Some of the fantasists of the early 20th century are arguable more popular and well-known than they were when they were alive. HP Lovecraft or Robert Howard, for example, with their Cthulhu and Conan tales cast titanic shadows over the fantasy genre. Other writers have slipped into comparative obscurity, like the wonderful James Branch Cabell. And then there are those who have a small but devoted following, like the Canadian academic L. S. Pierton.
Comparable perhaps to Burroughs in tone, if not in talent, Pierton is best known for his Kalamane Cycle, a series of adventures involving the brooding alchemist-swordsman Kalamane and his travels through the Night Jungle, the impenetrably thick and perilous forest that has swallowed much of the world. His first published work, though, was A Journey to the Otherworld, where a traveller from 1925 is magically transported to the Night Jungle by means of a mysterious scroll. The misadventures of Pierton’s transparent alter-ego “Professor Bravo” found little purchase among readers, but sales were just sufficient to convince the publisher, S.C. Griggs, to ask for a sequel focusing on the supporting cast. Professor Bravo shows up in a handful of other stories written by Pierton, but never again takes centre stage.
By 1932, Pierton’s ill health and inability to meet deadlines forced his editor to bring in a series of ghost writers. The first of these, Kalamane & the Witch of Enzar, is infamous as the ‘book that it killed the author’. Shortly after it was published, Griggs’ received a large parcel of papers and background notes from Pierton detailing his ‘observations’ of the world of the Night Jungle. Apparently, the ghost writer’s deviations from Pierton’s ideal so appalled the writer than he completely withdrew from public life and was never seen again. As reviews of Witch of Enzar were considerably better than those of the previous books in the series, Pierton’s reaction elicited little response from Griggs. Ghost writers on the series sometimes drew from Pierton’s notes for inspiration to some degree – as Witch of Enzar is the only book that was definitely written without any input from Pierton, some fans still argue it should be excluded from the canon.
The last Otherworld book from Griggs came out in 1938. For many years, fans debated whether this was due to dwindling sales or the unexpected suicide of regular ghost writer Cyril Browne. It wasn’t until much later than diligent research in the pages of 80’s fanzine Boat on the Azkar revealed a court case between S.C. Griggs and “J. Pierton”, a woman who claimed to be Pierton’s daughter and heir, who demanded the return of the notes. The case was thrown out of court after she threatened Griggs’ lawyer with a ‘replica dagger’, but the gap in the publishing schedule sank the series for many years. Like her alleged father, “J. Pierton” was never seen again.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that the series returned to life. By now, the firm of S.C. Griggs was long gone, and the rights to Pierton’s work were now owned by Arrow Books. While Miriam Benedash (writing under the pseudonym James Canton) could have found another publisher for her tales of the Night Jungle, only Arrow Books had Pierton’s notes in their archives. Benedash drew on these notes, using them to lend substance and structure to her almost dream-like depictions of the Otherworld. Her writing was considerably more vivid and compelling than Pierton’s, and introduced a new generation to the world of Kalamane. A selection of earlier novels in the series was reprinted with suitably lurid covers to cash in on Benedash’s success.
This success was regrettably short-lived. Benedash suffered a mental breakdown in 1974, and was committed to a hospital by her family. The manuscript for her last book was sold to a private collector instead of Arrow Books.
The 1980s brought a smaller resurgence of interest. There was a short-lived cartoon adaptation of the Kalamane cycle that largely ignored Benedash’s books, together with a more extensive comic-book series that covered most of A Journey to the Otherworld through to The Temple of the Emerald Eye. There was even a table-top roleplaying game set in the Night Jungle; a battered copy of it showed up in the GenCon charity auction in 2012, but was stolen before it could be sold.
The strangest latter-day incarnation of the Otherworld, though, is undoubtedly the Night Jungle theme park, built in Florida in the early 1990s by an eccentric millionaire. According to urban legend, this theme park covers some fifty acres of swampland, and contains dozens of attractions and rides based on locations from the Otherworld books. The park never opened to the public; a chemical spill polluted the land around the park, making it dangerously toxic. Photographs of an expedition to the theme park show that the abandoned buildings have been taken over by all sorts of dangerous wildlife, and there is some evidence of human habitation despite the environmental danger.
The Night Jungle theme park is one of the legends associated with Pierton’s legacy. Another is referred to online as “the Syndicate”. This myth claims that there is an organised conspiracy or corporation dedicated to acquiring material related to the Otherworld for some nefarious purpose. Devotees of this theory point to Benedash’s last manuscript or the disappearance of comic book artist Jeffrey Smythe as ‘proof’ of this sinister conspiracy.
Despite its obscurity, the Otherworld series has filtered a little into popular culture. For example, in 2009, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service nicknamed a mysterious invasive weed in discovered in southern Georgia as ‘Nightflowers’, after the similar plant in the Night Jungle stories.
Next month: Otherworld Characters
This issue of Page XX features a regime change, a Hillfolk Bundle, the last few hours of a 13th Age Kickstarter, with articles and three new releases in the store .
It’s been a month of big changes here (more on that later), but the first thing to say is that you have less than two hours to back the Kickstarter for Greg Stolze’s 13th Age novel, “The Forgotten Monk”, so get in there quickly! New releases in the Pelgrane store include the pre-order for the long-awaited expansion book for science-fiction GUMSHOE setting Ashen Stars, Accretion Disk, crammed full of new tech, ships and species to enhance your campaign. The February edition of KWAS, GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia, is now available in the webstore, as is the February edition of 13th Age Monthly, Temples of the Frogfolk. KWAS subscribers will be getting the latest edition, Tomb-Hounds of Egypt, tomorrow.
See Page XX Poll
It’s our now-annual shout-out for Gen Con GMs! Last year, we ran more games than ever before, but this year we’re determined to beat that record. The submission date for games is March 13th, 2015, so if you’re interested in running games at GenCon, email me for more information and to stay updated on our plans.
It’s not just GenCon, though – we’re always looking for GMs for other conventions. At the moment, conventions we’re attending and recruiting GMs for include UK Games Expo (Birmingham, UK – May 29th to May 31st) and Origins Game Fair (Columbus, OH – June 3rd to 7th), but we also need GMs for PAX East (Boston, MA – March 6th to 8th) and PAX Prime (Seattle, WA – August 28th to August 31st).
We’re also keen to support conventions that we can’t make it to, but you can! If you’d like to run Pelgrane games at your local games convention, email me and let me know – we can help out with demo game and full game scenarios for all our lines, and we might even be able to offer incentives and prizes for your Pelgrane Press games.
We recently signed up with the Envoy program to do more organised play, so you can also sign up there to become a Herald, and run Pelgrane Press games in your FLGS or local convention.
Seeking adventure and a taste of the exotic? Miskatonic University is looking for explorers, adventurers, and academics to range the untamed and untapped regions of the globe. Opportunities like these can be found in Mythos Expeditions, for Trail of Cthulhu.
Rest, Romance, and Recreation in Gabon
Follow Miskatonic University’s anthropology department to beautiful, exotic Gabon. The gem of West Africa, Gabon is a lush, untouched land. Visit the jungleside estate of chief anthropologist, Mary Kingsley. Kingsley, whose research focused on the cannibalistic Fang people, is currently missing and presumed dead. See the flora, the fauna, and the mysterious Fang people of the Mikembe rainforest. Take Kingsley’s last known route down the Ogooue River, to Kingsley’s campsite. For outdoorsmen seeking a true challenge, scramble to Chaillu Mountains and seek the Kingsley’s last known location, the meteoric peak.
The Horrible Truth
An attache of starved Byakhee crashed and landed at the meteoric peak of the Chaillu Mountains. The Fang people, led by a crazed Mary Kingsley, are mobilizing against the bloodthirsty Byakhee.
Tour: two weeks after arrival in Libreville.
The Lure of the Labrador Wilds
Looking for some local flavor? Try the North American Wilderness. Misk U. is seeking explorers and adventurers to trace the 1903 expedition of frenzied author and outdoorsman Dillon Wallace. Range through Canada’s Labrador wilds to uncover traces of Wallace’s fated trip through Lake Michikamau. Rumor is that Wallace still roams Labrador, searching his companion, Leonidas Hubbard.
The Horrible Truth
During the original trip, Leonidas Hubbard was taken and, unbeknownst to Dillion, murdered by Deep Ones. Wallace is raving mad, recreating tableaus from the Lure of the Labrador Wilds to try and resurrect Hubbard, to no avail.
Tour: Approximately a week after arrival in St. John’s, Canada.
Deeper, and Deeper Still!
Far below Brownsville, Kentucky, America lies the Mammoth Cave, a 400 mile (640km) stretch of cave, ripe for exploration. Traverse the Limestone Labyrinth of Kentucky. Local contact, Floyd Collins will provide lodging and dynamite. Help Collins explode a new entrances into the Bottomless Pit, the River Styx and the Rotund Room, while avoid shifty cave owners, looking to poach explorable caves. Additionally, please ignore news reports of Kentucky’s Cave Thing, and various missing persons reports.
The Horrible Truth
Set against the Kentucky Cave wars, a battle for the control and domination of the Mammoth Cave and all it’s tourist opportunities, bombardiers like Collins disturbed an ancient and not-totally-abandoned city of Serpent People. The Serpent People viciously protect their ruins at the bottom of the Bottomless Pit, striking against locals, even inspiring a local cult.
Tour: Three weeks after arrival in Brownsville.
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
Double-strength 5th level caster [Construct]
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.
PD 17 HP 144
“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.)
Dungeon means a prison, you know.
Double-strength 5th level caster [Construct]
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.
PD 17 HP 144
“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…
13th Age answers the question, “What if Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, lead designers of the 3rd and 4th editions of the World’s Oldest RPG, had free rein to make the d20-rolling game they most wanted to play?” Create truly unique characters with rich backgrounds, prepare adventures in minutes, easily build your own custom monsters, and enjoy fast, freewheeling battles full of unexpected twists. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
It’s been bitterly cold and miserable here in London for the last few weeks, so we’ve been keeping ourselves warm with frenetic activity. This has paid off in the form of not one, but two new products for 13th Age – the launch of our 13th Age subscription product, 13th Age Monthly, with the Dragon Riding edition and a fantastic 13th Age Soundtrack album by composer James Semple and some scarily famous musicians. KWAS subscribers are well treated this month with the bumper latest edition, GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia, and the January edition, Hideous Creatures: Rat-Things is now available in the webstore.
Resource page updates
- Trail of Cthulhu – A new page for newer GMs and players featuring questions, Actual Play videos and audio is available here
See Page XX Poll
If you are interested any of these games, please email me with the game you wish to playtest in the subject line.
System: 13th Age
Author: Cal Moore
Deadline: February 28th
Iconic Battles Scenes consistent of 39 sets of themed encounters, one Adventure, one Champion and one Epic level for each icon. Go white water rafting with orcs, face a demonic circus and clean out a crime lord’s HQ. You add the story elements and slot them into your campaign.
Each adventure takes around two hours to play out, more if you play every scene and include a lot of linking story elements.
System: Esoterrorists 2nd Edition
Author: Robin D. Laws
Deadline: February 28th
As they investigate what appear to be disparate mysteries, the team slowly uncovers a conspiracy to rip open the membrane in a single global panic event. We’ve had separate adventures, and a two-parter, for The Esoterrorists, but never a linked series of scenarios, or a globe-spanning campaign book that tips the hat to Masks of Nyarlathotep. This book fills that gap.
Except for the last installment, these scenarios take place in any order. Appendices show you how to link them. Additional scenario hooks show GMs how to expand the campaign with even more related episodes, if desired.
The Mysteries of Interpretative Dance
System: The Gaean Reach
Author: Jim Webster
Duration: One to two sessions
Deadline: February 28th
For reasons entirely of his own Quandos Vorn does occasionally need to be contacted. He also wishes to keep open lines of communication to his past. Thus and so, chance has placed at his disposal Tris; performance artist, poet, and artist. Could Tris be the way of getting to Vorn the players have been looking for?
Brought to you by experienced players and GMs, this is the advice novice TimeWatch agents wished they’d had before they were swallowed by a chronal anomaly, infected with clock plague or unexisted in a Ray-Jar Vu.
TimeWatch offers players some subtle tactics that it’s possible to miss, especially when playing for the first time. Here are some strategies that you’ll want to
come back to, especially when your agents are in trouble and you’re looking for some creative solutions.
You’re going to get hurt a lot. Plan accordingly.
Attack pools means that even mooks often hit you the first time they attack; enemies’ accuracy will decrease as they get more tired. Expect that a
significant adversary is likely to hit you, so have enough Health that you’re not going to drop right away. If you never increase your Health over the
default value of 6, and since you drop out of a fight at -6, you’ll be able to withstand at least two or three typical hits. Bumping your Health to 8 or 10
points during character creation, increasing your Hit Threshold to 4 (by having an Athletics of 8 or higher), having a dedicated team medic, using evasive
maneuvers (see p. 109), or increasing your armor or Hit Threshold through Preparedness or Science! spends (such as with a personal forcefield) will help
you stay alive.
Stitches speed things up.
You can use stitches to do more damage, take less damage, avoid making a travel test when time traveling, refresh pools enough that you can guarantee
success on an important roll, and offer teamwork that helps an ally succeed. Do so. They’re around to make the game more convenient for you, so you should
spend them accordingly.
If you don’t have enough pool points, hand out more stitches.
The frequency at which you gain stitches, and thus the frequency in which your character is able to refresh their pools, is almost entirely in the hands of
the players. If it feels like you don’t have enough, other players feel that way too; set a standard by rewarding behavior that you think is fun, clever or
awesome. This might be as simple as tossing one to someone who is kind to another player, or giving a stitch to the guy who brought snacks. Once your group
gets the hang of positively reinforcing awesome behavior, you’ll probably find you have enough to make interesting tactical decisions.
And hey, if you don’t, your GM can always award stitches to the group (or allow you to refresh combat pools) to make sure you can stay in the fight. Remind
her if necessary.
If you’ve hit your Hoarding Limit but are given a 4th stitch, spend one of the ones you have.
Having more stitches than you can use is a good problem to have. If you’re at the max of 3, and you get more, use your existing stitches immediately to
refresh pools that aren’t maxed out. If you need to, use Medic or Reality Anchor to help a fellow agent recover damage, then refresh your pool. In a worst
case scenario, use Preparedness to establish that you have a piece of particularly cool or useful technology that you expect to need—who doesn’t need a ray
gun?—and then refresh your Preparedness pool.
Don’t hang on to stitches greedily. The game is most fun when they come and go quickly.
Remember your armor.
If you’re wearing your TimeWatch uniform, subtract 1 point from every instance of Shooting and Scuffling damage you take.
When you absolutely positively don’t want to get hit, try Evasive Maneuvers.
Every 2 Athletics points you spend boosts your Hit Threshold by 1 until the beginning of your next action, up to a maximum of +3. Of course, you probably
aren’t going to hit anything—your enemies’ hit thresholds go up by +2 every time yours goes up by +1—but who cares? Your job for the round is surviving. If
you’ve just spent a point in Taunt to get your foes’ attention, and you’ve used evasive maneuvers to boost your Hit Threshold to 7, they’re all going to be
too busy trying and failing to shoot you for you to mind your own inaccuracy.
Use Stitches to reduce damage.
Even with your armor, are you getting smacked for more damage than you want to take? Each stitch you spend reduces damage by one point. It may save your
Don’t charge a gunman.
A foe who has a ranged weapon drawn and ready will get a free bonus attack on you if you try and rush him. That’s why people in movies don’t charge gunmen.
If you don’t want to get shot, wait until he’s distracted by something before closing, or try to create a distraction yourself (possibly with time travel
or by spending an investigative point) before closing in.
If you can close with him, he’ll be at a disadvantage unless he switches to Scuffling. As noted on p. 104, Shooters in close combat have a 1 in 6 chance to
shoot themselves or an ally by mistake.
Use Taunt to draw an enemy’s fire.
The investigative ability Taunt does more than just make people so angry at you that they reveal what they know. Spend a point in a fight, and you can draw
an enemy’s attention (and attacks) away from someone else. They may even chase you. If you can survive it, it’s a good way to draw someone into an ambush.
Make ludicrous chronal stability tests, just make sure you have friends with Reality Anchor there to back you up.
We’ve found in playtest that players are often very conservative with their chronal stability and reality anchor points. They exist in part so that you can
use them to do cool time tricks when avoiding paradoxes can’t solve your problem, so don’t be afraid to use them when your back is up against the wall.
Reality Anchor restores other peoples’ chronal stability by 2 points for every point you spend, and it’s an efficient way of restoring someone who’s just
endangered himself to try something clever.
Time heals all wounds.
If you can get away from combat and time travel without being followed in a time chase, you can go to a future hospital and get medical treatment. A day or
two of rest and recovery, and you can return to the fight with full Health and full pools of Athletics, Scuffling, Shooting and Vehicles. The tricky part,
of course, is getting away from the fight safely.
In a pinch, and assuming that you have a Medic rating of 1 or higher, don’t forget that you can exchange an investigative point of Medical Expertise for 3
points of Medic. That’s enough to heal allies 6 points of damage.
You could also trade Preparedness or Tinkering for Healing. It’s not unreasonable to assume that a technological device could provide you with a temporary
medical-related benefit in case of emergency—either restoring a small amount of Health points, or keeping you automatically conscious for a Consciousness
test. An agent with Flashback (the booster gained with 8 or more points of Preparedness) can even state after-the-fact that such a medical booster
was acquired and in place. It’s not much, but it’s much better than dying.
If the GM gets lucky and rolls well, fall back and regroup.
You’re exceptionally competent agents, but you aren’t invulnerable and you aren’t superhuman. You’re much better off negotiating or retreating than you are
dying. Sometimes, combat is far from the best solution.
Spending Investigative points from History or Anthropology might allow you to recruit allies from out of history. If your plan depends on an extinct and
ancient Pacific Island tribe that worships you as a god, or a doomed spaceship crew from the far future, you might as well get use out of them by leading
them into battle. Likewise, you can make friends with the best and brightest minds in history. Nothing’s more amusing than discovering that the Mona Lisa
is actually a painting of your own character, just because you spent a History point and turned out to be an old friend of Leonardo da Vinci.
Play the long con.
TimeWatch agents gain an extended lifespan, so don’t be afraid of the long path to success. Need to live with someone for a few years as their roommate so
that forty years hence they’ll tell you what you need to know? Need to go back in time a few months and get a job as a laboratory guard, just so you’re
there at the right time to let in your friends? If you can spare the time, it’s sometimes a creative solution.
Boost your damage with Tinkering.
If you have points in Tinkering and are worried you won’t have cause to use them, never fear. A tinkering test on your ranged weapon during downtime will
increase the amount of damage the next shot does by 1 point. If you tinker with a PaciFist, you can raise the Stun level from 5 to 6. Better yet, if you
have 8 or more points in Tinkering, you can do this quickly enough that it becomes part of your combat action. Combined with spending stitches for extra
damage, it’s a good way to quickly inflict pain on your foes.
Spend Investigative points to boost attacks.
If you can justify it, you can spend any Investigative point to gain +3 on a General ability test. Out of Scuffling points and need to hit someone?
Spending a Military Tactics (“I’ve studied tactics”), Intimidation (“I raise my fist and while he’s flinching, I hit him”), Streetwise (“I know dirty
fighting; I’ll kick out his knee”) or even Authority (“He’s ex-military? I scream ‘Attention!’ like a drill sergeant and hit him while he’s trying not to
instinctively salute”) point can boost your roll by +3—and if you’re clever about how you do it, the GM or one of your fellow players will probably toss
you a stitch as well for doing something fun.
You may also be able to use Investigative ability spends to boost your damage instead. Spending a point of Medical Expertise, for instance, reasonably lets
you know the most painful place to hit a foe, letting you raise all the damage you inflict by +1 for the rest of the fight.
Spend investigative points to disrupt combat.
Losing a fight horribly? Want to pause it long enough to get a word in edgewise with diplomacy, or to try to escape? Spending one or more points from a
social skill might cause hostilities to cease for a minute against all but the most determined foes. Of course, make a hostile move and you can expect the
fight to spring back up.
Use the initiative system to your advantage.
You have great control over who goes when in a round. Ask your fellow players who wants to go next, and you can make sure they do. Be wary of letting the
bad guys go last in a round; it means that if they want to, they’ll be able to go twice in a row.
Flee into time.
You can use the initiative system to escape a fight in your autochron without risking its destruction from stray fire. If the bad guys have already gone in
the round, fire up your autochron, and then just make sure that your character goes first in the next round before your adversaries have a chance to act.
It’s a little sneaky, but it’s completely legitimate. Just hope that your enemies don’t have the ability to chase you through time; if they do, ready
yourself for a time chase when they come after you.
Use Science! points for concentrated awesomeness.
Want nifty gear—force fields, more powerful weapons, smoke bombs or concentrated explosives—but you’re short on Preparedness and don’t have time to use
Tinkering to build them? Spend a point of Science!. With the GM’s okay, it’s a fast way to confirm that you have an item you want without having to roll
You have access to the future, and that means you can describe just about any technology you want to the GM. She’ll increase the Preparedness cost for
acquiring more powerful gear, of course, but feel free to consider high-tech solutions to simple problems. Night vision contact lenses, portable EMP
generators, zero-point gravity guns, jetpacks; fun and useful! Acquiring something like this is a good use of Preparedness, especially when you
have more stitches than you need and can immediately refresh your Preparedness pool.
Adopt a signature weapon or piece of gear.
As noted on p. 140, you can spend build points to start each game with a piece of unique tech that you particularly love. If your character is always known
for his disintegrator pistol or jet pack, that’s how to always have it around.
Help Yourself — Literally.
When you’re in dire straits and need backup, you can be your own backup. Declare that you’re going to remember to have your future self show up and save
you. You’ll need to spend a Paradox Prevention point and make a chronal stability test, but it means that you can double your attacks. Sure, if your
younger self dies anyways you’ve created massive paradox (and triggered a chronal stability test for your fellow agents), but you’ll probably be beyond
caring at that point, and the extra help may just save the day.
Is your friend dying, but you can’t get to him in time? Pay a point of Paradox Prevention, make the chronal stability test, and your future self can show
up to heal him. This is just like duplicating yourself to help be your own ally in a battle, but it lets you provide tactical support to an ally instead.
Save a few build points.
If you can, save a few build points when creating your character or after each mission. These don’t disappear if you don’t immediately assign them;
instead, you can assign them on the fly during a mission to immediately get access to an ability.
Paradox Prevention points: your wild card.
If want a clever time-or causality-related effect, but it’s a little too powerful to do casually, ask your GM if you can spend a Paradox Prevention point
to do so. These serve as “wild card” points for temporal effects, letting you take unique time-related actions without over-balancing the game. Paradox
Prevention points, like all investigative points, don’t refresh until the end of the mission; plan their use accordingly.
Spend Paradox Prevention to save chronal stability.
You can sometimes get in a bind with low chronal stability, needing to spend chronal stability in order to make a test that you can’t afford to fail.
Consider spending an extra point of Paradox Prevention instead. This gives you +3 on your chronal stability test, making it automatically in all but the
most dire of circumstances, without spending any more points.
Note that this is different than the point of Paradox Prevention you’ll need to spend for certain chronal hijinks like duplicating yourself in a scene.
Finish off foes.
Badly injured supporting characters are at a disadvantage in combat, but not a huge one. If your enemies aren’t mooks, your team is best of focusing fire
to drop one target before moving on to the next. You’re better off having 1 downed foe and 2 uninjured ones than 3 slightly injured enemies.
If you’re fighting mooks, unnamed supporting characters with low hit points (you’ll probably be able to guess by the GM’s description), take out as many as
you can as quickly as possible. They hit hard but drop fast. And hey, as you’d expect in a cinematic game, eliminating the unnamed characters before taking
on the main villain is practically traditional.
Stun those mooks.
Unlike more important adversaries, mooks don’t even have the opportunity to make a Stun test when you hit them with a neural disruptor. If you hit them
with your PaciFist, they’ll automatically go unconscious. It’s a good tactic when you want to damage history as little as possible. This is an especially
good tactic for agents with 8 or more points in Shooting, who can fire twice in a round.
You may fight an enemy more than once.
The tricky thing about time travel is that you may fight an elderly adversary, then later on fight a younger version of the same person—and you can’t kill
him without triggering a major chronal stability test, because doing so would create paradox. You may have to think creatively to get around this
Make sure someone knows how to drive.
You need to put physical distance between yourself and anyone chasing you through time, and that means outrunning them during a time chase. These get much
easier and much more fun when at least one agent has 8 or more points of Vehicles. You won’t need it every mission, but you’ll be grateful for it when it’s
A closed door is your friend.
Why? Because thanks to Preparedness and time travel, it hides exactly what you need right now, and are going to put behind it later.
Beam weapons are deadlier than firearms.
They’re also a lot more obvious, as you’d expect when shooting a laser pistol in a science fiction game. Nevertheless, beam weapons do more damage on
average than other weapons, and can have some handy improvements like disintegration. They’re a reasonable use of Preparedness points.
Use weapons when Scuffling.
Just like in real life, smacking someone with a weapon does more damage than hitting them with your fist. You’re encouraged to describe grabbing weapons
from the environment to use, but you’ve got a fallback. A deactivated autochron is nice and sturdy, and serves as a handy club.
When to stun, when to kill.
Stun attacks are mechanically balanced with firearms. Shoot or hit someone with a PaciFist, and if they’re not stunned it may seem like you wasted your
attack. Not so. Three things happen when a foe successfully makes a Stun test:
- They’re dazed, so the Difficulty goes up on any other tests they make (including more Stun tests) between your attack and their next turn, making them
easier for other agents to stun.
- They’ve likely spent some Health points in order to boost their chances of success, so you’re about as well off as you’d be if you shot them with
- Mooks drop immediately when shot with a neural disruptor—no Stun test required.
PaciFists keep the target alive, and are great for stealth. Bullets, beam weapons, knives and fists leave the target marked and bloody, and (beam weapons
aside) don’t run the risk of appearing like magic or future technology to less advanced societies. Which you choose depends on the effect you want to
Think outside the box.
This is a time travel game. If the building gate guard doesn’t let you in, time travel in. Or go back in time and get a job in building security yourself.
Or go back in time and become a family friend of the gate guard. Or spend a point of architecture to go back and alter the building blueprints, giving you
access that no one else knows about.
Similarly, you’ll have multiple options when taking down a bad guy. Go back to stop him before he ever started his plans, or in the middle of them before
they succeed, or right at the key moment; just be careful not to risk severe chronal stability tests by causing paradox. You can often get around that with
some clever planning that makes history work out correctly, but you’ll want to consider your line of attack.
Research locks in reality.
When history has changed, you usually have the option of time traveling into the future and reading about an event in (alternate) history books. Doing so,
however, locks it in as an established fact; change it after that, and you’ll need to make a chronal stability test as time shifts away from what you know
[Note to self – musn’t use pie charts. Steve Dempsey says they are bad.]
It’s been another great year. Reading last year’s post, this post is like a sequel to last year’s – in a Godfather 2 rather than Highlander 2 way.
The key phrase for this year is mid-tier. We aspire to the median heights of mid-tierness. Everything we publish, how we sell our books; everything we post online or email we think – would a mid-tier company do this? So far, this has guided us well.
The figures show our turnover has increased by 45%. This is somewhat misleading – 2013 had no Kickstarter income, and 2014 had two Kickstarters, and I consider Kickstarters to be unhatched chickens – we sit on the money as a pre-payment for costs, not as a big pot of working capital. If we exclude Kickstarter, the increase was around 16% – still impressive.
Why the increase?
In part the new shininess of 13th Age supported by the Organised Play team, improved social media presence, but also Cat Tobin’s amazing efforts in unclogging the production pipeline and releasing so many new books. I also think the release of 5th Edition and the general increase in the size of the audience has something to do with it. 13th Age continues to be our top-selling product. Once again, though, sales of non-13th Age products have increased – by 10% (excluding Kickstarter)
We absolutely punch below our weight in marketing terms.
Once again, and despite everything we learned in 2014, we released a huge number of products at GenCon, as you can see from the spikes in the sales graph.
Our Different Lines – By Units
The 13th Age core book outsold every other core book by a long shot – as you might expect.Trail continues to sell reliably, and Night’s Black Agents figures got a modest boost from the Dossier. though not all of the extra sales are included in the figures.
Hillfolk is selling much better through distribution than I thought, and is holding up, too. Blood on the Snow and the cards have sold through. So, I will look at ways we can support the line.
The picture looks a little different when you add all the supplements in. It’s a little misleading to look only at unit sales, of course, because Trail includes many modestly-priced supplements.
Finally, just for fun, all sales from all lines since records began:
The big differences between 2013 and 2014 were – no Kickstarter in 2014, and the emergence of The Bundle of Holding. Amazon, much to my regret, plays a more significant role, but only really to sell copies of 13th Age Core Book as a gateway, and with very little margin. If we exclude these, the proportion of sales through other channels were pretty much the same.
Here you see how print and PDF compare – 38% of our unit sales by PDF. OBS is rpgnow.com and dtrpg.com. This excludes the Bundle of Holding – on a per-unit basis this would skew the chart wildly. What’s also important here is the role of distribution. Despite the low margins, retailers still play an important role. 13th Age has attracted casual sales through retail we wouldn’t typically get.
Margins in our corner RPG business remain tight, and now that we are mid-tier, I have to take the whole thing a lot more seriously, as a slip up could cost thousands, and full time employees and freelancers depend on us. People, printers and shippers get our money. I’m very pleased to be able to employ three people permanently, while I am a part timer. Cat is taking a more central role in running the business.
Shipping costs are brutal. Customers outside the US are effectively getting heavily subsidised shipping. US to Canada shipping is just mad. Lower oil costs might help, but I’m not counting on it.
This year we have two Kickstarters to fulfill. We’ve built in a little wiggle room on the shipping costs, but I still think we’ll end up down on costs. despite what we’ve reluctantly had to allow.
The very best thing for us to do to increase our margins is to increase unit sales, enabling us to pay artists and other creators more money. Our products are beautiful and award-winning, but compared with other similar companies, our marketing is not nearly what it could be. So this year we are devoting more of our resources to social media, building organised play programs and International Pelgrane Day. It’s hard not to spend all day making and planning new products, but we need to sell them, too.
I think last year was exceptional – running two big Kickstarters in year and getting the revenue in for them is very unusual. I expect this year to be steady on the sales side, and revenue to be down on 2014, and that won’t concern me. We have to deliver what we promised on TimeWatch and The Dracula Dossier.
13th Age from a business point of view is a great fit for Pelgrane Press – it’s enabled us to grow, and I think we’ve bought a touch of our magic to it, too. So creatively and as a gamer, too, I’m very happy to have published it.
The work I did to produce this report shows I need to have better and more consolidated access to the data. Margins by channel and type are very hard to work out, for example. So I need to consolidate the data and polish up the Magic Spreadsheet.
It’s what a mid-tier company would do.