To be fair, the Fantasy Grounds software held up pretty well, and the main niggles I have are the fact that it can take a long time for detailed maps to arrive on everyones tabletop, and that there is no easy way to manage player handouts (I'm having to manually keep track of what the players have discovered).
I'm going to keep a running commentary of the game here as a way of recording what happened, so expect regular updates on the adventures of the Fantastic Five as no-one insists on calling the player characters...
Read on for the events from the first session, but beware major spoilers if you haven't played the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign. Note that my players haven't played the campaign before, so no spoilers in comments please!
By way of a brief introduction, here are the starting characters for the players. I'm sure that the characters that end up finishing the campaign may very well be completely different as these innocent fools end up either locked up in the local sanitarium or as bite-size snacks for various mythos monsters.
Willard Arnold - an English soldier by trade, currently working on the city docks in New York to make some extra cash
Harry Crum - an exuberant and larger-than-life Chicago-based private investigator with his fingers in a few too many pies
Mr Yoo - a Chinese immigrant antiquities dealer who is surprisingly agile for his age
Sebastian Cribbins - a well-groomed New York architect, well known amongst the city's elite
Tom "Cutter" Mason - an ex-US Army tracker turned woodsman with an imposing physique and even more imposing beard
The first problem was how the hell to get such a diverse group together, and to explain how they would be acquainted and even friends. To be honest this is often a problem at the start of Call of Cthulhu campaigns, and we decided to take it as read that the group were firm friends who met casually each Friday evening at a local speakeasy. As a little extra background we agreed that at some point in the past they had all worked together as labourers on the railroads (for a variety of reasons).
The game started with the delivery of a telegram to Willard Arnold from an old friend, one Jackson Elias (a famed author of books related to the study of cults and their use of fear as a weapon).
With only vague recollections about the Carlyle expedition the group of investigators did a little research and uncovered some old newspaper articles from 1919 that told of playboy Roger Carlyle and his ill-fated expedition to Egypt. The expedition travelled on to Kenya for a safari break following some successful digs in Egypt, and there met a messy fate, murdered at the hands of Nandi tribesmen.
The players also tried to contact Erica Carlyle, Roger's sister and now CEO of the Carlyle Corporation, but without success, being politely turned down by the receptionist. They left their contact details for a "Mr Grey" to call back, but no call was forthcoming.
On the 15th January 1925 Willard received a telephone call from his friend asking if he could meet him at his Chelsea hotel room, 410 that evening.
The investigators arrived early at the hotel, and a good job too as a large crowd had gathered outside to cheer for Mr Charles Chaplin who was premiering his latest movie, The Gold Rush. After negotiating their way past the photographers and crowds the players made their way up to Room 410, but there was no response to their knocks.
Cutter listened at the door and heard shuffling inside the room, and taking matters into his own hands gave the door an almighty kick. There was no result other than a loud bang and a sore foot. Harry stepped forwards to lend his arm to the deed and together the two large men broke the door open...
...to be confronted with a screaming man dressed in a shabby suit and wielding a strangely curved blade. The cultist (his hideous and unusual headgear made it obvious what his day job was) then attacked the investigators but swung wildly and missed. At which point things got a little crazy.
Cutter leaped forwards and grappled the cultist to the floor, a firm grip on the hand clutching the blade and Harry strode in, .38 drawn to see another two intruders; one by the bed and another climbing out of the window onto the fire escape.
The group piled into the room as Harry unleashed his .38, the shots deafeningly loud in the room, the flashes from the gun revealing a gruesome scene on the bed - Jackson Elias with his entrails torn out and a strange mark carved onto his forehead.
At this point I should reveal that the player behind Harry Crum is notorious in our group for having the luckiest dice rolls imaginable. He once (with a different character, the only one I've ever seen reach over 50% Cthulhu Mythos and survive) took down two dimensional shamblers whilst bleeding to death. He's that lucky at just the right time. And so it proved again, much to the groaning of everyone playing...
So, he criticaled his first shots, and completely destroyed the cultist by the bed, leaving a quivering hunk of bloodied flesh where his ribcage should be. Of course the sanity check was passed...
Meanwhile Mr Yoo nimbly leaped over the grappling Cutter and headed to the bed to inspect the gruesome remains. Willard pushed his way to the window to observe the third cultist racing down a very rickety fire escape (I really tried to warn them - "a very rickety, rusting fire escape that creaks and groans with alarming sounds", but what can you do. I can't be held responsible for stupidity!), and Sebastian tried to help Cutter by swinging a chair at the cultist he was grappling with on the floor.
|The strange mark cut into Elias' forehead|
The gunshots had attracted attention (not that the investigators noticed, due to failed listen rolls), but there was still time for a few moments of comedy mishap before the police arrived.
Case in point - Cutter tried to subdue the cultist he was grappling with by headbutting him as hard as he could. He connected well, but forgot that the cultist was wearing a wooden headpiece, resulting in a bloodied nose for both of them (and 1D3 damage to Cutter's face). Sebastian's chair swing then not only connected with the cultist, but a crushing damage roll, combined with his damage bonus conspired to cave the cultists face in, killing him instantly. Oops! He truly is an Architect (of Death).
A failed sanity check for the mild-mannered architect left him stunned at the fact he had just killed someone, and unable to move for the remainder of the combat (in fact he ended up eventually going to the bathroom to throw up).
Willard had climbed out of the window onto the fire escape, which was still creaking and groaning, and starting to sway ominously (I mean really, how many hints do I have to give?!). He was about to give chase to the final escaping cultist when Harry appeared at the window and took aim...
...and again criticals two dice rolls. Unbelievable! I was even giving him a massive penalty to hit due to the swinging of the fire escape and the fact that the cultist was now two levels below and running for his life. Honestly, this guy should go to Vegas and play the craps tables.
So, the final cultist was now unconscious and bleeding to death on a very shaky fire escape. An idling black Hudson below screeched away and raced down the street, but not before Willard got a good look at the licence plate. He raced down to the cultist and attempted to stop the bleeding by applying first aid, but he failed badly (he should've borrowed Harry's dice!).
So, there we are. Three dead cultists, one dead friend, and a shaken party of investigators. Finally they heard the approaching police sirens, and they were close. Mr Yoo quickly grabbed Elias' jacket in case there were any clues inside, then leaped out of the window onto the precarious fire escape (*sigh*). Cutter showing a slight modicum of sense refused to climb out onto the now overladen fire escape, then blew it by deciding to exit through the window onto a narrow ledge and inch his way around the building - four floors up!
Harry and Sebastian, displaying uncommon sense, made a quick search of the room then waited for the police to arrive. Eventually two policemen entered the room with drawn revolvers, took one look at the scene, and ordered everyone to their knees.
Meanwhile outside things went from bad to worse as the fire escape, restraining bolts finally giving up in the face of such determined foolishness, started to peel away from the wall at the top, coming undone like a huge zipper with a terrifying screech. Mr Yoo paniced and started to run for the ladder, but failed a DEX check and toppled over the edge of the wildly swaying contraption!
Cutter and Willard made their DEX checks. Willard made it to the next ladder on the fire escape, and Cutter inched along his ledge to the window of room 411.
Mr Yoo decided to use a Pulp Point to save himself. This is a mechanic I've borrowed from Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying ruleset. Masks of Nyarlathotep is a notoriously difficult campaign with a high fatality rate for investigators, so in line with the pulpy nature of the campaign I decided to award every character some Pulp Points (equal in number to their POW). They can use a Pulp Point at any time to change the results of one dice roll and thereby effect some miraculous and jaw-dropping escape.
As Mr Yoo fell screaming to almost certain death Willard reached out over the edge of the rapidly collapsing fire escape and caught his arm, and a STR vs SIZ resistance check showed he managed to hold on and haul the terrified Chinaman back onto the escape. A couple more successful DEX checks and they made it to the ground barely in time as the entire structure collapsed with a huge crash.
Cutter, looking on from above was out of luck however. A failed DEX check spelled doom, as the occupant of room 411 opened their window to see what the noise was, startling Cutter and causing him to lose his grip. He vainly tried to grab the ledge as he fell past it, but missed, his fingers clawing at the air.
And so, another Pulp Point was taken leading to another death-defying escape. Falling quickly he scrambled for purchase, and managed to grab onto the ledge of the second floor. He held on (STR vs SIZ resistance check) but badly pulled his shoulder (1D3 damage) in the process. With the help of Willard and Mr Yoo (and a handy dumpster) he finally made it to the ground.
Back in Room 410 Lieutenant Martin Poole was questioning Harry and Sebastian. Harry was known to the police, and they were taken to the station to make statements. In the process they learned that there have been nine other similar murders in the past two years, and all the victims had the same strange marks cut into their heads.
So, amazingly all the party survived Room 410, thanks mainly to Harry's amazing dice rolls and the loss of two Pulp Points (without them two investigators would have met sticky ends). Harry and Sebastian are being questioned by the police, Cutter has admitted himself to hospital for treatment of his face and shoulder, and Willard and Mr Yoo have retreated to a local speakeasy to lay low (with Jackson Elias' jacket and the clues it holds along for the ride).
The next session is going to be interesting!