GenCon’s come and gone, and we picked up a pleasing number of new GUMSHOE customers. Some of them came to the booth with something in mind (“do you guys do that Dracula game?” or “hey, is that the two-player Cthulhu game?” or even “hey, is this the Green Ronin booth?”), but others wanted to try GUMSHOE, but didn’t know which was the right game for them. Here, then, is a breakdown of all the GUMSHOE games currently available.

(Some caveats. I’m only covering core available GUMSHOE games in this article; forthcoming releases like Fall of Delta Green, The Yellow King, GUMTHEWS or Tales of the Quaesitors may get added later, along with edge cases like Lorefinder or GUMSHOE One2One games. In cases where there are multiple editions, I’m only covering the most recent iteration.)

 

The number of investigative and general abilities is a good shorthand for how complex the game tends to be. A lot of investigative abilities indicates a granular, technical approach to gathering clues and solving mysteries; a smaller number of abilities suggests a looser style of play. As a rough guide:

Simpler GUMSHOE: Fear Itself, Timewatch

Average GUMSHOE: Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu

Detailed GUMSHOE: Mutant City Blues, Ashen Stars, Night’s Black Agents

(Bearing in mind that even a complex GUMSHOE game is still rules-light by most standards).

 

To break things down by genre, the correlation between horror and investigative games is evident:

Horror Games: Esoterrorists, Fear Itself, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents

Sci-Fi: Ashen Stars, Timewatch

Superhero Cops: Mutant City Blues

 

Another way to subdivide GUMSHOE games is to look at what an investigative spend gets you; some GUMSHOE iterations are more generous to the players, letting them add story elements, create non-player characters, and empowering them to come up with unexpected solutions to problems. Other GUMSHOE games seek to preserve the challenge of investigation, and so only give added information or limited fringe benefits when a player makes a spend. To put them on a spectrum…

Constrained Spends: Esoterrorists, Fear itself, Trail of Cthulhu, Mutant City Blues

Empowered Spends: Night’s Black Agents, Ashen Stars, Timewatch

 

Some GUMSHOE settings emphasise individual mysteries, resolved in a single game night or two. Others are all about the long game. If you often have players dropping in and out of your game nights, or if you’re committed to an in-depth campaign like The Dracula Dossier, pick your GUMSHOE flavour to suit. (Of course, any GUMSHOE game works for either a one-shot or a long campaign. You can play a Night’s Black Agents one-shot, or a long Esoterrorists campaign like Worldbreaker.)

Mystery-of-the-Week: Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Timewatch, Mutant City Blues

Either Works: Trail of Cthulhu, Fear itself

Long Campaigns Preferred: Night’s Black Agents

 

Esoterrorists

You are elite investigators combating the plots of the Esoterrorists, a loose affiliation of occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world.

Who are the player characters? You play members of the Ordo Veritatis, a secret organisation with the tacit background of the authorities that counters the machinations of the occult terrorists and their inhuman masters beyond the walls of reality.

What do they do in play? Investigate mysteries and thwart the Esoterrorists, then cover up the aftermath. The Esoterrorists use human suffering, surreal horror, engineered paranoia, and summoned monsters to attack humanity’s collective hold on order and sanity. There’s an emphasis on forensics, psychology, monsters born of urban horror and social decay, and chaos. You can rip Esoterror plots right from the headlines, especially these days – Esoterrorists got killer clowns, fake news, bizarre conspiracies and a sense that the world’s spinning out of control.

Quick Pitch: The X-Files if the aliens are the darkest parts of the human psyche

Mechanics: 40 Investigative, (16 Academic, 11 Interpersonal, 13 Technical), 13 General. The optional Esoterrorist Factbook supplement adds expanded combat rules.

It’s set in the same horrific cosmology as Fear Itself; both games are threatened by the Outer Dark, a dimension of horrors who seek to break through into our reality.

Play Esoterrorists if:

  • You want modern day horror, but want to avoid the familiar tropes of the Cthulhu Mythos or vampires
  • You want an episodic, mystery-of-the-week game that’s focussed on the investigations, not the investigators
  • You want the cleanest, purest GUMSHOE experience

Find out more about the Esoterrorists

Fear Itself

Fear itself plunges ordinary people into a disturbing contemporary world of madness and violence —and inexorably draws them into confrontation with creatures of the Outer Dark, a realm of alien menace. GMs can re-create all the shudders and shocks of the horror genre at their table, whether they use the game’s distinctive mythology or one of their own choosing.

Who are the player characters? Ordinary people; in a one-shot, you might play horror-movie stereotypes and cliches. In a longer game, the characters can be more rounded and connected to the setting.

What do they do in play? Try to survive when they run into horrible monsters. Investigate to find a way to kill or escape the monsters, or to find out why they’re being targeted by these horrors. The 2nd edition’s designed to use different rules and assumptions for one-shots, short campaigns and long campaigns, reflecting the different approaches needed for keeping a group of ordinary people involved in ongoing mysteries.

Quick Pitch: The biggest mystery isn’t “what’s going on”, it’s “how do we get out of here alive!?”

Mechanics: 26 Investigative, (8 Academic, 11 Interpersonal, 7 Technical), 15 General

Play Fear Itself if:

  • You want to play ordinary people, or to emulate slasher horror movies
  • You think running away and hiding is as much fun as shooting and fighting
  • You specifically want a one-shot or short campaign
  • You want to tinker under the hood and customise the rules to the players

Find out more about Fear Itself

 

Trail of Cthulhu

You have to keep the doors to the Outside from swinging open – no matter what the cost in life or sanity. You have to piece together clues from books bound in human skin, from eviscerated corpses covered in ichor, and from inscriptions carved on walls built before humanity evolved. You have to go wherever the answers are, and do what needs to be done to protect humanity. But do you dare to follow … the trail of Cthulhu?

Who are the player characters? Lovecraftian investigators, delving into the mysteries of the Cthulhu Mythos.

What do they do in play? The investigators uncover cosmic horrors and try not to go insane. Trail of Cthulhu’s become known for its innovative campaigns, like Eternal Lies, Bookhounds of London, Dreamhounds of Paris, Cthulhu Apocalypse and The Armitage Files. 

Quick Pitch: Ken Hite’s Call of Cthulhu using GUMSHOE

Mechanics: 38 Investiga(17 Academic, 11 Interpersonal, 10 Technical), 24 General

Play Trail of Cthulhu if:

  • You want the Lovecraftian investigator experience filtered through GUMSHOE
  • You want to play in the dark decade of the 1930s
  • You want lots of support material and prewritten adventures

Find out more about Trail of Cthulhu

 

Mutant City Blues

Ever since the Sudden Mutation Event, people have been able to fly. Phase through walls. Read minds. Shoot bolts of energy from their fingertips. Walk into dreams. As members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit, you and your fellow detectives solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. When a mutant power is used to kill, you catch the case. When it’s a mutant victim in the chalk outline, you get the call. And when it comes time for a fight, you deploy your own extraordinary abilities to even the odds.

Who are the player characters? Police officers assigned to the city’s mutant desk. You can either play super-powered cops, or baseline officers who make up for their lack of mutant powers with their investigative abilities and elite training.

What do they do in play? Solve crimes that involve mutant powers. A key element of investigations is the Quade diagram, a forensic tool that lets the investigators predict what powers a suspect might possess, and the personality quirks associated with those powers. Many adventures involve defusing or deflecting tensions between mutants and non-mutants.

Quick Pitch: Procedural cop show with superpowers!

Mechanics: 40 Investigative, (14 Academic, 12 Interpersonal, 14 Technical), 13 General. In addition, player characters may have mutant powers; there are 15 Investigative powers and nearly 100 General powers, but no player character will have more than a handful of these.

Play Mutant City Blues if:

  • You want to play police officers in the modern day
  • You want to build and explore your own urban setting
  • You want super-powers!

Find out more about Mutant City Blues

 

Ashen Stars

Out here in the Bleed, you’re the closest thing there is to a higher authority. You’re Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators —”lasers” for short. You’re the seasoned freelancers that local leaders call whenever a situation is too tough, too baffling, or simply too weird for them to handle. It’s a dirty job, but it pays. And sometimes, you get to make a difference.

Who are the player characters? You play Lasers – freelance space cops – hired to keep the peace after the interstellar government was forced to retreat in the wake of a catastrophic war.

What do they do in play? Each mission begins with a contract to solve some problem or investigate some crime. Your crew of Lasers has to use their investigative abilities and high-tech gadgets to navigate the dangers and save the day.

Quick Pitch: Imagine an earnest, slightly goofy, post-Star Trek 1970s space cops show – this is the gritty nuBattlestar Galactica reboot of it set in the same universe.

Mechanics: 46 Investigative, (18 Academic, 13 Interpersonal, 15 Technical), 21 General (plus some species-specific abilities). In addition, Ashen Stars has a wealth of special equipment (cyberware, biotech, gadgets), as well as rules for spaceships and naval combat.

Play Ashen Stars if:

  • You want to play in a planet-of-the-week investigative space opera campaign set in a universe that’s both new and reminiscent of classic sci-fi tropes
  • You want spaceships, alien bugs, psychic powers and mysterious ancient civilisation

Find out more about Ashen Stars

 

Night’s Black Agents

You were a shadowy soldier in those fights, trained to move through the secret world: deniable and deadly.

Then you got out, or you got shut out, or you got burned out. You didn’t come in from the cold. Instead, you found your own entrances into Europe’s clandestine networks of power and crime. You did a few ops, and you asked even fewer questions. Who gave you that job in Prague? Who paid for your silence in that Swiss account? You told yourself it didn’t matter.

It turned out to matter a lot. Because it turned out you were working for vampires.

Vampires exist. What can they do? Who do they own? Where is safe? You don’t know those answers yet. So you’d better start asking questions. You have to trace the bloodsuckers’ operations, penetrate their networks, follow their trail, and target their weak points. Because if you don’t hunt them, they will hunt you. And they will kill you.

Or worse.

Who are the player characters? Burned spies, former criminals, and other high-skilled denizens of the clandestine world

What do they do in play? Investigate criminal conspiracies run by vampires and their minions; hunt down monsters and beat up bad guys until clues fall out.

Quick Pitch: Jason Bourne vs Dracula

Mechanics: 39 Investigative abilities, (14 Academic, 12 Interpersonal, 13 Technical), 21 General abilities. In addition, Night’s Black Agents has expanded combat and action rules for car chases and other spy thriller elements, and rules for building vampires, mapping conspiracies, tracking the bad guys’ responses to the players’ actions, and more!

Play Night’s Black Agents if:

  • You want a game built around taking down a whole network of bad guys – you fight your way up the Conspyramid, from low-level street goons to the vampire overlords who run the world from behind the scenes
  • You want to play bad-ass burned spies with the skills to match
  • You want to play in the modern day and fight more traditional monsters than the weird urban horrors of the Outer Dark

Find out more about Night’s Black Agents

 

Timewatch

Your band of TimeWatch agents defend the timestream from radioactive cockroaches, psychic velociraptors, and human meddlers. Go back in time to help yourself in a fight, thwart your foes by targeting their ancestors, or gain a vital clue by checking a scroll out from the Library of Alexandria. But watch out for paradoxes that may erase you from existence… or worse.

Who are the player characters? Timewatch agents – individuals plucked from across all of history (and a few alternate timelines) by the mysterious Timewatch organisation. You defend history from meddling and paradoxes.

What do they do in play? Cope with thoroughly weird foes and situations, and overcome challenges with lateral thinking and time travel.

Quick Pitch: History is written by the people with the time machines!

Mechanics: 26 Investigative Abilities, (9 Academic, 9 Interpersonal, 8 Technical), 13 General Abilities.

Play Timewatch if:

  • You want a fast-moving, improv-friendly game that’s a playground for player creativity
  • You want a weird, mismatched, entertaining group of player characters drawn from across time and space
  • You can’t decide which historical period you want to play in, so you’ve gone for ‘all of them’.

Find out more about Timewatch

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing, such a danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the night. 

– Nyarlathotep

The lurid heightened reality of Cthulhu City, with its gasmasked police, impossible skyscrapers, mad scientists and hordes of cultists works perfectly for a masked-vigilantes vs the Mythos campaign. In this setup, each of the player characters is a pulp hero, possessed of either astounding physical and mental fortitude or some supernatural talent that gives them an edge in the battle against the city’s horrors. Choose one of the following options:

  • Action Hero: +15 build points for general abilities
  • Expert: +5 investigative ability points
  • Supernatural Gift: Either convert the psychic abilities over from Fear Itself 2nd Edition, or work with your Keeper to come up with a suitable weird talent like invisibility, precognition, the power to pierce supernatural disguises, a telepathic bond with a deity, a stolen Yithian gadget or two…

Each character has a lair or hideout of some sort, located in a district you’re familiar with. Players can pool together for more elaborate secret hideouts, like stately mansions or fathomless caves with magical defences against discovery or the Mythos. Players are also encouraged to use the Organising Resistance rules (p. 48) to build networks of informants and allies. (A generous Keeper might even let a player invest some build points in such a network at the start of the campaign.)

Some of the existing characters in Cthulhu City already work perfectly in this paradigm:

  • Renegade Transport Policeman Miles Grieg (p. 66) retains his human sanity – if not, entirely, his human form – and fights against his former colleagues using their own sinister weapons against them. He is… The Watchman!
  • Elizabeth Venner (p. 80) might turn her gifts of ophidian hypnosis and witchcraft towards fighting crime and the Mythos. By night, she wears the mask of… the Serpent Woman!
  • Professor Armitage (p. 92), exiled from the university he loved, might seek his revenge from the sewers and ghoul-tunnels where he keeps his laboratory. Armed with occult lore and stolen sorcery, he is… Ibn-Ghazi!
  • Thomas Kearney (p. 163), his soul set afire by the Colour, could wield this alien radiation as a weapon. He may glow with the nameless Colour Out Of Space, but he calls himself… the Green Flash!
  • Tallis Martin (p. 177) needs only a few more points in Athletics and Scuffling to go full-on two-fisted archaeologist. She’s the Adventuress!
  • Charlie Zhang (p. 198) is already called out as a possible vigilante hero battling the forces of darkness – and his own destiny as architect of the Cruel Empire to come. He is the Master of Tsan Chan!

The Suspicion rules adapt neatly to a masked-hero campaign. Suspicion accrues to the group of masked heroes, not to their civilian secret identities. The city police have no idea that the Serpent Woman is secretly the alter ego of society heiress Elizabeth Venner, or that Thomas Kearney puts aside his overalls and dons the mask of the Green Flash – but the Serpent Woman and the Green Flash have a high Suspicion score, with all the penalties and problems that entails (p. 23). At the start of each adventure, the Keeper rolls a d6; if the result is equal to or lower than the group’s Suspicion score, then there’s a risk in this adventure that one of the investigators will be unmasked, or there’ll be a perilous cross-over between their secret identity and their actions as a Mythos-fighting hero (“oh no, my aunt Gertrude’s about to be sacrificed by the Cthulhu cult! If I rush up and free her from the altar, she might recognize me!”)

Little else needs to be changed – the monsters, cults, sinister masters and malignant forces of the city work as foils for a group of vigilantes. After all, a city ruled by monsters needs whatever heroes it can get…

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

claw demonIn The Book of Demons, we introduce the idea of hellhole-specific demon powers. Instead of using the standard random demon power table, the book provides tailored tables of random powers, so demons from the Ratwood are more likely to have, well, ratty-woody themed powers, and demons from the Floating Market have a chance of powers reflecting the anything-goes-as-long-as-The-Diabolist-approves laws of the place.

Now, why should the Hellholes from the 13th Age core rulebook be left out of the fun? This article gives site-specific power tables for those hellholes on p. 271…

 

Random Hum Demon Powers (d4 for lesser demons, d8 for bigger ones)

  1. Bug Eyes. The demon is immune to invisibility and ignores any illusions.
  2. Carapace. +1 AC
  3. Bug Wings. The demon can buzz into the air on furiously beating insect wings. If the demon can already fly, reroll.
  4. Blind Instinct. At the start of the encounter, pick a target for this demon. The demon gets a +1 bonus to all attacks on that target, but may not attack other enemies as long as that target is still in the battle. (The demon can use attacks that hit multiple foes, as long as the chosen target is one of those foes.)
  5. Egg of Doom. When this demon is slain, it lays a demonic egg. If the egg is not destroyed, the reborn demon hatches from this egg at the start of the next round at half its starting hit points. The egg can be destroyed before it hatches; treat it as having the defences and hit points of a basic mook of level equal to the demon.
  6. Stinger. On a natural 16+ with a melee attack, the demon also inflicts 5 ongoing poison damage (save ends). Champion-tier demons: 10 ongoing poison damage; epic-tier, 15 ongoing damage.
  7. Swarm. Once per battle, when the escalation die is 4+, this demon may grant all nearby demon allies an extra action this round.
  8. Protect The Queen! Once per turn, when an attack hits this demon, the demon may attempt a save. If successful, the attack is redirected to a nearby demon ally.

 

Random Blackfort Demon Powers (d4 for lesser demons, d8 for bigger ones)

  1. Implements of Torture. The demon gets a bonus to damage equal to its level when attacking staggered foes.
  2. To The Barricades! The demon gets a +2 bonus to AC and PD against ranged attacks thanks to its mastery of the terrain.
  3. Hold The Line! If fighting alongside two other demons, this demon gets a +1 bonus to attack rolls.
  4. The demon starts the battle invisible. It becomes visible when it attacks.
  5. Terrain Stunt. The demon may pull of a terrain stunt, as per the ranger power (13th Age, 120).
  6. Strength of the Earth. The demon has a +5 bonus to saves as long as it’s in contact with the ground.
  7. Master Torturer. Whenever the demon inflicts a critical hit, it heals a number of hit points equal to its level x 3.
  8. Once per battle, the demon may summon up a fortress from the earth, changing the terrain of the battlefield. The fortress comes with a garrison of mook reinforcements.

 

Random Bubble Demon Powers (d4 for lesser demons, d8 for bigger ones)

  1. Smoke shroud. If the demon doesn’t attack this round, it gains a smoky shroud that gives attacks against it a 25% miss chance. The shroud vanishes when the demon attacks.
  2. Resist Fire 18+.
  3. When the demon dies, it inflicts fire damage equal to its level x 2 to all nearby enemies.
  4. Resist Fire 18+.
  5. Demonic Flame. The demon’s got a fiery aura; any foes engaged with the demon at the start of the demon’s turn take 1d10 damage (Champion-tier: 2d10; Epic: 4d10).
  6. Demonic Hatred. If the escalation die is 3+, the demon gets an extra action each round. This extra action may only be used to attack a foe it’s already attacked this round.
  7. Demonic Aristocrat. The first time this demon is staggered, it vanishes, and a demon bodyguard two levels lower appears on the battlefield. When the bodyguard’s defeated, the original demon reappears.
  8. Once per battle as a standard action, if the demon is staggered, the demon may trigger a localised volcanic eruption. Treat this as a ridiculously hard impromptu challenge (13th Age, p. 186).

SaveSave

Can you kill the dungeon before it kills you?

We have produced just 100 copies of this faux-leatherbound limited edition of 13th Age: Eyes of the Stone Thief. 50 will be made available to customers in the US & Canada, and 50 will be made available to customers outside the US & Canada. The books are faux leather with gold foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed book plate signed by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, which you can add to your book.

In 13th Age, living dungeons slither up through the underworld and invade the surface lands. The Stone Thief is the most ancient and cunning of its kind; a vast monster that preys on the cities and structures you love, swallows them, and remakes them into more deathtrap-filled levels inside itself. Now, it’s hunting YOU.

For players:

  • Embark on a saga of madness, revenge and giant monsters
  • Aid or thwart the schemes of the Icons as they battle for control of the dungeon
  • Slay, loot and survive deep in the bowels of the earth
  • Destroy this age-old threat forever

For GMs:

  • A monstrous campaign covering the entire Champion tier (4th to 8th level)
  • Thirteen levels of peril from the dungeon’s opening Maw to the orc hordes of the Deep Keep, the terrors of the Pit of Undigested Ages, and the nightmare city beyond the Onyx Catacombs
  • New monsters, new treasures, new traps, and new factions for your 13th Age campaign

The Stone Thief rises. Enter it, find its secrets and defeat it – or die trying.

Stock #: PEL13A07L Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Anna Kryczkowska, Pat Loboyko, Rich Longmore, Juha Makkonen, Russ Nicholson, Ben Wooten Pages: 360 page hardback

Buy

Since the first outbreak in 1905, the city of Great Arkham has struggled to contain the spread of an unusually virulent and dangerous form of typhoid. All vehicles leaving the city must be inspected by the transport police. These officers wear heavy gas masks and protective clothing to minimise their exposure to the toxic disinfectant sprays they use; they have the authority to detain anyone they deem to show symptoms of infection. Take a train to Boston, and you’ll see those masked figures swarming outside the carriage, spraying the underside and searching for vagrants who try to hop the train. Drive out of the city, and you’ll find every road blocked by transport police inspection points.

More and more, the transport police can be seen in the city proper, too. They appear suddenly, as if materialising, cordoning off buildings or neighbourhoods and marking them as infected by painting a yellow warning sign on a wall. They’re also used to put down riots and disturbances, spraying crowds with caustic chemicals to disperse gangs of troublemakers.

Obviously, all this is a transparent tissue of lies. Whatever the mysterious disease is (assuming it exists), it bears no resemblance to actual salmonella enterica infection, the ‘symptoms’ are justification for the police to arrest anyone they wish (like your investigators), and they use the excuse of ‘quarantine’ to section off parts of the city that the authorities wish to temporarily remove.

So, how best to use these sinister enforcers in your Cthulhu City games?

No Escape

The transport police aren’t the only way to stop the investigators leaving the city, but they’re the most blatant and mundane expression of the city’s desire to keep its prisoners trapped. The transport police can shut down railways (“sorry, madam, tonight’s express to Boston is cancelled. Come back tomorrow… or maybe the day after…”), block roads, arrest hitchhikers, and hunt runaways across the countryside with masked dog-things and flashlights if the investigators try fleeing through Billington’s Woods or the marshes south of the city.

Investigators trying to escape the city’s clutches need to find ways to evade the police. They must identify the neighbours and so-called friends who are informing on them to the authorities; they must find ways to move across the city without being spotted by transport police surveillance; they need to cultivate contacts and spies of their own who can warn them about police activity.

It’s possible to get past the transport police. They’re not infallible; they’re just the first set of jailers. Beyond them are other, stranger prison walls.

No Evidence

The transport police swoop in to erase evidence of the Mythos. If a mindless god-thing lazily reaches out a tentacle and scoops up a tenement block in the middle of the night, then the transport police will be there by dawn, telling people to stay away from the ‘typhoid outbreak’ and ordering journalists to report on the tragic gas main explosion. Investigators trying to plumb the mysteries of Cthulhu City and discover what’s really going on need to act quickly to find clues before the transport police disinfect them away.

Similarly, if they wait too long, the transport police intimidate (or disappear) vital witnesses. (The transport police rarely speak, but they loom very effectively in the background while a regular Arkham Police officer or other emissary of the authorities explains why it’s a bad idea to talk openly about what happened…)

No Place To Hide

Several powerful Mythos cults vie for control of the city; they have their agents and minions conspiring in the corridors of power, and have carved up Great Arkham between them. Other cults and factions are on the outside, and get suppressed and attacked by the transport police. The Armitage Inquiry was shut down when the transport police raided Miskatonic. Similarly, the Yithian-worshipping Pnakothic cult is treated as a criminal group. Transport police raid the homes and businesses of Yithian agents; they erase any Yithian technology or relics they find.

The transport police, therefore, are a very visible barometer of which cults are in the ascendance and which are losing influence in Great Arkham. When the Gilman House political machine collapsed, the transport police suddenly showed up in Innsmouth in huge numbers, impounding ships and quarantining buildings near the river. So, if the investigators see the transport police sweeping the wooded isle and the old Witch House, they might guess that the Witch Coven has fallen from grace. On the other hand, if the police raid Miskatonic’s medical department and St. Mary’s hospital, then they might discover that the city’s cracking down on the Halsey Fraternity.

Of course, if the investigators become powerful and influential enough to warrant it, they’ll be targeted by the city’s secret police too.

No Truth

What if there really is an epidemic? What if the transport police really are trying to contain a threat – not typhoid, but something far more bizarre and alien? If the investigators bring down the transport police (say, by blowing up the Chemical Works at Salamander Fields, or police headquarters in Fort Hutchison), what new horror might they set free? A mi-go fungal infestation that consumes the whole city in alien growths? Primal tissue of Ubbo-Sathla, swelling up from the sewers? The Black Blood of Yibb-Tstll?

Or maybe the disinfectant spray is actually a hallucinogen that creates visions of the ‘real’ world? Perhaps Boston and Salem and all the world outside Great Arkham is born of visions breathed into the nostrils of would-be travellers, who only dreamt they left the city…

SaveSave

Cthulhu Confidential and other upcoming One-2-One games recommend using physical cards (or the digital equivalent) in play. Giving a player something to hold onto has several benefits.

  • It’s a reminder. In a multiplayer game, key plot elements get discussed endlessly at the game as players speculate about what’s going on, how they rid themselves of troubles, and how they can take advantage of items or favour acquired. In a solo game, especially a plot-heavily Confidential scenario, it’s good to give the player plenty of reminders of important discoveries and ongoing problems.
  • It’s a call to action. Having “Bleeding Internally” or “Mickey Don’t Like You” weighing down your hand motivates you to look for ways to counter those pesky problems. Similarly, if you’ve got “Charlie Chaplin Owes You” or a “Spare Bomb”, then you’ll itch for ways to play them to your advantage.
  • It’s satisfying. There’s something undeniable fun about handling physical cards, as opposed to scribbling notes on a character sheet. And as there’s only one player, it’s viable to have lots of highly specific cards.

Every published One-2-One scenario includes plenty of Problem and Edge cards, covering every likely eventually – but what about unlikely ones, when the player goes “off-piste”? How to improvise cards on the fly?

Have a bunch of blank cards (index cards are fine) to hand. When you need to write a card on the fly, quickly think about ways to connect it to future events in the scenario. A problem like “Fear of the Dark” is only interesting if there’s a scene later on where the player has to go into a dark place. An Edge like “Colt .45” is only relevant if there’s a good chance of a shootout.

The best Problems are the ones that push the player in interesting directions in the story, or anticipate future dangers. A “Bleeding Neck Wound” that gives the player a penalty is fun, but “Vampire Bite” that doesn’t give a penalty, but hints at a psychic threat can be much more interesting. At the same time, you want a few cards with clear mechanical benefits or penalties for variety, to avoid overloading the player with possibilities.

Edges without a defined benefit leave things open to player input. “Colt .45” obviously benefits Fighting, but “Got The Drop On Them” could be construed as a bonus to anything from Stealth to Shadowing to Fighting, or a Push to Streetwise or Intimidation, to a story benefit where the player gets to arrive at just the right moment to put the bad guys at a disadvantage. Working out what a card actually does when it’s played keeps options open – just stay away from Edges that give the player too much leverage over key figures in the adventure. “Charlie Chaplin owes you” is great; “The Cult Leader owes you” risks derailing your plot again. (And if you’re running a game where Chaplin’s the cult leader, I want to play).  

As a quick list of options:

 Edges

  • A bonus (say, +1 or +2) to a single Challenge
  • A bonus to multiple Challenges, either when a particular condition is met (+2 when sneaking around Budapest) or for a limited time (+2 to your next two Fighting challenges)
  • A bonus to an entire category of General Abilities (Physical, Mental, Manual)
  • A free die on a Challenge (and remember, if the player has any dice left over, he gets a free Push)
  • A free Push in a particular situation (“You know this city like the back of your hand. Discard this Edge for a free Push of Architecture, Cop Talk, or Streetwise while in Prague.”)
  • A free Push when dealing with a particular character or faction
  • A free Push for a particular type of Investigative Ability, usually Interpersonal
  • The ability to Counter a type of Problem
  • A general description of some advantage, giving the player scope for creativity (“The priest blessed you.)

Problems

Injuries: Injuries are a special category of Problem, so include the Injury keyword on any Injury cards. Some abilities (like Medic) give the ability to counter Injuries quickly.

Most injuries give a -1 or -2 penalty to Physical tests; injuries that specifically impede hand-eye Co-ordination might penalise Manual tasks instead.

In GUMSHOE One-2-one, the player doesn’t have ‘hit points’ or a Health score. The penalties from injury cards may stack, but a player may hold any number of injury cards and keep going. Injury only threatens death if the injury card specifically says this (see Dooms, below.).

Light injuries might only last for a scene, or for a few scenes (usually, three scenes, or three Challenges of a particular type), or be automatically Countered when the player Takes Time. More serious injuries might explicitly require the player to Take Time to Counter them, require medical treatment, or both.

Penalties: Penalties make it harder for the player to succeed in tests. Penalties are usually -1 or -2; go to -3 or -4 if you really want to emphasise the adversity and give the player little hope of success without Countering the problem. Penalties apply to one (or more!) of the categories of General Ability:

    • Physical: Most injuries penalise physical abilities; it’s hard to run, climb or fight when you’re been hurt. Drugs or restraints (manacles) also impair physical ability tests.
    • Manual: Injuries to the hands or eyes are the usual cause of manual ability penalties.
    • Mental: Shock, mental trauma, emotional distress or exhaustion can hit mental abilities

Levies: Levies require the player to spend an extra Push in a particular situation. Usually, this refers to Interpersonal pushes and applies to a particular individual or group – if Dr. Tollen doesn’t trust you, you might have to spend an extra Push when trying to persuade her with Reassurance to let you see her notes on blood diseases. Levies can apply to any investigative ability, though – for example, if Cryptography is needed to decode an ancient book, then if the book gets damaged, it could impose a Cryptography levy to get the information.

Blocks: Blocking Problems prevent the player from taking a particular action until the Problem’s resolved. They can be nuisances that prevent the player from tackling bigger issues, like an Injury card (“Blood in your eyes”) that gives no penalty to tests, but has to be Countered before any other injuries can be removed. They can be more serious complications that restrict the player’s actions – for example, if the player’s been disarmed, then she can’t make Shooting tests until she obtains a gun.

Dooms: Doom Problems shape the ending of the story, usually in a negative way. If the player’s still holding the card at the end of the operation, bad things happen. Dooms can result in death (“you’ve been poisoned – if you haven’t found a cure by the end of the adventure, you’re dead”) or other terrible consequences (“The cult has kidnapped Lenny, and will sacrifice him to Cthulhu unless you stop them”). Dooms should always describe how to Counter them.

 

 

 

One day, the mystery of the Ocean Game will be revealed. Until then, hints and fragments skitter at the edge of perception in articles like this. Art and setting text by Dave Allsop. 

 The Phantom Birds bear a strong resemblance to Earth’s Marabou Storks – spindly, ugly, carrion creatures with bald, scab-encrusted heads. Phantom Birds tend to be much larger though, possessing all too human eyes, and the ability to talk. When found in Briny Heaven they are crowned with rusty metal halos.

The appearance or arrival of Phantom Birds is regarded as prophetic; it can mean that the Mystery Man is nearby, or that characters are approaching a region that has a strong Outer Dark influence (like the Outskirts).

The purpose of the Phantom Birds as yet remains unclear. In Trenker’s diary he refers them as the ‘angels of Briny Heaven’, but he also refers to other nonhuman entities as angels too. It is possible that these avian monsters are mutated Ocean Game players. Perhaps they failed the Mystery Man in some way, or are have simply morphed into these forms after too much exposure to the Outer Dark.

Phantom Birds are most commonly associated with ‘Monkey’ players as they are attracted to horror, extreme violence, and bloodshed; when their scalps bleed profusely it is an indication of their arousal. Phantom Birds often gather on the verges of murder scenes to copulate. Phantom Birds are rarely, if ever witnessed by ordinary people, even when they gather in large flocks.

Verbally, Phantom Birds are mostly unresponsive. They tend to dislike humans but will exchange information, and trade spells and secrets for carrion, or the gory details of a crime scene they’re attending. Deals with Phantom Birds usually come to grief.

Abilities: Aberrance 3, Athletics 6, Fleeing 12, Health 12, Scuffling 7

Hit Threshold: 4

Armor: +1 vs Shooting

Awareness Modifier: -1

Stealth Modifier: -1

Damage Modifier: +2 (beak) or +1 (claws)

Death-Memory Beak: By plunging its spectral beak into the heart of a living human and spending 2 Aberrance, the Phantom Bird forces its victim to experience the death of another living creature that died nearby. The victim must make a Stability test immediately, the magnitude of which depends on the type of death. If it’s just, say, the death of a rat from natural causes, then it might be only a 2-point test. If someone got murdered by a Creature of Unremitting Horror, then it’s a 6-point test or more. And if the Stability tested is failed, the victim takes extra damage equal to the magnitude of the Stability test, and the wounds resemble the cause of death. Experience the death of a poisoned rat, and you might take 2 extra points of damage from phantasmal strychnine. This is in addition to the usual +2 damage modifier from a beak attack.

Gory Details: Birds gain 2 Aberrance at a murder scene or in the presence of a suitably gory carcass or sacrifice. If the investigators share or uncover more details about the killing, the birds gain 1 Aberrance per significant detail shared.

Birds with Aberrance scores of 6 or more are amiable to Interpersonal abilities like Negotiation.

Thin The Membrane: Phantom Birds may spend Aberrance to temporarily thin the local Membrane. It costs 5 points of Aberrance to do so, which reduces all Aberrance and Psychic Power point spend costs by 1 for a few minutes, and makes it easier to travel between Earth and the Outer Dark. The birds may even be willing to carry a passenger across the threshold, or (if they have enough Aberrance to thin the Membrane twice) carry a passenger from one place on Earth to another, taking a short-cut through the Outer Dark.

The upcoming Book of Ages includes the Engine of the Ages, a Microscope-like tool for collaboratively generating your own history of the Dragon Empire. Each player tells the tale of one faction (usually, one associated with their player character), while the GM mixes in other groups that may play a part in the campaign. The group then steps through the history of the Empire, Age by Age, with the occasional roll on the Random Catastrophe Table. So, here’s one possible history (we only played through the 4th, 8th, and 12th Ages, and the player characters are an Elf Wizard, a Barbarian with a 2-point negative relationship with the Lich King, and a Draconic Rogue).

Our 4th Age

13th Age icon symbolsAs you know, the Wizard King was overthrown by the first Emperor and his allies, kicking off the 1st Age. Conflicts between the Empire and the undead forces of the Lich King dominated the first three Ages, but history doesn’t get really interesting until the 4th Age, the Age of Elvendom. Elves, my players decided, are a species of planar nomads, plunging from world to world. The Elf Queen is their anchor to the physical world. She appeared in the Dragon Empire as an infant, born from the sacred Birth Tree in the heart of the Queen’s Wood. The other elves phased into existence, along with their dimension-hopping forests and cities. Suddenly, half the Empire was occupied by a vast and otherworldly forest; the Elves were worshipped as demigods by the folk of the Empire.

The arrival of the Elves at the height of their power forced other groups onto the defensive. The Lich King fled the Empire as a bodiless spirit, and discovered the barbarian tribes of the west. The barbarians worshipped their ancestors, but the Lich King was able to conquer their afterlife and imprisoned the ancestors who would not serve him. He whispered in the dreams of the shamans and priests of the barbarians, pretending to be their beloved ancestors, and so was able to warp their culture into a death-cult that worshipped him.

The Three also retreated from the Empire, fearful of the arrows and spells of the mighty elves. They allied with suspicious dwarves to create the first Forgeborn, creatures made of dwarven steel and fuelled by dragonfire, to guard their abandoned lairs. These first Forgeborn were essentially golems, unthinking machines that obeyed only their masters’ commands.

The arrival of the Elves disrupted the balance of the elements. The air elemental king declared war on the elven race, and to this day if an elf tries to fly too high, or if the High Elves build their towers above the treetops, then it draws the wrath of the winds. The fire elemental queen was even more furious, and sacrificed herself to put out the sun. For years, the sun guttered like a dying ember, and without sunlight, most of the elven forests died (the Queen’s Wood and parts of the Wild Wood are the only places where the alien elf-trees still grow).

Our 8th Age

In the chaos, the Prince of Shadows stole a silver apple from the elven birth tree. This scheme would come to (pardon the pun) fruition four Ages later in the 8th Age (the Rising of the Bad Moon), when he threw the apple into the night sky and it created the moon. To this day, the moon is an unwholesome and pernicious influence over the Empire – bad things happen by moonlight, and nights of the full moon are considered unlucky. The moon does favour the elves, though, which accounts for the elves’ reputation as thieves and tricksters.

The Elves also warred with druidic guerrillas (or gorillas, I can’t read my own handwritten notes from the session), who objected to their wizards’ continued disruption of the balance of the elements.

Under the new moon, the Lich King’s barbarians contacted the Empire. The barbarian tribes of the west traded and paid tribute to the Emperor, and fought as mercenaries under the banner of the Empire, but kept their traditional ancestor-cult religion, so the Lich King was able to infiltrate his clerics and agents across the Seven Cities. In Santa Cora, the Priestess grew suspicious of this new cult, and through her divinations discovered the Lich King’s imprisonment of the barbarian ancestors. She created two secret orders of Paladins – one dedicated to unmasking and defeating the Lich King’s spies, and another sworn to travel into the afterworld to break down the Lich King’s spiritual internment camps and free the ancestors. The barbarian cult schismed into two groups – one who worshipped the ‘true’ spirits of the dead, and one that was still in the thrall of the Lich King. Most of the barbarians in the Empire were part of the former cult, but the Lich King maintained his hold on the barbarians beyond the borders.

(The 8th Age, by the way, ended in a zombie plague, as upheavals in the afterworld briefly disrupted the natural order of death.)

Our 12th Age

The 12th Age was the Age of War, when the Empire was invaded almost simultaneously from west and east. From the west came the Lich King’s forces – the death-worshipping barbarian hordes he’d been cultivating for eight Ages. Vampire berserkers, selected for size and strength. A massive army of zombies and skeletons, enslaved ancestor-spirits chained into bone-golems, and thousands of death priests. Added to this force came a host of liches and skeletons out of the Necropolis.

13th Age - The ThreeFrom the east came the dragons under the Three. Long ago, the dragons established a manufactory on a secret island in the Iron Sea, and this automated dungeon-factory had built a whole army of forgeborn. To the dragons’ surprise, these forgeborn had grown increasingly complex and intelligent; with each generation, the manufactory had refined the design. This iron army, led by dragons, invaded the Empire from the east.

Captured humans were taken back to the manufactory and subjected to bizarre sorcerous experiments under the direction of the Blue; these experiments created the first draconics. These experiments also had an unlikely side effect – the Blue used forgeborn to assist in her work, and the forgeborn somehow isolated and stole the essence of humanity. The manufactory used this to create the final generation of forgeborn – truly alive metallic creatures, with free will and souls and absolutely no desire to be ruled by dragons.

Faced with rebellion from their own army when both draconics and forgeborn turned on them, the Three sued for peace. In exchange for dragon aid against the invading forces of the Lich King, the Emperor ceded the ruins of Highrock to the Blue, and recognised the draconics as imperial citizens.

So, in our take on 13th Age…

Elves are a declining race, greatly diminished from the days when they were worshipped as living gods. Still, they have the sacred Birth Tree that brings forth new fruit and hence new wonders in every Age, and they remember that one day, the Elf Queen will perish in this plane and be reborn in another dimension, and they will follow her en masse to their new home.

Foes of the Lich King know that while he was recently defeated, he still has two major power bases – his fortress on Necropolis, and his barbarian death-cult to the east. He continues his attempts to subvert the Imperial-aligned barbarians by kidnapping their ancestors in the afterworld, so the cult has evolved a complex system of passwords and signs – don’t trust a ghost until it gives you the correct password!

Draconics are a new-born species, the product of experiments carried out in the war. They have a complex relationship with the Forgeborn – the Forgeborn are fuelled by dragonbreath, and now that most of the dragons have again fled the Empire, the forgeborn are dependent on the draconics for survival. At the same time, the forgeborn aren’t trusted by most of the Empire, and no-one knows for sure what they’re doing out on the mysterious island of the Manufactory. (Some fear that they have a plan…)

What histories will your players create?

One of the suggested campaign frames in Cthulhu City casts the investigators as journalists on Newspaper Row, working for one of Great Arkham’s competing newspapers. Let’s borrow a page (yellowed, and a little stained) from Bookhounds of London and look at the mechanics of playing a journalist.

Newspaper Credit Rating

Each newspaper has a Credit Rating of its own, reflecting both its financial status and its reputation in the city. Investigators working for a newspaper can draw on that Credit Rating by showing the proper credentials – but if they abuse this power by staining the newspaper’s reputation, they’ll face the editor’s wrath. Saying you’re from the Advertiser might get you past the police cordon into the murder scene, but that doesn’t mean you can start poking at the corpse without permission or stealing evidence.

Arkham Advertiser – 10

Arkham Gazette – 8

Arkham Cryer -5

Worker’s Voice – 3  

Dunwich Chronicle – 3

Kingsport Messenger – 4

This Credit Rating is a shared pool among all the investigators. It refreshes at the start of a new investigation, minus the cost of any ongoing investigations (see below).

Research Resources

A newspaper’s Credit Rating pool can also be spent as any of the following investigative abilities, or on Preparedness, reflecting access to the newspaper morgue, regular sources, on-staff experts and expense accounts.

Accounting, Art History, History, Law, Library Use, Cop Talk, Art, Forensics, Photography.

I’m Working On A Story

At the start of the game, and at the start of any investigation, the players can roll a number of d6. Each die represents a story that the newspaper’s working on. These stories aren’t necessarily related to the Mythos – the vast majority are going to be the usual political scandals, news reports, human-interest stories and so on. The players can leave these stories as abstract bundles of points, or describe them as they wish (“I’m working on a piece about survivors of the city orphanage”).

Each die costs 1 point of Newspaper Credit Rating, and this point doesn’t refresh until the story’s published or killed.

The roll of the die determines the size of the story – that’s how many investigative ability points need to be spent to finish the story. So, if a player rolls a 5, then the players as a group need to spend five Investigative points from their pools to finish that story.

These points are spent during downtime between investigations, but before investigative pools refresh. Therefore, the players only get to spent the points that are left over after the adventurous, Mythos-fighting part of the game. (The one exception, of course, is where a Mythos investigation crosses over with a newspaper story. In this case, any points spent in the course of the Mythos investigation count towards completing the story, but the story is now Tainted).

The standard journalistic abilities are: Cop Talk, Evidence Collection, Languages, Oral History, Photography, Assess Honesty, Reassurance and any one District Knowledge related to the story.

Other investigative abilities might work, as long as the player can justify the more obscure choices with a plausible story. (“This is a story about politics in the University District, but of course that’ll spill over into City Hall, so I’ll spend some points of Sentinel Hill Knowledge.)

At any point during the game, a player may convert two points from an ongoing story into a pool of any Investigative Ability (including District Knowledges), representing a contact or fact discovered in the course of a journalistic investigation becoming suddenly relevant to a different Mythos mystery (“I’ve been writing an expose about tenements in Westheath, so I’ll trade two points of that story into a point of Streetwise so we can track down the thief who stole that grimoire.”).

Publish or Be Damned

During downtime between adventures, the players may look to publish any story they’ve completed (i.e. they’ve allocated as many leftover Investigative Ability points to that story as the story’s size).

For each unfinished story, roll a d6. On a 1, it’s Scooped and the story’s lost.

For each possibly-ready story, roll a d6.

1: Scooped! Some rival newspaper got there first! The story’s lost!

2-5: More investigation is needed. Add the value of the roll to the story’s size.

6: Print it!

Players may spend investigative abilities to boost the roll (Art to improve the prose of the piece; Flattery to convince a suspicious editor etc). However, a natural roll of a 1 is always a Scoop by a rival, regardless of point spends.

If a story is Tainted by the Mythos, apply a penalty of the Keeper’s choice to the roll. (-1 or -2 for a vague hint of the supernatural, -3 or -4 if there’s no rational explanation, -5 or -6 if publishing the story as is would anger the city authorities. If this penalty drops the result to 0 or less, the publisher kills the story.

The players may also choose to drop a story – remember, each active story costs a point of Newspaper Credit Rating to maintain. Players may also hold a story back, but if they do so, the chance of being Scooped rises by 2 per downtime (so, Scooped on a 1-3, then Scooped on a 1-5, then automatically Scooped after three downtimes.)

Feed The Beast

A newspaper needs to publish stories of a total size equal to at least half its Credit Rating to maintain that rating. So, if a newspaper has a Credit Rating of 10, it needs to publish at least 5 points worth of news each downtime. If it fails to do so, drop its Credit Rating by 1.

If a newspaper published a single story with a size greater than its Credit Rating, its Credit Rating increases by 1. A newspaper’s Credit Rating can only rise or fall by 1 point per downtime. So, the investigators need to have a mix of stories: short, easily-publishable pieces that pay the bills and feed the beast, and maybe one or two big, prestigious stories to build the paper’s reputation.

Just pray they don’t get Scooped before you’re ready to go to print…

An Example

The players are all working for the Arkham Herald (Credit Rating 5). At the start of the game, they agree they’ll have 3 ongoing stories, leaving them with 2 points of Newspaper Credit Rating to spend during the game on research resources or as actual Credit Rating.

They roll a d6 for each story, and get a 6, a 4 and a 2.

After their Mythos investigation, they can work on these stories with left-over investigative points. Between them, they’ve got 10 points of suitable points to spend, so they fill up the Size-6 and Size-2 stories, and put the remaining 2 points into the Size-5 piece.

Now, they roll to publish. For the Size 2, the Keeper rolls a 1 – it’s been Scooped! The points are lost.

For the Size 6, they roll a 5 – to get that story over the line, they’ll need to double-check everything and make it a huge Size 11 piece. That level of journalistic diligence might fly over at the more prestigious Advertiser, but this is the Cryer, and they’ve got bills to pay! The players spend a point of Flattery on their editor, turning the 5 into a 6 – they convince him that even if they can’t back everything up, there’s still enough there for a front page piece. The harried editor relents, and the Size-6 story gets published. As its Size is bigger than the Cryer’s Credit Rating, it enhances the newspaper’s reputation, bringing its Credit Rating to a respectable 6.

The Keeper also rolls for the unfinished story. He doesn’t get a 1, so it’s not Scooped.
At the start of the next investigation, they’ve still got that size-5 story with 2 points allocated to it. They can keep following this story, or maybe spend those 2 points in the course of their next Mythos investigation.

 

 

 

 

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to be eaten by it.

The game is called 13th Age—so what’s in those 12 previous Ages? What fantastic treasures, brooding monsters, perilous dungeons, or ancient secrets survive from past centuries? What now-vanished icons shaped history, and what legacies did they leave behind?

Designed by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (Eyes of the Stone Thief), The Book of Ages includes:

  • The Engine of the Ages, a collaborative method for designing the ancient history of your campaign, producing a chronology of past Ages, plus a wealth of legacies, legends, and lairs to trouble the present day
  • Prompts, suggestions and random tables to spur creativity
  • More than a dozen sample Ages with new icons, monsters, treasures and powers: Explore the wolf-haunted Age of the Silver Moon, preserve civilization in the Age of Walled Cities, or fight for freedom in the Age of the Terrible Emperor
  • Six ways PCs can travel into the past in search of adventure!

Status: In development

Previous Entries