Masks of the Dreamer: Hellfire Auction
In my opinion there are two key aspects to a game based around horror:
1) Tension. The fear of things that might happen and the slow build up to the terrible truth behind things. Everything builds up to the ultimate moment of anagnorisis where the truth finally shatters any illusion of a sane and fair reality.
2) Trust. Can the players truly trust one another? Is anyone working against them? What IS the agenda of other players in the game? While you need everyone to be working together for a coherent game, you don’t need everyone to be willingly to freely share all they know or to be entirely trusting of others. After all, someone could be a cultist all along or something worse.
In Masks of the Dreamer there were some interesting developments after the finale of the Rending Box. For one thing, the players imaginations really became very invigorated by the development of the magic system I have been implementing into the game (more on that soon in a separate post!) and I had numerous questions asked of me. It also emerged that some of the players suspected others of strange things and when the book they had received last session from their contact Randall went missing, the Ordos Draculis, suspicion amongst the players was rife.
Now was an excellent time to introduce a fantastic Nights Black Agents mechanic, Trust.
In a Nights Black Agents game they present an option to enhance suspicion amongst players called Trust. In effect, Trust is a mechanic where the players sit down and independently give one another a pool of points, which represents how their characters feel about one another. When all of my players arrived to the session I immediately stood up, asked everyone to move into another larger room and then spread them out entirely so they couldn’t easily see what one another were doing. I then loudly announced that someone had turned against the party, in other words someone was working on an agenda contrary to their own.
This naturally sent quite a lot of confusion amongst them and I then explained what they had to do. In front of them I had some prepared bits of paper with the other characters, and what they had to do was assign “Trust” pool points amongst one another according to how their characters felt about the others. They had three totals: 3 points for who they trusted most and 1 point to give to two others. Any trust points not given to another investigator were completely wasted. Without giving them a lot of time to consider things, I started a 2 minute timer and said after that I would collect the things: Any points not on there were permanently wasted.
This had a truly wonderful effect: For one thing it made them a bit more paranoid and clearly a bit on edge as to what was going on. Secondly, it wonderfully built tension and has created an interesting dynamic where players try to limit information that might be a potential liability to them. It also showed me (as the Keeper) how the players thought about each others characters in an interesting manner.
Anastasia, the shopkeeper ended up with the most trust: 10 in total. Followed by Keith with 6, Maggie with 3, Jenn with 3 but Damian only picking up 2 points! I decided that a simple visual representation at the table was to put gold dice next to each player and work the mechanic like this: Whenever a player makes a check of any kind requiring a roll, they need to give a quick explanation of how the check makes sense (EG my character is calmed by Keith’s presence and trust in my abilities under pressure*) and then “spend” the die. If they are right and that character in the scene does trust them, they get a bonus. If they are wrong however they get no benefit but no overt penalty and effectively “Waste” the point in trust. The small twist I implemented over NBA is that the investigators have to guess at who does or doesn’t trust them, solely by the way they roleplay!
Suitably paranoid by the introduction of this new mechanic, prompted from failing the Paranoia Test from the previous session (it fits so perfectly!) I continued with the session. To start with, Tracy Wong came around to the store to visit the investigators and share some information she had helped dig up on this “Hellfire Club” for them. The long and short of it being that they are a collection of English and European occult groups, who loosely associate with one another in the form of this club to talk business, discuss their occult political situation and otherwise interact in a “non-hostile” environment.
I use scare quotes because naturally, it is anything but and there are powerful individuals aware of the investigators now (nobody enters the Dreaming Dark without being noticed by someone or perhaps even something). Tracy gave them a dire warning that they were being watched by unpleasant groups and that certain individuals were going to potentially take action. This upcoming Auction was not just an opportunity to gain some important mythos knowledge and items: It was also a potential way to make brand new enemies. These occult groups take losses of objects or tomes they desire as deep personal affronts to themselves.
Now, after the events on Rending Box I wanted the investigators to have some kind of direction as to how they could bias the auction in their favor and earn allies. Hence, I reintroduced Randall to the game and had him come to make them an offer of assistance. Randall, like the players, had a distinct agenda and wanted a specific item from the auction. Just like the investigators, Randall knew there was another party interested in the same mythos tome – a copy of the King in Yellow that was supposedly complete. He also happened to know exactly where his particular opponent was staying in London.
He thus proposed a simple thing: The Investigators “removed” his problem from the equation and he will help balance the score at the Auction – trying to help the PCs win the flute. This is an important offer as some of the other members from different orders often can procure nigh infinite resources (compared to the investigators at least). So if there is one way you can even the odds, as a certain Captain Kirk would approve of, then it’s to cheat and go big at that.
To remove the Earl of Yoren, who Anastasia said was Oswald Crowley and yes indeed, a direct descendant of the legendary (and very real) British occultist Aleister Crowley, they needed to sneak into the secure estate he was staying at. The exclusive Carlton Estate is an upper market building in London, frequently hired out by dodgy fellows of all stripes and generally used during meetings of the Hellfire Club. Some initial exploration of the Estates servers quickly revealed this Earl had bought out the entire building for himself and was only using the upper penthouse!
Naturally it was time to sneak into the place and after they used some contacts in London’s Historic Society, they quickly managed to figure out the floor plan of the building. This turned up a neat vulnerability in the normally impregnable iron fence, security and cameras: The power for the building was routed through an old transforming station nearby. It was out of the way, easy to break into and could easily disconnect the power to the entire building if interfered with. Naturally, you can guess what happened there as Damian went ahead and sabotaged it.
This resulted in a call to the electrical company, which one of the investigators caught a guard talking about and then an ambush of the two poor electricians. Some quick disguises later and talking past the security, they finally got into the apartment and began looking around. Naturally when I presented the floorplan for the building Anastasia and Maggie went for the bedroom, while Keith checked out the study with Jenn and Damian kept an eye down the hallway.
At this point everything had been going so easily and so it was time to reveal the little surprise in the bedroom. As the building was dark, other than some candles around the apartment here and there, the investigators did not realize there were two creatures in the bedroom, with lanky hairy legs, a body of shaggy hair and pointed snouts filled with teeth. Of course, when in full torchlight the two German Shepard dogs are a fairly mundane threat – but again the introduction and initial description was enough to really get some paranoid worrying around the table!
A quick, violent and bloody combat resulted where both Anastasia and Maggie ended up being bitten, until Damian rushed in with his secret trump card: He has a firearm. Unlike in a game set in the US, I’ve decided to make access to firearms and guns very difficult in general. So Damian pulling out the silenced pistol, which he got through contacts from a previous criminal history, was a huge moment. It also helped end the fight very easily and demonstrate the lethality of guns more than adequately as he killed one dog with a devastating shot to the head. The other dog ended up having a large amount of sleeping tablets forced down its mouth by Keith, giving them time to look around.
Knowing they came here with a job to do, the investigators decided to rather morbidly use the dogs blood and bits of flesh to help “prepare” several mythos like symbols around the room. They also quickly searched around and found a laptop with some interesting data within it: Turns out this Earl of Yoren was looking into the True Blue United Kingdom Parties financial activities, seemingly discovering they were either laundering money or had vastly more resources than they publicly declare. Right now this doesn’t matter much, but one thing I love about having a campaign with a cohesive plot running through it is being able to drop clues or hints to things later on or the larger picture.
Anastasia also found some interesting notes that the Earl had left and grabbed them before they had to make a quick exit: Security wasn’t about to ignore dog barking forever and they managed to sneak back out without much incidence. At this point the session was about 20 minutes from the end and there wasn’t really enough time to engage with deeper scenes, so I decided to bring forward an interesting complication: One of the investigators sources of stability and important contact in London Metropolitan Police got a strange threat.
The warning, simply staying “We’re Watching” and covered with weird symbols was enough to make him very paranoid. Bearing in mind Brian was involved with helping the investigators uncover a police cover up of a serial killer in London, he was understandably straight up spooked. He appealed to Maggie that he was going off the grid entirely and that she should not go looking for him: Putting the potential source of information and stability at risk (Maggie would lose both the 3 stability and the important Cop Talk contact!). Naturally Maggies reaction was very human, immediately – but over the phone – telling him that they should meet.
Naturally the other investigators were like, “Oh no don’t do that! He’ll be under surveillance!” but it was too late and after thinking about it, I thought that mistake added to the tension and drama. So I made it stay and so Maggie made the meeting over the phone (by accident and panic) and Brian hung up going “Dark” to see her then. Now the investigators have to make a choice in exposing themselves to save Brian or do they simply take this as a loss to go looking for another contact?
Either way, I can’t wait for the next session where this will be answered!
*I actually forgot this requirement much to my chagrin at the time.