The sky has turned white; the stars pulse with inky blackness. This unexpected Carcosan weather pattern has trapped company principals Cat and Simon in the wilds of Ohio. Yet the commands of the pallid mask may not be delayed!

The Kickstarter for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, by Robin D. Laws, launches this Wednesday, June 21st, at 8 pm Eastern.

Confronting the mind-eating minions of the Outer Dark can prove mentally, physically, and morally exhausting for even the most hardened agent of the Ordo Veritatis. To grant momentary respite to its investigators in mid-mission, the organization maintains a string of safe houses. These are marked by a common emblem: the anchor, symbolizing the need to remain anchored to consensus reality. Because the symbol is ubiquitous, especially around marinas and shorelines, the trained agent checks other criteria before entering an establishment and uttering the day’s codeword. These include the use of particular fonts in signage, a sidewalk spray paint mark one might otherwise mistake for those used by construction crews, and a custom model brass door knob. Any player character can distinguish a true Anchor from an innocuous place of business.

Anchors frequently take the guise of tattoo parlors or barbers. These businesses actually turn a small profit for the Ordo. They are operated by former agents as a means of providing employment for personnel too shattered to continue in the field—or in the ordinary lives they used to lead.

Having given the correct greeting, the agent in need is handed a key, which opens a door to a back room, basement, or upper floor. Therein you find a sleep pod, headphones allowing you to listen to soothing binaural beats keyed to a range of psych profiles, and a plant and water feature. The fully stocked liquor cabinet also purveys a selection of sedatives. Behind a beaded curtain lies an alcove containing such key consumables as bullets, SIM cards, bandages, and that investigative staple, duct tape. Feel free to take that adrenaline syringe, hunting knife, or stick of anti-ritual incense. Just be sure to mark off what you take on the sign-out sheet, which you will find hanging on a clipboard from a nail at eye level on the alcove wall.

After a two hour power nap, the agent emerges from the pod with a 3-point Stability, 1-point Health, and 2-point Preparedness refresh.

Look for anchors in densely populated urban areas, or in spots where the membrane is notoriously thin and Outer Dark activity rife.


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.

A column on Roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

A recent test session of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game (Kickstarting later this year, plug plug) shone a spotlight on a conundrum that can crop up in any GUMSHOE horror game:

How much should the GM intervene when the players have fallen all too desperately into a terror spiral?

As a game of investigation, GUMSHOE assumes that the PCs can investigate their way out of whatever trouble they find themselves in. In a horror game, that includes situations that in a scary movie could easily end up with everyone, or nearly everyone, dead.

In a baseline terror tale, a haunted house might exist only to destroy the protagonists.

A GUMSHOE haunted house, by contrast, presents a puzzle. Find the clues that unravel its mystery, and you learn how to reverse onrushing doom and defeat that haunted house.

But what happens when the haunted house works too well on the players, and they forget to look for those clues?

This session took place within the second of the four Yellow King Roleplaying Game sequences, The Wars. In this setting the players portray soldiers in an alternate reality battle zone. In this scenario the role of haunted house was played by an old hunting lodge the squad had been ordered to clear and hold.

Before play began, my conception of the improvised scenario was that the players would encounter ghostly manifestations of the people they had killed and seen killed over the course of the war. These would be caused by a being from the Yellow King’s world of Carcosa, which anchored itself to our reality through an object associated with myths of fear and terror. In this case, borrowing an image from a lesser Robert W. Chambers horror story, it would be the skull of a medieval sorcerer.

For starters, the squad showed up at the lodge to find it occupied by an enemy force, which they killed in a firefight. I then had each player describe a flashback about a key death their characters witnessed before the conflict had hardened them. Sue, playing a soldier conscripted from the peasantry, described an assault on her farm while she was fox hunting.

Flashbacks dealt with, we returned to the main action. On the bodies of the slain enemies the group naturally found the first indications that something supernatural was afoot. However, this did not immediately set them on a clue-finding path.

(This was only the second scenario featuring these PCs, so most players were still having big fun portraying their characters as unwilling to believe in the supernatural. Never mind that wolf monster they established a psychic link with last time. That had to have been a one-off.)

When it came time for Sue’s character, Jeanne, to meet her personal ghostly manifestation, why naturally that had to come in the form of a creepy fox.

Other manifestations occurred, but the foxes grew into the evening’s most terrifying element. For this we had YouTube to thank, because a search for “fox sounds” reveals that the noises they make are extraordinarily freaking creepy.

As escalating manifestations continued to eat away at the character’s Stability reserves, and the foxes kept coming in ever greater numbers and screaming screaming screaming, the session evolved into a particularly effective haunted house story. Not only that, the protagonists had a novel, unusually solid reason to stay in the house: they were soldiers, ordered to hold it.

But was it too effective? The session became all about the hunkering, as opposed to the information gathering that could have led to a means of ending the haunting.

Unlike some hunkering situations, I had a way for the outside world to communicate with the characters: the text-based black box that substitutes for radio in this alternate reality. The team had decided they were under attack by an enemy psy-ops unit and used the black box to inform HQ of that.

This gave me the chance to hint them into active mode: HQ ordered them to go out and hunt down the psy-ops squad. Of course, they’d find something else once they explored the surrounding area—I was thinking an old graveyard with an inscription that would trigger a telltale use of the History ability.

Although I repeated this hint a couple of times, the team stayed hunkered and running ever lower on Stability*.

At that point, I could have doubled down on the hinting, breaking the fictional wall to remind them that GUMSHOE is about investigating and maybe they should do some of that. I am not at all averse to wall-breaking when necessary. But was it?

I decided not, as the group was clearly gripped by the way the session had spontaneously developed, even though:

  • it wasn’t a representative GUMSHOE game
  • it didn’t match my initial plan

The so-called wrong thing was actually the right thing, because it was working.

Ultimately the lieutenant irrevocably lost her mind, Jeanne fragged her with a grenade, and the rest of the group escaped being eaten by a newly swapped-in cause for the manifestations: a predatory toad-like creature surrounded by the white sky and black stars of Carcosa.

In the post-session review, the players seemed happy with the way it all went south, observing that this episode felt more King in Yellow than the one previous.

I didn’t want them to feel that they’d played wrong, and so didn’t mention that some investigation might have turned things around. Good thing none of them have access to the Internet and thus will never read this column.

Joking aside, they of course didn’t play wrong. They leaned into what the session became, and that was playing right.

If I’d tried even harder to yank them toward my preconceptions, that would have been GMing wrong.


*Well, to quibble with myself, the YKRPG equivalent of Stability. The system works differently than past GUMSHOE horror iterations.

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 now live on Kickstarter.

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 now for a 2018 release.

Back the Kickstarter

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.

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