Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Silent Legions solo - Part 1: Someone nobody would miss

Experiment in Horror #3


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.


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


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:

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

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

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 go in 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."


"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 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?"


next post: the artefact

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