Session 08: Lausanne 1923

Lausanne

Originally posted Aug 31, 2015

Summary

The investigators boarded the famed Orient Express as it prepared for a late night departure from Paris. The perfectly adequate dress and manners of our heroes earned them snobbish glares from fellow passengers, but the highly trained and courteous staff of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits welcomed them aboard and showed them to their cabins.

Also on the train was the famed opera singer, Caterina Cavollaro on her way home to Milan after a world tour. Many of the passengers spent the night at a party in her honor, but Umar was absorbed in studying the letters they’d collected regarding Edgar Wellington, while Miss Crispin was absorbed in something else: a dream of a lupine shape pacing alongside the train, which was driven off by a hunting party lead by the medieval Prince who has haunted her dreams before.

Morning found them across the Swiss border, in the town of Lausanne. Miss Johnson, who had previously been recovering from her wounds with remarkable swiftness, took a turn for the worse and was confined to her bed. After a hotel was arranged for the night, they located the taxidermy shop of the Wellington brothers. They first encountered not Edgar, but his brother William, who was mute and disabled by war injuries. When Edgar himself arrived, Dr. Wilke launched into a pretense they were associates of Wallis Hilton the London student Edgar had been working with to translate and decode a strange scroll holding knowledge of the Simulacrum. Edgar was nervous and flustered, but became exciting by the notion of selling the scroll to them, claiming, with limited sincerity, to have grown bored with it. There was though another potential buyer, and Edgar suggested they all meet this evening to discuss offers and arrange a final deal.

The Investigators spent some time then seeing a few sites and encountered a local nobleman, Duke Messeraine — who strangely resembled the Prince Miss Crispin had seen in her dreams. They correctly surmised that the Duke was the other party interested in buying the scroll.

The time of the evening meeting came and went. A messenger from the Duke reported that he was delayed and sent a bottle of wine as an apology. A boy sent by the Investigators themselves returned to describe the Wellingtons’ shop as sitting dark, but with the door ajar.

They hurried over as quickly as possible — Dr. Wilke having over-indulged in beverages during the wait. In the rooms above the shop, Edgar was found dead on his bed, apparently from an overdose of a mysterious narcotic. Another bedroom, seemingly William’s, looked unused for some time. A hidden stairway was found and it led to a basement workshop.

Within, William lay comatose, hooked to a rack of strange machines — confirming suspicions that he was some sort of revenant brought back to life after fatal war wounds. Numerous books and letters showed that William had been attempted to translate The Scroll of the Head but had been frustrated by the cuneiform codes. What at first appeared to be the scroll itself turned out to be a fake, with no sign of the original. Edgar had been introduced to the drug that killed him by the Duke. Fantastic as it seemed, it appeared to transport one into a dreamworld version of Lausanne.

While clues were gathered and a sample of the drug located, William began to stir. Miss Crispin calmed him by reading from his favorite storybook. As the Investigators were leaving, William requested a pen and paper. Scrawling as best he could, William wrote that when he first awoke he had moments of relative coherence. Trapped in his current state, he was dependent on constant treatment from Edgar. William wrote that they should leave, soon, before his intelligence and control faded away. The Investigators decided it best not to tell William that Edgar was dead, and while worried about William’s eventual fate, hurried away.

The Investigators did some cautious experiments with the dream drug, finding that one could pass into and out of Dream Lausanne and that it was even possible to bring physical objects across the membrane between worlds. Umar and Dr. Wilke took full doses, and went to the dream-analog of the Wellington’s shop. They looked for the underground workshop, but in frustration found it does not exist in this world.

Meanwhile, the streets of Dream Lausanne had become filled with people… and other things.

All were rushing to the town square for the “Trial.” Swept along with the crowd, Umar and Dr. Wilke found a multi-level scaffold hung with plants, lights, and dangling bodies. Duke Messarine, now in full regalia as the Prince, was accusing Edgar Wellington of numerous crimes. Umar agreed to speak in Wellington’s defense, while a wheezing statue stood as Judge.

The Prince presented a series of outlandish crimes which Umar successfully deflected, with Dr. Wilke trying to win the crowd over to their side as well. The Prince grew increasingly angry, it becoming clear that he was primarily after the location of the Scroll. The Judge decided in Edgar’s favor and he was released. The Prince rallied the crowd to apprehend the intruders ,and the rampaging mob chased them through the city.

Distracting the crowd with illusions and gunfire, they managed to reach the Wellingtons’ shop. Edgar revealed the hidden Scroll and gratefully handed it over. He explained it takes only concentration to wake from this dream. He was though unaware of his dead in the waking world and only faded away into nothingness.

The Investigators then hurried to catch the morning arrival of the Orient Express in order to leave Lausanne far behind them.

Commentary

We are at the “Lausanne” chapter of Orient Express now. The plot of the session kept mainly to the scenario as written, but I adjusted few keys bits.

My inspirations for many of the changes I make to the campaign come from things I was expecting to happen when I went through it as a player — but then didn’t end up happening. For instance, when we met the sketchy taxidermist Edgar Wellington and his mute, looming, and lurching brother William, I was expecting some sort of Frankenstein’s monster element. But, no: William is only the victim of war injuries and is in the scenario just to be upsetting — because I guess disabled people are innately supposed to be creepy…

I decided to go with my expectations: William had been killed during the Great War and Edgar brought him back to some semblance of life through weird science. He acquired the Sedefkar Scroll (the goal of the scenario) as part of an effort to magically improve his brother’s condition. My players picked up on the hints immediately. Indeed one of them had already, as soon as he heard they were in Switzerland and near Lake Geneva, said he wanted to visit the villa where Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein!

The Investigators were concerned about William once they learned of his condition, but circumstances led them to flee town without doing anything to help him. I think they are expecting to eventually read in the newspapers about a monster going on a rampage through town and being chased by a torch wielding mob. I don’t know if that’s exactly will happen, but I’m sure William will return in the campaign eventually.

As written, the Investigators find Edgar Wellington’s diary, which conveniently explains what’s going on. I wanted to try something different: I typed up a lot of small notes representing the facts and clues the players’ discovered. What is on Wellington’s book shelf? Here’s are all the volumes. Here’s the things you find on his desk, etc. I wanted them to be puzzle pieces the players put together. I’m not sure how much of the Wellington backstory they pieced together, (finding a photo of the Brothers in uniform, and then a letter of condolence addressed to Edgar led to a pretty obvious conclusion) but they seemed to enjoy getting a literal pile of clues.

I tried to play up the faerie-tale quality of Dream Lausanne. One of the Investigators is a medium and she has been having dreams about the place, and the Jigsaw Prince, for several sessions. Goblins, elves, bipedal sheep, and other weird things were mixed it with the town’s inhabitants. I didn’t use the parade of visions that were meant to foreshadow future scenarios. When I played the campaign I certainly didn’t understand or recall these visions when we got to those points….

The Trial, which you know about if you’re familiar with the campaign, worked well. As written the Keeper is supposed to numerically rate each defense speech the Investigators make and then add up the numbers to see if they “win” or not. Contrary to the usual Gumshoe approach I actually game-ified things more and used dice rolls. If a player could use an Interpersonal Skill they got to roll a d6. A Spend gave them a +2 on that roll. If they could justify another class of Skill (say Law or History) they could use that for a roll, but then they had to make the Spend. A support Spend from someone else gave them a +1. The prosecutor in the case was rolling a straight d6+2 each time. Each roll was added together and the highest total won. I might tweak the numbers some if I do something similar in the future, but I think it gave the situation some tension. The Investigators won fairly easily, though that that did result in a mob chasing them through Dream Lausanne (for which I used some of Nights Black Agents chase rules).

Next session is a flashback to 1893 Constantinople that will fill in some of the backstory to the current events. The campaign has three flashback scenarios, and I hope to include them. For this I plan to go full Purist, unlike the mostly Pulp mode so far. I’ve warned the players about this. Since it is a flashback, keeping characters alive or sane will be of little concern. In most of the Purist games I’ve done in the past, by the end of the scenario characters aren’t in much condition to move on to the next adventure.