It’s October, and my social media feeds have turned into an endless display of pumpkins, interspersed with occasional #Inktober images from some of Pelgrane’s talented artists. There’s little sign of Hallowe’en-related activity on there yet, which is disappointing. Hallowe’en is my second-favourite holiday (after St. Patrick’s Day, of course), and I’m looking forward to the all the DIY “ghost” and “vampire” videos of the season.

Here in the Nest, our company accountants have been getting into the spirit of it, horrifying me with tales of official deadlines, so getting them the figures they need before they kill me has taken up most of my time this month.

NEW! Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos

One of the first things I worked on at Pelgrane was Ken Hite’s then-new “Ken Writes About Stuff” subscription, which taught me everything I know about layout, die Glocke, and the Starry Wisdom sect. There’s an incredible wealth of information in those three collections, and we’ve wanted to bring that knowledge to a wider audience since we reluctantly finished the last series.

Enter Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos, on pre-order now just in time for Hallowe’en. This 352-page hardback book collects the original fifteen Hideous Creatures, rounds out the nine Foul Congeries sketches into full Hideous Creature write-ups, and adds seven new horrible beasts to the collection. The original Hideous Creatures have been scrubbed up in parts, with some having new art and adventure seeds, and all 31 – 31!! – creatures have been given brand new in-world documents by the brilliant Dean Engelhardt (of Dracula Dossier: Hawkins Papers fame).

To thank those of you who helped make this fantastic bestiary happen, we’ve emailed a voucher code for a discount to all KWAS subscribers – contact us at our support address if you haven’t got it!

Now in PDF!

We release PDFs of new products three months after publication, so we’ve got The Fall of DELTA GREEN (one of Geek & Sundry’s best Table Top Games of 2018 so far). and the PDF of the Book of Demons available now.

13th Age

In 13th Age news, the Loot Harder and Book of Ages books have finally arrived with our US shipper; we’ve passed on the details of the pre-orders, and those should start shipping this week. We’ve also released the pre-orders of 13th Age Glorantha, and our colleagues at Chaosium have released this to stores now.

The good people over at the Iconic Podcast interviewed me a few weeks ago. You can listen to it here. I mentioned in that interview that work is continuing on Shards of the Broken Sky; Rob is polishing off the text, Simon is commissioning the cartography, and I’m commissioning the art. It’s been a long process to get to this point, but we’re finally into the home straight on it, and that’ll be our next 13th Age release. Here’s one of Rich Longmore’s finished pieces, a tower collapse, for it.

Rob’s also working on a book called Icon Followers, which will be similar to the 13th Age Bestiary, but for NPCs and organizations devoted to the icons. Rob’s commissioned a couple of authors to work on this, and will be heavily involved in the development of it himself.

We’re also looking at another few 13th Age pitches; Simon and Gareth are both keen to do another epic campaign, with a working title of “Dragons of the Pyre”. Your One Unique Thing is that you have the soul of a dragon, and you invent the unique dragon. We’ve also been pitched “Gangs of Drakkenhall”, a short book of street level gang fun in the Blue’s bloody city of monsters, which we liked the sound of.

Other Works In Progress

Speaking of October and all things spooky, The Persephone Extraction is, I believe, cursed, continuing on the fine tradition of the Conspiracy not wanting us to release Night’s Black Agents campaign information. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears, it’s now a Table of Contents and cover away from completion.

Even Death Can Die, a collection of three adventures each for the three Cthulhu Confidential protagonist characters, is in layout, and should be ready for pre-order next month. The rough layout is suggesting the hardback book will be somewhere in the region of 360 pages.

And this month sees more details of the long-rumoured GUMSHOE swords & sorcery fantasy game, Swords of the Serpentine. This is being written by Kevin Kulp and Emily Dresner, and allows you to track down foul sorcerers in a corrupt and decadent city (inspired by Lankhmar and Ankh-Morpork), clamber through underground ruins to sneak into an enemy’s home and rob them blind, or wage a secret war against a rival political faction. Jérôme Huguenin is very excited about it, and delightedly working on a cover for it.

Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is out with a number of playtesting groups at the moment, and initial feedback suggests that the changes we’ve made to it are being well received.

A funny thing happens over time with an RPG that you’ve designed: your opinions can change. As you play it, and as new designers bring fresh perspectives and approaches to the table, you discover some unexpected things that work really well, and some things that…could be better.

With that in mind, here are  two do’s and a don’t for 13th Age that I’ve learned recently—two from playing the game with my home group, and one that surfaced during the design stage for Book of Ages.

Do. . .

. . . use the improvement to the incremental advance rules that we came up with while working on 13th Age Glorantha (page 74), limiting the choice of a new class power or spell to one per level when choosing incremental advances.

The new rule is simpler and avoids a couple thorny corner-cases I’d rather not go into. It’s also fun and dramatically proper to save some of the new-power goodness for when your character levels up.

Don’t . . . .

. . . pay attention to the way that Jonathan and I actually chose our own characters’ backgrounds in our home campaign. Please don’t. I beg you.

We wrote some good advice in Chapter 2 of 13th Age about avoiding overly broad backgrounds that demonstrate your desire to control . . . . well . . . . everything. But in the most recent session of our group’s current Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, Jonathan’s cleric/spirit-talker and my monk both ended up making skill checks using lesser backgrounds that hadn’t surfaced much before. Our problem was that we hadn’t phrased them as ‘lesser,’ and when we had to say them out loud, side-by-side, we made quite a pair. Jonathan’s spirit-talker’s background is physical agent and my monk’s 2-point background is as a metaphysical artist. Oh dear. That about covers reality, then. Cue hooting and hollering and laughter as we faced our sin together.

Do . . . .

. . . look to Book of Ages for hints on how we’ll be handling races in the future.

I’ve often been a stick-in-the-mud about adding new races. But Paul Fanning has been doing more and more development work on the 13th Age line, and when I talked with him about my plans to cut most of the races out of Gareth’s wonderful book, Paul made a persuasive case for keeping many of the races in. We developed the mechanics together, and I wrote a paragraph on the option of using new ‘races’ as interesting One Unique Things (page 24). Book of Ages is one of my favorite 13th Age creations, mostly thanks to Gareth, of course, but Paul’s help with the new races also makes me happy. There’ll be more such shifts in approach in future books.

Random Case Generator

If you’re stuck for inspiration in your Mutant City Blues campaigns, take this random case generator for a spin. Just roll a d6 on the tables as directed. (Note that some of the investigative abilities mentioned are from the upcoming 2nd edition of the game, which you can playtest until 30 September 2018).

Inciting Incident

How do the characters discover the crime took place?

  1. Reported by victim (or by whoever discovered the body, in the case of a murder)
  2. Handed off from another section (HCIU gets mutant-connected crimes)
  3. Reported by ordinary (probably uninvolved) citizen
  4. Reported by intelligence gathering (tip-off, wiretap, ongoing surveillance)
  5. Reported by family member or co-worker
  6. Public incident

Nature of the Crime

What happened?

  1. Assault
  2. Burglary
  3. Fraud
  4. Murder
  5. Criminal Activity (drug dealing, organised crime, etc)
  6. Minor complaint (graffiti, noise, domestic disturbance – roll again to find the actual major crime discovered in the course of the first scene. For example, uniformed cops are called in to intercede in a bar brawl, and they discover a kidnapped mutant child chained up in the basement…)

Milieu

What sort of environment or social class is involved?

  1. Wealthy
  2. Middle-Class
  3. Poor
  4. Institution (corporation, university, military)
  5. Mutant (mutant-centric groups or factions play a key role in the case)
  6. Liminal – roll again twice. The case involves the borderland or interplay between the two circles. For example, a Wealthy/Poor crossover might involve the body of a wealthy socialite showing up in the alleyway behind a tenement in the most dangerous part of town; a Mutant/Middle-Class crossover might involve a children’s entertainer who uses her Gravity Control powers for kids’ birthday parties.

If you roll Liminal a second time, assume it just indicates an obvious mutant presence, not necessarily connected to mutant politics or factions.

Location

Where did the crime take place?

  1. Domestic
  2. Office or workplace
  3. Industrial (factory, docks, storage facility etc)
  4. Street
  5. Other (rural, park, public building, subway etc)
  6. Unusual – roll again, but it’s somewhere odd. On the roof of an office building, in the fallout shelter dug beneath a domestic house, in the sewers under a factory…

Initial Suspects

How many potential suspects are there?

  1. One
  2. Two
  3. Three
  4. Group (“everyone in the office building” – the players can quickly narrow this down through investigation)
  5. None (the players have to do some investigating before they can identify any potential suspects)
  6. One, but that initial suspect is a red herring/framed/killed by the real perp during the adventure. 

Motive

The motive of the perpetrator or any suspects. The players may not figure this out until the end of the investigation.

  1. Greed
  2. Self-Defence (or desperation)
  3. Passion
  4. Blackmail (roll again for the motive of the blackmailer)
  5. Revenge
  6. Ideology

 Complications

What factors – unrelated to the case at hand – affect the game?

  1. Mean Streets.There’s an unusually high level of violent criminal activity on the streets right now; the characters are likely to run into violent groups (pro- or anti-mutant) or encounter people affected by this outbreak of conflict.
  2. Emotional Entanglement. One of the player characters has an unexpected connection to the case; maybe a family member is involved, or they know one of the suspects or victims socially, or they’re attracted to a witness or suspect.
  3. Bad Weather.The city’s struck by an unusual weather event – a torrential downpour leading to flooding, a crippling snowstorm, a summer-long heat wave, a widespread power cut.
  4. Due to budget cuts, a crime wave, sickness or some other problem, the police department is terribly understaffed right now. Don’t bother calling for backup unless you’re being shot at, and don’t expect the labs to get anything done quickly.
  5. Jurisdictional Complication.The case was reassigned to Heightened Crimes from another section, and you’ve got to work with them to solve the case.
  6. One of the player characters is under Stress that’s unrelated to the case at hand.

Clues

Decide on how many investigative scenes you want, and roll up at least one Core clue per scene.

1-2 Roll on the Academic subtable

3-4 Roll on the Interpersonal subtable

5-6 Roll on the Technical subtable

Academic Subtable

  1. Object (Archaeology, Art History)
  2. Background Knowledge (Criminology, Law, Popular Culture)
  3. Cultural Cues (Anthropology, Forensic Psychology, Languages)
  4. Crime Scene (Architecture, Archaeology, Natural History)

5-6. Document Discovery (Forensic Accounting, Research)

Interpersonal Subtable

  1. Questioning Suspects (Interrogation, Intimidation, Reassurance)
  2. Questioning Witnesses (Community Relations, Reassurance, Interrogation)
  3. Questioning Informants (Intimidation, Streetwise, Negotiation)
  4. Lucky Break (Charm, Streetwise, Impersonate)
  5. Pulling Strings (Bureaucracy, Cop Talk)
  6. Hunch (Bullshit Detector, Influence Detection)

Technical Subtable

  1. Digital (Cryptography, Data Retrieval)
  2. Forensic (Fingerprinting, Forensic Anthropology)
  3. Surveillance (Electronic Surveillance, Photography, Traffic Analysis)
  4. Crime Scene (Ballistics, Evidence Collection, Explosive Devices)
  5. Mutant (Anamorphology, Energy Residue Analysis)
  6. Lab Analysis (Chemistry, Document Analysis, Pharmacy)

 Obstacles

What might stop the players from solving the crime?

  1. Destruction of Evidence.One of the suspects (not necessarily the guilty party) tries to destroy or conceal evidence. Arson? Hiding documents? Dumping the murder weapon? Hiding ill-gotten goods? The characters need to find another lead to investigate, or locate/reconstruct the stolen/destroyed evidence.
  2. Missing Witness.A key witness either goes missing (scared? Bribed?) or is unwilling to co-operate with the police. The characters need to find this witness and convince them to talk (possibly involving a leveraged clue).
  3. Explosive Situation.This case requires a delicate touch – there’s considerable interest in the case from the media or some special interest group.
  4. Ulterior Motive.One of the suspects or witnesses has a secret reason for being involved in the case, not necessary related to the crime under investigation. An affair, another criminal scheme, a dark secret of some sort.
  5. Emotional Resonance. This case brings up difficult emotions for one of the investigators, possibly triggering a Genetic Risk Factor or other stress crisis.
  6. Political Interference. Some powerful interest – City Hall, a big corporation, an influential public figure – is indirectly implicated in the case, and wants to ensure the police investigation never reaches them.

 Twists

What’s the bigger picture that’s revealed 2/3rds of the way through the game?

  1. Ticking Clock. The initial crime was a trial run or preparation for a larger crime of the same sort. Unless the characters solve the case quickly, the perpetrator will strike again.
  2. It Goes Deeper.The initial crime is a comparatively minor offence, but during their investigation, the player characters discover clues pointing to a larger crime. For example, a stolen car turns out to have a dead body in the trunk.
  3. You Don’t Know Who You’re Dealing With.The suspects are part of a larger criminal organisation or conspiracy. Their crime might be part of the organisations’s larger scheme – or maybe the organisation just wants to cauterise the wound and cut off further investigation.
  4. Something Stranger.Someone involved in the case has a hidden mutant power, and secretly employed it recently.
  5. Cold Case.The initial crime connects to an unsolved mystery or cold case.
  6. The Twist is There’s No Twist.The initial crime is the crime. There’s no deeper mystery here.

 Climactic Scene

How does it end?

  1. Confrontation. The perpetrator must be confronted with proof of their crimes and arrested.
  2. Chase. The perpetrator tries to flee before the police can make an arrest, leading to a car or foot chase.
  3. Shoot-Out. The perpetrator resists arrest.
  4. Clean-Out. The perpetrator tries to cover up any remaining evidence and clear up any loose ends – including witnesses.
  5. Revelation. The climax isn’t solving the crime; it’s dealing with the fallout as the investigation brings uncomfortable truths to light.
  6. Confession. The perpetrator confesses once confronted with sufficient evidence.

 Example: The inciting incident happened in public, and it’s fraud at an institution. It took place in an unusual part of a park or other public space. There’s one potential suspect, and the motive is ideology.

This sounds like some sort of scam or falsified experiment – maybe a researcher claims to have a way to suppress or remove mutant powers, and one of his test subjects committed suicide when his experiments failed.

The complication is Jurisdictional – maybe the parents of the suicide victim don’t want the players investigating her death, and the complaint was made by a friend.

The obstacle is an Ulterior Motive, the Twist is Something Stranger. Climactic scene is a Shoot-out.

The GM decides that she only wants three investigative scenes for a quick one-evening game, and rolls up three core clues.

  • Academic – Document Discovery
  • Technical – Surveillance
  • Interpersonal – Pulling Strings

Putting all that together – the players interview the scientist, he denies everything, but when they get hold of his files, they discover the names of his test subjects – and that one of them recently committed suicide in the park.

Checking security cameras in the park, they discover that there was someone else there that night, but the images aren’t clear enough to identify the other person. It’s only when the PCs use Cop Talk to chat to the security guard that they learn that the victim’s friend was also a mutant.

So – Dr. Vornley in the university claims to be able to suppress mutant abilities. He’s a fraud, but convincing enough to take some people in. The parents of one teenage mutant, Francie Grey, tried to “cure” their daughter. Eden Jones, a friend of Francie’s – also, secretly, a mutant – objected, and tried to persuade her friend to stop taking Vornley’s treatment. When Francie refused, the two girls fought, and Eden accidentally killed her friend. She’s now trying to frame Vornley for Francie’s suicide. She needs a power that might be a plausible murder/suicide weapon – maybe Water Manipulation for drowning, or Induce Fear or Possession.

The adventure breaks down scene-by-scene like this:

Intro: The police receive complaints from the Heightened Information Alliance about a mutant researcher at the university. A young woman, Eden Jones, went to the HIA claiming that her friend killed herself after one of Vornley’s treatments.

The Scammer: Dr. Vornley claims that his treatment is harmless – but checking his files confirms he was treating Francie Grey with his anti-mutation formula.

The Family: Questioning Francie Grey’s family is a dead end – they were horrified when their daughter developed mutant abilities, but now regret their involvement with Vornley after their child’s death.

The Park: Checking surveillance cameras in the park confirms there was someone else with Francie on the day she died. Asking the park security guard connects Eden Jones to Francie’s death.

Confronting Francie: When the players question Eden again, she panics and tries to use her powers to eliminate them.

Possible optional scenes:

  • Vornley goes on the run when he learns about Francie
  • Anti-mutant backers of Vornley’s work try to interfere with the investigation
  • One of the player characters with a troublesome power is tempted to try Vornley’s formula

 


Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Dice imageIf you are interested in playtesting any of these games, please email us with the adventure you wish to playtest in the subject line.

 

 

Title: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

System: GUMSHOE

Author: Robin D. Laws, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Deadline: October 31st

Number of sessions: 2-4

Description:

An expanded and revised version of Mutant City Blues.

Ever since the Sudden Mutation Event, people have been able to fly. Phase through walls. Read minds. Shoot bolts of energy from their fingertips. Walk into dreams.

As members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit, you and your fellow detectives solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. When a mutant power is used to kill, you catch the case. When it’s a mutant victim in the chalk outline, you get the call. And when it comes time for a fight, you deploy your own extraordinary abilities to even the odds.

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Welcome to the latest edition of See Page XX! We’re back in the office after Gen Con and Tabletop Scotland, and cranking the book-making machines back up to full operational speed.

New this month is the PDF of The Fall of DELTA GREEN. Pick up the PDF in September to get a bonus PDF of Las Vegas: 1968, Kenneth Hite’s Sin City in the heyday of Howard Hughes and the Rat Pack. (We’ve also added it to your bookshelf if you’ve picked up the print book).

In 13th Age news, the PDF of the Book of Demons is available now. The Loot Harder and Book of Ages books are being printed, and we’ll be shipping these out to pre-orderers later this month, and we’re waiting to hear back from our colleagues at Chaosium when we can start shipping pre-orders of 13th Age GloranthaAnd after some layout difficulties, The Persephone Extraction is close to completion. We’ll have the final PDF for pre-orderers later this month.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

This is my last View article for a while. Pelgrane Press’s managing director Cat Tobin will be taking over this column, and I’ll be stepping back into an advisory role as I take a year-long sabbatical.

Cat asked me recently – what exactly is a pelgrane anyway? And I thought back to my own introduction to this quirky creature.

When I was twelve, my parents bought me the AD&D DMs Guide and Players Handbook in advance of my birthday. I’d played D&D at school once, which was frustrating but intriguing, and heard older kids from the local boy’s grammar school taking about “casting spells” in a game. I was an SF and fantasy fan, and this was electrifying.

My mother hid the books inadequately in a cupboard, and each night I read them under the covers in bed, absorbing Gary Gygax’s unique prose, and trying to imagine the game that would come out of it. I read every word, including the reading list in the DM”s Guide- some of which I had sampled – but not Jack Vance’s Eyes of the Overworld and the Dying Earth.

Alongside fire-and-forget magic, extravagant gourmandism and peculiar cultural practices were a menagerie of bizzare creatures unique to Vance – often fearsome, sometimes erudite and with a penchant for human flesh.  The one which fired my imagination was the pelgrane, a word both singular and plural, a creature with wings which sounded like rusty hinges, a hatchet beak and learing eyes. There original appearance in the Dying Earth was as an ever-present threat but distant threat, rather than a character, looming in the sky, discouraging travel which was inconvenient to the narrative. The Eyes of the Overworld introduced me to Cugel – the fox-faced vagabond whose presence upends delicately balance social structures – inevitably leading to his swift exit, pursued by a mob.

 It was in Cugel’s Saga that the pelgrane demonstrated the capacity for language and mordant humour. A wizard imprisons Cugel the Clever in a bedroom. Cugel escapes by applying ossip wax his bed to negate its gravity. On the bed he drifts high into the sky and, as night descends, falls into slumber.

“A black shadow fluttered across the sun; a heavy black object swooped down to alight at the foot of Cugel’s bed; a pelgrane of middle years, to judge by the silky gray hair of its globular abdomen. Its head, two feet long, was carved of black horn, like that of a stag-beetle and white fangs curled up past its snout. Perching on the bedstead it regarded Cugel with both avidity and amusement.”

“Today I shall breakfast in bed,” says the pelgrane. “Not often do I so indulge myself.”

Twenty years and hundreds of games later, I’ve acquired a license to publish a roleplaying game based on the Dying Earth and I am speaking to Jack Vance on the phone, hearing the same mordant humour, a child-like chuckle as he shared more of Cugel’s tales. We turned to the pelgrane. It was his suggestion which lead to us not pinning down in the text exactly what a pelgrane looks like, or how it behaves, and leaving much of it to the reader, or in our case, the GM and players. The pelgrane can be a source of horror, a threat, a swooping nuisance, a foil for the proud, or the name of a nascent RPG company.

The pelgrane featured widely in our Dying Earth series, illustrated by Hilary Wade, and developed a stronger personality. We imagined it nesting high in the mountains swooping on unwary freelancers, and even delivering parcels.

To some extent I was always the pelgrane, but “pelgranistas” gradually became the word for our inner circle of freelancers – we talked about people being “pelgrane-y” – an ineffable quality in people which Roald Dahl described as “spark” – we nurtured these people, always trying to expand our circle. They are talented, skilled, creative and fun to be with. And Cat Tobin, when she took over from Beth Lewis, fitted the pelgrane mold perfectly, but with the hint of steel needed to be a publisher and not just some fly-by-night freelancer. (Pelgranes fly night and day.)

Since co-owner Cat Tobin took over as managing director I’ve been trying to de-Simon-ify the company.  But while I am working for the company that’s pretty tough. I’ve been doing stuff, but I get credit where it’s not due – unavoidably. As an entrepreneur I’ve been adequate at most things, but not great at anything, expect perhaps finding good people. It’s tough to remove legacy processes for example, if there is no need. Cat is a pelgrane through and through, dedicated, through and more experienced at publishing than me. Cat has changed what a pelgrane is.

Pelgrane Press is a collaborative effort, with Cat now the driving force, and its full-time leader. I’ve been overwhelmed with stuff in my personal life, and not been able to give the company the attention it deserves. I am stepping back into an advisory role, giving Cat the freedom to run the company as she sees fit, and offering my tuppence-worth to the Pelgrane slack channel. You may see me at conventions, looking relaxed, as others do actual work. I want Pelgrane Press to be pelgrane without pelgrane being me.

And you, if you are reading this and playing our games, are a pelgrane too.

 

Your lone spy in Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops has been burned. You’re out on your own. Oh, you’ve got a network of connections and contacts you can draw on specialist skills – you can find a forger in Budapest, or a computer hacker in Buenos Aires, or an arms dealer in Boston – but you don’t have the resources or backing of a major intelligence agency behind you.

At least, not at the start.

It’s possible through play to build connections with the CIA, or MI6, or the Vatican, or some other organisation. This works as a special variant of the Network general ability, one per agency. You start with zero dice, but can pick up one-use Edges (“A Favour from MI6”) or – if the Director approves – pick up more through experience.

When you call on a favour from an Agency, it’s a Challenge.

 

Friends in High Places

Agency

Bonuses: +2 if you’re on the Agency’s home turf.

Penalties: -1 per Heat card in your hand.

-2 if you’re really outside the Agency’s sphere of influence.

Advance 7+: The Agency’s willing to help you out. They’ll supply you with a local Contact, a suitably deniable Edge like “Suitcase Full Of Cash”, or a special Push representing the Agency’s imprimatur.

Hold 4-6: The Agency’s willing to assist, but there’s a catch.

Pick one:
either it’ll Take Time before the Agency can respond to you

or the Agency demand a favour in return

or You’re at -1 die to further tests using this Agency ability for the rest of the operation.

Setback 3 or less: They’re not going to help unless you spend a Push – and even then, you’re at -1 die to further tests using this Agency ability for the rest of the operation, and you’ve got to choice between Taking Time to get assistance or doing a favour in exchange.

Extra Problem: Gain a Heat Problem (or, if the Director’s feeling cruel, a “They’re Going To Double-cross You” Blowback Problem.

Stunt? No.

Once you’ve got two dice in an Agency, you can use them for stunts on other Agency tests – so, if you’ve got 2 Dice in CIA, you could spend these to get a bonus die in an MI6 test, representing you drawing on the influence of your patron to lean on the other Agency.

In the default Solo Ops campaign, our sample Agent Leyla Khan has the opportunity to rebuild her contacts with MI6 in the third operation, The Deniable Woman. She could convert the one-shot A Favour from Vauxhall Cross Edge into one die in Agency: MI6 (or Agency: Secret Intelligence Service if you’re being picky and accurate). She might also build connections with whatever vampire-hunting agency helped her in Never Say Dead, although doing that requires tracking down the mysterious Rostami and convincing her to bring Khan in from the cold…

 

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Regular readers will notice it’s a much shorter See Page XX this month, as we try to dig our way out of the book production trenches. This is our busiest time of the year, and so we appreciate your patience and understanding if we’re not as quick to respond as usual.

It’s a great time to be a 13th Age fan, with a host of new products available. As well as the 13th Age dice tray and Book of Demons, plus the 13th Age Glorantha pre-order, this month sees the release of the pre-order of Loot Harder: A Book of TreasuresA sequel to the Book of Loot, Loot Harder features adventure hooks, new item types, lair items, linked thematic item sets, and iconic artifacts alongside hundreds of new magic items. Pre-order this, or the Book of Ages (which includes the Engine of the Ages and more than a dozen sample Ages you can borrow from), and get the pre-layout PDFs immediately.

In other releases news, if you bought The Fall of DELTA GREEN from us, the Free RPG Day 2018 PDF is now available to download from your bookshelf. If you bought your copy from a physical, bricks and mortar game store, please email Support with your proof of purchase, and we’ll add it to your bookshelf. Plus, we’ve asked our colleagues at Arc Dream to add a grab code to Backerkit for their Kickstarter backers, so if you backed the DG Kickstarter, you can enter that grab code on the “Pledges” tab of your bookshelf to access the download.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

      • 13th Sage: Speeding Combat – Rob Heinsoo on his experiments with speeding up combat
      • First Contact: The Eyecloud – Clouds of floating eyes by ASH LAW, developed by Rob Heinsoo
      • The Iconic podcast is going strong! You can listen to the latest episodes here:
      • 13th Age Character Builds. In this series by ASH LAW, we feature two different builds for every 13th Age character class, at all levels. ASH suggests how the builds might be used, and offers tips on playing each character. Stats are based on the point-buy method, and the characters have no non-standard elements

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The new Black Book GUMSHOE character generator launches July 5th for Trail and NBA. What do you want to see it add functionality for next?

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A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is now out of my hands and progressing through the next stages of production on its way to actuality.

Thanks to the eagle efforts of our dauntless playtesters, I received lots of extremely useful feedback on game play, resulting in a number of changes to the final version.

Kickstarter backers have a preview version representing the state of the manuscript as of mid-summer last year. Playtesters saw and played intermediate versions from the fall and then the end of last year.

The most consistent message from testers was that the game was deadlier than I thought, cycling through PCs at a higher than expected rate.

And here I was worrying, based on the foe-smashing exploits of my own in-house group, that the combat system was too lenient!

If you have a previous draft, then, you’ll see a number of changes to lengthen investigator lifespan.

Foe Difficulties have been scaled down.

More of the foes at the higher end of the Relative Challenge scale now appear with additional ways to lower their Difficulty numbers by gaining information about them before you fight them.

Starting general ability build points have been nudged upwards, to give you more points to spend on key survival abilities.

Perhaps most effectively, the text now explicitly gives players guidelines for the number of points the system expects them to invest in such character-preserving abilities as Fighting, Composure, Athletics and (in The Wars) Battlefield.

Also in The Wars, Scrounging, a theme for an ability in search of a vital game purpose, can now be used to refresh other characters’ Battlefield ability. That’s what you use to avoid bombs, barrages and other means of mass death on the front lines of the Continental War. Scrounging now mirrors the way Morale can be used to boost Composure for PCs in that sequence and in Aftermath.

To complete the adjustment, GMs can now choose between two toughness settings, Horror and Occult Adventure modes. In Horror, your character leaves play after accumulating 3 Injury cards or 3 shock cards. The more forgiving Occult Adventure mode takes you out after 4 Injury or 4 Shock cards.

Another common theme in playtest reports: players hated paying Tolls. These mandatory point spends, which you can make from any combo of Athletics, Fighting and Health, model the low-grade wear and tear you suffer even when you win a fight. Weaker foes now have Tolls of 0, so you don’t start to deal with Tolls until you’re fighting someone big and bad. Also, Tolls dropped across the board.

I didn’t dump them entirely. Experience with past systems has shown that players also resist a combat system that lets them emerge from a victory totally unscathed. The final rule strikes a balance between two opposing flavors of cognitive dissonance.

On my final design pass I eliminated a number of rules that went unmentioned by playtesters and unused in my own group. They hit the cutting room floor for not generating enough engagement to justify their presence.

In Aftermath I removed War Footing, a state of high alert players used to be able to declare for their characters. It gave them a bonus to Fighting and a penalty to Composure—the idea that they were risking their hard-won adjustment to civilian life by falling back into their insurgent mindset. War Footing didn’t get used because players had to remember to invoke it, and already had plenty of other stuff to think about. Also it has to be a hard tradeoff to achieve its thematic end, and brains don’t like those. As one of those ideas that shows a certain logic on paper but never pays off in practice, War Footing hit the bricks.

Another rule that added complexity for a thematic payoff that paid off was a distinction, in This is Normal Now, between sapient and non-sapient Foes. My original thought was that it ought to be harder for the ordinary people of that final sequence to kill intelligent beings. In the end I dropped it in favor of a simpler set of foe difficulties. If the distinction had factored into player decisions in an interesting way it could have justified its existence. But in an investigative game a Difficulty bonus doesn’t much change who the PCs choose to attack and who to run from. So out it went.

The greatest number of revision waves happened in the Shock and Injury card sections. Familiarity with play honed my feel for the sorts of effects and discards that made a splash, and which ones fell flat, were hard to implement, or rarely applied.

So for example The Tremors, a workhorse, low-intensity Shock card, started its life looking like this:

Your next Interpersonal Push costs 2 Pushes.

Discard after it applies, or at end of scenario.

But in the final version has become more overtly interactive:

-1 to Presence.

Discard by going to a scary location. Discard by initiating an encounter with a scary person, creature or entity.

The updated version prompts action, where the original makes a particular, not terribly common action less likely or impossible.

While remaining true to its core idea that failing to gain information is never entertaining, GUMSHOE has continued to evolve since its debut more than a decade ago.

Someday I may well find myself creating a bunch of new sub-systems for some genre or setting we haven’t tackled before, tossing about half of them before the book goes to layout.

All with the help of our indispensable playtesters, who we can’t thank enough for making our games better.

Collage illustration for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game by Dean Engelhardt


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

In the setting of Mutant City Blues, approximately one in a hundred people developed a mutant ability in the wake of the still-mysterious Sudden Mutation Event. Some powers had obvious social or commercial benefits, and mutants with these powers could easily find a place. Mutant healers transformed parts of healthcare, telepaths and dream-peepers revolutionised psychology, transmuters made new wonders possible in chemistry and material science.

Other people were gifted with more dangerous powers – they could shoot blasts of fire from their fingertips, or spit venom, or drain all the oxygen from a room with a touch.

They, too, could easily find a place.

In the course of their duties as part of the Heightened Crime Investigative Unit, Mutant City Blues characters might bump up against mutant-related military activity or espionage. They might have to liaise with military police to arrest a mutant recruit who fled the Army’s GXI section, or discover that the disease-spreading criminal has powerful friends in Washington thanks to her connections to a secret mutant bioweapons group.

Select Operations Support Group

Part of the USSOCOM Special Operations Command, the Select Operations Support Group brings together the most powerful mutants from the US military and trains them to take part in special operations missions. The Select Operations Support Group’s primary purpose is support for conventional SOCOM tasks – they’re more interested in having teleporters carry supplies to units behind enemy lines, or water manipulators who can disable underwater drones without being detected. Still, anyone in the SOSG has passed the supremely demanding Q Course used to vet all special forces recruits.

1stGXI

The 1stGenetically Expressive Infantry Brigade is a newly-formed US Army unit made up entirely of mutants. Ostensibly, the 1stGXI’s purpose is to group mutant Army personnel together to develop methodology and tactics using heightened abilities, similar to the Heightened Crimes Investigative Unit. The GXI program has been troubled since its conception; initially it was seen as an exercise in PR, and mutant soldiers tried to avoid a transfer to the unit to avoid damaging their careers. Since then, it’s been rocked by a scandal involving a cell of mutant separatists who were caught stealing explosives and ammunition from the army. The GXI still has a tarnished reputation.

CIA Program GRIDFIRE

The CIA reactivated their old STARGATE program within days of the first mutant manifestation, and quickly identified and recruited mutants who might be useful either for intelligence gathering or for their black-ops section. The program isn’t called GRIDFIRE any more – its current codename is classified, but the GRIDFIRE name was used in a tranche of documents leaked by a whistleblower who revealed details of the program’s use of mutant mind controllers and telepathic interrogation techniques.

Of particular interest to police was a subprogram called SPEEDRUN, which monitored the prison population for mutants with useful abilities, and offered them reduced sentences or special treatment in exchange for the use of their abilities.

FBI Talent Resource Office

FBITRO is a section within the Bureau’s Human Resources division that recruits and trains mutants who might be useful to agents in the field. If an FBI agent needs a Tracker, or someone who can command birds, or bulletproof backup, the TRO can find the nearest reliable and thoroughly vetted mutant. TRO prefers, where possible, to use law enforcement personnel, so HCIU mutants might be temporarily seconded to FBITRO and assigned to a federal investigation.

FBI Mutant Screening Centre

The Mutant Screening Centre’s primary role is to identify and monitor mutants with Article 18 powers. It also functions as the federal equivalent of the HCIU, taking on investigations that involve considerable use of mutant powers. MSR hands off most of its cases to local law enforcement when possible; it’ll inform local authorities when a registered A18 subject moves into their jurisdiction – or when a rogue A18 needs to be apprehended.

Brightlane Services

Brightlane’s a private military contractor that provides “security consultancy” across the world, especially in war-torn and unstable regions. Brightlane employs a considerable number of mutants; they’re especially interested in recruiting mutants with combat abilities. Brightlane’s been accused of pressuring mutants into working for them; allegedly, if they need a particular talent, they’ll use blackmail or other threats to ensure compliance – or so the rumours go, anyway…


Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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