A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Pelgrane co-publisher Simon Rogers has been thinking about Mutant City Blues lately, and maybe someday he’ll tell you about that.

In the meantime, he asked me how you might play the game for a duo of enhanced police detectives, in true buddy cop fashion.

Here’s a quick rundown:

One player takes on the role of the maverick cop who gets justice done, dammit, even if he has to bend the rulebook to get it.

The other becomes the by-the-books cop, the voice of reason who warns the maverick that regulations are there for a reason and slow and steady police work wins the day.

The two characters divide up the investigative abilities like so:

Maverick Cop

Academic

Forensic Psychology

History

Languages

Natural History

Occult Studies

Trivia

Interpersonal

Bullshit Detector

Cop Talk

Flattery

Flirting

Impersonate

Interrogation

Intimidation

Streetwise

Technical

Ballistics

Cryptography

Data Retrieval

Electronic Surveillance

Evidence Collection

Explosive Devices

Photography

By-the-Book Cop

Academic

Anthropology

Archaeology

Architecture

Art History

Forensic Accounting

Languages

Law

Research

Textual Analysis

Interpersonal

Bureaucracy

Cop Talk

Negotiation

Reassurance

Technical

Chemistry

Document Analysis

Electronic Surveillance

Forensic Entomology

Evidence Collection

Forensic Anthropology

Fingerprinting

Each player picks 4 investigative abilities to assign 1 point to. The others all get 2 points.

Each player spends the usual number of general build points, usually 60 for standard abilities and 40 for mutant powers.

The maverick cop might consider starting the power acquisition journey through the Quade Diagram with any of the following enhancements: armor, wall crawling, lightning, concussion beam, strength, natural weaponry, or fire projection.

The by-the-books cop might start with: plant control, psionic blast, read minds, lightning decisions, cognition, thermal vision, sonar, teleportation, illusion, impersonate, or observe dreams, or suppress memory.

Once per session, the maverick cop can refresh 4 points of any general standard ability or 2 points of any general mutant ability, by describing any one of the following actions:

  • earning a verbal dressing down from the lieutenant
  • making fun of the by-the-book cop’s staid clothing or attitudes
  • blowing off steam at the gun range
  • waking up hung over
  • obsessively stalking a suspect you’ve been warned away from
  • telling off an influential politician or businessman
  • driving on a sidewalk or median
  • knocking down garbage cans, newspaper boxes or other roadside obstacles during a car chase
  • clambering up a chain link fence while pursuing a perp on foot
  • cleaning your gun as a way of clearing your head
  • sloppily eating junk food in the car or at your desk
  • accepting a token gift from a grateful citizen, so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings; then, once out of sight, pass it along to someone who wants or needs
  • shrugging and concluding that one drink on the job won’t hurt anyone
  • exposing the hidden dangers of vegetable consumption
  • working out at a boxing gym
  • cranking up a CD with your favorite chase music, either a classic rock tune or the latest hottest hip hop track
  • grousing about judges letting humps go on technicalities
  • threatening a member of the Internal Affairs Division
  • losing it, so your partner and other cops have to pull you off a guy you’re whaling on
  • frighten or bully a suspect in the interrogation room

Once per session, the by-the-book cop can refresh 4 points of any general standard ability or 2 points of any general mutant ability, by doing any one of the following:

  • turning in a detailed report to the lieutenant
  • warning the maverick cop that the lieutenant’s not gonna take any more shenanigans
  • describing a new, eccentrically boring hobby
  • going home to the spouse and kids
  • consider purchasing a safe, reliable family vehicle
  • invite the maverick cop for dinner with the family
  • breaking from the case to attend to a school emergency
  • studying for the sergeant’s exam
  • placating a civilian angered by the maverick’s behavior
  • catch a fleeing suspect not by running after him, but heading to where he will soon wind up
  • rearrange photos on a corkboard laying out the details of the case
  • turn down a coffee or other small gift offered by a grateful shopkeeper
  • fastidiously eating a salad
  • extolling the virtues of kale
  • working out at a spin class
  • refusing a drink while on duty
  • stopping at one beer
  • explaining the necessity of checks and balances in the criminal justice system
  • listening to classical music or jazz
  • assuring Internal Affairs of your full intention to cooperate
  • stopping your partner, who has lost it, from whaling on someone
  • promising a suspect in the interrogation room that you can protect him from your unhinged partner, “but you gotta give me something to work with here”

Clip and save your character’s to jog your memory when you need it!

GMs likewise reward other actions in a similar archetypal spirit.

By-the-book cops should be advised that discussing retirement plans, especially those concerning a houseboat to noodle around the Florida Keys in, drops their Hit Thresholds by 1 for the duration of the session.


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: Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops

System: GUMSHOE One-2-One

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Deadline: July 29th

Number of sessions: 3-6

Description:

Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops is a stand-alone RPG which applies the GUMSHOE One-2-One rules to the award-winning Night’s Black Agents setting of spies vs. vampires.

One GM, one player – an explosive mix for a high-octane combat, or a cold-blooded chess game between a lone hero and the forces of darkness. Together, you plunge into an occult thriller that pits the gadgets and skills of a clandestine operative against the ancient horror of the vampires.

NBA: Solo Ops adds stunts, Mastery Edges, Shadow Problems and more to the One-2-One system.

Create your own Agent, or play as Leyla Khan – ex-MI6, ex-thrall of the vampires, now committed to hunting down and destroying her former masters before they recapture her. Sift through the ashes of Khan’s former life to find the clues you need to map the vampire conspiracy, then hunt down and slay the Undead.

Three explosive operations:

  • NEVER SAY DEAD
  • NO GRAVE FOR TRAITORS
  • CURRENTLY UNNAMED BUT IT’S GOING TO BE SOMETHING COOL

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A quick postcard from the Nest this month as we prepare for the Origins Game Fair, in Columbus, Ohio in mid-June. We’re excited to be sharing the Indie Press Revolution (IPR) booth #823 with excellent RPG-publishing colleagues like Evil Hat, John Wick Presents, and Bully Pulpit – it’s a boothapolanza not to be missed! We’re also proud to have been nominated for an Origins award for Cthulhu Confidential, our one player, one GM Mythos noir game – if you’re able to vote for it at the show, please do!

This month sees the release of the Book of Ages – if you’ve ever wondered what came before the 13th Age, the Engine of the Ages is a collaborative method for designing the ancient history of your campaign, and the Book of Ages includes more than a dozen sample Ages you can borrow from, too. And in case you missed last month, we now have a snazzy 13th Age dice tray to roll your dice in, alongside the Book of Demons, the collected Battle Scenes adventures for 13th Age, and the long-awaited pre-order of the full-colour hardback 13th Age Glorantha. And, of course, The Fall of DELTA GREEN is available to pre-order; backer copies are shipping now, so we’re hoping to start shipping the pre-orders this month.

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13th Age

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The upcoming Book of Ages describes dozens of potential ancient Icons, the heroes and villains of past Ages of the Dragon Empire, from the Enchantress to the Explorer to the Steel Colossus and the Zealot. These Icons once bestrode the world. Some vanished when the wheel of history turned and their power faded; some endured or changed, becoming the Icons of the present Age we know. Others may return in Ages to come.

And some fell.

The 13thAge Bestiary 2 presents the concept of the Fallen Icon, a once-great icon now diminished and ruined, but still a campaign-ending threat. Each Fallen Icon lists a bunch of campaign victories that the player characters can pursue to weaken their foe before facing the Icon in a final battle. As guided by the Sagely Wisdom of Twitter, here’s one of the Book of Ages Icons in all her fallen glory.

 

The Princess of Cogs and Wheels

When all that’s left is the plan. No meaning, no choice, no life, just cold design.

In Ages past, before the fall of the Dwarven Underhome, the Princess of Cogs and Wheels was the Dwarf King’s ambassador to the surface world. As a diplomat, she pitted factions and armies against one another, using the fabulous wealth and influence at her command to put intricate schemes into motion. As an inventor and patron of the arts, she built machines of astonishing complexity, especially clocks and automata. Wild rumours spun around her – that she could foresee the future or even travel through time, that she was the head of various secret societies and conspiracies, that she had a hand in every catastrophe or unexpected victor.

 

Origin Stories

What became of the Princess? How might she return to trouble the heroes of the 13thAge?

  • Dwarven Civil War: The Princess was cast down by the Dwarf King when he moved his throne to Forge. Did the Princess try to stop the Dwarf King from claiming his kingdom near the surface? Was she involved in the destruction of Underhome by the dark elves? (Maybe she deliberately betrayed Underhome to its enemies, believing that the Dwarf King would be killed and she would become Queen.) In this interpretation, the Princess has survived as a secret conspirator in Forge, plotting against the Dwarf King – a mistress and patron of derro and evil dwarves.
  • Time Traveller: One Age was not enough to contain the ambition of the Princess. She built a machine of cogs and sorcery that could travel forwards in time, leaping from one Age to the next. She intended to use this machine to shepherd the Dragon Empire through history, interceding when necessary to keep events on course. However, travelling through time is perilous, and long exposure to the howling chaos-winds in the spaces between has corroded the Princess, body and soul.
  • Preserved by Machinery: Determined to ward off the ravages of time, the Princess turned to various bizarre methods of preserving her youth. When alchemy, sorcery and necromancy failed, she began to replace failing organs and limbs with clockwork, until only the machine remained.
  • The Secret Icon: The Princess has never gone away. She’s been the secret icon behind the scenes, more elusive than the Prince of Shadows, manipulating the Empire. Oh, the original Princess died many Ages ago, but another took on her mask and mantle, and another and another and another. Individuals may perish, but the conspiracy is eternal.

 

Wheel Knight Defender

The sworn defenders of the Princess, implacable and unyielding in their devotion.

10thlevel defender [HUMANOID]

Initiative: +18

Whirling Sword +15 vs. AC – 40 damage

Whirlwind of Steel +16 vs. AC (two attacks) – 40 damage, usable only if at least one other Wheel Knight Defender is engaged with the same enemy.

R: Deadly Archery +16 vs. AC (one nearby enemy, or one far away enemy at a -2 penalty) – 50 damage

Perfect Timing:  Wheel Knight Defenders gain a +4 bonus to opportunity attacks. A moving foe struck by a Wheel Knight Defender’s opportunity attack must stop moving.

Perfect Defenders: A Wheel Knight may automatically pop free of an engaged foes to intercept an enemy who is moving to attack the Princess.

(1/battle) Perfect Devotion: If an attack would reduce the Princess to 50 hit points or less, and the Wheel Knight Defender is nearby, the Wheel Knight Defender may throw itself in the path of the blow. The Defender takes the damage itself and is destroyed.

Fanatic: Immune to fear and confusion.

AC 26

PD 20   HP 250

MD 24

 

The Princess of Cogs and Wheels

You’re one microscopic cog in her catastrophic plan…

Triple-strength 10thlevel leader [HUMANOID]

Initiative: +20

 Axe of Necessity +15 vs. AC – 175 damage

Natural 18+: The target is also Weakened (hard save, 16+ ends)

C: Spinning Buzzsaw +15 vs. AC (up to four attacks, no more than one attack on any single target) –100 damage

Natural even hit: If the target remains engaged with the Princess until the start of her next turn, she automatically hits with a free Spinning Buzzsaw attack on that target.

Critical Hit: The victim’s hand, limb or head gets severed.

Machinations of the Princess: At the end of any turn in which the Princess is not hit by an attack, she steals the escalation die until the end of the next turn. She and her allies gain the benefits of the escalation die in the next turn.

Timeshift: As a free action, the Princess of Cogs and Wheels vanishes from the battlefield. At the start of her next turn, she may reappear anywhere on the battlefield. She gains a +2 bonus to her attack rolls on the round she reappears. Alternatively, she may choose to retreat from the battle entirely. Limited use:2/battle

Now, Spring The Trap! Add a number of Wheel Knight Defenders to the battle equal to the value of the Escalation Die. Limited Use: 1/battle

Interfere and you shall suffer: If an attack would stagger or kill the Princess, she may threaten to inflict a campaign loss on the player characters, even if they are victorious in this battle. The players must describe the nature of the campaign loss, and it should be a painful one. The attacking character may choose to accept this campaign loss and strike the Princess, or voluntarily miss instead.

You Are Divided! As a quick action, pick a player character. For each Conflicted Relationship Die that player character possesses, the player must choose: either turn that die Negative, or the Princess gains 250hp or adds another Wheel Knight Defender Limited use: 1/battle. A character may only be targeted with this ability once per campaign.

You Shall Be Betrayed! As a quick action, pick a player character. That player must choose one Positive Icon Relationship they possess. That relationship becomes Negative instead. Limited use: 1/battle. A character may only be targeted with this ability once per campaign.

 All Your Foes, Arrayed Against You! At the start of the battle, All player characters roll their Negative Relationship Die. For each die that rolls a 5 or 6, add a monster or give the Princess an advantage of some sort connected to that icon. Limited Use: 1/campaign

AC 27

PD 20   HP 750

MD 24

 

Campaign Impact

Even Fallen, the Princess is a relatively subtle Icon. Unlike the shambling Forest that Walks or Great Ghoul (Bestiary II), she operates behind the scenes, plotting and conspiring. An epic-level group can defeat her – if they can find her.

A returned Princess might try to:

  • Overthrow the Emperor and install a puppet in his place
  • Become the secret vizier manipulating the Blue
  • Foment conflict between the High Druid and the Empire
  • Conspire against the Archmage so he stops interfering with her time travel experiments
  • Frame rival Icons (say, the Elf Queen) as demon-worshippers so the Crusader attacks them

Countering the Princess

For each campaign victory the player characters achieve, they cancel one of the Princess’ abilities in the following order.

First PC Campaign Victory: Remove her Machinations of the Princess ability

Second PC Campaign Victory: Player’s choice  -remove either Interfere and You Shall Sufferor All Your Foes, Arrayed Against You!

Third PC Campaign Victory: Remove Timeshift

Campaign Victories

A few possible campaign victories against the Princess:

  • Discovering the location of her ancient fortress and learning her secrets
  • Finding a way to foresee the future
  • Gaining the blessing of the Dwarf King
  • Finding relics connected to the Princess in Underhome
  • Infiltrating the Princess’ cult

SaveSave

Some of the most powerful roleplaying experiences I’ve ever had have come from running DramaSystem games. Starting with the Hillfolk roleplaying game, and continuing with Blood on the Snow and Series Pitch of the Month, DramaSystem offers a wealth of setting options for players to inhabit, and create compelling stories of interpersonal conflict and emotional drama. You might choose to play in 1930s Shanghai, a steam-powered flying city, a post-scarcity future of art and murder, a magical alternate-history Russia…even humanity’s universal unconscious.

However, DramaSystem is primarily designed for campaign play. What if you want to run a game at a convention? The challenges are significant. You have limited time to create an engaging story; you probably don’t know your players (and they probably don’t know each other); and it’s entirely possible they signed up for your session, not because they’re dying to play emotionally-charged dramatic scenes with strangers, but because they had time to kill and the setting sounded interesting.

Here are some tips that I, and other GMs and players, have learned during convention play.

Tell the players up front that this game is about character conflict, and player conflict

The most challenging DramaSystem game I’ve ever run was the one in which the players were too darn nice. Nobody wanted to be a jerk, so they never made strong demands, never used drama tokens to take away someone else’s narrative power, and never withheld anything that was asked of them.

Emphasize again and again that this is a game about interpersonal drama, conflict, and powerful emotions. Beyond that, make sure your players understand that DramaSystem is a game of player antagonism. Unlike other games they’re used to, they won’t be cooperating against some outside threat, or working together to achieve some external goal. They’ll be trying to get each others’ characters to grant emotional concessions—things like love, respect, forgiveness, friendship. Things those characters don’t want to concede.

Offer a manageable number of roles and dramatic poles

My series pitch The Secret of Warlock Mountain lists more than 20 possible roles the players could take in the game, from “ship’s captain” to “dream-haunted oracle”. You can certainly let the players choose from a long list, but I like to take six to eight roles and create very simple playbooks for them. (To see examples, download the playbooks for Hillfolk and Secret of Warlock Mountain on the DramaSystem Resources page.) This helps avoid players becoming paralyzed by too many choices, and also helps me run the game—I know that a given convention game of Warlock Mountain will involve some configuration of Captain, Doctor, Scientist, Elder, Comic Relief, Teenager, Criminal, and Soldier. This gives me a good idea of what kinds of relationships and stories I’ll be facilitating as the GM.

Likewise, there are a vast number of dramatic poles that a player character might have. I like to fill in each playbook with three dramatic poles per character—the players can either choose from those options, or come up with their own.

Max out the number of “I want from them/they want from me” relationships

DramaSystem character generation normally continues until every character is the object of at least two other characters’ wants. This is fine! However, I’ve found that it can enhance play at a convention to keep going around the table until every character wants something from every other character, and is the object of a want from every other character.

This approach gives players more flexibility, because now every character is a potential source of drama (and drama tokens) for every other character. Callers feel more freedom to include anyone they wish in a scene, because no character is “wasted” due to a lack of dramatic conflict with the other participants. It also gives every player something interesting to do in every scene: nobody is there in a purely supporting role.

Ignore or minimize the procedural rules

Whatever the setting, DramaSystem game sessions should stay laser-focused on the tensions and conflicts within a small, tightly-knit group of player characters. These characters might at some point fight orcs, sabotage a bridge, or plan a daring heist; but all of that is just background to their drama.

The goal of a convention game is to show your players a good time, and give them a sense of what makes the game fun and distinctive. With DramaSystem, that’s collaborative storytelling, player-vs-player conflict, and the drama token economy—not the rare instances where characters engage in procedural scenes.

You can keep the session drama-focused by ignoring or minimizing the game’s procedural rules. Instead, encourage the players to handle procedural scenes as dramatic scenes. Maybe their group of soldiers is trying to break out of a World War II prison camp, but what’s really going on in that scene is the boiling tension between the wealthy Bostonian Lt Thorndike and Sgt O’Malley, whose father was murdered by Thorndike’s uncle. You can give such scenes a procedural feel by asking questions and introducing threats. (“Up ahead you see something you didn’t expect, that will make the escape harder. What is is? How do you deal with it?”)

Other options include:

  1. Using the 13th Age RPG montage mechanic, where every player has the opportunity to narrate a challenge and a solution.
  2. Using one of the stripped-down procedural resolution methods.

Nurture the drama token economy

Drama tokens are the currency of DramaSystem. Make sure the players understand that an important part of the game is amassing enough tokens that their character has the power to influence what happens in the story. With enough tokens, their character can crash scenes where they aren’t wanted, duck out of scenes they don’t want to be in, force other player characters to do what they want, and resist being forced. This game is working when drama tokens are changing hands, passing from one player to another. If the players don’t push each other or resist being pushed, that won’t happen, and the game will remain drama-free and un-fun.

Every dramatic scene ends with an exchange of one or more drama tokens. If the petition is willingly granted, the granter earns a drama token—from the petitioner if he has one, or from the kitty if not. If the granter refuses, the petitioner gains the token— from the granter if she has one, or from the kitty if not.

In a convention game, I recommend letting players take drama tokens from the kitty for a longer period of time than you would in a campaign session. If, early in the game, Joan grants Jeff’s petition, and Jeff has a token, ask Joan to take her token from the kitty instead of from Jeff. This method increases the number of tokens in play more quickly, which heightens the suspense and raises the stakes. Pointing out to the group that a couple of players have two or three tokens in front of them causes everyone to realize that those characters now have more narrative power than the others. This creates an incentive for the other players to make difficult concessions or challenging demands, so they can take tokens away from those players and use them to push their own agendas.

Remember that the GM calls scenes too

It’s easy to get so caught up in the story the players are creating that you forget the GM takes a turn as well! You can use your scene to tighten the screws, or bring together characters who haven’t yet played out a dramatic scene. You can also mix things up by bringing characters together in a different combination than previously—if the rebellious daughter is never alone in a scene with her mother, throw them together in a stressful situation, and see what happens.

Further reading

Want more tips? Blood on the Snow includes a chapter of advice on running DramaSystem one-shots, including agreeing on a story outline beforehand, and stronger GM control over the narrative.

Good luck running your next DramaSystem con game, and have fun!

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It was International Tabletop Day over the weekend, and we hope you had a great day, whatever you ended up playing! We’re gearing up for another Big Day in the gaming calendar – namely, Free RPG Day 2018 – and our bumper-sized offering for this year, an adventure for both The Fall of DELTA GREEN and Cthulhu Confidential, is shuffling its way off the printing presses as we speak. We’ve also been busy with other work; we were so impressed with a 13th Age dice tray produced by one of our foreign language licensees that we decided to get some made ourselves. We’re releasing the PDFs of the final Battle Scenes book, Fire & Faith: Battle Scenes for Four Icons, and the accompanying full-colour Map Folio, and with those, a collection of all six Battle Scenes books & map folios in print or PDF only format. 13th Age Glorantha is still on pre-order, as is The Fall of DELTA GREEN; the Book of Demons for 13th Age is now available, and all pre-orders have been shipped.

New Releases

Articles

Resource page updates

13th Age

      • 13th Sage: Updating Druidic & Necromantic Summonings – Rob Heinsoo adapts rules from 13G and Book of Demons to help summoned creatures contribute to higher level battles
      • The Iconic podcast is back! In April, they launched their first three episodes. You can listen to them here:
      • 13th Age Character Builds. In this series by ASH LAW, we feature two different builds for every 13th Age character class, at all levels. ASH suggests how the builds might be used, and offers tips on playing each character. Stats are based on the point-buy method, and the characters have no non-standard elements

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Here in London, it appears that an enthusiastic eight-year-old has taken over the weather control panel and is twiddling all the dials.

I often forget the weather when running games. When I do remember to highlight it, it really draws the players in, even if there is no mechanical effect. Picture a meeting between spy and handler with collars turned up in driving sleet, a high-speed pursuit through the streets of Lyon in the torrential rain, or a battle with a white dragon set in deep drifts with fat flakes of snow ambling down. You can mirror or exaggerate the real weather, or go for something very different. Huddled up in your basement in a cold snap, making the in-game weather balmy sun helps your group escape. Some settings feature the weather such as the threat of Fimbulwinter in the Albion’s Ransom campaign for The Esoterrorists.

This brings me like a mall security guard segue to the Book of Demons, this month’s new release in print.  It features six hellholes, which have ripped or crept through the gaps in reality to puncture the Dragon Empire. And there, unlike the London weather, it’s not subtle or restrained.

For example:

  • Flocks of flying teeth and burning fog face travellers on the High Heath of Unending Woe.
  • On Claw Peak, the raindrops are as sharp as spears—storms create a bloody mess of the unprepared.
  • Hellgout is afflicted with rains of fire, rocks tumbling from other realms and spontaneous magical storms.

The 13th Age Book of Demons is available now in print from the store.

The 13th Age Dice Tray

Envy of the dice tray produced by our excellent Korean licensees Dayspring Games was the inspiration for our own 13th Age Dice Tray. As well as its handy dice-constraining properties, it can also be used as a convenient protection against the rain, a mouse mat, and a fruit bowl. I look forward to your 101 uses for a 13th Age Dice Tray.

We’ve produced limited quantities, which are available from the store.

The Fall of DELTA GREEN

The Fall of DELTA GREEN is on the presses. Ken and Robin feature it in two episodes of their podcast; We Are Mutants reviews The Fall of DELTA GREEN and interviews FoDG designer Kenneth Kite, in-depth. It’s a great read. Ken will be outlining the adventure collection, and Gar will write it. They’ve collaborated on the The Zalozhniy Quartet and The Dracula Dossier, so it will be a sweet, sweet collection. Get The Fall of DELTA GREEN pre-order from the store.

GUMSHOE One-2-One – Cthulhu Confidential and Night’s Black Agents

With the launch of the Han Solo movie, we’ve given up on the excellent title SOLO for our Night’s Black Agents One-2-One game, but the manuscript is almost ready for playtesting.

The Cthulhu Confidential adventure collection Even Death Must Die is coming together with one adventure left to be written.

 

And the Rest

  • The manuscript for Emily Dresner and Kevin Kulp’s game of Swords of the Serpentine is halfway through the pre-playtest draft.
  • Fearful Symmetries is being rewritten to improve its structure. It features a group of magicians facing a terrible threat to England, rooted in folklore and the mythos. Writer Steve’s own campaign has run for more than 60 sessions.
  • The Poison Tree is an enormous history-spanning project, and requires many moving pieces working together. Currently, Scott, Paul, and Matthew are collaborating in Google Docs to produce the first of the adventures for internal Pelgrane playtesting.

The Book of Demons is out in print this month, so in celebration (unholy, raucous, and malignant) of that fact, we present a way to bring demons into your 13th Age campaign a little more.

Demons are always scratching at the walls of their prison, looking for a way out into the world. There are magical rifts and hellholes and summoning spells, of course, but demons can’t be choosers. Sometimes, the only way out is to squeeze through the narrowest of cracks—like, through a soul in a moment of pain or terror. A demonic boon is a special form of iconic benefit that a cruel GM might offer a vulnerable player. Say you’re in a dangerous pickle, and you really wish that you’d rolled a 5 or 6 on your relationship die. The GM might offer you a demonic boon—the chance to retroactively turn that relationship roll into a success.

You called for help, and someone answered. Just not who you were expecting. The benefit’s not coming from the icon directly—it’s coming from the forces of the Abyss.

If you accept a demonic boon, treat it as though you’d rolled a 5 on your relationship die—a benefit with strings attached, and the demons are the ones holding those strings. Don’t worry, it’ll only be a small favour to repay.

Probably.

And demons never (hardly ever) charge interest…

Spoor of the Abyss

Boons only happen in places where demons already have a toe-hold in the world. They happen near hellholes (or near places where hellholes are about to form), in places haunted by demons, sorcerers, or Diabolist-cultists, or in areas where the barrier between dimensions is naturally thin.

While demons are naturally drawn to the mighty, blazing, juicy souls of heroic player characters, they’re not that picky. Ordinary mortals and non-player characters might get demonic boons if the conditions are right. If you run into a little girl who really wanted a kitten and got one that talks (and teaches her to throw fireballs), or meet a farmer who’s gone from drought to bountiful harvest overnight, there may be a demon nearby.

Demonic boons might be delivered by imps and other obviously demonic entities or by demons masquerading as spirits or servants of the icons. A wary adventurer can usually spot some demonic tell—glowing eyes, sharp teeth, or the smell of sulphur.

Archmage: Demons are creatures of magic, and more than a few wizards and sorcerers have ended up in the Abyss out of hubris, damned by their pursuit of forbidden knowledge. Such spellcasters could be let out of the Abyss (briefly) to pass on some tidbit of arcane lore or juice up a spell.

Crusader: The Crusader’s servants don’t get demonic boons—they take them by force instead. The Crusader binds and enslaves demons to do his bidding, and is well aware of the seductive tricks and traps that demons might employ. Servants of the Crusader are never offered boons. Well, hardly ever—for all their oaths to the Dark Gods, for all their demon-binding magic, for all their fanatic hatred, there are times when even a Crusader feels fear…

Diabolist: If you had the demonological equivalent of a tunnelling electronic microscope, an arcane machine that could detect the most infinitesimal of supernatural influences, you might be able to tell the difference between a regular Diabolist relationship benefit and a demonic boon. Maybe.

Dwarf King: Dwarves are generally too solid and down-to-the-primordial-roots-of-the-earth to be tempted by demonic influences. Demonic dwarf-boons tend to work using existing grudges and hatreds—the demons won’t try to trick you or seduce you, they’ll just offer you that little boost of magical power or physical might to smash those ancestral enemies.

Elf Queen: Demonic boons from the Elf Queen cluster around the dark elves. There are old and deep connections between the dark elves and the demon realm, and it’s easy to demons to sneak in that way…

Emperor: The Emperor stands for law and justice, the antithesis of demons. Demons trying to sneak in demonic boons for this icon, therefore, always show up in disguise. Armoured knights with their faces hidden behind visored helms, legal documents warped and rewritten by demonic sorcery, malicious trickery disguised as moments of good fortune or justice.

Great Gold Wyrm: Like the followers of the Crusader, those who serve the Great Gold Wyrm are on guard against demonic boons. Clever demons, therefore, offer their boons as tribute, playing on the hero’s pride. Oh mighty paladin of the Great Gold Wyrm, we could not hope to defeat you, so take these offerings as your rightful due…

High Druid: Shapeshifting demons can take the form of animals. Talking cats, talking birds, talking trees—are these kindly servants of the High Druid, or demons in disguise?

Lich King: The power of the lord of graves is centred on the isle of the Necropolis, so he aids his servants through ghostly emissaries, chilly omens, and secretive servants. It’s easy for demons to mimic any of these, especially for nalfeshnee and hezrou, both of whom have the rotting stench down pat.

Orc Lord: Those who follow the path of the Orc Lord tend to stab first and ask questions later. Even questions like, “Hey, why am I suddenly blessed with this demonic fury, and why does my blood catch fire on contact with the air?” get glossed over.

Priestess: Demons convince followers of the Priestess to accept their boons by offering them in times when other people are in need. Out of healing spells and your companion’s at death’s door? A village wracked with disease? That kitten climbed a tree into the overworld and is now stuck beyond space and time? Do you want others to suffer or are you good and holy enough to accept a little compromise?

Prince of Shadows: If there’s one thing about the Prince, it’s that he’s honest. The Prince knows the value of a good deal, a bargain fairly made. His agents will take a boon when the time and the price are right.

The Three: Demons typically use the Red as cover. The Red Dragon’s barred from the Empire so he works through emissaries (check), he fosters random destruction (check), and he’s got a whole fire-and-brimstone shtick (check). Hey—are we completely sure the Red isn’t a demon?

 


A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game rules debut a new iteration of GUMSHOE, which we’re calling QuickShock GUMSHOE.

The name combines two of the features of the new rules set:

  1. combats take way takes less time than in standard GUMSHOE
  2. mental setbacks a character may suffer in the course of a scenario are represented by Shock cards (in place of the depleting Stability pools from standard GUMSHOE)

You can also take Injury cards, representing physical harm. But QuickInjury just didn’t seem as appealing a name, brand-wise.

I’ll get back to those features in a moment, but let’s first look at a third point of departure between classic and QuickShock GUMSHOE: Pushes.

In YKRPG, Investigative abilities no longer have pools or ratings. You take the ability, or get it as part of a package of such abilities, and you’re done. No point allocation, no other decisions to make during character generation.

That speeds up the character creation process, a goal I’ve been pursuing since The Gaean Reach and its ability packages.

Instead of points variously arranged between Investigative abilities, you get two Pushes. You can spend a Push exactly as you would a point spend in classic GUMSHOE: to get any non-informational benefit from an Investigative ability.

Mostly you can refresh your Pushes once per scenario.

This recognizes the general rarity of Investigative point spends in play. Most players use them maybe once or twice per scenario. This approach, lifted in its entirety from Cthulhu Confidential, spares players a relatively complex decision set at the beginning of a game, and simplifies the process of getting special benefits during play.

I’m not even sure I want to call this a part of QuickShock, as it’s entirely modular. You could borrow it right now and plunk it into any GUMSHOE game, gaining the same advantage, without adjusting anything else about Trail of Cthulhu, The Esoterrorists, Night’s Black Agents, or whatever other current rules set you’re using.

The rest of QuickShock does all fit together, and would require considerable adjustment to retroactively install into any of our existing games.

Classic GUMSHOE combat takes a more-or-less familiar approach to RPG fights, with initiative, a series of rounds, damage dealt to foes when you hit, and a hit point-adjacent resource slowly ticking down into a danger zone for PCs and enemies alike.

QuickShock instead collapses the fight into one Fighting test per player.

(It also treats Fighting as a single ability, with no distinctions between weapon types or ranged versus close combat. You could however conceivably re-complicate QuickShock to bring multiple combat abilities back in.)

Order in which tests get taken matters only in generating suspense, and in how you choose to narrate. Unlike initiative it doesn’t alter the outcome of a fight.

Against tough foes even a winning combatant may have to spend a few points from a supplied list of abilities, called a Toll. This represents the attrition you’d undergo in a fight that musses you a bit without any other lasting consequence.

The GM no longer rolls dice for your foes. Instead players test against a Difficulty number for a foe, which varies depending on which setting of the game you’re in, and most crucially, the collective objective you’re fighting for.

You might be trying to kill your opponent, as is the case in most RPG fights. But you could be pursuing other goals, from escape to grabbing an object and getting out of there, to blowing through an enemy position, to laying down a non-fatal beatdown and walking away.

After everyone makes that one Fighting test, describing what they’re doing, and the GM adds narration reflecting their success or failure, the running total of results is tallied. If it meets or beats 0, the players win and achieve their goal. If not, the foe wins.

Even when the bad guy triumphs, characters only die if they now have too many Injury cards.

Too many = either 3 or 4, depending on whether the game takes place in the dangerous Horror mode or the more forgiving Occult Adventure setting.

Whether or not the group won, characters who failed their Fighting tests take Injury cards. Each foe profile supplies a Minor and Major Injury card. If your margin (difference between target and result) is greater than 2, you take the Major Injury.

Each type of foe dishes out a distinctive brand of hurt, more flavorful and consequential than a loss of Health points. How you get rid of them also varies from card to card.

A fight outcome you see all the time in movies and fiction finds the heroes beaten by the bad guys and dealt a setback, without any of them winding up dead. With their emphasis on dealing and taking damage, traditional RPG combats can give you this result in theory. In practice they rarely ever do. With QuickShock that outcome, the most common form of defeat in the source material, is also the most common one in the game. This opens up all kinds of narrative possibilities we traditionally struggle to pull off—like multiple fights against the big bad until you finally bring it down.

You can also take Injury cards when failing other tests, against for example Athletics or Health, when confronted by physical danger outside of combat. A tree falls on you, or you tumble down into a crypt, or you succumb to poison. The GM picks a pair of Injury cards that matches the situation, and you hope your General ability spend plus roll beats the Difficulty, so you don’t get a card.

In YKRPG, mental and emotional hazards can land you with Shock cards, which work exactly the same way, but employ the Composure ability.

For added context, check out this post for some sample cards.

You could in theory do a QuickShock game with only Injury cards. We might do that in future when we tackle a genre where your mental resistance doesn’t matter as much as it does in horror.

I wouldn’t want to see every GUMSHOE game use QuickShock. Night’s Black Agents, for example, needs more rule handles for its guns versus vamps premise to wrap itself around. But for YKRPG I’m more than pleased with the results and looking forward to seeing it reach more game tables.

Collage illustration for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game by Dean Engelhardt


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is Pelgrane’s mind-shattering, era-spanning game of reality horror based on the classic stories of Robert W. Chambers. Coming in December 2018.

The latest edition of See Page XX is out now!

Featuring the release of the pre-order of 13th Age Glorantha, a preview of the new Black Book Character Generator, Googling horror, choosing your horror GUMSHOE flavour, how your FLGS can offer a better experience than online shopping, and new Gloranthan character classes for 13th Age.

It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!

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