The CougherIt’s rarely a good idea to mix immediate real-world awfulness with supernatural threats. Killer clowns are funny, but we’re not going to argue the Esoterrorists are behind QANON, even though it’s an obvious set-up. Hitler wasn’t mind-controlled by vampires or the Cthulhu Mythos. So, the existence of these pandemic-themed monsters for Fear Itself or The Esoterrorists shouldn’t be taken to imply that Covid-19 comes from the Outer Dark. However, if you’re running games in the present day (or better yet, you’re reading this from the future and considering running a game set in that brief, awful historical period of the pandemic), then here are some monsters that play off the zeitgeist.

The Cougher

Coughers are messengers and couriers for the forces of the Outer Dark, able to slip through into our reality and lope along at speed, hurrying through the streets to make contact with some deranged cultists or to some other seepage of unremitting horror. They manifest as almost human figures, gangly-limbed and hunch-backed, clad in filthy overcoats, their faces half-hidden behind a cloth mask that never quite seems to fit right.

They’re named for their hideous wracking, wheezing coughs, which they use to scare people out of their way. The cough is so ghastly, so full of spittle and slime, that one’s instinctive reaction is to step back and give way. Packs of coughers use their echoing hacking coughs to communicate, calling to one another across the night air.

They also use these bellowing coughs to hunt. A series of precisely times coughs can separate a victim from the crowd and herd it towards the rest of the cougher pack. Such attacks are rare – coughers are much more likely to be encountered alone – but not unheard-of. Chasing down a courier-cougher can provide useful information about local Outer Dark activity.

Abilities: Aberrance 6, Athletics 4, Fleeing 8, Health 6, Scuffling 6

Hit Threshold: 3

Armour: 1-point (Thick overcoat of flesh)

Awareness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +0 (-2 if you know about the coughing)

Damage Modifier: -2 or by weapon

Cough: By spending 1 Aberrance, the Cougher can cough loudly. Anyone nearby must make a Stability test (Difficulty 6); those who fail must move away from the Cougher for a number of rounds equal to the margin of failure.

Portal: By spending 2 Aberrance, the Cougher can open a portal to the Outer Dark. It can only do this when unobserved.

All That Remains

  • Medicine: That cough sounds… impossibly awful. Someone with lungs that clogged wouldn’t be moving that quickly.
  • Streetwise: All the witnesses agree that they heard a lot of coughing the night she died.
  • Occult Studies: Three break-ins at occult bookstores – all closed because of the pandemic -, three witnesses who report lots of coughing. And I don’t believe in co-incidences.

Room Raiders

Room Raiders are the latest manifestation of creatures like the Sisterites (Book of Unremitting Horror, p. 105). They haunt public Zoom calls, Discord servers and other video conferences. Initially, they look like a bland human face with a perfectly ordinary background – a cluttered home office, maybe, or a bedroom, or just a blank wall.

Then they latch onto a victim. They might send their victim a friend request, or just stalk them across other public zooms, lurking in the audience. In each conversation, the Room Raider’s background changes subtly, moving closer and closer to that of the victim. The wall behind them suddenly matches the colour of your wall. Now they’ve got the same book-case as you… and the same books. And now the same poster.

(Using virtual backgrounds doesn’t defeat the Room Raider. They can see through them.)

If the Room Raider’s background ever perfectly matches the victim, then the monster strikes. It can pull the victim from their home into the Room Raider’s copy, to be devoured at the creature’s leisure. The Room Raider then starts trawling for its next meal. Often, their lairs are crammed with dozens of previous backgrounds, stacked like stage sets from previous productions.

Room Raiders usually nest in abandoned buildings, near places where they can piggyback on an open wifi connection. They’re remarkably good at making facsimile objects out of trash and their sticky, resinous spittle – what looks like a perfect copy of your home office might be a pile of stacked milk cartons painted to resemble your bookshelves, a desk made out of a sheet of cardboard, and that lamp’s made from the gnawed bones of a previous victim.

A Room Raider can easily be thwarted by making changes to your background – even an errant coffee cup is enough to break the spell. Typically, the creatures gain access to a victim’s webcam so they can monitor the room for changes and pick their moment to strike…

In the ghastly flesh, a Room Raider looks like a squat, long-limbed lizard-thing with a grotesquely oversized mouth in its stomach, but it’s human from the shoulders up. It’s got four arms – two vestigial limbs next to the mouth that end in human hands, for typing, and two longer arms that end in long curved claws, for killing.

Abilities: Aberrance 8, Athletics 3, Health 10, Scuffling 8

Hit Threshold: 3

Armour: None

Awareness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: +0

Damage Modifier: -2 (claw)

Digital Intrusion: At the cost of 2 Aberrance, the Room Raider can psychically infiltrate a computer with which it has an active video connection.

Grab: At the cost of 1 Aberrance, the Room Raider can pull a victim from one perfectly matched room to another. The victim may attempt a Contest of Sense Trouble vs Aberrance to end the call before being pulled through the screen.

All That Remains

  • Photography: Hey, that rando’s got the same photo as the guy who vanished.
  • Computer Use: Ok, I didn’t approve any new contacts on skype. I’ve been hacked!
  • Research: Look, I always check out people’s bookshelves behind them, and that guy has a copy of the Necronomicon too! Just like yours!

 

Isolation Beasts

Isolation Beasts are gigantic; they’re shambling horrors the size of a building, covered in rank, matted hair and dragging their slimy, misshapen limbs behind them. Such monsters can’t exist in our reality except under very exceptional circumstances. An Isolation Beast can survive the psychic pressure of a single witness, maybe two, but it cannot bear to be seen by crowds. This is not shyness – it’s the crushing pressure of our reality asserting itself on a thing that shouldn’t exist.

Historically, Isolation Beasts have lurked in the wilderness, giving rise to legends of giants or yetis, preying lone travellers and small groups. Now that the streets are empty and everyone’s staying indoors, the beasts can risk shambling into the cities for the first time in centuries without fear of being observed.

Isolation Beasts are so huge that aftermath of their attacks look more like disasters than anything else – car crashes, building collapses, gas explosions. They find houses where people live alone, then smash them open and eat the juicy contents. They’re also talented mimics; if a beast fixates on a dwelling with multiple inhabitants, it lurks outside, whispering through the walls in the voices of the occupants, sowing dissent and strife until one of them walks outside – then chomp!

And if one person looks outside – who’s going to believe them when they say that there’s a sloth the size of a double-decker bus lurking in the garden?

Abilities: Aberrance 10, Athletics 8, Health 40, Scuffling 12

Hit Threshold: 2

Armour: 4-point (Fur)

Awareness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +1

Damage Modifier: +3

All That Remains

  • Outdoor Survival: This isn’t a crater – it’s a footprint!
  • Investigative Procedure: The earthquake stopped when that car came around the corner. Why?
  • Trivia: Ok, the victim took the time to write spiny norman in his own blood. That’s… certainly a thing.

The Old Guard (Netflix) – when you put ALL the points into Regeneration (connected: Messiah Complex)

Maybe you were already on this path when the Sudden Mutation Event happened, or perhaps your newfound superhuman abilities gave you a life you never expected. More likely, you got into this line of work because you needed something from it: more money than you could ever make through conventional employment. A fresh start, away from the mistakes of the past. A chance to really cut loose with your powers.

You’re a mercenary. A soldier of fortune.

Of course, when it comes to mutant powers, the notion of marketable abilities is a lot wider than it used to be. Anyone can be trained to use a gun. Walking through walls, that’s a different matter. Unsurprisingly, private military contractors were among the first to recruit and offer “special talent services” to clients. The upheavals caused by the Sudden Mutation Event

‘Super-mercs’ have a somewhat better reputation than conventional soldiers-of-fortune, as their talents have a wider range of application. A biotech company might, for example, trumpet their hiring of a super-merc with plant communication and plant control who can safely locate and retrieve rare orchids from disputed jungles in South America, or have a mutant with read minds and lightning decisions spearhead their negotiations with disgruntled locals. That said, most super-merc missions come to down to “there’s the hard target, go work your mutant magic and eliminate it”…

Creating Your Mercenary

Pick one of the templates below to get started.

Personal Security

8 investigative, 48 general

You put yourself between the target and the bullet

Investigative: Ballistics, Bullshit Detector, Community Relations, Cop Talk, Criminology, Influence Detection, Intimidation, Streetwise

General: Athletics 6, Composure 4, Driving 6, Health 6, Medic 4, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 4, Sense Trouble 6, Shooting 4, Surveillance 4

Trainer

8 Investigative, 40 General

Ready to turn militias and regular security into elite fighting forces

Investigative: Anamorphology, Anthropology, Community Relations, Forensic Psychology, Interrogation, Intimidation, Languages, Streetwise

General: Athletics 4, Computer 6, Driving 4, Health 4, Mechanics 2, Medic 4, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 4, Shooting 6, Surveillance 4

Special Operations

6 Investigative, 48 General

A very particular set of skills

Investigative: Explosive Devices, Impersonate, Intimidation, Photography, Research, Traffic Analysis

General: Athletics 6, Computer 6, Driving 4, Health 4, Infiltration 6, Mechanics 2, Medic 4, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 4, Shooting 6, Surveillance 4

Counter-Insurgency

10 Investigative, 36 General

Identifies and analyses threats

Investigative: Anthropology, Architecture, Community Relations, Forensic Accounting, History, Languages, Law, Negotiation, Streetwise, Traffic Analysis

General: Composure 6, Health 4, Mechanics 2, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 4, Sense Trouble 6, Shooting 4, Surveillance 6

 Technical Specialist

10 Investigative, 36 General

Network security and counter-bugging

Investigative: Architecture, Cryptography, Data Retrieval, Electronic Surveillance,  Energy Residue Analysis, Evidence Collection, Explosive Devices, Photography, Research, Traffic Analysis

General: Composure 4, Driving 4 Health 4, Mechanics 6, Preparedness 6, Scuffling 4, Sense Trouble 2, Shooting 2, Surveillance 4

 Ex-Civilian

Alternatively, you can play a regular civilian who developed mutant powers and got recruited into the shadow world of private military operations. You’ve got 60 General Points  to spend with no restrictions, but start with a -1 Stress Penalty in the category of your choice, reflecting your comparative unfamiliarity with military life.

 Desirable Powers

Article 18 powers – abilities that pose a danger to national security like Teleportation, or abilities that endanger large numbers of people like Radiation Projection – are especially sought after by PMCs. Of course, picking a power that makes you a walking national security threat means you (or your employer) will need to deal with government scrutiny – and paints a big target on your head.

Potent combat abilities like the various Blasts or covert action powers like Invisibility, Flight or Nondescript are more generally useful for mercs. Some powers that are of extremely limited utility for Mutant City cops come into their own in merc games – the cops rarely need Gills or Earth Control, but one can easily imagine an action thriller involving submarine sabotage, or see the utility of a mutant who can easily create defensive structures or clear rubble from roads.

Rules Changes

Consider borrowing the Thriller Combat rules from Night’s Black Agents. Some of them, like chases, are already part of the Mutant City Blues rules, but mercenary operations tend to involve a lot more fistfights and suppressive fire.

Make liberal use of Stress cards like “Hair Trigger”, “Flashbacks”, “Maverick” and “Wracking Guilt” to emphasise the questionable morality of the soldier-of-fortune lifestyle.

Mercenary Companies

Some sample employers for the player characters…

Betula Security Consultants (Mutant City Blues, p. 141) is a private security company that hires a considerable number of mutants. Betula’s operations are almost entirely domestic, specialising in corporate and personal security, not military work overseas. That said, some shareholders are pushing Betula to compete by offering a more professional and respectable alternative to Genestorm.

Genestorm: Genestorm’s the best known of the ‘mutant merc’ companies – or at least, the most notorious. The company sells itself as having ‘heroes for hire’, goobering its employees up by giving them flamboyant uniforms and superhero names. Of course, in the field it’s all camo gear and proper callsigns. Genestorm hires its mutants out to virtually any client, so it does a lot of business with autocrats, warlords and especially rapacious corporations. A cross between Blackwater and the World Wrestling Federation, with less ethics than either – but at least they pay well.

Heliopolis National Guard: The armed wing of the Heliopolitan separatist movement, the HNG intends to fund the establishment of a mutant-only state through mercenary contracts. They also undertake ‘humanitarian’ missions for groups and states near the planned mutant state in Somalia, in the hopes of establishing a buffer zone of friendly nations around Heliopolis. The legal standing of the HNG is questionable, and some have pushed for it to be declared a terrorist organisation.

Mutant Foreign Legion: The MFL was founded by a group of mutants whose lives were completely disrupted when their powers manifested. Now, the company is a place where mutants can begin again; new recruits are given new names and passports (the MFL has an arrangement with Malta) and a fresh start. The MFL’s under severe financial strain, and its mercenary teams are unusually underequipped and undergunned for their missions.

Greenman Group: A long-established Private Military Contractor, Greenman Group is in the process of hiring more mutants. The Group is extremely discreet, to the degree that they prefer their mutant hires keep their powers secret even from clients unless absolutely necessary.

Adventures

At least initially, present mercenary adventures as tactical challenges. The mercenaries might be hired to…

  • Kidnap a scientist from a rival corporation
  • Secure a mine or pipeline in an unstable region
  • Find out who’s been blackmailing a company executive and recover the incriminating evidence
  • Retake the boss’ superyacht after it’s overrun by pirates
  • Defeat the mutant-led insurgents

 Night’s Black Mutants

For a full-on mercenary campaign, lift the structure of Night’s Black Agents wholesale. The player characters sign on with a mercenary company, run a few missions – then discover their employers are even more corrupt and shady than they thought, and have to go on the run while fighting their way up the Conspyramid. Maybe the mercenary company is conducting experiments on mutants, or only hiring mutants to harvest powered organs for transplant…

One of the most horrible aspects of this whole pandemic – at least, from where I’m sitting – is that roleplaying conventions will be one of the last events to return safely. Your typical convention is also ideal for spreading coronavirus: a bunch of people talking loudly at short range? In rooms that are famously poorly ventilated? Alas – no conventions this year, and conventions next year will depend on suppression and vaccines.

So, as a substitute, we’ve got virtual cons, run over discord or zoom or other platforms. Some tips I’ve picked up running GUMSHOE games at virtual cons:

  • Don’t waste time
  • Set expectations immediately
  • Break the character sheet down by region
  • Do a sample test early
  • Have your assets ready to go
  • Use multiple channels

Don’t waste time

You definitely don’t need to fill the whole convention timeslot – if it’s a four-hour slot, that’s basically a three hour game plus setup, bathroom breaks, and an early finish if the game goes on track. It helps to keep the initial rules explanation to a minimum – the quicker you get from introducing the game to actually playing, the better. No-one wants to sit through a lengthy breakdown of rules.

Set expectations immediately

Give the players a variation of the elevator pitch so everyone knows what sort of game they’re playing. “You’re all burned spies hunting vampires,”, “you’re all paranormal investigators working for a mysterious Ordo, battling the evils of the Esoterrorists and their extradimensional allies”, “you’re all city watch in fantasy Venice”. Having media references works (“Jason Bourne vs Dracula!”), but make sure you do it as “X meets Y” or “It’s a bit like X or Y” – if you only give a player one touchstone, they’ll assume the game is just like that show.

Break the character sheet down by region

GUMSHOE’s a pretty simple system, and most of the abilities are nicely self-explanatory. Drive home that there are two sorts of abilities – Investigative (NO ROLLING! JUST INFO! SPEND FOR BENEFITS!) and General (SPEND POINTS AND ROLL A D6! BEAT A DIFFICULTY THAT’S USUALLY AROUND 4!) and you’re 90% of the way there.

Do a sample test early

It’s good advice for any convention game, virtual or otherwise, to run a simple demonstration of the resolution system early on, so the players have a handle on how many points they should spend on a typical test, how forgiving the damage system is and so forth. Refreshes are especially important in GUMSHOE, too, so show how they work.

Have your assets ready to go

If you’re using maps, images or other handouts, make sure they’re to hand, electronically speaking. I stick everything I’ll need (or might need) in one Dropbox folder so I can grab them quickly. You don’t need to fill every moment with action, but few things are duller than the GM googling for the right image. (If you do need to grab something, do it while the players are discussing strategy or roleplaying amongst themselves.)


Use multiple channels

Obviously, you can send notes to players as private messages, but the general chat channel’s also very useful for sending material to the players. If there’s a set of facts they need to reference through the scenario – a list of locations, a set of suspects, a timeline –  drop that in the chat channel so the players can easily look it up.

Spooky maskWhen running a most improvised scenario (either something as ambitious as the Dracula Dossier or just riffing off a paragraph or two of notes), One Useful Trick is to have a copy of the investigative ability list for your game to hand, and check off abilities as you call for them or the players use them. That lets you see at a glance which abilities you haven’t yet used in play.

Then, look for opportunities to bring in other abilities. Treat it as a prompt, a challenge – “what’s the easiest narrative route in the game from this moment to the action hinging on Art History or Pharmacy or Flirting?”

Often, in improv play, you fall back on the sort of scenes that you’re most comfortable with; I can riff mysterious murders, spooky locations and sieges off the top of my head, but need to remind myself to do interpersonal scenes, crowds, or car chases.

Prompting yourself to bring in abilities you don’t instinctively default to is a great way to vary the scenes in your game. The players in my current Night’s Black Agents game, for example, are much more comfortable hanging back and observing, either by blending into the crowd, perching on rooftops, or getting full value out of all those points invested in Data Retrieval, Electronic Surveillance and Digital Intrusion. Tracking the abilities used reminds me in the heat of play to put in more interpersonal scenes, forcing them to use messy touch-feely abilities like Reassurance or Intimidation.

A neglected ability doesn’t have to be central to the game, of course. If you’re trying to bring in, say, Astronomy, you could just mention that the characters knows offhand that tonight will be a moonless and especially dark night; often, reminding players that they have a particular ability will start them thinking about ways to use those assets.

Don’t neglect General Abilities, either. If no-one’s used Cover or Disguise in a while, try to drop in some obstacles that require those abilities.

A valued customer asked: how to use GUMSHOE One-2-One, in its Cthulhu Confidential incarnation, to play Fall of DELTA GREEN? Mechanically, the One-2-One system works perfectly for DELTA GREEN play, ably handling the psychological disintegration and physical maiming expected of Agents with Problem cards. The investigative abilities also cross over neatly – I’d suggest the following abilities for the player character:

Agency, Architecture, Cop Talk, Flattery, HUMINT, Inspiration, Interrogation, Intimidation, Military Science, Notice, Streetwise, Survival, Tradecraft and Traffic Analysis, with the other investigative abilities allocated to Sources.

Add Bureaucracy to the list of General Abilities, so our hypothetical Agent has the abilities

Athletics 2, Bureaucracy 1, Conceal 1, Cool 2, Demolitions 1, Disguise 1, Drive 1, Filch 1, Firearms 2, First Aid 1, Heavy Weapons 1, Mechanics 1, Melee Weapons 1, Network 2, Pilot 1, Preparedness 2, Ride 1, Sense Trouble 1, Stealth 2, Unarmed Combat 2. (You could arguably keep Psychotherapy, but as its primary use is helping others, and you’re all alone… it’s probably not worth it.)

Sources & Bonds

Cthulhu Confidential has a supporting cast of recurring Sources who provide both emotional support and investigative abilities; Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, with its globetrotting adventures, has a Network ability and Contacts instead. The Fall of DELTA GREEN requires both. You can call up Contacts who’ll help out for one adventure, but you also have two or three emotional Bonds – people you care about. These people can be useful to your investigations – maybe your best buddy knows Chemistry, or your girlfriend has Art – but a Bond doesn’t have to have any Investigative Abilities.

In addition, you have a Bond with your DELTA GREEN Case Office – the recurring character who gives you your assignments.

If you pick up a Mythos Shock problem that would force your character to leave play at the end of the scenario, you can Burn a Bond, destroying your emotional relationship with that character. You can’t burn your Case Officer.

Sudden Death

Cthulhu Confidential recommends that the Gamemaster refrain from killing the protagonist; Langston may get shot, possessed or driven insane, but he’ll generally struggle on to the final scene before expiring, so the player gets to experience a satisfying story. The Fall of DELTA GREEN, though, is all about disappointment, misfortune and the unknowable nature of the Mythos – so more sudden deaths are perfectly in-genre. (After all, the player can always switch to playing another Agent investigating the disappearance of the previous character…)

All Alone Against The Mythos

So, why are you a lone DELTA GREEN Agent, instead of the usual cell of investigators? Some options:

  • Lone Globetrotter: It’s a lot easier for DELTA GREEN to get a single Agent out to a flashpoint than a whole team. You’re the first Agent in to investigate suspected Mythos activity. Your cover role is one that involves lots of travel (AFOSI investigator, CIA Operative, CDC disease hunter, FBN investigator, US Marshal, FBI Special Agent, journalist).
  • The Cleaner: You work directly for one of DELTA GREEN’s steering committee – you’re the trusted right hand of, say, Brigadier General Fairfield or Dr. Warren, and get dispatched to clean up messes or further your patron’s interests against rival factions on the Executive Committee or against the guys over in MAJESTIC.
  • Our Man in Havana: You’re DELTA GREEN’s go-to guy in a particular city or region; maybe you’re a CIA spy attached to the US embassy in Rome, or a Five Eyes SIGINT analyst in New Zealand who takes a lot of trips to isolated mysterious islands in the South Pacific…

The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Four Hallowe’en Horrors for the Yellow King RPG

(Photo by Rick Monteiro on Unsplash)

 

The Ugly Americans (Paris)

Hallowe’en is an American tradition – well, mostly derived from immigrants from the United Kingdom, but America added a lot of sugar and exported it back. Certainly, it’s not a French tradition – the French celebrate La Toussaint, All Saint’s Day, on November 1st.

But you’re American students in Paris – if you can’t be obnoxiously loud and tacky tonight, then something’s terribly wrong with reality.

So, the characters go on an absinthe-and-candy-fuelled bender across Parisian pubs and cafes, dressed in unlikely costumes. Obviously, they have to call in on the Montmartre Cabaret (du Néant, and de l’Enfir – Paris, p. 100), They pick up a couple of other revellers along the way. As the party wears on, with drunken Halloween games and superstitions, they end up in a bar around three in the morning, and someone in the party suggests they have to tell ghost stories. Everyone in the group must tell a ghost story.

Someone else in the party – some masked stranger they picked up en route – also tells a story. A haunting, surreal tale about a city of masked revellers, troubled by a masked stranger, and the coming of the King in Yellow.

The next morning – All Saint’s Day –  while fighting through handovers, the characters realise the following:

  • Something’s horribly wrong with the world. They can feel it in their bones, in their skulls. There’s a yellowish cast to everything.
  • None of them can recall how that stranger joined their company last night. One of their French introduced him to them… but they can’t recall exactly who or when. Finding out how they met that masked stranger is an ongoing mystery to be solved.
  • The stories each of them told have become their Deuced Peculiar Things.

 

Trick or Treat (The Wars)

October 31st, 1949. Your squad’s fighting in the Continental War. An enemy prisoner – any rumours that he’s a sorcerer are nonsense, of course – escaped from the facility where he was being interrogated, and has taken refuge in a nearby village. All routes leading out of the village have been secured, so he must be hiding in one of the houses – he’s probably holding some of the locals hostage, and forcing them to hide him. Your squad’s orders are to go house to house, searching each homestead in turn, until you find the escaped sorcerer. Correction – escaped prisoner. Not a sorcerer. He certainly has not conjured Carcosan entities, and the village is not a series of set-piece traps and nightmarish tableaus.

To navigate the village and find their quarry, the squad must deal with each house in turn, solve whatever Carcosan peril or weird encounter awaits them there, and follow a series of clues to discover where the escaped sorcerer is hiding.

Knock on each door in turn, and pray that a trick is the worst fate that awaits you…

 

Dress Up In You (Aftermath)

You’re all tired and traumatised by the events of the revolution; you need time to heal. One of the characters has a relative who lives out in a small town; they’ve got a big house, with space for all of you to stay. You can hang out in the countryside for a few weeks, take a break from the twin stresses of monster-hunting and politics.

Outside, the town’s getting ready for Halloween. Some small places like this came through the Castaigne years better than the big cities. It was easier to hide, out here. Fewer eyes. As twilight draws in, you see the town’s kids putting on their costumes. A lot of Dream Clowns, like always, but… yuck, some of them are dressed as Regime entities. Explosionists, Argus, Sphyxes, Carcosan visitors. Little siblings tagging along with their big brothers and sisters, dressed as cute Cancer Bags with legs.

Then… from downstairs, the sound of breaking glass. The house is under attack. Those aren’t costumes any more – the kids have been transformed into a cavalcade of horrors.

Some lingering supernatural threat (a Castaigne sorcerer, hiding out? A Carcosan tripwire? A spasm of fading magic) has made the make-believe horrors of the past real again. How to the characters escape the town and find the source of the transformation when they can’t kill the innocent children beneath the masks?

 

Your Face Will Stick Like That (This Is Normal Now)

The fun new gimmick this Halloween is a live face-swap app. You run it, and it swaps your face on video for that of your friend, or a cartoon character, or a celebrity. This Halloween, they’ve added a bunch of spooky faces – witches and vampires and goblins and… ew, that’s tasteless. There’s a Famous Serial Killers tab – Dahmer, Bundy, Jack the Ripper… and that freaky guy who killed those kids last year, the Halloween Stalker. They never caught him, did they? Anyway, don’t click on that.

Uh-oh. It was swapped your face anyway. And it’s swapped it in real life. Suddenly, you look like the infamous uncaught serial killer. Not on video. Physically.

How do you get your real face back? Does the killer have your face now? Or is this some sick joke where you’ve got to kill someone to earn your face back? And why is the logo of the app developer this weird yellow squiggle that you swear you’ve seen before?

Oh god – that was the doorbell. There are kids here, trick or treating! Quick, pull on a mask so they don’t recognise you – no, him! The Halloween Stalker! Get rid of the kids – NOT LIKE THAT – and then call your friends from the café, because you’re going to need help figuring out what’s going on!

 


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

An Esoterrorists mini-scenario

Scene 1: House Call

It’s October 30th. Mr. Verity passes on a hot tip from the Ordo – there’s an Esoterrorist cell operating out of a house in Brighton, England. Proceeding to the house, the team discover it’s recently abandoned, save for a nasty trap left behind by the Esoterrorists – a Torture Dog.

After dealing with that, a search of the house discovers:

  • Data Retrieval: There’s a computer, but the Esoterrorists have trashed it as they evacuated. However, through Ordo Veritas internet-monitoring software and some backdoors, they can confirm that the cell was monitoring twitter activity closely.
  • Photography: There are some surveillance photos, printed out and stuck on a wall, showing the entrance to some sort of compound with high walls and what look like cages. Trivia/Architecture identifies it as a nearby private zoo, Jungle Adventure.
  • Evidence Collection: In the recycling bin out back, there’s the box for a commercially available toy drone.
  • Chemistry: In a bathroom, the investigators find a horribly stained bathtub. In the plughole are scraps of meat – raw beef – coloured a lurid bluish-purple by whatever chemicals were mixed in the tub. Analysis with Chemistry or Pathology is worrisome and inconclusive – there are compounds in there that shouldn’t exist, suggesting the Esoterrorists either had the aid of an Outer Dark Entity or – more likely – were using some substance extracted from such an ODE for the purposes of dark magic.

Scene 2: Jungle Adventure

The zoo is closed and there’s a police car outside.

  • Cop Talk: Someone stole a tiger from the zoo. The police are baffled as to how or why the tiger was stolen, and are speculating it might have escaped. The owner – in an outburst of nominative determinism, he’s called Gerard Jungle – insists that the cage was secure and the animal didn’t escape.
  • Evidence Collection: On the floor of the tiger cage is a bluish stain, matching the stain from the bathtub.
  • Interrogation: Under questioning, Gerard remembers some odd visitors the day before; awkward, intense men wearing black. They spent a lot of time in front of the tiger cage. He recalls one of them kept checking his phone and cursing.
  • Electronic Surveillance: There’s a security camera watching the tiger enclosure; checking the footage reveals:
    • The gang of intense young men – presumably, the Esoterrorist cell.
    • A 1-point Electronic Surveillance spend lets the investigators zoom in on the phone screen, and discover that the Esoterrorist keeps checking a particular twitter account – cavalorn. See Scene 4, I Never Thought Tigers Would Eat My Phase.
    • Later that night, a drone flies in over the zoo and drops a package through the bars of the tiger cage. It lands wetly and bursts open – it’s full of meat.
    • The tiger eats the meat – and vanishes in a flare of blue light.

While the investigators are at the zoo (or if they’re monitoring police radio bands), they get an alert of a nearby sighting. The tiger’s loose on the streets of Brighton! Go to Scene 3, The Thinning Veil.

Scene 3. The Thinning Veil

About two miles away from Jungle Adventure, the investigators come upon the scene of a curious traffic accident. A car’s driven into a tree. The driver, Karen Glossop, is unhurt but shaken; a small crowd of locals surround her with supportive cups of tea. Reassurance gets her account of what happened: she was driving along when a “glowing blue ghost tiger” appeared right in front of her in the middle of the road. She swerved and crashed; the tiger smashed her side window open, stuck its head in, sniffed her face – and then vanished.

  • Some Outer Dark Entities can slip between our reality and theirs, phasing in and out of reality. At a guess, the Esoterrorists have managed to… infect the tiger with that ability. It’s almost certainly unstable; our form of life can’t survive for long in the Outer Dark.

The police officers on the scene are singularly unconvinced by the account, and are busy searching Glossop’s car for traces of hallucinogens.

  • Reassurance or Streetwise: None of the locals saw anything. One of them, however, is loudly talking about how this is Halloween, when the veil between worlds grows thin. It was probably an Anomalous Black Cat, he reckons, that phased in from a Celtic otherworld. That happens this time of year.
  • Occult Studies: The whole ‘Halloween is when the veils grow thin’ thing is nonsense; the first occurrence of the concept is in the 1970s. In fact, it’s nonsense that aligns perfectly with the goals of the Esoterrorists – manipulating human belief to weaken the real veil between our world and the Outer Dark sounds like a long-term Esoterror plan.
  • Data Retrieval/Trivia: There’s this one guy online who’s very, very insistent on telling everyone about the modern-day origin of the Halloween-is-when-the-veil-is-thin meme. In fact, he’s probably painted a target on himself through his internet activity… and he lives in Sussex. Go to Scene 4.

Scene 4: I Never Thought Tigers Would Eat My Phase

By this point in the scenario, the investigators know the target of the Esoterrorist plot – they’re going after Adrian Bott, aka Cavalorn, to silence his unwitting demolition of their ongoing psychological operation. Data Retrieval or Streetwise can locate Bott’s home; alternatively, the team can track sightings of the glowing blue tiger as it blips across Sussex, phasing in and out of the Outer Dark. The animal grows more misshapen and monstrous with each interval.

To thwart the Esoterrorists, the team need to take down the monstrous tiger before it phases in and devours its target.

Phase-Eating Tiger

Abilities: Athletics 10, Health 12, Scuffling 10

Hit Threshold: 5

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +0

Weapon: +1 (claws)

Armour: +1 fur

Scene 5: Veil-Out

The first problem is to dispose of the glowing blue tiger corpse; after that, it’s mostly paperwork and lies. The Esoterrorist cell who created the tiger have fled; the investigators might be able to track them down by backtracing the drone from the zoo, but if that fails, they can set a trap for them at Easter – as Mr. Bott is equally outspoken on the topic of the Easter Bunny

With thanks to Adrian Bott of this parish, who was very sporting when I DMed him and said “I’ve got an idea for a really awful pun, but it requires murdering you in an adventure…”


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Usage Dice are an F20 innovation for tracking consumables. The short version: a particular resource, like arrows in a quiver or burning torches, are rated by die size. When you use that resource, you roll the die – on a 1-2, the die drops one dice size. Roll a 1-2 on a d4, and you’re out of that resource. It’s a handy little mechanic that reduces book-keeping while adding excitement.

13th Age cares even less about tracking minor resources. Above 1st or 2nd level, I’ve certainly never bothered noting how many arrows my archer has, or how many days worth of iron rations the characters have in their packs. There are games where managing logistics and balancing the weight and cost vs the utility of a particular item is part of the fun; 13th Age is not normally one of those games.

In fact, 13th Age goes further, making gold and non-magical treasure virtually unimportant. So, let’s take the whole question of resources, and abstract it out!

Resource Saves

A Resource save is a regular saving throw, succeeding on an 11+. If you succeed, you have the item required. If you fail, you don’t have that item to hand.

There are two possible triggers for a resource save:

The GM can call for a resource save where the adventurers are at risk of running out of a particular type of resource (arrows after a long battle with lots of archery, food and water while lost in a dungeon). If the save fails, the adventurers are out of that particular consumable.

Players can also call for a resource save to determine if they have a particular unusual item. Do you have a healing potion to hand? Resource save! A weapon oil or rune? Resource save!

Each time you make a Resource save, make a note. You get a -2 penalty to Resource saves for each previous Resource save. To get rid of this penalty, see Refreshes, below.

Wealth saves

Wealth saves work the same way, covering the character’s cash on hand. Can you afford to stay in this pricy inn? Make a Wealth save. Can you bribe the guard? Wealth save! If you fail a Wealth save, you’re out of coin.

Failing a Wealth save doesn’t necessarily mean you simply don’t have enough coin. Maybe you got gouged by a greedy merchant, or your coin-purse got robbed, or you have a secret gambling problem, or you donated a portion of cash to the temple. Maybe, in the tradition of wandering adventurers, you squandered it all on ale and feasting, or weird arcane supplies. Look, if you were a prudent, fiscally sensible sort you probably wouldn’t be adventuring in the first places.

Again, each time you make a Wealth save, make a note. Take a -2 penalty to Wealth saves for each previous Wealth saves, successful or not.

Refreshes

You can refresh your Resources by visiting a market, a town or some other bastion of commerce and making a successful Wealth save to buy what you need. You can also refresh your Resources if you find a supply cache or armoury in a dungeon. When you refresh, erase all the penalties to your Resource save.

You refresh your Wealth by looting treasure. Simple as that. (Or finding some other source of wealth – going home to your rich family, collecting taxes from your domain, collecting a bounty on that ogre bandit, honest work, stealing from the guilds of Glitterhaegen…)

Character Tiers

Obviously, what counts as a common expense to a beginning adventurer is very different to a common expense to a mighty hero of the Empire or dimension-sundering master sorcerer. If you make a Hard save instead of a regular one, you get access to the benefits from the next tier up instead. Conversely, if you ask for an Easy save instead of a regular one, you get the benefit of the lower tier.

So, if you’re a Champion-tier character, you can make an 11+ Resource test for a Champion-tier potion, a 16+ save for an Epic potion, or a 6+ save for a bog-standard Adventurer potion.

New Feats: Wealthy & Well-Equipped

Wealthy: Once per level, reset your Wealth save penalty to 0.

Well-Equipped: Once per level, reset your Resource save penalty to 0.

 


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

For some weeks now, you’ve been on the trail of a vampire in London.

Call him Dracula.

He may or may not be the no-kidding Count Dracula, but he’s definitely cut from the same burial shroud.

You’ve hunted him across London, destroying his refuges and hiding places, denying him his coffins. Maybe tonight will be the night you catch him, and come face to face with your enemy.

Time is running short. Unless you kill him, he’ll spread his curse like a disease. Think of the vampire as a pathogen, a plague – the Dracula Vector.

The Dracula Vector is a short (1-2 session) adventure, designed as an introduction to the Night’s Black Agents RPG, and giving a taste of how a larger mission plays out.

It can also serve as a jumping-off point for a longer Dracula Dossier campaign.

Stock #: PELGN16D Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Phil Stone Type: 29-page PDF

Buy now

Esteemed Patreon backer Simon… wait, no, strike that out. Correct that.

Esteemed Pelgrane co-owner Simon Rogers asks: “I have an idea for a Page XX column which by pure coincidence would help me for my game in a week’s time. I would like (Champion tier) stats for Grendel, and Grendel’s Mother, plus suggestions for reskins of existing creatures for Norse ones.” So, by pure co-incidence, here’s a take on Beowulf for 13th Age parties. (And by even purer co-incidence, it lets me do some research for my stretch goal adventure for another Beowulf game…)

Grendel on his own is a match for a party of 7th-level adventurers; Grendel’s Mother isn’t quite as fearsome, but she’s accompanied by a host of nicors.

Grendel

march-riever mighty, in moorland living,

in fen and fastness; fief of the giants

the hapless wight a while had kept

since the Creator his exile doomed.

9th level triple-strength wrecker [Giant]

Initiative: +13

Grim and Greedy Grasp +14 vs. AC (3 attacks)—80 damage

Natural 16+: Grendel grabs the target and throws him over his shoulder. The target is Stuck (but moves with Grendel) and Hampered while in Grendel’s clutches (save ends both).

Ruthless Murder +14 vs. AC – 120 damage, and 20 ongoing damage (save ends). Grendel can only make a Ruthless Murder attack if he has no grabbed victims.

The Hall-Thane’s Hate: Grendel automatically ambushes (getting a free round of attacks) if he’s attacking characters who have just taken a Quick Rest or Full Heal-up. He gets a bonus to his attacks in that ambush round equal to the number of Recoveries expended in that rest.

Safe from sword of battle: When Grendel’s hit by an attack, reduce the size of the damage dice by two steps before rolling. So, if Grendel’s hit by an attack that would normally deal 7d8+10 damage, the damage dice by two steps (d8->d6->d4), so the attack now deals 7d4+10 damage instead.

Hot Blood: If Grendel’s struck by a critical hit from a melee weapon, the attacker must make a save (11+) or the weapon’s destroyed at the end of combat.

Far and Fast The Fiend Outran: When the initiative dice is even, if Grendel is not engaged with any foes, he may withdraw from combat, escaping across the moors and fens. Any grasped characters may make one final Hard save to escape; any characters who fail this last save are devoured.

Leave Hand Behind In Pledge: If Grendel is unable to disengage, he may choose to pop free by sacrificing one of his limbs. Grendel may also choose to automatically succeed at a save by the same method. Grendel’s number of Grim and Greedy Grasp attacks is permanently reduced by 1.

After Wassail Was Wail Uplifted: Grendel hates music and song. When a bard song is in effect, the singer becomes Vulnerable to Grendel’s attacks.

AC   24

PD   23                 HP 555

MD  19

 

Grendel’s Mother

the livelong time

after that grim fight, Grendel’s mother,

monster of women, mourned her woe.

She was doomed to dwell in the dreary waters,

cold sea-courses

9th level Double-strength spoiler [Giant]

Initiative: +13

Grisly Claws +14 vs. AC (2 attacks)—60 damage

Natural 16+: Grendel’s Mother may make a loath to bite attack as a free action.

Broad and Brown-Edged Short Sword +14 vs. AC – 100 damage.

Avenge the Bairn: Any character who damaged Beowulf is Vulnerable to this attack

C: Loath to Bite +14 vs. MD – 40 psychic damage, and that character can only inflict miss damage on Grendel’s Mother on a hit (hard save ends).

Fangs of Flood: Grendel’s Mother is surrounded by an aura of drowning water. Any character who starts their turn nearby her must make a save (11+). Those who fail begin to drown (become Weakened and start making Last Gasp saves). Disengaging from Grendel’s Mother ends this effect.

Place of Fear: The lair of Grendel’s Mother is foul and strange. A character who rolls a 1-5 on any d20 roll becomes affected by fear (-4 to attacks and cannot use the escalation die) until the end of their next turn.

AC   23

PD   19                 HP 333

MD  25

 

Nicor

sea-beasts many

tried with fierce tusks to tear his mail

9th level mook [beast]

Initiative: +13

Fierce Tusk +14 vs. AC—30 damage

AC   25

PD   23                 HP 45 (mook)

MD  19

Mook: Kill one nicor for every 45 damage you deal to the swarm.

 

Norse Monsters

Obviously, lots of giants and trolls work really well. Drow always get trotted out as svartalfir. Death Knights (Bestiary 2, p. 249) could be reskinned as draugr-wights. Norse dragons are more commonly sea-monsters or serpents, so reskin dragon breath weapons as a venomous bite or sudden furious assault.

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