GUMSHOE Rules Summary

GUMSHOE is a system for designing investigative roleplaying games and adventures, emulating stories where investigators uncover a series of clues, and interpret them to solve a mystery. In GUMSHOE, the players always get the clues they need to move the narrative forward.

Character Creation

In a GUMSHOE game, you create player characters (PCs) by choosing your character concept – the sort of mystery-solving character you want to play – and then spending build points to buy ratings in Investigative Abilities and General Abilities.

Investigative Abilities allow you to find the core clues your character needs to move forward in a mystery-solving narrative, and give occasional additional benefits.
General Abilities help you survive while you’re gathering information and solving problems.

Mystery Structure

Every GUMSHOE scenario begins with a crime, conspiracy, or other act of disorder committed by a group of antagonists. The PCs must figure out who did it and why, and put a stop to their activities. Game Masters (GMs) design a GUMSHOE adventure by creating the following:

  • An investigation trigger. This is the event that attracts the attention of investigators.
  • A sinister conspiracy. This sets out who the antagonists are, what they’ve done so far, what they’re trying to do, and how the investigation trigger fits into the overall scheme.
  • A trail of clues. Working backwards from the sinister conspiracy and their plans, the GM designs a trail of clues leading from the investigation trigger to an understanding of the sinister plot and its players, sufficient for the players to get to work destroying it.

Game Mechanics

In a GUMSHOE game, the PCs progress from scene to scene, interviewing people and using their Investigative Abilities to find core clues, which advance the story and help the players solve the mystery. If a scene contains a core clue and a player character uses an Investigative Ability relating to that clue, the character will find it.

Investigative Ability ratings also function as pools, from which players can spend 1 to 3 points to get additional clues, providing more information or other benefits about the situation. Investigative Ability pool points are refreshed between scenarios.

General Abilities are used when the outcome of an ability use is in doubt, like at dramatically important points in the story, or for tasks of exceptional difficulty. For these tests, GUMSHOE uses a six-sided die, which is rolled against a Difficulty – usually 4, although it can be modified from 2 to 8 depending on how hard the GM thinks the task is. If the die roll is equal to or higher than the Difficulty, the PC has succeeded in her action.

A player can spend as much of their General Ability pool on a die roll as they want – each point spent adds 1 to the roll. General Abilities pools are refreshed between scenarios, and sometimes during play.

GenCon’s come and gone, and we picked up a pleasing number of new GUMSHOE customers. Some of them came to the booth with something in mind (“do you guys do that Dracula game?” or “hey, is that the two-player Cthulhu game?” or even “hey, is this the Green Ronin booth?”), but others wanted to try GUMSHOE, but didn’t know which was the right game for them. Here, then, is a breakdown of all the GUMSHOE games currently available.

(Some caveats. I’m only covering core available GUMSHOE games in this article; forthcoming releases like The Yellow King, Swords of the Serpentine or Tales of the Quaesitors may get added later, along with edge cases like Lorefinder or GUMSHOE One2One games. In cases where there are multiple editions, I’m only covering the most recent iteration.)

 

The number of investigative and general abilities is a good shorthand for how complex the game tends to be. A lot of investigative abilities indicates a granular, technical approach to gathering clues and solving mysteries; a smaller number of abilities suggests a looser style of play. As a rough guide:

Simpler GUMSHOE: Fear Itself, Timewatch

Average GUMSHOE: Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu, Fall of Delta Green

Detailed GUMSHOE: Mutant City Blues, Ashen Stars, Night’s Black Agents

(Bearing in mind that even a complex GUMSHOE game is still rules-light by most standards. Oh, and Fall of Delta Green’s rules are a hybrid of Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents, so it’s on the crunchy side of average.)

 

To break things down by genre, the correlation between horror and investigative games is evident:

Horror Games: Esoterrorists, Fear Itself, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Fall of Delta Green

Sci-Fi: Ashen Stars, Timewatch

Superhero Cops: Mutant City Blues

 

Another way to subdivide GUMSHOE games is to look at what an investigative spend gets you; some GUMSHOE iterations are more generous to the players, letting them add story elements, create non-player characters, and empowering them to come up with unexpected solutions to problems. Other GUMSHOE games seek to preserve the challenge of investigation, and so only give added information or limited fringe benefits when a player makes a spend. To put them on a spectrum…

Constrained Spends: Esoterrorists, Fear itself, Trail of Cthulhu, Mutant City Blues

Empowered Spends: Night’s Black Agents, Ashen Stars, Timewatch, Fall of Delta Green

 

Some GUMSHOE settings emphasise individual mysteries, resolved in a single game night or two. Others are all about the long game. If you often have players dropping in and out of your game nights, or if you’re committed to an in-depth campaign like The Dracula Dossier, pick your GUMSHOE flavour to suit. (Of course, any GUMSHOE game works for either a one-shot or a long campaign. You can play a Night’s Black Agents one-shot, or a long Esoterrorists campaign like Worldbreaker.)

Mystery-of-the-Week: Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Timewatch, Mutant City Blues

Either Works: Trail of Cthulhu, Fear itself, Fall of Delta Green

Long Campaigns Preferred: Night’s Black Agents

 

Esoterrorists

You are elite investigators combating the plots of the Esoterrorists, a loose affiliation of occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world.

Who are the player characters? You play members of the Ordo Veritatis, a secret organisation with the tacit background of the authorities that counters the machinations of the occult terrorists and their inhuman masters beyond the walls of reality.

What do they do in play? Investigate mysteries and thwart the Esoterrorists, then cover up the aftermath. The Esoterrorists use human suffering, surreal horror, engineered paranoia, and summoned monsters to attack humanity’s collective hold on order and sanity. There’s an emphasis on forensics, psychology, monsters born of urban horror and social decay, and chaos. You can rip Esoterror plots right from the headlines, especially these days – Esoterrorists got killer clowns, fake news, bizarre conspiracies and a sense that the world’s spinning out of control.

Quick Pitch: The X-Files if the aliens are the darkest parts of the human psyche

Mechanics: 40 Investigative, (16 Academic, 11 Interpersonal, 13 Technical), 13 General. The optional Esoterrorist Factbook supplement adds expanded combat rules.

It’s set in the same horrific cosmology as Fear Itself; both games are threatened by the Outer Dark, a dimension of horrors who seek to break through into our reality.

Play Esoterrorists if:

  • You want modern day horror, but want to avoid the familiar tropes of the Cthulhu Mythos or vampires
  • You want an episodic, mystery-of-the-week game that’s focussed on the investigations, not the investigators
  • You want the cleanest, purest GUMSHOE experience

Find out more about the Esoterrorists

Fear Itself

Fear itself plunges ordinary people into a disturbing contemporary world of madness and violence —and inexorably draws them into confrontation with creatures of the Outer Dark, a realm of alien menace. GMs can re-create all the shudders and shocks of the horror genre at their table, whether they use the game’s distinctive mythology or one of their own choosing.

Who are the player characters? Ordinary people; in a one-shot, you might play horror-movie stereotypes and cliches. In a longer game, the characters can be more rounded and connected to the setting.

What do they do in play? Try to survive when they run into horrible monsters. Investigate to find a way to kill or escape the monsters, or to find out why they’re being targeted by these horrors. The 2nd edition’s designed to use different rules and assumptions for one-shots, short campaigns and long campaigns, reflecting the different approaches needed for keeping a group of ordinary people involved in ongoing mysteries.

Quick Pitch: The biggest mystery isn’t “what’s going on”, it’s “how do we get out of here alive!?”

Mechanics: 26 Investigative, (8 Academic, 11 Interpersonal, 7 Technical), 15 General

Play Fear Itself if:

  • You want to play ordinary people, or to emulate slasher horror movies
  • You think running away and hiding is as much fun as shooting and fighting
  • You specifically want a one-shot or short campaign
  • You want to tinker under the hood and customise the rules to the players

Find out more about Fear Itself

 

Trail of Cthulhu

You have to keep the doors to the Outside from swinging open – no matter what the cost in life or sanity. You have to piece together clues from books bound in human skin, from eviscerated corpses covered in ichor, and from inscriptions carved on walls built before humanity evolved. You have to go wherever the answers are, and do what needs to be done to protect humanity. But do you dare to follow … the trail of Cthulhu?

Who are the player characters? Lovecraftian investigators, delving into the mysteries of the Cthulhu Mythos.

What do they do in play? The investigators uncover cosmic horrors and try not to go insane. Trail of Cthulhu’s become known for its innovative campaigns, like Eternal Lies, Bookhounds of London, Dreamhounds of Paris, Cthulhu Apocalypse and The Armitage Files. 

Quick Pitch: Ken Hite’s Call of Cthulhu using GUMSHOE

Mechanics: 38 Investiga(17 Academic, 11 Interpersonal, 10 Technical), 24 General

Play Trail of Cthulhu if:

  • You want the Lovecraftian investigator experience filtered through GUMSHOE
  • You want to play in the dark decade of the 1930s
  • You want lots of support material and prewritten adventures

Find out more about Trail of Cthulhu

 

Mutant City Blues

Ever since the Sudden Mutation Event, people have been able to fly. Phase through walls. Read minds. Shoot bolts of energy from their fingertips. Walk into dreams. As members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit, you and your fellow detectives solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. When a mutant power is used to kill, you catch the case. When it’s a mutant victim in the chalk outline, you get the call. And when it comes time for a fight, you deploy your own extraordinary abilities to even the odds.

Who are the player characters? Police officers assigned to the city’s mutant desk. You can either play super-powered cops, or baseline officers who make up for their lack of mutant powers with their investigative abilities and elite training.

What do they do in play? Solve crimes that involve mutant powers. A key element of investigations is the Quade diagram, a forensic tool that lets the investigators predict what powers a suspect might possess, and the personality quirks associated with those powers. Many adventures involve defusing or deflecting tensions between mutants and non-mutants.

Quick Pitch: Procedural cop show with superpowers!

Mechanics: 40 Investigative, (14 Academic, 12 Interpersonal, 14 Technical), 13 General. In addition, player characters may have mutant powers; there are 15 Investigative powers and nearly 100 General powers, but no player character will have more than a handful of these.

Play Mutant City Blues if:

  • You want to play police officers in the modern day
  • You want to build and explore your own urban setting
  • You want super-powers!

Find out more about Mutant City Blues

 

Ashen Stars

Out here in the Bleed, you’re the closest thing there is to a higher authority. You’re Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators —”lasers” for short. You’re the seasoned freelancers that local leaders call whenever a situation is too tough, too baffling, or simply too weird for them to handle. It’s a dirty job, but it pays. And sometimes, you get to make a difference.

Who are the player characters? You play Lasers – freelance space cops – hired to keep the peace after the interstellar government was forced to retreat in the wake of a catastrophic war.

What do they do in play? Each mission begins with a contract to solve some problem or investigate some crime. Your crew of Lasers has to use their investigative abilities and high-tech gadgets to navigate the dangers and save the day.

Quick Pitch: Imagine an earnest, slightly goofy, post-Star Trek 1970s space cops show – this is the gritty nuBattlestar Galactica reboot of it set in the same universe.

Mechanics: 46 Investigative, (18 Academic, 13 Interpersonal, 15 Technical), 21 General (plus some species-specific abilities). In addition, Ashen Stars has a wealth of special equipment (cyberware, biotech, gadgets), as well as rules for spaceships and naval combat.

Play Ashen Stars if:

  • You want to play in a planet-of-the-week investigative space opera campaign set in a universe that’s both new and reminiscent of classic sci-fi tropes
  • You want spaceships, alien bugs, psychic powers and mysterious ancient civilisation

Find out more about Ashen Stars

 

Night’s Black Agents

You were a shadowy soldier in those fights, trained to move through the secret world: deniable and deadly.

Then you got out, or you got shut out, or you got burned out. You didn’t come in from the cold. Instead, you found your own entrances into Europe’s clandestine networks of power and crime. You did a few ops, and you asked even fewer questions. Who gave you that job in Prague? Who paid for your silence in that Swiss account? You told yourself it didn’t matter.

It turned out to matter a lot. Because it turned out you were working for vampires.

Vampires exist. What can they do? Who do they own? Where is safe? You don’t know those answers yet. So you’d better start asking questions. You have to trace the bloodsuckers’ operations, penetrate their networks, follow their trail, and target their weak points. Because if you don’t hunt them, they will hunt you. And they will kill you.

Or worse.

Who are the player characters? Burned spies, former criminals, and other high-skilled denizens of the clandestine world

What do they do in play? Investigate criminal conspiracies run by vampires and their minions; hunt down monsters and beat up bad guys until clues fall out.

Quick Pitch: Jason Bourne vs Dracula

Mechanics: 39 Investigative abilities, (14 Academic, 12 Interpersonal, 13 Technical), 21 General abilities. In addition, Night’s Black Agents has expanded combat and action rules for car chases and other spy thriller elements, and rules for building vampires, mapping conspiracies, tracking the bad guys’ responses to the players’ actions, and more!

Play Night’s Black Agents if:

  • You want a game built around taking down a whole network of bad guys – you fight your way up the Conspyramid, from low-level street goons to the vampire overlords who run the world from behind the scenes
  • You want to play bad-ass burned spies with the skills to match
  • You want to play in the modern day and fight more traditional monsters than the weird urban horrors of the Outer Dark

Find out more about Night’s Black Agents

 

Timewatch

Your band of TimeWatch agents defend the timestream from radioactive cockroaches, psychic velociraptors, and human meddlers. Go back in time to help yourself in a fight, thwart your foes by targeting their ancestors, or gain a vital clue by checking a scroll out from the Library of Alexandria. But watch out for paradoxes that may erase you from existence… or worse.

Who are the player characters? Timewatch agents – individuals plucked from across all of history (and a few alternate timelines) by the mysterious Timewatch organisation. You defend history from meddling and paradoxes.

What do they do in play? Cope with thoroughly weird foes and situations, and overcome challenges with lateral thinking and time travel.

Quick Pitch: History is written by the people with the time machines!

Mechanics: 26 Investigative Abilities, (9 Academic, 9 Interpersonal, 8 Technical), 13 General Abilities.

Play Timewatch if:

  • You want a fast-moving, improv-friendly game that’s a playground for player creativity
  • You want a weird, mismatched, entertaining group of player characters drawn from across time and space
  • You can’t decide which historical period you want to play in, so you’ve gone for ‘all of them’.

Find out more about Timewatch

 

Fall of Delta Green

As part of the Top Secret DELTA GREEN program within the United States national security apparatus, your Agents fight the horrors of the Mythos. Set in the 1960s, this game traces the history of DELTA GREEN’s original incarnation – before its disastrous fall from grace in the jungles of Vietnam. 

Who are the player characters? DELTA GREEN recruits its Agents primary from the military, law enforcement and intelligence communities. Most characters are former or serving military, and must balance their official duties, their secret work for DELTA GREEN, and their own personal lives to stay sane.

What do they do in play? Investigate and destroy unimaginable alien threats  – by any means necessary, and at any cost.

Quick Pitch: Apocalypse Now meets the Mythos or True Detective in 1968.

Mechanics: 39 Investigative Abilities, (13 Academic, 11 Interpersonal, 14 Technical), 19 General Abilities.

Play Fall of Delta Green if:

  • You want games that draw on the wealth of historical resources and weirdness associated with the turbulent ’60s.
  • You want a Cthulhu Mythos game where the player characters are part of an organisation
  • You want to watch your characters to spiral down into despair, madness or self-destruction.

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SaveSave

Since the first outbreak in 1905, the city of Great Arkham has struggled to contain the spread of an unusually virulent and dangerous form of typhoid. All vehicles leaving the city must be inspected by the transport police. These officers wear heavy gas masks and protective clothing to minimise their exposure to the toxic disinfectant sprays they use; they have the authority to detain anyone they deem to show symptoms of infection. Take a train to Boston, and you’ll see those masked figures swarming outside the carriage, spraying the underside and searching for vagrants who try to hop the train. Drive out of the city, and you’ll find every road blocked by transport police inspection points.

More and more, the transport police can be seen in the city proper, too. They appear suddenly, as if materialising, cordoning off buildings or neighbourhoods and marking them as infected by painting a yellow warning sign on a wall. They’re also used to put down riots and disturbances, spraying crowds with caustic chemicals to disperse gangs of troublemakers.

Obviously, all this is a transparent tissue of lies. Whatever the mysterious disease is (assuming it exists), it bears no resemblance to actual salmonella enterica infection, the ‘symptoms’ are justification for the police to arrest anyone they wish (like your investigators), and they use the excuse of ‘quarantine’ to section off parts of the city that the authorities wish to temporarily remove.

So, how best to use these sinister enforcers in your Cthulhu City games?

No Escape

The transport police aren’t the only way to stop the investigators leaving the city, but they’re the most blatant and mundane expression of the city’s desire to keep its prisoners trapped. The transport police can shut down railways (“sorry, madam, tonight’s express to Boston is cancelled. Come back tomorrow… or maybe the day after…”), block roads, arrest hitchhikers, and hunt runaways across the countryside with masked dog-things and flashlights if the investigators try fleeing through Billington’s Woods or the marshes south of the city.

Investigators trying to escape the city’s clutches need to find ways to evade the police. They must identify the neighbours and so-called friends who are informing on them to the authorities; they must find ways to move across the city without being spotted by transport police surveillance; they need to cultivate contacts and spies of their own who can warn them about police activity.

It’s possible to get past the transport police. They’re not infallible; they’re just the first set of jailers. Beyond them are other, stranger prison walls.

No Evidence

The transport police swoop in to erase evidence of the Mythos. If a mindless god-thing lazily reaches out a tentacle and scoops up a tenement block in the middle of the night, then the transport police will be there by dawn, telling people to stay away from the ‘typhoid outbreak’ and ordering journalists to report on the tragic gas main explosion. Investigators trying to plumb the mysteries of Cthulhu City and discover what’s really going on need to act quickly to find clues before the transport police disinfect them away.

Similarly, if they wait too long, the transport police intimidate (or disappear) vital witnesses. (The transport police rarely speak, but they loom very effectively in the background while a regular Arkham Police officer or other emissary of the authorities explains why it’s a bad idea to talk openly about what happened…)

No Place To Hide

Several powerful Mythos cults vie for control of the city; they have their agents and minions conspiring in the corridors of power, and have carved up Great Arkham between them. Other cults and factions are on the outside, and get suppressed and attacked by the transport police. The Armitage Inquiry was shut down when the transport police raided Miskatonic. Similarly, the Yithian-worshipping Pnakothic cult is treated as a criminal group. Transport police raid the homes and businesses of Yithian agents; they erase any Yithian technology or relics they find.

The transport police, therefore, are a very visible barometer of which cults are in the ascendance and which are losing influence in Great Arkham. When the Gilman House political machine collapsed, the transport police suddenly showed up in Innsmouth in huge numbers, impounding ships and quarantining buildings near the river. So, if the investigators see the transport police sweeping the wooded isle and the old Witch House, they might guess that the Witch Coven has fallen from grace. On the other hand, if the police raid Miskatonic’s medical department and St. Mary’s hospital, then they might discover that the city’s cracking down on the Halsey Fraternity.

Of course, if the investigators become powerful and influential enough to warrant it, they’ll be targeted by the city’s secret police too.

No Truth

What if there really is an epidemic? What if the transport police really are trying to contain a threat – not typhoid, but something far more bizarre and alien? If the investigators bring down the transport police (say, by blowing up the Chemical Works at Salamander Fields, or police headquarters in Fort Hutchison), what new horror might they set free? A mi-go fungal infestation that consumes the whole city in alien growths? Primal tissue of Ubbo-Sathla, swelling up from the sewers? The Black Blood of Yibb-Tstll?

Or maybe the disinfectant spray is actually a hallucinogen that creates visions of the ‘real’ world? Perhaps Boston and Salem and all the world outside Great Arkham is born of visions breathed into the nostrils of would-be travellers, who only dreamt they left the city…

SaveSave

Cthulhu Confidential and other upcoming One-2-One games recommend using physical cards (or the digital equivalent) in play. Giving a player something to hold onto has several benefits.

  • It’s a reminder. In a multiplayer game, key plot elements get discussed endlessly at the game as players speculate about what’s going on, how they rid themselves of troubles, and how they can take advantage of items or favour acquired. In a solo game, especially a plot-heavily Confidential scenario, it’s good to give the player plenty of reminders of important discoveries and ongoing problems.
  • It’s a call to action. Having “Bleeding Internally” or “Mickey Don’t Like You” weighing down your hand motivates you to look for ways to counter those pesky problems. Similarly, if you’ve got “Charlie Chaplin Owes You” or a “Spare Bomb”, then you’ll itch for ways to play them to your advantage.
  • It’s satisfying. There’s something undeniable fun about handling physical cards, as opposed to scribbling notes on a character sheet. And as there’s only one player, it’s viable to have lots of highly specific cards.

Every published One-2-One scenario includes plenty of Problem and Edge cards, covering every likely eventually – but what about unlikely ones, when the player goes “off-piste”? How to improvise cards on the fly?

Have a bunch of blank cards (index cards are fine) to hand. When you need to write a card on the fly, quickly think about ways to connect it to future events in the scenario. A problem like “Fear of the Dark” is only interesting if there’s a scene later on where the player has to go into a dark place. An Edge like “Colt .45” is only relevant if there’s a good chance of a shootout.

The best Problems are the ones that push the player in interesting directions in the story, or anticipate future dangers. A “Bleeding Neck Wound” that gives the player a penalty is fun, but “Vampire Bite” that doesn’t give a penalty, but hints at a psychic threat can be much more interesting. At the same time, you want a few cards with clear mechanical benefits or penalties for variety, to avoid overloading the player with possibilities.

Edges without a defined benefit leave things open to player input. “Colt .45” obviously benefits Fighting, but “Got The Drop On Them” could be construed as a bonus to anything from Stealth to Shadowing to Fighting, or a Push to Streetwise or Intimidation, to a story benefit where the player gets to arrive at just the right moment to put the bad guys at a disadvantage. Working out what a card actually does when it’s played keeps options open – just stay away from Edges that give the player too much leverage over key figures in the adventure. “Charlie Chaplin owes you” is great; “The Cult Leader owes you” risks derailing your plot again. (And if you’re running a game where Chaplin’s the cult leader, I want to play).  

As a quick list of options:

 Edges

  • A bonus (say, +1 or +2) to a single Challenge
  • A bonus to multiple Challenges, either when a particular condition is met (+2 when sneaking around Budapest) or for a limited time (+2 to your next two Fighting challenges)
  • A bonus to an entire category of General Abilities (Physical, Mental, Manual)
  • A free die on a Challenge (and remember, if the player has any dice left over, he gets a free Push)
  • A free Push in a particular situation (“You know this city like the back of your hand. Discard this Edge for a free Push of Architecture, Cop Talk, or Streetwise while in Prague.”)
  • A free Push when dealing with a particular character or faction
  • A free Push for a particular type of Investigative Ability, usually Interpersonal
  • The ability to Counter a type of Problem
  • A general description of some advantage, giving the player scope for creativity (“The priest blessed you.)

Problems

Injuries: Injuries are a special category of Problem, so include the Injury keyword on any Injury cards. Some abilities (like Medic) give the ability to counter Injuries quickly.

Most injuries give a -1 or -2 penalty to Physical tests; injuries that specifically impede hand-eye Co-ordination might penalise Manual tasks instead.

In GUMSHOE One-2-one, the player doesn’t have ‘hit points’ or a Health score. The penalties from injury cards may stack, but a player may hold any number of injury cards and keep going. Injury only threatens death if the injury card specifically says this (see Dooms, below.).

Light injuries might only last for a scene, or for a few scenes (usually, three scenes, or three Challenges of a particular type), or be automatically Countered when the player Takes Time. More serious injuries might explicitly require the player to Take Time to Counter them, require medical treatment, or both.

Penalties: Penalties make it harder for the player to succeed in tests. Penalties are usually -1 or -2; go to -3 or -4 if you really want to emphasise the adversity and give the player little hope of success without Countering the problem. Penalties apply to one (or more!) of the categories of General Ability:

    • Physical: Most injuries penalise physical abilities; it’s hard to run, climb or fight when you’re been hurt. Drugs or restraints (manacles) also impair physical ability tests.
    • Manual: Injuries to the hands or eyes are the usual cause of manual ability penalties.
    • Mental: Shock, mental trauma, emotional distress or exhaustion can hit mental abilities

Levies: Levies require the player to spend an extra Push in a particular situation. Usually, this refers to Interpersonal pushes and applies to a particular individual or group – if Dr. Tollen doesn’t trust you, you might have to spend an extra Push when trying to persuade her with Reassurance to let you see her notes on blood diseases. Levies can apply to any investigative ability, though – for example, if Cryptography is needed to decode an ancient book, then if the book gets damaged, it could impose a Cryptography levy to get the information.

Blocks: Blocking Problems prevent the player from taking a particular action until the Problem’s resolved. They can be nuisances that prevent the player from tackling bigger issues, like an Injury card (“Blood in your eyes”) that gives no penalty to tests, but has to be Countered before any other injuries can be removed. They can be more serious complications that restrict the player’s actions – for example, if the player’s been disarmed, then she can’t make Shooting tests until she obtains a gun.

Dooms: Doom Problems shape the ending of the story, usually in a negative way. If the player’s still holding the card at the end of the operation, bad things happen. Dooms can result in death (“you’ve been poisoned – if you haven’t found a cure by the end of the adventure, you’re dead”) or other terrible consequences (“The cult has kidnapped Lenny, and will sacrifice him to Cthulhu unless you stop them”). Dooms should always describe how to Counter them.

 

 

 

One of the suggested campaign frames in Cthulhu City casts the investigators as journalists on Newspaper Row, working for one of Great Arkham’s competing newspapers. Let’s borrow a page (yellowed, and a little stained) from Bookhounds of London and look at the mechanics of playing a journalist.

Newspaper Credit Rating

Each newspaper has a Credit Rating of its own, reflecting both its financial status and its reputation in the city. Investigators working for a newspaper can draw on that Credit Rating by showing the proper credentials – but if they abuse this power by staining the newspaper’s reputation, they’ll face the editor’s wrath. Saying you’re from the Advertiser might get you past the police cordon into the murder scene, but that doesn’t mean you can start poking at the corpse without permission or stealing evidence.

Arkham Advertiser – 10

Arkham Gazette – 8

Arkham Cryer -5

Worker’s Voice – 3  

Dunwich Chronicle – 3

Kingsport Messenger – 4

This Credit Rating is a shared pool among all the investigators. It refreshes at the start of a new investigation, minus the cost of any ongoing investigations (see below).

Research Resources

A newspaper’s Credit Rating pool can also be spent as any of the following investigative abilities, or on Preparedness, reflecting access to the newspaper morgue, regular sources, on-staff experts and expense accounts.

Accounting, Art History, History, Law, Library Use, Cop Talk, Art, Forensics, Photography.

I’m Working On A Story

At the start of the game, and at the start of any investigation, the players can roll a number of d6. Each die represents a story that the newspaper’s working on. These stories aren’t necessarily related to the Mythos – the vast majority are going to be the usual political scandals, news reports, human-interest stories and so on. The players can leave these stories as abstract bundles of points, or describe them as they wish (“I’m working on a piece about survivors of the city orphanage”).

Each die costs 1 point of Newspaper Credit Rating, and this point doesn’t refresh until the story’s published or killed.

The roll of the die determines the size of the story – that’s how many investigative ability points need to be spent to finish the story. So, if a player rolls a 5, then the players as a group need to spend five Investigative points from their pools to finish that story.

These points are spent during downtime between investigations, but before investigative pools refresh. Therefore, the players only get to spent the points that are left over after the adventurous, Mythos-fighting part of the game. (The one exception, of course, is where a Mythos investigation crosses over with a newspaper story. In this case, any points spent in the course of the Mythos investigation count towards completing the story, but the story is now Tainted).

The standard journalistic abilities are: Cop Talk, Evidence Collection, Languages, Oral History, Photography, Assess Honesty, Reassurance and any one District Knowledge related to the story.

Other investigative abilities might work, as long as the player can justify the more obscure choices with a plausible story. (“This is a story about politics in the University District, but of course that’ll spill over into City Hall, so I’ll spend some points of Sentinel Hill Knowledge.)

At any point during the game, a player may convert two points from an ongoing story into a pool of any Investigative Ability (including District Knowledges), representing a contact or fact discovered in the course of a journalistic investigation becoming suddenly relevant to a different Mythos mystery (“I’ve been writing an expose about tenements in Westheath, so I’ll trade two points of that story into a point of Streetwise so we can track down the thief who stole that grimoire.”).

Publish or Be Damned

During downtime between adventures, the players may look to publish any story they’ve completed (i.e. they’ve allocated as many leftover Investigative Ability points to that story as the story’s size).

For each unfinished story, roll a d6. On a 1, it’s Scooped and the story’s lost.

For each possibly-ready story, roll a d6.

1: Scooped! Some rival newspaper got there first! The story’s lost!

2-5: More investigation is needed. Add the value of the roll to the story’s size.

6: Print it!

Players may spend investigative abilities to boost the roll (Art to improve the prose of the piece; Flattery to convince a suspicious editor etc). However, a natural roll of a 1 is always a Scoop by a rival, regardless of point spends.

If a story is Tainted by the Mythos, apply a penalty of the Keeper’s choice to the roll. (-1 or -2 for a vague hint of the supernatural, -3 or -4 if there’s no rational explanation, -5 or -6 if publishing the story as is would anger the city authorities. If this penalty drops the result to 0 or less, the publisher kills the story.

The players may also choose to drop a story – remember, each active story costs a point of Newspaper Credit Rating to maintain. Players may also hold a story back, but if they do so, the chance of being Scooped rises by 2 per downtime (so, Scooped on a 1-3, then Scooped on a 1-5, then automatically Scooped after three downtimes.)

Feed The Beast

A newspaper needs to publish stories of a total size equal to at least half its Credit Rating to maintain that rating. So, if a newspaper has a Credit Rating of 10, it needs to publish at least 5 points worth of news each downtime. If it fails to do so, drop its Credit Rating by 1.

If a newspaper published a single story with a size greater than its Credit Rating, its Credit Rating increases by 1. A newspaper’s Credit Rating can only rise or fall by 1 point per downtime. So, the investigators need to have a mix of stories: short, easily-publishable pieces that pay the bills and feed the beast, and maybe one or two big, prestigious stories to build the paper’s reputation.

Just pray they don’t get Scooped before you’re ready to go to print…

An Example

The players are all working for the Arkham Herald (Credit Rating 5). At the start of the game, they agree they’ll have 3 ongoing stories, leaving them with 2 points of Newspaper Credit Rating to spend during the game on research resources or as actual Credit Rating.

They roll a d6 for each story, and get a 6, a 4 and a 2.

After their Mythos investigation, they can work on these stories with left-over investigative points. Between them, they’ve got 10 points of suitable points to spend, so they fill up the Size-6 and Size-2 stories, and put the remaining 2 points into the Size-5 piece.

Now, they roll to publish. For the Size 2, the Keeper rolls a 1 – it’s been Scooped! The points are lost.

For the Size 6, they roll a 5 – to get that story over the line, they’ll need to double-check everything and make it a huge Size 11 piece. That level of journalistic diligence might fly over at the more prestigious Advertiser, but this is the Cryer, and they’ve got bills to pay! The players spend a point of Flattery on their editor, turning the 5 into a 6 – they convince him that even if they can’t back everything up, there’s still enough there for a front page piece. The harried editor relents, and the Size-6 story gets published. As its Size is bigger than the Cryer’s Credit Rating, it enhances the newspaper’s reputation, bringing its Credit Rating to a respectable 6.

The Keeper also rolls for the unfinished story. He doesn’t get a 1, so it’s not Scooped.
At the start of the next investigation, they’ve still got that size-5 story with 2 points allocated to it. They can keep following this story, or maybe spend those 2 points in the course of their next Mythos investigation.

 

 

 

 

The Armitage Files is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking adventure of improvised Mythos investigation.

Cthulhu Confidential is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking game of solo Mythos investigation.

Putting two groundbreaking products together is hazardous for Gamemasters. You run the risk of collapsing the ground beneath you.

However, the risk can be worth it: improvised play supports the deep investigative dives of one-on-one play.

Improvising On The Run

In a Trail of Cthulhu game using the Armitage Files, the Keeper can take advantage of the times when the players are arguing or speculating amongst themselves to plan ahead and decide on what the players might find when they follow the next clue. While the players argue whether or not they can trust Austin Kittrell, the Keeper feverishly reads over the Sinister and Stalwart versions of the Kingsport Yacht Club that Kittrell mentioned and decides which incarnation the players will encounter.

There are few such downtimes in one-on-one play. You can stall the player by giving them a handout such as a new Armitage Letter, but mostly the game will be relentless investigation and action. (There’s a reason that Cthulhu Confidential scenarios tend to be longer and more intricate than regular Trail games.) The best approach is to study the Armitage Files material thoroughly in advance, internalising it as much as possible so you can decide on the fly to connect the Yacht Club to the Nophru-Ka Panel, which of course means a visit to the Anthropologist and he can see invisible horrors clinging to the investigator which means you’ll need to set up an invisible horror encounter before the player gets there…

Sketch out potential plots and connections in advance. Identify (or ask your player) which clues are most likely to come up in the next session, work out two or three follow-ons from each clue and then pick the most appropriate one in response to player decisions. It’s a gamemastering high-wire act.

Where possible, bend the plot around the protagonist. The Armitage Files includes several handouts that reference player characters by name (Document 3, Document 4, Document 6, Document 9) – but is otherwise light on personal connections to the investigators. After all, in a regular Trail of Cthulhu campaign, there’s every chance that one or more investigators will perish before the end. That’s not the case in Cthulhu Confidential, so take advantage of the protagonist’s privileged status to ensure that the mystery revolves around them. (For those fill-in-an-investigator’s-name gaps in the handouts, put the investigator’s name in one of them and fill the others with Sources and compelling GMCs.)

Look For Solid Ground

Cthulhu Confidential uses cards to track Problems and Edges and to give detail and texture to the character’s experiences. Instead of just losing four Health, the investigator might have been Clawed by a Deep One or Punched by Butcher Brown or Fell Down A Hole – each of which causes an injury, but has different consequences and solutions. In a regular scenario, these cards can be designed in advance because the GM knows the likely encounters lying ahead. In an improvised campaign, this approach is reversed –  design the cards, and then improvise encounters that lead to those cards. For example, if you’ve prepared the Fell Down A Hole problem or the Mob Tie edges, then look for ways to push the protagonist into a pit or get a favour from a mobster. Prepare a stack of Problems and Edges in advance and look for ways to bring them in (start with the Mythos Problems articles by Robin, as well as the Generic Edges and Problems in the Cthulhu Confidential appendix and build from there.)

Of course, improvised games always include unexpected events, so have a stack of blank cards to hand that you can fill in when warranted. Mark important plot twists and consequences by turning them into Problems and Edges.

For Problem cards, include specific ways to remove each Problem. For Edge cards, note exactly what benefit it gives and when it can be cashed in. Be as concrete as possible – if that Mob Ties edge gives you a bonus when dealing with mobsters, then that’s a prompt for the Gamemaster to include some mobsters to justify the Edge’s existence. (Improv thrives on constraints and prompts.)

Problems and Edges usually arise as a result of challenges; have a copy of the Challenge Difficulty table on p. 45 of Cthulhu Confidential to hand while running the game.

The Armitage Sources

The various academics and scholars in the Armitage Inquiry make excellent sources for most topics. Between them, they cover virtually every academic investigative ability imaginable, with non-academic assistance provided by the redoubtable Mrs. Pickman and Dr. Sprague. With so many professional abilities available through sources, the obvious route for the protagonist is to concentrate on practical investigative abilities like Streetwise and Evidence (although any of the usual Cthulhu Confidential protagonists could be used in an Armitage Files campaign by transplanting them to Arkham country.)

Dreadful Correlation

To reiterate – running an improvised One-2-One game isn’t easy. Don’t pick up the Armitage Files and assume that you’re good to go. In a conventional improvised campaign with multiple players, the Keeper has a whole group to riff off and steal ideas from. Here, it’s just you and one player, alone in a whirlwind of possibilities. Running this sort of game will be tough and exhausting – but it will also be a genuinely terrifying experience for one lucky player.

 

03-ashen-starscoverThere are a lot of books in the pipeline right now, but none of them are quite cooked yet, so here’s a little bit of whimsy before the cannon of self-promotion is brought to bear on this space. As you know, Bob, Icons are a lovely little mechanic from 13th Age that model the player characters’ relationships with various powerful individuals/factions – the Archmage, the Emperor, the Lich King and so forth. (There’ll be lots of new – or rather, old – Icons in the upcoming Book of Ages, but I said I’d save the self-promotion).

We’ve adapted Icons to other GUMSHOE games before – here’s Ken talking about Icons in Night’s Black Agents, and in the Dracula Dossier, and in Trail of Cthulhu, and now that I think about it I should really do a set for Cthulhu City (more self-promotion – for shame!). They work especially well, though, in the wild and vasty space of the Bleed in Ashen Stars.

Quick rules reminder. Each player gets three Relationship dice to allocate among the Icons. Relationships can be positive, negative or conflicted. At the start of each session, everyone rolls their Icon Relationships (d6s); a 6 indicates that that Icon is going to get worked into the adventure somehow in a way that benefits the player, and a 5 means that things are complicated and messy. And, given this is Ashen Stars, a spend from an appropriate Investigative Ability like Cybe Culture gives a re-roll for the matching relationship.

Rasal, The Practitioner

Coordinator of the Combine’s reconstruction and redevelopment projects, Rasal embodies the distant, technocratic civilisation in its efforts to reclaim the Bleed. Rasal makes little effort to hide his distaste for the rough, chaotic region, and makes as many trips back to the safety of the Proper as he can. Whenever he returns, though, he brings vast resources – both financial and technological – to help solve the problems of these war-torn stars.

Allies: The Viceroy, the Princess in Exile, the Merchant       

Enemies: The Rebel, The Transer

Judy Coyle, The Viceroy

The commander of Ossa One, the Special Legate to the Far Settlements is in charge of keeping law and order in the Bleed. She’s responsible for licensing Laser crews, as well as commanding the Combine naval forces in the region. Coyle must balance her loyalty to her distant superiors in the Ministry of Settlement to the needs of the local worlds.

Allies: The Practitioner, Grand Arbiter Koket, the Merchant

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, The Seeker, the Rebel

 Azela Shaw, The Rebel of the Bleedinsect

The most outspoken of the Bleedists, Shaw is a former naval officer who now rejects Combine control of the region. She’s proved to be a formidable organiser, rallying the disparate groups and worlds that oppose the Combine into an ad hoc alliance. Coyle claims that Shaw’s rumoured criminal connections taint the whole alliance, but Shaw’s allies dismiss such claims as Combine mudslinging.

Allies: The Healer, the Merchant, The Transer

Enemies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur

The Master of the Plunderbund

The Plunderbund is a syndicate of criminal gangs, pirates, thieves, unscrupulous mercenaries and shady corporations – a shadow economy, even a shadow government, slithering into the gaps left by the shattered Combine. The Plunderbund, for all its many faults, gets things done – if you need something, they can get it for you, but at a high price. The mysterious Master of the Plunderbund is an elusive figure, and may be the figurehead for a ring of crime lords.

Allies: The Rebel, The Princess in Exile, the Connoisseur

Enemies: The Viceroy, The Merchant, Grand Arbiter Koket

Klaadarr, The Seeker

The stagnant, sterile Combine is a secular realm, devoid of spirituality. The Bleed, though, is afire with mystic revelation and revitalized nufaiths. New religions – or resurrected old ones – boil across the stars, finding eager converts and fanatical followers on worlds desperate for something to believe in now that the Combine is gone. Into this tumult comes the Seeker, an alien prophet of all Nufaiths and none, who claims that that God can be found in the Bleed. Listen to him – he’s right.

Allies: The Transer, the Healer

Enemies:  The Meddler, the Pracitioner

Anacar Inatuy, The Merchant

Inatuy and her corporate allies made their fortune in the Bleed in the chaotic years after the war. There is still unimaginable wealth to be made out here, in the wild frontier, as long as they can thread a course between the stultifying control of the Combine and the apocalyptic chaos of a galaxy without law or justice. Of course, moral ambiguity is very much within the Merchant’s wheelhouse.

Inatuy is merely the most visible member of a cabal of corporate magnates and industrialists; the Connoisseur remains aloof from this cabal, and while he may be wealthier than any one of them individually, they vastly outmatch him as a group.

Allies: The Pracitioner, The Rebel, the Princess in Exile

Enemies: The Healer, The Connoisseur, the Transer, the Master of the Plunderbund

02_ashenstar_BallaStarwind, The Healer (Balla)

Starwind led an exodus of Balla artists, scientists and adventurers out of Combine space to settle in the Bleed. Her movement seeks to channel Balla emotional energy into healing and remaking the galaxy, instead of suppressing it. Her followers – the Chorus – have the potential to accomplish wonders, but might equally drag the Bleed down with them into madness.

Allies: The Transer, the Viceroy, the Seeker

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Rebel

Grand Arbiter Koket (Tavak)

Koket is a legend back in the Combine – a decorated general, an accomplished philosopher, and a legal scholar who helped shape the decisions of the Combine Bench for decades. He was rumoured to be a candidate for Chief Justice, but instead chose to travel to the Bleed instead. While semi-retired, he retains his status as a judge, and serves as arbiter or investigator in especially complex or controversial cases.

Allies: The Viceroy, the Practitioner, the Transer

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Princess in Exile

Krtch-Ick, The Connoisseur (Kch-thk)

Krtch-Ick is an immensely wealthy Kch-thk; he made his fortune back during the Mohilar War in dubious circumstances, and moved to the Bleed to evade Combine jurisdiction. He collects all manner of things – new foodstuffs, alien artefacts, “interesting people”, wrecked starships, military hardware. Whole planets, on occasion.

He owns corporations too –  among his assets is the Freedom Egg, a Bleed-wide media conglomerate that broadcasts news and entertainment across the region. Krtch-Ick’s word can shape opinion throughout the Bleed, so rumours that he’s becoming more unstable with each reincarnation worry the authorities.

Allies: The Rebel, the Seeker, the Master of the Plunderbund

Enemies: The Merchant, the Viceroy

Ukshqnza, The Princess in Exile (Durugh)

The death of martyred King Ukshqa and the Mohilar War transformed Durugh society. The old police state hierarchy collapsed, leaving their civilisation in a state of near-anarchy. Princess Ukshqnza was one of the few members of the king’s immediate family who escaped the chaos. She fled to the Bleed with an entourage of loyalists – not to mention several warships, a large portion of the Durugh state coffers, and (allegedly) a complete copy of the fabled Silent Gallery, the archive of Durugh espionage and blackmail. While the Durugh are now part of the Combine and Ukshqnza has no official standing, many Durugh see her as their ruler in exile, and the Combine look warily at her as a rallying symbol for Durugh separatists in the Bleed. At the same time, her combination of military force and unmatched intelligence-gathering capabilities make her a vital ally to Combine forces trying to keep order in wild space.

Allies: The Practitioner, the Master of the Plunderbund, the Meddler

Enemies: Grand Arbiter Koket, the Transer

Remaker, The Transer (Cybe)

The military records that might have identified who Remaker was before she was transformed were lost in the war. She emerged onto the political scene in the Bleed full-formed like Athena, as the champion of a wide-ranging coalition of cybe veterans. Remaker’s allies include mercenary legions and charitable foundations, cybe researchers and prophets, raiders and lasers alike – wherever one finds cybes, there too are her followers. Her avowed goal is to establish an independent cybe state in the Bleed; rumours connect her to illegal experimentation in creating new cybes, and some claim that her secret aim is to transform the entire population of the Bleed into her mind-slaves.

Allies: The Rebel, The Healer, the Seeker

Enemies: The Viceroy, The Practitioner

The Meddler (Vas Mal)02_ashenstar_vasmal2

The mysterious Meddler is a Vas Mal who retained considerably more of his cosmic awareness than the rest of his kind. He can, it seems, see the future, and can also see the temporal nexuses and pressure points that can change that future if poked in just the right way. The Meddler manipulates events and individuals to bring about those changes.

Allies: The Seeker, the Princess in Exile

Enemies: The Master of the Plunderbund, the Practitioner, the Connoisseur, the Merchant

The Ashen Shadow (Mohilar)

And they are still out there, moving in the dark places between the stars. Their recent defeat stripped away much of their power and has shown them they are not invincible. They must work in secret, through agents and intermediaries – until the stars turn dark, and the Mohilar can return…

Allies: None

Enemies: All

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.

Cthulhu City485px-Cthulhu_sketch_by_Lovecraft is written, if not finished, and the final book is overstuffed with Mythos gribbles and haunted architecture. There are so many cults and sorcerers lurking in there, not to mention weird Yithian machines, that I had to remove certain blasphemous tomes and cryptic relics to the virtual pages of page XX. Consider these a taster of horrors of come.

The Upton Papers

Type: Tome

Physical Description: A hand-written diary, coupled with several folders of official documents bound in red ribbon. The papers may be found in a patent-leather briefcase that might even show signs of water damage.

Supposed History: These papers belonged to the late Francis Upton, the previous Mayor of Great Arkham. Upton died when his car plunged off the Garrison Street bridge into the Miskatonic river, and these papers were presumably lost with him. However, if someone recovered them from the water, or snatched them from the car before it mysteriously swerved, then Upton’s secrets might have survived his death…

Major Item: If genuine, the Upton Papers contain Francis Upton’s notes and personal observations about the city council and the secret rulers of Great Arkham. If Upton was, as he claimed to be, a reformer and enemy of corruption, then the papers document the activities of the Church of the Conciliator and the Necromantic Cabal in reasserting control of the city council after the fall of the Gilman House regime in 1925. Upton names several councillors and key figures as servants of the Mythos. If Upton trusted Federal Agent Vorsht, then the last paper is a letter to Vorsht asking for a full investigation of the city council. Combine this letter with Cop Talk or Bureaucracy to gain Vorsht as an ally.

Alternatively, if Upton was actually a cultist himself, then the papers shed new light on his death. Was he the victim of some internal feud within the cult? Did Vorsht or the Armitage Inquiry assassinate Upton? Or was his supposed death in the icy waters of the river merely a step towards some other mode of existence?

In either case, reading the Papers gives +1 Cthulhu Mythos and +1 Sentinel Hill Knowledge at the cost of a 3-point Stability Loss. Readers may also have recurring dreams of Upton’s death, which leave a lingering feeling of culpability after waking.

Minor Item: The papers are genuine, but there’s no sign of Upton’s diary. The documents in the folder all relate to a property deal involving several of the councillors, perhaps related the Olmstead Dam, the Dig in Salamander Fields, or the expansion of the city west into Billington’s Woods. Law detects irregularities in the documents; someone was covering up the true purpose of the property development.

Fraudulent: The papers are forgeries, as Craft can determine. They contain damning accusations about the private affairs of one of the councillors, like Arthur Diamond or Elanor Brack. Put these papers into the hands of an unscrupulous yellow newshawk from Newspaper Row, and they could do serious damage – even after death, Mayor Upton’s word counts for a great deal in Arkham.

 

The Ashpool Plates

Type: A series of twelve photographs taken by scandalous avant-garde photographer Edith Ashpool of Kingsport.

Physical Description: The first photographs in the series show Kingsport Harbour, and appear to have been taken from the deck of a yacht or other small vessel. A man, naked except for an ornate mask, stands by the railing in the foreground of each of the photographs, framing the background with his gestures. He waves goodbye in the early photos, points at elements of interests in others.

Other photographs show seascapes and coastlines around the north coast, near Kingsport Lighthouse. Several humanoid figures can be seen on the rocks at the foot of the cliffs, climbing in and out of the water. The later pictures in the series show a bizarre shoreline on some alien sea, with two moons clearly visible in the sky. The final picture appears to depict the yacht approaching a jetty of carved stone, where another figure wearing some sort of elaborate headdress awaits the boat’s arrival.

Supposed History: Ashpool claimed to have taken the photographs from the deck of the Hecate, a yacht owned by Ashpool’s rumoured lover Sauducismis “Saul” Waite, a cousin of former mayor Ephraim Waite. She exhibited the photographs in a small gallery in Kingsport; Art History or Kingsport District Knowledge recalls stories that there was a second, ‘inner’ set of photographs that could only be viewed on payment of an unspecified fee.

The police raided the Gallery two days after it opened; initially, they claimed that several gallery patrons including Ashpool had shown symptoms of typhoid and so the gallery had to be closed as a public health hazard. Later, it was made known that the ‘inner’ exhibition contained degrading and illegal pornographic images.

Major Item: The Ashpool Plates are a form of magical communication. Looking at the photographs in sequence, ideally while using a mind-expanding drug, puts the observer into a trance in which there is a psychic overlap between the observer and the masked man. Without the second set of photographs, the communication is one-way: the user is aware of another presence in the psychic landscape (presumably, whatever entity is represented by the figure wearing a headdress) and can “send” but not “receive” thoughts. The Ashpool Plates can be used to call for aid from whatever that entity is, and such entreaties will receive a response.

Of course, wise investigators may wish to know what they’re dealing with before entering into supernatural bargains. Ashpool is still in police custody in Fort Hutchison, but Saul Waite’s family connections protected him from any repercussions. The investigators could also try identifying the naked man, who clearly isn’t Saul.

Minor Item: A Cthulhu Mythos, Occult or Magic spend confirms that the photographs document the performance of a magical ritual. Replicating the gestures made by the masked man while following the course of the Hecate opens a sea-gate off the shore of Kingsport.

Fraudulent: The later photographs were faked in a special-effects shop at AKLO Pictures, one of Great Arkham’s movie studios. Ashpool was employed as a designer on an upcoming movie, but while on set, she managed to convince a vulnerable young starlet to pose for a series of compromising photographs. To protect their investment in the actress, studio bosses bribed the police to shut Ashpool down.

 

Wonders of the Invisible City

Type: Tome

Physical Description: 110 pages, cheaply bound and badly typeset. Printed in 1862. This is a second-hand copy; according to the flyleaf, it was owned at some point by a “M. Daniels” – perhaps Milton Daniels, the Union Boss?

Supposed History: Wonders of the Invisible City is a printed transcript of a series of sermons or lectures that were allegedly given by Reverend Shrewsbury, a pastor who lived in Arkham in the 1740s and 1750s. While there is plenty of evidence to attest that Shrewsbury quarrelled with Joseph Curwen and other merchants and civic leaders, and even spoke out against their “Godless ways” from the pulpit, there is no proof that this book contains an accurate transcript of Shrewsbury’s words.

Major Item: The book contains a litany of accusations against the founders of Arkham, mentioning Curwen, Orne and Hutchinson by name, but also insinuating that several other families were in league with devils. It describes “certaine works” that were carried out in the dead of night by Curwen and his allies; Architecture or Astronomy guesses that the description is of a detailed survey of the land around Arkham, focusing on key magical sites like the Wooded Isle, Sump Marsh and the Chinese Garden.

The book also describes Shrewsbury’s encounters with strange “travellers” who revealed to him a “vision of a monstrous Pandemonium-to-come”. The description in the text of the mannerisms of these stranger is eerily close to those of the player characters – is some cross-temporal encounter with Reverend Shrewsbury in their future? Handwritten marginal notes in this section appear to be written in code, and might contain a spell or instructions for achieving such a prodigy.

Minor Item: The book is less specific about the misdeeds of Arkham’s founders, but a close reading with Archaelogy or History can reveal the precise location of Curwen’s missing farm in Salamander Fields. Marginal notes suggest that a previous owner of this book came to the same conclusion and may even have carried out a search for the buried ruins.

Fraudulent: Occult or History confirms that most of the text is copied from Philip’s Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New England Canaan, and has little new information of relevance.

 

harlem-unbound-cover_350Investigate Mythos Mysteries in 1920s NYC’s Harlem Renaissance! 

From Chris Spivey, one of the writers of Pelgrane Press’s Cthulhu Confidential and the upcoming Out of the Woods, comes Harlem Unbound, an RPG sourcebook for GUMSHOE and Call of Cthulhu, published by Darker Hue Studios and written by Chris Spivey, one of the writers of Cthulhu Confidential and the upcoming Out of the Woods.

There are just a few days left to support Harlem Unbound on Kickstarter.

PICTURE THIS…

New York City in the 1920s: Prohibition is in full swing, and bootleggers are living high. African Americans flee the oppressive South for greener pastures, creating a new culture in Harlem. The music of Fats Waller and Duke Ellington pours out of the city’s windows and doorways, and the sidewalks are crowded with women in stylish skirts with silk stockings, and men in white gloves and Chesterfield coats. There’s a feeling of possibility in the air, like never before. But even in this land of promise, Harlem is a powder keg. While classes and cultures collide, Lovecraftian horrors lurk beneath the streets, creeping through dark alleys and hidden doorways into the Dreamlands. What Great Old One shattered our reality? Can you hold it together and keep the Mythos at bay for one more song?

Harlem Unbound is a unique RPG sourcebook that takes players into the exciting world of the Harlem Renaissance at its height, to face terrifying horrors from the Lovecraftian Mythos. This groundbreaking tome gives Keepers and players everything they need to bring this unique place and time to life, and engage with the people who gave it its soul.

Harlem Unbound is compatible with multiple systems, with options for investigating the Mythos on New York’s jazz-soaked streets using either Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG or any of the several GUMSHOE-powered investigative RPGs by Pelgrane Press.

This sourcebook flips the standard Lovecraftian view of minorities on its head, putting them in the role of heroes who must struggle against cosmic horrors while also fighting for a chance at equality. By default, the protagonists of Harlem Unbound are African American, not white (which is the standard assumption found in Lovecraftian fiction). Our heroes and heroines come from all walks of life with regard to class, ethnicity, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

The heart of the Renaissance was a revolution aimed at changing the world through art, ideas, and the written word. It was a uniquely powerful movement against the unjust status quo, a time in history that still inspires today. The history, people and stories in this book shine the spotlight on the people of Harlem, their successes and their struggles.

More information about Harlem Unbound can be found on its Kickstarter page.

Weekend at Dracula’s

gaelcon-logoAt Gaelcon, I ran five sessions of the Dracula Dossier campaign in the longcon format. I’m not the first to try cramming the monster into a weekend: Steve Ellis blazed the trail there. This article is half convention report, and half general advice for those brave souls who want to try following us down the path of sleepless madness…

(It’s likely that I’ve misremembered the order of some events or elided over a few minor side treks. I beg the forgiveness of my players.)

I’d hoped to have a full table of players for the whole con, but circumstances conspired against me, so I ended up with three brave players signed up for the long haul. The agents initially contacted by Hopkins were:

  • BAPTISTE, still technically an MI6 officer, but on the run after he inadvertently witnessed an Edom-run vampiric assassination of a Russian intelligence officer in Syria. The Beirut station chief warned him to run; shortly after he left Beirut, a ‘gas leak’ blew up his apartment.
  • MCALLISTER, ex-British Army, who left the British Army after being captured and then rescued in Afghanistan. Mysteriously, he had no memory of ordering the patrol route into enemy-held territory that got him captured. Now, he’s retired to Romania, married a local girl, and splits his time between security consultancy and hiking.
  • ELGIN, a gentleman thief and conman of no fixed nationality, who was hired to retrieve a black brooch from a vault attached to the Pinakothek museum in Munich. On his way to deliver the item to his client in Romania, he had a vision: the car became a horse-drawn calenche, and the autobahn became a winding mountain road, and then a “man made of thunderclouds” reached down to smite him – and he smeared his stolen sports car all over the road when he swerved. Waking up in hospital, he dodged assassins sent by his client and escaped, having stashed the brooch in a safe place before fleeing to England.

All three agents were contacted by a mysterious source who passed on enough intelligence to convince them that she knew something of their individual situations. She asks them to meet her in Whitby…

Creating the Pregens: Two of the players got in touch with me in advance, and got to design their own characters; the third was given a choice of “cleric/fighter/thief” on the day, as I wrote up a bunch of extra full characters. Each pregen had a pressing reason to talk to Hopkins, an inkling of the supernatural threat, and at least two links into the Dossier. For example, Baptiste had seen an Edom assassination, but he didn’t know that his late aunt was the Sculptor (DH, p. 100). McAllsiter’s extended Romanian family could have been agents of Dracula or partisans who aided the 1940s commando team; Elgin was hired by the Art Forecaster (DH, p. 103), and had a variant of the Westenra Brooch (DH, p. 284).

In addition, I wrote up a bunch of generic NBA agents and listed them by specialty – Asset Runners, Analysts, Black Baggers etc. I told the convention organisers that if anyone wanted to play Dracula Dossier for a single session, they could take one of these temporary PCs, who would be brought ‘onscreen’ by one of the three full-timers. (In play, this was something of a GMing high-wire act – I wanted to end each session on a cliffhanger, but also potentially had to introduce another 1-3 player characters into the game at the start of the next session, and allow time for a 20-30-minute intro/briefing scene. It worked, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Fill your table with full-timers if you can!)

The generic pregens were built with less Cover, Network and Preparedness than usual; in my experience, it’s overkill to give a one-shot PC all that Networking.

 

Session 1: Doing The Reading

Session 2: There Was An Explosion Adjacent To A Helicopter

Session 3: Street Theatre

Session 4: The Prime of Ms. Ellen Mowbray

Session 5: The Land Beyond The Forest

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