, Explosive Devices 2, Gambling 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Medic 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 5, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 8, Stability 5, Surveillance 4, Weapons 6 (0 General float points)
Kate Reed, Girl Reporter Not Appearing in this Novel
Accounting 1, Art History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 3, Bullshit Detector 3, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Interrogation 1, Middle Class 1, Notice 2, Telegraphy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)
Athletics 5, Conceal 3, Cover 4, Disguise 4, Driving 2, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Network 7, Preparedness 4, Riding 2, Sense Trouble 6, Stability 7, Surveillance 8 (9 General float points)
Inspector George Cotford, Deleted Detective of Scotland Yard
Criminology 2, Human Terrain 1, Law 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Cop Talk 3, Interrogation 3, Intimidation 2, Middle Class 1, Streetwise 2, Working Class 1, Notice 2, Urban Survival 1 (0 Investigative float points)
Athletics 6, Conceal 4, Driving 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 7, Preparedness 4, Sense Trouble 8, Shooting 4, Stability 8, Surveillance 6, Weapons 6 (9 General float points)
Francis Aytown, Sensitive Artist Airbrushed Out of the Picture
Archaeology 1, Art History 3, Languages 2 (French, German, Italian), Bullshit Detector 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Streetwise 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forgery 2, Photography 2 (2 Investigative float points)
Art (Painting) 8, Athletics 5, Conceal 5, Disguise 6, Explosive Devices 2, Filch 2, Health 5, Mechanics 4, Network 5, Sense Trouble 8, Stability 5 (12 General float points)
Here is an example of Trail of Cthulhu combat, in which three plucky adventures confront a crypt-dwelling corpse-eater.
The consumptive Professor Oberon Lankwiller
Health 5, [no rating in Firearms], Scuffling 4
Weapon: Webley revolver +0
Hit Threshold: 3
The brash Tag Hunter
Health 13, Firearms 10, Weapons 8, Scuffling 2
Weapons: Remington M32 double barreled shotgun +1 (+2 point blank, +1 when fired both barrels), machette +0
Hit Threshold: 4 (Athletics is greater than eight)
The trigger-happy Anabelle Swift
Health 10, Firearms 8, Scuffling 6, Weapons 4
Weapons: Twin Colt Revolvers +0 (You can fire two revolvers in a Pulp game if your Firearms is 5+), hat pin (-1).
Athletics 9, Health 7, Scuffling 9
Hit Threshold: 4 (5 underground)
Weapon: two claws +1 and a bite +0. Two bites in a row means it latches on. Ghouls take half damage (round up) from firearms.
The Investigators are cautiously exploring a tunnel which runs under the Arkham municipal burial ground. They disturb a ghoul, partially concealed behind a stone slab, which is sucking the marrow from some cracked bones, .
They must all make a 4-point Stability roll when they see the ghoul (you see a supernatural creature up close). After Stability rolls, a combat ensues.
The order of action is determined at the beginning of combat, just once, according to the characters’ current pool in their chosen method of combat. This gives us:
- The Ghoul
- The Prof*
The Prof has no Firearms skill so goes last, and Larry has to decide in advance what to do. He chooses “shoot the Ghoul”
Tag gives the ghoul both barrels at point-blank range. It has partial cover, so the ghoul’s Hit Threshold is unchanged at 5. Tina spends four points from the Firearms pool to ensure a hit. She rolls a 2 for damage, +4 for the double barreled shotgun fired at point-blank range gives six, halved because of Ghoul Armor. The Ghoul’s Health tumbles to 4.
The Ghoul launches itself at Tag, and makes its three attacks.
The Keeper spends 2 points from Scuffling on the first claw and rolls a 3 making 5, a hit for 4 damage. He spends 2 on the second claw, rolls a 5, another hit for 5 damage. Then it’s a bite (2-point spend and 5 damage). The Ghoul’s Scuffling is now 3. Tag’s Health is now -1 – Hurt. (In theory, Tag must make a Conciousness roll but the Difficulty is 1 – an automatic success.)
Annabelle wants to distract the creature from its feast, so she jabs it with her hat pin, spending all of her 4 Weapons points to ensure a hit. She rolls a 3, causing 1 point of damage (you can effectively miss or do no damage with lesser weapons and fists). The Ghoul has 3 Health points left.
The Professor closes his eyes and squeezes the trigger of the unfamiliar Webley. He has no Firearms skill (see p. 60 sidebar), and unfortunately rolls a 1. The Keeper decides that he shoots himself in the foot. He rolls a 3 – minus 2 because of his unfamiliarity – knocking his Health down to 4.
Tag frantically wrestles with the ghoul, trying to hold its festering mouth away from his face. That’s Scuffling. He spends his remaining 2 points on his roll. The Difficulty is the ghoul’s Hit Threshold (5) plus 1 because Tag is Hurt. He needs a 6. He rolls a 2 plus the 2 for his Scuffling, a 4 – not enough. It’s not looking good for Tag
The Keeper decides to spend 2 on a ghoul claw roll to finish off Tag. He rolls a 1 – making 3, a miss. He spends 0 on the next roll and gets another 1. He spends the final point on the bite, rolling a 6. As this is is second succesful bite attack, he does double damage. He rolls a 3, for the bite for a total of 6. Tag’s Health tumbles to -7. Tina opts not to make a Conciousness roll for Tag (which would require Health expenditure) and Tag falls into merciful oblivion. He is Seriously Wounded, and requires First Aid and hospitalisation if he survives.
Annabelle opts to fire both pistols at the creature (a Pulp-only option). She spends a Firearms point to do this. She spends 3 points on the each roll (as they are simulataneous Andrea needs to decide before rolling both dice), and she rolls 6 and 6 doing 2 (3 halved and rounded up) points and 1 point of damage. The ghoul only had 3 points of Health, so it is down.
Larry opt to spends two points of the Professor’s First Aid to stabilise Tag. If they can get him out of the crypt, Tag needs to spend a week in hospital recuperating.
In the shadows, creatures drawn by Tag’s pooling blood gather and watch for weakness.
As the galactic vengeance-seekers of The Gaean Reach Roleplaying Game, you may from time to time find it necessary to invoke the legal system as a tool in your hunt for Quandos Vorn. Naturally you will not in the end turn this arch-villain over to the proper authorities, but rather exact your own revenge. Still, to earn the reluctant cooperation of foot-dragging local enforcement officers, a claim to connections in the Interworld Police Coordinating Company may prove essential.
Officials of various sub-jurisdictions take an interest in particular crimes that might best be described as capricious. You will thus be well-served to be able to cite a wide range of charges lodged against Quandos Vorn, especially those of recent vintage. Parochial constables may react differently depending on the planet making the charge. For example, an officer of the Connatic knows well to exercise skepticism regarding criminal offenses alleged on Copus, as these are frequently made to obtain leverage in disputes over bar tabs. On the other hand, planets heavily engaged in the pold trade take warrants issued on Nion quite seriously, lest their traders face a commercial disadvantage at contract renegotiation time.
With this in mind, pay heed to these recent charges laid against Quandos Vorn, sorted by jurisdiction. Some may be spurious, but is that your concern?
Capella IX: Assault, Aggravated Assault, Murder, Torture, Excessive Blinking.
Fallorne: Assault, Imposture, Reckless Operation of an Aerial Vehicle, Reckless Operation of a Ground Vehicle, Reckless Operation of a Space Vehicle, Reckless Inhabitation of a Stationary Vehicle, Murder.
Jimper’s World: Slander, Libel, Counterfeiting, Trademark Violation, Consumption of Unlicensed Entertainment Content, Encouraging Intellectual Property Violation By Minors, Murder, Cannibalism.
Ladaque-Royale: Theft of an Animal (under 10 kg), Theft of an Animal (over 100 kg; multiple counts), Interference with an Animal, Ecosystem Shock, Murder, Forced Trepanation.
Mossambey: Possession of Distilled Essence, Skin Theft, Hair Removal, Grandiosity, Murder (Involuntary), Manslaughter (Voluntary.)
Tacityl: Genetic Despiraling, Petty Theft, Grand Theft, Macroeconomic Theft, Murder (Direct), Murder (Sociological.)
Unicorn: Assault, Ritual Mockery, Sumptuary Violations, Importuning an Aristocrat, Kidnapping, Murder, Social Mobility, Intent to Commit Poisoning
Wittenmond: Aggravated Disrespect, Crimes Against the Reinheitsgebot, Murder, Improper Disposal of Human Remains, Improper Contamination of a Beer Vat.
Xion: Assault, Organ Trafficking (Human), Organ Trafficking (Inhuman), Overage Drinking, Murder.
Zeck: Murder (Economic), Murder (Recreational), Murder (Economic with Recreational Overtones.)
The Gaean Reach, the Roleplaying Game of Interstellar Vengeance, brings to your tabletop the legendary cycle of science fiction classics by the great Jack Vance. This ingenious hybrid fuses the investigative clarity of the GUMSHOE system with the lethal wit of the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game. Purchase The Gaean Reach in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.