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.

A Fear Itself Scenario Premise

Start by designing high school age characters. Confine the Worst Thing You Ever Did to the sorts of transgressions ordinary teenagers might get up to. You all hang out together, regarding yourselves as semi-outsiders. You aren’t bullied, nor are you bullies. But neither are you the insider kids.

A random PC notices one of her class’ high achieving students, a withdrawn, New Age-y kid named Lauren Andrews, staring at graffiti scrawled with a marker on the mirror of a school washroom. Lauren turns pale, staggers back into a stall door, then rushes for the exit. The PC catches the inscription even as it begins to inexplicably fade away:

Over the next few days Lauren visibly falls apart. Each PC has an interaction with her in which she seems faded, drawn, and increasingly listless. The last encounter sees her wandering, eyes glassy, into a busy street. The PCs can maybe rescue her, but the Difficulty of the Athletics test is pitched high, so they’re more likely to see her splattered gruesomely across the roadway.

Her death makes surprisingly modest waves among teachers and other students. The group realizes that her detachment from the world has spread to others. One member catches another student looking at a piece of graffiti declaring the futility of his own personal concerns. It too fades moments later. Each inscription tailors itself to the individual target:

You are a failure and will never be anything else.

Like your father’s, your future holds only the stink of alcohol.

You won’t make it in the big leagues. You will be injured and wind up working in an Arby’s.

Who is writing the graffiti? The weird new transfer student who never talks to anyone, but seems forever accompanied by the cries of unseen gulls? The ghost of the honors student who killed herself after an online bullying incident last year?

The mystery complicates itself when those infected by the apathy plague don’t die like Lauren probably did. Instead, one by one at first but later in small groups, you see them herded onto unmarked trucks by men in white jumpsuits, their gaits peculiar and faces oddly impassive.

And then one of the PCs sees her own grim notice scrawled on a mirror…


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the creatures of the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A scenario premise for Ashen Stars

The lasers take a contract to stop an isolated planetary despot from starting a disastrous, self-destructive war. The mystery: how to do that.

Since the Mohilar War the the planet Endemia has retreated from the rest of the Bleed. Their economy locked into a failed policy of self-determination, its people suffer utter deprivation. As far as anyone can tell, given the way the end of that war scrambled memories of its key events, Endemia, like the Durugh, allied with the foes of the Combine, the now forcibly forgotten Mohilar. It split away from Democir, a culturally similar twin planet in the same system that remained loyal to their mutual Terran heritage. Endemian leaders have rewritten history to argue that their former brothers were in fact the betrayers, whose slanders have unfairly blackened the reputation of an entire world.

Years of isolation have left Endemia’s already ragtag armaments and ships in a shocking state of disrepair. But no one wants to tell that to their paranoid, perpetually enemy-hunting Global Emperor Xongta III. Omnipresent propaganda machine has told a generation of starving citizens that they still field a mighty space navy. Now, spurred on by internal politics no outsiders have the inside info to parse, the Endemian politburo prepares to launch a massive assault against the hated Democirs. As soon as the Endemian fleet meets the resistance posed by their wealthy and well-equipped targets, hundreds of thousands of its ill-trained conscripts will die. “Like balls of paper hitting a wall of flame,” as one military analyst puts it.

An Endemian ex-pat puts out a laser contract looking for a team to stop this doomed assault from ever leaving the launch pads. before it begins. Can your lasers penetrate this fear-driven, closed society and stop its leader from bringing disaster upon his people? Once on the ground, do they limit their actions to the terms of the contract, or try to do more and topple Xongta II from his precarious perch?

Ripped from this headline.


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.

When the stunning photographs taken by Harry Burton of the Carter expedition’s discovery of Tutankhamun in 1922 were recently exhibited at Oxford’s Ashmolean museum, one print was conspicuously not considered for display.

Those of you with high Cthulhu Mythos ratings know that Nitocris, possible last pharaoh of the 6th dynasty, became a ghoul after her death. So perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that Burton, a Metropolitan Museum of Art photographer on loan to Carter, took an image of in which her blurry outline can clearly be seen. She intruded into Burton’s picture of guardian statues in an outer funerary chamber. Burton, engrossed in his composition, saw her only after he developed the picture. His lack of alarm likely saved him from a gruesome fate.

Why was Nitocris prowling around in Tutankhamun’s tomb, you ask. Who do you think administers the ancient curses of the pharaohs against the plunderers of their grave, anyway?

The photograph, the first ever taken of this particularly numinous ghoul, captured a sliver of her spirit essence. Those who gaze too long on the image form an unwitting bond with Nitocris. No matter where they are in the world, the ghoul queen sends her minions. Individuals judged to be valuable to the ghoul community are devoured and excreted as freshly reborn ghouls. (Yes, that’s how the process works. Your other Lovecraftian sources have been too genteel to tell you this.) The rest are marked for later consumption, after they die.

Flash back to the time of your series, in the 1930s. Renegade NYU Egyptology professor Nathaniel Stonebridge has stumbled onto the secret of the photograph. Driven by a heedless thirst for knowledge, he wants to be the first mortal to witness and document the hideous rebirthing ceremony by which Nitocris brings new ghouls into her flock. To this end he gained access to the suppressed Burton image, normally housed in the Metropolitan’s securest vault. By threatening Metropolitan archivist Norman Lanning with the revelation of certain details of his unsavory private life, Stonebridge got him to strike new prints of the negative. These Stonebridge has been circulating to his many enemies in occult academia, in hopes that Nitocris will choose one of them, and he can watch it all happen.

Since letting Stonebridge strike new prints from the negative, Lanning has vanished. His superiors, afraid that the Nitocris image has fallen into the wrong hands, approach the investigators to find out just what has happened to him.


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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