Sunday, 24 April 2016

Not Quite Review Corner: Fallen London (Failbetter Games)

Welcome, delicious friend! I can see by the fetters on your ankles and the threadbare quality of your clothing that you are a recent arrival to our moonlit shores. Let me tell you about our famous, forsaken and Fallen London, in which you now reside. Pull up a chair - mind the weasel, he bites - and take some honey, if you please. You may be here some time.

Failbetter Games' Fallen London has been doing great business as a browser game, but this week it opened up for business on the App Store, for those of you with iPhones, iPads, and iMushroomWine. I was a big fan of it on browser, but I dropped out a while ago, so when it reappeared on the iStore I figured it was worth a return ticket to the Stygian Depths. Now here I am to tell you about it, like an explorer returned from savage shores.

Fallen London is a story game. You are a new-fledged inhabitant of this subterranean copy of London, a shadow of the magnificent city that was, dragged underground long ago by devils. Or possibly cats. Opinions vary. In any case, here you are, and the question is, what do you do about it? Vagrancy is a punishable offence, so to avoid prison you'd better find a place to live, which means better clothes, which means some kind of career ... and before you know it you're deeply mired in the plots, politics and tragedies of this Victorian Gothic, Steampunk-ish (heavy on the ish) nightmare realm.

It's entirely up to you what you do with your time. So far, to give you a taste, I've written a well-received book about mushroom cultivation, followed it up with a short story and a commissioned piece about the delights of honey, seduced a honey-sipping heiress (it did not end well), caught cats to learn their many secrets, and dealt decisively with two monster rats that had been terrorizing the populace and eating small children.

I prefer a sedate life, so I've taken up rooms above a bookstore - having paid for it with secrets won from the aforementioned cats - and currently wander the streets, humbugs in hand, looking for adventure, and inspiration for my next masterpiece. Also, I need wine. The 1882, if you please, for in secret I'm an amateur cracksman of the Raffles variety, and I'm on the track of a diamond as big as your head. I've hit a stumbling block; my contact demands payment if I'm to carry on in my quest, and will take nothing other than a crate of 30 bottles of the 1882. So far I've won 10, thanks to my honey-sipping heiress, and though I could buy the remaining 20, I prefer to get it for free if I can. The search continues.

It's a Dreamlands-style Gothic RPG, and Keepers looking for inspiration for their Arabesque Bookhounds games need look no further. Or just looking for a few minutes' diversion. It's the kind of thing that can easily drag you in and keep you there, mainly because the quality of writing is superb. This really is a winding, crafty, engrossing epic. The teaser I gave you doesn't cover the half of it, not even the smallest crumb, the slightest mite.

Pity about the mechanics, then, because they do their best to spoil what's otherwise an enjoyable experience.

You play by spending a series of action points, deciding which of the many plot threads to follow. It's usually one point per plot decision; sometimes a little more, but not much. You get 20 action points total, which refresh at one point per minute or so back up to 20. Though there are other important mechanics I'm going to focus on the action point system, because this - combined with its eternal desire to sync - is where Fallen London really lets itself down.

Everything has to sync with Failbetter's server. That means when you boot the app it takes about one to three minutes before you can do anything, as it checks for new images, new sounds, and so on. I'm not entirely sure why. If Failbetter was producing new content every hour on the hour it might make a little sense, but I'm pretty sure it isn't. So nine times out of ten the sync gets no new data, but that doesn't stop it eating one to three minutes worth of time before you can do anything fun.

My pet peeve is that it syncs for new sounds. I have this on my iPad, and one of the first things I do is mute the sound for nearly every game I own. This is because I play iPad games on the go, it being a mobile device and all, and I don't want it bleeping and burbling away when I'm, say, at the pub. It's not as if the sounds are absolutely integral to the experience, like Left4Dead, when the difference between you living and dying can depend on you picking up audio cues. It's just a nice-to-have, and it irks me that each time it boots the game spends thirty seconds or so trying to find new sounds that I will never, ever hear.

Moreover if your connection isn't that great - and mine isn't always, particularly when there's atmospheric interference - the game can quietly die behind that loading screen. Never syncing, it just tells you to wait. And wait. And wait. As I write this, the app has spent the last two hours syncing. Eventually it will realize something is wrong, and reboot. In its own sweet time. And then it will want to sync again.

Once in, the sync then interferes with the action point system. You see, the action point refresh doesn't depend on time passing, or at least not just on time passing. It also depends on that sync, I suspect because the home server and not the mobile device's internal clock tells it when the action points have refreshed. This may mean that ten minutes will go by, or longer, with no refresh, because the home server hasn't told the app that you have points to spend.

When I first downloaded the game, I had to work out a way to trick the system to get it to refresh action points. Since then things seem to have changed in the last update, for there is an actual, honest to Murgatroyd, Push This Button To Sync Your Progress button. Allelujah. It's a bit well-hidden, though. Hint: tap the candle icon, and you'll bring up a menu. That menu will lead you to the Promised Land. Better late than never, and no, I don't know how you're supposed to figure that out on your own.

Speaking of figuring things out on your own, how much cash does my character have? Not the foggiest. I know what I can afford, because a little Buy icon flashes up whenever I go to the shops and see something I might be able to purchase. But I never know how much is in my wallet, so I don't know how much I need to save or earn before I can buy the thing I want to buy. Or how much I will have left after I've bought something.

Here's an odd one. The other morning I sold some gear and purchased a mask. Then I went into town to get some work done, and while there I stopped to check my account. Mask? What mask? It's not in my inventory. Where can it ... oh. Not only is the mask not in my inventory, but the rubbish I sold to get the mask is back in my inventory. The thing must have forgotten to tell the home server what I did this morning, so now I have to do it all again.

Or my current home, my rooms above a bookshop which I had to interrogate cats to be able to afford. I was so pleased to purchase that key from the land agents, but despite purchasing it, I had no key in my inventory. It existed; a trip back to the land agents confirmed that, but the land agents wouldn't let me activate the key from there. I had to activate it in my inventory. But it wasn't in my inventory. I'm still not sure what happened, but I think that because I bought the key while I was in the middle of a story the app couldn't put the key in my inventory until I backed out of the story. Then it allowed me to take possession of the key I'd bought ten minutes earlier, and I could move in. Guess how I spent those lost ten minutes. No, the answer isn't "having fun."

I can just about understand why Failbetter wants the game to constantly link to the home server. It must make it easier to craft the ongoing story and update the plot threads, as well as keep track of the player base.

Even so, I'm having a lot of trouble understanding why Failbetter wanted the server, rather than the app, to handle most of the admin side of things. It adds a layer of frustration to the experience that almost makes me want to quit the game. After all, this is a text-based experience, with some basic random number generation mechanics. Surely the app could have handled most of this on its own, without screaming for mummy to tie its shoelaces every five minutes.

I can only think Failbetter preferred total control via server because this is what Failbetter is used to, but hosting most of the day-to-day on the mobile device rather than the server seems to me at least to have been the better option. Even if it meant having what amounts to two separate player groups, one on the server and one in the mobile space.  Better that than have the mobile space continually feel like the red-headed stepchild.

Frankly, if the story wasn't masterfully crafted, I'd have quit a long time ago. It's a testament to Failbetter's writing team that I want to fight past this dilemma, but the game badly needs a fix. Other games get past this with weekly updates. If it only sync'd with the server once a day, and did it automatically like a podcast update without waiting for me to activate the app, would that really be so bad?

Incidentally if you think I'm being harsh, trust me when I say I had a much harsher review all written, but that the recent update mollified me somewhat. Otherwise this piece would have involved much more swearing, and possibly a burnt building or two.

Honestly, I want you to play this game. When it works, it's the best kind of fun: engrossing, well-crafted, thoroughly entertaining. It's Flashman crossed with Sherlock Holmes and more than a dash of Doctor Moreau, with all the addled dreamscape a Dali or Brunel could wish for. Moreover it manages the rare trick of being a social game without pestering you for all your contact information, demanding money with menaces, or insisting that you invite friends to get the best experience. As a browser game, it's brilliant. But then, as a browser game it's got a direct connect; it doesn't have to sync with the mother ship every time it tries to use its brain.

It's just heartbreaking. If I didn't like Fallen London as much as I did, I wouldn't be as frustrated by the app. Things have improved since launch, but in spite of the improvements I would be very wary about recommending this title.

Wait a week. Possibly two. Then have a go.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Carnacki: The Find (Bookhounds)

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

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

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

Spoilers ahoy:

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

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

And so a scenario is born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's it for now. Enjoy!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Hello, Vicar (Bookhounds of London, Trail of Cthulhu)

I've been mainlining the Merrily Watkins, Deliverance Consultant series by Phil Rickman. I've been a fan of his ever since discovering his horror novels, donkey's years ago, and I highly recommend them if you can find them. That may be difficult; I'm not sure any of them are in print any more. However the Watkins series is still going strong, and I now discover that ITV filmed a serial which will go worldwide release this year. That's a must-see for me, and I highly recommend it to you.

It occurred to me that, since for the last few weeks I've been discussing Bookhounds, it might be interesting to talk about the Church of England, particularly since those outside the UK may not fully appreciate its position within the social fabric.

Everyone knows this bit: once upon a time, King Henry VIII decided divorce was just the thing he needed, and since the Catholics weren't about to grant it he kicked them out of the country and invented what amounted to his own Church, with him at the head of it. That's the essential problem the Church was created to solve: not any complex theological issue, but instead who was in control. Was it to be the Pope, a foreign potentate who demanded loyalty both religious and, to an extent, secular, or the King, who would brook no equals, far less superiors?

This led to a series of conflicts, on several different fronts. Politically it brought the Kingdom into direct conflict with any Catholic monarch, such as when the King of Spain sent in the Armada when Elizabeth, Henry's daughter, was on the throne. The Protestant apostasy wasn't Spain's only reason for wanting to invade, but it certainly lent a piquant spice to the invasion. On the home front, the breakup of the Catholic estate and dispossession of its landholders, led to more than a few martyrdoms. Some of them were more dramatic than others, as with the visionary Holy Maid of Kent who became the only woman to have her head displayed on a spike on London Bridge. And then, of course, there were the traitors.

Guy Fawkes is by far the most famous, mainly because the celebration of his execution has become Bonfire Night, in which the fires and fireworks were originally meant to symbolize the infernal blazes, from which Papists came. Perhaps literally; one commentator warned of Papists tunneling 'from Oxford, Rome, Hell, to Westminster, and there to blow up, if possible, the better foundations of your houses, their liberties and privileges.'  Then of course there's the fictional Popish Plot, which saw 22 people executed, or the many other schemes both real and imagined, to burn down London, kill the monarch, and bring back Catholicism. This led in turn to legal persecution of Catholics, for as legal scholar William Blackstone pointed out, Catholics continued to put the Pope above the King. 'While they acknowledge a foreign power, superior to the sovereignty of the kingdom, they cannot complain if the laws of that kingdom will not treat them upon the footing of good subjects.' It's an attitude that, to a greatly modified extent, persists today; whenever the issue of a Catholic, or Catholic-friendly, monarch ascending to the throne is discussed, constitutional scholars crawl out of the woodwork to render their judgment on the issue.

By the 19th century this attitude had been much-modified. There was no question of martyrdom by that point, and nobody was expecting Catholic sappers to emerge triumphant from the bombed-out ruins of Westminster. But by that stage the Church was a worldwide institution, for wherever the Empire went, it went too. That legacy is also still with us today, for the C of E is an international Communion, which has led to problems within the faith. When the question of gay marriage arose, for example, even though the Church leaders in the UK adopted a liberal position, elements of the Communion outside the UK were, and remain, vigorously opposed.

Within the UK, the C of E operates on the parish structure.  Each church administers to a set parish within a set geographical region. Several parishes make a diocese, under the supervision of a Bishop. The Bishops make up the church leadership, and are ultimately under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and through him, the Crown.

These churches are social centers as much as they are religious institutions; particularly in rural areas, the church is the center of day to day life. This has led to some unusual problems, not the least of which is financial. The Church owns a tremendous estate: 16,000 buildings spread over 13,000 parishes, never mind the 43 cathedrals, with a remarkable number of them protected due to their architectural and historic significance. Over 43% of the Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK are churches, Grade 1 being the most important, don't-you-dare-modify-this-ever-ever-EVER classification. Imagine the kind of income you'd need to take care of an estate that size, and then reflect that it's done mostly by donations. You can begin to see why dwindling congregation size is such an important issue for the C of E.

In fiction of the Trail of Cthulhu period, whenever C of E churchmen are encountered it almost never seems to be in their capacity as vicar, dealing with a spiritual problem. They might be persecuted by supernatural entities in M R James, or a body might have turned up in the vicarage courtesy of Agatha Christie, or some muscular Christian might be presiding over a Wodehouse village fete. Whatever their role is, it's almost always a secular issue; even in the Stalls of Barchester, James' protagonist is in the soup because he murdered someone for their living. But it's left to Catholics like Father Brown to point out that someone "who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil," connecting his spiritual role with his role in the plot.

If you're looking for a free resource that may provide scenario inspiration, I recommend Sabine Baring-Gould. If you recognize the name it's almost certainly because of his book on werewolves, but Baring-Gould was a priest and antiquarian as well as a novelist, and his books on country life and the role of the village parson in the community are well worth a look.

Closing out, let's consider what role a C of E vicar might play in Bookhounds.

The church is almost certainly a relic of times past, updated more recently. There was a spate of church renovations in the Victorian and Edwardian period, tossing out many of the old pews, carvings and other relics in favor of a more open, modern church, and the characters are more likely to encounter this in London than they are in rural areas. The roof may leak and the bill for repairs may be heavy, but the congregation is likely to be enthusiastic and involved; this isn't yet the dwindling period of scanty congregations and empty donation platters.

The vicar is likely to be involved in many areas beyond what might be considered his spiritual remit. If the parish is populated mainly by the working class and the urban poor, for instance, the vicar will be at least interested in union politics and poor relief. However the vicar is very much of his class, and that is likely to mean middle or upper middle class. Consequently although he may sympathize with the working class, he is not of the working class, and that is likely to make a difference in the way he is treated as well as how he treats others.

The vicar is an educated man, and may even have been to Oxford. Though there are no female vicars in period there are plenty of female lay readers, some of whom may have led their churches in wartime, when the men were at the Front. Moreover C of E vicars are allowed to marry, and their spouses are often central figures in the local community. In period it's usually one vicar, one church; in the modern era, when pay packets are small as is the number of candidates, never mind the congregation, one vicar often serves multiple parishes.

However unless the vicar is very high church he's unlikely to be that interested in mysticism. C of E vicars tend towards practicality and liberalism, rather than ritual. In the typical Trail period the vicar is also likely to have served in the Commonwealth in some capacity, and that can mean anywhere from Africa to Asia and beyond. Perfect for picking up the odd bit of occult lore, or even texts and artifacts, particularly since many vicars tended towards antiquarianism.  

With all that in mind, consider:

The Church of St Clement, in East London, was originally built in 1088, burnt twice over the next few hundred years, and rebuilt each time. The current Church was built in 1789, and extensively modified in 1882. Bomb damage in the War scars the steeple, but the damage was never filled in. It's remarkable for its stained glass window depicting Clement's martyrdom, as well as a much more modern Wartime stained glass memorial dedicated to the RFC. During the war, the then lay reader, Winnifred Jones, was an enthusiastic backer of air power, and as a result of her fundraising and tireless effort the parish donated enough money and material to build five aircraft for No 59 Squadron RFC, now RAF. The current incumbent is Michael Cunliffe-Scott, a high churchman who wants to bring back many of the old rituals and near-Catholic practices, an attitude that puts him at odds with a substantial number of his congregation as well as his lay readers.

From a Megalapolisamantic point of view, St Clement is an interesting and potentially powerful lever. However the Bookhounds may be more interested in Cunliffe-Scott as a potential customer; he fancies himself an antiquarian and amateur ghost-hunter, in the style of Harry Price, and is a keen seeker after book bargains.

That's it for now! Enjoy.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Bookhounds: Arc and Introduction

I've already spent several posts talking about the story arc and the initial scenarios in a campaign, and I don't intend to repeat myself here. Instead let's dive right in and talk about specifics for this campaign.

Bookhounds is all about trade. The characters will be buying and selling books, and trying not to die or be driven mad while doing so. They will attend book auctions - they may even host some auctions of their own - and they will be dealing with the hideous unappeasable monster that is the British Public, as they try to get customers in the door. The arc needs to reflect this, and the initial scenarios should be designed so as to show the players how things are done in this new world.

Also, this being a Technicolor landscape, the initial scenarios need to play up to the Hammer Horror stereotypes. So let's add a bit to the mix and say that the scenarios ought to draw inspiration from Hammer's films, and as there are so many of those I'm going to arbitrarily select from this top ten list and see what happens next.

Let's start with Demons of the Mind, shall we?

In that one a worried father, convinced his children will go insane, locks them away in his house and brings in a doctor, played by Patrick Magee, to take care of them. Meanwhile strange, inexplicable murders take place near the house. Are one of the children - both of the children, perhaps - responsible? Is some other force at work? The childrens' mother, now dead, was a hopeless homicidal lunatic, which is why the father's so sure his son and daughter will go the same way. The Cultes des Ghoules is all about necromantic communion, and here we have the beginnings of a plot, since there's at least one copy of that book hidden somewhere in du Bourg's.

Now, as covered in previous posts, the first session of a new campaign ought to start low key. The objective is to introduce the characters to the world and its mechanics, and then plunge them into situations in which their new knowledge will help them get out alive again. So the very first scenario ought to be all about du Bourg's, since this location will become the most important aspect of the ongoing narrative. This scenario will also introduce the main antagonist for the first arc: Rupert Hardy, Baron Stavesham.

The Baronetcy of Stavesham goes back to 1086, and has its manor in Monmouthshire. It has its share of black sheep and rakehells, but the current Baron is supposed to be a thoroughly ordinary fellow with an unfortunate past. His wife Susannah, a great beauty, died in a train wreck in 1917, leaving him to bring up two children: Eric and Anna, both now in their late teens. Nobody has seen either child in some time; their father, it is said, has unusual views on parenting. This fact would require a 1 point pool spend, Keeper's choice as to which: the very best alienists have been summoned to his house in Piccadilly to treat his children, in conditions of closest secrecy, but nothing has worked.

Clearly something odd is going on. The movie that is this arc's inspiration uses incest and buckets of blood, but as Keeper you may choose to go in a different direction. The whole thing's available on YouTube if you want to watch it.

This arc assumes that the father, Rupert Hardy, wants any information that might help cure his children's alleged condition. Whether that condition really exists or not is up for debate. However in order to get that information he'll go to any lengths, and that includes necromancy, to talk with his dead wife. Hence the Cultes des Ghoules, and his interest in du Bourg's.

I see this arc ending with a shattering conclusion to Hardy's story, and revelations as to the true nature of the affliction that dogs his son and daughter. Probably there will be several deaths in that family; maybe the endgame goes the full Usher and the final shot is of Hardy's burning London townhouse, with all the family inside. However Hardy's story ends, the Bookhounds finish with a copy of Cultes des Ghoules. The job of the next arc will be to decide what they want to do with it.

So assuming a three to four scenario first arc, I see the campaign going something like this:

First scenario introduces the characters, du Bourg's, and its day to day routine. If the Keeper intends to use any optional rules, like Idiosyncratic Magic or Megapolisomancy, those rules ought also to be introduced or at least hinted at here. Stakes should be low, but significant enough that the characters need to display a little ingenuity. In displaying ingenuity they probably also play up their characters' quirks and motivation - their Drives - which can only help future sessions. When I say low key, I mean something like this incident borrowed from Lutyens and Rubenstein: there's a big seasonal event about to take place, perhaps a Christmas party for the staff and important customers (hence why Hardy attends), but the weather's so atrocious that all the arrangements (and dinner preparations) are thrown into chaos. The characters need to step in to prevent disaster. In order to get the Auction ability involved, why not make it one of those trade dinners that were so popular with antiquarian bookstores once upon a time?

Second scenario develops on the first. Any optional rules introduced then need to be at the forefront now. If there's Idiosyncratic Magic, the characters need to start using it. If you intend for characters to have Magic pools, they need to start gaining points. At least one of du Bourg's significant secrets needs to be developed and possibly dealt with. Say the truth behind Mash, or what's really up in the closed-off rooms. Clues to the location of the Cultes des Ghoules need to be developed, but there ought to be no pay-off yet; the book will not be found until the third scenario. At least one or two NPCs will end up dead, though possibly not in or around du Bourg's. After all, there's still Hardy's London  townhouse and those two crazy kids to consider.

Third scenario unravels Hardy's plot. The true nature of the crazy kids is revealed, as well as the real reason why Hardy's after the Cultes. That almost certainly ends in death for several people, possibly even a PC if the players have been incautious. Now's the time to find that copy of Cultes, but naturally there's a price to be paid for that as well, probably in blood. No doubt that mummified body in the basement of du Bourg's has a secret or two to reveal. After all, this is all about necromancy, and who better to deliver the final revelations than a man long dead?

Fourth scenario concludes Hardy's plot. Whatever's up with the crazy kids, their nut of a father, and the whatever-it-is that's murdering people left and right, now's the time to bring it to a halt. Maybe it ends with some terrifying ritual straight out of Cultes, or maybe with one final rant from whichever madman is behind this scheme. Then comes the bloodletting, and since this is Technicolor there ought to be a lot of blood to let: servants, passers-by, policemen, doctors, and so on. Theoretically you could dispense with the fourth scenario and have it all happen in the third, but it may be more satisfying - and less confusing - to let Hardy's final conflagration have its own scenario.

At the end of it all the characters will be battered, bruised, but hopefully unbowed, and have their own copy of the Cultes des Ghoules. They also know a lot about du Bourg's, and have some power of their own, either through the optional rules or because they've been reading Mythos texts.

The question is, what happens next?