The Book of Demons is out in print this month, so in celebration (unholy, raucous, and malignant) of that fact, we present a way to bring demons into your 13th Age campaign a little more.

Demons are always scratching at the walls of their prison, looking for a way out into the world. There are magical rifts and hellholes and summoning spells, of course, but demons can’t be choosers. Sometimes, the only way out is to squeeze through the narrowest of cracks—like, through a soul in a moment of pain or terror. A demonic boon is a special form of iconic benefit that a cruel GM might offer a vulnerable player. Say you’re in a dangerous pickle, and you really wish that you’d rolled a 5 or 6 on your relationship die. The GM might offer you a demonic boon—the chance to retroactively turn that relationship roll into a success.

You called for help, and someone answered. Just not who you were expecting. The benefit’s not coming from the icon directly—it’s coming from the forces of the Abyss.

If you accept a demonic boon, treat it as though you’d rolled a 5 on your relationship die—a benefit with strings attached, and the demons are the ones holding those strings. Don’t worry, it’ll only be a small favour to repay.

Probably.

And demons never (hardly ever) charge interest…

Spoor of the Abyss

Boons only happen in places where demons already have a toe-hold in the world. They happen near hellholes (or near places where hellholes are about to form), in places haunted by demons, sorcerers, or Diabolist-cultists, or in areas where the barrier between dimensions is naturally thin.

While demons are naturally drawn to the mighty, blazing, juicy souls of heroic player characters, they’re not that picky. Ordinary mortals and non-player characters might get demonic boons if the conditions are right. If you run into a little girl who really wanted a kitten and got one that talks (and teaches her to throw fireballs), or meet a farmer who’s gone from drought to bountiful harvest overnight, there may be a demon nearby.

Demonic boons might be delivered by imps and other obviously demonic entities or by demons masquerading as spirits or servants of the icons. A wary adventurer can usually spot some demonic tell—glowing eyes, sharp teeth, or the smell of sulphur.

Archmage: Demons are creatures of magic, and more than a few wizards and sorcerers have ended up in the Abyss out of hubris, damned by their pursuit of forbidden knowledge. Such spellcasters could be let out of the Abyss (briefly) to pass on some tidbit of arcane lore or juice up a spell.

Crusader: The Crusader’s servants don’t get demonic boons—they take them by force instead. The Crusader binds and enslaves demons to do his bidding, and is well aware of the seductive tricks and traps that demons might employ. Servants of the Crusader are never offered boons. Well, hardly ever—for all their oaths to the Dark Gods, for all their demon-binding magic, for all their fanatic hatred, there are times when even a Crusader feels fear…

Diabolist: If you had the demonological equivalent of a tunnelling electronic microscope, an arcane machine that could detect the most infinitesimal of supernatural influences, you might be able to tell the difference between a regular Diabolist relationship benefit and a demonic boon. Maybe.

Dwarf King: Dwarves are generally too solid and down-to-the-primordial-roots-of-the-earth to be tempted by demonic influences. Demonic dwarf-boons tend to work using existing grudges and hatreds—the demons won’t try to trick you or seduce you, they’ll just offer you that little boost of magical power or physical might to smash those ancestral enemies.

Elf Queen: Demonic boons from the Elf Queen cluster around the dark elves. There are old and deep connections between the dark elves and the demon realm, and it’s easy to demons to sneak in that way…

Emperor: The Emperor stands for law and justice, the antithesis of demons. Demons trying to sneak in demonic boons for this icon, therefore, always show up in disguise. Armoured knights with their faces hidden behind visored helms, legal documents warped and rewritten by demonic sorcery, malicious trickery disguised as moments of good fortune or justice.

Great Gold Wyrm: Like the followers of the Crusader, those who serve the Great Gold Wyrm are on guard against demonic boons. Clever demons, therefore, offer their boons as tribute, playing on the hero’s pride. Oh mighty paladin of the Great Gold Wyrm, we could not hope to defeat you, so take these offerings as your rightful due…

High Druid: Shapeshifting demons can take the form of animals. Talking cats, talking birds, talking trees—are these kindly servants of the High Druid, or demons in disguise?

Lich King: The power of the lord of graves is centred on the isle of the Necropolis, so he aids his servants through ghostly emissaries, chilly omens, and secretive servants. It’s easy for demons to mimic any of these, especially for nalfeshnee and hezrou, both of whom have the rotting stench down pat.

Orc Lord: Those who follow the path of the Orc Lord tend to stab first and ask questions later. Even questions like, “Hey, why am I suddenly blessed with this demonic fury, and why does my blood catch fire on contact with the air?” get glossed over.

Priestess: Demons convince followers of the Priestess to accept their boons by offering them in times when other people are in need. Out of healing spells and your companion’s at death’s door? A village wracked with disease? That kitten climbed a tree into the overworld and is now stuck beyond space and time? Do you want others to suffer or are you good and holy enough to accept a little compromise?

Prince of Shadows: If there’s one thing about the Prince, it’s that he’s honest. The Prince knows the value of a good deal, a bargain fairly made. His agents will take a boon when the time and the price are right.

The Three: Demons typically use the Red as cover. The Red Dragon’s barred from the Empire so he works through emissaries (check), he fosters random destruction (check), and he’s got a whole fire-and-brimstone shtick (check). Hey—are we completely sure the Red isn’t a demon?

 

The Zalozhniy Quartet for Night’s Black Agents sends the Agents on a desperate search for… wait. Spoiler warning. Don’t read this article if you’re likely to play in a ZQ game anytime soon. It’s a desperate search for, ah, something fuzzy and friendly and totally does not involve unkillable time-locked zombie monsters.

Now that we’ve cleared the room of non-Directors without clearance, let’s get into it. The Quartet involves a search for two mysterious substances, the nigredo (vampiric essence) and the albedo (a control substance of some sort). Combined, these create the rubedo, a marvellous compound sought by the vampires – and that, incidentally, gives control over the House of Saud and Saudi Arabia. (I note in passing that not only have world events overwritten the opening sequence of The Zalozhniy Sanction, set in Crimea, but current events in Riyadh may soon make the description in Treason in the Blood obsolete…)

If all goes according to plan, the Agents pick up the Albedo in The Boxmen and find the nigredo in Treason in the Blood.

The terms albedo, nigredo and rubedo are borrowed from alchemy. They’re three of the steps towards the Great Work to make the philosopher’s stone and achieve immortality, which makes them obviously pertinent to vampiric weirdness. You start with nigredo, with putrefaction and death (or, if you’re going with a Jungian know-thyself interpretation, the dark night of the soul). You’re wash it clean with (or in) the albedo (the Whiteness, Cleansing). You transmute it through citrinitas, the Yellow, the solar light, the dawn. Finally, you achieve the rubedo, the Red, perfection and victory and immortality (and access to Saudi oil reserves.)

So, there’s a whole alchemical step in the Magnum Opus right there – citrinas – that’s missing in the Zalozhniy Quartet. If that offends your sense of alchemical symmetry, here are some options for adding it in:

  • The citrinas is the human element in the vampire. CITRINE was St. John Philby’s codename for King Ibn Saud; the Conspiracy still use the Citrine codename to refer to the Saudi royal family (“we can draw down funds from the citrines”)
  • Citrinas is the essence of solar heroism – it’s vampire slaying. To create the rubedo, you need the blood of a hero. The Conspiracy needs to capture one of the Agents alive to complete their plan.
  • The citrinas refers to the ritual needed to combine the albedo and The Agents can obtain it from the Russian defector Arkady Shevlenko, or from Kim Philby’s safety deposit box, or St. John’s grave, or Dorjiev’s notes. Alternatively, the citrinas might be a potion that awakens the imbiber’s consciousness, enabling them to combine the albedo and nigredo safely. This also implies that the Conspiracy may end up needing to snatch one of the Agents.
  • The citrinas refers to a magical lens (maybe one of the glass fulminates retrieved from the desert, suitably polished) that transmutes the solar magic of daylight into the alchemical heat needed to achieve the rubedo. The Kingdom Centre in Riyadh is, of course, made using windows of citrinas; the Agents can delay the ritual by blowing up the Conspiracy’s lenses, or hike into the desert to find their own lenses.
  • Citrinas, the moment of self-realisation after death and cleansing, refers to the death-moment of a zalozhniy. Dr. Dorjiev wears citrine stones to anchor his life to that death-moment, as per p. 9 – if the Agents destroy or remove those stones, he’ll have to create a new zalozhniy post-haste to hide his death away again. (Kim Philby also created a citrinas token to sustain him through the Great Work, which is why he was so damned hard to kill – his citrine-stone ensured he survived the shell explosion in December 1937 in Spain, when he emerged unharmed from a blast that killed everyone else in the car he was travelling in. The citrine may be stored in his deposit box in the Kornersbank, or in some KGB storeroom in Moscow.)

For lots more alchemical fun, check out GUMSHOE Zoom: Alchemy

The upcoming SOLO rules introduce a new concept – the lone player has a Shadow score that measures how aware and aggressive the supernatural threats are right now. You gain Shadow problems when you attract the attention of vampires and other horrors, and you can suppress your Shadow by taking precautions like staying on holy ground or keeping running water between you and the vampire’s lair. Your Shadow score limits the type of attacks and antagonist reactions the bad guys can deploy against you. If your Shadow score is 2+, then the vampire might sneak into your dreams by night and torment you. If it’s 4+, then the vampire sneaks into your room by night to murder you, or something equally charming.

Think of it as supernatural Heat. As an experienced vampire hunter, the Agent can judge her current Shadow score, just like she has a rough idea of her current Heat. She can sense when there’s a sinister intention behind the chilly wind, or notices bats circling overhead like surveillance drones.

It’s an indicator to the player, letting her know how much danger she’s in without specifying the nature of the threat. It signals when it’s time to lie low or take a subtle approach, or when it’s time to risk everything. In a One2One game, where the player needs all the information she can get, Shadows’s a vital addition to the rules.

It’s less important in a regular multiplayer Night’s Black Agents game, where you’ve got ablative player characters and it’s less important to give the players a warning signal that they’re poking the wrong vampire lair. Still, if your group enjoys playing with Heat, you might get a kick out of Shadow.

Gaining Shadow

You gain Shadow by coming into contact with vampires or their minions, attracting the attention of the Undead, exposing yourself to supernatural influences, trespassing in dark places, and the like. Some sample Shadow gains:

+1 Shadow: Killing a minor minion, Walking alone at night, Spilling blood, Carrying the vampire’s Bane, Failing a Cover test

+2 Shadow: Killing a named minion of the vampire, speaking the vampire’s name aloud, trespassing in the vampire’s territory

+3 Shadow: Killing a supernatural minion of the vampire, psychic contact with the vampire, destroying any of the vampire’s coffins

Effects of Shadow

Once per game session, one player rolls against the Agents’ current Shadow level. If the roll’s under the current Shadow score, then the vampire strikes at the Agents. This may take the form of a suitable Vampyramid reaction (NBA, p. 189) or just using the vampire’s powers or minions to inconvenience them. Assume the vampire’s willing to spend Aberrance equal to the Shadow score x 3 on this attack.

Shadow also affects the occult underworld just like Heat affects the black market. Suddenly, seers and mystics are less willing to deal with the Agents, occultists might decide they’re better off cutting a deal with the devil rather than siding with the hunters, Renfield-esque patients in psychiatric institutions become agitated, sensitive souls dream of fangs and blood.

Losing Shadow

Shadow’s hard to lose – the players lose it over time, or by moving away from the vampire, or by killing the monster. However, they can suppress their Shadow score in various ways, temporarily reducing it by taking various precautions.

-1 Shadow: Always carrying the vampire’s Dread

-2 Shadow: Staying in a location that’s Blocked against vampiric intrusion

For example, the players are hunting Dracula. If their Shadow score hits 4, then Dracula will be able to enter their dreams and learn their secrets, ala Mina Harker. By always taking care to sleep behind a protective shroud of garlic blooms, the Agents give themselves a vital buffer – the garlic suppresses their Shadow score, keeping it under 4. Then, unfortunately, one of the Agents gets separated from the rest in a firefight with some of Dracula’s minions, and can’t make it back to their garlic-girded safehouse. His Shadow score isn’t suppressed – so if the die roll indicates that there’s a potential Shadow response, Dracula finds him… 

SaveSave

by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Love is eternal… if you’re an alien monstrosity from beyond all sane conceptions of space and time, an undying horror that seethes and defies our pitiful understandings of entropy and existence. For the rest of us, love’s a brief candle, a momentary delusion to distract us from the horror of existence, our cells blindly pushing towards pointless self-replication, perpetuating the cosmic torture upon a million future generations until humanity is mercifully extinguished and there’s nothing left upon the Earth but dust and coleopterans.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Here are three love-themed mythos seeds.

 

Roses are red/Violets are blue

(or so they are seeming)

In his house in Rlyeh/Great Cthulhu

(lies dreaming)

A dilettante investigator from a wealthy or influential meets an alluring young woman. She’s charming, eerily beautiful, erudite, and apparently of considerable independent means. Also, she proves to be remarkably well-informed about the Mythos, and is ready to aid the investigators in their struggle against cosmic horrors. All she asks is that the investigator come home with her to Innsmouth to meet her family…

The investigator is in no danger; he’s welcome in Innsmouth. After all, the elders want him to be part of the family. He doesn’t have to stay – in fact, they encourage him to take his bride-to-be home with him. The elders of Dagon intend to establish a second enclave of Cthulhu-worshipping Deep One hybrids, and have chosen the investigator to be the human progenitor of a new line.

How can he refuse? Can the other investigators interrupt the wedding in time?

 

Roses are red/Violets are blue

Yithians in your time-stream want to date you.

One of the investigators suffers a mysterious period of amnesia, during which she acted in a bizarre fashion, travelling to various occult sites and trafficking with ghastly entities. Afterwards, the investigator discovers bizarre messages left for her across the aeons – an archaeological dig in Cyprus finds a statue that’s the image of her, her name crops up in the secret oaths of cults, there are prophecies about her recorded in cryptic passages of the Necronomicon. Eventually, she find a Yithian library buried under the sands of Australia, and there she discovers the truth. She was abducted by the Great Race, and while imprisoned in prehistory, she fell in love with a mighty sorcerer of Hyperborea. Her starcrossed lover swore that he would find his way back to her once they both returned to their home time periods – even though he lived thousands of years before the present day.

All the hints and clues in the various occult tradition suggest that the sorcerer still exists in some form. Maybe he’s travelling forward in time through arcane rituals, or prolonging his life through vampirism, or he’s reduced himself to his essential salts so he can be resurrected by the cult he founded in ancient days. In any case, he’s unlikely to be the cone she fell in love with fifty million years ago – what eldritch horror, sustained by mad obsession, now shambles towards the investigator out of the aeons?

 

Roses are red/Violets are blue

Yellow, though, is the unhealthiest of hues.

In a gallery in Paris, the investigators glimpse a painting of a young woman. In the image, she strolls by a strange, misty lake, glancing over her shoulder as if daring the viewer to follow her.

Over the course of the next few weeks, all the investigators are beset by memories or dreams of the woman. In each case, they remember having a torrid, passionate romance with her at some point in their pasts. Some details are common to all their recollections – in every case, her name was Camilla; in every case, she abruptly ended the affair and fled, saying only that she had to find “truth, not its phantom”. Other details vary – in some cases, she was a student the investigator met at university, or a shepherdess in the village where the investigator grew up, or an artist’s model, or a friend of a friend. She appears ageless – some investigators remember her from their distant youth, for others, they recall her so vividly that they can still smell her perfume in their rooms, but she is always the same, always young and beautiful.

The memories become more intense, more alluring – and more detailed as the investigators dwell on them. Spend time thinking about Camilla, and you’ll recall how you picnicked on the banks of the Seine, or how she led you up the steps of a crumbling Roman ruin in the woods, or how she taught you the secret speech of ghouls. Memories of Camilla are suffused with a warm yellowish glow, and it is far more pleasant to dwell in melancholic remembrances of lost love than it is to exist in the harsh light of the present day. Spend enough time with her in the past, and she reveals more hidden truths, even hinting that the investigator can find her again in the present if he or she ensures that their love is the only true one – by killing the other player characters…

Is Camilla a curse conjured by the mysterious artist who painted the portrait, hired by some rival to destroy the investigators? Is she some Carcosan phantom, a memetic horror that’s colonising their histories? Is she a creature of possibility, trying to fix her own ever-shifting history by attaching herself to the timeline of one of the investigators? Or is she an innocent who became trapped in Carcosa, and is now trying to escape as best she can?

“The children of the night… what music they make!”

We’ve prowled around the topic of werewolves in Night’s Black Agents once in a blue moon. The ghoul stats in the core rulebook (p. 150) include a quick-and-dirty conversion to wolfman mode; a pack of terrorist werewolves shows up in The Edom Files. Some say Ken chains himself up in his basement on certain nights, but that’s probably a scurrilous rumour. It’s a pity, because werewolves work almost as well as vampires for occult espionage thriller games. You’ve got dark secrets, you’ve got secret identities, you’ve got distinctive means of dispatch, and a whole host of meaty metaphors to chew on. Werewolf as cursed soul, dragged in for one last job. Werewolf as terrorist, the monster hiding in plain sight. Werewolf as plague, as super soldier, as secret weapon.

This article presents a somewhat tougher and more developed werewolf than the hairy ghoul variant, but it’s still only a taste, and we don’t go into a deep dive on werewolf mythology here. Consider this article to be the moment when the big dog burst out of the woods at the side of the roads and bites you. Think nothing of it, it’s just a scratch…

Supernatural: Werewolves are skin-changers; humans able to adopt the form of a beast through sorcery, magic salves or some other supernatural gift. The power of lycanthropy might be inherited through a bloodline, or bestowed by a magical ritual, or maybe you need to put on an enchanted wolf-skin to become the beast (so, if you want to become a werewolf, you’ve got to hunt down and skin a werewolf). Supernatural werewolves have a measure of control over their transformations, and may willingly embrace their skin-changing talents. Possible examples: the devil-hunting Benandanti, viking berserkers, were-witches of Livonia

Damned: Werewolves are humans cursed to become beasts. The modern conception is that the curse is spread through being bitten, but it might equally be punishment for misdeeds (or the physical manifestation of spiritual corruption). Other traditions suggest that one can become a werewolf after death if buried in the wrong spot, or that drinking from the footprint of a wolf makes you become a wolf. In any case, the Damned werewolf is a victim suffering from a magical affliction – although the people it devours may not see it as a fellow victim.

Alien: Lunar associations and spiritual projections aside, werewolves are earthy creatures, things of meat and hair and bone and blood. Presumably, then, the alien werewolf is a byproduct or adaptation of some alien entity coming into contact with earthly fauna. Maybe weird dimension-shifting warp drives cause some sort of quantum overlap, entangling beast and man. Maybe werewolves are guardian monsters engineered using a mix of earthly DNA and alien science. Lycanthropic chest-busters, anyone?

Mutant: Lycanthropy was created in a bio-weapons laboratory, or as the result of experiments in creating super-soldiers. Obviously, there’s the last stand of the Third Reich in Operation WERWOLF (where the stated goal of creating a stay-behind network of partisans and guerrilla fighters was clearly cover for Nazi werebeasts), but you could also look at Stalin’s experiments in creating ape-human hybrids, modern genetic engineering experiments – or look back in time, and wonder if there’s something alchemical to the salves and enchanted potions of mythology.

Shapeshifting

Setting the parameters for a werewolf’s shapeshifting is as big a deal as deciding how stakes and mirrors work in a vampire-centric game. Here are four possible options.

Voluntary Shapeshifting (Any): Drawing on their inner beast, the werewolf can shapeshift into a wolf-man form. Or into a wolf. Or maybe they can take on either form. In every case, the werewolf must make an Aberrance test to change (Difficulty 4 if the transformation takes 1-6 rounds; Difficulty 6 to change instantly.) The Difficulty’s adjusted by circumstances:

-2 at night

-2 in moonlight

-1 if the werewolf’s already angry

-1 if the werewolf’s already injured

-1 if there’s fresh meat or the smell of blood

+2 on consecrated ground (Da, Su)

+2 in the presence of wolfsbane flowers (Su, Mu)

Triggered Shapeshifting (Su, Mu): The werewolf has to take some action involving an external trigger to transform – inject a shot of adrenaline, put on a belt of wolfskin, rub on a salve, eat a human heart. If unrestrained, the werewolf can use the trigger freely; doing it in combat requires an Athletics or Filch test (Difficulty 4). Spend 3 points of Health to change instantly; otherwise, it takes 1-6 rounds.

Projection (Su, Da, Al): The werewolf doesn’t physically transform at all – it’s a psychic effect, projected from the werewolf’s human body. Maybe the werewolf sends out her spirit, maybe it’s a tulpa or a distillation of the werewolf’s animal impulses. Maybe the lycanthrope possesses a nearby animal of the appropriate type.

Compulsive Shapeshifting (Da, Mu): This sort of werewolf has to transform in certain circumstances – the full moon being an obvious example. Resisting the transformation requires a Stability test (Difficulty 4, modified by the inverse of the modifiers listed above under Voluntary Shapeshifting). A successful Stability test buys the werewolf 1-6 combat rounds, but it counts as Shaken while caught mid-change.

When shapeshifted, add a suitable bonus (+6 at least) to the werewolf’s Athletics, Stealth, Hand-to-Hand and Health.

Other Powers

 

Immunity (Su, Al): Werewolves can’t be injured by bullets and other projectiles; weapon attacks do minimum damage. Fire and explosions do half damage and cannot kill the beast.

Regeneration (Da, Mu): Werewolves regenerate health when transformed at a supernatural rate (regaining almost full health every round for a super-tough werewolf, 3-4 points per round for something slightly more manageable). However, it can’t heal completely using this supernatural gift; the last point of damage inflicted by each injury must heal naturally. So, if you shoot a werewolf three times for five damage with each shot, it’ll be down by 3 Health when next encountered (in any form).

Savagery: In any round in which the werewolf is attacked or impeded, it gains 1-6 points of Aberrance. In any combat round in which the werewolf’s enemies all hide, flee or do something else non-threatening, it loses one Aberrance.

Werewolf Heart: In any form, werewolves possess animal magnetism and dangerous charisma. The werewolf can spend Aberrance to mimic the effects of spending Flirting or Intimidation.

Infection: Anyone bitten by a werewolf might:

  • Become a Damned or Mutant werewolf
  • Become a werewolf subject only to Compulsive Transformation
  • Have to make a Health test to avoid infection
  • Contract an especially damaging variant of rabies (onset 10-60 minutes, Difficulty 6 Health; Minor +2 damage and Hurt; Severe +6 damage, -4 Athletics, and -2 Health and -2 Athletics until cured).

Also, obviously: Animal Senses (p. 128), Darkvision (p. 128), Vampiric Speed (p. 133), maybe serial-killer-esque “It’s behind you” Apportation (p. 133), Strength (p. 137), Summoning (p. 137).

Banes

Silver, in all its forms.

Wolf’s bane, aka aconite.

(Da): Holy items.

Compulsions

Hunt on nights of the full moon.

Werewolf Assassin

General Abilities: Aberrance 4, Firearms 9, Hand-to-Hand 14, Health 14

Hit Threshold: 5

Alertness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: +1

Damage Modifier: +1 (claw or bite). The werewolf can only make one bite attack, but can make any number of claw attacks using Werewolf Speed as long as it has the points to spend.

Free Powers: Voluntary Transformation, Regeneration (in wolf form only), Savagery, Animal Senses (only when shape-shifted)

Other Powers: Werewolf Speed, Werewolf Strength, Infection

Banes: Silver

 

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten.

– The Festival

Of course, they celebrate Christmas in Great Arkham. It’s a normal city, a god-fearing city, and they have more reason to chase away the midwinter gloom than most. Every year, the city council raises a great tree in Independence Square, and decorate the streets with electric lights. Bands play down in the Wooded Island, and there are fabulous balls and parties in Kingsport and the Hotel Miskatonic. For a little while, maybe, it seems as if the oppressive darkness of the city retreats.

Look closer.

Sentinel Hill: The Church of the Conciliator, Great Arkham’s dominant religious sect, celebrates Christmas. It’s the birth of our Lord, a time of joy and hope! On this day, long long ago, God filtered down from the stars and took on human (well, material) form, to bring the good news of the Old Ones to the world.

  • Theology: The nativity readings in the Arkham City Cathedral are oddly sympathetic to Herod, of all people. There’s the unsettling implication that the birth of the saviour somehow required the sacrifice of many, many other children.
  • Streetwise: Attendance at mass over Christmas is obligatory, even if one doesn’t regularity visit church. The priests take note of those who refuse to celebrate this holiest of days. Why, ungrateful people who can’t even go to mass at Christmas don’t deserve to see the New Year…

Old Arkham: The wealthy families of Old Arkham host elabourate banquets and feasts, bringing the whole family back together for one night at least. Christmas is a time for renewing old vows and bonds of loyalty, and for bringing wayward scions back home.

  • Bargain: There’s a little shop on Go-by Street that sells the most marvellous Christmas decorations, handmade twists of glass and silver in the shape of stars and branches. Hang them from your tree, and your home will be protected for the season at least. They’re expensive, though, and there’s a waiting list as certain wealthy families buy a new one of these… charms every year. Maybe if you’re lucky, you can still get one – or borrow one with Filch…
  • Medicine: No-one dies in St. Mary’s Hospital at Christmas. It’s not some seasonal miracle, though – it’s something older and darker. Those who succumb to illness or injury on the 25th of December linger on in defiance of all medical science, and mutter in strange tongues as if some other force speaks through them.

University District: The university closes for the holidays, of course, so the storied halls and lecture theatres of Miskatonic are deserted. Most staff and students go home, leaving only a few lonely souls or bachelor professors to haunt the campus.

  • Library Use: There’s a book related to Ithaqua the Wind-Walker in the Orne Collection. Well, there’s sometimes a book on Ithaqua there. The tome only manifests on the coldest of nights around Midwinter. Read it if you dare, but each page you turn drops your internal body temperature by a degree or so.
  • Oral History: All the students go skating on the frozen Crane Pond during the water. There’s a campus tradition that if you’re on track to fail your exams, the ice will crack and break beneath you when you step on it, as if the Pond weeds out unworthy students.

Westheath: It’s hard for Christmas cheer to penetrate the grey skies and tomblike tenements of this district, but it’s here that the most honest celebrations of the season may be found. The people here light candles and place them in the windows of their apartments as a sign of defiance against the Mythos. Each morning, the elders of the community rise before dawn and walk the dark streets, checking every window. If a candle’s missing, does that mean that a family has succumbed to despair? Have they been taken by the Transport Police or some other dark force?

  • Biology: Christmas is obviously a busy time for Gardner Industrial Farms, where they churn out truckloads of obscenely large turkeys. They don’t have time to fatten the birds through conventional means, so they give the birds triple doses of the vitalising light from the patent Whipple lamps. Workers then enter the building and weed out the mutant birds, the ones whose cells… reacted to the Whipple lamps in an unwholesome fashion.
  • Streetwise: Christmas is hard for many families in this poor district; loan sharks working for the Malatesta family are always eager to help out. Nothing’s more useful to the criminal gang than an honest man without a prior record who’s unknown to the authorities. Want to give your kids a Christmas they’ll remember? The Malatestas can help…

Dunwich: Snow blankets the backroads and thickets of Dunwich, making travel difficult. Most people bunker down for the season, staying close to home. They have stories here – brought from the old world, they say – about Father Christmas and his elves. Things creeping through the woods, lithe and pale and leaving no tracks. A huge figure, white-bearded, his coat splashed with red, astride (or one with) his horned mount, following after his hunting beasts. No, it’s best to stay close to home at Yule in Dunwich, and leave offerings on your doorstep so nothing slithers down your chimney.

  • Oral History: Snowed in at the White Stone roadhouse, the investigators spend Christmas stuck with a bunch of strangers. Tongues loosened with port and mulled wine, each stranger relates a tale of horror and mystery… (aka, a one-shot flashback using pregenerated player characters).
  • Electrical Repair: The mighty turbines of the Olmstead Dam provide electricity for all the lights and amusements in the city. From the top of the dam, one can see the city blazing with seasonal illuminations… and when the turbines skip, the whole city flickers for an instant. It’s as though the dam’s transmitting messages to the streets, subliminal signals articulated in patterns of darkness and light.

Northside: Northside’s thronged with shoppers and revellers at this time of year. Plunge into those anonymous crowds, cast off your individuality, and join the dance of consumption!

  • Forensics: These bones recovered from Christchurch graveyard have toothmarks, suggesting that someone ate the corpse. What’s really disturbing, beyond the mere fact of the cannibalism, is that there are several different sets of toothmarks, implying that a whole family feasted on the deceased…
  • Physics: A misfiring Yithian machine buried deep under Northside triggers around midwinter, projecting its victims into the past, present and future for brief jaunts before returning them to their point of origin. The investigators are hired by an old and miserly businessman who’s experienced two such time-jumps already, and wants them to find a way to stop the machine before he’s forced to confront the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Salamander Fields: Here in the oldest, darkest heart of Arkham, they do not speak of Christmas. It is the Yuletide, and it is celebrated by descending into wet, dark tunnels that glisten with green flame. There are lights in the deserted houses, and strange spiked growths that might resemble Christmas trees at a distance, but do not mistake them for anything safe or festive…

  • Occult: A curious custom practised by an ancient Lodge in Old Arkham – each year, the wealthy members of the Lodge find some poor beggar or hobo and crown him King. They bring him back to their hall, dress him in fine clothes, feed him a meal fit for a king, and then… well, the king returns to the gutter, but is never quite the same afterwards.
  • Bureaucracy: The city’s determined to finish the infamous and long-delayed Dig as soon as possible, and work on the massive engineering project is due to continue through the festive season. Enterprising investigators could infiltrate the Dig site by taking temporary employment over the holidays.

Innsmouth Docks: Swim down, and you’ll soon find there are no seasons in the deep. Winter and summer are things of the surface; the deeps are timeless. So, the Yuletide is of less importance in Innsmouth than in other parts of the city. There are no brightly lit streets down here, and what hangs from windows is limp and damp and weedy instead of glittering tinsel.

  • Credit Rating: The Gilman House committee does host an expensive Christmas charity dinner every year. Since the raid on the House itself, the dinner’s moved to the more upscale function rooms at the Devil’s Reef restaurant. Those cultivating political connections in this part of town are advised to give generously. Especially promising donors may be introduced to certain… elderly individuals who are of great influence in Innsmouth.
  • Craft: Some unlucky children find strange pale dolls under the Christmas tree. The parents mutter to one another in wonder, trying to work out where the gift came from, and how it was placed under the tree in secret. They would be better off keeping a closer eye on their children; the dolls are lures dispatched by the Moon-Beasts of the Black Ships, and if the children are not watched, the dolls lead them off down to the docks to board the waiting ships…

Kingsport: Kingsport is Arkham’s pleasure-garden. It’s more associated with lazy summers and yachting than the dim midwinter, but there are still amusements to be found here. Walk along the promenade, fortified by hot cocoa and roasted chestnuts, and look out at the snowy harbour before visiting a gallery or a Christmas movie. It’s festival time, and strange pleasures might be found down some unexpected alleyway or winding stairs that only appears in moonlight.

  • Oral History: Everyone agrees that the best department store Santa Claus in the city is in Hartman’s Department Store in Kingsport. The jolly old fellow is positively magical in how he enchants the children, and always has the right gift to hand. Who knows what he whispers in their ears, though – and strange to say, in some lights, his face looks as artificial as his fake beard…
  • Art History: A script for a Christmas movie has floated around the various movie studies in Kingsport’s film district for the last few months. It’s called The Snowglobe, and it’s a seasonal tale of weird horror about a man who discovers that his quaint little village is actually a model trapped inside a globe, and he must fight to escape from this picturesque prison. The identity of the screenwriter is a mystery, and it’s rumoured he was visited by the transport police shortly after submitting a draft to AKLO pictures.

Chinatown: This district is a merciful refuge from the Yuletide spirit. Be of good cheer – there’s a place to escape Christmas, even in Cthulhu City…

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Cthulhu City, our new Trail of Cthulhu setting about a monstrous, mythos-haunted city adapts the Night’s Black Agents Heat mechanics to model Suspicion. Think of Suspicion as a slow simmer compared to Heat’s flash-fry. Rising Heat means police SWAT teams chasing you through the streets and airports shutting down; rising Suspicion implies police detectives knocking at your door in the middle of the night, or mysterious figures sabotaging your car to stop you leaving.

If your Night’s Black Agents game involves the characters spending extended time behind enemy lines, you may want to use these Suspicion mechanics in stead of Heat. Maybe they’re in a vampire-controlled city in Eastern Europe or maybe you’re running a historical Edom scenario with the Agents operating being the Iron Curtain, or a post-apocalyptic fantasy where greedy, sociopathic, inhuman monsters rule the world.

(Hat tip to “Nooch” over on rpg.net for requesting this adaptation.)

Suspicion

While in occupied territory, investigations into strange events and other vampire hunting activity may draw unwanted attention. This  is measured in Suspicion. The entire group of Agents has one Suspicion score in common; they are each other’s known associates. The group’s Suspicion begins at 0.

The groups’ Suspicion only rises once per game session; use the highest Suspicion gain incurred in the session.

Gaining Suspicion

Criminal acts, especially assault or murder, are the most common route to increased Suspicion, but showing undue knowledge of the supernatural or the Conspiracy also draws unwanted attention. Anything that raises Heat boosts Suspicion, but so do actions like:

  • purchasing large amounts of garlic or UV lamps
  • acquiring occult books
  • associating with other suspects
  • trespassing in vampire-controlled areas
  • possession of a foreign passport or legal-but-suspicious equipment like bugging devices
  • forbidden web searches
  • travelling by night
  • having no visible source of financial support

Averting Suspicion

Precautions: The agents can avoid increases in their Suspicion by ensuring that the city authorities do not connect the suspicious events with the hunters. Such precautions usually require spends from abilities. For example:

  • Make extra spends of Negotiation, Intimidation or Reassurance to convince witnesses not to mention the agents’ presence to the authorities
  • Spend Cop Talk to convince police to look the other way
  • Spend Evidence Collection or Forensics to wipe away fingerprints and sanitise a crime scene
  • Hide incriminating notes with Cryptography
  • Make untraceable home-made explosives with Chemistry instead of purchasing them on the black market
  • Use Disguise or Infiltration to avoid unfriendly eyes

Averted Suspicion can come back to burn the agents if circumstances warrant. If a witness comes forward later, or new evidence comes to light, or the investigators’ deceptions are penetrated, the Agents can gain Suspicion for older actions. Old Suspicion gains are automatically reduced by 1 point, representing the authorities’ lack of urgency in prosecuting old offences.

Losing Suspicion

There are three ways to lose Suspicion.

  • Wait It Out: Low levels of Suspicion diminish over time. If the agents’ Suspicion score is 2 or less, then reduce it by one point after a game session in which they avoid adding to their Suspicion. Suspicion scores of 3 or more do not diminish over time.
  • Buy It Off: Good standing and friends in high places can avert the attention of the authorities. The agents may reduce their Suspicion by one if, as a group, they spend Cop Talk, Reassurance, High Society or Tradecraft points equal to the number of agents multiplied by their current Suspicion score. For example, if four agents have a Suspicion score of 3, then they could reduce that score to 2 by spending 12 points from the listed Investigative Abilities.

These points don’t have to be spent all at once; the agents can put a few points aside after every game session until they have enough to buy down their Suspicion. However, if the agents gain any more Suspicion, then points allocated but unspent are lost.

  • Make A Deal: Various powerful patrons can intercede on the investigators’ behalf to shield them from the authorities.

Effects of Suspicion

Increased Scrutiny: As Suspicion rises, so does scrutiny of the Agents. At low levels of Suspicion, that’s largely cosmetic – mysterious figures watching them from across the street, threatening letters shoved through their door. It escalates through surveillance (phone tapping, bugs, intercepted emails, mysterious figures following them) and harassment (associates and contacts get arrested and questioned) until the agents themselves get arrested and questioned on suspicion of being vampire hunters.

Increased Watchfulness: Generally increased security – more guards, more alarms, more supernatural guardians.

Blowback: Rising Suspicion may also draw blowback from whatever Vampyramid you’re using.

Cover Identities

Suspicion acquired by different Covers is tracked separately; however, if a Cover is blown, then double the Suspicion attached to that cover and add it to the agents’ total.

 

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No backup.

No allies.

You’re all alone in the darkness. Just you… and them.

Night’s Black Agents: SOLO

ALONE AGAINST THE UN-DEAD

Written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (The Dracula Dossier, The Zalozhniy Quartet) Night’s Black Agents: SOLO is a stand-alone RPG which applies the GUMSHOE One-2-One rules to the award-winning Night’s Black Agents setting of spies vs. vampires.

One GM, one player – an explosive mix for a high-octane combat, or a cold-blooded chess game between a lone hero and the forces of darkness. Together, you plunge into an occult thriller that pits the gadgets and skills of a clandestine operative against the ancient horror of the vampires.

  • Can’t find an entire game group who can play when you can?
  • Want an intense head-to-head gaming experience?
  • Looking for a game to play online which fits superbly with virtual tabletops?

NBA: SOLO adds stunts, Mastery Edges, Shadow Problems and more to the One-2-One system.

Create your own Agent, or play as Leyla Khan – ex-MI6, ex-thrall of the vampires, now committed to hunting down and destroying her former masters before they recapture her. Sift through the ashes of Khan’s former life to find the clues you need to map the vampire conspiracy, then hunt down and slay the Undead.

Three explosive operations:

  • NEVER SAY DEAD
  • NO GRAVE FOR TRAITORS
  • CURRENTLY UNNAMED BUT IT’S GOING TO BE SOMETHING COOL

Status: In development

I’m working on the (somewhat delayed) first draft of Night’s Black Agents One2One, provisionally titled SOLO. These vampires nearly featured as the villains, but for various reasons, they got cut. Here’s the salvaged text, plus their standard NBA stats.

The Conspiracy

They are the Sinful Elect, damned to immortality through sin. Each of them committed some terrible transgression in life, and were transformed into vampires as reward or punishment. Their numbers are limited; there are only a hundred or so of them at any time, and while they can create lesser vampires by feeding their blood to mortals, they cannot create more creatures like them. Until one of the immortal Elect perishes by violence, another cannot be created.

So, a hundred immortals; a hundred damned monsters, a hundred unchanging faces in the flowing tide of mortality. They band together for protection against mortals, and for company against the loneliness of immortality. Each vampire has its own domain, its own networks of servants and agents; there is no overarching conspiracy, just a network of largely independent cells. At times, the vampires even war with one another, but that risks exposure to the mortal world, and so they have fallen into an uneasy peace.

Hunger and the desire to escape damnation unite them all. These vampires must feed on blood to survive, and to prolong their unnatural lives. And as every one of them has transgressed in some way, they all have reason to fear damnation.

Type

The Sinful Elect think of themselves as Damned vampires, but really they’re closer to Supernatural or Alien monsters.

There is something out there, beyond our reality. Think of them as demons if you wish, or higher-dimensional aliens. Their dimension intersects obliquely with ours. They can only sense humanity as an undifferentiated psychic mass, a nigh-uniform spiritual sea. The demons extend – they are outside time as we know it, so the present tense is the only one that can apply to them – tendrils towards us, searching for purchase. They can only catch hold and take root when they find some soul that is different enough from the rest to stand out.

That is why, historically, vampires are associated with monstrous tyrants and mass murderers. Killing lots of people is enough to put a spiritual mark on one’s soul, a psychic abscess that the demons can detect and colonise. Other forms of transgression – or, more accurately, other ways that people might differentiate themselves from the rest of humanity – can also work. A genius artist, an iconoclast, a sailor drifting alone in the ocean, hundreds of miles from another living soul might equally draw the attention of these demons.  You don’t have to be a mass-murdering monster to make inadvertent psychic contact with an alien psychic monster from another dimension, but it helps.

Only a hundred or so tendrils connect the demons to our dimension, one tendril per vampire. When a vampire is destroyed, the tendril recoils, then fumbles for another distinct mind to latch onto. Killing a vampire, therefore, condemns someone else nearby to demonic immortality. Over the course of a few days, this new anchor for the demons sickens and seems to die, as the psychic poison transforms them.

Most vampires are unaware of their demonic nature; only a few have ever discovered the truth about their condition, although more have glimpsed something of it in ecstatic visions or bloody portents.

Play the Elect as “regular” vampires for the most part – the demonic element is a plot device to break the vampire Conspiracy into bite-sized cells suitable for an episodic game.

The Demon Connection

It’s up to you how much the demonic aspect of vampires plays into your game. You can ignore it almost entirely, and play the Elect as “traditional” vampires with a religious gloss. You can use it as flavour, dropping in the occasional psychic episode or glimpse of strange, terrible creatures reaching in from another dimension. You can use it as an ironic mirroring of the clandestine worlds – just as a spy is alone in a foreign city, serving the mysterious goals of an unseen agency with many other connections and agents, so are the vampires servants of mysterious forces beyond human comprehension.

Later in the campaign, you can use the demonic connection as a way for the player to strike at the root cause of vampirism.

What Do The Demons Want? This may become a key question later in your campaign. Is there a single demon-thing out there, or several? Is the creature sentient in a way we can understand? Are vampires an accidental side effect of the demon’s fumbling psychic contact with humans, or a deliberate malign creation? Is the demon really a fallen angel, or an alien entity?

Spread

The Conspiracy is primarily a European phenomenon – whoever vampire zero was, whoever first made contact with the demons, it was someone in Eastern Europe, and the curse spreads by proximity. When one vampire dies, another is chosen from the people nearby. In recent centuries, though, the vampires have spread out across the world, and the Conspiracy is global in reach.

Numbers

There are around one hundred true vampires – 144 is believed to be the upper limit of the vampiric population, although the Conspiracy proper usually has only 80 or so active members, with the remainder either cut off from the organisation or unwilling to work with their ‘siblings’.

A vampire can create lesser progeny by feeding its blood to mortal victims. These “half-vampires” have a lesser suite of vampiric powers. Progeny decrease the power of the parent vampire – in effect, the progeny share the same supernatural connection to the extradimensional demon as their parent, splitting the creature’s unholy blessing between them. Lesser vampires can’t create progeny of their own, and they perish instantly if their ‘parent’ is killed. Progeny aren’t seen as true vampires and aren’t included in the numbers listed above. Only a few vampires bother to create offspring, and even fewer keep them around for long.

Variations & Divisions

There are several sub factions within the Elect. These factions ebb and flow depending on which vampires are in ascendancy, and the names used to refer to them change over time, but presently the following have currency. These are loose groupings, and a vampire might belong to two or more factions at a time, or drift between them.

  • The Chamber: Vampires of the Chamber manage the Conspiracy. They believe that vampires need to stay hidden from humanity to avoid hunters and extermination, and the best way to do this is to work together and exert as much control over mortal governments and institutions as possible. The Chamber has huge financial and logistical resources, but spends most of its efforts cleaning up after the excesses of other vampires instead of advancing some larger agenda. The other vampires often dismiss the Chamber as a cabal of dull bankers and bureaucrats, always fussing about trivial matters.
  • The Dominionists: These vampires claim that they have the right to do whatever they please to humans. Just as Adam was granted dominion over all the beasts of the field by God, they believe that the Elect have been given authority over all mortals. The Dominionist vampires are monsters by any measure, perpetrating all manner of atrocities. Most of their members committed mass murder in some form before becoming a vampire.
  • The Eremites: Eremite vampires while away the centuries with their own private obsessions and projects. Some Eremites prefer to keep a low profile, living out one pseudo-mortal life after another, and only dealing with other vampires when the Chamber calls on them. Others have embarked on some century-long scheme to achieve a cherished goal – to safeguard the borders of their old kingdom, to destroy some religious group they despise, or to discover some occult secret.
  • The Seers: The vampire Seers seek the truth about their condition. They are aware that some supernatural force animates and connects them, and that this force can be invoked or commanded through occult means. Unlike the lone Eremites, the Seers work together, pooling their knowledge and resources. The two main lines of inquiry for the Seers are mental disciplines to establish contact with the demons through meditation and psychic training – and alchemy, to create mind-expanding drugs that make it easier to perceive the demon world. They refer to their demonic masters/higher selves as secret kings, guardian angels or immanations.

Life & Death

A new vampire is created when an existing vampire is killed, opening up a place among the Elect – and leaving a tendril of demonic influence that isn’t latched on to a human host. This tendril attaches itself to a suitable candidate within a few hours, grabbing someone who is in some way spiritually distinct from those nearby. The demon’s otherworldly senses seem most attuned to those who believe themselves to be already damned; murder, in particular, leaves a distinct patina on the soul. However, there are no restrictions on who the demon might choose to invade, and one might equally pick a child, a saint, or an ordinary person who happened to think an unusual thought in the instant the psychic tendril brushed over their mind.

Once infested by the demon, the victim dies of apparently natural causes within a few days, and then rises from the dead as a vampire. To survive, the vampire must feed on human blood regularly. The appetite of a vampire varies from specimen to specimen, but few can go more than a month without feeding. Initially, the vampire appears human – it retains physiological traits like a heartbeat, warm skin, respiration, the ability to eat food and so on, but the passage of time strips these away. It’s the vampire’s psychic connection to the demon that sustains it, and that connection exists in the brain, so the brain is all that really needs to survive. Unless the vampire takes steps to maintain itself – drinking more blood and exercising its physical prowess – the human body withers, leaving only the monstrous brain in a grotesquely mutated shell, a leech-thing that can only suck blood and slither.

Killing a vampire requires the destruction of the brain – hence cutting off the head being the traditional method of destroying the creatures. Younger vampires perish if they cannot feed; the stake through the heart cuts off the blood supply to the brain, while placing a stone in the creature’s mouth prevents it from eating, both of which starve the brain of blood. Older vampires, though, are so ravenous for blood that it overcomes mere anatomy, and can grow new hearts or new mouths in order to indulge their thirsts.

Cure

Theoretically, it’s possible to cure a victim of vampirism by severing the psychic connection to the extra-dimensional demon before the victim dies. The only known way to do this is to present a more attractive candidate within a few hours of initial contact, before the demon has attached itself firmly to its new host. (That’s attractive according to the lights of alien demon horrors with a very warped perspective on humanity, of course; a demon might prefer the mind of serial killer to that of an ordinary bystander).

Powers

All vampires are preternaturally resilient, and hard to destroy through injury. Most also have some form of psychic ability – some can control the minds of others, or hypnotise with a glance, or become invisible by blanking the perceptions of those around them. The vampire’s powers grow with age.

Weaknesses

Only older vampires are afflicted by sunlight, although strong light does attenuate the vampire’s connection to the demon and blocks the use of some powers.

General Abilities: Aberrance 10, Hand to Hand 8, Health 10, Shooting 8, Weapons 4

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +2

Damage Modifier: +1 (bite), +0 (fist or kick) or +1 (firearm)

Armour: -1 (tough skin). Vampires who have lost their human form and degenerated into monsters are Rubbery.

Free Powers: Infravision, No Reflection, Spider Climb, Vampiric Strength, Regeneration (regains 1 Health per round, but must spend Aberrance at a one-for-one exchange range to ensure its regenerated flesh appears human-like)

Other Powers: Mental Attack (psychic blast), Magic, Vampiric Speed

Banes: Fire, Garlic, Sunlight, Silver

Blocks: Garlic, Hawthorn

Dreads: Fire

Requirements: Feed

 

Two forms of warfare dominated the battlefields in the early years of the 21st century.

Drones – remotely piloted vehicles – commoditized the battlefield. Guided by operators hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away, these drones removed the risk of death from battle, while still accomplishing the objectives set by their military – or, later, corporate – superiors.

Insurgents – small bands of irregular but highly trained fighters – could blend into the civilian population, using cities as cover, vanishing into the crowds. With limited numbers and firepower, insurgencies quickly learned to do whatever was necessary to win an asymmetric war – including sacrificing themselves in suicide attacks.  By the middle of the century, a synthesis of these two forms emerged.

Human drones. Corpses, reanimated and augmented by cybernetic implants, and guided by elite teams of remote operators. Anyone could be killed and turned into the perfect weapon, a bespoke killing machine optimized for a particular situation, a particular target.

Ideal, disposable weapons for the shadowy corporate conflicts and geopolitical chaos of the mid-21st century. The operators of these drones reminded themselves that however human their tools seemed, they were just meat machines.

Drones.

In drone, one player plays the drone – a cybernetically reanimated corpse, memory erased, designed for the mission at hand.

Three other players are the operators – remote console jockeys, there to guide the drone through its assignment, and keep it under control. Both sets of players draw their actions from the same pool of dice, forcing them to work together – and as the game progresses, the dice pool gets tighter and the hostile Gamemaster gets more firepower to throw at them.  It’s a collaborative cyberpunk dystopian psychodrama – with lots of guns.

Status: In playtesting

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