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Thursday, October 29, 2009

You Better Stay Away From Him - He'll Rip Your Lungs Out, Jim!

Since Halloween is fast approaching (a little too fast for my liking - it always seems to come and go far too quickly) I thought I'd share an outline for a scenario I subjected my players to - er, I mean ran my players through a while back.

The scenario's set in modern-day Arkham, MA, and includes an NPC long-known to the characters of my game group's 20+-year Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic campaign. But there's no reason it needs to be set in that witch-haunted city, nor does it need to even be for that game. It's generic enough to be lifted and dropped into just about any modern horror game setting you choose - all you need to do is file off the serial numbers...

(Warning: adult themes ahead.)

"And Death Shall Walk Among Us"
A Scenario for Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic

In 25 Words or Less
A cabal of semi-well-intentioned whoopee witches have summoned and bound Death into a human body to "do the Lord’s bidding."

What Went Before
Three weeks ago, Father Anthony diTomaso, a priest at Saint Ambrosius’ church in Arkham, discovered a hidden chamber under the floor of the church rectory’s basement. Therein he found a cache of documents hidden there by an unknown party, possibly as long ago as the mid-1700's. Among the items he found a leather-bound book with no title. Entirely hand written, the book’s author was unknown – only the initials “C.M.” on the book’s flyleaf served as a clue to its author’s identity.

Within the Nameless Book, diTomaso found a ritual to “Summon and Bind to Ye Service the Lord’s Angel of Death.” Having lost himself within the book’s treatises against the sins of man and the need for men of the Lord to take action to protect mankind from itself and from the evils lurking at the edges of sanity (many of which it describes fully) diTomaso took his first step onto a slippery slope.

diTomaso gathered up four other faithful, pious men to join his cause: Capt. Frank Garrick of the Arkham PD, Arkham businessman Luthor Burton, Dr. Ken Draiben, and MU professor Michael Flemming. Fueled by diTomaso’s fervent, charismatic fanaticism, the group pored over the book, reading many times from cover to cover. They met weekly in the hidden room, beginning and ending each meeting with a reading from the book and the singing of a hymn found on its first pages.

Having convinced themselves that mankind was in imminent danger of succumbing to the evil forces that constantly chip away at its foundation, the cabal determined that they would attempt the ritual to summon “The Angel of Death.” The ritual required a female virgin, whom Draiben was able to select for the group from patients at his private practice. The virgin wasn’t to be sacrificed, so the group didn’t have that moral hurdle to overcome. She was, however, to be “deflowered” – an issue that the fanatical group took about twelve seconds to come to terms with.

The girl, Tina Moreau, a 19-year-old MU student in one of Flemming’s classes, was lured to the professor’s office after hours (on academic pretexts). On the way there, she was stopped by Capt. Garrick, who “arrested” her “on suspicion.” He took her to the rectory, where the ritual was immediately performed.

Seven hours later, when the ritual was finally done and dawn approached, the cabal watched in abject horror as the girl’s belly swelled. In under an hour, she gave birth – to a dark-haired, black-eyed baby girl.

The cabal discussed what was to be done, and it was decided that Draiben would take the baby and her now-catatonic mother to his home to care for them. He put Tina in the guest bedroom (chained to the bed posts) and watched after the baby – whom the cabal had named “Angela.”

Angela never ate or drank, and grew phenomenally fast – at the apparent rate of five years per day that passed. (She’d sleep for five hours – exactly. Upon waking, she had “matured” another five years from the night before.) She was beautiful, a sight of almost alien perfection. Her hair and irises were jet black, and her skin white as porcelain. The only blemish on her body was a rose-colored birthmark on her left shoulder – and odd-shaped, five-lobed pattern that seemed too symmetrical to be a natural occurrence.

Around the time of Angela’s birth – unbeknownst to diTomaso’s cabal – another odd phenomenon began to occur: people the world over stopped dying. Even terminally ill patients in the hospitals and the nursing homes did not die. In case after case around the world, people who should have died did not. People in fatal accidents, shot, blown up – it didn’t matter. No matter how severe the wounds, nobody died.

In Arkham alone, a trio of teens who were in a “fatal” one-car crash should have been killed based on the severity of their injuries. The townsfolk called it a miracle, but as more such “miracles” occurred, even the most mundane people in Arkham began to get a sense that something was wrong.

By the third day, when Angela appeared to be about 15 years of age, only seven people had died: three registered sex offenders (all of the known sex offenders in the city), two members of the city’s most violent street gang, The Crimson Skulls, one city alderman (often accused of corruption and mob ties), and one local fortune teller (who was a local celebrity and reported to be able to speak with the dead and use “black magic”). The county coroner could not determine the causes of death, and none seemed to have been victims of foul play. They all had one thing in common, though: a small patch of blackened, necrotized flesh over their hearts – each in the shape of a small hand-print.

As it turns out, the “force” inhabiting the girl’s body is not an “angel of the Lord,” but the elemental force of Death itself. An archetypal personification of the entropic and destructive forces of the universe, Death’s role is to transform sentient beings, “ferrying” them from one life to another. However, the cabal has disrupted the natural order, and Death now takes “her” commands only from them. Thus, the only ones dying are those they choose. All others are trapped in their current forms – despite their conditions.

The Hook
Capt. Dave Dietrich of APD’s Special Investigations Division calls the PC’s. [Dietrich is the aforementioned well-known NPC - he's been involved in several of the PCs' adventures, and is well-aware of the weirdness and supernatural danger that plagues mankind.] He’s distressed and asks them to come to the station. He can’t say why over the phone – they need to see this for themselves.
Scene Snippet:
At the APD station, they’re shown to the new SID room. Dietrich has his own office here, as does a Lieutenant under him, and he has several harried-looking detectives working here with him in a “secretarial pool” layout.
At the station, Dietrich takes them from the SID room to the holding cells in the basement. In a “special holding” cell that is segregated from the others, he has a single Hispanic male. Covered in blood and suffering from what are obviously multiple gunshot wounds, the man is barely coherent. A quick examination will show anyone with even rudimentary medical skills that the man’s wounds are fatal. Two bullet wounds clearly enter his upper torso, pierce his heart, and exit through his back. His heart is no longer beating, and the congealing blood is slowly oozing from his wounds – but still he lives.
Scene Snippet:
An EMT is being led from the cell block by an officer as Dietrich leads the PC’s in; he is pale and obviously shaken. He’s saying something to the officer leading him out like: “You can’t get me to go back in there! Not me, man! No way!”
The man, whose name is unknown, was in the process of robbing a mini-mart when an APD patrol car pulled up. The officers going for their nightly coffee were just as surprised as the perp was, then the guns came out. When the shooting was done, the perp, the store’s cashier, and one of the two officers had been shot. Only the perp had been hit “fatally.”

Dietrich takes the PC’s back to the SID room where he shows them newspaper clippings and Web site pages he’s printed out. In the last three days, these sorts of “miracles” have been happening all around the world.
Scene Snippet:
As he’s showing them his “evidence,” Dietrich bemoans: “As if I don’t have enough to deal with, between bleeding statues, cult graffiti, missing persons, and dying scumbags… [sigh]” (The first two are red herrings, but the last two are clues directly related to the real cause of these problems. The missing person he mentions is Tina Moreau, and the "dying scumbags" are those Angela's "removed.")
On-going Events
“The List”
The binding ritual specifies that Angela’s victims must be selected by a majority of the summoners. The cabal have selected several victims already and put them on a list that is kept in the hidden room. The GM should populate this list at his discretion.

Other Events
In the wee hours of the morning of day five, Draiban – suffering a moral quandary – takes the catatonic Tina Moreau to the outskirts north of town and abandons her there. She will be found by a local delivery man at 11 AM, unless the PC’s happen to find her first. For his trouble, Draiben is added to the top of “The List” by the cabal that evening. If nothing interrupts the timeline, he will be dead by midnight.

Dramatis Personae
Angela, the physical embodiment of Death
Strikingly beautiful and simultaneously terrifying, Angela is unstoppable. Her body is immune to everything – the only way to stop her is to destroy or remove, with an enchanted item, the sigil on her left shoulder. Doing so releases her from her fleshy prison – but before she leaves it, she’ll “take care” of the cabal. (“I must be sure they receive the sweetest reward for their efforts.”) Removing the sigil frees her, but does not compel her to leave the body.

Angela matures at the rate of five years per day, but peaks at the apparent age of twenty-five on day five. She finds it amusing to dress in Goth fashion, a la Neil Gaiman’s characterization of her.

When Death leaves Angela’s body, if she has not been mortally wounded, Angela will be a beautiful, homeless amnesiac. Otherwise, she will immediately suffer the overdue effects of her injuries. Once freed from the binding, regardless of whether Death remains in Angela's body or not, anyone dead-but-not-dead still suffering from fatal injuries will immediately pass away.

Angela's only power is to take the life from her chosen victims. She usually does so by gently laying the palm of her hand over the victim's heart. Death is instantaneous, and the only evidence left is a patch of dead flesh where she laid her hand. (She need not take a life in this manner - any physical contact is enough for her to steal a living being's life force. She just like's to do it this way...) As previously mentioned, the binding ritual prevents her from taking the life of anyone other than those on the cabal's List.

Options
Instead of "hooking" the PC's as suggested, this would be a perfect chance to pull a bait and switch on the players, making the "miracles" look like the start of a zombie apocalypse.

Instead of setting the game in Arkham, you could always use Winter Creek, VT.

If you need Bureau 13 character sheets, feel free to try my home-brew B13 character sheet.

Enjoy!
. . . . .

6 comments:

  1. Hi Christopher!

    I'm a big fan of Bureau 13 and that was nice of you to mention it here. The scenario you put up sounded like great fun. The deflowering portion was a little disconcerting but I'm going to assume that some seduction was involved.

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  2. I've heard of Bureau 13, but I've never seen it or played it.
    Now I'm going to have to find a copy.

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  3. @Dyson: Awooooo!

    @Binh: The game was a blast, especially the looks on the players' faces when they finally figured out what was happening. >:D (Oh, and since the person deflowered was an NPC, there was more abduction than seduction. :P)

    @E.G.: I highly recommend it (make sure to get the '92 version with the Foglio cover art) - but only if you're the type who likes to tinker with games. If you're looking for a polished, ready-to-go game, B13 may not be your cup of tea. It's a great, customizable rules toolkit - not a shiny, open-and-play game, IMHO. I love it because it's got a flexibility that lends itself very well to customization, and a strong foundation (in both system and setting) that gives me a perfect place to start from.

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  4. Man, I wish I still had my copy of Stalking..., all those subsytems for death and dismemberment!

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  5. @Blair: Oh yeah. :) Our game group uses the B13 hit locations for its Palladium games as well. We've lost count of how many characters have been maimed in these games over the course of the last two decades. >:D (Although Ezra, the Testicularly Challenged Man, is mentioned often and with solemnity. :P)

    It's too bad about your book - but there's always eBay (or Troll and Toad)!

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