[Contains a mild spoiler for the most recent episode of Discovery…]

A note on tone in Ashen Stars invites you to think of it as the gritty reboot of a beloved TV space opera show from the past.

Enough episodes of Star Trek: Discovery have dropped to see that it is very much reading out of the gritty reboot playbook.

This raises the question: what kind of model does it give us for Ashen Stars scenarios?

Discovery asks itself how many of the bedrock assumptions of past iterations you can strip away and still have a Trek show. In particular they’re taking out the bits that made it SF comfort viewing: the overlit old school TV look, the absence of conflict between main characters, the idealized view of humanity in the future.

My guess is that if the show survives long enough to execute its overall arc, its intention is to withhold and then restore all of the above except the wash lighting.

Plus new photon f-bombs, of course.

Another element the show has switched out is the structure. In place of the episodic, space mystery of the week setup we’ve seen before, the show uses the structure pioneered by J. J. Abrams in Alias. Procedural problem-solving still plays a key role, but now comes second to serialized emotional drama. As is common in so many post-Alias shows, the drama can take up most or all of the fourth act, with the problem of the week dispatched at the end of act three.

Discovery still uses the device in which an investigation leads to a moral dilemma which must be resolved to bring the story to a conclusion. You see this in the most recent episode, “Choose Your Pain,” where Burnham uses her Xenobiology ability to realize that the ship’s experimental propulsion system is ethically insupportable.

This introduces a conflict with the episode’s action-oriented plot thread, the resolution of which leads to dramatic scenes in which pairs of main characters make or grant emotional petitions, as seen in Hillfolk.

In other words, I’m glad to live in our dimension, where Modiphius and not Pelgrane has the Trek RPG license. In the mirror universe where that is reversed, alternate me has to finally figure out how to fully merge GUMSHOE with DramaSystem!

In the latest episode of their visionary podcast, Ken and Robin talk monsters made for mysteries, searching for Templar treasure in Iceland, setting Trail of Cthulhu in your hometown, and William Blake.

In the latest episode of their coastally fortified podcast, Ken and Robin talk Toronto film fest, D&D resurgence, Byronic vampires, and Barbary Pirates.

The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring Fire and Faiththe last Battle Scenes collection for 13th Age; One For the Money, the first Langston Wright PDF adventure for Cthulhu Confidential, Ravensrodd horrors, choosing 5th ed vs 13th Age, plus drone playtesting.

It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!

I’m working on the (somewhat delayed) first draft of Night’s Black Agents One2One, provisionally titled SOLO. These vampires nearly featured as the villains, but for various reasons, they got cut. Here’s the salvaged text, plus their standard NBA stats.

The Conspiracy

They are the Sinful Elect, damned to immortality through sin. Each of them committed some terrible transgression in life, and were transformed into vampires as reward or punishment. Their numbers are limited; there are only a hundred or so of them at any time, and while they can create lesser vampires by feeding their blood to mortals, they cannot create more creatures like them. Until one of the immortal Elect perishes by violence, another cannot be created.

So, a hundred immortals; a hundred damned monsters, a hundred unchanging faces in the flowing tide of mortality. They band together for protection against mortals, and for company against the loneliness of immortality. Each vampire has its own domain, its own networks of servants and agents; there is no overarching conspiracy, just a network of largely independent cells. At times, the vampires even war with one another, but that risks exposure to the mortal world, and so they have fallen into an uneasy peace.

Hunger and the desire to escape damnation unite them all. These vampires must feed on blood to survive, and to prolong their unnatural lives. And as every one of them has transgressed in some way, they all have reason to fear damnation.

Type

The Sinful Elect think of themselves as Damned vampires, but really they’re closer to Supernatural or Alien monsters.

There is something out there, beyond our reality. Think of them as demons if you wish, or higher-dimensional aliens. Their dimension intersects obliquely with ours. They can only sense humanity as an undifferentiated psychic mass, a nigh-uniform spiritual sea. The demons extend – they are outside time as we know it, so the present tense is the only one that can apply to them – tendrils towards us, searching for purchase. They can only catch hold and take root when they find some soul that is different enough from the rest to stand out.

That is why, historically, vampires are associated with monstrous tyrants and mass murderers. Killing lots of people is enough to put a spiritual mark on one’s soul, a psychic abscess that the demons can detect and colonise. Other forms of transgression – or, more accurately, other ways that people might differentiate themselves from the rest of humanity – can also work. A genius artist, an iconoclast, a sailor drifting alone in the ocean, hundreds of miles from another living soul might equally draw the attention of these demons.  You don’t have to be a mass-murdering monster to make inadvertent psychic contact with an alien psychic monster from another dimension, but it helps.

Only a hundred or so tendrils connect the demons to our dimension, one tendril per vampire. When a vampire is destroyed, the tendril recoils, then fumbles for another distinct mind to latch onto. Killing a vampire, therefore, condemns someone else nearby to demonic immortality. Over the course of a few days, this new anchor for the demons sickens and seems to die, as the psychic poison transforms them.

Most vampires are unaware of their demonic nature; only a few have ever discovered the truth about their condition, although more have glimpsed something of it in ecstatic visions or bloody portents.

Play the Elect as “regular” vampires for the most part – the demonic element is a plot device to break the vampire Conspiracy into bite-sized cells suitable for an episodic game.

The Demon Connection

It’s up to you how much the demonic aspect of vampires plays into your game. You can ignore it almost entirely, and play the Elect as “traditional” vampires with a religious gloss. You can use it as flavour, dropping in the occasional psychic episode or glimpse of strange, terrible creatures reaching in from another dimension. You can use it as an ironic mirroring of the clandestine worlds – just as a spy is alone in a foreign city, serving the mysterious goals of an unseen agency with many other connections and agents, so are the vampires servants of mysterious forces beyond human comprehension.

Later in the campaign, you can use the demonic connection as a way for the player to strike at the root cause of vampirism.

What Do The Demons Want? This may become a key question later in your campaign. Is there a single demon-thing out there, or several? Is the creature sentient in a way we can understand? Are vampires an accidental side effect of the demon’s fumbling psychic contact with humans, or a deliberate malign creation? Is the demon really a fallen angel, or an alien entity?

Spread

The Conspiracy is primarily a European phenomenon – whoever vampire zero was, whoever first made contact with the demons, it was someone in Eastern Europe, and the curse spreads by proximity. When one vampire dies, another is chosen from the people nearby. In recent centuries, though, the vampires have spread out across the world, and the Conspiracy is global in reach.

Numbers

There are around one hundred true vampires – 144 is believed to be the upper limit of the vampiric population, although the Conspiracy proper usually has only 80 or so active members, with the remainder either cut off from the organisation or unwilling to work with their ‘siblings’.

A vampire can create lesser progeny by feeding its blood to mortal victims. These “half-vampires” have a lesser suite of vampiric powers. Progeny decrease the power of the parent vampire – in effect, the progeny share the same supernatural connection to the extradimensional demon as their parent, splitting the creature’s unholy blessing between them. Lesser vampires can’t create progeny of their own, and they perish instantly if their ‘parent’ is killed. Progeny aren’t seen as true vampires and aren’t included in the numbers listed above. Only a few vampires bother to create offspring, and even fewer keep them around for long.

Variations & Divisions

There are several sub factions within the Elect. These factions ebb and flow depending on which vampires are in ascendancy, and the names used to refer to them change over time, but presently the following have currency. These are loose groupings, and a vampire might belong to two or more factions at a time, or drift between them.

  • The Chamber: Vampires of the Chamber manage the Conspiracy. They believe that vampires need to stay hidden from humanity to avoid hunters and extermination, and the best way to do this is to work together and exert as much control over mortal governments and institutions as possible. The Chamber has huge financial and logistical resources, but spends most of its efforts cleaning up after the excesses of other vampires instead of advancing some larger agenda. The other vampires often dismiss the Chamber as a cabal of dull bankers and bureaucrats, always fussing about trivial matters.
  • The Dominionists: These vampires claim that they have the right to do whatever they please to humans. Just as Adam was granted dominion over all the beasts of the field by God, they believe that the Elect have been given authority over all mortals. The Dominionist vampires are monsters by any measure, perpetrating all manner of atrocities. Most of their members committed mass murder in some form before becoming a vampire.
  • The Eremites: Eremite vampires while away the centuries with their own private obsessions and projects. Some Eremites prefer to keep a low profile, living out one pseudo-mortal life after another, and only dealing with other vampires when the Chamber calls on them. Others have embarked on some century-long scheme to achieve a cherished goal – to safeguard the borders of their old kingdom, to destroy some religious group they despise, or to discover some occult secret.
  • The Seers: The vampire Seers seek the truth about their condition. They are aware that some supernatural force animates and connects them, and that this force can be invoked or commanded through occult means. Unlike the lone Eremites, the Seers work together, pooling their knowledge and resources. The two main lines of inquiry for the Seers are mental disciplines to establish contact with the demons through meditation and psychic training – and alchemy, to create mind-expanding drugs that make it easier to perceive the demon world. They refer to their demonic masters/higher selves as secret kings, guardian angels or immanations.

Life & Death

A new vampire is created when an existing vampire is killed, opening up a place among the Elect – and leaving a tendril of demonic influence that isn’t latched on to a human host. This tendril attaches itself to a suitable candidate within a few hours, grabbing someone who is in some way spiritually distinct from those nearby. The demon’s otherworldly senses seem most attuned to those who believe themselves to be already damned; murder, in particular, leaves a distinct patina on the soul. However, there are no restrictions on who the demon might choose to invade, and one might equally pick a child, a saint, or an ordinary person who happened to think an unusual thought in the instant the psychic tendril brushed over their mind.

Once infested by the demon, the victim dies of apparently natural causes within a few days, and then rises from the dead as a vampire. To survive, the vampire must feed on human blood regularly. The appetite of a vampire varies from specimen to specimen, but few can go more than a month without feeding. Initially, the vampire appears human – it retains physiological traits like a heartbeat, warm skin, respiration, the ability to eat food and so on, but the passage of time strips these away. It’s the vampire’s psychic connection to the demon that sustains it, and that connection exists in the brain, so the brain is all that really needs to survive. Unless the vampire takes steps to maintain itself – drinking more blood and exercising its physical prowess – the human body withers, leaving only the monstrous brain in a grotesquely mutated shell, a leech-thing that can only suck blood and slither.

Killing a vampire requires the destruction of the brain – hence cutting off the head being the traditional method of destroying the creatures. Younger vampires perish if they cannot feed; the stake through the heart cuts off the blood supply to the brain, while placing a stone in the creature’s mouth prevents it from eating, both of which starve the brain of blood. Older vampires, though, are so ravenous for blood that it overcomes mere anatomy, and can grow new hearts or new mouths in order to indulge their thirsts.

Cure

Theoretically, it’s possible to cure a victim of vampirism by severing the psychic connection to the extra-dimensional demon before the victim dies. The only known way to do this is to present a more attractive candidate within a few hours of initial contact, before the demon has attached itself firmly to its new host. (That’s attractive according to the lights of alien demon horrors with a very warped perspective on humanity, of course; a demon might prefer the mind of serial killer to that of an ordinary bystander).

Powers

All vampires are preternaturally resilient, and hard to destroy through injury. Most also have some form of psychic ability – some can control the minds of others, or hypnotise with a glance, or become invisible by blanking the perceptions of those around them. The vampire’s powers grow with age.

Weaknesses

Only older vampires are afflicted by sunlight, although strong light does attenuate the vampire’s connection to the demon and blocks the use of some powers.

General Abilities: Aberrance 10, Hand to Hand 8, Health 10, Shooting 8, Weapons 4

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +2

Damage Modifier: +1 (bite), +0 (fist or kick) or +1 (firearm)

Armour: -1 (tough skin). Vampires who have lost their human form and degenerated into monsters are Rubbery.

Free Powers: Infravision, No Reflection, Spider Climb, Vampiric Strength, Regeneration (regains 1 Health per round, but must spend Aberrance at a one-for-one exchange range to ensure its regenerated flesh appears human-like)

Other Powers: Mental Attack (psychic blast), Magic, Vampiric Speed

Banes: Fire, Garlic, Sunlight, Silver

Blocks: Garlic, Hawthorn

Dreads: Fire

Requirements: Feed

 

by Steven Hammond

Back in 2011, Pelgrane ran its first crowdfunding campaign and the Black Book, a GUMSHOE character creation tool, was born. Since its release the original code has been maintained on a voluntary basis by the very busy Pelgrane webmaster John Clayton. The Black Book has done its job, but it’s now time for a new implementation, which incorporates innovations such as Shock and Injury cards, which are begging for a digital implementation to really shine.

I am excited to announce that Northland Creative Wonders has reached an agreement with Pelgrane Press to take over the Black Book character tool, modernize it and turn it into a product that can sustain its own ongoing maintenance and development. All of the current Black Book features will continue to be freely available to all, with a new look and better support for phones and other small screens. More advanced features, like GM character matrices and Shock and Injury cards, will be available with a nominally priced subscription.

I will talk about some of those advanced features in a future post; right now, I want to talk about our design process and how you can help.

Understanding Users

In order to make good software to solve a problem, you need to understand how users solve that same problem without your software. Asking users how they solve that problem often doesn’t provide the information you need; sometimes users aren’t aware of all of the steps in some activity, they might accidentally exaggerate or deprecate the extent of an issue, and they tend to ask for specific solutions rather than identify problems. And those solutions are frequently limited by the user’s current process or their understanding of what is possible.

So what does a designer do? Certainly not ignore users and assume you know better. Instead, you look for evidence of what they actually do and scour that evidence for ways you can make things better.

If you have the resources you can do focus groups and user testing. With fewer resources, you can do user interviews. But even then, you are hoping to see demonstrations or artifacts, anything to give you more insight than the user can verbalize.

How You Can Help

Fortunately in gaming we have a ready artifact to study — character sheets. We want to see your GUMSHOE character sheets. What we want most to see is pictures or scans of used paper sheets; with all of your marks, erasures, and doodles. We think we can learn the most from those. We also want to see your digital sheets, and your custom sheet designs.

To share these with us you will want to go to https://shammond42.typeform.com/to/gQ3L7s. That form will ask for your e-mail address, any comments you have on the sheet you are submitting and a button to upload the sheet. E-mail address is optional, we will only use it if we have questions about your sheet, send you a prize (see below) or to send you an invite to the new app when it is ready.

Once we have reviewed the sheet submissions, we will contact people with the most interesting sheets to discuss them further.

What’s in it for You

We have a pair of $15 gift vouchers to the Pelgrane Press online store. Every sheet uploaded with an email address will be an entry in the draw. You have to provide your email address to enter – otherwise, we can’t contact you if you win.

The upload site will stay open until October 15, 2017.

What Happens Next?

We will go through all of those sheets and user discussions to see what we can learn. That learning will lead into the design of the new character sheet in the Black Book. We will also share the sheets and our findings with Pelgrane as they think about redesigning their print character sheets.

From there, we will begin the process of building the rest of the app. It is too early to talk specific schedules now, but I hope to be sharing more progress and insight with you as this project moves forward.

A column about roleplaying

By Robin D. Laws

Work on the Yellow King Roleplaying Game has been chugging along since the Kickstarter closed in July. A master document containing the elements of Absinthe in Carcosa is now in the hands of hand-out artist extraordinaire Dean Engelhardt. In the months ahead he’ll be transforming them into a unique and stunning presentation of the setting sourcebook format. Art direction is well underway for the four books that comprise the core game.

The first playtest round, focused on Paris, is now in progress, with actual play reports beginning to filter out into places like the GUMSHOE Facebook community.

With Absinthe turned over to Dean, I’ve turned my attention back to completing the core game. This task entails both the three remaining introductory scenarios and the many stretch goals crowdfunded by you (or gamers like you.)

Here’s a taste of the latter—a few of the GMC profiles from the Occultists of the Belle Epoque stretch goal.

Did you miss the Kickstarter? The Yellow King Roleplaying Game Pre-Order exists just for you.

Camille Flammarion

Astronomer and Science Fiction Writer

53, 1842-1925

The polymathic Camille Flammarion crosses not only the streams of science and spiritism, but throws the arts in for good measure. He believes both in evolution and the transmigration of souls, continually improving as they find new incarnations throughout the universe. His science fiction titles, such as Lumen and Imaginary Worlds, envision alien life from a naturalist’s perspective. Like Albert de Rochas he applies the scientific method to parapsychological research. Since souls go to other planets after death, he reasons, manifestations at séances must emanate from the extra-sensory powers of the mediums who conjure them. Always ready to write a foreword or appear at an occult talk, he might be found in the corners of any event held by any other figure in this chapter.

Physically his mane of white hair, incisively cocked eyebrows and flowing Van Dyke underline his grand old man persona.

As a Patron: Flammarion might recruit the heroes to round up copies of the book, drawing on his contacts in the scientific and occult communities.

Alexandre Saint-Yves

Synarchist

53, 1842-1909

Joseph Alexandre Saint-Yves, the Marquis d’Alveydre, invented the term synarchy to refer to the secret rule of mankind by occult masters. He believes that Abraham and the Hindu deity Ram are really the same figure, a primordial lawmaker and father of all peoples. Though the surface world has lost touch with the truth, millions dwell in Agarttha, a subterranean realm benevolently overseen by a trinity of rulers: a Brahatmah (God-soul), Mahatma (Great Soul) and Mahanga (Great Path.) It relocated underground, far below the plateaus of Tibet, during the Hindu dark age three thousand years ago, protecting its people and advanced technology from encroaching disaster. He knows this because he communicates with Agartthan officials telepathically.

The Marquis claims the power of astral travel. When characters ask about it, he proves notably stingy with the details.

He writes the popular Mission series of books in which various groups are issued instructions for bringing about the synarchy on the surface world: Mission to the Sovereigns, Mission to the Jews, and so on. When not occupied with synarchy he studies possible commercial applications for seaweed.

Saint-Yves became independently wealthy through marriage and was granted his title fifteen years ago by the Republic of San Marino. Describe him as a dour-looking man with a thick, pensive mustache.

Charles Richet

Physiologist and Parapsychologist

45, 1850-1930

A gaunt man with searching eyes, the physiologist Charles Richet studies a range of medical subjects and is destined to win the Nobel Prize for his work on anaphylaxis. His interests range from aviation to theatrical writing. The investigators however will care most about his role as a scientific psychic investigator. Last year he coined the term “ectoplasm” to describe the strange material mediums produce during séances. He believes that paranormal powers exist but will all be rationally explained through scientific inquiry, without the need to invoke spirits or an afterlife. In our reality, he falls for, and in at least one case helps to cover up, hoaxes perpetrated by mediums. In the universe of the Yellow King, he might instead fail to see the supernatural causes behind their effects.

Richet dedicates himself to pacifism, eugenics and hardcore racism, especially against blacks. Calibrate the way you deal with these last two according to your group’s desired level of unsavory social realism.

Léo Taxil (Gabriel Jogand-Pagès)

Conspiracy-Promulgating Con Artist

41, 1854-1907

Setting a pattern unknown to our own innocent age, pundit Léo Taxil (real name Gabriel Jogand-Pagès) masterminds a convoluted series of hoaxes, in which he appears to ricochet between extreme ideologies, selling books and calling attention to himself all along the way. He started as an anti-clerical rabble-rouser, writing books that mock Biblical inconsistencies or depict Catholic ecclesiastics engaged in Sadean debauchery. He infiltrated occult circles, convincing Jules Doinel (above) and others that he was one of them.

Ten years ago he staged a public conversion to Catholicism, tarring Freemasonry with similar sensational slanders. Taxil is the one who took Levi’s famous image of Baphomet and forever associated it with Satanism. He described a global conspiracy, the Palladium, led by a Masonic worthy of Charleston, South Carolina named Albert Pike. Three years ago he published the best-selling The Devil in the 19th Century, introducing to the world the reformed Satanist arch-priestess Diana Vaughan. Anecdotes include her encounters with incarnate demons, including a crocodilian specimen that plays the piano. He is now writing her first-person book of prayers and confessions.

Two years from now he will announce a press conference with Vaughan, at which he instead reveals that it was all a hoax. Reverting to his original persona, he says he has been showing the stupidity of the Church’s fear of Freemasonry.

But that’s the historical timeline. Might the ambient madness of Carcosa cause thoughtforms of the demons described in Taxil’s books to realize themselves?

A land that is thirstier than ruin
A sea that is hungrier than death
Heaped hills that a tree never grew in
Wide sands where the wave draws breath.

— Algernon Swinburne, “By the North Sea” (1880)

At some point around 1230 (perhaps during the “St. Luke’s Storm” of 1228 when the people of London saw “dragons and wykked Spyrites” in the storm wind) the action of the North Sea against the shallows on the southeast coast of Yorkshire threw up “stones and sand” to make an island probably to the east of a long sandbank at the mouth of the Humber Estuary. That sandbank is now “the Spurn” but the Vikings called it Ravenser (“raven’s tongue”) and a port of the same name appears on and off in history at the northern end of “the Neck” which connects the Spurn to the mainland such as it is of Yorkshire. Fishermen dried their nets there, then they stashed their boats there, then they traded without a lot of pesky taxation there, and by 1240 the Count of Aumale built a fortification on the island, which by that time was a “borough” named Ravenser Odd (an “odd” being Norse or Danish for a spit or point of land), or Ravenserodd, or Ravensrodd, or just Lod.

Map of the Humber mouth, 1595

In 1251, the Count obtained a charter for an official (taxed) market and fair, adding a (taxable) quay in 1297 and another in 1310. At its height, 100 ships called there per year (officially), and the town had 300 buildings, among them windmills, a tannery, a court, a prison (and gallows), and a chapel of Our Lady. Ravensrodd gained a royal charter in 1299, which came in very handy during its neighbors’ incessant lawsuits against it for piracy. In fact, another version of the town’s history says it began with a shipwreck, and was founded by the captain of that ship, one Peter-at-Sea (or Peter de la Mare), who began “convincing” other ships to land at Ravensrodd (“by fear and force”) instead of continuing on to Grimsby or Hull.

However it began, it ended just about as rapidly. The great storm of 1334 drowned “two parts” of the town and eroded the island badly; by 1351 the chapel and cemetery had drowned and looters carried off the chapel’s gold and silver ornaments. In 1360 the island was abandoned, the property owners feebly attempting to get writs against fishermen salvaging wooden beams from drowned buildings. The “St. Marcellus’ Flood” of 1362 (also called the Grote Mandrenke: “The Great Drowner of Men”) completed the job. In 1400 the walls of Ravensrodd could still be seen at low tide, but not long after that even the location of Ravensrodd was forgotten.

Trail of Cthulhu: The Shadow Over Ravensrodd

“… that town of Ravenserodd … was an exceedingly famous borough devoted to merchandise, as well as many fisheries, most abundantly furnished with ships …. But yet, with all inferior places, and chiefly by wrong-doing on the sea, by its wicked works and piracies, it provoked the wrath of God against its self beyond measure.”

— Thomas de Burton, Chronicle of Meaux Abbey (1396)

A mysterious island rises from the waves, becomes immensely profitable in gold and fish, then “by its wicked works” it drowns again. One hardly has to stretch to cast Ravensrodd as a medieval Innsmouth, destroyed by God rather than by J. Edgar Hoover. The Ravensrodd versions of the Marshes and Gilmans include family names such as: Barell, Selby, Brune, Cotes or Cokes or Coas, Rottenherring (meaning “red herring”), Keeling, Ferby, and perhaps most excitingly de la Pole, who married into not only the royal House of York but the poetic Chaucer family.

These families mostly removed to Hull in Yorkshire after Ravensrodd went down, or in some cases well before, buying up choice properties and investing in towns as far north as Whitby. So a Keeper looking for weird connections in Hull might begin with the mysterious (dream-driven?) suicide on December 6, 1924 of housebreaker Edward “Fanlight Jimmy” McMahon. McMahon apparently hanged himself in gaol despite having no motive to do so, after breaking into a house on Chariot Street. What did he see there that he couldn’t forget, or that Something wanted him to keep silent about?

Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers might also want to look into the murders in Hull of prostitutes Margaret Lowson (1966) and Evelyn Edwards (1967). One Samuel Stephenson (a stereotypical serial killer, down to the letters to Scotland Yard) confessed to Lowson’s murder and was convicted of it, but Edwards’ remains officially unsolved. The other Deep One spoor that decade is the Hull triple trawler tragedy: three trawlers out of Hull sank in January 1968, one of them only a day out of port.

NIght’s Black Agents: The Ravensrodd Inheritance

“… the inundations of the sea and of the Humber had destroyed to the foundations the chapel of Ravensrodd, built in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that the corpses and bones of the dead there horribly appeared …”

— Thomas de Burton, Chronicle of Meaux Abbey (1396)

As I mentioned, the port of Old Ravenser goes back to Viking times or before, beginning as a monastic hermitage in 600 or so, a Danish invasion port in the centuries that follow, and reduced to only one manor house by 1400. At some point perhaps the monks drove something out into the sea, something that raised its own island and spread its own foul influence, trying to supplant the Counts of Aumale (all six of the Countess of Aumale’s children predeceased her; the line became extinct in 1274) and lurking in the manor house until the chapel drowned.

That something is the Danish vampiric spirit called the nikke (mentioned as the neck or nykr in the Director’s Handbook, p. 233). It might appear as a horse or as a bearded man or as a beautiful woman or youth. (In human form it has a slit ear, or a dripping wet garment.) Its “true appearance” may be that of a worm with blood-sucking tendrils. It surfaces every so often to work its wiles or slake its thirst in Hull: William Bolton kills Jane Allen in her flat in Andrew Marvell Terrace on October 17, 1902, stabbing her three times and himself once in the neck “in his sleep.” Six years later Thomas Siddle deprives himself of food, cuts his wife’s throat with a razor on June 9, 1908, stands stunned at the crime scene, remains insensible in prison, claims “something came over me; I only realised what I had done when blood was on my hand” …

Nikke

General Abilities: Aberrance 16, Hand-to-Hand 8, Health 10

Hit Threshold: 4 (above water), 6 (under water)

Alertness Modifier: +1 (at edge of water), +2 (on the water), +3 (under water)

Stealth Modifier: +2 (when not singing)

Damage Modifier: +0 (grasp; damage first to Athletics then to Health)

Armor: -1 (subcutaneous scales) or Corpse

Free Powers: Drain (drains air and blood from lungs, as Heat Drain), Regeneration (2 Health per round in water; all damage by next high tide), Strangling Grasp (as Lamia; NBA, p. 151)

Other Powers: Musical Enthrallment and Musical Madness (both as Mental Attacks; NBA, p. 131), Turn to Creature (Horse, Snake); Apportation (to its lair or to anywhere touched by its waters), Clairvoyance (everywhere touched by its waters), Dominate, Howl (when in the presence of a future drowning victim), Magic (Call Storms, Multiply Fish), Mesmerism, Necromancy

Banes: saying its name

Compulsions: sell magic to those who pay for it with “three drops of blood,” accept a coin dropped in water in lieu of a life

Blocks: iron knife or a steel fire-striker

Requirements: drown or drain humans, remain in or near its waters by day

by Rob Heinsoo

I’ve known editors who agonize over the placement of a comma in a card game rulebook ten years after the game released . . . and other editors who nodded knowingly when I told the stories as what I thought was an example of caring way too much! My own nibbling regrets, years after a book is published, often have something to do with the way I wasn’t able to make final text live up to the art.

Unlike my comma-troubled editor friends, I’m able to follow-up! So today’s column has monster stats meant to capture the spirit of the nasty centaur lancer devoted to the Lich King pictured on page 36 of the first 13th Age Bestiary. That’s him below, in war paint blessed by necromancers.

When I commissioned this art from Rich Longmore, I intended to have a number of centaur champions devoted to different icons in the centaur entry. The lancer with the Lich King’s symbol on his shield was going to be one of four or five icon-focused warriors. But then the story and the mechanical design went in a different direction. I used text about devotion to nasty icons to account for Rich’s illustration, but I had the lingering feeling that I’d let the art down by providing generic stats.

Well no longer. The nigh-dead lancer that follows counts as an elite monster, half-again as tough as a normal monster (see page 7 in Bestiary 2 for a discussion of elite creatures and page 303 for a Building Battles table that accounts for them.)

About these elite stats: If you look carefully at the lancer’s stats, it won’t look tougher than most other 5th level monsters. It counts as elite because when it dies, the Lich King’s power transforms it into another undead creature, ready to fight on against the enemies that ended its life.

The math here is interesting. Both the living and undead versions are normal-strength monsters. They shouldn’t count as double-strength because you only fight one at a time. They also shouldn’t count as only a single monster because you’ll have to fight two, one after the other. I’m guessing that splitting the difference is right, hence the designation as elite.

Level choice: I put the new creature at 5th level instead of 4th for a few reasons. First, I wanted to team the nigh-dead lancer up with 5th level wraiths (13th Age core book, page 250). Second, I figured I might as well give you a centaur one level higher than the existing lancer instead of duplicating stats. So I rewrote several mechanics. If you want to use it as a regular 5th level creature instead of elite, just skip the death unmasked ability. Likewise you can use both the zombie centaur and the wraith lancer as standard 5th level monsters.

Punishing option: If your game table is anything like mine, you may want to pronounce this creature’s name as ‘neigh-dead’ lancer. It’s neigh-dead. Until it is.

 

Nigh-Dead Lancer

Your death or its, both work.

Elite 5th level troop [humanoid]

Initiative: +11

 

Terrible lance +11 vs. AC—17 damage, and the target pops free from the centaur

Hit ’em hard: The crit range of the attack expands by 2 and instead deals 22 damage on a hit if the centaur first moves before attacking an enemy it wasn’t engaged with at the start of its turn.

Natural 18+: The nigh-dead lancer gains the ability to make a single kick attack as a quick action later this battle; these uses can accumulate.

 

Kick +11 vs. PD—7 damage, and the target pops free from the nigh-dead lancer.

 

R: Horse bow +10 vs AC (1 nearby or faraway enemy)—14 damage

 

Death unmasked: When the nigh-dead lancer drops to 0 hit points, even if the PCs say they’re only trying to knock it unconscious, it dies. Roll a d6, add the escalation die, and replace the nigh-dead lancer with the indicated creature. 1-5: zombie centaur; 6+: wraith lancer. The new creature keeps the same initiative as the now-dead lancer.

Harnessed speed: The nigh-dead lancer gains a +4 AC bonus against opportunity attacks.

AC   21

PD    18                 HP 64

MD  17

 

Zombie Centaur

Faith isn’t always fully rewarded.

5th level wrecker [undead]

Initiative: +7 (but uses nigh-dead lancer’s initiative if that’s how it entered the battle)

Vulnerability: holy

 

Flailing hooves +10 vs. AC (2 attacks)—8 damage

Natural even hit or miss: Both the zombie centaur and its target take 2d6 damage!

 

Headshot: A critical hit against a zombie drops it to 0-hit points.

AC   18

PD    18                 HP 100

MD  14

 

Wraith Lancer

Destroy this creature utterly, or it’s bound for the marshalling grounds of the Necropolis.

5th level spoiler [undead]

Initiative: +11 (but uses nigh-dead lancer’s initiative if that’s how it entered the battle)

Vulnerability: holy

 

Wraith-lance +11 vs. PD—13 negative energy damage

Natural 2-5: Target is weakened until the end of its next turn.

 

C: Spiral charge +11 vs. PD (1d4 nearby enemies)—13 negative energy damage, and after the attack the wraith lancer teleports to and engages with one target it hit

Limited use: The wraith lancer can use spiral charge only when the escalation die is even.

 

Flight: The wraith lancer hovers, zooms, and stampedes mid-air.

Ghostly: This creature has resist damage 16+ to all damage except force damage, which damages it normally. It can move through solid objects, but it can’t ends its movement inside them.

AC   19

PD    15                 HP 70

MD  16

 

In the latest episode of their absolutely above-board, honestly run, no dice-shaving podcast, Ken and Robin talk clipjoint towns, WWI spies, Nicole Lindroos and NASA bacteria balloons.

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