Trail of Nyarlathotep

Natasha's letter to Father John. December 13, 1920
The "Book," its whereabouts and sundry strange happenings

Natalia P. Levin
New York, New York
December 13, 1920

Father John Yang
Boston, Massachusetts

Dear Father John:

I was so pleased to receive your Christmas card. I’m happy to hear that you’re safely settled in Boston and that your studies are progressing. I will come right out and say that I’m terribly jealous of your being close to all those wonderful libraries. I would imagine myself living in Boston if I knew more people in the area. I’m also somewhat too fond of the New York bustle. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not turning into a “flapper.” I just enjoy the anonymity of living in a large city. I can enjoy the liveliness around me and quietly go about my own studies.

Speaking of which: I’ve been meaning to write to you about The Book. I do not begrudge leaving it in your keeping — far from it! I know you will keep it safe. However, I would like to spend more time on my own translation. I feel my notes are somewhat fragmentary (but my Latin has improved; thank you for the book recommendations).

It has been weighing heavily on me, and I have been having odd dreams. I wont’ go into them in detail here. Suffice it to say that G.F. has been visting me. Not every night, no, but enough to have it prey upon my mind. I feel like I’m missing a piece of a puzzle, or something. It’s hard to describe.

Will you been in Boston over the holidays? I would really like to arrange a visit and spend more time with you working on further translation, and seeing what you’ve done yourself in the past year. Please let me know. I’m not traveling this year – except between my home and the bookstore!

Best regards,

Prolog: Spare the Rod
Letter from Helen to her grandmother

Dear Grandmama,

I know I promised to tell you the rest of the story about the Frenchman, but that will have to wait. I’ve just had the strangest adventure in a little town called Arkham, and I need to tell you about it while the details are fresh.

It all started when Elizabeth contacted all of us that got involved with that mess with the paste jewels back in the war. Do you remember that? Such a great fuss for nothing, but it did earn me my staunch defender. Thomas is a dear, but a bit overprotective. I think he may have been the reason that Maurice got scared off. But no, I said I wasn’t going to talk about that in this letter.

It was good to see John again—I never can get used to calling him Father Yang. I think Natasha, the Russian lady, may have nearly decided to let bygone be bygones with regard to the whole business of the jewels. For awhile she seemed to think I was trying to steal the jewels from her—can you imagine? Elizabeth also introduced us all to a new gentleman, Major Edwin Radcliffe. He’s Canadian and sounds like he was quite a hero in the war. Well, I can imagine that he must have been, having now seen him in action, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Mr. Morgan rounded out our little party. I’m still not sure what to make of him—I think he is a good deal cleverer than he lets on.

Elizabeth is working on a new book and running short on time for research so she asked us to check out some reports of hauntings in this little town. Most of it was nonsense, as I’m sure you can imagine, although I did get to pretend at being a criminal in order to chase down one of the leads. Things finally got interesting when Mr. Morgan and I went to check out the house that once belonged to a convicted witch.

The house was out on the edge of town and supposedly abandoned, but it was in excellent condition, and we found a locked room with cages inside. But that’s not all—while we were investigating, a group of miscreants came along and knocked out our cab driver! We had to fend them off with fist and branch to save the poor man, and then we made a hasty escape with another car hot on our heels.

In the end, we managed to foil a would-be thief and interrogate our pursuer which led to the discovery of an ancient book. It was quite a day. I had two glasses of wine that evening. I might have had a third, but I wanted a clear head for the adventures we had planned for the following day.

Our second day in Arkham found us in pursuit of kidnappers. Two local children had gone missing in as many months and the more reserved members of our little group thought they had linked the disappearance of the children to a cult—the very cult that Mr. Morgan and I had scuffled with the day before! So off we went to interrogate a reporter whose story didn’t measure up. The Major and I broke down the door to his place—no time for decorum when children’s lives are on the line!—and forced him to tell us all about his cult.

You won’t believe this! He truly believed he was trying to resurrect a witch from the 18th century, and he needed the blood of the kidnapped children to do it. How delightfully macabre! And deranged, of course.

We left the reporter to the police and proceeded straight to a well that we had discovered connected to a series of underground tunnels and caves. I know it sounds straight out of a ghost story, but it’s true—you know I wouldn’t lie to you! We had to climb down into the well on ropes—I was glad for my days of childhood tree climbing—and then squeeze through narrow passages and wade through rivers. There were bats and mice and dripping water and only the light from our flashlights. It was all perfectly creepy!

In the end we found several cultists who were quickly dispatched by Major Radcliffe. I know the wretches were delusional kidnappers, but I feel a bit sorry for them nonetheless. I should not like to ever get on Major Radcliffe’s bad side. They were keeping the children in cages around a bonfire. I freed the children and sent them along with Major Radcliffe with instructions to make sure he alerted the police to the potential for further kidnappings, patched up Major Radcliffe’s work as best I could, and then listened for awhile as Natasha and John went on and on about a strange skeleton that we had found along the way.

The skeleton wasn’t as interesting to me as the cave, but there were some odd things about it. For example, Major Radcliffe tried to blow it up with a grenade (I think the war may have affected him), but it was not damaged in any way. However, when we removed it from its chair, the chair did crumble away. According to the cultists, the skeleton belonged to the witch that they were trying to resurrect. Hm, perhaps.

So here’s the tally: masqueraded as a criminal, knocked someone senseless with a tree branch, escaped in a car chase, broke down a door, interrogated a cult leader, explored underground caves and tunnels, survived a gun battle, rescued kidnapped children, and patched up various and sundered body parts as per usual. I think I deserve three glasses of wine tonight!

From here it’s back to New York and then I shall see where the wind takes me!

Love always,

August 1919

Prolog: Spare the Rod - 1919 - Part 2
From the memoirs of Major Edwin Radcliffe (unpublished)

With the evidence fresh at hand that the cult of deluded idiots idolizing the 200-years-dead witch Goodie Fowler had not only set a date for themselves to perform their ritual, but identified at least four children they intended to kidnap to provide the necessary inputs, it was clear we needed to act before the upcoming eclipse. That gave us two days to find the cult and free the children they’d already taken, not to mention prevent them from taking any others. The reporter, Smythe seemed neck deep in the whole thing, so we’d start with him.

Natasha and Father Yang were still poring over the fevered nonsense scribbled in the book Murphy had found hidden in the witch’s fireplace. They seemed to be prepared to credit it with being something more than the ramblings of the criminally insane, but at least it might give us some additional insight into the plans of the kidnappers. Helen, Murphy, Morgan, and I left them to it and headed over to the newspaper offices to find Smythe. The secretary hadn’t seen him, but she said he normally worked late and wouldn’t be in to the office until later. I managed to talk her into giving me his address, though, so we figured we’d drop in on him at home.

We found his apartment in a building nearby. Murphy took the alley in back, covering the fire escape, while Morgan played the lookout in front. Helen and I headed upstairs to Smythe’s door. I knocked, but then Helen decided to play the damsel in distress, so I stepped out view to the side of the door and waited. It took him a moment to make it to the door, and even with Helen’s best attempt at asking him to open the door and help her, he only cracked it open with the chain still set. I gave the door a solid kick. The chain didn’t give, but it was enough to crack Smythe in the nose, and when Helen and I hit the door again together, the chain let go and the door came flying open.

Smythe made a run for it, toppling furniture behind him to slow us down as we plowed into the apartment after him. He made it as far as the back window before I got my hands on him and dumped him onto the settee. I showed him my gun while Helen went and shut the door before the neighbors got too interested. Murphy come up the fire escape and joined us, and we began to ask him a few questions.

He started out defiant when we questioned him. They always do. In the end, though, he cracked. Didn’t even have to threaten him much, and Murphy only slapped him a little bit. Didn’t even properly hit him. He spilled, telling us that the cult had indeed kidnapped the two children, and stolen at least some part of the corpse of Seaton from the University. He claimed that he was the leader of the cult, just as his ancestors had been before him. He had the same crazy story about the witch Fowler still having some power, but it hadn’t kept us from kicking his door in and making him a prisoner in his own living room any better than it had helped any of his cronies.

In the end, we stood him up, and I got my arm around his neck and squeezed until he stopped struggling, then turned him over to Helen to “pacify” while I found some curtain sashes to tie him up with. When we had him trussed up and drugged to his eyeballs, I took a walk downtown and found Detective Stuckey in his office. Stuckey already hated Smythe. He didn’t take a lot of convincing that Smythe was up to no good, and I walked back with him to the apartment. By the time I got back, the others had cleared out, and we waited outside while Stuckey went up, then watched as he dragged Smythe, still bound and unconscious, from the building and dumped him in the back of a paddy wagon.

We returned to the hotel in time to find Miss Pierce had returned to Arkham and joined Natasha and Father Yang. They were filling her in on the details of our investigation so far. We did our best to fill in the gaps. With that little piece of business taken care of, it was time to head into the cave.

When we arrived back at the construction site, the work crew was just returning from their lunch break. We convinced the foreman that the cave beneath the well was in danger of collapse, and that he and his crew should clear back out while we checked the ground beneath the foundation. They took the opportunity to call it an early day, and we soon had the place to ourselves.

We pried the cover back off the well and secured a rope. I headed down first, and finding nobody at the bottom, set up an overwatch while Murphy helped those who couldn’t make the climb themselves down into the cave. Once everybody was safely at the bottom and I had a few more people to cover the angles, I put the handgun away and got the Villar-Perosa ready for business. It’s an awkward beast, but at the time, it was the best available, and I for one was glad to have it, even if it did weigh more than a rifle firing such a small bullet had any business weighing.

With everyone assembled and the flashlights distributed, we headed off into the northern of the two tunnels. It eventually led to a blocked door, which once forced open lead, in turn, into a warehouse basement. There was another blocked door on the far side, but it just lead to a small underground inlet off the river. We turned back around and retraced our steps to the well, then took the southern passage.

This one led to another patch of underground river, but we could see some daylight leaking down into the cave. The water wasn’t very deep, so Helen, Morgan, and I waded in and down the tunnel. We’d made it quietly around the corner and I’d just caught sight of two men sitting on the bank eating lunch when Helen must have tripped on a rock under the water, because she made a loud splash and the two looked up, shouting to know who was there.

I leveled the Villar-Perosa at them and told them if they shouted again, or moved, I’d shoot them. They looked at me wading out of the water, glanced at each other, and ran for it. I shot the one farther ahead, and his companion just jumped over his body as it fell. Morgan’s bullet caught up with him just before he reached the doorway at the top of the stairs. It must have hit something vital, because he dropped like a stone.

Helen set to work patching up the one I’d plugged, and it looked like she managed to stop the bleeding. I’d moved up to cover the doorway as the others waded through the tunnel and joined us on shore. The commotion had attracted some attention at the top of the spiral staircase beyond the doorway, with someone shouting down to ask what the noise was. Father Yang and I did our best to convince them that everything was OK, and when it seemed clear that it wasn’t working, that they should come down. Eventually he did, and I caught him by surprise at point-blank range as he stepped out of the doorway. More voices from the top of the stairs started shouting about being under attack, which I suppose was fair enough, from their point of view.

I took a moment to reload, then headed up the stairs. When I got to the top, I found a strange, cubic room with a skeleton wired together and sat upright in a chair in the corner. A score of other skeletons were arranged around it, posed like they were supplicating themselves to the one in the chair. There weren’t any more cultists visible, though. I don’t know what they were doing arranging the skeletons like that, but I figured they must have been important to them, so I pulled the pin on one of my Mills Bombs and lobbed it into the corner. I made it about half way back down the stairs before it went off.

As the rumble died down, I headed back up the stairs. The skeletons arranged in their ranks around the one in the chair were blown to chalky dust, but the one in the corner looked untouched by the blast. I’m still not sure what the cultists had done to it, but that one was definitely important to them, and it looks like they even believed it was Fowler’s remains, so they must have used some kind of preservative process on it. Whatever it is, I need to find some of it. I bet it would do wonders to prevent the yellowing of some of the ivory pieces in Albert’s collection. It’d make a nice gift for him this Christmas.

Stepping into the room, I could see tunnels leading off from the center of each of the four walls. I could hear voices coming from the tunnel directly ahead, so I moved up until I reached a door. There was light leaking in through the cracks in it, and I was pretty sure I could see people moving on the other side. I got a good grip on the gun and nodded to Helen to open the door. She pulled it open as she stepped behind it, shielding herself from whatever was on the other side. That turned out to be a good plan, because the cultists in the room beyond opened fire as I stepped through, cutting hard to my right in order to spend as little time as possible silhouetted in the doorway. One of them clipped my arm, but the muzzle flash of his shot let me get a good look at where he was taking cover, and I fired a long burst at him as I dodged across his line of sight. He went limp and hit the deck without even making a sound.

With me moving right and drawing their fire, Helen and Murphy had a much easier time entering to the left. Murphy took off for the huge altar past the bonfire in the middle of the room, while Helen headed to the closer of the two cages set on the floor. There was clearly a child in each of them. Whatever sympathy I might have had for the poor idiots running this freak-show, it was quickly washed away by the sight of terrified children in cages. The other cultist on the far side of the room took a couple of shots at me, but he was a terrible shot, both of his rounds flying far wide of the mark. I fired a short burst at him, and he screamed and dropped his gun as a round took him through the collar bone.

Helen had gotten the first child free, carrying the largely catatonic form of Lucy Potter. Murphy, meanwhile, had discovered another cultist hiding by the altar when the deluded moron jumped out and tried to bash his head in with a rock. Murphy shattered his nose with his brass knuckles, forcing him to nearly miss with the rock, instead just grazing Murphy as it flew by. Murphy’s second swing caught him under the chin, and the man went down.

Helen had by now freed Charlie Baker from his cage. Having only been taken a few days before, the boy seemed in a much better state than the girl, and equipped to follow Helen under his own power as she ushered them away from the fight. Another cultist, thinking it was time to find a new place to stand, threw his rock at Murphy in haste, then ran for a tunnel on the far side of the room.

Was he running for a better weapon, to bring reinforcements, or simply to get away? It hardly mattered. He’d made his choice when he’d thrown in his lot with kidnappers and blood ritualists. I tracked him as he cut across in front of me. Sight picture: flat and level. Sight alignment: center mass. Squeeze. The Villar-Pirosa shuddered, chattering like a satanic chipmunk, and he pitched forward onto the cave floor. He lay bleeding as I scanned the room for others. I have killed conscripts unlucky enough to be caught in the trenches as we came over the top, and felt sadness for a man in a position not much different from my own, fighting far from home, just trying to make it out alive. This man, though, deserved no such sympathy. I would shoot a hundred more like him to earn Lucy and Charlie their freedom a minute sooner.

I reloaded and continued up the stairs the cultist had been headed towards. I found myself in a crypt. I figured it must have been one of the ones the cult had been sneaking out of to raid the graveyard for bones. I couldn’t find anything in it, and no obvious exit, but when Murphy joined me at the top of the stairs, he was able to ferret out the hidden lever that opened the crypt to the outside. When I returned down into the cave, I found that Natasha, Father Yang, and Morgan had apparently dealt with another cultist who had snuck in from one of the side passages. They were gathered around the skeleton on the chair.

The two side passages lead to other crypts, also just as empty as the one we’d already checked. The surviving cultist that Murphy had merely knocked cold came too with a little persuasion and eventually told us that the cult had two kidnap teams still out to grab the two remaining children that night. I packed up the gun and took the children from Helen as she joined the others in examining the skeleton. I left them to it as I led the kids up the stairs and out into the full daylight of the graveyard. We had a pleasant walk through town, and I shared my packed lunch with them as we made our way across the river to the police station. The desk sergeant nearly had a fit when I walked in with the two children, but he went and fetched Detective Stuckey when I asked him to.

Stuckey quickly launched into a frantic plan to contact the children’s families and hold a press conference. I did my best to encourage him to get his case in order before he called the press, but getting the children’s families down to the police station seemed like good sense. I told Stuckey about the two teams out to grab the Janesworth and Richards kids, then excused myself to wash my hands. Once the desk sergeant had left the door to the wash room, I slipped out by the back door. Stuckey seemed hell-bent on a press conference, and I didn’t want anything to do with it.

Father Yang seemed to be leading the group that had stayed behind on a project of consecrating and reburying the Fowler bones, and I left them to it. Didn’t seem like I’d be much help for that sort of thing, and I thought I’d be more use keeping an eye on the Janesworth place. The police seemed to have it in hand, however, and they were already leading the banker we’d seen earlier outside the hotel and a second man away in handcuffs by the time I got there.

I made my way back to the train station and booked myself a ticket back to New York before Stuckey got around to asking too many questions about the gunshot wounds on most of his cult suspects. I don’t regret shooting them, and I suspect that Stuckey would have understood, but I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to just give the police something they can claim as a victory and then make yourself scarce before they get around to asking too many awkward questions.

Prolog: Spare the Rod - 1919 - Part 1
Or, a brief introduction to the art of investigation

The party found themselves on a train to Arkham with Elizabeth Pierce on August 3rd, 1919. Elizabeth was researching her book about witch cults in New England, and was quickly running up against her publisher’s deadline. She asked the party to assist her in investigating a series of reported hauntings in and around Arkham while she pursued leads in another town further up the line. She has five leads for us to follow up on:

  1. A haunted graveyard
  2. The Arkham witch trials and a haunted witch house
  3. A haunted mill
  4. A haunted waterside inn
  5. The ghost of a school teacher, still haunting students around his former home

Upon disembarking onto the platform in Arkham, we learned of a a kidnapping the night before, as a young boy had been taken off the streets near twilight. This appeared to have been the second kidnapping in a month. So, we added “attend police press conference” to our list of initial leads to pursue. The party soon split, with Helen and Thomas heading to the graveyard to investigate Elizabeth’s lead about strange lights and sounds at night, and Natasha, Richard, and the Major heading to the Arkham Historical society to dig up information about the Arkham witch trials in 1704.

At the graveyard, Helen and Thomas learned that the caretaker had been seeing moving lights and hearing sounds coming from underground, but only on nights with a new moon. They found the Fowler family tomb strangely well kept, despite the caretaker’s obvious neglect. He invited them to return in the new moon to see the “haunting” for themselves.

Natasha found the head of the Historical Society, Mr Peabody, minding the counter when they arrived. She questioned him about the witch trials, and dug into the Society’s records of the time. The witch Goodie Fowler had been hung following the trial in 1704, due in large part to the efforts of Christopher Seaton, local school teacher at the time. The records spoke of lifting a hex placed on the town by Fowler, though the accounts varied, in some cases suggesting that Seaton had been the bad guy, or perhaps under the influence of Fowler. Peabody suggested they consult with Janet Larkin, the town clerk, for birth and death records of the time.

While Natasha finished up at the Historical Society, Richard and the Major headed outside to the press conference. There, Detective Stuckey announced the latest kidnapping, saying the police had evidence that the two were connected. He called upon the public to contact the police with any information that might aid their investigation. He was soon set upon by Henrik J. Smythe, a reporter whose byline appeared on several of the newspaper articles about the kidnappings. The reporter accused him of incompetence, trying to get Stuckey to admit that he didn’t actually have any leads at all.

Once Smythe had sufficiently provoked him, Stuckey stormed off back into the police station. The Major followed him to ask further questions. Although he was able to reassure the Detective, he was only able to learn that the reporter was right, and the police really didn’t have any leads at all. Even the connection between the two kidnappings was little more than an observation that the two children had been roughly the same age, and had been kidnapped exactly a month apart.

Helen and Thomas, meanwhile, had moved on from the graveyard to pursue to the lead about the Turn-Coat’s Inn, where stories held that the ghost of a Tory spy who had hung himself on the spot was still seen at night. As they reached the Inn, they soon bumped into Richard, who had lost track of the suspicious-looking character he’d trailed from the crowd at the police press conference. A few minutes later the Major arrived after his conversation with Stuckey. Helen struck up a conversation with the barkeep, buying a “special” drink from him, while Thomas and Richard checked the place out. They soon determined that the man who had been speaking to the barkeep before they came in was in fact the same fellow Richard had followed. Taking a look at the layout of the building, and considering Helen’s drink, they determined that the Inn was part of a smuggling operation bringing banned booze into Arkham. The “ghost” sightings were most likely lights and sounds from the smugglers moving their contraband under cover of night.

Thomas headed to the graveyard near where the two children had gone missing to see if he could find anything of interest. There he encountered Smythe taking photographs of the scene. He struck up a conversation with the reporter which just seemed to rub the PI the wrong way. When Smythe left, Thomas headed into the church and spoke with the priest. The priest’s story didn’t jive with the reporter’s. The priest said that Smythe had in fact been the one who reported running into the two other children who fled when “shadowy figures” approached the missing boy. The reporter had claimed he was headed to the church for a service, though he’d told Thomas he was an atheist.

In the meantime, the Major headed back to the Historical Society and City Hall, while Helen and Richard hailed a cab and headed out of town to the Fowler house, still standing after more than 200 years. Telling the cabbie to wait for them, they entered the house, and found it clean and well-kept. There was evidence that someone had slept in the bed the night before. Behind a heavy, locked door they found a strange room with four cages in it. As they made to leave the cottage, they heard a cry, and when they returned to the cab they found three people clustered around the unconscious form of the driver.

The one dressed like a banker headed up the path to the cottage, while the other two began to tie up the driver and move him into the cab. Once the banker had passed, Helen and Richard snuck up and attacked the two manhandling the driver. Richard duked it out with the big guy, while Helen swung a branch at the woman. Helen managed to knock her opponent out with two quick blows to the head, while Richard managed to knock out his opponent before they both jumped into the cab and sped away. As they left, they saw a car begin to follow them.

In the meantime, Natasha, Thomas, and the Major had tried to track down the reporter without any luck. They’d then followed up at City Hall and gained some additional information about some of the names surrounding the Fowler witch trial. They also learned that a map with the name Seaton on it had been transferred to the City Engineer’s office some time before. Just across the hall, a little bit of bureaucratic wrangling earned them a copy of the map, which seemed to show the locations of five families scattered around old Arkham in a rough pentagonal shape. One of them was Seaton, marked at the location of the old Seaton home. The Engineer explained that a recent expansion at the school had uncovered the old well on the Seaton property, and it seemed to connect to a series of caves. They’d capped it off but were still trying to figure out if it was safe to build a foundation at the spot.

The three headed over to the old Seaton place and snuck in past the construction fence. When they pried up the cover on the well, they found a deep hole leading into a series of caves, but they lacked sufficient supplies of rope or ladders to get safely down into the opening. They resolved to obtain the proper materials and return later.

As they left the building site, Natasha, Thomas and the Major met up with Helen and Richard returning to town, and exchanged stories. The group went on a supply run, hitting various shops around town. They stocked up on weapons, rope, flashlights, and other essentials. When they returned to their hotel, they found the man who looked like a banker they had seen outside the Fowler cottage sitting in a car across the street in the alley, watching the place.

Helen, Natasha, and Richard took up a position holding a conversation in front of the hotel in order to distract the man while Thomas and the Major snuck around the other side of the alley and came up on him from behind. They jumped into the car with him, trapping him between them in the front seat, and began to question him. He told them he was a member of a cult that followed Fowler, and had come to make sure the party hadn’t stolen “The Book”. They were able to get a description of the book and a list of the pseudonyms used by the cult members, but not their real names.

As Thomas and the Major worked on the man in the car, the rest of the party saw a man emerge from their hotel with a suitcase. When he saw two other men with the banker in the car across the street, he dropped the suitcase and ran. Helen and Natasha recovered the suitcase while Richard chased the man down. In the suitcase, they found a number of their own belongings, apparently purloined from their rooms. The fleeing man told a story much like his banker companion, saying he was a member of the cult and that they had been tasked with ensuring that the party did not posses the book.

Richard ran the thief off, while Thomas knocked out the banker. The Major dumped the unconscious man into a dumpster, “accidentally” breaking several of his ribs in the process. The party then took the man’s car and returned to the Fowler cottage. Once there, they were able to discover a hiding place in the fireplace which contained an impressive-looking Tome. On the drive back to town, Natasha was able to translate parts of it, learning that it had belonged to Goodie Fowler. In it, she described a plot to “dominate the souls” of Arkham, and her fury when five members of Arkham society had thwarted her by “draining” her power. She named them as the same five families identified on the old map of Arkham:

  1. Janesworth
  2. Seaton
  3. Potter
  4. Baker
  5. RIchards

Fowler wrote of cursing these five families, and binding her own fate to them. She wrote she needed the “flesh” of the five families, the “penumbra of the moon”, and the “heated iron of vengance” to complete her work and regain her power. Given that two of the family names match the names of the children kidnapped, it appears that her cult has begun the work of putting her vengeance into action in preparation for a penumbral eclipse due to occur in a few days time.

…to be continued next session…

Springtime on the Western Front
Or, how we all came to meet and mostly trust each other

We came to the table with just a brief character bio sketch and instructions to be in France, somewhere between Paris and The Trenches, in March 1918.

Then we played a little lightweight Fiasco to concoct a couple capers that would get our characters (myself included—I played an NPC).

Dramatis Personae:

1. John Yang, scion of a wealthy family of Chinese merchants, plucked out of China by wealthy colonial patrons and now a man of the cloth. During the war he served as a chaplain, comforting the wounded; he soon became disenchanted with the warlike aims of the imperialist powers. Elizabeth Pierce (intrepid journalist, below) is trying to advance her own ambitions by getting a solid character piece about the foreign-born priest. He is old school chums with Helen Fairchild (aristocrat-turned-nurse, below). They fell in with the pacifist worker movements and have a need to prove themselves by fomenting socialist revolution.

2. Helen Fairchild, daughter to the Fairchilds of Norlane Park, she wanted to pitch in and help the war effort like all patriotic Brits, but soon the horror of war, and her liaisons with unsavory socialsts, led her down a different path. Her relationship with John Yang is documented above, and she also has a rivalry with Natasha Levin (handmaiden to the Romanovs, now a refugee). They’ve stolen the Baroness’ necklace, you see, and Helen wants to use it to somehow bolster her and John’s socialist ambitions. Natasha has other plans, though.

3. Natasha Petrovna (?) Levin, handmaiden to a minor branch of the Russian Imperial family. They fled—wisely—before the October Revolution, and made it as far as Paris before the connections and the money began to run out. Natasha has developed something of a reputation as a fixer, so she’s angling to sell her mistress’ jewels for a quick score. She and Helen stole the jewels, but they don’t trust each other (Rivals), so they arranged a complicated scheme to hide them—Helen has the key to a lockbox; Natasha hid the lockbox in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery—while they look for a fence. What could possibly go wrong?

4. Richard Morgan, a petty criminal who felt like the Infantry was a better deal than Sing-Sing. Army life hasn’t reformed his character, and he’s a notorious scavenger, always looking to make a quick buck. He’s heard rumors about the impending Kraut offensive and desperately wants out. He’s done jobs with Natasha before (they’re both scavengers), and he just might be able to move that necklace for her. He’s a fellow squaddie with Thomas Murphy. He and Thomas know the quiet ways into and back out of some bombed-out chateaus.

5. Thomas Murphy, GI. Thomas is a run-of-the-mill Infantryman with one aspiration: to get out of this war alive. He’s teamed up with Richard Morgan to avoid all of this trouble by getting the #$&% out of the damn Infantry before the Krauts come over the top. He’s connected to Elizabeth Pierce in an as-yet undetermined lifesaving relationship. Maybe she’ll be his ticket home? Her access to HQ might just get her access to some blank discharge papers, which could serve and Thomas and Richard’s ticket home.

6. Elizabeth Pierce (GM/NPC). Elizabeth is the black sheep of a wealthy family. She goes where the action is, and in 1918 the action is on the Western Front. She’s one of the few female war correspondents, and even though she doesn’t like it, she files her stories with the pseudonym “Jackson”. She thinks there’s an angle to John Yang’s story that will connect with readers, and she’s got an extensive network of contacts and sources that includes Thomas. One of them is going to save the other’s life. She’s got a face-to-face meeting with The General this afternoon, and she intends to make the most of it.

Here’s a rough outline of what happened next:

We quickly coalesced around two plotlines: the necklace plotline, and the discharge papers plotline. Helen and Natasha arranged a moonlight meeting in the cemetary to retrieve the valuable artifact. Acting separately, Helen and Father John discussed plans for using either the symbolism of the lost necklace or the proceeds from it to spread their pacifist cause; meanwhile Natasha approached Richard about fencing the artifact. Father John had his interview with Elizabeth.

Thomas approached Elizabeth about somehow using her access to HQ to get her hands on some blank discharge papers. He offered to bargain details of the allied plans for repulsing the impeding German spring offensive, details that neither he nor Richard presently had. He pulled Richard aside after he returned to base from his meeting with Natasha to arrange to scout, spy, and/or steal newsworthy information. Richard agreed to take a shift cleaning toilets in HQ.

We rolled up a Tilt, with Father John in the lead for positives and Natasha in the lead for negatives. The mid-game twist was settled on: deception—a literal or figurative backstabbing, and a quote: “I swear to God we can fix this”. Everyone had fun working the quote into their scenes for Act Two.

Although Helen got her way and convinced Natasha that she could be trusted with the necklace, it was rapidly discovered that the necklace was spurious, a fake, costume paste! Helen and John discussed the matter and decided to return the necklace to Natasha along with the bad news.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth headed into HQ for her face-to-face with The General. Richard pulled her aside to pull together a final plan: she would distract the staff while he filched the papers. Surprisingly, this went off without a hitch! Oh, except for one small detail: the only discharge papers he could grab in time were medical discharge papers, so they’d need either convincing injuries or an accomplice in the medical corps…

Natasha flagged Richard down to see if there was any way he could “gussy the fake necklace up” or find a gullible mark to pass it too. He knew of a bombed-out chateau that he might be able to find some genuine jewelry to accompany it with—maybe they could pass it as part of a lot? He wondered whether Natasha knew of any medics who would be willing to “gussy some discharge papers up”. “Why, let me introduce you to my associate Helen…”

[ed: more to come…]


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