So the intrepid investigators continued on last Thursday, trying to figure out why they were having horrific nightmares that were sapping their sanity. Jason was gone, but Jeremy was back with Carl, the antiques seeker (thief?).
The party members were very careful. They wanted to investigate every possible thing that they could. Now, the game is theirs. I view the game master / dungeon master role to be the facilitator. My job is to help frame the joint story that everyone is involved in. The other people at the table play a specific role in the story. The story is their story. I have a book, a module, or an idea that I am guiding the party through, but it is their story. The people involved should make the overall story theirs. That is what RPG’s are to me, collected storytelling. It is a bunch of friends sitting around, enjoying each other’s company, and telling a story. The key is… everyone enjoying each other’s company. That is why I don’t mind if the people at the table want to take their time, or spend a half hour BS’ing about something interesting to them. The game is a reason for people to get together and enjoy each other’s company. The game gives a common goal, a common experience, and allows people to be creative with some rules, but ultimately the game is about everyone having a good time.
I have prattled on before about super competitive people who must win at board games, or card games. I gravitate towards RPG’s, because usually, there is no “win” in the game. Anyone can have some awesome (bad or good) dice rolls. But if the game is run correctly (in my opinion), you should all be heroes and in the end, the failures and wins should make the experience interesting and fun for everyone at the table.
The RPG format should allow the players to experiment and test out ideas of the story line of their characters, resulting in satisfying the needs of that player. Yesterday, at our weekly Saturday game, I heard Brian talking with another player and he said something like “This is player knowledge, I have been playing D&D for over 20 years, mostly as a mage”. Brian plays mage-ish things in many games. He plays magic users in Deadlands games I have been in. He plays techno mages in Shadowrun. When he isn’t playing a mage, he likes to play a monk. Now monks are overpowered super bad ass characters. That is what Brian likes. He likes to engineer a character to have serious punch. He wants to kick ass. Good for him! And I don’t mean that in any way other than positive. If that is what you want to play, play the bad ass – ass kicker.
I like playing the character who is slightly or majorly flawed. Usually, the character has serious asshole problems, but that character has some redeeming thing that makes him useful to the party. My favorite character that I played recently was a Dworc. Half orc / half dwarf. He was built with fighter stats (strong, dexterous and very weak minded), and he desperately wanted to be a magic user. He sucked at magic. He tried, but he sucked. In addition, he glommed onto a “lucky” rock, which cursed him to roll at disadvantage on every magic and combat roll. Once I played a thief, who practiced his sleight of hand on his own party… take the wand from the mage and put it into the paladin’s pack… It didn’t matter to the thief that the mage wouldn’t be able to use his magic during combat. He was working on his pick pocketing skills. After all, what better thing could lend to your skills as a pick pocketing than taking an object from one player and putting it into another player’s pack?
But the key for me is to allow the party members play what they want to, as they want to. After all, it is their story too. I have played in games where the DM / GM was seriously butt hurt because the players wanted to go in another direction. The Saturday group is pretty challenging to run, as they want to make an adventure a sandbox. I like sandboxes, but when the specific adventure is on the rails, the challenge is allowing the party to go all sandboxy, then bringing them back to the story.
The Thursday group is much more on the rails. I think that Daron has trained everyone to ride the rails on his Pathfinder game. Yes, even a 1st level thief with a +10 on his lockpicking skills couldn’t open the prison door with his fishbone and a natural 20.
But where were we? Oh yes, the party was back in town, and had lots of experiences grave digging, having nightmares, and generally deciding that the lady who had bees was a bad person.
Most of the party decided to go to bed after the grave robbing incident that introduced them to Carl (Jeremy’s character). The actor decided that he wasn’t going to go to sleep, since the nightmares were very bad. He figured that he would go to sleep on the car ride the next day. To pass the time, he goes and tries to find out what the beekeeper is doing in the middle of the night. Now I assume that England has some form of law against peeping toms, but maybe not in 1929. In the end, the actor is not able to find the house. He does not get lost on the moors though. I explained to him that there was likely a more direct shortcut, instead of following the dirt roads around the county. Even though there were more direct routes, the actor decided to stay on the dirt roads. He was not able to find the beekeepers house, but was able to return to the town just as dawn broke.
The Romani decided to keep a wide separation from him and the constable’s horse. Everyone who went to sleep had more nightmares. Tree like creatures once again burst into the church during the nuptials, and massacred the entire party. It was pretty bad.
Now the actor was pretty proud of himself. He figured that if he didn’t sleep at night, he would not have any problems. I let him think that. That is what a good DM / GM does, allows the players to keep their well reasoned ideas until it comes time to inform them that their carefully thought out plan didn’t work.
So the next morning, the antiques dealer and the scientist decided to stay behind and investigate more, while the rest of the party went on a several day trip to find out more information. It was 3 days until the wedding.
The party split up. You know how that usually goes.
But when does the party listen to advice, good or bad?
So the scientist and the antiques dealer go and talk with the parish priest again. They don’t get any additional information. The parish priest is too new, and really doesn’t know anything, except that these two people should become part of the flock, and tithe. The priest attempts to have a deeper conversation with the scientist about the meaning of life, the affect of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost on her life, but she was having none of it. She kept going back to her Pentecostal roots.
The priest was having none of this snake handling, speaking in tongues thing. But he was very interested in the need to save her soul, and he could do this if she understood that tithing was good for her soul.
The remainder of the party drives to London, to the Doctor’s house and phones Frederick Davis in Harrowgate near Yorkshire.
Now during the car ride, the actor thinks that he is going to get some good sleep, you know, the type that does not include nightmares that scar your soul as you observe tree like things ripping people apart… No such luck. As the rented car is driving to London, the actor starts sweating profusely and twitches, while screaming in his sleep… He still has nightmares. And they are bad.
Frederick is now 50, and does not have a phone at his house. It takes several hours for the Doctor to arrange for the phone call, and to get Frederick to come to a location with a phone so they can talk. Even though he was “just a nipper,” he remembers that there was a problem with the wedding and the church. As soon as he walked into it he felt that something was wrong, but the adults wouldn’t listen to a child. He remembers being woken up in the night by the sound of people coming and going at odd times. He remembers his father and the wedding couple poring over a brass rubbing in the living room; the sound of their conversation woke him in the dead of night. It must have been significant; their reaction was strongly protective rather than angry. The day before the wedding, however, everything suddenly seemed all right, including the church. About three months later, however, there was a bad atmosphere in the house and a slightly panicked move to Yorkshire, after which all returned to normal. Whatever it was that had happened was forgotten, at least he could never get anyone to talk to him about it. The adults concerned are now all dead, they died of natural causes and lived at least as long as most; longer, now he comes to think of it. This may be seeing through rose colored glasses, but they all seemed happier and generally more fortunate once they moved to Yorkshire than anyone around them, including himself.
That night, no one has nightmares. Well, no one in the party who is in London. The scientist and the antiques dealer / grave robber who stayed in Shelborough are gifted with nightmares.
The part of the party who went to London woke up and then went to the home of the Reverend Simon Mitchell in Canterbury. The Reverend Mitchell isn’t surprised that they are asking about the parish. He is eager to help. His conscience bothers him that he did not succeed in this himself. There were bad rumors about the church when he came to it. At first all seemed well. Christenings were no problem and burials always seemed to go very smoothly, something of a relief; “our most difficult and delicate duty.”
The local gravedigger (now deceased), shared amongst several churches, seemed to positively enjoy digging in Shelborough. He said the spade always went easily into the soil, unlike the hard clay encountered elsewhere. He also said he was always coming across other bodies and bits of bodies, well decayed; just bones, not orderly in graves.
Weddings, however, were another matter. Only those that were obviously due to pregnancy or were otherwise reluctantly entered into seemed to succeed. No others ever did. Something always seemed to happen, and it felt like a darkness fell across the parish until it did. Eventually he gave up doing weddings at all. His last attempted wedding was in 1909. The prospective groom started having nightmares about creatures coming into the church and attacking the congregation. An exorcism was arranged one night but all those involved—he does not approve of such “superstitious ideas” and was not present—disappeared and were never seen again. Since then he has made arrangements for all weddings in the parish to be performed elsewhere.
Some neighboring parishes were reluctant to do this, as it is normally not allowed, but one or two priests knew about the problem and were keen to help. He was quite keen to retire and when Peterson was suggested he leapt at the chance. He has not kept up any contact with the village or its inhabitants since.
Then the party stopped in Ashford on the way back to Shelborough to look up any information that may be in the library. They find some useful information. They find books that may help. These books include:
- Haunted Churches in Kent, by Evelyn Gibbs. This cites St. Mary’s in Shelborough as a ‘classic haunting’. It mentions people wandering off into the marsh, that the local population avoid it at night and that one bride and groom were so affected by it that they fled the parish.
- Occult Disasters in the British Isles, Various editors. A lurid work detailing horrors supposedly happened to those dabbling in the supernatural. It claims that all those involved in a séance in Shelborough in 1847 “simply disappeared,” never to be seen again. This tale does not appear in the parish registers—or anywhere else—as it is entirely apocryphal.
- Archives of the local newspaper. These confirm all the disappearance dates given in the Parish Records. A check on St. Mary’s services they discover a dearth of weddings since 1846, though not before. If they took note of the various wedding cancellations, they find those, also.
The party then waited for night time to go and desecrate the gravestones that they decided must be associated with the evil going on here.
So let’s recap, in case the local constable needs to be told what is going on.
A group of people come in from London, claiming they have nightmares about trees ripping people apart. The massacres are related to a curse laid on this town by some beekeepers who are somehow related to the railroad being built, but may not be. The party has dug up the graves under four headstones because they investigated a nonsensical brass plaque that included four hidden names, and it just so happened that the four hidden names corresponded to four gravestones in the churchyard that had no bodies underneath them, and these four names also are not on the church’s registry. All happy weddings performed at the church are cursed (but only the happy weddings), and the only way to break the curse is to destroy four gravestones.
Hey, I don’t make this stuff up.
So the party waits until dark and goes into the graveyard. As they get into position, they see mist coming in from the moors that pours over the stone wall of the churchyard, that fills in part of the graveyard, obscuring the view of the grave stones.
Now this is where I as the DM created an anachronism. I drew out the graveyard, and placed the stones on each corner of the graveyard. Summer told me that I previously said that the four gravestones were randomly placed throughout the graveyard, not in the corner. Leave it to a player remember details…
I explained that I did this to make it easier to keep track of everything (a lie, I forgot… but I tried to make up for it as elegantly as possible). But with a gravestone that needed to be destroyed at each corner of the churchyard the action in the graveyard will be easier to track. It also splits up the party, which makes them more vulnerable. This may be why Summer was quick to point out that I was contradicting myself from what I said the previous week.
So with the mist in the graveyard, the party splits up and starts trying to whack the four gravestones with sledges and picks.
Things did not go well. The party was attacked by two tree like creatures. I won’t go into all the details, but there were a few amazing highlights.
The doctor was KO’d. The trees didn’t like him evidently because he destroyed one of the alleged curse stones right away. Now I say “alleged” curse stones, since for all we know, the tree things just were upset that the humans would desecrate a grave. But the Doctor went down, hard.
The Romani decided that dynamite was the answer. He lit a stick of dynamite and was going to shove it into a nook in the tree. It was a good idea, until the tree thing grabbed and grappled him and opened up a maw and tried to eat him.
I have started playing player initiative the Deadlands / Savage Worlds way in all my games. Each round, I deal out cards from a poker deck. The cards go from Ace to 2, and in reverse alphabetical suit order (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs). The joker results in the player getting a boon, and requires the deck be reshuffled after the round. Generally, in Call of Cthulhu, the joker results in the player getting a -20 on their d100 roll (which is good for them) but fumbles are still fumbles, (96-100 is still a fumble), and a +2 on any damage. Call of Cthulhu usually bases the player order on dexterity to establish initiative. That is OK, but I like the random nature of the poker deck better.
So the Romani lights the stick of dynamite. I roll a d4 to track the number of rounds that the dynamite will blow up in. Each round, I reduce the number on the d4 by one, but don’t make a big deal about it, in case the player forgets. On the round that it blows, I deal a card from the deck to the stick of dynamite. That is the order in which it will blow. If the dynamite card is higher than the player’s card holding it, the dynamite goes off in the player’s hand if they are still holding the dynamite. If the dynamite drops on the ground and a player or monster goes after the dynamite’s card goes, then boom goes the dynamite. This also helps to determine if people can scramble out of the blast radius before it goes off. I also don’t show the party the dynamite card, which keeps them in suspense to see if they will be able to get away or not. It works well for this group, they agree with the slightly chaotic nature of this method of dynamite, hand grenades or other thing. I keep the d4 tracking dice out where everyone can see it, as that seems to fit in with a person being able to see the fuse burning. But the random card at the end plays into the idea that the fuse has burned out, but the stick hasn’t blown up yet.
Anyhow, the Romani lights the stick of dynamite. The tree thing grabs him with two branches / arms. The tree thing proceeds to open its maw, and starts stuffing the player into its pie hole. The Romani crops the dynamite into the maw, while the tree thing is attempting to devour him.
The Actor and the Irishman grab the Romani, and pull like hell, trying to save their friend.
This is where the poker card mechanic works really well. The players all get their turns and the tree thing gets it turn, and the dynamite gets its turn also! Luck was on the player’s side. They went before the tree (and unbeknownst to them, before the dynamite). They all pulled like hell, and beat the tree thing’s strength roll and were able to pull the player from the tree thing’s grasp, and get away before the dynamite blew. It was pretty epic.
The party ended up killing both tree monsters, along with destroying the four curse stones.
The wedding happened, everything went fine.