Session 06: Paris 1923, Part Two

Prissy

Originally posted July 29, 2015

Summary

Deciding to follow up on the situation in Paris before heading on, the Investigators rented a car and drove through the wintery countryside to the town of Poissy. They found the small but bustling city somewhat unwelcoming to foreigners, but Umar managed to overcome bureaucracy and xenophobia with a wine-fortified lunch, and city officials uncover old building plans for Fenalik’s bizarre villa. The construction was not only architecturally odd, but its proportions and patterns suggest lost cities and the channeling of occult powers. There are also indications of lower levels beneath the villa not included in the plans. The estate itself was razed 8 years ago, and the land partitioned and sold to private citizens. The site is now home to the town’s doctor, Christian Lorien, and his family.

The town is also suffering from wolf attacks. Sheep have been taken and one shepherdess killed. The “killer wolf” is said to have been shot by woodsman Pascal Gervae, but after a pause, attacks have been increasing again, and some have claimed to have spotted the killer wolf again.

A foul smelling stranger invaded the ladies’ hotel room and rifled through Miss Crispin’s personal things. The hotel put the blame on her habit of leaving the window open. The window showed signs of claw marks, and Miss Crispin agreed to lock it — as well as guard it with a saint’s medallion.

The Investigators drove to the older part of town and survey the Loriens’ property. With the information from the building plans, they located the probable entrance to the forgotten sub-levels. They met Dr. Lorien and his family, saying they are investigating the archaeology of the area. The Loriens are pleasant people, with Miss Crispin and Vernique getting along particularly well. They made plans to meet again for dinner and further discuss matters. Strangely, all the Loriens seem to be suffering from various injuries to their left arms.

A visitor

Their second night is disrupted by a creature leaping on Miss Johnson in the middle of th night. She pushed it off and stabbed it with a silver knife, while Miss Crispin threw a bedspread over it. When the spread was pulled back, a swarm of black mice scurried everywhere. Umar speared one mouse to the floor and then hurried off to investigate a scream from downstairs.


The hotel doorman is badly injured, saying he’d been clawed at by an old man who knocked on the door, showing off a gold ring as proof he was no beggar. Back in their room, the ladies kept watch on the mouse, only to face the return of the rest of the swarm. Unnatural darkness gathered, as the mice formed into a human shape. “What… year..?” it demanded in French. Umar dispelled the darkness with light and holy words from the Koran, staggering the sinister form, which escaped by blasting open the sealed window.

The next day the Investigators located Pascal Gerave at his cabin. When confronted on the topic, Gervae stated that if what he shot was a wolf, it would be dead — but he can’t swear to what exactly it was, and feared that it might be something supernatural. When they convinced him that the Investigators can deal with the matter, he agreed to help them track down the beast.

They found an old cave amidst strange 4th Century Roman ruins. Umar examined the weather construction, finding them carved with figures worshiping some insect-like deities or demons.

Gervae stayed behind to guard the cave’s entrance, while the Investigator went inside. They first found an aged, rusted cabinet of weird wires and machinery — which had recently been broken into and torn apart. Further in was an eerie glowing lantern, and a magic binding circle painted in the wall, made from both arcane symbols and circuitry. The beam of light from the lantern revealed that the circle bound the ecoplasmic form of Brice Clavet, the murdered scholar whose spirit Miss Crispin had contacted earlier. Wanting to make up for her earlier failure, Miss Crispin began to undo the spirit’s bindings. Shots rang out from the cave entrance and Umar and Miss Johnson went to investigate. The dark figure had returned, having torn out Gervae’s throat. It advanced, inquiring after why the Investigators had come, uninvited, to this place. As Miss Crispin began to free the spirit, the dark thing rushed forward to stop her.

Umar began to entone a spell from a book on controlling Djinn, attempting to bind the dark thing to the lantern. It spun to attack him, but Miss Johnson shot it. Enraged, it rushed at her, grievously injuring her, but giving Umar the chance to finish his spell. This seemed only a temporary solution and so once Clavet’s spirit was freed, Umar and Miss Crispin joined forces to bind the dark thing more permanently to the magic circle.

As the creature howled in rage, the Investigators, helping the unconscious Miss Johnson, fled the cave and into the night.

Commentary

Lots of craziness in this session of my campaign of “Orient Express” with Trail of Cthulhu. Last time there was talk of the Investigators taking a plane to Belgrade, but since the player who had suggested that couldn’t make this session, we made the call to keep everybody in Paris and finish investigating things there. The game is definitely in Pulp category now, largely due to several of the characters having some Magic and Hypnosis skills. Backgrounds range from Christian Spiritualist to Islamic Occult Scholar, so that leads to interesting clashes in flavor.

I’m starting to find some interesting use of Drives. I use a house rule of Secondary Drives based on PC relationships and personal goals. The campaign includes recovering Sanity through successes and time spend in the luxury of the Orient Express. I’m giving them a little Stability recovery from the focus they have by having a specific mission. Their personal interactions also give them a little back. I called on the spiritualist’s Duty Drive to encourage her to try and free a lost spirit she’d failed to help last time. Next time I plan to invoke some “Thirst for Knowledge” Drives, even though if would healthier for them to lay low for awhile…

One of my goals in adapting the campaign was to have the major NPCs be more active in the story. So I had Count Fenalik, weak and disoriented from his imprisonment, lurking around his former home in Poissy, France. The Investigators heard reports of a killer wolf attacking sheep (and a shepherdess) in the surrounding countryside. Not surprisingly, the players talked about werewolves — but my secondary goal was warning them about assuming creatures will work according to Universal Monster rules. The group’s Turkish PC assumes the creature is a djinn. I want to keep it uncertain whose ideas are right until they are tested “in the field.” I have my own, Lovecraftian, origin for Fenalik in mind — and there’s also a lot of Tim Powers influence in my thinking about such things.

The Investigators did follow up on the Core Clues pointing them to the underground catacombs beneath the humble home of the Lorien family, which was built on the former site of Fenalik’s villa. One player made a 2 point Reassurance spend on Mrs.Lorien. Conveniently the campaign mentions, as a red herring, that the Loriens are rare Protestants in Catholic France. The Investigator herself is Church of England, so that gave them something to bond over. I haven’t fully given the player the all the benefit of that Spend, but I’m keeping it in mind for putting to use in the next session. The players picked up on the fact that the Loriens all have injuries to their left arms, but are trying to connect that somehow with their werewolf ideas, rather than the real reason…

Building on the suggestions in the campaign book, I had Fenalik pay a couple nighttime visits to the investigators’ hotel rooms. This led to the first crazy scene involving screams in the night, swarms of black mice, a badly injured doorman, a holy words from the Koran, and the Investigators not being especially welcomed back in the hotel.

The players came out of this more concerned about the dark visitor than following up with the Loriens. I’m not actually sure if they believe this vampire/werewolf/djinn creature is Fenalik. Probably, but nobody has mentioned it openly. Hunting him down led to the second confrontation, with lots of magic, djinn binding spells, and gunplay. An unfortunate Investigator took 16 points damage (as well as going to -3 stability). A second character is at 1 stability. Despite the risk of “crossing the streams” of Christian and Islamic mystic energies, they did manage to bind Fenalik in a magic circle. That of course is a pretty big plot event in terms of the campaign.

When I played the campaign myself I was occasionally frustrated by the lack of agency in the very linear structure. So I wanted to avoid the trap of thinking, for instance, that Fenalik has to be active for the plot to progress as written — and I would have really cheated the players of a hard won victory. I’m actually finding it quite interesting adjusting this villain’s plans and actions. Bound, his main strength is now the fact that he knows far more about the Sedefkar Simulacrum that anybody else. That knowledge is powerful currency…

I have a little concern that the specifics of the main “quest” aren’t advancing much. Not only have the Investigators not gotten the first fragment of the Simulacrum, they haven’t even gotten aboard the actual Orient Express yet! I’m not going to force things in any particular direction, but I don’t want to completely lose the plot line. A goal of next session will be to blend the current situation into that main quest a little more.