In the latest episode of their double-double good podcast, Ken and Robin talk villain plans, Tim Hortons, pod people of the 100 Years War, and Theodore Roosevelt vs the snallygaster.

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)We should be deep in the middle of convention season right now, but instead we’re nervously watching as more and more countries open back up, and excitedly preparing for the first ever Gen Con Online. We hope to see you there – and at the (presumably virtual) ENnies ceremony, as we’ve been nominated for three awards. We’d greatly appreciate if you could vote for us here!

New Releases

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13th Age

In any other year, at this time we’d be rushing around the Pelgrane’s Nest prepping for Gen Con. Although cancelled in its physical format, it’s still going ahead as Gen Con Online. The Pelgrane team is running more than fifty events at it so far, but we’ve got plenty of space left for more games, so if you’d like to run games at Gen Con, please get in touch with us, either by filling in the form here (the list of adventures available is here), or pinging us on the Discord server.

Other News: The 2020 ENnie Awards

We are deeply honoured to have been nominated three times in the 2020 ENnies. Being nominated for an ENnie Award is an acknowledgement of the hard work that happens behind the scenes to create our books, and it means a lot to us to be recognised. Voting is open until 11:45 PM EST on July 12th we’d really appreciate if you’d consider voting for us in the following categories:

We’d be delighted to get a nod as Fan Favourite Publisher too, of course!

If you’d like to see previews of the ENnie-nominated products, you can download those here:

New to pre-order: Black Star Magic

This month sees the release of the pre-order of the very first Yellow King RPG supplement not included as part of the Kickstarter, Black Star Magic contains all you need to add player-facing Carcosan magic to your YKRPG campaign. Black Star Magic features thematic magic rules for all four YKRPG settings, as well as a gross number of starting spells, and a brand-new adventure for Paris (“Dancer at the Bone Cabaret”), The Wars (“A Casket at Le Thil”), Aftermath (“Memories of a Dream Clown”) and This is Normal Now (Love Wears No Mask). Written by YKRPG designer Robin D. Laws, alongside experts such as writer of The Doors to Heaven, Sarah Saltiel; Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Ruth Tillman.

New to order: Honey & Hot Wax

Jen McCleary’s layout for Honey & Hot Wax, our brand-new anthology of erotic art games, is a work of elegant, sensuous brilliance (as you can see in the example on the right, from Friend of the Pelgrane Alex Roberts’ game of balloon love, Pop!). The layout is finished and the PDF is now available to purchase and, for those who’ve already pre-ordered it, to download. We’ll be launching it on DriveThruRPG next week.

New to order: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

All pre-orders for Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition have now been shipped out, and this should be available in retail stores from the start of July.

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

Thanks to everyone who’s had a look at their pre-layout PDF, and spotted some typos in it! We’re collecting all of those using this form, so let us know if you spot a typo, or there’s anything that isn’t clear. Layout has been paused while we review the final file, but we’re still getting art in.

Work in progress update: Even Death Can Die

Christian is on holidays at the moment, unfortunately, which has put paid to my plan to have the PDF finalised and to pre-orderers at the end of June, unfortunately. I’m still waiting to hear back from him on his July availability, as he has a lot of family commitments over the coming weeks.

Works in progress update: 13th Age

I checked in with Rob Heinsoo to get an update on 13th Age production, and it’s steaming ahead! Book of the Underworld is on its way, and Rob, J-M and Trisha are hard at work on a total of four announced books (and one that we agreed wasn’t quite ready to be announced yet) at the moment. Here’s a short update on each, with sneak peeks at some art, too:

We’ve approved the final Book of the Underworld print proofs, and this is currently being printed. We’re hoping to start shipping this out to pre-orderers at the end of August.

Rob’s said that Elven Towers is through with design and development and art and about 75% through editing. It’s going to move into layout in the next couple weeks. He shared this illustration by Roena I. Rosenberger, showing the pit that leads down into the dark elves’ Tower of Dreams (actually a stalactite hanging in the underworld).

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is our latest announced book. Rob’s mentioned that it’s about 75% written and is in the middle of development, and its art order is drafted, but not yet commissioned. This is the first in what Rob’s calling our “mosaic” 13th Age books, so-called because they’re constructed of a mosaic of complementary – and sometimes even contradictory! – perspectives on the subject matter, which allows GMs and players to pick and choose the bits that best describe the Dragon Empire as it exists at their own table.

Wade Rockett’s 1st level adventure, Crown of Axis, is more than 50% designed, Rob says. He has a cunning art plan, but nothing commissioned yet.

Icon Followers is what Rob’s currently spending most of his time on, and it’s about 33% designed. Unlike most of our books, Rob’s handling the art alongside design, to speed things up at the end. Here’s a Rich Longmore illustration of the war bell, a construct used for underground communication and magical thunder. You can see which icon it’s following by the etching!

By Kevin Kulp

Swords of the Serpentine’s pre-layout PDF is available for everyone who has pre-ordered the game, so we wanted to sketch out an adventure seed to use alongside of (or instead of) A Corpse Astray from the rulebook. This seed is a solid session or two of adventure, easily customized for your own game. Note that due to space limitations you’ll want to fill this adventure in during your own play, adding clues, supporting characters, adversaries, and complexity to an extent that makes you happy.

Please don’t read farther if you’re a player, or you will find yourself spoiled.

Adventure Premise

The ghost of a murdered merchant asks the Heroes to investigate his murder. Doing so lands the Heroes in deep danger from a seemingly innocuous source, and presents them with a difficult decision: what happens when the thing that helps people isn’t the thing that’s both ethically and morally right?

You see, it turns out that Eversink’s Fishing Guild is run by a small sorcerous cabal who sacrifice human life in exchange for a bountiful catch. The ghostly merchant was this month’s sacrifice to the guild’s ancient fish god. Is one life a month a reasonable trade for a hundred thousand people staying well-fed?

Scene 1: The Ghost

In scene 1, a ghost hires the Heroes. The ghost is an Outlander merchant from wherever you choose, here in the city to purchase ceramics to bring home. (Pick whatever you wish, the more boring the better, to steer the Heroes away from his purchases being important.)

If a Hero has at least one rank of Spirit Sight, the ghost can hire them personally. If they don’t, the ghost will find a beggar that can see spirits and harass them until they approach the Heroes. Make the ghost entertaining, likeable, and angry he got killed in a way that left few traces. He’ll ask the Heroes to retrieve his body and avenge him, and offer them the Wealth he brought to the city in exchange (you can decide how much that is; make it 4 Wealth per Hero if you want to give them a taste of prosperity.)

Clues:

  • The ghost can sense where his body is and will guide the Heroes there if they hire a boat. It floated out of the harbor on the turn of the tide, and has floated into a swampy inlet some miles north of the city. (Optional clue; go to Scene 2)
  • The ghost remembers getting accosted by two smelly people at night while drunk in Harbor Approach, but didn’t see their faces. He knows where he was – on the docks near where The Scarlet Ruse was docked – and remembers that there was a toothless old beggar nearby who he’d just given coin to in a traditional exchange. Perhaps she saw who attacked him. (Core clue; go to Scene 3)

Scene 2: The Cove

In scene 2 (which is optional), the Heroes learn that ‘Sinkish citizens have been murdered monthly for about three generations, and their corpses have somehow ended up in one particular spot. Something supernatural is involved.

Ask the players to narrate a travel montage (p. 260 of the Adventurer’s edition) during their trip away from the city.

The ghost will lead them to an isolated marsh inlet north of the city, in an area of the swampy shoreline with a slightly treacherous tidal pattern. Follow the twisting tidal channel into the high marsh grass and you’ll find yourself in a large pond that’s full of fish, birds, and other small scavengers. Drifting lazily in the middle of the pond is the ghost’s corpse, mostly eaten by fish.

Clues:

  • The victim was hit on the head, then while he was alive his chest was cut open and his heart and intestines removed in a way that reminds you of gutting a large fish. Then the corpse was thrown into the outgoing tide. (Leechcraft)
  • The corpse shouldn’t have drifted to this spot on its own, based on tidal patterns. (Wilderness Mastery)
  • This pond is full of bones. FULL. Perhaps 800 corpses and skeletons lie under the water if anyone chooses to check. They vary tremendously by age, the oldest being perhaps 80 years dead, and a series that are clearly from the last year. Based on the progression, it reasonable to assume that one drifts in every month before being eaten by fish and sinking. (Core clue: Vigilance)

The Heroes will be attacked by hostile fish on their way back, two waves of a dog-sized leaping and biting fish named boneteeth that will leap into the boat to devour the Heroes. Think large, angry salt-water barracuda. There are two waves of coordinated attacks, with two boneteeth per Hero per wave; split these up into two or three Mook groups in the Initiative so that not all the fish attack at once. (So if there are 4 Heroes, the group is attacked by 8 boneteeth per wave, for two waves.) Use the advice on p. 198 to create a final larger, more dangerous fishy foe at the end of the fight if that would be fun for the group.

Boneteeth

Unnaturally hungry

Defense – Health: Health Threshold 3, Health 1

Defense – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Morale 1 (see below)

Offense – Warfare: +0; Fixed Damage 3

Special Abilities: Anyone swimming in a boneteeth swarm automatically takes 3 Morale damage per round from fear

Misc: Boneteeth don’t understand speech and thus are immune to language-based Morale attacks, but scare them with Sway and they’ll retreat

Refresh Tokens: 1

 

Scene 3: The Witness

In scene 3, the Heroes use the ghost’s descriptions to find a witness to his murder, and then one of the murderers himself.

The ghost was knocked unconscious on the docks after midnight on the night of a new moon. He remembers where he was killed, even if he didn’t see who attacked him. Living near that spot is an elderly toothless beggar named Crow. She’ll refuse to talk unless befriended with money, food, or kindness by someone with ranks of Trustworthy; a Hero with ranks in Servility or Ally: Commoners can also get her to talk if no one with ranks in Nobility is nearby.

Crow saw the murder, although she doesn’t think the murderers saw her. She describes one of the murderers as a fisherman she only knows as Eel. After he and his partner knocked out the stranger, they put his unconscious body in a boat and rowed into the darkness towards Sag Harbor.

Clues

  • Eel is a professional fisherman, out fishing every day from before dawn to sunset, but he drinks in the fisherfolk’s bar attached to Fish Hall in Sag Harbor. He rents a room there in the Guild Hall as well. Eel is a big, powerful, burly man with fish tattoos on his hands and arms. He’s not educated, but he’s considered solid, dependable, and deliberate. (Core clue: Scurrilous Rumors or Ally: Commoners)
  • Eel is a long-time trusted member of the Glorious Assemblage of Attentive Fisherfolk, the formal name of Eversink’s fishing guild. Their guild house, known as Fish Hall, is at the western end of Sag Harbor near the docks. The building stinks of fish and always looks like it’s about to sink underwater, but it’s been there in one form or another for centuries. (City Secrets or Ally: Mercanti)

You can decide for yourself who Eel’s partner was, and build the adversary using the rules in Chapter 7 (likely reworking an existing Adversary). For the most fun, make them quite different than Eel, but also a ranking and trusted member of Fish Hall.

At the end of this scene, Eel’s partner realizes that they never created a funerary statue for their victim to put his soul to rest. They do, and the ghost will disappear suddenly, shouting to the Heroes as he does that he is being drawn into Denari’s heaven. Remind the players how funerary statues work in Eversink (p. 274), and what must have just happened.

Scene 4: The Accusation

The Heroes can observe or approach Eel however they wish. Eel’s daily pattern is to leave Fish Hall before dawn, fish all day with a 5-person crew, return back with his catch before dusk, then eat and drink in Fish Hall until he falls into bed. The one exception is when the Fishing Guild has formal meetings; he never misses these. Eel doesn’t attend Denari’s services weekly, something that is slightly odd.

Confronting Eel about the murder will almost always result in violence unless he’s tricked. He knows the Guild will support him, and so he’d rather capture any accusers while rumors of what he does can still be contained. Eel will Summon friends (use Drunken Sailor stats on p. 221) and call on his Allies (use Brute stats on p. 225) to support him in a fight. Of course, his partner that you’ve created will try to protect him as well, but may cut and run if things look poorly.

If Eel or his partner die (as opposed to being defeated and left alive), and word reaches Fish Hall, they  will put out the word for the Heroes to be killed: Heroes receive the penalty of Enemies: Commoners 1. If Eel or his partner are just defeated, the Heroes receive Grudge: Commoners 1.

Ideally, have this fight somewhere interesting and use the environment in interesting ways. Swinging ropes, thrown anchors, swaying footbridges, unsteady ship decks, live fish, and slippery wood all help contribute to an interesting fight.

Eel, a fisherman

Loyal, pious, dependable, murderous

Defense — Health: Health Threshold 4, Health 10 per Hero

Defense — Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Morale 5 per Hero

Offense — Warfare: +1 (surprising strength); Damage Modifier +3 (fish-gutting knife)

Offense — Sway: +0; Damage Modifier +1 (threats)

Abilities: Malus 15

Special Abilities: Allies (cost 3 – Fish Hall), Strength, Summoning (cost 3 – Fisherfolk)

Misc: Stealth Modifier +1

Refresh Tokens: 5

Description: Eel is a huge broad-shouldered fisherman. He has been methodically gathering victims for the monthly sacrifice for over ten years, since he took over from the previous fisherman. He agonizes over every single one but knows in his heart that he’s helping the city he loves, even if it means a stranger had to die.

Amongst his possessions is a ring of keys that will open most locked doors in Fish Hall.

Clues

If no one is left alive to question:

  • The ring of keys Eel possesses will unlock many of the doors in Fish Hall. The fish image stamped into the metalwork is unmistakable, as it matches the guild’s symbol. (Core clue: Skullduggery)
  • Eel’s spirit (and the spirit of Eel’s partner) are stamped with the spiritual stink of rotting fish. There’s little or no room left for the goddess Denari in that spiritual space (Spirit Sight)
  • Eel’s back is covered with a homemade tattoo. It’s labeled “heroes of Eversink” and has 123 hashmarks on it. The last one is brand new, the next-to-last one looks about a month old, and so on. There is an old tradition that this is done when an executioner or a priest wishes to honor the memory of their sacrifices. (Laws & Traditions)

If Eel or his partner are left alive to question, Intimidation or another appropriate Social ability will reveal the following:

  • The Fishing Guild is also a church, but not to Denari. There is an ancient and primal small god who guarantees the guild a bountiful catch in exchange for a single sacrifice each month. Eel believes that a single death each month is worth guaranteeing food for a hundred thousand citizens. It’s regrettable, but he considers himself a hero. (Core clue)
  • Eel and his partner are loyal and willing servants. The high priestess of the small sorcerous cabal is Julliana Fishhall, the Guildmistress for over 40 years. She will do anything to keep or cover up this secret, because she thinks the city will starve if word gets out.
  • Eel doesn’t know for sure but assumes that the Triskadane knows about what happens in Fish Hall, and deliberately turns away their gaze. (Whether this is true is up to you, the GM)
  • Deep in the basements in Fish Hall is a throne that weeps seawater. The seat of the throne is made from the cornerstone of Eversink’s first bridge a thousand years ago. Victims’ viscera are placed on the throne during the new moon to be presented to the god. Doing so will guarantee that the corpse will drift away on the outgoing tide to be eaten by fish.

If Eel or his partner aren’t left alive, the Heroes can learn this information in Scene 5 from the guildmistress or one of her trusted confederates.

Scene 5: Resolution

It’s up to the Heroes how to handle this, and you’ll need to follow their lead. They could destroy the cabal and suffer consequences, join the conspiracy, or find some middle ground.

The following are likely possibilities:

  • They reach a point where they decide that Fish Hall is doing something good, and allow them to continue. If they do this, the guild will refrain from trying to have them killed and will reward them monetarily for their forbearance and silence.
  • They decide to expose the truth about Fish Hall without putting themselves in danger doing so. Church inquisitors, bolstered by the church militant and mercenaries, raid the guildhall several days later. The resulting scandal is quickly covered up, if possible. It’s up to you whether Julliana Fishhall and the Dripping Throne escape to continue their sacrifices. If they don’t, it’s up to you whether the rich fishing turns bad, or whether that was a lie all along and the sacrifices only fed a lying god.
  • They raid Fish Hall themselves, possibly calling for aid from their Allies when they do. Have fun with this! The fisherfolk in the building (use the Drunken Sailor and Obsessed Cultist adversaries) won’t be plentiful if the raid is done during the daytime when everyone is out fishing, but they’ll mount an impassioned but unprofessional defense. The Heroes will pass through a room of small clay funerary statues from almost every sacrificial victim over 70 years, and will encounter elderly Guildmistress Julliana Fishhall (use the Cruel Sorcerer stats and ocean/fish spheres), her entourage (use Sorcerous Apprentice stats), and the Dripping Throne deep in the sunken and flooded basements. Their god may have a fish-monstrosity there as a representative and guardian as well (re-skin the Chuggut swamp shaman as a hideous fish-thing). Follow advice in Chapter 8 on pacing and structure as you create encounters in Fish Hall, and throw in a water- or fishing-themed trap from Chapter 3 for extra fun. Just remember that you don’t need to map the building; instead, think through the three or four areas where the Heroes are likely to face opposition, and ask your players to help you describe only those spaces.

Conclusion

Heroic actions creating lasting change is what this game is about. What happens to Eversink’s fishing fleet and their previously remarkable success? Are the Heroes considered pariahs or saviours, especially in the eyes of the Church of Denari? The difficult decisions the players make in this adventure will affect their Heroes going forward; supporting characters met in this adventure can reappear in future adventures as well.


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, currently available for pre-order. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

by Adam Gauntlett

A scenario seed for Trail of Cthulhu, in which the Investigators must find out who’s been breaking into the Empire State Building.

History

The Empire State in New York is conceived in the booming, prosperous 1920s, but it breaks ground on October 1st, 1929, when the building previously on that site, the glamorous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, is demolished. On October 4th, the stock market implodes. By the time the Empire State is complete, 45 days before its anticipated due date, the Great Depression is well under way. It becomes an icon when King Kong climbs it in 1933, but it is an icon without tenants. For the first few decades of its existence the observation deck at the top floor makes more money from fascinated tourists than the rest of the building put together. Despite this, the building’s lights are kept on all the time, to create the illusion of occupancy. Defeated Democratic Presidential candidate Al Smith, an investor and president of Empire State, Inc, occupies the top floors. Altogether there are perhaps 20 tenants for the whole building, including Smith in a skyscraper meant for 20,000. Hence its nickname: the Empty State Building.

The Waldorf-Astoria, New York’s iconic hotel, opens in 1893. It’s a heavy, weighty, Germanic design, stuffed full of antiques, marble facades, and dignity. At its height it has 1,300 rooms and is the first hotel in New York to feature electric lights and private bathrooms. Though laughed at for its pomposity, dignitaries and the wealthy flock to it, to eat one of Oscar of the Waldorf’s celebrated meals, or dance in the Waldorf’s iconic ballroom. New York’s fashionable women compete to outdo each other on what becomes known as Peacock Alley, the main corridor of the hotel that ran the full length of the building, all along 33rd Street.

Introduction

The investigators are hired by Empire State, Inc, to look into a problem. Rumor has it that people are breaking into the Building at night and wandering around the ground floor corridors. Though nobody’s prepared to confirm this, it’s said that one of the people who have seen this is Al Smith himself – but Al isn’t talking. The Trust that manages the Building would very much like to have this handled discreetly. Can the investigators find out who’s breaking in, and how?

All anyone knows about the intruders is that they are always seen by someone inside the building. So far, they’ve never been spotted by someone on the outside looking in, which is odd, as the intruders are never seen on any floor except the ground floor, where they ought to be visible from 33rd Street. Nobody can agree on what the intruders look like, except that they’re very graceful.

“They’re always dancing,” says building superintendent, Max Baum. (Forties, pugnacious, family man, former Democrat ward heeler who worked on Al’s campaign).

Opening Scenes: The Stake-Out

If the investigators check, it soon becomes clear that there’s no easy way into the Empire State. All the ground floor entrances are locked, and once locked they don’t open again till eight a.m., when the cleaning staff arrive. Max has the master keys. Only Al Smith has his own key so he can come and go as he likes. The other tenants have keys to their offices, but not the building itself. The building closes to the public at 5 pm and the main entrance is monitored by door security until 8 pm; after that, should a tenant still be working in the building, once they leave they can’t get back in. None of the locks have been tampered with.

Some tourists do get locked in the building after the day is done, “goofing around after a trip to the observation deck,” Baum says. With such a large, empty building it can be difficult to monitor every corridor. Baum thinks the mysterious figures are tourists who deliberately stay after hours, probably for a bet.

The only slightly supernatural connection the Empire State has is that it once hosted a séance to contact the ghost of Thomas Edison, in 1932. It was a publicity stunt dreamed up to attract tenants. “A flop,” says Baum. “Just like all the other stunts.” Privately he wonders if these intruders are yet another stunt, dreamed up by Al Smith in a fit of desperation.

Staking-out the ground floor after hours finds little unusual. Occasionally the investigators hear footsteps or smell what might be fine cooking. Anyone with access to a radio (the doorman has a portable one, to keep him from going stir crazy) hears old broadcasts from 1926, the year NBC aired its inaugural radio show from the Waldorf-Astoria’s ballroom. Comedian Will Rogers hosts the show, which is mainly music and comedy routines. The doorman doesn’t realize what he’s listening to, but he’s a Will Rogers fan, so he always turns the radio up when Will is on. (Keeper: Rogers dies in a plane wreck in August 1935, so depending on when this scenario is set he may already be dead.)

Midpoint: Haunted City

At some point during the stake-out the investigators discover a jacket, hastily discarded near the elevators in the lobby. It has a long tear down one sleeve, as if someone was attacked and forced to drop it in the struggle. Among the items in its pockets (most of which are irrelevant but the Keeper can have a fun time describing) is an iPhone.

Of course, the investigators won’t have any idea what one of those is. It’s a funny flat brick with a cracked glass screen to them. However, it still has some juice and its owner didn’t believe in locking it, so it can be accessed. Without internet or towers most of its functions are unusable, though it has plenty of saved video content – cat gifs galore, funny cat videos, and production footage of Exploring the Apple by Sarah Dansky, whose latest episode, still in progress, is NYC’s Seven Most Haunted Buildings. Footage shows that Sarah wears the same jacket found in the lobby in some of the establishing shots.

‘There are so many spots here that have paranormal activity, and I’m going to be getting into many of them today,’ Sarah smiles. One of which is the Empire State. According to Sarah, mysterious figures were seen in the lobby and ground floor of the Empire State, linked, she says, to an incident that took place in the Waldorf in 1926. ‘However, the owners of the building called in notorious paranormal expert [investigator name] in [one year prior to the current investigation] who was able to solve the problem.’

Naturally notorious paranormal expert [investigator] has no idea what Dansky’s talking about. However, further footage shows Sarah in the basement of the Empire State, (where she’s not supposed to be), discovering a safe deposit box hidden behind a false wall, put there by the paranormal expert. She gleefully holds up the box to the camera, and says she’s going to take it to ‘a historian’ for further analysis, in the last video clip. On the lid of the box is carved the Yellow Sign.

So What Really Happened?

The Waldorf, in its early years, faced the same problems the Empire State now faces. No guests, no future: Astor’s Folly. John Jacob Astor IV, later to drown on the Titanic, solved the problem with a charity ball that attracted the wealthiest families of New York, thus establishing the hotel’s reputation. Or so everyone thinks.

In fact, Astor, a devotee of science fiction, utopian, and author of A Journey In Other Worlds, hatched a scheme. He would push the hotel’s bad luck forward in time. It was his moral right to do so, he felt; his success was worth the price of future failure for someone else. He pushed that bubble in time forward as far as he could by burying it beneath the Waldorf, in a kind of capsule. There was a very nasty incident in 1926, when the protections weakened and it looked as if there might be an outbreak during NBC’s 1926 broadcast, but by then Astor was long-dead.

What he’d done was seal entropy away, and Hastur shall not be denied. On that spot, throughout the timeline, the Thing that wears its Mask dances. It brings despair, tearing things apart at their foundations as Samson brought down the Temple. Its surface manifestation is financial ruin – the same fate that nearly brought down the Waldorf is bringing down the Empire State.

This means two things: first, time is weak here. The future and the past walk hand-in-hand at the Empire State. Oscar of the Waldorf still makes Thousand Island Dressing in the kitchen, Evelyn McHale continually tumbles to her death in 1947, and Lt Colonel Smith’s B-25 will always and forever smash into the north side of the 79th floor.

Second, time gets weaker whenever someone uncovers Astor’s time capsule, which is what Sarah Dansky did in (insert date here). When that happens, the capsule reappears at some point along the timeline, and whoever finds it has to bury it again or live with the consequences.

In this instance the capsule reappeared the year before the events of the scenario, which means the investigators have to discover a way to contact their past selves. Luckily for them there may be a way: the Empire State has its own post office and internal delivery system, and right now time is very weak indeed. If they can find a way to get a letter pre-dated to a year ago, and then send it from the Empire State, they’ll get the letter in time to do something constructive.

Or the players can come up with an ingenious scheme of their own. Whichever works.

What’s In The Capsule?

Who can say? It might be Dansky’s iPhone, mysteriously repaired, now filled with The King In Yellow audiobooks, each read by a different horror author. It might be Astor’s unpublished science fiction novel, Entropy Denied. Evelyn McHale’s signed photograph, an Empire State snow globe, a mint-in-box Robin D. Laws (with Kung Fu grip!) figurine – whatever the Keeper likes. Of course, opening the capsule weakens the timeline almost to destruction …

Currently the capsule is held by Sarah Dansky, which means the investigators will have to get it back from her, and then get it to their past selves.

The King Dances

Meanwhile Hastur gnaws away, Níðhöggr to the Empire State’s Yggdrasil. This manifests as the Dancers, which are encountered whenever the timeline weakens. They are people past, present and future; Astor might be waltzing with Sarah Dansky, or McHale with Lt Colonel Smith. They have fallen to Hastur, as must every soul who comes too close. They are the Peacocks drifting through the marble halls of Astor’s temple to wealth. Always beautiful, always impeccably dressed, and each with their own masque not unlike something seen at Venice Carnival. Their dance is mesmerizing, but it can be fatal: anyone who gets too close risks seeing Hastur, which lurks behind their hypnotic, intricate parabola.

Mechanically, each encounter is a Stability check, with the Mythos Difficulty modifier. Potential checks include Supernatural Manifestation at a Distance, Supernatural Creature Up Close, and Speak With Someone You Know to be Dead. If this last happens, and the investigator fails the test, then that investigator’s next brush with the Dance will be a direct encounter with Hastur, with all the Sanity-blasting impact that implies. The Keeper may choose to have it be the invisible form, for less damage, if desired.

If the capsule isn’t reburied, the Dance will continue. Perhaps the Empire State will never pull out of its financial nosedive, or perhaps it will become a new temple to the Yellow King. Perhaps …

With modification, this Trail scenario could also be suited for Robin Laws’ Yellow King RPG.

Author’s note: I’m well aware the present-day Empire State is open from 8am to 2am. For this scenario, I’m assuming the opening hours were different in the 1930s, when the building was nearly empty.


Adam writes, and writes, and writes. Among his credits are Pelgrane’s Soldiers of Pen and Ink, Dulce et Decorum Est, The Many Deaths of Edward Bigsby, and Silver Ennie Award winner The Long Con. You can find him on Twitter at @ag_Karloff, and online at http://karloff-shelf.blogspot.com/.


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

By Kevin Kulp

We’re moving towards the official PDF release of Swords of the Serpentine, so here are more examples of what’s possible with hero creation. These blog posts feature a sample Hero for each class (or a mixture of classes) to use as a good example, a pre-generated character, or an example of how to use the rules to create the hero you want. We’ll often break out from traditional sword & sorcery stereotypes, and heroes will usually be rooted in SotS’s city of Eversink, where the goddess of civilization and commerce holds sway.

This month features a god-made-flesh and several heroes with a huge amount of political power, created by allocating more of their Build points into their Allegiances. As always, these Heroes are built assuming a 5+ player game. If you have fewer players and want to use one of these heroes, add in more Investigative abilities, as noted under “Investigative Abilities” in chapter 2 of the rules.

Sentinel

Exalted Arbiter Tebriel, Head of the Church of Denari

Pompous, prideful, spoiled, worried, disguised, willing to learn

Drives (what is best in life?): Reacquiring your Goddess’s good graces; acting with humility; regaining what you’ve lost

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 0 (robes), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (authority), Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 10: Damage Modifier +1 (faith)

Investigative abilities: Command 2, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 1, Trustworthy 1; Laws & Traditions 2, Spirit Sight 1

Allegiances: Ally: Church of Denari 5; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General abilities: Athletics 4, Bind Wounds 8 (Plenty of Leeches), Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Sway 10 (Play to the Crowd)

Gear: Authority over the entire church of Denari (not that you can use it directly without revealing yourself); divine censure ordering you out into the dregs of humanity to learn humility; vast suites of rooms you’ve left vacant; a second-in-command who is probably betraying you even as you speak; a deep embarrassment about your lack of life skills; a deep and abiding desire to do the right thing.

Design Notes: What if you went out for an adventure with a group of friends, and then discovered one was secretly the Pope? That’s the situation with Tebriel, who I picture as a pompous and distant autocrat whose high-handed lack of humility offended his goddess. She gave him an ultimatum: disappear from the church, go among the common people, and learn humility – or perish. Tebriel was probably shocked, being someone who probably thought he was doing a perfectly fine job! So now he tries to learn what it’s like to be a kind and normal person with a modicum of humility, all while trying to use his secret to help those who really need it. Meanwhile, his enemies in the church hunt him and work to undo all that he’s accomplished.

You can do something similar by reducing the ranks of Ally: Church of Denari from 5 to 3 or 4, then put those extra points in other allies (showing who Tebriel has made friends with over the years), in more Social Investigative abilities, or more ranks of Laws and Traditions to represent his ability to literally define divine law.

Sorcerer

Ctol-Cwogohatl (goes by “Catol”), flesh-bound divinity of the Tides

Changing, resentful, motivated, damp, adventurous, androgynous, responsible

Drives (what is best in life?): Ushering in change, sweeping away debris, taking vengeance

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3 to 6 (shield), Armor 1 (the fading memory of divine awe), Health 6

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (self-assured), Morale 12

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 10 vs. Health: Damage Modifier +1

Offense – Sway: Sway 5: Damage Modifier +1 (majesty)

Investigative abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Nobility 1; Corruption 3 (Blood, Earth, Water), Forgotten Lore 1, Laws & Traditions 1, Wilderness Mastery 2

Allegiances: Allies: Guild of Architects and Canal-Watchers 1, Monstrosities 1; Enemy: Mercanti 1

General abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 3, Preparedness 4, Stealth 3, Sorcery 10 (Blast), Sway 5

Gear: An old unmarked shield you picked up somewhere; an ancient congregation of worshippers who once venerated you; a fleshy bipedal androgynous prison your divine nature seems unable to escape; the eternal responsibility of making sure the tides continue to rise and fall; a blue cloak that chooses to act as your armor (Armor 1); a gender that changes with whim and the tides; a hostile secret society who hopes to bind you to their will; very, very old eyes the exact color of the ocean; and a really nice pair of boots

Design Notes: The philosophy behind Swords of the Serpentine (that your power is measured by game mechanics, and you can describe those mechanics and that power however you choose) is never more clear than when you decide you want your hero to be a freakin’ god. There’s no reason you can’t; playing an old, small god trapped in a human form is a great roleplaying challenge and is easily covered by the rules with no rules hacking required.

In this case, Catol is an ancient small god of the tides, and believes themself to be responsible for the tides rising and falling each day. It’s automatic, caused by their existence; but for reasons they don’t understand they’re trapped in human form. A curse? A punishment by Denari? That’ll be discovered while adventuring – and in the mean time, they’re both hunted by a Mercanti secret society who wants power over tides to help their shipping, and troublesome worshippers who wish to venerate Catol.

This hero’s Investigative abilities come from the Sorcerer, Sentinel, and Warrior classes, creating a unique mixture. Their sorcerous spheres of Earth, Blood, and Water are everything a god of the tides could ask for.

Thief

Mother Silgada, Grandmother of Thieves

Elderly, humble, hidden, manipulative, inquisitive, powerful

Drives (what is best in life?): Solidifying your influence; protecting your many many “children”; leaving a legacy

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 0 (threadbare clothes), Health 6

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (self-assured), Morale 12

Offense – Sway: Sway 11: Damage Modifier +1 (persuasive)

Investigative abilities: Charm 1, Intimidate 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Servility 2; City’s Secrets 1, Scurrilous Rumors 1, Skullduggery 1

Allegiances: Ally: Thieves’ Guild 5; Enemy: City Watch 1

General abilities: Athletics 3, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 8, Sway 11 (Play to the Crowd)

Gear: a magnificent guildhouse beneath the city streets; hundreds of thieves, all loyal to you and your lieutenants (or pretending to be); rooms of beautiful objects you largely ignore; a keen awareness of how easy you’d be to topple; a hidden family you can’t expose; a running tab at the best food-cart in the city.

Design Notes: What if your grandmother ran the thieves’ guild? That’s the idea behind Mother Silgada, a charming little old lady who (with 5 ranks of Allies: Thieves’ Guilds) controls a surprising amount of Eversink’s criminal activity. She rules primarily from behind the scenes, with a charismatic underling to act as figurehead; meanwhile, people die at her word. That gives her the freedom to go out on adventures and amuse herself with normal folks, all while keeping an eye on the underworld to make sure no rivals attempt a coup. If you ever read Lies of Locke Lamora and thought “I want to run a thieves’ guild,” this is one way to do so. I love the idea of a charming and self-assured little old lady with such hidden power; not only do her Allegiances gain her tremendous information, she can spend those point to orchestrate crimes anywhere she wants within Eversink.

For a more “thiefy” thief, reduce the ranks of Allies: Thieves’ Guild to add more Skullduggery; and reduce Preparedness to add ranks in Burglary.

Warrior

Hessia, Mercenary and liaison to the City Defense Committee

Aggressive, stubborn, funny, loyal, vindictive, imaginative

Drives (what is best in life?): Crushing your foes; supporting your allies in times of danger; making the world a better place

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3 (engraved ceremonial plate mail), Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (stubborn), Morale 8

Offense – Sway: Sway 8: Damage Modifier +1 (persuasive)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8: Damage Modifier +1 (Bargainer, official symbol of her role as liaison)

Investigative abilities: Charm 2, Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1; Tactics of Death 1, Spot Frailty 2, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Allies: Mercenaries 3, Triskadane 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General abilities: Athletics 8 (Dodge), Preparedness 3, Stealth 3, Sway 8 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Gear: Beautifully polished and engraved ceremonial chain mail that is bound to drown you some day (Armor 3, Swim penalty -6); exceptional grooming; subtle, expensive perfume; Bargainer, the symbol of your role as Mercenary liaison to the City Defense Committee (Damage Modifier +1); memories of two dozen different battles, up to your knees in blood and mud; an experienced orderly who handles your gear; boredom at the thought of yet another interminable meeting

Design Notes: Hessia is a soldier thrown into the role of a diplomat, something she’s not entirely prepared for. I’d argue she’s the person appointed by the freelance mercenary companies to negotiate with the unreasonable demands from the Triskadane, Eversink’s government. As such, this (as modeled by 3 ranks of Ally: Mercenaries and 1 rank of Ally: Triskadane) she has the ability to decide whether the mercenary companies come to Eversink’s aid, and at what cost. In truth, this will seldom come up in a game; her joy is in adventuring, and this backstory is nothing more than a great supplier of political schemes and enemies for her to fight. But wow, if she needs military force to back of her boasts or threats, she sure has it.

And that’s really the point of Allegiances, right? You can use them as chess pieces to try and influence others, but they establish your role in the society and the city, giving you a place of power from which to adventure.


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, to be published in 2020. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

The BORELLUS CONNECTION manuscript was too nightmarish and vast to be constrained by any binding our printer could conceive; therefore, we were obliged to remove some material from the book. It’s preserved here as a series of Page XX articles. As Orne’s mysterious correspondent in Philadelphia warned us, “no Part must be missing if the finest Effects are to be had”; therefore, we have categorised these cuttings as FINEST EFFECTS.

All materials tagged FINEST EFFECTS are Handler’s Eyes Only – prospective players of the Borellus Connection campaign are instructed not to read these articles.

Over the course of the campaign – especially in the penultimate operation, MISTRAL – it’s possible that Orne results a dead Agent as an obstacle for the investigators. Here’s how to play that from the point of view of the resurrectee…

The resurrected victim needs to make an Unnatural Stability test (6-point for salt-cut, 8-point for full-on) to cope with the experience of death and resurrection. Full-on resurrectees also get an Addiction to fresh blood (Fall of Delta Green).

To maximise the horror, let the players of the dead Agents play their old selves. The resurrected Agents are brought back in the Tunnels (see Operation MISTRAL). Orne vanishes before they become conscious, but Antonio Gomes waits for them.

  • The resurrected Agent has vague, distorted memories of an underground laboratory that seemed half-assembled – there were people moving around, filling crates with jars and other supplies – and a garden full of thorn bushes under strange stars.
  • While the Agents are still recovering from the resurrection experience, Gomes leers at them and explains that the master has brought them back from the dead, and that they are now his slaves. The master gives life, but he can also take it away.
  • To prove his point, Gomes mutters a few words of the dismissal formula – and the resurrected victims feel an undeniable and sickening feeling of dissolution, like they’re falling apart from the inside. It’s clear (HUMINT) that Gomes is telling the truth – the necromancer can destroy his creations with a word.
  • If the Agents are salt-cuts, then Gomes explains that the master has turned them into a drug, boiled all their thoughts and memories down to white powder. He has more of the drug, and he can supply more if the Agents co-operate. Is there any addiction so complete, or high so pure, as simply existing?
  • Gomes gives the resurrected assassins a bag containing weapons, photographs of the living Agents (with the address of their hotel scribbled on the back), car keys, and 2000 francs (each franc is worth about 20 cents). He tells them that they have 24 hours to get rid of their former allies; if they succeed, then the master may prolong their new lives. If they fail, they will be dissolved, and the master may bring them back again and again just to torture them. They have fallen into the hands of a living god – there is no hope for them except willing service to the master.
  • Gomes vanishes down the tunnels; if the resurrected Agents explore, they soon find an exit (either the Almousin-Metraton clubhouse, or the abandoned house near the cimitier Saint-Pierre. There’s a car waiting for them.
  • Resurrected Agents who become Shattered are likely to pick up Mental Disorders like Aggressive Tendencies (“I’ve got to kill you all! I’ve already died once, I’m not going back! It’s your turn!”) or Multiple Personality. Also, remind them of their crippling thirst for blood.
  • Resurrected Agents can spend a point of the Unnatural to try the ‘homing trick’, trusting to their instincts to lead them back to the lab where they were created. If Marseille’s still wracked by Carcosan weirdness, the trick doesn’t work, but if the Agents have dealt with Orne’s psychic chaff, then the resurrectees can lead the team straight to Orne’s House.
  • Any of Orne’s minions capable of spellcasting have access to the dismissal formula, and Orne can cast it at range. The resurrected Agents get turned back to dust if they ever pose a threat to Orne’s plans.

In the new Community Content Spotlight, each month I’ll be writing up a short review of a community content title, all of which are available on DriveThruRPG. See this page if you’re interested in creating something for our Community Program!
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Read to the end (or, you know, just cheat and scroll down) for a special sale associated with this first Community Content Spotlight.

Rogues' Galaxy Cover
With Rogues’ Galaxy, Chris Sellers turns the standard Ashen Stars setup on its head. Rather than playing official Lasers in the mode of Star Trek or Babylon 5, Rogues’ Galaxy gives you all the rules modifications and additions you need to play the lovable (or despicable) crooks the Lasers normally hunt.

In Rogues’ Galaxy you’re playing Firefly or Cowboy Bebop, and you’re striking a tone that, depending on what appeals to you and the other players, might fall anywhere along the spectrum from gritty noir to goofy heist flick. Sellers has put a unique spin on the Ashen Stars setting that tonally complements the shift from law officer to rascal, and I found myself imagining campaigns based around his new Class-K entities, the hierophants (which cause “irreversible psychosis in intelligent creatures” and reminded me of something out of the novel Blindsight) and the shroud (which have an ability to blink into star systems without warning, and thence onto non-shroud starships: “the ensuing mortality rate on those ships is total”).

This supplement includes new Groundside roles, variations on the original Warpside roles, and a list of all-new drives for your criminal player characters. There are new or modified Investigative and General abilities (while some remain the same as those in Ashen Stars), and write-ups of 13 icons (inspired by the 13th Age system) for your criminal Ashen Stars campaign.

Sellers’ text is canny about its audience: “If you’re reading this, you’re already hacking Ashen Stars, so you may want to customize your setting further,” and Rogues’ Galaxy provides folks with short sections providing guidance on customizing faster-than-light travel, rival gangs, and your own galaxy, before introducing Sellers’ own setting information.Rogues Planning

Sellers has tied each new aspect of this new (totally optional) setting material “into the inequitable power structures of the galaxy.” For instance, in the Rogues’ Galaxy version of hyperspace, the “augur drives” used for FTL travel only function at particular sites of spatial instability called “boreholes,” and because the mathematics of FTL travel are so complex, every augur drive comes equipped with its own computational artificial intelligence. But, because you’re in the Bleed, your AI has its own neuroses and psychopathologies (think HAL 9000). The AI becomes an in-built NPC the GM can immediately make use of, whether to help the PCs out or as a wrench to gracefully lob into their well-considered plans.

Sellers has expanded on ideas we’ve seen in See Page XX articles and in Accretion Disk (for instance, the porting of 13th Age’s icons into Ashen Stars was originally proposed by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan), making Rogues’ Galaxy an excellent addition to your collection of Ashen Stars options.

***

The introduction of Rogues’ Galaxy lets us know right away the kind of universe we’re playing in:

Let’s assume that in real life, you and your friends are law-abiding citizens of a just, equitable government. But what if we imagine the government is not just? Or the economic playing field not level? “Revolution”? That’s easy to say but hard to do. So what then?

A crime is just a revolution on a personal scale.

The tone of the book is something I can absolutely get behind, with the art (all by Sellers) vacillating between comedic, serious, and shameless callouts to Star Wars. The supplement also comes with a new character sheet for your roguish characters, a new galaxy map (including territory owned by those Class-K baddies), and a thirteen-page adventure to cap things off.

Perhaps the best praise I can give Chris Sellers’ Rogues’ Galaxy is that, reading it, I wanted to play. I just wanted to build a character and get going (former Laser who’d been ousted after refusing to keep cover for another officer in a scandal… who now works as consigliere for a thief ring à la Ocean’s Eleven… only survivor from a shroud encounter who’s emotionally scarred…?). I think that you’ll find lots of inspiration for your own Ashen Stars games here, even if you don’t decide to go the full criminal direction.

Title: Rogues’ Galaxy
Author: Chris Sellers
Price: $8.95 PDF, also available as a softcover color book for $11.95

Ashen Stars Sale!

And now, for this first Community Content Spotlight, we’re offering a flash sale on DriveThruRPG from 9 a.m. CST on June 8th to 9 a.m. CST on June 13th, 2020, where you can get 50% off of the Ashen Stars core rulebook PDF. Now’s the perfect time to pick up both Ashen Stars and Rogues’ Galaxy, and you’ll have all the options you need to explore the galaxy… on either side of the law.
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The Pelgrane Press Community Program brings you into the fold with other GUMSHOE game designers, affording creators (whatever that means to you!) the opportunity to post and sell their own products on DriveThruRPG. Currently Ashen Stars, Esoterrorists, Fear Itself, and TimeWatch are the only game systems we’re accepting material for, but keep an eye out for expansions into others! Have a kooky idea you’d like to write up and get out there? A flushed out scenario you think others would enjoy? The Community Program is the place to showcase these ideas. If you’re interested in creating something for the Community Program, read more about it here.

A question from the mailbag – how do you assign values to the general ability scores of Gamesmaster Characters in GUMSHOE games? How much Scuffling should a cultist have? How do you rate a gorilla’s Health?

GUMSHOE’s area of focus isn’t finely balanced tactical combat (F20’s just down the hall, guys), so the honest answer is “eh… just eyeball it”. In play, I’ll usually make up the stats of most minor GMCs on the spot, or rely on generic templates. There are some factors to be taken into account, though.

Simple vs. Thriller

In most GUMSHOE games, the maths are simple. Spending 3 points guarantees success on a Difficulty 4 test. So, very roughly – 3 points = 1 successful test, 6 points = 2 successful tests and so forth. If you want the mobsters to keep up with the investigators in that Driving chase for at least two rounds, give the mobster wheelman a 6 in Driving. Any score over 10 or so is unlikely to be relevant; combat is usually decided in a few rounds, so it doesn’t matter hugely if your big bruiser GMC has a Scuffling of 10 or 18.

The one wrinkle is in games like Night’s Black Agents with thriller combat rules, where there are more uses for points. In games like that, tough bad guys do need extra points. (Fortunately, NBA has a nice roster of sample GMS to guide you, on p. 69-70).

Down vs Hurt

As a rule of thumb – cannon fodder background characters have a Health of 3-4 (2 if they’re really fragile; 5-6 if they’re noticeable tough). Named bad guys get Health scores of 8 or so (6 if they’re really fragile; anything goes for supernaturally tough foes).

In pulpier incarnations of GUMSHOE, minor bad guys are eliminated once they hit 0 Health, whereas player characters and other important individuals become Hurt, then Seriously Wounded before being Killed at -12 Health.

Common vs. Rare Abilities

Players usually invest the bulk of their points into the abilities that get used a lot (Athletics, Health, Stealth, some sort of combat skill), and might also invest in one or two abilities that match their character concept (lots of First Aid for a nurse, lots of Piloting and Mechanical Repair for a pilot). Other abilities might be neglected, or have just enough points for one good try. Two points in, say, Driving is enough to have a good chance of passing one Driving test – and most scenarios won’t have more Driving than that.

When building GMCs, look at the player characters. If you’re going to include a chase scene, and none of your PCs have invested many points in Driving, then you may not want to drop in an expert cultist wheelman with Driving 15. Tailor the challenges to the players. (At the same time, if a player’s deliberately invested lots of points in an obscure ability, then they want to be tested in that area. Taking, say, Riding 10 means the player really wants a cool horseback chase.)

Other Modifiers

In GUMSHOE, GMCs have Alertness and Stealth modifiers instead of Sense Trouble and Stealth pools (the players are the ones making the tests, so we apply modifiers from the bad guys). These range from +2 to -2 in most cases; average people are +0, training gives +1, and extremely specialised skills give a +2. Reserve modifiers of +3 or more to supernatural threats.

Stats like Hit Threshold, Armour and Weapons use the same rules as for player characters.

Spending Patterns

A related question to GMC design is “how many points should the bad guys spend on each roll?” Do you go for efficiency (“spend enough to guarantee a hit”), verisimilitude (“the alarm hasn’t been raised yet, so the guards probably think they’re taking pot-shots at squirrels, not shooting investigators – I’ll spend one point”) or other concerns (“Bob’s PC is at low Health already – I won’t spend to give him a chance of making it out alive”).

Some games (like Ashen Stars) suggest spending patterns, so a lumbering alien beast might spend points slowly at first, then build up (0/1/2/4), whereas an ambush predator front-loads its attacks (4/3/0/0). Personally, I tend to have cannon fodder spend 2 points per attack, and play the named bad guys according to their personality.

Numbers (Generally) Don’t Matter Much

GUMSHOE’s primarily a player-facing game. Some variants, like QuickShock or One2One, don’t even use pools of points for bad guys, just flat modifiers. The important question is always “what’s the Difficulty for the player characters?”, not realism or careful game balance. Human and human-adjacent characters operate in a relatively narrow range, so you can’t go far wrong by sticking to 3-6 points in an ability for minor foes, 6-12 for major threats. (Monsters are a different matter – and beyond the scope of this article!)

Quick Templates

(For Fear Itself, Esoterrorists, or Trail of Cthulhu)

Mook

General Abilities: Athletics 2, Fighting 3, Health 2

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: +0

Weapon: Knife (-1)

Armour: None

Sentry or Criminal

General Abilities: Athletics 4, Fighting 4, Driving 4, Shooting 4, Health 4

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: -1

Weapon: Knife (-1) or Pistol (+0)

Armour: None

Big Bruiser

General Abilities: Athletics 6, Fighting 8, Health 8

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: -1

Weapon: Big Club (+0)

Armour: None

Cult Assassin

General Abilities: Athletics 8, Fighting 10, Shooting 6,

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +1

Weapon: Sacrificial Knife (-1) or Big Handgun (+1)

Armour: Cult Robes (2 points)

In the latest episode of their Number One podcast, Ken and Robin talk organic versus mechanical game design, mashing up The Prisoner with Night’s Black Agents, Beaupré the Giant, and the Tomb of Maeshowe.

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