The Post-Modern Masks of Nyarlathotep [Trail of Cthulhu]

edited February 2013 in Actual Play
Greetings! With some trepidation, I thought I'd share some of the Actual Play of my just-kicked-off new campaign, which I have only somewhat tongue-in-cheek named the Postmodern Masks of Nyarlathotep. I have an Obsidian Portal site if folks want to drop by, but I was hoping that besides sharing the AP here, I might talk about ways to make the game more narrative, more player controlled--in short, more story game.

I say I named it this way only partially tongue in cheek because I really am trying to include some postmodern (or at least the folk understanding of postmodern) elements into the game. One is to have some crossovers from other literary & other works--after all, we're already in one fictional universe (Lovecraft's), so why not add some others? So, for example, Charles Foster Kane is an NPC in the game and the PCs may have interactions with him--and there are some real doozies to come down the road.

The other rationale, however, was that while the original Masks was pretty far ahead of the curve for its day, we've moved on, both in the real world concerns (Masks is mostly admirable on race, but silent about gender and sexuality--not unusual for the time, but no reason to hold ourselves to that limitation) and in construction of the adventure itself. So I've changed stuff. Lots of stuff; some details major (I've moved several of the chapters either to places I'm more familiar with or are unexpected; two members of the group played through the campaign with me about a year ago, and I want there to be some surprises) and some minor (Jackson Elias is a woman.)

I see myself as player and GM as, in Robin Laws' terms, a Method Actor, so I tend to go heavy on characterization and use whatever tools are at hand. So, for example, before the game proper kicked off we ran a custom Fiasco playset I made to get some backstory for the PCs. This turned out to work extremely well, and created some very interesting backstory that was incorporated into the session itself.

So I'll, uh, get too it.


  • Prelude: France, 1918

    [This was the results of the Fiasco playset]

    It is the spring of 1918. After four years of pointlessly bloody stalemate, the German Army is once again marching on Paris. Inside the City of Lights, soldiers and civilians struggle to find some semblance of a normal life.

    Just out of the hospital, where he had been drying out from an extended absinthe bender, is Roland “Freddie” Blakely, wastrel Englishman rich enough to buy his way out of the Army. While enjoying the hospitality, he made the acquaintance of Lt. William Blont, a corpsman recuperating from a gas attack. Haunted by the death of many of his comrades, Blont was trying to do with a bottle what the Germans had failed to do with phosgene.

    Blont’s commander, Maj. George Pearkes, VC, wanted to bring him up on charges—provided he could find him. He asked freelance journalist Elisa “Jax” Olney to help him. Olney and Pearkes had previously crossed paths when an ordinance shortfall had nearly killed him; her assistance saved his life, although he usually gave the story out the other way. Olney agreed to help him provided he find a way to get her to the front; she’d so far been unable to secure permission to report from there.

    Meanwhile at the Moulin Rouge, bartender Alphonse Gilbert, formerly of the French army, briefly a guest of the German Army (along with Major Pearkes, who had effected his escape almost immediately), and current high-ranking member of the Communist Party in Paris, entertains Blont and Blakely. It is at the Moulin that Blakely is reunited briefly with Olney, an old fling of his from before the war, when they were both Socialist sympathizers. Their reunion is mostly entertaining for the other patrons, and ends, as so many of these encounters do, with Blakely’s drink splashed in his face.

    Blont is preparing to be invalided back to the States (an American, he volunteered with the Canadians in 1914.) Pearkes, having caught up with him, cancels those orders and instead orders him back to the front. Olney, however, intervenes and Pearkes reluctantly allows him to be transferred instead to Archangel where the Allies are aiding the White Russians.

    Blakely, however, hatches a plot to try and make everyone happy. Giving Gilbert an absurd amount of money, he has the bartender use his contacts to change the orders. Blont is discharged and returns to America using Olney’s ticket; she, in turn, will get to go to Archangel and report from there. Happy that everything has been apparently wrapped up, Freddie returns to England.

    Time passes. The war ends in a bitter armistice. In France, Alphonse Gilbert uses Freddie’s money to bankroll the abortive Paris Soviet, which is quickly crushed. Finding France suddenly inhospitable, he moves to New York City. Olney, now writing under the pseudonym of “Jackson Elias”, files a number of dispatches from Archangel and then the last days of the Western Front; after the Armistice, she researches death cults around the world and writes a couple of books thoroughly debunking their myths.

    Freddie discovers that the Foreign Office takes a rather dim view of financing Communist revolution; he is their guest for several months until his fearsome aunts effect his release on the condition that he find residence in some other country. Having stayed in New York before the war, he returns there and takes up the management of his aunt’s weekly newspaper, the Golden Sentinel, a theosophical and spiritualist rag. On the recommendation of Dr. Henry Armitage of Miskatonic University, he hires a young Chinese-American man named Charleston Chiu as one of his reporters; Chiu had previously worked on a story with Jackson Elias, shortly before she left New York to work on a new book on the occult.

    Gilbert, having become a respected member of the Jewish Mob who specializes in “cleaning” crime scenes, has a chance encounter with Jackson Elias, who hires him to investigate a “haunted house” in Harlem. After a hair-raising experience, Gilbert goes straight and eventually is hired as a valet by Blakely.

    Major Pearkes is promoted to Colonel but finds his career stalling out, although he has also found happiness with his fiancee, Constance B. Copeman. Much to his chagrin he is removed from line command and sent to New York as aide-de-camp for the British Embassy.

    William Blont returns home to discover that Freddie’s work has unexpectedly made him a war hero; he receives a citation from President Wilson. Desperate to avoid the spotlight, he has a checkered career and loses his family due to his alcohol use and difficulty overcoming his wartime experiences. By 1925, however, he has moved to New York City, working odd jobs while earning a good reputation as a sidewalk doctor who is always willing to help out the unfortunate.

    Then suddenly Jackson Elias returns to New York…
  • edited February 2013
    Episode I: The Passion of Jackson Elias (Part 1a)

    Monday, 16 February 1925

    In the early morning hours, a car careens up the Queens-side ramp to the Queensboro Bridge. At the wheel is Charleston Chiu, intrepid occult reporter, and Alphonse Gilbert, valet to Chiu’s boss, Freddie Blakely.

    They are pursuing three creatures they saw leaving the Maspeth cemetery, which Chiu had wanted to stake out after hearing reports of grave robbers. The creatures prove both tough and acrobatic; Gilbert hypothesizes they are orang-utans. One of them scrambles up a support cable and springs onto their car. Chiu slams on the brakes, and Gilbert fires a burst from a Tommy gun into the creature. It is slowed down but not stopped; Chiu guns the engine and runs it over.

    Another of the creatures stumbles into oncoming traffic and a pickup truck spins out of control, slamming into Chiu and Gilbert’s vehicle. Gilbert staggers out and shoots one of the creatures, blasting it off the bridge and into the river. Unfortunately, the third creature, having dodged the oncoming truck, pounces on him, mauling him with claws. Even a burst at short range does not stop this creature.

    Chiu jumps into the cab of the truck, does a quick J-turn, and races at the creature. It rolls out the way, still holding on to Gilbert, but it is enough of a distraction for the Frenchman to throw it off of him. Chiu fishtails around again and smashes the creature.

    By now the sounds of police cars racing towards the bridge from Queens can be heard, so Gilbert and Chiu take the truck into Manhattan, eventually ditching it and going to Brenda’s Diner in Harlem. There they encounter their boss, Roland “Freddie” Blakely, notorious playboy and nominal publisher of the Golden Sentinel, stumbling out of the Cotton Club.

    Meanwhile William “Doc” Blont wakes up in his SRO in Kip’s Bay. As he is heading out to his longshoreman’s job, the desk clerk hands him a telegram from Jackson Elias, asking him to meet her at Grand Central Station that morning. He calls in fired to his job.

    At the Sentinel, Freddie meets Addison Bright, former playboy gone straight.

    “Ah, Sunshine old man! What can I do for you.”

    “Just checking that you’re coming to the charity ball tonight, old sport.”

    “The ball?”

    “Yes, the one I wrote you about three weeks ago, called you about two weeks ago, and dropped by to remind you about last week.”

    Freddie calls for his secretary, Sheila. “Abigail old girl, am I going to a ball thingy tonight?”

    “Yes, Mr. Blakely.”

    “Oh, and about the check, it doesn’t need to be certified, old man.” says Bright.

    “Anastasia, am I bringing Sunshine a check?”

    “Yes, Mr. Blakely.”

    “I am? Capital! How much?”

    “$25,000, Mr. Blakely.”

    Meanwhile Blont arrives at Grand Central and waits for Elias; nobody matching her description gets off the train. However, a young newsboy approaches him; this turns out to be Elias in disguise. She asks to stay with him for the day, and casually invites him to come to Bright’s charity ball.

    At the Sentinel, Shelia sees Bright out. “I’m surprised to see you here today boss. Not only because it’s a Monday, but because you told me you were meeting your friend Elias today.”

    “Did I?”

    “Yes, Mr. Blakely, you got a telegram two weeks ago.”

    Buried under the coat checks and tailor’s bills on his desk, Freddie finds the telegram from Jackson Elias, asking him to meet her at the docks at 9 AM and pleading for him to not be late.

    “Shelia, what time is it?”

    “9:05 AM, Mr. Blakely.”

    Freddie hustles to the docks with Chiu and Gilbert. The purser tells him that no one using any of Elias’s aliases had been on the ship. A passenger who resembles Elias gives Blakely a message explaining that she would see him at Bright’s ball that evening.

  • Episode I: The Passion of Jackson Elias (Part 1b)

    At the British Embassy, Pearkes meets his indefatigable chief of staff, Captain Sam Steele. “Remember you’re to go to Mr. Bright’s ball with the ambassador tonight, Colonel.”

    “Very good Steele. Now, be a good fellow and walk MacDonald.”

    “Excellent sir,” says Steele as he picks up the elkhound’s leash. “After all, that’s what I went to Sandhurst for.”

    Elias asks Blont to go to the British Embassy to secure a passport under a different identity for her; although as the daughter of a Canadian she is entitled to a British passport, she insists that it not be under her name. She also asks Blont to go by her old office on 135th street and see if anyone is watching it. Blont heads out to accomplish these missions, stopping in the meantime at the docks to see if he can arrange for an emergency transport out of the city for Elias; while he doesn’t understand what she is afraid of, he wants to make sure there’s a backup plan to get her to safety. He finds Mr. M’Dari, a respected East African foreman.

    “Ah, the doctor! What can I do for you, my friend.”

    After Blont explained his problem, M’Dari nodded gravely. “Yes, it can be done. It will not be cheap! But it can be done. Do not worry. M’Dari knows everything! It is all up here,” he says, tapping his head. “I keep it all up here. That is why they trust M’Dari!”

    Blont meets Pearkes coming in the front door of the Embassy. While Blont has mostly tried to put the war behind him, Pearkes still nurses resentments over Blont’s drinking on duty while under his command. He examines the paperwork for the passport, and recognizes Elias’s picture; he also notices that the papers are earmarked for Smythe, a rather shady clerk in the passport office. He decides to hold the papers until Elias can meet him to discuss the situation, and tells Steele to show Blont out of the Embassy.

    Steele looks at Blont. “I say, you must have been on the Western Front.”

    “Yes. Yes, I was.”

    “I’ve got nothing but respect for you chaps. Only made it to East Africa myself. But you had much worse.” He pauses. “Tell you what I can do. I’ll see if I can get the papers from the Colonel and have them put through myself. Would that be all right?”

    “Thanks very much, I’m grateful.”

    Blont then swings by Elias’s old office and confirms that it is being watched by several black men.

    At Bright’s ball, Chiu fast-talks his way past the master of ceremonies and the off-duty cops providing security; his press pass may not be the best, but it’s enough to get him in. Blont arrives at the back of the Waldorf, where the ball is being held, and a friend of Elias’s gives him a waiter’s jacket and tells him to go out and serve drinks.

    The British ambassador arrives, accompanied by Pearkes and his fiancee. They meet Blakely, Chiu, and Gilbert; Constance, Pearkes’s fiancee, is very taken with the playboy Blakely, chastising Pearkes for not introducing her to his famous friends. Blont arrives with drinks, and Bright ushers all of them in the back to view some Gainsboroughs he had recently acquired.

    In the back room they meet Elias, wearing an evening gown.

    “What ho, Jackson, what’s all this bother about?” says Freddie.

    “And why do you want a passport with a false name?” demands Pearkes.

    “Because I might need to run, and don’t want to use any of the names people know me by,” says Jackson.

    “Just what is wrong?” asks Blont, with concern.

    Elias lights up a cigarette. “If I told you, believe me, you couldn’t deal with it.”

    “I say!”

    Chiu mutters something about hoping the dead don’t come back again, referencing his previous adventure with Elias.

    “I asked you all here because I need some help,” says Elias. “Freddie, I need your help to get me an interview with Erica Carlyle.”

    “Carlyle? Not Rotten Roger’s sister? I knew him slightly, back in the day. Something terrible happened, didn’t it?”

    “He was torn to pieces in the African bush. Him and everyone with him.”

    “What’s the other thing,” asks Pearkes.

    “There’s an auction tomorrow, and I need you to buy something for me. A dagger, with an ibis head.”

    Blont shakes his head slightly. He is concerned for Elias; in his medical opinion, she’s obviously suffered a recent breakdown and is exhibiting the symptoms of paranoia. “What’s really going on, Jackson?”

    Elias takes a long drag on her cigarette. “Not all the members of the Carlyle expedition died. I’ve talked to Jack Brady, his close friend, this year in Singapore and Shanghai.”

    The others try and get more information out of Elias, but she clams up. Pearkes offers to bring her to the Embassy for her protection, but she refuses. “I’m not going any place where there’s guns and walls to keep me leaving.”

    “Well, me and the Admiral”—meaning Colonel Pearkes—“can handle the auction, and I’ll just pop out and see if Erica’s here,” says Freddie.

    Blakely finds Erica Carlyle in one corner of the ballroom, drinking the seltzer water that was the strongest thing Bright was serving. With her is her beau, Bradley Grey, a lawyer who’s occasionally bailed out Freddie, and Constance Blythe, the Colonel’s fiancee. “I say, Erica, would you mind if one of my reporters popped by tomorrow?”

    “Certainly, Freddie. Just have your man call my man and we’ll arrange something for the afternoon.”

    The group soon splits up again, having decided that Blont and Chiu will accompany Elias to the Carlyle mansion on Long Island, while Freddie, the Colonel, and Gilbert will attend the auction.

  • I'd like to hear some more about how you used that Fiasco playset. (Which I didn't see on your site.)

    Did you actually play a session of Fiasco, or just do the setup, or something altogether different?
  • Yikes, so I didn't link to the playset! Here it is.

    The main modifications I made were thus:

    --I played Elisa Olney/Jackson Elias as an NPC; although I had relationships with two other players, I didn't initiate any scenes.

    --I heavily modified the Tilt and Aftermath tables so that the odds were that people would survive more or less in one piece--after all, this was a background-generating piece, not a complete story. Both the Tilt and the Aftermath were based on the Soft Tilt and Soft Aftermath from the Fiasco Companion (the Soft versions simulate a John Hughes movie rather than a Coen brothers movie). I basically chopped off the worst results on the Aftermath table.

    --I arbitrarily assigned everyone an extra die after the tilt, so there was only one scene in the Second Act.

    --I put dice in for myself during the setup but removed them once play started

    Let me see if I can remember the relationships:

    Blont-Pearkes: Officer & Soldier

    Blakely-Gilbert: Barkeep and Patron

    Blont-Blakely: Patients in the Same Ward

    Pearkes-Gilbert: Ex-POWs (we assumed that the capture happened during the fluid days of 1914 and both soon escaped or were liberated.)

    Olney-Blakely: Lovers separated by war

    Olney-Pearkes: You and the guy who saved your life

    Location (Blakely-Gilbert): At the Moulin Rouge

    Need (Blakely-Olney): To get ahead by...fomenting Socialist Revolution!

    Object (Blakely-Blont): A broken gas mask

    Neither the object nor the need came much into play, which was just as well. Gilbert's player seemed interested in how rich man Blakely and reporter Olney were socialists, and out of that emerged the idea of him being a member of the Communist Party. Blakely's player and I had a wonderful spat over their (now long-dead) relationship, which everyone liked. (At this point I played Jax with my finest Old New Yawker accent; in the actual game I toned that down a lot. I assumed she dropped the accent as her career advanced.)

    If you used a regular Tilt and Aftermath, I think my 1918 playset would work just fine for a Fiasco game. I'd never tried to write one of those before; it was a lot of fun.

    Two of the players had never done Fiasco before and one of those was pretty new to RPGing, or at least the RP-heavy RPGing I was trying to encourage, so they were a little inhibited--that's why Blont and Gilbert didn't initiate much action in the writeup. Pearkes' player and I had played Fiasco together, and Blakely's player was fulfilling a lifetime goal of playing a Wodehousian character (character concept was basically Wooster without Jeeves), so Freddie got a lot of screen time.

    Charleston's player was late and didn't participate in the Fiasco game, which was just as well as Charleston was too young to be in WWI. Ironically, he was the one that suggested a Great War prelude to the game. Doing it in Fiasco was my idea, however.

    While the actual Fiasco play maybe wasn't up to the heights that game can hit, it really paid off during the Trail gameplay. The idea of Gilbert being Freddie's valet emerged during gameplay but it made a lot of sense given their background. Pearkes and Blont had some ready made history (played a bit strong by Pearkes' player--Blont's player politely told him to back off later in the session, mostly because of some past history with a different player in another game who had been a little domineering.) Plus, it gave me a rationale--a bit of a contrived rationale, perhaps, but a rationale nonetheless--for Jax to bring these guys together; she knew them all during the war, and most of her other contacts were burned by this point.

    Wow, that was long-winded, but I hope it clarified things for you.
  • Very nice! Thank you. I recently made my first playset, too, and it was a fun experience.
  • Episode I: The Passion of Jackson Elias (part 2a)

    17 February 1925

    Tuesday morning, Chiu decides to find out more about the mysterious dagger Elias has asked them to acquire for her. He heads down to Sotheby’s and meets Dr. Simon Martin, one of the curators.

    “Good morning, I’m with the Golden Sentinel. I’d like to cover today’s auction.”

    “Yes, I know your paper,” says Martin a bit dubiously. However, he remembers that the paper’s primary readership is rich society matrons with a taste for ancient artifacts.

    “Free publicity,” says Chiu, holding up his camera.

    Shrugging, Martin takes him back to the lot storage. The auction will cover a wide variety of antiquities, from Greco-Roman artifacts through Chinese artwork. Distributing his questions cleverly, Chiu still manages to discover that the dagger in question is incredibly old—reliably dated as being from pre-dynastic Egypt, some 4,000 years ago. The ibis, he explains, was a symbol of the god Thoth, one of the Egyptian deities of the dead.

    Freddie does a bit of digging about the Carlyle expedition, dropping by his club to talk things over with one of his drinking companions. “Stinky” certainly remembers Carlyle, and his man Jack Brady. He mentions that Carlyle buggered off for Egypt with his psychologist in tow, along with his supposed girlfriend Hypatia Masters, flapper daughter of an armaments manufacturing family. “Stinky” intimates that Roger might not have been so interested in Miss Masters.

    He also reminds Freddie about a certain African woman that Roger seemed to be fascinated by: some poetess calling herself M’Weru or something like that; always wore these Egyptian-style masks.

    “Say, Freddie, do you know who else went with them?”

    “Can’t say I do, old sport. Who?”


    “Who’s that, old bean?”

    “Viscount Pevensey. Sir, ah what was it, Aubrey Penhew. Landed gentry from the Midlands, excellent old family. Knew the Carlyles somehow, they were friends.”

    While Freddie whiles away the time upstairs, Gilbert drops by the servants’ lounge and strikes up a conversation with the club’s longtime butler. No friend of the toffs upstairs, he rails about how Carlyle brought his thug friend Brady to the club. He shows Gilbert the club’s scrapbooks, which contain several pictures of Carlyle and Brady. Gilbert notices a tatoo on Brady’s hand that marks him as not just a former U. S. Marine, but one that had been on duty in Shanghai.
  • Episode I: The Passion of Jackson Elias (part 2b)

    Will Blont decides that now is the time to get some weapons. He drops in on Luigi’s tailor shop. Several months before, he had stitched up the tailor’s son, who was wounded in a mob turf war.

    “Ah, Mister Doctor! What can I do for you?”

    “Is your son around?”

    “Oh no, sir,” says Luigi, motioning with his head towards the back room. “We don’t do anything illegal here! Now, why don’t you go in the back and I’ll get your suit for you?”

    In the back room, several mobsters are working various wire fraud and numbers games. Luigi’s son is happy to oblige Will. Opening a drawer, he gives Blont a .25 Colt automatic—“a sweet little gun, good for a lady—” and .38 Automatic.

    Gilbert also decides to get heeled, picking up a sawed off shotgun that fits neatly in his valise and a M1911 .45 automatic from one of his underground contacts.

    Pearkes drops in on the ambassador and asks for him to expedite a pistol permit for himself. Also, he wants to bring Elias in; the Ambassador refuses this request, but agrees to put pressure on the City for the permit. Pearkes and Steele motor down to Centre Street and cow a county clerk into giving them the paperwork.

    In the afternoon Chiu, Blont and Elias motor out to the fabulous Carlyle manor, which overlooks Huntington, Long Island. As they approach the manor, Elias asks the two men to do her a favor—make sure that they ask Erica Carlyle about “Vanessa,” and ask her about Roger’s books. When quizzed about this, she says that Erica does not like her, and she wants one of them to ask since they’ll have more of a chance of success.

    “Nice ride,” says the valet as they pull up in Freddie’s Bugatti.

    “Thanks,” says Chiu. “I took it from my boss with his explicit knowledge. It’s only stolen if I don’t come back with it.”

    They are led into the mansion, but before they can enter the parlor, they are stopped by a large man clearly carrying a gun. “Hold on,” says Joe Cory, the Carlyle bodyguard. “I gotta search you. We’ve had people trying to break in here.”

    “All right,” says Charleston, and begins to strip off his clothes.

    “Hey, wait! Stop that! Get your clothes back on, you [racial slur]!”

    “Don’t you need to search me?”

    “You’re fine! Sheesh!”

    Blont nervously smiles. He was carrying his two new guns. He and Charleston discuss the bodyguard and decide that instead of a break-in, Erica might have been the target of a kidnapping attempt.

    Erica enters the parlor after they are seated. Her demeanor instantly changes when she sees Elias. “If I had known it was you, I wouldn’t have said yes to Freddie.” Charleston defuses the situation with some banter, and the interview commences.

    Elias asks several questions about Erica’s trip to Africa to recover Roger’s remains, and many other questions about the expedition personnel. She seems to be circling around the idea that maybe Roger is still alive, which is distasteful to Erica.

    “You know, I was the older sister, but Roger inherited everything when our parents died, even though he had no head for it. Washed out of every school he ever attended! It’s taken me almost five years to put the companies back together.”

    Chiu inquires about the books. “Oh, those. I destroyed them,” says Erica, but both Blont and Chiu pick up a subtle movement of her eyes towards the bookcase.

    “Would you perhaps have some records of what they were?”

    “I might have the indexes of purchase, that sort of thing.”

    “Anything you could give me would be helpful. You wouldn’t want any negative publicity to get out about them, would you?”

    “I suppose you could pick them up tomorrow.”

    “Splendid. Oh, one more small thing. We’re trying to learn whatever we can about a woman named Vanessa—”

    Erica stands up. “You know about Vanessa? What do you know?”

    “Well, we’re trying to learn more—”

    “I’m sorry, I have a board meeting to attend. Cory will see you out.”

    At Sotheby’s, Freddie, Gilbert and Pearkes, with MacDonald in tow, arrive just in time for the auction. The crowd is mostly rich playboys and society matrons; however, there is a contingent of what Freddie assumes are rather diminutive Chinese men, all identically dressed in black suits with bowler hats. Surprisingly, they do not bid on any of the Chinese artifacts—they only start bidding when the Dagger of Thoth comes up for bidding.

    “Pre-dynastic Egyptian dagger, in wonderful condition. Do I hear $10,000?”

    “$10,000,” says Pearkes, although that is a year’s salary for him. He looks at the others. “Don’t worry, it’s never the last bid.”

    “$10,000, going once. Going twice. Going—”

    “$15,000,” says one of the bowler-hatted men.

    “$20,000,” says Freddie, languidly.

    “$25,000!” exclaims Bowler Hat.





    “$65,000, old man.”

    The auction ends with Freddie victorious, and the bowler hat contingent departs in a huff. Following the reception, Freddie, Gilbert and Pearkes go around back to the loading dock, where they receive an enameled box containing the dagger.

    They get in a cab to head back to Freddie’s apartment. They have not gotten far when a black car swerves in front of them; their car T-bones it, screeching to a halt. Another car pulls up alongside of them, boxing them in.

    Two bowler hatted men jump out, carrying shotguns. “You will please give us the dagger. Move and you will die,” they say, pointing their guns at Pearkes, who had a thought about using his pistol.

    Thinking fast, Freddie dexterously slips the dagger out of the box and replaces it with his letter-opener, which is approximately the same size. (It was also once General Marlborough’s letter-opener and a priceless family heirloom, but Freddie conveniently forgets this.) “No trouble, old man, here’s the box.”

    The men take the box, and then gesture with their shotguns. “You will come with us.”


    Gilbert jumps up too, as Freddie had expected. They are crammed into the rear seat, facing two angry looking little men with very large pistols.

    As they begin to drive away, Pearkes sprints to the back of their car, MacDonald barking loudly in his tow. He manages to leap onto the trunk of the car. Thinking fast, he tries to slit the rear tire with his sword cane, but the wheels are out of reach.

    Determined not to let the men get away, Pearkes draws his pistol and makes a brilliant shot, blasting the driver in the shoulder. Shrieking in agony, the little man barely clings to consciousness. The two gunmen inside the car both shoot at Pearkes, but the veteran of Passchendaele easily dodges.

    Freddie kicks one of the gunmen in the face from his crouch by the door, spoiling his aim. Meanwhile, the second car pulls up behind them. Pearkes decides to leap onto its hood, but unfortunately the driver slams on the brakes, causing Pearkes to land hard face-down on the pavement. The second car speeds over him, leaving him bleeding in the street.

    Consolidating their men into one car, the vehicle speeds into Chinatown, where Freddie and Gilbert are led into a closed up storefront. Thinking quickly, Freddie manages to drop the real dagger into a display of tourist junk.

    In the backroom, they meet another bowler-hatted man. He is polite but harsh: “I will check to see if this is the correct item, and then I will let you go.”

    Of course, inside the box is Marlborough’s letter-opener. The man is enraged. “Explain this,” he snarls at them, “and I will decide whether or not I should kill you on the spot.”

    “Don’t look at me, old man. I just got rooked out of $65,000!”

    “Could it be that I was cheated by the auction house? Damn them!” He rages violently, but Freddie manages to calm him down enough to decide not to kill one of New York’s more famous citizens. Leaving them tied up (and taking the letter-opener), he departs with his minions.

  • Episode I: The Passion of Jackson Elias (Part 2c)

    After a long hour, Gilbert manages to free them using muscles tuned from his study of savate. They stumble out into the Chinatown night. Lacking a car, they take the Subway, an experience Freddie is instantly enamored with.

    The group converges on Freddie’s apartment. Elias, chain-smoking nervously, bursts into tears when Freddie hands her the dagger. Meanwhile, he has Shelia call up Bradley Grey for him.

    “Grey here.”

    “Dorian old chum!”

    “….what can I do for you, Freddie?”

    “Listen, old man, call up Sotheby’s and tell them I’m suing them for fraud! They sold me the wrong bloody dagger!”

    Elias tells the group that she has one more lead to follow up on, and departs. Blont, Chiu, and Gilbert tail her cab.

    “Follow that cab!” says Charleston as they pile into a car.

    “What a novel expression! That’s the first time I ever heard that!”

    They are temporarily foiled when Jax switches cabs at a light; the cabbie of the car they were following says that she jumped out at the intersection. Stumped momentarily, Blont recognizes one of the wise guys he knows from the streets.

    “Yeah, Doc, the broad in the white hat? I seen her, she got in a cab and told it to go to the New Yorker Hotel.”

    Having lost about fifteen minutes, the three investigators race to midtown and burst into the lobby.

    “I’m sorry, sir, I have to protect the privacy of our guests,” says the clerk. He shows signs of being implacable on this matter.

    The lights flicker momentarily. “The wiring in this place is terrible,” the clerk mutters.

    Charleston tries to work him. “Listen, pal, I’m following my wife. I’m trying to make things up with her, and I just need to talk to her.”

    A group of black men walk into the lobby, carrying tools. “Hey, you [racial slurs], get out of here. Go around to the service entrance!” shouts the clerk.

    “But we are here to fix—”

    “I don’t care! Get in back!” Turning back to Charleston, he says “Sorry, mac, nothing I can do. Listen, I’m gonna step out front for a cigarette,” and gives Chiu the high sign.

    Blont, frustrated by the clerk’s seeming intransigence, simply walks outside, down the alley, and into the service entrance. He finds the elevator operator taking a cigarette break. “You new here?” he asks.

    “Yeah. I’m the foreman of that repair crew. You just take them up?”

    “Yeah, took ‘em up to 17. Give me a minute to finish this, and I’ll take you up. Wanna butt?”

    “Thanks,” says Blont.

    Gilbert decides to just push past. The hotel dick collars him. “Listen, we only allow guests back here, and we for sure don’t let punks with guns back here.”

    Fortunately, a year of doing Freddie’s grunt work has left Gilbert prepared. “Listen, I’m a private dick myself—here’s my license. I’ve been watching that crew for weeks now, and I need to get up there to bust them!”

    It takes some convincing, but the hotel dick is convinced. “All right, I’ll take you around back and send you up the service elevator.”

    He meets Blont at the elevator and they ride up together to the seventeenth floor.

    Outside, Chiu and the clerk share a cigarette. “Listen, buddy, I sympathize—got an ex-wife myself. Yeah, I gave that lady a room, 1705. When we get back in I’ll distract the dick and you can go on up.”

    As he gets off the elevator on the 17th floor, two burly men wearing merchant marine uniforms of some kind manhandle an old man into the elevator. One sneers at Chiu. “Is not business,” he says, and slams the elevator gate shut. Shrugging, Charleston quietly breaks into room 1703, which, as luck would have it, has an adjoining door with 1705. Peering through the keyhole, he sees at least two men moving around, and no sign of Jackson.

    Gilbert and Blont arrive. After listening intently for a moment, Gilbert sprints to 1705. He crouches by the door, and slowly opens it up a crack.

    He can see a man standing in the corner, holding a club, and two other men near the bed. All the men are wearing African tribal masks. And stretched out on the bed is the unconscious body of Jackson Elias.

    At that moment, Charleston bursts open his door. The man closest to the bed raises a dagger, ready to plunge it into Jackson’s chest. Chiu shoots him, spinning him around.

    Gilbert bursts into the room and shoots the man standing in the corner. The man with a knife plunges it into Jackson’s stomach. Enraged, Blont shoots him in the chest.

    Gilbert gets clubbed by the man. Charleston shoots the man with the knife again, dropping him. Blont fires from the doorway again, wounding the other man, who runs at the doorway that Charleston is crouching in. Gilbert blows off the top of the man with the club’s head.

    Charleston fires again, plugging the last man right between the eyes. In just a few seconds, it is all over. Outside, the other patrons are panicking and screaming for the police.

    Charleston quickly gathers up the guns and races to the basement, where he finds a service tunnel that eventually leads him to the subway station. He ditches the guns in an incinerator. Gilbert stays behind and uses his forensic knowledge to clean up Will Blont.

    The cops arrive, and both of them are arrested and thrown behind bars—Blont to the drunk tank (sadly, a familiar locale) and Gilbert into a holding cell. He calls Freddie, who then phones Bradley Grey.

    By early morning, the two have been arraigned and had all their charges dismissed, thanks to Grey’s legal wizardry. As they leave the precinct, a paperboy runs up and sells them a newspaper.

  • A few quick notes:

    I think I was leaning too hard on investigative buys for purely narrative purposes. I had Freddie's Player (FP)* make a Reassurance buy to get the kidnappers to not shoot him. In retrospect, that seems to neither fit with the intention of investigative abilities or principles of fairness; I essentially charged him a point-tax. Bad form! I consciously let up on that later in the session (thus, Charleston's Player (CP) didn't have to make a spend to get the clerk to give up the room number.)

    One of the interesting things about Trail as opposed to other systems I've run (in the last year, mostly Pathfinder) is that by emphasizing other aspects of the narrative than combat, it makes it easier for me to enforce consequences to violence.

    I'm not sure if I'm getting this across, so: most of the RPGing 1.0 games and their descendants are heavily combat-oriented, often to the detriment of any other aspect of gameplay. (Hell, Pathfinder is explicit about this: 3-5 encounters per 4 hours, 13 encounters per level.) This leads to a subtle encouragement, I think, to make fighting more or less consequence-free. After all, if the whole impetus of the game is combat, it's not fair to penalize PCs for engaging in it.

    In the case of Trail, the numerous mechanics emphasizing the psychological damage of combat (I called for stability rolls from everyone after the shootout, for example) plus the high emphasis on interpersonal skills means that combat is merely one possible response to situations, and often not the best one. (You don't risk stability from using Oral History, for example, at least not often.) This feels like, at least to me, that there's more narrative space to explore the effects of violence.

    In this case, although it looks like the PCs have gotten away with things (and if you're one of my players--close your eyes now!) in fact I'm planning to have the next session heavily revolve around the consequences of the shootout. After all, there's a huge hole in their story--two of the dead cultists were clearly shot from the adjoining door, not the front door. The police might (the times being what they were) be content to let that go, if no pressure was applied to them.

    I'm going to apply that pressure :-)

    Oh, a couple of places I've used this phrase or one of its variants: "[racial slur]". That is, in fact, how I pronounced it--I wasn't using the actual epithet, but saying the words "racial slur" or "sexuality slur". This was the best way I could come up with to engage the pervasive racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. of the times without actually, you know, engaging in it. One of my goals with this campaign (and part of its "postmoderness") is an examination of the hidden and not-so-hidden bigotries of the genre and the times. If I do it right, it won't be heavy-handed. I hope I do it right.

    So, for example, it's pretty clear already that Roger and Jack Brady were lovers. These won't be the only LGBT characters. I also have changed the interpretations of several characters to highlight the contradiction of the era's expectations of them and their actual nature. (For example, I made Erica Carlyle the older and more capable sister, cut out of her natural place at the head of the family by the sexism of her father.)

    And I'll do all that without being preachy! I pray.

    *Rather than giving the players aliases, I'll refer to them by initials--the PCs name, plus P for player. Thus:

    CP: Charleston's Player
    FP: Freddie's Player
    BP: Blont's Player
    PP: Pearkes' Player
    GP: Gilbert's Player
  • edited February 2013
    I think I was leaning too hard on investigative buys for purely narrative purposes. I had Freddie's Player (FP)* make a Reassurance buy to get the kidnappers to not shoot him. In retrospect, that seems to neither fit with the intention of investigative abilities or principles of fairness; I essentially charged him a point-tax. Bad form! I consciously let up on that later in the session (thus, Charleston's Player (CP) didn't have to make a spend to get the clerk to give up the room number.)
    That doesn't sound unreasonable to me. Whilt just having a reassurance pool usually would give some advantage in my games, this sounds like a clear benefit, presumably there would have been other spends available, Credit Rating, for example, or Streetwise. What would you ask for a reassurance spend for?

    I'm vety interested in what you mean by post-modern, especially in a decidedly modernist setting.

  • edited February 2013
  • Right, the main thing is that the PC literally had a gun pointed at him, so there really wasn't any alternative to a spend of some kind. I'm trying to avoid making the plot have a price list; after all, I (somewhat) forced the whole kidnapping. OTOH, Freddie's Drive is Bad Luck, which is why he got kidnapped instead of just robbed. So it's a bit of a wash; just something I want to keep my internal eye focused on.

    As for the "postmoderness" of the game: I'm being a bit tongue in cheek there. But maybe only a bit. I'm definitely dragging in a lot of elements from other fictions, and being relatively "referential" in my descriptions and even things like the images I'm using for the NPCs (they're all actors; Jack Brady, for example, is "From Here to Eternity"-era Frank Sinatra, and the Carlyles are all members of the Redgrave clan). This is "postmodern" in the common understanding of our post-"Simpsons" world.

    However, I'm also trying to engage with the modernist milieu of "Masks" and comment a bit on it, and the pulp genre in general. Quite a bit of pulp is of course racist, imperialist, sexist, homophobic, and white-male supremacist. (Even higher class pulp, like Chandler, who I adore, operates in this vein with surprisingly little self-awareness.) And while the original "Masks" was quite commendable in its understated commentary on racism and imperialism, there's more to be done. So I'm going to try and push the commentary further, by changing the characterization of many of the main NPCs. M'weru, for example, will be a much more dynamic character and far more sophisticated in my retelling. I've made the occluded nature of Roger and Jack's relationship explicitly gay. In other words, make the subtext the real text, sort of how "Far From Heaven" took the subtext of a Douglas Sirk movie (race, homosexuality) and built the plot out of it.

    Or a more recent example: is the Ronald Moore "Battlestar Galactica" a "postmodern" retelling of the original BSG? Maybe? Kinda? Dunno?

    But the BSG reboot comes really close to how I'm approaching this and has a lot of similar techniques--the reboot expanded the interior lives of the characters, gender-swapped several, was a lot more open about sex and sexuality, and explored many ideas that were only implied in the original. Henh. Until I typed all that, I wasn't really aware how much alike the projects are. (Obligatory poor artists steal comment goes here.) But then I was a huge fan of the reboot and probably one of the few people who didn't hate the ending.

    Not sure that answers your question, but that's a decent precis of my thoughts on the matter.
  • This is neat; I'm a fan of "Masks" and I love the idea of rebooting it with a 21st century sensibility. I notice in your write-ups you're reporting strictly at the level of the fiction. I'd be interested--and I'm sure a lot of other folks would be too--in having you frame your reports as "Actual Play," including what happens at the table as well as in the game. In other words, what's happening among the players, who initiates what (particularly spends), and so forth. Incorporating them into the AP rather than adding this information as an addendum later can give us a better sense of how the narrative develops at the table. Letting us peek under the hood, as it were.
  • Wow, thanks Bill! I haven't read it yet, but my hat is already off to you for your audacity in "The Big Hoodoo." (An adventure where I could theoretically punch the Admiral in the nose? Sweet. ;-) )

    You have an excellent point. I've mostly been reposting the adventure log I did for the portal site, so it's necessarily clung to the fiction. (Also, I was following in the tradition of that great Trail/Masks thread from a while back.)

    But I'll try to intersperse some commentary in the next installments. This was two weeks ago now and I'm going from my memories of a long session (we're old school in our habits; sessions run 8-10 hours), so things will necessarily be a bit fuzzy.

    But wait! I can give some more general notes :-)

    I think I prompted for most of the buys. This was the second session of ToC I've run, and except for GP, who was in the first one (a pickup game where I recruited him), everyone else's first session of ToC ever. So there was some system learning going on.

    That said, I do think that it mostly went along the lines of a player asking me about something and I would answer with a point buy suggestion. For example, Freddie being able to grab Erica at the party was a credit rating buy, as was his outrageous bid at the auction. (FP, who has always wanted to play a Wodehouse character, was in fine feckle the entire session and quickly jumped into the "buys get me cool things" aspect of the game.) I had stressed previously that the game allowed a lot of narrative control.

    Another way I would prompt for buys was, in answer to a question about whether something was there or not, to say "why don't you tell me?"

    That said, as I noted above, I think I went a bit overboard with requiring buys. I'm pondering letting folks refresh a point or two on an investigative ability before the next session.

    There was a lot of plot this session, with a few deliberately designed chokepoints/set pieces: the charity ball, the meeting with Erica, and the auction/robbery. So there was some constraint on the PCs narrative freedom. OTOH, going to the club (Credit Rating buy from Freddie), buying weapons (Streetwise from Blont and Gilbert, Bureaucracy from Pearkes; I had fun explaining how tight the Sullivan law was to him), various research activities were all initiated by the players; I was able to improvise them on the fly, which is my style anyway. (I didn't bring much in the way of notes; obviously, I had the Masks book, but you may notice we didn't exactly get very far in it.) I wasn't sure that the PCs would follow Jax to her mysterious rendez-vous, but I was pretty confident they would.

    I'll try and post a more incisive AP tonight; we're almost to the end of the session, but there were a few more details that got crammed in at the end.
  • So in light of Bill's request, before I post any further on the storyline (which is, after all, over on the obsidian site), I'll go back and discuss in more detail what's already happened.

    So without further ado...I give you the Post-Modern Masks of Nyarlathotep: The Annotated Edition

    Or is it the commentary track?
  • Prelude
    It is the spring of 1918...
    So, having decided to do a Great War prelude, the question became: when? CP, who suggested the idea, wanted to go back to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, but I decided that 1918 made the most sense--not only would it justify Americans being in France, but the period around Operation Michael really did put the war in the balance, briefly; a little more oomph from the Germans and the Armistice would have looked different.

    I tried hard to make sure there were a lot of civilian options in the playset, as I knew not everyone would be military or ex-military.

    FP dominated the aftermath, making a lot of suggestions to the other players.

    Episode I, Part 1
    In the early morning hours, a car careens up the Queens-side ramp to the Queensboro Bridge. At the wheel is Charleston Chiu, intrepid occult reporter, and Alphonse Gilbert, valet to Chiu’s boss, Freddie Blakely...
    I gave the players an option for a "cold opening" or a "gradual opening". Ironically, everyone but CP voted for the cold opening. I was happy they did, as that seemed more fun. (The gradual opening probably would have started with Will Blont waking up.)

    I wanted to get a combat in early so everyone could get acquainted with the system, especially the General ability buys. The ghouls (they were ghouls) all had Health 0 so they would be relatively easy to take out. I was a bit surprised by CP using the truck to take them out; I gave the truck a X3 multiplier on damage. Seemed to work well enough. On the fly, I rolled 1d6 to figure out which way the police were coming (1: not at all, 2-3 Manhattan, 4-5 Queens, 6: Both sides).
    At the Sentinel, Freddie meets Addison Bright, former playboy gone straight.

    “Ah, Sunshine old man! What can I do for you.”
    FP established his characterization right away, which I liked. His naming of people follows simple rules: males of his station and age, or people he's forged an emotional connection with, he gives nicknames. Women and older men of his station he calls by their name. Everyone else, he simply can't be bothered to remember their names.

    Addison Bright (the man with two endocrine diseases!) is of course from Stunning Eldritch Tales. I considered running the New York chapter of that as part of the game, but it didn't seem to fit the introductory chapter. I may return to it.
    However, a young newsboy approaches him; this turns out to be Elias in disguise.
    I had one main objective in this session: Make Jackson Elias come alive as a character. I find it to be a common weakness of the Chaosium products that character motivation is nearly non-existent. It's not that I don't understand why (Call of Cthulhu was often a one-shot affair, also it just wasn't done in the '80s), but there's no reason not to strive for more. I wanted the death of Elias to be a powerful factor in the game, one that resonated for a long time, and I was willing to burn a session to make it happen.

    Also, I came to really like my Elias. I made a prop journal for her that the PCs find in the next installment, and I actually wrote the whole thing out in fountain pen for added realism. It was a fun write, and I really got inside the NPCs head.

    Looking back, the single decision to make Elias a woman and to try and make her death incredibly meaningful probably had the most influence on how I thought about the game, far more than the shuffling of locations I also decided to do early on.

    Of course, then I completely bollixed up the death at the end of the next installment, but it will all get fixed in the cutting room.
    Blont meets Pearkes coming in the front door of the Embassy. While Blont has mostly tried to put the war behind him, Pearkes still nurses resentments over Blont’s drinking on duty while under his command. He examines the paperwork for the passport, and recognizes Elias’s picture; he also notices that the papers are earmarked for Smythe, a rather shady clerk in the passport office. He decides to hold the papers until Elias can meet him to discuss the situation, and tells Steele to show Blont out of the Embassy.
    Hrm, I dropped a scene here were Freddie bought a tux for Gilbert and ran into Pearkes getting his uniform tailored. At this point we hadn't decided that Gilbert was Freddie's permanent valet--Freddie was buying him a tux so he could go to the ball as his valet. We agreed later that it made sense to have this be the case all along, so there was a minor retcon.

    PP came down pretty hard on BP in this scene, and in the prelude. He's the kind of player that likes characters with moral certainity, either good or evil, and really played up the overbearing British officer. BP gently asked him to back off a bit later on, which is why in the next installment I tried to make sure that PP didn't have any actual authority over him. Bollixed that up as well, I'm afraid.

    Incidentally, Pearkes and Steele were both real people, although not close contemporaries. Their characterizations probably have nothing to do with real life.
    In the back room they meet Elias, wearing an evening gown.
    I was hoping that keeping Jax mostly out of the way for the first part of the session would keep the tension up; I think it worked out. The transcript of the conversation is from memory and not super accurate--it went on longer.

    Let's talk about the buys by this point of the session.

    There hadn't been that many yet. Freddie made some kind of Credit Rating buy in here, and then used another buy to find Erica Carlyle at the party. Charleston used a buy--Streetwise or Intimidate, I think--to get past the security at the ball. I think Blont used a buy to find Mr. M'Dari. (If you know Masks, you'll get that this was not perhaps the best guy to go to. Will has a hard life.)

    Steele getting the passport for Blont was pure RP; I don't think I charged anything for it.
  • Episode I: The Passion of Jackson Elias (part 2)

    Will Blont decides that now is the time to get some weapons. He drops in on Luigi’s tailor shop. Several months before, he had stitched up the tailor’s son, who was wounded in a mob turf war.
    This was basically a player-induced buy, in that when BP asked if he could find a gun and I said he would know someone, he intuited this was a Streetwise buy. This cascaded through the rest of the players.

    In the afternoon Chiu, Blont and Elias motor out to the fabulous Carlyle manor, which overlooks Huntington, Long Island. As they approach the manor, Elias asks the two men to do her a favor—make sure that they ask Erica Carlyle about “Vanessa,” and ask her about Roger’s books. When quizzed about this, she says that Erica does not like her, and she wants one of them to ask since they’ll have more of a chance of success.
    One of the two main set pieces in the episode. I'm pretty transparent--CP repeatedly said that as soon as he mentioned "Vanessa" the interview would end.

    I believe I let Will notice Erica's tell for free (his occupation is Alienist), and charged Charleston something to notice. Evidence Gathering, maybe.

    At Sotheby’s, Freddie, Gilbert and Pearkes, with MacDonald in tow, arrive just in time for the auction. The crowd is mostly rich playboys and society matrons; however, there is a contingent of what Freddie assumes are rather diminutive Chinese men, all identically dressed in black suits with bowler hats. Surprisingly, they do not bid on any of the Chinese artifacts—they only start bidding when the Dagger of Thoth comes up for bidding.
    Yeah. He brought his dog.

    MacDonald, Steele, and Constance (his fiancee) are Pearkes' Sources of Stability. I had a bit of trouble with the Sources; I said at the start that I would accept non-human sources, but emphasized that they had to be "frangible, tangible, and unique". So FP gave me "going out on the town" as a Source. We ended up working it out (if he's in a world-class location, and goes on a bender for several days, I'll give him the refresh) and agreed to make Sheila one of his sources.

    The question has been raised about what to do with the Sources once the game gets globe-trotting. (FP, PP and myself were players in a more standard Masks campaign a couple of years ago.) My initial idea was that you have to bring 'em with you if you want to get the refresh, but now I'm beginning to think that might get a bit contrived. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do; one idea I have is to let the PCs adopt significant NPCs they meet on their way as Sources, provided I can prevent it from being abused ("Yeah, I forged a close bond with my cabin boy on the way over from Shanghai, so I'm totally full up now.") I'm still working it out; the Sources look like a bit of an issue for this particular campaign.

    “Pre-dynastic Egyptian dagger, in wonderful condition. Do I hear $10,000?”
    I stole the dagger (sort of) and the auction/holdup from one of the adventures in Curse of the Cthonians. It wasn't memorable, so I don't remember the title.

    “$65,000, old man.”
    Credit Rating buy from Freddie, of course.

    The auction ends with Freddie victorious, and the bowler hat contingent departs in a huff. Following the reception, Freddie, Gilbert and Pearkes go around back to the loading dock, where they receive an enameled box containing the dagger.
    Still transparent; they knew once they got the dagger somebody would try to take it. Fortunately, I didn't care that they figured out how this scene and the Erica interview were going to go; in fact, I'm kind of happy that they flowed so quickly into the genre.

    Besides, I've saved up my surprises for other things. Veterans of my Pathfinder game (CP, PP, and FP) know that my favorite move is "guy who isn't what we think he was".

    The men take the box, and then gesture with their shotguns. “You will come with us.”
    I originally was going to have them just take the dagger. Then I remembered I hadn't been hitting the Drives very hard, and that Freddie's was bad luck; so away they went. I actually found a way to make Bad Luck a standard driver: I told him it would cost 4 stability to not have them abduct him (and he would get shot, though not fatally) or he could gain 2 stability by going with them. It was a neat way to give a little narrative control to FP.

    Gilbert following Freddie was what cemented our understanding of their relationship; GP is changing his Drive to Follower for next session.


    Of course, inside the box is Marlborough’s letter-opener. The man is enraged. “Explain this,” he snarls at them, “and I will decide whether or not I should kill you on the spot.”

    “Don’t look at me, old man. I just got rooked out of $65,000!”
    Marlborough's letter opener was my own inspiration; I liked Freddie using a priceless heirloom to replace a...priceless artifact.

    This was when I charged the infamous Reassurance-buy-or-get-shot point.
  • Lots of neat stuff here. I like the idea of turning an instrumental, plot-driving NPC (Jackson Elias) into a real three-dimensional character that players care about. You said you messed up her death. How so?

    I also like requiring spends to keep the characters out of deep, deep trouble liking getting shot in the face--without the spend, they'd be in real trouble, but even with it they're not safe, so the adventure goes forward. And hopefully the players recognize how they're balancing on a knife-edge: "Jeez," they should think. "How long can we keep this up?"
  • Wow, thanks Bill! I haven't read it yet, but my hat is already off to you for your audacity in "The Big Hoodoo." (An adventure where I could theoretically punch the Admiral in the nose? Sweet. ;-) )
    I'm glad you like the idea; it's a fun adventure if a bit incoherent in places. In play, the gaps tend to get smoothed over. I'm working on another one in the same vein. It's called "All Along the Watchtower," and it's set in Chicago, 1968, during the Democratic National Convention. The pre-gens include gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, student activist Todd Gitlin, proto-feminist poet Robin Morgan, student body president Hillary Rodham, virtuoso guitarist Jimi Hendrix, and insurance underwriter E. Gary Gygax. I ran it last weekend at Dreamation and it worked great. Of course, the players were perfect.
  • Holy Cow, Bill. That sounds awesome.

    I should get in on this act. Maybe go a bit more highbrow--both Schönberg's Second String Quartet and Stravinsky's Rites of Spring were said to have started riots. (Yah. Classical music riot. This is a real thing.)

    That might be fun, especially when you discover Schönberg is tuning into the music of Azathoth* :-)

    Do you have any thoughts on my Sources quandry? I was thinking that I might let the PCs share a source who comes with them; the portability would be offset by the danger that if the Source goes down, they'll all take a huge Stability hit.

    *Calm down, everyone. I like several Schoenberg pieces that aren't "Verklärte Nacht". My piano teacher has said he'll teach me how to do a 12-tone row...
  • It may not be a bad thing to have a whole passel of Sources of Stability along for the ride--that gives you the opportunity to menace them in lots of different ways; alternately, if an investigator dies or goes insane, players can use them as replacement investigators. You should, of course, be quite cavalier about dispatching such Sources. You'll want players to think about just sending their friends and loved ones home. "What was I thinking, bring you along on such a dangerous assignment? I need you to be safe." To paraphrase Voltaire, it is a wise thing to kill an NPC from time to time, pour encourager les autres. NPCs safe at home can still provide support: sending letters and telegrams, or replying to them. A Credit Rating spend might permit a long-distance phone call, or a good Electrical Repair roll or Astronomy could establish a ham radio contact when atmospheric conditions are just right. Give the players a choice and see what they do.
  • Episode I: The Passion of Jackson Elias (part 3a)

    Wednesday, 18 February 1925

    Freddie calls down to the office. “What ho, Allison old girl?”

    “You better get down here boss! The place is a madhouse, all these reporters want to talk to you!”

    “Tell you what, old girl, you just let them know that I will be giving a press conference in an hour. See you there.”

    They motor over to the offices of the Sentinel. Once there, Freddie gives a raucous press conference.

    “Freddie! Mr. Blakely! Is it true you know Will Blont?”

    “Sir! Does Mr. Gilbert really work for you?”

    “How long were you trailing the gang, Freddie?”

    “Now, settle down. Yes, it’s all true. And I’d like to say that it’s also true that I am engaged to marry Jackson Elias.”

    The crowd erupts.

    “Mr. Blont! Is it true you received a citation for bravery from President Wilson?”

    “Um…yes, it is.”

    “Is it also true that you’ve been arrested eight times in the last seven months?”

    “I think it was seven ti…”

    “Now listen here,” interrupts Freddie. “I’ve been arrested fourteen times in the last three months, so really Goldy over here is running a bit behind. No more questions? Good.”

    “Actually, sir, we had a few—”

    “Angela, be a good girl and escort these gentlemen out.”

    [The press conference was entirely FPs idea. Somewhere during the session, Bradley Grey went from minor character who mostly served as a way to get to Erica Carlyle to Freddie's lawyer. This seemed to work well, so I rolled with it.

    I've used Natasha Richardson for Erica's portrait, so it's only natural that a young Liam Neeson plays Bradley.

    The reporter's question is the first foreshadowing that things will not continue to work out easily for the PCs. I didn't have anything in mind yet, but I knew that I couldn't let this be as simple as shooting up a hotel room. I was already beginning to hatch plans to make this situation hairy.]

    Over at the French Hospital on 30th Street, Colonel Pearkes is being checked out by his doctors. They clear him for light duty but warn him that he really needs rest. Shrugging off their advice, Pearkes is out of bed by the time Steele arrives.

    “Ah, good morning Sam.”

    “Good morning, Colonel. I hope you’re resting well.”

    “No need to rest, Sam, I’m leaving today.”

    “Is that really necessary? I can handle everything down at the Embassy…why don’t you take a rest, sir.”

    “No, not required.”

    “Really, sir, it isn’t any trouble at all. I’m happy to take over your duties during your convalescence.”

    “No need, Sam. Just pop over and get me my uniform, would you?”

    “Yes sir, Colonel. That’s just the sort of thing that makes chasing the Hun for twenty months through the bush worthwhile, sir.”

    “Very good. Oh, and talk to that fellow, MacKenzie. You know, the one in Int—”

    “The Undersecretary for Domestic Affairs, I think you’ll find, sir. I’ll schedule an interview with him for this afternoon.”

    “Very good. And let that fellow Blont know that he’s to be there. If you can find him.”

    “Shan’t be a problem, sir. He’s been in the hospital all morning, I think with a friend of yours, a Miss Elias.”

    [Sam's disgruntled commentary on the indignities of his job was a running gag during the session; I've only reproduced a few of them. Unlike the stocky actual Sam Steele, I see this fictional Sam as one of those thin, ambitious, good-natured British/Canadian civil servants. My own opinion is that he was pretty brave during the war--chasing the Germans around East Africa was a serious challenge--but he feels a bit inadequate about never getting to the Western Front.

    PP and I discussed Sam during the game, since Sam is his Source and he should have a lot of narrative control. PP was fine with things, though; he saw it as Sam's reaction to his boss's indignation about losing line command and being posted to an Embassy.]

    Pearkes hobbles over to Elias’s room. Blont has been keeping vigil there ever since he managed to escape from Freddie’s office. Looking at the lines of care and obvious deep emotion on the man’s face, Pearkes finds himself finally letting go of his resentment towards the former medic. Somewhat awkwardly—both because of his injuries, and the unexpected emotion—he sits down next to Blont.

    “Have a fag?”

    [I had suggested that maybe now was a good time for Pearkes and Blont to share a cigarette and get past their...past.]

    “Oh, thanks.”

    “Listen, I want to bring you back into service. I can get you a commission with our intelligence people. Give you protection and a steady job.”

    “I…thanks, Colonel.”

    “Just promise me you won’t drink this time.”

    Blont grimaces. “I think I can handle it.”

    [Bit of a memory fail here; the actual conversation was longer. PP was reaching out to BP here, essentially making a peace offering as Pearkes would understand it.]

  • Episode I: The Passion of Jackson Elias (part 3b)

    Around lunchtime, Charleston drives the Bugatti out to the Carlyle mansion. He meets Joe Cory out front.

    “Hey, Miss Erica is expecting you. Sorry about yesterday. You gonna keep your clothes on this time?”

    “Are you going to search me?”

    “Nah. No need. Sorry again for the security, but about a month ago somebody tried to break in. I think they were after those books of Mister Roger’s. So it’s good you’re taking them away.”

    “They were after the books, you think? Not Miss Carlyle?”

    “Yeah, it was definitely a break-in.”

    “You remember much about Roger Carlyle?”

    “Not much. Mister Roger was before my time. I knew his friend Brady. Real hard-ass. Tough guy. Though, you know, they said maybe he wasn’t such a tough guy, if you know what I mean.”

    “How’s that?”

    “Well, you know. That he wasn’t much interested in the ladies, if you catch my drift. Not that I care. I mean, whatever two [sexual slurs] want to do, I don’t care. Just not for me. I’m not interested in that kind of thing. I mean, two men, getting all sweaty on each other, kissing with those rough lips? Not my thing. I don’t like to even think about it. Not at all.”

    [Pure improv, but as I was acting out Joe Cory I immediately saw that this would work on a lot of levels, so I went for it. This is about the third hint that Jack and Roger were lovers.]

    “Yes, it clearly holds no attraction for you.”

    Erica meets him in the parlor. She hands him a stack of four very old books. Charleston examines their somewhat ominous titles:
    Life as a God

    Selections Du Livre d’Ivon: a newe Englishe translation

    People of the Monolith: Being an investigation into the causes, powers and prophesys of the Pharoahs

    Fragments of the Pnakotic Manuscripts
    He gives a little shudder. The leather on two of the books seems odd and disturbing.

    “If I may ask, why are you giving these books away?”

    “To be honest, they scare me. I looked into one of them once and it was horrible. I don’t know what Roger saw in them.”

    “Then I’m happy to take them away from here.”

    “Thank you. I heard about what happened with your friends last night. I had no idea that Mr. Blont was such a hero! They were both so very brave.”

    Charleston, practically swallowing his tongue to avoid mentioning his involvement, merely nods. “Too bad about Jackson, though.”

    Erica frowns. “I’m sorry about yesterday. But I don’t like her. She’s been harassing me for months now, with her things about the book and Roger. I want to put all that behind me.”

    “Of course, of course. However, is there anything you want me to say to her?”

    “Nothing that would make her feel better.”

    [Again, the actual conversation was a bit longer; I think people at the table were genuinely surprised out how vindictive Erica was.

    Didn't charge anything for this--I think CP may have made a Bargain buy during the first interview.

    I understand it's generally hard to get the books from the Carlyle manse in a more standard
    Masks campaign. I figured I'd just go for it and dump them on the PCs; ancient tomes are much more fun when the players are messing with them. Besides, I have a bunch of other mysteries going.

    I'm still thinking about what spells Charleston will discover.
    Contact Ghoul seems a natural; probably Contact Nyarlathotep in there somewhere. Suggestions are welcome!]

  • Episode I: The Passion of Jackson Elias (Part 3c)

    Back in Jackson’s hospital room, Pearkes makes arrangements for her protection.

    “Steele, call over to the embassy, have them send over some of those detectives we use for events.”

    “Very good sir.”

    Shortly thereafter, Joe and Pete, two off-duty New York City policemen, show up. “Whaddaya need us to do?”

    “See this young lady? I need to make sure that nothing happens to her and nobody gets in this room but me and her doctors. Understood? Now, here’s fifty pounds for your trouble. Will that suffice for the week?”

    “Will it! You’ve got it, mac. Round the clock watches, we’ll pull in some of our guys for this.”

    Will looks over Jackson’s chart. The news is very bad. She is in critical condition, and was given four units of blood the night before. Scrutinizing the details, he discovers that while the knife wound caused a lot of damage, she had suffered a heart attack sometime shortly before being stabbed.

    He heads down to medical records. “Say, can I ask a favor?”

    “Hey, aren’t you Will Blont? The guy from the papers?”


    “Wow. What can I do?”

    “I’d like to see the records of Miss Elias—Miss Olney.”

    “Oh, well, you know, I’m not really allowed to show you this file,” says the clerk, dropping it on the table. “I’m sure you understand. Now, I’ve got to take my fifteen minute break. You can keep an eye on the place, can’t you doc?”

    [Medicine got Will the original look at the chart; pretty sure what I charged him a buy for was that Jax had suffered a heart attack before being stabbed. I think that the peek at the records was part of the same buy.]

    Will browses the file while the clerk steps out. It seems Elias had been shot in the chest back in January, 1924; the wound healed well enough, but she developed a rheumatic infection that left her with a weak heart.

    Pearkes meantime goes through Jackson’s effects. He finds a journal wrapped in a leather sleeve. Several clippings and photographs are crammed into the back cover. He begins to flip through it:
    I’ve destroyed all my records. From now on, I will keep only the simplest of notes. I’d tell Jonah to destroy the ones I sent him, but I’m afraid he would read them…
    A quick scan of the book shows that Elias had been in Shanghai, Singapore, and Cairo during the last quarter of 1924. She visited Paris for most of the month of December, before managing to sneak back to the United States. She writes about being constantly followed by mysterious figures who do not hesitate to kill people to get to her.

    There are two photographs in the back—one of a steam yacht in a harbor with Chinese junks around it, and one of a woman. The back of that photo is labeled “Vanessa—Singapore.”

    [Vanessa again! Who is that gal?

    The journal was a prop I made. I had a rough leather sleeve that went around an old journal of mine; with a new book, and some time with a fountain pen, I had clue-laden prop that hopefully will entertain and delight. It took me a couple of days to stop writing with Jax's distinctive "a" (it looks a bit like the number 2).

    I made my own versions of the business cards that are in the standard handouts--printed them on photo paper and then trimmed them to the right size. One of the business cards reveals the first major location move in the campaign; it is from Edouard Gavigan,
    directeur of the Fondation Aubrey Penhew in Paris.

    I printed the photos out, gleefully stealing the picture of the
    Dark Mistress from the German version of Masks. Vanessa is portrayed by an atmospheric photo of a young Vanessa Redgrave.

    Writing Jax's journal was great fun, and a cool way to introduce clues. I think I managed to capture her getting more and more unhinged over the last part of 1924, and there are several episodes that may or may not have actually happened.

    Freddie and Gilbert swing down to Prospero House, Elias’s publisher. They meet with her editor, Jonah Kensington.

    “I didn’t even know Jax was back in New York,” he says. “This is so awful.”

    They talk a bit about her book, and where she had been. The Carlyle expedition had journeyed to Egypt in 1919. They may have made some discoveries—some rumors circulated about finding a temple—but nothing was ever published. They vanished for a while before suddenly reappearing in Zanzibar. They set out into the bush in Tanganyika, where they were all mysteriously killed.

    [Another move. I thought Zanzibar would be more interesting than Kenya, so I moved everything down the coast. This is nothing against the wonderful nation of Kenya, of course.]

    Kensington says that Elias had traveled to Zanzibar and then the mainland to see what she could find out. Then he lost contact with her, except for a few times when she asked for money.

    Gilbert asks why he kept sending her money without knowing what was happening, and especially since her book was late.

    “To be honest, she wrote me a letter saying that what she’d found would make us all rich.”

    Charleston gets back from the city. He parks his car by Central Park and begins to read People of the Monolith. By sundown, he has a new understanding of the occult character of Egyptian architecture, a splitting headache, and a vague sense of foreboding.

    [This will not work out well, of course. I offered the party one solitary point of Cthulhu Mythos at chargen; after everyone else passed, CP took it. This made a bit of sense, as his first encounter with Jackson Elias was in the adventure "Dead Man Stomp" which I ran as a preliminary one-shot late last year. Under CoC rules, though. It was in the course of this adventure that Jackson got shot, while attempting to rescue Charleston from some uptown gangsters.

    Late in the afternoon, Pearkes and Blont visit MacKenzie, the Undersecretary for Domestic Affairs, in the basement of the Embassy.

    Pearkes asks if they can get Blont a job with the division.

    “Yes, sure, we can use a bloke with a head like his.”

    “Congratulations, you’re back in.”

    “Wait a bleeding moment, Colonel. We ain’t like you toffs upstairs. We do actual work down ‘ere. He ain’t going to have no bloody commission. He’ll be a consultant, like. And he ain’t taking orders from you.”

    He turns to Blont. “Welcome to Military Intelligence, Department Six. You take your orders from me. And right now, my orders are to follow his orders, until you here otherwise.”

    “Thanks…I won’t let you down.”

    [Sigh. My memory ain't what it used to be; this played out much longer at the table. The gist was to get Blont back into the world a bit, and give him some maneuvering room. During the convo I realized that I was basically putting Blont under Pearkes' control, so I tried to back away from it, resulting in the mishmash you see here. I did basically establish that I could set Blont free at any time.

    I've since come up with a very cool, very baroque--shall we say, very Alan Moore--way out of this mess.]

    Night descends on the city.

    The next morning, Steele meets Pearkes in his office.

    “Morning Steele. How did our detectives make out last night?”

    “Well, that’s just it sir. There was a blackout at the hospital last night. When the lights came back on, they were both found with their throats slit. And the girl, sir. It’s the damnedest thing. She’s missing.”
  • edited February 2013
    And here I bollixed everything up. This was the classic "looking up and oh my god is that the time?" moments; it was a bit early for us, but everyone was ready to break for home. I decided to go with the dramatic "the girl is missing!" ending.

    Then I realized, in a flash that a) I had wanted to end the session with Jax's wake, where Charles Foster Kane would make an appearance, and b) I didn't want the entire next session to be about finding Jax, but about reacting to her death. So I bollixed it up, made some half-assed mention of the traditional "there was a lot of blood" and did a forced meeting with Freddie and CFK to wrap up.


    In my followup email, I begged the players to treat that as the "next time on Masks" teaser at the end of the episode, and gave them the actual timeline--Jax vanishes Thursday, on Friday a body is fished out of Long Island Sound and identified as hers, she gets waked on Sunday and the funeral service is Monday. I think it will fly.

    After the game, in my post-session email thread, FP agreed that Sheila was one of Freddie's sources, and we worked out a deal about how "going out on the town" could function as a Source of stability. (BTW, thanks Bill, for putting some steel in my spine--my ruling will be, "bring 'em if you want to use them" with an aside about how they're not really safe anywhere.)

    I've already told the players that as we're all learning the system any changes they make before they leave NY will be approved by me. We all know that characters do stuff at the start of a TV series that never gets used again.

    The veterans of my Pathfinder campaign were familiar with what I call "Homework"--basically, I ask the players to come up with some plot-generating details and give them a suitable reward. Now, in Trail of Cthulhu, I don't need that much plot or even characterization carrots--it's all there on the sheet. Emotional states, however, that would be awesome to bring it out. So my assignment was to think about a flashback scene of their PCs past with Jax, which would get played out in the next session. I'll give them a dedicated 1 or 2 point Stability pool (no refreshes) as a reward. I never require anybody to do the "homework", but I'm hoping one or two of them at least will want to; I'm going to ramp up the Stability stakes next session, so there should be a decent carrot there.

    Thank you all for listening! I should have another session to go over in a couple of weeks (this was all one session, and we started late--system matters, for sure! I'd never have gotten so much done in my Pathfinder game.) Special thanks indeed to Bill for his astute comments; as a newbie to ToC, I really appreciate it.
  • I don't currently have the spoons to give this thread the full reading it deserves (currently at the last of several conventions more or less in a row, and helping a friend at this one while being semi-on call for folks at Intercon, on the opposite coast), but I'm glad you're doing this. I'm looking forward to reading it all.
  • Thanks Lisa!

    Let me just say that in my on and off 30 or so years of RPGing, this was the most fun I've ever had running a session. Maybe it's just because I got to do so many accents :-)

    Also, too, in case it wasn't obvious: nothing I'm doing is a criticism of what Larry DeTillo accomplished; Masks is a landmark achievement in adventure design; I'm just putting a bit of my own spin on it.
  • Had our second session on Saturday, some interesting plot developments and I have a critique on my own running of the session. I hope to get the session written up in a couple of days & post it here.
  • So in between sessions, I told the players about the official death of Jackson Elias (kidnapped from hospital, fished out of Long Island Sound two days later.) We picked up with the in-game date of 23 February 1925.

    I didn't have much of an agenda for this session, other than turning up the pressure on the PCs a bit, demonstrating that random violence sometimes has consequences, and going for more stability checks. I'm pretty sure the last one succeeded...

  • Episode II: The Damned of the Earth (Part 1)

    Early Sunday morning [23 Feb 1925], Will Blont checks in with Monsignor Pedro “Pete” Garcia at a church near where he lives. Pete, a fellow veteran of the war, has been helpful in keeping Will on the straight and narrow the last several years. After gently chiding Will for not going to church lately, Pete takes him into his office.

    Will discusses the events of the last few days, and how helpless he felt to not be able to rescue yet another friend. Pete counsels him to go to Jackson’s wake. “It wasn’t your fault all those men died in France, and it’s not your fault that the woman died. If you hadn’t shown up, she would have died sooner. You have to forgive yourself, Will.”

    [This was the Source of Stability refreshment scene.]

    The night before, Alphonse Gaston visited his mother in her apartment in Yorkville. His older brother Anton is there, and chides Alphonse for not coming to Temple, not visiting him more often, and also for not robbing Freddie Blakely blind, like they thought he was going to do. Alphonse insists that he has left the criminal life behind him, although Anton entreats him to rejoin him on the opposite side of the law.

    [Likewise; I liked this a bit more, because it introduced a new NPC that I hadn't thought about much, Anton Gilbert. I'm thinking he will accompany them when they leave New York, because he has the potential to be a great monkey wrench.]

    George Pearkes spent the weekend recuperating from his injuries with his trusty elkhound MacDonald, frequently visited by his fiancee, Constance.

    Nobody has seen Charleston or Freddie for several days.

    The three meet at a coffee shop before the wake to go over a report prepared by Sam Steele, Pearkes’ adjutant, about Jackson Elias’ mysterious journal. Steele details the peregrinations of Elias from October 1924 through February 1925. Elias began the journal while in Shanghai, but trailed Jack Brady to Singapore. There she encountered a woman named Vanessa; this was apparently very shocking and she did not write for several days. When the journal picks up, she is in Cairo. Her stay there is brief; to throw off pursuit, she goes to Yemen.

    [The following is a summary of the Special Report prop I made for the group. I also made a transcript of the journal itself.

    While in Yemen, she meets an old Bedouin woman who tells a strange story about three white men and a white woman walking out of the desert. Elias believes this to be Penhew, Huston, Brady, and Vanessa, and furthermore believes that they appeared in the desert by supernatural means.

    From Yemen, she went to Paris, spending most of December in the city. She writes of being pursued by mysterious Arabs, and having a mental breakdown after seeing an ancient Egyptian bas-relief with the members of the Carlyle expedition engraved on it. She is given shelter by an old Army acquaintance, Frank, and his lover Georges, for several days while she tries to find a way out of the city. Frank has a contact, Mickey “Scoop” Mahoney, who publishes an Irish-language paper and has extensive connections with the sort of people who could smuggle her out of France. (Elias believes him to be ex-IRA.) After Frank and Georges are murdered, she is flown out of Paris by Mahoney, spending a few days in London before going to Ireland to catch a steamer for Halifax.

    In Canada, she tracks down a mysterious former sailor in Quebec, who fills her with dread about someone called “The Old Man.” She sneaks across the border in Vermont, and then spends several days with her guardian, Dr. Henry Armitage, in Boston. Someone she only calls “Charlie” helps her find safe houses, and after swinging through the Bahamas she goes to ground in Philadelphia. She returns to New York after securing an interview with the Old Man, where she visited our heroes.

    Steele concludes that Elias was mentally unstable, citing her “selective aphasia” (she claimed to have a recurring dream where a voice would shout in a language she could only recognize on waking; shortly thereafter, she would lose the ability to speak that language), claims to have spent the night in the Louvre on several occasions, being attacked by a painted backdrop of a Sphinx in the Paris Opera, and seeing an enormous flying serpent examining her ship; that last discovery is followed by a bizarre sequence where she claimed to have taken to a lifeboat, been picked up by a tramp steamer, and delivered to Halifax—only to find, when she reached here connecting ship, that the purser insisted that she had brought her luggage aboard herself in the morning after arriving in Halifax on a liner.)

    Steele also believes, however, that he has evidence that there was some kind of conspiracy that intended harm to Elias, and recommends that the investigation proceed out of channels.

    [JE was definitely mentally damaged--she'd lost a ton of Sanity and Stability by the point she died. I'm still not sure myself if the encounter with the Hunting Horror really happened.]

    The group has an immediate lead, thanks to the contents of the journal: a business card for Emerson Imports on the West Side, with the name “Silas N’Kwame” scrawled on the back. (Other leads include a business card for Edouard Gavigan, of the Fondation Aubrey Penhew in Paris, a letter from Faraz Najir of Cairo to Roger Carlyle, and a flyer for a lecture by Dr. Anthony Cowles.) The group decides that they will at least try to follow up on the Emerson Imports lead; Will wants to find out what and who it was that killed Elias, for revenge and possibly redemption; Pearkes also has a debt of honor, and is concerned about threats to the Empire.

    The wake is a surprisingly lavish affair; Mayor Walker is there, along with many of the city’s elite. Will Blont notices that the predominantly African-American waitstaff is avoiding him and Gilbert, and eventually manages to speak to a waiter. The waiter disdainfully tells him that he isn’t interested in being nice to the murderers of three black men, and that Jackson was popular in Harlem and his people want justice for her an the dead men. Blont tries to reason with him but the waiter eventually storms off.

    Pearkes strikes up a conversation with the one man who is so rich that people are ignoring him—this turns out to be the famous media overlord Charles Foster Kane. He knew Jackson when she was a young girl; every year, he brought some orphans out to his ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Elias got on famously with everyone and had the summer of her life; on her return to the orphanage in Connecticut, she talked so much about her time out West that the other girls disdainfully referred to her as “Jackson”. Kane offers his considerable resources to the group to help find out who killed Elias, and why.

    Pearkes gives a brief speech, recalling Elias on the Western Front, disguised as a litter bearer and picking up a machine gun to help pick off attacking Germans. While he talks, he remembers what actually happened that day: a shocked and frightened Elias, terrified of the hideous gunfire in No Man’s Land, being ordered back behind lines by Pearkes. No sooner had he given the order, however, than Elias tackled him to the ground; just in time to avoid a walking barrage fired by the British artillery that fell woefully short.

    Henry Armitage also tries to give a speech, but is too overcome by emotion. The group convinces him to pay a visit to the Golden Sentinel after the funeral the next day to discuss Elias, and especially the dagger she was so eager to acquire. the dagger she was so eager to acquire.
  • Episode II: The Damned of the Earth (Part 2)

    Elias’ funeral is held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, still unfinished but an active church. All of the city’s elite turn out, led by Mayor Walker.

    [Minor anachronism, but damnit, Jimmy Walker is always the mayor of Jazz Age New York.]

    At the back of the church, by the entrance, a crowd of African-Americans try to gain entrance. The NYPD try to hold them back, until Pearkes intervenes, intimidating them with a voice honed on the killing ground of Passchendaele. The leader of the crowd turns out to be Blont’s acquaintance Mr. M’Dari.

    “We are here to demand justice,” he tells Blont.

    “We want that too…”

    “Justice for Jackson, and the three boys who were killed! They were good boys, members of my church.”

    “You understand that I was just doing what I had to do, don’t you?”

    “I do, Mr. Doctor. And I will do what I have to do.”

    [And here we go. Making Mukunga M'Dari Blont's contact in the previous session was a spot of evil genius on my part, if I do say so myself. Making him a civil rights protester...that's cruel, which is a good thing in the Cthulhuverse.

    It might be a bit of a stretch to insert a modern New York reaction into the 1920s, but hey, POST-MODERN and all. Plus, historically Marcus Garvey had just been sent to prison...]

    In the middle of this altercation, Freddie Blakely shows up, still slightly inebriated after a bender that lasted several days. He sleepwalks through the service with great precision.

    As the body is being carried out of the church, the Harlemites in the crowd protest and begin to shout “Justice for Jackson!”

    Blakely, Pearkes, Blont and Gilbert motor down to the offices of the Sentinel with Dr. Armitage. As they arrive at the building, they find a crowd of African-Americans picketing the building, led by Mr. M’Dari. Pearkes gets confrontational with the crowd, watched indifferently by several cops; clearly they have been ordered not to disperse the crowd, and as good sons of Ireland they enjoy watching a British officer get in over his head. Blakely invites M’Dari to come upstairs later.

    [I'll reiterate that I'm finding the presence of narrative space to explore the consequences of violence to be refreshing. Of course, this i undercut a bit by the players knowing that the accusations are groundless. I had hoped to play up one of the "cultists" as really having been an innocent dupe, but to paraphrase Napoleon, no prep survives contact with the PCs.]

    Dr. Armitage, still grief-stricken, tries to answer the group’s questions. He doesn’t have any idea who was after Jackson, just that she was very afraid; she went on a bit of a bender while he was with her in Boston. Kane’s men helped her hide after that. The dagger she was so interested in is very old, and it is believed that it could dispel Thoth when he took on flesh in one of his thousand forms. He knows a little about African and Egyptian cults but not much about Chinese ones—he refers them to his colleague Dr. Cowles at Miskatonic.

    As the interview is ending, Sheila bursts in. “Boss, I think we’ve got more trouble!” Outside, the first stirring strands of a familiar march are beginning:

    Arise ye workers from your slumbers
    Arise ye prisoners of want…

    Gilbert shudders slightly at the first notes of “The Internationale” and tries to hide in a corner.

    [Historically, at this time the Communist Party of the USA was the only other major organization (besides the NAACP) in the US concerned with civil rights. See Invisible Man for a far better exploration of this.]

    Blakely goes down to meet the representatives of the Communist Party, USA—a woman named Marion Goodhue, the Director of Public Events, and Sol Rosenberg, Director of Public Safety. He invites them and M’Dari up to discuss the protest.

    [Goodhue is Diane Keaton from Reds, natch.]

    Things soon degenerate into a shouting match. Goodhue, a dedicated socialist from a wealthy family, demands that Blakely admit that he was behind the assassination of the three men in the hotel room and also behind the white slavery ring: “You’re the spider in the middle of this web of intrigue!” she sputters. Blakely laughs openly at this and Goodhue sheepishly admits that might be going a bit far.

    Rosenberg turns out to be less a socialist and more of a Zionist; one of the best things about the party, he avers, is that he gets to finally fight back against WASPs. (Indeed, he had left a party of his all Jewish security force at the entrance, lead by Moishe “The Bear”, who of course totes a baseball bat.) Pearkes snidely points out that Palestine is a British mandate and will stay so for years. Soon he and Rosenberg are shouting at each other, joined by M’Dari. When Pearkes points out that M’Dari is a subject of the British Empire, M’Dari snorts that he has always declined that honor, and that he is from Kenya, not the Protectorate of East Africa. Goodhue angrily joins in, assuring Pearkes that socialism is the way of the future and that the Soviet Union will be the master of the world in fifty years; Pearkes retorts that it will be the British Empire that is still dominating the planet in 1975.

    [Couldn't resist the Tarantino callback; I should be better than that. Rosenberg is a character that could definitely show up later, as one path could lead the PCs through Palestine...

    PP was really playing up the Chauvinist Servant of the Empire here. I would have liked a lighter touch, but he does play it up really well.]

    Blakely invites M’Dari back to his office to discuss things with less noise. He is disappointed to find out that M’Dari is merely presenting a list of demands; he knows, he tells Freddie, that there was a third shooter in the hotel room and he plans to expose the entire affair. Blakely sends all the protesters back out, and then asks his secretary Sheila to make sure the demonstrators have something warm to drink.

    [FP is a master of deflection, as the next installment will show; I'm glad I created too many NPCs for this session, as he was good at defusing all of them.]
  • So, by this point I had sprung my CPUSA surprise, which I had been chomping at the bit to make go off since the last session. However, I think there were some issues here.

    We hadn't really done anything mechanical yet; this was one of those "we didn't touch the dice for hours" things. Now, that's not horrible--in fact, it can be great, if the RPing is good, and it was here.

    But on the other hand, the mechanics are how we distinguish the PCs from each other beyond the quality of their RPing. Also, and this is more specific to Trail, the mechanics have an important role in spotlight management. Without using the mechanics, it's easy for a magnetic player like FP to dominate the spotlight, especially since I truly enjoy playing off of him. (As it was, FP was late to the session--didn't arrive until the point in the narrative when Freddie gets there. You can see how much the subsequent events revolve around him. This is not in the slightest a knock on FP, who's a terrific gamer and damn interesting person, just a piece of evidence to support what I said about the mechanics.)

    I blame my prep to some degree; I didn't keep my Investigator Matrix nearby when coming up with the situations for the next session, and I think that made them all a bit similar. (I try hard not to come up with plot, just encounters and situations; an example will be in the next installment.)

  • Episode II: The Damned of the Earth (Part 3)

    Meanwhile Charleston Chiu, after a five-day reading binge on the books he received from Erica Carlyle, is stepping outside Brenda’s Diner in Harlem, nose pressed into an ancient tome. A middle-aged man in a wool coat, with a slight Irish burr in his voice, identifies himself as Lt. Frank Poole, Midtown Precinct, and asks Chiu to come with him to answer some questions. Chiu pays no notice until two of Poole’s officers arrest him.

    [Frank Poole is a relatively benign NPC in the original campaign, so I thought I'd make him a bit darker. Having him played (in my mind) by a L. A. Confidential era James Cromwell helped.

    There was, as I've mentioned, a huge hole in the PCs' story--there was a third shooter, quite obviously, and it wouldn't take much legwork to identify Chiu as the triggerman.]

    They drive downtown, and Chiu notices that they drive through Midtown, eventually stopping in an abandoned store on the boundary between Chinatown and Little Italy. Chiu is led inside and handcuffed to a chair. Standing in the room in his shirtsleeves is Lt. Brian Halloran, NYPD, Chinatown precinct.

    “Well, well, if it isn’t our old friend Taffy. How you doing, Chewy?”

    Chiu looks around. “All right, I’ll tell you everything.”

    [CP has a knack for doing what isn't expected. Later, good storyteller that he was, he decided to go through with the beating because the plot seemed to demand it; that was nice of him. I'd have been more or less willing to let him walk away intact, although it would have cut off some nice content I had planned.]

    “Good,” says Poole, pulling up a chair. “We know you were the third shooter, Mr. Chiu. The clerk at the hotel identified you. Now, tell me your relationship with Jackson Elias, and this white slavery racket.”

    “There was no slavery ring! I knew Elias from a year ago. I helped her find a man who had a trumpet that made the dead come back to life…”

    “If you’re not going to be straight with me…”

    “No, it’s for real! The trumpet was magic! She was on the run from some kind of cult…”

    [The actual conversation was a bit longer than this, but that was the gist; CP gave up on trying to convince the cops to let him go and just went with the truth, no matter how ridiculous it was.]

    Poole sighs, and swivels his chair around. “All right, Brian, I’m turning my back.”

    Halloran smacks Chiu in the stomach, hard. Using his skill at the martial arts, Chiu kicks Halloran hard. This enrages the burly cop, and he proceeds to lay a pounding on the hapless sometime reporter.

    [At last, some die rolls! Charleston probably could have pulled this off, but he was rolling terribly and not putting enough points in his Scuffling tests to guarantee success. (A 3-point buy would have done it, and he has Scuffling north of 8). Also, when he did hit, he rolled poorly for damage. I'd been letting him Kick for -1 to reflect his martial arts training, but as he was handcuffed to a chair I reduced that to the normal -2 for an unarmed strike. Halloran, on the other hand, didn't take any penalties to damage because Chiu was an easy target. I then proceeded to roll consistent 5s and 6s for his damage; Halloran put enough into his rolls to always hit.

    “Tell us what you know! We know you used to work for Mr. Lee! Tell us the truth!”

    [Mr. Lee was Charleston's former Triad godfather; he was kicked out of the Triad at the conclusion of Dead Man Stomp.]

    “I don’t know anything!”

    Halloran kicks Chiu hard, and he blacks out.

    Freddie Blakely gets a call from his old friend “Frothy” down at the bank. “Freddie, old bean, just thought you should know—Pater’s been talking to some Sotheby’s people about your claim that they sold you the wrong dagger, and, well, sorry to break it to you, old man, but you’re skint. Your accounts have been frozen until this all gets sorted out, and I think they’ve sent an investigator up to your apartment.”

    Blakely and Gilbert race to the Dakota on the Upper West Side, Freddie’s residence. They meet with a Sotheby’s inspector, who has been poking around the place. Freddie quickly disarms him by saying it was all a mistake, he has the right dagger, and dash it all he just forgot to tell his man of business about it.

    [I had hoped that this would be an interesting chain of events, with the Sotheby's investigator being an annoying recurring character. Of course, FP immediately deflected it, so I gave up somewhat meekly. Wasn't worth pursuing it as a point, and I had a lot of other annoyances to throw their way.

    I felt justified in throwing both the interrogation scene and the Sotheby's investigation at CP and FP because they took Bad Luck as their drives. Let the hosing commence.]

    Gilbert goes down to get the car. As he leaves the building, a mysterious man in a trenchcoat, hat pulled low on his head, beckons him into an alley. This proves to be a Communist agent he knew slightly back in France; in those days, he called himself Herbst or Primtemps; now he is known as October.

    “You may not remember me, Mr. Gilbert, but we remember you. Some of us in the Party remember well your work in the Paris Soviet. We also remember that it was crushed in two days, and financed by a capitalist, Freddie Blakely. And now you work for that man. Those of us in the NKVD are not sure where your loyalties lie, Mr. Gilbert.

    “History is dead; it now exists only in the memory of the Party. You will watch this man Blakely, Mr. Gilbert, and report back to us. I’ll be seeing you again soon.”

    [I had hoped October would have a bigger part in this session, but as it was there was too much going on. No worries; I think a NKVD assassin following the PCs around will be some excellent plot stew.]
  • edited March 2013
    Episode II: The Damned of the Earth (Part 4)

    Pearkes, Blakely, Blont and Gilbert head over to the West Side to meet with Arthur Emerson, of Emerson Imports. “Jackson Elias? That girl in the papers—say, aren’t you the guys who saved her?”

    “Yes,” says Blont sheepishly.

    “I’m very sorry for your loss. She came by asking about some imports I did for Carlyle, and some things I brought in from Africa. I send most of those up to Silas N’Kwame in Harlem, at a place called the Ju-Ju House, 137th near Lenox.”

    He pauses. “But whenever I need a provenance or an appraisal, I contact a professor up at Columbia, a [mild racial slur for a female person of sub-Saharan African ancestry]. Let me just ring her up….Hello? Muriel? I have some gentlemen who want to see you? Yes, this afternoon will be fine.”

    The four men leave Emerson Imports and head to the Ju-Ju House, a dusty storefront in a derelict-filled courtyard. Mr. N’Kwame, the proprietor, is an elderly East African. He doesn’t know Elias; he does sell African items from Emerson Imports.

    Blakely notices that N’Kwame has a key around his neck and filches it when his attention is caught by Pearkes, who is impatient with the interrogation. Literally lifting N’Kwame off the floor, he demands to know about the three men who were killed. They were from the neighborhood; who did they know?

    [PP went full metal aggro on this one, I think to the discomfort of the other PCs (let alone players). It wasn't helping that much, as N'Kwame clammed up pretty soon, and it marked Pearkes as being hostile to the cult. This had consequences later on.]

    N’Kwame sputters out that they all went to the same church, but grows evasive about its location and refuses to say anything more until he is put back down. Freddie comes around the counter, nearly tripping on a seam as he does so: a trap door. He calms down Pearkes and gets the quartet to leave the store; then he comes back in, gives N’Kwame his key back, and manages to get the elderly man to reveal that the church is in a basement. Too late he realizes his mistake, and clams up; Blakely buys some trinkets at inflated prices to mollify him.

    [Reassurance buy from Freddie, one of the few Investigative buys in this session. See above for why I think that was a bad thing. I've taken to carting around the booklet that comes with the Keeper's screen so I can internalize ability use and buys.]

    Blont and Gilbert decide to find a vacant apartment where they can watch the store; Pearkes and Blakely go to Columbia to visit the professor Arthur Emerson mentioned. This turns out to be Muriel Khadijja Mwimbe, a Zanzibari associate professor of anthropology. Dr. Mwimbe confirms that the dagger is ancient, and that East African death cults, descended from the legends of the Black Pharaoh of Egypt (“After all, the Egyptians were Africans,” she notes) believed that it could kill the Black Wind, the mysterious and evil manifestation of the god. At least his current form; the god could return later. Pearkes strikes some sparks with her and she is pointed about referring to the rape of Africa by the Europeans. Still, the interview ends on a good note; Blakely asks her to analyze the Dagger of Thoth, which is being kept at Sotheby’s. He wants to know if the metal is unusual.

    [Dr. Mwimbe will be a rather pivotal NPC. More I cannot say right now.]

    Downtown, Chiu wakes up next to Halloran. His forehead displays a neat bullet hole, and his empty eyes stare back at Chiu. Poole presses a gun into Chiu’s hands. “Sorry, Taffy, but this solves too many problems for me. I’ll see you in the funny papers.”

    Left alone, Chiu manages to crawl out of the Little Italy side of the store. Some boys are playing ball, and they watch him in shock.

    “E morto?”

    “Non, il non e morto. Va a il Fortunado.”

    Chiu blacks out again. When he comes too, he is on a table in the back of a restaurant. A young, well-dressed man is standing over him, slapping him gently on the face. “Charlie, I think he’s awake.”

    “Great, Meyer. What’re gonna do with a live [racial slur] and a dead cop.”

    “We’ll have to call the Cleaner.”

    [Yes, Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano, when they were just starting out. I gave Lansky a rather sing-song voice, sorta like Horshach but less guttural; I was going for the contrast between his mild-mannered voice and his status as the kind of guy who would order a hit on one of his oldest friends, as he did years later with Bugsy Siegel.]

    “I’ve been trying to reach him, he’s uptown somewhere. Bumpy will send a runner.”

    “To think, a police did this! Animal! We should have left Russia for this?”

    Uptown, a young kid climbs into the vacant apartment where Blont and Gilbert are on watch. “You Mister Gilbert? The Fortunate One needs you. And bring a doctor. One who don’t talk.”

    [A bit ham-handed, but I wasn't expecting them to go for the immediate stakeout. No harm done overall, I think.]

    They tip the kid well and ask him to have his friends watch the place until they get back.

    Once they get downtown, Charlie Luciano and Meyer Lansky meet them. Luciano sends Gilbert off to make the cop’s body disappear, and Blont gets to work on Chiu. Luckily, his beating was administered by a professional; with a little patching up, he is out of serious danger and soon feels better once hopped up on pain meds. Blont, watching Gilbert periodically return with buckets of bleach and a bloodstained axe, wonders aloud what he has gotten himself into.

    [I let Chiu get healed back to full even though it violated the rules, justifying it by saying Halloran was a professional who knew how to beat you to the edge of serious injury. (If you take away the effective +2 I gave him, then it's more or less kosher.)

    That was probably bad form, but I knew they had a big combat encounter at the end and I wanted the New York Chapter to have training wheels attached. They've decided to go to Cairo next, which is probably the deadliest chapter, so I'll get some nice horror out of the contrast.]
  • Episode II: The Damned of the Earth (Part 5)

    At the Dakota, Pearkes, his fiancee Constance, and Blakely enjoy a nice dinner. Before desert can be served, the front desk rings up. “Sorry Mr. Blakely, I’ve had to send up two gentlemen from the Bureau of Investigation who want to talk to you.” Shortly after that, there is a knock on the door and the two agents, Gil Anderson and David Dukes, step into the apartment.

    [Yeah, yeah, I know. I couldn't resist naming the BOI agents thus.]

    “Good evening, Mr. Blakely. We’re investigating the Red involvement in this Elias affair. According to our records, you were detained as a Communist supporter by the British authorities.”

    “Goodness, that old thing? That was all the doings of my aunts, they were upset about me wanting to run off and marry that Elias girl. Everything was cleared up.”

    “Is that so? Then how do you explain that you employ a known Communist agent, Mr. Alphonse Gilbert?”

    “Fonzie? Why, he’s given that all up and gone straight. Good monarchist like I am. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to my guests. Good evening.”

    “Good evening, Mr. Blakely, and we’ll be in touch.”

    [This was designed to be another monkey wrench thrown straight at Freddie's Bad Luck. Not much came of it in this session, but Hoover may easily decided to keep these guys on his tail.]

    Dinner finished, Blakely, Pearkes and Constance plan to step out to a club in Harlem where they will be close to Blont and Gilbert, who have returned to their surveillance post. Freddie hears a dull thud from the balcony in the music room. He steps inside to investgate.

    A huge serpentine head crashes through the window, mouth full of razor sharp teeth. As it bites deeply into his shoulder, the rest of its body squeezes through the window—a loathsome, livid flying serpent, two horrible batlike wings not seeming to support its uncanny height off the ground.

    Keeping his composure, Freddie hightails it out of the room and slams the door behind him. “I think we better all leave,” he shouts.

    From the music room comes a cacophonous noise that sounds as if a grand piano had been tossed against a wall.

    Constance screams. The tip of a scaly tail punches through the wall and wriggles sickeningly in the air.

    The three of them run downstairs. Police soon arrive; when they go up to the apartment, it looks as if several grenades have gone off. Several of the interior walls have been completely destroyed, and a grand piano is smashed as if it had been thrown at the wall with great force.

    The smell of excellent quality liquor permeates the air—the last vestiges of Freddie’s extensive wet bar.

    [Hunting Horror summoned by Mukunga to scare/slay Freddie, and distract the investigators. Freddie got away via a Flee roll; he wisely took quite a bit of Fleeing.]

    The cops take everyone into custody. Blakely tries to tell his story: “Well you see, somebody threw an exploding serpent into my apartment…” but that just gets him thrown into a holding cell. A sympathetic detective tries to get Pearkes to talk, saying he’ll let Constance go if he does, but Pearkes rather starchily blows him off. Muttering something about this being just like the Rising, the detective orders Constance taken away by the matrons.

    Freddie gets his call in to Bradley Grey. “This is serious, Freddie! The cops think the mob took a hit out on you! And the Bureau of Investigation is investigating you for subversive ties!”

    Pearkes calls the Embassy. “We’re glad you finally rang in. Is Captain Steele with you? He hasn’t checked in tonight.” Some strings are pulled and Pearkes and Constance are released.

    Grey gets Freddie off as well, but Blakely refuses to leave—he asks to be put in their most secure cell. The cops shrug and lock him in with Wolf, a serial rapist they have apprehended.

    [Pour encourager les autres, in the case of Sam. It was time to go after a Source.]
  • Episode II: The Damned of the Earth (Part 6)

    24 February 1925

    Up in Harlem, Blont, Gilbert and Chiu have resumed their lonesome vigil. The kids they hired tell them that other than a brief trip out and back by N’Kwame, nobody has come in or out of the store.

    They sit back to wait. Around 1 AM, people begin to walk in to the store, wearing their Sunday best. It’s a mixed crowd, primarily African-American but also some white people. After a while, the sound of singing can be heard from underground. Chiu shakes his head—the songs remind him of some of the things he’s read in his books.

    [CP raised an excellent question: is there any way to use Cthulhu Mythos as an Investigative skill without making a buy and risking sanity? I didn't really have an answer, although on reflection I think it might work to definitely identify things of as being of Mythos origin--"those tracks came from nothing on Earth!", that kind of thing.]

    In a cell on the Upper West Side, Freddie’s mind wanders back to the day he went to tell his aunts he was engaged to Jackson Elias. He recalls the day well; on the way in, he ran into his cousin Bertie.

    “Hullo, Wooster.”

    “Hullo, Blakely. What are you here for?”

    “Seeing the aunts.”

    “Ah, you too. They’re really on the warpath today. Oh, old man, thanks for that butler recommendation. This Jeeves fellow is a bit of a stiff, but should make a smashing butler. Definitely won’t steal a man’s socks.”

    “Glad to hear he worked out for you. I always found him dull and rather unintelligent.”

    [As noted above, I offered a small dedicated Stability pool for doing a flashback scene with Jackson Elias. This is Freddie's; PP took his during the wake. I thought FP would enjoy meeting Bertie Wooster.]

    Inside the parlor, the aunts viewed Freddie with a terrible countenance.

    “Freddie, what’s this about you getting married,” asked Dahlia, who always had a soft spot for her wastrel nephew.

    “And an American! Explain yourself, Roland,” thundered Agatha, who had a soft spot for nobody.

    “Well, you see, she’s a reporter…”

    “In trade! Roland, what were you thinking.”

    “Oh, Freddie…”

    “Well, dash it, I suppose I’m in love.”

    “Nothing of the kind! Roland, you will break this engagement. You are to marry a woman worthy of your station. And if you refuse…you will be cut off….”

    [As usual, the actual conversation went a bit longer. I distinguished the aunts by tone of voice and choice of address; Dahlia calls him Freddie, Agatha uses his given name.]

    Pearkes drops Constance off and swings by the Embassy. Nobody has seen Captain Steele for several hours. He calls the police, but they tell him to call back the next day.

    He visits Steele’s apartment, which is neat the way only the bachelor apartment of an ambitious staff officer can be. It does not look like anyone has been inside this evening. Steele’s orange tabby cat rubs up against the Colonel’s legs.

    At the Ju-Ju house, the group have decided to try and sneak into the store. Hugging the shadows, they congregate in the courtyard. Just then, a car with British Embassy plates pulls up, and Colonel Pearkes steps out. He marches with military stiffness towards the store.

    [And here PP decides to force things. Was it good or bad? It threw a heavy monkey wrench into the plans of the other players, and was a bit meta to boot--would Pearkes really suspect the cult first? On the other hand, it was nicely pulpy and pushed events to their climax...]
  • Episode II: The Damned of the Earth (Part 7)

    “Stop!” hisses Chiu. “You’re going to let everyone know we’re here.”

    “They have Steele. Duty first, old bean.”

    At that point, several of the passed-out derelicts who litter the courtyard stand up and charge the group. They are quickly dispatched by Pearkes’ sword-cane and Gilbert’s shotgun, but Chiu realizes the alert is sure to be raised. He runs out to fetch their (stolen) getaway vehicle, while the rest enter the store.

    The trapdoor inside yields to Blont’s deft hand with a lockpick. A flight of narrow stairs leads down into an inky darkness. Pearkes fishes out his electric torch and sprints down the stairs.

    [BP wanted to jam the trapdoor so that it couldn't be opened from the outside, which became a minor plot point afterwards, although Charleston also has Locksmith.]

    At the end of the hall is a door. Pearkes yanks it open and flashes his torch inside.

    Bodies. Eighteen of them, their throats slit, lined up in neat geometric rows. They are wearing robes of some kind that he does not recognize.

    [Stability Check! I shouted with glee once again this session. PP made almost all of his. I called for a lot more Stability checks this session, especially for things like Charleston's beating. I got a bit of pushback from the players, who questioned why hardened, courageous heroes like themselves would need to make a check, but I stood my ground--I wanted to establish this for future sessions.]

    Thrusting away the memories of ground actions in Belgium, Pearkes sidles into the room. To his right is a large winch, attached to a heavy circular stone lid about eight feet wide.

    Gilbert looks inside and is horrified. He collapses shaking in the corridor. Afraid of suffering from another flashback, Blont keeps asking him what was inside that was so bad.

    Pearkes continues to slide along the walls. Opposite the door to the room, he finds a curtained-off alcove. He glances inside, and sees four bodies propped up against the wall. He pushes aside the curtain and steps into the alcove just as Will and Gilbert step into the room.

    And that’s when the four bodies in the alcove spring into motion and attack him. From the back of the alcove he sees a lion-like face—some kind of mask—float towards him. He is pummeled by the undead and slashed by whatever is wearing the mask.

    [I've mentally retconned Mukunga and N'Kwame as having been invisible during this time; makes more sense.]

    Pearkes backpedals out of the alcove, followed by the four corpses. Blont and Gilbert open up on the—let’s call them zombies—and the deafening sound of gunfire fills the room. One zombie drops, but the rest still advance. The masked figure slashes at Pearkes, knocking the flashlight from his hands.

    [The Players actually raised the point about their PCs being effectively deaf before I could. They are a good crew.]

    A desperate struggle begins, lit only by the dim glow of the dropped torch and the muzzle flashes of their guns. Blont and Gilbert make a dash for the door, firing as they retreat. They hear the sound of the winch being activated, and even through the ringing in their ears they can hear a terrible moaning and screaming coming up from the pit.

    Then the door slams shut behind them. Something heavy falls outside, barring it shut.

    Chiu pulls up into the courtyard. He sees N’Kwame dashing out of the front of the store, cackling madly. Chiu opens up with his Thompson and cuts the old man down. He races inside the store and manages to rip open the trap door.

    Downstairs, Gilbert looks down into the pit and his mind reels with horror. At the bottom of it is a horrible purple worm, covered in human faces, each gibbering and screaming.

    [Gilbert was the only one to get Shaken by the Mythos this session; he rolled particularly poorly on his Stability checks. Pearkes made his later on even though he had to deal with the gruesome supernatural murder of one of his Sources.]

    Blont and Gilbert attack the door. Gilbert manages to wedge it open and Blont slips through. The lion-masked figure slashes at him as he leaves, not noticing Gilbert collapsed by the door. The Frenchman jams his sawed off against the mask and pulls the trigger, just as Pearkes finishes dispatching the last zombie.

    Fingers shaking, Gilbert pulls the mask off of the body. He recognizes the face: Mukunga M’Dari.

    Blont comes running up the stairs and sees Chiu. “Don’t shoot!”

    “Get in the car! The cops will be here soon!” Chiu rushes past him and finds Pearkes examining the pit. His eyes fill with tears of horror and regret when he recognizes Sam Steele’s face
    on the horrible creature. “Time to use your dynamite, Charleston.”

    Grumbling, Chiu fishes out a stick of dynamite that he keeps in his trenchcoat. He throws it into the pit and they let the lid slam shut.

    [If you know Masks you know this won't kill the Chakota. There was in fact a tiny scene at the end of the session where they came back with thermite to take care of the Chakota; I omitted it from this account.]
  • Episode II: The Damned of the Earth (Part 8)

    The ground rumbles beneath their feet as they pull off in separate cars, Gilbert driving the embassy car, and Chiu taking Blont in their stolen car. Thanks to some fancy driving they manage to elude the converging police cars.

    [They had time, because of course this is Harlem in the unfortunate 1920s, and also the cult had been busy paying off and chasing away the police.

    Mechanically, this was a bit interesting as Charleston had Driving but no Fleeing and Blont had Fleeing but not Driving (or a low level of Driving.) I had each one make a check to combine their skills.]

    The next morning Freddie steps out of the precinct, charges once again wiped clean. The Dakota has already rung him up, regretting to inform him that the damages to his apartment are so extensive that he can’t stay there, which is just as well because they want him to leave.

    There are no protesters outside the Sentinel when he arrives. He asks Sheila to look up the Goodhue woman’s family and see if he can meet with them.

    Freddie pays a visit to Dr. Mwimbe. She has analyzed the dagger and she thinks the metal is definitely not bronze, but she doesn’t know what it is. Freddie, somewhat tactlessly, points out that she’ll never get a real teaching position at Columbia; he offers her a grant, to do some research in Cairo. Maybe she can even return the dagger to its rightful place at the Museum of Antiquities. What do you say? In a few weeks?

    Startled and flattered, the Professor agrees.

    Having accomplished that, Freddie drops in on the Bureau of Investigation’s field office. He meets Gil Anderson and tries to point him in the direction of several unsavory figures in various cults up in Harlem, and they have Red ties, don’t you know? Gilbert looks uncomfortable at this point.

    That night, he meets Marion Goodue’s parents at a Broadway play. Yes, they are aware of their daughter’s activities, and they do not approve. No, they don’t approve of playboy Freddie either. Marion’s already done everyone a favor and run off to Estonia or someplace like that. Now can we enjoy our play? The second act’s about to begin.

    [I can bring Marion back; I liked her, but in play I realized she only had one function, to yell at Freddie, so I didn't push her storyline.]

    Late that night, MacKenzie, the “Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs” and MI-6 agent knocks on Pearkes’ door. “Wakey wakey, gov. We’ve got a VIP for you to meet.”

    He and two MPs drive out of the city via a specially chartered ferry, and then far out into the countryside of New Jersey, headed towards Lakehurst. Eventually they stop in a deserted field.

    They wait in the frosty night. MacKenzie seems nervous.

    Suddenly a spotlight lances through the blackness, from directly above. It swerves around, highlighting each of the men standing there. A faint sound of engines can be heard, and looking up Pearkes can just make out the lines of a dirigible. MacKenzie and the MPs moor the airship, and a gangplank descends.

    A prim, middle-aged woman in a dress last stylish before the Great War slowly disembarks. MacKenzie gives his most military salute. “Mum,” he croaks out.

    “As you were. This is the Colonel. Very good, Colonel, you will convey us to New York.”

    “Very good, Mum,” says MacKenzie as Pearkes helps her into the car. “We’ll just find our own way back.”

    The long drive back is silent. At last they pull up to the Embassy. The woman, who seems to know the place very well, leads Pearkes deep into the basement. She opens a panel on one wall and it rolls back, revealing a room Pearkes never suspected existed.

    Inside it is filled with obscure and occult gewgaws—strange fetuses in jars, old books, skulls, alembics, and many other things. “At least they put in the electric,” sniffs the woman. She adjusts the long red scarf she keeps tightly wrapped around her neck. “The last time I was here we were still using gas. Sit down, Colonel.”

    She regards him from across a table. “You may call me M. I am used to working with people of rather…more unique talents than yours. Still, we must make use of the tools at our disposal. You are aware now that threats of a most unusual nature exist in this world?”

    [Right around this point, FP chimed in: " she wearing a scarf tightly wrapped around her neck?"

    "As a matter of fact, [FP], she is."

    "Oh, my...." chuckles.

    PP hasn't read
    The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and so wasn't in on the joke initially.]

    “Yes, ma’am. We disposed of one this evening with dynamite.”

    “Are you sure? Did you check?”

    “Uh, no ma’am.”

    “Were I you, Colonel, I would make that my first order of business.” She paused, and took out a dossier and put on a pince-nez. “You have been assigned to a special branch of the intelligence services. It will not show on any records. I will be your direct supervisor. Do you understand?”

    “Yes, ma’am. What are my orders?”

    “Track down the people behind the murder of Miss Elias. Neutralize their threats to the Empire. Now come with me, Colonel. I will be taking different transportation from here.”

    She opens a door in the back of the room and steps out into a network of tunnels. After a long time, they climb out near the East River piers. They stroll to the end of a dock.

    Out in the river, a British submarine surfaces and slowly moves under the dock.

    “Thank you Colonel, and good luck.”

    “Thank you ma’am. And may I say, you have a remarkable sense of style.”

    M pauses on the ladder to the sub. “I have been accused of many things, Colonel, but that is one of the few that is true.”

    [Verbatim exchange, and kinda cool.]

    As she clambers down into the submarine’s hatch she pauses again. “This Mr. Blakely. Do you trust him?”

    After an instant, Pearkes replies, “In some things.”

    “Read him in. Good-bye, Colonel. Don’t try to reach me—I’ll reach you.”

    Shaking his head, Pearkes makes his way up to the Sentinel, where Freddie has just arrived.

    “Sheila? Can you come in here?”

    “…Mr. Blakely?” She enters the room with trepidation—he’s used her name twice in a week! Something big must be up.

    “What do you say you come with me off to Cairo?”

    “What? Yes, Mr. Blakely!”

    “That’s a girl. Ah, Colonel!”

    “I have some matters to discuss with you,” says the Colonel. “Matters of an Imperial nature…”
  • edited March 2013
    So yeah. I stuck Mina Harker in there because I had used her in a previous, Cthulhu-esque Risus one-shot, and because I couldn't resist. This is obviously not the world of the League, but Moore and I share a bit of a grab-bag approach to sticking allusions into our plot. Also, he's a better writer than me, and certainly has a better beard.

    As a matter of fact, MH gives me a convenient plot handle to stir things up whenever they get stuck. And I could see, in some alternate plotline from League, Mina Harker eventually becoming M, or at least the M of the League.

    After this session, BP told me he would be dropping out, mostly because of conflicting playstyles. I was a bit sorry, because I thought Will was the best "audience-identification" PC in the game. Still, both BP and I had played together in a group where the players not only had clashing styles, but the GM's style clashed with all of them, so I wasn't going to try to plead for him to stay with something that wasn't working on his end. (As I like to say back when we were in the other group, "This is my hobby; I shouldn't have to work so hard for it.")

    I'm seeing BP tonight and should get a more detailed explanation of what is up, although my suspicion is that PP's style was the main factor. I had tentatively tagged BP as a "Method Actor" in Robin Laws' classification, though, so I wouldn't be surprised if FP was also a source of tension. Or maybe I'm just a bad GM! The possibilities are sadly not limitless...

    The group decided to head off to Cairo next. I was a bit surprised; I figured they'd go for Paris first, but I didn't sell those clues as hard as I could have. Cairo will be an interesting time no matter what, of course; it's also the deadliest section in the campaign, or can be, in my opinion; Shakhti can be a murderously efficient opponent. When I played Masks, he was underplayed by the Keeper and still this section was a rough go for us, and that was with us laying an ambush for the Clive expedition. (Our motto was, "Shoot the sorcerer first, and then shoot him several more times after he goes down.")

    Based on the time they'd reasonably arrive in Egypt, they're going to be smack dab in the middle of the Parliamentary Elections of 1925. This resulted in a Parliament that was eventually dismissed by the King, and so there will be plenty of unrest. Which I will dig. It's becoming clear to me that one of the themes I'm playing up more than in the straight Masks is Imperialism; the Egypt chapter will be a great place for this. (The other themes, feminism and LGBTisms, will wait for other sections.)

    I mostly took from this session a determination to try and tailor the challenges in terms of the group's abilities, instead of just being interesting in of themselves. Also, a few were still a bit railroady--the interrogation of Charleston fits in this pattern, although I have certain leeway there because of his drive.

    Anyway, on to Cairo! Next session is in two weeks, and should be a doozy. I hope.
  • I'm looking forward to the next recap!
  • Whew, glad the crickets out there are chirping! ;-)

    Yeah, me too. I have some ideas about exactly what kind of immortal being Shakhti is that should be interesting, plus another literary shout-out, and I did finally figure out what I'm going to do with that stolen mummy.

    In the game. I'm not stealing any mummies in real life.
  • Had session the third on Saturday; interesting stuff, and an ending that would leave your Joo Janta Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses fading rapidly to black. Also some interesting meta thoughts about the campaign. All this and more as soon as I have a spare moment to write it up!
  • Session 3: General Notes

    My agenda for this session was mainly to correct what I saw as a defect of the last session--not letting the mechanics do enough talking. I think I succeeded in that, and am fairly comfortable with the balance between narration and mechanics that came out of this session. On the other hand, I really botched a few things that I'm not proud of.

    Cairo gives me my first really great villain, and playing Shakhti was a highlight of the session for me. I've also focused on the effects of imperialism in this session.

  • edited April 2013
    Episode 3: Night Comes On

    Prelude: New York City

    Right before he is set to embark for Cairo, Pearkes gets a call from a strange man with a thick eastern European accent. "Mary Rider," he says. "You want to find out about Jackson? Mary Rider."

    Pearkes has the embassy staff chase down the name. A Mrs. Mary Rider recently vanished on her way home from the docks on North River; she had been away on holiday.

    Pearkes treks out to the Rider household, a first-floor apartment in a Chelsea brownstone. Mr. Rider isn't much help; all he knows is that his wife never came home from her trip. According to the police, a cab dropped her off in front of the building, but she never arrived.

    Pearkes does notice a family portrait of the Rider family; Mrs. Rider is a pretty brunette who bears a resemblance to Jackson Elias.

    Chasing down the name of the cabbie from the police records, Pearkes brings Freddie out to Bensonhurst to meet the man. On the way over, Freddie tells Pearkes about how a woman who looked like Jackson met him on the docks the day he went to meet Elias; she gave him the message that Jax would see him at the charity ball that night.

    Seamus, the cabbie, is none too happy to see two British gentlemen, one in Army uniform, show up at his door. Freddie lays on the charm, getting a grudging amount of respect from the hack. He doesn't know much--like he told the police, he dropped the lady off--but he does say that he saw a beat-up Ford following him, driven by two black men. Pearkes and Blakely exchange looks--was the cult involved?

    That evening four policemen pay a call on the offices of the Golden Sentinel. As it turns out, they are security for Erica Carlyle. Her bodyguard, Joe Corey, has been killed, and people have broken into her house. She's going into hiding. She is surprised to hear that Freddie is heading for Cairo, and she tells him that if he's determined to follow up on Roger, he should look for his former agent, Warren Besart. She also mentions that her beau, Bradley Grey, is running for District Attorney next year, and he'd appreciate any help Freddie can give him. Freddie gladly agrees, and donates a check to Grey.

    [Credit Rating buy by Freddie; I told FP that he'd be able to call on favors in New York.]

    The next day they set sail from New York. Freddie of course rates the Imperial Suite, with Alphonse in adjacent servants' quarters; Pearkes settles into a first-class cabin, and Charleston vanishes somewhere below decks.

    [CP couldn't make this session, so Charleston is rather unusually passive this session!]

    The first day at sea, Alphonse runs into his brother Anton, much to his surprise. Having lifted somebody's tickets, Anton is on his way to Cairo to help out his brother--he speaks Arabic, a legacy of his posting in North Africa during the war--and to maybe clean up a bit at the ritzy hotels Freddie will be staying at.

    [Naked Source of Stability preservation, of course; Freddie brought Sheila, his source, and Pearkes his elkhound MacDonald.]

    On the way over, MacDonald becomes listless and sick. The ship's veterinarian thinks it is just seasickness. Pearkes studies Egyptology to give him a basic familiarity.

    [Creative Library Use buy by Pearkes--which I promptly didn't reward. Wouldn't be the first time I messed up...]
  • The trip over is uneventful, except for the transfer at Marseilles, which is a bit nerve-wracking for Alphonse—he may still be wanted in France for treason.

    Wednesday, 11 March 1925

    As the sun sinks into the Mediterranean, they approach the ancient harbor of Alexandria. Boats surround the steamer, hawking wares and advertising hotels and tour services. Sheila had long ago made arrangements, and the group ensconce themselves at Claridge’s, the best hotel in town.

    Thursday, 12 March 1925

    Pearkes checks in at the local garrison. Not much of note is happening, although with the parliamentary elections approaching, the British are preparing for an unstable political situation. Pearkes takes the time to find out the locations of oases and supply depots from Alexandria to Port Said.

    He does learn that locals are avoiding the catacombs of Kom El Shaqafa, speaking nonsense about some kind of "white ghost."

    Meanwhile Freddie hires a dragoman and takes a tour of the city with Alphonse. They stop at Kom El Shaqafa, but Freddie notices his guide's nervousness. "Hasan, my man, what is it you're worried about?"

    "Sahib, this place has become haunted by a ghul. It comes out at night and attacks goats and sheep. My cousin Hasan told me his neighbor's sister's child was killed by this terror, may Allah strike it down."

    "I say! Well then, we should probably leave, don't you think? You know, I've always wanted to try some of this Egyptian coffee I've heard about."

    "You are in luck, sir! My other cousin Hasan runs the best teahouse in all Alexandria! I will take you there!"

    Freddie and Alphonse spend a pleasant day enjoying the world's strongest tea and the completely legal hashish available in cousin Hasan's teahouse.

    Late that night Pearkes rouses Freddie and Alphonse, and they trek out to the catacombs. Pearkes discovers a clear set of tracks that lead from the catacombs and out into the Old Quarter. Examining the gate to the tombs, Gilbert chillingly discovers that it has been unlocked--from the inside.

    The group descend into the catacombs. Pearkes follows a trail down into the third level, which is partially flooded. He finds a tunnel that has signs of having been used often in the recent past, and they make their way down it, squeezing past a part that is completely underwater.

    At the end of the tunnel they find a small chamber. The remains of a tiny fire is in one corner, and the walls are blackened with soot. A horse blanket is tossed in one corner and shows signs of having been used to sleep on. One one wall, Freddie discovers a portrait of Isis that hasn't been damaged by the smoke. Something about it bothers him. With a start, he realizes that he recognizes the face: Hypatia Masters.

    [Art History buy by FP; not a detail I prepped, but it fits in with my plans for Masters, which are very different from Larry DeTillo's.]

    Alphonse goes through the blanket, and finds a couple of old books, all dating from the early 19th century. Most are trashy novels, with Frankenstein being the sole exception.

    Suddenly they hear a noise from the tunnel. Someone is coming.
  • Episode III: Night Comes On (Part 2)

    Friday, 13 March 1925

    Freddie douses his lantern. Pearkes stations himself by the door. The room goes pitch black.

    Something comes through the doorway.

    Pearkes grabs it, wrestling it down. Freddie lights the lantern.

    They see a pale faced young man, dressed in breeches, a frilly white shirt, and a cape. All his clothes are rather shabby and falling apart.

    "Don't hurt me, don't hurt me! Who are you?"

    "Calm down old man. We're here to help. What's your name?"

    [Reassurance buy by Freddie.]

    "Me? I'm...I'm...John. William? No. John. That's what they called me. Wait. Something else. Doctor. I'm a doctor."

    "Do you have a last name?"

    "Pol...Per...Pally...Polidori! That's me, Doctor John Polidori!"

    "And what are you doing here?"

    "I went away. The Master told me to go away, and I went. He told me to forget, and I forgot."

    "And who is this master fellow?"

    "He's the Master! He's the oldest one. He made me, long ago."

    This goes on for a while. John came from the south, from Victory, wherever that was. He had gone to see the Master for some reason, and it amused the Master to drive him insane and dress him in this ridiculous fashion. John has been living here for some time, surviving on the blood of animals and his memory.

    "There was me, and Mary, and...ship guy, who orders ships? Admiral? Admiral's grandson. George. He let us call him George, not my lord. I was his doctor. This was long ago."

    "Really? I say John, who was king back then?"


    "Your friend?"

    "No! Crazy George. Then his son, when I died."

    "You...what, old man?"

    "Died. I died. The Master made me then. Oh, I tried to die again. I hung myself for a day, but it didn't work. I shot myself, but I got better again. I can't die."

    Freddie takes a closer look. John only inhales when he needs to talk. His skin is cold. Freddie checks for a pulse. He doesn't find any.

    "Can you open your mouth?"

    With a sinking feeling, Freddie examines the long fangs of John Polidori.

    [Series of stability checks here. I charged Freddie for both figuring out that John was dead, and seeing the fangs, under the theory that it's one thing to expect it, quite another to actually see it.

    For those of you not in on the joke, the vampire is John Polidori, personal physician of Lord Byron and author of one of the first vampire novels in English--the only other book to come out of the famous contest that resulted in Mary Shelley's

    Thoroughly disturbed, the group discuss what to do. Freddie feels the best thing to do is to ensure that John gets fresh blood every night, so that he won't terrorize people. Pearkes and Gilbert want to destroy him, but Freddie wins out.

    "So, listen John, we'll arrange for you to have blood every day. How's that sound?"

    "Oh good! Very good. Good to have blood. I've been so hungry for so long. Not having blood. Good blood. Blood like yours..."

    "Er, right. Well...we'll be going then..."

    "Yes. I think you should go. You should go right now. Go before I decide to eat you..."

    Pearkes sticks the blade of his sword cane through John's head.

    [I played up John's menace here--he'd hit the end of his ability to converse with Happy Meals on legs. Still, PP surprised everyone with his attack.]

    A furious struggle breaks out. John turns out to be incredibly strong, seizing Pearkes and ravaging his neck. Gilbert and Freddie try to drag the vampire off of Pearkes, who starts to shoot the undead. Freddie squirts some lantern fuel on the vampire and then bashes him with the lantern, setting him on fire. Undaunted, John plunges his fangs into Freddie's neck, gleefully sucking down the arterial blood that splashes everywhere. Finally Gilbert and Pearkes manage to hack John's head off with the sword cane, ending the fight.

    [Didn't really stat out John, just gave him a bunch of health and like Scuffling-12. His bite did 1d6 +3, which is a lot--he did something like 12 points to poor Freddie, and I brought back health as he drained Freddie. Bullets did less damage too.

    I was surprised at the attack, but decided to make it my nervy fight of the session--we seem to have one per episode. I don't think FP was all that happy about having Freddie drop to seriously wounded.]
  • Episode III: Night Comes On (part 3)

    Gilbert manages to get Freddie stable, but it is clear that they must get him medical attention soon or he will bleed out.

    [I gave everyone three build points after the NYC chapter--it was going to be 2, but when BP left I increased it. GP took some more First Aid as the group was now without a primary healer. They also lack a shrink; this might make a good NPC (and Source of Stability, natch.)]

    Together, Pearkes and Gilbert manage to drag Freddie back to the surface. While Gilbert stands guard (they are on the edge of the Old City), Pearkes runs out to look for something to make a stretcher out of.

    He tears down the awning in front of a shop--the poles and the awning cloth are perfect. Unfortunately, he makes enough noise to wake up the store's owner.

    [In general, I've been allowing certain tasks to auto-succeed if the PC just has the skill; treating General abilities like Investigative abilities. So back in Episode I, I had the hotel dick be able to tell that Gilbert was carrying because he didn't have Conceal. Here I did the same thing--Pearkes doesn't have Stealth.

    But this is clearly wrong! I should have given PP a roll at least, let him take the 50-50. So much bad would come from this...]

    The shop owner rushes outside to confront the colonel. Pearkes throws a ten-pound note at him, but the man just spits at it. He starts to scream in Arabic, causing a crowd to rapidly gather. Pearkes steps back and fires a shot in the air.

    [And so we dig deeper. I was caught up in the moment, and was annoyed at Pearkes always trying to assert his superiority, so I escalated with the shopkeeper and then the crowd. Sure, it flowed naturally from the situation; but it was a huge mistake on a bunch of levels, as will become clear.]

    A man steps out of the crowd, holding an ancient percussion rifle. "Put down your gun, English. We are tired of you coming and stealing from us."

    Pearkes faces the sheikh down with his steely battlefield glare.

    [Two-point Intimidation buy from PP. Which I ignored, because I am an idiot. Or something.

    Here's the problem with what was happening, or at least how I see it in retrospect:

    --PP was sending clear signals that he wanted to be a Big Damn Hero.

    --That's why he attacked John, although at the time we read it as mere belligerence.

    --PP has played Pearkes as consistently confrontational, which got wearing--TO ME. As a player, he generally likes to have minions for his PC, and I was making him get in line behind everyone else.

    --All that said, he was being the Big Damn Hero, the Unflappable Soldier who pulls off the impossible when everything is going to hell. And I dinged him for it, and then wouldn't back down.

    --This was a major GM FAIL on my part; PP basically shut down after this, and I can see why: I was saying, essentially, that his character concept wasn't legitimate. Which is stupid.]

    Despite his best attempts to head off the crowd, eventually Pearkes is surrounded and then delivered to the Egyptian Police nicely trussed up. The sheikh swears out a warrant against him, and eventually an officer from the base arrives to get him released.

    Meanwhile, Gilbert has managed to get some of the local children (roused by the near-riot) to run off and fetch a carriage to take them back to Claridge's.

    Freddie, having been warned off of the local hospitals, has the hotel hire a doctor and round-the-clock nurses. He has Hasan the dragoman summon a local representative of the Wafd--the anti-British political party--to the hotel to discuss Pearkes' case.

    The representative who comes turns out to be none other than Saad Zaghloul, the leader of the party and ex-Prime Minister. Zaghloul wants to use the incident to incite the party; the elections are a week away, and an anti-British incident will be useful. Freddie manages to convince him that a healthy donation to the Wafd will be gladly made, provided his friend Pearkes gets out of his jam. Zaghloul agrees, and Pearkes' charges are dismissed with a fine.

    While Freddie recuperates, he is visited by Mustafa Pasha, the under-secretary of Cultural Affairs and a friend of King Faud. The pasha wants to use Freddie's injury as the royalist's own political incident: the assault on an innocent British civilian by the ruffians who rioted in the Old City. Freddie demurs gently, but manages to convince Mustafa he is on his side.

    After a week, Freddie is well enough to make the trip to Cairo, and they take the train south, hoping to follow up on their slender leads: the names Omar Shakhti and Faraz Najir from Jackson's journal, and Erica's tip to find Warren Besart.

  • A man steps out of the crowd, holding an ancient percussion rifle. "Put down your gun, English. We are tired of you coming and stealing from us."

    Pearkes faces the sheikh down with his steely battlefield glare.

    [Two-point Intimidation buy from PP. Which I ignored, because I am an idiot. Or something.

    Here's the problem with what was happening, or at least how I see it in retrospect:

    --PP was sending clear signals that he wanted to be a Big Damn Hero.

    --That's why he attacked John, although at the time we read it as mere belligerence.

    --PP has played Pearkes as consistently confrontational, which got wearing--TO ME. As a player, he generally likes to have minions for his PC, and I was making him get in line behind everyone else.

    --All that said, he was being the Big Damn Hero, the Unflappable Soldier who pulls off the impossible when everything is going to hell. And I dinged him for it, and then wouldn't back down.

    --This was a major GM FAIL on my part; PP basically shut down after this, and I can see why: I was saying, essentially, that his character concept wasn't legitimate. Which is stupid.]

    Yes, I think I agree. It can be hard when you feel like a player is steam-rolling you or hogging the spotlight, but sometimes you just have to live with it. Players play to be effectual: they want to make stuff happen. If stuff just happens to them, they might as well be reading a book or watching a movie. In any event, a better GM strategy in my experience is always to give the PCs enough rope to hang themselves. "Ah, ferengi dog, I will take your money because I deserve nothing less for the wrong you have done me--but you have made an enemy today!" Signal future badness, if you like.

    Ah, well. Lesson learned. Good to reflect on it, though.

  • Yeah, Bill, hard lessons. I don't think it destroyed the session, and I apologized to PP the next day and told him I'd been too hard on Pearkes. We also discussed his plans for George--he's not insensible to the fact that his beloved Empire is built on racism and exploitation--but hasn't reached snapping point yet.

    I think there's some re-gearing on my part here, and a bit of trouble in grasping just exactly what the parameters of the Keeper's role are. In Pathfinder, my role was clear: cough up level-appropriate encounters and more or less be adversarial in conduct (if not intention; I'm a player's GM for the most part.)

    And in Lady Blackbird, I'm content to more or less roll with things and occasionally add a little frustration of plans; when the crew of the Owl act like sociopaths, I just swallow it, and hope my incredulity speaks volumes :-) (Tongue in cheek; they want a sociopath murderhobo adventure, hey, I'm just there to ask questions.)

    But in TOC I'm both adversary (and a very unfair adversary at that) and collaborator in the fiction. I'm having a bit of trouble sometimes adjusting to that. (That, and the usual GM complaint of always having too many balls in the air; for such a light system, I always seem to be on the verge of missing stuff.)

    So I missed a clear player flag again, and the session was less awesome than it could have been. (It was still pretty awesome; I'm enjoying the Cairo section.)

    In any case, Pearkes will get some minions next time, oodles of cultists to practice heroism against, and probably somebody to rescue. The Big Damn Hero package--ask your server.

    FP talked to me a bit about the conflicting genres of the players--as he sees it, CP seems willing to try the dark-horror-with-a-humorous-bent thing, FP himself is doing genial social satire, GP seems to want to play a thriller, and PP wants to be an action hero. He (FP) asked me how tied I was to the horror theme--because pulp as a genre can handle all the modes listed above.

    I'm not sure exactly how to answer that. I mean, how much horror can you take from the adventure? One the one hand, Cthulhu is a horror game, explicitly; one the other, Lovecraft really wasn't all that...scary.

    I replied that I was reaching around for dark pulp (heroes in a downbeat setting, victory possible but only with sacrifice) with a healthy mix of pulp horror (screaming, running around, heroes punching out supernatural baddies.) To be honest, if I can get the psychological state of the BSG reboot (the lodestar of the campaign, after all) I'll be plenty satisfied. Is that how the game has played out? I'm not sure. I mean, there's plenty of comedy with Freddie, and the fights have all been nervy and tense. So maybe?

    Tailoring the game to the players is probably the definition of the art of the GM. I'm confident that I can pull it off--I more or less did with the same crew in the Pathfinder game--but it's important to continue to keep your trim.
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