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 Bargain, 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: A good Credit Rating 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.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

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

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

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

 

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

Simpler GUMSHOE: Fear Itself, Timewatch

Average GUMSHOE: Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu

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

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

 

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

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

Sci-Fi: Ashen Stars, Timewatch

Superhero Cops: Mutant City Blues

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Either Works: Trail of Cthulhu, Fear itself

Long Campaigns Preferred: Night’s Black Agents

 

Esoterrorists

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play Esoterrorists if:

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

Find out more about the Esoterrorists

Fear Itself

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

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

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

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

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

Play Fear Itself if:

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

Find out more about Fear Itself

 

Trail of Cthulhu

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

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

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

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

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

Play Trail of Cthulhu if:

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

Find out more about Trail of Cthulhu

 

Mutant City Blues

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

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

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

Quick Pitch: Procedural cop show with superpowers!

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

Play Mutant City Blues if:

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

Find out more about Mutant City Blues

 

Ashen Stars

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

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

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

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

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

Play Ashen Stars if:

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

Find out more about Ashen Stars

 

Night’s Black Agents

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

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

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

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

Or worse.

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

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

Quick Pitch: Jason Bourne vs Dracula

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

Play Night’s Black Agents if:

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

Find out more about Night’s Black Agents

 

Timewatch

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

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

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

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

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

Play Timewatch if:

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

Find out more about Timewatch

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

– Nyarlathotep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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Can you kill the dungeon before it kills you?

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

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

For players:

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

For GMs:

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

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

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

Buy

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

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

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

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

No Escape

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

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

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

No Evidence

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

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

No Place To Hide

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

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

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

No Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a quick list of options:

 Edges

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

Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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