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Masks of the Dreamer

Unfortunately this session had a bit of a disruption I had not been anticipating: Two of the players were unable to come, so I had to adjust my plans heavily. This was because I planned to do a lot of individual breaking up of the party and individually messing with players. In particular, one of the players who couldn’t make it I felt needed to have a bit of interesting spotlight time and get some plot motivation for their character. This also meant I needed to make some difficult decisions as to how to handle the two characters who didn’t come, because this is potentially a very dangerous and lethal scenario (one shotgun shot from Melissa could trivially kill an investigator in this game).

Your options as a DM/GM/Keeper etc are always to either fob off the character in some manner – perhaps the first stability test they face they simply faint? Perhaps they disappear at some convenient point and can’t be found until the end of the investigation (which does mean you need to work out what happened there)? Or do they just go “poof” into a puff of retcon smoke? It’s always hard because if you keep the scenario intact and say, that character dies without their player being there it always feels like an exceptionally poor thing to do with the player – kind of like a punishment.

My solution this scenario was to move those players investigators to the background a bit, but to mix some of the solutions together: Damian gets taken out of play for a while during the section underwater later, while Jenn tries to keep a low profile and ensure that the tome she picked up “On the Primordiality of Man” remains in her possession. In order to involve both players in this important investigation, I decided to do some sections of this investigation at a later date over facebook/skype chat with the players in question. This will fill in some important blanks, such as what happened to Damian under the water, but overall keep the integrity of the investigation the same.

The last session ended with the terrible form of the Mangle, definitely more reality than urban legend now, staring down the party. Naturally the terrible corpse began to advance on the characters and was readying itself for an attack, when Melissa surprised everyone by swinging around her gun… but not towards the Mangle and right in Keith’s face instead. Keith naturally reacted with a massive “What the hell?!” expression when Melissa yelled at the Mangle “One more step forward and your descendants brains will coat the wall over here!”. To the surprise and shock of everyone else, this worked and the Mangle immediately halted, not even moving the tiniest muscle or bone or whatever it happened to have. Eventually sensing Melissa was not bluffing (she did just execute five people as of last session) the Mangle retreated, growing small and smaller until finally it seemed to be absorbed into a corner of the wall, fading from sight.

Naturally the investigators were distinctly unimpressed with the way Melissa threatened Keith and while she did laugh it off with “You didn’t really expect me to shoot did you?” they knew and thought otherwise. She would have shot him dead if she felt threatened enough and she was desperate enough to try. This is where both Damian and Maggie kept their guns upon her, only to discover another little trick on Melissa’s part: She was an extremely adept thief and excellent at slight of hand tricks. She had already stolen the clips from both guns and the extra ammunition, leaving her as the only armed member of the party. This is where she started to demand that the investigators move in front of her in the narrow, claustrophobic tunnels to come – making the party unimpressed to say the least.

But she was not interested in negotiation and as she had the shotgun, who was going to argue with her?

At this point I would like to just digress and emphasize how you can use the most mortal of characters to really build tension and then just ramp it up even further with the supernatural threat too. Melissa is clearly unhinged, but not the investigators didn’t just have to worry about the Mangle but Melissa potentially pasting Keith’s brains all over the wall at the first opportunity she felt suitably threatened was another aspect. Especially because the Mangle was clearly following the investigators, shutting off passages and rearranging the architecture to suit it.

Eventually the investigators had to come out in a different tunnel, heading down through another longer route around to try to reach the exit. Unfortunately just as the end was in sight from a pool of water rose the familiar figure of the Mangle. Well aware of the potential shotgun threat, the Mangle had thought of a new plan and quickly went about casting a spell, rapidly moving its decrepit rotting fingers to sign various symbols (some of which the characters picked up on). There was no immediate effect for the first few terrifying moments and then a massive roaring sound could be heard coming from behind the creature.

A huge onrush of water, covering practically the entire former metro tunnel, was seen crashing down towards the investigators. Long watery tentacles reached forth from the front of the water, tearing into the walls and digging up the tracks in the ground with ease. The investigators made a wise decision at this point, linking themselves together with the NPC Torvald and then running up the passage away from it. Melissa meanwhile was so flabberghasted by this feat of magic that all she could do was merely stare at it helplessly until it washed over her.

This scene I decided to run like a thriller chase from Night’s Black Agents, except the fleeing party was the investigators and the chasing one being an onrush of magical water from – potentially if the investigators read the symbols right – R’leyh itself! If they failed they could get flushed away and badly hurt, but if they succeeded they might be able to duck down into another tunnel before they got majorly bruised by it. This scene went really well, with the characters just managing to put enough distance on the water that they were neither caught or washed away, but several fell over so got some scrapes and bruises along the way.

It’s worth noting I had originally planned this scene quite differently: With this onrush of water splitting up the party (depending on how successful individual rolls were) into different groups. However, as I was down two players I decided to just keep the majority of the party together for it and combine some of the individual scenes into a point where the players warped through time a bit. In an old WW2 bunker they traveled through, after seeing another apparition (this time of Brian, accusing the party of not being fast enough to save his legs!) there was the sudden screams of air-raid sirens and bombing overhead. Some dead British home guard soldiers outside led to a startling conclusion: They were apparently back in 1940!

Someone ranting in German then drew the party back up the corridor to the cistern ahead (filled with murky water) where a British soldier was being interrogated by some strange looking NAZIs in Gas Masks (identified as occult special forces, or the Karotecnika). Here one of them, a taller woman with blonde hair with silver streaks suddenly seemed to notice something was amiss, moving down the corridor looking for the investigators! Naturally the group hid and after a few tense moments, there was further shooting and then the three Karotecnika came flying past the investigators chased by about 40 British soldiers down further into the sewer system.

Upon reemerging there was nothing more to be seen and the investigators edged up to the door, to find it firmly locked. No blood, NAZIs or anything else to be found in sight….

Here is where I had a really great moment planned for Anastasia and Damian. One of the fantastic things about GUMSHOE as a system is how easy it is to make customized skills for your investigations and campaigns. In this campaign, investigators had access to a skill called “Diving”, which becomes more and more important the longer this campaign goes on. My original plan involved separating the two players and then giving them a contradictory version of events that happened below, then leaving them confused as to the precise nature of what happened. Damian’s player couldn’t be here today and so I decided to give Anastasia a more “supernatural” version of what I originally decided to do. This let me confuse her and make it seem like Damian “died” or at least got dragged off somewhere, so I can set his investigator aside (creating some tension and “What happened to him?”).

Additionally by doing this I could have Melissa reappear with the rest of the party still in the cistern – unaware of anything happening below to Anastasia or Damian. Wounded and half-mad from her encounter with the water, she pointed her gun at the party and was about to shoot, when the rising form of the mangle appeared from the water behind her. Ironically the investigators did try the whole “Oh gods, look behind you!” cliche but it was too late for Melissa. She spun around only to get grabbed by the Mangle, who deftly cut her bag and retrieved his missing organs – the brain and heart just thundering back into the corpse. Melissa then got torn asunder, her bone, flesh and organs being used to restore the Mangle to his original living form.

Sir Richard Edward Carlyle was reborn!

Surely reviving a near 400 year old half-mad sorcerer couldn’t have any negative repercussions? Thankfully for the investigators, Richard recognized his descendant in Keith, but was confused as to the manner of the women’s dress (remembering he last lived in 1600s England), why they had a “Sherpa” with them (Jenn is dark skinned) and then he began to ask a barrage of questions. “Where was the Order of Dagon? Did Cromwell still live? Was the English crown restored after the traitorous parliament had taken over? Have we located R’leyh? Is the telescope in Nepal still under our control?”, which the investigators somewhat deftly avoided answering fully (unsure how he would react if he found out they weren’t cultists).

Eventually Anastasia got to the other side of the cistern door and then went back through the way she came, then met Carlyle for herself, before she told the others to follow her back down and away from the cistern. They would be able to leave now, but oddly enough Damian had not made an appearance just yet and had apparently found another exit (or was dead?!?). This eventually led the investigators back to the start and finally, moments from freedom they ran into another group of heavily armed fellows in trenchcoats led by Dentharin.

Dentharin, who had manipulated Melissa into going to the store where Keith (Carlyles ancestor) was hanging out/working and where just a couple of short months ago he had sent an artifact of Carlyles making (do you see how this is suddenly adding up, terribly horribly adding up?). Obviously he had come looking to see if the characters had succeeded (or turned into a massive sad splat somewhere) but was delighted to discover they had unintentionally saw to the resurrection of Sir Carlyle. At this point a tense stand off between the Order of Dagon members, including Dentharin and Richard started to occur. Richard pointed out that those with the kind of blood Anastasia and Keith had – noting that the blonde, blue eyed guy from Norway Torvald got thrown into the “impure” bucket, an important thing to note in the context of the far right elements of True Blue UK/Order of Dagon – were what would be preserved on the “Awakening of the Dreamer”.

Anastasia tried to keep up the illusion they were members of the cult and wanting to join, when Dentharin had one of the thugs hand her his weapon, demanding that she prove it. Shoot Jenn dead there and then to prove her loyalty. Anastasia tried to convince the two sorcerers that Jenn was of incredible value to the investigators and that she could not be disposed of, but they didn’t buy it whatsoever. At this point though, “Damian” was reintroduced sneaking up behind the members and shooting dead the other armed thug. Then putting a bullet in Dentharin for good measure. Vastly disappointed in his ancestor and Anastasia, Richard then grabbed Dentharin and warped out intoning that he would let them live this time, but in future Keith being of his blood wouldn’t matter any further…

Within an instant they were gone, but the other Dagon thug was still about but he soon took a shotgun to the knee (no skyrim joke here, I promise). So naturally Anastasia and Damian bundled him up into a car to take him for… interrogation. Meanwhile the other investigators enjoyed some night air and started to wonder what this could all have meant for their future.

After all, they now had a name to their enemy in the Esoteric Order of Dagon and yet, other than a few hints they were still unsure who these guys were and what precisely they wanted. But from Richards talk of genocide and similar, they knew one thing: It couldn’t possibly be good…