CD24: Picking sides

Welcome back to Cleveland Darkens!

Fight the power! Close the Hellmouth!

Urban arcane roleplaying using Buffy the Vampire Slayer roleplay rules

Recap:

The white hats have the identities of the remaining three demoniacs. But these final three are definitely going to be tough; and they are well-protected besides. And the white hats still have the problem of the split Haitian congregation, so they can’t expect exorcism to solve the problem. That’s far from the only problem. Most have some personal issues to deal with, and their one-time safe haven, the DeNaRes ranger station, is now so compromised that State Troopers are staking it out around the clock.

Meanwhile, exploring the big Loop tunnel under Central led to a series of further tunnels, possibly including one that leads to where the other Sisters of Jhe are holed up. They know to expect at least two more, maybe four, of these very tough fans of the Apocalypse.

And also meanwhile, the Bianchis handed them the job of retrieving an artifact that looks like a garland or wreath from the office of Kinzey Foundation up in the Terminal Tower.

The white hats have split to two pairs to get some solid shuteye. They plan to meet by nine a.m. the next morning, where they can make some plans.

 

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. (Party cleric)

Victor “Vic” Creed, 6’6 ex-paratrooper, hideously scarred, built for combat. (Party paladin)

Roosevelt “Arby” Brown, 5’7 slim and quick grifter, built for ducking and running away. (Party rogue)

Steve “The Cutter” Cutter, 6’ fast-handed boxer, built for fighting and smooth-talkin’ the ladies. (Party bard)

 

Scene: Arby’s pad, by the tracks

Theme: Sweetback’s theme

Doc picks through the notes he slipped into his jacket pocket yesterday and discovers that amid all the ‘call Moroni’ notes there’s one from his cousin/niece Clarice and a longer notepad page jotted down in ranger Laura’s tidy, slightly left-handed hand. It’s about her research on Thacker at the Wilson Clinic and reads:

Thacker is a technician, good one, nothing special found. Checked out Ernst, just a counsellor. Spenser and Wilson the real thing. Clinic closed.

Doc looks around for a telephone then shakes Arby awake to ask.

“Down the block a ways, man”

Doc decides not to limp down there on his own, it’s a rough neighborhood and the diner’s owner-cook seems OK with patrons using his phone.

 

[Earlier in the week, via email, I opened the table to the players as to which other NPCs want to contact the characters. It did not appear they had put any thought into this by game night, but Doc’s player named two contacts that would convincingly fit into the timeline, so they got those. Laura had agreed to check out Thacker, the technician that operated the Machine in the Wilson Clinic; Clarice is helping with Doc’s get-my-life-back arc using her paralegal skills.]

 

Scene: Cutter’s pad, south of the tracks

Theme: Trouble man

“What you packin’ this a.m. brother?”

Vic turns from his forlorn hunt for something edible, and produces his hefty flashlight.

“The Man wanna know, I say it be broken, that why I carryin’ it in daytime.”

Cutter nods at this sage piece of logic and stows a wooden stake away in his own jacket.

[At this juncture Doc and Arby recollect that they also packed a stake.]

 

Scene: Soul Food diner near Brother Gloves

Theme: Pick up the pieces

While the others get started on breakfast (sorting change from pocket-lint by this stage) Doc borrows the phone and dials Maman’s. It’s answered by a cousin he seldom sees, who tells him Clarice is already at work.

The boss tells Doc the next call gonna take a dime.

Doc asks Arby for a dime.

“That one hunnerd bucks an’ one dime you owe now,” Arby retorts shortly, handing it over. He’s sore from spending virtually all his dough on the spirit box that now holds T-Bone’s demon, when Doc could have put it on a tab.

Doc dials Clarice’s law firm and since she’s not a lawyer, gets put through with few delays. She has had an exciting idea for setting Case Western up, thereby forcing them to reinstate him, but it will take some paperwork from Doc.

Other than that Clarice does have a little more to offer on KinzeyCorp and the CP’s office. Until a couple weeks ago the word around the watercooler was that W&H were brokering a deal of some kind, then one of the parties bailed. No-one has seen Johnsson for some days.

Doc scratches down some notes and hangs up and claims his cooling portion at the bench. Cutter waves the phone over to himself.

 

Cutter’s recollected that he never did see little Selma-Beth after they crawled out of the Loop tunnel, so he checks his watch, dials the Call & Post and eventually gets put through to some guy. Sounding suspiciously as though he is getting hand-signals from Selma-Beth, the guy tells Cutter she will be back in about ten or fifteen minutes. Who is calling? Well say, I never did get to meet you the other time. Call me Bust-a-move. We should get together.

Hanging up, Cutter gets the low-down on Bust-a-move and the Call & Post angle on things. He lays a dime up on the counter and dials City Planning. He’s familiar with the routine and is soon put through to Clive, Cleo’s brother. Clive may have a down on Arby – understandably – but Cutter is OK in his book and he is ready to help. But Cutter asks him about stuff he has few clues about – such as this nonexistent Loop tunnel and where it might go. He assures Cutter the landmarks he’s named mean that it can’t extend westward past Central.

[Here, I’ve handed Cutter and Doc the task of rolling to figure where the ‘goblin extension’ went. They have the opportunity of asking for advice to aid their roll, before making the check.]

Arby interjects and reminds them Doc figured it extended under Central Ave, and from having had a look at a street map [he narrowly fails the Fear test that is triggered by photographic memory, Cutter and Vic reassure him and allow a re-test] he can sketch out exactly what that lines up with.

On the back of a napkin, Arby sketches out the loop of major roads that lies just west of Central, then the Erie Street Cemetery and Gray’s Armory just north of that, and the City Square west, then the Terminal Tower. Yes, the tunnel might line up directly under the cemetery and Terminal Tower.

Terminal Tower… they try to recall what they know of it. Tallest building in the city, way more than 21 floors, and say, wasn’t there some shooting incident back in August when they were all ducking for cover?

There’s a little spall of confusion as the white hats confirm that there is more than one old armory littering the landscape. Gray’s Armory is a swanky private ballroom or some such these days.

It’s been at least a quarter-hour so with another dime down Cutter dials the Call & Post again. Selma-Beth is ready for his call. Being a street hustler it’s a shakedown: she has a juicy secret on Charlie Stone but wants to be paid for it. Yeah, what she got from Boddington just about pays for one hair-stylin’ – she wants real bread. Cutter agrees to meet her once he gets money. Funnily enough she already knows which bank he’s going to use. Yes, it’s the one bank that will cash a check for a black man without seven kinds of ID and a call to the FBI. She’ll be there.

 

The white hats split again. This time Cutter will head over to the bank with Arby, then on to the Boneyard to ask Smooth Clyde about shit; while Doc will drive Vic over to the Call & Post for a look at the August back-numbers and a talk with Bust-a-move. Doc and Vic pile into Arby’s van while Cutter and Arby walk back to Cutter’s pad for his van.

 

Scene: Call & Post

Theme: Boot-leg

Doc pulls into the secure lot, reminding himself that he’ll need to get validated. At the press offices, Vic scares the little receptionist less since he didn’t rip anyone’s head off last time, and signs into the morgue no problem.

Meanwhile Doc takes the opportunity to interview Bust-a-move. They fence with one another. [Doc burns a drama point and scrapes by on his Int+Influence, by one.] Although he reveals a good deal to Bust-a-move he also learns a certain amount of detail about how Bust-a-move’s story is going to reveal how the CIA are back at their old game of pushing drugs on the black man to fund illegal wars, probably in Central America. But it’ll take real evidence. So what about Doc’s side? The two discuss Farmatec and steroid supplies to the Spartans and how W&H and the Ward Office and CP are protecting them. Bust-a-move warns Doc that the barrier to getting this past the legal people will be high because W&H are fucking good and the CP is not someone to fuck with.

Vic is all finished by the time Doc exits the pit, he reports that back in August some crazy-ass vet decided he’d take his M16 in to talk with the railroad bosses about their Veterans Act non-compliance. It was up above the 42nd floor, which is as high as the public elevator goes. Later issues don’t get to a lot of detail but it seems like the vet be off somewhere in FBI-land and security in the Tower is tighter now.

 

Scene: the Boneyard

Theme: Hurt is all you gave me

It’s still morning, but the guys on the door recognize the two white hats and let them in. The place is still being tidied up from last night. At the bar, ‘Birmingham’ the guy with the fake West Indian accent is cleaning. A bouncer shambles off to find Smooth Clyde. Cutter and Arby are still a little sore from the ‘frisking’ a PD3 cruiser team gave them on their way to the bank, and take a stool each. Birmingham offers them a new cocktail he’s created: he’s thinking of calling it a Blood Sunset. It has quite a lot of red in it, and needs work.

 

This is a productive visit, though at one point Cutter gets confused about what factions are on the table. Clyde knows enough about the Sisterhood to give them some inside knowledge:

“You done got the fire-slinger? Then m’man, you got the fire slinger. They each got they own thing. Yeah, ice be water, don’t be in no tunnel when you tangle with air, earth be diggin’ rock no matter how hard. Fifth one’s allus the mind – mebbe that why goblin workin’ in they team.”

From the way Clyde tells it, it sounds as though goblins hate Jhe demons and the sisterhood might have done some major damage around the world.

Besides that, when they ask about Grays Armory Clyde hints the Gray Knights might get involved, but they ain’t his folk so ain’t something he can tell. He does offer ‘muscle’; suggests Doc might persuade Marie Emana to side with him; and has more to say about the other factions.

Clyde clarifies the factions as Kinzey and Bianchi. Both wield wizardly power. Concerning a raid into Kinzey turf, he offers some special dust. Cutter takes him up on it. According to Clyde it should make them invisible to hocus-pocus. It’s in a monkey-skull pouch. “Sprinkle a pinch over you… just like Tinkerbell,” he explains.

 

Cut scene: below the DeNaRes ranger station

Meanwhile Doc and Vic, still sans cash, head to the agreed meet-up, Woodhill Road below the ranger station. Vic’s planning on buying a new duster with his cash. But he reminds himself half will go to sis.

At length, Arby’s van rolls up and they have a roadside conference. Arby been itchin’ to get that money, restrained by Cutter. Doc hands over the $100.10 with surprisingly good grace. Just makes a remark about rising price of bandages. Now it’s time to check in on the rangers and fetch Doc’s Plymouth back, and go on to find the Prof. Cutter reminds the others not to just rush on in.

 

Cut scene: outside the DeNaRes ranger station

Not only is there now two Smokies up on the turn-off – and both log the two vans in – but there’s a big-engine cruiser with an SRS paint job parked up right outside the station, beside the various ranger vehicles. The white hats keep rolling by, headed for the lane to the filtration plant.

In the lead vehicle, Cutter cranes back out, slowing to a crawl. Laura’s on post at the expected loft end, and waves. Neither ‘help’ nor ‘flee’ so he feeds gas to the engine and rolls on.

 

Scene: Professor’s Lair, the Filtration Plant

Theme: Cold sweat

This is another helping of helpfulness. Getting his pipe working the Prof recollects what he can of the Gray Knights. Apparently some time between the Revolution and the Civil War their founder realized that Cleveland had a Hellmouth. He imported a huge block of sandstone from somewhere – maybe Britain – and plugged the Hellmouth, building Gray’s Armory on it. He founded the Knights to watch over the plug and as the core of the Regiment. Later the regiment became federalized but the Knights remain. Probably. He thinks they mostly just supervise the use of the Armory as a swanky venue for Cleveland’s Upper Crust. He doesn’t know quite how to approach them, he’ll get in touch with someone he knows to get a line on them.

[The players are given to understand the Prof will reach out to the Watcher’s Council. This is about the first time I’ve mentioned a Watcher’s Council.]

As for this Garland that Cutter has taken to naming the Crown of Thorns, it’s rumored to have been fashioned by Lucifer himself in imitation of the original – though some say it is the original. The bearer is deceived into becoming a puppet for Beelzebub. The only sure way to get rid of it is to open the Hellmouth and drop it in, and the Sisterhood of Jhe would be able to help with that. Then to close the Hellmouth again, just kill the Sisterhood right there.

Disbelieving silence.

Of course the other option is just to steal the Garland and hand it over to the Bianchis and let them worry about it. Which brings them back to the Terminal Tower.

 

There are number of options for exploring the Terminal Tower. The obvious one is to walk in. The City Square is broad, well-lit, peaceful. A public elevator runs up well past the 21st floor, as Vic found. The next most obvious one is take the Rapid from the entertainment district to the terminus and get lost in the network of disused tracks that used to operate for the various other rail systems, then find a way up. Then the least obvious one is to explore further along the ‘Erie Street Cemetery’ tunnel to see if it leads out into say, the Sisterhood, or some secret lair below the Tower. Or has a side-tunnel to Grays Armory and the main Hellmouth.

 

Cutter explains Selma-Beth’s scoop on Charlie Stone. It cost him a Lincoln but was worth it. Charlie Stone used to run more of a hands-on faith mission in Cincinnati and skipped out leaving a bastard child there. That’s what the CP has on him. Confronted with this, Stone has got to play ball one way or another. The white hats agree that the showdown will be after Stone’s next morning slot.

Meanwhile it’s getting late and Doc wants to head up to the Curiosity Shop to get three more Spirit Boxes. They use Cutter’s van since Arby’s should not be driven around the heights. (It used to belong to Neale, who kidnaped babies, and worked out of Monmouth Hospital up there.)

 

Scene: Curiosity Shop, Garfield Heights

Theme: Give me some of that good old love

Crowded into the tiny interior, the white hats purchase three top-quality spirit boxes from Mrs. Han who agrees to put the total on Maman’s tab.

Cutter asks about protection and yes, Mrs. Han has a bewildering array, from minor Japanese ‘good luck’ charms to top-quality amulets. And how much are those? $69.95 plus tax?? And the tab is used up? Still a bargain! Cutter slams down his roll, and the others take their cue, each buying one. Cutter thinks about pimping it with a fancy chain, but the braided-by-tiny-Asian-hands silken cords sold here aren’t what he is thinking of.

 

Scene: DeNaRes ranger station

Theme: Time is tight

Gunnarsson greets them from the kitchen: “Guess you heard we got food back in!”

Apparently Kelly is catching up with lost sleep upstairs – yes, let’s leave her to that – and the Staties are in and out all the time. The youngster left his thermos there in the common room. By the way, Gunnarsson’s tool box is kinda crowded and getting shut of that box would be great, anytime you’re ready, like about now? Ayuh.

Sweeping the place for any other ‘equipment’ they might need the white hats load Doc’s Plymouth with the four spirit boxes. The ‘occupied’ one is easily distinguishable. All three vehicles roll lawfully out of the turnoff out onto Fairhill – duly logged out by the Staties – and down to Fairfax for Doc and Vic, while Arby and Cutter each drive their van down Woodland, west past the interchange and across to explore intersections past Erie Street Cemetery.

[I’m mentally including random pistolry in things that are now in vehicles, plus the fireaxes. Vic’s M16 we agree is at Cutter’s pad, hidden under a mattress.]

 

Scene: Vic’s pop’s house

Theme: Paint it black

Vic opens the front door and sees a goblin.

“Huh!” says Vic. “There’s a thing.”

“You gon’ get me lollipop, unca?” cheerfully hollers the goblin.

Oh yeah, Halloween just a couple days away now. Vic’s niece is having her costume fitted.

Vic hands over half his roll. But sis warns him Boss Creed’s coat-holder been round more’n once, pressing pop to stand up at Elections. Tell pop again how that be a bad idea.

Vic demurs – truthfully citing the bad words between him and pop last time – but sis allows as how pop listened to him, bad words or no. So Vic mans up and heads in back.

[I handwave off the actual roleplay here, as we are a little shy on time and it’s a given that Vic’s player will rock it. Vic takes a -1 and a drama point block into his next major scene. This is the ‘dependents’ drawback operating and is worth drama points.]

 

Scene: Maman’s house

Theme: Soul man

Vic meets a new cousin, Bérnard or just ‘Barn’ by name who is a bit of a demon in the kitchen. Vic steers clear and chats from the nearby sitting-room, sipping good coffee until supper is ready.

Upstairs, Doc finds Maman is in a darkened room with three candles burning. As he heads in, she stops him and tells him to leave the Amulet back behind the threshold.

Maman urges Doc to get on with the paperwork Clarice needs to keep moving his case. She will keep the filled spirit box safe. Good luck with the others.

 

[Meanwhile it’s a given that Cutter and Arby have the skills to work out likely manholes. They can bring this to the next relevant scene if called for.]

 

Scene: Near Cuyahoga Bridge

Theme: I’m your boogie man

It’s so handy how just as Charlie Stone’s vehicle stalls, the white hats show up and offer to fix it.

[Another ‘given’ that with the skills they have, an alternator arm or distributor cap works loose at the right time.]

Charlie Stone is accosted with the truth and caves in, badly scared. Yes, it’s blackmail. He has nothing personal against any of them. He just said what he was told to say! Yes, by Milton Warnock, the CP. Until a short while back the big tough young colored boy name of T-Bone would tell him personally what to say, but lately this odd-dressed colored man name of Jude is the messenger. Jude Humphrey? Yes, that would be the name.

Stone agrees to set a trap for Milton Warnock. He badly wants out of the situation.

And the trap will be set at Little Haiti.

The session went full length this time, because so much progress was being made. What a difference speaking to a variety of possible sources makes! Previously the white hats seemed to fixate on one or other source and simply blank all others. It was also slightly gratifying that my showing that the Boneyard is not actually evil (last episode of season one) has finally paid off. I did joke that the ‘pixie dust’ is probably just cajun seasoning so Cutter (who pulled Clyde’s leg off and held it to ransom) smells mighty tasty, but I’m sure that won’t stop them using it…

Such a rain of information was pouring down I may have credited the wrong source with one or other piece of it. But the previous secondary thread trail now extends thus:

2.14 It turns out that the Bianchis are a wizardly family, not ‘just’ mob.

2.15 The artifact desired by the Bianchis and held by the Kinzey Foundation, the garland, may be too dangerous to give to the Bianchis.

2.16 The only reliable way to get rid of the garland is to drop it down a Hellmouth.

2.17 The Sisterhood of Jhe would be able to open the Hellmouth.

2.18 Killing all the remaining Jhe sisters right there would then close the Hellmouth.

2.19 You gotta be kidding, right?

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