Pelgrane Press’ Gumshoe roleplaying games usually don’t disappoint and Kenneth Hite’s Night’s Black Agents is no exception. Night’s Black Agents combines the spy thriller genre with vampires. The players are spies that have worked for one of the many secret agencies like MI5, CIA, Mossad or even the Stasi. For one reason or the other they left government employment and went into the shadowy criminal underground of Europe. The characters had been highly trained by their agencies for years in espionage, combat, covert operations, data analysis and now they are putting their skills to good use again. They fight vampires!
Night’s Black Agents is a 232-pages full-cover hardcover. As with all recent releases by Pelgrane Press the production quality is top notch. The three-columned layout is surprisingly clear and the interior artwork fits the theme of the game perfectly. I’m not too fond of the cover, but that’s only a minor quibble. Overall the quality of the artwork is great. The binding feels pretty solid to me, although I haven’t put it to the test yet. Usually I treat my books very gently.
As I’ve already mentioned the game uses Robin D. Laws’ Gumshoe system, which is the perfect choice for any game where investigations play a major role. In most games finding the clues needed to unravel a mystery can be a very frustrating thing. The players fail a single important roll and the whole game comes to a sudden stop. In Gumshoe you don’t need to roll to find clues – if you have the right investigative skill, you get the clue and you can move on. In Gumshoe the interesting question is not whether you find the clues but how do you interpret them. For more information on how the system works check out my interview with Robin D. Laws.
When it comes to soundtracks for pen & paper roleplaying games my favorite composer is definitely James Semple. He and his team have created several awesome soundtracks for Pelgrane Press’ series of GUMSHOE games including Trail of Cthulhu and Ashen Stars. A while ago, after finishing my review of their latest work “All We Have Forgotten”, it occurred to me that it could be very interesting to ask James a couple of questions about his work. I contacted him over Twitter and he gladly said yes. So, without further ado I am proud to present our interview with the composer and multi-instrumentalist James Semple.
Stargazer: Thanks again, James! It’s an honor being able to do an interview with you. Even though I already gave our readers a short introduction on who you are, could you please tell us a bit more about yourself and your work? What non-gaming projects have you worked on? How did you become a composer in the first place?
James: Hi Michael, it’s a real pleasure to be interviewed here. The short story on me is that I’ve been a gamer since I was about 10 years old and I’ve been a fan of film scores since Star Wars was released at the cinema. It really had a huge impact on me and ever since then I have always loved big orchestral film scores. For many years I played lead guitar in various rock bands but for the last 6 years I’ve seriously been focusing on media composition and getting back to my first love of orchestral film music. Outside of composing for tabletop RPG scores I’ve worked on videogame music (The Witcher: Platinum Edition) and feature film scores.
A lot of people – including me – are using video game or movie soundtracks as background music for our roleplaying sessions. Alas these soundtracks are often not a perfect fit. Some tracks may be too distracting when played in the background or are too iconic. You can’t just use for example the Star Wars soundtrack without conjuring up images of Jedi Knights, Stormtroopers, Wookiees, etc. in the minds of your players. Over the last few years several artists have tried to create music more suited for use at the game table. Erdenstern or Midnight Syndicate come to mind.
But the best roleplaying game soundtracks are in my opinion created by James Semple and his team (Marie-Anne Fischer and Yaiza Varona). In cooperation with Pelgrane Press they released soundtracks for several games of the Gumshoe line including Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu and now Ashen Stars. Last year I had the pleasure to write a review of the Eternal Lies Suite, which is undoubtedly the best piece of music ever written for a roleplaying game.
All We Have Forgotten is the new soundtrack for use with the Ashen Stars roleplaying game. It contains 10 original tracks and 4 stings. Stings are short bursts of music that can be used to mark the end of a scene. The majority of the tracks are very atmospheric and work great as background music. The quality and style of the music is on par with what you expect from a Sci-Fi movie soundtrack. If you enjoy the other works of James’ team you won’t be disappointed.
All We Have Forgotten is a soundtrack that should definitely be on the playlist of every GM. It’s not only great as background music but also can be used for inspiration during prep. Even though it has been created with Ashen Stars in mind, it can easily be used in other Sci-Fi or modern games as well. The only drawback is the length of the album since the total playtime including the stings is just about 27 minutes.
The album is available from the Pelgrane Press web store and sets you back $15.95 or £9.95.
In December 2008 I first read about Charles Stross’ short story “A Colder War”. Imagine an alternative timeline where the cold war ends in 1984 because the Soviets mistake a joke made by then-president Ronald Reagan for a declaration of war. But in addition to the nuclear arsenal, a hidden supernatural one is used. In “A Colder War” the Great Cthulhu himself has been weaponized by the Soviets and the Iran government tries to summon Yog-Sothoth into our world. The more I think about it, the more I believe a campaign inspired by that short story could be a great project for the upcoming months.
Especially in autumn or winter I love to run horror games and what could be more blood-freezing than combining H.P. Lovecraft’s work with the cold war? I think I’ll pitch the idea to my players and if they show some interest, I’ll start working on that project as soon as I have enough free time.
Today when I came home from work I found my copy of Ashen Stars in my mailbox! Finally! I have been waiting for this day for a long time. I think I preordered the “Stellar Nursery Preorder Edition” in May and the wait was definitely worth it. Not only did I get an early preview of the rules, but my copy is signed by Robin D. Laws himself and I am even mentioned in the credits! Check out the photos I made.
A happy gamer!
Signed by the man himself!
This is definitely a good-looking book
As soon as I had some time to give the book a proper read, I’ll post a review here on Stargazer’s World. But since I am currently busy, busy, busy, this may take a while. But you can trust me when I tell you that Ashen Stars is well worth every penny! If you like the GUMSHOE system and Science Fiction, you’ll love this game!
Today I want to share a couple of things I stumbled upon during the last days.
Tomb of the Overfiend
is definitely one of coolest old-school games ever conceived. It’s extremely rules-light, but contains a lot of weird west goodness. Recently Stuart Robertson, creator of that fine game, released a free one-page adventure
based on an excellent map by Matt Jackson
. And even if you’re not into Weird West you can easily use it for other old-school games as well.
- Ashen Stars Theme Music
James Semple who has done several soundtracks for Gumshoe games in the past, has composed a theme music for Robin D. Laws latest game, Ashen Stars. I really hope this is the first sign of a full Ashen Stars soundtrack to come. You can listen to the rather short theme tune here.
Barbarians of the Future
You probably might already have heard about Barbarians of Lemuria
, Simon Washbourne’s Sword & Sorcery RPG. While I haven’t tried the game yet, it’s among the games I have to give a try at least once. Some people actually call it one of the best RPGs of the genre. Obviously the system used in BoL can also be easily be used in other genres. There’s Jabberwocky Productions’ post-apocalyptic setting-expansion Barbarians of the Aftermath
A while back rpg.net
forum member Maxwell Luther created a free PDF supplement for BoA that allows players and the GM to experience adventures in the grim-dark future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe (with the serial numbers filed off). If you are interested in both BoA and the WH40K universe, you should definitely give it a look. You can download the 42-paged PDF here
Fellow RPG blogger Dennis N. Santana has recently released an early playtest edition
of his Expedition RPG. I haven’t had time to give it a closer look, but according to Shaun Welch’s playtest reports (part one
& part two
), he and his players not only had fun with the fast character creation system that allows truly unique character concepts, but also very much enjoyed the combat rules. From what I’ve seen Expedition contains a lot of interesting ideas that set the game apart from the majority of fantasy games. If you’re looking for something new, why don’t you give it a try. It’s free and obviously pretty polished for a game still in its alpha stage.
From time to time I get the urge to run a SF campaign using the setting presented in the Mass Effect series of computer/video games. The game series has been critically been praised for it’s graphics, gameplay and story, but also for the extremely deep and detailed background. The ingame Codex contains a lot of information about known space, alien species, technology, and history.
I found it especially amazing that the creators of this game series also included a lot of background information on topics that don’t even have any impact on the games story. But that is what makes the Mass Effect setting so believable and deep.
In addition to that the game cleverly uses familiar science fiction tropes that help players to get into the story quickly without the need of long explanations. But instead of just presenting us with a overly clichéd universe, there are a lot of interesting twists that keep things fresh. I think you can tell that I love these games.
Recently I preordered Ashen Stars, the latest Gumshoe-powered roleplaying game written by Robin D. Laws. Like Mass Effect it’s a SF (or rather Space Opera) game that makes use of classic Space Opera tropes but cleverly combines them with more modern elements like cyberware and a more grim and gritty outlook.
The Gumshoe system was designed to support investigative campaigns and is surprisingly versatile. When I first read about a Gumshoe SF game I was wondering how an investigative Space Opera campaign could work. But it’s actually pretty easy. Just have a look at a random Star Trek episode: something mysterious is going on, the crew investigates, gets clues, there’s some combat or plot twist, the clues are put together and the mystery gets solved, end credits.