Bring Mind-Bending Spellcasting to The Yellow King Roleplaying Game

Ritual magic of the Belle Époque! The desperate Science Jaune of a war-torn continent! Parageometrical horrors perfected in the labs of the tyrannical, overthrown Castaigne regime! Signing, the latest way to turn social media dysfunction into sorcerous reality!

Your players can master them all—at perilous risk!

Each spell is a Shock card with effects both useful and sinister. Do they hold onto that that spell they need to do that thing, even as their inner realities start to break apart? Or do they take the safe route, and cast out the buzzing, insistent power of the Yellow Sign?

New magic rules include 144 startling spells, background material on Carcosan magic in all four YKRPG settings, and GM guidance showing you how to incorporate player-facing occult powers into your game.

Plus, a quartet of scenarios, allowing the characters of each sequence to make double-edged deals with the world of sorcery:

  • Dancer at the Bone Cabaret pits the art students of Paris against a force that lures their Bohemian friends to the latest, hottest nightspot. But are they the patrons, or items on the menu?
  • A Casket at Le Thil sends the supernatural-quashing soldiers of The Wars into a village haunted by subterranean enemy activity.
  • Memories of a Dream Clown confronts the victorious revolutionaries of Aftermath with a treasured but tarnished memory of childhood—and murder!
  • Love Wears No Mask finds This Is Normal Now’s ordinary heroes battling an intrusive yet enthralling phone app, and the dramatic goings-on of the subtly destabilizing dating reality show it promotes.

Play them separately, or chill your players with all of them. All they have to lose is their grip on reality…

Written and designed by: Robin D. Laws, Sarah Saltiel, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Ruth Tillman.

Status: Playtest open until March 2nd 2020

The Zalozhniy Quartet for Night’s Black Agents sends the Agents on a desperate search for… wait. Spoiler warning. Don’t read this article if you’re likely to play in a ZQ game anytime soon. It’s a desperate search for, ah, something fuzzy and friendly and totally does not involve unkillable time-locked zombie monsters.

Now that we’ve cleared the room of non-Directors without clearance, let’s get into it. The Quartet involves a search for two mysterious substances, the nigredo (vampiric essence) and the albedo (a control substance of some sort). Combined, these create the rubedo, a marvellous compound sought by the vampires – and that, incidentally, gives control over the House of Saud and Saudi Arabia. (I note in passing that not only have world events overwritten the opening sequence of The Zalozhniy Sanction, set in Crimea, but current events in Riyadh may soon make the description in Treason in the Blood obsolete…)

If all goes according to plan, the Agents pick up the Albedo in The Boxmen and find the nigredo in Treason in the Blood.

The terms albedo, nigredo and rubedo are borrowed from alchemy. They’re three of the steps towards the Great Work to make the philosopher’s stone and achieve immortality, which makes them obviously pertinent to vampiric weirdness. You start with nigredo, with putrefaction and death (or, if you’re going with a Jungian know-thyself interpretation, the dark night of the soul). You’re wash it clean with (or in) the albedo (the Whiteness, Cleansing). You transmute it through citrinitas, the Yellow, the solar light, the dawn. Finally, you achieve the rubedo, the Red, perfection and victory and immortality (and access to Saudi oil reserves.)

So, there’s a whole alchemical step in the Magnum Opus right there – citrinas – that’s missing in the Zalozhniy Quartet. If that offends your sense of alchemical symmetry, here are some options for adding it in:

  • The citrinas is the human element in the vampire. CITRINE was St. John Philby’s codename for King Ibn Saud; the Conspiracy still use the Citrine codename to refer to the Saudi royal family (“we can draw down funds from the citrines”)
  • Citrinas is the essence of solar heroism – it’s vampire slaying. To create the rubedo, you need the blood of a hero. The Conspiracy needs to capture one of the Agents alive to complete their plan.
  • The citrinas refers to the ritual needed to combine the albedo and The Agents can obtain it from the Russian defector Arkady Shevlenko, or from Kim Philby’s safety deposit box, or St. John’s grave, or Dorjiev’s notes. Alternatively, the citrinas might be a potion that awakens the imbiber’s consciousness, enabling them to combine the albedo and nigredo safely. This also implies that the Conspiracy may end up needing to snatch one of the Agents.
  • The citrinas refers to a magical lens (maybe one of the glass fulminates retrieved from the desert, suitably polished) that transmutes the solar magic of daylight into the alchemical heat needed to achieve the rubedo. The Kingdom Centre in Riyadh is, of course, made using windows of citrinas; the Agents can delay the ritual by blowing up the Conspiracy’s lenses, or hike into the desert to find their own lenses.
  • Citrinas, the moment of self-realisation after death and cleansing, refers to the death-moment of a zalozhniy. Dr. Dorjiev wears citrine stones to anchor his life to that death-moment, as per p. 9 – if the Agents destroy or remove those stones, he’ll have to create a new zalozhniy post-haste to hide his death away again. (Kim Philby also created a citrinas token to sustain him through the Great Work, which is why he was so damned hard to kill – his citrine-stone ensured he survived the shell explosion in December 1937 in Spain, when he emerged unharmed from a blast that killed everyone else in the car he was travelling in. The citrine may be stored in his deposit box in the Kornersbank, or in some KGB storeroom in Moscow.)

For lots more alchemical fun, check out GUMSHOE Zoom: Alchemy

[Editor’s Note: Like the creatures in the Dying Earth, and those in Trail, each Night’s Black Agents campaign has a different vampire. This excerpt introduces you to vampire design.]

Vampires

Now, it’s the opposition’s turn.

This chapter presents a series of questions to answer and decisions to make for the Director. Why do vampires exist? Where do they come from? What are their powers? How do humans stop them? When did they begin to corrupt Europe – or mankind as a whole? Who do they control? This chapter also presents a wide variety of answers to those questions, and options for those decisions. The Director builds her vampires, and their conspiracy, from those answers and choices, and from her imagination and creativity. Thus, no two games of Night’s Black Agents will have exactly the same vampires, so the players won’t know what to expect even if they expect vampires.

Parameters

As a starting point for design, consider the following four general types of vampires: Supernatural, Damned, Alien, and Mutant.

These are not mutually exclusive by any means: a mutant vampire virus could have come from outer space or from Hell; all supernatural phenomena might be fundamentally demonic or, following Lovecraft, fundamentally misunderstood alien science. Is the “astral vampire” a supernatural being, or a paraphysical one? Especially in modern fiction, vampires can partake of all four types: evil infected humans who follow alien physical laws that eerily resemble vampire folklore. Much of the fun of postmodern horror comes from blurring these boundaries, and the Director should feel free to do so. Nevertheless, much of the thrill of Gothic horror comes from playing into the tropes and stereotypes of the genre, so the Director shouldn’t necessarily discard the default version or traditional answer for a given vampire.

The symbols in front of each type recur through this section, providing just such a default answer, or general guidelines for vampire creation within each type.

Supernatural

Vampires are the result of magical or other supernatural activities on Earth: spirits, ghosts, necromancy, witchcraft, and the like. Their markers are strange superstitions, often surrounding childbirth and burial customs; their emphasis is hunger. Most folkloric vampires are supernatural: a person born with a caul on a Saturday, or one whose family allows a cat in the room with his corpse, might rise as a vampire.

Damned

Vampires are the work of Satan or other explicitly demonic entities opposed to mankind and God. They may be demons who possess corpses, revenant suicides or heretics, or humans who made a specific pact with the Devil before death. Their markers are holy symbols and symbolism; their emphasis is seduction. Starting in the 17th century, most literary and legendary vampires are damned.

Alien

Vampires are alien beings, or earthly beings who nevertheless follow different laws of physics. Such “paraphysical” vampires might be alien invaders, psychic phenomena, corpses animated by alien science, or just “humans” from another dimension. Their markers are various uncanny effects; their emphasis is invasion. The alien vampire begins with H.G. Wells and the birth of science fiction in the late 19th century.

Mutant

Vampires are earthly beings infected or changed by (or into) some freak of nature. Such “parabiological” vampires may be mutants, constructs of some black program, humans adapted to future conditions of plague or global cooling, insane humans obsessed with blood, or sentient diseases that possess their hosts. Their markers are medical symptoms; their emphasis is infection. The mutant vampire begins with Enlightenment skeptics connecting vampirism and tuberculosis, and flourishes in science fiction and addiction horror.

Campaign Modes and Vampire Types

Although any vampire type works with any campaign mode, and vice versa, some symbolic and thematic alignments exist. The general considerations below also apply to the various modes in significant ways. [The modes of play were discussed in a previous article]

Burn: In games focusing on emotional damage and cost, agents face the agony of staking their own friends and loved ones. This works best if vampires actually come back from the dead, if vampirism can “infect” civilians, and if they retain some aspects of their old humanity: part and parcel of supernatural and damned vampires, and some mutant vampires.

Burn, Dust: In Burn mode and Dust mode games, vampirism should probably be incurable to emphasize those modes’ characteristic themes of loss and powerlessness, respectively.

Dust: Realistic, low-fi games fit the tone of either “realistic” mutant vampires or the grimier sort of supernatural vampires. Some alien vampires play well in “realistic” campaigns, also. That said, the sharp contrast between gray realism and crimson Hammer horror makes damned vampires a vivid contender in Dust mode games. Realistically, other observers would likely have spotted a large vampire population before the agents uncover them. In Dust mode games, either keep the number of vampires minimal, or add at least one underfunded vampire-hunting group or agency.

Mirror: Damned vampires foreground questions of allegiance and seduction, just as Mirror mode games do. The invasion themes of alien vampires also fit well, as do vampires who choose their own fate: necromancers, unorthodox epidemiologists, and psionic vampires. Vampires in Mirror mode games should definitely be able to pass for human, raising the “who do I trust?” question every time an agent gets briefly separated from the party after sundown. Factions of vampires can betray each other, or hire the agents under false flags to stake their foes; a very helpful option for Mirror mode games.

Stakes: Games of belief and motivation work well when the vampires themselves are motivated by an ideology (as with damned vampires) or are simply existential threats (as with alien and infectious-disease vampires).

Sanguinary Considerations

Even before you begin to build your vampires mechanically, take some time to consider the phenomenon of vampirism in your campaign. What kinds of stories do vampires highlight? What do they make possible, or impossible? Your campaign vastly alters if there is only one true vampire in the world working through a horde of Renfields, instead of six enormous vampire clans tracing their descent back to ancient Dacia wrangling over their own internal politics.

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

While developing collaborators’ scenarios for Black Star Magic, I found myself puzzling out a design style question arising from a particular feature of QuickShock.

In previous iterations of GUMSHOE, and most other games with hit points or a hit point-like function, characters can theoretically leave play at any time. In all GUMSHOE games characters can die physically, ending their stories and requiring players to create replacements. In our various horror games, characters can also exit after cracking under intolerable mental strain.

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game follows that pattern: your character can shuffle off in both ways. Unlike games with traditional hit points (Health points in GUMSHOE) or Sanity / Stability points, YKRPG characters take their final curtains after receiving a predetermined number of Injury or Shock cards. After 3 or 4 cards, depending on how forgiving the GM has chosen to make her game, they’re outta there.

My scenarios provide ample opportunities to take Injury and Shock cards. In fact, one of the key requests made by playtesters was STOP MURDERING US SO HARD.

One or two of my more forgiving colleagues, on the other hand, just might have submitted scenarios including a less-than-fatal number of Injuries and/or Shocks.

This raised the question: is that poor form?

A scenario for standard GUMSHOE might make the prospect of death unlikely, by going light on scenes featuring fights or physical hazards. Likewise it might feature only a handful of Stability or Composure tests. But depending on how many points players have invested in key pools, you can’t say for certain that the scenario won’t dispatch a PC or two.

In QuickShock you can count the number of times the characters might take cards, and see that it doesn’t equal the Final Card threshold.

That’s before taking edge cases into account, though.

In an ongoing game, one or more characters may already have Continuity Shock or Injury cards carried over from previous play. This drops their effective thresholds for receiving new cards. If you have the Injury card Circulatory Damage, you start every scenario being able to receive one less Injury additional card than you did when you began play. A scenario that deals out a maximum of two Injuries could, if you get both of them, end you.

Also, the GM, responding to surprise player choices, may wind up improvising additional fights, hazards, and disturbing events. When these go wrong they hand out cards over and above those listed in the scenario. “You can’t die from the cards listed in the scenario” must always be read as “You can’t die from the cards listed in the scenario, if you only do what the scenario predicts you might do.” Those of us who have ever run a game know how big an if that is.

In yet another also, the GM never tells the players that a scenario includes few Shock or Injury cards. It’s not the actual likelihood of investigator demise that creates suspense in play, but the threat of it as perceived by the players, that delivers the emotional freight. When you get the last card listed in the scenario, you have no way of knowing that there aren’t a boatload more of them still potentially to come. Unless you read the scenario afterwards, you’ll never see that you were actually safe.

For those reasons, I decided that it should not be a requirement that every published scenario hand out enough cards to potentially kill off a character.

Also, with rare exceptions, Shock and Injury cards impose other penalties on the characters who receive them. That’s why they exist. Unlike a quantity of lost hit points, they create lingering effects that impact the story. They sit in front of the players, reminding them that something has gone wrong. Something that must be addressed. The anxious desire to get rid of these awful, nagging cards mimics the fear and unease of the characters. Even if you can only get one card of a given type in a scenario, when you get it, you generally really want to get rid of it. One card you remember getting, or struggling to discard, exerts a greater impact than some Health points you lost and then refreshed.

Even if that weren’t the case, a philosophical design question remains: is it somehow cheating, or poor form, to introduce the possibility of character demise when it can’t actually happen? A D&D or 13th Age game assumes you’ll be fighting up a storm over most evenings of play. But if a particular adventure has you intriguing your way through a trade dispute with little chance of taking an ax to the face, you likely consider that a refreshing change of pace. After a while you’re going to want to get back to the core activity of battling and looting, jotting down hit point losses as you go. But the adventure where the stakes aren’t the characters’ survival doesn’t register as a cheat.

For a scenario to engage the players, they have to care about something. They must want for X to happen and fear that it will not. The prospect of character death exists in games as a default set of stakes: do you live or die?

In the mystery scenario that GUMSHOE offers, you always have another measure of success, other than “am I still breathing at the end?” When you figure out what’s going on in time to prevent disaster, see justice done, or simply slake your curiosity, you’ve won.

As long as your choices lead to either good or bad consequences, those consequences don’t have to be Shock or Injury cards in order for players to walk away from the table remembering a gripping narrative.


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

The last edition of See Page XX was filled with so much excitement around the launch of the GUMSHOE Community Content program (ICYMI, find all the details here), but that pales into insignificance compared to this month, and the launch of the Yellow King RPG! We’re proud of how slick and elegantly it’s turned out – thanks in large part to Christian Knutsson’s effortless design – and we’re so glad to be finally able to share it with the world. Pick it up on its own, or in a discounted bundle with city sourcebook Absinthe in Carcosa and Robin’s latest novel, The Missing and the Lost.

New Releases

      • The Yellow King RPG – Four full-colour 6″ x 9″ hardback books in a slipcase, with accompanying GM screen. The dread horror of Robert Chambers’ King in Yellow stories take RPG form, confronting your players with an epic journey across four Carcosan-drenched time periods.
      • Absinthe in Carcosa – An 8.5″ x 11″, full-colour hardback, this indispensable city guide for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is yoked together from travelogues, newspapers, and the disquieting ephemera of the occult tradition.
      • The Missing and the Lost – A thrilling, thought-provoking novel, which can be read as a mystery of a dread-drenched alternate reality, or use it as a model for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game when you play its Aftermath setting.
      • The GUMSHOE Community program – Create your own adventures, ships, planets, and much more for the Ashen Stars setting!
      • 5e conversion – Eyes of the Stone Thief – Two levels of Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s 13th Age megadungeon Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, converted to D&D 5th edition rules
      • Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition – Pre-order the updated and expanded mutant-powered police procedural GUMSHOE game, and get the final PDF now.
      • Even Death Can Die – Pre-order this adventure collection for Cthulhu Confidential and get the pre-edit draft PDF now.

Articles

13th Age

See Page XX Poll

What social media website(s) do you spend most time on?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Long-term readers will understand how I am equal parts excited and relieved to be able to FINALLY say this…

***NEW*** The Yellow King RPG!!

If you missed out on the multi-phased and many-pronged cursing of the Nest that was The Yellow King RPG printing and fulfillment, you can now corrupt your own existence with the four-book, slipcase & GM screen extravaganza that is Robin D. Laws’s The Yellow King RPG – if you dare.

In case you haven’t spent the last two years chasing printers on it and don’t know what it’s about…inspired by the reality-twisting The King in Yellow stories by Robert W. Chambers, the boxed set contains four different settings:

  • Belle Époque Paris, where a printed version of the dread play is first published. Players portray American art students in its absinthe-soaked world, navigating the Parisian demimonde and investigating mysteries involving gargoyles, vampires, and decadent alien royalty.
  • The Wars, an alternate reality in which the players take on the role of soldiers bogged down in the great European conflict of 1947. While trying to stay alive on an eerie, shifting battlefield, they investigate supernatural mysteries generated by the occult machinations of the Yellow King and his rebellious daughters.
  • Aftermath, set later in the same reality, in present day North America. A bloody insurrection has toppled a dictatorial regime loyal to Carcosa. Players become former partisans adjusting to ordinary life, trying to build a just society from the ashes of civil war. But not all of the monsters have been thoroughly banished—and like it or not, they’re the ones with the skills to hunt them and finish them off.
  • This is Normal Now. In the present day we know, albeit one subtly permeated by supernatural beings and maddening reality shifts, ordinary people band together, slowly realizing that they are the key to ending a menace spanning eras and realities.

***NEW*** Absinthe in Carcosa

Accompanying your Yellow King RPG spiral into the distorted degeneracy of the Carcosans is Absinthe in Carcosa, an indispensable city guide to Belle Époque Paris. As an absinthe-drenched American art student explored Paris in search of the decadent influence of the King in Yellow, he created a scrapbook – a guide both for himself, and those who would follow. Yoked together from existing travelogues, newspapers, and the disquieting ephemera of the occult tradition, it laid out a skewed portrait of a haunted city. Dean Engelhardt (The Hawkins Papers, Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos) has worked his usual dazzling magic on this evocative full-colour handbook to Yellow Paris. Mine it for YKRPG adventure hooks, handouts, absinthe trips and period flavour – or just to show your players how far they have to fall…

***NEW*** The Missing and the Lost

In his creepy and unnerving short story collection New Tales of the Yellow Sign, Robin first explored the “spread through global culture, and history itself, like a virus” of the King in Yellow. And now, his own “contagion bears hideous fruit” in the Yellow King RPG, and the meta novelisation-of-a-novel that is The Missing and the Lost. Set in the “post-Carcosan” Aftermath setting of the Yellow King RPG, the protagonist Technician, responsible for repairing the suicide machines known as the Government Lethal Chambers, is determined to decommission those instruments of death, but instead he finds himself investigating a murder – all the while trying to restore democracy and order to a USA crippled by the Carcosan-supported for Castaigne former regime. While the Kickstarter backers have been waiting for their copies, I’ve been very good and not read it – now that it’s out, I’ve got it stacked up on my Kindle (the print book comes with the PDF, EPUB and MOBI files), and I can’t wait to dive into it as prep for Aftermath games.

Work in progress update: Black Star Magic

This month, we’re got the book of magic for The Yellow King RPG, Black Star Magic, available for playtesting. Featuring background material for Carcosan magic in all four YKRPG settings, and GM guidance showing you how to incorporate player-facing occult powers into your game, as well as a brand-new magical adventure for each of the four YKRPG settings. You’ll need the core YKRPG set to playtest this – if you’re interested, contact us in the usual way.

Other news – GUMSHOE SRD update

I don’t want this to be an all-YKRPG View, but there’s a lot happening with it. Thanks to the generosity of the YKRPG backers (have I mentioned that you’re great? You’re great!), Robin’s been able to update the existing GUMSHOE SRD to include the rules for both QuickShock GUMSHOE, and also GUMSHOE One-2-One. As always, we’d love to hear what you do with those, so do tag us on social media if you’ve got any GUMSHOE projects on the go!

Other other news – social media updates

We’ve been talking a lot internally about video content, and I’d really like to be able to demonstrate how awesome our games are to more video-native players. To that end, I’ve transferred over all our videos from our old Google+(sob!)-connected Google account to a new YouTube account, and also discovered there are some really fabulous Actual Plays and other Pelgrane-related videos out there. I’ve pulled them together into some playlists, focusing on game lines, interviews (how does Rob Heinsoo still look the exact same, 13 years later?!), and GMing advice. Did I miss anything you’d love to see? Let me know in the comments below!

It would be remiss of me not to mention that I’m braving the waters of Reddit on r/RPGdesign from 9th February. AMA about Pelgrane, publishing, or your favourite Pelgrane games!

And while we’re on the social media, a reminder of where you can get all the latest Pelgrane news:

Until next time…

^^ Cat

Please email support@pelgranepress.com for instructions on how to take part in this month’s playtest!

Title: Black Star Magic

System: The Yellow King RPG

Author: Robin D. Laws, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Sarah Saltiel, and Ruth Tillman

Deadline: Monday, March 2nd 2020

Number of sessions: 1-2 per adventure

Description:

Ritual magic of the Belle Époque! The desperate Science Jaune of a war-torn continent! Parageometrical horrors perfected in the labs of the tyrannical, overthrown Castaigne regime! Signing, the latest way to turn social media dysfunction into sorcerous reality!

Your players can master them all—at perilous risk!

Each spell is a Shock card with effects both useful and sinister. Do they hold onto that that spell they need to do that thing, even as their inner realities start to break apart? Or do they take the safe route, and cast out the buzzing, insistent power of the Yellow Sign?

New magic rules include 144 startling spells, background material on Carcosan magic in all four YKRPG settings, and GM guidance showing you how to incorporate player-facing occult powers into your game.

Plus, a quartet of scenarios, allowing the characters of each sequence to make double-edged deals with the world of sorcery:

  • Dancer at the Bone Cabaret pits the art students of Paris against a force that lures their Bohemian friends to the latest, hottest nightspot. But are they the patrons, or items on the menu?
  • A Coffin at Le Thil sends the supernatural-quashing soldiers of The Wars into a village haunted by subterranean enemy activity.
  • Memories of a Dream Clown confronts the victorious revolutionaries of Aftermath with a treasured but tarnished memory of childhood—and murder!
  • Love Wears No Mask finds This Is Normal Now’s ordinary heroes battling an intrusive yet enthralling phone app, and the dramatic goings-on of the subtly destabilizing dating reality show it promotes.

Happy new year, all, and I do hope you’re enjoying your dystopian cyberpunk future! I know I am. 😐

BUT, here in the Pelgrane’s Nest, things are looking up. As of today, we have joined another future – a more positive, and community-based future – with the launch of the GUMSHOE Community program on DriveThruRPG. If you haven’t yet come across the Community Content program, it’s a way for publishers to release some IP elements like text, art and layout assets to their communities to publish new works on DriveThruRPG within that setting, and even make money from them. So now’s your opportunity to revisit those Ashen Stars drafts in your Ideas folder, and get them up there for everyone to enjoy. You can find out more about the program here, and the full details are on the GUMSHOE Community page, here.

***NEW*** Eyes of the Stone Thief 5e Compatible PDF

You’re likely familiar with Eyes of the Stone Thief, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s massive campaign for 13th Age. But, did you know that the living dungeon known as the Stone Thief is so epic it cannot be confined to just one system?! With some help from Kieran Turley, Gareth’s turned the first two levels of his megadungeon masterpiece into a PDF that’s compatible with the 5th Edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game. If you have friends who are interested in making the jump, but nervous about spending money to do so, as well as being available in our webstore, you can also pick it up in the DriveThruRPG store as a pay-what-you-want title.

***NEW*** Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos PDF

New out this month is the PDF of the enormous Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos. While a staff writer, Ken wrote a number of stand-alone PDFs giving some mythos monsters the full Trail of Cthulhu treatment, writing up adventure seeds, variations, sample clues, mythic echoes throughout history, and stats. These PDFs were each carefully researched and information-dense, and packed with such useful ideas and scenario starters that we wanted to make them available to a wider audience. We collated the fifteen of those, added seven entirely new creatures, and rounded the collection out with another nine which had never appeared in a mythos RPG before. Hideous Creatures is the ultimate bestiary not only for Trail of Cthulhu, but for any mythos RPG.

A very rough sketch map of the city of Eversink

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

Kevin’s submitted the final manuscript (yay!), and it’s currently in editing. He’s now working with cartographer and Pelgrane artist Jérôme Huguenin on the maps of Eversink, although it’s early days still – you can see Jérôme’s first draft of the Sinking City over. We’re hoping to be able to release this in time for Gen Con, with pre-orders starting in March or April. Kevin’s also working on his own adventure, and the other writers’, for The Slithering God. Oh, oops…

Breaking! The Slithering God

This just in: we’re working on a five-adventure campaign for Swords of the Serpentine. Like The Zalozhniy Quartet and The Persephone Extraction, The Slithering God will feature five linked adventures, which can be run separately, or combined into one epic campaign. Serpentine authors Kevin Kulp and Emily Dresner will be writing one adventure each, and they’ll be joined by Dracula Dossier and Persephone author Heather Albano, along with Rachael Cruz and Black Star Magic writer Sarah Saltiel. Oh, I did it again? *le sigh*

Breaking! Black Star Magic

Also brand new to our Forthcoming list is a book of magic for The Yellow King RPG. Black Star Magic will feature background material for Carcosan magic in all four YKRPG settings, and GM guidance showing you how to incorporate player-facing occult powers into your game, as well as a brand-new magical adventure for each of the four YKRPG settings. Progress has been tearing along on this thanks to an all-star writing team of Robin Laws, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Sarah Saltiel and Ruth Tillman, and we’re hoping to open playtesting on this in the next See Page XX.

Work in progress update: The Yellow King RPG

And while I’m on the topic, the last remaining backer copies of the Yellow King RPG are winging their way to our wonderful Kickstarter backers, who have waited so very patiently through what has been a fulfillment process of Carcosan-level nightmares.

I say often that we at Pelgrane are incredibly lucky to have the community we do, who understand that we work hard to produce high-quality games for them, and stay with us on that journey, no matter how arduous; but it does bear repeating. A big shout-out of gratitude to the YKRPG backers, for their humour and generosity of spirit, and crossing our fingers that, now that they’re in possession of the tomes, the YKRPG curse touches them but lightly.

For those of you who’ve been waiting patiently while they waited patiently, we’ll be releasing the Yellow King RPG in the next edition of See Page XX.

Work in progress update: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

The final PDF has been uploaded to pre-orderers’ bookshelves now, and this is with the printers. Chinese New Year will impact the delivery date, but we’re hoping to have the books in the US and UK in April.

Work in progress update: Born Robot

Unfortunately, Robin’s conflicting commitments have put this project on semi-permanent hiatus, at least for the next two years. We’ll revisit this once his bandwidth frees up again.

Pelgranes in the Wild, January – Warpcon, Ireland

The early gaming ground of a young me, and an even younger Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, we’ll be trialling a small booth at our home convention in Cork for the first time. This will impact our game running, game playing, and game drinking time (pp. 8-9), but it’ll be worth it to sing the epic song of the Pelgrane for our friends and neighbours.

Pelgranes in the Wild, January, cont – Contingency, UK

At the same time that Gareth and I are reminiscing, Becky will be braving the fens of East Anglia to try out a small booth at Contingency, in King’s Lynn, assisted by Pelgrane playtester Chris Romer. If you’re in the area, which seems quite central, to swing by and say hello.

Until next time…

^^ Cat

St. Patrick St. Patrick. Your only man, really. Taken as a slave to Ireland, escaped, then went back to bring Christianity to the heathens of Ireland. A grasp of both theology and vegetation, by all accounts. Got rid of the snakes, so he did, so he did. Best known now for being a really effective marketing campaign for Irish tourism, but put that aside for now – and grapple with seven shamrock-flavoured GUMSHOE scenario seeds. Most of these are best taken with a pinch of salt… or a generous portion of Writer’s Tears whiskey…

Trail of Cthulhu

St. Patrick banished snakes from Ireland, and we all know what snakes are a metaphor for, right? Tentacles. The pagans of Ireland had associations with underwater prehuman civilisations and monstrous gods – clearly, an outpost of the Deep Ones. The only question is, who was Saint Patrick working for? He’s said to have been inspired by a dream – which might be the mocking meddling of Nyarlathotep. Another tale speaks of his staff sprouting into a tree, which smacks of the Black Goat’s work. Or maybe his abduction wasn’t to Ireland, but to Yuggoth – was St. Patrick a tool dispatched by the Mi-Go to rid Ireland of the Deep Ones (or Serpent People)?

In 1937, your investigators are about to find out, when the draining of a bog reveals an ancient ruin…

Night’s Black Agents

A parade’s always a good place for a fight scene. It’s usually Chinese New Year or Carnivale, but there’s no reason you can’t have a cinematic chase sequence with the participants dodging through brass bands, Irish dancers and leprechauns. (Of possible use – plenty of police offices and priests, just what you need when hunting vampires). Bonus points if you set it in Ireland, maybe while pursuing clues from the Dracula Dossier – Irish Patrick’s day parades tend to be rather shabby and dull compared to American extravaganzas, so you’ll have heroic life-and-death battles on the back of a float advertising some local insurance company…

Mutant City Blues

The victim’s a mutant, so the case landed on your desk. How do they know she’s a mutant? Her skin’s bright green, shifted as part of the celebration using the Alter Form ability. It’s fading, though, which gives you time of death – about three hours after the parade. Alter Form’s correlated with Impersonate – and there was an incident during the parade where a firework went off right in front of the mayor’s stand, clouding the whole area in smoke. Could that have been cover for a switch-out? Was this mystery mutant mimicking the mayor? And if so, why? And who killed her?  

The Esoterrorists

The Irish are, in general, relatively easy-going. Cultural stereotypes of drunken brawlers with a dozen kids and a pig under one arm? Sure, ‘tis all in good fun. 800 years of oppression? Well, aren’t we all Europeans now?

Calling it “St. Patty’s Day?” War to the knife.

Why? Why does that error trigger blind rage? Why do other countries insist on doing it, when “Paddy” is right there? I mean, that’s not great either. And “St. Pat’s” is fine – what strange, esoteric sorcery is there to implant such horror in two little letters?

And once the Esoterrorists have refined this sigil, what else might they attach it to? The Illuminati had their fnords – what if the Esoterrorists successfully create a magical rune that can cause outbreaks of fury in anyone who unwittingly sees it?

Ashen Stars

The synth-culture planet of the Old Country was created to appeal to Human nostalgia for some vanished past that never was – it’s a planet of scenic little cottages, dreary bogs, dancing at the crossroads, and lively village pubs. During the Mohilar War, however, a Durugh warfleet occupied the peaceful Old Country. These Durugh refused to believe the war was over, have rejected the Durugh king’s command to switch sides, and have dug in, constructing underground shelters accessible only by phasing. Down there, they’re experimenting with last-ditch doomsday weapons including time-manipulation technology obtained from the Mohilar…

So, you’ve got an idealised fiction of mid-19th-century Ireland, occupied by heavily armed fairies. The Lasers get called in to find a way to convince the Durugh to lay down their weapons and accept that the war is over.

TimeWatch

No St. Patrick, no Christianity in Ireland. No Christianity, no monasteries. No monasteries, no preservation of knowledge during the Dark Ages. No preservation of knowledge during the Dark Ages, VICTORY OF THE SOPHOSAURS! The TimeWatch team need to guard young Patricus and ensure he meets his destiny…

EXCITING BONUS CONTENT!

Here in Ireland, and across much of the rest of the world, St. Patrick’s Day parades have been cancelled due to the, er, world-wide pandemic. There are plans afoot for virtual or roleplayed parades – kids will be sticking appropriately green-themed artwork in the windows across cities – and moving real-world events into imaginary or virtual spaces is a skill we’ll all have to master very quickly in the weeks to come. So, join us in our festive St. Patrick’s lockdown, and stick a shamrock in the window.

by Adam Gauntlett

In Night’s Black Agents, Trust provides a modular system for tracking and modelling variable trust within a team of agents … Being trusted by a fellow agent lets you help her out in a pinch – or betray her far more effectively.

TRUCE, n. Friendship.

TRUTHFUL, adj. Dumb and illiterate.

TWICE, adv. Once too often. [Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary]

Some players, little cherubs that they are, like to scheme and betray. To recreate that old Le Carré magic, where nobody knows quite where anyone else stands, but everyone knows they’re going to get killed, or worse, if they guess incorrectly. Le Carré, you may recall, based a good deal of his own writing on his experiences with his con-man father, whose continual scheming and money woes scarred Le Carré’s childhood.

Fix that in your mind from the start: when using Trust, you’re playing a con game – a spy’s Big Store, where nothing is as it seems, and you might get the blow-off at any moment, forced to flee without so much as an empty satchel, once full of secrets, to your credit.

Mechanically, you start with 5 Trust points, and spread them around your fellow suckers – forgive me, your fellow agents. This might be in secret or out in the open, but if you’re playing Trust at all, it’s probably better done in secret. Those points can be spent as needed during play, either to help your comrade in a difficult moment, or to hinder them.

There are two unspoken assumptions in that statement. The first, scarcity. The second, benefit.

In order to spend points at all, there has to be opportunity to do so. There has to be a moment when somebody could really use a boost, or cannot afford to be betrayed. This implies they have no, or very few, Investigative or General points of their own – that points are scarce.  Perhaps refreshes aren’t easily had, or the players are encouraged to spend points quickly in-game. That further implies that Difficulties tend to be high, and consequences for failure severe. Why spend points if the Difficulty stays at 4, or 3? Why spend points if failure isn’t painful?

Second, there has to be benefit. Or, as Bierce puts it:

CUI BONO? [Latin] What good would that do me?

When Fibber McGee spends Trust to help Molly interrogate a raving, Renfielded Wallace Wimple, Fibber isn’t doing that out of the kindness of his withered cinder of a heart. Fibber’s doing it because it benefits Fibber. Either getting Wimple to talk is in Fibber’s best interests, or it encourages Molly to put her Trust in Fibber – a mistake that could prove costly later, when Fibber uses those accumulated Trust points to destroy Molly.

All of which skirts round the biggest Trust issue of all – that Trust is about secrets, and therefore story. It’s right there in the opening sentence – this provides a modular system for tracking and modelling variable trust. A mechanic for expressing the consequences of story actions in-game. Trust means nothing without Story. As Director, you shouldn’t focus on Trust as a points mechanic. You should focus on Trust as a means of expressing Story. The points are there to help you do that, but Trust does not begin and end with a point spend.

Fibber might be secretly working for his ineffable, unknowable master, the Johnson Floor Wax Company. Molly might be an Edom mole. Wetworker Belulah might be helping one of Dracula’s Brides kill Dracula, so the Bride can take over the Conspiracy. Hacker and cracker Throckmorton P. Gildersneeve might have been secretly a CIA plant up till that failed break-in, where he was captured by Conspiracy goons and forced to turn to the other side, or die.

All of them have secrets, all of them have Story, and it is that Story they are trying to fulfil when they spend and receive Trust. When Fibber puts 1 point of Trust into Molly, it’s so he can use that Trust for Johnson Floor Wax. Because none of the crew can get what they want on their own, but each of them wants to be the last agent standing when the smoke clears.

For that reason, in a Trust game, players should specify their Story objective right at the start. That objective isn’t carved in stone, and can change in play, just as Gildersneeve changed allegiance from the CIA to the Conspiracy. However, the agent has to be true to their Story objective, as they understand it in the moment. So Fibber is always working for the greater good of Johnson Floor Wax, and if Johnson Floor Wax is actually a Conspiracy front, that doesn’t matter – at least, not until Fibber discovers The Hidden Truth, and has to make up his mind what to do about it. Up until that point, Fibber was being true to his objective, without realizing his objective was wrong-headed. Now he knows it’s wrong-headed, will he stay loyal to Johnson Floor Wax, or find a new Story?

Now, an example.

Fibber and the crew had to flee across national borders, after their last escapade ended in a flurry of explosions. They’ve all had a chance to rest and refresh pools, and Gildersneeve’s injuries have healed. Fibber, the bang-and-burner, has 3 points Trust in Molly, 2 in Belulah, and none anywhere else. Molly the black bagger has 3 in Fibber, 2 in Belulah, 2 in Gildersneeve – she’s been buying extras with experience points. The other team members have Trust investments as well, but for the purpose of this example they don’t affect play.

The wild card here is Gildersneeve. He’s working for the vampires now. That means he can’t be Betrayed; as an agent of dark powers, Gildersneeve expects to be betrayed by his fellow, human, agents. However, Gildersneeve can betray them, so Gildersneeve’s 7 points of Trust (like Molly, he used experience points to buy more) could prove toxic later on. It won’t, in this example – but the Director should remember ticking time bombs like these, because they have a nasty habit of going off when everyone least expects it.

Belulah, working for the Bride, may be in a similar position, but doesn’t have to be. Belulah’s player may know the truth, but Belulah the wetworker still believes she’s working for an elite and secretive band of Vatican vampire hunters. She has yet to discover that her contact, the Enigmatic Monsignor, spends his weekends licking blood from the Bride’s toes. So Belulah can still Betray and be Betrayed, as well as spend Trust to help her comrades.

Fibber and Molly have just come out of the interrogation room. Fibber spent some Trust to move the interrogation along, which helped Molly. Now they know where Wallace Wimple’s mistress in darkness, Sweetie-Face, is hiding. Fibber is all for staking the vamp as soon as possible. The team agrees, and begins to suit up.

That poses a problem for Molly. She knows what nobody else knows: Sweetie Face used to be Edom, and Sweetie Face knows all about Molly’s secrets. If she and Fibber are in the same room, the vampire will tell all, to save her neck – and that Molly cannot have.

She has to distract Fibber. It’s time for Betrayal.

It needn’t be a full-scale Dust-and-Ashes Betrayal – she just needs Fibber distracted, not wallowing in his own gore. However she does have those 3 points Fibber invested in her …

Betrayal can be used to harm or hamper Fibber, or to boost Molly in a conflict with Fibber. During the Betrayal scene, only Molly can use her MOS (not relevant in this particular example, but worth remembering), and Fibber can’t use the 3 points Molly invested in him. Any points Molly spends are gone forever; she’ll have to persuade Fibber to invest more, somehow.

Betrayal doesn’t have to be obvious, nor does it have to end with Molly zipping over the horizon in Fibber’s tricked-out BMW.  All Molly needs is an opportunity to stick Fibber in the rear. She could Betray Fibber by using 1 point to warn Sweetie-Face. That could prove lethal later, when the agents move in on Edom’s former asset. Does Molly have other options?

“I’ll call my good buddy Rico Marcelli, the law enforcement bigwig and my Network contact,” says Fibber, “He’ll make sure there are no cops in that neighborhood when we make our move. That should keep our Heat down.”

Bingo.

“Rico’s dead, Fibber,” says Molly. “Looks like foul play!” She spends 2 points to make it so. Molly’s using Trust as an Investigative point spend – 1 for the basics, 2 for extra benefits. Molly’s getting as extra as she can.

“Dead!” Fibber’s aghast. “But there’s no way they could have known about Rico … unless …”

“Unless it’s a trap! We could be walking right into an ambush!” says Molly.

Now, the players can all see what just happened. They know, mechanically speaking, how Rico really got his – but mechanics aren’t Story. This is improv. They have to yes, and, just like the Director does. An alternative version would see Molly arranging all this in secret, with private Director conferences, or passing notes. That preserves the illusion of secrecy.

As the Betrayed, Fibber can’t prevent what just happened, and he certainly can’t spend Molly’s 3 points to Betray her in turn. He has to roll with the punches.

“We’d better investigate Rico’s murder first,” says Fibber. “If Conspiracy goons did him in, we need to know!”

Everybody smiles. There’s a dagger behind every toothy grin, of course, and Fibber’s already planning for the day when he can use Molly’s invested points to burn her down.

Still, everybody smiles.


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Previous Entries