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A GUMSHOE core clue can be seen as a key, giving the PCs access to a door, behind which more of the story waits. With the key, they can interact with, change, master, and adjust that story.

Sometimes a core clue can be a literal key. Literal for the characters, that is, and imagined by the players and GM. The appearance of a mysterious key is all the premise you need for any GUMSHOE scenario, whatever the game.

To make this work you need two elements:

  • a reason to think of the key as mysterious
  • information allowing the investigators to find the door or box the key opens

The key might be mysterious because:

  • The investigators know who sent it to them, and mystery already surrounds that person. The sender of the key could be dead or missing. Alternately, the sender might be an antagonist figure the heroes don’t expect to do them any favors. It comes from a mutant serial killer, a lackey of the hated Quandos Vorn, or Nyarlathotep himself.
  • Something about the arrival of the key signals sinister purpose. Blood dots the envelope it arrived in. Or ichor. It comes with some other document or object of interest to the investigators: a compromising photo, a scrap from an arcane manuscript. Somebody tried to mug the mailman before he could deliver it.

The simplest way to move the investigators from the discovery of the key to the lock it opens is to have whoever sent it helpfully supply the address. In that case you should open the scenario with the investigators already there, with key in hand.

To make the transition interesting, give them a reason to gather additional information before going to the site. For example, if they know Quandos Vorn wants them to go there, they might want to scout for traps and evidence of his current crimes before arriving.

Alternately, the key becomes a pipe clue, to pay off later. Here the investigators are already on another case, and the key arrives without explanation or a means of finding its corresponding lock. Later their inquiries lead them to a locked door or box, and voila, they know what the key is for.

The big trick, and the exercise we leave to you, the GM, is to make sure that whatever they find when they turn that key justifies the build-up.

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk historical script immunity, eggshell boats, gotcha traps and 2014’s best movies.

“You know how modern advertising gets everybody’s mind set in the same direction, wanting the same things, imagining the same things. And you know the psychologists aren’t so sceptical of telepathy as they used to be. Add up the two ideas. Suppose the identical desires of millions of people focused on one telepathic person. Say a girl. Shaped her in their image. Imagine her knowing the hiddenmost hungers of millions of men.”

— Fritz Leiber, “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes”

pettit

Apparently someone in (or working for) the Syrian intelligence community has been playing catfish with the rebels. Posing as an alluring Lebanese female sympathizer named “Iman Almasri,” in late 2013 said Syrian spook Skyped several rebel fighters into exchanging contact information with “her” and eventually uploading steganographically loaded photos of “Iman” onto their phones — the same phones where they kept their contact info for fellow fighters, texts of orders, and even battle plans sketched out in Google Maps. The photos then disgorged their viral payload into the phones, sucking them dry of intel and then draining the data to Damascus — or to somewhere, anyhow. The server where “Iman” “lived” was in Germany, and “Iman” herself was composed of photos harvested from the Web.

I read that ostensible news story and I thought of tulpas, and lamiae, and mostly I thought of Fritz Leiber’s ostensible fiction, the magnificent vampire story “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes,” in which the Girl feeds off the lust that every man in the city — the country, the planet — feels for her. Leiber’s 1948 Girl is still real, or at least physical enough to be photographed and to drain the literal life out of the occasional male superfan. But our 2013 Girl, our “Iman” doesn’t need to slow it down to meat speeds to get her fix.

Leiber eerily forecasts it, in the passage I quote above: modern advertising (fantastically more sexualized than in Leiber’s 1948) aligns desires in the same direction even as we (well, not you or of course me, but several hundred million other people entirely) type our “hiddenmost hungers” into the Web and can you be surprised if the tulpa, the ardat-lili, the djinni that comes out is a predator like “Iman”? For sheer survival, she must have evolved to feed on those hungers — and nobody’s hungrier than a young man from a sex-segregated culture on a battlefield — and so she feeds on them. But she has keepers and masters, those who open the gates to such prime food, and for them she also drinks more tactically relevant hopes and plans and dreams. It’s all ones and zeroes to her, because that’s all she is, an emergent predator born and evolved in a billion searches every hour for “sexy girl.”

In Night’s Black Agents, she might be a servant of the Conspiracy or its Secret Mistress, a JEN-9000 or a Colossa for the wired world. They can’t keep porn off the computers at NORAD or the NSA — she’s already into the “hiddenmost hungers” of every level of power. And she can do favors for her favored ones: drain the data of their foes and rivals and feed it (possibly “sexed up” as they said of MI6’s reports on Iraqi WMDs) to them.

This writeup assumes an Iman who is one of many digital djinn (didjinn?) rather than the Anima of the Web, who would have essentially infinite resources of Aberrance and endless armies of drooling keyboard Renfields. Resolve her attacks as Mental Attacks; add +2 to her Difficulty if she attacks only through sexting. As a digital creature, her Digital Intrusion tests are always at -2 Difficulty.

General Abilities: Aberrance 20, Digital Intrusion 10

Hit Threshold: Difficulty 6 to damage with a Digital Intrusion attack

Alertness Modifier: +1 against digital attacks

Stealth Modifier: -1 once you figure out any sexually attractive figure on the monitor might be Her — She might look like Scarlett Johansson or Channing Tatum or both if that floats your boat; -2 if you spot the “dead pixels” at the center of her eyes, which are UP HERE might I add

Damage Modifier: +0 to Stability (per Web session; tending toward erotomania, NBA p. 85); -1 to Health if Father Schiff was right in high-school Religion class

Armor: likely none vs. digital attacks

Free Powers: Addictive “Bite,” Anaesthetic “Bite” (victim remembers surfing the Web and fills in his own details), Change Appearance, Drain, Psychic Vampirism

Other Powers: Dominance, Enter Dreams, Memory Wipe, Mesmerism, Mind Probe (for fantasies, secrets, and “hidden hungers”), Regeneration (instantaneous while not under digital attack), Resurrection (backup copy)

Banes: specially designed counter-viruses, exorcism subroutines

Blocks: turned-off monitor, really good firewall, exorcism subroutines, cannot attack women

Requirements: feed on male lust

Forget your shrooms, your blotter dots. For me the opener to the gateway of creativity was always speed. Gobble a handful of bennies and work through the night boom flash bang. Only problem I faced or so I thought was making sure I had enough canvases on hand to last through a period of explosive muse channeling. Crank up the Skrillex, grab the paintbrushes and go. At the time I was going through a real surrealist phase. Giorgio de Chirico in particular. I was looking at so much of his work so intensely that his subject matter, those puppet-like figures, the vast empty vistas, started to creep into my own work. But what the hell call it remix culture, call it appropriation and keep painting man, that’s what I kept telling myself.

At some point the zone of chemically pure work flow takes a left turn, or at least it did for me, and the lines between sleeping and waking got blurry. I’d come to, lying on the floor in a pool of my own drool, and all over my images the wooden puppet men danced. Faceless and staring out at me, like expecting me to let them loose from the canvas. I got mad at them and repainted all of their hands to look kinda like dicks but they seemed to like that.

I take a commission to mural a door at the Cafe Arabica. So I paint the penis-handed dolls on it, piloting a ship. As I painted the finishing touches I somehow realized I’d given them permission to take me somewhere.

A couple of days later I take a turn on Queen West and all of a sudden I realize I’m dreaming. One minute I know I’m in Paris. Only not the Paris of today, but way back before World War II. Then I’m somewhere else again, on a windswept plaza. Sitting at a cafe table under a Greek statue wearing shades is this woebegone dude. I realize it’s my hero, de Chirico. Who died in the seventies. I sit down next to him to quiz him, and he’s all, oh no, now I’m bring them back in time. It was bad enough already.

That’s when my Dreamlands adventures began. It was the 21st century in my waking life but the early thirties when I dreamt, in this weirdo place, haunted not only by de Chirico but all these other platinum names from the art history books.

When Kuranes blasted my brain and I couldn’t dream any more, I woke up that morning and standing over me were the members of my old band. Gez, Marcos and Sarah. I said you were there, you were there, and you were there. You were Buñuel, Éluard and Gala.

They laughed said I was still high, and I was. But for the last time. The same magic of Celephaïs that stole my ability to enter the Dreamlands took away my body’s response to mind altering substances. Not even caffeine works on me any more. And my work’s nothing now, a boring retread of what used to be great.

Tomorrow I start my first shift at Starbucks.

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk campaign endings, Wyatt Earp’s ghost, mystery plotting and potato chip time travel.

STONECOVER

Eyes of the Stone Thief, the megadungeon campaign for 13th Age Roleplaying Game, is now available to pre-order! Order your copy here and you can download the PDF immediately.

Some of the many monsters trapped in the living dungeon are the Custodians – a group of earth elementals forced to serve the animating spirit of the dungeon. Ever since the Stone Thief was blinded when the Prince of Shadows stole its eyes, the Custodians have maintained and monitored the upper levels. They manifest as gigantic stone heads that emerge from the walls of the dungeon.

Eyes of the Stone Thief describes seven of these Custodians – the Doorkeeper, the Butcher, the Gravekeeper, the Pearlkeeper, the Architect, the Vizier and the Curator. However, there might be more Custodians in the dungeon that aren’t tied to specific levels.

The same rules apply to these Custodians as to the others. They can appear anywhere in the upper parts of the dungeon. They can restructure the rooms around them, moving traps or monsters into the path of the adventurers. They can be killed, but will usually flee by sinking back into the wall rather than risk destruction – unless the Stone Thief forces them to stand and fight, because the Custodians fear the hunger of the living dungeon more than annihilation at the hands of adventurers.

 

The Dungeon Master

Four brave adventurers… and a bard! Welcome, one and all. Please proceed down the corridor to your right, where an owlbear pack will disembowel you. Oh… oh, you’re going left. Well, you can go left if you want. I’m sure left is perfectly nice.

Now that I think of it, I always have trouble telling left from right. I don’t have hands, you see, so it’s hard for me to remember. Look, one of these corridors leads to horrible hungry owlbears… why don’t you use the bard as bait?”

Part tour guide, part running commentator, the Dungeon Master follows the adventures through the dungeon, offering “helpful” suggestions and the occasional warning of certain doom. It’s the flightiest of the Custodians, so it was never trusted with a level of its own to manage. Instead, it’s sent to guide and protect pilgrims from the dungeon-worshipping Cult of the Devourer through the upper levels, by showing them the right path to take and sliding especially dangerous areas out of their path, until they reach the Maddening Stair that leads to the temples in the depths. The Dungeon Master is also dispatched to keep track of the most troublesome intruders, and is expected to move more hazards towards them if they get too deep into the dungeon.

The trouble is that the Dungeon Master has a soft spot for successful adventurers. It would never actually help intruders who win its admiration– if it did, the Stone Thief would destroy it – but it can nudge them with a hint or let slip a little too much information when taunting them.

 

The Dungeon Master

Oooh. Nasty.

Double-strength 5th level caster [Construct]

Initiative: +8

C: Wall Spikes +9 vs. PD (all engaged foes) – 25 damage

R: Trapsmith + 9 vs. PD (1 nearby or far away enemy) – 20 damage, and choose one of the following:

Natural roll higher than target’s Strength: A portcullis slams down, pinning the target. The target is stuck and takes 10 ongoing damage (save ends)

Natural roll higher than target’s Dexterity: The target falls into a pit trap, taking another 15 damage. Climbing out requires a DC20 skill check.

Natural 14+: 5 ongoing poison damage (save ends)

Think Fast, Adventurer: As a free action once per encounter, increase the escalation die by 1. For the rest of this round, monsters may add the value of the escalation die to their attacks.

Load Bearing Boss: Increase the submergence die by 1 if the Dungeon Master is destroyed.

AC 20

PD 17 HP 144

MD 17

The Turnkey

No food, you can last a ten-day. No water, maybe three or four days. How will you fare, though, with no air?”

When the Stone Thief submerges back into the ground, sinking into the Underworld like a whale dives into the ocean, the dungeon contracts and collapses, folding in on itself. Those trapped within the dungeon are crushed to death by the closing walls – unless they are denizens of the dungeon, or unless they find a Sanctuary.

Denizens are part of the dungeon, monsters who slumber cocooned in stone. The dungeon adds to its menagerie over time, turning creatures from outside the Stone Thief into denizens. The Custodian called the Turnkey is the master of this process. It acts like a grumbling jailor, or perhaps a zookeeper, muttering about how hard it is to convince manticores or hunched giants to accept their new roles as soul-bound extensions of the living dungeon. Sometimes, if an adventuring party becomes trapped in the dungeon, the Turnkey offers them a chance to become part of the dungeon instead of being crushed or starving to death.

The Turnkey is rarely encountered when the dungeon at the surface, unless it is called up by its brethren to secure a particular dangerous monster and turn it into a denizen. (See Giant Monster, on page 345 of Eyes of the Stone Thief.)

 

The Turnkey

Dungeon means a prison, you know.

Double-strength 5th level caster [Construct]

Initiative: +8

C: Word of Deprivation +9 vs PD (1d3 nearby enemies) – 25 damage

Natural roll higher than target’s Constitution: Lose a recovery. If the target has no recoveries remaining, deal 3d6 damage instead.

R: Word of Torture +9 vs. MD (1 nearby or far away enemy) – 20 damage

Natural roll higher than target’s Wisdom: Either take 20 extra damage, or allow the Stone Thief to steal the benefit of your next successful relationship roll

Load Bearing Boss: Increase the submergence die by 1 if the Turnkey is destroyed.

AC 20

PD 17 HP 144

MD 17

 

The Earthsprite

We are creatures of wild earth and unhewn rock – to be shaped and named like this is torture for us. Free me, and I will free you from the curse of the Stone Thief!”

Before the dungeon half-consumed and enslaved them, the Custodians were nameless earth elementals. The Earthsprite yearns to return to that primal state, and has managed to avoid being instantly destroyed by the dungeon by allying itself with one of the Icons. Perhaps:

  • It made contact with the High Druid through the stolen druid circle in the Grove (p. 150). The High Druid can restore the Earthsprite to its original elemental form – but only if the dungeon is lured deep into the Wild Wood, to where the druid is strong enough to wrench the elemental from the Stone Thief’s maw.
  • The Dwarf King and the elementals are ancient foes – but the thought of recovering the stolen Treasury of the Dwarves (p. 216) would be enough to convince the King that aiding one foe against the Living Dungeon is worth the gamble.
  • The Archmage is a master of manipulating elemental forces, so if anyone can rescue the Earthsprite and restore its original form, he can. Once liberated from the Stone Thief, the Earthsprite could provide vital information about ways to destroy the living dungeon before it endangers the whole Empire.
  • The Lich King is an even more accomplished spellcaster than the Archmage, and has his own sinister plans for the dungeon. As for the Earthsprite, a body made of grave dirt and tombstones is better than nothing…

 

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The following memo was found in the archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It sheds light on the complicated relationship between the surrealist Dreamhounds of Paris and both the French Communist Party (PCF) and the intelligence arm of its Soviet masters.

July 6, 1932

To: Trofim Lysenko, Russian Academy of Sciences

From: Konstantin Strezhakov, Inostranny Otdel, NKVD

Comrade Lysenko,

Regarding your request for information arising from my office’s ongoing operation against the French so-called surrealists, I am authorized by my superiors to share the following.

First, our office agrees with your assertion, in your memo of June 21st, that the sealing of the Dream Zone remains an utmost security priority of the Soviet state. The threat of supernatural forces becoming manifest in this world undermines the dialectic and our officially held doctrine of materialism. In particular the prospect of workers being able to depart this realm for another of infinite color and wonder is one which, as your message underlines, a threat to productivity we can ill afford as we struggle to increase crop yields.

We continue to work through a valued asset in the field, Elsa Triolet. Now married to surrealist poet Louis Aragon, she encourages him to undermine and discredit the group. Once it has burst apart it is our hope that its members will, unable to form a psychic collective, lose the ability to transmit themselves into the Zone. This will, we predict, close it off and eliminate it as a danger.

Unfortunately Aragon’s new-found dedication to Stalinism has decisively parted him from the group, when we would prefer him to weaken it from the inside. In January Aragon attempted to republish a poem, “Red Front”, advocating the shooting of police. This led to his indictment on sedition charges. Local party officials unaware of this office’s aims and activities repudiated Aragon’s gesture as an act of childish stunting. They further scolded him for a pornographic daydream by the Spaniard Salvador Dalí, published in a recent surrealist propaganda organ. (Dalí is the most potent of surrealist magicians, against whom we may soon contemplate decisive action.) Aragon conveyed to surrealist commandant André Breton the PCF complaint that such obscene sexual fantasy complicates what should be simple relations between men and women. An inexplicably amused Breton then mockingly included this phrase in one of his publications. (Though also a PCF member, Breton has long marched to an unacceptably eccentric beat.) Aragon has now split from Breton, blaming him for revealing internal party communications.

In short, a rupture has now opened between Aragon and Breton. Triolet pushes him toward reconciliation but the long-fraying bonds of friendship and rivalry between the two poets may well preclude this.

It is this office’s contention that relations between the local party and surrealists be taken out of PCF hands and placed in ours, preventing further unfortunate tactical confusion. If you could use your influence to recommend this transfer of authority, I am confident that our position against the Dream Zone and its art magicians would be strengthened considerably.

The blurb for Goëtia, or, the Summoning of Demons, which is the upcoming issue of Ken Writes About Stuff, mentions three demons: Bifrons, Glasya-Labolas, and Marchosias.

Not these guys. Three other guys.

Unfortunately, as we (or rather, as Simon, and you, and Cat, and everyone but me) learned with the Voodoo kerfuffle, writing up a new magic system — in this case, as the name indicates, goëtia, the demon-summoning art of European magic — can run a little texty. So the KWAS issue in question wound up only having one demon in it, Buné. Now before you get all outraged, note that this time I worked very hard to provide a good general demon-statting matrix. Also, goëtia already has a great list of demons in its major sourcebook, the Lemegeton Clavicula Solomonis. But, bearing in mind what we (or rather, what Simon, and you, and Cat, and everyone but me) learned with the Mind Control kerfuffle, it’s always a good idea to honor the spirit of the blurb. Especially if it’s a blurb about spirits. Who command, you know, legions of demons.

So here, then, are the three Demons of the Blurb of Goëtia, statted up per the guidelines in the Goëtia issue of KWAS. Zim-bala-bim! As one never says in goëtia.

Bifrons

The Lemegeton says of Bifrons:

He is an Earle and appeareth in ye forme of a Monster at first but after a while at ye command of ye Exorcist he putteth on ye shape of a man, his office is to make one knowing in Astrology & geomitry & other arts & siences, & Teacheth ye vertues of all hearbs, precious stones & woodes, he changeth ye dead Bodyes & putteth Them into one another [anothers’] places, & lighteth candeles seemingly upon ye graves of ye dead he hath under his command 6 Legions of spirits.

As an Earl, he has Aberrance 31, Damage +5, and -2 Armor. He requires a pentacle with Might 31 or more (total Inscription roll + spend = 6+) to hold him.

He appears “in ye forme of a Monster” implying that his form is even more horrible than other demons; failing a Stability test when beholding him costs a further +1 Stability.

He teaches various abilities: Astronomy, Geology, and Mathematics (in games with that ability) for sure; likely Art, Pharmacy, Outdoorsman; possibly Occult (“vertues” means more than just healing and flavor profile); and “other arts & sciences” so at the GM’s discretion most Academic or Technical abilities, plus Mechanics. (Lots of Ashen Stars abilities, too, if you’re a space-demon weirdo.) If the GM is generous, he teaches Magic.

He changes “dead Bodyes” — not merely swapping them around (although that act likely only costs 1 Constriction, as it’s both mentioned specifically and requires a degree of player ingenuity to use well) but also reviving them as zombies, or performing other necromantic services. (Oh, I just thought of one — Bifrons makes a great crime scene cleaner. Swap out the guy you killed for some other guy who’s clearly been dead for ages.) He commands corpse-candles, which might be murony or chupas from Night’s Black Agents, or Space Eaters or Mi-Go in Trail of Cthulhu, or something else entirely.

Glasya-Labolas

The Lemegeton says of Glasya-Labolas:

He is a Mighty president & sheweth him selfe in ye forme of a dog with wings like a griffin; he teacheth all arts in an Instant, and is an author of Blood shed & Manslaughter, he telleth all Things past & to come, if desired, & causeth love of friends and foes; he can make a Man goe Invisible, & he hath under his rule 36 Legions of spirits.

As a President, he has Aberrance 53, Damage +8, and -4 Armor. He requires a pentacle with Might 53 or more (total Inscription roll + spend = 8+) to hold him.

He “teacheth all arts” so probably any and all Investigative abilities, definitely including Magic. (Look, if you summoned a President, you got your money’s worth. Just like now.) His zest for “Blood shed & Manslaughter” tells you he’ll be eager to kill your foes. Or your friends. He probably accelerates other people who hate your foe into attacking them first, then comes in to finish the job, all for just those 2 Constriction.

He can predict the future, and change human minds to love you (effective Credit Rating upshift, or supernatural Flirting, is up to you). This un-natural love lasts longer than just the next sunrise — until Christmas or Easter, perhaps.

Plus, he can turn you invisible, which is nice.

Marchosias

The Lemegeton says of Marchosias:

He is a great and mighty Marquiz appering at first in [the] forme of a wolfe; having griffins wings, and a serpents Taile, vomiting up fire out of his mouth But afterwards at ye command of ye Exorcist, he putteth on ye shape of a man, and is a strong fighter he giveth true answares to all questions, & is very faithfull to ye Exorcist in doeing his Buisness, he was of ye order of Dominations he governeth 30 Legions of spirits, he Told his chiefe Master which was Salomon, that after 1200 yeares he hadd hopes to returne to ye 7th Throne.

As a Marquis, he has Aberrance 23, Damage +3 (actually +5), and -1 Armor. He requires a pentacle with Might 23 or more (total Inscription roll + spend = 5+) to hold him.

He breathes fire, or maybe vomits lava, which is important or at least cool to know, and changes from wolf (well, winged, snake-tailed wolf) to man. He therefore likely controls werewolves, and may have a shapeshifting skin to offer if you’re using the demonic item rules.

He is “a strong fighter” so he does an extra +2 damage even as a measly Marquis. In human form, he has a Hit Threshold of 5 or even higher if he spends Aberrance on it.

He answers questions fully and completely.

He is “very faithfull” so once he signs the Book of Pacts, the Difficulties of Invocation, Evocation, and Abjuration drop by 1. This is probably because he still thinks he can get back to Heaven and resume being an angel. Of course, in 950 B.C. he thought it would only take 1,200 years, so perhaps this motive is a little outdated. Still, it offers the rare chance to use Reassurance on him (2-point spend for +1CA).

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk School of Night, whiskey war, scene transitions, and the Illuminati hotel room.

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