In the latest episode of their imperious podcast, Ken and Robin talk connecting with other players, CIA files, political thrillers and Emperor Norton.
I acknowledge that the Forensic Entomology ability, as seen in The Esoterrorists, can be hard to love. It’s icky and creepy.
And that’s what’s good about it.
Also a favorite of forensics procedural shows, for exactly that reason, I included it as a separate item in The Esoterrorists precisely because it dovetails so well with the horror genre.
Yet it can be hard to come up with new uses for the skill in scenarios.
Once you’ve used the old saw of timing the cause of death of a corpse from the state of the maggots and flies infested the flesh, where do you go?
Sure, you can have a victim infested with a bug or parasite that only comes from certain areas. For example, a body found in a non-tropical environment could show the distinctive flesh-eating qualities of leishmaniasis. The protozoans responsible for this body horror get into people via sandfly bites. That core clue could lead you to discover that the victim recently returned from the cursed city of a monkey god. (You’re all itching to point out that leishmaniasis is not nearly as uncommon as the article implies, with 12 million victims around the world at any time. But hey, when you’re proving there’s a monkey god curse, you have to take what nature gives you to work with.)
But here’s another great ghoulish detail: the apparent blood spatter at your crime scene could turn out to be nothing more than fly spit.
Once your character uses the test described in that last link, she can exonerate the innocent family member accused of a gruesome slaying on the basis of that falsely identified blood spatter.
Having ruled that out, you can then move on to hunt down the Outer Dark Entity that really committed the crime. Maybe it specializes in framing victims, and impelled the flies to spit in a particularly incriminating manner.
Whether you go that far or not, this kind of test is all in a day’s work for our nation’s undersung heroes, the forensic entomologists.
There are a lot of books in the pipeline right now, but none of them are quite cooked yet, so here’s a little bit of whimsy before the cannon of self-promotion is brought to bear on this space. As you know, Bob, Icons are a lovely little mechanic from 13th Age that model the player characters’ relationships with various powerful individuals/factions – the Archmage, the Emperor, the Lich King and so forth. (There’ll be lots of new – or rather, old – Icons in the upcoming Book of Ages, but I said I’d save the self-promotion).
We’ve adapted Icons to other GUMSHOE games before – here’s Ken talking about Icons in Night’s Black Agents, and in the Dracula Dossier, and in Trail of Cthulhu, and now that I think about it I should really do a set for Cthulhu City (more self-promotion – for shame!). They work especially well, though, in the wild and vasty space of the Bleed in Ashen Stars.
Quick rules reminder. Each player gets three Relationship dice to allocate among the Icons. Relationships can be positive, negative or conflicted. At the start of each session, everyone rolls their Icon Relationships (d6s); a 6 indicates that that Icon is going to get worked into the adventure somehow in a way that benefits the player, and a 5 means that things are complicated and messy. And, given this is Ashen Stars, a spend from an appropriate Investigative Ability like Cybe Culture gives a re-roll for the matching relationship.
Rasal, The Practitioner
Coordinator of the Combine’s reconstruction and redevelopment projects, Rasal embodies the distant, technocratic civilisation in its efforts to reclaim the Bleed. Rasal makes little effort to hide his distaste for the rough, chaotic region, and makes as many trips back to the safety of the Proper as he can. Whenever he returns, though, he brings vast resources – both financial and technological – to help solve the problems of these war-torn stars.
Allies: The Viceroy, the Princess in Exile, the Merchant
Enemies: The Rebel, The Transer
Judy Coyle, The Viceroy
The commander of Ossa One, the Special Legate to the Far Settlements is in charge of keeping law and order in the Bleed. She’s responsible for licensing Laser crews, as well as commanding the Combine naval forces in the region. Coyle must balance her loyalty to her distant superiors in the Ministry of Settlement to the needs of the local worlds.
Allies: The Practitioner, Grand Arbiter Koket, the Merchant
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, The Seeker, the Rebel
Azela Shaw, The Rebel of the Bleed
The most outspoken of the Bleedists, Shaw is a former naval officer who now rejects Combine control of the region. She’s proved to be a formidable organiser, rallying the disparate groups and worlds that oppose the Combine into an ad hoc alliance. Coyle claims that Shaw’s rumoured criminal connections taint the whole alliance, but Shaw’s allies dismiss such claims as Combine mudslinging.
Allies: The Healer, the Merchant, The Transer
Enemies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur
The Master of the Plunderbund
The Plunderbund is a syndicate of criminal gangs, pirates, thieves, unscrupulous mercenaries and shady corporations – a shadow economy, even a shadow government, slithering into the gaps left by the shattered Combine. The Plunderbund, for all its many faults, gets things done – if you need something, they can get it for you, but at a high price. The mysterious Master of the Plunderbund is an elusive figure, and may be the figurehead for a ring of crime lords.
Allies: The Rebel, The Princess in Exile, the Connoisseur
Enemies: The Viceroy, The Merchant, Grand Arbiter Koket
Klaadarr, The Seeker
The stagnant, sterile Combine is a secular realm, devoid of spirituality. The Bleed, though, is afire with mystic revelation and revitalized nufaiths. New religions – or resurrected old ones – boil across the stars, finding eager converts and fanatical followers on worlds desperate for something to believe in now that the Combine is gone. Into this tumult comes the Seeker, an alien prophet of all Nufaiths and none, who claims that that God can be found in the Bleed. Listen to him – he’s right.
Allies: The Transer, the Healer
Enemies: The Meddler, the Pracitioner
Anacar Inatuy, The Merchant
Inatuy and her corporate allies made their fortune in the Bleed in the chaotic years after the war. There is still unimaginable wealth to be made out here, in the wild frontier, as long as they can thread a course between the stultifying control of the Combine and the apocalyptic chaos of a galaxy without law or justice. Of course, moral ambiguity is very much within the Merchant’s wheelhouse.
Inatuy is merely the most visible member of a cabal of corporate magnates and industrialists; the Connoisseur remains aloof from this cabal, and while he may be wealthier than any one of them individually, they vastly outmatch him as a group.
Allies: The Pracitioner, The Rebel, the Princess in Exile
Enemies: The Healer, The Connoisseur, the Transer, the Master of the Plunderbund
Starwind, The Healer (Balla)
Starwind led an exodus of Balla artists, scientists and adventurers out of Combine space to settle in the Bleed. Her movement seeks to channel Balla emotional energy into healing and remaking the galaxy, instead of suppressing it. Her followers – the Chorus – have the potential to accomplish wonders, but might equally drag the Bleed down with them into madness.
Allies: The Transer, the Viceroy, the Seeker
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Rebel
Grand Arbiter Koket (Tavak)
Koket is a legend back in the Combine – a decorated general, an accomplished philosopher, and a legal scholar who helped shape the decisions of the Combine Bench for decades. He was rumoured to be a candidate for Chief Justice, but instead chose to travel to the Bleed instead. While semi-retired, he retains his status as a judge, and serves as arbiter or investigator in especially complex or controversial cases.
Allies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Transer
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Princess in Exile
Krtch-Ick, The Connoisseur (Kch-thk)
Krtch-Ick is an immensely wealthy Kch-thk; he made his fortune back during the Mohilar War in dubious circumstances, and moved to the Bleed to evade Combine jurisdiction. He collects all manner of things – new foodstuffs, alien artefacts, “interesting people”, wrecked starships, military hardware. Whole planets, on occasion.
He owns corporations too – among his assets is the Freedom Egg, a Bleed-wide media conglomerate that broadcasts news and entertainment across the region. Krtch-Ick’s word can shape opinion throughout the Bleed, so rumours that he’s becoming more unstable with each reincarnation worry the authorities.
Allies: The Rebel, the Seeker, the Master of the Plunderbund
Enemies: The Merchant, the Viceroy
Ukshqnza, The Princess in Exile (Durugh)
The death of martyred King Ukshqa and the Mohilar War transformed Durugh society. The old police state hierarchy collapsed, leaving their civilisation in a state of near-anarchy. Princess Ukshqnza was one of the few members of the king’s immediate family who escaped the chaos. She fled to the Bleed with an entourage of loyalists – not to mention several warships, a large portion of the Durugh state coffers, and (allegedly) a complete copy of the fabled Silent Gallery, the archive of Durugh espionage and blackmail. While the Durugh are now part of the Combine and Ukshqnza has no official standing, many Durugh see her as their ruler in exile, and the Combine look warily at her as a rallying symbol for Durugh separatists in the Bleed. At the same time, her combination of military force and unmatched intelligence-gathering capabilities make her a vital ally to Combine forces trying to keep order in wild space.
Allies: The Practitioner, the Master of the Plunderbund, the Meddler
Enemies: Grand Arbiter Koket, the Transer
Remaker, The Transer (Cybe)
The military records that might have identified who Remaker was before she was transformed were lost in the war. She emerged onto the political scene in the Bleed full-formed like Athena, as the champion of a wide-ranging coalition of cybe veterans. Remaker’s allies include mercenary legions and charitable foundations, cybe researchers and prophets, raiders and lasers alike – wherever one finds cybes, there too are her followers. Her avowed goal is to establish an independent cybe state in the Bleed; rumours connect her to illegal experimentation in creating new cybes, and some claim that her secret aim is to transform the entire population of the Bleed into her mind-slaves.
Allies: The Rebel, The Healer, the Seeker
Enemies: The Viceroy, The Practitioner
The Meddler (Vas Mal)
The mysterious Meddler is a Vas Mal who retained considerably more of his cosmic awareness than the rest of his kind. He can, it seems, see the future, and can also see the temporal nexuses and pressure points that can change that future if poked in just the right way. The Meddler manipulates events and individuals to bring about those changes.
Allies: The Seeker, the Princess in Exile
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur, the Merchant
The Ashen Shadow (Mohilar)
And they are still out there, moving in the dark places between the stars. Their recent defeat stripped away much of their power and has shown them they are not invincible. They must work in secret, through agents and intermediaries – until the stars turn dark, and the Mohilar can return…
Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes 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. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
In the latest episode of our supercalifragilisticexpialidocious podcast, Ken and i talk Mythos Disney, Robert Fortune, spy movies 101 and the Ripley Scrolls.
The latest issue of See Page XX is out now! New releases include the Dreamhounds of Paris limited edition, The Crown Commands and Map Folio PDF bundle, and a Low and Slow Looking Glass: Hong Kong, for all your GUMSHOE city setting needs.
Articles include some blasphemous tomes and cryptic relics culled from the pages of Cthulhu City, a procedural guide for The Esoterrorists field agents, a welcome to our new Production Assistant along with notes on how we found her, using TimeWatch as a teaching aid, and playtesting The Fall of Delta Green. It’s all in the new See Page XX!
That, you will be gobsmacked (or perhaps even godsmacked) to know, is the earliest reference known to the Twelve Olympians, and it’s not that early: the “Homeric” hymns are usually dated to around 600 BCE, which is about 75 years before the tyrant Peisistratos sets up the first known altar to the Twelve, in Athens. (A cult of the Twelve in Olympia, appropriately enough, likely dates to about the same time.) Where the Greeks got the idea remains mysterious: from the twelve Babylonian months, perhaps via a grouping of 12 gods found in Hittite rituals (and in a 13th-century BCE hall of statuary at Yazilikaya) and from thence to the Greek coasts of Asia Minor.
Why, you may well ask, am I improving our minds with Classical study at this late juncture? Because in my home game, my newest campaign is a 13th Age campaign I call Poikila Hellenistika, or “The Brightly-Colored Hellenistic Age.” It’s set in a big-eyes-and-archaic-smile anime-influenced version of the Hellenistic era, specifically in Syracuse in Sicily (for now) in 273 BCE. (More information here, should you wish it.) And that means I needed to redefine the 13 Icons as, of course, the 12 Olympian gods, because hey, Alexander the Great won. And indeed, erected “altars to the Twelve Gods” on the banks of the Hyphasis River, the eastern edge of his empire.
The 13 Olympikons In Play
So leaving aside the question of “Who?” we get to the question of “What?” What do the Olympikons do in my game that the Icons don’t, and vice versa? Let’s start with the common factors: like the Dragon-Imperial Icons, the Olympian Ikons have a wide network of worshipers, priests, and other agents from the Seleukid dynasty claiming descent from Apollo to the various cults, mysteries, and temples all over the Mediterranean and points east. Most cities have at least one patron god (Syracuse’s are Athena and Apollo, plus there’s a big temple of Zeus just south of the city), so the Ikons have even more helpers in the shape of city governments and armies. It’s even more fun than it sounds, because the Olympians wound up with so many weird responsibilities in their portfolio: Poseidon is not just the god of the sea, but of horses, earthquakes, epilepsy, watchfulness, and even (as Poseidon Phytalmios) gardening. (For everything you could ever want to know about any figure of Greek myth, hie thee to theoi.com.)
Another thing that’s cropped up in play is the very Greek notion of the gods speaking and working through the players: we’ve already had Apollo justify a player’s 6 on the relationship die by inspiring his tongue to talk down a Spaniard. Greek gods loved to appear in dreams and oracles, so I can always drop one in if I like. Even then, given the sheer number of Ikonic interventions needed with six players (even on an average roll, that’s two or three interventions in one session, and my players do not roll average dice) we’re also adopting a house rule: if the player or the GM can’t think of something cool (or hasn’t yet) for your 6 to do during the game, you can take a +2 to something your Ikon plausibly might help you with. For clerics, that’s likely just casting a spell, but the Amazon might turn her 6 on the Artemis relationship die into a +2 to hit with a spear or bow. So far, a 5 likely gives you a +1 in similar fashion, although I’ll probably put a twist in the tail of a roll like that.
Some potential Ikons just flow together: Asklepios is the son of Apollo, so he becomes a major agent of the Ikon Apollo; Pan and Dionysos have that wild-man feel and patronage of satyrs in common, so they’re both aspects of the same Ikon. The campaign world is pretty human-centric, so the explicitly inhuman Icons like the Orc Lord wind up as aspects of godly humanist Olympians (the Orc Lord sounds pretty Ares-ish to me, although the Romans did explicitly identify Hades with their deity Orcus). Again, we’re letting that stuff emerge in play — we’ve decided that the Apollonian royalty of Hyperborea make pretty good elves, for example, at least on a mechanical basis, so the Elf Queen is likely an aspect of either Apollo or his woodsy sister Artemis.
In my game, if Alexander conquered you, your gods got subsumed into Olympian Ikon-hood: Melqart of Tyre becomes Heracles, for example, and Isis becomes Demeter. (Herodotos identified her as such; he also equated Osiris with Dionysos, Horus with Apollo, Amon with Zeus, and Bast with Artemis, among others.) That does leave a number of grumbly foreign gods: so far, I can reveal that Moloch (aka Baal-Hammon) of Carthage and Saturnus in Rome have not at all accepted their demotion. In our history, Zeus and his ilk eventually collaborated with the Romans and got subsumed in their turn into Jupiter, etc., but that’s 150 years away in my game and may not happen, depending on just how epic our epic tier gets. But that, as they say, is in the lap of the Ikons.
In the latest episode of their chert-monopolizing podcast, Ken and Robin talk Dreamhounds One-2-One, tradecraft in the news, how Robin runs games and Cahokia.
In the latest episode of their impeccably shelved podcast, Ken and Robin talk improv GUMSHOE, Ken’s London book haul, our libraries and Ralstonism.
We’re looking for GMs to run our games at Origins Game Fair and Gen Con 2017!
If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at either of these shows, please email Cat Tobin at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following info:
- Convention name
- Your name
- If you have one, a nickname, alias, or online handle that gamers might know you by (e.g. cthulhuchick, Heavy Metal GM)
- Your convention-registered email address (if different from the email you’re using to contact us)
- Number of 2-hour games you can run (13th Age only)
- Number of 4-hour games you can run
- Preferred days and times for your games to run, using this format:
- 13th Age Thursday 16th June 16:00-18:00 EST
- Small Things (Seven Wonders) Wednesday 15th June 09:00-13:00 EST
- Secret of Warlock Mountain (DramaSystem) Thursday 17th August 14:00-18:00 EST
- Night’s Black Agents Friday 18th August 16:00-20:00 EST
- Whether you would like to run a Pelgrane-provided adventure, or one of your own
- Your t-shirt size
GMs will get our new 2017 t-shirts, meet up with our game creators, and receive special Pelgrane swag!
At midnight on 13th January 2017, we are increasing the GB pound prices in our webstore. This article explains how we calculated our new prices, and some of the reasons for the increase. For a full breakdown of the reasons behind this price increase, see my previous article, Brexit and Price Adjustment.
Why Adjust the Prices?
Before I get into our methods of calculation, I’ll quickly cover the reasons for the price change and how it affects our customers. This is entirely a financial decision. Almost all of our trade is in US dollars, and we account for most of our income and expenses in dollars. So, when the GB pound fell in value against the US dollar after Brexit, our income in dollars from the mail order store declined, because all our non-US and Canadian sales are in GB pounds. We’ve paid our US printers in dollars to ship every book we sell from our mail order store, so not only are we making less money gross on every sale, our fixed costs remain steady in dollars, and are now higher in pounds, so we make far less net margin.
I’ll give you an example. On 13th January 2016, you could buy a 13th Age Core Book for £29.95. At the time, this was US$43.37 – compared to a USD price of $44.95. On 13th January 2017 (the day I am writing this article), that same book, selling at £29.95, is worth US$36.23. Tomorrow, after the price change, the new price of £34.95 will be worth $42.21. If you are a UK customer, you’ll be paying £5 more, and we’ll get slightly less in dollars.
The Effect of This Change on Our Customers
The impact of the price change compared with last year’s prices depends on where you live. If you live outside the UK, there will be almost no difference in the average price you pay for our products in your currency, compared with what you paid this time last year.
US and Canadian customers
The US dollar prices are unchanged.
After the price change, customers will be paying almost the same in euros as this time last year.
This time last year, the 13th Age Core Book would have cost you €40.07. Today, the same book would have cost you €35.13. Tomorrow, it will cost you €40.99.
UK customers will be paying an average of 17% more in pounds for our books than last year. After the increase, we’ll be making about the same amount from UK sales in dollars as we were in January last year.
For most of our customers, there is very little change, compared with this time last year. The pound is at a historic low against a basket of currencies.
Here are a couple of examples:
- This time last year, the 13th Age Core Book would have cost Australian customers AUD61.39. Today, the same book would cost you AUD49.11. Tomorrow, it will cost you AUD57.31 – significantly less than last year.
- This time last year, the 13th Age Core Book would have cost customers in the Czech Republic 1077 Kč. Today, the same book would cost you 926 Kč. Tomorrow, it will cost you 1081 Kč – pretty much the same as last year.
To work out the values for your currency, get the conversion rates here.
How We Calculated our Prices
Historically, our UK prices have been based on the approximate exchange rate between the $ and £ at the time the product was released. This means our current UK prices are not consistent with the UK prices of historic products. So we’ve taken this chance to make our pricing more consistent across the board.
The first thing we did was pick an exchange rate: 1.28 USD/GBP. This currently favours non-US customers, and shows a certain optimism on our part.
Then we rounded the figures to .95 and 50p. We weighted the rounding towards the nearest pound because 50p prices don’t sell as well. Any price 40p or below was rounded down; 60p or above, rounded up.
The we applied a “Magic Nine” formula. Magic Nines are prices where the significant digit ends in a 9, like 19.95, 29.95, and 39.95. So we rounded prices near these values up or down as appropriate. We didn’t adjust prices around the 9.95 mark, because the impact to the price was too great. Numbers ending in 7 and 8 were rounded up to 9, and numbers ending in 0 or 1 were rounded down to 9. The combination of all these measures lead to a an average 17% increase. For comparison, if we hadn’t applied this formula and had instead just gone for a Round to Nearest 50p /.95 there would have been an average of 20% increase in the prices.
Revisiting our 13th Age example, the US$ price is $44.95. We divided this by the exchange rate (1.28), to get a value of £35.12. When we rounded the figures to .95 and 50p, this produced the new price of £34.95 – an increase of 17% for UK customers.
If anyone is interested in the Excel formulae, email us for more details.
Stone Skin Press and Dying Earth
Stone Skin Press books and some of the earlier Dying Earth books have UK prices printed on them, so they remain at their former price.
If there is a significant fluctuation in the dollar / pound exchange rate which we believe will last, we will adjust the exchange rate, and apply the updated formula again to get new prices. We’ll let our customers know in advance, so they can either chose to hold off from buying our books (if the prices will decrease), or chose to buy at that point (if the prices will increase), to take advantage of the change.