Friday, March 16, 2018

Silent Legions: Room Service! (Session Report)

The Khamsa Society headed off to Centralia to hunt down Kevin Branch, wannabe cultist. Vinnie’s player was sick, so he stayed home and minded the store, literally. (As a pawn-broker, Vinnie Morg is the only PC with an actual day job.)

The PCs for this session:
  • Bernadette "Bunny" Kennedy (Tough/Bodyguard)--A former circus strong woman who turned to occult investigation "just like the old gypsy lady said." 
  • Abigail Spencer (Tough/Reporter)--Former YouTube star and ghost hunter. 
  • Lucian Stone (Scholar/Programmer)--A hacker who lives and breathes the occult sites of the Deep Web. An occult Alex Jones. 

 Centralia is a town of 16,000 about an hour south of Seattle. It’s coal industry has not recovered from the (fictional) mine collapse a year ago that killed 50 people. It has growing business in light industry and tourism, but unemployment remains high. As the PCs pull into town, Centralia is experiencing unusually heavy snowfall.

Clever hacking and research has traced Kevin to the Brown Roof Motor Lodge, a run-down motel that's cheap and doesn’t ask a lot of questions. It’s a pretty crummy place full of societal unfortunates. Bunny pretends to be Kevin’s sister and fast talks the desk manager into telling them her where Kevin’s room is. 

Lucian disables the security cameras while Abigail knocks on Kevin’s door. “Room service!” she calls. Of course, a motel like this doesn’t have room service, and Abigail clearly meant “housekeeping,” but what’s done is done. Kevin opens the door, holding a large gun mere inches from Abigail’s face. “Did Chase send you? I’m not going back!”

Thankfully, Bunny is unusually eloquent this session. “Ashley sent us! She’s worried about you. Chase is dead!” she says. This revelation softens Kevin up a bit, but he’s still cautious. He makes the PCs all show him their inner arm, to prove they don’t bear the Bleak Sigil of The House of Broken Glass. Convinced they aren’t cultists, Kevin lets the PCs into his room.

Kevin’s clearly been living rough. He has a duffel bag full of clothes and a new burner phone. He’s growing out his beard and he shaved his head, burning all the hair. “So they can’t use it to work magic on me. “

The investigators are totally open with Kevin, telling him all about the events at the Old Penderghast House—how Ashley is safe, all the others are dead, and Chase’s plans to open the Way were thwarted.

In return, Kevin tell them everything he knows about the cult:
  • Kevin met Chase and Amber about a year ago at a concert. He got Kevin and some other peopleinto the occult, telling them that it was the path to some “real truths.”
  • Chase answered to some other people—powerful, moneyed people, not shlubs like us. Chase wanted these peoples’ respect. This cult is called The Rite of The Gray Truth.
  • Chase stole a book from somewhere in Yakima. He was going to use the info found in the book to bind Penderghast’s Walker Between and gain prestige with the cult.
  • Kevin had been dating Ashley for about three months, and Chase never liked her. When Kevin found out Chase was going to sacrifice her (along with Logan and Mackenzie), it was too much for Kevin. He decided to get out of town and get away from the cult.
  • Before he left town, he went to Chase’s apartment, stole the book, and bugged out of town.

“Chase’s bosses, they were on to something big. Chase wanted to be a part of it!”

Kevin shows the investigators the book, pulling it out of a large duffel bag. The book is the size of a couch cushion, and almost 600 years old. Lucian and Abigail recognize it as The Rheinholdt Manuscript. This is an infamous book among magical circles. Supposedly it’s the memoirs of an immortal creature known only as “Rheinholdt,” alternately referred to in the text as a vampire, a sorcerer, or a wight. It is considered one of the greatest books of occult history and lore. It is also said to be dreadfully cursed. Still, any cult or occultist would gladly kill to possess it. Kevin gladly hands it over to the PCs.

It’s at that moment that the investigators hear someone shouting outside.  “Kevin! Come out Kevin!”

Outside, the PCs spot a large black SUV in the parking lot with no plates. The snow has only gotten heavier. Four figures in long black coats stare up at the hotel. Three wear balaclavas, one wears a strange mask like a blank mirror (“like Cobra Commander!”) with an electronically distorted voice. (These are Cult Gunmen assets from the Rite of Grey Truth’s cult sheet.)

“Oh shit! They found me!” Kevin panics. Lucian and Abigail immediately tip over the bed mattress and use it to black the window. There’s no back exit, so Bunny heads to the bathroom and begins to smash a hole through the wall with a crowbar, to make a path to the adjoining hotel room.

Lucian and Abigail hear a horrible noise outside--arcane chanting followed by strangled gurgling and the sound of tearing meat. A few moments later, some hideous thing of raw muscle and ropey tendons breaks through the window and claws its way through the mattress.

Some Hideous Thing of Raw Muscle and Ropey Tendons
(Stalker, Ravenous)
Ascending AC: 13
HD: 4; hp: 25
Morale:  9
Save: 12+
Skill: +3
Move: 50’
Madness: 1d10
Attacks: Claws x2 (+5 to hit, 1d8 damage)
Special: If both claw attacks hit a single target, that target must make an Evasion Save. If the save fails, the monster bites their head off.

About that time, Bunny has busted tough the wall, disrupting a naked old couple, who are not happy to see the strongwoman and have a shotgun to prove it. “ISIS! They’re here!” Bunny shouts.

“I always knew it would come to this,” says the naked old man, pulling on his MAGA hat and letting Bunny through as he prepares to defend the hotel himself.

Back in Kevin’s room, Lucian lobs on of his pre-made Molotov cocktails at the monster, setting it, the mattress, and the whole room on fire.  This buys Lucian, Abigail, and Kevin enough time to follow Bunny through her self-made escape route (which I totally failed to call a Bunny Hole.)

The entire hotel  building is well and truly on fire at this point, and the party separates on the balcony, trying to draw the cult gunmen apart. Hotel residents are running all over the place in a panic. Lucian runs towards one set of stairs, trying to make it to the parking lot and is cut off by a gunman running around the corner. Lucian, brave brave Lucian, lobs another Molotov at the cultist, putting a nice wall of fire between them, then leaps over the balcony railing, hoping for the best.

The scrawny hacker bounces off the hood of a car and rolls to the ground, hurt but alive. He tries to scrabble to cover behind the car. Unfortunately, the cult gunman sees him and opens fire. Lucian is hit and goes down bad.

On the other side of the hotel, Bunny, Abigail, and Kevin are running for their car. Another gunman rounds the corner but Abigail quickly puts him down with her own gun. (Abigail’s player: “After a year of D&D and swords, it’s kind of fun just to blast a guy with a Glock!”) It’s clearly self-defense, so no Madness this time around!

Bunny and Abigail spot the leader of the gunmen, the guy with the mirror mask. He’s carrying an AR-15 like he knows how to use it. Panicked hotel residents are still running around everywhere, and the gunman calmly rifle-butts them in the skulls as he bears down on Kevin. He doesn’t seem to notice the PCs. Suddenly the hideous thing of raw muscle and ropey tendons leaps from the top of the building and pins Kevin to the ground. It makes a noise like the cracking of a hundred knuckles in  a metal closet before tearing Kevin’s neck out.

The cult gunmen and their pet monster seem focused on Kevin, the PCs didn’t really like the boy that much, so Bunny and Abigail get in their car and burn rubber. They slow down enough to grab the unconscious Lucian and head for the hospital.

In Abigail’s car, Bunny is barely able to stabilize Lucian before they get to the hospital. Abigail opts to stay in the hospital parking lot while Bunny checks their friend into the ER. Sadly, Lucian’s wounds are too severe, and he’s not going to pull through. While Bunny waits inside through the night, Abigail spots a familiar and ominous black SUV drive by the hospital, slowing down as it passes her car before speeding away. The snow finally stops, as though the SUV is talking the weather with them.

The failed recovery rolls for Lucian indicated that he will die in three weeks. Rather than wait that long, Lucian’s player rolled up a new character right now. Lucian remains comatose, awaiting his inevitable demise.

The investigators return to Seattle to plot their next move and meet up with Glen Gerhardt (Scholar/Programmer), an associate of Lucian’s and another gray-hat hacktivist. The team decides to check out Chase’s apartment, where Kevin stole the (already stolen) Rhienholdt Manuscript. Chase lived at the Three Pines Apartment Complex with three roommates. It’s the kind of cheap, cruddy  apartments that caters to students and low-income 20-somethings (I’ve lived in several myself).

As the investigators approach Chase’s apartment around noon, they see that the door is open—busted in, actually. Bunny creeps up to take a listen. She can smell blood and death inside and hears two or three people shuffling around, as well as the sound of someone chopping meat.

“Hank,” says a voice inside, “what are you doing in there?”
“Shoot, Geeezer,” says another voice. “It’s good meat, I ain’t gonna’ let it go to waste.”

Yeah, the PCs don’t want to deal with that, so they beat it back outside and drive across the street to the laundromat.

“Why don’t we just call the police on this one?”  asks Bunny. Everyine pauses to think. “Yeah, why don’t we?”  The investigators call the police and leave an anonymous tip about a murder. Then they hunker down, turn on their police band radio, watch and wait.

After a few minutes, a cop car pulls into the apartment parking lot, and two officers enter the complex. Over the radio, the PCs hear the police discover the dead bodies of a couple of young people, the the sounds of gunfire! Moments later, two people run out of the complex carrying a third person between them. The two are a man and a woman in Mossy Oak camo and wearing ballistic vests. Both carry big knives, pistols, and the woman is limping. Between them, they carry another man, similarly dressed. He’s clearly been shot. They dump him into the back of their pick-up and peel out of the parking lot. The PCs follow them, using Abigail’s careful pursuit driving skills. (A sticker on the back of the truck reads “The only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is an even badder man with a gun.”)

The truck quickly heads east out of town. Glen does some quick research on his smartphone and finds out the truck is registered in Yakima, exactly the direction they are travelling. Next week we pick up in Yakima.

A lot of action, a little levity, and not a lot of madness this session. Cultists are a lot easier to deal with that spatially-distorted haunted houses and occult beasts. The relatively mundane cultists were easier for me to make interesting than I thought. The move and counter-move semi-plot of different factions and NPCs harkened back to a lot of the World of Darkness games I used to run all those years ago. As for using real-life cities as settings, Wikipedia and tourist sites give me just enough bits of flavor that I can make the places feel believable while still having enough room to add some fictional weirdness. This campaign is starting to come together!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Silent Legions: Cult Actions

I ran an extended Stars Without Number a few years ago, but I never used the faction rules very much. My players caused enough trouble, combined with my own metaplot ideas, that they weren’t really necessary. When I started my current Silent Legions game, though, I was dedicated to giving the cult rules a fair spin.

I haven’t found any examples of the Cult Turn on the internet (not surprising, given the general dearth of SL session reports), so I thought I’d go through my Cult Turns here on the blog. This Cult Turn takes place during the 2-3 weeks of downtime after the Khamsa Society burned down the Old Penderghast House.  This is the first Cult Turn of the campaign, so there’s not a lot of action just yet, mostly the different factions setting up for future endeavors.

Right now, there are four factions of interest in the Washington region. Not all of them are on the PCs’ radar yet.

The Cults
  • Rite of the Gray Truth: A cult based in Seattle dedicated to Dagh-Othyg-Zoag and the House of Broken Glass. It’s a technologically saavy group, that includes many rich and powerful people among its membership. (Muscle: 2, Sorcery: 4, Influence: 5)
  • The Garibaldi Syndicate: A crime syndicate, also in Seattle, that moved in after the feds busted the Colacurcio family. They’ve been pretty subtle so far, and have only just started to experiment with occult assets. (Muscle: 5, Sorcery: 2, Influence: 4)
  • Blood Message of the Shadowed Fellowship: A cult based in Yakima dedicated to K’Thoth-IƤ, the Hungering Dark. This is a cannibal death-cult based out of a trailer park with a couple of survivalist militia camps at their command. (Muscle: 4, Sorcery: 5, Influence: 2)
  • Circle of the Dreaming Mother: A cult based in the ghost town of Millstone dedicated to Hothiaiq, the goddess of dreams, memory, and telepathy, and Dagh-Othyg-Zoag’s consort. While not antagonistic towards the Rite of Gray Truth, the Circle isn't really allied with them either. Currently they are responsible for the production of distribution of the drug “black sugar” that is infecting Seattle and other cities. (Muscle: 1, Sorcery: 3, Influence: 2)

Drawing Power
Seattle is a Power: 4 location, but since the Rite of Gray Truth and the Garibaldi Syndicate both have strongholds there, the factions can only draw 2 power from it. Right away we have a conflict set up between the two most powerful cults. They both want that power!
  • Gray Truth draws 5 power from its various sources and has a total upkeep of 4, for a net gain of 1 power.
  • The Syndicate draws 4 power from its resources and has 3 upkeep, also giving it net gain of 1 power.
  • Blood Message draws 5 power and only has an upkeep of 1. It also doesn’t have to share its power with anyone. The cult nets 4 power.
  • The Dreaming Mother is smaller than the other three cults. It only draws 2 power, and also has an upkeep of 2. The cult's total power gain is 0.

Cult Actions
This is the first Cult Turn of the campaign, so everyone’s assets are hidden at the start of the turn.

For this first turn, I’m not rolling initiative. I’m going to have each cult take their action in the order of how entangled they currently are with the PCs’ actions. I’ll have the cults roll off initiative in future turns.

Rite of the Gray Truth
They want to find out who’s competing with them for power in Seattle, so they take the Investigate Location action in that city. Gray Truth and the Syndicate roll Influence vs Influence, and Gray Truth wins. All of the Syndicate’s assets in Seattle (which is most of them) lose their “hidden” status.

To spin this into the campaign’s fiction, I have a news report come out in the local papers. Investigative reporter Kim Frost (an NPC connected on my list of actors for the Rite of Gray Trurth), has confirmed that a new crime syndicate has moved into the city. Local businessman and land developer Donatello Garibaldi is rumored to have several unsavory connections to the local police. Reports of graft and corruption abound.

They do not have the spare power to use for the free Create Asset or Improve Stronghold action.

Garibaldi Syndicate
They also want to find out who’s leeching Seattle’s power, so they take the Investigate Location action. Unfortunately for them, they also lose the Influence vs Influence roll, so the Gray Truth’s assets remain hidden. If the PC’s draw too much attention with their occult investigations, maybe the Syndicate will approach them and make a deal with them to look into the rival faction.

They do not have the spare power to use for the free Create Asset or Improve Stronghold action.

Blood Message of the Shadowed Fellowship
They’re setting pretty right now, as the only occult power in Yakima. They decide to lay low and build their power base before stretching their tendrils elsewhere. The take the Serve Cause action and gain another 2 power (6 total) as they perform their unspeakable ghoul orgies.

For their free Imrprove Stronghold action, the cult spends 4 power to increase one of their stronghold from level 1 to level 2. What was once a simple hunting lodge (over an old Indian burial ground) has now become a fortified survivalist compound.

Circle of the Dreaming Mother
The smallest faction is hurting for power, so they take the Serve Cause action. They gain 1 power as cult psychonauts ply the realms of nightmare and harvest black sugar from alien spider-wasps.

They do not have the spare power to use for the free Create Asset or Improve Stronghold action.

That’s where things stand for now. Like I said, it’s mostly just quiet set-up this round. The second Cult Turn should be coming up shortly with more action. I expect the Gray Truth will make a strike at the Syndicate, while the Syndicate desperately tries to hide its assets. Already we have some drama unfolding between some of the factions. My goal now is to suck the PCs into the mix.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Burning Down the House (Silent Legions Session Report)

Our latest Silent Legions session was short, but our brave investigators wrapped up the Old Penderghast House case and started making plans for their next phase of investigations.

The Khamsa Society: 

  • Bernadette "Bunny" Kennedy (Tough/Bodyguard)--A former circus strong woman who turned to occult investigation "just like the old gypsy lady said." 
  • Abigail Spencer (Tough/Reporter)--Former YouTube star and ghost hunter. 
  • Lucian Stone (Scholar/Programmer)--A hacker who lives and breathes the occult sites of the Deep Web. An occult Alex Jones. 
  • Vinne Morg (Investigator/Business Owner)--A pawn broker who had to leave Atlanta after he sold the wrong piece of weird jewelry and attracted unwanted attention from mysterious forces. 
When we had last seen them, the PCs had just escaped the brass insects from Ligeia’s tomb Kelpiot and re-entered the house through the weird alien clock. They heard thumping footsteps upstairs and the heavy thud of something rolling down the nearby stairs. Reluctantly they looked, just in time to see Officer Park’s severed head roll down the stairs and come resting at their feet. Vinne was the only one brave enough to look up the stairs, while the rest of the team ran off through the back hallway to the kitchen and the cellar door. At the top of the stairs stood a horrible co-mingling of Logan and Mackenzie, their flesh run together like molten wax. The horrid thing walked clumsily on three legs. One arm ended in an iron fireplace poker. The other, elongated, double-elbowed arm ended in Mackenzie’s ruined head, her snapping jaw full of broken teeth. The thing’s horrid bruised flesh crisscrossed in glowing black-light veins. Vinnie ran to join his friends. (“Oh shit, guys. The monsters are Voltron-ing!”)

Horrible Comingled Thing 
AC: 11 (as unarmored human)
HD: 4 (24 hp)
Attacks: Poker: +3 (1d6+1) and Bite +3 (1d4)
Skill: +1
Save: 13+
Move: 20’
Madness: 1d8
Special: Immune to slaughtering damage

The team went down the basement and braced the door as best as they could. Thankfully the HCT is slow and clumsy, so they were safe for now. The alien key they found in Ligeia’s coffin opened the blue metal door quite easily, and the team descended into a sub-basement carved from the native stone.

In this new chamber, they beheld the strangest sight yet. A slab of obsidian the size of a large door stood against one wall. A cone of silver light shone through a paper-thin crack in the slab, filling much of the rest of the chamber. Inside the cone of light, caught in an area of slowed-time, Chase the cultist kneeled in a thaumaturgical pentagram, a sacrificial dagger of green glass frozen mid-stroke over the bound and gagged form of Ashley, the girl they were sent here to rescue. Bunny immediately leapt (ha!) into the cone of light to tray and tackle Chase, but she too was frozen in the cone of slowed time.

Careful investigation, some occult rolls, referencing The Hidden Abscess, and the use of some Expertise allowed the others to discover some things:

  • The vector-line image of a robed and wrapped figure would occasionally flicker in and out of view in front of the slab. (This was the not-quite-yet-summoned Walker Between).
  • Inside the cone of light, time wasn’t exactly frozen, but was very, very slow.
  • The obsidian slab marks a Way into some sort of Kelipot.
  • Chase was performing some sort of summoning or opening ritual. This ritual was supposed to involve two sorcerers. By trying to perform it with just one, something went wrong. The Way was only partially open, and its leaking energies warped time inside the cone of light.
  • Using poles or ropes, they can push things around inside the cone of light, but the time dilation means that the things they move around move at hyper-increased velocity in relation to other objects inside the cone.

With clever use of ropes and sticks, the team manages to pull Bunny out. She only breaks a couple of ribs (I only rolled 3 on my 2d6 of unfortunate physics damage). They them lasso Chase’s dagger and pull it into his face, which explodes his head and disrupts the ritual. The Way seals back shut, and Ashley is saved.

Vinnie takes the traumatized Ashley outside to the car while the rest of the team set the house on fire 
(the ultimate goal of any horror game). Ashley is frantic and emotionally scarred, but Vinnie manages to calm her down by getting her sister on the phone and using some minor gas-lighting.

The teams hears police sirens in the distance (Officer Park has been missed), so they all decide to bug out. The house was condemned a long time ago, so the city decides to let the building burn.

The investigation of the Old Penderghast House is closed. Ashley has been saved, relatively safe and sound. The team has about two weeks of downtime. Lucian uses most of this time to study the spells found in The Hidden Abscess. Ashley’s sister Christine (the PCs’ friend who started this whole investigation) makes her way to Seattle, and decides to stay in town while Ashley recovers. Ashley is worried about Kevin, her recently-ex boyfriend who was supposed to be at the Old Penderghast House but never showed up. He’s fallen off the grid, and there’s no trace of him. Vinnie’s “Leading Whispers” ability reveals that Kevin was a newbie member of Chase’s cult. Finding him could give them valuable information about this cult and their activities.

Some critical rolls on research and computers manage to track Kevin’s cell phone to a hotel in Centralia, about an hour south of Seattle. The investigators have their next target.