Welcome back to Cleveland Darkens!
Fight the Power! Close the Hellmouth!
Urban arcane roleplaying using Buffy the Vampire Slayer roleplay rules
First, a stocktake of Cleveland Darkens so far
Last season: As they help Jon ‘Doc’ Samedy deal with his dismissal from Case Western’s medical programme and investigate the break-in that led to the death of Roosevelt ‘Arby’ Brown’s father, the other white hats meet Doc’s mother, who is houngaan to the Haitian congregation, and is known simply as ‘Maman’; and Doc’s cousin Clarice, who is a legal secretary. (Technically she is Doc’s niece.) Later, Maman is instrumental in exorcising demoniacs.
They also meet Arby’s birth mother – and therefore Vic’s Aunt – Captain Kelly of DeNaRes rangers, and his birth father Professor Josiah Roosevelt who consults to DeNaRes. The Professor provides the white hats and Doc in particular with guidance and wisdom. Captain Kelly gives the white hats shelter and a job, and they get to know the other rangers.
Danny Castro – “I’m not saying Nixon was an angel but…” Republican-leaning and 2-i-c to Kelly. He expects a fair day’s work for payment given.
Benny Li – “Yeah, all us Asians are the same” – slightly sarcastic team player.
Gunnarsson – “That’s good then, ayuh” – good-natured tall and bearded Minnesotian exile.
Laura – “I’m washing my hair that night” – country-club exile; the other rangers tend to go easy on her.
One of the first people outside of these close-knit groups to help the white hats is a hard-to-read brother by the name of Jude Humphrey, who claims to be with DeNaRes but works Downtown. He delivers a trunk of weapons to them. Later in a scene that no GM should forget, the white hats take Jude ‘for a ride’ to force him to tell them more about who’s pulling strings, and it turns out that Jude works out of the CP’s office.
So much for the people.
As the white hats operate under DeNaRes papers as “animal control officers” they take their dungarees under the Phyllis Wheatley building where “raccoons” have been heard and clothing is going missing. What begins as a slightly awkward hunt for small humanoids turns into something much nastier. There seems to be a powerful industry lobby fronted by Wolfgang & Hearst, lawyers to the rich and evil, and backed by Farmatec, or possibly someone behind that Pharma company, intent on acquiring the Phyllis Wheatley property and others like it. Beneath the building the white hats find a large loop tunnel connected to the Baldwin Reservoir and forming a huge oval extending as far as the Central Ward offices. In the tunnel are a number of circle sigils partly carved into the floor. The only other things they meet down there are a weird-looking creature and its goblin cohorts. There’s a brief firefight and melee with the goblins. The weird-looking creature departs into a side-tunnel leading further west, and the white hats decide not to go after it. Professor Roosevelt identifies the sigils as portending the end of the world.
At the same time all this is going on, the white hats are stopped or diverted at every turn by a bewildering mix of personal problems, weirdness and civil rights abuses. But out of all this they do stumble upon the distinct trail of evil. Someone is infecting psychiatric patients with demons. Psychiatrist Jill Spenser’s name comes up immediately, as does the Wilson Clinic where she works. They fail to follow either up. Months go by and finally, mainly by the circumstance of looking for what might be fed into the reservoir from above in Ambler Heights, they stumble upon the Wilson Clinic.
By this time, there’s something of a drugs war going on in their hood. In a clever piece of snitching the white hats take the gang du jour, the Corridor Boys, out of action. When they use an old tunnel to explore under the Heights, they meet the Corridor Boys gang leader head-on, and he proves to be a demoniac as well. They defeat him and break into the Wilson Clinic from below, then set off the alarm by cutting the power, then as the alarm is investigated, blast the basement with an M16, thus ensuring the Special Response Squad is called out and forcing them to hastily retreat.
And now to the same night after the raid
The white hats for today’s session:
Jon “Doc” Samedy, slight and stooped Haitian ex-medical intern with powers of Voudun in his coco macaque.
Victor “Vic” Creed, 6’6 ex-paratrooper, hideously scarred, built for combat.
Roosevelt “Arby” Brown, 5’7 slim and quick grifter, built for ducking and running away.
Scene: DeNaRes ranger station
Theme: Living for the city
Doc is feeling quite tired but at least he hasn’t been shot. He quickly checks Arby and Vic and finds they miraculously suffered only graze-burns: their garments did not fare as well. Arby studies the note Benny gave him, and Vic strips his M16 down and cleans and oils her. Barry White notes linger in the air… Mmm, baby, jus’ you an’ me.
The Cutter has dragged the phone into the kitchen and all they can hear is the occasional “motherf***”. Man’s got his obligations.
The other three get some sleep.
Doc is up first and feeling hungry, makes a bee-line for the kitchen. Benny is still there, he’s made coffee, but seems too tired to cook. Doc takes over, carving an increasingly ripe ham and getting some grits going. Vic likes his grits. Doc’s got his mind working on the timeline for today. He has to pick up Maman by 11.30am so she can set up here for a 12 noon ceremony to learn the demon’s name.
Smelling the cooking Vic is next up. Danny Castro passes him going the other way, gestures in a random direction about where Gunnarsson is, stumbles off to his own bunk. By this time Doc has noticed some movement off down the slope below the station. An anonymous sedan has turned in and slowly makes its way towards the now-barren building lot, where the Golden Crème place used to stand. Most likely, they were looking to arrive at the ranger station and turned the wrong way.
Sure enough as the grits get serving-ready a cat in platforms and a wanna-be sharp suit makes his way unsteadily across the fields, diagonally from the lot up to the station. Vic thinks something about the little chick with the ‘fro tracking along in that cat’s wake looks familiar too.
So they are completely unsurprised when there’s a knock on the station door. By this time Arby’s just stumbled in, grabbing for a coffee and bleary-eyed.
Scene: ranger station common room
Theme: Green onions
The cat introduces he and his junior as working for the Call & Post, a paper dedicated to Black issues. He says his name is André, and does not introduce the sistah though Vic remembers her as the little chick that lured Cutter and him into the first meet-up with Agent Boddington.
André (call me Bust-a-Move) Bustamante is well-informed about the non-weird part of what’s been going on, though without the weird part it doesn’t hold together very well.
Benny sits in on the conversation but pretends to be Japanese and not speak English very well. For their part the white hats go all vague when André presses into dangerous turf.
[The white hats do not elect a spokesperson so at this stage I get each to make an Intelligence+Influence test, needing at least a raise to not reveal too much. They all do well, so although André will get more than they wanted, they certainly don’t blab details.]
André takes a lot of notes but by the end of the interview the white hats are sensing that he could be a good ally in matters like Charlie Stone’s campaign. He’s very interested in anything that looks like Whitey putting brothers down. Though he won’t be publishing any dirty cop names, and what actually gets printed will be up to his editor and the legal people.
The pair take themselves off, leaving the white hats wondering if the card André gave them was just something he got off an Italian name of Bustamante.
Arby has woken up and scratches his head thinking there was something he was supposed to do. The phone rings and Benny answers, then waggles it at Arby. It’s Jude Humphrey – oh yeah, the guy that left a message for Arby to call him.
Scene: Rapid service depot, over the tracks from Baldwin
Theme: Mo’ Onions
Arby parks up and slides down out of the van, while Vic stays in the passenger seat. The wind is chill and the Fall day is not getting warmer. A sedan, maybe ten years old, rolls towards them. Ten years ago it would have been a shiny Burnt Umber but now it’s just dark-shit brown. It looks like Jude is the only occupant. He winds down his window and leans out.
There’s something about how Jude is asking how they are getting on with things and what they are armed with now that makes Arby nervous. He edges away, and Jude steps out and after him bit by bit, until he can easily be picked off by Vic if things go south. But they don’t. Jude seems satisfied enough with the bland assurances Arby hands him – “we do a’ight brother” – and hands over the promised $20 and drives away.
Arby tells Vic he will hand over the promised $10 once he can split the note.
Scene: ranger station
Theme: Soul Man
Doc’s busy with the telephone directory. Ranger Kelly comes in. Her eyes have dark smudges under them. It seems she’s been helping the Professor set up at the filtration plant, and he likes to be ****ing comfortable, so he’s had Danny and her running ****ing errands all night. Laura’s still not up? Yeah, probably still ****ing umm fixing herself. Who made this ****ing coffee? Well, make a new one and make it strong! She lights a cigarette to keep from falling asleep then says she’ll wait at the table, and by the time Doc has the coffee perking she is asleep, her cigarette smoldering in her fingers. Doc eases it out and stubs it out with the others in the ashtray, and slides the telephone directory out from under her head. She mutters something and keeps sleeping.
He’s already had a few minutes looking for ‘Thacker’ in the directory but the conversation with the ‘reporter’ sucked up most of the time before they need to leave. He hasn’t got far.
Vic and Arby are back by now and join Doc for the pick-up, and since there’s a little time in hand, and it’s on the way, decide to swing by the Call & Post and verify Bustamante. Each packs a hefty flashlight.
Scene: Call & Post, 105th and Chester
Theme: Tell it like it is
The Plymouth swings into the parking lot, and Doc notes it will cost money to get back out, unless he validates. The three swing into reception where Vic’s hideous appearance terrifies the girl on reception, until he jokes about Bustamante’s get-up. Relieved that he’s not there to maim and destroy she readily admits him to the back-issues and he flicks back to the Antioch Baptist shooting to see what the Call & Post really said about it. It’s more radically-phrased than Cindy Channel’s account for the Plain Dealer, and came out a day later (Cindy works the night shift so submitted her story in time for the morning press) but in essence covers the same thing and contains no ‘weirdness’. Vic flicks back over some more issues and decides the Call & Post is conventionally blind to the ‘other’ side of Cleveland, just as you might expect.
[No roll needed. If you do logical everyday stuff like this, you get results.]
Aside from verifying the André that interviewed them is the André that is employed as a staff reporter, Doc learns that the day he was canned from Case Western and stood at the Circle looking blankly out westward, his eye must have roved over the Call & Post building. At the time he was more worried about mysterious black sedans.
The Call & Post is as advertised – dedicated to Black issues. The reception walls are covered with pictures stretching back at least a century, from early days of paper route staff in front of their first permanent offices, through MLK poses, to Panthers clutching assault rifles and punching salutes.
Scene: Fairfax avenues
Theme: Sweetback’s theme
The Plymouth pulls over to the kerb and Arby springs out of the back ready to swap with Doc. Unfortunately Doc’s disability makes him slower, and Bustamante’s sedan also pulls over and waits. But Arby makes up for that with a bold display of losing-a-tail driving and by taking the long way round has ensured Bustamante will not know where they ended up.
[This was an easy Dex check, i.e. Dex doubled, but Doc was -1 for his drawback and made an 8, just under the minimum for competence.]
Scene: Maman’s place, Fairfax
Theme: I got the magic in me
Doc and Vic have bush-crashed through the overgrown vacant lot behind Maman’s from the other side of the block, while Arby is going to time it so that he swings by the main driveway at 11.30 sharp.
Clarice’s sedan is in the drive.
That’s all to the good, because Doc has been worrying about some of the legal ramifications of thing’s he got on his plate:
- His expulsion
- The blood work he has on the Spartans
- Cutter’s naming by Charlie Stone
It turns out Clarice is keen to help and decides – or has already decided – she will be accompanying her Aunt up to the station. That’s a tight squeeze with Maman, who is traditionally built, in the front, Arby driving, and Vic Clarice and Doc squeezed along the back. Clarice is attractive so Vic ain’t complaining.
The reason they took the secret way in was there’s still a sedan opposite up the road, watching the place. Last time this happened, they were pretty sure it was Setro or one of his faction. Maman mutters under her breath and Doc helps her with his spirits and as the sedan swings around to follow them it stalls, as though the engine flooded. Arby wiggles his fingers in an ironic wave as he accelerates away.
[No-one synchronizes watches! Arby misses a simple Int check by 1, meaning he is a little late and the surveillance is well warned of Maman’s exit. Doc contributes his ‘help’ raises to Maman’s automatic success. He adds 3, ensuring a dramatic result.]
Scene: DeNaRes ranger station
Theme: Bridge over troubled waters
Captain Kelly is all the better for her hour-plus of sleep, and welcomes Maman again and is introduced to Clarice. Maman is given the same privacy as last time. Doc helps her set up and drags the various Demon-inhabited body parts from the freezer.
[No, I didn’t check for this. It would have been amusing but Vic could help if need be.]
Vic checks over the station. Danny is really asleep. Laura sticks her head around the corner; she’s handling that fancy little pair of binoculars Arby left around [he didn’t tell me he packed them last couple of Eps so they are general equipment now]. She’s been standing watch up top, but now joins the crew below.
Clarice interviews Arby and Vic, taking notes on their situation; she writes up Arby’s previous employment as ‘street entertainer’ which is kind of true of a 3-card monte player.
Doc emerges from where he and Maman have successfully pinned down the demon’s name and bound it. Now, he can safely take his talisman and not worry whether the demon will tempt someone else.
[Doc again contributes his ‘help’ raises to Maman’s automatic success. Again, he adds 3. I don’t go into the dramatic NPC demon vs NPC houngaan, I just comment that the demon is an ego demon and the demon’s name translates to something like ‘I am all’.]
Maman suggests she lay out the cards again so that Doc can see them. He agrees. She does a full tarot reading for him. She shows him that two powers, recently sundered, surround him bringing danger as well as opportunity. One power is newly-arrived; the other is old. Arby and Doc speculate that the ‘new power’ could well be KinzeyCorp since its security branch seems to have abruptly taken over Blackhand Security’s footprint.
Doc has the idea that he wants to talk more to the Professor, and that being so maybe Maman should talk to him as well. Arby makes a flurry of sandwiches using up the last cold ham; Gunnarsson stumbles in from about 48 hours solid down on the Reservoir and gloms a couple before hitting the hay. Benny’s due down there next.
To Laura, Doc explains his Thacker search and leaves that with her: she’s probably better at calling than he is and has the vehicle plate number to use to fake up some excuse or other. She asks where the Cutter is and the best they can guess is family troubles.
Scene: Filtration plant
Theme: Sympathy for the devil
Setting aside its pretend-gracious-Palladian architecture the plant is one humungous piece of building where every pillar is potential cover and every stairwell could hold a trap. Vic is nervous until the womenfolk are all up on the top floor of the east wing where the Professor has an absurdly comfortable campsite.
There’s a weird kind of four-way meeting. Doc helps ‘translate’ between Maman and the Prof and Arby chips in to help. After all the Prof is his birth father.
[This is not language translation, it’s conceptual. Two different schools or cultures, if you like. It operates under the joint research rules, but using Int+Influence since the white hats are acting as diplomats. They score a joint +9 for helping Maman and Professor to grasp the scale of what’s going on.]
The white hats get an amount of good solid advice from experts and head back to the station with a ‘to-do’ list.
Side-scene: Curiosity Shop, Garfield Heights
Maman has given her son directions to two possible places he can buy a spirit container to keep the demon in, thus allowing them to dispose of T-Bone’s corpse and avoid that embarrassing moment when the law calls round and you have a body in the freezer… Arby convinces Benny to do a temporary vehicle swap… Arby drives Doc Maman and Clarice back to Fairfax, then Doc bids the women farewell and the pair head up to Garfield. The Justice building stands proud at its summit.
Now to find the shop!
[Int check for Doc, he misses by 4.]
They take a long time, and get pulled over by Garfield’s finest who check papers (those were swapped too so no problem) and warn them to be out of town by sundown, but finally find it tucked away in a peaceful back-street that looks vaguely familiar.
The Korean woman behind the counter of the tiny shop is selling a lot of touristy junk out front and has a range of real goodies back of the counter. She offers a top-quality Tibetan item for $149 plus tax, or a near-as-good Jiangxin version for $89.95 plus tax. Arby is the only one with money so it’s the cheaper version. Now he’s tapped out.
A man’s head appears around the curtain to the rear areas: he smiles and asks, in better English than his wife, if all’s well. Instinctively warming to him, Doc and Arby assure that nice Dr. Han that yes, things are fine. – Is this a family business? – Yes, we brought it over from Korea. – Good then, we’ll be going. – Do you have a card? No? Well, thanks for your business, call in again.
Randomly glancing around at various business cards Arby notices Martin Capaldi, Psychic Detective has left his card as an ad., and there’s an autographed photo from Kolchak, Arcane Investigator, Chicago.
Arby and the pair drive back, clearing Garfield as the sun sinks.
Vic is prepping for a foray back down the Wilson Clinic tunnel to see what’s beyond.
Cutter is making his way back to the station.
I had been expecting some of the bad guys plans to really reach out by now. But the way things fell, I was able to extend a lot of help the white hats ought to have sought way, way back. Arby’s player wondered why, just as a player, he hadn’t pushed for this meeting ages ago. We discussed player laziness when one player is chasing sparkly ideas – ooh shiny! – and it becomes too easy for the others to sit back.
I told them the high result of the Professor-Maman consultation meant that more information would be pushed out in later sessions but for now they have been given some pointed advice, mainly around the two tunnel systems and the need to investigate further. Clarice also gave some advice. She’s moderately confident that Doc’s employment can be remedied but needs a paper trail between Farmatec and something else to show the expulsion was unjust.
If the white hats choose they may now be able to use the media to help them. Cutter deliberately cut his fat pipe to the Plain Dealer (and didn’t use it effectively when he had it) so we’ll see how the Call & Post connection works.