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

 

Title: The Borellus Connection

System: The Fall of DELTA GREEN

Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Kenneth Hite

Deadline: July 31st 2019

Number of sessions: 2-3 per adventure

Description:

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

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

Pelgrane Press Seeks Administrative Assistant

rainbow-pelgrane_150We’re currently recruiting for an Administrative Assistant to provide fantastic customer service to our community, and help out with the multitude of administrative tasks involved in a small publishing company. The position is intended for a remote worker, and may involve travel to conventions, some overnight stays and weekend work where necessary.

Pelgrane Press is committed to building a culturally diverse company and strongly encourages applications from women and minority candidates.

Our Administrative Assistant will be responsible for ensuring a prompt, friendly and professional response to all queries from our customers and colleagues, over email, on social media, and in person.

They will manage and develop our supply chain, monitoring and maintaining inventories of products in our mail order and distribution warehouses to maximize efficiency, liaise with key fulfilment and print partners to ensure high service levels and stock quality, and work with the Managing Director on print quotes and print buying.

They will also assist the Managing Director with ad-hoc administrative and marketing tasks where necessary.

This is an ideal opportunity for someone who is looking for a permanent position in publishing within the roleplaying industry. As a small, growing company, there will be opportunities in the future to expand the role for candidates with drive and initiative. Game writing and design work are not part of this position, nor will this position afford opportunities in those areas.

The successful candidate will have a passion for roleplaying games, excellent organisational and communication skills, thoroughness and attention to detail, and the ability to set priorities under pressure. A solid grasp of Word and Excel are essential.

The position is permanent, with an initial six-month evaluation period. The position is 15 hours per week, and the salary is US$900 per month. The position doesn’t include health insurance, so if your country of residence doesn’t have universal health care, you will need to be able to demonstrate having your own health care provision.

The full job spec is here.

To apply, please send a covering letter via email with your CV attached as a PDF to Cat Tobin before Monday, June 24th 2019.

I just finished the final pass on the “page XX” references for Shards of the Broken Sky. Some designers dislike this type of finicky work, but I sort of love it. Partly it’s a great moment in the lifecycle of a book—it’s actually about to be finished! Partly you get to take a last look at things; and when you’re working with a great layout artist like Jen McCleary, it’s a calm look at things that are very much where they should be.

So a couple days later, I’m thinking about the finished adventure and asking myself: what isn’t in Shards that could have been? My first thought is that it would be interesting to think about how specific character classes could find special uses or unique stories in a Shards campaign. We generally don’t tailor elements of our adventures to individual classes; from a design perspective it’s usually better to avoid spending too much time on ideas that only apply to some characters. But a quick blog post is just about right!

Shards was first conceived of before 13 True Ways was released, so the default adventuring group at the time consisted of classes from the core book. Here are some ideas for how players whose characters’ classes come from 13TW might experience the adventure differently.

  • Chaos Mage: There is a whole lot of chaos in Shards of the Broken Sky. So much chaos that a chaos mage player character is either going to feel supremely at home OR feel a bit resentful that the world has barged in and taken over their party trick. Maybe this will be a chance for the chaos mage to develop in a new direction, towards taming some of the weirdness-from-on-high that fell to earth with Vantage.
  • Commander: For an early approach to the post-Fall chaos, a commander PC might be the imperial legionnaire who is ostensibly next in command after the disaster. But with no soldiers to command and a catastrophe in progress, maybe an adventuring party of misfits will do!
  • Druid: If I ever play in a Shards campaign, I’m going to play a druid with the Terrain Caster talent; and then I’m going to have SO MUCH FUN with the smashed and scattered terrain across Redfield Valley.
  • Monk: None of the big secrets in Shards directly relate to the monk class or its themes, so if I were running it with a monk character in the group, I’d start by changing that. In this campaign, the secret of the death/disappearance/status of the Grand Master of Flowers can be found in Redfields.
  • Necromancer: Unlike the monk, the necromancer gets LOTS of love in Shards. Indirect love, in the sense that the valley is full of ancient quasi-living battlefields, but that’s love a necromancer understands. 
  • The Occultist: Vantage falls, the Occultist rises from the wreckage. 

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. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Page XX logo (2015_04_01 16_53_09 UTC)

Don’t let the May Day bonfires deter your vampiric purchases in yet another Night’s Black Agents-packed release month. We’ve got the PDF release of the era- and Europe-spanning campaign The Persephone Extraction, along with the pre-orders for the four-panel Director’s Screen and Resource Guideand the solitary Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops. Also still on pre-order are the long-awaited 13th Age sandbox campaign Shards of the Broken Sky, and the simultaneously gritty and super-powered police procedural Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition.

New Releases

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13th Age

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NEW! The Persephone Extraction PDF

Some of the books we publish sail through the process without ever touching the side, and some…are not like that. The Persephone Extraction was the first book we released for Night’s Black Agents after The Dracula Dossier collection, and I suspect that the foul Count still hadn’t forgiven us for setting so many brilliant players and GMs up to take him down when we started working on Persephone. Once we got the manuscript in from the writers, pretty much everything that could go wrong with a book, has gone wrong with The Persephone Extraction at some point.

With the PDF release of this ambitious NBA campaign – and it is ambitious in its scope, drawing from the ancient horrors of classical mythology all the way up to the modern terrors of conspiracy and bioterrorism – I’m hopeful that we’ve finally got it finished. (As always, though, contact us at our support address if there’s anything we could do to improve it). If you’d previously ordered The Persephone Extraction in print format, an updated PDF is now available to download from your bookshelf.

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

I know I just posted about the Night’s Black Agents Director’s Screen last month, but I just got through the print proofs for the revised screen and it looks very cool, so I wanted to share more photos with you. I mentioned last month how hefty and solid this new four-fold screen is, but the updated screen art really makes it shine. Of course, what it *also* makes me want to do is more hefty four-fold screens, so let us know if that’s something you’d like to see more of.

If you’ve already picked up the NBA Director’s Screen and Resource Guide, the updated screen PDF is now available to download from your bookshelf.

Work in progress update: NBA: Solo Ops

The incredibly talented Jen McCleary (The Fall of DELTA GREEN) has been working her magic on the interior of Night’s Black Agents: Solo Ops, and has finished the layout, which looks great – a perfect blend of the ultramodern Night’s Black Agents with the GUMSHOE One-2-One aesthetic. She’s now handed that over to me for indexing, while she works on the layout of longtime Artist of the Pelgranes Jérôme Huguenin’s perfect cover. On the left is a draft WIP version he’s sent through.

Now shipping: Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos

The epic tomes of mythos beastiness arrived in our UK & US shipping points a week ago, and so if you’ve pre-ordered Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos, it should be winging its way to you as I type. Let us know on social media when it arrives with you!

Pelgranes in the Wild!! part 1 – UK Games Expo

Regular readers of our scribblings may recall that we have been (very sadly) absent from UK Games Expo for the last couple of years, due to the convention organisers’ refusal to implement an anti-harassment policy (we believe they’re vital to establishing and ensuring safe spaces for all Pelgranistas to play games, and will only support conventions that have them). We’re delighted to be going back to the UK’s largest gaming convention this year, sharing a booth with our good buddies Kixto (who do all our non-US & Canada mail order fulfillment) and our sister (through-our-shared-father) company, ProFantasy Software. If you’re going to UK Games Expo (May 31st to June 2nd in the Birmingham NEC), swing by our booth (1-594) and say hello to me and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan!

Playtesting: The Borellus Connection, continued

Two months ago, we released six of the eight adventures in The Fall of DELTA GREEN adventure collection, The Borellus Connection, for playtestingThis month, the remaining two thematically linked operations are up for playtesting. These can serve as part of a connected campaign, or as stand-alone operations the Handler can drop into the course of an ongoing investigation. So if you’re interested, drop us an email.

YET ANOTHER call for help!!

Are you going to Gen Con Indianapolis this year? Every year, the good Events People at Gen Con contact us to let us know our games are sold out, and ask if we can run more events, so if you’re able to run 13th Age, Night’s Black Agents, Trail of Cthulhu – or any other Pelgrane game! – at Gen Con 2019, you can see the list of slots available here. Drop us an email at support@pelgranepress.com so we can share our great games with even more people this year! You can see the full list of adventures available here.

 

See P. XX

a column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

 

As the field of roleplaying expands its audience, and new platforms appear to provide an ever wider array of ways to get material into the hands of gamers, more folks than ever have jumped in to try their hand at writing. Whether you’re working, as an emerging RPG writer, on supplements, adventures, or games, you can increase the appeal of your work by adopting key techniques to sharpen your prose style.

Most writers, myself included, prefer to focus on style nitty-gritty when revising. Worry about it too much during the first draft and you’ll bog down, losing both your thread of meaning and your will to go on. After a while you’ll absorb techniques like the ones given here and instinctively adopt them into your initial writing phase. When you do revise, you’ll then be working from a stronger starting point.

Many of the tips below elevate any piece of writing, but let’s look at them from an RPG perspective.

Before the tips, a caveat: with rules text in particular, you want clear and stylish prose. When those two values conflict, technical precision outweighs style concerns. You may for example need to repeat the same word multiple times in close succession, which you wouldn’t do even in other, more story-oriented sections of the same game book.

1. Replace Inactive Verbs

Almost every emerging writer over-relies on a few frequently used, dead verbs: is, are, be, have. When you can, reconfigure your sentences to favor more specific, dynamic alternatives. Altering sentences to weed out inactive verbs forces you to tune up a sentences in other ways, finding greater specificity or concision.

Mercutio is a hot-blooded young man, driven by a churning intellect and a presentiment of his own doom.

Might become:

Mercutio’s hot blood, churning intellect and a presentiment of doom drive him to flights of poetic fancy.

The first describes him in a static state. The second puts him in action. Nipping out the “is” led us to show the GM more directly what Mercutio might do in a scenario.

The renderers are figures of terror throughout the neighborhood.

Becomes:

The renderers spread terror throughout the neighborhood.

Again, this moves us from situation to action.

The agents must be careful to keep up the pretense, or be attacked by the mutons.

Becomes:

The agents must keep up the pretense, or face a muton attack.

This distills the action into a simpler, shorter, punchier sentence.

Don’t expect to altogether avoid inactive verbs. You’ll find yourself testing and rejecting alternates because they confuse your sequence of thoughts, or require many more words than the original, inactive version.

2. Strike Instances of “Will”

RPG writing frequently puts us in the unusual position of describing a hypothetical future action:

The octopus will pick up the phone.

The monster will run at the PCs.

Amy will withhold that information until she’s sure the group can be trusted.

Dropping the “will” excises an unnecessary word, tightens the sentence, and allows the reader to envision the described action:

The octopus picks up the phone.

The monster runs at the PCs.

Amy withholds that information until she’s sure the group can be trusted.

I’ve been writing RPG books for a long time now, and still during my revision pass spot instances of the dreaded “will” begging to be cut.

3. Shorten Your Sentences

In RPG writing we can get caught up in a tumble of creative thought. As we get those thoughts up on the screen, we tumble from one idea to the next. That leads to overlong sentences that try to express too much. Almost any submission draft from a starting writer arrives full of sentences whose commas beg to be turned into periods. Get chopping!

Under the neon bridge the garoons thrash and cry, haunted by memories of their past lives, seldom heeding the worries of Old Chan, who gazes at them with a worried expression and silently rolls and lights another cigarette, because that’s what he’s been reduced to now.

Becomes:

Under the neon bridge the garoons thrash and cry. Memories of their past lives haunt them. Seldom do they heed the worries of Old Chan. He gazes at them and silently rolls and lights another cigarette. Fate has reduced him to this, he thinks.

Periods give the reader time to stop and take in each idea before moving on to the next. Resist the impulse to slap rope together with a kit-bag of conjunctions. The appearance of “and” near the end of a lengthy sentence often marks a trouble spot in your sentence. Look carefully at the final clauses of your sentences. Many times you can cut them entirely. In other cases you’ll see that they bear little relation to the rest of your thought and should break free to become their own sentences.

4. Remove Passive Construction

This standard piece of style advice still bears repeating. Except when used for (usually ironic) effect, cut out sentences that bury their subjects by shunting them to the end of the sentence, or omitting them entirely.

Dogs all around the neighborhood were terrified by ravager activity.

Becomes:

The ravagers terrified neighborhood dogs.

5. Strip Out Introductory Flab

When revising text, take an extra hard squint at passages introducing new subjects. You may see that you eased your way into the topic with a series of broad introductory statements. If you did, you were probably getting your mental gears going as you found your way to what you really wanted to say. See how many initial sentences you can pare away without cutting into the true meat of your piece.

Ever since the dawn of time humankind has feared the dark. Throughout the ages people have whispered of strange doings in the woods. Combining the dark and the woods together creates unique and special fears. The shadowy beings known as woodhaunts stalk the forests of southeastern Poland.

Becomes:

The shadowy beings known as woodhaunts stalk the forests of southeastern Poland.

A scenario seed for Trail of Cthulhu by Adam Gauntlett

The return of a Deep One infected with bubonic plague causes a public health crisis in 1930s Hong Kong.

History

Hong Kong in the 1930s is a sophisticated and wealthy British colony, administered largely by British Ta-Pan. Its laws are British, its culture is Chinese, and there is a demarcation between the two: British Tai-Pan control the east portion of the territory as a kind of Little England, while Chinese culture dominates the west portion. The territory lives under British law, enforced by European, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian policemen. By the 1930s the law is stricter and more effective than it was during the bad old days of piracy and bribery, but Hong Kong is still Hong Kong – mercantile, and willing to do all kinds of business.

The territory suffered greatly during the Third Pandemic of bubonic plague, which broke out in China in the mid-1800s. More than 12 million died in China and India, and at its height 100 people a day died in Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the territory when plague hit, and plague continued to be a problem for many decades after the initial, deadly sweep.

If the Keeper doesn’t want to play a scenario set in Hong Kong, the action could be moved to a coast city with significant Chinese population, like San Francisco.

Hungry Ghost Folklore

A hungry ghost is the soul of someone who died with bad deeds or evil intent staining them, and thus ended up in the hell of hungry ghosts. This is rare, and should not be confused with the more common ancestral dead. The bad deeds the hungry ghosts committed in life transform them into animalistic spirit-demons, obsessed in death with whatever it was that they committed crimes for in life. So a man who drives children away from water, keeping it all himself, will become a hungry ghost obsessed with water. Anything a person might have coveted or become gluttonous for – food, drink and sex are common drivers – can inspire a hungry ghost.

Hungry Ghosts are portrayed as emaciated corpse-like beings, often with shrunken throats or needle-point small mouths, as this prevents them from consuming the one thing they want to consume. The object of their desire might disintegrate or burn to nothing when they try to devour it.

The chief difference between ancestral ghosts and hungry ones is that an ordinary ghost will fade over time and vanish, if not properly taken care of. This is why, at ghost festivals, people take care to offer sacrifices, food, drink, hell money, to care for their dead. Whereas a hungry ghost will never fade, but it will bring bad luck to whoever attracts its attention. Some traditions have it that a hungry ghost is a beloved ancestor who was ignored after death, or whose descendants didn’t pay the proper respect during ghost festivals – all the more reason to be generous.

Ghost Festivals

These happen in the 7th month of the lunar calendar. The realms of heaven and hell open up and disgorge their dead, and the living celebrate the return of beloved souls while at the same time fending off the attentions of unclean spirits, Representations of physical things – houses, clothing, money – are sacrificed, or burnt, to help the beloved souls, and keep them safe and happy. Prosperity incense is burnt to guarantee a bright year ahead. Miniature paper boats and lanterns are let loose fourteen days after the end of the festival to guide those spirits home again.

This scenario takes place shortly before the festival.

The Return of Zhao Fei Hong

The family Zhao have been shipbuilders since time immemorial, and from the early 1800s onwards some of the family have succumbed to Deep One promises. The minions of Cthulhu said they would show the Zhao the secrets of shipbuilding, and in particular the right rituals and magics to perform in order to ensure theirs were the best and fastest chuan afloat. There was a price, and from that alliance came a number of Deep One hybrids who settled in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Docks.

During the plague outbreak one hybrid, Fei Hong, fled the colony, but was too late to avoid infection. As a hybrid, Fei Hong could not be killed by the disease, but a quirk of his hybridization meant he became a carrier, and was subject to crippling, painful symptoms.

After many years in isolation – for not even his fellow Deep Ones welcomed the poor sufferer – Fei Hong has returned to Hong Kong seeking a cure. Medicine has improved since he ran away in the 1860s. Surely there is something that can be done to purge him of this hideous taint?

Some of the family Zhao have taken him in, out of familial loyalty, while others reject the prodigal. However none of them will betray the family secret. They seek a solution, one way or the other.

Pernicious Rumor

Two tales circulate.

The plague has returned! This story is particularly common among dock workers, sailors and those who work in Kowloon opium dens and boozers. According to popular report there have been several small outbreaks of plague, which the colonial authorities are either ignoring or covering up. Some doctors are taking this seriously and carrying out their own investigations. Some of these so-called doctors are no better than quacks, which doesn’t help credibility.

 Hungry Ghosts Haunt Kowloon! Spending 1 point Oral History traces this tale to members of the Zhao family. According to rumor, hungry ghosts have returned to plague honest citizens in Kowloon, only a few days before the Ghost Festival. People are terrified, crying out for spiritual aid. Anyone who can settle this unquiet spirit is welcome. Many charlatans and would-be exorcists flood the district, promising anything and everything in exchange for cold, hard cash. Keeper’s note: this rumor is being spread by the dissident Zhao, who are treating Fei Hong as a hungry ghost. Even those friendly to Fei Hong are superstitiously afraid of what he represents – a cursed immortal, in great pain, who cannot die.

The Kidnap

Doctor Victor Richard, a French researcher and philanthropist, is seized at his clinic by armed gunmen, an event that shocks the colony to its core. The Tai-Pan are outraged, and the colonial administration goes into action. Police raid the usual suspects – any would-be Chinese Tongmenghui revolutionaries, known Triad hangouts, anyone who hasn’t paid enough bribes – but nothing is found.

Enquiry either among police officers (Cop Talk) or the employees and patients who were at the clinic when it happened (Oral History), or diligent study of news reports (Library Use) notices this core clue: the gunmen were wearing many luck amulets and charms, intended to ward off evil spirits and hungry ghosts. A point spend further discovers that they weren’t your usual Triad thugs, but were roughnecks, manual laborers and, judging by tattoos, dock workers.

Doctor Richard’s specialty is treatment of infectious diseases, and bubonic plague in particular. In the most recent outbreak in India, he achieved fame by his brave and relentless fight against the disease. When he came to Hong Kong he acquired notoriety because he offered to treat poor Chinese for free, behavior his Tai Pan neighbors thought eccentric.

Plague Spreads

Investigators who check find that there are isolated incidences of plague, particularly in or near Kowloon Docks. So far there haven’t been more than a dozen, but they are documented, genuine cases of plague. The media’s been told to keep quiet to avoid panic, but doctors are pressing for full disclosure so people can take some preventative action. Any investigator who checks (Medicine, Evidence Collection) can trace the outbreak to a particular section of Kowloon Docks, where the family Zhao have their shipbuilding business.

Hungry Ghosts

Tracing the rumors, evidence concerning the criminals, or evidence concerning the plague, leads to the Zhao dockyard.

Only some of the family support Fei Hong, and it’s those who captured Doctor Richard and are keeping him in an old junk tied up at the wharf. He’s guarded by two armed men at all times. His patient is Fei Hong, who finds movement difficult and breathing painful. However for purposes of combat the hybrid Deep One has the same statistics as any other Deep One. Fei Hong knows a spell, Wrack, which when he casts it makes the target feel as if they’re suffering the final stages of bubonic plague.

There are from three to six other Deep Ones at the dockyard; the precise number is up to the Keeper, and should depend on the investigators’ fighting strength. If they come well-armed with high-caliber firearms, add more Deep Ones. These are Fei Hong’s companions, and are also members of the family Zhao. None of them know spells.

If the investigators try to win the support of those Zhao who want rid of Fei Hong, this can be done through Streetwise spends. For every point spent, remove one Deep One. In story, the rebel Zhao take care of those Deep Ones so the investigators don’t have to.

In total, there are a half-dozen dedicated, armed human cultists willing to fight to keep Fei Hong safe, or cover his escape. None have any weapon more dangerous than a handgun, and most have knives or clubs.

The wicker golem appears in Shards of the Broken Sky, where it’s one of several golems performing various magical maintenance functions. But its inspiration, of course, is the 1973 British horror film The Wicker Man—making it a great monster for a creepy adventure set deep in the High Druid’s woods, where the people still hold fast to the Old Ways…

Pre-order Shards of the Broken Sky and download the PDF right away!

Wicker Golem

It burns well, you’d just better hope you are not inside it at the time. Some use wicker golems as a means of capturing rather than killing, others to sacrifice their enemies mid-battle.

Huge 0 level wrecker [CONSTRUCT]Initiative: +4
Vulnerability: fire

Wicker hands +5 vs. AC (two attacks)—5 damage. If at least one attack hits a target, the target is grabbed.

Entrap: If a grabbed target does not escape the grab by the end of its next turn, the golem stuffs the target into its body cavity. Once a target is in the golem’s body cavity, it moves with the golem until it escapes and is stuck, dazed, and unable to affect anything except the wicker golem. The target also takes any fire damage the wicker golem takes. If the target deals 5 or more damage with an attack, the golem’s body cavity briefly pops open and the target can make a disengage check to try to escape.

Golem immunity: Wicker golems are immune to effects. They can’t be dazed, weakened, confused, made vulnerable, or touched by ongoing damage (except fire damage).

Burning man: Whenever the wicker golem takes fire damage, it also takes 5 ongoing fire damage. While the wicker golem takes ongoing fire damage, a natural even hit with wicker hands does the same amount of ongoing fire damage to its target.

Deliberate conflagration: If the golem has an enemy trapped inside, it may set itself on fire (5 ongoing fire damage) at any time.

Blood sacrifice: If a non-mook creature is reduced to 0 hp while within the golem’s body cavity, the golem immediately heals to 55 hp.

AC 14
PD 14 HP 55
MD 10


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. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 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.

by Kevin Kulp

Swords of the Serpentine is a swords and sorcery game that’s fundamentally about your actions changing the world around you. One of the ways it does that is by giving you tools to manipulate political factions in your fantasy city or world.

Politics in Fantasy Literature

Every fantasy setting has political factions, even if you don’t immediately think of them as such. Glen Cook’s The Black Company has factions such as the Dominator, the Taken, the Lady, Mercenaries, and the Circle of Eighteen. Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora has Thieves’ guilds, Nobles, Secret police, Commoners, the Grey King, and more. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series set in Ankh-Morpork has the City Guard, Nobles, Lord Vetinari, Dwarves, Trolls, the Assassins’ and Thieves’ Guilds, Unseen University (and the Wizards), various foreign countries, guilds, and even the witches.

Political factions are the movers and shakers who drive plot, and the heroes in these stories may be allied to them, neutral to them, or have them as deliberate and implacable enemies.

Political Allegiances

SotS works the same way, working from a list of 12 pre-defined political factions that can easily be customized to your own setting; they’re the less-iconic equivalent of 13 Age’s Icons. The game represents political factions as Investigative abilities, and your new Hero starts with two ranks in Allegiances (either both in the same ally, giving you a reputation, or one rank each in two different allies. You can increase this quantity with standard build points if you wish).

As a result, you can use your ranks in these Allegiances to gather information about their accumulated knowledge or political activities any time you’re on an adventure. If you play other GUMSHOE games you’re probably used to Investigative abilities to be tightly focused on What You Know; Allegiances instead cut across multiple Investigative Abilities, but only on a very specific topic.

You’re playing a Hero who’s an accomplished thief and con artist. You have 2 ranks of Allegiances, 1 in Outlanders and 1 in Sorcerous Cabals. During an adventure you can find out quite a bit about foreigners who wield influence in the city, or about the secret cults of sorcerers who carry out their vile plans right under the Inquisition’s nose. When you are looking for clues or leads, Outlanders or Sorcerous Cabals will get you the information you need.

For example, when on an adventure to con a prominent Mercanti Guildmaster, your Allegiance in Sorcerous Cabals might inform you that she has a membership in a Sorcerous Cabal – and thus is likely far more dangerous than she appears.

As Investigative abilities, however, you can also use your pool points in these factions to manipulate factions or to gain favors that aren’t related to leads or clues. This is how you demonstrate your political weight and set your political allies against your enemies.

You need that Mercanti Guildmaster to feel nervous and off-balance in order for your con to succeed. You spend your pool point in Sorcerous Cabals to call on a favor from your allies, and temporarily have the Guildmaster’s cabal accuse her of a false crime within their order. The accusation doesn’t have to be true, and it doesn’t have to stick for long, but when you approach the Guildmaster she’s going to be distracted and worried. Like with any Investigative ability, in this case you’re spending the pool point (instead of having it work automatically) because you’re gaining a special benefit instead of a lead or clue.

Political Enemies

In addition to starting with 2 ranks of Allegiances, you start the game with 1 rank of Enemies. This can be in the same faction you have Allegiance ranks with, if you wish. That Investigative ability rank of Enemies will still gain you information, but the pool point gets spent by the GM (not you!) in order to thwart you or work against you.

Your enemies won’t come into play in every adventure, but Enemy ranks give a nice method for the GM to complicate your adventures. Enemy pool points might represent rival adventurers trying to thwart you, enemy factions throwing obstacles against you, or your informants passing you false information for their own purpose. Just as in any swords and sorcery adventure, you’re not always sure who to trust, and Enemies ranks gives the GM a tool to make that fun and effective.

You have 1 rank of Allegiance with Sorcerous Cabals, but you also have 1 Sorcerous Cabal rank of Enemies; you decide you have enemies in the city’s sorcerers who would just as soon see you dead for what your father did to them a generation ago. The GM secretly spends that Enemies pool point and declares that Cabal members are arriving to warn your mark, right in the midst of your con. Jerks. Now you and your fellow Heroes need to plan on the fly and find a way to deal with this interference, even as you’re trying to keep your mark on the hook.

Temporary Allies and Enemies

As you adventure, one form of reward you’ll receive is temporary pools of Allegiances and Enemies points. You can’t use these pools to investigate (they aren’t ranks), and when they’re gone they’re gone, but these points represent the temporary favor or hatred you acquire from factions you run up against.

Your con job against the Mercanti Guildmaster goes off gloriously, and you leave with a lot of Wealth and some very angry people trying to find you. You gain two Enemy pool points for the Mercanti, representing the Guilds’ fury at your interference, and one Allegiance point from the Church of Denari for exposing a hidden sorcerer at the head of a large guild. You can spend this temporary point when you need a favor from the Church; it calls in the favor you’re owed when you do so.

Over time your Heroes may acquire quite a bit of influence, as represented by these temporary pool points of Allegiances. Spending these points to maneuver your way to political power can be a really fun style of adventure when you decide it’s time for your adventurer to become a conqueror or king instead.

Customizing the System

Setting a game in your own unique city? Using the city of Eversink as an example, create between eight and twelve of your own factions for your game’s Heroes to ally with or oppose. This can be as detailed or as general as you want. If you’re focusing a game on rivals in a neighborhood turf war, you’re going to zoom in to less powerful and very specific factions. If you’re focusing the game on a world-spanning adventure with the Heroes traveling internationally, the factions are going to be city-states or nations. It isn’t until you settle in a location and get involved with local politics that you return to a standard level of more specific factions.

There are guidelines in the rules for swapping out factions when the Heroes travel, making sure the system stays useful even when you’re not currently near all the people who owe you favors.

As a designer, I love this system because it anchors the Heroes to the game world. It gives them a palpable way to change the world around them, and it ensures that they’ll start the game with someone already wanting to thwart them.

Go build your reputation.. just watch your back while you do!


Kevin Kulp is the Boston-based co-author of Swords of the Serpentine (to be published in 2019), and formerly 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.

 

 

See P. XX a column about roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

Buffy’s hometown had one. You fall into one when you open a Hellraiser cube. The Stranger Things gang can’t seem to stay out of them. Like any basic horror trope, the sinister portal to another world fits any GUMSHOE game that journeys into fear.

The default gate we think of in this context exists somewhere else, already halfway to hell: out in the woods, in a basement lab, in the attic of a haunted house.

Your sinister gate could flip the script by appearing in the middle of a busy city, unnoticed as such by thousands of passersby every day. An illusion, or our collective desire not to see that which should not be seen, masks it. Forms it could take include a metal gate across an alleyway, the steel sidewalk hatchway memorably seen in Russian Doll, or a bricked-over old door in the side of a wall that opens… under the right conditions.

The mythology of The Esoterrorists rules out a simple gate between our world and the Outer Dark. When its denizens can move easily into this world, it’s game over: the game’s big threat, the tearing of the membrane, has occurred, and the demon apocalypse has begun. For this game you’d have to adjust the gate trope into more of a pocket dimension. It exists as a metaphysical carve-out, a piece of this world operating under the physics of the other one. The Outer Dark Entity inhabiting it still had to through membrane-thinning summoning magic to create the pocket world behind the gate or door. It can’t leave the pocket dimension, and so has to lure people to step into it before it can corrupt, eat, or otherwise mess with them. To get rid of the creature, the agents must learn how to destroy the gate, sending it back to the Outer Dark. Or maybe getting rid of the creature in some other way causes the gate to disappear.

In Trail of Cthulhu, the gate could take investigators into a non-Euclidean space, the Dreamlands, another time, another planet, or some combination thereof. The pocket dimension might be a minor manifestation of Yog-Sothoth itself. The clues the investigators discover might describe it as an an avatar, spawn or virtual replica of the full deity. It might lure in victims to destroy them, or to mentally dominate them so they can go out into the world to do its bidding. In the indifferent manner of Mythos foes, a sapient dimension beyond the gate could simply exist as an anomaly, minding its own cosmic business, harming humankind by proximity without care or intention. The Colour Out of Space, but in gate form. In that version, scientists and curiosity seekers enter it out of their own tragic desire to understand what should not be understood and experience what should not be experienced. The investigators realize that it’s the flame, and the victims destroyed by it—who share their own mission and personal qualities—are the moths. To end the menace, they must learn more about it, which once again confronts them with the terrible central paradox of Mythos-busting: too little knowledge and they can’t act. Too much, and their minds crumble, and they can’t act.

In three out of four of the Yellow King Roleplaying Game sequences, an innocuous-looking gate seen from a city street could indeed act as a portal to Carcosa. Perhaps people have to have read the play, or at least gained some dread second-hand awareness of it, to perceive and enter it. Or maybe it just sits there, a warp in the world’s logic, for any Belle Epoque boulevardier, Continental War soldier, or curious gig-economy worker to stumble into.

In the Aftermath sequence, set in an alternate present after the fall of the totalitarian Castaigne regime, all gates between worlds have been blasted shut. Your gate can’t go to Carcosa. But it could have come about as a partially successful attempt by fugitive parageometrists to create one. Maybe it has taken on consciousness of its own and must feast on people to survive. Having already snacked on the regime experimenters, it now attracts others to devour. Or it appears as a hell the ex-insurgents’s revanchist enemies try to pull them into.

Alternately, in any sequence, the realm behind the gate might the intangible fortress of a reality-warping Carcosan entity. It’s a lair, not made of rock or drywall or debris, but of changes to the prevailing metaphysic. Like most beasties, it can leave its nest, but is safer and tougher when within its confines. This gives you a monster that can head out into the broader environment to take victims. The Difficulty Adjustment for the creature goes down outside the lair, and up within it.

Or the pocket realm could represent its vulnerability, a sort of battery of impossibility energy it relies on to survive. To banish it to Carcosa, or cause its disintegration, the team must destroy the micro-dimension while the creature is elsewhere.

You could adapt this last idea to The Esoterrorists or Trail just as easily.

Like any GUMSHOE menace, the sort of mystery you choose to weave around your gate helps determine how it works and the information the investigators must gather to overcome the threat. The obvious scenario premise: victims are disappearing into the gate, and the PCs must figure out what’s going on and destroy it. In a forgiving game, like a Fear Itself outing starring feisty kids, previous victims might still be found deep in the weird realm. In typical horror modes, they’ve been long since consumed. Success means preventing others from meeting their fate.

If the gate moves around from place to place, the investigators could uncover about the nature of the threat in an early scene. The mystery shifts from “what is this thing?” to “where will it show up next, so we can banish it?”

Human antagonists might have constructed or conjured the dimension to accomplish some wider goal. There the investigators have to identify them and stop them from realizing their plan.

Finally, a weird pocket realm could appear as a side element. A magician or parageometrist creates it as a trap to lure nosy parkers.

A pocket realm that moves from place to place could even appear as an Antagonist Reaction, waiting on the other side of any door or gate to ensnare the investigators.

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