Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

A briefer than usual See Page XX, as timing means it’s only a little over two weeks since the last one. We’ve still got a brand-new release, though, in the form of Wade’s introductory 13th Age adventure, Crown of Axis.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

NEW RELEASE: Crown of Axis

New this month is Wade Rockett’s long-awaited Crown of Axis, an introductory scenario for 1st level 13th Age heroes who come to Axis, the capital of the Dragon Empire, to find fortune, fame and adventure. But when they pick up work investigating the mysterious deaths of workers in the tunnels under the old gladiatorial arena, the PCs discover that any blade drawn, spell cast, or gold piece stolen in the imperial capital might cause ripples that spread in unexpected ways—maybe even as far as the palaces of the Emperor. Run this adventure as a stand-alone one-shot, or use it as an embarkation point for a 13th Age campaign, customising it for your players’ individual icon relationships.

Work in progress update: A Poison Tree

At the start of the year, I caught up with the writers about the Trail of Cthulhu campaign A Poison Tree. This project has proven especially tricky to write, given the epic scope, the interconnected nature of the segments, and the sheer breadth of research and history involved, not to mention integrating the writers’ disparate chapters into a cohesive single campaign and, of course, the horror that was 2020. We’ve got final drafts of roughly two-thirds of the book from the writers now, and we’re hoping to get the remaining work before the end of March. We’ve agreed with the writers that, in the interests of getting the book out, we’ll collate all the work the writers have done on it at the start of April, and anything missing at that point, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan will pitch it on to get finished. As a result, I’m hoping to have the first chapters available for playtesting in the April or May See Page XX, and aiming for a Christmas or early 2022 release.

Work in progress update: Fearful Symmetries

I played in long-time Pelgranista and Top Londoner Steve Dempsey’s Fearful Symmetries campaign, which has directly influenced the text, so I know first-hand how compelling this William Blake-inspired magickal supplement for Trail of Cthulhu is in play. As well as introducing a range of new magick-using character options, Fearful Symmetries approaches Blake’s poetry as a roadmap for designing a sandbox campaign where player characters work together as a coven to recreate the glories of magickal Albion. It’s a great Trail setting, and Steve’s knowledge of occult England is second only to his wife Paula’s (see below).

Sadly, this this has been another difficult project to bring to publication, as Steve been fighting medical battles over the last few years, and hasn’t been physically well enough to do the final developmental edits of the manuscript. We’ve got a cool cover from Jerome (see left), Steve’s passed over a bunch of art references (Blake is an interesting artist…) and cartography outlines, and he’s passed over the manuscript to us to develop and edit, so we’ll be starting work on that later this month, and aiming for a Dragonmeet 2021 release.

Work in progress update: The Book of the New Jerusalem

The companion volume to Fearful Symmetries, The Book of the New Jerusalem sees author Paula Dempsey revisit the structure of her Gold ENnie-winning The Book of the Smoke and expand it to cover the entirety of England. Travelling county by county, Paula reveals the occult history of Blake’s green and pleasant land, in an engaging volume replete with contacts, rumours and clues for your Fearful Symmetries or other folk horror game, or enjoyable in its own right as an arcane guide to England. We’ve once more paired Paula’s words with Sarah Wroot (The Book of the Smoke)‘s inimitable layout and art direction, and we’ve got a first layout draft awaiting final edits, so this will be released simultaneously with Fearful Symmetries.

Work in progress update: Even Death Can Die

After feedback from customers about poor editing of the GUMSHOE One-2-One books, I’ve decided to do another editing pass on Even Death Can Die, the Cthulhu Confidential adventure collection. I’ve passed the final layout to editor extraordinaire Trisha DeFoggi, inducting her into the ways of the GUMSHOE. She sent back the first chapter checking whether she was doing it right, as she’d already identified eighty edits…? :/ So, clearly, an additional post-layout edit was badly needed to get it to the standard we want it to be at. Trisha’ll finish her edits at the end of March, at which point it’ll be back over to Christian to make the final edits, and off to the printer.

 

The modern age began with Enlightenment, and Enlightenment exposed the darkness.

The time is the 18th century, and the place is Britain – a land just discovering new sciences and creating new technologies. But these new sciences discover mind-shattering truths; the age of the Earth, the impermanence of living species, the sheer scale of the universe. And beyond these truths, of course, is the Mythos.

“The greater is the circle of light, the greater is the boundary of the darkness by which it is confined.”

– Joseph Priestley, Lunar Society member

But when the new sciences of the age unsettle the minds of the nation and unleash dark forces, the governing classes may not handle it well. They are wedded to old ways and old lies. Investigators seeking to deal with terrible new discoveries and ancient insanities need a different sort of sponsor.

Meet the Lunar Society, a dining club of natural philosophers, industrialists, and radical intellectuals, the embodiment of the Enlightenment. They have wealth, knowledge, and principles, so when they or their friends stumble across evils needing to be contained, who better to organise a response?

Boundary of the Darkness is an 18th century campaign frame for Trail of Cthulhu by Phil Masters, and includes:

  • An introduction to 18th century Britain, and the many revolutions, dark secrets, and conflicts of the age.
  • Biographical notes on Lunar Society members and other useful GMCs, including some of Britain’s greatest doctors, natural philosophers, and engineers.
  • Character creation notes, including new and revised Occupations and Abilities.
  • Period equipment and weapons.
  • An introduction to troupe play in Trail of Cthulhu.
  • Notes on how to use a wide variety of Mythos monsters in play, and also ideas for non-Mythos adventures in service to the Lunar Society.
  • An introductory scenario – “A Spirit Out of Time”, in which the PCs receive just a hint of what the Age of Discovery might uncover.

So buckle on a brace of pistols, and make ready to carry Enlightenment to the very boundary of the darkness!

Status: In development

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

Well, 2020 is over, finally!!, as is January 2021, which looked horribly like it was going the way of 2020 for a while. COVID-19 vaccines are starting to be distributed, and hopefully life will return to something resembling normalcy over the coming months. However, there’s nothing normal about our newest pre-order, The Fall of DELTA GREEN campaign The Borellus Connection, coming in at a mighty 416 pages. Pre-order now, and get Looking Glass: Saigon 1968 as a bonus download, along with the pre-layout PDF.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

See Page XX Poll

Which virtual tabletops do you use the most?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Current News: B****t

As some of you may know, the UK crashed out of the European Union on December 31st. Previously, under the old customs rules, Pelgrane’s EU customers received their shipments tax and duty paid, because we made the supply under UK VAT rules. There was no VAT due because of the UK’s zero-rate tax on books

What we know so far is:

  • We now need to attach customs declarations to EU shipments in the same way we already do to all non-EU countries;
  • EU orders will be subject to VAT at the destination’s rates (as already applies to non-EU shipments). The average EU VAT rate on books is approximately 7%, or £2.80 on a £40 book;
  • Customs charges will be payable.

I’d hoped by this point to know exactly how this will impact us here at Pelgrane, but despite regular discussions with our UK fulfilment company, there are still too many unknowns to make changes. We would prefer all our customers – EU, and internationally – not to have to pay additional customs charges and fees on their Pelgrane books, and are running the numbers on that at the moment. This may mean we’ll need to increase our EU and international shipping rates to send packages “delivery duty paid”, meaning nothing else is due on receipt – if that does end up being the case, we’ll give you plenty of notice.

Other News: New website progress

Our wonderful website guru Dan has been busily coding away at our very swish-looking website, catapulting our capabilities from the early 2000s into the 2020s. We’re now at the point where we’re testing it internally, hoping to clear out as many of the bugs as we can before launch.

There’s been some chat recently over on our Discord channel (invite’s here if you’re not already signed up) about how we could make it more searchable, with suggestions including tag search clouds for easy access to our article back catalogue. If there’s anything you’d love to see in our new website, comment here!

NEW: The Borellus Connection

New this month is the pre-order for a globe-spanning campaign for The Fall of DELTA GREEN. Pre-order now, and get the pre-layout PDF straight away to keep you going – AND you get Looking Glass: Saigon 1968 as a bonus download! The Borellus Connection features eight linked operations, each one playable as a standalone investigation, or as part of an epic hunt for an infamous enemy, using the heroin trade and the BNDD as a narrative spine. It’s a hefty tome (416 pages at the moment, and counting…) and to wrangle it into a physically liftable format, we’ve been forced to hack chunks of it out. Handlers can find these chunks under the the “FINEST EFFECTS” tag, which is not recommended for players – contains many spoilers!

Ken and I are buried deep in cartography research; Gareth is pulling together indices of NPCs, spells, and three-letter acronyms; and Jen McCleary has finished a first draft layout in glorious 1960s technicolour (you can see a very small sample in the pre-layout PDF, and redacted below). She’s now working on the interior art, featuring more of the same double-page splashes as the core The Fall of DELTA GREEN book.

 

NEW: Looking Glass: Saigon 1968

This “low and slow” writeup of the Vietnamese “Pearl of the Orient” features all the locations, sources, backdrops, power players and story seeds you need to run any GUMSHOE game in 1968 Saigon. It’s particularly useful for The Fall of DELTA GREEN, but it also features hooks for TimeWatch, Night’s Black Agents and The Esoterrorists. Get it free as a bonus download when you pre-order The Borellus Connection!

Work in progress update: 13th Age

Rob’s gone through each of the current 13th Age works in progress in his latest blog post. Wade Rockett’s introductory adventure, Crown of Axis, is first up, and will be available at the start of March.

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

I’m sorry to say that there’s not much of an update on this. Art and cartography are 75% finished, but we’ve hit some speedbumps with artists ghosting and dropping out, team members getting COVID, and the inevitable slowdown of work over the holiday season, which has pushed back our release date. We’re ramping back up to speed again, and hoping to get the book to print, and the PDF out to pre-orderers, in early March.

The art we’ve got so far is glorious, full of action and colour, and I feel really captures the high drama and excitement of the setting. This piece by Simone Bannach has particularly intrigued me – I’m fascinated to know the background of the mysterious redhead who could best iconic duellist Gadric in swordplay, and it’s triggered so many cool character ideas.

Work in progress update: The Yellow King Bestiary

Copyediting is finished, and we’re now working on additional development and art direction for this compendium of Carcosan creatures, which writer Monica Valentinelli described as the scariest game content she’s ever written. Look out for a pre-order for this in the coming months!

Work in progress update: Black Star Magic

Copyediting is finished on this magic book and collection of new adventures for the four settings of The Yellow King RPG, and cover and interior art are well underway.

 

 

by Steven Hammond

Well, as we say in the software world, 2020 has passed and good riddance. I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you all the best in 2021!

Transparency is one of our company’s values. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you a summary of what went well and not so well in 2020 and some exciting things we have to look forward to in 2021. If you have questions, reach out to me through the Black Book contact form (https://theblackbook.io/contacts/new). I’m happy to answer pretty much anything.

2020 In Review

We had 3 major goals for 2020, and we hit all three.

Launch the Black Book GM Tools: The first, and most important, goal was to launch the GM tools. The first beta of the GM tools that we rolled out in 2019 didn’t work so well, largely because of some early design choices, including database selection. We spent most of the first half of 2020 completely replacing the database (CouchDB -> PostgreSQL) and the basics of our API (Rest -> GraphQL). The launch of the GM tools was a tremendous success. The Rhode Island Historical Society shared their Lovecraft walking tour as part of our virtual launch party at Gen Con. We had a good crowd and the feedback on the GM Tools was very positive. I am super happy with how this went.

Improve our Integration Story: The most common feature request used to be integration with Virtual Table Tops. Of course everybody wanted a different one, and several of the more popular ones are difficult to integrate with. Also, several people (including a few Pelgranistas) felt that VTTs were too heavy and needlessly complex for GUMSHOE games. Through discussions with our community, we learned that there was one tool that almost everyone uses when they play on line. Discord! And Discord provides a robust set of tools for integration. So we launched Discord integration at Gen Con as well. This has also been an enormous success.

Financial Self Sustainability: Our last goal was financial sustainability. We needed The Black Book to grow to where it covers the technical infrastructure costs for itself and other company projects. We achieved this as well, with a little extra to invest back in the business. Someday I’ll be able to leave my day job behind and focus solely on software to make games better. But it is not this day.

That said, we didn’t get everything we wanted done in 2020. I really wanted to get support for Swords of the Serpentine and QuickShock launched and our bug queue is a lot longer than I want it to be. Finally, even though we met our financial goals, I don’t feel like we’re really getting the word out beyond Facebook. I would really like to take part in the broader GUMSHOE community in 2021.

What’s Coming in 2021

We have some big plans for 2021.

The Black Book

Our overriding goal for the Black Book in 2021 is to make it the go to tool for running GUMSHOE games online. You shouldn’t need a VTT in addition to the Black Book —  we’ll have you covered. Here is a roadmap for the Black Book, roughly by quarters. Note that these are just the major things, the usual steam of bug fixes and smaller features will continue.

Q1: Our first goal for Q1 is to support all GUMSHOE games except Mutant City Blues (more on that later). The second goal is to have robust support for one-shots and con games. This includes GMs creating and managing characters for the players, and support for libraries of pre-gens that can be reused.

We are proud to announce that “game complete” includes Casting the Runes from The Design Mechanism and Quill Media! They have generously agreed to allow us to add their game of Edwardian horror to the Black Book.

Q2: Mutant City Blues and support for QuickShock combat will arrive during Q2. We’ve been saying that for a while, but both are harder than they first seem and both are going to be exceptional!

Q3/Q4: The goals for the last half of the year are to round out the functionality needed to run a great game. This might include sharing image assets with players and integrating with one of the audio tools that are out there. It might also include some special functionality for the more popular games. Things like a Chase Track for Night’s Black Agents. We’ll be reaching out to all of you for help in defining exactly what the Black Book needs to fulfill the vision.

Thank you!

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our customers and supporters. Without you, we couldn’t do it. 2020 was a tough year for all of us. You certainly helped us through it, and hopefully the Black Book helped you. Don’t hesitate to connect with us on Twitter, Facebook or at https://theblackbook.io.

Sincerely,

Steven Hammond

Founder, Northland Creative Wonders

by Kevin Kulp

Want to set a Swords of the Serpentine game outside of Eversink? See Page XX will periodically give you starting ideas for alternate game settings, including Allegiance information. This month we’ll look at Joining, the small town I’m using to test future rules for non-human heroes. I wanted a setting that starts low-powered but which can ramp upwards in complexity and population, and which starts small and cozy but can easily accommodate a more cosmopolitan population as the game progresses.

Player Pitch: The Town of Joining

Massive, ancient trees stretching straight up to the sky. Dappled green sunlight. Burbling icy streams. Peaceful hollows of mossy rocks where silence sits and comfortably waits to be broken. A surprising quantity of ruins. Hints of an ancient metropolis. Inexplicable strangers. And rumors of ghost worlds between the trees.

Joining is a small town hidden deep in a vast and mighty forest known as the Cathedral Woods. The trees here are similar in size to the giant sequoias of Northern California, and the town of Joining is small, fewer than a thousand people. Its people feed themselves through hunting, fishing, and organized foraging, alongside the help of foreign caravan leaders who arrive with trade goods from larger cities far away and leave with Joining’s rare plants, mushrooms, and herbal poisons. Joining is a great place to grow up, and should be a place of deep and serene peace.

But.

But there are hints of oddness. Ancient and feral forest gods; druids who lair within the forest; wardens who patrol the area and discourage exploration; occasional glimpses of other worlds from between trees; far too many crumbled unexplained ruins; monsters emerging from the forest that have no right to be there; and hints through family heirlooms that Joining was once an extraordinarily rich town, with no hint of how that was or why it stopped.

This is where you grew up. You’re becoming an adult, the town is starting to feel small, and no one is answering your questions.

Welcome to Joining.

Interesting Features

Before beginning play, ask each player to specify an additional interesting feature of the town. This can be a location, a person, or an occurrence such as a holiday. Starting interesting features include:

  • Instead of naming streets, individual trees are named.
  • Buildings are built both on the ground and in the trees on carefully-balanced platforms that don’t hurt the trees themselves. The most prestigious (and safest) architecture is that highest up the trees. Ramps, ladders, bridges, and hoists give access to elevated buildings.
  • Rumors have always persisted of ghost-lights flickering between trees; wildly distant places are said to be visible in the pale and shuddering light. This hasn’t been proven to anyone’s satisfaction.
  • There’s a monthly tradition named Door Day, the night of each month’s new moon, when lovers anonymously leave small and unexpected presents outside the door of their intended. This often fuels romantic speculation.
  • Everyone looks forward to the summer festival of games, feasts, competition, dancing, and celebration. Apprentices are chosen during the summer festival.
  • The Grove of Arches is near Joining, and is a flower-filled forest grove so beautiful and quiet it inevitably feels holy.
  • Every few years a stranger comes to town looking for The Inn (always pronounced with capital letters.) When they see the actual inn, with all four rooms for rent, they inevitably go away dissatisfied. Someone is spreading rumors that reality can’t match.
  • There’s been a feud going on between the Tavish family (most of whom serve as guards and hunters) and the Daunton family (proponents of the old gods, and traditional foragers) that’s lasted seven generations now. Each side claims the other side started it, but it’s erupted in bloodshed a dozen times or more. Each family often strives to elect a mayor of their own blood.
  • It’s believed that somewhere out there in the woods are terrifying, deadly shapeshifters who stalk humans as prey. Don’t get caught alone in the forest.
  • Ruins are everywhere, crumbling stone edifices that speak of a time no one can remember. One particularly large set of stone foundations exists a mile upriver and is considered taboo and bad luck to discuss, although is sometimes referred to as Old Joining by the elderly. The hunters don’t follow prey into its boundaries.

Available Allegiances

  • Town government – specifically the mayor, an elderly and non-nonsense pragmatist who’s focused on keeping her town safe. An ally here means you have a trusted role in the town infrastructure; an enemy here means the mayor considers you a dangerous bother they’d be better off without.
  • Townsfolk An ally here means you’re a popular citizen of Joining; an enemy here means that locals consider you a bad influence or from the wrong sort of family.
  • Local sheriff and deputy, who spend most of their time dealing with drunkenness and an occasional monster. An ally here means the sheriff trusts you and will give you the benefit of the doubt; an enemy here means the sheriff goes out of her way to pin crimes on you.
  • Wardens (and possibly the supposed druids who watch the woods), mysterious figures glimpsed in the trees. An ally here means you are a warden yourself (possibly secretly) or are privy to their secrets; an enemy here means the wardens consider you a threat to Joining, possibly for asking the wrong sort of questions.
  • Outsiders (including hedge witches, tinkers, and traders who come to town). An ally here means you have a reputation outside of Joining as a good person to namedrop or contact; an enemy here means you once treated an outsider cruelly, and word has spread.
  • Church of the new gods, led by a charismatic young Tavish man who left Joining and came back from the city as an ordained minister. An ally here means you’re an active member of the congregation; an enemy here means they consider you a heretic or heathen, perhaps because of something they think you or your family has done, or because you espouse another religion.
  • The Tavish family (former mercenaries who lead most of Joining’s professional hunters). An ally here means the Tavishes trust you and think you keep their best interests in mind; an enemy here means the Tavishes think you’re a lackey of the Daunton family.
  • The Daunton family (proponents of the old gods who lead many of the foragers combing the forest for plants and food). An ally here means the Dauntons trust you and think you keep their best interests in mind; an enemy here means the Dauntons think you’re a stooge of the Tavish family.

Note that I’ve only included eight allegiances instead of the normal 12, as befits the feel of a smaller town. GMs should feel free to add their own or to change what’s here. Also note that “new gods” and “old gods” are completely undefined, other than a suspicion that the old gods are those of the forest, of nature, and of whatever it is that makes Joining particularly unique (see below).

GM Pitch: The Town of Joining

Warning: this section contains spoilers! If there’s any chance your GM will use Joining, please don’t read this. You’ll spoil some fun secrets.

Almost no one who still lives there knows it, but until 300 years ago Old Joining was one of the most famous cities in a half-dozen worlds. Driven by magical rules no one understands, each week portals in the nearby trees would open up to a specific different site in both this world and others. Adventurers, travelers, and traders used Joining to travel between realities or across their own world; they’d have a week to pass through the doorways from their own location to Joining, then they’d stay at The Inn of Arches until a magical portal opened up to their intended destination.

Back then, Old Joining (just named Joining at the time) was a metropolitan center of fantastic magic and culture. It was a joining (hence the name), a melting pot where important and interesting people from some 50 different locations across at least six worlds met, mingled, and exchanged information. Often times monsters would come through those gateways between trees, and when they did the elite wardens and their powerful druidic allies would destroy them, imprison them (crumbling prisons which still exist today) or send them back to where they came from.

No one is sure what caused the gateways to stop working and the city of Old Joining’s inhabitants to be ripped out of our world. Probably either a Tavish or a Daunton is responsible, and the other family tried to stop them and only made things worse. Perhaps some sort of magical anchor-stone was stolen that linked the many worlds and places together (a stone that now is somewhere around Joining today, although no one realizes its significance); perhaps a petulant god was offended; perhaps blood was spilled in a sacred place. Regardless, everyone in the city at the time – and almost every single object that wasn’t stone – was swept away into another place of your choosing. Faerie? Hell? A tropical island? Another huge city? It’s up to you. The gates winked out that night and haven’t consistently returned, and only people outside of the city at the time survived to found the current town. Led by religious extremists in the aftermath of the disaster, they didn’t make their tale public knowledge. The truth of the matter is now hidden or taboo. The Heroes will have to find out the secret gradually as they adventure, and then decide what to do about it.

Restore or fix whatever made the nexus of worlds possible, and the gates between worlds will open up again once more, resuming their schedule of one week per location before shifting. Alternatively (or additionally), the city of Old Joining (or whatever it has turned into!) might return if the Heroes can find a way to bring it back. The tiny town of Joining may find itself a gradual or sudden metropolis, and their world might change spectacularly as Joining becomes a center of commerce and adventure once again.

Structuring a Campaign Around Joining

Swords of the Serpentine campaigns are structured in series, a finite arc of adventures that’s treated like short stories in an anthology or a season of television. Series are usually 6-12 adventures long.

In Series One, the Heroes get to know Joining; perhaps they’re fledgling heroes still in their teens, or more competent heroes who have come to the town in search of something indefinable. They uncover clues about the town’s rich past, meet the wardens and druids, uncover ancient prisons, and learn some secrets about what used to be here. At the end of the series they might restore the nexus, and the gates between worlds are once again open.

In Series Two, complexity ramps up as people and creatures discover the gates have returned. Political factions form as Joining grows, and more Allegiances become possible. Internal and external threats develop from people who demand the town return to its old ways, something that may no longer be possible. Perhaps the heroes delve through the gates themselves, examining other places on this world and other planes of existence. In doing so they learn the fate of Old Joining and learn they can bring it back – if they want.

Future series may focus on Joining becoming one of the most important locations on multiple worlds; powerful external factions trying to seize it by force, invading through the gates; the cross-cultural growth coming from Joining’s unique role; and how the Heroes’ once-simple friends and enemies in Joining adapt to fit this new reality.

And of course, you may decide to transition your campaign to a different setting! If so, it’s as simple as the Heroes walking through a doorway between worlds—a doorway they made possible.

 


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, to be published in 2021. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

Have you, or someone in your game group, always wanted to give GMing a shot, but haven’t yet taken the plunge? What if we told you that by the first week in February, you could be an honest-to-goodness GM—and it’ll be easy!

January is New Gamemaster Month, and we’re joining our friends at Monte Cook Games, Arc Dream Publishing, Chaosium, Inc, Evil Hat and Atlas Games to give prospective GMs everything you need to run your first game of Trail of Cthulhu, including a 10% discount off the core book in our webstore with the code NewGMMonth2021!

During January, we’ll run a month-long course in the form of twice-weekly posts, which will take you through a step in the process, and include a brief lesson on an aspect of GMing followed by some quick, enjoyable activities that actually get you ready to run your first game. But if you’ve missed the start, never fear – all the posts from the start of the program are still available.

It’s not all academic, by any means—this is a hands-on seminar. By the end of the program, in early February, you won’t be a “prospective” GM any more: You’ll have GMed your first full-on RPG session, running it without a hitch and having a great time doing it!

So make a New Year’s resolution to join us, and finally take that leap into GMing! Follow along on the website, join the Facebook group and let us know how you’re getting on by tweeting us @NewGmMonth.

Fight off the creepy menace of the Shambler and its fungus-encrusted rot elves; join the Scavenger’s Parade to four magical markets in the far corners of the Empire; climb Skyveil’s spiral shell up into the overworld; or ride the massive behemoth, Dolphin, as it transitions between its land-form and its undead-haunted nightside-form in the depths of the Iron Sea.

Behemoths: Paths of the Koru is a 13th Age sourcebook for GMs running champion- or epic-tier campaigns.

Just as no two 13th Age campaigns take place in identical versions of the Dragon Empire, the Behemoths authors were not required to treat previously published material—or each other’s ideas—as canon. Each author created cults, parasites, behemoth barrows, and creatures of legend to unleash on their own campaigns. Whether you decide to use one or several, Behemoths’ eight chapters explore what the Koru behemoths might mean to 13th Age heroes . . . and how the behemoths might interact with each of the 13 icons in their struggle to remake the world.

Unleash the behemoths!

Authors: Liz Argall, Elizabeth Chaipraditkul, Benjamin Feehan, Julian Kay, Martin Killmann, Rebecca Lauffenburger, Jennie Morris, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Developers: John-Matthew DeFoggi, Rob Heinsoo

Status: In development

[[behemoths in the mist art by Aaron McConnell]]

 

by Kevin Kulp

As mentioned when we looked at Conan, it’s fun to see how a hero you know translates into Swords of the Serpentine. Let’s take a look at two ways to play Michael Moorcock’s classic antihero Elric of Melniboné using the SotS rules.

You’ve probably heard of Elric or seen pictures of him even if you’ve never read Moorcock’s work: skinny with long white hair and red eyes, cloaked in black armor, wielding the soul-devouring blade Stormbringer. The naturally frail Elric uses Stormbringer’s power for health and strength, as the blade’s fell magic replaces the expensive alchemical potions Elric used to take to survive. Sure, Stormbringer tends to kill and drain the soul from anyone Elric likes or loves, but isn’t that a small price to pay?

(As a hero, Elric might be a tiny bit flawed. *cough*)

There are a few aspects of Elric that we want to capture when we recreate him as a Swords of the Serpentine hero.

  • Stormbringer eats souls and is hard or impossible to get rid of
  • Emperor Elric is a noble sorcerer who summons demons and gods to do his bidding, but is also manipulated by them (especially by his patron god of chaos, Arioch)
  • He’s weak and frail unless he consumes rare and expensive alchemical supplements, or unless his sword Stormbringer consumes souls to heal him

Option One: Elric, Sorcerer of Demons and Blades

In this option we create Elric as a sorcerer who has the spheres Blades, Chaos, and Demonology, all affecting health. We don’t give him a single rank of Warfare. “But Kevin,” you ask, “Elric spends all his time stabbing people with Stormbringer! What gives?”

Good question. If you want to play Elric your first inclination is probably to ask the GM for a magic sword like Stormbringer. Problems are that you haven’t done anything to earn it, SotS a game about your own personal capabilities and not those of your items, and you don’t want to risk so iconic an item being lost, destroyed, stolen, or taken away by the GM.

Stormbringer

There’s an easy solution. SotS is predicated on “your abilities define your capabilities, and you describe those capabilities however you want.” Use Sorcery instead of Warfare, select the Blades sphere, and describe your attacks as swinging Stormbringer. You decide the fate of anyone you defeat, so when you defeat someone announce “their souls are devoured by my sword.” Flavorful, tragic, and effective.

Narratively, Stormbringer is a pitch-black demon-sword with red runes; mechanically it’s just the form your Sorcery damage takes. You attack using Sorcery, your base attack does 1d6+1 damage to Health, and you can boost damage with Investigative spends as normal. This is very different from (say) D&D’s approach to magic items, but fits right into how Swords of the Serpentine handles player narrative control.

Elric’s Demon-Summoning

For this version of Elric, demon-summoning ancient gods is handled with the normal Sorcery rules alongside the Demonology sphere. You may choose to save your Corruption spends for particularly powerful demon-summoning to emulate Arioch or other gods laying waste to your enemies for you. You probably gain your sorcerous power from Elric’s patron Arioch, God of Chaos.

Frail Health

So how do we handle Elric’s frail Health? Here we may need to ask the GM for a house rule.

“How do you feel about me losing one point of Health every new scene (until I reach -5 Health), and to balance this I’m healed one point of Health for every Refresh token I create when killing enemies?”

Is it fair, balanced, and fun? The GM considers this and says yes (the effect is similar to the mace Lifedrinker on page 189 of Swords of the Serpentine’s Adventurer’s Edition) – and adds that you could also spend 2 Repute each adventure to procure rare alchemical drugs that would pause your Health loss for the adventure.

Option One’s Elric

Name: Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné

Mournful, Frail, Albino, Regal, Introspective

Drives: Blood and souls for my Lord Arioch!; All the books, ALL OF THEM; Balancing between Law and Chaos

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3, Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Morale 8

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 10 vs. Health; Damage Modifier +1 (Stormbringer/Blades, Chaos, Demonology)

Offense – Sway: Sway 3; Damage Modifier +1 (haughty)

Investigative Abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 3; Corruption 3, Forgotten Lore 1, Leechcraft 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 1; Ally: Sorcerous Cabals 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 6, Preparedness 3, Stealth 3, Sorcery 10 (Blast), Sway 3

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Health) Blades; Chaos; Demonology

Gear: Distaste for your degenerate culture; patron gods who manipulate you; a head full of powerful summonings; a black-bladed, rune-covered sword named Stormbringer; a frail body kept alive only by alchemy or magic; black plate armor; weighty responsibilities; far too many dead friends and lovers; a cousin who’s trying to overthrow you; red eyes, pale skin, and white hair

Special: You lose 1 Health at the start of every new scene, down to -5 Health; prevent this by spending 2 Repute per adventure on rare alchemical concoctions. When defeating adversaries with Stormbringer, you can drain their souls to heal 1 Health per Refresh token you earn.

Option Two: A Two-Hero Approach

Want to team up with a friend? One of you plays Elric… and one of you plays Stormbringer.

There’s no real reason why your Hero in Swords of the Serpentine can’t be a sentient sword. The main challenge to consider is “how does a sword exert its will on the world?”, and there are lots of way to show that. You might be able to fly, or have a human act for you, or possess others, or have limited nearby telekinesis. As long as you can still do the same sorts of things a human could, you aren’t bending any rules or creating a power imbalance. In this case, you settle on Stormbringer manipulating humans around it, or subconsciously communicating through its wielder.

If you and your friend want to play partners like Stormbringer and Elric, and your GM says okay, go for it. Maybe you even switch off every few games. Just make sure the player with Stormbringer feels like they are making a difference in the narrative.

Both Elric and Stormbringer are considered Heroes and each gets an attack during a round, making it look to enemies like Elric is an incredibly accomplished warrior. Delightfully, give Stormbringer ranks of Bind Wounds so that it can heal its wielder.

Option Two’s Elric

This Elric is almost the same as above, but with no Bind Wounds ability and 8 ranks of Warfare.

Name: Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné

Mournful, Frail, Albino, Regal, Introspective

Drives: Blood and souls for my Lord Arioch!; All the books, ALL OF THEM; Balancing between Law and Chaos

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3, Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (duty), Morale 8

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 8 vs. Health; Damage Modifier +1 (Blades, Chaos, Demonology)

Offense – Sway: Sway 3; Damage Modifier +1 (haughty)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8; Damage Modifier +2 (Stormbringer)

Investigative Abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 3; Corruption 3, Forgotten Lore 1, Leechcraft 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 1; Ally: Sorcerous Cabals 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General Abilities: Athletics 5, Preparedness 3, Stealth 3, Sorcery 8 (Blast), Sway 3, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Health) Blades; Chaos; Demonology

Gear: Distaste for your degenerate culture; patron gods who manipulate you; a head full of powerful summonings; a black-bladed, rune-covered sword named Stormbringer; a frail body, kept alive only by alchemy or magic; black plate armor; weighty responsibilities; far too many dead friends and lovers; a cousin who’s trying to overthrow you; red eyes, pale skin, and white hair

Special: You lose 1 Health at the start of every new scene, down to -5 Health; prevent this by spending 2 Repute per adventure on rare alchemical concoctions. When defeating adversaries with Stormbringer, you can drain their souls to heal 1 Health per Refresh token you earn.

Option Two’s Stormbringer

Name: Stormbringer, a greatsword of power

Demon-haunted, soul-devouring, deceitful, deadly, hungry

Drives: Blood and souls for Lord Arioch!; keep Elric safe and victorious; destroy everyone Elric loves or cares for

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 3 (demon-forged steel), Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (deviousness), Morale 8

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 8 vs. Morale; Damage Modifier +1 (Fear)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8; Damage Modifier +2 (razor-sharp blade)

Investigative Abilities: Intimidation 3; Corruption 1, Spot Frailty 2, Tactics of Death 4

Allegiances: Ally: Mercenaries 1; Ally: Outlanders 1; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General Abilities: Bind Wounds 6, Stealth 8 (Where’d It Go?), Sorcery 8 (Blast), Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Sorcerous Spheres: (Affects Morale) Fear

Gear: Growing impatience, mollified by blood; envy of anyone Elric seems to care for; a burning joy of chaos; faded memories of being a free demon; a body shaped like a night-black blade with glowing red runes; knowledge of Elric’s terrible need; a shameful desire for partnership

Special: You can’t walk or fly, but if left behind you can use Stealth to reappear wherever you would like, including within your scabbard. You must swallow the soul of any creature defeated by your blade. You can only apply your Bind Wounds to yourself or your wielder. You have a subtle mental link with your wielder that allows you to communicate.

 


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, to be published in 2021. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

Previous Entries Next Entries