Sir Richard Edward Carlyle, resurrected from the dead and currently at large.
One of the best pieces of advice I feel I can give any DM, new or old, is always be prepared to take a break from your game if you need it. Being a DM can be stressful and often has a lot of work associated with it, especially in keeping up with an ever increasing cast of characters, players actions and plot elements. A long term campaign, like the kind I tend to run, can often become very complicated webs of different interacting elements – most of it becoming nigh impenetrable for anyone who hasn’t been following the game from the start. This is actually something well worth discussing in its own post – so expect a future Training Day on taking breaks soon!
In reality the play reports of my various games on this blog are really for me and my players first, but a general audience is actually a secondary consideration in many ways. I acknowledge this is a bit of a problem, because unless someone goes into the archives and reads from the beginning of the game it might be nigh impossible to work out what’s actually happening in my games. The longer campaigns are basically impossible for anyone who isn’t playing in them or reading the play reports to really follow along.
So in this post, I’m going to make an attempt to describe – in general terms – the overall plot of Masks of the Dreamer. This is because as I move towards the end of the campaign, it can be a handy reminder for both my players and those who follow the guild to allow them to follow what is going on.
Why the “Mid-Season” Break?
So let me address this point first: I wasn’t really suffering any burnout or other common issues that can happen to a GM over a long term game. The reason I suspended the game was actually so that I could just run a few other systems for a while, such as Dread, Night’s Black Agents, something I’ve been working on (super secret), giving one of my players a chance to GM and Promethean the Created. Overall I took just over a month off my game to do some other things and consider how I wanted the game to approach the end.
One feature (or flaw) of Trail of Cthulhu and of course the system it buds off from, Call of Cthulhu is that characters have a defined lifespan. Eventually murderous encounters with mad cults, horrific sights, monsters and worse degrades an investigators mind to mush. Or possibly even worse – turns them into tools of the mythos every bit as much of an evil as the things they originally fought in the name of humanity. At this point, many of my players characters are getting to the point where their sanity is under severe threat of being reduced to 0. Naturally this removes the investigator from the game – but it also removes a character with tremendous ties to the plot and who I have developed relationships with the antagonists.
This meant I had to weigh up how long I wanted the campaign to continue in the total number of remaining investigations. As more investigations means that there is an ever increasing chance of characters dying or going insane before the finale. This isn’t to say I want an expectation that a players character should make it though the entire campaign – that would degrade much of the tension and horror in my game – but at this point making a new character would need a longer game to pay off. After a tremendous amount of thought and considering what I wanted from the game, I decided that I would end it within a more limited number of investigations.
Essentially I’ve decided to give my players a high – but absolutely in no way guaranteed – chance of having their original characters get through from the start of this game until the end. After all, there is a lot more satisfaction to finally going insane, dying horribly/honorably or whatever other final fate awaits them at the end of the game – rather than a few steps short of the end.
Masks of the Dreamer: Core Plot Summary
The game started simply enough, with the employees and the owner of A’Tuin Golden Rose – a dingy out of the way bookstore and antiques shop – coming across an old sextant. One of the shops regular and especially eccentric customers, Ian Carson Hawke was so excited to see it, he practically begged the main shop assistant to acquire it. After relenting and deciding to give it to him on promise of later payment, he subsequently and mysteriously disappeared. It’s at this point that the main player characters entered the game:
Anastasia Vologda – The Russian Aristocrat who owns the store
Maggie Esmeralda – Shops in house fortune teller
Keith O’Connell – A local occultist and later the stores general translator
Damian Wolf – One of the stores deliverymen and general “handyman”
Jenn D’Audry – The shops forger and antiquities analyst
Looking into Ian’s disappearance, they soon discovered that he went missing due to being abducted and killed by a demented serial killer in London. After Anastasia ensured the murderer met a shocking end, the characters soon found that different factions – notably an ancient cult known only as VII and members of an extremist far right political party in the UK, True Blue UK – had a distinct interest in the sextant. An interest that was strong enough that someone within the party sent a mysterious box, which contained an alien entity inside in an attempt to intimidate the party into handing it over. A terrible bargain with this being would later come back to haunt the investigators at a later date….
With the being in the box placated for the moment, the investigators turned their attention to a major auction held by a loose gathering of occult groups called the “Hellfire Auction”. After interfering with some of the participants indirectly and directly, they were able to gain some key artifacts for their allies and of course for themselves (notably to continue their deal with the being in the box to protect their sources of stability). Behind the scenes, one of the players manages to accidentally sell the real sextant to a representative from the group VII – triggering a later and extremely shocking event. Meanwhile the first appearance of the mysterious “Smile” occurs, who kidnapped Maggies source of stability and threatened to blow him up – unless the party did something horrible in response.
An expedition to investigate some old buried sites under London, organized through Anastasia and Melissa (a PhD student in Urban Archaeology from the University of London), resulted in the party becoming confused as to the reality of the terrible events beneath the city. All that they knew by the end was that Melissa was dead and that an old cult, called the Esoteric Order of Dagon, had successfully used the blood within Keith’s veins to break into the tomb of Richard Edward Carlyle. This event allowed the ancient sorcerer to resurrect himself and retake control of the Order of Dagon – and True Blue UK by extension – for his own purposes.
But even when the dust had settled after the events in London’s catacombs, VII paid Anastasia a little visit. Aware she had been holding out on them about the fact she really did have the sextant, which Ian Carson Hawke had been so eager to acquire. The main representative of VII in London, Loki (Wilhelm) attempted to murder Anastasia. Only the timely (and extremely oddly coincidental) appearance of Anastasia’s estranged sister Ophelia was able to save her in time – but not quick enough to prevent her from falling into a deep coma.
Here after following a previous lead after a murder at the docks, the investigators (minus Anastasia) boarded a cruise ship in the hopes of finding out what the Order of Dagon was planning. Unfortunately events on the ship conspired against the Investigators and the situation rapidly spiraled out of control, until the ship was actually lost at sea and many of them lost a considerable amount of time (which is still unaccounted for in the games plot so far). In many ways, what happened in this investigation was a heavy defeat for the investigators and advanced their enemies aims considerably.
Jenn D’Audry was not found amongst the survivors at the end of this investigation and her whereabouts are still unknown.
Either way, on Anastasia reawakening from her coma and following a mysterious dream to Nepal the investigators discovered the true purpose of the sextant: To be used in an alien machine to visualize the resting place of a German U-Boat, which contains essential information leading to where R’leyh itself may be located! Here Anastasia finally came face to face with her own father, who she eventually was forced to murder after he tried to betray the investigators. They were then forced to flee Nepal – after collapsing the machines chamber – but were intercepted by something else on the wind swept mountains. Another deal with a mysterious entity followed and the result of this has yet to be felt….
After Nepal Eva joined the party as the newest investigator, which added some fresh intrigue to the game considering the whole traitor question remained firmly unresolved. By this point trust was becoming a highly limited resource…
With the information on where to find R’leyh potentially in the investigators hands, they found they would need specialized equipment and crew capable of getting to the sunken submarine. Thankfully an opportunity arose as the wedding between Damian’s brother and Joleen was proceeding in only a few weeks. Joleen was a notable explorer of the deepest oceans, having assisted James Cameron (yes, as in the director) in exploring the Mariana trench and the Titanic. If there was anyone who could help the investigators get down there, it would be her and thus making a deal with her was essential.
Future wedding plans had to be suspended however, as a large spidery threat revealed itself in London. Maggie and Jen had, in the past, tried to help a previously trapped character in the real of the entity from the Rending Box earlier in the campaign. Unfortunately in the process they may have accidentally unleashed the thing into London properly. This resulted in a mad scramble to defeat the creature and restore a semblance of normality to some of their targeted sources of stability. Unfortunately it was also quite a distraction and who knows what forces may have been using it to hide their own actions?
In any event, once the wedding commenced it soon turned into somewhat of a soap opera. Distant angry half-brothers who weren’t invited turning up and making a scene. One of the bridesmaids was pregnant …. AND IT WAS THE GROOMS! Different scandals were rocking the wedding, including potential police informants attempting to weed out information on some of the more…. illegal activities of the Wolfe family. Of course after “Kidnapping” herself, Joleen led the investigators on a little goose chase to find her and have a private chat. There she revealed she was a member of the Order of Dagon as well, but an older and more established sect. She found the current lot of heretics immensely distasteful – especially with Carlyle back at the helm of their group.
Finally after sorting out some final rather aggressive wedding crashing, the investigators attentions turned to a strange individual in London. It turned out they were using a string of suicides to cover up the magical transference of their essence from body to body. Apparently this was to avoid the Esoteric Order of Dagon and hide away a powerful artifact they stole away from their control some years ago. With a promise to keep their identity secret, the sorcerer led them to a strange mask of unknown power but incredible significance….
And that’s about where the plot summary ends for the campaign in general. Naturally I’ve glossed over some nitty gritty in this, but hopefully it gives you an overall idea how the general plot progressed and where it is going. Obviously there are still some important questions to be asked like “Where exactly is R’leyh and what did the Germans discover?” and “How do these masks tie into R’leyh and what is their significance?”. In fact, I think a new play report will be answering both of these questions really soon….