Hey friends! We’re going to be rolling out information regarding game world, mechanics, and more about Terrors and Tommyguns in the weeks leading up to our September 29th Kickstarter. Bear […]
We’re going to be rolling out information regarding game world, mechanics, and more about Terrors and Tommyguns in the weeks leading up to our September 29th Kickstarter. Bear in mind that the book has been through some playtesting but is by no means finished– anything and everything you see here is subject to minor changes and tweaking for balance/playability/awesomeness as we continue our “Beta Testing” for the game.
What follows today is some of the first chapter of the TnT Corebook including the Foreword, a vignette entitled “The Sirens in the Night”. It offers a high level look at some of the systems within Terrors and Tommyguns. More specific details about those mechanic and how they’re used are in later chapters and will be explored in later articles leading up to the Kickstarter, so stay tuned!
Foreword: The Sirens in the Night
It’s been a hell of a week. But then, in this town, every week is a hell of a week. Really, it was just another week in New Babylon.
I sit in my office, a shell of a man in a shell of a building. We’re a five story walk-up in a bombed out building in a bombed out part of downtown New Babylon– the kind of place the new mayor has sworn to “revitalize.” I’m not sure there’s any hope for the building, and as I pour myself another bourbon at the end of a long week, I’m hoping there’s something in there that’ll revitalize me. Sirens blare continuously as the city, refusing to sleep as the weekend comes, welcomes another emergency.
I look to the door, where I hear some movement. I had a window put into the door entering my office– through it, I can see everything in my office. “MARLOWE AND ASSOCIATES– PRIVATE DETECTIVES”, faces me backwards through the front door. “SPECIALIZING IN ALL MATTERS, FROM THE MUNDANE TO THE UNEXPLAINED”, it continues. The lights in the front turn off. I see the silhouette of Jean, my assistant in front of the door to my office. A long, lean woman, she’s the smartest dame I ever met. Gods know what she’s doing here with me.
“I’m leaving for the day,” she says, smiling kindly at me. I hate it when she smiles at me. It feels so condescending– a smile like you’d throw to a kid with a skinned knee. I guess that’s how she feels about me.
“You realize you’re my only ‘& Associates?’” I ask her, motioning to the door before she can say anything. She glances toward the door, then back toward me.
“I do,” she says. “But then, that’s been your decision since Miles died. You’re really at your best alone.” I light a cigarette and take another swig off the bourbon.
“Suppose I am,” I say. “Suppose that means I ought to let you go.”
“Suppose it does,” she says, with that same damned smile. “But then who would fix your sign? How can someone specialize in everything? It doesn’t make any sense,” she says.
“Guess you’re right. You have a way of being right.” I motion to the chair across from me. “Stay and have a drink with me,” I say longingly. “I could use the company.” Her lips purse and her brow furrows.
“You know I won’t,” she says quietly. Of course I know. But I don’t learn. I never do. I say nothing in response, letting my gaze fall downward. If I looked up at her, I’d see her sad smile, like I was a puppy who got kicked.
“Good night, Mr. Marlowe,” she says, in that tone I hate the most. I’ve killed people. I’ve backstabbed and double-crossed and survived every seedy shithole in this town. But to her, I’m a damned kicked puppy. To hell with that. I’d rather she hate me than pity me. “Have a good weekend. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” She turns and walks out the front door, locking it behind her and pulling the blinds down so no one can see in. She’s more than I could handle. She’s more than I deserve. And I think she knows both of those things, which is why she doesn’t quit.
I take a drag off my cigarette and look around my office. It’s a dump, but damn it all, it’s my dump. It’s that way on purpose. You never know who’ll walk through that door, and the more you give the world on first impression, the more it can take from you. I take one of the pills I keep under my desk, washing it down with bourbon. Eventually, the voices recede and it goes to black.
I’m awakened a short time later by a banging on my door. I jump up, hitting my head on my desk. Did I pass out on the floor again? What time is it? It’s only gotten darker outside. Damn it all. I can feel the knot on my head starting to grow. I make sure my Walther is still where it belongs– tucked into the back of my pants, sight unseen, and lurch toward the door, trying to get my bearings. The banging at the door continues, matched by the banging in my head. I slowly open the door, and a young woman walks in. She seems in a bit of a panic, but then, they all are. “Oh, are you Mr. Marlowe?” she asks. I look her up and down. She’s poured into her white blouse, with the hemline on her skirt leaving little to the imagination. She’s got bright blue eyes and sandy brown hair worn up to accentuate her long neck. I nod to the sign on the door. “What was your first guess?” I respond brusquely.
“My name is Marjorie Smith. I have a job for you. Is there somewhere private we could speak?” She asks.
“We’re closed for the weekend,” I say, but she’s already pushing past me, making her way to my office. She sits in the seat across from my desk, her legs crossed. I’m trying to get a reaction out of her, to see what kind of client she is. She doesn’t give me one. My relationship with women in a nutshell. I rub my eyes as I walk into my office and sit at my desk. “So,” I say. “You have something you want from me?” She smiles brightly. Perhaps seductively, though I think maybe that’s the bourbon and the loneliness talking.
“You could say that,” she says. “Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Marlowe. I’ve heard great things about… all of the things you can do.” She moistens her lips with her tongue, making sure that I notice, and continues. “There’s a… job I need done. And I think you’re the only man who can do it for me.” She reaches into her handbag and pulls out a wad of dough. A lot of money. Too much money. She places it on my desk. I count it in my head while keeping my eyes on her– a trick of the trade. There must be a thousand bucks there. “I can see you’re serious,” I say. “But it’s a little unorthodox to offer payment before offering the actual job. What is it you want from me, Miss Smith?” She stands up and leans over my desk. Her blouse might as well not be there. I keep my eyes locked on hers. I’m no amateur. “You’re not afraid of a little.. wet-work, are you, Mr. Marlowe?” I remain motionless, and glance at our shadows on the wall.
“Now, Ms. Smith,” I say, looking back at her, trying not to betray that my heart’s beating out of my chest. “I would never do anything that violates the laws of New Babylon or our great nation. “But if I were someone else, the kind of man who would take this job, who’s the mark?” I ask. She whispers it in my ear, now fully over my desk.
A pregnant pause in the room. Silence, broken by more sirens outside. They match the sirens in my head. I swallow hard and do my best to lie.
“I’m afraid I don’t know who that is, Ms. Smith.” It’s good business to pretend not to know about The Collective. It’s better business not to agree to assassinate its leader. A thought swirls around my subconscious– Why didn’t you just go home, you drunk? She smiles at me again, laying it on thick. “I think that you do,” she says. “He’s a bad, bad man. He’s done terrible things, worse than you can imagine.” I nod.
“I can imagine quite a lot,” I say. It’s not my line: I think I saw it in a moving picture last month.
“There we are,” she says soothingly, her face inches from mine. “Like I said, your reputation precedes you. You’re not half as dumb as you want people to think. You’re smart, handsome, and accomplished. You’re a man who knows how to get things done.” Her face moves closer. “How to get… anything done.” Her soft brown eyes melt into mine, and she kisses me deeply. And again. And again. I should stop her, but I don’t, and before I know it she’s in my lap, the desk now a mere formality. Her arms wrap themselves tightly around me. This is going well. Too well. Things don’t go this well for me. I pull away, taking my hands off of her and putting them on the arms of my desk chair. “Can I tell you one thing?” I say with a low voice, matching her smile. “Of course,” she says, her hands reaching for me again. Moment of truth. “When it comes to disguises,” I say, “Consistency is key… Brown-eyes.”
I hit her hard with a left hook to the liver and kick her back over my desk. Her eyes go from brown to bright, glowing red. Her nails, previously painted a forest green, turn into the long claws they always were and, growing an extra few feet, rake across my right arm and side. I feel the warmth of blood under my vest as one side of my suspenders tears. She screams a high scream and the windows shatter along with, I’d have to guess, my eardrums. I grab my Walther with my left hand and unload it on her. The bullets bounce harmlessly away, a purple eldritch shield protecting her. “And here I thought you’d be easy,” I said, my own bad one liners falling, once again, only on my own damaged ears and that of something trying to kill me. She screams again. I can feel blood running down my ears and side as she smashes my desk with one arm, flinging it out of the way. She’s preparing to finish me off.
“Fortunately,” I say through gritted teeth, “I don’t go for easy women.”
I begin chanting the language of the Old Gods. Madness seizes me. “Those who gaze into the abyss”, I think to myself as the voices overwhelm me. My eyes turn red to match hers. The voices from another world fill my head and I feel as though my brain is trying to exit my body. She flings her long, clawed arms at me, but this time I’m ready. I backflip away, moving with a vim that isn’t my own. I finish my chant and project my mind into hers. Normally this is when I’d take some time to look around and see what she knows, but I’m short on time. Punching through her psyche, I do everything I can to destroy her mind before the Incantation gives out, but it’s enough. She falls back for a moment and I jump for the drawer of my destroyed desk, clawing frantically for my 1911 pistol. I shoot, again and again, the noise dampened mercifully by the damage already done to my ears. The great beast falls backward onto the floor, and I continue shooting until the slide stays back. I wait for a moment, ensuring that it’s really over, then fall to the floor myself, wheezing and bleeding. The 1911 clatters to the floor next to me, as smoking and spent as I am.
Taking a moment to gather myself, I stand, and I walk over to the framed picture of myself and Miles, my old partner. Thanks, old pal, I think to myself. Miles was as lonely as I was, but he was a sweet and dumb sort that let himself get taken advantage of. He died after moving forward on a set-up just like this one. It’s the only reason I knew to be on my guard at all. No one’s more clever than anyone else. Some of us are just lucky enough not to repeat the mistakes others have made. Moving the picture aside, I begin working the combination on my wall safe and open it to reveal my emergency go-bag. I rifle through it until I see the thick, green bottle marked REVITALIZING TONIC– SERVING, 1 DRAM. I pop the cork and drink the whole damned thing.
The voices change and get louder as the tonic uses whatever unholy magic it’s made of to stitch my side closed. The voices tell me to do things, but I don’t listen. I never do. I pick up the go-bag and glance toward the phone. No way it’s not already tapped, but I want everyone to know where I stand. I call The Front Desk. “This is Samuel Marlowe,” I tell the receptionist. “Could you tell Mr. Hammersmith that The Sisters have been asking after him again? Additionally, I need a clean-up crew to my office immediately.” The receptionist, sounding bored, voices his assent and informs me that there will be a cleaning fee of ten Florins charged to my account. “Good to know,” I say, and hang up the phone without another word. I take a minute or two to gather up my things, and, picking up my bottle of bourbon I make a toast towards the beast, dead on the ground. “Nice knowing you, Ms. Smith,” I say. As the bourbon goes down, so do the voices. A spoonful of sugar helps the insanity go down. I put on my trenchcoat and hat and walk out of the office. The cleaners are here already, but I don’t talk to them. Professionals know when to let other professionals work, and we’re all professionals in this part of town. By the time I get to the lobby, I can already smell the smoke.
I light another cigarette as the blaze spreads throughout the building. More sirens, this time heading towards me. It’s been a hell of a week. But then, in this town, every week is a hell of a week. Really, it was just another week in New Babylon.
I don’t look back as the flames consume the building.
I never do.
The city never sleeps, though a lot of folks wish it would. Beyond the din and clatter of mundane city life, something sinister lurks beneath New Babylon. Cultists gather in the night, seeking to summon the Old Gods. Crime bosses summon dark powers and seek to solidify their power as brave men and women stand against them, betting their sanity on keeping the city, and the world, safe for one more day. Above it all, a strange Collective looms, policing all matters Occult, and keeping the dark forces hidden from the world at large– but even their motives, and methods, are dangerous and ultimately unknown.
Welcome to Terrors and Tommyguns! Terrors and Tommyguns is a cinematic take on cosmic horror blended lovingly with old film noir and served dry and dirty with a few olives to boot (NOTE: OLIVES SOLD SEPARATELY). It takes place in the eponymous, sprawling city of New Babylon. The technology level is 1920s– there are tommy guns and radios, but not televisions or cell phones. Blending the feel of pulp noir with the unpredictable, chaotic feel of cosmic horror, players will assume the role of members of The Collective, a loose-knit society that exists in the underbelly of New Babylon. Will they be a hardened detective, taking on supernatural as well as mundane snooping jobs and wet work? Will they let themselves be lured in by the Old Gods, trading their loyalty (and their sanity) for power? Will they seek to bolster the ranks of The Collective, seeking to learn the motives and origins of its mysterious leader, Lux Hammersmith? Although the Collective has lofty goals, it also protects the worst of New Babylon’s occult denizens. For those unlucky souls chosen for it or incidentally exposed to it, membership in The Collective is neither voluntary nor easy and there is only one way to exit The Collective– a permanent dirt nap.
The road you choose will be your own, but it damned sure won’t be an easy one.
A note to those who have read our previous Corebook, Sagas of Midgard: you may recognize some familiar language in this chapter. That’s because while we’ve only gotten better at making games (we hope), our core design philosophies haven’t changed. This game will play differently than Sagas of Midgard, but it will likely feel similar.
The Rollover System
We’ve opted to keep our Rollover System for Terrors and Tommyguns. The player will make all of the rolls; the GM need only tell the player what “Rollover” they’re trying to beat. This is similar to a “difficulty class” in other RPGs, except that the roll is always made by the player and is, as a general rule, not a hidden value. The player will roll the relevant dice based on their character’s skills or lack thereof (see “Dice Pools”, below), and if they beat the Rollover, they are successful. If they do not, they are not successful. It’s just that easy. We’ve found that this keeps the game moving quickly– if you can do basic addition (or have access to an abacus), you can play Terrors and Tommyguns.
For ease of reference, here is a table describing basic ranges for Rollovers:
|1-5||Any old bum can handle this.|
|6-10||You might need a bit of doin’ to actually do it, but I like your odds..|
|11-15||This is gettin’ tough. You want me to call someone who’s actually good at it?|
|16-20||Holy smokes. Dang near impossible if you’re not skilled.|
|21-25||Impossible without some level of skill and a fair amount of luck.|
|26-30||Impossible without a lot of skill and a lot of luck.|
|31-35||Why are you still reading this? Clearly something terrible is happening. RUN.|
Rolls in Terrors and Tommyguns are made with a base D20 roll. However, we’ve always been fans of “rolling with friends”, and our Dice Pools system in Terrors and Tommyguns reflects this. To determine success or failure of an action, the Director will have a Character make a roll against either an Attribute or a Skill (Note: These are explained in the character creation chapter, which we’ll get into next week). As your character acquires skills, or finds/creates situational benefits (known as “Assets”), they will roll additional dice (as outlined on the table below) and add it to their total. If they find themselves particularly unskilled and/or have situational factors working against them (known as “Liabilities”), they will roll additional dice and subtract it from their total.
It’s important to know that sometimes you may have both Assets and Liabilities factoring into a roll. For instance, you may be using your Wits to try and find someone hidden in a harbor on a foggy night. If you have two assets in your Wits attribute pool, and two Assets in the Investigation skill, you’d have four Assets, rolling a d20 and a d10. However, the fog makes it near impossible to see, and your Game Master imposes three Liabilities. Your Assets and your Liabilities together will determine the “Net Worth” of your roll. In this example, you’d have 1 Asset, and you’d roll a d20 and a d4, adding them together and succeeding if you exceed the Rollover set by your Game Master.
If your Net Worth is negative, you use the same table but subtract the additional die (everything past the “D20”) from your roll.
Nothing is more exciting than double-entry accounting.
|1||D20 + D4|
|2||D20 + D6|
|3||D20 + D8|
|4||D20 + D10|
|5||D20 + D12|
|6||D20 + D12 + D4|
|7||D20 + D12 + D6|
|8||D20 + D12 + D8|
|9||D20 + D12 + D10|
|10||D20 + 2D12|
|11||D20 + 2D12 + D4|
|12||D20 + 2D12 + D6|
|13||D20 + 2D12 +D8|
|14||D20 + 2D12 +D10|
|15||D20 + 3D12|
|1||D20 – D4|
|2||D20 – D6|
|3||D20 – D8|
|4||D20 – D10|
|5||D20 – D12|
|6||D20 – D12 – D4|
|7||D20 – D12 – D6|
|8||D20 – D12 – D8|
|9||D20 – D12 – D10|
|10||D20 – 2D12|
|11||D20 – 2D12 – D4|
|12||D20 – 2D12 – D6|
|13||D20 – 2D12 – D8|
|14||D20 – 2D12 – D10|
|15||D20 – 3D12|
Successes and Failures:
Terrors and Tommyguns uses a mixed success and failure table to determine combat damage. The amount of damage you do is based on the results of your attack roll. For successes:
|40+||+6 damage and a status effect|
Additionally, how you roll when making defense rolls can result in your taking more or less damage
|2-5||+3 damage taken|
|6-8||+2 damage taken|
|9-11||+1 damage taken|
|21-25||Glancing blow, -1 damage|
When taken outside of combat, the idea of mixed successes and failures gets a little harder to quantify. Some things in life are pass/fail: either you hear the person sneaking up on you or you don’t. However, sometimes there’s some wiggle room. Say you’re the Director and one of your Characters rolls a 25 against a Rollover of 10 to determine if they hear someone sneaking up on them. Maybe they hear it, as well as what he said to his buddy before they turned the corner, and the Character will get a chance to spring a surprise action on the bad guy. Conversely, if they fail to hear their stealthy assailant by a big amount, feel free to give that baddie some extra assets to their surprise attack.
Scars represent the lasting effects on your character’s psyche by exposing themselves, over and over again, to Otherworldly forces. This may be done to them, or it may be done by the character voluntarily to temporarily gain power, knowledge, or leverage– they affect the character just the same. Each Character will start with 1 Scar (See “Character Creation” next week). As the Series unfolds, your character will likely acquire a number of Scars. There are some ways of dealing with these (some more natural than others, some more frightening than others), but by and large your Character will bear the Scars of their time with the Supernatural for the duration of their time within the series.
Why Does This Book Need To Exist?
It’s a good question, and a question that we ask ourselves before we begin working in earnest on a new system. There are a number of Cosmic Horror RPGs out there, as well as a number of Noir RPGs. There are, in fact, even some that blend them both. So why try Terrors and Tommyguns at all?
- The ability to fight back, in any capacity, against the growing darkness. While running away remains a very viable option for your Characters, their entry into The Collective means they have knowledge, and power, to keep those dark forces at bay.
- A streamlined way to run a “serial” or film noir setting with supernatural elements. We certainly don’t remember all of high school fondly, but what we do remember is the freedom to stay up all night, playing marathon, 12-16 hour D&D sessions. However, as we’ve gotten older and our free time has shrivelled up, a system that requires 4-6 hours to adequately run a single session simply isn’t practical. Feedback from the community (“I’d love to play more TTRPGs, but I just can’t find the time…”) show that we’re not the only ones to feel that way. . If you wish to, and are able to, run longer sessions than more power to you.
- A Rules-Light, narrative heavy way to tell your story. We love the other Cosmic Horror Games out there. We really do. They’re great systems. But there’s an awful lot of math involved and an awful lot of book-keeping. By keeping those things to a minimum, we’re hoping you can spend more time doing what makes RPGs fun (in our opinion): creating ridiculous stories, filled with daring, heroism, and hilarious failures.
The Case Against Book-Keeping
We’ve never been fans of RPG grocery lists. “I go into town, and I need to buy 40 bullets, 100 ft of rope, a compass, 2 eggs, 3 pounds of sugar…” is not likely to be the part of your campaign that you will relive with your friends for years to come.
Unlike our previous book, there is more equipment that can be purchased in Terrors and Tommyguns. These represent things either mundane (guns), mad science-y (), or otherworldly (poultices brewed by the apothecaries of The Collective). However, we still hew to our core design philosophy regarding equipment:
If it’s not a permanent item, and it’s not relevant to the story right now, then it doesn’t need to be worried about– or recorded.
Your Characters are dangerous people, making their way through a dangerous world. It’s assumed that they know how to pack enough food, ammunition, and other “Adventurer’s Kit” items to survive their journey. Of course, this is not ironclad– when it serves the story. Are your Characters trapped at the bottom of a (why not?) haunted well? After a while, food may become a concern. Did the dangerous mark they were tracking imprison them and take their weapons? Finding compatible ammunition may prove to be an issue.
A Note On Inclusivity and Mental Health
H.P. Lovecraft was many things. “Tolerant” was not one of them– especially not by today’s standards. If this is somehow news to you, we’d invite you to Google the name of his cat, though really? You probably shouldn’t.
This is unfortunate, because the worlds he created, and the moods and feelings they provoke, are more universal than the provincial racial and ethnic thinking of his time (and his peers). Therefore, we want to ensure that everyone feels welcome at our table while playing Terrors and Tommyguns. To that end, you will see people of color throughout the book. You will see LGBT+ characters throughout the book. If this is a problem for you, well?
It’s the twenty-first century. Get over it.
Just because your thinking is closer to Lovecraft’s does not make you correct. If this doesn’t set well with you, there are a number of other systems that may be closer to your worldview and we wish you well. Sort of.
However, if you believe that everyone has a seat at the table, and that everyone deserves to be represented and celebrated despite any “historical inaccuracies” (which our system is full of, for the record), then this may yet be the system for you.
Additionally, there’s a lot of discussion in this game regarding mental health and the acquisition (and removal) of Scars. This is not unique to a Cosmic Horror game, but we tried our best to give a name to conditions that often feel nameless. Cosmic Horror, at its best, is about the ability to cope with, and (in our case) feel powerful in, a chaotic and seemingly uncaring world. Additionally, Noir is filled with characters who are unable to cope with the stresses and horrors of their daily lives. Reflective of its time, this typically meant that the hard-boiled detective was a chain-smoking drunk, unwilling or unable to see past their demons. This is one of the reasons we felt the two genres would mesh well in Terrors and Tommyguns.
Mental Health is an important, and overlooked, issue. It is our hope in Terrors and Tommyguns to cast some light in the darkness regarding these conditions and to help reinforce that, no matter what your character (or you) may have lurking underneath, there’s a Hero in all of us that can stand against that darkness.
The Spirit of the Game
We’ve tried to emphasize through this opening chapter that Terrors and Tommyguns is a collaborative storytelling experience, with the appropriate emphasis on collaborative. Throughout our journeys in the world of tabletop RPGs we’ve heard some horror stories:GMs who punish players for things done both in and out of game. Players who argue their way out of character through a particular part in the game. Worst of all, players who lie about rolls. The above examples are people who, for whatever reason, are trying to “win” the game. Let’s make a few things clear here.
There is no winning or losing in Terrors and Tommyguns; there is only the story you create with your friends.
We also believe strongly that the story is as good as you make it. We will present examples throughout the sourcebook where you could ignore description and avor text and simply make dice rolls. At that point, you may find Terrors and Tommyguns to be a rather dull and simplistic system; if that’s how you and your group prefer to play tabletop RPGs (and many do), you may wish to find a more rules-heavy and less story-driven tabletop setting. However, we think if you take a step back, and allow your rolls to act as a mediator for the story (instead of the other way around) you may discover a new dimension to tabletop RPGs that you hadn’t noticed before. Also, let us present one ironclad rule we’ve discovered over decades of gaming:
If you cheat at a tabletop RPG, you have already lost.
If we had to distill our game design philosophy down to four words, they would be: don’t be a jerk. Throughout different portions of this book, you may hear us refer to the Spirit of the Game. Basically, this means that the most important thing is moving the game and the story along, and not trying to cling to a word or a phrase that you think may eke out a minor advantage for you. The best way to handle a rules dispute is for the Director to make a judgment call using their understanding of the rules and then look it up afterward during a break or between games. Nothing kills the pace of a game like a ten minute rules argument. If you are unwilling or unable to accept the ruling of your Game Master in the event of a dispute, you should consider finding another group or another hobby.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this top-level look at Terrors and Tommyguns. The Corebook is over 100 pages at time of this writing (with plenty more to go as we add more monsters, player abilities, and prefab adventures). If you’ve made it down this far, allow us to introduce you to the first of many of our monsters (who, yes I know, will be described in a later article): the Shambler, drawn by our cover artist Rowye and featured on the back cover of the Corebook.
Isn’t he handsome?
Anyways, tune in next week when we’ll be going over Character Creation. Stay safe out there, gumshoes!