The Nest is aflurry this month with today’s news of the 2019 ENnie Award nominations. It is always an honour to be nominated by the hard-working judging team, and this year in particular we’re sharing the nomination field with an impressive breadth of games and industry colleagues. We’ve been nominated in four categories:

Beloved Pelgranistas Ken & Robin have also been nominated in the Best Podcast category, for Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

Voting for Fan Favourite Best Publisher is open now, and we’d be grateful if you would consider voting for us – click on this link to go to the voting page. Voting for the 2019 ENnies will open next Wednesday, July 10th.

NEW! Pelgrane Press merchandise

Over the years, a number of people have asked if they can get Pelgrane t-shirts and other merchandise, and it’s been in the works for a while. This month, we’re launching a pop-up merchandise store, with items from t-shirts, hoodies, and phone cases to mugs, wall art, and stickers. You can access the Pelgrane merchandise store here. It’s still in its infancy, and designer Will Hindmarch is individually hand-selecting what is available in each category. Our plan, if there’s sufficient demand, is to have a core range, with seasonal stock available for a few months at a time, so if there’s anything you’d love to see in there let us know in the comments!

Work in progress update: Night’s Black Agents: GM Screen & Resource Guide

These have been printed, and are on their way across the seas to our US & UK fulfilment centres. Our printers have told us it will arrive at both locations around July 15th, so we’ll be sending out an email to all pre-orderers in the next few weeks to confirm your shipping addresses, and check whether you’d like it shipped to you, or if you’d prefer to pick up your copy at Gen Con to save on shipping.

Work in progress update: Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops

Layout of this is now finished, and the final PDF is available to all pre-orderers – download it now from your Pelgrane Press bookshelf. We’re currently trying to find a printer who would be able to print and ship these this month – if we can, we’ll be sending out an email to all pre-orderers in the next few weeks to confirm your shipping addresses, and check whether you’d like it shipped to you, or if you’d prefer to pick up your copy at Gen Con to save on shipping.

Work in progress update: Shards of the Broken Sky

This is also at the mercy of the printers, who are claiming it will be shipping to our mail order distribution warehouses on July 15th. We’ll be emailing pre-orderers in the next few weeks to confirm your shipping addresses. The final PDF is available to all pre-orderers – download it now from your Pelgrane Press bookshelf.

Work in progress update: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

Jen McCleary, layout artist extraordinaire, has had to redo the layout of this, as the first version was unusable. She’s sent through a second draft now, which is very close to completion; we’re hoping to get this to the printers in mid-July, and to start shipping out to pre-orderers towards the end of August. We should have the final PDF ready for pre-orderers by mid-July.

Work in progress update: The Yellow King RPG

We’ve just posted an update for Kickstarter backers, the TL;DR of which was that our print liaison left the company suddenly for mental health reasons, and so we’ve had to rescue our (printed) Yellow King RPG books from the dusty corner of the warehouse they were abandoned to on his departure. The books are all printed, and we’ve made contact with the slipcase printer; they’re starting work on the slipcases & GM screens now, and estimate they’ll have them finished within a month, and they will then be able to ship out the completed books-in-slipcases to our US & UK fulfilment houses. So at the moment, we’re hoping to be able to start shipping everything to backers in early August, with the pre-orderer books shipping as soon as they’re finished.

In the meantime, anyone who pre-ordered the print books has the following new files on their bookshelf:

  • All Shock, Injury, Goal, Hit and Chit cards, from each of the four YKRPG books, in PNG format. Ideal for sharing with players electronically, for your online games, or pop a couple into a Word document for easy printing before a game.
  • Blank templates for creating your own Shock, Injury, Goal Hit and Chit cards. In GIMP and PSD format.
  • The official YKRPG Shock and Injury decks in PDF format. Robin has chosen 76 Shock cards, and 76 Injury cards, to form the official decks.
  • The 2019 Free RPG Day book
  • The YKRPG Suite – Official music for the Yellow King RPG

Pelgranes in the Wild!! part 3 – Gen Con, booth #1417

We’re less than a month (aaaaaaargh!) from Gen Con, and preparations for our biggest show of the year are frantically underway in the Nest. I’ll be on the Pelgrane booth for the weekend along with Simon, Ken, Robin, Rob Heinsoo, Sadhbh and (hopefully!) our as-yet-unnamed Admin Assistant. You can also spot Pelgranes in the wild at the ENnie Awards ceremony on Friday night, and at our seminars:

  • Gaming with the King in Yellow Robin D. Laws, Sarah Saltiel & John Harness bring the reality-bending horror of Robert W Chambers to your table. Our mavens of terror are here to tear off their pallid masks and reveal the shattering secrets of the Hyades. Thursday 1st August 16:00 -17:00 Stadium : Meeting Rm 8
  • 13th Age Monster Workshop Join Rob Heinsoo and seasoned 13th Age designers to build a brand-new monster that takes advantage of the game’s mechanics to deliver some nasty surprises at the table. Friday 2nd August 11:00 – 12:00 Stadium : Meeting Rm 12
  • Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Robin D. Laws & Kenneth Hite talk roleplaying, history, conspiracy, occultism, writing, food, movies & whatever you ask them about in this live edition of their award-winning podcast. Friday 2nd August 13:00-14:00 Stadium : Meeting Rm 8
  • Investigative Roleplaying MasterClass Mystery scenario masters Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws train their magnifying glasses on clue-gathering adventures to reveal the unlikely suspects behind your tabletop woes. Friday 2nd August 17:00-18:00 Westin : Grand Bllrm IV
  • Swords, Spies & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel Join Simon Rogers, Cat Tobin & others from the Pelgrane team for a behind-the-scenes look at what the award-winning UK publisher’s been up to this year, & what they’ve planned for the coming year. Saturday 3rd August 14:00-15:00 Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn A
  • Dramatic Interaction Masterclass Robin D. Laws, Kate Bullock, John Harness and Emily Reinhart teach structures & techniques to turn emotional confrontations between PCs frustrating roadblocks into rich moments of human drama. Saturday 3rd August 16:00-17:00 JW : 202

If you’re going (it’s on in the Indianapolis Convention Centre, from Thursday, August 1st to Sunday, August 5th), be sure to swing by booth #1417 and say hi. You might even be able to pick up a rare Pelgrane GM ribbon or button – if you volunteer to GM one of the games we’re still seeking GMs for (the list is here), you’re guaranteed one of each. Drop us an email at support@pelgranepress.com if you’re available!

Playtesting: The Borellus Connection, revised

We’ve had a number of dropouts for playtesting for the eight adventures in The Fall of DELTA GREEN adventure collection, The Borellus Connection, so we’re putting them back up for playtesting again this month. As a reminder, these adventures can serve as part of a connected campaign, or as stand-alone operations the Handler can drop into the course of an ongoing investigation. So if you’re interested, drop us an email.

 

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It’s the Fourth of July, and to those readers celebrating the declaration of independence of the United States of America, we wish you a happy holiday. To everyone else, happy summer! We’re celebrating some special occasions here, too – as well as having been nominated for four ENnies, we’re launching a pop-up shop, featuring a (currently modest) selection of Pelgrane- and GUMSHOE-branded goodness, which we’ll be extending if it proves popular.

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

Pelgrane Press has a new merchandise store, and soon you’ll be able to buy 13th Age merch there! Hurrah! To celebrate the store’s launch, we’re running a 13th Age t-shirt slogan competition:

  • Email your cleverest, funniest, and/or most badass 13th Age t-shirt slogan ideas to support@pelgranepress.com with the subject line “13th Age t-shirt competition”.
  • Only one entry per person: You can send us as many slogan ideas as you want, but they have to all be in one email.
  • Deadline for entries is 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time (GMT -7) on July 21, 2019
  • Each slogan must be 50 characters or less (not counting spaces).
  • You can submit slogans related to the 13th Age RPG in general, any of the 13 icons in the core book, and the 13th Age Alliance organized play program. Slogans that could be used for any d20-rolling fantasy RPG, not just 13th Age, are much less likely to be chosen as winners. (For example, slogans about traditional character classes and races, classic mechanics such as rolling for initiative, non-living dungeons, the joys of looting treasure, etc.)
  • The actual t-shirt designs only have images and text on the front, but for this contest, you can feel free to send us front-and-back slogans.
  • All entries to this competition become the property of Pelgrane Press.
  • After the July 21st deadline, the judges will evaluate the entries and award prizes as follows:
    • GRAND PRIZE: A $20 credit at the Pelgrane Press merchandise store
    • SECOND PRIZE: A $10 credit at the Pelgrane Press merchandise store
    • THIRD PRIZE: A $5 credit at the Pelgrane Press merchandise store
  • Winners will be announced in the August See Page XX newsletter.

We look forward to seeing your ideas!

 


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.

The nominations for the 2019 ENnie Awards have been released, and we’re delighted to announce that Pelgrane Press has been nominated in four categories:

Beloved Pelgranistas Ken & Robin have also been nominated in the Best Podcast category, for Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

Congratulations to all the nominees! It really is a privilege to be recognised among such an outstanding – and this year in particular, wide variety – of games.

We’d be honoured if you would consider voting for us. Click on this link to vote for your favourites! Voting for the 2019 ENnies will be open until July 21st.

When I asked the 13th Age Facebook group what they’d like me to write about in this month’s column, the first response was, “Sword & Sorcery for 13th Age! Some ideas for tweaks, reductions and hacking.” My initial reaction was, “No freaking way can I turn a game specifically designed to emulate the heroic fantasy genre into a game that emulates the swords & sorcery genre without a LOT of work.” But my brain just wouldn’t let it go. How would I approach such a project if I limited myself purely to tweaks, reductions, and (minimal) hacking?

And so, that’s the topic of this month’s 13th Sage. These are some ideas on how I as a GM would approach such a campaign, based on my experience with the genre. Others might do it differently, and better.

Let’s go!

Wait, what’s swords & sorcery?

Not familiar with S&S? These design guidelines for Swords of the Serpentine do a good job of capturing the essence of the genre. The classic works of fiction you’ll want to refer to are the Conan and Kull stories by Robert E. Howard, the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber, and the Elric of Melnibone stories by Michael Moorcock.

Customize the Dragon Empire and its icons

Given the nature of the challenge, I think setting the campaign anywhere except the Dragon Empire is cheating. I went back to the Book of Ages for ideas on how to make it feel more like a setting for swords & sorcery adventures. Here are some versions of the Dragon Empire it inspired for me:

  • A single, powerful sorcerer-king reigns over a dark Empire composed of small kingdoms and a handful of city-states.
  • Long ago, a deathless sorcerer commanding an army of the living dead conquered half the Dragon Empire. Until they reach Champion tier, characters will go on adventures in the kingdoms of the living, outside of this realm. A lot of bad guys in this campaign would be necromancers, sorcerers seeking to live forever, death priests, and maybe a vampire or two.
  • Under a weak Emperor, the Seven Cities grow in power, splitting the Empire into seven squabbling city-states.
  • A highly cosmopolitan and powerful Dragon Empire opens maritime trade routes with other lands, and pirates band together to prey on this shipping—growing strong enough to challenge the Empire.

Speaking of which, one could create a decent array of swords & sorcery icons by picking and choosing icons from various ages in Book of Ages. I strongly suspect swords & sorcery doesn’t lend itself well to a setting populated by 13 demigodlike icons. I’d limit myself to seven, looking to the 7 Icon Campaign PDF for inspiration and ideas. I would also give them names instead of just titles.

If non-human sentient species are rare or non-existent in this campaign, you might reskin the non-human icons as humans that fill the same archetypal role. For example, the Orc Lord could become “Krahsh-Thukult, Warlord of the East” and the Elf Queen “Elidyr, Queen of Lost Lemuria”. A standard in swords & sorcery is that power, especially magical power, is innately dangerous and corrupting. As a result, only one or two icons might be heroic. Most will be ambiguous or villainous, and all of them are a hazard to adventurers’ health. (Just consider how much trouble allegedly friendly gods and wizards cause Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.)

There’s considerable cross-pollination between swords & sorcery and Weird Fiction, and two immensely talented designers have proposed a Dragon Empire where the icons are drawn from the writings of Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft. If you’re interested in taking 13th Age in a swords & sorcery direction, definitely read Kenneth Hite’s article “Call of Chicago: Re-skinning, Genre-Drifting, and Triskaidekasizing” and Ruth Kitchin Tillman’s Eldritch Icons project.

PCs are always, or almost always, humans

Demi-human player characters will probably be rare (or even non-existent), so I’d use the mechanic of human cultural traits found in 13th Age Glorantha to make human PCs more varied.

I might frame demi-humans as being from a certain land. For example, gnomes could be “the people of distant [NAME], who are small of stature and skilled at confounding their enemies in battle.” Elves might be reskinned to be the last remnant of an ancient, mighty civilization that sank beneath the waves, living in seclusion in small numbers and practically a myth now. (See also how Fritz Leiber handles the ghouls of Nehwon. They’re basically human, except for their invisible flesh.)

I’d like to say that there can only be one demi-human PC at most in a group, but I’m not sure how I’d enforce that without feeling like a jerk. So I might disallow them until we’ve been playing for a while, have a better feel for the setting, and want to try something different.

Eliminate or heavily restrict magic-using classes

The use of magic (“sorcery”) is rare in this setting. This is contrary to how most RPGs in the D&D family tree handle magic, so we should figure out an interesting reason for it. Whatever the reason, sorcery in such a campaign will be innately dangerous, unnatural, and corrupting. Here are a few reasons sorcery might be rare in a swords & sorcery 13th Age campaign, several of which could be combined:

  • Sorcery is forbidden by Imperial edict, for any number of very good reasons. (But also because it threatens Imperial power.)
  • Sorcery causes harm (physical, mental, and/or spiritual) to the sorcerer. See the bit about the price of magic below.
  • Sorcery somehow causes harm to the world in the sorcerer’s vicinity. Maybe it’s instantaneous, and one or more living things takes damage or sickens or becomes corrupted. Maybe it’s an effect over time, so that the area around a sorcerer’s lair gradually becomes a corrupted, diseased, underpopulated wasteland.
  • Sorcery is the creation of an ancient, malevolent, intelligent species and is thus taboo. Good candidates include evil dragons, rakshasas, serpent people
  • Sorcerous power comes from a mighty patron, who will require a terrible price. Dragon Empire icons in the 13th Age who would make good patrons include the Three, the Diabolist, a reskinned Elf Queen in villainous or ambiguous mode, and a reskinned Archmage in villainous or ambiguous mode. We might also include a revised, sinister, Prince of Shadows.

There are no clerics, paladins, or wizards. Rangers won’t cast spells, unless perhaps they have limited access to some kind of nature-themed sorcery (such as the ice magic known to the women in Fafhrd’s clan in The Snow Women.) Druids might work, but their magic would be, again, sinister and dangerous. See how Ken and Ruth handle druids and the deep woods in their articles linked above.

If there are any magic-using PC classes in this campaign, they’d probably be the necromancer from 13 True Ways, and the demonologist from  Book of Demons. These are deeply flawed and unpleasant people who are clearly meddling in things best left alone by mortals. It seems weird not to use a class literally named “sorcerer” in a swords & sorcery game, but the spells from that class honestly don’t feel like the type of magic I see in what’s commonly considered S&S fiction.

Magic: summoning, items, backgrounds, and rituals?

Sorcerers in this genre rarely cast what we think of as “spells” in fantasy RPGs. But summoning a giant serpent, or a fire elemental? Entirely appropriate. Summoning is central to the aforementioned demonologist and necromancer classes; but we could also say, “no magic-using classes, period” and make summoning available to any PC who’s willing to pay the price. You’ll want to use 13 True Ways, Book of Demons, Summoning Spells, and Sorcerer Summoning.

A lot of “sorcery” in this type of fiction relies on what we call “consumable magic items” in the game. I’d make potions, oils, and runes readily available to heroes who know where to find such things. Just…don’t ask who made them, or how.

Want to be able to close a door, blow out a candle, or perform some other normal, minor action using magic? Maybe spend points in a Background called something like “Minor magic” and make a skill roll using Int or Cha.

Want to create a fog that hides your fleet of warships? A storm that lashes your enemy’s forces? A fire that consumes a village? That sounds like ritual magic, something that takes time and costs you something significant. This might only be available to a magic-using class, or it could be available to any PC who has the right knowledge or resources (an ancient scroll, forbidden tome, enchanted amulet, etc.)

Set a terrible price for sorcery

I’ve been talking about prices and costs, so let’s address what that could look like. If it’s a mechanical cost, a PC might spend recoveries or take damage in order to perform minor sorcery—or maybe there’s a chance one of the other PC’s in the group will take the loss. Major workings might require the permanent loss of recoveries or hit points. We could instead impose a narrative cost. For example, the demon you petition for help will take something important from you sometime in the future. Maybe a PC doesn’t know what the price will be, only that it’s something unpleasant and cumulative. The GM could keep track of a PC’s use of sorcery, then at an opportune time, have something awful happen such as an attack hitting an ally  instead.

As mentioned earlier, this also lends itself to an externalized cost: using sorcery hurts other people, and the natural world. Perhaps sorcerers have the choice to either pay the cost themselves or have others pay it, and most of them prefer the second option. I recommend checking out the Corruption rules in Swords of the Serpentine for details on this approach. (That game includes a useful Effect of Corruption on Locations table.)

Another take on the cost of magic worth considering in an “all, or most, magic is summoning magic” approach is an increased likelihood that whatever they summon into the world will break free of their control and do something extremely bad. This could be handled mechanically by hacking the dismissal rules, or narratively by letting summoners know that the more they summon creatures, the more likely it becomes that I, the GM, will decide it’s time to pay the piper.

Make magic items dangerous

I’ve talked about consumable magic items, but what about true magic items, such as magical weapons, cloaks, amulets, and so on? My suggestion: they are all cursed. Every one of them. They’re quite powerful, more powerful than the non-cursed items presented in the books; but they will screw you over somehow. Just ask Elric. Cursed items are introduced to the game in 13 True Ways, and Loot Harder contains several (like the Wizard’s Skull) that would be fantastic for a swords & sorcery game.

I’d give  true magic items a major curse, and let the characters know about the curse along with the item’s powers. That way, they will have to make an interesting choice: take the item and become more powerful, but suffer the effects of the curse? Or reject cursed sorcery, and trust in steel and their wits?

Monsters: natural, unnatural, and aberrant

Who will out heroes fight? I’m thinking that they’ll most often be challenged by foes I’d categorize as “natural”, and less frequently by foes I’d call “unnatural”. Rarest of all are foes I’ll call “aberrant”. Here’s what that looks like:

Natural: “normal” creatures such as humans, apes, wolves, bears, and boars. Especially large and tough animals will usually fall into this category.

Unnatural: creatures such as degenerate beast-men, skeletons, zombies, ghouls, serpent people, and animals that are supernaturally large and deadly or strangely-behaved (see Leiber’s sword-wielding squid in “When the Sea-King’s Away”) due to sorcery or demonic influence. Also, most sorcerers, necromancers, evil priests, and frenzied cultists.

Aberrant: these will probably be the foes PCs face in the climactic battle of the adventure—the sorcerer, priest or necromancer whose power has made them inhuman; the tentacled horror in the forbidden ruins; the giant serpent in the temple’s inner sanctum; the mechanical warrior from a long-ago age. To ensure the element of surprise, I might use the 13th Age DIY rules to convert a lot of monsters from Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos into unnatural or aberrant foes.

For me, the battles in a typical swords & sorcery 13th Age adventure would probably progress in this order: the heroes fight natural foes first, then progress to unnatural foes, and finally face off against aberrant enemies.

That’s all I can think of off the top of my head! I’m sure this column will lead to a lot of discussion in the various 13th Age groups, forums, and subreddits, and I look forward to seeing your ideas.


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.

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It’s convention season again, and we’re dashing around from place to place, delighted to catch up with customers and colleagues in such far-flung destinations as Birmingham, UK and Columbus, OH. If you can’t make it to your local convention, you can pick up our latest releases as they happen here on See Page XX, with the luxuriously tentacled Cthulhu City Limited Edition now available. Getting closer to print now are the pre-orders for the long-awaited 13th Age sandbox campaign Shards of the Broken Sky, and the simultaneously gritty and super-powered police procedural Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition, as well as the pre-orders for the four-panel Director’s Screen and Resource Guideand the solitary Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops

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What is the most you would be willing to pay for a physical RPG corebook?

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NEW! Cthulhu City limited edition

I spent a lot of time with Cthulhu City, and it’s still one of my favourite Trail of Cthulhu settings. Packed full of easter eggs for Lovecraft fans, with a depth of focus on the Lovecraft Country settings, Cthulhu City is a clever inversion of the usual mythos setting. Instead of being the ones with the moral right, and able to depend on support from the police and authorities with their adventuring, PCs trapped in these eldritch streets are underground agitators, resisting against the servitors of the Great Old Ones who entirely control the governmental, economic, and religious spheres.

This month sees the release of the faux-leatherbound limited edition, with Jen McCleary (The Fall of DELTA GREEN)‘s fantastic tentacled-wrapped cover, and a Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan signed bookplate, along with the same, sullen-eyed basalt cyclopean buildings raised by no human hands that riddled the standard edition.

Work in progress update: Shards of the Broken Sky

Jen McCleary has finished the layout of Shards of the Broken Sky, and Rob’s gone through it and added all the “see page XX” references, which are usually one of the last things to be done to a book. We’re doing one final review of the print files, and hoping to send it to the printers by the end of next week.

Work in progress update: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

Mike, the new layout artist we’re working with, has sent through a first draft of the layout, which is a very rough sense of how the final book is going to look. It needs some revisions, so there’ll be a bit of back and forth over the next few weeks as we take it to a print-ready final file.

Other issues update: Free RPG Day

You may have noticed that Pelgrane is now longer on the Free RPG Day page. Sadly, this is because our regular US printer, Thomson-Shore, has gone into liquidation, and their assets have been bought out by another company, and as a result of the internal upheaval, they failed to ship our Free RPG Day books in time for the mass shipment, so we won’t be taking part in Free RPG Day 2019.

We’ve been big supporters of Free RPG Day for a few years, so it’s very disappointing to miss it. We’ve now received the print Free RPG Day books – three weeks too late – so if you have any suggestions for what we could do instead, let us know in the comments!

Team update: we’re hiring!

Mika Talley, who’s been running our Zendesk customer support system, as well as keeping our social media bubbling, left us at the end of last month, so wishing her the best in her new endeavours, we’re now looking for a new Administrative Assistant. As well as managing our customer relationships, our Admin Assistant will also administer our inventory and help with print buying. The full details are here. We appreciate your patience and forgiveness if our support queues run slower than we’d like during the recruitment process.

Convention update: UK Games Expo

Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and I are just back from UK Games Expo, which must be the UK’s largest games convention now by a long shot. We had a great time! It’s considerably bigger than I remember it being – the last time I was there, in 2015, the whole convention took place in the Hilton, unlike the three halls it now occupies. We’re glad to see the convention has changed their mind about the necessity of an anti-harassment policy, and their very quick action, response, and apology to the players involved in an incident on Friday speaks volumes for their dedication to creating a safer space for attendees.

It was great to be able to showcase the mighty tome that is Hideous Creatures to people in person, and also to finally have the print books of The Persephone Extraction. I also brought along the proof copy of the Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen to show pre-orderers. As well as being able to hang out with some of our core customers (thanks Andrew and Matthew!), I got to catch up with esteemed Pelgranistas Steve and Paula Dempsey, as well as Paul and Helen of Cthulhu, who kindly recorded Gareth and I on the Pelgrane booth, chatting about Cthulhu City and Hideous Creatures – you can watch the video here.

Pelgranes in the Wild!! part 2 – Origins Game Fair

And we’re off again, this time to the culinary delights of Columbus, Ohio for the Origins Game Fair. I’ll be on the Pelgrane booth for the weekend; Kenneth Hite and Will Hindmarch will also be in at the show. If you’re going (June 12th – 16th, 2019 in the Greater Columbus Convention Center), swing by the booth we’re sharing with our good buddies Indie Press Revolutions, Bully Pulpit, and Evil Hat (booth #931) and say hello!

Playtesting: The Borellus Connection, revised

We’ve had a number of dropouts for playtesting for the eight adventures in The Fall of DELTA GREEN adventure collection, The Borellus Connection, so we’re putting them back up for playtesting again this month. As a reminder, these adventures can serve as part of a connected campaign, or as stand-alone operations the Handler can drop into the course of an ongoing investigation. So if you’re interested, drop us an email.

An adventure hook for The Esoterrorists, by Adam Gauntlett

Who, or what, killed Larry and Paula Charters aboard the Nautilus Cruise Line ship Festival Allure?

Incident Report

Friday 8th June, Death (suspicious): Larry Charters, found in Ocean View stateroom, apparent suicide (overdose, prescription medication). Death (homicide) Paula Charters, found in Apollo Deck Sports Park 0340 hours, violent assault. Incident passed to local authorities, Bahamas, for further investigation.

This report, with a copy of security footage taken on the night of the incident and other evidence, is forwarded to Ordo Veritatis by an unnamed whistleblower, presumably one of the Festival Allure’s crew. After some initial study, the information is added to OPERATION VENICE BEACH casefile and assigned to the agents for follow-up.

The security footage (video, no audio) shows the approach to the Apollo Sports Deck, 0252 hours to 0259 hours. The sports deck, and its approaches, is off-limits to staff and passengers after 2000 hours, and the doors that lead there have keycard only access exterior, with emergency push-bar exit on the interior side. Judging by the footage, the door used was propped open, which suggests planning.

The footage shows Paula Charters entering the approach at 0252 hours. At that time she shows no panic or alarm. She carries an open bottle of champagne and two glasses, and by her gait and behavior is probably intoxicated. At 0257 she is alerted by an unknown event, possibly a noise, and looks behind her. Whatever she sees causes her to run, and she leaves shot at 0258. At 0259 the feed is cut off.

Initial report from the Bahamian forensics team indicates Paula died from repeated sharp force trauma, chop wounds, delivered by an implement similar to a kitchen cleaver. All such implements found in the Festival Allure’s kitchens have been taken for examination.

Reports from the Festival Allure’s security team suggest the likely avenue of investigation is the husband, a chef in a New Orleans restaurant, who, it is suggested, committed suicide after killing his wife in a drunken rage. No weapon has been found; the security team thinks it was thrown overboard from the couple’s Ocean View stateroom. Core clue, Electronic Surveillance:  if so, there ought to be footage of Larry Charters returning from the Sports Deck to his stateroom after 0259, but there is not.

Finally, there is a brief section of footage shot by persons unknown, taken by a UV smartphone camera. It shows the same section of approach corridor Paula ran down. There are trace signs of some substance that shows up in UV light all along the corridor, as if someone covered in that substance ran down it, touching walls and door handles as they went. There’s not enough here to determine what that substance is.

The agents’ backstory is that they are Federal agents carrying out preliminary investigation to determine whether Larry Charters can be linked to a string of offences in Louisiana and Texas.

Bajan Sharp

The agents may use Cop Talk, or Bureaucracy, to lean on the Bahaman Police via the American Embassy.

Larry suffered bruising indicative of a struggle before he died. It is likely he was force-fed the pills. The pills used were not his prescription nor his wife’s; the pills belong to an Ocean View passenger two staterooms away, who was unaware they were missing.  The injuries done to Paula indicate a left-handed attacker with considerable upper body strength. Larry was right-handed. Both Larry and Paula have trace elements of an unknown substance on their bodies, which can be seen under UV light. The substance has been sent to local labs for testing, but the Bahaman Government is very keen to end the investigation as soon as possible. It doesn’t want to upset Nautilus Cruise Line; tourism dollars are at stake. The Government will brush all this under the rug and ensure the lab ‘loses’ its samples, unless the agents intervene. If saved and sent to the OV for analysis, the report comes back within 24 hours: fungal substance, indicative of Glistening infestation.

Potential ally: Michael Digson, honest cop, wiry, greying, suspicious dark eyes, Athletics 8, Scuffling 6, Surveillance 6.

Security: Deliver The WOW

Guest Security Supervisor Dennis Anand and his team will only cooperate on sufferance; they work for Nautilus, and Nautilus wants this kept out of the media and as far away as possible from the US Federal Government. This is because the Government is considering changes to the Death on the High Seas Act that would be very disadvantageous to cruise lines, and Nautilus doesn’t want to give Federal agents any ammunition that a Congressman or Senator might use to harm them. Agents with Law realize this and can use it to Intimidate Anand. Without this, the security team nod politely and do very little.

Anand and his team stick to the Nautilus-approved story, that Larry killed Paula and then himself. Larry must have fixed things so they could get onto the Sports Deck after hours, probably using a wedge to keep the door open.

Evidence Collection, Cop Talk or similar notices that one of Anand’s team is missing. Security Guard Jennifer Yang is listed sick, though she isn’t in her cabin nor is she in the medical bay. Anand makes any excuse he can to explain away her absence, no matter how absurd. “Oh, you just missed her – she was here a minute ago,” even though there’s no way she could leave the room without the agents seeing her. Yang was the guard who first discovered Paula’s body. She ought to have submitted a written report, but that report is missing, as is all security camera footage for the Sports Deck approach.

Opposition: Dennis Anand, Glistening Slave, Athletics 6, Health 3, Infiltration 4 (increases to 8 with Master Access keycard), Scuffling 6, Shooting 6. Not all Anand’s team are Glistening Slaves, and can be persuaded not to follow his instructions, but only if Anand behaves erratically, or if significant pressure – Reassurance, Intimidation – is applied.

Ready To Take A Chance Again

The agents may try talking to the passengers, particularly those on the Ocean View deck where the Charters’ were staying. Reassurance, Flattery and possibly Flirting work best. Intimidation also works, but the passengers complain to ship staff, who pass on complaints to Security Supervisor Anand.

According to the passengers, the Charters’ were a happy couple who were having a good time. Paula attracted a lot of attention, particularly from one of the bartenders at the Tequila Bar. Larry liked playing on the Sports Deck mini golf course.

The pills used to kill Larry were taken from Fiona Nilsson’s Ocean View suite. She says she saw one of the Tequila Bar’s bartenders hanging around on the Ocean View deck, where he had no business being. She doesn’t know his name.

Tequila Sunrise & Whistleblower

The agents may follow up the bartender angle, or may try tracing Jennifer Yang.

The bartender, Richard ‘Ricky’ Ryan, has a sexual assault record. He’s worked for three different cruise lines and was fired from each, one step ahead of criminal charges. Law knows that cruise lines are quick to share information about criminal or sharp practice from guests, but never share employee records, allowing bad actors to skip from line to line without consequence. He works his regular shift at the Tequila Bar and, after hours, chases guests who catch his eye. Ryan is a Glistening Slave. He still has the cleaver he used to kill Paula.

Ricky Ryan, if Interrogated, admits he killed Paula and then Larry. His story makes very little sense; there’s no way he could have known Fiona Nilsson had the pills he needed to kill Larry, nor does he have the access needed to get past the card key system and into their staterooms. Yet Ryan has a Master Access keycard [Director: given him by Anand].

Opposition: Ricky Ryan, Glistening Slave, Athletics 8, Health 6, Infiltration 4 (increases to 8 with Master Access keycard), Scuffling 8, Shooting 4. When armed with cleaver, Damage +0.

Jennifer Yang is held in an unoccupied interior stateroom, portside, no porthole. She can be traced by following Anand, persuading uninfected security officers to talk, by using Data Retrieval to check which doors Anand has most often used his security card to access, or similar clever agent schemes.

Yang is being infected with Glistening, but the infection hasn’t progressed far and can be cured with a Difficulty 5 Medic test or a Chemistry spend. If found and cured, she says she’s distrusted Anand’s judgment for some time. She’s been conducting an investigation of her own, and is convinced that this can all be traced back to the disappearance of another passenger, Emily Alanis, eight months ago. Alanis was written off as a suicide who jumped overboard, but Yang thinks Alanis is still here. “I could hear her voice in my head.”

Agents who cross-reference the name Emily Alanis with other Esoterror incidents finds that Alanis was involved in Operation QUEEN PAWN, in which a Glistening outbreak was discovered in Tampa Bay, the home port of Nautilus Cruise Lines.

Sessile

The Sessile, formerly Emily Alanis, is hiding down in the bowels of the ship, close to the HVAC system supply. Almost all the ship’s HVAC engineers are Slaves, and defend the Sessile if necessary. The Sessile spreads its spore puffs via the air conditioning ducts, but has only been doing so for a few days. It knew it could potentially reach the entire ship and crew this way, but wasn’t sure it would work. Its preferred method is the old-fashioned way, by touch. However it is reaching the end of its cycle and needs a new host. It wanted to suborn one of the passengers, someone who could go missing without too much fuss.

The whole incident arose because of Ricky. He was supposed to spread the infection through his job at Tequila Sunrise, but his natural inclination led him to chase Paula, with catastrophic results. The Sessile coached him on what to do next. The Sessile wants to get rid of Ricky, but daren’t do so now, when everyone’s watching.

If not stopped, the Sessile can spread Glistening infection points along the liner’s route, and everywhere the passengers visit or call home.

Veil-out may potentially involve quarantining the Festival Allure, which allows the OV to thoroughly disinfect the ship and its passengers.

   where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself    imaginary walls collapse    

– Allen Ginsburg, Howl

Cthulhu City slides into The Fall of Delta Green like a cartridge into a chamber. As written, Great Arkham’s a nightmare reflection of the 1930s, but updating it to the 1960s is relatively trivial. The sinister gas-masked Transport Police and oppressive surveillance state fit perfectly; mistrust of the government resonates even more after the Kennedy assassination and Kent State. Some specific suggestions to bring the city to the era of the Fall.

  • Old Arkham hasn’t changed – so it’s now an absurd throwback, a foolish or desperate attempt to turn the clock back to a pre-war era.
  • The Depression-era Hoovertowns and hoboes in rotting Salamander Fields become drop-outs, dope fiends and draft dodgers.
  • Hippie communes and flower children dance amid the standing stones out in Billington’s Woods near Dunwich.
  • Mayor Ward is more of a Kennedy-esque figure – young, handsome, inspiring, as compelling and sinister as the Black Pharoah of Nyarlathotep.
  • The city’s textile industry has given way to the military-industrial complex – the Northside factories churn out cryptic, obscure machinery for the war effort, but it’s never clear if the components are for Vietnam, or for some other facet of the Cold War, or some stranger conflict.
  • The international jet set, cosmopolitan and jaded, fly in to the new Danfort Airport in Kingsport from Monte Carlo and Milan, London and Beirut, Baharna and Celephais. The airport crawls with Transport Police, and its bizarre hypergeometic topography means that some would-be travellers have ended up lost in its endless shifting concourses for years, roaming naked and starving past departure gates that never open. Stephen Alzis summers in Great Arkham.
  • The raid on Miskatonic University resulted in the shooting of a half-dozen students by Transport Police. Protests and riots have wracked the city since then; there are regular clashes between Transport Police and students. Anarchist cells meet and plot in the attic of the old Witch House.
  • The Marsh gang import and distribute heroin shipped in the holds of the infamous Black Freighters.
  • The battle between the various cults and factions is no longer so covert. Fringe scientists from the Halsey Institute (formerly the clandestine Halsey Fraternity) openly advocate for experimentation in necromancy and revivification; pamphlets and graffiti on the sides of cyclopean towers advocate for the Witch Cult or the Silver Lodge. Mayor Upton was shot by a brain-washed assassin.
  • Armitage wasn’t a librarian or occult expert – he was a chemist, experimenting with drugs that altered human perceptions to enable them to see the true nature of reality. After the Raid, he went underground, moving from one hidden lab to another, sheltered by the Black Panthers and other groups, manufacturing more potent solvents to dissolve the great illusion and reveal the ultimate truth.

And what is that ultimate truth? The DELTA GREEN setting suggests some new options for the ultimate reality behind Cthulhu City…

  • The Revolution Will Be Dematerisalised: Curwen and his allies mastered hypergeometry and fractured reality in the 1750s. We’re still a colony – it’s simultaneously the 1960s and 1770s, the Transport Police are Redcoats, the revolution is always coming. DELTA GREEN’s a conspiracy founded by Captain Whipple and the “band of serious citizens” who raided Curwen’s house; the characters flicker back and forth between the Mythos-conjured hallucination of the 1960s and the ‘reality’ of the 1770s.
  • Interzone: Cthulhu City’s a surreal nightmare. Monsters on the streets, monsters under your skin. Gangs of shrieking cultists roam the night, pursued by agents of absurd alphabet-soup government departments. The city’s accessed by drugs, or by trauma, or by psychic reflexes triggered by the right poetry. It’s Al Amarj on the Miskatonic.
  • The Vorsht Letters: A DELTA GREEN Agent, Isaac Vorsht, vanished in 1962. His car was found abandoned on a back road near Salem; he hasn’t been seen since. Somehow, though, he’s still sending reports to the DELTA GREEN Steering Committee about his experiences and investigations in ‘Great Arkham’. Vorsht’s reports never seem to acknowledge the bizarre nature of the city, or describe how he got there. It’s as though he’s slipped into a parallel dimension – but if he has, how are his letters getting into the conventional US postal service? Oh – his most recent letter thanked DELTA GREEN for assigning the Agents to his operation. The Steering Committee don’t know what to make of it, but clearly the Agents are fated to investigate the case…
  • Project PLATO: PLATO’s mandate is to prepare a defensive posture for humanity in case of alien invasion. “Great Arkham” is a PLATO construct, a simulation designed to determine how the population might behave if the Mythos were to become more public. Are the Agents under hypnosis? Brainwashed with LSD and subliminal messaging? Critically injured and comatose Vietnam veterans in an electronically generated shared hallucination? Or did MOON DUST just salvage some Mi-Go technology? Are those cyclopean towers actually gigantic brain-cases…

 

Dice imagePlease email support@pelgranepress.com for instructions on how to take part in this month’s playtest!

 

Title: The Borellus Connection

System: The Fall of DELTA GREEN

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Kenneth Hite

Deadline: July 31st 2019

Number of sessions: 2-3 per adventure

Description:

The Borellus Connection is a campaign for Fall of Delta Green, using the heroin trade and the United States Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs as a narrative spine. The campaign runs from South-East Asia to the Middle East to Europe, as the Agents uncover the sinister machinations of a necromantic cult.

  • Operation JADE PHOENIX (North-Eastern Burma): The CIA wants the Chinese-backed Shan warlord Li Bao Lung assassinated, and the Agents are tasked to escort a Marine sniper, Sergeant Adolph Lepus, to Li’s headquarters in the Wa state of northeast Burma, with orders to eliminate Li and return with proof of Li’s (and therefore Peking’s involvement in the opium trade. DELTA GREEN has identified one of Li’s advisers, Ming Yuan, as a Kuen-Yuin sorcerer; Li’s compound is a target-rich environment. The team must travel into Burma, avoiding detection en route, and penetrate the defences around Li’s compound to ensure Lepus has a clear shot on both targets.
  • Operation HORUS HOURS (Hong Kong to Los Angeles, by air): Clues uncovered during ALONSO point to the existence of a heroin smuggling route running from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. The Agents have to hastily follow the couriers on the trans-Pacific flight via numerous stops and layovers, watching for the critical moment of the handover.
  • Operation DE PROFUNDIS (Bozuktepe, Turkey): Using a BNDD investigation into opium smuggling as cover, DELTA GREEN sends the Agents to investigate the suicide and disappearance of archaeologist Charles Whiteman. He was excavating a ceremonial site at Bozuktepe before mysteriously killing himself; his body vanished en route back to England. What did he bring up from the depths before he died?
  • Operation SECOND LOOK (Beirut, Lebanon): The Agents are sent in to surveil another drug deal and gather evidence; this time, an unreliable DELTA GREEN informant, Francois Genoud, is in the mix, and the Agents are ordered to remind him where his loyalties lie – but there’s more at stake here than they know, as sinister powers make a second attempt to uncover secrets of the Mythos…
  • Operation PURITAN (Munich, Germany to Prague, Czechoslovakia): The Agents follow Unione Corse heroin shipments into Munich, but while there, another DELTA GREEN case officer tasks them to investigate unnatural contamination of the CIA’s QK-ACTIVE propaganda broadcasts into the Soviet Union. Who is broadcasting elements of the Necronomicon from a CIA-backed radio station? Finding the truth sends the Agents on a desperate race into Prague.
  • Operation MISTRAL (Marseille, France): During the May ’68 riots, the Agents are sent to Marseille to investigate gang conflicts – and possible Unnatural activity in the troubled city.
  • Operation ALONSO (Saigon, Vietnam): The NBDD assigns the Agents to surveil a drug summit at the Continental Palace hotel between Unione Corse bosses and emissaries from Marseille. While there, DELTA GREEN wants them to ascertain the status of the Cthulhu cult in the Rung Sat region south-east of the city.
  • Operation NEPENTHE (Baltimore, Maryland):  Orne intends to use Baltimore as his stepping stone towards his ultimate goal – transcending humanity and becoming one with Yog-Sothoth. He uses the occult resources he’s assembled over the course of the campaign to warp the city, piggybacking on the minds of the drug users to cast a vast necromantic ritual, opening the door between our reality and the Unnatural. He can step through – but what approaches from the other side?
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