SHC GM-free session 24: Finale

Recap:

The Chicago Peers are now L21. They are Paul Birkby, Arch-mage and Technomage; Cliff the Tough Bodyguard and Daredevil; Dan Hewstone the Witchhunter; Joe Hitchcock, Charismatic Arch-mage; and Sandi Maclaine, Gun Goddess.

In old Chicago, they have experienced a few setbacks – such as the military pinching the souped-up guns Birkby fashioned in San Francisco – but made a decent fist of the Lair Raid into the sub-surface below the Monk’s Lair.

The Monk! Legendary target of a Great Vampire Hunt dating back four years prior to the time they find themselves in. Through some devious means the Monk survived the Academy’s coup and (so Hitch’s research in the 21st Century suggests) took over one of the Academy Peers.

Equipped with St. Vitellius’ Cup the Chicago Peers are determined not to fail where their predecessors failed!

But the Monk has proved as slippery as could be expected, slipping away to let his Lieutenants fall. And although the Peers do not know this, he has reactivated the Arcane Barrier base they assume has been destroyed.

Depleted of their top spells, the Peers voted to exit the Lair and rest. Now they are ready again.

Scene: The secret entrance

The Peers filter in carefully, taking no chances. Although they all have secure comms, they speak as rarely as possible. Cliff leans around the final corner leading to the last room they visited and waves the all-clear, and they gather ready for the exploration.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Q: Do the Peers use the new exit found to enter? Yes!

No Chaos change. Chaos drops to 4.

Scene: A multi-complex or staging area

The painstaking searching has got on at least one person’s nerves. By the time they discover a secret tunnel, Cliff has had enough. He insists on taking the lead.

“I’m Mr. bag-toter, Mr. meat-shield – apparently! Well if that’s the case I get to decide where we go – or you can find another sucker!”

Dan is ready to dispute this but with silence more of a necessity, it’s waved over. Cliff steps up and takes point. He’s loaded a captured Tommy-gun with ABB ammo and has the Hammer and a brutal-looking stake clipped at his belt.

Sandi looks after him unhappily but takes rearguard.

Scene ends

Mechanics

No Chaos change.

Q: Is it trapped? No. This throws up a random event.

PC Negative (Cliff) meaning ‘overthrow friendship’.

Q: Will Cliff insist on taking the lead? Yes!

This reading is partly based on what’s happened over the season and partly on the original player’s character.

Chaos therefore rises to 5.

Scene: The secret tunnels

Cliff guides the party along in single file. They have no way of knowing whether the Lair is even occupied still, but make no lazy assumptions.

Scene ends

Mechanics

No chaos change.

Q: Are they trapped? No.

Q: Do they skip scenes? Yes.

I ask the last one because I have that stack of pre-drawn scene cards. Secret tunnels don’t automatically allow a scene skip. I roll a d10 for number skipped. By chance this skips them past the human guard (if they are still present).

Chaos drops to 4.

Scene: A vast cellar of some kind

The Peers sense that they are no longer in buried Chicago, but in the everyday below-ground. Or else very close to it. The cellar is sturdily vaulted and bears little sign of decay.

They steal through, exploring nowhere near as thoroughly, as Cliff drives for the one obvious exit, leading up.

Scene ends

Mechanics

The cards call for this to be a random area. Using the Location Crafter I get ‘quietly enormous‘.

Q: Is this a coffin vault? No.

Q: Is this a church vault? Yes!

Chaos rises to 5 since this is random.

Scene: The Cathedral

The Peers start to emerge then the nature of their intrusion becomes obvious and they shuffle awkwardly back down as best they can, without drawing a mass panic. Most of the daytime worshippers are busy in contemplation and do not notice.

Cliff’s embarrassment makes his movements even more brusque as he heads back into the tunnels…

Scene ends

Mechanics

This is, like the previous scene, a Random draw. I get ‘majestically ugly‘. Given the cellar from last scene, that makes this the Cathedral. The Peers head the other way. There was no chaos event but again, since things are not going their way, chaos ticks up to 6.

Scene: A Library

Cliff’s Tommy-gun nozzle thrusts this way and that as he checks the stacks for targets. Hitch Dan and Birkby follow cautiously. As she brings up the rear something warns Sandi and at the last split-second she throws herself forward, tucking and rolling away from a tall, pale-faced, mustachioed man who appeared behind her! She cries the alarm as a wave of sinister energy engulfs her. She fires back but misses: the man dissolves into gaseous form again.

Dan has no chance to ponder what to do next: vampires leap down among them off the stacks and race into contact! Cliff drops the Tommy-gun and whales around with the Hammer, while Hitch and Birkby defend themselves with shield and blur spells. It’s looking very tight for a moment! Then, focusing his concentration, and relying on his flak vest, Dan thrusts the Cup forward and Turns them!

Darkness descends, but Dan immediately counters with Daylight. Sandi comes tumbling into the light: levels her Glock and sends a withering blast back into the Shape she just dodged away from.

In reply a deep purple cone strikes Sandi, who cries out again. Dan yells:

Faith’s Fury!

bathing the shape in holy light, then utters a fervent Prayer. Sandi’s other Glock now barks again and again, and seems to have an effect. A fireball hurled by Birkby engulfs it. In the glare, the form of a mustachioed,  ascetic-featured man is clearly visible. Somehow Hitch has the rough stake Cliff had, and hurls it to slam unerringly into the creature’s chest!

Dan holds the Cup powerfully at the creature: calling on the Light to end the Monk:

it evaporates!

A blast of Magic Missile from Birkby – who has been expecting it to turn gaseous – and it is over.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Chaos Interrupt, NPC Positive, ‘proceedings [to] expectations’.

Q: Is it the Monk? Yes.

Q: Is this an ambush? Yes.

I roll a d6, Cliff now counting as 1 and 2. Sandi is the target. Range is Clubs. Attack is Finger of Death or an analogue of it. Fort SV DC24, Sandi makes it (AP spent). She loses 25 hp.

Q: Is another Peer hit? No.

Q: Does the Monk capture Sandi? No.

The Surprise Round continues as follows:

Spawn-type vampires attack all other Peers. Dan makes a good Concentration check and Turns 20HD of spawn, i.e. all of them on that attack.

Initiatives: Monk, Sandi [then drops to after Dan], Dan, Birkby, Hitch, Cliff

Round 1: Monk throws Darkness and attempts a Slam on Sandi. She evades. Dan casts Daylight, surges, tries a Turn, does not work on Monk. Sandi uses her AP for the round on Leadstorm, and hits. Other Peers still busy but can be presumed to be prepping stake etc.

Round 2:

Q: Are all the spawn gone? Yes. [This triggers a remote event that is not relevant to this scene.]

Q: Does the Monk flee? (Likely) No.

Monk repeats Save or Die style attack on Sandi, she again survives, using an AP, and loses another 25 hp. Dan hurls Faith’s Fury (which is nickel and dime damage to the Monk, but it all adds up!) then surges and Prays. Sandi uses normal aimed double-tap shots but hits with the ABB ammo three times. Birkby’s Fireball comes in and the Monk misses the Refl SV: takes a further 45. Hitch has cast Truestrike and throws the Stake (one of the new relics picked up) inflicting 28 damage. Monk evaporates. Birkby surges and MMs.

Chaos rises to 7 because of:

Side scene: Outside in the upper world, the military have a special squad ready to invade. A strange rumor coming out of the Cathedral has alerted them to where they should be looking.

“We tell the Press, we located some lunatic anarchists plotting to blow up the Cathedral. If need be we’ll blame the Railway strikers.”

“Roger that,” the young Lieutenant acknowledges and begins briefing his men.

Scene ends

Mechanics

I got the random remote event ‘develop military’ earlier. Given the military know about these strange interlopers, and the unexpected exit into the Cathedral, this seems a reasonable development.

Scene: the Ceremonial Circle again

Dan’s voice rings with power and confidence as he destroys the Circle and removes the arcane barrier’s foundation.

“Now it’s really down, isn’t it?” Cliff asks. Behind him, Hitch picks up the Cup from where it has taken center stage.

“There is no doubt this time,” Dan assures them all.

“So let’s hunt some vamp!” Cliff roars. Sandi hi-fives him and they check loads and visors.

“Dan, you want to keep hold of the Cup?” Hitch asks. Dan nods and tucks it securely away.

Scene ends

Mechanics

This is Alteration, PC Negative. Meaning is ‘deceive advice‘. For now I allow the session to play out since the ‘advice’ isn’t obvious. Yet.

Q: Is the Circle able to be taken down? Yes.

This answer throws a Random Event up. It is PC Positive, ‘persecute enemies’.

Q: Does this also cripple spawned and sired vamps? Yes.

Chaos drops to 6.

Travel montage: En route

The Peers evade what seems to be a determined top-down hunt for vamps by the military.

Sandi hands in her notice – by slipping a badly-written note under the door – and trots happily back to rendezvous at the station. She notices Hitch has been following her.

“Just for my own peace of mind,” Hitch reassures her.

“That’s like, sweet of you, Hitch,” she smiles.

Much further south, some stops of the Chicago & Alton later, Sandi notices a dog growling as the Peers stretch their legs. She’s about to comment but sees Hitch quickly shake his head, just a half-shake but she gets the message.

Springfield is reached at length, and the Peers trek along the rail spur, through the lake area and to what will one day be a reserve.

Travel montage ends

Mechanics

The Emulator is still telling me something but I can’t quite ‘see’ it. The various reads I get are:

PC negative, ‘oppose animal’;

Move towards a thread, ‘oppress opposition’.

Based on the latter I judge that overall the Peers are on course to finish the quest.

Chaos is back to 5.

Scene: the Portal Falls

Dan raises his voice over the rushing water:

“As agreed, I’ll remain behind. The future is yours: the past is under my guard.”

“That’s right… but come to think of it, haven’t we all forgotten something?” Hitch asks.

They turn to him, puzzled.

“In the final moments of Roundtree…” Hitch begins, but is interrupted by a spasmodic movement of Dan’s hand: which clutches where the Cup should be.

“Hold him Cliff!” Hitch roars. As Cliff puts the Witchhunter in a full nelson, Sandi slips between clutching fingernails and jams the Cup, bowl first, into Dan’s contorted face. Hitch and Birkby invoke the words of exorcism, Birkby presenting the Hagen relic and Hitch the rugged old Crucifix. With a last scream, the Monk is extinguished; his spirit sucked helpless into the random vortex of between-time.

“It was relatively simple,” Hitch brags afterwards. “once you recollect I made a complete study of the Great Vampire Hunt of 1918.”

He breaks to remark parenthetically and with a note of reproach in his tone, “I did summarise this at the Convention, remember.” Then he continues:

“Doubts always existed in my mind as to whether the Monk’s spirit had not simply inhabited Roundtree, masqueraded as a corpse, then proceeded to travel to the New World.

“And recollect,” he continues, clearly enjoying the sound of his own voice, “I saw the shade of Roundtree – in San Francisco! If he was slain in combat in White Russia (later Poland, footnote at bottom of p518) then why would I see him in San Francisco?

“My suspicions were really confirmed when Dan didn’t remind us to return the Cup, of course. That’s when I cued you in as much as I could. Thanks for putting it all together.”

“Oh – and the puppy!” Sandi exclaims tangentially.

“Not quite as helpful – but up until then I thought you might be Renfielded, Sandi, and if you had been, you wouldn’t have drawn attention to the dog – so yes, that was useful.”

“Why me?”

“The Monk attacked you personally, away from the rest of us, in the same style poor Cross seems to have been. Or so I deduce.”

“Well, I’m most impressed by how you and Paul managed to complete the ritual of exorcism,” Dan comments a trifle gruffly. It has been a soul-searing experience.

“Jolly good show and all that rot,” Cliff breaks in with a feeble attempt at a Brit accent, “but I’m getting old standing here. Do we head to San Fran or not?”

“We most certainly do!”

Scene ends

Mechanics

OK, I have a sneaking liking for foreshadowing and I did sneak it in here and there, but in all honesty, this scene was a surprise and came in a rush of insight. I finally made sense of the ‘PC Negative‘ stuff from way back in the Lair. If you read back over the Great Vampire Hunt of 1918, and the San Francisco episodes of Season Four, it makes sense that the Monk appears to die but in fact, possesses a useful servant. In 1918 Roundtree appears to die. 21st-Century Hitch sees his shade standing over Videnko’s grave. So it was an unquiet death. And if Dan has been possessed it’s even more ideal. The Monk can reinstitute all of  his plots and in addition provide for the demise of our heroes! And to cap it off – I completely forgot up to that point that the Peers are supposed to take the Cup back to Videnko! So I read that real-life senior moment as Dan blanking out on the Cup.

Now, why pick Dan? I use the Emulator in sequence for each Peer to check who the Monk possessed, and get Dan. And that is my preference. It would be super-lame if Cliff got possessed, for example – he’s already in a dramatic tension arc – and only slightly dramatic if Sandi was. But the Cleric! Awesome!

After checking this and that such as Sleight of Hand from Sandi (natural 20) and Grapple from Cliff, I use the Emulator to ask:

Q: Is Dan exorcised? Yes.

Q: Is the Monk really gone now? Yes.

Q: Do the Peers return the Cup now? Yes.

Chaos drops to 4.

A little bit more from the Emulator before the Epilogue:

Threads open: Return (except for Dan)

Q: Do the Peers leave Dan behind? Yes.

Q: Is Jack alive in modern Chicago? Yes!

Epilogue: 2008

Sandi Maclaine, native of Cleveland OH, brings her CV (a thing she can’t quite spell in full) to an office just off the University of Chicago campus. She’s not sure why this place was recommended by Michelle (whose name she can’t quite spell) but, face shining with positivity, presents herself as interested in the reception job. Her ID (brought over by Michelle) says she’s 18, which will be true in several months’ time. The dark-haired receptionist shows Sandi through to an older man named Jack, who is the Boss, apparently. Who interviews her with perhaps a fatherly twinkle in his eye, and tells her she can have a job part-time.

And it all starts from there.

I do hope you enjoyed the Solo Mythic version of Season Five SHC! A lot of what happened is informed by the players and the GM(s) of the first four seasons: how they behaved and the kinds of decisions they made: therefore I hope it stays faithful to the feel of the group.

The Mythic GME doesn’t tie up every loose end. Perhaps deliberately I left the fate of the last Greater Vampire Lieutenant unstated, because Dracula always has to have someone to revive him, even after all the rites are completed. I don’t know what the final piece of Cliff’s ‘mad as hell and ain’t gonna take it no more’ arc would be like. I did have a vignette in mind, which would bring out what Sandi in particular has sacrificed to become a death-dealing gunship, but it didn’t come up. I did not ask if Dan did live on endlessly to found the Judges and imbue them with their deep distrust of mages, even though that does fit the Witchhunter arc. As someone a lot wiser than me said, stories just keep going, but some of the characters fall out of it and their part is over.

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SHC 23: Raid from below: the Monk’s Lair

Scene: a crudely-cut stone torture chamber

The five Chicago Peers: Paul Birkby, Cliff, Dan Hewstone, Joe Hitchcock and Sandi Maclaine filter in, ready for trouble. They are heavily equipped.

“Makes sense they’d put this affair next to underground currents – no need to transport a body over to the lake if you have that handy,” Cliff comments. He’s trying to act nice. It seems to him that he is being used purely as meat shield, and it rankles.

“Take lookout Sandi; we’ll search” Hitch decides.

In the vaulting and secreted under some heavy equipment they find two intriguing items. Both magical. One is styled as a cornucopia; the other is a simple-looking robust crucifix, conveniently fist-sized.

The mages don’t have the right spells ready to read these, so they are tucked away safely and they rejoin Sandi.

“No problem?” Cliff asks.

“No – well, just a vamp. But it was alone.” She points vaguely to some dust still lingering in the tunnel.

“You could have called me!”

Sandi just pushes up her NVGs and looks at him with those clear blue eyes.

“I had it covered Cliffie.” Then as Cliff angrily barges past her she adds softly, “We are doing this the whole way, remember?”

Scene ends

Mechanics

I need a beginning scene for the ‘secret portal’ the Deep Ones let the Peers in on last session. The Location Crafter gives me something I translate to what you see there. Chaos check is ‘Move toward a thread: Separate Riches. So the Peers get to seize a useful source of the Monk’s wealth. The Emulator gives me arcane treasure, two items and the Location Crafter descriptions pin them down as general powers and appearance.

And now it’s time for…

The Lair Raid Draw!

Now that the Peers have the entry, I need to know what they’ll be up against and set a series of scenes ahead of time. There’s no known base CR to this lair, because it is the unprotected secret entry. However, the number of AP on the table by this stage promotes the base CR to 19. Here’s the summary:

A minor CR13 human guard of a CR9 mage and his CR9 team;

A CR16 Greater Vampire veteran;

DC32 non-magical traps;

DC34 magical traps;

And a recording device of DC16 to detect.

For scene-setting I assemble 32 cards, with plenty of ‘expecteds’ to represent dank tunnels, two Opponent cards for the opposition above; and a Special that will get reshuffled into the pack each time drawn until it becomes the final exit (if needed). I end up with a list of 35 points, which may not be all needed. Now, with Chaos at 5, we begin with:

Scene: a dining galley

Dan Hitch and Birkby take turns examining the graffiti scratched on and around the bench. They agree excitedly that the coffins are just ahead!

But some exploration later, they realize that was completely wrong.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Alteration: Move away from a thread. Meaning ‘excitement for lies’. I read this as a false clue.

Chaos rises to 6.

Scene: Coffin store/Bunkroom

“You know what?” Hitch muses ruefully.

“Hmm, what?”

“We’ve just sounded a warning system. This was all a set-up. Look, this earth hasn’t even been lain on. The whole thing – including the graffiti – is meant to lure snoopers  in here.”

“So we’re trapped?”

“Not necessarily. It probably just means they know we are down below now. Time to move.”

Scene ends

Mechanics

With the previous scene (barring some tunnels) having set up the decoy, I assume the next major scene will relate to that. I get Alteration, NPC Action, meaning ‘change fame’ so after checking:

Q: Have the enemy detected the Peers? (has to be) Yes.

Q: Is this an encounter? No.

Chaos rises to 7.

A series of tunnels drops chaos back to 6 by the time the Peers find…

Scene: Ceremonial Circle

Dan spends some time checking, but other than the dark magics coursing through the circle itself, there does not seem to be any trap. The others agree. So Dan begins his purification ritual while they keep watch.

At length, he finishes the ritual.

“It is done! The barrier will break!”

“Too easy,” Cliff comments sourly.

“Right you are, that was too easy,” Hitch agrees.

“‘Fraid so,” Birkby agrees.

“They’re coming!” Sandi calls softly.

Scene ends

Mechanics

This is Ceremonial Circle on the Lair cards. No chaos change.

Q: Is this the magical trap? (V Likely) No.

Q: Can Hitch hijack it? (Unlikely) No.

Q: Can Dan hijack it? (Unlikely) Yes.

Dan gets to 27 on Arcane Lore, I allow a try again, he gets 31 which with the +2 help from each of Hitch and Birkby will cross the DC34 threshold. He then gets a natural 20 on Spellcraft to deduce which spells he is interfering with/taking down.

Q: Does this break the arcane barrier? (V Unlikely) Yes.

Q: Have the Peers made an error? Yes!

Q: Is this an ambush? No.

Q: Are enemy n their way? Yes.

Chaos moves to 7 again.

Scene: The same. Combat begins.

The opposition is one CR16 Veteran Greater Vampire, and his Spawn minions. Range is Hearts (near).

Initiatives: Birkby, Hitch, Vampires, Cliff, Dan [Sandi].

Q: Can Dan see the vampires? Yes!

Round 1: Birkby uses a maxed Fireball, relying on the Hagen relic to remove any Fireball protection; then buffs again. Hitch immediately follows with a Hold spell, surges and adds another maxed Fireball. Although the vamps evade the worst of the blasts they are weakened.

The Vampire Lieutenant hammers the team with an Ice Storm (Dan spends an AP on the Mas SV) while the spawn try Dominate, which auto-fail. Seeing this, they race to close range.

Cliff blocks the charge with Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, designating Hitch as his protectee. Dan throws up Daylight and surges and Turns to get rid of all but one of the spawn. Sandi resets her init.

Round 2: Sandi uses 2 aimed shots to get rid of the last spawn, turns the same gun on the Lieutenant, then opens up with her second Glock, a withering blast of fire. Birkby hits him with another Fireball and the vampire explodes into a burning column (missing his SV) which turns to ash, then dust.

The only noise in the entire battle has been the screams of the undead being ripped apart. The Peers signal to one another and head out the way the Vampires entered.

Scene ends

Q: did any other monsters arrive? No.

Chaos rises to 8, since that scene was part of the Monk’s defenses, not the Peers’ plan.

Scene: A passage connecting the Circle to the Main Hall

As the Peers steal down the passage, their enemy has not awaited developments! In the Hall where the Monk holds his secret conclave, the Lieutenants have gathered with their minions. Some tote Tommy-guns. The Monk growls his underlings to silence: incants a simple invocation and smiles mockingly.

Behind the Peers, the Ceremonial Circle comes back to life.

Mechanics

I get Alteration, NPC Positive. I confirm that it is the Monk. Meaning is ‘return goals’ so the Circle is back in business!

Chaos rises to 9.

Scene: Main Hall, a vaulted stone cellar of surprisingly large dimension.

Combat begins.

Range is Hearts. Some mechanics as preliminary:

I use Location Crafter to set the scene in more detail. The Main Hall is fortunately important, and what’s going on is dispute anger. This leads me to conclude the Monk himself was present (above) and is ordering his lieutenants into the fray. They may be discontented at this (though the undead hierarchy prevents them actually rebelling, I believe).

Some Emulator questions confirm those present: the Monk, and five lieutenants. I also discern that the Monk will flee as the Peers attack. (I give this an ‘unlikely’ but there you are, he hasn’t survived by risking unnecessary all-out war.)

Then I generate hp for the lietenants – it’s important, because hits from the ABB ammo delivered in a full Sandi volley (either six or more shots, or a Leadstorm) can kill outright. Then I roll d4+1 spawn for each to get to 21.

Just to check if there is any ambush either way I ask:

Q: Is this an encounter? Yes.

Initiatives: Vampire Lieutenant (VL) 5; Sandi; VL2; Birkby; Cliff; Dan; VL3&4/Spawn; Hitch.

Round 1: 

VL5 opens up with Tommy-gun, strafing a wide area, forcing Refl SV from all Peers, twice. Sandi replies by racing forward to handy range and throwing shot after shot into the same vamp, dusting it, and racing back out. VL2 tries to Dominate but again it is futile. [Q: is it nerfed? Yes.] VL2 buffs and moves to close range instead. Birkby buffs Sandi with Haste, seeing her about to be attacked at close range. He surges and hits VL2 with magic missiles. VL1 also tries Dominate and lays down autofire. Sandi is hit and spends her AP on the Mas SV. Cliff levels his ‘Tankbuster’ pistol and misses with everything. Dan Prays, surges and Turns with an excellent result: VL2 is Turned.

VL 3 and 4 both open up with Tommy-guns, though one blasts twice and the other rushes to close range. The Spawn rush forward, firing pistols. Damage on the Peers is mixed: Birkby has a good chunk of his Stoneskin stripped away. Dan takes 14 damage. At the other end of the scale Sandi gets nicked for 2 points, one of which is soaked. In reply Hitch rips a tight Wall of Fire around the inner group, facing out, and surges and seals the entry with Wall of Force. VL1 and 3 will get nickel-and-dimed if they remain where they are. VL4 and all Spawn are in close. They cannot finish their charge this round. VL2 is about to flee through the Fire.

Round 2: 

Sandi, now with the Prayer helping, dances and weaves around the Spawn and VL4 with Defensive Fighting penalty, and with the added attack from Haste is able to dust VL4. She reloads in melee range.

VL2 flees through Wall of Fire and takes the damage, ending cowering at the Wall of Force.

Birkby, relying on Sandi’s ability to not be there, drops Fireball across the Spawn. 14 take full damage and burn to death, a good result. VL1 leaps to melee on Hitch but Cliff activates his Bodyguard ability and melees with him instead. VL1 is hit with the Hammer but remains on his feet, driven back. Dan Turns again, having full effect on the seven Spawn remaining.

VL3 follows VL1 leaping in, this time against Sandi, missing. The damage from the Wall of Fire did have some effect on it. All remaining Spawn flee through the Wall of Fire, incinerating. Hitch holds a counter-spell in reserve in case VL1 comes up with something.

Round 3:

Sandi has VL3 in her face and VL1 not far off. Still with the Defensive penalty she hits time and again, dusting both. (Both are already injured by the fire, that’s not as ridiculous an amount of damage as it sounds.)

Unseen by the Peers VL2 turns gaseous and escapes through a nook or cranny.

Scene ends

Chaos drops to 8 since the Peers sought this encounter and won. They have captured the Main Hall but are unaware that the Circle is back in business.

Scene: Treasure Vault

Sandi strips away the last trap and steps back to let the mages do their stuff. Within a short time they have four items sorted out, packed away and are ready to move again. Cliff signals a number of possible ways forward…

Scene ends

Mechanics

This scene is handled in a similar way to the Torture Chamber. In this case this room is trapped, Sandi makes a fine disable device roll. Then the Emulator and Location Crafter provide the treasures. They get one item that appears to be a useful weapon, and a possible second; and they will have to use some investigation to determine uses of the others.

Chaos drops to 7.

After two more sections of exploration the Peers have located a fresh exit. There’s no sign of the Monk. I do get an NPC action from the Academy.

Q: Has the Academy locked the area down? No.

Q: Do the Peers keep going? No.

Q: Do the Peers take a short rest? No.

So it’s back to the city hideout for a long rest, Chaos drops to 6 then 5 in these sections.

The treasure picked up can be examined during the long rest without any real loss of mage spells.

Session ends

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CD16: Dungaree Week

Fight the Power! Close the Hellmouth!

Urban fantasy gaming using Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG rules

The session characters and a little about them:

Victor “Vic” Creed, 6’6 ex-paratrooper, hideously scarred, built for combat. Last session he picked up the Dependents flaw, and he has added “help out Pop Creed without him knowing it” to his season storylines (making a total of one because his previous one had ended).

Roosevelt “Arby” Brown, 5’7 skinny grifter, built for dodging work, the draft, out of the way, you name it. His main season storyline is “get closer to my moms” although his player wasn’t specific whether he is thinking of his adoptive moms or his biological moms.

Steve “the Cutter” Cutter, 6′ ex-boxer, built for fast-hand combat. He’s conflicted about storylines and is focusing on “the plot” whatever that is.

Together with their colleague Jon “Doc” Samedy these are the White Hats.

 

Part One: Cards on the Table

Scene: Soul Food Diner, near Brother Gloves

Theme: Ball of Confusion

The Cutter has just finished updating his fellow white hats – or at least Arby and Vic – with the revelation sistah Asha laid on him: her idea to get the white hats to rise up against the Corridor Boys came from the CIA.

“B’ why fo’ CIA be messin’ wit’ us?” Vic wants to know. “Ain’t no Nam. Ain’t no Cam-bo-dee-ya. This Cleveland.”

“What I ast,” Cutter agrees. “On’y thing sistah say is, she agent workin’ freelance, don’ get to be mastermindin’ this thing.”

They are interrupted. Arby and Vic both recollect Emily Phan before Cutter does, but it’s him she aims to see.

Emily’s story

She wants out of the endless blackmail loop, which hasn’t gone away just because the white hats busted her and let her off. So she’s finally willing to part with some names. She’s pretty sure the blackmail is out of the CP’s office. The go-between, who actually puts the heat on her, is T-Bone, a brother who also talks to Curtis Silverman, Farmatec’s CEO. The latest gig, the one that’s pushed her to the Cutter, is T-Bone getting her to organize a couple of younger girls to get hot n’ heavy with the white hats.

Cutter leans back in the booth and tries to make sense of all the bits and pieces. Arby produces a deck of cards and Cutter fishes a Queen of Diamonds, a Knave of Hearts, and a Joker out and lays them out face up.

“Le’ssay the Queen there is the Corridor Boys, or Asha’s mission or what. An’ the knave be T-Bone, messing wit’ little girls’ hearts.”

“Gon’ kill that f***er,” Vic decides.

“An’ the Joker be weird shit up above the reservoir, feet on the ground, that shit. We gots to get busy on one two three. But which is the one, the two, the three?”

The three agree that they can spoil T-Bone’s game for a while at least, by not being around night spots like Little Haiti, Boneyard, Euclid Club or wherever. Whilst avoiding that trouble, they can find out more about this T-Bone. According to Emily he’s some Jock type, so Cutter’s confident he’ll unearth his real name and history.

“But first, yeah, feet on the ground up in the heights.”

“Yeah, seein’ how they payin’ us.”

“An’ tryin’ to help us stop the crazy-ass stuff.”

“Then we can decide what-all we do ’bout this chump T-Bone. Oh, an’ speakin’ of Jocks minds me to say, I dug out the Spartans coach name. Man name of ‘Wash’ Grover. Joke is he got the handle from washing so many off the squad, but I hear tell it’s his right name, short for Washington.”

“Sound like a blood.”

“Yeah he be. Real pergess, porgass, uh, go-‘head that Case Western be.”

“Then finally we gots to get up on the Corridor Boys shit an’ see where that leads.”

Scene: Woodhill heights

Theme: Walk on by

Doc’s been ruled out of this gig because of his limp. The three white hats are in DeNaRes gear, including caps, and obviously animal control officers – two of them have catchpoles and Vic wields a net.

Fairhill Hospital – the mental institution – is a good landmark to start with and right off the bat, they notice a small, recent-vintage industrial park backing right onto it. The board outside says one of the main tenants is the Wilson Clinic.  The upstairs tenant is some kind of technology company and a dental laboratory setup holds the wing that they aren’t in.

Studying the parked cars and who’s name is on each space, Cutter picks out a comfortable wagon belonging to Dr Wilson, a dark red sedan belonging to Dr Spenser, a newish but forgettable sedan belonging to someone named D Ernst and lastly a bland sedan that seems part of the Wilson staff parking.

And about that time Blackhand Security rolls up on them.

While the white hats are showing their DeNaRes credentials to the pair of low-grade security goons, a thickset, very plain woman scuttles out of the Clinic and gets in the bland sedan and drives off. She doesn’t make eye contact but they get an impression of goggles.

Scene: Ambler Heights

Theme: Move on up

Today it’s the local cops. A cruiser grinds slowly up kerbside and they use a spot, even th0ugh it’s daylight. And a loud-hailer. Arby makes a real show of hunting some kind of varmint in a bush, while Cutter shows the DeNaRes ID. Just a sniff of the paperwork associated with County problems and the cops head away.

[I grin evilly and ask Arby for a Perform roll, a skill he lacks utterly. Forcing a Drama Point to be spent. He walked into that one.]

The area seems clear, so they head back to the ranger station.

Scene: DeNaRes ranger station above Baldwin Reservoir

Theme: Don’t you worry ’bout a thing

By this time the white hats have some T-Bone information to share round the table.

T-Bone is Tyrone Bennett. He attended East Tech, but had troubles. His moms sent him to his Aunt up the heights somewhere, she got him into a clinic, and he became quite the star athlete. He even got on a scholarship track to Case Western. Seems as though he washed out of the Spartans not too far back. His folk live in the south-west corner of Fairfax, near the Central ward border. Exactly where he lives isn’t known yet.

The mention of the Spartans football squad filters something through Arby’s subconscious:

“Say, a body might think they be more o’ them jocks, workin’ aroun’ the track out there.”

No-one around the table can explain that, but it turns out Laura, the young part-time ranger, knows all about it. She is a keen observer of the studly men of the Spartans, who are now using the old naval? marine? grounds as their training track. And it’s really, really close to the ranger station.

So that gives them something to worry about. But they also have to move on the “dead crow” dime-bag (so called for the black mark printed on it) and the Corridor Boys’ source.

 

Flashback scene: CWRU Med-lab, dead of night

Theme: Pusherman

Vic’s safely away in a van parked near a payphone. Arby and Cutter have navigated Doc through the grounds along the route Doc figured would be safest, this time of night. Some difficult work on the locks gets Doc in and with plenty of time to do the analysis. He cuts the dime bag into nickels, and analyzes one of them.

“This is really good quality… it’s most likely based on medical supply morphia,” is Doc’s verdict.

 

Part Two: Days of Surveillance, Nights of Danger

Scene: just south-west of University Circle

Theme: theme from Shaft

The three white hats, plus Danny Castro acting as their work gang boss, are dressed in County maintenance crew outfits. For three days they clean, trim and manicure the area between the Farmatec sales office and Case Western.

The reasoning is, the most likely place Corridor Boys are re-upping from is a place the white hats already suspect as being part of the dark powers, with access to medical-grade shit.

Each evening they head back to the ranger station, shower, change and keep their lives on track, though they avoid night spots.

Day three the stake-out finally pays off. The re-up vehicle is a Blackhand Security truck, and they catch a flash of purple in the cab as an anonymous lab guy from the Med-lab area hands over the packet. That’s Snicky-bo, they figure. He favors purple.

But meanwhile this has happened…

Scene: Pop Creed’s place

Theme: Just enough for the city

Vic knocks softly, his niece answers the door. Pop doesn’t hear, and there’s a certain odor about the place that makes Vic think he hasn’t stopped drinking. Vic makes his way through to his sis and explains he’s laying some bread on her, and pops don’t need to know about it. She takes it. They agree she’ll keep discouraging pops from taking up with CC – Boss Creed that is.

[Vic deals successfully with his new Dependents drawback and cuts his Wealth to -1.]

 

Scene: Cleo’s apartment

Theme: Shotgun

Cleo’s place is well away from the Corridor Boys’ turf but taking no chances, Vic rides along with Steve and they take the Mystery Machine – the DeNaRes van. Steve skips nimbly up the steps, but not so nimble he steps clear of Vic’s bulk. He got shot at from the building roof opposite, after all.

Cleo’s kids are pleased to see the big ugly monster they climb over, though Jomo, Cleo’s eldest, is too cool for that now and just watches TV. In between being lectured about how he don’t have the time to keep up with his kids’ lives, Steve hands over some bread and finds that Jomo is aiming for the little league next season.

Afterwards, seeing how Cutter is slumped over the wheel like he taken a 12-round beating, Vic dozens with him and the ex-boxer cheers right up. By the time they get back to the ranger station they are both laughing.

[Seeing Cleo triggers Cutter’s fear of commitment and will prevent him using drama points. ‘Dozens’ is the Cleveland Darkens version of the group hug. It’s lighthearted barracking and repartee, designed to make a brother feel right. Vic’s player roleplayed this from beginning to end and earned himself a drama point.]

Until they find broken furniture, spilt coffee and Gunnarsson being bandaged up.

 

Flashback scene: DeNaRes Ranger Station

Theme: Payback

Arby and Captain Kelly fetch their coffee out of the common room and into the kitchen for a private talk. It seems to Arby Kelly isn’t smoking as much and she’s quit the smoky, coffee-smelling common room for the smaller, more private kitchen to spend some quality time with him.

Their coze is interrupted by Laura’s scream. Heading back into the common room to see what the problem is, Arby sees Gunnarsson, bleeding from a head wound, stumbling in from outside and falling. And two big jocks step right in after him!

Well there’s a big table running down the room, so Arby leaps atop it, mocking them and distracting them from Gunnarsson and Kelly. As they swing he leaps above them. They decide to book-end him with flying tackles, and he is ready for it – he is vanished and they collide violently!

Then two more jocks step on in, and one’s got a ball bat.

Arby feels his confidence rise. He eggs the bat-guy on and ducks out of the way – and Kelly flings the coffee-pot contents into the dude’s face! And as he howls in agony she smacks him with the empty pot too. Then the fourth guy is closing in on her, but Arby’s already swinging his legs around, catching the guy in back of the knees and he folds backward. Grabbing the bat Arby makes a great golf-swing into the fallen one’s groin, and he’s out of the fight.

As the original two get to their feet Arby faces them off and warns them he got more where that come from. They grab the two more severely injured and stumble away.

[Arby spends eight drama points winning this but his status rises sharply with the fighting pair of white hats!]

 

Part Three: The common threads weave together

Scene: Soul Food Diner near Brother Gloves, and Brother Gloves

Theme: Pick up the pieces

It’s a somber time for the white hats. Little Haiti will close. It’s like their pop told them not to climb up into the treehouse no more. That’s why Doc’s been distracted this week.

“Setro’s happy as a clam, and he got his piece of following rejoicing along with him. They way they tell it the club’s nothing but an embarrassing tourist trap. Most of the others are with me, not happy ’bout it.”

“Man, you in wrong joint,” Vic sympathizes with the barkeep. “I got a real club, me, you get to hear real music.” (He actually intends to follow this through, too.)

“Can’t you hold on two more weeks?” Cutter asks desperately. Things are coming together. Boddington is turning into a key contact. They are sharing information and even as Cleveland evenings get shorter and darker the view is clearing.

Arby sells this information to smoker man, Malcolm Lansing of the CBI. It’s the white hats’ best angle on breaking up the Corridor Boys supply. They considered giving the bust to PD3’s honest Polacks, but the corruption in the precinct seems too deep. They thought about PD5, but it would be too easy for the Corridor Boys to escape any link. It’s still an option. But CBI, though drugs aren’t their ball, has the power to make the bust stick. And cynically they believe Lansing will enjoy having something over the local police.

“We got T-Bone runnin’ between the CP’s office, WKCY, an’ Curtis Silverman. An’ we got a team he tried out for, makin’ surprise yards and points. An’ the same team attacked the ranger station and works out on the field tucked right back of Wilson Clinic.

“And T-Bone the Corridor Boys boss.”

 

 

 

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SHC GM-free session 22: An enigmatic mercenary, an unconsidered complication, and a way forward

Scene: Daffodil lawn

Charles has made contact again. Here in the city, he seems a faded old hobo, but the blooms around the group perk him up a little. Birkby, Cliff, Dan, Hitch and Sandi are all paying close attention to him as he speaks:

“Someone you saw recently, in prison… has set in motion a new course of events. A soldier comes.”

“Dammit! I knew I should have done a memory wipe!” Birkby comments bitterly.

“Which would be evil,” Hitch reminds him firmly.

“Do you know who this soldier is working for?” Dan asks Charles politely.

“That is not clear. Perhaps someone in this city that trembles under the undead’s gaze seeks to balance things anew.”

“All right, we’ll swing by the ‘joint’ again, find out who it was and toss his place,” Cliff decides confidently.

“That’s a barrel-load of assumptions, but I suppose we ought to start somewhere,” Hitch agrees.

Scene ends

Mechanics

This stems from an Interrupt: NPC Action, which in turn throws up a random event. I use the Universal NPC Emulator (UNE) to flesh out an ‘unconcerned mercenary’ but that in itself throws up things like ‘enigma’ and focus is ‘adversary’ so it does not reveal much.

Chaos rises to 6.

 

Scene: Investigation montage

Various Peers (other than Sandi) re-question contacts in the prison and jail, and between Dan and Hitch a great deal of information is picked up.

Montage ends

Mechanics

Although this scene involves an Alteration it is ‘expose possessions’ so questions of the Emulator point to quickly finding out a great deal. Dan and Hitch both make DC30+ checks.

Chaos drops to 5.

 

Scene: A crummy (but secure) basement

Sandi throws herself back in time as a deadfall-rigged blade crashes down.

“OK, I guess he did set a trap,” she confesses.

A short time later the other Peers hear her check in:

“I’m totally drawing a blank here, and like, maybe Dan could help search?”

“Why don’t we all head in… inconspicuously.”

The search takes a long time and the final outcome is a double surprise.

The Peers find some notes, and the notes are on them! And especially, on the weapons they carry.

And a descent downwards into the sub-city!

Scene ends

Mechanics

There is no chaos change. I check that Sandi is doing the infiltration. I check if it is trapped. Sandi does not find the trap but avoids it. (The trap is randomly generated using a card draw.) I check if there is another trap. There is not. I check if Sandi needs to search, and she does. Sandi is not the greatest searcher. It takes a long time and brings in the whole party. One of the Emulator questions throws up a random event. This comes to light in the next scene. Another throws up a new element, which I can only make sense of by including a descent-point.

Chaos rises to 6 since there are more questions building.

 

Remote Scene: The Peers’ Hideout

Shadowy but military shapes rifle through the Peer’s rooms, removing certain long objects that clank. They remove most traces of their presence and leave quietly.

Scene ends

Mechanics

The random event thrown up last scene was NPC Action meaning Malice [of] Possessions. Given that the Peers were only snooping around and not heavily armed, I ask:

Q: Are the possessions in the Peers’ base? Yes.

Q: Are the possessions the tankbusters? Yes.

Q: Has the mercenary’s affiliates stolen the tankbusters? Yes.

Now I really need that affiliation. There are a limited range of options, so I can’t just roll a d10 on the NPC list. One could be the gangsters, another could be the Olympians or some other rival agency, another could easily be the current Fed/G-Man version of the ‘G’. Still another could be some time agency.

Q: Are they gangsters? No.

Q: Are they military? Yes.

I may have misread this and if I’d been playing back to back with last session I probably would call this as tying back to the ‘waste magic’ result there. But this seems a fair way of doing it.

Chaos rises to 7.

 

Scene: A gloomy tunnel and chamber below the city

The Peers have descended for ‘just a quick look’ to get the gist of what the basement leads to. Light is very limited – Cliff is carrying a storm lantern from the basement and Dan Hitch and Birkby have arcane ability to see in limited light. So by this odd circumstance it is Hitch and Dan as lead scouts and Sandi as rear-guard.

Hitch’s arcane lore is great, but he knows exactly what’s approaching them: he’s seen much the same grouping on Third Fish Island. At about the time he and Dan spot them in the adjoining chamber, the Deep Ones spot the Peers. They are numerous and unafraid.

Birkby summons a great rolling wave of Fear and (somewhat to his surprise) more than half a dozen of the group in the chamber check, visibly affected.

“Wait! No kill spells!” Hitch yells.

“Are these legit targets?” Sandi yells. She’s got her Glocks out, of course, but she can switch to CS.

“Unknown!” Hitch responds, before Birkby can say otherwise.

“Are we backing them off?” Cliff asks, bringing out Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

“Let me try talking,” Dan suggests, but even as he does so Hitch casts a powered-up version of Confusion, and most of the Deep Ones are affected by that as well. Only two are left unaffected, and seem uncertain what to do since the Priestess is clearly confused.

Order is restored among the Peers, then by strategically removing the Confusion from the Priestess, she is captured. Or at least, politely invited to negotiate. Dan dons the Language Enabler and begins the talks. As they come out of fear or confusion (or begin to act violently) the other Deep Ones are directed to sit and wait, or stunned as the need be.

After a time Dan takes a break.

“She has her own concerns and is not interested in allying with us – and I couldn’t name the priestess we did… ah, do, have a deal with sorry – but we do have a way forward. There’s another portal or gateway she knows about, that gives access to the Vampire chambers. I’m sure I got that right.”

“Look, let’s leave it there,” Hitch advises, “no harm no foul. We haven’t killed any Deep Ones and thus provoked the feud with the authorities we were briefed about at the Academy – yes we were Sandi – so that’s not on us. I hope. We should pull back and come back loaded for bear.”

Scene ends

Mechanics

This is a bit of a mess and springs from two question I asked about the mercenary’s quarters:

Q: Is this an encounter? Yes

Q: Is the whole party there? Yes

I probably should not have asked either, but I was trying to get to what the end-point of the scene was. Following in from that I do a card draw, factoring in APs on the table and number of Peers and suddenly they are facing a full-blown Deep One party.

Now the Peers know not to kill humans but so far monsters are OK to kill. But on the other hand the Deep Ones are a known element which ‘historically’ has a major confrontation with the 1920s authorities. But that was over New England way, according to the canon. So a lot depends on initiatives and card draws. By good fortune Birkby, though first up, draws a card that sends me to a Fear (the cone effect) and Hitch draws a Confusion type spell. I use the Emulator to check if the Priestess is immune (she is not) and that final question throws up a random event.

The event is Close a Thread and the meaning is Communicate Portals. Without leaping too far away from my current thread I can see where this leads. The brief exploration of the mercenary’s sub-basement has led the Peers to the answer to how to approach the Monk’s HQ, provided a good Diplomacy check is made. Dan makes DC34. (And to check response the Priestess rolls natural 20.) The ‘Investigation’ thread is closed.

Chaos drops to 6.

 

Threads currently open: there are now a number of footnotes to some

Destroy the Monk but survive

Destroy remaining lieutenants (a sub-thread really)

End the arcane barrier (if killing the Monk isn’t enough on its own)

Return (except possibly for Dan)

 

NPCs:

1.The Monk

2.Monk’s Lieutenants

3.Olympians

4.Cops

5.Fed predecessors of the G (including the unconcerned mercenary, who appears to be contracted to the military, see above)

6.Academy

7.PD predecessors of Black Cat/Unit 14

8.Great Spirits

9.Deep Ones

  1. The Prisoner (though he has probably ended his involvement and any new NPC will switch in here)

 

Scene: the Peers’ base

It is the aftermath of the return, and blame is being thrown about pretty freely. The effects on the timeline of souped-up tankbuster guns in the hands of someone is being discussed in between the general blame-throwing.

Dan comes down hardest. Along the lines of:

“All along you mages were the ones yelling loudest about not breaking the time line. And who produced fancy hardware? Birkby. And who failed to ward the area? Apparently mages.”

Sandi comes in from where she’s been avoiding the squabbling.

“Hey Cliffie, I got a note for you.”

Scene ends

Mechanics

I need to check the return-to-base-someone-nicked-my-gear scene. I get an Interrupt and it is Ambiguous, meaning is Adversity [for] Friendship. This will be a test indeed. No adventurer likes losing stuff. And Birkby is a prime candidate for not liking his stuff stolen. Using the Emulator I sift through who is blaming who and get an exceptional no for Sandi (so I rule her out completely – her personality is at odds with blaming others) and a yes for Dan. His Witchhunter class puts him at odds with the mages so that’s the angle I read into it. I’m thinking future talents will reflect this. The checks throw up the out-link as noted by Sandi as a random event.

Chaos rises to 7.

 

After-scene: Cliff meets the mercenary

“Mighty interesting pieces you had there, kid. War souvenirs?”

“Something like that,” Cliff replies awkwardly. Is this guy taking the mickey?

“You know if they had weapons like that, a lot of doughboys would have made it home for Christmas 1918.”

“Yes, err, amazing how developments… develop?”

“Sure is. Why I can think of some real strange wildlife, real DEEP wildlife if you get my drift, would have chance zip against those guns.”

“I see what you’re saying. Only too happy to help… Uncle Sam?”

“You’re reading too much into this kid. Let’s just leave it at that.”

Scene ends

Mechanics

The UNE is used to drive this. The mercenary “advocates racism” so the Deep Ones are the obvious choice there. Other than that I get mysterious and enigma. I don’t bother trying a Sense Motive for Cliff, though he does have the skill.

Session ends, because I need a full session to move on the new ‘portal’ underground uncovered this session.

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SHC GM-free session 21: Number one with a bullet

Recap:

The Academy is an institution that defends civilisation from weirdness. Its operatives, known as Peers when fully trained and pledged to service, followed a less-than-lethal code of practice. Until some years ago when North America was plunged into chaos by a series of bombings and inter-racial strife that sank Boston and nearly caused all-out war between humanity and the Deep Ones. Later, Chicago became isolated by a strange arcane barrier.

The five surviving Chicago Peers are Paul Birkby, Archmage; Cliff, Daredevil; Dan Hewstone, Witchhunter; Joe Hitchcock, Archmage; and Sandi Maclaine, Gun Goddess. Their foray and investigation inside the barrier pointed them towards events around 90 years prior, immediately after the Great Vampire Hunts of 1918-19.

It seems that the Greater Vampire known as the Monk slipped into 1920 Chicago and planted some evil seed that led to the 21st Century calamity. So the peers travelled back through time themselves. Their first major mission was to re-secure (or pre-secure) St. Vitellius’ Cup, a relic that is a known agent against the Monk. They have just succeeded.

Level 20! And with a bunch of really nifty items that deserve their own list! The Chicago Peers are arriving in 1922 Chicago. From their initial foray there, and from the advice provided by Charles the Great Spirit, they understand that the Monk (the Greater Vampire Mastermind) has a controlling interest on the gangs there.

Before we get to the nifty items, here are the threads that pertain to this time and that the Peers have in mind as they arrive back in Chicago:

  1. Secure a secret HQ
  2. Investigate Monk weaknesses, chain of command etc
  3. Kill the Monk but survive
  4. Leave a note that secures the Campus in the future
  5. Return

And here are the significant items the Peers have garnered:

  1. St. Vitellius’ Cup: Major relic
  2. Hagen staff: Major talisman
  3. Headdress of speech: Cool item
  4. Tankbuster guns: Birkby-upgraded Lewis guns
  5. ABB ammo: triple-threat magical ammunition for undead killing

And since we are doing lists here is the NPC list to date, which will be relevant now the Peers are into the showdown arc:

  1. The Monk
  2. Monk’s Lieutenants
  3. Olympians
  4. Cops
  5. Fed predecessors of the G
  6. Academy
  7. PD predecessors of Black Cat/Unit 14
  8. Great Spirits
  9. Deep Ones

Scene: Grand Central Station

They’ve chosen their time to move as best they can. It’s the last of the rush crowd and any guards are tired of watching the endless crowds. The five filter along with the general run, not seeming to be together specifically.

Clear and in the daylight, they pause.

“Let’s get something to eat.”

“No diner, no crowded eaterie. Something classy. Please.”

“Hmm, last place they’d expect – I think you’re right Birkby.”

Scene ends

Mechanics

I set this scene with the aid of the Location Crafter. Chaos level is set at 5 and the chaos roll checks fine. I ask the Emulator a few questions about success and two chaos events are thrown up, both PC positive, and I push these to the following scene or scenes.

Chaos drops to 4.

Mini-scene: Birkby

“Yes, I did bring it.”

And so saying Birkby produces a PDA sized version of the Anomaly Meter, or “breadmaker” as it used to be known. Its job is to sniff out nexii where the boundariss between this world and others is breaking down.

“Now we’re back to where it’s calibrated, it should be some use.”

“Some use?!”

“Dan, you totally rule!”

“That’s good old British understatement, isn’t it.”

“Oh, and not to gild the lily, I’ve also managed to work up local radio frequencies for us, so our comms gear is back in business.”

“Fantastic! No danger we create a War of the Worlds style panic?”

“Give me some credit! These are scrambled, tight-tunnel frequencies.”

“Awesome!”

Mini-scene: Dan

Dan fixes each of the others in turn with his steely gaze.

“This return trip may not be a return trip for me.”

To the demands for an explanation he elaborates:

“The portal back will most likely need someone on this end to keep it open. And that will be me. I have the Judges authority. More than that, the idea of living on without the Academy no longer bothers me as it once would have.”

“But Dan, what about Mary?”

“The whole wedding episode seems like a dream now. I wonder how much of it was my own idea and how much the Rev. Brown had to do with it all. Didn’t you all feel as though we were being… conned?”

Mechanics

Chaos doesn’t change with these mini-scenes, since they occur as spin-offs from the previous scene.

The Focus of both, as mentioned, is PC Positive. A d5 gets me Birkby and Dan. Meaning is, respectively, recruit joy, and betray adversity.

Scene: A Gangster’s favorite speakeasy

The snitch threads his way through the riot, heading for the big table. A smooth-faced goon stops him and he whispers his mission.

He’s given access after a quick frisk. He stoops, trying to stay below the eye-level of the big guy.

“What I hear, Mr. H, is this…”

Scene ends

Mechanics

Emulator based gaming can throw up scenes that the PCs aren’t directly involved in. The original scene is an Interrupt, Focus ‘Move towards a thread’ which is good news. The meaning is ‘create fame’ and from there a string of Emulator questions eventually leads to a scene that does not directly involve the characters.

Paul Birkby, with the other Peers advising him, has created some disinformation. It has been passed to one of the Monk’s lieutenants. This should play out in their favour (in terms of getting towards an objective that is).

This is also part-guided by a chaos event thrown up within the Emulator questions: PC Negative, ‘Waste Magic.’ The initial disinformation has had unintended consequences.

Chaos rises to 5.

Scene: Oakland Cemetery

The Peers gaze at the tombstones and the trees, just beginning to bud, around them. Nothing. They all check Birkby, who checks his meter again, and shakes his head. They glance at one another.

“I was expecting at least a hot spot,” Dan comments.

They leave.

Scene ends.

Mechanics

There’s going to be dead-ends when you are sifting a city for clues. The chaos check is fine. I have no idea where they might be so use the Location Crafter and decide they are back at Oakland Park and cemetery, where much later the massive war-dead monument is raised. Then I check Action and get ‘block information.’ This is a dead end.

Chaos rises to 6.

Scene: Men’s Club

Cliff appears, wrapped in a towel, looking pink and well-groomed. But he’s not in great spirits. He shakes his head briefly for the benefit of Hitch and Birkby and heads to the locker rooms. Hitch shrugs to Birkby:

“We’ll have to see how Dan got on…”

Scene ends

Mechanics

This proves to be another “oppose information” dead end. I used the Location Crafter to give me an idea of what the scene was, and a d5 gives me Cliff as the primary.

Chaos rises to 7.

Scene: University of Chicago

Dan finishes the conversation – which is really a detailed interview, just one the custodian doesn’t realize has been conducted – and heads back to the spring-green quad. He barely recognizes Sandi – she’s really got the part of a stenographer down – and halts uncertainly.

“Say, pal, act natural,” Sandi suggests.

“OK, well I have good news and bad news.” He breaks off to adjust his hidden throat mike. “I have a lead on a person who was definitely part of the inner workings of something that sounds a lot like the Monk’s network. He’s currently been arraigned and a lot of material was confiscated by the State Attorney’s office.”

Scene ends

Mechanics

This time the Location Crafter throws up Lightly Young.

Q: Is this the university? Yes.

Dan’s diplomacy gets to 20, which is satisfactory. I use the Crafter again to go to Action, which gives me Move [to/for] Prison.

Q: Has Dan been arrested? No.

Q: Is the lead in prison? Yes.

Chaos drops to 6 because at last they have a lead.

Scene: Prison governor’s office

Birkby is distracting the officials using his ‘magic paper’ and a great line of bull. He’s wearing the Language Enabler so to them, he sounds authentic.

Unseen by those officials, Sandi flicks through confiscated property until she finds files in code, and slips them away.

Meanwhile, Cliff engages the Jail turnkey in conversation. He learns exactly which cell the prisoner is waiting for trial in.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Chaos check is fine. The Peers proceed to (a) find out where the prisoner is held exactly, in case they want to break in or break him out; (b)  borrow any confidential documents included in his property.

I use the Emulator to find out who’s lead and who’s helping. This also throws up a chaos event, which is NPC Negative. Adding ‘The Prisoner’ as No.8 on my NPC list I roll d8 and get The Prisoner. The meaning is ‘inspect riches‘. I’ll read that as the files Sandi is stealing will include his secret financial documents.

Skill checks: Birkby makes a natural 20 on gear rig. Sandi rolls a 16 on infiltration which is an easy success. Cliff makes a 19 on sense motive or bluff.

To complete the scene and make sense of what they stole I use the Emulator again and determine that the Peers have not got all of the prisoner’s secrets, but they do have information on the next scene.

Chaos drops to 5.

Scene: Sub-City, a noisome undrained area

Were anyone waiting, very quietly, concealed in gear that did not betray a heat signature, they would observe a pale oval. Its irregularities, would, as it came closer,  become distinguishable as the features of a pale-faced man, dark-eyed and with a pencil mustache. The eerie silence with which he moves suggests long familiarity with this stretch of submerged Chicago; or supernatural powers; or both.

He stops and glances around as though sensing some danger: but it is not quite soon enough: volleys of gunfire and arcane missiles – all silent – pour from the area surrounding him, and he crumples to the ground then evaporates into dust.

Dan hurries forward and checks: gives the thumbs-up. The vampire lieutenant is dead. Birkby throws some powder down and weaves a quick spell. Footprints that had been there are re-written and cartridge casings disappear. Hitch casts a similar spell. He nods to the others and they file away, still silent.

Scene ends

Mechanics

The previous scene sets this up as one that the Peers are prepared for. I use the Location Crafter and get Quietly Smelly. Drains! Or more specifically, a secret passage type part of the old buried city.

The Emulator gives me Alteration: NPC Negative. A d8 on the NPC list gives me a Lieutenant of the Monk. This makes a lot of sense. Especially when the meaning is Attach Failure.

Emulator questions:

Q: Is the whole party in on this? Yes

Q: Is this an encounter? Yes.

A card draw, plus all 11 AP points still riding, plus the Peers (all 5) gives me CR 19. It’s a cult leader, and of course is also a Greater Vampire.

Q: Is he alone? Yes. I ask this because the Peers are prepped for this.

Q: Can he sense the Peers? Yes.

From there it’s initiative, and for a change every one of the Peers gets a higher result than the target. And everyone hits at least once without troubling APs. Birkby leaves fake forensics and Hitch removes Peer DNA.

Chaos drops to 4.

Flashback Scene: The future Academy precinct by the University

Sandi is working at her part-time job as stenographer-typist. The Language Enabler gives her the right patter – this time, her employer isn’t confused by the use of the word ‘totally’!

She addresses an envelope ‘to Jack, be opened 2010’ and hides it away in a new-looking desk.

Then takes her break and heads out to meet up with Dan.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Alteration: move towards a thread

Meaning ‘delay illness’ and d5 gets me Sandi. Sandi was perhaps most affected by Jack’s death from cancer, since to her, Jack was a father-figure, and I think he had deliberately fostered that. So delay illness ties up strongly with the ‘message to the future’ the Peers (or at least Sandi) wants to send. If she sends it to Jack and not Elliott, maybe the whole illness can be avoided.

Emulator questions:

Q: Is this Sandi’s part-time job? Yes.

Q: Is it a thread while working? Yes.

Q: Is it about the Campus? Yes!

Sleight of hand check to hide the letter, gets natural 20.

Session ends. There are no points on the table any more. The thread ‘warn the future Campus’ is closed.

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CD15: Corridor Boys/Men in Suits

Fight the power! Close the Hellmouth! 

In which five ageing whitey whitebreads of the 10s pretend to be young hip black dudes of the 70s

Warning: taken out of context this post contains offensive material.

The White Hats

Jon “Doc” Samedy, the Haitian migrant: about 5’9 though stooped and limping. His strangely carved stick is a coco macaque and he wields power over loa and less friendly spirits. He is the brains and medic.

Victor “Vic” Creed, the scarred veteran: about 6’6 and bulky with it. He is the muscle.

Roosevelt ‘Arby’ Brown, about 5’7 and lithe. He is the trickster.

Stevie “the Cutter” Cutter, about 6’, a fast-handed ex-boxer. He is muscle and handyman.

Scene: Little Haiti

Theme: Get up offa that thing

Cutter, Vic and Arby are bringing Jon “Doc” Samedy up to date:

“They’s a gang pushing shit on more corners, looking to roll up on the Rolling 40s turf over to Hough. We got to do somethin’! We got to raise up!”

Which is pretty much how Asha told it, originally. Doc looks like “I just got outta one hospital bed, you gon’ put me right back again” but is on board. He knows Maman would want him to help. After all, Asha’s still house-guesting over to Maman’s place.

Although Asha didn’t have a lot more information, she did have the names of three lieutenants, and the hearsay that they don’t get on:

  • Little Cyprus
  • Belly-button
  • Snicky-Bo

The area they cover is right across Central’s Northeast and even into Fairfax. It’s just about the white hats’ home turf.

“I c’n aks aroun’, Vic offers, “see what-all I can find about these chumps.”

“Oh – and I can check with Titus and Cherry,” Arby pipes up, recalling his grifter thug and sidekick Titus Johnson, and Cherry, one of Silky’s girls that likes Arby.

“Now, how’s your snitch-line,” Cutter asks Arby, kind of staring through half-closed eyes.

[Arby has a reliable contact as a trade-off quality for the obligation of snitching for the contact. The CBI’s remit is to investigate criminal behaviour in the various police agencies in the county. No-one likes a snitch.]

“Aw, same as usual, I druther not be doin’ it,” Arby disclaims. He’s not interested in calling the CBI to see if they heard if these gangsters are paying off the local PD.

“I guess that leaves you an’ me, talking to the Man,” Cutter suggests to Doc. Who looks puzzled.

“Boddington, the old guy in the beat-up cop car,” he elaborates. “He wants to bring us on his team, so they’s a trade.

“I ain’t seen no mention of that massacre out to the island, so I tell Boddington ’bout that.”

[Boddington, sole charge of the county’s ‘Black Cat’ department, is a general contact for all the white hats, but Steve “the Cutter” feels the closest connection because it was principally he that Boddington tricked in order to set up the initial meeting.]

Scene: Down towards the tracks

Theme: Sweetback’s theme

“Hey Arby, I hear Moroni the mob bastard is looking for ya.”

Arby waves acknowledgment nervously and rolls on. He’s getting to Moroni’s home ground, looking for Titus. There’s no reason Moroni should be looking for him – it’s been a solid two months since Arby won big.

[Moroni runs or is involved in the local gambling scene. He acts as a go-between for his Little Italy contacts, who dislike anything to do with the Black scene.]

He gets the same message from a couple more brothers in the next half hour. By the time he sees Titus he’s sweating something awful, in spite of the chill mist.

“Arby! ‘Bout time brother! Let’s get set-up!” Titus greets him.

“Aw man, I flush! Don’t need no truck wit’ the cards and such trash!” Arby boasts, and when Titus starts complaining, slips him a Jackson.

[Arby’s player has the impression he still has plenty of money. I’m not sure why. I’ve said a number of times that some time has passed since he scored. But the $20 is not enough to drop Arby’s Wealth down on its own. It stays at a comfortable zero.]

“A $20!!!! Ho-leee shit!!! Man, I am so rich – I gots to get me a drink!”

Arby has no choice other than to scramble after Titus as he vanishes in the direction of the nearest liquor-store. Where he’s greeted with traditional welcome:

“You gets yo’ lazy black ass outin’ here, ‘less you gots money!”

“I got money! Uh-huh! I’m loaded! Uh-huh!”

Holding the Jackson aloft like it’s a football trophy Titus swaggers in, followed by a number of equally worthless layabouts who’ve been loitering in hopes of putting a touch on someone.

“Yo Arby m’man,” one greets the skinny grifter, “I hear Moroni the mob bastard wants you.”

“Yeah, but what’s he want wit’ me?”

“Man, he ’bout to open yo’ guts out! He planning ta operate wit’ a blunt spoon!”

Arby leaves, but fast!

Scene: Drop-in Shelter annex of the Karamu

Theme: Shaft’s theme

Vic sips tea with the shelter director, a tough but kindly and motherly woman who wears the picture of Martin Luther King Jr in a locket under her shirt, or so it’s said. She’s real pleased at how he’s been doing, but other than agreeing that she has heard of a local gang expanding, has nothing to add.

He walks back through the gang turf, but to his eye, nothing looks out of place. People steer clear of him as usual, and looks at him are out of corner of eye. Ain’t no-one willing to lock eyes with him.

He reminds himself he should call round to see his pops. The furniture shop went out of business real quick. And Vic has mostly been staying at his moms, so hasn’t even seen his sis and niece in weeks.

[Vic has Reliable Contacts, a one-point quality, but it’s still up to the player to name where and who he’s trying now we’ve had a solid season to see the people they know. The shelter network is an excellent mix of street knowledge, but that may not have been quite the right level to try.

Vic has no Crime skill so his Perception is tested, and fails, twice, as he walks through the gang turf.]

Scene: New Terminal

Theme: Uptight (everything’s all right)

Boddington carries with him an aura of shabbiness and cigarette ash. He slides his wide ass onto a diner stool and Cutter slides in alongside and buys another sub. Boddington tries an affable salute:

“What’s up, my brother?”

“You ain’t never gonna be black enough to say that, even over the phone, man.”

While Boddington pretends to take notes on a race form, he’s jotting down Cutter’s report.

He denies any knowledge of local kickbacks but agrees to sniff round, cautiously, and get word back through the Brother Gloves gym. He doesn’t seem too pleased about how none of the white hats let him know about the island caper in advance. Growls something about not being there to clean up after.

“By the way – speaking of cleaning up messes – you see this latest on Farmatec?” Boddington asks, folding back the paper again to the inside pages.

Cutter has a quick look, grunts and pushes it over to Doc. It’s about two column inches and starts:

High Flyer Falls, Flees

Following a warrant granted by the County Prosecutor’s office, CPD today issued an All Points Bulletin for the detention for questioning of Nicholette de la Fleur, in connexion with the mass poisoning of Farmatec Sales Employees. De la Fleur had held the position of Sales Director with the prestigious local pharmaceuticals company up until the incident last July.

Asked for comment, Farmatec CEO Curtis Silverman said: “Farmatec can only deeply regret that what was clearly a nervous breakdown resulted in so many of our most valued asset, our staff, being troubled by ailments caused by introduction….”

The print is small and the diner not well lit. Doc leaves it there. Boddington reclaims his paper and leaves.

Doc and Cutter agree to fold back to Little Haiti, since they can get in any time with Doc. On the way back, Cutter nudges Doc along to the idea of heading back to his Maman’s and talking to Asha. Some information about why she got beaten up that time would be real handy, and maybe what this latest fuss is really about.

[An intelligent use of a Contact and striking the right note with them means no roll is needed. I do ask for a Perception check, for both white hats, while reading the fine print. Both fall short and miss a useful clue.]

Scene: Red Light district, down by the tracks

Theme: Silky the pimp

“Arby, sweet man, what you got fo’ me?”

“Hey Cherry, how you been doin’ girl?”

“Oh real good, might’ fine. You lookin’ fine too.”

Arby spots Cherry’s pimp Silky glowering from across the street. He passes Cherry a sawbuck, which she ostentatiously tucks away then snuggles close again.

Cherry has little to add to Arby’s stock of knowledge, except the gang is called the Corridor Boys and they customarily use automobiles.

Scene: Little Haiti

All four white hats update one another. Cutter thinks the next useful step – apart from finding out more about Asha’s real motive – is to set up Arby to buy a dime bag then use Doc’s expertise to analyze it.

“You talkin’ bout them Corridor Boys?” the barkeep asks. “They was in other day, hintin’ ’bout insurance.”

“They expanding might’ fast!” the Cutter marvels. “Say – do you already pay some ‘insurance’?”

“Sure, the usual. But it’s not like you can complain you ain’t getting enough p’tection.”

“Well, we do know a guy that could tell us what the deal is, and if the mob care if Corridor Boys horning in,” Cutter reminds Vic.

“Wha – oh, yeah.” Vic grins. “We got to go see what Moroni wants Arby for.”

They sandwich Arby between them and bundle him outside and into Jon’s Plymouth. Then jam him in back betwixt them.

“You got to get wit’ the program, Arby,” Doc calls from the driver’s seat. “A workin’ day for a workin’ day pay. Feet on the ground, mon.”

Flashback: Back in the Ranger Station

“We got the Reservoir covered,” Castro explains. “But the way the Prof explained it, there has to be something uphill again that acts as an agent or catalyst for this doomsday stuff.”

He shrugs, as if unconvinced, and continues:

“Ambler Heights, or Woodhill-Mt. Carmel maybe. He wants feet on the ground up there.”

“OK, OK, we fit that in. ‘S’all part of a monthly gig, right?”

“Damn’ right. You got off easy just dropping Donnie and Marie Kobold out to the park last month.”

Scene: The Boneyard

The bouncer remembers Cutter and nods them in. It’s still early. Some tired businessmen are sinking a few, and some expensive mamas are letting the businessmen get up some Dutch courage.

Cutter leaves word with the barkeep – who is foreign, from Birmingham England of all places – that they want to see Moroni and slips round to the dance-floor side. Then he realizes he’s left Arby untended.

Vic’s just on his second sip of bourbon when he realizes there’s an Arby-size hole beside him. Shrugging, he and Doc join Cutter and wait.

It’s not much fun on this side either. The kids here are too young. The only highlight is when some cat gets so liquored up he does a weird act on the dance floor, ending in some kind of spinning around on his back. The bouncers throw him out pretty quick though.

“That ain’t never gonna catch on,” chuckles Vic.

Scene: Gambling pit, back of the Boneyard

Theme: Money

“So yeah, my people know some people, they may have a job going. They ask me, who do I know, so yeah, I put out word for Roosevelt Brown or Doc Samedy.”

“You notice, he ain’t include us in guys smart enough to talk to,” Cutter mutters to Vic.

“So what’s this other thing?” Doc presses.

Cutter explains about Corridor Boys maybe demanding protection, but Moroni waves away the matter as unimportant – and denies there is such a thing as protection, even though the barkeep at Little Haiti says there is.

Doc decides yes, they are interested in being contacted and they leave it at that.

Scene: Maman’s place, Fairfax

Theme: Soul Man

Unusually, there’s no vehicle in the drive. Doc swings the old Plymouth in and parks. Limps round to the back, as usual. His sleepout is undisturbed, but he can hear someone working ‘way out further back, in the overgrown common lot wherein lies Maman’s special thicket. The whole neighborhood knows it’s Maman’s special territory, so not troubling further, Doc swings his stick up and mounts the back porch. No sign of Asha in the back parlor.

But on entering, he finds Asha in the kitchen-parlor, having a late breakfast, or maybe second breakfast. Maman’s upstairs.

Doc doesn’t learn anything new from Asha, so excusing himself, he heads upstairs. As he gets to the reading-room door Maman summons him in.

Doc plays a cool hand as best he can, but Maman’s mad! She had to find her son was laid up in a hospital bed from Setro, the Deacon that’s undercutting her influence with the Congregation. Having tongue-lashed him over that, Maman hints at a Spring wedding. She doesn’t seem interested in grilling Asha about her motives.

[Doc makes a “sell” test on Intelligence and Influence at -2 and with a good check survives the guilt-trip with no further penalty.]

Scene: Creed place, Fairfax

Theme: Papa was a rolling stone

Vic plays a little ball with his niece, who is too young to know she’s supposed to be afraid of him, and heads on inside, bends down and kisses his sister hi. She reverses her wheelchair and explains she’s having trouble with pops, see if you can get him to see sense.

Vic already heard enough yelling to suspect pops has been on a bender, and sure enough, he’s drinking to stave off the hangover that’s headed his way.

Vic starts off by sharing a drink, then his pops tells him his Uncle been saying he should stand for the local council. Lamenting the fickleness of suppliers and co-sponsors, Creed senior says he might just have to do that. Vic gets mad and warns his pops not to have anything to do with his brother. Then he gets madder when his pops turns down some money. He storms out, slamming the door.

[I’m short-changing Vic’s player here, this scene features some excellent role-playing, earning him the roleplaying xp at end of session. Vic adds the drawback ‘dependents’ to his already-long list, because now he knows his father and sister have no income.]

Scene: Soul Food Diner, near Brother Gloves

Theme: Green Onions

“So, the way I check it out, they’s only two football teams in it. See, I don’t feature them Blues out of the Jesuits college. That leaves the Yellow Jackets and the Spartans.

“Yellow Jackets, they steady and on the im-prove. Coach Les, he known for grit, not show. Now when we come to the Spartans – ”  and here Cutter pauses to make sure the others are paying attention – “they having a season outta nowhere. Early rushes are looking like season record material. Some brothers sayin’ it’s cuz Case Western brung in mo’ men of color, but I leave it to you – ” and the Cutter breaks off, waving his Sports section expansively and nearly knocking Arby’s chicken wings off the counter.

[Steve has Sports quality so there’s no need for any roll on this. I prepped it before the game. On the other hand he’s no expert researcher so information will be in dribs and drabs.]

“Yeah, those cats be worth a look over,” Vic agrees, and is about to talk over approaches, then Cutter’s distracted by the old guy that does most of the cooking shuffling out holding a phone handset and mumbling for Steve Cutter. He lets Cutter through the counter and Steve drops down a coin for the charge and admits to being Steve Cutter.

“What th’ hell you got into?!” Boddington roars down the phone. “I send the lightest feeler out for word on Corridor Boys and payoffs and two Suits are up in my face! And they got the smell of something Federal!”

“You means to tell me guys with shoeshines costin’ more than yo’ suit are innerested in the Corridor Boys?”

“That’s about the size of it. I can’t tell you more than that.”

“We got to get us a look at the pro-duct these boys shippin'” Cutter remarks once he’s explained this to his fellow white hats. “Time to get your Jones on, Arby.”

Scene: Corridor Boys turf, Central

Theme: Going to a Go-Go

Arby’s prepped by dressing down, and making sure he got a roll of ten bones, not a single sawbuck. He’s got backup for this sting. The Cutter is afoot and out handy; Doc is driving Cutter’s old van, and Vic is hidden in back of it.

He swaggers over to the contact corner, and the young hood there checks him over, tells him to head down to the kid on the corner, then pick up from across the road where that guy is throwing up.

It all goes well up until, halfway across the road, the kid with the dime bag suddenly rolls his eyes and backs off into the alley. And a car races up and skids to a halt and three gangsters jump out, bringing pieces up.

[This scene features a clash between what the player should know and what the character should know. It gets a little awkward. But it’s an ambush anyway, so whether Arby strikes the right tone doesn’t really matter.]

Cutter rolls forward quickly, but seeing he’s outgunned zips into the alley as well. Doc revs the van and swings it round, pointing away. Vic jumps out the back, then seeing how Arby’s racing past already and Steve’s disappeared stage left, jumps right back in.

A couple pieces go off as the van gathers speed. They don’t hit anything. Arby makes a running leap into the van’s front passenger bay, and Doc grabs him.

[I deliver the “yeehaah” I promised early on in the session as Arby (with the aid of a drama point) makes a superhuman dive in.]

Then Doc makes a spectacular handbrake stop [another drama point well-spent!] and turn to avoid an intersecting Police Cruiser, and Vic and Arby are rammed into the seat backs by the sudden halt. By the time they sort out what’s going on, police guns are trained on them and they have no choice but to accept the cuffs or be shot to death.

[Another ambush, that they could not have avoided, but this has a different aim. Or aims.]

Cutter is outside of the police cordon when it happens, but sees enough of what goes on. He heads for a phone booth. He can’t afford to get too close: the alley he dived down earlier was the self-same alley the dealer kid ducked back in; and he’s got the dime bag he found at the scene burning a hole in his pants pocket.

[Strategic spending of a drama point for ‘Plot Twist’ by which a clue is found.]

Cleo advises him to call Kinzey Corp, explain the situation, and cash in that promise to help. Cutter knows in his bones that Kinzey Corp will love the excuse to have a favour up on them, but it’s still good advice. He calls. The Kinzey Corp legal secretary he’s put through to doesn’t seem familiar with the concept of a cop fortress where anything can happen to a black man, but takes the address down and says someone will be there within the hour.

Scene: Holding cells/Interview room, ‘the fortress’ on Euclid

Theme: Shakey ground

The two arresting officers, a smart cop name of Meglich and a big cop name of Jacovich, both Polacks or something from Slavic Village, seem pretty square. They even back Drago off when he and the other dirty cops start pressing in with nightsticks. Vic is suitably impressed.

The three white hats are handed on for processing to a tired senior sergeant who again, warns the other cops not to get ideas about the holding cell.

Within a short time he’s back: “how did you guys lawyer up so fast?” he asks, sounding surprised. Not as surprised as the three in cell, since they haven’t been allowed a phone call yet.

The interview room they are sat down in is pretty clean, for this precinct. An old white guy with silver suit and silver hair is shown in. He looks like a fat-cat whitey lawyer. But the message he carries is:

“My clients want to show goodwill and demonstrate something at the same time. You’ll be able to reclaim your belongings from Lost Property after this. But just bear in mind what can be made to happen.

“Mr. Moroni tells us you are interested in a job. That’s excellent. Our previous agent, a ‘Jim’ has had to move along. And we do have at least one other article we wish… recovered. So we’ll be in touch.”

“Ah… how will we get in touch if we need to…?” Doc asks.

“Hmm, well in the unlikely event that should happen, contact Mr. Moroni and tell him you wish to speak to the Bianchis.”

[As he was farewelling the white hats last session Jim did almost name the Bianchis. I don’t know if anyone picked it up. Now the name is right out front and center.]

Scene: Maman’s place, Fairfax

Theme: Trouble Man

Steve strides up the driveway, wondering about his reception. He heads over to the front door and knocks. After a time, a short, rather unhealthy-looking cat opens it.

After dissing him a little for knocking as though he company, the cat shows him through to the kitchen parlor where Asha is making a supper. Cutter hasn’t eaten since long before the double ambush, and his gut growls up a storm.

While he chows down a bowl of something good, he eyes Asha deciding what line to take. Then he goes for the direct approach.

“We know you working with some Suits, girl. What I wants to know is, Asha, who da man?”

“When I first met you I told you I do freelance work for an Agency. They get me to do some chores sometimes. Other times I’m my own agent.”

“But Asha, who da man?”

“CIA.”

We had a full session – I’ve actually stopped a little shy of where we got to –  and the vibe was good. The ‘chart of madness’ that represents Arby’s sketch of everything he saw on his father’s wall back in episode one is getting more and closer study. If they can ignore the many distractions and solve all of it, that’s the end of the campaign.

Although the Deadly 7 adventure (by Panik Productions and available thru RPGNow/DriveThruRPG) is still powering the overall story, in this session I have used only generic ‘consequences’ suggested by the writer. 

The other thing I’ve done this session is introduce a couple more of Les Roberts’ Cleveland characters from back in their younger days. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while but didn’t want to confuse the ‘dirty cops’ sub-thread.

Next session should feature more about the Corridor Boys, or at least more about the reason the Corridor Boys were so ready for the white hats. Stay tuned!

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SHC GM-free session 20: Scams, a showdown and so long SF

Recap:

The Chicago Peers Paul Birkby, Cliff, Dan Hewstone, Joe Hitchcock, and Sandi Maclaine are being stalked by something very powerful their travel back across the time planes has let through into 1922 San Francisco. So far they have survived a vicious probing attack, a full onslaught and a hit-and-run assassination attempt. Exactly what their antagonist is, they don’t know, but it is powerful enough to deploy extremely powerful undead, and summon time-trapped minions by the dozen.

But now, having created weapons, and relying to some extent on a powerful talisman that allows these creatures to be harmed with the spells at their command, it’s time to get back to infiltrating the Russian community, getting next to Videnko, and gaining his confidence.

Scene: A kitsch Russian Teahouse

This time it’s Hitch’s turn to try. He may be able to speak Russian fluently, but maybe it’s his accent: they seem a stand-offish lot.

But he persists and after some heavy tea-drinking and much smoking, Hitch makes a friend. It’s not Videnko, who apparently has stayed clear since Birkby got chased off, but this Fyodor does profess to be able to broker a deal.

Or so Hitch reports, rather smugly Birkby thinks. Which makes it hard for him to grieve when after many dollars and hours, the scamster Fyodor leaves Hitch high and dry with a dud map.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Again I’m not sure where the scene is so just roll Description from the Location Crafter and get Carelessly Cute.

The main point is that there’s no Chaos event so yes, this is getting back onto the search.

I roll d5 for which Peer is making the running, and get Hitch. He makes a sucky Diplomacy check with a 2, but spending an AP adds 6 and his Charismatic levels are paying off, that gets him to 19. Good progress (given the run-out at gunpoint of last effort) so I rule a ‘try and improve’ is permitted. This time Hitch rolls a 15.

Rather than draw up an NPC I just go straight to the Location Crafter’s Actions table to see if there’s an obvious result. Yes, it produces Lie Friendship.

Q: Is it an ambush? (50-50) No.

Q: Is it a scam? (Likely) Yes.

The scam is based on a Bluff roll off the CR drawn. It gets to 14, not too difficult. But Hitch only gets to 12 with sense motive and is beaten.

This is a side-track and the Peers waste some time and money.

Chaos rises to 6.

Scene: A cemetery

Dan waits with growing annoyance, well concealed behind his professional demeanor. The occultist raises his hands high and screams:

“Come! Come from beyond the grave!”

And with trembling hands, plucks an earthenware cup from ghostly hands rising from the grave!

“Is that it then?” Dan growls, piercing eyes staring into the occultist’s own.

“Yes, I have plucked grail from beyond this place and time! And now payment!”

“How’s this for pay…

FAITH’S FURY!”

Ruthlessly, Dan plucks the cup from the screaming, writhing man’s fist. He looks closely at it. Then throws it down in disgust. And Dan storms off, leaving the wretch whimpering blinded behind him. It seems that by arcane means, unscrupulous adepts have determined what the search is for… Dan will have to declare a dead end to this one.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Chaos checks OK.

A new part of town, description is Lightly Scary.

Q: Is it a graveyard? Yes.

Now I need an NPC description to hand the scene on. I draw CR5 and roll Established Adept on the NPC Emulator.

Q: Is this a local wise woman? No.

Q: Is this an actual adept such as the Adept or Occultist class? Yes.

Dan’s diplomacy will be tested, because his current class is opposed to this type. Diplomacy check: he rolls a 9, which even with penalties is OK. I rule a ‘try and improve’ is permitted. This time Dan rolls a 3. Ouch!

Q: Is Dan really opposed? Yes.

Rather than attempt a try again Dan lays a Faith’s Fury down. I go to the Action part of the Location Crafter and get Imitate Art. It was a forgery!

Chaos rises to 7.

Scene: A storm-lashed building site

“That was way so much a scream! And something’s getting creamed!”

“OK, I guess we’re still the good guys,” Cliff agrees reluctantly. “Shake out! Come on you spell-slingers, get happy!”

“Hey, no legit target! Right Hitch?”

“Watch out!”

The cry comes from Dan. Suddenly, it’s much more serious. How serious becomes obvious when Dan suddenly collapses, bleeding profusely. A dark shadow flits away and disappears into other shadows! But forewarned, Cliff has his Python ready and a round finds a target. Hitch’s eyes have followed the flash and he too blasts Magic Missiles into the shade. And Sandi manages one volley on target.

Sandi and Cliff are just trying to feed Dan a potion when he chokes out a warding: and all of them find their marrow freezing with horror!

Looming over them is a tall manlike figure, dressed in a tight black overcoat. But where his face should be is a blank, black peak bisected by a manic, shark-toothed grin.

In the next instant it stabs deep into Hitch’s body and blurs away. But perhaps thanks to Dan’s invocation, none of the Peers are frozen by the horror of the situation! Birkby and Cliff both blast it. Dan utters a Prayer, then heals himself. Hitch checks his wound, finding it not mortal; and Sandi reloads with better loads.

Next instant she is slammed forwards by a knife buried deep in her back! Only her flawless reflexes prevent her from being killed on the spot! Again Cliff’s Python finds a target, and Dan blasts a searing ray into the shadow!

“Save you selfs! Run!”

The man they had stopped to help is alive, it seems. But running’s not an option. Any shadow can sprout an other-worldly assassin. Sandi bounces back to her feet, looking mad as hell.

Even though they are ready the next attack – on Hitch again – is so fast the knife is buried in him before they see the movement. Cliff’s Python bellows again, and Hitch strings a high-powered magic missiles grouping into it. Then Sandi finds her mark, and the shadow staggers, loses shape and disintegrates. A metallic chime comes from where it fell apart, just audible over the storm.

As they sort themselves out and the adrenaline slowly eases, Hitch cautiously retrieves a crooked-bladed dagger. Then he notices the Thing’s victim.

“Ah! It’s my friend Fyodor! How do you come to be in this pickle?”

“Pickle? No spik so good Angliski.”

“Ah right. Birkby, can you do the honors?”

“Mmh, don’t know…”

“There has to be a reason he’s been targeted, and we need to speak fluently! Dammit man…!

“Alright, keep a stiff upper thingummy, here you go…”

“Well, so you can understand me? Dan here’s just going to examine you for injury.”

Dan does so, shrugging after a moment.

“It’s really far too wet. I think he’s hurt. Not sure really.”

“Let’s get you to shelter… then you can tell us your story… Fyodor wasn’t it?”

“Fyodor Videnko, yes.”

Scene ends

Mechanics

Chaos check is Interrupt. So it could be anywhere. Description is Fiercely Abnormal, which I read as perhaps a building site, probably in a Spring storm. Focus is Ambiguous event. As usual there’s the chance the Gloom could be present. Meaning Struggle/Friendship. I figure it’s the friendly scam artist from scene one.

Drawing a CR I get Boss. Which is the Gloom.

Q: Is this an encounter? Yes!

It’s important to establish that, because an ambush would be a different set-up and of course, include a surprise round. (So Dan’s warning above is kind of set-dressing!)  The other question to settle is, why would a Boss be targeting a scam artist?

Q: Is the scam artist actually Videnko? Yes!

The rest of the combat works pretty much as written. Reflex DC22 to spot in the storm and shadows was pretty darn difficult; Will SV DC32 for the Fear check (lucky Dan was still conscious). The big hits were put in on Dan (61 pts, lucky his WitchHunter levels have boosted his total hp) and Sandi nearly got critted.

The Gloom has a lot of hp but Cliff in particular got a hit almost every round. Sandi only hit twice but her Leadstorm is quite decisive. It requires an AP spend each time so balances out OK. Ironically the powered-up ABB ammo (see last) is not used at all.

The dagger looted is an epic weapon in the Gloom’s hands but reverts to being a cool +5 Keen weapon in non-Gloom hands.

Chaos rises to 8.

Scene: Sanatorium again

Videnko wakes and for a time can’t remember why he was so scared, then it comes back and he cries out. Hitch, who has been dozing beside him, wakes too, and reassures him. More or less.

“Now, I think we were discussing something… what was it? Oh yes – how you’d like to help us!”

“Sure, sure, I am grateful,” Videnko admits. “I loan you this thing. Maybe better you had it.”

“No, just a loan. We will definitely bring it back right here.”

“You like animals?”

“Uh… not something I’ve given a lot of thought to, but I suppose so.”

“What reason I ask? The place I put the cup, they build a new Zoo there.”

“Oh, this’ll be good! I can’t wait to hear what Birkby has to say.”

Scene ends.

Mechanics

Chaos check is Interrupt, focus NPC action. Meaning ‘Oppose animals’. Further? ‘Take magic.’

Q: Is Videnko willing to ally? Yes.

Hitch makes an OK diplomacy check, and there’s a bonus from last scene.

I throw it to a final diplomacy check from Birkby:

Who scores a Natural 20!

Chaos drops to 7.

Scene: San Francisco Zoo’s new precinct, Lakeshore

There’s a certain amount of covert spadework, but Cliff is oddly cheerful about it. “No helicopters either,” he adds, to Videnko’s puzzlement.

“I wonder what the bikes are like here,” Sandi muses aloud, from her lookout vantage. Cliff and Sandi have some mixed feelings about the last time they were over the bay digging. That time was also for St. Vitellius’ cup, and it included a major attack, a motorbike chase, a capture and (by Cliff) a quick round of torture.

“Got something!” Cliff claims. Videnko helps, and the pair wrest a case from the sullen clay.

“All yours!” Videnko says simply.

“Loan only!” Hitch says firmly.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Cup handover is called for. It’s a historic fact that the zoo moved to new ground in 1922. Setting aside the minutiae of slipping past normal human guards, this only calls for any tweaks. Chaos checks to Alteration, Move towards a thread, and meaning is Struggle Elements.

Q: Is this earth? Yes. Just as well really, though at their level any element is just a minor delay.

They dig the cup out.

Chaos drops to 6.

Scene: The rail station

“Roll up gents, ladies, items and displays that are out-of-this-world! Never to be repeated in this day and age…!”

“All right, I’m intrigued,” Birkby admits. “I’m especially intrigued that no-one else seems to notice this ‘panopticon’ here.”

“Dan, what do you think?”

“I sense no evil… might be worth a look.”

“Is there a gift shop?”

“Little lady, you can buy sell and exchange! The panoptic museum is as amazing as anything under any sun!”

The Peers enter the strange museum-cum-exchange hall, finding many strange things and mingling with visitors from other times and places.

Hitch finds a small library, and Birkby and Cliff negotiate – with Dan looking on disapprovingly – to trade in the dagger. They’ve decided not to trade the wizard’s staff, because it has a number of Magic Missile charges left. With some haggling, Birkby frees himself from the irksome “tongues” spell by getting a similar enchanted headdress. And he makes a private purchase as well.

Sandi wanders at large, and says little of her shopping.

Scene ends

Mechanics

I expect Peers to be getting on a train but chaos throws up Alteration, Ambiguous. Meaning Overthrow Nature. Further? Decrease Failure.

I draw an Epic Location, since this is outside of nature, and get Panoptic Museum. A location that crosses time planes sounds appropriate.

Here, they trade the Gloom’s dagger (which is useful but not all that useful) for something that will prevent failure later. Language has certainly been an Achilles Heel this arc, so a Tongues charm sounds about right. As a side-note I add that Birkby might have a new means of learning spells. I’ve been looking for this as a way of expanding Paul’s arcane horizon.

Chaos drops to 5

Scene: Rail car

Sandi snuggles back, guns tucked away in their safes for now. Sacramento next, then across the endless miles. The guys have rocked this one. “Wish I had some beats to listen to…” she thinks, and drifts off into the sleep of the innocent.

“You’re looking gloomy Dan,” Birkby volunteers.

“There’s good and bad to come. I face it with my sins confessed and right with my God. I can’t think the same of everyone here.”

“Oh, stow it,” Birkby says good-naturedly. “We are winning!”

“You know, I wish I had longer to study this Hagen staff,” Hitch comments across the sleeper. “From all I could see in the quick dekko I had, we should not have been able to beat any of those Winter Wights nor the Gloom thing.”

“Gift horses…” Birkby proposes.

“Mmm, but,” Hitch continues, “Who sent the Gloom? Is it this time anomaly thing… you know, like Sapphire and Steel?”

“Mmm… Joanna Lumley as Sapphire….”

“He’ll be in his bunk,” Cliff grunts sleepily.

And the train clatters on.

Scene ends

Mechanics

Not much to this one. No chaos change, so a few questions in case the story needs to set up something later. All at 50-50. I start with Sandi because she’s had a few interesting potential extra hooks so far.

Q: Is Sandi happy? Yes!

Q: Did Hitch find solid information on the Master in the Museum? No.

Q: Did Hitch get some information about the Gloom & Co? Yes.

Q: Does Dan have a plan for an eventual out? Yes.

Q: Is Cliff happy? No.

Q: Is Cliff about to rebel? No.

Q: Does Birkby have issues about working closely with the others now? No.

Session ends.

Character Progression

All Peers rise to L20.

Cliff L5 Daredevil. It’s not much of a gain level but the 5 skill ranks are good. If I’ve organised it right Cliff can now take something like Gunfight Disciple or Soldier. He takes Str+1.

Hitch takes his capstone L5 Archmage. Cha+1.

Again not entirely sure where Birkby’s gain is. It ought to be in something non-standard with Illusion abilities. Int+1.

Dan L6 Witchhunter, gaining Thine eyes undimmed, a really useful talent for spotting invisible foes and arcane casters. Int+1 to allow certain feats.

Sandi L5 Gun Goddess. She gains the Two-fisted Reload talent. Like most fighting L5s this is not much of a level gain elsewhere. Not sure about attribute gain – possibly Int for the same reason as Dan, or Str since she needs to pack ever more ammo clips.

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