The latest edition of See Page XX is out now!

Featuring articles on hitting your best GUMSHOE stride from Robin D. Laws and experienced GM Lisa Padol, factions and chaos magicians for 13th Age, and a recruitment call for Gen Con and Origins GMs. Plus, pick up the 13th Age demonologist class among other hellish goodies in the Book of Demons, and the PDF of Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s noir Great Arkham, Cthulhu City.

It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)We’re getting close to the end of New Gamemaster Month, and our new GMs will be getting ready to run their first game. If you’re an experienced Trail of Cthulhu GM, we’d love for you to jump into the NewGMMonth social media sites (the Facebook group is here, and it’s @NewGmMonth on Twitter) and share the benefits of your experience with our up-and-coming GMs. Whether you’re just starting out as a GM, or more experienced, Pelgrane needs YOU to join our convention GM team! The full details are available here.

Pre-orderers of the 13th Age Book of Demons now have the final PDF available to download from their bookshelves. Other things you can pick up on our webstore now include the PDF of Cthulhu City, and the beautiful limited edition version of Cthulhu Confidential.

New Releases

      • Cthulhu City PDF – Get the ghastly metropolis of Great Arkham, usable for a Trail of Cthulhu campaign in its own right, or as a nightmarish intrusion into an existing game
      • Book of Demons pre-order – Get the new Demonologist class for 13th Age, and get the final PDF on your bookshelf now
      • Cthulhu Confidential Limited Edition The stunningly beautiful faux leather-bound limited edition of the first GUMSHOE One-2-One book, with a bookplate signed by all three authors

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A Column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Many moons ago I encountered a phenomenon I later termed an unrule.

A rule, as goes without saying, is text the designer includes into a game to explain how it is played.

An unrule is text you have to include to prevent players from making a mistaken assumption about your game, based on their experience of other games.

This first cropped up during playtesting for the Shadowfist card game. Players were tripping themselves by expecting its characters to act just like Magic: the Gathering creatures.

If you came to Shadowfist cold without having played MtG, it would never occur to you to expect characters to act in this way.

But if you had already learned Magic, as of course many potential Shadowfist players had, you might have assumed this. Or you might see that we didn’t use same rule, but ask rules support just to be sure.

So we had to include an unrule–a piece of rules text telling you not to do the thing you would do if this was Magic you were playing.

Unrules needn’t arise from comparison to a specific equivalent rule in another game. They can come about simply by substituting general familiarity with a game form–roleplaying let’s say–to general familiarity for a close reading of the rules.

We all do this. Roleplaying games are full of rules, and we learn by analogy. The more previous RPG books we’ve read, the greater the chance that we let our eyes dart quickly over a section that seems to be saying the standard thing we’re used to seeing that section say. Missing out how a given part of the system works is absolutely par for the course.

For example, Simon recently spoke to a GM who was having trouble with GUMSHOE because you can run out of points in an investigative ability, and therefore can’t continue to use it, stopping you from solving the mystery.

Which would in fact be a terrible flaw in the game, given that the whole point of the system is to ensure that investigators always get the information they need.

The rules directly explain, in clear and explicit detail, that investigative points are never required to get the crucial clues you need to move through the mystery.

You are never required to spend to get pivotal information–especially what we call core clues, the ones that signal the appearance of brand new leads and avenues of investigation. If there’s a new person you need to talk to, place you need to poke around in, or area of research you must embark on, you always get that info, period. No point spend required.

Instead point expenditures give you special extra spiffy benefits above and beyond access to vital clues. In early GUMSHOE scenarios you sometimes got especially impressive information that didn’t directly impact the case, or gained the standard clue in a particularly impressive way. Over the years we’ve put that thought aside in favor of practical benefits to the character. You might learn how to kill a creature more easily, cement an alliance with a helpful GMC, convince an angry bystander not to slug you, and so forth.

Spending every single investigative point on your character sheet never stymies you. You can always continue to gather the clues the scenario provides, just as before. Assuming your character looks in the right place and has the needed ability, you get the info. If you look in the right place but don’t have the ability, another PC will have it. Is that player not present this week? We have workarounds for that, too.

Since you don’t need to spend investigative points to gather key clues, running out of investigative points is extremely rare in practice, when playing the rules as they appear on the page. Spending them all means that you’ve accrued a bunch of benefits, and can’t garner any more of them. It never stops you from proceeding.

Likewise if you have a general ability, used to overcome practical problems and dangesrs, and spend all of your points in it, you continue to use it. You have less of a chance of succeeding, as you can no longer spend points to add a positive modifier to your result. But you will still succeed at least half the time against the most common difficulty number.

Mistaken assumptions like this are hard to head off. Where players are reading a rule into the text that doesn’t exist, you can write a rule telling them not to do that. Though it may be odd to explain what a game doesn’t do, implicitly heading off a comparison to another game can be done.

Reaching players who assume Y when you explicitly write X is a tougher conundrum.

Misperceived rules prove particularly thorny during playtest. Playtest draft documents are a mess, littered with bits to be written later, sections not yet optimally placed, and no index or graphic elements to help one’s saintly playtesters find the references they’re looking for.

You may get an account of a failed game session but never realize that the results were based on misunderstood versions of the rules. Ideally you get enough context to see what has gone wrong and take action. Depending on the misperception, you might flag the existing rule with more insistent visual cues, add redundant text to hammer the point harder, or emphasize it through repetition in various sections of the book. The best way to have this problem is to find out you genuinely wrote an unclear rule, because then you can simply fix it by rewriting for clarity.

The real headscratcher comes long after playtest, when most everyone gets the rule as written and you discover a surprising misinterpretation standing between a pocket of players and enjoyment of your game. Simon has been investigating the possibilities of a squirrel-based system, where his favorite urban rodents fan out from Clapham and across the world, watching Pelgrane’s games play at the tabletop and then reporting back in their distinctive angry shriek when they see rules misunderstandings in action.

Until we get that up and running, GUMSHOE fans, we’re going to have to rely on you to keep watch for misperceptions preventing unfortunate others from enjoying a rules system that works perfectly well for you. Show them the light with the gentility our readers are known for. Remind them GUMSHOE always wants them to get the information. It always wants them to have what they need to solve the mystery. When it comes to clue-gathering, GUMSHOE says yes.

by Eric Paquette

During my first TimeWatch campaign, I decided to use Backstory Cards to help define the group. Backstory Cards are a rpg tool which helps to establish links between the agents (PCs), other individuals, groups, places, and events in your group’s campaign. Backstory Cards were designed by Ryan Macklin and published by Brooklyn Indie Games (http://brooklynindiegames.com/games/backstory-cards/).

The first thing we did was “Step One” of the “Your Character” chapter from the TimeWatch core rules. Every player created a concept of their TimeWatch agent. We had the following team: a hacker; a scientist; an Egyptian goddess; a Russian cyborg assassin; a Martian brain in a jar; a steampunk tinkerer. Once every player had a concept, we delved into the Backstory Cards setting grid. This lays the groundwork which helps one use the Backstory Cards.

The setting grid is a 4 by 3 table where the four columns are defined with “Individual”, “Group”, “Place”, and “Event”. As a group, you decide which of those setting elements might become allies, antagonists, safe havens, etc. For our TimeWatch game, we have the following individuals: school teacher; far future forger; rogue TimeWatch agent. The following groups: time travelling Nazi; Black Ops military scientists; oracular group. The following places: Ancient Egypt; a diplomatic and mercantile space station (ex: Babylon 5); ape city (formerly Toronto). The following events: during training; fancy party; convention.

Now, we set about getting prompts from the cards. Each card gives a generic situation with some questions to answer. Your PC gets linked to another PC and/or to an element of the setting grid through a random draw from the deck. You may not use all elements of the setting grid. In our group, we didn’t connect to 3 elements (Black Ops military scientists; Ancient Egypt; ape city). Does this mean that those elements are not in your game? No. It just means PCs don’t have a personal connection with that element.

At the start, I didn’t have everyone on board about using the cards, however they were open to try it. As they answered the questions on the cards, they got more into it and I could see their character concepts getting a new dimension. Each character concept got altered and those players who didn’t have a solid concept idea found something to attach themselves to. I found it an amazing experience.

There was one card which linked everyone to the rogue TimeWatch agent and suddenly, this shifted the character from just a supporting character to an opponent in the campaign. Every PC has an opinion about this rogue TimeWatch agent whom we named Snake. When I weave him into the scenarios, I get to pull on those emotions they have of Snake.

After our campaign setup session, I mapped out the relationships between the agents and setting elements. I’ve found it a useful reference to see how the group flows and what element will entice which agent.

I’m running the Behind Enemy Times campaign and through the use of the Backstory Cards, I got story elements which I could weave into the main campaign’s plot. As the schoolteacher “M” turned out to be their trainer, I made her the team’s briefing officer replacing Galahad. Snake became a member of Restoration, replacing Flynt and adding a story where parts of Snake’s memory was wiped and there’s an interdiction device preventing him from visiting that time. During play, I’ve seem players refer to past events generated using Backstory Cards while using Reality Anchor to restore lost Chronal Stability. This personalized the campaign further for our group.

In my future campaigns, I plan to use Backstory Cards and they can easily be adapted for one-shots. For a one-shot, I recommend you show up with an already prepared setting grid and limit the amount of questions to one round and then just PCs with no link to other PCs. You wish each PC to have at least one link to another PC.


Eric Paquette is an eclectic gamer with experience in around 100 rpgs. He started GMing while babysitting as a teen and hasn’t stopped since then. You can find him talking rpgs on Twitter at @ericmpaq or organizing the rpg and children’s games sections at the CanGames convention.

by Lisa Padol

Ever since GUMSHOE came out, there’s been a lot of focus on the investigation skills. But it seems to me that the emphasis in discussion is on the wrong thing.

The key thing is not that the PCs will always find the core clues (if they are looking in the right place with the right skill — as Robin Laws said, if the person with the skill in examining corpses refuses to examine the corpse, there’s nothing any system can do to help). If that’s all there were to GUMSHOE, it could be replaced by a post-it note saying “Don’t make the players roll to find the plot!”

No, the key thing is that GUMSHOE reminds us that a clue is not a person, place, or thing, but rather, the raw information. What do the PCs need to know to get to a satisfying climax — not necessarily one that means they succeed or survive, but one that satisfies the players (including the GM)?

I run commercial scenarios rather than making up my own, and I have converted two Call of Cthulhu scenarios to Trail of Cthulhu, as the folks I ran Eternal Lies for vastly prefer Trail. So, two related questions for me are:

  • How do I make sure that the players and the characters get the clues when they go in directions the authors of the scenarios and campaigns I run did not anticipate?
  • What do I do when the characters lack skills the authors assume they have?

As a fellow gamer noted, one doesn’t want to have to prep clues for every single skill in whatever GUMSHOE game one might be running, but one also doesn’t necessarily want to wing it. How does one prepare for tailoring a scenario to a specific group of players and their PCs?

What I do is diagram everything. What are the core clues in this scene? What do they point to? What skills does the author assume will be used to find them? (Side note: This makes sure you know what the core clues are, and also helps you do damage control if the author’s screwed up.)

So, now I’ve got a bunch of scribbled notes. Next, I ask who am I running this for, and who are they playing? Odds are you’re going to know that in advance. If it’s a convention game, you may not know the who, but you’re likely to go with pre-gens. If you don’t go with pre-gens, I highly recommend what Mel White did with Night’s Black Agents, which is fairly similar to Brian Rogers’s Sticks Improv and I think drawn from Skulduggery. That is, you make up different piles with various skill mixes.

Brian Rogers explained Sticks Improv as follows:

Sticks Improv works by having 5-6 stacks of 10 cards. 4 stacks
represent attributes, the key components of the characters in
the setting (for d20 fantasy it’s flavors of fighter, rogue,
mage and cleric, for other settings they are attributes like
Charm, Physique or Erudition, and in GUMSHOE it would be some
combination of the most important investigation or procedural
skills); each of these stacks is identical so the players will
have some combination of the settings key characters elements,
and they are ranked as Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Least so
players can prioritize what they consider most important. In
GUMSHOE this prioritization would determine pool size.

The other two stacks are color elements – magical gifts, special
powers, additional resources – that are keyed to the settings
chrome. Each of these is unique. These are all of equal utility,
and add to the attributes. In GUMSHOE this would be
investigating or procedural skills that are less common to the
setting, MOS or the special traits of certain templates in
GUMSHOE like sensing vamps.

Ultimately these 6 cards make up the whole character. Players
select a card from one stack and pass the remaining cards in the
stack to the right. Eventually everyone has 1 card from each
stack. The limited number of certain cards gives niche
protection, and each set of 6 cards will make a viable unique
character.

(Jason Walters gave it a shout out here: https://highrockpress.com/blogs/news/metatopia-2017-review)

Mel White described what we were doing in one of his Night’s Black Agents games as creating characters using an improvised Click and Lock system. This may or may not have borrowed from The Dying Earth RPG, The Gaean Reach RPG, and Tony Lower-Basch’s Capes (http://www.museoffire.com/Games/). I believe we drew at random 3 Professions cards, 1 Drive card, and 1 General skills card. All of these cards had skills, and if two or more cards had the same skill, then the points on each card were added together, and that was how many points the character had in that skill.

So, you know what PCs are in the mix and what skills they have. You can make yourself a spreadsheet, just remember, or have printouts of their character sheets close to hand. (Sidenote: I do a strictly alphabetical spreadsheet of all the skills, generic and investigative combined, possibly using bold for the latter.)

Now, look at the core clues again. Are there any clues where it’s not obvious to you how the PCs might (not “will”, of course — players are perverse) get these? If not, great! You’re done. Sure, things will go weird in play, but you probably can’t anticipate how, so don’t sweat it. (Okay, I don’t follow my own advice here, and I do try to figure out what is likely to go weird, how, and how to cover for it, but that’s not what we’re focusing on.)

If there are clues where the listed skills are not those any of the PCs possess — or if you’re thinking, “Okay, now when the party splits and the one person with Art History just isn’t where the clue is” — this is where you focus your attention. If there’s a Whole Lot of core clues like this, well, either the author’s screwed up or you’ve got a very idiosyncratic group. (I certainly do!) This doesn’t make your job easier, of course, but best you know the facts on the ground now.

Here are some suggestions for how to make sure the PCs pick up the clues you want:

* Change the PCs’ Abilities.

  • The players can move points around in the middle of a session, and if they have unspent points, they can spend them during a session. Can they spend points buying appropriate Abilities to solve the problem?

* Check if there’s an obviously related skill the players can use. Fr’ex…

  • No one has Art History. Okay, what is the clue? Some of these holy icons are older than five centuries, let’s say. Holy icons? Does anyone have Theology or the equivalent? Are you playing Night’s Black Agents? Could someone create an NPC with Art History? The Network skill is your friend. Is it at all plausible that the PCs knew they’d be looking at holy icons or otherwise have a need for Art History? If so, would you accept a roll of Preparedness? “I knew we were going to look at a bunch of icons, so I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and boned up on this.”
  • No one has Cop Talk. Will Law do? Is the officer in charge susceptible to Flattery? While you might not believe that the PC can directly Intimidate the police per se, could how about a sort of indirect use of Intimidate, where the officer is worried about looking foolish or weak and wants to impress upon the PC that the opposite is the case?

* Review what the stubborn core clues are supposed to do.

  • The cop won’t talk? Okay, who else might know about the case? Is there a perpetrator who might talk if a PC uses Reassurance? A night clerk who might be bribed with Bargain to let the PC look at the report? A lawyer or reporter convinced there’s been an injustice? A witness that didn’t come forth, but who might appear in a newspaper photograph? Even if none of these are mentioned, could there be one? What does the cop know that the PCs need to know?
  • One of the old icons is the one sought after by Dracula, and the PCs need to narrow it down to the ones older than five centuries? Okay, do any of these have unusual histories that could be found via Library Use? Were any of them a source of recent theft? Law or Cop Talk. Did one or two of them develop a recent history of being cursed? Were strangers offering absurdly high prices for certain icons? Oral History.

* Look at the non-core clues.

Are there any of these you want to make sure might come out? If so, go through the same steps. This is a matter of taste; I find that many non-core clues make a scenario so much more meaningful that I want to make sure there’s a really high chance of them coming out. The difference here is that you charge for the information. One point is the default. It has to be very useful if it costs two points, and beyond that? Well, generally, in my opinion, the author’s wrong if they’re charging more than two points, but there are rare exceptions.

Hopefully, you’ve nailed it as well as you can by now. If not, and you’ve time, talk to your fellow GMs. I have had help from gamers all over the world, thanks to the wonders of the internet, and I have tried to reciprocate. There are GUMSHOE groups, groups specific to each flavor of GUMSHOE, groups specific to individual campaigns, and forums like the ones on Yog-Sothoth.com. I am deeply indebted to numerous, generous people all trying to help each other out here. (Seriously, look at the Eternal Lies Google+ group and the Yog-Sothoth.com forum topics dealing with that campaign — we all hit a lot of the same issues at about the same time, as we all fell in love with this campaign and inflicted it upon, er, ran it for our local groups.)


Lisa Padol has been running roleplaying games since 1991, reviewing them as long, and editing them for about a decade. She has been running GUMSHOE since Eternal Lies came out and still has to remind herself that she doesn’t have time to playtest everything for Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents.

On the Google+ 13th Age community, Stefano Gaburri posted a question about the casting sequence of the 13th Age chaos mage class:

A while ago I asked about “daily” spells for Chaos Mages, namely: since they’re limited, can a mage cast the same spell multiple times, since he’s gonna cast the same maximum number of dailies anyway?

General response was, it’s possible to cast the same “daily” spell more than once, which was also my opinion (but not my GM’s… oh well).

Now I noticed that there’s another column, cryptically labeled “Once-per-battle spells”, that goes from 1 to 2. Now, this cannot possibly be a pool—the number must refer to each single spell, meaning that it becomes possible to cast the same “once per battle” (these names keep losing meaning!) spell twice per battle.

In conclusion (and that’s what bugs me), it seems we have different semantics in the two columns, without any explanation in the text. The number of dailies is a pool of “slots” you get to consume, 5th ed warlock-like, while the other column simply states that once-per-battle spells become twice-per-battle at some point (ie 6th level).

Did I get it right?

Here’s the level progression chart Stefano refers to. As you can see, at 1st level a chaos mage has access to two daily spells, and one once-per-battle spell. By 6th level, a chaos mage has access to four daily spells, and two once-per-battle spells.

 

 

Chaos mage level progression chart

Here’s where some of the confusion around this class comes from: The chaos mage class has its own spells, and it has talents which give it access to spells from other classes. Both types of spells are accessed randomly; and on a given turn, a chaos mage might or might not be able to cast the daily or once-per-battle spells it has access to. Such is the nature of randomness!

How Chaos Mage Spellcasting Works (It’s Weird)

The chaos mage’s spell list has three types of spells: attack (one at-will spell, one once-per-battle spell, and one daily spell), defense (same), and iconic (a mix of at-will and daily spells). These spells are the spells those numbers in the chart above refer to.

The chaos mage’s class talents include ones that give it access to a randomly-chosen spell from another class: cleric, necromancer, sorcerer, or wizard. The spell they randomly choose is categorized as either an attack spell, or a defense spell. These spells do not count against the number of daily and once-per-battle spells in the level progression chart.

The chaos mage’s player has a bag of colored stones (or other tokens) representing three types of spells: attack, defense, and iconic. During a battle, the player draws a stone to see what type of spell the chaos mage can cast on their turn. The player then looks at the appropriate spell list to see what’s available:

  • If they drew an iconic spell stone, they look at the chaos mage’s iconic spell list
  • If they drew an attack spell stone, they look at the chaos mage’s attack spell list. If one of their class talents gave them access to a randomly-chosen spell from another class that happened to be an attack spell, that’s one of the options as well.
  • If they drew a defense spell stone, they look at the chaos mage’s defense spell list. If one of their class talents gave them access to a randomly-chosen spell from another class that happened to be an defense spell, that’s one of the options as well.

The chaos mage cannot cast any listed daily spells that they’ve already cast that day, or any once-per-battle spells that they’ve already cast that battle.

Clear as mud? Here’s an example of how it looks in play.

A 6th Level Chaos Mage in Action

Anna Blossom is a 6th level chaos mage.* She can access up to four chaos mage daily spells, and up to two chaos mage once-per-battle spells.

Anna has the Trace of the Divine class talent. This talent lets her randomly choose a cleric spell of the highest level she can cast. For the rest of the day, Anna knows this cleric spell and can cast it according to its normal usage pattern—at-will, cyclic, once per battle, recharge, or daily—when that option comes up during Anna’s chaos mage spellcasting sequence.

Using the Trace of the Divine talent, Anna’s player randomly chooses the spell spirits of the righteous (once per battle). This spell does not count against Anna’s maximum of two once-per-battle spells, because that maximum only applies to chaos mage class spells—not spells from other classes accessed through a talent.

Suddenly, Anna’s band of adventurers is attacked by redcaps! Battle is joined!

Anna’s player pulls an iconic stone from the bag, and rolls to see which icon she can cast a spell from. The die result is the Archmage. Looking at the Archmage iconic spell list, Anna could cast silver arrows (at-will) or cascading power (daily).

Anna casts cascading power.

On Anna’s next turn, the player pulls a second iconic stone from the bag, and rolls Archmage again. She cannot cast cascading power again, because it’s a daily spell and she already cast it. Yes, Anna has access to four daily spells; but this one has already been used, so it’s not available to her anymore until after her next full heal-up. This means the only spell that’s available to Anna in the Archmage iconic spell list during that round is silver arrows (at-will).

On Anna’s next turn, the player pulls an attack stone from the bag. Anna’s options from the chaos mage spell list are: force tentacle (at-will), chaos ray (once per battle), or Blarrrrgh! (daily). Thanks to Trace of the Divine, she can also cast spirits of the righteous (once per battle) because it’s an attack spell.

Anna casts spirits of the righteous.

On Anna’s next turn, the player pulls another attack stone from the bag. Anna’s options from the chaos mage spell list are: force tentacle (at-will), chaos ray (once per battle), or Blarrrrgh! (daily). Anna cannot cast spirits of the righteous again, because it’s a once-per-battle spell and she’s already cast it this battle.

Anna casts chaos ray.

Here’s where Anna is now at this point:

Anna, at 6th level, has access to four daily spells in the chaos mage spell list.

  • She’s cast one of those four (cascading power). She can’t cast it again for the rest of the day, even if her player keeps drawing the iconic spell stone and rolling Archmage over and over again. It’s just gone until Anna’s next full heal-up.
  • Anna has access to three more daily spells, but she’ll only have the opportunity to use them if her player either draws an attack stone (because she hasn’t yet cast Blarrrrrrgh! today), or draws an iconic stone and rolls one of the icons that has a daily spell Anna hasn’t cast yet.

Anna also has access to two once-per-battle spells in the chaos mage spell list.

  • In this battle, Anna’s cast one of her two once-per-battle spells (chaos ray).
  • Anna also cast spirits of the righteous, the once-per-battle spell she got via Trace of the Divine.
  • Even if the player keeps drawing an attack stone from the bag during this battle, Anna doesn’t get to cast spirits of the righteous again, because it’s her one and only cleric spell, and it’s a once-per-battle spell, and she already cast it this battle.
  • Anna also doesn’t get to cast chaos ray again, because she only has access to two chaos mage once-per-battle spells, and she already cast it this battle.
  • However! If the player drew a defense stone, Anna could cast warped healing (the other chaos mage once-per-battle spell) because she hasn’t cast it yet during this battle.
  • Once Anna casts spirits of the righteous, chaos ray, and warped healing, she is all out of once-per-battle spells for the rest of this battle.

I hope this helps clear up the chaos mage’s use of various spell types. If you’re the kind of player who likes the challenge of making choices based on randomly-generated circumstances, maybe you’ll want to give this class a try!

*One Unique Thing: Has wheels.

Art by Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell

“The children of the night… what music they make!”

We’ve prowled around the topic of werewolves in Night’s Black Agents once in a blue moon. The ghoul stats in the core rulebook (p. 150) include a quick-and-dirty conversion to wolfman mode; a pack of terrorist werewolves shows up in The Edom Files. Some say Ken chains himself up in his basement on certain nights, but that’s probably a scurrilous rumour. It’s a pity, because werewolves work almost as well as vampires for occult espionage thriller games. You’ve got dark secrets, you’ve got secret identities, you’ve got distinctive means of dispatch, and a whole host of meaty metaphors to chew on. Werewolf as cursed soul, dragged in for one last job. Werewolf as terrorist, the monster hiding in plain sight. Werewolf as plague, as super soldier, as secret weapon.

This article presents a somewhat tougher and more developed werewolf than the hairy ghoul variant, but it’s still only a taste, and we don’t go into a deep dive on werewolf mythology here. Consider this article to be the moment when the big dog burst out of the woods at the side of the roads and bites you. Think nothing of it, it’s just a scratch…

Supernatural: Werewolves are skin-changers; humans able to adopt the form of a beast through sorcery, magic salves or some other supernatural gift. The power of lycanthropy might be inherited through a bloodline, or bestowed by a magical ritual, or maybe you need to put on an enchanted wolf-skin to become the beast (so, if you want to become a werewolf, you’ve got to hunt down and skin a werewolf). Supernatural werewolves have a measure of control over their transformations, and may willingly embrace their skin-changing talents. Possible examples: the devil-hunting Benandanti, viking berserkers, were-witches of Livonia

Damned: Werewolves are humans cursed to become beasts. The modern conception is that the curse is spread through being bitten, but it might equally be punishment for misdeeds (or the physical manifestation of spiritual corruption). Other traditions suggest that one can become a werewolf after death if buried in the wrong spot, or that drinking from the footprint of a wolf makes you become a wolf. In any case, the Damned werewolf is a victim suffering from a magical affliction – although the people it devours may not see it as a fellow victim.

Alien: Lunar associations and spiritual projections aside, werewolves are earthy creatures, things of meat and hair and bone and blood. Presumably, then, the alien werewolf is a byproduct or adaptation of some alien entity coming into contact with earthly fauna. Maybe weird dimension-shifting warp drives cause some sort of quantum overlap, entangling beast and man. Maybe werewolves are guardian monsters engineered using a mix of earthly DNA and alien science. Lycanthropic chest-busters, anyone?

Mutant: Lycanthropy was created in a bio-weapons laboratory, or as the result of experiments in creating super-soldiers. Obviously, there’s the last stand of the Third Reich in Operation WERWOLF (where the stated goal of creating a stay-behind network of partisans and guerrilla fighters was clearly cover for Nazi werebeasts), but you could also look at Stalin’s experiments in creating ape-human hybrids, modern genetic engineering experiments – or look back in time, and wonder if there’s something alchemical to the salves and enchanted potions of mythology.

Shapeshifting

Setting the parameters for a werewolf’s shapeshifting is as big a deal as deciding how stakes and mirrors work in a vampire-centric game. Here are four possible options.

Voluntary Shapeshifting (Any): Drawing on their inner beast, the werewolf can shapeshift into a wolf-man form. Or into a wolf. Or maybe they can take on either form. In every case, the werewolf must make an Aberrance test to change (Difficulty 4 if the transformation takes 1-6 rounds; Difficulty 6 to change instantly.) The Difficulty’s adjusted by circumstances:

-2 at night

-2 in moonlight

-1 if the werewolf’s already angry

-1 if the werewolf’s already injured

-1 if there’s fresh meat or the smell of blood

+2 on consecrated ground (Da, Su)

+2 in the presence of wolfsbane flowers (Su, Mu)

Triggered Shapeshifting (Su, Mu): The werewolf has to take some action involving an external trigger to transform – inject a shot of adrenaline, put on a belt of wolfskin, rub on a salve, eat a human heart. If unrestrained, the werewolf can use the trigger freely; doing it in combat requires an Athletics or Filch test (Difficulty 4). Spend 3 points of Health to change instantly; otherwise, it takes 1-6 rounds.

Projection (Su, Da, Al): The werewolf doesn’t physically transform at all – it’s a psychic effect, projected from the werewolf’s human body. Maybe the werewolf sends out her spirit, maybe it’s a tulpa or a distillation of the werewolf’s animal impulses. Maybe the lycanthrope possesses a nearby animal of the appropriate type.

Compulsive Shapeshifting (Da, Mu): This sort of werewolf has to transform in certain circumstances – the full moon being an obvious example. Resisting the transformation requires a Stability test (Difficulty 4, modified by the inverse of the modifiers listed above under Voluntary Shapeshifting). A successful Stability test buys the werewolf 1-6 combat rounds, but it counts as Shaken while caught mid-change.

When shapeshifted, add a suitable bonus (+6 at least) to the werewolf’s Athletics, Stealth, Hand-to-Hand and Health.

Other Powers

 

Immunity (Su, Al): Werewolves can’t be injured by bullets and other projectiles; weapon attacks do minimum damage. Fire and explosions do half damage and cannot kill the beast.

Regeneration (Da, Mu): Werewolves regenerate health when transformed at a supernatural rate (regaining almost full health every round for a super-tough werewolf, 3-4 points per round for something slightly more manageable). However, it can’t heal completely using this supernatural gift; the last point of damage inflicted by each injury must heal naturally. So, if you shoot a werewolf three times for five damage with each shot, it’ll be down by 3 Health when next encountered (in any form).

Savagery: In any round in which the werewolf is attacked or impeded, it gains 1-6 points of Aberrance. In any combat round in which the werewolf’s enemies all hide, flee or do something else non-threatening, it loses one Aberrance.

Werewolf Heart: In any form, werewolves possess animal magnetism and dangerous charisma. The werewolf can spend Aberrance to mimic the effects of spending Flirting or Intimidation.

Infection: Anyone bitten by a werewolf might:

  • Become a Damned or Mutant werewolf
  • Become a werewolf subject only to Compulsive Transformation
  • Have to make a Health test to avoid infection
  • Contract an especially damaging variant of rabies (onset 10-60 minutes, Difficulty 6 Health; Minor +2 damage and Hurt; Severe +6 damage, -4 Athletics, and -2 Health and -2 Athletics until cured).

Also, obviously: Animal Senses (p. 128), Darkvision (p. 128), Vampiric Speed (p. 133), maybe serial-killer-esque “It’s behind you” Apportation (p. 133), Strength (p. 137), Summoning (p. 137).

Banes

Silver, in all its forms.

Wolf’s bane, aka aconite.

(Da): Holy items.

Compulsions

Hunt on nights of the full moon.

Werewolf Assassin

General Abilities: Aberrance 4, Firearms 9, Hand-to-Hand 14, Health 14

Hit Threshold: 5

Alertness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: +1

Damage Modifier: +1 (claw or bite). The werewolf can only make one bite attack, but can make any number of claw attacks using Werewolf Speed as long as it has the points to spend.

Free Powers: Voluntary Transformation, Regeneration (in wolf form only), Savagery, Animal Senses (only when shape-shifted)

Other Powers: Werewolf Speed, Werewolf Strength, Infection

Banes: Silver

 

In January, Cat and I take stock of our previous year and look ahead to the next one in our Annual Partnership Meeting. We hold this on the dry Friday before WarpCon, a games convention based in Cork, Ireland, primarily in the student union bar, which means good minutes are essential. The Book of Demons is ready to print, and Cthulhu City is available as a PDF.

Fun With Data

2017 was our second best year in terms of USD sales. The first best year was 2014, but that included two Kickstarters.

 

To give you an idea of how things compare through each channel, we have this.

 

Sales through distribution (and hence retail) continue to decline, but they are still at historically high levels, and unit sales though distribution of print books continue to be much higher than through mail order. Now on to something stranger!

Unclaimed Digital Rewards

This shows the digital rewards for various Bundles of Holding and Kickstarters which remain unclaimed.

For Bundles of Holding I understand, because we send out a single email, and most backers have already claimed their rewards on DriveThruRPG. For Kickstarters, some we provided downloads with direct links, then followed up with Bookshelf – so you’ll see Hillfolk and 13 True Ways are mainly unclaimed, but that’s just because they already have their books. But for TimeWatch, a large proportion of people have simply not snagged what they pledged for.  Likewise, in 2016 and 2017, more than 1000 people placed orders (mainly print orders) and didn’t claimed their free PDFs. This just involves registering for a free bookshelf.

Don’t go rushing to support – we’ll send follow-up emails in the next month or so.

Production Schedule

For a long time, we’ve aimed our production schedule at Page XX  – ensuring that we have something new out each month to coincide with its release. Likewise, we’ve concentrated heavily on getting books out for Gen Con. This has turned into a grind, and held up production of larger books. In addition, the fixed costs and sales of smaller PDFs makes them less worthwhile, unless we’ve got non-commercial reasons for doing it.

So, you’ll see releases coming out less regularly, but with greater frequency. 13th Age is its own thing, with Rob Heinsoo running that line in parallel to the other books.

Fall of Delta Green

The PDF is in the hands of Arc Dream, and we hope to have it out to backers next week. The final layout will go to the printers at the end of next week, too. If takes a couple of months to print and ship at least.

It will go on general preorder in the Pelgrane store at the end of February, to be shipped out after the backers have been sent theirs.

Swords of the Serpentine

Kevin Kulp and Emily Dresners’s GUMSHOE game of cities, secrets, and sorcery has now hit 150000 words, and is being polished ready for external playtesting.  Kevin has run it himself for more than 100 playtesters. When designers run their game, it helps them hone their design fixing weaknesses and flaws, but it’s very hard to know if the text does the job of transmitting the game they want the players to experience without sending it out for external playtesting. Playtesting also shows flaws in the design, gives us an idea of the market for the game, but making sure people are playing the game we intended is pretty high on the list.

13th Age

The Book of Demons is uploaded to bookshelves, and is on its way to the printers.

Rob Heinsoo is concentrating on Book of Ages, and the thorny problem which is Shards of the Broken Sky cartography.

A Final Word

I’ll leave you with this snippet – the most popular article in the last year is What’s Your GUMSHOE Size? a guide to which GUMSHOE system might suit you.

by Mikhail Bonch-Osmolovskiy

For all their seeming simplicity, Icon relationships can be tricky to use in a game, as some GMs, myself included, occasionally struggle to offer a satisfying use for them. Icons are just too abstract, too detached, too far away from the daily life of a low-level adventurer. They need intermediaries, something to connect the dungeons to the floating towers, the blood to the idea, the PCs to Icons. They need factions.

At their most basic, factions are NPC organizations who serve one or more Icons. In this article you’ll find advice on preparing factions and their use, as well as optional mechanics for tracking the changing influence of factions.

Making and using factions

Like any organization, factions form in order to achieve a goal. It can be something specific, like “return the Lich King to his rightful place as the ruler of the Dragon Empire”, or abstract like “keep the citizens of Axis safe”. That’s where we start: for each faction you have in mind, figure out its agenda. You’re not writing the faction’s manifesto, a single sentence will do.

Not every faction declares its agenda outright – a decadent high society faction dedicated to opening a new Hellmouth probably doesn’t advertise the fact to outsiders. But it’s this true purpose you’re interested in. Leave lies to your NPCs.

Speaking of NPCs, a faction needs a face (or three), someone the party will interact with when they deal with the faction. It can be the faction leader, but it can just as easily be an approachable rank-and-file member.

Similarly to PCs, factions have relationships with Icons, though these relationships are never rolled, and are purely indicative of the faction’s allegiances. As a rule of thumb, a faction should have at least one positive and one negative relationship, and no more than three relationships overall. The faction’s agenda should make it clear which Icons a given faction supports and opposes. And just as with PCs and their relationships with Icons, thinking of the relationships your factions have may reveal unexpected facets of their “personality”.

Ideally, your factions will cover every Icon with which the PCs have a relationship with both positive and negative relationships of their own. For the frequently referenced Icons, you may wish to have multiple factions that are interested in them. Ties to other Icons are nice, but less essential. In this way, the Icons your players pick will impact your worldbuilding, helping you to further focus on the aspects of the world your players find interesting.

If you use the “Icon relations story-guide results” table from the core book, you may wish to amend it with names of factions supporting or opposing the Icons.

Armed with this information, the next time your players want to use a relationship roll, you’ll have a faction or two with the same Icon relationship that fits the bill. Maybe one of its “face” NPCs shows up to offer assistance, or you suggest the PCs visit them to ask for help.

If the relationship die was a 5, you have a starting point for what the faction may ask for in return for its help – its agenda. Alternatively, a 5 on a positive relationship could indicate the involvement of a faction with a negative relationship to that Icon, and vice versa.

Note that this doesn’t rule out any other use of Icon relationship rolls the books suggest or you come up with. Indeed, factions merely offer a framework for some of these suggestions.

Faction influence level

In case you’re looking for some extra granularity in distinguishing between factions, you can assign levels to them. A faction’s level determines the average level of its significant assets and personnel. To put it another way, kicking down the door to the faction’s headquarters and taking them on would constitute an adventure of the faction’s level.

A level 1 faction is not much more than a group of local thugs, a level 5 faction can run a town, while a level 9 faction is a continent-spanning organization.

A faction’s level indicates the resources they have access to, helping determine what kind of assistance or opposition they offer to the PCs. An adventurer-tier faction can’t hand out champion-tier magic items, for instance. Additionally, faction levels provide some ideas for the likely outcome of a faction-vs-faction conflict.

Faction levels aren’t set in stone. At the end of every adventure, as well as whenever some significant change happens, ask yourself: did any faction get more powerful or otherwise achieve a major victory? Did any faction lose major holdings or important allies? Adjust their level by 1 in either direction. Where appropriate, campaign loss caused by PCs fleeing may also result in a faction losing a level.

As a rule of thumb, PCs can’t affect the level of a faction that is three or more levels above theirs without major plot upheaval to assist them. However, large and high-level factions are rarely monolithic. Consider introducing local chapters or sub-factions of a level closer to the level of PCs so they can more easily influence each other.

The changes to faction influence levels represent tangible consequences to the PCs’ efforts, making it easier to see how their adventures affect the world around them.

Example – factions of the Sea Wall

Let’s say your group has decided upon the Sea Wall as the starting location for the campaign. Sea breeze and giant monsters, what can be better. The player characters have positive relationships with the Archmage, the Dwarf King, and the Prince of Shadows; they have conflicted relationship with the High Druid and the Diabolist; and a negative relationship with the Three.

Looking at the map, we see a slight problem: there’s the Iron Sea on the one side, the Blood Wood on the other, and not much else. With the chosen Icons in mind, let’s start with the obvious options and expand to accommodate the more esoteric choices.

Sea Wall Maintenance Crew

Level 5 faction

Agenda: keep the wall standing. Currently occupied with repairing a massive breach that occurred last month. Nominally subordinate to the Sea Wall Guard (a faction with positive relationship to the Emperor, in which we’re not as interested).

Relationships: positive with the Archmage and the Dwarf King, ambiguous with the High Druid.

Faces: Prince Azbarn Stonebeard, fifteenth in line to the Dwarven Throne (dwarf, naturally), and magister Ariel Thornfist (high elf) are in joint command. Both are highly ambitious and competitive, with views of distinguishing themselves and leaving this backwater post behind.

Leviathan Hunters

Level 3 faction

Agenda: to safeguard the Blood Wood (and the Empire, as a secondary consideration) from the sea monsters.

Relationships: positive with the High Druid, ambiguous with the Orc Lord, negative with the Diabolist.

Face: Uzg (orc) left his clan and his clan name behind to serve High Druid. An unlikely but enthusiastic guardian of Blood Wood, he’s assembled a warband of other renegade orcs, wood elves and beasts of the forest. Currently weakened from their continued skirmishes with the sea monsters that got through last month, Leviathan Hunters would love to live up to their name and take the fight to the enemy – if their level reaches 5, Uzg will lead an expedition beyond the Sea Wall.

Red Right Pincer

Level 4 faction

Agenda: to bring down the Sea Wall by summoning a mighty leviathan from the depths.

Relationships: positive with the Diabolist, negative with the High Druid, the Emperor, and the Archmage.

Face: Deep priest Kashtarak (sahuagin). The designated bad guy for the first few levels of the campaign. Red Right Pincer currently hunts for mystic beasts to slaughter in the Blood Wood, in order to use their hearts for an unholy ritual that would weaken the magic protection of the Sea Wall. Should the Pincer’s level exceed that of the Sea Wall Maintenance Crew, a new massive breach is all but guaranteed.

Storm’s Bane

Level 2 faction

Agenda: recover the treasure that has cursed them to undeath.

Relationships: positive with Prince of Shadows, negative with the Three.

Face: Captain Sam Kellock (human) was a daring pirate, his ship Storm’s Bane feared by all. That is, until he robbed one too many ships that belonged to the Three, fled from their pursuit into the Iron Sea, and met his end in the jaws of a leviathan. That would have been bad enough, but unbeknownst to him the treasure he carried was cursed. Now ghostly remains of his crew plague the shore, looking for fools to help them recover the gold and break the curse. After a century of torment, Kellock is desperate and sees the PCs as his last best hope. Should their relationship go awry, he would even help sahuagin bring the leviathan that swallowed his treasure to the shore, in hopes of someone killing it for him.

 


Mikhail Bonch-Osmolovskiy is a game designer and a writer. He’s currently looking for a publisher for his board game, Passages & Plunder; writing a blog, PonderingsOnGames.com; and planning on resuming his YA horror serial at newvalenar.wordpress.com. He lives in Sydney, Australia and has given up on teaching the locals how to pronounce his name.

The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring everything you need to know about running your first GUMSHOE game from Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite, and Simon Rogers, along with a number of bonus items for Hillfolk and Dracula Dossier Kickstarter backers, and Cthulhu Confidential purchasers. Plus, pick up the 13th Age Demonologist class among other hellish goodies in the Book of Demons, and get the latest Langston Wright adventure for Cthulhu Confidential, The Shadow Over Washington.

It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!

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