One of my favourite bits of working on Hideous Creatures – and the infamous H*wk*ns P*p*rs, for that matter – was writing up the in-character handouts that accompany each monster. Part of the joy was obviously seeing what artistic wonders Dean Engelhardt would come up with, of course, but even if you’re not blessed with a brilliant layout artist, you can still have fun generating fiendishly oblique handouts that hint at greater horror.

First, pick one or two aspects of the creature you want to highlight or foreshadow. These might be:

  • Horrible portents associated with the creature, so the players recognise them when they encounter them later on. A stench, a distinctive sound, a bizarre physical phenomenon, a sensation – anything that heralds the approach of the horror.
  • A distinctive way of killing, so the players recognise the creature’s victims for what they are.
  • A supernatural ability or phenomenon associated with the monster
  • A thematic association – if you’ve got a crocodile monster, your handout should reference something crocodile-related – Egypt? Rivers? Survivals from primeval times? Eggs? Lurking dangers? Floating logs? Teeth?

The trick is to find something that’s strongly associated with the monster in the scenario, but is still deliciously ambiguous. A bloodless corpse with neck wounds screams ‘vampire’ a bit too loudly, but unexplained illness with the symptoms of anaemia – that’s great, especially if you describe it in such a way that the players worry about other possible horrors too. Is the anaemia caused by a bloodsucking horror, by weird radiation, by an internal parasite? Foreshadow, don’t fore-explain. In handouts like this, aim for ambiguity that only gets resolved when the players actually encounter the monster.

You can be quite subtle here – the simple existence of the document means the players will give it added weight, and comb the document for hints. For example, say your monster is associated with weird time dilation. You could write a short diary entry where a young heiress talks about how she went out riding one morning after breakfast near the old standing stones, and lost track of time – she thought she was only out for a short time, but she arrived back to find it was already mid-afternoon. On its own, that’s a dull piece of text – but the fact it’s a handout means the players will pay added attention to it. (Note that they’ll also pay attention to irrelevant pieces of it – expect the players to get jumpy at mentions of horses, investigate the family history of the heiress, and investigate the old standing stones.)

(Also – the incongruous placement of a handout is a really great technique. Finding a heiress’ journal in a country house is unremarkably – it’s part of the conceptual furnishings. Finding that same journal in a ruined lighthouse, or a cult hideout in a slum, or in a tomb that hasn’t been disturbed since it was sealed 3,000 years ago – that’s a lot more intriguing!)

Second, catch ye hare. Think of the sort of handout you want. Try starting with a real piece of text to get a sense of language and phrasing. A diary from the 1920s is going to read differently from a diary from the 1960s – and that’s going to be very different to a blog post from 2008. Diaries and letters are the most flexible sort of handout, but they’re a bit cliche. Newspaper articles are always good as a starting point, but can’t get too close to the real mystery (unless you can hint at a sinister reason why the journalist was prevented from investigating and digging deeper). Official accounts, like coroner’s reports, are good when you want to summarise an incident (or describe a mutilated corpse in detail, which can be really handy – it lets investigators use forensic techniques on a death from maby years ago), but hard to keep to short, and the best handouts are short and punchy. Shorter documents – records, auction listings, classified ads – are tricky, as you’ve got to tell the story entirely in implications. (Using google image search can often find scans of old articles and clippings for a visual reference).

Third, have a purpose in mind. A handout might:

  • Tell a story: Usually, the story of how someone else suffered a horrible fate at the hands of the monster; you want to hint at what might happen to the player characters if they’re unlucky.
  • Suggest a line of inquiry or course of action: Mentioning a location, object, book or individual in a handout can be prompt to the players to investigate
  • Foreshadow the monster: This sort of handout is really just to add foreboding; it doesn’t need to tell the players much, other than “there’s something bad out there, and here’s one trait associated with it”.
  • Hint at unplumbed depths: Handouts are great because they give exactly as much information as you want, and no more. The players can’t ask more questions of a piece of paper; they can’t spend points of Interrogation or Intimidation to learn any more. Therefore, if you want to include vast conspiracies, lost civilisations, or deeper mysteries that are outside the scope of your intended game, use a handout to drop hints of those greater depths.

Here’s a worked example of how to build such a handout.

We’ll start with a Trail monster that isn’t in Hideous Creatures – the Masqut. They’re the reptilian denizens of the Nameless City of the Arabian desert – the things of whom it is written that is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die. The entry in the Trail core rulebook – and in Lovecraft’s story – doesn’t give much detail on the monsters. They’re like crocodiles or seals, they walk on all fours, some of them are mummified, they hate humanity, and there are more of them in a vast cavern underground. Oh, and there’s a spooky wind.

I’m immediately put in mind of Feejee mermaids and other monsters of taxidermy. Maybe an art dealer bought what he thought was an amusing fake, but was actually a real mummified masqut… and then, to highlight the underground nature of the monsters, maybe the earth collapsed under him. “Art” plus “underground collapse” makes me think of Paris and its catacombs; even if my adventure isn’t set in Paris, I can incongruously place this handout in the belongings of some victim of the masqut, prompting the players to wonder what Parisian taxidermy articles have to do with the disappearance of their pal the archaeologist in Arabia.

A quick google turns up this clipping (from https://parisianfields.com/2015/09/13/a-city-built-on-air/). That’s a mundane and explicable tragedy, but we can build off that – if we set up our incident as an unexplained coda to it, we can refer back to that earlier collapse and reuse some of the same language, giving us:

SECOND TRAGEDY IN PARIS

The collapse of another building in Paris is likely linked to recent rain storms and flooding, giving rise to fears that the foundations of the city are being eaten away. The most recent incident involved a warehouse owned by M. Salon, an art dealer and taxidermist, which collapsed into a hitherto undetected gulf below. M. Salon and two of his staff perished in the accident, and his newest acquisition, described as a ‘mummified cockatrice’, was also lost, entombed once more in the depths of the earth.

A little over-wrought, perhaps, but enough to disturb the players…

The Underworld calls! Can you resist its dark lure?

The expanse of the Dragon Empire is as nothing compared to the vast and mysterious realms that lie beneath it. Deep within the Underworld lie adventure and treasure—as well as madness and death. But what is reward without risk?

With The Book of the Underworld, designer Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (Eyes of the Stone Thief, Book of Demons, Book of Ages), reveals the Underworld’s secrets for 13th Age, including:

  • The lands of the Underworld: the Underland, the kingdoms of the Hollow Realms, and what lies within the Deeps
  • The mighty dwarven city of Forge, rallying point for the inevitable war to reclaim Underhome
  • The domains of the Silver Folk elves, and their underground icons: She Who Spins in Darkness, and He Who Weaves with Joy
  • The threats of Malice, the Drowfort, and the four kingdoms of the Mechanical Sun
  • New Icons, forgotten gods, spells, feats, magic items, monsters, and more!

You’ll also find rules for traveling in the Underworld—including ways to make travel montages more interesting (and hazardous!)—and advice for GMs who want to create adventures and campaigns set in the Underworld.

The passage downward lies ahead. Cold air chills your bones, and you can hear the echoes of something huge and ancient stirring far below. Mutter one last prayer to the Gods of Light, set your torches ablaze, and prepare to enter the Underworld!

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Developers: Rob Heinsoo, John-Matthew DeFoggi

Status: In development

Tactical Objectives in Trail of Cthulhu

Knowing that the Thing could surely overtake the Alert until steam was fully up, he resolved on a desperate chance; and, setting the engine for full speed, ran lightning-like on deck and reversed the wheel. There was a mighty eddying and foaming in the noisome brine, and as the steam mounted higher and higher the brave Norwegian drove his vessel head on against the pursuing jelly which rose above the unclean froth like the stern of a daemon galleon. The awful squid-head with writhing feelers came nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly.

  • The Call of Cthulhu

The Trail of Cthulhu combat rules work perfectly well when dealing with small numbers of human-scale foes – a lone Deep One or Byakhee, a few cultists – but they’re less suited to coping with gigantic creatures like shoggoths, vampirish vapours or dark young, or hosts of horrors like ghoul packs or flocks of bat-things. Now, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that such encounters are more the province of pure narrative, or out of keeping with the mood of the game, but sometimes – especially in Pulp adventures – you want to be able to blow up the shoggoth by luring it onto Professor Frank’s experimental electrical generator.

These rules are (very) loosely inspired by the Ashen Stars space combat system and the Yellow King RPG rules.

At the start of an encounter, the players collectively choose one of the starting goals (Retreat, Drive Away/Break Through, Hide, Wound, or Lure). They then make ability tests as normal, trying to rack up successes collectively to meet the number required by a goal.

 

Goal Format

Here’s the format for goals.

Description. What you’re trying to do achieve by pursuing this goal.

Leads-In: What goals you need to achieve before attempting this one.

Leads-Out: What goals you can try for after completing this one.

Successes Required: How many successes you need to achieve this goal.

Abilities: What General Abilities can be used to score successes. One successful General Ability test grants one success.

The difficulty for these tests depends on the monster you’re fighting. In general

Human-size foes: Difficulty 4

Huge creatures: Difficulty 5-6

Cyclopean monsters: Difficulty 6-7

Great Old Ones: Difficulty 8+

Abilities may be tagged asRisky or Vulnerable.

Special: Any special rules that apply to this goal.

Effect: What happens if the group achieve their goal.

Risky & Vulnerable

If a character uses a Risky ability, then if that character fails, the monster gets to make an attack on that character.

If a character uses a Vulnerable ability, then that character gets attacked by the monster after the ability test, regardless of the outcome of the test.

The monster can attack as many times as opportunities present themselves – if six investigators attempt something Risky and fail, the monster gets to make six attacks.

Defending Others

Instead of making an ability test to accrue successes, an investigator can defend another investigator. This requires a test of Scufflingor Shooting; a kind Keeper might also allow the use of Athletics orDriving in some circumstances. Defending others is Risky – if the defender fails the test, they get attacked by the monster.

Switching Goals

If you change goal midway through an attempt, you lose all your accumulated successes. You can only switch to a starting goal.

Investigative Spends

If the player can justify it, an investigative spend might allow:

  • A different general ability to be used to generate successes towards the goal (I use Physics to tune the radio into the star vampire’s frequency – now I can lure it with Electrical Repair)
  • Increase the number of successes yielded by a successful test (Can I use Chemistry for a bigger bang from these Explosives tests?)

Armour and Vulnerabilities

Some Mythos entities are incredibly tough, or even immune to some forms of attack. Others are unusually vulnerable to a particular weapon or substance. Adjust the Difficulty for attacks using Shooting, Scuffling or Weapons as follows:

The monster’s magically vulnerable to this attack: -2

Low armour, big gun: -1

Most attacks: +0

High armour or partial immunity: +1

            Chances of injuring the monster are slim: +2

No chance of hurting monster: Ability cannot be used.

Example: (The Dunwich Horror) In the end the three men from Arkham—old, white-bearded Dr. Armitage, stocky, iron-grey Professor Rice, and lean, youngish Dr. Morgan—ascended the mountain alone. They began with the Hide goal, racking up some successes by trying to spot the invisible monster, then switched to Lure (“through the lenses were discernible three tiny figures, apparently running toward the summit as fast as the steep incline allowed.”) before finally attempting Banish on the mountain-top.

 

Tactical Goals

Flee

You’re trying to get the hell out of there! Everyone just turns and runs at top speed. It’s undignified, but it might keep you alive. Devil take the hindmost!

Leads-In: Any. You can switch to this goal at any time.

Leads-Out:

Successes Required: Successes are tracked individually. The first character to escape needs one success, the second needs two successes, the third needs three and so forth. Add one to the total needed if a character’s bringing a non-combatant along.

Abilities: Risky: Fleeing, Athletics

Special: You can reroll a failed test if you describe how your panicked retreat leads to some misfortune – you drop your weapon, you fall over a cliff, you get separated from the rest of the company.

Effect: You escape. There are no guarantees about your condition or situation when you make your escape – you may fainting, or get lost in the wilderness, or suffer some other humiliation – but at least you’re out of immediate danger.

 

Retreat

You intend to retreat in good order, staying together and leaving nobody behind.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: If you switch to Flee, you can keep half your accrued successes.

Successes Required: Two per investigator.

Abilities: Risky:Athletics, Stealth, Stability, Riding (to maintain discipline)

Vulnerable:Fleeing

If the group’s in a vehicle, then add Vulnerable: Driving, Piloting (but successes count double)

Effect: The group escapes the encounter with the monster.

 

Hide

You try to observe the monster

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: Retreat, Lure, Drive Away/Break Through

Successes Required: 0.

Abilities: Vulnerable: Shadowing, Sense Trouble, Preparedness

Special: You must move on from this goal once the enemy is aware of your presence.

Effect: You may apply half your successes from this goal to your next goal.

 

Drive Away/Break Through

You try to force your way past the enemy, or force the monster into briefly retreating.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: None or Wound

Successes Required: Target’s Health /4

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special:Track the number of natural 6s rolled during ability tests. If the group wishes to immediately attempt the Wound or Hold Out goals after completing this goal, they start with one success in Wound or Hold Out for every six rolled.

Effect: The monster retreats. Add another d6 successes to the number required if the investigators try for the same goal again in a future encounter.

 

Wound

You attempt to actually damage the monster.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: Maim, Retreat

Successes Required: Target’s Health/4

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special: If a character rolls a 1-2 on an ability test, their next action is automatically Vulnerable.

Effect: The monster’s hurt. This doesn’t affect the creature’s abilities, but it’s the first step in destroying the horror (and analysis of the ichor or blood spilled might provide vital clues).

Lure

You try to draw the monster towards a particular location.

Leads-In: None.

Leads-Out: Trap, Bind/Banish

Successes Required: 6

Abilities: Risky:Athletics, Shadowing, Riding

Effect: The monster follows the investigators to a particular location nearby.

Hold Out

You secure yourself in a safe, defensible place and try to hold out for as long as possible. This might involve barricading the entrances, securing all entry points, or trying to endure this monstrous siege.

Leads-In: Retreat, Drive Away/Break Through

Leads-Out: Trap

Successes Required: 4 per investigator

Abilities: Vulnerable:Electrical Repair,Mechanical Repair, Preparedness.

Effect: The investigators hold out until dawn, or until help arrives, or until the attackers depart.

Maim

You attempt to kill the monster. If dealing with a host of horrors, you try to slaughter the greater number of them.

Leads-In: Wound, Trap

Leads-Out: None

Successes Required: Target’s Health/2

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons, Explosives

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special: If a character rolls a 1-2 on an ability test, their next action is automatically Vulnerable and they cannot benefit from another investigator defending them.

Effect: The monster is destroyed, or at least discorporated.

Trap

You’re going to trap the monster in a physical or magical prison.

Leads-In: Lure, Hold Out

Leads-Out: Wound, Bind/Banish

Successes Required: 4; 6 if the monster is especially strong, fast, agile, can fly, or moves through alien dimensions; 8 if it falls into multiple categories

Abilities: Vulnerable:Athletics, Electrical Repair, Explosives, Magic, Mechanical Repair

Effect: The difficulty of tests in the next goal is reduced by 2.

Bind/Banish

You’re going to use eldritch sorcery or hypergeometry to dismiss the monster.

Leads-In: Lure, Trap.

Lure is only necessary if the monster can only be banished at a particular place (within a magical sigil, atop Sentinel Hill, in direct sunlight).

Trap is optional, but unless the monster is constrained, then it may be able to flee instead of being banished.

Leads-Out: What goals you can try for after completing this one.

Successes Required: Spell’s Inertia/2

Abilities: Vulnerable:Stability

Effect: As per the spell


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.

   where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself    imaginary walls collapse    

– Allen Ginsburg, Howl

Cthulhu City slides into The Fall of Delta Green like a cartridge into a chamber. As written, Great Arkham’s a nightmare reflection of the 1930s, but updating it to the 1960s is relatively trivial. The sinister gas-masked Transport Police and oppressive surveillance state fit perfectly; mistrust of the government resonates even more after the Kennedy assassination and Kent State. Some specific suggestions to bring the city to the era of the Fall.

  • Old Arkham hasn’t changed – so it’s now an absurd throwback, a foolish or desperate attempt to turn the clock back to a pre-war era.
  • The Depression-era Hoovertowns and hoboes in rotting Salamander Fields become drop-outs, dope fiends and draft dodgers.
  • Hippie communes and flower children dance amid the standing stones out in Billington’s Woods near Dunwich.
  • Mayor Ward is more of a Kennedy-esque figure – young, handsome, inspiring, as compelling and sinister as the Black Pharoah of Nyarlathotep.
  • The city’s textile industry has given way to the military-industrial complex – the Northside factories churn out cryptic, obscure machinery for the war effort, but it’s never clear if the components are for Vietnam, or for some other facet of the Cold War, or some stranger conflict.
  • The international jet set, cosmopolitan and jaded, fly in to the new Danfort Airport in Kingsport from Monte Carlo and Milan, London and Beirut, Baharna and Celephais. The airport crawls with Transport Police, and its bizarre hypergeometic topography means that some would-be travellers have ended up lost in its endless shifting concourses for years, roaming naked and starving past departure gates that never open. Stephen Alzis summers in Great Arkham.
  • The raid on Miskatonic University resulted in the shooting of a half-dozen students by Transport Police. Protests and riots have wracked the city since then; there are regular clashes between Transport Police and students. Anarchist cells meet and plot in the attic of the old Witch House.
  • The Marsh gang import and distribute heroin shipped in the holds of the infamous Black Freighters.
  • The battle between the various cults and factions is no longer so covert. Fringe scientists from the Halsey Institute (formerly the clandestine Halsey Fraternity) openly advocate for experimentation in necromancy and revivification; pamphlets and graffiti on the sides of cyclopean towers advocate for the Witch Cult or the Silver Lodge. Mayor Upton was shot by a brain-washed assassin.
  • Armitage wasn’t a librarian or occult expert – he was a chemist, experimenting with drugs that altered human perceptions to enable them to see the true nature of reality. After the Raid, he went underground, moving from one hidden lab to another, sheltered by the Black Panthers and other groups, manufacturing more potent solvents to dissolve the great illusion and reveal the ultimate truth.

And what is that ultimate truth? The DELTA GREEN setting suggests some new options for the ultimate reality behind Cthulhu City…

  • The Revolution Will Be Dematerisalised: Curwen and his allies mastered hypergeometry and fractured reality in the 1750s. We’re still a colony – it’s simultaneously the 1960s and 1770s, the Transport Police are Redcoats, the revolution is always coming. DELTA GREEN’s a conspiracy founded by Captain Whipple and the “band of serious citizens” who raided Curwen’s house; the characters flicker back and forth between the Mythos-conjured hallucination of the 1960s and the ‘reality’ of the 1770s.
  • Interzone: Cthulhu City’s a surreal nightmare. Monsters on the streets, monsters under your skin. Gangs of shrieking cultists roam the night, pursued by agents of absurd alphabet-soup government departments. The city’s accessed by drugs, or by trauma, or by psychic reflexes triggered by the right poetry. It’s Al Amarj on the Miskatonic.
  • The Vorsht Letters: A DELTA GREEN Agent, Isaac Vorsht, vanished in 1962. His car was found abandoned on a back road near Salem; he hasn’t been seen since. Somehow, though, he’s still sending reports to the DELTA GREEN Steering Committee about his experiences and investigations in ‘Great Arkham’. Vorsht’s reports never seem to acknowledge the bizarre nature of the city, or describe how he got there. It’s as though he’s slipped into a parallel dimension – but if he has, how are his letters getting into the conventional US postal service? Oh – his most recent letter thanked DELTA GREEN for assigning the Agents to his operation. The Steering Committee don’t know what to make of it, but clearly the Agents are fated to investigate the case…
  • Project PLATO: PLATO’s mandate is to prepare a defensive posture for humanity in case of alien invasion. “Great Arkham” is a PLATO construct, a simulation designed to determine how the population might behave if the Mythos were to become more public. Are the Agents under hypnosis? Brainwashed with LSD and subliminal messaging? Critically injured and comatose Vietnam veterans in an electronically generated shared hallucination? Or did MOON DUST just salvage some Mi-Go technology? Are those cyclopean towers actually gigantic brain-cases…

 

Enter a place born from all of Lovecraft’s creations, and governed by servitors of the Old Ones.­­ Great Arkham – the Cthulhu City.

We have produced just 100 copies of this faux-leatherbound limited edition of Cthulhu City. 50 will be made available to customers in the US & Canada, and 50 will be made available to customers outside the US & Canada. The books are faux leather with gold foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed book plate signed by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, which you can add to your book.

There is – by certain unreliable and maddening accounts, and now by your own dreadful experience – a city on the eastern seaboard of the United States, in northern Massachusetts. You do not recall seeing it on maps when you were growing up, and no-one of your acquaintance ever admitted coming from that place until you found yourself living within its eerie confines. It is a city of windowless cyclopean skyscrapers, of crumbling baroque buildings and ruins that must, impossibly, predate human habitation in this part of the world. At times, you can see remnants of familiar small towns which have grown together into this monstrous conurbation – Dunwich in the west, beyond Sentinel Hill; quaint Kingsport, by the sea; industrial Innsmouth, the engine of trade and commerce; and the city’s heart, Old Arkham.

You know that this city is monstrous.

You know that the city government are in the thrall of – or in league with – alien horrors.

You know better than to go out at night, when the clouds roll in from the sea and shapes move in the sky. You know there are occasional, unpredictable streets that come and go according to some unearthly schedule, that strange black ships dock at Innsmouth to trade with the squat, ugly denizens of that neighbourhood. You know, too, that not all of your neighbours are sane – or human.

But you’re trapped. There’s no way to escape the city.

Because the city is the world.

Cthulhu City is a setting for Trail of Cthulhu, usable for a full campaign in its own right or as a nightmarish intrusion into an existing game. The Investigators find themselves in a strange, corrupted Arkham, a ghastly metropolis. People – humans – live in the city, and seem bizarrely normal on first encounter – their concerns are the same mundane, day-to-day passions and trials of anyone in the modern world – but scratch the surface, and the Mythos spills forth. Motorcars drive down streets lined with sullen-eyed basalt cyclopean buildings raised by no human hand; at night, loathsome and titanic shapes move behind the clouds. It’s a city where priests masked with yellow silk proclaim the majesty of God from the churches; a city occupied by alien powers. The old-money families have names like Marsh and Whately and Curwen, and the worst crime imaginable is defying the will of the living gods.

Humans shouldn’t survive here, but they do, blindly adapting to the horror all around them. Are the Investigators dreaming? Insane? Have they travelled in time? Is this an alternate reality? An illusion? Or have they somehow had their minds swapped with denizens of the city?

Or has it always been this way, and they can no longer deny the truth?

The Great, the Old, the Terrible City of Unnumbered Crimes

In this surreal nightmare supplement for Trail of Cthulhu, discover…

  • The heart of Lovecraft’s urban fiction. Arkham, Dunwich and Kingsport, but also R’lyeh, the Nameless City, and the City of the Elder Things…
  • The vertiginous terror of inverted order! Worshippers of the Great Old Ones rule from City Hall, while investigators are wanted criminals! After the infamous Miskatonic Raid which put an end to the “anarchist plots” of the Armitage Inquiry, who dares challenge the authorities?
  • Intrigue and action in the twisted streets! In a campaign of urban horror, evade the watchful eyes of the authorities with the new Suspicion rules! Smash the cults – or conspire to pit one faction against the others!
  • The hidden ways of the city. Use District Knowledges to find help, but beware – any of the dozens of NPCs could be a stalwart ally, a doomed victim, or a sinister servant of the Mythos…

Includes The Whispering Light, a full-length noir-flavoured adventure set in Great Arkham that takes investigators on a tour of the mysterious city… and into the beyond! 

 

Stock #: PELGT44L Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Gislaine Avila, Jesús A. Blones, Marine Cegalerba, Jen McCleary, Kennedy Cooke-Garza, Lauren Covarrubias, Lee Dawn, Nyra Drakae, Marisa Erven, Quintin Gleim, Jérôme Huguenin, Ethan Lee, Erica Leveque, David Lewis Johnson, Amanda Makepeace, Valentina Filic (xAngelusNex), Georgia Roan, Anna Rogers, Karolina Wegrzyn. Pages: 224pg casebound

Buy now

 

Inspired by Ray Winninger’s seminal Underground RPG from Mayfair Games (which is sorely due a reboot), these parameters for Mutant City Blues let the players shape the future of their city, shepherding it into an era of prosperity or fighting against the tide as it’s engulfed in crime and corruption.

Each parameter’s measured from +3 to -3.

The 16 parameters are divided into four categories. Police HQ describes the internal state of Mutant City’s police force; Crime Rate measures four categories of high-profile crimes; Town Hall tracks the general state of the city, and Mutant Relations describes how the city’s mutant population relate to the police and the wider city.

Police HQ

  • Trust In Police
  • Police Corruption
  • Police Efficiency
  • Police Morale

Crime Rate

  • Major Crime
  • Antisocial Behaviour
  • Vice
  • Heightened Crime

Town Hall

  • Civic Pride
  • Local Economy
  • Mayor’s Popularity
  • Public Corruption

Mutant Relations

  • Criminal Influence
  • Social Cohesion
  • Mutant Rights
  • Mutant Pride

Setting Up Your City

Unless you want to emphasise a particular point (there’s a serial killer on the loose – Murder Rate starts at -3!), then start by randomly allocating values to parameters. Roll a d6 for each parameter:

  • 1: -2
  • 2: -1
  • 3-4: +0
  • 5-6: +1

Adjusting Parameters

A new case drops one or more parameters by a point or two each. So, if the case involves tension between mutants and non-mutants, reduce Social Integration by at least one point for the duration of the case. If the officers completely fail to solve the case, those parameters from by an extra point; if they succeed, reset the parameters to their previous levels.

Parameters might also drift due to larger events at the whim of the Gamemaster; often, an increase in one parameter (say, Local Economy) can affect others (more money in the city might also boost Vice and Corruption).

Between cases, players can spend suitable Investigative abilities to temporarily increase a parameter. It costs a number of points equal to the current value of the parameter to increase it by 1 (minimum 1). So, if you want to inspire trust in the police, but Trust in Police is currently at -2, you’d have to spend 2 points of Community Relationsto get it down to -1 for the next case only. Permanently increasing a parameter requires the players to make some sort of permanent change of circumstances – setting up a new group or institution, finding a non-player character who’ll champion a cause, or removing some malign influence that keeps pushing the parameter down.

Effects of Parameters

As a rule of thumb, the value of a parameter describes how often in a particular case that plot element comes into play. So, if Trust in Police is at +1, then once per case, the GM should engineer a scene where the police’s hard-won trust is rewarded with a particularly co-operative witness or unsolicited assistance from a citizen. If Trust in Police is at -3, then have three incidents where the breakdown in relations between police and public impedes the investigation. These incidents aren’t always related to the case at hand – coming back to find your patrol car has been tagged with graffiti, for example, or getting a free donut from a friendly street vendor. Players are encouraged to suggest possible benefits or penalties.

Police HQ

  • Trust In Police measures how average citizens think of the police. Low scores mean witnesses are less willing to come forward or co-operate; high scores garner increased co-operation.
  • A high Police Corruptionindicates how easy it is for criminals to bribe or subvert the police; especially high scores may mean that some cops are in the pay of criminal groups, and cannot be trusted.
  • Police Efficiency measures the effectiveness of the other cops and the rest of the justice system. A low score means no backup, slow processing of cases or forensics, and general malaise.
  • Police Morale determines how enthusiastic and cohesive the cops are. Low morale can bring down efficiency. Of course, an autocratic, hard-driving Commissioner might improve Efficiency at the cost of Morale.

Crime Rate

  • Major Crime: Murders, terrorist attacks and other high-profile incidents – all stuff the mayor wants off the front pages, quick! A high score indicates that not only is crime under control, but the officers have advance warning of possible threats.
  • Antisocial Behaviour:Broken windows, graffiti, minor burglaries.
  • Vice: Narcotics (including jolting), sex trafficking
  • Heightened Crime: Anything involving mutants; keeping this parameter under control is the primary goal of the Heightened Crimes division.

Town Hall

  • A low Civic Pride means public morale is low; a high score means people generally like and cherish their city.
  • Local Economy: High scores indicate prosperity and high employment; low means a downturn or recent job losses.
  • Mayor’s Popularity: Arguably, this one is the parameter the players need to keep the closest watch on; a high score means the Mayor’s likely to win re-election, low means he’s desperate to get his poll numbers up, which means City Hall’s looking for someone to blame…
  • Public Corruption measures the influence of criminal or dodgy corporate money in civic affairs.

Mutant Relations

  • Criminal Influence measures how much reach criminal gangs or groups have in the mutant community, and how likely it is that a given mutant will turn to a life of crime. A high score may indicate mutant vigilantism.
  • Social Cohesion tracks the degree to which mutants see themselves as part of a larger community; a low social cohesion means that extremist and separatist groups have greater sway.
  • Mutant Rights measures legal restrictions on mutants. A negative score indicates added limits or calls for mutant segregation; a positive score implies more acceptance and opportunities to use mutant powers in society.
  • Mutant Pride tracks the attitude of the public towards mutant powers. A negative score  implies added prejudice; a positive score shows that mutants are popular or trusted.

Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game originally written by Robin D. Laws, and developed and extended by Gareth-Ryder Hanrahan, where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Pre-order Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The Quade Diagram in Mutant City Blues is a wonderful thing – it’s a structure for mysteries, an investigative method, an in-world document and a tool for character creation. One thing it doesn’t handle, though, is helping pick a random mutant power for random mutant passers-by or indecisive players.

The hack below is visually ugly, but lets the GM quickly obtain a random power.

11 – C0 31 – D2 51 – D4
12 – D0 32 – E2 52 – E4
13 – E0 33 – F2 53 – A5
14 – F0 34 – A3 54 – B5
15 – B1 35 – B3 55 – C5
16 – C1 35 – C3 56 – D5
21 – D1 41 – D3 61 – E5
22- E1 42 – E3 62 – F5
23-  F1 43 – F3 63 – B6
24 – A2 44 – A4 64 – C6
25 – B2 45- B4 65 – D6
26 – C2 46 – C4 66 – E6

Just roll to determine which square of the Quade Diagram you’re starting in, and then pick one of the powers there. For non-player characters, roll another d6 to determine how many extra powers the citizen possesses. Genetic Risk Factors don’t count as powers.

1-2 – No more powers

3 – one linked power

4 – two linked powers

5 – three linked powers

6 – Another power, but it’s not directly linked.

1-4 – skip one adjacent power, grab the next power after that

5-6 – skip two adjacent powers, grab the next power after that

 

What might someone do with that combination of powers?

  • As A Bystander: The guy running the ice cream stand in the park never has to worry about electricity costs, and the birds that flock around the benches actually tidy up the trash for him.
  • As A Witness: Only one guy was out walking in that heatwave – and a little bird told him who broke into the bank.
  • As A Victim: Our guess at time of death was way off, sir – lab reports say that the vic was a cooler, and he tried to freeze himself after he got shot. Probably prolonged his life by up to 48 hours, but we still didn’t find him in time. Question is, did he use that borrowed time to leave any other messages for us?
  • As A Perp: The victim fled to her car when she was attacked by a flock of crows, and was so scared she crashed into a tree, dying on impact. Only…we found traces of ice on the wheels, too. Someone made it look like an accident.

Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. The updated 2nd Edition is coming soon.

This quick Trail of Cthulhu adventure first appeared in the Dragonmeet 2018 program book, and is based on genuine historical events that took place within a few minute’s walk of the convention centre. 

The Window on Standish Road

  1. What was reputed to be the appearance of the mischievous person?
  2. In white sometimes, and sometimes in the skin of a beast; a calf skin, or something of that sort.

In 1804, Francis Smith was convicted of the murder of a bricklayer named Thomas Millwood, having shot him on Black Lion Lane in Hammersmith, only a few minute’s walk from this very convention centre.

Smith offered a novel defence, arguing that he had not intended to kill Millwood, but that his real target was the ‘Hammersmith Ghost’, a phantom that haunted the churchyard. He mistook Millwood for the supposed ghost and shot him in the face.

Several accounts describe the ghost, which was said to be the spectre of a butcher who committed suicide several years earlier. For example, Thomas Grove testified that: “I was going through the church yard between eight and nine o’clock, with my jacket under my arm, and my hands in my pocket, when some person came from behind a tomb-stone, which there are four square in the yard, behind me, and caught me fast by the throat with both hands, and held me fast.” Some described the ghost as a figure in white; others claimed it had eyes of glass and an animal’s head.

Two days after the shooting, a local shoemaker, John Graham, came forward and admitted that he was the ghost; he’d dressed up as the phantom to scare his apprentice. Smith was initially declared guilty of murder and sentenced to hang, but in light of the intense public interest in the affair, the case was referred to King George III, who mercifully spared Smith’s life and sentenced him instead to a year’s hard labour.

The Hammersmith Ghost was consigned to the history books and to the legal texts, where it remained as a precedent regarding the consequences of mistaken action for 180 years. Case closed… or is it? For Gamemasters who want to bring the horror out of the past and into their game, we present this quick scenario for Trail of Cthulhu.

The Horrible Truth

Sorcerer and necromancer Jerominus Cornel still haunts London, more than a hundred years after his death in 1802. He hid himself away into a mirror dimension using a magical lens, emerging infrequently to steal occult knowledge from other scholars, using books and intimidation to drag them into the mirror world.

The Hook

Scene Type: Intro

Leads-Out: The Graveyard, Background Research

1937. In an obscure second-hand bookstore, the investigators find an incredible prize – a battered copy of Balfour’s Cultes de Goules, a 1703 work describing the ghoul cult throughout Europe. Such a rare occult book is worth a considerable sum to the right collector.

Tucked in the back of the book are a handful of loose pages, covered with almost illegible handwriting. Close examination with Languages reveals that it’s the confession of one John Graham of Hammersmith, written in 1810.

  • Graham talks about his neighbour, an eccentric chemist called Jerominus Cornel, who lived on Standish Street. He often saw Cornel visiting a nearby butcher’s shop, buying jars of blood from freshly slaughtered cattle.
    • Library Use/History/Occult: It might be worth looking into any records of this ‘Cornel’. See Background Research.
  • Cornel complained bitterly that there was too much to learn, that one lifetime was not enough to encompass the knowledge of the universe.
  • The butcher committed suicide in 1802; Cornel vanished the same year.
  • The tales of ghosts and spectral figures began after that. People saw pale figures at night, out of the corner of their eyes. One coachman nearly killed himself and his passengers when the ghost attacked him as he drove past the Black Lion inn.
  • In 1804, after the murder of Thomas Grove, Graham himself encountered the ghost of Cornel. The spectre appeared in his window and told Graham that if he did not allay suspicion, Cornel would devour Graham’s children. Terrified, Graham went to the magistrates and confessed; soon afterwards, the King interceded and put the whole matter to rest. Everyone thinks that Graham was the ghost; but it was Cornel. Cornel haunted Standish Street.
  • Graham dares not tell anyone, except this confession, but he’s buried proof of his claims in St. Paul’s churchyard. He gives the location – twelve paces south, forty east of the main gate. See The Churchyard.

There’s one other clue – Flattery or Bargain (for a small bribe) gets the bookseller to recall who sold him the copy of Cultes de Goules. He recalls the seller was a young man, very pale and sickly, who seemed nervous – he kept looking over his shoulder, as if someone was watching him through the glass window of the bookshop.

 

Background Research

Scene Type:Alternate

Leads-In: The Book

Leads-Out: The Churchyard

History or Oral History gets accounts of the Hammersmith Ghost.

Library Use digs up a few scant records on Cornel:

  • He was originally Dutch, but lived in Paris for some time before fleeing to England in 1784.
  • He was a chemist and glassblower; he made tools and equipment for chemists and doctors.
  • Oddly, one diary by the physician Francis Willis describes how Cornel offered to treat King George III’s madness in 1788; as a price, Cornel demanded access to “certain books in the possession of the King’s Library that were previously owned by Doctor John Dee”.
  • A later entry in the same diary talks about how Willis was called to the King’s Library to treat one of the clerks, who fell out of a window in Buckingham Palace.
  • The next page of the diary is missing, as if erased.

 

The Churchyard

Scene Type: Core

Leads-In: The Book, Background Research

Leads-Out: The Survivor, the Face in the Glass, Image of the Sorcerer

The old churchyard isn’t the same graveyard where the Hammersmith ghost was seen all those years ago – that graveyard is long since gone. The gardens of St. Paul’s, though, are still much as they were in King George’s day. Searching, the investigators quickly discover the right spot.

  • Archaeology:This is odd – there’s something buried here, all right, but it was recently This ground was dug up in the last few months.

As the investigators dig, they hear a disturbance on the road nearby. Shouting, and the breaking of glass – and then a gunshot rings out across. There’s a man, his features hidden by a white sheet, shouting wildly at the investigators. He’s got a gun in his hand – and he’s aiming it at them! “Don’t look at it!” he shrieks, “don’t let him see you!”

If they pursue, the man runs, firing wildly in the air. He never shoots directly at the investigators, just in their direction. A bigger danger, though, is the risk of being run-over by a car that swerves to avoid the gunshots (just like the coachman spooked by the Hammersmith ghost). If the investigators chase down the attacker, see The Survivor.

The Buried Cache

Buried in the churchyard is a bundle of pale, rotten leather attached to a mask made from the skull of a calf. Embedded in one of the calf’s eye-sockets is a curious glass sphere.

  • Chemistry:It’s not glass at all, but something much harder. It’s indestructible according to any test or tool available.
  • Astronomy:There are tiny symbols carved into the sphere – although how they were made is a mystery, given the sphere’s apparently harder than diamond. They include Arabic symbols for various stars, most prominently the Hyades.
  • Evidence Collection: The sphere seems to have some sort of image embedded in it, too small and faint to be discerned with the naked eye. Some sort of strange optical phenomenon, no doubt.
    • Craft orPhotography (Core Clue): Maybe a sufficiently bright light and the right arrangement of lens could project the image. If the investigators try this, see The Image of the Sorcerer.
  • Underneath the bundle are several more occult tomes, of roughly the same age and condition as Cultes de Goules, and likely from the same collection. They mostly deal with optics and alchemy.

After exposure to the sphere, the investigators are in danger from The Face in the Glass.

The Survivor

Scene Type: Alternate

Leads-In: The Churchyard

Leads-Out: The Face in the Glass, The Image of the Sorcerer

The attacker flees through a maze of alleyways. En route, he drops the white sheet he was using as a disguise. Finally, the investigators corner him in the yard behind a furniture shop. He raises the gun and attempts to shoot himself in the face. The nearest investigator can make a Scuffling test (Difficulty 5) to grab the gun before the man kills himself.

If successful, the investigators can Interrogate their prisoner.

  • The attacker is Edgar Smith, formerly a student at Imperial College.
  • He had a friend, Philip Black, who dabbled in the occult. Philip found an old book with a weird diary tucked in the back, and convinced Edgar to help him break into this very churchyard by night.
  • They found that awful mask – and when exposed to starlight, the eyes glowed and Philip vanished.
  • Terrified and confused, Edgar fled. He feared he’d be blamed for Philip’s disappearance, so he hid, renting a room nearby.
  • Since then, he’s seen a strange man watching him from the windows. Sometimes, he saw Philip in the windows, too.
  • A few weeks ago, he saw Philip on Kensington High Street, posting a parcel. His former friend looked bloodless and old, as though years had passed for him. When Edgar tried to speak to Philip, his friend vanished again in broad daylight, like an image from a movie projector that was suddenly switched off.
  • He has no idea what’s happening, but it all started with that damned mask with eyes of glass. Philip must have reburied the mask afterwards.

 

The Face in the Glass

Scene Type: Antagonist Reaction

Leads-In: The Churchyard

After exposure to the glass-eyed mask, the investigators start seeing the face of an old man reflected in windows, mirrors and other glassy surfaces. He might be watching them from an upstairs window or leering at them from a bathroom mirror.

If any of the investigators are ever alonenear a glass, then Cornel acts.

  • If the investigator has a high rating in any Academic ability, then Cornel might attempt to abduct the investigator, emerging from his mirror-lair to abduct the investigator by dragging him back through the mirror. (Scuffling or Fleeing contest against Cornel’s Scuffling). Captured investigators can be seen in The Image of the Sorcerer.
  • If the investigator is no use to Cornel’s studies, then Cornel threatens the investigator, saying that he must bring “men of learning” and show them the sphere so Cornel can devour them (or, if Cornel’s predations have attracted too much attention, that the investigator must bury the mask in St. Paul’s Churchyard again, to await the next generation of scholars).

Cornel

Abilities: Athletics 6, Health 12, Scuffling 10

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: +2

Weapon: Ghoulish claws +1

Armour: -2 vs. any (skin)

Stability Loss: +0

 

The Image of the Sorcerer

Scene Type: Core

Leads-In: The Churchyard

With Craft, Physics and Photography, the investigators can assemble a contraption that magnifies and projects the image in the sphere. Impossibly, it’s moving –it’s like watching a film recording of an old, old man in a small room. There’s no door, just a single flickering window that seems to look out over all of London, the viewpoint jumping from place to place as if the room were flickering across the city. The room’s crammed with books, occult paraphernalia and pages of crabbed notes; there’s also a large stack of human bones, licked clean and cracked open for marrow, in one corner. Hanging upside down from hooks is the corpse of Philip Black; the old man’s drained Black of blood and is slowly, slowly eating the man’s flesh.

  • If any of the investigators were captured by Cornel in The Face in the Glass, they’re visible in the image, hanging from hooks next to Black, but still alive.

As the investigators watch, the window behind him changes, becoming a window or glass surface in whatever room the investigators are in. The man looks up at them and smiles.

Cornel knows they’re watching.

And he’s coming for them.

  • Physics: There’s a clock on the wall behind the old man, but it’s moving incredibly slowly. If this is a window or image of some pocket dimension, time moves differently there. Maybe that’s why Cornel used Philip Black to run errands in our world – if he stays outside his room for too long, maybe Cornel will age to death.
  • Anthropology:Some of the notes on the table look like interview transcripts – the old man’s abducting scholars, questioning them, and then eating them.
  • Cryptography:The sorcerer’s notes can be read through the projection, although they’re reversed mirror-writing. They include a list of names of prominent scientists and occultists – did Cornel make Black send other lures to them? Does Cornel intend to abduct, interrogate and devour them too?

Defeating Cornel

The finale is a cat-and-mouse contest between the investigators and Cornel. The sorcerer is immortal, inhumanly patient, and can emerge from any mirror or glass. The investigators can spy on him, and know what he wants – knowledge. Can they set a trap for him? Might illuminating the mask with starlight from the Hyades create a physical portal? Or should the investigators bury the sphere somewhere it can never be found, stay away from all windows and mirrors, and pray that the Hammersmith Ghost never finds them again?

 

 

If you use background music in your 13thAge games – such as the wonderful 13thAge soundtrack – you can replace the regular rules for icon relationships with a more improvisational approach. Here’s how it works.

  1. Players choose their icon relationships as normal during character creation.
  2. The GM creates a playlist, mixing in the songs for each players’ icons plus a few more suitably atmospheric tracks. The playlist should be longer than the expected length of the game session. Play it on random shuffle.
  3. Instead of rolling relationship dice, whenever an icon’s song comes up, the first player to invoke that song gets to call on it for a suitable story-based benefit, or a +d6 bonus to an attack roll or background check.
  4. More than one player can invoke the same icon at the same time, but that’s the equivalent of rolling a 5 on a regular icon die – it’s a benefit with strings attached. There’ll be an icon-related complication later on.

The trick here is that the songs act as immediate prompts. Players who freeze at the question “how might your relationship with the Priestess help you in this session?” have far less trouble with the question “how might the Priestess help you right now, in the middle of this conversation you’re in?” It’s an approach better suited to a free-wheeling, anarchic, anything-goes campaign than a carefully plotted one.

Possible variants

  • Bardic balladeers get to add songs to the playlist.
  • The GM adds hostile icons to the mix – badness gets triggered when they play
  • Hit next whenever anyone gets a crit
  • Hit next whenever the escalation die increases
  • Players can add their personal theme songs as well as their icon relationships

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. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 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.

Roleplaying games are fascinatingly mediated. In almost every other storytelling medium, the audience perceives the action directly. They see the actors on the stage or screen, the characters in the computer game, the voices in the radio play. In prose, true, the author can play tricks with an unreliable narrator or writing in a very subjective fashion, giving an internal monologue – but that runs the risk of alienating the reader. If the audience can’t follow the plot, the story’s lost.

In a roleplaying game, everything goes through the GM. The player gets second-hand impressions of what’s happening (“you see the figure crawling out of the grave”) and then interrogates the GM to get the details the player is interested in (compare the questions “do I recognise the figure” versus “are there any exits? Anything I can use as a weapon”). This gives the GM immense influence over the player’s perceptions of what’s going on (I talked about this before in Spooky Significance).

In a one-on-one game like Cthulhu Confidential, you can go even further. Traditionally, it’s a terrible idea to take control of a character away from a player for long – if Bob’s mind-controlled by Dracula, then Bob ends up sitting there bored while Alice and Eve play on without him.  In a one-on-one game, though, you can skip ahead or around in time easily, and use your influence over the player’s perceptions to shape how they experience the transitions.

For example, you can have an abrupt transition…

Suddenly, someone jolts against you. Your hand burns – they’ve spilled coffee on you. You’re sitting in a coffee shop. Sunlight’s blazing through the window. You’ve no idea how you got there. The last twelve hours are a blank. What did you do in that time?

…a smooth transition…

You find yourself sitting in a coffee shop. It’s daylight. You have only hazy memories of the last few hours, full of gaps. It’s all a bit vague. Anyway, what are you doing?

Or even an unnoticed transition.

You go home to sleep. The next day, you what, grab coffee? Ok, you’re in a coffee shop, when…

The Horror Within

For a mechanical patina – assume the player character has some dark power within them. They’re a secret werewolf, intermittently possessed, channeling psychic forces, unstuck in time… When the player hits a Setback, give the player the option to reroll the dice – but the player suffers a period of missing time, during which they’re under the control of the dark forces. What did they do while their dark half had control?

In Cthulhu Confidential, there’s a host of ghastly horrors that might seize control of Dex. He might be possessed by a Shan or mind-swapped with a member of the Great Race of Yith. Or, like ill-fated Walter Gilman, he might find himself slipping in and out of dreams, waking in unfamiliar places with only hazy memories of his actions…


GUMSHOE One-2-One retunes, rebuilds and re-envisions the acclaimed GUMSHOE investigative rules set for one player, and one GM. Together, the two of you create a story that evokes the classic solo protagonist mystery format of classic detective fiction. Can’t find a group who can play when you can? Want an intense head-to-head gaming experience? Play face to face with GUMSHOE One-2-One—or take advantage of its superb fit with virtual tabletops and play online. Purchase Cthulhu Confidential and future GUMSHOE One-2-One products in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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