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The Peculiar Disappearance of Ian Carson Hawke

With last weeks pacing issues in mind, I decided to begin this session by adding some more details to Lathan’s bedroom and allowing me to shuffle around how the game worked. Here I added information that indicated someone had planted the nurse looking after Ian and that the man tried to confuse the PCs, sending them after the “Spice Trader” erroneously to buy time. He informed Lathan that the sextant (which started this entire thing) was important and that he should pass it onto his handlers sooner rather than later. Lathan unfortunately hadn’t got the voice message yet and so the PCs heard the whole thing and a quick call to the nurses phone confirmed it for them: He wasn’t present anymore. They also found prominent posters to a far right UK political party, United Kingdom True Blue Party (UKTBP) who Lathan seemed to be a considerable fan of.

In a horror game, one of the most important things you should do is build a sense of conspiracy, fear and dread in the PCs – especially in a modern game. Don’t make players feel that phones, computers and similar are their friends by any means. Their enemies have so many opportunities for misinformation, covert surveillance and eyes absolutely everywhere. Especially when the PCs don’t yet know who their enemy really is and the list of possible suspects grows with every session. The above were a couple of small retcons with huge implications for the overall story, especially moving the sextant back to being a prominent part of this investigation (having it “disappear” to be replaced by a serial killer halfway through was a massive narrative mistake in hindsight).

In any event, the PCs figured out that Lathan kills his victims based on astrological and astronomical signs, so they had a few hours to rescue their contact Tracy Wong and ensure that whatever Lathan is attempting doesn’t work. Arriving at the historic Abby Mills Pumping Facility (you might know part of it as the bit in Arkham from Batman Begins) they discovered they were not alone and that two police cars were already there (given the warm engines). Here they needed to guess which of the three main buildings (A, B or C) was the likely Lair of Lathan and do so quickly, because otherwise he was going to carry out his grisly ritualistic dismembering if they didn’t. Here I made the choice, the obviously condemned flooded building, a bit too obvious but it still worked out well enough that my players instantly got what the theme of the thing was. This is either a great success for my communication of the ideas behind Lathan’s murders or just being really blatantly obvious.

Here they ran into their first major obstacle: The four police officers and they were *not* friendly. In fact the PCs soon discovered that the cops were there to clean up, kill Lathan and then bury any evidence. They were also deliberately waiting for the madman to finish off Tracy (the Sun reporter) so they could wrap everything up in one neat little package. In short, the PCs needed to figure out another way around them because four armed police officers is a terrifying prospect: I’ve deliberately taken rules that make guns more deadly (the auto unload, automatic hit for x3 damage when rushing an opponent in melee who has a gun for example) and that they are very hard for PCs to generally acquire many of easily. Thankfully, Damian is rather, um, dodgy and remembered that there is a flooded subsection that is rarely used except by the odd criminal deal. A hole leads down to the lower levels and thus would allow them to bypass the officers.

Once down in the 1ft deep flooded basement they finally came to Lathan’s house of horrors (much of the inspiration from this coming from the scenario presented in the Trail of Cthulhu core book):

Serial Killers Lair

Here Lathan had sewn and stuck together the corpses of numerous bodies together, forming a multiple headed and random body part assembled chimera like monster. Of course, the creature did not actually live at all and the number of parts suggested at least 10 separate victims over time*. Recoiling at the sight, one of the investigators failed their stability role and jerked back, giving a tell tale splash of intruders and Lathan was on the hunt – hiding amongst a catwalk hidden in the darkness above. Undaunted, the characters continued and they also found various Greek objects like pots, a gladius sword and similar. A “ritual” book was also found, which soon proved to be random nonsense that someone put together that sounded magical enough, but didn’t contain a shred of any real mythos knowledge or magic. Most fortunately the sextant – the focus of much of this investigation – was also here and it seemed Lathan had been studying it. This item had some clear gravitas upon being picked up and gave a distinct feeling of unease.

Eventually the investigators went upstairs to find Tracy and Lathan dropped in behind them while they did so, as they had forgot to check for sense trouble in all the revulsion of Lathan’s lab. This meant there was a short, but highly dramatic fight as Lathan almost successfully cut two of the characters arms clean off (he was only a couple of points of damage from doing so!). This is where some of the ideas from Nights Black Agents, like called shots to limbs dealing more damage had a huge impact, as rolling a 6 with +2 damage in Trail (while attacking twice) is a really big deal. He rapidly disabled both Keith and Damian, while Anastasia crept along the wall using the catwalk Lathan had come from to reach a broken power box on the opposite wall. Sure enough, Damian just got away from Lathan before Anastasia (by some incredible luck) successfully repaired the fuse box and dramatically electrocuted the insane butcher.

With Tracy secure and still alive, the investigators made good on getting the hell out of there before the corrupt officers arrived (who seemingly greeted the scene in question with copious amounts of gunshots). This brought the investigation to a close, but like any good Trail scenario opened up numerous interesting questions and issues – most notably with my players needing to ask themselves how much they trust the police… if they did at all?

*And bear in mind, I have heavily implied the police have had some knowledge of this for a while and someone higher up has been interfering with legitimate investigations.

In any event, that was actually only the first hour or so of the session before we moved to the second investigation of the campaign

The Rending Box

So before I begin if you haven’t already done so absolutely go and get The Rending Box, some of which is used as inspiration for my investigation here. I don’t actually use the same ideas and concepts, but the basic premise is very similar (And obviously I grabbed the name from it). In my scenario, the players store receives a package of items bought as stock to sell onto other customers – including some clocks to send to Germany*. Inside the box, which was addressed to Anastasia (the players character who owns the store) was a strange metallic puzzle box of unknown origin. One of the staff members opened it up and fiddled with it, causing the strange item to start operating and showing an odd passage in Latin (which translated to Revelations 16 verse 1). Initially there was no ill effect from this of course, but it honestly wouldn’t be that simple…

Would it?

Jasmine – the stores checkout operator and general stock operator – became very sick the next day. This naturally caused heightened tension with my investigators because Jasmine is a source of stability for at least two of the PCs. Her safety is thus rather important and when Esmeralda, who values Jasmine very highly arrived she noticed some strange things. Lights were smashed and strange scraping marks were found on the exterior of the building. Jasmine likewise didn’t look very good, having developed various boils and other problematic marks across her skin. A trip to the hospital saw medical professionals rather dismiss the whole thing, prescribe antibiotics and then send her back home. Meanwhile, suspicions aroused the package proved to have been tampered with and the metallic box was not originally won as a part of the auction at all. Someone had put it in there after the fact completely deliberately. Could it be some kind of weapon? Either way it was deposited to sit in a thick safe until they could figure out what to do with it.

Then the next day came and that night, a panicked phone call to Esmeralda as Jasmine claimed something attacked her when she went to have a bath. Immediately the investigators went over to have a look, discovering further scratches, broken lights and a large circular wound upon her inner thigh. Here is where I engaged a lovely classic horror trope/cliche with the bloody bath, which was also full of soap scum and a tar like black substance (Jasmine had been stabbing at something with a pair of scissors, but seemingly only succeeded in giving herself a deep cut). There was subsequently an immense amount of anxiety between the players as to draining out the bath water, but after some agonizing description and making them fret there was nothing left of whatever attacked her – other than the strange goo (which they collected). Here they took Jasmine back to the store to work out what to do, all the while the odd street lamp suddenly shot out behind them….

Inside the store they could hear something downstairs and one of the light fixtures had become broken swinging around. Anastasia decided to pull out her phone and take a picture for insurance purposes, where I asked the always dreaded “Are you sure that’s what you’re wanting to do?”. In the end she saw something she shouldn’t have, which was around 30 feet or so long, with a terrible lamprey like head and bat like wings coiled around the shop. Disliking the light it fled and disappeared into the night almost as quickly as it took the flash to go off, but she had definitely seen something she would not like to meet again. This also confirmed that the stakes were high and that whatever was causing the disturbance was some kind of insane thing, not of mortal means…

After this, we moved onto a scene where I wanted to give the PCs an opportunity to start to figure out where the puzzle box came from. So on driving back from the store after spending the night elsewhere (with lots of lights) they fortuitously ran into the original courier who delivered the package. Originally the characters wanted to have a chat, but Chris (the courier) had no intention of it and upon seeing them immediately bolted. Suspicious behavior for just about anyone really. Here the excellent chase rules from Nights Black Agents once again came into play and elderly pedestrians were pushed over, stairs leaped down and eventually a very accurate hammer throw by Damian to the guys skull was where it finally ended. This is where they learned some more about the puzzle box, which had very deliberately been sent to them by someone called “Dentharin” and who initially wanted it sent to Anastasia specifically. What they got from this was a name: Frederick Weeks, who was the originally seller of the Puzzle Box in the first place to Chris, who bought it on instructions again from this “Dentharin” character.

The mystery deepens, but so too does the conformation of the box keep ever changing and the little doom track I prepared continue to advance from one day to the next….

*Last session Anastasia made an arrangement with a German store to purchase antique clocks, which they then sell onto their contact in Germany for his store. Likewise, if he comes across any old charts, maps or items of interest to the investigators, he sends it to them.