There are a lot of books in the pipeline right now, but none of them are quite cooked yet, so here’s a little bit of whimsy before the cannon of self-promotion is brought to bear on this space. As you know, Bob, Icons are a lovely little mechanic from 13th Age that model the player characters’ relationships with various powerful individuals/factions – the Archmage, the Emperor, the Lich King and so forth. (There’ll be lots of new – or rather, old – Icons in the upcoming Book of Ages, but I said I’d save the self-promotion).
We’ve adapted Icons to other GUMSHOE games before – here’s Ken talking about Icons in Night’s Black Agents, and in the Dracula Dossier, and in Trail of Cthulhu, and now that I think about it I should really do a set for Cthulhu City (more self-promotion – for shame!). They work especially well, though, in the wild and vasty space of the Bleed in Ashen Stars.
Quick rules reminder. Each player gets three Relationship dice to allocate among the Icons. Relationships can be positive, negative or conflicted. At the start of each session, everyone rolls their Icon Relationships (d6s); a 6 indicates that that Icon is going to get worked into the adventure somehow in a way that benefits the player, and a 5 means that things are complicated and messy. And, given this is Ashen Stars, a spend from an appropriate Investigative Ability like Cybe Culture gives a re-roll for the matching relationship.
Rasal, The Practitioner
Coordinator of the Combine’s reconstruction and redevelopment projects, Rasal embodies the distant, technocratic civilisation in its efforts to reclaim the Bleed. Rasal makes little effort to hide his distaste for the rough, chaotic region, and makes as many trips back to the safety of the Proper as he can. Whenever he returns, though, he brings vast resources – both financial and technological – to help solve the problems of these war-torn stars.
Allies: The Viceroy, the Princess in Exile, the Merchant
Enemies: The Rebel, The Transer
Judy Coyle, The Viceroy
The commander of Ossa One, the Special Legate to the Far Settlements is in charge of keeping law and order in the Bleed. She’s responsible for licensing Laser crews, as well as commanding the Combine naval forces in the region. Coyle must balance her loyalty to her distant superiors in the Ministry of Settlement to the needs of the local worlds.
Allies: The Practitioner, Grand Arbiter Koket, the Merchant
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, The Seeker, the Rebel
Azela Shaw, The Rebel of the Bleed
The most outspoken of the Bleedists, Shaw is a former naval officer who now rejects Combine control of the region. She’s proved to be a formidable organiser, rallying the disparate groups and worlds that oppose the Combine into an ad hoc alliance. Coyle claims that Shaw’s rumoured criminal connections taint the whole alliance, but Shaw’s allies dismiss such claims as Combine mudslinging.
Allies: The Healer, the Merchant, The Transer
Enemies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur
The Master of the Plunderbund
The Plunderbund is a syndicate of criminal gangs, pirates, thieves, unscrupulous mercenaries and shady corporations – a shadow economy, even a shadow government, slithering into the gaps left by the shattered Combine. The Plunderbund, for all its many faults, gets things done – if you need something, they can get it for you, but at a high price. The mysterious Master of the Plunderbund is an elusive figure, and may be the figurehead for a ring of crime lords.
Allies: The Rebel, The Princess in Exile, the Connoisseur
Enemies: The Viceroy, The Merchant, Grand Arbiter Koket
Klaadarr, The Seeker
The stagnant, sterile Combine is a secular realm, devoid of spirituality. The Bleed, though, is afire with mystic revelation and revitalized nufaiths. New religions – or resurrected old ones – boil across the stars, finding eager converts and fanatical followers on worlds desperate for something to believe in now that the Combine is gone. Into this tumult comes the Seeker, an alien prophet of all Nufaiths and none, who claims that that God can be found in the Bleed. Listen to him – he’s right.
Allies: The Transer, the Healer
Enemies: The Meddler, the Pracitioner
Anacar Inatuy, The Merchant
Inatuy and her corporate allies made their fortune in the Bleed in the chaotic years after the war. There is still unimaginable wealth to be made out here, in the wild frontier, as long as they can thread a course between the stultifying control of the Combine and the apocalyptic chaos of a galaxy without law or justice. Of course, moral ambiguity is very much within the Merchant’s wheelhouse.
Inatuy is merely the most visible member of a cabal of corporate magnates and industrialists; the Connoisseur remains aloof from this cabal, and while he may be wealthier than any one of them individually, they vastly outmatch him as a group.
Allies: The Pracitioner, The Rebel, the Princess in Exile
Enemies: The Healer, The Connoisseur, the Transer, the Master of the Plunderbund
Starwind, The Healer (Balla)
Starwind led an exodus of Balla artists, scientists and adventurers out of Combine space to settle in the Bleed. Her movement seeks to channel Balla emotional energy into healing and remaking the galaxy, instead of suppressing it. Her followers – the Chorus – have the potential to accomplish wonders, but might equally drag the Bleed down with them into madness.
Allies: The Transer, the Viceroy, the Seeker
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Rebel
Grand Arbiter Koket (Tavak)
Koket is a legend back in the Combine – a decorated general, an accomplished philosopher, and a legal scholar who helped shape the decisions of the Combine Bench for decades. He was rumoured to be a candidate for Chief Justice, but instead chose to travel to the Bleed instead. While semi-retired, he retains his status as a judge, and serves as arbiter or investigator in especially complex or controversial cases.
Allies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Transer
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Princess in Exile
Krtch-Ick, The Connoisseur (Kch-thk)
Krtch-Ick is an immensely wealthy Kch-thk; he made his fortune back during the Mohilar War in dubious circumstances, and moved to the Bleed to evade Combine jurisdiction. He collects all manner of things – new foodstuffs, alien artefacts, “interesting people”, wrecked starships, military hardware. Whole planets, on occasion.
He owns corporations too – among his assets is the Freedom Egg, a Bleed-wide media conglomerate that broadcasts news and entertainment across the region. Krtch-Ick’s word can shape opinion throughout the Bleed, so rumours that he’s becoming more unstable with each reincarnation worry the authorities.
Allies: The Rebel, the Seeker, the Master of the Plunderbund
Enemies: The Merchant, the Viceroy
Ukshqnza, The Princess in Exile (Durugh)
The death of martyred King Ukshqa and the Mohilar War transformed Durugh society. The old police state hierarchy collapsed, leaving their civilisation in a state of near-anarchy. Princess Ukshqnza was one of the few members of the king’s immediate family who escaped the chaos. She fled to the Bleed with an entourage of loyalists – not to mention several warships, a large portion of the Durugh state coffers, and (allegedly) a complete copy of the fabled Silent Gallery, the archive of Durugh espionage and blackmail. While the Durugh are now part of the Combine and Ukshqnza has no official standing, many Durugh see her as their ruler in exile, and the Combine look warily at her as a rallying symbol for Durugh separatists in the Bleed. At the same time, her combination of military force and unmatched intelligence-gathering capabilities make her a vital ally to Combine forces trying to keep order in wild space.
Allies: The Practitioner, the Master of the Plunderbund, the Meddler
Enemies: Grand Arbiter Koket, the Transer
Remaker, The Transer (Cybe)
The military records that might have identified who Remaker was before she was transformed were lost in the war. She emerged onto the political scene in the Bleed full-formed like Athena, as the champion of a wide-ranging coalition of cybe veterans. Remaker’s allies include mercenary legions and charitable foundations, cybe researchers and prophets, raiders and lasers alike – wherever one finds cybes, there too are her followers. Her avowed goal is to establish an independent cybe state in the Bleed; rumours connect her to illegal experimentation in creating new cybes, and some claim that her secret aim is to transform the entire population of the Bleed into her mind-slaves.
Allies: The Rebel, The Healer, the Seeker
Enemies: The Viceroy, The Practitioner
The Meddler (Vas Mal)
The mysterious Meddler is a Vas Mal who retained considerably more of his cosmic awareness than the rest of his kind. He can, it seems, see the future, and can also see the temporal nexuses and pressure points that can change that future if poked in just the right way. The Meddler manipulates events and individuals to bring about those changes.
Allies: The Seeker, the Princess in Exile
Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur, the Merchant
The Ashen Shadow (Mohilar)
And they are still out there, moving in the dark places between the stars. Their recent defeat stripped away much of their power and has shown them they are not invincible. They must work in secret, through agents and intermediaries – until the stars turn dark, and the Mohilar can return…
Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
The latest issue of See Page XX is out now! New releases include the Dreamhounds of Paris limited edition, The Crown Commands and Map Folio PDF bundle, and a Low and Slow Looking Glass: Hong Kong, for all your GUMSHOE city setting needs.
Articles include some blasphemous tomes and cryptic relics culled from the pages of Cthulhu City, a procedural guide for The Esoterrorists field agents, a welcome to our new Production Assistant along with notes on how we found her, using TimeWatch as a teaching aid, and playtesting The Fall of Delta Green. It’s all in the new See Page XX!
Happy new year, all, and best wishes for a fantastic 2017! After a largely-good, sometimes-bad, always-tumultuous 2016, we’ve been steadily clearing the decks to usher in a new year of progress in 2017, including hiring a new Production Assistant to help us deliver the best possible customer service, and allow us to produce even more wonderful books. You can find out more about the whole application and hiring process below.
New this month is the limited edition Dreamhounds of Paris, featuring the same surrealist art and Trail of Cthulhu setting, but a lush faux-leatherbound cover, and a bookplate signed by the authors. And in PDF, we have Looking Glass: Hong Kong, a “Low and Slow” city setting for Asia’s most chaotic port; The Crown Commands and Map Folio PDF Bundle, with forty battles for four crowned icons of the Dragon Empire, and the final edition of 13th Age Monthly, High Druid’s World, available now.
Resource Page Updates
See Page XX Poll
The Pelgranes have returned from their annual pilgrimage to WarpCon, a feast of gaming, socialising and drinking. Gareth and Cat are both former con directors, game runners and writers, and form part of the WarpCon brain trust. It’s undoubtedly the friendliest convention I’ve attended. We playtested Gareth’s game Drone, in which one character is a semi-autonomous corpse powered be cybernetic implants and the others are the remote operators. As the game progresses, the drone gains more memories and more autonomy, so it becomes a three-way battle between the drone, the operators and the GM to see what happens – tl;dr never ends well for the drone. Cat and I also worked on Pelgrane Press’s strategic goals – don’t worry, they feature only the creation of table-top RPGs.
This month’s new releases include the Dreamhounds of Paris Limited Edition, The Crown Commands and Map Folio PDF Bundle – forty pre-planned encounters to drop anywhere into your 13th Age campaign, High Druid’s World – the final edition of 13th Age Monthly and Cthulhu Confidential: Case Notes Edition Preorder game for one player and one GM.
The biggest news is that after an exhaustive recruitment process which attracted candidates of the highest calibre, we’ve invited a new Pelgrane to the nest – Alex Roberts. Reporting to the managing director, she will take on the support role but also bring her wide experience and unfailing positivity into all aspects of our roleplaying game publishing.
After two years of exuberance and invention, 13th Age Monthly is ending. I do apologize for the late delivery of the final episode, High Druid’s World. It features summoning sorcerers, dragons riders, nymphs, elves and even the fiery phoenix. If you’ve not experienced it, volumes one and two are available from the webstore. 13th Age Monthly was financially viable, but it was holding Rob Heinsoo back from delivering the many new books we have planned for the line. Rob has been able to work towards finishing the Demonologist and push forward with icon follower and class-based books and concentrate on getting the Bestiary 2 developed. This bumper monster manual features the salamander, battle shade, elemental beast and xorn. And who wouldn’t want a fire axolotl as a familiar?
A set of adventures for TimeWatch, The Valkyrie Gambit is in layout, followed closely by the The TimeWatch GM Screen and Resource Book. They will be printed and shipped to backers first, but we will put them on pre-order next month for other customers to ship a little later.
TimeWatch will also feature as one half of the forthcoming Free RPG Day book, along with a 13th Age adventure written by Kevin Kulp. Warning – it features Comic Sans!
PDF Sales and Offer
For many years, we’ve sold PDFs through a variety of outlets, including Warehouse 23, Paizo, Indie Press Revolution and DriveThruRPG, and of course our very own mail order store. DriveThruRPG offer a much better rate to exclusive publishers, and last year it because clear that the that difference and our choice to sell through the other outlets was costing us many thousands of dollars, and despite our long-running relationship with these excellent outlets, this has become untenable. So, now, the only place you’ll be able to get our ebooks is through the Pelgrane store or DriveThruRPG.
Pelgrane customers will get a 17% off voucher useable against Pelgrane Press core book PDFs on their bookshelf – look out for a similar offer on DriveThruRPG this week.
Night’s Black Agents and Dracula Dossier
We’ve shipped the first batch of the Hawkins Papers to our shipper Kixto, ready for assembly. My happiness in this image is as a result of having finally loaded the last of more than fifty boxes on the van. We’ve used child labour (both mine, and Cat’s family were involved) set fire to ovens, boiled multiple gallons of tea, and angered a printer (the mechanical kind) but we are nearly there. We are not likely to have any spares, alas.
The Persephone Operation is a collection of five operations for Night s Black Agents. They can be played individually or as a five-episode mini-campaign. Also included is a custom Conspyramid and Vampyramid for our Conspiracy, so Directors can build out from these adventures into a full campaign. First drafts are in from the authors and Gar is polishing them up.
The Fall of Delta Green
The Fall of Delta Green is two-thirds done and ready for playtesting. As a big Delta Green fan, and as an internal playtester, I can tell you this GUMSHOE adaptation does just what it’s meant to – combines GUMSHOE and DG so can you can find the clues, then regret you have. Sign up here.
See Page XX
a column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws
Adversaries in GUMSHOE One-2-One don’t have game statistics per se. This applies to mundane foes and Mythos creatures alike. Instead, when your investigator encounters something nasty that might want to do her harm, a Challenge block describes all the dangers and difficulties of dealing with it, treating its fighting capability as one of those various factors. The threshold numbers assigned to the three outcomes (Setback, Hold, Advance) reflect that particular situation in that scenario. In another scene in the same mystery, or when you next run into that creature in a completely different adventure, the Challenge block might be framed quite differently. The GM or scenario designer starts with the role the Challenge plays in the story and then creates descriptive factors to justify why this Deep One dust-up is tougher (or easier) than the one before it.
One-2-One encounters never lead to the immediate and sudden demise of a character, or a likewise abrupt, story-stopping descent into Lovecraftian madness. Instead a bad result gives you a Problem card. (Or two, if you chose to accept a higher price for an added possibility of success.) Certain Problem cards destroy the character at scenario’s end, after the mystery has been solved, if you still have them on hand. Naturally, you’ll do everything you can to get rid of fatal Problems before the story ends, so that you can continue to have adventures as Viv Sinclair, Langston Wright or Dex Raymond. Otherwise you have to grieve your character’s demise and then create a replacement PC.
Although the Problem cards you take from meeting with a mythos creature, whether you fight it or merely behold it and feel your mind go snap, might vary from one Challenge to the next, the prepared GM might enjoy seeing some samples to either use as is, or to modify to fit her own Challenges.
So for this month and next in See Page XX, I’ll be providing some free-floating Problem cards that might stem from Challenges involving various classic Mythos creatures. These include both Problem cards that come with Setbacks from:
- Fighting Challenges, resulting in physical injuries
- Stability Challenges, resulting in emotional or philosophical stress
You can download the laid out Problem Cards here.
Problem from Fighting Challenge:
Something about the way that bat-winged monstrosity beak clamped into your flesh makes you think the damage hasn’t stopped. You’re not a doctor, but that hideously spreading bruise might be your first clue.
Each time you get a core clue, roll a die. On an odd result, place a tick mark on this card. Erase a tick mark by Taking Time. If you end the scenario with three or more tick marks on the card, your character dies from a cranial blood clot.
Problem from Stability Challenge:
Fear the Skies
Those awful flapping things could come back at any moment. They could tear you limb from limb. How do you defend yourself against something like that?
Put a tick mark on this card. Each time you move about in an isolated outdoors location rendering you vulnerable to aerial attack, add another tick. Take a penalty to Stability tests equal to the number of ticks. Take a penalty to Sense Trouble tests equal to the number of ticks— except when the danger actually comes from the sky, in which case, gain a bonus equal to the number of ticks.
Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath
Problem from Fighting Challenge
You didn’t know what to expect from a walking tree, even when you got closer and saw that the branches were really tentacles. But being trampled under giant hooves? Not what you anticipated.
Until you Take Time to recuperate, -3 to all Physical / General tests and -1 to all Physical / Manual tests. After that, -1 to all Physical / General tests. Discard when you solve the central mystery.
The Trees Are Watching
You know those things weren’t trees, but out of the corner of your eye trees sure look like those things.
Whenever you can see a tree in the distance, you are unable to make Pushes and take a -1 penalty to Physical / Manual tests. You may attempt to discard by Taking Time to visit your shrink contact. Then roll a die; on an even result, discard. On an odd result, this becomes a Continuity card.
Problem from Fighting Challenge:
That ape-insect thing raked through your clothing to lacerate your arm. The black goo weeping from the wound strikes you as something to get looked at. Or to try desperately to put out of your mind. One or the other.
Discard by Taking Time to visit your scientific or medical Contact. If still in hand at end of scenario, you die from blood poisoning.
Problem from Stability Challenge:
Ever since you saw that insect-ape thing, weird images have spun through your mind, of other spheres, other realities. Each one more appalling and predatory than the last.
In ordinary circumstances, -1 to Physical / Mental tests.
In the presence of a Mythos creature or manifestation, -2 to Physical / Mental tests and -1 to Physical / Manual tests.
Discard by destroying a Dimensional Shambler.
Problem from Fighting Challenge:
Banged Up All Over
That airborne jellyfish summoned a blast of wind that hit you like a tornado. You can’t decide which part of you hurts worse.
-2 to Fighting and -1 to all other General / Physical tests. Discard when you score a Hold or better on a General / Physical test.
Problem from Stability Challenge:
The creature came out of nowhere, like it was invisible. That means there could be a creature watching you, right now. You can’t help it if that leaves you looking a little twitchy.
To make an Interpersonal Push, you must first succeed at a Difficulty 5 Cool test, which then permits you to discard this card.
In December, we advertised a vacancy for a Production Assistant. We’re a small company, so this is really significant for us, and we wanted to make sure that we recruited the right person for the role. Simon and I discussed it extensively, and realised that there were two key aspects we were looking for.
- The first was experience doing – or a demonstrated capacity to do – the job. It’s really important to us that we provide excellent customer service, and the candidate had to be able to do that, while simultaneously managing a workload full of shifting priorities, conflicting deadlines, and a never-ending stream of little tasks to trip up the best-laid plans.
- The second was excellent communication skills. This comes up in job application forms a lot – what we mean is the ability to explain situations clearly, concisely, and in a friendly and professional way, to everyone we interact with, from customers through to freelancers and, yes, even printers.
We asked applicants to send in CVs and cover letters, which is a surprisingly useful way of identifying communication skills. An ideal cover letter for this job is somewhere from a couple of paragraphs long to just under a page – this gives you enough space to explain why you’re the right candidate for the job, mapping your skills and experience to the role requirements; and is short enough for a harried prospective employer to be able to read a lot of.
We got nearly 50 applications (of whom we believe 40% were women), and it was clear from the cover letters and CVs that they were predominantly of a very high calibre. While I would have liked to interview everyone, that wasn’t realistic, so we decided to initially interview five candidates.
The next stage involved designing a custom application form to test candidate’s skills, and learn more about their personality, working style and mindset. I designed this in three parts. The first part requested basic details which weren’t covered by the CVs. The second consisted of competency scenarios, which tested candidates’ responses to everyday situations Simon and I encounter [I thought of it as being like a professional play-by-post game]. While there was no “right” answer, there were key elements we expected to see in each reply. For example:
- Scenario: a customer whose book hadn’t been shipped due to our error.
- Expectation: a genuine apology to the customer, an explanation of what had gone wrong, and a list of the actions being taken to fix the situation for the customer.
- Scenario: a printer who had caused a massive error.
- Expectation: a clear message that we wouldn’t be paying them until we received the correctly-printed books, and a request for the printer to print it correctly at their own expense.
- Scenario: a manager trying to pile another day of super-urgent work on top of an already too large pile of super-urgent work.
- Expectation: a response pushing back, outlining the current workload, and requesting either additional support, or a readjustment of the deadlines.
- Scenario: a freelance writer with a horribly impending hard deadline who wasn’t responding to emails.
- Expectation: a message clarifying that, if there was no reply to the last email within a short timescale (like a day or a few hours), we would reallocate the work to another writer.
- Scenario: the candidate realises they have made a costly mistake. [I had conveniently made a costly, thoughtless mistake in November which I was able to exaggerate and reuse for this purpose].
- Expectation: an email to management, explaining what had happened and taking ownership for the mistake, ideally with some suggestions on how to fix it.
The third part was the dreaded “interview questions” section. I appreciate from doing interviews that these can be challenging to answer, but having seen it from the other side of the table, it’s amazing how quickly you get a sense of whether a candidate is a good skills match for a role, and cultural fit for your company. As our Production Assistant will be working remotely, it’s vital they’re able to manage their own workload, work effectively as part of a team, and feed back any issues. We asked some classic questions, like:
- What is the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make at work? How did you arrive at your decision?
- Tell us about a time when you had to work with a difficult colleague to achieve a project or achieve your objectives. What happened?
- Tell us about a project that you planned with other people. How did you organize and schedule the tasks, and what was your action plan?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
[The last one prompted some debate once we got to the reviewing the answers stage. Simon was disappointed no-one said they wanted in five years “to be working at a bigger, better Pelgrane they’d helped develop”. I said that I thought that sounded presumptuous and cocky, and I understood why people would be reluctant to say that. Simon then reminded me how I answered when I was asked that in the interview for my job, which was, apparently, “I want to be running your company.” So, maybe he had a point].
We also asked some questions that are important to us, like:
- What’s the best RPG you’ve played in the last year, and why?
- How would you work with the Pelgrane team to increase diversity in the roleplaying community at large, in our games, and in our initiatives?
- Tell us about a time you went out of your way to ensure a customer received the best possible service.
- Owlbear, shoggoth, or vampire: what would you rather fight, and why? [this might just save our lives some day].
Given the calibre of the candidates, I also asked what, if anything, they would be willing to do on a freelance basis if they weren’t successful, and was pleased to see most applicants were interested in freelance work with us. People seemed to mostly enjoy completing the form. It was detailed – it took me about an hour and a half to complete – but the questions were relevant to the position, and really helpful to us when we were going through the candidates. I got just over forty responses back, and then came the most difficult part – reducing the list.
First, I copied the form responses to another spreadsheet, stripping out any identifying details such as name and email address, and then sorting them in a different order. Then, I went through the scenario-based answers. Responses which ticked all our expectation boxes, and added some “bonus” information that wasn’t in our baseline (e.g., offering to email the customer back to confirm receipt, or proposals for changing the process to ensure the costly mistake didn’t happen again), I highlighted in green. Responses which covered our expectations, or nearly covered them, I highlighted in amber. Responses which didn’t hit our expectations on two or more questions, I highlighted in red.
I then went through the interview-style questions, and gave them a similar traffic-light highlighting depending on how well they had answered the questions. I was looking for detailed answers, addressing all points, demonstrating self-awareness, and relevant to the question – without glibness or superficiality. Some of these questions were additionally weighted; for example, candidates who answered the “Best RPG” question with a videogame or boardgame were marked down.
Finally, I cross-referenced the rating on both sets of questions, to get an overall sense of the candidate. If both sets were green, amber, or red, they stayed that colour; if the candidate had one red and one amber set, they were marked as red; and if they had one green set and one amber set, I reviewed their answers to both together, marking up some to green, and marking down some to amber. I had been aiming to halve the number of candidates, to around twenty; I ended up with sixteen green candidates, which seemed like a good number. I then contacted everyone who was marked red or amber, to let them know they hadn’t been successful, and giving them specific feedback about their application.
When I had shortlisted the top sixteen candidates, I passed their form responses, without identifying details, on to Simon. He removed responses which were purely informational, then went through the remaining answers on a question-by-question basis, grading them from one to three. At this stage, his intention was not to build up an impression of the candidates one at a time, but to independently measure each response.
Then, he added their marks together, and looked at the number of ones, twos and threes in each submission. He examined each candidate’s answers as a coherent set, to gain a personal impression to supplement the numerical score. Finally, he examined their covering letters, CVs, social media profiles and any writing samples they had provided, to make his choices for the top eight shortlist. His blind selection shortlisted seven women.
Simon and I then went through the eight applications together. Going through the traffic lighting process, there had been four stand-out candidates for me, and I was pleased to note that they were all in Simon’s top eight. Reducing the list to five to interview was a difficult process, as we were confident the top eight would all have done a great job. We discussed their likely commitment to the role; their location; any conflicting loyalties or priorities; their current involvement in the RPG hobby, whether they were interested more in the writing and design aspects than publishing; how we envisaged them integrating with the other Pelgranistas at conventions, and on our Slack channels. After a lot of discussion, and trying to measure apples (“great graphic design skills”) against oranges (“lots of social media experience”), we arrived at a list of five interviewees, all of whom were women. I contacted all the green graded applicants to let them know we had chosen five people to interview, but that I would confirm whether one of those five were successful once we had interviewed them.
We then wrote up a list of interview questions, to make sure we were consistent in what we asked the candidates, that we got all the information we needed to make a decision, and also to remember what we had to say [I was very nervous], and we interviewed them over the next five days. I’d hoped that the interviewees would get to have what Wade Rockett wonderfully described as a “fireside chat” with him, offering candidates the opportunity to candidly discuss working with Pelgrane, and ask a neutral prospective colleague any questions about me and Simon, but I realised that I had promised them a quick response and so there wasn’t time. [This is the only thing I’d change in the process].
After much discussion, Alex Roberts emerged as the strongest candidate in a very strong field. She had been the highest-ranked on Simon’s blind numerical shortlist, and on my more intuitive shortlist. We offered her the role, and she accepted it. I then contacted all the remaining interviewees, and the green-ranked candidates, to say that someone had accepted the role, and giving them specific feedback on why they had not been successful.
So, welcome to Alex Roberts, our new Production Assistant! You can read a bit more about Alex here.
And if you’re interested in seeing the full application form, the link is here.
A column about roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
My designs for Pelgrane have all been modular. Each includes
several sub-systems one could drop out without affecting the way other parts of the game operate.
(I say “for Pelgrane” because one of my games does use a universal engine in which every action is handled in the same way as any other. That’s HeroQuest, from Moon Design, which isn’t paying me for this column, removing my need to fit that into any kind of grand theory.)
This enables you to take the bits you like and replace them with a system from another design, if desired.
You can pair the investigative approach from GUMSHOE with a replacement for
general abilities from whatever system you find most comfortable to work in.
Same with the procedural resolution system from Hillfolk.
Sometimes, as in both of the above cases, I’ll design a sub-system so that it doesn’t pull focus from the main point of a game, even to the point of allowing it to be aesthetically displeasing.
Procedurals from Hillfolk do the job but they aren’t meant to be sleek and fun to handle. I didn’t want those rules to be alluring. Instead, whenever a situation comes up that tempts someone to call for them, I want everyone around the table to ask, “Do we really need a procedural here, or can we just agree to narrate it?”
My approach to general abilities in GUMSHOE isn’t so extreme, but they’re not meant to outshine the simplicity of the investigative bit.
When first creating a new rule or sub-system I don’t worry about its additional implications. I’m only working to solve a problem immediately before me.
For example, for the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game one tool I needed was a way to get the players speaking like Jack Vance characters. So I came up with the tagline system. This naturally carried through into Skulduggery, the goal of which was to preserve the DERPG mechanics outside of the setting they were originally built for.
When I was assigned to turn Vance’s Gaean Reach SF books into a game, I assumed it would use the new, simplified Skulduggery mechanics—until I read the books and found that they were almost all investigative in their plotting. So The Gaean Reach became a GUMSHOE game. Yet the need to get players talking like Vance characters remained, so I ported taglines into GUMSHOE. Once there I was able to hook them into an entirely different context, GUMSHOE’s need for ability pool refreshes.
That said, now that I (and Ken, and Gar) have created a shelf full of games, that means a box full of tools stands ready to serve when I need X to do Y in a new design.
This always starts with the need first. I don’t ask myself how can I repurpose starship combat from Ashen Stars or the Quade Diagram from Mutant City Blues. Instead I start with the problem and see if a sub-system already exists that can do the trick. (Also I’m leery about stealing the defining element of an existing game, each of which needs to sustain its own distinct feel within the GUMSHOE line.)
In the case of GUMSHOE One-2-One, all the problems I needed fixes for were new to the one GM, one player format. Since we’ve never done a game tuned for that configuration I had to invent new tools to solve its problems—Challenges to contain possibilities in a way that protected the character from prematurely being taken out of the story, Problems to replace the sense of deterioration and attrition fostered by dwindling general ability pools, Edges to counter-balance problems and generate a sense of reward, Sources to give players access to a full suite of investigative abilities without making every PC a polymath.
Now that I’m embarking on the design for the Yellow King RPG, I’m looking at the solutions I need and seeing some of them already in the ever-growing toolbox.
One key campaign frame has the players portraying versions of their characters refracted through time and reality. Since you might be playing several characters throughout the course of a series, character generation has to be fast, yet allow for creative input and modification. That means borrowing the Gaean Reach modular card-based chargen system, which has already been modified from Skulduggery, to yet another purpose.
Not all borrowings are from GUMSHOE. There might also be a touch of Hillfolk in the character generation.
Yellow King focuses on Robert Chambers stripped of retroactively applied Lovecraftian elements. (Don’t worry; if you own Trail of Cthulhu you can stick the Hounds of Tindalos back in if that’s your desire.) Accordingly I want an approach to subjective horror other than the Stability / Sanity system that works so well for a classically Mythos-driven spiral into cosmic despair. It just so happens that the approach to mental disintegration taken for unrelated reasons in Cthulhu Confidential fits that goal swimmingly.
Or at least I think it does. Everything’s up for grabs when theory meets play table.
And presumably problems I have yet to discover will call out for new solutions, which one of the Pelgranistas can later slot into a new need, as yet undreamt of.
Cthulhu City is written, if not finished, and the final book is overstuffed with Mythos gribbles and haunted architecture. There are so many cults and sorcerers lurking in there, not to mention weird Yithian machines, that I had to remove certain blasphemous tomes and cryptic relics to the virtual pages of page XX. Consider these a taster of horrors of come.
The Upton Papers
Physical Description: A hand-written diary, coupled with several folders of official documents bound in red ribbon. The papers may be found in a patent-leather briefcase that might even show signs of water damage.
Supposed History: These papers belonged to the late Francis Upton, the previous Mayor of Great Arkham. Upton died when his car plunged off the Garrison Street bridge into the Miskatonic river, and these papers were presumably lost with him. However, if someone recovered them from the water, or snatched them from the car before it mysteriously swerved, then Upton’s secrets might have survived his death…
Major Item: If genuine, the Upton Papers contain Francis Upton’s notes and personal observations about the city council and the secret rulers of Great Arkham. If Upton was, as he claimed to be, a reformer and enemy of corruption, then the papers document the activities of the Church of the Conciliator and the Necromantic Cabal in reasserting control of the city council after the fall of the Gilman House regime in 1925. Upton names several councillors and key figures as servants of the Mythos. If Upton trusted Federal Agent Vorsht, then the last paper is a letter to Vorsht asking for a full investigation of the city council. Combine this letter with Cop Talk or Bureaucracy to gain Vorsht as an ally.
Alternatively, if Upton was actually a cultist himself, then the papers shed new light on his death. Was he the victim of some internal feud within the cult? Did Vorsht or the Armitage Inquiry assassinate Upton? Or was his supposed death in the icy waters of the river merely a step towards some other mode of existence?
In either case, reading the Papers gives +1 Cthulhu Mythos and +1 Sentinel Hill Knowledge at the cost of a 3-point Stability Loss. Readers may also have recurring dreams of Upton’s death, which leave a lingering feeling of culpability after waking.
Minor Item: The papers are genuine, but there’s no sign of Upton’s diary. The documents in the folder all relate to a property deal involving several of the councillors, perhaps related the Olmstead Dam, the Dig in Salamander Fields, or the expansion of the city west into Billington’s Woods. Law detects irregularities in the documents; someone was covering up the true purpose of the property development.
Fraudulent: The papers are forgeries, as Craft can determine. They contain damning accusations about the private affairs of one of the councillors, like Arthur Diamond or Elanor Brack. Put these papers into the hands of an unscrupulous yellow newshawk from Newspaper Row, and they could do serious damage – even after death, Mayor Upton’s word counts for a great deal in Arkham.
The Ashpool Plates
Type: A series of twelve photographs taken by scandalous avant-garde photographer Edith Ashpool of Kingsport.
Physical Description: The first photographs in the series show Kingsport Harbour, and appear to have been taken from the deck of a yacht or other small vessel. A man, naked except for an ornate mask, stands by the railing in the foreground of each of the photographs, framing the background with his gestures. He waves goodbye in the early photos, points at elements of interests in others.
Other photographs show seascapes and coastlines around the north coast, near Kingsport Lighthouse. Several humanoid figures can be seen on the rocks at the foot of the cliffs, climbing in and out of the water. The later pictures in the series show a bizarre shoreline on some alien sea, with two moons clearly visible in the sky. The final picture appears to depict the yacht approaching a jetty of carved stone, where another figure wearing some sort of elaborate headdress awaits the boat’s arrival.
Supposed History: Ashpool claimed to have taken the photographs from the deck of the Hecate, a yacht owned by Ashpool’s rumoured lover Sauducismis “Saul” Waite, a cousin of former mayor Ephraim Waite. She exhibited the photographs in a small gallery in Kingsport; Art History or Kingsport District Knowledge recalls stories that there was a second, ‘inner’ set of photographs that could only be viewed on payment of an unspecified fee.
The police raided the Gallery two days after it opened; initially, they claimed that several gallery patrons including Ashpool had shown symptoms of typhoid and so the gallery had to be closed as a public health hazard. Later, it was made known that the ‘inner’ exhibition contained degrading and illegal pornographic images.
Major Item: The Ashpool Plates are a form of magical communication. Looking at the photographs in sequence, ideally while using a mind-expanding drug, puts the observer into a trance in which there is a psychic overlap between the observer and the masked man. Without the second set of photographs, the communication is one-way: the user is aware of another presence in the psychic landscape (presumably, whatever entity is represented by the figure wearing a headdress) and can “send” but not “receive” thoughts. The Ashpool Plates can be used to call for aid from whatever that entity is, and such entreaties will receive a response.
Of course, wise investigators may wish to know what they’re dealing with before entering into supernatural bargains. Ashpool is still in police custody in Fort Hutchison, but Saul Waite’s family connections protected him from any repercussions. The investigators could also try identifying the naked man, who clearly isn’t Saul.
Minor Item: A Cthulhu Mythos, Occult or Magic spend confirms that the photographs document the performance of a magical ritual. Replicating the gestures made by the masked man while following the course of the Hecate opens a sea-gate off the shore of Kingsport.
Fraudulent: The later photographs were faked in a special-effects shop at AKLO Pictures, one of Great Arkham’s movie studios. Ashpool was employed as a designer on an upcoming movie, but while on set, she managed to convince a vulnerable young starlet to pose for a series of compromising photographs. To protect their investment in the actress, studio bosses bribed the police to shut Ashpool down.
Wonders of the Invisible City
Physical Description: 110 pages, cheaply bound and badly typeset. Printed in 1862. This is a second-hand copy; according to the flyleaf, it was owned at some point by a “M. Daniels” – perhaps Milton Daniels, the Union Boss?
Supposed History: Wonders of the Invisible City is a printed transcript of a series of sermons or lectures that were allegedly given by Reverend Shrewsbury, a pastor who lived in Arkham in the 1740s and 1750s. While there is plenty of evidence to attest that Shrewsbury quarrelled with Joseph Curwen and other merchants and civic leaders, and even spoke out against their “Godless ways” from the pulpit, there is no proof that this book contains an accurate transcript of Shrewsbury’s words.
Major Item: The book contains a litany of accusations against the founders of Arkham, mentioning Curwen, Orne and Hutchinson by name, but also insinuating that several other families were in league with devils. It describes “certaine works” that were carried out in the dead of night by Curwen and his allies; Architecture or Astronomy guesses that the description is of a detailed survey of the land around Arkham, focusing on key magical sites like the Wooded Isle, Sump Marsh and the Chinese Garden.
The book also describes Shrewsbury’s encounters with strange “travellers” who revealed to him a “vision of a monstrous Pandemonium-to-come”. The description in the text of the mannerisms of these stranger is eerily close to those of the player characters – is some cross-temporal encounter with Reverend Shrewsbury in their future? Handwritten marginal notes in this section appear to be written in code, and might contain a spell or instructions for achieving such a prodigy.
Minor Item: The book is less specific about the misdeeds of Arkham’s founders, but a close reading with Archaelogy or History can reveal the precise location of Curwen’s missing farm in Salamander Fields. Marginal notes suggest that a previous owner of this book came to the same conclusion and may even have carried out a search for the buried ruins.
Fraudulent: Occult or History confirms that most of the text is copied from Philip’s Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New England Canaan, and has little new information of relevance.
If you are interested any of these games, please email us with the game you wish to playtest in the subject line.
Title: One For the Money
System: GUMSHOE One-2-One
Author: Chris Spivey
Deadline: 31st January
Number of sessions: 1-2
Rhino Jones needs a solid. Has hell frozen over? Can Langston Wright get to the bottom of this before he and his new partner are devoured by what man was not meant to know? The clock is running and dozens of lives and sanity are at stake as America’s new superweapon is in the hands of its enemies.
Title: The Howling Fog
System: GUMSHOE One-2-One
Author: Ruth Tillman
Deadline: 31st January
Number of sessions: 1-2
Vivian Sinclair investigates strange and apparently supernatural elements in a turf war between New York City’s Italian and Irish mobs. She moves through sleazy clip joints and the famous Cotton Club, brushing elbows with “hostesses,” chorus girls, and chanteuses, only to come face-to-face to with the terrifying secret of a dead Irish hitman, and how others use it to kill at a distance.
The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring the pre-order for Cthulhu Confidential, a comparison of GUMSHOE One-2-One vs regular GUMSHOE, an update to our non-US and Canada pricing situation post-Brexit, and a Long Con-format set of Dracula Dossier convention sessions. Plus, we’re looking for a Production Assistant to help out in the new year. It’s all in this month’s See Page XX!