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

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

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

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

No Escape

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

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

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

No Evidence

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

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

No Place To Hide

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

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

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

No Truth

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

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

SaveSave

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a quick list of options:

 Edges

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

Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hit Threshold: 4

Armor: +1 vs Shooting

Awareness Modifier: -1

Stealth Modifier: -1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our 4th Age

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

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

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

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

Our 8th Age

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

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

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

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

Our 12th Age

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

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

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

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

So, in our take on 13th Age…

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

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

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

What histories will your players create?

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

Newspaper Credit Rating

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

Arkham Advertiser – 10

Arkham Gazette – 8

Arkham Cryer -5

Worker’s Voice – 3  

Dunwich Chronicle – 3

Kingsport Messenger – 4

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

Research Resources

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

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

I’m Working On A Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publish or Be Damned

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

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

For each possibly-ready story, roll a d6.

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

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

6: Print it!

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

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

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

Feed The Beast

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

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

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

An Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Status: In development

The Armitage Files is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking adventure of improvised Mythos investigation.

Cthulhu Confidential is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking game of solo Mythos investigation.

Putting two groundbreaking products together is hazardous for Gamemasters. You run the risk of collapsing the ground beneath you.

However, the risk can be worth it: improvised play supports the deep investigative dives of one-on-one play.

Improvising On The Run

In a Trail of Cthulhu game using the Armitage Files, the Keeper can take advantage of the times when the players are arguing or speculating amongst themselves to plan ahead and decide on what the players might find when they follow the next clue. While the players argue whether or not they can trust Austin Kittrell, the Keeper feverishly reads over the Sinister and Stalwart versions of the Kingsport Yacht Club that Kittrell mentioned and decides which incarnation the players will encounter.

There are few such downtimes in one-on-one play. You can stall the player by giving them a handout such as a new Armitage Letter, but mostly the game will be relentless investigation and action. (There’s a reason that Cthulhu Confidential scenarios tend to be longer and more intricate than regular Trail games.) The best approach is to study the Armitage Files material thoroughly in advance, internalising it as much as possible so you can decide on the fly to connect the Yacht Club to the Nophru-Ka Panel, which of course means a visit to the Anthropologist and he can see invisible horrors clinging to the investigator which means you’ll need to set up an invisible horror encounter before the player gets there…

Sketch out potential plots and connections in advance. Identify (or ask your player) which clues are most likely to come up in the next session, work out two or three follow-ons from each clue and then pick the most appropriate one in response to player decisions. It’s a gamemastering high-wire act.

Where possible, bend the plot around the protagonist. The Armitage Files includes several handouts that reference player characters by name (Document 3, Document 4, Document 6, Document 9) – but is otherwise light on personal connections to the investigators. After all, in a regular Trail of Cthulhu campaign, there’s every chance that one or more investigators will perish before the end. That’s not the case in Cthulhu Confidential, so take advantage of the protagonist’s privileged status to ensure that the mystery revolves around them. (For those fill-in-an-investigator’s-name gaps in the handouts, put the investigator’s name in one of them and fill the others with Sources and compelling GMCs.)

Look For Solid Ground

Cthulhu Confidential uses cards to track Problems and Edges and to give detail and texture to the character’s experiences. Instead of just losing four Health, the investigator might have been Clawed by a Deep One or Punched by Butcher Brown or Fell Down A Hole – each of which causes an injury, but has different consequences and solutions. In a regular scenario, these cards can be designed in advance because the GM knows the likely encounters lying ahead. In an improvised campaign, this approach is reversed –  design the cards, and then improvise encounters that lead to those cards. For example, if you’ve prepared the Fell Down A Hole problem or the Mob Tie edges, then look for ways to push the protagonist into a pit or get a favour from a mobster. Prepare a stack of Problems and Edges in advance and look for ways to bring them in (start with the Mythos Problems articles by Robin, as well as the Generic Edges and Problems in the Cthulhu Confidential appendix and build from there.)

Of course, improvised games always include unexpected events, so have a stack of blank cards to hand that you can fill in when warranted. Mark important plot twists and consequences by turning them into Problems and Edges.

For Problem cards, include specific ways to remove each Problem. For Edge cards, note exactly what benefit it gives and when it can be cashed in. Be as concrete as possible – if that Mob Ties edge gives you a bonus when dealing with mobsters, then that’s a prompt for the Gamemaster to include some mobsters to justify the Edge’s existence. (Improv thrives on constraints and prompts.)

Problems and Edges usually arise as a result of challenges; have a copy of the Challenge Difficulty table on p. 45 of Cthulhu Confidential to hand while running the game.

The Armitage Sources

The various academics and scholars in the Armitage Inquiry make excellent sources for most topics. Between them, they cover virtually every academic investigative ability imaginable, with non-academic assistance provided by the redoubtable Mrs. Pickman and Dr. Sprague. With so many professional abilities available through sources, the obvious route for the protagonist is to concentrate on practical investigative abilities like Streetwise and Evidence (although any of the usual Cthulhu Confidential protagonists could be used in an Armitage Files campaign by transplanting them to Arkham country.)

Dreadful Correlation

To reiterate – running an improvised One-2-One game isn’t easy. Don’t pick up the Armitage Files and assume that you’re good to go. In a conventional improvised campaign with multiple players, the Keeper has a whole group to riff off and steal ideas from. Here, it’s just you and one player, alone in a whirlwind of possibilities. Running this sort of game will be tough and exhausting – but it will also be a genuinely terrifying experience for one lucky player.

 

The Archmage BANISHES them.

The Crusader CONQUERS them.

The Great Gold Wyrm DEFIES them.

The Diabolist SUMMONS them.

When the world cracks open and the demons attack, what will YOU do?

The Book of Demons takes an in-depth look at the Abyssal enemies of the 13th Age – the demonic hordes whose eternal struggle to shatter reality causes hellholes, dimensional breaches, and other, even weirder assaults on the world.

For Players:

  • Master the forbidden arts of the demonologist class
  • Claim demon-tainted magic items (or be claimed by them…)
  • Discover how to seal a hellhole and save the world

For Game Masters:

  • Five detailed hellholes, and advice on making your own
  • Secrets of the Crusader and the Diabolist
  • Demons! Demons! Demons!

Status: In development

(Cover art by Melissa Gay)

My current project (ONE of my current projects, so many current projects) is the (provisionally-titled) Book of Ages, for 13th Age. It’s mostly a grab bag of “cool stuff from previous Ages” – monsters, magic, feats, legends, adventure seeds – but here’s one of the early sections, discussing persnickety world-building questions and assumptions. 

* * *

Twelve Ages have passed since the foundation of the Empire and the reign of the Wizard King… but what’s an Age? And how long is that exactly? These questions are of comparatively little importance in a regular 13th Age campaign compared to “what’s that scaly firebreathing monster-snake over there” and “how long is it, roughly, because if it’s a Huge monster we’re screwed”, but in a book all about Ages we must at least briefly define our terms.

What is an Age?

An Age is a period of history that, in retrospect, has a discernible arc or overriding influence. Ages are book-ended by catastrophes. So, the First Age was dominated by the founding of the Empire in the aftermath of the Wizard King’s defeat, and ended when the giants razed Axis. The Sixth Age’s defining influence was the spread of lycanthropy among the aristocracy; like other Ages, it began and ended in catastrophe.

That isn’t to say, of course, that there isn’t tumult and catastrophe at times other than the start and end of Ages. Every peril that threatens the Empire is hailed by doom-sayers as the turning of the 13th Age. You don’t know that the world is falling apart when you’re trying to survive in the middle of it.

Who Defines An Age?

The historians and chroniclers in the court of the Archmage in Horizon are responsible for declaring the beginning of a new Age. This usually happens retrospectively – “clearly”, they might say, “the defeat of the Sea Raiders a generation ago marked a great change in the affairs of the Empire, so we have decided that the 11th Age ended at the Battle of the Redwater and we are now in the first century of the 12th Age”. At times, ambitious Emperors have pressured the sages into prematurely declaring the start of a new Age, but such hubris is punished by history – and anyway, only sages, historians, dungeon-crawling adventurous archaeologists and long-lived elves really care that much about when precisely an Age begins.

How Long Is An Age?

It varies. Recent Ages are all a few hundred years long. Earlier Ages might have been much longer, for the further back you go in the history of the Dragon Empire, the more uncertain things become. (All those catastrophes play havoc with proper record-keeping, after all.) So, Ages last as long as the Gamemaster needs. If you like an absurdly ancient Empire, then maybe the first Age lasted ten thousand years. If you want something faster and more chaotic, then Ages might last scarcely a century, and some of the earlier Ages might be entirely fraudulent. (“Historians!”, shouts the barbarian king who’s just claimed the throne, “insert another Age, and relate to me tales from that era about how my ancestors ruled the Empire, and how I am therefore reclaiming my rightful inheritance from a usurper and now, as it might appear, a bloody-handed mass murderer.”)

Do Ages Mean Anything?

Now that’s an interesting question. How much mystical significance does an Age have? The catastrophe that ends an Age usually results in the death, diminishment or transformation of one or more Icons; it’s unheard-of for two Ages to have exactly the same roster of Icons.

Of course, that implies other questions, like: is an Icon simply a powerful or influential individual, or are they somehow an embodiment/reflection/wellspring of mystical power? Does the appearance of the Priestess in the 13th Age mean that divine magic will become more powerful?  Does the loss of the Oracle mean that it’s now harder – or even impossible – to see the future? If an Age is defined by its Icons, then are there a limited number of Iconic “slots” available? If there are always 13 Icons, no more and no less, and the existence of an Icon has mystical significance, then the goal of every sinister conspiracy and cult might be to eliminate an existing Icon to elevate their own champion. If the Orc Lord dies in battle, and the Lizard Queen takes his place, then will orcs become weak and fearful, and lizard-folk become stronger and fiercer in their stead?

An interesting variant assumes that the number of an Age determines how many Iconic ‘slots’ there are. So, in the First Age there was only one Icon, two in the Second, three in the Third and so forth. The Great Gold Wyrm was the first Icon; in the Second Age, the dwarves defeat the giants and the Dwarf King ascends to Iconic status. In the third, the Four Dragons arrive, drawn by the wealth of the underground kingdom. In the fourth, the Elf Queen binds the Green, making the Four into the Three and marking her as an Icon…

Alternatively, Icons might be purely a measure of  local praxis – the Emperor’s an icon in the Empire, but has no reach beyond it, and if you follow the Koru trail up north, then local potentates like the Frostjack, the Living Glacier or the Hobgoblin Chieftain take on Iconic roles. In that interpretation, a player could even take Icon-style relationships with these smaller-scale Icons that would only work when in that Icon’s zone of influence. There still might be a Grandmaster of Flowers in some hidden monastery where she trains monks, and she works as an Icon when you’re adventuring near that holy mountain, but she doesn’t have the Empire-wide reach of her forebears.

Another possibility is that some forms of magic might be possible in one Age, but not in others. There might be Ages when all arcane magic just stopped working for centuries, until the world turned again. There might be Ages when other forms of magical power (psionics, maybe) worked, but they stopped when the Age changed, leaving behind only a few impossible relics and the memories of wonder.

Some astoundingly potent rituals and spells might be restricted to once-per-Age, just as resurrection is once-per-lifetime, more or less.

Does Everyone Agree on the Ages?

No.

Even if you assume that the turning of an Age is marked with completely obvious and unambiguous signs and portents, even if giant letters of fire appear in the sky saying ‘NOW TURN TO THE NEXT AGE’ when the time is at hand, some people are going to argue. The Elves might refuse to acknowledge that the 12th Age ever ended; historians might argue over whether Horizon was built in the 3rd or the 4th Age, or if it was actually built in the 18th and is moving backwards in time (because the Archmage, that’s why.) Not only will the ordering of the Ages vary from campaign to campaign, but there can be plenty of disagreement and ambiguity within a campaign too. After all, an Age is just the high-fantasy way of saying “once upon a time…”

03-ashen-starscoverThere are a lot of books in the pipeline right now, but none of them are quite cooked yet, so here’s a little bit of whimsy before the cannon of self-promotion is brought to bear on this space. As you know, Bob, Icons are a lovely little mechanic from 13th Age that model the player characters’ relationships with various powerful individuals/factions – the Archmage, the Emperor, the Lich King and so forth. (There’ll be lots of new – or rather, old – Icons in the upcoming Book of Ages, but I said I’d save the self-promotion).

We’ve adapted Icons to other GUMSHOE games before – here’s Ken talking about Icons in Night’s Black Agents, and in the Dracula Dossier, and in Trail of Cthulhu, and now that I think about it I should really do a set for Cthulhu City (more self-promotion – for shame!). They work especially well, though, in the wild and vasty space of the Bleed in Ashen Stars.

Quick rules reminder. Each player gets three Relationship dice to allocate among the Icons. Relationships can be positive, negative or conflicted. At the start of each session, everyone rolls their Icon Relationships (d6s); a 6 indicates that that Icon is going to get worked into the adventure somehow in a way that benefits the player, and a 5 means that things are complicated and messy. And, given this is Ashen Stars, a spend from an appropriate Investigative Ability like Cybe Culture gives a re-roll for the matching relationship.

Rasal, The Practitioner

Coordinator of the Combine’s reconstruction and redevelopment projects, Rasal embodies the distant, technocratic civilisation in its efforts to reclaim the Bleed. Rasal makes little effort to hide his distaste for the rough, chaotic region, and makes as many trips back to the safety of the Proper as he can. Whenever he returns, though, he brings vast resources – both financial and technological – to help solve the problems of these war-torn stars.

Allies: The Viceroy, the Princess in Exile, the Merchant       

Enemies: The Rebel, The Transer

Judy Coyle, The Viceroy

The commander of Ossa One, the Special Legate to the Far Settlements is in charge of keeping law and order in the Bleed. She’s responsible for licensing Laser crews, as well as commanding the Combine naval forces in the region. Coyle must balance her loyalty to her distant superiors in the Ministry of Settlement to the needs of the local worlds.

Allies: The Practitioner, Grand Arbiter Koket, the Merchant

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, The Seeker, the Rebel

 Azela Shaw, The Rebel of the Bleedinsect

The most outspoken of the Bleedists, Shaw is a former naval officer who now rejects Combine control of the region. She’s proved to be a formidable organiser, rallying the disparate groups and worlds that oppose the Combine into an ad hoc alliance. Coyle claims that Shaw’s rumoured criminal connections taint the whole alliance, but Shaw’s allies dismiss such claims as Combine mudslinging.

Allies: The Healer, the Merchant, The Transer

Enemies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur

The Master of the Plunderbund

The Plunderbund is a syndicate of criminal gangs, pirates, thieves, unscrupulous mercenaries and shady corporations – a shadow economy, even a shadow government, slithering into the gaps left by the shattered Combine. The Plunderbund, for all its many faults, gets things done – if you need something, they can get it for you, but at a high price. The mysterious Master of the Plunderbund is an elusive figure, and may be the figurehead for a ring of crime lords.

Allies: The Rebel, The Princess in Exile, the Connoisseur

Enemies: The Viceroy, The Merchant, Grand Arbiter Koket

Klaadarr, The Seeker

The stagnant, sterile Combine is a secular realm, devoid of spirituality. The Bleed, though, is afire with mystic revelation and revitalized nufaiths. New religions – or resurrected old ones – boil across the stars, finding eager converts and fanatical followers on worlds desperate for something to believe in now that the Combine is gone. Into this tumult comes the Seeker, an alien prophet of all Nufaiths and none, who claims that that God can be found in the Bleed. Listen to him – he’s right.

Allies: The Transer, the Healer

Enemies:  The Meddler, the Pracitioner

Anacar Inatuy, The Merchant

Inatuy and her corporate allies made their fortune in the Bleed in the chaotic years after the war. There is still unimaginable wealth to be made out here, in the wild frontier, as long as they can thread a course between the stultifying control of the Combine and the apocalyptic chaos of a galaxy without law or justice. Of course, moral ambiguity is very much within the Merchant’s wheelhouse.

Inatuy is merely the most visible member of a cabal of corporate magnates and industrialists; the Connoisseur remains aloof from this cabal, and while he may be wealthier than any one of them individually, they vastly outmatch him as a group.

Allies: The Pracitioner, The Rebel, the Princess in Exile

Enemies: The Healer, The Connoisseur, the Transer, the Master of the Plunderbund

02_ashenstar_BallaStarwind, The Healer (Balla)

Starwind led an exodus of Balla artists, scientists and adventurers out of Combine space to settle in the Bleed. Her movement seeks to channel Balla emotional energy into healing and remaking the galaxy, instead of suppressing it. Her followers – the Chorus – have the potential to accomplish wonders, but might equally drag the Bleed down with them into madness.

Allies: The Transer, the Viceroy, the Seeker

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Rebel

Grand Arbiter Koket (Tavak)

Koket is a legend back in the Combine – a decorated general, an accomplished philosopher, and a legal scholar who helped shape the decisions of the Combine Bench for decades. He was rumoured to be a candidate for Chief Justice, but instead chose to travel to the Bleed instead. While semi-retired, he retains his status as a judge, and serves as arbiter or investigator in especially complex or controversial cases.

Allies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Transer

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Princess in Exile

Krtch-Ick, The Connoisseur (Kch-thk)

Krtch-Ick is an immensely wealthy Kch-thk; he made his fortune back during the Mohilar War in dubious circumstances, and moved to the Bleed to evade Combine jurisdiction. He collects all manner of things – new foodstuffs, alien artefacts, “interesting people”, wrecked starships, military hardware. Whole planets, on occasion.

He owns corporations too –  among his assets is the Freedom Egg, a Bleed-wide media conglomerate that broadcasts news and entertainment across the region. Krtch-Ick’s word can shape opinion throughout the Bleed, so rumours that he’s becoming more unstable with each reincarnation worry the authorities.

Allies: The Rebel, the Seeker, the Master of the Plunderbund

Enemies: The Merchant, the Viceroy

Ukshqnza, The Princess in Exile (Durugh)

The death of martyred King Ukshqa and the Mohilar War transformed Durugh society. The old police state hierarchy collapsed, leaving their civilisation in a state of near-anarchy. Princess Ukshqnza was one of the few members of the king’s immediate family who escaped the chaos. She fled to the Bleed with an entourage of loyalists – not to mention several warships, a large portion of the Durugh state coffers, and (allegedly) a complete copy of the fabled Silent Gallery, the archive of Durugh espionage and blackmail. While the Durugh are now part of the Combine and Ukshqnza has no official standing, many Durugh see her as their ruler in exile, and the Combine look warily at her as a rallying symbol for Durugh separatists in the Bleed. At the same time, her combination of military force and unmatched intelligence-gathering capabilities make her a vital ally to Combine forces trying to keep order in wild space.

Allies: The Practitioner, the Master of the Plunderbund, the Meddler

Enemies: Grand Arbiter Koket, the Transer

Remaker, The Transer (Cybe)

The military records that might have identified who Remaker was before she was transformed were lost in the war. She emerged onto the political scene in the Bleed full-formed like Athena, as the champion of a wide-ranging coalition of cybe veterans. Remaker’s allies include mercenary legions and charitable foundations, cybe researchers and prophets, raiders and lasers alike – wherever one finds cybes, there too are her followers. Her avowed goal is to establish an independent cybe state in the Bleed; rumours connect her to illegal experimentation in creating new cybes, and some claim that her secret aim is to transform the entire population of the Bleed into her mind-slaves.

Allies: The Rebel, The Healer, the Seeker

Enemies: The Viceroy, The Practitioner

The Meddler (Vas Mal)02_ashenstar_vasmal2

The mysterious Meddler is a Vas Mal who retained considerably more of his cosmic awareness than the rest of his kind. He can, it seems, see the future, and can also see the temporal nexuses and pressure points that can change that future if poked in just the right way. The Meddler manipulates events and individuals to bring about those changes.

Allies: The Seeker, the Princess in Exile

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur, the Merchant

The Ashen Shadow (Mohilar)

And they are still out there, moving in the dark places between the stars. Their recent defeat stripped away much of their power and has shown them they are not invincible. They must work in secret, through agents and intermediaries – until the stars turn dark, and the Mohilar can return…

Allies: None

Enemies: All

Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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