Sunday, 7 August 2016

The Long Con: Gentleman Jack (Trail of Cthulhu, Bookhounds of London)

My scenario, The Long Con, won a Silver Ennie at GenCon this year. As I wasn't there and didn't have the chance to speechify or thank people, let me get a few things out of the way before passing on to the meat and potatoes:

Thanks to Simon, who originally let me develop this for YSDC and then took it under Pelgrane's wing.

Thanks to Paul, who helped me bring The Long Con to life at YSDC to begin with.

Thanks to the Pelgrane team, from editors (hi Cat!) to artists, who collaborated to put all this together.

Thanks again to the original playtest team, Chris, Jillian, Jym and Mary. Much fun was had!

Thanks to a certain Shoggee, who sent me a book about Yokai for Christmas and so inadvertently kicked all this off.

Thanks especially to all of you who voted for The Long Con!

I don't have a whole lot of time today, as it's tech rehearsal for the play I've been directing - opening night's this Thursday, hope you bought a ticket - so I'm going to spend a little time talking about some movies I find inspirational, and which helped me create the character of Gentleman Jack, one of the significant antagonists in the script.

One of the main inspirations for the character's style and personality is Sir Richard Attenborough's performance as Pinky, in the 1947 movie Brighton Rock. I'm amazed, frankly, that YouTube hasn't a decent clip of his performance. It's a smasher. Graham Green, the author who wrote the novel on which the screenplay is based, wasn't convinced Attenborough could pull it off. By the end of filming, he admitted he'd been entirely wrong. Pinky, the quiet, cunning razor-killer, is Gentleman Jack, at least as far as personality goes.

However for those Keepers out there looking for other period films to help them develop a Bookhounds game, I thoroughly recommend these two gems:

Night and the City, directed by Jules Dassin, starring Richard Widmark as the scheming Harry Fabian. Nothing conveys the seamy underbelly of the city more convincingly. Those opening scenes with Fabian on the run grab your attention, and it stays grabbed from that moment to the killer ending. Apart from Widmark, who's a smasher, Googie Williams and Francis L Sullivan, as a sleazy night club owner and his scheming wife, and Herbert Lom as a crooked wrestling promoter, give standout performances. But really there isn't a bad performer in the bunch. A must-see.

The Blue Lamp. 1950, with Jack Warner, in iconic character PC George Dixon's first appearance. Dixon would go on to be a mainstay of British television, but this first film outshines anything seen on the gogglebox. Both this and Night use London's street locations to stunning effect, but the standout here is Warner's Dixon. There's a reason why this copper became the face of British policing. Another must-see.

But enough of all that. Let's take a look at Gentleman Jack for a moment, and think about what might happen after the scenario.

Whatever happens, Jack is going away disappointed. I won't spoil why, but if you've read the Long Con you know he doesn't get anything he wants, and may end up arrested. What would someone like that do to get revenge?

Probably something very nasty, with razors. But first he'd like the protagonists to have a taste of the humiliation he endured, so to that end consider the following forgery:

The Book of Vampires, Monstrous Ghosts, Sorcery and the Seven Deadly Sins. First published 1802 by a German printer, this book discusses Demonology and Occult, is written mainly in German with some Latin, and is in good condition overall with some minor damage to the leather binding. To a collector, it might be worth as much as £25 (or close to £1000 in today's money). In Bookhounds terms, it's a Windfall.

Or it would if it were real, but it's not. Jack had one of his forger pals create it, and it's a pretty good facsimile. It takes 2 points of the appropriate Craft or Forgery abilities to work this out.

Jack's plan is this: he gets someone to pretend to be a rich buyer, possibly a ghoul confederate with appropriate body-warping magic. This rich buyer spreads the word that he's on the lookout for that book. Then Jack lets it slip to the protagonists that he knows where a copy can be found, for a price. Let bygones be bygones, says Jack; why let past troubles stand in the way of present success?

Jack steers to the protagonists to the copy, and lets them make the presentation to the client. Then, horror of horrors! The 'rich buyer' discovers it to be a forgery, and threatens to sue. This definitely counts as a Reversal in the shop's fortunes, if the protagonists let this go ahead.

Then Jack steps in again, and says he can make the problem go away, if the protagonists pay him. Sure enough, if the protagonists pay, the problem goes away - because there never was a problem in the first place. Jack may siphon a hundred pounds or more from the protagonists in this way, possibly even returning to blackmail the protagonists again if he thinks there's a chance.

Of course, if the protagonists show fight or don't pay, Jack steps up his game and starts using razors and menaces to get the money he feels is his rightful due.

That's enough for today. Many thanks again to all who voted! I'll treasure this.

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