by Noah Lloyd

Just because you’re physically distancing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be social, and what better way to stay social than by finding ways to play some of your favorite games? Pelgrane Press is on all the major virtual tabletops – and then some! I’ve collated some of our products, specially designed for your internet-based play, below:

Roll20

Roll20 is the virtual tabletop with the largest userbase out there at the moment, with both free and premium account options. Roll20 has official character sheets for both GUMSHOE (optimized for Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents) and 13th Age. Additionally, we’ve got three modules for 13th Age all available for download on Roll20 right now, one of which is absolutely free, and the other two of which have 20% off until September:

In the coming days we’ll also be releasing a free Trail of Cthulhu scenario, “Midnight Sub Rosa,” which was originally collected in Out of the Woods. Watch our twitter (and this space!) for when it goes live.

And, if you didn’t know, you can also grab the Hillfolk Card Deck as an add on in Roll20, which will add some inspiration to your Hillfolk and DramaSystem games.

Fantasy Grounds

Fantasy Grounds is a premium-only service that offers expanded virtual tabletop services. We’ve got two officially licensed 13th Age products available for all you Fantasy Grounders:

We’re working on building more modules on this VTT, so if you’re a Fantasy Grounds developer, let us know!

Astral Tabletop

Astral Tabletop is a newcomer in VTT-land, but that doesn’t mean that their services aren’t top-notch and unique – and, they’ve made all their paid services free through the end of May. They have a particularly robust dice rolling syntax that they’re consistently expanding, and I was impressed by their animated maps (though this can be tough on folks with poor internet connections).

I have been hard at work making official character sheets for use with your Pelgrane games; while these, unfortunately, aren’t quite ready as of this See Page XX, they should be ready very soon. We’ll be providing templates for 13th Age, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, TimeWatch, and (drumroll) the Yellow King RPG. What other Pelgrane games would you like to see support for? Help me prioritize!

That said, don’t think that just because our official sheets aren’t quite ready yet, that you can’t get a lot out of Astral. I encourage you to play through their tutorial, see what it has to offer, and get a group together!

And don’t be dissuaded by my failure to finish the character sheets! There are plenty of other ways to play online.

Discord, Slack, and Zoom

If you aren’t interested in specially designed virtual tabletops for your roleplaying games, don’t overlook the ease and usefulness of simplified chat and networking applications like Discord, Slack, and Zoom. Games like Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents (indeed, all our GUMSHOE games) don’t usually need maps for their scenarios, and they’re well-suited to playing in the “theater of the mind.” However, Slack’s free version only supports two-person video calls (perfect for a One-2-One game!), and Zoom’s free version restricts calls to 40 minutes. For those reasons, my personal favorite app to roleplay on is Discord, which supports multi-person video calls, simple voice channels folks can jump in and out of, and the creation of dedicated servers for each of your games, if that’s how you want to roll.

(When you sign up for Discord, they provide you with your own private server, and there are bots you can add which will even serve as simple dice rollers! I really like Sidekick, who I’ve happily nicknamed “Roll Buddy.”)

Speaking of which, did you know that we have a Discord server? If you’ve got a Discord account set up, you can find us here: https://discord.gg/xKfgxVm

On our Discord you’ll find two channels that are particularly relevant to this discussion. If you’re a GM and you want to find some folks to fill those slots in a Nights Black Agents roster, go ahead and post in “looking for players.” Similarly, if you want to find a game to join, you can either post in “looking for games” or keep an eye out in “looking for players” the next time a GM puts out a suitable invite.

If you’re not gaming but still want to talk about all things Pelgrane, we’ve got dedicated channels in the Discord for each of our game systems, and we’d love it if you came to say hello.

If Discord, Slack, or Zoom are more your speed than an official VTT, remember that you can find hundreds of digital products—adventures, core rulebooks, supplements, even music—over on the Pelgrane webstore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From RPI December ’92

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

One of my favourite bits of working on Hideous Creatures – and the infamous H*wk*ns P*p*rs, for that matter – was writing up the in-character handouts that accompany each monster. Part of the joy was obviously seeing what artistic wonders Dean Engelhardt would come up with, of course, but even if you’re not blessed with a brilliant layout artist, you can still have fun generating fiendishly oblique handouts that hint at greater horror.

First, pick one or two aspects of the creature you want to highlight or foreshadow. These might be:

  • Horrible portents associated with the creature, so the players recognise them when they encounter them later on. A stench, a distinctive sound, a bizarre physical phenomenon, a sensation – anything that heralds the approach of the horror.
  • A distinctive way of killing, so the players recognise the creature’s victims for what they are.
  • A supernatural ability or phenomenon associated with the monster
  • A thematic association – if you’ve got a crocodile monster, your handout should reference something crocodile-related – Egypt? Rivers? Survivals from primeval times? Eggs? Lurking dangers? Floating logs? Teeth?

The trick is to find something that’s strongly associated with the monster in the scenario, but is still deliciously ambiguous. A bloodless corpse with neck wounds screams ‘vampire’ a bit too loudly, but unexplained illness with the symptoms of anaemia – that’s great, especially if you describe it in such a way that the players worry about other possible horrors too. Is the anaemia caused by a bloodsucking horror, by weird radiation, by an internal parasite? Foreshadow, don’t fore-explain. In handouts like this, aim for ambiguity that only gets resolved when the players actually encounter the monster.

You can be quite subtle here – the simple existence of the document means the players will give it added weight, and comb the document for hints. For example, say your monster is associated with weird time dilation. You could write a short diary entry where a young heiress talks about how she went out riding one morning after breakfast near the old standing stones, and lost track of time – she thought she was only out for a short time, but she arrived back to find it was already mid-afternoon. On its own, that’s a dull piece of text – but the fact it’s a handout means the players will pay added attention to it. (Note that they’ll also pay attention to irrelevant pieces of it – expect the players to get jumpy at mentions of horses, investigate the family history of the heiress, and investigate the old standing stones.)

(Also – the incongruous placement of a handout is a really great technique. Finding a heiress’ journal in a country house is unremarkably – it’s part of the conceptual furnishings. Finding that same journal in a ruined lighthouse, or a cult hideout in a slum, or in a tomb that hasn’t been disturbed since it was sealed 3,000 years ago – that’s a lot more intriguing!)

Second, catch ye hare. Think of the sort of handout you want. Try starting with a real piece of text to get a sense of language and phrasing. A diary from the 1920s is going to read differently from a diary from the 1960s – and that’s going to be very different to a blog post from 2008. Diaries and letters are the most flexible sort of handout, but they’re a bit cliche. Newspaper articles are always good as a starting point, but can’t get too close to the real mystery (unless you can hint at a sinister reason why the journalist was prevented from investigating and digging deeper). Official accounts, like coroner’s reports, are good when you want to summarise an incident (or describe a mutilated corpse in detail, which can be really handy – it lets investigators use forensic techniques on a death from maby years ago), but hard to keep to short, and the best handouts are short and punchy. Shorter documents – records, auction listings, classified ads – are tricky, as you’ve got to tell the story entirely in implications. (Using google image search can often find scans of old articles and clippings for a visual reference).

Third, have a purpose in mind. A handout might:

  • Tell a story: Usually, the story of how someone else suffered a horrible fate at the hands of the monster; you want to hint at what might happen to the player characters if they’re unlucky.
  • Suggest a line of inquiry or course of action: Mentioning a location, object, book or individual in a handout can be prompt to the players to investigate
  • Foreshadow the monster: This sort of handout is really just to add foreboding; it doesn’t need to tell the players much, other than “there’s something bad out there, and here’s one trait associated with it”.
  • Hint at unplumbed depths: Handouts are great because they give exactly as much information as you want, and no more. The players can’t ask more questions of a piece of paper; they can’t spend points of Interrogation or Intimidation to learn any more. Therefore, if you want to include vast conspiracies, lost civilisations, or deeper mysteries that are outside the scope of your intended game, use a handout to drop hints of those greater depths.

Here’s a worked example of how to build such a handout.

We’ll start with a Trail monster that isn’t in Hideous Creatures – the Masqut. They’re the reptilian denizens of the Nameless City of the Arabian desert – the things of whom it is written that is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die. The entry in the Trail core rulebook – and in Lovecraft’s story – doesn’t give much detail on the monsters. They’re like crocodiles or seals, they walk on all fours, some of them are mummified, they hate humanity, and there are more of them in a vast cavern underground. Oh, and there’s a spooky wind.

I’m immediately put in mind of Feejee mermaids and other monsters of taxidermy. Maybe an art dealer bought what he thought was an amusing fake, but was actually a real mummified masqut… and then, to highlight the underground nature of the monsters, maybe the earth collapsed under him. “Art” plus “underground collapse” makes me think of Paris and its catacombs; even if my adventure isn’t set in Paris, I can incongruously place this handout in the belongings of some victim of the masqut, prompting the players to wonder what Parisian taxidermy articles have to do with the disappearance of their pal the archaeologist in Arabia.

A quick google turns up this clipping (from https://parisianfields.com/2015/09/13/a-city-built-on-air/). That’s a mundane and explicable tragedy, but we can build off that – if we set up our incident as an unexplained coda to it, we can refer back to that earlier collapse and reuse some of the same language, giving us:

SECOND TRAGEDY IN PARIS

The collapse of another building in Paris is likely linked to recent rain storms and flooding, giving rise to fears that the foundations of the city are being eaten away. The most recent incident involved a warehouse owned by M. Salon, an art dealer and taxidermist, which collapsed into a hitherto undetected gulf below. M. Salon and two of his staff perished in the accident, and his newest acquisition, described as a ‘mummified cockatrice’, was also lost, entombed once more in the depths of the earth.

A little over-wrought, perhaps, but enough to disturb the players…

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Our new Cluebook for Trail of Cthulhu helps Keepers hold their campaign in focus. This sleek, 5” x 7” journal includes guided pages for recording and remembering vital details, from the abilities of Investigators to details of key locales and the clues they contain—all designed with a busy Keeper in mind.

Each book features 32 pages bound between two durable covers and adorned with Art Deco style for that true Trail of Cthulhu atmosphere.

 

Buy it now

by Steven Hammond

Gen Con was a blast this year. I played a few games, talked to people I only see at Gen Con, and spent several hours helping out in the Pelgrane Booth. I had fun chatting with all the GUMSHOE and Black Book fans that stopped by. If you picked up a flyer in Indy, the discount codes on it will work until October 1. If you missed Gen Con, we love you too. The discount code WeDontAllFitInIndy will give you 20% off a 1-year Player subscription and it’s also good until October 1, 2019.

Summer wasn’t all play though. A couple of interns joined us and we cranked through the GM tools to get them ready for beta testing, which launched this week.

What are the GM Tools? They are a set of tools designed to help the GM offer a more immersive experience. Modeled after the GM matrices in the back of most GUMSHOE games, they

  • Help the GM keep track of characters’ ability ratings and pools, updating in real time as points are spent.
  • Remind the GM of character connections like Sources of Stability, Bonds and Network contacts.
  • Show the GM who’s been getting spotlight time recently, helping to keep the fun moving around the table.

Below is a short video that shows how the GM tools work in play.

 

The Tools currently support Trail of Cthulhu (and Bookhounds of London), Night’s Black Agents (and the Dracula Dossier), and The Fall of DELTA GREEN. The Yellow King RPG is coming soon with support for Shock and Injury Cards — we still have a couple tricky things to work out there.

Participating in the beta is easy. All Player level subscribers have access to the GM Tools via the “Campaigns” link on the left. Click that, then click “New Campaign” at the top menu to get started. Now you can invite anybody you want to play with. Anybody with a Free account can use the Play mode features when connected to a campaign.

Anybody who provides helpful feedback during the beta will get a free 1-year upgrade to the GM level. You can use our contact form to submit feedback. We are not only looking for bugs and usability issues, we are also looking for feedback on parts you like and new features you’d like to see added.

Take a look at the video and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Tactical Objectives in Trail of Cthulhu

Knowing that the Thing could surely overtake the Alert until steam was fully up, he resolved on a desperate chance; and, setting the engine for full speed, ran lightning-like on deck and reversed the wheel. There was a mighty eddying and foaming in the noisome brine, and as the steam mounted higher and higher the brave Norwegian drove his vessel head on against the pursuing jelly which rose above the unclean froth like the stern of a daemon galleon. The awful squid-head with writhing feelers came nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly.

  • The Call of Cthulhu

The Trail of Cthulhu combat rules work perfectly well when dealing with small numbers of human-scale foes – a lone Deep One or Byakhee, a few cultists – but they’re less suited to coping with gigantic creatures like shoggoths, vampirish vapours or dark young, or hosts of horrors like ghoul packs or flocks of bat-things. Now, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that such encounters are more the province of pure narrative, or out of keeping with the mood of the game, but sometimes – especially in Pulp adventures – you want to be able to blow up the shoggoth by luring it onto Professor Frank’s experimental electrical generator.

These rules are (very) loosely inspired by the Ashen Stars space combat system and the Yellow King RPG rules.

At the start of an encounter, the players collectively choose one of the starting goals (Retreat, Drive Away/Break Through, Hide, Wound, or Lure). They then make ability tests as normal, trying to rack up successes collectively to meet the number required by a goal.

 

Goal Format

Here’s the format for goals.

Description. What you’re trying to do achieve by pursuing this goal.

Leads-In: What goals you need to achieve before attempting this one.

Leads-Out: What goals you can try for after completing this one.

Successes Required: How many successes you need to achieve this goal.

Abilities: What General Abilities can be used to score successes. One successful General Ability test grants one success.

The difficulty for these tests depends on the monster you’re fighting. In general

Human-size foes: Difficulty 4

Huge creatures: Difficulty 5-6

Cyclopean monsters: Difficulty 6-7

Great Old Ones: Difficulty 8+

Abilities may be tagged asRisky or Vulnerable.

Special: Any special rules that apply to this goal.

Effect: What happens if the group achieve their goal.

Risky & Vulnerable

If a character uses a Risky ability, then if that character fails, the monster gets to make an attack on that character.

If a character uses a Vulnerable ability, then that character gets attacked by the monster after the ability test, regardless of the outcome of the test.

The monster can attack as many times as opportunities present themselves – if six investigators attempt something Risky and fail, the monster gets to make six attacks.

Defending Others

Instead of making an ability test to accrue successes, an investigator can defend another investigator. This requires a test of Scufflingor Shooting; a kind Keeper might also allow the use of Athletics orDriving in some circumstances. Defending others is Risky – if the defender fails the test, they get attacked by the monster.

Switching Goals

If you change goal midway through an attempt, you lose all your accumulated successes. You can only switch to a starting goal.

Investigative Spends

If the player can justify it, an investigative spend might allow:

  • A different general ability to be used to generate successes towards the goal (I use Physics to tune the radio into the star vampire’s frequency – now I can lure it with Electrical Repair)
  • Increase the number of successes yielded by a successful test (Can I use Chemistry for a bigger bang from these Explosives tests?)

Armour and Vulnerabilities

Some Mythos entities are incredibly tough, or even immune to some forms of attack. Others are unusually vulnerable to a particular weapon or substance. Adjust the Difficulty for attacks using Shooting, Scuffling or Weapons as follows:

The monster’s magically vulnerable to this attack: -2

Low armour, big gun: -1

Most attacks: +0

High armour or partial immunity: +1

            Chances of injuring the monster are slim: +2

No chance of hurting monster: Ability cannot be used.

Example: (The Dunwich Horror) In the end the three men from Arkham—old, white-bearded Dr. Armitage, stocky, iron-grey Professor Rice, and lean, youngish Dr. Morgan—ascended the mountain alone. They began with the Hide goal, racking up some successes by trying to spot the invisible monster, then switched to Lure (“through the lenses were discernible three tiny figures, apparently running toward the summit as fast as the steep incline allowed.”) before finally attempting Banish on the mountain-top.

 

Tactical Goals

Flee

You’re trying to get the hell out of there! Everyone just turns and runs at top speed. It’s undignified, but it might keep you alive. Devil take the hindmost!

Leads-In: Any. You can switch to this goal at any time.

Leads-Out:

Successes Required: Successes are tracked individually. The first character to escape needs one success, the second needs two successes, the third needs three and so forth. Add one to the total needed if a character’s bringing a non-combatant along.

Abilities: Risky: Fleeing, Athletics

Special: You can reroll a failed test if you describe how your panicked retreat leads to some misfortune – you drop your weapon, you fall over a cliff, you get separated from the rest of the company.

Effect: You escape. There are no guarantees about your condition or situation when you make your escape – you may fainting, or get lost in the wilderness, or suffer some other humiliation – but at least you’re out of immediate danger.

 

Retreat

You intend to retreat in good order, staying together and leaving nobody behind.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: If you switch to Flee, you can keep half your accrued successes.

Successes Required: Two per investigator.

Abilities: Risky:Athletics, Stealth, Stability, Riding (to maintain discipline)

Vulnerable:Fleeing

If the group’s in a vehicle, then add Vulnerable: Driving, Piloting (but successes count double)

Effect: The group escapes the encounter with the monster.

 

Hide

You try to observe the monster

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: Retreat, Lure, Drive Away/Break Through

Successes Required: 0.

Abilities: Vulnerable: Shadowing, Sense Trouble, Preparedness

Special: You must move on from this goal once the enemy is aware of your presence.

Effect: You may apply half your successes from this goal to your next goal.

 

Drive Away/Break Through

You try to force your way past the enemy, or force the monster into briefly retreating.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: None or Wound

Successes Required: Target’s Health /4

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special:Track the number of natural 6s rolled during ability tests. If the group wishes to immediately attempt the Wound or Hold Out goals after completing this goal, they start with one success in Wound or Hold Out for every six rolled.

Effect: The monster retreats. Add another d6 successes to the number required if the investigators try for the same goal again in a future encounter.

 

Wound

You attempt to actually damage the monster.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: Maim, Retreat

Successes Required: Target’s Health/4

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special: If a character rolls a 1-2 on an ability test, their next action is automatically Vulnerable.

Effect: The monster’s hurt. This doesn’t affect the creature’s abilities, but it’s the first step in destroying the horror (and analysis of the ichor or blood spilled might provide vital clues).

Lure

You try to draw the monster towards a particular location.

Leads-In: None.

Leads-Out: Trap, Bind/Banish

Successes Required: 6

Abilities: Risky:Athletics, Shadowing, Riding

Effect: The monster follows the investigators to a particular location nearby.

Hold Out

You secure yourself in a safe, defensible place and try to hold out for as long as possible. This might involve barricading the entrances, securing all entry points, or trying to endure this monstrous siege.

Leads-In: Retreat, Drive Away/Break Through

Leads-Out: Trap

Successes Required: 4 per investigator

Abilities: Vulnerable:Electrical Repair,Mechanical Repair, Preparedness.

Effect: The investigators hold out until dawn, or until help arrives, or until the attackers depart.

Maim

You attempt to kill the monster. If dealing with a host of horrors, you try to slaughter the greater number of them.

Leads-In: Wound, Trap

Leads-Out: None

Successes Required: Target’s Health/2

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons, Explosives

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special: If a character rolls a 1-2 on an ability test, their next action is automatically Vulnerable and they cannot benefit from another investigator defending them.

Effect: The monster is destroyed, or at least discorporated.

Trap

You’re going to trap the monster in a physical or magical prison.

Leads-In: Lure, Hold Out

Leads-Out: Wound, Bind/Banish

Successes Required: 4; 6 if the monster is especially strong, fast, agile, can fly, or moves through alien dimensions; 8 if it falls into multiple categories

Abilities: Vulnerable:Athletics, Electrical Repair, Explosives, Magic, Mechanical Repair

Effect: The difficulty of tests in the next goal is reduced by 2.

Bind/Banish

You’re going to use eldritch sorcery or hypergeometry to dismiss the monster.

Leads-In: Lure, Trap.

Lure is only necessary if the monster can only be banished at a particular place (within a magical sigil, atop Sentinel Hill, in direct sunlight).

Trap is optional, but unless the monster is constrained, then it may be able to flee instead of being banished.

Leads-Out: What goals you can try for after completing this one.

Successes Required: Spell’s Inertia/2

Abilities: Vulnerable:Stability

Effect: As per the spell


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A Bookhounds of London adventure seed by Adam Gauntlett

The Bookhounds are asked whether or not some broadside ballads found by a builder really belonged to famed diarist Samuel Pepys, only to discover that the ballads might get them killed.

Broadside Ballads

This information is a 0 point spend, Bibliography, History, Library Use or similar:

So called because they are printed on broadside sheets, these single-page narrative poems tell gossipy stories, spread political news, and promulgate scurrilous lies. Broadsides are early children of the printing press, popular from the 16th century, and reach their apogee in the 18th century. They’re cheap to make and easy to distribute, and though they’re very disposable some collectors prize them. Samuel Pepys was one.

Also a 0 point:

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was Chief Secretary of the Navy and a Member of Parliament, but he’s most famous for his Diaries, which tell a colloquial tale of London life during the Restoration. His book collection is justly famous, and was donated to Magdalene College, Cambridge, after his death. He once lived in a house on Axe Yard, near Downing Street; the exact address is unknown.

This information is a 1 point spend:

Pepys had a passion for order and conformity. He wanted a definite aesthetic look for his collection, and to achieve it he cut down ballads to the appropriate size for his albums, arranging his finds in identical album sets. He obsessively catalogued everything he collected, and his broadside collection was given to Magdalene College, along with the rest of his library.

Also a 1 point:

The Pepys Club, founded 1903 by a small group of Garrick Club members, is the best place to find out odd and obscure facts about the life of Samuel Pepys. Cultivating a member, say through a 2 point Flattery spend or similar, creates a 2-point dedicated pool concerning the life, times and loves of Samuel Pepys.

Bob Chapman’s Lucky Find

Bob’s a builder, a subcontractor for Bentley’s, a general contracting firm. While on the job – a renovation at Axe Yard, in Westminster – he ‘recovered’ some items from the rubble skip, including this old bag with funny papers in it. Is it worth anything?

Assess Honesty (0 point): Bob’s not lying, exactly, but he’s being very careful with the truth. He did get it from the Axe Yard job site, but not from the skip. It was hidden behind the wall he was meant to be repairing, and one careless swing with the sledgehammer revealed the hidden alcove. He knows his boss, Mr. Bentley, would take it for himself, if he knew about it. Bob admits as much, if pressed.

Bob Chapman, Lucky Builder: Athletics 6, Fleeing 6, Health 4, Scuffling 4; Architecture 1, Craft (Bricklaying) 1. Tall, slim, shock of curly black hair, eager as a puppy. “Well I’ll be blowed!”

Broadsides: This collection doesn’t conform to the Pepys standard. Pepys cut his sheets down to fit inside a leatherbound book approximately 340 by 358 mm, usually about 70 mm thick. Most of Bob’s find are older broadsides, which would have gone into Volume 1 of Pepys’ bound books. Bob’s find is unbound, uncut, stuffed loosely inside a battered leather folder. They could be papers Pepys didn’t bother to put into his main collection, but it’s difficult to imagine why, since Pepys was an obsessive collector. Condition’s not good, not after several centuries stuffed inside a damp wall alcove, but the ballads are interesting. Some are quite scurrilous tales about prancers [highwaymen], lascivious pricklouse [tailor, pejorative], roaring boys, and rigges [wanton women] playing with correl [toy dildoes]. Law (0 point): It’s just on the edge of prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act, but it would have been tame stuff for Pepys’ generation.

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 0 point: Some of the sheets have been annotated, whether by Pepys or someone else is anyone’s guess. Still, if it could be proved it was Pepys, the price goes up. Not that Bob realizes this …

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 1 point: The paper’s genuine and of the period. There’s odd insect pattern damage on some of the sheets, as if a collection of small spiders got caught between the pages and decayed there. No solid matter, just liquefied imprints on the paper.

Bargain gets it from Bob, cheaply. No spend, no broadsides. Filch gets the most interesting sheets, without Bob noticing.

Axe Yard

If the Hounds go to Axe Yard, they find the house Bob’s working on. Some of the twenty-five houses on this lane have already been swallowed up by the Government for offices, but the general outline of the Yard can still be seen. Nobody’s sure which of these would have been Pepys’ ‘poor little house.’

Streetwise or Sense Trouble Difficulty 5 notices a beggar hanging round near the skip, a pasty gent in ragged clothing, who retreats as soon as someone notices him. In a Fleeing contest his parting trick is to vanish down a drain or sewer outlet, leaving his clothes behind. There’s an odd, wet residue on the skip near where he stood – and a tiny, spidery creature that runs off quick.

Bentley’s Drama

However the negotiation with Bob goes, Bentley’s finds out about it, somehow. If Bob sold the papers, it’s because Bob talked too freely at the pub. If Bob didn’t sell, it’s because he blabbed to his foreman, bragging about how he’d get rich from his find.

Mr. Bentley is outraged. He thinks the Hounds put one over on Bob, and stole property that rightfully belongs to Bentley’s. Mr. Bentley is a devotee of the Pepys Club; one of the reasons he took this job was so he could work at Axe Yard. If Bob didn’t sell to the Hounds then Mr. Bentley now has the broadsides, and accuses the Hounds of stealing the best ones, when they inspected the bundle. If the Hounds have the broadsides, then he demands their return.

Mr. Bentley: Athletics 3, Filch 3, Health 6; Architecture 3 (Restoration era). Melancholic, pipe smoker, unkind to animals, especially cats. “Dear me! My solicitor will be here any second, and then you’ll be for it!”

If things get unpleasant. Mr. Bentley knows a lot of builders willing to do him a favor. Treat them as Rough Lads for combat purposes.

Further Examination

Several of the broadsides deal with Mythos subjects, in particular a series called ‘The Beggar’s Daughters.’ This is the most insect-stained and annotated set of broadsides, and there are four of them, all variations on the same theme. A pale, blind beggar has four daughters, all of whom wish to marry. They go out in search of swains, but their chosen beloved – the gallant young knight, the gentleman’s son, the merchant and the publican – are horrified on their wedding night, when they discover their pretty maids are not what they seem. The scenes at the church during the wedding are gruesome, but water damage makes the worst bits unreadable. Study confers 1 Mythos, concerning Eihort and its Brood.

Whoever collected this was making a study of variant Beggars in different broadsides, and drew a map on the back of one of them. The Knowledge realizes these are streets near the Hoop & Toy pub, Kensington. The Hoop & Toy, built 1760, is said to be haunted by five specters; priests, according to the legend. Their crypt, in the Hoop & Toy’s basement, was long forgotten until rediscovered, and destroyed, during the construction of the Circle underground tunnel in the 1870s. The ghosts wander eternally, looking for a way back to the church they once served. Occult spends can work out where the ghosts are most often seen, and what they look like – pale, nondescript people, with skin like wax. They leave a strange, wet residue wherever they go. The basement of the Hoop & Toy, it’s said, is alive with peculiar spiders.

The map on the broadside shows a church, where the Hoop & Toy currently stands.

The Ghastly Brood

Eihort’s strange children are the ‘ghosts’ at the Hoop & Toy. The crypt that the underground workers disturbed all those years ago once belonged to a blasphemous church which held strange ceremonies in its crypt, in honor of the Pale Beast. Those who wished to learn hideous secrets sought to parley with the creature, but Eihort is only interested in its Bargain, and spreading its Brood.

After the destruction of the church Eihort no longer visits its Fane, but its Brood remain. They use it as a kind of meeting place, where hundreds of thousands of Brood gather in the basement to mingle, and share secrets. Seeing this massive wave of Brood in one place is a Stability 5 challenge, possibly going as high as Stability 7 if the Brood attack.

The Brood are very interested in the broadsides, for one of several reasons:

  • They want to establish a final link with those of the Brood whose physical form became imprinted in the broadside paper.
  • They want to see if humans are still interested in making a Bargain with Eihort, as they did before.
  • They want to prevent anyone from finding the location of the Fane.

They will seek out the Beggar’s Daughters broadsides, injuring or killing the ones who have them, as needed.

The Last Word

It’s impossible to determine beyond question whether the broadsides, and their annotations, are Pepys’. However it’s a nice find, and counts as 1 point book stock, History (Restoration London).

Though Pepys was superstitious, he’s not known for being anything other than conventionally superstitious. Charms for luck, or against disease, yes. Rollicking battles against the Mythos, no. Still, they had peculiar notions in Pepys’ day. Perhaps that library at Magdalen is worth a visit, to see what Pepys really did believe …

The basement of the Hoop & Toy is a Fane, a place of power, and can be drawn on by necromancers and would-be magical power places. See Rough Magicks for further details. If not using Rough Magicks, assume the place provides 1 point of Magic potential/year, and can be used as a Megapolisomantic lever. Of course, the Brood will have something to say about that …

Bob the brickie would never bargain with Eihort, but Mr. Bentley might.

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

– Allen Ginsburg, Howl

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Previous Entries Next Entries