Monday, 1 June 2015

Empire of the Dead Game 3

This weekend saw the third in our irregular series of games for our narrative Empire of the Dead campaign. Big Steve has been weaving together various plot threads for us through out of game posts and messages.

Following the action outside the police station in the last game, Quartermaine's Department 13 was dealt a terrible blow as Dr. Erasmus was snatched from the British Museum where he was studying the book recovered in the first game. He was snatched by the same winged creatures that attacked the police station (and are definitely NOT Nightgaunts).

So, following up on reports from the rural countryside of Essex that there had been sightings of winged creatures around Horndon on the Hill (just a few miles form where TGP, Big Steve and I grew up - so we know the area), Quatermaine and his Agents took a steam launch up the river from London to investigate further...

The setup. Horndon on the Hill. Hills to the north, woods to the west and the The Swan pub to the east. Still haven't rebased those trees more than a year after their last outing...
Our Heroes begin their investigations by assembling at The Swan public house. Quartermain is accompanied by Frank, as ever, and four of his Department 13 Agents, Agents 3 through 6. He's also brought along a surgeon from the Hanoverian Guard, just in case Erasmus is injured.

Inspector Reid of Hell Division is still recuperating after a carriage fell on him in the last game. In his place are a pair of sturdy sergeants, a brace of police officers armed with pistols and rifles plus F.I.D.O. the steam dog and his handler.

As Quartermain is briefing the assembled team (and arguing with the sergeants about who is in charge), there is a clatter of hoofbeats and a large, darkly gothic coach pulls up. Several swarthy men armed with swords and pistols jump down and open the doors to reveal three very beautiful but very pale young ladies dressed in the best Hammer Horror school of flimsy attire, with in built push-up attack bodices. Stepping out after them (following a brief discussion about what was likely to have happened if he made more of a dramatic, and shall we say, "transformational" entrance) was a tall, pale man dressed in formal clothes with a red lined opera cape.

Strange Foreign Types in a very ornate carriage. Quartermain does not hold with this sort of thing. 
Introducing himself as "The Count" he advised that he was an associate of Mad Maggie and she had suggested that he would be able to assist. Since he had secured lodgings in Purfleet, not far from Horndon on the Hill, and Maggie had to remain behind in London, The count offered the services of himself and his brides. When asked what he could bring to the proceedings, The cont advised he had certain "abilities".

This was the first time AGG had really had a powerful character to use. Up until now the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee has mostly been minions and cannon fodder. The Count and his occult spice girl groupies certainly were a step up.

The Protagonists assemble.
View West - down table -  across the Essex countryside towards the woods.
The three groups then had a brief discussion. The Hell division bobbies would proceed along the hills to the North of the table. Quartermain and his agents would flank to the south through the crop fields and The Count and his brides would move through the centre.

Sporty Bride, Posh Bride and Baby Bride
As Quatermain and the bobbies set off, The Count and his girls tore away, moving incredibly fast through the evening. As they moved west towards the setting sun they caught sight of a giant, looming shape. The dying rays of the sun picked out a huge human figure constructed from trees and branches -  A Wicker Man!

Sounds of raised voices could be heard and then a mournful howling begins. This is not the Twilight Bark, but instead comes from something altogether more wild, toothy and Dire. At the same time dark shapes can be seen wheeling and swooping amongst the clouds. The shapes are too large to be birds and Quartermain thinks he may see some sport in the near future....

Wicker Man
Now visible, and screaming madly, is the figure of Erasmus, trapped in a cage in the chest of the Wicker Man. As they closed the rescuers could now see a large crowd of villagers surrounding the base of the wicker man, along with the wood and kindling piled up there. Several of the villagers were holding torches aloft and they all seemed to be swaying and chanting.

The villagers assemble to burn Erasmus.
The Bobbies, seeing what was clearly an unlawful burning of an Emeritus Professor, decided to stamp their authority on the situation. Hurrying forward they blew their whistles and began a cascade of dropped 'aitches as they ran through the mandated cliches: "Ello-ello-ello", "What's all this then?" and "Come along now, Sir. Let's be 'avin you"

The villagers (I don't want to be religiously intolerant, and I know things are done differently in the country, but we are rapidly approaching the juncture where they will be labelled "cultists") respond to the police's show of power by throwing their torches onto the pyre and setting the wicker man alight. 

The Bobbies blow their whistles according to protocol. Unfortunately the villagers are not familiar with the current sections of the Public Order Act. 
The Spice Brides continue to sashay towards the villagers at a swift clip and The Count seems to leap into the air and turn into a rapidly moving cloud of mist! He races up to the villagers and then out of the mist emerges a hideous bat-creature that flaps up towards the cage in the chest of the wicker man. As it flies it shouts over it's shoulder "Do not fear, Quatermaine. It is I, The Count!". Quatermaine resists the overwhelming urge to unload both barrels of .600 Nitro Express at the Eastern European Gentleman ("Bloody Easter Europeans, coming over here and rescuing all our professors... ")

Meanwhile, the dark shapes circling in the clouds suddenly dive down and attack the horses and coach. They are revealed to winged beasts that are definitely not Nightgaunts. The land on and around the carriage and the gypsy left guarding it leaps to attack one. With a string of Slavic curses he cleaves its head from its body. Quatermain takes a shot at long range at one of the others, but misses. Erasmus recognises the boom of the elephant gun and starts to call out to Quatermaine, just as the Count flies up and rips the door off the cage. Erasmus, not a fan of flying creatures, begins shrieking hysterically.

Whilst this is happening the bobbies and the Spice Brides notice a wizened crone near the back of the crowd of villagers. She is reading from a book and is accompanied by what the bobbies decide are two enormous dogs - because they can't be wolves as there are no wolves in the Essex countryside. Certainly not wolves that are four feet to the shoulder. The "big dogs" let out a spine curdling howl and charge forward, scattering the villagers as they push through.

Typical country evening in Essex.
The Spice Brides approach the villagers and attempt to terrify them by hissing and displaying their fangs in a menacing manner. Posh and Baby succeed and their two targets flee in terror. Sporty still faces off against one of the villagers (which is ironic, because many people think Sporty is actually the most talented of the Spice Brides, as demonstrated by her successful solo career). The Gypsy on the coach attacks and despatches another of the not-Nightgaunts, but the remaining two slaughter the last of the horses.

Sporty faces off against a villager whist Posh and Baby terrify their targets and force them to flee.
The bobbies amble down the hill and Fido and his handler, backed up by a sergeant and a bobbie move towards the centre of the field and engage the dire wolves. At the coach the gypsy engages the last two not-nightgaunts. He kills one and the other takes to the skies again, circles around and dive down on the Department 13 agents. A fusillade of fire attempts to down it, but it weaves through the shots and grabs Agent 6 in its steely claws, hoisting him aloft before dropping him to his doom.

Agent 6 is dropped by the winged creature. Quartermain has lost his first man.
At the Wicker Man the Count is trying to calm the hysterical Erasmus, but eventually just gives up and casually backhands him into unconsciousness. He then picks him up and leaps back into the air with him clutched in his talons (as Big Steve pointed out, for the Count, this is very much like trying to walk home after the pub with a fresh doner kebab in you hand, but not being able to eat it...).

The villagers, seeing the Spice Brides bearing down on them and Dracula flying overhead, decide that they have made their required religious observance for this week and since the main attraction - burning professor - is off the menu, they turn and begin to race into the woods en mass.

However, the crone sweeps her arm around and points her finger at the ground. There there is an ominous grinding and shuddering and the earth bursts open and disgorges a hideous creature made of mud, twisted roots and clumps of earth. This animated Earth Golem strides off towards the police.

There is also a terrible and ominous crash from deep within the woods. Far into the dark depths the trees are seen shaking and being pushed aside. With a terrible crash, one is seen to fall.

The Count (Ah-Ha-Ha-HAAAA!) flies off after subduing the panic stricken Erasmus.
The police are now engaged with the two dire wolves. F.I.D.O. the Steam Dog engages one of them whilst the Thin Blue Line moves around behind the Spice Brides to engage the other. The Earth Golem advances slowly. Quatermaine and the Agents are attacked by the not-Nightgaunt again, but manage to wound it and drive it off.

The Witch waves her arms again and sweeps them in an arc from the burning wicker man towards Baby Bride. A ball of fire leaps from the conflagration and strikes the blonde vampire. She shrieks in pain and rage and is knocked down and crawls away to cover to nurse her charred flesh. The other brides back away, hissing.

Suddenly the trees burst apart and a hideous creature emerges. It has a trio of stumpy, goat like legs, dripping, loathsome drooling maws along its flanks and a body made of knotted, coiling tree roots and tentacles. The tentacles grope at the air above the beast, coiling and writhing obscenely.

At the sight of this abomination the police, the brides and their minders and the Hanoverian surgeon have to test their pluck. One of the police sharpshooters on the hill decides he'd rather be elsewhere, as does one of the coppers from the thin blue line and both of the Spice Brides Order of the Dragon and Gypsy minders.

One of the 1000 Dark Young of the Goat of the Woods. Iรค Shub-Niggurath!
The Dark Young charges up the hill, facing a barrage of well aimed fire from the bobbies who held their ground. Good solid shots pepper the monstrosity, but have no effect. The Dark Young tramples over the bobbies. One dives away, but the other is crushed under its noisome hooves.

F.I.D.O. despatches his dire wolf and turns and charges the other, currently being engaged by a trio of bobbies. The Earth Golem lumbers on and Department 13, having driven off the not-Nightgaunt, open fire on it. Their shots fall on target and make nice "splat" sounds, but do little else.

Dark Young, Dire Wolf and Earth Golem. Dracula escaping at top right.
Sport Bride and Posh bride charge towards the witch. At the last moment a few of the villagers regain their courage and move to block the Brides approach. Sporty Bride tears her target to pieces and Posh puts hers down, but he's not out of the fight yet.

Posh and Sporty go after the witch.
The rest of the villagers rally and charge back out of the woods. The Dark Young tramples over the hill and down the other side, squashing another police officer.

The combined efforts of F.I.D.O and the bobbies bring down the second dire wolf, just as the Earth Golem is about to reach them. Quatermain and Department 13 fire on the villagers guarding the witch. In a continuation of the appalling nights dice rolling, I fire 12 shots needing 4+ on a D10 to hit. I got 1 hit - ironically from the surgeon. Quatermain was not demonstrating his reputation as the Empire's finest shot tonight.

The villagers return from the woods.
The Dark Young turns around and charges back over the hill as the Order Of the Dragon Minders head parallel to it to rejoin Baby Bride. She recovers just in time for it to thunder past her.

F.I.D.O. and the bobbies engage the Mud Golem, but their attacks are largely ineffectual. The remaining sharpshooter bobbie on the hill continues to pour fire into the Dark Young. This will prove to be a .... poor choice.

The Brides despatch step into the gap they created by tearing apart two villager and Sporty Bride leaps at her with a hiss and flash of comely ankle. Plus, boobs. The crone proves to be surprisingly resilient, though, and shakes off Sporty's attacks.

Department 13 create a firing line and open up on the villagers surrounding the crone from the southern side. The agents take down her human shields one by one and Quatermain redeems his abysmal shooting that evening. He takes careful aim and fires the massive elephant gun, blowing the witch to pieces. The Earth Golem collapses into a pile of mud and twigs and the Dark Young is released from it's binding. It charges up the hill and stomps the steadfast police sharpshooter into human pate.
Quartermain establishes a firing line
Meanwhile, the last not-nightgaunt dives down on one of the fleeing bobbies. He and Dracula's Coachman open fire with pistols, knocking it from the sky. The policeman puts his foot on the beast and gives it two rounds, rapid to the back of the head.

Bobbie and Gypsy fend of flying creature.
With the Crone dead, the villagers flee into the woods. The unbound Dark Young charges back towards the Wicker Man, but seems to be moving aimlessly and Baby Bride, her Minders and the bobbies manage to get out of its way.

Quartermain runs towards the body of the crone, keen to secure the book. The brides, covered in bits of crone, grab it before he can get there.

The scene is set for a tense stand-off, with Quatermain and the Department 13 agents facing off against the blood splattered, scantily clad Brides with everything lit by the flames from the collapsing wicker man. In the background the Dark Young runs into frame from the right.

Quatermain adopts his commanding voice and demands the book. The Brides hiss and claim their master has need of it, and besides, they have Erasmus at Carfax Abbey. In the background the Dark Young skids to a halt, turns around and runs right, out of frame.

There is a series of clicks as pistols are cocked and safeties are taken off an unfeasibly large elephant gun. Quatermaine demands the book again and raises his gun. In the background the Dark Young runs back into frame from the right.

The Brides hiss and throw the book at Quatermaine swearing that this is not the end of the matter. Quatermain says he thinks it is and throws the book into the fire. In the background the Dark Young turns and runs off to the north.

With the book destroyed and Erasmus (presumably) safe, the parties head back towards The Swan inn to find the Gypsy carriage driver crying over his poor dead horses. Transport is hastily arranged for a trip to Carfax Abbey....