Session 14: Milan 1923, Part Three

Yellow KingOriginally posted Jan 25, 2016

Summary

The Investigators decided their most important tasks was looking into what is going on at La Scala and the trouble production of Aida. Preparations started out with the disturbing discovery that Dr. Wilke’s playing cards, used for divination previously, had all turned yellow.

Police were stationed at the theatre, and were not enthusiastic about letting strangers wander around. Caterina appeared and explained that these were the people who has saved her, and insisted they be allowed to tour the backstage. Chaos and confusion were the order of the day as cast and crew struggled to get the show ready. The surreal world of artifice and (to Miss Crispin’s point-of-view, morale degeneracy) left the Investigators a little unsettled.

They did reach the workshop of Paolo Rischonti, prop manager of La Scala, currently missing and under suspicion for the kidnapping attempt on Caterina. They found scraps Rischonti’s mad plans for staging The King in Yellow and evidence that he frequently bought many eccentric items and curios from Milan junk shops. Dr. Wilke located a secret passage in the undercity of MIlan, as well an empty, abandoned chest. A search of the discovered a concealed stone tile with a golden occult symbol: The Yellow Sign. Umar had encountered this cult of art and madness in the past and knew how dangerous they were. The Yellow Sign could not be unseen. Even more disturbing to Umar was the growing suspicion that the magic his uncle had taught him involved calling on forces beyond this realm, and beyond the teachings of his faith.

The investigators descended the stairs into a section of the city sewers. Dr. Wilke attempted to divine the route that they might follow, but his magic only brought down a swarm of the worm-men down on them, from which they barely escaped. Back up in the theatre the La Scala manager had become enraged about strangers wandering around causing problems. Aida must go on, and the police promised security would be increased. As crowds gathered, Umar noticed a couple crewmembers making hand signals of the Yellow Sign. He confronted them, posing as a cultist himself, insisting that they were the ones not informed about current plans. He was told there would be a meeting that night, when Umar could explain what he was talking about to Paride Pavoleri, a star of the opera and chief of the cast and crew who had seen the Yellow Sign, though not the ultimate leader of the cult.

Later that night found everyone at a subterranean lair where Cultists were preparing a ramshackle rehearsal of the King in Yellow. Some of the cast and crew of La Scala thought they were on the threshold of a art revolution that would change the world, others that this was just avant garde performance art. Paolo Rischonti, master of the Cult finally appeared, dressed as the Stranger and wearing as the Pallid Mask, the face of the Sedefkar Simulacrum.

Rischonti demanded the Investigators explain why, if they were a branch of the Yellow Sign themselves, they interfered with the abduction of Caterina, who was to have been brought here to rehearse the role of Cassilda of Carcosa. While Dr. Wilke played fawning cultist, Umar acted outraged that Rischonti was rehearsing the play under these shabby conditions. You do not rehearse the King in Yellow, you just do it. Rischonti agreed that if his Cassilda was delivered to him, ready to perform, on the night of Aida’s premiere, he would wait and present a complete performance of the great play for all Milan to see.

Back at the hotel, the Investigators struggled to build a plan around this thread of possibility. They had a day to rest and recover, but attempts to calm each others nerves and steel themselves for the coming struggle met with little success, perhaps due to simmering hostilities and resentments in the team. A desperate plan was eventually put together.

Miss Crispin convinced Pavoleri (with some hypnotically persuasive) to deliver a message to RIsconti: Caterina would be ready to perform, but had to meet with him at an isolation location to discuss important matters. The Investigators waited, ready for violence, at a desert warehouse, Miss Crispin dressed as Cassilda as bait. The Stranger did appear and, as he detected the deception, met with a hail of gunfire. He collapsed as waves of worm-men appeared. While Umar attempted to hold them off with holy light from the Koran, Miss Crispin snatched the Pallid Mask off Rischonti — just barely managing to resist the lure of putting in on herself.

Dr. Wilke finished off the badly wounded Rischonti and Umar used the last of his will power to keep his left arm from grabbing the mask by itself. Nerves at the breaking point, the Investigators decided to get out of Milan as quickly as possible.

Commentary

My previous long-term campaign was a multi-year 4e game, set in the Forgotten Realms. It began with the Living Forgotten Realms organized play, but soon branched off into original adventures. I looked into the rich lore of the Realms from reference books, adventures, and novels found a lot of inspirations and ideas for situations, NPCs, artifacts, etc. That’s getting to be my relationship with the Orient Express source books as well. I’m gleaning a lot from them, even as the actually scenarios develop into their own distinct stories. As mentioned last time, our version of the Milan chapter has become a “King in Yellow” scenario and the chapter in Venice is also likely to be inspired by ideas and elements from the original books, but be quite different in actual plot.

This was the third session in the MIlan chapter, so wrapping things up was a high priority. I trimmed out some planned subplots and NPC reactions, but they will likely show up in Venice. To have a conclusion, I had the villain of the chapter walk into a clever, but pretty obvious trap. I thought that this was justified in the narrative since he wasn’t a genius mastermind, but a madman as deluded as the protagonist of “The Repairer of Reputations.” In a Purist one-shot things would have gone wildly different, with the actual Stranger from the play showing up to lead the Investigators to Carcosa, but this a Pulpy ongoing campaign. Everybody has survived so far, but sanity is getting chipped away, and one player is at minus 5 Stability, the cost of resisting the lure to don the Pallid Mask, i.e., the face of the Sedefkar Simulacrum.

There was one interesting bit of emergent story: The Investigators normally, in character, trade a lot of cutting quips and insults amongst themselves. The evening before setting out on their scheme, they were trying to calm their nerves and bolster their determination — that is, use Psychological Triage to get some Stability back. Every roll failed miserably and nothing was recovered. It would seem all the jibes and conflicts must of had a deeper effect on the team’s feelings than they had realized, or were willing to admit. It was fun to see the Stability mechanic represent the increased risk caused by that lack of trust and empathy.

The session ended with a near-panicked flight from Milan in a stolen car, as they didn’t want to wait until the next 1:30pm departure of the Orient Express. Stability is low all around, and they haven’t entirely escaped the influence of the Yellow King. So it’ll be a little dire for them at the start of next game…