Saturday, 6 February 2021

Silent Legions solo - Part 10: All for nothing


31 October

"It's Halloween," says Elgin. "You two making any plans for tonight?"

"I assumed that since Jeanette wanted to meet so early today," replies Cat, "that means she's going to scupper them."

"Too bad," says Amit. "Now that you're clean, I was looking forward to us celebrating in our traditional manner again."

"You two got a tradition?"

"Haha, no, not really," says Cat. "It's just that we had two Halloweens in a row where we went down the pub and both unsuccessfully tried to pull the same goth chick dressed up like Morticia Adams..."

[Scene 27 - another meeting

More specifically, this is the Event (Move away from a thread - escape/stop cult - make / Friend) from scene 26 at the end of the last post.

I extrapolated a bit of detail for the Event's meaning by rolling a Resolution scene--

Resolution: The Enemy is impervious to whatever harm the PCs can do. It’s surrounded by too much political power, too many minions, or is simply supernaturally invulnerable. Its identity may be obvious, but to hurt it, the PCs need the investigation’s clues.]


Jeanette arrives at the new flat alone, 11am sharp, and is eager to get down to business.

"I have, as they say, some good news, and some bad news."

Cat sighs. "Let us have it..."

"Our difficulties with the Circle are now at an end."

"Buuuut...."

"It's because of a necessary détente."

"Wait-- what? why?"

"We... we require their assistance. and they ours." [bring / strength]

"But... they killed--"

"Yes and it's regrettable, but they've suffered losses too."

"You're shitting me."

"Cat, you killed one of theirs. Not an innocent, not a bystander, like they have, but one of the actual cult members. Surely you must see the difference."

"I hate to say it," says Amit, "but it makes a certain sort of sense. Gross, but a certain sort of sense."

"The fuck?"

"Cat, just listen for a minute," continues Jeanette. "We're putting aside our hostilities for a reason. This doesn't make us all suddenly chummy. But it does mean none of you are going to get hurt. Vendettas are to be put by the wayside -- who knows, in time they may be forgotten. There are more pressing matters at hand, and likely will be in the future, and --who knows!-- they may just decide that they're better off courting your favour in the long run. Not that I advise completely throwing in with them; honestly I think our association will be much more profitable to you. And the ceasefire won't last forever, so if you're going to nurse this grudge there'll certainly be a time to act on it. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"What's the catch?"

"Why would you assume there is one?"

"Seriously?"

"Cat," says Elgin, "I think this whole thing is it's own catch."

"OK. Fine. Why though? What's the reason this has to stop right now?"

"I'm afraid I must beg your indulgence a bit further; I don't know." [inform / situation]

"You...?"

"The Circle raised the white flag, so to speak, and my superiors have asked me to treat with them. They want you there, too. They were very specific."

"Please tell me how this doesn't smell like a set-up, because I've no fucking clue!"

"Because outside factors are forcing us together. We neither of us can afford to fight any further now."

"Outside forces?"

"That's all they told me; I'm not sure which one it is."

"How many are there?"

"Later, perhaps. We've got to get to our appointment."

"What if I'd refused to listen to any of this?"

"You're an intelligent woman. I didn't expect more than token resistance."

- - -

Jeanette and Cat take the tube into town. Cat's questions about other 'outside forces' are rebuffed; Jeanette wants Cat focussed on the situation at hand. It's a straight shot on the District Line to South Kensington, but a long one to have to pass in silence. Once out of the station, Jeanette heads straight up towards Kensington Gardens.

"We're meeting our contact by the Albert Memorial," she explains. "His name is Randall. Just look for the bloke in the green pork pie hat."

[He was randomly generated. 1d6=m

Randall
Age: Youthful, perhaps someone up-and-coming in their role.
Profession: Musician, singer, dancer, or other entertainer.
Memorable Quirks: Has a strikingly unusual physical feature (I rolled on the Magic World Appearance table: clothes-hat)
Personality: Moody, Never Hungry (tweaker!)


Q: Has Cat ever met him? 50/50 (4+): O3 C6 - no.

His initial Reaction roll: 1d6+6=8, neutral.]


The monument is surrounded by the usual mix of slow-moving tourists and locals on their lunch hour dodging past them. Randall is fortunately easy to spot with his vivid green hat and very loud, ugly-on-purpose charity shop wardrobe. Cat doesn't remember anyone from the old days called Randall, and when she gets a close look at him she knows instantly why; his intense stare, gaunt frame, bad teeth, scabby hands, and sallow complexion mark him as someone with a mutually-incompatible habit to the one she's just kicked. She's pretty sure she'd hate him even if he didn't dress like that.

Jeanette walks up to Randall and nods in greeting. "Let's walk," he replies, and they set off into the park without any introductions.

[Q: What's the deal? expect / death]

"I'm glad you both came," says Randall. "Cat, I was afraid you wouldn't come after the recent... incidents." [UNE: insane - chaos - recent scene]

"I heard a truce was on offer."

"Quite. We haven't the resources to spare to keep throwing them at you. We need them for other things right now."

"Such as?" asks Jeanette.

"The Hidden Eye of the Iron God."

Jeanette opens her mouth as if to speak, but says nothing.

"So I have your attention, I take it?" continues Randal. "Good. Cat, I'm going to assume that our dear Jeanette's reaction says enough for now, and we can fill you in on all the particulars of this august body later. They're overstepping their bounds right now, trying to accomplish something that could wipe us all out."

"What about the Blessed Sodality?"

"We're approaching them too."

"Surely the Hidden Eye aren't foolish enough to fight a war on three fronts..."

"That's not what they're planning. They're going to complete the Inexorable Adjuration."

"Don't be daft."

"They've found the Hand."

"Surely not! The Hand is a myth, or-- or an obfuscation."

"And yet..."

"How do you know all this?"

"One of their adherents broke with them over it. And has already been killed for their treachery. Quite messily, I might add. They deal with apostasy even more strictly than we."

Cat suppresses a shudder at this statement[Physical save succeeds], but does not attempt to conceal her glare.

"I take it you've a plan," continues Jeanette.

"There could be a way to stop it, yes. I think you can probably guess." [mysterious - uncertainty - weapons]

"I'm sure I can't."

"Oh come! If you can't, then maybe Cat. No? No one wants a go?"

"Don't be boring. If it's this serious, there's no time for games."

"Right then: the Teeth of Rheims."

"If that's what I think it is," says Cat, "then I'm done listening to this bullshit."

"I know how it sounds, but this isn't just a ploy on our part to get it back. The fallout from such a deception would make it scarcely worth our while."

"He's not wrong Cat," says Jeanette. "If they tried to use us and the Sodality just to draw you out, our combined retaliation would be devastating. None of us wants a war right now. You can be sure of that."

"So what's it do then?" asks Cat.

"You haven't figured it out yet?"

"Humour me. If this thing is our best bet, I want to hear you tell me why."

"It disrupts magic, or negates it. It should be strong enough to spoil the ritual."

"Forgive me for asking an obvious question, but shouldn't there be simpler ways of stopping a ritual? Like, shouldn't it fail if we interrupt it or summat?"

"Under normal circumstances, you are correct. This is different. If the Adjuration were performed incorrectly, or the final stage left incomplete, the effects would be catastrophic."

"And the artefact will circumvent this how?"

[Q: Does he know? Unknown 1d6=6: O4 C3 - no, but... (=not sure, but his hypothesis is basically sound)]

"It should strip the power from the hand, rendering it inert." [insane - illusion - relics]

"That will stop it?"

"We'd better hope so."

They soon part, with Randall promising to ring with the final details about where and when to meet. Jeanette spends a long time convincing Cat that they do need to work together, because it really is that serious, and not at all a trap.


[Scene 28 - finale

Setup--

Q: When? 1d4-1= 3 days hence
Q: In Town? (Scarlet Heroes How Far Away Is A Thing? (p.115)) 2d4=Within a day’s ride
Q: Do they only want a small group to go? Unknown 1d6=4: O6 C8 - yes (1 from each of 3 cults + Cat)
Q: Does the Circle understand 'worthiness' in relation to the artefact? Unknown 1d6=4: O4 C7 - No.
Q: Setting? A forested valley in the Brecon Beacons of Wales. Bleached bones and barren rock mark the edge of a steaming pool. (via https://donjon.bin.sh/weird/random/#type=cthulhu_location;cthulhu_location-setting=british_isles_ii). Wales is a bit farther than a day's ride' result above, so I decided on Oxfordshire instead.

NPC stats--

Praveen
Age: Youthful, perhaps someone up-and-coming in their role.
Profession: Street criminal, prostitute, thug, pickpocket, or the like.
Memorable Quirks: Always forgetting things or fumbling simple matters
Social Standing: An unproven person or untrusted newcomer*


Praveen's stats (1d12): 1-2 cultist, 3-5 1HD cultist, 6-9 heavy, 10-11 cult enforcer, 12 serial killer;
7=heavy*

* the Blessed Sodality sent an expendable foot soldier; they probably believe disrupting ritual will prove fatal

Randal's stats (1d12): 1-4 cultist, 5-7 1HD cultist, 8-9 2HD cultist, 10-11 pc class level 1d4, 12 high priest;
4=cultist

Jeanette's stats (from earlier): cultist, 4hp

Q: Do any of the NPCs have spells? 50/50 (4+): O1 C4 - no, but... Jeanette will if she survives

Finally, 1d4 of the 'party' will be armed: 1d4=3; Cat, Praveen, & (1d2=) Randall
only a 1-in-6 chance not to have knives: both have knives]


3 November

Cat waits in Oxford station for Jeanette's train to arrive. She finally catches sight of her as she is queued up at the barriers to exit the platform. She's dressed down considerably, even more so than when Cat led the expedition to the cave. Cat's never seen Jeanette in trousers before. Hell, Cat wasn't sure she owned any.

"Hi, Cat," she says, "I hope you didn't have to wait long."

"No, the bus got in late too. I just got here five minutes ago."

"You took a bus? When you said we should meet at the station, I assumed you had some business here earlier. I'd have gotten you a ticket, you know. At least let me treat you to dinner. I don't suppose you saw a cash point on your way here? We're to all meet at the Lamb and Flag -- the bar is cash only."

The pub is warm and inviting after the chill night air. It's easy to spot Randall, thanks to his hat. At least the rest of his attire is in neutral tones. The representative of the Blessed Sodality is at the table too, whom Randall introduces as Praveen. She's a very short, very surly girl in a black bomber jacket, whose mumbled 'hi' comes off almost as a threat.

Dinner is short and conversation is kept necessarily vague. Randall won't even say exactly where it is they're going afterwards, just repeating that it's in a wooded area. After dinner they catch a bus from the city centre out to one on the neighbouring villages. Randall reluctantly stashes his green hat in his backpack, quickly replacing it with a knit cap -- but not quickly enough to keep the others from noticing he sports a skullet.

Cat's completely lost by the time the get off the bus. She didn't get the village name, and looks round in an attempt to get some sort of bearings. They're on a one lane road, the houses are all semi-detached, and the air smells strongly of wood-burning fireplaces. Randall leads them down a gravelly dirt path between two fences and past a sprawling village pub.

"Mobiles off, everyone," says Randall. "We don't want anyone's ringtone giving us away."

"Fuck, mate, we're not amateurs," opines Praveen. "You don't gotta tell us."

Randall leads them down some winding country roads, then onto a wide dirt track through grassy fields. When they reach a dilapidated set of stone outbuildings with sagging roofs and rotting wooden window frames, he turns off the track to find a narrow dirt track leading into the forest.

"This is it," he says. "There should be a trail behind."

They spread out and scan the treeline, which appears little better than a black blob on this cold, moonless night.

"It's here," says Randall, "They should all be at the clearing by now to set up, but just in case, be ready to get off the path and hide."

"How close do we need to get?" asks Jeanette. "For the artefact to work."

"Close, but not too close."

"You don't know, do ya, mate?" says Praveen. "Bloody typical."

"Follow me. I got pretty decent night vision," says Cat.

She creeps forward along the path, feeling the way with arms outstretched and placing each step carefully in front of the last. She feels a tug on her backpack; Jeanette is holding onto her.

[6+ Wis/Perception to follow trail: 2d6+2=10, ok
8+ Wis/Perception to hear congregants: 2d6+2=8, success]


After a good quarter of an hour (which seems much, much longer) Cat hears voices ahead. She stops and whispers to Jeanette, "I hear them ahead. I think we should leave the trail. OK?" She passes the message back in similar fashion, and the affirmations come swiftly back. Cat shuffles them up into the trees and through some weeds or bushes. Fortunately, the woods are kept well enough that leaving the path presents hardly more challenging terrain than following it. Come to think of it, Cat can't say for certain that she's been following the path at all.

She sees dim firelight in the distance, and wends her way slowly in its direction. Soon it is bright enough that she can make out the silhouettes individual trees between her and it. Her companions become aware of it too, and she feels Jeanette's hand tentatively let go. She looks back over her shoulder, and can just make out Jeanette standing behind her, and maybe Praveen too. "I can almost see you," she whispers. "We should get closer, but keep the trees between us and them."

[To see if they are detected, I rolled the party's weakest Dex/Stealth (+0) vs. the cultist's best Wis/Perception (+2): 2d6+0=12 vs. cultists 2d6+2=5]

They creep up to the mossy trunk of a fallen tree which provides ample concealment.

Peering through the gloom, Cat sees a steaming pool about 20' in diameter. Braziers burn in a semi-circle round it, and the cultists are busily setting up and lighting the rest to complete the circuit. Cat counts [1d20=]13 cultists in all.

Cat takes the artefact from her bag. "There's four of us," she says. "how're we doing this."

"It just needs three to operate," says Randall.

"I'm standing guard," says Praveen, drawing an oversized survival knife from beneath her coat.

"Take this, then, just in case," says Cat, handing her the antique revolver.

"Sick," she says admiringly.

When all 11 braziers are burning, the cultists don robes and take up position between them. The leader begins a shrill, atonal chant, which the other ten in the circle begin to echo. The two remaining cultists drag a bound [d6=]woman to her feet, who struggles vainly against her bonds. The leader speaks some words over her, and makes complex gestures, then she is thrown into the pool. Noxious fumes well up and her screams ring out as the bubbling, acidic pond burns away her skin. The screaming abruptly ends. The chanting rises in pitch.

Meanwhile, Cat, Jeanette, and Randall each take hold of a point of the artefact and begin to concentrate on it. The artefact draws their intention into itself, making their awareness one with the magic.

[Magic save: 1d20=2, Randall is not worthy; his maximum hit points are temporarily reduced by 1.

Cat suffers 1d6 Madness for witnessing the ritual: 1d6=1 (to 37 total).

Q: What happens next? Cruelty / Pain : something bad (but not earth-shattering) comes through

weak outer entity
AC 3, HD 4, Move 40', Madness 1d10, 2x tentacles +4, 1d6 damage, SA: immaterial


Q: Any other effects? 50/50 (4+): O6 C7 - yes : rolling a random Dark Sorcery effect (SL p.44ff): It introduces an alien environment

This last roll set the whole scene. For the alien environment, I decided that all time and space would warp in the local area (picture the graveyard scene from Easy rider). Every round the PCs and cultists would need to make a Physical save in order to act (the entity is unaffected).

There were 18 'combatants' in total, so I decided a map might help run things, but since spacetime was distorted it could be a bit abstract. So I took a cue from classic Traveller and used range bands, which I hastily sketched on an old, coffee-stained piece of scratch paper. Each of the normal cultists was represented by a white d6, the high priest was a d8, the PCs were each assigned a transparent d6, and the monster was a red d10. The cultists were all showing a 6 initially; they all have 1d4hp, so any that took damage without dying had their die rotated to show current hp.

This was fun to play out, but a full round-to-round account would read like a wargame after action report, so I'm going to truncate it to narrate from Cat's perspective instead.]


The artefact becomes Cat's whole world; there is nothing but the metal soft beneath her fingertips, the drone in her ears, the ripples of sensation washing over her. Then there is an abrupt return to consciousness, and the screams start. She looks over to see something emerge from the steaming pool. Then reality lurches sideways.

[surprise round]
The thing from the pond defies attempts to look at it. A mass of colours and fleshy, disconnected substance pulsing and twitching. Fat, loathsome appendages reach out at the high priest, knocking him back into the brush. The thing howls, a sub-sonic ululation more felt than heard. The cultists try to run for the path but the ground, the trees, the air are all warped and stretched, spacetime is contracting and twisting, confusing directions and distance.

[Round 1 - Initiative: it 6, party 5, cultists 1]
The thing smashes the priest to a pulp. Cat feels the artefact snatched from her grasp, and is vaguely aware that Jeanette and Randall are no longer beside her. She wants to run too, but can't find her way past the wall of striated lines or the nexus of terrible screams blocking her path.

[Round 2-3]
Cat is moving now. Forward? She hopes. Follow Jeanette. Is that her coat? It smells like it. Randall lurches ahead of her, carrying something metallic, so bright it glows.

[Round 4-6]
Cat is still dodging past the screams. Some of them snap back behind her as the thing pulps their source. Cat presses on ahead instinctively, even though her feet are so heavy.

[Round 7-9]
A new sound thunders in the cacophony; the revolver sounds once, twice, then is silenced forever. A jittering stain of striated lines appears ahead of Cat, and in the depths of her brain she remembers the stone outbuildings. She lurches towards them, finds a doorway. Inside is darkness and the damp smell of spiders and old life. Cat hides herself behind bales of sour hay. She hears wittering voices nearby, and the smell of pissed-in denim.

Then a shining, three-pointed star floats in through the heaving dark, with Randall attached.

[Round 10-12]
The noise sloshing in the door gets louder as the thing moves through the throng, and the screamers are extinguished.

[Round 13]
The howling is omnipresent, rattling Cat's fillings and the object implanted in her chest. The thing is slurping into the barn.

[its Perception vs. everyone's Stealth:
it 2d6+4=8!
cultist-a 2d6+1=7
cultist-b 2d6+1=4
Randall 2d6+1=7
Cat 2d6+0=9]


There's a wet crunch, and the wittering ceases. Seconds later the air wavers with the impact of a second body against the stone wall [2 cultists slain].

[Round 14]
The shining star wavers in the quivering murk, then abruptly sets beyond the horizon. More wet sounds precede its fall.

[Round 15]
The vibrating howls make Cat want to throw up, but after a brief and painful crescendo drain away into the distance. [Cat gets a Luck save for this to be over: 1d20=14, ok]

Cat stays crouched in the heavy darkness until time and space are righted. She listens intently for sounds of the monster, or movement, or other voices. Hearing none, she creeps out of hiding. She turns on her mobile, using the feeble light of the screen to light her way towards the door. She doesn't dare turn on the torch; she'd rather not get a good look at the vaguely body-shaped lumps on the floor.

But a faint metallic glimmer catches her eye [Wis/Perception 9+: 2d6+1=10]. She stoops down to pick up the artefact. It feels different now. The metal is solid now and brittle, and rubs off on her fingers like old leather. Several of the teeth have fallen out. Once outside she wraps it in a cloth and stows it in her bag.

Cat brushes the hay from her clothes, then hikes swiftly down the dirt road, getting as much distance between her and the woods as she can. She follows the road signs and walks all the way back into Oxford. Once her phone has signal, she rings Jeanette's number, and leaves a message saying to please please please call as soon as she can.

Cat gets on a late bus back to London, and promptly passes out in her seat. She sleeps all the way back to Victoria.

*~*~* finis *~*~*



Post mortem

The Experiment sort of faded into the background as the adventure ramped up, but this whole thing was essentially playing out the world set-up. And even then, there are still huge gaps, e.g. I haven't yet selected 9 Locations for my Region (SL p.89 ff), and even the ones I have defined don't have all their Location Tags rolled up. I've rolled up 4 Cults, though one of them has suddenly lost a goodly chunk of its membership. There's one known Kelipah (the machine realm) and no aliens. But that's plenty to work with, and it's honestly nice to have lost of mysteries remaining.


Quick notes from the last scene

Cat accrued +1d10=2 Madness for encountering the monster (up to 39 total). I probably should have given her 1d6 more for the alien environment, but forgot.

I'm surprised she made it out in one piece. I was really expecting to have to use her Ravenous for Life class ability to survive a mortal wound.

I'd also asked the Oracle--
Q: Is the Artefact still in one piece? 50/50 (4+): O4 C3 - yes, but... damaged in some way
Abnormally / Delicate: completely ruined in 1d100=19 days


XP

That was an awful lot of adventure. The rulebook XP guidelines are not totally applicable, since if I go for XP per session it's way too much, and per adventure somewhat too little.

I thought about using my scene-based XP table from Lalie & Éliane's 1st adventure, but I didn't structure the scenes in a way that would make that work properly. I don't want to alter the scene breaks with each exit/exeunt as I already plotted them on paper to keep track of the adventure. Plus I never varied the Chaos level.

Soooo.... lesson learnt for next time. I will arbitrarily award Cat 3000xp (possibly too stingy) and the other three each 2000xp (maybe too much); but it means they all get to be 2nd level for the next adventure.

For going up a level, everyone gets to remove 10 Madness from their total. They get an additional hit die and re-roll hit points (keeping the old score if they roll lower) and get 4 skill points to spend. (Also better saving throws, +1 Expertise point, and possibly a better attack roll.)

In brief--

Madness: M 0, A 16, E 13, C29

HP: M 9, A 9, E 7, C 13

Skills:
A Leadership 0, Perception 1, 1 unspent skill point
E History 0, research 1, medicine 0
C Athletics 1, Stealth 1
M Perception 1, Stealth 1 (I almost had Mary take Language-0, then decided the 2 increases were more important. But I did decide that she is taking conversational French classes at the Institut Français, so if I ever do spend the skill point for Language I know how she got it.)

I'll put up their complete new stats (with their portraits) when they show up in the next adventure.


Some final notes

The interim between adventures will be: 1d4+2= 3 weeks

Q: Is there fallout with any cult? Likely (3+): O1 C5 - no.

The Circle and Star are both pleased with the results, despite their losses; Jeanette, Praveen, and Randall are all dead. The cults are all licking their wounds and plotting. Gerrit tells the PCs that the Star will be in touch.

Somehow the mutilated bodies in the woods outside Oxford never make the news.

Elgin moves back to his own flat in Greenwich. He's technically 'friends' with Gerrit and the Star: one or both will force him to choose sides if things kick off again. The Circle is neutral, but may attempt a rapprochement if they need his skills.

Cat has been booted out of the halfway house for good, and is couch surfing with Amit.

Amit needs to roll 8+ Cha/Culture-criminal: 2d6+2=9, success; so he doesn't need to pay back his associates for the gun quite yet. He could probably trade the automatic for it if he were desperate.

Cat needs to roll a straight 10+ to find a job in the interim: 2d6=6, no.

Mary occasionally rings Cat to talk, and treats her to the pub. They still meet strange places and in secret. Amit gives Cat shit about it, but neither of them are convinced that it's a good idea for Mary to meet him or Elgin yet.


Next post: new adventure, new experiment

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