Session 17: Venice 1923, Part Three

Red Madien

Originally posted Mar 23, 2016

Summary

After a night of searching, the other Investigators located Dr. Wilke’s hiding place and convinced him to return to the hotel. The doctor recounted a visit he’d had during the night: something that claimed to be Lilly had located him and requested to enter and speak with him. She said she was concerned about his distress and offered to do what she could to help, but Wilke refused her and ordered her away.

In the morning, conditions in Venice continued to deteriorate, with panic growing and spontaneous witch hunts breaking out. Miss Crispin visited the library again and found more scattered references to activities of the Order of Red Maidens, from medieval times to the Great War, though there was nothing after the bombing of the Convent of St. Agatha.

Marino Innocenti arrived, dragging his diving equipment along with him. Dr. Wilke examined him, finding unexplainable atrophy in his limbs. Many in Marino’s shanty town had been similarly afflicted. Concerned, the Investigators decided to supply them with clean food and water so they could avoid further contamination. Marino was willing to provide instruction in his diving equipment, and there was much discussion on who should go into the water in search of the Simulacrum fragment. Dr. Wilke volunteered, though his elderly health vetoed this. Miss Johnson was the most fit, though the claustrophobia she had developed from her encounter with the Head of the simulacrum was a concern. Finally Umar was selected.

With a cold driving rain pounding them, the Investigators took Marino’s boat to the canal beneath the ruins of St. Agatha. After diving in, and an exhausting search through the murk and mud, Umar spotted a oddly clean piece of stone under barnacle covered rubble. The water grew much fouler and fish-like creatures began to swarm Umar and attack the boat. Miss Johnson helped Umar clamber aboard, along with the Torso of the Simulacrum — which was spewing a foul liquid from it stumps. Dr. Wilke skewered one of the fish creatures with his sword cane, but when it was dragged aboard he could see it was more a headless torso with a snapping mouth than any normal sea life.

The Investigators scrambled ashore, only to be attack by a massive hulk of flesh that charged out of the water towards them. With Wilke about to be crushed, and Umar unable run in the diving gear, Miss Crispin grasped the Simulacrum piece, to bond with it and calm the artifact, as described in the Sedefkar Scrolls. The crushing weight of infinite, empty void fell on her mind, but the taint of the Simulacrum faded, and the attacking creature dissolved into slime and a scattered of human rib cages and hips.

After regrouping at their hotel, the Investigators encountered Maria, who appeared possessed by the ghost of Melisende, a warrior of the Red Maidens, who claimed to have wandered the Earth for seven centuries, after a failure to destroy the Simulacrum at Sedefkar’s death. She insisted that the only hope to delay the doom it brought was to scattered and hide the pieces. The danger of gathering them was too dangerous, and outweighed any hope that the assembled artifact could be destroyed. The Investigators said they would take that risk, and the spirit insisted they would only be given one chance to achieve this.

A second visitor was Arturo Faccia, who treated them to dinner in thanks for saving Venice. He offered to provide a place to store and protect the Simulacrum, while the other fragments were recovered. Dr. Wilke objected strongly, saying they had no reason to trust a gangster who threatened their lives. Umar was inclined to take up the offer — on condition that Faccia be magically bound to the agreement, which he agreed to. Wilke was still not convinced. Finally the idea was raised that a multi-party agreement be made. Faccia would be assisted by agents of the British Government (whom Miss Johnson seemed to have strong connections with…) as well as the otherworldly supervision of Melisende. Each factions would keep an eye on the others, bound by the mutual desire to keep the Simulacrum away from Makyrat and other malevolent parties.

Commentary

I began this session with my new “Previously on..” recap, styled like a TV scripts with cuts, fades, voice over, etc. I touched on both the initial premise of the campaign as well as highlighting a few past scenes that I wanted to emphasize as being relevant to the upcoming session. I didn’t try any of the techniques I’ve been considering to help the Investigators keep track of Core Clues, since they had basically gathered them all and now were going to be focusing on the necessary actions to resolve the scenario.

Something from Armitage Files/Dracula Dossier I’m trying to use is for NPCs to potentially be either allies or enemies, based on how the Investigators interact with them. In the written campaign the Italian industrialist Arturo Faccia is a one-dimensional gangster bad guy from Milan, but I have wanted to build him into something more, even an ally of the players (though one with his own agendas of course). He’s offering to help the Investigators by storing and protecting the fragments of the Simulacrum as they are found, avoiding the awkward idea that characters are lugging chunks of a man-sized statue around in their suitcases — not to mention that these chunks are the components to a supernatural armageddon device. One player strongly objected to this idea, leading to intense argument between characters on the best course of action. This again brings up the question of how to best resolve intellectual or emotion PvP conflict in Gumshoe. I’m thinking about this a lot, and wondering if there’s anything from DramaSystem (which is all about that kind of conflict) that can go into the mix. The player involved is concerned about being too much of an obfuscator, even if what he is doing is entirely character appropriate (and might even be the correct course of action).

Speaking of NPCs, I think there are at this point seven different factions involved in the search for the Simulacrum. The session ended with the potential of an uneasy alliance between several groups, each keeping an eye on the other. With this and the conclusion of the Venice chapter, I am considering the campaign to be at the end of “Season One.” When we start Season Two, things may be different. “Orient Express” is fundamentally an anthology of adventures, loosely woven together by a set-collection quest. When I played the game (in a very condensed time-frame, going through the whole campaign in 4 days) we didn’t question the logic or wisdom of the Investigators going from place to horrific place on this mission. It’s just a conceit of the form. In my adaptation, i wanted events to unfold with a stronger narrative structure. I didn’t know how long the concept of train trips between European cities carrying the recovered artifacts would hold up. We may have taken that as far as it can go, though I don’t know what form Season Two will take. The Investigators may now have a HQ that they will set out from for each mission. One character has all along been an agent of the British Government, and the Investigators’ connections with secret agencies involved in the supernatural make get stronger. Operation Edom, from Dracula Dossier may be making an appearance in Orient Express. I have a lot to mull over as well as discuss with the players.

Before Season Two begins though, we will try an interesting change of pace. The Investigators also acquired a medieval tome, the “Devil’s Simulare,” which tells of events that occurred in Constantinople in 1204 AD. This unlocks another flashback session, where we will actually play out the story that is recorded in the book. Since this is potentially a much more action focused scenario, I asked my players about running the session not with GUMSHOE, but Fate. They seemed willing to try this, with half the group having played fate before, and the other half being new to it. This scenario has a determined end point, since there are historical events that have to happen, but there is a lot of flexibility about how they happen