Session 15: Venice 1923, Part One

Venice Poster

Originally posted Feb 29, 2016

Summary

The Investigators fled Milan into the Italian countryside, the Head of the Simulacrum restless in Miss Crispin’s carpetbag. They hoped to find a place of refuge, but the long shadow of the King in Yellow stretched out after them. A red morning with two suns rose and the worm-men literally crept out of the woodwork, demanding someone take up the Pallid Mask. Miss Crispin’s will to resist was weakening when Miss Johnson snatched the Head away from her — and unfortunately falling under its spell herself. Wearing the Head she saw a distant vision of a strange city and a dry voice asked if she would be the new Herald. The vision became a nightmare of London transformed into Carcosa, and she declined the offer.

“Then put down the Pallid Mask

I leave it to the Skinless One to reclaim his own

He will come for it, anon”

Miss Johnson could not resist the impulse to look upon the King in Yellow, and collapsed screaming.

A few days of peace followed before the Investigators headed to Venice with of two goals: a pieces of the Simulacrum supposedly brought into the city during Napoleon’s occupation, and the “Devil’s Simulare.” They found the historic city gloomy in winter, and suffering from an oily slime polluting its famous canals.

Scholarly tradition placed the original copy of the Devil’s Simulacrum at the Church of San Marie Celeste, but as an grey bearded gondolier, Alfio, informed the Investigators, that Church had burned down in a 16th Century conflagration. A Navy Academy stood on the bones of the old building. Umar found his way to its basement where, amidst standing water fouled by the canal, were signs of a forgotten order of female warriors. Also numerous graffiti of cats.

Miss Crispin identified them as The Order of The Red Maidens, and further research turned up folklore about the order defending peasants from supernatural menaces while their men were off on the Crusades. Less reputable scholarship also connected them with a secret cult of the Goddess Bast than survived into the middle ages under the guise of nuns of St. Agatha — a saint who, among other characteristics, was said to appear in as a cat to those who called on her aid.

Umar took to the library trying to find something of the fate of the book. He found hints that volumes from the burned library had ended up in the library’s archives, but had been sold to a collector for funds and needed shelf space. The way had been made easier, since earlier in the year a Prof. Stragliani had also been following the exact same trail.

Dr. Wilke had spend his time looking into some strange deaths than had been plaguing the troubled island city. Two people had been found dead, drained of blood. Talking his way into the morgue he discovered that the victim’s wounds were similar to those on the bodies of those attacked by Count Fenalik and his spawn back in France.

Miss Crispin noticed that the day, February 5th was the holy day of St Agatha. The city had a convent dedicated to her, but it had been bombed during the war. The nuns had all been killed and half the building collapsed into the canal. Miss Crispin felt moved to take a candle to light at the ruins — as well as some sardines for any cats who might show up.

Accompanied by Miss Johnson, she went to the remains of the church and found there was another visitor, a young girl named Maria Stragliani. She had recently lost her father and felt an impulse to deal with her sorrow by a pilgrimage to the Church. With a little hypnotic prompting Maria revealed further that a stray cat — who also made an appearance — was the one who had suggested that she come. She said that her father had been obsessed with finding a “devlish” book but had fallen sudden ill and died before finding it. The funeral was in two days and the two women would be welcome to attend. A large red-eyed crow was spotted spying on the group, though the cat chased it away.

Umar and Miss Johnson planned to visit the collector who had bought the book, while Dr. Wilke continued to pursue any clues or connections between the murders.

Commentary

I’ve mentioned how I’m using the published Orient Express Campaign mostly as a source book for our own interpretation of the adventure. When you look at the Venice chapter as written there are really 5 different plot elements involved: polluted canals, a medieval book of lore, a politically volatile romance, vampire killings, and the Simulacrum piece itself. Most of these end up not having much connection between them.

I wanted to take some of those ideas and inspirations and knit them together so they at least affected each other. I shuffled things around and tried out various different clue networks. Ultimately I replaced the main set piece of the adventure entirely — though I may insert in back in a different chapter. I’ll write more about what I’m doing instead after the next session.

I’m am seeing a few problems with my overall approach to the campaign:

Things are running kind of long. We have been averaging 3 sessions for each chapter and I’d like to get that down to two. Initial scenes in a new Investigation can be slow and unfocused. I might try starting new chapters more in-medias res, with ongoing action, and then letting the players narratively establish how they got there.

I’m struggling with the balances of giving players freedom of action, keeping the clues available, and having to shutting them down when the head down paths that, while interesting, might diverge from the plot too much. I’m fine with restructuring clues and even events so that the path the characters choose is the one that leads them to information, but that doesn’t always end as elegant as I’d like. Looking back at the last session I see a couple basic mistakes of having important clues be available only through one line of investigation, or even through one key question, which they don’t end up asking. Fortunately one player helpfully decided she wanted to light a candle at a bombed Church at in the middle of the night and I thought “Yeah, I can worked with that.”

I was also lucky that the “Ken Writes About Stuff” feature on Bast had just come out, which gave me just the inspiration I needed to fill out what I wanted to do with my revision to the Venice chapter.

One milestone was reached in the session: a character was Blasted by a Mythos shock. I’ve been having contact with pieces of the Simulacrum be a Mythos Stability test and a character already in the negatives failed the test. So far in the campaign there haven’t been any character losses, but they are starting to notice their Sanity ratings getting chipped away…