All posts by JT

Ike’s On The Job

SESSION 3, part 1

(I thought another GM was taking over with his game this week but plans changed at the last minute and I ran RoC.  I hadn’t prepped for the session and two unexpected new players showed up.  It got a bit chaotic at times and I had to take a Mulligan on one bit of evidence I relayed to the group but everyone had a great time nonetheless)

New Characters:

Detective Ike McManor.  A veteran of the Arkham P.D., Ike has encountered bizarre occurrences while investigating a group believed to be responsible for pet mutilations around the town.

Peter Malone.  A wounded veteran of the Great War, the last thing he remembers was fighting in the Argonne Forest before suddenly losing consciousness and waking up–minus one eye but with a pocket full of cash–in his hometown, Arkham.  Peter believes that the US Army is after him and will try him for desertion.

The Story Continues

(commence very bad Mickey Spillane impersonation)

Detective Ike McManor chomped the soggy end of an old stogie as he pulled up in the squad car.  McManor was a good cop, an honest cop, and he had been with the Arkham P.D. a long time.  He had sure seen some weird stuff in his day, stuff that would make your gut churn and your head spin, and had been investigating the members of some group calling themselves the Cult of Mu.  Pets had been showing up dead all over Arkham with the Greek letter μ (mu) carved into them and he needed a lead.  Freaks, creeps, bohemians, Europeans–why don’t they stay in Boston where they belong?  Ike was in a bad mood and somebody was gonna pay.  Besides, the Bosox were so far out of first place they might have to start playing local little league teams to get a win.  He wanted to blast a monster, alright–a big, green one.

Riding shotgun was a strange, troubled man named Peter Malone, if that was really his name.  He showed up one day out of nowhere when McManor was trying to collar a local hood.  The hood got the drop on McManor and was going to blast him with his heater–at least, that’s what the hood thought.  Malone was walking along minding his own business but he had an uncanny knack for sensing when something heavy was going down.  Maybe that’s what saved him in the Argonne, why he was still walking the earth and not pushing up the daisies on the end of some Hun bayonet.  He called out to McManor just in the nick of time and Ike drew his service .38 first and filled the hood full of lead.  One more stiff for the meat wagon, one less threat to honest, God-fearing folk.  McManor took a liking to the one-eyed war vet, who also believed that there was something more out there that humans couldn’t explain.  Such as why he had been in a trench moment and wandering the streets of the old USofA the next, short an eye but carrying a wad of green in his pocket.  What the hell had happened to him?   Malone was put to work digging for dirt on the Cult of Mu and McManor fronted him a few bucks and put him up at a boarding house in Arkham.  It wasn’t the Ritz, but maybe that was for the best, because the Ritz sounded way too German for Malone.

McManor heard that Strawbridge had put some P.I.s on the case and that he had been in old man Drake’s pocket for years.  “Straw” wasn’t going about it the right way, by the book, so Ike decided to check things out for himself.  He called on his new friend, one-eyed Pete Malone, and they headed for the outskirts of Arkham.  The two people sitting in the coupe at the turnoff fit the description of a couple of the P.I.s–an old codger in a tweed suit and a young, stylish dame.  Ike pulled up next to the other vehicle and got the low-down from Dr. Kenneth Lokar, some bigshot visiting professor from Hahvahd.  Lokar talked in big words and liked to show off his fancy book-learning.  Ike couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  He knew there had to be a collar in it for him, so he got the other coupe turned around and they headed back toward the manor for some real questioning.   The detective would teach these rookies how it’s done.

Next:  The Situation Escalates

(I’m stopping here because it gets very hairy and confusing.  The remainder of the session deserves its own post.)

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Welcome

Thanks for stopping by my game blog.  It is primarily dedicated to session logs of our small group of roleplayers in North Jersey.  Feel free to comment; all I ask is that you take a moment to register an account first to keep out the anonymous riff-raff.  I hope you enjoy it and find something worth reading.

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The Old Man & The Trunk

SESSION 2, part 3

Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes were made of stern stuff, having confronted a slavering horror and lived to tell the tale.  Claudette, the maid, brought them linens and hot water and helped them dress their wounds, which were painful but brought no other ill effects that they could see.  Draining a tumbler of illicit brandy he found behind the bar in the foyer, Dr. Lokar bade Jenny to continue their investigation of Drake Manor.

The remainder of the ground floor of the spacious manner was unremarkable, at least in any context that concerned Lokar and Barnes.  Old money was evidenced in the rich European furnishing, the aged portraits of distant Drake ancestors, and the many and varied statuary, pottery and other adornments.  Thieves would become wealthy almost overnight and it was a miracle that the place hadn’t been ransacked, considering the meager staff.  Obviously, Samuel and his pit bull were vigilant and effective guardians.  Or perhaps it was something else entirely that kept people away.

Proceeding upstairs to the second floor, the investigators discovered what had to be the bedroom of Jonny Drake.  Claudette did a remarkable job keeping the interior of Drake Manor clean, swept and freshly appointed.  Not this room, however.  The stale odor of tobacco and neglect filled the air as it became apparent that the room hadn’t been cleaned in ages.  Clothing, along with needles, opium pipes and all manner of illicit paraphernalia, littered the nightstand and the surrounding floor.  Jonny’s writing desk stood against the wall near the foot of the bed, piled with an unruly collection of stationary, pens, inkwells, and bound stacks of letters.  One page stood half-finished in the center of the desk bearing the salutation “Dearest Diamante” followed by pleas of undying love and unfulfilled promises of undying bliss.  Jonny wrote that he would meet this Diamante “at the usual place and time” but the letter was never, and would never be, finished.  A desk calendar stood nearby with the date August 26, 1927 circled in red ink–the date of Jonathan Drake’s murder.  Dr. Barnes took the stack of letters and shoved it into a coat pocket.

The master bedroom, obvious from the double doors bearing the Drake seal, was locked and the investigators chose to leave it undisturbed.

The Old Man

Descending once more to the ground floor, they decided to climb up into the observatory tower and confront the master of the house himself concerning the strange and fatal goings-on.  The door to the tower was unlocked and the well of the spiral stair unlit.  As they ascended, they detected a vague buzzing noise whose intensity and frequency varied chaotically.  Reaching the door at the top of the stair, Dr. Lokar rapped for admittance.  A moment later he noticed that the buzzing had ceased.  The door opened and a frail, elderly man with wispy white hair stood silhouetted in the light of an incandescent bulb–Dr. Emery Wallace Drake, the once-renowned astronomer, awarded a peerage by Queen Victoria herself for his contributions to science.

The story of his rise and subsequent ignominious fall was well-known in academic circles.  Some years earlier he began offering for publication a series of treatises dealing with the existence of life on Mars, which he claimed to have discovered.  His assertions were as extraordinary as his supporting evidence was thin.  At first his reputation suffered no significant harm but his obsession with the topic and the single-minded zeal with which he increasingly bombarded his colleagues with his views led him into severe disrepute.  Frustrated at every turn and unable to find a credible ear for the fruits of his research, he sunk into a severe depression.  He had the presence of mind to seek professional help and check himself into Arkham Sanitarium for a year, an act which stabilized his psyche and simultaneously drove the final nail into his professional reputation.  The sanitarium’s psychiatrists declared him well enough to be released and resume his life but he was never quite the same again.  He became a recluse and was never seen outside manor, rarely even pausing from his studies in the observatory to take his meals or sleep in his own bed.  A new research target was in his sights–the possibility of a hitherto unknown planet at the edge of the known solar system which perturbed the orbits of Neptune and Uranus and whose alignment with Mars was impending–and he pursued it with the old obsession.  But with the passage of years and the frailty of age came a descent into senile dementia, and there was no one left in the whole wide world who took him seriously.

Dr. Drake invited Dr. Lokar and Miss Barnes into his observatory as old friends.  It quickly became apparent how out of touch with reality he had become.  Questions were met with blank stares or jolly nonsequitors.  He was in deep denial over his son’s death, which Claudette attempted to communicate to him after Det. Strawbridge had called the manor late the previous Friday night.  Dr. Lokar even confronted the old man directly about the tragic situation deep in the cellars.  Disturbingly, Dr. Drake went so far as to insist that the two individuals must have been guests, and that the cell was the guest house.  He said he hated for his guests to be lonely, so he had them room together.  Lokar’s and Barnes’ jaws hung open incredulously by the end of the interview and they decided the old man could be of no use to themselves or anyone else in his current state.

The Trunk

Only one area of the manor was left to search, the attic.  The investigators discovered the closet containing the pull-down stairs in the ceiling and cautiously climbed up.  Only a pale, meager light illuminated the vast space despite the many windows, the grime of age having coated them almost completely.  Sheet-covered furnishings and castoff nicknacks from generations of Drakes were pushed against walls and piled on each other.   One ray of bright light, however, shone through a broken pane in the southeast corner of the attic.  Dr. Lokar and Jenny approached and saw a shattered window–shattered from the outside, such that glass shards burst into the attic.  Dr. Lokar peered through the jagged opening at the ground three stories below them.  No ladder or rope was visible, no fire escape, and no ledge upon which a burglar could perch.  Then they saw that other nearby windows, although unbroken, bore scratch marks in their think layers of filth.

A large trunk was the only item near the broken window, and it, too, had been scratched and marred by–something.  The wooden box was reinforced with metal strips onto which had been imprinted a recurring pattern or design of a sort of stylized leaf.  A metal lock secured the latch, and onto this, as well, was a singular leaf of this pattern.  Dr. Lokar searched his memory and suddenly realized that he had seen this symbol before.  In the very last document he had been able to peruse in the University’s Orne Library was superstitious talk of a warding glyph that was proof against various forces of evil.  It was an Elder Sign.  But was something being kept in the trunk, or kept out?  The broken window, the scratching, the obvious attempts to gain access to whatever the trunk contained, all played their part in answering the question.

Lokar and Barnes were able to manhandle the trunk to the first floor and out the front doors.  The contents made a dull, muffled thumping noise as the trunk was turned this way and that.  Neither investigator could articulate why but they felt they simply must spirit the trunk and its cargo far away from Drake Manor.  Lokar put the trunk into the boot of his automobile and slammed the lid.

Sam Again

Jenny swore she could hear multiple voices coming from the groundskeeper’s cottage.  She rapped on the door and called for Sam to come out and answer questions regarding the horrifying discovery in the cellar.  In the long pause before he answered, she heard what sounded like a door closing and considered the situation suspicious.

Sam emerged, shotgun in hand, and closed and locked his door behind him.  He strode to the car to speak with Dr. Lokar.  Jenny, meanwhile, loitered near the cottage attempting to discern the source of the strange voices and noises.  At one point she even grabbed a large screwdriver that was lying on the ground and tried to pry a window open.  Her clumsy, blatant attempt at breaking-and-entering was spotted by Sam, who, angered by the sheer nerve of the two, gruffly ordered them off the property at gunpoint.

Lokar and Jenny got in the car and drove back toward the main road to plan their next moves.

Next:  Ike’s On The Job

 

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The Guests of Drake Manor

SESSION 2, part 2

The maidservant, Claudette, pushed open one of the two large entrance doors of Drake Manor and accompanied Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes into the broad foyer.  Their footsteps echoed on the rich red-brown tiles as they passed mosaics on either side depicting the hillside vineyards of Tuscany.  Claudette, the sole remaining maid of the manor since the disappearance of Marianne Silvers, worked herself to exhaustion keeping the interior clean and liveable.  Age and neglect were evidenced high up the walls beyond her reach and ground too deeply into the recesses of the complex ornamentation to completely render them to their original conditions.  But fresh linens and flower were always available in the many bedrooms, except for Jonathan’s, which remained as he left it on the infrequent occasions he appeared at home to sleep off a night of heavy drinking and smoking.

(no more freshman creative writing, I can’t keep up.  The situation in the second half of session 2, continuing into session 3, becomes very complicated and confusing)

The Study

Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes began their search of the manor in Dr. Drake’s study.  The heavy ebony desk was covered in a clutter of astronomical manuscripts–including Astronomia nova aitiologetos : sev physica coelestis, tradita commentariis de otibvs stellae Martis (On the Motion of the Star, Mars) by Johann Kepler and Tycho Brahe, written in Latin and published in 1609 and Percival Lowell’s 1895 English language release simply entitled Mars–and calculations of the orbits of the known planets.  A stack of texts concerned studies on Mars and speculation on the existence of Martian life.  Bookshelves lined the walls containing copies of most extant books on astronomy and astrology.  Curiously missing from an otherwise complete series were volumes addressing astronomical observations from Italy and the Americas.  Across the study from the desk, a mantle above the fireplace held diplomas, certificates, awards, and framed photographs of notable events in the lives of Dr. Drake, his late son, Jonathan, and previous generations of Drakes.

In the midst of the collected memorabilia stood a small statue composed of an unknown, semi-translucent material.  Jenny reached out a hand to pick up the item and felt intense cold which emanated from it.  Eschewing caution, she grasped the statue and was immediately overcome by an intense and varied buzzing which seemed to come from all around her, and her hand was stung by the coldness of the thing.  She came to her senses quickly and the strange phenomenon passed, but both investigators noticed a low scraping sound from the corner of the study where a length of bookcase appeared to have pivoted out of the wall.  The statue was apparently connected to a mechanism of some sort.  They tugged on the protruding end of the bookcase and pulled it far enough out of the wall to expose a passageway with steps leading down into the darkness.  Dr. Lokar and Jenny grabbed candles from the mantle, lit them and haltingly descended the stairs.

The Cellar

The air became progressively colder as they climbed down into what appeared to be a wine cellar.  Candlelight illuminated a rack covering the wall on their left, every nook filled with wax-sealed bottles of the red wine that Il Dragone–the Drake family winery in Tuscany, whose crest was the dragon clutching the world they had seen before–was known for.  Directly opposite the wine stood a rusted iron door, padlocked, with a small sheet metal box mounted on the wall near the door handle, the lid secured with a simple combination lock.  The stench of mould, decay and filth permeated the cellar.  Jenny drew her small Derringer pistol from her handbag and proceeded to strike the combination look that secured the metal box.  Several blows succeeded in breaking the mechanism and Jenny opened the lid to find a solitary key, the key for the padlock on the iron door.  Lokar and Barnes rapped on the door and were answered by several harsh, muffled gasps that sounded human but were not recognizable speech.  Inserting the key in the hole and turning with a loud click, Jenny removed the padlock and Lokar slowly pulled the heavy door open.

The Guests

Peering inside by the dim candlelight, the scene that met their gazes was at once pitiable and horrifying.  A lone figure lie face-up on the floor, emaciated, caked with layers of dirt, blood and filth and hung with scraps of tattered and rent cloth.  Roaches crawled over the body and spiders nested on walls and ceiling.  But the figure was alive, and it was a human woman.   Two white eyes, unblinking and wide with terror and madness, glared up at them as cracked lips attempted to form words–an effort they knew was futile when they glimpsed the ragged stump of the tongue that had been torn from the mouth, allowing only hoarse mumbles and grunts.

And then it came.

Lokar was standing in the doorway when it lunged at him from a corner of the cell where it had somehow remained cloaked by darkness.  The creature, and only the gods know what it was, snapped at Lokar with canine fangs dripping with saliva, breathing a hot stench into his face, biting through jacket and shirt and into the flesh of the chest.  Lokar staggered backward across the cellar and against the wine rack, crying in pain and terror.  Grabbing a wine bottle, he hurled it at the thing and missed, a shower of wine and glass exploding against the far wall.  Feral, yellow eyes, saucer-like with fear, bulged out of its elongated and misshapen skull as the thing crouched then sprang forward on inhuman hind legs coated with stiff, black fur.  The smell coming from it was nigh unbearable.  Fingers, longer than any human’s, tapered to dagger-sharp claws with which the creature grasped for the edge of the open doorway, pulling itself through.  It emitted an unnatural, growling lisp that Lokar would have sworn said, “No more!  No more!”

Darting past Lokar, it came next upon Jenny Barnes barring its path.  Dagger fingers slashed out across her arm and only a supreme effort of will kept her from the brink of madness.  She fumbled in her bag for the Derringer as the thing shoved her aside and loped toward and then up the stone steps leading out of the cellar–indeed, as they feared, out of the manor, and beyond.  Jenny darted to the bottom of the stairs and leveled the pistol.  A single shot rang out and echoed loudly in the chamber.  Already nearing the top of the steps and freedom, the creature jolted to a halt as flesh and black ichor explode out of the back of its skull.  Emitting a horrible gurgling cry, it slumped in a heap and slid down several stairs as the life–if that is what it possessed–left it.  A pool of black, viscous fluid coated the staircase.

Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes carried a frail and broken woman up into the study of Drake Manor.  Claudette was summoned to care for the woman, who was indeed the maid, Marianne, who had disappeared.   Startled and deeply disturbed by this turn of events, Claudette mustered her wits and carried Marianne back to her old quarters, and then rang up a local doctor.  It was a Sunday and therefore procuring a doctor on such short notice would be problematical.   The two investigators broke open many bottles of the fine wine and used it to clean the filth from the cellar, and especially the stairs.  The cellar was now stained with Il Dragone, but what of it?  A body–no one knows of what–was dragged inside the cell from whence it came.  An iron door slammed shut, its padlock was put back in place to secure it, and its key was slipped into an inside pocket of Dr. Lokar’s bloody tweed jacket.   Kenneth and Jenny vowed never to speak of the thing again.

Next:  The Old Man & The Trunk

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The Mysteries of Drake Manor

SESSION 2, part 1

(Only Dr. Kenneth Lokar and Jenny Barnes were present for this session.  Jack Storn, cub reporter, remained in Arkham to continue his research in the archives of the Advertiser.  Raymond Learson, globe-trotting archeologist, never answered his doorbell that morning.  His whereabouts are currently unknown.  Liquor and/or harlots are believed to be involved.)

The Road to Drake Manor

The turn-off from the Arkham-Bolton Pike towards Innsmouth was like a gnarled, bony finger stabbing into the dark past.   Less than a mile from the junction the road surface degraded into pock-marked and crumbling ruts of gravel and dirt.  Old, rusted signs warning of road construction were still jabbed into the shoulder at several points but there was scant evidence of recent repairs.

Dr. Kenneth Lokar and his passenger, Jenny Barnes, spent the better part of an hour being tossed about the interior of the doctor’s Buick coupe, which was now covered up the windows with dust and dirt and speckled with bare metallic dings and dents from the rocks tossed up by the tires.  They easily spotted the turnoff to the Drake estate–home of the formerly esteemed astronomer Dr. Emery Wallace Drake–the only track remotely in the location given the directions that Det. Strawbridge provided earlier that Sunday morning.   Along that small driveway–for it was no more than that–the two passed the Drake family burial plot, low headstones of various vintage surrounding a tall and impressive central mausoleum, the whole surrounded by an ancient and rusted iron spike fence.  Lokar slowed down for only a moment before continuing on to the house.

This was an impressively constructed two story villa in a Mediterranean style of architecture.  The saffron paint, which at one time must have appeared bright and welcoming, was now peeling in large strips and much faded.  Grime coated the many broad windows and settled into the crevices of every bit of ornamentation and trim.  If they had not known otherwise, Lokar and Barnes would have sworn the place was deserted.  The surrounding grounds were in a markedly better-kept state, the lawns cut and trimmed to the borders of the breezeway, bright clumps of flowers surrounded the base of the flagpole and the hedges up close under the windows neatly manicured.  As they pulled up and exited the vehicle, however, it was apparent that shrubs closest to the manor were sickly and twisted, as if some pestilence had afflicted these plants but not those mere inches further from the walls.

Samson

A tall man, blonde, sunburnt and broad-shouldered, stood at the topmost of three circular stone steps that led to the massive double doors.  His pose was rigid and unwelcoming, and his face impassive and humorless; he wore the coveralls of a working man, faded to a light blue and discolored by dirt, grime and sweat which would never fully wash out, and carried a double-barreled shotgun which he rested nonchalantly on his right shoulder.

“Are you the ones the police sent?”, he asked in a pronounced Scandinavian accent.  “They can’t be bothered to come themselves.  Why do you need to bother an old man whose only son was just murdered?”  There was more sadness than menace in his voice as he slowly shook his head in disbelief at Lokar and Barnes.  Nearby, they heard the barking of a dog.

“Sam, it’s alright.”  One of the great double doors opened and a woman wearing a plain black dress with a white, lace-edged apron ran up to the large man and the newcomers.  “The police rang up that they were coming, there’s no need to be curt with them.”  Saying nothing more, he turned and slowly shuffled off.

Claudette Jourdain

The woman introduced herself to Dr. Lokar and Jenny as Claudette, Dr. Drake’s maid.  She explained how the estate had once employed many servants but she was the last, along with Samuel Olson, the groundskeeper.  Claudette had worked for Dr. Drake for three years.  Before that, she made her living singing at the Commercial House in Arkham on dance nights.  Dr. Lokar recognized her and asked how she had come to be employed as a maid.  The work was steady, she  said–entertaining was hit or miss and at some point she had simply fallen out of love with it.   It was difficult now to keep up with the needs of the estate but at least there were only two Drakes to take care of, the doctor and his son, Jonathan.  Even so, Jonathan was rarely there and only stayed overnight to sleep off one of his frequent drinking binges.  Claudette’s eyes welled up with tears up at the mention of Jonny.  She had rather liked him for being a kind-hearted sort despite the bad crowd and decadent lifestyle he had fallen into. Because of her fondness for the dead son, she offered her full cooperation in attempts to get to the bottom of the matter.  The manor was at the investigators’ disposal, except for the few rooms that they may find locked, which she wished them to leave undisturbed.

Claudette described Sam–whom everyone called Samson as both a concatenation of his name and due to his great size and strength–as trustworthy.  They met close to twenty years earlier in Sam’s native Norway when Dr. Drake was on an expedition to study the northern lights, and they had been together ever since.  Sam had been an outdoorsman, hunter and tourist guide.

The Missing Maidservant

Finally, she mentioned another maid, Marianne Silvers, who had abruptly left Dr. Drake’s service three months earlier.  Marianne was young and annoyingly willful, and her sudden departure did not come as a great surprise.  It was very odd, however, that she had not taken any of her belongings with her.  These Claudette left in Marianne’s quarters on the first floor in the event that she sent for them.

Lokar and Barnes thanked Claudette for the information and her offer of assistance, then walked up the three stone steps to the front door.  Looming above them on the outer wall was the Drake family crest–a dragon grasping the circle of the world with its claws.

next:  The Guests of Drake Manor

(to be continued)

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The Murder of Jonathan Drake

SESSION 1, part 2

(Here’s where the game actually begins.)

Jonny Drake had departed mere minutes before the other patrons of the Desolate Highway Cafe heard a piercing wail of terror from the direction of the alley that separated the cafe from the Boston & Maine Railway terminal.  After a tense moment spent exchanging bewildered glances, they poured into the alley and tried to discern the source of the disturbance.  Jack Storn, ever eager for a story, was the first to see the smashed and blood-soaked figure lying motionless in the side alley that led to West Armitage St.

Jack gazed down silently at the body of Jonathan Drake, face-up, contorted, broken limbs splayed in unnatural positions relative to the torso.  Brain matter, guts and unidentifiable bloody bits of flesh splattered outward like a ghastly starburst, giving every appearance of a body that had fallen to earth from a great height.  Had he been accosted, taken to the top of a nearby building and been thrown off to his death?  That would have taken time and there would be evidence of a struggle.  The worst injury of all was the gaping, bloody void that was Drake’s chest.  His heart was missing, as if it was brutally and crudely ripped from him.  Storn recorded the details in his notebook.  No one else dared approach so closely.  Several people screamed or gasped while others ran back into the Desolate Highway to phone the police.

Dr. Kenneth Lokar, upon seeing the grisly scene, darted back inside the cafe and out the front door onto West Armitage, hoping to spot some assailant.  He briefly thought he spotted a dark figure turn a corner onto Gedney and heard a rhythmic loping and what sounded like the flapping of canvas sails.  A trail of blood led Lokar for a block along West Armitage and then seemed to swerve left around the corner where he spotted the dark figure.  There the trail abruptly ended as Dr. Lokar still heard the sails flapping in the dark, moonless night.  He ran further up Armitage in a futile attempt to spot the figure and finally encountered a patrolman near a police call-box.  The officer had not seen anyone fleeing the area and was only now being apprised of the situation by the duty sergeant.  Frustrated, Lokar returned to the cafe.

The police arrived quickly and began pushing back onlookers while taking statements.  Detective Sergeant Dagwood “Dag” Strawbridge lead the investigation.  He questioned Jack Storn away from the crowd and asked him not to file a report of the incident to his newspaper.  Storn protested but Strawbridge insisted and offered to explain in further detail at the police station first thing Sunday morning.  Storn was aware of other investigations that were accompanied by pleas for secrecy from the authorities and the printed stories never matched the accounts confided to Jack by his fellow journalists.  Strawbridge overcame Jack’s objections by promising a scoop on the details of the investigation and that settled matters for now.

Back inside the Desolate Highway, Storn, Lokar, Learson and Barnes shared the sense that tonight’s brutal crime was in some sense unnatural.  All four were prone throughout their lives to flights of fancy, a shared trait that had brought them together in the first place, and their various individual suspicions reinforced and amplified each other.    It was still 24 hours until Jack was to meet again with Det. Strawbridge.

(engage terse writing style; I’m bored)

Research

Jack Storn went over to the Advertiser, where his editor was burning the midnight oil.  The two men conferred on how to handle the story, the editor suggesting Jack play along with the police for now and hoping that the promise of a scoop came through.  Jack went into the archives to research stories of bizarre cases that might fit the description of Drake’s death.

Lokar, being a close friend and colleague of Dr. Galloway, was allowed into Orne Library to perform his own research.  He faintly recalled reading of medieval European cults whose evil rites included mutilation, cannibalism and human sacrifice.  Lokar doggedly spent the entire night and most of Saturday following ambiguous and tenuous leads.  A series of newspaper articles filed in a Vienna newspaper late last century described murder scenes much like Drake’s.  The last article in the series mentioned insights the reporter gleaned from a German-language volume called “Unknown Cults” but wrote that the tome was henceforth unavailable due to a government ban on subversive and heretical texts.  No subsequent articles filed under that reporter’s name could be found.

Raymond Learson looked into the religious rites of the Mesoamerican empires, known for cutting the hearts from scores of still-living sacrificial victims.  The particulars of the Drake murder did not match the descriptions of the surgical precision of the ancient high priests.  Modern cults known to exist in South America consider it a sign of prestige and standing to be able to cut the heart from a victim while leaving only the smallest hint of an incision.  The killer of Jonathan Drake exercised no such care.

Stewart Portman

The four got back together on Saturday evening and decided to seek information from Stewart Portman, the collector of rare manuscripts.  They met Stewart back at the Desolate Highway and were invited, through the feminine machination of dilettante Jenny Barnes, back to his home to view his collection.  The visit wasn’t immediately fruitful but Dr. Lokar received Portman’s promise to notify him of some promising manuscripts which were on the way from a European contact.  Jenny also received promises from Portman which she could not repeat in polite company.  Somewhat frustrated, and weary from the past day’s events, they each went home to get a good night’s sleep.

The Investigation

Jack Storn arrived at Arkham Police Station at 7am to meet with Det. Strawbridge.  Strawbridge explained that he was indebted to Jonathan Drake’s father, disgraced astronomer Sir Emery Wallace Drake, an old family friend, for putting him through school and setting the youthful but troubled Dag Strawbridge on the right path in life.  The detective had taken on the task of keeping a watchful eye on Jonathan Drake, who looked like he would never achieve much in life aside from degenerate drunkenness.  He hosted Drake on many occasions in the station’s drunk tank and did his best to keep crimes and scandal out of the newspaper.  Drake was involved in illicit behaviors and likely had enemies, and Strawbridge could not honestly claim he was surprised that Drake had met an untimely end.  It was the nature of that end that proved unsettling to the hardened detective.  Further, the murder was both a failure and embarrassment not only to Strawbridge personally but to the Arkham Police Department and unwelcome attention would be focused on both as word of the crime spread.  Arkham was no stranger to grim crime scenes – a fact not widely known – but justice was expected to be swifter and more sure when the victim was a citizen of means.

On Monday morning, in twenty-four hours, Strawbridge would have to give a report to the chief of police.  Strawbridge asked Jack Storn for his help in investigating the crime and gave him the same twenty-four hour deadline.  They needed answers and they needed them quickly.  Jack was advised to enlist the help of discreet and trusted friends to uncover any evidence of someone with the motive and opportunity to kill Jonathan Drake.  Strawbridge would even call ahead to the Drake Manor, twenty miles outside of Arkham on the road to Innsmouth, and tell Dr. Drake and the staff to cooperate with a group of city-appointed private detectives.

Jack Storn related his dealings with Strawbridge to his three companions and they prepared themselves for their first investigation together.

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The Desolate Highway Cafe

SESSION 1, part 1

Arkham, Massachusetts

Friday, August 26, 1927

The Desolate Highway Cafe, with its low ceilings and dark, sticky walls of heavily varnished wood, was filled with the usual Friday night clientele – immigrants, students, scions of the idle rich, poets and poseurs, seekers of the exotic, foreign or unusual.  Rumors abounded of easy access to illicit narcotics and liquor, sexual depravities and the many benefits of friends in low places.  Some came once to escape the dullness of conservative Arkham and, easily sated, never returned; others took up residence as regulars, clustered in high-backed leather chairs around too-small tables, partially obscured by cigarette smoke in the inadequate lighting.

Among the regulars was Stewart Portman, a wealthy bachelor in his early forties and owner of Arkham’s largest collection of rare manuscripts.  He never experienced much difficulty impressing Miskatonic coeds half his age, girls like Connie DeCaprio, a naive freshman student of history from some tiny, blue-collar town in Connecticut, far from the usual demographic of Misktaonic.  The older man was embellishing a tale of travels in foreign lands, of drinking brandy with the upper crusts  of the European intelligentsia and being privy to forbidden works that spoke of matters too esoteric and incomprehensible for the masses.  Gifts of cheap costume jewelry and kitschy African carvings almost always sealed the deal.

Jonathan Drake, a rich lay-about and degenerate, son of a disgraced but once prominent astronomer, sat at his appointed table.  “Jonny” was in the circle of Asenath Waite Derby – small and dark but with the protruding eyes so characteristic of her home town of Innsmouth – a troupe of bohemians apparently attempting to effect the final victory of style over substance.  Dropouts, drug addicts, erstwhile artists and trust fund babies spoke in a pretentious concocted language designed at once to conceal their vapidity and impress those same young coeds whose sole intent was to follow someone or something in their quest for intellectual credibility and worldliness.

The immigrants, primarily European, kept to themselves, monopolizing the cafe’s only chess set and associating only with others from their particular region or city, and the transients appeared for a night or two intent on making a score; of what, nobody asked.

Tonight, however, four of the customers who spoke in low whispers did not fall into any of these categories.

(character names are linked to their .pdf character sheets)

Dr. Kenneth Lokar, Professor of History at Harvard, was in town to attend a presentation chaired by Miskatonic University Egyptologist Dr. Ronald Galloway.  The topic was an expedition planned for 1928 to the deserts west of Cairo in search of the fabled Valley of the Winds, long believed to be the resting place of heretical high priest Nophru-Ka.  The trip would be a welcome respite from the stuffiness of staid Cambridge.

Raymond Learson, archeologist and hunter of antiquities, also attended the presentation.  Noted for his unorthodox methods and lax adherence to academic, scientific and (in more cases than he would readily admit) social norms, Learson heard of the presentation through the archeological fraternity and invited himself to attend.  The infamous German archeologist, Dr. Wilhelm Fuchs, was rumored to be trying to raise funds for a competing expedition to Egypt, and Raymond wanted, in his words, to “hop on the first train out of the station.”

Jack Storn was a reporter on the city beat for the Arkham Advertiser.  The cafe was right next door and Jack was always on the lookout for unusual leads.  Jack had a keen eye for stories where the evidence just didn’t add up and it was all his editor could do to redact the unsourced accusations and bizarre connections with which Jack was inclined to spice up his reports.

Jenny Barnes was a wealthy heiress and unrepentant flapper in a part of the world where the excesses of the Roaring Twenties had never taken firm root.  She frequented the Desolate Highway to sate her appetite for the unusual and dangerous, at least until 9:30 when the cafe closed and she danced away the hours until midnight at the adjacent Commercial House.

The four fellow-travelers shared dubious stories of preternatural, occult or simply bizarre incidents and phenomena until closing time approached.  Individuals and small groups filtered out into the night, including Jonny Drake, who, much to the confusion and chagrin of his fawning companion, loudly boasted of being late for a tryst with his lady love before stumbling out the back door.

It was the last anyone would ever see of Jonathan Drake alive.

 

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Realms of Cthulhu player characters

Here are pre-gen characters stolen from MightyCthulhu at http://home.fuse.net/MightyCthulhu/RocCharacters/ (thanks!)  These pdf sheets were generated by MetaCreator by Alter Ego Software.  Character portraits courtesty of google image search.

Peter Malone

Raymond Learson

Penelope Murphy

Launa Storm

Kenneth Lokar

Jenny Barnes

Jack Storn

Ike McManor

Ian Carter

Danielle Sapsford

The characters chosen for the first session were:  Dr. Kenneth Lokar, PhD (visiting Professor of History at Miskatonic U.), Jack Storn (reporter, Arkham Advertiser), Jenny Barnes (dilettante) and Raymond Learson (globe-trotting archeologist).

Session report to follow…

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Alred, Session 4

Session #4

Characters:
Assfacé
Bouya
Hagop
Sudifi

The party pulls itself back together after the run-in with orcs. The green-grey bodies are scattered around the road and among some of the boulders nearby. When searched, it’s found that each of the younger orcs was carrying a large sack of silver coins, a total of 8 270 sp. The leader of the pack had a vial of some sort of potion hanging around his neck, which Sudifi identifies as a Potion of Shape Change, though he can’t tell what shape the drinker will take. Hagop takes the leader’s scimitar, whose hilt and blade are carved with orcish writing. They consider heading back to get treatment for their hurt allies, but decide it would be better to press on.

The next night, they reach the rock where they are supposed to meet the moss woman. They arrive later than expected, due to the two injured militiamen, not to mention Sudifi always hobbling around with his bum leg. However, their contact is still there waiting and they devise a plan. About two miles from Mayn-am-Leit, they chop down some trees to build a large raft. The mule, the war dog, and the two injured militiamen are to stay put while the rest journey on. The rest of them get on the raft and the moss woman directs them across the Troltliern River, where they can walk less than a mile south to the White River, which she tells them can take them to the heart of the city undetected. Bouya uses a pole to move them through the shallow water, but his inexperience with it causes them to travel further downstream than they had wanted. Luckily, other moss people were keeping the trees occupied, so they didn’t notice when the raft landed across the river from them. They portage the raft south and push themselves into the water. Bouya manages, with much difficulty, to get them to the far southern side of a small island that lies in the intersection of the Troltliern and White Rivers. Out of view of the trees or anyone else in Mayn-am-Leit’s mainland that may be watching them in the middle of the night, they pull the raft ashore to explore the island portion of the city.

The island itself is fairly small, just under a mile long and about half a mile across at its widest. There is a pier on the northern side, where Troltliern spills into the White River, and an old fort at the eastern tip. There are a large number of what appear to have been stone buildings that were destroyed years ago, with rubble everywhere, and a mostly crumbled stone wall around the western, northern, and eastern coasts. Upon closer inspection, they find that much of the damage came from attacks from the north, where the mainland city stands. The other damage they find seems to come from the center of the island itself, as if something exploded there and blew the island’s structures apart – there are still burn marks on a number of stones surrounding the dirt-filled area where the explosion probably originated. They find no life here – vegetable, human, or otherwise. Continuing their exploration, they move to enter the fort, a hulking stone triangle that looks hundreds of years older than anything else on the island.

Assfacé finds an entrance on the northern edge of the western wall and peaks inside. There he sees a large courtyard full of weeds, the first sign of life on this desolate grey land. Seeing nobody inside that would be hostile to them, the party saunters into the fort. That’s when they notice the runes. Along the upper part of the walls inside the courtyard, there are hundreds of runes – each one approximately two feet tall and glowing a faint blue. Sudifi isn’t happy with what he sees. “Runes on the inside instead of the outside? It seems like they’re trying to keep something IN.” Bouya inspects them closer and determines that they are magical runes of protection of some sort, though he can’t tell what or whom they are protecting.

On the opposite side of the courtyard is a building they presume to be the keep. And in the center of the courtyard is a small stone structure, six feet tall and 18 feet on a side. It has runes all around it, also, though slightly smaller than the ones on the courtyard wall and of different designs. Hagop and Assfacé approach it to get a better look and notice that no grass or weeds grow within two feet or so of the smooth stone building. Sudifi is not nearly as curious as the rest of them and leaves the fort – he feels safer waiting outside among the rubble and dirt than in that fort of glowing mystery. Hagop can’t help himself, though, and puts his hand on the stone and finds it to be hot to the touch, though it doesn’t heat up the air around it at all. He knocks on it and finds that it makes virtually no sound, as if it is solid, dense rock. Bouya tries to read the runes, but can only tell that they are another kind of magical protection.

Assfacé is getting bored with the runes and the little building and decides to climb the northern wall and see what’s happening on the mainland now that the sun is starting to come up. He sees the trees around the city, as he expected, but also some activity in the northeastern neighborhood, where the buildings look like they were larger before whatever happened to destroy the landscape. From his new vantage point, he also sees that there is a large design carved into the top of the mysterious stone building down below. A five-pointed star is inscribed within an eight-pointed star, and it is glowing just like the other runes around it. He hops down and tells everyone what he saw and they decide that now is not the time to figure this thing out. They head out to where Sudifi is hiding out and all lay down for a rest before continuing on to the mainland.

After a few hours, they wake up and make their way by raft down the White River to the piers of Mayn-am-Leit, well outside the view of the trees they have been trying so hard to avoid. There they find two trading vessels docked. They are both empty of crew but full of crates. Hagop tries to sneak aboard one of the ships to inspect the crates, but makes a terrible racket doing so. He pries a crate open and finds it full of fine linens, exactly like the ones made in Alred. Assfacé, keeping a watchful eye on the city while his small friend breaks into the ship, hears some scurrying coming from behind a building a few blocks inland. He and Hagop make their way back to the rest of their allies at the foot of the pier and they all decide to investigate the noises.

Assfacé takes charge and leads them down rubble-strewn streets to when he hears movement in a back alley. A block away from the alley they find three ratmen, swords in hand, trying to sneak up on them from a side street. A block back, where the rest of the party is bringing up the rear, two more ratmen appear down another street. Up in front, Assfacé and Bouya try to lay low to see what the ratmen will do, while in the rear Hagop attempted to talk the rats out of their aggression.

Front scene:
A ratman lunges at Bouya, attempting to wrestle him into submission. Bouya is quick, though, and throws a bolt of flame at him before he could get too close. The rat ignites and drops in a pool of blood and singed hair. The other two ratment, seeing their friend murdered in front of them, rush out from the side street and make their way toward Assfacé. The Saurian is quick, though, and grabs one of his attackers, trying to protect himself. The two crossbowmen, standing a good twenty feet behind Bouya, fire at the other assailant while Bouya throws another bolt at the rat in Assfacé’s grasp. Both are killed instantly, without harming Assfacé, thankfully. As luck would have it, this all happened fast enough that the two ratmen down the street didn’t hear any of it and dealt with Hagop and Sudifi in blissful ignorance. Bouya and Assfacé quickly hide the bodies before the others find out.

Rear scene:
Hagop sheaths his sword and raises his hand. He tells the ratmen that he and his allies mean them no harm.
“Pirates?” the ratmen ask, in strange hoarse and hissing voices.
“No. Not…um…not pirates. Friends?” Hagop replies, not sure if they understand him. The ratmen look aggitated but seem to lower their swords slightly.
Sudifi thinks for a brief moment before pulling a potion out and drinking it quickly. He approaches from behind Hagop and engages the ratmen.
“We are not pirates. We are here to gather information about this city,” he says in perfect rat-speech, even mimicing their local dialect. “Who are you?”
“Us? Who are you? We heard someone attempting to man our ships, so we thought there were pirates. My name is Krthlun, and this is my brother Sruuptil.” The ratmen seem to be more at ease now that they can speak clearly. They lower their weapons.
“We are just traveling to gather information. How long have you all lived here in this city?”
“How long? For many many years.”
“I see. Who was here before you? Whose city was this?”
“What do you mean before us? Nobody. This is our city. We’re from here.”
Sudifi feels like he isn’t getting anywhere with this line of questioning. “Who is your leader? May we speak with him?” Sudifi asks.
“You wish to speak with our leader?” The ratmen look at each other and mumble a few words back and forth. “I suppose we could be convinced to allow that. Convinced with gold, if you know what I mean.” They snicker as if this is the most clever thing they’ve ever done.
“Fine. Whatever. How much?”
“Ten?” They seem surprised that asking for a bribe worked.
“Alright, here.” Sudifi hands over ten gold pieces as the ratmen chuckle like they just got away with some great con.
“Meet us here tonight. After sunset. No weapons. We’ll take you to Ti-Krin.”

Sudifi agrees to the arrangement. With that, the ratmen scuffle back down the street and Sudifi explains the deal to the rest of the group. Tonight they will get to meet with the head of the ratmen of the city of Mayn-am-Leit. Hopefully, they will get some answers.

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Alred, Session 3

Session #3

Characters:

Hagop
Sudifi
Bouya
Assfacè
Urlach (The player was absent, but we assume Urlach is still with the group trying to play nice.)

After successfully putting out the brush fire that they started, the party is introduced to Eovas, the leader of the trees. He walks them into the old city of Mayn-am-Leit, under the watchful “eyes” of the forest that has breeched the city walls. The area within a quarter mile of the interior perimeter looks much like the outside, lush and overgrown with little to no signs of the ruins that should have been all around them. Eovas takes them to a clearing that he describes as his “throne room”. There he tells the group of the problem he and his green friends are facing.

It seems that the city is full of ratmen and arachnaurs. The trees wish to run them out, but have been unable to press any further into the city. They want the party to help them bring nature back to this land. The party, however, is leery of the idea. If the trees can’t defeat rat- and spider-people, how could they? And if the trees succeed, will they invade Alred next? The trees claim that they will not, that they are just seeking to reclaim this area. All other questions, about where they came from and why they are fighting for control of the city, are answered vaguely. In return for their help, the trees will allow the party to examine the city as they like.

The party says they’re unprepared for this sort of thing and would need reinforcements from Alred. Now Eovas starts to worry that after defeating the enemies, soldiers from Alred will claim the city for themselves. So they ask for collateral in the form of an Alred town elder, to be held by Eovas until Mayn-am-Leit is turned over to him. This arrangement doesn’t please anyone, and the group says they don’t think they can be of help. They leave Eovas and his forest peacefully, quietly forming plans to sneak into the city without the trees finding them.

As they begin the walk back to Alred discussing this, Hagop hears a voice coming from behind a rock. “Psst,” it says. “PSST!” He takes a look behind a large stone just off the path and sees one of the trees’ servants hiding there – a moss-person. She offers to help the group sneak into the city. They are suspicious of her help. She explains that she and her kind are kept under the thumb of the trees and would like to break free from them. She sees these people as her saving grace. If they agree to help her and her people overthrow Eovas and his trees, she will help them get into the city. They agree, and she explains that the moss-people live in and around the White River. The group will return in seven days, at this spot, and she will be able to sneak them around the city gates via the river, and get them to the docks.

The party gets back to Alred and explains everything they have seen to the town council. The council does not approve of a raiding party, they simply wanted to invesigate an abandoned city. Sudifi and Hagop convince them to send them with six militiamen and a mule to get into the city and explore further.

Later that night, they head to Sorgin’s for the weekly fight and many pints of golden ale. The fight is raucous and money is made and lost. After the fight, gossip flows with the beer.  The local clan of orcs is unhappy about the death of Veldani and is seeking payment in blood. The town council is trying to deal with it peacefully, but the orc chieftain doesn’t want to compromise.

Some people are talking about Uolvos still being missing. They say there is an area to the northwest of Alred where children have been spooked. They say it could just be children playing where they shouldn’t, but they would feel more comfortable if they knew where the local sorcerer was.

There is also a rumor floating around that the Duke of the region is very ill. Some are saying he was poisoned, others are saying it’s just a sickness that’s been spreading in the Northwest near the border of Da’Raal.

While all of this is going on, Hagop approaches a man that looks like a world-weary adventurer. It turns out that he’s an out-or-work actor looking for a gig. He wants to tag along with the group when they head out to Mayn-am-Leit in a few days. He’s very light on his feet, he says, and won’t be a bother.

A few days later, Sudifi, Bouya, Hagop, Assfacè, four infantrymen, two bowmen, one mule, Bouya’s war dog, and Ballou the unemployed thespian head out towards Mayn-am-Leit. At the end of the first day of travel they are ambushed by a crowd of teenage orcs with bows and swords. They get into a bit of a scuffle and the leader of the group comes out. A large orc bully in studded leather wielding a scimitar.  The fight is fast and ends in the Alredians’ favor, with one orc ruffian scampering off alive, but there are some injuries. Two of the infantrymen are badly hurt and the party has to decide whether to move on towards the cursed city or head back to town to get help for their friends and possibly ask for more reinforcements.

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