If you’re the kind of GM who hosts inspirational movie nights for your players, my number one suggestion for getting them in the GUMSHOE mindset has to be All the President’ Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976.)

It reinforces the two most important tips players need to get into the mindset of investigators and successfully solve the complex mysteries the game system specializes in:

    * Keep learning more

    • * You gotta talk to people

    Made gripping by Pakula’s masterfully subtle direction, the William Goldman script zeroes in on one thing and one thing only—the process by which reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) find the facts that connect the burglary of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel to the highest levels of the Nixon administration. We see exactly nothing of the protagonists’ private lives. They get scarcely a sliver of backstory—just enough to identify them as underdogs we want to see succeed. It’s all about the information gathering.

    Along the way Woodstein, as the team comes to be known, learns a third axiom of investigation that applies more to some GUMSHOE games than others. Their secret source Deep Throat tells them to:

    • * Follow the money

    Bernstein speculates his way to a correct theory of the case almost immediately. But they have to prove it to print it. Together or separately he and Woodward try to pry from scared or otherwise unwilling participants confirmations they can use. They engage in a delicate cat and mouse with reluctant witnesses. Their interview technique suggests a new GUMSHOE Interpersonal Ability called Doggedness. They worm their way into encounters with resistant informants, then rely on social norms to win a grudging, often partial, admission, by continuing to ask questions despite repeated refusals.

    When one dirty trickster, Donald Segretti, seems weirdly pleased to unburden himself, it plays as a comic twist on the already established pattern.

    The movie also demonstrates a great technique for depicting a difficulty or stymied investigation. At several points the duo hits a wall and has to dig in and keep on digging. Pakula shows the stalled progress without ever killing his film’s momentum. He does this by always making the visual depiction of the arduous legwork aesthetically pleasing in some way. The best example of this occurs in the Library of Congress, as an overhead shot pulls back further and further from the two as they sort through a stack of documents. Becoming smaller and smaller in the frame, the characters are visually dwarfed by the monumental scope of their task. As viewers, the beauty and ingenuity of the shot keep us riveted.

    Steal this technique in your games by montaging the PCs through a segment of numbing legwork with a quick and entertaining verbal flourish. You might create one yourself, or invite the players to supply the narration that then bridges them to the next core clue.

    The film is now available in a fine BluRay transfer. Its ample special features supply historical context on the entire Watergate story for anyone who needs it.


    GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

    In the latest episode of their euphonious podcast, Ken and Robin talk dungeon productivity, trap streets, GMlessness & Hillfolk, and anti-saxophone time travelers.

    In the latest episode of their starry-eyed podcast, Ken and Robin talk Toronto film fest, talking before axing, and the Satanic panic.

    At the Imperial College of the Arcane, students struggle to master the art of magic, both theoretical and applied. And wherever there are students laboring under intense pressure—both academic and social—there will always be student societies. Most tend to be small, informal groups of close friends. However, some are powerful secret societies whose histories span the ages, and whose rituals remain forever hidden from outsiders.

    This article provides a brief overview of five secret societies of the College Arcane, located in the Archmage’s city of Horizon (which you can read about in 13 True Ways). These aren’t official additions to Dragon Empire lore, but players and GMs might find them useful for adventure seeds, character backgrounds, NPC opponents, and even One Unique Things.

    Common Features:

    • 15-30 current, active members, usually chosen from specific areas of magical study or types of spellcasters. First-year students are almost never invited to become members of a secret society—society members keep an eye on promising first-year students to see if they’d be suitable candidates in the future. Belonging to multiple secret societies is forbidden, and anyone found doing so will be cast out and shunned. However, some societies are friendly with one another, and may collaborate on joint activities.
    • An official name, and sometimes a nickname that’s more commonly used to refer to the society
    • An associated icon, who might be symbolic of the society’s focus, an inspiration to its members, or even its official head
    • An enchanted badge or token which, when worn, signals membership in the society to other members who are nearby—perhaps by changing temperature, tingling, or whispering in the wearer’s ear
    • A motto
    • An initiation rite that includes a challenging ordeal and an oath of secrecy
    • A clubhouse, which at the College Arcane is called a “lair”. A secret society’s lair might take any form, whether mundane or fantastical. The key thing is that outsiders cannot see or hear what goes on inside a lair, and members can enter and exit without being seen.
    • Society activities, such as the discussion of academic topics, formal debate, carousing, public service, or tasks performed on behalf of the society’s patron icon. Depending on the nature of the society, some of these may be done publicly while others are private and subject to the oath of secrecy.

    The Good Fellows

    Nickname: The Hellhole Club

    Membership: Primarily wizards and demonologists (from Book of Demons), if your campaign’s version of the College Arcane accepts demonologists as students.

    Associated icon: The Diabolist.

    Motto: “From Shadows, Light. From Light, Understanding.”

    Badge or token: Two hands clasped in friendship.

    Initiation includes: The candidate’s courage and will is tested by branding the society’s badge on their exposed skin. The brand (and associated pain) vanishes within seconds.

    Principal activities: Discussion of magic related to demons, devils, and the Abyss; the pursuit of power and influence.

    In reality, the Good Fellows are a recruiting funnel for the cult of the Diabolist. As part of the society’s fun and games, members are required to carry out “secret missions” in the Diabolists’ name. These tasks are harmless pranks at first, but gradually become more sinister. Any member who refuses is reminded that the society now has quite a long record of that member’s diabolical acts. It would be such a shame if it ever became public… (For more on the Diabolist’s cult in Horizon, see “The Diabolist’s ‘Moderates’” in 13 True Ways, p. 148; and the Hell Marsh Cult monster entry in 13th Age Bestiary 2, p. 134.)

    Society for the Advancement and Promotion of the Defensive Magical Arts

    Nickname: B.B.F. (Blast, Burn, and Freeze)

    Membership: All spellcasters, but primarily sorcerers.

    Associated icon: The Archmage, in his capacity as defender of the Empire and caster of some wicked destructive spells.

    Motto: “Courage Under (And Possibly While On) Fire.”

    Badge or token: Two wands, crossed.

    Initiation includes: On “Dueling Day”, candidates—dressed in ridiculous costumes—must fight public “duels of honor” on college grounds using absurd weapons chosen by society members.

    Principal activities: Discussion of magic as it relates to warfare and battle; re-enacting historical battles using magical miniature landscapes and animated figurines (some dating back to the society’s founding).

    Scroll and Staff

    Nickname: The Page-Shufflers

    Membership: Wizards

    Associated icon: The Archmage, in his capacity as the Empire’s greatest master of magical learning.

    Motto: “Read Thrice, Speak Once.” (Often paraphrased as, “Know your sh*t before you open your mouth.”)

    Badge or token: An open book with the flame of the Archmage rising from its pages.

    Initiation includes: The retrieval and reading of a scroll—the society’s founding document—hidden within the College Arcane’s vast library. The member must never speak of its contents to anyone, not even other society members.

    Principal activities: Debate, study, and the discussion of magical texts from past ages. After final exams, truly legendary carousing.

    The Cacophonous Society

    Nickname: The Bleating Herd

    Membership: Primarily bards and chaos mages.

    Associated icons: Elf Queen, Spelljack (See “The Age of Founding”, Book of Ages)

    Motto: “Wit, Harmony, and Friendship.”

    Badge or token: A lyre within a laurel wreath

    Initiation includes: Candidates are given music and lyrics for the society’s anthem (an almost impossibly difficult song) and must perform it in public while the current members heap good-natured ridicule on them.

    Principal activities: Discussion of the intersection of magic and the performing arts; musical, dramatic, and comedic composition and performance (both public and private); carousing.

    Hand and Eye

    Nickname: Rag and Bone

    Membership: Primarily necromancers, wizards, and clerics of death gods.

    Associated icon: The Lich King

    Motto: “Silence.”

    Badge or token: A skull with a skeletal hand covering its right eye.

    Initiation includes: Candidates are abducted from their rooms in the dead of night and led blindfolded to a certain cemetery on College grounds. There, they experience a ceremonial death and resurrection in which they are buried alive and then dug up again an hour later. The new members are welcomed joyfully with a lavish feast.

    Principal activities: Discussion of necromantic magic, philosophy, and ethics; charitable works related to death, dying, and grieving, always performed anonymously—for example, providing a poor family with funds for the proper burial of a deceased loved one.

     

    13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

    October means just one thing; it’s Hallowe’en season, and we’ve got just the thing to get you into the horrific mood in the form of new release Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos. Weighing in at a hefty 352 pages in hardback form, this collection of traditional, and novel, creatures from Lovecraft has everything you need to get you through the month that’s in it. If you prefer your monsters more infernal, the PDF of the 13th Age Book of Demons is available alongside the print edition now. And if the jungles of Indochine are your idea of horror, the GUMSHOE conversion of Delta Green: The Role-Playing game, The Fall of DELTA GREEN, is also available in print and PDF format.

    New Releases

    Articles

    13th Age

    There appeared certain odd stories of things found floating in some of the swollen rivers

    – The Whisperer in Darkness

    Some of the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos are composed of ultraterrene matter, or hail from dimensions or angles beyond the ones we know, or cannot die in any way we can comprehend. Others, though, can be destroyed or at least inconveniencedby physical force. Strange things were swept down by the floods from the forested hills beyond Brattleboro, or washed up on the beaches of Massachusetts after the destruction of Devil’s Reef – or were found dead on the floor of the library at Miskatonic.

    A maddening of alien horrors march across the pages of Hideous Creaturesbut what might they leave behind if destroyed? What remains… remain? What might the investigators find mounted on the wall of the famous big game hunter who killed himself with his own elephant gun? What relic might they steal from the Thibetan monastery? What tattered robe of hide does the cult priest wear when he capers and howls prayers to the Old Ones?

    If the investigators do find a trophy or other preserved remnant of a Mythos creature, examining it might yield vital clues. It’s better to learn, for example, that hunting horrors are rejuvenated by electricity by subjecting a small piece of hunting horror tissue to an electrical current, rather than desperately using the last charge of your stolen Yithian lightning gun on the monster as it pursues you…

     

    A Feejee Mermaid: The creature was of substance similar to ours – it dies when you shoot it, and the body doesn’t vanish or sublime or turn to slime. The creature might be mistaken for an especially grotesque example of fanciful taxidermy, a chimera made by sewing together bits of different animals; the wings of some Patagonian bat, the head of a malformed goat, crocodile teeth…

    Likely candidates: Bat-Thing (obviously some sort of bat), Byakhee (a pterosaur, clearly), Serpent Folk (a genuine Feejee Mermaid)

    The Bones Might Be Human: There are physical abnormalities, of course. Take the care of John Merrick, the famous elephant man of London! Or those suffering from certain extreme skin conditions, worse than leprosy. These remains are bizarre, yes, likely mangled post-mortem by some accident, butthey’re clearly human. Maybe some animal bones mixed in, but they’re human. What else could they be?

    Likely candidates: Deep Ones, Ghouls, Medusa, Rat-Thing (the bones of children, I fear, mixed with the rats who ate the remains), Raktijiva (the head’s been destroyed, obviously), Spawn of Yog-Sothoth (Human Son), Tcho-Tcho (the poor stunted creature!), Wendigo (some sort of primitive throwback or degenerate, I’ll wager) Y’m-Bhi (my god! It’s a mass grave!)

    A Patch of Hide: Keeping the entire carcass is impossible, unless you happen to own a convenient aircraft hangar or refrigerated warehouse. The investigators might find a small patch of leather carved from a vast huge, a single impossibly huge claw, or a pickled eyeball the size of a man’s head.

    Likely candidates: Bhole (impossibly tough worm-leather), Dark Young (clearly some sort of wooden sculpture), Hunting Horror (a rare breed of elephant or hippo, perhaps)

     It All Evaporated: The remains decay almost instantly into foul-smelling liquids or noxious gases, leaving nothing behind. With extensive experimentation, a knowledgable chemist might hit on the right conditions and mix of chemicals needed to preserve the remains.

    Likely Candidates: Flying Polyp (explodes into cloud of cancerous cells), Gaseous Wraiths (deflates under pressure), Mi-Go (alien matter dissolves), Moon-Beasts (dissolve into star-jelly; contact with decaying remains is agonisingly painful), Vampirish Vapour (rapid deliquescence into rot and slime)

    Mysterious Stains – and Echoes: The creature’s remain vanish, but they don’t just dissolve into slime or sublime into mist. Something of the entity remains in the place where it died. Not a haunting, exactly, but a stain upon the land. An unhealing scar, a place that echoes the horror over and over.

    Likely Candidates: Black Winged One (hauntings, sick building syndrome), Colour Out Of Space (blasted heath), Great Race of Yith (remains drawn back through time-gate; temporal distortions persist), Hounds of Tindalos, Lloigor (dreams and nightmares), Night-Gaunts (hideous tittering from no discernible source) Ultraviolet Devourer (‘thin place’ where higher dimensions can be seen) 

    That Is Not Dead…: Some creatures do not die so easily. The Elder Things dug up by the Miskatonic Expedition revived after millennia buried in the ice caves; shoggoths are virtually indestructible. These ‘remains’ might revive under the right conditions.

    Likely Candidates: Elder Things (preternatural resilience), Hounds of Tindalos (what is an ending to an entity who moves through time?), Shoggoth (every shoggoth cell is a shoggoth), Star Vampire (still exists in a dimension we can’t perceive, can be called up by blood), Worm-Cultist (every worm recalls the totality…)


    Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos is a collection of thirty-one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated – and most cryptic, some of which have never taken stat form in an RPG – creatures, written up with full stats, clues, mythic echoes, adventure seeds, and in-world documents for Trail of Cthulhu. Purchase Hideous Creatures in print at the Pelgrane Shop.

     

    I was listening to the new BBC podcast on The Ratline (it’s about escaped Nazis and post-war conspiracies, so it’s useful for both The Fall of DELTA GREEN and the Dracula Dossier), and was struck by one observation that there are very few survivors of WWII left. For that matter, most of those who were in senior positions in 1977 are retired or gone, too. Vampires may be immortal, but most witnesses are not. The larger the gap between the ‘present day’ strand of the campaign and those historical periods, the less plausible it is for various supporting characters to still be alive.

    (On the bright side, Al-Qaeda is apparently enjoying a post-ISIS resurgence, so… I guess that’s good for espionage campaigns involving vampire-tainted counterterrorism operations.)

    There are several ways (some used in the Director’s Handbook) to introduce an NPC from the 1940s or 1970s other than tracking them down in some retirement home.

    The Successor: The Agents run into a child, former assistant, confidante or custodian of the late NPC who knew them very well and can answer all their questions. The dutiful daughter who took care of her aging parent; the protégé of a senior spy; a student of the late academic who carried on her work. This successor may dismiss stories of vampires and supernatural strangeness as nonsense, but the Agents can glean vital clues despite their disbelief. (In particular, see “Cushing”, p. 92)

    I’ve Got A Box Of Papers In The Attic: You’re looking for my mother. She died ten years ago… she never talked about her work for the government, so I can’t help you. Although, now that you mention it, there’s a box of her papers in the attic. She never threw them out. Said we shouldn’t look at them, but she had us drag them down once a year so she could relive old memories. Huh – actually, it was always on St. George’s day, and that’s today. What a co-incidence. I’ll go up and get them…” (The Acting Director of MI5, p. 80, uses this approach) 

    The Transcript: The Agents discover a transcript or a recording of the late NPC – and  the mysterious interviewer is questioning them about the exact topic the Agents want to interrogate them about! Not only do the Agents get the information they seek, but they also have a new mystery to investigate – who was this other vampire hunter, who seems to have followed the same trail of clues as the Agents? And what happened to them? (The Late Con Artist, p. 84, uses this approach).

    The Flashback: Combine any of the previous three with a flashback, perhaps using an adventure from The Edom Files. You need to talk to the MI5 Deputy who ran security in London in ’77. He’d dead – but when you dig into his files, you learn about another incident a few years earlier, involving the ballet…

    Later in the campaign, dead NPCs can take a more active role:

    I Have Prepared This For You: Not only do the Agents find the late NPCs’ papers/diaries/successor, they discover that the NPC anticipated that one day, someone would come looking, and that they’d need help. The NPC left behind a cache of supplies (Night’s Black Agents, p. 94), possibly including some Objects or handouts from the Hawkins Papers – and definitely including some lovely period gear. Escape in that lovingly maintained Aston Martin DB6, or take out bad guys with a WWII Sykes-Fairbairn knife issued by the Special Operations Executive back in ’41.

    The Dream: One of the Agents dreams of the late NPC. It’s an unusual vivid nightmare – the two are in some building associated with the NPC (the old MI6 headquarters at Century House, a cottage in the Cotswolds, Ring Manor, a castle in Transylvania, a nightclub in Berlin) while a storm rages outside and some animal tries to break in (but what animal beats its wings against the upper windows like a bat, but scratches at the door like a dog?). Clearly, it’s just a dream, and none of the information obtained within can be relied upon… especially as Dracula can send deceitful visions by night. Or did the late NPC have some special grace from the Almighty to send one last message?

    Necromancy: The campaign crawls with ways to raise the dead. There’s the Spirit Board (p. 279), the Online Mystic (p. 126), the Psychic (p. 96), the Solomonari (p. 74). Any of them could call up a dead soul, or even resurrect a corpse in some ghastly mockery of life. For the dead travel fast – and talk even faster, under interrogation.


    Dracula is not a novel. It’s the censored version of Bram Stoker’s after-action report of the failed British Intelligence attempt to recruit a vampire in 1894. Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan have restored the deleted sections, inserting annotations and clues left by three generations of MI6 analysts. This is Dracula UnredactedFollow those clues to the Director’s Handbook, containing hundreds of encounters: shady NPCs, dangerous locations, conspiratorial nodes, and mysterious objects. Together they comprise The Dracula Dossier — an epic improvised, collaborative campaign for Night’s Black Agents, our award-winning vampire spy thriller RPG. Purchase the Dracula Dossier starter kit bundle in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

    In the latest episode of their magically ballistic podcast, Ken and Robin talk magic guns (care and handling of), joke tagging, Shanna Germain and conspiracy theory theory.

    Come for the nerdtrope cards, come for the incisive questions from an ever-alert audience. Ken and Robin talk about stuff live at Gen Con!


    We can say relatively little for certain about the life of Robert W. Chambers, but it is clear from his work that knew France and its history. For this reason it is tempting to believe that the name Hildred Castaigne, unreliable narrator and protagonist of the classic Yellow King story “The Repairer of Reputations,” took its inspiration from the early 19th century murderer Edme Castaing.

    Castaing, a young and impecunious doctor, befriended a pair of wealthy patients, the brothers Auguste and Hippolyte Ballet. In 1822, the consumptive Hippolyte died while in Castaing’s care. His fortune went to Auguste, who made Castaing his heir. Half a year later, after drinking wine and then milk given to him by Castaing, Auguste also died after a prolonged fit of vomiting.

    Both victims had been in their early twenties. This fact, added to Castaing’s financial activities, triggered official suspicion. Investigation focused on his purchase of a then-new medicine, morphine, before the deaths. Castaing was arrested and tried for murder. The jury found him innocent of Hippolyte’s death but guilty of destroying his will, and of murdering Auguste. He went to the guillotine on December 6, 1823.

    In the entangled realities of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, the mere difference of a few letters in a surname doesn’t stop us from identifying Castaing as an unlucky link in the dynastic chain running from the Pallid King to Hildred Castaigne. He had all the sinister predilections of his family without a Mr. Wilde to fully usher him to his destiny.

    Ghosts feature heavily in Chambers’ other, lesser horror tales. In keeping with those, the characters from your Paris sequence could meet up with this earlier, slightly misspelled member of the bloodline in phantom form. Perhaps they encounter Castaing’s shade at the Place de Greve, the site of his guillotining. Or in Saint-Cloud, the bucolic Parisian suburb where he poisoned Auguste, during their stay at the Tête Noire Hotel.

    Like other Chambers ghosts, Edme might not look or sound dead at all. He could seal his friendship with the occult-busting art students with much-needed medical treatment. His unearthly healing powers might allow the discarding of Injury cards that aren’t normally gotten rid of with a First Aid success. Over time Edme might abuse his friendly GMC status to mislead the group into spreading the influence of the Yellow King, increasing his own powers. Only by researching the seventy-year-old story of Edme Castaing can the group discover that their apparent benefactor is neither alive nor on their side.

    Naturally, if he suspects they’re onto him, he’ll reach for the syringe full of phantasmal morphine he keeps in that little black bag of his.


    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.

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