The nominations for the 2019 ENnie Awards have been released, and we’re delighted to announce that Pelgrane Press has been nominated in four categories:

Beloved Pelgranistas Ken & Robin have also been nominated in the Best Podcast category, for Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

Congratulations to all the nominees! It really is a privilege to be recognised among such an outstanding – and this year in particular, wide variety – of games.

We’d be honoured if you would consider voting for us. Click on this link to vote for your favourites! Voting for the 2019 ENnies will be open until July 21st.

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

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13th Age

NEW RELEASE: Crown of Axis

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

Work in progress update: A Poison Tree

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

Work in progress update: Fearful Symmetries

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

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

Work in progress update: The Book of the New Jerusalem

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

Work in progress update: Even Death Can Die

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

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game can be run at any scale, from one-shot to its ultimate form: four interconnected sequences set in 1895, an alternate mid-century war zone, a warped, post-authoritarian present day, and our own not at all disturbing contemporary reality.

As you contemplate getting going with the latter, you may be wondering how to structure your series. The real answer is that, like most creative endeavors, you’ll see how to do it when you start doing it. (Aided by the copious support given in the game book, of course.)

For the other answer, keep reading for a suggested framework of episode ideas. By the time we’re finished a month from now, you’ll have more episodes than you probably need. Take inspiration with the ones that spark with you or that contain elements you know your players will enjoy. Leave yourself room to adjust as you go rather than committing to an entire episode list ahead of time. This creates the space you’ll need to respond to player choices and input, placing them at the center of your series. Though some episodes self-evidently land during particular points in your arc, most can easily be shuffled around to build on the direction you find in play.

Episode 1: Beginnings

Start by improvising a scenario inspired by one or more of the characters’ Deuced Peculiar Things. Open with the art students recovering from absinthe hangovers at their favorite cheap cafe. They can’t entirely remember what happened last night, but have a terrible feeling that they’ll regret remembering.

Give players time to interact, establishing relationships between the main cast members. When this loses steam, introduce minor manifestations of a Deuced Peculiar Thing to lead them out of the cafe and into an investigation.

As a fallback premise, that the Sculptor’s latest statue has achieved animation and gone on a deadly rampage. Or the Poet has written a verse—or “written” a verse that really comes from a certain forbidden play—that alters the minds of those who hear it.

The game’s focus on reality horror allows you to improvise all manner of hallucinatory events, not all of which have to exert permanent effects: that murder was only temporary, or perhaps a premonition that can still be averted.

During this first mystery the art students learn about:

  • the play and its malign influence
  • the existence of the king and Camilla and Cassilda, at least as fictional characters
  • the intertwining of their destinies with this weird phenomenon

If you think they’ll want to receive specific missions from a patron, introduce that GMC as part of your wrap up.

This series opener gives them the chance to put a stop to one particular manifestation, and motivation to keep digging deeper.

Episode 2: Genre Literature Homage

Establish the game’s literary side with a Carcosan spin on a classic tale from 19th century literature, ideally French.

The Ghost of the Garnier scenario in the Paris book follows this template.

If one or more players are already familiar with it and you need something different, you might consider:

  • events at the Notre Dame Cathedral echoing Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
  • an adaptation of Maupassant’s story “The Horla,” about a psychic vampire epidemic. See p. 157 of the Paris book
  • a wave of sightings of Jules Verne-style airships above Paris
  • homages to the serials Les Vampires or Judex, displaced backwards in time by a few years, or Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, which conveniently has a pallid mask already in it, also pushed back in time to the Belle Époque. Or look at Franju’s 60s remake of Judex.

Episode 3: Secondary Villain

Build a scenario around the introduction of a powerful villain outside the royal court of Carcosa. Although as always you have to be ready for the characters to dispatch your antagonist before you’ve realized her full potential, conceive it so they can solve the immediate crisis without having to do that. This recurring baddie could be:

  • a legendary vampire
  • a well-connected delver into weird science
  • a powerful sorcerer possessed of, or pursuing, immortality
  • a rebel Carcosan who aims to topple the king, without being a particular friend to humanity

Episode 4: Creature Feature

Slip in a straightforward and self-contained scenario of good old-fashioned monster problems, featuring any supernatural being from the Foes chapter. Each of these entries is written with an implicit plot hook for just this purpose. When in doubt, pick that most Parisian of entities, the gargoyle.

Episode 5: The Occult Scene

Review pages 126-133 of the Paris book, which profiles the leading personalities of the city’s metaphysical scene. Pick the figure who most interests you and wrap a mystery around him. Possible instigating incidents include:

  • a break-in at Edmond Bailly’s occult bookshop
  • a demon invented by conspiracy huckster Léo Taxil starts claiming victims
  • a sinister figure who might be the ghost of the notorious cult leader Abbé Boullan comes for Oswald Wirth and Stanislas de Guaita, the occultists who exposed him

Episode 6: Bring in the Royals

Bring in an Deuced Peculiar Thing that hasn’t had much spotlight time, connecting it to a threat to the lives and minds of innocent Parisians. To solve the mystery and end the threat, the art students must deal with a peculiar and magnetic personality who eventually turns out to be the King or one of his daughters. This might happen in the relative safety of a dream visitation, or in an absinthe delirium. The royal, seeing in the character(s) a resonance that will continue through history and realities, makes an attractive but dangerous offer.

Episode 7: Arts & Artists

An opportunity for the characters to do what they’re putatively in Paris for, training as artists, takes a turn for the Carcosan. Take inspiration from a Symbolist, Decadent or Academic painting, or springboard from the profiles of cultural worthies from pages 115-125.

  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec seeks protection from a knife-wielding doppelganger
  • dapper gossip columnist Marcel Proust needs help finding out which of the people he knows too much about is trying to kill him
  • a costume from Sarah Bernhardt’s latest production walks out of her wardrobe on its own steam, perhaps strangling a victim on the way to the stage door. Yes, it’s a tattered yellow robe. Why do you ask?

Join us next month as we continue to sketch out our arc with Episode 8 and beyond.


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

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

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Current News: B****t

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

What we know so far is:

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

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

Other News: New website progress

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

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

NEW: The Borellus Connection

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

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

 

NEW: Looking Glass: Saigon 1968

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

Work in progress update: 13th Age

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

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

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

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

Work in progress update: The Yellow King Bestiary

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

Work in progress update: Black Star Magic

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

 

 

by Steven Hammond

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

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

2020 In Review

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Coming in 2021

We have some big plans for 2021.

The Black Book

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

Sincerely,

Steven Hammond

Founder, Northland Creative Wonders

“He had lately become a devotee of the William Mortensen school of photography. Mortensen, of course, is the leading exponent of fantasy in photography; his monstrosities and grotesques are widely known.”

— Robert Bloch, “The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (1939)

William H. Mortensen, the “leading exponent of fantasy in photography,” was born in Park City, Utah in 1897 to Danish immigrants. In high school he caught the drawing bug from his art teacher, James Taylor Harwood, who attended the Académie Julian (1888-1890) and the Beaux-Arts (1890-1892) in Paris, his time at those schools overlapping as it happens with Robert W. Chambers.

Drafted into and released from the Army in 1918, Mortensen stayed in New York to study at the Art Students League in New York City under George Bridgman (another Chambers overlap, at the Beaux-Arts from 1883-1889). He left art school on an impulsive trip to Greece in 1920, returned broke, and after a year teaching art himself in Salt Lake City moved to Hollywood in 1921 as a chaperon for his 14-year-old fellow Utahan Fay Wray.

Incubus, by William Mortensen (1925). Model unknown, but probably not a dimensional shambler

While keeping Fay out of trouble and getting her into pictures, he worked with the directors King Vidor and Ferdinand Pinney Earle as a matte painter, and then on costume design with Cecil B. DeMille on his Ten Commandments (1923) then (as his photography business expanded) as a still photographer on King of Kings (1927). He designed masks for and learned makeup from Lon Chaney, Sr., with whom he worked on Mr. Wu (1927) and West of Zanzibar (1928).

Following a scandal exacerbated by Fay Wray’s mother, a brief dalliance with Jean Harlow, and the not-unrelated destruction of his marriage he leaves Hollywood for Laguna Beach in 1931. There he opens the Mortensen School of Photography, marries one of his longtime models Myrdith Monaghan in 1933, and breeds Persian Blue cats. Even at that remove, he retains his cachet with Hollywood: his 1941 photograph of aspiring actress Martha Vickers gets her a contract at RKO without a screen test. His Hollywood photographs regularly appear in Vanity Fair and Colliers, he writes a column for LA Weekly, he mounts exhibitions as far away as London.

In the 1930s, Mortensen reigns as the king of the “Pictorialist” school of photography, pioneering techniques of photo-manipulation with lenses and razors to create bizarre and impossible images, and defending his principles in books like Monsters & Madonnas (1934) and The Command to Look (1937). His success with the grotesque and unreal sparks the hatred of Ansel Adams and the “Purist” photographers of the f.64 movement. Adams despises Mortensen and everything he stands for: wishing him dead in print, calling him “the Devil” and “the Anti-Christ.”

Perhaps Adams fixates on those terms thanks to Mortensen’s series of photographs depicting witches, demons, and monsters. Mortensen begins what he calls his “Pictorial History of Witchcraft and Demonology” around 1926, continuing it through at least 1935. He consults with his friend the occultist Manly P. Hall on the topic, freely borrowing from Hall’s library of 20,000 mystical tomes. At some point in the late 1930s he suddenly stops creating grotesques, switching almost entirely to nudes and rural workers (sometimes clad in Renaissance garb) as his subjects. At least a third of the approximately 150 images he created for his witchcraft and demonology series have disappeared.

The Shadows From the Shutter

“That is why the beings cannot be photographed on the ordinary camera films and plates of our known universe, even though our eyes can see them. With proper knowledge, however, any good chemist could make a photographic emulsion which would record their images.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Adams’ enmity, and changing public tastes, eventually drove Mortensen into obscurity and penury. On August 12, 1965, William Mortensen dies of a nosocomial infection in the La Jolla hospital while undergoing treatment for leukemia. Myrdith sends a file of his negatives, prints, and scrapbooks to small time Hollywood publisher O. Howard Lucy (b. 1900?); he publishes botched editions of Monsters & Madonnas and The Command to Look in 1967.

And at some point, DELTA GREEN hears rumors about “The Last Mortensens,” a series of pictures briefly offered to collectors in the late 1950s. Supposedly the culmination of his “History of Witchcraft and Demonology,” taken in 1937 or thereabouts, they depict his most grotesque images yet: thoroughly alien shapes and beings in stark silver-gelatin prints. Perhaps a dead occultist (stumbled over or produced in the course of a previous investigation) has one print, and his eager letters point to more out there.

The Agents head for California, to interview Myrdith: she claims she only got half the material back from Lucy. Lucy says he gave it to his photographer partner Jacques de Langre (b. 1925), a lecturer on alternative healing and enthusiast for the magical powers of salt. De Langre claims he returned everything to Myrdith’s “intermediary,” who may never have existed. Manly P. Hall (b. 1901), an increasingly grumpy and neglected guru in Los Feliz, happily discusses Mortensen’s theories and learning but likely has no lead on a missing folio.

The Agents might also look up Mortensen’s old friend, model, and collaborator on his books, the former stage actor and director George Dunham, currently living in Corona del Mar. Or they might be attracted to the rumor that San Francisco magician and publicity hound Anton LaVey uses insights from The Command to Look to develop the “lesser magic” and psychological manipulation core to his new Church of Satan. (LaVey dedicates the 1969 edition of The Satanic Bible to, among others, “William Mortensen, who looked … and saw.”)

Another lead (via the dead occultist or a LaVey hanger-on) points to another interesting Mortensen collector: the psychic investigator Hereward Carrington (1880-1958). When the Agents go to his home in L.A., they discover that his widow Marie keeps Carrington’s immense collection of journals and photographs intact as an archive. Has it been robbed? Who can tell? What other secrets does it hold?

Perhaps it holds the patchy records of Carrington’s work with a band of Investigators in the late 1930s who selflessly rescued renowned photographer William Mortensen from the hideous Things he had unwittingly called up with the angles and alchemies of his lenses and emulsions. Shaken, he resolves to abandon grotesquerie and return to Myrdith. But, bitter and impoverished twenty years later, he made one last set of prints for a few rich and eminent collectors …

Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers can riff on “From Beyond,” “The Trap,” and “The Whisperer in Darkness,” and on the images of monsters retained in glass in “The Unnamable,” for that prequel Trail of Cthulhu adventure. Did Mortensen learn these hypergeometric techniques in Greece, and Carcosan ratios from Chambers’ friends? Did he find unnatural clues in Manly Hall’s library, or in a Hollywood horrorist’s drunken rant? This works even better if you ask the players to describe the photos when their Agents find them in the 1960s (“oh, it’s a boiling sphere covered in eyes”). Then, in the 1930s, their Investigators have to face those unnamable models from their own imagination – and save Mortensen from them.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

by Julian Kay

As penned by Viriel Pyrolea, formerly an esteemed seer of Lightwood, recently appointed as Imperial Astrologer. His appointment is rumored to be penance service for promoting piracy along the Spray.

The capricious register consists of constellations held as neither strictly opposed to Imperial fortunes, nor loyal. Use in Imperial heraldry isn’t unknown, usually as a statement of power and control, as if to say, “I do not fear opposition.” An Imperial guard bearing the Manticore upon their shield bears it as a warning against transgressors. The Road, of course, is frequently associated with messengers, particularly skilled messengers.

For context and understanding of what has gone before—in this case that is to say, before my appointment and the adjustments to charts based on my gathered observations—there  had been only two registers of constellations held by the imperial throne: favorable and disfavored. Previously, the Imperial throne deemed the Couatl, Road, and Manticore as favorable, while considering the Horns and Wolf as disfavored. While you need not account for these less subtle understandings in your equations, bear in mind there are traditionalists who cling to the original blinkered view of the sky.

The Couatl: In Axis or Horizon, you would know it as the Couatl; a symbol of magic and potential wisdom. Diabolic cults call it the Serpent, a symbol of magic and insight. No doubt, if the Archmage’s Superiors and the Diabolist’s followers were on speaking terms, there could be a fierce debate whether the Fetherstar is the 10th star in this constellation.

But from my outside view on these petty distinctions, the meaning of the symbol is the same to both parties: a marker of importance to ritual casting. The flight of the Couatl’s stars align it with other celestial markers, with each being vital to empowering a different ritual. But it’s a fickle constellation, and I would not rely on the blessing of its position overmuch—particularly when it makes it painfully clear to foes when your circle of casters will attempt a exceedingly important task.

The Horns: The power of the woods, things stirring on claw and hoof, sometimes known as the Stag. Far from the concerns of Horizon, but this constellation always sits in the corner of a farmer’s eye. But it’s more than just beasts, it also can help predict storms and stranger weather. Peasants and merchants alike take care to avoid the two times of year when the Horns cross the Road. “Stag in the road, take to your abode.”

The Manticore: Ancient symbol of imperial justice or a symbol of violent rebellion? The Manticore stands in whenever both matters cross. It is a lesson for novice astrologers: there are no contradictions, only complications. The Manticore may mark unrest in a city, or it could mark an imperial crackdown. Its head may seem loyal, but always pay attention to the tail.

Note that present-day manticores hold to the constellation as part of their claim to past imperial agreements. In such cases, abandon neutrality and take up sincere agreement, at least within earshot. Note that their earshot is further than one might presume.

The Road: The first constellation any child can glean, the Road serves as a simple means of wayfinding. Though the positions of the stars have shifted over the years, they have not drifted so much as to be unrecognizable, and all still lead towards the Warden Star far to the north of the Empire itself. While other stars whip around the sky, the Road shifts so slowly as to be reliable even between ages.

There are some that claim an ancient highway once stretched along the path laid out by the stars, but such claims would seem absurd with the Midland Sea barring any such passage. Still, I am accustomed to absurdities; perhaps such a road might exist in the underworld, overworld, or other realms betwixt our own.

The Wolf: A craven, cruel beast nipping at the edges of the empire like, or to the faithful, the canine “Shepherd” gathering the vulnerable flock. As with the Manticore, it can be both, both the guiding light and the terrifying darkness, the thin line between safety and being swallowed. Orcish raiders and sheltering temples.

One can see it as the lesser danger that keeps us prepared for greater troubles. But do not dismiss or underestimate it. A lesser danger is still dangerous, and often lethal.

[Part 1 of Viriel’s lecture can be found here]

by Kevin Kulp

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

Player Pitch: The Town of Joining

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

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

But.

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

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

Welcome to Joining.

Interesting Features

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

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

Available Allegiances

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

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

GM Pitch: The Town of Joining

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

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

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

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

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

Structuring a Campaign Around Joining

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

by Julian Kay

As penned by Viriel Pyrolea, formerly an esteemed seer of Lightwood, newly appointed as Imperial Astrologer as penance service for spurring theft and piracy along the Spray.

During my time in Axis, I have seen Thronehold’s glistening mounts, the clouds of Wyrmblessed, the liminal spaces between the palace portals, and more. But for all the wonders of the city, many are blind to the wonders that whirl endlessly overhead. Perhaps the cursed destinies of the Astrologer still haunt the empire, echoed in a wariness of skyborne wisdom. Knowing one’s fate can be a curse, but that fate remains all the same. I leave to the reader to judge how best to deal with knowledge that dwarfs our existence.

The imperial vizier has tasked me to share my knowledge of the stars with readers, for the benefit of your education. This is of particular use to courtiers, as I served as a servant of the Elf Queen for many years. It’s true that I relocated rapidly for personal reasons, and experienced misadventures before my royal appointment. Of course, you may idly muse, as many have, how much that relates to my own awareness of my fate. You can kindly keep musing on that mystery; I will not elucidate further.

Additionally, any suggestions that I’m penning this work to square some grudge against the Queen is a common notion I won’t humor.

And so, we begin with the simplest of matters: the thirteen major constellations. I have shared my knowledge of elven starseeking, melding it with official imperial dictum. We only find the truth of the skies through multiple perspectives.

The Three Significant Registers: To place the skies in perspective, there are currently three registers of constellations that those pondering upon the stars must consider. The first is main subject of today’s essay: the imperial register, consisting of those constellations the empire holds as favorable. You will find this distinction insignificant on the fringes of civilization, but here at the very center of our world you’ll find these constellations used everywhere, including imperial livery. Overuse, however, is a clear and tiresome form of bootlicking.

The second register, which we will consider on a subsequent date, is the capricious register, constellations that are neither loyal to imperial fortunes nor hostile.

The final register, as you no doubt have surmised, is the foreboding register, constellations of hostile stars. We will say no more of them today.

Our Subject, Our Strength: The imperial constellations are important for interpreting conditions favorable to the empire. When they cross Axis or the Road (see the Register of Capricious Constellations, to be penned shortly), times of glory are upon us. However, when they whirl closer to the barbarian lands, one should take precautions.

The Anvil: These seven stars represent the surface on which some dwarves claim the gods forged the world, and the ancient practice of their smiths taking their blades to great heights to be “sharpened by the sky” likely comes from this tale. Many forges seek mountains not only for their ores, but to clearly see the finest times for forging.

Similarly, the pre-battle tradition of raising one’s sword likely comes from the spread of dwarven battle traditions far beyond the mountains. Thankfully, the tradition of some crusading warriors to pile demonic and cultist bodies high to stand upon before brandishing one’s blade is a tradition still restricted to that grim lot.

The Crown: Claimed simultaneously to be an omen for the Dragon Emperor, Dwarf King, and Elf Queen. Though this is astrologically contradictory, I must officially state the Emperor is the crown-bearer. Still, this author makes no attempt to disabuse the King or Queen of their claims. I would also suggest that any reader take up a similar notion of neutrality.

Past records claim the crown once held a thirteenth star, but presently, we only see twelve. Is its disappearance symbolic of the fall of a ruler, like the Terrible Emperor? Or was it somehow stolen from the sky, as some have claimed?

The Dragon: But which one? The Black claim it’s the progenitor of dragonkind, a shadowy ur-drake born of the stars. Holy warriors see its proximity to the White Star to be symbolic of the Gold Wyrm, sealing the pale void in the sky just as it seals the abyss in the earth. Of course, likening a silver dragon’s shine to the stars is a traditional compliment for the Emperor’s winged allies. As with the Crown, I would advise neutrality in such debates, as there are as many tales across the world as scales in a dragon’s hide.

The Gauntlet: Sealing, protecting, crushing—the gauntlet is a symbol of divinely inspired warriors regardless of the god they cleave to. Having it point in the direction of one’s quest or crusade is a good omen for the endeavor, if not always for its participants. The gods never fail to appreciate an effective self-sacrifice.

 

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