In The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Kickstarting soon at a Kickstarter near you, players portray characters linked across various eras and timelines corrupted by alien supernatural influence.

In the third of these linked settings, Aftermath, the investigators are all ex-partisans who fought in a successful rebellion against a tyrannical regime backed by Carcosa. Now they want to rebuild their nation and put their violent past, and memories of weird incidents connected to that, behind them. But He Whose Mask Is Not A Mask isn’t finished with America yet, and they find themselves drawn into a succession of weird mysteries requiring them to draw on the skills they’d sooner put behind them.

To emulate this I’m introducing* a new general ability, which goes like this:

Insurgency

Before attacking targets in a location you have the opportunity to case in advance, you can devise the most efficient plan of attack, dealing maximum harm at minimum risk.

Make an Insurgency test with a Difficulty keyed to the location: 4 for most civilian targets, 5 for a secure military target, 6 for an ultra-secure installation.

On success with a margin of 2 or less, all combatants on your side get a +1 Fighting bonus. A higher margin nets a +2 bonus for all.

This also allows you to defend against attackers using guerrilla tactics against a position you have had time to hunker down in. Here the Difficulties flip: 6 for a civilian location, 5 for military, 4 for ultra-secure. When defending you can make a Counterinsurgency Push for a +4 bonus on your roll.

Insurgency tests take the place of extended planning sessions in which players manage the tactical details of an assault, just as Preparedness skips the part where you laboriously write out every item on your equipment lists.

After a successful Insurgency test, ask the player, abetted by anyone else in the group who likes to describe skirmishes in loving Tom Clancyesque detail, to describe the clever plans they’ve laid for their soon-to-be-attacked targets. In the ensuing Fighting test, they can describe them working to superb effect (if the group wins), or the GM can describe them being countered by a victorious foe.

*       *      *

This ability only suits games where you find it desirable to collapse the tactical planning process into a single ability test. The previous setting in the cycle, The Wars, does not do this. It has the player characters fighting in a great European conflict in an alternate timeline. Planning how to grub up crucial bonuses for an upcoming scrap should take center stage there, with players weighing options, discarding some and choosing others, perhaps with the aid of intelligence they’ve gathered with investigative abilities.

In Aftermath those scenes fade back to a tertiary status, to make room for subplots about rebuilding the nation.

You could add this ability to other GUMSHOE games, probably renaming it Tactics or some other more generally apt term, in cases where quick and dirty combat planning suits the genre. It would fit a standard Esoterrorists game, for example, while feeling out of place in a Special Suppression Forces campaign frame. It would also work in Mutant City Blues or Ashen Stars, but likely not in the more combat-forward environment of Night’s Black Agents.

You might also consider your group’s tastes when deciding whether to use it. Your players might dig its abstraction even in NBA, or prefer to do the tactics in detail even when the setting takes little interest in that side of things.


*In the current draft, anyhow. A designer can never count on any new element surviving the playtest process.

a column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

On a recent episode of our podcast, Ken and I talked about adapting Dreamhounds of Paris as a GUMSHOE One-2-One setting. In a moment of rash exuberance I promised to provide character cards for some of its key figures. Use these as a model for your own conversion if I failed to include the surrealist your player most wants to portray. You’ll need a copy of Dreamhounds to make use of this.

Luis Buñuel

Two Fisted Filmmaker

Investigative Abilities: [Academic]

Anthropology [Academic]

Art History [Academic]

Assess Honesty [Interpersonal]

Bargain [Interpersonal]

Charm [Interpersonal]

Chemistry [Technical]

Dream Lore [Academic]

History [Academic]

Inspiration [Interpersonal]

Intimidation [Interpersonal]

Languages (Spanish, French) [Academic]

Photography 3 [Technical]

Streetwise [Interpersonal]

Theology [Academic]

General Abilities:

Art-Making (Filmmaker) 2 dice

Athletics 2 dice

Cool 1 die

Devices 2 dice

Disguise 1 die

Dreamscaping 2 dice

Fighting 2 dice

First Aid 1 die

Instability 2 dice

Preparedness 1 die

Stability 2 dice

Starting Problem

Pugnacious

Continuity

You let your hot temper and Iberian machismo, not your superior intellect, determine when your fists go flying.

-1 to Cool tests to keep your fists in check when your temper flares.

Jean Cocteau

Resplendent Anathema

Investigative Abilities

Architecture [Academic]

Art History [Academic]

Chemistry [Technical]

Cthulhu Mythos [Academic]

Dream Lore [Academic]

Flattery [Interpersonal]

History [Academic]

Library Use [Academic]

Literature [Academic]

Medicine [Academic]

Occult [Academic]

Pharmacy [Technical]

Seduction [Interpersonal]

Streetwise [Interpersonal]

General Abilities:

Art-Making (Visual Art, Film, Fiction, Playwright) 2 dice

Art-Making (Poetry) 1 die

Athletics 1 die

Conceal 1 die

Cool 1 die (-1 penalty in real world, +1 bonus in Dreamlands)

Disguise 2 dice

Dreamscaping 2 dice

First Aid 2 dice

Fleeing 2 dice

Hypnosis 1 die

Instability 2 dice

Preparedness 1 die

Stability 1 die

Starting Problem

White Dragon

Continuity

You’ve kicked your opium habit a number of times. Which is the optimistic way of saying you never quite kick your opium habit.

-1 to Cool tests when tempted by the opportunity to smoke opium, or any of its Dreamlands equivalents.

Salvador Dalí

Calculating Visionary

Investigative Abilities:

Anthropology [Academic]

Archaeology [Academic]

Architecture [Academic]

Art History [Academic]

Biology [Academic]

Charm [Interpersonal]

Chemistry [Technical]

Dream Lore [Academic]

Flattery [Interpersonal]

History [Academic]

Languages [Academic]

Library Use [Academic]

Theology [Academic]

General Abilities

Art-Making (Visual Art) 2 dice

Art-Making (Film) 1 die

Art-Making (Poetry) 1 die

Athletics 1 die

Dreamscaping 2 dice

Cool 1 die

Fleeing 2 die

Instability 2 dice

Preparedness 1 die

Stability 1 die

Sense Trouble 1 die

Stealth 1 die

Starting Problem

Dependent on Gala

Continuity

Without your tigress wife by your side, even ordinary tasks, like crossing a busy street, paralyze you with fear.

-1 to Cool and Stability tests when away from Gala. After reuniting with Gala, gain +2 to Cool and +1 to Stability tests until next interval.

Gala

Protective Devourer

Investigative Abilities

Accounting [Academic]

Assess Honesty [Interpersonal]

Bargain [Interpersonal]

Biology [Academic]

Bureaucracy [Interpersonal]

Interrogation [Interpersonal]

Intimidation [Interpersonal]

Languages (Russian, French, English) [Academic]

Library Use [Academic]

Locksmith [Technical]

Medicine [Academic]

Occult [Academic]

Seduction* [Interpersonal]

Streetwise [Interpersonal]

*After making a Seduction Push, roll a die. On an even result, regain the Push.

General Abilities

Athletics 1 die

Card Reading 2 dice

Conceal 1 die

Cool 2 dice

Fighting 1 die

Filch 1 die

Fleeing 1 die

Stability 2 dice

Sense Trouble 2 dice

Shadowing 1 die

Stealth 2 dice

Starting Problem

Grasping

Continuity

Survival means everything. Your brother’s death during the Russian Revolution taught you that. And in this world survival means one thing: money.

-2 to Cool tests to avoid the temptations of avarice.

Kiki de Montparnasse

Free-living Muse

Investigative Abilities:

Assess Honesty [Interpersonal]

Bargain [Interpersonal]

Bureaucracy [Interpersonal]

Charm [Interpersonal]

Dream Lore [Academic]

Flattery [Interpersonal]

Locksmith [Technical]

Photography [Technical]

Reassurance [Interpersonal]

Seduction [Interpersonal]

Streetwise [Technical]

General Abilities:

Art-Making (Visual Art) 1 die

Art-Making (Dance) 1 die

Art-Making (Singing 6) 2 dice

Cool 1 die

Athletics 2 dice

Conceal 2 dice

Filch 2 dice

Fleeing 2 dice

Instability 1 die

Stability 2 dice

Sense Trouble 2 dice

Starting Problem

Hard Liver

Continuity

You adore nothing more than another drink. Except of course for the drink after that.

-1 to Cool tests to avoid overindulgence in intoxicants.

Valentine Hugo

Little Swan

Investigative Abilities:

Archaeology [Academic]

Architecture [Academic]

Art History [Academic]

Assess Honesty [Interpersonal]

Bargain [Interpersonal]

Charm [Interpersonal]

Dream Lore [Academic]

Flattery [Interpersonal]

History [Academic]

Medium [Academic]

Occult [Academic]

Pharmacy [Technical]

Photography [Technical]

Reassurance [Interpersonal]

General Abilities:

Art-Making (Painting/Illustration) 2 dice

Athletics 1 die

Cool 1 die

Conceal 1 die

Disguise 1 die

Driving 1 die

Dreamscaping 1 die

First Aid 1 die

Fleeing 2 dice

Hypnosis 1 die

Instability 2 dice

Preparedness 1 die

Stability 2 dice

Stealth 1 die

Starting Problem

Lovesick

ContinuityWhen you fall in love, you fall hard, and never give up, no matter how much resistance you face. Others call you a fool. You call yourself a lover.

-2 to avoid throwing yourself humiliatingly at the current object of your obsession, Andre Breton. Void during the brief period after 1931 when he finally gives in to you.

The scene in which the hero is taken prisoner by adversaries is as deep a staple of adventure fiction as you could ask for. In roleplaying this basic scene has always acted as bugaboo. Players cling vehemently to their characters’ agency. Some would rather have their characters killed than tossed in a cell.

If we think about these sequences in movies and fiction, they always afford the hero a way forward, after a suitable period of frustration. The hero learns something about the antagonist, gleans some other key bit of information, or makes a key alliance that drives the story forward.

While designing The Yellow King Roleplaying Game I’ve found a way to get around the traditional reluctance to play that type of sequence. But we haven’t even Kickstarted that yet. But I can adapt the same principle to GUMSHOE One-2-One, which like YKRPG uses cards to represent ongoing consequences that affect the character over the course of the scenario. (Though the two games implement this differently.)

When you think your player’s Cthulhu Confidential detective ought to be knocked on the head, as happens from time to time to any self-respecting noir hero, offer this Problem card:


When You Regain Consciousness

Problem

You are knocked out and will wake up in the foe’s clutches. When you either escape, or gain a core clue while in custody, discard this card plus any one other non-Continuity Problem card you can justify to the GM.


Tell them that they can accept the card and forgo a Challenge to avoid being knocked out. Or they can take their chances on the Challenge, which might still wind up with imprisonment, plus one if not two worse Problem cards.

This signals to the player that, a) absolutely, there will be a way out of the imprisonment, b) interesting things will happen during the imprisonment and c) here’s a nice extra bribe for you.

This turns a situation in which the player fears loss of agency to one in which she has a choice and can feel in control of a temporary loss of control. As paradoxical as that may sound.

See Page XX

a column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

In his influential book on the films of Howard Hawks, the late film critic Robin Wood identified one of the director’s key themes as “the Lure of Irresponsibility.”

This phrase has stuck in my head over the years, connecting itself to a subject far from its original intent.

One of the key appeals of roleplaying is the lure of irresponsibility.

Like the stoic bands of adventurous outsiders populating such Hawks films as Rio Bravo and Only Angels Have Wings, player character groups leave behind the strictures of ordinary society. Whether they’re killing monsters and taking their stuff, solving occult mysteries, or bringing rough justice back to the spacelanes, they no longer have to take the standard guff of bosses and paychecks and paying one’s parking tickets.

In the extremest form of this phenomenon, you get your murder hoboes. The band of outsider heroes becomes a gang of bandits, subjecting others to the rule of the sword and suffering no consequences for its depredations.

Even when the fantasy of irresponsibility stops short of a fantasy of violent psychosis, it can come into conflict with other elements that make a roleplaying session feel satisfying.

As much as a GM may want to establish a particular tone for her series, even after getting explicit buy-in from the players at its outset, the lure of irresponsibility can rear its head and send those plans spinning into the gutter.

Everyone might agree, say, to play Night’s Black Agents in gritty Dust mode, evoking the real-world despond of a Cold War Le Carre novel.

Tone requires ongoing player cooperation. To maintain itself, all the players have to make decisions the way Le Carre characters would, and not as James Bond or Xander Cage.

All it takes is a player or two to show up to the game table punchy and looking to blow off steam, and suddenly the GM faces two choices, both unfortunate:

1) Stick with the tone and slap the characters with the realistic consequences of acting like superheroes in a gray and workaday universe, like Vin Diesels in an Alec Guiness world.

2) Give them their steam-venting, shifting the series to roleplaying’s default mode of crazy, violent nonsense.

As the creator of Feng Shui, I can hardly shake a fist a crazy, violent nonsense. But while some games are conceived with that in mind, all will devolve in that direction without tone enforcement from the GM.

Players don’t necessarily thank you for either choice. Derail the story with realistic consequences, and you’ve followed the setting’s internal logic straight to a disappointing narrative dead end. Shift the tone to Kookytown and even the player who made everything blow up may later wish the series had stuck with the original tone, which was one of the factors making it special and different.

In complex rules systems with lots of moving parts, you can blame the system for outcomes that break one’s sense of what ought to be possible in a story like this. Yep, you stacked that spell with that magic item and rolled a 20, so of course you topple the tower down onto the village and kill all the orcs. Never mind the desire to play in a low-fantasy world; the rules and that die roll had other ideas.

GUMSHOE One-2-One, as seen the system’s flagship title, Cthulhu Confidential, helps with tone maintenance in several ways.

One, there are only two of you, and the experience of playing the game is unusually intense. If one or both of you feel punchy or tired, you’re probably going to either lock in and achieve focus, or you’re going to choose to do something less demanding with your block of time.

Two, much murder-hoboism happens because players are either showing off for each other or egging each other on. Outside of a group setting, that goes away. Likewise the syndrome where one player decides, consciously or otherwise, to steal focus from everyone else by doing something crazy and stupid. You know the drill: the player who has his character punch the king in the face at the royal audience, starts a bar fight where the secret rendezvous has been set up, or decides to murder the prisoners while the rest of the group has its collective back turned. In multiplayer this then forces the rest of the group to deal with the consequences of the focus hog’s actions instead of having the expected story about the entire group unfold. In One-2-One, the focus hog gets all the attention he can handle. He doesn’t have to make it all about him—it already is. (But then maybe This Guy doesn’t choose to play One-2-One in the first place, because his fun comes from wrecking it for everyone else.)

Three, you can frame Challenges to only yield tonally appropriate results. If the player still insists on doing something the audience would reject as stupid in the movie or novel version of the same story, you can ensure that it happens within the bounds of your prevailing tone. Let’s go with the gratuitous bar fight. Where in standard GUMSHOE with its Health thresholds and weapon stats you could conceivably kill an innocent bar patron and throw the rest of the storyline into a cocked hat, here the Challenge could look like this:

Meaningless Bar Fight

Fighting

Advance 9+: You manage to deck a guy and somehow make it seem like he had it coming. His pals drag him off before you can do any damage that would lead to an arrest warrant.

Hold 4-8: A typical inconclusive tavern struggle breaks out. The chump you wanted to deck has friends, and they hold you at bay until the bouncers can drag you out and throw you out of the bar. “And don’t come back!”

Setback 3 or less: As per above, but the bouncers take you outside and beat you black and blue. Gain Problem Card “Beatdown.”

You wouldn’t write this out ahead of time, but rather improvise something along those lines.

Unless you have a player you know will pull this stuff, who you inexplicably want to run One-2-One with. Then you might want to have a few on hand as responses to his most obvious usual tone-busting moves.

 

The book has been written.

The book has been read.

Now it rewrites you.

Across time it spreads, creating dread new realities.

And you’re in all of them.

Pelgrane Press is terrified to announce that The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is coming soon to a Kickstarter near you.

Written and designed by GUMSHOE master Robin D. Laws, YKRPG takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines.

Inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ influential cycle of short stories, it pits the characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. This suppressed play, once read, invites madness or a visit from its titular character, an alien ruler intent on invading and remolding our world into a colony of their planet, Carcosa.

Four books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront your players with an epic journey into reality horror:

  • Belle Epoque Paris, where a printed version of the dread play is first published. Players portray American art students in its absinthe-soaked world, navigating the Parisian demimonde and investigating mysteries involving gargoyles, vampires, and decadent alien royalty.
  • The Wars, an alternate reality in which the players take on the role of soldiers bogged down in the great European conflict of 1947. While trying to stay alive on an eerie, shifting battlefield, they investigate supernatural mysteries generated by the occult machinations of the Yellow King and his rebellious daughters.
  • Aftermath, set later in the same reality, in 2017 North America. A bloody insurrection has toppled a dictatorial regime loyal to Carcosa. Players become former partisans adjusting to ordinary life, trying to build a just society from the ashes of civil war. But not all of the monsters have been thoroughly banished—and like it or not, they’re the ones with the skills to hunt them and finish them off.
  • This is Normal Now. In the 2017 we know, albeit one subtly permeated by supernatural beings and maddening reality shifts, ordinary people band together, slowly realizing that they are the key to ending a menace spanning eras and realities.

New GUMSHOE features include:

  • A completely new player-facing combat system.
  • A fresh, evocative approach to wounds, physical and psychic, inspired by the innovations of GUMSHOE One-2-One.
  • Linked character creation across multiple settings.

Crowdfunding in 2017 for a 2018 release.

See Page XX

a column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

Carrying on from last month, here are some more Problem cards to use with GUMSHOE One-2-One mythos creature encounters. For context, see the previous installment.

You can download the laid out Problem Cards here.

Great Race of Yith

Problem from Fighting Challenge:

Lightning Gun Hit

When you run into a conical clawed nightmare out of a surrealist painting, it comes as a surprise when it just pulls a gun and plugs you. Even if its piece did shoot electricity instead of bullets. False assumptions sure can burn you.

-2 to Fighting and -1 to other General / Physical tests. Discard when you get a Setback on any such test.

Problem from Stability Challenge:

The Suffocating Vastness

When the cone-shaped thing was whispering, it was in an alien language you couldn’t understand. But now its unspeakable words worm themselves into your knowledge of history. Suddenly you firmly believe in an incomprehensible time scale that throws all known archaeology into a cocked hat.

When anyone refers to conventional historical chronology, you must make a Difficulty 4 Cool quick test to stave off a self-destructive compulison to insist upon the unbelievable truth.

Discard by destroying a Yithian or banishing it from this time. If still in hand at end of scenario, becomes a Continuity card.

Hunting Horror

Problem from Fighting Challenge:

Dropped from a Height

It picked you up, carried you into the sky, and dropped you to the ground below. Now you know what a grass snake feels like when a falcon grabs it.

-2 to General / Physical tests until you Take Time to see a doctor. After that, -1 to Fighting and Fleeing. Then, when you next get a core clue, discard this card.

Problem from Stability Challenge:

The Croak of Ravens

As massive and impossible as that creature was, the sound it emitted was all too familiar. It sounded like the caw of a raven. Now you can’t see a black bird and not think of an unearthly winged worm.

Whenever you see a crow, raven, blackbird or anything like it—or hear its cry, or simply see an illustration of a dark-colored bird—make a Difficulty 4 Stability quick test. If you fail, take a -1 penalty to General / Mental tests until you gain your next core clue. If you succeed with a 6 or more, discard this card.

Hounds of Tindalos

Problem from Fighting Challenge:

Schrodinger’s Chest Wound

The strange emanations, or creatures, or whatever they were, slashed open your chest and explored around inside. Then the wound was gone. Until it came back again. It’s both there and not there, and you’re not sure which disturbs you more.

Take a penalty to General / Physical tests equal to the number of Problem cards you have in hand. Discard by destroying a Hound of Tindalos. Each time you get a core clue, roll a die. On an even result, discard this card.

Problem From Stability Challenge

The Angles are Against You

Before you saw these things, you thought geometry only worked one way. Now, if you squint wrong, you perceive it as a soothing illusion concealing a terrible reality of constant, writhing uncertainty.

While inside any man-made structure with angles and architecture more elaborate than a shack, take a penalty to Stability tests equal to the number of Problem cards you have in hand. Discard by destroying a Hound of Tindalos, or by spending a Push immediately after you get a core clue.

Nightgaunt

Problem from Fighting Challenge:

Barb Lash

It’s a good thing you’ve trained your doc not to ask questions. Because the last thing you want to explain about these lash marks is that you got them from a hornless, faceless flying being.

-1 to General / Manual tests. Discard by Taking Time for medical attention, or after discovering two core clues.

Problem from Stability Challenge (assumes physical contact)

Tickled

The creature tickled you. Tickled you! That’s preferable to ripping your head off, but the experience leaves you in the depths of a skin-crawling, existential humiliation.

-2 to Cool tests. After Taking Time to engage in a memory-repressing activity, like going on a bender, -1 to Cool tests.

Servitor of the Outer Gods

Problem from Fighting Challenge:

Tentacle Strike

When it lashed you with its tentacle, the flute-playing insect-mollusc-blob sure hurt you. Moments later, you can’t see any sign of injury. But you know you have one, and it’s not the kind that’s going to make sense down at the emergency ward.

Roll a die.

On a 1-2, -1 to General / Mental tests.

On a 3-4, -1 to General / Manual tests.

On a 5-6, -1 to General / Physical tests.

Discard the next time you score an Advance while in the presence of a mythos creature or manifestation.

Problem from Stability Challenge:

Infernal Piping

Continuity

Even afterward, the hideous anti-music emitted by their twisted flutes stays in your head, haunting you. Altering you.

-1 to Cool tests. Each time you score an Advance on a Cool test, penalty increases by 2. Each time you score a Hold, penalty increases by 1. When you get a Setback on a Cool test, roll a die. On an even result, discard this card.

Shoggoth

Problem from Fighting Challenge:

Wrenched Muscle

If it had succeeded in snaring you and pulling you toward it, that enormous tidal wave of goo would have crushed your bones to paste. So maybe you should be grateful that it merely contused your arm muscle.

-1 on General / Physical tests. When you score a Hold on a General / Physical test, roll a die. On an even result, discard this card. When you score a Setback on a General / Physical test, discard this card.

Problem from Stability Challenge:

A Terrible Enormity

Keep telling yourself, it was only a big blob of goo. It was only a big blob of goo. It was only an impossibly, stunningly, terrifyingly big blob of goo.

-1 to Cool and Stability tests. When you take a Setback on a Stability test, discard this card. After a Challenge in which you took on an Extra Problem, roll a die. On an even result, discard this card.

I acknowledge that the Forensic Entomology ability, as seen in The Esoterrorists, can be hard to love. It’s icky and creepy.

And that’s what’s good about it.

Also a favorite of forensics procedural shows, for exactly that reason, I included it as a separate item in The Esoterrorists precisely because it dovetails so well with the horror genre.

Yet it can be hard to come up with new uses for the skill in scenarios.

Once you’ve used the old saw of timing the cause of death of a corpse from the state of the maggots and flies infested the flesh, where do you go?

Sure, you can have a victim infested with a bug or parasite that only comes from certain areas. For example, a body found in a non-tropical environment could show the distinctive flesh-eating qualities of leishmaniasis. The protozoans responsible for this body horror get into people via sandfly bites. That core clue could lead you to discover that the victim recently returned from the cursed city of a monkey god. (You’re all itching to point out that leishmaniasis is not nearly as uncommon as the article implies, with 12 million victims around the world at any time. But hey, when you’re proving there’s a monkey god curse, you have to take what nature gives you to work with.)

But here’s another great ghoulish detail: the apparent blood spatter at your crime scene could turn out to be nothing more than fly spit.

Once your character uses the test described in that last link, she can exonerate the innocent family member accused of a gruesome slaying on the basis of that falsely identified blood spatter.

Having ruled that out, you can then move on to hunt down the Outer Dark Entity that really committed the crime. Maybe it specializes in framing victims, and impelled the flies to spit in a particularly incriminating manner.

Whether you go that far or not, this kind of test is all in a day’s work for our nation’s undersung heroes, the forensic entomologists.

See Page XX

a column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

Adversaries in GUMSHOE One-2-One don’t have game statistics per se. This applies to mundane foes and Mythos creatures alike. Instead, when your investigator encounters something nasty that might want to do her harm, a Challenge block describes all the dangers and difficulties of dealing with it, treating its fighting capability as one of those various factors. The threshold numbers assigned to the three outcomes (Setback, Hold, Advance) reflect that particular situation in that scenario. In another scene in the same mystery, or when you next run into that creature in a completely different adventure, the Challenge block might be framed quite differently. The GM or scenario designer starts with the role the Challenge plays in the story and then creates descriptive factors to justify why this Deep One dust-up is tougher (or easier) than the one before it.

One-2-One encounters never lead to the immediate and sudden demise of a character, or a likewise abrupt, story-stopping descent into Lovecraftian madness. Instead a bad result gives you a Problem card. (Or two, if you chose to accept a higher price for an added possibility of success.) Certain Problem cards destroy the character at scenario’s end, after the mystery has been solved, if you still have them on hand. Naturally, you’ll do everything you can to get rid of fatal Problems before the story ends, so that you can continue to have adventures as Viv Sinclair, Langston Wright or Dex Raymond. Otherwise you have to grieve your character’s demise and then create a replacement PC.

Although the Problem cards you take from meeting with a mythos creature, whether you fight it or merely behold it and feel your mind go snap, might vary from one Challenge to the next, the prepared GM might enjoy seeing some samples to either use as is, or to modify to fit her own Challenges.

So for this month and next in See Page XX, I’ll be providing some free-floating Problem cards that might stem from Challenges involving various classic Mythos creatures. These include both Problem cards that come with Setbacks from:

  • Fighting Challenges, resulting in physical injuries
  • Stability Challenges, resulting in emotional or philosophical stress

You can download the laid out Problem Cards here.

Byakhee

Problem from Fighting Challenge:

Bruising Bite

Something about the way that bat-winged monstrosity beak clamped into your flesh makes you think the damage hasn’t stopped. You’re not a doctor, but that hideously spreading bruise might be your first clue.

Each time you get a core clue, roll a die. On an odd result, place a tick mark on this card. Erase a tick mark by Taking Time. If you end the scenario with three or more tick marks on the card, your character dies from a cranial blood clot.

Problem from Stability Challenge:

Fear the Skies

Those awful flapping things could come back at any moment. They could tear you limb from limb. How do you defend yourself against something like that?

Put a tick mark on this card. Each time you move about in an isolated outdoors location rendering you vulnerable to aerial attack, add another tick. Take a penalty to Stability tests equal to the number of ticks. Take a penalty to Sense Trouble tests equal to the number of ticks— except when the danger actually comes from the sky, in which case, gain a bonus equal to the number of ticks.

Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath

Problem from Fighting Challenge

Trampling Hooves

You didn’t know what to expect from a walking tree, even when you got closer and saw that the branches were really tentacles. But being trampled under giant hooves? Not what you anticipated.

Until you Take Time to recuperate, -3 to all Physical / General tests and -1 to all Physical / Manual tests. After that, -1 to all Physical / General tests. Discard when you solve the central mystery.

The Trees Are Watching

You know those things weren’t trees, but out of the corner of your eye trees sure look like those things.

Whenever you can see a tree in the distance, you are unable to make Pushes and take a -1 penalty to Physical / Manual tests. You may attempt to discard by Taking Time to visit your shrink contact. Then roll a die; on an even result, discard. On an odd result, this becomes a Continuity card.

Dimensional Shambler

Problem from Fighting Challenge:

Clawed

That ape-insect thing raked through your clothing to lacerate your arm. The black goo weeping from the wound strikes you as something to get looked at. Or to try desperately to put out of your mind. One or the other.

Discard by Taking Time to visit your scientific or medical Contact. If still in hand at end of scenario, you die from blood poisoning.

Problem from Stability Challenge:

Dimensional Awareness

Ever since you saw that insect-ape thing, weird images have spun through your mind, of other spheres, other realities. Each one more appalling and predatory than the last.

In ordinary circumstances, -1 to Physical / Mental tests.

In the presence of a Mythos creature or manifestation, -2 to Physical / Mental tests and -1 to Physical / Manual tests.

Discard by destroying a Dimensional Shambler.

Flying Polyp

Problem from Fighting Challenge:

Banged Up All Over

That airborne jellyfish summoned a blast of wind that hit you like a tornado. You can’t decide which part of you hurts worse.

-2 to Fighting and -1 to all other General / Physical tests. Discard when you score a Hold or better on a General / Physical test.

Problem from Stability Challenge:

Invisible Foes

The creature came out of nowhere, like it was invisible. That means there could be a creature watching you, right now. You can’t help it if that leaves you looking a little twitchy.

To make an Interpersonal Push, you must first succeed at a Difficulty 5 Cool test, which then permits you to discard this card.

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

My designs for Pelgrane have all been modular. Each includes
several sub-systems one could drop out without affecting the way other parts of the game operate.

(I say “for Pelgrane” because one of my games does use a universal engine in which every action is handled in the same way as any other. That’s HeroQuest, from Moon Design, which isn’t paying me for this column, removing my need to fit that into any kind of grand theory.)

This enables you to take the bits you like and replace them with a system from another design, if desired.

You can pair the investigative approach from GUMSHOE with a replacement for
general abilities from whatever system you find most comfortable to work in.

Same with the procedural resolution system from Hillfolk.

Sometimes, as in both of the above cases, I’ll design a sub-system so that it doesn’t pull focus from the main point of a game, even to the point of allowing it to be aesthetically displeasing.

Procedurals from Hillfolk do the job but they aren’t meant to be sleek and fun to handle. I didn’t want those rules to be alluring. Instead, whenever a situation comes up that tempts someone to call for them, I want everyone around the table to ask, “Do we really need a procedural here, or can we just agree to narrate it?”

My approach to general abilities in GUMSHOE isn’t so extreme, but they’re not meant to outshine the simplicity of the investigative bit.

When first creating a new rule or sub-system I don’t worry about its additional implications. I’m only working to solve a problem immediately before me.

For example, for the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game one tool I needed was a way to get the players speaking like Jack Vance characters. So I came up with the tagline system. This naturally carried through into Skulduggery, the goal of which was to preserve the DERPG mechanics outside of the setting they were originally built for.

When I was assigned to turn Vance’s Gaean Reach SF books into a game, I assumed it would use the new, simplified Skulduggery mechanics—until I read the books and found that they were almost all investigative in their plotting. So The Gaean Reach became a GUMSHOE game. Yet the need to get players talking like Vance characters remained, so I ported taglines into GUMSHOE. Once there I was able to hook them into an entirely different context, GUMSHOE’s need for ability pool refreshes.

That said, now that I (and Ken, and Gar) have created a shelf full of games, that means a box full of tools stands ready to serve when I need X to do Y in a new design.

This always starts with the need first. I don’t ask myself how can I repurpose starship combat from Ashen Stars or the Quade Diagram from Mutant City Blues. Instead I start with the problem and see if a sub-system already exists that can do the trick. (Also I’m leery about stealing the defining element of an existing game, each of which needs to sustain its own distinct feel within the GUMSHOE line.)

In the case of GUMSHOE One-2-One, all the problems I needed fixes for were new to the one GM, one player format. Since we’ve never done a game tuned for that configuration I had to invent new tools to solve its problems—Challenges to contain possibilities in a way that protected the character from prematurely being taken out of the story, Problems to replace the sense of deterioration and attrition fostered by dwindling general ability pools, Edges to counter-balance problems and generate a sense of reward, Sources to give players access to a full suite of investigative abilities without making every PC a polymath.

Now that I’m embarking on the design for the Yellow King RPG, I’m looking at the solutions I need and seeing some of them already in the ever-growing toolbox.

One key campaign frame has the players portraying versions of their characters refracted through time and reality. Since you might be playing several characters throughout the course of a series, character generation has to be fast, yet allow for creative input and modification. That means borrowing the Gaean Reach modular card-based chargen system, which has already been modified from Skulduggery, to yet another purpose.

Not all borrowings are from GUMSHOE. There might also be a touch of Hillfolk in the character generation.

Yellow King focuses on Robert Chambers stripped of retroactively applied Lovecraftian elements. (Don’t worry; if you own Trail of Cthulhu you can stick the Hounds of Tindalos back in if that’s your desire.) Accordingly I want an approach to subjective horror other than the Stability / Sanity system that works so well for a classically Mythos-driven spiral into cosmic despair. It just so happens that the approach to mental disintegration taken for unrelated reasons in Cthulhu Confidential fits that goal swimmingly.

Or at least I think it does. Everything’s up for grabs when theory meets play table.

And presumably problems I have yet to discover will call out for new solutions, which one of the Pelgranistas can later slot into a new need, as yet undreamt of.

confidential2
Cthulhu Confidential
, the flagship title for GUMSHOE One-2-One, is now available for pre-order! GUMSHOE One-2-One is designed for two players: a GM and a player who takes the role of a solo investigator, solving Mythos mysteries. In Cthulhu Confidential our PCs are hard-boiled shamus Dex Raymond, investigative journalist Vivian Sinclair, and private eye Langston Montgomery Wright.

We asked the Pelgranistas—as well as some friends of Pelgrane—which fictional characters they’d most like to have a GUMSHOE One-2-One mystery adventure with. This is Robin D. Laws’ choice (and apostrophe preference):

christmas-bogartSam Spade and/or Philip Marlowe

For my ideal One-2-One character, I’m going to cheat only slightly and say “any film noir detective played by Humphrey Bogart”. That enables me to encompass two of the canon’s great detective noirs, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. It gives me both Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and I’ll brook no literal-minded rules interpretation from the likes of a mug like you. A true movie star, Bogart in any performance is always Bogie before he is anything else—sardonic, contained, restlessly intelligent. An outer toughness covering a brittle core. His Sam Spade is the Spade of the novel, yet also Bogie. Likewise with Marlowe. If I’m mentally casting Bogart as Cthulhu Confidential’s Dex Raymond, well you can hire any actor in your mind, can’t you? Whether my scenario invokes the international intrigue of Falcon or the dream logic of Big Sleep, he’ll bring it—especially if the grim coda requires a jab of pathos amid the stoicism. Plus he’d bring quality bourbon for the egg nog.

Preorder Cthulhu Confidential at the Pelgrane webstore, and get the PDF plus a preview of the first Dex Raymond adventure, straight away!

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GUMSHOE One-2-One retunes, rebuilds and re-envisions the acclaimed GUMSHOE investigative rules set for one player, and one GM. Together, the two of you create a story that evokes the classic solo protagonist mystery format of classic detective fiction. Can’t find a group who can play when you can? Want an intense head-to-head gaming experience? Play face to face with GUMSHOE One-2-One—or take advantage of its superb fit with virtual tabletops and play online. Purchase Cthulhu Confidential and future GUMSHOE One-2-One products in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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