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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.
One figure I’d hoped to feature as a possible player character in Dreamhounds of Paris is the painter Yves Tanguy. His imaginary biomorphic landscapes seem as dreamlandish as better-documented movement cohorts Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, or André Masson. Their undulating forms evoke a primordial soup on the verge of spawning life. His careful delineations of things that never existed suggest a place where biology itself may take revenge on unwary Dreamlands explorers.
I was disappointed to find little biographical information on him in English. It’s not that he wasn’t a colorful character. We know he was taciturn when sober, but violent when drunk. That gives a player seeking a problem-making character who tears things up something to work with. He took part in at least one armed attack on behalf of the surrealists, in 1930 joining the angry gang that descended on a bar run by former movement member Robert Desnos. Desnos’ offense? Naming the place Maldoror, after the protean anti-hero of a novel beloved by the surrealists, and thus cheapening the holy reputation of its long-dead author, the Comte de Lautréamont.
Tanguy lived in squalor but always kept himself fastidiously clean, and fashionably clothed. Concern for hygiene didn’t, it must be said, prevent him from eating bugs when out on country walks. He styled his hair to stand straight up on end and looks not entirely unlike a later exponent of the rebel ethos, John Lydon.
He was sex drugs and rock and roll before rock n roll existed in other ways, too. When movement gatekeeper André Breton first met him, he was hopped up on cocaine. His headlong pursuit of Bohemian excess wrecked his first marriage.
Tanguy roomed with two other men who would go on to shape French culture, the writer Jacques Prévert and the future crime fiction tastemaker Marcel Duhamel.
In 1936 he was pursued by the irrepressible American collector, philanthropist and art groupie Peggy Guggenheim. This could generate some interplay with Max Ernst, who wound up with her later.
Like many others in the surrealist circle Tanguy escaped to the US when the war broke out.
With so many other figures vying for limited space in Dreamhounds, this didn’t seem like enough to go on to give him more than a cursory entry. But maybe you prefer to play someone without too many established life highlights to navigate your character decisions around. If so, this spiky-haired scrapper needs only some game statistics before joining the dreamscaping fray.
The audience can’t get enough Genghis Khan as Ken and Robin talk live from London’s Dragonmeet.
A Dreamlands Location
When traveling through the Dreamlands, especially when accompanied by Luis Buñuel or Salvador Dalí, one may come upon La Abadía de los Putrefactos, an imposing structure of suffocating order. It appears as a counterforce after you move the Dreamlands too quickly toward chaos and freedom. Should you attempt to move away from it, it shifts its position, placing itself always in your way. With great effort, you can sidestep it, but if you do, it will be all the harder to avoid the next time it places itself before you. The only way to dismiss it, and then only temporarily, is to enter it and interact with its mummified inhabitants. Like the dream-structures they are, their corridors defy attempts to remember where you’re going. As you wend your way through its cyclopean hallways, you hear shuffling feet but likely see no one. Then you find yourself outside an arch, from which low murmurs emanate. Inside you may find a chamber of empty chairs arranged around a dusty table, perhaps strewn with the bones of a child or minotaur.
Or you might stumble upon the putrefactos themselves. Gaunt, whispering, coughing up clouds of dust, these dried-up liches wear the uniforms of authority, dressing as businessmen, military officers, and most of all, bishops and cardinals. They direct querulous stares in your direction. A skeletal functionary, its forefinger an ink-filled pen nib, records each command they make of you, skritching down a transcript of proceedings on an infinite vellum scroll,.
The putrefactos know many esoteric secrets, and may share them with you, in exchange for your deference. Bold dreamers may succeed in intimidating them: they fear satire, sex, and fire. Should you want to tamp down the liberties of a fellow dreamer, they’ll eagerly provide the poisons and gems of control necessary for the task. Waking visitors to the Dreamlands can take these artifacts back with them to the real world. They aid you as you perform acts reinforcing what the putrefactos call the stasis quo. But beware: keep them too long and they harden the arteries, induce arthritis, and degrade your bones.
Louis Aragon says that church and state will crumble if only a surrealist dreamer can find a way to destroy the abbey once and for all. The hopping moonbeasts of Leng, it is said, despise the putrefactos, and have developed a weapon to trap their abbey for eternity in the tear of a swan. Dare you venture there, and ask them for this gift?
In the Trail of Cthulhu campaign sourcebook Dreamhounds of Paris, you play the major figures of the surrealist movement as you discover your ability to manipulate the fantastical realm of the sleeping mind. Order it today, or the bulbheads will get you!
Dreamhounds of Paris’ sandbox structure requires players to know what they want to do as their surrealists explore and alter the Dreamlands. Knowing what you want from a sandbox roleplaying environment can be harder than it sounds. Luckily, the unconscious automatism so beloved by the historical surrealists can come to your rescue.
Just scour the net for your favorite, most horrific or darkly fantastic works of surrealist art. If you’re playing an artist, you can limit your scope to your PC’s work alone. Or you can widen the field, as the setting assumes that multiple surrealists are changing the dreamscape to more closely resemble their own paintings, and vice versa. There’s no reason you, as René Magritte, can’t stumble into a Picasso vista haunted by cubist maenads.
You might want to print them out. Or you could collect them on an image curation site like Pinterest or Dropmark.
In the first case, you can shuffle them like cards, pull a random one, and show the Keeper and rest of the group: “Hey, I want to go there.”
Or you can adopt the more narratively proactive, “Hey, look where we are.”
For the virtual version, you could number the entries and then use a random number generator to pick one of them.
Not that you have to randomize; you can scan the list and pick one that strikes you as matching the themes and images of the series so far.
If you’re lucky, some enterprising Dreamhounds readers will read this and build their own repository of suitable images, grouped by painter, for everyone’s use.
So if you’re playing Salvador Dalí, you can start the session by saying:
“We’re going to go see this guy hatch out. I’m certain that it will be delightful to discourse with him, as he will have many insights to inform my paranoiac-critical method!”
At this point a cautious other player might decide that whoever comes out of that egg will be much too dangerous. If it’s Max Ernst he might instead say:
“That can’t possibly end well. I promised Leonora we would meet her in a verdant jungle. Let us avoid danger and horror for at least one night.”
You might respond in turn that the weird idol face in the corner suggests more weirdness than your man hatching from the egg.
Whatever decision you come to, the Keeper has had time to think of what might happen in both Dreamlands locations, already vividly realized in your minds.
Don’t worry too much about the period in which the painting was made. A later painting could easily be based on an experience the artist had in the Dreamlands during the period of your game.
The Dracula Dossier RPG is backed – more than backed!
You can see the list of available pledge levels and add-ons here.
Until 1st February 2015, new backers can still pledge at any available level, and get add-ons via paypal. Email us with details of the pledge you want, an we’ll let you know what to do.
Until further notice existing backers can add add-ons and increase their pledges via paypal. We’ll be sending out a survey shortly which will capture any additional add-ons you want.
Eyes of the Stone Thief, the megadungeon campaign for 13th Age Roleplaying Game, is now available to pre-order! Order your copy here and you can download the PDF immediately.
If your ongoing 13th Age campaign doesn’t have a place for a gigantic megadungeon like the Stone Thief (listen! Can you hear its plaintive earthquake-like whimpering as it begs you to let it rampage through your game?), then the thing to do is get out your shiny +3 Axe of Book Dismemberment and chop the dungeon into its constituent parts. With a few choice hacks and a little sewing of plot threads, the Stone Thief’s thirteen interconnected levels become thirteen regular dungeons suitable for an evening’s delving.
The Maw, together with the Gizzard, are actually the two hardest levels to convert – they’re both tied to the Stone Thief’s schtick of eating bits of the surface world, which doesn’t translate neatly to a stand-alone dungeon.
For the Maw, drop the Chasm encounter entirely, so the players have to enter via the Front Door. They make their way down past the Ghouls and Spear-Fishing Bridge as normal (optionally, sub in a standard fight scene for the Goblins). Leave the Stolen Palace as a cryptic side quest, then have the Doorkeeper’s door open onto the Gates of the Stone Thief, so the PCs have to surf down a landslide of rubble (that runs under the Spear-Fishing Bridge) to get to a final encounter of your design. Maybe…
- it’s the lair of an orc shaman with elemental earth powers (explaining the churning landslide, and the orcs)
- A natural gate to the plane of elemental earth has opened, and must be sealed before it turns half the world to stone
- A swarm of monstrous subterranean beetles are digging their way to the surface, and the hive queen must be slain before they undermine the city. The orcs and ghouls are opportunistic scavengers, drawn by the anticipation of carnage.
The Gauntlet’s easy to convert. Drop the Giant’s Causeway and the Belfry encounters, and you’re left with a killer dungeon in the ruins of an ancient dwarven temple to the gods of the forge. The objective of the dungeon is to recover Grommar’s sword from the body of the fearsome minotaur who killed the dwarf master-smith. The party enter by the Falling Stairs… and well, if they survive the traps and trials of the Gauntlet, they deserve a death-slaying sword. You can reskin the Mad Butcher as Grommar’s vengeful & insane ghost if you want to make the place even more dangerous.
- Grommar’s buried library contains some fabulous treasure, or lost secret of the dwarven smiths that must be recovered
- It’s a race against another party of rival adventurers to get through the Gauntlet and recover the sword
- The Gauntlet is a prison used by the Dwarf King to punish those who have really offended him
- It’s a competitive dungeon-arena under Axis where teams of adventurers race to complete the course as swiftly as they can
The Gizzard best pulled apart for parts. You can use Jawgate and the Slaver Camp as part of some other orc-themed saga. The Halls of Ruins and the Gizzard chamber itself could be presented as a weird dungeon where a crazed wizard, the Architect, tries to build a patchwork city out of the ruins of past Ages – the Stone Thief writ small, effectively.
The Ossuary’s a self-contained crypt dungeon, and requires next to no changes. You might wish to rewrite the imprisoned Gravekeeper as another undead – maybe the Gravekeeper is an emissary of the Lich King, charged with protecting this ancient tomb complex, and the Flesh Tailor is an arrogant, upstart necromancer who’s taken over and is endangering the balance between the living and the dead.
- The Flesh Tailor can be a recurring villain in your campaign – start off with the PCs encountering his masked undead spies, then they track the necromancer down to his lair and slay him – and only then does he come back in his augmented undead form.
- Move the Ossuary to Necropolis, and you’ve got a tale of intrigue and body-snatching among the nobles of the Undying Peerage, where the Flesh Tailor stole the palace of the Gravekeeper.
Dungeon Town is best pulled out of the dungeon entirely. Reimagine it as a settlement of castaways and survivors – maybe they’re shipwrecked on a monster-haunted island, or trapped on a flying realm, or on the back of a Koru Behemoth, or stuck in some extradimensional plane. The Wild Caves become the perilous landscape just outside this little fortified community of survivors.
If you’re making Dungeon Town the centre of an adventure, then you may wish to make the Provost into more of a villain – perhaps recast him as the Jailor, who deliberately trapped the other survivors here for some mysterious purpose.
- You can drop Dungeon Town into some other dungeon of your design. Maybe the people aren’t trapped – they’re drawn to the dungeon by the promise of wealth (the dungeon’s a gold mine) or power (it’s a well-spring of magical energy, or youth, or it boosts spellcasting ability) or devotion (it’s a temple taken over by monsters, or a holy site).
- Alternatively, rework Dungeon Town as a criminal stronghold – a thieves’ city underneath Glitterhaegen, perhaps, or a pirate port out in the Spray.
Drop the “sunken” part, and you’ve got a perilous archipelago of mystery instead of a flooded cave network. Swordapus, the sahuagin and their demonic temple don’t need to be changed at all; neither does the wreck of the White Dragon. The Lonely Tower gets teleported here by accident instead of being eaten by the dungeon. The biggest change is to the Cascade – obviously, it doesn’t lead to an exit from the dungeon or to a control room, so you’ll want to put something else at the bottom of that slippery staircase. Maybe:
- It’s an arcane version of the Bermuda Triangle, and the magical relic at the bottom of the Cascade is what draws all those ships to their doom.
- It’s a magical lighthouse, built by a former Archmage, and it needs to be relit to re-establish his spells to tame the Middle Sea (or, if the PCs are allies of the High Druid or some villanous icon, it needs to be quenched to free the wild waters).
There are two obvious ways to approach this dungeon – make the Elf Tree the centre of events, or put the Breeding Ground as the core encounter. (Or make it into two separate adventures!) If you make the Elf Tree the main encounter, then clearly the High Elves tampered with Things Men (And Elves Too) Were Not Meant To Know, and the Breeding Ground is a hideous magical accident that can only be stopped by closing the magical portal in the observatory. In this set-up, move the Elf Tree so it’s in the centre of the Grove.
If you want to make the Breeding Ground central, then obviously it’s the rest of some evil druid’s machinations, or demonic perversion of natural magic, or the Crusader trying to turn druid magic against demons – whatever works for your campaign. The monsters from the Breeding Ground drove the Elves out of their tree.
When converting the Grove to a stand-alone dungeon, drop The Castle With Your Name On It encounter, and make the Herbarium less of a mysterious ruin – turn it into a ruined Elf stronghold, or a druidic temple. Hag Pheig can be left unchanged, or cast as the villain of the dungeon. Maybe she’s trying to gain control of the Druid Circle, and the horrors of the Breeding Ground are her sins made manifest.
Drop the Secret Sanctum encounter, and describe Deep Keep as a captured fortress instead of a weird patchwork castle, and you’ve got the front lines of the Orc Lord’s armies. They’ve taken an Imperial fortress and enslaved the population – now you’ve got to take out their leaders and organise an uprising against the invaders!
Take the Giant’s Causeway from the Gauntlet, and Jawgate and the Slaver’s Camp from the Gizzard, and use them as encounters on the way to the castle. Replace the Vizier with some other evil advisor – who’s the Orc Lord working with in your campaign?
- If you want to keep the deep, so to speak, then make it a subterranean dwarf fortress
- Introduce a different divide between the orc factions – maybe Grimtusk’s followers want more loot, while Greyface’s are all about honourable conflict. Alternatively, perhaps Greyface is secretly possessed by the ghost of the former lord of the castle, and that’s why he’s willing to rebel against his warlord.
In the Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, the Maddening Stairs sets up lots of plots related to the Cult of the Devourer and the ultimate fate of the dungeon. If you’re using it as a standalone adventure, then you’ll need to give Chryaxas and Ajura the Dreamer and Maeglor the Apostate something else to pontificate about. Perhaps the Alabaster Sentinel is an Icon from a previous age, an avatar of justice that once brought unyielding, merciless law to the lands until it fell into this pit and became trapped. Maeglor seeks to restore order to the Dragon Empire by resurrecting the sentinel – Chryaxas argues the case for fruitful chaos and freedom, while Ajura might want to trick the PCs into stopping Maeglor, or perhaps she believes that the resurrected Sentinel will bring about the end of the Age when it decides that the Archmage is too unpredictable to be tolerated.
- You can also use the Maddening Stairs as a perilous journey – maybe it’s the stairs into Hell, or up to a flying realm in the Overworld
Pit of Undigested Ages
The Pit really doesn’t lend itself to conversion into a stand-alone dungeon. By its very nature, it’s an eclectic collection of weird places from across history. Don’t even try to come up with a linking story – instead, use each encounter on its own. That gives you a buried dwarven treasury, a lost temple of the serpent folk, the ruins of a magical library and a gnoll death cult. The First Master is probably too closely tied to the Cult of the Devourer to make sense on his own, so take him out and drop him into the Onyx Catacombs instead.
- The dwarven treasury fell into the Underworld during an Age-ending cataclysm. Finding it requires descending into the lightless tunnels and battling past hordes of eyeless monsters.
- The temple of the serpent folk is somewhere within the jungles of the Fangs; the Black seeks it, with the intent of stealing the primordial magic of the serpents and adding it to her own arsenal.
- Quillgate was protected by magical wards; when the quake struck, it vanished from this world. It’s out there, somewhere, in the planes of existence. Step into the Archmage’s Faultless And Unerring Dimensional Projector – it’s sure to work this time…
- And it’s well known that only the Hellpike can slay certain powerful demons. If one of those infernal lords rises to threaten the Empire, then the Hellpike must be found, and found soon
Marblehall’s best used as the result of a magical experiment gone wrong. Instead of getting embedded in the Stone Thief, it’s…
- Adrift in the skies as the newest flying realm
- Turning into a Hellhole
- Spouting elementals
- About to become a Living Dungeon in its own right
Whatever happened, the Witch and her weird experiments are too blame. Can the adventures save the Artalin family from their own wayward daughter?
If you take the cult out of the dungeon, then you should also take the dungeon out of the cult. Instead of being a bunch of dungeon-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, make the Cult of the Devourer into a bunch of <insert-dire-noun>-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, and redecorate their hidden city to match. Maybe they’re demon cultists, or shadow cultists, or wolf cultists, or poison cultists, or tentacled alien god cultists, or discordant-music-that-ends-the-world cultists. Turn their dungeon level into a mysterious lost temple in the depths of the jungle, or in a dimensional fold, or across the wastes of the Moonwreck, and you’re good to go.
Heart of the Stone Thief
Like the Pit, this level’s too tied to the concept of the Living Dungeon to make sense as a stand-alone adventure, so it’s best stripped for parts. I’m sure your campaign can find a loving home for a volcano, a crypt of undead adventurers, or a fabulous treasury of epic-level wonders…
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.
The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring a pre-order for Eyes of the Stone Thief, and PDFs of The Gaean Reach, The Gaean Reach Gazetteer and Mythos Expeditions. KWAS subscribers will get the December edition, Vendetta Run, on their order page this month, and meanwhile, non-subscribers can now buy Hideous Creatures: Byakhee as a stand-alone product in the shop. There’s also the usual round-up of articles, and more details about the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter.