Monday, June 30, 2014

Play Report: Blood and Cannonfire, Session 2: "Crazy Carlos' Discount Blunderbusses"

Events so far: The PCs have been broken out of jail and hired to serve the British Crown's interests in Spanish-controlled Caribbean in 1588.  Specifically, they've been hired to ferret out answers to three mysteries: 1) Find the new source of gold flowing into Spain's coffers, 2) discover the identities of the hooded, robed dwarves seen in the company of prominent Spanish officials, and 3) figure out why the Spanish are so interested in the pirate legend of the "Black Chest." Accepting their commission (and a pair of enchanted spectacles), the PCs decided to begin their investigation by tracking down the source of gold.  Recalling that the Spanish treasure fleet collects wealth from Veracruz, Cozumel and Cartagena de Indies, the PCs booked passage aboard the sloop Soiled Dove for Cartagena, reasoning that it was closest to their current location.

 Dramatis Personae: 
 Aleister Northrop, an English occultist-in-training and distant relative of Edward Kelley, assistant and scryer to Dr. John Dee
Francois de Vallons, a French mariner, carpenter and swordsman
Bear Who Stands in Rivers, a Native American, formerly enslaved by the Spanish, freed by pirates, now dedicated to killing Spaniards wherever he can find them.

Cartagena appearing on the horizon, the PCs looked forward to disembarking.  Aleister was approached by Captain Richard Cartier, who asked if he might convince the PCs to stay on and work longer, as he admired their work ethic.  When Aleister declined, Cartier nodded, said "I thought you might say that," and ordered several of his men, armed with heavy clubs, to attack.

Francois was knocked unconscious in the first round, while Aleister was lightly battered and Bear unscathed.  Aleister fired his pistol into Cartier's face, and Bear went blood-mad with an axe, swinging wildly at any who came near him.  Drawing a second pistol, Aleister dispatched the man who'd clubbed him, then found himself under attack by the bloodied but not-yet-dead Cartier, gashing the young occultist brutally across the thigh with his cutlass.  Dropping to one knee, Aleister drew a third pistol and emptied it into Cartier's groin.  Bull-rushed over the side of the ship, Bear managed to grab the rigging and swing himself around, somersaulting back onto the deck and burying his axe in another man's throat.

With that, the rest of the crew surrendered, turning over cash, powder and shot to the PCs in exchange for their lives.  The PCs disembarked at Cartagena without further incident.  Arriving at a tavern called the Cup and Crown, Francois began spinning a tale of his heroism in the face of Captain Cartier to any who would listen, while Aleister and Bear listened for any rumors of gold.

Aleister overheard two men discussing a trio of strange "Englishmen," dressed all in black, who showed up at the slave market every week, buying slaves with newly-minted gold bars, one inch by three inches by 1/16th of an inch.  He also heard rumors of hooded dwarves, Inquisitors possibly, who had taken up residence in the governor's mansion and were running him ragged with their demands.

Bear, meanwhile, overheard muted discussion of sightings of Asmodeus, the demon prince of lust and revenge, near the edge of town, especially around the garbage pits on the western side.  One old woman voiced considerable frustration that the Inquisitors and the Church had done nothing substantial to root out Satan in the New World.

Conferring among themselves, the PCs decide that Aleister and Francois will check out the slave market while Bear examines the ground outside of town for any tracks that might belong to this "Asmodeus."  There's vague plans that if Bear resembles the sorts of slaves these strange "Englishmen" buy, they'll attempt to sell him to them to infiltrate their number.

Speaking with one of the auctioneers, Aleister and Francois learn that there doesn't seem to be any pattern to the purchasing of the slaves by the Englishmen, but they do get a glimpse at one of the gold bars -- and Aleister is stunned to realize that the maker's mark imprinted on the bar is a series of glyphs in Angelical - the language of angels identified by Dr. John Dee.  He manages to hash out a rough translation as "Melchizedek."

A quick consultation with Dr. Dee (via the spectacles) reminds Aleister that "Melchizedek" was, according to scriptures, the high priest of God Most High, and that Jesus Christ was the High Priest of the Order of Mechizedek.

Bear, meanwhile, discovers unusual tracks, long and narrow, with a cluster of four squarish toes at the end.  He's not sure what made them, but he follows them a short way into the forest and discovers a number of different tracks of various sizes, suggesting not a single "Asmodeus" but possibly a family group.

Come Saturday, the PCs show up at the slave market, and put Bear up for auction.  While waiting for him to come up on the block, Francois notices the strange, grinning Englishmen, dressed identically in plain black clothes and looking like triplets, all three grinning maniacally.  At this point, Aleister is accosted by a guardsman asking him to come and be questioned by an Inquisitor regarding allegations of witchcraft.  When Aleister resists, he's punched in the nose (with a mailed gauntlet, natch) and nearly dragged to see the Inquisitor.

Aleister is carefully questioned by the lean, vulturine Jesuit priest whose eyes burned with unsupressed fanaticism, his body examined for evidence of a witches' tit.  Satisfied, the Jesuit returns Aleister's clothes and tells him he's free to go.

Meanwhile, Bear comes up on the auction block, and to Francois' horror, the grinning Englishmen make no motion to bid on him.  He rushes to begin talking up the qualities of Bear as a slave, in hopes of influencing them, and finally one of the three stiffly raises his arm in a bid.

Aleister returns just in time to find the grinning Englishmen loading their purchased slaves (among which he does not see Bear) into a wagon and driving off.  Finding Francois, he confirms that Bear was purchased by the Englishmen, and then they rush to buy a wagon and a blunderbuss with which to pursue the Englishmen.

A short while down the narrow road through the forest outside of town, Francois and Aleister are interrupted when a trio of Spanish guardsmen, unarmed, bloody and panicking, spill out of the forest, begging for help and babbling about Asmodeus and the Gadarene Swine.  It's clear these men are near death from their injuries, and unconcerned for their welfare, Aleister and Francois drive on.

Source: http://stephen-0akley.
Shortly thereafter, Aleister and Francois round a corner and discover a pair of hideous, porcine monsters, like enormous pigs with stretched, human-like limbs and long, curving claws, gorging themselves on the dismembered bodies of another couple Spaniards.  Feeling threatened, one of the swine-things rears up on its hind-legs, bellowing and grunting.  Aleister tries to shoot the thing with the blunderbuss, but in his nervousness the shot goes wide; one of the swine-things runs off into the forest while the other tackles him, clawing and biting until Francois severs its head with a couple heavy swings of his cutlass.

Shaken and bloody, they continue on, following the wheel ruts of the Englishmen's wagon in the soft loamy soil.  The tracks lead directly into a cliff-face, as if the wagon had driven into solid stone.

Francois easily spots a fake rock and, fiddling with it, manages to open it along a hinge, revealing a complex mechanism of silver and brass levers and gears.  Fiddling with it, he manages to trigger the device and a panel of stone recesses and slides to the side in the cliff face.  As this happens, Francois hears the muffled clank of steel on steel, but as he turns to look, a third, larger swine-thing erupts from the greenery, snuffling and grunting, tackling Aleister to the ground.

As Francois raises his sword to hack at the swine-thing pawing at his friend, the beast suddenly erupts into a cloud of fine, white ash.  Turning, Francois sees a lean, vulture-like Jesuit priest, a crucifix in one hand and a curved wand, an intricate affair of silver and glass, the tip smoldering, in the other.

“I’m afraid, dear adventurers, that this is as far as you go on your own free will. If you will be so kind as to throw down your weapons, I would be happy to accept your surrender.” He says is slightly-accented English.

End Session.

Listen to the episode here or on iTunes.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Play Report: Blood and Cannonfire, Session 1: "Great Beginnings"

Precis: An alternate history campaign, set in the Caribbean in the year 1588.  Alternate in that this is a version of reality in which magic exists, albeit as a rare and suppressed thing.  The PCs are spies, pirates and ne'er-do-wells hired to spy on and sabotage the Spanish.

Ruleset: Basic Role-Playing

Dramatis Personae:

Aleister Northrop, an English occultist-in-training and distant relative of Edward Kelley, assistant and scryer to Dr. John Dee
Francois de Vallons, a French mariner, carpenter and swordsman
Bear Who Stands in Rivers, a Native American, formerly enslaved by the Spanish, freed by pirates, now dedicated to killing Spaniards wherever he can find them.

January 1st, 1588.  3 am, to judge by the church bells.  The PCs are resting, not sleeping, on the damp, dirty straw of a prison cell in Santo Domingo, the Spanish island of Hispaniola.  They're to be hanged at dawn for their various crimes.

A jangling of keys and the jailer enters the room with a sputtering torch, leading a tall, hatchet-faced man overdressed for the climate, who slips the jailer a small pouch of coins and dismisses him.

Addressing the PCs, the hatchet-faced man introduces himself as Henry Davenport, and offers the PCs their freedom in exchange for meeting with Davenport's unnamed employer and listening to the job offer he has for the PCs.  After some linguistic confusion (Francois speaking little Spanish or English, Aleister speaking little Spanish or French, and Bear speaking his native language, a smattering of Spanish, and oddly, Yiddish), the PCs decide that anything's better then being hanged, and agree to meet with Davenport's employer.

Leaving the prison, the PCs duck into a store-room to avoid a patrol of guards, and find themselves in the midst of a swarm of rats, irritable at having been disturbed.  As Aleister is getting his ankles gnawed by vermin, he becomes aware that much of what is stored in this particular store-room is lamp oil.  Pouring out a barrel across the floor, Aleister motions everyone out of the room and ignites it, setting off a conflagration that sends flaming rats careening across the dockyards, igniting every flammable substance they come in contact with.  The PCs make a run for it, rendezvousing with the boat Davenport had waiting for them.

Rowing in silence, they meet up with a silent ship floating a half-hour out to sea - the Golden Hind, flagship of the late Sir Francis Drake.  Once aboard, they met with Sir Francis Walsingham, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Privy Councillor and Spymaster, in charge of overseeing all espionage, both domestic and international, in the interest of protecting her majesty from plots against her.

Walsingham is blunt: with Drake dead at St. Augustine, his primary eyes and ears in the Spanish Main are gone.  He needs new operatives in the region, particularly as there are three mysteries troubling him.

  1. The amount of gold flowing out of the New World into the King of Spain's treasury has increased by a factor of five in the last ten years.  No source for this gold is known.  
  2. Trios of 4' tall figures, dressed in black cassocks and hooded cloaks, have been seen in the company of prominent political, religious and social figures, including the Viceroy of New Spain, the Grand Inquisitor, and King Philip II.  It's ludicrous to believe there are so many dwarves in the Jesuit order, but how else can these figures be explained? And always three at a time?
  3. Spanish spies have been combing the Caribbean, seeking information on an old pirate legend, that of the "Black Chest."  According to the most common version of the legend, French pirate Le Loup de Gevaudan lifted a dozen enormous diamonds from the possession of a cannibal tribe on the Ivory Coast, hiding them in a chest of black-lacquered wood.  Le Loup was murdered over the chest by his own crew, who then fell among themselves for possession of the diamonds until none were left alive to say where the chest was buried.  
This is what the PCs are wearing,
incidentally.  Furry hats and
scrotum pants.
Accepting letters of marque and reprisal from Walsingham, as well as a decent amount of petty cash, the PCs were given a final tool to aid them in resolving these mysteries - a pair of enchanted spectacles, that would allow them to contact Dr. John Dee, the Queen's personal physician and court sorcerer, in the event of trouble.  Demonstrating the spectacles, Walsingham put them on and said, "Dr. John Dee," causing the image of the magus to appear, flickering and bluish, in front of him [DM's note: much like a Force Ghost from Star Wars].  

Suitably equipped, the PCs are returned to shore just before dawn to begin their investigation.  Discussing the matter among themselves, the PCs decided to follow the gold and find where that was coming from.  Reflecting on the Spanish Treasure Fleet, they recalled that the fleet leaves Seville, then separates into three smaller fleets - one to Veracruz, one to Cartagena de Indies, and one to Cozumel to collect gold, spices, silver, pearls and other treasures.  The fleets then reconnect in Havana and return to Seville.  

Deciding that Cartagena de Indies was closest to their current location, the PCs decided to begin their investigation there.  Seeking passage, they went to the first seedy dockside tavern they could find, a ramshackle inn called the Leaky Harlot Bar & Grille, to look for the kind of captain who doesn't ask too many questions.  They found one in Richard Cartier, captain of the sloop Soiled Dove.  After negotiating prices, the PCs agreed to work their passage around the Caribbean - from Santo Domingo to Santiago de Cuba, to Port Royal Jamaica, to Cartagena de Indies.  

Within a few weeks, the fortified port city of Cartagena de Indies was in sight.  

End Session.

The actual play of this session can be listened to here or here.