Session 20: Venice 1923, Interlude

Originally posted June 20, 2016

Summary

An uneasy alliance has been arranged between the Investigators, ambitious industrialist Arturo Faccia, the supernatural response division of British MI6, and ghostly spirit of Melisende, the medieval warrior-nun. Two pieces of the Simulacrum are being stored and protected by an underground vault, security guards, magic wards, and a spell that binds Faccia’s life to their security.

The Investigators meet with Miss Avon, the representative MI6’s Section for Research Operations and she explained the history of her organization, which had been secretly observing their activities so far. Her superiors, all the way up to King George V, believe this alliance with Faccia is extremely valuable in the struggles against Selim Makryat’s own criminal organization and his plans to gain the power of the Simulacrum. She offered assistance by providing false identifies for Investigators, and decoy agents to confuse and misdirect Makryat. The effectiveness of this tactic would be enhanced if the Investigators would donate a square inch of skin, to be used with sorcery Faccia had picked up from Makryat. The Investigators were shocked and offended at this, and Miss Avon respectfully withdrew the offer. Miss Crispin also raised the idea that an organization of English women, inspired by the Order of the Red Maidens might be a useful thing to attempt once more, to help protect the homefront from supernatural menaces.

It was also agreed that Prof. Smith would be kept in the dark about these developments in the mission. Dr. Wilke did send a confidential message to Smith’s butler Beddows and assistant Violet to warn them of his suspicions that Smith might not truly be whom he appeared to be. Umar received a telegram from his Uncle Sayed, saying that he made important discoveries recently and hoped they could soon meet to discuss them.

Faccia gave the Investigators a tour of his underground vault. Built to withstand bombing during the Great War, the vault has been made spherical, reinforced with iron, and warded with stones carved with “Aklo,” the ancient sigils some believe are the primal Atlantean system of magic — though Faccia views them simply as circuitry to channel vril energies. Two armed guards, one of Faccia’s men and one supplied by Miss Avon, will be on duty at all times.

To further insure the security of the Simulacrum, Faccia willingly, even enthusiastically, offered to have his life and soul bound to magical compact created by Umar. Faccia was sworn to protect the Simulacrum, and prevent anyone, including himself, from using its power, unless two of the Investigators mutually agreed to any actions. The casting of the ritual was physically taxing to Faccia. Dr. Wikle provided some medical assistance, though he took the opportunity to communicate his dislike and distrust of the industrialist.

Much remained mysterious about what really occurred back in 13th Century Constantinople. With the hesitant assistance of Maria as medium, Miss Crispin conducted a seance to

speak with spirit of Melisende. The ghostly warrior-nun related how she had, long ago, tried to find the secret of the strange amulet that had been used against Sedefkar. The symbols engraved on it were also found on standing stones erected on remote mountain tops in eastern Europe, where local pagans were said to dance and call down devils from the skies. She’d managed to trace the oldest of these to a circle of stones near a village built next to chasm in the March of Nordgau. The sinister monk Merovac had been there before her, posing as a witchhunter. After the villagers had dragged a local woman before him, claiming she was the leader of a witch coven, Merovac had vanished, leaving the people frightened and distrustful of each other.

Melisande’s recollections became vague at that point. She apparently found the same destination that Merovac had sought, the ancient carved standing stones. Then there was a cave and disturbing buzzing presences full of terror and promises. Something pulled and fought against the spiritual contact with Melisende. Dr. Wilke reached out to maintain the link, but his own spirit was pulled away to somewhere cold and dark, where curious inhuman intellects touched his mind and pondered over what events were in motion.

With Umar and Dr. Wilke believing the amulet important to the greater mission, the Investigators deduced the location of the village Melisende described — now known as Fassendorf in contemporary Austria, and packed up for the journey

Commentary

It’s been awhile since my last report on the campaign. This is due to both scheduling issues and that two of the previous sessions were a flashback set in 13th Century Constantinople. That adventure was more action-oriented than investigation and so I decided to run it with Fate, rather than GUMSHOE, and thus seemed off topic here.

The framing sequence was the 1923 Investigators reading the medieval tome “The Devil’s Simulare,” and the actual game was having characters from 1204 playing out those historical events. It was a much more structured scenario than I usually run, since the main plot points were events that had to happen. What was determined by play were the fates of other artifacts in the campaign: the Mims Sahis dagger and the Medallion of Ithaqua. The idea was that these objects are things that the 1923 Investigators would learn about and want to find for themselves, but what specifically happened to them, and where they ended up, was larged shaped by what the 1204 characters did with them.

Back to 1923 and Trail of Cthulhu, the Investigators have made an uneasy alliance with several other factions, including the Section for Research Operations of Britain’s MI6. One of the PCs has actually been a British agent reporting on their activities (this has been an open secret that the other players knew but the PCs did not). I have been gradually bringing into our game an increasing amount of elements from not just Night’s Black Agents, but the Dracula Dossier. Vampires have always been a big part of Orient Express, so it seemed fitting. I am not strictly following the story behind Dracula Dossier as such, as my equivalent of Project Edom has a different agenda, but there are definite parallels to be explored.

So the Investigators are getting help from both MI6 and the Industrialist/gangster Arturo Faccia (another minor character who has developed into a major player in our campaign) but in both cases I’m stirring in enough suspicious behavior that the Investigators can’t rest too easy in the company of their new friends. Rather than lug life-sized pieces of occult statue in their suitcases, most of the pieces of the Simulacrum will now be kept in a guarded, physically and mystically secure underground vault. We’ll see how well that ends up working out for everybody involved.

I mentioned the appearance in 1204 of the Medallion of Ithaqua. The medallion was described as having power to summon down some terrible force or entity that weakened the Simulacrum. Naturally that caught the attention of the 1923 Investigators and they are very interested in finding out exactly what the artifact was and what happened to it. Anybody who knows the Orient Express campaign as written might be wondering what the Medallion of Ithaqua is doing here, rather than in the Trieste Chapter of the campaign. As part of the Orient Express Kickstarter, supporters could get an actual metal medallion. Pretty cool prop, but it was for something that did not actually play that large a part in the story. It’s largely a one session McGuffin. I decided to make it a much more important element both in function, and as a clue that could lead to important — and dangerous — secrets about the Simulacrum.

The ghost of one of the 1204 characters, the lone survivor of an order of medieval warrior-nuns, was called up in a seance and consulted about the medallion. She gave enough clues to put them on the trail of where it ended up and the next session they’ll be attempting to track it down. Unfortunately for them, one PC choose to push the seance farther than was wise and also attracted the attention of powers that have been lurking at the edge of the campaign from the start. So far our adventures have had a supernatural tone, with plenty of spells and spirits and vampires and ghosts, but I’m hoping to throw the players a more Lovecraftian curveball and make them question if “magic” is really what they think it is and that powers behind it maybe be more extraterrestrial than supernatural.