Session 04: London 1923, Part Two

Originally posted Jun 23, 2015

Summary

Violet Gibbs-Wolfe

After discovering that Prof Smith’s house had burned to the ground with Smith and his butler Beddows missing, the Investigators retired to recover from recent events through rest and prayer. After breakfast at Violet’s they split up to pursue several leads.

Umar showed the ritual knife, mask, and decoding keys to an academic at Oxford. Dr. Baris Gizem was amazed at the idea of secret messages in cuneiform, but explained that the knife was a part of a hoax cult, used by a criminal gang called the Brothers of the Skin to scare and intimidate their victims. Dr. Gizem had also been in contact with the mysterious Edgar Wellington. Wellington had asked him to authenticate some cuneiform engravings – which Dr. Gizem stated were not part of any known style or tradition.

Dr. Wilke went to speak with a young priest of his acquaintance who shared his interest in occult writings, to ask him what he knew of the “ Devil’s Simulare.” The priest knew of the text by reputation, describing it as a collection of satanic rituals to summon the Anti-Christ into a blasphemous icon. A copy of this valuable book may be in Paris, and the priest promised to write a letter to a friend at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris asking him to help Dr. Wilke

Beddows

The ladies went to look for the missing Smith, with Miss Crispin being a little taken aback by the vagrants, thieves, and working girls that Miss Johnson had some acquaintance with. A second-story man recounted that he’s seen Beddows buying medical supplies from a fence, and after some pressure, gave over the address of a rundown tenement. There they found Smith, badly burned after escaping from the attack on his home. Smith explained that he had been preparing for a mission to recover the fragments of a powerful, but dangerously evil statue known as the Sedefkar Simulacrum. The statue had been broken into fragments before the French Revolution and Smith believes it can only be completely destroyed by assembling all the parts and conducting an as yet undiscovered ritual. Makryat’s men and creatures had tried to steal Smith’s notes, but he had destroyed most of them, since Makryat also seeks the Simulacrum – as does, Smith believes, a third individual known as “The Prince.” With events in motion, Smith asked if the investigators would take up the task of locating the fragments until he can recover from his injuries. He hands over the clues he recalls about possible locations and says he will send what other information he can uncover as he recovers his strength

Back at Violet’s apartment, she explains that she had been making arrangements for Smith and Beddows to travel on the Orient Express. She knew he was planning an important expeditions, but hadn’t known the details. She will now adapt the plans so that the Investigators can use the train to pursue the mission in Smith’s place. The train leaves Sunday, so there are a few days to get ready and make other investigations.

Umar delves into the Reading Room at the British Museum, finding out that 17th Century astronomer and alchemist Robert Fludd wrote a treatise on the Simulacrum]], but then ordered all copies destroyed, stated they were only nonsense written during a fever. There was also a mention of the Sedefkar Scolls which were sent to a museum in Constantinople after the Great War.

Emily Johnson checked in with her controlling officer in the SIS, a Mr. Thames, who sanctioned her taking up the mission since if this artifact exists in could be a threat to the Empire’s security. He mentioned other reports of unusual phenomena from the locations Smith mentioned in his notes.

Miss Johnson, Miss Crispin, and Dr. Wilke went to Islington to check out Makryat’s shop. Finding it closed, with a lookout posted, Emily snuck in the back and found Makryat’s lying dead, apparently after slitting his own throat and scrawling a cuneiform message with his own blood. Examining the body a patch of oddly different skin was found on the body’s leg. When probed, the “Makryat” skin peeled away revealed another man underneath. The blood message appeared to confirm that the Sedefkar Scrolls might be at the Topkapi Museum in Constantinople and that a location called The Shunned Mosque is important to destroying the Simulacrum. Umar went to the Turkish Embassy to inquire into what they knew of Makryat’s status and found they were in an uproar about three more identical “Makryats” had been found dead that night.

The next morning, Sunday January 7th, the Investigators set off, first taking a train to Dover, and then getting on a ferry to cross the English Channel to Calais, where they would board the train to Paris.

Commentary

A big goal for this sessions was to advance the plot, i.e. get them on the darn train. We did get as far as the ferry across the English Channel toward Calais. The players showed a lot of initiative this session. For instance, as written, the missing Prof Smith sends a message to the Investigators to come to his hiding place, but my players managed to track him down themselves. I actually had some uncertainly about how much plot to invoke, since the players were about ready to head off to Paris and Lausanne entirely on their own without even hearing the main quest of the campaign. That was tempting, but I decided I really wanted to lay out the overall structure: the search for the fragments of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, the list of clues pointing to locations to check out, and the linking structure of the luxury trip aboard the Orient Express. Since there is a lot to keep track of, I wanted to be sure they had that foundation of goals and places, what was going on and what they were supposed to do. Plus, since this is a classic campaign, there’s the sense of a shared beginning with others who have played it before. If things go completely off track now and end up very different than the campaign as written, that’s find and I won’t force them back into the structure as written.

There were some good moments for players still new to Gumshoe, where points were spent to say an Investigator knew someone who could provide information they were looking for. In one case it was an NPC I had prepared, in another, one that the player and I came up with on the spot. Neither of encounters involved Core Clues, but did provide data that is and will be helpful. For instance, without even knowing they’d need one, they now have a contact with someone at the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris. Core Clues I’m trying to keep as transparent as possible, without even openly mentioning the Skills being used to get them.

It continues to be odd looking at a Call of Cthulhu campaign from a Gumshoe perspective. The plot is still pretty research heavy at this point and there are multiple points were the books says something like: “If the players make a successful Library Use and Luck rolls then they learning this interesting/cool/useful fact.” I’m glad just to be able to have them show up with their Library skill, get the clue, and move on.

The books are also oddly restrained sometime in their Weirdness. I managed to work in the “Man Dies Three Times” incident where three different bodies are found, all carrying papers identifying them as Mehmet Makryat. As written these are just three different men, though each has part of their body flayed (something that is never explained or developed). That seemed weak use of the circumstances, since disguise, blood magic, and flesh changing are all parts of the Brothers of the Skin modus operandi. So I made all three identical twins of Makryat, at least until an examination revealed a patch of oddly different skin on their bodies. When that was examined, an entire false skin peeled away revealed the true, if shriveled, body underneath. Fake skins and the skinned victims of stolen identities will continue to be a motif where Makryat is involved.

I haven’t yet succeeded in introducing the Duke from Lausanne as an active force in the situation. The hooks I’ve tried haven’t quite taken yet. I hope to get that going next time, at least so that the Investigators know that multiple factions are out there looking for the Simulacrum. And then the Comte Fenalik is also about to be unleashed into the mix…