Ignoring the vagaries of its publishing history, Pierton’s Night Jungle makes a great setting for gaming. If you just want to tell stories in the mode of the Kalamane Cycle, where heroic fantasy heroes battle monsters and weird sorcery, then you can just grab a copy of 13th Age and wait until next month when we’ll summarize the key gameable elements of the Otherworld. However, if you want to recreate the original stories of “Professor Bravo” (or, less ambitiously, the original ill-fated 80s game), the best approach is a GUMSHOE hack.
In this game, the players play people from our world, Earth, who find themselves transported into the Night Jungle. Like Professor Bravo, they discover they are ‘oscillating’ back and forth between the two worlds, jumping from Earth to the Night Jungle again in times of stress.
# of players Investigative Build Points
Player have 60 General Ability points. You can trade Investigative Build Points for General, or vice versa, at a 1-for-3 rate.
Most of the abilities are self-explanatory if you’ve played another GUMSHOE game. The new or obscure ones – Courtesy and Command are used when dealing with higher- or lower-status people, especially in the Otherworld. Deceive covers bluffing, impersonation and con games as well as seeing through them. Insight gives, well, insight into other people’s motivations and beliefs – the classic GUMSHOE ability of Bullshit Detector exists at the intersection of those two.
Orienteering is a combination of navigation, cartography, and working out spatial relations – it’s doubly important when trying to make your way through the perilous labyrinth of the Night Jungle, or when you’re trying to work out which place on Earth corresponds to a location in the Otherworld.
Pierton Trivia measures knowledge of the Otherworld novels and spin-offs and those involved in publishing them, as well as the fandom around them.
Craft covers improvised repair and operating
Contacts works like Network in Night’s Black Agents or Correspondence in Trail of Cthulhu.
Travelling is for avoiding Health loss or other penalties when trekking through the jungle.
Player characters from Earth can’t take these Investigative Abilities at the start of the game, but can buy them with experience points. If you’re allowing players to roll up Otherworld characters, then they can take these abilities as well as any other investigative ability marked with a * in the list above.
Alchemy: Brewing up potions and poisons from the strange fruits of the Night Jungle, as well as identifying them by their effects.
Beast-Lore: Knowledge of the monsters that haunt the Night Jungle – and how to kill them.
Land-Lore: Knowledge of the various lands swallowed by the Jungle, and what remains of them.
Other-Seeming: How to blend in when you’re outside your home reality. Putting points into this ability lets a character hide the fact that they’re from Earth. The idea that creatures from the Otherworld can cross into our reality, just like Professor Bravo crosses into theirs, is hinted at several times in Pierton’s stories; this ability works the other way for them, letting them blend into modern society.
Sorcery: The perilous use of magic. In Pierton’s novels, sorcery carried terrible costs and was solely the province of malicious or insane wizards.
River-Trade: Navigating the network of rivers that are the main trade routes through the jungle, and dealing with the Shell-Dwarfs who control the waters.
A character’s Oscillation rating measures their ability to jump between realities. Most people – on both Earth and the Night Jungle have a rating of 0. Player characters start with a rating of 2.
Oscillation is capped at 10.
Spending a point of Oscillation lets a character start the process of travelling from one world to another with an effort of will. This usually takes several hours – the character feels more and more disconnected from their current reality, and glimpses elements of their destination, until finally they jump completely. Spending extra points of Oscillation can:
- Make the transition faster
- Bring large or heavy objects across
- Temporarily manifest conditions from the other side (need to get a cellphone signal in the Night Jungle? Need an alchemical potion to work to full effect on Earth?)
- Manifest in a chosen location in the other world (you need to have visited or at least be familiar with the location)
- Follow someone else across (you end up near wherever they’re going)
- Resist involuntary transitions
Refreshing and Improving Oscillation
Oscillation pools refresh after each adventure. The GM may also declare that the characters have unconsciously jumped, and give them a few Oscillation points in compensation. (This is a great way to deal with missing players – if Bob doesn’t make it to this week’s session, then Bob’s PC involuntarily travels to the opposite reality to the rest of the group. Next week, he shows up again with a refreshed Oscillation pool).
Oscillation cannot be increased by experience points; the only way to improve it is by visiting sites of power and possessing potent relics, especially items that came from one world but spent long periods in the other. Finding something as potent as Professor Bravo’s Diary might improve Oscillation by 3 points.
If a character with Oscillation is reduced to -12 Health, they’re not killed. Instead, they Avoid Fate by instantly and uncontrollably jumping to the other world. A character can Avoid Fate in this fashion a limited number of times.
Oscillation Rating Fates Avoided
NPCs who Avoid Fate may find themselves stuck, unable to travel again until they increase their Oscillation rating. Player characters aren’t usually subject to this limitation.
This month, in Page XX, Eternal Lies gets a new, alternative ending; The Eyes of the Stone Thief for 13th Age crushes doormats everywhere; there are six new releases in the store; and we present what might be our most packed Page XX ever!
- Our new releases include Ken Writes About Stuff Vol 3, the collected KWAS 2, Dreamhounds of Paris and Book of Ants in PDF, Hideous Creatures: Tcho-tcho, and Candles, Clay and Dancing Shoes for 13th Age Monthly.
- In our articles Robin D Laws discusses his home DramaSystem game, Rob Heinsoo offers the coin zombie, and a mass combat system for 13th Age, and Cat and Simon talk about the games we’ve played this month.
- Our poll: decide which Trail supplement you’d like to see Ken write: China or Chicago
It’s all in Page XX!
Here are some of the games that Pelgranistas have been playing and enjoying this month:
I recently went to the small (but perfectly formed) UK RPG convention, Concrete Cow, and had some great gaming experiences there. Firstly, I played in the introduction to the epic The Poison Tree campaign that Scott Dorward, Paul Fricker, and Matthew Sanderson are writing for us, which was more than ably run by Scott. When running for players who’ve played a lot of Mythos-type games, it can be hard to find new ways of freaking them out, but Scott never fails to manage it. The intro was wonderfully creepy, blending a strong sense of cosy, familial normality with otherworldly wrongness. It felt very different to other Trail of Cthulhu adventures we’ve published, with a much stronger focus on inter-character drama, and I can’t wait to play more of it.
In the second slot, I facilitated a playtest of Elizabeth Lovegrove’s game, Rise and Fall. We’ll be publishing this in our upcoming book of story games – we’ll be announcing that shortly. In Rise and Fall, you collaboratively create a dystopia, and then play through its rise, establishment, and fall in a number of short scenes. The players came up with a not-too-distant future set in the UK, where a UKIP-like far right party allied with powerful corporate interests to create a Britain where the introduction of the “Grandfather Bill” meant anyone whose grandparents weren’t born in Britain was marginalised and disempowered. Thought-provoking and uncomfortable, yet very enjoyable to play, I’m really impressed with this game, in terms of the theme and how it’s structured.
In the final slot, I got to play my first ever game of InSpectres. This was really good fun; our franchise was based in Milton Keynes, where the convention was running, and we had to investigate a mysterious herd of cows in one of its rougher neighbourhoods. My character was heavily inspired by Parks and Rec‘s Leslie Knope (which was unfortunately lost on everyone else, who hadn’t seen the show), and we got a lot of laughs out of a very sparse set-up. I think I already have InSpectres, but if not, I’ll definitely be picking it up now that I’ve played it – it’s a great conceit, and it’s very easy to pick up and play with minimal effort.
I went to ConcreteCow, too, the second time I’ve had that pleasure. I was in all of Cat’s games – all of which I enjoyed, and a special thanks to Neil Smith for putting up with our wine-fuelled nonsense.
In Scott’s game my feeble attempts at a accent enouraged the others to do the same, and “amniotic fluid” are the best two words you can say with in Welsh dialect, though I can’t speak to its historicity.
Rise and Fall uses scenes to answer questions about the dystopia the group devises. It also specifically addresses whether characters in the scene are of low, mixed, or high status. This lead to scenes with low status which obliquely reference dystopian tropes. Here’s an example scene.
One player, Graham Walmsley, asked a question: How did informing begin?
He then chose two players (me and Mike Mason) to act out the scene.
This scene featured a Polish plumber, Lech, and his boss . The boss (played by Mike Mason) explained very plausibly how Lech could benefit financially. from mentioning uncivic behaviour “You’d report a bomb, wouldn’t you?” and how it “might affect his annual performance review” if he didn’t comply. It was chilling.
By the time we got to the Fall, we were aching to bring down the monster we’d created. It was one of those games where the players were so good it wasn’t a certain confimation that the game itself was solid (though I thought it was).
So, last week I ran Rise and Fall for my home group as attendance wasn’t up to running Scott’s game. I’ve played Microscope, Intrepid and other GMless games which feature joint creation of background and society, and so it was interesting to compare this game. We created a generation ship governed by an elite who deferred to a computer AI, and it featured horrible biotech (using wombs to create meat), enforced speaking of Latin (and the Quietus who removed their tongues) and ended with a suprised revoutionary being eaten by his followers. Rise and Fall is concise, creates a focussed, one session game which does exactly what its supposed to do. I was very impressed. You can read another actual play report of Rise and Fall here.
This week I’m running Scott’s game, for a full table. I’m not as good as I would like at encouraging roleplaying between players in GM-led games, and I think this game is set up to encourage that kind of play. (Incidentally, if you have any advice on encouraging players used to player-GM interaction to talk to each other in character, I am all ears.)
We’ve had our heads down for the last month trying to wrangle the growing piles of Dracula Dossier text into more printable book forms, and that’s been eating into our time to do other things, like making some changes to the shop and website. But they’ll be coming soon, probably in the next few months. Time has continued to tick over while we’ve been busy, marking the end of the second volume of Ken Writes About Stuff, now available as a collection in the webstore. If you subscribed to that, you’ll also be getting a bonus PDF (Foul Congeries #2), once Ken’s finished with his Dracula Dossier commitments – we’ll let you know when we’ve added that to your order receipt page. That means there’s now a third subscription available, kicking off with Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tcho (which will be available as a stand-alone PDF in the store later in April). Tomb-Hounds of Egypt is now available as a stand-alone PDF, as are Dreamhounds of Paris and its companion volume, The Book of Ants. And 13th Age Monthly subscribers have Candles, Clay & Dancing Shoes on their order receipt page.
See Page XX Poll
Stunning Weaponry in GUMSHOE
Most GUMSHOE games discourage the use of TASERs and other real-world stunning technology. They’re incredibly effective in law enforcement, but it’s less exciting for play if either player characters or their opponents drop instantly after a single hit. Robin D. Laws’ investigative space opera Ashen Stars is a notable exception, where (in the model of good sci-fi and Star Trek episodes everywhere) disruptors have the ability to drop an unprotected target immediately unconscious.
The time travel game TimeWatch takes a slightly different approach. Stunning technology was important to the game—when Genghis Khan is coming at you, you’ll want to protect yourself without necessarily killing him and changing history—but I wanted rules that both felt satisfying and gave characters some difficult choices in terms of staying conscious. You can easily adapt these rules to any TASER or stun-gun in any GUMSHOE game.
The PaciFist Neural Disruptor
Future, Chronomorphic, Hackable, Subtle, Standard; Close range, Stun 5
PaciFists are ranged stun-guns usable with both the Scuffling (for point-blank use only) and Shooting abilities, and are specially designed for covert TimeWatch agent use. They are chronomorphic, blending in to a historical era by changing their physical shape and appearance. Agents can usually decide what shape their PaciFist assumes: a walking cane, a six-gun revolver, a mobile phone, a pipe, or whatever appropriate form the agent wishes.
PaciFists have a rating of Stun 5 (see below). They only work at point-blank and (if used with the Shooting ability) close range, and are ineffective at farther ranges. That’s their tradeoff for making no noise and having no visible beam; the only way to tell a PaciFist has been fired is by the slight scent of ozone and a toppling, unconscious body, which makes them perfect for undercover work.
Making a successful Tinkering test (typically a Mechanics or System Repair test in other GUMSHOE games) can overcharge a PaciFist, boosting its effect up to either Stun 6 or near range, your choice, for its next shot. Rolling a 1 on the d6 during an overcharged attack burns out the weapon regardless of whether the attack was successful. Fixing a burned out weapon requires 10 minutes of work time and a successful Tinkering test.
Non-PaciFist disruptors (such as you might find in Ashen Stars) typically work at longer range but aren’t subtle, making both light and noise when they fire (as any good raygun should!) TASERs and stun guns (such as you might find in Esoterrorists or Night’s Black Agents) work at the same range as PaciFists do, but are visible and make noise.
GM Advice: Neural Disruptors and Fun Gameplay
The rules for non-lethal fire represent a compromise between genre fidelity and playability. In classic science fiction stories, future technology such as stun rays typically take out a target in one shot. Writers always contrive to keep this satisfying.
In a game, limiting firefight shots so that they either result in a miss or in instant victory is generally unsatisfying. It‘s fun to mow down insignificant opponents in one shot, but not to be taken out with one hit or to do the same to a central opponent.
Accordingly, the rules are configured to allow you to still instantly zap minor opponents, but to require several attacks to down a PC or major antagonist (depending on how much Health they’re willing to spend, and how lucky they get). This still feels faster and more decisive than the standard RPG combat, and thus retains a touch of futuristic flavor, while still keeping tabletop play fun.
Neural disruptors such as PaciFists are useful in a time travel game, because the players have more creative options when they know they can surreptitiously knock a mind-controlled Albert Einstein out cold while not killing him in the process. If your TimeWatch campaign is grittier, focus on firearms and beam weapons and be willing to accept some accidental and history-changing lethality.
How Does Stunning Work?
PaciFists, TASERs, stun guns, tranquilizer darts and neural disruptors work by knocking you unconscious without causing extensive Health damage. Resisting stunning works much like resisting unconsciousness. The Difficulty number, however, is set by the Stun value of the weapon used against you instead of by your current Health.
When hit with a stunning weapon, you must make a Stun test. Roll a die with the Stun rating of the weapon as your Difficulty. You may deliberately strain yourself to remain conscious, voluntarily reducing your Health pool by an amount of your choice. For each point you reduce it, add 1 to your die result. If you strain your Health below 0 or below -5, you will also have to make a Consciousness test after the Stunning attack is resolved. If you are attacked by more than one stunning weapon in a single round, you make a separate Stun test for each attack.
If you succeed in a Stun test, you remain conscious but are briefly impaired; you suffer a non-cumulative 1 point penalty to the Difficulty of any actions (including other Stun tests) you attempt until the end of your next turn. If you fail a Stun test, you are knocked unconscious for a period that varies by weapon, but which is usually 10-60 minutes or until awakened by someone spending 1 Medic point on you (which does not otherwise restore Health.)
Dr. Leah Breen is mind controlled by a parasitic alien hive-mind, and she is trying to stun Mace Hunter with her PaciFist so that she can infect him as well. Mace’s Hit Threshold is 4, but Dr. Breen spends 3 Shooting points to make sure she hits him. Dr. Breen’s PaciFist is a standard Stun 5, so Mace must now make an Stun test at Difficulty 5. Mace trusts his luck; he spends 2 Health, dropping his Health pool from 8 to 6, and rolls a d6. Luckily he rolls a 3, and with the +2 bonus from his expended Health he exactly makes the Stun test.
Mace tries to run, but is briefly impaired from the Stunning attempt, and fails his Athletics test due to the 1 point penalty he suffers until the end of his next turn. Dr. Breen catches up with him quickly. Her player asks the GM if she can make a Tinkering test to boost her PaciFist up to Stun 6 for one round. The GM thinks that seems reasonable, but warns her that her weapon may burn out on a particularly bad roll. Dr. Breen overcharges her weapon, then spends her last 2 Shooting points to shoot Mace again, rolling a 5 and hitting easily.
Mace’s Stun test is now Difficulty 6, but Mace still has a 1 point penalty from the first shot that applies to anything he attempts for the next round. Worried, he burns 5 Health and brings his Health pool down to 1, gaining a bonus of +5-1=+4 on his Stun test. With a target Difficulty of Stun 6 and a net +4 bonus, he’ll only be stunned on a roll of a 1… and that’s what he rolls. Mace Hunter falls to the ground unconscious for 10-60 minutes, and Dr. Breen moves in with an eager and squirming parasite.
Creatures with a Health rating of 3 or less immediately fall unconscious when successfully hit by a neural disruptor, no Stun test allowed. (In other words, GMs who want mooks and minor supporting characters to go down in one shot should give them 3 or fewer Health.)
Stunning works well on humans, but may be less effective on large animals, monsters, mechanical devices, robots, humans from parallel universes, and aliens—most commonly due to the creatures’ increased Health, but rarely due to a natural resistance to stunning. Don’t try to use a neural disruptor on a rampaging wooly mammoth. It will only end in tears, tusks and trampling.
It was our intention with Eternal Lies, our epic Trail of Cthulhu campaign, to create a book to be brought alive by actual play, not just a handsome shelf-filler. And so it’s proved, with an Eternal Lies Keeper’s Community on Google+, advice and historical props over on the Yog-Sothoth forum, an interactive campaign map and tons of actual play reports such as this by Aviatrix over on Story Games.
Eternal Lies for Call of Cthulhu
Many Call of Cthulhu Keepers, while happy with their own system, are intrigued by our Mythos adventures, and Eternal Lies is the biggest eldritch beast we’ve put out there. Fortunately, Andrew Nicholson has converted Eternal Lies for use with Call of Cthulhu – a free download here – and Paul of Cthulhu and the Innsmouth House Players have experienced the entirety of Eternal Lies, recorded in in 22 audio episodes available to yog-sothoth patrons. The finale was sombre and breathtaking.
Paul has made the first two episodes freely available over on yoggie, and I was impressed by his clever use of an iPad Mini and iPhone built into a Keeper’s Screen to share maps and images of NPCs in an unobtrusive fashion with his players.
A New Ending for Eternal Lies
We want Eternal Lies to stay alive, and so we’ll continue to provide new material for it, and in that spirit, we’ve just released an a new section written by Lauren Roy, which ties all the threads of the campaign together to deliver an entirely different ending.
For Pelgrane Press mail order customers the new ending is available through your order page – check Customer Service if you have problems finding your email. We’ll upload the new ending to Bits and Mortar (for retail customers) and DriveThruRPG soon.
What More Would You Like To See?
We have the book itself, James Semples music and Will Wheaton’s voice over, plus the community-created additions, so what next? In May we’ll release the faux leather limited edition version of Eternal Lies.
What would you like to see for Eternal Lies? Authentic props? New sections? Keeper’s commentaries? Let us know in the comments. Also, if you’ve run or played Eternal Lies, we’d love to hear from you, too.
Cat Tobin is off back to Ireland in a few days, so in the meantime we’ve been planning how Pelgrane Press will level-up under its new management, with improved marketing, better organised play and (my favourite) spending more time playing games and attending conventions. Mark Fulford of sister company ProFantasy Software has been working on the back end Pelgrane Press store and John Clayton is looking at the website, which is currently creaking under the weight of its content. Expect to see visible change in May.
This month, the vast weight of The Eyes of the Stone Thief has been flattening doormats everywhere, 13th Age Monthly offers a bizarre collection of magic items, the surrealist Dreamhounds of Paris and Book of Ants are available as PDFs, and Ken Writes About Stuff begins its third year.
Trail of Cthulhu
Ken Writes About Stuff Volumes 2 and 3: To date, Kenneth Hite has created 24 supplements, one a month, covering the nazi occult, hideous Mythos creatures and new GUMSHOE rules and settings. These supplements are now collected in Ken Writes About Stuff volumes One and Two. This year completes its run with Tombhounds of Egypt – everything you need to run a pulp archaeology campaign set in the 1930s.
This month sees the release of volume 3, which kicks off with the poisonous Tcho-tcho. We’ve sent subscribers a voucher to renew your subscription – visit Customer Service if you haven’t had yours.
Eternal Lies: Eternal Lies now has an alternative ending for Keepers to spring on blasé players who have been peeking between the covers. Download the new ending from your order page. Read more here.
Dreamhounds of Paris and the Book of the Ants: It seems appropriate that Dreamhounds and the Book of Ants are being released in the ephemeral form of PDFs – there is a TimeWatch adventure somewhere in transporting the surrealists to the modern age to see what they’d do with the internet.
If you are still undecided by the release of the more modestly priced elestronic version, consider this review:
“…this is a fascinating, challenging campaign that pays homage to Lovecraft’s ‘canon’ Dreamlands, but, since it simultaneously upends and mutates them, might be just as well suited to people who *hate* the Dreamlands (shame on you). If I had one wish, I could have used more of everything…”
I had the pleasure of playing in the first vignette of The Poison Tree – On a Wild and Savage Hillside – written and run by Scott Dorward at the ConcreteCow convention. It opens with a birth, and features an extended family of Welsh farmers. It follows Matthew Sanderson’s model of creating a set of pregenerated characters with strong reasons to interact – this takes a lot of work from the Keeper and encourages great roleplaying. Scott introduces a particularly nasty GUMSHOE variation for this vignette, a roll of a one is always a fail, which suits the setting very well.
New Trail adventures from Bill White and Ruth Tillman are in playtest, and Paula and Steve Dempsey are working on Fearful Symmetries.
The Eyes of The Stone Thief, our great white whale of of a dungeon, is out now. It’s generated excitement and confusion as you can see over on this rpg.net thread. “…I am leaning much harder to the side of “its gonna be AMAZING!” than the “… wow, what were they smoking when they thought that up…?””
This last tweet reveals that a few pages of the Stone Thief were laid out in a different style to the rest, and as Easter is nearly upon us, I’ll let you in the background to that, as its caused confusion particularly amongst younger gamers.
I ran my first ever game using B1, the introductory D&D adventure, when it was released, and I have great affection for the old TSR modules. In more recent years, Wizards released a Tomb of Horrors box set with a replica of the original in it, which sowed a seed. (Tomb of Horrors was also the inspiration for another Pelgrane release, but I don’t want to be direct about that.) Also, in my youth, the UK had a substantial games industry focused on D&D which produced quirky and very British supplements, including Fiend Folio, with illustrations by Russ Nicholson. So I wanted the very oldest section of the dungeon – one much older even than the Stone Thief itself – recreated in this original style. We bought the font, and Chris Huth pulled out the stops to give the old-school impression – not exactly a facsimile, but how we remembered it. To have Russ illustrate it with a full-page monochrome piece of the Stone Thief was spectacular.
If I’d had my way completely, we’d have had a blue dungeon map, hand-out illustrations, scribbled out hit points and TPK in the margin.
Night’s Black Agents – The Dracula Dossier
In the spy/vampire world no news is good news, but we realise tradecraft sometimes has to stand aside for intel.
First, it’s not too late to jump aboard the steamship to Draculatown. You can see the list of available pledge levels and add-ons here. New backers can still pledge at any available level, and get add-ons via paypal. Email us with details of the pledge you want, an we’ll let you know what to do.
There is a full update for backers here.
Cat’s managed our most ambitious project to date with stern efficiency tempared with kindness. We are still on target, but targets can slip for projects as complex as this.
Ken and Gareth are doing little but immerse themselves in Stoker’s manuscript to create the agents’ annotations, which will then lead to changes in the original novel. We are trying to work out the best way to lay out Dracula Unreactied – it’s a tough decision, balancing utility with authenticity.
We’ve had first drafts of adventure stretch goals: Blood Coda from Ruth Tillman, John Adamus’ Slayer Elite, Moldavian Candidate from Emma Marlow and Stoker First Blood by Bill White. Dean of Cthulhu Reborn website has been creating excellent facsimile documents for the Hakwins Papers stretch goal.
James Semple has written and delivered the music for each Edom era. I’ve enjoyed listening the original music for the Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Stockhausen and the evocative tones of the cimbalom. We’ve stretched the budget with some live violin for the 1890 theme, and all four provide a stirring bookend for any DD game.
TimeWatch has dropped behind its projected schedule. I am sorry about this. I don’t have a clear estimate of the release date, but we’ll provide one when we have better information. Writer and TimeWatch creator Kevin Kulp is making solid progress, though, with what is a much bigger manuscript than we originally imagined. Word count on the core rules stands at 121,210 words. Third-party contributors to the main rules have delivered their first drafts, including Chris Lackey’s Mythos tie-in and Jeff Yaus’ adventure hooks. Behind Enemy Times has a solid outline for writers to fill, and most of the Book of Changing Years individual contributions are in. More on this when we have it.
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.
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
A Column about Roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
With my nearly year-long Feng Shui 2 series properly ushered to its exploding, juncture-rattling big finish, and my days currently occupied by a mobile game project I don’t have to playtest, I thought the Thursday night game should slip back into the familiar waters of DramaSystem. Its nonexistent GM prep demands make it a perfect fit for my current work schedule. This also affords me the opportunity to see the game played with a group that is now well accustomed to its style and able to grab the steering wheel from the first scene and keep on roaring.
I started by picking seven of the Series Pitches found in the core Hillfolk book, Blood on the Snow, and the Pitch of the Month Club and presenting them to my players to choose from. This follows the famous rule of seven, which says that once you give the human brain eight choices it shuts down completely and asks for a mug of hot tea.
By email the players found a quick consensus for “Alma Mater Magica,” Angus Abranson’s pitch about magicians who saved the world as young students, now in disappointed middle age and back as faculty at the school where they learned wizardry. Look for it on p. 159 of Blood on the Snow.
Players had the choice of specifying whether their characters been working at Concord University for a while, or would be returning in the course of the first episode. Concord, by the way, is less like Hogwarts than it is like Durham in Newcastle. Albeit with a layer of weirdness below its quotidian veneer.
Characters who were already on staff as of the start of the first episode were:
Dr. Jacobson, aka, “Doc” (played by Paul Jackson.) No one knows his actual first name. Head of the Department of Theoretical Thaumaturgy, Doc typifies the stuffy, arrogant, out-of-touch academic. Dramatic poles: Arrogance vs. Altruism. Desire: Recognition.
Ann Snooks (Rachel Kahn), assistant at the uni library. She wants to keep her head down, advance in her modest career, and forget the craziness of her nearly world-ending youth. Dramatic poles: Assertive vs. Doormat. Desire: Agency.
Einar Halverd (Justin Mohareb), aging party animal and Professor of Troll Studies. Eager to relive the glory days before he got so battle-scarred, he’s the who looks forward to seeing the band get back together. Dramatic poles: Domesticity vs. Action. Desire: Vitality.
Just now returning to Concord University are:
Earl Pudgely (Chris Huth), once unflattering nicknamed “the Earl of Pudgely.” Bullied as a shy, awkward student, he abandoned sorcery for a mundane life as a musician in the Manchester scene. Now nearly unrecognizable as a haggard recovering addict, he has taken a post as a Counseling Psychologist in the trenches of the uni’s threadbare student support system. Dramatic poles: Respect vs. Loathing (for self and others.) Desire: Sobriety.
Professor Stephen Kim (Scott Wachter.) A hotshot on a downward trajectory, the brilliant but erratic Kim has accepted a post teaching High Energy magic. A gift to any GM, he is the sort of reckless figure who gets plots moving. Dramatic poles: Action vs. Reason. Desire: Stability.
As DramaSystem requires, players established character relationships to one another as they created them. Given the premise of the pitch, the players described the relationships they had back in the day, which would then evolve or revert to form when the cast began to interact in the grim gray present. So far there’s been a lot of reverting.
- Ann was his surrogate sister
- Earl was his disappointment
- Stephen was trouble
- Einar is a gnat, beneath contempt
- Doc was her alpha
- Earl was her project
- Stephen was a creep
- Einar was the group weirdo
- Stephen was beloved sidekick
- Earl was best friend
- Ann was his frenemy
- Doc was his rival (the head butting was literal)
- Ann was his confidant
- Doc was the one you wanted respect from
- Stephen was the bully he’s struggling to forgive
- Einar was fear object
- Earl was his target
- Ann was his crush object
- Doc was his academic rival
- Einar was his partner in crime
Note the asymmetrical nature of certain relationships. Ann dismissively remembers Einar as the group weirdo; Einar thinks of her as both friend and enemy. Einar remembers Earl as a best friend, but Einar frightens Earl. And in a classic unequal relationship, teenage Stephen was sweet on Ann, who thought of him as a creep. This mimics real life and provides grist for the conflicting needs that generate dramatic scenes.
The next stage of DramaSystem group character creation takes these relationships and renders them active by asking players to specify something emotional they need from other players’ characters. The character named as the object of the want then explains why the desiring character can’t have it.
Doc wants Stephen to admit he’s right; Stephen doesn’t buy that.
He wants Ann to be happy; she doesn’t admit she’s sad.
Ann wants Stephen to get over his creepy high school crush; he doesn’t want to have to tell her that he no longer finds her attractive.
She wants Earl to stand up for himself and make his life better; he doesn’t want to be her project any more.
Einar wants Ann’s forgiveness; he can’t have it because she didn’t care in the first place.
He wants to relive his wild years with Stephen; he can’t have that because Stephen’s gotten too old for this shit.
Earl wants Doc’s respect; he can’t have that because Doc feels he doesn’t deserve it yet (and won’t until he admits he was wrong to renounce wizardry.)
Earl wants Einar to stop being intimidating; Einar doesn’t admit that he is.
Stephen wants Einar to not act like they’re teenagers; he can’t have it because for Einar to admit that would be giving in to entropy, which is death.
Stephen wants Earl to forgive him. Earl doesn’t trust him.
Next month we’ll look at how these elements came into play (or didn’t) during the series’ early episodes.