Session 30: Vinkovci 1923, Part One

Originally posted October 5, 2017

Summary

The Investigators find themselves feeling more of the debilitating effects of the Simulacrum‘s Baleful Influence. A purifying ritual in the Scroll of the Left Hand is the only known relief from this curse, but the rest of the Sedefkar Scrolls are likely in the hands of Selim Makryat in Constantinople.

The Investigators decided to track down Umar’s Uncle Sayed, who has gone missing in the Yugoslavian city of Vinkovci. Wanting to remain as secretive as they can, they charter a plane flight once again, which took them as far as Belgrade. An aerial encounter with black chickens reminded them that they are not welcome in the part of the world.

On arriving in town they are met by Sayed’s assistant Turgay. He explained that Sayed and Prof. Smith came here researching the mystery of the Simulacrum. Smith moved on to an archaeological excavation, while Umar’s uncle researched the history of Makryat’s cult. But after the disaster in Austria he grew erratic, becoming obsessed with reports of strange phenomena such lights in the sky and unexplained noises. He then disappeared without explanation. Turgay was particularly worried as one of the last things Sayed was trying to do was contact a local branch of the Brothers of the Skin, a gang calling themselves the Wolves of Vinkovci.

The Investigators began looking into what they could find out about the Wolves, discovering they were a recently arrived gang and were trying to establish themselves through protection and selling amulets of Namtar. Umar found that while his uncle had been seen around the city he was not to be found at any of the usual places a scholar might be staying.

Miss Johnson volunteered to take one of the Namtar amulets to a coffee house that was a known hangout of the Wolves. She hung around in disguise until a young man arrived. She asked him about the amulet and he nervously assured her that she need only show the amulet and ask for the Wolves and they’d deal with any trouble. The more she questioned him, the more anxious he became until he fled the coffee house. Miss Johnson followed him to a rundown apartment block, but was attacked by a hambaba. Barely escaping, she met up with the others

Deciding they needed to act fast, the Investigators hurried to apartment. Dr. Wilke magically tracked the man’s trail to his room, but they were met by gunfire and the golem-like hambaba. Umar used a spell to make the man’s gun explode and Dr. Wilke tied him up. A magic stone was found that control the hambaba and it was halted before it could attack a fleeing Miss Crispin.

Kemal, the subdued “Wolf”, explained that he and his friend Badem have been sent to this remote town as punishment for questioned the authority of Makryat. Badem had been in touch with Sayed, but the night after a meeting something attacked him, leaving him in a state of shock and confusion. Dr. Wilke found strange scars on the back of his skull, similar to the marks on the dissected body found in the alien underground lair in Austria. Dr. Wilke revived the man with drugs, and he ranted about being attacked by blinding lights and giant insects that cut into his head with machines.

Kemal and Badem are taken to the hospital, and the Investigators located the warehouse described as the location of Sayed’s secret library. After Umar disarmed a protective spell, the Investigators confronted a disheveled Sayed in his disorderly study. While pleased to see his nephew, Sayed is paranoid and a bit unstable. He believes he is being watched by the alien Mi-go, creatures from beyond earth who have some mysterious interest in the Simulacrum. From the Wolves, Sayed has learned that there is faction within the Brothers of the Skin that is discontented with Makryat’s dream of godhood. A contact within this faction might be willing to provide information helpful in destroying the mad crime lord.

But Sayed also does not trust the involvement of the British Empire in these affairs. He pulled a gun on Miss Johnson and demanded she tell what she knows of “Project Edom.” A tense confrontation ensued with Dr. Wilke insisting he drop the gun, while Umar protected his uncle. Miss Crispin diffused the situation (for now at least) by calming the distraught Sayed. Miss Johnson admitted that she has heard of Project Edom, a top-secret division of the British Secret Service that seeks to weaponize supernatural power for the defense of the Empire.

After taking Sayed back to Turgay, the Investigators began to examine Sayed’s notes, finding more of signs of his instability, as well as an intercepted note from British Intelligence about their interest in vampires, the Mi-go, and other disturbing topics. They decide to take the short journey to Prof. Smith’s excavation to consult with him on the situation.

Commentary

The game books for Orient Express have a scenario set in the Yugoslavian city of Vinkovci, but it’s an optional side-adventure to the main campaign. I used the published adventure as a bit of source material for an original scenario that grew out of our characters’ unique situation. The Investigators were looking for one of the character’s missing uncle – who had actually been a PC way back when we played the 1893 flashback adventure “The Blood Red Fez.” This uncle has been doing his own research into the mysteries of the Sedekfar Simulacrum.

My goals was to accelerate the tempo of the situation and communicate what some of the other factions have been up to while the Investigators have been going about their missions. The Makryat family are being more open in their schemes, both protesting the British authority in Constantinople and expanding their cult into a messianic movement across Turkey. At the same time, factions within the cult are becoming discontented with their leader’s dreams of godhood. Clues about that are hooks that the players might follow to a final confrontation with these enemies. The published ending for this plot line doesn’t really work at all for us anymore, but as usual I will try to bring in some of its core elements.

The meeting with the Investigator’s uncle is one that I’ve planned a half-dozen different ways previously, but each time it never quite fit into the players’ actions. I’d been concerned about it being too much of a data-dump, with the Uncle explaining at excessive length 20,000 years of background lore about the Simulacrum and it cults. Sometimes I had him be kidnapped or murdered, leaving his notes behind, but that felt unsatisfying as well. Ultimately I decided to present him as a scholar on the edge of madness, driven to 1 Stability by what he’d discovered. His research I condensed to a crazy wall of notes that he’d scrawled across his study, and gave that as a handout for the players’ the mull over.

I also finally got to mention two names that I’ve incorporated into the campaign. The word “Mi-go” is openly used now, though their influence has been a factor for some time. Several of my players aren’t big Lovecraft readers, so I don’t know how many of my hints they’d picked up on, even when they stumbled on a Mi-go medical lab complete with brain-cylinders. There isn’t much direct Mythos material in the published campaign and using the Mi-go was one of my ways of bringing more in. The other story element brought in and no longer secret is “Project Edom,” which of course is from Dracula Dossier. My Project Edom though, while having its origins in researching vampires, is now mainly interested in acquiring and reverse engineering Mi-go technology. I think players are beginning to suspect this, and I’ll probably be open about it soon. The Investigators have been getting a lot of help from the British Secret Service (and one PC is an MI6 agent) and a want them to be increasingly uncertain about how much trust they should put in this help.

Those trust questions also involve the Investigators with each other. We had a fairly tense standoff between PCs in this session when the uncle pulled a gun the MI6 agent PC, demanding she tell what she knew of Project Edom. One PC moved to project her, while the nephew was loyal to his uncle. The fourth PC talked everybody down, for now. The question of PvP conflict in GUMSHOE is something I think a lot about. No so much physical attacks, but conflicts between goals. I wonder what’s the best way to resolve these confrontations, which can involve both sides hunkering down and sticking to their guns. Robin Laws’ DramaSystem game is all about these kinds of conflicts, so can aspects of it be brought into a GUMSHOE game such as Trail of Cthulhu?