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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.
The latest edition of See Page XX is out now, featuring new products Soldiers of Pen and Ink and The Seventh Circle, Hideous Creatures: Lloigor for KWAS non-subscribers (and The School of Night for subscribers) the final Series Pitch of the Month – Campus Desk, by John Kovalic – and a Stone Skin Press pre-order, Letters to Lovecraft.
Articles from Adam Gauntlett and Kevin Kulp join regular columns from Simon Rogers, Jesse Bullington, Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, with new resources for 13th Age and the Gaean Reach rounding out this issue.
[Ed: I like the 13th Age fighter. In combat, you make a roll, and depending on the result, you are able to chose between a set of options - these are called flexible attacks. Your fighter moves, sees an opening then makes a choice. A better roll reflects better maneuvering and usually offers more choices. There are, however, some people who don't like the idea of deciding after a roll what happens, or otherwise object to the class. It's possible of course to build rangers or paladins which work as fighters, but some non-fighter flavour is inevitable.
So, I asked ASH LAW to create two fighters using the dual class system from 13 True Ways - strictly they are paladin / rangers hybrids, but they play just like a different kind of fighter, and all the mechanics are there on the sheets.
He's done one for every level from 1st to 10th. They are easy to customise, particularly if you have 13 True Ways. Over to ASH...]
Download the light fighter and the heavy fighter
The Dual-wielder and the Slayer
By ASH LAW
Fighters, eh? Those stalwarts of sword-and board, at the front laying down the pain and keeping the squishier characters safe from danger. Well, here we present two new fighters (that are not actually fighters at all), as pregens from level 1 to 10! They are both built as multi-class paladin/rangers, and have identical attributes— the difference is in feat and talent selection.
There is also a clarification on a ranger talent coming up in this article, so ranger players read on…
The Dual-wielder: Two Swords are Better than One
We’ll start with the dual-wielder. This human character wears light armor and carries two longswords. At first level we start strong with the dual-wielding concept with the double melee attack and two-weapon mastery talents from the ranger’s class. For the paladin talent we start with bastion, giving us a boost to AC and letting us help out the party in emergencies by pushing allies out of the way of dragon fire (and taking damage ourselves in the process). For feats we get two-weapon mastery so that our miss damage is raised, and for our bonus human feat we get the multi-class ranger feat that lets us apply all our lovely two-weapon mastery bonuses to paladin attacks too.
Our fighting style with this character at 1st level is probably going to involve engaging multiple foes with the double melee attack and reserving the mighty blow for tougher opponents or to finish up stubborn mook groups to open up the battlefield.
At second level we pick up the paladin’s smite feat to give us a +4 bonus to attack with the smite attack, which we are calling here ‘Mighty Blow’. After all our dual-wielder really isn’t a paladin… but he is somebody who has perhaps trained in their fighting styles.
Our dual-wielder gains the double melee attack feat, giving him a bonus on his second melee attack if he’s targeting a second enemy. I picture him standing in a field with a load of scarecrows and pumpkins, slashing and practicing stances, simultaneously attacking multiple scarecrows while his companion the slayer rolls her eyes.
All that exercise is staring to pay off as our dual-wielder gains an extra recovery thanks to the bastion feat.
As we enter champion tier we pick up the two-weapon mastery champion feat. Now when enemies roll a 1 the dual-wielder pounces and strikes.
Now is the time to pick some new talents. First up is implacable, allowing us to roll saves at the start of each turn. I picture our lightly armored dual-wielder practicing kick-flips to get up quickly from getting knocked down. Yeah he’s not as heavily protected as his slayer companion, but he can quickly shake off things that would rattle her.
From the ranger side of things we pick up tracker with associated the adventurer tier feat. These two are obviously monster-hunters or bounty-hunters of some sort. He is the one who bends over to stare at footprints while the slayer watches out for rustling in the bushes. All that practicing with scarecrows and pumpkins is paying off, as the dual-wielder is able to perform terrain stunts now. Once per battle the dual-wielder can make use of the terrain around him to disadvantage and disorient opponents.
7th & 8th Level
At 7th level the dual-wielder starts learning a few moves from the slayer, as we picks up the smite champion feat for his mighty attack. At 8th level we get the epic feat for the smite class feature. Our dual-wielder is learning that sometimes you just have to hit a foe once, if you hit hard enough.
At 9th level we get a couple of new talents. Way of evil bastards lets us keep using our mighty when we drop an enemy. First strike increases the dual-wielder’s crit ranges for the first hit against enemies. Our tactics at this point in most fights is to open with a double melee attack against two enemies (with an increased crit range), and then use mighty attacks when the enemies have taken a couple of big hits.
For the feat we’re going to go ahead and get improved initiative. Hit fast, hit hard, hit often… and hit first!
By 10th level the dual-wielder has a super-powerful mighty blow attack that he can potentially use many times per battle, can perform terrain stunts, attacks when enemies roll 1s, rolls saves at the start of his turn, and on his first hit with his double-melee attack crits on 17+.
For the 10th level feat we’re going to get the two weapon mastery epic feat. For one battle each day we can add 10 to all our miss damage. With the blades whirling around in the dual-wielder’s hand it’s impossible for enemies to avoid getting sliced by a passing blade.
At the end of 10th level, after an epic career this character will probably settle down for a well-deserved rest, retiring to spend more time with his huge pile of gold.
The Slayer: Deadly Accuracy with Heavy Armour
The slayer is in many ways the mirror of the dual-wielder. The slayer wears heavy armor and carries a shield, though they can instead choose to drop that shield and pull out a two-handed greatsword in order to roll d10s for damage. The first thing we do is pick up the Favored Enemy (Humanoid) ranger talent; this means that whenever making a basic (ranger) melee attack against a humanoid enemy we crit on an 18+! Yes, this costs us two of our starting talents, but it is well worth it. Orcs, trolls, bandits, evil wizards, minotaurs… most of the things our slayer will face are humanoids. As this character levels up we’ll concentrate on expanding that crit range, with the aim of eventually critting half of the time we attack.
With our remaining talent we get the paladin talent way of evil bastards. This character may or may not be evil, but they do fight dirty… ahem I mean ‘they fight to win’. When the slayer’s mighty blow (actually a paladin’s smite) drops a non-mook enemy it is not expended.
Our tactics with this character are probably going to be opening with a mighty blow on any non-humanoid enemies then switching to attacking humanoids and trying for multiple crits.
At second level we pick up the feat for favored enemy. This allows us, during a full heal-up, to switch our favored enemy from humanoid to TWO other monster types.
Favored Enemy – A clarification
So how does it work when you use the two-talent version of Favored Enemy and switch from humanoid as a favored foe to another type of monster? The answer is that since you spent two talents on it, and the regular version costs only one talent, you can switch out humanoid for two monsters.
Here’s what 13th Age designer Rob Heinsoo and Editor Cal Moore have to say:
ROB: Changing away from humanoid looks like it could go ahead and let you have two favored enemies. Because why not? Really, no reason. Which either reads like errata, a clarification or GM choice, depending on how you squint.
CAL: It’s probably a clarification more than errata.
So a character with Favored Enemy (Humanoid) who is headed into a dungeon full of oozes and undead could spend some time meditating, researching, or otherwise preparing for the upcoming dungeon… and after their next full heal-up can use Favored Enemy (Ooze) and Favored Enemy (Undead). After their next full heal-up they can switch back to Favored Enemy (Humanoid), keep their current favored enemies, or switch to something new like Favored Enemy (Dragon) and Favored Enemy (Plant).
Cool. Now our slayer can go from preparing to slay humanoids to a full-on monster hunting role. I can picture her rolling into a village, having defeated kobold bandits on the road. She sits down in the tavern and as she’s taking off her boots a villager comes up to her and offers to pay her to deal with the dragon that the kobolds were worshiping. She looks at the dual-wielder and sighs; later that night she hauls her books out of her packs and starts researching dragons. “Aha,” she says “they have a weak spot under their wishbone. Fascinating.”, and lights another candle. The dual-wielder grunts from his side of the room and pulls the covers up over his head, trying to get some rest before their quest tomorrow.
At 3rd level we pick up toughness. The slayer goes toe-to-toe with too many monsters to scrimp on hit points.
At 4th level we take the way of evil bastards adventurer feat. Wither or not this character is evil, dark forces have certainly noticed her.
This is our first opportunity to get a champion feat and it goes straight away on increasing the damage on our smite attack, which is becoming this character’s signature finishing move.
At 6th level we get some new talents. Tis character has been fighting scary monsters, and winning— sounds like the fearless talent to me. Now not only is she immune to fear but she is an expert in fighting alone and exploiting the over-confidence of her enemies (especially those who expect her to be afraid).
Our ranger talent is lethal hunter. When the slayer sets her sights upon an enemy, they had best run! Her crit range against her lethal hunter target is 18+, and due to the favored enemy champion feat that we’re getting this level if she’s had a chance to hit the books the night beforehand then her crit range is 15+ against her lethal hunter target!
Maybe she’s inherited new books on monster hunting, or maybe she’s just got really good at extrapolating from her past experiences to guess how best to defeat her enemies.
At 7th level we gain the way of evil bastards champion feat. Her signature Mighty Attack (paladin’s smite) is now really useful against mobs of mooks. When the slayer gets up and going she can really clear rooms.
At 8th level the epic smite feat comes into play, giving us even more damage with her signature finishing move.
At 9th level we get the first strike talent and the adventurer feat for it. Our crit range for basic ranger attacks is anywhere between 18+ and 12+ when our favored enemy, first strike, and lethal hunter talents come into play. Our slayer is probably only using her mighty attack against enemies that she is solo against. Her bonus to attacks with her basic attacks is +12 with a potential crit range of 12+, but her mighty attack has a potential +20 to attack with a huge amount of damage and half damage on a miss.
At 10th level we finish our crit expansion project with a lethal hunter feat, now we potentially crit on an 11+. Our slayer’s once-(or-more)-per-battle melee attack is ultra-powerful, and our at-will attack has a chance of critting half of the time.
After one last grand world-changing adventure our slayer decides to retire to a small village in the mountains, where she will doubtlessly be sought out by young fighters who want to learn the techniques of her legendary fighting style. Eventually she’ll write of her experiences, and some lucky adventurer will inherit her book.
And because I can’t resist magic items…
Book of the Slayer (Recharge 16+)
This heavy book bound in dragon hide has been added to by many monster-hunters. The tome is full of illustrations, anatomical diagrams, and tips for monster hunting. Pick a monster (Green Dragons, Gnolls, Herzou, Fungaloids, etc) and research it in the book; the next time you face that monster your crit range against that specific monster expands by 1 until the end of the battle. You may only have one monster researched at a time, and you cannot perform research mid-battle.
Quirk: Can’t resist showing off scars from monster hunting.
A lot of people have been in touch to ask when Soldiers of Pen and Ink, Adam Gauntlett’s Trail of Cthulhu campaign set in the Spanish Civil War is available. The answer is, it’s in the webstore right now, nestling nicely alongside his Great War Trail of Cthulhu adventure collection, Dulce et Decorum Est, now released from pre-order. Also available as of this month is Matthew Sanderson’s modern twist on a classic haunted house adventure, The Seventh Circle – written for Fear Itself, but with conversion notes for running as a Trail of Cthulhu adventure. There’s also a new release over on Stone Skin Press, with the pre-order for Letters to Lovecraft, and KWAS subscribers will get the October edition, The School of Night, this month; meanwhile, non-subscribers can now buy Hideous Creatures: Lloigor as a stand-alone product in the shop.
13th Age Resource page updates
Other Resource page updates
See Page XX Poll
by Kevin Kulp
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is actually a TimeWatch game about two agents who never bothered to put any build points into their History abilities.
Okay, it’s not. But it could be. It’s no secret that TimeWatch‘s use of the GUMSHOE Preparedness ability is modeled after Bill and Ted. Rewatching the movie while writing the TimeWatch chapter on funny, lighthearted games, it’s interesting to see how well the movie might convert to a game—and where it doesn’t work at all. The best lesson from this movie is that if you want to run a humorous or funny game, you play the straight man and let the players be the funny ones. As long as your world rewards their hilarity and doesn’t punish them for being funny, you’re going to have a game with a huge number of laughs.
Warning: you’re about to read spoilers for a 25 year old movie. But you probably knew that.
Dateline: 2688 AD, the future. The Three Most Important People in the World (and you know they are, because that’s how they’re listed in the credits, capitals and everything) realize that their reality might disappear due to a change in the time stream. If teenagers Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan don’t pass their history class, Ted gets sent to military school in Alaska. They’ll never form their fledgling band Wyld Stallyns… but their future music turns out to be a historical tipping point that ensures a future of peace, prosperity and love! It’s not going to happen without some help, so an agent named Rufus is assigned to make sure that both teens get an A+ on their oral history report. Rufus is given a time machine that changes to look like a phone booth, and is sent on his way to help Bill and Ted.
Clearly, this entire adventure is written by a peeved GM reminding the players that they really should have assigned build points to their History (Ancient) and History (Contemporary) abilities. The characters then go on a mission to earn enough build points to save their grades, and thus save all of future history. We get to go along for the ride.
And it makes for an interesting question of mission design: what would happen in a TimeWatch game if all future history depended on an agent having, say, a point of Architecture or Charm that they never bothered to assign? It’s hard to engineer, but Bill and Ted makes for a good example.
This utopian future seems to be an alternate reality from the get-go. It won’t exist without Rufus’s intervention, and Rufus can’t intervene unless it exists, so its very existence is a paradox. The GM clearly doesn’t give a damn about a funny game needing to make sense. It opens up some interesting possibilities for TimeWatch, though. How many enemies (or saviors) of humanity are from a potential future timeline, just waiting for the opportunity to come back and ensure their existence? And if this were a regular TimeWatch game, would the player characters be assigned to stop Rufus before he interfered with Bill and Ted?
The time machine he brings is a little bigger than a standard TimeWatch autochron, but it seems to be able to fit a great number of people inside it at once. It’s also not portable; after its chronomorphic circuits disguise it as a late 20th century phone booth (and *cough* not a TARDIS *cough*), it stays that way. The time machine drops in from the sky and then exits through the ground in a display of circling lights, a particularly nice special effect that you can use for a standard TimeWatch autochron as well.
Rufus meets the boys outside the Circle K, shows them the time machine, and introduces them to the concept of time travel. When they’re hesitant to believe him, their future selves show up to convince them. You can see that they have passengers in the booth, but not who; and the future Bill and Ted give vague hints about what’s to come, including “say hi to the Princess for me” and “don’t forget to wind your watch.”
In TimeWatch they’d pay a point of Paradox Prevention and perhaps make a Difficulty 4, Loss 4 chronal stability test to meet themselves; the test wouldn’t be a particularly hard one because they aren’t helping themselves out in combat. Future Bill and Ted keep clues vague, just as a TimeWatch GM would have to do (particularly when they don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen during the adventure.) Note that older Ted reminds himself to wind his watch, which younger Ted completely forgets to do. Good thing, too. If Ted had acted on his own advice and changed the future so that he and Bill never met themselves, that’d be a paradox and they’d have chronal stability tests to make. They’ll also need to make a chronal stability test if they never run into the princesses that future Ted mentioned.
There’s not actually any sign that chronal stability matters one bit in the movie, not like it does in Back to the Future. The GM is probably ignoring the entire concept because the game is meant to be funny. We don’t blame her; you’ll want to hack the TimeWatch rules to adapt to whatever sort of time travel genre you love most. If you’re going for funny, don’t sweat fine details. Life-or-death resource management isn’t really the point.
One last thought before moving on. Rufus tells the teens that “Time in San Dimas is always ticking,” and that even when they time travel, time passes at home. That’s not quite true for TimeWatch’s headquarters. You can spend 20 years on assignment hiding yourself as one of Genghis Khan’s mongol chieftans, but you don’t return back to base 20 years later. You’re not allowed to cross into your own past or future back at base, though; TimeWatch’s headquarters are located inside of the quantum singularity that triggers the Big Bang, and they’re fairly certain that too much paradox is what eventually sets it off. You probably wouldn’t want to use the “clock is always ticking” rule in a TimeWatch game unless the characters maintain active secret identities in their own timeline, and unless you don’t mind relatively short missions that don’t overly disrupt the characters’ home lives.
Off they go with Rufus to visit Napoleon, who gets caught in the chronal field when the time machine heads back to San Dimas. He gets pulled after them through time. That gives Bill and Ted the inspiration to go after other historical figures as well and use them for their history oral presentation. They leave Napoleon in San Dimas with Ted’s brother, deal with Ted’s angry father who accuses them of stealing his keys, and set off to find Billy the Kid and Socrates.
Autochrons in TimeWatch have a similar effect to Bill and Ted’s phone booth: get too close to one when it’s time traveling and you go along for the ride. Note that there’s no translator for Bill and Ted, so their discussions with Socrates depend solely on hand gestures, vocal tone and (of course) song lyrics. That would work for a TimeWatch game, too; NPCs are no damn fun if you can’t communicate with them at all. Bill spends a point of Reassurance here to gain Socrates’ friendship.
Bill and Ted have little or no combat abilities, so their role in the Old West bar fight is mostly to get thrown through a wall. We see that Ted has multiple points in Charm when the saloon girls immediately express interest.
It’s also worth noting that Bill deflect’s Ted’s furious father with a faked phone call from the police station, claiming that he’d left his keys there. Ted’s father is a cop who clearly has points in Falsehood Detection; so how did Bill lie to him? Assuming that the GM didn’t want it to simply succeed, in TimeWatch he’d probably create a convincing lie by spending a point of Falsehood Detection himself.
In 15th century England they leave their new companions with the time machine and head off to the nearby castle, where they see and flirt with two princesses who are being forced to marry two “royal ugly dudes.” They put on armor, have a mock swordfight, Ted falls down a set of stairs, his armor is stabbed through the chest, and Bill goes berserk in a fight until Ted reappears — explaining that he survived because he “fell out of his armor” when he fell down the stairs. They’re captured, almost beheaded, and saved by Billy the Kid and Socrates at the last moment. A mad chase ends with them escaping but the time machine being damaged.
Lots of ability spends here. Ted spends a point of Charm to have the princesses fall for them, there’s a little (VERY little) Scuffling spent when Bill and Ted spar, Ted flubs an Athletics test when he falls down the stairs, and then spends a point of Paradox Prevention to “fall out of his armor” and avoid being stabbed. When Bill runs amok, he’s spending what little Scuffling he has along with a point of another ability (Military Tactics, perhaps?) to avenge Ted. And when they’re about to be beheaded, either they’re spending another point of Paradox Prevention (“We haven’t seen the executioners’ faces. Can we work it so that they’re our friends?”) or using the Flashback ability from a high Preparedness score to get them into place. It’s exactly what you’d want to see in a RPG. The 15th century scene ends with a Vehicles chase through the forest on horseback, one that Bill and Ted barely win. Their time machine is damaged, but much less disastrously than it would be in a TimeWatch game.
The movie progresses as they pick up more passengers, visit the future, see some neanderthals, and fix the broken antenna with some chewing gum. They return to visit their past selves in San Dimas, are reminded that they forgot to wind Ted’s watch and are almost out of time, try to track down the lost Napoleon, during which their new friends are left at the mall to cause a near-riot and get arrested. They’ll need to bust their historical visitors out of jail in order to make their history presentation in time.
It’s the end of the game, and time to bust out the general and investigative abilities. Tinkering to fix the broken time machine antenna with chewing gum (and probably a spent point of Trivia to know how to do it, since we’re pretty sure neither Bill or Ted have points in Science! or Timecraft); Streetwise to guess that Napoleon has gone to the Waterloo’s water park; and in the most influential scene of the movie — well, influential to TimeWatch, at least — they realize that they can go steal Ted’s dad’s keys in the future and leave them for themselves now. They know to avoid paradox and not to put them anywhere they’ve already looked, of course. They use the rest of their Preparedness to set up a tape recorder on a timer, and to drop a garbage can on Ted’s father’s head. It’s an egregious abuse of time travel, and that makes it the best part of time travel. We’d argue it’s one of the things that’s kept this movie so much fun for 25 years. Let your players use the same techniques in your games.
Spying, Burglary, Unobtrusiveness, and one more point of Paradox Prevention (creating a note telling themselves to duck) get spent during the breakout. Their final history presentation guarantees them an A+ grade by each of Bill and Ted spending their newly-acquired points of History. This guarantees that their historical friends are convincing and well-received — and true, correct history snaps into place.
I think the most important rule from looking at Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as a TimeWatch adventure is that the GUMSHOE ruleset is exactly as flexible as you want it to be. The movie certainly doesn’t have a lot of traditional investigation in it, so it doesn’t play to the things that GUMSHOE does best, but it’d be easy to duplicate with funny players and a GM who rewarded for playing against the heroic type. Mostly, it’s a great reminder to make your games ridiculously fun… even if you don’t need to make the game ridiculous to do so.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s still fun.
TimeWatch is a GUMSHOE game of investigative time travel, planned for Q1 2015. It’s written by Kevin Kulp.
If you are interested any of these games, please email me with the game you wish to playtest in the subject line.
Author: Chris Lackey
Duration: One to two sessions
Deadline: October 31st
Lovecraftian horror throughout time. You’re from 1920s Arkham, but arcane rituals open a path to travel through time, letting you possess people in the past or future and thwart the machinations of unnatural horrors. Comes with the TimeWatch Jurassic edition and the chapter on Mythos-based time-traveling by Chris Lackey. Just watch out for relentless hounds of Tindalos… We need 1-2 sessions of playtesting per group, with a GM and 2-6 players. Perfect for Trail of Cthulhu groups as well.
TimeWatch Parallel Realities
Author: Dave Chalker
Duration: One to two sessions
Deadline: October 31st
Instead of time traveling you’re walking between worlds, stepping from one parallel universe to the next. The problem is that you’re not the first people to discover this technology. Comes with the TimeWatch Jurassic edition and the chapter on parallel realities by Dave Chalker.
Author: Corey Reid
Duration: One to two sessions
Deadline: October 31st
Christianity has just disappeared, and the reason isn’t necessarily what you’d expect. Why do those wooly mammoths have rocket launchers, anyways? Corey Reid’s pulp TimeWatch adventure “Queen of the Nile” can be run in 4-6 hours, for 3-6 players.
TimeWatch Leap of Faith
Author: Kevin Kulp
Duration: One to two sessions
Deadline: October 31st
Solo play for one player and GM. If you just have yourself and one other player (or GM), we’d love to have you playtest TimeWatch’s solo rules, written by Kevin Kulp and inspired by TV shows like Quantum Leap. When you time travel by possessing someone else’s body, sometimes you have to play the hand you’ve been dealt. Comes with the TimeWatch Jurassic edition and the chapter on solo play.
Shards of the Broken Sky
System: 13th Age
Author: Rob Heinsoo and ASH LAW
Deadline: November 30th
Designed by Rob Heinsoo with ASH LAW this sandbox adventure for 13th Age centers on the crash of one of the Archmage’s flying realms. As threats multiply, the flying land turns out to have been the control point for magical wards neutralizing three ancient evils. With the cone of secrecy shattered, each of the thirteen icons offers rival opportunities for glory, plunder, or heroic sacrifice.
The action in the original Dracula novel takes place in a handful of locations – Transylvania, Whitby, London, and then back again. The Dracula Dossier expands the reach of the vampire count, and brings in the globe-trotting vampire-hunting action one expects in a Night’s Black Agents campaign. England and Romania – Edom and Dracula – are the two poles around which conspiratorial currents flow, but your agents might find themselves taking the occasional unexpected detour. In my own playtest campaign, the team ended up blowing up a large chunk of Tmogvi Castle in Georgia, and the annotated novel points at several other sites of potential interest overseas, like:
A jaunt to South America can be a fun change of setting if your players tire of interrogating old spies in England and running around haunted castles in Romania. Several clues point towards Argentina:
- Quincey Morris travelled here extensively, sometimes accompanied by Jack Seward and Arthur Holmwood (ANNOT XX, ANNOT XX)
- The former Gehlen Org officer (p.XX) might talk about Nazi scientists or Iron Guard members who escaped to South America.
- Many of the ratlines that brought Nazis out of Germany were organized by priests within the Catholic church; suppressed records in the Vatican (or maybe in the Fortified Monastery of St. Peter, p. XX) describe attempts by the church to use ex-Nazis to fight the spread of Communism. (Rather like, one might say, Edom’s plan to use Dracula to fight the Nazis, and about equally well thought out).
If a side trip to South American doesn’t fit with your campaign, work this material into a flashback or an account given by a Network contact or as part of interrogating an Edom operative or Conspiracy minion.
Cool: An old dirt track rises into the mountains of Patagonia, in the Malargüe region. The air grows thin as you ascend, and the pampas spread out beneath and behind you under the open skies of Argentina. The locals spoke of an old mine – some say it was a military base – now abandoned in these hills. After a long search, you find what remains– a few lonely huts, overgrown and rusted. Exploring, you find scientific notes written in German. They were studying the bats that live in the great caverna de las Brujas cave system that extends under these hills, as well as seismic activity. As far as you can gather, their work began here in 1946, but was suddenly abandoned in 1967. As dusk draws in, thousands of bats emerge from fissures in the mountainside and wheel above you, following some course or signal you cannot discern.
Warm: The Malargüe camp’s still in use. Take your pick from:
- A colony of Nazis, either the descendants of the original fugitives, or immortal Nazi Renfields, or weird science-dhampirs created from genetically modified bats. They might possess secrets about the nature of vampirism – or be psychically controlled from afar by Dracula.
- A secret American research facility, or even a Guantanamo Bay for vampires. If Quincey Morris was an American asset back in 1894 (p. XX), he’s the patron saint of this facility. They may have used Nazi researchers obtained via Operation Paperclip to further their research into vampirism, and recruited fugitive Edom agents who got burned by the ’77 mole hunt.
- An Edom research facility – as above, only a little shabbier and the guards have slightly smaller guns and drink more tea. Drawes (p. XX) or Fort (p. XX) might be present at the facility.
- A Conspiracy-run mine and/or vampire cult, established by Julius Popper. Popper was a Bucharest-born explorer and engineer who became involved in the Tierra del Fuego gold rush in 1884. His expedition to find gold grew into a private army that participated the genocide of the native people. He was hugely wealthy when he died mysteriously in Buenos Aires at the age of 35 in 1893. Clearly, he was one of Dracula’s agents, and his money was funneled back to Romania to add to the Count’s coffers of ancient coins. Was Quincey Morris responsible for his death, or did Popper rise again as a vampire?
Connections: Research notes mention work done by Van Helsing and give his former address in Amsterdam (p. XX). Tracing gold from the mine with Accounting tracks it to the KBExportbank (p. XX). Carmina Rojas (p. XX) might turn up here – either as a guide, or to get the agents out of a jam, or maybe she’s actually running the show.
The Dracula Dossier – coming soon to Kickstarter.
“Black is the badge of Hell; the hue of dungeons and the School of Night.” Queen Elizabeth’s realm lies vulnerable, not just to the Spanish or the plague, but to occult forces perhaps more dangerous than either. You study those forces at the risk of torture — at the risk of your soul — but you must hold them at bay or see England destroyed. This GUMSHOE campaign frame sets the PCs on the stage with John Dee, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Walter Raleigh … and perhaps with traitors in their ranks.
The School of Night is the seventh installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription available to subscribers now – it will be available to buy in the webstore in October. If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, The School of Night is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).
|Stock #: PELH21D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artist: Jeff Porter
||Pages: 13pg PDF
by Adam Gauntlett
Dos comes in. Has found out Robles executed. Wants to investigate. Discuss with Hem the danger of D investigating. R had fair trial – gave away military secrets. Josephine Herbst, a novelist and columnist covering the Spanish Civil War, wrote that entry in her diary after a post-artillery bombardment drinking session in Hemingway’s room at the Hotel Florida. It was the first indication of what was to become a serious rift in the friendship between Hemingway and Dos Passos, over the fate of Jose Robles, a mutual friend who had been taken by the authorities. Hemingway believed the action, and execution, had been justified; Dos Passos was appalled that a secret trial – if trial there had been – could result in summary execution. Was this Madrid, or Chicago under Capone?
That event is the inspiration for Soldiers of Pen and Ink. Imagine a world in which anyone could be snatched off the street and just vanish, as if they had never been. Imagine what your friends would say. Would they be like Hemingway, unquestionably accepting your guilt without demanding evidence? Would they be like Dos Passos, an anguished man trying to find out what happened to his friend? Would they do as Robles’ own son did, and publicly accept his father’s guilt for the sake of the Republican cause?
Even now nobody really knows what happened to Robles. None of the people who were there at the time agree; was Robles a Fascist spy, caught with sensitive documents in his possession? Was he falsely accused? Was his knowledge of Soviet backstage shenanigans inconvenient to the Stalinists? Was there even a trial? Was he shot by firing squad, assassinated by the NKVD, or did something else happen to him?
That kind of world seems, in retrospect, to be almost a fever dream. I’m irresistibly reminded of Through the Looking Glass, in which the Mad Hatter is accused and sentenced, not of a crime he did commit, but for one he might commit at some future date. Or perhaps he won’t commit it at all, but since when did Wonderland care about these piffling details?
Fever dreams lead, of course, to Carcosa, in the Lovecraftian mythos. I’m particularly fond of John Tynes’ take on the concept: It breaks things down not from without, but within. As perfect a description of the Fifth Column as you could wish for, and what is Carcosa in this context if not the ultimate Fifth Column, with the ultimate goal of making all things like itself, in the end?
Or put it another way:
The Tattered King may be symbolic of the beginning of the end, its shredded form a warning that the viewer is reaching lethal mneme toxicity. That would suggest the Tattered King is not actually part of the Hastur mneme at all, but a projection of the viewer’s own mental state. That would make it a kind of forerunner of destruction, the Pallid Mask the viewer’s own face, so distorted due to the influence of the mneme that the viewer can no longer recognize it.
I trust you’ll enjoy your time in Madrid. You may never want to leave …
The skulking Outer Dark Entity known as the sulp crosses the membrane into places where humans keep the possessions they do not need but cannot quite bear to get rid of. Sulps can appear in warehouses, attics, derelict buildings or the squalid homes of hoarders. They most often manifest in self-storage facilities. The name sulp in fact is an Ordo Veritatis term deriving from the acronym SLP, or storage locker prowler. Mostly they seem to be able to push through the membrane into objects connected with murder or trauma. Your classic storage locker full of mementos squirreled away by a serial killer suits them to a T.
At rest, the sulp looks like a cube of pale-skinned human flesh, about the size of a piece of carry-on baggage, with bulbous eyes, moist, thick-lipped mouth and patchy hair follicles. When on the move it transforms itself into an obscene, loosely fleshy pseudo-humanoid.
The sulp latches onto the identities of particular targets by fondling and licking their former or stored possessions. Through this practice it forms a gradual psychic bond, eventually granting it the ability to track the people who most often handled its appropriated fetish objects. From this link sulps glean crucial facts about their targets’ lives, enabling them to stalk them. Like most Outer Dark Entities, sulps play with their food. They prefer to torment and emotionally molest their victims before finally leaping upon them and literally eviscerating them. Sulps dismember their kills, taking key portions of their skeletons back to their storage locker hideouts. These they form into a distressing sculpture. Ordo researches have yet to determine whether this construction fulfills a purely ornamental function, or has some practical use to the sulp, perhaps as a psychic antenna allowing it to locate more distant victims.
To find a sulp that has been terrorizing an area in the radius of it’s storage locker, agents must triangulate its location and track it to its lair. Sulps have been known to use items they discover in their home storage areas as weapons. So be prepared to face guns, knives, antique swords and the occasional bandsaw.
Sulps speak in low, mournful voices and have been recorded as expressing the opinion that all of humanity is but a dump heap of delights for them to sort through.
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.’
In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk Ripper DNA, the Great Ford Switch, TIFF picks, renegade chrononauts, and Feng Shui 2.