Session 02: The Doom Train

Originally posted on Apr 27, 2015

Summary

In the Spring of 1897 a passenger train set on the Liverpool-London line derailed in a terrible accident, the front four cars falling into the Thames to be washed away without a trace…

Albert Alexis

In the Winter of 1921 Prof. Julius Smith gatherers some acquaintances to assist him with an odd problem. Smith had been corresponding with an Albert Alexis on the subject of mysterious disappearances. Albert believes his own father, Randolph had vanished, years ago, rather than being killed in the 1897 train wreck. Now Albert himself has gone missing.

Investigators go on the trail of an elaborate train set assembled by Albert, which has ended up in the hands of a Turkish merchant, Mahmet Makryat. This train set is somehow linked to the 1897 disaster which did not destroy the train, but sent it adrift in time and space as the result of a botched ritual performed by Randolph Alexis, a murderous sorcerer. Albert had used the train set as part of his own ritual to reach his father, but succeeded only long enough to be taken aboard himself.

The train set is recovered from Makryat, and Albert’s notes are used to summon the lost train back into normal reality, at the risk of the wrath of the The Hounds of Tindalos which haunt the strange angles outside our dimensions. The surviving passengers are rescued, Randolph is killed, all before the train vanishes again.

Commentary

For this one-shot I went to material from the actual Orient Express campaign books. I drew on “The Doom Train” adventure, which is presented as a side-story for when the main campaign is underway, but I thought would work as a prologue.

My main goals were to introduce new PCs, reinforce Prof. Smith as a main “quest-giver” NPC, and have the characters encounter Mahmet Makryat, a major figure in events to come. In the printed campaign the PCs would have already met Makryat, but I wanted to give him a more gradual introduction as well as hint at the past encounters between the Makryat family and Prof. Smith.

The adventure ultimately went through multiple revisions. First was my adaption of it to “Trail” and restructuring the order of scenes and the clue chain that connected them.

Second revision came when I found out there would be six players at the session, which seemed a lot for a fairly linear investigation (Six strangers show up at an NPSc door and start asking questions). I took a cue from an idea that shows up several times in the campaign books: don’t just have PCs get a data dump about what happened in the past: have them play characters who experienced those events. “Doom Train” is about a train that disappeared in 1897, so I had one group doing the investigation in 1921 and a second group actually on the train in 1897 — and subsequently lost in time and space, only occasionally intersecting with the “normal” world.

Final revision came during actual play where I rewrote and reordered events and scenes to suit player actions, and to fit the core scenes into the one session format. At one point I just asked the players to narrate the police raid on some bad guys’ warehouse and the seizing of the magic artifact they had acquired, rather than playing it out. That wasn’t the main story and there was no good reason why one wouldn’t call on the authorities in that circumstance. It will though have a major effect on their interactions with Makryat to come…

Since there was warping of time and space and a mixing Einstein with sorcerous ritual and all, it seemed natural to include the Hounds of Tindalos in the mix, and I looked to the “Ken Writes About Stuff” for approaches to the Hounds.

The session closed with a big player vs player moral conflict about the risks of saving innocents vs dangers to life and sanity (and maybe the world in general). I tried to arbitrate that and move the players to a decision without forcing them into a particular choice. Not sure how successful that was. I wanted to wrap up the session at that point. With more time it might have been interesting to explore the consequences of saying “no” to the heroic rescue. Maybe I bring that up as a theme in later sessions…