In the latest episode of their serpentine podcast, Ken and Robin talk player plans, the Black Dahlia, CCTV vs weirdness, and Moorish sovereign citizens vs Yig.

Come Learn With Us!

Below is a complete list of Pelgrane Press seminars that will be featured at Gen Con 2017. All will be located in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Pennsylvania Station B. Registration for these and all other events will open May 28th. See you there!

 

Thursday 1:00 PM – Gaming Saves the World

How do we translate our experiences as gamers into productive expression, activism & persuasion? Join us as we look at the map, hash out the tactics, & min-max our way out of the darkest timeline.

 

Thursday 4:00 PM – One GM, One Player Masterclass

GMing for one player, or playing solo with the GM, poses a special set of challenges. The design team behind Cthulhu Confidential teaches the tricks & techniques of this intense, rewarding format.

 

Friday 11:00 AM – 13th Age Monster Workshop

Join seasoned 13th Age designers to build a brand-new monster that takes advantage of the game’s mechanics to deliver some nasty surprises at the table.

 

Friday 1:00 PM – Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff

Robin D. Laws & Kenneth Hite talk roleplaying, history, conspiracy, occultism, writing, food, movies & whatever you ask them about in this live edition of their award-winning podcast.

 

Friday 4:00 PM – Dramatic Interaction MasterClass

Robin D. Laws & guests teach structures & techniques to turn emotional confrontations between PCs from frustrating roadblocks into rich moments of human drama.

 

Saturday 2:00 PM – Swords, Spies & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel

Join Simon Rogers, Cat Tobin & others from the Pelgrane team for a behind-the-scenes look at what the award-winning UK publisher’s been up to this year, & what they’ve planned for the coming year.

 

Saturday 4:00 PM – Investigative Roleplaying MasterClass

Mystery scenario masters Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, & Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan train their magnifying glasses on clue-gathering adventures to reveal the unlikely suspects behind your tabletop woes.

 

Gaming

Though the deadline to be included in the printed schedule has passed, we are still accepting GMs to join our Gen Con crew! If you’re interested in running a game with us, get the details here.

 

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It’s a busy time for travel, with both Simon and Cat away at a remote Polish castle being wizards, and Cat now off to Edinburgh to be a guest at Conpulsion Battlegrounds. Alex has coped admirably with being dropped into managing everything, and she’s settling in impressively well. She’s currently working on the art direction of Out of the Woods, our new adventure collection for Trail of Cthulhu. You can get the pre-layout version when you pre-order it this month – and for the first time, we’re trialling a simultaneous release of the PDF and the print version.

 

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In a flu-ravaged episode of their 100% malediction-free podcast, Ken and Robin talk dude PCs in Amazon land, Bulgarian occult, cursed places and 30s LA cults.

The Armitage Files is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking adventure of improvised Mythos investigation.

Cthulhu Confidential is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking game of solo Mythos investigation.

Putting two groundbreaking products together is hazardous for Gamemasters. You run the risk of collapsing the ground beneath you.

However, the risk can be worth it: improvised play supports the deep investigative dives of one-on-one play.

Improvising On The Run

In a Trail of Cthulhu game using the Armitage Files, the Keeper can take advantage of the times when the players are arguing or speculating amongst themselves to plan ahead and decide on what the players might find when they follow the next clue. While the players argue whether or not they can trust Austin Kittrell, the Keeper feverishly reads over the Sinister and Stalwart versions of the Kingsport Yacht Club that Kittrell mentioned and decides which incarnation the players will encounter.

There are few such downtimes in one-on-one play. You can stall the player by giving them a handout such as a new Armitage Letter, but mostly the game will be relentless investigation and action. (There’s a reason that Cthulhu Confidential scenarios tend to be longer and more intricate than regular Trail games.) The best approach is to study the Armitage Files material thoroughly in advance, internalising it as much as possible so you can decide on the fly to connect the Yacht Club to the Nophru-Ka Panel, which of course means a visit to the Anthropologist and he can see invisible horrors clinging to the investigator which means you’ll need to set up an invisible horror encounter before the player gets there…

Sketch out potential plots and connections in advance. Identify (or ask your player) which clues are most likely to come up in the next session, work out two or three follow-ons from each clue and then pick the most appropriate one in response to player decisions. It’s a gamemastering high-wire act.

Where possible, bend the plot around the protagonist. The Armitage Files includes several handouts that reference player characters by name (Document 3, Document 4, Document 6, Document 9) – but is otherwise light on personal connections to the investigators. After all, in a regular Trail of Cthulhu campaign, there’s every chance that one or more investigators will perish before the end. That’s not the case in Cthulhu Confidential, so take advantage of the protagonist’s privileged status to ensure that the mystery revolves around them. (For those fill-in-an-investigator’s-name gaps in the handouts, put the investigator’s name in one of them and fill the others with Sources and compelling GMCs.)

Look For Solid Ground

Cthulhu Confidential uses cards to track Problems and Edges and to give detail and texture to the character’s experiences. Instead of just losing four Health, the investigator might have been Clawed by a Deep One or Punched by Butcher Brown or Fell Down A Hole – each of which causes an injury, but has different consequences and solutions. In a regular scenario, these cards can be designed in advance because the GM knows the likely encounters lying ahead. In an improvised campaign, this approach is reversed –  design the cards, and then improvise encounters that lead to those cards. For example, if you’ve prepared the Fell Down A Hole problem or the Mob Tie edges, then look for ways to push the protagonist into a pit or get a favour from a mobster. Prepare a stack of Problems and Edges in advance and look for ways to bring them in (start with the Mythos Problems articles by Robin, as well as the Generic Edges and Problems in the Cthulhu Confidential appendix and build from there.)

Of course, improvised games always include unexpected events, so have a stack of blank cards to hand that you can fill in when warranted. Mark important plot twists and consequences by turning them into Problems and Edges.

For Problem cards, include specific ways to remove each Problem. For Edge cards, note exactly what benefit it gives and when it can be cashed in. Be as concrete as possible – if that Mob Ties edge gives you a bonus when dealing with mobsters, then that’s a prompt for the Gamemaster to include some mobsters to justify the Edge’s existence. (Improv thrives on constraints and prompts.)

Problems and Edges usually arise as a result of challenges; have a copy of the Challenge Difficulty table on p. 45 of Cthulhu Confidential to hand while running the game.

The Armitage Sources

The various academics and scholars in the Armitage Inquiry make excellent sources for most topics. Between them, they cover virtually every academic investigative ability imaginable, with non-academic assistance provided by the redoubtable Mrs. Pickman and Dr. Sprague. With so many professional abilities available through sources, the obvious route for the protagonist is to concentrate on practical investigative abilities like Streetwise and Evidence (although any of the usual Cthulhu Confidential protagonists could be used in an Armitage Files campaign by transplanting them to Arkham country.)

Dreadful Correlation

To reiterate – running an improvised One-2-One game isn’t easy. Don’t pick up the Armitage Files and assume that you’re good to go. In a conventional improvised campaign with multiple players, the Keeper has a whole group to riff off and steal ideas from. Here, it’s just you and one player, alone in a whirlwind of possibilities. Running this sort of game will be tough and exhausting – but it will also be a genuinely terrifying experience for one lucky player.

 

“We have digressed on these matters, not out of a desire to criticize Herodotus, but to show that wondrous tales tend to prevail over truthful tales.”

— Diodorus Siculus (c. 60 BCE), anticipating John Ford by 2,000 years

Not that we normally have any truck with wondrous tales here in this here column, no sirree. But the exigencies of running a 13th Age campaign set in the Hellenistic era (323-30 BCE) and more specifically in 273 BCE, mean that a wondrous tale will do us nicely. Or perhaps thirteen wondrous tales, starting with seven wonders.

‘Nuff said.

Seven Wonders, No Waiting

The poet and travel writer Antipater of Sidon first (c. 180 BCE) described and listed the Seven Wonders (a pun on themata, or “marvels,” and thaumata, or “magics”), but even he only got around to it forty years after the seventh one fell down. All seven Wonders only co-existed for about fifty years, from the completion of the Lighthouse at Pharos, in 282 BCE, to the destruction of the Colossus of Rhodes in the earthquake of 226 BCE, but that’s plenty of time for fighting giant apes on top of the Pyramids or a demi-lich in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

Gigantic Warships

The rival monarchs built plenty of Imperial Destroyers for their various clashes of titans on the wine-dark sea. Demetrios I of Macedon (r. 294-288 BCE) had a 16-bank ship with 2,000 crew, which the Romans found hidden in a harbor in Macedonia 80 years after he died. Ptolemy Philopator, Macedonian pharaoh of Egypt (r. 244-205 BCE), built a twin-hulled warship with 40 banks of oars, seven rams, and room for 2,750 marines. It was 80 feet high and 420 feet long, with a crew of over 4,000 sailors and rowers.

Archimedes

Archimedes (c. 290-212 BCE) designed a catapult for one of those super-ships that threw a 120-lb. stone 200 yards. He also designed a giant claw that picked up ships and smacked them around, and a giant mirror that burned ships at sea. (He did so.) Who doesn’t want a super-genius who invents calculus and ship-killers in their game? Other mad Hellenistic weapon designers include Philo of Byzantion (c. 280-220 BCE) who built a chain-driven repeating crossbow, and Kteisibios of Alexandria (285-222 BCE), who built a compressed-air cannon.

The City-Killer

Hey remember Demetrios I? He built a 13-story tall siege tower called the Helepolis (“City-Killer”) for the Siege of Rhodes in 305 BCE. Loaded with 16 catapults (including one that hurled a 180-lb. projectile) and weighing 160 tons, it was only brought down by the ingenious work of Rhodes’ engineer Diognetos, who cunningly flooded its path so that it mired itself in mud. But how did he find out its path? Perhaps your player characters got the plans, one rogue in particular …

The First Superhero Crossover

Gardner Fox and Stan Lee got nothin’ on Apollonios of Rhodes (c. 300-230 BCE) who came up with the idea of teaming up all, or most, of the great Greek heroes in his blockbuster poem Argonautika. (Theseus was trapped in Hades, and I guess Perseus was with another studio.) Imagine playing the team of heroes who look back on the Argonauts as their Justice Society — or, if you’d rather, imagine unfreezing Jason from an iceberg in Thule and having him lead a new team of avenging heroes.

Sea Monsters

Antipater of Sidon also mentions a fifty-foot sea monster that washed up on the beach, possibly near Athens, to be found by the fisherman Hermonax. He calls it a skolopendra, which at the time probably meant a creature that could vomit up its own bowels to void a fish-hook, but now means a giant centipede. Fifty-foot giant sea centipedes, anyone?

A Star-Finding Super-Computer

In either 205 BCE or 100 BCE or another year entirely, a ship went down off the coast of the island of Antikythera. On board was a magnificently intricate and weird device, all clockwork gears and counter-weights, escapements and cams, which probably existed to predict eclipses and planetary patterns but maybe it didn’t. People are still arguing about just what the “Antikythera mechanism” was and whether there were more of them so it might as well be the brain of a warforged or the spell-store of a math wizard like Archimedes or just a wonderful 13th Age-style magic artifact. Maybe it was a really intense escalation die.

Weird Sky Cult

Alexarchos (350-290 BCE) believed that he was the incarnation of the Sun and wore its power like a helmet, and he invented his own crazy version of Greek and sent letters to rhetoricians demanding that they use it instead of regular Greek. Unfortunately, they couldn’t just ignore him, because he was the brother of King Cassander I of Macedon (r. 305-297 BCE) who may have poisoned Alexander the Great so don’t get him mad. So Alexarchos was urged to found a “City of Heaven,” Ouranopolis, on the slopes of Mount Athos, and everyone tried to forget about him and his cult compound in between weirdly spelled letters.

Pirate Women

The Illyrians, unlike the Greeks, didn’t have any hangups about women warriors. (One of Alexander the Great’s half-sisters was Cynane, a fighting cavalry princess of the Dardanians.) And their favorite way of war was piracy, because their fast, light ships named libyrnae (after the Liburnian tribe of Illyrians) were capable of taking on even heavy quinquiremes and winning, and because it pays better. It paid so well that the Romans got into a scuffle with Queen Teuta of the Ardiei tribe (r. 231-227 BCE) who defended the rights of all her subjects to loot anyone they liked, including Roman ambassadors, which did not in fairness end well for her. But light fighter ships crewed by pirate women vs. immense behemoths full of armored Zeus-troopers — tell me this isn’t a fantasy tale from a long time ago and far, far away.

Voodoo Dolls

The Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri, as modern scholars call them, begin accumulating in the 2nd century BCE in Alexandria, and boy do they have everything: demons, invocations to the gods, love potions, summonings, stage magic, possibly a prismatic spray of some kind, and oh yeah voodoo dolls. Lots and lots of magic incorporated into figurines that received baths in various eerie ingredients or were made from unlovely substances, then associated with something of the target’s and buried — in swamps, graveyards, caves … pretty much everywhere in the Hellenistic world there’s a tiny evil cursed doll waiting for you.

A Gate To Hades

Near the city of Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale, Turkey), founded in 190 BCE, a hole in the ground held not a hobbit but a gateway to Hades. Called the Ploutonion, its exhalations of deadly gases killed everyone who went in except the priests of Cybele and, one hopes, the priests of Plouton (the Greek name for Hades when they didn’t want to tempt him to kill them with deadly gases). Pilgrims would toss birds or other animals into the cavern as sacrifices or get high off the fumes and hope for a dream-vision from the dark god, a practice called incubatio. Other gates to the Underworld existed around the Hellenistic Mediterranean, but this one was the newest and therefore the neatest.

War Elephants

Who doesn’t love war elephants? Despite their very iffy performance in actual battles, they were the M1 Abrams of the ancient world: tough, fast, immense, and terrifying to people without fireball spells. They wore armor and spikes on their feet and tusks, and threw foes around with their trunks. Seleucus I Nicator (r. 321-281 BCE) thought they were vital enough military resources that he traded his eastern provinces to Chandragupta Maurya for 500 elephants, and he was no slouch. For more elephantine inspiration, see the Oliphaunt in Lord of the Rings, or 1 Maccabees 6.

Snake-Legged Giants

For no reason anyone can tell, in 334 BCE the Greeks suddenly started depicting giants as having snakes for legs, rather than human limbs. These anguipede giants may have come from Persian or Scythian myth, and they show up in Etruscan art as early as 500 BCE. But the Greeks, up until the beginning of the Hellenistic era, staunchly refused to hear, write, or depict anything of the sort — and the mainland Greeks kept up the tradition of human-legged giants even as anguipedes took over temple after temple in Asia (especially the Gigantomachia frieze at Pergamon, 190 BCE), Italy, and Africa into Roman times. Hunting down a new gigantic Icon seems like a great adventure … and if the “snakes” are actually tentacles, well, I know another game that can tackle gigantic hybrids of man, octopus, and dragon. But let’s try 13th Age first, shall we?

In the latest episode of their tapas-strewn podcast, Ken and Robin talk vampires in Asturias, Slenderman, plot immunity and Glenn Miller.

THE SORCERER

By ASH LAW

In this series by ASH LAW, we feature two different builds for every 13th Age character class, at all levels. ASH suggests how the builds might be used, and offers tips on playing each character. Stats are based on the point-buy method, and the characters have no non-standard elements.

Last week we introduced the Arcane Sorcerer. Today, it’s a new build with a draconic spin.

DRAGON SORCERER

Download the Dragon Sorcerer character sheets here.

This sorcerer build is all about being as dragon-like as possible, and resisting energy attacks.

The build’s focus on breath weapons means that the sorcerer works best when close to the action (but not too close).

This sorcerer can resist energy attacks, so can move to the frontline against enemies whose damage it can shrug off. Otherwise it is best darting in and out of the battle, avoiding being pinned down and taking out multiple enemies with its breath weapon. Your metallic protector talent lets you resist energy as a quick action so do it as soon as you spot energy attacks being used (or you suspect that they might be), and use your resist energy spell to grant the same resistance to your allies. At epic tier you also gain once-per-day resistance to demon and dragon attacks—useful if you’ve gained dragon or infernal enemies.

Your talents make you optimized for breath weapons, so use them—even if you blow them on low-level mooks early in the adventuring day it you’ll have still saved the resources of the rest of the party. As a dragonic you get a once-per-battle breath weapon—if you run out of sorcerous breath you can still use your racial breath weapon.

When this sorcerer fails to recharge a breath weapon it is sometimes better to gather power and hope that the breath weapon recharges in time for it to be cast empowered on the following turn.

Your familiar is a small dragonette—make regular use of your familiar’s random abilities, it is your third talent and while not as useful in combat as other talents has lots of out of combat applications. At 4th level this sorcerer learns ritual casting, so keep imaginative non-combat uses of breath weapons in mind when playing this character.

 

Talents

Chromatic Destroyer

Keep multiple breath weapon spells active at the same time.

Metallic Protector

Improves chances of re-using breath weapons.

Sorcerer’s Familiar

A small dragonette with the flight ability, and one random ability that changes each day.

 

Race

Dragonic, obviously.

 

Attributes

Charisma and Constitution are important sorcerer attributes: Str 8, Con 16, Dex 12, Int 8, Wis 10, Cha 20.

 

1st level

Attributes: Str 8 (-1) Con 16 (+3) Dex 12 (+1) Int 8 (-1) Wis 10 (0) Cha 20 (+5)

Racial Power: breath weapon

Talents: chromatic destroyer, metallic protector, spell sorcerer’s familiar

Feats: metallic protector

Spells: breath of the white, burning hands, chaos bolt, resist energy

 

2nd level

New spell (scorching ray), new feat (chromatic destroyer).

 

3rd level

New spell (breath of the green), level-up spells (breath of the white, resist energy), new feat (burning hands).

 

4th level

+1 to three attributes (Charisma, Dexterity, Constitution), all spells now 3rd level, new feat (ritual casting).

 

5th level

New spell (breath of the black), level-up spells (breath of the white, breath of the green, resist energy), new feat (chromatic destroyer).

 

6th level

New spell (swap scorching ray for dragon’s leap), all spells now 5th level, new feat (breath weapon).

 

7th level

+1 to three attributes (Charisma, Dexterity, Constitution), new spell (breath of the blue), level-up spells (breath of the white, breath of the green, breath of the black, dragon’s leap), new feat (metallic protector).

 

8th level

All spells now 7th level, new feat (chromatic destroyer).

 

9th level

New spells (breath of the void), level-up spells (breath of the white, breath of the green, breath of the black, breath of the blue, dragon’s leap) new feat (metallic protector).

 

10th level

+1 to three attributes (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom), all spells now 9th level, new feat (breath of the blue).

In the latest episode of their fourth wall shattering podcast, Ken and Robin talk metagaming, food crimes, and Ken’s Bay Area book haul.

Ripped from the history books, here’s a great choice the next time you’re asked to create a Trail of Cthulhu player character: Bessie Coleman, aka Queen Bess, pioneering African American aviator. An active protagonist if ever there was one, she taught herself to fly when neither women nor black people were supposed to do so. So she went to France to get her pilot’s license, dated two years before Amelia Earhart’s. Unable to get conventional piloting work back in the states, she returned to Europe to learn barrel rolls and other aerobatic techniques, then toured the US as a popular barnstormer. Coleman forced promoters to desegregate her audiences, and turned her back on a Hollywood career when asked to play a stereotypical role.

(In some of her publicity shots, she bears a striking resemblance to Janelle Monae. Somebody call somboedy’s agent.)

History tells us that she died in an air accident in 1926. Those of us steeped in horror adventure can see the flaws in that story, in which she allowed her mechanic to fly the plane, and it went out of control due to a literal wrench left in the engine case. A little too on the nose, surely—clearly she’s signaling to those in the know that she’s faking her own death. And if she’s doing that in ‘26, clearly she has to drop from sight to settle some business with Nyarlathotep.

That’s her backstory when it comes time to play her a few years later, in the Trail era.

Pilots can be a little hard to work into the action of a standard multiplayer game. As a GM you might build a Cthulhu Confidential series around her, with lots of aerial Challenges and problem solving. She speaks fluent French, so one of her globe-trotting Mythos-busting cases could take her to Paris to rub elbows with the Dreamhounds of the surrealist movement. Chauvinists like Andre Breton and Luis Buñuel might not know what to make of her, but a romp into Unknown Kadath with Gala Dalí and Kiki de Montparnasse might be just the thing. Perhaps she would also insist on taking Josephine Baker along, too. I’m sure she’ll be entirely careful while buzzing Mount Hatheg-Kla in the butterfly ornithopter Kiki has dreamed up for her.

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