When your Ashen Stars characters next seek a person, piece of information, or illicit technology, place the object of their search in the fleet of the Asteroid Pirates. These rough-edged survivors of the post-War Bleed seek their fortunes in ships whose hulls are part alloy, part hollowed-out microplanetoid. Arrayed together, aided by sophisticated wavelength spoofers, the fleet can easily be misread for an ordinary asteroid belt. They use this stealth tech both to evade their hunters and ambush their targets.

(If the PCs need to locate the fleet to gain information, the Energy Signatures investigative ability reveals its presence. Tell the player that the character was almost fooled, as a less brilliant counterpart would certainly have been. When the presence of the fleet simply poses a danger, require a Difficulty 4 Sense Trouble check to distinguish it from an asteroid belt before it’s too late.)

Outsiders call them Asteroid Pirates. Members of the fleet refer to themselves as the Free Stones. Only some of its constituent ships engage in piracy. Others strictly work salvage, though the distinctions between these two trades can blur. At least half of the fleet engages in service activity, as the fleet operates with the economy of a small, star-roving settlement. Particular ships serve as shops, restaurants, spas, repair shops, or provide other goods and services. The pirates and salvagers trade their purloined/recovered goods with the rest of the sector, and spend that income on the fleet’s other ships.

Ships that operate as public businesses connect to one another by projecting tube-shaped forcefields between their airlocks. Customers can walk from ship to ship as they would through the streets of a planetside town. However the ships can change their relative configuration at any time, requiring frequent consultation of one’s communicator to find a specific destination. Some proprietors pay the owners of more popular establishments for the right to tube-lock with them, increasing their foot traffic. If you want to get to Van Gar’s Psychic Kinesiology Center, you have to walk through Hostius’ Knife Haus, and his blades are priced to go, go, go.

The fleet usually flies in a single-planar arrangement, as seen above. During an attack, the tube-locks disengage. The fleet reconfigures into a sphere, with the lesser armed service vessels protected in the middle and the higher-powered pirate and salvage vessels forming a protective zone around them. Together the fleet can muster more cannon power than a single warship, and strikes with a completely unpredictable fire pattern. Pilots maneuver and target independently of one another, with an unpredictability that challenges even the most experienced tactician.

As they say in the Bleed, anyone who claims to lead the Free Stones is lying, and any Free Stone who denies influence may well possess it. They claim to operate as an anarchic collective, coming to decisions by spontaneous gestalt. You may decide that this is true, or that an unofficial council of wealthy or accomplished captains exerts de facto leadership as needed.

Free Stones range in profile from disaffected ex-Combine officers to society-shunning oddballs to outright space scum. Between them, the hundreds of crew members of the asteroid fleet might have an answer to any question your player characters care to ask.

Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop. Ship plans appear in Accretion Disk.

In the latest episode of their elegant podcast, Ken and Robin talk unity in game design, the Trylon and Perisphere, Aldebaran vs. Betelgeuse, and the Battle of Blair Mountain.

In the latest episode of their well-circulated podcast, Ken and Robin talk scenario diagnostics, the Kent State massacre, choosing settings for The Yellow King, and Raimondo di Sangro’s anatomical machines.

In the latest episode of their immaculately pasteurized podcast, Ken and Robin talk playtesting, globe-trotting CIA operative Louise Page Morris, letting fiction go long, and germ theory denialism.

A scenario seed for The Gaean Reach


During their quest to find interstellar adversary Quandos Vorn, the revenge-seekers hear that he too is on the hunt. He seeks Gorsk, a former lieutenant who has stolen an item of experimental technology using a master plan Quandos Vorn himself formulated. As they follow Gorsk’s trail over a series of scenes, locations and interactions, the team discovers:

  • the site of the heist, a secret vault beneath the Pan Arts Museum on Alcydon, where Gorsk garroted a pair of curators
  • that the device has been sealed away for generations, to protect the Reach from what would otherwise have been its inevitable use
  • that it is known as the Godhood Array
  • that Gorsk traveled to the resort planet, Fluter, to kidnap Foringan Fost, the Reach’s foremost expert in the handling of the dangerous radioactive material Glimmerium
  • that Gorsk took him to a sector of the Reach permeated by waves from the EKS Quasar

When they reach the orbital research platform where Gorsk commanded Foringan Fost to activate the Godhood Array, they find that Vorn’s ex-factotum has been transformed into a quasi-divine stellar entity. In his tormented new semi-substantial form his distorted face hangs in the starfield, howling in existential agony. The Array subatomically transmigrated him into an omniscient but utterly powerless being. Like any sapient being, Gorsk the God finds this ironic state of existence infinitely painful.

He now understands the full truth: Quandos Vorn intended Gorsk to get the array, knowing he would use it, and suffer this awful fate for all eternity.

Gorsk the God offers the team knowledge of Quandos Vorn’s future whereabouts—provided they can figure out a way to destroy him, ending his misery. Can they trust him, or is he planning one last cosmic swindle?

The Gaean Reach and its Gazetteer are part of the Pelgrane Deep Cuts bundle until September 9th!

The Gaean Reach, the Roleplaying Game of Interstellar Vengeance, brings to your tabletop the legendary cycle of science fiction classics by the great Jack Vance. This ingenious hybrid fuses the investigative clarity of the GUMSHOE system with the lethal wit of the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game. Purchase The Gaean Reach in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In the latest episode of their wyrm-ducking podcast, Ken and Robin talk dragon apocalypses, the high-frequency trades of Carcosa, and the rest of Ken’s New England book raid.

In April a member of the Oita, Japan municipal assembly known as Skull Reaper A-ji sued for the right to wear his mask while conducting official business. A costumed wrestler by trade, he argued that it was discriminatory to prevent him from concealing his civilian identity while working his side gig as a local politician.

Such a suit could also occur in Mutant City Blues, where a small percentage of the enhanced bow to comic book tradition by operating under costumed identities. Given the police procedural structure of the game, that hook must surely lead to murder.

Let’s say that it’s our masked local official who winds up dead not long after his press conference announcing his suit. He hassled street criminals and sold merch as the burly, blustering King Lion, but now he’s been found with a bullet hole in him in his humble downtown apartment, rented under his real name, Leo Henderson.

The list of suspects the investigators assembles looks like this:

Ira Alvarado, a protester from the Neutral Parity League who disrupted King Lion’s press conference. Like all NPL members he stridently opposes anything he construes as special rights for the enhanced.

Margaret Becker, Henderson’s ex-wife, embroiled in a lawsuit over his attempt to break their prenuptial agreement and force the sale of their second home so he can take half the proceeds.

Lance Gordon, a fellow assembly member hoping to conceal his past as a drug dealer. King Lion knew all about that, having put a beating on him during an anti-drug vigilante patrol. Was he threatening blackmail?

Kelli Reeves, a freelance writer King Lion was threatening to sue, after she blamed him in print for a vigilante attack he had a solid alibi for.

Marcia Burton, formerly his crimebusting partner Queen Lion, who has suffered from uncontrollable rage after taking a bullet for him.

Abdul Melton, the super strong downstairs neighbor who began receiving threatening anonymous messages after refusing to become King Lion’s sidekick.

Darren Maki, whose husband shot himself after King Lion released a cellphone video of him as part of his crusade against the sex trade in his district.

It’s never the most obvious suspect in a police procedural, so Alvarado has a core clue to offer but didn’t do it. Pick the suspect you prefer or roll a die.

Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws 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.

In the latest episode of their reliable, well-secured podcast, Ken and Robin talk running for loose cannon characters, Bush Wars in Fall of DELTA GREEN, the Belle Époque Paris morgue, and Chicago’s floating clamshell baby.

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Previously in See Page XX, I laid out a two part sample outline for a Yellow King RPG: Paris series. By popular demand, I’m now going to do the same for the next of the game’s four sequences, The Wars. As before, this is a starter framework to show you how it might be done, not the only way to do it or a pattern to lock yourself into. Even if you start out following it in detail you’ll discover better ideas for your group when the players get involved and surprise you with their contributions to the emerging storyline.

This outline contains more episode ideas than you’ll likely need, allowing you to pick the hooks your players will most enjoy. Some make sense only if you already ran a Paris sequence for the same group. Others can be collapsed into one another, by mixing and matching subplots.


Start with an episode that leaves the squad to their own devices as they encounter a mystery that allows them to interact with other people. The village scenario, in which the soldiers protect, and then come to suspect, a tiny community on their side of the lines, fits this bill perfectly. Which is why “A Feast for Wolves,” the introductory scenario in the book, uses this pattern. Use that if your players haven’t run through it before, which they probably haven’t. When creating your own variation, start with the squad traveling to the site of the scenario, so that along the way you can introduce the hazards, technology, and background weirdness of the alternate world weird war.

Damned Peculiar

Devise the second scenario around one of the squad members’ Damned Peculiar Thing. The boredom of a routine mission turns to terror when one of these old fears comes roaring back to confront the group.

Does the photographer find ghosts in his recon photos? Time to track down some ghosts.

Does the lieutenant dream of walkers driven by corpses? Your scenario is about encountering undead enemies and learning how to deactivate them.

Does the former med student dream of a dead forest where the other PCs all lie blown to bits? The scenario starts with an awakening from that dream and then leads into that exact forest.

Creature Callback

The squad’s assignment to bring back photographs of an installation not far behind enemy lines escalates in difficulty when the players confront a monster their predecessors encountered in Paris, now repurposed as a weapon of war:

  • Murderous automatons recall the animated sculpture that escaped from the art students’ garret.
  • A unit of korrigan spies trains to use their hypnotic powers to lure enemy soldiers to their deaths.
  • Gargoyles have signed on as enemy shock troops.

Masterminding the creature cadre is a new secondary villain. You might bring back an ageless secondary villain from Paris, such as a vampire or Carcosan noble. Or introduce a new big bad who features in this sequence only. Like any recurring villain introduction, the squad learns about the new antagonist but has to execute flawlessly to permanently deal with them right off the bat. In which case, they deserve to win. Because how, oh how, will you ever think of another bad guy for them to fight instead?

Bunkered and/or Hunkered

The squad humps it to an isolated outpost to find out why the soldiers who are supposed to be holding it aren’t answering their boîtenoire. The site might be a pillbox, the remains of a medieval tower, or a literal bunker. When they get there they find blood spattered all around and plenty of signs of a hideous struggle. Rear echelon orders them to hold this eerie location. And then night falls, and the horrors of the dark woods come creeping out to do to them what it did to the last squad. It’s a haunted house scenario in camo gear, with the perfect reason not to flee the house—the squad has been ordered to stay. (In my own playtest game this was the scariest scenario of the sequence, hands down.)

Sinister Experiment

By this time the squad has pieced together enough of the events behind the events to realize that that strange squiggle against a yellow background signals bad news, and that anyone wearing a pallid mask may not have humanity’s best interests at heart. In this scenario they spot those marks of damnation around a friendly complex they’ve been assigned to protect. The sinister military experiment might be:

  • human brains transplanted into walkers
  • a super soldier serum synthesized from Carcosan blood
  • reality grenades that warp time, space, and reality.

Perhaps your secondary villain runs the experiment. Or maybe it’s time to reintroduce the king or one of his daughters, looking suave indeed in a medal-festooned general’s uniform.

How does the squad protect its own side from the moral and metaphysical doom that will surely result if this experiment reaches the battlefield?

Installation Attack

Follow up that moral quandary with a straightforward military mission to enter enemy territory and, as per the plot of countless war movies, take out a radio tower, munitions cache, or bridge. To get there they must fight or evade their way through enemy soldiers and creatures. Once there, a mystery surrounds the installation. Something unearthly is happening there. Maybe the target has gone missing entirely.

In another twist, the squad encounters a septuagenarian American, perhaps a once-famous artist or writer who pulled an Ambrose Bierce-style disappearance decades ago. Yes, it’s a PC from the first sequence, turned GMC, who is either incidentally present and in need of rescue, or has given in to Carcosa’s blandishments and now works to further global reality breakdown. Use the latter option only if you trust that the player will enjoy it. If the former PC has broken bad, allow a path that allows the present characters to redeem him. (In my game, the player’s new character shot the previous one summarily dead, and he wasn’t even up to anything. And much fun was had by all.}

Next month, the back half of this sequence outline for The Wars.

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

In the latest episode of their smoothly escalating podcast, Ken and Robin talk scenario preludes, the Frankokratia, third acts, and the Philadelphia Experiment.

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