Sunday, 17 April 2016

Carnacki: The Find (Bookhounds)

Borrowing from the greats is a worthwhile endeavor, particularly if you're a Keeper looking for source material. William Hope Hodgson is definitely one of the greats, and his character Carnacki the Ghost-Finder is even contemporaneous (broadly, anyway) with a Bookhounds game. So this time out I'm going to steal from one of Hodgson's least loved stories: The Find.

The Find is about a suspected book forgery. A rare and valuable tome turns up, surprising the academic community since only one was supposed to exist, and that copy is safely tucked away in a museum. If genuine, this is an incredibly valuable find. Yet the Elizabethan author, Lord Welbeck, went to great lengths to make absolutely sure there was only one copy, and would only ever be one copy. Then the second copy is thoroughly checked, and proved beyond question to be a genuine item. So what happened?

The reason why this is thought to be the least interesting Carnacki story is because Carnacki's famous for ghost finding, and there are no ghosts in this one, nor even the least hint of the supernatural. However as a story it's well crafted, and it's hardly Hodgson's fault that his audience didn't want a Carnacki story without ghosts in it.

Spoilers ahoy:

The museum copy is the fake, and the 'unexpected find' is the museum copy. The faker reasoned that nobody would check the museum copy as closely as the new one, and switched his fraud for the museum's book. However the fun bit is in how he was able to make a convincing fake:

"I can only suppose that he must have come across a dummy copy of the Acrostics in some way or other, possibly in the bundle of books he says he picked up at the Bentloes' sale. The blank-paper dummy of the book would be made up by the printers and bookbinders so as to enable Lord Welbeck to see how the Acrostics would bind up and bulk. The method is common in the publishing trade, as you know. The binding may be an exact duplicate of what the finished article will be but the inside is nothing but blank paper of the same thickness and quality as that on which the book will be printed. In this way a publisher can see beforehand just how the book will look."

And so a scenario is born.

In the ongoing campaign design for Bookhounds, the characters finish the first arc by discovering a copy of Cultes des Ghoules. In fact they discover two, making them the luckiest occult book dealers in London. Surely this counts as a shop Windfall?

At which point you, as Keeper, step in with a third copy of Cultes. This copy has athropodermic binding, making it the rarest of the rare. Moreover this copy is in the hands of one of du Bourg's most hated rivals in the trade, and the rivals are loudly proclaiming the du Bourg books to be obvious fakes. After all, this is one of the rarest tomes out there, and now those liars at du Bourg's claim to have two? Absurd!

So the characters go from a potential Windfall to a Reverse, as the hated rivals blacken the shop's reputation. Of course, the rivals' copy is the fake, but it seems completely genuine. Made in period style, on period paper, and of course since we're stealing from Carnacki it is exactly what it seems to be, so far as binding and paper goes. Naturally this is because the rival got hold of a printer's copy of Cultes with blank pages. The rival then got a forger to come up with the text, using as close an approximation to period style and ink as possible. The exact nature of the text (and its source) is Keeper's choice; perhaps the hated rival borrowed from a Mythos tome, or perhaps it's just mumbo-jumbo, however convincing the exterior may be.

The anthropodermic binding is something the Comte d'Erlette did himself, and there's where the rival might come a cropper, because it will have to fake that. Unless the rival actually went out and murdered someone, bribed medical students or undertakers are the likely source of the binding material.

Why do this? Well, consider what happened at the end of the last arc. The players hopefully succeeded against significant odds, but it's going to be one of those successes that spills intestines and gore all over the shop. Someone's house probably burnt down. A character or two may have expired messily. What you need after an experience like that is a brief period of cool-down.

One scenario - and only one - in which nothing very awful happens is a good thing. It lets the characters take a breath, and lets the players regroup. The wounded have time to heal, and anyone who got packed off to an asylum has time to mend their fractured psyches. Maybe they even start planning for the future. But most importantly it lets people role-play and develop their characters in relative safety. That gives you levers to play with in future scenarios.

Also, from a game economy perspective, this particular scenario gives the Keeper a means of keeping cash flow under control. Theoretically the characters could sell the Cultes for a fortune, but not if everyone thinks that the du Bourg copies are fakes. Even if the rival's copy is shown to be a fraud, enough mud will have been slung to make the du Bourg editions seem dubious. So no Windfall for them, but if they play their cards right it isn't a Reverse.

So who is this hated rival? To be a successful rival it ought to have power equivalent to, if not greater than, du Bourg's. Taking the Winter and Spring tropes discussed earlier, this shop ought to be at least a Summer, possibly Autumn store. I wouldn't use either power level for a PC shop, but for a Keeper-controlled rival it's perfectly fine. Its Credit Rating ought to be one higher than du Bourg's, and its experts ought to be roughly on a par with the player characters. It may have appeared earlier in the campaign, but in any case it will be appearing with greater frequency in the upcoming arc. This scenario serves as its introduction, if it wasn't introduced earlier.

I'm not going to design a hated rival here. That's best left to you, since the rival ought to mirror the players' version of du Bourg's in many ways and thus, without knowing what the players did to make du Bourg's their own, designing the rival is a little pointless. In any case you already have enough to go on.

However since I'm probably going to be referring to the rival in future posts, rather than keep saying The Rival every so often as if this is a Mills & Boon bodice ripper, I'm going to call it Bentloes. Again, borrowing from Carnacki. And why not, after all?

That's it for now. Enjoy!

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