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Masks of the Dreamer: The Cult Strikes Back

Right now, we’re roughly at the halfway point of this campaign in many ways and how long it goes will heavily depend on what the players do from here. Numerous plot threads are starting to come together and I feel the investigators are starting to get a good grasp on the big overall picture of what is happening. Of course, it’s worth bringing up that we’re also getting to a point where some of these investigators are seriously broken people.

If anyone needs to know what truly makes a game like Call of Cthulhu or Trail of Cthulhu unique, it’s that knowledge plus experience doesn’t directly equal an increase in power like Dungeons and Dragons. Most of my players investigators are far more capable now than they were at the very start of the game sure, but they’re also starting to suffer having permanently lost rating points in stability and most importantly: Sanity.

Sanity as a stat basically puts a defined, known shelf-life on your investigators and how long they are going to last. The more monsters, magic and strange things they encounter, the lower their potential time in the game. Likewise, players who invest heavily into mythos knowledge, magic and similar are equally likely to reach a potential breaking point sooner than later. Mechanics like this reinforce the hopelessness and inevitable defeat the fight against mythos is, with how those who face it inevitably go insane, become a tool of what they fought against or even worse fates.

It does have a notable consequence on the overall way I write the game: It means that over an extended period, it’s hard to think that all investigators will make it to the end. After a while of running this game, I have become rather fond of many of my players investigators, with the plot deeply woven around these characters and their actions. Due to the amount of sanity damage around it is invariable as we get into deeper conspiracies, more ferocious monsters and even more bizarre situations that one, or more, will go insane (or meet a tragic end). As a result, I’ve begun to try and deliberately move some of these points onwards a bit.

In this session I decided to take a distinctly different tone and write the entire thing like a soap opera: Just with cultists. Instead of drama and tension coming from monsters or magic, I have an overarching plot about a potential attack from one of the investigators numerous enemies on the wedding, but then focused entirely on inter-character drama. This meant there wasn’t a lot of need for stability checks, which could run the risk of damaging an investigators dwindling sanity if it came about due to a monster or spell. Another advantage was that it gave me plenty of time to characterize different NPCs at the wedding, throwing in numerous potential candidates for “Who might be threatening the bride and groom?” and also adding some intrigue to Damian’s mysterious mafia family to explore.

And perhaps some highly uncomfortable truths for Damian to discover along the way…

I decided to allow some time at the start of this session for the investigators to resolve any out of game shenanigans that had been going on. Given this game has a lot of things happen in secret between me and the players, plus sometimes with one another, it’s worth taking a while to make sure those things were resolved. After doing this, I decided to move on with an unusual encounter from a new (and strange) fellow to the store. He asked Jasmin where certain members of the group were, notably Maggie, Anastasia, Keith or Damian (I concluded this NPC would not know about Eva). Eventually Anastasia had a chat to him, given that he came late at night while only Keith and her were in the store other than Jasmine.

Here after a brief conversation, where he made clear his “mistress” was disappointed Anastasia hadn’t heeded her warnings, I had him give a tome to the party, which will later become very important in the context of the game. Written by Dr. Phillipa Orson, it claims to be a “Deep study of the magiks of the mythos and the strange inhabitants of the outer dimensions” and if I have my way, will be an actual physical thing that the players can read. This is the result of my planning and the “Arts and Crafts” post from a while back, where I intend to put the full language of magic into this book – then give it to the PCs to figure out what is happening. Notably at the time I made sure to reinforce some points on this before they were done.

Firstly, just because I give them something directly doesn’t mean it will always be the literal truth. Other tomes, NPCs or sources might contradict quite a lot of the book. Secondly, I also emphasized that it’s a tome written by an inherently crazy person (as they all are), so it might be a bit tricky to read or even follow in the first place. Figuring out where bits of the text went or how they fit together is a natural piece of the “puzzle” in using the book.

I was really pleased with the excited reaction to having an actual physical “tome” in the game and so it’s made all the effort put into it (so far) all the more worthwhile. Don’t worry readers, there will be copious pictures of the finished tome to come on the guild once I am done with it! Hopefully this adds an interesting new dimension to the latter half of this campaign and how the players start to use (and hopefully experiment) more with magic in order to gain any advantage they can. Of course at what terrible cost that advantage might come at…. Well, we will have to see!

In any event after this it was time for the investigators to organize themselves for the upcoming wedding of Damian’s brother, Romero. Here if I had a bit of a failing this investigation it was by far in the set up here. This wedding isn’t just important to the investigators because it’s Damian’s brother, it’s also very important because of who Romero is marrying and the current situation. If you recall from the events in Nepal, the investigators learned that a sunken U-Boat near the coast of Iceland held the key to finding the hidden location of R’leyh (the Germans had figured it out). Here’s the problem, the submarine is thousands of feet below the surface of the Atlantic and basically inaccessible to the investigators currently.

Enter this wedding and the importance of Romero’s wife, Joleen. Joleen is an extremely powerful woman, who owns numerous shipping companies and most importantly is a massive advocate for the exploration of the deepest parts of the ocean. In the version of earth Trail occupies for me, she’s actually responsible for many important undersea finds and works closely with “in game” James Cameron. She helped him discover the Titanic, explore the ship and then subsequently retrieve the entire wreck. Right now she’s developed new submersible craft and special equipment to allow divers to explore the deepest parts of the ocean, which they are mastering in the Mariana trench.

Unfortunately for her and Romero, someone else is well aware of this and intends to use her resources for their own gain. A mysterious threat was made against the wedding when Romero received a coin – depicting the Esoteric Order of Dagon’s symbol – covered in someones blood. Naturally Romero became concerned and knowing his brother’s friends have a habit of solving tough problems, paid a visit to the shop before the start of the wedding. An analysis of the blood type confirmed it to be from the bride to be, but there was no obvious indication of how they got it (and she was distinctly *not* abducted or anything). Either way the investigators interpreted this as some kind of threat, especially given what they’ve seen other spellcasters and cultists do with blood in the past.

Of course before I continue, writing this down now it’s pretty clear what I was intending from this investigation but at the time I didn’t strongly emphasize those two paragraphs. Especially the sheer inaccessibility of the wreck and where it is located, which is something I should have dedicated a few scenes to exploring in a previous investigation to emphasize the importance of this event going smoothly for the investigators. So later on there is a moment where one of my players asked, “Wait, why are we not just leaving this place again?” when it becomes quite clear something terrible *is* going to happen and the answer wasn’t immediately justified by the previous narrative (as I hadn’t emphasized it to my players!).

Oops!

Either way I asked the investigators who they were going to bring along with them to the wedding. Damian, as Romero’s brother and very close to him (Romero is Damian’s source of stability) was the best man so would be at different positions in the wedding to the other investigators. Splitting up the investigators this way is a very deliberate plot and will make more sense in the second part of the investigation. Damian named Eva (the new investigator) as his “date” and hence the two of them were in the frontal groom party or bridal table. Maggie took Torvald, the man who was helping Melissa all the way back in “As above, so below” and is now formally the characters boyfriend. Keith took his source of stability and occultist friend Sarah, while Anastasia brought along a new character to the game Yakov (her “childhood friend”).

With dates in tow, the investigators packed up and attended the wedding at a wonderful old castle some 35 miles outside of Dorset along the English coast. With an in built church and a large hall, it was the perfect place for the reclusive couple and family to have both the wedding, with the reception following after. Security at the venue was tight and keenly aware of the threats made to the event. Most guests were expected to spend the night at the estate, with accommodation paid for and nobody being let in (or off) the property after 6pm that night for security purposes. Unfortunately, like a couple of things this session, I didn’t emphasize this point enough but it will become relevant later! Initially the wedding was going well and entirely to plan, if long and very religious (Roman Catholic style).

About half-way through I decided to spice things up by the first introduction of genuine drama into the investigation: The arrival of the estranged bastard half-brother and his date! Joseph and Aroha barged in, with Joseph immediately making a considerable scene of how “offended” he was that he hadn’t been invited to the wedding! Then he dropped the startling revelation that he was Damian and Romero’s half brother, to gasps around the church! This caused considerable consternation amongst the Wolfe family, who decided to avoid further embarrassment by allowing Joseph and Aroha to stay.

Of course Aroha caught the investigators eye, because she had some interesting additions to the traditional Moko she had on her person: Various mythos symbols of power were weaved into many of the designs. Given Joseph’s agitation and the particular threats that were made… could this be the attackers? Either way, the rest of the wedding proceeded to plan and Joseph managed to restrain himself at the “And if there is any reason these two should not be married” part. On the other hand at the front Eva noticed that one of the bridesmaids was acting strangely. She seemed to be very sick and was looking at Romero angrily and trying to catch his eye, which he continually kept avoiding.

Meanwhile in the back rows, Keith noticed that someone with what looked to be a wire was sitting a few rows from the back. She was nervously looking around and taking note of the other people in the church. A lot of notes it turned out, from the pad and paper she also had.It looks like not everything was harmonious at this wedding at all and a list of suspects was developing…

Eventually the ceremony finally came to a conclusion, after being entirely done in both Italian and English. With the conclusion of the wedding, guests were moved to the reception hall and shown to their seats. Most of the investigators got put on a guest table near the back, but they were then accompanied by Joseph and Aroha (as the family didn’t know where else to put them). Damian and Eva were at the front of the reception hall, at the bridal table. The lucky Bridge and Groom were getting redressed and having some time to themselves before the start of dinner after 6:30pm. This gave the investigators some time to do other things and figure out what was going on with the other guests.It was also the perfect time for me to insert a ton of random drama into the game!

Like any good soap, I decided to introduce several possible scandals. The bridesmaid that Eva noticed was ill? She wasn’t just ill, but she had morning sickness! After Anastasia visited the bridesmaid in the bathroom after Eva caught her going in there, the investigators discovered that the baby was… the grooms! SCANDAL! Of course, the bridesmaid (Olivia) didn’t know what to do and that Romero wasn’t even remotely trying to talk to her. So she took the chance to vent to Anastasia, who soon sent a text telling the rest of the investigators about this.

Meanwhile, Keith was learning a bit more about Joseph and Aroha, who both seemed to be incredibly sketchy (at best). Especially when Aroha said to Keith that they had both come to witness a fantastic “show” and “Can’t wait for it to start”. Ominous indeed, but he couldn’t determine if they were a part of it or if they knew something about it. Either way, they probably warranted some further investigation in future…Damian and Eva overheard some of the family at the bridal table talking about the security and threats. Most importantly, they both learned that there were other coins sent to the venue. Coins covered in blood and that the family had brought these here in case there was a match to anyone at the venue. Sure enough, Eva and Damian went to break into the security office and grab them, with Eva notably distracting a guard away before an uncomfortable situation developed.

The biggest two sources of drama here were Anastasia catching up with her sister, Yellonova and when Maggie recognized Yellonova’s date Dernis as the man she got in contact with for Loki to sell the sextant. Naturally when Anastasia and her date Yakov noticed this and went to chat, this made for a tense situation. Understandably so as well, given that Anastasia had almost been killed by this fellows boss and so she was most upset to see her sister with him. Some awkward conversations later, Yakov and Keith followed Dernis into the bathroom when he went to check on his “injured” shoulder (just a friendly squeeze from Yakov).

Keith and Dernis came back out, but there wasn’t any immediate sign of Yakov at this point.Finally to cap off the session and really amp up the drama, was when Romero called Damian into the grooms quarters to have a private chat. Without entirely ruining the surprise, let’s just say that morals and convictions were tested as Romero needed Damian to do a particularly awful thing.Which by far was the perfect cliff hanger to end this Soap Opera like “Bold and the Tentacles” episode.

Although it was largely a very slow and entirely roleplaying driven session, it has set up the story elements for the next session absolutely perfectly.

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