In which the players respond to a request for help from their good friend.
Reminder: My players don't entirely know they are playing through Masks of Nyarlathotep. As far as they know, this is a 1920s Pulp themed Fate Core game. This article does contain spoilers for the new edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep.
Cast of Player Characters This Episode
- Lin Ru-Shi - A Hong Kong street urchin that grew up to be a thief.
- Lord Declan MacManus - A minor Irish Lord and Great War pilot turned smuggler. Lives on his flying boat and has a way with the ladies.
- Abdul “Abe” Tepema - An Englishman of color, born in Egypt, he has a little knowledge of the old magic, and is a skilled detective.
- Sebastian Sullivan - An amateur student of the arcane, driven from Arkham and currently operating as a less than-impressive detective.
The players of Doc and Salim weren't able to attend so we decided their characters were delayed by the nasty winter weather. The player of Sebastian was running late and joined in mid session, which we also ruled was due to a weather related delay.
When we last left our cast of globetrotting explorers, they had defeated the threat in Peru, but some questions still remained. Where did Larkin come from? What was possessing him? What did his strange tattoo mean? That was early 1924, and they dropped Jackson Elias off in New York to work on his new book.
A few months later he sent them each a letter indicating his intention to travel abroad seeking answers about Larkin. It wasn't until 6 months later, just into the start of January 1925, that the players receive an urgent telegram asking them to meet him in New York:
HAVE INFORMATION CONCERNING CARLYLE EXPEDITION STOP
NEED RELIABLE INVESTIGATIVE TEAM STOP
MEET JANUARY 15 NEW YORK STOP
CONTACT KENSINGTON OF PROSPERO HOUSE KL3106 STOP
Historically, January 1925 was particularly harsh in New York, with Manhattan having some serious problems in early January. With several of my players running late for game night, I used this as an excuse to explain why some characters were arriving late. The players that arrived mostly on time got to make a few rolls and make some advantages that late players wouldn't.
Declan was the first to arrive in New York, landing is plane in a semi-ice in dock on an unspecified river. I offered the player of Declan a compel on Declan's womanizing ways to say that last time he was in town he had wooed and abandoned a wealthy woman with the last name Carlyle, and he agreed, so now his character is an ex-fling of Erica, which I'm sure will be fun to roleplay later. Next we activated his "Friend in Every Port" stunt. I offered him a few options as friends he knows from his last trip to New York: A mob enforcer named Joe, a Police Detective named Poole, or Shaddy importer named Emerson. I made it clear theses were NPCs in the adventure and therefore more likely to be useful plot wise, but also offered him the option inventing his own character to work into the story. He choose Detective Poole, and we decided that Poole is his second cousin, on his mother's side, and that on a previous trip to New York, Poole even tipped him off on a dock raid. Basically, Poole takes his job as a Homicide detective very seriously, but he's not going to get bent out of shape about a little smuggling by family. Declan spent his first night in New York drinking at a speakeasy prefered and protected by the local police, and catching up with his second cousin. He also unloaded some illicit cargo, a crate of good London Gin, Irish whiskey, and Scotch.
Lin Ru-Shi was the second to arrive in town, not long after Declan. She immediately tried to make some contacts in the local underworld, but bungled the attempt which was turned into a compel on her habbit of p***ing the wrong people off. After her first night in New York, she had the local Italian Mob looking to kill her as warning to the Yakuza. She tried to explain she's not even Japanese, but that wasn't clear to the mobsters she upset. (Note: In retrospect I probably should have had her upset an African American gang in Harlem so I could better tie it into the bootlegging arm of the Bloody Tongue via Fat Maybelly's Speakeasy.)
Abe arrived in town on January 15th and was able to hook up with the rest of the group that afternoon without really any time to interact with New York first. Recalling that the character had vomited into the pyramid in Peru before it has been sealed, I decided that was enough for the trapped god inside to start reaching out to him. I described to the player how Abe had been experiencing a recurring dream about being inside a pyramid with a indistinct figure trapped in a gold cage. The figure, concealed in rags and a hood, keeps trying to whisper to him, but is blocked the gold bars of the cage. I described the cage as looking somewhat like the gold binding spell under the pyramid in Peru. I also described the stone room has having Egyptian styling, not Peruvian.
New York is a Hell of a Town
The players arrive at Jackson's hotel at the appointed time, having gotten the location and time from the nice lady on the phone at Prospero House Publishing. They went up to his hotel room on the 4th floor and knocked. When there was no response their first instinct was to pick the lock (notably not to listen), which Abe pulled off rather well. As soon as they opened the door, "Jimmy" the culst was already swinging a Pranga at his head. As the resulting fight moved into hotel room, they discovered Jackson Elias, gutted and clearly dead, on the bed, and another cultist carving a symbol into his forehead while a third was going through his bags.
The resulting fight included gunshots and improvised weapons. They killed two of the mooks, but the large Jimmy they knocked out cold. They also saw a getaway car take off down the alleyway. Everyone but Declan dragged Jimmy up the icy fire escape into an unoccupied 6th floor room to interrogate him. Declan waited for the police, to arrive and asked the first officer on the scene for Detective Poole.
Note: I had been worried one of them would have tried to show up early or meet Jackson the day before, etc, something they kind of did in Peru, but thankfully they all went about their own business instead. One of the players actually commented later that he had assumed Jackson would be their designated quest giver for much the campaign and therefore did even consider arriving early this time. They really hadn't thought their good friend Jackson was in danger, and even tried to invoke character aspects as a way to arrive early enough to save him, which I of course refused.
At first the players tried to intimidate Jimmy with turning him over to the cops, but he didn't by the implied idea that they might let him go free if he talked. The interrogation then took an odd turn, with Abe pretending to be a cultist from a rival cult and intimidating Jimmy with the threat of implantation with a parasite in his ear if he didn't talk. They players rolled surprisingly well on that check. Jimmy didn't exactly talk at that point, but he did accidentally let some clues slip, like his boss's name. Eventually the players knocked him back out, made sure to check all his pockets for anything he was carrying, finding several clues, and dumped him down the fire escape ladder for the cops to find. They then headed out the front door of the hotel before the cops had a reason to notice them.
At this point Sebastian arrived, running late for the meeting, and his friends swept him up at the front desk before he could draw any attention from the police.
Meanwhile, Declan was taken down to the police station and eventually interviewed by his cousin Detective Poole. He kept his friends out of the description of events but otherwise told it as it happened. Poole took down the official statement, then took Declan asside to tell him about a few clues and oddities, including the fact that this was now the 9th murder in 2 years that involved the strange symbol carved in the victim, and especially that Hilton Adams was already on death row for the previous 8. He was then released.
The players gathered at the cop-bar/speakeasy in a booth to tell Sebastian what had happened and look over their clues. The players literally made yarn board out of the clues, linking clues with locations and people. I was delighted, although with several key clues still missing, they were also floundering around without a clear idea of what was going on.
They eventually decided to focus on the local (American) clues. They went back to their hotels and got some sleep, then met up the next day to start running down leads. Abe gathered news paper clippings on the Carlyle Expedition, and Sebastian tried to get a hold of contacts at Miskatonic University to ask about their visiting Australian professor, Doctor Cowles, but found he was (still) on the Miskatonic University blacklist. (A self-compel on his own background in Arkharm). He followed that up by calling a Harvard librarian to ask about what book Jackson Elias had been looking for, but this time he pretended to be a minor assistant from Prospero House Press asking on behalf of Jackson Elias, and was able to get some more information through lies. Notably, he didn't mention that Jackson Elias was dead, so when the librarian finds out, she may be deeply concerned the killers caller her under pretense. Something she may report to the police and which might circle back to the PCs eventually.
Eventually the player went and visited Emerson Imports where they managed to learn about the Ju Ju House. They also read the news paper, finding a story about Jackson Elias's death and a Funereal planned for the next day. The players dutifully added their new clues: the Ju Ju House and the Reporter to their clue board.
That was the point where we paused the session.
Next Time: The Funeral and More Investigation