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[Pelgrane Press] The Love of Money
The average Gamemaster can often track back grumbles and cancelled sessions to a lack of time for preparation. Getting an adventure together is something that doesn’t necessarily happen overnight.
The business of preparation and presentation varies wildly – from a GM who writes out every room and speech, sketching maps and diagrams, to the improv GM capable of boiling his notes down to the size of an index card. However, while either end of the spectrum might appear without commonality, they both probably have spent quite a while actually thinking about and researching the adventure.
Research matters. Context and character make all the difference to a good adventure. Better still, adventures matter more when the players feel their characters have some involvement before they’ve even started. Whether preparing for a campaign or just for a one-off, a GM who can interlace his group and game world with layers of interaction and involvement will find it pays back tenfold.
Or at least that’s my experience.
When I picked up The Love of Money it seemed like a pretty thick volume for a single adventure. Having read through it, I imagine that you will run this in an ample session – and with some urgency you could squeeze it into a convention slot. So, what’s taking up 112-pages of text if you’ll be done in a night? Why, it’s an adventure packed to the gills with potential and context. Even if you run it in a night, you could easily play off the repercussions and character hooks for the rest of a campaign.
Available in PDF and physical soft cover format, The Love of Money runs to 112-pages of text, maps, illustrations and pre-generated characters. It’s an adventure for The Esoterrorists game, published by Pelgrane Press and running on the GUMSHOE system, written by Matthew Sanderson and illustrated by Olli Hinhala.
Most of the adventure appears in a single column of text, easy to read on a tablet and electronically bookmarked for convenience. The back third of the book contains handouts for the players, seven pre-generated characters, and background plus statistics for the core supernatural adversary.
In the space of 112-pages, The Love of Money provides you with most of what you’ll need to run an adventure that’s heavy with investigation, horror and supernatural themes. If you want an adventure where fighting won’t help – and indeed might only serve to make thinks worse – then this could well be the one for you. While written for The Esoterrorists game, you could run it with any system where the investigation of supernatural forms the core conceit of the game.
You may note that I said that 112-pages contains ‘most’ of what you need. In this respect, your experience may vary. With the whole adventure set in the Netherlands, and specifically Amsterdam, you may want to take the time to familiarise yourself with the places and the people. A quick scoot around Wikipedia and holiday videos on YouTube might suffice; if you have been there on holiday, you might have all you need to get along. The adventure focusses on the people and the antagonists plan, mentioning places and environs of the location only with enough detail to get by.
The thing is, that’s not a criticism. Matt crams a lot of information into 112-pages and providing a tourist’s guide to the Netherlands would only have ramped up the page count and the price. Given we have so many books and websites that ably cover countries and cultures, it seems like a well-defined line to draw in keeping the colour to a minimum.
The book breaks down into three sections.
The first 20 pages deal with the setup, a summary of background and characters designed to bring the GM up to speed.
For those unfamiliar with the setting, The Esoterrorist game takes place in the modern world with heavy overtones of the supernatural and occult. Player characters work undercover as members of the Ordo Veritatis, an organisation committed to saving humanity from those who would shatter the walls of reality. Beyond our perception lurks the Outer Dark, separated from our world by the Membrane, and the Esoterrorists plot to tear down that fragile wall. While practices of the magic and occult can do a lot to weaken the barrier, belief plays a key role. The Esoterrorists seek to expose ordinary people to the dark unknown as a means to rend the Membrane while the Ordo Veritatis work hard to stop them and draw a Veil of normality over their actions.
The final third of the book contains several pages of handouts, an overview of a new horror called the Spectrosite, a matrix of skills held by the player’s team and individual character sheets and backgrounds for seven playable characters. The adventure has been designed with 4 – 6 players in mind. The seventh pre-generated character comes from the police force in Amsterdam and could either serve as an extra character for a big group or a replacement character in case of an early fatality.
The core characters all have at least two pages of background. One page explains how they got involved with and inducted into the Ordo Veritatis; the other outlines internal relationship and general thoughts about the other characters in the team. An early section of the book goes over the team make-up and considers how a GM might distribute them if lacking a full six players. Equally, this section also notes the approach for using the adventure with a completely different set of characters.
If I had to grumble about something, it would be the handouts. I would have liked something in colour, especially from the PDF version of the adventure. I did find some amusement in cropping and dropping some of the character images into Google Image search – as some of the portraits seem to be favoured by spammers when they feel the need to give character to their randomly constructed Pinterest pages.
What’s the basic premise of the adventure? A rogue agent.
The player characters have been a team for a while and they’ve experienced the terrors and threats of the Esoterrorists first hand. Each has their own hang-ups and traumas to struggle against, but right now one of the team, who suffered a breakdown more than 6 months and went AWOL, has turned up in Amsterdam. Mr Verity tasks them with finding out what’s happened, with the cover of Interpol agents, under the scrutiny of two representatives of the Psychiatric Metrics division. The missing agent had a plan to undermine the Esoterrorist movement at its heart, but Ordo Veritatis considered the action too dangerous for a lone agent.
After the thorough introduction section, which does an excellent job of condensing the circumstances, issues, core characters and major non-player characters, comes the adventure itself. A section called Trail of Clues outlines the ‘happy path’ – the spine of the adventure, with a flowchart that accounts for all the scenes, optional or otherwise. The middle section of the adventure has those ten scenes, plus the End Game, in detail.
Gumshoe relies on clues, so each scene has them listed out and explained. Every scene has a Core clue, which ensures you’ll have the necessary information to reach the next step in the adventure. Beyond the Core, you have a range of information intended to bulk out your options, or possibly lead the characters astray. Each clue has an associated Investigative Skill, but that’s flexible if the player has an explanation of how they might come at something from a different direction.
As an adventure for any system other than The Esoterrorists, this breakdown of clues into neat and accessible chunks makes for a simple act of conversion for your favoured system. Knowing you can find a fingerprint or work out the occult significance of a pattern means you can align clues to in-game expertise. Providing you always give out the Core clue to someone with the basic expertise to find it, the rest of the information can be left to chance in systems that award information in return for a successful roll.
In the end, the investigation might not turn out well for the characters – but, that’s to be expected. On the other hand, you also have more than one way to avert disaster and put an end to the machinations of the Esoterrorists, which is nice. While an orchestrated end game exists, careful planning and action by the players could mean achieving their goal without needing to go all the way.
I found it quite satisfying running this adventure because the book has more than enough meat on the bone but isn’t prescriptive about doling out exposition or forcing scenes. While the text does include several blocks of scripted read-out-loud material, it also has a synopsis of important content that allows you to improvise your own info-dumps.
Also, while the GM has ample opportunity to introduce elements of stress and horror, the characters themselves have enough background and motivation to get pretty strung out from the get go. The management haven’t assigned officers from Psychiatric Metrics division without reason!
I realise I haven’t said much about the plot, but that’s the way of reviews right? The Love of Money is genuinely about investigating the actions and fate of a rogue agent and his theories on bringing down the heart of the Esoterrorism movement from the inside. The adventure comes laden with enough background and sufficient drive to get a team going from cold or form the basis of something more substantial.
I can actually see this adventure as an interesting lead-in to a group unfamiliar with The Esoterrorists setting. With a little extra exposition added to get the players on pace with the purpose of both the Ordo Veritatis and the Esoterrorists, you can take players from ignorance to informed and terrified in no time at all.
While 112-pages might seem like a lot for claims of a single session game, but both GM and players alike should go in well informed. It isn’t a zero prep game, but you have most of what you need. Personally, I chose to read a little more on Amsterdam, Interpol and listened to a few YouTube videos to get my accent right!
Author: Matthew Sanderson
Publisher: Pelgrane Press