by Ryven Cedrylle


“The mannusiha is a creature unknown to the world prior to the time of the current Priestess. Four ascetics serving different gods were independently give the same vision – ‘go to the village called Sittwe; when you arrive a woman will give birth. That daughter is the next Priestess.’ The ascetics travelled and as they arrived, a daughter was indeed born. The village was at the time plagued by ogres, who would steal infants as a delicacy. The ascetics hid the infant until they could finish creating the first mannusiha, which drove the ogres from the town forever. Since then, the Priestess has kept mannusiha as her trusted companions and protectors. ”

– Codex Yyangoni, Book XIII

 

Mannusiha Level 7 Large Wrecker

Initiative +9                                                           Fear aura: 36 HP or less (dazed, no escalation die)

AC: 24                                                                   PD:  19                                                   MD: 21
HP: 216

M: Swipe – +12 vs AC  18 damage.  This attack can be made once as a quick action or  twice in a single standard action, targeting one creature twice or two creatures each once.http://site.pelgranepress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=9848&action=edit

M: Tail Whip – +11 vs AC No damage, but the target is hampered and stuck (save ends)

Hit (even): Bite +10 vs. PD, 70 damage

C: Roar – +10 vs MD, targets all nearby enemies, 10 damage and the target chooses to either forfeit its move action or be subject to the mannusiha’s Fear aura on its next turn. Roll a d6 at the start of the mannusiha’s turn; this attack only occurs when the d6 roll is greater than the escalation die and does not require an action.

Four Faces of Truth: The mannusiha does not make saving throws. Instead, at the beginning of each turn, regardless of other condition, the mannusiha may change its visage. Each visage is immune to (and thus ends) different conditions, but also has a vulnerability:

Humanesque Male – immune to all but weakened, vulnerable cold

Humanesque Female – immune to all but dazed, vulnerable fire

Ram – immune to all but hampered, vulnerable lightning

Hawk – immune to all but stunned, vulnerable poison

False Duality:  The mannusiha’s Swipe and Bite attacks deal damage of the type to which it is vulnerable. Attacks of the ‘opposite’ element do no additional damage.

Two Torsos (optional upgrade);  The mannusiha possesses two bodies controlled by a single head. Each can make a separate Tail Whip attack in the same action, but only one Bite total.

The Mannusiha is a large leonine creature with a mutable head and wings. Each head speaks with a different voice and may be called upon under specific circumstances, but the creature is of a single cogent mind. Some mannusiha may also have two bodies joined at the head. Mannusiha are all magically created and fully living. They can fly but require substantial take-off and landing area; they fly only when traveling long distances. Mannusiha serve the Priestess unswervingly.

Mannusiha are often found in the Cathedral, ensuring pilgrims find their way through the ever-changing passages. They seem to have a knack for overhearing disputes between different sects and ensuring the disputes remain civil. Violent acts (harm that requires intentional healing) are an absolute last resort. Actions up to and including physically dragging an offender out of the Cathedral are not considered violent. Other mannusiha are sent out to protect travels the Priestess deems important. The arrival of mannusiha in a village or town is greeted with joy by the inhabitants, for it means the Priestess is soon to arrive herself.

Young mannusiha speak clearly and directly, while the older ones seem to favor metaphors and riddles. Confronting an older mannusiha with a clever paradox (“How is it that a god may die?”) is an excellent way to gain favor or trust. Doing so with a younger will likely result in a sour look and snorting.

by Robin D Laws

GUMSHOE in its various iterations takes the basic investigative structure as seen in TV, movies and fiction and turns it into a platform for roleplaying. The word doing the most work in that statement is basic. Investigative storytelling takes many shapes and outward forms. Any plotline featuring a protagonist’s pursuit of an answer to a question can be considered investigative. By those lights, Oedipus Rex is an investigative narrative, and so is Hamlet. GUMSHOE picks and chooses the investigative structures it adapts, favoring familiarity and playability.

On the first front, it borrows most of its tricks from episodic television and mystery novels. Through omnipresence these examples become easy to emulate. If their basic structures haven’t already imprinted themselves on you after hours of watching and reading, it’s easy enough to find an episode of “Criminal Minds” or copy of a Walter Mosley book to see what you’re shooting for.

To make it into the default GUMSHOE scenario structure, a structural element has to do more than appear in investigative fiction. It must promote game play that most GMs and players will enjoy. The TV show“The Killing” unquestionably follows the solution to a mystery. The American version drove viewers off in droves through the protracted pacing of its first two seasons. The only way to make it more frustrating would be to make a roleplaying game out of it, and establish a structure to guarantee that the PCs sullenly flounder through twenty-six episodes before solving the crime.

Roleplayers want forward movement, meaningful choices and jolts of pace-changing excitement, so that’s what the GUMSHOE structure delivers.

As Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty proves, an investigative narrative can be gripping without all of these elements.

(Since the film recreates the well-known recent events of the CIA hunt for Osama bin Laden, I’m not going to worry too much about broad-strokes spoilers here. Still, if you’re the sort who avoids any analysis of a movie you plan to see, you might want to bookmark this article for later.)

Of the three playability elements listed above, Zero Dark Thirty hits us with several visceral episodes of the last, culminating in its recreation of the special forces raid on the Bin Laden compound.

When it comes to forward movement and choice points, the film, as it ought, sets aside the conventions of fictional investigation for the less assuring contours of real life.

Although frequently punctuated by titled chapter breaks, the film divides into three acts, which might be called Torture, Mole and Compound*. Together they might be called Failure, Failure, Success. The Torture act depicts the detainee program, which gets the investigators nowhere. Mole presents the regrouping after that, culminating in a red herring clue leading a secondary character into a trap, the disastrous Camp Chapman bombing. Notably, in each of these acts, the protagonist takes a back seat to other investigators. In the third act, she gets what in GUMSHOE terms we’d call the first real core clue, which connects her to the identity of a bin Laden courier. After further investigation, including a suspenseful vehicle surveillance sequence, he leads them to the compound. Maya, the central character played by Jessica Chastain, has come to the end of her investigation. Now she must use her hard-edged interpersonal abilities to sway her superiors to launch the raid, which we then see play out.

The question in Zero Dark Thirty is not whodunnit, but where is he (so we can kill him)? We know how the story ends, but that doesn’t matter. We’re immersed in a work of experiential cinema, the objective of which is to put us inside the experience of the hunt for Bin Laden. It’s the details of life in various black sites, the CIA building in Langley and most of all the CIA station in the Islamabad embassy that matter here.

Though based on an actual person, Zero Dark Thirty follows the rules of the iconic hero. Unlike a dramatic character, Maya isn’t torn between two emotional poles, which her actions in the story require her to confront and resolve. She’s someone who encounters disorder in the world—that bin Laden remains at large—and overcomes this practical obstacle. She solves this problem by remaining true to her essential self, in this case as a completely determined, obsessive hunter of bin Laden. This both allows her to stay focused on her quarry when pressured to move on, and ultimately sways risk-conscious higher-ups after she locates the compound. (In GUMSHOE terms, she’s using a particularly sharp-elbowed version of the Inspiration ability.)

Unlike a GUMSHOE investigation, we don’t see multiple routes to the solution of the mystery. Instead we get two protracted dead ends and then a single, difficult path to the answer—one that begins with an intuitive interpretation of a long-neglected clue that drops from nowhere. (Note how the script ties the dropping of the clue to the inspiration Maya’s doggedness stirs in someone else.)

Part of this comes down to the central difference between traditional narrative and roleplaying. Standard storytelling arises from inevitability, in which characters follow the one best path through the plot. We aren’t meant to think a story could have unfolded in any other way. In roleplaying, players, whose participation becomes ultimately meaningless without freedom of choice, want to look back and think that they weren’t railroaded—that they could have gone at the central problem in more than one way, or at least in another order, and still arrived at, if not the same conclusion, another equally satisfying one.

Zero Dark Thirty’s structure reflects the drudgery and persistence required in real-life criminal or intelligence investigation. Difficult cases stymie their investigators for months or years until a suddenly discovered fact leads them to the final sequence of telling clues. Red herrings far outnumber viable leads. Success depends on the willingness to wait.

As roleplayers, the depiction of free will and character agency provides greater play value than would the faithful replication of the numbing realities of real-life investigation. Even in fiction we’re willing to contemplate this only so often, when shown to us by someone as skilled in compelling detail as Bigelow or David Fincher. We can engage vicariously with a film like Zero Dark Thirty, but when we sit down at the table to solve a case, we want know that a fictional structure, like the one made explicit by GUMSHOE, will be there to support us.

 

* You could argue for four acts, with a third investigative act called Courier in between Mole and Compound, but that’s beside the present point.

by Casey Peavler

 

The Werebeast is a player race that gains +2 to Strength, Dexterity, or Wisdom.

Once per month a band of hunters come in from the wilds, leading a cart drawn by a pair of magnificent white elk. Their cart is loaded with animal pelts of every description, tools and weapons crafted from simple and primitive materials, and cured meats galore. They accept no money for their wares, but are remarkably fair when it comes to bartering for goods to take back to their tribe. They stay only a single day, and once they are gone none can find their trail to learn where they depart to.

The hunters for their part like the small frontier village just fine. They don’t linger for their own safety, however. They learned generations ago how the unshifted react when they discover the secret of the tribe.

Werebeasts are an ancient offshoot of humanity, cousins or half siblings. Through infancy and childhood they are indistinguishable from normal humans, but once they reach adolescence they are bonded with an animal spirit. They gain that animal’s speed, strength, or cunning and can call on even more at moments of great need. Within a year, they can also take on the shape of their spirit animal when needed.

Werebeasts typically live in a tribal society, moving with the migratory animals they hunt for food. They remain secluded from other races except when they venture into the town to trade for needed goods. Animosity between Werebeasts and the other humanoid races runs deep, and they view their seclusion as a means of self-preservation. Every few geberations however, they send a few of their brightest young people into the civilized lands to gather new knowledge to bring back to the tribe.

As a player, there are three major kinds of Werebeasts. Choose one kind and gain its benefits

Werebeasts can transform into their animal shape as a minor action. In animal form you have access to all powers you would normally have, but melee attacks deal damage as if you were one level lower (or half damage at level 1). For spells, remove the lowest dice from damage rolls while in this form. You also gain your form’s passive bonus and lose the ability communicate verbally. Otherwise there are no mechanical changes between forms.

Adventurer Tier Feat: Remove all limitations on damage imposed by your beast form.

 

Brute

The spirit animal of a brute is invariably a large and lumbering creature. Bears, elk, large cats, and rhinos are all fair candidates for the brute Werebeast. Brutes tend to be quiet and thoughtful as well as large for their race, which is often confused with stupidity.

Passive bonus: You ignore the first round of any on-going or environmental damage (such as extreme heat or cold) that affects you.

Once per encounter a Brute Werebeast can force an enemy to pop free on an even hit, regardless of which form they are in.

Champion Tier Feat: Once per day you can exhibit your passive benefit while in human form; it lasts for one hour or until the end of the encounter (whichever comes first).

 

Alpha

The spirit animal of an Alpha is usually a creature which embodies the nature of the hunt. Creatures who are swift and powerful; wolves, stags, predatory cats, and so forth. Alphas tend to come to decisions quickly and tend to have dominant personalities.

Passive Benefit: When in animal form Alpha Werebeasts have advanced hearing and smelling, able to track even invisible enemies via smell and hearing.

Once per encounter when an Alpha Werebeast misses with an even attack roll they can add +1d6 to the triggering attack roll and use the new total to determine the success of the attack.

Champion Tier Feat: You gain advanced hearing and smelling in human form. In animal form you gain +3 to checks to use your hearing and sense of smell.

 

Harrier

Harriers are the quickest and most agile of the Werebeasts. Their animal spirits are swift, some noble and some tricksters. Birds of prey, monkeys and small apes, small mammals, and sea creatures are the most typical animals you’ll see. They tend to have very energetic and impulsive personalities.

Passive Benefit: When in animal form Harriers gain the ability to fly, climb, or swim as easily as other beings walk. The type of movement is the type that their animal would typically display.

Once per encounter a Harrier Werebeast can move to disengage as a swift action instead of a move action.

Champion Tier: You gain three background points that you have to put into an existing or new background related to your animal form. You still cannot have more than five points in a given background.

Fight Fire Tables

by Jason Morningstar

These tables are a small part of Fight Fire, a firefighting supplement for Fate Core written by Jason Morningstar. The Fate Core Kickstarter has now funded.

 

Make Your Own Alarm Call

These tables are designed to quickly generate fire department alarm calls. They are weighted toward the mundane and routine, but can produce nasty, dangerous calls as well. Roll two six-sided dice, or simply choose. Reject or modify any result that makes no sense or that you don’t like. Start with the type of alarm on Table A.

A. Alarm Call
2 Complex motor vehicle accident (Go to Table J)
3 Commercial fire, wealthy neighborhood (Go to Table C)
4 Complex medical (Go to Table K)
5 Single vehicle motor vehicle accident (Go to Table J)
6 Commercial fire, poor neighborhood (Go to Table C)
7 Residential fire, poor neighborhood (Go to Table B)
8 Simple medical (Go to Table K)
9 Industrial fire (Go to Table D)
10 Brush, trash, car, or open lot fire (Go to Table C for adjacent structure)
11 Residential fire, wealthy neighborhood (Go to Table B)
12 Technical rescue (Confined space/swift water/high angle/body recovery)

B. Residential Structure Fire (poor -2, wealthy +2)
0 Homeless encampment
1 Housing project
2 Row house, vacant, Heavily secured.
3 Crumbling mansion
4 Retail with apartments above, Heavily secured.
5 Row house, Heavily secured.
6 Single floor standalone residence.
7 Apartment building
8 Single floor standalone residence.
9 Multistory standalone residence.
10 Condominium
11 Multistory standalone, vacant, foreclosed
12 College dormitory, up to code with sprinklers.
13 Modern mansion, Heavily secured
14 High rise apartment

Add victims and fireground chaos if desired. Vacants may contain squatters, drug markets or unauthorized dumping/storage. Regardless of outcome, go to Table E.

C. Commercial Structure Fire (poor -2, wealthy +2)
0 Open air street market
1 Bus station
2 Motel or nursing home
3 Government service center
4 Parking garage or church
5 Convenience or grocery store
6 Restaurant/bar
7 Taxpayer (A cheap, unsafe strip mall retail with cockloft)
8 Commercial trucking warehouse
9 High end retail or gas station
10 Bank or hotel, Heavily secured.
11 Office complex
12 Multi-floor professional building
13 Luxury merchandise showroom
14 Luxury entertainment property

Add victims and fireground chaos if desired. Regardless of outcome, go to Table E.

D. Industrial Structure Fire
2 Chemical factory
3 Utility plant
4 Vacant factory
5 Repurposed warehouse
6 Storage yard
7 Full warehouse
8 Manufacturing facility
9 Vacant warehouse
10 Multi-floor factory
11 Enormous factory complex
12 Laboratory

Add victims and fireground chaos if desired. Vacants may contain squatters, drug markets or unauthorized dumping/storage. Regardless of outcome, go to Table E.

E. Structural Quirk (poor -2 wealthy +2, Industrial roll twice)
0 Extensive fire-transporting ductwork
1 Metal structural supports weakened by radiant heat
2 Bowstring trusses prone to collapse
3 Old, shoddy construction, deathtrap
4 Mazelike interior modifications
5 Masonry walls bearing excessive loads
6 Heavily secured against entry
7 New, shoddy construction, tinderbox
8 Sprinklers and fire resistant construction
9 Numerous voids in walls and ceiling
10 Efficiently secured against entry
11 Excessive weight load (roof air handlers, heavy objects)
12 Z-truss metal roof
13 Ornamental wood exterior, highly flammable
14 Undocumented Halon fire suppression system

Regardless of quirk, go to Table F.

F. Fire Severity
2 Apparent false alarm, but not really
3,4 False alarm
5 Fire in Ignition phase
6,7 Fire in growth phase
8, 9 Fire in flashover phase
10,11 Fire fully developed
12 Fire already decaying

If you have an actual fire, go to Table G.

G. Ignition Source
2 Intentional
3 Open flame
4 Cleaning equipment or supplies
5 Electrical equipment (Wiring, plug, fan, air conditioner)
6 Trash or rubbish fire
7 Cooking equipment (Cooktop, oven, hot plate, microwave, grill)
8 Heating equipment (Fireplace, chimney, furnace, space heater, boiler, water heater)
9 Lighting equipment (Lamp, cord, exterior lighting, inset lighting)
10 Smoking
11 Foolishness
12 Act of nature

Cooking equipment is often found in industrial or commercial break rooms. Regardless of outcome, go to Table H.

H. Ignition Location (Residential -2, Industrial +2)
0 Roll twice
1 Laundry room/basement
2 Exterior
3 Bathroom
4 Concealed space/cockloft/attic
5 Break room/kitchen
6 Sales floor/public space
7 Garbage storage area/compactor
8 Ductwork or wiring
9 Office/bedroom
10 Exterior wall
11 Heating equipment room
12 Garage or alley
13 Power closet
14 Alley or garage

If the fire is growing, in flashover, or fully developed, go to Table I.

I. Growth
2 Roof covering or eaves, fire spreads vertically
3 Rubbish, fire smolders
4 Ceiling, fire spreads vertically
5 Cooking materials/flammable liquid, , fire spreads vertically and smolders (Roll one more time)
6 Structural member or framing, fire spreads vertically
7 Wall covering, fire spreads vertically
8 Electrical conduit, fire spreads vertically and horizontally (Roll one more time)
9 Bedding or cloth, fire smolders
10 Upholstered furniture, fire spreads horizontally
11 Rug, carpet, fire smolders and spreads horizontally (Roll one more time)
12 Paper, fire spreads horizontally

If the fire is in flashover or fully developed, use the information you have to logically intensify it. The progression of the fire tells a story.

J. Motor Vehicle Accident (Roll three times for complex MVA)
2 Wreck, injured occupant/s concealed with growing fire
3 Wreck, injured occupant/s trapped with growing fire
4 Wreck with growing fire and hazardous materials
5 Wreck with growing fire
6 Injured pedestrian
7 Wreck, injured occupant/s or pedestrian
8 Wreck with ignited fire
9 Wreck, injured occupant/s trapped
10 Wreck with fully developed fire
11 Wreck, injured occupant/s trapped with ignited fire
12 Wreck, injured occupant/s trapped and requires technical rescue

K. Medical (-2 for simple, +2 for complex)
2 Patient dead on scene
3 Unusual patient requires extrication/aid
4 Patient in distress requires extrication
5 Routine eval/transport (cardiac)
6 Routine eval/transport (respiratory)
7 Unnecessary call/false alarm
8 Accident (Fall/cut)
9 Distress (shock/poisoning)
10 Severe accident (burn/blunt trauma/gunshot)
11 Vehicle-related injury (Roll on Table J)
12 Injured patient drugged and combative and/or missing

by Paula Dempsey

A little before dawn on Friday 21st December I was awoken by the sound of thunder.  It felt like the cowshed roof was about to cave in.  Mindful of the date, I hoofed it outside expecting to see the sky roiling and the drinking trough boiling,  the face of a wrathful deity looming in the sky and the Rapture unrolling in glorious Technicolor.

I was relieved to find all was well in the farmyard.  The sky was quickly assuming the usual leaden grey of late December and I saw nothing to report in the way of supernatural occurrences. There was, however, a terrific banging and crashing from the old barn.  Thinking it was a funny time of day for the farmer to try a spot of DIY I trotted over for a quick moo.  Hamish the Hieland Coo was already there, sporting his natty tartan dressing-gown.

“It’s Marigold” he shouted over the racket.  “She’s got a rush job on. Something to do with the Long Cownt”.  Regular readers may remember Marigold, a New Age flake of a Guernsey who runs her own mail order tat business.  Marigold’s much taken with Moo Age predictions about the end of the Mayan Long Count so I wasn’t surprised that she was behaving even more oddly than usual. Thinking that she was probably building some kind of bunker, I investigated.

I could hardly squeeze through the barn door because of an enormous block of sandstone which almost filled the place.  Attacking it in enthusiastic fashion with mallet and chisel was Marigold, attired in a beret and smock.  Obviously something artistic was in the offing, but I do wish the silly cow would confine herself to pen and ink sketches or perhaps a little dodgy poetry during the hours of darkness.

In the dim light of a hurricane lamp I could see that the block had been roughly shaped into a circle onto which Marigold was inscribing intricate glyphs of cows being heroic, humans being trampled underhoof and so on.

“Marigold!”, I remonstrated.  She looked at me with big cow eyes.  “Moo, this is my new marketing idea.  I’m producing authentic Mayan long cownt calendars for the next ba’ak’tun.  As they’re hand-crafted I’ll make a decent profit.  On the other hand, shipping’s a bit pricy.”

“Have you had many orders?” I asked faintly.

Her face lit up.  “Just sixty-seven more to do”.  Oh dear.  Bring on the roiling and boiling…

Although I don’t subscribe to Marigold’s Apocowlyptic predictions, I do believe that there has been a significant energy shift at the end of the Mayan Long Cownt.  So how does this affect you?  Read on for Old Moo’s Almanack 2013…

Ranger – 22 December – 20 January

Rangers will love the Moo Age as humankind starts to get in touch with nature once again.  You will feel the need to make a grand gesture to commemorate the great world shift.  Turning Central Park into the Great New York Forest is a great idea, but I predict a long and bloody conflict with city planners.  Start small.  Plant a window box.

Traveller – 20 January – 19 February

As Travellers have a voracious appetite for adventure, you might find all the upcoming peace and harmony a tad boring. Might I suggest a trip to Nibaru, otherwise known as Planet X, which has been lurking on the other side of the Sun for quite some time (allegedly)? You’ll only need enough fuel for a one-way trip; it’s due to crash into Earth any minute so you’ll get a free ride back.

Burrows 20 February – 20 March

Hello?  Hello, Burrows?  Hello?? You can come out now, it’s 2013.  Nothing bad has happened.  You are OK.  Everyone is OK.  Really, we are!  Helloooooo!

Oh for heaven’s sake, get out of  bed you dumb bunny!  The Cows-mic shift is over, the new cycle has started and it’s great for Burrows.  More peace, love and fluffiness than you can shake your shaman’s rattle at.  Now stop being such a scaredy-cat and ENJOY LIFE!

NB Longer term trends point to an increase in indigenous wildlife as improved ecological practices take effect, so you might get chased by a bear in September.  Wear protective clothing.

Orcs 21 March – 20 April

Anxiety is high amongst Orcs in the early part of the year.  Wars decline, armies are disbanded and it’s all so darned quiet that they may feel a loss of purpose.  Fear not, bold warriors!  Green power has need of your natural anti-social tendencies.  Give an Orc enough baked beans and a windmill and he can light a small town for a week.  In the Moo Age, it’s from each according to his ability and all that.

Gurps 21 April – 21 May

Change.  Change, yes!  Change, wonderful!  What was that again?

Gurps are extraordinarily mutable so will either accommodate the December 2012 energy shift without turning a hair or be thoroughly discombobulated by it.  Gurps with a flair for business will be quick to exploit new opportunities and will be especially alert to coming trends between April and June when Mercury conjuncts Jupiter, signifying expansion and speedy communication.  As you’ve probably gathered, Gurps with a creative bent will do well for the next 4000 years or so.  If you’re not particularly creative, might I recommend evening classes?

Shoggoth 22 May – 21 June

Dear Shoggoths, you have my sympathy.  I am genuinely sorry for you, Shoggoths.  My face is wet with tears for your plight and my heart glows with pity for you.

I pity you because your evil plans have come to nought!  The stars won’t be right for millennia!  Be gone, foul fiends, to the odious miasma from whence you came, far beyond our galaxy!  Dump your cowpats in someone else’s toy box!  You are vanquished!

Hamish, the sherry.  I feel a bit faint.

Frodo 22 June – 22 July

Think back to December 2012 when Frodos around the world gathered in large numbers in dark places.  It was a siege of sorts. Food was plentiful but expensive with the Frodo diet limited to boiled sausages and puffed up grain products.

But it’s 2013 now.  The Sun is in the ascendant in the first house of Frodo.  You’ve all seen The Hobbit and it’s time to venture out of the cinema and make the most of your new-found popularity.  Now is the time to find your very own Galadriel, to battle your personal demons or just be utterly elfish.  Everything you touch turns to gold, you lucky things.  Ah, the precious!

Werewolf 23 July – 22 August

Werewolves are creatures with a close connection to nature but, unlike Rangers with whom they have a lot in common, represent nature red in tooth and claw.  The Moo Age is difficult for you.  I foresee a time when we all eat vegetables, not meat (Not cows at least.  You can eat sheep. Sheep are dumb.).  I foresee a time when howling at the moon will be banned under noise abatement laws and the worst you could do is shake a tambourine at it.

But salvation is at hand. There will be very many more wild woods where you can live out an idyllic pastoral existence free of interference from lesser humans.  Start now.  You’ll need a tent, a sleeping bag, a plot of land and some acorns.  Thirty years from now, you will reap your reward.  Unless Nibiru turns up.

Cugel 23 August – 23 September

Hands up who was selling travel packages to remote French villages.  Hands up who wrote those 2012 Prophecy books.  Hands up, Cugels.  As new planetary forces bring us a more ethical approach, you’ll find your particular form of laissez faire capitalism isn’t popular in these here parts no more.  As the Sun is very unlikely to go out in the foreseeable future, you have some issues to deal with.

You are, I feel, fated to remain psychically in the last age, the Age of Pisces, two fish swimming in different directions, pulling and straining, never getting anywhere.  But Cugels are survivors and I’m sure your ingenuity will out. You’re probably planning 2015 Prophecy books now, or brokering dodgy land deals to Werewolves with fur for brains.

Ninja 24 September – 23 October

Ninjas are tricky at this time of year.  They don’t so much let the New Year in as ambush it down a dark alley, wrap it in a blanket and haul it off up the M1 in an unmarked Ford Transit.  Their innate ability to blend in with their surroundings combined with a zen attitude to life means they’ll take the apocalypse in their stride.The sun and stars going out would provide an awesome level of concealment. Goodness knows what they’ll get up to in eternal darkness.  And if it doesn’t happen, they’ve already made contingency plans to be all mysterious round the Dog and Duck.

Dork 24 October – 22 November

It’s early January and Dorks are confused.  Very many of them are, in fact, unable to leave their bedsits / room at Mum’s.  So much computing time has been given to testing various Mayan calendar hypotheses that they are drowning under burnt-out disk drives and yards of printer paper.

More than most, Dorks were looking forward to the end of the world. An imminent apocalypse might just be enough to get that nice blonde girl on the Superdrug checkout to let them at least as far as second base.  Who cares if the world ends tomorrow if you’ve fully sampled life’s rich tapestry today, even if it was behind the bins at the Arndale Centre?

But now it’s early January.  I predict ongoing confusion until Venus leaves their sign in May.  And ongoing sexual frustration until, ooh, 2117 ish?

Vampire 23 November – 21 December

It’s just not your day is it?  Yes, we’re still here.  Well, I’m pleased if you’re not.  Miserable buggers.

 

Happy Moo Year to all you gamers! Moo for now.

So you’ve got yourself a copy of the fantastic new RPG, 13th Age. You’ve printed out the free PDF you get when you pre-order and you’re raring to go but your players aren’t as enthusiastic. They want to give it a go but maybe not a full session, maybe just a taster, an hour or two. WELL, we’ve got just what you need!

One of the gaming gods behind 13th Age, Rob Heinsoo, has written a demo adventure for just such an occasion. The 13th Age 2-Hour Demo is the thing for you, free to download and quick to run. If you also want to get ahead and print out easy to read, filled character sheets, then you can use the 13th Age Fillable Character Sheet PDF. Add to that a host of our useful resources, like player and GM aids, you and your players will be enjoying battles with the Lich King in no time!

Jontheman over at TheRPGSite.com has reviewed the new music for Ashen Stars, All We Have Forgotten, by James Semple, Marie-Anne Fischer and Yaiza Varona.

All in all it’s an excellent album with some great music, and it’s suitable not only for Ashen Stars but for any science-fiction game. I can see this music working well for sci-fi horror, cyberpunk or a general exploration game.

You can read the full review here.

Christmas has come early in Pelgrane Towers, even old HPL is excited. We would like to share our Christmas cheer with you in the form of a sleigh-full of Page XX goodies. You will experience the festive delights of the Feast of Gold, the mid-winter celebration in 13th Age’s Dragon Empire. Lowell Francis has placed a Christmas-themed DramaSystem series pitch under the tree and Kenneth Hite fills your stockings with news of Double Tap, an expansion book for Night’s Black Agents. Graham Walmsley has been rooting around in Santa’s sack and come up with an article on publishing your own setting and Ryven Cedrylle gives the reindeer a run for their money with the Duskwish, a new monster of the 13th Age. Old Jolly himself Robin D Laws shows you how to work recurring characters into your DramaSystem game. Last but not least, Pelgrane head Reindeer Simon Rogers tells you all you need to know about Pelgrane Press in View from the Pelgrane’s Nest.

Finally, this month only, get any Pelgrane download at a 20% discount from the store. Use the voucher XMAS@20% at the store checkout.

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by Graham Walmsley

[Editor: Graham Walmsley created the award-winning Cthulhu Apocalypse setting for Trail of Cthulhu. His latest publication is Scott Dorward’s Fairlyland scenario for his game Cthulhu Dark.]

People often ask me: how can I publish my setting? What should I do? And, because I didn’t know the answer, I asked various successful publishers. Here is what they said.

1. First, consider not doing it

“First, I’d advise the person to consider not doing it, at least commercially. The fact you and your friends have enjoyed playing in a setting does not make it a setting other people will enjoy.” Simon Rogers, Pelgrane Press.

“Have a good, honest word with yourself about the authenticity of your setting. Yeah, it was awesome at the table and you had a lot of fun but … how many ideas, names, features and tropes were lifted, either direct or sideways, from other works?” Neil Gow, author of Duty and Honour.

You have picked the hardest job. You know that, right? There are many, many settings out there. What is so special about yours?

Think about settings that have been commercially successful, whether on a big or a small scale. I can’t think of many. Those I can think of (The Day After Ragnarok, Dark Sun and, on a smaller scale, Cthulhu Apocalypse) were tied to specific settings. Others (Diaspora) were written as games rather than simply settings.

You have picked the hardest job. Consider writing something else instead.

2. Next, work out what is special about your setting

“You need a twenty-five word pitch and a one page summary of the setting, emphasising what players do and what characters do in the game, and describing why this setting is different. “Richly detailed” is usually dangerous indicator. The pitch is needed to crystalise your ideas, and sell it to playtesters and potential customers.” Simon Rogers, Pelgrane Press

What makes your setting stand out? Write it down. Keep it short and honest.

3. Write your setting for the players, not for you.

“If their question is ‘How can I guarantee my product will stand out?’ the answer is ‘You can’t, but writing a good product with an easily graspable adventure hook is a good start.’.” Kenneth Hite, author of Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents.

Some authors don’t seem to think about the people who will play their game. They write pages of detailed history, but nothing makes you want to play.

When you are writing your setting, you must inspire GMs to write scenarios and players to play. Think about what the players will do. John Stavropoulos, an uber-GM, suggests thinking about the following questions:

  • Who do you play in this setting?
  • Why are they more interesting than modern real life?
  • What are your goals?
  • What problems exist in the setting?
  • How can you solve these problems?
  • What’s something that seemingly never changes?
  • What’s something that is changing right now?

Now, of course, your setting needn’t all be adventure hooks. But give people something to fire their imaginations and make them want to play. Think: how will they use this at the gaming table?

4. Make your setting into a game. Or tie your setting to an existing game.

“I recommend that they create a game to match their settings. Failing that, tie the setting to a popular system like D&D.” Luke Crane, publisher of Burning Wheel.

“Find a similarly active, positive-minded game audience (FATE is another good example) and to write up their setting as a sourcebook for that game. There are lots and lots of open or mostly-open systems out there: FATE, SW, d20, Trav, RQ, D&D clones, soon GUMSHOE, etc.” Kenneth Hite, author of everything.

Most successful settings are tied to a game system. Either write one yourself or adapt an existing one. Look at games like Diaspora, based in hard science fiction, which uses and extends the FATE engine to create an exciting and player-authored setting.

If you tie your setting to an existing game, you have a ready-made community, based around that game, who you can promote your setting to.

5. Get people involved in the design process.

“Start by giving up on notions of owning it fully, being the sole authority about it, all that stuff. That’s the sort of thing that creates a wall that the public needs to climb in order to get into the game and take personal ownership of what it can do.

Which is a preamble to this: Find ways to invite the public in and participate in the design process. Treat any potential customer as a potential peer designer and collaborator. Bring the best of them, the ones you have the most fruitful conversations with about the game, in on the team, explicitly, if you can.” Fred Hicks, Evi Hat Productions.

Don’t sit in your bedroom and write a game. Get people involved and collaborate with them.

Playtest your game. (And let’s talk about it, now, as a game rather than a setting). Take feedback from players and GMs. Change your game, often, until it works not just for you, but for GMs and players in general.

6. Get people playing your game.

“Hit cons. Run demos. Show off the art. Do this for many years. Inhabit internet forums. Ask questions. Answer questions. It’s really not hard to gain traction in the scene. All you have to do is be a consistent, reliable public face. Show up to a con two or three times in a row and suddenly you’re a feature.” Luke Crane, publisher of Burning Wheel.

People won’t just pick up your game from the Internet and play it. Get out there and play it with them.

7. Get good art and layout

“I’d advise budgeting several hundred dollars to get a good cover and professional layout. Nobody wants to read an ugly book.” Ken Hite, author of everything.

Your cover sells your game. If you get amateurish art for your cover, your game will look amateurish.

The same applies to the layout. It’s subtler, but people will tell, at a glance, whether your game looks professional or not.

You needn’t spend a fortune on this. But you should spend something. Take advice, find an artist you like, find a layout artist you like, take more advice. However you do it, get something good.

by Lowell Francis


NUTSHELL

In the Empire of the Claus, Joy = Duty. The snow-dusted land of England shivers under the heavy yoke of the Kringle. But a small band of revolutionaries gather to strike back against the tyrannies of St. Nick and his red-booted thugs.

 

GM BRIEF

The Industrial Revolution changed everything, shifting classes, populations, and views across the world. That change reached further than anyone could imagine, all the way to the North Pole. There Father Christmas sat and considered his demesne and the joy he brought to the world. His works had always brought merriment, but populations had risen and his magical workforce could barely keep up. He had given much, and now, for the Greater Happiness, he would take…

The winter of 1881 blanketed Great Britain and the whole of Europe as none in memory had. Through the blizzards that holiday season, Santa’s forces marched on an unsuspecting nation. The Elves work that year had been turned to new artifices: weaponized harnesses for reindeer, great steam toy-soldiers, and explosive stockings to drop down chimneys. By New Year’s it was all but over and King Klaus ruled England.

He issued edicts quickly, promising foreign nations his reign represented not a threat to them, but rather a new era of gift-giving and holiday cheer. England would become the World’s Workshop- a small sacrifice for the smiling faces of children everywhere. The gifts kings, czars, and rulers found beneath their own trees didn’t hurt either. Those who spoke out found coal and more sinister gifts on their nightstands, snuck there in the dead of night past well-trained guards. The message was clear: Claus was not to be crossed.

Now it is Year 5 AC (After Claus). Kringle’s sleigh whip has transformed the country into a landscape of dark Santa-ic mills producing candies, toys, and other goodies. Those who oppose his rule find themselves sent to the coal mines to harvest lumps for bad little girls and boys. The worst find themselves confined to the Islands of Misfit Toymakers, repurposed prison hulks lashed together with rigging and misery. Elves, co-opted industrialists, and desperate men and women carry out their orders in a shivering wonderland. Bell-ringing clockwork assayers keep everyone on a rigid timetable centered on the most wonderful day of the year…

Some still have hope- they believe the Yuletide Empire can be overthrown. But the underground is splintered and riven, divided by philosophies and desperately surviving. They face unreliable allies, turncoat members, and infiltrating Agents of the Krampus.

Sources: GM’s have at their disposal a host of Christmas imagery, with Rankin-Bass productions rising to the top. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol exists as a political tract in this setting, a Little Red Book for followers of Father Christmas. The tone of the setting also draws from V for Vendetta, 1984, Anno Dracula, and the Dr. Who special “A Christmas Carol.” To use this as a mirror to Victorian society, consider The Making of Victorian Values.

 

CHARACTERS

Adventuress Listkeeper

Clandestine Cobbler

Conflicted Inspector

Disgruntled Nog Meister

Escaped Miner

Elven Dentistry Enthusiast

Fae Labor Agitator

Famed Caroler

Foreign Infiltrator

Gentlewoman Smuggler

Masked Saboteur

Plucky Snowlark Urchin

Politically Conscious Toymaker

Rebellious Clockwork Minder

Reindeer Air-Corpsman

Shanghaied Toy Inventor

Sugarplum Rogue

Sympathetic Tavern Keeper

Tree Cutter Anarchist

Turncoat Krampus Agent

Underground Pamphleteer

 

SETTING

Players will be deeply involved with the insurgency against Santa Claus, a dangerous task putting themselves and their loved ones at risk. Though united in common cause, class, philosophy, and even race divide these rebles. They must carry on their normal lives, find enough to eat, evade detection, and engineer ways to strike back against All Father Christmas. Different characters may have different goals…

…revealing the true nature of Claus to the outside world;

…rescuing an imprisoned loved-one;

…recruiting highly-placed operatives;

…finding a way to fight myth with science;

…bringing Santa’s elves over to the side of humanity;

…spreading a political manifesto;

…striking at Santa’s factories;

…helping refugees escape to the hinterlands;

…affecting change within the House of Claus;

…building a large resistance group;

…gaining vengeance for those lost; or

…seeking a magical counter-balance to Kringle’s powers.

Any of these could be the seeds for scenes and episodes.

Adversaries:

Santa Claus: The man in the high workshop and The One True Father Christmas. To bring Joy to the many, certain sacrifices have to be made. Those who accept his message find him a jolly old soul. Those who do not may see the inside of his bottomless bag.

Mrs. Claus: The kinder and gentler face of the state, but still hard as nails. She carefully keeps the co-opted nobility and industrialists of England entertained and in line. At the same time she has become more progressive in recent years, backing new roles for women in Santa’s State. She supports her husband’s vision, saying “Christmas is the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”

The Krampus: Santa’s dark twin who oversees enforcement of his edicts. He maintains the network of enforcers who hunt down subversives and “Scrooges” throughout the realm. He has many agents from the fiendish Pelznickel to the Whipping Fathers. With rusty bells and chains, they clear the streets before Father Christmas’ honored servants. More subtly the Krampus also pays richly to informants and turncoats.

The Elves: Though to most they appear to be a unified group of fey, Santa’s Elves have many divisions, usually based on historical skills and duties. These include classic Workshop Elves as well as Zwarte Pieten, Servant Ruperts, and Tomtens. New groups take pride in use of steam and clockwork to craft uncanny soldiers for Santa’s army.

Other Forces of Fear: The Great Northern Polar Bear, a bumbling enforcer with a pair of sidekick cub thugs; The Chimney Sweeps, secret police who drop in unannounced to make certain of each family’s devotion to the Yule; The Abominable Snow Beasts aka the Wendigo who patrol the hinterlands seeking out the uncheery; The Elemental Misers: Bound magical servants who keep Santa’s new Kingdom exactly as he wishes it.

 

THEME

Life During Wartime and Resistance Fighters. There’s fun to be had interacting with a world blanketed with a different “false” holiday cheer. It isn’t winter all of the year, but one can imagine that Santa’s presence brings in the north winds earlier and colder, making life more unbearable. Even with Santa’s magical powers, giving over so much of the economy to luxury goods could mean famine and disease for the general population. Would the Claus object if the least useful workers simply faded away, making more room for long-lived and uncomplaining elves?

Stalinist and Orwellian archetypes appear here in tinsel and glitter. GM’s may want to play off the disconnect between reality and how Santa sees the world. His proclamations and five year plans come from high on sleigh, rather than on the ground. How will the workshop elves react when they contact human concepts of equality, liberty, and unionization?

The conspiracy offers rich dramatic details. A classic device is to begin with the group organized as a loose affiliation, tied by a charismatic cell leader. The story opens with that leader captured or denounced. The players must pick up the pieces, rebuild contacts, and perhaps carry out plans already in motion. Hanging above their heads should be the question of who set-up their leader.

 

TIGHTENING THE SCREWS

The threat of discovery should provide ample drive to players’ stories and dramatic arcs. Sneaking out after curfew, they evade the red-nosed searchlights and pass flyers with the slogans of the state: “Santa is the Reason for the Season,” “All I Want for Christmas is Efficiency,” and “Give Them Noël, Claus!” Characters will find themselves caught between normal lives and striking a blow for freedom. The season-ending arc could revolve around a McGuffin plan toturn the conflict around, undoubtedly coming to fruition on Christmas Eve. More sentimental or sinister GMs could have the party learn the real meaning of Christmas…

NAMES (ELF AND OTHERWISE)

“Bumbles” Fallow

Aladus Merit

Alistair O’Sullivan

Carvyre Silentread

Cobblethot

Goldenbelle

Lady Orne

Lytton

Mary Curties

Milena Findust

Newton Usher

Romana Pang

Stickler

Thomas Gullhook

Tockminder

Vittoria Abbess

Wilster Shortcloak

Windom Wales

Wondersmith

 

ADDITIONAL ELEMENTS

This setting could also be played from the reverse, with the characters in the service of the Kringle. This would have a more Soviet-era vibe, with informants and proving one’s “Joyousness” as key elements. A more complicated approach would mix the groups, ala The Wire, with some of the PCs fighting against Claus and others working to extend Christmas Cheer.

A War on Christmas offers an important setting “dial”- the nature and form of the fantastic. The GM and group may want that more or less at the forefront. Depending on the group, Steampunk elements can easily be excised or increased. The same applies to the question of magic and magical powers. The classical stories have most of these gifts as inherent to the nature of Elves and Santa. GM’s may wish to make that more complicated- perhaps relating to old traditions. What if many of Saint Nick’s abilities come from pacts and bargains, ala the Faerie? What if there’s an even darker price to be paid for the extension of this winter wonderland?

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