Monday, 19 March 2012

Bookhounds - The Ongoing Saga

I've been posting ongoing commentary about my Bookhounds campaign over at YSDC, and it occurred to me that I ought also to post them here. I'm also going to talk a little bit about campaign developments. Later this week I intend to return to Hauntings, so watch this space!

The YSDC postings will be in red.

In which our heroes discover a use for peppermints, and enjoy a bracing trip to Brighton.
Elliot, James and Percy had two problems. Their latest venture,
Whytes, was due to open in three days, but they had no stock, and no capital. The storage company they had hired to keep their stock while they arranged the fine details was padlocked by order of the bailiffs, and their bank manager was refusing to extend their credit.

Careful surveillance showed that the padlocked premises were being guarded, and the guards had a nasty looking dog, Satan. As luck would have it, the Satanic mastiff was rather fond of peppermints. Elliot and James risked life, limb and the seat of their trousers dealing with the dog, while Percy kept the guard talking. Fortunately the love of sweets prevailed; the light-fingered Bookhounds were able to load up their borrowed car with their stock and make a clean getaway.

The bank manager proved a tougher nut to crack. Or rather, his secretary was; Miss Eames, breathing fire and slaughter, guarded her employer's appointment book. The arrival of the Bookhounds did nothing for her temper. Purveyors of filth they were, and worse - for had they not sold her young cousin a copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover? Admitting nothing and swearing up and down that they meant no harm, they managed to charm an important clue out of her: their bank manager was missing. Down he'd gone to Brighton for a pleasant weekend, and not returned by Wednesday. So they too went for a bracing seaside trip, and discovered that the bank manager, the owner of the bed an breakfast and all the other guests were sound asleep, and had been so since Saturday. Open on Mr Featherby's plump lap was his latest purchase: Galland’s Les Mille et une nuits, contes arabes traduits en français. Then, as if from a great distance, they heard the muezzin call the faithful to prayer . . .

I like Brighton. I've an uncle there, who runs a bookstore coincidentally enough. Technically a Bookhounds of London campaign ought to focus on London, but to my mind that doesn't mean the characters can't ever leave the city. There will be times when leaving is positively advantageous, particularly when they're on the run from someone (or something), or want access to an item or resource they can't get elsewhere. As far as the scenario seed is concerned, I like the idea of tailoring a concept to the characters. Rescuing a princess would be out of character; rescuing their bank manager, not so much.

Percy Briers ignored the comatose body of his friend and employee, Elliot Parker, as he had more pressing things on his mind. The twelve volume collection of Galland's Les Mille et une nuits, contes arabes traduits en français, to be exact - and such splendid copies they were! The binding in excellent condition, the pages not even slightly foxed, and the illustrations! Beautiful beyond compare. He gathered them up in his arms, and made for the door.

Which was where James Fidler found him, stretched headlong, the books still clasped in his arms.

Meanwhile Elliot was having problems of his own. Who were all these strange foreign folk? Why were they speaking French? Was he somehow lost in the Brighton Pavillion, that everything looked so Arab-ish? Finding no answers to his dilemma, and having no French, he made his way to the Bazaar. There, in the crowd, he spotted another two English people, a man and a woman, apparently trying to get away from a very sinister looking gentleman and not making a good job of it. 'This is a job for British steel', thought Elliot, and he promptly purchased a Damascene dagger from a vendor, offering some of the gold coins he found fortituously in his wallet.

James dragged his unconscious employer down the stairs, convinced that a gas escape was suffocating them all. He managed through heroic effort to get them as far as the kitchen, and had his hand on the door knob when everything went off.

Percy was most perplexed. This didn't look like Brighton at all. Fortunately having a bit of French at his disposal he was able to determine his true location - Baghdad! At least, that was what the vendor said. Moreover he still had the books, or at least he thought he did; he could no longer see them, but could feel their weight in his arms. He wandered aimlessly, and found himself standing outside a very odd looking place. It wasn't at all like the other buildings. More modern, it looked like, and was that concrete?

James, terrified half out of his wits and utterly lost, ran whooping through the crowded alleyways of this strange city, and as luck would have it ran headlong into Percy Briers, scattering invisible books everywhere.

Elliot managed to rescue the couple - Mr Pinks, and Ethel, whose last name probably wasn't Pinks. Dressed in night attire (Ethel's was very frilly), they claimed to have gone to bed only moments before, though Ethel seemed to think it had been longer than that, somehow. Elliot's attention was drawn to another sinister figure, a man impossibly tall and improbably thin, wrapped from head to foot in flowing yellow robes. This newcomer seemed to be interested in them. Elliot thought it prudent not to dilly-dally, and led his new charges out of the bazaar.

'Mister Briers, I don't know where you think we are,' said James, 'But I bet you anything you like they don't all speak French in Baghdad. They speak foreign. And what is this strange building here? Is that writing above the door? I can't read it.'

'Neither can I,' replied Percy. 'Here, hold these; they're valuable. Now, let's have a look in here, shall we?'

They went inside, and found themselves in a chamber that seemed to stretch on forever. Something that shimmered like silk was being woven on looms as large as tree trunks, the fragile glimmering cloth falling down from the ceiling like waterfalls. At the bottom of each silken explosion lay a human figure, peacefully asleep. One of them was their erstwhile bank manager, Mr Ffolkes-Featherby, and he didn't seem to be enjoying himself at all. His belly was fearfully distended, as though stretched beyond bursting, and yet more and more bolts of cloth were being forced down his throat.

'Mister Briers,' James quavered, 'What are those things a-weaving of that cloth? They look like crabs, but that's too many legs, surely. And since when have crabs been that size?'

By good fortune Elliot found himself outside that self-same odd building, with the impossibly tall figure in close pursuit. He too noticed the writing above the lintel, and having been a bit of a dabbler (reading about the Golden Dawn, and suchlike), he recognized some of the Enochian symbols and was able to work out what they meant.

'The Dream Factory,' he read aloud. 'Rum sounding name.'

However the thin man was close on their heels, and he heard what sounded like James and Percy inside the Factory, so in he stepped, and he shut the doors behind him.

'Open up!' screamed James. 'The crab-thing's almost on us!'

'You don't want to go out there,' Elliot told him. 'There's worse than crabs out that door.' Though, as Elliot said it, he did notice that there were rather a lot of the crab-like things.

Meanwhile Percy had caught their bank manager by the heels and was dragging him off, but too slowly. The weaver was descending on its silken trail, and was close enough to reach out to him with one thin leg-or-feeler. He felt it tear the back of his jacket.

In desperation, he began pulling silk out of Mr Ffolkes-Featherby by the handful, and that seemed to do him some good. James threw invisible books at the thing, which did it no apparent harm but did distract it. Elliot, seeing his chance, leapt in with his new-bought dagger, and cut the silk away. At that same moment the weaver scored him across the face, tearing off a slice of flesh the size of half a pound note.

Their surroundings faded away, and they found themselves standing in the kitchen of the Oriental Bed and Breakfast, Brighton.

Percy Briers was aghast. Twelve volumes! In near-perfect condition! Now there were only six.

'Mister Briers,' said Elliot, as he staunched his bleeding wound, 'I want a raise.'

This is a classic example of incidental information achieving unexpected importance. I never thought the Thousand and One Nights would become a thing. Yet when the players took an interest, I ran with it. Now they're an important item in the ongoing story.

After their bracing trip, Percy, Elliot and James set about getting their business, Whytes Books, ready for its opening day. James copied out several engravings, and arranged for the pawnshop beneath their store to rent them some window space for display, so people walking by had something to attract their attention. Percy set about finalizing their loan with Mr Featherby, while Elliot, at a bit of a loose end, made the rounds of the auction houses and gossiped with his contacts.

Some of the tidbits he picked up were less than encouraging. There was an antiquarian book store not far from their shopfront, Lisiewicz Rare Books; in fact, it was ten minutes walk away. Elliot, on the rationale that there was no such thing as useless information, decided to pay Lisiewicz a visit and see what the competition was up to. He discovered many things that weren't entirely to his liking. Lisiewicz was doing cracking business; there didn't seem to be a moment in the day when trade slackened. Their shopfront was considerably more decorative and tastefully arranged than Whytes. Their stock was considerable, including several rather valuable eighteenth century travel memoirs and maps. There was also a restricted section with rather more intriguing looking volumes, which he was unable to get near.

It was worth a visit after hours, he decided. So later than evening, after Lisiewicz had locked up for the night, Elliot, after making sure nobody was watching, carefully undid the lock on the front door. He jumped out of his skin when the alarm went off. Its loud bell yammered and hammered while he stood mute, stunned and immobile. Recovering his wits, he scuttled off fast as a scalded cat.

Later on, when he thought things might have settled down, he returned to the scene of his crime to see what had developed. A crowd of interested nobodies was gathered around the shop door, and several policemen were standing guard. The alarm was still blaring, and Elliot discovered from one of the onlookers that the shop manager had yet to arrive to turn it off. Elliot waited, and soon afterward saw the manager, a man named Egan, arrive, somewhat the worse for wear, with several drinking companions. After some discussion with the police sergeant, Egan switched off the alarm and re-set the device. Elliot waited to see what Egan would do next, and after about half an hour's work Egan eventually went back with his chums to whatever drinking hole they'd crawled out of.

Elliot followed, and after several hours in Soho trailed Egan and a fellow drunkard to a teaching hospital. The drunk let Egan in by a side door, and stood outside, shivering in the early morning chill. After waiting some minutes, Elliot decided to see if he'd be let in too, so he approached the door only to be blocked by the drunkard.

'Bill says no,' said he, swaying in a dead-eyed stupor.

'But I'm allowed,' said Elliot in his most reassuring manner.

'Bill says no,' the drunkard stubbornly repeated, and though he showed no sign of fight he blocked the way. Elliot might have pressed the issue, but at that moment he heard someone on the other side of the door. He stepped away smartly, and Egan came out. He didn't notice Elliot. Egan had a smirk on his face, and his clothes were dishevelled. The two of them wandered off, and Elliot decided there wasn't much point in following them further.

Early that morning he met Jimmy Fidler for a pint and some bacon sandwiches at the Bull's Heart, and Elliot told Jimmy what he'd been up to. They agreed it was all very odd, and worth keeping an eye on, but there was little they could do about it right then and there. Having finished their early morning meal they went back to Whytes, hoping to get some work done before Briers came in.

'Hullo,' said Fidler, 'Who's that?'

Elliot looked in the direction Jimmy was pointing. Up on the second floor, at one of the windows of their shop, they both saw a figure. They could not make out his face, for he wore a hood or robe of some description, and at the same moment they saw him he vanished back inside. Elliot and Fidler crept up the stairs as quietly as they could, hoping to surprise whoever it was, but when they burst in the room they discovered to their consternation that nobody was there at all.

Jimmy, a sour expression on his face, looked at the shelf closest to where they'd last seen the figure. On that same shelf their most recent acquisition, the twelve volume edition of the Thousand and One Nights, rested awaiting more prominent placement.

'The sooner we're rid of those things the better,' he said.

This was a filler session. One of the players unexpectedly dropped out, so I had to carry on with two. This meant a shorter session, but it did allow me to play with some concepts that may become important later in the game. It also introduces a rival, Lisiewicz Rare Books, of whom more later.

It wasn't so easy to convince Briers that the books had to go.

'I'm sure it's nothing,' said he, his mind still fixed on wine and cheese, 'A trick of the light. Someone was standing opposite, and their reflection happened to be caught in the window for a moment, that's all. There's no need for concern.' With that, Jimmy Fidler had to be satisfied.

The wine and cheese was spread over two trestle tables covered with white cloth. Today was the very first day of their new enterprise, and a celebratory evening had been planned. Percy Briers was far more concerned about that than he was about anything else. He needn't have been. On the day, Whytes was packed with old friends and new customers, and Jimmy, who manned the till, was kept very busy.

Percy was buttonholed by Professor Fife, of Oxford. She was easily several inches taller than he, and her eyesight was not good, which she refused to admit. She blinked mistily at him, as though seeing Briers from a considerable distance.

'I do so hope you can help me get it,' she said. 'It would add considerably to my collection.'

They were discussing Dekker's Parliament of Bees, an important piece of Elizabethan drama. A copy ex libris John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, was due to come up for auction at McKinnon's, who were disposing of many of the personal effects and properties beloninging to Durrant, known as the Wizard of the North. His most recent tour of the antipodes had not been a profitable as he had hoped, and this sale was intended to revitalize his fortunes. In addition to Durrant's collection of Elizabethan dramatical works, he was also selling many of the props, costumes and devices that had made his performances famous throughout the world, and some of his own books.

'We shall do our best for you, Professor,' Briers oozed, as he deftly hid a mouse that had crawled out onto a shelf and was eyeing Fife, its whiskers a-quiver. 'Would you excuse me a moment?'

He dashed around to the other side of the shelf, just in time to catch Charlie Pettimore in the act of earwigging. Charlie was unsuccessfully covering his activities by pretending deep interest in the travel section. Determined that Charlie wouldn't spoil his sale, Briers shepherded him somewhere further away.

'It would be so wonderful if you could help me buy the Confectioner,' said Quincy Riddle to Elliot. 'McKinnon's prices are likely to be high, and I'm a duffer at this sort of thing. But it would look so wonderful at the Rep!'

'I'm sure,' Elliot replied, deftly flicking a mouse away from the cheese board.

'Can I help you, sir?' asked Jimmy, putting on his best impersonation of someone with money and no criminal record. This gent looked a bit posher than the usual, very country, in his tweeds and well-worn shoes.

'I do hope so,' replied the man, who introduced himself as Styles. 'I'm on the lookout for, now let me see, I have it written down here . . .' He consulted his notes. 'Ah! Yes, here it is. Something called the Un-asspikkliken - is that the word? - Coolties. Also known as the Black Book, it says here. By someone called Won Yoon, I think.'

Jimmy Fidler looked at the notation. 'Unaussprechlichen Kulten,' he read aloud, 'The Bridewell edition, by Von Juntz. A very difficult piece to obtain, if I may say so.' In point of fact, he didn't know; he knew very little about that sort of thing, relying on the more encyclopediac knowledge of Percy Briers.

'Oh, well,' said Styles, and promptly named an asking price that was, in Jimmy's estimation, about a hundred pounds more than the book was worth - in fact, triple what Whytes had made in a day's brisk trade.

Later, after the day's trade was done and they had time to discuss matters, they ruminated on the possibilities. They had several interesting leads to chase up, with McKinnon's being the next event on their horizon. There were several useful things to be obtained there, and Jimmy could get materials for his own work. They wondered about Styles, and whether he might be fobbed off with something less than original.

'I reckon he's buying for some posh bloke with a place in the country,' said Fidler. 'Some gent wot knows a bit more than his man, if you follow me. Whoever made those notes knew exactly what he wanted, right down to notes about the binding.'

They decided to visit McKinnon's in advance of the sale, to get a better idea of what was on offer.

McKinnon's cavernous interior was filled with all the bright colours of carnival. Elliot was particularly drawn to the Confectioner and the other automata, including the Tree of Life, the Dancing Clowns and the Miraculous Fountain. Briers was more interested in the Mechanical Turk, and wondered whether it would look good in the front of their shop. 'It would bring in the customers,' said he.

Elliot wasn't convinced. He could see many nights of sleeplessness in his future, with something like that dead-eyed wooden-face lurking in the dark, waiting for him to come in of a morning.

Jimmy, after tearing himself away from the collection of playbills and memorabilia, drew their attention to the book collection. 'The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, John Day, 1662, beautiful, just look at the binding there. The Devil is In It, Dekker, 1640; Mustafa, a closet drama by Fulke Greville, 1640. Honest, boss, I reckon we could pick some of these up for a song. Most of the blokes here are after the magician's stuff,' he pointed at a curiously waxen-faced man who was eyeing the Confectioner covetously, 'They don't know what this is worth.'

Percy Briers was more interested in what one item in particular was worth. 'Is that what I think it is?'

One of the books, lying as if tossed atop a collection marked in the catalouge as Elizabethan Fragment, Unknown Author was remarkably familiar to him, right down to a new dent in the binding, as though someone had thrown it at something. He riffled through the pages. There could be no mistaking; it was one of the missing six from his collection of twelve volumes of the Thousand and One Nights, last seen (or possibly not) when Jimmy Fidler had flung it at the thing in the Dream Factory.

Fidler consulted McKinnon's catalogue. 'It's not down as a sale item,' he said, and Briers promptly stuffed it inside his jacket, hoping to make a quiet getaway.

'What was that it was resting on?' he wondered aloud, and took a closer look. His pulse quickened. There was no way to be certain without closer analysis, but it looked remarkably like examples he had seen of Christopeher Marlowe's handwriting. If so, it could be a heretofore unknown fragment of one of his plays, quite possibly the Massacre at Paris. There was something else bundled in with the document, not in the same hand as the rest of the script. It read like a legal paper, and was signed under seal. 'It says here that the weapon described herein, being a dagger . . . it gives details about the length of blade, maker and so on . . . that this weapon is that same which did take the life of one Marlowe at the hands of Frizier, his sign attached herewith by order of the coroner. My word!'

'Um . . .' said Fidler, nervously, 'A knife, boss? Like this one here on the catalogue, marked Dagger, Unknown Origin?'

Here's where I introduce the players to the Auctions concept. They're all experienced gamers, but the Auction mechanic has them a little intimidated. So I thought it sensible to introduce them with an auction that has no significant story consequence in and of itself, but does have some interesting items up for grabs. They have rivals to bid against, items to purchase, and have discovered that some manuscripts can hide some intriguing secrets. Plus, the Thousand and One Nights returns to plague them, and there's that dagger, unknown origin, to worry about.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Trail of Cthulhu - The Haunting 2

In my previous post on hauntings, I talked about spirits of place, and suggested that these reflected the half-hidden history of a locale. This version of the haunting represents the weight of years, the accumulated burden of history that, like a mound of wet and heavy snow on a crumbling roof, leaks its way through, eating at the supports until finally the whole thing gives way. This time I want to talk about another type of haunting and explain how it could be represented in-game. As before, I'm going to be using Bookhounds of London as a setting.

Possession stories drift in and out of fashion. Currently J and K Horror, as represented by films like The Grudge and The Red Shoes are exploring this kind of tale and doing it very well, but it has been represented in the past by gothics like Stoker's The Judge's House and Jackson's Haunting of Hill House. In these narratives the protagonist - perhaps a social worker (Grudge), student (Judge's House), recent divorcee (Red Shoes) or an impulsive romantic (Hill House) - leaves their comfort zone, and trespasses somewhere they shouldn't. They fall under the influence of malign forces, often far too powerful for them to handle, which then either back them into a metaphorical corner or force them to do harm to themselves. Suicide is a recurring theme. In western stories this is often death by hanging, and The Judge's House is fairly typical of the type. In all probability this is because hanging was a common form of punishment, not just throughout the United Kingdom but also in Europe and America. It also helps that hanging is something that can be done by an individual without too many complicated props; death by guillotine would be a more technically challenging way to go. Whereas in, say, The Grudge or Red Shoes, the final moments are much less clear-cut, and usually extract the maximum of isolation and terror before the end.

However the Japanese stories have a very traditional background. Lafcadio Hearn recorded many of these tales in his collection Kwaidan, and in the story Diplomacy he writes:

If any person be killed while feeling strong resentment, the ghost of that person will be able to take vengeance on the killer.

Whereas the opening title sequence for Ju-On states:

Ju-on is a curse of those who die in the grip of a powerful rage.

The main difference being in Hearn's version the ghost resents only his killer, whereas Ju-On assumes that the spirit is lashing out at anyone who comes near. In each case the story has it that those who die while in the throes of wrath will gain supernatural ability, and seek to harm the living.

Western stories aren't quite as traditional, and it would be difficult to imagine a modern filmmaker trying to recreate The Judge's House, or anything like it. Apart from anything else there's no real reason given for the haunting in Stoker's tale, except that the Judge was a bad man and that sort tend to cause trouble even after death.

As to what there was against the house she could not tell. She had often asked, but no one could inform her, but there was a general feeling that there was something, and for her own part she would not take all the money in Drinkwater's Bank and stay in the house an hour by herself.

Even the old prejudice against suicides, that led to their bodies being buried at cross-roads, being denied the solace of Christian burial, or interred just outside the churchyard wall, has been forgotten, and the sorrow of the Yew Tree, so often found in churchyards, is of interest only to folklorists.

Broadly speaking, there are several themes here that are useful in roleplaying scenarios.

The protagonists in these tales are often either weak-willed, or whatever willpower they possess is no match for the thing they face. Red Shoes also hints that one character may deserve what's coming to them, because they have committed crimes (murder, in that instance) that warrant punishment. Weakness is the key here. Perhaps there is something that the haunting exploits; something in the character's past, or even guilt over a crime they committed. A possession story is perfect for a game in which the character has something in their backstory that they really don't want to be made public. The story almost writes itself: the haunting's history mirrors the protagonist's own crimes.

Another key point to take away is that the haunting entity can be extremely powerful, under a certain narrow set of circumstances. In The Judge's House, the victim had to actually stay in the house; perhaps if he had left it there would have been no harm done. Whereas in Ju-On the sequence of events affects anyone who has ever been inside the house, even people like Hitomi who was only there for a few minutes and who is later attacked in her own apartment building. Not unlike radiation poisoning, even a brief exposure has long-lasting effects.

Possession hauntings work by turning the victim against themselves, usually so that they do themselves harm. Though the victim may well see things differently, as with the student in the Judge's House, the way the haunting operates is by forcing the victim to become part of the ongoing cycle of violence.

The thing that the victims face is caught in its own obsessions. The Judge in Stoker's tale doesn't want anything other than a hanging; the creatures in Ju-On are tied forever to the murder-suicide that spawned them, just as the Red Shoes is all about the footwear. There is no mind here, no guiding force, no elaborate plan. Only death. The presumption is that it has to be a certain kind of death; the Judge probably wouldn't get the same satisfaction out of someone breaking their neck on the stairs, any more than the Red Shoes would have ended with Sun-jae jumping from a rooftop.

There may be a way to break the cycle of death, but if there is the means of doing so is obscure and can be misunderstood. The Red Shoes has Sun-jae discover the secret history of the shoes and attempt to resolve the tragedy in her own way, but this attempt isn't completely successful. In game the characters ought to be presented with at least one potential resolution, but it shouldn't be as easy as 'rebury the unquiet dead and all shall be well.'

With all that in mind, an example using the Bookhounds setting is called for.

The Three Bucks, Stepney Green

This elaborate Edwardian building resembles an Italian palace gone slightly awry, complete with statues of saints and a copper-clad cupola roof. It was built on the site of an old Georgian traveller's inn, as a speculative venture by Gregory Harris in 1908. The big breweries were on the lookout for pubs to buy, and many pub owners, Harris among them, sunk their fortunes into making the building as elaborate as possible to attract the brewers' attention. The Three Bucks has three stories, one of which is devoted entirely to a massive ballroom dancing floor, while the very upper and smallest story is where the landlord has his rooms. The Three Bucks takes its name from the heraldic device of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, though the pub has no connection with that livery company now, if it ever did in the past. The Three Bucks is currently owned by Ploughman Brewers, Shepway, in Kent.

The landlord of the Three Bucks doesn't live on the premises and nobody has ever tried to. According to popular rumour the upper rooms are unlivable, possibly because the building was poorly constructed. In winter it is very expensive to heat, and on the coldest days the pub is an icebox no matter how much coal is loaded into the fireplaces. On very rainy days buckets have to be put out on the ballroom floor to catch the drips, which suggests that the landlord's rooms above must be in pretty poor shape.

Ploughman's does not encourage speculation of any kind about the upper rooms, and the landlord is under strict instruction not to let anyone into the top floor apartment.

  • Cop Talk: There are more fights in the Three Bucks on a Friday night than any two other pubs in Stepney. Maybe the brew's too strong, but it doesn't help that the ones who start all the trouble always seem to be fond of knives and razors. There have been times when the public rooms resemble abbatoirs, and more than one missing ear or severed nose has been found the next morning outside the Bucks' front door. The landlord, Paddy Green, does his best to keep order and his son Mike is one of the toughest brawlers in the district, so keeping the peace oughtn't to be a problem. Yet time and again there's a call-out to the Bucks, with some poor sod in a welter of blood on the floor.
  • The Knowledge: The old travelling inn that used to be on this site before Harris knocked it down wasn't particularly famous for anything. Popular legend had it that the pirate Captain Kidd stayed there when he was sent back to England for trial, and there were even those who believed that Kidd's treasure map was hidden somewhere on the premises. The fact that Kidd swung for his crimes a good eighty years before the traveller's inn was built, or that he spent his time in London incarcerated at Newgate, never put a stop to that legend. Nobody ever found a treasure map either, when the inn was knocked down, and the old gold coin that had been nailed into the joist just above the public bar allegedly because Kidd had used it to pay for his last meal has long since vanished. However there's an odd bunch of thrill-seekers and ghost story lovers who still turn up to the Bucks now and again, on the trail of the old Captain. They say that on cold winter nights a seafaring man, drenched in salt water from head to foot, can be seen in the upper rooms, by anyone brave enough to spend the night there. That said, they've never been able to bribe Paddy Green sufficiently to let them try the experiment.
  • Architecture: The Bucks has a surprising number of faults, for a bulding not thirty years old. The leaks in the roof must be pretty serious if they keep dripping through to the second floor ballroom. Looking from the outside it's clear that the guttering hasn't been cleared in years, if ever, so perhaps that's the cause of the problem. Yet the Bucks makes enough money, and the other rooms are in fairly good shape, so you'd think that sending someone up on the roof to clean out the gutters wouldn't be a problem. To get to the roof you'd have to go through the landlord's apartments on the upper floor, or put up scaffolding or a ladder outside.
  • Assess Honesty/Oral History: Paddy Green reacts like a bear with a sore head if anyone asks him about the upper rooms. No, they're not to be used. No, nobody's allowed up there, for any reason. No, he doesn't know why. Persistent questions get the questioner thrown out, courtesy of Mike's strong arm. Paddy's scared of something, that's plain; but what? It's interesting that, of all the pubs in the district, this one keeps closing time sacred. There are no lock-ins at the Bucks, nor are late drinkers given time to finish up. As soon as the clock strikes eleven, it's pints down and everyone out. Paddy locks up the Bucks himself at midnight, and the place is completely uninhabited until eight in the morning the next day.
Antagonist: Gregory Harris.
Abilities: Scuffling 12, Weapons 12
Magic: 10
Weapon: -1 (knife)
Arnour: special; cannot be harmed by physical attacks.
Stability: +1
Special: Uses Domination, as per Rough Magicks p. 19.
Description: Either a man in his 40s, wearing vest and braces, dripping blood from a slashed throat, or an impenetrable blackness that absorbs and extinguishes all light sources.
Notes: Harris was cheated in the Ploughmans buy-out, and lost all the money he'd invested as well as what little was left of his savings. The shock of his downfall may have deranged him. He took his own life, and his body was found in the upper apartment on an exceptionally cold December evening, 1908. After a nasty incident that resulted in serious injury to his replacement, Ploughmans instructed that nobody be allowed to stay in the upper apartments, and for the sake of the business any rumours about Harris have been hushed up. Paddy Green has taken these instructions a few steps further, which is why nobody is ever allowed in the upper rooms even for a short time, nor is anyone allowed to stay on the premises after midnight. This haunting is obsessed with blood and violence, particularly cutting. While its main attack is Domination, causing the victim to cut themselves, the target sees this as Harris coming at him with a knife or straight razor, which is why the haunting has Scuffling and Weapons pools. Typically the haunting softens up a victim by reducing Stability either with hallucinations (2 loss) involving blood and cutting, or by recreating the suicide scene (3 loss) before attempting Domination. Each hallucination costs 1 Magic point, and Harris' Domination has a difficulty of 4 normally, or 3 if a target has lost 2 or more points of Stability as a result of hallucinations. When the Domination takes place, the victim seems to observers to be swallowed up in unnatural darkness; only the victim will ever see Harris in human form. Once a target has been Dominated he can't hope to beat Harris, but he can be saved if he's carried out of the upper apartments. The haunting is much weaker in the ballroom and the ground floor and cannot Dominate there, though it can still cause hallucinations. Very weak-willed people can be provoked to violence and attack others if they fail a Stabilty-versus-Magic contest, which is why the Bucks gets so rowdy on a Friday night.

Though this haunting is restricted to the upper floor of the Bucks, it can be encountered off the premises. Harris' personal belongings, in particular his shaving mirror, razor and leather strop, carry the taint, and anyone who owns these can encounter the haunting. These were disposed of soon after the body was found, and nobody knows where they are now. Occult may suggest that if these items are brought back to the Bucks and a ritual of cleansing performed, the haunting could be destroyed.