With the release of Robin’s wonderful new story-explorer The Gaean Reach RPG, GUMSHOE extends its tendrils into one of the oldest and most reliable of dramatic forms: the revenge story. In that game, the player characters unite to destroy the indescribably vile Quandos Vorn in revenge for his prior cruelties to them. And just beforehand, the players (this is the really great bit) collaboratively describe Quandos Vorn’s vileness and determine his prior cruelties. The result? A fresh, involving take on a tale as old as Orestes, if not always quite so damp and naked. From Dumas’ Gothy Edmond Dantes to TV’s dreamy Oliver Queen, doughty heroes have sought revenge on Him (or Her, for Orestes) Who Done Them Wrong for millennia — and if Jack Vance’s SF is anything to go by (and indeed it should be) will continue to do so for millennia hence. So what about our own millennium right here? Why not adapt the brilliant story focus of The Gaean Reach RPG to another of your already beloved if not-quite-so-brilliantly-focused GUMSHOE RPGs? Why not, indeed?

Each possibility here introduces your game’s Quandos Vorn and gives a possible reason you want to get him, although the GM should begin with the good old “Why do you hate …?” and only prime the pump if player creativity seems temporarily throttled. Further possible Terrible Deeds appear, followed by the Quarry’s Masks (how he hides from you, possibly in plain sight) and Obstacles (what he can put between you and him) and then the game’s potential Taglines (things you do or say in play to get Tokens which you spend to pierce Masks and overcome Obstacles).

Night’s Black Agents: Chandler Vaughn

Chandler Vaughn is the guy who burned you. Or that’s one of his cover names. You aren’t actually sure he’s with the Agency any more. If he ever was. Maybe he was a double agent. You’re not even sure what he looks like now. Or looked like, then. But you know one thing: he burned you, and you’re going to bring him down.

Terrible Deeds: killed your partner, aided al-Qaeda in a (lot of) terrorist action, smuggled nukes, killed your family, perverted the Agency’s once-proud ideals into the Orwellian sham they are today, released the vampire virus, vampirized your partner, betrayed your country

Masks: cover identities, plastic surgery, can shapeshift, deniable dead drops, is a hive parasite that lives in many minds, cut-outs, brain-hacking,  literal masks you know neat face-mask technology like in Mission: Impossible

Obstacles: billions of embezzled drug dollars for bribes, Russian mobsters, Iranian snipers, North Korean mentats with telekinesis, lots of pull with the corrupt helicopter-gunship-and-SWAT-team parts of the Agency, Renfields, secure immunity in isolated country, total surveillance of all computers

Taglines: Use the Night’s Black Agents Achievements, which are ideal for this sort of thing, as the source of Tokens, not of refreshes (except refreshes with Tokens, of course).

Mutant City Blues: “Quantum Born”

Not the least of “Quantum Born”‘s sins is to have a really lame pseudonym on the Internet. But he’s a mutant (“born of the quantum apocalypse that is ending your corrupt world system so-called”) and a terrorist and a murderer. At least.

Terrible Deeds: set off a bomb in the subway, killed your partner, leaked your case files all over the Internet and got a jillion hardened criminals set free on technicalities, killed your family, bio-engineered a worse version of the Quade virus for the most destructive possible power combos, provides foolproof schemes to other criminals and terrorists, hacked into a candy company’s mainframe and poisoned several thousand kids by altering its ingredient ordering software, is a serial killer among his other hangups

Masks: anonymous Internet existence with the Tor and the onion and such, hoodie and sunglasses, army of easily-gulled hipster anarchist wannabes to claim his identity, is blackmailing members of the force to cover his trail and feed him clues, shape-changing mutant power, is actually an AI given a computer analog of the Quade virus, surveillance-obscuring software, could literally be anyone at all

Obstacles: insanely devoted online love cult, not actually in your home country to say nothing of your actual jurisdiction, police red tape that says “it’s too personal with you and him,” super-powered goons paid big Bitcoin to hit you a lot, your own online history/credit report/everything ever, previous criminals you put away broken out (or legally freed!) by him, is protected from on high by government or corporations or a big seemingly cool charitable or progressive foundation, army of computer-controlled drones and makerbots

Taglines: Use Achievements, as above, or Taglines, as in Gaean Reach, or both, but sourced from either “gritty” comics dialogue or from police procedural TV shows.

Trail of Cthulhu: Kwan-Ho Wong

Or, sure, if you’d rather be torn apart by peculiarly intelligent wolves than poisoned by enormous purple centipedes, Gennadiy Voronin. He is a dealer in antiquities of a repellent aspect, and the lord of a criminal empire extending from Limehouse to Leningrad to Lhassa. He possesses perhaps the finest mind you’ve ever encountered, all the more terrifying because it is his brilliance that has led him to the Mythos …

Terrible Deeds: unleashed a shoggoth, killed your mentor horribly, stole your research and left you floundering and bankrupt, drove you mad and had you institutionalized in some charming colonial hellhole, denounced you to Stalin/Hitler, assassinated FDR, found the Ark of the Covenant first, raised a god or titan once and didn’t have the courtesy to die or go mad

Masks: master of an ancient serpent-man cannibal shapeshifting technique, is an identical twin, has never been photographed, wears an all-enveloping hooded robe at all times, mind-swapped or drug-enslaved pawns, plastic surgery, is (or commands) an ambulatory shoggoth, yellow mask

Obstacles: hideous and hideously-strong enforcer, Ahnenerbe or Black Ocean or NKVD favors, lives in an immense ruined temple to a Mythos entity, hyperspace gates for escapes, bribed or addicted officials in all countries, byakhee flocks, fanatical cultist followers, cannot die

Taglines: Gain a Token by suitable, effective, in character use of a properly Lovecraftian adjective.


Altar2During the American occupation of 1915-1934, a wave of Protestant conversions spread through Haiti. Possibly as a result, Vodou congregations began to burn their drums, flags, instruments, and charmed objects, in order to “reject superstition.” The Catholic Church in Haiti saw these rejetes as the opening for a proper Catholic conversion wave, a campagne anti-superstitieuse: the Anti-Superstition Campaign. (The common voodoo practice of using the Eucharistic Host as a “magic item” contributed to the Church’s fervor.) Beginning in 1939, priests and lay brothers moved throughout the countryside where rejete movements had begun, converting peasants and local elites alike to orthodox Catholicism and urging the destruction and dissolution of Vodou temples, or houmforts. Medical missions provided drugs and treatment to the sick, showing up failed or empty houngan rituals. Priests carried the cross ahead of crowds shouting “Down with the Loa!” to bonfires of ritual objects in the houmfort’s peristyle. Those houngans who had lorded their status and power over the peasants found themselves powerless against priests with the peasants and the police at their back.

Initially, the authoritarian government of President Elie Lescot supported the Anti-Superstition Campaign, lending the Garde (the Haitian military police) to still more robust missions. “Superstitious practices” had been illegal since 1935, so the Garde’s destruction of houmforts (often also family houses) and seizure of land (the better to sell to United Fruit or the Haitian government rubber monopoly, SHADA) were just Haitian law enforcement at work. But in February 1942, the Church extended its campaign into Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, stirring up mass unrest where Lescot desired it least. Worse still, the apostolic nuncio Msgr. Silvani gave a fawning interview in the Dominican Republic explaining the campaign as an attempt to rationalize Haiti with the dictatorial (but devout) regime of Rafael Trujillo there. Rightly suspicious of Trujillo’s intentions to convert Haiti to a Dominican puppet state, the Haitian press turned on the Church and its campaigners. In March, Lescot ended government support for the campaign, and it fizzled out shortly thereafter.

So where is the Mythos? It lurks somewhere in Haiti, among the sects rouges or zobop societies of sorcerers and murderers. Or perhaps it is a new bauble for Trujillo or some eminence grise in his cabinet to toy with unwittingly. Or it gnaws at the bosom of the Church, as priestly despair in a sea of poverty turns to Hasturist nihilism. But it’s somewhere – and when people burn magic items in a remote jungle temple, so is the action. Herewith a number of possible Trail of Cthulhu campaigns, likely (but not lightly) seasoned with Voodoo.

  • The Investigators are American or European outsiders, missionaries or other do-gooders trying to “better the lot” of the natives, or possibly mercenaries or hired cops training the Garde. The Keeper might use the anti-superstition campaign as background at first, but later force the heroes to decide: join a misguided, even cruel, effort in order to stop the Mythos, or stay true to their human standards?
  • The Investigators are part of the Catholic Church hierarchy. They may be a globe-trotting team of demon-busting exorcists with Haiti the most recent stop, or they may be Haitian priests who have discovered Something in the deep jungles and wild mountains of the country. In either case, they might bring along a few NPC (or one or two player-character) members of the Garde for combat abilities and some broader skill bases.
  • The Investigators might be using the anti-superstition campaign as cover for their own anti-Mythos campaign, or they might believe that the local Vodou communities are inseparably contaminated by the Mythos. One particularly interesting arc might start the Investigators off with the latter assumption – but as they travel deeper into the mystery, they slowly discover that the Vodou communities are the only things keeping the Mythos cults and zobop societies at bay.
  • The Investigators are specifically part of the National Bureau of Ethnology, an alliance of Haitian, French, and American intellectuals headed by Jacques Romain, a well-connected Haitian poet, novelist, Communist, and ethnographer. They begin as staunch foes of the Church and its works, and as defenders of Vodou as “nationalist folk expression” – but when the unnamable enters their world through a Petro sect, what happens to their ideology? As a side note, Jacques Romain dies in 1944 of unknown causes at age 37, for Keepers of a conspiratorial mindset.
  •  The Investigators are part of a Vodou sect – possibly even a cell of a secret society in their own right – who begin the game square in the sights of the anti-superstition campaign, possibly with their houmfort burned down around them. They must still hunt down the Mythos and stop it, all the while dodging the Garde, Catholic priests, and perhaps agents of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Here is a pot pourri of previews from current projects.

The Book of Loot

Gareth’s tome of magical treasures with a 13th Age spin. Somewhere there is a forum where all these magic items are posting their opinionated diatribes and whining about their owners.

I once knew this barbarian. Eight feet tall he was, and nearly as broad across the shoulders, eyes like smoldering coals. He comes out of the north, as barbarians do, and does all the things you’d expect a barbarian of that sort to do. He loots dungeons, slays monsters, sacks cities, seduces princes. The Emperor gives him a castle to keep him quiet, and a noble title to go with it. So, now that he’s a respectable noble, our barbarian goes and gets himself a suit of magic plate armor, and a magic shield to go with it.

The shield-maker asks him what the heraldic symbol of his house is, and the barbarian doesn’t know. He thinks about it, and picks the most impressive beast he’s ever seen.

KORU! he says, in this deep booming voice like an earthquake.

So the shield-maker paints a behemoth on the magic shield.

Next time a demon shows up, the barbarian girds his loins, and the rest of him too, and rides out to meet it in battle. He invokes the power of his shield and calls on his heraldic spirit…

You can still see the crater. It’s in the shape of a behemoth footprint. Squished him and the demon flat as two pancakes.

That’s why, if they ever make me a baron, I’m going to rule under the sigil of something small and very safe. I’m thinking goldfish. You?

-          Stormcrow Jacen, “Merchant”

Weapon

Glorious Gladiator’s Blade (standard action – recharge 16+): This weapon is a trophy of the arenas of Axis, handed down from champion to champion. To activate it, the escalation die must be 3+ and you must spend a round showboating for the crowd (even if you don’t have an audience.) While showboating, you may not attack and take a -2 penalty to all Defenses. Furthermore, the other players (and anyone else in the room) must chant your character’s name.

The first attack you make in the round after showboating is enhanced by the sword – you may double the to-hit bonus from the escalation die, and add the value of the escalation die to your crit range. So, if the escalation die is 4, you get a +8 bonus to hit and have your crit range increased by +4. Quirk: Craves the adulation of the crowd.

The Eyes of the Stone Thief

Amazing cartography from Herwin Wielink for Gareth’s epic 13th Age campaign.

“…the Maw is a churning pit of stones that swallows whole buildings. Any adventurer taking the quick route through the Maw by jumping into the pit is unlikely to survive. The safer route is to enter the warren of caves and small chambers that wind around the pit. The Maw is infamously treacherous and unstable. Earthquakes, cave-ins and rockfalls can cut an expedition off before they reach the dungeon itself. Most of the Maw’s denizens are scavengers, parasites and sewer monsters who ride along in the Stone Thief’s jaws, hoping to catch some scraps for themselves.”

the_maw_04

Getting Started With Tabletop Roleplaying Games

An excerpt from a new book by Robin D Laws.

Roleplaying games more resemble movies or fiction in that different audience members gain different subjective pleasures from them. You might like a movie for its performances and pacing, where friend A liked all the references to an established continuity, and friend B wants to rave about its themes and nods to cinema history. You maybe responded to all of those elements as well, but you wouldn’t rank them as more noteworthy than the ones you singled out.

In a roleplaying game, you are creating the experience just as much as you are enjoying it. Your preferences come through in the choices you make.

Let’s call these the various facets of roleplaying.

Every player gravitates more to certain of these than to others. On any given evening, you might emphasize one cool sliver of the roleplaying experience over others. One session you might dig into a sense of triumph over the bad guys, and the next the exploration of the imaginary world. But overall, as the other players and GM get used to having you at the table, they’ll start to see that you care about some facets more than others. These might change over time as you grow more familiar with the hobby, or become clearer versions of what you liked from the very first.

By noting the facets of play that you respond to, your GM can tailor what she presents you with to bring these to the forefront.

Ken Hite’s Introduction to the forthcoming Russian version of Trail of Cthulhu

About This Game

Trail of Cthulhu is a roleplaying game using the GUMSHOE engine, in which you investigate and explore occult mysteries in the horrific world of H.P. Lovecraft. With the GUMSHOE engine, you never fail to uncover a clue; you always move forward deeper into the story. In Lovecraft’s world, all the clues you uncover point to mankind’s inevitable destruction and the story you enter is a tale of madness and horror.

GUMSHOE divides your abilities into two groups: Investigative abilities and General abilities. Your Investigative abilities never fail. You never roll the dice for them. Just like the heroes of mystery fiction and procedural TV series, if you have the right ability and the clue exists, you will find enough information to move into the next scene and look for the next clue. Discovering what the clues mean, however, recognizing the hideous portrait they slowly paint – that’s still up to you. You can spend Investigative points to get even more information: some new data will add color or background details to the portrait, some extra clues will get you to the horror faster or more confidently – and some of each might save your life.

Whether or not you deduce what cosmic horror or human insanity lies behind the mystery, you will find it – and it will find you. That’s when your General abilities come into play. You can spend points from them to boost your die rolls – if you have enough, you can even guarantee success! But make sure you really need it that time, because your General ability pools won’t last forever, down there in the dark.

Who Is My Character?

Your character is an Investigator of occult mysteries, a seeker after horror in the dark decade of the 1930s. You might be:

  • A professor uncovering ancient secrets — at the obscure Miskatonic University in Massachusetts, or the prestigious Moscow State University.
  • A journalist looking behind the story – for Time or for TASS.
  • A police detective solving horrific crimes – for the Chicago Police or the Leningrad Militsiya.
  • A painter or author dreaming of inhuman worlds – in Paris or Sokol.
  • An archaeologist digging up primordial ruins – in Yucatan or the Ukraine.
  • A parapsychologist exploring things nobody believes – for the Society for Psychical Research in London, or the Institute for Brain Research in Leningrad.
  • A doctor tracking unseen dangers – in Florida or in Georgia.
  • A scientist exploring the fringes of understanding – in Los Angeles or Novosibirsk.

What Do We Do?

Whoever your character is, you have stumbled onto the fringes of a horrible truth: the Cthulhu Mythos. The world is older than humanity, and we are not the first species to explore it. Those ancient species are not all dead, and those who will come after are beginning to arrive.

Above them all loom the figures of mighty beings whose very existence violate natural law and threaten to overwhelm our understanding of science. These are the beings whispered of in forbidden grimoires and desolate swamps: Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath. They might as well be gods, and there are living cults who worship Them as such, and try to restore Their reign now, when the stars have almost come right.

You and your fellow Investigators discover traces of Mythos activity in your own lives or the lives of your associates. You track down rumors of Mythos manifestations in newspapers and antiquarian journals. You might:

  • Investigate a haunted house once owned by a possible cultist.
  • Try to find the last copy of a forbidden grimoire before it can be used to summon one of the Old Ones.
  • Fight it out with a race of horrifying alien beings lurking beneath an innocent town.
  • Be drawn into a film that drives its viewers insane, and try to trace its unknown director.
  • Battle a globe-spanning cult by picking up tiny clues to its activities all over the world.

Wherever the clues lead, you seek out those monstrous beings and their cults and you try to stop them in time. You may travel to strange far places or dig deep into the mysteries of your own home city: the Mythos is everywhere.

You’ve heard its call, and now you must follow its Trail or see the world end in madness and frenzy.

trailofcthulhu300wideIn all GUMSHOE games, there’s a benefit for having 8 rating points in Athletics – your Hit Threshold rises by 1. Night’s Black Agents expanded this to all General Abilities – if you invest eight of your precious build points in a particular ability, you get a cherry, a special ability that shows off your mastery in that field.

So, for your high-octane Pulp games, here’s a bunch of Cthulhuoid cherries that don’t overlap with the various occupation special abilities.

Conceal: Trap Sense

You may spend Conceal when making a Sense Trouble test if the potential threat is a concealed trap or other hidden environmental peril, like an overgrown pit or impending cave-in.

Disguise: Alternate Identity

You’ve established a whole other life for yourself, complete with friends, possessions, documentation – possibly even a home and family. This alternate persona must have a lower Credit Rating than your main identity (unless you’ve been masquerading as someone else since the start of the campaign). A Disguise rating of 8+ gets you one alternate identity; you can purchase more for 4 experience points each).

Driving: Drive-By Shootout

You’re adept at lining up shots for your passengers when they’re shooting out the window. (We won’t ask which mob outfit you were working for when you learned that trick). You may transfer up to 4 Driving points to your passenger’s Firearms pools at the start of a car chase. Unspent points are lost when the chase ends.

Electrical Repair: Alien Insight

Your intuitive understanding of electricity and magnetism gives you an insight into devices far beyond the paltry technology of humanity. You may spend 4 Electrical Repair to activate an alien device, like a Mi-Go brain cylinder or Yithian lightning gun. You only guess at how to turn the thing on, not what it does or how to properly control it.

Explosives: One Last Stick

You can spend Explosive points on Preparedness tests to obtain dynamite or similar explosives.

Filch: Here’s One I Stole Earlier

With a Filch rating of 8+, once per investigation, you may declare you stole something retroactively from a previous scene. You need to get into the mansion’s boathouse to flee the rampaging shoggoth? Well, it just so happens that you picked the groundkeeper’s pockets earlier on, and here’s the very key you need. You still need to make a Filch test to actually acquire whatever you want to unexpectedly produce.

Firearms: Nerves of Steel

Difficulty numbers for your Firearms tests aren’t affected by being Shaken.

First Aid: Sawbones

A First Aid Rating of 8 or more gives 1 free point in either Medicine or Pharmacy, player’s choice.

Fleeing: Blackout

Once per adventure, when you fail a Fleeing test or are about to be consumed by some other horror, you may declare that you black out. When you wake up, you’re somewhere safe. You have no idea how you escaped or where you are now, and may have dropped items or abandoned fellow investigators to some horrible fate. But you’re alive, and that’s something.

Hypnosis: Mesmerize

You may attempt to use hypnotism on subjects who aren’t actively willing to be hypnotized. Your subject must still be somewhat open to your influence – you could hypnotize someone that you’re in conversation with, or the doorman at a club, but you couldn’t hypnotize the mugger who’s about to rob you, or the cultist who’s intent on sacrificing you to some alien god. Increase the Difficulty of any hypnotism tests using this ability by +2 (so, putting someone into a trance without their co-operation is Difficulty 5; planting false memories is Difficulty 7).

Mechanical Repair: Give It A Kick

Once per adventure, you may make a Mechanical Repair roll instantly. You could kick a plane’s engine back to life as it falls from the sky, or unjam a machine gun with one solid whack.

Piloting: There’s Always A Plane

Once per adventure, you may ask the Keeper to introduce an aircraft of some description that you can fly with this ability. Maybe it’s your own plane, and you’ve flew out or had it shipped out. Maybe it’s someone else’s aircraft you can borrow, or a crashed plane that’s repairable. Maybe the cultists have a zeppelin-temple. In any event, there’s always a plane nearby that you can use/borrow/steal over the course of the adventure.

Preparedness: Expedition Planning

If you have time to prepare and pack for any sort of expedition, then you bring enough for everyone. When you succeed at a Preparedness test to obtain an item, you may spend one extra point to have one of those items for everyone in the group. For example, if you use Preparedness to declare you’ve got an electric lamp, then you can spend an extra point to give everyone else a similar lamp too.

Psychoanalysis: Insight

A Psychoanalysis Rating of 8 or more gives one free point in Reassurance or Assess Honesty (player’s choice).

Riding: Ride the Flying Polyp

You can ride anything, including Mythos mounts like shantaks. Even better, if a creature is introduced to you as a mount and you only use it for riding, then any Stablility losses for seeing the creature are reduced by 2.

Scuffling: The Old One Two

You may make an extra Scuffling attack per round, as long as you hit with your first attack. Your extra attack costs a number of Scuffling points equal to the result of the damage die (so, if you roll a 2, that’s 2 Scuffling points for another swing).

Sense Trouble: Quick Reflexes

If you overspend on a successful Sense Trouble test, you get those points back as a pool that can only be spent on Athletics, Fleeing, Firearms, Scuffling or Weapons tests in the first round of combat or in tests immediately related to the trouble you sensed. The maximum size of this pool is equal to the number of Sense Trouble points spent. For example, say the Difficulty to sense a lurking Deep One is 5. You spend 3 Sense Trouble and roll a 4, for a total of 7, beating the Difficulty by 2. You get 2 points back that you must spend immediately on attacking or escaping the monster.

If you’d rolled a 6, you’d have beaten the Difficulty by 4, but you’d still only get 3 points back.

Shadowing: In Over Your Head

Whenever you have to make a Sense Trouble roll while shadowing someone, you gain 2 points in a pool that can be spent on Evidence Collection, Locksmith, Disguise, Filch or Stealth. You lose any unspent points in this pool when you stop shadowing the target and turn back, or are discovered.

Stealth: Stay Here

As long as someone follows your explicit instructions, they can piggyback (as per the rules on page 57) on your Stealth tests even when you’re not present. So, if you tell a fellow investigator to hide in the undergrowth and keep crawling until they reach the road, they can piggyback on your Stealth tests if they do exactly what you told them to do.

Weapons: Favorite Weapon

Pick your favorite melee weapon. You draw strength and courage from its familiar heft in your hand. Once per adventure, you may gain 4 Stability from drawing or brandishing your weapon. With this sword by your side, there’s nothing you can’t handle.

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.

Pelgrane Press will be at Origins Game Fair on June 11-14, running the following 4-hour games in the Hyatt Regency Ballroom. You can find a master spreadsheet at http://originsgamefair.com/events/games/. Hope to see you there!

Event Number Event Name Event Start Date/Time Game Master
7011 13th Age – Omenquest Thu 10:00 AM Jacob Wachtman
6981 13th Age – Caverns & Cave-Creepers Thu 6:00 PM Kendall Jung
6982 13th Age – The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle Fri 10:00 AM Jacob Wachtman
6984 13th Age – Omenquest Fri 2:00 PM Kendall Jung
6985 13th Age – Caverns & Cave-Creepers Sat 10:00 AM Jacob Wachtman
6986 13th Age – Omenquest Sat 11:00 AM Randy White
6988 13th Age – Fungaloid Infection Sat 2:00 PM Kendall Jung
6989 13th Age – The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle Sat 4:00 PM Randy White
6990 Trail of Cthulhu – Voices from the Other Side Sat 4:00 PM Rob Bush
6991 13th Age – Danger at Deathless Gulch Sun 10:00 AM Jacob Wachtman
6992 13th Age – Caverns & Cave-Creepers Sun 11:00 AM Randy White

485px-Cthulhu_sketch_by_LovecraftIn him, however, the family mentality had veered away from practical affairs to pure scholarship; so that he had been a notable student of mathematics, astronomy, biology, anthropology, and folklore at the University of Vermont. I had never previously heard of him, and he did not give many autobiographical details in his communications; but from the first I saw he was a man of character, education, and intelligence, albeit a recluse with very little worldly sophistication. 

- The Whisperer in Darkness

Lovecraft was a prodigious letter-writer, sending more than 100,000 over the course of his life. No wonder, then, that his protagonists did likewise – Wilmarth in The Whisperer in Darkness and Thurston in The Call of Cthulhu are the two most obvious examples.

Night’s Black Agents introduces a new general ability called Network, which lets you whistle up contacts and allies as needed; you can pull out your burner phone and call up that Iranian arms dealer who owes you a favour, or have an agent in place inside the Smithsonian. In Trail of Cthulhu, with its slower pace of communication and emphasis on creeping horror, Network becomes Correspondence.

You buy Correspondence like any other General Ability; possessing even a point of Correspondence means you’ve got a wide circle of friends and colleagues that you regularly correspond with through letter, telegram, and even the occasional phone call or in-person meeting. You don’t need to specify who these friends are until you call on them in the game.

At any point, you may allocate a point of Correspondence to create a new NPC Correspondent. Each point you spend gives that NPC two points to spend on any Investigative abilities. Note the NPCs’ name and abilities down on your character sheet. Points used to create an NPC stay allocated to that NPC forever – they don’t refresh at the end of the adventure. If you want to keep your Correspondence pool topped up, you’ll need to spend experience points on it.

The NPCs you create are, by default, in some distant city. They’re not around to help you directly, but you can write to them and ask them for their advice (in other words, you can spend their Investigative Abilities to get benefits, but you’ll need to wait some time for their reply to come back).

For example, Willoughby Boothroyd just discovered a curious idol in a cellar, but lacks the Anthropology needed to understand its significance. His player permanently spends two points of Correspondents and declares that Boothroyd’s cousin Cecil is a noted archaeologist and ethnographer. Those two points of Correspondents translate to four investigative ability points for Cecil; he’s now got Anthropology 3 and Archaeology 1. Boothroyd’s player notes ‘Cousin Cecil: Anthropology 3, Archaeology 1’ down as a contact. Boothroyd stuffs the idol into a packing crate and sends it off to Cecil. A few days later, he receives Cecil’s report on the idol, which contain the clues obtainable with a 2-point Anthropology spend.

Your correspondents can be assumed to be trustworthy, reliable people – they might not share your belief in the supernatural, but they won’t dismiss your requests for information out of hand. At the very least, they’ll humour you; more likely, they’ll be drawn into the mystery of the Mythos themselves.

Correspondents & Core Clues

A beneficent Keeper – if such a thing were not a contradiction in terms – might allow a player to get a Core Clue from an ability she doesn’t possess, but one of her Correspondents does.

Martha doesn’t have Physics, but an old friend of hers is now a professor of physics at Cambridge. The symbols scrawled in the witch’s cottage remind her of some diagrams he once showed to her – something about folds in space and time? Perhaps she should contact her old friend and see if he can shed light on the mystery.

Spending Correspondence

In addition to creating contacts with the ability, you may also spend Correspondence points for some extra benefits:

  • Spend 1 point to get a reply to a request as fast as is humanly possible (by telegraph, telephone, or return of post).
  • Spend 2 points (or 1 point of Correspondence and 1 point from an Interpersonal Ability like Credit Rating or Flattery) to have your Correspondent come to visit you in person and put their skills at your disposal.
  • If you’re about to die horribly, you can spend 1 point of Correspondence to retroactively declare that you send a copy of your notes, or your diary, or some other documentation to one of your Correspondents before you went on this last investigation. Your Correspondent becomes your next player character, and starts with a point of Cthulhu Mythos thanks to your final revelation.

Correspondence points spent for benefits refresh at the end of the adventure.

Dead Correspondents

This being Trail of Cthulhu, your Correspondents are going to delve into matters that man was not meant to know and die horribly. If the Keeper eliminates one of your existing Correspondents as a plot hook, then the Correspondence points used to create that NPC are refunded. On the other hand, if you get one of your Correspondents killed (either by bringing them directly into the adventure, or inadvertently sending them a radioactive idol like poor cousin Cecil), then the points are lost permanently, and you lose at least one point of Stability to boot.

Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning horror roleplaying game set in the 1930s, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system is finely tuned to investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Pick up Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.

Bigsbyby Adam Gauntlett

As I write this, The Many Deaths of Edward Bigsby has been out for about a month. It’s been favourably received – many thanks to those who reviewed it, and I hope those who play it enjoy it – and I’m told sales are going well! Especially the limited print run that Paul Maclean of YSDC kindly put together; round of applause for that man!

So, why do it at all? Well, back when the GUMSHOE OGL was being promoted, it occurred to me that this was a good opportunity to get my work out there. As it happened I was in the UK on other business, and had a chance to talk to Paul about collaborating, as soon as we had a better idea what the license would offer. He’d publish via YSDC, I’d write. That was how it stood for a while: we waited until we knew more, but there was a deal on the table.

Then the license came out, and I began talking with Simon to get a better understanding of what I could and could not do with it. Simon did one better than the license: he offered to let me write it for Trail of Cthulhu, provided all profits went to YSDC. Trail is something the license wouldn’t let me touch, and it’s a system I’m already very familiar with. I didn’t have a problem with that, and so we forged ahead with Edward Bigbsy.

Bigsby isn’t going to be the only scenario I publish via YSDC. There are several others, some of them already written, which will come out over the next year or two. Eventually I plan on taking another stab at the GUMSHOE OGL, which means I won’t be writing a Trail scenario, but it will be horror. I already know what I want to write; the only question is when.

Next up, The Long Con, a Trail/Bookhounds scenario set in London. I don’t want to talk too much about that here, but it will be available in .pdf very, very soon. A brief teaser:

Sidney Pryce wants the protagonists’ help to set up a Big Store, to sucker a rich American into thinking he’s buying into a Burnt Auction. The rewards, Pryce promises, are incalculable; but soon after Pryce enlists their help, strange bird-creatures haunt the protagonists. How, they wonder, does Japanese folklore figure into it?

I hope you enjoy Bigbsy! Look forward to more, coming soon!

Origins Award NomineeThe Origins Award nominees for 2014 have been announced, and we’re happy to say that Pelgrane Press has products in two categories!

Congratulations to all of the nominees! And if you’re attending Origins, please stop by our booth — we’d love to meet you, and tell you all about these and our other fine products.

Eternal LiesGames reviewer Endzeitgeist declared Eternal Lies the Best Non-Pathfinder RPG Adventure of 2013, in the new issue of Pathways magazine. (Download a free copy.) He says:

Eternal Lies ranks as one of the best campaigns I’ve seen for any Cthulhu-system – it’s glorious and I’m not going to SPOIL the awesome premise here. Every Keeper should check this out – it’s one magnificent beast.

Get Eternal Lies at the Pelgrane Shop or at DriveThruRPG!

Dulce_Et_Decorum_Est_cover_400And the dead were the dead; this was no time to be pitying them or asking silly questions about their outraged lives. Such sights must be taken for granted, I thought, as I gasped and slithered and stumbled with my disconsolate crew. Floating on the surface of the flooded trench was the mask of a human face which had detached itself from the skull.

- Siegfried Sassoon

This collection of adventures considers the Great War, 1914-18, from the perspective of Trail of Cthulhu.  From the conflict in the air, to the depths of the sea, the home front and the different battle fronts, the Great War affects the lives of countless millions of people. It also brings humanity into conflict with elements of the Mythos, and in particular the Charnel God Mordiggian who, for the first time in centuries, may actually have more to devour than it can stomach.

The forces of the Gods do not take kindly to being disturbed, and nor do they usually play favourites; unless your players are careful, they may find themselves attacked and wiped out in an instant, caught in an otherworldly crossfire they can only hope to survive, not understand.

Campaign Frame

Dulce et Decorum Est features GUMSHOE adaptations and new abilities for war in the air, and on the sea and land, and how the mythos might interact with the horrors of the war, and the participants.

Dulce et Decorum Est – Great War Trail of Cthulhu contains the following scenarios:

Vaterland

The once-mighty Vaterland is a prisoner of politics. She is trapped in New York Harbour, as war rages in Europe. Her crew and Commodore are just as much prisoners as the ship herself, though they are making the best of their captivity by hosting concerts in support of the German relief effort. You’ve come aboard at the behest of John Rathom, editor of the Providence Journal, in hopes of uncovering a German plot.

Dead Horse Corner

The protagonists discover that a trench which ought to have been occupied by their fellow soldiers has been abandoned. Twenty men vanished without a trace, food still on the table and coffee cooling in their mugs. Was it an enemy attack, or something less ordinary?

Sisters of Sorrow

The crew of German U-boat UC-12, is sent on a standard mission; penetrate the North Sea defensive zone, make their way to Tyneside, lay their mines and return. But nothing in the Great War is that simple. While underwater, the crew start to hear a strange, muffled booming noise, ringing like a sequence of church bells. It’s not whales. It’s not enemy forces. Something else is down here. While settled on the sea floor to get some much-needed rest, the crew starts to act suspiciously. Someone is up to no good. The ship’s cat disappears and a strange weed is found growing on board.

Then the tapping on the hull begins…

Stock #: PELGT32 Author: Adam Gauntlett
Artist: Jérôme Huguenin, Leah Huete, Phil Reeves Pages: 112 page perfect bound

Price: $19.95

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