Here is an example of Trail of Cthulhu combat, in which three plucky adventures confront a crypt-dwelling corpse-eater.HC Ghouls cover_400

Dramatis Personae

The consumptive Professor Oberon Lankwiller

Player: Larry
Health 5, [no rating in Firearms], Scuffling 4
Weapon: Webley revolver +0
Hit Threshold: 3

The brash Tag Hunter
Player: Tina
Health 13, Firearms 10, Weapons 8, Scuffling 2
Weapons: Remington M32 double barreled shotgun +1 (+2 point blank, +1 when fired both barrels), machette +0
Hit Threshold: 4 (Athletics is greater than eight)

The trigger-happy Anabelle Swift
Player: Andrea
Health 10, Firearms 8, Scuffling 6, Weapons 4
Weapons: Twin Colt Revolvers +0 (You can fire two revolvers in a Pulp game if your Firearms is 5+), hat pin (-1).

The Ghoul
Athletics 9, Health 7, Scuffling 9
Hit Threshold: 4 (5 underground)
Weapon: two claws +1 and a bite +0. Two bites in a row means it latches on. Ghouls take half damage (round up) from firearms.

The Investigators are cautiously exploring a tunnel which runs under the Arkham municipal burial ground. They disturb a ghoul, partially concealed behind a stone slab, which is sucking the marrow from some cracked bones, .

They must all make a 4-point Stability roll when they see the ghoul (you see a supernatural creature up close). After Stability rolls, a combat ensues.

The order of action is determined at the beginning of combat, just once, according to the characters’ current pool in their chosen method of combat. This gives us:

  1. Tag
  2. The Ghoul
  3. Anabelle
  4. The Prof*

The Prof has no Firearms skill so goes last, and Larry has to decide in advance what to do. He chooses “shoot the Ghoul”

Round 1

Tag gives the ghoul both barrels at point-blank range. It has partial cover, so the ghoul’s Hit Threshold is unchanged at 5. Tina spends four points from the Firearms pool to ensure a hit. She rolls a 2 for damage, +4 for the double barreled shotgun fired at point-blank range gives six, halved because of Ghoul Armor. The Ghoul’s Health tumbles to 4.

The Ghoul launches itself at Tag, and makes its three attacks.

The Keeper spends 2 points from Scuffling on the first claw and rolls a 3 making 5, a hit for 4 damage. He spends 2 on the second claw, rolls a 5, another hit for 5 damage. Then it’s a bite (2-point spend and 5 damage). The Ghoul’s Scuffling is now 3. Tag’s Health is now -1 – Hurt. (In theory, Tag must make a Conciousness roll but the Difficulty is 1 – an automatic success.)

Annabelle wants to distract the creature from its feast, so she jabs it with her hat pin, spending all of her 4 Weapons points to ensure a hit. She rolls a 3, causing 1 point of damage (you can effectively miss or do no damage with lesser weapons and fists). The Ghoul has 3 Health points left.

The Professor closes his eyes and squeezes the trigger of the unfamiliar Webley. He has no Firearms skill (see p. 60 sidebar), and unfortunately rolls a 1. The Keeper decides that he shoots himself in the foot. He rolls a 3 – minus 2 because of his unfamiliarity – knocking his Health down to 4.

Round 2

Tag frantically wrestles with the ghoul, trying to hold its festering mouth away from his face. That’s Scuffling. He spends his remaining 2 points on his roll. The Difficulty is the ghoul’s Hit Threshold (5) plus 1 because Tag is Hurt. He needs a 6. He rolls a 2 plus the 2 for his Scuffling, a 4 – not enough. It’s not looking good for Tag

The Keeper decides to spend 2 on a ghoul claw roll to finish off Tag. He rolls a 1 – making 3, a miss. He spends 0 on the next roll and gets another 1. He spends the final point on the bite, rolling a 6. As this is is second succesful bite attack, he does double damage. He rolls a 3, for the bite for a total of 6. Tag’s Health tumbles to -7. Tina opts not to make a Conciousness roll for Tag (which would require Health expenditure) and Tag falls into merciful oblivion. He is Seriously Wounded, and requires First Aid and hospitalisation if he survives.

Annabelle opts to fire both pistols at the creature (a Pulp-only option). She spends a Firearms point to do this. She spends 3 points on the each roll (as they are simulataneous Andrea needs to decide before rolling both dice), and she rolls 6 and 6. She rolls 3 and 3 for damage, halved and rounded up in both cases makes 4 total damage. The ghoul had 4 points of Health, so it is down.

Larry opt to spends two points of the Professor’s First Aid to stabilise Tag. If they can get him out of the crypt, Tag needs to spend a week in hospital recuperating.

In the shadows, creatures drawn by Tag’s pooling blood gather and watch for weakness.

By Robin D. Laws

This is the second of two installments covering additional combat options for Ashen Stars. See part one for explanation and disclaimers. While the rules themselves are from the Esoterror Fact Book, the enhancements and gear are new and have not been playtested. Because, seriously, who playtests columns?

Critical Hits

Fact Book

When your raw die roll on an attack attempt is a 6, and your total result after pool expenditures are taken into account exceeds the target’s Hit Threshold by 5 or more, you score a critical hit, rolling two instances of damage and adding them together.

Nadia, escaping from an organ harvesting complex run by radical cybes, punches a guard, whose Hit Threshold is 4. Her player, Piera, spends 3 Scuffling points on the attack, then rolls a 6, for a final result of 9. This exceeds the Threshold by 5, allowing a critical hit. Nadia deals damage equal to two punches, with a -2 damage value. Piera rolls a 5, for a modified result of 3 damage, and a 6, which modifies to 4 damage. The guard loses 7 Health, going from 5 to -2.

If PCs can score critical hits, their dramatically important enemies can, too.

Viroware Enhancement: Occipital Overclocker

Initial Therapy Cost: 1

Upkeep: 3

This enhancement allows you to divert your brain’s processing power to visual acuity and hand-eye coordination, briefly granting you a supranormal ability to zero an enemy’s weak spot and execute the perfect attack against it.

Spend X academic or technical investigative points to turn any successful hit, regardless of your die roll or the difference between result and Hit Threshold, into a critical hit.

The value of X starts at 2 and doubles each time you use the occipital overclocker over the course of a single case. When a new case begins, the cost resets to 2. So in one case, the cost accelerates from 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 and so on.

Defensive Mode

Fact Book

By going into defensive mode, you can opt to decrease both your chance of being hit and your chance of hitting anyone else. For every 2 Athletics points you spend, your Hit Threshold increases by 1, up to a maximum increase of 3. When you try to hit anyone else, their Hit Thresholds against you increase by 2 for every 1 point your Hit Threshold increased. While in defensive mode, you duck, weave, backtrack, and otherwise concentrate on not being hit. Announce that you’re going defensive at the beginning of your action for the round; doing so does not cost an action itself. The effects last until the beginning of your next action, at which point you can renew them (provided you can afford the cost.)

Badly pressed and running out of Scuffling points, Nadia attempts to fend off a lipovore while waiting for her fellow lasers to swoop by on their shuttle, dangling an escape-ready rope ladder. Her player, Alex, declares evasive action and spends 4 Athletics on a 2 point Hit Threshold increase, taking Nadia’s threshold from 4 to 6. The lipovore’s Threshold increases (against Blake’s attacks only) from 4 to 8.

Viroware Enhancement: Limbic Defender

Initial Therapy Cost: X

Upkeep: 1

The Limbic Defender virus harnesses the power of your fight-or-flight reflex, flooding your body with additional adrenaline. You needn’t spend Athletics to go into Defensive Mode. Instead, you may, once per case, add X, the cost you chose to spend when installing the enhancement, to your Hit Threshold. When you attack others, add 2X to their Hit Thresholds. The effect lasts for the duration of a single fight.

Reckless Attacks

Fact Book

By fighting all-out, taking no precautions against being hit yourself, you can increase your chances of hitting your opponent—at additional risk of being hit yourself. Spend 1 Athletics to decrease both your and a chosen opponent’s Hit Threshold by up to 3 points. The minimum Hit Threshold achievable through a reckless attack is 1. Your opponent’s Hit Threshold decreases only against you, but your decrease occurs against all potential opponents. The decreases last until the beginning of your next action, at which point you can renew them by paying another Athletics point.

Confident that his clones will flee if their genetic exemplar is taken down, Nadia fights recklessly against the nufaith crusader Eln Tholar. Piera spends 1 Athletics point and decides on a 2-point decrease. Eln Tholar’s Threshold decreases from 3 to 1, but only against Nadia’s attack. Against the attacks of her crewmate, gunner Maggie Flatt, the exemplar’s Hit Threshold remains 3. However, Eln Tholar’s clones strike at Nadia as if her Hit Threshold is 1.

Viroware Enhancement: Rageaholic’s Delight

Initial Therapy Cost: X

Upkeep: 1

This colorfully named virus awakens the latent aggression of your lizard brain (or lizard-like primordial evolutionary precursor, in the case of non-human species.)  You needn’t spend Athletics to take Reckless Attacks. Instead, you may, once per case, subtract X, the cost you chose to spend when installing the enhancement, to your Hit Threshold, and from the Hit Threshold of a designated opponent (but only against your attacks.) The effect lasts for the duration of a single fight.

If you are a Tavak and use this enhancement in a fight, the Difficulty of any Resist Battle Frenzy tests taken for the rest of the interval increases by X.

Support Moves

Fact Book

If your Athletics rating is 8 or more, you may perform support moves. In a support move, you use your action to execute an Athletics maneuver, which then places one of your comrades in a superior position against an opponent. Describe, in exciting detail, how you intend the action to either improve your comrade’s position, or degrade an opponent’s. If your suggestion seems plausible, the GM clears you to make an Athletics test. Although your GM can adjust Difficulties according to described circumstances, you usually test against a Difficulty of 4. If successful, you allow your comrade to add the difference between your result and difficulty to a Shooting or Scuffling roll against the designated opponent. If the comrade fails to attack that opponent as his next action, the benefit is lost.

On New Peru’s windswept mountains, Nadia finds herself pinned in a narrow crevasse as a gelatinous native organism attempts to melt her face. Maggie, higher up on the cliff face, has dropped her rifle but wants to assist her comrade. Her player, Livia, describes a support move: “I rappel down and kick a loose chunk of rock so that it sinks through the thing’s outer translucence into the brain tissue below!” The GM rules that this is possible and not extra difficult (though dangerous—if Maggie fails, she’ll have to pass a second Athletics test or fall and hurt herself.) Livia adds 3 to her Athletics roll of 6 for a final result of 9. The creature attacks Nadia, reducing her Health from 11 to 5 as the flesh of her skin puckers and fizzes. Now it’s Nadia’s turn to act; she may apply a bonus of 5 (the difference between Maggie’s difficulty and result) to her roll. Piera spends a Scuffling point of her own, for a total bonus of 6, and rolls a 1, for a result of 7. This is just enough for Nadia to overcome the creature’s very high Hit Threshold and deal it the first of two stun attacks needed to down it.


By Robin D. Laws

In this, the first in a two-part series, I’ll be looking at ways to inject additional combat options into your Ashen Stars games. Next month’s selections adapt existing combat add-ons first found in the Esoterror Fact Book to throwdowns in the Bleed. This column floats a new rule concept in unplaytested form.

Before the rules, the disclaimer: GUMSHOE’s main focus remains on investigative action, with combat a secondary activity. We keep fighting simple so that it will also be fast, and not take up a disproportionate chunk of any given session. Most GUMSHOE GMs and groups prefer this stripped-down approach to fighting, considering it a feature. If you fall into this category, by all means continue to ignore the extra crunch. This material is for gamers who, for aesthetic reasons outside the game’s main scope, want its  punching and shooting to feel more detailed. Although these rules add options, they still conform to the game’s central design credo, in which we emulate fictional models, rather than trying to simulate real-world physics.

As we value genre fidelity more than universality over multiple game iterations, we sometimes tailor combat options to particular genres. Mutant City Blues grenades work differently than in The Esoterrorists, because in one instance we’re emulating comic book reality, while in another we’re getting as close to Clancyesque as we’re willing to venture. Here we present quite a different take on suppression fire than appears in the Fact Book. This one gears itself to a universe of NLD fire, where the Fact Book version is more about your proverbial hail of bullets.

Suppressing Fire


When opponents in a Shooting combat take Full or Partial Cover, and you are armed either with a disruption pistol or rifle, you may specify that you are laying down suppressing fire. As your action for the round, spend 1 point of Shooting and specify a single barrier or obstacle, behind which any number of combatants are currently taking cover. Specify also whether you’re using lethal or non-lethal fire.

You do not take a Shooting test.

Any opponent abandoning that cover between this action and your next gets hit.

If you specified lethal fire, the opponent is hit and damaged without the need for a Shooting test on your part. Armor reduces this damage as per usual.

If you used NLD fire, the opponent falls unconscious, regardless of its current Health pool.

Targets who are somehow immune to your chosen disruption setting are unaffected by your suppression fire. Protective gear, such as poppers, reacts as it normally would to the fire type chosen.

If a friendly combatant enters your specified cover area, you can (and probably will) choose to drop it. Your ally is unaffected, as are any enemies moving out of the cover area until at least your next action, when you may choose to re-establish your suppressing fire. Should you choose to maintain suppression fire, your ally is affected as an opponent would be. Expect the post-combat ready-room operations assessment to get heated.

In complicated cases your GM may find it clarifying to draw a sketch map of the fight and the positions of its participants. You can only create covering fire when you have a suitable vantage point from which to do so.

When there is more than one escape route from a covering position, and you can hit either from your present vantage, specify which of them your covering fire precludes. Your suppression fire kicks in only when combatants cross the line you’ve laid down.

Sentient or otherwise battle-savvy opponents avoid crossing lines of suppressing fire, doing so only as a desperation move. If your suppression fire strikes no targets during the course of a fight, you refresh all of the Shooting points you spent on it.

Upon entering an abandoned research facility on Asteroid Q-80923, you are fired upon by strange silica-based lifeforms. Two of them hide behind a partially dismantled console, granting them Partial Cover. They could abandon this cover either from the near side (advancing closer toward you) or from the far side (fleeing deeper into the complex.)

The entire melee pits four lasers, including yourself, against four silica lifeforms. You are the third laser to act. The lifeforms act after the lasers.

The first two lasers having fired, it’s now your turn to act. You don’t want the lifeforms to get away, and so declare that you’re laying down suppressing NLD fire, specifying the console’s far side as your suppression zone. You spend a Shooting point, dropping your pool from 8 to 7.

The last laser acts, then the four lifeforms. Neither of the two in your designated cover area tries to get away.

As the first action of the following round, a fellow laser drops one of the lifeforms with NLD fire.

When your turn to act comes up again, you decide to continue the suppressing fire. You pay another Shooting point to maintain it, lowering your pool by 1, from 7 to 6.

The next laser to act also drops his target with NLD fire.

The GM then describes your two pinned-down opponents as fleeing in panic through your suppression zone. They both fall unconscious.

From the GM’s point of view, this conveniently ends a fight whose conclusion is on longer in doubt. Since your suppression fire did in fact hit them, you get no refund for the Shooting points spent on it.

Disruption Accessory: Double Downer

Cost: 1

This pistol or rifle modification bifurcates your gun’s barrel and adds a special targeting nanocomputer. During an action, you may both pay 1 Shooting to lay down suppressing fire, and make a second, standard Shooting attack.

Part 2 of Ashen Stars Combat – Duking it Out