Friday, June 8, 2012

Liao Now Brown Cow


The exciting conclusion of our last Trail of Cthulhu game.  By way of recap, the basic situation was this:  ritual murders were happening around New York City, and the thread that tied them together was that both victims possessed a book called The Invisible Path; in fact, they were obsessed with it.  It seemed the killer was destroying or stealing the victim's copies.

A visit to the university revealed The Invisible Path was the last book of poetry self-published by a horrid 19th century poet, Martin Bellgrave, shortly before he died.  It featured otherworldly images of the primordial earth.  But copies are hard to find!  An eccentric Providence industrialist, Lewis Holland, had been buying all available copies for the last 20 years.  The characters found themselves on a train to Providence, both to visit the millionaire Holland, and to ask questions at a rare book dealer in Providence, Gollam & Sons.

When we left off, the group was getting ready for dinner at Lewis Holland's sprawling mansion.  A burglar had broken in some weeks ago, and Mr Holland's hired gumshoe would be joining everyone for dinner.  Meanwhile, the party's criminal, O'Grady, had secretly filched a copy of The Invisible Path from Holland's secret library, and took some time before dinner to quickly read the notorious volume of poetry.

O'Grady's world changed.  By the time he turned the last page, he was seeing the red primordial sky out the window and hearing the slurping sound of blasphemous slimes slithering across a humid plain.  O'Grady stumbled downstairs for dinner, pale and shaken, as if he had seen a ghost.

Over dinner, conversation turned towards the efforts of Francis Moon, the private detective hired by Lewis Holland.  "I've been unable to recover any of your books, Mister Holland.  Nor have I been able to find any more copies of The Invisible Path.  Some kook out there is knocking off owners and stealing it from libraries."

Holland started ranting about how important it was to make sure no on else read that horrid book.  "I knew Martin Bellgrave when I was a youth in the 1870's, and he's the greatest embodiment of evil I've ever met in my life.  It's a small thing, for a wealthy man like me, but I've made it my crusade to eradicate the memory of Martin Bellgrave and destroy every copy of his book ever published".

O'Grady had been experiencing strange, distracting thoughts… like there was another personality in his mind.  "I've been dreaming of red skies above a torrid primordial jungle".  Holland went bizonkers, since he knew O'Grady had read the book by some of the phrases he was dropping.  "How is this possible that people are still finding and reading copies of The Invisible Path, when it's my life's work to eradicate this book?"

Meanwhile, one of our absent players was back, taking on the role of Meg Meadows, a forensic scientist that works with the SCD.  Meg was on the train to Providence and arrived the next morning.  Meg had news from the city; there was another ritual murder the previous day, and it was someone that had taken The Invisible Path out of the library recently.  She was able to get the copy from NY public library and had read the book on the way to Providence.  She too was experiencing slight hallucinations, had found thoughts of unknown origin streaming across her consciousness, and dreamed of a red sky.

The next day, Francis Moon was off to Arkham at Lewis Holland's behest, to see if he could make an offer for the university's copy of The Invisible Path.  The party suspected Moon; the detective was a bit creepy and his stories placed him in the same vicinity of each crime.  O'Grady decided to go with Moon on the train to Arkham to keep tabs on the detective.

Everyone else decided to go to the ruined house of Martin Bellgrave.  Bellgrave died in a house fire in the 1870's, and the property had lain fallow for many years.  Holland now owned it, and let it continue to crumble into overgrown vegetation.  As they walked the grounds, Meg had a bizarre experience, like a time-slip.  She found herself in the mansion as it was 60+ years ago, Victorian décor and Oriental carpets in a shadowy study, where Martin Bellgrave sat in a high backed chair and spoke with her.

This session featured heavy roleplaying, and writing about dialogue in a game report is yawnstipating.  I'll convey the facts as briefly as I can.  Meg learned that Bellgrave was literally a figment of her imagination, a piece of her brain that began to think like the author after reading his book of poetry.  Rereading the book and visiting the ruins strengthened the connection.  The shade of Bellgrave explained how he experimented with strange drugs from the Orient, like the mythical Liao Drug, which unfettered his consciousness from the modern age and allowed him to cast his vision back into prehistory.  He learned the primal tongue, a sorcerous language that allowed him to tap into the racial knowledge of humanity and implant thoughts and ideas directly into his readers.  He poured his mind and soul into his poetry.  This explained some of the gibberish littered throughout the book.

More importantly, he explained how there are things that live in the angles of time, lean and athirst, that can follow a dreaming consciousness back to the modern age and consume it. The man that sold him the Liao Drug warned of this hazard, but it was worth the price of immortality through art.  Meg and the other characters had noticed strange lights in the sky, like distant fireworks slowly getting closer, and Bellgrave confirmed he too had seen such things after his Liao-induced trips to the distant past.

The players eventually snapped Meg out of her apparent trance and learned about her intense inner vision with the ghost of Martin Bellgrave.  They completed their investigation of the ruins, concluding that the mansion was destroyed by other-worldly heat that fused rock into glass and left radioactive traces, even 60 years later.  The party did some other things during the day, errands and other investigation-related snooping, returning to Holland's mansion near dinner.  When Waltham the butler met them, he indicated that the master was in the study with Francis Moon.  The group was surprised to hear Moon was back from Arkham already - it was supposed to be an overnight trip.  Where was O'Grady?

Holland was dead in the study, his blood cooling on the floor, his gouged eyeballs propped on the desk.  Moon leveled his pistol at the group and asked them to come in, slowly.  "I'm going to have to kill Meg", he pointed out.  "I am the real Martin Bellgrave inside Moon, and when all the other figments have been destroyed, I can live fully again.  Everyone who has read the book must die."  O'Grady was dead already, dumped in a private train compartment on his way to Arkham.  (Never send someone off alone with the serial killer).  There were a few half hearted attempts to go for weapons, only to be shot by Moon as the thought crossed their mind;  there was a line of clues earlier in the adventure that Moon was somewhat lucky, psychic, and uncanny, and being possessed by the ghost of the dead sorcerer increased his prescience.

The ending was a bit deus ex… the Flames of Tindalos, the hungry things from beyond space and time, foreshadowed as those ever present fires in the sky, arrived in our time continuum and began consuming Francis Moon to destroy the consciousness of Bellgrave they were following.  The party watched as the flaming motes darted around his body, igniting his flesh while he writhed in torment.  At one point, Moon's personality resurfaced, "I'm not him, I'm not him…" but it was too late for Moon.

The flames retreated but were still in the night sky, seeking the final threads of Bellgrave's consciousness.  Meg realized that she still had a ghost of Bellgrave in her head, and it was inevitable that they would catch up with her soon.  Snyder handed her his pistol.  "Better to go out with a bullet, than writhing in pain like Moon".

At this point, the party came upon an awesome solution, and it was really my favorite part of the adventure. Both Trevor (the occult dilettante) and Father Vinny (the exorcist with a background in psychology) knew of a hypnotist in the city capable of suppressing memories.  The adventure ended with Meg building a brick-encased wall in her brain through hypnosis, Cask of Amontillado style, where she sealed in the screaming shade of Bellgrave and all that happened the past few days, one brick at a time. She awoke with no memories of the experience.  "Why do we have our suitcases and travel clothes?  Did we just get back from a trip?"

Meanwhile, the others wonder… will the mental prison keep Bellgrave suppressed?

They put all the confiscated copies of The Invisible Path into a vault.  They knew, if they ever needed to consult with a sorcerer from the 1870's, they could read the book.  Bellgrave knew a handful of useful Mythos spells and had a fair store of Mythos knowledge.  But the Flames of Tindalos would rejoin the hunt.

I really enjoyed this adventure, with its theme of viral knowledge transmitted through reading a book, and the idea that consuming art can change the thought patterns of the viewer.  Good stuff.

*Liao Now Brown Cow:  this was O'Grady's player, Adam, getting into the spirit of bad poetry when he learned his thought patterns were channeling the dead poet, and he started stringing bad rhymes together.