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!
We’re currently recruiting for a part-time temporary Production Assistant to perform a range of administrative and editorial tasks necessary to the production of our roleplaying game books. The position is intended for a remote worker, and may involve travel to conventions, some overnight stays and weekend work where necessary. Pelgrane Press is committed to building a culturally diverse company and strongly encourages applications from female and minority candidates.
The Production Assistant will assist the Managing Directors with a number of tasks, including administrative, marketing, project management and editorial support, to ensure the smooth running of the company.
They’ll be responsible for managing relationships with key licensees and third-party publishers in the gaming industries, monitoring potential publishing opportunities in these areas, and for the scheduling, budgeting and quality control of key titles.
They’ll often be involved in projects from conception to completion, so this is an ideal opportunity for someone who is energized by the variety that comes with working for smaller companies, and who thrives on those all-hands-on-deck moments as we continue to grow our business.
The successful candidate will have outstanding organisational and project management abilities, and strong written and verbal communication skills. A solid grasp of Word and Photoshop is essential, as is the ability to use Excel. Experience writing and editing copy and social media content is desirable. Knowledge of InDesign and experience of publishing is useful, though not vital. The most important traits you must have are:
- a passion for roleplaying games
- excellent organisational skills
- the ability to set priorities under pressure
- a strong desire to learn
The position is for an initial three-month contract, with the possibility of an extension for the right candidate. The position is 20 hours per week, and the salary is US$300 per week. The position doesn’t include health insurance, so if your country of residence doesn’t have universal health care, you will need to have your own health care provision.
The full job spec is here.
To apply, please send a covering letter via email with your CV attached as a PDF, including links to previous writing or visual content online, to Cat Tobin before December 31st 2016. No agencies. please.
This is an update on the effect of the UK’s referendum in which the majority of voters (52%) voted to advise parliament to leave the European Union.
The short version
Because of a steady new lower exchange rate between the UK pounds Sterling and the US dollar, we will be increasing our mail order prices to non-US customers in January by approximately 15-20%. Now is a very good time for customers in the UK, EU and the rest of the world outside the US and Canada to buy our products. This month’s new releases are at the correct price already.
Pelgrane Press Price Adjustments – the Full Version
Now the full version.
The markets appear to have factored in Brexit by devaluing the UK’s currency. Our costs of production and are in dollars, and our books are denominated with dollar retail prices. Pelgrane Press is an unusual position in that most of our sales and our costs are are in the States and are denominated in dollars, and were are in effect importing our own goods to sell in the UK. Our webstore still uses an exchange rate from happier, fluffier times, so our UK pound prices are very low. As well as this affecting our margins, these prices are also unfair on non-US retailers, who buy our books at the current exchange rate and mark the retail price accordingly.
For example, let’s say that Esdevium Games (the UK’s mains distributor) bought a copy of our epic Trail of Cthulhu campaign Eternal Lies in January 2016. The US retail price for that book is $50, which was £35.42 at the time. Esdevium Games get a 60% discount from retail, and so at that stage, it would have cost them $20 -£13.88. Then they sold the book to retailer Leisure Games at 40% off the retail price. Leisure Games then sold at the retail price to make their margin.
If Esdevium bought the same book today it would cost them £16, and the retail price to maintain margin is £40.42 – an increase of 14%. Currently the price on Leisure Games website is £38.99. The price on our website is £32.95 – based on the exchange rate at the time. So, as you can see we would need to increase our price by about 18% for parity.
Another way to look at it is this. We pay most of our writers and other freelancers in dollars. When we sell our books in pounds we have fewer dollars to pay our freelancers.
Our non-US sales have always made us lower margin, because of the price of shipping from the US to our UK warehouse, but as an outward-looking international company, we’ve always considered that a price to pay for a wider audience.
For these reasons, then from January our non-US prices will be adjust to match the new exchange rate – an increase of around 15% – 20%.
What this does mean is that until January, all our books will still be at the lower price.
We hope you understand why we have made this choice, and continue to support our lines – and if you want to get the books before the increase, visit the store!
a column about roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
The release date for Cthulhu Confidential, flagship product of the GUMSHOE One-2-One game, creeps up on us daily. For International Pelgrane Day, I ran its intro scenario for gamer and science TV presenter Marty Jopson, which you can check out here.
This mystery features one of our three starting characters, hardboiled L.A. detective Dex Raymond. “The Fathomless Sleep” delves into the case of a young heiress whose memory has been stolen, sending Dex on a collision course with cultists, gangsters, and maybe even a screenwriter or two. The video spoils the scenario from top to toe, so leave it unwatched if you want someone to run it for you at some point.
With our without a look at the actual play video, a basic tour of the differences between One-2-One and good old regular GUMSHOE would seem to be in order.
To start with the obvious, this version of the game facilitates play between one GM and one player. Though it works quite well on an online platform like Skype or Roll20/Google Hangouts, it’s also perfectly suited for in-person play.
One-2-One play unfolds in a much more intense and focused way than multiplayer. Here you get no breaks to kibitz, drift off topic, or confer with fellow players.
This results in an experience that feels much more than a mystery novel than the delightful chaos of a collaborative group game.
However, being onstage throughout can be daunting. The book’s play advice prepares the GM to help the player deal with the format’s pressure and demand for concentration.
The GM also contributes more than in multiplayer. Without the inter-player banter, planning and problem-solving, you have less time to do the mental vamping required to improv your way around surprises while delivering a coherent mystery.
This dynamic calls for tightly written scenarios you can rely on to deliver the goods.
It also allows us to take advantage of an angle normally denied to adventure writers—they’re tuned to specific characters. In Cthulhu Confidential, these are whip-smart journalist Viv Sinclair and indefatigable scientist Langston Wright, along with the aforementioned Dex Raymond. Viv, written by Ruth Tillman, gets the scoop in mythos-haunted NYC, while Chris Spivey’s Langston moves the timeline a bit forward to overcome the added twists of solving Lovecraftian mysteries as a black man in wartime Washington DC.
Early in each intro adventure, the player gets the chance to customize the character, building on what the authors provide to create a distinct, personalized take—just as Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe differs from Dick Powell’s, Robert Mitchum’s, or Elliott Gould’s.
You start this process by picking one of four possible starting Problems, represented by cards. Your Dex could be broke, lonely, tempted by various vices, or subject to a fatal curiosity. In the course of play, you might get the chance to dispose of that Problem card—perhaps at a steep price, perhaps as a reward. However you’ll also likely pick up other Problem cards which, if not neutralized during the story, lead you to a dire fate during the case’s denouement.
This mechanism becomes necessary because with a single character, the possibility of death has to be handled differently than in multiplayer. It’s derailing enough in standard play when a key PC bites the dust. At least other characters remain to carry on the story while the affected player lurches for the blank character sheet. Here you can still die or wind up forever mentally incapacitated, but that happens only at the end of the scenario. That run-in with a knife-wielding numbers runner might leave you with a Problem card called Stabbed, whose text specifies that you die during the story’s coda if you still have it in hand. Stopping to take actions that justify the discard of a Problem card has its own cost, but it’s better than pushing up daisies.
This mechanism replaces the Health and Stability points from standard GUMSHOE. Neither physical injuries nor traumas measure themselves as a declining point total.
Life with only Problems would be a little too tough even for gumshoes willing to go up against Deep Ones and Mi-Go. Hence, Edge cards, which either convey an ongoing benefit, or can be cashed in for a one-time advantage. Some of them let you dispose of Problem cards, which you might be especially grateful for if they bear the Continuity tag, meaning they would otherwise keep dogging you in future cases.
Edge and Problem cards arrive in your hand via Challenges, One-2-One’s equivalent of the test. Instead of general ability pools, you have either one or two dice in the abilities like Fighting and Shadowing that accomplish tasks other than information gathering. Challenges typically have three possible results, giving you either an Advance, Hold, or Setback. Advances not only move you further into the story but also often grant some other benefit—generally an Edge card. Setbacks worsen whatever trouble you’re in, often in the form of a Problem card. In most cases you can gain an extra die by taking on an additional Problem card. So to get over that fence you might take on, say, the “Pulled Muscle” Problem card, which levels a penalty in upcoming situations.
Ability pools in standard GUMSHOE help divide spotlight time between players. In One-2-One, the spotlight’s all on you, so that mechanism isn’t needed.
Still, you might want to gain an additional, non-informational benefit from investigative abilities every now and then, so your character starts with three Pushes. You can use these as you would standard GUMSHOE spends. Whenever you gain an Advance on a Challenge with one of your permitted dice unrolled, you gain an additional Push.
It makes no sense for a noir detective to have mastered every field of inquiry. But that doesn’t stop you from gathering clues outside your specialties. In those cases you seek out one of your Sources, reliably helpful and friendly NPC contacts who perform lab tests, serve up obscure historical facts, or hip you to the ancient traditions of the occult.
Once you get used to these changes, they fade into the background, keeping the focus on the complex web of clues you must untangle before the cosmic indifference of the Mythos and the human corruption of noir combine to destroy you, your clients, and the city whose mean streets you both love and hate.
We’re just back from Dragonmeet, the biggest RPG-focused convention in the UK, where we had a great day catching up with customers and colleagues alike. One of the most exciting things to happen there was selling out of our limited preview editions of Cthulhu Confidential by 14:00. The first product for our new GUMSHOE One-2-One system is available to pre-order in our webstore now, so you can pick up the pre-order and get the PDF for your favourite One for Christmas – or, if they’re resolutely a non-roleplayer, you can get a 30% discount off all Stone Skin Press anthologies with this month’s bookshelf offer.
Out in PDF format this month are time-travel GUMSHOE adventure TimeWatch RPG, and its two supplements, Behind Enemy Times and The Book of Changing Years. We’ve also got the latest 13th Age Monthly, November’s Further Alarums: Downtime for Seven Icons, available now.
Resource Page Updates
See Page XX Poll
The year nears its end, and it’s been a year, filled with non-Pelgrane-related turmoil, festooned with awards and topped off with Kickstarter fulfilment ! Now, with the Dragonmeet behind us, we move on to a belated See Page XX.
After hundreds of playtests, the polishing and honing of the manuscript and a whole new look designed for this range, our first two-player game, Cthulhu Confidential, is available on pre-order as the Case Notes edition. The TimeWatch RPG and its supplements are available in PDF for, and in a bundle. We release the next issue of 13th Age Monthly.
UK Prices held until January
Our costs of production are in dollars, and our books have dollar retail prices. The fluctuations in currency mean that, from January our non-US prices will be adjusted to match the new exchange rate – an increase of around 15% – 20%. Today’s new releases are at the correct exchange rate.
What this does mean is that until January, all our other books will still be at a lower price. So buy books from the store now to avoid the increase!
I’ve written a more detailed article on the economics of this here.
Cthulhu Confidential – The Case Notes Edition
It’s easy to find one player to play with, and it’s easy to introduce a friend or loved one to roleplaying in a two-player game. That’s why we devised GUMSHOE One-2-One. It’s designed to be especially easy for players new to roleplaying to play. We are proud and excited to present a beautiful and stylish book, with three very different protagonists.Cthulhu Confidential in on pre-order today as the Case Notes edition, and for a limited time, includes a playable plain-text version of the first extra Dex Raymond adventure The House Up in the Hills.
At Dragonmeet, we discussed a number of ideas for new GUMSHOE One-2-One games – let us know what kinds of protagonists you’d like to see in the comments.
Chris Spivey and Ruth Tillman are working on new adventures for their protagonists, which are likely to be in playtest next month _ Robin has completed his three.
Dragonmeet is one-day convention based in London. The convention has been passed like a baton between UK-based roleplaying company owners and volunteers, from its refounding in 2000 by James Wallis and others, then to Pelgrane and ProFantasy, then on to Cubicle 7, and now Modiphius. It is a great deal of fun, and a chance to catch up with UK-based fans and those from farther afield (bonjour, Jean-Christophe!). It’s also the occasion aside from Gen Con when the Pelgrane clan gets to gather together to play a game, have chats and a strategic meeting. Sadly Cat Tobin was not well on the day, but will soon be fully recovered. This year’s game was a playtest of the Yellow King, Robin D Laws new GUMSHOE based-game which we will be Kickstarted in April. The new venue is spacious, with wide aisles and gamers were able to move freely. We entirely sold out of the Dragonmeet version of Cthulhu Confidential by half way through the day and the Pelgrane seminar and Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff live were packed. Our sales there were higher than they have ever been at Dragonmeet. The volunteers coped admirably with a rather complex delivery set up and kept their cool. I look forward to next year, this time with Cat at the helm!
Next year, Rob will become much more involved in the direct production of 13th Age, delivering final print-ready files.
Rob Heinsoo has been working away at the Bestiary 2, commissioning art and writing simultaneously to speed up the process. We are using this project as an opportunity to try out new writers and artists so supplement our stalwarts.
Shards of the Broken Sky has an intimidating amount of cartography to deal with, and we are still contemplating how that might be done.
Rob has been working on the Demonist character class which is the main barrier to getting the Book of Demons out.
Fall of Delta Green
Ken’s manuscript has hit 84000 words, and we’ve done an internal playtest. Next month should see a playtest release.
Logo No Go
It is with great sadness I announce the departure of our first logo. She has served us well for many years, but freelancers have been sneering about her behind their hands for a long time, and Cat and I reluctantly decided to say farewell. Fly free, tiny Pelgrane!
Doing the Reading
The three Agents meet in an inn. Well, a country pub – the Suicide’s Rest, just outside Whitby, where Hopkins has arranged to meet them. As soon as they arrive in town, they can tell something’s wrong. There’s a bad energy in the air (Streetwise); too many spooky figures lurking in alleyways, too many cars with tinted windows.
While they’re in the pub, two black cars zoom past, speeding down narrow winding country roads at high speed. Moments later, they get a text from Hopkins, reading “HEATHER C”. Baptiste heads out to watch the black cars through a telephoto lens; Elgin and McAllister discover that Heather C likely refers to Heather Cottage, a nearby holiday home for rent. They go there; it’s empty, with one car parked outside and signs that another recently left. Inside, they find clues that two people were staying there, although it could sleep as many as eight. A man and a woman. Oddly, there are three cups on the draining board – two coffee, one tea.
Also, there’s a suitcase full of weapons-shaped Preparedness.
Also, a mysterious folder.
Inside, they find
- A map of London (Hawkins Papers 03)
- Sundry other mysterious documents that attested to the validity of UNREDACTED
- A battered iphone. Cracking the lock, they discovered it contained some photographs of documents (including Hawkins Papers 28) and old photos, as well as emails between Hopkins and someone who called himself JACKMAN
- a copy of DRACULA UNREDACTED, covered in post-its. On the cover is a post-it reading “IF WE’RE NOT BACK BY DUSK, TAKE THIS AND RUN”.
Meanwhile, from his vantage point on the clifftop, Baptiste sees a man being chased across the rocks below, pursued by two figures that he guesses are special forces types (Proserpine ratings). A mist descends across the cove, and when it vanishes, the first man’s lying in the water, dead. He’s dropped a bundle of documents, which are now bobbing in the tide.
More people arrive, notably a pair who seem to be in charge: an older man and a younger woman (OAKES and HOUND, Dukes of Edom). Local police cordon off the scene, and Hound points the two special forces types in the direction of Heather Cottage. Baptiste warns the other two to exit hastily.
Attempts to phone Hopkins back on the number she texted them from fail; they guess that her phone got snapped in two and dumped in the ocean. Time to run.
The team drive to Durham via back roads and hide in a cheap hotel where they can discuss their options. Going through the documents, they find map co-ordinates pointing at three locations in London (Coldfall House, Hillingham, and Carfax). McTavish also spends a point of Occult Studies (he’s been spending a bunch of time looking into Romanian mythology) to guess that a British occultist and former tv presenter named Osmond Singleton is the author of one of the documents on the phone (Hawkins Papers 28, the “Goetic Org Chart).
Switching cars to avoid pursuit, they decide to head back to Whitby to watch the cleanup, and maybe pick up some of the documents off the rocks. There, they see a fishing trawler being towed to dock; apparently, the whole crew were asphyxiated by a carbon monoxide leak from the engine. It had four crew members, but five shrouded bodies are removed, and they spot one of them being put in a different vehicle from the rest. They also learn that Edom have planted a cover story that “Hopkins” murdered “Jackman” by pushing him off the cliff in a lover’s quarrel.
Hound and Oakes and some of the Edom crew head west; the police, news crews and other “official” elements head to the Middlesborough (the nearest city), and the vehicle containing the fifth ‘body’ (who the Agents correctly suspect to be Hopkins, alive or dead), drives north towards Edinburgh. The team plant a tracking device and follow…
Preparing the Dossier: The Dossier is barely digestible in a long-running campaign; here, although two players had read part of it, I still wanted to give them a little more focus and structure. Pre-chew it a little, maybe, although that metaphor got very weird there. Hence, the invention of a fourth annotator, Jackman (we’re out of good Van Helsing actors), whose bright post-its pointed the investigators towards key clues like Hillingham.
Other clues in the folder were there mostly for flavour; I was confident that I could improvise around any unexpected lines of inquiry, but doubted they’d, say, start digging into Bram Stoker’s biography while on the run from Edom. Throughout the campaign, I kept the Heat up on the players; they started out hiding from the state, and never had much of a chance to rest. A longer campaign has time for respites and side treks, but a longcon game needs to be a five or six-act thriller.
The phone was a nicely flavourful way of presenting some extra handouts. I just used an old iphone that was lying in a junk drawer, wiped it, photographed some more Hawkins papers, and stuffed some notes in to look like copied emails. (I also changed the time zone to Bucharest.) The cracked screen lent added verisimilitude.
Preparing the Campaign: I planned the opening set-piece (players find the cottage while Jackman dies on the beach), and I knew I wanted Hopkins to get captured and whisked off to HMS Proserpine (DH, p. XX). I also knew that Hopkins was working with Oakes, and that Edom had been compromised in the ’77 mole hunt and were now trying to bring Dracula back to England. I knew that Edom’s primary vampire was the Feral Child Vampire (DH, p. 191), now codenamed CALIBAN.
I had an idea for a different take on vampires, and especially on Lucy Westenra and the telluric elements of the story, but I wasn’t completely sure if they’d play into the game. I was determined to trust the system and improvise!
For each subsequent session, I sketched out two or three likely incidents in the hour break between games, so I’d have something to throw in if the players were stuck.
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