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Masks of the Dreamer: Anagnorisis

So far in this campaign, I’ve not really needed to deviate a lot from the original script I had written and most of the investigations were fairly pre-planned before I even begun. It’s somewhat scary that my campaign has actually been moving so smoothly over the various plot threads I wrote, but one way my players did interfere considerably with the plan was the actions Jenn and Maggie took some time ago. If you remember a few investigations back, Maggie hatched a plot to try and rescue another sorcerer who had traded his life for another and become stuck in the Dreaming Dark (in Leng, to be precise). Unfortunately by messing with the magic system I created in the correct, but not quite correct enough way Maggie and Jenn accidentally brought over more than they bargained for.

A lot more in fact, because something from Leng crossed over and back into their world. This naturally didn’t impress the other investigators, but due to having other things to get on top of they largely ignored this event and they were also in Nepal for a considerable while. While this was happening, the creature was busily preparing all manner of terrible things, murdering people for sustenance and then eventually starting to produce it’s own band of servitor “Marionettes” to help it. Eventually word of these bizarre murders got out in London and the investigators realized that it was accelerating its plans.

It was clear Maggie was going to have to confront her mistake and the other investigators decided to go along. If for no other reason than because nobody approves of giant spiders, well except me and I’m currently trying to kill the investigators with them so…..

This investigation begins with the party hearing about the strange murders on TV, where a news report covers a recent victim who was suspended from a fire escape. Authorities were baffled and the material seemed to be intensely strong, easily resisting being cut. As a result, they had to go and literally chop an entire section of the fire escape off in order to actually remove the body from the scene. Just to make the investigators day worse, the body had also suffered from complete exsanguination and was whiter than a sheet. Naturally a bit of an interrogation of what precisely Maggie did was in order and then they had to make up their minds on how to deal with it.

It’s worth going into a side discussion now, because at this point my players investigators are complete paranoid wrecks of human beings. Few party members trust anyone else in the party anymore, due to the potential traitor mechanics in play, the attack on Anastasia (that almost killed her), potential serial killer stalkers following the party and just general worry about what on earth is going on with Keith’s “Ancient” bloodline. This makes for some wonderful roleplaying moments between the players, but it creates some important design constraints and some headaches for me as the writer.

For one thing, I now have to make sure most investigations have a very strong plot drive or potential threat to get these paranoid people to even want to work together in the first place. Sharing information between players has started to trickle to a minimum and I need to carefully consider my players drives when designing investigations (so everyone has a reason to get involved). Naturally this isn’t a huge problem in this investigation because they are arguably fixing a mess caused by Maggie and previously before that, handing the entity in Leng the Pnakotic Flute – but it’s a design issue for future investigations in particular.

It’s important to realize that this is a good thing in this game, compared to say a non-horror game where you need players to work together 100% coherently (Dungeons and Dragons for example). This paranoia, desire to keep secrets and constant vigil of what other investigators are doing adds tremendously to the tension of this game. What are the other players real agendas? Who can they trust? Why can they trust them? Is anyone really a traitor? These questions play on their minds and hence influence heavily how they roleplay with one another and other NPCs. The paranoia floating around the table makes for some great tension between players, which I can subsequently exploit like a general flinging tanks through a hole in an armies lines.

Of course it’s always important to remind players that they shouldn’t hold characters actions against the person playing them. Roleplaying is often most interesting when the “protagonists” sometimes become antagonists for different reasons. On the other hand, this puts a huge responsibility on me as the guy running the game to manage the situation and create tension – but also help provide resolutions. Likewise, this tension should put the investigators at odds with one another but not to the point where they can’t possibly work things out (or the story grinds to a halt). This comes to a head in this game later in particular, so I will be returning to this topic soon!

The first order of business was figuring out how to get a look at the different victims. Brian had only really recovered from his terrible ordeal with Smile, but thankfully Keith had a solution as his flatmate Kyle worked in the forensics department of the UK Police. Conveniently enough, this plus some cop-talk from Maggie got them into the main Coroner’s office where the bodies were being held. Kyle couldn’t let the investigators take the bodies or anything, but he could buy them enough time to have a good look over them for themselves. Initially the bodies appeared to be in a decent condition, other than the two long puncture wounds in the upper chest – presumably where whatever drained them stuck its implements.

The pair of wounds were devoid of any traces of blood and the bodies were oddly warm to the touch (despite being dead for a considerable amount of time). One of the victims – the first one – was so firmly attached to the building he was on that they cut off his feet. Most of the others were attached to various pieces of masonry or metal, whatever needed to be removed in order to get them down. The long sinuous thread suspending them was still attached, which quickly proved to be nigh impossible to cut through by any of the regular implements in the room. Cutting into the bodies discovered they had a strange fluid within and that it was more than noxious – perhaps some kind of venom? Of course in order to get this Maggie had to cut very deep indeed, past the heart and lungs to somewhere near the victims spine.

During this examination, Damian came up with a really interesting proposal: What would happen if you tried transfusing living blood into it? At this point I was definitely going for a kind of creepy “Alive but not alive” sort of thing with this examination (hence the warmth of the bodies, some vague eye twitching etc) but this? It had potential. I needed to consider a couple of things at this point, which began with if I did this did I go full on B-Horror movie schlock? Incoherent screaming and full on zombie flick type stuff? Secondly, was it really going to add anything suitably creepy and intriguing to the plot of this investigation?

Naturally the answer to both questions was a completely emphatic yes.

As Damian had proposed the idea, I decided that it would be a good idea to enforce his characters drive. If I’ve not mentioned drives before, they are basically ways you (as the Keeper) can compel an investigator to do something in an investigation. A player with a drive of curiosity for example from a narrative point of view, naturally wants to have a look in a the sinister box and discover a terrible (but potentially useful) clue to something happening later. Here I decided to invoke Damian’s curiosity drive – especially appropriate as he proposed it – to donate some blood to the corpse via a transfusion and see what happened.

This went well for a bit, at least until the corpse suddenly jolted up and well awake, with strange wounds appearing on the wrists and other major joints (where marionette strings would be attached). After incoherently yelling in a strange language for a bit, the corpse recovered its senses enough to tell the investigators that they were doomed and that “Vakyrian” had crossed between worlds to conquer this one in the name of Leng (not good). Unfortunately, they couldn’t get much more out of him before the body was possessed by some terrible thing and then promptly began attacking. Damian and Maggie got badly wounded, before Damian finally shot the reawakened corpse enough for it to go down once more.

Meanwhile as this chaos was going, Anastasia had returned to the store by herself and had an interesting confrontation with Paul. Here I decided that Paul (possessed by a Leng spiders magic) would have a curious and semi-threatening conversation with her. He asked “Do you dream?” and then “Are you afraid of dreaming?” before leaving the store with “You will soon and you should be afraid”. This will actually not come into play in this investigation, but will be important a bit later on. Either way, this was enough to make the investigators terrified of sleeping and with calling in some allies, notably Anastasia’s weird sister Ophelia, they were able to find some potential solutions (especially knowing the name of their enemy at least).

Remember that aside from earlier about how the investigators are paranoid wrecks at this point? Yeah, it came up now as the investigators conflicted heavily on coming up with a solution that would work. You see, banishing a monster like a Leng Spider is seriously difficult work and requires a major battle of the casters stability vs. the creatures pool of inertia. This pool of inertia is massive and is going to make life very hard for a single caster to possibly have any chance of banishing it by themselves. This is rather like how the investigators of the Dunwich Horror needed to ban together to send the entity of the story back where it came from. It’s also worth noting that this contest is ongoing while a multiple foot high spider is trying to murder you – an additional complication.

Maggie wanted to lead the spell, given that she’s responsible for the thing being on this plane in the first place but wouldn’t teach the banishing spell to either Anastasia or Keith (the two other investigators with magic, as Eva and Damian aren’t particularly adept casters). Meanwhile, Keith and Anastasia would refuse to participate or help if there wasn’t a backup plan in place, because they didn’t inherently trust Maggie. This began to make a very tense and tough negotiation between the characters, which threatened to turn into a stalemate. At this point in order to get the game moving to the conclusion and confrontation, I proposed that they let a third party in to learn the spell: Ophelia.

Anastasia happily backed this plan and Maggie eventually acquiesced to teaching Ophelia the banishing ritual (so she could continue it in the event Maggie died) but only in return for the secrets of the Necronomicon page (Anastasia did some stealing earlier in the campaign). Here again is where it is really important to think about solutions and ways to get the party to work together, even if they are pretty much becoming “Frenemies”. Possibly the best part of this conversation was when Maggie proposed giving the banishing ritual to Loki, with Anastasia reacting especially badly. This then enabled a terrific reveal to the rest of the party that Anastasia’s near murder had been performed by …. Loki! The revelation was pretty startling and definitely gave Maggie some pause in particular.

Especially because Maggie let slip something during the conversation that will become extremely important later on. Very much so.

In any event, with a plan of action in place and a suitable abandoned warehouse to attract a small van sized spider from another dimension, they proceeded to perform the ritual. Along for the ride was Tracy Wong – who has come a considerable way from being a damsel in distress type in the first investigation – and of course, Anastasia’s sister Ophelia. As well as this, Keith had finally figured out the purpose of the other strange box amongst Richard Carlyle’s things in his tomb. Most notably that it was capable of causing sounds when played correctly, which damage or harm beings that have come from the Dreaming Dark. Pretty handy for this conflict.

Naturally the investigators used a slightly modified version of the ritual that caused this mess to call their enemy and then the entity attacked! I like to think it looks something like the below:

Leng Spider: Albeit with the way I envisage them they have many more limbs.
Albeit with the way I envisage them they have many more limbs. What can I say? I just like limbs.

This battle went pretty tense for the investigators, with the entity impaling a few of them and taking out Damian in a hurry (Damian has a thing for getting beaten up/abused). Eva rushed in a bit later to help with some marionette’d people, who were quickly exploded by one of the strange green orbs they picked up in Nepal. With several investigators badly wounded and the spiders turn coming up, which would prompt numerous high damage melee attacks, a desperate final push to dump as much stability/magic into the banishing to try to drive it back was attempted. With a suitable roll of the die, they *just* managed enough before being hopelessly shredded alive to send it shrieking back to the dreaming dark where it came from and its marionettes collapsing to the floor with it.

Finally it seems that Maggie had helped fix her mistake and ensured the safety of our plane from an army of giant madness inducing spiders from another dimension.

For now.

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