It’s been some time since the Poison Tree campaign was announced, even by the sometimes leisurely standards of Pelgrane. It’s currently on my desk undergoing development and additional writing. The core concept of the campaign is unchanged from those early articles – a series of connected adventures across the generations, from 1650 to the present day, tracing the ghastly fate of the cursed Whettall family. Right now, the final adventure roster is looking like:

Chapter 1: 1650

Chapter 2: 1715

Chapter 3: 1752

Chapter 4: 1775

Chapter 5: 1890

Chapter 6: 1914

Chapter 7: 1952

Chapter 8: 2023

(with plenty of scope for ambitious Keepers to drop other scenarios into the gaps – notably, there’s a period in the 1920s where one branch of the Whettall family become occult investigators operating out of Miskatonic university, so you can graft virtually any Trail adventure onto the campaign…)

I always enjoy the development phase of a book like this. It’s when you get to look at the text as a whole, and start to spot patterns and correspondences. You get to add in moments of foreshadowing (or excise accidental overlaps between adventures). You get to weave the chapters together, dropping hints and callbacks.

One of the tasks was updating the Poison Tree text to the modern GUMSHOE sensibilities. While Trail of Cthulhu’s rules haven’t changed, our understanding of best practises when it comes to structuring GUMSHOE scenarios and presenting information have improved, so I’ve added innumerable Leads-in/Leads-Out entries and Scene Flow diagrams. We’re also still wrestling with the question of how best to handle character generation for the campaign – there will definitely be a set of pregenerated investigators for each chapter, but how they’ll be presented and whether or not they’ll be the default option remains to be determined. Still, all questions should be resolved and rewrites completed well in time for a late-autumn harvest…

And after that, it’s onto an even longer-promised project…

(My apologies for the long delay between installments. I’d intended to post this and the other pieces in the series in early 2020. I wonder what could possibly have distracted me in, oh, say around March of that year.)

The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook (DH) covers the present-day Legacies of the main members of the Crew of Light – Billie Harker, Tabitha Holmwood, Thad Morris and the rest, the descendants of the original group who battled Dracula. However, Dracula Unredacted reveals the existence of several other members of this fellowship who, for reasons sinister or editorial, were excised from the narrative. Once the players discover the existence of Kate Reed or Inspector Cotford, might they not try to track down their present-day heirs?

Gwen Parton

The Parton family played a key role in the events of Dracula, although their involvement was heavily redacted in the published version. Sir Robert Parton, the president of the law society, was possibly involved with Operation Edom. It was he who put Dracula in contact with Peter Hawkins of Exeter when the Count asked for a lawyer to be dispatched to Transylvania. Later, Parton’s daughter Juliette was a victim of the Count’s unholy hungers, possibly with Parton’s knowledge. Certainly, Parton helped cover up the circumstances of his daughter’s death, removing witnesses like his brother Quentin (exiled to Scotland for his health), and lying to Inspector Cotford. Juliette’s coffin was never found.

(It’s equally likely that Parton was part of the Satanic Cult of Dracula, of course – Cotford’s cryptic last entry on p. 270 of Dracula Unredacted mentions ‘Parton’ at the unholy banquet at Coldfall house, but it’s unclear if he meant the late Juliette or her father Sir Robert.)

Gwen Parton’s descended from Sir Robert’s brother Quentin, although she has little knowledge of that side of the family. Her branch of the Partons have lived in Scotland for generations. Gwen’s in her early 30s, with innumerable piercings and tattoos; she’s drifted in and out of various punk-rock bands, artistic collectives, fringe political groups and activist circles since dropping out of university. Her secret shame – her family’s still very wealthy, and have helped her out of financial difficulties several times.

Innocent: Gwen’s still looking for the right cause – she’s got plenty of energy and passion, but has yet to find something that she really believes in. Taking down Edom/Dracula might be that crusade, especially once she learns about her family connection to the curse.

While a failed rock musician might not seem to be an ideal ally for vampire hunters, Gwen brings several advantages to the table. Her great-great-grandfather Quentin was sensitive to Dracula’s presence, like Renfield – she might equally be able to detect the count. She’s got access to a network of online journalists and other contacts who might be able to dig up useful intel. She can draw on her inheritance for ready cash. And when all else fails, she’s got a pair of well used and very stompy boots, and has special weapons training in smashing a pint glass into someone’s face.

Asset: If Edom’s running Gwen, it’s at arms’ length. She might be a deep-cover agent – maybe Edom’s worried that the stolen copy of Unredacted will fall into the hands of some troublesome investigative journalist or online conspiracy blogger, and they’ve sent Gwen into that world so she can grab the dossier when it surfaces.

Another option: “Gwen” is actually Juliette Parton, the original Edom vampire. Her appearance is as far as one could get from the respectable young Victorian woman she used to be; she only ever goes out at night, and she’s loud and aggressive enough to deflect suspicion.

Minion: Gwen’s a member of the Satanic Cult of Dracula, like her ancestors before her. Given her relative youth and attitude, she’s likely a low-level talent spotter, recruiting criminals and other useful assets for the Conspiracy. She might be a connection between the vampires and mundane criminality. In this scenario, the Agents run into some low-grade goons, beat them up, get pointed at Gwen Parton – and then spot an old family painting or heirloom/discover the Parton trust fund, and unravel the connections between those low-grade goons and the Parton legacy…

Defining quirks: 1) Stompy boots 2) Goth crucifix that happens to be made of solid silver 3) Shifts accents from Edinburgh punk-rock girl to upper-class Oxbridge as needed

Investigative Abilities: Art History, Intimidation, Streetwise, Urban Survival

General Abilities: Conceal 4, Hand-to-Hand 6

 

 

(*** As a warning before you read on – some of these images are quite disturbing. They’re all entirely computer-generated, but still… they’re uncanny. ***)

 

 

I’ve been keeping an eye on neural nets and automated generation of content, in the manner of a fisherman keeping an eye on a storm front full of robot sharks. (I heartily recommend https://www.aiweirdness.com by the way, especially posts like A 10,000 Year Warning or Sea Shanty Surrealism). There’s a new toy to play with in the form of Art Machine.

In my experience, AI art isn’t that great yet at giving you specific scenes. Here’s “The sailing ship Demeter crashing on the shore of Whitby during a fierce thunderstorm in 1894.”

It’s got the elements – the storm, the waves, the sailing ship – but can’t figure out composition. Maybe, if I spent ages fiddling with the prompt, I’d get a more coherent image.

What it’s absolutely marvellous at, though, is creating things that should not be. So, I spent a nightmarish morning feeding in descriptive text from the Book of Unremitting Horror, and seeing what squirmed through the Membrane and out onto my screen.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s my initial try -the Bleeder.

 

This Blood Corpse looks a bit like someone failed to frame the photograph properly.

 

 

 

 

 

The AI picked up on the “blossom” part and the “walking torso” part, but didn’t put them together

 

 

Clootie – and as the first google hit is the original art, the AI based its image on Dave Allsop’s

The Death Tapper got ‘demon flea’ – two clear concepts for the AI to latch onto

The Dementia Larva’s just an icky blob

For monsters that didn’t have much description like this Dream Tearer, the AI got creative

The Drowner has a sort of Ophelia feel to it, which works

Feral Drowner

And these Feral Drowners are fantastic.

Kooks. Aaaaag.

The Man in a Bar

The AI drew the malformed spawn of the Motherlode instead of the monster itself.

There’s no description of the Mystery Man, but it still came up with a great image based on the traits I gave it.

Sometimes, the AI gets hung up on one word. The Organ Grinder’s description mentions dentures, but it’s not supposed to be ALL teeth.

A rather impressionistic take on Outsiders, but it works.

These Ovvashi remind me of evil puppets.

The Practice

Practice Nurse – I should have edited the prompt for a single monster.

This Residue Demon is just creepy as hell

The Shatterer came out looking quite well.

The Sisterite ended up as pure Giger

I really like the Sleep Hag

And here’s the rather creepy snuff golem

My usual advice for handling iconic benefits in 13th Age is to push as much of the work as possible onto the players. The GM has enough to do running the game and playing all the monsters and non-player characters without adding the burden of working a random number of iconic associations into the storyline. After all, players want a clear link between their icon relationship rolls and the events of the game – if I get a 6 on my Positive relationship with the Archmage, then I want that to have a tangible effect on the game. I want to find a lost ruin of the Archmage where the party can rest safely, or I want one of the Archmage’s magical servants to show up with a magic item on a silver tray, or I want some NPC to say “ah, you too are a servant of the Archmage – I will aid you.” That also means that iconic benefits need to be roughly comparable – if Bob gets a magic item from the Archmage, then Liz’s roll of a 6 with the Orc Lord should yield roughly the same degree of advantage, right?

Of course, if you’ve got a half-dozen iconic benefits to resolve in a given session, that gets tricky, hence the advice to push the work onto the players. Tell me how the Archmage benefits you – ask for an autosuccess on that skill check, or describe how you overcome some obstacle through your Archmageness. This also satisfies the clear causal link criteria – the player can see how their roll of a 6 translates to an in-game benefit.

Another approach – bring everything back to the Gamesmaster. Roll icon relationship dice behind the screen. The players still know what their icon relationships are, they know they’ve got a 2-point positive relationship with the Archmage and a 1-point Conflicted with the Three and so forth, but they don’t know which icons showed up behind the screen this session.

The virtue of this method is that the Gamemaster can be more subtle with iconic influences. As the players don’t know for sure what’s been changed by the influence of the icons, you don’t need to aim for parity between benefits. It also lets the GM ignore icon rolls that are really awkward to fit into a given session (if the party are in the middle of a desert far from civilisation, it can be tricky to explain how one character’s relationship with the Emperor pays off).

If you do go for this way of handling icons, then it’s worth subtly highlighting when one of those unseen iconic benefits manifests. Instead of telling them directly (“oh, that dragon had a lower armour class because of your negative relationship with the Three”), play up the symbols and thematic associations of the various icons. Have the environment grow chilly or musty, or note that a statue’s missing an eye when the Lich King bends his will upon the party; play up symbols of craft, tradition, beards and beer when the party are until the aegis of the Dwarf King. In this interpretation, the icons become the embodiment of invisible forces clashing behind the world – civilisation against anarchy, life against death, magic against corruption, elfness vs dwarfitude – and the characters are alternately lifted or buffeted by these unseen tides.

Personally, I really enjoy playing 13th Age as an improv-heavy dialogue with the players, and have lots of fun taking their wild ideas for iconic benefits and weaving it into the game, but that does favour a gonzo, anything-goes form of fantasy. If I had a more low-key, intrigue-heavy or mystical campaign in mind, though, unseen icons might be the way to go…


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

District Knowledges, used in the Station Duty campaign frame in The Esoterrorists and in Cthulhu City, are a special set of investigative abilities designed for use in games where a particular city is of paramount importance – and the city’s right there in the title in Mutant City Blues!

The districts in your Mutant City will vary, but you’re going to end up with something similar to the list below. Allocate the suggested elements from Building Mutant City (p. 138) to different districts.

  • The University: Including the Quade Institute
  • Financial District: Including Birch Towers
  • City Centre: City Hall, the Precinct
  • Historic Downtown, including the Bulwark of God Church
  • The Strip, lots of clubs and bars.
  • Helixtown, the mutant district, including Capecon Enterprises, the Heightened Information Alliance, New Heliopolis and the other mutant-related groups.
  • Industrial Zone
  • The Docks/Airport
  • Wealthy Enclave
  • Suburbia
  • Poverty-Stricken District

Don’t stick with the dull technical names – use the actual names of districts and areas in your city. If you’re basing your Mutant City off an existing city, then use areas from that city (“I’m taking Soho, you take Clapham”). If you’re making your Mutant City up, then take the opportunity to create a real sense of place; proper names really help ground a campaign.

Using District Knowledges

With a District Knowledge, you can obtain clues through:

  • Your knowledge of the streets, buildings and other features of the area
  • Your expertise in local history and current events
  • Your relationships with local leaders, influencers, experts and figures in the community.
  • Picking up rumours and efficiently gathering information about that district

You can

  • Tell when crowds or passersby are acting strangely
  • Tell whether a passerby or bystander is native to a particular neighbourhood
  • Navigate unfamiliar street layouts and locate buildings without marking yourself out as a stranger

A District Knowledge push can:

  • Create a useful contact or ally living in that district
  • Call in a favour related to that district
  • Allow you to declare some fact about that district

District Knowledges and other investigative abilities often overlap with one another. A character with a District Knowledge could certainly substitute it for Architecture or Community Relations. However, such substitutions are only permissible when the investigator is in the district they are familiar with.

Gaining District Knowledges

Each character starts with one free District Knowledge. A player taking any template that includes Streetwise can swap that ability for a more focused District Knowledge. More District Knowledges can be purchased with build points or experience as desired.


Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game originally written by Robin D. Laws, and developed and extended by Gareth-Ryder Hanrahan, where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The advent of some mutant abilities has created whole new categories of criminality, while other powers are covered by existing laws. It’s still aggravated assault with a deadly weapon if you threaten someone with a sharp blade, even if you grew that blade yourself using your Natural Weapons ability. Some of the more obscure legal interactions that might crop up in your Mutant City Blues campaign…

The use of the Cognition power is treated as card-counting in Mutant City casinos; it’s not technically illegal, but those known to possess the power are banned by the casino owners and forcibly ejected if found to be gambling.

Of all the Command powers, Command Insects is the most likely to cause serious property damage or degrade the ecology of the local area. A common use of the power is the so-called ‘Pied Piper’ effect – instead of spraying a structure for termites or other insects, a mutant can just compel the insects to leave. Practising this form of extermination commercially requires a licence, and proof that the mutant has somewhere to safely dispose of the insects.

Using Earth Control’s earthquake ability is a legal nightmare, exposing the user to endless suits for damage to property. Earthquake-hit structures must be thoroughly examined by a qualified engineer to ensure they are still sound.

Illusion is a tricky power when it comes to the law. Many uses of illusion fall under existing laws covering fraud, deception, intimidation and so forth – there’s no difference, legally, between conjuring an illusion of a monster, and putting on a monster costume to scare someone. However, as illusions leave no traces or physical evidence, it makes proving a crime considerably harder. Attempts to have non-consensual, non-declared illusions deemed illegal have foundered in the courts, and there’s a growing number of professional illusionists who use their abilities for quasi-legal activities like providing alibis (‘six witnesses saw my client drinking in the bar when the prosecution claims he was robbing the house’).

Plants under Plant Control count as tools or weapons, so using a plant to entangle someone counts as assault even if you never lay a finger on them. That said, it can difficult to conclusively prove that a particular plant controller was commanding a particular plant, leading to the trope of the ‘Mad Gardener’, a hypothetical plant controller who wanders around Mutant City controlling plants at random, and who just happened to be passing when the defendant was alleged to have used the same power.

Reduce Temperature can result in reckless endangerment charges if the mutant uses the ability in an enclosed space with others present.

Speed limits do not apply to runners or cyclists, so the Speed power is not restricted. However, using Speed in highly trafficked areas may result in charges for jaywalking.

Webbing counts as littering.


Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game originally written by Robin D. Laws, and developed and extended by Gareth-Ryder Hanrahan, where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Both Paris and The Wars feature General Kits: prepackaged sets of General Ability scores, so a player can just grab a General Kit, pair it with an Investigative Kit, and quickly come up with a character’s ability ratings. The other two settings, Aftermath and This Is Normal Now don’t include General Kits, on the assumption that by the time the average Yellow King campaign reaches the third or fourth sequence, the players are familiar enough with the rules to dispense with them.

However, if you’re running a one-shot in either setting, or you need an extra character in a hurry, or (and I speak from deep personal experience) your players are astoundingly lazy, here are some quick General Kits for Aftermath and This Is Normal Now.

In both cases, they’re designed for Horror, not Occult Adventure.

Aftermath

If you’re playing in Occult Adventure style, then add 2 points to Composure, Fighting and Insurgency in each kit.

Agitator

You inspired people to rise up against the Castaigne regime with speeches, essays, and acts of public defiance.

Athletics 1

Composure 6

Driving 1

Fighting 2

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 6

Mechanics 6

Morale 6

Network 6

Politics 6

Preparedness 0

Sense Trouble 1

Sneaking 1

 

Bruiser

You took the fighting to the streets, battling the Castaignes and their monsters and lackeys up close.

Athletics 4

Composure 6

Driving 2

Fighting 6

First Aid 2

Health 6

Insurgency 4

Mechanics 0

Morale 2

Network 4

Politics 2

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 4

Sneaking 2

 

Cell Leader

You were an organiser and co-ordinator during the insurgency, planning attacks to destabilise the regime.

Athletics 2

Composure 6

Driving 2

Fighting 4

First Aid 2

Health 2

Insurgency 6

Mechanics 2

Morale 4

Network 6

Politics 6

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 1

Sneaking 1

 

Fixer

You knew how to get things done, how to find necessities on the black market, how to scrounge and survive long enough to bring the regime down.

Athletics 2

Composure 6

Driving 4

Fighting 2

First Aid 6

Health 4

Insurgency 3

Mechanics 6

Morale 0

Network 2

Politics 3

Preparedness 6

Sense Trouble 1

Sneaking 1

 

Ghost

They never caught you. They never even suspected you, until it was too late. You struck from the shadows, terrorising the monsters like they terrorised ordinary people.

Athletics 4

Composure 8

Driving 2

Fighting 4

First Aid 0

Health 6

Insurgency 4

Mechanics 2

Morale 0

Network 0

Politics 2

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 6

Sneaking 6

 

Mask-Wearer

You concealed your true intentions beneath a mask of flesh, and hid your support for the insurgency from your superiors in the regime. You held a position of influence or importance in the Castaigne apparatus – until you finally revealed yourself to be an insurgent.

Athletics 2

Composure 8

Driving 4

Fighting 2

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 4

Mechanics 0

Morale 2

Network 4

Politics 6

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 4

Sneaking 4

 

Saboteur

You struck against the regime with carefully targeted acts of sabotage and destruction.

Athletics 2

Composure 6

Driving 2

Fighting 4

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 8

Mechanics 6

Morale 2

Network 2

Politics 2

Preparedness 4

Sense Trouble 2

Sneaking 2

 

Smuggler

You ran the ratlines and the underground supply chain, smuggling weapons or vital information or even people past the regime’s security checkpoints.

Athletics 6

Composure 6

Driving 4

Fighting 2

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 4

Mechanics 4

Morale 0

Network 4

Politics 2

Preparedness 4

Sense Trouble 2

Sneaking 4

 

Wheelman

You were a getaway driver, escaping Castaigne pursuers on the highways of America.

Athletics 2

Composure 6

Driving 8

Fighting 4

First Aid 0

Health 4

Insurgency 2

Mechanics 4

Morale 2

Network 4

Politics 4

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble 2

Sneaking 2

 

This Is Normal Now

If you’re playing in Occult Adventure style, then add 2 points to Fighting and Health in each kit.

 

Gym Enthusiast

You have capital-O Opinions about Crossfit.

Athletics 6

Composure 8

Driving 2

Fighting  4

First Aid 2

Health 6

Mechanics 4

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble  2

Sneaking 0

 

Haunter of the Coffee Shop

Or the bar. You like to chat and make connections.

Athletics 4

Composure 7

Driving 2

Fighting  2

First Aid 2

Health 4

Mechanics 2

Preparedness 4

Sense Trouble  5

Sneaking 4

 

Handy with a Drill

You’ve got a toolbox full of bits and pieces, and a workspace full of unfinished projects.

Athletics 4

Composure 9

Driving 2

Fighting  3

First Aid 2

Health 4

Mechanics 6

Preparedness 6

Sense Trouble  0

Sneaking 0

 

Gets Into Trouble

Maybe you don’t mean to get into scraps. Maybe you go looking for fights. Either way, you’ve seen more than your share of trouble.

Athletics 6

Composure 7

Driving 2

Fighting  6

First Aid 0

Health 5

Mechanics 2

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble  1

Sneaking 5

 

Petrol Head

You’ve got a car, and are very enthusiastic about this. You probably make some extra cash on the side using a rideshare app.

Athletics 2

Composure 8

Driving 8

Fighting  2

First Aid 0

Health 4

Mechanics 6

Preparedness 2

Sense Trouble  2

Sneaking 2

 

Way Too Online

Distressing Notification: Your screentime exceeded 24 hours/day for most of the last week.

Athletics 2

Composure 7

Driving 2

Fighting  2

First Aid 4

Health 4

Mechanics 3

Preparedness 5

Sense Trouble  4

Sneaking 3

 

Good In A Crisis

When someone has a breakdown or a breakup, you’re the one they call.

Athletics 2

Composure 9

Driving 2

Fighting  3

First Aid 7

Health 4

Mechanics 2

Preparedness 5

Sense Trouble  2

Sneaking 0

 

Runner-Up All Rounder

You’re pretty ok at most things, but don’t stand out in any field. Quiet competence, it’s the way to go.

Athletics 4

Composure 7

Driving 3

Fighting  4

First Aid 2

Health 4

Mechanics 3

Preparedness 3

Sense Trouble  3

Sneaking 3

 

 

The Zone Jaune is a region in north-eastern Europe that was deemed “inhospitable to human life” in the wake of the Continental War. The widespread deployment of Carcosan ‘yellow science’, not to mention conventional artillery and chemical weapons, rendered the region – some 2,000 square kilometres of forest and former farmland – utterly hostile and unable. “Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to agriculture: 100%. Damage to reality: unmeasurable. Impossible to endure,” reads one report, written shortly after the end of the war.

The French government established the cordon around the Zone Jaune within a month of the ceasefire. In the years that followed, several nations bordering the zone unofficially began using the area as a dumping ground for left-over munitions and Carcosan technologies. Whole battalions of stalkers were driven into the woods and abandoned, their legs broken on steel hedgehogs (some accounts use the term ‘herded’, implying that there may be some truth to the tales of some stalkers developing a degree of self-awareness and independent action). Dragonflies and other aerial vehicles were packed with Carcosan technology and crashed deep in the zone. Darker stories tell of convoys of trucks and special trains loaded with ‘livestock’ that were driven into the Zone Jaune and left there.

Today, the Zone’s surrounded by many miles of barbed-wire fences and ditches. Entry into the Zone is forbidden; nature has been allowed to reclaim the land within, although it’s debatable which nature holds sway in that yellow wood – the French government insists that any unusual plant species are the result of toxic chemicals and not invasion from Carcosa. Farmers bordering the Zone often dig up munitions and other remains, including ‘biological matter’; these are collected by a special division of the French military, CEOM, for safe disposal. CEOM also monitors the ‘deep zone’ – there are observation towers within the forest, accessible by long roads that cut through the haunted woods.

Encounters in the Zone Jaune

  • Sacrifice Villages: Abandoned rural villages, now ruined. Some were abandoned before the war; others were evacuated when the Zone Jaune was established. Full exorcisms were carried out where feasible, but many hauntings have been logged by CEOM patrols.
  • Unexploded Munitions: The landscape of the Zone is littered with millions of tons of artillery shells, mines, dumped tanks of chemical weapons, toxic occult waste and other hazards – all hidden beneath the undergrowth. One false step can prove instantly lethal.
  • Damaged Places: Reality has suffered considerable damage here. The Zone Jaune is riddled with natural portals to other worlds – primarily Carcosa, but it’s possible to slip from one version of Earth to another if you know the right path through the woods.
  • Hunters: Nature has reclaimed the zone – it’s full of wild animals, including bears, deer, wolves and gravegrinders. Hunters and poachers slip past CEOM patrols to bag a trophy  – and Carcosan entities hunt the hunters and steal faces so they can escape the Zone undetected.
  • CEOM Patrols: On the borders, CEOM turns trespassers away with little more than a slap on the wrist. A foolish tourist or would-be hunter gets arrested, dragged off to a holding facility, and then given a fine and a lecture by a very angry officer before being released. Deeper in the woods, away from cameras and prying eyes, CEOM shoots intruders on sight.  
  • Scavengers: There’s a brisk trade in what’s euphemistically called ‘scrap metal’ from the Zone. Intact Carcosan relics and the remnants of Science Jaune grimoires are especially sought after. Scavenger teams enter the Zone disguised as hunters – or bribe CEOM guards for priority access.
  • Mustard Fog: The most infamous of the Zone’s hazards, mustard fog is a toxic stew of poison gas leeched from rotting artillery shells, mixed with lingering magic. Survivors speak of hearing hauntingly beautiful music and seeing strange lights in the fog, as if there was some enchanted ball going on just on the other side of the fog bank – just before they vomited up their liquified lungs and died. Other accounts claim to have seen huge animals like flying whales moving through the yellow mist.
  • Active Machines: Abandoned stalkers, dragonflies and other machines of war sometimes spark into life within the zone, dragging their broken metal bodies through the underbrush until whatever surge of occult energy that activated them passes once more.
  • Zone Natives:  Warspawn and other Carcosan entities can survive within the Zone, even as the influence of Carcosa fades outside.

Using the Zone Jaune

  • In The Wars: While the official Zone was only established after the war, the region that became the Zone was blasted by occult weapons when the fighting was still ongoing – and had already acquired a reputation as a lethal assignment. Units sent to the Zone never return.
    In Aftermath: Castaigne survivors in search of Carcosan energies flee overseas to France, bringing matters of international diplomacy and extradimensional extradition to the table in post-regime politics.
    Alternate Aftermaths: Instead of playing revolutionaries in a post-Castaigne New York, you’re playing the leaders of a small town on the edge of the Zone. Some of you are veterans, some are the next generation, growing up in a world where the horrors of Carcosa and the Continental War are fading memories. The town strives towards normality and a new beginning, but the scars of the war still linger – and the council must balance mundane municipal duties with supporting the needs of the local CEOM garrison.
  • The Wood Between The Worlds: The war blew holes in reality in the Zone; characters trying to slip from one reality to another – like, say, This Is Normal Now investigators trying to loop back to Paris – might travel to France and enter the woods. Just keep walking until the fog turns yellow…

 


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

April 30th rolls ‘round again, season of doors and frightful manifestations. You may know it as Walpurgisnacht, the Witches’ Sabbath – at least according to poor Walter Gilman, the ill-fated protagonist of Dreams in the Witch House.

Now he was praying because the Witches’ Sabbath was drawing near. May-Eve was Walpurgis-Night, when hell’s blackest evil roamed the earth and all the slaves of Satan gathered for nameless rites and deeds. It was always a very bad time in Arkham, even though the fine folks up in Miskatonic Avenue and High and Saltonstall Streets pretended to know nothing about it. There would be bad doings—and a child or two would probably be missing. Joe knew about such things, for his grandmother in the old country had heard tales from her grandmother. It was wise to pray and count one’s beads at this season.

It’s certainly a potent date in Mythos terms, a time when the Old Ones are uncomfortably close at hand, a night for rituals and bonfires. In Germany, for example, it’s Hexennacht, and one’s supposed to dress as a witch and make noises to keep real witches and evil spirits away. Old Keziah Mason isn’t the only one abroad that night – Wilbur Whateley and his brother were conceived on the night of April 30th, and it’s also one of the two nights when the folk of Innsmouth were obliged to offer sacrifices to their Deep One allies, or so Zadok Allen tells us. Perhaps other entities can also use the doors of Walpurgnisnacht to move between the spheres – it’s in May that Professor Peaslee is taken by the Great Race of Yith, and he begins to have cogent dreams about his abduction in the same month a few years later.

A few other Lovecraftian dates:

  • February 2nd – The Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas, “which the folk of Dunwich observe by another name”. It’s the date of Wilbur Whateley’s birth; also the Roman feast of Lupercalia, with its associations of fertility and beasts.
  • February 28th – The anniversary of the rise of R’lyeh in 1925. Presumably, as the orbit of the Earth around the sun brings our world back to roughly the same star-configuration, it might be possible for Great Cthulhu’s call to be heard more clearly on this auspicious date.
  • August 1st – Lammas Night, a festival celebrating the harvest. Also the night on which old Wizard Whateley passed away. Did he linger long enough to find some door into the outer sphere, where the whippoorwills couldn’t catch him?
  • October 31st – All Hallows’ Eve: Obviously, lots of spooky connections here. Notably in the Mythos, it’s the other date that the Innsmouth sacrifices are made. Wilbur Whateley makes cryptic expeditions into the hills on this date, too.
  • December 21st – Yuletide, “Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind,” as The Festival puts it.

 

Festivals in Your Games

Tying events to a particular anniversary can be a handy trick in a Trail of Cthulhu scenario. The classic is “the cult’s summoning ritual can only be performed on Lammas Night” or whatever seasonally appropriate date you prefer, giving the investigators a hard deadline – if they don’t thwart the cult before then, the world is doomed. Another option is to use a festival as the inciting event for the scenario – if the killings start on May 2nd, then maybe something crept through into our reality when the veil was thin on Walpurgnisnacht, and now it’s up to the investigators to track it down. You can also use a seasonal ‘window’ for a survival-horror game, where the challenge is simply escaping the monster until the date changes and the stars are no longer right. Maybe a bunch of investigators in the wilderness run into Ithaqua on the Yuletide, and need to survive until dawn on December 22nd. Astronomy or Occult Studies can clue investigators in to the celestial connotations of a date.

Finally, don’t neglect obscure festivals and feast-days as inspiration. The Wikipedia page for a particular day is a great tool for bisociation – for example, a quick scroll of the April 30th page gives us both Operation MINCEMEAT and St. Adjutor, the patron saint of boaters and the drowned. What else did the Seraph dump in the sea on Walpurgisnacht? In whose name did she make offerings?


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

(For context, see the Reality Hacking rules)

Interpersonal Hacks

The Truth Will Out (Bullshit Detector): The target of this hack become violently, explosively ill should they attempt to utter a lie. If the victim’s lucky, it’s just vomiting. The hack’s effects last for a few minutes.

Carbon Ghost (Bureaucracy): Given a set of personal documents and a supply of paper, this hack creates a sort of hollow paper golem. The golem’s physically fragile and cannot fight, but it can carry out simple tasks at the command of the hacker. Furthermore, the golem has fragmentary memories drawn from those of the owner of the personal documents. So, get hold of an Esoterrorist’s passport, conjure a golem, and tell it to go to the Esoterrorist’s home, and follow the shambling thing before a light breeze destroys it.

G-Man (Cop Talk): This hack convinces reality that the Ordo Veritatis Agent is a government agent, a Man in Black. It gives a 6-point Preparedness pool for equipment that a sinister government agent might possess – bugging devices, government IDs, earpiece microphones, dark shades, lethal syringes and the like.

Self-Belief (Flattery): Tell the target of this hack they’re good at something, and they gain a 6-point pool in the matching ability. (“You’re really strong=6 points of Athletics”). The target must be unaware they’re being hacked, and the pool vanishes instantly if the target learns they’ve been unnaturally augmented.

 Dream Suggestion (Flirting): The target of this hack becomes aware of the hacker – they dream about them, they can’t stop thinking about them, everything reminds them of the hacker. There’s no guarantee that the target’s feelings are in any way positive, but they’ll certainly attach some degree of importance or emotional weight to any interactions with the hacker. The effect lasts for two or three days.

 Face Change (Impersonate): The hacker’s facial appearance changes to match the person or type they’re impersonating. This isn’t (completely) a physical change – it’s more that people retain a different memory of the hacker’s face. (That said, repeated use of the spell causes physical features and even memories to bleed over).

 Imprison (Interrogation): The target of the hack is rendered unable to move after an interrogation session. They’re psychically compelled to stay in place for at least eight hours. So, interview a suspect in a diner, and they’re stuck in the booth for the rest of the day (better pray they used the bathroom first). For the hack to work, the hacker has to use regular mundane Interrogation on the target before attempting the hack.

 Thing of Terror (Intimidation): This hack works just like Manifest Fear (the Forensic Psychology hack), giving both hacker and target a momentary glimpse of the target’s fears. The difference is that Manifest Fear dredges up their most deep-seated, personal fears and doubts, whereas Thing of Terror flashes their immediate, present concerns. Cast Manifest Fear on a criminal goon, and you get the fear of dying of cancer like his mother did. Cast Thing of Terror, and you learn he’s worried about the Russian mafia shooting him dead in the street.

 Occult Bargain (Negotiation): Draws the attention of a Mystery Man. Basically, the equivalent of putting up a sign reading ‘THIS SOUL FOR SALE’.

 This Is Normal Now (Reassurance): The target briefly accepts everything as normal, mundane and quite unremarkable, no matter how bizarre or traumatic the situation would normally appear. While it provides instant calm, it can make questioning the subject a frustrating experience. (Q: Did you see anything strange earlier? A: No. Q: Who else was in the room? A: Oh, just a nine-foot tall creature made of cockroaches, wearing a skull mask and carrying a dagger in each of its six arms.)

Streetwarp (Streetwise): This hack works similarly to the Spacewarp hack for Architecture, allowing the hacker to bend space by connecting two disparate streets in the same neighbourhood. The hack only works in built-up areas.


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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