13 December 2:12pm
Unlike their trip to Epping Forest, the woods through which Cat and her companions are now walking have long been without the ministrations of a warden. Progress is slow and involves rather more climbing over fallen trees than they'd hoped, but they eventually crash through to an old footpath. It's a bit muddy from the recent rain, but seems to be headed the right direction.
[Wis/Navigation 6+ not to get lost: No one has the skill (-1 penalty), but Mary has the best Wisdom: 2d6+1-1=6, ok
Q: What do they see outside? (via Big Book: Haunts)
sense table - Roll three times
Creepy Copses: path - hearing - squelch
Abandoned places: statue - hearing - mutter
Abandoned places: garden - taste - bland]
The path twists and winds through the cold winter wood until the treeline abruptly stops. Cat creeps to the forest edge, concealing herself behind a rotten log. Her companions spread out, finding their own concealment.
Beyond is an overgrown garden behind the sprawling hotel, which is still, in places, boarded-up. The flowerbeds are completely taken over by weeds, and the sole remaining wooden bench is mouldering with damp. A mossy stone statue of Venus stands atop a pedestal by a dead, once-ornamental hedge. From behind it they hear an excited voice [Delightfully / Festive], but cannot make out the words.[Very / Beautiful]. The simple dress of thin black cotton she wears seems out of place for a walk in the woods, and her long, straight, brown-black hair has remained somehow untouched by the all the brambles and branches. She's both physically smaller and possessed of a larger presence than Angharad, and her sweet smile carries a hint of awful malice.
[Q: What does she have up her sleeve? 1d6: 1 recently cast spell, 2 summoned beastie, 3 cultists within screaming distance, 4 evil artefact, 5 gun, 6 unearthly power; 1d6=6, noted.][mysterious - conundrum - knowledge]
"We're looking for Angharad," says Amit. "She's not been answering her mobile for days. We're here to make sure she's alright."
"Are you, now indeed?"
"Yeah, so if you know anything you'd best--"
"Be silent. You came uninvited, and presume to tell me what to do. Come with me now to the house so I can decide how to deal with you." [hostile - submission - current story]
"You threatening us, mate? You're outnumbered four to one."
"You do want to see Angharad, don't you?"
"Let's hear her out," says Elgin.
The woman walks with sinuous grace, heading directly for the hedge. Behind it are a man and woman in tailored winter coats are having an animated, if one-sided discussion. They stop short just before they see the woman, as if her very presence was felt. They look confused as the strangers come into view behind her, but wait patiently for her to speak.
"Eleanor, take our guests inside and offer them some refreshments in the Red Room. I'll be along presently."
"You'll do as you're told."
"Yes. Yes, of course. Forgive my speaking out of turn. You lot, please follow me."
They do, exchanging quizzical looks with one another. She leads them in a back door, through the kitchen which shows signs of recent use, and through the dining room, which, save for two long tables in the centre, is full of dusty and dilapidated furniture. From the dining room they proceed down a long hotel corridor with damp, mildewy carpeting. She stops finally at the door to one of the suites, which bears a brass plaque engraved with 'The Red Room' in overly flowery letters.
The Red Room is so named from its crimson carpeting which matches the peeling Edwardian wallpaper and heavy velvet curtains. Shelves are built into one wall, holding leather-bound books and a few porcelain figurines. Four mismatched, overstuffed armchairs and a green velvet fainting couch are placed round a low mahogany table before the fireplace which sports corroded, and exceedingly dusty, faux logs. A modern space heater hums in the corner.
"Where's Angharad?" asks Amit.
"We should wait for Xanthippe."
Amit turns on the charm but she's having none of it.
[He attempts to use Folie à deux, but Eleanor gets a Mental Effect save as she is most assuredly tainted by the supernatural: natural 20]
"Please," he says again, with those big brown pleading eyes, "I jus--"
"You'll wait to speak to Xanthippe or she'll have your tongues torn out for your insolence. Now, the scotch is not quite top shelf but it's eminently drinkable. Who's joining me? No one? No takers at all? Really, you think we'd stoop to poisoning your drinks, when we could do so very, very much more... Still no? More for me then. Chin chin!"
Xanthippe reappears, having traded her wellies for velveteen slippers. Eleanor's demeanour changes ever so slightly. Her broad smile is the same, but the corners of her eyes narrow almost imperceptibly.
"I'll be leaving you to it, then?" she says, handing the second drink she'd prepared to Xanthippe. She strides out with her own glass, closing the door firmly behind her.
Xanthippe kicks off her slippers and sits cross-legged in one of the armchairs, childlike and terrible.
[10+ Wis/Perception to notice anything about Xanthippe: only Amit makes roll]
She looks over her guests for a good while before deigning to speak. Amit alone notices the peculiarity in her manner, for she never quite seems to make eye contact with anyone she addresses, nor even look in their actual direction when speaking.
[Q: Given that I know where it necessarily ends, how is this going to go down until that point? Dangerously / Flawless]
"I see you've refused our hospitality. I hope Eleanor hasn't put you off with her slanders against our liquor cabinet. She can be so middle class. Sure you won't reconsider...? Right: mox nox, ad rem. It's time you told me who you are, why you've come, and what you want with one of my votaries." [UNE: inquisitive - command - campaign]
"It's like we told you," says Cat, "we're Angharad's friends and we were worried when we couldn't get ahold of her. She was nervous about coming here, but I couldn't talk her out of it, and I didn't really want to go with her."
"I see. And how did you know where to find us?"
"We knew a guy to ask. Angharad wouldn't say."
"Interesting. And who might that have been?"
"An ex-copper called Frost," says Mary. "He also said you lot were bad news, and that we should forget all about you. And her."
"Did he really? How disappointing of him. But you haven't yet touched upon my first question: who are you four?"
"I'm Cat. That's Mary, Amit, and Elgin."
"Yes, her descriptions of three of you were spot on. But she never mentioned a Mary, and I'm sure she would have..."
"She's my mate," says Cat quickly. "I told her all about meeting Angharad, so she agreed to help look for her."
"Since you know who we are," interjects Elgin, "you know we got the ritual manuscript for Angharad, and I translated it for her."
"But the manuscript was woefully incomplete. It contained nowt besides the consecration rites and related preparations. What of the Silver House?"
"What of it?"
"What's the connection?"
"That would be telling."
"Where's Angharad?" says Amit. "Are you going to let us see her or not?"
"I've not decided what to do with you yet, let alone whom I'll allow you to see. But another outburst like that will not be tolerated."
"I've had enough of this shit," says Amit, pulling the automatic from his rucksack. "Now, how about some answers."
"So it's to be this way is it. Pity. I'd hoped to talk more."
"It's too late for that, now," says Xanthippe, putting her hands up to her face. She digs her nails in and pops out her eyes, then places them before her on the table with an audible click -- they're made of glass. The onlookers' initial shock subsides for an instant into realisation, to be immediately replaced by the uncanny feeling of her empty black orbits staring out at them. Then wisps of a dense green vapour issue forth from the empty holes, filling the room with a subtle but sour perfume.
The vapour swirls round Amit's head and he is overcome. The gun drops from his fingers, and he slides down in his chair. Mary is struck blind. She tries to flee but succumbs to the fumes after three steps. Elgin runs straight into the bookcase before collapsing in a heap. Only Cat makes it out the door, but there are two or three cultists waiting in the hall -- her vision is too blurred to tell. They threaten her with knives but she runs at them headlong. They catch her and hold her fast, but she doesn't stop biting and kicking and punching. She feels a sharp pain in her arm, then a cold steely puncture in her gut, but she doesn't falter. It's the vapour that gets her in the end...[Too many die rolls & game notes make things unreadable, so I've collected them here.
For the sight of Xanthippe removing her eyes, 1d8 Madness all round:
A+7 to 28
c+3 to 41
E+1 to 38
M+6 to 21
This bumped both Mary and Cat over Dark Vision thresholds, and they both failed their saving throw to avoid. They'll remember these later, so I didn't have to figure everything out yet, but it seems that Xanthippe can only be defeated in a certain place with a certain item/substance.
Mary: Smell - The place the PC needs to be for their purposes. - blinded 4 rounds
Cat: Taste - The way to harm or foil a supernatural entity or its plans. - Compelled to flee at least 10 meters away from people. - struck mute for 1 minute
Everyone got Physical saves to resist the vapour (it lasts 3 rounds, so one roll per round). They all failed them pretty fast.
Elgin took 1 damage from smacking into the bookcase, and Cat 6 damage from being stabbed, neither of which I rolled, as it brings them to the state they were in at the very start.
The 1d6 roll from earlier in the scene revealed that Xanthippe had an 'unearthly power' to fall back on in an emergency. I just made up something suitably horrible rather than rolling for it.
At this point, my adventure has almost caught up to the start. The end of this scene marks a major GM decision point--
Q: Why/how does the party get separated? seize / heart... a bit on the nose, that one.
Q: Just one of the two? 50/50 (4+): O6 C7 - Yes.
Q: So what about Mary? draw / secret - she accidentally says something that piques the cult's interest]
[Scene 24 : Mary]14 December 12:40am
Mary comes to in darkness on a cold concrete floor. Confused and dizzy, she can't remember how she got here. She drifts back towards sleep.
A door screeches open. A torch shines on her face. Footsteps approach. She holds out a hand against the light, but can't form words to ask a question. Someone seizes her uplifted hand. She is pulled to her feet, reeling, and blacks out again.
When Mary awakens things are [Quietly / Graceful] less unpleasant. She's mostly upright, sat in a sizeably cosy armchair. Someone is snapping their fingers in he face, and she is trying to twist away from it.
"I think she's actually coming round this time," says a voice.
"I'll go get [1d8: 1-4 Xanthippe, 5-6 Eleanor, 7-8 both; 2] the High Priestess."
Mary feels her head clear a little [drugged penalties -4/-2] and tries to take in her surroundings. She's in a candlelit bedroom, full of antique furnishings. The curtains are drawn, and there's a smell of sandalwood incense that almost covers a deep musty odour.
Someone is looming over her, a fuzzy-edged silhouette, breathing heavily, unmoving.
"Here, drink this, it'll help," says Xanthippe, proffering a cup.
Her head is still reeling, and she doesn't have the strength to refuse. The brandy burns on the way down but is fortifying as promised [allows free Phys saving throw: success. Penalties now -2/-1].
"Do you have a habit of talking in your sleep? You said some quite interesting things in your fits of delirium."
"You seem preoccupied with the 'First Knower of Scorn'."
"Before you try to dissemble, let me be very plain about one thing: you're only alive at present because your words interest me."
"What did I say?"
"Besides the name, little that made sense. But what might you've said?"
"I... I don't know. I had, um, dreams that it was trying to eat me. I guess. And then a ghostly woman said she wouldn't let it... That's kind of it."
"Is that all? How disappointing."
"It's the reason for the kitchens, isn't it?"
"The kitchens? I don't follow."
"The ones that Frost runs. The kitchens for people..."
"I think it's how he covers his tracks after murders."
"And he's kept me in the dark this whole time. You, my dear, may just prove useful to me. Perhaps you'd like to join my petite cabale..." [friendly - comfort - current story]
"What about my friends?"
[Q: Is it too late to save Amit? Unlikely (5+): O2 C3 - no, but...]
"Oh, you're going to be tedious about this, aren't you? 'Spare my friends and I'll join you', is that it?"
[Q: How amenable is she to the proposition? Requires Cha/Persuade check of 1d8+4=7
Xanthippe sighs, then snaps her fingers. "To the chamber, quickly. Bring her friend out at once."
The hulk moves off without a word.
[Scene 25: All caught up]14 December : 1:29am
Elgin and Cat are throwing the bolt on the hotel's front door when someone behind them screams 'stop!'
They glance back over their shoulders, and see a hazy group of human figures at the other end of the hallway. One of them is rushing towards them, hands outstretched, begging them not to leave. Cat's about to meet their onrush with a solid punch when she realises it's Mary. Memory floods back as they take in the scene.
"Cat! Elgin! You can't leave yet! Amit's hurt."
"What? Mary, how-- what are you doing with them?"
"Cat, I can explain. Xan--"
"She's gotten to you, hasn't she? Get back, or--"
"No, Cat, listen! She's agreed to let you leave. But you have to take Amit with you. He needs to go to hospital."
"You're... you're staying?"
"Yes. I have to. It's the only way she'll let the rest of you go free. I'll ring you tomorrow and explain everything. Trust me, Cat, I'll be ok here. Xanthippe is going to help me fight the dreams."
"This is a bad idea."
"I don't think it is. Besides, we've no choice in the matter. Here, gimme a hug goodbye at least. We'll speak soon."
"Eleanor walks down the corridor towards them. Behind her, a pair of enormous brutes are carrying a bloodied Amit on a makeshift stretcher."
"We're taking my car," says Eleanor, jangling her keys. "I'll explain on the road."
* * *
"Yeah, he'd prefer not to have to deal with any cops," says Cat.
"Good. We understand one another, then. If you don't mind me saying, you're all taking this quite in stride, so I gather you're not unused to, shall we say, proceedings of this nature. What, I wonder, is your interest in all this?" [inquisitive - interest - the character]
"As I keep saying, we were worried about a friend of ours. It's not going to get any less true no matter how many times you ask."
"A friend? Oh, of course! That Angharad person, correct? I'm being silly, of course it's her. I mean, who else would it be?"
"What did you do to her?"
"Do? We didn't do anything. She did it to herself. Or rather, the Chamber did it. Nasty business, that. But she was foolish. A foolish, foolish girl with rapacious appetites, and it doesn't do to ask too much from the Vhrhaiff-- ... the Vrhhch-- ... Vhrhaithphth-- sod it, why can't these things ever have nice, pronounceable English names? Xanthippe wouldn't let me anywhere near it; she said I'd probably go and ask for even more than that leather-clad hussy. As if! I like to think I have a bit more sense than that."
"Who is this Xanthippe anyways? What's her deal?"
"I believe I'd asked the same about you."
"I see. Do go on."
"That's kinda it. We got messed up in some stuff with evil artefacts and secret societies, and we came out of it all alive. But damned if we didn't just jump back into the fucking middle of it all."
"So you're not beholden to anyone?"
"Just each other."
"Well, I'm afraid you're going to have to write off Angharad -- bad luck, can't be helped -- but there's still time to save your other little friend."
"What the hell is she?"
"The High Priestess? Oh, just your average member of the aristocracy. Has her history degree from Magdalen College, her father was a baronet or something, the family home is heavily mortgaged and in dire need of a new roof, and--"
"That's not what I meant."
"Of course you didn't. The truth is I've no idea. I'd thought she was as human as you and I. The eye thing is new. She doesn't see fit to tell me everything, and I've learnt not to ask."
"So how did you...?"
"Become her girl Friday? I ruined one of her schemes. She was so impressed she offered me a place. So I accepted -- rather than facing a horrific death, naturally. That's the abridged version, but all the salient facts are there, save one."
"I aim to destroy her, of course, and take her place as High Priestess. Why else would I be telling you all this?"
* * *
It's barely an hour and a quarter taking the M25. Eleanor drops them off at Elgin's. She takes Cat's mobile number before driving off, saying she'll be in touch.
They install Amit in Elgin's bed, doing their best to keep him comfortable. He's barely conscious, and they soon drop from exhaustion themselves.
* * *
It was dark when the fell asleep, and as they slept through the next day, it's dark again when they awaken. Elgin runs out to buy bandages and antiseptic before the chemist closes. Cat sits staring at her phone until it finally rings.
"Mary! Are you...?"
"I'm fine, Cat. Really I am. How... how's Amit."
"I dunno. It's early days."
"Look, Cat, I know what you're thinking, but you have to trust me. It was necessary for me to stay. And I don't think it's such a bad idea. Xanthippe is going to help me. She's been very kind, now that things have settled."
"You trust that--?"
"No, of course not. Not yet. And she doesn't trust me either. But we can help one another. It would be stupid to let our suspicions get in the way."
"Cat, I have to go now. There's a lot to do here. I just wanted to let you know I'm OK, and not to worry. There's a few things to attend to before we can leave the hotel, but then we'll be coming down to London to deal with Frost, and whoever is protecting him inside the Met. If the police won't do anything, I will."
This was my first attempt at a non-linear adventure. It was actually a lot easier to run than I'd expected, though I don't think it's going to be a regular occurrence. I think what made it easiest was the completely unknown date of the opening scene. I didn't have to worry about pushing things along to end at a particular point, and could just let it develop on its own. Knowing the point it had to reach did help inform the Oracle questions, but the vague start also meant I didn't have to force anything to fit. For instance, I started out with the assumption that one of the cults from the first adventure had captured Cat and Elgin.
Long-time readers will recognise Eleanor and Xanthippe from my very first Silent Legions one-shot. I'd always thought Eleanor would make a good villain, though for a long time I wasn't sure it would necessarily be in this campaign. But then I needed yet another cult, and Xanthippe's petite cabale was right there in my old notes... I will assume that the events of Eleanor's adventure occurred essentially as stated (minus a bit of the silliness), and that it took place in Oxfordshire rather than the fictional Midsomer. I haven't decided what to do about Eleanor's stats yet (or Xanthippe's, for that matter), but she's certainly not still first level.
And speaking of levels, I am awarding a flat 2000xp to all my PCs for the adventure, so they'll all be 3rd level when the campaign continues. They all need a little downtime to improve skills and Amit needs to heal.
For witnessing a ritual, Amit suffers +1d6=4 madness. For nearly getting his heart torn out +1d8=3, to a total of 35 (before the reduction for gaining a level).
Mary's time will be more complicated. She still gets to reduce her Madness by 10 for gaining a level, but she'll most certainly gain more from being Xanthippe's newest votary. She'll probably get a few spells in return.
I haven't started the next adventure yet, but I've got an entire handwritten page of loose ends, so this campaign is far from over.