Session 13: Milan 1923, Part Two

Aida

Originally posted Jan 13, 2016

Summary

After arriving in Milan, the Investigators discovered that the Brothers of the Skin were active in the foreign slums of the city and that the Makryats had connections with the industries that were thriving under the new Fascist government. Few clues had yet been found leading to where a fragment of the Simulacrum might be.

Captain Raimondi of the Carabinieri stopped Umar in lobby, asking about his reasons for wanting a weapon permit. Miss Crispin convinced him that they were relying on Umar for protection, and the officer says the paperwork should be completed shortly. A visit to Milan’s thriving fashion district provided new clothes to wear to the coming party, their budget kept in line by Dr. Wilke’s attitude and stinginess.

They then visited the University library to look into the strange names and places mentioned in the playscript snuck into Caterina’s notes. A long day of research turned up only a French journal account of a performance in a private club that left audience members mentally disturbed and muttering about “Carcosa” and other seeming nonsense.

In hopes of gaining some helpful omens, Dr. Wilke performed some card divination. It took some effort, but the cards did suggest some coming changes and dangerous shifts of power. Also, for some odd reason, one of the Kings in his deck became stained yellow.

A car hired by Caterina whisked the Investigators to a noisy, champagne and jazz fueled party at the mansion of elderly art patron Flavio Conti. Dr. Wilke and Miss. Johnson kept an eye on opera star Paride Pavoleri (who had been behaving oddly at rehearsals), Miss Crispin mingled, and Umar stood off to the side of the festivities. There he caught the eye of Caterina, who was trying to extricate herself from the La Scala’s prop master Paolo Rischonti. She explained that Rischonti is constantly trying to convince her to support a new, lavish production of a play he is designing. After she excused herself to get ready for a performance for the party goers, Umar chatted with the manic prop master, who was alternatively boastful and protective of his plans to stage an obscure French play that will revolutionize theatre. Glimpses of his sketches showed sets and stagings beyond anything La Scala, or any actual theatre, could produce. After shaking Umar’s hand, he rushed off. Umar left arm was struck by a spasm of pain…

Caterina appeared on a balcony and dazzled all with the aria from Aida. For an encore she began a second, strange, discordant piece, Cassilda’s Song, that upset her as much as it did the crowd. She fled as the jazz band started to get the party going again. Dr. Wilke, hurried after her. The others conferred from a minute before following.

Dr. Wilke tried to locate where Caterina has vanished into the mansion, and encountered an armed gentleman who was also looking for something. Dr. Wilke sent him off in the wrong direction, before hearing a scuffle from a servants’ stairwell. The other investigators also ran into the searching man, who asked about “the little men” he was pursuing.

Dr. Wilke meanwhile made his way to a side door and spotted a group of very short, pale men stuffing Caterina into a large black car. Distracting the little men with magic, he managed to get into the front seat of the car but was unable to get it started before being discovered. When the others arrived, a melee broke out between the Investigators and the little men — who were revealed as fanged inhuman creatures. The Investigators managed to get the upper hand, command the car, and with Miss Johnson at the wheel, escape with the dazed Caterina. In the glovebox Dr. Wilke finds the rental papers show the car had been hired by the Paolo Rischonti.

After a night in a nondescript hotel, they reported the events to the Milan police. Caterina backed up their story, and the police insisted they will handle the investigation now. Umar tried to see if this weapon permit can be expedited, but the bureaucratic process would not be hurried.

Back at the Grand Hotel, they again encountered the gunman from the party, Benito Andriani. He explained that he works for Arturo Faccia, who was concerned about what disrupted the party. He would like to know what information the Investigators have. A little magical influence from Dr. Wilke led him to give more than his share of information and Benito related that the bodies of the little men were clearly not human and were being examined by another of Faccia’s men, one who is knowledgeable about such things. When asked if he could assist with Umar’s permit, he said he couldn’t help there, but handed over a pistol of his own. He departs, saying he would see if Mr. Faccia might provide more about the creatures, if anything is discovered.

The Investigators mulled over their options, and decided it is time to check out La Scala for themselves.

Commentary

As mentioned before, the Milan chapter of the campaign, as written, has problems, mostly due to players being left as passive observers with little agency in the situation. I contemplated various ways to deal with this, briefly considering making it into a “Phantom of the Opera” homage, since a performance at La Scala is central — and we’ve already had vampires and a Frankenstein monster in the game.

But after thinking about the elements and situations the chapter introduces — a troubled stage performance, a dark prophecy, a lurking magical influence — it suddenly clicked that this needed to be a “King in Yellow” scenario. I then rewrote almost the entire scenario, even changing which piece of the Simulacrum is involved. With the “King in Yellow” infecting and transforming “Aida” what was needed was not a Torso, but a Pallid Mask…

Other elements from the chapter, such as the activities of the Brothers of The Skin and the literal flesh peddling of Arturo Faccia, I hope to use as parts of a larger story arc that emcompasses the Investigators’ time in Italy.

Getting back into the story after the break went as well as could be expected. I had put together a fairly detailed chart showing the network of the clues uncovered in the last session and that worked as a recap. I also made sure there was a specific upcoming event — a grand ball in honor of the upcoming opera — to give a direction to the action. I’d been trying to present opera star Caterina as someone the players had some connection to, and they did react swiftly when she started singing “Cassilda’s Song” and was almost kidnapped by venomous wormy little men. Their success in stopping her abduction (impossible in the campaign book) was a major plot event that could have gone either way.

Since the Investigators are now on a secret quest in the middle of Fascist Italy, doing things such as carrying a large diplomatically sealed chest, I decided to introduce the mechanic of “Heat” from Nights Black Agents to represent the official attention they are drawing to themselves. Another bit of mechanics I played with was having the players make a Stability roll to resist blowing their budget when they were out shopping for appropriate clothes for the gala they’d been invited to.

Since this game has been mostly Pulp in style, the Investigators have Magic points, and they make effective use of the Idiosyncratic Magic System. The consequences of this has been accumulating though, and will start to come to roost in the next session, both from attracting supernatural attention, and from people being more than a little annoyed when they realize the equivalent of “Charm Person” has been cast on them.