(For context, see the Reality Hacking rules)

Interpersonal Hacks

The Truth Will Out (Bullshit Detector): The target of this hack become violently, explosively ill should they attempt to utter a lie. If the victim’s lucky, it’s just vomiting. The hack’s effects last for a few minutes.

Carbon Ghost (Bureaucracy): Given a set of personal documents and a supply of paper, this hack creates a sort of hollow paper golem. The golem’s physically fragile and cannot fight, but it can carry out simple tasks at the command of the hacker. Furthermore, the golem has fragmentary memories drawn from those of the owner of the personal documents. So, get hold of an Esoterrorist’s passport, conjure a golem, and tell it to go to the Esoterrorist’s home, and follow the shambling thing before a light breeze destroys it.

G-Man (Cop Talk): This hack convinces reality that the Ordo Veritatis Agent is a government agent, a Man in Black. It gives a 6-point Preparedness pool for equipment that a sinister government agent might possess – bugging devices, government IDs, earpiece microphones, dark shades, lethal syringes and the like.

Self-Belief (Flattery): Tell the target of this hack they’re good at something, and they gain a 6-point pool in the matching ability. (“You’re really strong=6 points of Athletics”). The target must be unaware they’re being hacked, and the pool vanishes instantly if the target learns they’ve been unnaturally augmented.

 Dream Suggestion (Flirting): The target of this hack becomes aware of the hacker – they dream about them, they can’t stop thinking about them, everything reminds them of the hacker. There’s no guarantee that the target’s feelings are in any way positive, but they’ll certainly attach some degree of importance or emotional weight to any interactions with the hacker. The effect lasts for two or three days.

 Face Change (Impersonate): The hacker’s facial appearance changes to match the person or type they’re impersonating. This isn’t (completely) a physical change – it’s more that people retain a different memory of the hacker’s face. (That said, repeated use of the spell causes physical features and even memories to bleed over).

 Imprison (Interrogation): The target of the hack is rendered unable to move after an interrogation session. They’re psychically compelled to stay in place for at least eight hours. So, interview a suspect in a diner, and they’re stuck in the booth for the rest of the day (better pray they used the bathroom first). For the hack to work, the hacker has to use regular mundane Interrogation on the target before attempting the hack.

 Thing of Terror (Intimidation): This hack works just like Manifest Fear (the Forensic Psychology hack), giving both hacker and target a momentary glimpse of the target’s fears. The difference is that Manifest Fear dredges up their most deep-seated, personal fears and doubts, whereas Thing of Terror flashes their immediate, present concerns. Cast Manifest Fear on a criminal goon, and you get the fear of dying of cancer like his mother did. Cast Thing of Terror, and you learn he’s worried about the Russian mafia shooting him dead in the street.

 Occult Bargain (Negotiation): Draws the attention of a Mystery Man. Basically, the equivalent of putting up a sign reading ‘THIS SOUL FOR SALE’.

 This Is Normal Now (Reassurance): The target briefly accepts everything as normal, mundane and quite unremarkable, no matter how bizarre or traumatic the situation would normally appear. While it provides instant calm, it can make questioning the subject a frustrating experience. (Q: Did you see anything strange earlier? A: No. Q: Who else was in the room? A: Oh, just a nine-foot tall creature made of cockroaches, wearing a skull mask and carrying a dagger in each of its six arms.)

Streetwarp (Streetwise): This hack works similarly to the Spacewarp hack for Architecture, allowing the hacker to bend space by connecting two disparate streets in the same neighbourhood. The hack only works in built-up areas.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

(For context, see the Reality Hacking rules)

Technical Hacks

See The Membrane (Astronomy): This hack enables the Agent to judge local Membrane conditions by observing the stars. The Agent can tell how strong the Membrane is, and the safest direction back to ‘normal’ reality.

Magic Bullet (Ballistics): Activate this hack after missing with a Firearms attack, and spend enough Firearms points to make up the difference between your original rest and the target’s Hit Threshold.

Preservation Vat (Chemistry): Some chemical reactions only work in the Outer Dark. This hack allows the Agent to brew up a clear, viscous gel from common household chemicals. Living tissue submerged in the gel is preserved and doesn’t decay – or die. Stick a decapitated head or evil monster hand in there, and it’ll stay alive.

EVP (Cryptography): By means of this hack, the Agent is able to extract information from random noise. Static on a television or radio is the usual source, but analysing large amounts of numerical data also works. Information garnered in this fashion is not necessarily useful – you’re dependent on what the local ghosts want to talk about.

File Corruption (Data Retrieval): This is close to a literal hack – applied to an electronic storage device, it warps the stored data. The incantation doesn’t affect the functioning of the device, but does change whatever human-orientated information is stored on it. So, apply it to a security camera, and the camera now stores weird, distorted images and no faces can be made out. Apply it to an airline booking database, and suddenly a host of non-existent people have bookings on the plane. The hack’s best used for covering your tracks – instead of deleting data during the Veil-Out, you can just warp it.

Coffee Ghost (Document Analysis): You know how old documents have rings on them left by carelessly placed coffee cups of yesteryear. Well, this hack lets you taste that coffee. Do the mojo, and your mouth fills with the taste of ancient coffee. Or tea. Or whatever beverage stained the document. Look, these are unreliable hacks of a universe collapsing into darkness and suffering – they can’t all be useful.

Ghost Hunter (Electronic Surveillance): Enchants a camera or other surveillance device for one scene to detect invisible entities.

Psychometry (Evidence Collection): Gives the hacker a brief psychic flash of the strongest emotion connected with a particular object. Caution is recommended when using this hack; the emotions of ODEs can have severely deleterious effects on human sanity.

Reality Burn (Explosive Devices): Enchants an explosive device. The upside – the explosion now affects ghosts and other spiritual entities that would normally ignore a blast. The downside – the Membrane’s technically a spiritual entity. Using this hack to deal with a threat isn’t so much going from the frying pan to the fire, to burning a hole in the frying pan and setting the kitchen on fire. Still, needs must sometimes…

The Touch (Fingerprinting): Touch a fingerprint and use this hack – and for the rest of the scene, you’ve got the fingerprints (and other biological evidence, like skin flakes or secretions) of the person whose fingerprint you touched.

Dead Speak (Forensic Anthropology): Your classic Speak With Dead spell. Lets you converse with a corpse. Best used a short time after death – a corpse in a low-Membrane zone has a high probability of getting taken over by the Outer Dark equivalent of a hermit crab.

Parasitic Wasp (Forensic Entomology): Summons a parasitic wasp from the Outer Dark to inhabit a human host. The wasp isn’t under your control – but you can use this spell to eliminate a dangerous Esoterrorist or a corrupt pawn, as the wasp has its own agenda and will quickly take itself and its new host body out of the area.

Kirlian Photography (Photography): Enchants a camera to pick up on human auras, letting you spot possessed individuals or disguised monsters.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

We’re halfway through April, and showers of vaccines are falling into arms all around. And to add to those good showers, a bad shower – of Yellow King RPG monsters, that is, in Legions of Carcosa – The Yellow King RPG Bestiary. Pre-order this collection of nearly one hundred new Foes, themed to each of the four YKRPG settings, and get the pre-layout PDF now,

New Releases

Articles

13th Age

As a company with tentacles in many countries, we’re taking comfort from the fact that the vaccines are, indeed, finally rolling out around the world. Our USAian Pelgranistas were the first to be vaccinated, followed by our some of our UKians. It’s looking like it’ll take a while for us Irish Pelgranes to get our shots, so we’re continuing to stay indoors, and not travelling outside our home county, meaning we likely to miss you all at conventions again this year :(

GUMSHOE Scenario Workshop

ICYMI, Robin, Ken and Gareth did a Scenario Design Workshop over on our Twitch channel late last week. Prompted by ideas from our excellent Discord community, over the course of their talk they come up with a full outline for a This Is Normal Now adventure for The Yellow King RPG. If Twitch isn’t your thing, you can now check out the seminar on our YouTube channel as well.

NEW RELEASE: Legions of Carcosa – The Yellow King Bestiary

This 8.5″ x 11″ bestiary for The Yellow King RPG features nearly a hundred new Foes. Each of the four settings gets its own custom Foes – 27 for Paris, 24 for The Wars, 20 for Aftermath and 23 for This Is Normal Now – and each one includes story hooks allowing you to repurpose it for each of the other three settings. Monica Valentinelli, an experienced game designer who’s no stranger to horror writing, has described working on Legions of Carcosa: The Yellow King Bestiary thusly:

As Monica’s mentioned, It’s not a book for the faint-hearted! Legions of Carcosa features heavy horror themes, with a number of monsters flagged up as requiring GMs to handle them with particular care. If you’re confident this is the book for your table, you can pre-order it and download the pre-layout PDF now. But please remember, with this and with any YKRPG book – the dream clown can strike at any time.

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

It’s been a bad month for our Swords of the Serpentine artists, with two having had deaths in their close family, and the work from another two needing to be recommissioned. This has delayed Jen finishing off the layout, and added another month to our delivery estimate. She’s back on it full time now, and we’re hoping to get a final PDF to pre-orderers in the next See Page XX.

Work in progress update: The Borellus Connection

While SotS has been on hold, Jen’s been forging ahead with the interior art and layout of The Borellus Connection. Unlike most of our books, she’ll be the only artist working on Borellus, which will give it a cohesive look and feel, not to mention Jen’s usual high standard of visuals. She’s got all the double-page spreads for each adventure finished, and was just starting the interior art before she moved back onto SotS.

Work in progress update: The Paragon Blade

Gareth is finishing off some final tweaks to the text, and making some minor rules changes. He’s also working on writing up art notes, which I’m going to trial a new art direction process on, by handing it over to an independent third party to art direct. This is similar to what we did with Jen McCleary and The Fall of DELTA GREEN (and now Borellus). I’m hoping the experiment works well, meaning not only will the visual art in our books improve, but we can also work on multiple books in parallel, reducing the waiting time for new releases.

Work in progress update: 13th Age projects

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is flowing through production sharply. J-M DeFoggi is still working with authors on a final couple of chapters, and Rob Heinsoo is going over the rest of the manuscript as the final development pass. Once that’s all done, it’s over to Trisha DeFoggi for copyediting, likely in early May. We should have this on pre-order in July.

Behemoths: Paths of the Koru will enter J-M’s development queue after Drakkenhall has gone over to editing.

Gareth is chugging along on his Officially As Yet Unnamed project, codenamed “DRAGON”. I think I’m allowed say it’s a campaign, and there may be dragons in it, but my clearance isn’t high enough for any more.

Rob’s most recent work on Icon Followers covers what passes for monastic traditions among the elves and a couple of the notable NPCs from 13 True Ways. The book is probably on track for the end of the year.

 

 

 

 

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Last time we started laying out a loose episode structure for your Yellow King Roleplaying Game Paris sequence. Start there for episodes 1 through 7.

Episode 8: Visit from Home

Follow a time-honored serialized storytelling convention, bringing in a relative who drops into Paris to complicate an art student’s life, illuminating their backstory.

The relative’s personality contrasts with the characters’, sparking entertaining conflict. A stern investigator has a flighty, extroverted mother. The flibbertigibbet Poet has to squire around the forbidding father who wants him to set prose aside for the family insurance firm.

After a light comic opening, reveal that the relative arrives pre-enmeshed in Carcosan trouble. Mom has invested in a skin cream that owes its remarkable properties to black star magic. Father wishes to procure an antique at the behest of a masked blackmailer capable of ignoring the constraints of time and space.

A player may have already laid seeds for this by connecting their Drive to a relative. If someone’s looking for a missing sister or hoping to clear the name of a falsely accused brother, or came to Paris to escape a scandal involving a wastrel father, that story now surfaces, with a decadent, supernatural hook.

Episode 9: Police and Thieves

Dispatch the art students into the Parisian demimonde to solve a mystery with a criminal element. See pages 133-137 of the Paris book.

  • Oddly chosen targets of the latest anarchist bombing wave suggest a connection with Carcosa.
  • Prisoners released from Le Sante Prison commit murders they can’t remember. The art students must identify the inmate distributing smuggled excerpts from the play and untangle his vengeful scheme.
  • Sûreté head turned private eye Marie-François Goron enlists the art students in his inquiry into a hypnosis-related murder that echoes the old case that haunts him, the slaying of high profile courtesan Régine de Montille.

Episode 10: Psychogeography

Create a scenario that draws the art students to an iconic Paris location.

  • A ritual to feed souls to the king must naturally take place at the city’s axis mundi, also known as the Eiffel Tower.
  • How did strange yellow flowers come to overrun the botanical exhibits at Jardin des Plantes?
  • Are the lights seen at night at the Picpus Cemetery connected to victims of the revolutionary guillotine, or something older?
  • The Catacombs—portal to the shores of Hali?

Episode 11: Ripples from Brittany

Bring in haunted Brittany, site of Robert W. Chambers’ better supernatural stories outside his King in Yellow cycle. Either have the weird beings of its folklore show up in Paris, or send the art students on a road trip to the sea-swept coastal town of Brest. In this latter case, disturbances inland and out on the sea could presage the rising of Carcosan island, the model for the legendary city of Ys.

If you want to keep the students in the city, the mystery might revolve around:

  • the hulking, demonic church guardians called the Nain.
  • the troublingly self-willed and mobile skull of a Breton sorcerer.
  • a rash of improbable deaths, each heralded by the sound of an unearthly locomotive—a sign that the long-tressed Breton herald of death, the Ankou, has come to town.

Episode 12: Royal Return

A new mystery leads once more to the member of the Carcosan royal court you introduced in Episode 6. The plot the art students uncover is meant to further the royal’s previously established agenda. Build in opportunities for:

  • the player character most connected to the royal to pull away—or draw closer.
  • the other characters to interact with your big bad.
  • Foreshadowing an even bigger plot, which comes to fruition in episode 17.

Episode 13: Family Obligation

A message arrives from back home, urging one of the art students to attend to a matter concerning the family business empire. This leads to business or political intrigue instigated by a conspiracy bound together by the Yellow Sign. Depending on how the player describes the source of Papa’s wealth, this might involve:

  • sabotage of a ship or factory.
  • embezzlement to fund the conspiracy’s activities.
  • a smokescreen that falsely implicates the company in assassination or massive graft.

Episode 14: Weird Science

An experiment gone awry, no doubt after someone in the lab read the play, sends the art students on the trail of Patchworks, radium ghosts, or a device that sees past events—and then alters them.

Episode 15: Secondary Villain Returns

The recurring antagonist first seen in episode 3 returns, seeking revenge on the art students or running a new scheme for domination only they can unravel. This time, give them a solid opportunity to finish off this foe for good.

Episode 16: Political Entanglement

When scandal threatens a prominent politician, the art students can’t help but see a Carcosan modus operandi behind it. Investigation draws them into the halls of power, as they determine which of France’s factions have been suborned by the pallid mask. Is it the Legitimists, aka Monarchists, desperate to reverse their vanishing influence? The Bonapartists, believing themselves to be in communication with the spirit of Napoleon? Or those normal-seeming Moderates, who currently hold power and thus have the most of what Carcosa seeks?

Episode 17: A Glimpse of Hali

A climactic mystery brings back your chosen Carcosan royal and gives your players the chance to wrap up various sub-plots of this first sequence. The scenario allows the art students the chance to behold Carcosa, perhaps to travel there briefly. Whether they achieve a victory that feels suspiciously like a happy ending, or are drawn into a doom that will bedevil later counterparts depends on how well they do during the closing confrontation.

In the next installment of See P. XX, the series outlines continue, with the front half of a similar episode guide for The Wars.


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.

By Kevin Kulp

Combining focused ambition with poor judgment is a great basis for an adventure. When you want to run a last-minute Swords of the Serpentine game and aren’t sure where to begin, start with one or more of the factions. You’ll see an example of this in the two free adventures here at See Page XX, The Dripping Throne (which starts with Commoners and Mercanti) and Sin-drinker (which starts with the City Watch and Thieves’ Guilds).

The following supporting characters and plot hooks, one for each of the twelve factions, focus on rebels: people who aren’t afraid to stand up to the status quo, even when it may be dangerous or foolhardy. Grab these, change them, and make them your own as you populate your own game.

 

Ancient Nobility

Concept: A rebellious young noble, hating everything the nobility stands for, is trying to sabotage her  family’s reputation and standing.

Description: Gabrielle Ambari defines herself by “what will make my family angriest?” She grew up without much money but bathed in social prestige; she was raised to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that members of her family were blessed by the Goddess and amongst the most important people in Eversink. That illusion quickly crumbled when she gained enough empathy to look at the Commoners around her. The more she learned about everyone else in the city, the more disillusioned she became with her family and the nobility. Now she broadcasts her title and lineage at every opportunity but embraces fashion that would appall any noble, and she works for Commoner rights and against noble tradition. Most nobles would like her exiled or dead as a traitor to her heritage. They just need a subtle way to make it happen.

Plot hook: The heroes are hired by Gabrielle’s family to “help” Gabrielle in a way that gets her out of town or sufficiently distracted. Alternatively, Gabrielle hires the Heroes to pull a scam on the Ancient Nobility, understanding that if it goes well it’s going to make a lot of nobles very angry indeed.

 

Church of Denari

Concept: A trusted church official is secretly a heretic and is trying to undermine official doctrine.

Description: Orthus Swanbeak is a wrinkled, cheerful, elderly man who was given to the church as a toddler and has been raised in its folds his entire life. He’s been involved in almost every aspect of the divine bureaucracy, from the inquisitors and the church militant, to the prophets, to tithe collection, to being an advisor to the high priestess herself. Everyone seems to like Orthus, and he’s a repository of institutional knowledge; when anyone needs to know something about church tradition, Orthus can probably tell you.

It’s unfortunate, then, that Orthus is secretly a spy and heretic. It’s up to you what flavor of heretic he is. He may have glimpsed Denari’s true will and is working against the church bureaucracy that constrains and defines Her; he might be a secret sorcerer determined to topple the church through unsound business decisions; he might be mind controlled by outsiders; he may hope to find and destroy the Golden Contract, the document that allows Eversink to exist. Regardless, he’s playing the very long game and keeps his secrets close. His main weapon is everyone’s misplaced trust, and he’s not going to squander that unnecessarily.

Plot Hook: The Heroes are hired by the Church to ferret out a traitor in their midst, and Orthus “helps” them do so. (If your players read this blog, feel free to have Orthus be actually honest and loyal, and the true traitor pins his or her sabotage on Orthus instead.)

 

City Watch

Concept: A City Watch officer who encourages vigilantes instead of cleaving to the rule of law.

Description: Captain Settana Malfi was raised as a Commoner. She made a name as muscle-for-hire around the Tangle, and spent more than a decade breaking heads and guarding questionable shipments before she decided to earn regular pay in the City Watch. It took her some time to understand the political quagmire that any Watch officer has to wade through, balancing bribes against special interests against actual justice. She’s not well-liked – at one time or another she’s managed to tick off just about every important group in the city – but she’s fair, consistent, and really doesn’t like doing things the “official” way.

Settana is stationed in Sag Harbor because she’d rather encourage adventurers and vigilantes than arrest them. Why should she get in trouble for taking sides when the so-called “heroes” can solve her problems for her without any political backlash? Settana personally encourages and mentors young adventuring groups, showing them how to fight crime while remaining just barely on the side of law – and in doing so, she gets her problems cleaned up without any risk to her own Watch officers.

Plot Hook: Settana shows up after the Heroes are arrested, and instead of imprisoning them she lets them go with nothing but good advice. In exchange, they’ll owe her – and she has a whole lot of quasi-legal problems she wants solved.

 

Commoners

Concept: A popular commoner is doing his best to organize the populace against the government, and multiple factions are trying to recruit him for their own purposes (or wipe him out completely).

Description: Pendle Shortstreet is arguably the most popular person in the Tangle. The adult son of a poor but well-known grocer, Pendle has always used his natural charisma to makes friends and connect people who need help. He and his husband have been the unofficial mayors of their neighborhood for several years now, and they’re universally looked-up-to and well-respected.

That makes a lot of powerful people nervous, because Pendle is mad as hell about how Commoners in Eversink get treated. The people in charge try to bribe and mollify him, the factions who are not in charge try to ride on his coattails to greater power, and Pendle is losing his patience with anyone trying to manipulate him.

Plot Hook: The Heroes might get involved when Pendle is framed for accepting bribes and then blackmailed. He needs someone unknown to steal and destroy the forged blackmail materials. The question is, are they forged after all… and who’s willing to kill the Heroes to get their hands on the material themselves?

 

Guild of Architects and Canal-Watchers

Concept: A rebellious ancient architect, deformed and brimming with sorcerous power, gets tired of living hidden underground and decides to make herself well-known back in the city.

Description: Long-missing Master Architect Liera Oberi, once chair of the powerful Waterways Committee and long thought deceased – there was even a huge funeral! – shows up back at her favorite restaurants, horribly deformed but still as abrupt and sarcastic as ever. As is traditional, she had worked for the Guild of Architects until her deformities from internalizing Corruption made it impossible for her to continue without being suspected, at which point the Guild relocated her to the secret underground community where ancient architects retire. Liera, however, grew bored. She decided to break her vow (and trigger an associated curse) and return to the surface, to the embarrassment and disgrace of her powerful Guild. She knows incredibly valuable architectural secrets, she’s stubborn and opinionated, and she’s strong enough to reshape an entire district. Who is going to handle her, and how?

Plot Hook: Master Architect Liera is a shockingly capable sorcerer with the sorcerous spheres of water, stone, buildings, metal, and air. Once this is discovered any number of factions will attempt to ally with her for their own purposes. Before this can happen, an allied faction – perhaps the Architects themselves – hire the Heroes to make friends with Liera and convince her to return home if she won’t become their ally. And what if she decides she’s tired of internalizing her Corruption?

 

Mercanti

Concept: A selfless Mercanti philanthropist is trying to use his fortune to help others, and his peers want him stopped NOW.

Description: Alchemist Zorios Sandefar was originally an Outlander brought to Eversink as a young boy by his foreign parents, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming tremendously wealthy. Now retired but formerly the head of the Alchemist’s Guild, he’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story; it was Zorios’s combination of business acumen, faith in Denari, and alchemical talent that allowed the guild to gain a profitable stranglehold on alchemy in the city.

Zorios is kind, middle-aged, and bored, and that’s a dangerous combination. His dream is to use his wealth to make life better for everyone else. Healthier food? Better sewers? Higher pay? Delightfully inebriating drugs? Guaranteed clean water? Reduction in disease? Transformation into inhuman killing machines for self-defense? Zorios wants to establish his legacy, and while he may not be the wisest person you’ll ever meet, his heart is in the right place.

That threatens many, many other factions. He’s creating unprofitable risk through his meddling, and sabotaging his peers in the process. Doesn’t he know enough to enjoy his money and keep silent? Many Mercanti want him exiled or killed, and they aren’t the only ones.

Plot Hook: His bodyguards dead, Zorios is desperate and on the run from assassins when he bumps into the Heroes. He offers to pay them well (5 Wealth a person) if they help him. Then all they’ll have to do is dodge assassins and injunctions as they track down who is trying to stop Zorios this week. And is that someone impersonating him? Worse, his enemies will offer to pay the Heroes twice that if they take care of the Zorios problem themselves…

 

Read Part 2 here…

 


Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, currently available for pre-order. 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 Ordo Veritatis works to thwart the ghastly schemes of the Esoterrorists, who seek to undermine humanity’s sense of a rational, secure universe by playing on our fears and paranoias until reality collapses and the Membrane protecting us from the forces of the Outer Dark is forever torn. The Esoterrorists believe that destroying the Membrane will give them the ability to work magic, but this power comes at a terrible, unthinkable price in suffering and horror. Fighting the Esoterrorists is, unquestionably, a moral act… so, therefore, using the tools of the Esoterrorists would be acceptable, right?

These techniques are not part of Ordo Veritatis training. They may be learned in the field, through interrogating captured enemy operatives or through study of Esoterrorist techniques. They’re passed around, too, by veteran Ordo investigators – unofficially, quietly, and with the greatest of care. They’re a dirty little secret among those who’ve looked into the abyss, and who know that no

Any use of Esoterrorist magic is utterly against the credo of the order, and any operatives who demonstrate knowledge of these techniques will face sanction.

These techniques, called Reality Hacks, only work in places where the Membrane has been severely weakened by Esoterrorist activity – and using a hack will further weaken the barrier, permitting more horrors from the Outer Dark access to our reality.

Learning Hacks

Each Hack corresponds to an investigative ability. The Agent must have at least one point in that ability to learn the hack.

Each Hack must be learned separately at the cost of 2 Experience points.

Using A Reality Hack

To use a Hack, the Agent spends one point from the investigative ability, and makes a Stability test (Difficulty 4, +1 per Hack previously used in this adventure). If the Stability test fails, the hack further weakens the membrane in the local area, possibly letting in more entities from outside.

Some hacks require a target; usually, the target must be within a short distance of the caster – er, investigator, not caster. These aren’t spells. OV agents don’t use magic. Optionally, spending more investigative points lets the investigator work the hack at a greater distance or using sympathetic techniques.

Powerful Esoterrorists are immune to hacks, as are most Creatures of Unremitting Horror.

Hacks only work in places where the Membrane has already been considerably weakened.

Academic Hacks

Interpersonal Hacks 

Technical Hacks 

 


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

(For context, see the Reality Hacking rules)

Academic Hacks

Primal Hunter (Anthropology): You gain a 6-point Scuffling pool for the next scene, but you can only use this pool when armed with melee weapons you have made yourself. A sharpened stick or just a nicely balanced stone works. You deal +1 damage with these primal weapons.

Inter (Archaeology): Instantly disposes of a human corpse. The corpse reappears nearby in a hitherto undiscovered grave, as if it had been buried there for centuries or even longer, with a corresponding degree of decay. So, use it to clean up your hotel room after defeating an Esoterrorist assassin, and some poor future archaeologist will have to work out why there’s a 21st-century knife in a grave that’s clearly from the Hohokam culture of 1400 years ago.

Spacewarp (Architecture): Connect two doors in the same building for one round, regardless of the intervening space.

Exquisite, Isn’t It? (Art History): Convince an onlooker that an event or object should be regarded as an abstract sculpture or a piece of performance theatre; as long as everyone else in the scene plays along with the charade, the target’s unable to critically engage with the subject of the illusion. (“Oh, you’ve just murdered that guy… but it’s ok, this is guerrilla street theatre!)

Debtor’s Prison (Forensic Accounting): The target of this hack becomes unable to distinguish relative values of money for the rest of the scene. They can be convinced that a dollar is worth a huge amount, or that it’s perfectly reasonable to let someone borrow fifty thousand bucks for a cup of coffee.

Manifest Fear (Forensic Psychology): The investigator conjures a brief, haunting image of the target’s most deep-seated fear. Both investigator and target glimpse the shadow, but it vanishes so quickly that only a few details can be made out before it disappears.

T’lon! (History): Inserts an entry of your choice into the next reference book or website the target consults. This entry doesn’t have to relate to history – you could warp someone’s internet search for the nearest taxi company. Anytime they look to an authoritative source for some supposedly neutral and universally accepted information, you’re there.

Word of Babel (Languages): For the rest of the scene, the player characters become able to communicate in a unique language known only to them. Outsiders may assume they’re speaking a rare language like Basque.

Freeman on the Land (Law): The target of the hack loses the ability to disentangle or dismiss legal arguments. As long as the Agent can make some sort of legal-sounding justification, the target is compelled to assume the Agent’s baloney is correct (“you can’t arrest me, officer – you’re not a tugboat! I have a birth certificate, therefore a berth, therefore I’m a ship!”)

Imperative Command (Linguistics): This hack turns a piece of text – no more than four words long – into an imperative command that must be obeyed. For example, zapping a ‘quiet please’ sign in a library would render anyone who reads it temporarily speechless; enchanting a stop sign would force anyone who sees it to stop dead in their tracks. Those afflicted by the hack can ignore the command with an effort of will, but that takes a moment of focussed concentration.

Cryptid (Natural History): This hack transforms an animal into a cryptid monster, making it bigger, more aggressive, and empowering it with supernatural abilities. The hacker has no control over the effects of the spell or the behaviour of the animal; it’s something of a wild shot. Still, it’s generally true that a conjured cryptid will attack the nearest prey.

Demon Summoning (Occult Studies): This isn’t so much a hack as it is focussed Esoterrorism – the hacker deliberately invites a Creature of Unremitting Horror to enter our reality. There’s no guarantee what, if anything, this hack conjures, although the hacker can shape the desired result by providing the ODE (Outer Dark Entity) with a suitable host body or conditions for forming one. (If you want a Torture Dog, then perform this hack in a toolshed with the body of a dead dog.)

Special Means of Dispatch (Pathology): This hack instantly heals a Seriously Wounded or Dying Agent. The downside – the Agent is now permanently connected to the Outer Dark, and is ‘alive’ only as long the connection’s maintained. The Agent cannot survive for more than a few hours in areas where the Membrane is intact. Furthermore, when the hack is performed, the hacker must specify a means of dispatch that can be used to kill the resurrected investigator; the amount of Health restored is inversely proportional to the difficulty of this means of dispatch. (So, “you die instantly if hit by a silver bullet” might be generous enough to fully restore the Agent’s health, whereas “you die instantly if hit by a silver bullet, engraved with the secret pet name your lover uses for you, and only on your wedding anniversary”) is restrictive enough that the Agent might only be healed to 1 Health.

An Agent can only benefit from this hack once.

Rabbit Hole (Research): If used as part of a regular Research attempt (visiting a library, a thorough internet search), the hacker finds themselves going down odd and seemingly irrelevant lines of research. You start off looking for property records about an old house, and end up looking at 17th century French wallpaper or obscure types of heirloom apples or how shipping containers were invented. This obscure line of research will show up again later in the investigation, and will be connected somehow to a person or object of interest – but there’s no guarantee how or where this will happen. For example, the Agents might later meet a bunch of suspects, one of whom happens to be eating an apple from the local farmer’s market. There’s no rational reason why that should be significant, but that’s Esoterrorist magic for you.

Menard Technique (Textual Analysis): When reading a piece of text, the hacker’s consciousness mingles with that of the writer, pushing the hacker into a state of mind where they could have written the text. This may give useful insights into the thoughts and state of the original writer; it may equally drive the hacker into modes of Esoterrorist thought from which there is no return.

Approximate Knowledge of Many Things (Trivia): This hack allows the hacker to sort of vaguely answer one question; the answer is correct but not necessarily useful or actionable. At best, it can give a direction or rough location for further investigation (“where’s the ritual site?” “Uh, by a laundromat”). Trying to pin down the magic by asking an extremely specific question (“of the following list of laundromats, which is the closest to the ritual site in terms of spatial distance in a straight line”) short-circuits the hack, weakening the Membrane without providing useful information.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The Free RPG Day adventure Make Your Own Luck (get it here!) begins with an army of trolls and goblins besieging the town of Harrowdale. As written, the siege is a jumping-off point that gives the events in the adventure context. If you want to explore the ongoing tension and danger of defending a town under siege, one possible mechanic is a twist on the escalation die called the siege die.

Using the siege die

  1. Just as you do with the escalation die, place a special d6 on the table so it’s visible to the players. This is your siege die. Make sure the two dice look different, so you don’t confuse them!
  2. Using a sheet of paper or other note-taking method, divide each in-game 24-hour period into periods of Day and Night. (I’m cribbing from the fantastic heist RPG Dusk City Outlaws here.)
  3. On the first Day period, set the siege die to 1 and roll a d6.
    • If the result is greater than the current number on the siege die, the status of the siege is unchanged. At the beginning of the following time period, increase the die to 2 and roll your d6 again. Keep increasing the siege die by 1 and rolling a d6 until you roll equal to or less than the number on the siege die.
    • When the result of your d6 roll is equal to or less than the current number on the siege die, roll on the Siege Table below or choose some new action by the enemy that requires the heroes to take action.
  4. The first time you activate the siege die by rolling equal to or less than its number, reset the die to 1 and start over. The next time it happens, reset the die to 2; then 3, then 4, and so on. This represents that the enemy is slowly building toward total victory—if things continue this way, eventually the siege die reaches a permanent 6 and the enemy assault becomes relentless..
  5. The players can lower the siege die in a number of ways. They could describe how they’re expending a class or item ability that reduces the escalation die to lower the siege die instead. They could find a clever use of skill checks, or run a montage scene describing how they’re strengthening the town’s defenses and improving defenders’ morale. When they do this, have them roll a d6—feel free to give them a bonus if they did something especially cool or hilarious. Reduce the siege die by that amount, to a minimum of 1. This keeps them engaged with the current status of the siege, and lets the heroes influence how the larger battle is going.

There are a few ways you can adjust the pacing of the siege with this approach. You could have the siege die escalate at a different rate—for example, it might go up once per 24-hour period, or every three hours, or every six. You could also reset the siege die to 2 instead of 1 the first time it triggers, or roll a larger die (d8? d12?) against the siege die.

Siege table (d6)

Make Your Own Luck cover

  1. The enemy launches a major attack, one with sufficient strength that it requires the PCs to expends significant resources (such as daily spells).
  2. The enemy successfully destroys one of the city’s important defenses: a tower, a section of wall, a magical defense, etc. The heroes must help rebuild it, or find some other way to shore up the defenses in its absence.
  3. Saboteurs inside the city wreak havoc in some way: arson, poisoning the water supply, setting off a bomb, toppling a structure. The heroes must save the victims and identify and defeat the saboteurs.
  4. The enemy strikes a blow against the townspeople’s morale: targeting a beloved landmark, capturing or killing a town official or other pillar of the community, stealing something symbolically important to the town, spreading rumors that the rescuing army was defeated, etc. The heroes must either undo what the enemy has done, or counteract it in some way with a morale-boosting display.
  5. A group of assassins sneak into the town during an attack, and try to kill the PCs later that Day/Night.
  6. The enemy seizes part of the town—it must either be recaptured, or defenses quickly set up to keep them from advancing further.

For another fun escalation die hack, check out the investigative montage rules in Crown of Axis, a new introductory 13th Age adventure for level 1 characters!


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.

 

claw demonBoth Trail of Cthulhu and Fear Itself feature protagonists who are comparatively (or cosmically!) feeble compared to the foes they encounter. By no coincidence whatsoever, both games also incorporate the Fleeing ability, an ability that’s used only for running away.

To make Fleeing a bit more complex and combat-like, here are some optional expanded Fleeing rules, drawing on the Thriller Chases of Night’s Black Agents.

Escape or Capture

The aim of a chase is to win three contests in a row. If a runner gets three wins in a row, that character has escaped. If the runner loses three rounds of the contest in a row, the pursuer catches up with that the runner. The pursuer rolls once and compares their result to all the runners, so it’s possible for one runner to succeed and another to lose in any given round (and for one runner to rack up three successes and get clear!)

To avoid having contests drag on too long, if the monster has 0 Athletics or Aberrance left, assume it gives up unless it’s one win away from catching a runner.

If A Runner Wins A Round

Whenever a Runner wins a round, they get to pick one of the following benefits.

  • Gain Some Distance: The runner gets a +1 bonus to their next roll in the chase.
  • Help Another Runner: Another runner gets a +1 bonus to their next roll in the chase.
  • Create an Obstacle: Make an Athletics or Mechanics test. Next round, if the monster’s result is lower than the result of this test, then the round counts as a win for the purposes of determining escape only. The runners don’t get to pick a benefit next round if they win.
  • Hide! Instead of continuing to run, a runner can Hide and hope the monster doesn’t find them. It’s a Hide (or Stealth) test, Difficulty 6, modified by the monster’s Awareness modifier.
  • Take A Breather: Refresh 2 points of Fleeing or Athletics.
  • Shoot! If the runner’s got a ranged weapon, they can take a snap-shot at the pursuer. (Stopping to make a melee attack is tantamount to ending the chase.)
  • Split Up! The runners go in different directions. The pursuer can only chase one of them – but gets a +1 bonus to all its rolls for the rest of the chase against that quarry.

If A Pursuer Wins A Round

If the Pursuer beats any of the Runners, it gets to do one of the following actions.

  • Swipe: The monster gets close enough to make a Scuffling attack on the runner. The runner gets a +2 bonus to their Hit Threshold.
  • Trip: The monster nearly grabs the runner, making them stumble. The runner’s got a -2 penalty to their next roll in the chase.
  • Scare: The monster pops up right on top of the runner, jump scaring them. The runner must make a 3-point Stability check.

If it beats all the runners, it gets to pick one of the following:

  • It’s Gaining On Us! For the rest of the chase, the monster gets a +1 bonus to all its chase rolls.
  • We Can’t Get Out This Way! Reset all the runners to 0 wins in a row.

 

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