by Tony Williams

(Download a crib sheet for this variant rule).

Greetings. I am a fan of GUMSHOE and, more specifically, Trail of Cthulhu. I’ve been playing RPGs since the early eighties and skew mostly towards Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu. I enjoy Trail so much I have created several items to try and make playing the game easier for myself and others. They can all be downloaded at the Trail of Cthulhu Resource page on this website (on the list at the right there click “Trail of Cthulhu“, then “Resources” and look for my name next to stuff).

As I have said I enjoy the ruleset of Trail of Cthulhu; its simplicity, elegance and most importantly how GUMSHOE helps get clues into Investigators’ hands. However I have always felt that the concepts of “Sources of Stability” and “Pillars of Sanity” were somewhat nebulous and maybe could be improved in some way by hardwiring them into the ruleset more directly.

Sources of Stability in particular don’t serve much purpose other than giving the Investigator a peer group which has little to no impact on the game during the actual session. Pillars of Sanity confer no in-game advantage to the player other than defining the mindset of their Investigator and I always felt that if an Investigator has multiple “Pillars” plus a “Drive” their motivations could become difficult to remember (certainly if you are the Keeper and have to be aware of multiple Investigators’ motivations simultaneously). Also, from a player’s point of view, Pillars only offer an attack vector onto their Investigator with no actual benefit other than describing their character’s personality. I wanted to improve Pillars so a player might embrace them more and also let a Pillar give an actual advantage to their Investigator.

A couple of other issues I had with the rules of Trail, as they are, were that Sanity pool points didn’t seem to be eroded often enough for my liking and the use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability was proving too “dangerous” for my players to decide to use it. Excluding the times where Sanity is hit in a BIG way (via a shattered Pillar or meeting a Great Old One) Sanity only tends to be hit in small amounts when an Investigator fails a Mythos-related Stability test that sends them into negative Stability territory. I wanted to increase the opportunities where an Investigator might lose some Sanity pool points.

So… I threw all the ingredients of Sources of Stability, Pillars of Sanity, the Cthulhu Mythos ability and the Sanity mechanic itself into a pot (my brain), stirred them up with a spoon that was covered in some rules from Nights Black Agents, and came up with the following rule amendments:

Pillars of Sanity (Revised)

Types of Pillar of Sanity

There are now four types of Pillar of Sanity:

  • a Moral Stance
  • a Treasured Symbol
  • a Person of Solace
  • a Place of Safety

A Moral Stance is a core belief of the Investigator. It is an abstract concept and is identical to the type of Pillar of Sanity as defined in the Trail of Cthulhu Rulebook. An example would be “The purity of my bloodline.”

A Treasured Symbol is a physical object that inspires or gives hope to the Investigator. Examples could be the flag of the country of origin of the Investigator, a photograph of their family or an object gifted by a close friend.

A Person of Solace is a living non-player character that is dear to the Investigator (this is identical to a Source of Stability as defined in the Trail of Cthulhu Rulebook and therefore the game construct of “Sources of Stability” is deprecated under this rule revision). Examples could be a best friend, a close work colleague or a family member.

A Place of Safety is a specific location where the Investigator feels comfortable and secure when they visit it. Examples could be their place of work, their parents’ house or the site where they first realised they had fallen in love.

Choosing Pillars of Sanity

When a player is creating their Investigator they should define one Pillar of Sanity for each partial set of 3 rating points of Sanity their Investigator has.

Thus for 1-3 rating points of Sanity they should define 1 Pillar, for 4-6 rating points they should define 2 and for 7 upwards they should define 3. Three Pillars of Sanity is the maximum number allowed for an Investigator.

An Investigator can only have one Place of Safety and one Moral Stance as Pillars of Sanity at any one time. An Investigator does not have to have any particular type of Pillar if they so wish. Thus a player could choose three Treasured Symbols if they so desired.

If an Investigator’s Sanity rating falls such that it no longer supports the number of Pillars the Investigator currently has, then the player must choose to “crumble” a Pillar (their choice) and explain why it no longer has any value to their Investigator. There is no further Sanity or Stability penalty for crumbling a Pillar.

Investigators with no remaining Pillars of Sanity suffer a +1 difficulty penalty to Stability tests as per the usual Trail of Cthulhu Rulebook rule.

Regaining Lost Stability Pool Points via Pillars of Sanity

Pillars of Sanity can now be used to regain lost Stability pool points. Each of the Investigator’s Pillars can be used once per game session to do this, but only one Pillar of each type can be used in the same session.

To use their Moral Stance or a Treasured Symbol the Investigator must be in a place of relative calm and safety and must spend a few minutes contemplating their core values or handling or viewing their Symbol. They will regain 1 lost Stability pool point.

If an Investigator can spend at least 6 hours visiting with, talking to or otherwise engaging in normal human interaction with their Person of Solace, without being under threat or placing their Person of Solace in danger, they may regain 2 lost pool points of Stability.

If an Investigator can spend at least 24 hours at their Place of Safety without being under threat or drawing the Mythos to it they may regain 3 lost pool points of Stability.

An Investigator can not regain Stability through their Pillars of Sanity if they are in a mind blasted state (Stability pool points of -6 or less).

Pillars of Sanity and Psychological Triage

Regaining Stability through the Psychoanalysis ability is now affected by Pillars of Sanity.

The difficulty level for the Psychological Triage test is now [ 6 minus the number of Pillars of Sanity the patient possesses ] instead of the standard test difficulty of 4.

Loss of Pillars of Sanity and Mental Damage

Pillars of Sanity can be lost in two ways: via Mythos corruption or in a mundane (non-Mythos related) manner.

Mundane Loss

  • A Moral Stance, because it is an abstract belief, is highly unlikely to be lost in this manner.
  • A Treasured Symbol could be misplaced or physically destroyed.
  • A Person of Solace could die of natural causes or turn against the Investigator for some reason.
  • An Investigator could be evicted from their Place of Safety or it could be demolished or become inaccessible somehow.

Losing a Pillar of Sanity without the Mythos being involved causes the Investigator to suffer Stability rating and pool point loss depending on the type of Pillar lost:

  • a Treasured Symbol – lose 1 Stability rating and 1 Stability pool point
  • a Person of Solace – lose 2 Stability rating and 2 Stability pool points
  • a Place of Safety – lose 3 Stability rating and 3 Stability pool points

Loss involving the Mythos

If the Investigator knows that the Mythos is involved in the loss of a Pillar (e.g. new Mythos knowledge proves a Moral Stance meaningless; a Mythos creature destroys a Treasured Symbol; the Mythos drives a Person of Solace insane or cultists desecrate a Place of Safety) then the Investigator suffers Sanity and Stability pool point loss appropriate to the lost Pillar type.

  • a Moral Stance – lose 3 Sanity pool points and 5 Stability pool points
  • a Treasured Symbol – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 3 Stability pool points
  • a Person of Solace – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 6 Stability pool points
  • a Place of Safety – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 4 Stability pool points

Pillars of Sanity and the Cthulhu Mythos Ability

Successful use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability is now not certain to cause loss of Stability and Sanity pool points.

The more Pillars of Sanity an Investigator has, the greater a chance of protection against losing Stability and Sanity they can have when using the Cthulhu Mythos ability.

Upon successful use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability a test is made against difficulty 5 (the standard Mythos test difficulty). If the test is failed, the Investigator loses pool points of Sanity and Stability depending on the difference between the test die result and the target difficulty according to the table below:

Difference:

1 – lose 1 Sanity pool point

2 – lose 1 Sanity pool point and 1 Stability pool point

3 – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 1 Stability pool point

4 – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 2 Stability pool points

A player can risk any or all of their Investigator’s Pillars of Sanity as a bonus to the test die roll. For each Pillar they offer, they receive a +1 bonus to the die roll. Players must state which Pillars they are offering (if any) before rolling the test die.

If a test that has Pillars of Sanity backing it fails, then one of the backing Pillars (player’s choice) has been corrupted or shattered by the Mythos revelation the Investigator has just received using the Cthulhu Mythos ability. The Pillar is lost and the Investigator suffers Sanity and Stability pool point loss appropriate to the lost Pillar type as per the amounts for loss of a Pillar via the Mythos described earlier.

The player should try to offer an explanation for how the revelation has corrupted or shattered their Pillar.

How these rule variants might affect the game

Hopefully with these rule suggestions I have simplified the amount of “motivators” describing an Investigator’s mindset since an Investigator can now have only 1 Moral Stance. This means players and Keepers only have to remember an Investigator’s 1 Moral Stance and their Drive when considering their actions. An Investigator could even be “amoral” with no Moral Stance and just have a Drive to motivate them.

Keepers now have other ways to attack Pillars other than relying on Mythos revelations antithetical to the Investigator’s abstract moral concepts. Keepers can launch physical attacks on pillars because three of the new Pillar types are actual physical objects. The Keeper can also choose a mundane form of attack or a Mythos corruption of a pillar to generate different types of mental damage (one way skewing Stability loss versus the other’s Sanity loss).

Pillars now offer an actual tactical advantage to a player because they can replenish lost Stability pool points. I pondered quite a while on the numbers for Sanity and Stability loss/gain trying to strike a balance between reflecting Nights Black Agents’ rules (of Symbol/Solace/Safety) and Trail’s rules for shattered Pillars versus how easy it is for a player to use each type of Pillar in-session and how easy it would be to lose a Pillar (either through a mundane reason or via the Mythos). When choosing which types of Pillar to have for their Investigator players might want to consider the following advantages and disadvantages:

Moral Stance

ADVANTAGE – It is always available for use and can’t be “lost” (in a mundane sense) causing Stability rating loss like the other types of Pillar can.

DISADVANTAGE – It replenishes only 1 Stability pool point. There is a large Stability/Sanity cost if corrupted by the Mythos.

Treasured Symbol

ADVANTAGE – It is easily portable. It has the smallest Stability/Sanity cost of the Pillar types if corrupted by the Mythos.

DISADVANTAGE – It only replenishes 1 Stability pool point. It could be misplaced/taken/destroyed, possibly easily.

Person of Solace

ADVANTAGE – Least likely to be lost via mundane reasons of all the Pillar types. Replenishes more Stability than a Symbol or Stance.

DISADVANTAGE – Large cost if corrupted by the Mythos. Not as readily accessible as other Pillars.

Place of Safety

ADVANTAGE – Replenishes most Stability of the Pillar types.

DISADVANTAGE – Requires most game time to replenish Stability. Large Stability rating loss if it becomes unavailable through mundane reasons.

When choosing Pillars there is also the issue of whether a player wants Pillars they can risk to back the new test for successful use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability which will cause the least grief if they shatter, or do they want Pillars they can use in-session to replenish lost Stability.

A connection has also now been introduced between Sanity rating and Stability replenishment. The lower a character’s Sanity rating the fewer Pillars they will have and thus the harder it becomes to replenish Stability in-session (either by use of the Pillars directly or through in-session Psychological Triage).

Finally, it is now not a certainty that use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability will be damaging to the Investigator due to introduction of some “gamification” through use of Pillars, hopefully encouraging its use more by players. However it still has the potential to shatter a Pillar of Sanity causing a hefty mental hit. If the players are more willing to use their Cthulhu Mythos ability then they face the stark choice of risking a Pillar of Sanity or letting the dice fall where they may (and the odds are such that if they don’t risk a Pillar then they will lose a little bit of Sanity which is something I wanted to work more of into the game).

I hope you feel inclined to adopt these new rule suggestions and do offer feedback in the comments below.

Happy (Slimy) Trails,

Tony Williams.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

An Interview with writer Kenneth Hite

Kenneth Hite is designing Trail of Cthulhu – a licensed version of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. Here, Ken answers questions posed by our redoubtable forum members.

1. How will sanity and madness be handled- especially as they relate to the fairly strong link in Lovecraft’s fiction between Finding Things Out and Going Crackers. Might sanity be treated as a resource that can be used up to help in an investigation? Or rather, less cynically, will there be some (perhaps dubious) advantage or beneficial side-effect in losing sanity?

In Trail of Cthulhu, Sanity is separate from the GUMSHOE trait Stability. Sanity measures your ability to believe in limited human reality; Stability is a mental health rating. (Dr. Armitage, from”Dunwich Horror,” has a very low Sanity, but a fairly high Stability,for example.) Using your Cthulhu Mythos skill helps with an investigation, but such “piecing together of dissociated knowledge”costs Sanity, and potentially Stability as well.

2. Will there be an introduction adventure included in the book as with the “Esoterrorists” and “GuH” book?

There will be an all-new introductory adventure in the Trail of Cthulhu core book.

3. Do you plan to include an default setting and background organization (a la Delta Green or Ordo Veritatis from Esoterrorists) or will it be a setting without background organization (like in CoC or GuH)?

My current plan is to include three separate narrative structures in the Trail of Cthulhu core book, and give some guidelines for constructing your own. Of course, Keepers and players will be welcome to follow the venerable Call of Cthulhu model of “you all meet at the reading of a will/museum opening/seance” if they like.

4. Will the book be written entirely from the viewpoint of those combating the unspeakable horrors or will there be focus on those who embrace the truth about Cthulhu & the mythos?

This book will be entirely about Investigators who discover, suffer from, and combat the horrors of the Mythos. Players who want to take the role of soulless inhuman monsters have a plenitude of other roleplaying choices in other roleplaying games.

5. Will the works of other Mythos writers such as Ramsey Campbell & August Derleth feature in or influence Trail of Cthulhu?

As with Call of Cthulhu , the entire Mythos will provide potential material for Trail of Cthulhu games. That said, the core ruleset will be primarily influenced by Lovecraft and Howard, with nods to otherwriters (I just wrote a fairly nice treatment of Campbell’s /Revelations of Glaaki/ if I do say so myself), including Derleth. The game is named after a Derleth story-cycle, after all, so it would be churlish to leave him out.

6. Do you think the Mythos has losts its power to inspire fear? Was the horror of the Mythos ever fully expressed in Call of Cthulhu?

The Mythos, like any other literary or artistic material, depends on the skill of its author and the acceptance of its audience for its power. This is true in roleplaying games as well as novels or short stories.The game Call of Cthulhu — SAN rewards, Elder Signs and all –expresses the maltheist, implacable core of the Mythos to a remarkable degree, and many of the published scenarios are quite terrifying to run or play. Assuming the Keeper is any good, and that the players aren’t being jerks, of course.

7. How much power do you think PCs should have over the Mythos? Will you present elder signs, for instance, as standard issue equipment or as arcane mysteries?

This is a Keeper call; the rules will support whichever flavor she wants for her game. We’re including special hard-core rules for Purists, and easier-going, more adventurous rules for Pulpier games. There will be Elder Signs in the game — they appear in Lovecraft, after all — but their narrative role and general availability is up to the Keeper.

8. You’ve said in the past that Call of Cthulhu is your favourite game. How will Trail of Cthulhu improve on CoC?

It won’t “improve on” Call of Cthulhu across the board; it will do some things more easily, and with a different feel or emphasis. The 1966 Shelby Mustang is my favorite car, but it’s not a particularly good SUV. Sashimi is my favorite food, but it’s not what I necessarily want for breakfast.

9. If I disagree with the central premise that Cthulhu (or investigation-centric) games have traditionally been stopped by a failed die roll, what else does GUMSHOE and Trail of Cthulhu offer me?

Trail of Cthulhu, specifically, offers you a number of interesting character filips, from core Drives (why are you in this ruined crypt,anyhow?) to personal Pillars of Sanity, as well as having my own delightful prose throughout. GUMSHOE, of course, offers an elegant, quick-to-learn ruleset focused for investigation and mystery narratives.

10. Are there any obscure corners of the Mythos you plan to give greating-than-usual attention (I hope)? If so, mind telling us which ones, or at least giving us a few hints to salivate over?

I think there’s plenty of interesting stuff we can do with some of the old standards yet, and hopefully my takes on Hastur, Nyarlathotep, andso forth will pique your saliva. That said, nobody ever seems to give Quachil Uttaus enough love.

11. Will this game have a grittier take on combat than Esoterrorists?

There will be a few new rules for combat in Trail of Cthulhu, covering Tommy guns, explosives, and other necessities of shoggoth-hunting, but in the main Esoterrorists combat system strikes me as admirably clean, staying out of my way while I’m trying to scare people half to death, so I’m sticking pretty closely to it.

12. Will Trail of Cthulhu give an overview of the Mythos, or will it be designed to focus on just a small slice?

The corebook will give an overview of the Mythos, although by now even focusing on Lovecraft’s creations is “just a small slice.”

13. Is Trail of Cthulhu designed to be a one-shot game or the first in a series of Cthulhu products?

All the plans I’m privy to indicate that Pelgrane intends to put out a series of products in the line, but Simon would be the person to ask about that.

[Ed: Ken, Robin Laws and others will be working on supplements for Trail of Cthulhu]

14. I’m partial to Robert E. Howard’s Cthulhu writings, so I was wondering if the game would be exclusive to Lovecraftian Cthulhu or if it would encompass parts of other writers as well?

A Cthulhu game without Robert E. Howard is like a day without sunshine.As I mentioned above, Trail of Cthulhu will have not just some of Howard’s monsters and tomes, but mechanical rules switches: flick them on to make the game feel more Pulpy and Howardian; leave them off for full-on tweedy collapse in Purist late-Lovecraft style.

14. Which period will this be set in? If you are thinking of Between the Wars, do you see a principal difference between 20’s and 30’s games? Will Gaslight or Modern be supported at all?

Trail of Cthulhu assumes a default setting of the 1930s, which was a darker, more desperate decade than the one before, what with the Depression, Hitler, Stalin, and so forth. Lovecraft’s stories begin to show the difference, and I’ll try to capture that difference in the setting material. I don’t know if Pelgrane intends to expand the line into other eras just yet, although adapting the ruleset to other decades should be fairly simple.

14. How does Gumshoe support period play? In other words, does Gumshoe allow modifications that can support different periods, or can Gumshoe be altered so that it actually enhances the period feel needed for a particular era?

Given the intentional compression of the GUMSHOE weapons table, the primary ways to alter setting feel mechanically are in the ability rules. In Trail of Cthulhu, the various abilities provide only period knowledge, of course. The Credit Rating ability can be used (if the Keeper so wishes) to enforce different social realities across decades. I think the biggest change is that Explosives has become a chancy General ability, not an automatic Investigative one. But really, the best way to support period feel is to write and run adventures dripping with it. That said, though, say good-bye to bulletproof vests!


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.

As an OGL product, 13th Age is available for third-party publishers to create compatible supplements, adventures, settings and more. They can also create their own games using its Archmage Engine.

Recently, Simon Rogers asked the 13th Age community which third party products they’d recommend. Here are their top favorites:

 

Amethyst: Apotheosis (Dias Ex Machina Games)

Which side will you choose? Which weapons will you wield? Earth is torn between the order of science and the chaos of fantasy. These two worlds cannot mix. Venture into lands once claimed by skyscrapers and factories, now overrun by elves, goblins, and dragons. Choose your path and commit to the quest. Monsters will hunt you; machines will track you. No gods will help you; no prophecies will choose you. The fate of the world rests with you. This rulebook includes:

  • Eleven playable species, twenty-one icon-like affiliations, over forty backgrounds.
  • Eight new classes, over 270 feats.
  • Players can now select legends to expand their characters at high levels.
  • High-tech equipment from revolvers to railcannons, pickup trucks to powered armor.
  • Over thirty new monsters.
  • New rules including vehicles and ranged combat which can be added to any game.

Book of Icons (Rite Publishing)

Icons are the mysterious and powerful figures that shape the world of the 13th Age Role-Playing Game. The Book of Icons takes a fresh look at the game’s icon rules and offers a cornucopia of new stuff to throw at your players.

Need a new twist for your campaign? Six new icons—each presented with themes, agents, gifts, and events that will set your creativity afire—all based on the Tarot Major Arcana will spice up your game:

  • The Adventurer
  • The Revolutionary
  • The Order
  • The Cult of One
  • The Monster
  • The Tempter

In addition, find sly characters, scheming organizations, and brain-twisting secret agendas that you can use as a toolkit to flesh out the world around your icons.

Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets (Kinoko Games)

Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets introduces six new classes that are compatible with the 13th Age Roleplaying Game: the monstrous Abomination, the destiny-shaping Fateweaver, the mind-bending Psion, the berserking Savage, the dashing Swordmage and the dark-souled Warlock.

Deep Magic (Kobold Press)

Deep Magic: 13th Age Compatible Edition is for 13th Age players who want new options that allow them to bend reality to their wills and perform spectacular feats of sword and sorcery. Designer ASH LAW brings an astounding variety of new magic options to the game, including:

  • 555 wizard spells ranging from clever tricks to summoning the World Serpent itself to wreak havoc
  • 4 new class talents that put wizard spells within the grasp of every class—play an arcane ranger, a spirit-calling barbarian, a time-warping commander or face-stealing trickster druid
  • 30 new schools of magic including the Cult of Ouroboros, the Red Inquisition and the Scholars of Dust, with guidelines for creating your own magical tradition
  • 5 magical campaign options: post-apocalyptic vril magic, the mysteries of the ley lines, a class-warfare arcanopunk campaign option, and more!

For GMs looking for new material, or players looking for character customization options, this massive tome is the book you’ve been dreaming of.

Gods and Icons (Dread Unicorn Games, LLC)

Never again find yourself stuck for a good Icon Relationship result. Pick from the tables or let the dice decide.

  • Hundreds of Icon Relationship results.
  • GM advice on tailoring the Icon Relationship result to the character.
  • Gods with suggested backgrounds for followers, paladins, clerics, and druids.
  • Three pantheons: the Bright Gods, the Thirsty Gods, and the Old Gods. Add these gods to your campaign or map their effects to your own gods.
  • Thirteen new icons. Use them or steal aspects and apply them to your own icons.
  • 58 new magic items, including bardic instruments and rules for designing your own holy swords. Not to mention a dozen new potions and more.
  • Dhampir: A new playable race for a new icon of the undead. And seven other player races.

You can use this book with the core icons, as the new icons are similar enough for you to just use the boons and complications from Gods and Icons without changing your existing campaign. Yet different enough to feel fresh, and give a new spin to a 13th Age Campaign that uses them. A perfect set of icons for a campaign rich in intrigue and mystery.

Icons of Parsantium (Ondine Publishing)

Parsantium is a melting pot, a cosmopolitan city where trade routes meet and great cultures collide. Inspired by real-life Byzantium with its rich Greco-Roman heritage, the setting is packed with characters, monsters and magic from the Tales of the Arabian Nights, ancient India and the Far East, alongside traditional medieval fantasy elements.

The influential NPCs described in depth throughout the book include the rulers of kingdoms, powerful priests, arcane and martial orders and their leaders, and monstrous beings, both malevolent and benign, including:

  • The wise Maharani of Sampur, daughter of a sun god and ruler of six kingdoms
  • The bloodthirsty Gnoll Khan of the Great Grass Sea
  • The devious Witch of Flotsam, fortune-teller to the nobility and priestess of a sinister cult
  • The vanara Grand Master of the Blue Lotus, enigmatic leader of the world’s greatest arcanists’ guild.
  • The rakshasa Rajah, frozen in ice at the peak of the Pillar of Heaven Mountains and plotting his return to rule the city once more.

This 45 page PDF contains:

  • Double page descriptions for each icon
  • New PC races – the gnoll and the vanara
  • Five pages of icon relationship dice results and adventure hooks
  • Secret Knowledge for the GM
  • Lands of Parsantium map by top fantasy cartographer Jared Blando
  • Foreword by 13th Age designer Rob Heinsoo

Written by Richard Green, author of Parsantium: City at the Crossroads and the Midgard Bestiary for 4th Edition D&D (Kobold Press), and featuring cover art by Joe Shawcross.

Midgard Bestiary (Kobold Press)

The Midgard Bestiary sends 100 weird, warped, and unpredictable new monsters your way. ASH LAW has redesigned the greatest monsters from the Midgard Campaign Setting for your 13th Age game. You’ll get:

  • Steam golems, ice maidens, and fellforged warriors
  • Dwarf mercenaries, marauders, and berserkers
  • Elf spellblades, mages, and theurges
  • Wizards, warmages, and alchemists
  • Iron ghouls, imperial ghasts, and spectral wolves
  • Adventure hooks for each monster and lists of things you’re likely to find on them
  • 13 Midgard icons including the all-new Master of Demon Mountain, Illuminated Brotherhood, and the Beloved Imperatrix of the elves
  • 9 new player character races including ghouls, gearforged, kobolds and ravenfolk

Get ready to face deadly foes from every corner of Midgard: the alleys of Zobeck, the empire of the ghouls, the courts of the shadow fey and the magic-blasted Wasted West.

Nocturne (Savage Mojo)

Meet Frankenstein’s monster with a vorpal sword…welcome to the realm of Dark Fantasy, and Gothic Horror for 13th Age! Within a twisted realm shaped by the malignant power of The Nightfall, your adventure comes to life using the Archmage Engine to explore the many lands of the realm. These lands are as varied as the denizens themselves, taking the place of traditional 13th Age Icons: good against evil, order against chaos, tyranny against freedom… but at every stage the lines are blurred.

For players Nocturne provides:

  • New options for adventurers: several custom classes such as the mysterious Bloodshire Slayer.
  • New races: the vampire, werebeast, and sallowfolk.
  • New equipment such as the diving suit for The Churn, so you can explore the mysterious depths of this watery “land”. Alternatively, there’s the fire sword, a non-magical item of ingenious technology which draws fuel from a reservoir in the handle.
  • New magic items such as Daemonic Wings, allowing your hero to fly. However, this is Nocturne and such magic comes with a price!

For GMs Nocturne provides:

  • A complete dark fantasy setting with tones of gothic horror, steampunk, clockpunk, and more. Every land of Nocturne is detailed, with maps, and packed with story hooks to spin adventures galore.
  • A dozen new Icons for your players to discover, twisted beings pulled here by The Nightfall. They rule the lands but battle in opposed pairs for control.
  • A complete campaign, in the style of Savage Mojo’s award-winning Suzerain setting.
  • A whole slew of side quests, short adventures to slot between the main beats of your gaming group’s grand adventure.
  • A sandbox of ideas to use in the Nightfall realm, or to incorporate in your own campaign world.

Welcome to Nocturne. The Nightfall is but a breath behind; if you have the courage and strength, you might just survive for one more day.

Special Mentions

Capsule Content by Aaron Roudabush

An accomplished designer, Aaron heads up online organized play for 13th Age. He also creates crowdfunded content for the Archmage Engine under the banner of Wolf Pack Games, and lately he’s been revealing details of a new setting, Shattered Horizons.

Deadly Delves: Reign of Ruin (Jon Brazer Enterprises)

Few third-party publishers support 13th Age as enthusiastically as Jon Brazer Enterprises. Deadly Delves: Reign of Ruin received 4.5 star rating from Endzeitgeist for its distinctive approach to a dragon-based adventure, and the well-done 13th Age conversion.

New Fighter Maneuvers and Talents (Quasar Knight Enterprises)

The first 13th Age compatible product by designer Ray Chapel got high marks from EZG for its “detailed and well-versed grasp [of] the rule-set”.  New Fighter Maneuvers & Talents  offers martial schools that enable players to customize the fighter class based on classic archetypes: the swashbuckling duelist, keen-eyed ranged combatant, heavy weapons master, and more.

The Escalated Barbarian (Dastow Games)

Whenever there’s an online discussion of third-party player options, the class-focused “Escalated” series from Dastow Games nearly always comes up. What’s interesting is that each one includes NPCs of the class in question, but they’re statted up as PCs, not as monsters. This could be quite useful for GMs who are looking for “mundane” foes based on PC classes, for an adventure that takes place in a city or town.

It might take more than one swallow to make a summer, he said from a city where it would take about eighty Fahrenheit degrees along with any number of migratory birds to make it summer right now. But it only takes one monster to make a mystery. That, at least, is the thesis, or among the theses at any rate, of Hideous Creatures (providentially forthcoming, and long before the swallows do). Given enough attention to the monster, you can put together a fully satisfying evening or two of Trail of Cthulhu play even if the adventure might look a little bald just laid out there on the page.

Temptation of St. Anthony, from the Isenheim Altarpiece by Grünewald

Thesis, meet example. I’m going to use a subset of the clues as printed (or mostly) from Hideous Creatures: Byakhee, and reproduced below if you’d like to follow along at home and didn’t pick up that fine release. I’ll work sort of backward from them to create a short but stark adventure. Each story element I establish grows out of the flavor detail in a clue.

Our villain is summoning a byakhee for foul doings, and the clues give us the witch-cult (History) and a last name (Müller, from the Oral History clue) so let’s go with a witch named Karin Müller. Are the Investigators in Alsace-Lorraine or is she on their turf? Either one works, but seeing as Germans just got bounced out of Alsace-Lorraine in 1918 let’s have our Teutonic witch scion move to America — with a load of valuable art to sell (Art History, Chemistry) to pay for her passage.

So she’s an art dealer and a witch. What’s her goal? Maybe it’s tied in with both: she wants to inspire the genius of madness in an area artist, Paul Kerenyi (Art History, Assess Honesty) and also consecrate a temple to Hastur (Archaeology, Languages, Library Use) so she can re-start the cult here in Chicago.

Now, by reversing the process we can feed the mystery right back out.

Müller sent a byakhee to inspire one artist — Sarah Jones — but it got out of hand and Jones died; this brings in the Investigators (Forensics). They see the thing’s prints (Evidence Collection) and the weird effect on the vegetation where it landed, somewhere near Müller’s house or temple site (Biology).

Müller also stole the variant Euclid she needed for the consecration (Library Use) from the University of Chicago library. This might also bring in the Investigators, if they’re Book-houndly types.

They find out about Jones’ connection to Müller via Interpersonal talk with Jones’ friends or family; researching Müller points us to Alsace-Lorraine. This might not be time to drop the History clue, but it can be a leveraged clue for when they suspect witchcraft or when more than one clue points Müller’s direction. Such as when they meet her and she’s wearing an amulet of the Pleaides (Cryptography, Occult). Or when they see the genuine Schongauer print for sale in her gallery (Chemistry) and know (Art History) that he too was from Alsace-Lorraine.

Observation with Flattery (or gossip with a different Interpersonal ability) tells them she’s cozying up to Paul Kerenyi now. If they follow her or Kerenyi they hear her whistle, smell juniper (Sense Trouble), and then see her byakhee snatch him up (Art History). They can see the frozen ground here, too (Biology). If they stay home, they’ll see the byakhee and think of the art another time and make the connection: you can always throw in a rival Müller wants to kill or another unfortunate artist for another byakhee encounter if need be.

Kerenyi comes staggering back crazy talking to the Investigators about winged monsters and begging for their help. He’s got a heck of a sunburn, too (Medicine). The next day, though, he’s feverishly creating art based on his experience and now claims it was all a dream (Assess Honesty). This might be when to drop the clue about the “earth diver” and its role in artistic inspiration (Theology). He’s got another date with Müller two nights from now or whenever suits the game’s pacing. If you think there’s more than one whistle, or a player really grooves on Geology, Müller gave Kerenyi a whistle and mead to try out on his own; the Investigators can get ahold of it that way.

If they take advantage of her date to toss Müller’s house they find her mead (Pharmacy), her temple-consecrating cornerstone (Languages), maybe Shrewsbury’s book (Theology), and a map to wherever her sacred Hastur stone is unless it’s just in her backyard.

But the site or her yard is full of not just byakhee spoor (Evidence Collection, Biology) but also stones and mirrors (Library Use)! Which one is the sacred stone? The one aligned with the Pleiades of course (Astronomy)! If they start messing with stuff, sniff for juniper (Sense Trouble)! Müller comes riding back on a byakhee and the Big Fight ensues. Blowing up the sacred stone might dismiss the byakhee, or at least weaken its connection to Hastur.

Not a particularly challenging scenario, I admit. But it makes a nice, straightforward monster-of-the-week, and still has enough weird juju to keep the players happy and creeped out, especially if you run it with any or many of the variations on the monster from the rest of that Hideous Creatures installment. As a bonus, see if you can get some extra inspiration from the Manly Wade Wellman story “O Ugly Bird!” which is not at all about a byakhee, unless it is.

Clues

Archaeology: The Parthenon was oriented to the rising of the Pleiades – perhaps this temple shared the same alignment. In which case, the high altar should be over here. (Architecture, Astronomy)

Art History: The black-winged demon tormenting St. Anthony in Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (1515) is supposed to be the result of an ergot hallucination – so why does it perfectly match the eyewitness’ description of the “devil bird” that took Kerenyi right out from under our noses?

Assess Honesty: He claims that the winged monsters and the flying through space was all a dream brought on by drinking “too much mead” – but he doesn’t believe his own denials! Is he crazy, or is he driving himself crazy thinking he’s crazy?

Biology: The grass here was frozen and then broken from the top down, as though something unutterably cold landed here. The spores growing here are new – I’ve never seen anything like them before, although they slightly resemble nitrogen-fixing fungi.

Chemistry: The parchment and ink are absolutely authentic for a print struck in Colmar during Martin Schongauer’s life (1440-1491). But why would he run off a print study of just one of the demons in his Torment of St. Anthony? (Art History, Document Analysis)

Cryptography: The symbol cut into the crystal is Agrippa’s emblem for the Pleiades. (Occult, q.v.)

Evidence Collection: The prints generally resemble those of carrion birds, but are not deep enough to indicate anything heavy enough to batter a human ever stood in them. (Outdoorsman)

Forensics: The body is slashed and torn almost to rags, and blood spatter evidence indicates it was carried around the area during the struggle. Although the throat is ripped out, there is surprisingly little blood either on or in the corpse.

Geology: This whistle isn’t made of any kind of stone I’m familiar with. It seems like iridium-bearing ore, rather than the natural alloy one expects to find. It could be igneous rock or clay, subjected to intense heat – possibly meteoric in origin, as I’ve never seen anything like it on earth.

History: This whole Alsace-Lorraine region was a hotbed of witchcraft outbreaks from 1410 to 1690; testimonies (not all extorted by torture) record witches and wizards flying to the Bavarian Alps (or the court of the Devil) at unearthly speed on their demonic steeds after drinking a golden potion.

Languages: The tablet we found in her sink is inscribed in ancient Babylonian, beginning with MUL.MUL, the “Star of Stars” or the Pleiades. The basalt stone is incredibly weathered, but the cuneiform looks like it was carved yesterday. (Geology for stone)

Library Use: This is the 1511 Strasbourg edition of Euclid. It incorporates a number of “improvements” by the translator Bartolomeo Zamberti taken from Theon of Alexandria’s Catoptrica – the study of mirrors – and “Alhazen’s” De crepusculis – a treatise on shadows at twilight. Why go to the trouble to get this specific edition? Does it have anything to do with the mirrors set up to reflect the western horizon right on the Pleiadean alignment? (Astronomy)

Medicine: He’s suffering from shock and severe hypothermia – and those red spots all over his skin are purpura from exploded capillaries. The dark tan indicates high ultraviolet exposure, too.

Occult: According to Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia (1510-1530), a properly prepared talisman “with the Moon conjunct the Pleiades rising or at midheaven, preserves the eyesight, summons demons and the spirits of the dead, calls the winds, and reveals secrets and things that are lost.”

Oral History: Talking to peasants and townsfolk all through the area, you notice that some families are – not shunned, precisely, but less connected to the rest of the region. More insular, apt to marry among themselves. The Weylands and the Müllers seem to be the leading families in that group.

Pharmacy: I can’t tell what this so-called mead is supposed to be, but it’s not just fermented honey. Or if it is, the bees took pollen from a literally impossible collection of plants, fungi, and epiphytes, and then added some ethylene glycol and neurotoxic heavy metals to finish the job. This will either put you into a mild coma or give you the worst hyperaesthesia you’ve ever had. (Chemistry)

Sense Trouble: A waft of icy air seems to rush past you, and an astringent smell like rotting juniper stings your nostrils.

Theology: Shrewsbury’s work references the “earth-diver” myth of creation common amongst Siberian and Amerind peoples, in which a sky deity sends a (sometimes infernal or demonic) bird to the bottom of the ocean to raise up the land at the beginning of time. He thus postulates a primordial antagonism between Water-Chaos and Sky-Art, and implies these “demonic birds” also “dive” into our subconscious to raise up artistic and religious impulse.

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)We’re just back from a fantastic Dragonmeet, where we got to catch up with colleagues and friends new and old, and none of us lost our voices until after the show. But our most exciting news this month comes in the form of our new Administrative Assistant, Colleen Riley, whose introduction you can read below. Having worked for our good industry friends at Atlas Games and Modiphius previously, Colleen brings a wealth of experience to this newly-created role, and we were delighted to welcome her to the Pelgranista fold at PAX Unplugged recently.

In other news, the Demonologist class for 13th Age is now available in the form of the Book of Demons – pre-order now and get the plain-text PDF straight away. You can also pick up the latest GUMSHOE One-2-One adventure, Ex Astoria, and join Vivian Sinclair as she battles unions and scabs in 1930s New York.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

      • 13th Sage: Borrowing from Glorantha – Rob Heinsoo looks at mechanical elements in the upcoming 13th Age in Glorantha that could have a place in core 13th Age games
      • The Church of the Second Chance – Roland Rogers on how to avoid being hit
      • 13th Age Character Builds. In this series by ASH LAW, we feature two different builds for every 13th Age character class, at all levels. ASH suggests how the builds might be used, and offers tips on playing each character. Stats are based on the point-buy method, and the characters have no non-standard elements.

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by Mike Shea

We live in a marvelous time for tabletop roleplaying games. Over the past ten years we’ve seen an explosion of wonderful game systems, each bringing a unique take to this hobby we love. We gamemasters can learn a lot by reading, and even playing, as many different RPGs as we can. We can find all sorts of ideas to bring back to our RPG of choice and—who knows—might even find ourselves regularly playing a variety of systems instead of just one. While most RPG players are familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, these other systems bring a unique take on the worlds they help us create.

13th Age is one such system. Its designers took their own vast experience building previous versions of D&D, and refined them into a system they thought would bring the most fun to the game.

Their philosophy diverged from the philosophy of the designers of the fifth edition of D&D, which carries the torch of a 40-year history. 13th Age is not bound by any such history, and thus Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo were free to build the d20 system of their dreams: their love letter to D&D.

With the increasing popularity of 5th edition, more new players and GMs are entering the hobby. This article delves into the ways 13th Age differs from 5e, and the distinctive features that 13th Age brings to the table. These features include:

  • A focus on superheroic fantasy
  • Character relationships with the Icons—the great powers of the world
  • Open backgrounds and “one unique things” that tie characters to the world
  • Escalating power across 10 levels of play
  • Two-dimensional monster design
  • Abstract combat mechanics which are perfect for narrative battles

As GMs, we grow by taking in new experiences and adding them to our previous knowledge. Trying out new game systems is one way to engage in these new experiences. We have no edition wars here: We play no favorites. With such a wide and rich variety of RPGs, we can try many of them out, learn from each of them, steal features we like, and focus on the one that best fits our needs.

So what can 5th edition DMs and players expect from 13th Age? Let’s have a look.

Superheroic Fantasy

At lower levels, D&D 5e focuses on the gritty and realistic feeling of local heroes growing up. Adventurers begin as careful explorers of a large and dangerous world. As they gain experience, their power grows—but not until the highest levels do they begin to change the world around them.

In 13th Age, the characters are powerful and unique beings at the moment of their creation. They aren’t just heroes, they’re superheroes. We can see this both in the mechanics of the game (such as a character’s high initial hit points) and in the flavor of the game (such as defining each character by their One Unique Thing that defines them in the world). As 13th Age characters gain levels, their power grows steeply. They become even more superheroic, roaring across the lands and venturing into the depths of living dungeons.

The world in 13th Age, the Dragon Empire, is as superheroic as the characters. The world is a flat disk, with the overworld of flying cities above and the Abyss below. The lands are scarred by hellholes, and trod by beasts as big as cities.

From the very beginning, 13th Age dives into the deep end of high adventure.

The Icons

Most fantasy RPG settings have higher powers, whose agendas and conflicts provide the background for adventures. In D&D, this usually takes the form of a pantheon of gods and demigods, either good or evil (or a bit of both). 13th Age focuses instead on the icons.

These powerful beings, such as the Prince of Shadows, the Elf Queen, the Orc Lord, and the Crusader, rule over the Dragon Empire. They are the movers and shakers in the world. Though mortal, they are rarely threatened in battle. They’re not boss monsters: they’re the moving pillars of the world. The web that lies between the Icons (there are 13 of them in the Dragon Empire) binds the world and weaves the player characters into it, for good and ill.

During character creation, the players decide which icons their character is connected to and whether those connections are positive, negative, or conflicted. The characters may not be powerful at 1st level, but they are important. They are are significant players in, and help define, the larger power struggles of the world.

In addition to signaling to the GM what the players want from the campaign (Lots of magic? Battles with orcs? Heists and intrigue?), the icon mechanics help drive the improvisational aspects of 13th Age, something that the game heavily embraces. At the beginning of each session, the players roll 1d6 for each icon relationship. 1 to 4 mean nothing. 6s offer some advantage to the character based on that relationship. 5s also give an advantage but with some complication.

Backgrounds and the One Unique Thing

In the 5th edition of D&D, characters are defined by their race, class, background, traits, and skills. Race and class selections in 13th Age will feel familiar, but 13th Age combines the aspects of skills and backgrounds into a larger character background feature.

Players create their characters’ backgrounds themselves: there is no pre-existing list of backgrounds to choose from. These backgrounds further define and refine the character and their place in the world. A player invents a number of relevant backgrounds for their character (usually two or three) and assigns eight points among them, with no more than five in any one background.

Whenever a character in 13th Age attempts something that would require a skill check, the player rolls and adds their attribute bonus. If they have a background relevant to the situation, they can add the points they have allocated to that background.

The open-ended nature of these backgrounds help players define their characters’ role in the world. Instead of “Sage”, a player may define part of the world with a background like “former sage of the Crusader’s inquisition, now on the run”.

Example: A paladin with the +3 background “Student in the Hidden Monastery of the Great Gold Wyrm” has to cross a tightrope across a pit. The paladin’s player says to the GM, “The monastery I trained in as a youth sits on a mountain cliffside, and all the buildings are only connected by tightropes. So I’m really good at walking tightropes.” The GM agrees that the +3 bonus applies to this skill check, and quietly writes a note to herself, “Future adventure: party goes to the hidden monastery, has awesome battle on tightropes.”

13th Age characters are further defined by their “one unique thing”. This trait sets their character apart from everyone else in the world. This can be something relatively personal like, “is guided by three ghost witches only she can see” or something larger in scope like, “is the only person in the world who can hear the laments of the Koru”. Like backgrounds, these unique features help the player define parts of the world beyond the bounds of the character sheet.

Abstract Combat

Though we can play the fifth edition of D&D without a map or miniatures, the distances, ranges, and areas of effect in D&D are defined in five foot increments. For this reason, many players and GMs choose to play D&D on a gridded battle map, with each square accounting for five feet of distance.

13th Age ignores fixed distances and instead talks about distances in abstract terms such as “nearby”, “far away”, “grouped”, and “engaged”. While we can play 13th Age with physical maps and miniatures, these abstract distances let us ignore individual squares and focus on the big movements and motions of the characters. These abstract distances still have mechanical effects in the game, such as a fireball being able to hit 1d3 nearby enemies in a group (or 2d3 enemies if you’re willing to hit your friends!).

Because of these abstracted distances, it’s as easy to run a 13th Age battle completely in the “theater of the mind” as it is with miniatures and a map. It also means we don’t have to worry about the small details of things like positioning and specific movement, and can focus on the high fantasy and superheroic action that’s central to 13th Age. Players and GMs who enjoy a map and miniatures can still use them with 13th Age, but we are no longer bound to the squares on those maps. Only relative distances matter.

For players and GMs used to running games on a gridded battle map, this can take some getting used to but it’s worth the effort. Battles in 13th Age feel less like chess and more like an explosive action movie.

Flat Versus Escalating Math

13th Age embraces the drive of superheroic fantasy in the game’s mechanics as well as its story. Those familiar with D&D 5e’s character growth recognize that the statistics of characters grow on a shallow curve (often called “flat math”). Armor classes are set by the armor of the character and don’t increase with the character’s level. A character’s attack bonus does go up with level, but slowly.

In 13th Age, a character’s power grows steeply from level to level. 13th Age only has ten levels but each level feels like two levels of growth in D&D. A 10th level character in 13th Age is roughly equivalent to a 20th level character in D&D 5e.

Not only do attack bonuses, saving throws, and armor classes go up as a character levels but the amount of damage dice a character uses on attacks also increases. Fifth level fighters roll five dice worth of damage on each attack. High level characters roll huge handfuls of dice on attacks, dishing out triple digits of damage. (Although at higher levels of play, to speed things up the rulebook recommends averaging some or all of the damage dice instead of rolling all of them.)

This steep curve once again reinforces the superheroic feeling of 13th Age.

Two Dimensional Monster Design

The monster design in 13th Age follows a design similar to the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons (but don’t let that scare you away if you weren’t a fan of 4e). Monsters not only have levels, but also sizes or strengths independent of level. These sizes and strengths include mooks, normal monsters, double strength (or large monsters), and triple strength (or huge monsters). These sizes and strengths mean that a level 4 triple strength monster is roughly equivalent to three level 4 characters. This two-dimensional monster design makes it much easier to build “balanced” encounters to challenge a group. A simple chart gives us a gauge of how many monsters of what types will balance well for a party at a given level.

Monsters in 13th Age use static damage instead of rolling dice, which may seem odd at first but becomes totally natural. Like characters, they also scale significantly in power as they level. The balor, for example, dishes out a whopping 160 damage on a single hit with its lightning sword.

Nearly all monsters also have attacks or powers that are triggered by dice results and other circumstances in the battle. For example, here are the balor’s attacks:

Abyssal blade +18 vs. AC—160 damage

Natural even hit: The balor deals +1d20 lightning damage to the target and to one other nearby enemy of the balor’s choice. Then repeat that damage roll against the targets once for each point on the escalation die (so if it’s 4, that’s four more d20 rolls)

Natural even miss: 80 damage.

C: Flaming whip +18 vs. PD (one nearby enemy)—50 fire damage, and the target is pulled to the balor, who engages it.

Natural even miss: 25 fire damage.

Limited use: 1/round, as a quick action.

Because each monster is “scripted” to take action on random die results, they’re capable of surprising both the players and the GM.

A Differentiated Game of High Fantasy

Unbound from the need to embrace the elements of traditional fantasy RPGs, 13th Age gives us an RPG that thrusts us deep into high fantasy. Our characters are big and bold. They’re unique actors in a unique world torn by the forces who rule over it. 13th Age is a world of hellholes and living dungeons. It is a world of floating cities and underground labyrinths. The game system itself embraces this superheroic fantasy with bold mechanics that handwave common wargaming details and thrusts its players into the actions of our limitless imaginations.

I love 13th Age. I also love 5th edition D&D. These games are not mutually exclusive. We can love many roleplaying game systems and each one gives us things we can use in the others. In a single volume, 13th Age gives us a beautiful system of high fantasy roleplaying that every GM should try. Whatever system you prefer, you’re sure to find ideas in 13th Age you can use in any system. And who knows? It just might become your system of choice.

Mike Shea is a writer, gamer, technologist, and webmaster for the D&D website Sly Flourish. Mike has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and wrote the books The Lazy Dungeon Master and Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Locations. Mike lives in Vienna, Virginia with his gamer wife Michelle and their dire worg Jebu.

THE MONK

By ASH LAW

In this series by ASH LAW, we feature two different builds for every 13th Age character class, at all levels. ASH suggests how the builds might be used, and offers tips on playing each character. Stats are based on the point-buy method, and the characters have no non-standard elements.

 

THE MONK

 

The mighty monk: never unarmed because their fists (and feet, and foreheads) are weapons. Wielding the power of ki, monks are by default also fighting with two weapons. Monks don’t make weapon attacks, nor unarmed attacks like other classes—instead they make special attacks known as Jab, Punch, and Kick attacks. You also use attack forms (opening, flow, finishing) that grant AC bonuses (+1, +2, +3). As the combat progresses you cycle through forms, dealing damage for Jabs, Punches, and Kicks.

As a monk expect to be very mobile on the battlefield, but be careful not to get too far ahead of the rest of the party. You should also expect to track ki, work out which forms to use and when, and to know when to activate your ki powers. This class has a lot of moving parts to track and isn’t for those who prefer a simpler combatant.

 

FLYING DAGGERS MONK

 

Download the Flying Daggers Monk character sheets here.

 

This monk is all about battlefield mobility, with access to ranged attacks that add extra flexibility to the build. When using your attacks (opening, flow, finishing) pick ones that allow you to pop free if you are engaged, or ones that grant extra movement, or that allow you to fly.

This monk isn’t exactly fragile, but works best when it is darting from foe to foe and avoiding getting bogged down, so don’t be afraid to pull back and make ranged attacks when monsters are too tough for you to face one-on-one.

 

Talents

 

Temple Weapon Master

Turn misses into hits when you are fighting with a weapon that fits your style, which for this build would be throwing stars, arrows, etc.

Heavens Arrow

You have no penalties for using ranged weapons, and you can sometimes make ranged attacks in place of melee attacks as part of your fighting forms.

Leaf on the Wind

Gain extra move actions, fall without damage by using nearby handholds to slow you, and sometimes you fly.

 

Race

Halflings have the neat evasive and small powers that lets them dodge through battles—perfect for a flying daggers monk.

 

Attributes

Wisdom gives us ki, Dexterity and Strength are important for attacks, and Constitution is needed for hit points—the monk needs to be a balanced character. Fortunately the monk gets two +2 attribute bonuses from its class, instead of the usual one!: Str 16 (+3) Con 14 (+2) Dex 16 (+3) Int 10 (0) Wis 16 (+3) Cha 10 (0).

1st level

Attributes: Str 16 (+3) Con 14 (+2) Dex 16 (+3) Int 10 (0) Wis 16 (+3) Cha 10 (0).

Racial Power: small, evasive

Talents: temple weapon master, heavens arrow, leaf on wind

Feats: ki

Ki: 1

Ki Powers: supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade

Attack Forms: claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp)

 

2nd level

New feat (leaf on wind), ki (6), ki powers (supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade), attack forms (claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp)).

 

3rd level

New feat (heavens arrow), ki (6), ki powers (supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade), attack forms (claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp), dance of the mantis (springing mantis strike, the pincer whirls shut, precise mantis kick)).

 

4th level

+1 to three attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom), new feat (precise shot), ki (6), ki powers (supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade), attack forms (claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp), dance of the mantis (springing mantis strike, the pincer whirls shut, precise mantis kick)).

 

5th level

New feat (ki), ki (7), ki powers (supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade), attack forms (claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp), dance of the mantis (springing mantis strike, the pincer whirls shut, precise mantis kick), rising phoenix (rising phoenix fist, becomes the pillar of flame, life burning fire fist)).

 

6th level

New feat (leaf on wind), new talent (improbable stunt), ki (7), ki powers (supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade, ludicrous improbability manoeuvre), attack forms (claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp), dance of the mantis (springing mantis strike, the pincer whirls shut, precise mantis kick), rising phoenix (rising phoenix fist, becomes the pillar of flame, life burning fire fist)).

 

7th level

+1 to three attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom), new feat (heavens arrow), ki (8), ki powers (supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade, ludicrous improbability maneuver), attack forms (claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp), three evil dragons (the burning shadow, blue lightning fist, red fury), rising phoenix (rising phoenix fist, becomes the pillar of flame, life burning fire fist)).

 

8th level

New feat (leaf on wind), ki (8), ki powers (supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade, ludicrous improbability maneuver), attack forms (claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp), three evil dragons (the burning shadow, blue lightning fist, red fury), rising phoenix (rising phoenix fist, becomes the pillar of flame, life burning fire fist), feathered serpent (coils dispense blessings, feathers on talons on scales, poisoned heaven kick)).

 

9th level

New feat (heavens arrow), new talent (abundant step), ki (8), ki powers (supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade, ludicrous improbability maneuver), attack forms (claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp), three evil dragons (the burning shadow, blue lightning fist, red fury), rising phoenix (rising phoenix fist, becomes the pillar of flame, life burning fire fist), feathered serpent (coils dispense blessings, feathers on talons on scales, poisoned heaven kick)).

 

10th level

+1 to three attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom), new feat (abundant step), ki (8), ki powers (supreme warrior discipline, wind from heaven, wind’s comrade, ludicrous improbability maneuver), attack forms (claws of the panther (panther spins free, cat cuts between hounds, twinned panther claws), three cunning tricksters (fox senses weakness, monkey taps the shoulder, crane summons carp), three evil dragons (the burning shadow, blue lightning fist, red fury), rising phoenix (rising phoenix fist, becomes the pillar of flame, life burning fire fist), spiral path (the cycle opens, spiral ascension widens, star joins as ally), feathered serpent (coils dispense blessings, feathers on talons on scales, poisoned heaven kick)).

See Page XX

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Since Cthulhu Confidential’s arrival in foyers and post office boxes worldwide, a couple of folks have asked me how one might go about combining GUMSHOE One-2-One with Trail of Cthulhu’s standard multiplayer format.

The short answer is, uh, I didn’t design them to fit together like that.

The rest of this column will consist of a longer answer that boils down to, uh, here’s a few things you can try but they’re not playtested so get ready to kludge on the fly.

When designing One-2-One my goal was not to seamlessly port the player from solo to group play, but to make the solo play as fun and functional as possible in its own right. Making the two games interoperable would have introduced a layer of complexity that taxed One-2-One GMs and players to no immediate payoff. A big chunk of the audience for One-2-One turns out to be people introducing previously unfamiliar friends and loved ones to roleplaying, so that would have been a serious mistake.

Tuning the game for solo play meant reexamining basic elements we take for granted in multiplayer, like hit points that slowly tick away and can lead to a character’s death at any moment in the story. To serve the one-player format, I came up with Problem card mechanism, which is not only different from Health pools in standard GUMSHOE, but in a completely other ballpark.

So that leaves us with two games that share an overall feeling but on the granular level don’t plug together.

The easiest way to merge them is to move from one to the other without ever looking back.

If you’ve been running a Trail series for one player, you can work with them to adapt that PC to One-2-One. Conversely, once you recruit a new crop of players to start a Trail series, you could then turn that One-2-One PC into a ToC investigator.

The key word here is adapt, not convert.

Mathematical conversions from one system to another almost invariably wind up with weird imbalances and often a less playable character than you’d get by starting from square one.

Tell the player to keep in mind what she knows about her character from having played her, and especially what the investigator has actually done in the course of scenarios to date. Forget the numbers; remember the core concept.

For Trail, go through the standard steps of character creation, recreating the idea of the One-2-One PC in that system.

To adapt into Cthulhu Confidential, sit down with the player to follow the recommendations for new character creation on p. 294 of that book: around 14 investigative abilities and 18 dice in general abilities, with no more than 2 dice per ability.

Since the ability lists differ, you’re not trying to get everything to line up absolutely. Think of this as resembling the process by which a character from a comic or series of novels becomes the protagonist in a TV show: it’s the broad strokes that matter.

A One-2-One character will need Sources to fill her in when she runs into a clue her abilities don’t illuminate. If you’re moving the investigator from an actual multiplayer Trail game, that’s simple—just use the other players’ characters, who you’ll now be portraying as GMCs.

If you were playing Trail solo, work with your player to invent outside experts she can consult as needed.

When devising scenarios, remember to limit the number of times the investigator will need to call on Sources.

Having a character who moves between Trail and Confidential poses the biggest design conundrum.

If the character suffers the shattering of a Pillar of Sanity in Trail, you may wish to acknowledge that in Confidential with a Continuity Problem card. Whether it imposes a story or a mechanical effect or both depends on the situation. Other ongoing consequences of past Trail events might also become One-2-One Problem cards. Conversely, you could reward exceptional problem-solving in a Trail session with an Edge card that can be spent to good effect in the following Confidential episode.

Going the other way around, you might decide that Continuity Problems picked up in Confidential might come into play in Trail.

Narrative-based card effects, as with “Charlie Chaplin Owes You” (CC p. 139), are the easiest to pull off. Your player’s detective, self-taught physics genius Ethel Peaslee, gains the movie star’s confidence when the two of you play your version of “The Fathomless Sleep.” Then, in a Trail session, her player makes use of that card, getting the entire group into an exclusive garden party to brace an otherwise unapproachable witness.

Continuity Edges that exert a mechanical effect in One-2-One might grant a +1 bonus to some or all general tests. Continuity Problem cards could likewise impose a -1 penalty.

Like the design of the Problems and Edges themselves, this is all situational. You’re not doing much more creative work than you would normally do when constructing a One-2-One scenario.

Crossing the streams might see you building individual side quests into an epic Trail series. An investigator might come back from the Dreamlands, the Plateau of Leng, or the twisting boulevards of Los Angeles to share the results of an individual mission undertaken between this Trail scenario and the last one. After the group decides to steer clear of a disturbing mystery in Trail, a player can follow it up solo in Confidential.

Think twice before running One-2-One interludes only for certain members of your group. If one or two players are having a richer experience because they’re getting to also play Confidential with you, the remaining members of the Trail game may come to feel like second bananas. You might be able to remedy this by building in hooks that require the frequent soloists to cede spotlight time to the others in multiplayer mode. That gem Ethel found in D’yath-Leen might provide the key to finding J0e Morgan’s long-lost sister, say. Be doubly wary of an imbalance of perceived attention when you’re personally closer to the One-2-One player(s) than the ones who only take part in the Trail game.

This is all speculation, as I have yet to try to interweave the two games and don’t see that as a likely possibility for my own GUMSHOE play. If you do give it a whirl, let us know how it goes!

Street Theatre

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Hawkes & Fitzy

The team retreats from Singleton’s house. They decide that they need some spiritual assistance, and contact a Network ally of theirs, Revered Rogers (any resemblance to Simon Rogers of Pelgrane is purely deliberate). Rogers meets them in a private room at a nearby pub, and brings along a bag of crucifixes along with two potential allies (and our second two temporary player characters – a Metropolitan Police detective names Hawkes and an actor called Fitzy.

(Elgin’s player missed half this session; the thief hid in Singleton’s house until he was able to escape and rejoin the rest of the group. He also had a weird vision-flash when he broke the circle of blue candles – he was in the body of a woman, dressed in modern-day clothes, and there was a man shouting at her in German.

A Message From Beyond

A Message From Beyond

When he recovered, he found he was holding a copy of Hawkins Paper 14, on which he’d circled several key words.)

Hawkes had discovered the Met’s extensive files on vampire-like attacks, dating back to the 1890s. She’d also discovered that officers who looked too deeply into any of these incidents tended to get transferred to dead-end jobs. Fitzy, meanwhile, was a former regular at Singleton’s decadent parties who had fled to Reverend Rogers after a troubling spiritual encounter with the occultist. Furthermore, Singleton just contacted Fitzy again, offering him a role in a ‘dramaturgical ceremony’ tonight (“the role of a lifetime, dear boy”).

After a lengthy discussion of options, the team decide to start by checking out Coldfall Woods. They quickly uncover a ruined cellar in some waste ground that matches the spot on an old map of London they found with the Dossier in Whitby. Exploring, they meet Richard Crinn (the Madman, DH p. 121), who Hawkes recognises as a known junkie. He rants about the three girls – one dead, one alive, one un-dead, and other cryptic nonsense, but the team are more interested in finding out what’s behind an Architecturally-suspicious wall than sifting through Crinn’s babblings. Hawkes calls some local social workers to take Crinn away, and warns them that he might be violent by night.

After some poking at bricks, the team smashes through the wall and finds a mysterious upright coffin and an even-more-mysterious partial skeleton entombed in concrete. Fitzy starts pulling bits of the skeleton out of the concrete, and has a psychic flash of the Norman Shaw building (DH p. 193).

The team drags the coffin out into the daylight, and – stakes and crucifixes in hand – open it. Inside, they discover the already-staked corpse of Inspector Cotford. A close examination finds that his throat has been torn open, and stuffed into the wound are several items: Cotford’s wedding ring, some photographs of his family, and a collection of teeth wrenched from a child’s mouth. They reseal the coffin and hide it again.

Fitzy gets some more details from Singleton about the arrangements for the evening. Fitzy will be playing Alfred Singleton, Osman Singleton’s putative grandfather. Enchanted by the idea of playing a sorcerer, Fitzy puts on his robe and wizard hat.

McAllister prepares some silver bullets and the team load up with crucifixes, holy water, and other counter-vampire measures.

Elgin contacts an ally in Germany and arranges for the mysterious brooch to be couriered to England.

Suspecting that the Norman Shaw buildings are central to Dracula’s plans (mainly because they’re central on the map), McAllister and Hawkes head there. Elgin heads to Hillingham;  Baptiste accompanies Fitzy back to Singleton’s. While Singleton and Fitzy argue over how to portray the original, Baptiste sneaks into the Psychic’s study and starts looting handfuls of clues.

At Hillingham, Elgin manages to get into the tent containing the mysterious machine and examines it. It consists of a portable generator, a computer console, and a contraption that consists of a jackhammer-like pillar of solid engraved silver, covered in occult runes. Elgin’s able to access some files on the computer console – they resemble heat maps, or images from ground penetrating radar. They seem to show parts of London as they were in the past, including ghostly tracks where people gathered. Zooming out, it looks like Edom have used the machine at other places around London, but there’s a big DO NOT USE sign on the map near Kingstead Ceremony.

Despite Fitzy’s increasing nervousness, he gets dressed in Alfred Singleton’s old suit and gets on the bus. (He also takes the drugs offered by Singleton.) He meets other actors playing the roles of Kate Reed, Lucy Westenra, Mrs. Westenra, Quincey Harker and other characters from the novel.

At Westminster, McAllister and Hawkes find the entrance to a maintenance tunnel, and hear spectral whispers in the darkness. Before they can investigate, Hawkes spots a man she knows to be an MI5 Agent (DH p. 122) watching them. The pair lay a trap for the Security Service office, and manage to ambush him.

The… performance? Ceremony? Séance? begins again. The machine starts up again, hammering the ground. Vibrating the old walls of Hillingham. The actors somehow become more like the characters they’re portraying, and seem almost possessed. The “scene” is the 17th of April – just after the death of Lucy Westenra (p. 202 of Unredacted for those reading along at home). As Single – as Fitzy approaches the door, he sees the other actor, the man standing next to him playing Cotford, change so he more closely resembles the corpse they found in the sealed coffin earlier that day.

At Singleton’s house, the blue flame returns. Baptiste witnesses another séance, but this time, the ghost in the circle is alternately a beautiful blonde woman or a hideous skeleton – it’s the spirit of Lucy Westenra!

At the Norman Shaw buildings, Hawkes and McAllister question the captured MI5 Agent, who’s clearly running security for Edom. They ask him if it was the Child Vampire who killed Dr. John, and he laughs at them. The Master is at hand – and mist starts to pour down from street level, coagulating into the shape of a tall man…

Fitzy tries to change the script (at this point, we were literally putting on a performance of Page 202 of Unredacted), but the psychic pressure is intense, and changing a single word requires a tremendous effort of will. In Singleton’s house, there’s a wrenching sensation as Lucy’s vampiric ghost becomes more and more manifest. The blue flames of the candles are now these blazing blue columns of fire, impossibly tall.

Under the Norman Shaw buildings, Hawkes and McAllister face down Count Dracula. McAllister fires a blessed silver bullet at the Count, injuring him, but it’s nowhere near enough to stop the vampire. He advances on the pair. Crucifixes hold him at bay; he snarls in fury and snaps the downed MI5 Agent’s neck with a casual gesture, like a man kicking a dog. “You will suffer for this insolence. Your families are mine! Your friends, mine! Your country, mine!”

Just before the actor playing Quincey Morris can announce that Lucy is dead, Elgin shoots the machine, knocking it out of phase. Fitzy collapses; everyone at Hillingham goes silent, apart from the actress playing Lucy. She just starts screaming and screaming, this banshee keen that doesn’t stop.

DraculaAnd back at Singleton’s mansion, the summoning circle is empty. The blue flames have all gone out. Baptiste listens from his hiding place as Osman Singleton orders his remaining followers to bar all the doors and windows and bring up the garlic from the cellar. “We have failed HIM, and he will not forgive. Bar the doors and pray, and we might survive the night!”

 

Spiritual Subduction Zones and other weirdness: I wanted a twist on the both the regular damned vampires and the telluric-bacteria vamps presented in the Director’s Handbook, but I also knew that the campaign works best if you can preserve the earth-tremor connection to Dracula. What I came up with was a breed of vampire that exists on a spiritual borderland between life and death.

A subduction zone is a geological term – it’s the place where one continental plate slips beneath another, causing earthquakes. This setup posits that the physical and the spiritual, life and death, are like continental plates, usually moving in parallel with one another, but in certain places, life can slip beneath death, opening a route to some spiritual underworld. This subduction, this violation of normal reality, causes both psychic and physical feedback that manifests in many ways, including earthquakes.

Vampires are spirits that have crawled out of such a subduction zone. They shouldn’t be alive, so reality keeps trying to drag them back down into that spiritual underworld. Vampires drink blood to cling to life. Staking or beheading a vampire isn’t enough to kill it, as they’re unquiet ghosts inhabiting a body. The only way to kill it is to carry its soul into the underworld, usually by weighing it down with other ghosts. That’s why the vampire Cotford was buried with tokens reminding him of his family – their ghosts would carry his spirit down into the afterworld. That’s why grave goods work.

Certain vibrations can also create artificial subduction zones; resonate the old stones of a building or the bedrock of a region at the right frequency, and it pushes the physical a little into the spiritual realm. That’s why, for example, hauntings are associated with running water. The mundane explanation is that people mistake the gurgling of some buried river or the drip of some leaky pipe for ghostly sounds, but what’s really going on is that the vibrations caused by the running water happen to resonate at the right frequency to push that site into the spiritual realm a little, allowing ghosts to form. 

Edom doesn’t have earthquake machines – they can make earthquakes, but that’s not their real purpose. They’ve got ghost engines, machines that resonate at the right frequency to create subduction zones. They used one of these to resurrect Dracula in 1940 – they opened a subduction zone, and Dracula’s spirit was able to crawl out of the spiritual realm and back into his body. (He was carried down into Hell by the ghost of Quincey Morris; if none of the company had died there, then no amount of physical damage would have stopped Dracula from returning the next night. Edom had to pull him out of Hell in 1940 to bring him back.)

Ghost engines can also be used to call up ghosts, or at least create conditions where ghosts are almost certain to manifest, as the team saw at Hillingham.

< Session 2 – There Was An Explosion Adjacent To A Helicopter

The Prime of Miss Ellen Mowbray – Session 4 >

 

A Dispatch From Cthulhu City4_bookshop

Cults are a major part of Cthulhu City. The setting mashes Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth and Kingport together with the Mythos’ other great cities – the City of the Elder Things, the City of Pillars, Carcosa, Pnakatos, Rlyeh, the Marvellous Sunset City of the Dreamland – and each of those cities has its own age-old cults and secret cabals. In Cthulhu City, the cults all vie for power and the favour of the Old Ones. The city was founded by cults:  Great Arkham remembers Joseph Curwen as its founding father. It’s been ruled by cults: the Esoteric Order of Dagon ran the Gilman House political machine that dominated city politics for decades, and it’s been guided by cults: the Church of the Conciliator is the dominant faith in the city, and although that church traces its origins to a lone preacher in Dunwich in the 1830s, the rites it celebrates are far more ancient.

Even the city’s enemies can be treated as a cult. Look at the recent scandal at Miskatonic University, where it was discovered that the head librarian was also head of a secret cell of anarcho-Communistic radicals who intended to blow up City Hall! Fortunately, a joint investigation by the city police and the FBI thwarted that fiendish plan, but Armitage and some of his co-conspirators escaped capture, and like any cult, they may have allies and contacts in the underworld.

Any of the many non-player characters detailed in Cthulhu City (all using the by-now-familiar Neutral/Villain/Potential Ally breakdown pioneered in the Armitage Files) could be a cultist. Therefore, each cult write up provides a template of adjustments that the Keeper can quickly apply to that NPC’s statistics to reflect their secret cult affiliation. If the Servant or the Gadabout is secretly a member of the Witch Coven, then the Keeper need only check the Witch Coven write up in the Cults chapter to discover that initiates of the Coven gain +2 Health, +4 Magic, +2 Weapons, and the spells Contact Rat-Thing and Open Witch Gate (expect many new spells in Cthulhu City). Of course, that’s only for initiates – adepts and masters of a cult have considerably more potent adjustments to their base statistics, not to mention more far-reaching and subtle ways to strike back at meddling investigators. Any NPC might secretly be a powerful cultist (or even be promoted on the fly by an improvising Keeper).

You can’t fight City Hall, especially when City Hall is a cyclopean temple to nameless evil and ruled by wizards.

Fortunately, each cult has tells that the investigators can discover. Some are obvious – the bulging eyes, bilious skin and bloated physique that make up the Innsmouth look bespeaks a connection to the Esoteric Order. Others are more subtle – what does it mean when you detect the faint smell of formaldehyde, or experience a sudden rush of vertigo? As a foulness shall ye know them…

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.

 

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