Session 05: Paris 1923, Part One

Originally posted Jul 15, 2015

Summary

After an exhausting trip across the English Channel and a late evening ride on the Calais Coach across the French countryside, the Investigators arrived in Paris and could relax at the luxurious Hotel Bristol. They slept well, except for Miss Crispin having a dream of a medieval prince hunting a man across an abstracted countryside — the man appearing to be the long lost Albert Alexis.

Over breakfast next actions are discussed. A telegram from Violet arrived saying that Prof. Smith was doing well, and that any messages should be relayed through her. Dr. Wilke grumbled some suspicions about where they should really be trusting Smith.

Dr. Wilke’s contact at the Bibliothèque Nationale, clerk and student Remi Vangeim, was dismayed that they had come in search of the the Devil’s Simulare. It seems that the valuable book had just been stolen by one of the library’s directors, Prof. Brice Clavet. The police believed he took it to pay from drug debts to criminals from the East — but they must not have been pleased by the deal, since Clavet’s body was found, skinned, at his apartment.

While Umar stayed behind to see what information he can find about the missing book, the others checked out Prof. Clavet’s former apartment. It has been cleaned and repainted since the crime, but Miss Crispin arranged to rent it for a month, so that a seance can be performed. She and Dr. Wilke summoned up what claims to be the dead man’s spirit. It wailed for help, saying that is trapped between this world and the next. It explained that it witnessed its own ritual murder and flaying, confirming that the Devil’s Simulare was in fact taken by an agent of Makryat wearing Clavet’s flesh. Miss Crispin failed in an attempt to spend the spirit into the Light, leaving in lost and at the mercy of a hungry force that was stalking it.

A telegram from Prof.Smith pointed the Investigators to look into the history of the Comte Fenalik, a pre-Revolutionary noble whom Smith believes was the last owner of the intact Simulacrum. While he was erased from official records, a few period diaries recounted the mansion of debauchery he had founded before being arrested and thrown into the Charenton Asylum to be forgotten.

Umar went to check out the Asylum — which had recently appointed a new director after the previous one died in an accident. He found that while there was an account of Fenalik being admitted, there was no further mention of him in their records. Looking into the fate of the director, Umar discovered he had died while performing experimental electrical therapy on an unknown patient. According to the testimony of a madman, this patient had been found as a desiccated corpse in the Asylum basement. Umar’s concluded that Fenalik still lived — and was on the loose.

Commentary

Aside from the differences in game mechanics, converting “Horror on the Orient Express” to Trail of Cthulhu has been relatively straight forward. One can read through the adventure and extract Core Clues easily enough. Most of the rest I use for color and inspiration to fill the rest of the sessions. There’s plenty of rich detail to build on and adapt to my style of adventure design.

In the last session I faced a couple instances of the players getting interested in what I had planned as a secondary detail, and paying less attention to what I intended as the main investigation. While I tried to emphasize that (in this example) the murder scene had been thoroughly gone over by the police and the landlord had cleaned and repainted, I did not want to shut them down from their intent — which was to hold a seance (one of the PCs is a medium). I tried to make this an interesting scene, with some information to be uncovered, though I couldn’t think of a way to slip a Core Clue into the situation.

The bigger consequence of the situation was the Investigators coming to feel they were a step or two behind their opponents and needed to take drastic action. They decided to hire a plane to travel ahead of the Orient Express, hoping to get to a fragment of the Simulacrum in advance of the enemies they assume are on the same route they are. This is interesting since “Orient Express” unlike, say “Eternal Lies,” is very linear, with an assumption the players will go from one location to the next. I’m fine with them doing this and I definitely want this choice to have a significant effect on the events of the campaign.

They also “split the party” with one PC staying behind in Paris to follow up leads on the Charenton Asylum and Count Fenalik. Having two parallel event sequences messes with my goals for pacing, but again I do not want to stop players from making such choices. While I had planned to have Charenton be a fairly complex investigation — as written in the campaign books — I condensed a lot and, Core Clues in mind, moved the player through that sequence in the last half-hour or so of the session.

One plot element I’m adding, btw, is that Fenalik was awoken on January 3rd (the morning before the Challenger Lecture and the attack on Prof. Smith) with the idea that it was the return of the Simulacrum’s previous owner that stirred the artifact to a more energized state, and set the Campaign’s whole sequence of events in motion.

So now I’m looking at the Belgrade chapter of the campaign, both giving it my usual treatment, as well as considering the consequences of this happening now, rather than several stages later on in their quest. I’m not sure how far the lone Investigator will take things on his own, back in Paris, and how he will fare. Fenalik may have a very different reaction to a lone investigator poking around, rather than a whole party