Masks of the Dreamer: Dead Wake Part 2.
Beginning this session required finishing off the situation that the players had created previously. Most notably the failed larceny attempt in front of the crew leading to Damian and Maggie getting the snot beaten out of them. This led to the Zuhra, who was being played by the new player (until I could introduce her actual character next session) taking out the hybrid that was guarding the two of them. At this point a conversation that Keith overheard on the upper decks (still safely hidden in the life boat) indicated that the Order knew they were there.
The issue? The majority of the crew and the passengers seemed to be members of the Order of Dagon. This meant that the investigators were well in over their heads this time, because rather than facing a handful of callers they were facing a small army of them. This was quite the revelation, but now the way both the crew and passengers were acting after the captains messages (combined with the strange static) made a tremendous amount of sense. It also meant that the minor assistance of their friend the Spice Trader was not going to be enough.
First up, Zuhra came up upon the hybrid watching over Maggie and Damian, shooting him successfully with a taser and putting him down (for now at least). Once dealt with she untied Damian and Maggie, applying some first aid to the situation as well to make sure they could at least walk out of there. Of course getting out would be a problem as the Order were looking for Damian and Maggie on the ship, but Zuhra hadn’t been seen yet and came up with a plan. Using a laundry trolley, she piled Damian and Maggie inside, then the unconscious hybrid on top. She then wheeled the whole lot through to the (relatively) unguarded laundry room with the explanation she was taking the unconscious fellow “for help”. This worked sufficiently to get them out of the lower deck at least.
Now, they just needed some way of dealing with the problem of the rest of the Order on the ship.
Thankfully Jenn had an eye on a potential solution, because she observed a strange woman entering the chapel on the ship instead of seemingly following the others orders. The investigators decided to head there – though Keith remained trapped in the life boat due to the high amount of cultist traffic – where they confronted the strange young woman, Juscinta Hailles.
So here is where I had an issue that needed to be solved, because at the end of Night of the Curved Knife, Anastasia had been hospitalized by an attacker and this rendered the character unable to participate in this investigation. This was because, IRL, that player was unable to come to the session and meant I needed to have a compelling reason for their character not to be around. Now they were here I either needed to fudge how Anastasia got on the ship, which probably wouldn’t have felt very satisfying, or I could choose another approach. This is a risky option, but I decided to give her some background information and some idea of the “Keepers” part of the table by allowing her to play Juscinta Hailles instead.
Juscinta initially was very skeptical of the investigators, but once they came to an understanding that both of them had the same overall goal – to ruin the Orders plans on this cruise. Of course the hideous actions that the Order planned were to perform a large calling ritual, bringing forth a near horde of Deep Ones, then sweep through the ship for their ideological and political opponents to then completely remove them.
Juscinta of course had decided against this plan for many reasons, for one she had been a believer in the pure Anglo-Saxon message of both True Blue UK and then the Esoteric Order of Dagon, but Carlyle was taking it to extremes. Talk of genocide, murdering everyone who wasn’t to a weird standard of purity (that she didn’t grasp) and turning most meetings into something akin to a NAZI party rally. Then there was the fact she hadn’t met a single other female caller who had survived more than one of these rituals. She didn’t know precisely why, but she didn’t want to damn well find out what happened to them either.
Of course the genuine straw that broke the camels back was the Order of Dagon murdering her brother Tobias Farley (Hailles is her married name). This is why she was here: Revenge. Cold blooded revenge. Of course you might remember that in reality her brother was not actually killed by the Order of Dagon, but the investigators ally the Spice Trader. Should Juscinta figure this out, there would be a very different and most devastating end to this particular adventure….
In any event, they enlisted her help and particularly her useful ability to go wherever on the ship she felt like (being a caller, other cultists follow her instructions almost without question). When she went and fetched Keith for them however, there was a most curious reaction because Juscinta reacted to his “unnatural” blood very violently. She accused him of being a spy for the order and then when they were alone, she rapidly plunged in her dagger – drawing some blood (important to note this for later). She did eventually calm down, but was now on the alert against the investigators and highly suspicious.
While wandering back down to get some armaments and ability to disrupt this ritual, which she planned to hijack in order to ruin the Orders plans, she questioned Maggie. After some probing, she found the information that she wanted where the investigators were here working with someone else. She managed to coerce Maggie into allowing her to have a meeting with their contact, the Spice Trader, in order to enlist their help.
Meanwhile, Keith had another run in with Blackjack who explained who he was some more to the rest of the party. Apparently a competent magician, upon hearing about the potential disaster unfolding on the ship he decided he’d like to pitch in and help for a while. This led to Keith helping his suggestion of getting his “Friend” who likes to turn people inside out to get rid of Lydia Van’Anderson (Mother Van’Anderson to Juscinta). After luring Lydia out of her cabin, so Blackjack knew who to get rid of (hey, he doesn’t pay attention to politics whatsoever!) Keith returned to his room. The rest raided the cruise ships armory, meager as it was, go at least get their guns back so they had something to fight with the next night.
The next day, Maggie helped arrange a meeting with the Spice Trader, so that Juscinta could have a chat with him. Upon doing so Juscinta saw what she was afraid of, the Spice Trader had a shark bone tooth that was unmistakably Tobias’. He could only have got that one way and that was by being the person who killed Tobias or was involved in his death (which had been hinted at by the strange way the investigators acted on the topic). This is where she put her terrible plan B in motion….
When the time of the ritual came about, the characters had the advantage for once and while Juscinta went to join the others, she started to hijack the ritual exactly as planned. When the characters entered and begun to take out the cultists, she could easily command the entire ritual by herself. Of course at her final moments, Juscinta stared coldly at the party and then informed them that what she about to do was for her brother with the pin dropping: She knew they were helping the man who killed him.
At this point she used the ritual magic to force the hybrids to mass suicide and then extinguished her own life simultaneously to do something truly hideous. What she summoned was huge – over 400 feet at minimum – with a large open skull, fishy eyes and tentacles too many to count. The beast simply stared at them, with most of the investigators simply fainting at the heinous sight of it. Only Jenn and the Spice Trader did not, with the sounds of screaming, gunfire and explosives being the last things that the investigators heard….
When they awoke, there was no beast and only a life raft adrift in the middle of nowhere (though it turned out to be near Iceland, near 1000 nautical miles away from where the cruise ship last was). Zuhra, Damian, Maggie and Keith were dehydrated, hungry but otherwise confused as to what had happened. There was no sign of either Jenn or the Spice Trader to be found, so all I left them with there was their imaginations. A call via satellite phone (which had survived whatever ordeal they went through) was able to get them rescued at least….
Three weeks later than when the terrible events of that night occurred. After imposing a sanity loss on proceedings, with the promise of an explanation as to why this happened later, I had some very paranoid investigators.
So overall, this investigation worked out really well and managed to make some convincing drama. Most importantly, I did so in a bold and risky manner: Giving access to a key NPC to a player and letting them act against the party in many ways. This was a bold decision, because there was some key information that needed to get across from this character and ultimately, they were being asked to play a villain. The player did so very well and it helped because I could easily have NPCs address that character, without the usual “The DM is talking to themselves again!” aspect that afflicts roleplaying games at times.
Just be prepared if you do this to only give such roles to players you know well or trust quite a bit, plus only if the group will tolerate a bit of potential betrayal from another player (minding if they are playing an NPC this is usually easier to justify to other players anyway). Also be prepared to jump in when required and offer guidance – ultimately you don’t want to give the whole plot away to this player just to play a single NPC! So if there is something you didn’t tell them, which that character should know and tell the investigators, don’t be afraid to prompt!
In addition to this, I decided to give the players of Zuhra (whose actual character is introduced next session) and Juscinta the usual build points award for the session as well. This would apply to Eve and Anastasia respectively, to reward them the same as the other players – even though they were playing NPCs this game. Overall a good decision that worked really well, letting someone still participate in the game and without having to compromise my narrative around what happened to Anastasia in the store.