The core concept of GUMSHOE can be simply stated (or shouted from the rooftops) as “it’s always more fun when the players get the clue”. One could argue, though, that it’s sometimes more accurate to say that the players always get the lead.

A lead is a clue that leads in to another scene. Leads are usually (but not always) core clues, and core clues are usually (but not always) leads, so it’s easy to get the two confused. It’s worth disambiguating the two in your thinking.

So – a lead is a clue that points to another scene. It can be something that the players uncover (Evidence Collection: you find a matchbook with the name of a bar written on it), or something the characters know (Bureaucracy: the victim was a student at the local university; it might be worth checking college records, interviewing his associates and lecturers there). Follow the lead, and you get to another scene.

A core clue is something the players must find for the scenario to progress. While most core clues are leads pointing to the next core scene, you can also have core clues that foreshadow weirdness or lay pipe for future plot developments. (Biology: My god, it’s like this student is growing gills! That doesn’t immediately lead anywhere, but it’s important for the players to later discover the mad ichthyologist in the university).

You could even disambiguate further, splitting things-gained-through-investigative-abilities into four buckets:

Core Leads: points to a core scene. The players must find this lead for the scenario to work.

Leads: points to a non-core scene (alternate, hazard, subplot, etc)

Core Clues: a piece of vital information needed for the scenario to make sense. The players must get this clue.

Clues: Any other piece of information.

Note #1:  In general, every scene should have a lead (or multiple leads) that lead-in to it. The exceptions are scenes like antagonist reactions, which are triggered by the GM, or fuzzy “stuff to do in town” catch-all scenes that usually occur when the players are gathering information early in the game.

Note #2: There’s a subtle distinction between a core clue and an important clue. A core clue might tell you that the bad guy is a vampire and that he’s hiding in that castle over there, because that information is vital to your progress through the mystery. A clue that says “oh, this particular sort of vampire can only be slain by a silver bullet” isn’t core, as you don’t need it to make progress. You do need it to survive, but GUMSHOE is agnostic about whether the player characters live or die – as we said, getting the clues is always more interesting, which isn’t the same thing as safe…

The massive living dungeon known as the Stone Thief is so epic it cannot be confined to just one system! Designer Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan has turned the first two levels of his megadungeon masterpiece into a PDF that’s compatible with the 5th Edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game.

Eyes of the Stone Thief (5E Compatible) is a two-level dungeon like your players have never seen before: a living creature of stone that rises to the surface, devours structures and places, then incorporates them into itself as dungeon levels. The Stone Thief is a cunning foe that seeks to destroy those who dare set foot inside…

The 39-page adventure brings nearly 30 new monsters to your 5E table, including the hobgoblin warmage, filth hydra, undead spider, and ghoul fleshripper. Run the adventure as-is, plunder it for ideas and inspiration, or use it as a starting point to convert the rest of the Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign to 5th Edition.

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

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artists: Anna Kryczkowska, Pat Loboyko, Rich Longmore, Juha Makkonen, Russ Nicholson, Ben Wooten Pages: 39 page PDF

Buy for a set price in our webstore

Buy as a Pay-What-You-Want PDF on DriveThruRPG

Just before Christmas, I finished off the first part of my home campaign of THE YELLOW KING. We’re running it at a fairly fast pace (we’re alternating sessions with Warhammer in deference to the sensibilities of players who want to hit things with swords), and with only a limited number of sessions, I based virtually all the adventures around the player’s Deuced Peculiar Things.

It’s useful to my mind to think of YELLOW KING scenario planning as a grid. Along the top, you’ve got the array of Carcosan characters and tropes – The King, his Daughters, the play, the Yellow Sign, Castaigne, Mr. Wilde, black stars, madness – and any elements from the current sequence (Parisian political and artistic intrigue, the Continental War, the overthrow of the Castaign regime etc). Along the side, you’ve got the prompts provided by your players as Deuced Peculiar Things. You dig for horror and mystery where those lines cross.

So, my players gave me:

  • Chester: I met an enchanting man in a bar, we shared a night of passion, but I woke up in bed to discover I was lying next to a woman, who left without a word.
  • Sillerton: I dreamed I was at a strange party in a chateau outside Paris; when I investigated, I learned that the chateau burned down many years ago.
  • Ada: My brother Theo has vanished and no-one else – not even my other brother Chester – remembers he ever existed.
  • Reggie: My cat had a litter of kittens, but they came out as this ghastly congealed mass of conjoined bodies and limbs, a sort of feline centipede.
  • Dorian: I saw L’Inconnue de la Seine, and chased her into an entrance to the catacombs.

While I could have started with any of these, I picked Reggie and his cat-monster for two reasons. First, it’s the most immediate problem – three of the others are weird encounters, and Theo’s been missing for some time (and felt more like a long-running plot than a trigger event), whereas Reggie’s catipede was right there (well, right there in a bag, as they hammered it to death very quickly). Second, cats give me a link right to Mr. Wilde from the Repairer of Reputations (the mania he had for keeping that cat and teasing her until she flew at his face like a demon, was certainly eccentric. I never could understand why he kept the creature, nor what pleasure he found in shutting himself up in his room with this surly, vicious beast.”)

Carcosan Hybrids

So, what’s the crossing point? What Carcosan element might Reggie’s cat intersect with. A flip through the Paris book gave me the matagot (p. 159), a supernatural Carcosan spy in the shape of a cat. Maybe Reggie’s pet cat mated with a Carcosan entity, and that spawned the malformed catipede?

That worked – and instantly gave me a horrible consequence to play with. If mating with a Carcosan entity creates some sort of hideous hybrid… and Chester slept with a mysterious shapeshifter…

But if I was going to make hybrids a big part of the plot, I needed a reason for them to exist. The cat might be a random encounter, but why would some Carcosan courtier take the time to sleep with Chester? I went with the concept of anchors in our reality, which let me bring in the dreadful play and foreshadow stuff that’ll come up in the Aftermath sequence. So, Carcosa needs to get its hooks into reality. It starts with the infiltration of a concept, a malign thought – the play. As the play corrupts reality, it allows the establishment of stronger anchors, allowing Carcosan entities to cross over physically. They then create even stronger anchors, bootstrapping an invasion.

Living Statues

Dorian’s encounter with the mysterious inconnue connected to this plot too. L’Inconnue died in the 1880s, so she must have been a ghost, an illusion or some other supernatural weirdness. I decided to loop in both the art world and another of Chamber’s tales, the Mask. If there’s a mysterious fluid that turns flesh to stone, then maybe the same fluid could turn stone to flesh. The girl with the familiar face was a statue brought to life using Carcosan chemistry. Why? Because these living statues were the middle-stage anchor – host bodies of pseudo-flesh used like space-suits by Carcosan nobles in the period before they could manifest in all their glory.

The Cult of the Yellow Sign

So, there was still a gap in my cosmology – if the existence of the play in a given reality corrupts it enough for Carcosan weirdness to filter in, and if Carcosan weirdness gets worse as the King’s court establishes stronger anchors and invades, where did the play come from in the first place? I still had two Deuced Peculiar Things to play with – the vanished brother, and the mysterious party.

I came up with a sketched-out occult society who experimented with telepathy, spiritualism and other weirdness, the Society Jaune, who accidentally made contact with the King and saw the Yellow Sign. Theo fell into the clutches of survivors of this cult, and wrote the play after exposure to the Sign. A twist of temporal weirdness through Carcosa let me shove Theo out of linear time and back to the burning of the cult chateau during the Siege of Paris.

The View From The Cheap Seats

Obviously, slotting Deuced Peculiar Thing A into Carcosan Motif Y is only part of the adventure-design. Just because I knew that, say, a crazed sculptor was creating statues and bringing them to life in the catacombs didn’t mean I had a full adventure ready to go. All this technique gave me was a set of Alien Truths to build adventures around. However, keeping everything strongly connected to the players’ Deuced Peculiar Things and the most significant bits of the Yellow King Mythos let me give the players a whistlestop tour of Dread Carcosa while giving satisfying answers to all their Deuced Peculiar prompts.

The Wars start next week. Check back in a few months to see how that turns out…

A previous article outlined an alternate campaign frame for Ashen Stars. Here’s a worked example. (The inspiration for this example, by the way, came from an episode of 99% Invisible about the Great Bitter Lake Association.)

In the Ashen Stars setting, ships travel fast-than-light along translight corridors. The largest starships – massive industrial supercarriers, mobile refineries, and bulk cargo freighters – are too large to pass through some corridors. At the height of the Combine’s reach, titanic tachyonic buttresses artificially widened the corridors, allowing these great ships to move through otherwise impassable routes.

Then came the war. The buttresses were prime targets for Mohilar raiders, and many were destroyed.

In the wild space of the Bleed, the destruction of the C97-Kraken buttress trapped a fleet of a dozen megaships in the Gallereid system. Rebuilding the buttress is definitely on the Combine’s to-do list, but it won’t happen for years. In the meantime, the fleet is stuck. It’s cheaper for the megacorps to pay for security and a skeleton crew to monitor the trapped ships than it is to transfer the cargos to smaller ships. So, the Gallereid fleet waits there in deep space, slowly succumbing to entropy, their hulls turning yellow as sulphur particles from the nearby volcanic moon accrete…

What’s The Scope?

The action’s centred on the ‘Yellow Fleet’ of stranded metaships
, with occasional jaunts to the moons of Gallerus. The ships include:

  • Kullervos: A severely damaged Combine warship, on her way back to be decommissioned and scrapped. A skeleton crew of loyal Cybes consider her their home.
  • Blue Haven: During the war, the Combine world of Azura was evacuated aboard the Blue Haven. Before they could reach the Combine, the ship got stuck here. The passengers have long since been decamped to other worlds, including the Gallereid moons, but the Blue Haven is still full of personal items and equipment salvaged from Azura.
  • Northwind: A mining ship, full of valuable ores and mining equipment.
  • Costaguana: Northwind’s sister ship – a mobile refinery.

 Key nearby locations include

  • Bitterness: The hellish volcano moon the fleet orbits.
  • New Azura: A mining world. Before the war, the Northwind and Costaguana chewed up most of New Azura, turning it into a wasteland; now, many of the refugees from the Blue Haven have been moved there, into the mining tunnels.
  • Gallereid Prime: The most habitable of the moons, home to a Bleedist settlement.

Why Here?

The Lasers are here to protect the Yellow Fleet from thieves, raiders, quarrelling crews and other threats.

Who Are The Factions?

Key factions:

  • BVS Incorporated: The corporation responsible for managing and maintaining the fleet, while they wait for the replacement Tachyon Buttress to be installed.
  • Scrubbers: The underpaid, bored, and increasingly troublesome crew of techs responsible for maintaining, effectively, 15 giant space cities.
  • Monks of the Yellow Oracle: Eccentric monastic nu-faith that many of the scrubbers have joined. They claim to be able to see the future in the sulphur clouds.
  • Cybes: The cyborg crew of the Kullervos, who object to their homeship being decommissioned. Some want to purchase the ship, and have become mercenaries to earn some extra credits.
  • Gallereid Bleedists: Denizens of Gallereid Prime, who don’t want the tachyon buttress built – they want to be mostly cut off from the Combine.
  • Azurans: Refugees settled on the blasted moon of New Azura; they claim ownership of the cargo of

Who Are The Criminals?

  • Gallereid Organised Crime: Gallereid Prime’s the home of the local crime syndicate, the Kch-Tkh-dominated Hive Lords. They don’t appreciate having a bunch of Lasers hanging around on the other side of the gas giant.
  • Cargo Ticks: Low-grade raiders who break into the hulls of the freighters using reconfigured mining ships and steal cargo. They work closely with criminal elements among the scrubbers.

Who Are The Faces?

  • BVS Incorporated: Mik Reiser, corporate executive. Ambitious, eager to get out of this dead-end assignment. Conceals slimy amoral core beneath a mask of earnest concern for the safety of those heroic scrubbers.
  • Scrubbers: Kima Adros, leader of the scrubber crew on the Costaguana. Torn by doubts about the Combine.
  • Monks of the Yellow Oracle: Abbot Zhar, cryptic robed figure, rumoured to be a Vas Mal.
  • Cybes: Commander Navzero, the leader of the Cybes who claim the warship. Navzero’s literally built itself into the ship, permanently wiring its core systems into the networks of the Kullervos.
  • Gallereid Bleedists: Alten Brase, the mayor of Gallereid Prime. In a relationship with Kima Adros. He’s also aided by Vogik, a shady Tavak enforcer who’s the law on Prime.
  • Azurans: Lady Io Sunwater, the representative of the exiles from Azura.
  • Gallereid Organised Crime: Run by the Durugh Ishuk – a long-time foe of Vogik.
  • Cargo Ticks: One notorious tick is “Lucky” Lar, who’s so incompetent a thief that he’s turned informant for the Lasers.

What’s New?

During the war, the convoy of megaships was in the process of entering the translight corridor when the Mohiliar blew up the Gallereid tachyon buttress. The lead ship, the mighty Thunderchild, was in transit when the buttress collapsed, and was assumed destroyed 10 years ago.

Well, the Thunderchild just dropped out of translight. No life signs, minimal power, lots of damage. It’s possible that she’s been bouncing around in translight for years, in the unstable hyperspace outside the corridor, and precipitated back into lowshift space by chance – but the odds against that are millions to one.

It looks like the Yellow Fleet’s about to gain a new and mysterious addition… once the lasers have confirmed there’s nothing dangerous on board that vast megafreighter…

What’s The Station?

A chunk of one of the Yellow Fleet ships, given over to the lasers. The players get to pick which wreck is home…

Possible Cases

  • Kima Adros warns that Thunderchild is going to fall into Gallerus’ gravity well unless secured – but she can’t get the ship’s engines restarted until the Lasers clear the engineering section of mysterious translight predators that feed on fear.
  • A smuggler is murdered on New Azura. He dealt in relics from the Blue Haven, selling personal items back to the Azurans. How did he steal that cargo – and why was it worth killing over? What ancient secret from Azura was hidden in those trinket?
  • A tip-off warns the Lasers that notorious Bleedist terrorist Azo Hoop is in-system, and is rumoured to be planning to obtain weapons from the warship Kullervos. Is Hoop working with the Bleedist sympathisers on Gallereid Prime, or the Cargo Ticks – or has he gone straight to the Cybes? Or is the rumour a plan to distract and discredit the Lasers in the eyes of the other residents of Gallerus?

The 2nd edition of the Esoterrorists includes the Station Duty campaign frame, in which a Esoterrorist team is placed on long-term assignment to a particular small town for an ongoing investigation instead of the usual mystery-of-the-week. That approach also works in Ashen Stars. (The obvious worked example: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine swapped out the ‘planet of the week’ structure of the original series and The Next Generation for an ongoing plot involving Bajor, the Cardassians, and the wormhole aliens.)

Key questions to be answered, either by the GM or collaboratively with the players:

What’s The Scope?

Is this a single planet? A single star system? A group of systems? You could do as small a single city, or as wide as a whole cluster or outzone – maybe the station’s located at a crossroads in space where multiple translight corridors intersect.

Why Here?

Why does this place justify a permanent Laser presence? Is it strategically important – a choke point, maybe, at the mouth of a wormhole, er, translight corridor? Is it especially lawless, a pirate haunt that must be patrolled? Is there some vital industry here that must be protected? Is it a new government outpost that’s trying to return Combine order to the chaotic Bleed? Maybe this was the site of a major battle in the Mohiliar war, and there’s a scrapyard of wrecked warships here – or researchers investigating the doomsday weapons used by the mysterious enemy.

Who Are The Factions?

You need at least four or five major groups. What alien races are present? (At least some should be the same species as some of your more unusual player characters.) What major corporations? Nufaiths? Planetary governments? What are their attitudes towards the player characters and towards each other? Ensure there’s at least one conflict between every faction, even if they’d normally be closely aligned.

Possible factions include all the major Combine people (Human, Cybe, Durugh, Balla, Kch-thk, Tavak, and maaaaybe Vas Mal), plus the new peoples from Accretion Disk (boisterous Cloddhucks, drifting Hydrossi, corpse-stealing Icti, radioactive Ndoalites, fiery Raconids or shapeshifting Verpids); the various Nufaiths and Synthcultures, and the various political ideologies (Bleedist, Atomist, Combinism, Mercantilism, Empiricism and Racial Separatism).

Who Are The Criminals?

It’s a game about space cops, so stick in some space criminals. Having at least one established organised crime outfit (smugglers, illegal cyber-dealers, etc) and one bunch of space pirates or thieves is an absolute minimum. Which factions have ties to crime?

Who Are The Faces?

For each faction, come up with at least individual representative to give the players someone to talk to. Texture these characters by giving them a point of disagreement (possibly hidden, to be discovered by later investigation) with their own faction, and a connection to one of the other factions.

Also create a major location or headquarters for that faction, if one isn’t obvious already.

What’s New?

In addition to the arrival of the lasers, include some recent disruption to the status quo. This disruption might be something that lasts for the whole campaign (“the Combine’s returned to this sector”) or a plot arc that lasts for a few adventures (“space plague!”). Disrupting the status quo from the start lets the player characters become part of whatever new equilibrium is eventually established.

What’s The Station?

Is it a custom-built station? A derelict ship? A surface building? A moon colony? An old Combine military outpost?

The player characters still need a spaceship, as per the regular rules.

 Wire Up The Arcs

The final step is to plug the player characters into the web of factions and plots. In a station duty campaign, there’s much more scope for long-running plots, so integrate player character arcs into the setting. If a player’s arc is “find my missing sister”, her disappearance must be closely connected to one of the factions or some location (maybe she vanished into that wormhole). If it’s “prove my worth”, then the character might become the leader or chosen, er, emissary of one of the factions.

In the world of Mutant City Blues, there’s a single origin for mutant powers:  a mysterious virus called the ghost flu caused approximately 1% of the population to develop incredible abilities. In most campaigns, the ghost flu’s just part of the background, putting the focus on regular criminal investigations flavoured with tasty mutant weirdness.

However, if you want to push the mutant mystery to the forefront, here are four alternate origins for mutant powers. All these origins leave the signature Quade Diagram unchanged, but offer an additional line of investigation.

Mutagenic Meteor

Ten years ago, a meteorite broke up as it approached Earth. Portions of the meteorite fell through the atmosphere (other portions are still in orbit, and expected to pass close to Earth in a few years…) Much of the planet was bathed in dust; larger chunks of alien rock crash-landed more-or-less intact. People exposed to the dust developed mutant powers. Some of the fragments were collected and studied, but others have ended up on the black market. Snorting ground meteorite dust can trigger mutant powers; larger chunks have been fashioned into jewellery or tools, and are rumoured to boost mutant abilities to astounding levels or warp reality in other, stranger ways.

Investigating dust dealers and mutant-rock incidents are part of the remit of the Heightened Crimes Unit. Mutant City was hit especially hard by meteor fallout; they’re still finding meteor rocks in backyards and parks after all these years. And finding one of those rocks can literally change your life…

The Outsiders

The abductions began 10 years ago. About 1% of the population got beamed up by flying saucers (or stolen by the fairies, or folded into a higher dimension by hyper-beings). Those abducted sometimes developed mutant powers; others came back transformed in other ways, or were returned apparently unchanged. The military tried to intervene, but the aliens possess hypertechnology far beyond anything humanity can muster – and while the aliens’ intent may not be benign, it’s not overtly hostile either. These days, the abductions are just part of background weirdness – everyone knows someone who’s been abducted, and it’s common enough that ‘alien abduction’ is accepted without question as a reason for taking a sick day.

The Heightened Crimes Unit is responsible for following up on reports of abductions, and monitoring recent abductees to determine if they develop mutant abilities. HCU’s also tasked with investigating UFO sightings and other alien activity. Whatever the aliens are up to, they seem to be increasing the scale of their experiments in recent months.

Project HELIOS

Experiments in genetic enhancement of humanity began during the cold war; both the USA and the Soviet bloc carried out experiments to create super-soldiers. Their greatest success was Project HELIOS – a retrovirus that unlocked incredible powers. Only a handful of test subjects survived the HELIOS procedure, and the whole experiment was conducted in the greatest secrecy…

… until an augmented, airborne version of the HELIOS virus was released in the Hartsfield-Jackson airport in what’s now called simply the Incident. The virus rapidly spread all over the world, causing an outbreak of mutant powers. Unlike the military version, HELIOS2 caused few casualties. A year to the day after the Incident, a mysterious group called the Ascended claimed responsibility for the augmented virus, and declared that mutants would soon control the world.

There have been several other, localised, HELIOS outbreaks in the years since the Incident; these are referred to as HELIOS3, HELIOS4 and so on. These local outbreaks all caused powers restricted to a particular part of the Quade Diagram; while some credit the Ascended with these outbreaks, the official line is that they were caused by mutated versions of HELIOS2.

Wild rumours that might be true:

  • One of the original HELIOS subjects developed either super-intelligence or the ability to control viruses, and was responsible for the Incident.
  • The Ascended are a global network of mutants, plotting to overthrow society and usher in a mutant-dominate era.
  • The Ascended are a psychological operation, designed to turn ordinary people against mutants and justify oppression.

Mutant Vector

Taking a leaf from Greg Stolze’s Progenitor, in this setting, mutant powers are contagious. The first mutant was created by the Ghost Flu, as usual, but everyone after that developed their powers after being exposed to the powers of another mutant. Get hit by a lightning blast, and maybe you’ll develop your own lighting powers. Or superspeed. Or a totally unrelated power, although in general acquired powers tend to be closely related to the triggering power on the Quade Diagram. More likely, you’ll get third-degree electrical burns. Power transfer isn’t guaranteed – it’s a 1% chance per mutant ability point spent on the power use, or a flat 1% for Pushed investigative abilities. If you fail to develop powers on first exposure, you probably never will.

This has created ‘dynasties’ of mutant powers – many of the mutants in Mutant City, for example were created by fallout from an early terrorist bombing by a Self-Detonating man. Tracking ‘promiscuous’ mutants can help solve cases; if four victims of a con artist all develop mutant powers, you’re dealing with a mutant crook.

 

 

One of the easiest ways to quickly add iconic flavour to an adventure is to rework the monsters. If one of your players rolls a 6 on their Negative relationship with the Dwarf King, you can just hastily glue some beards to those ghosts in room 7 and call them the Spectres of the Tombless Dead. Need to work out how the Emperor plays into an adventure set deep underground? Turn those xorn into, er, Imperial Xorn. This trick is especially useful in the Underworld, which is (a) far from the regular haunts of the Icons and (b) already brimming with weirdness.

For the abilities listed below, use the attack bonuses and damages for creatures of the appropriate toughness and level on pgs. 254-255 of 13th Age. +X is the creature’s attack bonus, +XX is the creature’s damage.

A character with the appropriate Iconic relationships might know something about the powers and weaknesses of an Icon-warped entity.

Archmage

Magical Spirit: The creature is only partially manifest in our reality; it’s got Resist Non-Magic Damage 16+ in any round it doesn’t attack. Quirk: see-through.
Erudite: The creature can cast at least one spell (+X vs. MD, XX/2 damage, plus the target is Confused or Weakened, save ends). Quirk: long sagely beard.
Illusory: The creature isn’t really real; all attacks target MD. At the end of the battle, all participant regain one Recovery. Quirk: ham actor
Bound: The creature is magically anchored to an object or place; it’s got +1 to all defences while near the spot, but cannot move more than a short distance away. Quirk: little arcs of magical lightning link creature to its cage.

 Crusader

Spiky: -2 to disengage attempts; characters who try and fail to disengage take 3 damage (Champion: 6; Epic: 15). Quirk: Irritable
Blazing: Fire aura deals damage equal to the Escalation Die to any foes who start their turn engaged with this monster (Champion: x2; Epic: x3). Quirk: On fire. If already on fire, complains about it.
Relentless: The creature gets an additional saving throw at the start of its turn. Quirk: Rants and  raves about demons.
Bound: The creature is magically anchored to an object or place; it’s got +1 to all defences while near the spot, but cannot move more than a short distance away. Quirk: little arcs of magical lightning link creature to its cage.

 

 Diabolist

Demonic: The creature gains resist fire 12+ and Quirk: Little bat wings, reddish skin.
Beguiling: It’s hard to bring yourself to attack the creature; anyone attempting to do so must make a normal save. Fail, and pick another target for the attack. Add the escalation die’s value to the save roll. Quirk: cute, in a sinister way.
Summoner: When first staggered, the creature can summon a demon guardian as a free action. (Adventurer: dretch, Champion: Despoiler; Epic: 1d4 hooked demons)
Soul-Stealer: A character knocked unconscious by this creature has their soul stolen. A soul-less character rolls one fewer die for all recoveries, and may be vulnerable to other supernatural attacks or possession. Get that soul back before it’s sold! Quirk: Keeps other captured souls in jars, talks to them.

Dwarf King

Stone: Initiative bonus halved, -25%HP +2AC, +2PD. Quirk: Contains a relic or valuable item inside its hollow chest.
Begrudging: May add the escalation die to its attacks against the first foe to damage it. Quirk: If it survives the encounter, it continues to stalk the PCs.
Rune-Inscribed: Gains Resist Energy 12+ against the first type of energy-based damage it suffers. Quirk: Magic rune serves as key to some ancient dwarven door or treasure chest.
Armoured: -2 to attacks, +2 AC. Quirk: Grizzled grognard.

 

 

Elf Queen

Immortal: This creature has been around for many Ages, giving it great wisdom. It can talk, and is much clever and wiser than others of its kind. Oh, and it can’t due through physical damage – it can be reduced to 0 hit points only by a suitably thematic attack. Quirk: irritatingly long-winded.
Fae: Vulnerable to iron, but elusive – it cannot be intercepted and doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks by moving Speaks in dodgy Shakespearian verse.
Stargazer: At the start of the battle, roll a d6. While the escalation die matches that value, the creature gains +2 to all defences and may add the escalation die to its attack rolls. Quirk: Claims to have foreseen the future of the PCs.
Elven Grace: At the start of each round, roll a d6. If the roll is equal to or lower than the value of the escalation die, the creature gains an extra action and the die rolled increased by one step (d6 to d8, d8 to d10 etc). Quirk: Snooty

 Emperor

Disciplined: If there are two or more creatures with this trait all fighting side by side, they all gain +1AC.
Quirk: Martial martinet – snaps to attention, marches up and down, calls out attacks like a drill instructor.
Royal: The pride of this creature cannot be diminished by mere damage.
If it’s not staggered, reduce all damage taken by 5 (Champion: 10; Epic: 15).
Quirk: Lazy and condescending to the commoners.
Gladiator: If this creature is engaged with a lone foe, it may add the escalation die to its attacks.
Quirk: Can you smeeeelllllllll what sort of pop-culture trope this creature is cooking?
Glorious: Gains a fear Quirk: Speaks with solemn gravity and authority.

 

Great Gold Wyrm

Dream-creature: The creature isn’t really real; all attacks target MD. At the end of the battle, all participant regain one Recovery. Quirk: Speaks with the voice of someone important to the player characters.
Fire-Breathing: Once per battle, the creature may make a free fire breath attack (C: +X to hit (1d3 nearby foes in a group), XX/2 fire damage). Quirk: Hot-headed and quick to charge.
Glorious: Gains a fear Quirk: Seeks to inspire everyone, even foes. (“You can hit me better than that! Keep trying!”)
Smiter: Once per battle, the creature make a smite attack, gaining +4 to hit and dealing an extra d12 holy damage (Champion: 2d12; Epic: 4d12). Quirk: Hunts down evil with extreme prejudice.

High Druid

Elemental: Roll a d4. 1: Earth – gains +1AC while in contact with the ground; 2: Air – can fly; 3 – Fire: Anyone engaged with the creature at the start of their turn takes fire damage equal to the value of the escalation die (Champion: x2; Epic: x3); 4: Water – any critical hits have a 50% chance of turning into normal hits. Quirk: Seeks balance between elemental forces.
Plant: -5 penalty to attempts to disengage from this creature; also, it can hide in forests and other overgrown environments, attacking from ambush. Quirk: Speaks slooooooooooooowly.
Regenerating: Heals 5 points of damage at the start of its turn, up to five times per battle. Healing back up to full doesn’t count towards its total; fire and acid damage turn off regeneration. Troll stuff, right? (Champion: Heals 10; Epic: Heals 25). Quirk: Unrelenting in all aspects of its life.
Savage: If the creature’s attack roll is equal to or lower than the escalation die, and it’s a miss, reroll. Quirk: Pick some absolutely trivial aspect of the PCs’ appearance or background, and complain about it constantly. (“I’ll kill you! And your hat! I’ll especially kill your hat!”)

Lich King

Skeletal: Resist weapons 16+. Quirk: Philosophical and detached; mordantly humourous.
Zombie: On a natural 16+, both zombie and target take +1d6 damage (champion: 3d6; epic: 4d10). Quirk: Eats brains.
Spectral: Resist Damage 12+, except force or holy damage. Walks through walls. Quirk: Gets confused and forgets it’s not the (roll 1d12)th Age.
Alive But Creepy and Spooky: If slain, comes back to life with 10% of its starting hit points. Well, comes back to undead. It only self-resurrects once. Quirk: Fired from a Hammer Horror movie for over-acting.

 Orc Lord

Brutal: Increase the creature’s crit threshold by 3 if it’s not staggered. Quirk: Loudly proclaims impending triumph of orc lord.
Overwhelming Assault: Every time the creature misses, increase its damage by +1d6. Quirk: Sadistic and willing to use dirty tricks against PCs.
Savage: If the creature’s attack roll is equal to or lower than the escalation die, and it’s a miss, reroll. Quirk: Superstitious, laden down with amulets, performs rituals before battle.
Furious: Every time the creature makes a successful save against a condition or ongoing damage, increase its damage by +1d6. Quirk: Mocks weakness of PCs.

Priestess

Radiant: The creature’s surrounded by a holy aura; any nearby allies get a +5 bonus to saves. Quirk: Annoyingly serene.
Winged: It flies. Quirk: Annoyingly serene.
Redeemed: The creature’s usually associated with evil; this one serves the Light – and has a spear of light attack to boot (R: +X to hit, +XX holy damage). Quirk: Annoyingly serene.
Divine Emissary: The creature bears the symbols of a god associated with one of the player characters; that character is weakened in combat with the creature. Quirk: Annoyingly serene and knows all your embarrassing childhood secrets.

Prince of Shadows

Pickpocket: On a natural 1-5, the creature steals an item from the target. Quirk: Talks like a used car salesman.
Backstabber: If at least one other ally is engaged with the same target as this creature, it deals an extra 2d6 damage (Champion: 4d6; Epic: 8d6). Quirk: Whispers threats in your ear as it stabs you.
Whisperer: Every time this creature inflicts a critical hit, move one of the target’s Icon relationships one step towards Negative. The relationship die resets to normal after it’s next rolled. Quirk: Malicious gossip.
Elusive: When hit, the creature may make a normal save (11+) to turn that attack into a miss. Limited Use: 1/battle. Quirk: Shadowy and wears a dark cloak, regardless of the nature of the creature. So, yeah, it’s a dire bear in a dark cloak, a hydra in a dark cloak, a koru behemoth in a dark cloak.

The Three

Three-Headed: If the creature has a bite attack, then add “Natural 16+: Make another bite attack on a different target as a free action”). If it doesn’t have a bite attack, +2MD. Quirk: Argues with itself.
Fire-Breathing: Fire-Breathing: Once per battle, the creature may make a free fire breath attack (C: +X to hit (1d3 nearby foes in a group), XX/2 fire damage). Quirk: Apocalyptic prophet.
Sorcerer: Gain a spell attack (C: +X to hit, XX/2 damage, and the target is Confused or Weakened, save ends). Quirk: Talks in arcane mumbles.
Poisonous: The creature’s attack now deals 5 ongoing poison damage, save ends (Champion: 10 ongoing; Epic: 15 ongoing). Quirk: Communicates only in gestures.

You are Leyla Khan and you’re running from your past. Once, you fell under the psychic thrall of a vampire, and he forced you to do terrible things. Your memory of those awful years is mercifully tattered and incomplete. You know enough to hunt and kill your former masters, and that’s all that’s important. Now, you wage a solo war against the Un-dead.

Now your past has found you. A scouting mission in Prague goes sour, dragging you into a perilous web of occult horrors and organised crime. Is this a chance for redemption – or are they dragging you back into the darkness you thought you’d escaped?

The Best of Intentions is a thrilling stand-alone adventure for Night’s Black Agents: Solo Opspitting a lone player against the vampires and their malign conspiracies in the shadowy world of international espionage.

 

Stock #: PELGON02D Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artists: Jen McCleary, Miguel Santos Pages: 44 pages B&W PDF

 

Buy PDF now

In a perfect world, I’d work up to revealing the final cover for Book of the Underworld, telling the step-by-step story of how it came to be and finally whipping the sheet off the easel.

But that’s now how the internet works. So here’s the cover as painted by Lee Moyer using some original pencil sketches by Rich Longmore.

How It Came to Be

Like Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s earlier Book of Ages, Book of Demons, and Eyes of the Stone Thief, the upcoming Book of the Underworld is a pinwheel of unforgettable ideas that are great for gaming. One of the high-class problems of working with material this good is that I feel responsible for finding ways of creating covers that live up to Gareth’s writing.

Last year, we handled this responsibility for Book of Ages by using a team-up. It was the same team-up we’d used previously on the core book and the 13th Age GM screen. Aaron McConnell created wonderful pencils (reprinted inside in the section featuring the Grandmaster of Flowers, page 91) and Lee Moyer handled the paints.

That team-up wasn’t available for Book of the Underworld, and at first it didn’t look like I had a way of getting Lee in on the project. Gareth, developer J-M DeFoggi, and I had some fairly standard art suggestion ideas for what we might do for the cover. But when I say “fairly standard” I also mean that I didn’t think our ideas were particularly good or entirely practical.

So eventually I called Lee, intending to tell him our problem and see if he had a suggestion for a better path. Lee listened and then suggested a better path that he was willing to carve himself.

Lee sent over a layout of an obsidian shard, hung in webs, the sketch just below. Lee asked whether Rich Longmore could provide pencils for a few characters that Lee would use to populate the obsidian mirrors. Lee had enjoyed painting over Rich’s pencils on the Timewatch GM Screen so this was another team-up that had worked before.

I sent Rich notes that went something like this:

The plan is to have a magical blade of obsidian (or something!) held up by spider webs. The obsidian will reflect several faces and scenes related to the underworld.

You will create four pencil sketches that will get slices taken out of them as shown in the blue shards cut out of the obsidian in Lee’s comp. The sketches don’t have to complete, but they need to be somewhat bigger than the spaces so Lee can move ’em a bit. They don’t have to be inked. They also aren’t part of something happening right in front of the shard, it’s more like a magic mirror effect, Lee will take what you draw and distort it in the slab.

Rich was into it and we agreed on the characters/creatures to be sketched: drow warrior; dwarf warrior; giant spider; and soul flenser.

Here are Rich’s sketches. I wasn’t entirely clear on how these were going into the painting, so I couldn’t have approved them without confirming that they were what Lee was hoping for. Yep, as usual Rich hit it on the first try.

And then came the blessed period when Lee goes away, spends three or four times as many hours as he said he would spend on the project, and comes back with something finished and wonderful. For a change, Lee handled the fonts and text for the cover, I think that may actually have taken him as much work as the painting. We’ll put the Pelgrane logo in the bottom right corner and we’re done with another cover that lives up to its book.

The number one critique of GUMSHOE among those who have little or no experience of the system is that the investigative rules turn the scenario into a railroad, where the players blindly follow a predetermined series of clues – which, being an erudite regular reader of Page XX, you know is not true. Hot on its heels, though, is another complaint you may encounter with new players – that the point-spending aspect of general abilities means that there’s little difference between a supremely skilled character and an amateur over an extended fight.

If I’m a super-lethal spy, the best sniper in the world with a mighty 15 in Firearms, then that probably gives me at most five guaranteed hits (spending 3 points per attack, plus my die roll against a Hit Threshold of 4) – possibly fewer if the bad guys have cover or other advantages. After I spend all my points, I’m rolling a plain d6 for my attacks, just like the schlub next to me who has only a single point of Firearms.

Three arguments for the current rules:

  • You Don’t Need That Many Successes: In most general abilities, you rarely need to succeed multiple times in an adventure. One or two guaranteed successes in Stealth, Mechanics, Preparedness or Driving is often more than enough to overcome any challenge. Most General Abilities only get called once per session at most. This argument does fall down a little when it comes to combat abilities, but for most abilities, a higher pool does model the effect of higher competence.
  • You Can Refresh: Especially in games that allow refreshes in the middle of the action (Night’s Black Agents and moves like Technothriller Monologue, Timewatch and Stitches), a player can take action to get points back. Having the sniper have to spend a round describing how they move to get to a better firing position is more fun than yet another round of “I shoot, I hit”. Forcing the characters to rest and refresh to get their abilities back pushes the game towards a nice rhythm and gives a sense of time passing.
  • It’s More Interesting: Players tend to have higher pools than most of their opponents, so switching to a different ability is often an option. Out of Firearms? Grab a knife and start swinging with Weapons. Out of Driving in a chase scene? Then ditch the car and start parkouring with Athletics. Out of Preparedness? Start improvising with Mechanics.

However, if a prospective player remains obstinate, one compromise is to give a flat +1 bonus to all tests involving a general ability if a character has a rating of 8 or more in that ability. So, if you’ve got Firearms 8 or more, you get a +1 bonus to all Firearms rolls. That gives the super-experienced, super-competent gunman a permanent edge over the barely trained goon, but doesn’t distort the regular GUMSHOE point-spending mechanic too much, so the characters will still need to make spends, seek out refreshes and so on.

This added rule can be added straight into most GUMSHOE games; for games that already offer 8-rating cherries like Night’s Black Agents, offer the flat bonus as an alternative cherry.

Previous Entries