Originally posted Nov 16, 2105
Aboard the Orient Express, steaming its way across Switzerland, the Investigators finished reading Prof Smith’s Constantinople diary and began considering their next actions. They have only a few clues, and the names of people Prof Smith had been corresponding with, to lead them to where the next fragment of the Simulacrum might be within Milan.
Needing some food and a chance to gather their wits, they retired to the Dining car to enjoy some the luxuries available. The Maitre d’Hotel informed them the train is about to enter the Simplon Tunnel, the 15 mile passage cut through the granite of the Alps. Their meal is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the Duke du Messeraine, accompanied by William Wellington, apparently under the Duke’s control. The Duke demanded the Investigators hand over the Scroll taken from Edgar Wellington. They refused and a violent struggle of sorcery and unnatural strength broke out, though the staff and other passengers remained oblivious. While Miss Johnson and Umar grappled with William, Miss Crispin and Dr. Wilke hurried back to their cabin to recover the Scroll .They were uncertain about whether it would be best to threaten to destroy the Scroll, actually destroy it, or make some use of the fake Scroll that Edgar Wellington had prepared. A battered Umar and Miss Johnson had been taken captive by the Duke, until Umar cast a spell to disrupt the electrical lights of the dining car (on due to the passage through the Tunnel). In the darkness they escaped and met the others bag in their cabin. When William charge in a few minutes later, he was met by a hail of gunfire from the Investigators, thought it took a knife strike by Umar to finally put down the thing that had been William Wellington. The Duke appeared, fist ablaze with green fire, but Dr.Wilke doused the fake Scroll with alcohol and incinerated it. Duke Messeraigne was enraged, but stated that at least Makryat would not gain the Scroll either, before he vanished.
After treating their wounds, the Investigators debated what to do next. Was the Scroll too dangerous to keep, lest it fall in enemy hands, or were the secrets in might contain be too valuable? They decided to hold on to it for now, as Umar studied it to learn about the terrible lore of Sedefkar and his crazed beliefs about the power of the Simulacrum and the Skinless One.
Entering into Italy, the Investigators dealt with the strict customs of the country and hid their more interesting suplies in Umar’s diplomatic trunk. They were also joined by the opera star Caterina Cavollaro, whom they had met on the train as it left Paris. She explained to Dr. Wilke that she was travelling incognito to relax some before upcoming performance of Aida in Milan. She promised to arrange rooms for them at Milan’s best hotel and hoped they would attend the opening night performance. Bidding Dr.Wilke good afternoon, she was disturbed by a page of a strange script that had become mixed in with her direction and staging notes.
After settling in at Milan, the Investigator decided to first speak with Father Angelico, a priest at The Duomo, the city’s famous cathedral. The Father had been corresponding with Prof Smith about spiritual evil and the possibilities that agents of Satan were active in the city. The Father mentioned that some of his own parishioners were worried about Devil worshippers in their neighborhood. Contrary to Dr. Wilke’s request, Miss Johnson slipped away for a moment to arrange a meeting with a local contact in British Intelligence. She was informed that the Makryats had connections with businessmen through Italy, and was suspected of providing gray market supplies to manufacturers such as Arturo Faccia, owner of a large automotive plant outside of town.
The Investigators caught a trolley to the industrial district of Portello, to look into the rumors that Father Angelico had mentioned. As they rode through blocks of soot stained tenements, Miss. Johnson suggested checking out one of the large factory complexes. Posing as a sports car enthusiast, she toured the plant. The name Ennio Spinola was being mentioned often by the workers, and it was learned that he was, according to a plant manager, a Communist agitator who was recently murdered by the unsavory types he associated with.
Locating the slum where workers from the Middle East lived, Umar spoke with the owner for a coffee shop and was told that some of the residents might indeed be having commerce with dark forces. Their fear and poverty was leading them to look for whatever protection was being offered. It seemed the Brothers of the Skin were at work. The owner also knew of the death of Spinola, though he had heard him described as labor advocate who had come to Portello to organize workers and protest unsafe conditions at the plant.
Back at the hotel, they met again with Caterina, who had been having a hard day herself. Rehearsals had not be going well, with players forgetting their lines, workers quitting and being replaced, and the performer of the King of Egypt showing up drunk in a ridiculous yellow costume. The next evening Caterina was to attend a ball held in her honor by the wealth but ailing patron Flavio Conti. She invited the Investigators to attend as her guests— though that would mean a shopping trip to buy suitable attire.
Back on the train in 1923 with the session. The Investigators have just finished the diary from 1893 that made up the past three sessions. There then followed an epilogue to the Lausanne chapter (of four sessions ago!). This is the violent confrontation with the Duke. I ran it largely as written, just setting it during the darkness of the Orient Express’s passage through the Simplon Tunnel and giving the Duke some backup in the form of the Frankensteined William Wellington, whom the Investigators had abandoned back in Lausanne.
Then we move on the Milan. This chapter of the campaign is problematic as written. A lot of important events — murder, kidnapping, organ theft — are not only beyond the players’ agency, but have actually happened before they even arrive. I thought a lot about how to make the scenario something more involving. The result was a pretty extensive rewrite. One change was to make the activities of the Brothers of the Skin Cult its own “B” plot, separate from the terrible things the piece of the Simulacrum is causing to happen. The cult plot is now a storyline that will be spread across all the chapters set in Italy. One reason to do this was my concern about tracking what information all the individuals and factions have about what’s going on. There’s no real reason that the Brothers know a Simulacrum piece is even in Milan. It might be the Investigators’ actions that lead them to find that out!
I introduced the situation by giving the players four different contacts that Prof. Smith had been corresponding with, and let them decide which to pursue. That choice has a big effect on how they start collecting clues, and what the responses of other involved factions will be. It also shows something of what they are most interested in engaging with. Not surprisingly they are very concerned about hints of what the Cult is up to. I’m trying to put involving and ominous clues in whatever path they take. I hope to do better than the written campaign, where finding tiny foot prints left by a chameleon in the blood left at a days old murder scene functions as a Core Clue!
The Investigators have also made friends with opera star Caterina (who in the books has been kidnapped and worse before they arrive). She’s told them a few clues about odd things going on at the rehearsals for Aida and has invited them to the gala ball to be held in her honor. It’s at this ball that the “A” plot of the SImulacrum (which they’ve let themselves be distracted from) will begin to assert itself, and start to cross over some with the “B” plot of the cult. More on that next time…