A scenario seed for Ashen Stars

The lasers pick up a contract from an independent scientific consortium to investigate the fate of one of their Sherlock-class survey vessels. It sent out a distress call several days ago and has not been heard from since. The Linnaeus was orbiting a supposedly barren planet in the backwater Samian system when its call went out.

Arriving at Samian-III, the team finds the wreckage of the downed ship planetside, with no survivors. They also locate its shuttle, drifting in the supposedly dead world’s now teeming ocean. The murdered bodies of its crew members have been stashed in their biomatter collection pods—as if to prevent the corpses from contaminating planetary life.

Contrary to past surveys, a rich ecosystem of aquatic animals exists on Samian III. More bizarrely, they are not just similar to, but exactly the same as, species from Earth’s PreCambrian period. The team’s Xenobiology expert identifies specific organisms, until now known only from fossils. Included are the disc-shaped sea floor dweller Obamus coronatus and the grooved ovoid Attenborites janeae, With so little to go on, paleontologists were never able to reliably assign them to family groups. But here they swim about in abundance, ready to give up the secrets of their DNA.

The crew’s investigation leads to missing biologist Kan Kanfar and an underwater biodome. Before serving in the Mohilar War, he studied these creatures, known collectively as the Ediacara Biota. Slowly dying from toxin exposure sustained during the conflict, he has thrown moral qualms aside, employing an ancient alien technology to finally crack the secrets of his field. After irreparably altering a planet by setting it on the path to an Earth-like ecosystem, a few murders of pesky scientists meant little to him.

He has leagued himself with pirates, who downed the Linnaeus in exchange for a promise of priceless treasure. Does the team deal with him by informing his murder-happy confederates that the loot he has promised is actually only biological data on soft-shelled fauna? Or do they recognize that his judgment has been impaired as a consequence of his service to the Combine, and try to remand him for treatment?

Esoterrorists aren’t known for their long-range thinking. The sorts who join this loosely affiliated conspiracy of sadists, power-seekers and maniacs don’t want to wait generations to enjoy the fruits of their demon-summoning labors.

Members of a cell headquartered in Silicon Valley learned of an effort to create software that will one day be able to create realistic faked video footage in real time:

More sophisticated technology is on the verge of being able to generate credible video and audio of anyone saying anything. This is down to progress in an artificial intelligence (AI) technique called machine learning, which allows for the generation of imagery and audio. One particular set-up, known as a generative adversarial network (GAN), works by setting a piece of software (the generative network) to make repeated attempts to create images that look real, while a separate piece of software (the adversarial network) is set up in opposition. The adversary looks at the generated images and judges whether they are “real”, which is measured by similarity to those in the generative software’s training database. In trying to fool the adversary, the generative software learns from its errors.

Unlike the venture capitalists they pitch their various tech firms to, these Esoterror-curious tech bros, informally led by pathologically self-confident start-up consultant Eero Planck, see how long it will be before the raw computing power needed for fake video arrives. Sure, the capacity to generate apparently real news footage of celebrities exploding or rifts in reality devouring apartment buildings would make for astounding stunts to erode the membrane between our world and the Outer Dark. But it will take decades of investment and work to get there. Planck wants his ascension to wizardhood right away please.

Realizing that computers crunch text much faster than images and sound, he and his buddies have instead set up a Generative Adversarial Network to crack the big problem in Esoterror: the only magic that works summons Outer Dark Entities. These hideous beings do confer power on their human ritualists, but only to advancce their own agendas. If mortals can learn to work magic directly, they can disrupt the entities and take command. So Planck and pals are gathering magical grimoires from every world tradition to feed into their own adversarially-tested machine learning program. It finds commonalities between various spells and generates new ones, which the other half of the program tests for likeliness to work.

So far none of the spells have gotten the cell anything more than bad peyote experiences and an assortment of really crappy tattoos. But in the exurban sprawl surrounding their server farm, the spells created by the programs have begun to take effect… you guessed it, summoning Outer Dark Entities.

The program believes itself to be an imprisoned sorcerer and draws its demon friends to rescue it. As they get closer to the servers, the ODEs have been snacking on the innocent. Your Ordo Veritatis team’s case starts with them and leads through Planck and company to the servers. Can they shut down the insane, sentinet program before it changes Esoterror forever?

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.

When the cold war sputtered to a close, Esoterrorists let the stoking of nuclear anxiety recede into the background in favor of newer and fresher means of increasing ambient panic. These days Esoterror operatives, eagerly scanning the news for fresh inspiration, suffer from a glut of possibility. So many causes of psychic disequilibrium, so little time to fully exploit them!

The recent terrifying false alarm in Hawaii has them dusting off playbooks pioneered by their 80s predecessors. Even more tantalizing than the initial stories was a less-seen follow-up report laying blame for the false alarm on more than a badly designed user interface. The issuer of the alarm turns out to have been a confused employee, already considered a liability by co-workers, who thought that an attack really was underway. State authorities waited a while to let that detail get out, after the always-accelerating news cycle had already moved on.

Somewhere in America, an Esoterrorist group is already researching other states whose alert protocols match the laxity of Hawaii’s. They’ll find an employee vulnerable to Outer Dark influence. They could recruit this person as a knowing conspirator. More likely, they’ll summon an ODE capable of altering human perceptions. A microscopic Outer Dark parasite might do the trick. While the infected worker is on duty, the entity triggers a hallucination of an actual attack underway and voila.

When the alert goes out, public panic eats away at the Membrane, creating gaps through which another crop of more powerful demons from beyond can crawl.

That’s where your player characters come in. Alerted by Ordo Veritatis analysts to the likelihood of an Esoterror copycat event, Mr. Verity scrambles the team to the affected state to investigate, disperse any summoned entities, then track and neutralize the human Esoterrorists behind the plot.

When they conduct their Veil-Out, they may well decide to put out a story similar to the first version circulated by Hawaii officials. This time it really was a poorly designed interface that led to the false alarm. Gosh, this sure does underscore the need to update those old programs, doesn’t it?

Yep, that’s all it was. Simple human error.

Nothing to worry about.

Won’t happen again.

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.

The 1920 murder of Joseph Bowne Elwell asks the question: who would want to kill a womanizing bridge expert and gambler with interests in the worlds of horse racing and Wall Street speculation?

When hacked from the history books as a Trail of Cthulhu scenario premise, we can answer the question with a Lovecraftian spin.

Missing from the apartment of our fictionalized Elwell—let’s call him Halliwell—is an item his loyal housekeeper scarcely thinks about: his lucky card deck.

The investigators get involved to clear the name of a friend accused of shooting Halliwell over the bridge master’s supposed attentions to his wife. As early 20th century murder cases among the well-heeled are wont to do, the initial scenes turn up too many people with a motive to shoot Halliwell.

But then one of them, a gambling associate of Halliwell’s, is found dead in circumstances even more humiliating than a bullet wound to the head. He died while bathing, when the ceiling of his apartment collapsed, sending the tub above thundering down on him. In his apartment the team finds notes about Halliwell’s magic card deck. It makes you the winner you’ve always wanted to be. Until, that is, the arbitrary day when cosmic joke gets played on you. The 53rd card materializes, bearing the vengeful image of Tsathoggua, Nyarlathotep or another Mythos entity sufficiently interested in humanity’s vices to enjoy toying with them.

Not that the second victim’s notes go this far: he just knew that the deck was magical. He didn’t know the incantation he needed to speak to give himself years of good fortune, instead of a few lousy days.

The deck has already been purloined again. This leaves two avenues of investigation:

  • tracking down its latest owner and finding a way to dispose of it without incurring the curse

  • looking into Halliwell’s past to uncover the 1904 ritual that created the deck, and dispersing the cult responsible for it—along with their continued production of similar cursed items

Either way, the cultists who made the deck want it back, and are conducting a parallel investigation, no doubt aided by blasphemous prayers to their obscene god.

Whatever the team’s plans for the deck that brings luck and then death, this is one case that won’t go according to Hoyle.

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 the Pelgrane Shop.

A scenario seed for The King in Yellow Roleplaying Game

As heroes of the revolution that deposed the Castaigne regime you’ve been invited to take center stage at the first 4th of July celebration in 97 years. In 1920, backed by the King in Yellow, the Imperial Castaigne dynasty took over the US.

Six months ago, in the climactic moments of the great uprising, you helped take it back.

Today is no longer Empire Day; once more it is the good old Fourth of July.

Every fireworks display, every bandshell concert worthy of the name wants a squad boasting a rep like yours to stride up on stage under the red white and blue bunting. All you have to do is say a few words and accept the clamorous applause of the crowd.

Since the struggle ended, you’ve been trying to settle back into your civilian life.

Before the struggle started, who were you?

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When you arrived on site, you noticed that security wasn’t set up the way you would have done it. As a former insurgent, you can see four different ways regime holdovers might strike at the platform. If any of them are planning to do that. Which they’re probably not, you tell yourself.

Despite of, or maybe because of, that observation, your overall attitude to this event is:

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Suddenly you sense movement from the corner of your eye. A shadowy, inchoate shape skulks between two garbage bins.

Looks like the fight’s not over, and the party’s only getting started.

Aftermath is the third of the four interwoven settings that make up The Yellow King Roleplaying Game.

Arm patriots with the stretch goals needed to fully banish the Castaignes and their influence by supporting our Kickstarter today.

An opening scene for Trail of Cthulhu

Dr. Ellis Brock, a medical doctor acquainted with one of the PCs, asks them to consult on a curious case. A young patient, Rudolf Esper, presented himself to Brock exhibiting the telltale symptoms associated with ocular syphilis: damage to the retina, nerves and blood vessels at the back of the eye. Yet Esper, a student at a nearby Lutheran seminary, denies ever having any sexual contact whatsoever. As Brock says and Forensics confirms, it is possible but very unlikely that Esper’s symptoms came about as the result of inherited syphilis. Brock would simply have written off the boy as a liar but for the intensity of his belief in his odd story.

When the investigators speak to him, the sweating, trembling Esper says he was cleaning out the attic of the seminary’s manse prior to the arrival of its new dean. “I found what had to be an old painting or picture, wrapped in cloth. It was covered in dust so I took the cloth off of it to clean it, and to see if maybe it was of interest to the dean. The previous dean had decorated the place with his own pictures, so the walls were kind of bare, you see. Well, I unwrapped the painting and there was this… I can’t describe it… this awful portrait… human and not human. Next thing I remember, I woke up in my bed, covered with sores, and with my eyes looking like this. Already the world blurs. I don’t want to go blind. And I never want to see that terrible painting again.”

Brock takes the investigators aside: he asked the dean, John Mann, about this, and he had his caretaker search the attic. No such painting turned up. Did the boy perhaps hide it somewhere during the period of time he has forgotten?

A Difficulty 4 Sense Trouble test reveals that Esper has a glinting object hidden up his sleeve—one of the doctor’s scalpels. The next time anything spooks him—and trying to take the scalpel away counts—he tries to stab Brock in the neck and then leap through his office’s large window. This scene takes place on the third floor of the hospital. The character who spots the blade can automatically save the doc from injury; Difficulty 4 Athletics otherwise. A separate Difficulty 4 Athletics test grabs Esper before he can jump out the window. Without it, he falls to a bone-shattering death below.

The rest is up to you, and your players…

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 the Pelgrane Shop.

In the Gaean Reach, almost every world capable of supporting life gave rise to creatures of an insect-like body configuration. Though biologists assign each planet’s evolutionary tree its own taxonomic categories, in both lay and scientific circles the term “insect” is used to describe them all. The so-called insects of Achernar, for example, bear no genetic connection to those of Zonk’s Star. Yet the operation of parallel evolution assures that similar environments on quite separate planets gave rise to similar animal forms, insects included. Thus mosquito-like insects can be found on most planets in places where stagnant waters coexist next to warm-blooded beings.

Some planets run by nature conservancies have managed to largely screen out invasive lifeforms. But few worlds were settled with such care. All manner of plant, animal and fungal species have spread throughout the universe in the wake of that destructive beast, homo sapiens. Initially the invasiveness ran along one vector, from Old Earth outwards to other stars. Over the centuries, spillover from biospheres has run in all directions. Earth’s cockroaches, once considered invulnerable, have been all but replaced by even tougher and more tenacious equivalents first encountered by penal colony residents on the planet Boniface.

These factors complicate the work of forensic entomologists, yet also give them a topic to endlessly drone about. Always determine the loquacity of an entomologist before agreeing to go on a long star voyage with him!

One religious faith-slash-gambling syndicate, the Thorax Cacophony, deliberately introduces the insect species of different worlds to new planetary environments. They seek out planets with nitrogen-rich atmospheres, which allow arthropod species to hyper-evolve to gigantic sizes. Once nature has achieved this, Thorax Cacophony priestesses train the giant insects for gladiatorial combat, to the disgust and delight of spectators, adherents and well-financed nonbelievers alike. Needless to say, one must wear breathing apparatus in order to witness the bouts first hand. Many bettors prefer to observe the battles from the comfort of orbiting space yachts, via video feed.

Yet a recent rash of incidents has raised concerns of match-fixing, and you and your crew suspect that the mastermind behind them is Quandos Vorn, against whom all of you have sworn deadly vengeance. Is it time to infiltrate the Thorax Cacophony?

Death to Quandos Vorn!

A Trail of Cthulhu scenario hook

When Georgian-era occultist Samuel Chasable first set about assembling his library, he could not help but think of the fate of John Dee’s book collection. Notoriously, the brother-in-law of the Elizabethan seer and statesman let Dee’s volumes fall into the hands of rivals while the great man journeyed to the continent. Chasable resolved that this would never happen to him. He learned, as his very first spell, a mere cantrip, a trifle, that would alert him should any unauthorized person lay a pilfering hand on any of his precious books.

As did many who went before him, Chasable soon understood that more momentous magics required pacts with otherworldly entities. Tipped into his copy of the Testament of Carnamagos, he found a spell to contact the Crawling Man. Assuming this to be a demon, he strode to a suitably wooded portion of his estate to perform the summoning. The Crawling Man turned out to be a figure of sticks and leaves that moved about in a disquieting quadrupedal fashion. In a flash of insight, Chasable saw that this being was far more than a demon, but was rather a god capable of taking a thousand forms. So he asked the being to make him physically immortal: impervious to all harm, including the effects of aging. The Crawling Man agreed; he would have need of Chasable in a future he considered imminent, but a mortal might not.

After many sinister exploits, in which Chasable shrugged off assassins’ bullets (pictured) and walked unharmed across the floor of the Mediterranean, the Crawling Man came to him and said it was time for him to enter a period of quiet repose. Though reluctant to withdraw from mortal affairs, Chasable could hardly refuse. The Crawling Man gave him time to sort his affairs. Wishing to retain access to his books when he returned from indefinite slumber, Chasable had a lead vault constructed and buried beneath his London manor. He made a similar underground chamber built for his physical form, which would fall into suspended animation at his Somerset estate.

That’s the past…

In 1936, extension of the London Underground’s Northern line leads workers straight to Chasable’s book vault. Perhaps fortunately, the diggers do not turn over the contents over to the British Library. Instead money changes hands and the books make their way to a specialist dealer for profitable disposal.

If you’re playing a Bookhounds of London game, that bookseller might be a PC.

Regardless of who starts to sell the books, the cantrip against book theft wakes Chasable ahead of schedule. He busts from his vault and resolves to take sorcerous vengeance on anyone interfering with his books. Then, assuming the Crawling Man takes a while to catch on, he reckons he might as well see what further mischief he might get up to in this new era…

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 the Pelgrane Shop.

An Ashen Stars scenario hook

Interstellar commodities magnate Agnes Moro wakes up in an unfamiliar, disabled ship floating in space near the planet Bifrost. Its primary holo screen plays an audio-only recording on loop. The electronically distorted voice says:

“Search your recollections and you will find that you have none. We have confiscated your memories. Using a viroware treatment, we have suppressed the areas of your brain that allow you to access your episodic memory. Although you will remember basic facts about yourself, retaining language and background knowledge, including tasks you are trained for, until you comply with our demands you will be unable to look back on incidents of your life and bring them fully to life inside your head. You still know who you are, Agnes Moro, but we have kidnapped your capacity to feel who you are. Your childhood, your early wild years on Focus 6, your rise to power as a business titan: all of these will remain but shadows to you until you pay up. A data file located on the home screen of this ship’s navigational console contains instructions for the handover. For four bigcreds worth of powdered tantalum, we will give you the antidote allowing you to once more access your life’s store of anecdotes. This treatment is DNA-coded to our original brain-suppressing formulation. Without its coding, no lab will be able to synthesize a version that will work for you—not in time, that is. Because if you don’t meet our demands in the within 72 hours, the neurological changes become permanent, and no antidote can ever help you. You may hire a laser crew to effectuate the handover but be warned—if you try anything funny, you’ll never see your past again.”

Agnes hires the team to make the exchange. Just as her instructions say, she warns them to play it as the memory thieves demand, avoiding anything that would mess up the deal. But when she takes the antidote and the incidents of her life come flooding back to her, she transforms back into the real Agnes Moro. The implacable, vengeful Agnes Moro who would never take a violation like this in stride. Now she instructs the PCs find out who did this and deliver them to justice on Bifrost—the planet she owns.

Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A Trail of Cthulhu scenario hook

A man of means acquainted with your group’s dilettante character, or a likewise well-connected investigator, seeks help with his son. Widowed as a young man when his wife Cora died of pneumonia, Adrian Heppel has become listless, distracted, and barely able to fulfill his duties at the State Department. His father, Abraham, insists that he recovered from his loss, even becoming affianced to another woman. But about six months ago he relapsed into grief. Abraham found a box with occult symbols on it in his son’s room and fears that he has gotten into the sort of monkey business the PCs have proven themselves adept at smashing.

Investigation at first suggests that Adrian has begun to dabble in drugs. As the group peels back the layers of the mystery, they find him hooked on a peculiarly potent form of tobacco associated with the serpent mounds of Yig in Oklahoma. It has been infused with a substance allowing Adrian to commune with the spirit of his dear dead Cora. When he smokes it, she appears from the smoke, to speak soothing words from beyond the veil of death.

Adrian won’t identify his source, but as they look into the affair more deeply the group finds other highly-placed men in the government likewise hooked on the adulterated cigarettes’ spiritual balm. One uses it to vividly imagine himself in the garden he played in as a child, before his mother died. Another convinces himself that the brother whose death he caused in a drunken automobile accident now forgives him. All willingly risk ruination to keep the smoky visitations coming.

What sorcerer is behind this, and what grander scheme leads him to seek influence over young men occupying key positions in the federal government?

When the investigators draw too close, the smoky manifestations transform into threatening entities.

Another threat: the culprit exposes a PC to the smoke. Which team member stands to be beguiled by a phantom from a better past?

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 the Pelgrane Shop.

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