Sunday, 17 June 2018

Experiments in Horror - Call of Cthulhu (part 4 - final)

Scene 12

Chaos: Out of control (CF7 - d8)

Setup: to Brighton
1d10=1, Altered

NPC List: DI Mitchell, Gerald "Hilly" St. Hillyer, Molly Lasher, Janet Evans

Threads: investigate Alexandra's murder/disappearance

When Julia arrives at Victoria, she is surprised to find DI Mitchell waiting by the ticket counter.

"I'm coming with you," he says.

"Oh, no you aren't!" counters Julia. "One whiff of our involvement, and Molly'll turn me away for good. Or worse!"

[POW vs. POW on the Resistance Table: her 13 vs. his 11 gives her a 60% chance. d%=82...]

"I'm sorry, Miss Quigley-Ffoulkes, but I cannot allow you to go into this den of vipers alone."

"You think I don't know how to handle myself? Because I'm a woman--?"

"Because, however formidable you may be, I allow that's a great deal, there is only one of you. Against this... this whole conspiracy. Alex isn't the first to disappear from within their ranks, you know."

"Fine. Come if you must. But keep your distance, so they don't get suspicious. I wouldn't want you to, how do you say, blow my cover, Detective Inspector." [Persuade (75%) roll: d%=68, ok]


"Good. Now, I'm going to do something for which I must apologise. Perhaps I can make it up to you over dinner when this is all through. But for now, in case we're being observed..."

Julia slaps DI Mitchell across the face. She turns and stalks off to collect her ticket without pausing to see the look of astonishment tinged with not a little hurt in his eyes. He rubs his jaw, then goes down the platform to wait for the train.

[Q: Is she being followed? 50/50 (4+): O2 C1 - No, and... ]

Scene 13

Chaos: Out of control (CF7 - d8)

Setup: 1d10=6, Interrupt (was: find Molly)
Interrupt:  NPC action - Janet Evans - inform / silence

NPC List: DI Mitchell, Gerald "Hilly" St. Hillyer, Molly Lasher, Janet Evans

Threads: investigate Alexandra's murder/disappearance

The train to Brighton is uneventful. Julia tries unsuccessfully to divert herself with the book she'd borrowed from the library, Mirbeau's Journal d'une femme de chambre, but after the horrors of the past week she just can't find any solace in the accounts of a bourgeois family, even a naughty French one. She spends most of the trip with the open tome forgotten in her lap, staring out at the English countryside.

She hops a cab from the station to the Metropole. When she arrives, she sees a young woman sitting in the lobby reading a magazine with similar disinterest. Her rather arrestingly white skin cannot disguise her plain features; she looks remarkably sickly under all the heavy make-up.

Janet Evans
STR: 12  DEX:  7  INT: 12
CON:  6  APP:  9  POW: 15
SIZ: 12  EDU: 15

Julia checks in at the desk. When the young woman hears her give her name, she discards the magazine, and walks straight up to Julia once she has her key.

NPC Relationship: distrustful
Conversation Mood: withdrawn
inquisitive - questions - the character]

"Julia, I've been waiting for you. I'm friend of Molly's. Janet -- Janet Evans."

"Charmed, I'm sure."

"I needed to ask you about the party. Mind if I follow you up to your room? I know you've just arrived and all, but I won't keep you long."

"Of course."

Both women are quiet as they follow the bellhop up to Julia's room. Once he's been tipped and has left, Julia offers Janet a chair, and sits across from her on the corner of the bed.

"Molly wanted me to look out for you," begins Janet. "Only, our little club is a private affair, you see. Very private. We can't have loose tongues betraying our secrets. Well, you understand, the less we say about it in public, the more deliciously exclusive it is. You haven't said anything to anyone, have you? I mean, nothing major, right?"

"Oh, of course not. Wouldn't want a pack of crashers showing up! Or worse: someone from the sensationalist press!"

"No. Especially not them. I'm glad you were discreet. But, if you forgive my asking,  how did you...?"

"Hilly. I wheedled it out of him. I've known him too long for him to keep any secrets from me! And with the whole Alex thing, he was looking to confide in somebody."

"How well did you know Alex? Were you very good friends?"

[Julia's Psychology (40%) roll: 63, fails]

"Yes, I think so. I mean, as much as anyone could be very good friends with such a creature. I don't mean to speak ill of the dead -- I mean, I really loved Alex -- but, well... did you know her very well?"

[Q: Does she say so? 50/50 (4+): O2 C3 - No, and...]

"Barely. Just in passing, that is. It's just that her...  such awful circumstances... it's cast a pall over the whole soirée. At least for some."

Julia leans in close and almost whispers. "Do you think someone is out to tear the group apart? Some enemy of the club? Someone who perhaps wasn't invited, or...?"

"I... I think maybe... there are some who worry that the murderer is someone... inside the club." [mysterious - uncertainty - family]

"How scandalous! Oh, but you seem genuinely frightened. You don't say you believe the rumours have substance?"

"I don't-- I didn't credit them at first. But now I'm not so sure."

"What is it? There's something you want to tell me, isn't there? You think you know something." [Persuade (75%) roll: 53, success]

"This club... it's not new. I mean, it is new, in this incarnation. But it's a continuation of something far older. Something of unbelievable antiquity. A... a religion, I think." [mysterious - secrets - history]

"Janet, my dear, if this is true, that must mean you think Molly has some deeper purpose with all this pageantry. And that you think she had something to do with Alex's murder."

[Q: How does Janet react to these words? Enthusiastically / Ruined]

Janet slumps listlessly down into her chair. Julia takes her flask from her bag.

"Here, have a swig of this. It's good for the nerves. Or I've got something stronger in my compact, if you'd rather. Have as much as you need, there's a whole bottle in my suitcase. There's a good girl. Now, I will look after you, so you've just got to put on a brave face. If anything untoward happens at the soirée, I'll be right there with you. We'll support each other."

Janet recovers in short order, and excuses herself so Julia can unpack. As she closes the door behind her, Julia heaves a great sigh.

"She either an ally, or Molly's spy," thinks Julia, "but damned if I can decide which. This is going to be harder than I thought!"

[Because she failed the Psychology roll, Julia doesn't have any clue as to Janet's true intentions. So, since the player side of me had no information one way or the other, the DM side of me endeavoured to write Janet's conversation as ambiguously as possible. She's either telling the truth and scared of Molly, or it's all an act, sprinkled with enough truth to get Julia to tip her hand. CF +1 as the uncertainty is working against our heroine.]

Scene 14

Chaos: Madness (CF8 - d6)

Setup: 1d10=5, Interrupt (was: find Molly)
Interrupt:  NPC action - Molly Lasher - Inquire / Emotions

NPC List: DI Mitchell, Gerald "Hilly" St. Hillyer, Molly Lasher, Janet Evans

Threads: investigate Alexandra's murder/disappearance

Julia starts unpacking once Janet leaves. She's half convinced she'll need to make a hasty exit, but she can afford to leave her things behind. Besides, she can't appear to be anything other than a thrill seeker and a decadent -- not that she isn't either of these things, but this time, at least, she has a higher purpose.

Then comes a knock at the door. It's Molly Lasher, carrying a box tied up with ribbon.

"A little bird told me you'd just arrived," says Molly, "so I thought I'd drop in and see how you were settling in."

"I've not much to get settled," says Julia. "I travel light."

"I see. Well, I've brought your attire for tonight."

"May I see?"

"Please do. Only, try not to laugh. It's not terribly classical."

"That's not a problem, as it happens. I look absolutely dreadful in a peplos!"

[1d3 colours=1
d12 on the Hue column of Silent Legions Word Elements for the Cult's Name table

Q: Any identifiable marks/characters/insignia? 50/50 (4+): O2 C1 - No, and...]

Julia opens the box and takes out a cowled robe made from a heavy, ivory-coloured fabric. "Shall I try it on?" she asks.

"Oh, go on." laughs Molly.

[Q: Anything weird? Unlikely (5+): O4 C5 - No.]

"Not bad," says Julia, admiring herself in the mirror. "Not bad at all. I could be a monk under here. One of the old ones on a mountaintop in France where they make those deadly liqueurs, to be sure. But a monk, nonetheless."

"I hope you won't look askance at our pagan revelries, Brother Julius!"

"Ha ha! But seriously, can I ask you something?"

"Why, of course."

"Tell me -- and this is in earnest -- should I wear white shoes or black? Only the white don't go with my dress so well..."

[Psychology roll (at half skill, so 20%) to suss out Molly's true mood: 65, fail
Persuade (75%) roll to keep up appearances: 60, success.]

Scene 15

Chaos: Madness (CF8 - d6)

Setup: 1d10=8, Interrupt (was: dinner & preparations)
Interrupt:   NPC negative - Molly Lasher - Struggle / Bureaucracy

NPC List: DI Mitchell, Gerald "Hilly" St. Hillyer, Molly Lasher, Janet Evans

Threads: investigate Alexandra's murder/disappearance

Then comes another knock on the door. "Expecting someone?" asks Molly.

"No. How odd. Let me see who it is. Only I'd ought to take this off first..."

Julia folds the robe and puts it in the wardrobe before answering door.

[1d6=unknown man]

"Hello?" says Julia, as she opens to door to find a stranger standing there. He is [3D6= APP 12] an average looking man, but in an expensive, tailored suit.

"Hello, Miss Quigley-Ffoulkes. Molly's not in there with you is she?"


"May I speak to--"

"Timothy? Is that you?" call Molly. "Oh, damn."

Molly excuses herself, and goes out to quickly confer with him in the corridor. She comes back in a few moments later, visibly annoyed.

"Sorry, darling. There's been some problems with the caterers, and I absolutely must sort them now, personally, or we'll be having a pagan-themed temperance rally. I'll pick you up here at half ten and take you over. You oughtn't to put on the robe till we get there. But I must warn you, I am notoriously punctual. Kiss kiss, must dash."

Scene 16

Chaos: Madness (CF8 - d6)

Setup: the soirée (1d10=9: finally, no alteration!)

NPC List: DI Mitchell, Gerald "Hilly" St. Hillyer, Molly Lasher, Janet Evans

Threads: investigate Alexandra's murder/disappearance

Molly Lasher collects Julia at precisely 10:30, as she had said she would. She's looking radiant in a simple white frock, as Julia knew she would. Molly's demeanour is all sweetness and laughter -- indeed Molly can barely contain her excitement -- but underneath it all Julia can sense that the young woman is in total control of herself and her surroundings [no psychology roll necessary]. Molly delightedly reveals that she's hired the basement and tunnels beneath the Royal Pavilion for her soirée, and the two set out arm-in-arm into the night. It is pleasantly cool, for October, and since the Royal Pavilion lies but a 15 minute walk from the Metropole, Molly elects to walk.

DI Mitchell has been staking out the hotel, blending in with the people who even at this hour are strolling up and down the beachfront. [Spot Hidden (55%): d%=25, success] He sees the two women exit and begins to follow them at a respectable distance [rolling Sneak (10%) to tail: 44, fail] but he somehow manages to be rather conspicuous, hiding his face behind a copy of the Times as often as he does.

[Molly's Spot Hidden is ((2d6-2)x5 +25(base)=) 50%: d%=70, fail.] Molly, for her part, doesn't notice his clumsy attempt to follow. She's much too focussed on Julia, and is almost giddy with excitement. Julia makes no effort to see if he's there. She'd rather think that he is than think she is wholly without protection, after all. Moreover, her most pressing concern is trying to decide if miss Molly Lasher is coming on to her. Were the circumstances of their meeting less complicated, muses Julia, the good detective inspector might just have a rival for her affections.

[Q: Does DI Mitchell have a revolver? Unlikely (5+): O3 C2 - No, and...]

DI Mitchell watches them enter the pavilion, then strolls round to reconnoitre the area further, without getting too close.

Once they are inside and out of sight, they give their coats to an attendant -- a junior cult member, already dressed in ritual attire -- and put on their robes.

[Q: Are Molly's robes special? Likely (3+): O5 C3 - Yes, but...
Q: Are the other cultist's robes different than Julia's? 50/50 (4+): O2 C5 - No.]

Julia watches Molly dress with interest, expecting to see her clad in something truly magnificent, perhaps shockingly so, but in fact her robe is almost identical to the ones that Julia and the rest have been given, save for some understated bits of [d12=]black trim.

Julia estimates there must be about forty in attendance, counting the coat check attendant and three bartenders (also junior cult members, robed as the rest). [attendance: 3d20+4=43 NPCs]

There is an open bar, and a long buffet table near the back wall of the brick-floored basement chamber, opposite the almost Catholic looking altar. In the centre of the room a sort of tent has been constructed, made of long gauzy curtains hanging from the ceiling. Large candelabras provide the only light. The air is hazy with smoke, a mix of frankincense, tobacco, and marijuana, and just a little bit of opium.

[Q: Does Molly let Julia mingle? Unknown 1d6=5, Unlikely: O1 C6 - No.]

Julia quickly surveys the crowd, trying to find Hilly, but can't make him out anywhere [Spot Hidden (75%): d%=95, fail]. Molly takes her by the arm again. "Come with me, darling" she says, "let me introduce you to [1d4=3] some of my closest friends. I'm absolutely dying for them to meet you!" Molly moves at a whirl through the crowd, and Julia can barely keep up.

"Frank? Frank, darling, this is Julia. Be a dear and get us some champagne, won't you, Frank? Frank Pickman is actually related to that painter, the one who caused such a stir last season. I met him at the opening at that little gallery out in Shoreditch, of all places! They're cousins or something.... Oh, look it's Kathy! Kathy Barker, Julia Quigley-Ffoulkes. Kathy and I go back, well, darling, farther than I care to admit! We got expelled from the same boarding school in Harrow, once upon a time.... Oh, and here's Petra Theaker! She's an absolute hoot. I met her halfway up a mountain in Thibet...."

[Q: Does Molly entrust Julia to her friends whilst she prepares? 50/50 (4+): O2 C1 - No, and...]

Despite her excitement, Molly glances ever at her watch. "It's nearly time to begin, Julia darling. And I want you to help me. You did learn your lines, didn't you?"

"Of course!"

"Come with me, then, sweetie."

Molly leads Julia to the altar.

[Time to be the Keeper:

Q: Will there be a human sacrifice? 50/50 (4+): O4 C6 - Yes.
Q: Is Julia the victim? 50/50 (4+): O1 C3 - No, but... she will be compelled to help.
Q: Does Molly trust Julia? 50/50 (4+): O3 C4 - No, but... she hopes to.

What is the Ultimate Horror?

When I started this adventure, I hadn't yet figured out exactly how the mechanism for making the final determination would work. I actually got to this point before writing it all out.

The current points were as follows:
5 hound of tindalos
8 mi-go
6 byakhee

As this came to a total of 19, a d20 seemed the easiest way to make the determination.

 roll result
 ---- ------
 1-5  hound of tindalos
 6-13 mi-go
14-19 byakhee
  (20 reroll)

1d20=18, byakhee

Now that I know the Horror, I used this information to fill in some details, or rather, to help me decide what to put into the next random chart--

Q: What is the purpose of the ritual? (1D8): 1 longevity , 2 power, 3 open gate, 4 summon Hastur, 5 enchant item, 6 transformation, 7 brew space mead, 8 summon servitor
1d8=4, summon Hastur]

"Alex lost faith, you know," says Molly. "I offered her everything, but she wanted to throw it away. Tell me, you won't be a disappointment like Alex, will you?"

"What do you mean?" asks Julia

"Don't be naïve! You can't honestly believe this is all just a bit of fun, can you?"

"What... what did happen to Alex?"

"She's not really dead... not yet. But I sent my little pet to collect her. And leave enough for the police to think her dead, and announce her murder to the world."


"Oh, the tongue was hers all right! But the rest of the pieces brought to her flat were, shall we say, donated."

"Wait-- Alex is really alive?"

"Oh, yes. And will be for several more minutes, in fact. Long enough for you to decide if you're in, or out. And darling, I'll be ever so disappointed if you make the wrong choice."

A gong sounds, and silence falls at once over the crowd. They discard their drinks and sundry other delights round the perimeter of the room and hurry to take up position in rows before the altar, onto which Molly has dragged Julia. Lying on the black-veined marble altar itself is a young woman, awake but heavily drugged. Her hairless body has been inscribed all over with a myriad of mystical sigils, from the crown of her shaved head to the soles of her feet. It takes a moment for Julia to recognise her, but it is indeed Alex Bishop!

Frank, Kathy and Petra take up positions behind Molly. Each bears some sort of grotesque copper sistrum. Petra gives a curved copper dagger to Molly, who, smiling hopefully, presses it into Julia's hand. The gong sounds again. Molly turns toward the silent crowd, and begins the chant.

Julia forces herself to be brave [POWx5 (65%): d%=38, ok] as she gauges her next action. She's certain she spotted [sc. hidden] guns bulging beneath the robes of Molly's confederates. For now, Julia just participates in the barbarous call-and-response chanting.

The cultists become ever more frenzied as Molly leads the awful chant. When the fervour reaches its peak, Petra and Kathy take over Molly's role as she slinks up behind Julia, and puts her arms softly round her waist. "You know what you have to do, darling," breathes Molly Lasher into Julia's ear. Molly nudges Julia's arms gently upward, then starts speaking the words of a new chant, one Julia does not know.

The chanting cultists begin to sway and writhe, some screaming out the unearthly syllables until their voices become raw. There are tears streaming down Julia's cheeks, but she cannot resist the will of Molly Lasher, who even now is groaning and purring and hissing behind her.

[POW x4 (54%) to resist performing sacrifice: d%=84, failure
SAN 1/1d6: d%=45, lose 1 point, down to 53 SAN]

Julia is barely aware of being in her own body as her hands fall, plunging the wicked blade into Alex's chest. She coughs once and shudders, and seems even more dreamy as the life streams out of her.

Molly lets go her waist, and produces a small flute-like instrument from beneath her robe, upon which she begins piping a discordant melody. Out from the darkness lopes a nightmare form, a lumbering, winged monstrosity, neither insect nor mole nor bat nor decomposing cadaver, but an unholy amalgamation or parody of the natural order. The monstrosity grins at Julia with its corpse-mouth as it flops up beside Molly.

[SAN roll d%=61, fail. Seeing the Byakhee costs 1d6=3 SAN. Julia's down to 50 SAN now.]

As Molly pipes furiously and the grinning horror leers and the cultists cavort, the shadows seem to move within the curtained-off platform. Something stirs within, a thing called forth across an unimaginable gulf of space by Molly's incantations, whose gargantuan form is a very affront to all that is known and knowable to the insignificant beings upon the Earth. At once a slimy, grey-green tentacle darts forth from the curtains, and snatches a cultist from the midst of the throng, squeezing them to pulpy mass and discarding the oozing corpse of the unworthy. Again and again a tentacle darts forth, snaking between those whose terrible piety for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named does not waver, and reducing the unbelieving to stains upon the floor and walls.

[Q: Does Julia catch glimpse of Hastur? 50/50 (4+): O4 C1 - Yes, and...
SAN roll 56, failure; d100=29 SAN lost, leaving her with 21.
Julia's Idea roll (65%) succeeds, so she suffers Indefinite Insanity.]

Julia can hear Molly laughing behind her, even over the screams of terror and ecstasy coming from the assembly. But then all sounds seem to ring distant in her ears, as she catches a glimpse through the parted curtain. She can find no words to describe the thing within, the utter malice spewing from its awful face as its abhorrent glassy eye catches her own. Then blessed oblivion claims her.


Julia comes to in a padded cell. She calls out in fear, and the nurses come running. She calms down at the sight of them, and they give in to her entreaties to fetch a doctor.

"Well, now, Miss Quigley-Ffoulkes," says the doctor, "it's good to see you've calmed down somewhat. You've been quite difficult since we brought you in."

"I-- I don't remember... I remember going to Brighton, and then this party, and then... oh, it's too horrible."

"Do you remember what happened at this party? Do you remember when the police arrived? Or what happened just before?"

"No, I... it's all confused. Just a flood of images. Will you help me remember? Is that why I'm here?"



"I will help you piece together the incidents of that night. But then I've got to make a recommendation..."

"About my release?"

"Not quite. I need to assess your state of mind, and decide whether you are mentally fit to stand trial for the murder of Miss Alexandra Bishop."

 ~~ finis ~~

Post mortem

So this was probably the most like an actual Lovecraft story ending I've ever had in a CoC game. I fear that Julia's career as an Investigator has come to an end. If Molly Lasher and/or her cronies have any influence in the Crown Court (highly likely), then Julia will probably be hanged for her "crime". Molly may return to continue her villainy in future games, perhaps even as an ally -- or a rival -- of Eleanor from my Silent Legions adventure.

I find I have less to say about the mechanism of the experiment than I did in the first one, probably because I compiled all my thoughts into the little rules document before starting to write up my posts. But it worked out as well as I hoped it would.