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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