Session 01: Terror on the Thames

Originally posted Apr 22, 2015

Summary

One of the most talked about London social events of the Spring of 1920 is an exclusive party organized by self-described “Southern Gentleman” Thaddeus Grant. He has paid for an entire Mississippi riverboat, The Louisiana Lady, to be brought to London and he will host a lavish party aboard her as she steams up and down the Thames river.

While many of the London elite wouldn’t be caught dead at such a gauge affair, many others are clamouring for the limited invitations. A highlight would be the debut of a young lady of uncertain origins, variously described as Grant’s ward, goddaughter, or simply his “companion.” Further rumors say Grant’s rise in society is being assisted by William Cunliffe, who, while the youngest son of Lord Cunliffe, is not exactly the most respectable guide he could have chosen.

As the ship set forth down the Thames, towards a late-night firework show, guests mingled on the dance floor, Dixieland Jazz in the background. There were many whispers about who exactly Felicia was, and her lascivious dancing and the way she slipped off with the first young man she met supported those who claimed her origins were on the London Streets, not the royal mansions of Europe.

The crew of the Louisiana Lady also seemed a bit more unsavory that would be expected. Evidence was found that the guests had been gathered as victims of an evil ritual and Felicia showed a hunger for more that just amorous attention. The Investigators set fire to the boat as a distraction and sabotaged the steering to send it to the nearest shore. Felicia began to transform into a horrific creature, killing who were she encountered, including Cunliffe, who failed to persuade her to wait until the “bridegroom” was ready and their ascent to power could begin.

The creature was shot down and set aflame, hopefully to perish with the sinking ship. The guests were safely carried, or swam and waded to shore.

Prof Smith

Commentary

I’m starting a campaign of Chaosium’s new Edition of “Horror on the Orient Express” using “Trail of Cthulhu.” I thought I’d post a little more detail about it.

As support for the game, I also acquired Cubicle 7’s “Cthulhu Britannica: London” (I have the PDFs through Kickstarter as the print version isn’t out yet) for all its background material on 1920s London. I wanted to start out with a couple related one-shots, so for the first session I used an adventure included in London set, “Terror on the Thames.” It’s a pretty straightforward intro adventure. As written it’s kind of a haunted house scenario, though I tweaked it to be more of an “Alien” situation.

Besides using it as an introduction to the setting and “Trail” I also brought some NPCs onstage. Firstly was Prof. Julius Smith, who is a major figure in “Orient Express.” I wanted the players to get to know him in advance of the main plot. The scenario came with a big cast; which other ones end up being important depend on who the Investigators decide to interact with. Several NPCs from this scenario will show up in later sessions.

For the most part converting things to “Trail” was simple, just using Gumshoe rules and philosophy to move things along. Once a few ominous clues were in the players hands, they caused enough disruption for the action to escalate quickly and a whole second half of the scenario as written was unnecessary. The basic rpg principle that if player character are loose on a boat it will, at some point, catch fire and sink was demonstrated.

The next session will be another one-shot, with characters being gathered by Prof. Smith for one of the side-mission in the actual “Orient Express” game books. Again I want to introduce more characters and plot elements that will be part of future sessions. Part of what makes “Orient Express” interesting to me is that the campaign’s story is part of a web of events involving a long history of multiple competing factions. I want to lay groundwork to give the players a lot to explore and a lot of important choices to make.