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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign Journal: Chapter 23 - Murder on the Orient Line

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It was time for a new start and a complete change of pace following the horror and death of the last few sessions. So, as detailed in the recent Interlude, Hubert and Sebastian found themselves walking up the gangplank of the SS Osterley, an Orient Line-operated, 12,000 tonne steamer bound for Sydney. As Hubert showed the steward their tickets he looked up at the ship and noticed a bearded gentleman dressed in the uniform of the Orient Line staring down at them. As Hubert looked back the man turned round and walked off.

"Excuse me sir, do you have a minute to discuss our lord and saviour Cthulhu?"
This would prove to be a more genteel session than normal.
The two investigators were shown to their palatial cabins on the third deck of the ship, the porter informing them of the ship's facilities as they walked down the immaculate mahogany-panelled corridors. He left them at their rooms to settle in and told them that dinner would be served at 6pm, and that a tie was mandatory.

Sebastian decided to rest a while, but Hubert went exploring and found himself in the first class Smoking Room, a large room decorated in the style of a Victorian Gentleman's club, with dark wood-panelled walls, heavy arm chairs, several card tables and a large library. At this hour there was only one other person there, a tall, thin, elderly man with combed back hair and a pencil moustache.

Hubert introduced himself and sat down to talk with the man, who introduced himself as Brigadier
Lord Archibald James Dillingham Stewart. Hubert recognised the name as that of a wealthy Norfolk landowner. The two had a chat over a glass of malt before the dinner bell rang and they headed to the dining room.

Sebastian was already seated at the table when Hubert and the Brigadier arrived. Also sitting round the table were four other people, who introduced themselves as Hubert and the Brigadier sat down. Rodrigo Valazquez was an Argentinian rancher with poor English, travelling to Australia to look at some horse stock. He was Cassandra's player's new character following Cassie's unfortunate death on Grey Dragon Island. Willard's player also had a new character sitting at the table, one George Kirkham, an English lawyer taking a cruise to the New World.

The last pair at the table introduced themselves as Hattie and Jake Smith, a newlywed couple from Grimsby who were enjoying their honeymoon. Jake Smith's name was known to George already, as the owner of Smith & Son Fisheries, a famous English brand. The young couple were obviously in love, though the ebullient Jake, talking over his quiet and demure wife, did not seem like an obvious match. During their conversations Sebastian revealed to the other diners that he and Hubert were investigators doing some research for a new book, though he did not expand on the subject.


As the dinner was being served and the introductions made George felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see an old friend, Dr James O'Reilly. Dr O'Reilly was the ship's doctor, and had spotted George from his seat at a nearby table. James and George had attended university together, getting into scrapes (one particularly memorable one involved the loosing of numbered pigs into the main faculty building). Though they had not seen each other for several years George and James were soon chatting as if it had only been a few days since their last meeting.

During the final course of baked delicacies there was a sudden outburst in the dining room. An elderly bearded gentleman was berating a young woman. He was scolding her for being "behind in her typing" and treating the cruise "like a pleasure trip, instead of taking the opportunity to catch up with her work". The young lady stood up and stammered, "if my work is not to your standard then dismiss me and let me live my life!", before sweeping out of the room in tears. The dining room had fallen into silence at the outburst.

After a large and enjoyable meal the dinner guests took their leave. George took a walk up on deck to get some air and saw the elderly gentleman there, looking out to see. He went over to chat. The gentleman introduced himself as René Delaflote, a Belgian archaeologist and treasure hunter who was travelling with his companions to explore the aboriginal relics of the Australian outback. After some small talk George asked René about the earlier confrontation in the dining room, but René said little, just muttering that "Sophia needed sort her priorities out". George told René about the newspaper article he had seen in the Hong Kong Bulletin earlier, and René had expressed surprise, saying he had recently been in Shanghai. He asked if George would mind bringing him a copy of the paper later.

Rodrigo, Hubert and Sebastian had retired to the smoking room, where, over several glasses of single malt, they slowly lost some money to the Brigadier over a game of cribbage. Afterwards everyone retired to their rooms, except for the unusually paranoid Hubert who thought it would be safer to stay in Sebastian's room, especially after noticing a bearded steward paying particular attention to the group.

The next morning found the SS Osterley far out in the East China Sea. After a filling breakfast in the dining room the investigators settled into a relaxing day aboard ship. Rodrigo, uncomfortable in the lush surroundings of the first class amenities decided to spend the day fraternising with the crew. He learnt little, but understood the running of the ship a little better and how the different classes of passengers were serviced.

Sebastian and Hubert went back to their cabin to find it had been ransacked. Their clothes and bedding had been scattered over the floor, and the desks and tables overturned as though someone had been looking for something. A quick check showed that nothing appeared to have been taken however.

At dinner that evening there was yet another commotion at René Delaflote's table. This time it was the Belgian who was on the receiving end of a tirade, delivered by a large American man. Bickering had exploded into a full on argument which ended with the American shouting, "I'll get what's owed me René," before spilling his wine, grabbing a bottle, then staggering out of the room. After a moment's staring the other diners returned to a polite silence as they finished their meals.

After the meal the group separated again. On their way to the smoking room they were surprised by the Brigadier as he stormed out in a fury. "Bloody cheating Belgian!" he was muttering to himself. It seemed that the Brigadier's luck at cards had left him for the time being.

Hubert moved on to the music room, where he sat down and made conversation with one Jane Marshpool, an elderly lady who was escorting her young niece, Victoria, on a trip around the world. Hubert soon regretted starting the conversation as Mrs Marshpool, dressed in a wide brimmed hat and hideous floral dress began to put the world to rights. He could hardly get a word in as she berated the world for it's problems, especially focusing on the young, foreigners, and politicians for the world's wrongs. She emphasised her points by waving her rattan cane around.

A little later George went up on deck for some fresh air, and whilst there saw a young man from René Delaflote's entourage throwing something overboard before burying his face in his hands. George asked him what was wrong, but the young man just sighed and walked away looking like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

The investigators took an early night soon after, and the next day dawned to see them even further out to sea, and more importantly further away from Ho Fong and the site of their recent defeat. The relaxing voyage was about to take a more serious turn however.

Towards the end of  breakfast Dr James O'Reilly approached the investigators table. They had already noticed the absence of Hattie and Jake Smith, along with several members of the Delaflote entourage on the next table. O'Reilly seemed ill at ease, and spoke quietly to George. He asked George to accompany him to see the Captain, and invited him to bring along anyone he thought might be able to help with an investigation.

George took Hubert and Sebastian with him, as he already knew they were somewhat professional investigators (if only he knew thew truth of the matter!), and Rodrigo tagged along as well, more curious than anything. O'Reilly lead them through the ship, into the crew quarters, then up to the bridge where Captain Edgar Lucas was waiting for them.

Captain Lucas welcomed the investigators and told them that he needed their help. A terrible event had befallen the ship - murder most foul! A cleaning maid had found the body of a passenger that morning, dead from a large head wound. The strange thing was that there appeared to be no murder weapon and the door to the room was locked and no entry had been forced.


The Captain explained that if they could not find out who had committed the foul deed then the authorities at Sydney would be forced to apprehend all the crew and passengers and keep them for several weeks whilst the matter was investigated. The Orient Line would be most grateful for any help in resolving the matter in the few days before they docked, and the Captain had asked Dr O'Reilly to help, and the doctor had requested that a few friends aid him.

The investigators agreed to do what they could, as they realised being held by the Australian authorities for several weeks could scupper their more important investigations. So it was that Dr O'Reilly lead them down to the scene of the crime, cabin 216, to investigate.

O'Reilly unlocked the cabin and there, still lying face-down on the floor, facing away from the bed  was the body of René Delaflote. There was a terrible wound on the back of Delaflote's head. O'Reilly told the investigators that nothing had been touched since the maid had first stumbled across the hideous scene. The investigators set to work.

George examined the door and noticed some odd black smudges on the handle. He couldn't understand the cause of them, but Rodrigo immediately identified the black grease as mascara. Hubert examined the body and O'Reilly told him that the wound was consistent with a blow from a heavy object, though there was no such object in the room.

Upon further examination George noticed that there were some black smudges on Delaflote's thumbs, that matched the mascara found on the door handle. Finally Hubert found the key to Delaflote's room safe in the Belgian's jacket pocket. How on earth had the murderer killed Delaflote and vanished, along with the murder weapon from a locked room when they key remained behind? All agreed it was a most perplexing mystery!

A search of the room found no other entrance, apart from a small round porthole window that was much too small for anyone to climb through. Upon Delaflote's desk lay his research papers, and within them Hubert found a passage that not only mentioned the Carlyle Expedition, but also cast serious doubt on the Belgian's relationship with an American named Brett Johnson.

The group agreed to begin investigations immediately, whilst Dr O'Reilly would take the corpse and conduct an autopsy. Hubert decided to stay in the room in case the culprit returned, whilst the others went off to question crew and passengers alike.

Rodrigo started with the crew, as he had grown to know several of them well earlier in the voyage. Whilst they had heard of the murder and the mystery surrounding it, none were able to offer any real information of use. He asked if there had been any reports of lost cabin keys, but there had not.

George and Sebastian headed up to the First Class Lounge, and found there the young man who George had previously seen throwing something into the sea. He was sat in the corner nursing his sorrows with a tall glass of gin. They decided to talk to him and discovered he was a research assistant for René Delaflote named Henry Crawford. He didn't reveal much, but when asked what he had been throwing away he answered morosely, "nothing of import, just a dream". They pressed him further, using the death of Delaflote as leverage (along with a successful halved Persuade roll), and he finally admitted it had been a ring that he threw overboard.

Having started to talk Henry continued, revealing that René and Brett Johnson had been arguing a lot recently. Johnson was his fixer and business partner, but the American felt that René had been getting all the money and recognition for their discoveries whilst he was doing all the hard work.

Back at Delaflote's cabin there was a rattle in the door lock, and the door swung open, surprising the wary Hubert. Luckily it was only a couple of crew members come to take away the body for O'Reilly's autopsy.

There it was that the age old enemy of a good roleplay session came upon us. Time had run out and we had to stop. It had been a much quieter session than normal, though as ever, death had not been far away. Hopefully the investigators will be able to discover and apprehend the murderer before time runs out again and the Australian authorities take over!

As a final note, the campaign clue corkboard has now been updated with the Shanghai clues. Head on over to take a look!

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