Building on fond memories of other random generators, what might a random Trail adventure generator look like? The tables below generate a highly random Trail of Cthulhu mystery. As with all random generators, the goal is to prompt the Keeper’s creativity in connecting disparate elements – don’t expect coherence from random rolls alone!

Adventure Hook (d12)

Why do the investigators get involved? (You can also use this as a way to determine the theme or atmosphere of the adventure if you’re not using pregenerated characters.)

  1. Adventure
  2. Arrogance
  3. Antiquarianism
  4. Artistic Sensitivity
  5. Bad Luck
  6. Curiosity
  7. Duty
  8. In the Blood
  9. Revenge
  10. Scholarship
  11. Sudden Shock
  12. Thirst For Knowledge

(The drives Ennui and Follower aren’t used in the list above.)

Location (d20)

Where does the adventure take place? The somewhat eclectic list of suggestions below is based on the locations discussed in the Trail of Cthulhu rulebook.)

  1. United States – Rural
  2. United States – Small Town
  3. United States – Urban
  4. United States – Lovecraft Country
  5. Abyssinia/ Belgian Congo
  6. Antarctica
  7. Brazil
  8. Burma
  9. Egypt
  10. Germany
  11. Greenland
  12. Haiti
  13. Mongolia
  14. Peru
  15. Rumania
  16. Saudi Arabia
  17. Soviet Union
  18. Easter Island/South Pacific Mandate
  19. Spain
  20. Thibet

Apparent Situation (roll 1d20)

What are the investigators doing here?

  1. Commercial interest – it’s related to the business of an investigator, like a real estate deal
  2. Investigate disappearance – of a friend, relative or other acquaintance. Or a strange, if the investigator is a police officer, detective or other specialist.
  3. Investigate untimely death – as above.
  4. Investigate cryptic events – lights in the sky, strange footprints, sinister letters.
  5. Investigate criminal activity – bootlegging, extortion, theft
  6. Investigate alleged supernatural event – ghosts, seances, vampire attacks, curses.
  7. Investigate medical mystery – strange disease, sudden madness
  8. Investigate prodigy – fallen meteorite, brilliant scientific discovery
  9. Carry out personal errand – execute a will, return a book borrowed years before
  10. Carry out mundane task – something connected to the investigator’s occupation
  11. Carry out official duties – as above, but a little more formal and significant
  12. Survey site – examine a location in detail, for commercial or archaeological reasons
  13. Report on story of interest – even if the investigator isn’t a reporter, they might be asked to look into a local mystery
  14. Research local history – as a hobby, out of antiquarian interest.
  15. Visit distant cousins or aged relative – haven’t seen them in years, I wonder what they’re up to
  16. Visit old friend or correspondent – as per Henry Akeley in Whisperer in Darkness
  17. Vacation or (recuperation after traumatic experience) – just what you need after that last nightmarish encounter
  18. Vehicle breakdown or travel delay – you’re stuck here for a while
  19. Drawn here by strange dreams – because you’re a Lovecraftian protagonist
  20. Seeking mysterious object or book – that has recently come to light

Horrible Truth (roll 1d12)

What’s really going on?

  1. The Apparent Situation is the true situation
  2. There’s a CULT here, and their activities may be exposed by the Apparent Situation
  3. There once was a CULT here; it’s mostly moribund, but some horror connected to the cult lies buried here and may be exposed by the Apparent Situation
  4. There’s an active and ambitious CULT here; the Apparent Situation is connected to some malign intent of theirs.
  5. There’s a CREATURE here, disinterested in humanity unless provoked.
  6. There’s a CREATURE here, preying on humanity.
  7. There’s a CREATURE here, slumbering – but it may be awoken by the Apparent Situation.
  8. The Apparent Situation was triggered by a TOME OR ARTEFACT
  9. Someone’s using the Mythos for personal gain using a TOME OR ARTEFACT
  10. There’s a GOD OR TITAN slumbering here, and its presence disturbs the world
  11. There’s an ancient ruin or tomb connected to a GOD OR TITAN here, guarded by a (1-3: CULT, 4-6: CREATURE)
  12. There’s a clash between two entities (roll 1d6 for each: 1-3: CULT, 4-5 CREATURE, 6 GOD OR TITAN).

Cult

Roll on the the Cult Size, Cult Status, Cult Intent and Blasphemous Rites tables.

Cult Size (roll d6)

  1. A single sorcerer
  2. A small cabal (a single family, a few locals)
  3. A congregation (two dozen or so)
  4. Endemic in the area (lots of people in the area are involved)
  5. Far-flung (only a small cabal here, but the cult is spread across the world)
  6. Great conspiracy (cult is world-wide and exceedingly well connected)

Cult Status (roll 1d6)

  1. Dead – no cultists left, only their works
  2. In decline – only a few left
  3. Secret – cult is hidden and mostly inactive, only performing rites on rare occasions
  4. Active – cult continues its sinister practices
  5. Recruiting – cult seeks new members
  6. On the verge of triumph! – cult is about to take a major step towards its goal

Cult Intent (roll 1d6)

  1. Worship of CREATURE with offerings, sacrifice
  2. Worship of GOD OR TITAN
  3. Study of TOME OR ARTEFACT
  4. Acquisition of power
  5. Keepers of CREATURE
  6. Summon GOD OR TITAN, end reign of humanity.

 Blasphemous Rites Include (roll 1d10)

  1. Worship outdoors at ritual site
  2. Worship at hidden temple, cave or ruin
  3. Bizarre surgical experiments
  4. Congress with CREATURE
  5. Use of drugs or extracts
  6. Ritual initiation
  7. Travel through dreams or magical gateways
  8. Use of ritual magic
  9. Ritual sacrifice
  10. Transformation

Creature (roll 1d100)

1-2 Bat-Thing
3-4 Bhole
5-6 Black Winged Ones
7-8 Byakhee
9-10 Colour Out of Space
11-15 Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath
16-20 Deep One
21-22 Dimensional Shambler
23-24 Elder Thing
25-26 Flying Polyp
27-28 Elder Thing
29-30 Formless Spawn
31-32 Gaseous Wraiths
33-38 Ghoul
39-40 Gnoph-Keh
41-42 Great Race of Yith
43-44 Hound of Tindalos
45-46 Hunting Horror
47-48 K’n-Yani
49-50 Lemurian
51-52 Lloigor
53-54 Masqut
55-56 Medusa
57-60 Mi-go
61-62 Moon-beast
63-64 Nightgaunt
64-66 Raktajihva
67-68 Rat-Thing
69-70 Sand-Dweller
71-72 Serpent Folk
73-74 Servitor of the Outer Gods
75-76 Shan
77-78 Shantak
79-80 Shoggoth
81-82 Son of Yog-Sothoth
83-84 Space-Eater
85-86 Star Vampire
87-88 Ultraviolet Devourer
89-90 Tcho-Tcho
91-92 Vampirish Vapour
93-94 Wendigo
95-96 Worm-Cultist
97-98 Xothian
99-100 Y’m-bhi

Gods & Titans (roll 1d20)

  1. Azathoth
  2. Chaugnar Faugn
  3. Cthugha
  4. Cthulhu
  5. Dagon
  6. Daoloth
  7. Ghatanothoa
  8. Gol-Goroth
  9. Hastur
  10. Ithaqua
  11. Mordiggan
  12. Mormo
  13. Nodens
  14. Nyarlathotep
  15. Quachil Uttaus
  16. Shub-Niggurath
  17. Tsathoggua
  18. Y’golonac
  19. Yig
  20. Yog-Sothoth

Tomes & Artefacts (roll 1d20)

1. Necronomicon, original
2. Necronomicon, modern
3. Cultes des Goules
4. De Vermis Mysteriis
5. King in Yellow
6. Book of Eibon
7. Pnakotic Manuscripts
8-9 Idol of GOD or TITAN
10-11 Idol of CREATURE
12-13 Relic or Mummy of CREATURE
14. Remains of ancient sorcerer or priest
15. Ancient Stone
16. Dust or Elixir
17. Cryptic Machine
18. Weapon or Tool
19. Enchanted Place
20. Gateway or portal

Structuring the Adventure

As a starting point, assume 3-5 core clues must be discovered and 1-3 hazards must be overcome to complete the investigation.

Random Core Clues

Clue Type

1-2 Academic
3-4 Interpersonal
5-6 Technical

Academic

  1. Accounting
  2. Anthropology
  3. Archaeology
  4. Architecture
  5. Art History
  6. Biology
  7. Cthulhu Mythos
  8. Cryptography
  9. Geology
  10. History
  11. Languages
  12. Law
  13. Library Use
  14. Medicine
  15. Occult
  16. Physics
  17. Theology
  18. Roll again, but it’s an impossibility
  19. Roll again, but it’s a personal connection
  20. Roll again, but it’s a terrible revelation

An Impossibility: This rock is older than the universe! This painting is moving! This library is carnivorous!

A Personal Connection: Your Medicine can’t tell you anything about this condition – but you do know a retired physician, Doctor Black, who lives nearby. Maybe he can help.

A Terrible Revelation: Oops! I just correlated hitherto disassociated fragments of knowledge. Rookie mistake.

Interpersonal

  1. Assess Honesty
  2. Bargain
  3. Bureaucracy
  4. Cop Talk
  5. Credit Rating
  6. Flattery
  7. Interrogation
  8. Intimidation
  9. Oral History
  10. Reassurance
  11. Streetwise
  12. Roll again, but it attracts the attention of sinister forces

Sinister forces: It’s not wise to ask questions about certain topics.

Technical

  1. Art
  2. Astronomy
  3. Chemistry
  4. Craft
  5. Evidence Collection
  6. Forensics
  7. Locksmith
  8. Outdoorsman
  9. Pharmacy
  10. Photography
  11. Roll again, but it’s an impossibility
  12. Roll again, but it exposes the investigator to something toxic or hazardous

Exposure: You see a strange light as you look through the telescope; you pick the lock, but discover the door’s a twist in space and time…

Random Hazards

  1. Athletics – a chase scene, a physical obstacle
  2. Conceal – a hidden trap
  3. Disguise – you must infiltrate a group
  4. Driving – dangerous conditions or a car chase
  5. Electrical Repair/Mechanical Repair – a piece of equipment is vitally needed
  6. Explosives – it’s the only way to be sure
  7. Filch – you must steal something
  8. Firearms – a combat scene at range!
  9. First Aid – someone’s dying or badly injured
  10. Health – exposed to a toxin
  11. Piloting – we’re on a boat
  12. Riding – we’re on a horse
  13. Stability – keep it together, man!
  14. Scuffling – a combat scene, up close!
  15. Sense Trouble – there’s something out there.
  16. Shadowing – quick, after them!
  17. Stealth – you must infiltrate a place
  18. Weapons – a combat scene, with sharp bits
  19. Roll again twice
  20. It’s a combat scene, with a complication. Roll again for the second ability involved, other than a combat ability. For example, Riding implies a shoot-out on horseback; Stealth implies an assassination attempt.

Putting It All Together

Let’s roll up a random adventure and see what comes of it!

Our initial hook is SCHOLARSHIP, and our location is ANTARCTICA. Clearly, we’re on a scientific expedition – maybe the Starkweather-Moore expedition promised at the end of At The Mountains of Madness. It’s hardly worth rolling an Apparent Situation in this case. The Horrible Truth is that there’s a CREATURE preying on people – specifically, a BLACK WINGED ONE, the assassins of the Cthulhu cult.

Our key clues are: BUREAUCRACY, ART and OUTDOORSMAN, and our random hazards are FILCH and RIDING.

So… the expedition to the Antarctic includes a secret worshipper of Cthulhu. He summons up a Black Winged One to kill other members of the expedition, for he seeks to get to the glacier where Cthulhu slumbers. Bureaucracy reveals that someone infiltrated the expedition under an assumed name, Art (plus Filch) means the investigators steal the cultist’s sketchbook and see his crazed scribblings of a buried god, and Outdoorsman & Riding imply a desperate sleigh-dog chase scene across the frozen wastes!

Another random attempt yields:

ARROGANCE for our hook, SPAIN for our location, VACATION for our Apparent Situation. That sounds like a bunch of idealists charging off to volunteer in the Spanish civil war. The horrible truth is that there’s a clash between two Cults.

The first Cult is a lone sorcerer who’s on the verge of triumph – he seeks to acquire power, and his blasphemous rites include Ritual Initiation.

He’s opposed by a second cult that Endemic in the Area, highly Secret, and worships… hmm. The Tcho-Tcho. Their rites include congress with a creature – rather an involving a second race, let’s assume it’s congress with Tcho-Tcho. Presumably, there’s a connection between the Plateau of Leng and the Meseta Central.

Obviously, if it’s the Spanish civil war, then the two cults are on opposite sides. A Communist sorcerer? Fascist Tcho-tchos? Or the other way around?

Our core clues are INTIMIDATION (Interrogating a prisoner, maybe?), OCCULT and COP TALK; hazards are Piloting and Sense Trouble.

So – the investigators are volunteers on the Republican side. Interrogating a prisoner, they learn of a fascist plot to bomb mountain villages. (Time to do some research on aerial bombardment and air power during the Spanish civil war; Guernica can be a touchstone here). OCCULT discovers the villages are being targeted because of their connection to the Tcho-Tcho cult; the investigators need to use Piloting and a borrowed biplane to shoot one bomber down before it commits the mass sacrifice needed a portal to Leng and the triumph of the Nazi sorcerer behind the bombing plan. Cop Talk and Sense Trouble warn the investigators that their Tcho-Tcho-worshipping allies will turn on them after the fighting’s done, and they should head back to the safely of the lowlands if they hope to survive…


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

St. Patrick St. Patrick. Your only man, really. Taken as a slave to Ireland, escaped, then went back to bring Christianity to the heathens of Ireland. A grasp of both theology and vegetation, by all accounts. Got rid of the snakes, so he did, so he did. Best known now for being a really effective marketing campaign for Irish tourism, but put that aside for now – and grapple with seven shamrock-flavoured GUMSHOE scenario seeds. Most of these are best taken with a pinch of salt… or a generous portion of Writer’s Tears whiskey…

Trail of Cthulhu

St. Patrick banished snakes from Ireland, and we all know what snakes are a metaphor for, right? Tentacles. The pagans of Ireland had associations with underwater prehuman civilisations and monstrous gods – clearly, an outpost of the Deep Ones. The only question is, who was Saint Patrick working for? He’s said to have been inspired by a dream – which might be the mocking meddling of Nyarlathotep. Another tale speaks of his staff sprouting into a tree, which smacks of the Black Goat’s work. Or maybe his abduction wasn’t to Ireland, but to Yuggoth – was St. Patrick a tool dispatched by the Mi-Go to rid Ireland of the Deep Ones (or Serpent People)?

In 1937, your investigators are about to find out, when the draining of a bog reveals an ancient ruin…

Night’s Black Agents

A parade’s always a good place for a fight scene. It’s usually Chinese New Year or Carnivale, but there’s no reason you can’t have a cinematic chase sequence with the participants dodging through brass bands, Irish dancers and leprechauns. (Of possible use – plenty of police offices and priests, just what you need when hunting vampires). Bonus points if you set it in Ireland, maybe while pursuing clues from the Dracula Dossier – Irish Patrick’s day parades tend to be rather shabby and dull compared to American extravaganzas, so you’ll have heroic life-and-death battles on the back of a float advertising some local insurance company…

Mutant City Blues

The victim’s a mutant, so the case landed on your desk. How do they know she’s a mutant? Her skin’s bright green, shifted as part of the celebration using the Alter Form ability. It’s fading, though, which gives you time of death – about three hours after the parade. Alter Form’s correlated with Impersonate – and there was an incident during the parade where a firework went off right in front of the mayor’s stand, clouding the whole area in smoke. Could that have been cover for a switch-out? Was this mystery mutant mimicking the mayor? And if so, why? And who killed her?  

The Esoterrorists

The Irish are, in general, relatively easy-going. Cultural stereotypes of drunken brawlers with a dozen kids and a pig under one arm? Sure, ‘tis all in good fun. 800 years of oppression? Well, aren’t we all Europeans now?

Calling it “St. Patty’s Day?” War to the knife.

Why? Why does that error trigger blind rage? Why do other countries insist on doing it, when “Paddy” is right there? I mean, that’s not great either. And “St. Pat’s” is fine – what strange, esoteric sorcery is there to implant such horror in two little letters?

And once the Esoterrorists have refined this sigil, what else might they attach it to? The Illuminati had their fnords – what if the Esoterrorists successfully create a magical rune that can cause outbreaks of fury in anyone who unwittingly sees it?

Ashen Stars

The synth-culture planet of the Old Country was created to appeal to Human nostalgia for some vanished past that never was – it’s a planet of scenic little cottages, dreary bogs, dancing at the crossroads, and lively village pubs. During the Mohilar War, however, a Durugh warfleet occupied the peaceful Old Country. These Durugh refused to believe the war was over, have rejected the Durugh king’s command to switch sides, and have dug in, constructing underground shelters accessible only by phasing. Down there, they’re experimenting with last-ditch doomsday weapons including time-manipulation technology obtained from the Mohilar…

So, you’ve got an idealised fiction of mid-19th-century Ireland, occupied by heavily armed fairies. The Lasers get called in to find a way to convince the Durugh to lay down their weapons and accept that the war is over.

TimeWatch

No St. Patrick, no Christianity in Ireland. No Christianity, no monasteries. No monasteries, no preservation of knowledge during the Dark Ages. No preservation of knowledge during the Dark Ages, VICTORY OF THE SOPHOSAURS! The TimeWatch team need to guard young Patricus and ensure he meets his destiny…

EXCITING BONUS CONTENT!

Here in Ireland, and across much of the rest of the world, St. Patrick’s Day parades have been cancelled due to the, er, world-wide pandemic. There are plans afoot for virtual or roleplayed parades – kids will be sticking appropriately green-themed artwork in the windows across cities – and moving real-world events into imaginary or virtual spaces is a skill we’ll all have to master very quickly in the weeks to come. So, join us in our festive St. Patrick’s lockdown, and stick a shamrock in the window.

by Adam Gauntlett

In Night’s Black Agents, Trust provides a modular system for tracking and modelling variable trust within a team of agents … Being trusted by a fellow agent lets you help her out in a pinch – or betray her far more effectively.

TRUCE, n. Friendship.

TRUTHFUL, adj. Dumb and illiterate.

TWICE, adv. Once too often. [Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary]

Some players, little cherubs that they are, like to scheme and betray. To recreate that old Le Carré magic, where nobody knows quite where anyone else stands, but everyone knows they’re going to get killed, or worse, if they guess incorrectly. Le Carré, you may recall, based a good deal of his own writing on his experiences with his con-man father, whose continual scheming and money woes scarred Le Carré’s childhood.

Fix that in your mind from the start: when using Trust, you’re playing a con game – a spy’s Big Store, where nothing is as it seems, and you might get the blow-off at any moment, forced to flee without so much as an empty satchel, once full of secrets, to your credit.

Mechanically, you start with 5 Trust points, and spread them around your fellow suckers – forgive me, your fellow agents. This might be in secret or out in the open, but if you’re playing Trust at all, it’s probably better done in secret. Those points can be spent as needed during play, either to help your comrade in a difficult moment, or to hinder them.

There are two unspoken assumptions in that statement. The first, scarcity. The second, benefit.

In order to spend points at all, there has to be opportunity to do so. There has to be a moment when somebody could really use a boost, or cannot afford to be betrayed. This implies they have no, or very few, Investigative or General points of their own – that points are scarce.  Perhaps refreshes aren’t easily had, or the players are encouraged to spend points quickly in-game. That further implies that Difficulties tend to be high, and consequences for failure severe. Why spend points if the Difficulty stays at 4, or 3? Why spend points if failure isn’t painful?

Second, there has to be benefit. Or, as Bierce puts it:

CUI BONO? [Latin] What good would that do me?

When Fibber McGee spends Trust to help Molly interrogate a raving, Renfielded Wallace Wimple, Fibber isn’t doing that out of the kindness of his withered cinder of a heart. Fibber’s doing it because it benefits Fibber. Either getting Wimple to talk is in Fibber’s best interests, or it encourages Molly to put her Trust in Fibber – a mistake that could prove costly later, when Fibber uses those accumulated Trust points to destroy Molly.

All of which skirts round the biggest Trust issue of all – that Trust is about secrets, and therefore story. It’s right there in the opening sentence – this provides a modular system for tracking and modelling variable trust. A mechanic for expressing the consequences of story actions in-game. Trust means nothing without Story. As Director, you shouldn’t focus on Trust as a points mechanic. You should focus on Trust as a means of expressing Story. The points are there to help you do that, but Trust does not begin and end with a point spend.

Fibber might be secretly working for his ineffable, unknowable master, the Johnson Floor Wax Company. Molly might be an Edom mole. Wetworker Belulah might be helping one of Dracula’s Brides kill Dracula, so the Bride can take over the Conspiracy. Hacker and cracker Throckmorton P. Gildersneeve might have been secretly a CIA plant up till that failed break-in, where he was captured by Conspiracy goons and forced to turn to the other side, or die.

All of them have secrets, all of them have Story, and it is that Story they are trying to fulfil when they spend and receive Trust. When Fibber puts 1 point of Trust into Molly, it’s so he can use that Trust for Johnson Floor Wax. Because none of the crew can get what they want on their own, but each of them wants to be the last agent standing when the smoke clears.

For that reason, in a Trust game, players should specify their Story objective right at the start. That objective isn’t carved in stone, and can change in play, just as Gildersneeve changed allegiance from the CIA to the Conspiracy. However, the agent has to be true to their Story objective, as they understand it in the moment. So Fibber is always working for the greater good of Johnson Floor Wax, and if Johnson Floor Wax is actually a Conspiracy front, that doesn’t matter – at least, not until Fibber discovers The Hidden Truth, and has to make up his mind what to do about it. Up until that point, Fibber was being true to his objective, without realizing his objective was wrong-headed. Now he knows it’s wrong-headed, will he stay loyal to Johnson Floor Wax, or find a new Story?

Now, an example.

Fibber and the crew had to flee across national borders, after their last escapade ended in a flurry of explosions. They’ve all had a chance to rest and refresh pools, and Gildersneeve’s injuries have healed. Fibber, the bang-and-burner, has 3 points Trust in Molly, 2 in Belulah, and none anywhere else. Molly the black bagger has 3 in Fibber, 2 in Belulah, 2 in Gildersneeve – she’s been buying extras with experience points. The other team members have Trust investments as well, but for the purpose of this example they don’t affect play.

The wild card here is Gildersneeve. He’s working for the vampires now. That means he can’t be Betrayed; as an agent of dark powers, Gildersneeve expects to be betrayed by his fellow, human, agents. However, Gildersneeve can betray them, so Gildersneeve’s 7 points of Trust (like Molly, he used experience points to buy more) could prove toxic later on. It won’t, in this example – but the Director should remember ticking time bombs like these, because they have a nasty habit of going off when everyone least expects it.

Belulah, working for the Bride, may be in a similar position, but doesn’t have to be. Belulah’s player may know the truth, but Belulah the wetworker still believes she’s working for an elite and secretive band of Vatican vampire hunters. She has yet to discover that her contact, the Enigmatic Monsignor, spends his weekends licking blood from the Bride’s toes. So Belulah can still Betray and be Betrayed, as well as spend Trust to help her comrades.

Fibber and Molly have just come out of the interrogation room. Fibber spent some Trust to move the interrogation along, which helped Molly. Now they know where Wallace Wimple’s mistress in darkness, Sweetie-Face, is hiding. Fibber is all for staking the vamp as soon as possible. The team agrees, and begins to suit up.

That poses a problem for Molly. She knows what nobody else knows: Sweetie Face used to be Edom, and Sweetie Face knows all about Molly’s secrets. If she and Fibber are in the same room, the vampire will tell all, to save her neck – and that Molly cannot have.

She has to distract Fibber. It’s time for Betrayal.

It needn’t be a full-scale Dust-and-Ashes Betrayal – she just needs Fibber distracted, not wallowing in his own gore. However she does have those 3 points Fibber invested in her …

Betrayal can be used to harm or hamper Fibber, or to boost Molly in a conflict with Fibber. During the Betrayal scene, only Molly can use her MOS (not relevant in this particular example, but worth remembering), and Fibber can’t use the 3 points Molly invested in him. Any points Molly spends are gone forever; she’ll have to persuade Fibber to invest more, somehow.

Betrayal doesn’t have to be obvious, nor does it have to end with Molly zipping over the horizon in Fibber’s tricked-out BMW.  All Molly needs is an opportunity to stick Fibber in the rear. She could Betray Fibber by using 1 point to warn Sweetie-Face. That could prove lethal later, when the agents move in on Edom’s former asset. Does Molly have other options?

“I’ll call my good buddy Rico Marcelli, the law enforcement bigwig and my Network contact,” says Fibber, “He’ll make sure there are no cops in that neighborhood when we make our move. That should keep our Heat down.”

Bingo.

“Rico’s dead, Fibber,” says Molly. “Looks like foul play!” She spends 2 points to make it so. Molly’s using Trust as an Investigative point spend – 1 for the basics, 2 for extra benefits. Molly’s getting as extra as she can.

“Dead!” Fibber’s aghast. “But there’s no way they could have known about Rico … unless …”

“Unless it’s a trap! We could be walking right into an ambush!” says Molly.

Now, the players can all see what just happened. They know, mechanically speaking, how Rico really got his – but mechanics aren’t Story. This is improv. They have to yes, and, just like the Director does. An alternative version would see Molly arranging all this in secret, with private Director conferences, or passing notes. That preserves the illusion of secrecy.

As the Betrayed, Fibber can’t prevent what just happened, and he certainly can’t spend Molly’s 3 points to Betray her in turn. He has to roll with the punches.

“We’d better investigate Rico’s murder first,” says Fibber. “If Conspiracy goons did him in, we need to know!”

Everybody smiles. There’s a dagger behind every toothy grin, of course, and Fibber’s already planning for the day when he can use Molly’s invested points to burn her down.

Still, everybody smiles.


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.

“I said to him, ‘What disguise will hide me from the world?’ … He looked at me with his large but indecipherable face. ‘You want a safe disguise, do you? You want a dress which will guarantee you harmless; a dress in which no one would ever look for a bomb?’ I nodded. He suddenly lifted his lion’s voice. ‘Why, then, dress up as an anarchist, you fool!’”

— G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

I’ve been reading a pair of books by the pair of spies who consecutively headed the Disguise Section of the CIA’s Office of Technical Services (OTS), Antonio Mendez and the then Jonna Goeser (now Jonna Mendez). The Master of Disguise (1999) is a relatively straightforward memoir by Mendez; The Moscow Rules (2019) re-tells some of the stories in the earlier book but ties in some now-declassified missions such as the CKTAW weapons-lab tap, on which Mendez ran the disguise-and-evasion component.

Antonio Mendez meeting Jimmy Carter in 1980

Antonio Mendez meeting Jimmy Carter in 1980 — OR IS IT?

A long-time fan of stage magic, Mendez also pioneered the re-introduction of illusion and misdirection as key techniques of disguise and evasion. Ever since 1953, when the CIA recruited the magician John Mulholland to train its agents in (and write a manual of) sleight-of-hand for brush passes and covert drink-dosing, the Agency has paid at least some attention to its flashier brethren. (Mulholland stayed with the Agency as a consultant through at least 1958, developing a set of covert hand signals and investigating ESP.) Mendez specifically adapted stage techniques such as “keep them comfortable” — let the audience think they’ve seen through the illusion — and forced aversion — a reverse of the gorgeous assistant drawing the viewer, something unsettling that viewers instinctively avoid — in counter-surveillance techniques.

 

In Night’s Black Agents, the Agents use Filch for brush passes and the like. For evasion through misdirection, allow a one-time 3- to 4-point refresh of Surveillance for a clever description of how you accomplished the task right under the enemy’s eyes (“keep them comfortable”) or how you got them to look away for just long enough (forced aversion).

Spy Gear: Disguise

To hear Mendez tell it, at least, CIA disguise tech made a giant leap in a decade under his direction, mostly the result of his decision in 1971 to consult with Hollywood makeup genius John Chambers. Chambers, who designed Spock’s ears and the apes in Planet of the Apes, was also a diehard Cold Warrior, always up for experimentation. Here’s a quick rundown (using Mendez’ terminology, which is almost certainly bogus) of the developments in disguise between 1971 and 1981.

FINESSE: Agents can use this quick-drying liquid flesh to paint on any new facial features they like, available in varying skin tones. Available in the early 1970s, and possibly earlier if DELTA GREEN went to Hollywood before the Agency did. Requires a Disguise test to apply, but lowers Difficulty of tests against being recognized by 1.

GAMBIT: This thin face mask and long gloves allow an Agent to appear to be of a different race, complexion, or facial type (with FINESSE inserts). Available ca. 1971, used by the CIA in Indochina. Requires no Disguise test to apply, allows Agents to blend into a crowd. Lowers visual-recognition Alertness Modifier of non-expert (Alertness Modifier <+1) spotters by 1. This is what Agents should use if they don’t plan on encountering active surveillance.

SAM: Stands for Semi-Articulated Mask. This half-face mask composed of several small pieces of latex joins up with the eyes using FINESSE. It allows full mobility of and use of the mouth; it often incorporates a beard (less conspicuous behind the Iron Curtain, or infiltrating student movements). Debuted ca. 1977, based on the ape masks in Planet of the Apes (1968). Requires a spend of 1 point of Disguise to apply; provides a pool of 3 points to spend avoiding being recognized (usually Disguise or Surveillance tests). Pool is 4 points if a beard can be inconspicuously incorporated into the SAM.

DOTR: Stands for Disguise-on-the-Run. The CIA uses a New England tailor to create specialty clothing, in this case fully-reversible clothing that by itself allows the agent to re-roll a failed counter Surveillance test after donning it. The full DOTR developed in the late 1970s incorporates compressed garments that can be put on (or put themselves on) over the Agent’s clothes while walking, in about 45 seconds. The late DOTR changes cut and type, even going from a diplomat’s trench coat to the fuzzy pink dress of an elderly lady. Changing into the full DOTR requires a spend of 1 Disguise point but provides a 3-point refresh of your Surveillance pool against a spotter or tail.

DAGGER: This thin face mask fits into a small paper bag, and can be applied by touch and while walking. Development began in 1978; it becomes available in 1981. By 1989, a DAGGER mask is completely paper-thin, can markedly change your appearance, hold makeup, and appear natural even to trained observers. A Dagger mask is one-use, and cannot stand up to rain, heavy physical activity, or being punched in the face. It provides 5 pool points (3 or 4 for earlier models) of Disguise or Surveillance to escape enemy searchers; when the pool is empty, the mask is too badly degraded or sweaty to keep using.

If the CIA had all of this gear by 1981, they very well might have straight-up Mission: Impossible face mask technology (Double Tap, p. 64) by now. At the very least, between 3D printing and micro-thin fiber materials, the ability to print a skin-thin, photographically realistic (passing video surveillance and anything but up-close examination), self-adhesive DAGGER face mask to resemble a specific target almost has to be off-the-shelf tech by now. That would lower Disguise Difficulty for specific impersonations by 1 or 2, as well as providing the other benefits of a DAGGER.

DELTA GREEN might well have looked into such matters earlier, so Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents could justify FINESSE and GAMBIT, and perhaps specialty SAMs intended to provide the Innsmouth Look.

“A disguise is only a tool. Before you use any tradecraft tool, you have to set up the operation for the deception.”

— CIA agent “Bull Monahan”

TFFB: Just Don’t Look

The Agents use Intimidation (to spot a psychological weak point) or an Investigative 2-point spend of Shrink (to identify a phobia either from a psych profile or surveillance) on their future watcher. An Agent under surveillance by that watcher then pushes that weak point or triggers that phobia by their actions. For the next round, the Difficulty of their Surveillance test to escape watch (or their Disguise test to suddenly don a DAGGER or similar) lowers by 2.

TTTB: Know Your Audience

Europeans rest their weight on both feet; Americans usually favor one or the other. Americans and South Asians make eye contact with the opposite sex at different speeds. And so forth; knowing tiny cultural details allows you to blend into a crowd of foreigners. By spending Human Terrain, the winger can add pool points to the striker’s Disguise or Surveillance pools to blend into such a backdrop.


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.

“They say much of blood and bloom, and of others which I comprehend not, though I guess what they mean; but nevertheless they tell us all things which we want to know.”

— Abraham Van Helsing, in Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Through the persons of writer-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the BBC (and its pals at Netflix) has vouchsafed to us in this year of our Lord 2020 yet another tilt at the Dracula windmill, this time in a three-episode limited series. (Hereafter, “D2020“. Also hereafter, spoilers.) The specific merits of this iteration aside (which include a rich, Hammer-inspired camera palette and a credibly terrifying Dracula when he shuts up) it also — as with every version of Dracula, or of Dracula — provides a fair few gameable spins on the myth, and on vampires. For example, the bite of D2020 Dracula creates revenants (they look like zombies, but probably use mostly Feral stats (NBA, p. 150)); only a few of his victims survive Infection with enough personality to become true self-willed vampires themselves. The many, many boxes and crates (and habitrails, and fridges) of ferals work very effectively on screen, and likely works well at the table — it makes those warehouse fights more interesting, that’s for sure.

So let’s settle in and dip our fingers in the BBC’s goblet, shall we?

Dracula, hungry for learning

New Power: Drain Knowledge

When Dracula drinks any blood from a human in D2020, he knows their name and something of their background almost immediately. When he drains them, he picks up their entire knowledge base, possibly even including physical skills. (In episode 3, he complains of the taste of a physicist and a professional tennis player.) His language patterns shift, and he even (briefly) picks up a meaningless exercise habit from modern Londoners. Even by smell, he can detect members of a familiar bloodline and something about them.

Vampires with Drain Knowledge gain immediate, surface knowledge of any human whose blood they taste. A big sip (at least 1 Health) gives them the equivalent of a 0-point spend, or a few minutes’ Google search: name, background, emotional state, family connections, etc. Bigger drinks burrow deeper, uncovering closely held secrets; when the amount of Health consumed equals the target’s Stability (or kills the target), the vampire knows every aspect of the target’s thoughts and memories, including buried traumas or brainwashed secrets. (An Agent can resist giving up a secret with a successful Stability test against a Difficulty equal to 4+ their lost Health.) Even a quick gulp (2+ Health drained) provides language and social skills that allow the vampire to briefly blend into the target’s society (the equivalent of 1 point in High Society or Reassurance or another relevant Interpersonal ability); completely draining a suitable target provides technical skills if needed (e.g., a Transylvanian warlord can suddenly use Skype). As a rule of thumb, each point of Health drained past the first provides the equivalent of 1 point in an ability.

In D2020, this seems like a free (almost unavoidable) power; if the vampire can control it, it costs 1 point of Aberrance per target or per scene.

Node: The Jonathan Harker Foundation

The third episode also shares a liter or two of DNA with The Dracula Dossier, not least its covert vampirological operation. In D2020, this secretive medical charity operates out of (and beneath) Cholmely House, a crumbling Victorian building in Whitby near the Abbey ruins. Named for the dead fiancée of Mina Murray, built on the infrastructure of the nuns’ order at the Hospital of St. Joseph and Ste. Mary (DH, p. 230), and backed by mysterious financiers, it conducts hematological research and searches for the body of Dracula, presumed lost at sea with the Demeter. Its staff includes doctors and mercenaries, and its facilities include a glass-walled prison with a remote-controlled sun roof.

EDOM: Obviously, this was the first version of the vampire prison, before EDOM built the holding facilities on HMS Proserpine. In some campaigns, this might be the only vampire prison, or a staging area for Proserpine transfers (DH, p. 178). This also fits a much smaller version of EDOM (even Dustier or more Mirrored than on EFM p. 58), one that has to contract out mercenaries (via a shell corporation) for security instead of depending on the SAS’ E Squadrons. Either way, its guards use the Special Operations Soldiers stats (NBA, p. 70).

CIA: Or the Russians, or the Chinese, or whomever. Some other agency runs the Harker Foundation, tasked to steal a march on EDOM by trawling the seas off Whitby for lost vampires — either prisoners escaping from Proserpine, or vampirized sailors from the Demeter crawling anoxically over the bottom of the North Sea. Or perhaps, as speculated on DH p. 178, Whitby is one of the magical gates to England, so anyone looking to snare a vampire does well to set up shop here. Either way, they have to keep things to one building and use deniable mercs to avoid MI5 or EDOM noticing.

Conspiracy: Boy, Dracula got ahold of a WiFi-enabled tablet pretty easily in that show, didn’t he? What looks like an idiot plot is actually the action of Dracula’s sleeper agents, left behind in Whitby to infiltrate just such a facility. He funds it through cut-outs, and allows it to operate on the “keep your enemies closer” school of thought, and as a way to release useful blood samples or lore into the British medical stream.

Connections: At one point, the Foundation canonically has a Vial of Blood (only a single tube rather than the jar on DH p. 284), and a Legacy (Zoë Helsing instead of Dr. Jacqueline Seward (DH, p. 47) but you can switch those out). Given the number of vampiric revenants lying around (nine in Highgate Cemetery alone), the Foundation may have synthesized any of the Seward Serum (DH, p. 51), Serum V (DH, p. 162), Blomberg Serum (DH, p. 282), or Luria Formula (DH, p. 114). If it’s EDOM, it’s part of Dr. Drawes’ operation (DH, p. 50); it may also employ the Pharmaceutical Researcher (DH, p. 128). Its charity work could overlap or partner with Heal the Children (DH, p. 150). Its mysterious backer might be the venture capital group (or government black budget) behind Nox Therapeutics (DH, p. 162), which might have memos or (apparently) even regular Skype session logs documenting their connection. Since we know it runs human trials on the surface, its tunnels potentially even hold Camp Midnight (DH, p. 252) or the British (or private-sector) equivalent. Given its connections to the Budapest hospital, the Hungarian (DH, p. 94) likely knows enough to set Agents (or the Journalist; DH, p. 120) on its trail.


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.

 

At this time of year, my immune system shuts down in protest at winter as a concept, so I’m recovering from a nasty headcold, and pretty much living in my favourite GUMSHOE hoodie at the moment. The illness may be due to travel; I’m just back from my first Big Bad Con in California, followed the next weekend by The Kraken in Germany, where Robin was one of the guests of honour. Their proximity to each other really highlighted how very different they are – BBC was (in large part thanks to the quite amazing Babble On Equity Project), a genuinely diverse crowd, concentrated in the story games/larp/itch.io design space, whereas The Kraken had a lot of familiar faces, and a focus on the Cthulhu & Runequest, more traditional RPG design space. Both were excellent, for entirely different reasons, and I’m still processing the discerning conversations I had at each. Unfortunately, not being able to speak meant I couldn’t run my scheduled events at Gauntlet Con 2019, so Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan fearlessly stepped up to do the What’s New With Pelgrane panel by himself. Thanks Gar! We’ll be posting the audio of this on our social media over the coming weeks, so keep an ear out.

NEW! The Best of Intentions PDF

New out this month is a stand-alone PDF adventure for the second GUMSHOE One-2-One game for one Director and one player, Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops. Play burned MI6 agent Leyla Khan, dragged into a perilous web of occult horrors and organised crime when a scouting mission in Prague goes sour. Will this be Leyla’s chance for redemption – or will she be dragged back into the darkness of the vampiric control she thought she’d escaped?

NEW! Shards of the Broken Sky PDF

It took us an epic six years to finish, but you can access the PDF of the sandbox 13th Age adventure right now! The flying realm of Vantage has crashed to earth, affording a rare glimpse into its mysteries – and secret. Will you rescue its survivors, and restore its magical wards, which were keeping a dozen ancient evils in check? Or are your players the type to loot everything that isn’t nailed down while trying to stay one step ahead of the apocalypse?

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

This was one of our biggest playtests to date, resulting in a small mountain of post-playtest feedback. Kevin Kulp’s been working hard on reviewing this, and has now incorporated most of the playtest comments, as well as the comments from Misha Bushyager’s sensitivity read, into the main manuscript, along with short designer sidebars to provide design intent, as requested in the playtest.

The manuscript is currently sitting at a solid and very respectable 180K words, meaning the core book will be somewhere in the 340+ page range.

The core book adventure, which got well playtested at Gen Con, has been revised and is now sold. Kevin’s currently finishing a simplification of the enemy stat block, and once that’s done and the rest of the playtest comments are incorporated, it’ll get a full read through for inconsistencies, and we’ll start commissioning the interior art, and being copyediting.

Work in progress update: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

Travel and illness have impacted the delivery time, but the index is nearly finished, and the first draft PDF is now on pre-orderers bookshelves. I’m hoping to be able to get the index finalised and the manuscript to the printers this week, so it’ll be with pre-orderers in early February.

Work in progress update: Book of the Underworld

Lee Moyer has taken Rich Longmore’s pencils and combined them into a really magical cover for Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s 13th Age Book of the Underworld. You can see the result in Rob Heinsoo’s cover reveal here. Meanwhile, work continues apace on the interior art direct and development.

Pelgranes in the Wild, part XX – Metatopia

I’m in New York at the moment on my way to Metatopia , the game design festival in New Jersey. If you’ve got a game to playtest, watch out for myself, Ken Hite and Kevin Kulp, as we’ll be around for the weekend playtesting and panelling.

Pelgranes in the Wild, winter edition – Dragonmeet 2019

Coming up at the start of December is the Pelgrane home convention of Dragonmeet. If you’ve seen the flyer, you may have been concerned at our absence, but never fear – we’ve been assured that our booth is booked in our usual corner, and Ken, Robin and Gareth have all booked their flights to come over, with Ken & Robin scheduled for their usual KARTAS Live session. For family reasons, we’re down Dragonmeet regular Rob Heinsoo, who’ll be sadly missed, although it does mean more ice wine and sticky toffee pudding for the rest of us!

Hopefully we’ll see you there, but if not, until next time…

^^ Cat

 

Halloween is nigh, so I’m going to stat up some spooky monsters—in this case, pirate ghosts! These restless undead might haunt the Iron Sea coast, the rivers of the Fangs, or the Midland Sea around Necropolis and Omen.

You can find all sorts of ghosts in the 13th Age Bestiary, from the Petulant Never-Was to an Epic Haunting. The monsters below are based on the disgraced legionnaire and major haunting. The dead men tell no tales ability is a modified version of the death marker’s marked for death ability.

Abilities for Most Ghosts

Most ghosts have several or all of the following abilities:

Bound hauntings: Most ghosts are bound to an area, usually the area of their death. This ability won’t come up much in play, but it does make it seem likely that ghosts can be easier to get away from than other monsters. Move far enough fast enough and the ghost returns to the area it’s bound to. Occasionally festivals for the dead or other rituals can call bound ghosts from their hauntings, but those are unusual and temporary circumstances.

Exceptions: There may be ghosts that are bound to people, or events, or phenomena that travel. There might even be ghosts that aren’t bound to anything, but at that stage there are several other questions that surface and odd magical, iconic, or unique intervention seems likely.

Flight: Most ghosts fly, though some may be quite slow, seeming to drift or walking on air. Ghosts that fly in unusual ways will be flagged with their own abilities.

Exceptions: Not all ghosts fly. Some seem constrained to act much like they acted when they were alive, and flying wasn’t part of their life package.

Unnatural touch: Many ghosts can alter the temperature of their environment to more closely match the underworld or afterlife that they’ve so far evaded. Sometimes that’s icy cold, sometimes that’s burning hot, and sometimes it’s just kind of normal, which would go unnoticed unless the ghost is somewhere abnormal!

Exceptions: This is more of a special effect of ghost stories than part of a creature’s combat abilities, and you can safely ignore it unless you find telling moments when it adds to the game.

The Black Spot: A New Ability for Pirate Ghosts

The black spot: If someone has wronged a pirate ghost, either in life or after their death, a ghostly pirate crew member appears before them 1-6 months later (ideally on a dark and stormy night) and presents them with a scrap of paper marked with a black smudge. To resist the magical compulsion to accept the black spot, the target must succeed at a 16+ save. If the save is failed, the target takes the black spot. From then on, the offended pirate ghosts can teleport to the target’s location at will to attack them, and will keep coming until the target is dead.

Pirate Ghost Captain

Come now, surely ye haven’t forgotten yer old shipmates? Why, it feels like it were only yesterday we dangled at at the end of a hangman’s rope, while you went on to live all respectable and proper-like.

Double-strength 6th level wrecker [undead]

Initiative: +12

Vulnerability: holy

Phantom cutlass +13 vs. PD—40 negative energy damage

Natural even hit or miss: The ghost pirate captain can make a dead men tell no tales attack as a free action against a nearby staggered enemy.

C: Dead men tell no tales +11 vs. MD (nearby staggered enemy)—5 ongoing psychic damage (11+ save ends).

Target is hit by a dead men tell no tales attack for the second time this battle: Until the end of the battle, when the target tries to spend a recovery they have to succeed at a save (11+) first. If they fail, they haven’t used their action but can’t spend recoveries that turn.

Target is hit by a dead men tell no tales attack for the third time this battle:The save to spend a recovery is now a hard save (16+).

Target is hit for the fourth time this battle: Until the end of the battle the target cannot spend recoveries.

Ghostly: This creature has resist damage 12+ to all damage except holy damage. A ghost can move through solid objects, but can’t end its turn inside them.

Mark of the Jonah: Each enemy that has a background or One Unique Thing related to sailing or the sea that misses an attack with a natural odd roll takes a -2 penalty to all its defenses until the end of the battle.

Nastier Specials

Fear aura: While engaged with this ghost, if the target has 30 hp or fewer, it’s dazed (–4 to attack) and does not add the escalation die to its attacks.

Swarm of pirates: If there are three or more ghost pirate crew member mooks in a battle, the pirate ghost captain’s fear aura ability affects enemies with 60 hp or fewer.

AC 22

PD 19     HP 140

MD 16

 

Pirate Ghost Crew Member

Arrrrr!

6th level mook [undead]

Initiative: +9

Phantom cutlass +10 vs. PD—8 negative energy damage

Mob-based: For every separate mob of ghost pirate crew member mooks in the battle (mobs start with at least four mooks), add a +1 bonus to the ghost pirate crew member’s attacks and +2 to its damage.

Ghostly: This creature has resist damage 14+ to all damage except holy damage. A ghost can move through solid objects, but can’t end its turn inside them.

AC 21

PD 19 .      HP 18 (mook)

MD 16

Mook: Kill one ghost pirate crew member mook for every 18 damage you deal to the mob.


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

NEW! The Persephone Extraction PDF

Some of the books we publish sail through the process without ever touching the side, and some…are not like that. The Persephone Extraction was the first book we released for Night’s Black Agents after The Dracula Dossier collection, and I suspect that the foul Count still hadn’t forgiven us for setting so many brilliant players and GMs up to take him down when we started working on Persephone. Once we got the manuscript in from the writers, pretty much everything that could go wrong with a book, has gone wrong with The Persephone Extraction at some point.

With the PDF release of this ambitious NBA campaign – and it is ambitious in its scope, drawing from the ancient horrors of classical mythology all the way up to the modern terrors of conspiracy and bioterrorism – I’m hopeful that we’ve finally got it finished. (As always, though, contact us at our support address if there’s anything we could do to improve it). If you’d previously ordered The Persephone Extraction in print format, an updated PDF is now available to download from your bookshelf.

Work in progress update: Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen & Resource Guide

I know I just posted about the Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen last month, but I just got through the print proofs for the revised screen and it looks very cool, so I wanted to share more photos with you. I mentioned last month how hefty and solid this new four-fold screen is, but the updated screen art really makes it shine. Of course, what it *also* makes me want to do is more hefty four-fold screens, so let us know if that’s something you’d like to see more of.

If you’ve already picked up the NBA Director’s Screen and Resource Guide, the updated screen PDF is now available to download from your bookshelf.

Work in progress update: NBA: Solo Ops

The incredibly talented Jen McCleary (The Fall of DELTA GREEN) has been working her magic on the interior of Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, and has finished the layout, which looks great – a perfect blend of the ultramodern Night’s Black Agents with the GUMSHOE One-2-One aesthetic. She’s now handed that over to me for indexing, while she works on the layout of longtime Artist of the Pelgranes Jérôme Huguenin’s perfect cover. On the left is a draft WIP version he’s sent through.

Now shipping: Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos

The epic tomes of mythos beastiness arrived in our UK & US shipping points a week ago, and so if you’ve pre-ordered Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos, it should be winging its way to you as I type. Let us know on social media when it arrives with you!

Pelgranes in the Wild!! part 1 – UK Games Expo

Regular readers of our scribblings may recall that we have been (very sadly) absent from UK Games Expo for the last couple of years, due to the convention organisers’ refusal to implement an anti-harassment policy (we believe they’re vital to establishing and ensuring safe spaces for all Pelgranistas to play games, and will only support conventions that have them). We’re delighted to be going back to the UK’s largest gaming convention this year, sharing a booth with our good buddies Kixto (who do all our non-US & Canada mail order fulfillment) and our sister (through-our-shared-father) company, ProFantasy Software. If you’re going to UK Games Expo (May 31st to June 2nd in the Birmingham NEC), swing by our booth (1-594) and say hello to me and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan!

Playtesting: The Borellus Connection, continued

Two months ago, we released six of the eight adventures in The Fall of DELTA GREEN adventure collection, The Borellus Connection, for playtestingThis month, the remaining two thematically linked operations are up for playtesting. These can serve as part of a connected campaign, or as stand-alone operations the Handler can drop into the course of an ongoing investigation. So if you’re interested, drop us an email.

YET ANOTHER call for help!!

Are you going to Gen Con Indianapolis this year? Every year, the good Events People at Gen Con contact us to let us know our games are sold out, and ask if we can run more events, so if you’re able to run 13th Age, Night’s Black Agents, Trail of Cthulhu – or any other Pelgrane game! – at Gen Con 2019, you can see the list of slots available here. Drop us an email at support@pelgranepress.com so we can share our great games with even more people this year! You can see the full list of adventures available here.

 

by Adam Gauntlett

The Vampire

The opening of a new Odeon cinema sparks a vampire craze, and presents the Bookhounds with an unusual opportunity for profit.

This is nominally set in 1936, the year Dracula’s Daughter is released, but could be restaged at the Keeper’s convenience.

Odeon

The Odeon chain of cinemas get their start in 1928, when founder Oscar Deutsch opens his first cinema in Brierly Hill, West Midlands. Deutsch’s empire accelerates rapidly when he joins forces with architect Harry Weedon, and together they designed and built 257 Art Deco picture houses, becoming the dominant face of cinema in the United Kingdom. New builds sprang up like weeds. In 1936 alone, Odeon opened 33 cinemas across the country.

Hook

It has been a quiet month for the store. People just aren’t buying, because building works have thoroughly gummed up the whole street. The noise and dirt killed walk-in trade. However the worst is over, and the new Odeon cinema a few doors down, gleaming and modern, is about to have a gala opening night. Universal Pictures’ Dracula’s Daughter shall be the first big show, and already crowds of eager teens flock to the place like a shrine. It doesn’t matter that the film’s got an A certificate, which means under sixteens need a parent or guardian; the cinema doesn’t care who it lets in, so long as they pay. The whole street’s going to be swarming with non-book buyers, and all any of them will be interested in are vampires. The queue to get in the Odeon snakes right past the Bookhounds’ front door.

Do the Bookhounds lean into it and become expert in all things Vampire, or do they buck the trend?

No Sale

The Bookhounds can ignore the Odeon. If so, the store suffers a Reverse. Old friends are put off by the queues of people, and none of the vampire crowd spend more than a few minutes in the “musty old mausoleum.”

Shenanigans!

The Bookhounds might try to interfere with the Odeon somehow. Exactly how is up to them; pranks, complaints to the Council, summoning supernatural allies, or anything in between.

However the Bookhounds may not realize that architect Harry Weedon has innate megapolisomantic ability; this is discoverable on a 2 point spend, Architecture and/or Occult, and anyone who makes this spend knows the cinema must have megapolisomantic significance. This is why the Odeon chain has been so successful; the characteristic Art Deco design, use of faience (tin-glazed pottery), rounded corners, vertical feature for adverts, all contribute to create a kind of megapolisomantic engine, a new lever. Weedon’s innate talent, in combination with Deutsch’s enormous drive, create these minor places of power. Each cinema is a magical shrine, and the audience are its worshippers. If Weedon and Deutsch realized this and played upon it, they might achieve miracles. As this is an accidental partnership, and since Deutsch’s premature death in 1941 ends their collaboration, what could have been a significant change in the city’s landscape becomes a brief fad, soon forgotten.

However when a cinema is first built its power is at its strongest, and it creates a megapolisomantic guardian to keep it safe. The guardian only lasts a few years, and is always based on the first film showed at that cinema – in this case, Countess Marya Zaleska, Dracula’s daughter.

Attempting shenanegans brings the Bookhounds in direct conflict with the paramental entity.

The ‘Vampire’: Abilities: Athletics 10, Health 8, Scuffling 6; Hit Threshold 4; Alertness Modifier +0; Stealth Modifier +2; Weapon: ‘bite’ attack, +1; Special Attack: Mesmerism holds enemies in place, helpless, at a cost of 2 Health per target. Helpless enemies are automatically hit, if attacked; Armor: non-silver physical weapons do minimum damage, and it can re-form 1 Health point per round. If reduced to 0 Health it dematerializes for 20 minutes. Only magic can kill it; Stability Loss -1. Weakness: any arrow shot from a bow affects this paramental as if the arrow was made of silver. Appearance: pale, black-clad.

New Blood

The Bookhounds might try to engage with the Vampire crowd by bringing in vampire related merchandise, making standees to draw people into the store, or some other clever stunt.

This has a chance of bringing in a Windfall. The sudden interest in vampires is a temporary thing; eventually the Odeon will go on to different films and the magic will fade. This means the Windfall is unsustainable, but even as a temporary benefit it still raises the Credit Rating of the store by 1 so long as it is active.

Exactly what triggers this Windfall is up to the Keeper, and player initiative. The more involved the players get, the more likely a Windfall should be; half-hearted attempts shouldn’t be rewarded. Any spend from the Bookshop Stock pool definitely gets the Windfall, as customers flock to the shop that has just the right stock. This represents the Bookhounds coming up with Genuine – or ‘genuine’ – vampire related merchandise. Potential high-priced items include:

  • A complete set of the periodical The Dark Blue in which Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla first saw print.
  • Copies of the Boy’s Standard 1886 Victorian penny dreadful Spring Heeled Jack.
  • Le Capitaine Vampire (1879) by Belgian writer Marie Nizet. As it’s not in translation this will be difficult to sell to casual buyers, but collectors love obscure material. The bragging rights are greater.
  • Pulp magazines like Weird Tales often feature vampire stories, and cover art.
  • Illegal copies of the 1922 silent film Nosferatu, or stills from same.
  • Copies of the latest pulp fiction, Vampires Overhead (1935) by West Indian Alan Hyder.

Most of this stuff is cheap to get, but given the spike in demand can fetch double or triple the usual price. It probably isn’t the Bookhounds’ usual stock in trade; it’s more modern, pulpy, fare. However it gets the cinema goers through the door, and that’s the main thing – particularly if they buy.  Illegal items, like the Nosferatu stills or any forged item, might provoke police interference.

The Collector

The Keeper should introduce this antagonist while the characters are deeply involved in their own machinations.

The megapolisomantic nature of the Odeon design wasn’t lost on Doris Bidwell. Bidwell is an amateur megapolisomancer with ambition, looking for something to use as a power base. Recent squabbles within the magical community have put Bidwell on the defensive, with an urgent need to strike back.

The Odeon looks to Bidwell like a chance at salvation – but for that to work Bidwell needs to avoid the attentions of the Vampire while at the same time getting close enough to the Odeon to start the working.

As it happens there’s a bookshop conveniently placed close by.

Bidwell poses as a customer, a moneyed collector, always poking around the shop, never buying. Bidwell’s after something special, and seems to have good Credit Rating in spite of her peculiarities. To look at, Bidwell’s the sort of person Scrooge might dream up after a bad bit of cheese: always dresses in black, down-at-heel, Bohemian without the charm. Bidwell clearly knows a lot about books, and can talk intelligently on public affairs and international relations, which makes Bidwell seem like a Radical. Bidwell does have Radical friends, and is often seen in Soho and North London fleshpots, but his real allegiance is to Crowleyite wannabe black magicians and offshoots of the occult group Ordo Templi Orientis. It’s thanks to arguments with this fraternity that Bidwell’s looking for a new power base.

Bidwell’s plan is to get enough material from the Bookhounds – bits of clothing, hair, even blood if possible – and make that into a lure, which Bidwell will hide inside the shop. That lure, Bidwell thinks, should be enough to draw the Vampire away. It doesn’t have to be distracted long; a few hours is enough. Or so Bidwell thinks; if Bidwell had any real intellectual acuity she wouldn’t be sniffing round the Odeon looking for a power base.

Bidwell has two problems. One is the Bookhounds, and the other is her former friends who now oppose her schemes. These Occultists have no love for the Bookhounds, but they may interfere, to frustrate Bidwell.

If Bidwell succeeds then her next step is to take revenge on her enemies, which may or may not include the Bookhounds. She sets up shop in the Odeon, going to the cinema night after night, sometimes in the company of a pale woman dressed in black.


Bookhounds of London is an award-winning setting for 1930s horror roleplaying game Trail of Cthulhu by Kenneth Hite. Bookhounds’ London is a city of cinemas, electric lights, global power and the height of fashion, as well as the horrors – the cancers – that lurk in the capital, in the very beating heart of human civilization. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Bookhounds of London in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

by Kevin Kulp

It’s not an obvious choice, but the new high-damage combat system makes Swords of the Serpentine work in some very interesting ways.

When I tell a Trail of Cthulhu player that there’s a swords & sorcery game using GUMSHOE, they sometimes look concerned and ask me “…Why?” I laugh every time, in part because the impetus for Swords of the Serpentine (SotS) came from a design exercise where I started off convinced that hacking GUMSHOE for classic fantasy was damn near impossible. I quickly realized I was wrong.

The problem isn’t fantasy mysteries. Mystery is everywhere in classic swords and sorcery stories. They aren’t usually classic “whodunit?” mysteries (although they can be, as in Terry Pratchett’s City Watch Discworld series). More often they’re heroes venturing forth into unknown danger and trying to figure it out before it kills them. Sometimes they’re mysterious power groups working against the heroes (as in Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch), and sometimes they’re heroes trying to survive in hostile wilderness or cities with mysterious dangers that they really want to figure out quickly (lots of Conan stories by Robert E. Howard). Sometimes they’re even gangs of thieves stealing things the heroes want before the heroes have had a chance to steal them themselves (such as in Claws from the Night, a Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser story by Fritz Leiber). Even adventures for games like D&D are full of mysteries, even if that mystery is “what happened to Keraptis 1300 years ago, and why did he steal these magic weapons?”

No, the real problem I had to solve was combat. Trail of Cthulhu is a game of horror against unspeakable odds, and so it isn’t tuned to give you powerful heroes succeeding through wit and strength of arm. Damage is low in ToC and investigators die quickly.

For SotS, I instead needed epic, cinematic combat, delightful banter that allowed heroes like Cugel the Clever (in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series) to succeed without ever picking up a dagger, and a rules structure that relied far more on the hero’s own capabilities than on their gear. If this game was going to work, combat had to feel great.

GUMSHOE turns out to be perfect for this, but not through weapons. Weapons in Swords of the Serpentine have very little differentiation between them (daggers do +0 damage and greataxes do +2 damage, and that’s not exactly splashy), so combat becomes far more about what a player chooses to do than about what weapon they’re using. My big question when designing was how to turn player cleverness and a hero’s standard capabilities into big impressive combat damage.

The secret is in Investigative abilities. Early GUMSHOE games hinted at the capabilities of Investigative abilities, asking GMs to give players more information when pool points were spent. Night’s Black Agents started to have Investigative points linked to action, where having Investigative ranks got you clues but spending Investigative pool points gave players narrative control that caused things to happen. I codified this into TimeWatch (where you can try things like thwarting a villain’s escape by spending a point of Architecture, going back in time, and altering the building’s blueprints so that there’s no fire escape for her to flee down). In SotS Investigative spends are even more flexible, and they’re the primary way you achieve flashy, cinematic combat in a fight.

In SotS if you can rationalize an Investigative spend to help yourself in combat, you can do it. Such spends can boost defenses or allow special effects, but they’re usually used to boost damage by one extra die per point spent. Sometimes the ability you’ll try is obvious…

“I’m going to jump off the balcony and bury my sword in his back. I’ll spend 2 points of Tactics of Death for an extra 2d6 damage.”

And sometimes – the best times – you need to be creative. If you can explain how an ability might be useful, you can spend it for combat effects or extra damage.

“Can I spend points of Nobility to do extra damage?”

“No, that’s stupid.”

“How about this? Growing up, my parents brought in a different fencing tutor every year, and they taught me dozens of ways to kill a man so that he suffered slowly and painfully.”

“Oh, in that case? Of course you can spend Nobility points for extra damage!”

You have control over your own burst damage and usually – by how you spend your General ability points – over when you hit while attacking. Are you going to save points for a final battle? Is it better to specialize in abilities (and increase how much damage you can cause at once during a fight) or spread your points out (becoming far more flexible while adventuring)? How are you creatively managing to find combat uses for less obvious abilities?

This creates a really interesting effect in play, where players feel like big damn heroes who often have to describe the cool thing they’ve thought up so that they can gain the benefit of those points. Players are encouraged to take risks and be creative because that’s the only way they’ll gain those resources. Add the ability to pass your damage to another player with a teamwork attack, the ability to attack a foe’s Morale just by using words as weapons, and newly-redesigned Maneuvers to disarm your foe or kick them off a roof, and you end up with memorable, fast but flexible fights.

As we move towards the end of the playtest period (end of February – fill out that Google form, playtesters, and thanks!), I’m really not surprised that GUMSHOE makes a good platform for Swords & Sorcery. I’m surprised that playtesters are saying things like “we felt like we were in a Lankhmar story” and that they’re making the combat system sing so quickly. As the game gets closer to publication, I can’t wait to hear what people have done with it.

Kevin Kulp is the Boston-based co-author of Swords of the Serpentine, and formerly 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.

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