Session 11: Constantinople 1893, Part Three

Originally posted Nov 2, 2015

At Selim Makryat’s hidden palace, Nisra awakened Georgia, saying that it would be best if she made herself scarce for the morning, though she was anxious to return to their mathematical explorations. On the way out, they again spotted a boy spying on them. Nisra explained that this was Selim’s son Mahmet, whose strict upbringing had limited the number of women he had ever seen.

Back at Sayed’s brother’s, there was a grim exchange where Sayed handed over the pages he had taken from the Apocrypha of the Fez. Now the question was only what can be done to stop Makryat from whatever he wishes to accomplish with them. Georgia arrived, delivering a message from Duke Messeraine that he wishes to meet with the Investigators to discuss such further actions. Sayed, Georgia, and Albert agree — though they first wish to return to the Shunned Mosque to study it some more. Prof. Smith, who has been making a careful record of what has gone on, also decided to come along.

Before arriving at the Mosque, Albert hired a few unemployed street toughs as bodyguards — and ignored their warnings about the dangers of the Brothers of the Skin who lurk there. At the Mosque, more of the hidden mosaic was revealed: a swirling chaos rising from a tower. Before the tower was the image of a conjuring man wearing a red fez, and around it was a melee of combat between soldiers of different countries and eras, while flying machines dropped explosives from the air. They were interrupted by some disturbing vibrations and the scream of one of the hired guards. Hurrying away they encountered a lumbering monster with a fez-like tumor on its forehead. Clarice stumbled and is attacked, but Sayed and Albert ran back to help her. Prof Smith was separated from them during the escape and was also badly wounded in his leg. Everyone managed to get away, as the creature was reluctant to step into the sunlight.

The Investigators regrouped for their appointment with the Duke. An injured, subdued Clarice, declined to join them. A carriage with a silent driver arrived and carried them off into the bustling city. The throngs grew ever thicker around them, until they were in an impossibly vast crowd of refugee families and wounded soldiers. The crowd began to rush the carriage, trying to climb aboard or hand over starving children. The driver whipped them off, which horrified the Investigators — until physical contact with the refugees injured Georgia. At Sayed’s direction the driver spurred the horses on, trampling the crowd, but getting them to safety in an alley — which opened into a beautiful garden courtyard, where the Duke awaited.

Meanwhile, Clarice had returned to the Grand Bazaar and contacted new friend, Bulent. She explained that she was desperate to have her scarred face and back healed, by supernatural means if necessary. Bulent solemnly explained that such a thing was possible, if one was willing to deal with the Brothers of the Skin, and pay the price they would name. Clarice was quite willing.

Reclining on silken pillows and amidst trays of delicacies, Duke Messeraine explained how Makryat’s lust for power made him a danger to the entire world. Makryat wished to use the power of the Fez to summon the Father of Sorcerers and demand information about the location of an ancient statue of great occult power. Further, even if Makryat did not obtain such power, the world was on the precipice of a century of war and genocide. The Duke said that by disrupting Makryat’s plans at such a crucial juncture, a third future was possible, a new Enlightenment, led by his protege Nisra. Their plan was to attack Makryat when he was distracted and drained by the ritual to summon the Father. Any help the Investigators could provide would increase their slim chance of success.

That night Clarice met with a Brother, and agreed to take a debt of obligation to the cult as the price for the restoration of her beauty. The Brother tore the living flesh from the face of a young woman and molded it like to Clarice’s skin. When she returned to the others and revealed how she had been healed, a furious Sayed threw her out for having made a deal with evil forces.

Working with the Duke the Investigators concocted a plan. Messeraine, still pretending to help Makryat, would help sneak the Investigators into the Shunned Mosque and infiltrate the ritual. Albert would, after preparing some flashbangs, disguise himself as the minor Prince who was to be sacrificed. Sayed would take the duplicated Fez that had been grown and attempt the spell that would seize control and make himself the Master of the Fez. Georgia would be on hand as an assistant to Nisra.

When the night of the ritual came, the Duke and Albert made the exchange with the drugged prince. The Duke said he was worried that Makryat would sense something going wrong with the ceremony and pinned a badge to his costume. This, he said, granted him the powers and sovereignty of “The Domain of the High River and the Ten Thousand Green Waterfalls.” Albert was himself now a Prince.

On the roof of the Shunned Mosque, Makray began the summoning of the Father of Sorcerers — a manifestation of Yog-Sothoth. At the moment when Nisra was to turn on Makryat, she struck at Albert, proclaiming she need his blood for her destiny as the Daughter of Fate. Chaos broke out as the stars swirled around them. Sayed put on the Fez and engaged Makrat in a mental duel. Albert slashed at Makryat with a ceremonial knife him, but was grabbed by Georgia, who was mentally under the control of the Duke.

Clarice revealed herself as one of the cultists and grappled with Sayed, but calling on his will and faith, he managed to overcome the distracted Makryat and gain control of the Blood-Red Fez. Nisra meanwhile slashed at Albert, anointed herself with his blood, and called out to the bubbling sky to grant her the power she deserved. She danced wildly as the Duke laughed at the melee. A rent tore the sky and a strange flying machine appeared, approaching the scene. A wounded Albert attacked Nisra but she lifted him like a child and hurled him bodily at Georgia — though Nisra’s supernaturally strong arms tore and distorted. Her whole body began to unravel in sheets of flesh.

Sayed, still avoiding Clarice’s attacks, was reaching the limits of his strength as he tried to close the opening rift. The weakened Makryat reached out with his own occult power to share it with Sayed, as he had no desire for what was happening to transpire. Only the Duke seemed pleased at it all. Georgia struck at Nisra, whose entire body now dissembled into a flapping mess.

Suffering huge mental strain, Sayed pulled the rift together just as a object dropped by the flying machine explored in a titanic blast — fortunately on the other side. With a last effort Sayed used his remaining power to break the magics of the Fez, causing them all to melt into a staining goo. Clarice, having fulfilled her debt to the Brothers insisted that everything was now back to normal…

Makryat, weakened, with his cultust scattered, allowed the Investigators to leave, giving Sayed a smirking warning about the consequences of taste of true tower. The pile of flesh that was Nisra appeared to still be living and had slid away into the ruins of the mosque.

The shaken and wounded Investigators reported what had transpired and were left with returning to their lives.

Aboard the Orient Express in 1923, the readers of Prof. Smith’s diary closed its cover and sat in a silence broken only by the muffled rhythm of the train.

Commentary

We finally finished up the flashback scenario set in 1893 Constantinople. As mentioned before this was based on the “Blood-Red Fez,” included in the Orient Express Campaign, but by the time we were done with it, only the broadest elements of the plot remained. So there’s not much to say about CoC to ToC conversion. I was a lot more plot directing this time than in the recent sessions, since we did need to get to a story conclusion. That included leaning on some Drives to get the characters to a set piece, whose main purpose was putting them in some Health and Stability danger to increase the tension of the upcoming final confrontation.

Some nice story opportunities opened up when one character, whose face had been badly slashed, went looking for any help to restore her appearance. This led to me being able to show the Brothers of the Skin at their flesh ripping and stealing worse, the character being driven out of the group for dealing with evil forces, and then that character showing up in the final climax as a member of the cultists! As often happens, the most interesting stories arise organically from player actions.

So it took three sessions, but I think I managed to plant a lot seeds for story elements that will sprout in the later sessions as well as filling in backstory. I’m also going to be on lookout for times when the 1893 characters might show up again in the “present day” of 1923. I’ll be looking back on these flashback sessions a lot for lessons on timing and pacing of scenarios.

Next, we will be back in 1923 with the Investigators heading to Milan. I’m thinking about this chapter a lot, since in the Orient Express campaign, this scenario is one of the most scripted. Events can unfold with little involvement or interaction from the player characters. The problem starts with the Investigators coming into the situation with only the vaguest of clues: that a fragment of the Simulacrum may have been bought by someone in Milan. As players they are left to just look for a weird situation and trust that it will carry them into the plot.

I’ve given the players a pool of Contact points — as used in Nights Black Agents — that represent people Prof. Smith had interacted with in his first investigations. The players will be able to use that pool for NPCs they can seek out and get help from. I’ll let them create the NPCs out of their own interests and backgrounds, though I may give a few suggestions. Who they seek out will shape what information they find out about the ongoing situation in Milan, and what they decide to pursue further will shape how that situation unfolds. I’m really intrigued by the Improvisational structure of Armitage Files and Dracula Dossier and want to explore that style of game.