The following article originally appeared on in August 2007. 

Mystic Moo’s Convention Guide

By Paula Dempsey, alias Mystic Moo.

Editor’s note: The introduction to this column is a little bit British-centric. We have included links for those not familiar with recent bovine news in the UK. I’m afraid I have no better idea than you of the cow-centric aspects of the article.

Welcome cow-fanciers everywhere. The call came this afternoon: “What about a new Mystic Moo column?” he said. Well you may not have noticed, mate, that now is not exactly the best time to be a cow. Cattle movements are restricted, which is playing havoc with Buttercup’s line dancing classes, and as for the Shambo thing, well words fail me. So here I am, struggling to cope with all that bovine angst and you want a “humorous”column for some human magazine. Like I care about you lot!

Then the flannel started. “Your public need you, Mystic Moo. Spread cow wisdom. Help them realise the essential humanity of cows (excuse moo?). Be an ambassador for your species”. And finally, to top it all, “There’s a bottle of Bristol Cream in it for you”. So I thought, maybe you do need some homespun heifer wisdom. But what to write about? Then Buttercup comes crashing through the byre door like a bull in a china shop (but not quite as sexy). “Oi, Moo” she says “I just checked my email and my booking for GenCow has arrived. Lend us your dice bag, old flower”.

Inspiration struck like an over-enthusiastic mozzie. The cow-vention season is upon us and Buttercup’s getting all of a doo-dah over GenCow, the mother of them all and exclusively for those of a bovine persuasion. No humans allowed, so hard cheese.

I’ve asked old Butters to pick out some of the highlights of the event so you can see what you are missing. I’ve never really taken to White Wolf myself, but she reckons Friesian: The Milking is worth a go. She’s also written a LARP, bless her. It’s a Paranoia one where you have to work out who are the cows and who are the blokes from the department of agriculture. She’s a bit keen on Battle Cattle as well, but if you ask me she’s operating under false consciousness. Anyway, the mad cow is throwing things into a suitcase left, right and centre with two weeks to go. Talk about over-enthusiastic…

Then Hamish wanders in. Hamish is a nice bloke who self-identifies as a Hieland Coo. And today he’s not happy. “Mystic Moo”, he says. “I’ve been thinking aboot whether tae go tae GenCoo and I’m wonderin’ whether I’ll have a guid time or whether I’d be better abidin’ here in ma wee stall. How can I decide?”

No problem, Hamish. All you need to do is consult Mystic Moo’s Convention Oracle.

Step One

Reach for your dice bag and roll 273 assorted dice. If you can do this without ransacking the house for dice just play Dogs in the Vineyard all convention long and you’ll have a great time. If this presents a problem for you, go on to:

Step Two

Add together the digits of your age in DD MM YYYY format. For example, Hamish was born on 25th April 2005, so 2+5+4+2+5=18. Then roll a D10 for your lucky number. Hamish rolled a six. 18+6=24. Then roll a D4 to balance your karma and deduct this from your total. Hamish rolled a three. 24-3=21. Finally, add the digits together to get your overall Oracle number. So Hamish’s number is three. And before all you smartarse mathematicians write in to say this is simplistic, you try arithmetic with only two toes on each foot, and connecting with the universal whatnot at the same time!

Now you might be ready for Step Three, but frankly I’m not. All this number crunching really takes it out of a cow, so I’m getting Buttercup to stick the kettle on and Hamish has a tin of Hieland shortbread somewhere. Back in a mo.

Sorry for the gap in service. Someone mentioned drink and that old lush Marigold was right in there. Everyone knows she keeps a bottle of advocaat in her hayrack. Any minute now she’ll start singing. If I hear My Heart Will Go On one more time I’m going to go postal. SHUT UP YOU DRUNKEN MOO! Right, I’ll just dust the last few crumbs off my keyboard and here goes with:

Step Three

Look up your Convention Oracle number on the table below to find out what will be your best Con experience this year, then re-roll and recalculate for your worst experience and once more for what will happen when your just can’t take any more gaming.

Best Time Worst Time Between Times
1 You get shot during an archery demo but your copy of Hero is in your pocket and it’s arrow proof. You reach enlightenment.  Problem is, you realise Jack Chick was right and gaming is a passport straight to Hell. You order a frappacino in the convention coffee bar and it takes two days for your mates to dig you out of the whipped cream.
2 Your street cred goes through the roof when you whip out your signed copy of F.A.T.A.L. and wave it about. (One from Buttercup, there) You accidentally tread on a cosplayer’s tail and get beaten senseless by a six foot raccoon. The Tardis materialises in the Trade Hall.  Fill in the rest according to inclination.
3 You enjoy a game of Best Friends so much that the whole group goes out to a movie together afterwards, then for pizza, then a spot of shopping. Maybe we’ll give this whole convention thing a miss and get a manicure tomorrow. But don’t tell  Kelly ‘cos she’s such a B.I.T.C.H. You find the new edition of your favourite game in a limited edition handblock printed onto hand-made paper and illuminated by Lindisfarne monks.  This happens two minutes after you max out your credit card. A woman engages you in conversation.  After a while she  tells you she’s in touch with her inner cow and offers to cast your horoscope.  Don’t trust her.
4 The Animé cinema runs an all-night Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya marathon (aah, wishful thinking) You get the last ticket for the last available LARP and all the characters are clowns. Your cheap hotel room is pretty good.  And your 15 room-mates think so too.
5 The Trade Hall is selling Fruits Basket merchandise and they have cow hats. Your friend gets a hot date with a booth babe.  And it’s your sister. You eat an Igor bar and keep all your teeth.
6 Your new special friends invite you to play Breaking the Ice, the LARP. Someone compliments you on the detail in your monster costume.  You are not in costume. Fun on Sunday as you watch the Dogs in the Vineyard LARP group getting arrested outside the local Mormon temple.
7 There’s a mix-up at the Awards ceremony and you become the proud recipient of both the Gamer of the Year award and a year’s supply of Jolt Cola. Your hotel is a whole block from the convention and there’s no room on the shuttle bus. After a heavy game of Call of Cthulhu  you fall asleep in the bath and wake up to find the shower hose wrapped around your neck in tentacle-esque fashion.
8 Imagine the best thing that could happen to you at a con.  It happens.  If you can’t imagine anything, you shouldn’t be here. You suffer deep embarrassment during a Changeling freeform when your ears fall into your pint. You spend a whole morning hanging out on the Pokemon stall.  This is fine until a so-called friend sends a photo of you getting jiggy with a Jigglypuff to your significant other.
9 It’s the end of the con. You’re overtired and overdrawn but your plush Shoggoth loves you. You break the catch on your  chain mail bikini and nobody can find a can opener. Day 4 – You discover the mysterious world of Outside and sample the rare alien dish they call “salad”.

Happy Conventioning and Moo for Now!

We’re looking for GMs to run our games at Gen Con 2019!

If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at Gen Con, check out the list of available game slots here.

GMs will get our new 2019 t-shirts, meet up with our game creators, and receive special Pelgrane swag! Here are the adventures available for each system:

Email (click to open in your email client) to join our GM team now!

Game Masters are needed to run Pelgrane RPGs at OrcaCon 2019 in Bellevue, WA January 11th-13th! We’d love to introduce this audience to games like Fall of DELTA GREEN, TimeWatch, Night’s Black Agents, 13th Age, Hillfolk/DramaSystem, Yellow King RPG, Trail of Cthulhu, #Feminism, and more.

In return you’ll get a free GM badge, $5 credit at the Pelgrane online store, and perhaps other swag!

UPDATE: The deadline to submit your games, and contact Pelgrane in time for your free GM badge to be ordered, is Friday, December 14th.

Here’s how to join our GM crew at OrcaCon:

  • Create a account if you don’t already have one (the games submission form requires your account name)
  • Submit your games to OrcaCon using this submission form
  • Email us at to let us know you’re on board to be an OrcaCon GM.
    • In your email, include the name and email address you used to submit your game, so we can send it to OrcaCon for badge pickup onsite at the Registration desk

Here are the adventures available:

We hope to see you there!



The Heavy Metal GM teaches Cat and Simon the Way of Metal at Gen Con 2016.

Sean the Heavy Metal GM teaches Cat and Simon the Way of Metal at Gen Con 2016.

We’re looking for GMs to run our games at Origins and Gen Con 2018!

If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at Gen Con, please email us at with the following info:

  1. Your name and, if you have one, a nickname, alias, or online handle that gamers might know you by (e.g. cthulhuchick, Heavy Metal GM)
  2. Your convention-registered email address (if different from the email you’re using to contact us)
  3. Your t-shirt size
  4. Number of 4-hour games you can run
  5. Preferred days and times for your games to run, using this format:
    • 13th Age Thursday 17th August 16:00-18:00 EST
    • Small Things (Seven Wonders) Friday 18th August 09:00-13:00 EST
    • Secret of Warlock Mountain (DramaSystem) Saturday 19th August 14:00-18:00 EST
  6. Whether you would like to run a Pelgrane-provided adventure, or one of your own

GMs will get our new 2018 t-shirts, meet up with our game creators, and receive special Pelgrane swag! Here are the adventures available for each system:

Join our GM team now!


Booth space at PAX Unplugged is sold out, and PAX has told us that there is no open gaming at the con—the only game events will be those run by exhibitors.

As a result, we unfortunately won’t have a presence at PAX Unplugged 2017. (Unless someone miraculously drops out and no one’s ahead of us on the waiting list.)  We appreciate all of you who emailed us volunteering to GM!

If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at PAX Unplugged to run 13th Age, GUMSHOE, DramaSystem, Seven Wonders, #Feminism, or any of our other games, please email us at with the following info:

  1. Your name and, if you have one, a nickname, alias, or online handle that gamers might know you by (e.g. cthulhuchick, Heavy Metal GM)
  2. Your convention-registered email address (if different from the email you’re using to contact us)
  3. Your t-shirt size
  4. Number of 2-hour games you can run (13th Age only)
  5. Number of 4-hour games you can run
  6. Preferred days and times for your games to run, using this format:
    • [GAME OR SYSTEM], Friday 17th November 16:00-18:00 EST
  7. Whether you would like to run a Pelgrane-provided adventure, or one of your own

GMs will get our new 2017 t-shirts, meet with Pelgrane Press staff and designers who are attending the con, and receive special Pelgrane swag!

Join our PAX Unplugged team now!

The Heavy Metal GM teaches Cat and Simon the Way of Metal at Gen Con 2016.

Sean the Heavy Metal GM teaches Cat and Simon the Way of Metal at Gen Con 2016.

We’re still looking for GMs to run our games at Gen Con 2017!

If you’re interested in joining the GM crew at Gen Con, please email us at with the following info:

  1. Your name and, if you have one, a nickname, alias, or online handle that gamers might know you by (e.g. cthulhuchick, Heavy Metal GM)
  2. Your convention-registered email address (if different from the email you’re using to contact us)
  3. Your t-shirt size
  4. Number of 2-hour games you can run (13th Age only)
  5. Number of 4-hour games you can run
  6. Preferred days and times for your games to run, using this format:
    • 13th Age Thursday 17th August 16:00-18:00 EST
    • Small Things (Seven Wonders) Friday 18th August 09:00-13:00 EST
    • Secret of Warlock Mountain (DramaSystem)  Saturday 19th August 14:00-18:00 EST
    • Whether you would like to run a Pelgrane-provided adventure, or one of your own

GMs will get our new 2017 t-shirts, meet up with our game creators, and receive special Pelgrane swag! Here are the adventures available for each system:

Join our Gen Con team now!

rainbow-pelgrane_150[Note: We grant permission for anyone to make use of this text or a variation of it in their own convention support policy, or for any other purpose – for example, emailing your local convention to recommend they have one].

At Pelgrane Press, we believe conventions are an integral part of the roleplaying community. We love going to them – we get to catch up with our colleagues, chat to our customers, and run and play our own games, and other people’s. We are eager to support and promote local conventions, even if we can’t attend them in person.

We want conventions to be safe and inclusive spaces for all gamers. Unfortunately, we know of too many instances where our colleagues, customers and friends have been harassed or made to feel uncomfortable at gaming conventions. We believe strongly that having a policy in place which explicitly censures harassing behaviour, and provides a clear procedure for reporting any such incidents, creates a safer and more welcoming environment for people at the greatest risk of harassment.

As such, Pelgrane Press will not exhibit at, or provide support for, conventions which don’t have a publicly posted and enforced anti-harassment policy.

If you are organising an event and interested in support, contact us with details of your event, and a link to your anti-harassment policy. Please include details of the size and nature of your event. If you don’t currently have an anti-harassment policy, we’ll be happy to help you develop one that meets your event’s needs.

What do we mean by an anti-harassment policy?

Anti-harassment policies are sometimes known as a code of conduct or harassment policy. These are the essential elements of an anti-harassment policy.

  • An open commitment to oppose harassment regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.
  • A clear definition of harassment.
  • A public protocol for conflict resolution – instructions on how to report harassment, how harassment is dealt with, and how that is then reported back to the person who was harassed.
  • Staff who are made aware of the policy, understand it and know how to implement it, and know who is ultimately responsible for enforcing it.
  • The policy is prominently and clearly displayed on the website, in the programme and on site.

There are variants; for example an adult convention might have different standards to one which includes children. Some policies cover the display of images and sale of adult material and cosplay.

Why have an anti-harassment policy?

We support anti-harassment policies because they:

  • encourage attendees and staff to call out, report and oppose harassment rather than accept it.
  • discourage poor behaviour by defining what it entails, and making it clear that it is socially unacceptable, and there are consequences.
  • engender a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.
  • protect our staff members when we attend conventions
  • make named people responsible for dealing with harassment and offer a practical process for dealing with harassment which helps both the attendees and the organisers.

Examples of anti-harassment policies

There are plenty of good examples of policies. Here are some.

Further Reading

We recommend this Wired article, which covers the history of anti-harassment policies, and the reasons for them, in some depth.

You can see a list of the upcoming conventions we’re supporting here.


By Tom Abella


Conventions are special. Home games with friends and the occasional new player are our bread and butter, but I’ve always considered Con games to be a time to go the extra mile for the players (people actually paid to get in, for crying out loud). In preparation for running Night’s Black Agents at a recent convention, I decided to create some extra special handouts for my players. Be warned: some mild spoilers for The Van Helsing Letter are up ahead. Fortunately, knowing the names of characters and locations won’t actually tell you whether they’re out to help, hinder, or help-then-hinder your team.


One thing I knew ahead of time was that my players would all be new to NBA (only one had played any GUMSHOE game before), and I wanted to make sure everyone had all the guidance they needed for the game. I made a lot of notes on how best to walk them through the rules, but I also went above and beyond in creating their character sheets–I’m sorry, their character dossiers.


Forget orange–manilla is the new black

I was able to get some tabbed folders online (I can neither condone nor police any readers who steal them from work), which offered a two-page layout. On the right side went their character sheets, followed by the one-sentence skill description from NBA (a great reference to have behind your character sheet).


The success of GUMSHOE games can be measured by the amount of diligent note-taking by players. #hugesuccess

On the left side, I started with the two pages “Advice to Players” from the core rulebook, which helps to mentally set the stage for the players, and is short enough to read while everyone gets settled at the table. Behind those two pages went some additional reference sheets from the core rulebook – – guidance on skill modifiers and combat actions that I want everyone to have so we’re not getting bogged down during combat.

I added a few extra details for flavor. The pre-gens came with surnames, which I wrote on the folder tab and then used a black marker to “redact” their first names. I debated redacting unused skills and other text from the character sheets and advice section, but decided against it for practical reasons: if fewer players showed up, players would get extra points to add to their character. Plus, it’s good for players to know what others on the team can do. A less-menacing option would be to use a highlighter on those skills the player does have (once you open the door to the tabbed manilla folders, all kinds of office supplies start looking reasonable).

Altogether, the dossiers were a success with players, and also provided some extra scratch paper in a pinch.

Finding Faces

Most character sheets come with a blank spot for the character’s image, and I wasn’t going to leave those blank if I was making dossiers for the players. Fantasy and sci-fi settings have lots of art available online, but it can be a challenge to gather images of a group of characters who don’t look like they were cobbled together from a half-dozen sources. Modern settings don’t have that problem, particularly in games like NBA that are supposed to evoke spy thrillers (though I wouldn’t go so far as to grab Tom Cruise or Matt Damon – – look for familiar, not constraining). Between the background and skill set of each character, I was able to easily find headshots for everyone.


Three are nods to spy movies, two to TV shows, one to their character description, and two are Ciaran Hinds. His picture counts twice because my God, look how badass he is in b/w.

I went one step further and created another batch of known/potential NPCs, including a few extras not included in the scenario (no need to tip the players off that the secretary at the lab is a nameless NPC, plus it helps them remember the layout and people in a setting). I’ll admit here that I was a little tight on time, and my Google skills may have started to fail me.


Yes, a couple of these faces look familiar. Also, yes: Pierre Athanese was the best hit I could get from Googling ‘Friendly old French man’

Why stop at people? Next up were locations: a half-sheet printout for all the major locations they would possibly encounter in the game. I like how they set the mood and helped anchor the scenes, and in at least one instance they helped settle a question about the layout and design of a site.




Google image search was great for these, and anyone looking for more variety of creepy occult bookstores should just look up Ken Hite’s Tumblr.

There would be some traveling involved, so I thought a map of the region would be helpful. It turns out that Bing maps is much more handout-friendly than Google Maps:


Not pictured: garish primary-color lines and roadwork icons showing the state of central European highways.

One last batch was cars, which were also fun and helpful. It took a little agency away from the players, but they’re playing spies, and I figured the pickiest they could be would be to look for speed or maneuverability. Whichever they chose, I’d offer the cards face down and let them pick.


Director’s choice of whether Top Gear references result in skill point refresh or immediate TPK

Actual Creation

All the handouts were made in Paint – – no special or expensive software. 96 pixels = 1 inch, and set it up with 0.5 inch margins all around. The font is Gill Sans, which can be found online for free (and ethically) without too much effort, and I lined up the words by eye (again, nothing fancy). Just make sure they’re a solid color against the background and you’ll be fine.

At the Table

The printouts work great for figuring out who is where (unfortunately, despite my best efforts, the players refused to split the party), and also great at trying to identify connections between conspirators. They also make for great character stand-ins to remind the players of who else is on their team (we found four large d6’s made for a solid base). Altogether, an easy way to add a little something special to your next NBA game.

You can download Tom’s handouts as a zip file here.

gumshoe_10_logo_350To celebrate the 10th anniversary of GUMSHOE, we’re inviting Pelgrane Press RPG fans all over the world to play their favorite Pelgrane games on or around 21st October—the first-ever International Pelgrane Day!

We’d love to see  people to play and run Pelgrane games, either at home or online, that day and week. If you need adventures to run, let us know—we have them.

This is a great opportunity to turn others on to your favorite Pelgrane games. Stream your NIGHT’S BLACK AGENTS mission live on Hangouts. Share the horrible demise of your TRAIL OF CTHULHU investigators on YouTube. Tell how your band of 13th Age heroes conspired with the Prince of Shadows to swindle the Lich King, on Twitter, your blog, or your favorite message forum. And use the hashtag #PelgraneDay so that everyone can find your games.

You can download GUMSHOE 10th Anniversary badges for Twitter and Facebook from this link – show the world you’re taking part!

And we’ll be doing the same: The plan is for the entire Pelgrane crew to run games online or in their home towns that week—including the brand-new Roll20 edition of SHADOWS OF ELDOLAN for 13th Age!

Join us, won’t you?

nba-clawsThe Night’s Black Agents  book is  big, heavy and beautiful, but it can be intimidating to new GMs. The Night’s Black Agents game is a pulse-pounding thrill ride, pursued by vampires. How can we get from the big book to spy action, when the players are new, and you’ve never run NBA at a convention before? You can get away with a few holes in your system knowledge if you know the adventure really well, or hand-wave the adventure a little if you’ve mastered the system.

Bluffing the System

System-wise, at the very minimum, you should know the rudiments of GUMSHOE, both the Investigative side and the General ability side.You’ve run it for your home group. You need to know what a Test is, what a Spend is, the combat and chase rules and, surprisingly important, the use of Preparedness. If you don’t know these basics, the game is like to be uncomfortable for you, and confusing for your players.

First snag and read Kevin Kulp’s guide, and read the summaries in this article.

Offloading Onto Your Players

The biggest system cheat for the GM in a convention game is to offload some work onto players as fun options – in NBA these include the Thriller Combat Options and Stability tests- you can download these here.  This has some useful effects:

  • You don’t have to know all those rules. The rules are generally bite-sized choices or adjustments the players can use. You just need to know the results – and they’ll tell you.
  • You have less to worry about during the game. If someone else is determing when Stability tests are made, you have time for other things.
  • Players who care about those options will use them. Those who don’t, won’t. If no one wants to use them, no one will miss them.
  • Looking at these sheets is a great displacement activity for players when they aren’t currently doing anything.

Combat Summary

Most import of all, you need to understand the basics of combat, not because you’ll necessarily need to spend a lot of time in combat in the game, but because combat needs to be fast and thrilling. You should always know whose go it is, whether a test hits or not, and what your monsters can do. But combat is pretty straightforward in GUMSHOE.

  1. At the outset, ask everyone what ability they are using in combat (usually Weapons or Shooting) and what its rating (not pool) is. Characters and their foes act in decreasing order of that initial rating for the rest of the combat. List them.
  2. To try to hit an opponent, make a test (d6 + point spend) against their Hit Threshold (almost always 3 or 4). Spend points from the combat pool before rolling. If you match or beat the Hit Threshold, you hit – roll the damage listed on your character sheet. There is no dodging. Players who have read the Thriller Combat sheet may offer spends here – nod sagely and let them.
  3. Players can spend Investigative pointss in combat with suitable narration to get a +3 bonus on combats Tests (Military Science, Intimidate, Streetwise are good examples of these spends).
  4. When it’s your go, you make the same test againts the PCs Hit Threshold, but you really don’t have to spend the points to be certain of a hit unless you are playing a true bad-ass or a glass cannon. Roll openly, and tell them what you are spending. You can also consider the option of replacing attack pools with bonuses (no one cares about the GM’s record keeping). So, +1 for minor foes, +2 for scary opponents, and +3 for the real nasties.

Chase summary

Most NBA games include a chase – perhaps roof-top parkour, or smart cars smashing through stalls at a local market.  The summary and track is available in the rules summary.

Before you start – determine the chase ability (usually Driving or Athletics) and put the lead counter on the track at 5 .

  1. GM and players secretly decide their spend from the chase pool, which they then reveal. Players can narrate the use Investigative abilities here! Without a point spend, adjust a Chase Difficulty test by one; with a spend, increase the pursuers’ or pursueds’ chase pool by 3 per point.
  2. Both parties make a test against a Difficulty of 4.
  3. Compare the results of the pursuer and the pursued:
  • Both fail or succeed – lead adjusts by one in the direction of the victor.
  • One fails, one succeeds – lead adjusts by two in the direction of the victor.
  1. Narrate the outcome, asking for player input.
  2. If there is any combat, it goes here. The Hit Threshold is usually increased by 1 in a chase, and anyone directly involved in the chase (running or driving) needs to spend 3 points from the chase pool.
  3. If the lead narrows to zero, the pursuer has caught up without a doubt; if the lead increases to 10, the pursued have escaped.


Keep it simple – one chance in the adventure to rest up and refresh three General pools when they’ve had a fight or chase and appear to be gasping for points. They can of course use Shrink (to get Stability back) and Medic (for Health), too. If anyone spots the Technothriller Monologue option, let them use it.


Preparedness allows players to model their characters’ competence, without themselves knowing how to be a spy. It also shortcuts lengthy planning meetings, and gives players a fallback in emergencies. This is how it’s used.

  • Make a test to have something relatively unusual you haven’t mentioned.
  • If you have a rating 8+ allows you to have all ready done something you describe in flashback. If the action requires another test by you or another player (for example, Explosives or Conceal) you need to make that too, afterwards. You can have planted a bomb, swiped a key card, hacked a security system, sabotaged a car, bribed a guard…

Rules You can Take or Leave

Piggybacking and Cooperation These are pretty useful and very simple. If someone is sneaking into a building, or climbing, or any other task where one PC takes the lead, the other PCs spend one point each to stay with them. With cooperation, multiple PCs can contributed to a test, but you need to spend a point to contribute. Flag this up if you remember it and a suitable occasion arises.

Network is are pretty easy to explain, but don’t worry about the mechanics too much – just suggest if they need a hand, look at their network list. If you want the players to have more narrative control – just say “do you know someone who can help you?” If they ask them to do a whole lot, warn them they might get killed, burned, or turn coat. If you are using Network, restrict the pool to five at the most – in a full game, this rating cannot be refreshed, and is too much for a one-shot (hattip Gareth)

Cover in a convention game, this is effectively the same as Disguise – the long-term consequences of not having a solid ID are unlikely to arise. If someone wants to have multiple covers, just like the characters in Burn Notice, let them do it. Limit the pool to five or so.

Cherries – these should be marked on and detailed on character sheets, and be self-explanatory. Check the pregens first and make sure they are – or look them up if necessary. Don’t introduce them if they aren’t there.

MOS –  one ability you can always succeed at once in a session? Simple enough. If you use these, and they aren’t pre-detmerined, let your players decide on this when you hand out the characters. They should all chose a different one.

I wouldn’t bother with Heat, Safe House and Haven rules, Special Tactical Benefits, and the of minutiae of all the equipment in a convention game.

Adventure Knowledge

Night’s Black Agents adventures tend to be more player-led than other GUMSHOE games, and this makes it both easier and more difficult to run. In an ideal world, you will have run it for your group before, but often for conventions, you just get handed  something on the day. I find it helpful to sketch out a diagram of how scenes are connected, and punch down into the abilities and the set up of any fights or chases, or if any more unusual rules come up. Monster stats are really straightforward in GUMSHOE – but take a close look at any supernatural abilities so your vampires are competent and scary. I find two passes through a convention-length adventure – two 30 minute slots – does the basic job. In play, though, if the players are having fun, you are on the right track.

Introducing the Game

Open by telling them they are bad-ass spies, and that they are supremely competent at what they do.

Explain the basics – how Investigative and General abilities work. If anyone who is used to rolling dice to get information expresses puzzlement, tell them to play exactly as they always do when asking to use an Investigative ability. Explain that any Investigative ability can be used to get a +3 bonus on a General ability per one point spend –  use Architecture to get you an Infiltration bonus when breaking into a building, or Intimidation to get the drop on someone in a fight. Tell them you will suggest spends, but it’s better they do! Let them know they don’t have to memorize any of this stuff – you’ll remind them in play. Direct them to the GUMSHOE 101 player sheet.

They know how spy thrillers work – ask What Would Jason Bourne Do? The Night’s Black Agent’s character sheets and its abilities are a cheat sheet in themselves for playing a spy thriller. Abilities such as Infiltration, Forgery and Tradecraft and the meat of the spy genre, tell them to use them, and you’ll make it your job to ensure they get the chance.

It’s a convention game. Tell them to try anything, spend points recklessly and see what happens. Let them know they should try anything they’ve seen in a spy movie, and you will tell them how.

Don’t spend much time planning One of the big problems with spy games can be planning inertia, so tell about Preparedness – the actual mechanic can wait. Their characters will know what to do, even if they don’t, and if they do get bogged down in an extended planning scene, remind them of Preparedness, and show them evidence that if they don’t get moving, they’ll be the hunted.

Stay one step ahead, or danger will come to you. Hunkering down is always a bad idea. Spies stay ahead of their opponents. Your ability to collect information on your opponents, subvert and surprise them are your greatest weapons.

Handing Out Characters

Offer them characters filled in apart from their names, Drives and Sources of Stability (and MOS if it’s not marked and you are using it). Mention that combat-oriented characters have more options in a fight, if they want to take them.

These elements are a short cut to characterisation. Leave a few spare points for a floating pool (say 3) they can assign to any ability on the fly during the game. The characters sheets, along with the handouts, should tell them all the mechanics they need to play their specific characters, including special abilities, weapon damage etc, so they don’t have to look through books. Unless you want in-game paranoia (you are playing a Mirror game, perhaps) tell them they know each other and have worked together, so they are a team as much as spies can be.

At this point ask for a volunteer to keep an eye on whether PCs should make a Stability test – they need flag up if anyone should make a test. There’ll always be one player who is willing to do this, usually a GM; it’s one less thing for you to worry about, and they are usually stricter than you would be! You’ll probably need to remind them the first time.

Offer the Thriller Combat option sheets in the player handouts I created  (or even these cards) – note who takes them and who doesn’t. Tell them they have to be ready when it’s their turn to use one of those options. This will help when running combats. Likewise, point the Chase options out to the character with the ability which will be used in the chase in the adventure.

By now, your players should be fired up and ready to go, and so should you. The rest is up to you!

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