As we’re moving toward more video content, I decided to record my View From the Pelgrane’s Nest in video format this month.

Turns out, my rural Irish broadband does not like to upload videos.

And so, more than a week later than anticipated, the first ever Video View From the Pelgrane’s Nest:

or the individual videos:

 

 

 

13th Age permits players to take negative relationships with Icons, to define their characters in opposition to these mighty foes. Sometimes, though, it’s tricky to reconcile that opposition with the mechanical benefits of icons. It’s easy to justify getting a benefit from a positive or conflicted relationship – I’m a loyal follower of the Crusader, so sometimes I get help from the Crusader and his allies. It’s easy, too, to come up ways to involve enemies of the evil icons – I’m a foe of the Crusader – so sometimes I get help from the Priestess or the Great Gold Wyrm.

However, it can be a bit harder to come up with foes of the good or neutral Icons on the fly – especially if your players don’t want to ally with evil forces. Who stands against the Archmage, the Priestess, or the Great Gold Wyrm, but isn’t in league with darkness?

Archmage

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: High Druid, Elf Queen

  • Champions of nature, who object to the Archmage’s cavalier manipulation of the cosmic order.
  • Survivors of magical experiments gone awry.
  • Renegade spellcasters, who chafe under the Archmage’s strangehold on magical research.
  • Rival powers like the Elf Queen or the Diabolist, who have their own claims on magical authority that clashes with the Archmage’s domain.
  • Thieves or spies investigating the Archmage’s operations.
  • Magic-hating dwarves.
  • Spirits trying to escape magical bindings or wards.
  • Wizard King loyalists insulted by this pretender to the title

Dwarf King

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: Elf Queen, Prince of Shadows

  • Miners or adventurers objecting to the Dwarf King’s claim on all underground riches
  • Elves pressing the ancient rivalry with the dwarves
  • Robin Hood-esque brigands fighting dwarven mercantilist hegemony
  • Ambitious dwarven nobles or oppressed dwarven commoners plotting against the king

Elf Queen

Iconic Enemies: Dwarf King

  • Folk of Drakkenhall, who want to expand into territory claimed by the Queen
  • Dwarves pressing the ancient rivalry with the elves
  • Foes of the Dark Elves
  • Common folk who’ve been bewitched/abducted/enchanted by wayward fae
  • Agents of the Archmage, who seek magical powers forbidden by the Queen

Emperor

Non-evil Iconic Enemies:-

  • Revolutionaries and the unjustly accused, fighting against the oppressive state
  • True allies of the Emperor, conspiring against the evil nobles and advisors who’ve led the Emperor astray, or who use the Emperor’s name to further their own selfish ends
  • Enemies of corrupt officials
  • Separatists from the Empire’s remote provinces who plot to secede from Axis
  • Champions of some higher cause or calling than mere mortal law

Great Gold Wyrm

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: –

  • Well-meaning monks who believe it’s time for the Great Gold Wyrm to finally move on to the afterlife.
  • Unwilling heroes tormented by maddening dreams sent by the Wyrm.
  • Foes of corrupt or crazed paladins.
  • Heroic dragons who seek to replace the Wyrm; as long as the Wyrm remains trapped in the mouth of the Abyss, there’s no-one to counterbalance the threat of the Three

High Druid

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: Archmage, Emperor

  • Civilisation in all its forms – wood-cutters and farmers, scholars and city-builders, road-makers and hunters
  • Alchemists seeking curative ingrediants in the woods
  • Foes of the former High Druid, who fear the new Druid will prove as monstrous as her predecessor
  • Rival druids who seek to challenge the High Druid, and must weaken her first
  • Sages and spellcasters who fear the High Druid will endanger the Empire by breaking protective magical wards.

Priestess

Iconic Enemies: –

  • Servants of the Dark Gods, who believe the Priestess threatens cosmic balance by favouring the Light.
  • Servants of certain Light Gods, who believe the Priestess threatens cosmic balance by secretly favouring the Dark
  • People who just think anyone that nice must be up to something.
  • Those who feel that whatever divine penance or punishment they suffered was too harsh.
  • Merchants and nobles who aren’t evil, per se, but who’d like a little moral flexibility
  • Hard-as-nails adventurers who know that, sometimes, you have to be do cruel things for the greater good, and so are at odds with the Priestess and her followers

Prince of Shadows

Non-evil Iconic Enemies: Archmage, Dwarf King

  • The authorities in any city, cracking down on the Prince’s criminal empire
  • Victims of the Prince’s schemes
  • Rival criminals, taking their shot at the Prince.
  • Thief-takers and agents sent to recover stolen goods.

It’s been a long two months, and we hope that you’re staying safe and well, and adapting to life in self-isolation. We’ve been very fortunate in that both our UK and US warehouses are able to work while remaining compliant with the regulations of the UK & Nevada state authorities’ health recommendations. All US & Canadian orders are shipping as usual; our UK shipper has some postcode- and country-level restrictions due to a lack of international freight options – you can read more about these exceptions here.

What seems now like couple of years ago, when it became clear that we had to retreat to the safety of our respective nests to weather this storm, we asked you what sort of resources, articles, and products you were interested in. Here’s a run-down of the most common responses we got, and what we’ve been up to on that front.

Video

Many of you expressed disappointment about missing out on conventions – specifically, watching panels and seminars, as well as hanging out with other Pelgranistas. We’ve ramped up the video offerings on our YouTube channel, and we’re releasing new videos a couple of times a week. There’s a list of our new videos in this article.

And if you want to stay connected with what we’re doing outside of YouTube, find Pelgrane Press on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and now Discord.

More Virtual Tabletop assets/advice and tips for playing online

Most of our team has made the switch to gaming online now, and Robin and Wade have both pulled together tips and advice on how you can make the transition to virtual play smoothly.

Production Apprentice Noah Lloyd has been hard at work building new character sheets and expanding the range of adventures available on a variety of VTTs such as Roll20, Fantasy Grounds and Astral – read more about what’s on offer in his article below.

Support for retailers

We believe that Friendly Local Game Stores are the lifeblood of our hobby, and we know that they’re being hard hit by widespread closures at the moment. We’ve implemented a number of ways to support them:

  • Give your FLGS 20% of the sale amount of any print products you bought in the Pelgrane webstore in April or May, which your FLGS currently stocks. Email your Pelgrane webstore order number, and your FLGS’s store name and address, to support@pelgranepress.com and we’ll send them 20% of your order total at the end of May.
  • All our pre-orders are available through the Bits and Mortar program, so your FLGS can offer any of our pre-orders along with the PDF.
  • While distributors are closed, game stores can order stock direct from us by emailing us at support@pelgranepress.com.
  • We’re delaying the retail releases of Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition, Book of the Underworld, and Swords of the Serpentine until stores have safely reopened.

More One-2-One resources

  • We’re working with a number of authors on new, self-contained PDF-only GUMSHOE One-2-One protagonist characters, settings, and adventures. We’ll be releasing these as they become ready over the coming year.
  • We’ve also made both Cthulhu Confidential and Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, as well as the adventures for both, available at a bargain price at the Bundle of Holding until May 18th.

Advice and tips on roleplaying with children

This is Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s specialist subject, as he’s been running games for his two boys (now aged seven) for the last couple of years.

  • Gaming for Kids – Some hints and tips on how to make roleplaying games more enjoyable for the smallies
  • GUMSHOE Kids playtesting – Provisionally titled “GUMSHOE Kids”, Gareth’s also been working on an adaptation of GUMSHOE for younger players ages 7-12. We’re looking for playtesters for this until the end of May.

Other customer offers, events and discounts

  • During 2020, we’ll release the PDF versions of all new products as soon as we have the final PDF (so The Yellow King RPG PDFs, Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition PDF, and Book of the Underworld PDFs are all available now in our webstore and shortly on DriveThruRPG).
  • We’re offering a PDF upgrade option during 2020 – if you buy any PDF from the Pelgrane webstore in 2020, you’ll get a voucher for the total amount of the PDF off the print version. We’ll send these vouchers out periodically through the year, or you can contact us at support@pelgranepress.com to get one.
  • Some of you have mentioned that you’ll miss our special convention 4 for 3 offer, so that will be a standing offer on our webstore until September 1st, 2020. If you buy any four items – print or PDF – you get the cheapest one for free with the voucher code COVID20@4FOR3.
  • Want to grab the PDF of any of our Free RPG Day adventures? You can pick them up for a Pay What You Want charitable donation.
  • Another reminder that our existing One-2-One settings and adventures available for a bargain price at the Bundle of Holding until May 18th.
  • Pick up a Night’s Black Agents or The Yellow King RPG mask in our Threadless store, and get free shipping with the code FREESHIP520ebd78d 
  • The Origins Game Fair has moved their physical convention to October 7th-11th, and will be hosting a virtual convention on its original dates, June 19th – 21st. We’ll be supporting this virtual convention with as many seminars and games as we can get volunteers to help us with, so watch this space!

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

Title: GUMSHOE Kids

System: GUMSHOE core book

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Deadline: Monday, June 1st 2020

Number of sessions: 1 per adventure

Description:

Try out the first draft of a GUMSHOE adaptation for players aged 7 to 12! Featuring two settings with custom characters, abilities and a framework for creating exciting adventures in that setting:

  • They Broke The Past: A broken time machine has scattered modern-day items throughout the past, altering history. You’ve got to go back in time, find the anachronisms, and put history back the way it was supposed to be.
  • Space Robots: Inquisitive robots explore the solar system in the aftermath of an alien invasion.

By Kevin Kulp

There’s value in seeing how a hero you know translates into Swords of the Serpentine, especially when that hero changes over time.

SotS lets you play fledgling (less experienced) and sovereign (exceptionally experienced) versions of the same character, jumping back and forth in time between adventures in the same way a collection of fantasy short stories might jump between different eras of the same hero’s life.

For comparison, a sovereign Hero has about 16 adventures worth of experience over a standard Hero, and a standard Hero has about 17 adventures more experience than a fledgling Hero. That’s enough of a power and capability difference to feel like you’re at very different stages of the Hero’s career. A fun scenario might be to run three adventures: one at standard level to showcase a threat or problem, then one at fledgling level to show how the threat or problem originated, and finally one at sovereign level to let your Heroes crush the threat once and for all.

For a look at how you might translate this concept into a game character, let’s look at an iconic barbarian modeled on Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Note that we don’t pick Conan so you can play this exact character; there are plenty of really amazing RPGs that let you do exactly that, including one by our friends from Modiphius. Our goal here is to show you how a Hero might change between stages of their career, not to capture the literary Conan perfectly.

As always in Swords of the Serpentine, you should be able to know a character just by reading their Adjectives, Drives (or “what three things are best in life?”), and Gear.

Fledgling

At fledgling power, we have is a Conan who is more thief than warrior. He’s adept at breaking and entering, good in a fight (especially if he fights unconventionally) but without tactical mastery. He’s young, and only knows how to relate to others through posturing and insults.

Conan, fledgling thief (as in The Tower of the Elephant)

Naïve, adventurous, hostile, greedy

Drives (what is best in life?): To stand alone against danger, to gain another’s wealth, to buy respect with blood and steel

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

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 3, Grit 1 (stubbornness), Morale 7

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

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 6: Damage Modifier +1 (sword)

Investigative abilities: Intimidation 1, Taunt 1; Skullduggery 2, Spot Frailty 1, Vigilance 1, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 2; Enemy: City Watch 1

General abilities: Athletics 8 (Dodge), Burglary 4, Stealth 4, Sway 3, Warfare 6

Gear: Loincloth, well-honed sword, stolen dagger, rope and grappling hook that need only survive this one adventure, empty coin purse, empty skin of wine, empty belly, but a full and endless supply of disdain for the soft and the civilized.

Standard

At the power of a typical Hero, Conan excels at battle. His charm is more evident now, although he still excels at terrifying or angering his enemies; he sees the weaknesses in his enemies’ defenses and he’s quick to exploit any advantage this gives him. His allegiances have shifted due to his life of piracy, and his skill with a blade now allows him to cleave his way through foes with nary a pause.

Conan, barbarian conqueror (as in Queen of the Black Coast)

Confident, canny, territorial, vengeful

Drives (what is best in life?): To risk all for an ally, to conquering the weak, and to uncovering that which is hidden

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Armor 2 (chain, assuming he’s bothering to wear a shirt at all), Health 10

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

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

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8: Damage Modifier +2 (great sword)

Investigative abilities: Charm 1, Intimidation 1, Taunt 1; Spot Frailty 2, Tactics of Death 3, Vigilance 1, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 1, Ally: Pirates 1; Enemy: Outlanders 1

General abilities: Athletics 8 (Dodge), Preparedness 3, Stealth 6, Sway 5, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Gear: worn chain armor, great sword, smoldering blue gaze, panther-like demeanor, full skin of wine, urge for adventure, and still a full and endless supply of disdain for the soft and the civilized.

 

Sovereign

Late in life, Conan is almost unmatched in battle and tactics. He may sit in a throne room uneasily, as his skills are meant for the battlefield. He’s cleverer and better at threats than he was in his youth, and his ability to conquer is buttressed by good luck and a lifetime of battle. One thing is for sure, though; enemies from multiple nations want his head, and more than one sorcerer falls asleep at night dreaming of the tortures they wish to inflict upon him.

Conan, sovereign warrior (as in The Scarlet Citadel)

Masterful, impatient, driven, vengeful

Drives (what is best in life?): To crush your enemies, to rule your conquered nations, and to put your enemies to the sword

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 4, Health 10

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

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

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 10: Damage Modifier +2 (great sword)

Investigative abilities: Charm 1, Command 1, Intimidation 1, Taunt 1; Ridiculous Luck 1, Spot Frailty 2, Tactics of Death 4, Vigilance 1, Wilderness Mastery 1

Allegiances: Ally: Outlanders 2; Enemy: Outlanders 2, Enemy: Sorcerous Cabals 1

General abilities: Athletics 10 (Dodge), Preparedness 4, Stealth 6, Sway 5, Warfare 10 (Cleave)

Gear: rich robes that seem out of place, disdainfully-worn crown, look of boredom, the hatred of treasonous nobles, nostalgia for the battlefield.

In a campaign, the GM can flip back and forth between heroes of different abilities, just as the stories in a fantasy anthology may jump back and forth in time. It’s a nice way to emphasize how a hero grows over time.

 


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

 

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”, to quote Lovecraft. However, when it comes to translating his fiction into games, unknown monsters can be tricky to handle. In a roleplaying game, the players need to be able to make meaningful decisions, and for that, they need some information to give context to those decisions. The more they know, the less unknown there is. (One reason why classic monsters like vampires work well in rpgs – the players know the rules already, and you can present them as a part of a bigger mystery instead of making the investigation all about the monster. They no longer draw their power from fear of the unknown – it’s all about fear of what they might do with their known powers and hungers.)

Sometimes, getting more information about an unknown threat can be scarier. For example, if the characters are the crew of an isolated research base, and they find the mangled corpse of one of their co-workers outside on the ice, that’s scary – there’s a monster out there! However, if the characters then discover another corpse inside a locked room in the base, that’s even scarier – can the monster walk through walls? Is it a shapeshifter, now disguised as one of the crew? Is it in the air ducts?

The players need to discover the ‘rules’ of the unknown monster, and there’s an awkward dance here, especially if the monster can only be defeated by exploiting a particular trait, and especially in a one-shot or short adventure. You need to ensure the players find the information they need without making it obvious or contrived (nothing spoils atmosphere like having a really obvious LOOK, LOOK, HERE’S THE IMPORTANT BIT scene), while still keeping the monster mysterious. So, what are some elegant ways of getting information to the players, without making it seem like you’re setting up the pins with one hand and handing the players a bowling ball with the other?

(An aside – one key question to ask yourself is always, “what’s the characters’ goal?” If the characters can achieve their aims – break the family curse, escape the nightmarish town, discover the fate of their old friend – without having to defeat the monster outright, you can get away with revealing less about the monster. But if your campaign setup or scenario hook demands that the characters take an active role in investigating or thwarting the Mythos, they’re likely to press on to a final confrontation – and if you want to avoid that final confrontation from becoming a chase scene or a shootout, it’ll have to hinge on a meaningful decision by the players, which means giving information about the unknowable horror.)

  • GUMSHOE, of course, promises the players will always get the clues they need if they use their investigative abilities. Try to use multiple tangential clues to the nature of the monster, as opposed to one core revelation that spells out what must be done. Say, for example, the characters are up against a horror from the logos – a monster that manifests when its name is spoke aloud. Dropping lots of hints that connect to this – a corpse with its tongue torn out (Forensics), Occult references to the unspeakable one, a bunch of references to the Scottish play (Art History) – lets the players make that final intuitive leap.
  • In The Dunwich Horror, the Son of Yog-Sothoth can only be destroyed by a ritual. Lovecraft handles this by having the first Whately brother draw attention to the book containing the banishing ritual in an earlier scene. Have the players discover information about the monster while pursuing an apparently unrelated lead.
  • Pacing out the information also helps. The bigger the gap between the players discovering information about the monster, and actually encountering the monster, the better. If the players run into a Colour Out Of Space five minutes after encountering the local inventor with his shed full of high-voltage electrical equipment, then it’s obvious that the Keeper intends for them to use electromagnetic fields as a weapon against the otherwise invincible foe. However, if the players run into the inventor near the start of the adventure, and encounter the Colour much later, then it feels much more like the players cleverly calling back to an established bit of background colour. Lovecraft uses something like this technique in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, where Doctor Willett discovers the dismissal formula long before he finally uses it to banish Joseph Curwen. (Of course, the scene where Dr. Willett randomly starts chanting spells out loud would be intolerable railroading in a tabletop game…)
  • Another approach is to undercut expectations. Say the players find out that there was a series of murders fifty years ago when a cult opened up the Box of the Shining Trapezohedron, and now there’s another set of identical murders. Clearly, someone’s taken the gem from the magic box, and the obvious solution to the scenario is to put the gem back in the box. Twist this by having the cult destroy the box before the players can return the gem. Now, the players have to come up with their own variation on that original solution by finding another way to bury the gem before the monster finds them…

While digging through old boxes, I came across a copy of long-vanished British gaming Roleplayer Independent magazine from the hoary ancient days of December 1992. It took me a few minutes to work out why I’d kept it – there’s a random Cthulhu scenario generator in there by Jim Johnston. (In fact, that article must have been my first encounter with the Cthulhu Mythos, as the first time I actually played a Cthulhu game was January 1994 – but I digress).
Random inspiration is great for Cthulhu scenarios. One of the charms of the Mythos is its sheer incongruity and omnipresence – look under the wrong stone, and you don’t just find a monster, you find an infinitely deep abyss. The Mythos is infinitely mutable, with the possibility of horror lurking in any aspect of reality.

For example, take the first table from that old random generator.

From RPI December ’92

Any of those could lead to a single monster – the lights in the night are a lone fire vampire, accidentally summoned by an archaeologist meddling with an ancient relic, and the worst the investigators might face is a little combustion. Or maybe the lights are Yog-Sothoth manifesting to spawn his hybrid son, and the stakes are nothing less than the destruction of all life on Earth.

Another possible prompt is to pick a random investigative ability, and build a scenario around a clue discovered with that ability. So, lights in the sky + Reassurance – why is some witness so terrified by the lights that reassuring her unlocks the mystery? Maybe the lights are ghosts – psychic projections from the brain-matter of the recently deceased, agitated by some cosmic force afflicting the graveyard (a Colour, maybe?).

Picking a random monster or mythos tome also works – the trick is finding something seemingly incongruous, and then challenging your brain to find connections. As an exercise, let’s take a random event from 1937. A quick jaunt on Wikipedia gives me:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_1937_Folsom_escape_attempt

A random pick of investigative ability gives me Architecture, and picking a random monster from Hideous Creatures gives me the Dark Young. So… the escape attempt involved a carved wooden pistol. Maybe the pistol wasn’t carved, but grown, and one of the prisoners was a secret worshipper of the Black Goat who erected a secret temple to her in some hidden corner of the prison (Architecture). The escape attempt fails, but the worried warden turns to the investigators to discover the origin of the unholy weapon.

Alternatively, taking the same historical event, but a different ability and monster – Law and the Moon-Beasts. Ok, clearly, the prisoners are escaping because the state of California has a secret bargain with the Moon-Beasts, and prisoner ‘executions’ at Folsom are a cover for the unholy teind of victims to the Moon-Beasts…

A third random prompt  – Flattery and the Ultraviolet Devourers out of From Beyond. Here, maybe an arrogant prisoner claims to know a better way out of the prison – he’s going to walk through the walls. Flattery gets him to reveal that his friend on the outside has a mysterious machine that can shift its targets out of conventional space-time and back again. One day soon, his cell’s going to light up all purple, and he’ll be gone. His friend’s testing it – what do you think drove those other prisoners crazy enough to attack the warden like that?


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.

by Bryant Durrell

The Yellow King RPG can be daunting for a Keeper: four different settings, potentially lengthy campaign arcs, and to top it all off the canonical kick-off asks the Keeper to improvise connections between the Deuced Peculiar Things invented by the players and her carefully crafted scenario. I’ve always struggled a little bit with crafting GUMSHOE scenarios because I tend to get stuck on the obvious Investigative abilities. Meanwhile, I know my players will want to use Painting from time to time rather than just relying on a series of clues revealed by Occultism and Research.

I recently kicked off a long-term Yellow King RPG campaign, so solving this problem was a matter of some urgency. I’d been running a lot of RPGs with extensive randomization tables recently, and I’d noticed that creating a random event table forced me to explore a wider range of possibilities. I thought that perhaps I could use that kind of forcing function to flesh out a scenario.

I started out by sketching out a mystery more or less as recommended in the rules. First, I wrote down the basic spine of an adventure: Hook, Development, Antagonist Reactions, Alien Truth, and Climax. Second, I needed a premise. My theme for the Paris era was masks. Since I wanted to get right to the meat of each era, I embodied that concept as blatantly as possible: I decided there were a bunch of thrill seekers with living masks running around Paris. By unwisely using certain Carcosan rituals, a savvy occultist could mold one of these masks into a duplicate of a living person. I expected to jolt my players into asking questions about identity and self.

From there, I mind mapped my ideas around the spine. I left the Hook blank, since it was going to be tied to someone’s Deuced Peculiar Thing. The mind map wasn’t terribly dense, as can be seen in the picture. I just wanted enough detail to hang a plot on. Some details were only hints; for example, I knew there was a sinister figure behind the masked thrill seekers, but I didn’t want to nail down the specifics until I’d seen the characters.

But this didn’t solve my core problem! If I just improvised a story around this skeleton, I’d wind up with repetitive Investigative ability use and bored players. Back to devising a technique that would force me to be creative.

Since my problem was failing to cater to all the Investigative abilities, I gritted my teeth and pasted a list of the abilities into the corner of my notepad. Then I started working my way down the list, adding a potential clue next to each ability. As one can see, I was meticulous for about the first ten abilities. After that I started to skip around a little bit, with an eye towards making sure I was covering a good range of abilities even if I didn’t add a note for each one.

This worked very well for me. While devising the clues for Art History and Painting, I wound up adding a potential Vermeer theft subplot. Coming up with a Sculpture clue made me think about how the masks were created, and the source of clay for Greek ritual masks wound up being a key pipe clue. The Natural History clue — a cat with a dog’s face — wasn’t a pipe clue, but it’s a great bit of cosmic creepiness that was guaranteed to disturb pet-loving characters.

When I sketch out my second scenario, I’ll also note which character has which Investigative ability. That way, I can balance my potential clues across all the players and reduce my creative workload a bit. I’ll also balance clues across the three types of Investigative ability.

How did all this work out in play? As we created our characters, one player decided that his character Herbert had been seeing this weird person following him for months, both in his home country America and in Paris. That was perfect for the masked villains. Since Herbert’s Deuced Peculiar Thing only involved a single person, I quickly dropped the idea of a pack of mask wearers, although our villain had an interest in drafting the player characters into his service.

By the end of the scenario I’d only used a few clues from my sheet; every other clue I tossed in was either ad hoc or sketched out between the two sessions it took us to play through the scenario. (I didn’t work in the Vermeer, much to my regret.) However, the forced creativity exercise pushed my initial scenario design into places I wouldn’t have taken it on my own, so the scheme was certainly successful.

The lightweight skeleton combined with a rich set of prospective clues also had an unexpected effect of creating a dense feel to our campaign’s Paris. I had so many potential scenario directions, it was easy to improvise based on the direction the characters went. I want to capture the classic blurred line between the play and reality; by treating one player’s Deuced Peculiar Thing as if I knew it even before he’d said the words, I made good progress in that direction.


Bryant Durrell makes a living keeping servers healthy; in his copious spare time he watches wrestling, writes, and pretends to be fighting orcs. You can find him on Twitter as @bryantd and he blogs (rarely) at Population: One.


The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

Wade Rockett 13th Age designer logoAlso, check out Robin D. Laws’ “9 Tips for Remote Tabletop RPG Play”.

Greetings, fellow dungeon dwellers! Today, I wanted to talk about playing 13th Age on the Roll20 virtual tabletop. However! Because I’m a Roll20 noob, I asked Aaron Roudabush, the master of 13th Age online play, to share some tips.

You can purchase three 13th Age adventures on Roll20—as of today Pelgrane Press has made one free to purchase (forever!), and the others 20% off through September 2020.

Make Your Own Luck (free forever): a stand-alone adventure which also works as a prequel to the megadungeon campaign Eyes of the Stone Thief. Includes 3 full color maps, 20 unique character tokens, 12 pregenerated characters using the official 13th Age character sheet, and a PDF of the adventure, as well as handouts within Roll20 to help both players and GMs who are new to Roll20 or 13th Age.

Shadows of Eldolan (20% off through September): an introductory 13th Age adventure for 1st level heroes that provides a GM with a partially fleshed-out town setting full of intrigue. Includes 11 full color maps, 38 unique character tokens, 12 pregenerated characters, and 19 handouts written and organized specifically for the Roll20 edition. A PDF of the adventure is also included.

Swords Against the Dead (also 20% off through September): a quick-start zombie-fighting adventure with multiple possible paths. Includes 6 maps complete with Dynamic Lighting and support for Advanced Fog of War, macros for all combat NPCs, for instant automatic rolls, statted token art for every character and monster, 6 pre-gen characters with variants, the full adventure broken out into easy handouts and folders for whatever direction the players go.

Aaron’s Roll20 13th Age GM Tips:

If you’re using maps, you don’t need to use the grid Roll20 defaults to. You can turn it off in the settings for each individual page. However, keeping the grid on helps you size tokens equally, so take advantage of that. Turning it off and on again only takes a moment so use what best suits your immediate need. I turn the grid on to place tokens, but then turn it off for gameplay.

Macros help! You can learn more about them here: https://roll20.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360037256794-Macros. You can use macros as part of your character sheets, but they can also be useful on their own. Sometimes you just need to roll a d20 or d6 or any other dice, such as when you take impromptu damage from skill challenges or when you are simulating gambling in-game. Especially helpful is the Rolling a Macro with a Variable section, which is great for GMs to do their attack rolls. Additional bonus: any macro you make as a GM can be shared with the players, so they can use it too—just scroll down on the macro creation popup. Just don’t forget to show the macro quick bar, and check each macro you want to use.

You can place maps or tokens on multiple visible levels. Take advantage of this. Do you need to put a token to represent a torch on the map but don’t want to accidentally move it around? Put it on the map level and not the token level. Have monsters waiting to ambush the characters, but don’t want to spend time dragging the tokens onto the map from your library or journal? Just set them up ahead of time and put them on the GM-only level. If you’re using fog of war, you can also hide these monsters in there until they need to be used. Do you need to have a “before” and “after” map, such as when you need to show the aftermath of an explosion or rockslide? Put the after map on the GM-only level and right click to change its layer.

You might know that you can designate a token to represent a particular character in the Journal—but did you know you can set that token up so you can immediately show its HP and recoveries as well as other attributes? To do this, set up the token on the play space. Drag your image onto the page, then double click it to bring up the Edit Token page. Use the drop down on the left to select the character it represent. On the right, you can then pick things for the bars to represent. If you’re using the official 13th Age character sheet, you can easily set the bars to show HP and Recoveries (listed as “rec” in the dropdown). But you can use the bars for more as well, such as rogue’s momentum, commander’s command points, and so on. Once you’ve set up the token to your liking, save the changes and close the Edit Token page. Then open up the associated character’s page. Select the Edit button at the top right. On the left, you’ll see an area called “Default Token (optional)”. Select the token, then click the “Use Selected Token” button. Now, you can drag the character from the Journal page onto a page and it will have all the correct information you’ve set up every time. It sounds like a lot of work for not much reward, but it saves time and effort for me every game.

To roll initiative using the official 13th Age sheet select your token, then click the Initiative button on the character sheet. You will save yourself a lot of errors if you remember this.

As a GM you can drag the views of all the players to a specific point by using shift + long left click. Extremely useful if you have a big map or need to draw attention to something on an area players might not be looking at.

I almost always make a setting or world map page for my campaigns, then use an abstract token to show players where they are in the grand scheme of things. I take players back to this page if they’re not anywhere specific or if they’re traveling, much like the map scenes in an Indiana Jones movie. This page is also useful if players need to test out tokens or if you, as the GM, need to do the same. If you don’t need a map, put down something else! A landscape or piece of action packed art can set the scene for everybody and get them in the right mood.

Even if you don’t use maps, you don’t have to use a blank page, either. Get a landscape or picture which represents the location your players are in. A blank white screen is very likely to make people’s attention wander away from the screen to check email or social media or whatnot. Something visually stimulating they can focus on helps alleviate that issue.

Watch Aaron run 13th Age at Roll20con 2016:

“Wade Says” designer symbol by Regina Legaspi


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

I’ve been running impromptu games for my two boys since they were four or five (they’re now seven), and I’ve been thinking about a GUMSHOE Kids framework that I’m going to develop as a priority now. In the meantime, though, I’m aware that there are suddenly a lot of people working from home with kids who can’t go to school, so here’s the benefit of my experience.

Use A Focus

Especially for younger kids, it’s good to have something physical they can focus their attention on and remind them that they’re actually playing a game with rules and structure as opposed to “let’s pretend”. When I ran No Thank You Evil, I hardly used the rules, but I more than got my money out of the cloth map. A sketch map, a wargame using toys – any bit of ritual to catch their attention and remind them to concentrate.

A character sheet isn’t as important as a physical representation (“this is my guy”) on the map.

Run Short Games

Young kids have short attention spans. Most games won’t last more than 30-45 minutes at most. Look to tell simple stories, and try to work the kids’ ideas and discoveries into the conclusion as much as possible. If the kid decides that they befriend a random frog you mentioned as set dressing, then – lo! – the bad guy’s secret weakness is frogs! How did you know!

Take Turns

Especially if you’ve got multiple kids playing, you’ll need to enforce turn order very strictly. Once kids get excited, they’ll start shouting and demanding attention. Make sure everyone gets a chance to talk and act – and, where possible, make sure everyone has an equal impact on the story, especially its conclusion.

Oh – one kids get going, they tend to seize control of the narration. (“I punch the bad guy, and his head explodes, and then and then and then”). You’ll need to balance wonderful exuberance with keeping the game from descending into chaos.

You’re In Their World Now

Kids don’t have the same set of cultural touchstones that adult gamers do. Expect to see a lot of elements crossing over from whatever cartoons, computer games or other entertainment they’re into. Creepers and Pigmen from Minecraft mean more than orcs and goblins to them, and all pop culture is one big shared universe – I’ve run a bunch of dungeon crawls where the player characters are youtubers and characters from computer games. Work with whatever they throw at you, even if that means Batman and Buzz Lightyear fighting Sauron.

Give Clear Options

Provide a bit more guidance to new players than you would to experienced gamers. Present them with a clear menu of options – you can go down the corridor, or try the door. You can talk to the goblin, or try to scare him. GUMSHOE really comes into its own here – the investigative abilities work as a clear list of ‘questions I can ask’. Then, ask them to describe how they take that action. You have to give a clear structure for the shared imaginative space, or things will spiral out of control.

Sneaky Teaching

The content of your adventure can have some educational elements, without going overboard – just running a game set in, say, ancient Egypt lets you talk about mummies and pyramids and hieroglyphics or the importance of irrigation. Running a game in space lets you drop in a little science. Mechanics, too, teach basic math – if you spent four points from that general ability, and you rolled a 3, does that beat the Difficulty of 6? Rolling dice is always fun; for younger kids, it may be useful to give them tokens to track ability pools.

Have Fun!

The most important thing of all, of course. Think of it as a chance to spend quality time with the kids, while also ensuring you’ll have a gaming group on tap in the months to come…

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