Field assignments as Ordo Veritatis operatives tend toward the short-lived. Confrontations with the beings of the Outer Dark erode mental stability over time. The organization does its best to monitor the readiness of its agents before sending them out on missions. When possible it pulls members who are no longer fit for duty into support positions as analysts, administrators, or assigning officers. If your character gets out in one piece, he may become a Mr. Verity.

Sadly, not all agents adjust well to life after the Ordo. The organization can’t afford to expend resources carefully monitoring all former agents. It cannot enforce its request that ex-personnel periodically undergo psych evaluations and report any untoward findings. Those most in need of extra help tend to be the least prepared to ask for it.

As a result, it is not unknown for retired operatives to drift back toward the occult, or slip into general debility rendering them susceptible to Esoterror influence. To date, no former agent has gone completely rogue and joined an Esoterror cell. But some wind up on the streets, muttering of impending apocalypse. Certain ODEs have long memories and keep psychic tabs on their past enemies across the membrane between realities. Their hunger for pain makes them exquisite practitioners of revenge.

On occasion, then, it may fall to active members of the group to investigate the disappearances of their predecessors. Most of the time, the missing are quickly found, having gone off the grid in response to a brief, containable personal crisis. They are ushered into counselling programs. The team detailed to find them files an unremarkable report and goes home.

However, where the ex-colleague has succumbed to psychosis and by intent or negligence has begun to abet the schemes of the Outer Dark, agents may need to not only bring the subject into permanent custody, but also take care that any evidence of supernatural activity be thoroughly scrubbed.

Unfortunately, an agent’s operational instincts may not deteriorate as rapidly as his grasp of reality. Paranoid, resourceful, often illicitly armed, your quarry may prove difficult to corner. And dangerous when you manage it. Especially if you’re racing extra-dimensional demons to get to him first.

 


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

The most vivid GUMSHOE investigative abilities in play are the Interpersonal ones. They allow your characters to get information through extended dialogue with Game Master characters, requiring a touch more player skill than the Technical or Academic categories.

They also show, in the game’s imagined on-screen space, who your character is and what attitudes she brings to her interactions with others. It affects how the other players see her. So when creating your character, give some thought to what the ability you expect to use most says about her.

Figuring out what personal traits go with which interrogation tactic isn’t a complicated exercise. Here are some examples to get you thinking.

Bullshit Detector: A skeptic to the bone, you go into any situation expecting people to lie to you. The question is, which lies are reflexive, and which ones bear on the case at hand? Your caustic sensibility reveals itself in hard-boiled wisecracks.

Impersonate: A natural mimic and deceiver, you enjoy pulling the wool over others’ eyes. You observe people well enough to pretend to be them. A slickness and love of surfaces pervades your dealings with others.

Inspiration: A true idealist, you believe not only in your own principles, but in the capacity of others to rise to become their best selves.

Interrogation: You value the authority you earned from an official role as cop or law enforcement official. With that comes a taste for respect—a thing you expect, but dole out to others only reluctantly.

Intimidation: You bully your way to victory. You may be physically imposing, emotionally intense, or both. The first question you ask yourself in a new interaction is: how do I seize dominance here?

Negotiation: You see life as a series of transactions. You take pains to put on the kindly face of the reassuring questioner, but that’s all part of the wheeling and dealing. What does the other person want, you ask yourself in a new situation. How little can I give him to get it?

Reassurance: You project a kindly demeanor, and get what you want out of people through kindness and empathy. You start encounters asking yourself what everybody needs.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of all Interpersonal abilities in the GUMSHOE SRD, or the only possible treatment of the ones described here. But it will get you started as you wonder which of them warrants the spotlight of a 2 or 3 build point investment.

Creative Commons Original Image Attribution: Double-M


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

In DramaSystem players both work together as co-authors to build a story, yet also compete as characters in pursuit of their unmet emotional needs. By requiring you to call scenes featuring other characters who don’t necessarily want to give you what you seek, it bends you toward conflict. But if you’re used to a more traditional game in which you all work together to solve an external problem, like the mysteries at the heart of GUMSHOE, your group reflexively pulls together. Albeit with a little bickering as you plan solutions to problems, for spice and contrast. As players we have good reason not to want to get too harsh with each other: that goes against our social instincts.

That’s one of the main reasons why DramaSystem keeps a GM in the mix. When you’re in the GM’s chair, your task will often be to break up the group as it moves toward harmony. YouR primary weapon here are the externally pressuring plot developments found in each Series Pitch under the “Tightening the Screws” header. When the group gets too cozy and too lovey-dovey, pick a shift in their underlying situation that will again pull them apart.

Not coincidentally, this mirrors the flow of ensemble-cast TV shows. You can find the best example of this in the sitcom “Community.” The title tells you what you need to know. Again and again, a new situation shifts the equilibrium of its key setting, Greendale Community College. This pulls members of the core study group apart. Usually one or two of the characters is inspired by the shift to pursue an emotional need that trumps collective harmony. This leads to comic disaster, and the eternal, heartfelt realization that the group matters more than the individual. The group drifts apart, then reasserts itself.

A couple of cast members, chiefly Chang and Dean Pelton, orbit the group without being part of it, often generating or amplifying the conflicts that pull at the threads of group unity.

DramaSystem main casts organically tend to mirror this pattern, with a tightly knit if internally fraught key group, and one or two outliers. Many scenes revolve around efforts to bring the outlier more fully into the fold.

In my own group I’ve noticed that certain players gravitate to the outlier role and others to the harmonizer. This goes far beyond Hillfolk, repeating itself in more traditional procedural games as well. If you spot this in your own play, you might experiment by making a pact with your counterpart to step outside your comfort zone and switch roles next time.

If you’ve ever tried to research a painter on the net, you might have noticed a paradox: many sites dedicated to historical visual artists are ugly, outdated, and haphazard. A site called Artsy addresses this gap by presenting itself as a clearinghouse of articles and images for the visual arts. Dreamhounds of Paris Keepers might direct their players to it as a clean, modern source of images and articles. Particularly useful for our purposes is the drop-down filter on each image page allowing you to focus only on particular decades of an artist’s work. For a painter with a long career, like Salvador Dalí, you can separate out his 1930s pieces, for example, which happen to the ones that most look like landscape paintings of a transmogrified dreamlands. Digital reproductions surpass the usual standard, and are zoomable to allow you to pick out the weird details in the corners.

I was tipped to Artsy by one of its researchers, Nicholas Sewitz, whose searches led him to the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff episode featuring our profile on Marcel Duchamp. Other dreamhound player characters represented on Artsy include Dalí, Man Ray, Giorgio de Chirico, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst, René Magritte, André Masson, and of course Picasso. Its remit doesn’t cover writers or performance artists, so you won’t find everyone in The Book of Ants here. The site is still in the process of fulfilling its ambitious mission statement, meaning that some profiles are meatier than others. The various rights policies of the world’s art museums, many of which have their own digital efforts in progress and aren’t necessarily eager to share with an aggregator, have to be a big obstacle on that front. Still, if your players want to do their homework in a pretty interface that presumably looks lovely on a tablet, this is a good place to start. The site lets you follow artist profiles, so players can check back periodically to see if more inspiration has popped up regarding the surrealists they’ve chosen to play.

Image: Gala by Melissa Gay, Dreamhounds of Paris


Dreamhounds of Paris and The Book of Ants are sourcebooks for Trail of Cthulhu, the award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game. 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 the Pelgrane Shop.

A while back we had a creepy rhapsody over archived crime scene photos from the NYPD, as useful handouts in Trail of Cthulhu games. On a like note, let’s applaud the team who took historical photos of New York as digitized by the New York Public Library and keyed them to a map of the city. Now whenever your investigators prowl the streets of the Big Apple in search of shoggoths and/or Nyarlathotep’s pulsing network of financial interests, you can call up images of their locations rife with period flavor. Not all of the images date to the 20s and 30s, but enough of them do that an exploration of the map is well in order for any GM planning an excursion into urban terror. You can easily use your Keeper’s license to pretend that the photos depict street scenes of other large American centers. The NYPL has not licensed the images for commercial use, so I’m going to respect that by linking to the images rather than embedding them.

At Grand and Ludlow we see a fortune teller with kid sidekick, plus parrot to bring in business. Talk about your combination of evocative details you’d never think to make up!

Or how about this excavation on Court Street in Brooklyn, from 1926, near the events of “Horror at Red Hook”? You decide what’s lurking in its shadows at night. You could even sell it to your players as the aftermath of the building collapse mentioned in that cringeworthy entry in the Lovecraft canon.

In need of inspiration? Click on a dot in the map and find what it throws up as the site of your next unspeakable incident. Hey, here’s the Brooklyn Eye and Ear Hospital, in all its stolid, sepia glory, overshadowed by the gothic heights of a German evangelical church. What this tells me is that Mi-Go have occupied the hospital on a tissue harvesting mission, and have installed a beacon in the church spire to guide the mothership back to them when the time comes. You of course might interpret these elements entirely differently.

At Manhattan and Wooster we see two lonely figures walking together in what I can’t help seeing as the early morning gloom. This historical-geographical flashcard might inspire you to think about a surveillance scene, in which the investigators will want to shadow these guys and find out what they’re whispering to each other.

I’m sure no Trail Keeper needs any more prompting that that, so I’ll leave you to it. If you find a shot of ghouls dragging a victim into an alleyway, I’m not sure I want to know…


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 the Pelgrane Shop.

Page XX

A Column about Roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Clue-gathering in GUMSHOE differs from previous investigative games in one very minor way. Its central tweak isn’t even an extra step to the process players may already be familiar with. GUMSHOE removes a step from the standard approach. Anyone who’s played nearly any trad RPG expects to:

  1. identify the skill or ability required to gain a piece of information
  2. roll a die to see if they succeed or fail
  3. in the case of a success, listen to the GM narrate that information to them.

All GUMSHOE does is eliminate step 2. You:

  1. identify a suitable ability
  2. listen as the GM provides the information

For all it does to open up possibilities for richer, more elaborate mysteries, this tweak can prove almost too simple, at least where learning curve is concerned. The brain doesn’t like it when we make it learn new ways of doing things, especially when they’re fractional variations on an established pattern. This balk response sometimes manifests itself as a complaint that GUMSHOE is too mechanistic or intrusive, even though its core mechanic does less than the method people are used to.

People typically don’t find it persuasive to be told that their responses are objectively wrong. Even when they are.

So even though GUMSHOE is by definition less mechanistic than the three-step method of gaining information, the false perception that it is more so can be countered by means other than direct logic.

You can do this applying a basic, already commonly used GM technique that, ironically enough, you could also easily use with the three-step method. Wherever possible, describe the fictional reality instead of the rules that mediate its outcomes.

Here’s an exchange that does sound mechanistic, because it pulls the player out of the character’s perspective by directly referencing rules terms:

Player: Does he seem to be lying?

GM: What ability do you use to determine that?

Player: Assess Honesty.

GM: Using Assess Honesty, you get the sense that he’s trying to put one over on you.

If you use the GM reference sheet you’ve compiled listing the various characters’ abilities, you can skip the step where the player is called upon to explicitly reference a particular rules bit.

Player: Does he seem to be lying?

GM: [looks at reference sheet, see that player’s character has Assess Honesty] His eyes dart wildly as he speaks, so yeah, you get the feeling he’s trying to put one over on you.

Some players might complain that this is too spoonfeedy, depriving them of the mental work required to apply the correct ability to the situation. The obvious solution is to use seamless narration for players seeking an immersive experience, and continue to call for ability selections from those who don’t want you to conceal the gears and levers.

You can still ask for clarification on the ability being used without calling for a direct cite.

Player: I ask the old geezer sitting by the well whether he’s seen anything suspicious.

GM: [in character, playing him as anxious, craning his neck around to see who’s watching] “Why you don’t seem to be from around these parts, young feller.”

Player: “Listen, you old bag of bones. I ain’t got the patience for any nonsense from you. Cough up what you know or you’ll wish you had.”

You don’t need to ask whether this player is using Intimidation, because she’s doing what any strong storyteller does, showing instead of telling. Assuming the character has the ability, you then proceed to cough up what the old man knows:

GM: “Things ain’t been the same around these parts since the Whateleys reclaimed their ancestral manor. But I don’t aim to cross them, no sirree bub!”

If you check the ref sheet and see that the player doesn’t have the ability, the fiction-breaking way to say that is:

GM: You’re using Intimidate but Professor Haskins doesn’t actually have the ability. Stephanie’s character does, though.

To keep the rules behind the curtain, you might instead say:

GM: The geezer laughs to see you, all five foot six of you, in your tweedy jacket and your reedy New England accent, trying to pull a tough guy act. You look over at McCracken and figure leaning on witnesses is maybe more his department.

Vague requests for information can also transform into moments that flesh out a character’s backstory.

Player: How old does this rock carving look?

GM: What is your prior experience with rock carvings?

Player: I studied petroglyphs with the Robertson Expedition of 1927, in the deepest woods of Algonquin Park.

Here you’re prompting the player for an in-world description more memorable than “I have 1 point in Archaeology.”

One drawback of this trick is that it can induce prolix players to wax digressive, slowing down the action. Be careful who you use it with.

Though richer and more descriptive—or rather, because it is richer and more descriptive—constantly coming up with phrasings that hide the rules can be mentally taxing. When we reference rules constructs, it is not just because we need them to determine what happens. They also function as a short-hand to collapse our communications, getting to the meat of a scene faster.

In most groups, you’ll find yourself, and the players, seamlessly dropping in and out of direct rules reference without paying attention to the ongoing micro-shifts in perspective this entails. If your games are going fine already, don’t mess them up by thinking too hard about this. Just keep on doing what you’re doing.

Just as DramaSystem characters are torn between two dramatic poles, we as roleplayers may find ourselves torn between two roles: character and co-author.

Certain games and play styles encourage us to think only of what our PCs would do. Some players who prefer this approach take a semantic leap overboard and declare any game where you do anything other than that as definitionally not an RPG.

(Really they mean it’s not the kind of RPG they like, but hey. Without hyperbole, we would all be thrown into the sun and instantly incinerated by the screams of a million super-demons.)

Focus only on the character as decision-maker can become a challenge if the player is also intensely self-protective. The extreme version of this player requires the GM to petition him for permission to insert the group into a genre situation. “Why would I go down the basement into the old house? My character would just stay home and call the police!”

GUMSHOE players will recognize that as the problem Drives address. They put the onus of engaging with the premise on the players. GUMSHOE assumes engagement and asks you to specify the flavor of it that suits your investigator’s personality.

Most of us move fluidly between character and co-author states without having to think about it. Your character might talk over everyone else if given the chance. As a player you know enough to establish her as relentlessly verbal, then step back and allow your fellow participants equal time to speak. Your character might want to murder that hobo, but as player you rely on the other players, talking in character, to convince you otherwise. That way you get to show a key point about your character, but the plot doesn’t go in a direction you don’t actually want.

An equivalent disjuncture occurs in our experience as audience members for fiction. We may identify with a character and hope that everything works out for them. At the same time, we might see that the goal they’re pursuing will actually lead them to ruin. So we are rooting for them in general but against them on the specific, tactical level. That’s a type of dramatic irony. You can find it everywhere from Washington Square to “Better Call Saul.”

In a recent DramaSystem session, one of the players bumped into this. His character wanted to solve the problem at hand. (Something about a vat of unicorn blood.) However, as co-author he saw that there was still plenty of tension and story development to be had out of this plot device. If the problem got solved too quickly it would disappoint everyone at the table. As he groped for the right scene to call, I suggested that he come up with one that explained why his character would be unable to do what he wanted. He invented an obstacle in his own character’s way, called a scene around it, and the unicorn blood vat was preserved for another day.

That shows how far DramaSystem takes you onto the co-author side of the continuum. Where procedural games are all about problem-solving, Hillfolk may well encourage you to protect, nurture and cosset your characters’ problems.


Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

My booth pitch for Hillfolk describes its rules engine, DramaSystem, as emulating the structure of serialized cable TV shows. So let’s take an example heavily watched in geekland, “Game of Thrones.” Here’s a scene breakdown of the first episode of the fifth season with an eye toward identifying the petitioner and the granter and seeing who earns the drama token at the end. “Game of Thrones” presents so many featured characters that it would need an unworkably huge player group. Leaving that aside, I’ve treated only obvious foil characters, who exist only to highlight the main protagonists, as GM characters. I’m also leaving out scene snippets that in the game would be narrative bits at the head of a scene, or show us what would otherwise be revealed in dialogue. Unsurprisingly, the scene calling order doesn’t match the rotation you’d see in a game either.

You’ll want to watch the episode before reading.

And yes, I had to look up half the character names to do this.

In a flashback to childhood, Cersei seeks to establish her power over a witchy oracle, who denies her with an ominous prophecy. Cersei ‘s petition is denied, so her player gets the drama token.

An attendant petitions present-day Cersei to be considerate of the nobles gathered at Tywin’s funeral. She imperiously shuts him down, giving the GM a drama token.

Jaime petitions her to be more cognizant of politics and less worried for vengeanc towards Tyrion. She shuts him down hard, and he gets the drama token. (With her father dead, Cersei now has an easy shot reclaiming her spot as the show’s most prolific refuser of petitions.)

Safely on another continent, Varys petitions Tyrion to get himself together. He’s more interested in staying drunk so Varys gains the drama token.

Daenerys’ courtiers petition her for caution regarding the slaveowner’s resistance movement. She favors boldness and the GM gets the drama token.

Missandei (Daenerys’ translator) seeks a hint of intimacy from the Unsullied leader Grey Worm; he remains stoic and gives the GM, playing her, another drama token.

Meanwhile, back in the snowy bit, Gilly petitions Samwell for assurance that they will be safe; he tries but fails to assure her so she gets the drama token.

Melisande tries to establish her power over Jon Snow by weirdly coming on to him; her enigmatic smile at scene’s end suggests that she got what she wanted, so he gets the token.

Stannis asks John Snow to talk to Mance Rayder; he agrees and gets the token.

Brienne wants to dump her self-pity on self-appointed squire Podrick. He takes it, giving her what she wants and gaining a token to the GM, who has to be playing this classic sounding board character. character.

Sansa seeks information from Littlefinger and kind of gets it, so he earns the token.

Lancel, one of Cersei’s former minor paramours now turned penitent, asks for Circe’s forgiveness. She’s not interested so GM gets the token.

Loras Tyrell’s new boyfriend seeks for intimacy from him and gets it, so Loras gets the token.

Margaery Tyrell petitions Loras, her brother, to be cautious about his love affairs. Apparently unaware that characters who lead with their hearts don’t last long on this show, he’s not having it and his player hands hers the token he just earned in the previous scene.

Varys tries again with Tyrion and this time gets him to very reluctantly concede his interest in staying in the titular game. So the drama token goes to Tyrion.

We cut back to Daenerys’ court, where the rep for the rebelling former masters asks for a concession in exchange for peace. She denies it, giving the GM a token.

Later, in bed, Daario counsels her to reverse her decision on that, and also to regain her mantle as Mother of Dragons. Although we don’t see it here, in the next scene we realize that she has agreed to try and so she gets the token.

She then petitions the dragons for reconciliation and they breathe fire at her, transferring a drama token from the GM to her.

Jon Snow begs Rayder to bend the knee before Stannis but he refuses, so the token goes to Snow.

Finally, when Rayder is burned at the stake, Jon Snow answers his wordless petition for a more merciful death by shooting an arrow into his heart, earning the final drama token of the episode.

As you might expect in a game with twenty or so player characters, some of whom only get to call one scene per session, the GM playing all of their foils enjoys an advantage on the drama token front. She winds up with 5 of them.

Running a close second is Jon Snow, with 4.

As the galactic vengeance-seekers of The Gaean Reach Roleplaying Game, you may from time to time find it necessary to invoke the legal system as a tool in your hunt for Quandos Vorn. Naturally you will not in the end turn this arch-villain over to the proper authorities, but rather exact your own revenge. Still, to earn the reluctant cooperation of foot-dragging local enforcement officers, a claim to connections in the Interworld Police Coordinating Company may prove essential.

Officials of various sub-jurisdictions take an interest in particular crimes that might best be described as capricious. You will thus be well-served to be able to cite a wide range of charges lodged against Quandos Vorn, especially those of recent vintage. Parochial constables may react differently depending on the planet making the charge. For example, an officer of the Connatic knows well to exercise skepticism regarding criminal offenses alleged on Copus, as these are frequently made to obtain leverage in disputes over bar tabs. On the other hand, planets heavily engaged in the pold trade take warrants issued on Nion quite seriously, lest their traders face a commercial disadvantage at contract renegotiation time.

With this in mind, pay heed to these recent charges laid against Quandos Vorn, sorted by jurisdiction. Some may be spurious, but is that your concern?

Capella IX: Assault, Aggravated Assault, Murder, Torture, Excessive Blinking.

Fallorne: Assault, Imposture, Reckless Operation of an Aerial Vehicle, Reckless Operation of a Ground Vehicle, Reckless Operation of a Space Vehicle, Reckless Inhabitation of a Stationary Vehicle, Murder.

Jimper’s World: Slander, Libel, Counterfeiting, Trademark Violation, Consumption of Unlicensed Entertainment Content, Encouraging Intellectual Property Violation By Minors, Murder, Cannibalism.

Ladaque-Royale: Theft of an Animal (under 10 kg), Theft of an Animal (over 100 kg; multiple counts), Interference with an Animal, Ecosystem Shock, Murder, Forced Trepanation.

Mossambey: Possession of Distilled Essence, Skin Theft, Hair Removal, Grandiosity, Murder (Involuntary), Manslaughter (Voluntary.)

Tacityl: Genetic Despiraling, Petty Theft, Grand Theft, Macroeconomic Theft, Murder (Direct), Murder (Sociological.)

Unicorn: Assault, Ritual Mockery, Sumptuary Violations, Importuning an Aristocrat, Kidnapping, Murder, Social Mobility, Intent to Commit Poisoning

Wittenmond: Aggravated Disrespect, Crimes Against the Reinheitsgebot, Murder, Improper Disposal of Human Remains, Improper Contamination of a Beer Vat.

Xion: Assault, Organ Trafficking (Human), Organ Trafficking (Inhuman), Overage Drinking, Murder.

Zeck: Murder (Economic), Murder (Recreational), Murder (Economic with Recreational Overtones.)


The Gaean Reach, the Roleplaying Game of Interstellar Vengeance, brings to your tabletop the legendary cycle of science fiction classics by the great Jack Vance. This ingenious hybrid fuses the investigative clarity of the GUMSHOE system with the lethal wit of the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game. Purchase The Gaean Reach in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A flood of vintage NYPD crime photos will be resurfacing digitally, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Many date from the prime period of Lovecraftian horror, making them ideal handout fodder for your Trail of Cthulhu games. These images, including crime scene images from murder investigations, bring real-life grit to a time we often imagine in a prettier, Hollywood studio production design.

First of all, this jury-rigged combination knife-gun-brass knuckles is a wonder to behold. If your investigators aren’t soon discovering it on the body of a murdered thug, there’s really nothing any of us at Pelgrane can do for you.

A prior batch of these are already available online, licensed for viewing but not commercial use. The big images have been watermarked into uselessness for home handout purposes. But if you hit the link for printer-friendly versions you’ll get a smaller but large enough version to pass around to your players. At this scale the watermarks are absent or can be mistaken for photographic imperfections. Keepers with high Credit Rating abilities might decide to spring for actual prints.

Right now most date from 1916-1920, but the grant covers a much longer period.

You will find plenty of actual murder images, who in your version weren’t bumped off by spouses or criminal accomplices but no doubt by tcho-tchos, cultists, and perhaps a star vampire or two.

Each Keeper will have to judge for herself whether the use of very old pictures of very real murders lie within the bounds of horror fan tastes. Poll your group before springing any graphic death photos on them.

However, not all of these pix can be overtly identified as the work of crime photographers. This evocatively empty tenement courtyard shot could easily represent the home of an urban witness your investigators have to find.

Want to see the badge your NYPD inspector might flash?

What creature did this damage to some unfortunate’s unfortunate living quarters? Felonious assault? That’s what they want you to believe.

Surely your characters will sooner or later find themselves in the dispiriting confines of the police psychopathology lab.

You can improvise your way to an urban period investigation by picking out a handful of shots you find evocative, then constructing a mystery that will take the characters there. For an improvised, Armitage Files-style game, have a bunch on hand to spark ideas during play.


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 the Pelgrane Shop.

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