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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign Journal: Chapter 15 - Torture Tanks

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After a five month hiatus due to one of our group having their hands full with a newborn son, it was finally time to return to the horrors of Shanghai in 1925. I was a little concerned with how things would go after such a long break, but after a quick review of the story so far we soon got back into things, with an action-packed session that saw the investigators through a series of successes and saw me scratching my head at the things they came up with!

Cthulhu is back!
We opened with the reveal of what had happened to Willard, who had been captured by a mystery assailant at the end of the last session. As Willard awoke he found that he was tied up against the wall of a small, marble-lined chamber. A familiar voice mocked him, Ho Fong promising him that his turn would be next, along with the rest of his foolish companions once they had been located. As Ho Fong stood aside the meaning of his words started to sink in.

Across the centre of the room was a long glass box, which Ho Fong introduced as "The Seven Gates To Heaven". Inside was a young, naked Chinese woman, immobilised by the glass partitions that split the long glass box into seven separate chambers. Above the glass box was another smaller one that contained two huge hairy river rats.

The Seven Gates to Heaven
As Ho Fong tormented the young woman, whom he referred to as Miss Choi, he moved the glass box containing the scurrying rats above the section that contained her feet. Removing a thick glass plate from the bottom of the box the two rats fell onto Miss Choi's feet and immediately began to attack them, gnawing and gnashing at her flesh. As she screamed in pain and terror Ho Fong smiled and promised her that she would soon tell him where Mr Brady was hiding.

After a few moments Ho Fong pulled on two chains that were attached to collars around the rats' necks, hauling them back into their box. Miss Choi had passed out, and her feet were a bloodied mess. Fong then moved the rats box above the section of the Seven Gates in which Miss Choi's head rested. He turned back to Willard with a smile, promising him he would soon join Miss Choi in passing through the Seven Gates, then carefully injected Willard with a syringe full of blue-green liquid. Willard lost consciousness, but not before losing a chunk more of his Sanity Points...

Back at the hotel the rest of the investigators returned from their meal to learn of what had happened. The bellhop filled them in, describing the fight in the lobby and informing them that Willard's assailant had then bundled him into a waiting taxi.

Whilst they were being brought up to speed Hubert and Cassandra noticed that the group was being watched again, by two different people; the drunk they had spied in the Stumbling Tiger bar earlier and another figure who was keeping in the shadows next to a potted plant in the lobby.

Cassandra approached the drunk, who quickly turned away and left the hotel. As she returned to the others Hubert saw the other observer leave the shade of the plant and stride towards them purposefully. The man introduced himself. "I'm Jack Brady. I understand you've been looking for me. Is there somewhere we can talk?"

Surprised but grateful, the investigators took the obviously nervous Mr Brady up to their room. Once there he explained his tale, describing what had happened during and after the Carlyle Expedition and the nature of the threat that now faced them. "All these cults... the Bloody Tongue, the Black Pharaoh, the Bloated Woman and countless others... they all worship different aspects of the same god...".

Brady's statement - click for full size
Brady explained the worldwide conspiracy he had uncovered - that these cults were united in trying to open up a portal through which the elder gods could return, and that this was planned to happen early in 1926. He also revealed that he had potentially found a way to prevent this catastrophe involving the placement of magical wards at the points of a global triangle.

Much of this sounded like the ravings of a lunatic to the investigators, but they had seen enough over the previous few months to give Brady the benefit of the doubt. Brady told them that if they wanted to help he had a plan to ward the first point of the triangle, and it would require a trip out to Grey Dragon Island. He said he was working in secret with some "friends" and that he would contact them when he was ready to move. The group took him at his word and agreed they would help.

Before Brady left, the investigators, mindful that they needed to rescue Willard, asked him if he knew of Ho Fong, whom they suspected of abducting their friend. Brady paled at the mention of the name and warned the investigators to stay away from the China man. According to Brady, Ho Fong was the leader of the cult of the Bloated Woman, and one of the most dangerous and powerful men in the world.

Of course, that didn't deter our brave (or is that stupid?) heroes!

Brady left, but aware that Willard's time might be running out the investigators did not have time to concern themselves over Brady's statement right then, despite Li Wen-Cheng's protestations at the crazy story he had given them. After a brief discussion they decided that action was required and that they should search for their comrade without delay. Li Wen-Cheng told them that Ho Fong owned both the warehouse they had visited earlier in the day and a large mansion in the old city. The group decided to start with the warehouse.

After some discussion of tactics they decided on the direct approach. A quick visit to Lieutenant Martin Poole saw the investigators enlisting his help in providing them with some boats with which they planned to approach the warehouse, though Poole was unable to provide the dynamite they had also requested!

So it was that the investigators left their hotel to meet with Poole at the docks. As they were making their way through the still-busy nighttime streets an assailant suddenly leaped without warning out of a darkened side alley, screaming in Chinese and launching himself at Cassandra with a blade. Before anyone could react there was a sharp retort and the attacker fell back with a bullet hole in his forehead. The shooter was nowhere to be seen.

Unperturbed by this odd event the group pressed on and met with Poole who had managed to obtain two rowboats with which to approach the warehouse from the river. They made their way along the Whangpoo River quietly until they could see the Ho Fong warehouse ahead. There were lights on inside, but the large doors were closed.

Boats on the Whangpoo
Mooring up the group decided to shoot out the lights outside the warehouse. This plunged the area outside into darkness, but attracted the attention of some guards inside, one of whom unlocked the gate and came to investigate. As he did so Harry's shotgun put a quick end to the guard. Now it felt like a return to the good old days - Harry had finally killed someone!

Hubert raced inside the dimly lit warehouse, ducking down between some crates, and was quickly followed by Cassandra. A patrolling guard unslung a sub machine gun and aimed it at the intruders. This news was met with stony silence followed by quite a bit of swearing. The group had seen the damage an SMG could cause, but this was the first time they had faced the business end of one. They steeled themselves for the worst.

For once luck smiled on the investigators. The guard missed his burst at both Hubert and Cassandra, instead spraying broken bits of wood and brick around the room.

Harry decided to return the favour, stepping into the room and unslinging his own SMG. He was a better shot than the guard had been, and his burst slew two other guards who were approaching from the other side of the warehouse. Cassandra ducked down behind some barrels and shot the guard with the machine gun using her rifle, scoring a hit.

Hubert took action as well, firing his single-shot flare gun, but the flare bounced harmlessly from the walls. Lieutenant Poole has no more luck. The remaining guards all attacked back, but only one was successful, running at and hitting Sebastian in the face with a martial arts flying kick.

The violent confrontation soon came to a bloody end and the remaining guards were dismissed with no further incident. Luck rolls ensured the brief but noisy exchange had attracted no unwanted attention.
Weapon of Choice
Helping Sebastian back to his feet the investigators conducted a thorough search of the warehouse. The discovered a hidden storeroom containing various papers and some unidentified brass rods and pipes, but there was one thing missing - Willard. It appeared as though he hadn't been in the warehouse after all.

Transferring the brass instruments to one of the boats the group returned to their hotel to consider what action to take next. It was very late, but the thought of rescuing Willard kept them all awake.

Emboldened by their success at the warehouse the group decided to plough on and make Ho Fong's mansion their next target. They were convinced they would find their captured comrade there and knew they needed to move quickly.

Back at Poole's makeshift office they hatched their plan. Showing an unusual degree of forethought the investigators decided to stake-out the mansion first. They headed off through the early morning crowds, accompanied by their erstwhile guide Li Wen-Cheng, but were disappointed to discover that Ho Fong's mansion was more like a fortress. High walls were topped with spear tips, barbed wire and broken glass, and the only entry appeared to be a set of heavy wooden gates. Getting inside would not be easy (or so I thought at least!).

As the intrepid trio were about to leave their stake-out and report back they noticed the front gate of the mansion opening. A Caucasian man wearing a long trench coat and wide-brimmed hat stepped out and the door closed behind him. Not wanting to lose this opportunity the group tailed the man for a short while before Harry pulled a pistol and strong armed him into an alleyway.

The man smiled in an unctuous and unconcerned manner and introduced himself as a Mr Carl Stanford. The name meant nothing to the investigators (which was probably for the best!), who under questioning revealed he was just travelling through Shanghai and staying as a guest at the home of the revered Ho Fong.

Losing patience with Stanford's smarmy manner Cassandra took matters into her own hands (as usual) and punched the elderly man in the face, breaking his glasses and making his nose bleed. Stanford simply grinned back, the blood running down his chin, tapped his cane on the ground, then disappeared.

The simple fact that Stanford had just disappeared into thin air with no fanfare or warning actually got one of the strongest reactions I've had from the group. It obviously shook their commitment to the cause and they were actually very worried about what they were facing. They were finally starting to believe Jack Brady's words - that Ho Fong was one of the most dangerous and powerful men in the world. They realised they would need more than their usual blend of crazy notions and blind luck if they were to get into Ho Fong's compound and rescue Willard.

Harry summed it up. "We're going to need a bloody tank".

Once the laughter had died down those dreaded words "well, actually..." were uttered.

The group decided that Harry had hit on something and decided to return to Lieutenant Poole to see if he could use his contacts to secure the use of a military tank for them! This was a move I had not anticipated...

Poole's reaction to the request was incredulity. However, being the kind and caring Keeper I am I decided that their mad idea should be rewarded and offered the group a Luck roll (with a huge negative modifier) to see if Poole would be able to fulfil their request.

They rolled a 04. I couldn't believe it! Now I was going to have to cook up some way of getting them a tank, and still maintain some level of challenge without the whole thing becoming too ridiculous. Thank heavens for tanks-encyclopedia.com!

Now, I may be a kind and caring Keeper, but I'm not that kind and caring! I wasn't going to have the investigators riding through Shanghai aboard a Vickers, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake whilst Ride of the Valkyries played out! I'm sure this is what they were envisaging as they won their Luck roll, but I had other ideas. Instead I allowed them a more modest success.

Poole went off to see some friends at the British Concession, and returned with news that an old friend of his, Brigadier Stanley Coulson would allow the group to borrow a Carden Loyd Mark VI tank in return for a donation of $1000. This news was met with cautious optimism. I say cautious because our resident military expert (the guy who plays Harry is an ex squaddie and an expert World of Tanks player) had never heard of the mighty Carden Loyd before!

The mighty Carden-Loyd Mark VI
Their caution was well placed when they arrived at the British Concession and saw the vehicle. The mighty Carden Loyd is a 1.5 tonne open-top tank with a top speed of 25 miles-per-hour. However, I think it is best illustrated by the video embedded below, which I showed the players so that they could get a true picture of it's unrivalled magnificence and power.

What the mighty Carden-Loyd actually looks like...
It took quite some time for the laughter to stop, and for once I was laughing the loudest of all.

So it was that a short while later Shanghai was witness to the most unusual of sights. The early morning crowds were disturbed by the roar of a diesel engine as the Carden Loyd trundled through the streets leaving a cloud of black fumes in it's wake. Harry and Hubert were proudly driving the vehicle, wearing tin helmets they had scrounged from the Concession, whilst behind them a crowd gathered and followed the strange vehicle. It was like a scene from Dad's Army.

The others had gone on ahead, and arrived outside Ho Fong's compound to see the Carden Loyd gathering speed and racing towards the gates. A successful Drive roll from Harry ensured that the tankette smashed into the wooden doors of Ho Fong's mansion, splintering them and crashing inside. The way was open.

The players would have to wait to find out what happened next however, as the session ended there, with a fat man in a toy tank crashing down the gates of one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world.

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