Originally posted Mar 10, 2016
Conditions in Venice were slowly getting worse, with the polluted canals and growing fear about the recent killings. The gloomy Winter weather felt oppressive and the smell of decay and smouldering fires drifted through the city.
The Investigators had a morning visit from Carabinieri Captain Raimondi who was investigating the murder of Paolo Rischonti back in Milan. Rischonti was being painted as a communist terrorist and the police made it clear they wished to settle the case by having the Investigators sign statements that Rischonti had attempted to recruit them. It was for fear of their own safety that they happened to flee Milan in the middle of the night around the same time as his death…
The senior Gondolier Alfio was hired to row the Investigators to the crumbling island house of Teodore Idoni, the book collector who has acquired the Devil’s Simulare. He explained that he had been looking for the book for some while. He had been surprised to find it being sold by the library, since he had assumed the book destroyed along with other treasures at the Convent of St. Agatha, which was bombed in the Great War. Idoni was willing to sell the book at a high price, but an arrangement was made for the Investigators to borrow it for 6 months for a deposit and lesser fee.
On the way back their boat was nearly upset by strange water creatures, but they kept themselves upright until they could frantically row back to the city.
That afternoon they met up again with Alfio who had promised to show they a sight few tourists ever visited: an underground burial catacomb beneath the city. The bodies there were scheduled to be saved from the rising waters and reinterred, but Alfio knew the way through the flooded passageways to where they rested today. As the Investigators wondered at the walls of skulls and stacked bones, Alfio suddenly pitched over, bleeding from a concealed bite wound on his neck. Surrounded by darkness and scampering rats, the Investigators were address by Lilly the self-described daughter of Comte Fenalik. She inquired after their wellbeing and explained that as they were beginning to suffer the effects of the Baleful Influence, their best option was to hand over the Simulacrum fragments to Fenalik and walk away from the whole matter. She acknowledged their declining of this offer, and said she would be nearby, to watch over them and offer what assistance she could in their quest.
Though the Investigators had their hands on the Devil’s Simulare, they were still uncertain about where the fragment of the Simulacrum might be. Prof. Smith’s notes said that it had been brought by Napoleon’s soldiers during his occupation, so Miss Crispin returned to library research, eventually finding in, the Diary of Capitaine Dubois, an account of the torso of a statute that was being used for satanic worship. Unable to break or damage it, the officer gave the idol to the care of the Order of the Red Maidens, who promised to seal it away, if it could not be destroyed.
The Red Maidens were said to have worked under the cover of the Nuns of St. Agatha, so maybe the torso had been taken their convent — and perhaps fallen into the canal when it was bombed and collapsed in the War? A would-be treasure hunter who lived in one of the shanty towns outside the city was said to have diving equipment, so Umar went to locate and arrange something with him.
Meanwhile, Miss Crispin and Miss Johnson attended the funeral of the father of their new acquaintance Maria. Also present at this dismal ceremony was Benito Andriani, whom they had met back in Milan. The surprised Benito said that his employer, industrialist Arturo Faccia wanted to speak with them. Also lurking around was Georgio Gasparetti, who was Maria’s secret fiance. The group was then joined by Blackshirt Alberto Rossini, who attempted to force Maria to leave with him. Benito insisted that it was none of their business, but the women insisted on interfering. Maria herself though proved capable of slashing one man’s face and snapping another’s arm. Rossini retreated, swearing he had Mr. Faccia’s support and they would regret the incident.
Umar had located the treasure hunter, though he found him, like others in his camp, in poor healthy and suffering from weakness and spasms in his limbs. An arrangement was made that the young man would visit them and Dr. Wilke would treat his illness in return for help searching the canal.
Back their hotel, the Investigators were visited by Benito, who was to bring them to Mr. Faccia’s villa for a little chat. They balked at the idea of putting themselves at Faccia’s mercy, Dr. Wilke in particular insisted that if Faccia wanted to talk to them, he should come to them, Benito was enraged to the point of violence and insisted that Faccia would be furious at this disrespect. When Umar arrived, he smoothed things over a little, by saying that if Benito would put his own life up as guarantee, they would go. Except for Dr. Wilke, who still refused to budge.
At his seaside villa, Faccia proved to be more amused than angry at the escapades. He wished to discuss why his sometimes business associate Selim Makryat was interested in the Investigators and what they knew about the fragments of statuary Makryat was looking for. Faccia was not pleased by being ordered about by Makryat, when he got little in return. He believed Makryat know secrets about controlling the energy source known as “vril” and that the Simulacrum was a generator of this force. He and the Investigators agreed that would prefer Makryat not be the one with such knowledge and power. They make a tentative pact to cooperate towards this goal. He also agreed to intervene in Rossini’s interest in Maria.Faccia ended the meeting by apologizing for what might be in store for Dr. Wilke; it was unavoidable that certain lessons be taught
Back in Venice, Dr. Wilke realizing himself that he might be in danger, gathered up the team’s luggage — and the Simulacrum pieces — and with Alfio’s help, went into hiding at an empty apartment. There he waited, shotgun ready, for what might happen next.
When I played Orient Express as an Investigator and we arrived in Venice, I quickly suspected that the strange pollution in the water might be caused by the Simulacrum being in the canals, or perhaps a flooded basement, its evil aura tainting its surroundings. That turns out not to be the case in the campaign as written — in fact there is no direct connection between the fouled canals and where the Simulacrum piece is. Now as Keeper, I decided to use the idea of the Simulacrum being in the water, saving the written situation for some future scenario.
Then I was feeling I was changing and throwing out too much from the classic campaign. I decided to work in the romance subplot to convey more of the experience the original adventure. Actually I held off deciding to bring in the tale of Maria and Georgio until the last minute. The session was three hours in and it was clear we would not be finishing that night, so it seemed like there would be room in the next session for these additional complications. I had actually hoped to do Venice in one session, but it’ll end up being the usual three…
At 16 sessions, my “Horror on the Orient Express” adaptation is now not only my longest GUMSHOE game, but my longest non-D&D campaign ever. So I’ve been thinking a lot about my style of playing and how I structure scenarios for the system.
I’ve had some problems with the current chapter, based on the Venice section of the original “Orient Express” Call of Cthulhu campaign. (I haven’t written up last weekend’s session yet, but previous ones are up at https://horror-on-the-orient-express-5.obsidianportal.com/). I’ve made some fundamental design errors with the central mystery. To me, as Keeper, it seems like the clues and the solution should be obvious, but the Investigators were having trouble with it. My view is moot, if the players are not seeing things. It’s their experience that counts.
Rather than an A leads to B leads to C leads to D mystery, I’d set up something that is more A+B+C = D. That is, a puzzle where you don’t see the picture until all the pieces are in place. The players have been free to look for the pieces in whatever order they wanted. The problems showed up when the players did collect all the pieces, but weren’t seeing the whole picture.
Players have a lot to keep track of, especially when the situation has other distractions and dangers. I think about how in a game such as Eldritch Horror there’s a “Mystery” card that says “You need to find six ‘Clues’ to solve this” or some such. What a board game does is of course too abstract for a roleplaying game, but I wonder if there’s something that can be useful there.
Or in a video game, a character might find a clue or important item and a UI element will pop-up and say “You have found Important Thing!” There can even be an additional hint saying like “That’s odd, I wonder what the scroll means by Mysterious Reference? Maybe you should look into that.” Again, abstract and gamified, but maybe something to mull over.
I think about an Escape Room I was in recently, where we had a lot of trouble with not only solving the puzzles, but even recognizing what the puzzles were. So I’m wondering about trying some techniques to help the Investigators see more clearly that there is a multi-part task to carry out, and to let them see that they are making definite progress in solving that task.