Session 34: Constantinople 1923, Part Two

Originally posted June 3, 2018

Summary

The Investigators considered their next actions after hearing Mehmet Makryat’s offer to ally with them to assassinate his father Selim. Mehmet seemed sincere in what he told them, but what wasn’t he telling?

Their night’s rest was disturbed by a series of late night explosions that wracked the old districts of Stamboul. While the hotel manager advised everyone that they were safe in the British controlled sections of the city, the Investigators sneaked out to see what was going on for themselves. After crossing the Golden Horn they discovered a disaster scene where emergency crews were struggling to put out fires from damaged buildings and medical tents filled the streets to deal with injured. Unlike other recent bombings this one had resulted in numerous civilian casualties.

While the others slipped into the scene, volunteering gratefully accepted help, Umar observed the destruction and saw that, besides bomb damage, much of the destruction was caused by something that had cut through buildings, melting the very stone. Inside the medical tents Dr. Wilke found victims suffering from burns like those caused by lightning. Miss Crispin was able to recognize and interview a Brother of the Skin who babbled about djinn and confirmed her suspicions about large metallic “bugs” being seen. Official newspaper reports later described the events only as a successful raid by British soldiers on an anarchist cell.

The next day Umar and Dr. Wilke met again with Mehmet at the bathhouse. He was more agitated than usual, saying his father was using recent events to rally more followers to his side. He was preparing some sorcerous response to the British making pacts with djinn from the beyond the stars, so time was running short. They confirmed an upcoming night when Selim might be surprised in his workshop. This could be reached through the ruins beneath the Shunned Mosque, but he warned about unnatural things that Selim’s spells had awakened there, particularly an unseen horror called “The Flapping Thing.”

Miss Crispin and Miss Johnson researched records of the sewers beneath the ancient city, and Dr. Wilke used them to magically scry a route through the ruins beneath the The Shunned Mosque. Mehmet had mentioned an air vent that opened into Selim’s workshop. They’d know the right one by the amount of blood running from it.

The Investigators descended and made their way through the treacherous and unsettling subterranean passages, facing crumbling walls, swarms of insects, and a close encounter with a massive creature that might have been the Flapping Thing, shuddering through this underworld, leaving a gory trail and the faint sound of a woman singing. Tired and unnerved by the journey, the Investigators found themselves in a bloody human abattoir that was part of Selim’s workshop of evil magic. After examining the rooms they waited for Selim to arrive.

Exactly on time, the crimelord appeared, removed the Sedefkar Scrolls from their sarcophagus, and began to study them. Umar took the moment to strike with the Mims Sahis dagger, while Miss Crispin prepared to grab the scrolls. As the knife move towards its target, Umar experience a slowing of time. Selim hissed that he’d prepared for such a confrontation by hiding the Scroll of the Left Hand. If Umar were to stop his attack and hand over the knife, he would tell them its location. Without it, the debilitating Baleful Influence would increase without end.

Umar refused to bargain and time returned to normal. The obsidian blade sunk into Selim’s neck, splattering Umar with acidic blood. The sorcerer stumbled back and then cackled, claiming “The Skinless One will not be denied! Not even the Serpent’s Fang can harm me now!” He raised his hand to strike Umar down with a spell, but found himself powerless.

The confrontation was interrupted by the vibrations caused by the approaching Flapping Thing. Selim seemed to forget everything else, and was overcome with terror. Screaming “No! It was you who betrayed me!” he ran from the room, only for his cries to be abruptly cut off by a heavy, wet impact, followed by the sound of a woman tunelessly singing. The Investigators took the opportunity to flee, grabbing the scrolls and several books from Selim’s library.

While resting back at their hotel, a flood of telegrams began to be delivered, all stating: “Deliver the Skin to the Tabernacle.” After hundreds of these arrived, one last message came: “Or we will take action ourselves.”

Umar began to study the scrolls, though what he read there appeared to affect him deeply. Dr. Wilke checked in with this contacts in the Romani community. They warned that strange men had been asking about the Investigators. They were willing to help smuggle Dr. Wilke and the others out of the city if they wished to leave secretly. On returning to the hotel he encountered a prim Englishman who claimed to be Mr. Fleet of the Division of Research Operations, come to collect the Investigators and take them back to Venice.

Commentary

Whew. Lots to go into for our last session. I’ll be going deep into **SPOILER** territory for the “Horror on the Orient Express” campaign here, so be warned if you ever think you might want to play in it.

We are in the middle of one of the last adventures in the campaign, set in 1923 Constantinople. As written this scenario is mainly the characters being taken captive, made helpless witnesses to events, escaping through deus machina, and having the magic relics they’ve collected stolen from them. So not much concern about player agency…

In our campaign they are cooperating with Mehmet Makryat, one of their main antagonists, to assassinate his sorcerous father, Selim, mastermind behind much of the campaign. This father/son betray is a story element from the published campaign I did want to keep. As written, Mehmet then goes on to steal the Simulacrum, triggering a chase back across Europe to London and the campaign’s final resolution. That couldn’t happen in our game since the players had the Simulacrum fragments safely stored away – to avoid just such an occurrence. I contemplated some equivalent double cross, but didn’t want to force the “everybody betrays” the PCs story too hard. Mehmet’s recognition of just how dangerous the Simulacrum is, and his desire to dethrone his megalomaniacal father and run a non-occult based international criminal empire seemed a reasonable and sufficient motivation. Plus there are plenty of other secrets and betrayals going on.

So rather than being captives, my players were sneaking into the bad guys’ HQ with a definite goal. A big revelation in the published version is finding the mutilated Prof. Smith, the man they thought had sent them on the quest in the very beginning. The Makryats having impersonated him to trick the PCs into gathering the fragments of the Simulacrum. Well, my players figured out that deception quite a while back and I decided the “real” Smith was more interesting as an active support NPC character than a tortured, maimed torso. I didn’t plan this session as a detailed dungeon crawl, but rather had a collection of story elements and events to call on as needed based on how they choose to approach the challenge.

In the written scenario while the PCs are held captive they learn that the cultist fear an apparition called The Flapping Man, which has been haunting their lair of late. When I was a player in “Orient Express” we immediately thought this was something meant for us to take advantage of. We could masquerade as this creature, scare the guards, and escape. We began to plan for this – when an actual Flapping Man showed us and terrified the guards, letting us walk out. What is the Flapping Man? Why is it troubling the cult and helping us? No idea. No information whatsoever is presented. As far as the story goes the Flapping Man only exists to make any actions the PCs take to free themselves pointless. I wanted to do more with it. I included the idea that the cultists were worried about a creature – slightly renamed the Flapping Thing – that had been awakened by Selim’s sorcery and black rituals. Or so it was believed. The original use of the Flapping Man was so frustrating that I had planted the narrative seed for it over 20 sessions ago. I adapted the story of an NPC who had been used by Selim has a medium to contact Yog-Sothoth, and come away broken and distorted. It grew over decades into a revenge filled mass of flesh and hate.

The PCs succeeded in striking down Selim. This failed to kill him outright as the hoped, but did rob him of his magic – and the Flapping Thing arrived to take a long waited revenge. Or so they hope. They didn’t actually see his body, fleeing before the Thing arrived. Which was wise from a Stability saving perspective. Now I do not think any of my players have made the connection between the Flapping Thing and this NPC, despite my dropping quite a few hints and suggestions to review past events. But that’s understandable, given that it’s been a year and a half since we actually played those sessions. I might mention it, or it could remain a Easter Egg…

I’m feeling that it is the appropriate time to start wrapping up the campaign. There are enough NPC factions and subplots that going for a dozen more sessions is quite possible, but more isn’t necessarily better. The session ended with the PCs being confronted by MI6 agents who had been tracking them down, and firmly encouraged to cooperate with them. This is will likely to lead to a conflict between players who want to agree (and get the British to help with the final destruction of the Simulacrum) and a players whose Investigator has become so paranoid and suspicious that he hardly trusts anybody.