Sunday, 24 June 2018

Rats In The ATM (Night's Black Agents, Mumbai)

Only time for a quick one this week as there's a lot on. Among other things I'm directing a play - first read-through today - and making a cheesecake for my birthday, cos I like cheesecake. ;)

This one borrows from Ken Hite's Looking Glass Mumbai as well as this article about an ATM whose contents were devoured by rats.


Now to the story seed:

Making Bank

This broadcast is a one-day silly season attention getter for most media outlets, but for the agents it's a different story. There's enough detail in the Indian press to indicate the involvement of a Bhuta, possibly more than one. Although the Western press have only picked up on the ATM incident it's clear from Hindi outlets that this is the third incident of its type in the last three weeks. It's the first to involve an ATM; the other two were less eye-catching. Interesting side note: all three events have taken place within walking distance of Antilia, allegedly the largest private home in the world. Moreover a 0-point Traffic Analysis or similar discovers that at least one member of the Antilia's staff were near or on the site of each incident moments before it occurred. In fact a senior staff member was the last person to use the ATM before its rodent infestation. Is this Conspiracy action, or something else?

Option One: Unwelcome Guests. It's a curious fact known to few (1 point High Society or similar) but the family that built Antilia don't live in it. They hold parties and events there, but as soon as the last guest leaves so do they. Rumor has it this is because they fear bad luck; experts say the building has bad Vastu Shastra. The experts aren't wrong; the building has become a magnet for Bhuta. In fact the building is so crammed with spirits that some of them are ranging out into the wider world in search of excitement. The staff are very well paid and know better than to tell anyone about what's going on, particularly foreigners; no amount of reassurance or bribery will work on them, though Intimidation mixed with Occult Studies or Vampirology might. It's not the Conspiracy this time - but getting too close might get someone hurt or killed.

Option Two: Shot Across the Bow. The local Conspiracy Node is leaning on Reliance Industries, which is controlled by Mukesh Ambani, owner of Antilia. Reliance is in a range of different industries from petrochem to telecom, retail, and special economic development, so the Director's free to choose which of those lines the Conspiracy is interested in. Reliance also does business with Russian interests, so depending on the nature of your Conspiracy it might be his Russian friends that got him in this fix. Regardless, the Conspiracy is making its position plain: so far we haven't hurt you - but we could. Submit. Rescuing Ambani from this threat could earn the agents a powerful friend, the kind that can grant Excessive Funds.

Option Three: Good Staff is Hard to Find. A senior member of staff (of a total of 600) has drifted too close to the vampires. She might have found a Conspiracy asset or an unaligned bloodsucker, but whichever it was snacked heartily. The staff member didn't quite die, but it was a very close thing. Now her paramour wants to seal the deal - it wants a loyal Renfield at Antilia, and thinks the staff member is ripe for the plucking. However the frightened woman is hiding in Antilia, and there is some Bane or other preventing the vampire from getting in and taking what it wants. The Bhuta are a side-effect of the vampire's presence; it can't get rid of the things, much as it would like to.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Forger (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

This post is inspired by this article about Sotheby's latest acquisition: James Martin, an expert whose scientific mastery helps him spot fakes.

In the Dracula Dossier there's one story seed and one Node that could be affected. The Node is the Extraordinary Objects Department, and the story seed is the Portrait of Dracula by Francis Aytown, created in 1894.

Sotheby's offers a five-year money back guarantee in the event of a forgery, so it has every incentive to make sure it sells genuine artwork. Leaving aside that expense there's insurance to consider: every time it has to make a claim, premiums skyrocket. That's why it brought Marin and Orion Analytical on board.

The Extraordinary Objects Department handles strange, unusual and unique items from around the world. Everything it sells is scrutinized by experts, to ensure fakes don't slip through the net. Now it has the best scientific examination equipment and personnel on offer. Assuming the EOD is either an Edom or Conspiracy asset, why would it do that?

If an Edom asset, then it's because the EOD is stepping up its game. Orion isn't just expert at spotting forgeries: it has the very best anti-Vampire equipment Tinman has to offer. Anything found in the field or brought in by outsiders is subject to its scrutiny. The department's Recovery Team is the beneficiary of this new scientific wisdom, and is much more likely to spot either Conspiracy influencers or fake vampire-related artefacts. It's also going to be much more capable in the field, should it encounter something a little more dangerous than the norm.

If a Conspiracy asset, then it's because the EOD is trying to make itself look good. Too many dodgy artworks have gone out into the world, and people are getting suspicious. There's only so many times the jug can go to the well before it shatters, so Martin is the "new broom." He's not supposed to uncover anything; his job is to cover up the Recovery Team's activities. If brought on as an innocent, then the Conspiracy will be actively trying to corrupt him, and the agents might try to use him as a way into the EOD. Alternately he might be a Renfield, or even a full-fledged Vampire, the new, unofficial head of the Recovery Team.

Then there's that Portrait of Dracula. If it's a forgery, then Orion Analytical should spot it easily enough. That might lead somewhere interesting, depending on who the forger is. However it could be more interesting to use Aytown's portrait in a different way.

Francis Aytown is hardly the world's most renowned Victorian-era artist, and his Portrait is never going to be worth anything to anyone other than a small circle of vampire hunters. However there are plenty of other artists of his era whose work is worth a great deal more.

As the article points out, there's only so many times anyone can forge a Da Vinci.  "The technical skill needed to forge a Leonardo is colossal," says expert Georgina Adam, "But with someone like Modigliani it isn't." Aytown is in the Modigliani ballpark - someone who wanted a canvas of the right age to forge an "authentic" Modigliani might use the Portrait as a base. In fact, a canvas of Aytown's vintage is even better; Modigliani famously tried to destroy all his early works, so someone wanting to forge an early Modigliani that escaped destruction would love to have an 1894 canvas to work with.

If the Portrait is a minor item, then the deception could be uncovered by Orion. However there probably wouldn't be enough left of it to be useful. The process of preparing the canvas for re-use would have destroyed the original.

Suppose it was a Major Item, with all the psychic essence that implies. Suppose a part of Dracula is in that canvas. Imagine being that forger, working with it every day, having it eat into your soul. 

Story Seed: Dash of Color. The agents are alerted by an art-knowledgeable Contact (Journalist, Art Historian, Sculptor) who points them at a recent scandal in the art world. A Modigliani passed as genuine by Sotheby's has turned out to be a fake, but in a peculiar twist the owner not only refused to accept that she'd bought a fraud, she also committed suicide - cutting her throat while standing in front of the alleged Modigliani. Forensic analysis at the scene notes that there ought to have been blood splatter all over the painting, but not a drop can be seen on the canvas.  

The painting is currently in the possession of the Metropolitan police, but it might not be there long unless the agents intervene. A group who, while not part of the Conspiracy direct, are Conspiracy-adjacent, intends to steal it. This might be some of the Psychic's hangers-on, or the Madman; whoever steals or tries to steal it is highly motivated. Almost psychotic, really - and they show signs of vampiric infection. Former Renfields or unaligned/feral vampires are likely to be members of this group.

Tracing the fake through Sotheby's to the seller discovers that the vendor acquired it from a forger working in an East London garage. It might be the Sculptor, or someone hired by the Sculptor. Whoever it is has a highly sophisticated set-up in that garage, but it's all for naught; the forger's been going slowly out of his mind ever since he worked on that piece. The studio's covered in renditions of the original Portrait, but he can't quite get the likeness.

Meanwhile the Portrait is asserting itself, underneath all that fake Modigliani. The more blood it gets, the more like the original it becomes. If it can get enough sacrifices - perhaps provided by its new owners - the Portrait will be exactly as it was before the forger got his hands on it.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Time Horizon & the Conspiracy - Night's Black Agents

Time Horizon: Shareholders are concerned about the long-term financial prospects of their company, because the value of their shares depends on expectations for the long-term future. In contrast, managers might only be interested in the short term. This is partly because they might receive annual bonuses based on short-term performance, and partly because they might not expect to be with the company for more than a few years. ICSA Definitions in Corporate Governance.

It occurs to me that the Conspiracy in Night's Black Agents is relentlessly anti-Capitalist. Which will come as a shocker to you, I'm sure, but consider - even the Mafia operates on a kind of managerial reward scheme, with bonuses and benefits. The Conspiracy does not.

If you're middle management in this organization, you don't get bonuses based on short-term performance. Vampires don't care about the short term; their interest is strictly in centuries. Their servants, being mortal, would probably like to think about short-term benefits, but that would be a huge mistake. If upper management ever got the idea that the chair moistener from section 7G was developing strange notions, that foolish dreamer'd be off to the slurry pits.

So what keeps this organization functional, bearing in mind that it doesn't operate in the same way a corporation would, with salary bumps, bonuses and other rewards? Why become middle management for immortal psychotics?

1) The alternative is worse. Say you're a criminal, whether part of an organized crime network or just a talented freelancer. It's not like you can go to the cops for help. They'll just dump you in the slammer or the booby hatch, and that assumes you live in a relatively civilized nation rather than one where the authorities shoot you on sight. Plus, there's always death. Only one kind of person climbs out of the coffin, and you're pretty sure it's not you. The threat of death works on just about anyone, particularly if it's a suitably messy and prolonged death.

2) Sweet Toys. There might not be much hope for you, but at least there's plenty of fun to be had while you're still above ground. The vampires have access to all the best stuff - seemingly bottomless bank accounts, narcotics by the boatload, pretty people and booze. There's enough to numb the senses and stop you asking the important questions, like how long you can expect to enjoy all this.

3) Obliviousness. Very few people in the first two levels of the network are going to know who they work for. All they know is they get slipped some cash and aren't encouraged to ask questions. That plus the various vampiric powers of mind control and memory wiping ensures even the more inquisitive chair moistener never realizes what she's involved in. It's like the guys and gals at Enron; one day they had jobs, stock options and a future. Next day they're clearing their desks.

4) Ambition. Sure, you're not part of the in-group now. In time anything's possible. Play the game, keep your head down, and maybe one day …

However there's one big problem with this system. It's very vulnerable to abuse, but not the kind you may be thinking of.

Barings Bank sank thanks to a rogue trader, Nick Leeson. Soc Gen nearly went belly-up thanks to Jerome Kerviel. Kewku Adoboli made the management team of UBS look like chumps and lost over $2 billion. Toshihide Iguchi burned through $1.1 billion.

Weak management, ethical vacuousness, regulatory deficiency and a culture of deference to success leads to trading disasters time and again. The Conspiracy often has its claws in multinational corporations or banks, but it's a cinch that the vampire masters aren't sitting down with the audit team every other month and going over risk factors and daily trades. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't see Dracula poring over annual reports and crunching numbers. That's what Renfields are for.

Problem is, if you don't understand what your company is doing then you risk someone taking advantage - and then you're really screwed. Barings went belly-up, after all. Vampires are the shareholders in this parable, but shareholders are seldom activists. They want their company to succeed, but they often don't pay enough attention to the inner workings of the company to ensure its long-term survival. When disasters happen, often the first sign the shareholders pay attention to is when the share price sinks below sea level - and then it's too late.

Picture the scene: ashen-faced government ministers in close conference with solemn lawyers and suicidal bankers plan strategy and write and rewrite policy, as queues of people line up in front of whichever financial institution is going belly-up this time. One man's face is on every television screen. Nobody knows exactly where he is; he was last seen boarding a flight, but never arrived at his destination - or if he did, he went straight into hiding. Billions of dollars went with him. Forensic accountants are still plumbing the depths of his secret off-books accounts.

Meanwhile the vampires are having a meltdown, because when that trader went off into the never-never so did their schemes for world domination. "What do you mean, the money's all gone?"


Worth watching.

After all that, a scenario seed:

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Hook: Through cutouts, a financial whiz-kid asks for a rescue. The whiz-kid is in a major European city, and wants help getting from there to Dubai completely unobserved. The outside world has to think he's still at home for at least 48 hours after he makes a break for it.

Wakeup: Any reasonable plan gets the target to Dubai as agreed. However very soon after they get there the agents see their faces on every TV screen, newspaper and financial webpage. Where is the whiz-kid? He's alleged to have brought about the complete collapse of the financial institution he worked for, and the depths of his bad trading have yet to be fully revealed. The agents are linked with his disappearance, and it soon becomes clear this is because the whiz-kid planned for that to happen. Meanwhile the whiz-kid has completely vanished; he has contacts in Dubai who helped him give the agents the slip.

Blowback: Initial Heat gain is substantial, but the first hit team isn't human. The vampires had a substantial interest in the collapsed financial institution, and are desperate to get the whiz-kid back. There's always a chance not all the money's gone, but only he knows exactly what happened and where everything went. This is why the whiz-kid burned the agents. As far as he's concerned they're meat shields, to stop the vampires from closing in on him before he made his getaway.

Stall: Continuing the search in Dubai is a bust. The whiz-kid came here because he wanted to get to an international airport hub with links all over the world. He could skip to Toronto, London, Kenya, Manila or anywhere in-between. He has friends at the airport who helped him confuse the trail by posting several different potential flights; tracking and Interrogating those friends will help find the whiz-kid.

Twist: The country the whiz-kid fled to has its own vampire program, or - if it's somewhere like Manila - has been infiltrated by a foreign nation's program, eg China's. He has contacts who work for that program who've offered him asylum in exchange for all he knows. Those contacts are just as happy to feed the agents to the Conspiracy as the whiz-kid is - they'd far rather the Conspiracy was chasing the agents than tracking the whiz-kid. Because of this, the agents find themselves gaining Heat wherever they go; the opposition intelligence agency is tracking their movements and telling the world.

Big Boom: The agents are finally in the same city as the whiz-kid, as are the Conspiracy and the other intelligence agency. Just when it seems the whiz-kid is about to be cornered, the car/plane/train he's in goes up in a big fireball. Nobody has the whiz-kid, not the vampires, the spies, or the agents. Is this an assassination, the whiz-kid's final escape plan, something else? Whatever it is, the agents will need to deal with it and clear out quickly, before all that Heat becomes too much to bear.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Playing With Real Toys: Monaco Yacht Show (GUMSHOE, Night's Black Agents)

This post is partly inspired by this Guardian piece about the perils of crewing a super yacht.


To start with, what is a super yacht?

Though luxury yachts have been around since the 19th Century, the number of super yachts has spiked since the 1990s and the rise of the mega rich. There’s no set rule for what is or is not a super yacht, but generally they have to be more than 45 meters long. That's for your ordinary rich person. The 100-meter gigayachts tend to be the exclusive preserve of Russian oligarchs and Gulf royalty.


They always have a permanent crew and luxurious accommodation capable of handling many guests. They can accommodate as many as they like while in port, but at sea  they're limited to 12 passengers unless they have specific permits saying otherwise. They have at least four decks above the waterline and two below. They are built to commission, which means no two superyachts are alike.  This one might have a gym, pool and sauna, and that one might have a working medical lab, a movie theatre, or massage parlor. It all depends on what the owner wants.
The industry is very gendered. As a general rule the deck crew will be exclusively male, and below decks crew exclusively female. This also means there is a strict age limit for female crew - "late 30s, and you're off," says one yacht captain
The biggest risk – and least recognized, at least by their owners – is cybercrime. The yacht’s Wi-Fi network is typically designed to be very strong; the owners like to be permanently connected. This means a super yacht’s network extends over a very large area, which lets people in the ship moored next door, or on shore, infiltrate it. Since most of the ship’s systems are interconnected a good hack team can get everything from the security camera feed to control over the navigation systems. Those with Data Analysis or using Digital Intrusion as an investigative ability know this as a 0-point clue. It bears repeating - the weakest link is always the internet of things. If you can crack any one device on that yacht, odds are it's connected to every other thing. It doesn't matter whether it's a projector, a fish tank, or the toilet. Once you're in, you're in.

Image taken from the Guardian, photographer Mark Thompson/Getty Images.

I've discussed Monaco before.

The annual Yacht Show began in 1991 and is organized by British events and publishing company Informa. It is held at Port Hercules, an ancient anchorage that dates to the 6th Century BC, Monaco's only deep-water port; the next event is scheduled for September 25th to 28th. The Show always lasts four days and includes over a hundred yachts and at least three times as many events. To give you an idea of the kind of event I'm talking about, when Informa bought the rights to the Show from the previous holders, it paid $1.4 billion. That's how much Informa thought it was worth in 2005.

It's a toy show for those who have the cash to afford the latest in marine architecture, prestige cars, and private jets. Whether you're interested in hardware, design, or accessories, you can find what you want at one of the hundreds of display stands dotted around the show. The most revered marine architects show off their newest creations, and discreetly deal with prospective clients in between chaperoning visits to their showcase yachts.

As with all things in Monaco security is heavy but discreet - the MYS site makes a point of thanking "the 35 security agents" who made the show a success. "The Monaco Yacht Show has identified 16 possible points of entry and access to the Show. One or several security agents will perform visual checks of bags of all types, and will ask those wishing to access the Show to open their jackets." Given there are 16 possible entry points and 35 security agents, it suggests that the heaviest security is at the entryway and there's minimal security presence once you're on the Show floor.

There's well over two hundred hostesses and support personnel whose comings and goings are controlled with access passes, for those agents wishing to make a more discreet entrance. There's a barrier for sea craft, limiting entrance to Port Hercules to those vessels with the appropriate security clearance sticker. Even then all passengers aboard need their own security passes. Sounds like a job for the Forger, though it should be noted that access to the best berths often depends not so much on the yacht's owner as it does on its captain. Seniority counts, even in Monaco.

Map taken from MYS.

Thrilling elements:

  • Polite but persistent security agents converge on a less-than-well-dressed attendee. Whether it's last night's liquor or natural talent that's making the attendee balky, this offers a chance to bluff past distracted security.
  • Glamorous twentysomethings in revealing outfits and stilettos breeze through the crowd, hoping to catch the eye of a super yacht's owner - or their more impressionable freewheeling children.
  • Calm and collected hostesses corral boisterous attendees, smiling at every less-than-funny joke.
  • Crowds gather around an impossibly cool thoroughbred car, eg an impeccably restored Shelby Cobra. The exhibitor discreetly takes the details of a potential customer.
  • Laughter and music from one of the yachts, as its architect hosts an impromptu cocktail party on the upper deck for potential buyers.
  • A brief flurry of excitement as an heiress' small dog escapes its leash and skitters through the crowd. Its owner, a couple minders and an embarrassed MYS official are in pursuit.
  • [Supernatural campaign, possibly an Occult spend] As has become traditional ever since the 2002 disaster, a special sacrifice of food and beautiful women is made at the opening ceremonial party in honor of Hercules whose port this is. Not that anyone dies - the women are ceremoniously dipped in the harbor. Tradition has it that Hercules, or his less-than-heroic twin Iphicles, attends the Show in secret, and any offense given to the God shall be repaid a hundredfold. 
Finally, a Scene:

A Network contact or similar go-between wants the agents to infiltrate the Show and hack the yacht Mantra-Mukta, owned by Indian billionaire Lakshmi Jindal. The contact is very interested in obtaining documents concerning a takeover bid Jindal may be contemplating against an American Biopharma company, and believes that Jindal will have the information on the ship's server. Jindal will only be in port for a few days, and after the Show will sail away. The agents will need to be quick.

What the Network contact doesn't know is that Jindal has been Renfielded by a vampire unconnected to the Conspiracy. This trip is a discreet meet-and-greet arranged by the Conspiracy in hopes of inducting a new member to the fold. Both Conspiracy and non-conspiracy assets are on site, including a Bhuta who may or may not be the non-Conspiracy vampire. The non-Conspiracy vampire stays on the Mantra-Mukta at all times in a specially constructed bane-free stateroom, but the Conspiracy assets wander the Show as attendees.

Hacking the Mantra-Mukta requires a Difficulty 5 Digital Intrusion test, reduced to Difficulty 4 if the agents can lift a smartphone belonging to Jindal's dissolute daughter Chandni and piggyback on her social media accounts to get access to the yacht's network. Of course the agents have to get into the Show first, and that will involve either High Society spends, an appropriate Cover, or some creative Forgery. The hack can take place from the dock but if the agents want to get onboard the Mantra-Mukta by all means let them; they might accidentally wander into that forbidden stateroom … If it takes place from the dock, someone will need to distract attention from the hacker otherwise bystanders or Show security might get curious.

There are two ways to do the hack. The hacker can try to sort through the reams of data - everything from the crew's social media to Chandni's porn and more besides - to get the precise information they need. That takes time. Or they can download every single scrap onto their own device to sort through later. That takes less time, but might require more sophisticated equipment since there's a lot of data to download. 

The agents will notice extra security on site not all of whom are what they appear to be; the Conspiracy is taking its privacy very seriously, and has infiltrated and replaced the Show's security with some of its own people. For that reason even a successful Digital Intrusion gains not 1 but 2 Heat. Moreover Monaco takes its security very seriously, and even more so when a prestige event like the Show takes place. Any Heat-gaining activity involving overt violence, even a punch-up, generates 1 extra Heat.

In a Supernatural game in this location, Heat doesn't just mean the cops. It also means Hercules, or his twin Iphicles. The God having been propitiated, He's willing to help His people if they get in trouble. That means in any Heat encounter involving non-Conspiracy cops, the God may choose to give one of them His strength. This gives one security personnel an extra 12 points to spread among Athletics, Hand-to-Hand and Health. If it's Iphicles giving the benefit then the boosted security can be Intimidated or bluffed, but a Hercules-inspired guard is immune to such tactics. Either Hercules or Iphicles can be delayed or stopped by a willing beautiful woman and an Occult spend to find the appropriate ancient Greek incantation. A boosted guard can be identified by the aureole that temporarily forms around his head.  

In a game where the optional Double Tap Familiar Foe rules (p 52) are used, the Familiar Foe should be the Conspiracy asset in charge of the meet-and-greet. The Director should assume the Conspiracy asset, Familiar Foe or not, has starting stats equivalent to Special Police or Special Operations Soldier. Conspiracy guards have stats equivalent to Gendarmes, and ordinary Show guards are Civilians with personal defense training. One in four Show guards are equivalent to Police - the leadership cadre. Not all the Show guards have been bought off by the Conspiracy, but a considerable number have and there's no obvious way the agents can discover who has.

Given the number of high value people at the Show there are bound to be Bodyguards, but as there are no guns allowed on site they won't have firearms. On that note, unless the agents can think of a really clever holdout they don't have firearms either. They might sneak in a small handgun, but anything larger is right out.  

Once the hack is complete the agents have to make a Thrilling escape from the Show. Assuming the hack was an undetected success, the agents need Lead 6 to escape and might begin at Lead 2 if the Digital Intrusion succeeded by 2 or more points. If it was not, then the agents need Lead 14. In this instance "chase" means "discreetly walk away" rather than run, though stealing a luxury car and driving through the Show is an option, as is stealing a boat. Remember that all exits including the harbor are monitored by Show security. The Show is Cramped for chase purposes.  

Once out the agents need to leave Monaco quickly, especially if the Conspiracy knows they're out there. A successful hack completely spoiled their meet-and-greet; the non-Conspiracy vampire is very upset that the Conspiracy's bungled security let hackers lift its data. An unsuccessful hack is still annoying, since any attempt is bound to upset the non-Conspiracy vampire. At a bare minimum a Tier 1 response is called for, especially if the agents are foolish enough to hang around in Monaco.

Enjoy!



Sunday, 27 May 2018

Ripped from the Headlines - Zombies & [Ultra]Sonic Zap (RPG All)

A few more snippets from the big wide world!

Well here's a shocker. Last week I talked about zombie game design and this week Floridians were devoured in their hundreds in a zombie attack.

Lake Worth, Florida was the scene of gruesome zombie carnage on the 20th May, when an emergency alert revealed the shocking truth that Lake Worth's authorities were determined to conceal: living dead cannibals were on the rampage after a power outage early Sunday morning.

Presumably released from some necrotic science holding pen as a result of the power outage, these creatures flooded through Lake Worth in an unstoppable tide. According to the emergency notification, 7,380 customers had been affected by the 27 minute long power outage but "far less" had survived the subsequent zombie outbreak.

Ben Kerr, Lake Worth's public information officer, said "We are looking into reports that the [push notification] system mentioned zombies. I want to reiterate that Lake Worth has no zombie activity currently and apologize for the system message."

A likely story.

You may recall last year's story about an alleged sonic attack on US embassy employees in Cuba. Well, times change, and sonic attacks change with them. Now the latest intel points to China as the next place Evil Sonics Do Naughty Things To US Embassy Employees. A consulate employee in Guanzhou allegedly suffered brain injuries after encountering some form of sonic emanation.

"The [State] department is taking this very seriously," says Jinnie Lee, a US embassy spokeswoman. "The Chinese government is also investigating and taking appropriate measures."

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a Chinese port on the Pearl River, and has long been a foreign trade powerhouse, the gateway to China. You probably know it without knowing it - if you've ever eaten Cantonese, admired Canton porcelain, or drank a bottle of Zhujiang, you've enjoyed one of Guangzhou's exports. That said, Guangzhou isn't famous for sonic death rays - at least not yet.

Frankly, my money's on goldbricking embassy employees with an attack of the vapors, but you never know your luck. By now every embassy employee must know the 'symptoms' experienced by the folks in Cuba. It'd be the easiest thing in the world to complain about headaches and ask to be shipped home, or at least to a more congenial deployment, if you happen not to like where you are.

Speaking of China, here's another sonic story from the land of Kubla Khan. Chinese researchers have discovered a vulnerability in Siri and Alexa's programming. Voice activated devices can be activated and commanded at ultrasonic frequencies inaudible to humans.

The sky would seem to be the limit. Phones and tablets can be commanded to open a communication link with other devices. Car navigation software can be rerouted. All you'd need is a smartphone and a bit of extra software, and you can do as you like. It's called DolphinAttack, and it looks pretty alarming.

 
What's more, at the moment at least it'd be difficult to defend against an attack of this type. "Microphones' components themselves vary in type," says founder of NewDealDesign Gamil Amit, "But most use air pressures that cannot be blocked from ultrasound."

It's been suggested that the reason why the designers left this vulnerability in is to help the machines understand human speech. The more restrictions are placed on the system, the more likely it is to make mistakes. However it could also be intentional, to help these devices communicate with other devices without the annoying tweeps and burbs of yesteryear. This helps phones control other gadgets in the home or office, allowing for that semi-magical feeling of control. Of course, it's less magical if everyone's a wizard, Harry ...

Of course, as has been suggested by poster Johan over on the Dracula Dossier FB page, vampires can also communicate at ultrasonic frequencies. This could allow them to control electronic devices quietly and seamlessly. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; the agents and their human adversaries could also use this hack. I imagine it would be particularly effective at high-end locations, hotels and casinos. After all, in Macau when you arrive they give you a complimentary cell phone which  comes pre-loaded with maps, guides, discounts and offers. Imagine what else it could be pre-loaded with …

Remember, the weakest point in this whole arrangement is the internet of things. If you can break one door down, all the other doors are vulnerable to you.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Small Town Zombie Chow - All Flesh Must Be Eaten

Perhaps it's just me, but as the heat intensifies with the onset of summer I feel the need for zombie goodness. I'm also a fan of Outside Xbox, which is how I came across this video:


Don't feel obliged to watch the whole thing if you don't want to. I post it because it sparked a train of thought: why is it in these zombie games towns never look like towns?

Sure, they have certain town-like attributes, but tell me truly: have you ever seen a small town in one of these games that doesn't look as if it were put together with Lego? People live here, work here, are born here, die here - and in a zombie apocalypse they're still dying here. Yet it's all oddly designed houses and suspiciously well-positioned radio towers as far as the eye can see. There's no sense of history, no real indication of what this place was like before the zoms came to zom everything up.

So this time out I'm going to draw on All Flesh Must Be Eaten ruleset by Eden, probably the best zombie survival game in print. My copy's the 2005 revised edition. I assume this is a game for Normals, in which the Basic Zombie (p146 main book) is the most common adversary. This means a player character with 50 build points can handle up to 10 zombies at a time. About 10% of the walking dead are improved versions of one kind or another, which get 10 extra Power points spent on them. That's the crunchy rule bit of this post.

I'm also going to draw on this article about the 27 most successful small business ideas for small towns. This is where I'm going to get my location inspiration. Finally I'm going to pick a town from this list of the prettiest small towns in Georgia, because why the hell not. Never kill yourself with work when someone else has already done it for you. Besides, I'm told there's a popular zombie series set in Georgia.

I'm reluctant to set this anywhere there's more than 4,000-odd people. That excludes a few towns on that list. So let's have a pop at Madison, Georgia. It even has a useful tourism website.

Named after an American President and incorporated in 1809, this township is Georgia's largest historic district. It avoided destruction during Sherman's march as one of its residents was a prominent pro-Union politician. This meant its antebellum plantations and homes survive in remarkable condition, luring tourists by the thousand.

This is a fictional version of Madison so let's not call it that. Let's call it Monroe, after Madison's successor. What's it like there? Well, Monroe has:
  • art galleries
  • museums
  • antebellum architecture
  • fancy restaurants & bars
  • Civil War memorabilia, including a statue donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
  • a farmers' market
  • antique shops
Plus other locations to be detailed. Already you should be getting a picture of Monroe, Georgia. You could probably name some of the streets if you tried, and some of the kinds of homebrew you can find on tap in the bar.

OK, time to add the zombies.

I'm not going to get too detailed here. There was an outbreak. It went about as well as you might expect. We are now two months in. Initial attempts at quarantine failed miserably, as did most federal and state bodies. While there probably is a federal or military presence somewhere, it's nowhere near Monroe. There is no state-wide power grid, but there are still plenty of generators and fuel for same. Communication is spotty, and almost entirely radio-based. Some landline telephones work, none of the mobile phones do. The internet is offline for good.

Human population of Monroe has shrunk to about 10% of pre-apocalypse numbers, split 50/50 between locals and non-locals. Assuming a pre-apocalypse count of 4,000, that means there are 400 people left alive scattered across a mostly rural or historic area something like 24 sq. km. large. Further assume that 10% of that 400 were in positions of some authority before this happened. State police, former members of a Federal organization like the CDC, local politicians - anyone who might reasonably be expected to lead and organize people. 

Now we come to those 27 small business ideas. I'm not going to go through all 27. That would break my brain and yours. However I am going to pick six, and see what a zombie apocalypse might do to them.

Coffee Shop & Bar: Before the apocalypse this place served coffee during the day and liquor after 4pm. Warm Discussions is near the farmer's market, just off the corner of Plum Street and S Main. A fire in the business next door shortly after the outbreak damaged the exterior, but the walls and roof are still sound - it's mostly smoke damage. Décor: exposed brick, brass & leather finishing. Location can be secured if the following entry points are dealt with: broken window front, main entrance, fire exit. Partially scavenged. Food & liquor on site in small quantities. Two Molotov cocktails on site. High velocity handgun on site with a dozen rounds. Location overrun by (Z=PCx5) basics plus one special with The Lunge, Teeth.
Bakery: Born and Bread in Monroe is a 1920s brick build on James Avenue within sight of Centennial Park. A firefight shattered most of the front windows but they have been boarded up. Bullet marks pock the exterior. Décor: glass, art deco, tile. Location has been secured. Location occupied by four survivors including one soldier, leader of the group. Food and liquor on site. Small stash of medicine on site. Three firearms, over a hundred rounds total, and three clubs on site. Group attitude: unwilling to trade unless materials to fix their radio are on offer. 

Food Truck: The Gourmet Machine specialized in BBQ with its signature Satan's Surprise mustard sauce. A firefight blew out its two front tires and it hit a wall on Bacon Street. If the tires were replaced the truck is in fair working condition and could be driven away. It would need further repair, but nothing too serious. Style: black & flame red exterior. Site has been secured, but it's a food truck - breaking in is not difficult. Location occupied by former CDC scientist, who is using it as a temporary base of operations after her last safe house was destroyed. Food on site, including plenty of Satan's Surprise. CDC medical equipment (travel bag) on site. One handgun and twelve rounds of ammunition on site. Survivor attitude: grateful for any assistance. Prefers authority figures.

Flower Shop: After all, it worked so well for Silent Hill. Pansy Petal was a family business run at the same location for over 15 years. The ground floor has been completely abandoned; there are survivors on the roof, growing vegetables. Décor: 90s chic, with a thick overlay of zombie destruction. Ground floor overrun by (Z=PCx4) basics. There is a means of getting up to the roof, but not through the flower shop; it can be done by going through the building next door. Food on site. Small supply of medicine on site. Location occupied by two survivors trying not to draw attention to themselves. One baseball bat on site. Survivor attitude: grateful for any assistance.

Bowling Alley: Splittsville is a 50s theme alley with vintage jukebox and pinball on site. The alley has been boarded up and is obviously being defended; it has working security cameras and a radio antennae on the roof. Décor: Happy Days, right down to signed posters and Fonzie for President chotchke. Food and liquor on site. Medicine on site. Power supply from portable generator runs security cameras & electric traps on the main doors. Location occupied by half a dozen survivors three of whom are cops. Two shotguns on site, 50 rounds. Three heavy handguns on site, 80 rounds. SMG on site, 50 rounds. Sword on site. Clubs on site. Group attitude: unwilling to cooperate, feels that its supplies are just enough to keep group safe without taking risks. Prepared to steal from others.

Pet Grooming and Boarding: Bark and Buzz Spa & Board is a very new business that, had the apocalypse not intervened, was due for Chapter 11 by the beginning of the next financial year. Décor: cheap and desperate. Paint, carpet, equipment all lowest possible standard. Lots of pet toys. Food on site, so long as you like eating dog chow. Radio on site. Pedal bike on site. Location overrun  by (Z=PCx7) basics plus one, the former owner, with Animal Cunning & Long-Term Memory.

So what did I do, exactly?

First, I picked a real-world location and copied some of its characteristics. This gives Monroe a lived-in feel. Then I borrowed some business ideas from a small business website. That gave me potential locations and some cues as to what those locations might be like. Then I searched online with terms like 'pet grooming store names' or 'bakery names'. There's any number of marketing sites out there which do this sort of thing all day long. After that I pencil in a few details about the occupants and the kind of gear that might be found on site. Nothing fancy. The folks at Splittsville might be major antagonists, or bumps in the road - no way to tell until the game starts and the players add their own flavor. For all I know the CDC researcher might end up the supreme villain. Or it might be one of those games where the actual antagonist is the situation, and the only thing the characters have to do is survive.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Murder on a Cruise Ship: A Photographer's Lawsuit

In July 2017 Kristy Manzanares, 39, was found dead in her Princess Cruise Lines cruise ship cabin. Her husband was arrested and charged with murder; he's awaiting trial in Alaska in November 2018, since the crime took place in Alaskan waters.



That's not what I'm going to talk about. This post is about what happened next.

As part of the on-board investigation, one of the cruise ship's security detail demanded that a ship's photographer make record of the crime scene. Jean Luc Van Wyk, who only signed on to take happy snaps of smiling families, was directed to take 100 photos of the very bloody cabin where a woman had been beaten to death. [Pre-trial discovery indicates 541 pictures in total, which suggests Van Wyck didn't take them all.] The security agent told Van Wyk what to shoot, and not to shoot. I'm guessing Van Wyk objected, given what happens next, and the security agent told him to shut up and get on with it.

Van Wyk has filed a lawsuit for damages alleging post-traumatic stress, making claims of Jones Act negligence, general maritime law negligence, maintenance and cure, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He wasn't up for photographing bloody crime scenes, and I for one don't blame him; it's hardly the sort of thing he expected to be asked to do. He must have been wondering, all the while he's snapping blood spatter, whether earlier in the cruise he'd caught some candids of Ms. Manzanares in happier, pre-murder times.

He filed that claim in a California court and the ship is Bermuda registry, so the cruise line's holding him to an agreement he signed on taking up the job: any and all disputes are to be arbitrated in Bermuda. Van Wyk would prefer to fight the claim in a California court, since he'd get more damages if he won a court case in California.

The latest word, as far as I can determine, is that a California judge told Van Wyk to go to arbitration.

Initial thoughts: why the hell the security guy didn't just borrow a camera and take his own photos? It's not as if Van Wyk had specialist forensic training; he's a happy snaps, let's-all-make-nice-for-the-camera shutterbug. The guard's shaky-cam couldn't have been any worse than Van Wyk's shaky-cam.

So what happens next to the security agent who caused all this mess? It's the one bit of the story I really want to know more about. Though I suppose if the cruise line is going to hang him from the yardarm it'll do it after the Van Wyk business settles, not before. Doing it before might look like an admission of guilt.

I see that according to this piece about security guard licensing the requirements for security personnel aboard a cruise ship may vary. Senior people will often, but not always, need to have law enforcement credentials. Your average guard need only be physically fit and proficient in English.

It's odd: you seldom see cruise liners in gaming or in mysteries any more. When liners were the only way to travel - broadly from the nineteenth century up till the jet age - there were any number of detective stories, romances, even ghost stories, set on liners. Charlie Chan had his murder cruise, Hercule Poirot set sail down the Nile, Wodehouse's idiots wooed and won, or lost, aboard queens of the sea. My favorite romantic comedy, The Lady Eve, begins with crooked gamblers aboard a cruise ship. These days whether it's a movie or a game when you do see cruise liners it usually means everyone on board is dead.

Which is a pity, because setting a scene aboard an ocean liner provides a complex yet artificial setting that can be adapted to any eventuality. Do you want to stage an elaborate heist? Imagine trying to crack a safe inside one of the luxury cabins, with all those cameras everywhere and thousands of potential witnesses on-site. Do you want to have a scene at a ski resort without all the fuss of actually going to a ski resort? Not a problem: there's a cruise ship that does that - or will do that. Luxury bars? Check. Casinos? Check. Elaborate theatres, robot bartenders, scuba diving, escape rooms? Not a problem.

Most of all, do you want an artificial setting where all the usual rules don't apply and the police presence is amateur hour at best? Cruise lines have you covered.

That's it for this week!

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Forgotten London: The Tyburn Tree (London)

This post inspired by the YouTube channel Plainly Difficult.


So how can this be gamified?

There are a few things that can be played with:
  • The gallows themselves.
  • The location of the gallows.
  • The artifacts associated with the hangings eg broadsheets.
  • The psychic impact of the event.
The gallows are a folkloric gold mine. Most people with any interest in horror folklore know about the Hand of Glory, and how it can be used by sorcerers. The condemned on the way to the gallows were especially prized for their curative hands, both before and after the event. There would always be a congregation of sufferers gathered at the three-legged tree hoping for a stroke from the soon-to-be departed, and the hangman could often be bribed to let the chronically ill have a few minutes with the corpse after its last jig was done.

However it wasn't just the hands that were valuable. The gallows themselves were magically potent. Plainly Difficult notes that the permanent gallows Tyburn is famous for were eventually taken down because of persistent vandalism. People were taking great chunks out of the gallows because they believed the wood itself was magical after being watered with the blood of the condemned, a theme that recurs again and again in ghost stories. The wood could cure ague, toothache, and bring luck at cards. 

So, a story seed:

John Rann's Chair A pub in East London claims to have an antique chair made from wood taken from the gallows that took the life of Sixteen String Jack, hung in 1774 for his many crimes. It's said the chair was originally made at the instruction of one of London's most prominent gamblers, Samuel William Rowlinson, a regular at notorious gambling club Brook's. Rowlinson is supposed to have died of a heart attack while playing Hazard at Brook's. Two nights ago a pub regular died sitting in that chair while playing cards, and there's been talk of a curse. What's going on? 

The location of Tyburn Tree is slightly in doubt. It's popularly supposed to be at the junction of Oxford Street, Edgeware Road and Bayswater Road, there's reason to think it might actually have been at Connaught Square.  This Georgian landmark is very exclusive, and has a private shared garden park in which a party is held each year. 

So, a story seed:

The Unwelcome Corpse Each year, the night before the party, the heads of each Connaught Square household gather for a quiet ritual at which they 'hang' a corpse - usually a dummy, though in the early days it's said they obtained their corpses from medical schools - with the intent of keeping Tyburn Tree quiet for another year. This ritual has been going on for longer than anyone can remember, and deadly secrecy is essential since some of the country's most important citizens live at Connaught Square. They couldn't afford the scandal. However this year Connaught Square was horrified to find an actual corpse strangled at the very spot their ritual was to be carried out. Nobody knows who did it, or who the body belongs to. Can this scandal be hushed up? How did this happen, and why?

Bookhounds of London characters will be interested in the broadsheets. Printed cheap and sold for peanuts, surviving copies of these scurrilous rags can be very valuable to collectors. Often the condemned sold her life story to the highest bidder, and had the satisfaction of seeing it sold at the same moment her limbs twitched for the last time. Or perhaps it was a poem, a song, some kind of political pamphlet - but whatever it was, there's bound to be a market for it. Even the lies are valuable, and Lord knows there were plenty of lies to go around. When in need of copy, broadsheet sellers plagiarized old sheets and added just enough new detail to make it seem as if the current condemned actually did all those things. Sex & violence always sells, particularly when mixed with a healthy dose of punishment for the wicked.

Provenance A book scout fallen on hard times and sodden with drink keeps coming up with vintage Tyburn broadsheets, which sell for just enough to keep the scout sozzled. In almost every respect the sheets seem genuine; the right paper, subject material, historical details, even the ink. The one thing wrong about them is they seem too good. Nothing that's been around for two to three hundred years has any business being in this condition. It's as if they were printed yesterday. Where is the scout finding these broadsheets? Why does the scout keep going back to Tyburn?

A Tyburn execution was a popular event. A famous one drew crowds to watch the condemned on his two mile procession to the Tyburn Tree. Wealthy spectators had their own stands built, or rented rooms along the route at one of the many inns or houses, while the poorer mob stood in the heat or rain - and in Britain rain is more likely. The trip to the gallows might take as long as three hours, as the condemned's passage was constantly interrupted. The prisoner often stopped at an inn to have one last drink - after all, a drunken prisoner was a compliant one, particularly if someone thought to slip drugs in his drink. Sometimes the prisoner would be pelted with rotten vegetables, eggs and other things, if they were unpopular or their crimes particularly heinous. More likable condemned would be better treated, but they all came to the same place in the end. 

Traffic Violations The church of St Giles has a traffic problem. Three times in the last three months there's been a serious accident in the street outside its gates, and each time the driver or passenger of the vehicle involved swore the accident happened because the road was slick with what seemed to be blood. Loose talk links the accidents with Tyburn dead buried in the churchyard, and some parishoners are getting hysterical. What's really causing these accidents? Is it to do with Tyburn, or something else? [Esoterrorists Keepers take note: this could be a scheme to weaken the Membrane.]

That's it for this week!

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Grimoires - The Long Lost Friend (RPG materials)

I've talked about grimoires before, those worm-eaten magical texts so often found on the bookshelves of the preternaturally deceased. In the last couple stories posted on patreon, Martin's Beach cunning man and private enquiry agent Mowry refers to one particular grimoire: the Long Lost Friend. I thought I'd take a moment to talk about that book.

Der Freund in der Noth; oder, Gehime Sympathetische Wissenchaft is known to have been published in 1793. No doubt its contents were liberally lifted from other occult works, but at this far remove it's difficult to tell where from. Like many other occult texts it claimed to draw on older secret knowledge.

The following secret remedies were taken from an old Spanish manuscript, which was found at an old hermit's who for over a hundred years lived in a cave in the dark valleys of the Graubünden Land, performing the region many wonderous works, among others totally expelling from the said region the monstrous dragon with four young which dwelt upon those fearsome mountains in Unterwalden.

So it's Spanish, which means it's from them there Foreign Parts with a very slight hint of South American/Aztec Wisdom. It comes from a mysterious place, and through its power great mystic works were possible. All good advertising needs your basic dragon or dragon-equivalent; nobody'd believe Tide got your whites the whitest without a demonstration.

What you actually got for your money was twenty-four pages of charms, medicinal remedies, and other magical workings. Since it was German it travelled across the ocean blue to America in the trunks and bags of German immigrants, and before long became in translation the Long Lost Friend. A collection of MYSTERIOUS & INVALUABLE ARTS AND REMEDIES for MAN AS WELL AS ANIMALS. First printed in English in 1846 by Pennsylvania German bookmaker Hohman, copies of this extremely rare edition now sell for thousands of dollars.

Of course this wasn't the only edition. Success breeds imitators, and before long there were several other Pennsylvania booksellers with their own versions of the Friend. One of the more ubiquitous is John George Holman's Pow-Wows, which went through many pulp printings in the early 20th century. There were some changes in content with each new edition, but at its core the Friend remained the book of charms it had been since 1793. Do you want to cure scurvy and sore throat? The Friend has a charm for that. Do you want to find water? The Friend will show you how.

Its influence lasted well into the 20th century. In 1951 a Pennsylvania Mennonite couple were reported to the police for refusing to have their serious ill child treated by 'scientific' medicine. Their belief in faith healing came primarily from Hohman's Long Lost Friend. "If the Lord wants to heal the boy, He will heal him," said the father to State troopers.

In 1928 a Pennsylvania murder was linked to the Friend. Farmer Nelson D. Rehmeyer was found beaten to death at his home, and it transpired that his killers had followed the advice of a pow wow man named John Blymyer. This cunning man had identified Rehmeyer as a witch whose hexes had bedeviled his killers. Rehmeyer happened to own a copy of the Long Lost Friend, and Blymyer knew about it. Blymyer told Rehmeyer's neighbors to break into Rehmeyer's house, steal his Friend and a lock of his hair, burn the book and bury the hair. That would break the curses they labored under. It all went spectacularly wrong, and in an attempt to cover up the killing the murderers tried to burn the corpse. They fled the scene without checking to make sure their cover-up worked. The fire went out, the murder scene was preserved intact, and the killers were brought to justice. Blymyer served twenty-five years in prison. After this, Pennsylvania authorities became extremely sensitive to hex magic cases, and the Friend got a reputation as a witch book.

In game terms, books like the Long Lost Friend confer no real power as such - not when compared to the eldritch authority of the Cthulhu Mythos. However they do have occult status. Any self-respecting curse-breaker is bound to have a copy. Moreover as it has been through so many printings by so many different booksellers, a Keeper would be well within her rights to give it a few Mythos touches. No doubt those touches are borrowed from some other text, just as the original Friend borrows its ideas from mysterious Spanish mystics.

CoC 7th Ed:

The Long Lost Friend. English translation of a German hex book, containing a collection of prayers, charms and medical advice. SAN Loss: 1/1D2. Occult: +4%. Mythos variant: SAN: 1/1D4+1. CMI: +2%. CMF: +4%. MR: 12

GUMSHOE:

The Long Lost Friend. Adds 2 to Occult rating. Potential dedicated investigative pool Oral History (assumes players use it or phrases from it in conversation with old folks, particularly in Pennsylvania or anywhere there's a significant German population) or Theology. The Mythos version provides 1 Mythos.

Whichever version you use, assume it confers no spells - or at least, no spells that work as advertised.

Enjoy!

Source material provided by Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Caveat Emptor

YSDC's adaptation of my scenario The Many Deaths of Edward Bigsby is going really well, and people seem to like it. In honor of that, here's a very skeletal scenario for you about a cursed French commode.

No, not that kind of commode.

It's based in part on Jules Michelet's book Witchcraft, Sorcery and Superstition. Michelet is a very clever French raconteur and scholar who makes the stories he tells come alive - even if he has to sacrifice detachment and accuracy to do so. If you have any interest in this topic I urge you to seek it out. I have the Citadel Press translation which is why the title's slightly different.


Caveat Emptor


The Hook


The investigators are asked to authenticate an allegedly cursed Louis Quinze commode, only to discover that the curse is all too real.

Louis Quinze: A term used by antique dealers and art historians, this means that the item was made during the reign of Louis XV of France, or 1715 to 1730. This is sometimes called the Regency period. The grand Rocaille stylings with their graceful curves and elements modeled on nature, an artistic rebellion against the heavy formal styles popular in Louis’ fathers time, are just beginning to come into fashion.

Commode: The meaning is derived from the French, meaning convenient, or suitable. A cabinet or chest of drawers, set low so as to be below the dado rail, or the midpoint of the wall.

The Awful Truth


In 1726 the notorious witch and false nun Madeline was brought by her confessor and captor Picart to a dungeon in his home at Rouen. There she was to be starved to death, but she proved remarkably difficult to kill. Over time Picart relented, but only because she was still useful – he could bring her to trials as a so-called expert witness to accuse other witches. All the while he and the staff of his house sexually abused and tormented her, thinking her less than human.

They grew so used to her that they seldom bothered locking her up. There was nowhere she could go. No family in Rouen would take her in, her family had renounced her, and to the wider world she was the notorious witch, baby-killer and false Bride of Christ. She had the run of Picart’s household.

Picart and his people failed to realize that whether or not she’d been a servant of dark powers before her incarceration she certainly was now. She had congress with strange creatures while locked in that cellar deep below ground, beings that advised her the best way to revenge herself on Picart. She scrawled her curses in blood on parchment stolen from Picart’s desk, and carefully concealed them in a false drawer of the commode. Then she waited for the curse to do its work.

She hadn’t long to wait. Before the month was out Picart had vanished, stolen into the void by the Dimensional Shambler her curse had summoned, but not bound. As it wasn’t bound the creature could return again and again, so long as it remained within a short distance of the commode. It did. Within another month, two of Picart’s servants disappeared, and people began talking about a curse.

Over the years the Shambler emerged from beyond our dimension again and again. Sometimes it didn’t take a victim, but allowed itself to be seen. On other occasions it merely wounded its target, or left bloodstains and other marks behind for people to wonder at. Often its victim would simply vanish without a trace.

These repeated visits began to damage the commode, in a dimensional sense. It no longer exists just in our world; it has a parallel existence across the void. It creates a hole in reality.

Holes allow passage in both directions.

The Cursed Commode


Date made: around 1710 to 1725

Artist/Maker: attributed to the workshop of Pierre Couchois, Rouen.

Medium: Oak and Fir veneered with amaranth, bloodwood and warama; gilt-bronze mounts; marble top.

Dimensions: 85.7 cm by 131.4 cm by 58.4 cm.

First known curse event: the disappearance and presumed death of Father Picart, Jesuit and witch-hunter, 1728.

Second known: The murder of banker Marius Harel and his entire family, eight people in all, 1789. Also known as the Night of Blood in some of the more lurid histories.

Third known: The disappearance of Deidra Van Stratten on her wedding night, leaving only her ring finger behind, 1865.

Fourth known: The strange decapitation of auctioneer Ralston Hayes, 1902.

There are several disappearances also blamed on the curse, but without evidence it’s impossible to link any disappearance with the commode.

Opening Scene


The investigators are asked to authenticate the commode by an important auctioneering firm.

Initial examination finds nothing untoward. The commode is authentic, and rather plain for the period. Its lurid history is its main attraction, otherwise an ordinary example of early Louis Quinze furnishing would attract little interest.

Clue:                     There are some signs of refurbishing, possibly in the early 18th Century, which warrant further investigation. Perhaps this isn’t an original piece; someone may have cobbled it together from period parts.

Confrontation: The Confession


Soon after the investigators start their examination they discover mysterious writing appearing in every notebook, newspaper or similar. The writing only appears if the item is left in the same room as the commode, for any length of time. It’s in archaic French.

The writing disappears after several hours, but if the paper was torn or damaged those marks remain.

Clue:                     If translated, the writing proves to be a series of confessions. Whoever wrote them was in a very disturbed state of mind. The person confesses to congress with the Devil, witchcraft, baby murder and a hundred different things. Often the writer is so disturbed that whatever they use to write with breaks or tears through the paper. The name Picart appears again and again.

Clue:                     Whatever it is, it’s not invisible ink. Despite every test, once the writing vanishes it’s as if it was never there.

Clue (hard):        The writer refers to herself as ‘unhappy Madeline’ once.

Confrontation: A Break-In – Or Is It?


The contents of the room the commode is in have been moved by person or persons unknown, and they weren’t too careful when they did it. Some things are damaged or smashed beyond repair. The commode is untouched, and remains exactly where it was left.

Clue:                     Judging by what might be a footprint in the dust, whoever did this was very large. Possibly more than seven foot tall. How does someone that huge break in, and nobody sees a thing?

Refurbished Or Not?


The refurbishment actually was a concealment. The commode had a secret compartment in one of its upper cabinets covered by a false bottom, and someone went to a great deal of trouble to seal and conceal that false bottom so it couldn’t be detected or opened. Inside is a parchment written in blood. It appears to be a magical curse.

Clue:                 Whoever went to all that trouble must have been a very clever artisan, probably someone in the mid to late 1700s. Nobody else would have had the skill, knowledge or materials.

Clue:                    The document is written in the same hand as the confessions.

Clue (hard):       The document curses Father Picart “to eternal and unending torment in the realm   beyond, where the Old Ones await.”

Soft Spot


The room where the commode is kept develops what can only be described as a soft spot. The walls feel spongy, the floor insubstantial, and if someone tilts their head at just the right angle they can see beyond the room to something, or somewhere, else. Potential Sanity/Stability loss.

Clue:                     The sensation never lasts very long. When it happens, any reflective surface in the immediate area glows with a faint blue aura.

Research


The investigators may chase up the Father Picart angle, or poor Madeline.

Clue (Picart):     Father Picart was a confessor in a nunnery who fell in lust with one of the nuns. He wooed her and promised to marry her, and when she objected that they could not be wed in the sight of God he said they should be married with the Devil’s blessing. Later, when she was with child and the whole story was about to be revealed, to save his skin he portrayed himself as the heroic redeemer who discovered this witch nestled in the haven of Christ’s Brides. Her punishment, overseen by Picard himself, was starvation. She survived and he later used her as an expert witness to accuse other witches. He vanished, the first victim of the curse. The records don’t say what happened to her.

Clue (Mad):        Madeline de Poitiers was from a rich family that had too many daughters, and being the youngest she was sent to the nunnery at the age of 12. There she met Father Picart, who seduced her before her fourteenth birthday. Though the records don’t say what happened to her after his disappearance, some legends say she appeared again and again in his house, an angry spirit wanting revenge.

Dimension Hopping


The Shambler moves from its dimension to ours, but thanks to the curse the investigators can move to its realm.

There things fold in on each other like paper dolls made of string. The investigators see things that are familiar to them – streets, houses, towns – yet they constantly shift away, always out of reach. Everything is seen through a blue filter, as if the inside of the investigator’s eyeballs had been painted over. Always the things they see are torn apart and remade, never the worse for wear, only to be shredded again and a new thing made.

The one exception to this is the commode. It exists in every place they go in this new dimension. It’s not always the same size or shape, but it’s the same thing.

A woman shouts obscenities somewhere nearby, yet it’s impossible to hear exactly what she’s saying.

Endgame


If the investigators want to end the curse, they need Madeline’s help. It’s thanks to her power that this all started, and being trapped in the alternate dimension has one big advantage: our time doesn’t exist there. For her, it’s still 1726. If she does something here, it affects our world in 1726. Theoretically the investigators could put a stop to the curse before it starts, saving many lives. All they need to do is persuade Madeline to rescind her curse.

This does mean that Father Picart will not die. The curse will end before he gets destroyed by the Shambler. The investigators will have to come up with a way in which Madeline can be persuaded to give up her vengeance.

If the investigators don’t do this, they might try to destroy the commode. The Shambler will intervene forcefully before that happens. Moreover since it exists in alternate dimensions even if they do destroy it the commode can be replaced. All the Shambler has to do is ‘borrow’ one from an alternate dimension and move it here. This further weakens an already unstable dimensional rift, but why should the Shambler care?

Killing the Shambler stops it from coming to our dimension, but only for one day. Time doesn’t exist in its dimension, and neither does death. It can reform a body and return. A day’s grace is all the investigators get, and that only because a day will make them think they might have won.

This concludes the scenario.