Highway to Hell (Dresdenatural)

Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-06-11 10:05:28
This is my recap thread for my monster-hunting bikers campaign. We started it with the Dresden Files RPG (DFRPG), then converted to Fate Core when that became available. The old thread is here.

Session 11

Who was there? Bill, Scott, Carter, Clay, Kathryn, and Lucy. It was a full house.
Reward: TBD. The tweaks I’ve made from DFRPG into Fate Core are sufficiently in flux that I don’t want to definitely say “oh, and then every session people get X”.

The Road So Far

It had been 5 months and a newborn daughter since I ran last (ending on a cliffhanger to boot), so I tried to spark the group’s memories with some good scenes from past sessions.
  • Clay, smashing two salt shakers together inside a murderous spirit’s phantasmal ribcage
  • Scott burning the face off of fairy temptresses in Hades
  • Carter and Scott tag-teaming a Neanderthal demon’s skull as well as the possessed miner who found it
  • Bill shooting everything from red court infecteds to denarians
  • Clay keeping pace with a red court vamp in a rooftop chase
  • “I used to be a smoker demon, then I took an arrow to the knee”
  • Lucy summoning a junkyard golem, laying waste to the Orks of Hazzard
  • Tanya, queen of the Enchanted Forest Trailer Park elves, burning to death in her trailer

I ended with a (slightly retconned) summary of the cliffhanger: Clay, Bill, and Scott (with non-sabotaged motorcycles this time) roared out of the Enchanted Forest trailer park just in time to see a park ranger Bronco and 2 black Suburbans skid to a halt. Elsewhere, Carter, Lucy, and Kathryn had lost all contact with their friends (being trapped inside elven woods will do that) but picked out the police sirens easily enough.

Front-Loading the Ass-Whooping

A few compels were all it took to get Clay, Bill, and Scott to turn the prospective chase scene into a firefight once they recognized two of the agents getting out of the rear Suburban. It was none other than Agents Fox and Roberts, BLACKBOX agents from the Stackhouse adventure. They had 6 other ATF agents with them as well as Ranger Rick, and the exact mix of BLACKBOX agents to unsuspecting ATF pawns was unknown.

This was our first conflict in Fate Core - not just Core, but with some tweaks I had implemented based on our DFRPG experiences added on top.
1. I used MHR-style initiative. Whoever claims the first action goes first, then they choose who goes next, until everyone has taken an action. Fate points could be spent to interrupt. Overall, this worked well and the group keyed into the basic tactics of not letting the bad guys claim an alpha strike. We did have some confusion when it came to Boosts, which only last 1 round... with this system, on whose action do they expire?
2. I ditched stress tracks, opting instead of allow 2 mild, 1 moderate, and 1 severe consequence, plus granting 1 boost and 1 advantage per scene for -2 stress each. It sounds fiddly to explain it in one sentence like that, but it honestly wasn’t fiddly to grasp. Using it, however, did prove confusing because there were so many other boosts and advantages being created. This particular system is getting dropped in favor of something a little simpler as soon as I figure out what it should be. It could be as simple as shortening stress tracks but keeping them around, or even inventing a “Trivial Consequence” that subtracts 2 stress but only lasts till the end of the scene.
3. Otherwise, we played it fairly straight. We kept DFRPG weapon and armor values. The ATF agents were almost mooks: they acted in groups, had Fair skills, would take no consequences, but only one could be taken out per action barring special cases like area and spray attacks. Fox and Roberts had the full suite of consequences, and their relevant skills were at Great or Good for the most part.

Kathryn created a particularly clever advantage and brandished her assault rifle, causing the ATF agents to all shoot at her. Their shots did nothing, as she had Bonney’s Bane in her coat pocket, an artifact that granted immunity to gunfire. Lucy crushed the park ranger up against his Bronco with her black Charger, Bad Car. Clay leapt off his bike and tackled Fox to the ground, tangling her in her web gear before Roberts, himself compelled on “Former Marine”, bumrushed Clay off his partner in an attempt to see who was really the better man.

At the end of the round, Prince Sweetwater and a few surviving elves exploded out of the burning trailer park in a jacked-up Ford. They were out for vengeance, but Lucy got there first. She rammed Bad Car into the Ford, killing 2 elves and sending Sweetwater tumbling into the brush. Bad Car was wrecked for the scene (Lucy’s cost to turn her failure into a success).

The fight got pretty chaotic once the elves arrived.
  • Someone drove over both of Agent Fox’s legs and she conceded while she was still breathing.
  • The ATF agents got mauled really badly with motorcycle slams, rock salt, and drive-by melee attacks. All survived save one, whom Kathryn simply shot through the face as he was calling in backup.
  • The PCs survived without lasting consequence, which ironically was exactly what I didn’t want to happen in a fight against 8 armed feds. Might as well have used stress tracks.
  • Sweetwater conceded before Lucy’s animated trees tore him limb from limb. He ran into the forest screaming, the evil foliage in hot pursuit.
  • Agent Roberts and Clay had a proper knockdown dragout fight, but Clay finally cracked some of Roberts’ ribs and slammed him to the dirt. Roberts conceded, at the mercy of the bikers.

Carter grabbed Roberts’ cellphone, but his roll wasn’t good enough so we decided that he could get useful intel off of it as long as he didn’t realize BLACKBOX had other means of tracking the phone. Kathryn, Clay, and Scott took ATF vests and were about to hit the road when Scott’s bike wouldn’t start.

Hard to Start, Hard to Stop

One of the tweaks I made to the default Core setup was that everyone got a free Aspect for their bike. It could be something character related, like Carter’s “One For Every Day of the Week”, or in Scott’s case, it was “Hard to Start, Hard to Stop”, and I compelled that now. Three more ATF Suburbans crested the hill, silhouetted by the dawn’s early light. Clay, Bill, and Kathryn all accepted compels to stick with Scott and turn an easy escape into a chase. Carter and Lucy each accepted compels (for different reasons) to scatter, leaving their erstwhile comrades to the mercy of the feds.

I ran the chase part of the scene as a conflict (mostly). The pursued could, as their action, choose a difficulty to overcome, then dare the pursuers to follow. It worked okay, I guess. Players noted that it didn’t seem balanced without some similar option for pursuers to take. At any rate, the three Suburbans were slowly and gradually Taken Out over the course of a breakneck chase through the South Carolina backwoods. I believe all of them ended up doing A-Team-style plunges through guardrails.

Get Carter

While all that was going on, the denarian Pantagruel (Bill’s nemesis, with a human host of Alex Abel, Carter’s nemesis) was circling overhead, biding his time. Abel’s company, Crowley-Lampkin, had enough government contracts that it could guide law enforcement towards the PCs every now and again. Pantagruel didn’t know BLACKBOX had caught wind of anything - he just wanted the PCs locked up so he could go get Houdini’s Key from the evidence room of whatever backwater sherriff’s office they ended up in, then use the Key to open the gates of Hell. Simple, really - all he needed to do was get the Key back from Carter, who had acquired it during the Austin adventure.

Christmas morning for Pantagruel looked like Carter driving alone through the woods.

Carter and Pantagruel rolled Notice against Stealth, and we both spent all our fate points to try to outbid each other. Pantagruel had the better dice this time, though, and plucked Carter right off his bike! “‘Ello, Carter,” Pantagruel hissed as he climbed skyward. “Give me the key and I’ll drop you in a field. If not, I’ll drop you on the asphalt and sift through your entrails.” That was enough to place “Terrified” on Carter, but it wasn’t enough to get him to give up Houdini’s Key. Carter mostly lied his ass off - the funny thing about knowing your opponent is a compulsive liar is that they can trick you by telling the truth. Carter’s rapid-fire verbal assault was enough to give Pantagruel “A Moment of Doubt”, which Carter used to draw his pistol and blast away.

Lucy heard the shots and saw the denarian fly overhead. She also remembered my pre-game breakdown of my custom skill list, and how Lore was now used to create wards, summonings, and exorcisms. She started creating a ritual circle with the intent of summoning Pantagruel to her, which was good, because Pantagruel’s response to 9mm slugs to the groin was simply to let go of Carter. Carter grabbed Pantagruel for dear life just as Lucy’s summons took effect and dragged the denarian spiraling towards the road. Carter shot his nemesis a few more times and then, since he was penned in by a ritual circle, Lucy hit him with Bad Car and slammed him down a wooded slope.

That Song By Asia

If I had taken 5 minutes to stop and think, I would have ended the session there. We had finished out the cliffhanger well enough, but it was early enough that I got caught up in the heat of the moment and wanted to keep going. Plus, Kathryn had a load of Black Court nastiness in her backstory that I never got to use and her player was headed to college. I didn’t know if I’d get another chance. This is where the adventure went downhill. Aside from the overall metaplot about multiple antichrists, I was totally winging it from here on in, quickly burning through my remaining time with a group of increasingly-tired players.

If You Kill Me You Won’t Find the Treasure

So... Bill saw Pantagruel roll to a bloody halt in the road in his rear view mirrors. The demon was quickly surrounded, but before he got a few parting shots from Bill’s custom handgun Owlfucker Pantagruel shouted “If you kill me the girl dies!” It was enough to stay Bill’s hand (and besides, his player’s good for going along with Obvious Roads to Plot Development). Pantagruel spun a tale about how Lucy Collins wasn’t the only friggin’ antichrist. He’d been keeping tabs on a couple and the gang had managed to slaughter most of them so far. The BLACKBOX escapee from Stackhouse was one. Howl, the Neanderthal demon, was another. Now Pantagruel had lost contact with surveillance teams in Tampa when one of the potential antichrists had been taken by a Black Court vampire - a certain Dmitri Romanovich, whom Kathryn had tried unsuccessfully to kill several years earlier.

Anyway, there was this girl who didn’t even know what she was who was about to be eaten by a vampire, or worse, the vampire knew exactly what she was and was going to be milking her for antichrist blood. Bill’s insane Lore rolls indicated that you’d either end up with a Dracula or a Lilith, so the gang decided that Pantagruel’s tip was too dangerous to ignore.

Hotline Tampa

Finding a kidnap victim and BCV could have been a session on its own. I knew I was pushing things as it was at this point, so I made the entire thing into a huge Challenge, even battling their way into Romanovich’s lair and taking down his Renfielded minions. The investigation, casing the old apartment block, and infiltrating the building all did work well done as a Challenge, but nothing felt like it had sufficient teeth. It felt appropriate to a young BCV maybe, not an Old World survivor like Romanovich was intended to be. It was weaksauce, except for three things:
1. The idea that Pantagruel was able to use the PCs as his proxy assassins rankled the group some I think (in a good way). Next time I don’t think anyone’s going to wait for that denarian to open his mouth before they fill him full of lead. Did he guess Lucy would kill Rosa? Why did he want Romanovich out of the picture? Did he have some sort of accord with the Red Court in Tampa? With this session, Pantagruel’s finally gone from “oh, he’s fun to beat up” to “I’m-a kill that sumbitch!”
2. Romanovich actually survived, albeit with the Extreme Consequence “Sunlight”.
3. Lucy “rescued” Rosa Salazar, the girl in question. It was just Lucy and Rosa, and Lucy was 2 points in sponsor debt and had no fate points. All I said was “You know, Lucy, Rosa’s competition,” and slid the fate point over. Lucy talked to Rosa, gained enough trust for the poor girl to come over to her, then stabbed her in the back of the neck with her ritual knife.

Thoughts on the Session

As I mentioned, I was generally pleased with the resolution of the cliffhanger portion but felt the vampire assault in Tampa was sloppy and tacked-on. What’s worse is that given the proper time and planning, it could have been really awesome. It definitely was a lesson in quitting while you’re ahead. I had Hollowpoint in my bag; we could’ve played a quick one-shot with that with the time we had left instead of charging forward heedless of the impending lackluster gaming. Honestly, a 5 minute break just to think things through would have helped.

Thoughts on the Conversion to Fate Core

This, I have to say, went much better than expected. We all cut down from 7 to 5 aspects, with 4 refresh and 2 free stunts. Everyone took the maximum of 5 stunts, which meant players were hungry for compels and it really worked well for the initial conflict and following chases. There were a few occasions where players paid a cost to turn failures into successes, and those choices definitely drove the story and opened up new conflict instead of being just disappointingly low rolls.

The conversion wasn’t just swapping DFRPG for Core, though. I had a custom skill list of 16 skills which all worked just fine. We ditched the pyramid although my replacement structure still reinforced the idea of more limited apex skills. Everyone got an aspect relating to their bike, and most importantly, we dumped stress tracks for tracking damage. Everyone could instead grant their opponent a boost, once per scene, for -2 damage, or grant an advantage for the same. I thought this would result in more visceral hits and possibly quicker resolution, but in practice several problems appeared:
  • Boosts and advantages from strikes got tangled up with the boosts and advantages from normal actions. This was really confusing for me, and I expect doubly so for my group. What still has a free invocation on it? Am I still “Pinned” or “Tangled in my Web Gear”?
  • Despite the theoretical desirability of having narrative weight pinned onto every single successful hit via aspects, in reality it’s actually fairly difficult to stay that creative that consistently. Sometimes my brain just wanted a break, but no, I had to figure out an aspect name for another 1-stress hit on a dude. If I’m going to keep implementing anything like this, I’m going to write up a cheatsheet full of potential wounds.
  • Handling supernaturally tough enemies didn’t work out so well. Pantagruel and Romanovich were both supposed to be pretty tough; Supernatural Toughness in DFRPG terms. What I had done for Pantagruel was give him Armor:1, make his consequences 2 points more effective (so that a Mild reduced stress by 4, a Moderate reduced by 6, and so on), and give him an extra Mild and Moderate. Pantagruel just didn’t feel as tough, though. The players were actually disappointed in how I had modeled this, so when the table is unanimous like that it’s a good time to rethink toughness and damage.

In short:

Custom skill list worked fine. Potentially some hangups in how the skill prioritization structure was handled. I can go into more detail if people want, but honestly I felt it worked well enough for most cases.

I tempted Bill’s player into taking stunts. He traded his wall of fate points for overwhelming knowledge about every facet of the supernatural. In return, new Bill ended up being quite a bit more spry than old Bill. We all joked about hip replacement surgery.

Bike aspects were great. A free aspect is just enough detail to provide some flavor without going deeper into the fractal and trying to stat up differences in motorcycles.

The relative drop in refresh and aspects was fine as well. Everyone didn’t have a problem dropping aspects that just weren’t used much or combining them into single aspects, which was a good sign that 5 aspects IS a pretty good number.

Damage tweaks were a misstep. I don’t know whether introducing a “Trivial consequence” that lasts for a scene and subtracts 2 from incoming stress is a fix, or whether I should keep stress tracks, or keep stress tracks but start their default length at 0, or use 1 track for all damage types, or what. On top of that choice is how to model supernatural toughness and recovery. I was really against stress tracks when I was doing my conversion, but now that I’ve seen it in practice my position has been tempered significantly. Nevermind whole-hog revamps like “use Bulldogs’ damage model”, “use stress like HP”, and so on. It’s a case where there are too many options and I’m not familiar with enough of them to really know if one direction suits me and my group best.

For Next Time

I don’t want the seat of my pants to crash on takeoff again. I’ve done a lot with system over the course of the Fate Core kickstarter; I want to buckle down and prepare the setting more than I have been. Work up adventure seeds, cool opening scenes, plans for the bad guys, and so on.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-06-17 15:51:08
Session 12 - Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner

Who was there? Bill, Scott, Carter, and Clay.

Reward: TBD; I think a point of Refresh would be okay (or maybe after the next session), because I want to experiment with some of the new stunt structures in the Toolkit. I do wish there was more advice in the Toolkit about ways to handle advancement. OTOH, they got a lot of loot this game; perhaps that’s the advancement this time.

Apologies to the Lee Child book Killing Floor, Tarantino movies, and Warren Zevon.

Panic Room
Margrave, GA - We pan down to a renovated farmhouse under a dark sky, surrounded by suburban zoning. Through a window and inside, we see collections of exotic souvenirs, rugs, and gewgaws from across the world. The oven timer rings, and Nicholas Van Owen takes a chicken out and places it on the immaculate kitchen island. He sees movement outside - a flash of terror on his face, then old reflexes long dormant take over and throw the old man to the floor. Bullets rip through the windows, shattering appliances, spraying glass. Van Owen painfully crawls on aged knees into his living room. The gunfire explodes towards him again like devil’s laughter, spitting drywall and hammering his TV. He fumbles his way down the basement stairs, falling in a heap at the bottom. He looks up, sees a shape silhouetted by the light behind, staggers up and into the panic room, slams the door button. Steel scrapes on steel and bolts punch their way home, sealing Van Owen inside his treasure vault-turned bunker.

We zoom out now, away from the house, away from Van Owen’s muffled shouts of “Noooo!”, then the angry mad chatter of automatic gunfire echoes up into the night.

We started off the game proper with a Challenge. The gang had run badly afoul of the law last game, so I asked them for a series of 3 rolls, one of which had to be Streetwise (as that’s the primary “dodge the Man” skill). Carter rolled Streetwise and failed. I explained about succeeding at a cost, and so Carter ended up burning way more aliases to get out from under the FBI. Scott made his roll, and Plog spent a FP to make his Brawn roll, muscling the bikes offroad over old moonshine trails.

Rules Note: I’m using a custom list of 16 skills spread evenly across 4 modes - Badass, Outlaw, Hunter, and Civvie. Streetwise is an Outlaw skill.

The gang had been rewarded last session with information about their nemesis Pantagruel’s network of contacts and resources. One of those contacts was Nick Van Owen, who apparently used to have the same job Carter did, just a few decades earlier. He was an “Arcane Acquisitions Expert” - a magic item thief. He was still getting a trickle of payoffs, and the team was close to his fictional hometown of Margrave, Georgia. They decided (and got FP for going along with the adventure seed as always) to check him out.

CSI: Margrave
Margrave turned out to be a combination of Mayberry and Hazzard, an American Dream kind of Southern town from yesteryear made flesh. It was offputting in a Stepford Wives sort of way. As their bikes’ engines shattered the idyllic late fall ambience, the gang realized they were definitely not going to fit in.

They weren’t terribly surprised to see police cars (late-model Chargers, a sign that Margrave’s police force was well-funded despite the town appearing like it didn’t need cops at all) parked at Van Owen’s house. The guys ditched their bikes and crept closer through the wooded development. A body bag being loaded into an ambulance cemented it - Van Owen was dead.

Scott immediately opened his Sight. The town’s appearance had him spooked a little, and he was curious if there was an overarching presence or evil in the town itself. Margrave looked exactly the same on the other side. White picket fences, affluent developments, well-maintained roads-

Spak. Spak. Slurch. Scott’s footsteps were wet and squelchy, the ground sucking at his feet like soggy moss. He looked down and saw blood welling up from the ground. Puddles from recent rains shone glistening red. The soil was crimson, soaked through with blood. Dried brown tide marks marred car fenders and house siding. Scott closed his Sight and gulped down the last of his Maalox.

Rules Note: The Sight’s adapted from DFRPG, except instead of rolling to close the Sight, I just make it a Compel if I want something shitty to happen to Scott.

The guys decided to split up (groan). Clay and Scott would head to the library and try to dig up any information on Margrave’s history. They were manufacturing their own (completely reasonable) red herring here, jumping to the conclusion that Scott’s visions indicated some sort of event from Margrave’s past had come back to murder its residents. Meanwhile, Carter would try to sneak closer, overhear some details, and get a look at some of the evidence bags being loaded into the police cars - evidence bags that looked like they contained some interesting potentially magical artifacts! Game-wise, the artifacts were totally bait for Carter and Bill. Bill’s player loves magic shit, and Carter has compellable aspects from head to toe when dealing with artifacts like these.

To the Library
The Margrave Public Library was not used to leather-clad hooligans wandering in, but the wizened lady behind the front desk took it in icy stride... until Scott asked about Margrave’s history, at which point she sprang into animated life, all too happy to help. Despite smartphones, microfiche, and the Dewey Decimal System, Scott and Clay found little that would cause any sort of overarching evil to befall the town. It was farmland during the Civil War, and might have hosted a skirmish or two. It wasn’t incorporated until the 30s, and although moonshiners ran their wares in the area, crime was neither widespread nor organized. In the 90s, Margrave underwent an intensive restoration effort and transformed into the stereotypical small town it remained to this day. The restoration efforts began soon after Van Owen’s payoffs from Crowley-Lampkin dropped off considerably - like he retired here. The restoration was spearheaded by three men; Van Owen, Sheriff Earl McGraw, and Aldo Koons, pastor of the local Baptist church.

They turned their effort towards these principals. Van Owen didn’t have any sort of military record that they could find, but McGraw and Koons had both served in the same Marine unit in Vietnam. McGraw did two tours and was honorably discharged, but Koons had had a harrowing stint as a POW. By contrast, McGraw’s son Edgar was also a Marine and had won the Silver Star in Iraq before he returned home to (attempt to) take on his father’s mantle of sheriff.

So, not the answers they expected, but leads to follow nonetheless.

Agent Solo
Back at Van Owen’s residence, Earl McGraw and his son, Sheriff Edgar “Junior” McGraw, arrived. One of the deputies called out “Sheriff!”, causing both men to turn and look. Then Junior glanced bitterly at his father. It was clear the son was the actual sheriff now and Margrave hadn’t yet gotten that memo.

Junior headed inside. That left his dad outside, and Carter easily timed the rate at which the crime scene guys were bringing out evidence bags. It was too hard to resist going for those artifacts. Carter grabbed an empty backpack and snuck forward while Bill kept a lookout. With Burglary advantages created while he cased the joint, Carter had no problem stuffing the backpack with items Bill had identified with Lore:
  • An ancient Central American knife used for skinwalking. Skin part of a victim and you can doppleganger them. Your disguise lasts longer the more skin you take. The effect ends if the victim dies.
  • A spoon in a glass case, an unreadable inscription in bronze on the case.
  • A folded American flag, predating Hawaii and Alaska at the very least.
It wasn’t enough. Carter basically self-compelled on “Arcane Acquisitions Expert”. The cops didn’t know what they had. This Van Owen guy had decades of loot squirreled away that he didn’t even tell Crowley-Lampkin about. Carter tossed the backpack into the hedge so Bill could get to it should Carter be caught, then the magic thief stole (ahem) into the house.

Carter dodged the crime scene techs and deputies and made his way into the basement where the bullet-marred panic room was. His progress was blocked by a tech, however, so Carter put on his best “I’m totally seriously a law enforcement officer” face and tried to bluff his way into the panic room as “Agent Solo”. It was such a bad story with such a good roll. The tech, unsure what to do with this random dude who clearly was part of something fishy but nevertheless made it to the crime scene without anyone batting an eye, headed upstairs to confirm.

Carter had mere seconds - he cased the room, both for clues as to what happened as well as any more juicy loot he could escape with. Most of the items remaining were too large to be easily transported - a suit of Japanese armor, an eerie painting that showed Carter hanging from a scaffold, dressed in 1700s attire, an anvil, that sort of thing. Carter rolled a success with style to loot the room, and even discovered a secret panel behind the painting that concealed a knife knapped from green glass, an extremely rare item called a trinitite knife. Made from glass from the first atomic bomb test site, Trinity, it would harm any supernatural creature. Any creature. It was a pretty good find. Murder scene-wise, Carter noted that there were bullet holes but no bullets and no shell casings (and nothing came out in the evidence bags that he saw). Finally, there was a thick line of spilled salt and a frantically-opened Morton’s Salt cylinder on the floor.

More than likely Van Owen figured his killer was a ghost.

Then Junior came downstairs and called Carter on his bluff. He sent the thief outside with a deputy to call in Carter’s supposed credentials. Thinking quickly, Carter offered the gullible deputy a different number, a “direct line” to his “agent in charge”. The phone number was Clay’s, and he strung the deputy along long enough for Carter to slip away.

Cold Cuts
The gang regrouped at Rowena’s Diner on the outskirts of town to plan their next move... and get some pie. Clay and Scott would try to find Pastor Koons. Meanwhile, Bill and Carter would sneak into the county morgue to try to investigate Van Owen’s corpse, try to get a sense of what it was that killed him.

It wasn’t the first morgue they’d burgled. Getting inside was easy, but the coroner was still in the room with Van Owen’s body. One falsified fire alarm later, Carter and Bill were looking at a corpse shot so many times that it was literally headless. Bill inspected the body more closely, rolling his Lore, backed up by a bevy of stunts, and found traces of ectoplasm in the bullet wounds.

The killer was a ghost with a machine gun. But why did it kill Van Owen? Was it done killing?

Scott and Clay rolled up to Margrave First Baptist just as Aldo Koons was locking up. Scott could talk the talk, claiming he and Clay were on some sort of “Ride for Jesus” thing (which, given Scott’s background, wasn’t really that far off). Long story short, they had to come clean on their initial subterfuge but Koons wasn’t all that saddened by Van Owen’s death. As far as the pastor figured, Van Owen used to be a CIA triggerman in the 60s and 70s. The man was a bastard, but his money kept Margrave on its Americana life support. Koons might have been trying to atone somehow for his years in ‘Nam, but he wasn’t about to give up his nice parsonage and his comfortable life just because some ex-spook decided to help fund a town with ill-gotten gains. When asked about Earl McGraw, Koons admitted they were in the same unit. The elder McGraw was a decent soldier, but he liked combat a little too much for Koons’ liking.

Pastor Koons gave them his number, wished them luck with their investigation, whoever they really were, and got into his old Ford Ranger.

He Killed Them and Took Their Stuff
Back at Van Owen’s place, Scott and Clay failed their roll to sneak into the house and had to beat the hell out of a deputy who was watching the crime scene. They left him in the back of his own car and headed inside to look for clues. Clay failed his Notice roll but opted to pay a cost - he’d resort to ransacking the place rather than leaving it as he found it.

They found a disused go-bag in the attic, along with a few more militaria mementos. Seems Van Owen might have really been the CIA assassin Koons made him out to be. Clay found an old black-and-white of Van Owen posing with a bunch of hard bastards in a mixture of US gear and VC pajamas. Clearly it was the kind of picture that never should’ve been taken. They had a bedraggled Aldo Koons with them - despite the intervening decades, in the photograph Koons looked about as haggard as he did when they met with the octogenarian that afternoon. It would seem that Koons had been less “released” than his official record indicated, and more “rescued by Van Owen and a bunch of MACVSOG guys”. Van Owen must’ve been a piece of work to owe the man your life and still call him a bastard.

Koons’ opinion of the man was cemented as fact when Scott hit the basement and opened his Sight. Scott was knee-deep in a thick soup of blood and spent brass. The angry buzz of giant mosquitos mixed with the whip-crack of incoming rounds. Far off the distance, he could hear artillery hitting, screams echoing, AK-47s chattering. He was in a muddy-walled pit. Above Scott, there was a jungle canopy formed from hundred-dollar bills, lit by hellish stormclouds and napalm. It was Vietnam. It was the Congo. It was the Amazon. Around him, dead faces and hands pushed out from the packed dirt walls, corpses from every race, nation, and tribe that had ever tried to stop Nick Van Owen from taking their ancestral treasures or ancient artifacts.

Scott hurried through the increasingly-grasping hands into the panic room, whereupon the slog of bloody brass changed, dreamscape-instant, into just a scattering a .45 ACP shells on the floor. The brass from Van Owen’s murder was here, on the other side. So were the mushroomed, fragmented bullets. Irrelevant to the case but interestingly enough, the area where Carter found that trinitite knife looked exactly the same as it did in the real world. The knife’s barely-noticeable radioactivity must have killed any supernatural afterimage.

They’d seen enough. Scott tried to shut down the Sight - and I offered a compel. The hands grabbed him, tried to pull him into the mud, tried to choke him. Scott barely fought them off and made it to the stairs before a lucky hand tripped him. Scott hit the stairs hard, except they weren’t stairs now. A dirt slope slick with blood and warm rain stretched up before him. A bulldozer pushed corpses down the hill on top of Scott. He struggled, the corpses animating as they got hear him, tearing at him, their drawn-back mouths leering, full of rotten teeth.

With a shout, Scott broke free of the Sight. Frantic, he reached for his Maalox - empty!

Rules Note: I have to say, I think Scott’s player and I both liked the changes we made where we’d simply have a compel if closing the Sight would be a problem. The specific compel here was that Scott would have to escape or beat a one-on-one conflict against the room rather than simply walking out unscathed.

In Which the Evidence Room is Treated like a Wal-Mart
Carter and Bill probably didn’t need to break into the Margrave courthouse at this point, but they really wanted to make sure the local cops didn’t end up sitting on some ancient weapon or powerful artifact. You know, for their own safety. Plus, even though most ghosts cause electronic equipment to short out, Van Owen’s panic room might have had footage of who the ghost was. If they could positively ID the ghost, they could probably find the remains and ace the spectre once and for all. At the very least, there might be more clues as to what the shade wanted. Normally, vengeful spirits will move on once the person, people, task, or object keeping them in our realm is taken care of.

I didn’t have John Rogers’ Crimeworld supplement in front of me, but I remembered enough that I set the courthouse job up like a series of challenges. The objective was the evidence room. It had video cameras, physical locks, and was guarded. Moving around inside the courthouse itself would be restricted, as they had internal surveillance cameras. Getting inside would be easy as long as Carter didn’t try the main entrance.

Bill kept a lookout, ready to provide a distraction should Carter get in over his head. The first thing Carter did was sabotage the building’s air conditioning unit. A few minutes later, some of the courthouse staff and a few cops were outside scratching their heads. It was enough of an opening for Carter to climb inside an open window. His Stealth was high enough that he didn’t have trouble moving around inside the building, even with the cameras. Thing is, he needed to get the evidence room guard out of the cage, and he needed the officers watching the camera feeds gone. He thought back to the morgue and how easily a simple fire alarm cleared their path, so he took it one step further and luckily made his Tools roll to create a controllable but smoky fire in a wastebasket. Alarms raised, the evidence room cleared out and Carter had access.

Carter was still stymied by the video cameras watching the evidence room, however. He didn’t have an easy way past it and he didn’t have the tech skills to wipe footage if he snuck back out to the security office. He spent a FP and produced a tiger mask he kept from Van Owen’s house (basically an invoke for effect on Arcane Acquisitions Expert). This mask acted like a chameleon-esque veil, and with it Carter was able to enter the evidence room right under the camera’s nose. All the big items from Van Owen’s were here now, as well as the tapes from the panic room. Carter accepted a compel here - he was greedy enough that he’d take something big, big enough that the courthouse security cameras would see him leaving.

Outside, one of the deputies milling about spotted Bill loitering and walked over, tried to roust Bill with a tried-and-true mixture of condescension, good-ole-boy douchebaggery, and intimidation. Bill decided to self-compel his “Last of the Gunslingers” aspect and hip-fired his Judge into the deputy’s chest. Rock salt puffed from the cop in a gritty white cloud and he went down moaning. Bill hobbled to his bike and punched the throttle as more officers ran after the old man, then spun and raced for their cars. Looked like Carter was going to have an easy escape.

Carter exited the courthouse carrying a magic anvil, carefully strapped it down to his bike, and peeled out in the other direction.

Slow Ride
With his headstart, Bill was able to lose the cops but the PCs were definitely wanted men now. With their new information, they decided Pastor Koons might be able to help them ascertain the ghost’s identity, so they headed towards the parsonage. I had them make two rolls - one Drive roll to see how fast they could get there, and a Streetwise roll to see if they evaded the police. They aced the Streetwise roll, but failed the Drive and chose not to pay a cost to succeed.

The bikers were just a few blocks away from Koons’ parsonage when they heard the staccato bursts of a Thompson gun.

Aldo Koons lay dead in his driveway, lit by his Ranger’s flickering headlights. His head had been machinegunned to pieces, his front lawn speckled with gore. Standing over the pastor’s corpse was a headless ghost dressed in 50-year-old fatigues raising an equally ghostly M1 Thompson submachinegun. The ghost used a spray attack but the multiple targets reduced its Shoot rolls to where the PCs easily dodged them. Clay leapt from his bike, trinitite knife in hand. The knife caught on the shade’s shoulder, leaving a long ectoplasmic gash. Carter fishtailed his bike, trying to slam the ghost with the magical anvil strapped to the back. Bill started laying down a hasty ritual circle, but the ghost tied his rolls. Bill could only corral the spectre, not entrap it entirely.

Scott’s bike was “Hard to Start, Hard to Stop”, and this time it spilled him painfully onto the driveway with a “Road Rash” consequence instead of driving straight for the ghost like he’d planned. Undeterred, Scott opened his Sight again and was dumped into another war-torn hell, facing a tall Norwegian mercenary across ten feet of mass grave. A bombed-out church burned happily roughly where Koons’ body was, his Ford Ranger corresponding to a bullet-ridden Jeep in the spirit realm. Much younger echoes of Koons, McGraw, and Van Owen were firing into the jungle, using the dead Jeep for cover from barrages of incoming rounds.

The ghost was outmatched. It already had a consequence from Clay’s new knife, and it had to contend with an ex-con who could kill it with his bare hands on its own turf as well as two more guys working to trap it inside a circle. The ghost survived another round but took a moderate consequence, then conceded before Bill could close the circle. In the real world, the spectre just flickered out. On the other side, however, Scott saw napalm scour his valley clean of life. He was thrown back against Koons’ Ranger, his jacket smoking with ectoplasm from his narrow escape.

Still no Maalox.

Funny Pictures
Now that the gang was standing around a bloody crime scene, they decided (okay, they accepted compels) to search Koons’ body, vehicle, and house for anything that might help them kill this ghost. Clay found the answer in a decades-old folded-up picture Koons had in his pocket. It was somewhere in Africa, maybe the Congo. Van Owen was there, shotgun over one shoulder, shit-eating grin on his face. Diamonds poured from his other hand. McGraw and Koons were there too, looking almost as pleased. Finally, the Norwegian merc was there, Thompson raised in triumph.

Suddenly Scott’s visions made sense. Margrave was built on blood diamonds, blood money Van Owen and the rest must have smuggled back with them. For whatever reason, they put their money into this town. Maybe they just wanted a nice place to retire.

Either way, Earl McGraw was the last person alive from that picture. Now that the headless ghost had shot Van Owen and Koons, McGraw’s life was probably measured on an egg timer. The gang, themselves wanted for burglary and assaulting police (at the very least), had to convince Margrave’s former sheriff of their good intentions and then protect the man against an assault by a pissed-off ghost with a machine gun and decades of combat experience.

Then the compels came home to roost. The guys decided to search instead of run for it, so Sheriff Edgar McGraw and the deputy they’d beat up back at Van Owen’s place rolled up on the red-handed PCs.

Shot in the Face and You’re To Blame
Honestly, I thought that maybe the PCs would have tried to reason with the younger McGraw, but Bill decided that rock salt makes an effective opener and ender to any conversation. Junior hadn’t even gotten out a “Freeze!” when Bill shot him in the face with a load of rock salt. The sheriff keeled over backwards into his squad car. Clay beat down the deputy for the second time that day, then the gang was off and running. Now they were in a race against the ghost and the cops.

In Which the Gang Tries Home Invasion
Retired Margrave sheriffs apparently only go out and make nuisances of themselves when the weather is nice or if they don’t have to do any real work. That’s why Earl McGraw was at home watching TV when the PCs rolled up. After learning that it seemed to just be him and his wife at home, the group dithered about whether they should sneak in the back door or knock and try to bluff their way in, or come at them right off with the truth, or what. Scott rang the doorbell, punched Mrs. McGraw in the mouth, and drew down on Earl before the old man could get out of his recliner.

He explained they were there to help.

Clay showed McGraw the pictures and that got the old sheriff talking. McGraw and Koons had been approached by Van Owen for some sort of CIA (“at least he said it was CIA”) op into the Congo. They had some mercenaries with them, foremost among them Roland Tembo, a Norwegian who was a surgeon with a submachinegun. Despite heavy losses, the unit stole a fortune in diamonds from the Congolese. Tembo got hit with a heavy case of conscience, so Van Owen blew his head off with his shotgun. Those diamonds, followed by Van Owen’s lucrative career pilfering magic shit for Crowley-Lampkin, led to Margrave’s restoration efforts and a retirement opportunity for all three men.

McGraw couldn’t deny the (lack of) evidence from the shootings. He was willing to give these crackpots a shot at marking up his garage with some sort of ritual, as long as they handed him his gun back. The group decided they could always just outbid him on initiative if he tried to shoot them. The unlikely allies headed to McGraw’s garage and set to work. Their plan: Perform a ritual to summon Roland Tembo’s murderous spirit, then hit with a combination of ghostknife (taken from a murdering ghost in the very first session), trinitite shiv, and old-fashioned exorcism.

Exorcism By Combat
Summonings are a multi-part process. First, if you’re smart, you need to set up a ritual circle to protect yourself from the summoned entity. This is a Create Advantage that acts as narrative permission to roll your Lore in defense against the spirit’s attempts to break free. Second, you need to know what material components will draw the spirit to your chosen site. For a quick and dirty summoning, I usually just call for a Lore roll, but this was the Big Bad for the session. I wanted something a little more flavorful, so I went to my random spell component chart I’d made months earlier. I had the PCs roll 3 times, and the probabilities turned out reasonably well.
  • Caster’s Fuel: No problem. Bill siphoned some gas from his bike to create the initial circle.
  • Target’s hair/clippings/feathers: With a moment of thought, they used a .45 ACP shell, the picture of Roland from Koons’ house, and the ectoplasm scraped from Van Owen’s corpse.
  • Geometric Salt: Child’s play to finish the ritual off with lines of power drawn in salt.
These spell components act as a compel on the entity, forcing it to manifest in the desired location. After that, you do whatever you wanted to do; bargain, attack, whatever.

Roland appeared, still somewhat worse for wear after their fight at the parsonage (its Moderate consequence wasn’t healed yet). The ghost tried to seize initiative with a fate point but Scott outbid it (in what would be a recurring theme this conflict). This time, however, the PCs were low on FP and the ghost had nearly a full stock for the scene. It was a tough fight - Clay darting in and out with the trinitite knife while Scott and Bill tag-teamed an exorcism with create advantage and Lore attack actions (the only time you can use Lore to attack, pretty much). The ghost had primary skills 1-2 points higher than the PCs, and it started to get the upper hand, dealing consequences to Carter and Clay. Earl McGraw emptied his revolver into the thing, but his bullets spun straight through the ghost. Roland leveled his Thompson at the old man, but Carter pushed him out of the way! Carter was rewarded for his heroism with bullets, and took another consequence. Scott’s portion of the exorcism actually exorcised Roland’s gun - the Thompson went dry with an echoing “click”. Roland tried to break free with a Balls vs. Lore roll - no good! The circle of gasoline erupted into blue-white flame, blocking the spirit’s escape. The exorcism started to take hold now, and little by little Roland started looking more like he did in life. His head started to mist back into existence, his torn fatigues coalescing into clothing from a more peaceful time. Bill’s Lore was too high for him to break free, and Scott had effectively disarmed him. Clay waited until he could see Roland’s face, then slammed the trinitite knife through the top of the ghost’s ectoplasmic skull. Roland’s spirit went up in an orange conflagration, leaving the gasoline sputtering out and McGraw’s garage a smoky, bullet-riddled, blood-spattered mess.

McGraw decided that Carter taking a bullet for him canceled out Scott’s wife-punching. He couldn’t deny what he had seen, and told the gang he could stall his son and the other cops for a few minutes (he obviously didn’t know Bill had marred his kid’s good looks with some rock salt, else things might have gone differently). He went outside, pushed his hat high on his forehead, and spat into his front lawn as the bikers drove into the night.

This was the best investigative adventure I ever ran. I also managed to use a single villain and make him a credible threat despite the action economy. That was definitely a first for me - most of the time my single villains get completely curbstomped. The advice in Fate Core about setting major villains’ skills 2 points higher than the PCs is spot on.

I didn’t feel like I had too many weak compels, either. The guys had enough FP to last until the last conflict, and then everyone ran out. If they had picked either the exorcism or the stabbing as their ghostbusting focus, I think they would’ve had fared slightly better but I understand that they probably wanted to cover their bases. Besides, if you make one guy the obvious attacker he’s going to get Roland’s full attention. If you have a guy running an exorcism AND a guy with a ghost-knife trying to stab you, and you only have one action, well, it’s not so cut-and-dried anymore.

Mystery-wise, the plot wasn’t terribly convoluted in hindsight. Van Owen betrays Roland back in the 60s, uses the blood money to make his American Dream come true, ghost finds him and starts killing the people who were involved with his death. The players furnished their own red herrings as well as their own motivations for why all this was happening. All I had to do was listen and try to steer them to the plot. Remember, when you run a mystery game, you want the PCs to solve it. Make it a simple situation, allow room for PC speculation to pad it out, and let compels complicate it further. It’s easier said than done, though, which is why my typical investigation-based sessions either run really long or flounder somewhere in the middle.

I was also happy that I had something for everyone to do. Scott and Carter took the lead during the investigation, but Clay and Bill backed them up and each had a spotlight moment gathering clues. Carter’s not a combat monster, but he had his moments while thieving. Plus, he took a bullet for McGraw. Carter’s usually pretty mercenary - I wonder if he’s planning on an aspect change or if it just seemed like he was the right guy in the right place at the right time?

Finally, I think the level of police involvement was just about right. They weren’t really a challenge in a fight but they had control over so much of what the PCs needed that it forced conflict. Not shooting conflict (except for the shooting conflicts), but conflict in general. It made the session more than just “gather clues, speak to NPCs, kill a monster”.

Rules Notes
I brought back physical and mental stress after last session's abortive experiment with way too many aspects. Default stress was 1 box, with additional boxes at skill rank 1 and skill rank 3 (Balls for mental and Brawn for physical). It worked fine and we'll keep with that for the time being. I do like the ideas in the Toolkit about conditions, but I like them more for handling special-case monsters than as a blanket rule. Using aspects for the gang's bikes continues to be just right so far. As for the magic items they came away with, I don't have stats yet. I have a vague idea for the skinwalking knife about tying the consequence level you inflict on the victim to how long you can remain disguised as that person. They almost used that knife on Edgar so they could gain entry to his dad's house, but Scott refused to use that kind of evil shit on a guy just doing his job.

For Next Time
I think I know better than to try to predict what I’ll run next time. I’ve got some ideas involving a Cryptid Fight Club, a certain infamous witch who lives in a walking hut, and a Sasquatch team-up with Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-08-20 06:55:25
Session 13 - Cryptid Fight Club
Who was there? Scott, Carter, Clay, Bill, and Ajaz.
Reward: +1 Refresh.

Apologies to Fight Club, Smokin’ Aces, My Name is Earl, Deliverance, Marked for Death, Dreams in the Witch-House, the Walking Dead, Predator 2, the Chucky movies, Trilogy of Terror, Gremlins, Commando, Django Unchained, Top Chef, Scooby Doo, and many more...

A cold open this time saw the gang (with new addition, the Nephilim-blooded Ajaz Gurt, pursued by Heaven’s agents for some transgression he’s not aware of) rolling towards-
  • Me: “I need a name for some place in Louisiana.”
  • Bill’s player: “Terrabonne Parish, it’s where Swamp Thing’s from.”
  • Me: *slides fate point to Bill*
-Terrabonne Parish, Louisiana, tracking down another one of the leads from Dmitri Romanov. This time it was supposed to be a safe house used by Pantagruel’s human agents, but the abandoned and overgrown rowhouse looked pretty desolate, the night noises broken up only by an idling pickup truck. Carter crept through the bushes and weeds while Bill and Clay walked up on three people wrestling a burlap sack filled with a wriggling... something into the back of the truck.

A lot of Wits, a little bit of Menace, and some trust in both directions saw the gang introduced to Clarice, Eustace, and John Boy Aintry. John Boy let slip that they were in Terrabonne for the “fights”, and revealed the contents of the sack - a domovoi, a Russian house spirit. Kind of like a brownie, but a hairy little man-thing. Carter knew enough Russian from his travels to get the idea that the domovoi was pissed and had friends, but when Carter spoke to it it calmed down some and explained what it really wanted was to find another home. The safe house had been abandoned for a while now and the domovoi were growing angry and restless. Carter accepted a compel to enter a hastily-worded agreement with a fairy creature. He agreed to find them a new home.

The First Rule of Cryptid Fight Club
Back to the fights! Bill and Clay got a little more information out of the Aintrys. A “Poppa Capp” character was running a fight ring for supernatural critters. ‘Nuff said - Bill saw the domovoi as victims here and immediately determined to put a stop to it. This was not something I entirely expected - as monster hunters, I thought the group would be more okay with the idea of getting critters dealt with one way or another, but they seemed to key off the fact that this was basically a dog fighting circuit and it needed to stop. Which was fine too - it tied into the secondary theme this session of “this time, the people are the monsters”. Bill wouldn’t let the Aintrys take the domovoi, but he did offer to meet back up with them the next night and hand over a duppy, a trickster Jamaican spirit that he intended to summon that night with a ritual. The duppy wouldn’t really be able to be killed, so Bill felt okay about passing one off to fight in some mysterious contest. The Aintrys were bamboozled well enough by outfitting the duppy with a Tapout shirt and some brass knuckles (seriously, they rolled pretty bad. Thanks, Fred’s Stash dice!), the exchange took place, and the trio of rednecks gave up the location for the fights. It was at a rundown chicken farm not too far from Houma, LA. The fights would start at high noon the next day.

The gang got to work.

In Which Ajaz Gurt’s Player Learns About Compels
Somebody had to go check out the farm. They only had one night to prepare, and preparation was key to surviving some of the things that were out there. Ajaz volunteered, and before the group settled on who would go with him, I offered a compel. Ajaz was relentless and thought himself always prepared for anything, so he’d go alone.

The nephilite wouldn’t have found the farm had the Aintrys not told them where it was. This was actually a minor confusion charm placed on the land by Poppa Capp, to ward off run-ins with local law or passersby. Ajax dumped his bike as he neared the fence and heard the hum of a generator. Originally the chicken farm was going to be a meat packing plant but I knew Ajaz’s player had enjoyed the Walking Dead game from Telltale so I adjusted it to a chicken farm with some similarities to the farm from the game, right down to juiced-up generators overpowering an electric fence. The gate wasn’t shut, however, so Ajaz snuck in and crept up to the chicken house door before the farmhand working on the generator spotted him! Ajaz truly was prepared for anything, and with an invoke boosting his roll, he buried a throwing knife in the man’s neck. Ajaz dragged the corpse into the bushes, noting that the farmhand had been armed - a gunhand as well as a farmhand.

The chicken house was a long corrugated metal shed with sliding partitions roughly blocking the building into three areas. One wall was lined with cages and crates of all sizes. There was a crane, like the type you’d use to hoist an engine block, attached to a big plexiglass cage suspended over a metal ritual circle set into the sawdust-covered concrete floor. Clearly this was where the fights were to take place. Ajaz’s Lore rolls weren’t enough for him to decipher anything about the specific purpose of the circle, so he moved on to the barn at the back of the property. Ajaz unlocked the barn door with keys taken from the dead man and snuck inside. There were more empty cages here, but these seemed to serve specific purposes. Some were silver, some were covered with netting, some were cold-wrought iron, and so on. Ritual unguents sat on shelves alongside WD-40 and motor oil.

Another locked door in the back of the barn led to a slaughter room, a gory chamber where (Ajaz surmised) losing critters were carved up for useful parts. After all, you can’t buy cockatrice gizzards down at Safeway. A few minutes of careful searching revealed a trapdoor set into the floor. Yes, I remembered later that southern Louisiana isn’t generally conducive to basements. Whatever, this is a story about fairies and gnomes. Ajaz accepted a compel on “Relentless Nephilite” - there was no way he was going to leave without checking this out - but he heard the farmhouse door slam as he cracked the trapdoor open with a hatchet. He ducked out of the barn just as a tall, thin black man strode into the yard and settled a top hat over his pajama robe. A large rat with the face of a man (and here Bill’s player shuddered - he hates that thing) skittered across the gravel lot to perch on the man’s shoulder. Ajaz skulked through the bushes, circling the yard, trying to reach his bike. He moved just as the man and the rat looked over where he had been a moment ago. Ajaz decided to run for it. Just charge for his bike and get out. The rat blocked his path; he leapt over the horrid thing and reached his bike. The tall man drew a revolver from one bathrobe pocket and took aim. Ajaz’s bike roared in time with the gun - the man missed by one point, and Ajaz was off into the night.

Poppa Capp knew his face now, and so did his familiar, Brown Jenkins. Infiltrating the fights the next day might be tricky.

We Need A Montage
Ajaz returned and told the gang what he had seen. They considered using the skinwalking knife to truly disguise Ajaz, but soon discarded that plan because 1) Carter was good at normal disguises and 2) it involved skinning people. They opted for a two-pronged assault; Carter and Ajaz would sneak back into the barn the next day and check out the trapdoor while everyone else tried to get entrance with the help of the domovoi, who was promised that yes, they’d be finding his people a new home soon and no, he wouldn’t really have to fight anything. He just had to look tough.

Scott worked out his barely-used Tools skill and crafted three holy water seltzer bombs, for lack of a better term. These proved to be incredibly useful. Bill loaded his guns with a truly random assortment of ammunition (creating an advantage “Grab Bag of Bullets”). Clay and Carter worked on the next part of their plan; enclosing the farm inside a ritual circle to prevent any evil critters from escaping, either overland or through the Nevernever. I turned to my trusty random chart of ritual components and we rolled the following three ingredients:
  • Geometric Heart: Cue a shot of Clay’s hand closing on a jumbo discount bag of valentine’s candy hearts.
  • Powdered Love: Cut to Bill rolling up to a trashy neon-lit strip club while “Girls, Girls, Girls” plays. Immediately cut back to Bill tossing a paper bag onto their motel bed, growling “Don’t ask”.
  • Innocent Blood: Hospital exterior. Carter swipes a cord blood courier’s package while the guy stops outside for a smoke, ruining a family’s thousand-dollar investment in their child’s future. What a jerk.
They mixed the components together into a thick slurry in a bucket, then soaked a long length of twine in it overnight. At dawn, Carter and Bill snuck out to the chicken farm and looped the twine around the property. They managed to remain unseen (setting an obstacle of 3 to discover the circle), but Bill invoked some aspects to boost the spell’s strength to an 8! It would take an escaping supernatural critter several rounds building advantages before it could even attempt to break through.

Spell in place, weapons loaded, and domovoi in tow, the gang headed up the long driveway.

Old Friends, New Problems
The farm’s gravel lot was packed with a bewildering array of vehicles, from a 1970 Challenger to a U-Haul van...
  • Bill’s player: “You know what would be cool? If that Black Shuck from Kansas City was here too!”
  • Me: *taps my notes* “One step ahead of you!”
There was even an eerily familiar teal-and-green GMC van the gang had encountered back in Kansas City. Outside the chicken house, two guards in coveralls and hats stood idly by a pickup truck with all manner of long guns and farm implements in the back. Bill showed them the domovoi and they nodded the group inside.

“Fight’s started,” one said. “Better git in there.” And I completely forgot to take the PCs’ weapons, which was the entire point of those two goons.

Inside the chicken coop, there was a mob of about two dozen people shouting at a jackalope fighting a shirtless, tattooed garden gnome (a gang-styled G-NOME across his chest) in the ritual circle Ajaz had sussed out the previous night. About half of them looked like they were only there to bet on the fights; presumably these were people who had lost previous bouts and didn’t have any other supernatural critters to hand. The remaining people were obviously all named NPCs of various importance.
  • The Rednecks: The Aintrys were there, cheering on their jackalope. Clarice had the duppy in reserve.
  • The Collectors: Brooklyn and London appeared to be G-Nome’s manager, agent, and coach.
  • The Gentleman: Thurgood Marshall III stood heavily on a cane, watching the fight with detached interest.
  • The Scoobies: Fred Bundy and Sonny Falco had clearly (and foolishly) bet against G-Nome. Scooby the Black Shuck’s haunches raised as Scott entered the arena.
  • The Washed-Up Fed: Mr. Duke had the rumpled suit of an ex-cop or federal agent mixed with the expensive watch and rings of someone who enjoyed corruption. It wasn’t clear if he was event security, had his own critter in the fights, or both.
  • The Newcomers: Big Tiny and Little Tiny stood on the outskirts, unsure how involved they really wanted to get. Big Tiny held a tightly-woven bamboo cage in both hands.
  • Poppa Capp sat on a tall chair, resplendent in top hat and shabby ringmaster’s coat. Voodoo fetishes (presumably) dangled off him, while Brown Jenkins perched on his shoulder, whispering into his ear.
G-Nome pummeled the jackalope mercilessly and managed to break the poor animal’s neck. Brookyn and London were pleased but reserved, while Clarice berated Eustace for his poor choice in combat-effective cryptids. Then I asked what everyone was doing, and the group came up with a bunch of ideas (some of which were compel-worthy).

Fred recognized Bill from Kansas City. Bill had shot Fred’s girlfriend once she was infected by a Red Court vampire, and Fred, inexperienced and over his head, didn’t have the balls to seek vengeance. Now he fancied himself a badass monster hunter, and he called Bill out. Fred wanted a mano y mano fight to the death in the ritual circle, but he wasn’t going to get it. Bill’s Menace roll was off the charts, and Fred immediately backed off. The red rage changed to scarlet shame, and he stormed out of the chicken house.

“Come on, Sonny!!!” he screamed.
“Man, we kinda need the money,” Sonny complained. Scooby nodded. Fred left, but Sonny and Scooby dithered long enough to still be inside when things went to hell.

At the same time, Brown Jenkins scurried up Clay’s back and whisperered in his ear (I decreed that Brown Jenkins can speak any language, but you can only understand him if he’s whispering in your ear, because it’s fucking creepy). He had seen Clay fight a Gruff in Hades, and he wanted Clay to fight. Right here. But Clay wasn’t about to agree to the horrific rat-thing’s request, at least not in the way it expected.

Outside, Ajaz and Carter snuck around to the barn. Ajaz still had the keys, and the two hunters peered down into the dank cellar under the shattered trapdoor. Carter lit a glowstick and they went down. In the sickly glow from the chemlight, Carter and Ajaz saw a gore-filled underground chamber writhing with countless tiny Jenkins-spawn. Their keening was part infant wail and part angry rodent screech. The swarm* skittered for the new meat on tiny legs.

*I had worked out swarm rules for this session, since a number of the creatures were only really a threat in great numbers. The Baby Jenkinses were the only thing I got to use those rules for.

No, I’m Chaos, He’s Mayhem. We’re a Double Act
My memory of the ensuing combat’s timeline is pretty spotty. A lot of stuff happened and it was really late.

In the barn, Ajaz and Carter were frantically backpedaling for the ladder out of the cellar. Carter threw one of Scott’s holy seltzer bombs at the swarm to great effect - blue fire coursed over the cursed creatures, applying the condition “Dispersed” to the swarm. Ajaz brandished his flaming chain whip, keeping the things at bay long enough for the two hunters to get out of the chamber. The screaming, dying Baby Jenkinses alerted one of the guards, who trotted over and fired some 12 gauge slugs through the barn door.

Bill shot Poppa Capp in the face, but a compel on “Grab Bag of Ammo” resulted in simply rock salt, not slugs or buckshot. Still, the self-styled voodoo ringmaster toppled out of his chair onto the floor. Thurgood Marshall and Mr. Duke both went for Capp, knowing he had been handling the money. They saw each other and drew weapons - Duke yanked a Sig from a holster (since I forgot to take the PCs’ weapons, I made everyone else armed too) while Thurgood raised his cane, pulled the hidden trigger, and click! He rolled a -4 and his hidden cane-gun failed to fire. Not to be outdone in the incompetence department, Duke completely missed as well.

The gunshots from inside the fight club drew the second guard’s attention, but Fred was already outside. He dropped that guard with a collapsible baton and ransacked the pickup, coming up with a deer gun in each hand (there were more appropriate weapons; this was a compel on “Has No Idea What He’s Doing”). Fred hit nothing, and got a back full of cactus cat spines for his trouble. The little cryptid had zeroed in on the guards’ beer and turned out to be quite territorial.

The second guard died when he went to check out the damage he did to the barn’s occupants (which was none, actually). Ajaz sent his flaming whip through the barn door, the guard’s guts, and the ritual components on the shelf. Now the barn was on fire, thanks to flaming whip + motor oil. Carter took the guard’s Ithaca Roadblocker and snuck into the tall grass. Ajaz got to his bike and prepared to go Ghost Rider on everyone.

Back inside the chicken house? Chaos. Scott threw one of his holy seltzer bombs - the spraying water caught Scooby across his flank and burned the Black Shuck like acid. Scott wasn’t particulary fond of Scooby. He might have been a cute reference to a lovable cartoon but quite honestly, anything burned by holy water is not something you want to tolerate. Clarice sicced her chupacabra on the unholy dog, preventing Scott from immediate reprisal. It wasn’t teamwork, it was just how things turned out. In fact, Scott proved he had no love for the Aintrys either when he pistol-whipped Eustace to the floor when the greasy-haired redneck ran for the exit.

Poppa Capp got unsteadily to his feet and grabbed up a garden hose, then sprayed both Tinys and their bamboo box. The two Japanese men stared in horror as the contents - a gremlin - reacted poorly to being doused in water. Big Tiny dropped the cage and they both ran for the exit.

Scott pistol whipped both of them too.

Clay created an advantage to get Brown Jenkins in a grapple, then proceeded to systematically mangle the horrid creature. Jenkins broke free when John Boy tackled Clay, but it had already taken nearly all its consequences by then. Clay got in one last swipe with his trinitite knife, disemboweling the creature, then he and John Boy crashed through the chicken house wall out into daylight. Clay got the upper hand, bounced the largest Aintry’s skull off a trailer hitch, and that was that.

Bill cut the Chupacabra vs. Black Shuck (coming to SyFy next saturday!) short with a clean headshot on the goatsucker. Left uncontrolled, Scooby might have gone for Scott next, but it was bound to Sonny, and the stoner-turned-hunter was already running for the hole Clay and John Boy made. The remaining Scoobies ran for their van.

On the other side of the chicken house, Thurgood Marshall III and Duke continued shooting at each other. This time, Thurgood rolled a +4 and plowed a centerfire round right through Duke’s chest. The washed-up fed collapsed, but had enough life left in him to zap his killer with a lightning worm (from the Fate Toolkit) in a bottle. Thurgood fried (Weapon:7 attacks will do that) and dropped lifeless as Duke bled out next to him.

Brooklyn retrieved G-Nome while London went for the pair’s other fighting critter, a Zuni fetish doll. What they didn’t know, however, was that Brown Jenkins had passed the homicidal doll a knife before the fights started and it slashed London’s wrist wide open. She dropped the cage, the doll broke free, jungle drums played in the background. Brooklyn couldn’t save London and so she and G-Nome ran for the Challenger outside. The Zuni doll ran for another cage. This one was covered with a thick cloth, but whatever was inside it was giggling and shouting “Put me in, coach!”
  • Carter’s player: “Awww man. Is it Chucky?”
  • Me: “Hell yes it is. Two dolls possessed by homicidal spirits? Batman Team Up Time!”
Problem was, Bill was waiting for something to shoot. Chucky ate a load of 00 buck (enough to appear dead, at least). The Zuni doll ran for the tall grass outside. Bill let him go and started shooting anything in cages that wasn’t simply a hapless animal. Stirge? Bang. Headcrab? Bang. Wumpus cat? Bill held his fire. It was just a cougar with a funky tail.

Poppa Capp escaped out into the yard while the gremlin, now many gremlins and bursting through the cage as it multiplied, wriggled their way towards the garden hose. They would have been my second opportunity to use my swarm rules, but unfortunately Ajaz rode his motorcycle through the door, showering sunlight across the gremlins. They burst into flame while the nephilite brandished his firey chain, continuing his swath of destruction through to the other side of the chicken house.

On a side note, my original plan to cut the massive number of NPCs down to size and focus the battle against one swarm was all tied up with the Cottingley Fairy. The little tinker-hell thing was nowhere near a threat on its own, but the plan was for it to zap back to the Nevernever, then come back with a few hundred of its friends and act like the cloud of carnivorous airborne piranha they were. It would have been a little joke - the tiny fairy turning out to be the most lethal thing on the farm - but Ajaz’s player correctly pointed out, however, that the protective circle they put up would block crossing over to the spirit world. Instead, the fairy made a beeline for anywhere but the chicken house. It probably hit the circle barrier like a bug on a windshield.

No Man, G-Nome Got It Worse Than Anybody
Speaking of protective barriers, the group wondered if it’d work on Scooby too, since Sonny was peeling out of the farm and driving like a maniac down the dirt road. He made his Notice check against Carter’s earlier Stealth roll of 3, though, and the van skidded to a stop. Fred got out and started digging up the twine, looking to break the spell so they could escape with their dog intact. They hadn’t gotten the circle cracked before Brooklyn drove past them doing at least fifty on the gravel road. Her Challenger screamed over the circle and kept going. G-Nome, however, was stopped by the circle. The car’s rear window turned red, then the car skidded to a dusty halt, then Brooklyn, shaking and covered in gnome gristle, got out and vomited.

Poppa Capp made it to his U-Haul just in time to see that Carter had been waiting for him. The 10-gauge Roadblocker thundered and the U-Haul was the second vehicle to get a crimson paint job. Carter rolled the messy, messy corpse for any valuables.

It was mostly cleanup after that. Bill finished off the remaining hostile caged cryptids and then the gang hunted down that friggin’ Zuni doll with a riding lawnmower. Any attempts to stick around and properly loot the area were cut short with compels. Now that Brown Jenkins and Poppa Capp were dead, the police found the chicken farm. Amidst the red and blue lights and the orange glow from the dying fires, a tiny rat with the face of a child scrambled up into the open door of a squad car…

I’ve got very few complaints. Everything that caught me off guard was based around my expectations; how my players would react to the fights, the creatures I thought would be threats, the speedy escalation to violence, etc. The entire session was pretty much a study in barely-controlled chaos, and the group said they all liked it, so there you go. The session was really a present for Bill’s player. He loves cryptids and weird critters, and although I had a big list of beasties, most of them just weren’t powerful enough to threaten an entire group until I thought of the fight club idea. It was a session about conflict and discovery - conflict, for obvious reasons, and discovery, to see what kind of thing I would unleash next.

It was also Ajaz’s player’s first time gaming with us. He’d played two games of Hackmaster over Hangouts, and he got a weekend of Fate, Star Wars d6, and Savage Worlds with us. He hit the ground running and fit right in. I have another coworker who might be able to come next session, in which case maybe I’ll be able to speak at length on running Fate for larger groups. :)

For Next Time
We didn’t get into the specifics of what little they DID find, but I figure if the group wants to chain something directly from this session, they could decide to go deal with Scooby once and for all. I could add on to that and even have the Scoobies ask the PCs for help with an actual monster. Or, they could track down where some wannabe like Poppa Capp even got a Brown Jenkins. He must have learned what he learned from someone… or something.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-09-26 11:26:32
Session 14 - Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Who was there? Scott, Carter, Clay, Bill, and Ajaz.
Reward: +1 skill point (max is still +4, must justify advance with relevant aspect).

Leonard State Hospital, Kansas
Raymond McKee opened his eyes. The thing wearing his face was still there.

“I’m still here, Ray,” the thing said. “The time for that is past. You can’t just wish me away anymore.”

McKee stared, his pupils dilated from scrunching up his eyes, from the meds, from the fear. “But look at what you’ve done! You’re insane!”

“Insane? Look at where we are, Ray!” the thing replied. “And you mean look at what we’ve done. Just think about all the good work still to come.”

“No,” Ray managed. “I won’t let you. I’ll stop you.”

The thing wearing his face was still smiling - Ray hadn’t seen his own smile for a while now. “You can try, but it won’t work. Not with the meds they’ve got you on.”

“I can stop you,” McKee answered. Steel was in his eyes now, and Ray knew he had hit upon the answer by the flash of panic in the thing’s face.

“Now hold on, Ray, uh, um, think of… think of all you have to live for!” the thing tried. “Don’t do anything we’ll both regret-”

Ray was up off his bed in an instant. He had the thing against the wall, surprised at how easy it was. He slammed his elbow into the thing’s face - his face. He dipped his hand into its pocket and came out with the boxcutter. The blade slid up his arm easily. Ray fell back, shocked at the spray, the red, the pain.

“No!!!” The thing fell to its knees in time with McKee’s slump. It reached for Ray, but it was too late. It stared until Ray stopped breathing. Then it got up, picked up the crimson boxcutter, and turned away.

“Sucker,” it said.

48 hours earlier, the Hacienda Courts Motel, outside Stillwater, OK - The gang had put some distance between themselves and Louisiana since the incident with the cryptids, and were finishing up a nutritious brunch of beer, beef jerky, BBQ, and gas station sushi when the phrase “vampire-like slayings” from the background television caught their attention.

“...The three murders happened last night at Leonard State Hospital, the largest mental health facility here in Kansas,” the reporter carried on. What she said about bodies drained of blood would have been enough to get the hunters out of their motel room, but then Carter saw someone in the background of the cameraman’s field of view, someone who put Leonard State at the top of their to-do list. Tannhauser was one of Pantagruel’s henchmen, the only other denarian the Crowley-Lampkin CEO had under his thumb, and there he was, accidentally photobombing a newscast while wearing a rumpled detective’s coat with a shiny fake badge.

Welcome Home
The four-hour drive to Kansas passed all to quickly for Scott and Clay. See, Leonard State wasn’t just any asylum - they had been patients there, until they’d tossed a White Court orderly out of a third-story window and escaped. Speculation was rampant as to what could have killed the inmates the previous night, but the group quickly decided to prioritize Tannhauser. No, not just prioritize him, they decided they would capture him. He might know what was behind the killings, but beyond that, he was in tight with their nemesis, the denarian Pantagruel. All this cross-country driving, chasing down outdated intel that Black Court vampire sold them in exchange for his miserable char-broiled life (at the end of session 11)? It had gotten them no closer to Pantagruel. It was time they went out and got some fresh information.

Leonard State was a media circus (aspect!) and the site of an active investigation (also an aspect!). The campus was swarming with news vans and cops. The good news was that it was a huge campus, containing a correctional facility, a juvenile facility, a voluntary psychiatric hospital, and two buildings housing Leonard’s sexual predator treatment program, in addition to all the administrative buildings and housing needed to run the place (“Largest Asylum in Kansas” and “We Have All Kinds Here”, also aspects!). The gang parked their bikes on the outskirts and figured they should split up to case the joint.

Carter and Ajaz, disguised as feds, recruited April McBeal, a local news anchor, to hunt down Tannhauser, ironically claiming that he was impersonating a federal agent. Meanwhile, Bill downed a mixture of powdered Viagra, a vampire knucklebone, and NyQuil, set a dreamcatcher up on his handlebars, and laid down next to his bike for a nap. When he awoke, the ritual would fire and Bill would be able to see supernatural influences.

Scott and Clay marveled at Bill’s investigative acumen (“I think he just wants to take a nap”), then did some literal digging for info about the hospital since they’d been involuntary guests there. They discovered the aspect “Underfunded and Understaffed”, but most importantly they learned that the warden had been murdered just hours before! He probably died while they were driving north to Kansas. It explained the ridiculous level of active police officers and news cameras. A little bit of crackerjack-box badge work and some practiced Menace rolls found a talkative orderly on a smoke break who explained the warden wasn’t drained of blood like the first three vics. Nope, Warden Hallflower was skinned, then that skin was hung up in his closet, complete with a zipper sewn into the back. Okay, probably not a vampire then.

Bill woke up with a raging old man boner (we are the classiest gamers), a thick NyQuil fog, and the temporary ability to see lines and clouds of supernatural currents. He picked out Tannhauser’s footprints right away - the human shoes were completely enveloped by huge primate footprints, and Bill guessed right away that Tannhauser was carting the fallen angel Magog around in his head. Bill also discerned clouds and trails of some other entity’s travel about the campus. Tannhauser was definitely not the only beastie walking around here.

Just then, April McBeal (and her yellow jumpsuit) called Ajaz. “That guy you were looking for? He just went into the inpatient hospital,” she said. I immediately followed the info with a compel: “I’ll meet you there.” Potential hostage, collateral damage, and media attention all rolled into one!

Stone Cold Crazy
The gang - at this point comprised of 2 faux feds, 3 bikers, a reporter and her cameraman - headed into Leonard’s Psychiatric Services building (“More Hospital Than Prison”, “Voluntary Admittance”, “Aura of Fear”) and immediately came to a halt in front of a metal detector overseen by an orderly and one of the asylum guards.

Everyone was packing weaponry (maybe even April and her cameraman). It was at this point that Scott simply charged through the metal detector, taking a chance on the hospital’s aspect of “Underfunded and Understaffed”. Meanwhile, I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne: “Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky.” Okay, not really. I did remember my John Rogers, more specifically Crimeworld, and how it speaks about failing forward, letting one player take on more trouble to get the rest of the team through the obstacle. This was a picture perfect example of that, and it wasn’t even a heist! So Scott led the orderly and the guard away while everyone else simply walked around the metal detector and into the building, following Tannhauser’s footprints.

Scott lost the foot chase contest but completely dominated the hand-to-hand contest that followed. He was just leaving the vacant room where he’d stashed his defeated foes when the last thing he wanted to have happen happened.

“Scott? Scott! What are you doing back here, man?!” Someone recognized him.

“Uh, hey, um.. Zach!” Scott replied. We ran with that, so a Zach Gallifanakis-alike in bathrobe and slippers led a group of eight pajama-clad patients down the hallway. There were awkward hugs. Zach knew Scott would stop whoever was killing the patients, just like before when he stopped the bad dreams (Zach’s final rationalization of the White Court attacks from years before). After the session, this would become something of an accidental emotional gut punch. In the here and now, however, Scott told Zach to keep his presence a secret, which Zach totally promised to do. He and the patients cut it short then; they wanted their meds and Scott wanted to get back to the group.

Off-screen, Zach totally forgot all about keeping Scott’s secret once he got to the pharmacy. The recognition was a compel, after all. That led to Tannhauser starting to look for the hunters on the hospital security cameras. He found them standing outside a patient’s room he had stopped by earlier - Raymond McKee.

"I’m Your Dream, Make You Real"
Tannhauser’s phantom footprints led the hunters into Ray’s room before the prints continued elsewhere down the corridor. McKee looked up as the motley entourage entered. Ray was in his mid-20s, but with sunken, haggard eyes. He tried to shove the old book he was reading under his pillow but Clay was too fast. He handed the tome to Bill, who recognized it. Bill didn’t just know the title, he recognized the actual specific copy of the book. Pantagruel had read it back when Bill was host to the denarian. This was Pantagruel’s book, and it was all about tulpas, thoughtforms brought to life from nothing more than the right kind of meditation and imagination.

Normally the gang doesn’t hold back with the truth about monsters, but this time Clay urged them to tread carefully. He figured that the tulpa had killed those 3 patients and the warden, and that if Ray believed in the tulpa, they could maybe get him to disbelieve in it. So Bill and Clay went at Ray with their best MiB-style rationales, while Carter and Ajaz lent an air of legitimacy via their stolen badges. They got Ray doubting himself (easy enough to do in a psych ward), then got the book from him. Clay hit the nail on the head one more time as he realized the tulpa’s murders were a bizarre form of self-preservation: the media circus and the sensational murders, coupled with the lack of rational thought you get at a mental hospital would all fuel the tulpa’s existence beyond Ray’s own belief. How do you kill something that exists because you believe in it? The simple fact that the gang believed in the tulpa enough to try to kill it was enough for it to survive their attempts.

Scott rejoined the group then, walking fast and furtively down the hallway. The gang was (mostly) glad he hadn’t been put back in a padded cell.

Then Tannhauser turned the corner, putting a stop to the chicken-egg problem posed by the tulpa. Scott’s compels had come home to roost, and as Tannhauser’s form ripped and stretched into the horned demon ape Magog, the players realized the tulpa was about to get a whole lot more belief. April McBeal pointed her slack-jawed cameraman at the denarian and shouted, “Are you getting that?!”

Here’s the stats I used for Magog/Tannhauser. The gang had learned well the lessons that Roland Tembo’s ghost had taught them (in session 12); everyone opened with a barrage of Create Advantage actions, either to aid their impending defense or to pass to the PCs brave enough or dumb enough to take on the evil monkey. Scott was feeling a bit of both, but Magog defended with style and casually knocked the holy ex-con to the floor. He followed up with a massive attack that left Scott “Pummeled” and with half the gang’s accumulated free invocations burned already just to get Magog’s strike down to a Moderate consequence.

They hit back hard, but they didn’t want any gunfire because that would draw the police down on them. Bill barred the hallway doors just in case any hospital staff wandered towards the fight, then started chalking a circle around the melee. Clay just charged the damn dirty ape, trying to keep him off balance so Scott could get back in the battle and use his Holy Touch. Ajaz wrapped Magog with his whip, refusing a compel to set his whip - and the building - on fire. Carter tried some deceit; he drew his (perfectly normal, albeit suppressed) pistol and shouted “I’ve got something just for you!”, trying to trick Magog into thinking the thing was loaded with holy relic bullets or something.

It all worked out pretty well. They were keeping Magog to only a boost here or there, until he used one of his stunts to pull down the ceiling on them, then used two free invocations to grab Ajaz and slam him into the ceiling and floor, dislocating his shoulder. It was a good plan, but Ajaz was saved by a -3 on Magog’s dice, only taking 5 stress for his troubles. It could have been a lot worse.

And it got worse - for Magog. Scott reached up and blessed the broken water pipes, and suddenly Magog was howling in pain under a torrent of surprise holy water. They had used a similar trick in Kansas City on the Red Court, and I ruled it the same way here. Any attack would negate Magog’s supernatural defenses now, so Carter stopped threatening his former coworker and shot him in the head. It didn’t kill Magog, because most of the time you’d need more than a 9mm to stop even a mundane gorilla, but it put the fear of God and Glock into the demon. Clay added injury to insult with an uppercut that left a demonic canine tooth stuck in the drop ceiling.

Even a fallen angel can make mistakes. Magog ran, bursting through Bill’s circle with that charging bowshock thing of his, then tearing through the hospital wall out into twilight. So much for keeping the police out of it.

Some Kind of Monster
The conflict turned into a chase as Magog rampaged through another wing of the hospital, trying to block the hunters’ pursuit with rubble. Clay pounded after the denarian, while everyone else got to their bikes. Bill climbed on Carter’s - he was done with this “not shooting people” nonsense and he wanted a stable firing platform.

Magog left patients, staff, news crews, and police staring in his wake. The gang roared after the denarian and the cops sprang into action a few desperate moments later. Leonard State Hospital was surrounded by miles upon miles of flat farmland broken up by right-angle roads as straight and even as graph paper. There was no place for him to hide out there, so he went for the maximum security SSP building. At the very least he could buy some time to recover by unleashing violent lunatics on the crowd and seeking asylum (ahem) within. He powered through the police barricades, shrugging off incoming fire and tossing squad cars and their occupants aside like a living avatar of Michael Bayesian mayhem.

It was the best plan the deranged monkey could manage, and he nearly got away with it, besting half the group early on in the contest and pulling a third victory against everyone else but Scott just as he reached the outer wall to the prison loading dock. Scott had one chance, and he burned fate points to put his “Hard to Start, Hard to Stop” bike down hard on the deck, powersliding it into Magog’s legs and sending the beast to the asphalt. Scott beat the demon in a Speed roll next, grabbed the opportunity, and punched the thing right in its ugly face. Magog pummeled the parking lot into craters but Scott was (just barely, thanks to a free tag on Magog’s “Holy Crap It’s a Concussion”) too fast for the ape. Then Bill and Carter rounded the retaining wall and Bill blew out Magog’s knee with a well-aimed pistol shot. Magog was Taken Out, and Clay, Scott, and Ajaz beat the beast until he shifted back into a bloodied and unconscious Tannhauser.

The Frayed Ends of Sanity
Only seconds had passed, but the police would be quick to regroup and then everyone would be going to jail. Clay hijacked a Hostess truck from the loading dock while Bill and Ajaz loaded Tannhauser into the back. Scott and Carter led the way on their bikes, and the rolling interrogation room charged forth into moonlit Kansas farmland, four squad cars right on their heels with the promise of more to come if they didn’t lose them quickly.

Carter and Scott split up, drawing off three of the police cruisers. We cut back and forth between Carter’s chase (a contest), Scott’s pursuit (also a contest), Clay’s contest against the lone remaining trooper, and the conflict between Tannhauser, Bill, and Ajaz in the back of the truck.

Scott got the upper hand early on, using his bike’s superior acceleration to simply outdistance the cruiser on the straight heartland roads. The cop car had the advantage in top speed, though, and with nowhere to go, Scott saw his lead eaten bit by bit by the cruiser’s relentless acceleration. It was neck and neck (both sides had 2 accumulated victories) until Scott saw a tractor’s lights up ahead. Scott rolled Balls, playing a deadly game of chicken. The startled farmer swerved, blocking the entire road. The trooper braked, skidded, turned, and caromed off the tractor, rolling to a wreckage-strewn halt in the cornfield.

Carter was a slightly better driver than Scott this time, and was able to simply outpace one of the police cars behind him. Then Carter got some distance, shut off his headlights, and turned down a side road while the cruiser was trying (and failing) to Create an Advantage around calling in backup. It was a bad time to lose a roll by more than 3 points, and the cruiser sped by Carter’s hiding place.

Meanwhile, Clay was having a weird stuttering chase with his own state trooper. With no hope of outrunning the cruiser, Clay tried time and again to lure the cop close enough to run him off the road. The trooper wasn’t falling for it, but in turn his backup had been drawn off by Scott and Carter. He was content simply following the Hostess truck and waiting for a helicopter and more cruisers. That’s when Clay broke the vehicular siege by slowing down again as the two vehicles drew close on a turn. Instead of gunning the diesel’s engine, Clay stopped entirely. The cruiser reacted too slowly, and stopped just short of the truck. Clay grinned and backed right into the police car before the trooper could move. The Hostess truck happily rumbled off, trailing bits of cruiser off its rusty black rear bumper.

Inside the truck, Ajaz had restrained Tannhauser and Bill had covered the interior with wards. The denarian came around and of course immediately tried to break free of his physical and metaphysical bonds. Bill had been host to Pantagruel once; his Lore was more than capable of containing Tannhauser. It was quickly apparent that Tannhauser’s best defense skill was Balls when Ajaz opened with your standard “choke the shit out ‘em with a chain” Menace attempt. His Princess Leia antics had little effect on the denarian; Tannhauser figured they wanted something from him, else they’d have chopped him up and been done with it. His own Menace rolls left something to be desired as well. A busted knee, head wound, and multiple lacerations and contusions doesn’t make for an intimidating figure, especially when you’re talking to the people who gave you those wounds.

Clay suggested (yelling from the cab) that they try targeting his Wits - they’d have to be lower. And they were, although only by a single point. The Balls was more Magog than Tannhauser, while the Wits was more Tannhauser than Magog, but it was still better than trying to torture or intimidate their way to victory, especially since everyone was more or less out of fate points.

Bill got the first hooks into Tannhauser by getting him to reconsider his loyalty to Pantagruel. Magog and Tannhauser would forever be simple stooges to Pantagruel’s ambition, ready to be tossed aside as soon as he got whatever he wanted from them. That dealt the first consequence, “Moment of Indecision”, to Tannhauser, which Ajaz kind of squandered by falling back into intimidation. I knew he was trying to target Wits, but everything Ajaz said just came out more appropriate for a Menace roll, and Tannhauser’s superior resistance in that arena cost Bill and Ajaz some good arguments shut down by beefy defenses. Still, they were averaging a boost every exchange to invoke for free, and eventually Bill widened Tannhauser’s mental cracks to where the Crowley-Lampkin employee fixated on screwing over Pantagruel before he met his fate. He knew he couldn’t realistically get Bill and Ajaz, not in his condition (although he tried breaking through the wards a few more times and came close), and he had no illusions about living through the Hostess truck road trip, but Tannhauser could still take Pantagruel down with him. As Carter and Scott rejoined their comrades at a busy gas station down the road, Tannhauser began to talk. Security codes for Crowley-Lampkin’s Chicago office, the company’s disposition of secretive treasure hunters, its private security contractors, everything the gang could use to take down Pantagruel and keep him down for a long time.

Crash Course in Brain Surgery
The final question was laid bare: What should they do with Tannhauser? He was a bastard even as a human and they didn’t want to leave him with his coin. Bill had done enough; he left the truck and the decision in his friends’ hands. It came down to Clay in favor of killing the host with the trinitite knife to retrieve the coin, and Scott, whose player I think wanted to kill Tannhauser but who accepted a compel on “Driven by Redemption”. Everyone deserves a second (or third) chance, even a nasty fucker like Tannhauser. Scott laid his holy touch upon the denarian. The demonic screams rocked the truck but Tannhauser relented, his denarius rolling gently to a stop next to a landslide of toppled Twinkies.

Nobody touched the coin, because Clay and Scott each had a fate point left to refuse the inevitable compel. That was an excellent bit of tactics. They scooped it up safely and we left the gang planning their biggest hunt yet: Crowley-Lampkin’s home offices in Chicago!

Fade to Black
What about the tulpa? Unfortunately, the session’s events resulted in too many people seeing too much weird shit with too many chances for it to be attributed to the tulpa. The malevolent thoughtform would kill three more people in increasingly impossible ways (removing hands and feet and hiding them in different locked rooms, or filling the victim with stillborn eight-eyed ectoplasmic crows), culminating in Ray McKee’s apparent suicide. With Ray gone, the tulpa’s power was reduced, but it had enough momentum from the rumors circulating the institution that it continued to exist beyond its creator. The gang surmised that they could potentially kill it once enough time had passed and everyone believed it was just a ghost. At that point, it would literally be a ghost, and the PCs could pass the case onto someone else to handle, lying about the entity’s true origins lest the knowledge it was a rogue tulpa taint the attempts to destroy it. So, not a complete victory, but early on in the session the players were clear about making Tannhauser their priority, and they definitely held to that.

The tulpa itself was a trap. Pantagruel simply had one of his employees read his old book. Poor Ray managed to actually make a tulpa, so of course he’s seeing things. Oh no! He needs help! So Pantagruel sticks him in the same asylum Scott and Clay had stayed in, the tulpa’s malevolent aspects take hold, and you have murders. Tannhauser’s there to scoop up the PCs when they inevitably show up. It’s a bit Cobra Commander in its complexity, I admit, and ultimately that whole rationale didn’t matter so I’m glad I didn’t have to hang more of the plot off of it.

We all felt Tannhauser/Magog was plenty tough. Good defensive skills all around, tough even with his vulnerability in play, and able to dish out pretty heinous damage. What Tannhauser should have done was call the real cops and tried to get the PCs arrested. But he’s a thug, and his denarian form is even more of a thug, so he just waded in. The chase contests were suitably light - I still am tinkering with some ideas for more involved chases, but for what the Magog chase and subsequent police chase were supposed to be, both in narrative importance as well as game time, the normal contest rules were fine.

The players were smart, exposing only those characters who had fate points left to the denarius. Once they had it safely away, they couldn’t agree on whether to keep it with them (so they knew where it was and thus would be dead before someone got to it), bury it ala Harry Dresden, or sink it off the Florida coast or something. I think I might be able to force them to keep it with them by making Tannhauser’s information very time-sensitive. Like, they’ve got to hit Chicago right now or Pantagruel’s going to figure out that his tulpa trap went south. He probably will arrive at that conclusion anyway because you have to assume he’d be checking in with his goons, but if the gang hits him fast maybe the codes they got from Tannhauser would still work. Or they could stop and plan and prepare and deal with a harder nut to crack. I think it’s an interesting choice.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-05-21 19:46:33
Session 15 - The Windy City (Season Finale)
Who was there? Scott, Carter, Clay, Ajaz, and Rick.
Reward: Phat Lewt.

Last time, the gang captured Magog’s denarius and acquired up-to-date intel on their nemesis, the denarian Pantagruel, and the corporate offices of Crowley-Lampkin he was currently using as his base of operations. It was time to put down the demon and rip off his vault full of magical artifacts. The only snag was that the gang had Magog’s denarius in hand. I set up this session to open with a hard choice - do they take the time to properly secure the denarius but potentially lose their intelligence advantage against the vault’s defenses, or do they go straight to Chicago but carry the cursed coin with them?

As it turns out, Bill Stockburn’s player canceled at the last minute. It was disappointing, as Bill used to be host to Pantagruel and I really wanted him there to face down his nemesis, but you play the hand you’re dealt. I decided that the group entrusted the denarius’ removal to Bill, allowing them to hit Crowley-Lampkin immediately without the temptation of a fallen angel hovering over them.

The All or Nothing Box
The gang planned the heist / assassination in their usual spot - a threadbare room at the Hacienda Courts motel chain outside Chicago. They were calling all their contacts, cashing in all their favors, and holding nothing back. Going in with nothing less than their full resources would be foolhardy.

Luckily, we had a new player! Rick Eagle was a roadie for a metal band that was slaughtered by a demon. As the most likely suspect, Rick Eagle (SCREECH!) traded his old life for vengeance and righteous monster-slaying mayhem, teaming up with Scott and Clay to take down his band’s killer. Rick didn’t bring a lot of occult experience to the gang (“Has the Will But Not the Skill”), but as a roadie, he was an expert pyrotechnician and all around handyman.

Someone knocked at the door. Jimmy Pale Wolf stood there, six-packs in both hands. This was my replacement for our normal round of Create Advantage rolls - every player character we ever had or any suitable NPC contact on friendly terms could be called in to help on the job. A few of the help would be compels due to reliability issues, and all of them would require a cut of the take. That said, however, each contact or favor called in could cover parts of the heist that would be time-consuming or boring to have a PC handle.

Little by little, the motel room started to get pretty crowded:
  • Jimmy Pale Wolf, “Shaman Vigilante”. Jimmy’s player was an intermittent attendee but our schedules were such that he only ever played Jimmy once, back in the second session.
  • Kathryn Bryant, “Hot Slice of P.I.”. Kathryn’s player was at college, but Kathryn had been a valuable member of the gang, and more recently, possessed Bonney’s Bane, a magic bullet that made her immune to gunfire.
  • Joseph “Josey” Wales, “High Plains Drifter”. Carter’s player, Scott’s player, and I visited our friend in Austin, and I ran a session for those three guys. Josey was our Austinite friend’s character, a shooter somewhere between Michael Biehn in Tombstone and Norman Reedus in the Walking Dead.
  • Lucy Collins showed up next, and the “Goth Witch Antichrist” was the first helper for whom I offered compels. This wasn’t because of Lucy herself - Lucy was more or less a team player, in the same way Wolverine is a team player when he’s with the X-Men. No, the compel was for Bad Car, the evil black Charger Lucy half-stole, half-created from their run-in with some backwoods hillbilly orks.

Next up were a few NPC contacts:
  • Carter tracked down Warfield and got in touch with the former Crowley-Lampkin thug. The gang helped Warfield escape from a corrupt SWAT team back in Vegas in return for him cluing them in on Houdini’s Key, which they swiped from under Pantagruel’s nose in Austin. Warfield was down with giving his former employers a black eye.
  • Finally, Clay called up the Scooby Gang, a group of junior monster hunters who had encountered the PCs in Kansas City and again in Louisiana - Fred Bundy, Sonny Falco, and their pet Black Shuck. This was another opportunity for compels, as Fred and Sonny were only borderline competent, but they did have a van. Vans are great for carrying lots of stuff, such as the contents of magical vaults.

Next, we went over what the PCs actually knew about Crowley-Lampkin’s security, the vault contents, and Pantagruel. I had written up the loot on 3x5 index cards and placed them picture-side-up in front of everyone. Carter took point on the Overcome roll, aided by a few created advantages or boosts. They decided to use Jimmy Pale Wolf’s’ occult knowledge here as well, and were able to identify roughly a third to half of the items. The gang figured they wouldn’t be able to bring all of the artifacts with them. There was a rowboat and a guillotine, for example. Furthermore, they didn’t want some of the items left in anyone’s hands. The plastic candy bowl, for example, or the Shroud of Lazarus. Rick Eagle could handle demolitions work, claiming it was easier than pyrotechnics. When you did pyro for rock shows, you didn’t want to actually blow anything up.

I Don’t Think This is a Brains Kind of Operation
The players entered their planning stage. We were all pretty gun-shy when it came to planning in RPGs after some real time-wasters, so the group was fairly efficient at tossing out overcomplicated but safe plans, focusing on plans that were simple, loud, and dumb.

They decided to split the party.

Kathryn and Warfield would handle Crowley-Lampkin’s lobby and any initial security response from inside the building, then Warfield would move outside to assist Lucy and Bad Car with the frightfully entertaining but dangerous task of holding off the inevitable police response. Clay, Scott, and Ajaz would head up the executive elevator, lock it down, and try to kill Pantagruel in his office. Josey would be in position on a neighboring building with a .50 caliber rifle, covering the windows in case Pantagruel attempted to simply break through the glass and fly away. As a secondary role, Josey would keep police helicopters out of the area.

That left Carter and Rick Eagle to hit the 13th floor where the vault was. Because Crowley-Lampkin had a team on site to research the growing number of artifacts, the vault was open during daytime hours. A few human guards, a very sophisticated cloud-based video surveillance system, and a few magical traps protected the treasure. Stealth wasn’t really on the table, so Rick decided he could bring a few barrels of explosives up with them to destroy any magical items they couldn’t take with them or decided were a threat.

Finally, the Scooby Gang would be waiting in their van, ready to transport the loot to a safe location. The PCs didn’t really trust them with anything else, and there would be gang members in the van during the escape, to make sure Fred and Sonny didn’t doublecross them.

A Plan is Just a List of Things That Don’t Happen
The plan relied on speed and violence, which are two areas the gang excelled at. Additionally, I didn’t want to compel too much at this point, because it was honestly a pretty good plan, and took the group’s weaknesses into account as much as their strengths. Besides, I like heists, and why would I want to stomp all over this one right as it started? So the gang took the lobby and split up like clockwork. There was no attempt at stealth, so Pantagruel and his top henchmen were immediately alerted. The denarian immediately started gathering magical power (Creating Advantages for the inevitable throwdown or potential escape) and started packing a large duffel with books and a laptop and some other files. The PCs hadn’t even made it to his floor yet and Pantagruel, thanks to his “Starscream Syndrome” aspect, already had one foot out the door.

When the elevator door opened onto Pantagruel’s library and office floor, two men bull-rushed their way into the car! Mr. Rosdower and Mr. Troy were Pantagruel’s youngest but most combat-capable henchmen, and they turned the elevator car into a mess of elbows and headbutts. Unfortunately, they got the elevator car carrying Clayton Haycock James, and Clayton Haycock James wasn’t fazed by elbows. Scott locked down the elevator once Clay got the two assailants out into the library floor. It was a close match until Clay and Ajaz managed to land some consequences, then the free invocations turned the tables against Rosdower and Troy. The PCs left the henchmen unconscious and battered but breathing and went to corner Pantagruel.

Upstairs, Carter and Rick Eagle opened their elevator doors onto a pair of security guards who clearly weren’t expecting two bikers hiding behind a hand-cart full of explosives. The presence of the pyrotechnics made the guards hesitate long enough for Rick and Carter to bum rush them and, despite some surprisingly good rolls on the unnamed minions’ part, knock them the hell out. The thief and the roadie figured the vault itself would have protection as well, so Carter climbed up into the ventilation shafts while Rick rolled the explosives down the corridor towards the vault. As part of his reaction to heavily-armed monster hunters blowing through his corporate headquarters, Pantagruel sat his most experienced henchman on the vault. Mr. Ransom should have been accompanied by Mr. Bale, but since the PCs had locked down both elevators, Bale was relegated to using the stairs and wouldn’t arrive for a while. That left Ransom on his own, who noticed Carter sneaking through the vents. A brief but furious firefight ensued, with Carter falling out of the ceiling and Rick once again using explosives as cover, but I compelled everyone to run out of ammo. The gunfight turned into a fistfight, which turned into an odd sort of standoff with everyone kind of sitting down, exhausted, and thinking real hard about the life choices they had made that got them into this whole mess. Rick Eagle broke up the quasi-professional moment of understanding between Carter and Ransom by knocking Ransom out. Carter and Rick high-fived and Carter got to work cracking the vault door.

D.A.R.E. To Keep Kids Off Denarii
One level below the fracas at the vault, Clay, Scott, and Ajaz were prowling through Pantagruel/Alex Abel’s library. Step one: force Pantagruel to take his denarian form by setting off the fire suppression system. They had thought ahead and were all wearing firefighter-style SCBA masks, because any fire suppression system meant to work in a library would probably work by smothering the oxygen, not spraying water everywhere, and a lack of oxygen would more than likely flush the demon out.

Sure enough, the hunters heard Josey Wales’ radio chatter confirming Pantagruel about to burst through his office windows and escape. Several .50 caliber rifle rounds tore through the library level a moment later, narrowly missing our heroes but forcing Pantagruel back inside and right into their path. The denarian unloaded a terrifying lightning blast powered by his stored advantages, dealing Severe consequences to Scott and Ajaz but only a Mild to Clay - between dumb luck, some fate points, and some well-chosen stunts, Clay fought through the sizzling energy and buried a trinitite shiv in Pantagruel’s belly. After his alpha strike, the demonic librarian was on the ropes against the party’s three close combat experts. They traded hits but Pantagruel was taking on consequences like the Titantic took on water. Ajaz was a “Relentless Nephilite”, Scott was a “Mean Motherfucking Servant of God”, and Clay “Fights Like an Engine”. There was no way they would let Pantagruel live, but… Scott was also “Driven By Redemption”. He might let Alex Abel go, if the CEO gave up Pantagruel’s coin.

Pantagruel’s feathers sloughed off and he shifted back into a battered and limping human. The denarius bounced along the floor and rolled right at Ajaz. I miscalculated here - I knew Scott wouldn’t pick it up and Clay was too paranoid, so I figured Ajaz would be the weakest link, but I forgot what he was good at. Ajaz wasn’t bad in a fight, but he had willpower out the ass and even had a special stunt, “Defiance”, that gave him a +2 against supernatural coercion and fear. He was the perfect party member to pick up the coin. Also, he never really touched it, since he always wore fireproof gloves when handling his flaming whip. Score one for the good guys!

We essentially negotiated Alex Abel’s concession from combat. He was losing his company and his denarius, and was crossing over into the Nevernever courtesy of the one magic item they let him keep - ruby slippers. The fact that the area around Crowley-Lampkin’s vault connected with the Nevernever via an insanely dangerous ur-dungeon colloquially known as Undermountain was not lost on the players. Abel was trading certain death by monster hunter for an uncertain but very likely death on the other side, and the PCs were okay with that.

Kill Things and Take Their Stuff
Outside, Kathryn, Lucy, and Warfield were up to a three- or four-star GTA wanted level. The gang didn’t have much time before their hired help would have to bail. Scott, Clay, and Ajaz met up with Carter and Rick in the vault, and I revealed all the artifacts I had prepared for the session - including the final intrusion countermeasure. Hydra’s teeth, planted in the tasteful interior landscaping around the vault and adjacent office space, erupted out into giggling, gibbering skeleton warriors!

Why are skeletons always the most jovial of the undead? I blame Army of Darkness.

I treated the onrushing skeletal horde as a round-by-round Overcome action against an ongoing difficulty of 2. Characters could choose to attack the horde (destroying a skeleton on a success and two with success with style), defend another character (destroying 1 skeleton on a success with style but otherwise stopping harm from coming to someone else regardless), or take another action (like help Carter crack the vault, set the explosive charges, load up loot, or create advantages to help the heavy hitters take down the horde). Failure typically meant taking stress equal to the margin of failure. Mechanically, this worked really great, and I’d totally use it again for a Challenge-type situation with a little more bite to it than a simple set of three rolls, but where a conflict against mooks wouldn’t call for fully-opposed rolls. The gang also protected Mr. Ransom from the skeletons, earning the now-former henchman’s professional respect. They’d part without animosity, even if they wouldn’t be exchanging Christmas cards.

With Rick Eagle's explosives in place and the desirable artifacts packed up, the gang headed back to the elevators and down to the Scooby Gang’s van. The NPCs running police interference scattered as Josie Wales covered their escape from his rooftop, then the Texan gunslinger used a wingsuit of all things to glide to safety. The gang divided up the take in the back of the van, got back to their bikes, and scattered. They would meet back up later after the heat died down, which gave me the perfect window of opportunity to kill Carter Mews.

Get Carter
A bit of backstory for the overly dramatic previous sentence: Carter’s player had been thinking about a new character for a while, and we had talked it over together. This session was a great breakpoint to switch characters - Alex Abel and Crowley-Lampkin were primarily Carter’s nemeses and they were now going to be relegated to background threats after the thrashing they just received.

Carter split off from the gang to secure his take at one of his Chicago safe houses. He had just about finished when he heard the light scratch of slippers on concrete behind him. Alex Abel stepped out of the shadows, gun in hand and worse for wear, ruby slippers twinkling on his feet. The former CEO knew Carter’s old safe houses and made it out of the Nevernever just in time for a brief monologue and some murder.

Carter spun, his own pistol raised, and both men shot each other. As Abel lay dead beside him, Carter felt his spirit slipping away, pulled from his body by supernatural forces. Carter woke up in a noose with an angry sunset blazing behind him. He was trapped inside the painting he had stolen from Nick Van Owen’s house in session 12! The eldritch artwork acted like a phylactery, trapping the soul of the owner should that person die. Carter’s meager thanks (after all, he WAS still in a noose) was cut short as a spectral centaur flickered into unlife before the gallows. The creature’s face was covered by a luchador mask, and ribbons festooned his biceps in the style of the Ultimate Warrior. This was a compel I’d been waiting to drop ever since Carter stole the gold from some centaurs in Hades, preventing them from crossing the River Styx. He had subsequently paid off all but one during a battle with some backwoods orks. This last luchador ghost centaur had refused Carter’s payment, opting for the slow burn of vengeance instead of paradise.

His quarry was a ghost now, same as him, and trapped in a gallows to boot. Justice would be served.

Season Finale
Well, that’s pretty much it. We actually played this session 3 months ago, and the recap was compiled over several weeks as my memory got hazier. Ajaz Gurt’s currently the keeper (but not wielder) of Pantagruel’s coin. Crowley-Lampkin is in the wind, its supernatural collection destroyed or stolen, and its mundane dealings under intense federal scrutiny following the discovery of a dead CEO in a storage unit outside Chicago next to a notorious thief. Although the gang gave away a lot of the stolen items to their allies as part of their take, their collective power level’s jumped up thanks to the artifacts they decided to keep. Project BLACKBOX will be hunting the PCs more seriously now, since Crowley-Lampkin and BLACKBOX had several backdoor government contracts in place. The Denarians are still a threat as well - perhaps a greater one than ever, since the gang took out two of their number within a few days. Ajaz Gurt learned of an ancient conspiracy seeking the destruction of all nephilim - they killed his parents, and will no doubt come for him in due time. Finally, Carter’s player’s new character brings new enemies to the table as well.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-08-26 23:52:57
Session 16 - Hunters Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things
Who was there? Bill, Lucy, Clay, Ajaz, and Carter (sort of).
Reward: Snow. A slushy, slippery, road-blanketing, late March snowstorm was our reward.

I am writing this up in August. The game happened in March.

Carter Mews was dead, but his spirit lived on, trapped inside a magical painting, which was itself trapped inside Bob’s Skunk Emporium on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. Carter’s various contingency messages led his former comrades to the site, where Lucy used her evil devil magic to remotely hijack Carter’s corpse from the Chicago morgue. Problem was, two hitman golems assigned to kill Ajaz Gurt were staking out the body and rode the spell back to Colorado with Carter’s corpse. A fight ensued, and although the hunters were victorious, they learned that these new enemies were no joke.

While all that was going on, Carter’s spirit was locked inside a painting with a ghost centaur luchador. That’s a long story, but it was a revenge thing from many, many sessions ago. Carter managed to defeat the centaur with help from Macho Man Randy Savage’s spirit. Lucy zapped Carter back into his body and we wrapped it up because it was snowing.

Although the hitman golem performed admirably, I feel like we missed the real meat of the session due to the snow and the time taken in conflict scenes. The question of “should we bring Carter back to his body?” wasn’t really posed to the group. Would it have been better to free his ghost from the painting but then let it go? Was it actually Carter in there now? I know Bill’s player wanted to get into that but alas, the weather had other ideas. The ritual to do that stuff was not done lightly on Lucy’s part, and at least there’s a future hook there as she deals with the burgeoning divide between what her power wants and what she wants.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-08-26 23:57:05
Session 17 - Everybody Hates Fairies
Who was there? Tom, Rick, and Ajaz.
Reward: 1 Skill Point. All three PCs were either newer players or new characters, so it was nice to hand out a reward that would bridge the small gap between them and the established PCs.

Like session 16, I’m writing this several months later. It’s probably a good thing - that way, only the most memorable bits come through. Tom Talloman is Carter Mews’ replacement, and is a 180 degree change from Carter’s kleptomaniac, self-serving personality.

Rusty Cross, PA - The crow glanced up from its perch on the dead dog in the middle of the road as the bikers roared through the fog-shrouded hills of western Pennsylvania. They had ably dodged the police for this session (my usual Overcome roll depending on what shenanigans they got up to last session) and were headed to a dying steel town, Rusty Cross, investigating the serial disappearance of several children that had stumped local authorities. One of the disappearances had a double murder linked to it, so the guys started at the Starlite trailer park on the outskirts of town.

Jinkies, It’s a Clue!
I had come up with a vague idea about the supernatural shenanigans for this session on the drive up to gaming, but I didn’t have enough solid clues or motives to fuel a full-on investigative scene. When that happens, make the players do the work! I gave them the freebie clues - the rough description of the missing boy, Dennis Brooks, age 6, and that both his parents were dead. The guys rolled some checks and I ruled that they could tell me a truth about the scene for every success they got, with success with style counting for another clue. They rolled well enough for three clues between them:
  • Dennis’ trailer was the closest to the school bus stop. I have to admit, I wasn’t able to really work this into the story, but it turned out okay because the other two clues wove a pretty neat tale.
  • The trailer was in excellent repair, especially compared to its neighbors. The grass was a little greener, the trailer didn’t have any rust on it, the windows were clean, and so on.
  • There was a distinctive rose bush growing outside the boy’s window. This was initially a weird clue, but the supernatural mechanics of what was going on all stemmed (ahem) from this clue. The rose bush clue really blossomed (ahem) into a unique hook. It planted the seeds of… something or other. Plant puns!
After some mundane and occult investigation, the PCs determined that the missing boy’s parents were likely killed defending their child. They also found traces of blood on a particularly lush rose bush outside the kid’s window. I don’t remember the exact steps they took here, but Tom figured out somehow that the bush acted like an anchor or waypoint between the mortal realm and the Nevernever, the spirit world. The bush had an exact counterpart in the Nevernever, and so portals and abilities that allowed passage from one realm to the next could use the bush as a consistent point of reference.

At this point, Tom suspected that fairies were involved. They had something going around that stole children and had some sort of link to the Nevernever. There was the blood on the rose bush, which made Tom think there was some sort of bargain involved. The clincher came when they looked up the intervals between each disappearance - three days - and then checked the ages of the kids - 3, 6, and 9. Fairies love threes, plus it put a time limit on their investigation: the last disappearance happened 2 days ago. The gang decided to cruise by the homes of the other missing children and see if they had rose bushes too.

In Which Rick’s Shady Past Inadvertently Discovers the Next Victim
The next place the guys hit was the home of Melissa Washington (age 3), a rowhouse on Rusty Cross’ south side. Sure enough, there was a rose bush in the front yard and the home was just a little bit better, a little bit cleaner, than the other homes on the street. Nobody was home, however, and there was enough traffic that the bikers didn’t want to try their hand at B&E. This was a first, actually - when Carter had been with the group, B&E was typically their first resort.

Rick took the lead and while he didn’t find out anything else about the Washington abduction, he did stumble upon a potential fourth victim, assuming the kidnapper wasn’t stopping at just three*. Lefty the friendly neighborhood pot dealer had a 12-year old boy. They decided to stake out his place that night after checking out the home of the 9-year old, Brenda Mitchell.

*The “fourth victim” thing was a little metagamey, because the three kids, each 3 years older than the last, and taken three days apart thing? I wanted that nice and obvious. Having only 2 kids go missing isn’t enough of a signal that something weird’s going on. Plus, I wanted the deadline of another potential victim to drive the PCs to action and potentially stop the abduction. Finally, I was making this up as I went. Breaking the pretty little formula in favor of more action and more tension was an easy decision.

My Dad Totally Owns a Dealership
The Mitchell household was a single-family home in the nicer part of Rusty Cross, for a relative value of “nice”. There was a minivan parked next to a pristine BMW in the driveway, and sure enough, there was a little side garden with a flourishing rose bush.

Tom knocked on the door and Mrs. Mitchell, a plump woman who wasn’t wearing the stress of her daughter’s abduction well, answered the door. That’s when Tom noticed the telltale signs of recent abuse on Mitchell and accepted the compel on “Modern-Day Quixotic Knight” to barge in and confront Mr. Mitchell. Tom grabbed up a bench from the foyer and broke it over the husband’s face. The circumstances of the compel were such that Mrs. Mitchell would try to call the police (averted by Ajaz and Rick), then the difficulty to get useful information from her would be higher. They still found out enough to piece together the general situation:
  • The rose bushes were symbols of some sort of vague contract or bargain for the usual “health, wealth, and happiness” stuff. The Mitchells received the bush from Mr. Mitchell’s mother as a wedding gift, and Mrs. Mitchell took care of the plant, which included watering it with just a little human blood every week or so. Yes, it was weird, but it seemed to work, so Mitchell kept performing the ritual upkeep and her family appeared to be prospering.
  • Mr. Mitchell started abusing his wife soon after Brenda went missing, and the group surmised that he was probably abusing Brenda prior to her abduction. There was no sign of a struggle, and so the gang’s working theory was that Brenda went willingly.
  • From this and the other clues, the hunters guessed that whatever was making the bargains seemed to be trying to “fix” things. Abducting Brenda out of an abusive situation, for example. They could only guess at Dennis Brooks’ plight, however, since his parents were dead, but dropping by Lefty’s house seemed more important than ever, since the monster probably wouldn’t approve of a kid living in a drug dealer’s house.

Every Rose Has Its Thorn
It was two minutes to midnight (ahem) when the three bikers tore into Lefty’s neighborhood. Every one of them had a great aspect to compel for rushing into action, so they just barreled through the front door. Ajaz made it up the stairs before Ma Lefty was able to bring her shotgun to bear (sometimes drug dealer wives are prepared for people to come busting into their homes in the middle of the night). Tom and Rick skidded to a halt and tried to talk their way out of some 12 gauge enemas while Ajaz was left on his own, upstairs, against an honest-to-goodness fairy prince.

The nephilite just kept on running. He tackled the fairy through the second-floor window and wound up on top as they slammed into the tall grass and weeds that made up Lefty’s backyard. Meanwhile, Tom and Rick managed to convince Lefty’s wife that her son was in danger (but not from them) and the weathered housewife tried her best to keep up with the two bikers as they smashed her back door off its hinges in their haste to get outside.

The fairy prince monologued. It said it was Mandoag, Prince of Roanoke and Knight of the Summer People, and that it was rescuing children in accordance with pacts laid down long ago. Ajaz’s player asked if they could just destroy the rose bush - Tom (with a Lore success) said only the people who lived there could break the deal in such a fashion. Prince Manchego was all too happy to elaborate on his recent activities. Dennis Brooks lived in (from the fairy’s point of view) squalor; the prince took him to the Summer People, who would see his every request fulfilled and given every opportunity he was denied in the mortal world. Brenda Mitchell was beaten by her father; now she was in a safe place. She wished to be taken away from her old life. Lefty’s son Sam lived among vice and ruination; it was only a matter of time before he fell victim to the system that would no doubt claim his parents.

This proved to be an interesting little dilemma for the players. Ajaz’s player loves Doctor Who and Torchwood, and apparently there was an episode where a very similar situation occurred where it was actually better for the kids to stay with the fairies. Plus, I’m using a fairly Dresden-verse interpretation of the fae, even if I’m not strictly using the Courts like they’re laid out. Fairies don’t lie - Prince Mandoag certainly thought he was doing right by the children. On the other hand, I have explicitly stated that I do not run good monsters. It is part of my social contract, as it were, and it wasn’t too hard to see how the prince’s intentions would break down if the children were left in the fairy realm for an extended period of time. All those myths about fairy food being bad for you, the fickleness of the fae, the variable nature of the Nevernever, it all spelled trouble for those kids. Finally, he took them from their parents. Good or bad, it wasn’t his place to do that.

Tom raised his sword. Mandoag challenged him to a duel to settle things right then and there, but Tom didn’t bite (he refused a compel on his chivalrous nature). It was too bad, because Mandoag had a pretty sweet stunt to get +2 Fighting when using his sword in single combat. With his situational bonus denied, Mandoag launched into a series of hit-and-run attacks, slicing open portals between worlds with his sword and attacking with an ornate tomahawk from unexpected directions. He was a fairly tough cookie until Ajaz ripped his sword from his grasp, and with a success with style, caught the blade with a flourish. Mandingo screamed in rage and focused on Ajaz, but he and Tom had bought enough time for Rick and Ma Lefty to get some shovels and destroy the rose bush. Wounded and disarmed, Prince Mandoag fled on foot, crashing through kiddie pools and through swingsets in a desperate attempt to get away. The PCs let him go; they had his sword, and they could use its worldwalking properties to cut open a portal to the fairy realm and get the children home.

I Like Big Balls
The hunters prepared ritual components for the trip into Fairie and (most importantly) the trip out, because they couldn’t count on having the prince’s sword. It was clearly valuable to the fairy, and might be a useful bargaining chip to get the kids away from the Summer People. They also did a little timeline math and figured that the youngest kid, Melissa, would have been subsisting on fairy food alone for over a week. She and Dennis would need immediate medical attention once they got back to the real world, so they planned out a landing spot close to Rusty Cross’ hospital for their return trip.

Ajaz slashed open reality and the three bikers stepped into a palace made of trees. Trunks arched like cathedral ceilings overhead and warm sunlight filtered down through dappled leaves. Behind them stood a rose garden with more than a dozen of the ritual bushes. Before them was an entryway into a fairy ball. Dancers whirled with inhuman grace and beauty, lovely smells wafted all around, yadda yadda yadda. They all made their will saves - where were the kids?

Brenda was dancing, caught up in the mad rush of movement. Dennis was scarfing down an impressive amount of ice cream at a long table cultivated from some sort of hedge. Finally, Melissa was happily sitting on the lap of a barely-dressed fairy princess with more than a little familial resemblance to their good friend Prince Manchester. Speaking of Prince Manny, he was approaching the trio of bikers with a complement of fairy guards behind him. This time the PCs opened with a simple deal: trade Mandoag’s sword and the chance to best Ajaz in a duel (since he was the one who had stolen the sword in the prior encounter) for the children and safe passage from the Summer People. I counted this as a compel on Mandoag - the deal wasn’t up to the fae’s usual standards of doublespeak and trickery, but he wanted his ancestral blade back and he wanted payback for being made a fool by mortals. Mandoag and Ajaz squared off on the ballroom floor, surrounded by the still-reveling fairies. Tom stood close by, ready to help any way he could, while Rick headed off into the crowd to convince the kids to come home.

Caught In a Mosh
I offered Ajaz’s player a choice inspired by Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy: Ajaz and Mandoag could fight unarmed (no way), with their own weapons (good for both of them, as they each had stunts with their signature gear), or they could fight with each other’s weapons (about as bad as fighting unarmed but with more damage). Ajaz gave the prince’s sword back to him and readied his flaming chain whip and the Glaive from Krull that he had taken from Pantagruel’s vault in a previous adventure. Mandoag started off strong - with his stunt for fighting with his sword in single combat in effect, he was rolling an effective Fight of +6. Ajaz had +2 to Create Advantage with his whip, however, and was able to disarm Mandoag’s sword - again. Tom tried to assist by Creating Advantages from the sidelines, creating a small but vocal group of fairy sympathizers who apparently weren’t fond of their prince, then shifting the crowd this way and that to help Ajaz out. It skirted the bounds of the duel but it wasn’t anything a fairy wouldn’t have done.

I was really pleased with the duel. Because Mandoag was extremely dangerous but only while he had his sword, it created more tactical choices for Ajaz instead of just throwing himself on a superior foe and burning fate points. Each combatant managed to disarm each other, and I believe Ajaz ended up unarmed against Mandoag wielding the nephilite’s own whip against him for a few rounds, but with Tom’s help from the sidelines Ajaz held Manchego at bay. Finally he got his whip back and the tide turned against the prince. Ajaz used the Glaive to cripple Mandoag’s arm and then he wrapped his flaming chain whip around the fairy’s neck.

Meanwhile, Rick introduced moshing to the fairy ball. His adventure in babysitting was basically a string of compels on his aspect “Collateral Damage, Inc.” He would spend his fate points to convince the kids to leave with him as soon as he got them from bungling things with the surrounding fairies. By the end of it, he’d gotten Brenda and Melissa on his side and was working on Dennis, but Mandoag’s sister, Princess Ilsin, was laid out after an inopportune foray into the mosh pit. There was food everywhere from when Rick had been thrown out of said mosh pit and landed on the buffet table… hedgerow… whatever. Half the fairies wanted to keep Rick there forever because they thought he was awesome, while half of them wanted to kill him.

He Sure Did
(Rick approaches Dennis, who wants to stay in Fairie and do whatever he wants)
  • Dennis: “What do you want?”
  • Rick: “I’m here to take you home.” (Notices Dennis’ WWE shirt) “You like wrestling? You know they don’t have wrestling here, right? Or TV at all.”
  • Dennis: (Looks concerned) “Yeah, I like wrestling. My dad really likes it too.”
  • Rick: “He sure did.”

Bust a Deal, Face the Wheel
Prince Mandoag, barely conscious, bleeding badly, and with terrible neck and facial burns, conceded the duel. It was at this point I noticed Ajaz was out of fate points. He was a “Relentless Nephilite”, and it made sense that he wouldn’t be satisfied with just calling off the fight. It all went wrong when Ajaz flung his Glaive at Mandoag, severing his already-crippled arm. This strike fell outside the bounds of the duel, and the Summer People were no longer obliged to give the hunters safe passage.

That’s when Rick fired his pyrotechnics into the verdant living roof overhead, setting the fairy ballroom ablaze with fire and thunder. Tom performed the return ritual as fast as he could, and the six humans barely escaped back onto a grassy median strip outside Rusty Cross Medical Center. Melissa and Dennis vomited up great gouts of steaming ectoplasm and could barely remain conscious. The hunters rushed the kids to the hospital and pretty much abandoned them to whatever fate child services had in store for them. Yay?

It wasn’t a feel-good win, but the hunters did get the children away from the fairies. Leaving them in Fairie would have been objectively bad for the kids. The fairies would lose interest and turn them out into the Nevernever, or they’d send them back to the real world without caring how long it’d been since they ate real food, or they’d end up allowing the kids to enter into ill-considered bargains. Even so, Dennis was an orphan now. Hopefully he had some family somewhere that were wrestling fans too. Brenda’s abusive situation wasn’t exactly fixed - smashing furniture over an abuser doesn’t make them stop abusing people. Finally, the hunters never did find out why Melissa Washington was abducted, which was great, because that meant I didn’t have to think of a reason. That was all we had time for, anyway, so I called the session and handed out a skill point.

For a mostly seat of the pants adventure where the initial clues were supplied by my players, I felt the session went pretty well. Everyone got spotlight moments, I don’t think the investigation proved too convoluted, and the conflicts were fairly meaty. Best of all, Prince Mandoag survived. I’ve got an organically occurring nemesis for the group, one with whom they can actually have banter. Such enemies are worth more than all the meticulously-plotted, specially-engineered, metaplot Big Bads in the world.

Mandoag, Prince of Roanoke and Knight of the Summer People
Fairie Prince
Never Forgets an Insult
Centuries of Experience

Fight +4
Wits, Speed, Lore, Notice +3
Menace, Balls +2
(other skills weren’t encountered during play)

+2 Fight when using his sword in single combat
May roll Fight to make a zone attack when wielding two weapons
Armor:2 unless struck by iron or other fae vulnerability

When the European settlers came to America, they changed the spiritual landscape as well as the physical one. The old fae Courts adapted to their new realms, blending with local folklore just as the Roanoke settlers disappeared into the Native American populace. Mandoag (Algonquin for “enemy”) is my poster child for this “new” style of fairy. I wanted to spice up the typical fae you see in Dresden Files and such, but didn’t want to tie them to alien abduction mythology like Supernatural did. So Mandoag had a leaf sword and a sweet tomahawk, dressed in buckskin and bronze armor, and at this point I realized if I gave him a white hooded cloak he’d just be a fairy version of the Assassin’s Creed III dude. Although most of the session was on the fly, I actually did have the idea for the prince formed beforehand. I knew I wanted a more Native American bent to my fairies, but my players would need some really obvious “typical” fairy clues. I knew I wanted a more Native American bent to my fairies, but my players would need some really obvious “typical” fairy clues. I ended up just throwing in some Native American trappings for now. I can mix in more mythology and folklore later, now that the fae faction has been introduced.