The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring the 13th Age Demonologist class among other hellish goodies in the Book of Demons, along with Ex Astoria, the next Vivian Sinclair PDF adventure; meet Colleen Riley, the newest Pelgranista; hand something out to your players, and find out how the character generator is progressing.

It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!

I must confess that I love handouts in roleplaying games. I love them a little too much. In the upcoming expanded Hideous Creatures, we’re doing player-facing documents for each monster, hinting at some aspect of the creature in an oblique way. Some tips on their creation and use…

Handouts are Artefacts

Handouts must feel real. You can spend many enjoyable* hours aging paper and carefully selecting the right font, but you also have to take care when writing the handout to make it a plausible document. It needs to be short enough to be read at the table, contain enough information to make it useful, but also drip with verisimilitude. Short reports obliquely hinting at strange events, newspaper articles, diary entries and the like are ideal.

You can also have handouts that are extracts from larger documents – a single page of a longer book or one section of a report – by including trailing text and references to other parts of the fictional document. (Group a bunch of short newspaper clippings in a scrapbook to create a handout that hints at but never states an awful truth – leave it up to the players to connect a death notice, a report about dead dogs, a mysterious classified advertisement, and a clipping from the catalogue of a rare book store that’s selling a copy of Cultes des Ghoules.)

The diary entry found by Dr. Armitage in The Dunwich Horror is an ideal example of this sort of extract – it’s short, atmospheric, suggests it’s part of a larger document with its throwaway references to other Dunwich natives and ongoing studies, and – most important of all – has an actionable clue for the players: “That upstairs looks like it will have the right cast. I can see it a little when I make the Voorish sign or blow the powder of Ibn-Ghazi at it”.

Atmospheric

Everyone knows that boxed text is awful. It’s painful to sit there listening to a Keeper read prose aloud. It’s stilted, often hard to follow, and at odds with the inherently conversational nature of roleplaying games. Handouts, though, are much closer to traditional prose. You can tell a little story, or go to town on descriptive elements that a Keeper would struggle to convey in a bloc of text.

A handout that just conveys information isn’t necessarily a waste of them – all handouts have their uses – but if you just want to, say, give the players the name of the victim, writing up a police report is probably overkill. Use the space afforded by the handout to hint at horrors to come. Diaries, in particular, let you extend a scenario’s scope back in time by letting you do the Lovecraftian trope of listing a whole series of past incidents and weirdnesses that culminate in the present horror.

Esoteric

In any group of players, there are usually degrees of engagement. Some players are really, really interested in the mystery, or the Cthulhu Mythos, or fighting monsters; others become more or less engaged depending on the action in the game, and others are just there to hang out with their friends. In general, it’s a bad idea to pay too much attention on the overly enthusiastic players – they’re going to have fun and be involved no matter what, so the Keeper’s efforts are best spent drawing the more reticent players into the action. Handouts, however, are a place where you can reward engagement, giving those players a little more to chew on. Use handouts to hint at connections to the wider Mythos, to imply deeper and wider conspiracies, or to flesh out the backstory. Handouts are one place in the game where you can be as obscure and wilfully misleading as you like, as the players can take time – even between sessions – to chew over the clues.

The Clue Isn’t Necessary In The Text

While you can include clues in a handout that you expect the players to spot, you can also have clues that can be discovered with investigative abilities. A player might be able to use History to recognise a name in a diary as the site of a famous murder, or Cryptography to decode the weird runes in the margin as an enciphered message, or even Cthulhu Mythos (“after reading the diary, you start dreaming of that same strange house on the clifftop, and feel this weird urge to go east, towards the ocean. Something’s drawing you to a spot on the coastline overlooking the grey Atlantic. You suspect that if you follow that unnatural tugging, you’ll find that house.”)

You can also use investigative abilities to push the players towards the correct interpretation – “from your expertise in Cop Talk, you’re pretty sure this report was written under protest – whoever wrote it was told to provide a ‘reasonable’ explanation for the weird events. Maybe if you find the original author, they’ll tell you what really happened.”

Handouts Are An Anchor

Handouts feel significant. Even a tiny handout, like a business card, implies the players are on the right track in the adventure, (“If this musician wasn’t important, the Keeper wouldn’t have printed up a business card”) and you can use that feeling to reward the players. Successfully traversing a difficult challenge or solving a section of the mystery yields a handout.

Handouts are also useful for organising information. If you’ve a long list of similar leads – say, all the guests at a party, or all the victims of a serial murderer, or a set of addresses – it’s good practise to give the players the list in the form of a handout. It avoids transcription errors and miscommunications, and keeps the game running more smoothly. Similarly, handouts are a good way of conveying complex timelines or spatial relationships to the players – a map or a diary can become the frame of the investigation that the players then fill in with clues.

*: Hours may not be enjoyable if they turn into weeks, nay months…

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Having appeared on GM advice panels for lots of years, I’m always on the alert for changes in the types of questions audience members put forward.

These can vary quite a bit depending on the convention. An expensive destination show like Gen Con, or one directed to an ultra-dedicated community like The Kraken will feature challenging, graduate-level questions. At shows where local folks can walk on in to plunk down their admission fee the questions, questions tend to reflect the concerns of newer players—and thus the direction we might be headed in as tastes and experiences change.

This might be anecdotal or a blip in the radarsphere, but lately I’ve noticed a shift from the previous classic question to a new one.

The old question is “How do I deal with the overbearing player in my group?”

Now I’m hearing a lot more, “How do I draw out the shy player in my group?”

I’ve heard the second one over the years too, but the balance has shifted.

Whether this presages a new wonderful generation with heightened sensitivity or not is a sociological question that could spawn a hot take full of groundless generalizations. Instead let’s instead look at that evergreen RPG question.

My basic answer, going all the way back to Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering, has been to recognize that many players who seem to under-participate actually like it that way. They prefer to sit back and quasi-spectate and aren’t waiting for you to coax them into the open. Maybe they don’t contribute as many ideas, strategies or brilliant character moments as the more outgoing group members, but they contribute all the same. Maybe they drive other players to game, supply the snacks, or just add to the social atmosphere in an indefinable but necessary way. They provide the social glue that makes quorum possible week in and week out.

In a D&D game, you can give the casual player a straightforward PC to play and tell him when to roll when he needs to. Cough, cough, human fighter, cough.

Investigative play, which dominates all GUMSHOE games, requires more participation. Even so, there are ways to decrease the burden on players who take a backseat by choice.

For a shy player, the most pressuring element of a GUMSHOE game is not the demons of The Esoterrorists, cultists of Trail of Cthulhu, or vampires of Night’s Black Agents. It’s the need to converse at length with possibly hostile people and wrest information from them.

When ensuring that all players get to take point in an interview scene of their own, you might wait for the shy player to step forward and volunteer for a particular encounter. If they don’t, don’t force it on them. Allow them to lob supplementary questions into interviews conducted by other players, even when their PCs aren’t literally present. And if they remain content to sit back and watch interviews without doing that either, this is also fine.

A semi-retiring player may be happy to interview less intimidating witnesses. You might make sure your scenario includes someone the player can talk to without fearing that they’re going to make a mistake or get the group in trouble. When introducing low-stress witnesses into the story, make a point of describing them in a way that puts the player at ease. If the player does choose to pick a tough or tricky suspect to talk to, dial back your portrayal, injecting less stress into the exchange than you would for a player who gives as good as she gets.

A GUMSHOE scenario usually assumes that the PCs are, taken together, experts in any field they need to understand to piece together the mystery. Still, building in a friendly expert for the less aggressive player to interact with may help the flow of your session.

A cooperative witness needn’t oversimplify the mystery. The group still has to interpret the information witnesses supply, even when given without resistance. (A shy player could be just as flustered by an overly forthcoming GMC as a withholding one, so take care not to bowl them over with a gusher of info and details.)

Casual players may prefer spotlight moments allowing them to interact with impersonal obstacles.

Technical investigative abilities suit shy players well. They can go off to the lab to run tests while the extroverted players interview suspects.

Academic investigative abilities, the things that their characters already know, remember, or can research, allow you to portray shy players’ characters as gaining clues for the group without fraught interaction.

If interaction in particular and not the spotlight in general hangs them up, you might build in moments for shy players to shine while using general abilities. These players often enjoy playing stealthy types, so this may be as simple as creating a place for them to sneak into and out of.

Players who don’t like tension can be guided toward supportive general abilities:

  • First Aid lets them patch up other group members after they go out and take the risks.
  • With Preparedness, they can open up their packs to pull out the piece of equipment that saves the day.
  • With Piloting they can swoop in to rescue the rest of the party as the shoggoths charge down the ice field.
  • Systems Repair has them turbocharging the spaceship’s engine for a surprise escape from the magnetic field while the rest of the group antagonizes enemies on the planet below.

Ultimately every shy player is cautious in a distinct, individual way. If your shy person does perk up and show a special interest in a facet of play, build more of that into future games.

But if they want to remain in their shells, respect that. For some, it’s the place where clams are happiest.

Hello, everyone! I’m Colleen Riley, Pelgrane’s new administrative assistant. Once described as a robot from a future where grammar rose up and destroyed mankind, my previous game industry experience is primarily as an editor. I also playtest, and enjoy working on games’ entire life cycle, from idea to publication.

My introduction to roleplaying games was the somewhat traditional rolling of dice in basements filled with D&D books. Now, I enjoy games from many genres and with varying levels of crunch — what I care most about is telling an interesting story.

I’m based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I love travelling, especially to gaming conventions. When I’m not playing games or seeing new sights, I can probably be found at a show, reading a book, or serving my four benevolent feline overlords.

by Tony Williams

(Download a crib sheet for this variant rule).

Greetings. I am a fan of GUMSHOE and, more specifically, Trail of Cthulhu. I’ve been playing RPGs since the early eighties and skew mostly towards Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu. I enjoy Trail so much I have created several items to try and make playing the game easier for myself and others. They can all be downloaded at the Trail of Cthulhu Resource page on this website (on the list at the right there click “Trail of Cthulhu“, then “Resources” and look for my name next to stuff).

As I have said I enjoy the ruleset of Trail of Cthulhu; its simplicity, elegance and most importantly how GUMSHOE helps get clues into Investigators’ hands. However I have always felt that the concepts of “Sources of Stability” and “Pillars of Sanity” were somewhat nebulous and maybe could be improved in some way by hardwiring them into the ruleset more directly.

Sources of Stability in particular don’t serve much purpose other than giving the Investigator a peer group which has little to no impact on the game during the actual session. Pillars of Sanity confer no in-game advantage to the player other than defining the mindset of their Investigator and I always felt that if an Investigator has multiple “Pillars” plus a “Drive” their motivations could become difficult to remember (certainly if you are the Keeper and have to be aware of multiple Investigators’ motivations simultaneously). Also, from a player’s point of view, Pillars only offer an attack vector onto their Investigator with no actual benefit other than describing their character’s personality. I wanted to improve Pillars so a player might embrace them more and also let a Pillar give an actual advantage to their Investigator.

A couple of other issues I had with the rules of Trail, as they are, were that Sanity pool points didn’t seem to be eroded often enough for my liking and the use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability was proving too “dangerous” for my players to decide to use it. Excluding the times where Sanity is hit in a BIG way (via a shattered Pillar or meeting a Great Old One) Sanity only tends to be hit in small amounts when an Investigator fails a Mythos-related Stability test that sends them into negative Stability territory. I wanted to increase the opportunities where an Investigator might lose some Sanity pool points.

So… I threw all the ingredients of Sources of Stability, Pillars of Sanity, the Cthulhu Mythos ability and the Sanity mechanic itself into a pot (my brain), stirred them up with a spoon that was covered in some rules from Nights Black Agents, and came up with the following rule amendments:

Pillars of Sanity (Revised)

Types of Pillar of Sanity

There are now four types of Pillar of Sanity:

  • a Moral Stance
  • a Treasured Symbol
  • a Person of Solace
  • a Place of Safety

A Moral Stance is a core belief of the Investigator. It is an abstract concept and is identical to the type of Pillar of Sanity as defined in the Trail of Cthulhu Rulebook. An example would be “The purity of my bloodline.”

A Treasured Symbol is a physical object that inspires or gives hope to the Investigator. Examples could be the flag of the country of origin of the Investigator, a photograph of their family or an object gifted by a close friend.

A Person of Solace is a living non-player character that is dear to the Investigator (this is identical to a Source of Stability as defined in the Trail of Cthulhu Rulebook and therefore the game construct of “Sources of Stability” is deprecated under this rule revision). Examples could be a best friend, a close work colleague or a family member.

A Place of Safety is a specific location where the Investigator feels comfortable and secure when they visit it. Examples could be their place of work, their parents’ house or the site where they first realised they had fallen in love.

Choosing Pillars of Sanity

When a player is creating their Investigator they should define one Pillar of Sanity for each partial set of 3 rating points of Sanity their Investigator has.

Thus for 1-3 rating points of Sanity they should define 1 Pillar, for 4-6 rating points they should define 2 and for 7 upwards they should define 3. Three Pillars of Sanity is the maximum number allowed for an Investigator.

An Investigator can only have one Place of Safety and one Moral Stance as Pillars of Sanity at any one time. An Investigator does not have to have any particular type of Pillar if they so wish. Thus a player could choose three Treasured Symbols if they so desired.

If an Investigator’s Sanity rating falls such that it no longer supports the number of Pillars the Investigator currently has, then the player must choose to “crumble” a Pillar (their choice) and explain why it no longer has any value to their Investigator. There is no further Sanity or Stability penalty for crumbling a Pillar.

Investigators with no remaining Pillars of Sanity suffer a +1 difficulty penalty to Stability tests as per the usual Trail of Cthulhu Rulebook rule.

Regaining Lost Stability Pool Points via Pillars of Sanity

Pillars of Sanity can now be used to regain lost Stability pool points. Each of the Investigator’s Pillars can be used once per game session to do this, but only one Pillar of each type can be used in the same session.

To use their Moral Stance or a Treasured Symbol the Investigator must be in a place of relative calm and safety and must spend a few minutes contemplating their core values or handling or viewing their Symbol. They will regain 1 lost Stability pool point.

If an Investigator can spend at least 6 hours visiting with, talking to or otherwise engaging in normal human interaction with their Person of Solace, without being under threat or placing their Person of Solace in danger, they may regain 2 lost pool points of Stability.

If an Investigator can spend at least 24 hours at their Place of Safety without being under threat or drawing the Mythos to it they may regain 3 lost pool points of Stability.

An Investigator can not regain Stability through their Pillars of Sanity if they are in a mind blasted state (Stability pool points of -6 or less).

Pillars of Sanity and Psychological Triage

Regaining Stability through the Psychoanalysis ability is now affected by Pillars of Sanity.

The difficulty level for the Psychological Triage test is now [ 6 minus the number of Pillars of Sanity the patient possesses ] instead of the standard test difficulty of 4.

Loss of Pillars of Sanity and Mental Damage

Pillars of Sanity can be lost in two ways: via Mythos corruption or in a mundane (non-Mythos related) manner.

Mundane Loss

  • A Moral Stance, because it is an abstract belief, is highly unlikely to be lost in this manner.
  • A Treasured Symbol could be misplaced or physically destroyed.
  • A Person of Solace could die of natural causes or turn against the Investigator for some reason.
  • An Investigator could be evicted from their Place of Safety or it could be demolished or become inaccessible somehow.

Losing a Pillar of Sanity without the Mythos being involved causes the Investigator to suffer Stability rating and pool point loss depending on the type of Pillar lost:

  • a Treasured Symbol – lose 1 Stability rating and 1 Stability pool point
  • a Person of Solace – lose 2 Stability rating and 2 Stability pool points
  • a Place of Safety – lose 3 Stability rating and 3 Stability pool points

Loss involving the Mythos

If the Investigator knows that the Mythos is involved in the loss of a Pillar (e.g. new Mythos knowledge proves a Moral Stance meaningless; a Mythos creature destroys a Treasured Symbol; the Mythos drives a Person of Solace insane or cultists desecrate a Place of Safety) then the Investigator suffers Sanity and Stability pool point loss appropriate to the lost Pillar type.

  • a Moral Stance – lose 3 Sanity pool points and 5 Stability pool points
  • a Treasured Symbol – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 3 Stability pool points
  • a Person of Solace – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 6 Stability pool points
  • a Place of Safety – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 4 Stability pool points

Pillars of Sanity and the Cthulhu Mythos Ability

Successful use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability is now not certain to cause loss of Stability and Sanity pool points.

The more Pillars of Sanity an Investigator has, the greater a chance of protection against losing Stability and Sanity they can have when using the Cthulhu Mythos ability.

Upon successful use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability a test is made against difficulty 5 (the standard Mythos test difficulty). If the test is failed, the Investigator loses pool points of Sanity and Stability depending on the difference between the test die result and the target difficulty according to the table below:

Difference:

1 – lose 1 Sanity pool point

2 – lose 1 Sanity pool point and 1 Stability pool point

3 – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 1 Stability pool point

4 – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 2 Stability pool points

A player can risk any or all of their Investigator’s Pillars of Sanity as a bonus to the test die roll. For each Pillar they offer, they receive a +1 bonus to the die roll. Players must state which Pillars they are offering (if any) before rolling the test die.

If a test that has Pillars of Sanity backing it fails, then one of the backing Pillars (player’s choice) has been corrupted or shattered by the Mythos revelation the Investigator has just received using the Cthulhu Mythos ability. The Pillar is lost and the Investigator suffers Sanity and Stability pool point loss appropriate to the lost Pillar type as per the amounts for loss of a Pillar via the Mythos described earlier.

The player should try to offer an explanation for how the revelation has corrupted or shattered their Pillar.

How these rule variants might affect the game

Hopefully with these rule suggestions I have simplified the amount of “motivators” describing an Investigator’s mindset since an Investigator can now have only 1 Moral Stance. This means players and Keepers only have to remember an Investigator’s 1 Moral Stance and their Drive when considering their actions. An Investigator could even be “amoral” with no Moral Stance and just have a Drive to motivate them.

Keepers now have other ways to attack Pillars other than relying on Mythos revelations antithetical to the Investigator’s abstract moral concepts. Keepers can launch physical attacks on pillars because three of the new Pillar types are actual physical objects. The Keeper can also choose a mundane form of attack or a Mythos corruption of a pillar to generate different types of mental damage (one way skewing Stability loss versus the other’s Sanity loss).

Pillars now offer an actual tactical advantage to a player because they can replenish lost Stability pool points. I pondered quite a while on the numbers for Sanity and Stability loss/gain trying to strike a balance between reflecting Nights Black Agents’ rules (of Symbol/Solace/Safety) and Trail’s rules for shattered Pillars versus how easy it is for a player to use each type of Pillar in-session and how easy it would be to lose a Pillar (either through a mundane reason or via the Mythos). When choosing which types of Pillar to have for their Investigator players might want to consider the following advantages and disadvantages:

Moral Stance

ADVANTAGE – It is always available for use and can’t be “lost” (in a mundane sense) causing Stability rating loss like the other types of Pillar can.

DISADVANTAGE – It replenishes only 1 Stability pool point. There is a large Stability/Sanity cost if corrupted by the Mythos.

Treasured Symbol

ADVANTAGE – It is easily portable. It has the smallest Stability/Sanity cost of the Pillar types if corrupted by the Mythos.

DISADVANTAGE – It only replenishes 1 Stability pool point. It could be misplaced/taken/destroyed, possibly easily.

Person of Solace

ADVANTAGE – Least likely to be lost via mundane reasons of all the Pillar types. Replenishes more Stability than a Symbol or Stance.

DISADVANTAGE – Large cost if corrupted by the Mythos. Not as readily accessible as other Pillars.

Place of Safety

ADVANTAGE – Replenishes most Stability of the Pillar types.

DISADVANTAGE – Requires most game time to replenish Stability. Large Stability rating loss if it becomes unavailable through mundane reasons.

When choosing Pillars there is also the issue of whether a player wants Pillars they can risk to back the new test for successful use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability which will cause the least grief if they shatter, or do they want Pillars they can use in-session to replenish lost Stability.

A connection has also now been introduced between Sanity rating and Stability replenishment. The lower a character’s Sanity rating the fewer Pillars they will have and thus the harder it becomes to replenish Stability in-session (either by use of the Pillars directly or through in-session Psychological Triage).

Finally, it is now not a certainty that use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability will be damaging to the Investigator due to introduction of some “gamification” through use of Pillars, hopefully encouraging its use more by players. However it still has the potential to shatter a Pillar of Sanity causing a hefty mental hit. If the players are more willing to use their Cthulhu Mythos ability then they face the stark choice of risking a Pillar of Sanity or letting the dice fall where they may (and the odds are such that if they don’t risk a Pillar then they will lose a little bit of Sanity which is something I wanted to work more of into the game).

I hope you feel inclined to adopt these new rule suggestions and do offer feedback in the comments below.

Happy (Slimy) Trails,

Tony Williams.

This month, Pelgrane Press attended PAX Unplugged, an offshoot of the other enormous and successful PAX conventions. It was the first chance for our new administrative assistant Colleen Riley to meet Cat and other Pelgranistas, Rachel Kahn, Ken Hite and Will Jobst. What was particularly good about PAX Unplugged was that almost all of our customers were new to Pelgrane and a lot of them were new to tabletop roleplaying altogether.

And now, the annual migration of the Pelgranes has nearly reached its destination – Pelgrane HQ – in preparation for Dragonmeet. the one-day London-based convention and our annual summit. Ken Hite, Robin Laws, Rob Heinsoo, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and from ProFantasy, Ralf Schemmann will all be there. On Saturday, Ken and Robin Talk  About Stuff will be recorded live, and we’ll be running a seminar on Investigation, too.Ryfer

An all-new Vivian Sinclair adventure for Cthulhu Confidential, Ex Astoria is out now from the store.

 

Fire & Faith and the Map Folio bundle for 13th Age are on pre-order, as is The Book of Demons.

The Fall of Delta Green

Our intention this year is to improve our graphic design, and with The Fall of Delta Green, I feel like our artists and in particular layout designer Jen McCleary have leveled us up. This isn’t like anything else we’ve done before – it’s shiny and psychedelic, really capturing that late 60s vibe. Layout is nearly complete, so it’s likely that the PDF will be ready by the end of the year (subject to approval), ready for printing in January 2018.

13th Age

Fire & Faith is on the presses right now, and should be ready for shipment on 11th December. I don’t know if it will make the UK warehouse in time to go out before the end of the year – we’ll see. It’s available on pre-order from the store. PDFs now.

The Book of Demons is in layout.

Rob is now editing the Book of Ages.

Our cartographers have been released from the Fire & Faith Map folio. Christina Trani is now working on an adventure which will feature on the roll20 virtual platform, and Rich Longmore has created tokens for the same. After that it will be the adventure collection Shards of the Broken Sky.

GUMSHOE

Hideous Creatures – the Mythos Bestiary for Trail of Cthulhu is being written. It will include expanded versions of Ken Hite’s KWAS subscription entries plus plenty of new content.

Cthulhu City has been released to critical acclaim. Fearful Symmetries is in-house for a development pass, to be resent to Steve Dempsey for rewrites. Paula Dempsey’s companion volume The Book of the New Jerusalem is in the final stages of layout.

The Persephone Extraction – a campaign for NBA – is in editing.

SOLO – the NBA One-2-One setting is half-written, with one mission completed, and is waiting on Gareth’s work on Hideous Creatures.

The Yellow King

The first draft of the Yellow King roleplaying game text is complete and Paris has been playtested. Absinthe in Carcosa is written and Dean Engelhardt has submitted 25% of the graphic embellishment for that tome. The playtest drafts for the other supplements will be available soon to backers. We’ll notify them when they are ready.

For the moment, you can still get Kickstarter rewards in the store.

I’ll leave you with the illustration from This is Normal Now by Aaron Acevedo.

 

 

Happy Hallowe’en! We’ve got a spookily themed See Page XX for you this month, with articles on incorporating this most gamerish of holidays into your Pelgrane games, as well as looks at GUMSHOE-adjacent TV shows like Stranger Things 2 and Star Trek: Discovery.

We were very excited to see the beautiful Cthulhu Confidential Limited Edition at Gen Con, and this month, it can be yours, too. We’ve also got the PDF of the 13th Age Bestiary 2, and the latest PDF adventure for Cthulhu Confidential, the Dex Raymond adventure High Voltage Kill, available now.

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Cthulhu City, our new Trail of Cthulhu setting about a monstrous, mythos-haunted city adapts the Night’s Black Agents Heat mechanics to model Suspicion. Think of Suspicion as a slow simmer compared to Heat’s flash-fry. Rising Heat means police SWAT teams chasing you through the streets and airports shutting down; rising Suspicion implies police detectives knocking at your door in the middle of the night, or mysterious figures sabotaging your car to stop you leaving.

If your Night’s Black Agents game involves the characters spending extended time behind enemy lines, you may want to use these Suspicion mechanics in stead of Heat. Maybe they’re in a vampire-controlled city in Eastern Europe or maybe you’re running a historical Edom scenario with the Agents operating being the Iron Curtain, or a post-apocalyptic fantasy where greedy, sociopathic, inhuman monsters rule the world.

(Hat tip to “Nooch” over on rpg.net for requesting this adaptation.)

Suspicion

While in occupied territory, investigations into strange events and other vampire hunting activity may draw unwanted attention. This  is measured in Suspicion. The entire group of Agents has one Suspicion score in common; they are each other’s known associates. The group’s Suspicion begins at 0.

The groups’ Suspicion only rises once per game session; use the highest Suspicion gain incurred in the session.

Gaining Suspicion

Criminal acts, especially assault or murder, are the most common route to increased Suspicion, but showing undue knowledge of the supernatural or the Conspiracy also draws unwanted attention. Anything that raises Heat boosts Suspicion, but so do actions like:

  • purchasing large amounts of garlic or UV lamps
  • acquiring occult books
  • associating with other suspects
  • trespassing in vampire-controlled areas
  • possession of a foreign passport or legal-but-suspicious equipment like bugging devices
  • forbidden web searches
  • travelling by night
  • having no visible source of financial support

Averting Suspicion

Precautions: The agents can avoid increases in their Suspicion by ensuring that the city authorities do not connect the suspicious events with the hunters. Such precautions usually require spends from abilities. For example:

  • Make extra spends of Negotiation, Intimidation or Reassurance to convince witnesses not to mention the agents’ presence to the authorities
  • Spend Cop Talk to convince police to look the other way
  • Spend Evidence Collection or Forensics to wipe away fingerprints and sanitise a crime scene
  • Hide incriminating notes with Cryptography
  • Make untraceable home-made explosives with Chemistry instead of purchasing them on the black market
  • Use Disguise or Infiltration to avoid unfriendly eyes

Averted Suspicion can come back to burn the agents if circumstances warrant. If a witness comes forward later, or new evidence comes to light, or the investigators’ deceptions are penetrated, the Agents can gain Suspicion for older actions. Old Suspicion gains are automatically reduced by 1 point, representing the authorities’ lack of urgency in prosecuting old offences.

Losing Suspicion

There are three ways to lose Suspicion.

  • Wait It Out: Low levels of Suspicion diminish over time. If the agents’ Suspicion score is 2 or less, then reduce it by one point after a game session in which they avoid adding to their Suspicion. Suspicion scores of 3 or more do not diminish over time.
  • Buy It Off: Good standing and friends in high places can avert the attention of the authorities. The agents may reduce their Suspicion by one if, as a group, they spend Cop Talk, Reassurance, High Society or Tradecraft points equal to the number of agents multiplied by their current Suspicion score. For example, if four agents have a Suspicion score of 3, then they could reduce that score to 2 by spending 12 points from the listed Investigative Abilities.

These points don’t have to be spent all at once; the agents can put a few points aside after every game session until they have enough to buy down their Suspicion. However, if the agents gain any more Suspicion, then points allocated but unspent are lost.

  • Make A Deal: Various powerful patrons can intercede on the investigators’ behalf to shield them from the authorities.

Effects of Suspicion

Increased Scrutiny: As Suspicion rises, so does scrutiny of the Agents. At low levels of Suspicion, that’s largely cosmetic – mysterious figures watching them from across the street, threatening letters shoved through their door. It escalates through surveillance (phone tapping, bugs, intercepted emails, mysterious figures following them) and harassment (associates and contacts get arrested and questioned) until the agents themselves get arrested and questioned on suspicion of being vampire hunters.

Increased Watchfulness: Generally increased security – more guards, more alarms, more supernatural guardians.

Blowback: Rising Suspicion may also draw blowback from whatever Vampyramid you’re using.

Cover Identities

Suspicion acquired by different Covers is tracked separately; however, if a Cover is blown, then double the Suspicion attached to that cover and add it to the agents’ total.

 

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(No spoilers for Season 2 in here.)

Even if this column appeared somewhere other than a website for tabletop roleplayers, it’d be impossible to write about Stranger Things without talking about gaming. Gaming is the metaphor the series uses to talk about monsters and dimensions, but it’s also how the kids see themselves, and how the show-runners and writers structure the plot – which makes it insanely ripe for conversion and dissection here. The show has three distinct tiers of ‘player character’ – the kids, the teens and parents, and the combat experts (Hoppers and Eleven). They’re clearly using the skill cap rules, but one character in each tier can be an exception and buy a few points in a combat ability normally reserved for the next tier. So, Dustin’s wrist rocket lets him Scuffle with an adult, and Nancy has that 4-point Shooting pool. (Presumably, the kids have all invested in Hiding and Fleeing, or just given a pile of build points each over to Eleven’s character so she can keep buying new Psychic Powers.)

In Fear Itself terms, the show nicely illustrates the concept of the Spiral of Misery setup. In the first season, you’ve got Will Byers at the centre of the spiral; he’s connected to the other kids, to his mother Joyce, and to his brother Jonathan; Joyce connects to Sheriff Hopper, Jonathan and Mike connect to Nancy, and the whole cast gets pulled in through those connections.

The show’s monsters are also perfectly set up for gaming. The Demogorgon pops in and out of our dimension, showing up to threaten the player characters before vanishing, leaving behind only clues that will get ignored by the authorities and picked up by the player character using their Investigative Abilities. It can move quickly enough to threaten the player characters wherever they are, but it’s also got plenty of tells (the flickering lights, the ‘scar tissue’ in the dimensional breaches) to give the players a chance to detect and prepare for its emergence.

 

Demogorgon

Abilities: Aberrance 9, Athletics 10, Health 12, Scuffling 16

Hit Threshold: 4

Armour: None, but firearms attacks only deal one point of damage.

Awareness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +1

Damage Modifier: +1 (claw), or +3 (‘bite’). It can only bite downed or stunned foes.

Dimensional Tear: By spending 3 Aberrance, the Demogorgon can open a portal connecting the parallel reality of the Upside Down with our reality. These portals appear like wounds or breaches on a surface like a wall, floor or the bole of a tree. Once created, a breach remains active for some time (usually a few minutes, but it’s proportional to the size of the breach). The Demogorgon can pass through an active breach for free; other creatures can also wriggle through breaches, but it requires an Athletics test (Difficulty 4). Even after a breach reseals itself, reality is still wounded in that spot; the Demogorgon can reopen an old breach with a 1-point Aberrance spend.

Feed: The Demogorgon regains Aberrance when it eats.

Its hunger means the creature’s drawn to the smell of blood or the presence of meat.

Regeneration: When in the Upside Down, the Demogorgon may heal using Aberrance. 1 Aberrance point restores 2 Health.

Telekinesis: The Demogorgon may spend Aberrance as Telekinesis.

Unnatural Speed: For 2 Aberrance, the Demogorgon may:

  • Make another claw attack
  • Cover a short distance instantly
  • Automatically dodge a Shooting attack.

 

All That Remains

  • Investigative Procedure: The victim was mauled and partially eaten – but the bite marks look more like the mess that would be left by a shark.
  • Mechanics: Hey, those electric lights are flickering. Someone should check the circuit.
  • Notice: Hey, what’s this weird slime on the tree. It’s like a scab on reality. What happens when I pick at it?
  • Outdoor Survival: It’s hunting us by scent. It can smell our blood.
  • Science: But what if this gate already existed? Well, if it did, I I think we’d know. It would disrupt gravity, the magnetic field, our environment. It would deflect compass needles, cause electrical surges…
  • Trivia: It’s in the Monster Manual!

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The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring Fire and Faiththe last Battle Scenes collection for 13th Age; One For the Money, the first Langston Wright PDF adventure for Cthulhu Confidential, Ravensrodd horrors, choosing 5th ed vs 13th Age, plus drone playtesting.

It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!

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