In the latest episode of their efficiently delivered podcast, Ken and Robin talk civilization saga gaming, Alexandrine of Taxis, mid-oughts horror cinema, and the Highgate vampire.

Tonight, Thursday April 8th at 7PM EDT, tune into the Pelgrane Press Twitch channel to watch game designers and writers Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan as they take you through the process of designing a scenario for The Yellow King RPG.

The Ordo Veritatis works to thwart the ghastly schemes of the Esoterrorists, who seek to undermine humanity’s sense of an rational, secure universe by playing on our fears and paranoias until reality collapses and the Membrane protecting us from the forces of the Outer Dark is forever torn. The Esoterrorists believe that destroying the Membrane will give them the ability to work magic, but this power comes at a terrible, unthinkable price in suffering and horror. Fighting the Esoterrorists is, unquestionably, a moral act… so, therefore, using the tools of the Esoterrorists would be acceptable, right?

These techniques are not part of Ordo Veritatis training. They may be learned in the field, through interrogating captured enemy operatives or through study of Esoterrorist techniques. They’re passed around, too, by veteran Ordo investigators – unofficially, quietly, and with the greatest of care. They’re a dirty little secret among those who’ve looked into the abyss, and who know that no

Any use of Esoterrorist magic is utterly against the credo of the order, and any operatives who demonstrate knowledge of these techniques will face sanction.

These techniques, called Reality Hacks, only work in places where the Membrane has been severely weakened by Esoterrorist activity – and using a hack will further weaken the barrier, permitting more horrors from the Outer Dark access to our reality.

Learning Hacks

Each Hack corresponds to an investigative ability. The Agent must have at least one point in that ability to learn the hack.

Each Hack must be learned separately at the cost of 2 Experience points.

Using A Reality Hack

To use a Hack, the Agent spends one point from the investigative ability, and makes a Stability test (Difficulty 4, +1 per Hack previously used in this adventure). If the Stability test fails, the hack further weakens the membrane in the local area, possibly letting in more entities from outside.

Some hacks require a target; usually, the target must be within a short distance of the caster – er, investigator, not caster. These aren’t spells. OV agents don’t use magic. Optionally, spending more investigative points lets the investigator work the hack at a greater distance or using sympathetic techniques.

Powerful Esoterrorists are immune to hacks, as are most Creatures of Unremitting Horror.

Hacks only work in places where the Membrane has already been considerably weakened.

Academic Hacks

Interpersonal Hacks (coming soon)

Technical Hacks (coming soon)

 


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

(For context, see the Reality Hacking rules)

Academic Hacks

Primal Hunter (Anthropology): You gain a 6-point Scuffling pool for the next scene, but you can only use this pool when armed with melee weapons you have made yourself. A sharpened stick or just a nicely balanced stone works. You deal +1 damage with these primal weapons.

Inter (Archaeology): Instantly disposes of a human corpse. The corpse reappears nearby in a hitherto undiscovered grave, as if it had been buried there for centuries or even longer, with a corresponding degree of decay. So, use it to clean up your hotel room after defeating an Esoterrorist assassin, and some poor future archaeologist will have to work out why there’s a 21st-century knife in a grave that’s clearly from the Hohokam culture of 1400 years ago.

Spacewarp (Architecture): Connect two doors in the same building for one round, regardless of the intervening space.

Exquisite, Isn’t It? (Art History): Convince an onlooker that an event or object should be regarded as an abstract sculpture or a piece of performance theatre; as long as everyone else in the scene plays along with the charade, the target’s unable to critically engage with the subject of the illusion. (“Oh, you’ve just murdered that guy… but it’s ok, this is guerrilla street theatre!)

Debtor’s Prison (Forensic Accounting): The target of this hack becomes unable to distinguish relative values of money for the rest of the scene. They can be convinced that a dollar is worth a huge amount, or that it’s perfectly reasonable to let someone borrow fifty thousand bucks for a cup of coffee.

Manifest Fear (Forensic Psychology): The investigator conjures a brief, haunting image of the target’s most deep-seated fear. Both investigator and target glimpse the shadow, but it vanishes so quickly that only a few details can be made out before it disappears.

T’lon! (History): Inserts an entry of your choice into the next reference book or website the target consults. This entry doesn’t have to relate to history – you could warp someone’s internet search for the nearest taxi company. Anytime they look to an authoritative source for some supposedly neutral and universally accepted information, you’re there.

Word of Babel (Languages): For the rest of the scene, the player characters become able to communicate in a unique language known only to them. Outsiders may assume they’re speaking a rare language like Basque.

Freeman on the Land (Law): The target of the hack loses the ability to disentangle or dismiss legal arguments. As long as the Agent can make some sort of legal-sounding justification, the target is compelled to assume the Agent’s baloney is correct (“you can’t arrest me, officer – you’re not a tugboat! I have a birth certificate, therefore a berth, therefore I’m a ship!”)

Imperative Command (Linguistics): This hack turns a piece of text – no more than four words long – into an imperative command that must be obeyed. For example, zapping a ‘quiet please’ sign in a library would render anyone who reads it temporarily speechless; enchanting a stop sign would force anyone who sees it to stop dead in their tracks. Those afflicted by the hack can ignore the command with an effort of will, but that takes a moment of focussed concentration.

Cryptid (Natural History): This hack transforms an animal into a cryptid monster, making it bigger, more aggressive, and empowering it with supernatural abilities. The hacker has no control over the effects of the spell or the behaviour of the animal; it’s something of a wild shot. Still, it’s generally true that a conjured cryptid will attack the nearest prey.

Demon Summoning (Occult Studies): This isn’t so much a hack as it is focussed Esoterrorism – the hacker deliberately invites a Creature of Unremitting Horror to enter our reality. There’s no guarantee what, if anything, this hack conjures, although the hacker can shape the desired result by providing the ODE (Outer Dark Entity) with a suitable host body or conditions for forming one. (If you want a Torture Dog, then perform this hack in a toolshed with the body of a dead dog.)

Special Means of Dispatch (Pathology): This hack instantly heals a Seriously Wounded or Dying Agent. The downside – the Agent is now permanently connected to the Outer Dark, and is ‘alive’ only as long the connection’s maintained. The Agent cannot survive for more than a few hours in areas where the Membrane is intact. Furthermore, when the hack is performed, the hacker must specify a means of dispatch that can be used to kill the resurrected investigator; the amount of Health restored is inversely proportional to the difficulty of this means of dispatch. (So, “you die instantly if hit by a silver bullet” might be generous enough to fully restore the Agent’s health, whereas “you die instantly if hit by a silver bullet, engraved with the secret pet name your lover uses for you, and only on your wedding anniversary”) is restrictive enough that the Agent might only be healed to 1 Health.

An Agent can only benefit from this hack once.

Rabbit Hole (Research): If used as part of a regular Research attempt (visiting a library, a thorough internet search), the hacker finds themselves going down odd and seemingly irrelevant lines of research. You start off looking for property records about an old house, and end up looking at 17th century French wallpaper or obscure types of heirloom apples or how shipping containers were invented. This obscure line of research will show up again later in the investigation, and will be connected somehow to a person or object of interest – but there’s no guarantee how or where this will happen. For example, the Agents might later meet a bunch of suspects, one of whom happens to be eating an apple from the local farmer’s market. There’s no rational reason why that should be significant, but that’s Esoterrorist magic for you.

Menard Technique (Textual Analysis): When reading a piece of text, the hacker’s consciousness mingles with that of the writer, pushing the hacker into a state of mind where they could have written the text. This may give useful insights into the thoughts and state of the original writer; it may equally drive the hacker into modes of Esoterrorist thought from which there is no return.

Approximate Knowledge of Many Things (Trivia): This hack allows the hacker to sort of vaguely answer one question; the answer is correct but not necessarily useful or actionable. At best, it can give a direction or rough location for further investigation (“where’s the ritual site?” “Uh, by a laundromat”). Trying to pin down the magic by asking an extremely specific question (“of the following list of laundromats, which is the closest to the ritual site in terms of spatial distance in a straight line”) short-circuits the hack, weakening the Membrane without providing useful information.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In the latest episode of their shrieking, wing-buffeting podcast, Ken and Robin talk turnip-headed wyverns, Sumerian F20, horror of the early oughts, and faked snow conspiracy theory.

In the latest episode of their entrancingly carpeted podcast, Ken and Robin talk place as the center of a scenario, a spiralbound cookbook from almost Nebraska, end of the century horror essentials, and Baird Spalding.

claw demonBoth Trail of Cthulhu and Fear Itself feature protagonists who are comparatively (or cosmically!) feeble compared to the foes they encounter. By no coincidence whatsoever, both games also incorporate the Fleeing ability, an ability that’s used only for running away.

To make Fleeing a bit more complex and combat-like, here are some optional expanded Fleeing rules, drawing on the Thriller Chases of Night’s Black Agents.

Escape or Capture

The aim of a chase is to win three contests in a row. If a runner gets three wins in a row, that character has escaped. If the runner loses three rounds of the contest in a row, the pursuer catches up with that the runner. The pursuer rolls once and compares their result to all the runners, so it’s possible for one runner to succeed and another to lose in any given round (and for one runner to rack up three successes and get clear!)

To avoid having contests drag on too long, if the monster has 0 Athletics or Aberrance left, assume it gives up unless it’s one win away from catching a runner.

If A Runner Wins A Round

Whenever a Runner wins a round, they get to pick one of the following benefits.

  • Gain Some Distance: The runner gets a +1 bonus to their next roll in the chase.
  • Help Another Runner: Another runner gets a +1 bonus to their next roll in the chase.
  • Create an Obstacle: Make an Athletics or Mechanics test. Next round, if the monster’s result is lower than the result of this test, then the round counts as a win for the purposes of determining escape only. The runners don’t get to pick a benefit next round if they win.
  • Hide! Instead of continuing to run, a runner can Hide and hope the monster doesn’t find them. It’s a Hide (or Stealth) test, Difficulty 6, modified by the monster’s Awareness modifier.
  • Take A Breather: Refresh 2 points of Fleeing or Athletics.
  • Shoot! If the runner’s got a ranged weapon, they can take a snap-shot at the pursuer. (Stopping to make a melee attack is tantamount to ending the chase.)
  • Split Up! The runners go in different directions. The pursuer can only chase one of them – but gets a +1 bonus to all its rolls for the rest of the chase against that quarry.

If A Pursuer Wins A Round

If the Pursuer beats any of the Runners, it gets to do one of the following actions.

  • Swipe: The monster gets close enough to make a Scuffling attack on the runner. The runner gets a +2 bonus to their Hit Threshold.
  • Trip: The monster nearly grabs the runner, making them stumble. The runner’s got a -2 penalty to their next roll in the chase.
  • Scare: The monster pops up right on top of the runner, jump scaring them. The runner must make a 3-point Stability check.

If it beats all the runners, it gets to pick one of the following:

  • It’s Gaining On Us! For the rest of the chase, the monster gets a +1 bonus to all its chase rolls.
  • We Can’t Get Out This Way! Reset all the runners to 0 wins in a row.

 

In the latest episode of their hard-hitting podcast, Ken and Robin talk scenes of aloneness in one-player games, Count Dante and the Chicago Dojo Wars, 90s horror film essentials, and keeping France Angevin.

In this story hook for preteen weird investigation in Fear Itself, excitement over Mars exploration turns to alien terror in a sleepy small town.

The young protagonists assemble when assigned to a group class presentation about the latest NASA rover mission to Mars. They establish their group dynamic while poring through images on the NASA site on a Zoom conference.

As the discussion wanes, one member of the group hears an alarming bashing sound outside the house. This character is alone in the house for reasons you ask the player to specify. They go out to check and see the Mars rover sorting through their trash cans. Seeing that it’s been spotted, it rattles away, vanishing from sight despite its ungainly construction.

The group might gather to search for it then. Or become alarmed the next day, when they stumble across a raccoon, coyote or other example of local wildlife, subjected to the same sort of dissection described in accounts of cattle mutilation. Nearby: tread tracks that look awfully like the probe.

Inquiries to NASA get the brushoff. But then the kids see government investigators show up to ask questions. And then disappear, their vehicle still running by the roadside.

The group hears of more sightings, but only from their classmates. Whenever they’re asked about it, adults either convincingly say they’ve seen nothing, or enter a glazed-over state indicating that they’ve had their memories tampered with.

The kids see that second group of adults constructing something at night, moving about robotically, as if under external control. After observation—with the threat of discovery and a chase—they can determine that it is a corral of some kind.

Seen up close, the probes do not quite match the NASA versions. Lines that ought to be straight instead display organic irregularities. The metal breathes. A camera blinks, revealing itself as an eyeball.

By capturing one of the probes and making a Science spend they can not only communicate with it but compel it to reveal its story. It belongs to a shapeshifting alien race. Its people encountered the probe on Mars and took it for Earth’s dominant life form. Not long after their raiding ship landed in the old quarry outside town, they realized they’d chosen the wrong form. But never mind—they’ve still managed to move about, psychically enthralling enough victims for the slaughter to soon commence. Those space agency investigators seemed an impediment at first, but quickly became an appetizer for the great feast to come.

Only the young are immune to their psychic powers, leaving our heroes alone to destroy the corral before it becomes a slaughterhouse, taking out the shapeshifters and their ship. Build your conclusion around the players’ plan, throwing in a surprise obstacle or two along the way.

Probe Monsters

Abilities: Aberrance 14, Athletics 4, Fleeing 12, Health 4, Psychic Blast 10

Hit Threshold: 3

Armor: None

Awareness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: -2

Damage Modifier: +3 (psychic blast vs adults); -2 (psychic blast vs teens or younger)

Aberrant Powers: Can alter its outer surface to a frequency outside the human visible spectrum, spending 1 Aberrance per adult observer or 2 per younger observer to become effectively invisible. Can erase itself from the memory of any adult on a 1 pt Aberrance spend and gain obedience from an adult on a 2 pt spend. Refreshes Aberrance at dusk each day.


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the creatures of the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In the latest episode of their stone cold podcast, Ken and Robin talk crunch vs simulation, the Red Barn Murder, yet more 80s horror, and those darn monoliths.

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