In the latest episode of their efficiently delivered podcast, Ken and Robin talk civilization saga gaming, Alexandrine of Taxis, mid-oughts horror cinema, and the Highgate vampire.

Tonight, Thursday April 8th at 7PM EDT, tune into the Pelgrane Press Twitch channel to watch game designers and writers Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan as they take you through the process of designing a scenario for The Yellow King RPG.

The Ordo Veritatis works to thwart the ghastly schemes of the Esoterrorists, who seek to undermine humanity’s sense of an rational, secure universe by playing on our fears and paranoias until reality collapses and the Membrane protecting us from the forces of the Outer Dark is forever torn. The Esoterrorists believe that destroying the Membrane will give them the ability to work magic, but this power comes at a terrible, unthinkable price in suffering and horror. Fighting the Esoterrorists is, unquestionably, a moral act… so, therefore, using the tools of the Esoterrorists would be acceptable, right?

These techniques are not part of Ordo Veritatis training. They may be learned in the field, through interrogating captured enemy operatives or through study of Esoterrorist techniques. They’re passed around, too, by veteran Ordo investigators – unofficially, quietly, and with the greatest of care. They’re a dirty little secret among those who’ve looked into the abyss, and who know that no

Any use of Esoterrorist magic is utterly against the credo of the order, and any operatives who demonstrate knowledge of these techniques will face sanction.

These techniques, called Reality Hacks, only work in places where the Membrane has been severely weakened by Esoterrorist activity – and using a hack will further weaken the barrier, permitting more horrors from the Outer Dark access to our reality.

Learning Hacks

Each Hack corresponds to an investigative ability. The Agent must have at least one point in that ability to learn the hack.

Each Hack must be learned separately at the cost of 2 Experience points.

Using A Reality Hack

To use a Hack, the Agent spends one point from the investigative ability, and makes a Stability test (Difficulty 4, +1 per Hack previously used in this adventure). If the Stability test fails, the hack further weakens the membrane in the local area, possibly letting in more entities from outside.

Some hacks require a target; usually, the target must be within a short distance of the caster – er, investigator, not caster. These aren’t spells. OV agents don’t use magic. Optionally, spending more investigative points lets the investigator work the hack at a greater distance or using sympathetic techniques.

Powerful Esoterrorists are immune to hacks, as are most Creatures of Unremitting Horror.

Hacks only work in places where the Membrane has already been considerably weakened.

Academic Hacks

Interpersonal Hacks (coming soon)

Technical Hacks (coming soon)

 


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.

 

“Man should not know the future. Such knowledge can be fatal.”

— attributed to Wolf Messing

In 1977, researchers Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks uncovered evidence in the accidentally unshredded MK-ULTRA files that the CIA had hired the stage magician John Mulholland as a consultant. After decades of further research, and the fortuitous discovery of the “magic manual” Mulholland prepared for CIA Technical Services head Sidney Gottlieb, some portion of the truth is out there. Born in Chicago in 1898, Mulholland moved to New York City, briefly apprenticed with Houdini, and became known as “the prince of prestidigitators.” During the 1920s he toured the world, returning to launch a successful stage career in New York in 1927. He briefly investigated UFOs in 1952 (ascribing them to hallucinations and unreliable eyewitnesses) and in 1953 (probably) joined MK-ULTRA to write a manual on, and teach CIA agents, how to use misdirection in the field. Specifically, according to the manual he wrote for the Agency, how to handle tablets, powders, and liquids, surreptitiously remove objects, and work as a team. Later, he investigated claims of telepathy (pronouncing them bogus) for the Agency; his last surviving invoice dates from 1958. His health damaged by chain-smoking, he died in 1970 with an enormous magical library, including virtually all of Houdini’s papers. His own papers contained no trace of his CIA work.

Wolf Messing, not messing around

Was there a Soviet equivalent to John Mulholland? Since the KGB was far less sloppy with its record-handling than the CIA, we may never know for sure. But the most plausible candidate we know of for “the KGB’s magician” is Wolf Messing, a Jew born in Russian Poland in 1899. Around 1910, he drifted to Berlin. There, a gift for catalepsy got him a job in a freak show, where he learned many more sorts of stage magic, including hypnotism, suggestion, and the mentalism that became his trademark. Blindfolded, he would carry out complex series of instructions “telepathically sent” by members of the audience. Touring Europe in the 1920s, he may (or may not) have encountered Erik Jan Hanussen, the mentalist and occultist popular with the rising Nazi elite; he claimed to have escaped the Gestapo by mentalist suggestion in 1940 and certainly arrived in Belorussia that year. He toured as a “psychological demonstrator” (Soviet ideology frowned on mentalism and magic) and made enough money to pay for two fighter planes. Anecdotes of Stalin testing his abilities personally come from a ghost-written (and unreliable) memoir published in parts in 1965 (and pulled from publication in 1967), but rumors persist then and now of Messing working with the KGB — probably willingly. By the late 1960s he was also claiming prophetic visions, likely a sign that his covert days were behind him — but the Soviet government insisted he keep touring almost until his death in 1974.

“There is no overall secret to magic, or any part of magic. It is the multiplicity of secrets and the variety of methods which makes magic possible.”

— John Mulholland, Some Operational Applications of the Art of Deception

It doesn’t require postulating John Mulholland as a MAJESTIC control or Wolf Messing as a Yithian KGB asset to incorporate them into a Fall of DELTA GREEN campaign. (They might even have met in Europe during a Trail of Cthulhu campaign.) The actual story of intelligence agencies’ use of stage magicians and their techniques is wild and evocative enough. Although both Mulholland and Messing probably retire backstage before the 1960s, they might have prize pupils or magical heirs carrying on their good work and slowly becoming drawn into the unnatural world behind the clandestine shadows. A particularly thrilling Agent might even have a background as a stage magician, just like Rollin Hand from the Mission: Impossible TV show.

Stage Magician

Points: 10 Investigative, 40 General (includes 4 Special Training)

Art (Stage Magic) 2, HUMINT 2, Notice 2, Reassurance 2

Pick two Investigative: Anthropology 1, HUMINT 1*, Inspiration 1, Notice 1*, Occult 1

Athletics 4, Conceal 4, Disguise 4, Filch 5, Mechanics 4, Preparedness 3, Stealth 4

Pick two General: Conceal 4*, Disguise 4*, Filch 4*, Sense Trouble 4, Stealth 4*

Pick three Special Training (one free, others 2 build pts. each; FoDG, p. 072): Brush Pass/Pickpocket, Card Cheating, Escape Artist, Lockpicking, Sleight of Hand (see below)

Special Training Magics

Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents trained by Mulholland or using the Mulholland system can easily justify spending 2 build points on Special Training in Sleight of Hand (+2 to Filch rolls to palm, manipulate, and “vanish” small objects, very much including covertly spiking drinks), as well as the existing example of Special Training in Brush Pass/Pickpocket (+2 to Filch rolls to pass an object between two people, knowingly to both or unknowingly to one). Generous Handlers might allow one spend of 2 points to buy both abilities. Very generous Handlers might allow Sleight of Hand to count as a quick-draw technique (spend Filch on the surprise test; FoDG, p. 090). In Night’s Black Agents, a combine them both as a Filch cherry: Legerdemain. Spend 1 point of Filch to automatically slip a palm, pass, vanish, spike, pickpocket, load, or dip past a normal civilian (defined as anyone not: a stage magician, a pickpocket, a trained spy or cop watching for just such an action, or a supernatural observer). This also applies to the A Lift in Time Saves Nine cherry (Double Tap, p. 41).

Soviet agents trained by Messing or using his techniques have two arrows in their quiver: Ideomotorism, and Vnusheniye (Russian for “suggestion” or “inception”). Ideomotorism is a Special Training skill granting the ability to use Psychotherapy or Sense Trouble (pick one when buying the skill) to “read thoughts” by touch. For example, asking “where are the documents” induces a microscopic muscle reflex that the trained Ideomotorist can “read” to give a direction and possibly even a location (“it’s a long walk from here, and on a high shelf perhaps”). Vnusheniye allows the use of Disguise to present (seemingly obviously) false credentials, state an incorrect identity, or otherwise convince someone you showed them something or said or did something that they expected. Both skills require a test of the relevant ability, and do not include a +2 bonus. Agents resist Ideomotorism using Stability, and resist Vnusheniye with Sense Trouble; the Difficulty equals the total of the KGB operator’s roll+spend.

Player Agents who can somehow convince the Handler to let them use either of these two Soviet Special Training skills should also have to spend 1 point of HUMINT for Ideomotorism and 1 point of either Intimidation or Reassurance for Vnusheniye. In Night’s Black Agents, Ideomotorism is a cherry for Shrink or Sense Trouble; with a spend of 1 point of Bullshit Detector it automatically works on mooks, scrubs, and similar bystanders. With Disguise 8+ Night’s Black Agents characters can take Vnusheniye as a cherry; with a 1-point spend of an appropriate Interpersonal ability it likewise works automatically on the weak-minded.


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 shrieking, wing-buffeting podcast, Ken and Robin talk turnip-headed wyverns, Sumerian F20, horror of the early oughts, and faked snow conspiracy theory.

In the latest episode of their entrancingly carpeted podcast, Ken and Robin talk place as the center of a scenario, a spiralbound cookbook from almost Nebraska, end of the century horror essentials, and Baird Spalding.

claw demonBoth Trail of Cthulhu and Fear Itself feature protagonists who are comparatively (or cosmically!) feeble compared to the foes they encounter. By no coincidence whatsoever, both games also incorporate the Fleeing ability, an ability that’s used only for running away.

To make Fleeing a bit more complex and combat-like, here are some optional expanded Fleeing rules, drawing on the Thriller Chases of Night’s Black Agents.

Escape or Capture

The aim of a chase is to win three contests in a row. If a runner gets three wins in a row, that character has escaped. If the runner loses three rounds of the contest in a row, the pursuer catches up with that the runner. The pursuer rolls once and compares their result to all the runners, so it’s possible for one runner to succeed and another to lose in any given round (and for one runner to rack up three successes and get clear!)

To avoid having contests drag on too long, if the monster has 0 Athletics or Aberrance left, assume it gives up unless it’s one win away from catching a runner.

If A Runner Wins A Round

Whenever a Runner wins a round, they get to pick one of the following benefits.

  • Gain Some Distance: The runner gets a +1 bonus to their next roll in the chase.
  • Help Another Runner: Another runner gets a +1 bonus to their next roll in the chase.
  • Create an Obstacle: Make an Athletics or Mechanics test. Next round, if the monster’s result is lower than the result of this test, then the round counts as a win for the purposes of determining escape only. The runners don’t get to pick a benefit next round if they win.
  • Hide! Instead of continuing to run, a runner can Hide and hope the monster doesn’t find them. It’s a Hide (or Stealth) test, Difficulty 6, modified by the monster’s Awareness modifier.
  • Take A Breather: Refresh 2 points of Fleeing or Athletics.
  • Shoot! If the runner’s got a ranged weapon, they can take a snap-shot at the pursuer. (Stopping to make a melee attack is tantamount to ending the chase.)
  • Split Up! The runners go in different directions. The pursuer can only chase one of them – but gets a +1 bonus to all its rolls for the rest of the chase against that quarry.

If A Pursuer Wins A Round

If the Pursuer beats any of the Runners, it gets to do one of the following actions.

  • Swipe: The monster gets close enough to make a Scuffling attack on the runner. The runner gets a +2 bonus to their Hit Threshold.
  • Trip: The monster nearly grabs the runner, making them stumble. The runner’s got a -2 penalty to their next roll in the chase.
  • Scare: The monster pops up right on top of the runner, jump scaring them. The runner must make a 3-point Stability check.

If it beats all the runners, it gets to pick one of the following:

  • It’s Gaining On Us! For the rest of the chase, the monster gets a +1 bonus to all its chase rolls.
  • We Can’t Get Out This Way! Reset all the runners to 0 wins in a row.

 

In the latest episode of their hard-hitting podcast, Ken and Robin talk scenes of aloneness in one-player games, Count Dante and the Chicago Dojo Wars, 90s horror film essentials, and keeping France Angevin.

In this story hook for preteen weird investigation in Fear Itself, excitement over Mars exploration turns to alien terror in a sleepy small town.

The young protagonists assemble when assigned to a group class presentation about the latest NASA rover mission to Mars. They establish their group dynamic while poring through images on the NASA site on a Zoom conference.

As the discussion wanes, one member of the group hears an alarming bashing sound outside the house. This character is alone in the house for reasons you ask the player to specify. They go out to check and see the Mars rover sorting through their trash cans. Seeing that it’s been spotted, it rattles away, vanishing from sight despite its ungainly construction.

The group might gather to search for it then. Or become alarmed the next day, when they stumble across a raccoon, coyote or other example of local wildlife, subjected to the same sort of dissection described in accounts of cattle mutilation. Nearby: tread tracks that look awfully like the probe.

Inquiries to NASA get the brushoff. But then the kids see government investigators show up to ask questions. And then disappear, their vehicle still running by the roadside.

The group hears of more sightings, but only from their classmates. Whenever they’re asked about it, adults either convincingly say they’ve seen nothing, or enter a glazed-over state indicating that they’ve had their memories tampered with.

The kids see that second group of adults constructing something at night, moving about robotically, as if under external control. After observation—with the threat of discovery and a chase—they can determine that it is a corral of some kind.

Seen up close, the probes do not quite match the NASA versions. Lines that ought to be straight instead display organic irregularities. The metal breathes. A camera blinks, revealing itself as an eyeball.

By capturing one of the probes and making a Science spend they can not only communicate with it but compel it to reveal its story. It belongs to a shapeshifting alien race. Its people encountered the probe on Mars and took it for Earth’s dominant life form. Not long after their raiding ship landed in the old quarry outside town, they realized they’d chosen the wrong form. But never mind—they’ve still managed to move about, psychically enthralling enough victims for the slaughter to soon commence. Those space agency investigators seemed an impediment at first, but quickly became an appetizer for the great feast to come.

Only the young are immune to their psychic powers, leaving our heroes alone to destroy the corral before it becomes a slaughterhouse, taking out the shapeshifters and their ship. Build your conclusion around the players’ plan, throwing in a surprise obstacle or two along the way.

Probe Monsters

Abilities: Aberrance 14, Athletics 4, Fleeing 12, Health 4, Psychic Blast 10

Hit Threshold: 3

Armor: None

Awareness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: -2

Damage Modifier: +3 (psychic blast vs adults); -2 (psychic blast vs teens or younger)

Aberrant Powers: Can alter its outer surface to a frequency outside the human visible spectrum, spending 1 Aberrance per adult observer or 2 per younger observer to become effectively invisible. Can erase itself from the memory of any adult on a 1 pt Aberrance spend and gain obedience from an adult on a 2 pt spend. Refreshes Aberrance at dusk each day.


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the creatures of the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In the latest episode of their stone cold podcast, Ken and Robin talk crunch vs simulation, the Red Barn Murder, yet more 80s horror, and those darn monoliths.

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