During the Kickstarter for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, I laid out one method of serving Shock and Injury cards to players electronically, as image files sent to a mobile-enabled platform. At that time, I recommended using Google Photos for this purpose. Belatedly I realize that there was a better way to do it, using the workspace application Slack.

Here’s how to do that:

If you haven’t done so already, create a Slack workspace for your game group.

(I now find this an essential tool for my group, no matter what we’re playing. The Polly poll app, for example, gives you a handy way to conduct an advance roll call and make sure you have quorum before anyone grabs their dice and heads your way.)

Within the workspace, create a separate channel for each player character. Depending on how well you remember PC names, you may want to name it after the character, or place the player’s name before or after the investigator name. Slack doesn’t allow spaces or upper case letters in channel names so you’ll have to resort to underscores:

#ella_wharton

#noelle_ella_wharton

#ella_wharton_noelle

Alternately, you could serve cards into the private message inbox of each player. However, some players like to use that for banter, out of game arrangements and other side business. Creating a channel for each player keeps that clear for cards and in-game notes, and reminds other players of the cast of investigators.

Also, if a member of your group is without a mobile device, they can sit next to a player with a laptop or tablet. With a little looking over-the-shoulder, the obliging device owner can switch between channels as needed to allow the other person to check their cards in hand.

When a character receives a Shock or Injury card, you upload it to the appropriate channel. You can do this directly from a folder if using a laptop. On a tablet, you can put the card images in Dropbox and share them from that service’s mobile app into the Slack app.

Slack permits only the creator of a message line to delete that line, so when a player discards a card, you’ll have to delete it in order for it to disappear. Be sure your players let you know when they fulfill a discard condition.

We’re currently assembling materials for our YKRPG resources page, including image files for each card. If you need them before we get that done, you can check the books for the cards you think you’ll need and turn them into images. Accomplish this either by screenshotting the PDF or by opening the PDF in an image editing program such as GIMP. Then crop the cards into separate images, save with the card titles as file names, and you’re good to go.

Some GMs will still prefer the tactile quality of paper cards printed, cut up, and handed to players. But for those, like me, who consider immediate access to all the cards in the game the ideal, a Slack full of pallid masks and black stars should do the trick.

People Have Opinions about service platforms. If you come up with an even better way, let us know!


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.

In the present COVID-19 crisis, many of us, myself included, have canceled our in-person roleplaying sessions to comply with social distancing or shelter-in-place public health regimes across the world.

This Thursday, after a hiatus, I’ll be switching my in-person game to remote. (I’ve just started “Canadian Shield”, an extremely variant Fall of Delta Green series.)

As more tips and tricks for remote play come up I’ll share them with you here on the Pelgrane site. Let’s get started, though, with what I’ve learned during previous forays into online tabletop.

1. Use the platform you already know.

Everyone who has already racked up extensive remote play experience expresses a preference for a particular combo of tools for video conferencing and the virtual play space.

For video, Discord, Zoom, Google Hangouts and to a lesser extent Skype all have their adherents. Each brings its own set of pluses and minuses. In the end your choice of video app may depend on the quirks of each player’s device setup. You may wind up shuffling through a bunch of them before you find the one that happens to function for your entire group.

As far as play spaces go, Roll20 already has resources for 13th Age and GUMSHOE. We’ve just added DramaSystem.

If you’re already familiar with a video conferencing app and/or virtual tabletop, skip the learning curve and use that. It works; don’t fix it.

2. If you haven’t done this before, I prefer Google Hangouts and Slack.

Google Hangouts hasn’t let me down yet. It’s free, and pretty seamlessly handles switching to the person currently speaking. That’s the most important feature of a video app for game play and it does it well. Google has announced that they’re ending this service soon, but if I understand their PR correctly, what they’re actually doing is rebranding their video chat to sound more business-friendly. Google can hook you on a service and then whip it out from under you like a rug, but I’m guessing that we’re safe when this one changes to its new incarnation. I wouldn’t bet on that happening according to its original timetable, either.

For GUMSHOE and DramaSystem, I use as my virtual tabletop a tool not remotely designed for that, the group project messaging platform, Slack. It is a platform I use for other purposes every day and know how to use. I already use it for face-to-face when running The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, having found it the best solution for serving electronic Shock and Injury Cards. When teaching that system I upload a card image to the game’s main channel so everyone can feel its horror. I also drop the cards to each player, in our private message inbox. When they discard cards, I delete them from the private message inbox, so that it contains only the cards currently held.

Maps, images, and other handouts I upload to the main channel as well.

Slack’s advantage over its competitors in its category lies in its ease of use. A newbie can immediately figure out its simple and intuitive interface.

I’d use Slack for any game that relies primarily on dialogue and description, which describes both GUMSHOE and DramaSystem.

In fact I’d probably use it to run 13th Age. I don’t use a battlemap when running that in person, so wouldn’t bother with one in remote play either.

A game that does require a tactical map will naturally push you toward one of the purpose built virtual tabletops. These all have to handle D&D and Pathfinder. If you’re playing a game of that crunchiness online you’ve bought into the extra handling cost.

3. Leave in the Socializing.

Especially now, much of the point of an online game is to feel the connectedness we might ordinarily seek out around a table, at a con, or in a game cafe. The formality of the online experience might tempt you to cut right away to the case. You may know each other less well, or not at all, if playing online. Even so, give everybody time to chat a bit before getting started.

4. Expect a shorter session.

Though this varies for every group, in general the online meeting format promotes an efficiency you may find yourself envying when you return to face-to-face. Video conferencing requires participants to be conscious of who has the floor at any given moment. It reduces crosstalk and kibitzing. People used to conducting real meetings on video tend to step up to help guide the discussion and move toward problem-solving. The software does a good bit of your traffic management as GM for you.

For this reason you’ll find that remote play eats up story faster than a leisurely in-person session. The pace of any given episode more closely resembles the tighter concentration typical of a con game group that has found its rhythm. Your group will likely decide what to do faster, and then go and do it with fewer side tangents, than they would at your regular home table.

When this happens, you may find yourself wondering if you shouldn’t add more plot to keep your ending further away from your beginning. Instead, embrace this as the dynamic operating as it should. If it takes you three hours to hit five or six solid scenes, where in person it would take four, that’s a good thing.

5. Expect a more taxing session.

In addition to respecting the pace your session wants to have, you should aim for shorter sessions because the experience of gaming remotely takes more out of you, and each of your players, than face-to-face will.

Many of you will be sitting in less comfortable chairs than you’re used to being in. Those with home offices may already have been in those chairs for an entire work day already.

The concentration required to pay attention to people on video conferencing taxes the brain more than face-to-face. You’re trying to assimilate the same amount of communication from one another with fewer cues to work with. This tires any group, physically and mentally. Expect that and pace your game accordingly.

When you see a time-consuming setpiece sequence coming up, check the clock to see if you’ll be able to do it full justice given these constraints. Never be reluctant to knock off early and leave folks wanting more next time you all join up.

6: For Slack, use the Dicebot app.

To return to a platform-specific point, the Dicebot Slack app allows any participant to roll dice right in the channel. It easily does the d6 plus spend modifier for GUMSHOE. It inherently reminds players to announce their pool point spends before rolling, another neat advantage over physical dice.

Speaking of games that scorn the battlemap, Dicebot also handles the more complicated positive d6 + negative d6 + modifier roll seen in Feng Shui.

7. Whatever the platform, use a dice app if you players can possibly be coaxed into it.

Some players need that tactile dice-touching fix. I wouldn’t force online rolling on them, but having rolls take place visually in front of everyone does enhance their emotional impact by allowing everyone to see and react to the results.

Dice provide suspense . A die roller, in whatever platform, shares that edge of the seat moment when you see who succeeds and who’s about to take a Shock card.

8. Use a shared Google Doc for note-taking.

Since they’re all on a device anyhow, encourage your players to contribute to the group chronicle by setting up a shared Google Doc. Gussy it up with a graphic touch or two to build tone and theme.

9. Keep online versions of character sheets.

You’d think players won’t lose paper character sheets if they’re not leaving the house, but of course we misplace stuff in our own places all the time.

For GUMSHOE, the highly recommended Black Book app does all of the work of keeping online character sheets for you. It has just extended its trial period for player accounts.

Absent a specific tool, keep updated character sheets in a Dropbox folder or, for games where characters are simple as they are in DramaSystem, in a Google Sheet. I’ve done this for my “Canadian Shield” game.

Stay tuned for more tips. I look forward to the day when I can update this post to remove references to the pandemic as a current event. Until then, stay safe and, as much as you possibly can, the hell inside.

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We’re back in the office from our outings to PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia and Dragonmeet in London, just in time to bring you plenty of gifts. Leading the way is a great present for the Night’s Black Agents Director in your life – a GM Screen and Resource Guide, just what they always wanted! Bring the horrors of the Indochine jungles into your home this holiday season with the luxurious The Fall of DELTA GREEN limited edition, or upgrade from the traditional puppy or kitten with lions, tigers and owlbears in the 13th Age Bestiary 2 limited edition! And for remote friends and coworkers, the long-awaited digital versions of both The Book of Ages and Loot Harder are now available.

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July, as always, is a scramble to get books out for Gen Con, complicated by managing our most successful Kickstarter. Our printers Thomson Shore have indulged us by pushing print deadlines to the limit. The 13th Age Bestiary 2 is printed and shipping to our fulfilment points, Cthulhu City and Out of the Woods are ready to print, which  means if you pre-order them, you’ll get the PDFs now. We have everything crossed we can cross to get the books out to Gen Con!  The Demonologist character is now available for 13th Age Monthly purchasers to playtest, and we’ve been working on some Cthulhu Confidential cards.

The Gen Con season always means new releases, and this year is no exception.

The Yellow King RPG

Our Yellow King RPG Kickstarter finished on a mind-blowing £167,341 – $221,358.43 as of today’s exchange rate. The entire Pelgrane team spent the last hour of the campaign on team  slack –  it was a roller coaster for us, and apparently some backers: one backer moved their pledge up and down eight times in the last hour, as if two people were fighting over the same keyboard. We toasted each other with bourbon on Google hangouts afterwards.

But if you didn’t pledge then, you didn’t miss out. You can still get Yellow King RPG pledges in our store, here.

13th Age

The 13th Age Bestiary 2 has been printed and is on its way to our fulfilment houses. You can see something of the printing process and glimpses of the pages in this article. We hope to ship out US pre-orders in the next week, the rest before the end of the month.

You always have to take your time when dealing with demons, and the Demonologist class from the forthcoming Book of Demons is no exception. We now have a playtestable version, and 13th Age Monthly 2 customers can download it from their bookshelf and test it out.

Rob Heinsoo has moved on from the brain work of class development to the final Battle Scenes book and then Gareth’s Book of Ages. ASH LAW has delivered a first draft of a sequel to the Book of Loot, which will be supplemented by other writers.

Trail of Cthulhu

It’s been a while since we’ve had a Trail of Cthulhu release, and here come two at once. Cthulhu City is all of Lovecraft’s conurbations crushed together, an inescapable locus of dread, ruled by two factions, one of which accepts the terrible status quo, the other wishes to end everything. It’s Cthulhu noir. This is a place where rats in the wall double up as the secret police. And players are not exactly helpless pawns, but they have to keep their heads down. As one of the playtesters said, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Cthulhutown”

It has beautiful, useful maps in period style, and atmospheric art and design.

Out of the Woods collects five original adventures for Trail, adventures, a follow-up to Out of Time and Out of Space and informed by years of experience of adventure design. It has full scene flow diagrams for every adventure, and tons of cartography. It’s our most diverse adventure collection with our widest variety of player characters. You can get it on pre-order, PDF now, from the store.

Cthulhu Confidential

We’ve released the first Cthulhu Confidential adventure The House Up in the Hills, for Robin’s noir detective Dex Raymond. Get it from the store.

By popular demand, we’ve also been experimenting with printed Problem and Edge cards. Having run this game, I’m all over these.  This is what they look like so far:

Drone

Ready for playtest next month, and written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is Drone. From the introduction:

Two forms of warfare dominated the battlefields in the early years of the 21st century.
Drones – remotely piloted vehicles – commoditized the battlefield. Guided by operators hundreds or even thousands
of kilometers away, these drones removed the risk of death from battle, while still accomplishing the objectives set
by their military – or, later, corporate – superiors.

Insurgents – small bands of irregular but highly trained fighters – could blend into the civilian population, using
cities as cover, vanishing into the crowds. With limited numbers and firepower, insurgencies quickly learned to do
whatever was necessary to win an asymmetric war – including sacrificing themselves in suicide attacks.
By the middle of the century, a synthesis of these two forms emerged.

Human drones. Corpses, reanimated and augmented by cybernetic implants, and guided by elite teams of remote
operators. Anyone could be killed and turned into the perfect weapon, a bespoke killing machine optimized for a
particular situation, a particular target.

Ideal, disposable weapons for the shadowy corporate conflicts and geopolitical chaos of the mid-21st century.
The operators of these drones reminded themselves that however human their tools seemed, they were just meat
machines.

Drones.

I’ve playtested this game and it’s fascinating for a number of reasons. Primarily, it’s the asymmetry of the characters. One person plays the drone, who leaves the room as the mission is described, has pretty much zero autonomy but that grows during the game. Then there are the remote operators who control the drone and deploy other assets to the arena. Finally, the referee has a role constrained by the system. Just to give you a taste, here is the sheet for the Drone character.