Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Its Hour Come Round at Last 1.1

Our first session is complete, and I realize my hunch was correct.  I thought this would be a single session prologue when I first conceived of the campaign, but I realized just before that things really needed to begin during World War I.

While the Secret Service Bureau exists, there is still space for the Gasworks to be separate and hidden from the greater government.  As the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) emerges out of the SSB under Mansfield Smith-Cumming and the Security Service (MI5) under Vernon Kell, then the Gasworks can be joined to a larger intelligence umbrella as a subsection.

Discussing my new campaign with old friend who lives across the country from me now (he played in my games over a decade ago) he noted that my campaigns in the past three years have been very non-lethal and that I had come to avoid lasting consequences for characters.  After discussing it with the players, I have decided to increase the level of grittiness in future sessions (danger, defeat, possible death, madness, and injury.)

At campaign's beginning, we are at three players - down a few from my previous fantasy campaign.

The first character is an American journalist, Harris Benjamin, built off the journalist template from the GURPS Horror 4th edition.  We don't know much of this character's background except that he is college educated - not a requirement in those days by any means for a journalist - and that he works for the New York Times (Patron advantage.)   Adding an American to a British game means that I need to consider how espionage groups will work.  Will he be trusted by the British?  Will the Wilson administration recruit him? As a side note, Harris Benjamin's player until the hiatus of Fragments of the Last War, played Nota'Cor.

Thomas McKinley, our second character, is an English Lieutenant from York, serving in the British military.  He is a doctor who was injured during First Battle of Ypres the year before and at the beginning of the campaign is - despite needing a cane to walk - still working as a surgeon at an Army hospital in London.  Unknown to the rest of the group or his superiors, Thomas has during his recovery become addicted to morphine to stave off the chronic pain from the mortar wound.  A highly skilled doctor and surgeon, McKinley is also knowledgeable in the sciences of biology and chemistry.  Dr. McKinley's player is new to the group.

The final member of the group is Traehaearn Taliesin, a Welsh railroad mechanic with ties Railway Worker's Syndicate. Injured during a strike a few years earlier, Tali remains in the employ of the Great Western Railway because of his skill as a machinist/mechanic (locomotives). Tali's player briefly played Zanpip in the Fragments of the Last War game.

***

May 10th, 1915 - London, United Kingdom

When the chronicle begins, the three have been invited via a notice through their employers to attend a meeting at the Fulham Gasworks.  Each arrived in the early evening and were directed to a building in the rear of the property.  There, as each arrived, they were sent to a small waiting room of panels walls, tasteful if inexpensive upholstered chairs, and a few paintings of dogs and women in late Victorian dresses.

Six chairs surrounded a low wooden table where they were served tea and biscuits.  Taliesin, still dirty from his day, pocketed a few extra biscuits while the other two tried not to look at him.  Benjamin wrote a few descriptions what he had seen, and McKinley studied a book on fungi.

They were soon joined by a fourth individual, like McKinley also in uniform with the rank of Lieutenant.  He produced a bottle of scotch whiskey and poured some into his tea cup, then offered some to the rest.  Tali accepted eagerly.   The new Lieutenant toasted the King.

Some ten minutes later the sun had set and the door to the room opened again.  This time a thirtyish man in a British army uniform, rank of Captain, entered.  The Lieutenant stood and saluted, while  McKinley struggled to his feet, balanced on his cane also saluting.

"Good evening, all of you. Thank you for coming.  I'm Captain David Watson."  He looked around the room.  "I'm guessing you haven't introduced yourselves."  He smiled at the silence, then opened a notebook.  "Mr. Harris Benjamin, American, of the New York Times.  Lieutenant Thomas McKinley, MD." He turned the page.  "Mr. Taliesin of the Great Western Railroad as well as a Syndicate member."  He closed his notebook.  "And finally, Lieutenant Samuel Lattimore of the Royal Flying Corps."

He accepted the offer of Scotch whiskey in a tea cup.  "You have each been contacted through your employers or commanding officers for a particular task for the Government.  Mr. Benjamin," he said, looking at the American journalist.  "Your editors are in cooperation and understand the delicacy of this matter.  I hope you will as well."  Watson also informed Tali that the GWR had assigned him to the Army for the duration.

Setting down his tea cup.  "Sometime ago it came to our attention that one Major Neville Alastair of the Quartermaster Corps is likely selling equipment for personal gain.  However, investigations by official means have been silenced."  He opened his notebook again.  "We were asked to determine the validity of these allegations unofficially."  He smiled.  "While I have other resources in the field, I have decided to expand operations and each of you was selected by our consultant as a candidate to assist us in this matter."

"You each have certain capabilities and connections likely useful."  He looked around him.  "Do you have any questions?"

Harris Benjamin finished making notes.  "Do you have any information on Alastair and his close associates we can look at?"

Captain Watson nodded. "I have such files ready for you."

"Do you know how they are stealing?" asked McKinley.

Captain Thomas responded.  "No definite evidence, but we suspect by rail."

Tali nodded.  "I can talk to some of the boys."

"Lieutenant Lattimore can provide you all with transportation as well as any equipment needed for this endeavor," Captain Watson said, standing.  "If you need to contact us, I will provide you with a number for the Gasworks.  You are to leave a message and we will reach you."  He saluted again.  "Good luck and Godspeed."

***

May 11th to 13th, 1915 - London, United Kingdom

That night before leaving they decided to divide preliminary investigations.  While Lattimore arranged transportation and supplies, McKinley agreed to make inquires within the Army, Tali among his railroad brethren, while Benjamin examined the dossiers.  They would meet back at the Gasworks the evening of the 10th.

The next night they met again in the room, this time a supper was laid out for them, to discuss their findings.  Benjamin, after reading the available information on told them that he felt Alastair's assistant, Lieutenant Harold Snodgrass, should be their first lead as Alastair never traveled without guards and was generally difficult to approach.

Tali told them that every fortnight one to several boxcars were loaded and sealed by the military at Paddington and coupled to a train going to Bristol.  None of the railroad workers were allowed near the boxcars.  He mentioned he had been hearing from some of his friends that military had been using the railroad for sometime, but thought nothing of it until the day before.

McKinley found from several of his friends that not only was the military suffering severe shortages of shells and equipment leading to the current political crisis, but there were also reports of medicines, especially opiates, missing.

Lattimore told them he had arranged supplies and an automobile.

After some discussion, they decided to follow Snodgrass.  I encouraged them to do more research, but they wanted things moving.  After some inquiring the next day, Tali learned Snodgrass traveled with the boxcar and that the fortnightly trip was expected the very next day, May 14.

After some discussion they decided to take the early train to Bristol ahead of Snodgrass, so they could be at the station when he arrived.

*** 

May 14th, 1915 - London and Bristol, United Kingdom

The previous night a strong northeast wind brought rain to London and dropped the temperatures to 8 C/ 47 F.  Lattimore collected the other three early Friday morning, and drove to Paddington Station where they boarded the train to Bristol.

Arriving hours before Snodgrass, Benjamin decided to keep watch in the station, while Tali met with some of his friends and arranged lodgings for them, Lattimore went to obtain an automobile, and McKinley - unbeknownst to the rest - resupplied his morphine stash.

When Snodgrass's train did arrive that evening, the group found the boxcar and Snodgrass no longer with the train.  Speaking with a porter, Tali discovered the train had made a longer stop in the village of Grove along the way. 

Though the rains had cleared, the evening of the 14th was colder, so they agreed to take off in the morning with Lattimore's car and drive to Grove.

***

May 15th, 1915 - Bristol and Grove, United Kingdom

Do to ice and difficult road conditions, the travel from Bristol to Grove took the group most of Saturday the 15th.   Crossing the Vale of White Horse, McKinley identified the trees of the chalk hills as Dutch Elms and spoke at length to his companions of news of a disease striking European specimens.  No one replied to his commentary.

When they arrived in the village of Grove, the sun had begun setting. Checking in to the Volunteer Inn, they decided to visit the Bell Pub to find out about the train stop the day before.  Being outsiders (and failing their reaction rolls), they found the pub goers reticent.  Most stared when they entered, and ignored them after.

McKinley had better luck when he struck up a conversation with a young man recently returned from France, and having lost his left leg now home.  They discussed the battle's they'd seen and their injures until the young man was willing to answer a few questions about the train.

"It arrived yesterday afternoon," he said.  "And just like for the past months, one car was unloaded, and the Army men drove away."  Accepting a cigarette from McKinley, he continued.  "You will want to talk with the Station Master, Weal, he was there when they arrived and may know more."

Lattimore returned to the Volunteer Inn to watch their things and report back to the Gasworks, while Tali, Benjamin, and McKinley, having purchased a few bottles of wine, crossed the village to visit Weal despite the lateness of the hour.

Benjamin talked Stationmaster Weal into letting them in for a talk and tea.  He listened to their questions and confirmed the Army had been unloading a boxcar of supplies every fortnight for over six months, and that the truck headed up the north road.

"What about Snodgrass," Benjamin asked.

The Stationmaster nodded. "I think he's rented or has a house in the village, but my wife would be the one to know."

"Can we speak with her then?" inquired McKinley.

Weal laughed.  "She's with her sister tonight.  If I were you, I'd come back tomorrow."

"It's important that we find out as soon as possible," Benjamin stated, and the Stationmaster shrugged and gave him the address.  McKinley excused himself while the others finished tea and gave himself an injection in the bathroom.

Crossing the village, they came to the sister-in-law's house.  Benjamin managed to convince Mrs. Weal and her sister that they had just come from Stationmaster Weal.

There they learned that Snodgrass had rented the old Corwin place on the north end of the village.  A new house, it had only been built a century ago.  They asked no more questions about the house, so I didn't volunteer anything.  Furthermore, they noted, he was seen bringing a different young woman with him every time.

Having finished the bottle they'd brought, Benjamin and McKinley returned the Inn, while Tali stayed behind.

***

May 16th, 1915 - Grove, United Kingdom

Tali woke at dawn the next morning in bed with Mrs. Weal's sister.  He slunk from the bed, collected his clothes, and crept out of the house.  Along the way, he took a silver cup from the dining room.

Back at the Inn, Tali found McKinley and Benjamin eating breakfast.  "Hopefully you didn't catch anything," McKinley told him.  "Or she didn't."

Lattimore didn't join them.  Benjamin noted he hadn't seen the man since the night before when the trio left him at the Inn.

Harris Benjamin finished making notes.  "I assume we should visit the house in town and the farmhouse."  They all agreed the house in the village was closer, so they would start there.

The morning was cool, but unlike the day before, no heavy frost covered the ground.  Tali mentioned it was Sunday, and pondered if he should attend church.  He considered his hangover and his night with the sixtysomething widow before deciding to forgo church.

A ten minute walk to the edge of the village, brought them to a road heading out east/northeast.  The houses here were all older, except for the last one before the pasture beyond.  Two stories, the Corwin house seemed in disrepair despite Snodgrass having rented it for several months.  The upper floor windows were unshuttered, but the ground floor were all closed by boards nailed over the frames.   The yard was overgrown with fresh weeds and a rose arbor on the side of the house had partially collapsed.

An elderly man dressed in work clothes, stood in the yard of the house next door trimming his own bushes.  The group approached him and asked about the Corwin house.

"That's the devil's house," the old man spat.  "I wouldn't be asking about it."

Harris Benjamin held up a photograph of Snodgrass  "Have you seen this man recently?"

Then old man cleared his throat.  "That's the city-bastard what comes by with a new trollop every few weeks."  He thumbed toward the house.  "Just took him an Italian girl in their on Friday."

"What makes you think she was Italian?" asked Tali.

The old man shrugged.  "She looked like one."

"What does he do with the house?" Benjamin asked him.

"Probably a bit of the old ruddling" the old man grinned and turned to trim his rose bush.

Tali asked, "You said it was the devil's house.  Why's that?"

The old man turned and looked at the Welshman darkly.  "All the screaming, my boy.  All the screaming."

As they approached the house, McKinley checked his revolver and Tali slung his wrench in his belt for easy access.  Benjamin decided to sneak around back.  There he found a sidedoor and a coal chute, spotting a tool shed he looked inside and saw a crowbar.  Benjamin debated opening the coal chute, but decided to remove the boards from the window beside the side door then break the glass.

Unfastening three deadbolts, he let himself into what appeared to be a mud room complete win hanging coats, hats and umbrellas.  He quietly entered the hall to the house and made his way back to the front door where he let Tali and McKinley inside.

Tali and Benjamin decided to check the rooms to their left.  Each found a store room.  As Tali moved through his he noticed a box of porcelain doll heads staring blankly at him.  To the rear of the room, he found a locked cupboard that he set to opening.  Once unlocked he found old moth-eaten clothing and a leather bound handwritten journal, which he pocketed.

Benjamin's store room was filled with broken furniture.  He did a cursory examination before returning to the hall.

McKinley opened the door to the first room on the right and found a living room with chairs, a phonograph, and numerous images of the Virgin.  He then proceeded to the dining room to find three places set.  The table was covered in dust as was a metal tureen in the center of the room.  Just barely opening the tureen, McKinley felt slightly ill.

Harris Benjamin made his way gently to the second floor as he examined the footprints in the dust.  Tali, hearing McKinley cough, joined him in the dining room.

"What's that smell?" he asked showing the journal to the doctor.

McKinley pointed to the tureen on the table. "Something in there."  He pointed to the place settings on the table, dusty and used.  "Looks like someone was about to eat.  Maybe it was supper."  He took the journal from Tali, unfastened the clasp and flipped through it.

Tali opened the lid on the tureen quickly to see a sludgy rotted mass.  Closing it, he rushed to the living room and proceeded to vomit in a corner.  He took the Fit advantage, yet still failed a health roll and ended up ill for the rest of the session/day. 

Upstairs, Benjamin looked into each of the three bedrooms.  The first with a full size bed, the second with toys and two twin beds, and the locked third.  Calling his companions upstairs, as he stood their waiting, Benjamin heard a dull thumping from the room.  He tried to force the door unsuccessfully.

Tali arrived, removed his lockpicks, and proceeded to unlock the bedroom door.  All three rushed in to find a pool of blood under the window, which itself was shut.

McKinley noticed the dripping and saw spot where blood dripped but did not pool on the ceiling, he walked over to the pool and squatted to examine it.  His companions followed.  Looking from the window, Benjamin noticed the old man next door watching the house.

They heard a rattle and turned to see the bed flying across the room at them  Both Benjamin and Tali dove out of the way, but McKinley looked up too slowly and was thrown backwards out the window and onto the roof of the ground floor.  He was lucky, only suffering some some bruising and minor cuts.  I had him roll this Chronic Pain too, but it did not kick in.

Tali, still ill from the soup tureen, ran screaming from the room.  Benjamin ran from the room too, but from a sense of preservation rather than uncontrollable fear.

Breaking open the window to the children's bedroom with his cane that he had managed to hold on to during the ordeal, McKinley met Benjamin in the hallway.  They found Tali hiding in the stairwell and - thanks to a morphine injection from McKinley - managed to calm him down.

After a respite downstairs, while Benjamin helped McKinley remove glass slivers from his scalp, the doctor suggested the bed was on a spring trap and that while certainly unpleasant, by no means a ghost or the devil as Tali believed.

Tali decided he would go back upstairs and throw something into the room. Standing outside the door, he took the silver cup - stolen from the widow's home that morning - and tossed it at the pool of blood.  Nothing happened.

Tali laughed and said the trap must have been sprung.  He crossed the room to retrieve his cup and was thrown the now open window as the bed again sprung across the room and bashed him.  McKinley and Benjamin helped retrieved him through the children's bedroom window, before all of them rushed downstairs and out the front door returning to the Volunteer Inn for a stiff drink. 

***

So far, a great start.  I made liberal use of reaction rolls and fright checks from the 4th edition Basic Set Campaigns book.  I will peruse the Horror book for ways to expand this.  While I borrowed from the Call of Cthulhu Core book 5.7 edition, I do not intend to use CoC insanity rules.

Continued in Its Hour Come Round at Last 1.2

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Its Hour Come Round at Last 1.01 - Patronage and Espionage Agencies

Having posted my first thoughts on my new campaign, Stephen Patterson had some good questions about the characters in play at the beginning and their skill levels, about magic, about a Call of Cthulhu style sanity system, and about espionage organizations as a patron.

Here I will discuss espionage agencies.

When a patron advantage for government agencies become available, I will offer it as campaign advantages separate from character creation.  Effectively a free advantage in the vein of a conversation I had with Christian Blouin.

I recently read The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I by Stephen Alford, which is a nice history of some of the spies operating in Elizabethan England by a professor of Early Modern British History at the University of Leeds. It's certainly a work by a professional historian rather than a popular history.  As my graduate work was in history, I didn't mind but I could see how parts would be considered dense.

While my original idea was to run a weird espionage game during Francis Walsingham's and John Dee's service to Elizabeth I, the players wanted something more modern.

My next idea was to begin the game in 1920 with a brief prologue in 1915, but I'm now thinking that the Great War adds another layer of backdrop for the espionage setting.  Time will pass in the game, of course, and the war will come to an end, but this feels like a better starting point.

My knowledge of nineteenth and early twentieth century espionage is sparse at this point, so I will look for some books to add to it.  Since I plan to start the players off as recruits (who may not really know they are recruits), I have time to expand history and the setting.

After years of running Scotland Yard's Special Branch, William Melville formed the Secret Service Bureau in 1909 as the first independent interdepartmental governmental espionage agency.

When the game begins in 1915, the Secret Services Bureau is still fairly new yet older military intelligence operations and Special Branch inform the bureau's institutional memory.  I debate whether an Occult section should already exist. If so does it reach backwards to John Dee?

Ideally, if an Occult investigation section exists, I would prefer to focus on investigation and organized response rather than pulp heroics.  That will certainly be my challenge.  My players may want more cinematic game play had I have mentioned.

John le Carre uses the name, Lamplighters, for a surveillance subsection in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy that would work for what I have in mind.

I'm thinking the group will first meet in a public utility building - The Fulham Gasworks (or just The Gasworks) which served as a primary coal gasholder, offices, and laboratory for the Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company.  A rear section of the facility has been used by the Lamplighters since 1830.

This is the Patron advantage I am working on to give them early in the game. It may increase in value over the campaign.

Patron (The Gasworks) 5
- A fairly powerful organization (1000 x starting wealth) 10
- Frequency of Appearance: Quite rarely (roll of 6 or less) x.5
- Equipment equal to starting wealth +50%
- Secret -50%

A Duty disadvantage could be included as a requirement per the Basic Set: Characters rules.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Its Hour Come Round at Last 1.0 - Volume One: The Last Days of the Lamplighters

With the demise / indefinite hold on my Fragments of the Last War campaign, I have assembled a new group (about half from the old campaign) for a 1920s weird espionage game set in London, UK.

The characters will begin as regular, though experienced, people - 75 points - that get caught up in events beyond the norm thanks to an elusive government office.

I intend to approach the story through a three prong approach.  The first will be events I write on a timeline that will occur as well as any directives from their handlers.  The second will be those stories that occur based on their own initiatives.  The third will be personal stories that do not directly focus on the main events - this is something I used to do along time ago and wanted to bring back.

By weird, I am interested in exploring the Lovecraftian / Call of Cthulhu RPG / Earthdawn RPG inspired Horrors I introduced in Fragments of the Last War.

Per my conversation with, Christian Blouin I'm certainly interested in this campaign in adding in GURPS Social Engineering as well as troupe style play - something I've been thinking about since I first read Ars Magica in the 1990s.

For espionage, I picked up GURPS Espionage.  I would prefer a more gritty, John le Carre / Graham Greene style over super-spy pulp.  That said, players have a tendency to do their own thing, so I don't know where between realism and cinematic we'll go.

I ran a Call of Cthulhu game briefly in 1999 that ended fairly quickly in death of the investigators.  I've been thinking of returning to the genre for a while, but decided against the BRP system.  Then I set my game in Boston of the 1920s, but since then I have become interested in the 1920s that were not American.

Originally, I wanted to try Berlin, but decided on London as a in between for players to transition from the American Roaring Twenties of Gangsters and Prohibition to the European Golden Twenties with the rise of fascism. There's plenty of occultism in the era to go around.

I will branch off a set of earlier games I ran in World War I as well as the Twenties and place this campaign in the same timeline.  Thus far this Earth history is mostly the same as ours - with a secret history.

If anyone has other recommendations for sourcebooks that I should use, let me know.