During the Kickstarter for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, I laid out one method of serving Shock and Injury cards to players electronically, as image files sent to a mobile-enabled platform. At that time, I recommended using Google Photos for this purpose. Belatedly I realize that there was a better way to do it, using the workspace application Slack.

Here’s how to do that:

If you haven’t done so already, create a Slack workspace for your game group.

(I now find this an essential tool for my group, no matter what we’re playing. The Polly poll app, for example, gives you a handy way to conduct an advance roll call and make sure you have quorum before anyone grabs their dice and heads your way.)

Within the workspace, create a separate channel for each player character. Depending on how well you remember PC names, you may want to name it after the character, or place the player’s name before or after the investigator name. Slack doesn’t allow spaces or upper case letters in channel names so you’ll have to resort to underscores:

#ella_wharton

#noelle_ella_wharton

#ella_wharton_noelle

Alternately, you could serve cards into the private message inbox of each player. However, some players like to use that for banter, out of game arrangements and other side business. Creating a channel for each player keeps that clear for cards and in-game notes, and reminds other players of the cast of investigators.

Also, if a member of your group is without a mobile device, they can sit next to a player with a laptop or tablet. With a little looking over-the-shoulder, the obliging device owner can switch between channels as needed to allow the other person to check their cards in hand.

When a character receives a Shock or Injury card, you upload it to the appropriate channel. You can do this directly from a folder if using a laptop. On a tablet, you can put the card images in Dropbox and share them from that service’s mobile app into the Slack app.

Slack permits only the creator of a message line to delete that line, so when a player discards a card, you’ll have to delete it in order for it to disappear. Be sure your players let you know when they fulfill a discard condition.

We’re currently assembling materials for our YKRPG resources page, including image files for each card. If you need them before we get that done, you can check the books for the cards you think you’ll need and turn them into images. Accomplish this either by screenshotting the PDF or by opening the PDF in an image editing program such as GIMP. Then crop the cards into separate images, save with the card titles as file names, and you’re good to go.

Some GMs will still prefer the tactile quality of paper cards printed, cut up, and handed to players. But for those, like me, who consider immediate access to all the cards in the game the ideal, a Slack full of pallid masks and black stars should do the trick.

People Have Opinions about service platforms. If you come up with an even better way, let us know!

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

This is the second in a series of four columns demonstrating what a full arc of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game might look like, with events from my own game as an example.

In The Wars, the players leave behind the roles of Belle Epoque art students, becoming soldiers in the 1947 Continental War. As French soldiers, they fight on the Loyalist side, with the identity of the enemy, the Crowns, determined in part by the events they played out in Paris. In that game they worked with the German foreign office against the Yellow Sign conspiracy—so here, the French and Germans are democratic allies against the authoritarian English, Russians, and Nordic nations. Your Paris game will probably inspire in a different configuration of forces when you get to The Wars.

Characters were:

 

Player

Character

Civilian Occupation

Drive

Damn Peculiar Thing

Connection

to Previous PC

Chris

Sgt Cerf

Career Military

 

 

 

Duty

Recurring nightmares about the coming mission – fake tanks are filled with corpses whose faces he knows

Comes from family of longtime anti-Carcosan operatives, Gus was grizzled American friend

Justin

Pvt Jean Edouard

Writer

Curiosity

entered an empty plain and was surrounded by spectral horsemen

had Aaron’s old diaries

Paul

Pvt Marc Logres

Med Student

Heard grandpa’s stories about Carcosa

On three occasions, food in the mess tin look like topographical features – then you’ve gone on a mission to that place and found a mutilated corpse–face gone but the same person maybe?

Georges’ grandson

Shel

Pvt Ange Vanel

Photographer

Morbid Curiosity

ran into a woman who looked like one from the book of portraits

has a book of Ida’s portraits

Scott

Pvt Thomas Gerard

Merchant

Can-Do Attitude

Voices on the camo recordings are saying his name

supplied O’Brien’s architectural firm with building materials

Sue

Lt Rose Cheval

Career Military

Vindication

sky turned white and the rest of the platoon was killed

Jurie

Pvt Georges Renard

Accountant

Truth

saw that people were made of paper and tore apart a little girl

 

(This is the list of characters as of the end of the series, with replacement characters coming in after the deaths of original PCs. Hence, Lt. Cheval’s lack of a connection to a Paris character. Jurie joined us in progress, and so had no Paris PC to link up to.)

For this series I assigned my players the premise I figured they’d find the most fun and flexible: they became a Shadow Squadron, engaged in advanced camouflage activities, with the occasional foray into intelligence operations.

Sometimes my players like to squeeze every last drop of soup from the bones. When I ran the scenario from the book, “A Feast for Wolves,” they spent four sessions on it. I imagine that will remain something of a record. Again, I don’t want to spoil the contents of the published adventures, so let’s just say they took the option that required the most reactive improvisation from the GM. So it became much more of an epic than you see on the page.

Week five was a haunted house / constrained location scenario, with the wartime twist being that the squad couldn’t leave the scary place because they’d been ordered to hold it as a strategic location. This was the session in which the terrible cries of foxes became an ongoing horror motif that continued to echo through the rest of the arc. I’ve already described it in detail here.

Week six, “The Installation”, had the group investigating weird activity around a French research facility. They discovered a mad science experiment to imbue walkers—the many-legged equivalent of tanks in this reality—with the consciousnesses of unwilling experimental subjects. Addhema, their vampire Big Bad from Paris, made her return as the brigadier general in charge of the program. When your villain is immortal, her reappearance two generations later requires no additional explanation.

The next two sessions featured another reimagining of an opponent from Paris, as the group discovered that a town they’d been sent to spread disinformation in was under attack from animated statues, including a winged Salome. Deep in the woods, they found the studio of a now elderly Gus Morley, Chris’ character from the previous sequence. Now played as as GMC, I ensured that he was as truculent as a typical Chris character. So of course Chris’ current character grew impatient with him and shot him dead. I would never second-guess my players in public, and so won’t mention that the group hadn’t gotten the clues from him when the fatal point of annoyance was reached. GUMSHOE promises that you can get all the information if you look in the right place with the right ability, not that you won’t pull your sidearm and shoot the information dead when it mouths off to you.

Weeks nine and ten found the group on assassination prevention detail, as a supernatural killer sent by the Crowns attempted to take out the French high commander—Isaac Philipson, the baby from Carcosa introduced at the end of the Paris sequence, now an adult. Addhema made another appearance as a trusted ally of Philipson’s—again in a position where the group was unable to move against her.

Next came a classic murder mystery in a military setting, as the group tried to figure out which member of an infantry squadron killed their medic. They found their culprits, who had been driven to homicidal unreason by exposure to the terrible play, The King in Yellow.

The twelfth week foreshadowed the coming big battle sequence. The squadron was reassigned from camouflage duty to muster for an assault against enemy-occupied Marseilles. As Loyalist forces massed, the group learned that soldiers were falling prey to mysterious fratricidal urges. They traced this malign influence to a ghostly figure of vengeance luring the unwary to a woodside brothel.

A final two-parter culminated in a set-piece action sequence that sent the squad plunging through Marseilles as climactic battle raged all around them. When the characters took refuge in the sewers, I introduced the cross-reality motif by having them bump into weird scientists from our modern day.

In the end they captured Camilla and took her to Cassilda (or was it the other way around?), and one revealed the suicide vest that destroyed them both—along with several of the PCs.

Or did it destroy anyone but the mortals?

With a big finish to this sequence, but also more unanswered questions, we were ready to move on to Aftermath, which I’ll encapsulate next month.


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

If you’re the kind of GM who hosts inspirational movie nights for your players, my number one suggestion for getting them in the GUMSHOE mindset has to be All the President’ Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976.)

It reinforces the two most important tips players need to get into the mindset of investigators and successfully solve the complex mysteries the game system specializes in:

    * Keep learning more

    • * You gotta talk to people

    Made gripping by Pakula’s masterfully subtle direction, the William Goldman script zeroes in on one thing and one thing only—the process by which reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) find the facts that connect the burglary of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel to the highest levels of the Nixon administration. We see exactly nothing of the protagonists’ private lives. They get scarcely a sliver of backstory—just enough to identify them as underdogs we want to see succeed. It’s all about the information gathering.

    Along the way Woodstein, as the team comes to be known, learns a third axiom of investigation that applies more to some GUMSHOE games than others. Their secret source Deep Throat tells them to:

    • * Follow the money

    Bernstein speculates his way to a correct theory of the case almost immediately. But they have to prove it to print it. Together or separately he and Woodward try to pry from scared or otherwise unwilling participants confirmations they can use. They engage in a delicate cat and mouse with reluctant witnesses. Their interview technique suggests a new GUMSHOE Interpersonal Ability called Doggedness. They worm their way into encounters with resistant informants, then rely on social norms to win a grudging, often partial, admission, by continuing to ask questions despite repeated refusals.

    When one dirty trickster, Donald Segretti, seems weirdly pleased to unburden himself, it plays as a comic twist on the already established pattern.

    The movie also demonstrates a great technique for depicting a difficulty or stymied investigation. At several points the duo hits a wall and has to dig in and keep on digging. Pakula shows the stalled progress without ever killing his film’s momentum. He does this by always making the visual depiction of the arduous legwork aesthetically pleasing in some way. The best example of this occurs in the Library of Congress, as an overhead shot pulls back further and further from the two as they sort through a stack of documents. Becoming smaller and smaller in the frame, the characters are visually dwarfed by the monumental scope of their task. As viewers, the beauty and ingenuity of the shot keep us riveted.

    Steal this technique in your games by montaging the PCs through a segment of numbing legwork with a quick and entertaining verbal flourish. You might create one yourself, or invite the players to supply the narration that then bridges them to the next core clue.

    The film is now available in a fine BluRay transfer. Its ample special features supply historical context on the entire Watergate story for anyone who needs it.


    GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

     

    …didn’t stay in Paris

    A column about roleplaying

    by Robin D. Laws

    One of the key distinguishing features of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is its quadruple arc structure. When played in its fullest campaign mode, your YKRPG series spans four timelines/realities, with connections between the four sets of PCs reverberating from the past of Paris, to the weird battleground of The Wars, to the alternate post-revolutionary Aftermath and finally to what looks a lot like our present day in This is Normal Now.

    As our publication date draws closer, I thought GMs would find it useful to see an example of how this works in play. Over the this and the next three editions of this column I’ll be sharing a precis of my own series, starting with the events of Paris as revealed by the choices of my players.

    Characters were:

     

    Player

    Character

    Field

    Drive

    Deuced Peculiar Business

    Chris Huth

    Augustus “Gus” Morley

    Sculptor

    Ennui

    That organ didn’t look like it was designed to play by itself—and I didn’t see anyone entering or leaving the organist’s booth

    Justin Mohareb

    Aaron Ravenwood

    Poet

    Family Propensity

    strange shoreline, staring up at a bone white sky with ebony stars

    Paul Jackson

    Georges Dubois

    Landscape Painter

    Thirst for Inspiration

    instead of the cathedral he’d drawn a stone circle atop a hill with a human sacrifice being performed by something that is not quite human

    Shel Kahn

    Ida Phillipson

    Portrait Painter

    Taste for Danger

    Followed a tall dark haired woman, to a place without time

    Scott Wachter

    Arthur O’Brien

    Architect

    Youthful Naivete

    Followed by winking lion-faced gargoyles

    Susan Davis

    Sophie Dupleix

    Muse

    Taste for Decadence

    her man is gone and so is his house and no one remembers him

     

    As you’ll see, some of the Deuced Peculiar Businesses selected by the players bubbled up into the plotline more than others.

    The first two episodes I improvised in response to Sophie’s Deuced Peculiar Business, the disappeared lover. This represented a very strong choice on Susan’s part, as it created an immediate crisis that had to be dealt with. I decided to weave this into an opportunity for the group to pick up a patron to help nudge them along the path to occult investigator status. My players respond well to a bit of external help and ongoing motivation. You might go in another direction with a group that prefers to sandbox their way toward a storyline.

    The hunt for Sophie’s man, Henri Cheval, led to agents of the German foreign office intent on quelling the growing influence of the Yellow Sign. For a supernatural menace, I took advantage of the fact that we had a sculptor in the crew, making the antagonist one of his statues. Because of course it had gained sinister animation.

    I had already used the same plot device in an earlier preview run for the Pelgrane crew and recommend it as a choice that reliably delivers.

    Our art students heroes discovered that Gus’ statue of Salome had eaten the son of their future German patron and arranged for it to be melted in a foundry. They also gained the first inklings of the Carcosa conspiracy, including the possibility that they had somehow aided the publication of The King in Yellow during some kind of memory fugue.

    These events took two sessions. The next two we devoted to the sample scenario found in the Paris book, “The Ghost of the Garnier.” I won’t spoil it by describing how they solved its mystery.

    Sessions five and six featured the appearance of Ida’s overbearingly bubbly mother, Elsie. Mrs. Philipson had discovered a doctor with a miraculous rejuvenating process she intended to bring back to America. As she became as outwardly young as her daughter, the students smelled danger, especially when the doctor’s office was found ransacked and bloodstained. The investigation led to a circle of sorcerers who had granted themselves superhuman powers by pledging themselves to the King in Yellow. The scenario also involved the hideous secret of how medical leeches are farmed, and the first historical figure to appear in the series—the occultist Gerard Encausse, aka Papus.

    Session seven was our Christmas episode, in which the group left the city in pursuit of a copy of the play. In a rural village they discovered that it was being used in a ritual to turn an imminent birth into a dread anti-nativity, giving the King a flesh and blood form in our reality. The team dispensed with this threat in time to return to their favorite Parisian student hangout for mulled wine. A great deal of mulled wine.

    Sessions eight and nine introduced the broader political implications of the Carcosan menace, as the group investigated an Italian diplomat intent on drawing on the Pallid One’s power to fight his country’s war in Ethiopia. Using the liqueur he employed to contact the king, Ida entered a hallucinatory, dream-like state and was able to converse with the masked overlord, and to again meet his daughter Cassilda. This scenario also recapitulated the events of Robert W. Chambers’ story “The Yellow Sign”, pitting the group against a corpse animated by the king.

    Week ten was another one-shot, in which a vagrant was found murdered near Notre Dame wearing a coat he had stolen from Arthur. This led to his Deuced Peculiar Business, as the cathedral’s gargoyles turned out to be the culprit, and him their real quarry. The art students pioneered explosive munitions by deploying a device called a land torpedo against the gargoyles.

    The final three weeks of the Paris sequence introduced a new Big Bad—the Comtesse de Potocki, eventually revealed to be the legendary vampire Addhema, as seen in Paul Feval’s wildly pulpy 1865 novel The Vampire Countess. After plenty of obstacles, mind control, and barbed mockery from an opponent too powerful to defeat directly, they pestered their foe enough to prompt her to abandon her Paris HQ.

    In parallel with this struggle, in another liqueur-fueled journey to Carcosa, Ida met with Cassilda and was given a baby to “take care of.” Choosing to interpret this instruction in a kinder light than the Carcosan princess clearly meant, she brought the baby, named Isaac, back to earth.

    I could have spun out another episode or two to bring the Paris sequence to a conclusive end, but instead chose a sudden shift to The Wars, where Isaac Philipson’s story would continue. For more on that, tune in next month.


    The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Pre-order The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.


    We can say relatively little for certain about the life of Robert W. Chambers, but it is clear from his work that knew France and its history. For this reason it is tempting to believe that the name Hildred Castaigne, unreliable narrator and protagonist of the classic Yellow King story “The Repairer of Reputations,” took its inspiration from the early 19th century murderer Edme Castaing.

    Castaing, a young and impecunious doctor, befriended a pair of wealthy patients, the brothers Auguste and Hippolyte Ballet. In 1822, the consumptive Hippolyte died while in Castaing’s care. His fortune went to Auguste, who made Castaing his heir. Half a year later, after drinking wine and then milk given to him by Castaing, Auguste also died after a prolonged fit of vomiting.

    Both victims had been in their early twenties. This fact, added to Castaing’s financial activities, triggered official suspicion. Investigation focused on his purchase of a then-new medicine, morphine, before the deaths. Castaing was arrested and tried for murder. The jury found him innocent of Hippolyte’s death but guilty of destroying his will, and of murdering Auguste. He went to the guillotine on December 6, 1823.

    In the entangled realities of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, the mere difference of a few letters in a surname doesn’t stop us from identifying Castaing as an unlucky link in the dynastic chain running from the Pallid King to Hildred Castaigne. He had all the sinister predilections of his family without a Mr. Wilde to fully usher him to his destiny.

    Ghosts feature heavily in Chambers’ other, lesser horror tales. In keeping with those, the characters from your Paris sequence could meet up with this earlier, slightly misspelled member of the bloodline in phantom form. Perhaps they encounter Castaing’s shade at the Place de Greve, the site of his guillotining. Or in Saint-Cloud, the bucolic Parisian suburb where he poisoned Auguste, during their stay at the Tête Noire Hotel.

    Like other Chambers ghosts, Edme might not look or sound dead at all. He could seal his friendship with the occult-busting art students with much-needed medical treatment. His unearthly healing powers might allow the discarding of Injury cards that aren’t normally gotten rid of with a First Aid success. Over time Edme might abuse his friendly GMC status to mislead the group into spreading the influence of the Yellow King, increasing his own powers. Only by researching the seventy-year-old story of Edme Castaing can the group discover that their apparent benefactor is neither alive nor on their side.

    Naturally, if he suspects they’re onto him, he’ll reach for the syringe full of phantasmal morphine he keeps in that little black bag of his.


    The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

    A column about roleplaying

    by Robin D. Laws

    The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes a couple of design innovations that first appeared in Cthulhu Confidential and imports them back into multi-player GUMSHOE. Most notably, its QuickShock sub-system uses cards to represent the specific ongoing consequences of mental and physical harm. Importing them into previous GUMSHOE games isn’t a simple matter, and at any rate QuickShock’s speedy one-and-done fight resolution doesn’t fit the vibe of every setting.

    Another change, on the other hand, could easily apply to any GUMSHOE game. In fact, we’re already building it into the recently announced new edition of Mutant City Blues.

    This change drops the ratings and pools associated with investigative abilities. Instead of having a varying number of points to spend on non-informational benefits, each character starts play with 2 Pushes. You can spend a Push to gain a benefit from any of your investigative abilities. (Or in some edge cases, a benefit untethered from any of them.)

    Here’s the relevant section from YKRPG:

    Pushes

    Characters can spend Pushes to gain benefits tied to their Investigative abilities. They never have to spend Pushes to get information, especially not information vital to moving forward through the story to solve its main mystery.

    For example, you could spend an Art History Push to:

    • acquire a painting you covet at a bargain price
    • establish a friendly prior relationship with a famous artist appearing in the current scenario
    • deflate a bullying sculptor by exposing the technical flaws in his work
    • impress a snob with your fine taste, winning her confidence

    You never use Pushes on General abilities.

    Some Shock and Injury cards can be discarded by spending a Push.

    On occasion the GM may allow players to gain benefits not connected to any ability in the game, in exchange for a Push. For example, a player might ask if a flammable haystack happens to be situated conveniently close to a farmhouse she wants to burn down. That isn’t under the character’s control in any way, but for the cost of a Push can be put within the player’s.

    Your character starts each scenario with 2 Pushes.

    Unspent Pushes do not roll over from one scenario to the next.


    A few specific effects may in rare cases give you an additional Push. Mostly though you don’t refresh them until the current case ends and a new one begins.

    Pushes simplify and speed up the introduction of extra benefits into a session. They encourage you to go for a benefit only in key story moments. Also they skip a lot of head-scratching over what might or might not be a useful and appropriate expenditure of points for each separate ability.

    We’ve also heard about a few GMs who assume, never mind what the rules say, that PCs can no longer gather information with an investigative ability after spending its pool to 0. Removing the numbers next to the investigative abilities on the character sheet should eliminate stop folks from reaching this mistaken conclusion.

    Adding Pushes to an existing GUMSHOE game, or your own adaptation of the core rules to another setting, involves a few simple steps:

    • Drop the current text regarding investigative points. This includes references to the costs of specific spends in ability descriptions, scenarios, and so forth. You may decide that less than spectacular 1-point benefits can be had for the asking, and do not cost a Push.
    • Add the above text, changing examples as needed.
    • Adjust the number of investigative build points. It now becomes the number of investigative abilities in the game, divided by the number of players in your group. You may want to tack on an extra 2-4 points for a large group with unpredictable attendance, or for groups who prefer to have the workhouse abilities like Bullshit Detector and Reassurance duplicated within the group.

    Alternatively, you could drop investigative build points altogether, either:

    1. dividing the abilities into 6-8 kits inspired by the setting’s basic character archetypes
    2. distribute abilities between members of the group by going around the room at the first session, allowing each player to pick one ability at a time until all of them have been allocated to at least one PC

    Choice 1 reinforces the genre of your game, and works even if all of your players fail to make it for the first session.

    Choice 2 allows more freedom of character concept and may thus appeal more strongly to experienced GUMSHOE hands. But you’ve got to get everyone in the same room (or online channel) to make it happen.

    In the first case, abilities from unchosen kits are distributed during play, so that the first player who needs a given ability gets it. The player supplies a snippet of background detail explaining how they picked this up. Characters aren’t suddenly flash-learning the discipline, but rather mentioning for the first thing something they’ve been able to do all along. Make sure that these abilities wind up being distributed roughly equally between players.

    Sample kits for The Esoterrorists might look like this:

    Professor

    Archaeology

    Architecture

    Art History

    Astronomy

    History

    Linguistics

    Federal Law Enforcement Agent

    Bureaucracy

    Forensic Accounting

    Forensic Psychology

    Interrogation

    Law

    Research

    Homicide Cop

    Bullshit Detector

    Cop Talk

    Evidence Collection

    Interrogation

    Intimidation

    Local Knowledge

    Medical Examiner

    Forensic Anthropology

    Forensic Entomology

    Natural History

    Pathology

    Photography

    Reassurance

    Debunker / Stage Magician

    Anthropology

    Chemistry

    Cryptography

    Explosive Devices

    Flattery

    Occult Studies

    Techie

    Ballistics

    Data Retrieval

    Document Analysis

    Electronic Surveillance

    Fingerprinting

    Textual Analysis

    Con Artist

    Flirting

    Impersonate

    Languages

    Negotiation

    Streetwise

    Trivia

    (Were I designing The Esoterrorists from the ground up to support kits, I might collapse some abilities into one another, and throw in some additional Interpersonal abilities so every kit can have at least one. But that covers the existing abilities.)

    The upcoming new iteration of the GUMSHOE SRD, promised as part of the Yellow King Kickstarter, will include Pushes, along with all other elements designers will need to release their own QuickShock games.


    GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.


    A combination of forensic examination and interrogation results have revealed a chilling new modus operandi of an Esoterror cell. This cell, known to us as the Murphy-Hanson-Crawford organization (MHCO), and to its participants as the Gee-Gnomes, has been using genetic testing as a screening device for the recruitment of new members.

    Under the guise of a biotech start-up principals Ella Murphy, Rhonda Hanson and Deanna Crawford attracted curious young entrepreneurs, coders and scientific researchers. Using social media and word of mouth, they spread rumors of a paradigm-breaking new technology offering lucrative opportunities for those willing to penetrate their secrecy and offer themselves up as early sweat equity hires.

    Their firm’s doorbell, with the whimsical message “Insert Finger Here For Assistance” employed an as-yet inexplicable transfer technology to record the DNA of any person who pressed it.

    Servers inside the firm’s offices then automatically sequenced the entire genome of each would-be applicant—along with couriers, delivery drivers and curious neighborhood kids. Naturally no permission was sought for this egregious privacy invasion.

    Those whose so-called “junk DNA” contained a particular property were then approached with offers of employment. In all eleven persons were recruited into the cell, eventually becoming fully complicit Esoterror operatives.

    Under interrogation Hanson referred to this property only as The Potential. Throughout the process she remained frustratingly vague on the details—while fully cooperating in the provision of much more directly incriminating testimony.

    Chief interrogator AGENT TRIBUNE has come to believe that none of the group fully understood what The Potential meant. Her tentative conclusion: it searched for ancient inhuman ancestry. This forces us to explore the hypothesis that individuals bearing trace elements of outer-dimensional DNA might have the latent ability to achieve the goal the Esoterrorists have so long hungered after: to perform acts of ritual magic with an efficacy beyond the mere summoning of uncontrollable quasi-demons.

    Although the MHCO acted independently of other cells and does not appear to have shared technology outside its own tight circle, it would be unwise to assume that no other such group will follow in its footsteps. For one thing, key techniques in the DNA screening process appear to have been transmitted to Hanson psychically, from entities of the Outer Dark.

    We recommend a tasking of SIGINT to detect telltale keywords related to The Potential emanating from biotech labs worldwide. It is only a matter of time before someone else seeks to continue what the Gee-Gnomes started.

    Needless to say, we must also keep a close watch on each and every individual their sequencers identified as having The Potential. Including those they failed to recruit.


    The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

    Replication

    A scenario seed for Ashen Stars

    The lasers pick up a contract from an independent scientific consortium to investigate the fate of one of their Sherlock-class survey vessels. It sent out a distress call several days ago and has not been heard from since. The Linnaeus was orbiting a supposedly barren planet in the backwater Samian system when its call went out.

    Arriving at Samian-III, the team finds the wreckage of the downed ship planetside, with no survivors. They also locate its shuttle, drifting in the supposedly dead world’s now teeming ocean. The murdered bodies of its crew members have been stashed in their biomatter collection pods—as if to prevent the corpses from contaminating planetary life.

    Contrary to past surveys, a rich ecosystem of aquatic animals exists on Samian III. More bizarrely, they are not just similar to, but exactly the same as, species from Earth’s PreCambrian period. The team’s Xenobiology expert identifies specific organisms, until now known only from fossils. Included are the disc-shaped sea floor dweller Obamus coronatus and the grooved ovoid Attenborites janeae, With so little to go on, paleontologists were never able to reliably assign them to family groups. But here they swim about in abundance, ready to give up the secrets of their DNA.

    The crew’s investigation leads to missing biologist Kan Kanfar and an underwater biodome. Before serving in the Mohilar War, he studied these creatures, known collectively as the Ediacara Biota. Slowly dying from toxin exposure sustained during the conflict, he has thrown moral qualms aside, employing an ancient alien technology to finally crack the secrets of his field. After irreparably altering a planet by setting it on the path to an Earth-like ecosystem, a few murders of pesky scientists meant little to him.

    He has leagued himself with pirates, who downed the Linnaeus in exchange for a promise of priceless treasure. Does the team deal with him by informing his murder-happy confederates that the loot he has promised is actually only biological data on soft-shelled fauna? Or do they recognize that his judgment has been impaired as a consequence of his service to the Combine, and try to remand him for treatment?

     

    A column about roleplaying

    by Robin D. Laws

    The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is now out of my hands and progressing through the next stages of production on its way to actuality.

    Thanks to the eagle efforts of our dauntless playtesters, I received lots of extremely useful feedback on game play, resulting in a number of changes to the final version.

    Kickstarter backers have a preview version representing the state of the manuscript as of mid-summer last year. Playtesters saw and played intermediate versions from the fall and then the end of last year.

    The most consistent message from testers was that the game was deadlier than I thought, cycling through PCs at a higher than expected rate.

    And here I was worrying, based on the foe-smashing exploits of my own in-house group, that the combat system was too lenient!

    If you have a previous draft, then, you’ll see a number of changes to lengthen investigator lifespan.

    Foe Difficulties have been scaled down.

    More of the foes at the higher end of the Relative Challenge scale now appear with additional ways to lower their Difficulty numbers by gaining information about them before you fight them.

    Starting general ability build points have been nudged upwards, to give you more points to spend on key survival abilities.

    Perhaps most effectively, the text now explicitly gives players guidelines for the number of points the system expects them to invest in such character-preserving abilities as Fighting, Composure, Athletics and (in The Wars) Battlefield.

    Also in The Wars, Scrounging, a theme for an ability in search of a vital game purpose, can now be used to refresh other characters’ Battlefield ability. That’s what you use to avoid bombs, barrages and other means of mass death on the front lines of the Continental War. Scrounging now mirrors the way Morale can be used to boost Composure for PCs in that sequence and in Aftermath.

    To complete the adjustment, GMs can now choose between two toughness settings, Horror and Occult Adventure modes. In Horror, your character leaves play after accumulating 3 Injury cards or 3 shock cards. The more forgiving Occult Adventure mode takes you out after 4 Injury or 4 Shock cards.

    Another common theme in playtest reports: players hated paying Tolls. These mandatory point spends, which you can make from any combo of Athletics, Fighting and Health, model the low-grade wear and tear you suffer even when you win a fight. Weaker foes now have Tolls of 0, so you don’t start to deal with Tolls until you’re fighting someone big and bad. Also, Tolls dropped across the board.

    I didn’t dump them entirely. Experience with past systems has shown that players also resist a combat system that lets them emerge from a victory totally unscathed. The final rule strikes a balance between two opposing flavors of cognitive dissonance.

    On my final design pass I eliminated a number of rules that went unmentioned by playtesters and unused in my own group. They hit the cutting room floor for not generating enough engagement to justify their presence.

    In Aftermath I removed War Footing, a state of high alert players used to be able to declare for their characters. It gave them a bonus to Fighting and a penalty to Composure—the idea that they were risking their hard-won adjustment to civilian life by falling back into their insurgent mindset. War Footing didn’t get used because players had to remember to invoke it, and already had plenty of other stuff to think about. Also it has to be a hard tradeoff to achieve its thematic end, and brains don’t like those. As one of those ideas that shows a certain logic on paper but never pays off in practice, War Footing hit the bricks.

    Another rule that added complexity for a thematic payoff that paid off was a distinction, in This is Normal Now, between sapient and non-sapient Foes. My original thought was that it ought to be harder for the ordinary people of that final sequence to kill intelligent beings. In the end I dropped it in favor of a simpler set of foe difficulties. If the distinction had factored into player decisions in an interesting way it could have justified its existence. But in an investigative game a Difficulty bonus doesn’t much change who the PCs choose to attack and who to run from. So out it went.

    The greatest number of revision waves happened in the Shock and Injury card sections. Familiarity with play honed my feel for the sorts of effects and discards that made a splash, and which ones fell flat, were hard to implement, or rarely applied.

    So for example The Tremors, a workhorse, low-intensity Shock card, started its life looking like this:

    Your next Interpersonal Push costs 2 Pushes.

    Discard after it applies, or at end of scenario.

    But in the final version has become more overtly interactive:

    -1 to Presence.

    Discard by going to a scary location. Discard by initiating an encounter with a scary person, creature or entity.

    The updated version prompts action, where the original makes a particular, not terribly common action less likely or impossible.

    While remaining true to its core idea that failing to gain information is never entertaining, GUMSHOE has continued to evolve since its debut more than a decade ago.

    Someday I may well find myself creating a bunch of new sub-systems for some genre or setting we haven’t tackled before, tossing about half of them before the book goes to layout.

    All with the help of our indispensable playtesters, who we can’t thank enough for making our games better.

    Collage illustration for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game by Dean Engelhardt


    The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is Pelgrane’s mind-shattering, era-spanning game of reality horror based on the classic stories of Robert W. Chambers. Coming in December 2018.

    In the shadow of empires, an epic saga of ambition and desire!

    Limited edition with bookplate

    Only 100 copies of this faux-leatherbound limited edition Hillfolk exist. 50 are available to customers in the U.S. and Canada, and 50 are available to customers outside the U.S. and Canada. The books are faux leather with foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed bookplate signed by author Robin D. Laws for you to add to the book.

    In an arid badlands, the hill people hunger. Your neighbors have grain, cattle, gold. You have horses and spears, courage and ambition. Together with those you love and hate, you will remake history—or die.

    With the Hillfolk roleplaying game, you and your group weave an epic, ongoing saga of high-stakes interpersonal conflict that grows richer with every session. Its DramaSystem rules engine, from acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws, takes the basic structure of interpersonal conflict underlying fiction, movies and television and brings it to the world of roleplaying. This simple framework brings your creativity to the fore and keep a surprising, emotionally compelling narrative constantly on the move.

    As you build your story, you mold and shape the Hillfolk setting to fit its needs. Do you entangle yourself with the seductions of your wealthy cousins to the north? Do you do battle with the fearsome sea people to the west? Or do you conquer the scattered badlands tribes to forge a new empire of your own?SP14-The Whateleys

    Detailed play style notes show you how to make the most of DramaSystem’s new tools. Once you’ve mastered DramaSystem’s nuances, you’ll hunger to take them to new vistas. A stunning talent roster brings you 30 additional series settings. From Cthulhu cult family drama to ninjas, pirates, and steampunk cowboys, Hillfolk offers years of play value.

    Contributors from every corner of the gaming scene and beyond include Ed Greenwood, Gene Ha & Art Lyon, Jason Morningstar, Kenneth Hite, Rob Heinsoo, Meg Baker, Wolfgang Baur, Jesse Bullington, John Scott Tynes, and Keith Baker.

     

    Buy the limited edition

    Authors: Robin D. Laws, Jason Morningstar, Michelle Nephew, Kenneth Hite, Matt Forbeck, T.S. Luikart, Jason L. Blair, Chris Pramas, Emily Care Boss, Rob Wieland, Steven S. Long, Eddy Webb, Jesse Bullington, Gene Ha & Art Lyon, James Wallis, Chris Lackey, John Scott Tynes, Ryan Macklin, Graeme Davis, Dave Gross, Allen Varney, Meguey Baker, Sarah Newton, Kevin Kulp, Mac Sample, Jason Pitre, Wolfgang Baur, Keith Baker, Will Hindmarch, Rob Heinsoo, Ed Greenwood Artists: Aaron Acevedo, Andrew Gustafson, Gene Ha, Jon Hodgson, Rachel A. Kahn, Jason Morningstar, Scott Neil, Jan Pospíšil, Hilary Wade, Jonathan Wyke
    Pages: 240pg A4 Hardcover Stock #: PELD01L
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