Session 21: Austria 1923, Part One

Originally posted June 29, 2016

Summary

Investigators have set off to follow the trail of Melisende took in search of the secrets of the mysterious amulet used against Sedefkar and the Simulacrum back in the 1207 AD.

Led by their guide Joseppi Alvar they arrived at the Austrian village of Fassendorf. Somewhere in the wild countryside around the village is a circle of standing stones said to be carved with strange symbols that match those on the amulet.

They arrived in the quiet, alpine village late at night. At their Inn they are met by only a drunken old man, Gustav Stepanek. He explained everyone else was across town at the execution of the man who murdered Stepanek’s son. Umar and Dr. Wilke departed to find out what that is all about, while Miss Crispin and Miss Johnson retired to their rooms.

An angry, if uneasy, crowd filled a church square, where the village magistrate was providing over the hanging of Metzger, the last of a line of former nobles, who after a string of outrages, was caught bloody handed committing murder. The unrepentant Metzger sneered at the villagers, before dropping to his dead. Dr. Wilke examined the body to confirm his death, though taking the opportunity to snip a few hairs.

The next day was a grand festival day of markets, crafts, and performances, culminating in a parade of youths wearing the masks of “perchten,” folk spirits who scare away demons and bad fortune. The Investigators asked around and collected information about the history of the Metzger family, who once ruled over this land as much disliked nobles. Gregor’s grandmother, considered a scary witch by local children, may still reside in their hillside mansion, but no one has seen her for some while or has been brave enough to look in on her.

The festivities are interrupted when Miss Johnson discovers the body of the magistrate — murdered violently in the same way as Metzger’s victims. Confusion and fear spread through the town. Dr. Wilke and a crowd of drunken older men made their way to the graveyard. Otto the gravekeeper was suspected of concealing that Metzger was somehow still alive. While the protesting Otto was dragged off to be interrogated, Dr. Wilke lingered behind to discover Metzger’s fresh grave dug up from within. Using the clipped hairs, Wilke cast a charm pointing him towards where the seemingly resurrected Metzger had gone.

The other Investigators had decided to take advantage of the confusion to investigate the Metzger mansion, but Dr. Wilke arrived and convinced them to accompany him. After tramping through the frozen forest they stumble on Metzger, assaulting a young woman. Miss Johnson and Umar brought him down with gunfire, but no one is too surprised when a few minutes later he again drew breath.

Speculating that he is some form of vampire, they staked Metzger through the heart and hung a crucifix on him. He is slowed down by the trauma, he showed no sign of undeath. Metzger smirked and said he had mastered powers and secrets beyond their comprehension. The Investigators had little patience for villainous speeches, and demanded he explain himself. Metzger laughed and agreed. He would take them to the standing stones and “open the door” to the lore and power he’s discovered.

Cheerful and mocking, he took them on a hazardous hike through the dark, cold forest but by morning the Investigators were too exhausted to continue. They bind Metzger in a magic circle which seemed to limit his regeneration, and gots some rest — except Dr. Wilke who began making preparations for a fire.

Having had enough of Metzger, the Investigators killed him again and Dr. Wilke set to work burning the body. Umar and Miss Crispin decided to find the rest of the route to the standing stones on their own. After spotting them on the summit of an overgrown hill, Umar climbed up to examine them. The 12 slabs, 11 standing and one fallen, are covered with unintelligible symbols resembling those described on the amulet. Umar took careful notes, while Miss Crispin waited. She spotted an odd figure, apparently wearing one of the village’s perchten costumes, but it ran off when she spoke to it.

Back at the camp, Metzger’s body had been reduced to charred bones, which the the Investigators further crunched and ground to fragments. Umar placed the remains in a lamp and bound them within for transport while the Investigators made the trek back to Fassendorf.

At the village, Otto was still being held under suspicion and a higher ranking official had been summoned to take charge of the situation. He will wish to interview the Investigators, who state that they found and finished off Metzger. Dr. Wilke rallied his drinking friends in support of Otto.

Umar took his notes and books and locked himself in his room at the Inn in hopes of uncovering the meaning of the stones’ carvings.

Commentary

This chapter of our game is not based on material from the published Orient Express books. Wanting to make the “Medallion of Ithaqua” prop more important to the campaign, I’m incorporating it into a previous Trail of Cthulhu scenario of mine — which itself was inspired by an adventure seed in the “Shadows Over Filmland” scenario collection.

This is the third time I’ve run this scenario and what I’ve discovered is that it works a lot better as an introduction to “Trail” and investigation game players that it does for more experienced RPGers. The immediate problem is an eternally regenerating evil aristocrat. When I first ran the scenario, with players new to the game, he was a real, menacing threat to them. Hardened, seasoned players quickly take to the tactics of repeatedly shooting the baddie in the head with a shotgun, burning his body, and crushing the bones to powder, etc, in order to at least slow him down.

A fundamental decision point arose from the first crisis in the scenario: track down the immortal murderer, or investigate the spooky, secret filled mansion. One player convinced the others to go on the hunt. In terms of dramatic structure of a horror story that wasn’t the strongest choice they could have made, and I was tempted to invoke some Drives to steer them away from it. But I didn’t want to short circuit a definite choice that they’d made. The may have now bypassed a big section of the planned scenario.

I may try to weave some of that back in, or I might just let it go and concentrate on the direction things have taken. After all, the true dangers in the scenario are the ultra-terrestrial forces whose lore the baddie has tapped into for his immortality. And getting the Investigators in contact with them (or at least the knowledge of them ) is the main plot point of this chapter. The evil aristocrat, rather than being the boss enemy of the scenario, has become the Tempter, offering to share his secrets and lead the Investigators to more Clues. The Investigators have accumulated several Mythos points at this point and will now have plenty of opportunities get hit with the consequences of using them.

This scenario has been a reminder that a Trail of Cthulhu game isn’t about maneuvering PCs into a confrontations with monsters or other material challenge, but leading them on to confront information that they may regret learning.