Saturday, 24 October 2020

Silent Legions solo - Part 4: Into the underworld

Cat collapses into a seat to catch her breath. No one really pays her any mind; to be honest, it's not the worst she's looked on public transportation before. Once she's breathing normally again she looks up at the route map on the wall to plan her next move. She's currently headed [1d2=] east, so decides she might as well take it to the end of the line at Barking; it's high time she looked up old friend.

[Scene 12

After the successful Escape, it seemed like time for a Respite scene.

Respite: d12= Some hostile action against the Enemy, either by a Friend or a random foe, distracts them from the PCs for a brief time.]


Amit Kamal is a small-time hustler with ties to several south Asian gangs operating out of east London. Cat has no idea where he's living these days, but she remembers all the places they used to go when they were hanging out, so she figures it's just a matter of hitting up every Bangladeshi-owned off licence in Barking before she runs into someone who will help her find him.

And sure enough, her plan works.

[8+ Cha/Culture-Criminal to track him down: 2d6+0=9, success

UNE--
NPC Relationship: loved
Conversation Mood: sociable (= they go waaaaay back)]


* * *
Amit Kamal
male, Age 30
Class/Level: Socialite 1, XP:0
Background: gangster
Wealth: struggling
Str 13 Int 12 Wis 8 Dex 14 Con 10 Cha 14
AC 8, Att +1, HP 6
Combat/primitive 0, Culture/Criminal 1, Culture/Home 0, Language 0 (Bengali), Perception 0, Persuade 1, Stealth 0

* * *

The trail leads Cat to a restaurant. It isn't open yet, but she can see Amit and a couple of his mates inside sitting round a table and laughing at videos on their mobiles. She knocks on the window to get their attention. Amit jumps up from his seat and runs to unlock the front door. He throws it open, then stiffens, bows at the waist, and addresses Cat in his best RP accent. "Miss Morland! I see you've elected to spend the season in Town after all."

"Why, yes, my dear Mr. Tilney. Another season in Bath would be just too, too horrid."

They laugh and embrace as Amit's friends look on bewildered. He says a few words to them in Bengali, and then he and Cat step out into the street.

"Holy shit, Cat! I didn't know you were out yet."

"Yeah... I got into a halfway house and everything."

"I knew you could kick the habit, if anyone could. You should've let me know when you were getting released. I could've thrown you a welcome-home party."

"No one would've come, though. You do know you were the only person who ever visited."

"Shit. No, I didn't. I, uh, feel kinda bad now that it was just the once."

"Don't. It meant to world to me. Really."

Amit mumbles something, and the pause in the nascent conversation threatens to overwhelm them. Cat's not sure she can just beg a favour out of the blue, so wracks her brain to make small talk.

"What'cha been up to all this time?" she asks.

"Ah, you know: same-old."

"Yeah, I probably shouldn't be asking. How's the family."

"Mum's still mum, asking when I'm going to get married..."

"Ha. And you sister?"

"Still straight, Cat."

"Damn. A girl can hope."

"But how are you doing, anyways?"

"Honestly? Not great. I'm in trouble; these weirdoes are after me and I need protection. Think you can hook me up?"

"How do you mean?"

"A gun, obviously."

[He needs a 7+ Int/Culture-criminal roll to have a connection: 2d6+1=7]

"I know a guy, but it might take time."

"I ain't got a lot of that."

"My guy's not the most reliable, innit?" [UNE: prejudiced - doubt - retainers]

"How long?"

[1d6+1=6]"A  week maybe. No more."

"Shit. Got anywhere I can hide out maybe?"

[Q: Does he? 50/50 (4+): O2 C2 - no, and...]

"I wish I could help, but I don't know anywhere to hide a, well, a white girl. You know how it is..."

"I can hide maybe three days... how about I meet you after three days. We'll grab lunch or something."

"I'll have my people call your people."

"This is serious mate."

"Sorry. OK, three days. Let me give you the number on the mobile I'm using at the mo. Oh, and the spare burner, too."

* * *

Amit soon has to rejoin his friends; they weren't just loitering, but Cat knows better than to press for details. She takes the tube all the way to Victoria to pick up the artefact, and keep it with her to conserve her meagre funds. She spends three nights at different homeless shelters, afraid to go home.

[The Respite will last 2d6=7 days (until 4 October)]


30 September

Three days later Cat meets Amit in a builders' café, between the breakfast and lunch rushes.

[Amit needs a 10+ Int/Culture-criminal roll to have come through already: 2d6+1=6]

"Sorry, Cat, no luck yet. It's coming, but not early."

"Damn. Can you at least get me a knife?"

"There's real cheap ones at the Tesco in the housewares aisle."

"I mean a real one, matey. One I can fight with."

[6+ Int/Culture-criminal: 2d6+1=9]

"No problem."

"Ta. Can I ask another favour?"

"Do I ever say no?"

"Ha! No. Maybe you should sometimes. But this is easy, I just need an honest, unfiltered opinion: do I still look too sketchy for polite society?"

"Got a job interview or summat?"

"No. I need to renew my library card."


[Scene 13

Investigation scene: Obtaining the clue is trivially easy, but parsing it or identifying the importance of an object requires visiting a Place, where further information is under guard of one or more challenges]


1 October

Cat decides she should probably to go back to halfway house for appearance's sake. Besides, she needs to pick up some post as proof of address. The staff member on duty eyes her with abject suspicion as she launches into her excuse.

"I, er, met someone. Been spending a lot of time together. No, it's not serious. Not ready for that kind of commitment, either of us."

[8+ Cha/Persuade to avoid trouble: 2d6=10]

"Just call and let us know next time, m'kay?"

Cat tries to sleep there that night, and has bad dreams.

2 October

Cat puts on her one set of nice clothes and heads down to the British Library, getting there even before they've opened the doors. Luckily the little coffee stand is serving, as she needs some fuel for her visit.

Getting her card renewed is far easier than she expected [4+ Int/Persuade, success] and within 90 minutes she is collecting a stack of books in the 2nd floor Humanities Reading Room.

[Int/Research 10+: 2d6+1-1(unskilled)=10, success

Random Location (1d9) = Epping forest
Place (d4) = Ill-litten unnatural cavern

research takes 1d8-1=1 day]


Cat isn't expecting to find an Owners Workshop Manual for the artefact or anything, but she is certain that such an unusual and unsettling item must have left some record of its existence. She starts with Roman Britain, and follows vague and winding threads which finally lead her to a tantalising clue buried in veiled references in a footnote of a Medieval Latin chronicle, telling of a secret place where (she hopes) answers may be found.

3 October

Cat awakens to find a text from Amit: "We should do lunch."

[Q: Complications? 50/50 (4+): O4 C5 - Yes
Q: What? Interestingly / Ancient]


They grab lunch at a chippy near West Ham underground station, and take it to the mostly deserted park nearby to eat on an obliging bench. When they're finished, Amit hands over a canvas bag. Cat looks inside; her eyes go wide as pulls out a vintage (1860s) Webley .450 percussion revolver.

"What the actual fuck? Your mate rob a museum or summat?"

"I didn't ask. Best I can do on short notice. And... with limited capital."

"It's only got 4 bullets in."

"Yeah. He said not to leave a live round under the hammer. Bump it too hard and it'll go off, innit?"

"Shit."

"You don't like?"

"Can't afford to be picky."

"Speaking of afford..."

"Put it on my tab, won't you?" [6+ Cha/Persuade 2d6+0=6]

[Q: Is he in debt over this? Likely (3+): O5 C6 - yes]

"Look, Cat, I gotta ask, just what kind of trouble are you in? I seen you in a bad way before, but never like this. That one time at Durga's gaff when Tiny had a piece you freaked out and made him put it way up in the kitchen cabinet. Why you want one all of a sudden?"

"Trust me, you don't want any part of this. You'll sleep better not knowing."

"So dramatic!"

"I'm being straight with you."

"There's first time for everything."

"Not joking, matey. People have already been murdered."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah. This girl I knew from rehab. My shrink. A priest."

"Fuuuuck. What are you messed up in?"

"Something really, really weird."

"Weirder than that time--?" [knowing - report - fame]

"Yes."

"I didn't finish."

"You didn't need to. Whatever you were going to say, this is weirder. And worse."

"Fuckin 'ell, just spill it. How the fuck long have we been mates, for you to hold out on me like this?" [hostile - rage - knowledge]

"Fine. Shit. Just... just don't end up hating me."

Cat rummages round at the bottom of her backpack and produces a small bundle which she hands to Amit. He unwraps the flimsy grey cloth -- one of Mike's old band shirts, now so faded that the logo is just a few stubbornly clinging shreds of white -- and finds the sinister artefact inside.

[He must make a saving throw vs. Magic: d20=6, fail - unworthy]

He turns it over and over in his hands, feeling a bit queasy at the touch of the spongy metal.

"What is this ting?"

"Some sort of... some sort of magical device. I don't know what it does, not yet, but I need to find out. And find out why it's apparently worth killing for..."

"Shit. Here, take it back. I feel all creepy holding it."

"Yeah.... so, fancy a walk in the woods?"

"Sure, I guess. Where?"

"To find a secret cave in Epping forest."

"Like, Dick Turpin's hideout? I think that's a myth, Cat."

"No, this is something else. Something far older..."

* * *

[This next part should have been a new scene, but as I was using a hybrid structure rather than just Mythic I forgot to not it. The scenes mostly ended up just being for my own reference when I compiled a 1-page master reference sheet; I had to plot out the adventure on paper to keep track of all the events, NPCs, items, crimes, cults &c &c.]

Amit stops off at his flat (technically, his mate's flat where he's couch surfing) to pick up a cricket bat and a duffel bag to conceal it in, then they head for the tube. They spend most of the journey from Mile End out to Epping poring over the Ordnance Survey map that Cat annotated from her library notes.
They finally arrive at their destination -- the stop one before the end of the line. When they step onto the platform, they are struck by an all-too-surreal sight.

"You see 'em too, right?" asks Cat.

"Yeah..."

"Never thought I'd be face to face with a herd of horses when I got off the Central Line..."

Leaving the station, they walk up the road for about a kilometre to the edge of Epping Forest, then do their best to follow Cat's map; based as it is on an ancient account of finding the cave, they can't even trust the rivers to be in the same place. But perhaps something unseen is pulling Cat closer to itself, for within the hour they have walked a more-or-less straight path into the fairy glade, the sole place from which the cave may be approached so that it appear to mortal eyes.

[9+ Wis/Survival roll to find cave: Cat 2d6+1(wis)-1(unskilled)=12!

I had no opinions whatsoever about what was inside the 'Ill-litten unnatural cavern' (from the Location tag), so I made some rolls on the Kelipah charts--

Size: (1d3=) Substantial. The Kelipah is as large as a small town, with
multiple interesting features in it.

…is warped this way: Is a slow poison
The Flora is…: Produces strange music
The Fauna is…: Piscine or crablike

And to provide action for the scene--

1d6=3 challenges (SL pp. 126-9; each of the 4 classes has 2 tables, so...)
3d8= scholar (upper), tough (upper), investigator (lower)
3d20= 11, 18, 15
 scholar: A prehuman relic that actually serves as a kind of “book”.
 tough: Cult lieutenant operating with henchmen here.
 investigator: It’s been buried, with the nearby earth disturbed.]


The path before them is not the path they just walked down, nor is the terrain at all familiar. Cat fishes the antique revolver out of her bag, and Amit readies his cricket bat. Then by the light of the torch on Amit's mobile, they step tentatively into the yawning blackness of the cave.

[Q: Are the cultists far from the entrance? Unlikely (5+): O1 C8 - no.

7+ Wis/Perception to hear them in cave: 2d6+1=8

There are 1d4+1=2 cultists]


As they creep along the main tunnel, they pass many cramped side passages leading off in all directions. As they pas a larger one, Cat fancies she hears voices. They stop still and strain to listen, but cannot make out any words.

"Put out the light and follow me," says Cat.

[Stealth at -2 (creeping through the dark) vs. Perception: 2d6+0-2=7 vs. 2d6+0=6]

They move slowly up the passageway by touch. Fortunately, a light shining from a chamber up ahead soon appears, and as they crouch by the mouth of the passage they overhear [d6=m,f] a man and a woman talking.

"We'll not get anywhere with this unless we get Elgin down here," says the woman. [UNE: friendly - aid - skills]

"You're sure he will be able to read these signs?

"Who else could?"

"Won't he want the maxilla for himself?" [scheming - agenda - treasure]

"We can take care of him once we have what we need. But without him, we've nothing to go on."

Cat turns back to Amit. "Follow my lead," she whispers, then slinks forward into the chamber. There is no one besides the two whose voices she'd heard. The cultists are both about Cat's age, though she doesn't recognise either of them -- as absurd as the Circle of the Shadow Chalice was back when Cat used to hang with them, even then none of the members were trendy hipsters.

[Stealth 2d6+0-1(not much cover) vs. Perception 8+0, fail]

"What was that?" say the cultists as Cat steps out into the light, right where they are looking.

[Q: Are they armed? certain (2+): O2 C4 - yes, but... knives only]

"Hands up!" says Cat. [5+ Cha/persuade roll succeeds] "Amit, see if they're packing."

"Sure thing. But you should really cock the gun first..."

"Shit. Sorry."

[Q: Do the cultists try anything stupid? 50/50 (4+): O6 C3 - yes, but... not immediately
Cha/Persuade 8+ to interrogate: 2d6+1+1, success]


"So, I advise you two to start talking," says Amit as he removes their knives, "lest my associate decides to go all Get Carter or summat."

"We... we're just out hiking in the woods--"

"Bollocks. You can't find this cave unless you know how to look. Try again. Who's this 'Elgin'? What signs is he s'posed to read?"

"He's a scholar of sorts. We need him to decipher the markings on the stone. over there, in the middle of the cavern."

Amit goes over to examine the object, a football sized stone roughly incised with markings the likes of which he's never seen before. "Gee, Cat, looks like your gat's not the only museum piece in here. This thing looks proper ancient. What's it for?"

"Without a translation of the carvings, we don't know. That's why we need to bring in a specialist."

"Fair enough. But you think it's got something to do with a certain toothy artefact, innit?"

"It, um, I guess. Maybe. It was supposed to have been made here. So they say."

"So where do we find this Elgin character?" asks Cat.

"Either of you two got his number?"

They nod.

"Good. Hand over your phones. And unlock them for us. Ta."

The [d2=] woman hands over her mobile without a word. The man however tries a feint, and swings at Amit with clenched fist. He earns a cricket bat to the face for his efforts. He crumples at Amit's feet, and his companion rushes to his side.

[his surprise attack missed. Amit won initiative, hit for 1d4=4 damage dropping the cultist to -2hp]

"Oh my god oh my god oh my god... he's not breathing. You killed him!"

[1d20=14 Madness for killing another human being for the first time]

"Come on," says Cat, "we should get out of here. Grab her torch and let's leave. Earth to Amit! Come on, mate!"

"Yeah... uh... what about her?"

"She can find her own way out. I just don't want to be followed."

[Q: Does she try to follow? 50/50 (4+): O3 C7 - no]

It's a short walk back out of the cave, now that they are using a light. Cat is sort of sure that a person could crawl their way out in the darkness... but after what the cult did to Mike and Dr. Sonia, she doesn't much care.

They walk back to the glade, then out into the forest as they remember it. They head straight back towards the road, and as soon as Cat can find a signal, she looks through the woman's contact for an Elgin and makes a call.

[Q: Does he answer? unknown 1d6=6 doubtful. O6 C1 - yes, and...

So, just who is Elgin Radcliffe?
1d6=m; random name probably from Byakhee

SL random Actor generation--
Age: Aged or mature in their position.
Profession: Businessman, clerk, banker, or other white-collar job.
Memorable Quirks: Facial tattoos, piercings, or other aggressive body mods
Social Standing: An outcast, either from profession or personal qualities.
Relation to Situation: The person responsible for hiding it or investigating it
The Problem That Drives Them: Someone involved has dire blackmail on them.

I made a Reaction roll, though it applies to the cultist he thinks is ringing him up: 2d6=4, hostile]


The other end only rigs twice before it is answered by a man with a gruff voice and a thick northern accent.

"Dammit, what now?"

"Uh, I borrowed this phone," says Cat. "You don't know me... but if you recently agreed to meet someone from the Circle, I beg you to reconsider. They are planning to use your knowledge for their own ends, and then... well, you know."

"I'm listening." [react=7, neutral]
 
"Let's meet. I have something to show you -- the thing they're after. Maybe we can get to the bottom of this together. I'm tired of running." [6+ Cha/Persuade roll: 2d6+0=10, success]

"Yeah. Sure. OK. Where?"

"Uh... somewhere public. But not too dressy, maybe."

"Ha ha, not an issue. How about the Big Red on Holloway. Know it?"

"Sounds good."

"Get there early and get a booth. I'll ring from the bus stop to let you know I'm almost there."


next post: allies and assassins

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Silent Legions solo - Part 3: They will always find you

23 September

Cat has nothing to do the next day and no money of which to speak, so decides to kill time by going for a walk. Her steps drift towards Mike's church, consciously or not she can't say. But when she gets there she sees cops milling about, and crime scene tape over the rectory door. Cat keeps walking, and tries to act normal. She checks her phone, hoping that Mike had texted this afternoon and she's just not heard the ringer, but she knows in her heart nothing will be there. Tears come to her eyes unbidden.

[I prefer to end posts at a dramatic point in the narrative, so I'm putting the game mechanics from the final scene of the last post here.

The Oracle indicated a random Event would occur before the Jesuit's letter arrived. I rolled: PC negative - Mike - Violate / Stalemate, so the enemy paid Mike a visit.

I gave him a random Tough (class) challenge to overcome (SL p.129)
1d2 & d20 = A victim of occult powers transformed into a monster.
The visit is (1d6): 1-2 stealthy, 3-4 infiltration, 5-6 frontal assault: stealth]


Its stealth (+1) vs. Mike's Wis/Perception (+1/-1): 10+1 vs. 5+0: Mike is surprised; Its attack (claws or summat) hit, and the slaughter die was 1d6=6, so it inflicts triple damage.

Mike only had 3hp, so was killed messily]

* * *

[Scene 9

Q: Will Cat be stopped for questioning? unlikely (5+): O3 C3 - no, but... will be brought in after 1d4=1day
+Event: Introduce a new NPC

The new NPC will be a random Friend or Enemy from the Location Tags. Cat's halfway house and Mike's church are both in North London, so the tags are Averted Eyes & Drug Epidemic.

1d2=Drug Epidemic; 1d2=Friend; 1d4=Police internal affairs investigator

For the Met (London Metropolitan Police), Internal Affairs = PSD, the Professional Standards Department]



24 September

Cat is all cried out by the time the police arrive at the halfway house the next morning. They bring her into the station. She's not arrested, but she is formally cautioned.

The investigating officer comes in, a singularly joyless [d6=]woman in an unflattering navy blue suit jacket. [Personality: Calculating, Determined]

"We have you on CCTV leaving the church. You were the last person to see him alive."

"So you're looking for a blind murderer or what?"

"Don't get smart with me. The rectory was turned over after the crime. Things may be missing. Your rap sheet isn't doing you any favours here."

"Mike was helping me get my life back together. Why would I kill him?"

"I don't know. We only have your word on that. Maybe you thought he was too preachy and decided to teach him a lesson."

The officer opens the manila folder she's brought and slides a picture of the crime scene across the table. It shows Mike sprawled on his back in a pool of blood, half his face ripped away.

Cat turns her face away and tries to choke back more tears.

[+1d3=1 Madness from seeing the photo.

8+ Cha/Persuade roll to not get detained/arrested: 2d6+0=11, success
10+ Wis/Perception to notice anything unusual: 2d6+1=7, fail]


Eventually the police decide they have no reason to hold her, and she is allowed to wander back home.

* * *

[Scene 10 : the New NPC Event from above]

Later that night, another knock at her door interrupts Cat's attempts at reading her book. She's not surprised in the slightest when the judgemental night nurse tells her it's the police again.

With her hair pulled back by a sparkly scrunchie, form-fitting Empire Strikes Back t-shirt, capri-length trousers, and beat up Chuck Taylors, the young woman waiting at the front door looks more like a student than a cop. But the second she starts talking, all old those warning bells in Cat's head go off. Definitely a cop.

"Cat, I'm DI Wang. I had a few questions I would like you to answer. Is there somewhere we can talk privately?"

"Here? You're having a laugh."

"Is that pub up the road any good?"

* * *
DI Mary Wang
female, Age 36
Class/Level: Investigator 1, XP:0
Background: Police
Wealth: Average
Str 11 Int 15 Wis 14 Dex 14 Con 9 Cha 10
AC 8, Att +1, HP 5
Athletics 0, Combat/primitive 0, Culture/Home 0, Law 0, Perception 0, Research 0, Security 0, Stealth 0


* * *

[UNE--
NPC Relationship: neutral
Conversation Mood: guarded
inquisitive - interest - contacts]


Cat is pleased to find that the table she and Mike always used to sit at is already taken. Even if he sorta became part of the establishment, she thinks it would still be an affront to Mike's old crusty-punk soul to sit a cop down in his place.

For her part, DI Wang is intent on getting Cat to open up. She comes back with a couple pints of real ale, and tells Cat some cheesy chips are on the way. And that she's started a tab. Then she gets down to business.

"You've had an interesting fortnight... a break-in at your psychiatrist's office, stumbling upon the scene of a murder, and now going to visit a murdered priest."

"Kinda an obvious connection to it all, though, innit?"

"Why do you say that?"

"For real? I met Vera in rehab. Mike's a former addict."

"So you think this is drug related?"

"No, not now, but in the past. Vera was clean now. So am I. So was Mike."

"So what then?"

"You'd not believe me if I told you."

[Mary needs to roll 8+ Cha/Persuade (unskilled, -1) + Cat's Wisdom bonus (+1) since it is in her best interests to tell Mary the truth: 2d6+0=9, success]

"Try me. If I thought this was straightforward, we'd be having this talk at the station, not down the pub. I think that there is a connection between these crimes, and it's one that involves certain bad actors within the Met. I need to expose them, or your friends' murderers may never be brought to justice."

"Fine. But I'm warning you, this gets weird. Vera was involved with this... this cult. I used to know 'em, but that was, like, a seriously long time ago. I'm not even sure if anyone I used to know is still with them. I kinda knew Mike back then, in passing. But later, he told me, they started to change, and get really serious, and... well, that's when Vera was part of it, and that's why she wanted out. Only..."

"This cult: what did they believe?"

"Fuck if I know!"

"What did they do, then? Worship the devil? Vampirism? Ritual magic?"

"Back when I knew them, it was mostly talking shit and drug parties. More the former than the latter, so I, uh, lost interest..."

"I'll need some names."

"I'll write down as many as I can remember. You'll understand if my memory's a touch hazy..."

[DI Wang will make contact again in 2d6=11 days]

* * *

[Scene 11

Escape: d12=The heroes need to literally run. The Enemy or some unstoppable force pursues them and they need to flee on foot or in a vehicle before it can catch them.]


27 September

Early on Monday morning, Cat once again heads to the hospital for her outpatient appointment with Dr. Sonia.

[Wis/Perception 11+ : 4+1=fail]

When she comes into the waiting room, the receptionist blankly tells her to go right in. Cat's too exhausted to notice that her demeanour is practically catatonic.

She opens the consulting room door, and immediately see the blood. Dr. Sonia is dead in her chair. Her head is thrown back at an impossible angle. Her gaping mouth is dripping blood all down her front and onto the floor. Her teeth have been removed and placed on the desk in a Y pattern. A sound wells up inside her, then erupts out of her throat, a voice like a chorus of demons shrieking slightly out of unison.

Cat runs out of the office. Someone -- or some thing -- stirs in the bushes outside, alerted by the unearthly screams.

[+1d6=3 madness (up to 10).
I rolled a random Labyrinth Lord spell to add colour to the murder scene, and got Magic Mouth.

Q: So what is the pursuer in this scene? Roughly / Macabre (an undead abomination)

Weak undead: AC8, HD 2, HP 11, claws+2, 1d4 damage, Move 30', skill+0, Madness 1d6

I ran the pursuit itself with the Location Crafter. The lists are--

Locations
special
Outbuilding
shrubbery
blind corner
walkway
special
empty lot
lot with one car
trees
trees
fence
random
fence
train tracks
back garden
street
shop
random
street
complete

Encounters
none
none
special
monster
none
monster
none
pedestrian
random
monster
random
none
special
monster
pedestrian
cultist
none
pedestrian
monster
monster

Objects
none
rock
none
random
flowerpot
none
none
stick
random
none
special
none
none
none
stick
hubcap
rock
special
none
random


I always start on Turn 0 so the turn number is the same as the number added to the die rolls (until one goes past the end of the list). This is essentially a running fight, but most turns last more than one combat round.]


Cat sprints past the motionless receptionist and bursts out through the front door onto the walkway to find a wild-haired, emaciated man of indeterminate age lurching toward her. It smells like he's been bathing in cheap cologne.

[t0: outbuilding - monster - none]
Cat does her best to run round him but he swerves into her path. She ducks just in time to avoid his grasping, outstretched arms. [She needed a resisted Dex/Athletics roll to avoid him entirely: 6+0 vs. 7+0, fail. His attack missed.]

[t1: blind corner - none - none
t2: lot with one car - none - stick]


Cat runs at full bore around a blind corner. Fortunately no one is there to get in her way. She gets halfway through a nearly empty parking lot before hazarding a look over her shoulder. She grabs a broken branch off the ground, sure she will need to defend herself from this maniac.

[t3: blind corner - monster - stick]
Another blind corner: Cat almost barrels into a planter. Her pursuer is catching up. [It wins initiative] He grabs for her. She feels a pop in her shoulder as she twists free [hit for 1d4=1 damage, putting Cat at 6hp].

Cat spins about and smashes him in the face with the end of her stick. The jagged wood catches him full in the forehead and tears up over the curve of his skull, ripping a flap into the scalp. No blood flows from the grievous wound, just a yellow dribble of an oily substance. [1d4=2 damage, leaving it with 9hp]

Cat isn't even sure she hurt him -- or it. If it were once human, it isn't any longer [+1d6=4 madness (to 14) for the realisation]. Cat backs away and from its clutching hands [it missed] and turns to flee.

[t4: trees - monster - stick]
She runs through the back parking lot and between the portacabin outbuildings, straight on into the woods behind. The thing is hard behind. She dodges amongst the boughs, but can't shake the pursuit. It grabs her sleeve. She yanks her arm away roughly, losing her balance and smacking into a tree. [She got to make an opposed Dex/Athletics roll to stay out of reach: 3 vs. 7, fail. Its attack hit for 1 damage, putting Cat at 5hp]

[t5: fence - monster - none]
Cat rights herself and kicks off the tree for speed as the thing lurches after her. She is suddenly face-to-face with a chain link fence. The thing stops just five feet behind her, its feet caught up in some roots. [Athletics 9 vs. 10, fail; but its attack roll was a natural 1]

She scrambles up the fence. Adrenaline propels her up in moments, and without thinking she launches herself right up and over, miraculously avoiding the razor wire. But the drop is further down onto a slope, and she lands hard. Pain shoots through her ankle, but she keeps running. The thing is already climbing up after her.

[6+ Str/Athletics to climb fence: 8=success. Evasion saving throw to avoid razor wire, d20=18, success.

4+ Dex/Athletics to jump down onto soft ground: 2d6+0=3, fail
Fall effects: (1d6) 1-2 1d3 damage, 3-4 Physical save or -1 phys. actions, 5-6 both
d6=4; Physical save 1d20=10, fail]


[t6: trees - monster - random
random = Very / Exotic: a random item has been abandoned here. Flipping through the rulebook at random, first object seen is: bladed weapon]


Cat looks back to see the thing tearing itself through the razor wire without flinching. It jumps down with alarming alacrity. Amongst the omnipresent rubbish (littering all of London's green spaces), Cat finds half a pair of garden shears [-1 to hit 1d4+1 damage]. She pick it up and swings viciously as the fiend draws near. The rusty blade rips into its face, tearing away its nose and most of its right cheek. The ruined skin hangs ragged and oily in a meaty strip, and the bone beneath glistens white. [4 damage drops it to 5hp]. It doesn't seem particularly fazed by the injury, but at least the vehemence of the blow staggered it back a pace, giving Cat time to run. [it missed]

[t7: trees - random - none
random: Dangerously / Large]


She sprints down and across the train tracks, and up the wooded hill on the other side. There is a row of terrace housing at the top, so she makes for the nearest back garden -- but is repelled by an enormous German shepherd chained in the yard, which bares its fangs and growls.

[t8: fence - random - random
item: Healthily / Delightful
encounter: Fortunately / Feminine]


The next garden along has a chain link fence looking out in to the woods. An elderly lady in a frilly dressing gown is on her back step, pouring dietary cat food from a large white bag into a pair of bowls. She stops short when she sees Cat about to scale the fence. [reaction roll (at -2) =3, hostile]

"Go away, or I'll call police!"

"Please, someone is after me!" [7+ Cha/Persuade: 2d6+0=4, fail]

"I'm dialling 999!"

[t9:train tracks - special - none
special: Barely There
t10: train tracks - none - none]


The next few fences are tall and wooden, and Cat doesn't think she can jump high enough with her twisted ankle. She catches a glimpse of monster. It's closer than expected. She runs back down the hill and along the train tracks for about two hundred metres until she sees a rough, trampled path leading up to a street.

[t11: street - pedestrian - stick]
She starts running down the street, doing her best to conceal the broken garden shear beneath her coat. She runs past another OAP out for a stroll. The little old [d6=f] woman literally clutches her pearls at the sight of the young deviant running towards her [reaction: 2d6-2=4, hostile], and Cat doesn't bother stopping.

[t12: random - monster - none
random=Hastily / Smelly (a chippy)]


Somehow the thing has caught up with her again. Cat tries to evade the pursuit [Dex/Athletics 6-1 vs. 8, fail] but it keeps gaining. Its hands grab for her but never come quite close enough [attack misses]. For some reason no one seems in the least put off by the thing in pursuit. Cat is beginning to wonder if it's really there.

[t13: street - none - hubcap (could use as missile, but elects to ignore)]

She runs into a busy street, dodging pedestrians who obligingly halt to hurl profanities at her.

[t14: random - monster - special
special: Exit Here]


Cat sees the sign for Harringay Green Lanes overground station, and feels a surge of adrenaline at the prospect of an escape. [Dex/Athletics 10-1 vs. 7, success] She drops the shears in a bin before entering the station. She has just enough time to touch in and scramble down to the train on the nearest platform. The doors close right behind her.

[Q: Does the monster follow? Unlikely (5+): O3 C6 - no.]

She turns to look out the window; her pursuer is nowhere to be seen.


next post: old friends

Monday, 12 October 2020

Silent Legions solo - Part 2: Remembrances and hidden things

 

Sharing a cab with a priest to go back to his church and look at some secret item a murdered junkie left with him isn't a situation Cat ever dreamt of finding herself in. But after the last 48 hours, it seems somehow like the logical conclusion.

Mike lives in the rectory attached to his church. It's a small and cozy little flat, and looks almost exactly as Cat would expect: old wooden furniture, faded wallpaper from the 1960s, crucifixes and pictures of Jesus and Mary hanging on every wall. Well, the Black Flag poster is a bit jarring, but Mike did say the diocese doesn't mind as long as he keeps his stereo down so it doesn't disturb the neighbours, and they are rather happy with his youth outreach ministry.

Cat sits down at his ancient kitchen table as he fetches a Doc Martens box from his bedroom. "I didn't know what else to put it in," he says, laying the box in before Cat on the table. "Open it. Tell me what you think."

[Q: Item Type? (1d4): 1 weapon, 2 protective item, 3 grimoire, 4 misc.: d4=4

A Type of Object (from Dark Sorcery tables, SL p46): d8=Relics of a great sorcerer's body. relic=teeth (via https://www.randomlists.com/random-body-parts)

Material (from cult name tables, SL p78): 1d12=copper

Q: Does Mike know what it is/does? 50/50 (4+): O2 C5 - no. (so not rolling any effects yet, just the Curse

How Frequent is the Curse? It’s almost always in effect when the item is owned.
What Triggers the Curse? It triggers when touched by “unworthy” hands.

Save vs. magic (+Wis mod.) to be worthy
C rolls natural 20!
M rolls 10+1, fail

Curse is...It causes bad luck for allies and friends, forcing ill fortune.
What Cures the Curse’s Effect? Putting away the artefact and staying away from it.]


Cat shivers at the sight of the thing as she lifts the lid. It's made of a coppery metal, three ovoid spokes connected in a triquetra-like shape. Yellowing human teeth are set in three rows of seven, lengthwise across the top of each spoke, giving the whole the appearance of a three-pronged jaw.

Cat reaches for it, then stops short. She glances up at Mike to see if he was going to stop her, but he just gestures to go ahead. The metal is subtly warm to the touch. She turns it over in her hands, and finds an inscription incised on the underside:

uerum nulla tam modesta felicitas est, quae malignitatis dentes uitare possit.

"It's horrible. I love it. What is it?"

"I dunno exactly, but it's some sort of magic. Can't you feel it?"

"Not really, no," says Cat, turning it over and over again. "Are you sure it isn't just the look of the thing?"

"I'm certain. This... I dunno, it does something."

"The metal's weird. Almost spongy. Like it isn't metal at all."

"And then there's that inscription on the back. It's Latin. It means, 'But no good--'"

"I know what it means."

"Oh. You know Latin?"

"Learnt it at school."

"Huh. I had to google it."

"Aren't you a Catholic priest?"

"It's not strictly required in seminary any more. But now you've seen it, maybe you should read the rest of the letter. It might explain tings... sort of. I'll put the kettle on."

[The inscription is from the 9 books of Memorable Doings and Sayings (Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri IX) of Valerius Maximus, who wrote in the early 1st century AD. It translates as "Truly no good fortune (or, happiness) is so modest that it can avoid the teeth of malice" (Val. Max. 4, 7, extr. 2)

The letter comprises 3 BOLD waylays.

1. Haven - tavern - abstract (the Circle hang out in the basement of an art gallery, so this will refer to that rather than a tavern)
solution: favoured skill (d4=socialite, rand class skill=language
Conversation (via UNE): Friendly - alliance - treasure

2. physical - struggle - noble
solution: on accident

3. hard foes - villain - peaceful
solution: favoured ability: lied to buy time (Socialite class)]


Fr. Mike,

Some people showed up at the flat last night. I don't know their names but they were def with the Circle, and despite everything they said I knew it was all threats. I think they're going to kill me if don't join them again.

Lady N found me, she showed up at my door the day before when everyone was at work. We argued, there was a fight. I pushed her over the end table, I didn't mean to but she was really pissing me off.

The visitors said she was just trying to get me to "reconsider my decision to leave". and it's her own fault how it turned out. and we don't blame you

She was out cold a few mins, then came round. I left and told her not to be there when i got home i'd be bringing some angry blokes I know to protect me. There aren't any, but she was gone when i came home.

But then I got that visit last night, and they talked and I listened and now I think its going to go badly for me. They can get to me no matter where I go, Lady N and her spells tracked me down once, they can again I know it.

I remember one time at the gallery I overheard two of the Circle talking, they didn't know I could understand Latin I guess. They talked alot about a treasure they'd found and how it would be what they needed to defeat the Star. I got rid of my phone in case they were just tracking that. I'll ring when i get a new one. I'll explain everything then. It would take too long to write it out.

xxVera



"Well? Now what do  you think?"

"It sounds delusional..."

"After all you've seen, you--"

"No, I mean, I see why you didn't go to the police. But why me, exactly? It can't just be 'cause she said I was nice to her."

"You were the only person who knew Vera who isn't involved. Plus I just wanted you to find her. I didn't intend to... uh..."

"So what now? Like, how many people know you were looking for her? And do you think they know she had this... whatever the fuck it is?"

[Q: Any opinions? 50/50: O2 C8 - No.]

"I don't know. I don't think I talked to anyone in an incriminating way. The police haven't even been by to question me, after you reported..."

"But, the hospital break-in. Aren't you worried?"

"I suppose that depends on whether they think she might have told me anything. I don't know why they would, necessarily."

"Like, I dunno, in confession maybe? You're a bit of a shit priest, y'know, if that hadn't occurred to you."

"Vera wasn't catholic."

"I'm not sure that's the point."

"So what do we do now?"

"Fuck if I know. Stash the thing, for starters. Someplace safe. It may be needed as a bargaining chip. You know, like for our lives or summat."

"I... I fear you may be right. But we should also try to determine what it does--"

"I admit I'm intrigued."

"--and if it is a thing of evil, destroy it."

"You-- you're serious."

"If it's evil -- dangerous -- then we have a moral duty to destroy it. Religion or no."

"Yeah. I s'pose. So how do we figure it out?"

"I might know someone who can help [random SL Actor]. An old Jesuit scholar, one of my instructors at seminary. I'll ring him up and see about a meeting."

"Sobriety was supposed to be less weird than this..."

[random Actor
Age: Decrepit, perhaps past their prior glories or still holding on.
Profession: Teacher, professor, or other education worker.
Memorable Quirks: Extremely laconic, preferring to communicate in gesture
Social Standing: A solid and reliable community member
Relation to Situation: An unwitting pawn necessary to someone’s plans
The Problem That Drives Them: A ferocious ambition can only be aided by one involved.

Q: Can Mike get a meeting? Likely (3+): O6 C4 - yes, but... not for 1d10=6 days
Q: Does Mike have a good hiding spot in meantime? 50/50 (4+): O2 C2 - No, and... wants Cat to hide it.
+Event: PC negative - Carelessness / Disruption (ambush scene 1-2 before 3-4 during 4-6 after: d6=6)]


[scene 5]

15 September

After a few minutes deliberation, they decide the safest place to stash it is in the 24-hour left luggage office at Euston. Mike packs the artefact into a suitcase filled with old clothes for Cat to take.

"I'll need some cash," Cat reminds him.

"Of course. Here's £40. It's all I have on me. I may not have taken a vow of poverty or anything, but..."

"It'll do."

Cat takes a bus to the station. On her way in she runs into old 'friend' who offers to hook her up. [Mental save at +2 to refuse: 13+2+1(Wis)=success] The temptation gnaws at her gut.

"I'd best not. They test me once a week, and I'll get my arse kicked out of the halfway house if they find anything."

"Your loss. But you know where to find me if you change your mind."

Cat drops off the case, and is glad that she's only got £10 left after she pays for the week. She leaves the station by a different exit, just in case her old friend is in the mood to offer a return-customer discount.

[Q: Does anything particularly interesting happen before the meeting? 50/50 (4+): O6 C7 - Yes.]

* * *

[Scene 6

PC negative - Delay / Legal matters : called in to the police station 1d3=once more for questioning

Q: A suspect? Doubtful (6): O5 C1 - No, and... ]


16 September

The following morning, Cat is sat in the hallway waiting impatiently for her turn in the bathroom when the staff member on duty marches up the steps to fetch her.

"Cat, the police are here for to see you. They want you down the station..."

"Fuck."

Cat throws her towel and toiletries back in her room and locks the door before going down to meet them.

"Don't worry, Miss Morland," says the officer waiting in the foyer, you're not under arrest. We just need you to answer a few more questions and maybe shed some light on things."

She's at the station until well after midday. She does her best to answer their questions without mentioning Fr. Mike at all, and certainly without mentioning Vera's letter or the artefact. She has a suspicion that the police are merely fishing for leads...

[9+ Int/Perception roll to overhear something useful to her own investigations: 10+1=success

Clue: Imprison / The spiritual]


...but she does overhear some detectives discussing an older case that may be linked to the murder, and resolves to ask Mike about it as soon as they let her go home.

* * *
"This is getting to be a habit," says Mike.

"Better I have a couple pints at my local with a friendly priest than go out boozing unchaperoned. Besides, I have something I need to ask you."

"Go ahead."

"What do you know about a Fr. Sadowski?"

[Q: Anything? 50/50 (4+): O5 C3 - Yes, but... just the general story (details to be determined using the SL One-Roll Crime Creation on p.131)]

"He's in Pentonville for [1d8=] Kidnapping."

"Huh. The cops seem to think he has something to do with Vera's murder."

"I can make some inquiries, but I can't push too hard. It's an embarrassment for the church, so idle curiosity is discouraged."

"Yeah. Maybe I better visit a library. See what the papers say. How long ago was it...?"


[Scene 7 (17-20 Sept) is just an investigation roll:

Int/Research roll 10+ for local library: 10+1(int)-1(unskilled)=success

One-Roll Crime Creation
It was discovered by…A relative or neighbour of the victim discovered it.
The Police Attitude is…Conflicted. Some cops have reasons to want it unsolved.(poor handling of almost got case dismissed)
A Clue about the Crime is…Vehicle identification leads toward the culprit
Gossip or News about it is…The facts are the talk of the town’s gossip mongers.
The Witnesses Were…Conflicting. Reports differ on crucial points.

Victim?
Actor
Age: Unusually young for their position.
Profession: Businessman, clerk, banker, or other white-collar job.
Memorable Quirks: Has implausible dream they pursue in an ineffectual way
Social Standing: A solid and reliable community member
Relation to Situation: A reluctant participant induced by threat or profit
The Problem That Drives Them: They’re badly mistaken about someone involved in it.


None of this suggested a connection at the time (minor spoiler: some of it will come up later in the adventure).]


[Scene 8 - meeting the Jesuit

Investigation scene: d12=The Enemy’s agents are also searching for the Actor, and the PCs risk running into them at the place the Actor is supposed to inhabit. They may realize they have company before a certain confrontation. Clues at the site lead to the Actor’s hiding place.]



21 September

Four days later, Cat meets Mike at the rectory. She presents her findings as they are walking to the bus stop through the evening drizzle.

"The kidnapping was all over the papers, but the accounts varied a lot. Most of the facts were down to the car he was driving, the witness that remembered its number plate, and who the victim was. But nothing to even hint at the cult's involvement. How'd you do?"

"I didn't get very far at all. Like I said, we're discouraged from talking about it."

"Maybe this Jesuit of yours will know something. Where are we meeting him anyway?"

[I found a list of 10 British Jesuit parishes online, so rolled 1d9 (omitting the one in Guyana)]

"At his church, naturally. St Ignatius, in Stamford Hill."

"Stamford Hill, huh? You sure he's a Jesuit, not a rabbi?"

"Yes, I'm pretty sure. I've seen him answer the phone on Saturdays."

* * *

The evening service has ended and the most of the faithful have departed by the time Cat and Mike arrive. A few stragglers are milling about in the cavernous edifice, talking in hushed tones or lighting candles. Cat's nose wrinkles at the pungent smell of incense suffusing the church, reminding her of the head shop in Camden where that weird hippy [d6=] chick she used to date worked.

"Pull up a pew," says Mike, "whilst I find Fr. Berenger."

Cat is grateful to have somewhere to wait, and even more grateful still that Mike thinks her irrepressible smirk is at his joke, and not woefully (for her surroundings) inappropriate memories.

[They need Wis/Perception rolls 11+ to spot the enemies immediately: C 7+1, fail; M 8+1, fail

Q: Do the enemies clock our heroes? 50/50 (4+): O5 C8 - Yes.
reaction: Aggressively / Macabre

Stealth +1 vs. M's Wis/Perception: 7+1=8 vs. 3+1=4, success]


Cat watches as Mike goes up to have a word with one of the ushers. He runs into a pair of other priests, who stop him for a moment. They shake hands and exchange friendly greetings before going their separate ways.

Mike visits often enough to be known to the usher on sight. But when he asks after Fr. Berenger, the man's face darkens considerably.

"He's not here. Why do you need to see him?"

"It's... a personal matter. He said he would lend me a book that might have the answers I need. If I could just get into his room and get it..."

[Mike needs to roll 9+ Cha/Persuade: 7-1, fail]

"I don't think so. Fr. Berenger has seemed very nervous the past few days. I hope you've not been the one upsetting him." [scheming - intent - the character]

Mike knows better than to push, so just says he'll come back when his mentor returns.

[C&M need 9+ Wis/Perception rolls to have noticed the odd behaviour of the priests: 8+1, 9+1]

"Something's wrong here," says Mike as he and Cat are leaving. The usher said Fr. Berenger has been nervous the past few days -- that man is a rock. And those other priests weren't from the parish. I think they may have been here for the same reason we are."

"They were starting to weird me out. I thought it was just me. Good to know I'm not just paranoid. I think."

"It's not just you.... Man, I really need to clean this coat out. I think that packet of Monster Munch wasn't quite empty; it's all gritty in my pocket. No, wait, what is that?"

Mike stops walking underneath a street lamp, pulls his closed fist from his coat pocket and opens his fingers to find fragments of human teeth caked in dried blood.

"Oh God, I think those strange priests must have slipped me these."

"A... a warning?" asks Cat, as the bile rises in her throat.

"Yeah. I think they know Vera gave me the artefact."

[The appalling find is worth d4 Madness for our heroes. 2 for Mike, 1 for Cat.

Q: Does the Jesuit ring Mike? 50/50 (4+): O2 C3 - no, but... sends letter
Q: Does the letter arrive before the PCs do anything else? 50/50 (4+): O5 C4 - yes, but... there is a random Event before Cat can meet Mike again.]


* * *

22 September

Cat hadn't slept well after the visit to the church, but she still sets her alarm for 7am. She gets up before anyone else in the halfway house (she gets the bathroom first, whilst it's still clean!) and heads into town. She collects the suitcase from Euston then takes the tube across town to drop it off at the left luggage in Victoria for another week.

[Q: Any incidents? Unlikely (5+): O4 C8 - No.]

Cat has appointments filling the rest of the day: her rescheduled visit with Dr. Sonia, and both an NA and a house residents' meeting. For once she doesn't mind, as any distraction is welcome. But it's all done by 4pm. She can't face the prospect of an evening by herself in her room, and really can't abide the rubbish they are always watching in the common room, so gives up and texts Mike: "Can't stand to be alone this evening. Pub?" His response is fortunately not long in coming: "Busy until 7:30. Bit skint too. Beers in the rectory?"

Cat shows up at his door that evening, having bought 6 cans of Polish lager with a name she can't pronounce at the nearest offie. They spend a few hours going through Mike's CD collection (the secular half, at any rate) and talking about everything in the world except cults and murders and conspiracies. Mike is careful to avoid any proselytising, but by the time Cat has to go home he's half convinced her to check out the Latin Mass at that one church in South Kensington with him some time.

He waves goodnight from his doorway, pops some Exploited on the stereo, and sits down to finish writing his sermon for Sunday. He feels a bit inspired after their talk, and by 1am he's got it all finished, and even managed to sneak in some Social Distortion lyrics (Without Christ's intercession, we are 'born to lose, and destined to fail').

But he doesn't hear the soft, padding footsteps of the thing creeping up behind him...



next post: cops & monsters

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Silent Legions solo - Part 1: Someone nobody would miss

Experiment in Horror #3

Prolegomena

Hard on the heels of my first two experiments in horror (Silent Legions & Call of Cthulhu), I started a third. Unfortunately it stalled for many months after the first few scenes. I picked it up again briefly, but the same issues that had been plaguing it the first time refused to go away, and it stalled again. Then in April/May I felt it calling once more, and it took off --  I finished the first adventure, awarded XP, and kept going with the next adventure, which as I am writing now is sort of finished -- at a break in the action where XP can be awarded at any rate, and bleeding into the third adventure without any real division.

I'm really not good with games set in the modern day. I often struggle to come up with good character ideas, especially if they're supposed to have normal backgrounds. I did at least make a stable of characters that seemed interesting enough to play, and the focal character / main PC even has reasons for being interested in the occult, in order to avoid the pitfall of my other Silent Legions game, where the only reason they had for investigating the weird mystery was that they were PCs in a horror RPG.

So why did it stall? Honestly, it was the setting's fault. I like to play RPGs to forget all about the modern world and its problems. Playing a game that amplifies them feels like it defeats the purpose. Even the 1920s are at enough of a remove that you don't have to confront present realities head-on. Putting cocaine in a CoC character's equipment list is glamorous! exciting! fun! in a way that making a modern-era PC a recovering heroin addict is not.

Characters

As I did for the first adventure, I rolled up 4 PCs -- one of each class. This time, however, I chose their Backgrounds instead of rolling them so they are much more sensible, and I didn't choose/roll connections at all. I did make the main PC an old friend of one of the others, but the remaining two were waiting in the wings for the oracle to introduce during play. And as the dice are fickle, one of them (the Artist/socialite) still hasn't appeared, and the other (Priest/scholar) became 30 years younger and got a wholly new personality when the dice called for introducing a character in a much different role than I had envisioned.

Playing against type, I also went with the Tough for my main PC, though she does have Int as her highest rolled stat. As there is no Junkie background in the rulebook, I gave it the same bonus skills as Prostitute: Culture/Home, Culture/Criminal, Persuade, Any One Skill. That's the limits of my house-ruling for the campaign!

I'm going to try showing, not telling, for a change, so instead of my usual character generation excursus I'm just going to put her character sheet here:



Cat Morland
female, Age 30
Class/Level: Tough 1, XP:0
Background: Junkie
Wealth: Struggling
Str 14 Int 16 Wis 14 Dex 8 Con 12 Cha 12
AC 9, Att +1, HP 7
Athletics 0, Combat/Unarmed 0, Culture/Home 0, Culture/Criminal 0, Language 0 (Latin), Occult 0, Perception 0, Persuade 0, Stealth 0



Setting

London, modern day. I initially was going to make the exact year vague like in an old novel (201-), but at some point I needed to know what day of the week it was, so settled on 2010. This also meant I don't have to think about certain present issues (no Brexit yet) and also means that parts of east London haven't been completely gentrified by the Olympic park. I also won't have to worry about the timeline going past the time I'm playing in (no PC of mine can survive 10+ game years!).

In the Building your World chapter of the SL rules, Mr. Crawford recommends that the GM sketch out their Region, picking three urban Locations, three rural, and three isolated/remote/hidden and assigning them 2 Tags each. As a soloist, I don't want to know that much in the beginning, so I put down a few obvious ideas and left the rest blank. I also adjusted the proportions, as London is pretty massive. My starting Locations & Tags:

Urban
1. North: Averted Eyes, Drug Epidemic
2. East: Black Market, ???
3. Central: Tyrannical Elites, Dark Undercity
4. West: Pervasive Treachery, ???
5. Greenwich: Poisoned Ground, Foul Faith

Rural
6. Epping Forest: Black Altar, ??
7. Zone 5 / Lesnes abbey: ???

Hidden
8. ???
9. ???

Also, I found this cool, abstract hex map amongst the British Library's public domain images which has been of immeasurable use:



I didn't roll up anything else to start -- no gods, aliens, cults, kelipah, NPCs; this was extremely low prep.

The Experiment

I actually forgot what the experiment was when I picked this campaign up again for the third time. I knew I'd written it down somewhere, but for some reason it wasn't in the .txt file with the adventure. Fortunately, the seeds of it had been introduced and progressed a little bit now and then, but that thread of the story is on a slow burn.

I may have mentioned my love of Kult's dark secrets now and again. The original idea was that I would pick/roll 5 of them and collect 'Clues' using my solo mystery framework to decide which dark secret my PC harboured. Then I decided to try tailoring more specific dark secrets to the PC's back story. Or perhaps things aren't as they seem; whatever the initial plot/circumstances/problem appears to be will, in time, be revealed to be something else entirely. I jotted down 20 quick ideas for this, which makes a handy table:

What's really going on? (1d20)
1. secretly responsible, wiped own memory
2. secretly responsible, amnesia due to near defeat
3. secretly responsible, amnesia due to own mistake
4. family responsible
5. family enemy responsible
6. family curse responsible
7. dream
8. dream - but the real world worse
9. dreams seeping into real world
10. dead - this is your hell
11. dead - this is your purgatory
12. dying, this is your near-death experience
13. hallucination, PC is victim of experiment
14. hallucination, PC is insane killer
15. chosen one
16. chosen one - for sacrifice!
17. not human - spawn of elder god
18. not human - spawn of rival god
19. not human - alien origin
20. not human - magical creation

The adventure which follows on from this first one was a very different (and complicated) experiment. Assuming I don't kill off all my PCs, these are but the foundations for a lengthy campaign.

Tools &c.

My toolbox for the first adventure is the same as the last:

I used a very loose, hybrid structure comprised of Mythic scenes and Silent Legions adventure templates. The Chaos level was left at a static value of Out-of-Control (d8). Paper records were kept of dates, places, NPCs, cults, crimes, objects, and connections so I could see it all in one place if I needed to refer back to it (and often did!).

Enough with the preliminaries, let's start...


The Adventure

[Scene 1

The date was rolled with d12 & d30. I had no opinions about how to start or what the adventure should be, so I rolled Hook & Introduction scenes per the SL adventure template.

Hook:  The heroes need to visit a Place at the site for a mundane reason, where they find themselves present for a Crime or able to observe the aftermath, which hints at a Secret.

Location: North London (where the PC lives)
d2 for Location Tag = Drug Epidemic
d4 for specific Place = Rehab clinic, St.Ann's outpatient

Crime: burglary - files stolen
discovered: only a few know happened
police conflicted
gossip: Confused, but largely blaming the victim for events. -inadequate security
clue: The culprit was seen by others in the area near the time
Witness: Fake. An attention-seeker is simply making up stories.
The Crime Scene Investigation is…: Penetrating. They’ve concluded one very useful fact.]

13 September 2010

Cat Morland stifles another yawn as she rings the bell for her stop. She knew that getting her life together would be hard work, but she hadn't counted on there being quite so many early starts. She's doing everything she's supposed to these days. She'd cut off the last few remaining inches of her manic panic dye job, returning her hair to its natural, indifferently blonde colour. She'd bought a respectable dress for interviews (not that she'd gotten any), and learnt to cover up the tattoos across her chest and tracks up her arms. And she forced herself to always be on time for all her appointments, even at eight fucking o'clock in the morning.

The damp morning air is a shock as she steps out of the stale warmth of the bus. She's regretting the tenner she spent on the surplus German army jacket in Camden Market and wondering how many jumpers she can layer under it come winter as she walks into the St Ann's hospital campus and winds her way through the covered walkways to the outpatient clinic. She's so lost in thought that she doesn't notice the police cars until the copper is talking to her.

"Miss! Excuse me, miss! You can't going there. It's a crime scene."

"What? Shit. I, um... what happened?"

"Constable," interrupts another voice, "it's ok. She has an appointment. Could you let her in, please?" It's Sonia (Dr. Esposito), Cat's shrink, standing in the doorway with a mug of coffee in hand.

The PC [police constable, not player character!] holds up the crime scene tape so Cat can go in.

"Don't worry, Cat it's nothing serious. We've just had a break in, is all. I don't think they took much. There's nothing of real value here. Even the computers are probably worthless. Lord knows they're slow enough!"

"A break in? Weird. What'd they take?"

"Just some old files, of all things!"

"Was my file stolen?"

"Of course not."

[Cat needs to roll 11+ Wis/Perception to determine if Sonia's keeping something from her. 2d6+1(wis)+0(skill)=6, failure. Sounds legit.

Q: Is Cat questioned by police? 50/50 O5 C4 - yes, but... cursorily]


Sonia tells Cat that they'd best delay her appointment, and to call the receptionist tomorrow to reschedule. The police have a few questions to ask her as she is leaving, but they don't seem particularly interested in her answers and soon let her go.

[Scene 2

Introduction: The PCs stumble into the scene of a fresh Crime committed by an Enemy to advance or protect a Scheme. Multiple clues are visible that direct them to further Investigation scenes– physical artefacts, witnesses, police reports, or the like.

Friend: 1d2=Averted Eyes 1d4=escapee from cult or gang (cult) d6=m
Crime: kidnapping d6=f]


That evening, Cat hides away in her room at the halfway house to spend some quality time with the book of Roman poetry she got from the 50p shelf outside the charity bookshop. But after a scant half hour an overenthusiastic knocking tears her attention away from poor exiled Ovid on the shores of the Black Sea, and that arsehole Dennis shouts through her door, "Cat, there's someone here to see you! Cat! Are you in there?! Can you hear me C--"

"Shit, mate, the whole street heard you," grumbles Cat as she pushes past Dennis and plods down the steps towards the half-open front door. She's expecting to find a cop waiting for her with more questions, and so is completely flummoxed to find that the person waiting for her is a youngish priest.

"Uh... hi?"

"You probably don't remember me, but we have a mutual acquaintance. Vera."

"Oh?"

"Have you seen her round lately?"

"No. I didn't even know she'd been discharged. And I didn't keep in touch with anyone when I-- wait a minute, you're Nosebleed Mike, aren't you?"

"That's me -- or was. I don't call myself that any more, obviously. Not since I got my shit together. Also the diocese would prefer me not to."

"I noticed the dog collar... so let me stop you right now. I never got involved with any of the cult's shite, and I don't need any deprogramming."

"That's not why I'm here. Look is there somewhere else we could have this conversation?"

"Sure, fine. Whatever. There's a pub down the road. You're buying."

* * *

Fr. Mike
male, Age 33
Class/Level: Scholar 1, XP:0
Background: Clergy
Wealth: Average
Str 9 Int 11 Wis 14 Dex 8 Con 9 Cha 7
AC 9, Att +0, HP 3
Culture/Home 0, History 0, Leadership 0, Occult 0, Persuade 0, Religion 0, Research 0, Science 0


* * *

Fr. Mike puts two pints of bitter on the table and sits in the ripped vinyl booth across from Cat. "I know you didn't hang round them for long," he begins, "but how well did you know the cult?"

"Enough to know that it always put their knickers in a twist when people in the know called them 'the cult' and not -- what was it? -- the 'Circle of the Shadow Chalice'."

"You weren't 'in the know' were you?"

"It's like this: I got real interested in spirituality a few years back -- like a real seeker and shit -- and I came across them in my search. Normal religion weren't doing it for me -- still isn't going to, so sorry -- so digging deeper I found the occult. The wiccans were nice but a bit airy-fairy, so I went down less trodden paths, and that's how I ran across them. But they turned out to be a bunch of pretentious idiots: Crowleyites, Dee-fanatics, and chaos magicians worshipping gods out of D&D manuals. So I turned and ran. But then I discovered heroin, so... more fool me, I guess."

"Heh. That's a good summation of them. Or it was. Back in the early days, when I used to hang with them, they -- we -- were pretty laughable. But then things started to change, and get really messed up, really dark. I left then, right after Vera joined, and things got really bad for me. Or continued on the destructive path I'd been on a while. But in my darkest hour I found Christ -- this isn't a sermon, don't worry -- and sorted myself out. Vera and I kept in touch sporadically: mostly email, the occasional Christmas card. Then her life kept falling apart, right on the same trajectory mine had been. It ended up with her messed up on drugs too, and nearly killed her. I visited her in hospital, convinced her to get treatment, get counselling. She wrote me one last letter, dated a week ago, saying she wanted out but they wouldn't let her leave, and that she knew something but didn't know who to tell, or if anyone would even believe her, or be able to help if they did. That was the last I heard from her. She disappeared, and no one has seen her since. Then I heard there was the break-in at the hospital and I thought what if it was her file they were after? To see if she'd told her psychiatrist any awful secrets... Her case notes could reveal some awful crime... or her kidnappers could believe they do."

"Seems a bit much."

"It's all I have to go on."

"Look she prolly just fell off the wagon. If it makes you feel better I can try to find her. Pretty sure I know where to start looking..."

"Thanks. This means a lot."

"Don't mention it. But I'm curious: why did you look me up for this?"

"Vera mentioned meeting you in the hospital, and how you were always nice to her. And then how you got out into the halfway house, and she hoped she could go some day too."


[Scene 3

Rolling an Investigation scene. A nonsensical result will mean Cat looked round, but no one's seen Vera; nothing special.

Investigations of People or Events: 1d12= The Actor the PCs seek has been killed, and they arrive in time to deal with a challenge related to the murder, either in the form of a tardy assassin or some dangerous consequence the murderer left behind.

Challenge: 1d4=Socialite Challenge: d2/d20=They want money, because they desperately need a thing. (go figure)

Q: Tardy assassin (1-3) or consequence (4-6)? d6={see below}]



14 September

Cat spends the next day going to all the places in North London she'd promised herself to never visit again. No one she talks to has seen Vera, or can remember if they did or not. She's on the point of giving up when someone does seem to have a recollection -- for a price. Cat is glad the priest gave her some cash as for "expenses". She hands over enough for their next hit, and is told that Vera has been squatting in the old art studio by Finsbury Park.


The studio is nestled in a bit of urban greenery, a nature trail with about 50' of forest on either side. There is no sign of activity when Cat draws near, but she finds the back door unlocked and lets herself in.

The concrete floors are covered in paint and dried adhesives, but beyond there's nary a trace of the artists who worked here, save the occasional candle stub melted onto a window pane. There is also no evidence of any squatters, which strikes Cat as particularly odd.

"Vera? Vera! Are you in here? Time to come home and get back off the shit. Vera?"

[8+ Wis/Perception to hear creaking floorboards 2d6+1(wis)+0(skill)=9

The assassin (1d6): 1 does nothing, 2 tries to BS, 3 attacks, 4 threatens, 5 panics & tries to run, 6 something odd]


Floorboards creak above her head. Someone's here. They've probably even heard her. Cat bounds up the stairs in time to see some [d6=] guy in a faded black tracksuit and balaclava run out the fire escape door and off down the trail.
[Initiative was rolled: Cat 3, Assassin 8.
Q: Does he get away? Likely O4 C7 - yes]


She stands in the open doorway at the top of the fire escape and debates trying to catch whoever that was, when the smell hits her. An acrid, foul odour she can't place all. She walks from room to room looking for its source. As she gets closer, her eyes start to sting, and a sizzling hiss greets her ears.

What came next, what she found in the corner room without windows, is something she'd desperately like to forget, but the police made her describe it over and over and didn't seem especially sympathetic to the ex-junkie with the long rap sheet even if she did ring them immediately and even waited on the steps so she could give a statement.

There was the old claw foot bath tub and wooden chair with shreds of electrical tape clinging to the legs and the black plastic sheeting on the floor and the jerry cans in a pile and Vera lying next to them... well, most of Vera. Why Cat looked into the tub to see the leg dissolving in acid, she'll never know. And Vera staring up at her the whole time, and the bloody footprints Cat left from there to the fire escape for which the forensics people gave her a right bollocking...

She calls Fr. Mike when the PC finally drives her home, but it goes straight to voicemail -- unsurprising, given the hour. She passes out fully dressed into blessedly dreamless sleep.

Fr. Mike's call wakes her in the morning.

"Not over the phone. Meet me at the pub when again when they start serving."

[The gruesome sight earned Cat 1d6=5 Madness.

I'd asked the Oracle:
Q: Can she identify V? Likely O3 C1 - Yes, and...

Police attitude is (SL p. 131): d10=2, Goaded. Someone important wants this solved.

Q: Gets through? O1 C3 - No, but... leaves message, is phoned back next day.]


* * *

[Scene 4: their meeting]


15 September

That evening in the pub, Fr. Mike listens patiently as Cat, almost in whispers, tells what she saw. When she finishes the narrative, he gets another round, and a couple whiskey chasers for good measure.

"Did anyone who'd seen her say anything?" he asks. [UNE: inquisitive - suspicion - community]

"Not really. Why would they?"

"Sure. But, did... did anyone seem like they were deliberately obfuscating--"

"They're addicts. They always seem like that."

"Yeah... but I'm sure somebody knows something. You didn't tell anyone else where you were going, did you? Or what you found.?"

"I didn't really feel like discussing it, did I?"

"Maybe you could... you could pretend you don't know. That you weren't there. Keep asking round, and see if anyone says anything that makes you suspicious." [scheming - negotiation - community]

"Everything they say is going to be suspicious. Have you forgotten?"

"You know what I mean."

"Yeah, I do. You want to use me as bait to drag out Vera's killer."

"Not bait. I... need a partner to help me investigate. Someone who can get people to talk... the ones that won't talk to someone like me."

"Partner? You make it sound so equitable."

"I'll help you however I can."

"Why not let the police do it? They had me in for ages.  I've spent enough time in police stations to know they weren't pissing about."

"I have a feeling that this isn't something they can solve." [prejudiced - assessment - previous scene]

"I think they're a bunch of tosspots too, mate, but murder is definitely their job."

"This isn't a simple murder. The cult--"

"Fuck the cult. Fuck them, fuck the police, fuck you, fuck poor Vera even. I'm just trying to put my life back together, not get involved in some psycho mind-fuck bullshit, I--"

[Q: Can he offer something she wants? 50/50 (4+): O5 C2 - Yes, and... (1d6) 1 item, 2 grimoire, 3 weapon, 4 teacher, 5 haven, 6 introduction: d6=1

Random Investigation scene required to obtain it in order to make things interesting

d12=The object is obtained relatively easily, but an Actor is needed to make its significance clear, the situation complicated by that Actor’s motivations and potential challenges to reaching them.]


"I know what you're after. What you're really after. What Vera was really after, too, once upon a time, before the drugs took over. This is the last letter she sent me. I didn't tell you everything in it. It's kind of long --  for now just read the PS."

Cat accepts the leaves of lined paper ripped from a pound shop notebook reluctantly, turning them over to look at the very bottom of the last page. She reads aloud:
 
P.S. I know it sounds fantastic, so I left proof at the church. IN the ceiling of the ladies, lift up the panel above the right-hand stall. one of the visitors left it behind, I don't know if it was on purpose or if they know its missing.
 
"What is it? What'd she leave?"

"Magic."



next post: the artefact


Saturday, 3 October 2020

BFJB solo - Part 6: That which was fated

When Iqīš-Sîn awakens the sleeping mercenary the next morning, Šerašer is terribly embarrassed, but as they all got good, peaceful sleep, no one else really minds his dereliction of duty. The companions eat the meagre amount of food they'd brought along, all the while waiting for the mašmaššum (exorcist) to return.

Scene 14

Chaos: Madness (d6)

Setup: find the exorcist

NPC List: Taqbim the ēntum (=high priestess) of Ištar, Warad-Amurrum who owes grain, Sumu-tibal the overseer, farmers, Ḫali-malik (whom M may owe a great deal of oil), utukkum lemnum, mašmaššum (=exorcist), Marduk-ṣulūl the rival noble

Threads: retrieve the missing grain, deal with M's debt, deal with the utukkum

Waiting becomes quickly tedious, so they decide to climb up onto the highest heaps of rubble and scout the area.

[They must make Body checks to avoid disaster (d6=6,5,6,3) all succeed handily. Mannum-kīma-Adad even rolls a critical success (6+6), so gets a stat boost (+1 Body, up to 3) for the rest of the day.]

Mannum-kīma-Adad makes an impressively quick ascent. Even the mighty Elamite mercenary praises the tax-collector's physical prowess, which does rather go to Mannum-kīma-Adad's head even as it boosts his confidence[the stat increase].

[Mind checks to scan: 5,6,4,4; again all succeed! (I forgot to roll for the NPC slave boy guide, but I assume he can make his rolls too.)

Q: Do they see movement? unknown, d6=2: O6 C1 - yes, and...]


The desert surrounding the tell is barren and lifeless. They can see several bērū out in all directions, and nothing moving in all that space. Turning their attention to within the tell, they are eventually rewarded by the sight of a pair of human figures moving over the rubble in the distance. They shout to get their attention, but the figures don't seem to hear, so they scramble down and through the collapsed city to catch up with them.

[I wasn't sure how encounter should start, so fell back on old habits: 1d6=2, surprised]

Mannum-kīma-Adad halts a few paces behind the pair. They are digging in the sand at the base of a crumbling mud-brick wall, oblivious to the newcomers. The man is in the prime of life. He is clad in an expensively-made tunic, but is covered in grime from head to toe, and his hair and beard are caked with dirt and clay dust. The young woman with him has somehow managed to remain pristine. Her filmy tunic is still as white and clean as her alabaster skin.

"You are Iddin-Šamaš, the exorcist, I presume," says Mannum-kīma-Adad.

They look up, startled at the sudden appearance of five strangers. The man holds his shovel in a faintly defensive posture, the young woman cowers behind him, peeking out with wide, liquid eyes.

"I am. And you are...?"

"I am Mannum-kīma-Adad, a tax collector from Babylon, and these are my associates: Damiqtum, a priestess of the Ekitušgirzal temple, and my bodyguard Šerašer."

"I fear you've come a long way in vain, my friend; the citizens of this fair town are all long past owing tribute to the king."

"I have come on behalf of the temple to collect from Warad-Amurrum."

"I see. And thus you've come to see me."

"His mind is broken, his estates harassed by demons in the night, his slaves are deserting in droves, and then there's that... that abomination in the darkness. Could you not help?"

"Warad-Amurrum is beyond hope. I tried to fight that goat thing, and it was nearly my undoing. I urge you to forget about it. Go back, load a wagon with whatever of value remains at the farm, and take that back to the temple as consolation. Write the rest off, and look elsewhere for tribute in the future. You'd be fools to attempt anything else." [insane - idiocy - previous scene]

The young woman whispers something in the exorcist's ear.

[Damiqtum gets a Mind roll: success to hear a few words, success at -2 to hear it all: 6+2=8 success (-2 is 6, fail)]

Damiqtum is able to overhear a few words, which in themselves are innocuous enough (you...them...should...invite), but which were rather astonishingly spoken in what appears to be fluent Sumerian.

"Where are my manners?" says the exorcist. "Come, let us go to my home where we may talk like civilised people. You'll have to excuse her; she can be shy with strangers."

Back at the house, Iddin-Šamaš is initially incensed at the damage and Mannum-kīma-Adad's pathetic ruse (the pastoral Amorites are afraid of the ruins), but young woman whispers again in his ear and he decides to let it drop and is once again the happy host.

The young woman tugs at the hem of the exorcist's tunic and points to her mouth. "Yes, my dear, you are right," says Iddin-Šamaš, "refreshments are in order. Why don't the women go into the kitchen and bring us some bread, dates, and beer."

Mannum-kīma-Adad is about to jump in with an excuse before Damiqtum causes a scene, but the muḫḫūtum shocks him to the core of his being by agreeing to the proposal and calmly following the young woman in to the kitchen.

Whilst the women are preparing the table, Iddin-Šamaš excitedly shows off his collection, and talks of searching ruins for important magical tablets. Mannum-kīma-Adad feigns polite interest, whilst Šerašer and Iqīš-Sîn look on sullenly, envying the slave lad who was allowed to lie down outside in the shade.

Damiqtum soon returns to the treasure room to announce that lunch is served. She grabs Mannum-kīma-Adad on the way out and bids him be patient, for all will presently be explained.

When the meal is ended and the women are clearing the plates, Iddin-Šamaš excuses himself, saying that he must get back to his digging, because, "she has a good feeling that something important is buried there." He kisses the young woman on the cheek almost bashfully as he leaves, shovel over his shoulder and singing a happy workmen's' song, and terribly out of tune.

The young woman's demeanour changes abruptly. "Now we can get down to business. Let me tell you what you must do."

"Just a moment!" says Mannum-kīma-Adad indignantly, "What is going on here? And just who are you? I thought you were his wife -- or concubine at least -- but he hasn't even deigned to introduce you. And you've barely uttered a word since we arrived. Now you presume to inform us of what we must do."

"Are you quite finished?"

"Mannum-kīma-Adad," interjects Damiqtum, "we'd really ought to hear her out."

The tax-collector sits back in silence, and the young woman continues.

"Poor Iddin-Šamaš isn't much use in an exorcism, I'm afraid. He knows all the rites, but he's not especially good at them. I should never have let him go to the farm; the utukkum nearly killed him. But since you are moving against it, I will offer some assistance."

"It wants to leave," interjects Mannum-kīma-Adad, "but is trapped in the body of a goat."

"Is that what it told you? And you believed it? Believe me, that lazy brute is perfectly happy to lie in the dark and direct his minions to cause havoc. Now, do you want my help or not?"

[Q: Does she have the required object? 50/50 (4+): O5 C3 - yes, but... not here
Q: Where is it? d30=tomb
Q: What is it? d30=mirror

for finding an ally, even a questionable one, Chaos improves to Out-of-Control (d8)]



Scene 15

Chaos:
Out-of-Control (d8)

Setup: retrieve the item

NPC List: Taqbim the ēntum (=high priestess) of Ištar, Warad-Amurrum who owes grain, Sumu-tibal the overseer, farmers, Ḫali-malik (whom M may owe a great deal of oil), utukkum lemnum, mašmaššum (=exorcist), the young woman, Marduk-ṣulūl the rival noble

Threads: retrieve the missing grain, deal with M's debt, deal with the utukkum

They have no choice but to accept the mysterious young woman's aid. She leads them to the very outskirts of the tell. "Dig here," she says.

"In this heat?" asks Mannum-kīma-Adad.

"Do you want to be out here after nightfall?"

"No. No, of course not. You are right, my lady. Iqīš-Sîn, start digging."

"Give me a bucket," says Šerašer. "It's not right making him do it on his own."

"As you would," replies Mannum-kīma-Adad. "I'll be against this mound of rubble where there's shade."

Damiqtum looks at Šerašer. He waves her away, and she sits in the dust by the tax collector.

Within the hour they've broken through into some sort of cavity. The young woman hands them  a torch, which Damiqtum lights for them whilst they take a rest to catch their breath.

The young woman also provides some rope. "You must go in, but be careful. The guardians will not easily part with their treasure."

Šerašer is the first to descend into the hole, with the other three close behind. They find themselves in what was once the common room of a modest house. [1d3=] Two shrivelled, skeletal corpses clad in dusty rags lie in heaps on the floor, a pick, shovel and clay lamp nearby. In the centre of the space is a shallow rectangular grave containing an ancient skeleton surrounded by rough clay pottery and stone beads. But there is a glint of metal in the grave as well. Šerašer reaches down and takes a copper disk from beneath the skeleton's crumbling finger bones. He and his companions are singularly unsurprised by what happens next.


A naked, grey, diaphanous image of a [d6=3,m] man coalesces round the bones in the grave. The eṭemmum (=spectre, revenant) lets out a terrible shriek. Mannum-kīma-Adad feels it like 600 daggers tearing into his brain. [the eṭemmum used its Maddening Wail talent, making a Mind attack on all PCs: the attack succeeds against all of them (even with the -2 against Mannum-kīma-Adad for his Tough Mind talent). Only M fails his avoid roll. He takes 1 Mind damage (leaving him with Mind 2).]

two thief eṭemmū
Level 3
Body 4   Mind 4   Soul 4
Talents: conscious, diseased bite, horrific visage, persistent

diviner eṭemmum
Level 5
Body 3   Mind 5   Soul 5
Talents: corrupting touch, maddening wail, incorporeality, persistent, perceptive (hearing)



[Round 1]
Šerašer slashes at the thing in the grave with his sword, but it jerks out of the way with surprising alacrity [attack succeeded, but so did its Avoid roll]. One of the dead thieves has come to life, and is scuttling across the floor towards Damiqtum. She recites a charm against it [Stun], but the magic does not slow its advance. Bony fingers close about her ankle and the thing bites her [1 damage reduces her to 2 Body]. The other dead thief reaches out to catch Šerašer's calf, but the canny soldier dances out of its reach, even as his sword fends off the bony claw of the eṭemmum rising in the grave. Iqīš-Sîn goes to cave in the skull of the skeletal thief that attacked Damiqtum, but is too afraid of hitting her instead, and the shovel resounds neatly against the dusty floor. Mannum-kīma-Adad quickly overcomes his initial frightened paralysis -- and runs to the rope.

[Round 2]
Šerašer turns his sword against the thing snapping at his ankles. As it lunges for him, he meets it full on with a mighty thrust of the blade. Its skull shatters and backbones are scattered over the floor from the force of the blow [he hit for 3 damage, it rolled a critical failure on its Avoid (1 more damage): hors de combat]. Damiqtum speaks her charm again. This time the magic causes the thief to pull back from her. Iqīš-Sîn still cannot hit it with the shovel. The eṭemmum now standing in the grave shrieks again [all PCs successfully avoid!] but the stalwart travellers are undaunted. Mannum-kīma-Adad climbs swiftly up the rope to the surface [Body check succeeds].

[Round 3]
The mercenary squares off against the standing eṭemmum, but neither sword nor claw land a blow. Damiqtum scurries up the rope and out into the sunlight. Iqīš-Sîn once again slams the shove against the floor right beside the crawling corpse as it skitters out of reach.

[Round 4]
Šerašer gets a lucky blow in, decapitating the eṭemmum. It falls in a heap back into its grave. Iqīš-Sîn climbs the rope.

[Round 5]
Still cowed by Damiqtum's magic, the remaining eṭemmum cannot attack Šerašer. He sheathes his sword and climbs out of the pit, leaving it scuttling madly about.

On the surface, the young woman is nowhere to be seen. A hastily written lump of still wet clay sits upon an overturned bucket. Mannum-kīma-Adad is pleased to see the missive is written in Akkadian, in small but legible signs. He reads it aloud.

"The mirror will save you from the utukkum's magic. You have less than a week to destroy the utukkum and then the mirror, or the eṭemmum will hunt you down. Do not return to this place unless you have done both."


They examine mirror in daylight. It is a copper disk as big as Šerašer's palm, with a tang on the bottom where it was affixed to a wooden handle, but this has long since crumbed to dust. On the back an inscription has been scratched in archaic Sumerian characters. [Damiqtum's Mind roll at -2 succeeds: 6-2+3, success]

"Ea banishes evil," she reads. "Truly, this is a weapon against demons."

"Dare we set off back to the farm now?" asks Mannum-kīma-Adad.

"Dare we remain here a minute longer?" replies Damiqtum.


Scene 16

Chaos: Out-of-Control (d8)

Setup: back to the farm

NPC List: Taqbim the ēntum (=high priestess) of Ištar, Warad-Amurrum who owes grain, Sumu-tibal the overseer, farmers, Ḫali-malik (whom M may owe a great deal of oil), utukkum lemnum, mašmaššum (=exorcist), the young woman, Marduk-ṣulūl the rival noble

Threads: retrieve the missing grain, deal with M's debt, deal with the utukkum
 
[Q: Anything happen on their journey? 50/50 (4+): O2 C7 - no.
Q: Anything untoward happen that night? 50/50 (4+): O5 C1 - yes, and...
Q: What? request / attention]


They hurry along on their way, barely pausing for rest. By nightfall they have reached the farm. Frightened slaves open the compound gate to let them enter. Sumu-tibal is surprised to see them back so soon. He orders refreshment brought immediately, and sits down with his honoured guests to hear their tale. The overseer waits as patiently as he is able whilst the weary travellers scarf down the meal.

Mannum-kīma-Adad does not wish to discuss the encounter with the three eṭemmū beneath the ruins, but he does feel somewhat obliged to repeat the bad prognosis which the mašmaššum had for Warad-Amurrum's recovery. The tax-collector tells a rather desultory tale of the whole experience, trying as best as he is able to ignore the rising chorus of shrieks and gibbering and howls sounding outside the barred compound gate, which rise to such crescendos that his interlocutor must continually ask him to repeat himself.

"...NO! I said, all his TREASURES were MERELY CLAY--"

The demonic howling has abruptly ceased, and Mannum-kīma-Adad feels suddenly ridiculous for leaning over the table and shouting at the top of his lungs. He sits back, and the silence round him is almost palpable; not a cricket is heard in the night, nor even the murmuring of the slaves, nothing but the crackle of the bonfires lit against the nocturnal fiends.

A rapping sounds against the gate, and then a frightened slave rushes over to the overseer. "Th-- they've requested Mannum-kīma-Adad f-f-for an audience in the hut. They p-p-promise safe passage."

[M needs a Soul check to be brave enough to accept: current soul (5) + 1d6 = 10, success]

Mannum-kīma-Adad stands and regards the others gravely. "Let us end this, then."

[Soul checks for the rest of the party: d6=5,5,5; they all succeed.]

His companions rise wordlessly. Šerašer draws his sword.

"A torch," says Mannum-kīma-Adad. Moments later a slave has handed him one. He walks out to the gate, and the frightened and bewildered slaves hastily lift the sturdy bar and let the brave -- or foolhardy -- band outside. They shut the gate so quickly behind them that Damiqtum's tattered hem is nearly caught in the doors.

Mannum-kīma-Adad leads the procession by the light of his torch through the fields towards the reed hut. Hundreds of eyes glitter greedily just outside the circle of light, and whispering, tittering things cavort in the shadows on all sides of them, parting before them like waves beneath the prow of a ship.

Reaching the hut, Šerašer throws open the door forcefully and holds the curtain back for his friends to enter. The smell inside is even worse than they remembered, and the sight of the gangrenous, five-legged goat with the leonine face protruding from its now-hairless flank still oppresses their hearts.

[as before, the horrid stench imposes a -2 penalty on all checks.

The PCs must each make a Soul check to avoid taking a point of soul damage from fright per the demon's Horrific Visage power. They all fail, dropping to M4, I2, D5, Š1]


The utukkum blinks its eyes against the bright torchlight, and addresses its visitors in an urbane (if grating) tone as they steady their nerves. "Oh, you're back so soon. Couldn't find a new exorcist? I'm disappointed." [inquisitive - request - flaws]

"W-we've heard that you don't really want one," says Mannum-kīma-Adad. "That you would rather stay here in your little hut and cause mischief through your agents."

"Who have you been talking to?"

"She... we never got her name."

"I see! Oh, how rich. I'm surprised she didn't eat you."

"Eat us?!"

"She's an ardat lilî [-demon]. Didn't you realise?"

"We-- I-- that is..."

"And how is her dear little Iddin-Šamaš? Recovering well, I trust? What she sees in him I just can't fathom. I suppose he's no great threat to her, at any rate."

"Why did you summon us here?"

"To see what progress you'd made."

"Why do you want an exorcist brought here?"

"Truthfully? I want one to use against her, against the ardat lilî."

"Whatever for?"

"It is an old enmity, and not the concern of mortal creatures."

"She has made it our concern; she sent us to destroy you."

[Q: How does it react to this news? Fiercely / Magnificent]

"You are a fool, Mannum-kīma-Adad! And you shall pay for your foolishness!"

[It is using its Malediction talent to make a Soul attack against M. Soul 6+5=success, M's avoid roll is  4 (current Soul) -2(stench) +4 =6, fail. He takes 2 Soul damage, leaving him with 2.]

The utukkum's words rip into Mannum-kīma-Adad's psyche, and he feels the will to fight lessening. But not so Šerašer, who advances on the demon with bared blade.

[Round 1]
The Elamite lunges at the weaving lion-head, but it darts out of reach [5(Body) -2(stench) -2(armour) +4 =5, miss.] The utukkum jerks about in the dirt, but with purpose. One festering hoof scrapes against Šerašer's leg and his heart is seized with fear. He drops his sword and stumbles back, senseless.

[Its Body attack succeeds, his Avoid roll fails. He is subject to its Corrupting Touch, taking 3 Soul damage. This reduces him to 0, so he is out of the fight and must roll on the Soul injury table. He rolls Ghastly Appearance; over the next 1d6+4=7 weeks his shocking countenance gives him a -1 to social interactions, and his Soul is reduced by 1 for the duration as well.]

Iqīš-Sîn stands by his master, ready to flee if he does (and he hopes he does).

Damiqtum produces the copper mirror, and brandishes it before the utukkum.

[Q: What does it do, exactly? (1d6) 1 exorcism, 2 binding, 3 weakness, 4 blinding, 5 light ray, 6 disrupt powers: d6=6. User of the Mirror may make a Soul check to disrupt any power use, before the target's Avoid roll.]

[Round 2]
The utukkum lets out a yelp of fear at the sight of the mirror, and pronounces an awful curse against the muḫḫūtum bearing it, [Its Soul check to attack succeeds, her Soul check at -2(stench) fails to disrupt it, but her Avoid is 5-2+5, success] but Damiqtum merely laughs at its words.

"Don't just stand there," shouts Mannum-kīma-Adad to his slave. "Pick up the sword!" Iqīš-Sîn reluctantly obeys.

[Round 3]
The utukkum kicks out at the approaching Iqīš-Sîn, catching him in the gut. He bends double from the pain [2 damage drops him to 2 Body], and his clumsy swing of the sword goes nowhere near his foe [he needs a natural 6 to hit].

[Round 4]
Feeling the unskilled slave to be little danger, it once again curses Damiqtum. She laughs even harder as the mirror shines and glimmers with each awful syllable the utukkum pronounces [disrupted]. Iqīš-Sîn is chastened by the pain in his stomach, and his swings are too defensive (and clumsy) to land a hit.

[Round 5]
The mirror glows even brighter, and Damiqtum's laughter grows even louder as the utukkum's baleful magic is turned aside again. This gives Iqīš-Sîn the distraction he needs to slip in under the demon's guard. The bronze blade flashes in the light of the mirror, and bisects the utukkum's spindly neck. The lion head bursts into a cloud of black vapour, and the horrible goat breathes its last. [a lucky 6, a failed Avoid, and 3 damage felled the demon]

Outside the hut, a chorus of screeches sounds, and rapidly fades into the night.


- - -


Dénouement

On the morning of the third day after his return to Babylon, Mannum-kīma-Adad is sitting in the courtyard of his house, barely eating the food his slaves have prepared for him, for today he must to the temple for his reckoning. As he rises from the table, Iqīš-Sîn rushes to his side. "Shall we be leaving now?"

"No. I have elected to go alone. You stay here and mind the house. And see if you can get poor Šerašer to eat something. Attend to it personally, do you understand? You're the only slave who's not afraid to go near him."

Mannum-kīma-Adad walks out of his front door and into the winding streets, heading north into the new town district. At the entrance to the Ekitušgirzal temple, he announces himself to a loitering slave. The slave tells him he is expected, and leads him into the temple garden overlooking the canal to await his audience with the ēntum.

She arrives, and he greets her esteemed personage with all the usual obsequies, which she returns with casual amiability.

"Good Lady," he says after an awkward pause, "I must apologise once again for my failure. And I wish to stress that the blame for the unsuccessful venture lies with me, and me alone. Please, do not punish Damiqtum; she represented the temple's interests admirably."

"Oh, Mannum-kīma-Adad, but you are such a fool! I had no illusions that you'd bring me back my grain."

"You didn't? But why...?"

"My dream! Did not Damiqtum tell you of it?"

"She did, but I didn't understand."

"I dreamt that you were sitting in a barren field, eating handfuls of soil."

"I'm afraid that doesn't mean anything to me."

"Of course not. 'If he eats loose earth: he will be in confusion and suffer hunger' [Sm 2073+, right column]."

"It certainly was a confusing experience, but we never went hungry."

"But you did not get the grain for our bread. The goddess spake through Damiqtum just as I was about to write to the chief tax collector for aid. You were part of a much grander design. Go home now, Mannum-kīma-Adad. But I am certain I shall have use of you again."

~~~ fin. ~~~