Thursday, May 17, 2012

SCD Game 3 for Trail of Cthulhu: The Eyes Have It

Cast of Characters

Detective Snyder, officer in the SCD (police detective):  Smitty
Father Vinny, trained psychiatrist and church exorcist (clergy):  Mike
O'Grady, burglar turned SCD informant (criminal):  Adam
Trevor, professional occult debunker (dilettante):  Keyser

Game 3 of our side trek into Trail of Cthulhu.  This scenario is quite a bit different than the first - I wanted to dip into something that involved tracking down old books, forbidden knowledge, and an intriguing mystery, to emphasize clue gathering and investigation.

Time passed since the previous investigation concluded, so we did some wrap up.  After his mind-warping experience at the hands of the sorcerer Corbitt, Trevor needed a stay in the hospital, then time out on his yacht. Both Trevor and Father Vinny pored over the pair of eldritch tomes they recovered from Corbitt, which contained spells and rituals such as 'call forth the dark one' or 'bring down the air walker'.  The party joked:  Snyder is the fighter, O'Grady is the thief, Father Vinny is a cleric, now Trevor is a magic user.  Even in Cthulhu, they made a D&D party.

Trevor's book was a 17th century tome, True Magick, and he learned that one of his social contacts, a man named John Scott, had familiarity with old tomes and grimoires, and helped him read faster.  Scott is a luminary at the Silver Lodge, one of Trevor's social clubs.   (In game terms, Scott and the Silver Lodge act like a dedicated investigative pool for poring over old tomes faster).  The parent organization for the Silver Lodge is the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight, a fraternal organization of seekers into esoteric knowledge; old time Call of Cthulhu players may be familiar with some of these names, so let's keep direct spoilers out of the comments - just seeding some interesting characters into the background of the campaign in case we do more than one-shots.  Plus it gives the group an awesome resource.

The new session kicked off with a phone call from another detective, Kroeger.  "This is a weird one Snyder, one of those crimes the boss is going to want to keep out of the papers.  That makes it more your area than mine.   You'll see what I mean when you get here."

A book to die for...
The crime scene involved the eyeless corpse of a Fordham student whose neck was also slashed.  After the forensics, evidence collection, calming the landlady, tracking down the skeevy roommate/suspect, following up on contacts at the university, and so on - all the good detective/gumshoe type of stuff - the unusual clues the group was left with were these:  the dead student, Geoffrey Hill, was obsessed with a book of bad poetry called The Invisible Path, such that he'd taken it out of the library continuously for 4 months.  He had been trying to buy a rare copy from a Providence bookseller.  The library copy, and his diary, were apparently torched in the fireplace after he was murdered.  The killer doesn't like bad poetry.

A second murder was called in from Brooklyn at a low rent tenement, a corpse that had sat undisturbed for a few weeks and began to stink.  Snyder's group got the case because it was another body where the eyes were crudely gouged out and the neck slashed, another ritual type killing.  After forensics, evidence, an autopsy, and so on, the accumulated facts indicated this was 'Jim Brown', professional burglar, and a pair of archaic tomes were found in his belongings (an English translation of De Vermiis Mysteris, and Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New England Canaan).  The books had book plates indicating they were the from the library collection of a Providence, RI industrialist.  Mister Brown had been shot recently, and there was evidence he was holing up to recover from his bullet wound before the killer caught up with him and took his eyes.

After a call to Gollam & Sons, the rare book dealers in Providence, the party found themselves packed and riding the train to speak with the book dealers and also pay a visit to Mister Lewis Holland, the Providence industrialist who previously owned the copies of De Vermiis and Thaumaturgical Prodigies.  Trevor and Holland knew each other socially through yachting competitions, and felt that would be a suitable introduction.

At Gollam & Sons, they learned a bit about the student's mysterious book, The Invisible Path.  (The players had tried unsuccessfully to find a copy at some of the other university libraries in the city).  The book was written by a bad 19th century local poet, Martin Bellgrave, a wastrel that squandered a family fortune in the 1870's and ultimately degenerated into substance abuse.  But the book was notorious locally; while it was sought by collectors outside of New England, that local industrialist, Mr Lewis Holland, had bought nearly every available copy some 30 years ago for his private collection, draining the market.  Gollam & Sons still hadn't found a copy for the deceased student.

The book shop had a small list of extant copies, mostly in a few well known public or university libraries that weren't selling their copies, and a private copy in the hands of a local farmer that the shop was trying to purchase.  The group jotted down the list and decided to go visit Holland.

After arrivals and introductions, they waited in Holland's spacious library, served refreshments by the butler while his master returned from an afternoon drive - testing his latest sporting motor car.  The library was filled with scientific and engineering references, none of the rare occult books that were known by Trevor to be part of the storied Holland Collection.

O'Grady picked the lock on an adjacent door, letting himself into a private study that held Holland's rare books.  Beyond shelves of rare tomes, there were dozens of copies of The Invisible Path, neatly lined along the bottom row.  O'Grady surreptitiously filched one and quickly hid it in the small of his back, as the roar of a returning motor car rumbled on the gravel outside.  He quickly locked the study and stepped out.

Holland arrived, removing his driving scarf and goggles, and he and Trevor went off, bragging about their respective boats and discussing that summer's boating cup competition.  The group was invited to stay for dinner, although Holland apologized that they'd have a guest that evening - he was currently employing a private detective, to help track down some stolen books.  His man had some news about the burglar and was coming in to make a report.

That's where we stopped for the evening .  There's a killer out there, the victim's eyes are gouged out, and the connections between the two victims are scant.  One of them stole books from Holland; Holland collects copies of an odd book of poetry called The Invisible Path; the dead student was also obsessed with that book.  Now that O'Grady was able to pocket a copy, they're eager to read it and see what the fuss is about.

*Image is from "The Book" in Pelgrane's Arkham Detective Tales


  1. "Gollam & sons" is delightful. Do they also do jewelry?
    Sounds like a lot of fun. Hitean.

  2. This particular story does a great job of capturing that "Bookhounds of London" spirit in a different context - that's why I picked that one. Thoroughly enjoying running the investigation.

  3. Good stuff. I've been enjoying the GUMSHOE myself.