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

I’ve been binge-watching last year’s seasons of “Arrow” and “The Flash.” One moment both shows frequently resort to, in keeping with their balance of superhero action and emotive interactions, is the inspirational exhortation. One character, the figure everyone else needs to save the day, succumbs to doubt. Another cast member then breaks the self-doubter from self-pitying despair: “You can do it! Because that’s who you are, Barry!” (Or Oliver, or Willa, or Cisco, or whoever it happens to be.) Buoyed by these words, the subject then summons previously untapped reserves of will and determination and steps forward to make the extra heroic effort required to do the impossible.

To model this in GUMSHOE, a character with Inspiration (in games that have it) or Reassurance (in those that don’t) can spend 2 points of it to aid another PC in the accomplishment of a task thought lost. The recipient then refreshes the general ability in question. Let’s call this the Refreshing Exhortation.

Conditions apply: the prospective recipient has to have already failed at a related task, either in the current scenario or the one immediately previous. Whenever it occurred, the player must have already portrayed the character as being in a funk over that past failure. The crisis of confidence must be seen at least one scene prior to the one in which the Refreshing Exhortation is attempted.

Also, both players have to sell the moment through roleplaying. The inspirational character gives a stirring speech, in character dialogue. The recipient perhaps interjects with thoughts of doubt, and certainly must play the moment when the turnaround occurs and heroic certitude returns.

Finally, in most genres you’ll want to restrict its use to once per scenario.

If playing a game with Drives, you might suggest that the exhorting character reference the nature of the recipient’s Drive. In series laden with an atmosphere of doom, such as The Esoterrorists, purist Trail of Cthulhu, or dust mode Night’s Black Agents, the GM might allow Refreshing Exhortations only in situations where successful ability use offers the recipient a good chance of attaining self-sacrificial destruction. Some genres might call for speeches in a different tone. In The Gaean Reach, a reminder of the many crimes of Quandos Vorn, and the character’s burning desire to see him destroyed, would better befit its dark, dry humor.

10thanniGUMSHOE is a hybrid system. On the one side are the fundamentally GUMSHOE investigation abilities. These allow you to get information without a random test to see if you find the book in the library, or decode the encrypted document. They also allow special benefits, which can interact with the other side of GUMSHOE – the General ability side.

When you make a die roll you can spend points from your General ability to increase your chance of success, and if you have enough points, succeed at that task. GUMSHOE characters in most settings are pretty competent, and when it matters, they succeed. However, there is nothing findamental about GUMSHOE which means characters have to succeed. – GUMSHOE doesn’t care whether random tests are succesful or not.

There are some settings where the chance of failure is a fact of life. For example, in a post-apocalyptic setting, gear is unreliable and floors give way unexpectedly. This option reflects that type of setting. It’s also an option for any group which takes umbrage at the principle of automatic success on certain tests. My home group has recently been playing such a game, and we have a mixture of spendthrifts and point-hoarders, and the hoarders are certainly happier. I, however, am learning to live with unexpected failure in a GUMSHOE game.

The idea is that your spend on any test is capped according to your rating in that General ability.

Rating Spending Cap
1-4 +1
5-8 +2
9-12 +3
13+ +4

The option also ensures that characters with higher ratings get to succeed with certainty where others might fail. If you have a suitable Investigative ability, you can use it to add extra points to your roll on top of the cap – so knowledge can increase your chance of success. This is usually three points for a clearly appropriate spend.

Let’s say you have a Sneak rating of 4, and you are trying to get past a tough security system. You can spend one point of Sneak on your roll for the Sneak test. You could supplement that by spending a point of Architecture to find a hidden route – so you can add four points to the sneak test in total.

You can still piggyback (spend a point to join in with someone else) or cooperate (spend points on each other’s rolls if it’s appropriate)

Some tests require post – success spends (eg thriller options). There are two approaches here: the first is to enforce the additional point spend only if the test succeeds. The second is to enforce the point spend whether it succeeds or not. I think the former is more appropriate for settings with restricted point spends.

I suggest for this option to work, you restrict the top Difficulty number to 6, to allow near certain success for very able characters.

fearcovercloseupFear Itself 2nd Edition introduces the concept of an Escape Pool (p. 70), a set of rules for fleeing a horrific situation instead of following the trail of clues into the darkness. It’s a simple idea – the player characters build up a pool of points by discovering clues, spending investigative ability points, and passing general ability tests. When they’ve got enough points in their collective pool, they can try to leave by spending points from their Escape Pool to make one final collective Escape test. Succeed at that, and the characters escape the scenario. Fail, and the Escape points spent are lost, plus the Gamemaster is obliged to hit them with a nasty hazard.

Let’s unpack the Escape Pool concept a little more.

Escaping Doesn’t Mean It’s Over

Just because the player characters have escaped the current bad situation doesn’t mean the danger’s over. Escaping is always a temporary solution compared to actual dealing with the supernatural threat. For example, you set up an adventure where the player characters visit an isolated holiday camp in the woods, only to discover it’s crawling with vampires. Rather than descend into the dark caves beneath the woods to slay the King Vampire, the players flee across country, pursued by vampires, until they finally reach the nearest town just as dawn breaks and the undead flee. They’ve escaped! They survive! Game over…

… only the vampires are still out there. You can run a sequel to that adventure where the vampires pursue the characters to their home town, and the only way to put an end to the undead menace is to go back to Vamp Camp and slay that King Vampire. (Of course, this time the players have a chance to tool up with stakes and holy water.)

Escape Doesn’t Mean Getting Away Clean

It’s perfectly sporting and entirely in-genre to throw in one final threat, even if the players succeed at their Escape test. Look at Alien for example – the Nostromo crew try to escape as soon as they discover the Company deliberately sent them to LV-426. They build an Escape Pool, but only Ripley survives to make the Escape test… and even when she succeeds, there’s still that last battle with the Alien in the lifepod. (For that matter, half of Aliens is about another group of player characters assembling an Escape Pool, but then Ripley’s Risk Factor gets triggered when Newt is dragged into the depths.)

So, the player characters stagger out of the woods and into the town just as dawn breaks – but the clerk in that 24-hour convenience store is a vampire too! Shock twist!

Escape Doesn’t Mean Leaving

Really, an Escape Pool is just a plot stress mechanic, ala various Fate incarnations. It’s a progress bar that ends the scenario once it fills up. The basic version of the Escape Pool is “we are trapped in an isolated place with no obvious way to leave”, but you can generalise it to “bad things are happening to us and we want them to stop”. You could allow the characters “escape” the psychic serial killer who’s preying on their dreams if they build an Escape Pool out of Interpersonal spends and discovering clues about Ojibwe dream-catchers and making Shrink tests, instead of following the clues that would lead them to uncover the serial killer’s real identity as a coma patient. Escape Pools don’t have to involve isolation and physical barriers.

Let The Players Build The Pool

As a Gamemaster, you don’t need to include Escape Pool options in your adventure in advance. Escape Pools don’t need to be planned as carefully as chains of Core Clues; instead, let the players come up with inventive uses for the investigative abilities (can I use Photography to have a weird filter on my digital camera that lets us see the alien hyperdimensional web filaments so we can navigate around them?).

Failed Escapes Can Give Clues

Give a big clue every time the players fail an Escape test. This cushions the blow of the failed test, and also means the players aren’t frustrated when they spend half the session building their pool, only to blow it by rolling a 1.  At the same time, failing an escape roll puts the player characters’ fate in the Gamemaster’s hands, and there’s no guarantee they’ll survive. For example, if the player characters try to escape a haunted mansion by building a bomb that can blast open the mysterious failed front door, and fail their roll, then maybe the explosion sends them plummeting into the basement where they find that the house was built atop a Satanic temple – and that Bob landed heart-first on that altar with a nasty big sacrificial spike…

Give clues even if only some of the player characters attempt Escape. The survivors can benefit from their comrade’s unheroic sacrifice.

If the failed attempt depleted the Escape Pool, then the players will often seize on that clue to lead them back into the mystery. (“Well, the boat’s sunk and there’s no way off the island. I guess we’d better go correlate the contents of human knowledge and face the primordial terrors.”)

Make It A Bloody Race

There’s a reason that the Escape test’s target number is based on the number of player characters trying to escape – it’s designed to rewards survivors and traitors. If some of the player characters get killed before the group attempts to escape, they’ve got extra points to spend. Similarly, if one player decides to abandon the rest and tries to escape, that one player can use the Escape Pool points accrued by the entire group. Escape Pools work best in fast-paced, violent horror games, not moody slow-burn investigations.

Similarly, you can offer nasty bargains where the players get to spend points from the Escape Pool on other tests (“Ok, Bob, you just failed your Hiding test, so the monster knows where you are… but I’ll let you spend points from the group’s Escape Pool to make up the difference if you want. So, do you want to drain six Escape Points from the pool in order to stay hidden?”), or even have clues become available in exchange for Escape Point spends. (“Does anyone want to spend a point of Notice, or three points from the Escape Pool?”)

Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the creatures of the Outer Dark? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

We might get Gar to write about the GUMSHOE and Fear Itself implications of the great Netflix series "Stranger Things" soon. Before that happens I’d like to sneak in to highlight one particular moment.  Without delving too far into spoilers for those who have yet to binge, a point comes where rumpled police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) needs to get information on the other side of a guarded door.  As seasoned GUMSHOE hands know, if you have the Locksmith ability and a locked door stands between the PC and that info, the PC gets the info, no spend required. Here we have a classic example of that setup, except that it’s a uniformed stooge of the evil conspiracy and not a lock. What does our hero do? He knocks the guy out with a surprise shot to the jaw, opens the door, and heads on in.

This brings us to an obvious extrapolation: in GUMSHOE, you ought to be able to do the same.

I’d restrict this to characters the tactic feels right for. If your investigator has the investigative ability Intimidation and at least 4 points in Scuffling (or the equivalent, depending on which GUMSHOE iteration you’re using), you can KO a guard to get a core clue. In certain GUMSHOE games you could describe this in different ways: using a stun pistol in Ashen Stars, a Concussion blast in Mutant City Blues.

Hopper suffers no direct repercussions for knocking out the guard. It never gets mentioned again, in fact. We must assume then that he spent a point of Intimidation to ensure that he not only got the clue but did not suffer any blowback for resorting to the rough stuff.

When building or improvising scenarios where punching your way to information, you might include the opportunity to stave off later consequences with a spend of Intimidation, Bureaucracy, Cop Talk, Credit Rating or whatever else seems appropriate to the setting. This might cost 1 point or even 2, if it would otherwise seem unlikely for the investigator to get away with this entirely.

Since you can’t count on a player to think of this fun but extreme solution, or for the punch-enthusiast among the party to be the one that shows up at the door, also allow a more typical alternate way of getting past the guard.

Previous Entries Next Entries