GUMSHOE GM Jam

Last weekend, I participated in a GUMSHOE GM Jam hosted by the Play on Target podcast. It included some fantastic GUMSHOE folks: Stephanie Bryant, who’s worked on some of the same GUMSHOE projects I have this year (Book of Changing Years, Dracula Dossier scenario); Yohann Delalande, a French translator for Pelgrane who I met on Twitter thanks to our mutual love of GUMSHOE; and Steve Dempsey, who’s basically the ur-GUMSHOE GM.

We talked about why we run GUMSHOE, what we love about the system, and people’s misconceptions about how it works. In particular, the oft-discussed issue of whether “you get all the clues” == “railroad” came up. For reading beyond the podcast, I’d recommend Will Hindmarch’s No Clues Without Consequence series. I’d also recommend his his piece on RPG railroads which questions whether they’re even a bad thing (or looks into how to do them right).

The Enchantress and the Priestess (Pt. 1)

This post is in the Eldritch Icons project which will weave a narrative to supplant the 13 Icons of the Dragon Empire with more sinister icons born of Weird Fiction.

The Sacking of Santa Cora

We had thought the Priestess would always be here. Some of us were born here. Others, damaged souls, came to her for healing. In the vast halls of her Cathedral, we found the solace we needed. We thrived under her protection&
mdash;a city of righteousness and peace. As the world outside us got darker and refugees flooded in, the Gods of Light protected us from invasion by sea or shore. Always, we could look to the rising spires of our Priestess’s Cathedral for inspiration…

…until one day, it shattered.

At first we thought it thunder. Then the ground shook beneath us, radiating out from our luminous temple. Within minutes, even those farther away could see the dark cracks in the edifice. Enormous, jagged panes rained down on those unlucky enough to be in the squares outside. Of those within, we still know nothing. And our Priestess? I wish I could tell you. For months, our city stood open to attack, plundered by the twisted Druids to our South and opportunistic pirates of the Midland Sea.

Then, like a fresh breeze, she arrived by sea. Her enchantments sank pirate ships and her gaze sent Druids southward. She laid a cornerstone for our new house of worship—one of stone, not crystal—yet one where every woman and man might bend knee only of their own free will and to their own gods.

While it was easy to find a rival to the High Druid in Yhoundeh, handling her neighbor to the north proved trickier. The Priestess is almost an enigma, like her iconic symbol. Is she simply the essence of lawful good? That may be easy enough to handle in a regular 13th Age campaign, but what does it mean in this darker world?

Choosing a challenger didn’t prove as difficult as I had anticipated, but creating the situation was the hardest of all three so far. From the Clark Ashton Smith mythos, may I present:

The Enchantress Moriamis

She was very tall, with a fearless and regal demeanor, and was gowned in a dark shimmering blue, like the star-laden blue of nocturnal summer skies. Her hair was knotted in a long golden-brown braid, heavy as the glistening coils of some eastern serpent. Her eyes were a strange amber, her lips a vermilion touched with the coolness of woodland shadow, and her skin was of alabastrine fairness.

A powerful female character in mythos fiction is rare enough, but what about her alignment? Is she suited to oppose the Priestess?

I am Moriamis, the enchantress, and the Druids fear my magic, which is more sovereign and more excellent than theirs, though I use it only for the welfare of men and not for their bale or bane.

As she appears in “The Holiness of Azedérac,” Moriamis is a solitary figure. She doesn’t subscribe to a particular deity, but protects a Catholic brother sent back through time from the Druids of her day. Yet she is not at war with Druids. What does she want? Apparently, her greatest desire is to be left in peace, ideally with the hot young monk, and to help her fellow humans when things get bad.

As the realm that was the Dragon Empire fractures, Moriamis becomes a reluctant icon. Unlike the rest, she did not seek this power, but as she is now the wanderer in a strange time and place, she has little choice. Not power-hungry or seeking to hold the post longer than necessary, she seeks brave adventurers to put things right. She will bless them, as she is able, while remaining in Santa Cora to assist and inspire its stunned population.

In part 2, I’ll present plot hooks, ways to make things right, and possible sources of the chaos engulfing Santa Cora. Perhaps the Priestess is still out there.

The Druid and the Elk (Pt. 2)

The previous Eldritch Icons post for Yhoundeh described her conflict with the High Druid and gave a background on her description in literature. It introduced her strange connection to the powers of nature. Now, let’s take a look at some of plot hooks her introduction might produce, what kinds of priests and others you might find working for her, and how someone might become a Blood Druid in her service.

Area of Effect

As mentioned in pt. 1, Yhoundeh has a magical area of effect which breaks other nature-casters’ ties with the land. Druids are forced to fight with traditional arms and without magical bonuses. The High Druid has one as well. But what are the specific numbers associated?

A great deal will depend on the type of game or campaign you are playing. In most cases, I’d put the competing icons’ effects at approximately a 12-mile radius, leading to affected areas around 25 miles across. Yhoundeh’s shrines, of course, have reduced effects. I would put them at a 5-mile radius or perhaps even a 5-mile diameter. What happens with the two icons come within 12 miles of each other? …I’ll leave that to your creativity.

Plot Hooks

Sites of Power: After Yhoundeh passes, her priests establish shrines with talismans to maintain her power in a region. The High Druid has commissioned you to destroy these sites of power so her forces may move through. She offers an extra reward if you retrieve talismans from the sites of power.

Unraveling Talismans: The High Druid has commissioned you to discover the secrets of Yhoundeh’s talismans and how they may be counteracted. Is the information in a Yhoundehian stronghold? Does one need to shake down a Grand Inquisitor?

Blood Ties: Priests and acolytes of Yhoundeh have begun kidnapping the children of Druids and Rangers. Can you track them down and free the children before they meet an awful fate?

Diplomatic Relations: You’ve been commissioned by another icon to bring news about what’s going on with the Wild Wood. Perhaps their previous relationship with the High Druid wasn’t entirely friendly?

Acolytes, Priests, and Inquisitors

For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life…

Like many Druids, the followers of Yhoundeh consider themselves deeply in touch with things natural. And what could be more natural than blood? It flows through every living creature. It is the deepest source of our life. Many mages and druids consider it sacrosanct, not to be drawn upon, but the priests of Yhoundeh have no such fastidiousness. They call their daggers “star-forged.” The seemingly-metallic substance soaks in the blood it draws. The blood may then be discharged through a ritual chant and used to inscribe sanguine sigils or perform dark rites.

Yhoundeh’s followers are a blend of Cleric/Occultist and Druid. Their Better Defense is MD. They’re humanoid unless you want to mix things up. Take stats from the charts on p.254 of the core 13th Age book. Acolytes are Mooks, Priests & Inquisitors are Normal, and you’ll likely only be fighting one High Priest, so use Double or Triple strength as you judge fitting. It’s unlikely that your characters will fight Yhoundeh directly, so the High Priest may be a surrogate for a final fight. I lay out an example x-level of each and draw the numbers for their actions from those level stats. So if your Mooks are 5th level, they’d do 9 damage vs. 6, etc.

Four levels of priests serve Yhoundeh:

Acolyte

Acolytes are the Mooks of her followers. A 3rd-level Acolyte would have +6 initiative, +8 to attack, 6 strike damage, 11 hp (as mooks, their damage goes into a pool), AC 19, MD 17, PD 13.

Star-forged dagger +8 vs. AC—6 damage. Blood soaks into the dagger with no added effect.

Devotion: On a natural 16+ against a caster target, the target will be unable to cast a spell the next round.

Priest

Priests are the most common lower-level servitors and the henchmen of Inquisitors. They are often left with a contingent of acolytes to maintain sites of power. As an example, a 4th-level Priest would have +6 to initiative, +9 to attack, 14 strike damage, 54 hp, AC 20, MD 19, PD 14.

Star-forged dagger +9 vs; AC—14 damage. Blood soaks into the dagger.
Natural even success: 10 ongoing damage as the magical dagger continues to draw blood.

R: Blood Boil +9 vs. PD—14 heat damage. The target’s blood runs so hot that they begin to burn up from the inside.

Inquisitor

Inquisitors head expeditions of Priests and Acolytes, either to deal with the High Druid’s partisans or to erect sites of power. Generally you’ll only encounter one or maybe two, so they’ll probably be about 3-4 levels higher for a party of 4-6. As an example, an 8th-level Inquisitor would have +8 to initiative, +13 attack bonus, 38 strike damage, 144 HP, AC 24, MD 22, PD 18.

Star-forged blade +13 vs. AC—38 damage. 5 ongoing damage as the magical sword continues to draw blood.
Miss: Half-damage.

R: Heart Stopper (see below in the Blood Druid section) or Blood Boil with upgraded damage.

C: Yhoundeh’s Judgment +13 vs. PD—38 damage against 1d3 targets. Single-use.
Natural even success: Inquisitor heals 1/2 the total hp damaged (19 hp for single hit, 38hp for 2 targets hit, etc.). If any targets are already staggered, the Inquisitor heals the entirety of the stolen hp.

High Priest

High Priests are most often found in company with the goddess-icon herself. There are generally only one or two High Priests in existence, so stats should be used for double or triple-strength monsters. A level-12 High Priest with double-strength stats would have +10 to inititative, +17 to attack, 180 strike damage, 720 HP, AC 28, MD 26, PD 22.

Star-forged blade +17 vs. AC—180 damage. 40 ongoing damage as the magical sword continues to draw blood.
Miss: Half-damage and 5 ongoing damage.

R: Heart Stopper at appropriate level, add dice as needed for levels above 12.

C: Yhoundeh’s Judgment +17 vs. PD—180 damage against 1d6 targets. Single-use. Inquisitor heals 1/2 the total hp damaged up to 360 hp. Crit-range expands to natural 19+.
Natural 16+: High Priest heals all damage stolen from targets up to 500 hp.

Blood Druids

With GM permission, Druids at the table might decide to follow Yhoundeh for the dark blessings she offers. In this case, they would have access to a new form of Elemental Caster:

Blood Mastery (Elemental Blood Caster)

If you take Blood Mastery feats, you begin to feel the heartbeats of those around you. Among friends, it is a comfort. You may sit in a forest glade and listen to the racing blood of squirrels playing above you or the slow beat of a doe’s heart as she suckles her fawn.

Adventurer Feat: You gain the heart stopper spell below.
Champion Feat: When an elemental you have summoned drops to 0 hp, one enemy engaged with it takes damage equal to your level + double your Wisdom modifier.
Epic Feat: The first daily Blood spell you cast each day is now a recharge 16+ after battle spell for the rest of the day.

Heart Stopper You reach out your hand and, for a second, their heart stops beating. A few small (or large, depending on your roll) vessels rupture, causing anything from bloodshot eyes to nosebleeds to vomiting blood. If your success is a natural even, the damage is ongoing, see below.
Ranged Spell • At-Will Target: One nearby enemy
Attack: Wisdom + Level vs. PD
Hit: 1d10 + Wisdom Psychic damage
Natural Even Hit: Hit + target takes ongoing damage equal to your level OR increases an already-existing ongoing damage effect by your level (your choice).

3rd level spell — 4d6 damage
5th level spell — 6d6 damage
7th level spell — 6d10 damage
9th level spell — 8d10 damage

Blood Caster Spells

These are all adaptations of other elemental spells. For other details about how caster status works, use info on pages 43-47 of 13 True Ways.

Strong Blood (1st level) Ranged spell • Quick action to cast • Daily
Targets: One nearby ally you choose and one other random nearby ally.
Effect: The effect depends on the target’s status.
Unstaggered target: The target gains a +2 to AC until staggered or until the end of the battle.
Staggered target: The target can heal using a recovery.

3rd level spell — You can now be the chosen target.
5th level spell — An unstaggered target gains a +1 to saves.
7th level spell — A staggered target can heal using a free recovery instead.
9th level spell — The spell targets two random nearby allies instead of one.

Summon Blood Elemental (3rd level +) Ranged spell • Daily
Effect: You summon a 3rd (18 hp, small), 5th (33 hp), 7th (45 hp, large), or 9th (80 hp, epic) level blood elemental (see Blood Elementals below).

Slow Blood (5th level) Ranged spell • Daily
Targets: Each creature in the battle, including you.
Effect: Until the start of your next turn, when a target attempts to attack,ready an action, or delay, it must roll a hard save (16+) to counteract sluggish blood. If the target fails, it expends the action to no effect.

9th level spell — You can now choose which creatures to target with the spell.

Blood Elementals

Blood elementals are imagined as a cloud or swirling mist which lashes out at enemies in millions of tiny cuts. This they borrow characteristics from air elementals. The following characterics are common to all tiers of blood elementals:
Flight: It’s quick and lively.
Resist non-spell damage 16+: When a non-spell attack targets this creature, the attacker must roll a natural 16+ on the attack roll or it only deals half damage.

Small Blood Elemental
3rd level wrecker [Elemental]
Initiative: +9

Lash +7 vs. PD—5 damage.

C: Blood mist +8 vs. PD (1d3 random conscious nearby enemies)—5 damage.
Natural even hit: The target pops free.

AC 18, PD 17, MD 13.

Blood Elemental
5th level wrecker [Elemental]
Initiative: 11

Lash +10 vs. PD— 12 damage.

C: Blood mist +10 vs. PD (1d3 random conscious nearby enemies)—14 damage.
Natural even hit: The target pops free.

Bloodcloud: Roll a d10 at the start of each of the blood elementals’s turns. If you roll less than or equal to the escalation die, it shifts into a whipping cloud, whose miniscule cuts draw more blood out of opponents. It remains in this form until the end of the battle, no more checks are needed. Elemental bloodcloud + 10 vs. PD (each enemy engaged with it and one nearby enemy)—14 damage.
Miss: Half damage.

AC 20, PD 19, MD 15.

Big Blood Elemental
7th level wrecker [Elemental]
Initiative: +14

Lash +12 vs. PD— 20 damage.

C: Blood mist +13 vs. PD (1d3 random conscious nearby enemies)—22 damage.
Natural even hit: The target pops free.

Bloodcloud: Roll a d8 at the start of each of the blood elementals’s turns. If you roll less than or equal to the escalation die, it shifts into a whipping cloud, whose miniscule cuts draw more blood out of opponents. It remains in this form until the end of the battle, no more checks are needed. Elemental bloodcloud + 13 vs. PD (each enemy engaged with it and one nearby enemy)—22 damage.
Miss: Half damage.

AC 22, PD 21, MD 17.

Epic Blood Elemental
9th level wrecker [Elemental]
Initiative: +16

Lash +15 vs. PD— 40 damage.

C: Blood mist +15 vs. PD (1d3 random conscious nearby enemies)—40 damage.
Natural even hit: The target pops free.

Bloodcloud: Roll a d6 at the start of each of the blood elementals’s turns. If you roll less than or equal to the escalation die, it shifts into a whipping cloud, whose miniscule cuts draw more blood out of opponents. It remains in this form until the end of the battle, no more checks are needed. Elemental bloodcloud + 15 vs. PD (each enemy engaged with it and one nearby enemy)—40 damage.
Miss: Half damage.

Nastier Special R: Blood jet + 15 vs. PD (one nearby or faraway enemy)—40 damage.
Natural even hit: Target is dazed until the end of its next turn.
Natural even miss: Half damage.

AC 24, PD 23, MD 19

Your other option here is to use Deep Magic (see below) and substitute Sanguine Horrors, which are essentially blood elementals.

Blood Druid Spells

If you have PCs who want to become full-time Blood Druids, then you may need to spend some time fully adapting Druid spells and borrowing from other classes.

Spells of other classes you may want to pull from the books include the Necromancer’s channel life and chant of endings (13 True Ways p.85), and the Chaos Mage’s tortured scream (Ibid. p.25).

You may also want to buy a copy of Kobold Press’s Deep Magic if you think the following spells sound promising (or because it’s cool):

blood armor, doom of blood, sanguine horror (blood elemental), St. Carnessa’s wicker man, weapon of blood, bloodshot, caustic blood, exsanguinating blood, blood and steel, blood spoor, cruor of visions, fiery blood, final combustion, red dragonfly swarm, and vampiric fog.

You can get it on their store or DriveThruRPG.

The Druid and the Elk (Pt. 1)

This post is in the Eldritch Icons project which will weave a narrative to supplant the 13 Icons of the Dragon Empire with more sinister icons born of Weird Fiction.

Elk Over Druid

Those who saw it happen, the Rangers and others who chose not to take sides, said the battle ended almost before it had begun. Druids, secure in their bond with the forests surrounding their Iconic mistress raised their staffs and called on the power of the land—but that power did not come. The blades of the fanatical priests cut them down and the forest was silent.

She followed in the wake of her envoys, the shimmering elk-goddess with blood-encrusted antlers. She soaked in the power of the Wild Wood. Druids and rangers felt their arts fizzle out in her wake. And yet she promised to restore all those who gave her love and devotion. In past Ages, challengers had taken the power of the High Druid before. Would it be so wrong to kneel before her?

While the Elf Queen deserts her Queen’s Wood, leaving it to the Black Goat of the Woods, a very different battle starts in the Blood Wood along the Iron Sea and moves inland to the High Druid’s own Wild Wood. Yhoundeh, the elk-goddess challenger, does not raise finger or hoof to fight. She glides in the wake of her priests, whose magic combines druidic power with forbidden blood magic.

Something about the elk-goddess’s presence overpowers the natural tie Druids and Rangers feel with the woods. If her priests fail to erect and guard shrines, that power fades as she moves on. But wherever they establish her presence, only her followers may call on the power of the Earth. If, once her priests are installed, order returns and Druids may go about their business with only a different name to call on, how many will simply switch loyalties? Some darker Druids might even welcome the opportunity of learning from her priests.

Then, there will be the hardcore partisans. Some are half-elves like the High Druid. They cling to her as their last point of stability in a chaotic world where their Queen has abandoned them. Others may have strong relationships with her or owe her favors. Perhaps some were influential to her own power grab.

The High Druid may counteract the negating force of the elk-goddess. Is it only in her presence? In designated sites of power? Does she need the players’ help to conduct a rite or spell to expand that force? Ultimately, the elk-goddess and the High Druid’s fight comes down to their connections to Nature and how they draw on its power.

The Elk-Goddess Yhoundeh

Yhoundeh, the Hyperborean elk-goddess is a mysterious figure in the writings of Clark Ashton Smith. Is she elk? Is she woman? Is she some other creature or some kind of hybrid being? From Smith, we know one thing about her worship—her temples are dominated by priests of great inquisitorial spirit:

They were disappointed because the formidable writ of arrest, with symbolic flame-etched runes on a scroll of human skin, was now useless and because there seemed to be no early prospect of trying out the ingenious agonies, the intricately harrowing ordeals which they had devised for Eibon with such care.

While priests who take the trouble to make writs of arrest in flame-etched runes on scrolls of human skin certainly add color as adversaries for your players, the goddess herself is so completely absent from the texts that a GM could describe her as a misunderstood being of natural power. Is she close enough to human to understand what her priests do? Is she so far above human that she doesn’t care? Is she more interested in love than hate? What is life like for people who turn their loyalty to her, who they see as a new High Druid?

Another factor in shaping Yhoundeh is her marriage. Will Murray quotes from a Clark Ashton Smith letter which, sadly, I can’t confirm as it’s not in my collection:

As to the marriage of Y’houndeh and the flute-player Nyarlathotep, I am inclined to suspect that something of the sort is hinted at or adumbrated by Pnom. I quote the reference: ‘Houndeh in the 3rd cycle of her divinity was covered by that spawn which pipes perennially the dire music of chaos and corruption.’ If this doesn’t refer to the Azathothian flute-player, I’ll undertake to drink a straight gallon of the next segur-whisky that is imported from Mars.

(Smith’s letters are a glorious exercise in collaborative fiction creation, rather like fandom beliefs (such as Jon Snow’s parentage) spawning on modern forums or tumblr truths.)

With the assistance of the Crawling Chaos (who we will see later in conflict with the Prince of Shadows), what devious schemes might Yhoundeh undertake? How many might simply be undertaken on her behalf?

In part 2, I’ll give some plot hooks and priest/ally stat suggestions.

Introducing the Arkham Archivist

If you came to the site expecting to be at either cthulhuchick.com or beingruth.com, I’ve merged the two into one, The Arkham Archivist. I’ve been pondering this change for a while, but had to sort out how exactly I wanted to do it. All my redirects should be working.

(It’s possible there may be a few hiccups. If you’re reading this after 12/7/2014 and having an issue, please let me know!