When seeking structural inspiration for DramaSystem play, you’ll find the purest sources in literary fiction and realistic drama. With no genre conventions to process, the bones of relationship-based storytelling clearly show through.

The satirical literary novel Startup, by Doree Shafrir, features an interconnected group struggling to stay afloat in NYC’s tech world. You could easily use it as the inspiration for a DramaSystem Series Pitch skewering the same scene. (To which about 20% of you are currently thinking “Oh no, that’s what I roleplay to get away from!”)

I bring it up here, though, for its foregrounding of a key dramatic storytelling technique, the explosive secret. Dramas often hinge on a terrible revelation that instigates the climax, changing everything for the cast of characters. Here Shafrir plants a bomb in pretty much all of the key relationships. Vaguely, to avoid spoilers:

  • a reporter has gained information in a way that will hurt her boyfriend’s career
  • a character has accrued giant credit card debt without telling her husband
  • another character makes his marital unhappiness clear to a colleague, who then gets to know his wife
  • a casual office affair has crossed the line into sexual harassment

These metaphorical bombs build suspense the way a literal bomb would in a thriller. As readers, we know they’re there, and we know they’ll alter or destroy relationships when revealed. In Beat Analysis terms, we fear that they’ll come out, and hope that the people we care about can either keep their secrets or will emerge all right on the other side of their revelation. (Having read more than one novel, we instinctively understand that they will come out, but want our viewpoint characters to avoid that all the same.)

When creating DramaSystem characters, you might add a step where each player describes a bomb that will change their relationship to another PC or PCs when revealed:

  • your husband, Big Axe, doesn’t know that Flowerleaf isn’t his son, but is instead Horse Talker’s
  • you didn’t really have the vision you claimed, so Horse Talker, not you, should be chieftain
  • you didn’t just fail to poison the snake priestess, as Big Axe demanded, but actually struck a deal with her
  • you know exactly where the lost scepter is, but keep it hidden to stop Sharpbrow from launching her peace plan

As a player, you can always set a bomb for your character regardless of whether the GM adds this step. You can do it during character creation, perhaps as an explanation for why you can’t meet another character’s need. Or you can introduce the bomb during the action, calling a scene in which you strike a deal with the snake priestess, check on the spot where you’ve hidden the scepter, or drop a line of dialogue suggesting Flowerleaf’s true parentage.

Players know more than their characters, allowing everyone to enjoy the delightful agony of knowledge, waiting for the bomb you’ve planted to go off.

Finally, as with many DramaSystem techniques, you can use this move in any other RPG game where relationships between the player characters matter.

In the latest episode of their high mimetic podcast, Ken and Robin talk options vs core experience, Northrop Frye, bugbears, and J. F. C. Fuller.

We’re happy to announce we’re once again taking part in Free RPG Day 2019 on Saturday, June 15th, and this year’s free Pelgrane giveaway features adventures for the forthcoming The Yellow King RPG and 13th Age.

The Yellow King RPG – The Doors to Heaven

Behind Iron Doors, a Gateway to Doom!

Paris, 1895. A sensation-seeking band of art students confronts supernatural invasion from an alien realm. A play called The King in Yellow circulates in the city’s secret, decadent circles, twisting the ordinary and corrupting the sacred. In the students’ latest case, a fellow student’s disappearance draws them to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Legend claims that its iron doors were sculpted through a pact with the devil. Behind this tale the investigators uncover a stranger truth, replete with hooded figures, an unearthly plague, and the terrifying creatures that inspired the gargoyles.

 

13th Age RPG – Assault on the Dungeon of the Pogonomancer

The renegade dwarf wizard has returned from exile, and now his army of thralls lays siege to the fortress of his ancestors. Doom and kinstrife threaten the lands of the dwarves! There’s but one chance – if a small band of heroic adventurers can brave the passage of the Underworld, they could strike at the wizard’s secret sanctum where he plots with his mysterious allies from the depths!

Battle through the tunnels of the world below! Navigate weird perils! Face fiendish horrors! It’s a race against time – if you tarry, the dwarves on the surface will most certainly perish!

Above all, don’t get entangled – for the dungeon of the Pogonomancer is certainly one hairy situation…

In the latest episode of their restlessly exploratory podcast, Ken and Robin talk installation horror GMCs, Richard Francis Burton, rewatching movies, and Aaron Burr’s Upper Canada coup.

In the latest episode of their wide-open podcast, Ken and Robin talk spell side effects, private spy agencies, weird Kansas, and the thing in the Cincinnati subway tunnels.

“My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.”

— “The Rifleman’s Creed,” as quoted in Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987)

Spy stories, war stories, and horror stories: The Fall of DELTA GREEN contains all of them. And all of them contain, encompass, even (ahem) fetishize weapons. While every player knows that bringing a gun to a tentacle fight may not always be the best idea, every player in their secret heart of hearts thinks to themselves, “But what if I brought a better gun to a tentacle fight?”

Herewith a few of those better guns, guns emblematic of the decade or just too cool to ignore. I weep at giving short shrift to the standard Communist bloc small arms (the Kalashnikov AKM 7.62mm assault rifle (d+0; L1 on full auto) and the Makarov PM 9mm pistol (d+1)), bypassing the fun Czechoslovak “Skorpion” SA Vz. 61 7.65mm submachine pistol (d+0; L1 on full auto but only at Close range unless fired from the shoulder with stock attached and extended), and avoiding the temptation to gun-neepery about the 1962 re-vamp of the venerable FN Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol (d+1).

I’m less busted up at ignoring the ridiculous GyroJet 13mm rocket pistol (d+0 Point-Blank and Close, d+1 Near and Long, no Point-Blank damage bonus, natural 1 an automatic miss) despite its appearance in You Only Live Twice. If the finicky Stoner 63A 5.56mm LMG (L1* on a bipod mount) actually had any advantages besides being convertible to an assault rifle or carbine (30-round box magazine, d+0, L1 fully auto) I could convince myself to write it up. The Navy SEALs liked it a lot and carried it for 20 years after first deploying with it in 1967, which I suspect comes down to its 150-round drum magazine and low weight compared to the M60. DELTA GREEN probably has some use for a 10-pound assault rifle that can become a light machine gun in less than a minute (Mechanics test Difficulty 4, Diff 3 with Firearms or Heavy Weapons).

The gun writeups I did get to here include their potentially applicable “Gun Cherries” (Double Tap, pp. 74-75), any special rules to more closely model their action, and even a clue that Agents can plink with the relevant Investigative Ability.

AAI QSPR Tunnel Weapon .44 Magnum pistol

Do you feel lucky, Pickman?

For the extremely close-quarters fighting in the Viet Cong tunnels, “tunnel rats” needed a weapon that was silent (in a tunnel, echoing gun blasts deafened shooters and warned foes), deadly, and most of all easy to draw and fire in close quarters. Silencers made guns longer and clumsier, and a kludged-together .38 Special with an aiming light and suppressor (part of the 1966 LWL “tunnel kit”) was hard to draw, misaligned, and still too loud.

In 1969, Aircraft Armaments, Inc. (AAI) came up with something different. The Quiet Special Purpose Revolver (QSPR) milled a .44 Smith & Wesson Magnum revolver down and sawed off the barrel, for less bulk. Instead of a normal bullet, the gun fired a plastic-cased buckshot shell, using a “captured piston” system that essentially launched the shell at the enemy. Effective range was only 25 feet, but in the tunnels, that was enough. The piston system sealed off the gases, so the gun fired with no more noise or muzzle blast than a cap pistol. The tunnel rats didn’t trust another experimental gun, but the Rangers loved it for covert action and night ambushes. Only 100 QSPRs were ever made — unless DELTA GREEN ordered up a few hundred for anti-ghoul action and other night fights.

The QSPR does d+1 damage and cannot reach beyond Close range. Given its much lower stopping power compared to regular bullets, all Armor adds 2 points (-1 Armor becomes -3 Armor) against it at any range (not just at Close range as with regular shotguns). Treat QSPR shots as silencer shots (FoDG, p. 141), but foes without a positive Alertness Modifier get no bonus to hear them. Possible Gun Cherries: Handy, Smooth Action.

Carl Gustav “Swedish K” Kulsprutepistole m/45 9mm SMG

Sanitized sanitizer

This Swedish submachine gun dates from 1944 and features a simple, hardy steel-frame design. Low cyclic rate means low recoil, and even though it technically only fires full auto, squeezing off a one-round “burst” is easy for even new users. Its 36-round magazine has a slight trapezoid outline, making for a secure fit and smoother feed for ammo in filthy field conditions — Swedish and Irish troops used it in the Congo, and the Egyptian and Algerian governments licensed it for desert operations. A folding wire stock made it relatively compact (21 inches long) while still packing lots of firepower.

The Navy SEALs and the CIA loved the “Swedish K,” which could fire immediately after being submerged in water, and easily out-performed the balky early M16 models. The CIA even manufactured a variant with an internal sound suppressor for covert operations, and (Tradecraft) literally filed the serial numbers off (“sanitized”) whole shipments of “K-rifles” for CIA operators, MACV-SOG troops, and guerrilla armies around the world. This kind of behavior gets Sweden to embargo shipment of the m/45 to the U.S. in 1966, so the Navy hires Smith & Wesson to build a knockoff, the M76. (The CIA probably just starts buying them second-hand from Indonesia, which also licensed the weapon.)

The Swedish K does d+1 damage (L1 on full auto, roll of 1 fires on full auto regardless of your intent). CIA variants with the internal suppressor count as silenced (FoDG, p. 141). Possible Gun Cherries: Handy, Rugged Reliability, Smooth Action.

GE M134 “Minigun” 7.62mm LMG

Not on MY doorstep

To provide helicopters with more reliable (and heavier) firepower to cover landings and takeoffs, the Army tasked General Electric to scale down the Vulcan 20mm Gatling cannon to fire 7.62mm NATO machine gun ammo. This smaller, lighter six-rotating-barrel electric-powered gun (nicknamed the “Minigun”) enters the field in 1963 on helicopter door mounts and weapons pods. The standard mount comes with a self-contained 1,500-round magazine, but with a delinker (Mechanics test Diff 4 or 3 with Heavy Weapons to jury-rig) it can take up to a 5,000-round ammo belt.

Contrary to its later cinematic depiction, a single human cannot carry and fire the M134 simultaneously: not only would the recoil knock him down, the gun requires a power source and attached cable.

The M134 does L1* damage. Electrically powered and mounted, each 1 Heavy Weapons point spent firing it counts as 2 points. It can only be Shot Dry after two unmodified 6 rolls, and does three instances of damage to up to three targets if so. Possible Gun Cherries: BFG, Stopping Power.

 


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In the latest episode of their red-carpeted podcast, Ken and Robin talk blowing up the moon, weird 20s New York, and their fave films of 2018.

Standard GUMSHOE already treats Game Master Characters somewhat differently than player characters. Most notably, it advises that, in a fight, they drop at 0 Health, rather than going through the impairment thresholds that allow some PCs to keep going after hitting negative points.

The QuickShock GUMSHOE system, which debuts in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, goes even further in separating the two types of character. For PCs, Health now bears no resemblance to hit points. Players use it to avoid certain types of injury outside combat. But they don’t risk keeling over when all their pool points have been spent. Instead you are too physically wounded to go on after you’ve gained 3 or 4 Injury cards. (This depends on whether the GM has chosen the tougher Horror mode, or the more forgiving Occult Adventure.)

Game Master Characters don’t collect Injury cards. The ones you choose to fight can die, if the group has chosen “Kill” as its objective. They can be hurt, if you have chosen “Beat Up.” The GM gives this condition story consequences, as needed, but it isn’t measured by numerically. (If later on you fight that Foe again, you could get an adjustment in your favor on the Difficulty number you’re trying to beat with your Fighting ability. That hardly ever happens, though.)

Outside of combat, the GM doesn’t use rules to determine whether GMCs suffer gruesome fates. That remains part of the narrative.

So when creating a Foe description, the designer distinguishes between

  • effects on investigators, as represented by Injury cards (or, in some edge cases, Shock cards
  • effects on GMCs, conveyed purely by description

The designer of a foe called a radiation beast might write:

Investigators coming within 15 m of the beast make Difficulty 4 Health tests to avoid Injuries, Minor and Major—Radiation Poisoning/Internal Bleeding. Other humans become faint and feverish, suffering hair loss and low blood pressure. Unless rushed to the hospital for treatment, they die. A Difficulty 4 First Aid success stabilizes all victims, keeping them alive without hospitalization for up to 12 hours.

Or the Foe designer can kick the question of how to handle GMC injuries to the Game Moderator:

Other humans sicken or die, depending on the needs of the scene.

Option 1 gives the players a way to interact with GMC injury, bringing in First Aid as a counter. Option 2 keeps flexibility in GM hands.

Whichever approach you take when writing up Foes, the bifurcation between PCs and GMCs is a factor that requires different thinking in QuickShock GUMSHOE than in other trad or trad-like games you may be used to.

Something to keep in mind when QuickShock joins the GUMSHOE SRD, not long from now.

Collage art by Dean Engelhardt


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Welcome to Mika!

Hello all! My name is Mika and I’m so excited to be here! I’m the new part-time Community Manager for Pelgrane Press and I look forward to tweeting with you. I’ll be handling customer service as well as some aspects of social media and general community engagement. Problems, questions, concerns? I’m your gal.

I’ve been playing TTRPGs since high school; I’m from the classic background of basement dwelling nerd. After a long running affair with exclusively board games, I returned to my first love and we’ve been very happy together. This is my first job in the industry and it’s a dream come true.

I’ve been working in customer service of one sort or another for almost a decade. I spend my non-gaming free time baking, crafting, petting cats, and scheming with close friends for our Next Big Thing.

I’m currently in Chicago but like to think that could change at any moment. Look for me at coming cons, I will be so excited to meet you. I’m pretty baseline excited all the time though, so be prepared. I look forward to helping you with all your Pelgrane needs and hope to grown an even stronger, more supportive community!

In the latest episode of their well-compassed podcast, Ken and Robin talk LARP TV, life before maps, word clusters and a disappearing airman.

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