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[Trail of Cthulhu] Masks of Nyarlathotep


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Having just picked up this fine game from Pelgrane Press, and being very impressed with it, I've decided to put it to the ultimate Cthulhoid test - running Masks. In tis first session we rolled up characters, and got the game underway. If you've played Masks of Nyarlathotep, this will all seem strangely familiar to you. If you haven't, please be warned that there are spoilers ahead!

Episode 1: New York

January 10 1925. On a cold and snowy Saturday afternoon a group of men assemble in a spare office of the New York Herald Tribune. They are all friends and associates of Jackson Elias, the famed author of books on death cults throughout the world. Each has their own interest in the occult and outre.

They have been called together by Peter Michaels, a photographer and journalist who is a close friend of Jackson's. Peter has been haunted by recurring dreams which he believes have some occult meaning.

Before him are a group of friends, each with a specific interest in the occult. Smoking a cigarette, dapper in a Saville Row suit, is Julian "Boozy" Simmington, Viscount of Simmington. Immensely wealthy, Julian is drawn to the occult and the outre as the only thing that can thrill him in his dissolute life. Staying in New york for the Jazz life, Julian maintains lavish apartments at the Dakota Building on Central Park East.

Professor Ridley Ludlow of the Anthropology Department, Columbia University, sits beside him. Driven by an insatiable desire to understand other cultures, Professor Ludlow is one of the foremost expert on African and Asian anthropology in the Americas and indeed the world. Professor Ludlow's friend, Dean Carnegie, stands nearby. An antiquarian, Carnegie is one of the foremost collectors of books and artefacts relating to the occult in New York. He maintains a small shop in Greenwich Village, where many unusual trinkets, books and curios can be found.

Finally, standing a little to the side in a sharp wide shouldered suit, playing with a coin in his fingers, is Christopher Agius, a local importer. Despite his poor upbringing, Christopher has always had a strong thirst for knowledge. Perhaps it was first fostered by the priests at the Catholic school, or a love of the Italian history his parents taught him. In any case, Chris is one of Carnegie's best customers and a good friend.

Peter reads out the telegram from Jackson Elias. He will be there on the 15th of January, and he has leads on the Carlyle case. They remember it well - it was in the papers. Professor Ludlow had heard already of the telegram, and had brought a number of clippings relating to the case. Roger Carlyle, a famous playboy, suddenly decided to undertake an archeological expedition. In Kenya, on safari, he and his entire entourage were murdered by their porters. their bodies were never found, but the porters were hanged for the crimes.

"I've asked around," says Peter,"and lots of the boys here remember Roger Carlyle - from the social pages. But also from the disappearances. Looks like he met a sticky end."

"When I was researching the expedition I found this - a book once owned by Robert Huston, his psychiatrist. I picked it up at an auction a while back. Look at this!" says Ludlow. He points to writings in the margins on one page. A carefully drawn picture of an asymmetrical pyramid with an inset eye.

"But - that's just like the one in my dreams!" Peter says. Writing on the page mentions 'The all seeing eye of the sphinx god." The book is an otherwise dry Freudian tome.

Julian straighten up. "I remember Roger. I never met him, but this was back in the day - he was with that girl Hypatia masters. you know I know his sister, Erica, quite well. I've been out to her house on a couple of occasions. Perhaps I could give her a call?"

The others hurredly pass him a phone and he asks for a line to Westchester. Soon the servant on the other end fetches Erica.
"Mister Simmington. What a suprise. To what do I owe the honour?"

Julian stammers a few words about Jackson Elias - how he might have found something out, and that there might be a new lead about her brother's death.

Erica is a bit confused, but asks that if Julian des find anything material he should come around to the house. She also wonders if she shouldn't get her lawyers to shut Mr Elias' book down. Julian, worried he might have put his foot in it a little, hangs up.

"Why didn't you ask her what she knows?" demanded Ludlow.
"Oh, plenty of time for all that. She seemed a bit surprised, I suppose that's natural, after all this itme. Mentioned something about shutting the book down."

Peter speaks.
"Listen. Jackson will probably call when he gets in the city. I'll get in touch with all of you then and we can meet up with him."

They split up to follow their various investigations over the next few days.

Carnegie and Ludlow team up to try to find out what they can. Ludlow remembers Carlyle ringing him once or twice from crackly long distance lines to ask about something called the Cult of the Bloody Tongue. Ludlow knows it well as a particularly nasty death cult about which little is known, since the British stamped it out by hanging all its adherents in the mid 19th Century.

Chris Agius is pretty free to come and go as he pleases, so he spends the next few days frequenting some of the upper class speakeasies. He finds a manager at one place who remembers roger very well - he was a regular for quite a while. He also was quite noticeable for being obviously quite smitten with a Negro woman - who he refers to as the 'African Princess', although he is able to give Chris her real name - M'Weru. "She was the most beautiful negress I ever saw, and that ain't no lie. i'd believe she was a princess, too."

Peter sends a day or two in the morgue of the Herald-Tribune. He finds, attached to a typewritten draft of a society column, a photograph of Roger Carlyle and a beautiful black woman, dressed in Egyptian-influenced flapper gear, leaving a private club. On the back is written 'Carlyle - and M'Weru'.

Professor Ludlow asks around at the University to try to assess how Jackson Elias is regarded as a researcher. General consensus is that he is a pulp hack, a salacious thrill writer with little serious scientific anthropological chops.

Early on the evening of the 15th of January, Jackson calls Peter - he tells him to meet him at the Chelsea Hotel at 8PM. Peter rings around, and the group ask the receptionist for the room, and then take a creaking steam elevator up to the third floor. Carnegie generously tips the elevator operator. Simmington doesn't tip at all.

They knock on the door - but there is no answer.

"Something's not right here," growls Agius. He senses trouble - and hears a heavy thump in the room, and then the sound of footsteps inside. He quickly takes out a set of lockpicks and in a few seconds opens the lock. The door swings open.

Inside they all see a terrible sight. Jackson Elias is dead, eviscerated on his bed, with a bloody symbol carved into his forehead. Two black men in cheap suits, carrying strange african clubs, are opening the window to the fire escape. A third black man charges at Christopher.

Christopher stands and decides to fight, but the rest of the group immediately flee down the corridor. Christopher is left to fight all by himself.

Christopher swings and lands a couple of good punches, but he is outclassed by the strange weapon. When a second assassin joins in the fight, he is slashed viciously across the shoulder, and he ducks and belts out the door after his companions...


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Episode 2: New York

Symmington flees down the stairs, and doesn't stop until he reaches the foyer, gasping 'Murder! Call the police!'. Dean Carnegie stops on the landing and notices nobody is following them. People are appearing out of doorways, and a couple of porters appear. Dean asks one of them to come with him, and they head back towards the room. The Porter smashes a glass fire emergency station, and takes an axe. Together they creep back to room 410.

Chris Agius reaches the foyer, covered in blood. He gasps for an ambulance. The Hotel Manager, now trying to contain the chaos around them, tells him an ambulance is on it's way, as is the police.

Peter Michaels prepares his camera, and creeps back up the stairs determined to get a picture or two. The Manager and a couple more porters head upstairs as well.

Dean and the porter find the room is empty, and the curtains flapping against the open window. Dean looks out the window and sees the three black men, nearly at the ground, on the fire escape outside. Quickly he scours the room, scooping up clues before the police arrive. He finds a few scraps of paper when the manager arrives, with the porters and Peter.

Dean thinks quickly. 'I'm the executor of this man's will. By the constitution I'm entitled to a few minutes alone with my dear friend to secure his notes before the police arrive.' This is all said with such confidence, with a flurry of legal Latin, that the shocked Manager agrees. Dean pulls Peter inside with him, and closes the door.

Aside from a flyer for a speech by a Professor Cowles, a few letters and a matchbox from a Shanghai Bar, they find something that only the assailants could have left behind - a scrap of a bus ticket for a stop at 137th Street, East of Lennox.

'That's in Harlem,' says Carnegie.

Among Elias' effects they also find a business card - Emerson Imports, with the name Silas N'Kwane. Carnegie vaguely remembers this name until it clicks - he bought some esoteric African artifacts from a Silas N'Kwane at a place called Juju House. He remembers the shabby, oppressive shop quite clearly. It was near 137th Street, East of Lennox.

'The same location. That's not a coincidence.' Peter takes a couple of photos of the dead body and the crime scene.

The police arrive - about eight cars, with Detective Poole at the lead. He hammers on the door and Carnegie opens it to allow the uniformed cops inside. He and Peter are ushered out. The cops look pale and shaken by the horrific murder.

Lt. Poole arrives and takes Carnegie aside, and quizzes him. He asks the others to come to the station tomorrow morning to have their statements taken. Dean Carnegie asks what he can do to help solve this terrible crime, and Poole gives Dean Carnegie his card and tells him to call him if he remembers anything else. Uniformed cops rush out to put out an all points on thee black men in shabby suits.

Chris is given first aid and taken to hospital. The rest of the group pile into Symmington's spacious Packard, where the driver provides them with blankets against the cold, and drives them to Symmington's provate club, where they warm themselves in deep leather Chesterfields by a roaring log fire while a waiter brings them drinks (the rich have little to fear from prohibition) and Beef Wellington. They pore over their clues, and try to understand each of the Carlyle Expedition members, and their relationship to each other.

The lecture by Professor Cowles suprises Professor Ludlow - he went to it, it was a few days ago. He didn't remember seeing Jackson there, but it was a large hall and they could easily have missed each other. He remembers Professor Cowles spoke at length of a vicious Aboriginal cult of the Sand Bat, who believe their god is still buried beneatht he sands of Australia, at certain places marked by huge Granite standing stones.

'Boozy' Symmington talks about Edward Gavigan, the administrator of the Penhew Foundation. Aristocratic London is a small place, and he remembers Gavigan as immensely wealthy, immaculate, polite, and not much of a drinker. Somewhat reserved, at least compared to Symmington.

They decide that they should get in touch with Miriam Atwright of the Harvard Library and with Jonah Kensington of Jackson's publisher, Prospero Books, tomorrow. They discuss the events of the day and get their stories straight for Lt. Poole tomorrow. Then they call the hospital and check that Chris Agius is okay.

Dean Carnegie recites what he remembers about Silas N'Kwane. They decide they should check out Emerson imports as soon as possible, and Juju House as well.

Dean also suggests that 'Boozy' should think about getting some security - perhaps a bodyguard. He also suggests that they all stay with Boozy for the next few days for the sake of safety. Symmington heartily agrees, energised by this weird adventure.

Professor Ridley gets a long distance line to talk to his wife in London briefly. Chris Agius calls his mum from the hospital room to let her know he won't be coming home tonight but she shouldn't worry. Dean Carnegie takes a cab from the club to go home. His wife is still awake, smoking and fretting. His son is asleep in another room. He starts to pack, and his distraught wife demands to know what's goin on. He tells her he has to go away, and she demands to know what is going on, throwing his suitcase out in the snow. He explains that he is in danger, and he can't tell her why or she'll be in danger as well. She helps him pick up his things and pack, and, sobbing, asks that he call her every day to make sure he's okay. He agrees, and rides off in the waiting cab.

Friday, 16 January, 1925

Peter calls in sick from work, and drives to the hospital to pick up Chris. Together they ride to the police station to give their statements. In the waiting room are the others - Symmington had stayed at his club to drink, and is asleep in a chair as a consequence. While he is giving his statement, Peter Michaels uses his ability to talk cop talk, to pump Poole for information. Poole tells him that the murder is almost certainly a cult murder, that the three men were seen leaving in a stolen black sedan, and that they are getting advice from a man called Mordecai Lemming who is a folklore expert on cults.

Lt. Poole types out their statements with two fingers on an old Remington typewriter. Symmington's car is waiting, so they decide to visit Prospero House. They pull up outside and knock on the door. A sub-Editor shows them through the cluttered office to meet Jonah Kensington, who greets them warmly, ushers them into his office, and commiserates with them on the death of Jackson Elias - he is quite shaken and had read about the death in the morning's paper. He greets Professor Ludlow warmly - he remembered him as one of Jackon's collaborators. However, he is a bit uncertain on sharing the notes he has from Jackson, and he comments he is uncertain what future the book has at this point.

Symmington announces that he's very interested in seeing the book go to print, and offers to pay for it's production. He immediately writes an extremely generous cheque ($6,000) to cover Jonah's expenses. Jonah is astonished but pleased. He brings out the notes, which were made in both Nairobi and London, and some correspondence.

They read the notes with awe - Jackson believed he had uncovered some global conspiracy, with some sort of timetable. His fnal notes are shaky and seem to indicate mental instability, or at least shock. One section indicates Jackson had met a man in Hong Kong who had seen Jack Brady alive and well in Shanghai. Kensington gives them the names of two of Jackson's contacts in London - a policeman of scotland Yard, and the editor of the 'Scoop' newspaper. Kensington tells them to let him know if they find out anything - he is keen to complete the book.

Next they head to emerson imports, where the owner, Emerson, spends a pleasant hour showing them a variety of his stock. Symmington uys a pleasant looking Japanese black lacquer cat (instructing his driver to pick it up later).

Carnegie mentions Jackson and Silas N'Kwane. emerson says he does a lot of importing for N'Kwane, but he is just the middle man. He expresses some uneasiness about N'Kwane but can't exactly express why.

They leave, and discuss what to do next. Carnegie is very keen to go to Juju house, but Ludlow is adament he won't. He has a bad feeling about the place, and his fear gets the best of his curiosity, though he is somewhat torn. They decide to split up.

Ludlow heads to the New York Medical board. Using his stature as a Professor and his knowledge of how such things work, he is easily able to gain access to the files of the late Dr. Huston. He quickly locates the records of Erica and Roger Carlyle - and reading them, he finds out about Roger's strange dreams, as well as the fact that Huston appeared to have been blackmailed by Carlyle into coming on the expedition. Carlyle helped him cover up the suicide of a patient he had been sleeping with. He makes quick notes on the files and goes to rejoin the group.

Meanwhile, Carnegie visits Juju House. The shop is down a short cul-de-sac off 137th. It is crowded with African artefacts, and the smiling elderly Kenyan proprieter follows Dean around the shop, trying to interest him in various items. Carnegie asks if there are any artifacts from the Nandi tribe, but Silas doesn't have any. Carnegie suprises Silas by speaking to him in Swahili, and they continue their banter in that language. Carnegie tries to distract N'Kwane by buying a small fetish for $5. While it is being wrapped, Carnegie notices that a recent receipt has been torn out of the receipt book. On a hunch, when he leaves, he checks in the trash cans near the shop - he easily finds the pink receipt form - a $15 item sold to Jackson Elias. Obviously they were trying to conceal the fact Jackson Elias had visited him. Carnegie pockets the receipt, and leaves with his wrapped up African fetish.

Chris uses his underground contacts to check out the stolen car - but it is a red herring.

Peter goes to visit Mordecai Lemming. He visits Lemming at his apartment, where he endures long, condescending speeches about the ignorance of those who don't follow the Christian god, and about the shocking excesses and cruel rituals of the black man's Haitian voodoo cult. Peter soon realises this man is of little help to him, makes his excuses, and leaves.

They meet up that evening once again as guests at Symmington's plush apartment. They share the information they have gleaned. Peter is shocked at the description in Huston's notes on Roger Carlyle regarding his dreams - his own dreams are strikingly similar, particularly in regard to the asymmetrical triangle. His hands shake and he drops his glass.

Symmington decides he should call Erica. He is soon put through. He abbles on for a bit, until Erica loses her patience, and firmly, but politely, insists he get to the point. Symmington says he would like access to the books that her brother owned, which he is certain are in her safe. Erica confirms she has some books, but declines Symmington's offer to buy them. She says he can have them, and invites him to come up to her Westchester Estate on Sunday.

They discuss what to do next. Carnegie is adamant on their next step - they must break into Juju house. He asks Chris is he might know some people who might help. Chris makes a couple of phone calls and soon confirms that two experts at this sort of thing - Tony and Angelo - are available on short notice.

Professor Ludlow takes a moment to pen a quick letter to his wife. He writes another to his confidante, Archie quick, a childhood friend who is now a London policeman.


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Episode 3: New York

Lord Symmington is worried about his personal safety - he asks his Butler, Wilson, to hire a couple of bodyguards. After a short while Wilson advises he has contacted the Pinkerton Detective agency, and two officers will be over shortly. Worried by the term 'detective' Lord Symmington hurredly asks that Wilson cancel the request. The others point out as well the inadvisability of bringing two perfect strangers in on what is essentially a criminal enterprise.

"What he's saying, Boozy, is don't hire people you don't know."
"Yeah. Besides, if things get heavy, just do what you did last time - run!"

Chris counsels Peter - no photographs. Dean takes the opportunity to call his confidante, explaining that they are going to break into Juju house, should anything happen to him.

They decide, for the sake of discretion, not to take the rolls. Professor Ludlow had the foresight to borrow a capacious Packard from a friend - it should be a little less conspicuous in Harlem.

Chris notes that he has asked his hired goons, Tony and Angelo, to open the place, and then wait outside in their car, and flash their lights to indicate that they have been successful. They head down to the car. They are all dressed down witht he exception of Lord Symmington who is dressed in breathtaking attire - he shimmers in expensive suits and silks. He doesn't know how to dress down.

At Harlem, they see Tony and Angelo in the car. the lights flash, and they all get out and head down the little alleyway. The door has been shimmied open, but otherwise the shop is empty and dark. Armed with flashlights, they enter the store.

The place is dark and shabby. The statuettes and gewgaws cast weird shadows in the torchlight. The register is empty, and there is very little of interest. A small room at the back contains some personal effects, piles of newspapers, some full ashtrays, etc, and a door leading out to a back alleyway.

Dean Carnegie and Professor Ludlow examine the artefacts.
"I say - is that a Ritoto?"
"Why yes. Fascinating! I didn't realise they had access to the black wood of the Limpopo for their carvings!"

But Carnegie's interest is piqued by something else. While looking around the counter, he senses that something is not quite right with the architecture of the building. Bending down, he feels a pull ring under the rug. Bingo! He rolls back the rug and finds a trapdoor.

They debate what to do - obviously the trapdoor must be investigated. Chris goes and summons Tony and Angelo from the car, they arrive with long coats, fingering their pistols.

"I've got a bad feeling about down there," says Chris. his nose for trouble is usually pretty good.

They throw open the trap door and see stone steps leading down into the darkness. Chris takes out his gun and gives it to Lord Symmington.
"You know how to use one of these things?"
"Ah, yes, mostly."
"Great. Cover us."

They head downwards, Tony and Angelo going first. single file they head downwards for what seems like an eternity, until they reach a landing with a large, carved, wooden door. Chris helps Tony and Angelo lever the crowbar. They heave with all their might, and With a count of three and a sound of torn wood, the door bangs open.

They look inside.

There is a chamber, lined with unlit torches, with a curtained alcove on the far side. At one end is a huge stone disk, probably a lid over a well, with a pulley mechanism to allow someone to open it. Fascinated, they enter the room and look around.

The room is eerie, stone lined, and sinister. Professor Ridley goes up to the curtained alcove and, using his walking cane, pulls the curtain aside.

He gasps at what he sees and takes a couple of steps back. Four black men, in shabby suits, dead, with their entrails hanging out and their lips sewn shut, stand in the alcove. At the movement of the curtain they move and face Professor Ridley with pale milky eyes.

Ridly shouts as the undead step through the curtain and attack them. At the sight of them, Angelo shrieks with horror, and fires wildly at the creatures. Tony runs like hell. Lord Symmington shouts "Everyone get out!" and runs for the stairs. One zombie lunges at him, but he slips out of his coat and manages to get away. Dean Carnegie dodges the chaos and ducks into the alcove. He sees some priestly paraphenalia - a headdress, some lion claw gloves, a copper bowl and a mask - and a book. He grabs the book and ducks out of the room. Seeing the zombies grappling with Angelo and Professor Ridley, he runs over to where the grappling mechanism is, and tries with all his might to pull open the large stone lid. His hope is there might be an escape route, but he is unable to move it alone.

Angelo is dragged down and dismembered before Professor Ridley and Carnegie's horrified eyes. Carnegie manages to duck between two bloodied zombies. Professor Ridley is badly mauled, but manages to escape the grip of the zombies and flee up the stairs, followed closely by Carnegie. At the top, the others are waiting. They see the zombies aren't following them. They close the trapdoor and try to decide what to do next. Dean has a moment of panic, but finds he is still holding the book he snatched from the alcove - 'Africa's Dark Sects', marked as the property of Harvard Library. They leave as quickly as they can. The headlights of their Packard briefly illuminate the car of Tony and Angelo, still parked there.

They return to Lord Symmington's. Boozy himself pours himself a stiff drink as his first point of order. Dean checks Professor Ridley, and bandages his wounds. Professor Ridley thumbs through the book - excited, he asks Carnegie if he may take it to read.
"Of course, buddy."

Peter suggests they return. Chris thinks if they do go back, they could use rocksalt in shotguns - salt is supposed to be good against zombies. Everyone else declines - they are hurt and frightened and need to rest. They decide to rest for the weekend while the Prof reads the book. Carnegie calls his wife to let her know he's okay.

On Sunday, Lord Symmington has his butler call a discreet doctor to attend to his wounds. Peter and Carnegie check in with their wives for a day or two normality. On Sunday, Lord Symmington goes out in his rolls to Westchester - driving past Sing Sing Prison, to visit Erica Carlyle.

A butler leads him out back, to where Erica is taking a tennis lesson from a burly Cuban called Eduardo.
"Hello, Lord Symmington! A pleasure! Shall we retire to the library? It's where I do most of my business when I'm at home."
"Hello there, yes, quite."
"Would you care for a drink?"
"Oh, gosh, yes. Very much."
"We have squash, lemonade, soda?"
"Oh blast. Never mind. Perhaps a soda then."

They go to the library, where Erica's lawyer is waiting.
"This is my lawyer. His name is Mr Grey. He handles all my affairs."

Mr Grey explains that they have had the books appraised, and that Lord Symmington must sign for the books, as well as act as guarantor for their safe return by the end of the week. Lord Symington is asked to sign three copies of the contract, and then a porter helps him load the books into his car.

By the end of the weekend, Professor Ridley finishes his reading of 'Africa's Dark Sects'. The true importance of the book strikes him. His mind reels as he connects the dots and realises that all the cults are related, that they all stem back to one dark god, primordial, predating even mankind, and that this god has a master plan, which even now is ticking to completion. He quickly calls the investigators together, and they meet at Lord Symmington's club.

At the club, his face drawn and shocked, he explains his insight. This unknown scheme is a terrible threat to the world, and perhaps the entire human race. The others are a little uncomprehending, but accept what he is saying. They are shocked to learn that the book contains a ritual called 'The Sharing of the Dark Breath' which can bring the dead back to life.

At this point Lord Symmington shares the books he has received - The Pnakotic Manuscripts, Selections de Livre D'Ivon, The People of the Monolith, and Life as a God.

They decide to divvy out the books in order to have them all thoroughly read by the end of the week.

Professor Ridley calls his 'research assistant', with whom he is having an affair, just to hear her voice and gain some reassurance, but it doesn't help much. Dean Carnegie calls his wife to make sure she knows he is all right.

"Dean, Im scared."
"It'll be okay, honey."
"There's a car outside. It's been there for an hour and there are two men inside. I'm pretty sure they're watching the house. They're black men. What should I do?"


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Episode 4: New York

Dean insists they go immediately. Symmington refuses to go, and refuses to let Carnegie use his car. Professor Ludlow says that Carnegie can use his borrowed car. Carnegie and Chris race downstairs, and Chris floors the accelerator and the car screeches out into the street.

Chris tries desperately to navigate the heavy traffic, but he gets caught in a couple of jams. By the time they screech to a halt outside Carnegie's house, the front door is open, and there is no sign of anyone inside. A few broken items seem to indicate some sort of struggle.

Carnegie kneels - on the carpet he sees some threads from a thick hemp rope. He recognises the colour and texture of the rope - it was the same as that tied to the walls of the underground chamber they entered in Harlem.

"We've got to go to Harlem."
"With just the two of us? We gotta get backup!"
"There's no TIME!"

They race to Harlem. Chris has got the hang of the car and the traffic, and he speeds to Harlem making great time. They screech to a halt outside the cul-de-sac leading to Ju-Ju House.

Chris hands Carnegie his pistol.
"Here - you know how to use one of these?"
"Yeah but - what are you going to use?"
"Come on."

Chris goes to the rear of the car. He opens the boot and removes from a duffle bag a Tommy Gun.
"I'm ready. Let's go."

They head into the alleyway. The shop is lit - there are people inside. Suddenly Chris has a bad feeling - he looks tot he side. there are two black winos lying in the alleyway. But there's something not quite right about them - Chris looks harder and sees that both men are watching him intently. He raises his gun. The men react instantly, springing to their feet, pulling out razor sharp knives, and running towards them with a shriek.

Carnegie and Chris empty their guns at the men. One man is mown down by the Tommy gun, the second slashes Chris. While Carnegiereloads his pistol with shaking fingers, Chris brings the second man down with another volley from his machine gun. Cordite smoke fills the air. Their ears ring.

"There goes the element of suprise."

They step toward the shop. Chris, who has been involved in more than a few massacres, hears a shuffle from behind the door - someone is hiding next to the door ready to ambush them. Chris takes a step back, replaces his ammo barrel, and then lets loose, raking the store with bullets.

The windows smash, bullets rip apart the statues inside, puncturing the walls. Chips of wood, plaster, and metal fly through the air. Silas n'Kwane, the old man who owns the store, falls to the ground. Blood pours from a dozen bullet holes all over his body. He drops a ceremonial knife from his fingers. Chris steps into the store, replacing his clip again, as he steps over the pool of blood. He plucks up the ceremonial knife from the old man's fingers and looks around.

The trapdoor behind the desk is open, and a flickering light shines from within.

"We should go get help," mutters Chris.
"There's no time! This is my wife! and my son! We've got to go down!"

Carnegie clambers down. Cris reluctantly follows.

They clmb the steep stairs down. The door to the underground chamber is open.

As they approach, a booming voice with an African accent calls out, "Stop! I will kill them both! Put down your weapons and come to me with your hands in the air!"
"Oh yeah?" shouts Chris, "Kill them and then what? There goes your protection!"
"Do you really think anything you can do can harm me?" calls the mocking man, "Surrender or they will die."
"You're bluffing! you harm them and we'll waste you so quick you won't have time to blink!"

There is a scream, and a spray of blood. The body of Carnegie's son is thrown out into the landing, blood gushing from his slit throat.
"No! God, no!" screams carnegie. he rushes down the stair. Chris, cursing, follows.

Carnegie and Chris burst into the chamber. Standing there is a black man, in his thirties, holding Carnegie's sobbing and hysterical wife in one hand, and a straight razor in the other. Disturbingly, the stone disk has been moved by the pulley system, revealing a well. From within the well come wailing voices, desperately miserable, kind of human, but also not quite human. The noise sends shivers up their spines.

"Let her go!" shouts Carnegie.
"Put your weapons down! you will bow before me and my god!" snickers the man, "Nothing you do can hurt me!"
"I've got a goddamn Thompson Machine gun here. You kill her and you'll be dead in seconds."
"For god's sake Chris, do as he says."
"The hell I will. I've got the advantage here. I'm calling your bluff."

But the man isn't bluffing. Completely unafraid, he slits Mrs Carnegie's throat and throws her body at the two men. Carnegie gasps - he has just lost his entire family to this crazed killer. Chris is shocked at the bloodshed, but opens fire anyway, but his aim is off - he strafes the air, though a lone bullet clips the man's shoulder.

At this point the zombies lurch out from the back alcove, and Chris is confronted with a horrific sight - Angelo, now dead, is among them. Carnegie opens fire, but his aim is terrible - his hands are shaking and his eyes are blurred with tears.

At the same time, the man starts chanting under his voice, and making weird hand signals. Chris feels his skin start to burn - and then he feals a searing pain across his body. Wisps of smoke and steam start to rise from his body. He lets out a scream and flees. Carnegie follows him. They race to the car and screech off into the night. Carnegie sobs in despair.

They return to Symmington's house. Chris drags a shocked Carnegie into the room. Carnegie pours himself a stiff drink. Chris tells Symmington to call a doctor.
"It'll arouse suspicion."
"Just get the damned doctor! I'm nearly dead here!"
Symmington calls his butler and explains to him that they need a doctor, and Wilson shimmies off to make a call. While they wait Chris relates the whole bloody and supernatural tale Professor Ludlow takes detailed notes. He is particularly interested in the ceremonial knife.
"Yes. definitely the Cult of the Bloody Tongue. Fascinating."

Peter goes and has a quiet word with Carnegie, asking if he's okay and offering his sympathies. Carnegie is grateful, but says he would like to be alone for a little bit.

The doctor arrives. He helps heal Chris, but declares Chris needs hospital care. Symmington decides that is too dangerous. Instead he asks Wilson to engage a nurse, and also to re-hire the two Pinkerton's he let go the day before. As quickly as he is able. He also remembers he lost his jacket in the melee in the underground temple. He asks Wilson to call his London Tailor as soon as he can to disavow all knowledge of the jacket.
"Very good Sir."

After an hour or so, the nurse arrives, as do two Pinkerton Detectives - Mr Foster and Mr Green.

"Good," says Symmington, "You two men come in here. I need to brief you in private. Wilson, you come too."

Symmington explains to the men that he is in terrible danger. He and his friends have uncovered an African death cult, and they are trying to kill him.
"You're saying some Negra men want to kill you?" drawls one of the Pinkertons.
"Yes, that's about it."

The Pinkertons divide up the day into shifts, with Green taking the nights and Foster the days. Foster goes home to get some shuteye, and says he will return in the morning.

Symmington tells Wilson to rent out an entire floor of a Hotel for him and the other investigators to live in for a month. And then to put the word out that he, Symmington, has left the country. Wilson agrees to do so, but then says that with regret he must tender his resignation immediately. He is not impressed by these shenanigans, and does not wish to tangle with death cults.

Symmington takes him aside and talks to him at great length, assuring him that with the Pinkertons around they will be safe. He also gives Wilson a hefty raise. Reluctantly, Wilson is reassured, and agrees to stay on.

The party rests overnight. The next day dawns - Monday 19 January.

Over breakfast, Wilson reports that the Astor is too expensive to rent a floor on. Symmington's resources, though impressive, are not infinite, and he has been spending more profligately than usual recently. They are forced to rent a floor in the Chelsea hotel - the very Hotel Jackson elias was murdered in.

Dean Carnegie hardly sleeps that night. The next day he announces he's leaving. He needs to get away, and he has a friend in Vermont, out in the country, who will help him with his grief. Peter agrees to go with him, and the two of them drop into the police station to declare his wife missing (they had an argument and she took the boy, is his cover story), before getting on a train.

As porters try to move a few unobtrusive cases tot he Chelsea, wilson reports that he has finally got a trunk line to England, and that the tailors have reported they had already received a call from a man who was interested in the jacket. He claimed to be interested in a reward. Symmington has a swift drink and grabs his things to quickly relocate to the Chelsea hotel, where a fawning manager greets him warmly under the assumed name of 'Mr Smith'. Only an imbecile would fail to recognise Symmington though, the famous Millionaire Playboy.

Symmington calls Erica Carlyle and asks if he might be able to borrow the books for a few days more. erica agrees - he can return them next week if that is agreeable to him.

That week Symmington keeps himself well below the Plimsoll line of sobriety, watched over by the detectives and his anxious butler. Professor Ludlow reads feverishly through the Pnakotic Manuscript, 'Life as a God', and 'The People of the monolith'. By the next Sunday his mind is fractured from the revelations he has received. Dean Carnegie and Peter Michaels return from Vermont. Carnegie is extremely strong-willed, but the tragedy has only steeled his resolve to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Professor Ludlow realises what is going on. The Cult of the Black Pharoah is just one cult among thousands all around the world. all worship different aspects of the one god - known as Nyarlathotep. He is the gate to the dark apocalypse. The cults are his servants, and they serve his aims. And he has one difference to other primitive gods. He is real. how foolish, Ludlow realises, was hi belief that Nature was something noble, and that primitive cultures were privy to some purity and simple honesty. the truth is that these other cultures are permeated with the evil cults, they are just as foul and polluted as the Western world. and the life we see around us, teeming, is just the fetid and mutated remnants of the original alien life that seeped down from the stars aeons ago. Ludlow knows what he must do. Gathering up the books he leaves his room at the Chelsea hotel and goes to the stairs. The Detective Green stops him.
"Sorry Professor, I can't let you leave with those books."
"Let me go damn you!"
"I can't do that."

Ludlow pushes past the man. He drops the books, except for the Selections de Livre d'Ivon. This he clutches in his hands as he flees down the stairs, pursued by Green and a rather fleet footed Symmington. They arrive in the boiler room of the hotel in time to see Professor Ludlow giggling gleefully as the book is swiftly consumed in the furnace.
"It's gone! nobody need ever know what awful truths are contained within!"
"Are you mad? I only borrowed that book! I was supposed to have it back to Erica Carlyle this week!"

Furious, Symmington kicks out Professor Ludlow from the hotel, telling him to get out of his sight. The Pinkerton detectives back him on this. Professor Ludlow slinks out of the hotel and catches a cab back to his house.

Symmington calls up Erica Carlyle and summoning all his charm, tells her that the book has been stolen but that he will recover it, and the other books he will send back with his driver right away. Erica is concerned, but she believes Symmington.

Symmington then calls the police and lays a complaint with them of theft of the book.

Sitting at home, making furious notes on his revelations, Ludlow receives a visit from the police. They insist on searching the house for the book. but they seem to believe Professor Ludlow when he says that Symmington has the book and is framing him for the theft. They leave, but indicate they might be back, depending on how their investigations go.

Professor Ludlow calls the Chelsea Hotel, and asks to be put through to Dean Carnegie.
"Dean, it's Ridley Ludlow. how are you doing?"
"I'm all right. I'm doing all right, considered."
"Look, we have to act. we can't stay here and be picked off. We need to get to London. all the clues lead there. Gavigan is the clue to all this. The Penhew Foundation is right at the root of this mystery. They know what's going on, and they are working for...him!"
"I couldn't agree with you more. we must get to London at once!"


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I've run Masks twice using BRP. Are you noticing differences on running it with GUMSHOE?


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I've run Masks twice using BRP. Are you noticing differences on running it with GUMSHOE?
Definitely. Players have a lot more agency - which is to say, they are a lot more empowered to do things to creatively get clues. For example, Lord Symmington was able to say 'I know Erica Carlyle' and spend some points on Credit Rating to gain access to her book collection. As a consequence, there is a lot less 'pixel bitching' over clues.

I'd also add that it is a lot less deadly - and that the Stability rules have worked very well. Also, the ability of a player to have a Mythos insight by spending Cthulhu Mythos is great.

And the drives - oh, the drives are magnificent. As a GM, they allow me to create a much more Lovecraft type game than CoC, while still allowing players to retain control of their characters. You'll see this in action when I get around to posting our latest session.

I think this is (and I never thought I'd say this) a much better game for Lovecraft than BRP. My players agree.


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Ouch. This definatly shows a big nasty point of CoC: even human foes are extremely difficult to deal with since they can frequently be utterly barking mad.


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Thank you for the detailed explanation :) I'm a long time BRP and CoC fan and GM, but we're getting a lot of fun playing Esoterrorists, and I got Trail of Cthulhu and the reading was really interesting. Of course, one of the first things I thought of is, can I adapt my classic and beloved CoC campaigns to this shiny and new system, and have the same fun?

Judging from your description, it seems that yes,we can. I would like to see, if possible, more comments from you on the mechanics and how well they mesh with the campaign :)


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Thank you for the detailed explanation :) I'm a long time BRP and CoC fan and GM, but we're getting a lot of fun playing Esoterrorists, and I got Trail of Cthulhu and the reading was really interesting. Of course, one of the first things I thought of is, can I adapt my classic and beloved CoC campaigns to this shiny and new system, and have the same fun?

Judging from your description, it seems that yes,we can. I would like to see, if possible, more comments from you on the mechanics and how well they mesh with the campaign :)
Hm. Sure.

The investigation mechanics are pretty simple - if you are there, and you use an ability, you get the clue. Occasionally you might say 'Spend two points from your pool to get something more' to get something really juicy. I was worried initially that this would make the clues too easy to find - but in fact, this wasn't a hindrance to enjoyment. My players in Trail have gathered twice as many clues as players in CoC, and had a lot of fun doing it. In my last session they visited the Harvard Library, where they were able to get acces to the library by using Bureaucracy, and then found clues to how a book was stolen using forensics (with a basic role they found tiny marks in the wall and deduced an interdimensional portal, with a 2 point forensics spend they found a deep gouge in the concrete and tear in the carpey, and with a 1 point Cthulhu Mythos spend poor Professor Ludlow deduced the involvement of a Dimensional Shambler.

The Drivers are brilliant - every investigator has a driver for investigating. Lord Symmington's in ennui - he is so jaded that the thrill of the chase is the only thing that keeps him interested in life. In a critical situation (should I open that door to find out what is making that tapping noise?) the GM can call for a driver - if they take it they get stability back but potentially put themselves in deadly peril. If they refuse, they do so at the cost of stability.

Sanity has been broken up into two stats - Stability and Sanity. Prof Ludlow, after reading all those bad books, has a perilously low sanity, but his stability is still in one piece. He functions pretty well in society, but he is dangerously close to Mythos nihilism. Poor Carnegie has a high sanity, meaning he still believes in mom and apple pie, but he is in danger of going over the edge due to the loss of his wife and son. He isn't in danger of becoming a cultist, but he is in danger of a breakdown.

And this leads to one of the nicer concepts of the game - sources of stability. Each character has a number of people who are there sources of stability. You can spend time with them, and refresh your stability. If bad things happen to them, you lose lots of stability. This has worked nicely into putting the characters into a social context. You'll note that Carnegie was trying hard to not endanger his wife, and that he was careful to call her. When his family was slain, he spent a week with a friend - this friend was a source of stability, and allowed him to refresh his stability up to it's new, pitifully low, maximum. Some of the players haven't twigged yet, but when their stabilities start to get down to 0 or below, I'm betting they'll be sending urgent telegrams to their wives and loved ones to come over to London (or Cairo, or Nairobi) at once.

I hope this helps.
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