When asked for his top GMing tip, Rob would normally make a Faustian bargain. Instead he reaches for a technique he has adopted relatively late in his d20-rolling career.


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.

GUMSHOE divides abilities according to whether failure at that ability can drive narrative. Because it is never interesting to fail to get information, you never fail with your investigative abilities. General abilities, on the other hand, do offer the possibility of something interesting—if often horrible—happening when you fail a test. You can fail to run from the shoggoth while Fleeing, fail to repair your sputtering Cessna’s instrumentation with Mechanics, or fail to keep your wits about you with Composure.

However, just because failure is often interesting doesn’t mean that any given instance of it will always best further the story.

As a GM, you may see no particularly entertaining outcome from a failed test.

  • Failing to Sneak past the security guards, as you have imagined them, doesn’t get you a classic interrogation and escape sequence. Nope, just an exasperating hassle that delays the confrontation with the escaped sapient lab rats.
  • When a character is Riding to impress the hardbitten rodeo clowns, a failed test prevents you from running that scene where they try to recruit the group into their ranks.
  • A Counterinsurgency failure might rubbish the otherwise cool plan the group has spent half an hour cooking up, forcing them back into planning mode.

A common and often useful solution to the boring failure calls for the GM to replace failure with a costly success. You get past the guards but lose 2 Preparedness points when you drop your kit bag. You impress all but one of the rodeo clowns, who later tries to brain you with a wrench. You blow up the revanchist hideout but are identified by witnesses while doing so.

However, the existence of this technique shouldn’t prevent you from doing the simple thing instead: sometimes, you can just let them win!

Success establishes the character as competent and impressive, a feeling the players might not get enough of in a tense session. You get a reward as well, skipping an unneeded complicating factor. In a scenario already packed with action, that wrench-wielding rodeo clown might be one plot wrinkle too many to squeeze in before the session clock runs out.

Even an action that should feel difficult and could yield a rewarding story turn in other circumstances, could in certain instances create more fun as an automatic success.

A failure at the top of a scenario, especially the first one, starts the proceedings on a sour or unintentionally comic moment.

Failures that slow the action just as you’ve gotten it rolling likewise get old fast. If you’ve already got plenty of suspense bubbling, yet another problem to deal with registers as demoralizing overkill.

This doesn’t mean that characters should be able to succeed at unbelievably difficult tasks just to speed your the pacing.

But so long as success feels credible, or can be made to seem that way by your adjusting your description of the situation, you may find the prospect of certain failures overrated.


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

Are you a new GM looking to dip your toes into the horror genre? Are you hoping to nudge someone into running a scary game for you? As part of their Adventure Goddess program, which encourages women to take the GM’s chair, Carolyn Noe of Superheroines Etc organized this virtual panel featuring Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, and Ruth Tillman. Join them as they share their most chillingly useful Game Moderating tips.

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

book_readerHello, my name is Kendall Jung and I’m one of the mods on the Pelgrane 13th Age forums, host of Vault of the 13th Age (http://www.13thage.org) and I have also taken up the mantle of “Official GM Wrangler” for GenCon and Origins this year.  Together with Cat Tobin and Wade Rockett, we’re feverishly working towards making Pelgrane’s convention presence this year one to remember.

With that goal in mind, last month, we asked you to fill out a GenCon Survey – so we could get a feel as to who all was coming to GenCon, what games they would like to see, and so forth. The responses we got were pretty surprising – even if we did offer an incentive in the form of Pelgrane credit – but we’ll get to that in a bit.

First, I wanted to share some of the datum we gathered:

  • Total Responses: 138

  • Days Attending GenCon: 3.37 (average)

  • Volunteer GM’s: 43

That is a great response for our survey – and the fact that more than 25% of the people who responded wanted to run games for us at GenCon is even more amazing. Cat and I are in process now of contacting our GM’s and starting to schedule game slots over the Best 4 Days in Gaming, so keep an eye out for an email!

Some more points of data:

  • Top Games GM’s Volunteered For:

    • 13th Age

    • Trail of Cthulu

    • Night’s Black Agents

    • TimeWatch / Owl Hoot Trail (they tied)

While 13th Age had a very large following, all of Pelgrane’s titles made a good showing of requests. We’re looking at balancing out our GMs versus what games they want to run, and hope to accommodate everyone’s gaming desires and schedules.

When it comes to games you want to see, one of the things we asked people would be their interest in a 2-night tournament where you were scored against other tables / teams. Only 19 of our 139 respondents were interested in that – so that’s maybe an idea we’ll keep on the shelf for next year.

Overall the strongest desires for survey responses broke down into three categories:

  • Organized Play  Games

  • Standard, 4 Hour Games

  • 2 hour “Demo” Games

As a final note, before I announce the lucky random-winner of our survey, I wanted to also let you guys know that we are looking for volunteer GM’s for Origins as well. Please email cat@pelgranepress with the subject line “I want to be an Origins GM!” and we’ll add you to our list.  (Please include # of hours / game sessions you would like to run, and if you have any preferred scheduled times you would like to run.)

Again, we want to thank everyone for answering our survey. Each of you will receive a $5 Pelgrane Press voucher – good for products at the web store. However, one lucky survey-entree has won an ultra-shiny $50 credit voucher – and here is where we find out who it is.  (Note: I have failed as a gamer – as I don’t have a d138 in my dice bag – so I went online and generated a random number). Congratulations to Brent Killackey!

During his survey, Brent had this to say:

“This year will be my first GenCon and I’m looking forward to playing many games, but 13th Age has to be tops on my list.”

Congratulations! We have already reached out to Brent about the win and $50 Pelgrane voucher.

Thank you to all of our survey responders – this gives us a good feel as to what you all want, and we hope that you will be very happy at GenCon and Origins this year!