Academic Reality Hacks

(For context, see the Reality Hacking rules)

Academic Hacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Agent can only benefit from this hack once.

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

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

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


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

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