Friday, 13 April 2018

Experiments in Horror - Silent Legions (part 1)

Brief Prefatory Remarks

Writers block has lately damned this (and my other) blog to silence. I tried going back to old games, but that didn't seem to spark my creativity sufficiently. I decided something new and simple might be a good idea, hoping that coming to something fresh might provide the necessary spark, but simplicity ever eludes me. So instead I decided the stars were right for dusting off one of the horror game ideas I've always been intending to try but never seem to get round to starting. Of course, picking one proved to be the next obstacle. After no small amount of vacillation and hesitancy, I decided that there were three serious contenders, so I might as well try them all and make a connected series of posts out of it. But I will spare you any further wittering, and jump right into the first Experiment.

Silent Legions

Set Up

I finally invested in a copy of Silent Legions back in October, intending to use the sandbox tools for other things, but after a read-through decided I would like to try playing it as-is. This initial Experiment is actually my first go at Silent Legions; the adventure did stall for several months, but I was inspired to finish it when I came up with the idea for the series.

I wanted it to run it using the Adventure Template tables, but other than that I had no real ideas. I usually avoid modern settings altogether, as I can never think of good characters. There's always the archetype of the scholar hunting down forgotten lore hidden in ancient, sometimes unspeakable texts, but I can play that in real life at the BL.

So I decided to make random characters and use that as a jumping off point. I used a party of four so I could have one of each character class. Stats were rolled 3d6 in order for each, as Silent Legions allows you to increase one stat to 14, based on your class. Everything that could be rolled, was.

Rather than go through it in detail, I will just summarise the PCs, and include their character sheets below for those who are interested (and my own reference).

- Terence Blevins is the Investigator. I rolled Bureaucrat for his background, and decided that he works on the local county council's planning committee.

- Bettina McAdams is the Scholar. Her background is Private Investigator. After uni, she wasn't sure what to do with an English degree, and decided to set herself up as a PI. Shadowing unfaithful spouses doesn't pay particularly well, so she's Struggling to make ends meet (taking the Struggling wealth level gave her a bonus skill).

- The Tough character is a man by the name of Leslie Cavanaugh. I rolled Antiquarian for his background, and decided the combination of that with his character class meant that he owned a military memorabilia shop. He takes fencing classes to stay fit, being nearly 50 (Combat skill 0, Str 16).

- Eleanor Carlisle-Landry is the Socialite. She's a Stay-at-home-spouse (Background), married to an Affluent (Wealth) businessman whose work requires frequent long trips abroad.

According to the rulebook, each player's character should have a relationship with the character of the player to their left (there's a d12 table provided). I made a 4-character sheet, so I rolled them in a clockwise fashion. Thus we find that Terence is Bettina's friend from book club; when Bettina was a teenager, she had a summer job working at Leslie's shop; Leslie once had an affair with Eleanor; Terence was once indicted for corruption, and Eleanor was his character witness in court (he was acquitted).

At this point they were looking more like the cast of a Midsomer Murders episode than a party of occult investigators. So I said 'fuck it' and used Midsomer for the setting. Terence and Bettina live in Causton, the other two live in one of the villages. If I need a map, there's one in the DVD special features, but I decided not to pre-roll Tags for any of the locations and just see how things turned out.

Patrick Robinson as Terence Blevins
Terence Blevins
Male, Age 33
Class: Investigator
Background: Bureaucrat
Wealth: Average
Str 8 Int 9 Wis 14 Dex 12 Con 9 Cha 13
AC 9, Att +1, HP 4
Computer 0, Culture/Home 0, Law 1, Perception 1, Persuade 0, Research 0, Leadership 0
Connection: friend of Bettina from book club

Amanda Ryan as Bettina McAdams
Bettina McAdams
Female, Age 24
Class: Scholar
Background: Private eye
Wealth: Struggling
Str 8 Int 13 Wis 14 Dex 10 Con 11 Cha 6
AC 9, Att +0, HP 4
Culture/Home 0, Law 0, Occult 0, Perception 0, Research 0, Science 0, Stealth 1, Gambling 0
Connection: once had summer job at Leslie's shop

David Troughton as Leslie Cavanaugh
Leslie Cavanaugh
Male, Age 48
Class: Tough
Background: Antiquarian
Wealth: Average
Str 16 Int 12 Wis 11 Dex 14 Con 11 Cha 11
AC 8, Att +1, HP 6
Culture/Home 1, Business 0, History 1, Language 0 (French), Athletics 0, Combat/Primitive 0, Tactics 0
Connection: had affair with Eleanor

Lucy Punch as Eleanor Carlisle-Landry
Eleanor Carlisle-Landry
Female, Age 36
Class: Socialite
Background: Stay-at-home spouse
Wealth: Affluent
Str 11 Int 14 Wis 16 Dex 11 Con 9 Cha 14
AC 9, Att +1, HP 3
Culture/Home 1, Perception 0, Persuade 1, Vehicle/Land 0, Religion 0, Athletics 0
Connection: once was called to court as Terence's character witness

My toolbox for the experiment is:

Now then, on to...

The Adventure

[The rulebook suggests starting to build an Adventure Template by first rolling the Resolution and working backwards. I'm not sure how beneficial an idea this is for solo gaming, but I rolled one anyway and put it at the bottom of my notes in case I needed to refer to it:

Resolution (no time pressure): An Enemy has retreated here to recover after a defeat or setback, and is using a Scheme to further their control of their new home. The investigations reveal both the reason for the Enemy’s flight here and the nature of the tools being used.

I never actually did until now, and I'm kind of pleased at how things more -or-less got to it of their own accord. Or at least it did in retrospect; perhaps it was a subconscious pull.

The Hook

The hook is the initial scene for the adventure wherein the PCs become involved. I rolled:

The Hook: The heroes stumble across the remains of a Crime connected to a Secret at the site, or suddenly find themselves in the middle of the Crime in progress.

The Secret would need to be found out through play, so I left that to one side. I rolled the Crime according to the One Roll Crime Creation tables:

A relative or neighbour of the victim discovered it.
Police attitude: Restrained. Someone important wants this hushed up.
Clue: Vehicle identification leads toward the culprit
Gossip: Very quiet, with few people having heard of it.
Seeming nature: Street violence. Beatings, muggings, random murder
witnesses: Malicious. They twisted what they saw to hurt someone.

Now to set the scene...]

It is a lovely English summer's day (24°C, overcast), perfect for the village fete in Midsomer Worthy. In addition to the folk who make their homes in the village, the fete has drawn punters from all over the Midlands, and even some tourists from as far afield as London. All the usual diversions are on offer: ring toss, a "gypsy" fortune teller, morris dancing, a beer tent, a Pimm's tent, another beer tent, face painting for the kids, etc. But unbeknownst to all save a select and scheming few, something sinister is afoot. ..

At their last book club meeting, Bettina had convinced Terrance to go with her to the fete. As our story opens, she is having her cards read in the fortune teller's tent. Terence is waiting outside, as last year "Madame Yolanda" (Mrs. Iverson) made a clumsy pass at him under the pretence of reading his palm.

Bettina finally emerges, and begins to laughingly relate the portentous news from her reading. "She said there would be a handsome gentleman in my future! I think her powers of observation leave a bit to be desired! Now, if--"

Suddenly a scream pierces the air, and blue car tears out of the parking lot in a cloud of dust and gravel, nearly running down several people. Bettina instinctively notes the license plate number. Some police appear moments later, and start ushering people away from the parking lot.

Terence hears a shrill, officious voice behind him demanding to know what's going on. He wheels about to see Eleanor, wearing a stylish sundress and carrying a clipboard, upon which the scores for the WI baking competition are being tallied. Behind her, an older gentleman is struggling to catch up, a drink in each hand and his cane tucked awkwardly beneath his arm.

"Terence! I thought you didn't like fetes." asks Eleanor.

"Not really, but--"

"Did you see what happened?"

"No, I--"

"I'm going to find out. Leslie, wait here."

Eleanor goes over to the police, who at first try to shoo her away, but her inimitable charm wins over the detective constable. She rejoins her friends shortly thereafter.

[Eleanor spent an Expertise Point (of which 1st level characters have 2) to activate her Socialite class ability Folie à deux, allowing her to win  an otherwise impossible (or nearly: 13+ needed) Persuade skill check.]

"You look pleased with yourself," says Terence.

"The constable 'wasn't supposed to say anything', so don't go blabbing, but it looks like Gerald Frazer's gone and gotten himself murdered!"

"He had it coming," muses Leslie.

"Oh, tut. He was a patently absurd little man, but he didn't have any enemies. Not any real ones, at any rate."

"He must've had at least one."

"Why are the police trying to keep it quiet?" asks Bettina.

"And you are...?" sneers Eleanor.

"This is my friend, Bettina," offers Terence.

"Oh?" asks Eleanor, raising her eyebrow and looking Bettina over. "Do tell!"

"My friend whom I told you about. From book club."

"Oh. Of course. I thought she did look a bit sporty for your taste." She turns back to Bettina. "But now that you mention it, it does seem a little odd."

"Not only that," continues Bettina, "but I had a quick wander over that way. And before they turned me back, I overheard one of the witnesses giving a statement. She said it was a yellow Prius that fled the scene. I saw it too, and it was definitely a dark blue Vauxhall. That's not the sort of mistake one makes, even in duress. Strange, don't you think?"

"Did I mention Bettina's a private detective?" adds Terence.

[Bettina needed to make a Perception skill roll of 6+: 2d6+1(wis)+0(skill)=8, success.

I made a few rolls on the Actor generation tables to determine who the victim was: up-and-coming, teacher, bad plastic surgery (pec implants), Formerly honoured but now in less repute (also pec implants).]


[The Introduction Scene is where the PCs realise there was much more to Hook scene  than they thought, and it steers them in the direction of the adventure.

Introduction: A Friend is willing to give them leads to the Investigation scenes, which they acquired as part of a recent social or physical Conflict that they won. The Enemy wants a rematch, and the Friend and possibly the PCs will be involved in yet another Conflict related to their strife.

The Friend was rolled up on the Actor generation tables--

Charles Bairstow
Age: decrepit
Profession: Carpenter
Always asking for favors or “loans”, whether petty or large
An outcast, from personal qualities.
Relation: Someone now in hiding, thought dead or silenced
Relation to situation: They feel a great debt of honor towards someone involved

A lot of what I rolled didn't seem immediately relevant, especially as this was the first adventure, but it was still enough to spark a scene.]

The next day, the local papers contain a very subdued report of the murder. The report does state that several eyewitness accounts reported seeing a yellow Prius fleeing the scene, which they believe belongs to Charles Bairstow of Badger's Drift. Mr. Bairstow is currently being sought by the police.

Eleanor's suspicious mind takes over and she rings up Charles, but the call goes straight to voicemail. She gets a call later that day from an unrecognised number, and is surprised/relieved/intrigued to hear Charles' voice when she answers. She tells him everything that happened, and of her and her friends' suspicions. He convinces her that she and the others are the only ones who can save him, but that it may be dangerous for them. She readily agrees to help; this is far more exciting than judging cakes and jams!

A meeting is set for Saturday at The Swan in Badger's Drift. Eleanor reserves the function room for a 'fundraiser committee meeting'.

When they have all arrived, and Eleanor's bought the first round, a private courier enters, hands over a packet, and abruptly leaves. The packet contains dozens of newspaper clippings, a key, a packet of letters, and a typed letter from Bairstow saying that Frazer had been in contact with him about certain unspeakable events which he had discovered to have taken place in the village.

The letter concludes with another tantalisingly cryptic statement: "I may not reveal my involvement in these matters at this time, but if you will help me, I will explain it all afterwards."

[The contents of the packet were just off the top of my head. I left them vague in hopes that it would all make sense later, and details would emerge through play. From a game mechanics perspective, the leads (from the Introduction scene rolled) were going to be a set of three Investigation scenes with associated Challenges.

The scenes rolled were:

-The clue is in an abandoned Place, where one or more challenges lie between the PCs and obtaining it.
-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.
-The clue is somehow dangerous to its possessor, and has been locked away or hidden away not just to keep it safe, but also to keep bystanders from being harmed by it. Challenges face those who would attempt to reclaim it.

I rolled 1d4 to see which class wouldn't get a challenge at this stage. The characters will end up facing--

-Investigator challenge: Find object at home of Frazer - It’s been hidden behind a brick or other structural object.
-Scholar challenge: A diary scripted in a private cipher created by the author. - obvs. above-mentioned object; need help/library to decipher
-Tough challenge: environmental danger: Structural weakness in stairs or ladders.

Investigation scene 1: Frazer's home

They decide that they cannot delay their investigations for another day. After a fortifying pub dinner, they go off to their respective homes and dress for a nocturnal operation, agreeing to meet at Eleanor's house at 1am.

Everyone is dressed in black. Eleanor has found enough balaclavas for the whole group -- she had extras in the attic with her skiing gear. They pile into Terence's car and drive to the house of Gerald Frazer.

Due to her profession, Bettina is unanimously chosen to do the actual breaking in. She doesn't protest, until such a time as it becomes evident that lockpicking isn't really a part of her skill set.

[She needs to roll 8+ on Security: 2d6-1(no skill)=5, failure]

So she takes a stone from the garden and breaks the window in the back door instead.

[Q: Are they spotted? Unlikely (5+): O6 C2 - Yes, and...
Q: By whom? 1 police, 2 thugs, 3 burglars, 4 neighbours, 5 guard dog, 6 guard beast]

Bettina snakes her arm through the broken window and unlocks the door. But she has not gone five steps inside when a largish angry mutt starts barking, and bares its teeth at the intruders.

[Initiative: PCs 5, dog 8]

The mutt snaps viciously at Bettina, but she backpedals just out of its reach [it missed]. Everyone turns and flees out the door. The dog's jaws clamp down on Bettina's calf as she runs away, but she manages to shake it loose. Leslie manages to slam the door in the dog's face the moment Bettina emerges into the garden.

They rush back to the car, and speed off into the night.

[The dog was entitled to a free attack since Bettina fled the combat without taking an action to disengage. It hit her for 1 damage, leaving her with 3hp; she heals the wound with 8 hours of sleep.]

They come back the next night with an armful of raw steaks.

[Q: Does this work? Certain (2+): O2 C3 - Yes, but...]

Whoever has been feeding Gerald's dog has boarded over the broken window, but Leslie manages to jimmy a lounge window open. The dog stops growling when she smells the meat, and happily ignores the intruders in favour of the special treat -- Eleanor only shops at the best local butcher.

They turn over the house, but there seems to be absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Leslie nearly kills himself when the extensible ladder to the loft gives way [the Tough class challenge; he made his saving throw so didn't take falling damage]. When he helps Eleanor to have a look, she reports that it's empty.

[Perception roll 6+ : Terence 2d6+1(wis)-1(no skill)=11, success]

Meanwhile, Terrance has found a strange parcel wrapped in black velvet and secured with jeweller's wire hidden up the chimney. By this time, the dog has finished her repast and has begun growling. They avoid the kitchen and its peevish occupant, making their exit via the front door.

[Q: Are they spotted? 50/50: 03 C8 - No.]

Investigation scene 2: the diary

Back at Eleanor's, they proceed directly to her kitchen for a good stiff drink. Glasses in hand, they turn their attention to their prize. The book itself is a locked diary, but aside from this fact its appearance is wholly out of keeping with the mystery surrounding it, for it was obviously purchased down the local WH Smith's. It is but the work of a second for Bettina to force the lock with a butter knife.

The pages are covered in an incomprehensible jumble of letters. The writing begins very neatly on the first page, but soon becomes sloppier and more frantic.

"What language is this?" asks Eleanor.

"Not a language," says Leslie. "I think this is written in code."

Passing it round and round the table does not bring them any closer to its decipherment, no matter how many G&Ts they apply to the problem. By dawn, no one is in a fit state to drive, so Eleanor puts them up for the 'night'. They decide to each take a day with the diary in turn to attempt cracking the code.

[They need roll of 9+ on Language to break the code.]

Bettina takes the first turn, but she cannot make any sense of the thing [her Deep Gnosis class ability doesn't help, since she doesn't have the requisite skill for the challenge]. Leslie picks it up from her office the next day, and puts his mind to the problem.

[2d6+0(skill)=10, success!

Q: So is it in English? 50/50 (4+): O6 C6 - Yes
+Event:  Horror - PC - appear / presence
Q: Which PC? (1d6): 1 T, 2 E, 3 B, 4-6 L (since it makes sense to come from the diary); d6=L]

Leslie decides to apply the Caesar cipher (A=C, B=D, C=E etc.), and is pleased to find he has cracked the code in no time at all. It is still a laborious task to copy out the diary into a readable format, but the handwriting does become rather large and unrestrained towards the end, so the page count of his transliteration is significantly lessened.

The diary records a series of strange events, brief conversations, wild suspicions, and horrific deductions. "Pure twaddle," says Leslie under his breath as he writes out some of the headier passages, but after a time his flesh starts to creep and he is left with the unwholesome certainty that none of the words before him are untrue, or even exaggerated. Some of the passages lapse into a barbarous tongue, the which he cannot comprehend at all. But they do remind him ever so much of the sorts of primitive magico-religious incantations he once read about in those Jane Harrison books on his shelf. He feels a brief flutter of shame: allowing himself to shudder at the idea of a dionysiac snake-cult or some such rot -- a sensible chap of his age! No, he's been at this too long, and fatigue is making him dreamy. Best to have a stiff scotch, then off to bed.

But his fears, it seem, were all too well-founded. For copying out the incantations, though he understood them not, activated the evil spell, and attracted the attention of a malicious entity on another plane of existence. The thing coalesces that night in Leslie's bedchamber, pouring like smoke out of the accursed diary. Leslie is awakened by a biting cold, as the thing's translucent claw reaches out to grasp his shoulder. He turns with a start, and is confronted by the demonic visage, so much like a man's but twisted and warped into a snarling, toothy caricature. He tries to scream but cannot, as the cold spreads through his limbs. And then the thing is gone.

[For the entity's stats, I just used the Ghost in the bestiary chapter. It appears by the diary or copy nightly, and attacks for 1d6 rounds.

This night it only manifested for d6=2 rounds. In total, Leslie took 4 damage. Seeing the thing earned him 1d8=8 madness.

I wasn't sure if he'd call anyone else so I rolled a d4 with the proviso that if his number came up (it did) he wouldn't reach out. I decided that toughing it out alone would earn him +1d6=3 madness.

Q: Does he get enough sleep for healing purposes? 50/50 (4+): O4 C3 - Yes, but... terrible nightmares.

According to the Scene roll, simply being near the diary is dangerous. So anyone sleeping by diary will gain 1d6 madness per night, whether or not it has been read. Bettina gained 1d6=1 Madness. Leslie gains another 1d6=6. His total madness is now 17; there are no ill effects yet. He heals 1hp by morning, so he's back to 3hp.]

to be continued...


  1. Glad to see you back. Everyone needs to take a break sometimes no matter how fun an activity may be.

    1. Thanks. It's good to be back. The break was restful, if not exactly planned.