Session 03: London 1923, Part One

Originally Posted May 27, 2015

Summary

Shortly after the events of the last session, this story appears in the London Evening News:

Startling Twist in Smuggling Case

Officials at Scotland Yard have released word of a surprising development in their investigation of a smuggling operation based in the Docklands. Readers will recall the story last week of the tip from a loyal subject of His Majesty that led to daring raid on a seedy warehouse in dark corner of the St Katharine docks. There police uncovered evidence that valuable silks, rugs, and other textiles were being smuggled into London, concealed amidst more mundane products. Additionally some precious art object and antiquities were found, apparently about to leave the country by similar illegal means. Several of these items eventually turned up on recent theft reports.

Several foreigners, including a Mahmet Makryat, a Turkish shop owner in Islington, were detained to assist in Scotland Yard’s inquiries. The warehouse was under lease by a shipping business owned by Mr. Makryat’s family. Since the raid, evidence has been accumulating of numerous violations of commerce laws.

Mahmet Makryat

The amazing new development in the case came in a telegram delivered to police officials by the Turkish embassy: Mr. Mahmet Makryat is not in fact in London at all. For several months he has been in the company’s offices in Constantinople. Confronted with this evidence, the man claiming to to be Makryat broke down and admitted to be a Metin Isak. Mr. Isak, knowing that Mr. Makryat would be out of the country, and baring him a physical resemblance, assumed his identity to subvert the business’s operations to illegal purposes. Turkish officials promise continued cooperation with Scotland Yard and officials there say this web of theft and deception will soon be swept from our city

Prof. Julius Smith’s reaction to this story is more of concern than relief: “I hardly know what to make of all this. I am sure it is some mixture of truth and lies; that is always Selim Makryat’s way. Little stands in the way of his hunger for power, be in economic, political, or… for forces beyond mundane concerns. We must all be wary for signs of activity from the Makryats or their agents. I will be sure that others I am in contact with are also on alert.”

The rest of 1922 flowed past with all the involved characters going about their lives. They did not meet up again until a wintery day after Christmas, the funeral of the elderly train conductor, Henri.

Matthew Hemingsworth had an appointment with Duc Jean de Messeraine, a Swedish nobleman and collector who is interested in locating an ancient statue that was broken into fragments before the French Revolution. He wishes to commission Matthew to find these fragments, but is hesitant to say more about them until an agreement has been made.

January 3rd, 1923 was the date of Prof. Smith’s lecture at the famous Challenger Institute. The speech went well, with talk of Einstein, Bohr, and higher dimensions. Mehmet Makryat himself was in attendance, and made a few ominous comments remarks about the dangers of powerful relics (such as the Doom Train set) falling into the wrong hands — and implied that his father, Selim, would be the right person to control such things. “My father believes in the Old Ways,” he tells Umar ibn Abu. Makryat also mentioned a “Prince” and warned Smith from having anything to do with him. Smith explained that this Prince was a former associate of Selim, but they are now enemies.

Hambaba Mask

On their way to dinner with Violet Gibbs-Wolf, the Investigators were confronted by Wallis Hilton as he was being chased by a Hambaba. Wallis did not know why he was being targeted, other than it might be related to some research and translation work he was doing for Edgar Wellington. He stated he could explain more if they would meet him at his office in a couple days. Emily Johnson found this suspicious, and through a combination of violence, reassurance, and alcohol it was revealed that he was not truly Wallis, but was hired by Makryat to lead the Investigators into a trap.

The Investigators then split up. Umar slipped away to check out Wallis’s office, where he found Wallis’s notes, the Cuneiform Decoding Keys, and an unposted letter to Edgar Wellington.

Edgar Wellington
Wellington Fils Taxidermie
50, Rue St. Etienne
Lausanne, Switzerland My Dear Mr. Wellington,
The keys work as you suggested. I have had success at decoding the sample documents I must do a little more research then I will send you the keys and notes on how to use them, though I would welcome to work on the primary documents you have alluded to.
The few intriguing hints you have given me, remind me of a certain blasphemous text I happened to come across at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Do you have your own copy Devil’s Simulare?Or even the pre-Roman source that volume is derived from?
It is presumptuous on my part, I know, but it would be my honor, to continue to assist you in such research, if that is indeed your goal.
Your servant,
Wallis Hilton

Matthew took the fake Wallis back to his townhouse, where the now intoxicated imposter was tied up, after making strange references to his skin as looking “just like the real thing.” Matthew got his shotgun ready.

The others continued to Violet’s where they found a distraught Prof. Smith. He had received word that the real Wallis had been founded, his body flayed, in a storage closet at the British Library. The Investigators hurried drove off to rendezvous with Matthew.

Dr. Wilke performs a little scrying magic and sees that Matthew’s home appears under surveillance from the air. They break in through the servant’s entrance and explain what they have learned.

Umar himself arrives, unaware of any danger and is attacked by a Flesh Kite.

A full scale attack by Makryat’s forces ensues, with the sorceror demanding return of the Decoding Keys, but the Investigators fight them off. The flesh of the false Wallis pulls itself free and issues an ominous: “The Skinless One will not be Denied! Ask Prof. Smith what happens to those that denies Him!”

The Investigators rush off into the night only to find Smith’s home burned to the ground with Smith and his butler missing.

Commentary

I first played “Orient Express” (with Call of Cthulhu rules) as a special Gencon event where we did the entire campaign in four days. In that format we had a lot of player buy-in and willingness go along with whatever the plot demanded. I did think early on that the adventure might be better served through Trail of Cthulhu. As written, the first few chapters have a lot of complex setup and rigmarole leading to a few Library Use rolls. And if you fail those rolls you are faced with the challenge of… more Library Use rolls! Pretty much you keep rolling until you finally get the necessary information. This can take days of in-game time, dealing with recalcitrant librarians, language issues, and troublesome assistants. The campaign books actually encourage the Keeper to make things tedious for the players.I first played “Orient Express” (with Call of Cthulhu rules) as a special Gencon event where we did the entire campaign in four days. In that format we had a lot of player buy-in and willingness go along with whatever the plot demanded. I did think early on that the adventure might be better served through Trail of Cthulhu. As written, the first few chapters have a lot of complex setup and rigmarole leading to a few Library Use rolls. And if you fail those rolls you are faced with the challenge of… more Library Use rolls! Pretty much you keep rolling until you finally get the necessary information. This can take days of in-game time, dealing with recalcitrant librarians, language issues, and troublesome assistants. The campaign books actually encourage the Keeper to make things tedious for the players.

Gumshoe of course functions to cut through that. Additionally I want to provide other avenues for finding the important clues than just going to libraries, for all that the British Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale loom large in the opening of the campaign

Another odd thing about the opening of the campaign is that are Weird events going on that the players just hear about. The “Man Dies Three Times” event that people familiar with the campaign probably remember, for instance. I decided to introduce some schemes that Mahmet Makryat is involved in that the players could investigate and battle against. They would, over the course of these encounters, stumble on the three dead Makryat duplicates, as well as accumulate some of the core clues that would otherwise just be waiting at the Library.

As played out in the actual session, we started with the Challenger Lecture where Prof. Smith talks about the use of modern science to investigate stories of ghosts and mysterious disappearances. The Investigators already know Smith from my prologue sessions. As written, there is a mysterious foreigner at the Lecture, but I had Makryat himself put in appearance and make ominous threats. The first part of his schemes involved setting up the Investigators for a trap, but they saw through it, with a combination of a player’s own insight and their PC’s Interpersonal Skills.

Hijinks ensue and the players get a hold of a cuneiform decoding system that will functions as an Investigation Pool for understanding the Sedefkar Scrolls, once those shows up. They also already find some clues pointing to Edgar Wellington in Lausanne. I want to keep things open enough that the players aren’t stuck following the campaigns Scenarios in exact order.

I’m not sure how much of my (and Makryat’s) original plan will end up being played out, but the Investigators are realizing that Makryat is up to something, that Prof Smith has secrets he hasn’t told them, and there is an ancient, fragmented statue out there that multiple factions are interested. For cliffhanger I ended with the Investigators finding Prof. Smith’ s townhouse burned to the ground – since part of Makryat’s scheme was to distract them from this attack.

Most of the players are still new to “Trail of Cthulhu,” so we are still finding the right tone and people are refining their characters. My plan is to divide the campaign into short arcs – with skill refreshes between them. They’ll be in London for one or two more sessions before finally getting onboard the darn train that the campaign is named after!