Session 29: London and Venice 1923, Interlude 02

Originally posted August 22, 2017

Summary

Suspicious and worried, the Investigators decided to make a detour in their mission and find out what been happening with their patron, Prof Smith, back in London. They arranged airline passage to throw off anybody watching or tracking them. Before setting off they visited the Simulacrum’s vault in Venice and placed the befuddled Albert Alexis into Arturo Faccia’scare.

They found the Simulacrum pieces safe, but Faccia had asked German scientist and occultist Heinrich Glessler to study the effect that the mere presence of the statue has on the space and energy around it. Faccia and Glessler booth believe that studying the simulacrum is the key to master the secrets of vril energy, which could lead to a new revolution in industry and technology. Glessler wished to study the statue directly but Dr. Wilke and the others forbade this.

Faccia later asked Miss Crispin if she would speak with the young Maria, whom Faccia had been caring for. Maria had been worried what to do with her life, though Miss Avon had offered to take her to England to be a part of the organization of women she has been forming, at Miss Crispin’s suggestion, to assist the Homefront battle against supernatural troubles. Miss Crispin advised that this is a good idea. Maria thanked her – but Miss Crispin found herself speaking to something… else manifesting through Maria. This entity warned Miss Crispin of a coming war, and hoped that she will be ready to participate when the time comes. She warned her not to trust either Caesar, or those old forces that lurk in the skies. Miss Crispin woke in her bed, her memories of what was real and what was a dream blurred.

After a cold and bumpy flight, the Investigators arrived in London and paid a surprise visit to Violet, their only contact with Smith. She reported that Smith’s butler Beddows has been relaying messages and is the only person who knows his hiding place. Beddows was reluctant to reveal anything, but Dr. Wilke convinced him of their dedication to help Smith, and the loyal butler broke down in tears, expressing how strangely Smith has been acting, hardly eating or sleeping, pouring all his effort in to mysterious research and study. Dr. Wilke attempted a divination spell on an old pocket watch given by Smith, and got an unsettling impression that Smith may be far away, near old stone and fresh dirt.

Following Beddows’ direction, Miss Johnson drove the group across the bleak English countryside, to a run down, ill-maintained manor house. Beddows showed them in, and up to the second floor library where Prof. Smith had been spending all his time. An unused bed and untouched meals indicated Smith had neither slept nor ate since Beddows had last been there. Dr. Wilke barged in, ignoring the wheel chair bound Smith’s demands to be left to his important studies. While Dr. Wilke confronted him, Miss Crispin approached and pulled off the blanket and hood that covered Smith, revealing a bone, wax, metal, and magic construct.

Standing at the entrance to the library, Miss Johnson was attacked by a burly man in a clay mask, with a second one close behind. While the Investigators fought off these hambaba, a terrified Violet fled the manor house. The building then shook with a crack of thunder. Out in front of the house, a small truck – apparently the vehicle of the attackers — had been destroyed by a terrific force. Miss Johnson ran out to check on any survivors, only to glimpse what seemed like a large, metallic beetle perched on the roof. It fired its thunderbolt weapon again, but targeted the last remnants of the attackers’ truck, rather than Miss Johnson or the Investigators’ own vehicle. Their car had been knocked on its side by the blasts, but Dr. Wilke used his sorcery to upright it. Umar and Miss Crispin helped Beddows and Violet out to the car, and they drove off, thunderbolts striking in their wake.

Their fears about Prof. Smith confirmed, the Investigators decided to try located the “real” Smith. Their only lead is Umar’s Uncle Sayed, an old acquaintance of Smith. But when Umar attempts to contact him, it seems Sayed himself has disappeared while conducting investigators in the Yugoslavian city of Vinkovici…

Commentary

This session was one of our “Interludes”: it wasn’t based on any particular scenario from the campaign, rather it was a collection of miscellaneous scenes to advance our plot and some discussion of the specifics of what the characters wanted to do next.

Taking up after the last session, the characters, resting aboard the Orient Express, refreshed their skills, but not all their Stability. They got some back for succeeding in their goals, and for enjoying the luxury of the train. That is adapted from the original Call of Cthulhu campaign’s suggestion for Sanity recovery. They are still on the low side and I’m going to be tracking Stability carefully going forward. They may not get a chance to do a complete recovery before we end. I do try to drop in a few points here and there based on their drives and goals. For instance, the Investigators did take the train to Venice just to check on the pieces of the Simulacrum they were storing there. That earned everybody a point of Stability.

It also let me run several Floating scenes related to Venice that I had been wanting to get to. In a major departure from the written campaign, our Investigators have an uneasy alliance with Arturo Faccia (from the Milan chapter) and the SIS to store the pieces of the Sedefkar Simulacrum in a magically warded vault. (It’s a strange conceit of the original campaign that the characters would unquestioningly haul a life-sized human statue of vast occult power in their luggage). They discover that since they’ve last checked in, Faccia has brought in a German scientist/occultist to study the statue as a source of “vril” energy, in hopes of developing it as an industrial power source. In an unexpected twist the Investigators, after rescuing Albert Alexis from the Dreamlands last time, chose to delay interviewing him about his knowledge of the secrets of hyperdimentional space and time. Instead they are giving him a chance to rest and recover at Faccia’s mansion. You can bet that while the Investigators are away, Alexis and our German vril expert are going to have some interesting discussions. Much like real life, sometimes minor decisions can lead to significant consequences.

Another scene was a conversation between an Investigator and Maria, another NPC, from the Venice chapter this time, that I am making a bigger part of the story. Maria is wondering whether to accept an offer to join a SIS project to develop an organization of women to help the English homeland deal with supernatural menaces. This group was actually formed at the Investigator’s suggestion (see the summaries of our Venice chapter) so she supported Maria’s joining. Now this player, and I think her character as well, seems aware that Maria is an avatar/medium of the goddess Bast, so it was an interesting choice. I’m sure she (the player) is curious about where this plotline will lead. The character I should mention, has suffered a mental disorder from being Blasted, and so is experiencing lost time and occasional confusion between waking and dreaming.

I am now going to mention what is probably the main plot twist of the Horror on the Orient Express, so be warned…

…even though the “twist” is a pretty obvious one and something that one of my players was suspecting very early on. That is, the growing suspicion that Prof Smith, the whole adventure’s primary patron and “quest giver” was not whom he claimed to be, and is in fact an imposter. To settle this issue, the Investigators slipped off and arranged airplane flights back to London (something the campaign books helpful describe as quite possible in 1923). There they surprised the reclusive Smith as he was supposing recovering from the injuries suffered at the start of the campaign and found a construct of wax, bone, and machine parts. Agents of the Brotherhood of the Skin attacked then, but that battle was interrupted by what appeared to be a large metallic beetle with a devastating lightning gun. It though seemed more concerned in eliminating any trace of the Brothers than killing the Investigators. My goal here was to emphasize the fact that multiple factions with their own agendas are at work around the Investigators.

This London adventure was largely improvised on my part, since it was an idea the players came up with during the session. But there were various NPCs from past sessions available for them to encounter, and I had a general idea of the overall state of things, as well as the goals of various factions. As mentioned I’m trying to take an Armitage Files/Dracula Dossier approach for these concluding sessions.

In another departure from how the published campaign assumes Investigators will act, our characters are questioning the wisdom of finding all the pieces of the Simulacrum *before* fully understanding how to destroy them. They hope to learn more about that by finding the “real” Prof. Smith as well as one of the Investigator’s uncle, who himself was a PC in the 1893 “Blood Red Fez” flashback scenario! That’s an encounter that I have had on the back burner for a long time and keep revising to fit in with the ever evolving plot. Next session it should finally happen, much to the distress, I hope, of everyone involved.