Session 35: On the Train 1923, Part One

Originally posted June 19, 2018

Summary

Selim Makryat is presumed dead and the Investigators have the Sedefkar Scrolls – except for the Scroll of the Left Hand, which holds the secret of cleaning them from the Baleful Influence, a curse which poisons their bodies more every day.

With some reluctance they agreed to cooperate with Mr. Fleet from the Section for Research Operations, who had come to accompany them back to Venice, where the rest of the Simulacrum is stored. The quickest way there is aboard the Orient Express and Mr. Fleet arranged their passage.

After recent stressful journeys, the Investigators are able to relax, a little, and enjoy the luxuries of the train. They met a few fellow travelers, including a boisterous American reporter, a solitary female tourist, and a German engineer. A wounded British soldier and his nurse also accompanied Mr. Fleet. Dr. Wilke was concerned about how gravely ill the soldier appears, but Mr. Fleet said he is receiving the best care. He also let the Investigators know that a special team was sent to recover the Left Arm and will be joining them at Trieste.

In the middle of the night at the Bulgarian border, a private train car is attached to the Express. The crew apologized for the disturbance, but explained that occasionally rich nobles or aristocrats make such arrangements with the Company. They also appeared to have paid for privacy since no one knows exactly who they are, or were interested in asking many questions.

Dr. Wilke paid an uninvited visit to the car and found it guarded by two men in black suits who spoke in odd stilted fragments, strangely friendly but forbidding him to come any further. Dr. Wilke slipped a ring off one during a handshake but found it was more just a circle of metal rather than actual jewelry.

Dr. Wilke did make friends with a countryman, Jack Gatling, a gossip reporter looking for whatever stories might be on the train. Miss Crispin spoke with several people, including Kurt Groenig, the German engineer. He explained was also travelling to Venice to see Arturo Faccia with whom he was doing revolutionary engineering work. She noticed that the notes he was usually studying contained a few occult symbols admits the diagrams and equations. Investigators found this a concern and after Miss Crispin slipped a sedative into his tea,Miss Johnson snuck into his room to steal some of these papers.

The strange men began to be seen about the train, interacting with passengers – who often came away confused and uncertain about what they had done or said during their interactions. Several passengers also were given small black boxes as “gifts” which they then seemed compelled to hand over to the Investigators. No one else, even Mr. Fleet, reacted to this behavior as if it were unusual. Attempts to scry the private car were blocked by an immensely powerful force of will power.

The Investigators cautiously examined the gifts and find each one aimed at a particular Investigator and waited to be activated by their touch. Miss Crispin was given the figurine of a sphinx, Miss Johnson a commemorative gold coin, and Dr. Wilke a spent bullet cartridge. Umar had yet to receive anything. It was Dr. Wilke who first touched his gift, and experience visions of war, and of civilians in rags and yellow stars being herded in train cars by German soldiers.

Commentary

I had been planning on this being the next to last session of the campaign, but just a couple hours before we started I changed my mind about how I’d set up the scenario. I felt my initial plan was too structured so I made the scenario more open and, unlike what I usually do, took it back closer to the published campaign.

The Investigators were back aboard the Orient Express and I put them in with a big group of various NPCs. I let who they chose to talk to and interact with guide how things unfolded, improving and casting people in appropriate roles as we went. When I was a PC in The Orient Express – this was a few years ago at a Gencon event – we played this section as a larp, talking and mingling with a variety of people, some of whom were guest players, others actors directed by the GM. That was fun and I wanted some of that sense of freeform interaction.

It did mean that the session got only about half-way through the scenario. So we should still need two more sessions to complete everything. That’s probably for the best anyway, so they’ll be no need to rush. I mostly know how the ending will go (at least the setup for it; I want the ultimate resolution to arise from player actions), though I still want to work in a couple elements from the published campaign that help define “Orient Express” as the experience it was written to be.

One issue we do face is that characters are showing the strain of their experiences and one Investigator is down to 1 Sanity. I’ve talked with that player about his situation, and he’s said that in a shorter game he’d be fine with playing someone spiraling into Lovecraftian madness, but that wouldn’t be how he’d like to end this multi-year epic. I’ve been thinking of ways to allow him to continue, without just giving him (or the other PCs) any sort of “plot immunity.”

First I suggested he have a new Drive: Edge of Madness. This would let him recover some Stability by an occasional irrational act. Second, another player (whose character feels some guilt about it all) offered, at a cost to herself, to help him from going completely over the edge. My thought was that she could use her Psychology skill to help buffer any additional Sanity lost. This would be a finite resource though, and would drain her Psychology and Stability ratings, especially if the dice rolled poorly for her. Finally, in the very last session, the situation will lend itself to having characters go into negative Sanity. There will be no coming back from that, and the lower Sanity gets, the worse their ultimate fate will be. The Investigators don’t seem to expect to survive the final conclusion, but the players do appear to want to have some hope of success in holding off the looming Apocalypse as much as they can.