We’re looking for GMs to run our games at Gen Con 2019!

If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at Gen Con, check out the list of available game slots here.

GMs will get our new 2019 t-shirts, meet up with our game creators, and receive special Pelgrane swag! Here are the adventures available for each system:

Email support@pelgranepress.com (click to open in your email client) to join our GM team now!

Game Masters are needed to run Pelgrane RPGs at OrcaCon 2019 in Bellevue, WA January 11th-13th! We’d love to introduce this audience to games like Fall of DELTA GREEN, TimeWatch, Night’s Black Agents, 13th Age, Hillfolk/DramaSystem, Yellow King RPG, Trail of Cthulhu, #Feminism, and more.

In return you’ll get a free GM badge, $5 credit at the Pelgrane online store, and perhaps other swag!

UPDATE: The deadline to submit your games, and contact Pelgrane in time for your free GM badge to be ordered, is Friday, December 14th.

Here’s how to join our GM crew at OrcaCon:

  • Create a Sched.com account if you don’t already have one (the games submission form requires your account name)
  • Submit your games to OrcaCon using this submission form
  • Email us at support@pelgranepress.zendesk.com to let us know you’re on board to be an OrcaCon GM.
    • In your email, include the name and email address you used to submit your game, so we can send it to OrcaCon for badge pickup onsite at the Registration desk

Here are the adventures available:

We hope to see you there!



The Heavy Metal GM teaches Cat and Simon the Way of Metal at Gen Con 2016.

Sean the Heavy Metal GM teaches Cat and Simon the Way of Metal at Gen Con 2016.

We’re looking for GMs to run our games at Origins and Gen Con 2018!

If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at Gen Con, please email us at support@pelgranepress.zendesk.com with the following info:

  1. Your name and, if you have one, a nickname, alias, or online handle that gamers might know you by (e.g. cthulhuchick, Heavy Metal GM)
  2. Your convention-registered email address (if different from the email you’re using to contact us)
  3. Your t-shirt size
  4. Number of 4-hour games you can run
  5. Preferred days and times for your games to run, using this format:
    • 13th Age Thursday 17th August 16:00-18:00 EST
    • Small Things (Seven Wonders) Friday 18th August 09:00-13:00 EST
    • Secret of Warlock Mountain (DramaSystem) Saturday 19th August 14:00-18:00 EST
  6. Whether you would like to run a Pelgrane-provided adventure, or one of your own

GMs will get our new 2018 t-shirts, meet up with our game creators, and receive special Pelgrane swag! Here are the adventures available for each system:

Join our GM team now!


Booth space at PAX Unplugged is sold out, and PAX has told us that there is no open gaming at the con—the only game events will be those run by exhibitors.

As a result, we unfortunately won’t have a presence at PAX Unplugged 2017. (Unless someone miraculously drops out and no one’s ahead of us on the waiting list.)  We appreciate all of you who emailed us volunteering to GM!

If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at PAX Unplugged to run 13th Age, GUMSHOE, DramaSystem, Seven Wonders, #Feminism, or any of our other games, please email us at support@pelgranepress.zendesk.com with the following info:

  1. Your name and, if you have one, a nickname, alias, or online handle that gamers might know you by (e.g. cthulhuchick, Heavy Metal GM)
  2. Your convention-registered email address (if different from the email you’re using to contact us)
  3. Your t-shirt size
  4. Number of 2-hour games you can run (13th Age only)
  5. Number of 4-hour games you can run
  6. Preferred days and times for your games to run, using this format:
    • [GAME OR SYSTEM], Friday 17th November 16:00-18:00 EST
  7. Whether you would like to run a Pelgrane-provided adventure, or one of your own

GMs will get our new 2017 t-shirts, meet with Pelgrane Press staff and designers who are attending the con, and receive special Pelgrane swag!

Join our PAX Unplugged team now!

The Heavy Metal GM teaches Cat and Simon the Way of Metal at Gen Con 2016.

Sean the Heavy Metal GM teaches Cat and Simon the Way of Metal at Gen Con 2016.

We’re still looking for GMs to run our games at Gen Con 2017!

If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at Gen Con, please email us at support@pelgranepress.zendesk.com with the following info:

  1. Your name and, if you have one, a nickname, alias, or online handle that gamers might know you by (e.g. cthulhuchick, Heavy Metal GM)
  2. Your convention-registered email address (if different from the email you’re using to contact us)
  3. Your t-shirt size
  4. Number of 2-hour games you can run (13th Age only)
  5. Number of 4-hour games you can run
  6. Preferred days and times for your games to run, using this format:
    • 13th Age Thursday 17th August 16:00-18:00 EST
    • Small Things (Seven Wonders) Friday 18th August 09:00-13:00 EST
    • Secret of Warlock Mountain (DramaSystem)  Saturday 19th August 14:00-18:00 EST
    • Whether you would like to run a Pelgrane-provided adventure, or one of your own

GMs will get our new 2017 t-shirts, meet up with our game creators, and receive special Pelgrane swag! Here are the adventures available for each system:

Join our Gen Con team now!

rainbow-pelgrane_150[Note: We grant permission for anyone to make use of this text or a variation of it in their own convention support policy, or for any other purpose – for example, emailing your local convention to recommend they have one].

At Pelgrane Press, we believe conventions are an integral part of the roleplaying community. We love going to them – we get to catch up with our colleagues, chat to our customers, and run and play our own games, and other people’s. We are eager to support and promote local conventions, even if we can’t attend them in person.

We want conventions to be safe and inclusive spaces for all gamers. Unfortunately, we know of too many instances where our colleagues, customers and friends have been harassed or made to feel uncomfortable at gaming conventions. We believe strongly that having a policy in place which explicitly censures harassing behaviour, and provides a clear procedure for reporting any such incidents, creates a safer and more welcoming environment for people at the greatest risk of harassment.

As such, Pelgrane Press will not exhibit at, or provide support for, conventions which don’t have a publicly posted and enforced anti-harassment policy.

If you are organising an event and interested in support, contact us with details of your event, and a link to your anti-harassment policy. Please include details of the size and nature of your event. If you don’t currently have an anti-harassment policy, we’ll be happy to help you develop one that meets your event’s needs.

What do we mean by an anti-harassment policy?

Anti-harassment policies are sometimes known as a code of conduct or harassment policy. These are the essential elements of an anti-harassment policy.

  • An open commitment to oppose harassment regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.
  • A clear definition of harassment.
  • A public protocol for conflict resolution – instructions on how to report harassment, how harassment is dealt with, and how that is then reported back to the person who was harassed.
  • Staff who are made aware of the policy, understand it and know how to implement it, and know who is ultimately responsible for enforcing it.
  • The policy is prominently and clearly displayed on the website, in the programme and on site.

There are variants; for example an adult convention might have different standards to one which includes children. Some policies cover the display of images and sale of adult material and cosplay.

Why have an anti-harassment policy?

We support anti-harassment policies because they:

  • encourage attendees and staff to call out, report and oppose harassment rather than accept it.
  • discourage poor behaviour by defining what it entails, and making it clear that it is socially unacceptable, and there are consequences.
  • engender a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.
  • protect our staff members when we attend conventions
  • make named people responsible for dealing with harassment and offer a practical process for dealing with harassment which helps both the attendees and the organisers.

Examples of anti-harassment policies

There are plenty of good examples of policies. Here are some.

Further Reading

We recommend this Wired article, which covers the history of anti-harassment policies, and the reasons for them, in some depth.

You can see a list of the upcoming conventions we’re supporting here.


By Tom Abella


Conventions are special. Home games with friends and the occasional new player are our bread and butter, but I’ve always considered Con games to be a time to go the extra mile for the players (people actually paid to get in, for crying out loud). In preparation for running Night’s Black Agents at a recent convention, I decided to create some extra special handouts for my players. Be warned: some mild spoilers for The Van Helsing Letter are up ahead. Fortunately, knowing the names of characters and locations won’t actually tell you whether they’re out to help, hinder, or help-then-hinder your team.


One thing I knew ahead of time was that my players would all be new to NBA (only one had played any GUMSHOE game before), and I wanted to make sure everyone had all the guidance they needed for the game. I made a lot of notes on how best to walk them through the rules, but I also went above and beyond in creating their character sheets–I’m sorry, their character dossiers.


Forget orange–manilla is the new black

I was able to get some tabbed folders online (I can neither condone nor police any readers who steal them from work), which offered a two-page layout. On the right side went their character sheets, followed by the one-sentence skill description from NBA (a great reference to have behind your character sheet).


The success of GUMSHOE games can be measured by the amount of diligent note-taking by players. #hugesuccess

On the left side, I started with the two pages “Advice to Players” from the core rulebook, which helps to mentally set the stage for the players, and is short enough to read while everyone gets settled at the table. Behind those two pages went some additional reference sheets from the core rulebook – – guidance on skill modifiers and combat actions that I want everyone to have so we’re not getting bogged down during combat.

I added a few extra details for flavor. The pre-gens came with surnames, which I wrote on the folder tab and then used a black marker to “redact” their first names. I debated redacting unused skills and other text from the character sheets and advice section, but decided against it for practical reasons: if fewer players showed up, players would get extra points to add to their character. Plus, it’s good for players to know what others on the team can do. A less-menacing option would be to use a highlighter on those skills the player does have (once you open the door to the tabbed manilla folders, all kinds of office supplies start looking reasonable).

Altogether, the dossiers were a success with players, and also provided some extra scratch paper in a pinch.

Finding Faces

Most character sheets come with a blank spot for the character’s image, and I wasn’t going to leave those blank if I was making dossiers for the players. Fantasy and sci-fi settings have lots of art available online, but it can be a challenge to gather images of a group of characters who don’t look like they were cobbled together from a half-dozen sources. Modern settings don’t have that problem, particularly in games like NBA that are supposed to evoke spy thrillers (though I wouldn’t go so far as to grab Tom Cruise or Matt Damon – – look for familiar, not constraining). Between the background and skill set of each character, I was able to easily find headshots for everyone.


Three are nods to spy movies, two to TV shows, one to their character description, and two are Ciaran Hinds. His picture counts twice because my God, look how badass he is in b/w.

I went one step further and created another batch of known/potential NPCs, including a few extras not included in the scenario (no need to tip the players off that the secretary at the lab is a nameless NPC, plus it helps them remember the layout and people in a setting). I’ll admit here that I was a little tight on time, and my Google skills may have started to fail me.


Yes, a couple of these faces look familiar. Also, yes: Pierre Athanese was the best hit I could get from Googling ‘Friendly old French man’

Why stop at people? Next up were locations: a half-sheet printout for all the major locations they would possibly encounter in the game. I like how they set the mood and helped anchor the scenes, and in at least one instance they helped settle a question about the layout and design of a site.




Google image search was great for these, and anyone looking for more variety of creepy occult bookstores should just look up Ken Hite’s Tumblr.

There would be some traveling involved, so I thought a map of the region would be helpful. It turns out that Bing maps is much more handout-friendly than Google Maps:


Not pictured: garish primary-color lines and roadwork icons showing the state of central European highways.

One last batch was cars, which were also fun and helpful. It took a little agency away from the players, but they’re playing spies, and I figured the pickiest they could be would be to look for speed or maneuverability. Whichever they chose, I’d offer the cards face down and let them pick.


Director’s choice of whether Top Gear references result in skill point refresh or immediate TPK

Actual Creation

All the handouts were made in Paint – – no special or expensive software. 96 pixels = 1 inch, and set it up with 0.5 inch margins all around. The font is Gill Sans, which can be found online for free (and ethically) without too much effort, and I lined up the words by eye (again, nothing fancy). Just make sure they’re a solid color against the background and you’ll be fine.

At the Table

The printouts work great for figuring out who is where (unfortunately, despite my best efforts, the players refused to split the party), and also great at trying to identify connections between conspirators. They also make for great character stand-ins to remind the players of who else is on their team (we found four large d6’s made for a solid base). Altogether, an easy way to add a little something special to your next NBA game.

You can download Tom’s handouts as a zip file here.

gumshoe_10_logo_350To celebrate the 10th anniversary of GUMSHOE, we’re inviting Pelgrane Press RPG fans all over the world to play their favorite Pelgrane games on or around 21st October—the first-ever International Pelgrane Day!

We’d love to see  people to play and run Pelgrane games, either at home or online, that day and week. If you need adventures to run, let us know—we have them.

This is a great opportunity to turn others on to your favorite Pelgrane games. Stream your NIGHT’S BLACK AGENTS mission live on Hangouts. Share the horrible demise of your TRAIL OF CTHULHU investigators on YouTube. Tell how your band of 13th Age heroes conspired with the Prince of Shadows to swindle the Lich King, on Twitter, your blog, or your favorite message forum. And use the hashtag #PelgraneDay so that everyone can find your games.

You can download GUMSHOE 10th Anniversary badges for Twitter and Facebook from this link – show the world you’re taking part!

And we’ll be doing the same: The plan is for the entire Pelgrane crew to run games online or in their home towns that week—including the brand-new Roll20 edition of SHADOWS OF ELDOLAN for 13th Age!

Join us, won’t you?

nba-clawsThe Night’s Black Agents  book is  big, heavy and beautiful, but it can be intimidating to new GMs. The Night’s Black Agents game is a pulse-pounding thrill ride, pursued by vampires. How can we get from the big book to spy action, when the players are new, and you’ve never run NBA at a convention before? You can get away with a few holes in your system knowledge if you know the adventure really well, or hand-wave the adventure a little if you’ve mastered the system.

Bluffing the System

System-wise, at the very minimum, you should know the rudiments of GUMSHOE, both the Investigative side and the General ability side.You’ve run it for your home group. You need to know what a Test is, what a Spend is, the combat and chase rules and, surprisingly important, the use of Preparedness. If you don’t know these basics, the game is like to be uncomfortable for you, and confusing for your players.

First snag and read Kevin Kulp’s guide, and read the summaries in this article.

Offloading Onto Your Players

The biggest system cheat for the GM in a convention game is to offload some work onto players as fun options – in NBA these include the Thriller Combat Options and Stability tests- you can download these here.  This has some useful effects:

  • You don’t have to know all those rules. The rules are generally bite-sized choices or adjustments the players can use. You just need to know the results – and they’ll tell you.
  • You have less to worry about during the game. If someone else is determing when Stability tests are made, you have time for other things.
  • Players who care about those options will use them. Those who don’t, won’t. If no one wants to use them, no one will miss them.
  • Looking at these sheets is a great displacement activity for players when they aren’t currently doing anything.

Combat Summary

Most import of all, you need to understand the basics of combat, not because you’ll necessarily need to spend a lot of time in combat in the game, but because combat needs to be fast and thrilling. You should always know whose go it is, whether a test hits or not, and what your monsters can do. But combat is pretty straightforward in GUMSHOE.

  1. At the outset, ask everyone what ability they are using in combat (usually Weapons or Shooting) and what its rating (not pool) is. Characters and their foes act in decreasing order of that initial rating for the rest of the combat. List them.
  2. To try to hit an opponent, make a test (d6 + point spend) against their Hit Threshold (almost always 3 or 4). Spend points from the combat pool before rolling. If you match or beat the Hit Threshold, you hit – roll the damage listed on your character sheet. There is no dodging. Players who have read the Thriller Combat sheet may offer spends here – nod sagely and let them.
  3. Players can spend Investigative pointss in combat with suitable narration to get a +3 bonus on combats Tests (Military Science, Intimidate, Streetwise are good examples of these spends).
  4. When it’s your go, you make the same test againts the PCs Hit Threshold, but you really don’t have to spend the points to be certain of a hit unless you are playing a true bad-ass or a glass cannon. Roll openly, and tell them what you are spending. You can also consider the option of replacing attack pools with bonuses (no one cares about the GM’s record keeping). So, +1 for minor foes, +2 for scary opponents, and +3 for the real nasties.

Chase summary

Most NBA games include a chase – perhaps roof-top parkour, or smart cars smashing through stalls at a local market.  The summary and track is available in the rules summary.

Before you start – determine the chase ability (usually Driving or Athletics) and put the lead counter on the track at 5 .

  1. GM and players secretly decide their spend from the chase pool, which they then reveal. Players can narrate the use Investigative abilities here! Without a point spend, adjust a Chase Difficulty test by one; with a spend, increase the pursuers’ or pursueds’ chase pool by 3 per point.
  2. Both parties make a test against a Difficulty of 4.
  3. Compare the results of the pursuer and the pursued:
  • Both fail or succeed – lead adjusts by one in the direction of the victor.
  • One fails, one succeeds – lead adjusts by two in the direction of the victor.
  1. Narrate the outcome, asking for player input.
  2. If there is any combat, it goes here. The Hit Threshold is usually increased by 1 in a chase, and anyone directly involved in the chase (running or driving) needs to spend 3 points from the chase pool.
  3. If the lead narrows to zero, the pursuer has caught up without a doubt; if the lead increases to 10, the pursued have escaped.


Keep it simple – one chance in the adventure to rest up and refresh three General pools when they’ve had a fight or chase and appear to be gasping for points. They can of course use Shrink (to get Stability back) and Medic (for Health), too. If anyone spots the Technothriller Monologue option, let them use it.


Preparedness allows players to model their characters’ competence, without themselves knowing how to be a spy. It also shortcuts lengthy planning meetings, and gives players a fallback in emergencies. This is how it’s used.

  • Make a test to have something relatively unusual you haven’t mentioned.
  • If you have a rating 8+ allows you to have all ready done something you describe in flashback. If the action requires another test by you or another player (for example, Explosives or Conceal) you need to make that too, afterwards. You can have planted a bomb, swiped a key card, hacked a security system, sabotaged a car, bribed a guard…

Rules You can Take or Leave

Piggybacking and Cooperation These are pretty useful and very simple. If someone is sneaking into a building, or climbing, or any other task where one PC takes the lead, the other PCs spend one point each to stay with them. With cooperation, multiple PCs can contributed to a test, but you need to spend a point to contribute. Flag this up if you remember it and a suitable occasion arises.

Network is are pretty easy to explain, but don’t worry about the mechanics too much – just suggest if they need a hand, look at their network list. If you want the players to have more narrative control – just say “do you know someone who can help you?” If they ask them to do a whole lot, warn them they might get killed, burned, or turn coat. If you are using Network, restrict the pool to five at the most – in a full game, this rating cannot be refreshed, and is too much for a one-shot (hattip Gareth)

Cover in a convention game, this is effectively the same as Disguise – the long-term consequences of not having a solid ID are unlikely to arise. If someone wants to have multiple covers, just like the characters in Burn Notice, let them do it. Limit the pool to five or so.

Cherries – these should be marked on and detailed on character sheets, and be self-explanatory. Check the pregens first and make sure they are – or look them up if necessary. Don’t introduce them if they aren’t there.

MOS –  one ability you can always succeed at once in a session? Simple enough. If you use these, and they aren’t pre-detmerined, let your players decide on this when you hand out the characters. They should all chose a different one.

I wouldn’t bother with Heat, Safe House and Haven rules, Special Tactical Benefits, and the of minutiae of all the equipment in a convention game.

Adventure Knowledge

Night’s Black Agents adventures tend to be more player-led than other GUMSHOE games, and this makes it both easier and more difficult to run. In an ideal world, you will have run it for your group before, but often for conventions, you just get handed  something on the day. I find it helpful to sketch out a diagram of how scenes are connected, and punch down into the abilities and the set up of any fights or chases, or if any more unusual rules come up. Monster stats are really straightforward in GUMSHOE – but take a close look at any supernatural abilities so your vampires are competent and scary. I find two passes through a convention-length adventure – two 30 minute slots – does the basic job. In play, though, if the players are having fun, you are on the right track.

Introducing the Game

Open by telling them they are bad-ass spies, and that they are supremely competent at what they do.

Explain the basics – how Investigative and General abilities work. If anyone who is used to rolling dice to get information expresses puzzlement, tell them to play exactly as they always do when asking to use an Investigative ability. Explain that any Investigative ability can be used to get a +3 bonus on a General ability per one point spend –  use Architecture to get you an Infiltration bonus when breaking into a building, or Intimidation to get the drop on someone in a fight. Tell them you will suggest spends, but it’s better they do! Let them know they don’t have to memorize any of this stuff – you’ll remind them in play. Direct them to the GUMSHOE 101 player sheet.

They know how spy thrillers work – ask What Would Jason Bourne Do? The Night’s Black Agent’s character sheets and its abilities are a cheat sheet in themselves for playing a spy thriller. Abilities such as Infiltration, Forgery and Tradecraft and the meat of the spy genre, tell them to use them, and you’ll make it your job to ensure they get the chance.

It’s a convention game. Tell them to try anything, spend points recklessly and see what happens. Let them know they should try anything they’ve seen in a spy movie, and you will tell them how.

Don’t spend much time planning One of the big problems with spy games can be planning inertia, so tell about Preparedness – the actual mechanic can wait. Their characters will know what to do, even if they don’t, and if they do get bogged down in an extended planning scene, remind them of Preparedness, and show them evidence that if they don’t get moving, they’ll be the hunted.

Stay one step ahead, or danger will come to you. Hunkering down is always a bad idea. Spies stay ahead of their opponents. Your ability to collect information on your opponents, subvert and surprise them are your greatest weapons.

Handing Out Characters

Offer them characters filled in apart from their names, Drives and Sources of Stability (and MOS if it’s not marked and you are using it). Mention that combat-oriented characters have more options in a fight, if they want to take them.

These elements are a short cut to characterisation. Leave a few spare points for a floating pool (say 3) they can assign to any ability on the fly during the game. The characters sheets, along with the handouts, should tell them all the mechanics they need to play their specific characters, including special abilities, weapon damage etc, so they don’t have to look through books. Unless you want in-game paranoia (you are playing a Mirror game, perhaps) tell them they know each other and have worked together, so they are a team as much as spies can be.

At this point ask for a volunteer to keep an eye on whether PCs should make a Stability test – they need flag up if anyone should make a test. There’ll always be one player who is willing to do this, usually a GM; it’s one less thing for you to worry about, and they are usually stricter than you would be! You’ll probably need to remind them the first time.

Offer the Thriller Combat option sheets in the player handouts I created  (or even these cards) – note who takes them and who doesn’t. Tell them they have to be ready when it’s their turn to use one of those options. This will help when running combats. Likewise, point the Chase options out to the character with the ability which will be used in the chase in the adventure.

By now, your players should be fired up and ready to go, and so should you. The rest is up to you!

TombThe streets here are a concrete labyrinth. I try to go one block east, towards the ocean, and find myself crossing another bridge over the grey waters of the Miskatonic, and I’m back on the north side of the city, climbing up towards the civic monstrosity that squats atop Sentinel Hill. Transport Police, their faces hidden by gas masks – to protect against “typhoid”, according to the peeling posters in the subway – watch me as I march past. I don’t dare ask them for directions, and I can’t go back underground. I have to stay on the streets, even if I get lost again. Maybe if I find higher ground, a vantage point… a doorman ushers me in, making a familiar sign with his left hand as he does so, but too late I realise that the building I’ve entered is one of the cryptic and terrible windowless skyscrapers that loom over the city, their tops lost in the oppressive, low-hanging clouds. I cannot go back – I have to climb, struggling up flights of stairs that are clearly not made for any human frame…

Why, I am writing Cthulhu City, now that you mention it. Or rewriting, in parts, as the book has its own ideas about what it wants to be. A sandbox, maybe, where the Pillared City of Irem was lost long ago.

* * *

At Gen Con, I ran two prewritten scenarios: Kevin Kulp’s Valkyrie Gambit for Timewatch, and Ruth Tillman’s Midnight Sub Rosa, which can be found in Out of the Woods. In both games, I screwed up and misread key elements of the scenario (protip: running a game on the day after those Ennie Awards is never going to go smoothly). In both games, though, I was able to recover from my error and keep the game on track. Neither group noticed that anything was amiss.

Confusion & Conflation

In Midnight Sub Rosa, I conflated two locations. There’s one house where the main action of the adventure takes place, and there’s a guesthouse where most of the assembled non-player characters are staying. In my haste, I missed the guesthouse and assumed that everyone was staying in the same place. If I’d noticed my error in time, I’d have simply corrected the players, but a good fifteen minutes of play elapsed between me describing the building, and me realising there was supposed to be a whole separate guesthouse down the road from the country house, and rewinding play kills momentum in a convention game. I had to get ahead of the derailed train while it was moving.  (if you notice a mistake just as you make it, you can correct yourself – “oh, no, wait, they’re not staying here, there’s a guesthouse down the road” – but that’s a very narrow window. Once you’ve spent five minutes in-character complaining about the cramped rooms in the main house, that opportunity’s gone.)

Removing the guesthouse introduced two problems. First, it made it harder for the player characters to sneak around and investigate the various bedrooms. In a six-person con game, though, that problem solved itself: some player characters distracted the NPCs while the others committed a little breaking and entering. The second issue was a bigger one. Midway through the scenario as written, there’s supposed to be a ghoul attack on one of the NPCs as he walks down the isolated tree-shrouded laneway between the main house and the guesthouse. By moving his bedroom into the main house, I’d removed the opportunity for the ghouls to ambush him, and I couldn’t have the ghouls attack the main house midway through the scenario.

The ghoul attack scene is in the scenario to be a sudden visceral shock and to eliminate a particular NPC. It doesn’t need to happen on that laneway. So, I invented a reason for the NPC to leave the safety of the house. I described him as a smoker, and then later had one of the other characters complain about the smoke. Soon, a player character suggested that he and the NPC step outside for some fresh air where they could smoke in peace. They wandered into the gardens… and the ghouls were lurking in the trees nearby.

If the location of the ghoul attack scene was important, then I’d have had to come up with some other solution, but here all I needed to do was eviscerate one particular occult expert. Once I’d done that, and given the players a fright, the game was back on track despite my screw-up about the guest house. The key is to know the purpose of every scene, even if you have to change the setting or content.

The Case of the Missing Villain

In Valkyrie Gambit, I forgot to introduce the villain of the whole adventure. The villain’s supposed to show up in the opening scene, setting up a dramatic reveal at the end. (“It was you all along! Shock! Horror!”), but the players and I were having such fun brawling with mutant cockroaches that I ended the scene without bringing the villain onstage. I could have added another scene where the villain pops in, but it would have stuck out like a strange growth on the scenario’s spine. The shape of the story in a roleplaying game isn’t discernible when you’re in the middle of play; it’s only seen in retrospect, when the players look back and see the sequence of events from beginning to end. In a convention game, where you’ve got limited time and only a handful of scenes, I couldn’t get away with adding a new scene to add a new NPC – it would make the game feel unsatisfying at the end, even if the players didn’t notice in the heat of play, because it would have robbed that opening scene of its purpose. Pointless scenes are always rotten, even if they’re fun in the moment. (There’s a tension between the game that the players are experiencing right now, and the story that they’ll remember and tell afterwards. You can have a really fun, action-packed game, and then discover when you look back on it that nothing actually happened, that it was just running around and rolling dice without any consequence. You can have a perfectly structured compelling story that’s boring and frustrating to actually play through. For a good convention session, both the game and the story need to sing.)

It’s always better to call back and reuse material in a convention game. If the players introduce a concept in scene 1, then try to bring that into a later scene, even if you have to force things a little. In 13th Age games, for example, I’ll happily twist myself into knots trying to work in all the players’ One Unique Things, because it’s more fun for them to have contributed something that actually plays a part in how the story plays out. In Valkyrie Gambit, one of the players decided to play with the Timewatch rules by having his future self show up to help out in that initial fight. That gave me a justification for my replacement villain – it was a time-shifted duplicate of one of the mutant cockroaches, breaking the laws of time by skipping out in the middle of that first fight.

Using the time-shifted cockroach as the villain was the most parsimonious solution – it incorporated two existing elements (cockroaches, and the fact that time travellers can duplicate themselves), so it gave a sense of unity to the whole game when the player characters met the cockroach again in the final scene. It tied everything together. Look for ways to link back to earlier events and ideas, or to echo them.

Distraction With Shiny Clues

Another common landmine – which I gracefully leapt over this year, unlike the steps at the back of the Embassy Suites – is the logical contradiction, where you accidentally say something that breaks the logic of the mystery. You describe, say, an NPC closely examining a weird statue, even though it’s supposed to be locked away in a glass case. In that situation, look for a way to correct the mistake that involves the player characters finding out more information through active use of their Investigative Abilities. You could, for instance, describe the museum porter come back in with the glass case, complaining about how he has to clean it every few weeks because a strange black mold keeps growing on the inside, giving the player character with Biology a chance to whip out her microscope, look at some mold samples and discover that they’re very similar to a toxic mold found in certain Egyptian pyramids or somesuch (the clue doesn’t have to be relevant; it’s there purely to give the players a little reward so they don’t notice the plot bandage you just slapped on.)

Convention games are a particularly manic high-wire act for the GM when they go awry – as everything has to fit into one three or four-hour slot, you’ve got to find a solution to problems in time for that big finale. Always keep your nerve – if you screw up, keep going instead of backtracking. Prewritten scenarios are just suggested routes, they’re maps of what might happen, not strict scripts that you’ve got to follow. If you go off course, keep going and look for another turning to get back on track. Do it right, and the players will never suspect a thing.

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