Following on from this explosion of 19th century French vampire weirdness

There is a little-known place which is undoubtedly the strangest in the world. The people who inhabit the barbarous lands around Belgrade sometimes call it Selene, sometimes Vampire City, but the vampires refer to it among themselves by the names of the Sepulchre and the College. It is normally invisible to mortal eyes–and to the eyes of each of those who contrive to catch a glimpse of it, it presents a different image. For this reason, reports of its nature are various and contradictory.

Some tell of a great city of black jasper which has streets and buildings like any other city but is eternally in mourning, enveloped by perpetual gloom. Others have caught sight of immense amphitheaters capped with domes like mosques, and minarets reaching for the sky more numerous than the pines in the forest of Dinawar. Yet others have found a single circus of colossal proportions, surrounded by a triple rank of white marble cloisters lit by a lunar twilight that never gives way to day or night.

Arranged there, in mysterious order, are the sepulchral dwellings of that prodigious people which the wrath of God has placed in the margins of our world. The sons of that people, half demon and half phantom, are living and dead at the same time, incapable of reproducing themselves but also deprived of the blessing of death.

The city of Selene exists in a shadowy dimension parallel to earthly reality. It’s congruent with our reality near Belgrade in Serbia – specifically, near the district of Zemun. (The name Zemun, by the way, derives from zemlja, soil – native soil, anyone?). At the stroke of midnight, a vampire can open a portal to Selene.

On the far side of the portal is the bizarre city of Selene – a vast necropolis of huge tombs and temples, all built of the same stone (green-tinged porphyryr, mortared together with seams of black marble). The temples are decorated with statues and friezes depicting scenes of horror and torture; the tombs bear monuments to the vile deeds and atrocities of the vampires who slumber there. Every vampire has a tomb – Monsieur Goetzi, who was a relatively young and insignificant vampire, had a tomb to match his lowly status that was “only a little grander than St. Paul’s in London”.

The portal from the outside world brings visitors to the dead centre of the city, to a great circular plaza. From there, six streets lead to the six great divisions of the city, each named after a creature (the Bat Quarter and the Serpent Quarter are mentioned by name; presumably, the other quarters are named after other animals associated with vampires, like wolves or rats).

Although the city seems empty at first, it must be remembered that every vampire who dwells there contains a multitude. A single vampire incorporates within its pale form an entire household – or two, given their innate ability to duplicate their shades – and a whole army of shades and monsters arrived to avenge the burning of Goetzi’s heart.

It is as well to put on record that the number of young women devoured by vampires in the immediate environs of their convent was much less considerable that one might have imagined. In order not to rouse the entire country to revolt, the vampires had agreed between them that they would not inflict any damage within a perimeter of fifteen leagues. Monsieur Goetzi had, therefore, broken this pact in slaking his thirst to the detriment of an inhabitant of Semlin–a prohibited town, like Peterwardein and Belgrade. In consequence, for fear of being reprimanded by his own kind, he had not dared enroll the two Szegeli girls in his company of slaves and had made mere art-objects out of their carefully-prepared cadavers.

The laws of Selene forbid vampires from feeding near the invisible city. They must go further abroad to find victims – and to win renown. A vampire’s tomb in Selene appears proportional to the vampire’s infamy in the mortal world. Thus, the relatively unknown Goetzi had only a cathedral-sized tomb, whereas his neighbours (a Prussian prime minister and a Parisienne vampire) had far larger monuments to their sins. Presumably, it’s customary for a vampire to spend a few decades out among mortals, committing all sorts of vile deeds and atrocities, and then return to the city to bask in the glory of their expanded tomb and slumber for an age.

This brings up the question, of course – who builds these impossibly huge monuments? Do the vampires themselves employ their shade-slaves to labour while the vampire sleeps? Are the mysterious ‘evil priests’ involved? Are the buildings magical conjured – or is Selene itself a dream, and the structures are the spiritual reflection of the vampires?

The pallid blooms of all these flower-beds slept on their stems, unswayed by any breeze. The enchantment which had suspended their animation had power enough to freeze the water-jets of fountains in mid-air. You know how monotony enlarges everything by discouraging thought, even immensity itself; twilight as cold and clear as the face of the moon struck that symmetrical crowd of monuments–all built of the same stone, colorless and semi-transparent–from every side at once, casting not a single shadow.

Time appears to be stopped in Selene; nothing ages or rots here, and even the vampiric inhabitants appear listless and disinterested in intruders unless provoked. Characters cannot Refresh any ability pools within the confines of Selene.

Selene might be a sort of ur-vampire – just as vampires can split off and re-absorb the shades of their victims, maybe entering Selene means being absorbed by the vampire city. As above, so below – the whole city might be a gigantic clockwork-heart hyperspace.

 

Vampiric Origins

Féval never explains where his vampires come from, but offers three intriguing hints.

First, in his description of Selene, the narrator notes “most experts agree that the moon may be assigned to the vampire race as a fatherland” – which, clearly, means SPACE VAMPIRES. For that matter, Selene – time-less, cloaked, accessible through a portal, of uncertain dimensions and filled with impossible buildings – sounds a lot more like a starship or alien hyperdimensional otherspace than a city.

Second, there’s the intriguing case of Goetzi himself, who only recently became a vampire when he “when he received from Peterwardein the diploma of a master vampire”. (Peterwardein, now known as Petrovardin, is another town near Belgrade, so presumably this diploma came from Selene). Was Goetzi just an ordinary human before he graduatedinto vampirism? Selene’s also known as the Invisible College; maybe it’s a school for evil sorcerers, the fabled Scholomance where Dracula studied. And given Goetzi became a vampire in England, it’s a correspondence school.

Third, there’s the thoroughly weird clockwork heart of the vampires. It’s not a metaphor – vampires literally have mechanical hearts, and these hearts have a manifest connection to the vampire’s incorporated shades that can be severed, freeing the shades from the vampire’s tyranny. In the novel, the characters are able to free Polly from Goetzi’s control with a Medicine spend.

Putting it all together – these vampires are humans bonded with alien technology from Selene. A suitable candidate (according to whatever criteria the evil priests use) is given a mechanical heart-module that transforms them into a vampire. The ‘tenuous and sticky’ flesh of vampires is some form of protean shape-shifting slime or nanotechnology, able to bud off and reabsorb ‘shades’, given form and pattern from the stolen DNA samples of drained victims. The heart functions as some sort of regulator, keeping the vampire from collapsing into a cancerous blob of overlapping genetic expressions. This might also explain why the ashes of a vampire’s heart are so lethal – one heart interferes with another, causing the vampire to lose control of its many forms; instead of budding off, the vampire spawns overlapping copies of everyone it’s eaten within itself, and… boom.

Both the vampiric ability to duplicate themselves and Selene’s invisibility suggest the vampires are slightly out of phase with our reality, and they can take advantage of this discontinuity to copy themselves.

 

Those Pesky Evil Priests

So, who are the mysterious ‘evil priests’ who seemingly sit around waiting to rewind damaged vampires? Selene has temples as well as tombs – the priests presumably dwell there, but it’s unclear if they serve the vampires, or if the vampires are merely the tools or agents of the priests. If Selene’s a starship, the priests might be its maintenance drones – or its original alien crew, unable to leave their ship, so they’ve turned to the native fauna of this planet, turning them into cybernetic probes to gather information about Earth. The gigantic ‘tombs’ of the vampires might be gigantic memory-stacks, where the memories of the shades are processed into a form the aliens can understand.

There Are A Million Stories In Vampire City…

And here are three of them.

The Collector

The Agents learn of a mysterious financier. He’s got connections at the highest level of power – but no-one’s quite sure where his money came from. He invests in cutting-edge science – and invites the best scientists to his mansion for dinner. He’s secretly a vampire brain collector, absorbing the accumulated knowledge of human civilisation. Worse, within the vampire’s mechanical heart, the shades of these stolen geniuses are forced to labour on a single project of terrible intent… finding a way to open the portal to Selene fully, so the vampires can swarm out en masse and consume all humanity.

Selene Unveiled

Selene’s no longer invisible. It’s one of the great cities of Europe, a jewel of the continent. The culture of Paris, the financial might of London, the architecture of Prague, all rolled into one. When people say bankers and corporate lawyers are bloodsuckers, here they mean it literally. Run Selene as a modern-day spin on Cthulhu City, where everyone knows the vampires are in charge, but no-one dare say it aloud.

The Goetzi Identity

For a super-weird campaign – the player characters are all shades. They got killed and eaten by a vampire, but managed to break free of their master’s control. Now, they’re on the run from the other vampires. They’ve all got the power to spawn disposable duplicates of themselves, and can merge with each other (a great way to explain what happens to the character when a player can’t make game night) – but there’s a whole city of vampires hunting them, they’re slowly degenerating into ectoplasm, and their master’s synovie is out there too. Better to burn out (green) than fade away…

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in April 2008. 

A column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

Give a Clue

The heart of the GUMSHOE system is its method of ensuring that players always gather the clues essential to the solution of a mystery and lots of other supplementary information as well provided that they have the right investigative abilities, and describe their characters look in the right place and/or perform the right actions. Some potential players have of the game have concluded is that the removal of random determination from the clue dispensation process must render it dry and mechanical. The reality of the play experience is that it is just as fluid as in any other mystery game.

The reason for this fluidity lies in the freedom granted the GM to dispense clues in various ways. These keep the investigative scenes spontaneous and interactive.

Until now, these methods have been implicit in the scenario text. I’m confident that GMs instinctively get them in play and in a way am reluctant to pin them down too much, for fear of overriding good on-the-spot judgment for what appears to be a heavily prescribed set of techniques.

With that caveat, here are some terms to codify the methods GMs use to provide clues in GUMSHOE:

Immediately Apparent

An immediately apparent clue is supplied to the player without action on the character’s part. All an investigator with the governing ability has to do to spot the clue is to enter the scene. Ideally, the GM scans his master list of investigative abilities, on which the ratings of the various PCs are marked, picks the most likely investigator with the ability, and announces the clue:

[indicating a particular player]: “You can tell right away that the hieroglyphics on the statue are phony modern gibberish.”

Here the GM is responding to a passage in the scenario that says:

Archaeology shows that the hieroglyphics on the statue are phony modern gibberish.

There are two reasons to treat a clue as immediately apparent: believability and playability. Believability holds that clues where anyone acquainted with the ability in question would logically spot something on a cursory inspection should be provided without prompting. On the other hand, playability dictates that essential clues which even good players are unlikely to look for should also be made immediately apparent.

Certain clues are immediately apparent without abilities. If there’s a gun hidden under a bed, and a player asks, “What’s under the bed?” they don’t need Evidence Collection to find it. All they need is a pair of functioning eyes.

Action-Dependent

Most clues are action-dependent, meaning that the players must specify that they’re doing something before the GM provides the clue. The action taken can be very basic: searching the room, looking for fingerprints, taking a closer look at that painting in the corner. Or it can be quite specific: gathering fibers, performing a centrifuge test, smelling the air for the distinctive tang of werewolf.

GM: Jenkins hands you a photograph, of what appears to be a sasquatch standing in a stand of bullrushes.

Player: As an experienced photographer, I want to know if the image of the monster has been faked.

[The GM refers to the scenario notes, which read:

A check for fakery with Photography shows that it is a composite image.]

GM: It’s a composite; the shadows in the figure don’t match the direction of light in the background.

Shifting Clue Types

The wording of GUMSHOE scenarios suggests which of these two categories the clues fall into, without being absolutely explicit about it. I toyed with the idea of making these more definite, by marking them with icons. Ultimately I decided against this, because the most important thing about clue dispensation is to pay attention to the progress players are making and adjust on the fly. Most immediate clues can be turned into action-dependent clues as needed, and vice versa.

If your players are slogging their way through a mystery whose basic backstory just isn’t registering, you may want to supply suggested actions, effectively turning an action-dependent clue into an immediate clue: “Your Forensics experience leads you to check inside her mouth, where you find a strange parasitic infestation.”

On other occasions it is more satisfying for the players if you strongly hint at a suitable action, rather than providing the clue outright:

GM: Jenkins hands you a photograph, of what appears to be a sasquatch standing in a stand of bullrushes.

It strikes you as off, somehow.

Player: I check it for signs of fakery!

Although you might expect the players to regard this as an unsubtle shove in the right direction, many players are not only content to receive hints like this, but still feel a sense of accomplishment simply for going on to fill in the obvious next action. The more frustrated a group becomes, the greater the emotional reward for pouncing on a hint.

Always allow the players plenty of time to take actual active measures before you start hinting them in a fruitful direction.

This idea can be spun in the opposite direction. If your players are especially proactive, you can reward their initiative by converting immediately apparent clues into action-dependent ones.

GM: The wall inside the burial chamber is covered in old hieroglyphics.

Player: Aha! Are they phonetic or logographic?

GM: Neither. They’re gibberish — modern forgeries.

Players are more able to show off their characters’ brilliance in areas they are themselves acquainted with.

All in all, the degree of effort players must go through to accumulate clues is a matter for constant and sensitive adjustment, based on factors including session pacing, the group’s concentration level, and players’ personal knowledge of character abilities. The defaults suggested by the scenario wording are no substitute for a GM’s judgment and attention. Knowing when to push and when to let the players push you is an essential component of the GM’s craft. You are probably already doing it, unconsciously, but by paying more active attention to it, you can further sharpen your presentation.


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

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in February 2008. 


Find James Semple’s stings for Trail of Cthulhu here, and you can also find the soundtracks James composed for Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents.

A column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

Sting, Sting, Sting

A GUMSHOE issue we’ve talked about before is the challenge of smoothly ending investigative scenes, especially interactions with witnesses and experts. In the fictional source materials on which the game is based, authors and scriptwriters deftly and invisibly handle scene endings. A mystery novelist need merely end a scene on a pivotal line and then cut to the next one. Shows like Law & Order make a science out of finding interestingly varied reasons for witnesses to scoot offstage as soon as they deliver their core clues. Whether they have classes to attend, clients to see, or children to look after, minor characters on procedural shows are always halfway out the door. Scenes in the interrogation room are usually cut conveniently short by the appearance of the defendant?s lawyer, or the squad lieutenant, appearing to bring yet another piece of crucial intelligence.

Although you can sometimes give your NPCs reason to cut off interview scenes after the clues have been dispensed, continually coming up with these organic scene-enders can be taxing. So in the core GUMSHOE rules, as per The Esoterrorists, p. 55 (of the first edition), we offer this suggestion for an out-of-character signal that a scene has ended.

Before play, take an index card and write on it, in big block letters, the word SCENE. As soon as the players have gleaned the core clue and most or all of the secondary clues in a scene, and the action begins to drag, hold up the card. When the players see this, they know to move on.

Since then I’ve found a better technique which seems more organic still. (It requires the use of a laptop, which some groups find disruptive.) In place of the SCENE card, use brief music snippets. In soundtrack parlance, quick clusters of notes signaling a jolt or transition are known as stings. That’s the music you hear in a horror movie when something jumps out of the closet, but turns out to only be the house cat. Although they’re grouped together for jarring effect, the most famous movie stings of all are the piercing violin glissandos accompanying the shower murder sequence in Psycho.

Music works differently on the brain than a visual cue like a card with text on it. We’re used to having music appear under our entertainment to subliminally direct our emotional responses. Text jars us from one mental state to another, forcing us to more consciously decode the contents into meaning. The card is disruptive, breaking us from the imaginative state required for roleplaying, where music enhances that state. Oddly enough, the appearance of the music cue begins to seem like a reward for a job well done than a strange intrusion from another mode of cognition. It feels more like permission to move on than a jarring shove forward.

I started using the stings at a player’s suggestion, borrowing the most ubiquitous sting in television, Mike Post’s cha-chungggg scene transition sound from the various Law & Order shows, as a scene closer for internal playtests of Mutant City Blues.

When it came time to playtest Trail Of Cthulhu scenarios I opted for the three-note threnody that is the monster’s motif in Franz Waxman’s seminal score for The Bride Of Frankenstein . The use of a score from the 1930s period greatly enhanced the period atmosphere.

Now, courtesy of longtime gamer and media scorer James Semple, we have four custom stings for your GUMSHOE pleasure. They evoke the classic horror scores of Waxman and Max Steiner but, because the scary music grammar they laid down seventy years ago persists to this day, work just as well for Fear Itself or The Esoterrorists as for Trail Of Cthulhu.

Another musical enhancement worth considering is the introduction of a theme song. You’ll be expecting your players to sit through this every week, without the visual accompaniment that comes with a TV title sequence, so trim your chosen theme music to twenty to thirty seconds. The main purpose of a theme song is to produce a cognitive marker separating the preliminary chat phase of your session from the meat of the game. Again, this is a much more pleasant and subtle mood shifter than the old, ‘OK guys! Are we ready to start? OK, good!’

A theme song also provides thematic indicators to any campaign, GUMSHOE or otherwise. Want to emphasize sleek futuristic action? Pick a chunk of your favorite techno track. Is your emphasis more on psychological destabilization? A spiky work of classical modernism may prove suitably unnerving.

To help players think of their characters as part of a fictional reality, I also often kick off a first session by having them describe the pose they strike during an imaginary credit sequence.

Of course, this just scratches the surface of the uses to which cued-up audio can be put during a game session. When the heroes walk into a smoky bar, you can signal the kind of establishment they’ve entered by playing the music pounding from its PA system. Sound effects are all over the Internet, from amateur freebies to expensive cues created for professional productions. Once you get used to using your laptop’s audio program as a game aid, you’ll never have to describe a wolf howl again. Instead you can cue up real wolves to do the howling for you.

As technology becomes cheaper, multimedia game aids will become increasingly prevalent. When digital projectors hit impulse-purchase pricing levels, look out.

Related Links


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.

While searching for French vampire inspiration for a new Night’s Black Agents campaign I’m running, I came across Paul Féval’s La Ville Vampire. The Wikipedia synopsis doesn’t do it justice.

in which the protagonist is Gothic Novel writer Ann Radcliffe herself. In it, to save her friends from the dreaded vampire lord Otto Goetzi, Radcliffe and her fearless vampire hunting companions, Merry Bones the Irishman, Grey Jack the faithful old servant, the revenge-driven Doctor Magnus Szegeli, and Polly Bird, one of the vampire’s earlier victims, mount an expedition to find the legendary vampire city of Selene.

As a tale of gothic horror, it’s somewhat lacking – one big action scene is a drunken Irishman with a magic spoon vs a whole city full of vampires, and my countryman comes out victorious – but the vampires are so off-the-wall weird that they deserve a Night’s Black Agents writeup.

A Society of Horrors

“Each vampire is a collective, represented by one principal form, but possessing other accessory forms of indeterminate number. The famous vampire of Gran, which terrorized both banks of the Danube around the town of Ofen in the 14th century, was man, woman, child, crow, horse and pike.”

If a vampire drains a victim to death, the vampire can incorporate that victim’s essence into itself. It can then create a shade of that victim, a physical copy that’s bound to obey the vampire. The shade can merge back into the vampire when no longer needed. Shades left alone for too long may stray or become capable of independent thought.

The shade is not always a perfect copy; if the vampire’s unlucky or the victim’s resilient, then the vampire succeeds only in incorporating a diminished and changed form of the victim. Monsieur Goetzi, for example, devoured an Austrian soldier whose shade manifested as a young boy (but retained the captain’s military knowledge and taste for drink), while a Jewish moneylender was reduced to the shade-form of a parrot. (In game terms, the victim gets to make a contest of Stability against the Vampire’s Aberrance; if the victim wins, the vampire gets only the diminished version, or even no shade at all.)

Shades retain their original game statistics (reduced if the shade’s a diminished version), but can draw on the vampire’s Aberrance pool.

Creating a shade costs the vampire one Aberrance; this is refunded when the shade remerges with its master.

If a shade is slain when outside the vampire, it melts away, and the vampire’s Aberrance is permanently reduced by 1.

A vampire cannot have more shades than its Aberrance rating.

Entering Shades

A vampire can submerge itself inside one of its shades if it prefers, giving it a sort of shapeshifting. For example, Monsieur Goetzi could hide himself inside the parrot-shade.

The Synovie

In the period when Doctor Otto Goetzi came to the county of Stafford to be the tutor of Edward S. Barton, he was still only an apprentice vampire. He had neither a double nor any accessories at all. Do you remember poor Polly Bird, the daughter of the High Farm, whose premature death set the whole parish mourning three years ago? Well, my friends, it is the unfortunate Polly Bird herself who is speaking to you. Monsieur Goetzi, when he received from Peterwardein the diploma of a master vampire, immediately chose me to be his double and the foundation of his interior mechanism.”

The vampire’s first victim is of special importance – the first victim’s shade manifests as a copy of the vampire. Féval refers to this shade as the synovie, and it seems to be a sort of major-domo or organising principle, responsible for keeping the other shades in line. The synovia has the same ability scores as the vampire, and has the memories and personality of the vampire overlaid onto its original mind.

Deprived of access to its synovie, a vampire cannot manifest its other shades. In the novel, Goetzi’s synovie ends up reasserting her original personality when separated from her master, while retaining her physical form as a perfect copy of the original vampire. (She still thirsts for blood.)

Duplication

When his accessories had departed, Monsieur Goetzi duplicated himself so that he would have someone to talk to. He lit a fire, and anyone who lifted his eyes that evening from the valley floor to the summit of that inaccessible peak, untrodden by any human foot, would have seen two grey shapes squatting in the snow, warmed by a livid brazier.

All the vampire’s shades, with the exception of the synovie, can create a single duplicate of themselves at the cost of one Aberrance each. When a duplicate remerges with the original shade, this Aberrance is refunded. Duplicates have exactly the same ability pools as the original when conjured. Therefore, it’s tactically sound for a vampire to conjure all its shades and then have them all duplicate themselves before going into battle, so everyone’s got maximum Health and Combat pools.

A slain duplicate vanishes.

Clockwork Heart

Merry Bones plied the scalpel conscientiously and proved his talent for butchery. But beneath the slicing edge of the blade, not a single drop of blood sprang forth. Evidently, nothing but the heart itself was alive; its envelope was dead and dry. “Pay attention, please!” said Polly. “My life is attached to that of my master by a small thread of nervous tissue, which you must cut before touching the heart. You will find eleven such threads in the pericardium: one for each of my co-accessories. My own thread is the first on the right. Can you see it?”

Vampires have clockwork hearts that secrete a ruby-red liquid. A severely injured (reduced below -12 Health) vampire is not slain, but requires rewinding via a keyhole in the left side of the breast. Such keys are held by an evil priest (it’s not clear from the text if there’s a singular evil priest who has a single key, or if there’s one evil priest who has a bunch of keys, one per vampire, or if a wounded vampire is expected to wander until he happens to meet an evil priest who happens to have a suitable key), but rewinding the vampire restores it to full Health. A suitable evil priest dwells in the city of Selene.

If the vampire’s heart is extracted and burnt, the ashes of the mechanical heart can be used as a potent bane against other vampires.

Even when the vampire’s at full health, a little fluid leaks from the keyhole over the course of the day; bloodstains on a shirt can give away the presence of a vampire.

Death Stench

I ask your permission now to use a rather offensive word; circumstances demand it. Nothing stinks like a vampire who is at rest in the freedom of his own house.

A Wounded or mostly dead vampire exudes a potent stench, suffocating anyone in the same room (lose 1 Athletics or Health each round). Preparedness for smelling salts (or, in the modern day, a gas mask) guards against this effect.

Eldritch Glow

Towards evening, when the shadows of twilight descended upon the Rhine and its banks, a pale green glow appeared…

Light sources near a vampire burn with an unnatural greenish tinge; this green shade intensifies if the vampire spends Aberrance. At night, when a vampire is near, even the moon can appear to glow with a green light. In the modern day, this effect extends to electronic screen display and electric lights.

These stats are for a relatively weak vampire like Monsieur Goetzi; older and more powerful vampires can have vastly higher abilities, with Aberrance scores of 50 or more (and a matching number of shades).

General Abilities: Aberrance 10, Hand-to-Hand 6, Health 10, Shooting 6, Weapons 4

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: +1 (drops to -1 if the vampire spent Aberrance recently, due to the eldritch glow)

Damage Modifier: -2 (fist or kick), -1 (barbed tongue) or -1 (golden needle)

Armour: Vampire flesh is “rather tenuous; it is soft and a trifle sticky”, and glows faintly at night. It counts as 1 point of Armour.

Shades are composed of a sort of ectoplasm that’s not any more resilient than normal flesh; a shade that’s reincorporated within a vampire regenerates all damage within 24 hours.

Free Powers: Drain, Death Stench, Clockwork Heart

Other Powers:

1-Aberrance: Society of Horrors, Duplication

2-Aberrance: Strength, Vampiric Speed, Sorcery

Banes: Vampire Ash (consuming vampire ash causes a vampire to explode)

Blocks: Running Water (a vampire can cross running water, but only feet-first; shades must be carried across)

Dreads: Fire, Courage (a host of vampires hesitated to attack Merry Bones, and fled when Lord Wellington showed up.)

Compulsions: A captured vampire is compelled to serve and obey its captors, just as a shade is compelled to obey a vampire.

Requirements: Rewinding, feeding.

 

Go Team Vampire!

The major villain of Le Ville Vampire, Monsieur Goetzi, isn’t an especially effective threat – his internal menagerie consists of a bald heiress, a militant urchin, a dog, a murderous parrot, and a serving girl-turned-synovie who ends up betraying him). A more competent vampire could seek out and incorporate a whole team of specialists into itself, and rely on their mastery of mundane skills instead of burning Aberrance on Vampiric Speed and Strength. An elder vampire could be a whole wealthy family or a corporate board of management, discarding and replacing shades to hide its immortal core. Féval’s vampires can feed on animals as well as humans, so a vampire might show up with a built-in horse – or, for that matter, a pair of tigers.

As a vampire’s shades are compelled to obey their master and are inherently trustworthy (as long as regularly ‘debriefed’ by reincorporating them), a vampire could play all sorts of mind games against a team of hunters – is that your Network contact, or the shade of him? The novel brings up the ‘alibi-ity’ of duplication, letting a vampire be in two places at once to confuse players even more – or send disposable minions or even suicide bombers against the players. Finding a way to identify a shade with Diagnosis or Vampirology should be the first priority for the player characters!

Next up – things get even weirder, as we enter the Vampire City!

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in December 2007. 

A column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

The GUMSHOE system focuses primarily on investigation and by default assumes that moments of interpersonal conflict will be handled through roleplaying. As such it lacks an equivalent of the Persuasion/Rebuff system that lies, for example, at the heart of the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game. However, if you’re seeking a more mechanically robust way to adjudicate the outcomes of arguments, negotiations, debates and seductions, there are plenty of options to choose from.

When contemplating a new rule or technique, the GUMSHOE way is to look at the source material, see what techniques it typically uses, and find the simplest possible means of implementing it, consistent with the rest of the system.

Scenes of interpersonal conflict in mystery novels and TV procedurals are usually handled as in any other dramatic genre, although usually in a more compressed and decisive way.

In resolving a character conflict in fiction, an author ideally finds a plausible and organic way to portray a plot development he deems to be necessary to his story. This necessity may arise from, among other reasons, a desire to illuminate character, jolt the audience, or move a story toward its inevitable conclusion. In a roleplaying game, the outcome is not preplanned. The PC may or may not bring about a plot turn that moves the group toward a successful resolution. Two elements must be in place: the player has to devise a believable plan, and then the character must have the wherewithal, and perhaps luck, to implement it.

In the case of interpersonal conflicts, what is plausible and organic depends on the motivations of the character being persuaded. What the GM does determine in advance are the motivations and intentions of the NPC with whom the PC enters into the verbal exchange.

The motivation is what the character wants. This goal can be specific or general. The more proactive the NPC, the more specific the goal will be.

Specific goals might include:

  • gaining the Botticelli secret
  • killing Carson Gersh
  • selling the Winston house
  • getting the suitcase full of money

General motivations are more inchoate and psychological:

  • earning approval
  • hiding sense of insecurity
  • destroying father figures
  • pursuing affection

If you want to get fancy about it, a specific goal might be rooted in a general goal. Ernest Combs may want to gain the Botticelli Secret to destroy a father figure, his hated former mentor Elias Thwaite.

Greater complexity can be added in the form of multiple or even contradictory motivations. Mrs. Spooner may want to rent the downstairs apartment, earn the flirtatious attention of handsome men, while still proving that she is a respectable citizen.

GUMSHOE is player-facing, meaning that it treats PCs and NPCs differently. PCs are the protagonists, who act. NPCs exist only in relation to them and tend not to make rolls on their own. So if an NPC sneaks up on a PC, the action is resolved not by the GM rolling for the NPC, but by the player rolling against his Surveillance or Sense Trouble ability to see if he notices.

The implication of this principle in interpersonal conflicts is that the PCs are not open to being persuaded or bamboozled, as they are in Dying Earth, by a rules resolution. Only when the players decide it’s in character to be deceived or inveigled do they act against their better judgment. This is in keeping with the procedural genre, which can be described as a romance of competence.

In a scene of personal conflict, then, a PC must overcome the NPC’s resistance, rooted in his motivation, and pivot him so that he becomes open to an action he is at first unwilling to embark upon.

We already have this in the system with Interpersonal Investigative abilities. NPCs are often resistant to giving out information until the players figure out what ability (Bargain, Flattery, Seduction, Streetwise, et al) can best be used to overcome their objections.

Interpersonal abilities can also be used to overcome resistance in other areas. To do so, the player must specify a tactic. The tactic is an approach, offer, or argument made to overcome another person’s resistance. This might or might not cite an interpersonal ability. Let’s say that Ernest Combs has taken a hostage, who the PC wants to him to release.

If the player comes up with a tactic, which, given Combs’ motivations, will make his capitulation seem plausible, the conflict is resolved in his favor:

  • “Through Intimidation, I make myself seem like a forbidding father figure, then offer to swap places with the hostage.”
  • “Through Flattery, I tell him he’s better than this—if he hurts a hostage, Elias Thwaite will be elated by his moral failure.”
  • “I Bargain with him, promising him a photocopy of the map room if he lets her go.”

Sometimes non-Interpersonal abilities might apply:

  • “I use Theology to remind him that these are not the actions of a man of faith.”

A prepared GM can designate one or more possible successful tactics ahead of time, but should also be ready to accept unexpected yet equally plausible suggestions from the players.

This system not only emulates the source literature, but gives investigators a reason to learn more about the NPCs in any scenario—you never know when you’ll need to persuade them of something later on in the story.

The extent to which ability ratings influence outcomes is a matter of taste.

The minimalist approach is the triggered result—here, resistance is overcome simply by citing an ability plus a plausible tactic (or even a plausible tactic to which no ability applies.) The triggered result is congruent with the clue-gathering mechanic.

You may wish to have players pay a toll to succeed in interactions which yield non-informational advantages. In this case, require an interpersonal spend. The player succeeds after paying 1 or 2 points from the cited ability. Combs releases the hostage on a 2-point spend of Intimidation, Flattery, or Bargain, depending on which tactic the player selects. Add complexity by assessing different spend levels reflecting the relative aptness of the various tactics: the Bargain might cost 1 point, whereas the Flattery, which is a bit of a stretch given the investigator’s previously expressed antipathy for Combs, costs 3.

Finally, you might prefer, even with a plausible tactic, an uncertain or chancy outcome. In an interpersonal contest, the GM assigns a Difficulty to the persuasion attempt, based on the aptness of the tactic. A Difficulty of 4 is standard; higher than that represents an especially tough challenge. The player can add to the die result by spending points from the relevant investigative ability, gaining a +2 result bonus for each ability point spent. This approach is in keeping with traditional roleplaying approaches to the problem, and introduces an element of suspense, and, therefore, uncertainty. On the downside, it is less like the source material, and therefore less GUMSHOE-y.

You may always find that one of the three techniques—the triggered result, interpersonal spend, or interpersonal contest—is best suited to your style of play. However, you may find that certain situations call for the automatic certitude of the triggered result, while others cry out for the plot-branching potential of the interpersonal contest. Creators of fiction vary their techniques to achieve a range of effects, and GMs should do likewise.


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

The following article about the state of the roleplaying industry in the mid-2000s originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in June 2006.

Is the RPG Industry Screwed?

When you depend on live game designers for sustenance, the health of the ecosystem which allows them to thrive is of paramount importance. Whilst everyone has an opinion on this subject, I asked people who make their living from the roleplaying games – publishers, distributors and retailers – how they think the RPG industry is doing. A polite-worded request is often misunderstood (many of them are brain-addled from an excess comics and food additives) so I screamed “Is the RPG Industry Screwed?” in their ear and suspended them over my squawking progeny as usual. The responses were interesting, varied, and inconclusive.

I’ll start with a successful company, running a business on a fairly traditional model, Mongoose Publishing. Without the irritating self-effacement and modesty typical of the British, co-owner Matthew Sprange said:

At Mongoose, we believe that a good RPG book still has the potential to blow through entire print runs and that sales of 10,000+ units are still achievable with the right product. Because of this, we are still expanding in terms of both sales and staff (we now employ over 20 people worldwide), and plan to support RPGs for at least the next five years. Many companies are being squeezed out of the market at the moment but we take this as an indication of a customer base that has become more refined in its choice of product, rather than one who will buy anything that has a D20 on the cover. At the end of the day, if you produce the right kind of book, people will come to you.

Hard figures, I said. Hard figures. He told me as an example that Starship Troopers blew through 6000 copies in 3 months. That’s a large number – greater than the total sales units for each of the majority of RPG companies in a year.

Aldo Ghiozzi, who represents a number of RPG publishers as a consolidator and marketing agent has been selling through distribution for a number of years. He has a lofty perch – I respect any creature with a lofty perch – above the three-tier distributor model. He said:

Technology has come around to make book publishing easier for the common writer. Between PDF purchasing and Print-On-Demand (POD), the barrier of entry has dropped considerably. One would think this would create a new Golden Age of RPGs; it has done the opposite. With the barrier of entry being so low, there are more options for consumers to spend their dollars on. The flood of the D20 market was just the beginning; now, RPGs are for every genre, system and an endless number of people creating their own systems. Imagine a consumer that spends $10 a month on RPG books. Five years ago their choices were between the 100 products on the store shelves, thus, a publisher would have a 1 in a 100 chance for that $10. Now, there are so many choices for the shelves that retailers cannot carry them all so it spills into online stores and PDF download stores. The 100 choices turn into 1000 — now that publisher has a 1 in 1000 chance for that $10. The dollars are being spread thinner; that is the reality.

Personally, I believe the best chance for publishers to survive or come into this market with a chance is with proven brands and even licenses. Licenses, like Serenity or Starship Troopers instantly breathe recognition with the consumer and influences the dollars to that product. Proven brands, like a new edition of Paranoia or the mimicking of Keep on the Borderlands through the Dungeon Crawl Classics series are great examples.

It’s all about being heard over everyone else and the only way to do that is to scream louder.

His views are supported by the Starship Troopers sales figures, although we don’t know the terms of their license (for reference, the Babylon 5 license was $65,000). I asked Mr Ghiozzi if he thought the size of the market was the same. He was sceptical.

…we are not seeing 50K unit sales as before, but there are a ton more choices now so for all we know, the same amount of dollars are being spent (proportional to the economy) but just spread thinner. I truly doubt that though.

Green Ronin have been publishing RPGs since 2000, and use a combination of traditional print and PDF publishing. Chris Pramas, the CEO said:

You have to put RPGs in their historic perspective. Really, they have been in decline since the creation of collectible games in the early 90s. It’s hard to remember now, but in the late 70s and early 80s RPGs were a good business to be in. They eclipsed wargames and dominated the market for many years. Since then we’ve seen significant events in our own industry, the two most important being ‘Magic: the Gathering’ creating a whole new category of game, and Games Workshop hitting upon a business model that redefined miniatures games. In the same period we’ve also seen computer/console games become increasingly sophisticated and immersive, and the development of MMOs. In light of these events the old RPG business model has a tough time competing. Once players have a core rulebook, they don’t need to buy anything else to enjoy the game. Contrast that with the collectible games, where not only can you sell people the same product over and over again, but also they have to keep up with each new expansion to stay competitive. Or MMOs, where players pay each month for the privilege of continuing to play.

The d20 boom made some folks think the glory days of RPGs were back. While that was indeed a good time for RPG publishers, it could never last and now the gale has blown itself out. One might even argue that it did more harm than good, since most game stores now have hundreds of d20 books that will never move and this makes selling them new RPG product even harder.

So is the RPG market screwed? Well, certainly it is harder to harder to make a living doing traditional RPG publishing. The market decline that was paused by the d20 boom came back with a vengeance in 2003. Since then the successes have been fewer and farther between and more and more RPG publishing activity has moved online. I suspect that the future has already taken shape. There will be maybe 10 RPG companies that will do well enough with traditional RPG publishing to keep forging ahead. The rest of the market will be PDFs and Print on Demand, largely sold direct to consumers. Until someone comes up with a way to radically redefine RPGs anyway. That may be a long wait though.

Chad Underkoffler of Atomic Sock Monkey – creator of the award-winning Dead Inside, slipped through the “makes a living filter” – he has a separate day job – but he is representative of large part of the RPG publisher market.

I wouldn’t say that the RPG Industry is “screwed” so much as “challenged.” For many small press publishers — and I mean “small” in relation to other RPG companies, because nearly all of them could be considered “small press” compared to mainstream publishers – there are difficult issues to surmount in acquiring an audience of customers. Even access to the distribution system is little help, since the number of retail outlets seems to be shrinking. So you have more companies (some with fantastic games to compete with) trying to reach fewer shelves, and therefore customers.

The costs of production are up, the discounts on MSRP for distributors and retailers are substantial, and the customers are reluctant to spend money on unknown or new products. And while PDF-published, Print on Demand (PoD), and direct sale methods help put more money in the publisher’s pocket, the overall amount of profit is low. Truth & Justice is my best selling game, at roughly 525 copies (mostly PDF, but some PoD and distro) sold in under a year. I’ve made around $4,000 profit from it, which is definitely not enough to live on in my major metropolitan area. However, it is enough money to handle a car payment, take care of the phone bill, and roll into a new product for sale.

I doubt that the game industry can support many publishers as their sole employment under the current state of the market, and the outlook isn’t much brighter for distributors and retailers unless they diversify heavily into other product lines and related-but-different types of products (books, comics, toys, etc.). However, as a second job (or a hobby that pays for itself then a little extra, or even a method of artistic expression), the game industry is an admirable fit. If you adjust your expectations of what the industry will do for you, it will not seem totally screwed, but simply a challenge.

The ubiquitous Gareth-Michael Skarka of Adamant Entertainment, and Phil Reed of Ronin Arts, both big players in the PDF market, produce ePublishing 101 e-zine for their fellow publishers. In the latest issue, they bemoan the status of traditional retail.

From approximately 2000 game stores in January 2004 to somewhere around 1200 stores in December 2005 represents an overall loss of at least 40%. Not a good outlook for retailers in this industry.

They also estimate that the total size of the RPG market is about $25 million, with PDF publishing representing between 8-14% of the market – but that proportion is growing. With the relatively low barriers to entry mentioned by Aldo Ghiozzi, and the legs that such products have, pdf publishing is a good way for publishers to connect directly with their customers without pawning the family silver.

In contrast to Aldo’s lofty view, Ben Lehman , creator of the Polaris RPG, comes at the question from down on the ground. He is a new model publish with roots in the Forge – a forum dedicated to creator-owned publishing, with lots of useful RPG game theory. Some of the best games of recent years have come out of the Forge. With typical Forgeite thoroughness, he unasks the question, one which was begging to be knocked down:

I think it’s really strange how people talk about the RPG Industry as if it, and its screwedness or unscrewedness, were somehow the most central or most important thing about role-playing. To me, that’s turning the entire world upside down. It’s such a bizarre way of thinking about it that I can’t even twist my mind into a position where I can see that as the world at all. So instead of talking about what’s actually important to role-playing – the activity itself. Let’s talk about a bunch of people getting together to imagine things together, because that’s what interests me. From my immediate perspective – which is to say my personal play-groups – role-playing has never been better. I and the people I play with are having absolutely thrilling times with basically every single game we play.

Looking out further, I can look into the play-groups that I see from the Actual Play forums on the Forge, RPGNet, ENWorld, and other community sites. Again, I think that over the last 5 years (and I think this trend extends back almost a decade, but I can only talk from my own perspective, and I started hanging out on online forums five years ago) we’re seeing an across the board increase in actual, enjoyable play. I’m seeing a lot less of “fix my broken group” and a lot more of “man, our play rocked.” Further — and more importantly I’m seeing a glacially slow but nonetheless constant movement away from the periodical/collector/fandom model of enjoyment, and more towards creative focus and real play. In this respect, and that’s what matters, I think that role-playing is at its healthiest state since the 70s.

So where does role-playing text and materials production (the ndustry) fit into this? The role-playing business – like any other hobby business – should exist as long as it can boost and support the hobby around it, and no further. Fortunately, and I think not coincidentally, given the upsurge in enjoyable play, we’re seeing a decrease in the periodical “must buy the next sourcebook” model and an increase in texts and materials focused on supporting real people and their real play. To be clear – I don’t think that this is a Forge only or Independent only phenomenon. I think it is spread wide across games like: Breaking the Ice, Nobilis, Eldritch Ass-Kicking, Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 and up, Ganakagok, Hollywood Lives! and so on.
Literally, there are too many game texts to list.

Now, traditionally, RPG text publishing has used what’s been called the “three tier model” although I actually think its six-tier: Designer -> Line Editor, Publisher -> Distribution Company -> Retailer -> Game Player, where each arrow is representing “sells to.” In the 70s and 80s and even into the early 90s this was the most financially sound model of game sales, and so it prospered. But these days it isn’t doing so hot, for several reasons. The one that I have the strongest grasp on is the growth of internet forums, internet commerce (and the PDF), and digital printing technology (AKA print on demand). In the six-tier system, there is economic and creative compromises at every level. The end results is that both the game player and the designer get screwed — the designer has to make artistic compromises and gets paid no money and the game player gets a watered down product and has to pay a lot of money, because each level in between needs to take their cut. By using modern technology I as a designer (to use an example — there are dozens of other folks like me) can sell directly to the game player. The chain becomes Designer -> Game Player. This is not only massively more profitable on both ends (I make more money, the game player saves more money) but also it brings the two creative ends of the spectrum closer together, allowing for game texts and game play which contains astounding creative content.

The role-playing industry, if we evaluate its success based on how well it facilitates awesome play, is healthier than it has ever been, period. The role-playing industry, when we evaluate its success based on facilitating awesome play, is as healthy as its ever been, period. The only possible view I have of role-playing being in trouble is that certain aspects of the role-playing distribution chain are being eclipsed by an economic model that is more effective in both creative and monetary terms, and as a player and designer I just can’t see that as a bad thing.

Eric Gibson of West End Games says that the RPG-only publisher as a mainstream company is effectively dead, and that publishers must diversify.

Absolutely. Without a doubt. But, before you think I’m being a pessimist and over-dramatic, I must expound.

The RPG industry is “screwed” because the question demands it’s so. You ask in the “RPG Industry” is headed for disaster. As long as we force ourselves into the narrow classification of “RPG Industry” then we the publishers are screwed as well. The successful publisher or manufacturer will see the ever evolving tastes and desires of our customers and change with them to bring new types of products to market. We are not a part of the “RPG Industry” we are apart of the “Game Industry”, or, if you will, the “Entertainment Industry”. As long as there are firms that continue to look at the broader market, we’ll survive. If others continue fly the flag of “RPG Publisher” solely, they have a choice, embrace it as merely a cottage industry, keeping costs as low as humanly possible, but never expecting to be financially successful OR continue to pump massive-a relative term, I know-amounts of money into a behemoth that doesn’t want to come back, and die!

This certainly does not mean RPGs will cease to exist as a viable product. Not for some time anyway. What it does mean is that you must acknowledge the scale that the RPG business has taken and embrace it.

Basic economics tells us that as long as long as a product’s revenues equals ALL its costs (don’t forget all your opportunity costs, of course) then the product is making “normal profits” and should be produced. The bite is, that is growing nigh impossible in RPGs from the perspective of a normal industry.

As I tend to do, I’m going to ramble on far longer than I should to try to make my point. Let’s first start by not using the term cottage industry. We have nearly always been, by and large, a cottage industry, and with the advent of the Internet, a cottage industry does not have to equate to small, struggling, or profit-less. Instead, RPGs is becoming a purely hobby industry-pun not intended. A hobby industry is an industry where the primary source of compensation, for the proprietor, is something other than money-love of the game, I guess you’d say.

In order to make “normal profits” within any business model your revenues must equal the costs associated with the business. Again, ALL COSTS. Not simply the break even point on printing. Not just the overhead. By you must also factor in salaries for executive positions and-this is very important-you must cover the opportunity costs for the owner(s), such as the cost of not working a second, paying job, not having more time with family, and not being able to invest the money you’ve put into the business on other gainful investments. All these costs, and many, many more, must be recognized and paid for by the business’s revenues. In a normal industry, a business that fails to meet these costs must logically cease business (given the time to exit fixed cost responsibilities). The current and foreseeable state of RPG publishing means that it is almost impossible to meet these fairly valued opportunity costs and thus make “normal profits”. So, instead we have proprietors who choose to ignore these opportunity costs and often forego monetary compensation and do it instead for the “love” of the industry. I’m not suggesting this is an invalid reason to do it, but that certainly makes the RPG industry a hobby industry and not a “normal” industry.

So, the question asked, “By this, I mean the market for table-top RPGs. I’m not asking if a small cottage industry will continue to exist – just whether it’s in decline and will continue to decline.”

Sadly, the answer is, “almost certainly.” But again, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. To know it up front, it’s actually very good. If you want to simply make RPGs and sell them as a hobby, by all means you should do so.

Likewise, if you want to run a game company as a normal industry would, you should also be aware that you’re not likely to be able to do so as a dedicated RPG publisher. Diversify. Realize that the business and the market have changed drastically since the late 90’s.

The market wants something else. Provide that “else” and you can stay in business and do just fine and may even have a good chance of making normal profits (or even super-profits).

Is the industry screwed? Only if we fail to see the writing on the wall.

Now we here from a different tier of the industry, a major retailer – Marcus King of Titan Games. He’s having to adapt, and like Eric Gibson, suggest that diversifying into entertainment is the way to go.

As a retailer in a very small town (60K population in the city, with 100K TOTAL in the county) I face some unique problems. First, Michigan has a working class slump like nowhere else – the economy is depressed, young people FLEE this town in search of jobs elsewhere. Second, I have a competitor across town who sells everything for 20% off MSRP. Third, I derive 100% of my income from this company. No outside job, no retirement supporting me, my wife works IN the store with me. I can NOT discount, and support my family.
So, we have two ebay sellers working pretty much full time, two websites (titangames.com and 3FREEgames.com), and we have a retail store, do conventions, and some “liquidation” sales.

Now [our stock depth], was designed to make us a destination store. But, that just does not work. Destination stores no longer compete with everyone within driving range, they compete with everyone within clicking range. Every single thing we sell is available on eBay and/or Amazon, for less. So, though we do well online, our main in store categories are used DVDs, CDs with games come in a distant 4th or 5th

We are going to start stocking fewer RPGs in the store – moving from 1400 or so books today, to perhaps 50 titles, and perhaps 200 books total. I am going to stop buying one or two of everything, and start selecting what we carry in the retail store more based on the idea that 80% of our sales come from 20% of our stock, so stock that 20%, and eliminate about 75% of the rest of it.

What will that leave? D&D, True20, Conan, Traveller, Serenity, Star Wars (if it is ever available), Babylon 5, most supplements by Troll Lord Games, and Goodman Games, some stuff by Mongoose and Green Ronin, and everything White Wolf makes. L5R and Spycraft, and a few others. My store is literally morphing OUT of being a game store, and becoming more and more an entertainment store – with books, movies, music, comics, games and some collectible stuff.

However, I could likely fire my retail staff, shrink my store by 70% floor space, eliminate 90% of my games inventory, just carry the DVDs, CDs, Video Games, and keep one rack of Graphic Novels, one rack of Comics, and one rack of games, and run the retail counter with one person, and never miss a beat as far as sales go.

As a business person first, and gamer ninth or tenth, I look at ALL the options for my business – and it may indeed come to the point where I completely redefine my store around a smaller selection, smaller square footage, and smaller staff on the retail floor – and just carry games as a sideline. Then what do we call the store? Titan Games sure won’t fit.

Jeff Tidball, a long-time award-winning RPG freelancer gives a straightforward answer:

Yes, the RPG industry is more-or-less screwed. You can divide roleplayers into two general camps based on style of play, with smash-and-grab-and-level-uppers on one side, and everyone else (storytellers, world-builders, wanna-be novelists, etc.) on the other. The first, much larger, group is now — with current network and console technology — much better served by computer RPGs than tabletop RPGs. The computers are just plain better and faster at the game experience they want. As those customers stop buying tabletop RPGs, it stops being economically viable to produce them professionally for the second group. Tabletop RPGs won’t go away, but yes, the “industry” that produces them is screwed.

So the D&D crowd will moving over to MMORPGs and the rest will be indulging in a little bit of narrativist theatre? Perhaps.

Mark Simmons, founder of National Games week and publisher of Games Quarterly Catalog & Games Quarterly Magazine thinks that the industry is still suffering from the d20 glut:

RPGs got seriously glutted. Worse than the glut of ’79-81. Worse than the small glut of early ’90s. The d20 boom ran it course with so much product that gamers got enough resource materials to last years. It eclipsed nearly every non-d20 title, killing many good games. It will take time for these circumstances to be overcome. It will take getting RPGs back into stores. R Talsorian is doing decently with Cyberpunk’s new edition, FanPro is doing well with Shadowrun and BattleTech. It’s going to be grim for a while though.
The specialty game stores won’t be stocking and selling enough, so book stores and other types of stores must be courted.

Matt Goodman of Heliograph says:

Table-top role playing is a niche hobby, and like many other niche hobbies (wargaming, pulps, r/c planes, model railroading) over the long haul it is only sustainable as a cottage industry. Die-hards may pass along the bug to their kids–a friend’s 7 and 9 year olds are really enjoying their Star Wars game, and the very best player I had at my Zeppelin Age games at Gen Con last year was in high school–but that isn’t enough to sustain the hobby in the mass market.

So, is there anything coherent to be gathered from these disparate views?

The game store is facing hard times, and none can rely on RPGs alone. An online mail order presence which is able to compete on price is pretty much essential. Leisure Games in the UK is an example of this model. The three-tier system is on shaky ground when it comes to RPGs. Some publishers with well established brands and main stream licenses can still shift sufficient books to make the margins needed to keep going. I think this will continue, but such publishers are not solely producing RPGs – Mongoose Publishing for example relies on RPGs for only 40% of its sales. So what stops new publishers from getting to market? I call it the litho barrier. Unless you have the up-front costs for litho (standard) printing, and the certainty of selling through the print run, you can’t do a litho print run, and your per-unit cost for low-run printing means you will make low or even zero margins through the usual channels. The typical volume of sales of an individual title has declined below the litho barrier following the recent glut of d20 titles an explosion in the number of publishers, and a reduction in the number of players due to improvements in the computer moderated online roleplaying experience.

Hybrid publishing, offering PDF and print-on-demand roleplaying games offer a scaleable model for getting RPGs to their customers without the high risks of attempting the litho barrier. They can sell directly, at conventions, and through specialist online mail order retailers. Forge publishers typically follow this model, and make a very big internet footprint, interacting directly with their customers. Such publishers are actively seeking out players to “tell them about their characters” through Actual Play postings. The idea of signing an NDA when doing a play test is an anathema – they are more likely to publish the beta version of their rules online for anyone to try. PDF-only publishers are on the increase, with rpgnow.com, drivethrurpg.com, enworld.org, e23 and paizo.com all channels to market. Their products have low overheads, can be small, and have decent legs. Still, few people other the etailers are making a living out of this so far.

Paradoxically, it’s never been easier to get an RPG published, but never harder for a new RPG company to support full-time endeavour. The scalability of the new publishing model means that although it is very hard to make money, you are much, much less likely to lose it through an expensive litho print run. If you read that someone you haven’t heard of is about to print 3000 copies of a new RPG, by all that’s holy, stop them.

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

 
 
 
Title: The Paragon Blade

System: Fantasy GUMSHOE One-2-One core book

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Deadline: Friday, October 30th 2020

Number of sessions: 1-2 sessions per protagonist character

Description:

Play a hero in a fantastical land, still scarred by the evil of the fallen Hellbound Empire. Mystery and magic collide in tales of conspiratorial wizards, monstrous foes, and arcane intrigue. Featuring an adventure each for three solo protagonist characters:

  • In the wilderness beyond the Gloamwood, barbarian hero Conn the Unslain must race against time to seek a cure for a demonic curse in Heart of the Beast!
  • Magic is considered a crime in the Empire of Tremis – so Aletheia the Scholar must conceal her powers from her father the magistrate while helping him investigate the mystery of The Isle of Death.
  • Mysterious thief Puc is master of the shadows in the great city of Tyros Ashem. In The Thief of Souls, a necromantic cult seeks to unleash a deadly plague and bring about the end of the world. Can Puc steal the jar of doom before it’s opened?

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 


A column on roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

Mixing and Matching With GUMSHOE

In addition to its primary goal of rethinking the way we run investigative scenarios, GUMSHOE is also an ongoing experiment in rules modularity. Along with whatever plain, ordinary rules are needed to evoke a particular setting or sub-genre, each new iteration of the game introduces new tools and techniques which can be mixed and matched to create your own investigative games. Many can also be applied to other roleplaying games and genres.

The Esoterrorists presents a simple, introductory version of the core GUMSHOE rules. It sets forth a simple, accessible setting, along with the very basic components you need to run occult investigation: Stability rules, a stripped-down approach to weapons, and so on.

Fear Itself reproduces horror stories in which ordinary people come face to face with things that go bump in the night. It removes a few of the complexities of The Esoterrorists, which assumes that all of the players are professional investigators. For example, the many technical abilities of the first game are collapsed into a catch-all, as are many of its academic skills. To preserve the ordinariness of the characters, it encourages a maximum of one PC from any sort of law enforcement or military background.

These are rare examples of modular adjustments to GUMSHOE rules that can’t be fed back into an Esoterrorists game. It is not so much a rules addition as a necessary rules subtraction, again to evoke a specific sub-genre. These changes can, however, suit another game concept featuring non-specialist investigators.

Other new facets of Fear Itself can be added to The Esoterrorists, or used in elements in other investigative settings. To start with a small example, Fear Itself introduces a new general ability, Fleeing. This is a necessary component of any undiluted horror game, reflecting that genre’s many characters who are not all-around athletes but nonetheless turn out to be highly capable at screaming and running away. This narrow ability can be imported to The Esoterrorists or other settings.

When you depart from the horror genre, Fleeing remains useful when giving game statistics to supporting characters that the PCs might be trying to either chase or rescue. They may not be able to perform feats of strength or put up a struggle when caught, but they can get away from pursuers, at least for a while.

Fear Itself includes a number of psychic abilities, including Aura Reading, Remote Viewing, and Premonitions, granting PCs access to minor occult powers. These could easily be made available to Esoterrorists characters. Most GMs will want to do as Fear Itself does, and allow only one character per group to have a psychic ability. Add too many psychics into the mix, and you start to drift from the realm of horror into contemporary fantasy.

On the other hand, you could embrace this tendency, creating an all-psychic detachment of the Ordo Veritatis to which the PCs belong. This might be a sort of suicide squad within the organization, sent in to tackle tough, psi-oriented assignments that ordinary agents can’t handle. If so, they’re probably followed by a monitoring team composed entirely of supporting characters, who keep them under surveillance and watch for signs that they’ve lost their already-tentative hold on sanity. As the psychic Ordo members go crazy, their minders swoop in, spiriting them off to permanent incarceration in a Veritatis-approved mental institution. In extreme cases, they may need to efficiently take out freshly-crazed psychic operatives with well-placed sniper bullets.

Be cautious when populating your world with psychics. Superhuman powers which work in unpredictable or undocumented ways throw a wrench into players’ efforts to reconstruct the events they’re investigating. They have to be able to incorporate the existence of such abilities into their theories of the case. Let’s say they find out that a supporting character lets slip a fact she could only know if she was present at the crime scene. If she is capable of Remote Viewing, that’s a second possibility, which the investigators must now be able to take into account. This difficulty is in large part the subject matter of Mutant City Blues, the upcoming GUMSHOE game of police procedural investigation in a world of widespread super-powers. There, the operations of the various superhuman powers are well-known and incorporated into forensic science. The investigators must take them into account, but unquestionably know how they work, and what their various limitations are.

Also appearing in Fear Itself are a number of techniques to flesh out characterization. They belong in a pure horror version of the game because, by enabling us to relate more acutely to these ordinary people before they’re plunged into deadly jeopardy, they intensify the terror. They include the directed scenes, in which the players are given personal goals for their characters, as they would be in a scene of improvised theater. Directed scenes prove especially useful to play out flashbacks. These scenes from the past bring the character’s backstory, which usually languishes unrevealed in each player’s personal notes, vividly onstage, for the entire group to see. They also enable the players to sharpen their character-portrayal skills, as they’re called on to act out minor roles in each others’ directed scenes and flashbacks.

Though initially designed for horror, these techniques work in any genre. You could employ them to introduce dramatic elements to the otherwise highly mission-focused Esoterrorists structure. For that matter, as they’re unconnected to GUMSHOE’s other rules structures, you could just as easily insert them in nearly any other RPG, from D&D to Vampire. With the exception of certain rigidly constructed indie-style games, or comedy games that require relatively facile characters, like Dying Earth or Og, they fit almost any gaming experience.

Mutant City Blues offers a different, but related, mechanism. It creates a structure resembling many police procedural TV shows, giving the players partial control of it. Players are encouraged to submit possible Sub-Plots, story threads of personal drama involving their characters when they’re not solving the main cases. This technique could equally well be added to any ongoing Esoterrorists or Fear Itself series, or any other GUMSHOE game of your own devising, so long as it features continuing characters and cares about their personal development. Like directed scenes and flashbacks, this element can be completely uncoupled from GUMSHOE and welded onto most other normative RPG games.

Another feature of Fear Itself requires players to select Risk Factors for their characters, explaining why they head toward trouble when other ordinary people would flee from it. This is a necessary component of any horror game, answering the question: why do they go down into that basement? Given the risk-aversion characteristic of some players, it’s also one requiring some reinforcement in play. Risk Factors include Gung Ho, Skeptical, Horny, and Oblivious. Though the descriptions of the various factors are keyed to horror, they could easily be adapted to any other genre requiring selfless, proactive protagonists.

We’ll continue to search for similarly useful modular elements for future GUMSHOE products. If we’re really lucky, we’ll start to see GUMSHOE gamers designing their own add-ons, and sharing them with the rest of us, via their blogs or on the Pelgrane forums.


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

The Utility spell in 13th Age is a lovely way to cram all those spells that are great in the right situation, but useless most of the time into a single handy package. This article presents two variants on the regular Utility spell. Each one takes up a spell slot, as usual.

 

Illusion Utility Spell

1st – disguise self

Range: Close-quarters spell

Daily

Effect: This spell provides you with an effective magical disguise that lasts about ten minutes, making the skill check to avoid unmasking one step easier: easy if it would have been a normal task, normal if it would have been a hard task, and hard if it would have been a ridiculously hard task. The spell only affects your general appearance, not your size. It can be used to hide your features behind the generic features of another person or race. Using it to impersonate a specific creature makes it less effective as a disguise (-2 to -5 penalty).

3rd level spell: The spell lasts for 1 hour.

5th level spell: The spell also provides smell; +2 bonus to any checks.

7th level spell: The spell also handles correct-sounding vocal patterns and rough mannerisms; +4 bonus to any checks.

9th level spell: You can now target an ally with the spell; you can also now use it on up to two creatures at once.

 

1st – illusion

Range: Close-quarters spell

Daily

Effect: You create a minor illusionary sound or smell. Nearby creatures that fail a normal save notice the sound or smell; those who make the save may notice it but recognise it as not exactly real. You must concentrate to maintain the illusion.

3rd level spell: You can create an apparition – an illusory object or creature of up to about human size. Again, those who fail treat the illusion as real; those who succeed recognise the object as an illusion. Interacting with the illusion in any contradictory way (trying to cross an illusory bridge) breaks the spell. Illusory creatures cannot move or attack, but can appear threatening. You can’t cast an illusion over something – it can only appear in empty space. Illusions can’t do actual harm. so if you crush someone with an illusory boulder or stab them with a fake sword, they soon notice they’re not crushed or stabbed. Unless they’re really stupid.

5th level spell: You may animate your apparitions, causing them to move.

7th level spell: It’s now a hard save to see through your illusions.

9th level spell: Your illusions now last even when you’re not concentrating on them. The illusion lasts as long as someone believes in it.

 

1st – cloak

Range: Close-quarters spell

Daily

Effect: You make one small object or person… not invisible, per se, but easy to overlook. The spell won’t hide its target from even a cursory search, but it won’t be noticed by a quick glance. The spell lasts for one minute or so.

3rd level spell: You can now hide 1d4+1 targets.

5th level spell: Those cloaked are now hidden from scrying and divination spells. The caster of the divination spell can tell their spell has been blocked. This protection lasts until sunset or sunrise.

7th level spell: The protection from scrying and divination now lasts a full day.

9th level spell: You can hide a small army or a location (like a village or castle) from divination.

 

3rd – message

Range: Close-quarters spell

Daily

Quick action to cast

Effect: You send a one to two sentence message to another person you know and have touched in the last week. Sending a message to a person you can see is always easy. Sending a message to a person you can’t see requires a skill check using Intelligence against the highest-tier environment that you or the sender are occupying.

The maximum distance you can send a message depends on the spell’s level.

3rd level spell: Across half a city, at most.

5th level spell: Across the entire city and a bit into the countryside.

7th level spell: Between cities near to each other.

9th level spell: From any city to any other city, or across a sea.

 

5th – enter dreams

Range: Unlimited, as long as you’ve got a connection of some sort to the target.

Daily

Effect: You enter the dreams of the target. You’re an astral projection, but any damage you suffer on this jaunt is real damage – and you can be killed in a dream. Obviously, you can only cast this spell when they’re sleeping (the spell isn’t expended if you use it on an invalid target). When inside the target’s dreams, you can observe their subconscious thoughts, and may be able to plant suggestions, change their opinions or convince them you’re a messenger or omen – save vs inception, basically. The dream-world may identify you as an intruder and turn on you.

7th level spell: You can now ‘hop’ from dreamer to dreamer, scanning for a particular target even if you don’t have a connection them. You need to target a general area – for example, if your target is in Axis, you can move through the dreams of random people in Axis until you find your quarry. Also, you can take up to five other travellers with you in the dream.

9th level spell: You can now teleport to the location of your target, if they permit it. You appear when they wake up. Other travellers can’t teleport with you – it’s a solo teleport.

 

7th – symbol

Range: Close-quarters spell

Daily

Effect: You brand a magical symbol on an immobile object or surface – typically, castle walls, mountain cliffs, stones marking the border of your domain and the like. If the object’s moved, or the symbol is physically destroyed, the spell is broken.

You may inscribe your own personal symbol, or the symbol of an Icon.

Symbols last until your next full heal-up. You can only inscribe one symbol in a place – if multiple symbols can be seen from a spot, they cancel each other out.

Allies of that Icon are inspired by the sight of the symbol. They may immediately roll any positive relationship dice with that Icon. If you inscribed your own symbol, your allies are filled with awe at your power; any game benefit is up to the GM, but could include gaining a free save against an ongoing condition, spending a recovery, or just general good luck.

Enemies of the Icon – or your enemies – are struck by a Intelligence + Level vs MD attack; those who are hit are affected by Fear (save ends).

Either way, a character can only be affected by a given symbol once per day.

9th level spell: Your symbols are now permanent until destroyed.

 

 

Transmutation Utility SpellShadows Over Eldolan cover

1st – feather fall

Range: Close-quarters spell

Daily

Free action to cast

Effect: When you cast this spell, it arrests your fall, letting you glide down the ground over a round or two.

3rd level spell: You can now target a nearby ally with the spell.

5th level spell: You can now target up to two nearby creatures with the spell.

7th level spell: You can now target up to five nearby creatures with the spell.

9th level spell: You gain some control over where a target falls, like a quickly gliding feather.

 

1st – hold portal

Ranged spell

Daily

Effect: You cast this spell on a door. For ten minutes, adventurer-tier creatures can’t get through the door. Champion-tier creatures can batter it down; each attempt requires a DC 20 Intelligence skill check (including an applicable background) by the caster to resist the battering and keep the spell going. Epic-tier creatures can walk right through.

3rd level spell: The spell now lasts for an hour. Adventurer-tier creatures are stymied. Champion-tier creatures can batter the door down or destroy it after three failed DC 20 skill checks by the spellcaster. Epic creatures notice that the now-busted door had magic on it.

5th level spell: Champion-tier creatures take a few minutes to force the door open. Epic creatures can force it open after one failed DC 25 skill check by the spellcaster.

7th level spell: Champion-tier creatures are stymied for up to an hour by the door. Epic tier creatures get through after three failed DC 25 skill checks by the spellcaster.

9th level spell: Champion-tier creatures can’t enter. Epic-tier creatures can’t get through for an hour.

 

1st – disappear

Daily

Effect: You cause an object to vanish into a pocket dimension. You can call this object back into reality with a gesture, and it appears in your hand or next to you. At the GM’s discretion, willing people or player characters whose players missed this game session count as ‘objects’ for this spell.

You can only disappear or conjure a single object with the spell – but a container full of objects counts as one target.

If you’re unconscious or slain, or when the spell duration ends, the object reappears instantly.

The size of the object depends on the level of the spell.

1st level spell: Anything that fits in the palm of your hand

3rd level spell: A backpack and its contents

5th level spell: A big sack

7th level spell: A large wardrobe, a horse and cart.

9th level spell: Pretty much anything.

 

3rd – levitate

Ranged spell

Daily

Effect: Until the end of the battle, you can use a move action to rise straight up into the air or descend straight down. The spell itself won’t move you horizontally. The up-or-down movement is about half as fast as your normal movement. While levitating, you take a –2 penalty to your attacks and are vulnerable to attacks against you.

5th level spell: You can now cast the spell on a nearby willing ally instead of yourself.

7th level spell: You can now cast the spell as a quick action, and the spell can now affect two targets.

9th level spell: The spell can now affect five targets.

 

3rd – animate

Daily

Effect: By touching an object, you imbue it with temporary animation and life. You could cause a chair to dance, a candlestick to walk over and set a pile of straw on fire, a door to unlock itself, or a chain to wrap itself around a target. Animated objects are slow and comically clumsy – they can obey commands, but aren’t any good in a fight. The objects gain the power to bend and move, but will damage themselves if they try anything too strenuous. Objects connected to other objects (like a door in a wall) can be ordered to rip themselves free, but may succeed only in damaging themselves – and any damage to the object ends the spell.

The object completes one task, then stops moving.

3rd level spell: Any object you can hold in your hand

5th level: A piece of furniture

7th level: Anything up to about the size of a house or small sailing ship.

9th level: Wake up, you lazy mountain!

 

3rd – transmute element

Daily

Effect: You charge your hands with the magical ability to transmute one element into another. Anything you touch while you concentrate on this spell is transformed. You can’t cast other spells while maintaining this one.

Possible transmutations, any of which can be reversed.

3rd level: Rock to mud

5th level: Lead to gold, fire to ice

7th level: Flesh to stone, steel to glass. Also, you can now make your transmutations permanent if you wish.

9th level: No new transformation, but you can now cast the spell as a transmutation wave instead, affecting an area around you instead of being limited by touch.

 

5th – water breathing

Range: Close-quarters spell

Daily

Quick action to cast

Effect: You can breathe underwater for the rest of the battle (or about five minutes). You become aware a couple of rounds ahead of when the magic of the spell is about to end.

7th level spell: You and 1d4 + 2 nearby allies can breathe underwater this battle.

9th level spell: The spell affects you and 1d6 + 2 nearby allies for 4d6 hours.

 

7th – wall

Quick action to Cast

Daily

Ranged spell

Effect: You conjure a wall of stone. It’s a really big wall, nice and thick. It appears between you and the nearest person who intends to harm you, if you’re in combat. The wall can be climbed (DC25) or flown over, but it’s a really, really long wall, so people can’t trivially walk around it. If there are nearby anchor points – dungeon corridor walls, buildings, hills, etc – then the wall appears between them. Casting this spell immediately takes you and any nearby companions out of combat (assuming your foes can’t easily overcome the wall) without incurring a campaign loss.

9th level spell: It’s now a wall of fire.

 

 

 

 

The following article originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in June 2006.

June brings us to the completion of work on our webstore. Substantial progress has also been made on all of our outstanding manuscripts, and what’s more, new roleplaying games in the pipeline – yes, that’s plural. And remember at the store, you may obtain a free copy of the Quickstart Rules with any other DERPG purchase.

Dying Earth E-Books
All of our Dying Earth books and magazines except Demons of the Dying Earth are now available for purchase in PDF form from the webstore at a substantial discount from the print price. All of our print versions now include the PDF, sent straight away by email when you complete your order, so you can get started. Anyone who has ordered since 2nd November last year will find that they have a PDF version of any Dying Earth book they have bought to download from their order page. By popular request, we have also added the ability to accept PayPal.

Keep Page XX Going
It is the moment for a little unbecoming begging. Page XX is time consuming and expensive to produce. It’s great fun to do, and I’d like to release it more regularly. If you enjoy Page XX, please buy something from our webstore  to help us keep it going. The new PDF products mean that your support won’t break the bank.

Dying Earth in the Pipeline
A flurry of activity this month means we have three artists and three layout people working away on “Rhialto’s Book of Marvels“, the “Compendium of Universal Knowledge” and Fields of Silver.
Rhialto’s Book of Marvels is the long-awaited source book for Arch-Magicians. Created by Robin D Laws, designer-in-Chief of the Dying Earth RPG, it features a totally new mechanics with which you can actually win the game. Expect fraught discussions, drunken magical brawls between manses, feeble attempts at seduction and childish one-upmanship. Combined with world-shattering magic, of course. One of the artists has a blog where you can see some of the illustrations for Rhialto (ed: this blog no longer seems to be active).

The Compendium of Universal Knowledge is a gazetteer, a bestiary and an encyclopedia of the Dying Earth. It includes entries by almost all our writers, and is being compiled and edited with additional material by David Thomas. It includes entries long and short, creatures, locations, spells, and people. We use the simple conceit that the book is sentient – the book wrote itself. Observe if you will a sample article from the Compendium, and a first cut of the layout style.

New Times Demand New Games
Pelgrane Press will also be producing new games with the following qualities:

  • Easy to learn
  • Easy to teach
  • Easy to play
  • Innovative
  • Approachable

A GM should be able to learn each game in half an hour, nuances in a hour or so. It should be easy to teach the basics of the game to a novice in fifteen minutes. The design should take account of developments in gaming over the last ten years and offer something genuinely original. GMs will want to take the game out time and time again.

The Esoterrorists and Gumshoe core rules – The first of these new games will be created by Robin D Laws. We asked him to make a rule set which supports investigative roleplaying and a default background to go with him. I’ve seen and playtested the first draft, and the game is entering full play test on 12th June. Adrian Bott will be reworking the Book of Unremitting Horror for the new system, and we’ll be creating other adventures and rules supplements with an investigative theme. Robin says:
“Unlike other investigative roleplaying games, the Esoterrorist’s GUMSHOE rules system ensures that the plot never grinds to a halt due to a failed die roll. As the top paranormal detectives, you never fail in your areas of expertise. When necessary, you can expend extra effort to glean more from the evidence than any plodding journeyman could hope to find.”

Unreality – Something weird happened to you. Maybe you woke up one morning and found you were married with three kids, perhaps a bus tried to eat or maybe dogs no longer exist. You’ve been unborn. You can manipulate unreality, but it will slowly eat away at everything that is real about you – what anchors you to your humanity. It’s your job to prevent causality violation using your new-found abilities while avoiding the backlash. The system peculiarly makes it easier to do things with unreality the more improbable they are.
Steve Dempsey, long time Dying Earth contributor is creating this new game for us. We’ve run internal play tests and will be ready for a full playtest in a couple of weeks.


The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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