Session 09: Constantinople 1893, Part One

Constantinople

Originally posted Sept 9, 2015

Summary

Aboard the Orient Express, the Investigators receive a curious package: Prof. Smith’s student and patron Violet had come across a diary of Smith’s that described his unsettling 1893 trip to Constantinople. Smith and Violet believe The information from that terrible time, which Smith has been reluctant to talk about, should be useful to the 1923 Investigators, so they sent the diary to them on the train.

In 1893 Smith was studying the languages and archaeology of the Middle-East. But while traveling to Constantinople about the Orient Express (which had been making the Paris to Turkey run for two years) he and several other passengers encountered Englishman Hampton Polk, and his unfortunate son. Matthew Polk was suffering from a degenerating condition brought about by, his father believed, a cursed fez. A mysterious man named Selim Makryat had told Polk that if he stole a collection of rare writings and scrolls from the British Museum and brought them to Constantinople a spell in them could be used to cure Matthew.

With a day left of their journey, Smith and cleric Sayed al-Masri studied the collection of papers, known as the Apocrypha of the Fez. These described the power of the Blood-Red Fez and its associated magic rituals. Nothing they could find hinted at the supposed cure, adding to the suspicions that this was some sort of ruse. Sayad took notes for further research and carefully removed a few key pages, to interfere with anyone who might attempt the spells and rituals.

On arrival, Polk and son were whisked off by agents of Selim Makryat, a man many had heard of but few knew much about, other that he was involved in international crime and had connections and spies across both Asia and Europe.

One topic described in the Apocrypha was that a sample cut from a Fez would grow into an entirely new item. Reporter Albert Botham and Dr. Georgia Macksy tested this and found, disturbingly, it appeared to be true.

Albert, who had come to the city to investigate rumors about a change in its criminal organization, talked with reporters from a local newspaper and learned the former kingpin of the city, Menkaph the Elephant, appeared to have abruptly retired, leaving rival gangs to fight for control of the streets. There was some thought that a shadowy gang or cult, The Brothers of the Skin, was waiting for this struggle to resolve, before taking control themselves.

Georgia, attended dinner with an associate, and was introduced to both the Duke Messeraine, and his companion, a former slave woman Nisra. She dominated the evening with talk and ideas for a reborn Turkey that would arise in this new century. As she was leaving, Georgia encountered a street urchin to calling to this woman as “The Daughter of Fate.”

Sayad visited the so-called “Street of Mages” in search of greater understanding of the things described in the Apocrypha. Among the fake mystics and fortune tellers, he sought out Umut Yagmar, a fakir of some true knowledge. Together they examined the cryptic Blood Runes of Atlantis found in the Apocrypha and discovered horrible suggestions about a ritual to call on an entity called The Father of Sorcerers to unleash the full sorcerous power of the Blood-Red Fez, though at terrible risk.

Flying Vision

All the while that these investigations were going on, each of the group had been experiencing visions of soldiers and war, including unknown flying machines and armored vehicles. Some seemed mere mirages, but others left real traces in their wake.

After a day shopping in the markets. Composer Clarice Warren also met the Duke. He commented that the visions were omens of things to come, and of futures that it might be possible to avoid — if she told him about the missing pages from the Apocrypha and those who had taken them. The influence of his entrancing words and promises that he could make her dreams come true, led her to reveal the locations where the Investigators were staying.

Albert was almost ambushed by a stranger in his hotel room, but escaped and tracked the attacker to a ruin known as the Shunned Mosque. It stood in an area of town with a long, dark reputation stretching back to the 13th Century when a sorcerer named Sedefkar made his home there.

After gathering at the home of Sayad’s uncle, the Investigators contemplated their next moves.

Commentary

In this session we used one of my favorite ideas from the Campaign: the present day (1923) players read a document from an early period which triggers a flashback scenario. In this case they have Prof Smith’s diary from 1893 Constantinople.

I created 8 pregens to pick from, based on a mix of my ideas and pregens from other ToC scenarios. Nobody picked Prof Smith himself, so his role is mainly to record the events as they unfold. Which characters they picked had an influence on how events unfold and which story elements got greater or lesser emphasis. The players made a few tweaks to suit ideas they had. One players decided to change an English priest into an Islamic cleric (and uncle to a 1923 PC).

The scenario is in the campaign book is called “The Blood-Red Fez” and I ultimately only used the rough concept and a few ideas from the original text. As written, the scenario has a few of the major NPCs from the main storyline making brief, almost cameo appearances, but I wanted them to be the main antagonists in our version. I hope this will fill in their backstory some and make them appear more threatening in their encounters with the 1923 Investigators. They’ve also found some important clues about the history of the Simulacrum and the 12th Century sorcerer Sedefkar.

I tried something different than how ToC scenarios usually go. Rather than starting the Investigators with a specific direction and let things branch out, I began sandboxy, with it being very open in how they responded to the initial situation. This went okay, except that I also wanted to keep this flashback to one session — which of course conflicts with a sandbox. Rather than force an ending we decided to extend things into the next session. I hope that will only take about 2/3rd of the session and we can also transition back into 1923.

I’m tweaking ToC’s settings to go more Purist, rather than Pulp here. While one PC is a minus 1 Stability already, I don’t know if I’m quite grinding them down enough yet. I want to try the alternative rule from “The Rending Box” where characters can spend Sanity to regain some Stability. Since this a sidestory I’m not too concerned about keeping characters alive or sane after the end of this scenario. I’m hoping that once they discover more about the situation they’ll find themselves in a dilemma with no good solution, and have to choose between multiple different disastrous outcomes — one being the mass death and horror that the coming World Wars unleash in the timeline as we know it. More on that next time… 3 plus ones