“Monk was asking Vida Carlaw, ‘Do you believe a mysterious jellylike creature did any killing?’ The girl hesitated, nipping at her lips. ‘You probably think I’m foolish, but, after all, no one really knows what is in the depths of the earth. Of course, scientists have a general idea, but there may be—things—down there that they don’t know anything about.'”

— Lester Dent, The Derrick Devil (Doc Savage Magazine, Feb 1937)

Cthulhu and his mythos emerged from the same news stands that produced the Shadow, Doc Savage, and lots of other larger-than-life characters who vastly outsold Cthulhu. Trail of Cthulhu honors that heroic origin by presenting rules and even gods in both Pulp and Purist categories, and Robin Laws especially honored it by presenting four straight-up pulp tribute adventures in Stunning Eldritch Tales. In the third adventure, “Death Laughs Last,” your heroes solved the mysterious death of milllionaire philanthropist Addison Bright, who fought crime in secret as … the Penitent!

Some detectives are stranger than others.

But what kind of pulp hero has only one adventure? (Most of them, sadly. Heroism was an unrewarding business, then as now.) The Penitent may be dead (for now) but if your Investigators acquired a taste for the lurid life, there’s more where he came from in the yellowed pages around them. Robert E. Howard alone provides plenty of inciting GMCs in need of two-fisted backup: River Street police detective Steve Harrison, boxer Kid Allison, sailor and boxer Steve Costigan, and that’s before you even get to Irish occultist John Kirowan or aging mercenary Kirby O’Donnell. Your heroes might cross cerebral swords with super detective Nick Carter, the young (ish) and (always) hungry Nero Wolfe, or any one of a hundred figures right out of Jess Nevins’ encyclopedias.

Compared to their descendants in the superhero comics, few actual pulp super villains survived more than one adventure. (Plenty of pre-pulp anti-heroes, such as Dr. Nikola, Dr. Quartz, Zenith the Albino, and Fu Manchu seemingly carried whole series by themselves, of course; classic pulps that attempted to recapture that spirit usually failed after a few numbers.) All their creators needed was a name and a gimmick — which is all a Keeper needs in a pinch, to be fair. So heroes are plentiful, and villains die fast — but which is which? Here’s a spinner rack full of pulp GMCs, packed like pulp-revival Ace Doubles, with both a hero side and a villain side. But even the heroes here have just a shmear of Purist flavor, meaning your Investigators might find themselves cast as the villains of this month’s exciting issue.

A-10

Decorated Great War ace turned barnstormer turned adventurer, “A-10” uses that code name when carrying out jobs for the FBI or the State Department with one of many state-of-the-art airplanes. Surveillance autogiros, speed-record interceptors, flying boats, even drone craft: A-10 can fly any of them better than any man alive.

Hero: Letitia Coolidge, self-taught electrical engineer, pulled an avionics control box out of a crashed disc-shaped craft in Vermont, put it in her second-hand Curtiss “Jenny,” and took off. She never gets used to having to plug wires from the stick into her brain, but the results are worth it … so far. Some of her “government orders” just come in on her airplane radio, a buzzing voice on a box …

Villain: Morland Harding flew too high over Brazil during an air show altitude contest, and made a deal with a Gaseous Wraith (Hideous Creatures, p. 108). All it wants is human sacrifices, and as long as he keeps killing people above 30,000 feet its vapors keep Harding literally at the top of his profession.

Fu Mien-chü

His name translates as “man who is a mask,” and his role in New York’s Chinatown is appropriately opaque. He has agents in every obscure temple, criminal gang, and house of ill fame in the district — and in every hospital, political campaign, and scientific laboratory. He holds at least two doctorates, in endocrinology and entomology, and speaks perfect un-accented baritone English.

Hero: This is the alias of the brilliant psychologist Dr. Fo-Lan, kidnapped by the Tcho-Tcho in 1902, who escaped them in 1906 by summoning the Elder Gods from Orion to destroy their city. Now, he investigates New York’s cult underground, warring against inhuman infiltrators and determining whether he needs to destroy yet another city to save the world …

Villain: “Fu” is either the Scorpion himself, Hsieh-Tzu (which is to say, L’mur-Kathulos of Atlantis), or one of his most trusted body doubles running the American branch of the Hsieh-Tzu Fan (Bookhounds of London, p. 63).

Jenna of the Jungle

Normally Jenna stays in her forest home in the Congo, but sometimes she visits New York in the company of her latest good-looking conquest. Both a wealthy English aristocrat and a jungle queen, she keeps a penthouse on Central Park West where she grows wild tropical plants and flowers, and where her pet panther Menes can sleep in the sun. Her prodigious strength keeps the mashers at bay when Menes isn’t around.

Hero: Born Geneva Jermyn, of the aristocratic Huntingdonshire Jermyns, she escaped the “Jermyn curse” of simian looks; although her arms and legs aren’t quite normally proportioned, and her nose is a little upturned, on her it looks amazing. When her cousin Arthur committed suicide and burned down the family mansion in 1920, she went to Africa to find out why. She came out a decade later, looking not a day older.

Villain: Did she visit the Anzique country on the way? Her boyfriends don’t last long, after all … Alternatively, perhaps she embraced the “White God” of Dzéwa, gaining her powers over plants and animals from its Xiclotli servitors (Shadows Over Filmland, p. 103).

Hugo “Doc” Woesten

There’s nothing he can’t do: scientist, surgeon, explorer, Doc Woesten embodies the perfect physical and mental development of the species. Using his “mental radio” at the top of the Empire State Building to receive uncanny distress signals from all over the world, Doc and his five assistants are always there when something weird and menacing threatens an heiress or endangers an archaeological dig. Only Doc’s assistants know what goes on in his secret psychic college beneath the New York State Psychopathic Institute in the Catskills.

Hero: Doc owes his abilities to alien possession: while experimenting with his mental radio during the 1927 nova XX Tauri, a “brother of light” incarnated into him. His operations on criminal brains further the “brother’s” search for minds possessed by Algol, Alphecca, or other “demon stars.”

Villain: Doc is a van Kauran on his mother’s side, from a long line of Mythos magicians in upstate New York. Henrietta raised him using twenty-one years of rituals and following every stricture in the Book of Eibon to create a “star child.” Doc travels the world “rescuing” artifacts (and eliminating rivals) to eventually bring about a new Hyperborean Age and make his mother proud of 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 print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Wade Rockett 13th Age designer logoHow do you keep an empire together? One obvious answer is the ability to move people and things quickly and easily from one place to another: trade goods, armies, officials, citizens. Perhaps just as important is the ability to move information across long distances. Are the forces of the Orc Lord mustering to attack from the north? Has a spy in Drakkenhall discovered an assassination plot in Horizon? Is one of the Archmage’s wards failing? If you can’t get word to the right people, the consequences could be disastrous. Information is also used to unify people across great distances and throughout the ages: to say, “this is who we are”, “this is where we came from”, “these people and events are important to understanding the world”.

Here are 7 ideas for long-distance communication in your 13th Age campaign:

The Mockingbirds: Members of this secret society of bards can be found all over the Dragon Empire, and have developed sophisticated ways of transmitting information to each other through coded messages hidden in poems, tales, and musical compositions. Mockingbirds have trained their entire lives in the art of listening to a piece once and then flawlessly reproducing it.

Swift Wind: Emerging during the rebellion against the Terrible Emperor, these monks have trained to run overland for days without resting. Legends say they can run across water as if it were solid ground, and over the tops of trees, carrying messages between monasteries. One legendary Swift Wind monk is said to have fearlessly delivered a message to the heart of the Abyss itself.

Song of Stone: That sound of clattering and sliding rock you hear faintly in the blackness of the Underworld? It might be natural, or it might be a dwarf using a handful of stones and their knowledge of how echoes travel in the deep to send a coded message across the miles.

Whispering Spirits: Wizards, druids, and elves often employ magical spirits to send messages to allies, friends, and lovers—once they have delivered the message, or returned with an answer, they are free to depart. Because they are more idea than flesh their minds don’t quite work the same as ours, so the message must take the form of a riddle or poem.

Magic Mirrors: One of the oldest forms of long-distance magical communication, reflective surfaces—such as mirrored glass, pools of water, polished shields—are highly suitable for enchanting because they present a view of the world that appears real, but is not. Because they’re so common, magic mirrors have become increasingly risky to use these days: you might find yourself speaking with the magical reflection of a long-dead wizard who used the same mirror in a previous age, or discover too late that a rakshasa was a silent third party listening in on your plans via its own magic mirror.

Nonsense: Thieves, beggars, and traveling peddlers use an “anti-language” which they commonly call Nonsense to talk openly among themselves without being understood by outsiders. Nonsense borrows words and phrases from languages throughout the Dragon Empire (and even beyond its borders), and processes them through backward-speak, rhyming slang, and wordplay to produce a fast-paced patter that sounds like you should understand it, but you can’t seem to hear it quite right. In this way, everything from gossip to military intelligence can travel from one city to another along the trade routes.

Work Songs: Sea shanties, marching cadences, and other songs and chants which take their rhythm from the work being performed, are an important way that culture is learned, preserved, and spread across the Empire. Lines in some of these songs go back to the Empire’s founding, and a careful listener might glean valuable information about places, monsters, and magic items from them. They also can contain valuable common-sense advice, such as:

I don’t know but I’ve been told

Ray of Frost is mighty cold


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.

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

New Releases

      • Swords of the Serpentine: The Adventurer’s Edition pre-order – A GUMSHOE sword & sorcery game of daring heroism, sly politics, and bloody savagery, set in a fantasy city rife with skullduggery and death. Pre-order now and get a limited edition colour print map of Eversink.
      • Honey & Hot Wax – An Erotic Art Games Anthology PDF pre-order – A digital-only anthology of games about sex by a diverse group of 10 designers, which will challenge how you think about roleplaying, sexuality, and human relationships.
      • Book of the Underworld pre-order– Pre-order this campaign setting for 13th Age, revealing the secrets of the Dragon Empire’s Underworld, and get the final PDF now.
      • Book of the Underworld PDF – A campaign setting for 13th Age, revealing the secrets of the Dragon Empire’s Underworld.
      • The Yellow King RPG – Four full-colour 6″ x 9″ hardback books in a slipcase, with accompanying GM screen. The dread horror of Robert Chambers’ King in Yellow stories take RPG form, confronting your players with an epic journey across four Carcosan-drenched time periods.
      • The Yellow King RPG Basic Shock & Injury decks – These optional accessories allow The Yellow King Roleplaying Game GMs to quickly grab and dish out Shock and Injury cards during face-to-face play.
      • Absinthe in Carcosa – An 8.5″ x 11″, full-colour hardback, this indispensable city guide for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is yoked together from travelogues, newspapers, and the disquieting ephemera of the occult tradition.
      • The Missing and the Lost – A thrilling, thought-provoking novel, which can be read as a mystery of a dread-drenched alternate reality, or use it as a model for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game when you play its Aftermath setting.
      • Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition – Pre-order the updated and expanded mutant-powered police procedural GUMSHOE game, and get the final PDF now.
      • Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition PDF – Pre-order the updated and expanded mutant-powered police procedural GUMSHOE game, and get the final PDF now.
      • Even Death Can Die – Pre-order this adventure collection for Cthulhu Confidential and get the pre-edit draft PDF now.

Articles

13th Age

Hey, Pelgranes. There’s a whole lot of change happening all at once, and it’s a stressful time. Here in my hometown, local businesses are closing down by the dozen due to the restrictions imposed in the wake of COVID-19. Around the world, people are out on the streets, protesting against institutional racism and police brutality. Meanwhile, climate change (remember that?!) continues to make our planet less inhabitable every day. Give yourselves a break, take care of yourselves, and stay safe out there.

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

Pre-orderers can now download the pre-layout PDF of Swords of the Serpentine, along with Jérôme Huguenin’s stunning Eversink map and a WIP of the world map. The book has been copyedited, but eagle-eyed readers over on the Facebook GUMSHOE RPG Community are spotting remaining typos in it – if you’ve found one, please let us know using this form. We’ll be sending the final files to Jen McCleary (The Fall of DELTA GREEN, Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops) to start layout in the next week.

As well as working on the maps, Jérôme’s also starting to work on some of the iconic heroes from the game – here’s a preview of what he’s working on:

Work in progress update: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition has now arrived with our US fulfilment house, and we’ll start shipping US & Canadian pre-orders out this week. They still haven’t arrived in the UK, but the tracking details suggest they should be arriving in the next two weeks, so we’re hoping to start shipping all non-US & Canadian pre-orders before the end of the month. (ICYMI, last month I showed off some of the proofs of the physical book, which are looking great!)

Work in progress update: The Borellus Connection

We’ve finished the revisions to the final The Borellus Connection manuscript and it’s now been copyedited, and we’re handing this adventure collection for The Fall of DELTA GREEN over to the sensitivity reader this week. We’ll commence the art for this shortly, and hope to release it on pre-order later in the summer.

Work in progress update: Honey & Hot Wax

Jen’s finished a first draft of the final layout of Honey & Hot Wax, and this is with the editors, Sharang Biswas & Lucian Kahn, for review. We should be able to get the final PDF to pre-orderers by the end of June. If you’d like to hear more about the games in this erotic art games anthology, check out this video from last month).

Work in progress update: Black Star Magic

Robin, Sam, Ruth & Gareth have finished the final Black Star Magic manuscript now, and this Yellow King RPG magic supplement, including a brand-new adventure for each of the four core YKRPG settings, is currently being copyedited. Expect the pre-order in the next couple of months!

Work in progress update: Even Death Can Die

Even Death Can Die has been stalled for some time, largely due to juggling priorities on my part, but is being restarted now. We’re aiming to have the final PDF to pre-orderers by the end of June, and send it to print at the same time – this means it should start shipping out to pre-orderers in September.

Work in progress update: GUMSHOE Kids

Thanks to everyone who playtested this junior-friendly adaptation of our most popular system! I had a lot of fun running this for my eldest nephew and niece, and they took to roleplaying like it was in their blood. :D We’ve now sent through all of your playtest feedback to Gareth, who’s going through it at the moment for a subsequent edition.

Work in progress update: Elven Towers

Art and maps are flooding in for champion tier 13th Age adventure Elven Towers, by author Cal Moore (Shadows of Eldolan, Sharpe Initiatives: Earthgouger), and only a few pieces are outstanding. This image of the Elf Queen’s Hunt Master, by Roena I. Rosenberger, wonderfully evokes the otherworldly personalities populating the Elf Queen’s Court of Stars at Thronewood. Work on the final text is nearly finished, and this should move into layout in early July.

Convention updates: Origins Online/IRL, and Gen Con

You may have already heard by now that Origins Online, scheduled for this weekend, and Origins Game Fair, which had been rescheduled for October 2020, have now both been cancelled. We are disappointed to hear this, as we had a great variety of games and panels scheduled, but we believe it’s the right decision in both cases.

Gen Con has recently announced that they are postponing an in-person event until 2021, but their online event is running the same weekend as originally scheduled (July 30 – August 2, 2020). As it’s an online event, GMs from all around the world can be part of our GM team this year, so if you’re available to run games as part of Gen Con Online that weekend, please do get in touch with us, either by filling in the form here (the list of adventures available is here) or pinging us on the Discord server.

By Kevin Kulp

As we enter June 2020 and Swords of the Serpentine’s pre-layout PDF reaches everyone who has pre-ordered the game, we want to make sure you have examples of what’s possible with hero creation. With a limited series of blog posts entitled Four Heroes, we’ll feature a sample Hero for each profession (or a mixture of professions) to use as a good example of a pre-generated character, or an example of how to use the rules to create the hero you want. These will often break out from traditional sword & sorcery stereotypes, and will usually be rooted in SotS’s city of Eversink, where the goddess of civilization and commerce holds sway.

Sentinel

Sister Claris, Inquisitor of Denari

Cynical, stubborn, plain, righteous, proud, probably disappointed in you

Drives (what is best in life?): Addressing the wicked and vainglorious; changing the world; exalting your friends

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3 to 6 (shield), Armor 2 (coin armor), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (high standards), Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 10: Damage Modifier +1 (guilt)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 5: Damage Modifier +1 (flail)

Investigative abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Taunt 2, Trustworthy 1; Felonious Intent 2, Laws & Traditions 1, Spirit Sight 1, Vigilance 1

Allegiances: Ally: Church of Denari 2; Enemy: Sorcerous Cabals 1

General abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 3, Preparedness 5, Stealth 2, Sway 10 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 5

Gear: Round shield with the heraldry of Denari; collection of astonishingly good tea; badge of authority; official letter from the Lord High Inquisitor assigning you to independent investigation; shining silver armor made partially of coins; your grandmother’s flail (Damage Modifier +1); Holy book of tax laws and prayer; keys to your mostly-empty room in the church dormitories; painting of you with your adventuring friends; a bright and shining holy coin

Design Notes: Don’t call the inquisitor a lonely and sour stick-in-the-mud. She is, mind you, but she’d look at you with disappointment in her eyes. Claris is a sentinel of the church, tasked with seeking out law-breaking sorcerers and their corruption. She’s hard to hit (especially when she hides behind her shield, although this penalizes her other actions), stubborn, and experienced at guilting her quarry into surrendering. Her capabilities as a sentinel are diversified, with a focus on detecting mischief, and she’s superb at social interaction. Just don’t expect her to be charming.

Sorcerer

Exorius of the Inner Eye, sorcerer, master of time and space

Pretentious, amused, spoiled, covetous

Drives (what is best in life?): Revealing your true power; having others indebted to you; being a key part of important events

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 1 (entropy), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (prescience), Morale 10

Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 10 vs. Health: Damage Modifier +1 (aging)

Offense – Sway: Sway 3: Damage Modifier +1 (bombastic)

Investigative abilities: Command 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1; Corruption 5, Forgotten Lore 1, Prophecy 2 (talking to your future self)

Allegiances: Ally: Sorcerous Cabal 2; Enemy: Church of Denari 1

General abilities: Athletics 5, Bind Wounds 2, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 2, Sorcery 10 (Blast), Sway 3

Sorcerous Spheres: Aging, Art, Decay/Entropy, Mirrors, Transportation

Gear: Shimmering robes that always look new; a pouch that leads to the pocket of a differently-aged version of yourself; dismissible mirrors that circle you and slowly spin, each showing a different time and place; throne that appears whenever you wish to sit; ever-present loneliness; several framed paintings with sorcerously-imprisoned enemies trapped within them; the worry of never being quite relevant enough; a key tucked inside an old, poorly-written letter from your late mother, addressed to your real name of Cosimo

Design Notes: Ever suffered from imposter’s syndrome? Yeah, so does Exorious.

Inspired originally by Ningauble of the Seven Eyes in Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Exorious is a spectacularly powerful sorcerer, and he makes sure people know it. None of this whole “skulking around in the shadows” nonsense; he’s a sorcerer’s sorcerer, and he just makes sure never to let Corruption slip into the world when he is within Eversink’s city limits. Note how many of his signature gear simply explains his abilities; the pouch to a future or past self gives him an excuse for Preparedness, for instance, and the magically rotating mirrors are nothing more than a showy and ostentatious way to use his Prophecy.

Thief

Vincenzo, town crier (and hereditary King of Eversink?)

Friendly, inquisitive, helpful, polite, honest

Drives (what is best in life?): Staying alive; spreading the truth; protecting your friends

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 0 (threadbare clothes), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (incredulous), Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 12: Damage Modifier +1 (convincing)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 1: Damage Modifier +0 (unarmed)

Investigative abilities: Charm 1, Command 2, Liar’s Tell 1, Servility 2, Trustworthy 1; City’s Secrets 1, Scurrilous Rumors 3

Allegiances: Ally: Commoners 2; Enemy: Triskadane 1

General abilities: Athletics 4, Bind Wounds 4, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 1, Sway 12 (Play to the Crowd), Warfare 1

Gear: Clean but thread-bare clothing; list of today’s stories to announce; a daily route through The Tangle; a small bag of coins; a group of Royalist nut-jobs who keep claiming your great-great-grandmother was Queen of Eversink; an invitation to “meet your destiny (i.e. “commit treason”) that you’re studiously ignoring; a really annoying birthmark you try not to think about; a warm and much-loved hovel; a true bounty of trusted friends

Design Notes: Vincenzo is an unusual thief. By setting him up as a friendly and mild-mannered town crier (with a large amount of Scurrilous Rumors) we give him an excuse to be unusually convincing. He lacks classic thief skills such as Burglary and Stealth, but Vincenzo knows almost everything that’s happening in the city, and if he doesn’t he knows someone who does. We make sure this doesn’t get boring by establishing that Vincenzo is also technically the heir to the crown, which doesn’t help him at all because Eversink hasn’t had a monarchy in five generations. Vincenzo is a nice and simple hero at the center of people wanting to manipulate him, and that’s bound to make him fun to play.

For anyone who’s a fan of the TV show Galavant, we picture Vincenzo as played by Darren Evans, the same actor who plays Chef.

Warrior

Foyle, Professional Monster Hunter

Pessimist, cheery, planner, thorough, insightful, pious, proud

Drives (what is best in life?): Eradicating the inhuman; a great plan; a narrow escape

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4 to 7 (dented great shield), Armor 2 (heavily scarred chainmail), Health 10

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (focus), Morale 8

Offense – Sway: Sway 5: Damage Modifier +1 (prayer)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8: Damage Modifier +1 (Trial, ancient battleaxe)

Investigative abilities: Taunt 1, Trustworthy 1; Know Monstrosities 3, Leechcraft 1, Prophecy 1, Spot Frailty 2, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Allies: Church of Denari 1, Monstrosities 1; Enemy: Monstrosities 1

General abilities: Athletics 8 (Dodge), Bind Wounds 4, Preparedness 4, Sway 6, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Gear: New but heavily scarred chainmail (Armor 2, Swim penalty -4); new but badly dented great shield (+0 to +3 for Hit Threshold); Trial, an ancient battleaxe once belonging to your grandfather (Damage Modifier +1); the resigned annoyance that no one ever wants to believe you; two dozen conspiracy theories about monsters in Eversink, all true; a depressing lack of close friends who are human; a deep and abiding faith

Design Notes: Foyle has a few cross-profession Investigative abilities that give him prophetic hunches and a knowledge of disease and poison. He’s a monster-hunter in a city where the most dangerous predator is usually human, and that means that most people aren’t quite sure what to do with him. Foyle is actually friends with a handful of monstrosities he hasn’t tried to destroy (as per his Allegiances), and he’s one of the few people with access to the inhuman demimonde that exists in Eversink but which no one in authority cares to admit to. One thing is certain: Foyle notices the mental and physical weaknesses in everyone he meets, and he’s happy to exploit that if it gains him an edge in combat.


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, to be published in 2020. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

 

pencils by Aaron McConnell

text by Julian Kuleck

Why let spellcasters have all the fun? This variant rule for the 13th Age RPG expands the ritual rules to those don’t wield magic, giving them an option to use their backgrounds in fantastical fashion.

Pushing a castle gate with strength alone, deducing a culprit from a footprint, foiling a massive army with a brilliant gambit—these are mighty deeds. This variant mechanic allows PCs to take on a more grandiose role than in many F20 games, allowing them to perform the feats of mythological heroes. Exactly how far you want to take this variant rule is up to your group, and it’s best to establish what you’re aiming for. While pulling up a castle portcullis with strength alone is one thing, it’ll be up to you if redirecting a river is over the line.

Mighty deeds work similarly to rituals (13A pgs. 192-193). But where rituals draw flavor from the spell sacrificed to cast them, deeds are influenced by the backgrounds of the character performing them. “Ascendant of the Seventh Mountain” could fit mighty deeds relating to climbing or awareness of the Seventh Mountain’s region, for example. “The Forbidden Librarian” would relate to knowing things that should never be known. A character needs to take an adventurer-tier feat to perform mighty deeds, and they cost recoveries to perform.

Exactly what constitutes a mighty deed can be vague, but if it seems outside of the realm of mildly exaggerated (i.e. action movie) human capability, it’s probably a mighty deed rather than a normal background check. There isn’t a precise line, and individual GMs will have to assess what requires a mighty deed and what doesn’t. But to take our Ascendant of the Seventh Mountain, free climbing a mountain or being aware of likely ambush points would just be a normal skill check. However, ascending at the pace of a run, leaping across a massive gorge, or being aware of enemy presences on your mountain (sight unseen) would be a mighty deed.

Mighty deeds aren’t as open-ended as rituals. They’re tied more tightly to backgrounds, serving as exaggerations of a character’s existing abilities and skill. In turn, they tend to have lesser requirements than rituals, as the Ascendant isn’t going to have to collect the eyelash of a medusa to make their way up a mountain. But they still often require groundwork. A tactician’s trick to hold off a skeletal army could require time to devise a plan, plant traps, etc. Even leaping up a mountain might take a moment to focus or warm up.

To perform a mighty deed:

  • Declare the background relating to your mighty deed.
  • Tell the GM what you’re trying to accomplish. If a deed requires groundwork, this can become a mini-adventure or an encounter if the GM or players wish. The GM should declare how many recoveries it should take. This is typically just 1 recovery, but it may take 2 or even 3 if the feat is particularly amazing. In most cases, a deed that simply advances the heroes on the adventure would require a single recovery. Deeds that could change the course of a story or plot would take two recoveries. Finally, deeds that impact the setting (like the aforementioned river redirection) would be three recoveries.
  • Spend 1d4 rounds / minutes / quarter-hours performing the deed. Like with rituals, the PC must be wholly focused and can’t perform other attacks without aborting the deed. (But some deeds may count as attacks; see below.) Similarly, falling unconscious and some status effects may raise the DC or negate the attempt. For example, being on fire would probably it more difficult to complete a song to sway the heart of a vengeful ghost. But maybe not; it depends on the ghost!
  • Make a skill check using the declared background and an ability score determined by the GM, using standard DC targets based on the tier and effect.

Determining results: The outcome is guided by the background chosen, though elements like class or the One Unique Thing might play in as well. A commander could stop an army with a clever ploy, while a barbarian might shout an army into stopping. Like rituals, mighty deeds don’t need to be repeatable in every circumstance—they’re supposed to be the exception to normal skill checks, not the routine. The “rule of cool” applies here, and if a mighty deed stops being interesting, gamemasters should encourage players to innovate with more grandiose effects.

Failing forward: Just like with normal skill checks, mighty deeds fail forward. However, unlike normal skill checks, mighty deeds tend to function by default but create consequences. The Ascendant leaping across a gorge might send rocks tumbling down, alerting creatures or enemies to the party’s presence. The Forbidden Librarian might discover a tidbit of lore in a dream, but the mental strain gives them a temporary quirk. However, recoveries remain expended even on a failure.

Deeds during battles: Mighty deeds are typically used outside of combat, but there are circumstances where it’s necessary conceptually. For example, it’s hard to imagine knocking over a wall on a group of goblins would be harmless! Such deeds are adjudicated like the rogue’s Swashbuckling talent (13A pg. 128), though less comparatively reliable due to the time, cost, and roll involved. Some might even count as attacks, inflict a status effect, or both. Gamemasters should consider the time and cost involved in a deed to determine their effect.

Summary: Mighty deeds exist to expand a PC’s skill checks in a free-form and dramatic fashion, and provide new creative avenues for players. Don’t ever use them to punish characters with time and costs simply for trying difficult things—if a skill check seems on the verge of being a mighty deed, it’s better to be cautious and let them perform a normal skill check instead.

 

General Feats

These feats are available to any character, but are mainly meant for classes that lack access to the Ritual Caster (13A pg. 44) adventurer-tier feat.

Mighty Deeds

Adventurer Tier: You can perform mighty deeds by expending recoveries.

Champion Feat: You gain an additional 2 recoveries that may only be expended to perform mighty deeds.

Epic Feat: Gain +5 to any skill check used to perform a mighty deed.

Deeds by Class

The following are additional options for certain classes that have purchased the Mighty Deeds adventurer-tier feat.

Commander Deeds

You may expend a tactic to perform a mighty deed with a cost of 1 or 2 recoveries. Just like a spellcaster that expends a spell for a ritual, the tactic should be related to the deed in question.

Barbarian Deeds

When performing a mighty deed with a cost of 1 or 2 recoveries, you may expend your daily use of rage to waive its recovery cost. This must be related to your rage thematically, being likely related to anger or destruction. After the deed is complete, you may roll to recover your rage as if you had used it in battle.

Fighter Deeds

Fighters already benefit from an extra recovery by default, letting them perform mighty deeds more often.

Monk Deeds

You may expend 2 points of ki to replace 1 recovery when performing a mighty deed. Mighty deeds fueled by ki should be related to your martial prowess and self-control.

Paladin Deeds

You may expend 2 uses of smite to replace 1 recovery when performing a mighty deed. Mighty deeds fueled by smite uses will likely have some miracle associated with them, blurring the line between divine magic and personal skill.

Ranger Deeds

Rangers with the Tracker talent may expend their terrain stunt to waive the cost of a mighty deed with a cost of 1 or 2 recoveries that relates to terrain or wilderness.

Rogue Deeds

Rogues with the Swashbuckling talent can expend Momentum to waive the cost of a mighty deed with a cost of 1 or 2 recoveries that relates to being tricky or flamboyant.

 

Everybody’s Special

Or at least all PCs can be! Personally, I give all characters the choice of taking the Mighty Deeds or Ritual Caster (13A pg. 44) adventurer-tier feats in my games for free. Retaining the feat cost could be more appropriate for games where mighty deeds are very unusual or related to grandiose One Unique Things.

 

 

A 1933 teletype machineVirtually every group of player characters in The Wars possesses a boîtenoire, a wireless teletype machine that enables swift communication between the unit and headquarters – and, perhaps, other channels.

Even setting aside any supernatural elements, military communications are a rich source of horror. When encountering someone face-to-face – say, a commanding officer ordering you to advance into the teeth of enemy guns – you can quibble, plead, challenge, or otherwise appeal to one fellow human. A typed message offers no such leeway. All the players have is the brute text, unyielding, as cryptic or as unambiguous as the GM desires. Are the commanding officers coldly cruel, clueless, deranged or actively sadistic? Or have they been taken over by Carcosan horrors? The players can’t tell from the text…

The boîtenoire’s a great way to deliver handouts to the player characters; send them briefing documents or orders as boîte-noire messages. You can even do in-character session write-ups in the form of dispatches sent by the squad in the field.

Getting Technical

The operation of the boîtenoire is simple:  type your message, press send, and off it goes. One key question that the Wars is silent on, however, is the question of addressing – how do you tell the box where to send the message? Some options:

  • Closed Channel: Your boîtenoire only communicates with headquarters. There’s no addressing; it’s fixed when the box is constructed. Maybe headquarters has a master box that can communicate with multiple subsidiary units, or perhaps the devices are constructed in pairs, inextricably entangled with one another.
  • Frequency: A boîtenoire has a frequency selector; send a message, and any boxes set to that frequency receive the message. Does each unit have an assigned frequency? Do enemy boxes work on the same frequencies (requiring coded transmissions – which, of course, in the parlance of boîtenoire operators, are referred to as ‘masks’), or does physics now bow to different national flags? Picking up messages meant for another unit lets the GM hint at horrors elsewhere on the battlefield.
  • Code: Each box has a unique identifier; any message tagged with that code gets delivered to that box and that box alone. Messages cannot be intercepted – but anyone with your code can send you messages, and you have no way to reply or verify their identity unless they include their code in the message. What form does this code take – a string of digits? A passphrase? A cryptic sigil?
  • Addressed: For something more overtly weird and surreal, the boîtenoire works like a post office run by unseen angels. You literally address your message like a conventional letter (“Room 239, Hotel Splendide, Rue Jaune, Arles”), and if there’s a boîtenoire there, it gets the message; otherwise, it’s lost in the ether. While in the field, units must find semi-valid postal addresses to receive messages. (“Quick! What’s the address of that bombed-out hovel?”)
  • Desire: The box just… works. Enter a message, and it’ll be delivered to headquarters, or to the squad in the next valley, or to the spotter dragonfly circling overhead.

Getting Scary

For more overt supernatural weirdness:

  • Messages Out Of Time: In my campaign, the first boîte-noire showed up in Paris, as a gift to the characters from their unwanted new patron Cassilda. She communicated with them through the box – but they also got a bunch of meaningless messages about troop movements and artillery bombardments which made no sense to them at the time. Later, in the Wars, I intended to reuse those messages as transmissions to the second set of player characters. Messages from the future can hint at dire fates or give the players a chance to avert some catastrophe. (If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could even take the conceit of the Armitage Files and feed it through a boîtenoire.)
  • Messages From The Dead: From the classic “the guy in the other trench we’ve been talking to all session – he was killed in action a year ago” to using the machine to conduct seances, there’s a lovely creepiness to early telecommunications. Did Thomas Edison invent the boîtenoire through his research? Might the player characters pick up unsent letters from their Paris incarnations?
  • Messages From Beyond: Of course, any Carcosan technology falls under the dread rule of the Yellow King. How can the players trust what they receive from the box? What happens if the boîtenoire clatters, and the message begins: STRANGE IS THE NIGHT WHERE BLACK STARS RISE, AND STRANGE MOONS CIRCLE THROUGH THE SKIES…

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.

Wade Rockett 13th Age designer logo“The world blew up in a thousand atomic fireballs.” – Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards (1977)

“Books (including tomes, librams and manuals), artifacts, and relics are of ancient manufacture, possibly from superior human or demi-human technology, perhaps of divine origin; thus books, artifacts, and relics cannot be made by players and come only from the Dungeon Master.” – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979)

“Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn. A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery!”Thundarr the Barbarian (1980)

There’s a campaign I’d love to run someday that dives joyfully into the implications of an idea that’s been around since the beginning of the tabletop fantasy roleplaying hobby: that the characters explore and have adventures in a post-apocalyptic world built atop the ruins of long dead, highly advanced civilizations. The idea originated long before Gary Gygax, of course—his inspirations included M.A.R Barker’s world of Tékumel and Jack Vance’s Dying Earth—and is expressed today in RPGs such as Numenera from Monte Cook Games.

Post-apocalyptic adventure is already baked into 13th Age: the default setting has 12 previous ages, after all. But the default vibe is fantasy with bits of science fiction here and there, rather than the science fantasy campaign I’m imagining. So, how would I give 13th Age a strong “swords, super-science, and sorcery” feeling?

Here’s how I’d think about a post-apocalyptic science fantasy campaign, one that I’ll refer to in this post as Gamma Draconis.

The World

  • The world is old, and haunted by the ruins, relics, and memory of long-dead “Ancients”.
  • Many of the civilizations of the Ancients were incredibly advanced technologically, even by our standards.
  • The people of this world live amid the devastation of a global catastrophe that ended the most recent of the great civilizations hundreds or thousands of years ago.
  • The world feels weird: the sky is a strange color, the weather is dangerous and wildly unpredictable, and a lot of things are trying to kill you.
  • Monsters and humanoids are the result of genetic engineering, interplanetary travel, mutation, and extraterrestrial invasion.
  • The player characters are heroes who represent hope amid the tragedy and horror of this world.
  • Technology ranges from Stone Age (isolated wildlands dwellers, nomads of the irradiated wastes) to Iron Age (the largest and most prosperous cities).
  • People also make use of technology and magic which was created long ago, but which they no longer understand.
  • No distinction is made between science and magic; the two are ultimately indistinguishable.

The Icons

There are many options for icons in my imagined Gamma Draconis campaign. I’m drawn to the idea of using the icons in the 7 Icon Campaign from 13th Age Monthly adjusted to reflect a post-apocalyptic tone, and the mix of magic and far-future technology:

The Deathless Queen: A combination of the Diabolist and the Lich King, she rules a subterranean realm of the undead: once-living humanoids animated by technology and dark wizardry She has allied herself with malevolent beings known as demons, whose catastrophic arrival via portals (“hellholes”) from the dimension known as the Abyss destroyed the last great human civilization. The living in her realm endure her reign in terror and numb despair, or hope for the immortality that she alone can grant.

The Engineer: A combination of the Dwarf King and the Crusader, the Engineer sends his people out all over the world to slay demons and undead, and bring the ancient technology they guard back to the citadel of Forge to be studied and mastered.

I might give dwarf PCs, and/or PCs who have a relationship with the Engineer, the option to spend Background points on “Engineer”. This Background adds a bonus to figuring out relics, and a 5-point Engineer can try to repair or recharge broken or depleted relics.

The Invincible Emperor: A villainous merger of the Emperor and the Great Gold Wyrm, this cruel, decadent tyrant—an immortal being once human, now almost completely dragonic—rules the Dragon Empire from his throne in the Golden Citadel. His dragon-riding paladins enforce his will and crush his enemies.

The Hierophant: A combination of the Priestess and the Archmage, she is actually an ancient artificial intelligence that resides within the Cathedral—a massive structure that towers over Horizon, City of Wonders—where she is tended by her arcanite servants. She grants heroic clerics and wizards a portion of her power to help aid and protect the helpless. Her wards prevent demons and undead from ravaging across the land, for now.

The Three in Shadow: The slithering reptilian powers known as the Sorcerer Queen (the Blue), the Prince of Shadows (the Black), and the Great Beast (the Red) each prey on civilization in their own way, but are united in a powerful bond. For the desperate and downtrodden, their aid can be welcome—though it always comes with a hidden agenda.

The Warlord: Replacing the Orc Lord, the Warlord unites the creatures of the savage wastelands under his banner, and dreams of sitting on the Emperor’s golden throne. He might be a heroic rebel, or a Mad Max: Fury Road style villain—or something more abbiguous.

The Wild Queen: This combination of the Elf Queen and the High Druid is the soul of those wild, green places where beasts, trees, and elves dwell. Her elves embody three sorts of wild things: wildlife (wood elves), the wild cosmos (high elves), and the inner wild (drow).

Available PC Races

Any race could be in this campaign, either explained as mutations or genetic engineering, or simply allowed to be with no reason given—like everything else in this world they began sometime in the distant and mysterious past, and survive into the present. But here are the ones that feel right to me:

Human: unchanged.

Arcanite: Taken from the Book of Ages, these post-human servants of the Hierophant have been transformed by ongoing exposure to her arcane power. They look mostly human, but have odd cosmetic changes that mark them as something unusual—skin like polished silver, gemstones embedded in the face, glowing runes instead of eyes, and so on.

Beastblooded: Also from the Book of Ages, this race fills the role of part-human, part-beast people found in so many works of this genre.

Dwarf: The Engineer’s people. They might have originated in a long-ago age as an offshoot of humanity genetically engineered to operate in harsh environmental conditions.

Elf: Make them strange, and a little scary.

Forgeborn: The dwarves have figured out how to cobble together and reactivate ancient constructs from the parts they’ve found. Some are mindless machines; but others turn out to be, well, people.

Half-Elf: I might call them “elf-touched” or “Wild-touched” and have them be born to human parents in proximity to the Wild.

Lizardman: From Book of Ages. Monstrous characters who are extremely good at fighting are an excellent fit for this campaign! Dragonics and half-orcs definitely work, but I see a lot of potential in lizardfolk as the descendants of reptilian alien conquerors. Plus, I like their frenzy power—and the Epic tier feat that lets them move across water, up walls, and on ceilings makes them extra weird.

Space Fleet Explorer: From Book of Ages, these are stranded travelers from another universe who live in the hidden village of Commandule near Stardock. I would permit them as PCs very, very rarely because they actually understand the world they’re trapped in, and the items they encounter. I can see how it could be fun to have a character in the group who can say, “I think this is some kind of supercomputer,” but you miss out on the fun of Iron Age heroes trying to figure out a teleporter through trial and error.

Available PC Classes

I see no problem with including all of the classes from the 13th Age books published by Pelgrane Press, with any magic powers being the result of incredibly advanced technology or mutation (see below). I’m sure a lot of third-party classes also fit—some maybe exceptionally well.

Magic Items: Relics of the Forgotten Past

Long, long ago, the Ancients created wondrous items that can still be scavenged from ruins and wastelands. The knowledge of how to create these items—or even maintain and repair those that survived—is now lost, perhaps forever. It’s possible that people today use them in ways they were never intended: maybe the metal staff that fires a beam of killing light was originally some kind of cutting tool.

True Magic Items

In Gamma Draconis, “true magic items” are incredibly sophisticated relics that are virtually indestructible, and house powerful AIs capable of interfacing telepathically with those who are attuned to them. These relics form a network with other relics attuned to the same person. Perhaps the Ancients knew how to wield an unlimited number of relics, but in this post-apocalyptic world PCs are limited to a number of relics equal to their level. Go above that number and the telepathic AI network becomes so powerful they override the wielder’s own will and take control. Once a sufficient number of relics have been disconnected from the network, the user returns to normal. (Yes, this is identical to the game’s chakra system, just worded differently!)

One-Use Items

Other relics of past ages can only be used once, whether by design, degradation, or because nobody really understands how to properly use them. Potions, oils, and runes become wholly mysterious substances that take effect when ingested or applied to armor or weapons. Items such as the Mask of Face-swapping, Lighting Quagmire, and Featherlight Skirt become ancient devices activated by voice or touch. I would take a lot of these from the lists of consumable items in Book of Loot and Loot Harder for these relics.

Limited-Use Items

Depending on the kind of campaign you want to run, there could be a third type of relic between the (almost) indestructible true magic items, and one-use consumables. These relics degrade with use until they become junk—though the heroes might be able to find a powerful wizard/technologist who’s capable of repairing or recharging them, or scavenge a new power source from a ruin.

Here are three options to handle relic degradation mechanically:

Charges: When the heroes find a relic, a player rolls to see how many uses it has left. The GM assigns a die to the relic based on how well it’s been preserved, from 1d4 to 1d20. The relic has a number of uses equal to the result of the roll, and the player using it keeps track.

Escalation Roll: The method comes from the Book of Ages for 13th Age. After each battle, roll a d20; if the result is equal to or lower than the value of the escalation die at the end of the battle, the relic is broken, burned out, or otherwise permanently rendered useless.

Durability Roll: This method is adapted from Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, published by Gallant Knight Games. The GM assigns the relic a Durability score from 1 to 5, with 5 representing a fully charged and functional relic. When the GM calls for a Durability Roll, the player rolls a d6 and compares the result to that score. On a result of less than or equal to that number, the item doesn’t deteriorate with use. A result higher than the Durability score means the relic’s Durability is reduced by 1. Once a relic’s Durability score reaches zero, it is unusable. How often the GM calls for Durability Rolls depends on how unforgiving they want their setting to be, ranging from once per use to once per adventure.

Spellcasting

If “magic” items are actually advanced technology, how do you account for spellcasting? Any or all of these might be sources of spellcasting power in a science fantasy campaign:

Icons: Elevate the icons to near-godlike beings enhanced by ancient technology, mutation, or both, and have them bestow a portion of their power on certain followers, allies, and agents.

Alien gods and demons: Spellcasters are in contact with immensely powerful, inscrutable being from other dimensions of reality, which this benighted age calls gods and demons. Invoking the names of these beings enables you to wrap reality to your will.

Mutation: Some are born with special abilities which they can learn to channel to wondrous and devastating effect. There might be remote villages that consist entirely of such people, or they might be born seemingly at random from otherwise unremarkable parents.

Technology: The ancients left behind relics that can permanently change those who use them: substances that rewrite DNA, scrolls that reconfigure the brain, and microscopic nanotechnology that can be controlled and commanded by those who have learned the secret.

Invisible servitors: “Spells” are effects produced by near-omnipotent invisible beings whom the caster has learned to command or persuade. They could be other-dimensional creatures, energy constructs created by the ancients, powerful machines buried deep within the earth that can turn thought into reality (see the machines of the Krell in the movie Forbidden Planet), or something entirely different and surprising.

Monsters

Honestly, pretty much anything goes here. I would probably reskin monsters from mythology to feel more alien—reptilian centaurs, redcaps that are murderous psionic mutants, ogre magi reinterpreted as other-dimensional aliens (which they pretty much already are), and so on.

What Else?

If you’ve run anything like this, or have other ideas, I hope you’ll share them in the 13th Age Facebook group or on the Pelgrane Press Discord. (If you aren’t on the Discord, you can get an Invite link by dropping us a line at support@pelgranepress.com and asking for one.)

“Wade Says” designer symbol by Regina Legaspi

Art from The Dying Earth Revivification Folio by Ralph Horsley and Jérôme Huguenin


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.

Building on fond memories of other random generators, what might a random Trail of Cthulhu adventure generator look like? The tables below generate a highly random Trail mystery. As with all random generators, the goal is to prompt the Keeper’s creativity in connecting disparate elements – don’t expect coherence from random rolls alone!

Adventure Hook (d12)

Why do the investigators get involved? (You can also use this as a way to determine the theme or atmosphere of the adventure if you’re not using pregenerated characters.)

  1. Adventure
  2. Arrogance
  3. Antiquarianism
  4. Artistic Sensitivity
  5. Bad Luck
  6. Curiosity
  7. Duty
  8. In the Blood
  9. Revenge
  10. Scholarship
  11. Sudden Shock
  12. Thirst For Knowledge

(The drives Ennui and Follower aren’t used in the list above.)

Location (d20)

Where does the adventure take place? The somewhat eclectic list of suggestions below is based on the locations discussed in the Trail of Cthulhu rulebook.)

  1. United States – Rural
  2. United States – Small Town
  3. United States – Urban
  4. United States – Lovecraft Country
  5. Abyssinia/ Belgian Congo
  6. Antarctica
  7. Brazil
  8. Burma
  9. Egypt
  10. Germany
  11. Greenland
  12. Haiti
  13. Mongolia
  14. Peru
  15. Rumania
  16. Saudi Arabia
  17. Soviet Union
  18. Easter Island/South Pacific Mandate
  19. Spain
  20. Thibet

Apparent Situation (roll 1d20)

What are the investigators doing here?

  1. Commercial interest – it’s related to the business of an investigator, like a real estate deal
  2. Investigate disappearance – of a friend, relative or other acquaintance. Or a strange, if the investigator is a police officer, detective or other specialist.
  3. Investigate untimely death – as above.
  4. Investigate cryptic events – lights in the sky, strange footprints, sinister letters.
  5. Investigate criminal activity – bootlegging, extortion, theft
  6. Investigate alleged supernatural event – ghosts, seances, vampire attacks, curses.
  7. Investigate medical mystery – strange disease, sudden madness
  8. Investigate prodigy – fallen meteorite, brilliant scientific discovery
  9. Carry out personal errand – execute a will, return a book borrowed years before
  10. Carry out mundane task – something connected to the investigator’s occupation
  11. Carry out official duties – as above, but a little more formal and significant
  12. Survey site – examine a location in detail, for commercial or archaeological reasons
  13. Report on story of interest – even if the investigator isn’t a reporter, they might be asked to look into a local mystery
  14. Research local history – as a hobby, out of antiquarian interest.
  15. Visit distant cousins or aged relative – haven’t seen them in years, I wonder what they’re up to
  16. Visit old friend or correspondent – as per Henry Akeley in Whisperer in Darkness
  17. Vacation or (recuperation after traumatic experience) – just what you need after that last nightmarish encounter
  18. Vehicle breakdown or travel delay – you’re stuck here for a while
  19. Drawn here by strange dreams – because you’re a Lovecraftian protagonist
  20. Seeking mysterious object or book – that has recently come to light

Horrible Truth (roll 1d12)

What’s really going on?

  1. The Apparent Situation is the true situation
  2. There’s a CULT here, and their activities may be exposed by the Apparent Situation
  3. There once was a CULT here; it’s mostly moribund, but some horror connected to the cult lies buried here and may be exposed by the Apparent Situation
  4. There’s an active and ambitious CULT here; the Apparent Situation is connected to some malign intent of theirs.
  5. There’s a CREATURE here, disinterested in humanity unless provoked.
  6. There’s a CREATURE here, preying on humanity.
  7. There’s a CREATURE here, slumbering – but it may be awoken by the Apparent Situation.
  8. The Apparent Situation was triggered by a TOME OR ARTEFACT
  9. Someone’s using the Mythos for personal gain using a TOME OR ARTEFACT
  10. There’s a GOD OR TITAN slumbering here, and its presence disturbs the world
  11. There’s an ancient ruin or tomb connected to a GOD OR TITAN here, guarded by a (1-3: CULT, 4-6: CREATURE)
  12. There’s a clash between two entities (roll 1d6 for each: 1-3: CULT, 4-5 CREATURE, 6 GOD OR TITAN).

Cult

Roll on the the Cult Size, Cult Status, Cult Intent and Blasphemous Rites tables.

Cult Size (roll d6)

  1. A single sorcerer
  2. A small cabal (a single family, a few locals)
  3. A congregation (two dozen or so)
  4. Endemic in the area (lots of people in the area are involved)
  5. Far-flung (only a small cabal here, but the cult is spread across the world)
  6. Great conspiracy (cult is world-wide and exceedingly well connected)

Cult Status (roll 1d6)

  1. Dead – no cultists left, only their works
  2. In decline – only a few left
  3. Secret – cult is hidden and mostly inactive, only performing rites on rare occasions
  4. Active – cult continues its sinister practices
  5. Recruiting – cult seeks new members
  6. On the verge of triumph! – cult is about to take a major step towards its goal

Cult Intent (roll 1d6)

  1. Worship of CREATURE with offerings, sacrifice
  2. Worship of GOD OR TITAN
  3. Study of TOME OR ARTEFACT
  4. Acquisition of power
  5. Keepers of CREATURE
  6. Summon GOD OR TITAN, end reign of humanity.

 Blasphemous Rites Include (roll 1d10)

  1. Worship outdoors at ritual site
  2. Worship at hidden temple, cave or ruin
  3. Bizarre surgical experiments
  4. Congress with CREATURE
  5. Use of drugs or extracts
  6. Ritual initiation
  7. Travel through dreams or magical gateways
  8. Use of ritual magic
  9. Ritual sacrifice
  10. Transformation

Creature (roll 1d100)

1-2 Bat-Thing
3-4 Bhole
5-6 Black Winged Ones
7-8 Byakhee
9-10 Colour Out of Space
11-15 Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath
16-20 Deep One
21-22 Dimensional Shambler
23-24 Elder Thing
25-26 Flying Polyp
27-28 Elder Thing
29-30 Formless Spawn
31-32 Gaseous Wraiths
33-38 Ghoul
39-40 Gnoph-Keh
41-42 Great Race of Yith
43-44 Hound of Tindalos
45-46 Hunting Horror
47-48 K’n-Yani
49-50 Lemurian
51-52 Lloigor
53-54 Masqut
55-56 Medusa
57-60 Mi-go
61-62 Moon-beast
63-64 Nightgaunt
64-66 Raktajihva
67-68 Rat-Thing
69-70 Sand-Dweller
71-72 Serpent Folk
73-74 Servitor of the Outer Gods
75-76 Shan
77-78 Shantak
79-80 Shoggoth
81-82 Son of Yog-Sothoth
83-84 Space-Eater
85-86 Star Vampire
87-88 Ultraviolet Devourer
89-90 Tcho-Tcho
91-92 Vampirish Vapour
93-94 Wendigo
95-96 Worm-Cultist
97-98 Xothian
99-100 Y’m-bhi

Gods & Titans (roll 1d20)

  1. Azathoth
  2. Chaugnar Faugn
  3. Cthugha
  4. Cthulhu
  5. Dagon
  6. Daoloth
  7. Ghatanothoa
  8. Gol-Goroth
  9. Hastur
  10. Ithaqua
  11. Mordiggan
  12. Mormo
  13. Nodens
  14. Nyarlathotep
  15. Quachil Uttaus
  16. Shub-Niggurath
  17. Tsathoggua
  18. Y’golonac
  19. Yig
  20. Yog-Sothoth

Tomes & Artefacts (roll 1d20)

1. Necronomicon, original
2. Necronomicon, modern
3. Cultes des Goules
4. De Vermis Mysteriis
5. King in Yellow
6. Book of Eibon
7. Pnakotic Manuscripts
8-9 Idol of GOD or TITAN
10-11 Idol of CREATURE
12-13 Relic or Mummy of CREATURE
14. Remains of ancient sorcerer or priest
15. Ancient Stone
16. Dust or Elixir
17. Cryptic Machine
18. Weapon or Tool
19. Enchanted Place
20. Gateway or portal

Structuring the Adventure

As a starting point, assume 3-5 core clues must be discovered and 1-3 hazards must be overcome to complete the investigation.

Random Core Clues

Clue Type

1-2 Academic
3-4 Interpersonal
5-6 Technical

Academic

  1. Accounting
  2. Anthropology
  3. Archaeology
  4. Architecture
  5. Art History
  6. Biology
  7. Cthulhu Mythos
  8. Cryptography
  9. Geology
  10. History
  11. Languages
  12. Law
  13. Library Use
  14. Medicine
  15. Occult
  16. Physics
  17. Theology
  18. Roll again, but it’s an impossibility
  19. Roll again, but it’s a personal connection
  20. Roll again, but it’s a terrible revelation

An Impossibility: This rock is older than the universe! This painting is moving! This library is carnivorous!

A Personal Connection: Your Medicine can’t tell you anything about this condition – but you do know a retired physician, Doctor Black, who lives nearby. Maybe he can help.

A Terrible Revelation: Oops! I just correlated hitherto disassociated fragments of knowledge. Rookie mistake.

Interpersonal

  1. Assess Honesty
  2. Bargain
  3. Bureaucracy
  4. Cop Talk
  5. Credit Rating
  6. Flattery
  7. Interrogation
  8. Intimidation
  9. Oral History
  10. Reassurance
  11. Streetwise
  12. Roll again, but it attracts the attention of sinister forces

Sinister forces: It’s not wise to ask questions about certain topics.

Technical

  1. Art
  2. Astronomy
  3. Chemistry
  4. Craft
  5. Evidence Collection
  6. Forensics
  7. Locksmith
  8. Outdoorsman
  9. Pharmacy
  10. Photography
  11. Roll again, but it’s an impossibility
  12. Roll again, but it exposes the investigator to something toxic or hazardous

Exposure: You see a strange light as you look through the telescope; you pick the lock, but discover the door’s a twist in space and time…

Random Hazards

  1. Athletics – a chase scene, a physical obstacle
  2. Conceal – a hidden trap
  3. Disguise – you must infiltrate a group
  4. Driving – dangerous conditions or a car chase
  5. Electrical Repair/Mechanical Repair – a piece of equipment is vitally needed
  6. Explosives – it’s the only way to be sure
  7. Filch – you must steal something
  8. Firearms – a combat scene at range!
  9. First Aid – someone’s dying or badly injured
  10. Health – exposed to a toxin
  11. Piloting – we’re on a boat
  12. Riding – we’re on a horse
  13. Stability – keep it together, man!
  14. Scuffling – a combat scene, up close!
  15. Sense Trouble – there’s something out there.
  16. Shadowing – quick, after them!
  17. Stealth – you must infiltrate a place
  18. Weapons – a combat scene, with sharp bits
  19. Roll again twice
  20. It’s a combat scene, with a complication. Roll again for the second ability involved, other than a combat ability. For example, Riding implies a shoot-out on horseback; Stealth implies an assassination attempt.

Putting It All Together

Let’s roll up a random adventure and see what comes of it!

Our initial hook is SCHOLARSHIP, and our location is ANTARCTICA. Clearly, we’re on a scientific expedition – maybe the Starkweather-Moore expedition promised at the end of At The Mountains of Madness. It’s hardly worth rolling an Apparent Situation in this case. The Horrible Truth is that there’s a CREATURE preying on people – specifically, a BLACK WINGED ONE, the assassins of the Cthulhu cult.

Our key clues are: BUREAUCRACY, ART and OUTDOORSMAN, and our random hazards are FILCH and RIDING.

So… the expedition to the Antarctic includes a secret worshipper of Cthulhu. He summons up a Black Winged One to kill other members of the expedition, for he seeks to get to the glacier where Cthulhu slumbers. Bureaucracy reveals that someone infiltrated the expedition under an assumed name, Art (plus Filch) means the investigators steal the cultist’s sketchbook and see his crazed scribblings of a buried god, and Outdoorsman & Riding imply a desperate sleigh-dog chase scene across the frozen wastes!

Another random attempt yields:

ARROGANCE for our hook, SPAIN for our location, VACATION for our Apparent Situation. That sounds like a bunch of idealists charging off to volunteer in the Spanish civil war. The horrible truth is that there’s a clash between two Cults.

The first Cult is a lone sorcerer who’s on the verge of triumph – he seeks to acquire power, and his blasphemous rites include Ritual Initiation.

He’s opposed by a second cult that Endemic in the Area, highly Secret, and worships… hmm. The Tcho-Tcho. Their rites include congress with a creature – rather an involving a second race, let’s assume it’s congress with Tcho-Tcho. Presumably, there’s a connection between the Plateau of Leng and the Meseta Central.

Obviously, if it’s the Spanish civil war, then the two cults are on opposite sides. A Communist sorcerer? Fascist Tcho-tchos? Or the other way around?

Our core clues are INTIMIDATION (Interrogating a prisoner, maybe?), OCCULT and COP TALK; hazards are Piloting and Sense Trouble.

So – the investigators are volunteers on the Republican side. Interrogating a prisoner, they learn of a fascist plot to bomb mountain villages. (Time to do some research on aerial bombardment and air power during the Spanish civil war; Guernica can be a touchstone here). OCCULT discovers the villages are being targeted because of their connection to the Tcho-Tcho cult; the investigators need to use Piloting and a borrowed biplane to shoot one bomber down before it commits the mass sacrifice needed a portal to Leng and the triumph of the Nazi sorcerer behind the bombing plan. Cop Talk and Sense Trouble warn the investigators that their Tcho-Tcho-worshipping allies will turn on them after the fighting’s done, and they should head back to the safely of the lowlands if they hope to survive…


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

We continue to be in the grip of the toughest pandemic of our lifetimes, and we’ve shifted towards a more virtual way of living here in the Pelgrane’s Nest. Find out what’s new and happening in the Pelgrane in the Time of the Corona below, and check out new pre-orders Swords of the Serpentine, Honey & Hot Wax – An Erotic Art Games Anthology PDF, and the 13th Age Book of the Underworld.

New Releases

      • Swords of the Serpentine: The Adventurer’s Edition pre-order – A GUMSHOE sword & sorcery game of daring heroism, sly politics, and bloody savagery, set in a fantasy city rife with skullduggery and death. Pre-order now and get a limited edition colour print map of Eversink.
      • Honey & Hot Wax – An Erotic Art Games Anthology PDF pre-order – A digital-only anthology of games about sex by a diverse group of 10 designers, which will challenge how you think about roleplaying, sexuality, and human relationships.
      • Book of the Underworld pre-order– Pre-order this campaign setting for 13th Age, revealing the secrets of the Dragon Empire’s Underworld, and get the final PDF now.
      • Book of the Underworld PDF – A campaign setting for 13th Age, revealing the secrets of the Dragon Empire’s Underworld.
      • The Yellow King RPG – Four full-colour 6″ x 9″ hardback books in a slipcase, with accompanying GM screen. The dread horror of Robert Chambers’ King in Yellow stories take RPG form, confronting your players with an epic journey across four Carcosan-drenched time periods.
      • The Yellow King RPG Basic Shock & Injury decks – These optional accessories allow The Yellow King Roleplaying Game GMs to quickly grab and dish out Shock and Injury cards during face-to-face play.
      • Absinthe in Carcosa – An 8.5″ x 11″, full-colour hardback, this indispensable city guide for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is yoked together from travelogues, newspapers, and the disquieting ephemera of the occult tradition.
      • The Missing and the Lost – A thrilling, thought-provoking novel, which can be read as a mystery of a dread-drenched alternate reality, or use it as a model for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game when you play its Aftermath setting.
      • Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition – Pre-order the updated and expanded mutant-powered police procedural GUMSHOE game, and get the final PDF now.
      • Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition PDF – Pre-order the updated and expanded mutant-powered police procedural GUMSHOE game, and get the final PDF now.
      • Even Death Can Die – Pre-order this adventure collection for Cthulhu Confidential and get the pre-edit draft PDF now.

Articles

13th Age

Previous Entries