In the latest episode of their monumental podcast, Ken and Robin talk worldbuilding without Machiavellians, the mammoth bone temple, Mythos Detroit and the First Sino-Japanese War.

The holiday season is quickly approaching and we’re looking forward to spending quality time with family and friends. The Pelgrane office will be closed from December 25th through January 1st.

Holiday Shipping Dates for the US and Canada

Orders placed by December 3rd should be received by December 24th, but this cannot be guaranteed. Because we ship via media mail from Nevada, orders to the west coast will arrive sooner than orders to the east coast.

If using USPS Priority or UPS/FedEx Ground, place orders by Thursday, December 10th to arrive by the 24th.

Our US shipping point will be closed on December 24th and 25th.

Holiday Shipping Dates for Europe and the Rest of the World

  • Within the UK and Europe, most orders under 2kg will ship post. Orders heavier than 2kg, e.g. two hardback rulebooks, will generally ship by parcel carrier.
  • Outside Europe, post generally works best up to 5kg, and then parcel carriers take over.
  • Our non-US shipping point will be closed from December 25 through January 1.
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Please note that these dates are estimates. We cannot guarantee delivery by a particular date, and we suggesting ordering as early as possible. If you have any questions or need more information, please contact us at support@pelgranepress.com.

In the latest episode of their well-fortified podcast, Ken and Robin talk playing Mutant City Blues now, Fort Cumberland, the Maryhill Museum, and the Unicorn Killer.

Spooky maskWhen running a most improvised scenario (either something as ambitious as the Dracula Dossier or just riffing off a paragraph or two of notes), One Useful Trick is to have a copy of the investigative ability list for your game to hand, and check off abilities as you call for them or the players use them. That lets you see at a glance which abilities you haven’t yet used in play.

Then, look for opportunities to bring in other abilities. Treat it as a prompt, a challenge – “what’s the easiest narrative route in the game from this moment to the action hinging on Art History or Pharmacy or Flirting?”

Often, in improv play, you fall back on the sort of scenes that you’re most comfortable with; I can riff mysterious murders, spooky locations and sieges off the top of my head, but need to remind myself to do interpersonal scenes, crowds, or car chases.

Prompting yourself to bring in abilities you don’t instinctively default to is a great way to vary the scenes in your game. The players in my current Night’s Black Agents game, for example, are much more comfortable hanging back and observing, either by blending into the crowd, perching on rooftops, or getting full value out of all those points invested in Data Retrieval, Electronic Surveillance and Digital Intrusion. Tracking the abilities used reminds me in the heat of play to put in more interpersonal scenes, forcing them to use messy touch-feely abilities like Reassurance or Intimidation.

A neglected ability doesn’t have to be central to the game, of course. If you’re trying to bring in, say, Astronomy, you could just mention that the characters knows offhand that tonight will be a moonless and especially dark night; often, reminding players that they have a particular ability will start them thinking about ways to use those assets.

Don’t neglect General Abilities, either. If no-one’s used Cover or Disguise in a while, try to drop in some obstacles that require those abilities.

In the latest episode of their well-structured podcast, Ken and Robin talk narrative payoffs, the US election, QAnon, and game designer / paranormalist James "Herbie" Brennan.

 

For the “Mr. Wilde’s Wild Halloween” one-shot of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game I ran recently on Twitch, I knew the action would open with the investigators heading to a party. To fit both the occasion and the reality-bending theme, and to demonstrate to the audience how Shock and Injury cards work, I decided to kick off by giving the characters the chance to partake of recreational drugs. The existing cards that fill this role are themed specifically to drunkenness, and appear in the Paris sequence. The contemporary This Is Normal Now setting called for cards with titles that could refer to a broader range of substances.

The cards from the existing pair are also a touch on the complicated side, calling for more rules explanation than I wanted to get into. So I created a pair of cards with simpler mechanics and titles fitting a wide range of mood-altering substances. You too may find these useful in your game.

Characters avoided these cards by scoring Difficulty 4 Health successes.

If you watched the game you may recall that only Cat’s character failed, taking the minor card, “High.” I gave it a relatively easy and common discard condition in the hope that the audience would get to see it removed. Which is what happened, so I owe the Actual Play spirits a solid.

Unlike “Tipsy”, the minor card in the drunkenness pairing, “High” lacks the “Non-lethal” tag. You could add it back in if you prefer. However, with harder drugs you can easily rationalize why a dose gone awry could finish off a character who has already sustained multiple injuries. Even a safer drug might turn out to be laced with something fatal, or exacerbate existing wounds, should “High” occur as a Final Card.

Like “Tipsy,” you’ll note that these are Injury cards, not Shock cards, reflecting the characters’ decision to ingest a recreational poison. Their minds might be altered, messing with their Focus tests, but by a chemical rather than emotional source.


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.

In the latest episode of their rigorously tabulated podcast, Ken and Robin talk machine politics in F20, the Chicago Film Festival, abandoned president heads, and a different Shah.

by Kevin Kulp

As mentioned when we looked at Conan, it’s fun to see how a hero you know translates into Swords of the Serpentine. Let’s take a look at two ways to play Michael Moorcock’s classic antihero Elric of Melniboné using the SotS rules.

You’ve probably heard of Elric or seen pictures of him even if you’ve never read Moorcock’s work: skinny with long white hair and red eyes, cloaked in black armor, wielding the soul-devouring blade Stormbringer. The naturally frail Elric uses Stormbringer’s power for health and strength, as the blade’s fell magic replaces the expensive alchemical potions Elric used to take to survive. Sure, Stormbringer tends to kill and drain the soul from anyone Elric likes or loves, but isn’t that a small price to pay?

(As a hero, Elric might be a tiny bit flawed. *cough*)

There are a few aspects of Elric that we want to capture when we recreate him as a Swords of the Serpentine hero.

  • Stormbringer eats souls and is hard or impossible to get rid of
  • Emperor Elric is a noble sorcerer who summons demons and gods to do his bidding, but is also manipulated by them (especially by his patron god of chaos, Arioch)
  • He’s weak and frail unless he consumes rare and expensive alchemical supplements, or unless his sword Stormbringer consumes souls to heal him

Option One: Elric, Sorcerer of Demons and Blades

In this option we create Elric as a sorcerer who has the spheres Blades, Chaos, and Demonology, all affecting health. We don’t give him a single rank of Warfare. “But Kevin,” you ask, “Elric spends all his time stabbing people with Stormbringer! What gives?”

Good question. If you want to play Elric your first inclination is probably to ask the GM for a magic sword like Stormbringer. Problems are that you haven’t done anything to earn it, SotS a game about your own personal capabilities and not those of your items, and you don’t want to risk so iconic an item being lost, destroyed, stolen, or taken away by the GM.

Stormbringer

There’s an easy solution. SotS is predicated on “your abilities define your capabilities, and you describe those capabilities however you want.” Use Sorcery instead of Warfare, select the Blades sphere, and describe your attacks as swinging Stormbringer. You decide the fate of anyone you defeat, so when you defeat someone announce “their souls are devoured by my sword.” Flavorful, tragic, and effective.

Narratively, Stormbringer is a pitch-black demon-sword with red runes; mechanically it’s just the form your Sorcery damage takes. You attack using Sorcery, your base attack does 1d6+1 damage to Health, and you can boost damage with Investigative spends as normal. This is very different from (say) D&D’s approach to magic items, but fits right into how Swords of the Serpentine handles player narrative control.

Elric’s Demon-Summoning

For this version of Elric, demon-summoning ancient gods is handled with the normal Sorcery rules alongside the Demonology sphere. You may choose to save your Corruption spends for particularly powerful demon-summoning to emulate Arioch or other gods laying waste to your enemies for you. You probably gain your sorcerous power from Elric’s patron Arioch, God of Chaos.

Frail Health

So how do we handle Elric’s frail Health? Here we may need to ask the GM for a house rule.

“How do you feel about me losing one point of Health every new scene (until I reach -5 Health), and to balance this I’m healed one point of Health for every Refresh token I create when killing enemies?”

Is it fair, balanced, and fun? The GM considers this and says yes (the effect is similar to the mace Lifedrinker on page 189 of Swords of the Serpentine’s Adventurer’s Edition) – and adds that you could also spend 2 Repute each adventure to procure rare alchemical drugs that would pause your Health loss for the adventure.

Option One’s Elric

Name: Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné

Mournful, Frail, Albino, Regal, Introspective

Drives: Blood and souls for my Lord Arioch!; All the books, ALL OF THEM; Balancing between Law and Chaos

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3, Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Morale 8

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 10 vs. Health; Damage Modifier +1 (Stormbringer/Blades, Chaos, Demonology)

Offense – Sway: Sway 3; Damage Modifier +1 (haughty)

Investigative Abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 3; Corruption 3, Forgotten Lore 1, Leechcraft 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 1; Ally: Sorcerous Cabals 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 6, Preparedness 3, Stealth 3, Sorcery 10 (Blast), Sway 3

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Health) Blades; Chaos; Demonology

Gear: Distaste for your degenerate culture; patron gods who manipulate you; a head full of powerful summonings; a black-bladed, rune-covered sword named Stormbringer; a frail body kept alive only by alchemy or magic; black plate armor; weighty responsibilities; far too many dead friends and lovers; a cousin who’s trying to overthrow you; red eyes, pale skin, and white hair

Special: You lose 1 Health at the start of every new scene, down to -5 Health; prevent this by spending 2 Repute per adventure on rare alchemical concoctions. When defeating adversaries with Stormbringer, you can drain their souls to heal 1 Health per Refresh token you earn.

Option Two: A Two-Hero Approach

Want to team up with a friend? One of you plays Elric… and one of you plays Stormbringer.

There’s no real reason why your Hero in Swords of the Serpentine can’t be a sentient sword. The main challenge to consider is “how does a sword exert its will on the world?”, and there are lots of way to show that. You might be able to fly, or have a human act for you, or possess others, or have limited nearby telekinesis. As long as you can still do the same sorts of things a human could, you aren’t bending any rules or creating a power imbalance. In this case, you settle on Stormbringer manipulating humans around it, or subconsciously communicating through its wielder.

If you and your friend want to play partners like Stormbringer and Elric, and your GM says okay, go for it. Maybe you even switch off every few games. Just make sure the player with Stormbringer feels like they are making a difference in the narrative.

Both Elric and Stormbringer are considered Heroes and each gets an attack during a round, making it look to enemies like Elric is an incredibly accomplished warrior. Delightfully, give Stormbringer ranks of Bind Wounds so that it can heal its wielder.

Option Two’s Elric

This Elric is almost the same as above, but with no Bind Wounds ability and 8 ranks of Warfare.

Name: Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné

Mournful, Frail, Albino, Regal, Introspective

Drives: Blood and souls for my Lord Arioch!; All the books, ALL OF THEM; Balancing between Law and Chaos

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3, Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (duty), Morale 8

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 8 vs. Health; Damage Modifier +1 (Blades, Chaos, Demonology)

Offense – Sway: Sway 3; Damage Modifier +1 (haughty)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8; Damage Modifier +2 (Stormbringer)

Investigative Abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 3; Corruption 3, Forgotten Lore 1, Leechcraft 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 1; Ally: Sorcerous Cabals 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Preparedness 3, Stealth 3, Sorcery 8 (Blast), Sway 3, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Health) Blades; Chaos; Demonology

Gear: Distaste for your degenerate culture; patron gods who manipulate you; a head full of powerful summonings; a black-bladed, rune-covered sword named Stormbringer; a frail body, kept alive only by alchemy or magic; black plate armor; weighty responsibilities; far too many dead friends and lovers; a cousin who’s trying to overthrow you; red eyes, pale skin, and white hair

Special: You lose 1 Health at the start of every new scene, down to -5 Health; prevent this by spending 2 Repute per adventure on rare alchemical concoctions. When defeating adversaries with Stormbringer, you can drain their souls to heal 1 Health per Refresh token you earn.

Option Two’s Stormbringer

Name: Stormbringer, a greatsword of power

Demon-haunted, soul-devouring, deceitful, deadly, hungry

Drives: Blood and souls for Lord Arioch!; keep Elric safe and victorious; destroy everyone Elric loves or cares for

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3 (demon-forged steel), Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (deviousness), Morale 8

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 8 vs. Morale; Damage Modifier +1 (Fear)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8; Damage Modifier +2 (razor-sharp blade)

Investigative Abilities: Intimidation 3; Corruption 1, Spot Frailty 2, Tactics of Death 4

Allegiances: Ally: Mercenaries 1; Ally: Outlanders 1; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General Abilities: Bind Wounds 6, Stealth 8 (Where’d It Go?), Sorcery 8 (Blast), Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Morale) Fear

Gear: Growing impatience, mollified by blood; envy of anyone Elric seems to care for; a burning joy of chaos; faded memories of being a free demon; a body shaped like a night-black blade with glowing red runes; knowledge of Elric’s terrible need; a shameful desire for partnership

Special: You can’t walk or fly, but if left behind you can use Stealth to reappear wherever you would like, including within your scabbard. You must swallow the soul of any creature defeated by your blade. You can only apply your Bind Wounds to yourself or your wielder. You have a subtle mental link with your wielder that allows you to communicate.

 


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, to be published in 2021. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

A valued customer asked: how to use GUMSHOE One-2-One, in its Cthulhu Confidential incarnation, to play Fall of DELTA GREEN? Mechanically, the One-2-One system works perfectly for DELTA GREEN play, ably handling the psychological disintegration and physical maiming expected of Agents with Problem cards. The investigative abilities also cross over neatly – I’d suggest the following abilities for the player character:

Agency, Architecture, Cop Talk, Flattery, HUMINT, Inspiration, Interrogation, Intimidation, Military Science, Notice, Streetwise, Survival, Tradecraft and Traffic Analysis, with the other investigative abilities allocated to Sources.

Add Bureaucracy to the list of General Abilities, so our hypothetical Agent has the abilities

Athletics 2, Bureaucracy 1, Conceal 1, Cool 2, Demolitions 1, Disguise 1, Drive 1, Filch 1, Firearms 2, First Aid 1, Heavy Weapons 1, Mechanics 1, Melee Weapons 1, Network 2, Pilot 1, Preparedness 2, Ride 1, Sense Trouble 1, Stealth 2, Unarmed Combat 2. (You could arguably keep Psychotherapy, but as its primary use is helping others, and you’re all alone… it’s probably not worth it.)

Sources & Bonds

Cthulhu Confidential has a supporting cast of recurring Sources who provide both emotional support and investigative abilities; Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, with its globetrotting adventures, has a Network ability and Contacts instead. The Fall of DELTA GREEN requires both. You can call up Contacts who’ll help out for one adventure, but you also have two or three emotional Bonds – people you care about. These people can be useful to your investigations – maybe your best buddy knows Chemistry, or your girlfriend has Art – but a Bond doesn’t have to have any Investigative Abilities.

In addition, you have a Bond with your DELTA GREEN Case Office – the recurring character who gives you your assignments.

If you pick up a Mythos Shock problem that would force your character to leave play at the end of the scenario, you can Burn a Bond, destroying your emotional relationship with that character. You can’t burn your Case Officer.

Sudden Death

Cthulhu Confidential recommends that the Gamemaster refrain from killing the protagonist; Langston may get shot, possessed or driven insane, but he’ll generally struggle on to the final scene before expiring, so the player gets to experience a satisfying story. The Fall of DELTA GREEN, though, is all about disappointment, misfortune and the unknowable nature of the Mythos – so more sudden deaths are perfectly in-genre. (After all, the player can always switch to playing another Agent investigating the disappearance of the previous character…)

All Alone Against The Mythos

So, why are you a lone DELTA GREEN Agent, instead of the usual cell of investigators? Some options:

  • Lone Globetrotter: It’s a lot easier for DELTA GREEN to get a single Agent out to a flashpoint than a whole team. You’re the first Agent in to investigate suspected Mythos activity. Your cover role is one that involves lots of travel (AFOSI investigator, CIA Operative, CDC disease hunter, FBN investigator, US Marshal, FBI Special Agent, journalist).
  • The Cleaner: You work directly for one of DELTA GREEN’s steering committee – you’re the trusted right hand of, say, Brigadier General Fairfield or Dr. Warren, and get dispatched to clean up messes or further your patron’s interests against rival factions on the Executive Committee or against the guys over in MAJESTIC.
  • Our Man in Havana: You’re DELTA GREEN’s go-to guy in a particular city or region; maybe you’re a CIA spy attached to the US embassy in Rome, or a Five Eyes SIGINT analyst in New Zealand who takes a lot of trips to isolated mysterious islands in the South Pacific…

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.

This weekend, Metatopia, the game design festival, has moved online! Register here until Sunday, November 8th at 6:30PM EST if you’re interested in catching up with some of the content. Here’s where you can find the Pelgranes in the mix (all times are in EST):

Friday, November 6th

9:00PM – 10:00PM
D044: Translating Non-Game Intellectual Properties To Games
Presented by James Lowder, Darren Watts, Daryl Andrews, Scott Woodard, Robin Laws. Licensing an intellectual property for your game is potentially both artistically and financially satisfying. However, the process of actually melding your design with the specifics of the property is a creative challenge, to say nothing of the perils of disappointing the fans! Our band of experts have worked with a wide range of IPs and will share what they’ve learned.
Serious, All Ages
Location: Concord

 

Saturday, November 7th

9:00AM – 10:00AM
D054: Games, Gamefeel, Vocabulary and Umami
Presented by James Wallis, Cat Tobin, Kieron Gillen, Jacob Jaskov. We all know how certain games feel in play and how they make us feel, but as designers and critics we don’t have a set of words to describe it. Do we need an experiential vocabulary of play, and what would one look like?
Serious, All Ages
Location: Concord

 

6:00PM – 7:00PM
D073: The 100 GP Pearl: Economics and Trade as Design Elements

Presented by Jason Pitre, Rob Donoghue, Emily Dresner, Kenneth Hite. Economics and trade have long been foundational elements of game design, from the hyperinflation of dungeon pillaging to the free traders of Traveller. In this panel, we discuss how these aspects can be used as the foundation for game mechanics and procedures. Don’t make me quote the rules of acquisition at you.

Serious, All Ages
Location: Concord

 

9:00PM – 11:00PM
D079: RPG Points of View

Presented by Darren Watts, Nicole Lindroos, Kenneth Hite, James Crocker. Explain This Lingo: Trad. OSR. Story Game. Lyric Games. And Indie, which shouldn’t be about design at all. OK, folks from the Forge. We know this gave you the vapors. It’s okay to go make yourself a cup of tea and skip this one. There are a lot of folks coming in who have missed a whole lot of RPG chatter, and we get questions about what the lingo means fairly regularly. We’re going to dip into what these mean and what each category brings to the table that can be stolen and repurposed elsewhere.

Serious, All Ages
Location: Concord

 

Sunday, November 8th

9:00AM – 10:00AM
D085: Building Better Character Connections
Presented by Cat Tobin, Becky Annison, Sharang Biswas. How to Design !More! !Drama! into your RPG! Some of the most satisfying role playing experiences come from the dramatic outcomes of emotional connections between player characters. We look at ways for tabletop and LARP writers to design for deeper character relationships and dynamics, to provide a structure for GMs to bring more of the good kind of drama to their RPGs.
Serious, All Ages
Location: Concord

 

12:00PM – 1:00PM
D091: Grow Your RPG Brand

Presented by Cat Tobin, Will Sobel, JR Blackwell, Christopher McGlothlin, Maz Hamilton. You’re an RPG designer now! That’s great, but now how do you get your awesome game in front of players who will appreciate it? How do you position yourself for future projects? Basically, how do you get your name on a game to mean something? Our panelists grapple with this sticky problem!

Serious, All Ages
Location: Concord
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