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We’re on the road a lot during convention season, and the convenience of having our whole range of games on one device makes PDFs hard to beat for frequent travellers. With that in mind, we’re releasing a brand new Leyla Khan PDF adventure, The Best of Intentions, for Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, along with the PDF of the long-awaited sandbox 13th Age campaign, Shards of the Broken Sky.

New Releases

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13th Age

By Conrad Kinch 

I was a seven year old Kinch when I got my first gaming book. It was “Redcoats & Minutemen: The American War of Independence” by Jon Sutherland, a choose-your-own adventure book from a little-known series called Real Life Gamebooks. My parents thought fantasy was a bit frivolous, but the 18th century was alright, and while I eventually managed to snag a copy of Dungeons & Dragons for my birthday, I spent a good six months rushing about North America in my imagination (and a tricorne hat). Despite my best efforts, the Americans always seemed to win – but God knows I tried. But my love for “real world” roleplaying was born. Since then I’ve run games in the Old West, the Napoleonic Wars, Prohibition Era America, 1970s London, the Second World War, 11th century England and 17th century France, amongst others.

The years have not withered, nor the years condemned our worlds infinite variety.

There’s a lot to be said for playing in the “real world”. There is an internet full of free source material available, the players will already be familiar with the basics and while not everyone knows what an ork sounds like, most folk know a French person when they hear one.

My top tips for Game Masters wishing to dip a toe into historical roleplaying are as follows:

Talk the talk

Roleplaying games are mostly aural experiences. Some groups use figures and props, but mostly we hear RPGs. We experience them through words and play them by speaking and listening.  It’s no accident that many successful roleplaying games have a specialist lexicon of their own. By using different words, we are transported into a different world.  Some RPGs manage this really well, Vampire: The Masquerade for example, while others like Shadowrun are less successful. I never knew anyone who could say “Chummer” with a straight face – but this will vary from group to group. Bookhounds of London hits a nice balance by using mostly standard English, but having specialist slang for particular aspects of bookselling. Delta Green has a plethora of secret agent idioms, but you don’t need to master them all in one go.

Names and forms of address are a good way to start, particularly if you’re playing a game set in a more formal milieu.

For example, up until relatively late in the 20th century, most middle class people did not use first names at work, but referred to each other by surnames. Using a first name was a way of indicating friendship or intimacy and would only be used by family and close friends. Using this as a clue in an investigative game would be a great way to cement the convention in players minds and make them aware of it.

Start small, introduce a couple of words or phrases in each session and let the players get familiar with them before adding any more. The trick is to think of period words (and historical content more generally) as a seasoning, a little goes a long way. Listening to Shakespearean actor Ben Crystal’s rendition of Hamlet in Shakespearean English with original pronunciation is an extraordinary experience, but you couldn’t play a game like that.  You should aim to introduce just enough period diction to give the flavour of the time without the game bogging down.

Decide exactly how much history you want

The Three Musketeers (1973) is a historical film, but so is Master and Commander (2003) and Braveheart (1995). But they are very different kinds of films and while each is satisfying in their own way, they make different use their historical settings. Braveheart, for example, plays fast and loose with the history to craft an enjoyable revenge story, while Master and Commander tells a much more grounded narrative.

No more than when you choose to run a fantasy or science fiction game, you should have a clear idea of tone and type of game you want to run. More importantly, so should your players, and they should be on board with the idea. This gives everyone an understanding of how much the setting is going to be a factor in play. I think I’d quite like to play a Pendragon game in the style of Monty Python (or the joyful nonsense of A Knight’s Tale), but I would make sure that the players knew what they were getting into.

Don’t nit-pick

Pointing out the flaws in someone else’s work is easy, and sometimes fun, too.  There are whole YouTube channels devoted to filleting historical films on the basis of historical accuracy, but it’s a lousy basis for a roleplaying game. The GM should make an effort to do the reading and know the setting well, but there’s little to be gained from nitpicking people who are playing a game to be entertained. All it does is break the immersion in the game and make people feel foolish. There is a time and a place for “Well, actually…” type comments, but they should relate to the core activities of the game.

For example, I ran a game set in a British army regiment in Portugal during Sir John Moore’s expedition of 1809. Climbing the greasy pole of promotion, which was mostly (but not exclusively) by purchase at the time, was a key part of the game. The players were given the regulations and were expected to know about them in detail because jockeying for position was a core part of the game.  Picking a player up on a point of promotion would be perfectly legitimate, but having a go at one for talking about his father smoking cigars (which were relatively unknown in Ireland at the time) would not be.

If it’s a small point and not germane to the main business of the game, there’s little reason to make a fuss. Far better to keep the game rolling. Also, if you don’t have an immediate answer for a question and there isn’t a compelling reason to say no, you should go with whatever answer best serves your game.  For example, I have no idea if Elizabethan gentlemen had “stag do’s” (bachelor parties for our American cousins), but the question came up during a game set in London in 1599. I had no idea and I couldn’t find a quick answer, so I said yes.  The evening of roleplaying that followed was delightful.

A roleplaying session is an effervescent thing that exists collectively between the GM and the players.  It can lose momentum and die very easily, so be careful about shutting down players ideas unnecessarily. The alternative is also true, if a player comes across a particular nugget of historical information that’s interesting, you should do your best to incorporate it into the game. Anything that drags players deeper into the game and makes them more invested in the setting is a good thing.

The aim should be to create an enjoyable collaborative experience, rather than deliver a history lesson. Resist the temptation to make your friends feel small by showing off your knowledge of Georgian table manners and focus on delivering something that has period feel, even if some of the details are off.

Little & Often

One of the most effective ways I’ve found to immerse players in a historical setting is to use multiple avenues of approach. Have some film and TV recommendations ready for your players. Photographs, period drawings and paintings can quickly create a sense of place and time without too much work on the GM’s part. Music from the period is generally only a YouTube search away. If you can keep creating and reinforcing that sense of time and place in small ways, eventually you won’t have to work so hard to do it. A few words will put your group in the mood.

Over time, I’ve found that it’s worth focusing on a few small details and using those to suggest the rest of the setting. Three is a good number.

For example, in a game set in the USSR during the Second World War, we made much of the fact that Red Army soldiers weren’t issued socks, but were given foot wraps (long strips of cloth wrapped around the foot). It’s best if the details you focus on can be used by players to some advantage. In our game, foot wraps were used to make a makeshift ropes to bind and gag an unfortunate prisoner. The fact that captured German army socks were much prized became a running joke in the game. I think it also gave the players some idea of the relative material deprivation their characters were living in.

Running a good historical roleplaying game is just like running a good roleplaying game of any sort. So long as you concentrate on the players and keep the story moving, you’ll do just fine. May you always toast the correct Monarch, remember to call your best friend Watson rather than John when others are present and know your Jacobites from your Jacobins.

Happy historical roleplaying.


Conrad Kinch (@aquestingvole) is a poor hand with a sabre and an only passable pistol shot. He is fondly remembered by all those who have never lent him money. He lives in Dublin.  His novel “The Fox Wife’s Tail” is available now.

The number one critique of GUMSHOE among those who have little or no experience of the system is that the investigative rules turn the scenario into a railroad, where the players blindly follow a predetermined series of clues – which, being an erudite regular reader of Page XX, you know is not true. Hot on its heels, though, is another complaint you may encounter with new players – that the point-spending aspect of general abilities means that there’s little difference between a supremely skilled character and an amateur over an extended fight.

If I’m a super-lethal spy, the best sniper in the world with a mighty 15 in Firearms, then that probably gives me at most five guaranteed hits (spending 3 points per attack, plus my die roll against a Hit Threshold of 4) – possibly fewer if the bad guys have cover or other advantages. After I spend all my points, I’m rolling a plain d6 for my attacks, just like the schlub next to me who has only a single point of Firearms.

Three arguments for the current rules:

  • You Don’t Need That Many Successes: In most general abilities, you rarely need to succeed multiple times in an adventure. One or two guaranteed successes in Stealth, Mechanics, Preparedness or Driving is often more than enough to overcome any challenge. Most General Abilities only get called once per session at most. This argument does fall down a little when it comes to combat abilities, but for most abilities, a higher pool does model the effect of higher competence.
  • You Can Refresh: Especially in games that allow refreshes in the middle of the action (Night’s Black Agents and moves like Technothriller Monologue, Timewatch and Stitches), a player can take action to get points back. Having the sniper have to spend a round describing how they move to get to a better firing position is more fun than yet another round of “I shoot, I hit”. Forcing the characters to rest and refresh to get their abilities back pushes the game towards a nice rhythm and gives a sense of time passing.
  • It’s More Interesting: Players tend to have higher pools than most of their opponents, so switching to a different ability is often an option. Out of Firearms? Grab a knife and start swinging with Weapons. Out of Driving in a chase scene? Then ditch the car and start parkouring with Athletics. Out of Preparedness? Start improvising with Mechanics.

However, if a prospective player remains obstinate, one compromise is to give a flat +1 bonus to all tests involving a general ability if a character has a rating of 8 or more in that ability. So, if you’ve got Firearms 8 or more, you get a +1 bonus to all Firearms rolls. That gives the super-experienced, super-competent gunman a permanent edge over the barely trained goon, but doesn’t distort the regular GUMSHOE point-spending mechanic too much, so the characters will still need to make spends, seek out refreshes and so on.

This added rule can be added straight into most GUMSHOE games; for games that already offer 8-rating cherries like Night’s Black Agents, offer the flat bonus as an alternative cherry.

staring eyeA lot of us with a long history of d20 fantasy gaming have shiver-inducing memories of the first time a certain grinning, many-eyed monster absolutely demolished our group of adventurers. Sadly, that iconic monster isn’t available under the OGL; but the concept is so compelling that a lot of fantasy RPGs have taken it in interesting, non-copyright-violating directions.

When designing the overseer of the Eye Mother, my guiding principles were:

  • It’s a monster players love to hate and fear
  • Like a sadistic GM it sees everything the PCs do, and punishes them for their actions in highly specific ways designed to neutralize their strengths.
  • It prevents magic from working properly

In a stroke of luck, there were already horrifying eye-themed blasphemies in 13th Age: the fomori Daughters Of Dehothu, the Eye-Mother from the 13th Age Bestiary 2. This monster wouldn’t be powerful enough to be a true-fomori like the Daughters, but could be an intermediary between them and their servants—which fit nicely with the “punishing” concept.

I hope you enjoy the overseer of the Eye-Mother! Thanks to Rob Heinsoo for his feedback on the various drafts, and to the folks who playtested it: Tim Baker, J-M DeFoggi, Kenneth Hite, and the players in my home campaign.

(For his Poikila Hellenistika campaign, Ken reskinned it as as the animated eye and beak of a bas-relief of Ashur, tutelary god of the Assyrian Empire, and came up with the wonderfully evil spell theft nastier special.)

Overseer of the Eye Mother

Overseers of the Eye Mother are lesser true-fomori associated with Dehothu. These monstrous high priests and taskmasters ensure that cultists, unclean-ones, and fomorians do the fomori’s will, and they sadistically punish those who fail. Overseers are highly intelligent, and unlike other true-fomori, do not require a host.

Although the overseer is a large monster for the purposes of stats, there is never more than one overseer present in a battle—unless it’s an apocalyptic, campaign-ending climax where the skies are filled with squadrons of them, which would be frankly terrifying.

Overseer of the Eye-Mother

You hear the creature’s mocking laughter over your companions’ screams, as rays from the giant, glistening eyeballs that orbit its writhing, shapeless body strike them down one after another.

Large 9th level spoiler [aberration]

Initiative: +16

C: Punishing gaze +15 vs. PD75 damage

Eye ray: After an enemy takes all its actions during their turn, they make a normal save (11+). If it fails, the overseer makes an eye ray attack against that enemy as a free action. The overseer can’t use the same eye ray effect twice in a single round. (See example at the end of the writeup.)

[special trigger] R: Eye ray +17 vs. PD (one nearby or far away enemy)

Hit: Choose the eye ray effect from the table below based on the actions of the target during that turn. For example, the overseer might use charm person on an enemy (such as a cleric or commander) that uses powers and spells to benefit their allies. It might use stun against an enemy with strong defenses, and disintegration or petrification against an enemy that’s really pissed it off.

  1. Charm person: the target is confused. It can’t make opportunity attacks or use limited powers, and its next attack action will be a basic or at-will attack against any nearby ally, determined randomly (11+ save ends).
  2. Slow: starting next round, the target goes last in initiative order, and can’t delay or ready an action. On a successful save (11+) the target returns to the previous initiative order.
  3. Fear: the target takes a –4 penalty to attacks and can’t use the escalation die (11+ save ends)
  4. Petrification: the target must start making last gasp saves as it turns to stone. See the 13th Age core book for detailed rules on last gasp saves. (Limited use: once per battle.)
  5. Stun: The target takes a –4 penalty to defenses and can’t take any actions (11+ save ends)
  6. Invisibility purge: If the target is invisible, it turns visible and cannot become invisible again this battle
  7. Transfer enchantment: If the overseer or a nearby ally is suffering from a condition caused by an enemy spell (or spell-like power or ability), the overseer can transfer one condition to the target. If timing is required, interpret the transferred condition as if the overseer had caused it with this attack.
  8. Disintegration: 75 damage, and attacks against the target have their crit range expanded by 2 (save ends). If the attack reduces the target to negative hit points equal to half its maximum hit points, the target is disintegrated along with everything on their person except true magic items. A merciful GM may decide that the target was actually teleported to a “phantom zone” type prison, and might still be rescued by the group—either by killing the overseer, convincing it to release the character, or going wherever the overseer sent that character.
    • Miss: 35 damage

Anti-magic aura: When a nearby or far-away enemy uses a spell attack against the overseer, they must roll twice to attack and use the lower result unless one of the rolls is a critical hit. Anti-magic aura and the sorcerer’s spell frenzy cancel each other out: sorcerers roll a single die to attack.

Hovering flight: The overseer drifts through the air like an enormous soap bubble.

Go for the eyes!: When an enemy makes a critical hit against the overseer, one of its eyes is destroyed and the overseer loses a random eye ray effect. If an enemy declares it is aiming for an eye, a successful hit does not decrease the overseer’s hit point total—instead it destroys the eye, causing the overseer to lose a randomly-chosen eye ray effect. If all its eyes are destroyed, the overseer cannot use eye ray again until it has regrown them after a month or two.

Made of eyes: The overseer can’t be surprised or ambushed, and it has true sight (spells like blur, invisibility, etc. don’t work on it).

Uncanny willpower: If the confused condition is applied to the overseer, the overseer rolls a save at the end of each turn in which it acts, including when it makes an eye rays attack. In addition, the hampered condition does not prevent the overseer from using eye rays.

Nastier Specials

Eye theft: When a nearby or far-away creature (enemy, ally, or bystander) is staggered, it begins to feel as if its eyes are being pulled out by an invisible force. It takes a –1 penalty to hit and damage. Enemies that die in the presence of the overseer do indeed have their eyes sucked out as it absorbs the eyeballs.

Spell theft: As a standard action during its turn, the overseer can cast any failed spell attack made against it as a steal spell attack.

[special trigger] R: Steal spell +15 vs. the defense in the original spell—if the spell does damage, the target takes 75 damage of the type described. If the original spell does ongoing damage, the target takes 10 ongoing damage of the type described. The target suffers any conditions described in the spell description.

 

AC 25

PD 23    HP 360

MD 23

Tactics

The oveseer has zero interest in mixing it up in melee combat with heroes, whom it views as scurrying insects to be tormented for its amusement. It hovers at a distance, letting fomori cultists (unclean-ones, kobolds, troglodytes, orcs, and so forth) to fight and die while it uses punishing gaze and eye ray. The overseer has a strong sense of self-preservation and attempts to leave the battle as soon as it looks like there’s a real chance it might be killed. If possible, it takes an enemy confused by the charm person ray with it as a hostage.

An example of the overseer in combat:

  1. A cleric, a rogue, and a wizard face off against an overseer in a temple ruin. The rogue goes first in order of initiative, and makes a ranged attack against the overseer for 20 damage. At the end of the rogue’s turn, the player rolls a saving throw and fails. The overseer makes a successful eye ray attack against the rogue as a free action. The overseer wants to slow the rogue down, so it uses the slow ray.
  2. The cleric goes next in initiative order and invokes the domain of strength. The cleric then casts javelin of faith and hits the overseer for 30 damage. At the end of the cleric’s turn, that player rolls a saving throw, and fails. The overseer makes an eye ray attack against the cleric (only one, even though the cleric took multiple actions during their turn). The overseer uses its petrification ray to gradually turn the cleric into stone.
  3. The wizard goes next, and casts acid arrow at the overseer. Due to the overseer’s anti-magic aura the wizard rolls twice and uses the lower result. The wizard’s attack misses. At the end of the wizard’s turn the player rolls a saving throw and succeeds. The overseer does not make an eye ray attack against the wizard on that turn.
  4. The overseer goes next. Because this overseer has the nastier special magic theft, it casts the wizard’s failed acid arrow at the rogue. The rogue takes 75 points of damage, and will take 10 ongoing damage on their next turn.
  5. A new round begins. Because of the slow ray’s effect, the rogue goes last instead of first this round.
  6. The cleric moves to engage the overseer and makes a successful hammer of faith attack. It’s a critical hit, and does significant damage. The overseer makes an eye ray attack and, enraged at this affront, chooses disintegration.
  7. The cleric, now staggered and vulnerable, fails their last gasp save and continues to turn into stone.
  8. The players announce that they wish to flee the battle.

Image by Anna Langova.


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

An adventure seed for Night’s Black Agents, by Adam Gauntlett

The Agents are hired for a simple babysitting gig in Monaco, playground of the idle rich, and find themselves in the Conspiracy’s crosshairs.

What Came Before

A group of hackers hoping to make a big score cracked a billionaire’s superyacht Wi-Fi system. The hackers downloaded everything they could get their hands on, thinking that there would have to be something in all that worthy of blackmail. Then, to add sauce to the roast, they locked up the ship’s systems and demanded a ransom in bitcoin.

The hackers got more than they bargained for, as the superyacht is owned and operated by a major Conspiracy asset. The asset was on board at the time, conducting delicate negotiations with a would-be business partner. The deal was ruined, and the asset is outraged.

The hackers realized they were in over their heads. The new plan is to hire some bodyguards – the Agents – while some very intense negotiations take place. Then they’ll run for it – or so they hope.

Monaco

The Principauté de Monaco microstate is on the French Riviera, with France on three sides and the Mediterranean on the other. This constitutional monarchy is currently governed by Prince Albert II of the House of Grimaldi, a Genoese dynasty that has ruled Monaco since the 1200s. Art, culture, high-stakes gambling, the famous Grand Prix, tax assistance, a balmy climate, and everything else a multi-millionaire could possibly ask for; Monaco has it all, in a package about the size of New York City’s Central Park..

Though technically ten wards, Monaco is often thought of as four quarters: Monaco-Ville, La Condamime (which includes Port Hercule), Monte Carlo, home to the famous casino, and 1970s newcomer Fontvielle, made from reclaimed land.

Population

A little under 40,000 people. The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California could accommodate all of Monaco twice over.

The native Monegasques, all 5,000 of them, are outnumbered in their own country; over a quarter of the population is French, with strong minority populations of Italians, British, Belgians, Germans, Swiss and US nationals. The official language is French, but English is widely spoken. The local language, Monegasque, is little used.

Special

Social norms are rigidly enforced, and tourists may be prosecuted if they walk around without a shirt on. Would-be residents need to deposit at least €300,000 in a Monaco bank account before the government will issue a residency permit. Meanwhile the wealthy drop their usual paranoia and drive around in open-top vehicles, with expensive jewelry on display, certain they will never be robbed or molested.

The Agents’ base Heat, usually 1, is 2 in Monaco due to stringent security protocols.

Further, any Heat-gaining action gains 1 extra Heat if that action involves overt lethal or potentially lethal violence. Getting into a fistfight is one thing, but guns or explosions provokes a rapid response.

Gambling and Spending Excessive Funds gains no Heat. Monaco’s seen it all before.

Thrilling Elements

As per European Tourist City, with the following additions unique to Monaco:

  • A-list celebrity, Hollywood star or similar, walking with her personal assistant or driving in a very expensive open-top car.
  • Major racing event. The streets are packed with competitors and cheering crowds. The Monte Carlo Rally takes place in January each year, the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco is held every two years, two weeks before the Formula One, and the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco, one of motorsport’s Triple Crown events, takes place each year in May. Setup for each event takes six weeks and demolition three, so even without the race itself the streets are impacted before and after the event.
  • Coastal roads with hairpin bends; the least mistake will send your car crashing to its doom. All the more troubling, then, that so many petrol-heads in expensive cars seem keen to reenact the Bond-Onatopp chase from GoldenEye.
  • Confusing, narrow little streets surrounded on all sides by concrete, glass, and the occasional Belle Epoque masterpiece not yet destined for a date with a wrecking ball. Cramped, for Chase purposes.

Adventures in Babysitting

The Agents are brought in by a ‘Ndrangheta fixer, who puts them in a room with Maxim Ivanov, leader of the hack team.

The meeting takes place in the penthouse suite of a luxury Fontvielle apartment building, with an ocean view, three beds, two baths, living room and terrace. This, Maxim explains, will be their base of operations for the next few days.

He wants them to take care of Viktor Morizov. Viktor is to be treated with every possible courtesy, but he is not to be left alone nor is he allowed to leave the apartment. The job’s supposed to last from today, Friday, through to 9am next Monday. Anything Viktor wants, Viktor gets. So long as he never leaves.

Maxim gives them a burner phone to contact him, and five thousand Euro for expenses. It’s not a lot, not in a place like Monaco, but it should last a weekend.

Viktor Morizov: Civilian with high Digital Intrusion and Electronic Surveillance pools. Viktor’s a terrified twenty year old manchild. He speaks Russian, German and atrocious English, and behaves like a hick – which, to be fair, he is.

A Criminology, Research or Streetwise spend discovers Viktor’s criminal history. Viktor is linked with the Russian government sponsored group APT28, also known as Fancy Bear. Viktor, along with a handful of others, is supposed to have broken ranks and left the group in order to make money for himself.

Viktor has an external hard drive containing all the data the team stole. Treat this as a 4-point dedicated pool, Vampirology, and anything and everything to do with the Conspiracy asset and its links to other Nodes. The other hackers have been sent out of Monaco. Viktor’s here to sit on the data, and the Agents are here to make sure he doesn’t run.

Maxim Ivanov: Former Military Intelligence operative who thinks he has everything under control. A Criminology, Research or Streetwise spend discovers Maxim’s former life as an OMON special police operative in Moscow; he has several awards for bravery. He quit two years ago.

Maxim’s Plan:  Maxim has resigned himself to sacrificing Viktor and the data. However he wants to sacrifice Viktor on his own terms, so he’s trying to get as many bidders as possible, with this inducement: if you want the data I stole, pay me, and I’ll tell you where the guy who has it is.

This means it’s not just the Conspiracy the Agents have to worry about. Maxim’s contacting anyone he thinks will pay. Director’s choice as to who that might be, or what forces they might have at their disposal.

Maxim doesn’t care what happens to the Agents. Ideally he’ll cut them loose with a hefty payday, if all goes well. However he hired people he doesn’t care about because that way, if things go wrong, he doesn’t have to feel too badly about the corpses he’s leaving in his wake.

Except for Viktor, of course. Tough luck for the kid.

The Building

The penthouse is well-stocked with the basics, and has a massive flatscreen television with a Blue-Ray player and a huge library of movies. The owner, if anyone bothers to find out, is a midlevel Hollywood exec who comes to Monaco for a few weeks in the year in festival season, and rents it through an agent when it’s vacant. The other apartments in the building are likewise owned by absentee landlords, rented short-term to well-heeled tourists.

The building’s moderately secure, with concierge and security cameras throughout; Infiltration Difficulty 4 to break in. There is maid service. As this is the penthouse suite there are no neighbors on this level. Directly beneath are two vacant apartments, an owner-occupied apartment, (Aimee Charron, a very well-heeled socialite who ‘works’ as a personal assistant), and a tourist apartment currently occupied by a German gay couple, the Fenstermachers, here to gamble and have a good time. The rest of this six story building is occupied by about two score people total.

Avenues of Attack

Maxim’s plan goes belly-up shortly after he puts his advert on the dark web. The Conspiracy asset snatches Maxim off the street, and tortures him until he gives up Viktor’s location. This takes a while.

The Conspiracy asset also goes after the other hackers, hiding outside Monaco, and grabs them up one by one. Viktor’s in touch with them via social media, and some of the snatches are spectacular enough to make the news. As each happens, Viktor gets more and more despondent.

Meanwhile other would-be buyers gather in Monaco. They know they have to act quickly if they want the data. They can’t get hold of Maxim, so they do the next best thing: they buy the Agents’ location from the ‘Ndrangheta fixer who set all this up. It takes them time to find the right fixer and make a deal.

The Agents may discover this through Tradecraft, Streetwise, Digital Intrusion as an investigative ability to find the dark web advert, or similar. If they find out quickly, they can pick up as much as 2 pool points Preparedness, to use during their escape. If they don’t find out, then they lose 2 pool points Preparedness, since the first sign of trouble is probably when some goon puts his boot through the penthouse door.

Running Away From Home

Viktor becomes increasingly miserable as time passes. His friends are all dead or dying, Maxim is nowhere to be seen, and he’s surrounded by people he doesn’t know or trust.

If the Agents use Shrink, Reassurance or similar on Viktor then this scene does not happen. If they did not, Viktor tries to escape.

Viktor reaches out via his online connections to find someone who will help him. His attempts are intercepted by one of the data buyers, but Viktor doesn’t realize this. Digital Intrusion as an investigative spend spots Viktor’s attempts to find help, or traces his attempts after the fact.

Then he uses the pharmaceuticals in the penthouse’s medicine cabinet to whip up a quick knockout cocktail, to use on the Agents. He gets this to them however he can; maybe in their drinks, maybe in takeout food.

The homemade drug cocktail can be detected with 1 point Chemistry or Medic as an investigative spend, and purged in one round with 1 point Diagnosis.

Those who ingest it need to make a Difficulty 6 Health test. Success means they act as if Hurt for the next 6 rounds. Failure means they act as if Seriously Wounded for the next 6 rounds and Hurt for 6 rounds after that. This may provoke Consciousness checks.

Then Viktor makes a run for it. He thinks he’s arranged to meet friends at a coffee shop ten minutes’ walk away, but in fact the data buyers hired an extraction team to snatch him.

The Grand Finale

The Agents can hold out, or run for it.

Holding out isn’t helpful. Maxim’s not coming. His plan backfired, and he’s spilling his guts. Eventually the Conspiracy asset or the data buyers will get into the penthouse.

The Conspiracy asset prefers heavy tactics; bust in, bust heads, get out, use lawyers with buckets of money to cover the damage. The data buyers are more discreet, and may attempt negotiation. However they all want the same thing: Viktor, and his data.

The difference is, the Conspiracy asset doesn’t care whether Viktor lives or dies, and considers the Agents acceptable collateral damage. Also the Fenstermachers, Aimee Charron, the maids, and pretty much anyone and anyone else that gets in the way.

Leaving Monaco is tricky. The microstate is very small, but it’s one of the most heavily surveilled places in the world. The OPFOR can track the Agents’ movements, and intercept them before they get far. Consider this a Thrilling Chase at minimum, possibly an Extended Chase if you want this to track across France to some hideout of the Agents’ choosing.

What happens next is up to the Agents …


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The weather is starting to turn wintry, the evenings are darkening earlier over Europe, and all the world is preparing for Black Friday. Cuddle up by a nice warm fire and get the pumpkin spiced drinks in with our latest PDF releases – the one-player, one Director Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, and the Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen and Resource Guide.

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I’m just back from the wilds of London’s Alexandra Palace, where Becky and I, ably assisted by knowledgeable Pelgrane playtester CJ Romer, ran the Pelgrane booth at the second ever Tabletop Gaming Live. The venue itself is lovely, and the staff were really friendly and helpful. It was mostly boardgames-focused, with very few RPG companies – I didn’t do a full tour of the hall, but I only spotted our good friends over at the UK Indie RPG League, and our Cthulhoid masters at Chaosium, who were running demo games.

NEW! Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops PDF

New out this month is the PDF for the second GUMSHOE One-2-One game, Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops. All you need is one Director, and one player, to get your fix of high-octane NBA action. Play burned MI6 agent Leyla Khan, who – over the course of three full adventures – must escape from the vampiric conspiracy who’ve trapped her in their thrall, and track down and destroys her former masters before they recapture her.

NEW! Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen and Resource Guide PDF

The Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen is our first four-panel GM screen. The accompanying Resource Guide is stuffed full of useful advice and new features for your NBA game, like initiations (vignettes describing how an Agent got baptized into the secret world of vampires), new monsters, a dozen mid-ranking NPCs that can be dropped into any conspiracy, how to deal with complicated action sequences like fights and chases, story elements that show up in many Night’s Black Agents scenarios like trailing a suspect, meeting a source, or blowing things up, Mission Skeletons, which describe the nine basic Night’s Black Agents missions and explain how to build or improvise stories around each of them, and a selection of modern-day locations, complete with suggested clues or combat options.

Work in progress update: Book of the Underworld

Gareth’s finished the writing on Book of the Underworld, and has handed over the manuscript to developers Rob Heinsoo and J-M deFoggi, who have dived into it and are working hard to get it to the copyeditor as quickly as they can. Rich Longmore and Lee Moyer are working on the cover – Lee will be painting Rich’s linework. We should be able to show you that during the month. Rob and J-M are starting to commission the interior art later this week, too.

Work in progress update: The Borellus Connection

Gareth’s hacking work on The Borellus Connection is now finished, and we’ve handed it over to Arc Dream for approval. We’ll be posting all the bits cuts out as a series of See Page XX articles titled “FINEST EFFECTS” over the coming months. Be warned, though, that these will all be for the Handler’s Eyes Only! This month’s article is a useful timeline for the Handler.

Work in progress update: Born Robot

Kate Bullock has been making good progress on Born Robot, and now has three out of the five main book sections finished. This covers almost all of the robot world setting design, and she’s now jumping into the GM-focused chapter.

Until next time,

^^ Cat

 

When creating your own game with the GUMSHOE rules – or when hacking an existing game – one key early step is deciding which investigative abilities you’re going to include. Different games use radically different numbers and lists of abilities – compare the sprawling list of abilities in The Esoterrorists to the much more compact list in Fear Itself.

Investigative abilities fulfil four key functions:

Obviously, they let the investigators find clues, especially core clues that point the way to the next scene. I always think of investigative abilities as how the players interrogate the game world – they’re a list of prompts for questions the players can ask. Investigative abilities don’t need to cover every possible approach – a game about pulp archaeologists doesn’t need to differentiate, say, Chemistry and Physics. A detective game inspired by Poirot is going to have a lot more abilities relating to observation, psychology, and social interaction than one inspired by CSI.

This is taken to an extreme in the Yellow King rules – take a look at the Paris-era investigative abilities, which compel the players to see the mystery through a lens of art.

Choose abilities that reflect the sort of mystery you want them to solve.

Related to this, investigative abilities inform the players about their characters and the setting. You can put important information about the setting right on the character sheet. Night’s Black Agents, for example, drips with technothriller jargon, stuffing its character sheet full of Traffic Analysis, Tradecraft, Urban Survival and Human Terrain. Esoterrorists has a clinical, literally forensic list of abilities that clearly conveys that this game is about information gathering. Timewatch has a much slimmer, more casual list of abilities (Science!) while still telling players what’s important (three different flavours of history).

Interpersonal abilities are especially suited for this – if your game includes Etiquette and Gossip, it’s clearly a game of mannered protagonists. If it includes Social Media and Street Gangs, it’s probably a cyberpunk game.

You can highlight key facets of your setting by turning it into an investigative ability. Cthulhu City, for instance, emphasises the urban environment by adding District Knowledge.

Evoke setting through evocative ability names and choices.

Investigative abilities also provide benefits when spent (or Pushed). Depending on the game, this may simply be more information, reduce difficulties/give pools of General Ability points, or give the players a degree of control over the story. The interaction of investigative spends to the wider game is beyond the scope of this article, but when picking investigative abilities, try to think of associated benefits. If none spring to mind immediately, the ability may be drawn too narrowly.

Think about suitable benefits for each ability.

Investigative abilities let players distinguish their characters from one another. In some games, this isn’t an issue – in Timewatch, for example, it doesn’t matter if the psychic velociraptor and the cyborg ninja have a lot of overlap in their investigative abilities, as no-one’s going to mistake one for the other in play, while in Ashen Stars, characters have species and roles to give them a unique hat to wear. However, when your Fall of Delta Green group consists of six Federal Agents from an alphabet soup of agencies, or everyone’s a mutant cop, having a long enough ability list to give everyone a field of expertise is a good idea. That means you may need to identify a set of core abilities that everyone needs to have, and then add some more abilities as possible niches.

It’s permissible to include abilities that every player character in a setting would reasonably possess (all Night’s Black Agents characters have Tradecraft, for instance). Give such abilities for free.

Using packages or templates can also help guide players.

Have enough abilities on the list to avoid identical player characters.

That said, some abilities are close to universal. The core cluster of Interpersonal Abilities (Reassurance, Intimidation, Bargain/Negotiation, and Bullshit Detector/Assess Honesty) are valid investigative routes in almost any conceivable game. Architecture is surprisingly useful, as many adventures involve, well, places. A quick “you find this out through background reading” Research/Library Use ability is extremely handy to have.

Consider starting with an existing list and pruning it down, or starting with an incredibly bare-bones list and adding more as you playtest.

Different gaming groups (and, for that matter, different GUMSHOE writers!) have different tastes, and you likely need to experiment to find the sort of investigative ability list best works for your group. Experiment – or perhaps investigate – to find your own ideal mix…

Halloween is nigh, so I’m going to stat up some spooky monsters—in this case, pirate ghosts! These restless undead might haunt the Iron Sea coast, the rivers of the Fangs, or the Midland Sea around Necropolis and Omen.

You can find all sorts of ghosts in the 13th Age Bestiary, from the Petulant Never-Was to an Epic Haunting. The monsters below are based on the disgraced legionnaire and major haunting. The dead men tell no tales ability is a modified version of the death marker’s marked for death ability.

Abilities for Most Ghosts

Most ghosts have several or all of the following abilities:

Bound hauntings: Most ghosts are bound to an area, usually the area of their death. This ability won’t come up much in play, but it does make it seem likely that ghosts can be easier to get away from than other monsters. Move far enough fast enough and the ghost returns to the area it’s bound to. Occasionally festivals for the dead or other rituals can call bound ghosts from their hauntings, but those are unusual and temporary circumstances.

Exceptions: There may be ghosts that are bound to people, or events, or phenomena that travel. There might even be ghosts that aren’t bound to anything, but at that stage there are several other questions that surface and odd magical, iconic, or unique intervention seems likely.

Flight: Most ghosts fly, though some may be quite slow, seeming to drift or walking on air. Ghosts that fly in unusual ways will be flagged with their own abilities.

Exceptions: Not all ghosts fly. Some seem constrained to act much like they acted when they were alive, and flying wasn’t part of their life package.

Unnatural touch: Many ghosts can alter the temperature of their environment to more closely match the underworld or afterlife that they’ve so far evaded. Sometimes that’s icy cold, sometimes that’s burning hot, and sometimes it’s just kind of normal, which would go unnoticed unless the ghost is somewhere abnormal!

Exceptions: This is more of a special effect of ghost stories than part of a creature’s combat abilities, and you can safely ignore it unless you find telling moments when it adds to the game.

The Black Spot: A New Ability for Pirate Ghosts

The black spot: If someone has wronged a pirate ghost, either in life or after their death, a ghostly pirate crew member appears before them 1-6 months later (ideally on a dark and stormy night) and presents them with a scrap of paper marked with a black smudge. To resist the magical compulsion to accept the black spot, the target must succeed at a 16+ save. If the save is failed, the target takes the black spot. From then on, the offended pirate ghosts can teleport to the target’s location at will to attack them, and will keep coming until the target is dead.

Pirate Ghost Captain

Come now, surely ye haven’t forgotten yer old shipmates? Why, it feels like it were only yesterday we dangled at at the end of a hangman’s rope, while you went on to live all respectable and proper-like.

Double-strength 6th level wrecker [undead]

Initiative: +12

Vulnerability: holy

Phantom cutlass +13 vs. PD—40 negative energy damage

Natural even hit or miss: The ghost pirate captain can make a dead men tell no tales attack as a free action against a nearby staggered enemy.

C: Dead men tell no tales +11 vs. MD (nearby staggered enemy)—5 ongoing psychic damage (11+ save ends).

Target is hit by a dead men tell no tales attack for the second time this battle: Until the end of the battle, when the target tries to spend a recovery they have to succeed at a save (11+) first. If they fail, they haven’t used their action but can’t spend recoveries that turn.

Target is hit by a dead men tell no tales attack for the third time this battle:The save to spend a recovery is now a hard save (16+).

Target is hit for the fourth time this battle: Until the end of the battle the target cannot spend recoveries.

Ghostly: This creature has resist damage 12+ to all damage except holy damage. A ghost can move through solid objects, but can’t end its turn inside them.

Mark of the Jonah: Each enemy that has a background or One Unique Thing related to sailing or the sea that misses an attack with a natural odd roll takes a -2 penalty to all its defenses until the end of the battle.

Nastier Specials

Fear aura: While engaged with this ghost, if the target has 30 hp or fewer, it’s dazed (–4 to attack) and does not add the escalation die to its attacks.

Swarm of pirates: If there are three or more ghost pirate crew member mooks in a battle, the pirate ghost captain’s fear aura ability affects enemies with 60 hp or fewer.

AC 22

PD 19     HP 140

MD 16

 

Pirate Ghost Crew Member

Arrrrr!

6th level mook [undead]

Initiative: +9

Phantom cutlass +10 vs. PD—8 negative energy damage

Mob-based: For every separate mob of ghost pirate crew member mooks in the battle (mobs start with at least four mooks), add a +1 bonus to the ghost pirate crew member’s attacks and +2 to its damage.

Ghostly: This creature has resist damage 14+ to all damage except holy damage. A ghost can move through solid objects, but can’t end its turn inside them.

AC 21

PD 19 .      HP 18 (mook)

MD 16

Mook: Kill one ghost pirate crew member mook for every 18 damage you deal to the mob.


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

Gen Con has yet again swallowed up an issue of See Page XX, and so this is the combined August/September edition of your friendly neighbourhood Pelgrane update. New this month are the Trail of Cthulhu cluebooks, for all your note-capturing needs. Alongside our new Pelgrane-themed merch, they’ll let you demonstrate your Pelgrane credentials at your autumn convention gaming table.

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