In the latest episode of their red-carpeted podcast, Ken and Robin talk blowing up the moon, weird 20s New York, and their fave films of 2018.

Standard GUMSHOE already treats Game Master Characters somewhat differently than player characters. Most notably, it advises that, in a fight, they drop at 0 Health, rather than going through the impairment thresholds that allow some PCs to keep going after hitting negative points.

The QuickShock GUMSHOE system, which debuts in The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, goes even further in separating the two types of character. For PCs, Health now bears no resemblance to hit points. Players use it to avoid certain types of injury outside combat. But they don’t risk keeling over when all their pool points have been spent. Instead you are too physically wounded to go on after you’ve gained 3 or 4 Injury cards. (This depends on whether the GM has chosen the tougher Horror mode, or the more forgiving Occult Adventure.)

Game Master Characters don’t collect Injury cards. The ones you choose to fight can die, if the group has chosen “Kill” as its objective. They can be hurt, if you have chosen “Beat Up.” The GM gives this condition story consequences, as needed, but it isn’t measured by numerically. (If later on you fight that Foe again, you could get an adjustment in your favor on the Difficulty number you’re trying to beat with your Fighting ability. That hardly ever happens, though.)

Outside of combat, the GM doesn’t use rules to determine whether GMCs suffer gruesome fates. That remains part of the narrative.

So when creating a Foe description, the designer distinguishes between

  • effects on investigators, as represented by Injury cards (or, in some edge cases, Shock cards
  • effects on GMCs, conveyed purely by description

The designer of a foe called a radiation beast might write:

Investigators coming within 15 m of the beast make Difficulty 4 Health tests to avoid Injuries, Minor and Major—Radiation Poisoning/Internal Bleeding. Other humans become faint and feverish, suffering hair loss and low blood pressure. Unless rushed to the hospital for treatment, they die. A Difficulty 4 First Aid success stabilizes all victims, keeping them alive without hospitalization for up to 12 hours.

Or the Foe designer can kick the question of how to handle GMC injuries to the Game Moderator:

Other humans sicken or die, depending on the needs of the scene.

Option 1 gives the players a way to interact with GMC injury, bringing in First Aid as a counter. Option 2 keeps flexibility in GM hands.

Whichever approach you take when writing up Foes, the bifurcation between PCs and GMCs is a factor that requires different thinking in QuickShock GUMSHOE than in other trad or trad-like games you may be used to.

Something to keep in mind when QuickShock joins the GUMSHOE SRD, not long from now.

Collage art by Dean Engelhardt


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.

Welcome to Mika!

Hello all! My name is Mika and I’m so excited to be here! I’m the new part-time Community Manager for Pelgrane Press and I look forward to tweeting with you. I’ll be handling customer service as well as some aspects of social media and general community engagement. Problems, questions, concerns? I’m your gal.

I’ve been playing TTRPGs since high school; I’m from the classic background of basement dwelling nerd. After a long running affair with exclusively board games, I returned to my first love and we’ve been very happy together. This is my first job in the industry and it’s a dream come true.

I’ve been working in customer service of one sort or another for almost a decade. I spend my non-gaming free time baking, crafting, petting cats, and scheming with close friends for our Next Big Thing.

I’m currently in Chicago but like to think that could change at any moment. Look for me at coming cons, I will be so excited to meet you. I’m pretty baseline excited all the time though, so be prepared. I look forward to helping you with all your Pelgrane needs and hope to grown an even stronger, more supportive community!

In the latest episode of their well-compassed podcast, Ken and Robin talk LARP TV, life before maps, word clusters and a disappearing airman.

In the latest episode of their disruptively electric podcast, Ken and Robin talk scooter charger culture, conspiracy literacy, misty vampires and Aldous Huxley’s Project Outsight.

In the latest episode of their superbly crosshatched podcast, Ken and Robin talk Edward Gorey RPGing, the Templarios, historical inaccuracy in flim, and Carlos Castaneda.

In the latest episode of their gravity-eating podcast, Ken and Robin talk Delta Green at the 68 Dem convention, Steven Hammond, 43 Group and an eldritch black hole.

A plot hook for The Yellow King RPG (This is Normal Now)

One or more investigators have a connection to teenager, Ayda, who comes to them for help. Her friend Carlos has retreated to his room and won’t come out. Last night his parents called a therapist to come over and coax him into seeking help at a facility. Still he refused.

Carlos isn’t having a mental health crisis, Ayda explains. It’s something much weirder than that. She’s heard that the investigators know about this stuff, and, against her friend’s instructions, is telling them what she knows.

Nearby in the neighborhood, in a mini-mall parking lot, stands the broken remains of a pay phone.

A few months ago, rumors started going round the local high school. If you listen to the phone, you might hear weird whispering voices. They sound distant and old-fashioned, the urban legend goes, like they’re reciting some Shakespearean play. Though not one that’s on the curriculum at school. The weird voices mention a king wearing a pallid mask, and someone named Cassilda. At the end it gets super perverse and awful, until you can’t stand it any more and fling the receiver away.

Then you’re doomed. Within a week, unless you convince someone else to listen to the phone and doom them instead, you die. A freak accident that pertains in some way to your personality kills you.

Cynthia Mortimer was the first to hear the voices. The expensive handbag she was so proud of and always boasted about got caught in the doors of a subway train, dragging her to her death.

Then Phil Campillo, a maniacally focused tennis player, got his head pulped by a bizarrely malfunctioning ball machine. They say he listened to the call to protect his girlfriend, Amy Washington, who couldn’t resist trying it out.

A week ago, a private investigator hired by Rich Danforth’s family was looking into the rumors and asking questions. He raised security dogs, and died when one of the stepped on his gun, releasing the trigger. Rich admits that he listened to the message, then chickened out and had his father hire someone to hear it in his place.

That’s how Carlos tells it, anyway. When Ayda asked how he learned all of this, she couldn’t pin him down. It’s like you just kind of know, right?

This is day six, and even though Carlos is staying away from everyone and everything, he can tell he’s next. Unless the investigators can figure out what’s going on and find a way to put a stop to it.


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 efficient yet lovable podcast, Ken and Robin talk less than competent PCs, Ashurbanipal, sympathetic protagonists and the eliptony of Jackie Gleason.

by Kevin Kulp

Pelgrane Press’s upcoming fantasy GUMSHOE game, Swords of the Serpentine, has any number of ways to be a hero.

Investigative abilities define the knowledge and abilities you use to gather leads and clues while adventuring. Swords of the Serpentine has shared General and Investigative abilities that are available to any Hero, but your character’s specialty is defined by their unique Class Investigative abilities.

The scale for Investigative abilities looks like this:

  • Rank 0 in an Investigative ability means you cannot use it to gather leads
  • Rank 1 in the ability makes you proficient at it
  • Rank 2 makes you an expert
  • Rank 3 indicates remarkable knowledge or talent
  • Rank 4 suggests you’re one of the best in the city
  • Rank 5 indicates you are one of the best in that ability that most people will ever meet

There are four loose classes: Sentinel, Sorcerer, Thief, and Warrior. Each class has four unique Investigative abilities each, and your choices here define what your Hero can do. Here’s what they look like.

Sentinel

As a Sentinel you may be a Church Inquisitor, a member of the City Watch, an informer for Eversink’s secret police, a scout for smugglers, or an inspector for the Mercanti. You typically have an eye for detail, an exhaustive knowledge of rules and regulations, and a keen sense for criminal activity (whether you encourage it or try to stop it!). Some Sentinels can sense ghosts and see into the spirit realm that overlays the true world.

Felonious Intent: you can spot warning signs of crime and criminal behavior

Laws & Traditions: you know the (often obscure) laws and traditions of wherever you live

Spirit Sight: you can see into the spirit realm, and may sense ghosts or Corruption

Vigilance: you notice tiny details others might miss, making you seldom surprised

Sorcerer

Sorcery may take a hundred different forms, but tapping into your true power is dangerous to your allies and deadly to Eversink’s patron goddess. Powerful sorcery causes Corruption, and Corruption is illegal in Eversink. If you wish to avoid persecution, you may have to limit your power or keep your skills secret. There’s no “good” magic when it comes to Sorcery; whether true power stems from the writings of the ancient and inhuman snake-people or as a gift from forgotten demons, the source of all sorcery is foul and corrupt.

It’s in your best interest to use your skills subtly or be so powerful and politically connected that few dare challenge you. As a Sorcerer you may know rare and hidden secrets, know how to heal the sick (or how to kill more quickly), be able to prophesize the future, and know the corrupt keys to sorcerous power.

Corruption: you can tap into the foul source of Sorcery for knowledge and power

Forgotten Lore: you know facts, legends, and trivia others have long forgotten

Leechcraft: you can diagnose ailments and know how to cause or heal diseases, injuries and poison

Prophecy: you can prophesize secrets from the past, present or future

Thief

You specialize in secrets. Thieves may attack with word or blade, and they’re equally treacherous with either. You probably know the alleys and canals of Eversink better than anyone else. You may be incredibly lucky, you’re likely skilled at gathering information through illegal means, and you are tied into the web of gossip and scurrilous rumor that circulates throughout the city.

City’s Secrets: you know the back streets and hidden truths of cities

Ridiculous Luck: you’re far luckier than most people, and stumble on clues others might miss

Scurrilous Rumors: bribery, gossip, and whispered secrets help you learn what others might have done

Skullduggery: you can find out hidden information through blackmail, spying, shadowing, and other reprehensible methods

Warrior

You’re an expert at the art of warfare. As a Warrior you primarily make your way through the world by force of arms, whether you’re a duelist, a brute, a mercenary, or a foreign barbarian. You are likely skilled at surviving in the wilderness, battling monsters, spotting your foe’s weaknesses, and understanding deadly battle tactics.

Know Monstrosities: you know legends or secrets about non-human creatures, including their tactics and motivations

Spot Frailty: you notice and exploit weaknesses in armor, objects, and structures; and you might even see weakness in peoples’ personalities, allowing you to manipulate them emotionally

Tactics of Death: you can read fight scenes and understand military tactics

Wilderness Mastery: you can navigate, survive, and even thrive outside of cities

Mix-and-Match

For a small price you can match abilities from different classes to end up with exactly the Hero you want. There’s a balance between raw power, influence, and flexibility.

  • If you spread your Build points out between lots of abilities (including your Class abilities, Shared abilities, and Allegiances, things we’ll talk about in the coming months), not putting more than 1 or 2 points into any one ability, you’ll gain tremendous flexibility. In exchange you limit how much damage you can do in any one attack, and you probably aren’t renowned for being astonishing at any one thing.
  • If you focus your Build points into just a few abilities, each with more ranks, you’ll gain quite a bit of power in that area and be able to inflict some considerable extra damage in a fight. You’ll also develop something of a reputation. In exchange, you’re going to lack flexibility while adventuring.

It’s the classic tradeoff with specialization: is it more fun to be really good at fewer things, or solid at a lot of things? Your answer to that will change from Hero to Hero. Both approaches have advantages; in one playtest adventure, a player put 5 ranks into a single ability and immediately established herself as a legendary expert in that area. That creates its own source of adventuring plot hooks! In actual play, we see a mixture of these approaches from different players, and the resulting balance works well.

There’s one other feature that balances flexibility and power:

  • If all your Class abilities start with the SAME class, you’ll lack flexibility but gain an extra Build point.
  • If you select Class abilities from more than one Class, you’ll have flexibility others will lack, but you’ll be a little bit less powerful.

In practice, this means that you’ll have a mechanical encouragement to really be a Warrior, or a Thief, or what have you, just like in many Swords & Sorcery novels. If you spread your points out to really customize your Hero, like the Gray Mouser or a young Conan (a mix of Warrior and Thief abilities), you’ll get the Hero you want and just miss out on the bonus Build point.

None of the Above

Interestingly, a perfectly viable character might be one with no (or almost no) Class abilities at all. We haven’t talked about Shared abilities (your social skills) or Allegiances yet, but if you want a Hero who’s tremendously well-connected and socially adept, you might not be focusing on the Classes at all. That will get you a Hero who’s astonishing at moving through Eversink’s society, even if they aren’t inflicting a lot of damage in anything but social combat.

Okay, that’s the basics of the Class system. Next up we’ll look at Shared abilities, Allegiances, and how you use them to shape the Hero you really want. We’ll also look at what happens when you spend these Investigative pool points – because that’s where the game’s true magic lies.


Kevin Kulp is the Boston-based co-author of Swords of the Serpentine, and formerly 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.

 

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