Esoterrorists 2 cover_reduced

A stand-alone roleplaying game by Robin D Laws

You are elite investigators combating the plots of the Esoterrorists, a loose affiliation of occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world. The Esoterrorists introduces the GUMSHOE rules system, which revolutionizes investigative scenarios by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward.

Upgrades, Improvements and New Content for the 2nd Edition.

This new edition of The Esoterrorists is 4 times longer and allows you to:

  • Equip your characters with fine-grained investigative abilities, ranging from Interrogation and Data Retrieval to the ever-popular Forensic Entomology and always useful Bullshit Detector.
  • Round them out with 13 crucial action abilities, which help you fight, run away, and retain your mental stability when the horrors come knocking.
  • Absorb the latest, in-depth intelligence data on the terrifying world of the Esoterrorists.
  • Learn the never-before-revealed inner workings of the Ordo Veritatis, the secret international agency that sends you out to smash the foe.
  • Recoil at raw reports detailing all-new creatures of unremitting horror.
  • Root yourself in a site of small town menace with the new Station Duty campaign frame and scenario.
  • Confront fever dreams of the apocalypse in a brand new introductory scenario, OPERATION: PROPHET BUNCO!

Also included, for gamemasters:

  • Data on the terrifying world of the Esoterrorists, and the Ordo Veritatis, the benevolent global conspiracy that fights them
  • Creatures of unremitting horror.
  • Detailed instructions on structuring investigative scenarios for the innovative GUMSHOE system
  • Advice on bringing those scenarios to life in play
  • Operation Slaughterhouse, an advanced example scenario of geopolitical horror

The Esoterrorists is easy to learn, easy to play and replayable by design.

Incorporating years of advice, actual play experience, and design evolution, The Esoterrorists Enhanced Edition includes all the rules you need to play the game that revolutionized investigative roleplaying. Dripping with ichor and jammed with content, this is the heftier, meatier, definitive tome gamers have been crying out for ever since they laid their paws on the original.

Reviews of The Esoterrorists:

… the game does deliver on its promise. You could easily explain the rules to someone in 15 minutes enough so that they could play. You can also learn them enough to run the game in about an hour.

I was apprehensive about the system but I was wrong – it worked really well for me.

The rules are incredible – I honestly think this is the best investigation-based RPG ever printed.

Related Material

Stock #: PELG012 Author: Robin D. Laws with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Phil Reeves, Kyle Strahm Pages: 160 page perfect bound

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A creature for The Esoterrorists

The Outer Dark Entities known as sheeple slip through thin spots in the membrane caused by the belief that a dangerous contaminant or source of disease exists nearby. They enter our reality only in rural areas where domestic livestock roam. Sheeple feed on the fatal terror of farm animals. Cows, pigs, sheep and horses all instinctively fear these quadrupedal, pseudo-mammalian creatures. When a sheeple fixes its terrible gaze on its animal target, the poor dumb beast suffers an immediate, fatal heart attack. The psychic energy released by this sudden death nourishes a sheeple for weeks.

Though sheeple vary in appearance, investigating agents of the Ordo Veritatis can generally expect a demonic entity with the body of a sheep and the distorted face of a bat, snapping turtle, or ogre-like human.

Sheeple exude a psychic residue exerting a mind-control effect on humans exposed to it over a period of months or years. They employ this to command locals to defend against external threats. With glassy eyes, upturned pitchforks and outraged cries against outsiders messing in their affairs, these peasants, farmers and shepherds chase away anyone getting too close to a sheeple lair. Those who don’t take the hint get stabbed or shot.

Mostly interested in feeding and with no great boons to offer Esoterrorists, sheeple rarely take part in overarching conspiracies. When they do, they’re forced into it by more powerful ODEs. They hate to be rousted from a fruitful earthly habitat. Hikers, real estate developers and property surveyors stumbling into a sheeple lair may be killed by the entities or their human defenders. This can trigger a wider search, another influx of visitors, more killings, and a monstrous cycle of bloodletting that eventually leads to a briefing from Mr. Verity.

One area recently overrun by sheeple surrounds a US-sponsored disease research facility near Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia. Efforts of Russian propagandists to use the installation to fan anti-American sentiment are certainly paying off for the sheeple, who find it easier to come through the membrane with each passing month.

Abilities: Athletics 6, Health 7, Scuffling 8

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: 0

Stealth Modifier: +2

Weapon: +1 (Jaws)

Armor: +1 vs. Scuffling

When the cold war sputtered to a close, Esoterrorists let the stoking of nuclear anxiety recede into the background in favor of newer and fresher means of increasing ambient panic. These days Esoterror operatives, eagerly scanning the news for fresh inspiration, suffer from a glut of possibility. So many causes of psychic disequilibrium, so little time to fully exploit them!

The recent terrifying false alarm in Hawaii has them dusting off playbooks pioneered by their 80s predecessors. Even more tantalizing than the initial stories was a less-seen follow-up report laying blame for the false alarm on more than a badly designed user interface. The issuer of the alarm turns out to have been a confused employee, already considered a liability by co-workers, who thought that an attack really was underway. State authorities waited a while to let that detail get out, after the always-accelerating news cycle had already moved on.

Somewhere in America, an Esoterrorist group is already researching other states whose alert protocols match the laxity of Hawaii’s. They’ll find an employee vulnerable to Outer Dark influence. They could recruit this person as a knowing conspirator. More likely, they’ll summon an ODE capable of altering human perceptions. A microscopic Outer Dark parasite might do the trick. While the infected worker is on duty, the entity triggers a hallucination of an actual attack underway and voila.

When the alert goes out, public panic eats away at the Membrane, creating gaps through which another crop of more powerful demons from beyond can crawl.

That’s where your player characters come in. Alerted by Ordo Veritatis analysts to the likelihood of an Esoterror copycat event, Mr. Verity scrambles the team to the affected state to investigate, disperse any summoned entities, then track and neutralize the human Esoterrorists behind the plot.

When they conduct their Veil-Out, they may well decide to put out a story similar to the first version circulated by Hawaii officials. This time it really was a poorly designed interface that led to the false alarm. Gosh, this sure does underscore the need to update those old programs, doesn’t it?

Yep, that’s all it was. Simple human error.

Nothing to worry about.

Won’t happen again.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Carnivals have always exuded a faint fetor of menace. Itinerant strangers come to town, some of them dressed as clowns, and try to trick you or exploit the basest depths of your curiosity. They exist to break down boundaries, give you permission to indulge, and then move on, leaving you, the seemingly innocent townsfolk, to reckon with what you got up to under the garish light of the midway.

When you set a scene in a Fear Itself, Trail of Cthulhu, or Esoterrorists scenario at a sideshow or circus, the players know to expect creepiness.

You know what the real story is. But what are the rumors the investigators encounter before parting the wrong curtain and finally beholding that terrible truth?

Here are 7 rumors for townsfolk and carnies to spout at the PCs before the real horror surfaces.

  1. “They did a test on the corn dogs and found that 1% of the contents were human flesh.”
  2. “Last year when the carnival came by Mamie Jones just up and vanished. The sheriffs caught up with them down in Dixville but they said they’d never laid eyes on her.”
  3. “Before the authorities clamped down on the freak show, they had an alligator man who was a little too real, if you know what I mean.”
  4. “Some of the most prominent people in our town worship the devil. And their high priest and priestess are the owners of this carnival, who travel from place to place renewing the vows of apparently ordinary folk to Satan himself.”
  5. “They stopped using their old Ferris wheel. Ten years one of the cars came loose and a girl fell to her death. That old ride was haunted. People who rode by themselves would sometimes look over and see her, weeping gluey tears from her faceless head. I don’t suppose a ghost could transfer from an old Ferris wheel to a new one, could it?”
  6. “Last year one of the roustabouts lost an eye in a bar fight. Guys from the local mill started it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some bloody revenge broke out later tonight.”
  7. “A friend of my cousin’s went into that hall of mirrors back in the 90s. He stepped outside and he coulda sworn he was in the 1890s! He turned around and ran back in and says he can’t even look at a mirror nowadays.”

And as always, if the players care more about a tall tale than they do about the main plot line, why maybe it’s not so untrue after all…

Confronting the mind-eating minions of the Outer Dark can prove mentally, physically, and morally exhausting for even the most hardened agent of the Ordo Veritatis. To grant momentary respite to its investigators in mid-mission, the organization maintains a string of safe houses. These are marked by a common emblem: the anchor, symbolizing the need to remain anchored to consensus reality. Because the symbol is ubiquitous, especially around marinas and shorelines, the trained agent checks other criteria before entering an establishment and uttering the day’s codeword. These include the use of particular fonts in signage, a sidewalk spray paint mark one might otherwise mistake for those used by construction crews, and a custom model brass door knob. Any player character can distinguish a true Anchor from an innocuous place of business.

Anchors frequently take the guise of tattoo parlors or barbers. These businesses actually turn a small profit for the Ordo. They are operated by former agents as a means of providing employment for personnel too shattered to continue in the field—or in the ordinary lives they used to lead.

Having given the correct greeting, the agent in need is handed a key, which opens a door to a back room, basement, or upper floor. Therein you find a sleep pod, headphones allowing you to listen to soothing binaural beats keyed to a range of psych profiles, and a plant and water feature. The fully stocked liquor cabinet also purveys a selection of sedatives. Behind a beaded curtain lies an alcove containing such key consumables as bullets, SIM cards, bandages, and that investigative staple, duct tape. Feel free to take that adrenaline syringe, hunting knife, or stick of anti-ritual incense. Just be sure to mark off what you take on the sign-out sheet, which you will find hanging on a clipboard from a nail at eye level on the alcove wall.

After a two hour power nap, the agent emerges from the pod with a 3-point Stability, 1-point Health, and 2-point Preparedness refresh.

Look for anchors in densely populated urban areas, or in spots where the membrane is notoriously thin and Outer Dark activity rife.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

I acknowledge that the Forensic Entomology ability, as seen in The Esoterrorists, can be hard to love. It’s icky and creepy.

And that’s what’s good about it.

Also a favorite of forensics procedural shows, for exactly that reason, I included it as a separate item in The Esoterrorists precisely because it dovetails so well with the horror genre.

Yet it can be hard to come up with new uses for the skill in scenarios.

Once you’ve used the old saw of timing the cause of death of a corpse from the state of the maggots and flies infested the flesh, where do you go?

Sure, you can have a victim infested with a bug or parasite that only comes from certain areas. For example, a body found in a non-tropical environment could show the distinctive flesh-eating qualities of leishmaniasis. The protozoans responsible for this body horror get into people via sandfly bites. That core clue could lead you to discover that the victim recently returned from the cursed city of a monkey god. (You’re all itching to point out that leishmaniasis is not nearly as uncommon as the article implies, with 12 million victims around the world at any time. But hey, when you’re proving there’s a monkey god curse, you have to take what nature gives you to work with.)

But here’s another great ghoulish detail: the apparent blood spatter at your crime scene could turn out to be nothing more than fly spit.

Once your character uses the test described in that last link, she can exonerate the innocent family member accused of a gruesome slaying on the basis of that falsely identified blood spatter.

Having ruled that out, you can then move on to hunt down the Outer Dark Entity that really committed the crime. Maybe it specializes in framing victims, and impelled the flies to spit in a particularly incriminating manner.

Whether you go that far or not, this kind of test is all in a day’s work for our nation’s undersung heroes, the forensic entomologists.

Field agents of the Ordo Veritatis, take heart: the research bureau has authorized the release of a new forensic test, the ODCR. (Outer Dark Contact Residue test.)

To perform the test, gather up detritus from an investigative scene such as: dust, hair, discarded tissues, fingernail clippings, organic recycling, food crumbs, pieces of paper, writing implements, or other personal objects.

Place materials in one of the provided plastic evidence bags (NOT A COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE SANDWICH BAG.) The active compound of the ODCR test is a clear organically active liquid, which will also be provided to you, disguised as a bottle of liquid tears. Using the bottle’s dropper, dribble 4-5 drops into the detritus. In ten to twenty minutes, if the contents release a dark bilious foam, they have tested positive.

This tells you that one or more individuals present for a prolonged period in the area from which the evidence was collected has been in sustained mental or physical contact with entities of the Outer Dark.

Research Division has yet to precisely determine a minimum range for “prolonged period.”

The residue appears to be caused by occult radiation from beyond the membrane, which alters the structure of certain molecules.

Research Division has yet to perfect a test to find residue in living cells, so there is as of yet no test one can directly perform on a suspect or victim to see if they have been exposed to the Outer Dark or its malign intelligences.

The absence of residue does not rule out Outer Dark involvement. It may simply indicate that the area is cleaned regularly. Even messy environments inhabited by known Esoterrorists do not necessarily yield positive test results. Research Division hopes to pinpoint what separates a scene containing residue from one that ought to but doesn’t.

To summarize: a positive ODCR rules in Outer Dark contact, but a negative result does not rule it out.

Warning: if you use eyedrops, take special care not to mistake the disguised ODCR bottle for part of your personal grooming kit. Contact with the eye may cause minor discomfort, excruciating pain, or instantaneous and irreversible retinal damage. If this does happen to you, please contact your Mr. Verity. Lab techs will schedule an appointment for testing and measurement, adding the results of your regrettable experience to our database.

She Sees the Membrane

A scenario hook for The Esoterrorists

Another Ordo Veritatis team just wrapped up a case in the affluent Dallas suburb of Richardson, TX. The climactic firefight with an Esoterror cell made up of telecom contractors has left that group in need of convalescence time. So the Ordo now taps your team to follow up a clue found in the wreckage of their leader’s garage. Reconstruction of her hard drive, melted in the gas line explosion they set off when their capture seemed otherwise inevitable, turns up a name and address: Maria Flores, in Chapel Hill, NC. It appears that just before cell leader Whitney Powers set off the final explosion, she uploaded Flores’ photo and address to a shared Dropbox folder available to other suspected Esoterror cells.

When the team arrives at the address, it finds a horrific scene: someone has killed nearly every member of the Pearson family. Investigation reveals that they just moved into the house. Whoever beat the team to the scene to ask about Flores didn’t take kindly to the discovery that their information on Flores was out of date. The sole survivor didn’t see much, but they seemed to be members of an outlaw biker gang.

Better detectives than the killers, the team can discover that Flores, a pediatric nurse, has moved to her small home town in Virginia, where her father owned a chicken farm. They find her barricaded in her now disused family house, terrified. She has started to see strange things, demonic things, and thinks she’s succumbing to delusions. Maria would have sought treatment, but there were people—absolutely real people, not hallucinations—following her around Chapel Hill. Spooked, Maria bolted for the one place she knew she could hide.

When they win her trust, the team can work out that Maria receives visual flashes whenever she looks at a place where the membrane between the world and the Outer Dark has thinned. Her field of vision goes red and jumpy and silhouetted.

This makes her a target for any Esoterror cell seeking an ideal spot to attack the barrier between realities. Whitney Powers intended to grab Maria as part of her now-defunct scheme. When she knew that was finished, she let others pick up the trail.

Then the sounds of motorcycles roar in the distance. Whoever killed the Pearsons has arrived to take Maria Flores. Can the team get her to an Ordo safe house in one piece, then turn around and neutralize her murderous hunters?


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Dwellers break through the membrane separating us from the Outer Dark as solitary predators. They live in lakes and ponds in underpopulated areas. Dwellers find their most fruitful hunting grounds in or near parks and camp sites. They often select spots connected to a murder, tragic accident, or other dark urban legend. When such legends do not exist prior to the dweller’s appearance, its activities soon generate them.

Dwellers can’t be observed directly, though the water they displace as they move toward a shoreline is certainly visible. Their movements may be mistaken for those of a large fish, tortoise, or semi-aquatic mammal.

They attack when people approach the shore alone. The dweller surges onto a leg or arm, using an invisible tubule to inject a parasitic pseudo-larva into the bloodstream. This migrates into the victim’s brain, turning him into a serial killer—often with a theatrical flair for killing, each brutal slaying more elaborate than the last. Outside of the homicidal fugue states caused by the parasite, the subject retains normal consciousness and motivations. When the parasite activates and the red fog descends, the killer often affects a rudimentary mask meant as much to terrify as to conceal identity. This might be a rubber Halloween mask, a hockey mask, or the flayed, cured skin of an early victim.

Safely in a nearby body of water, the dweller receives fearful psychic energy generated by the killer’s attacks, using them to further pierce the membrane. It may go dormant for a period after authorities capture or shoot down the murderer. After a while, it injects another subject, commencing a new cycle of murders. Such recurrences may inspire rumors that the original killer has returned, somehow rendered immortal, perhaps as an eternal physical manifestation of man’s urge to slay man. Like all sources of cognitive alarm these tales also thin the membrane.

The dweller itself offers little physical threat if caught: an Ordo Veritatis agent once bludgeoned one to death with a canoe paddle. In another instance a grenade tossed into a pond did the trick. But if the parasite victim has yet to be apprehended, the murders will continue.


Use dwellers in The Esoterrorists or Fear Itself.

The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the creatures of the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Though founded in Britain and with long history in the West, the Ordo Veritatis has in recent years come to regard Japan as key strategic ground in the battle against the Outer Dark. These extra-dimensional demons and their human minions, the Esoterrorists, thrive by spreading panic, anxiety and cognitive dissonance. Japan’s propensity for urban legends of curses and malign ghosts gives its homegrown Esoterrorists an automatic head start in their efforts to tear a hole in reality. Not only do tales of eerie menaces such as the Kuchisake-onna (“Slit-Mouthed Woman”) and Aka Manto (“Red Cape”) readily circulate in Japan; they trigger genuine panics. An instance of a Slit-Mouthed Woman provoking a panic in South Korea chilled OV analysts on every continent.

Local operatives try to defuse these incidents by ensuring that they rapidly wind up in movies, TV shows and manga, thus rendering them absurd. Some within the organization fear that the group places too much confidence in these Veil-Out techniques. They worry that as people around the world increasingly steep themselves in outlandish pop culture, these gambits may wind up propagating urban legends useful to Esoterror.

Workers in the Anglo OV hierarchy refer to their Japanese colleagues as J-Branch, a term not used or needed in the country itself. For geopolitical reasons the Ordo could not establish itself in Japan until after WWII. Early attempts to impose the Anglo-European structure bore mixed results, leading headquarters to back off in favor of local control under more familiar consensus-based management principles. Certain maverick agents in Tokyo or Sendai now complain of a faith in bureaucratic procedure that eclipses even that of head office.

Western OV operatives rarely conduct operations in Japan, whose agents know the territory better than they ever could. More commonly a J-Branch agent will be dispatched outside the country as an adviser to a local team when a drowned ghost or yokai-inspired ODE shows up elsewhere in the world. If they can pop up in South Korea, further manifestations in San Francisco, Vancouver or south London may not be so far behind. Especially when they have human accomplices to spread the word.

hat tip to this installment of the A.V. Club’s Wiki Wormhole


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Excerpt from an internal Ordo Veritatis monograph:

A polemic pamphlet describing the 1616 trial and execution of a woman for double filicide unknowingly portrays a textbook case of Outer Dark activity. (The accompanying illustration, on the other hand…)

Margaret Vincent of Acton, just outside London, murdered her two young children, aged 5 and 2, during a time of extreme tension between majority Protestants and persecuted Catholics. As is true in many such cases today, Vincent killed her children believing her deed would speed them to heaven. Vincent’s execution occurs as part of a wave sending a large number of (actual or suspected) Catholics to the gallows. The pamphleteer claims that, prompted by the devil himself, Vincent secretly converted to Catholicism, motivating her crime. One does not require a grounding in the modus operandi of Outer Dark entities to receive that claim with a grain of skepticism. Given the pressure at the time to paint Catholics as dangerous enemies, this part of the prosecution’s case may be a political embellishment, intended both to secure a conviction and to smear the targeted community. That said, the crime clearly took place in an atmosphere of social hysteria. In addition to sectarian strife, Vincent’s town of Acton was embroiled in a land rights dispute with neighboring Willesden that threatened to boil over into violence.

This emotional context strongly indicates the presence of a heavensender, an Outer Dark being that enters our world when social contention heightens. It preys on psychologically destabilized women with fervent metaphysical beliefs, inducing them to kill children in their care. As is common in such events, the shock of their crimes then reverberates through the surrounding community, creating the psychic backwash that ODEs use to feed and breed.

Unsurprisingly the pamphleteer’s account makes no reference to the neutralization of the heavensender, which according to the worldview of the time is reckoned as a Biblical demon. The accompanying woodcut, however, offers a startling indication that some proto-Ordo Veritatis investigators may have directly observed the creature. Like an actual heavensender, the so-called devil depicted appears humanoid, with scales on the torso, and a trio of appendages thrusting from the cranium. A heavensender uses the latter to exert hypnotic influence on its victims.

One wonders whether a Jacobean operative used the heavensender’s Special Means of Dispatch, a rapier dipped in placental tissue, to dispose of it. (Modern agents complain of sourcing difficulties.) Or perhaps the very same entity remains at large today, looking for another community riven by social tensions, in which to find its next victim.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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