A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

While developing collaborators’ scenarios for Black Star Magic, I found myself puzzling out a design style question arising from a particular feature of QuickShock.

In previous iterations of GUMSHOE, and most other games with hit points or a hit point-like function, characters can theoretically leave play at any time. In all GUMSHOE games characters can die physically, ending their stories and requiring players to create replacements. In our various horror games, characters can also exit after cracking under intolerable mental strain.

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game follows that pattern: your character can shuffle off in both ways. Unlike games with traditional hit points (Health points in GUMSHOE) or Sanity / Stability points, YKRPG characters take their final curtains after receiving a predetermined number of Injury or Shock cards. After 3 or 4 cards, depending on how forgiving the GM has chosen to make her game, they’re outta there.

My scenarios provide ample opportunities to take Injury and Shock cards. In fact, one of the key requests made by playtesters was STOP MURDERING US SO HARD.

One or two of my more forgiving colleagues, on the other hand, just might have submitted scenarios including a less-than-fatal number of Injuries and/or Shocks.

This raised the question: is that poor form?

A scenario for standard GUMSHOE might make the prospect of death unlikely, by going light on scenes featuring fights or physical hazards. Likewise it might feature only a handful of Stability or Composure tests. But depending on how many points players have invested in key pools, you can’t say for certain that the scenario won’t dispatch a PC or two.

In QuickShock you can count the number of times the characters might take cards, and see that it doesn’t equal the Final Card threshold.

That’s before taking edge cases into account, though.

In an ongoing game, one or more characters may already have Continuity Shock or Injury cards carried over from previous play. This drops their effective thresholds for receiving new cards. If you have the Injury card Circulatory Damage, you start every scenario being able to receive one less Injury additional card than you did when you began play. A scenario that deals out a maximum of two Injuries could, if you get both of them, end you.

Also, the GM, responding to surprise player choices, may wind up improvising additional fights, hazards, and disturbing events. When these go wrong they hand out cards over and above those listed in the scenario. “You can’t die from the cards listed in the scenario” must always be read as “You can’t die from the cards listed in the scenario, if you only do what the scenario predicts you might do.” Those of us who have ever run a game know how big an if that is.

In yet another also, the GM never tells the players that a scenario includes few Shock or Injury cards. It’s not the actual likelihood of investigator demise that creates suspense in play, but the threat of it as perceived by the players, that delivers the emotional freight. When you get the last card listed in the scenario, you have no way of knowing that there aren’t a boatload more of them still potentially to come. Unless you read the scenario afterwards, you’ll never see that you were actually safe.

For those reasons, I decided that it should not be a requirement that every published scenario hand out enough cards to potentially kill off a character.

Also, with rare exceptions, Shock and Injury cards impose other penalties on the characters who receive them. That’s why they exist. Unlike a quantity of lost hit points, they create lingering effects that impact the story. They sit in front of the players, reminding them that something has gone wrong. Something that must be addressed. The anxious desire to get rid of these awful, nagging cards mimics the fear and unease of the characters. Even if you can only get one card of a given type in a scenario, when you get it, you generally really want to get rid of it. One card you remember getting, or struggling to discard, exerts a greater impact than some Health points you lost and then refreshed.

Even if that weren’t the case, a philosophical design question remains: is it somehow cheating, or poor form, to introduce the possibility of character demise when it can’t actually happen? A D&D or 13th Age game assumes you’ll be fighting up a storm over most evenings of play. But if a particular adventure has you intriguing your way through a trade dispute with little chance of taking an ax to the face, you likely consider that a refreshing change of pace. After a while you’re going to want to get back to the core activity of battling and looting, jotting down hit point losses as you go. But the adventure where the stakes aren’t the characters’ survival doesn’t register as a cheat.

For a scenario to engage the players, they have to care about something. They must want for X to happen and fear that it will not. The prospect of character death exists in games as a default set of stakes: do you live or die?

In the mystery scenario that GUMSHOE offers, you always have another measure of success, other than “am I still breathing at the end?” When you figure out what’s going on in time to prevent disaster, see justice done, or simply slake your curiosity, you’ve won.

As long as your choices lead to either good or bad consequences, those consequences don’t have to be Shock or Injury cards in order for players to walk away from the table remembering a gripping narrative.


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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We’ve been so relieved and excited that the Yellow King RPG is finally available to non-Kickstarter backers that it’s still dominating our thinking here in the Pelgrane’s Nest, even to the extent of adding a new YKRPG product (the basic Shock & Injury decks) to our webstore. However, don’t let that distract you from the big news this month, which is the Book of the Underworld, our latest release to cover a fascinating part of the 13th Age‘s Dragon Empire.

New Releases

      • Book of the Underworld – A campaign setting for 13th Age, revealing the secrets of the Dragon Empire’s Underworld
      • The Yellow King RPG – Four full-colour 6″ x 9″ hardback books in a slipcase, with accompanying GM screen. The dread horror of Robert Chambers’ King in Yellow stories take RPG form, confronting your players with an epic journey across four Carcosan-drenched time periods.
      • The Yellow King RPG Basic Shock & Injury decks – These optional accessories allow The Yellow King Roleplaying Game GMs to quickly grab and dish out Shock and Injury cards during face-to-face play.
      • Absinthe in Carcosa – An 8.5″ x 11″, full-colour hardback, this indispensable city guide for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is yoked together from travelogues, newspapers, and the disquieting ephemera of the occult tradition.
      • The Missing and the Lost – A thrilling, thought-provoking novel, which can be read as a mystery of a dread-drenched alternate reality, or use it as a model for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game when you play its Aftermath setting.
      • Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition – Pre-order the updated and expanded mutant-powered police procedural GUMSHOE game, and get the final PDF now.
      • Even Death Can Die – Pre-order this adventure collection for Cthulhu Confidential and get the pre-edit draft PDF now.

Articles

13th Age

      • 13th Sage: How to Customize Monsters – The Human Thug – Wade Rockett shows how to turn an existing  13th Age monster—the human thug—into a variety of guards from across the Dragon Empire by adding a single, distinctive special ability.
      • Crown of Axis Cover – Rob Heinsoo on the evolution of Wade Rockett’s upcoming adventure’s cover
      • The Iconic podcast has made it into their third season! You can listen to the most recent episodes here:
        • S3-E23: Interview with Martin Killmann
        • S3-E24: Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths Review

March is a big month for birthdays here in the Pelgrane’s Nest, with Gareth, Noah, me, and Rob all celebrating this month. March also feels like spring is finally here; winter is past, and the world begins anew, tf.

***NEW*** The Book of the Underworld

This month’s latest release is the campaign setting Book of the Underworld for 13th Age, written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and lovingly hand-developed in the artisanal word-workshop of Rob Heinsoo, John-Matthew DeFoggi and Trisha DeFoggi.

I asked Rob previously what he thought the coolest things about Book of the Underworld were, and he replied “A short list would include the Four Kingdoms of the Mechanical Sun (underworld nation-states warring to keep an ancient dwarven solar artifact borne by golems circulating in their caverns instead of the oppositions), Gar’s bizarre takes on alternate drow, the two drow deities manifest in the deep underworld that complement/rival the Elf Queen, and the rival demon cults within Gorogan’s Maw.” So there you have it – the short version is that there’s a long list of cool stuff for DMs to play with in this setting book. Pre-order now and get the pre-layout PDF straight away.

***STILL NEW, but two important updates*** The Yellow King RPG

Those of you outside the USA and Canada may have noticed that we’ve sold out of The Yellow King RPG in our webstore. 😲 While in some ways, that’s a good problem to have – it’s always nice when there’s high demand for a new book – in other ways, it’s bad, as we’ll have to reprint it sooner than I expected, and if you followed the Kickstarter printing saga, you’ll have a sense of why that fills me with dread. In the meantime, Becky’s working furiously on finding a way to get some of the US copies over our UK warehouse, so we’re hoping to have it back in stock in a couple of weeks. If you’d like us to let you know when it’s back in stock, drop Becky an email at support@pelgranepress.com.

The second important update is that, due to popular demand, we’ve set up a post for people who didn’t back the Kickstarter, explaining how to pick up the Basic Shock & Injury decks from the YKRPG. While not essential for play, many gamers have told us they prefer the tactile experience of having printed cards. All the cards from all four books of the YKRPG are available as a digital download with all purchases of the YKRPG, whether from us or through your game store. With the Basic Shock & Injury decks, Robin has carefully curated two decks focused on the varieties of injury, fear and emotional disequilibrium most likely to afflict investigators into any reality-altering Carcosan mystery, helping GMs to run scenarios on-the-fly. If you’re in the USA or Canada, pick up your cards via DriveThru RPG’s Print on Demand service; if you’re outside the USA or Canada, pick them up directly from our webstore.

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

We’re steaming ahead through production of Swords of the Serpentine at the moment, which makes me happy, as Kevin and I would love to be able to show it to you all at Gen Con at the end of July. I’m hoping we’ll be able to release the pre-order in the next edition of See Page XX, too. I’m about to go through the copyedits, and our layout artist Jen is working on a draft layout design for it. Kevin’s writing up art notes, and Jerome has posted a little video of the amazing map he’s done for Eversink’s Temple Market – you can watch that here.

Work in progress update: The Borellus Connection

We’ve got the edits back from Arc Dream now, and Gareth’s made the necessary changes they asked for. Noah is working on the art notes, it’s just about to go into copyediting, and we’re hoping to release it on pre-order in the summer.

Work in progress update: Elven Towers

John-Matthew and Trisha DeFoggi are powering through 13th Age projects, vastly improving how quickly we’re able to release new titles. J-M’s finishing up development of Elven Towers, a champion tier adventure by Cal Moore, at the moment, and will then hand it over to Trisha for copyediting. Meanwhile, Rob’s liaising with the cartographers and artists, working on finishing off the artwork, so expect to see a pre-order for this in the next few months. Hot off the email press tonight is the lush and eminently regal final cover, by Lee Moyer (using sketches from Rich Longmore), which Rob’s kindly sent over for your sneak preview delectation.

<– Here it is. Isn’t it lovely?!

 

Work in progress update: Honey & Hot Wax

We’ve got in the final collection of games for Honey & Hot Wax, an Anthology of Erotic Art Games from editors Sharang Biswas and Lucian Kahn, who were able to win a grant from the Effing Foundation for Sex Positivity, and they really take what an RPG can be in a stimulating new direction! We’re working on the final layout of this at the moment, and we’re having fun collaborating with artist Jana Heidersdorf on the front cover. She’s come up with some really interesting concepts, including this honeycomb design which really captures what we’re going for with it:

–> That one’s over here!

Work in progress update: A Poison Tree

I playtested a couple of chapters of A Poison Tree, an epic Trail of Cthulhu campaign, and it’s creepy and twisted and wonderful. We’ve been fortunate that we’re working alongside some of the best Mythos RPG designers – Scott Dorward, Paul Fricker & Matthew Sanderson – on it. Unfortunately, that’s meant that we’ve been competing with loads of other companies for their bandwidth, which has slowed down development. We’re kicking this into high gear this year and hoping to get it playtested shortly. We’ve spoken to the authors about Kickstarting this, but nothing’s been set in stone on that front yet – watch this space for more developments as they happen.

[[Editor’s note: The Yellow King Suite is included free as a digital download with The Yellow King RPG, and separately from the link below]]
 
Buy the YKRPG Suite MP3s now
 

by James Semple

The Yellow King Suite covers 4 different settings. In addition it presents a theme for The Yellow King RPG and music for the doomed, lost city of Carcosa. This project needed to reflect the various settings while uniting them all as a cohesive suite. The settings required different instrumentation and arrangements however the influence of the Yellow King is evident in all of them.

The King in Yellow

 

Inspired by the mysterious entity in tattered yellow robes, the haunting theme of the Yellow King waltzes through the chromatic chord changes of Cm D Fm Cm. The mysterious violin theme accompanied by harp and tuba evokes music of fairgrounds and travellers’ campsites. Eventually a full string section takes over as a clarinet plays counterpoint sounding almost like a carnival calliope. Finally a glockenspiel and boys’ choir fills out the arrangement with a mystic, spiritual aura. This music is reminiscent of the music of Danny Elfman but ultimately is influenced by the Romanza from Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade. This chromatic twisting King in Yellow theme sets the tone of the whole suite. The melody is referenced throughout the suite, sometimes overtly, sometimes disguised and hidden. Occasionally only a few notes are quoted and often the melody is reharmonized. 

 

The Belle Époque

 

A gentle echoing piano ushers in lush ambiguous harmonies setting a tone of absinthe-soaked, dreamlike ennui. Solo cello gently drifts over the soft haze. Low register harp adds a rhythmic element as the intensity of the music increases. While the music does not directly quote the King in Yellow theme, the waltz rhythm and mercurial string passages definitely reference it. This piece was heavily influenced by the piano music of Erik Satie who was an influential Parisian composer during the Belle Époque. 

The Wars

Unrepentantly martial, this music unites a constant snare rhythm with relentless strings, piccolo and brass. The great and terrible European conflict of 1947 brought to life within the orchestra. The King in Yellow theme enters in a somewhat declamatory form played by the brass and woodwind. The music loses momentum, falling into a murky brass harmony, then builds again as the rhythm restarts and the King in Yellow theme returns triumphantly in the upper register of the strings and woodwind accompanied by choir. Holst’s Planets was a strong influence on this piece. Obviously with the rhythmic elements of Mars but also Holst’s use of polychords. 

The Aftermath

This piece takes on a somber hypnotic quality as the listener is lulled by the rhythmic notes of the harp. Harmonies in the strings and woodwind move entirely in parallel giving an unsettling quality typical of Impressionist music. Just as this mood takes hold, the King in Yellow theme returns in the strings and woodwind, spreading paranoia and fear. Years after the conflict described in The Wars, humanity tries to pick up the pieces to discover the monsters are still there. The music describes the isolation and haunted fears of the survivors. Bernard Herrmann’s music was a big influence on this piece, particularly his work in Vertigo. 

This Is Normal Now

As we reach the modern day, the shadows of the past continue to influence the present. Evil and disturbing elements surround you but just out of sight. You have to convince yourself that this is normal now. Just ignore the encroaching terror and keep on dancing. The music is EDM with no acoustic instruments, just human whispers. Even within the dance, the influence of the Yellow King is not far away and again his theme can be heard through the music. 

Carcosa

This final somewhat enigmatic piece is an attempt to capture the indefinable quality of the doomed city of Carcosa. Dramatic, emotional yet weary and fatalistic, the music moves through a series of moods depicting both the city and the play, The King in Yellow. Full symphonic strings take the spotlight here supported by occasional low brass. The entire piece trades through a rhapsodic series of musical moments where fragments of melodies spring to life and fade, slowly evolving into a new musical idea. The insidious melody of the King in Yellow grows out of this development, this time presented within a contrapuntal arrangement moving between the various string choirs. 

from James

Writing this music has been a personal pleasure for me. I’ve always found The King in Yellow to be exceptionally evocative and it was a wonderful challenge to create the suite. I hope it brings unsettling pleasure to the listeners!

I would also like to stress that none of this would have happened without the amazing talents of two other people. Mirela Nita composed the wonderful music for both The Aftermath and This is Normal Now. She also played the violin part on my King in Yellow piece. Roxane Genot played the sublime cello part that breathes life into The Belle Époque. Thank you to both of you for the incredible inspiration you brought to this project!
 
Buy the YKRPG Suite MP3s now

By Jason Morgan

In GUMSHOE One-2-One, the player is alone against the Elder Gods in Cthulhu Confidential or the Vampire Conspiracy in Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops. Previously, we provided advice for how GMs can convert any scenario to the GUMSHOE One-2-One system. Here, long-time One-2-One player, Nick Keller, (a.k.a. Langston Montgomery Wright from a year-and-a-half Cthulhu Confidential campaign that included a scenario from Pelgrane’s Mythos Expeditions and Chaosium’s legendary Mask of Nyarlathotep, and currently playing Jans Whorlman, an ex MI-6 vampire hunter in a Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops campaign), provides a player’s perspective of the One-2-One table.

The pacing of GUMSHOE One-2-One is much different than playing with a larger group. In my experience, groups spend an awful lot of time deciding and debating the next course of action, but events can happen much quicker in One-2-One. I follow my gut and act. I might follow three, four, five threads in a session. Paradoxically, with One-2-One, I also feel freer to take my time, explore, and dig into the setting.

For example, I remember stirring up some trouble on a side quest when I decided, out of the blue, that my character really, really needed a tranquilizer gun. My GM was willing to roll with that, so off I went to meet an arms dealer living on a ranch a half-day’s drive from all actual objectives. This wound up being a fun encounter that I most definitely would not have pushed on a larger group.

What I enjoy most about tabletop RPGs is collaboratively building a story. From a player’s perspective, I only ask that the GM maintains the illusion that the world exists and has some order to it. I know we are making up much of it together as we go, and I want that. I don’t need to see the sausage factory. It doesn’t matter to me whether charming Suspect A or mugging Suspect B will yield the same intel because narratively, they are very different experiences and are likely to have different repercussions for my character going forward.

I find that a good game will strike a fun balance between 1) your character is seeking something, and 2) something is seeking your character. For example, you heard that a cult leader works at the docks, and at the same time a shadowy organization wants you dead. As a player, you feel like you probably won’t get stuck in an investigation because, at some point, you’re going to fight a goon, and then you’ll be tied to a chair or looting clues off a corpse.

Speaking of dice-rolling encounters–use your Edge cards and Pushes. Remember that they exist to spend, and there will be more. If you are prone to resource hoarding, spending Edges and Pushes can take some getting used to, but over time, you start to develop a sense of the Push/Edge/Problem economy, and it becomes more natural.

Lastly, I think the biggest advantage of a single player campaign is that we are able to sustain a long-running campaign. Regularly gathering a group of four or five is tricky business for some folks, often impossible for others. I’ve watched fun games fall apart after a session or two when it becomes clear that players’ schedules are never going to line up. The option to hop online with one other person for a couple hours on a random Tuesday night is largely how I am able to continue tabletop gaming.

 


Jason Morgan is a writer and default gamemaster for his groups. You can follow him on Twitter @jmarshallmorgan where he shares his game prep and hopes his players aren’t reading.

by Adam Gauntlett

In Night’s Black Agents, the Network ability represents your network of professional contacts. It works something like Cover in play; at any time, you may reveal or remember the existence of a member of your network in a given city …

Walther PPK, 7.65 millimeter. Only three men I know use such a gun. I believe I’ve killed two of them … Valentin Dmitrovich Zhukovsky, GoldenEye.

Fibber felt ice trickle down his spine as he looked at the corpse of his friend Rico Marcelli, laid out on a morgue slab, the autopsy Y-incision a brutal reminder that, this time, it really was the end of Rico.

Fibber wasn’t just mourning the death of a friend, a colleague, a comrade in the fight against the Conspiracy. When Rico went, he took 4 of Fibber’s Network points with him. Those would be difficult to replace. Plus, Rico was supposed to be finding out as much as he could about the vampiric killer Sweetie-Face, the Conspiracy’s number one killer. Now all Rico’s work was gone – or was it? Maybe, before the Conspiracy caught up with him, Rico had time to load up one of his special dead drops; if he did, Fibber could salvage something from this disaster.

Network, and by extension Contacts, are special tools which the agents can use to help them out in a tight spot. In story, they represent old friends, professional colleagues, people whose skills and talents are vital in obtaining whatever McGuffin needs to be obtained this time. Mechanically, they are floating pools of Investigative and General points and boosts, which can be drawn on to overcome an obstacle.

What is an obstacle? Well, it’s whatever happens to be blocking plot progress in the moment. It doesn’t have to be a threat to life and limb. It can as easily be an invitation to that exclusive party, underworld gossip, or that all-important, difficult-to-obtain, Bane or Block.

Why use a Contact to overcome that obstacle when you have Investigative pools to spend? Perhaps your agent doesn’t want to spend their own points, or hasn’t got them to spend. Banking points in a Contact is a good way of ensuring there’s a way round every obstacle, no matter when or where they occur. Think of a Contact as the Swiss Army Knife of NPCs; a tool for every conceivable occasion – and reusable, so long as the Contact has points left.

In the Bond films GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough, Robbie Coltrane plays one of Bond’s Network contacts, Valentin Dmitrovich Zhukovsky, a former KGB agent turned entrepreneur and shady dealer in questionable merchandise. In their first meeting, Bond offers Zhukovsky a benefit – cash from an arms deal gone wrong – in exchange for a meeting with the shadowy Janus, boss of the crime syndicate that snatched control over a powerful, experimental weapon. In their second, Zhukovsky is much more involved with the plot, and saves Bond from a death trap with a carefully aimed bullet from Zhukovsky’s cane gun.

So in their first meeting, the obstacle was information, and an introduction. In their second there are several different obstacles, culminating in a final confrontation in which only Zhukovsky’s intervention gets Bond out of a situation that would otherwise have ended the story prematurely.

If this were an NBA campaign, Bond’s player probably didn’t invest that many Network points in Zhukovsky to begin with. After all, Bond doesn’t need Zhukovsky for more than one thing. So let’s say the player puts in 2 Network points, creating the character, giving Zhukovsky just enough points that Bond can buy that introduction to Janus. The arms deal gone wrong is flavor text; it means nothing to the overall plot, but it provides a reason for Zhukovsky to get involved. It represents that initial Network spend; Bond gives Zhukovsky pool points, and in exchange Zhukovsky overcomes an obstacle for Bond.

However it later becomes clear Zhukovsky’s more useful to Bond that he appeared at first glance. Bond’s player therefore invests more Network points, boosting Zhukovsky’s pool and thus allowing Zhukovsky to do more things for Bond. Network points don’t refresh, either for the contact or the agent, so every time Zhukovsky intervenes, he gets one step closer to burnout. In the story, Zhukovsky exhausts his pool and dies, but not before getting Bond out of the mess Bond’s in.

A Network spend is a big investment for the agent. The agent has to keep paying on the installment plan, with hard-won experience points, or have their Contact repossessed. Even that has its advantages, for the Director. In NBA, losing a Contact to the vampires means a potential cameo later on.  Zhukovsky returns! As a hungry ghost, a ghoul, a vampire, who knows … For Fibber, this might mean Rico’s about to get up off the slab and put the bite on him. That Y-incision could be the perfect decoy!

A Network Contact is usually unplanned, so, unlike every other Director-controlled character, the Contact is the player’s personal project. This does mean the Director needs to keep an eye on what the player creates, and offer advice or guidance, as needed. Zhukovsky’s a brilliant example of a good Contact; an ex-KGB with a sideline in arms dealing can have his fat fingers in all sorts of pies, and be seen anywhere in the world, from Macau to Manchester. On the other hand, Irene the hotel front desk attendant is less useful. Sure, she can overcome that one obstacle at the Paris Ritz, where she works, but she’s probably not going to be at the Ritz Dubai next week, or the Ritz-Carlton Moscow the week after that, never mind the 2020 Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection next month. Irene is pretty much stuck in Paris, along with all those Network points someone invested in her. Moreover she’s only useful in hotels; she won’t be arranging illicit gun sales, or breaking the agents out of prison.

Fibber and his somber team discuss their options. Rico’s death almost certainly means Sweetie-Face is tracking them, possibly even preparing an ambush. Fibber thinks Rico may have left some intel in a safe house that Rico set up, so they decide to go there first.

Sure enough, it’s a trap – but not a very well-planned trap. ‘Sweetie-Face is getting sloppy,’ says Fibber, as the team stacks dead mooks in the bedroom of a La Busserine apartment, in Marseille.

Belulah thinks that was the point. ‘There’s a lot of cops hanging around,’ she points out. ‘Plenty more than I’d expect, given how tough this neighborhood is. Almost like they’re waiting for the Go order. Did you see those stacks of cash and whatever that stuff in the brown bags is, in the bedroom? I bet Sweetie-Face set this up so she can hang some kind of major crime on us, maybe terrorism or drug smuggling.’

The team starts to sweat, particularly bang-and-burner Fibber, who’s in enough trouble as it is. Belulah grins. ‘I can call in my old pal George,’ she says.

Belulah’s player initially thought of a Marseille gangster Contact, but the Director pointed out that someone closely tied to Marseille wouldn’t be much use in, say, Japan. Not that next week’s scenario is set in Japan, but … [discreet cough]. Instead Belulah puts 4 Network points into George Gamble, founder and CEO of Worldwide Forensic Experts LLC, a small, specialized humanitarian forensics company. George used to work in war zones; a Marseilles apartment stacked with corpses is probably not even the goriest thing he’s seen this week.

Meanwhile, hacker and cracker Gildersneeve puts the backdoor he installed on the cops’ network to good use. Sure enough, the cops are planning a raid on this very apartment block, searching for some big, tough, organized crime types. A few more keyboard taps, and Gildersneeve delays the raid for a precious few hours, by laying a false trail. It won’t last long; Belulah needs to act now.

Of course, the team could cleanse the apartment with Investigative spends. However nobody has a lot of Technical points to burn, and Belulah’s concerned this could end up with bags of suspicious chemicals in the trunk of the car, corpses on the back seat, and Fibber in the passenger seat playing with C4, while she’s driving down La Canebière with sirens howling in the background.

No. Better to make this problem go away. No fuss, no muss.

‘Hiya, Belulah,’ says George. He has his equipment in a carrybag, and Noddy suits for all the gang, so they don’t leave any more forensic traces.

‘No time for small talk, George.’ Belulah’s busy gathering the team’s guns in a bag, for easy disposal. She’s burning Streetwise to discover if dumping them in the Canal or the Harbor is a good idea. ‘We need this whole place cleansed, as if we were never here.’

‘Can do. It’ll be just like that time in Rome. It’ll cost you, B.’ Mechanically, a point spend from the Network pool Belulah invested in George, but in narrative it could be anything. Bond used cash from an arms deal gone wrong to lure Zhukovsky. In game, Belulah uses her High Society connections to get George access to exclusive parties.

‘Sure. Back room of Insomnia, Berlin?’

‘Done, and done.’ George starts laying out the tools of his trade.

‘Oh!’ Belulah remembers Rico’s dead drop. ‘Fibber thinks there’s something hidden here, but he’s not sure where.’

‘If it’s here, I’ll find it.’ Sure enough, George pulls out the intel file Rico hid on a data stick stuffed behind a false power socket. Rico’s last testament is now in Fibber’s possession.

‘You’re a doll, George. Do you speak Japanese?’

‘Hai!’

‘That’s good to know. See you round, George!’

The team scarpers. They have evidence, and their clothing, to dispose of, and Fibber has the clues Rico gave him. It’s time to give Sweetie-Face a taste of her own, bitter medicine …


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

The BORELLUS CONNECTION manuscript was too nightmarish and vast to be constrained by any binding our printer could conceive; therefore, we were obliged to remove some material from the book. It’s preserved here as a series of Page XX articles. As Orne’s mysterious correspondent in Philadelphia warned us, “no Part must be missing if the finest Effects are to be had”; therefore, we have categorised these cuttings as FINEST EFFECTS.

All materials tagged FINEST EFFECTS are Handler’s Eyes Only – prospective players of the Borellus Connection campaign are instructed not to read these articles.

Operation SECOND LOOK originally opened up with an action scene where the player characters accompany the Italian police to intercept a suspected drug shipment. It all goes poorly, but interrogating the smugglers leads into the drug-deal subplot in Beirut. For reasons of space, this scene was cut and the leads moved to a more conventional briefing – however, if you want to give players a taste of day-to-day Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs activities, give run this scene before the initial briefing scene, When The Boat Comes In.

Torre San Giovanni is a small fishing village in the heel of Italy, about thirty miles south of the city of Lecce. It’s a sleepy, picturesque little place, named for the 16thcentury tower that watches over the harbor. Fishing and olive groves make up most of the local economy.

According to information from a BNDD informant in Turkey, the Unione Corse intend to bring a shipment of morphine base ashore here tonight. The smugglers are using a small fishing boat, one of dozens that work along the shore here. The informant claims the Unione Corse will transfer the morphine from a large freighter to the fishing boat at sea, and then bring it ashore, where it’ll be collected by a Unione Corse courier to bring it to Marseille.

The BNDD plan is to let the transfer go ahead, and wait until the fishing boat gets to the shore, in the hopes of intercepting both the fishermen and the courier. There’s an Italian coast guard ship standing by to stop the freighter at sea.

The players get to run the shore-side ambush. They don’t know who the courier is – presumably, it’ll be a truck or other vehicle to carry the packages of morphine base. They don’t know which fishing boat it is – there are a dozen boats coming in that evening. And they need to keep undercover until the jaws of the trap close, to ensure any watchers in the town don’t signal a warning to the fishing boat. In addition to the Agents, they’ve got a dozen eager local policeofficers at their disposal.

Let the players come up with whatever ambush plan they wish.

The night wears on. The heat of the day fades as the waters of the Ionian sea lap on the beach. Most of the fishing boats won’t come back until dawn, and as the sky begins to lighten in the east, a few locals come down to the docks to wait for the returning boats and help landing the cache. If the Agents aren’t carefully hidden, call for a Conceal or Disguise test (Difficulty 4) from the most obviously suspicious Agent; if the test fails, there’s some whispering and muttering from the workers assembled on the shore as they realise something’s amiss.

One by one, the boats come in.

  • 1-point Notice spend: A light flashes out at sea – and a moment later, there’s an answering flash from the hills above the town.

Then, a car – a new one, big and black – comes down the road at speed and pulls up at the pier as the fishing boat Pierro approaches.

If the Agents hold back, the transfer goes ahead in the most obvious fashion ever – two bales of contraband get hauled out of the cabin of the Pierro and loaded into the trunk of the car. One of the men from the car opens one bale and hands out free packets of cigarettes to everyone standing around the dock as a bribe to stay quiet.

The Raid

There are two men in the car, and another four on board Pierro. They’re all small-time cigarette smugglers, bringing in cheap Turkish cigarettes to avoid import duty (they also deal in small amounts of heroin). If the Agents have a solid plan for the ambush, it all goes smoothly; otherwise, it gets messy. The pair in the car (Paulo Sciarra and Vito Adami) attempt to drive off, while the four on the boat either try to flee on foot across the beach, or cast off from the pier and return to sea. The initial assumption of the criminals is that they’ve been ambushed by a rival gang; if the players flash badges and shout that they’re cops – and spend a point of Intimidation, Languages or Agency– they can convince the criminals not to fight back. Otherwise, throw in foot or car chases and/or brawls to taste.

If Sciarra and Adami manage to escape in their car, then move the core clue about the Beirut deal to the fishermen.

Aftermath

At first, it all looks like a debacle driven by bad information – dozens of cops, the Guardia de Finanza and the American BNDD, all for what? A few hundred packets of cigarettes? The Unione Corse must be laughing at them. There’s lots of shouting, finger-pointing, and arguments over who is to blame for this farce. The player characters can get involved (making a show of support for the BNDD is worth a 2-point Bureaucracy pool of favours), or keep their heads down and keep working.

  • A thorough search of the fishing boat Pierro discovers (Conceal test, Difficulty 4) a hidden compartment in the bilges. There’s a scrap of plastic wrap snagged on a loose screw, and Chemistry or Pharmacy discovers it tests positive for morphine base – there’s no heroin on the boat now.
  • There’s a small amount of heroin in the car, enough to charge Sciarra and Adami as dealers (they supply heroin to tourists in Lecce and Brindisi).
  • The freighter is clean, although some of the crew admit under questioning that they smuggled cigarettes out of Turkey and threw them down to the Pierro when it passed nearby.

Questioning the Prisoners

Interrogation of the fishermendiscovers the following:

  • They’re not part of any organized crime – just a few local crooks.
  • They admit that they’ve helped bring heroin ashore before, but didn’t ask any questions.
  • 1-point Interrogation spend(or using the discovery of the smuggling compartment as a leveraged clue): When they brought heroin ashore, it was from a different freighter, the SS Invicta.
    • Traffic Analysisand some research: The SS Invicta is at sea; she departed Marseille a few days ago and is en route to Beirut with a cargo of machine parts.
  • A 1-point spend of Reassurance, Streetwise or Negotiation gets the name of a friend of one of the fisherman, a pal who lives in Beirut and knows the city’s underworld – Ghasif Saad. Ghasif is a free network contact (see Local Contacts,p. XX)

Interrogation of Sciarra and Adami yields more useful information:

  • They’re small-time heroin dealers.
  • They’ve heard that there’s a war brewing within the Unione Corse, a struggle to see who becomes caïd (godfather) of the Corsican mafia.
    • A 1-point Streetwise spend identifies some possible contenders – the Francesci clan, the Guerinis, the Venturis – but the rules of omertáwithin the Unione Corse are strong, and those inside the organisation don’t speak to those outside. It’s entirely possible that such a war has been going on for years.
  • Core clue: They’ve also heard that there’s a big heroin deal coming down. It’s happening in Beirut. They don’t know any more.
    • HUMINT: They’re trying to pass off rumour and scuttlebutt as genuine inside information; this alleged big deal in Beirut might be nothing.

 

In the latest episode of their multi-layered podcast, Ken and Robin talk narrative voices in RPG play, Whitey Bulger & MK-ULTRA, curse tablets, and Oswald Wirth & Stanislas de Guaita.

Basic Shock Deck

Apprehension, panic, terror, and collapsing causation!

This optional accessory helps The Yellow King Roleplaying Game GMs select and hand out Shocks during in-person play. Its card selection focuses on the varieties of fear and emotional disequilibrium most likely to afflict investigators into any reality-altering Carcosan mystery. Perfect for on-the-fly scenarios or abrupt sidetracks into hallucination and shattered consciousness. This deck assists GMs who prefer the solid slap of a physical card against the game table you can plunk before players when their characters stare into the uncanny and wish they hadn’t.

Basic Injury Deck

Bullets, blades, tumbles and absinthe overindulgence!

This optional accessory allows The Yellow King Roleplaying Game GMs to quickly grab and dish out Injury cards during face-to-face play. Its card selection focuses on the sorts of harm most likely to occur in any investigation into reality-bending occult horror. Ideal for improvised scenarios or sudden swerves into unexpectedly dangerous territory. This deck assists GMs who prefer the tactile charms of a physical card you can plunk before players when their characters lose fights or run afoul of hazards.
Contains 76 cards, with 2 copies of each Minor Injury and 1 of each Major Injury, corresponding to a wide variety of heroically harmful situations. Includes those essential workhorses of the game, post-healing Secondary cards like “On the Mend” and “Precarious Recovery.” From the mild drowning of “Cough, Choke, Splutter” to the memorable agony of “Fearsome Gut Punch,” this deck contains more than enough smackdowns to keep your investigators reeling with adventurous consequence.

Each purchase of The Yellow King RPG from our website, or a bricks-and-mortar retailer, includes the following downloads:

  • PNG files of all Shock and Injury cards from the four core settings
  • PNG files of all Goal, Chit & Hit cards from the Aftermath setting
  • A PSD format blank template of the Shock, Injury, Goal, Chit & Hit cards
  • A GIMP format blank template of the Shock, Injury, Goal, Chit & Hit cards
  • PDF of the 76-card Basic Shock deck
  • PDF of the 76-card Basic Injury deck

If you’d like print versions of The Yellow King RPG Basic Shock & Basic Injury decks, you can get them from the links below:

 
US & Canada – buy the Basic Shock Deck from DriveThruRPG
 
US & Canada – buy the Basic Injury Deck from DriveThruRPG
 
 
Customers outside the US & Canada – buy the Basic Shock Deck from Pelgrane
 
Customers outside the US & Canada – buy the Basic Injury Deck from Pelgrane

Stone Skin Press Letters to Lovecraft

EIGHTEEN WHISPERS TO THE DARKNESS

‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’

So begins H. P. Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” arguably the most important analysis of horror ever written. Yet while hordes of writers have created works based on Lovecraft’s fiction, never before has an anthology taken its inspiration directly from the literary manifesto behind his entire mythos…until now.

Like cultists poring over a forbidden tome, eighteen modern masters of horror have gathered here to engage with Lovecraft’s treatise. Rather than responding with articles of their own, these authors have written new short stories inspired by intriguing quotes from the essay, offering their own whispers to the darkness. They tell of monsters and madmen, of our strange past and our weirder future, of terrors stalking the winter woods, the broiling desert, and eeriest of all, our bustling cities, our family homes.
 

Corresponding with the darkness are:
Kirsten ALENE • David Yale ARDANUYASAMATSU Ken
Nadia BULKIN • Chesya BURKE • Brian EVENSON
Gemma FILES • Jeffrey FORD • Orrin GREY
Stephen Graham JONES • Robin D. LAWS • Tim LEBBON
Livia LLEWELLYN • Nick MAMATAS • Cameron PIERCE
Angela SLATER • Molly TANZER • Paul TREMBLAY

 
Cover & interior illustrations by Jason Morningstar.
 

Author and first-time editor Bullington (The Folly of the World) explores macabre maestro H.P. Lovecraft’s enduring legacy in this deeply satisfying anthology. … The stories in this essential compilation are as diverse as the contributors, and together they form a wonderful confluence of criticism and creativity.

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

There is a lot of Lovecraftian ephemera out there and sometimes it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Letters to Lovecraft strikes me as an intelligent attempt to do something different and as such should be applauded…It is the first time that I have come across Stone Skin Press, but based on the evidence presented here, it is not going to be my last.

SFF World

 
ISBN-13: 9781908983107
Format: B Format – 198x129mm
Binding: Paperback
Extent: 280 pages
ebook: PDF, EPUB, MOBI included with print book
 
This title, and all other Stone Skin Press titles, are available together in the Stone Skin Press Complete Bundle. This is also available in the Lovecraft Fiction Bundle.
 
Buy print edition now
 
Buy PDF, EPUB, MOBI now

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