In our third Pelgrane Video Dispatch, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan reveals his favorite GUMSHOE ability. Robin’s was obvious. Many guessed Ken’s. But can you predict Gar’s answer? Only a click on the video will tell the tale!


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 the Pelgrane Shop.

I’ve been running impromptu games for my two boys since they were four or five (they’re now seven), and I’ve been thinking about a GUMSHOE Kids framework that I’m going to develop as a priority now. In the meantime, though, I’m aware that there are suddenly a lot of people working from home with kids who can’t go to school, so here’s the benefit of my experience.

Use A Focus

Especially for younger kids, it’s good to have something physical they can focus their attention on and remind them that they’re actually playing a game with rules and structure as opposed to “let’s pretend”. When I ran No Thank You Evil, I hardly used the rules, but I more than got my money out of the cloth map. A sketch map, a wargame using toys – any bit of ritual to catch their attention and remind them to concentrate.

A character sheet isn’t as important as a physical representation (“this is my guy”) on the map.

Run Short Games

Young kids have short attention spans. Most games won’t last more than 30-45 minutes at most. Look to tell simple stories, and try to work the kids’ ideas and discoveries into the conclusion as much as possible. If the kid decides that they befriend a random frog you mentioned as set dressing, then – lo! – the bad guy’s secret weakness is frogs! How did you know!

Take Turns

Especially if you’ve got multiple kids playing, you’ll need to enforce turn order very strictly. Once kids get excited, they’ll start shouting and demanding attention. Make sure everyone gets a chance to talk and act – and, where possible, make sure everyone has an equal impact on the story, especially its conclusion.

Oh – one kids get going, they tend to seize control of the narration. (“I punch the bad guy, and his head explodes, and then and then and then”). You’ll need to balance wonderful exuberance with keeping the game from descending into chaos.

You’re In Their World Now

Kids don’t have the same set of cultural touchstones that adult gamers do. Expect to see a lot of elements crossing over from whatever cartoons, computer games or other entertainment they’re into. Creepers and Pigmen from Minecraft mean more than orcs and goblins to them, and all pop culture is one big shared universe – I’ve run a bunch of dungeon crawls where the player characters are youtubers and characters from computer games. Work with whatever they throw at you, even if that means Batman and Buzz Lightyear fighting Sauron.

Give Clear Options

Provide a bit more guidance to new players than you would to experienced gamers. Present them with a clear menu of options – you can go down the corridor, or try the door. You can talk to the goblin, or try to scare him. GUMSHOE really comes into its own here – the investigative abilities work as a clear list of ‘questions I can ask’. Then, ask them to describe how they take that action. You have to give a clear structure for the shared imaginative space, or things will spiral out of control.

Sneaky Teaching

The content of your adventure can have some educational elements, without going overboard – just running a game set in, say, ancient Egypt lets you talk about mummies and pyramids and hieroglyphics or the importance of irrigation. Running a game in space lets you drop in a little science. Mechanics, too, teach basic math – if you spent four points from that general ability, and you rolled a 3, does that beat the Difficulty of 6? Rolling dice is always fun; for younger kids, it may be useful to give them tokens to track ability pools.

Have Fun!

The most important thing of all, of course. Think of it as a chance to spend quality time with the kids, while also ensuring you’ll have a gaming group on tap in the months to come…

One stretch goal we didn’t get to in the DRACULA DOSSIER Kickstarter was the Plague capstone, where Dracula weaponises a new virus and takes over the world. I rather wish we’d hit that one – all that research and preparation would have been handy right about now.

Anyway.

Like the rest of the world, the Pelgranes are hunkering down and hiding in our respective nests while we weather this strange time. We’re switching our games online, we’re obsessively washing our claws, and we’re hugging our loved ones (or waving at them from a suitably safe distance). We’re mostly old-school gamers – virtually all of my gaming is face-to-face – so it’s something of a learning curve. But there’s no alternative, as we stare into this year of social distancing and probably-no-cons. No doubt many of you are in similar situations.

So – what can we do for you? What sort of resources, articles or products would be most useful to you in the days to come? Do you want more One-2-One scenarios to play at home? More content for virtual tabletops? Essays on running games for kids? Online panels? Let us know in the comments.

And stay safe out there. A world-wide threat that we can fight by staying home and gaming? This is the time we’ve been training for all our lives!

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.

One of the Things I Always Say is that a GUMSHOE investigative list is basically a list of questions the players can ask the GM – but it’s also a useful list of questions to ask yourself when writing an adventure. Certainly, when I initially conceive of an adventure, I’ll come up with three or four cool scenes or concepts, and I’ll link them together with a few clues.

For example, if I’m writing a Mutant City Blues case about a scheme to harvest mutant organs for transplant in the hopes of transferring mutant powers to criminals, I might go vanished mutant -> seedy fixer -> secret lab in hospital -> criminal mastermind, and then link the scenes with a core clue each. So, Data Retrieval connects the vanished mutant to the seedy fixer, Interrogation gets him to flip on the organ harvesters and point the agents at the hospital, and forensic accounting lets them connect the hospital lab to the main criminal. That’s a perfectly workable spine.

Now, with that central chain of clues in place, I need to flesh out the scenes, and one way to do that is to look at the list of investigative abilities and consider what information that can be gleaned by each of them. Some are obvious – what can Streetwise reveal about the seedy fixer? What about Fingerprinting? If the players look around the vanished mutant’s apartment with Art History, what do they find? What about Chemistry?

Obviously, only a fraction of the abilities are going to yield any information at all, and there’s no guarantee any of this information is going to be useful, but it’s still a useful prompt to fill out a scene.

This technique really comes into its own in occult investigation, as it’s deliciously weird to explore the side effects of the supernatural. A Deep One attack in Trail of Cthulhu obviously leaves clues to be discovered with Evidence Collection or Reassurance, but what about Theology? Might the traumatised victim couch their description in biblical terms, and babble about Leviathan abd Behemoth? What about Astronomy or Geology? Might the Deep One have dragged up a carved stone that’s millions of years old, or maybe they only rise when Fomalhaut is in the sky…


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

Stone Skin Press Schemers

A cruel lover who refashions her prey. A bioengineered warrior on the run. An internet mapping service with a stalker’s eye. A carjacker with a conscience. A Victorian thespian turned super-criminal. A murderer of video game characters. All these and more meet in the poison-soaked pages of Schemers, a genre-spanning short fiction exploration of grand schemes, Machiavellian maneuvering, and the knotty, micro-scaled twistings of the human heart.

Together these writers, hailing from the disparate precincts of poetry, fantasy, science fiction, comics, gaming, crime writing, and literary fiction have entered a dark room to put their knives on the table for you. Here’s a goblet of wine, to parch your thirst. Don’t worry if it tastes slightly off.

You can trust us.

Bending genres and crossing boundaries are:

Tobias S. BUCKELL  •  Jesse BULLINGTON •  Tania HERSHMAN
Ekaterina SEDIA • Jonathan L. HOWARD •  Kyla Lee WARD
Robyn SEALE • Laura LUSH • Nick MAMATAS • Molly TANZER
John HELFERS  • Gareth RYDER-HANRAHAN
Elizabeth A. VAUGHAN   •  Kathryn KUITENBROUWER 

“All the stories in Schemers were well done… A few, such as the ones I mentioned, will be stories I am not likely to forget. If you like speculative mysteries with twisty endings, give Schemers a try.”

-Fantasy Literature.com

“…a great book for people who like murder, mystery or intrigue. It is a real treat to see a book that is complex and beautiful inside and out. I would ask you to raise your glasses and toast the success of Schemers…”

Pop Cults

ISBN-13: 9781908983046
Format: B Format – 198x129mm
Binding: Paperback
Extent: 232 pages
Ebook: PDF, EPUB, MOBI included with print book

This title, and all other Stone Skin Press titles are available together in the Stone Skin Press Complete Bundle.

Buy print edition now

Buy PDF, EPUB, MOBI now

Stone Skin Press The Lion and The Aardvark

These confusing times of Internet trolls, one-percenters, toxic fame, and impending singularity cry out for clarity—the clarity found in Aesop’s 2,500 year old fables.

70 writers from across the creative spectrum bring their modern sensibilities to this classic format. Zombies, dog-men and robot wasps mingle with cats, coyotes and cockroaches. Parables ranging from the punchy to the evocative, the wry to the disturbing, explore eternal human foibles, as displaced onto lemmings, trout, and racing cars. But beware— in these terse explorations of desire, envy, and power, certitude isn’t always as clear as it looks.

The full and phenomenal extent of the writers:

Peter M. BALL * Robert Jackson BENNETT * Jason L. BLAIR

Emily Care BOSS * Nadia BULKIN * Jesse BULLINGTON * Susannah DAINOW

Richard DANSKY * Graeme DAVIS * Jim DEMONAKOS * Steve DEMPSEY

Dennis DETWILLER * Julia Bond ELLINGBOE * Ann EWAN * Ray FAWKES

Chad FIFER * Matt FORBECK * Peter FREEMAN * Katarina GLIGORIJEVIC * Ed GREENWOOD * Dave GROSS

Rob HEINSOO * Tania HERSHMAN * Will HINDMARCH * Jonathan L. HOWARD * Stephen Graham JONES

John KOVALIC * Kathryn KUITENBROUWER * Chris LACKEY * Livia LLEWELLYN * Laura LUSH * Nick MAMATAS

Adam MAREK * Julie McARTHUR * Janqui MEHTA * Silvia MORENO-GARCIA * Sarah NEWTON * Daniel PERRY

Sandy PETERSEN * JT PETTY * Ursula PFLUG * Wena POON * Epidiah RAVACHOL * Aaron ROSENBERG

Gareth RYDER-HANRAHAN * Richard SCARSBROOK * Ekaterina SEDIA * Greg STAFFORD * Greg STOLZE

Molly TANZER * Benj TENTT * Sue TRAIN * Genevieve VALENTINE * Monica VALENTINELLI * Halli VILLEGAS

Kyla WARD * Chuck WENDIG * Heather WOOD * Jim ZUB.

Cover & interior illustrations by Shel Kahn.

ISBN-13: 9781908983022
Format: B Format – 198x129mm
Binding: Hardback
Extent: 229 pages
Ebook: PDF, EPUB, MOBI included with print book

This title, and all other Stone Skin Press titles, are available together in the Stone Skin Press Complete Bundle.

Buy print edition now

Buy PDF, EPUB, MOBI now

The core concept of GUMSHOE can be simply stated (or shouted from the rooftops) as “it’s always more fun when the players get the clue”. One could argue, though, that it’s sometimes more accurate to say that the players always get the lead.

A lead is a clue that leads in to another scene. Leads are usually (but not always) core clues, and core clues are usually (but not always) leads, so it’s easy to get the two confused. It’s worth disambiguating the two in your thinking.

So – a lead is a clue that points to another scene. It can be something that the players uncover (Evidence Collection: you find a matchbook with the name of a bar written on it), or something the characters know (Bureaucracy: the victim was a student at the local university; it might be worth checking college records, interviewing his associates and lecturers there). Follow the lead, and you get to another scene.

A core clue is something the players must find for the scenario to progress. While most core clues are leads pointing to the next core scene, you can also have core clues that foreshadow weirdness or lay pipe for future plot developments. (Biology: My god, it’s like this student is growing gills! That doesn’t immediately lead anywhere, but it’s important for the players to later discover the mad ichthyologist in the university).

You could even disambiguate further, splitting things-gained-through-investigative-abilities into four buckets:

Core Leads: points to a core scene. The players must find this lead for the scenario to work.

Leads: points to a non-core scene (alternate, hazard, subplot, etc)

Core Clues: a piece of vital information needed for the scenario to make sense. The players must get this clue.

Clues: Any other piece of information.

Note #1:  In general, every scene should have a lead (or multiple leads) that lead-in to it. The exceptions are scenes like antagonist reactions, which are triggered by the GM, or fuzzy “stuff to do in town” catch-all scenes that usually occur when the players are gathering information early in the game.

Note #2: There’s a subtle distinction between a core clue and an important clue. A core clue might tell you that the bad guy is a vampire and that he’s hiding in that castle over there, because that information is vital to your progress through the mystery. A clue that says “oh, this particular sort of vampire can only be slain by a silver bullet” isn’t core, as you don’t need it to make progress. You do need it to survive, but GUMSHOE is agnostic about whether the player characters live or die – as we said, getting the clues is always more interesting, which isn’t the same thing as safe…

A spooky child’s drawing depicts a cryptic staircase that goes “to the bottom of the universe”, a blood-drenched skeleton, and a shadowy monster. What might it signify (other than “these parents are so neglectful they not only produce children who make such drawings, but also exploit them when they’re in need of a quick Page XX article)?

Four scenario seeds for four different games:

Ashen Stars: The child is somehow partially immune to the memory-dampening effect of the Bogey Conundrum, and can recall events during the Mohilar war that no-one else can remember. A careful analysis of the ‘staircase’ shows it’s actually a map of warp corridors, leading to an unknown system. Might that system be the homeworld of the fabled Mohilar, or some other relic of the war? That skeleton looks human – is it a warning, or a sign that humans once visited there? And if the Mohilar are still out there, the Combine needs to know…

The Esoterrorists: One Esoterrorist cell is playing a long game. They’ve spend years implanting monstrous hypnotic suggestions in children, subliminally exposing them to the Outer Dark. These psychic seeds take years to germinate – this particular child is in no immediate danger, but in twenty years time, he might be a gateway for the Outer Dark. The real threat, though, are past pupils of the same teacher, any of whom might be about to tear through the Veil.

Fear Itself: The monster lurks at the bottom of the staircase – any staircase. Any flight of steps can suddenly elongate,dropping down and down and down forever. Think of it like a Hound of Tindalos, only with stairs instead of sharp corners. Can the player characters find a way to banish the monster from the city when they’ve got to avoid going down any stairs ever?

Trail of Cthulhu: The stairs lead to the Dreamlands. The skeleton is a talented human dreamer, who descended too far into the labyrinths beneath the sunlit lands of slumber, and was captured by some eldritch horror. However, he’s able to send his mind back to the waking world in search of aid, and has latched onto the child.

Meditating on the drawing allows the investigators to enter the Dreamlands near his prison. What they don’t know, though, is that the horror knows about the escape attempt and intends to possess the child and use him to erase the drawing, trapping the investigators in dreams forever at the bottom of the stairs…

The massive living dungeon known as the Stone Thief is so epic it cannot be confined to just one system! Designer Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan has turned the first two levels of his megadungeon masterpiece into a PDF that’s compatible with the 5th Edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game.

Eyes of the Stone Thief (5E Compatible) is a two-level dungeon like your players have never seen before: a living creature of stone that rises to the surface, devours structures and places, then incorporates them into itself as dungeon levels. The Stone Thief is a cunning foe that seeks to destroy those who dare set foot inside…

The 39-page adventure brings nearly 30 new monsters to your 5E table, including the hobgoblin warmage, filth hydra, undead spider, and ghoul fleshripper. Run the adventure as-is, plunder it for ideas and inspiration, or use it as a starting point to convert the rest of the Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign to 5th Edition.

The Stone Thief rises. Enter it, find its secrets and defeat it – or die trying.

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artists: Anna Kryczkowska, Pat Loboyko, Rich Longmore, Juha Makkonen, Russ Nicholson, Ben Wooten Pages: 39 page PDF

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