…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.

October means just one thing; it’s Hallowe’en season, and we’ve got just the thing to get you into the horrific mood in the form of new release Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos. Weighing in at a hefty 352 pages in hardback form, this collection of traditional, and novel, creatures from Lovecraft has everything you need to get you through the month that’s in it. If you prefer your monsters more infernal, the PDF of the 13th Age Book of Demons is available alongside the print edition now. And if the jungles of Indochine are your idea of horror, the GUMSHOE conversion of Delta Green: The Role-Playing game, The Fall of DELTA GREEN, is also available in print and PDF format.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

There appeared certain odd stories of things found floating in some of the swollen rivers

– The Whisperer in Darkness

Some of the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos are composed of ultraterrene matter, or hail from dimensions or angles beyond the ones we know, or cannot die in any way we can comprehend. Others, though, can be destroyed or at least inconveniencedby physical force. Strange things were swept down by the floods from the forested hills beyond Brattleboro, or washed up on the beaches of Massachusetts after the destruction of Devil’s Reef – or were found dead on the floor of the library at Miskatonic.

A maddening of alien horrors march across the pages of Hideous Creaturesbut what might they leave behind if destroyed? What remains… remain? What might the investigators find mounted on the wall of the famous big game hunter who killed himself with his own elephant gun? What relic might they steal from the Thibetan monastery? What tattered robe of hide does the cult priest wear when he capers and howls prayers to the Old Ones?

If the investigators do find a trophy or other preserved remnant of a Mythos creature, examining it might yield vital clues. It’s better to learn, for example, that hunting horrors are rejuvenated by electricity by subjecting a small piece of hunting horror tissue to an electrical current, rather than desperately using the last charge of your stolen Yithian lightning gun on the monster as it pursues you…

 

A Feejee Mermaid: The creature was of substance similar to ours – it dies when you shoot it, and the body doesn’t vanish or sublime or turn to slime. The creature might be mistaken for an especially grotesque example of fanciful taxidermy, a chimera made by sewing together bits of different animals; the wings of some Patagonian bat, the head of a malformed goat, crocodile teeth…

Likely candidates: Bat-Thing (obviously some sort of bat), Byakhee (a pterosaur, clearly), Serpent Folk (a genuine Feejee Mermaid)

The Bones Might Be Human: There are physical abnormalities, of course. Take the care of John Merrick, the famous elephant man of London! Or those suffering from certain extreme skin conditions, worse than leprosy. These remains are bizarre, yes, likely mangled post-mortem by some accident, butthey’re clearly human. Maybe some animal bones mixed in, but they’re human. What else could they be?

Likely candidates: Deep Ones, Ghouls, Medusa, Rat-Thing (the bones of children, I fear, mixed with the rats who ate the remains), Raktijiva (the head’s been destroyed, obviously), Spawn of Yog-Sothoth (Human Son), Tcho-Tcho (the poor stunted creature!), Wendigo (some sort of primitive throwback or degenerate, I’ll wager) Y’m-Bhi (my god! It’s a mass grave!)

A Patch of Hide: Keeping the entire carcass is impossible, unless you happen to own a convenient aircraft hangar or refrigerated warehouse. The investigators might find a small patch of leather carved from a vast huge, a single impossibly huge claw, or a pickled eyeball the size of a man’s head.

Likely candidates: Bhole (impossibly tough worm-leather), Dark Young (clearly some sort of wooden sculpture), Hunting Horror (a rare breed of elephant or hippo, perhaps)

 It All Evaporated: The remains decay almost instantly into foul-smelling liquids or noxious gases, leaving nothing behind. With extensive experimentation, a knowledgable chemist might hit on the right conditions and mix of chemicals needed to preserve the remains.

Likely Candidates: Flying Polyp (explodes into cloud of cancerous cells), Gaseous Wraiths (deflates under pressure), Mi-Go (alien matter dissolves), Moon-Beasts (dissolve into star-jelly; contact with decaying remains is agonisingly painful), Vampirish Vapour (rapid deliquescence into rot and slime)

Mysterious Stains – and Echoes: The creature’s remain vanish, but they don’t just dissolve into slime or sublime into mist. Something of the entity remains in the place where it died. Not a haunting, exactly, but a stain upon the land. An unhealing scar, a place that echoes the horror over and over.

Likely Candidates: Black Winged One (hauntings, sick building syndrome), Colour Out Of Space (blasted heath), Great Race of Yith (remains drawn back through time-gate; temporal distortions persist), Hounds of Tindalos, Lloigor (dreams and nightmares), Night-Gaunts (hideous tittering from no discernible source) Ultraviolet Devourer (‘thin place’ where higher dimensions can be seen) 

That Is Not Dead…: Some creatures do not die so easily. The Elder Things dug up by the Miskatonic Expedition revived after millennia buried in the ice caves; shoggoths are virtually indestructible. These ‘remains’ might revive under the right conditions.

Likely Candidates: Elder Things (preternatural resilience), Hounds of Tindalos (what is an ending to an entity who moves through time?), Shoggoth (every shoggoth cell is a shoggoth), Star Vampire (still exists in a dimension we can’t perceive, can be called up by blood), Worm-Cultist (every worm recalls the totality…)


Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos is a collection of thirty-one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated – and most cryptic, some of which have never taken stat form in an RPG – creatures, written up with full stats, clues, mythic echoes, adventure seeds, and in-world documents for Trail of Cthulhu. Purchase Hideous Creatures in print at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

I was listening to the new BBC podcast on The Ratline (it’s about escaped Nazis and post-war conspiracies, so it’s useful for both The Fall of DELTA GREEN and the Dracula Dossier), and was struck by one observation that there are very few survivors of WWII left. For that matter, most of those who were in senior positions in 1977 are retired or gone, too. Vampires may be immortal, but most witnesses are not. The larger the gap between the ‘present day’ strand of the campaign and those historical periods, the less plausible it is for various supporting characters to still be alive.

(On the bright side, Al-Qaeda is apparently enjoying a post-ISIS resurgence, so… I guess that’s good for espionage campaigns involving vampire-tainted counterterrorism operations.)

There are several ways (some used in the Director’s Handbook) to introduce an NPC from the 1940s or 1970s other than tracking them down in some retirement home.

The Successor: The Agents run into a child, former assistant, confidante or custodian of the late NPC who knew them very well and can answer all their questions. The dutiful daughter who took care of her aging parent; the protégé of a senior spy; a student of the late academic who carried on her work. This successor may dismiss stories of vampires and supernatural strangeness as nonsense, but the Agents can glean vital clues despite their disbelief. (In particular, see “Cushing”, p. 92)

I’ve Got A Box Of Papers In The Attic: You’re looking for my mother. She died ten years ago… she never talked about her work for the government, so I can’t help you. Although, now that you mention it, there’s a box of her papers in the attic. She never threw them out. Said we shouldn’t look at them, but she had us drag them down once a year so she could relive old memories. Huh – actually, it was always on St. George’s day, and that’s today. What a co-incidence. I’ll go up and get them…” (The Acting Director of MI5, p. 80, uses this approach) 

The Transcript: The Agents discover a transcript or a recording of the late NPC – and  the mysterious interviewer is questioning them about the exact topic the Agents want to interrogate them about! Not only do the Agents get the information they seek, but they also have a new mystery to investigate – who was this other vampire hunter, who seems to have followed the same trail of clues as the Agents? And what happened to them? (The Late Con Artist, p. 84, uses this approach).

The Flashback: Combine any of the previous three with a flashback, perhaps using an adventure from The Edom Files. You need to talk to the MI5 Deputy who ran security in London in ’77. He’d dead – but when you dig into his files, you learn about another incident a few years earlier, involving the ballet…

Later in the campaign, dead NPCs can take a more active role:

I Have Prepared This For You: Not only do the Agents find the late NPCs’ papers/diaries/successor, they discover that the NPC anticipated that one day, someone would come looking, and that they’d need help. The NPC left behind a cache of supplies (Night’s Black Agents, p. 94), possibly including some Objects or handouts from the Hawkins Papers – and definitely including some lovely period gear. Escape in that lovingly maintained Aston Martin DB6, or take out bad guys with a WWII Sykes-Fairbairn knife issued by the Special Operations Executive back in ’41.

The Dream: One of the Agents dreams of the late NPC. It’s an unusual vivid nightmare – the two are in some building associated with the NPC (the old MI6 headquarters at Century House, a cottage in the Cotswolds, Ring Manor, a castle in Transylvania, a nightclub in Berlin) while a storm rages outside and some animal tries to break in (but what animal beats its wings against the upper windows like a bat, but scratches at the door like a dog?). Clearly, it’s just a dream, and none of the information obtained within can be relied upon… especially as Dracula can send deceitful visions by night. Or did the late NPC have some special grace from the Almighty to send one last message?

Necromancy: The campaign crawls with ways to raise the dead. There’s the Spirit Board (p. 279), the Online Mystic (p. 126), the Psychic (p. 96), the Solomonari (p. 74). Any of them could call up a dead soul, or even resurrect a corpse in some ghastly mockery of life. For the dead travel fast – and talk even faster, under interrogation.


Dracula is not a novel. It’s the censored version of Bram Stoker’s after-action report of the failed British Intelligence attempt to recruit a vampire in 1894. Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan have restored the deleted sections, inserting annotations and clues left by three generations of MI6 analysts. This is Dracula UnredactedFollow those clues to the Director’s Handbook, containing hundreds of encounters: shady NPCs, dangerous locations, conspiratorial nodes, and mysterious objects. Together they comprise The Dracula Dossier — an epic improvised, collaborative campaign for Night’s Black Agents, our award-winning vampire spy thriller RPG. Purchase the Dracula Dossier starter kit bundle in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

It’s October, and my social media feeds have turned into an endless display of pumpkins, interspersed with occasional #Inktober images from some of Pelgrane’s talented artists. There’s little sign of Hallowe’en-related activity on there yet, which is disappointing. Hallowe’en is my second-favourite holiday (after St. Patrick’s Day, of course), and I’m looking forward to the all the DIY “ghost” and “vampire” videos of the season.

Here in the Nest, our company accountants have been getting into the spirit of it, horrifying me with tales of official deadlines, so getting them the figures they need before they kill me has taken up most of my time this month.

NEW! Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos

One of the first things I worked on at Pelgrane was Ken Hite’s then-new “Ken Writes About Stuff” subscription, which taught me everything I know about layout, die Glocke, and the Starry Wisdom sect. There’s an incredible wealth of information in those three collections, and we’ve wanted to bring that knowledge to a wider audience since we reluctantly finished the last series.

Enter Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos, on pre-order now just in time for Hallowe’en. This 352-page hardback book collects the original fifteen Hideous Creatures, rounds out the nine Foul Congeries sketches into full Hideous Creature write-ups, and adds seven new horrible beasts to the collection. The original Hideous Creatures have been scrubbed up in parts, with some having new art and adventure seeds, and all 31 – 31!! – creatures have been given brand new in-world documents by the brilliant Dean Engelhardt (of Dracula Dossier: Hawkins Papers fame).

To thank those of you who helped make this fantastic bestiary happen, we’ve emailed a voucher code for a discount to all KWAS subscribers – contact us at our support address if you haven’t got it!

Now in PDF!

We release PDFs of new products three months after publication, so we’ve got The Fall of DELTA GREEN (one of Geek & Sundry’s best Table Top Games of 2018 so far). and the PDF of the Book of Demons available now.

13th Age

In 13th Age news, the Loot Harder and Book of Ages books have finally arrived with our US shipper; we’ve passed on the details of the pre-orders, and those should start shipping this week. We’ve also released the pre-orders of 13th Age Glorantha, and our colleagues at Chaosium have released this to stores now.

The good people over at the Iconic Podcast interviewed me a few weeks ago. You can listen to it here. I mentioned in that interview that work is continuing on Shards of the Broken Sky; Rob is polishing off the text, Simon is commissioning the cartography, and I’m commissioning the art. It’s been a long process to get to this point, but we’re finally into the home straight on it, and that’ll be our next 13th Age release. Here’s one of Rich Longmore’s finished pieces, a tower collapse, for it.

Rob’s also working on a book called Icon Followers, which will be similar to the 13th Age Bestiary, but for NPCs and organizations devoted to the icons. Rob’s commissioned a couple of authors to work on this, and will be heavily involved in the development of it himself.

We’re also looking at another few 13th Age pitches; Simon and Gareth are both keen to do another epic campaign, with a working title of “Dragons of the Pyre”. Your One Unique Thing is that you have the soul of a dragon, and you invent the unique dragon. We’ve also been pitched “Gangs of Drakkenhall”, a short book of street level gang fun in the Blue’s bloody city of monsters, which we liked the sound of.

Other Works In Progress

Speaking of October and all things spooky, The Persephone Extraction is, I believe, cursed, continuing on the fine tradition of the Conspiracy not wanting us to release Night’s Black Agents campaign information. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears, it’s now a Table of Contents and cover away from completion.

Even Death Can Die, a collection of three adventures each for the three Cthulhu Confidential protagonist characters, is in layout, and should be ready for pre-order next month. The rough layout is suggesting the hardback book will be somewhere in the region of 360 pages.

And this month sees more details of the long-rumoured GUMSHOE swords & sorcery fantasy game, Swords of the Serpentine. This is being written by Kevin Kulp and Emily Dresner, and allows you to track down foul sorcerers in a corrupt and decadent city (inspired by Lankhmar and Ankh-Morpork), clamber through underground ruins to sneak into an enemy’s home and rob them blind, or wage a secret war against a rival political faction. Jérôme Huguenin is very excited about it, and delightedly working on a cover for it.

Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is out with a number of playtesting groups at the moment, and initial feedback suggests that the changes we’ve made to it are being well received.

A funny thing happens over time with an RPG that you’ve designed: your opinions can change. As you play it, and as new designers bring fresh perspectives and approaches to the table, you discover some unexpected things that work really well, and some things that…could be better.

With that in mind, here are  two do’s and a don’t for 13th Age that I’ve learned recently—two from playing the game with my home group, and one that surfaced during the design stage for Book of Ages.

Do. . .

. . . use the improvement to the incremental advance rules that we came up with while working on 13th Age Glorantha (page 74), limiting the choice of a new class power or spell to one per level when choosing incremental advances.

The new rule is simpler and avoids a couple thorny corner-cases I’d rather not go into. It’s also fun and dramatically proper to save some of the new-power goodness for when your character levels up.

Don’t . . . .

. . . pay attention to the way that Jonathan and I actually chose our own characters’ backgrounds in our home campaign. Please don’t. I beg you.

We wrote some good advice in Chapter 2 of 13th Age about avoiding overly broad backgrounds that demonstrate your desire to control . . . . well . . . . everything. But in the most recent session of our group’s current Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, Jonathan’s cleric/spirit-talker and my monk both ended up making skill checks using lesser backgrounds that hadn’t surfaced much before. Our problem was that we hadn’t phrased them as ‘lesser,’ and when we had to say them out loud, side-by-side, we made quite a pair. Jonathan’s spirit-talker’s background is physical agent and my monk’s 2-point background is as a metaphysical artist. Oh dear. That about covers reality, then. Cue hooting and hollering and laughter as we faced our sin together.

Do . . . .

. . . look to Book of Ages for hints on how we’ll be handling races in the future.

I’ve often been a stick-in-the-mud about adding new races. But Paul Fanning has been doing more and more development work on the 13th Age line, and when I talked with him about my plans to cut most of the races out of Gareth’s wonderful book, Paul made a persuasive case for keeping many of the races in. We developed the mechanics together, and I wrote a paragraph on the option of using new ‘races’ as interesting One Unique Things (page 24). Book of Ages is one of my favorite 13th Age creations, mostly thanks to Gareth, of course, but Paul’s help with the new races also makes me happy. There’ll be more such shifts in approach in future books.

Random Case Generator

If you’re stuck for inspiration in your Mutant City Blues campaigns, take this random case generator for a spin. Just roll a d6 on the tables as directed. (Note that some of the investigative abilities mentioned are from the upcoming 2nd edition of the game, which you can playtest until 30 September 2018).

Inciting Incident

How do the characters discover the crime took place?

  1. Reported by victim (or by whoever discovered the body, in the case of a murder)
  2. Handed off from another section (HCIU gets mutant-connected crimes)
  3. Reported by ordinary (probably uninvolved) citizen
  4. Reported by intelligence gathering (tip-off, wiretap, ongoing surveillance)
  5. Reported by family member or co-worker
  6. Public incident

Nature of the Crime

What happened?

  1. Assault
  2. Burglary
  3. Fraud
  4. Murder
  5. Criminal Activity (drug dealing, organised crime, etc)
  6. Minor complaint (graffiti, noise, domestic disturbance – roll again to find the actual major crime discovered in the course of the first scene. For example, uniformed cops are called in to intercede in a bar brawl, and they discover a kidnapped mutant child chained up in the basement…)

Milieu

What sort of environment or social class is involved?

  1. Wealthy
  2. Middle-Class
  3. Poor
  4. Institution (corporation, university, military)
  5. Mutant (mutant-centric groups or factions play a key role in the case)
  6. Liminal – roll again twice. The case involves the borderland or interplay between the two circles. For example, a Wealthy/Poor crossover might involve the body of a wealthy socialite showing up in the alleyway behind a tenement in the most dangerous part of town; a Mutant/Middle-Class crossover might involve a children’s entertainer who uses her Gravity Control powers for kids’ birthday parties.

If you roll Liminal a second time, assume it just indicates an obvious mutant presence, not necessarily connected to mutant politics or factions.

Location

Where did the crime take place?

  1. Domestic
  2. Office or workplace
  3. Industrial (factory, docks, storage facility etc)
  4. Street
  5. Other (rural, park, public building, subway etc)
  6. Unusual – roll again, but it’s somewhere odd. On the roof of an office building, in the fallout shelter dug beneath a domestic house, in the sewers under a factory…

Initial Suspects

How many potential suspects are there?

  1. One
  2. Two
  3. Three
  4. Group (“everyone in the office building” – the players can quickly narrow this down through investigation)
  5. None (the players have to do some investigating before they can identify any potential suspects)
  6. One, but that initial suspect is a red herring/framed/killed by the real perp during the adventure. 

Motive

The motive of the perpetrator or any suspects. The players may not figure this out until the end of the investigation.

  1. Greed
  2. Self-Defence (or desperation)
  3. Passion
  4. Blackmail (roll again for the motive of the blackmailer)
  5. Revenge
  6. Ideology

 Complications

What factors – unrelated to the case at hand – affect the game?

  1. Mean Streets.There’s an unusually high level of violent criminal activity on the streets right now; the characters are likely to run into violent groups (pro- or anti-mutant) or encounter people affected by this outbreak of conflict.
  2. Emotional Entanglement. One of the player characters has an unexpected connection to the case; maybe a family member is involved, or they know one of the suspects or victims socially, or they’re attracted to a witness or suspect.
  3. Bad Weather.The city’s struck by an unusual weather event – a torrential downpour leading to flooding, a crippling snowstorm, a summer-long heat wave, a widespread power cut.
  4. Due to budget cuts, a crime wave, sickness or some other problem, the police department is terribly understaffed right now. Don’t bother calling for backup unless you’re being shot at, and don’t expect the labs to get anything done quickly.
  5. Jurisdictional Complication.The case was reassigned to Heightened Crimes from another section, and you’ve got to work with them to solve the case.
  6. One of the player characters is under Stress that’s unrelated to the case at hand.

Clues

Decide on how many investigative scenes you want, and roll up at least one Core clue per scene.

1-2 Roll on the Academic subtable

3-4 Roll on the Interpersonal subtable

5-6 Roll on the Technical subtable

Academic Subtable

  1. Object (Archaeology, Art History)
  2. Background Knowledge (Criminology, Law, Popular Culture)
  3. Cultural Cues (Anthropology, Forensic Psychology, Languages)
  4. Crime Scene (Architecture, Archaeology, Natural History)

5-6. Document Discovery (Forensic Accounting, Research)

Interpersonal Subtable

  1. Questioning Suspects (Interrogation, Intimidation, Reassurance)
  2. Questioning Witnesses (Community Relations, Reassurance, Interrogation)
  3. Questioning Informants (Intimidation, Streetwise, Negotiation)
  4. Lucky Break (Charm, Streetwise, Impersonate)
  5. Pulling Strings (Bureaucracy, Cop Talk)
  6. Hunch (Bullshit Detector, Influence Detection)

Technical Subtable

  1. Digital (Cryptography, Data Retrieval)
  2. Forensic (Fingerprinting, Forensic Anthropology)
  3. Surveillance (Electronic Surveillance, Photography, Traffic Analysis)
  4. Crime Scene (Ballistics, Evidence Collection, Explosive Devices)
  5. Mutant (Anamorphology, Energy Residue Analysis)
  6. Lab Analysis (Chemistry, Document Analysis, Pharmacy)

 Obstacles

What might stop the players from solving the crime?

  1. Destruction of Evidence.One of the suspects (not necessarily the guilty party) tries to destroy or conceal evidence. Arson? Hiding documents? Dumping the murder weapon? Hiding ill-gotten goods? The characters need to find another lead to investigate, or locate/reconstruct the stolen/destroyed evidence.
  2. Missing Witness.A key witness either goes missing (scared? Bribed?) or is unwilling to co-operate with the police. The characters need to find this witness and convince them to talk (possibly involving a leveraged clue).
  3. Explosive Situation.This case requires a delicate touch – there’s considerable interest in the case from the media or some special interest group.
  4. Ulterior Motive.One of the suspects or witnesses has a secret reason for being involved in the case, not necessary related to the crime under investigation. An affair, another criminal scheme, a dark secret of some sort.
  5. Emotional Resonance. This case brings up difficult emotions for one of the investigators, possibly triggering a Genetic Risk Factor or other stress crisis.
  6. Political Interference. Some powerful interest – City Hall, a big corporation, an influential public figure – is indirectly implicated in the case, and wants to ensure the police investigation never reaches them.

 Twists

What’s the bigger picture that’s revealed 2/3rds of the way through the game?

  1. Ticking Clock. The initial crime was a trial run or preparation for a larger crime of the same sort. Unless the characters solve the case quickly, the perpetrator will strike again.
  2. It Goes Deeper.The initial crime is a comparatively minor offence, but during their investigation, the player characters discover clues pointing to a larger crime. For example, a stolen car turns out to have a dead body in the trunk.
  3. You Don’t Know Who You’re Dealing With.The suspects are part of a larger criminal organisation or conspiracy. Their crime might be part of the organisations’s larger scheme – or maybe the organisation just wants to cauterise the wound and cut off further investigation.
  4. Something Stranger.Someone involved in the case has a hidden mutant power, and secretly employed it recently.
  5. Cold Case.The initial crime connects to an unsolved mystery or cold case.
  6. The Twist is There’s No Twist.The initial crime is the crime. There’s no deeper mystery here.

 Climactic Scene

How does it end?

  1. Confrontation. The perpetrator must be confronted with proof of their crimes and arrested.
  2. Chase. The perpetrator tries to flee before the police can make an arrest, leading to a car or foot chase.
  3. Shoot-Out. The perpetrator resists arrest.
  4. Clean-Out. The perpetrator tries to cover up any remaining evidence and clear up any loose ends – including witnesses.
  5. Revelation. The climax isn’t solving the crime; it’s dealing with the fallout as the investigation brings uncomfortable truths to light.
  6. Confession. The perpetrator confesses once confronted with sufficient evidence.

 Example: The inciting incident happened in public, and it’s fraud at an institution. It took place in an unusual part of a park or other public space. There’s one potential suspect, and the motive is ideology.

This sounds like some sort of scam or falsified experiment – maybe a researcher claims to have a way to suppress or remove mutant powers, and one of his test subjects committed suicide when his experiments failed.

The complication is Jurisdictional – maybe the parents of the suicide victim don’t want the players investigating her death, and the complaint was made by a friend.

The obstacle is an Ulterior Motive, the Twist is Something Stranger. Climactic scene is a Shoot-out.

The GM decides that she only wants three investigative scenes for a quick one-evening game, and rolls up three core clues.

  • Academic – Document Discovery
  • Technical – Surveillance
  • Interpersonal – Pulling Strings

Putting all that together – the players interview the scientist, he denies everything, but when they get hold of his files, they discover the names of his test subjects – and that one of them recently committed suicide in the park.

Checking security cameras in the park, they discover that there was someone else there that night, but the images aren’t clear enough to identify the other person. It’s only when the PCs use Cop Talk to chat to the security guard that they learn that the victim’s friend was also a mutant.

So – Dr. Vornley in the university claims to be able to suppress mutant abilities. He’s a fraud, but convincing enough to take some people in. The parents of one teenage mutant, Francie Grey, tried to “cure” their daughter. Eden Jones, a friend of Francie’s – also, secretly, a mutant – objected, and tried to persuade her friend to stop taking Vornley’s treatment. When Francie refused, the two girls fought, and Eden accidentally killed her friend. She’s now trying to frame Vornley for Francie’s suicide. She needs a power that might be a plausible murder/suicide weapon – maybe Water Manipulation for drowning, or Induce Fear or Possession.

The adventure breaks down scene-by-scene like this:

Intro: The police receive complaints from the Heightened Information Alliance about a mutant researcher at the university. A young woman, Eden Jones, went to the HIA claiming that her friend killed herself after one of Vornley’s treatments.

The Scammer: Dr. Vornley claims that his treatment is harmless – but checking his files confirms he was treating Francie Grey with his anti-mutation formula.

The Family: Questioning Francie Grey’s family is a dead end – they were horrified when their daughter developed mutant abilities, but now regret their involvement with Vornley after their child’s death.

The Park: Checking surveillance cameras in the park confirms there was someone else with Francie on the day she died. Asking the park security guard connects Eden Jones to Francie’s death.

Confronting Francie: When the players question Eden again, she panics and tries to use her powers to eliminate them.

Possible optional scenes:

  • Vornley goes on the run when he learns about Francie
  • Anti-mutant backers of Vornley’s work try to interfere with the investigation
  • One of the player characters with a troublesome power is tempted to try Vornley’s formula

 


Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Dice imageIf you are interested in playtesting any of these games, please email us with the adventure you wish to playtest in the subject line.

 

 

Title: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

System: GUMSHOE

Author: Robin D. Laws, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Deadline: October 31st

Number of sessions: 2-4

Description:

An expanded and revised version of Mutant City Blues.

Ever since the Sudden Mutation Event, people have been able to fly. Phase through walls. Read minds. Shoot bolts of energy from their fingertips. Walk into dreams.

As members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit, you and your fellow detectives solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. When a mutant power is used to kill, you catch the case. When it’s a mutant victim in the chalk outline, you get the call. And when it comes time for a fight, you deploy your own extraordinary abilities to even the odds.

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

Welcome to the latest edition of See Page XX! We’re back in the office after Gen Con and Tabletop Scotland, and cranking the book-making machines back up to full operational speed.

New this month is the PDF of The Fall of DELTA GREEN. Pick up the PDF in September to get a bonus PDF of Las Vegas: 1968, Kenneth Hite’s Sin City in the heyday of Howard Hughes and the Rat Pack. (We’ve also added it to your bookshelf if you’ve picked up the print book).

In 13th Age news, the PDF of the Book of Demons is available now. The Loot Harder and Book of Ages books are being printed, and we’ll be shipping these out to pre-orderers later this month, and we’re waiting to hear back from our colleagues at Chaosium when we can start shipping pre-orders of 13th Age GloranthaAnd after some layout difficulties, The Persephone Extraction is close to completion. We’ll have the final PDF for pre-orderers later this month.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

This is my last View article for a while. Pelgrane Press’s managing director Cat Tobin will be taking over this column, and I’ll be stepping back into an advisory role as I take a year-long sabbatical.

Cat asked me recently – what exactly is a pelgrane anyway? And I thought back to my own introduction to this quirky creature.

When I was twelve, my parents bought me the AD&D DMs Guide and Players Handbook in advance of my birthday. I’d played D&D at school once, which was frustrating but intriguing, and heard older kids from the local boy’s grammar school taking about “casting spells” in a game. I was an SF and fantasy fan, and this was electrifying.

My mother hid the books inadequately in a cupboard, and each night I read them under the covers in bed, absorbing Gary Gygax’s unique prose, and trying to imagine the game that would come out of it. I read every word, including the reading list in the DM”s Guide- some of which I had sampled – but not Jack Vance’s Eyes of the Overworld and the Dying Earth.

Alongside fire-and-forget magic, extravagant gourmandism and peculiar cultural practices were a menagerie of bizzare creatures unique to Vance – often fearsome, sometimes erudite and with a penchant for human flesh.  The one which fired my imagination was the pelgrane, a word both singular and plural, a creature with wings which sounded like rusty hinges, a hatchet beak and learing eyes. There original appearance in the Dying Earth was as an ever-present threat but distant threat, rather than a character, looming in the sky, discouraging travel which was inconvenient to the narrative. The Eyes of the Overworld introduced me to Cugel – the fox-faced vagabond whose presence upends delicately balance social structures – inevitably leading to his swift exit, pursued by a mob.

 It was in Cugel’s Saga that the pelgrane demonstrated the capacity for language and mordant humour. A wizard imprisons Cugel the Clever in a bedroom. Cugel escapes by applying ossip wax his bed to negate its gravity. On the bed he drifts high into the sky and, as night descends, falls into slumber.

“A black shadow fluttered across the sun; a heavy black object swooped down to alight at the foot of Cugel’s bed; a pelgrane of middle years, to judge by the silky gray hair of its globular abdomen. Its head, two feet long, was carved of black horn, like that of a stag-beetle and white fangs curled up past its snout. Perching on the bedstead it regarded Cugel with both avidity and amusement.”

“Today I shall breakfast in bed,” says the pelgrane. “Not often do I so indulge myself.”

Twenty years and hundreds of games later, I’ve acquired a license to publish a roleplaying game based on the Dying Earth and I am speaking to Jack Vance on the phone, hearing the same mordant humour, a child-like chuckle as he shared more of Cugel’s tales. We turned to the pelgrane. It was his suggestion which lead to us not pinning down in the text exactly what a pelgrane looks like, or how it behaves, and leaving much of it to the reader, or in our case, the GM and players. The pelgrane can be a source of horror, a threat, a swooping nuisance, a foil for the proud, or the name of a nascent RPG company.

The pelgrane featured widely in our Dying Earth series, illustrated by Hilary Wade, and developed a stronger personality. We imagined it nesting high in the mountains swooping on unwary freelancers, and even delivering parcels.

To some extent I was always the pelgrane, but “pelgranistas” gradually became the word for our inner circle of freelancers – we talked about people being “pelgrane-y” – an ineffable quality in people which Roald Dahl described as “spark” – we nurtured these people, always trying to expand our circle. They are talented, skilled, creative and fun to be with. And Cat Tobin, when she took over from Beth Lewis, fitted the pelgrane mold perfectly, but with the hint of steel needed to be a publisher and not just some fly-by-night freelancer. (Pelgranes fly night and day.)

Since co-owner Cat Tobin took over as managing director I’ve been trying to de-Simon-ify the company.  But while I am working for the company that’s pretty tough. I’ve been doing stuff, but I get credit where it’s not due – unavoidably. As an entrepreneur I’ve been adequate at most things, but not great at anything, expect perhaps finding good people. It’s tough to remove legacy processes for example, if there is no need. Cat is a pelgrane through and through, dedicated, through and more experienced at publishing than me. Cat has changed what a pelgrane is.

Pelgrane Press is a collaborative effort, with Cat now the driving force, and its full-time leader. I’ve been overwhelmed with stuff in my personal life, and not been able to give the company the attention it deserves. I am stepping back into an advisory role, giving Cat the freedom to run the company as she sees fit, and offering my tuppence-worth to the Pelgrane slack channel. You may see me at conventions, looking relaxed, as others do actual work. I want Pelgrane Press to be pelgrane without pelgrane being me.

And you, if you are reading this and playing our games, are a pelgrane too.

 

Previous Entries