Session 36: On the Train 1923, Part Two

Originally posted August 5, 2018

Summary

As the Orient Express sped across the Bulgarian countryside, the Investigators pondered what to do about the strange men in black who had infiltrated the train, as well as the “gifts” they bore. Curious, Miss Crispin touched the Bakelite sphinx figurine she’d been given and received a vision of a London with obelisk lined streets and a giant pyramid looming over Parliament. Miss Johnson’s coin also showed her London, but one with airships soaring overhead and towering glass and steel buildings.

While they discussed options for breaking into the mysterious car attached to the train, Lieutenant Hampson, the injured British soldier, stumbled into their cabin. He was relieved to find that the Investigators were bothered by the strange men, since no one else, even his nurse and Mr. Fleet seemed to care about them. Miss Crispin took the opportunity to hypnotize Hampson, though he revealed little more than he was suffering the physical and emotional strain effects of some important mission or assignment. The Investigators began to suspect that Mr. Fleet might be behind the unusual events and planned to use the train’s stop in Belgrade to investigate the strangers‘ car.

They also looked over the engineering diagrams that had taken from Kurt Groenig. Not being technically trained, the Investigators could not make out what the plans were for, but they did seemed to designed to draw on supernatural “vril” as a power source. Umar could make out the traces of the Aklo symbols and saw that these designs were ultimately another way of tapping into the cursed power of the Simulacrum.

The others persuaded Umar he should leave his cabin for the first time this trip, and they all went to enjoy an elegant lunch. On the way they passed the quiet tourist Elena Constanza and the English Baron Lord Margrave. He had an artifact he could not identify and, to humor Elena, asked Umar to have a look. Umar was presented with his “gift”: a strangely carved green jewel. The vision that struck Umar was a blasted landscape where terrified refugees fled a formation of glowing lights in the sky that scoured the earth with blast of lightning. Once the gift had been delivered Elena and Lord Margrave lost interest in the matter. At lunch, gossip reporter Jack Gatling was talking enthusiastically to one of the strange men, but refused to say what it was about, only that is was big scoop.

Later, when Miss Johnson was passing through the corridor, she heard a muffled scream from an empty cabin. She discovered Kurt Groenig wrestling with Elena. The German engineer insisted that Elena had been following him for sometime and had stolen important papers from his cabin. She protested her innocence and a search turned up nothing. Groenig was handed over to the supervision of the men, while Elena went with the women to explain more of her side of the story. Once alone with then, Elena pulled out a gun and explained that she knew it was the Investigators who had the papers, which she insisted be handed over to her. Miss Johnson’s pistol led to a stalemate. Ultimately a deal was arranged. The papers were too dangerous and would be destroyed, but the Investigators would assist in the abduction of Groenig and in handing him over to care of Elena and her employers. Who she was working for was never discovered, but Umar’s noted a concealed Russian accent in her voice.

At the Belgrade station the Investigators put their plan into motion: they would present one of the strange men their own “gift” — a smoke bomb which they’d take into the mysterious car. When it went off Miss Crispin and Dr. Wilke slipped inside from within the train, while Umar and Miss Johnson broke in from outside.

They met in the middle of a single lavishly appointed room that filled the train car. The luxury was disturbed by a dozen metal cylinders standing floor to ceiling. When examined they became transparent, revealing tubes full of bulging cerebral tissue. A curtained alcove in the rear contained only an plushy empty chair — but a voice from speakers above the chair began addressing the Investigators.

The voiced claimed to be that of Umar’s uncle Sayed. He had finally encountered the Mi-go and explained that everyone had been wrong to consider them enemies. They had brought the Simulacrum to Earth eons ago, but came to realize that was an error. Their goal now was to use the statue as a sort of lightning rod to divert the coming Procession, which they described as a discharge of cosmic energy. No mortal could endure wielding the Simulacrum, so the vampire Fenalik had been created. The men in black were agents of the Mi-go who were using the gifts as part of some indescribable experiment to learn how the Investigators had interacted with the Simulacrum. If they were to provide the pieces they had collected, the Mi-go would insure the biological habitability of Earth, at least on the level of single cellular life. The Investigators’ own continued existence could also be maintained, in whatever manner Sayed still lived. If the “Tabernacle” — Fenalik — failed to prepare complete the Simulacrum, then the disaster facing the Earth would be far, far worse.

The consensus of the Investigators was… that they’d think about it. Umar believed in a third choice. No one else, no tome, no cult had ever conceived a way to destroy the Simulacrum, but the terrible knowledge he and the others had collected hinted that such a thing might be possible. Brilliant light began to shine down through the structure of the car, from a large spinning object that appeared above them. The Investigators fled, hearing a buzzing that rose into a vibration they heard in their bones.

Your world will be Unskinned
You think you cam stop it

But it has already happened
It has always happened
It always is happening

After the Mi-go departed, no one else on the train had much recollection of anything unusual. Mr. Fleet explained that they would be arriving soon in Trieste to meet the Operations Team who had recovered the Left Arm of the Simulacrum. Though there had been something of a problem…

The four members of the team had mentally degenerated into acting like serpents, fiercely protective of then arm. They did allow the Investigators to approach. Miss. Crispin used her magic to purge them of the serpent spirits, though the spiritual effort was damaging to her. Umar reached out to take the Arm, and collapsed, enduring a vision of a figured concealed in a hat and coat. He said it had much to attend to, but promised he would speak more with the Investigators soon…

Commentary

This session picked up immediately after the last one — though that was a month ago, so I tried to do a detailed recap. I’m always amazed to hear about game that play weekly. Just like in my last long term game (a 4th Edition D&D campaign) once a month tends to be the best I can hope for.

I know some of my plot threads and themes have been diluted through a campaign that’s taken three and a half years to play 36 sessions. I have tried to not make it vital that the players remember everything that has happened and I’ve structured things so that important topics get refreshed. Still I wish I had a better way to keep important story elements fresh in the players’ minds.

The penultimate scenario in the published campaign is very influenced by the 1972 Cushing/Lee movie “Horror Express” (which itself is another take on “The Thing). It includes some interesting elements, some weird events that don’t really go anywhere, and an immensely unsatisfying ending. Very little of it was appropriate for how our campaign has developed. A few elements, such as the return of the Jigsaw Prince as an uneasy ally, I’d actually already repurposed for early scenarios. I rebuilt things into a resolution and confrontation with Mi-go, whom I’ve made major players in our campaign. Even including a “Whisper in the Darkness” homage: a voice claiming to be one of the character’s uncle who had learned the “truth” of the Mi-go and tried to persuade the PCs to cooperate. I also utilized some favorite NPCs: Men in Black. Not the Will Smith kind, but inspired by the sort in John Keel’s “The Mothman Prophecies.” Strange, unidentifiable foreigners who both know too much but also lacking in basic understanding of communication and human behavior.

The purpose of these MIBs was to trigger various hallucinatory visions in the PCs, each a vision of a possible future, including the genocidal devastation of World War II. These futures are a key feature of how I plan to wrap up the campaign.

This session ended with a mini-scenario that resolved finding the last piece of the Simulacrum. This was also the biggest “edit” I made in order to move to a conclusion. I decided to entirely remove the Trieste chapter of the campaign. I had ideas in mind that I liked (as usual using the published campaign mostly as a source book) but I was feeling strongly that another three session scenario would drag the game out too much. The main story elements were already in place, the characters were getting dangerously low on Sanity, and, I was starting to feel the beginning of burnout. Wrapping up seemed best. Within the campaign story what happened also made some sense: the Investigators had been undercover from their “allies” in British Intelligence. MI6 in turn decided to send their own team of operatives to find the last piece of the Simulacrum. This team was successful, though they all came back insane. So a sort of 1920s Delta Green scenario took place in the background while the Investigators were elsewhere. It still ended up being up to the PCs to use their hard learned occult knowledge to control the Simulacrum piece. One player also used her spiritual power to purge the madness from the other team. That was something I hadn’t expected, but it was cool idea. She was successful, though ultimately it was a sacrifice, since it cost the character more Stability than she gained by following her Drive. I need to think about to work this selfless act into the story some more, though not necessarily as a benefit. This is Lovecraft after all, and good deeds don’t necessarily lead to rewards.

Additionally, our PC who has down to 1 Sanity suffered a Mythos shock… But as I talked about last post, it would be odd to start a new character at this point, so I have a mechanic in mind to allow another character prop his Sanity up for a bit — but he is a dead man walking at this point, and is not coming out of things well, regardless of how the story wraps up.

Next session will be the end of the campaign. The published resolution is pretty anticlimactic and lacking in a sense of cosmic stakes. The only specific consequences of, say the bad guys getting control of the Simulacrum, have been rather petty. I have been trying to build the impression of a looming apocalypse. The Mi-go claim that if they control the artifact they can guarantee the preservation at least single called life on Earth. If the Simulacrum cannot be properly presented to the Skinless One when he arrives on Earth, the consequences will be much, much worse. These are the two choices the Investigators are faced with. But they, through their adventures, have collected enough lore and Mythos points to attempt what has never been done before: actually destroying the Simulacrum before it summons the Skinless One. Tune in next time! Our next game is scheduled for the end of August.