Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Argonne, but not Forgotten 1

October 1918 - the Argonne Forest, France, Earth

So, Trail of Cthulhu is a great game form Pelgrane Press.  It works really well for investigative games - primarily in the vein of Call of Cthulhu.  I've had the opportunity to run both games now and if  you want a game where the characters do not fail to uncover the story (whether you play the game pulp style or not) the Trail of Cthulhu is that game.  If you want a game where generations of investigators may have to uncover knowledge then Call of Cthulhu is your choice.

But, Trail of Cthluhu was a weak choice for a game set in World War I where survival and not investigation ended up being key.  In this case, I'd been better off using another system.

That said, it's a smooth game - we've used the GUMSHOE system before - and if you haven't played it then use it for an investigation-style game.

The story begins in early October of the year 1918.  The American, British and French armies begin an offense in the Argonne Woods that will later be known as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Nine companies of the American 77th Division pushed forward in early October only to become lost behind enemy lines.  Many did not return.

The player characters are soldiers advancing with the 77th at the battle of Argonne.  Two Americans, a French mercenary, and an Australian who lost his unit.  They huddle in a crater the night of October 3rd, 1918 - lost and waiting for orders.

Gustav Waecter - the American son of a German-born Chicago businessman, Gustave fell in with a group of anarchists while a student at Harvard.  After breaking into a building on campus and setting it on fire, he was sentenced to prison but offered to join the Army instead.  Argonne was his first battle.

Rudy McGraw - an American cowboy from Texas.  Drafted into the Army in 1917, McGraw was one of the first doughboys sent to Europe.  A veteran of numerous battles, McGraw had by 1918 developed a drinking problem.

Louis Mentur - a one eyed French mercenary.  How he lost his eye is a mystery.  At the time of the action, he served as a veteran member of the Tete de Morte mercenary company.

Jack Haytham - a very mentally ill Australian hunter.  Sent to the military after questionable actions in the Outback.  Veteran of Gallopli. 

****

Our story opens on a squad of soldiers in a foxhole at night. They sit in the cold damp while German shells crash about the valley. From the distance, they hear the approach of their Colonel and his aides discussing the battalion’s position beyond enemy lines

Listening to their Colonel speak, the squad realizes the earlier advance has left them surrounded.  The Colonel and his aides part leaving one man who quickly enters their foxhole.  In the dim light of a match, the realize it is Lieutenant Jeffery Holden - their current officer.  

Lt. Holden informed the squad he would be leading them and another squad east in the morning to find several companies separated during the advance.  (This game began similar to a CoC module, and while the game diverged in content, the essence of No Man's Land inspired it.)

Before dawn, our squad of player characters joined Lt. Holden and another squad of soldiers at the eastern edge of the bivouac.  They entered the forest and eventually passed soldiers laying barbed wire on the edge of a gulley.  A few machine gun posts were also being built.  Traveling further into the forest, the group passed burned buildings and the decaying corpses of villages, soldiers and animals.  That evening the made camp in the lee of a hill, still not finding signs of the missing companies.

That night Gustave Waecter dreamed of a city destroyed by green fire.

Rudy McGraw dreamed of hands grasping him from the earth.

Jack Haytham dreamed of purple light.

Louis Mentur dreamed of a man with a long beard and pincers.

Waking early the next morning, the band proceeded eastward under the leadership of Lt. Holden.  Mid-morning, they spied a German bunker with a machine gun nest.  Lt. Holden was convinced they could take the bunker. Mentur reminded him their mission was to find the lost companies not fight Germans.  Holden insisted and led the band in quietly.  Mentur decided to remain hidden behind a boulder.  After some deliberation, Waecter, McGraw, and Haytham stayed with him.


One of the German's spotted Holden's approach and the machine guns began firing at the approaching squad.  Several American soldiers died instantly.  Holden charged the bunker with a grenade and was shot in the head.  There was a massive flash of purple light and our squad of players became ill and passed out.

They awoke as the sun was setting and found the bunker a smoking ruin.  No sound emerged from it.  Haytham wanted to investigate so they followed him in closer.  The bodies of dead American soldiers littered the way up to the bunker.  When they reached the crater into the bunker they found German soldiers fused into their machine gun or half buried in the dirt walls.  No sign of Lt. Holden remained.

In the center of the bunker was a hole leading into the earth.  For reasons I cannot imagine, they decided to go in.  Under the bunker, lit glowing purple they found shards of purple glass.  The room itself was a large circular space with a ring of stone menhir sunk into the earth.  In the center, they found an obsidian pedestal and the bottom half of a large purple crystal.

Gustave Waecter recognized the crystal.

****Waecter's flashback****

At this point in the story, I ran a flashback sequence. 

Gustave Waecter's player played Waecter a year earlier at Harvard.  He and his anarchist friends intend to break into the Anthropology building on campus to steal a few valuable items that can be sold to fund their revolutionary activities.

Joining him are:

Dmitri Bobrik (played by Louis Mentur's player) - a Russian immigrant anarchist exiled from Tsarist Russia.

Liam Brennan (played by Jack Haytham's player) - an Irish-American socialist from Boston who misquotes Marx.

Andrew Tomlin (played by Rudy McGraw's player) - a wealthy Rhode Islander and member of the lacrosse team who Waecter convinced to join because revolutionaries meet women.

The scene begins in Waecter's apartment with the revolutionaries plotting the theft then skips to the Anthropology building where Dmitri crowbars open the door.


Inside, they began searching through boxes for anything valuable.  Liam broke a few ancient pots to Waecter's horror.  Andrew complained loudly about the lack of girls.  Their bickering is interrupted by Dmitri who has found a very large box with a strange symbol on it.

Andrea and Waecter both insisted they leave the box alone, but Liam and Dmitri wanted to look inside.  Once they broke the crate open, the revolutionaries were greeted by the sight of a large purple crystal that Liam called a diamond.  Dmitri struck it hard with the crowbar and the crystal began to hum with the sound much like violins.  It also began to glow, dimly then brightly.

Andrew fled the storage area only to be apprehended outside by the nightwatch.  As the noise grew louder and the glow brighter, Dmitri and Liam stared dumbstruck.  Waecter managed to look away and ran outside where he too was apprehended.

From inside the building their is a loud dissonant crash and bright flash of light.  Soon the building was ablaze.  Both Andrew and Waecter were arrested for arson, though Andrew Tomlin was cleared of charges by his father's political friends.

Waecter was then arrested and agreed to join the Army rather than go to prison.

***

The session ended there and we decided to finish it the next time.

The story continues with Argonne, but not Forgotten, part 2.



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Posole and Home

The Twilight Lands

Since the end of the last arc of Fragments of the Last War, our group had been playing a biweekly Eclipse Phase game by another GM.  I started the Changeling:the Lost game to fill the other week.  However, scheduling conflicts kept us from getting together for several weeks and then the Eclipse Phase game ended.  The group decided they wanted to play a weekly Dark Heresy game for a while and after this arc we would return to Fragments.  So I have shuttered the Changeling game for the foreseeable future.

Since the player characters in the game met, while in the Twilight Lands, the same Fae hag whom our band of heroes (cutthroats) sparred with at the end of Fragments 13. 

Changelings are mortal humans who have been kidnapped by the Fae and altered for a service or by the environment of the Twilight Realm. The first story follows four changelings owned by the same Keeper who escape Arcadia and return to earth.

The first character is Tito Ortiz.  A young twenty-something Mexican-American from Barelas, Tito disappeared in 1978 after a run in with a local gang.  Those who know him, though, noted he had begun acting very different the year before his disappearance.  In one night in 1977, his future Keeper (the Lord of the Manor, Lord Dionysus, Master of Dance and Woe) took Tito from the river bank of the Rio Grande and left a fetch in his place.  Tito (sometimes called Ruffles by the Lord) was shaped into a hunting dog that resembled a stark black jackal.   (Beast Seeming, Hunterheart kith)

The second character is Cletus Jones.  In 1932, Cletus and his family stopped to camp on the banks of the Rio Grande.  They were traveling to California after the bank repossessed the family farm inOklahoma. Throwing rocks into the river one night, his future Keeper (Herne, the Green Huntsman, the Wolf in the Reeds) captured him.  

Taking him to his hold in the Red Swamps, he released Cletus that he may hunt him again and again.  The years of isolation, hiding, and living off the land transformed him into a large ape-like hominid (not unlike the Sasquatch.)  At the beginning of the story, Cletus has again been captured - this time by the Lord of the Manor who is visiting the Huntsman.  Cletus is given to the Lord as a gift and placed in a golden cage to be pulled by the Lord's carriage. (Ogre Seeming, Farwalker kith)

The third character is Erst Dreissler.  Erst had no connection to Albuquerque to bring him back, but following Tito's strong ties and the memory of his wife and child Erst returned from the Twilight Realm.  A young draftee from Dresden, in 1943 the German army sent Erst to the Eastern Front.  His taking is hazy, but he too ended up in the Red Swamps hunted by the Huntsman.  Unlike Cletus, he died and was resurrected numerous times until he and the ghosts of the Swamps could interact.  Caught one last time by the Huntsman, the Lord noted he needed someone who could interact with ghosts and purchased Erst with a box-full of the hopes and dreams of children. (Darkling Seeming, Gravewight kith)

The fourth character is Albin Maximus.  Born in Poland in the late 1920s, Albin and his family fled during the German invasion of 1939 - first to Sweden and then to the United States.  Settling first in New York City his family eventually relocated during the 1940s to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

After graduating from high school in the late forties, Albin took a job in a local ice skating rink.  After a few years there, he became one of the zamboni drivers.   Proud of his well polished ice, Albin insulted a lone skater one morning - skating before the rink had opened - and was subsequently taking from his zamboni by the Lord.  Sent to his Keeper's ice gardens to polish statuary,  Albin's very body eventually became infused with ice. 

The story began began as the Lord's great carriage left the Red Swamps.  Sitting atop the carriage were Tito and the driver.  Following the carriage was a wagon with a golden cage, wherein Cletus chained inside the cage with a golden chain and collar sat eating.  Ernst and the second driver sat at the front of the wagon.

The Lord was greatly pleased with his new servants.  When they arrived at his estate, which resembles an eighteenth century French manor, he took Cletus to the kennels and then Ernst to meet the ghost choir.  Tito (Fluffy) went to the old kennels, displaced by Cletus.

Later, the Lord received a note that his sister would arrive soon and took Tito and Cletus to his ice gardens. There he found the ogre Hob breaking an ice statue while the Ice Sculpture polisher, Albin, protested.  The Lord ate Hobs' eyes as punishment and then broke Albin into cubes.  He summoned a party of his servants to collect the Albin-cubes for the evening.  One of the servants, Sara, he took with him.

As he reached the meadows, he told her to run and then called Tito and the other hounds to chase her.  Sara ran frantically, but was eventually caught.  The Lord then ate one of her fingers and invited Tito to do the same.  Tito also ate one of Sara's fingers, which caused the Lord to become enraged, bash Tito in the head and eat one of his toes.

Later, Tito, Sara and Hob woke in the infirmary.  The Doctor, who appears to be a grey alien, gave Tito a new toe though it was slightly off in color.  Sara had two new fingers.  She refused to look at Tito.  Hob now had mismatched eyes.

That evening, the Lord's sister arrived.  She was a tall green hag with iron nails.  Accompanying her was her servant a fair silver-haired man.  Once inside by the fire, she told the Lord how a great band of hooligans stormed her home, kidnapped her baby, stole her lute and murdered all her loyal servants.  She sloshed bits of Albin in her stinking mouth.  He smelt/felt everything.

The Lord had Cletus brought out and chained by the fire where he laughed as he threw the farwalker bits of food.  Soon Ernst arrived with the sullen ghost choir.  He was given the music whip by the Lord and whipped the ghosts who screamed musical notes.  At the end of the song, each ghost vanished in a blue fire.  The Lord clapped his hands and noted he will need new ghosts.

After the Lord and his sister left for other entertainments, the silver-haired man lead Cletus and Ernst to the infirmary.  There they found Tito looking sullen and Albin being refrozen.  He told them that if they come to the windmill at midnight he will help them leave.  Sara heard this and demanded they take her.

They all met at midnight, Tito appearing at the last moment.  The silver-haired man lead them silently to the edge of the estate and using a silver sword cut a hole in the gate.  They slipped through and the gate repaired itself.  Then he opened a bottle for Tito to smell and told him to follow the scent.

They rushed across the moonlit fields until they finally came to a great Hedge.  Crossing in, they feel more alive and yet somehow scraped.  Wandering the paths of the hedge Tito finally ducked through an opening where they found themselves standing on a river.

The silver-haired man was no longer with them.

Walking a street in the early morning light, they now knew they are back on Earth.  Their memories of their time in the Twilight Lands is vague as are some of their memories of home.  Tito knew the streets belonged to his neighborhood of Barelas in Albuquerque.  He was annoyed so many people still followed him, but they all did so.

Arriving at his house, a surprised Ortiz family greeted them.  They learned the year was now 1979 and Tito had been gone a year.  (One less than his actual time missing.  A fetch?)  

Only Ernst had no connection to the city, having used Tito to return.  Tito's abuela asked to speak with each one.  She said she knew what they were and where they had been.  She told Tito he must keep them close to survive.