Sunday, 28 August 2016

A Path With No Ending (Spilsbury, Trail, Bookhounds)

Following on last week's discussion about Sir Bernard Spilsbury's career, I'm going to give you a short scenario idea drawn from his experiences. This idea is written from a Bookhounds of London perspective, but could easily be used in Trail or Call of Cthulhu.

The following quote is from The Life of Sir Bernard Spilsbury, by Browne and Tullett.

Pamela [aged 9 and a half] had left her home in South Romford after lunch on the 18th [January 1939] to walk back to her school in Benhurst Avenue. Her stepmother watched her going along Southend Avenue towards a street called Coronation Drive, which leads to Benhurst Avenue past Elm Park Station on the District Railway. Two school friends waited for her in vain at the corner of the Avenue. Somewhere on the way, less than a quarter-hour's walk, the little girl had disappeared, in broad daylight. When she did not return to tea, and it was learned she had not reached the school, Mrs Coventry went to the police. The body was discovered early next morning.

It was naked, except for a cotton frock tied loosely around the neck, and doubled up, the knees being under the chin, tightly bound with black and green insulated wire and tarred string. Insulating tape covered the knots. Beneath the body was a rotting mattress. Rigor mortis was advanced, and there were the usual painful symptoms of strangulation, this time by hand. When Spilsbury began his examination, and straightened the limbs, the stub of a home-made cigarette fell out from between a thigh and the chest. He found a great number of small scratches and bruises on the head and body; a large bruise on the jaw was probably, he thought, caused by a blow, and another behind the left ear might be the result of a fall on a hard surface. The child had been criminally assaulted, and had evidently struggled with her assailant. She had died within an hour of her last meal, the dinner she had eaten at about one o'clock on the 18th.

Though the police did arrest someone in connection with the crime, the evidence was circumstantial. Although he possessed many of the items found at the scene - the wire, home-made cigarettes made with the same brand of tobacco - and a raincoat spotted with blood, the prosecution couldn't make a case. The blood couldn't be proved to be the same type as Pamela's, and the items were commonly available; thousands of people used that same brand of tobacco, the same roll-up papers, and owned that kind of wire. The accused was acquitted.

The scenario opens on a cold day in March, as the aftershocks of the case are dying out. The protagonist sits in the bookshop in the early morning, browsing the newspaper in a quiet moment. Her attention is drawn by the mention of Elm Park, and a nagging realization that, somewhere in the bookshop's collection, there's mention of that part of London in connection with a megapolisomantic working. What was it?

She goes in the back to find the book only to discover that, although the cover is still on the shelf, the contents have been skillfully removed and replaced with pages from another book of the right period. Someone's been stealing, and a quick survey of the shop's collection shows this isn't the only time. There are several books and pamphlets missing, all of them to do with London and megapolisomancy.

Core clue Forgery: whoever did this had some skill, but wasn't an expert. They knew enough about books to get replacement papers from the right period, and knew how to quickly and carefully exchange the contents. However anyone with real skill would have been more careful with the binding and stitching.

Core clue Locksmith or similar: the criminal wasn't able to get at the really valuable stuff, as that's [presumably] locked away. There's some scratches on the lockplate that show someone tried, but failed. All the stolen books were interesting, but not especially valuable even to a megapolisomancer. There wasn't enough in them to teach a person Magic, but perhaps in combination with more important texts someone could have tried a Megapolisomantic working of their own. 

Core clue Assess Honesty or similar: allows the protagonist to draw up a short list of people who might have had access to the books in question. Not all of them would have been easily available to the public; some were in back rooms, out of sight. However there are several people other than the player characters who might have had access, among them:

  1. The Favored Customer: There's always one. The customer who seems a friend, who spends a lot of money, or who brings in a lot of other customers. He might have been wandering in places other people wouldn't be allowed to go, but you'd think nothing of it, because he's that good a customer.
  2. The Nuisance Customer: Not the same thing, but it has the same effect. This pest cannot be kept to the public areas. For whatever reason he keeps wandering in the back rooms looking for prizes, and you keep chasing him out.
  3. The Business Rival: Every so often you're visited by this fellow, who comes to talk shop and discuss upcoming auctions. Sometimes you work together, sometimes you're deadly enemies, but you're both in the same trade so when he visits he gets a higher level of access than the standard customer.
  4. The Contact: This may be a catalogue agent, book scout or forger who regularly does business with the shop. Naturally he doesn't mingle with the ordinary customers, and he probably knows as much about the shop's stock as you do.
  5. The Delivery Men: Theoretically these hefty workers only lift and carry, but what if they do more? They're always here each week, bringing boxes to and fro. What if one of them decided to make a little extra on the side?
Core clue Forensics, Evidence Collection or similar: The protagonist is frozen in her tracks when she notices that, where the books used to be, there's a scattering of loose tobacco. It's easy to confirm that this brand is the same brand found by Spilsbury at the crime scene. Was the book thief involved in that crime too?

From there the scenario progresses. One of the above is indeed the book thief, and may be the killer too. The method of abduction relies on magic: the megapolisomancer creates what amounts to a small pocket out of time, in which the caster can do as he likes for as long as he can keep the magic going. Nobody will interrupt him; nobody notices he's even there. Of course, bending the city's power like that carries consequences of its own, which will result in peculiar events - perhaps random summonings or disappearances - in the place where the working occurred.

That's enough for this week. Enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment