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Friday, 5 October 2018

“The Climate of a Foreign Logic” (scenario)



If you tried out last year's Victorian roleplaying scenario “Murder Your Darlings” then you might like to give this much simpler and more traditional adventure a go. It’s also set  in Oxford but a few years earlier, in 1884. Incidentally, in our campaign there is no magic as such, as it’s a science-fictional universe which has room for Cthulhu, time travel and even Victor Frankenstein, but not sorcery. All the same, psionic abilities are real (if rare) and are usually accepted as magic by those who possess them.

Teddy Trittfield has recently gone up to Magdalen College, Oxford, to read Literae Humaniores. Teddy has always been a dutiful child and a hard worker, but in his first term he has not been in touch with his parents and reports suggest that his studies are slipping. His mother (who could be one of the player-characters) is worried that Teddy is neglecting his studies, running up some whopping debts, and falling under the spell of some pretty unsavoury types.

On investigation, it soon turns out Teddy has fallen in with a group of friends who have a dining club called the Procrusteans. They are:
  • James Orpington-Soames (Christ Church, English)
  • The Hon Reginald Wincanton (Christ Church, History)
  • Count Konradin (“Konnie”) von Hegel und Vasserkind (Magdalen, postgrad Music)
  • Basil Hinge (Keble, Chemistry)
The Procrusteans at Christ Church are in the circle of the senior History tutor, Sir Nicholas Tollens, who is said to be a member of a club called the Five-Sided Table (motto: Tuta petant alii – “let others seek security”) itself a remnant of the once-notorious Hell Fire Club.

Sir Nicholas has a fellow Five-Sider staying with him, the Spanish spiritualist Jose Lunares.

Sir Nicholas’s coachman is Jollyback and his valet is Chifton. They have some handy skills and can find a half dozen ruffians if needed.
If the player-characters visit Telbeck & Sons in the High Street, who supply hunting equipment to Sir Nicholas, then a bribe of a few pounds will reveal that Sir Nicholas has his bullets engraved with a special symbol. An Occultism roll identifies this as a Satanic rune.

They might also want to buy some firearms of their own:

If the characters search Teddy’s room they will find a burnt scrap of paper in the hearth with part of the Lord’s Prayer written backwards.

Other notable NPCs
The President of Magdalen is Dr Frederick Bulley (73 years old, distinguished, tall, white-haired; quite infirm now).
Teddy’s tutor at Magdalen is Dr William Cove.
The Senior Dean of Arts is Dr Waverly Bamfield.
The Dean of Divinity is the Rev Dr John Joyce.
The Head Porter is Dannock.
The SCR Butler is Carndyce.

What’s going on
Lt-General Augustus Pitt Rivers is relocating his famous collection of obscure ethnographic artefacts to the University Museum. The majority of the collection will not be moved until an new annexe is built to the Musuem in two years’ time, but a few items are already on display. Sir Nicholas and Jose Lunares have a plan to break in, get the mask of Saaga the Devil Doctor, and perform a ritual that will make them both immortal.

To complete the ritual, they intend to sacrifice Teddy, whom the Procrusteans have had doing a bunch of initiation tasks that are actually components of an old spell. So far he's completed the first two of these. The recital of the Lord's Prayer will take place on the final day of Michaelmas term:
  • Taking the sacrament while wearing an inverted crucifix
  • Climbing the Martyrs’ Memorial to put kindling around their feet
  • Reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards on Advent Sunday
Teddy is important to the ritual because he has some Haida blood – his great-great-grandfather had a child by a native woman in British Columbia in the 1770s. The ritual is actually irrelevant, as is Teddy’s ancestry, but Lunares and the others believe these to be important components of a spell. The truth (at least in our campaign) is that it is all a psionic effect and the mask and Satanic elements are just window-dressing.

“Spells” (psionic effects) to which Lunares has access:

  • To enrage dogs and turn them upon their masters.
  • To call a fog: 10 yards visibility in which Lunares has a lantern that shines clearly (a mental effect, but one that covers a very wide area).
  • To cause people to become drowsy (WL roll) or, if asleep, to remain so.
  • To incite paranoia (EQ or argue with friends, to the death if EQ failed again).
  • To foresee elements of the future by means of automatic writing.

What the players might do to stymie the ritual:

  • Prevent Teddy being abducted. The Five-Siders will use Basil Hinge instead. The ritual can still go ahead but less successfully.
  • Prevent Teddy doing the third task. The ritual can still go ahead but less successfully.
  • Save Teddy before the sacrifice. The ritual will feed off Lunares’s own essence.

Fully successful ritual:
Both Sir Nicholas and Jose Lunares become immortals. Saaga’s spirit (actually an aspect of Lunares’s own personality) “awakens” in the mask which will float in the air.

Less successful ritual:
Saaga’s spirit (see above) will be available for the Five-Siders to consult and get a “spell” from once each new moon.

Using Lunares’s own essence:
Lunares dies horribly and Sir Nicholas, driven quite mad, insists that he is the reincarnated Saaga.


Background: the year is 1884
The British prime minister is William Gladstone
The American president is Chester A Arthur
The Poet Laureate is Lord Tennyson (until this year just plain Alfred Tennyson)

What you might be talking about:

The electric street lighting starting to appear in London
The first automobiles (early models reaching 10 mph)
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show now touring the USA
The eruption of Krakatoa last year (still said to be affecting the weather)
The ongoing siege of Khartoum by the Mad Mahdi
The invention of the machine gun (not yet in production)
The opening of the first Underground stations (parts of the Metropolitan & District lines)
The first commercially available fountain pens (1884’s iPod?)
Scotland Yard’s dismissal of the concept of fingerprinting identification
The patenting of linotype earlier this year
Construction of the Cresta Run
Laying of the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty
The architecture of Gaudi
The banking crisis that is threatening an economic depression
The terrorist attack by the Irish Republican Brigade on Scotland Yard

What you might be reading:

Stevenson (Treasure Island)
Twain (Huckleberry Finn)
Edwin Abbott Abbott (Flatland)
Tolstoy (The Death of Ivan Ilyich)
Das Kapital volume two in early pre-publication pamphlet form
Works by Wilkie Collins, Ambrose Bierce, Jules Verne, Mrs Oliphant, Henry James

Where you might be seen of an evening:

Plays by Oscar Wilde (just starting his career) and Ibsen
Operas by Gilbert & Sullivan (at the height of their success) or Puccini
Concert works by Bruckner and Wolf

What you might be whistling:

“Oh my darling Clementine”

Who you might know:

George Bernard Shaw, 28 years old, unsuccessful novelist (a Fabian)
Oscar Wilde, 30 years old
Richard Burton, explorer, 63 years old but mysteriously left London 12 years ago for Trieste
Lewis Carroll, 52 years old, still resident at Christ Church but no longer teaching
Richard D’Oyly Carte, impresario, 40 years old
Henry Irving, actor, 46 years old.
Sir William Kelvin, scientist, 60 years old
Rudyard Kipling, journalist, 19 years old
Arthur Machen, editor and private tutor, 21 years old
Robert Louis Stevenson, author, 34 years old
Bram Stoker, literary critic, 39 years old
Ellen Terry, actress, 37 years old
Beatrice Potter, sociologist and Fabian, 26 years old
Charles Booth, sociologist, 44 years old, currently compiling London Labour & the London Poor
Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt Rivers, ethnologist and collector, 57 years old
Thomas Neumark-Jones, occultist, 43 years old

Naturally these or other prominent figures would need to be paid for as Contacts.


WEALTH

Average                      -10 points
You have a job and are dependent on it for living expenses. Income £100 a year.

Comfortable               no points
You have lodgings in a respectable part of town (if that’s where you want to be) and income of £200 a year.

Wealthy                      10 points
You have a townhouse or pleasant home out-of-town and the use of your club. Income £400 a year.

Very Wealthy             20 points
You have a country estate and a townhouse, each with its own staff, plus a coachman and valet who travel with you. Income £1000 a year.



You can live quite well on £400 a year (roughly £60,000 in today’s terms). 

Adventure seed 

The following incident has nothing to do with this scenario, but is a real newspaper report from 1884 that might provide the seed for a follow-up adventure:


Aftermath

Lastly a few notes about how it panned out in our game. Lord Eidolon (Tim Savin) opened the luggage of one of the other characters, Teddy's father, and was affected by a paranoia rune left there by Lunares. This was a powerful hypnotic influence that caused him to distrust the others, which of course soon led to nobody trusting anybody very much. Sensing trouble, Henry Morton Stanley (Paul Gilham) moved from the Randolph Hotel to the Eastgate. That saved him when Eidolon burst into the Randolph lounge and opened fire with a shotgun, crippling a couple of characters before leaping through the window and disappearing into the fog. A city-wide manhunt ensued. The others learned that Eidolon could be cured by burning the rune and giving him the ashes to drink mixed in wine, but that if he failed to do so by midnight the paranoia would be permanent. (Merely a matter of belief, of course, not real magic, but it was the only way to break the hypnotic suggestion.) There seemed little hope of catching him before midnight, or of convincing the police to let them in with a goblet of wine if he was apprehended. As for the fate of Eidolon himself, my write-up of the session ends with this note of finality: "Even his dog now fears him."

3 comments:

  1. I'd probably go a bit Occam's Razor and tweak this world so that magic or paranatural "science" that is basically magic is real - if mostly poorly understood.

    In terms of real stuff that people sometimes think is magic, you might want to check out the older TV series, "Numb3rs" (yes, the 3 for an E in the title is silly but it's a decent show) which ran on US TV from 2005-2010. You can get the whole series on DVD from Amazon fairly cheap ($56.16 US).

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    Replies
    1. It rings a bell. Was there a movie first?

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