Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Steampunk Monster Hunters #5: “Under The Thames”

In the face of the terrible revelation at the end of last session, Lucretia insisted on going out for many drinks with “my husband Octavious!” (Esmerelda, the changeling, in less-than-convincing disguise), and so, neither appears in this session.

At one point, I thought one of the heroes was going to sacrifice all but one of the group, including themselves, in an attempt to contain the threat. I’m told that there were multiple instances of PCs expecting to die, if not suffer an outright TPK.

Who’s Who

  • Margaret Anne Chapman, Accidental Hero, Sleuth, “World’s Greatest Girl Detective”
  • Mercy Patton, Philanthropist Sage, magical governess
  • Nayler H. Knuer, Philanthropist Techie, inventor and balloonist
  • Tommy Nine, Operative Experiment, mechanical man

What Happened

On the evening of Saturday, June 14, 1851, somewhat after sundown, aboard Nayler’s baroque two-story balloon, our intrepid band of monster hunters were surprised to hear that Wormley and Minister had already placed the ghosts of Masham, the evil witch behind the Great Fire of London, and his assistant into living bodies earlier that morning. He had a twelve-hour head-start pursuing his no-doubt apocalyptic schemes!

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Steampunk Monster Hunters #4: “Fly By Night”

The lesson of this session, for me, was that I’ve been underestimating how effective the team is in a fight.

Who’s Who

  • Esmerelda Wagstaff, Accidental Hero Inhuman Changeling, better at disguise than acting
  • Lucretia Gasser Buttersnaps, Philanthropist Commando, lush gunslinger
  • Margaret Anne Chapman, Accidental Hero, Sleuth, “World’s Greatest Girl Detective”
  • Mercy Patton, Philanthropist Sage, magical governess
  • Nayler H. Knuer, Philanthropist Techie, inventor and balloonist
  • Tommy Nine, Operative Experiment, mechanical man

What Happened

The morning after the seance, Saturday, June 14, 1851, the patched-up group gathered for breakfast at Mercy’s with Ann Bell, who was still recovering from her near-zombie experience. They questioned her further about Wormley and Minister, establishing details of their schedules and how the salon was organized, learning that Wormley was older but remarkably vigorous, while Mr Minister was bookish and nervous. Hearing this, they began to re-think their infiltration plan. Instead, they decided to kidnap Minister and interrogate him.

Accordingly, after breakfast, they split up to work on different tasks. Nayler took Ann home in his steam carriage, then took the rest of the group back to his house to help prepare his balloon for flight, as their plans relied on a quick means of escape from the scene of the crime. Meanwhile, Esmerelda and Margaret disguised themselves, each in her own way, and staked out Wormley’s Physical Culture Salon, watching for a chance to trail Minister.

As they watched, they actually got a look at Wormley, in person. At one point during the morning, he came outside the salon to smoke a cigar. Margaret got close enough to determine what brand of cigars he favored. Later, she would arrange to obtain a box of them, as part of a possible long con that never came together.

Late in the morning, they saw Minister leaving the salon on an errand to pick up office supplies, and shadowed him in turns. After several uneventful stops, late in the day, he returned to the salon and went upstairs to Wormley’s office. By this time, the others had silently arrived in Nayler’s oversized balloon, newly-equipped with a mounted version of the grabbering-gun.

Margaret took advantage of her own grabbering-gun and youthful agility to sneak to a position outside the office window, where she applied a stethoscope to eavesdrop on their conversation. From what she was able to make out, Minister was warning Wormley that someone was “onto [him]”, that they would be coming for him soon. Wormley expressed defiance, dismissing Minister, who left the office and the salon.

Esmerelda followed Minister closely, with Margaret trailing behind. As soon as Minister turned off the main road to take a shortcut through a narrow alley, Esmerelda quickly and quietly stepped up behind him. She ran up behind him and punched him once, decisively, in the base of the skull, immediately knocking him unconscious. Waving in the air support, Esmerelda and Margaret loaded the unconscious man into a cargo net to be hauled aboard, then used Margaret’s grabbering-gun to join the others themselves.

As the sun went down, they tied up Minister and gave him first aid, bringing him around to be interrogated. Under their questioning, he explained that Wormley was on high alert, knowing that someone was after him. Which someone, he wouldn’t say, only remarking that Wormley had many enemies from his travels around the world and extensive adventures. Minister claimed that Wormley had “learned secrets of the Orient” on these travels, presumably the source of his vitality and other abilities. Esmerelda had speculated that Wormley was actually a psychic vampire, and this seemed to support that theory.

Despite the fact that Wormley was on his guard, the party decided to attempt a direct assault. Leaving Minister tied to Nayler’s cot, they turned the balloon back to the skies over the salon.

In an attempt to take Wormley unawares, Esmerelda descended to the ground and entered the salon through the front door, taking on the appearance of Mr Minister. She went to Wormley’s office door. Finding it locked (and forgetting that she can pick locks), she called out to him, claiming to be Minister, returned with news. He threw open the door, grabbing her and dragging her into the room. As he did, he revealed that he had seen through her deception, activating his vampiric powers to drain the life from her!

Luckily, the others hadn’t been idle while all this was going on. Also approaching from the ground, Margaret had repeated her climbing feat from earlier, placing herself outside the office window, accompanied by Tommy. Seeing that their friend was in trouble, they responded: Margaret fired her pistol into Wormley’s leg, distracting him, then Tommy crashed through the window and charged towards the villain. Finding himself under attack, Wormley waved a hand at a door across the room, telekinetically throwing open its latch. A half-dozen zombie strongmen with handlebar mustaches, formerly patrons of the salon before being drained of their animal magnetism, burst into the room!

Meanwhile, the others had been making their own approach by balloon. Spotting a convenient skylight near Wormley’s office, Lucretia had fired the balloon-mounted grabbering-gun through it, anchoring a climbing line. Using the hook handle of her umbrella, Mercy slid down the cable to the salon’s roof, where she hid among the shadows. When all the shooting started, she made her way over the roof to drop down next to Margaret at the shattered office window. When the zombies menaced them both there, she pulled Margaret’s net from her shoulder bag and threw it over the first two in line, entangling them and blocking the others.

Following close behind Mercy, Lucretia also used the taut cable to slide from balloon to salon, while Nayler locked the balloon’s brass controls and went to check on Minister. This turned out to be a good move, as the clerk was just freeing himself from his bonds. Nayler drew his shotgun, but was reluctant to fire, knowing it would mean the man’s death. (Margaret, being the group’s conscience when it comes to the matter of killing humans, had earlier mentioned that it would be poor form to murder people outright, even if they do have psychic powers, and was even now shouting “Don’t kill the zombies, they can be cured!”) As the inventor hesitated, Minister displayed his own psychic abilities, battering Nayler’s mind with waves of fear. He was able to resist, throwing the heavy shotgun into Minister’s face, again knocking him out.

Inside the office, the melee was just heating up. Tommy was a whirling form in the thick of the zombies, using his iron-shod cane to batter their knees. Taken to the ground by the pain of having her life force drained, Esmerelda took advantage of her position to quickly tie Wormley’s shoelaces together, causing him to fall prone with a squawk when he tried to move to get a better look out the window at Margaret and Mercy, hoping to use his gaze of mental domination. Finding herself in the room that the zombies had come from, Lucretia followed them, kicking open the door and setting up a stream of bullets from her newest toy: a caplock submachine gun that Nayler had given her earlier. She sprayed the zombie’s legs with gunfire (“They’ll live!” she grumbled at Margaret’s questioning look) quickly crippling them and bringing them all to the floor.

As Wormley struggled to rise to his feet, Tommy quickly approached and kicked the man firmly in the head, killing him. (Horrified looks all around!) Luckily, Nayler entered only a second later, having secured Mr Minister and descended from the balloon. He was able to use cutting-edge medical science (plus a Gizmo, plus a couple of wildcard points) to bring the psychic (barely!) back to life.

Moving quickly, the group tidied up the scene of the crime. They restrained the still-snapping zombies, hauling them and Wormley up to the balloon with the cargo nets. Everyone but Esmerelda swarmed up into the balloon and fled.

As for Esmerelda, she assumed the appearance of Wormely and went downstairs to meet the authorities. There, she told an unbelievable story: the truth. As Wormley, she claimed that a mechanical man, a twelve year old girl, and her nanny had crashed in through her office window and shot up the place before suddenly fleeing. Unsurprisingly, the bobbies didn’t believe the story, and asked if “he” could come downtown with them to tell “his” story to their supervisors. Esmerelda agreed, but asked for an opportunity to freshen up. As soon as she was out of sight, she turned invisible and walked out, right past all the unaware policemen.

In the balloon, Mercy performed a ritual to restore the zombies back to their normal, human selves. The two psychics were tied up and bandaged. Taking care to avoid eye contact, they brought Wormley back to consciousness and asked him some questions.

The counterfeiting plates? Sold ’em, he said. Long gone. Money in the bank.

What about Masham, the evil wizard with apocalyptic plans? “Oh, him,” Wormley said, “we put him and his assistant in bodies this morning.”

To be continued…

Cool Point: Lucretia, for mowing down zombies wholesale without causing any human deaths – the rules, after all, are somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.

Booby Point: Esmerelda, for failing to remember her lock picking skills in the face of a locked door…

 

Added Details

A couple of details that I think I missed:

Towards the end of the session, everybody but Lucretia had realized, one way or another, that “Octavious” wasn’t really Octavious. Several had seen through Esmerelda’s glamour, while the rest had noticed oddities of behavior. The group even started taking advantage of her ability to change appearance. Finally, she broke down and dropped the charade, declaring herself to be a changeling.

She had been part of a fae travelling circus, she explained, when she finally got fed up with her own kind and fled. During her travels, she had bumped in to Octavious, who was leaving London to find either a cure for lycanthropy or a nice farm where he could chase rabbits all day. He had shown her a kindness and they traded stories. Between them, they had hatched a plan: she would take Octavious’ face and position, hiding out from her past while offering support to his friends and family. She would be able to support their monster hunting mission while also sparing them worry over his absence.

Everybody accepted this fairly readily, at least initially, aside from Lucretia. For some time, she refused to accept the story, declaring that this “Octavious” was the original and it was all some complex delusion. In the end, she seemed to “agree to disagree”, saying they would “make it work”.

Afterwards, Tommy Nine slipped out to send a telegram to his handlers, informing them that he had located a fae who claimed to be a rogue, and requesting further instructions. Later on, he received a return telegram, telling him to observe and report, but if it seemed that she was about to initiate some supernatural trouble, he should immediately kill her.

 

Steampunk Monster Hunters #3: “Breaking and Entering”

It’s been about two weeks, in game, since our last session. Octavious, worried about the possibility of becoming a werewolf, left to walk the earth in search of a cure, only to apparently come back just a few days later.

The Association has assigned Tommy Nine, a mechanical man with specialized expertise in hunting the fae, to the group. He is partly metal, well-dressed, carries a cane, and wears a bowler hat.

Who’s Who

  • Esmerelda Wagstaff, Accidental Hero Inhuman Changeling
  • Lucretia Gasser Buttersnaps, Philanthropist Commando
  • Margaret Anne Chapman, Accidental Hero, Sleuth, “World’s Greatest Girl Detective”
  • Mercy Patton, Philanthropist Sage
  • Nayler H. Knuer, Philanthropist Techie
  • Tommy Nine, Operative Experiment

What Happened

On the morning of Friday, June 13, 1851, our heroes gathered for a social occasion. Margaret’s Uncle Byron had invited everyone to brunch at a London cafe. The party was seated outside, in a street-side garden area. At the meal, Octavious made several uncharacteristic moves: chiefly, refusing alcohol.

As the party was eating, they were approached by a young woman who called out to Margaret with a familiar manner, identifying herself as “Bill Turpin”. Margaret recognized the name as a small-time counterfeiter who had appeared in one of her early cases. In that case, the authorities had never recovered the man’s set of counterfeiting plates, because they had failed to take him alive. When arrested, he had fled, and in his haste, fallen into some ropes and accidentally hung himself. The girl detective offered the woman a seat and a drink, gently soothing her and asking her to explain herself.

The woman told a rambling and almost incoherent story. She mentioned several particulars of the Turpin case which appeared to prove her to be the dead counterfeiter. When she mentioned Turpin’s favorite whiskey, Nayler pulled a pint of the very label from his pocket and poured the woman a stiff drink. This earned him a heartfelt blessing for his kindness.

She said that she had been “double-crossed”, that she had been offered a “second chance” but it had been a trick. She appeared to be ill. As the party watched, she muttered something about “losing her” and then seemed to go to sleep with her head on the table. Moments later, she snapped her head up, snarling and mouthing obscenities as she dove for Margaret’s throat!

Lucretia pulled one of her pistols and bashed the woman in the back of the head while Margaret danced away, using her grabbering gun to ascend out of easy reach. Nine struck at the woman’s legs with his iron-shod cane, but became entangled and thrown off-balance. Mercy followed Lucretia’s example, also pistol-whipping the crazed woman. Nayler threw an empty whiskey bottle at her head, to no avail. With her initial target out of reach, the woman went to attack Mercy, but was knocked out by an uppercut from Lucretia.

With the other cafe patrons and staff scattering from the sudden and unexpected violence, the party beat a hasty retreat. They wrapped the woman in Margaret’s net, then Nine tucked her under his arm and carried her away. They went to Mercy’s estate on the edge of London, as it was the closest of their homes.

Mercy and Nayler examined the woman. He was able to determine that she was still alive, while Mercy realized that despite appearances, the woman was not a zombie, but a victim. A part of her soul had been sucked out, leaving a vacuum that a ghost could easily slip into.

After some discussion, the party decided that they needed to call up the spirit of Bill Turpin to question him. Knowing Octavious was a medium, the party asked him to do the job, but he declined with a rambling excuse. Instead, Mercy offered to perform a ritual seance, but pointed out that she would need something connected to the spirit being sought.

Octavious offered to take care of the spiritual connection by himself, accepting Margaret’s copious notes about the Turpin case, but when he left, Margaret quietly followed and shadowed him. He briskly walked to a nearby alley, checking behind himself to make sure nobody was following. As soon as he was out of sight, his appearance was transformed, making him look like a policeman! As Margaret peered closely, she realized she could see through the veil of illusion to a thin, pale woman inside the bobby’s shell.

The mysterious, disguised woman went to Turpin’s wife’s address, where she knocked on the door. Between the knock and the door opening, Margaret slipped in under her arm, cheerfully joining in the deception. Turpin’s widow answered the door. Distracting the woman with patter and fast-talk, Margaret provided enough distraction to allow Esmerelda, the woman disguised as a bobby, to stealthily search for something connected to Bill Turpin. She found an etched souvenir shot glass, which she stealthily pocketed. The two said their goodbyes and exited, returning to Mercy’s house.

Meanwhile, Lucretia and Nayler tried to question the growling zombie. Nayler quickly grew bored when there were no easy results, so he wandered off to tinker with some gadgeteering project. Thus unencumbered by assistants and their questions, Lucretia was able to accomplish a miracle of interrogation, extracting the name “Ann Bell” from the howling, cursing beast. Mercy recognized the name as that of a semi-famous London athlete and lady wrestler.

When the party gathered again, Mercy’s projections for how the seance would go were not looking good. To help make up the large amounts of magical energy required, they decided they would engage in some animal sacrifice. Nayler stepped out and used some of his great wealth to buy a fine horse.

Back when Mercy had obtained the house, she had been on the lookout for a home with certain mystical properties, so she was lucky enough to have a minor place of power in her basement. They decided to hold the seance there, but this led to the question: how does one get a horse into a basement?

“Octavious” stepped up and displayed some uncharacteristic skill with animal handling, and got the horse in place. During this exercise, Nine and Nayler were able to see through her veil of glamour, but also decided not to say anything.

The midnight ritual was a harrowing experience, with everyone donating significant amounts of Fatigue and not a few Hit Points. Nayler whipped up a quick injection to restore his lost Fatigue. Candles flickered, shadows danced, nearly everybody got a nosebleed, and… they summoned the ghost of Bill Turpin for questioning.

Who was it that had double-crossed him? Wormley and Minister, he said. They had offered a second chance at life, but it didn’t “take”. (Mercy and Margaret, being followers of the local news, recognized the name “Wormley” from a newly-opened business, Wormley’s Physical Culture Salon.)

How did he know Ann? He didn’t, he said. She had been a victim in the plot.

Where were the hidden plates from his counterfeiting days? In life, he had hidden them behind a false panel in the belfry of a particular church, but he was certain they weren’t there any longer; he had offered their location as payment for his second chance at life.

Was there anything they could do for him? “Too late for me,” he replied, shaking the weights and chains of his mortal sins as he faded away, “look to yourself, that you might escape my terrible fate!”

Exhausted, the party found their beds. Margaret didn’t even make it that far, curling up in an overstuffed chain in Mercy’s office.

The next morning, several members of the party went to Ann’s address to investigate, while Mercy researched a cure for the afflicted woman.

After Esmerelda picked the lock to Ann’s house, the searchers found some paperwork linking Ann to Wormley’s Physical Culture Salon, as well as pocketing some cash, loose valuables, and keepsakes. In the meantime, Mercy was able to use magic to restore the missing pieces of Ann’s soul, so when the searchers returned, they found the victim of their petty pilfering sitting up and looking at them. They returned most of the stolen goods, claiming to have recovered them from thieves.

When questioned, Ann had described her last memories, of Atticus Wormley approaching her in a menacing fashion. She remarked upon the frightfulness of his eyes, and specifically called him a “vampire”. (At that, everybody sat up straight.)

Wondering if they would find others under Wormley’s thrall, they asked Ann if she knew anything about other victims. She was able to recall mention of the name “Orlando Masham” but no details. This name was familiar to Mercy from legends. He had been a devil worshipper and powerful witch who had tried to destroy London in the Great Fire of 1666, only to be killed by a desperate team of monster hunters.

The party deduced that they’re dealing with a “vampire” who can somehow turn people into vessels for easy possession by ghosts, who is looking to provide a body to an evil witch who wants to destroy all of London – their first potential apocalypse!

Seeing no other obvious leads, the party prepared to infiltrate Wormley’s Physical Culture Salon, with Lucretia leading the way as an accomplished athlete who might want to become a customer, while most of the others hang back, nearby but not obvious. Several members of the group have decided to load up with an expectation of violence.

To be continued…

Cool Point: Mercy, for the awesome feat of the seance

 

Steampunk Monster Hunters #2: “Aaoooooo”

Some of our protagonists chose to become consulting field agents for a shady Association, “on-screen”, last session. The newcomers have also signed up, in the background. There was some discussion, pre-game, concerning how far the Association can be trusted – “Do we really know who these people are?”, that kind of thing – but the majority of the group seemed to feel good about the group. On the one hand: the PCs want to hunt monsters, the Assocation wants monsters hunted, it’s win-win. On the other: any group that has Charles Dickens as a member must obviously be a force for good.

Who’s Who

  • Lucretia Gasser Buttersnaps, Philanthropist Commando; wife of Octavious, tipsy and American
  • Margaret Anne Chapman, Accidental Hero, Sleuth; “World’s Greatest Girl Detective”
  • Mercy Patton, Philanthropist Sage; governess with luggage that’s bigger on the inside
  • Nayler H. Knuer, Philanthropist Techie; wealthy, well-traveled, unhealthily sophisticated
  • Octavious Buttersnaps, Hired Gun Psi; husband of Lucretia, bitter and intoxicated

What Happened

Our heroes were all invited to breakfast at Dickens’ home on the morning of Sunday, 1 June 1851. As is the way of PCs, much attention was paid to the menu, including the obligatory cider joke, so let it be noted: there were kippers.

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Steampunk Monster Hunters #1: “By The Skin Of Her Teeth”

The first session of the Steampunk Monster Hunters campaign had a bit of a rough time getting going. A couple of players had real-world responsibilities and couldn’t make it, then one of the remaining players had to cancel at the very last minute due to unfortunate circumstances, leaving us with a team of only half strength. Nevertheless, we decided to soldier on – happily, as it turned out, since everybody who made it had a great time.

Who’s Who

  • Lucretia Gasser Buttersnaps, Philanthropist Commando
  • Mercy Patton, Philanthropist Sage
  • Nayler H. Knuer, Philanthropist Techie

What Happened

Our story begins in London, in early May, 1851. Steampunk London is much like our world’s London, aside from the air traffic, mechanical men, and Babbage engines. Mad scientists have gone public; Knuer carries on active correspondence with a Baron Frankenstein, on the Continent, who’s doing amazing things in the medical sciences. The British Empire dominates the world, partly thanks to their early adoption of Babbage’s technology. Steam-powered high-tech revolutions need steam, made by burning coal, which leads to smoke and smog, so goggles (and sometimes, gas masks) are common fashion in London.

Our heroes each received an invitation to a clandestine meeting after hours at the Crystal Palace, the site of the Great Exhibition, in Hyde Park, London. Mr Buttersnaps, a psychic and spiritualist, received an invitation but wasn’t able to make the meeting, due to being locked in his own liquor cellar.

When they arrived, they were shown to a series of rooms that had been curtained off for privacy. Drinks were served. At the bar, our heroes met the Texian, Samuel Colt, who fell to discussing technology with Knuer. Soon, their brainstorming led to bar-top gadgeteering, rapidly producing a prototype seven-barrel shotgun.

The meeting’s hosts, Charles Dickens and Lady Ada Lovelace, introduced themselves, and explained the reason for the get-together. They, along with Mr Colt and some number of others, were members of an Association, who had come to realize that England and the entire human race was under assault by the forces of supernatural darkness. Our heroes were aware of this, having encountered various monsters in their pasts. The Association proposed a mutually beneficial relationship, in which the heroes were given support and information to be used to carry the fight to the monsters.

After clarifying that nobody was proposing the murder of actual humans, only monsters, the arrangement was accepted. Colt celebrated the agreement by presenting Mrs Buttersnaps with a pair of cutting-edge prototype pistols with replaceable cylinders. Miss Patton attempted to approach Lady Lovelace to flirt, but was blocked when Knuer, on the same mission, lured Lovelace away to talk about technology.

Dickens then handed over the group’s first case-file. Lady Estella Havisham is a patient at the Swallow House Sanatorium in Crawley, halfway between London and Brighton. She had reported to a relative about being frightened by a large jungle cat on the sanatorium grounds. While Lady Havisham has a history of depression and binge drinking, her relative had never known her to hallucinate or make up unbelievable stories, and so the story came to the attention of the Association. This prompted Lady Lovelace to perform a Babbage engine analysis, which had revealed a statistically-improbable number of suicides in and around the sanatorium over the past three months.

Our heroes set to discussing the file over drinks. Mrs Buttersnaps mentioned that she knew of several different kinds of were-cats around the world, but none that could disguise their kills as any kind of suicide, while Knuer had known demons to drive people to suicide, but never in the form of a big cat.

Miss Patton opened up her bag and stepped inside, descending into it to consult her library. There, her research pointed towards the likely culprit: a skin-changer, a compulsive serial killer spirit with the ability to take the shape of a person or animal by putting on a flayed skin. A skin-changer might both wear the skin of a predator and drive people to suicide for sick thrills.

Knuer and Mrs Buttersnaps were both startled to see Miss Patton exiting her bag bearing a book with a description of the monster and a detailed illustration. Patton and Knuer combined their knowledge and the contents of the bar to mix up a concoction that could spoil a preserved skin. Mrs Buttersnaps discovered the potion’s corrosive properties when she tasted it, but Knuer was able to provide some quick first aid.

When Mrs Buttersnaps returned home, she found her husband was still locked in a liquor cellar… but this time, it was a different liquor cellar.

That night, Miss Patton dreamed that she was seeing through another being’s eyes as it searched through dusty attics and storerooms. She glimpsed a hazy vision of the being discovering a hidden package. When the package was unwrapped, it revealed a dried monkey’s paw.

The next morning, our heroes left town aboard Knuer’s steam carriage, bound for Crawley. The trip took the bulk of the day, so when they arrived, they obtained rooms and went to discuss the case over dinner. Prompted by the discussion, Knuer went to the local library to do some research.

Back in the days of piracy, he read, Captain James Swallow had made his fortune in the Caribbean before coming back to Crawley to build a sprawling house. After his mysterious death, the house and grounds had gone through many hands before finally becoming Swallow House Sanatorium.

He was also able to find newspapers from the past several months, allowing him to make a list of the dates and circumstances of the recent suicides.

When he brought this information back to the others, they speculated that perhaps Captain Swallow had left behind some treasure that the skin-changer was now seeking. Furthermore, upon seeing the list of dates, Mrs Buttersnaps noticed that there was a pattern to them, perhaps something having to do with the phase of the moon; it seemed that two people died, at regular intervals, for each new moon. This indicated that they had about a week before the next expected event. She also realized that the pattern had started abruptly in early February, with no suspicious deaths in January.

That night, Miss Patton had the same dream again, seeing the discovery of a monkey’s paw, but this time, the vision was much clearer. She saw that the dried paw was clutching something shiny. She also observed enough details to know the paw’s hiding place: stashed in a niche up a chimney in a cellar of the sanatorium’s main house. She felt sure she could find the location again. Likewise, she felt sure that the skin-changer was seeking this thing, clearly some object of power.

The next day, the heroes went to visit the sanatorium, claiming that Mrs Buttersnaps was seeking a place to care for her husband – a story which was, if anything, overly plausible. They made it some ways past the gate before they were intercepted by Dr Lorry and Nurse Pecksniff. The staff accepted the cover story, and were willing to let the heroes tour the facility. Knuer verbally probed the doctor’s medical knowledge, hoping to possibly expose a hidden monster, but discovered that the handsome young doctor knew his stuff.

Dr Lorry summoned Nicholas Smike, the head orderly, to show our heroes around the grounds, then bid them good day before leaving with Nurse Pecksniff. Knuer was somewhat smitten by Smike’s rugged good looks and mutton chops, so as the group walked around the sanatorium, he worked his way close to the orderly and offered a rather direct proposal. Offended, Smike attempted to punch Knuer, who evaded the attack but slipped and fell on the muddy ground. Mrs Buttersnaps quick-drew one of her new revolvers and shot Smike’s smoking pipe from his mouth, causing him to pause and re-think the situation.

At the commotion, the older Dr Provis Magwitch approached, demanding to know what was going on. The heroes introduced themselves, diplomatically smoothing over the incident as a blameless misunderstanding. Still angry but knowing to quit when he’s ahead, Smike stormed off. Kneur struck up a medical conversation with Dr Magwitch, determining that he, too, was a real doctor, if a generation behind on his training.

Playing off their common professional knowledge, Knuer interrogated the doctor about the sanatorium’s staff and recent happenings around the place. He learned that the third doctor, Dr Lizzie Hexam, had only arrived at the facility a few months ago, having arrived in early January from Haiti.

While noting that they needed to see Dr Hexam later, the heroes decided they wanted to see someone else first. Miss Patton mentioned that one of her distant cousins, Lady Havisham, was a patient, and asked if they could please see her? Having been put in a good mood by Knuer’s conversation, Dr Magwitch was willing to go along, and so the heroes found themselves pointed towards an elderly woman sitting watching a croquet match.

The heroes introduced themselves as friends who had been sent to look into her big cat trouble. Relieved, she explained that she had been sneaking around after-hours when she saw the beast. When questioned closely, she told them that she had seen the cat leaving the sanatorium’s ice house. In appreciation, Knuer slipped her a bottle of brandy that he Gizmo’ed out of his pocket.

The heroes quietly slipped away to check out the ice house. After some searching, Miss Patton found a space hidden behind a loose board, where she discovered a collection of large glass jars full of noxious chemicals and preserved skins. The first skin was a jaguar’s. The second was the skin of a human man. The heroes kept control over their stomachs as they pulled the jars out and used their skin-spoiling concoction to destroy the skins. Smelling the chemicals from the jars, Mrs Buttersnaps was certain that she had smelled the same thing earlier in the day, without realizing its significance. Someone they had met that day was the monster!

But what to do now? Lie in wait, in the cold ice house, hoping to jump the skin-changer when it came to change identities? That didn’t sound appealing, especially since they didn’t know how often the monster would change skins. Instead, they decided to go looking for the monkey’s paw.

Moving unobserved, the heroes made their way inside the main house and into the cellars. Miss Patton was able to locate the place from her dream. Reaching into the chimney, she pulled out a leather-wrapped package, which turned out to be a dried monkey’s paw, tightly clutching a gold doubloon!

Just then, Mrs Buttersnaps, on lookout, heard approaching footsteps. The door was thrown open, revealing Nurse Pecksniff. “What are you doing-?” she started to demand, before her eyes widened as she spotted the monkey’s paw in Miss Patton’s hand. Then Mrs Buttersnaps punched her right between the eyes with a two-and-a-half pound pistol.

… to no effect at all. Nurse Pecksniff snarled at our heroes, then, surprisingly, turned and fled!

The chase was on, but it was clear that one of the heroes was much fleeter of foot than the others. Knuer tossed Mrs Buttersnaps his shotgun, and then she was off in hot pursuit. To start with, she was reluctant to draw attention by shooting at Pecksniff. First, she tried to slam the monster off its feet, leading to a sort of running scuffle where neither party was able to harm or slow down the other.

Finally, the chase led into the kitchen, where Pecksniff snatched up a butcher knife. Mrs Buttersnaps tried to shoot the knife out of its hand, but was only able to slightly wound it before it stabbed her solidly in the torso, knocking her out!

When the others arrived, a few seconds later, they found Mrs Buttersnaps bleeding on the floor, but no sign of the monster. Knuer pulled some advanced medical supplies from his pockets and stabilized Mrs Buttersnaps.

Having lost the monster but foiled its plot, the heroes withdrew, claiming that Nurse Pecksniff had attacked Mrs Buttersnaps. They brought the paw back to London, planning to hand it over to the Association for safekeeping.

Cool Point: Miss Patton, for the prophetic dreams that were seen as key to cracking the case

Booby Point: Mrs Buttersnaps, for nearly being gutted by the monster

 

Steampunk Jetpack

One of the player’s stated goals for Knuer, the techie, is to own a jetpack. He’s an airship pilot, and he needs options for when the time comes to bail out from a burning balloon. Since I need to get comfortable with the GURPS Monster Hunters inventing rules, let’s run through some options.

The standard MH rules have a modifier for “every decade… from general consumption”, which starts racking up quick when you’re talking about a starting year of 1851, especially when folks want to be able to create TL 5+1 WWII-era guns or TL 5+3 difference engines. Therefore, I’m going to instead be using the standard -5 per TL modifier from GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns, page 475.

Let’s see if we can sneak up on this “jetpack” idea, since there might be easier, more steampunk-y options along the way. What we’re looking for, really, is some kind of man-portable emergency flight technology.

We could start with the TL 7 hang-glider from GURPS High Tech, page 232. The modified base cost for a folding TL 5+2 hang-glider would be $8,000, for a complexity modifier of -1. Knuer could roll Scrounging -1 to come up with the parts, or just pay $80 out of pocket. Then, with no more than a couple of hours’ work, he would roll Inventor! at -11, with success meaning accepting a bug in the prototype and a critical success meaning no bug. If he could make a Weird Science roll, he would roll Inventor! at -6, but might have to accept a strange side effect. (Of course, all of these rolls could be affected by spending wildcard points and so forth.) Once built, the prototype would only work for (1d + margin of success) minutes before being at risk of failure.

For comparison, let’s run through the Quick Gadgeteering rules from the Basic Set: A TL 7 hang glider, by price, is Average complexity. First, Knuer would need to make a concept roll, using Inventor! at -2. Assembling a prototype would require 1d-2 hours. Again, he could Scrounge for the parts, but at -2. Failing that, he could pay $6,000 for a facility suitable for inventing hang gliders, and $80 for the materials to build a prototype. He would need to roll Inventor! at -12, or -7 with Weird Science, to successfully build the prototype, but success by anything less than a margin of three would introduce bugs. Barring trouble from those bugs, the prototype would be as durable as any other piece of equipment. In time, he might be able to set up a production line to build hang gliders for sale to the public.

However, Knuer wants powered flight, so let’s run through the calculations using the ram-air parachute from HT, p. 232, a TL 8 gadget with a modifier cost of $28,000. Using MH rules, that’s no more than 3 hours of work, Scrounging -2 or pay $280, roll Inventor! at -17 or -9 with Weird Science.

The Basic Set rules say the ram-air parachute is still Average complexity, meaning the concept roll would still be at -2, and the facility cost would remain the same, but the cost per prototype would jump to $280. The roll to create the prototype would be at -17, or -9 with Weird Science.

Finally, what about a TL 9 helipack (GURPS Ultra-Tech, p. 231)? With a starting price of $320K, MH rules give a base time of 1d hours and a complexity modifier of -3, plus -20 in Tech Level modifiers. If Scrounging -3 doesn’t work, it’s $3,200 in parts. Roll Inventor! at -23, or -13 with Weird Science.

By the basic rules, the helipack is a Complex invention, with a base -4 modifier. The facility cost is $22,500 and each prototype will cost $3,200. The roll to create would be at -24, or -14 with Weird Science.

So: it seems that the MH rules are for field-expedient, “MacGyver-ed” creations. If you want an invention to last, you’ll need to invest in expensive production equipment. And, even spending wildcard points, given his 18- skill roll, Knuer is likely to use Weird Science and end up with an air-ram parachute… but coal-fueled, ghost-attracting, and whistling like a tea kettle.

 

Steampunk Monster Hunters: Dramatis personæ

Character creation went extraordinarily well! So, who are our heroes?

Nayler H. Knuer: Philanthropist Techie

Part Richard Francis Burton, part Oscar Wilde, an inventor and airship pilot who has traveled the world seeking thrills and made a fortune along the way. He has encountered angels and demons, which he refers to indiscriminately as “jinn”. In between harrowing adventures, he amuses himself by using Medic! to self-medicate, a practice that has left him thin and jittery.

Knuer has Inventor! at 18-, giving him four wildcard points, and Medic! at 15-, giving one wildcard point. His signature invention is a steam-powered jetpack, though he also has his own airship.

In appearance, Knuer is similar to The Thin White Duke, but with more hair. He wears a monocle to make up for his nearsightedness.

The Buttersnaps, Lucretia Gasser and Octavious: Philanthropist Commando and Hired Gun Psi

A married couple who hunt monsters together, while drinking heavily. I gather that they’ve seen some stuff.

Lucretia is American, with all that implies. She’s outgoing, frequently drunk, favors dual pistols, and can shoot the wings off flies. She’s not only a Gunslinger, she also has Gun! at 19-, yielding 5 wildcard points.

She has, by a wide margin, the highest DX in the group. She also has a wide selection of gun-related Perks.

Octavious is an arrogant, alcoholic medium who is involved in a bitter feud with a clown demon. Being a psi, Octavious lacks wildcard skills, but he has much knowledge of spirits and the undead, and is a skilled hypnotist.

He has specialized in ESP and Psychokinesis. He can speak with spirits. He can also see both the past and the future. He’s able to protect himself and move small objects with his mind, but his most impressive psychokinetic power is his ability to draw the heat out of anything (or anyone) he concentrates on.

Margaret Anne Champman, Worlds Greatest Girl Detective: Accidental Hero Sleuth

A precocious 11-year-old girl, mature for her age, with startling powers of deduction. She solves mysteries, which her guardian, Uncle Byron, turns into a popular series of books. This has given her a helpful reputation.

Miss Champman is the most intelligent member of the group, by a very slim margin. She possesses an honest face, a unique steam-powered “grabbering gun”, Detective! at 18- giving three wildcard points, and Talker! at 17- for two wildcard points.

Mercy Patton: Philanthropist Sage

A proper British governess who enchants her bag to be bigger on the inside than the outside. (I suspect ties with a certain famous doctor.) She sometimes has dreams that come true.

Mercy is the group’s linguist, being versed in several ancient tongues. She has Lore! at 17-, yielding three wildcard points. Furthermore, she is well-versed in ritual magic, particularly the Paths of Crossroads, Magic, Matter, and Undead. She carries a combination rapier/umbrella.

“Unnamed Experiment”: Operative Experiment

Created by a shadowy organization, he’s a steampunk cyborg who is just starting to realize that he retains his free will, in spite of what his creators planned. He’ll be working with the heroes while simultaneously playing a dangerous game of do-they-know with his makers.

The experiment has several sensory enhancements, can hold his breath far longer than a normal human, and no longer feels fear. His chosen weapon is a cane, but he’s not above using firearms when necessary. He’s fairly rugged, having the highest ST and HT of the group.

My understanding is that he’s been set up to hunt fae. (Though the draft character sheet I’m reading claims demons – likely a misprint.)

 

Clueless

What else could the champions have done to scare up some clues?

Occult research. Is there any history of zombie activity in the area? No, which might point to their magical origin, offering a “what” clue.

The magical source of the zombies might prompt the champions to check with their contacts to see if anyone had recently purchased a grimoire of zombie-raising rituals, which might lead to Bonefat’s purchase of the enchanted goblet. This might be a “who” clue, or if the champions have already deduced the villain, it might count as a “why” clue, used to explain the whole scheme.

Since the slow zombies only last for a few hours, the champions might get a look at the remains. Forensics and a “Detective!” roll could offer some insights. Certainly, a “what” clue, to differentiate magically-raised zombies from, say, restless dead disturbed by poor grave maintenance.

Investigating the identities of the zombies might offer a “who” clue, after realizing that the dishonored dead were all old enemies and rivals of Bonefat’s.

No doubt Miss Dinkley could whip up all manner of useful gadgets that could expose clues. If the champions make enough “when” and “where” deductions, they might be able to set a trap or set up an ambush, eliminating the need for a “who” deduction.

There’s a whole world of clue opened up by tracking. As it happens, none of our champions have the Tracking skill… but they do have a mastiff. In my experience, when a PC pays for a dog as an Ally, that dog is usually half Lassie, half lion, and half bloodhound. Picking up a scent shouldn’t be beyond its capabilities. Tracking zombies back to the cemetery would likely be trivial, but what if the champions took it a step further? It’s not inconceivable that, from the cemetery, they might be able to pick up Bonefat’s trail, particularly if they’ve deduced the timing of the attacks and set themselves to interfere with the next occurrence. That could lead them to the villain’s country house, eliminating the need for a “where” deduction and offering a big bonus to the “who” question. Questioning the servants might yield many more “who” and “why” clues.

If it weren’t for you meddling Yorkshiremen…

It looks like I might possibly have the ability to run a game again soon, sometime in the next couple of months, and I’m leaning towards GURPS Steampunk Monster Hunters. More on that later, as the situation develops.

For those who haven’t seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the genre might need some explanation. Mundane humanity is largely unaware of the monsters lurking in the darkness, and that’s really for the best. (Like Kay put it, “People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals…” and if they knew about what was really going on out there, they would just make a bad situation worse.) You are one of the heroes who stands between the monsters and the innocent people of the world.

How’s this done? Mostly through digging up information from dusty old tomes, interviewing witnesses, and roughing up henchmen to get ’em to talk.

“There’s a reason champions are known as ‘monster hunters’ and not ‘monster killers.’

GURPS Monster Hunters 2

This isn’t Dungeon Fantasy, where you can walk down stairs into any old basement and find monsters to slay. The focus here is on solving the mystery, on the investigation, with an eye towards ending the threat. That might mean learning the Big Bad’s weakness and laying an ambush, but it might also mean giving the dangerous ghost what it needs to move on to the afterlife, or putting a stop to the mining that’s upsetting the gnomes.

In an effort to orient the players, and to get my own head straight, I’m going to work through a contrived example.

The Plot

Orson Bonefat, the Earl of Blatherskite, has run up a series of gambling debts. Being an amateur student of magic, he concocts a plan to use magic to enrich himself.

A village near Bonefat’s estate would make an excellent site for a airship mooring tower. If only he could drive off the current inhabitants, he could buy up the land cheap and make a killing!

He has access to an ancient Roman template, a place of power, on his estate. Through his contacts in the mystic community, he obtains an enchanted item, a goblet useful as a magical tool for casting spells relating to the undead. He uses these assets to create charms to temporarily raise the dead as zombies – the “mindless servant” kind, not the ones that are compulsive brain-eaters.

Bonefat begins visiting the village from time to time, ostensibly to attend the cricket matches. On these visits, he surreptitiously uses one of his charms to raise the dead in the local cemetery. The charmed remains dig themselves out of their graves and go on a mindless rampage later that night. They aren’t looking to kill people – their mission is to scare folks off – but they’re not above roughing someone up if they get the chance. They mostly chase folks, bang on shutters, break into barns and chase the horses out, and so forth.

The Mystery

The basic questions to be answered are the Five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why.

Who? The Earl of Blatherskite. He’s made some effort to hide his involvement, but he’s also Status 5. As a witch, he doesn’t have any particular Supernatural Features or Compulsive Behaviors that might give him away. Rolls to deduce his identity start off with a -6 penalty. The champions will be rolling against Current Affairs or Area Knowledge.

What? The monsters are magically-created zombies, but the true enemy is effectively a rogue witch. Rolls concerning the zombies will be against Hidden Lore (Restless Undead), and since they’re simple creatures lacking the ability to conceal their nature, those deduction rolls will be at only -2. Roll to deduce the magician behind the scenes will be against Thaumatology, at a -4 thanks to Bonefat’s attempts to cover his tracks.

When? On the one hand, the zombie attacks coincide with Bonefat’s cricket outings; on the other, he needs to drive everybody out of the village and make his dirty deals before his debts come due. Thus, rolls about timing are at -4.

Where? Linking the zombies to the cemetery isn’t much of a leap, and it’s easy to figure out that the village is the target of whatever’s going on. Anyone trying to make the connection between the village or the cemetery and Bonefat’s home, on the other hand, would be rolling at -10, since he’s going out of his way to keep his evil plans out of his own back yard.

Why? The motive for the whole situation is Bonefat’s desire to pick up cheap land so he can get rich from the airship mooring scheme. This is a plan with a couple of levels, and he’s working through zombie minions, establishing a -10 modifier for “why” deductions.

The Champions

Mr Jones is an Accidental Hero/Sleuth. He has Intuition, 36 points in “Detective!” yielding 3 bonus points, and 24 points in “Talker!” giving 2 bonus points. (Bonus points can be used to buy successes, reduce damage, add things to the environment, etc., within the area covered by the wildcard skill.)

Madame Blake is a Chosen One/Psi, with Psychometry, Spirit Communication, and some minor telepathic powers. She also has Intuition, and a 15-point Destiny, which gives her 3 destiny points. Finally, she has 4 unspent character points saved from previous adventures. (Both destiny points and character points can be spent like bonus wildcard points, but without the restriction in scope.)

Miss Dinkley is a Hired Gun/Techie. She has 48 points in Inventor!, providing 4 bonus points, and 12 points in Science!, giving 1 bonus point. Though she specializes in technology and engineering, she’s been around and seen some things, so she’s picked up a few points in Thaumatology. She has 5 unspent points.

Herr Rogers is an Avenger/Warrior with Gigantism. He’s got a hefty 60 points in Blade! giving him 5 bonus points. He has a mastiff as an Ally.

The Investigation

The champions arrive at the village following a tip. They begin their investigation by asking around and interviewing the people of the village. While meeting several colorful local NPCs, they rapidly accumulate several clues. The first eyewitness mentions being chased by “Old Man Toulouse, what died last winter”, a “what” clue that gives Mr Jones a roll against Hidden Lore (Restless Undead) at -1, effective 15, a roll he immediately makes by 4. We’re dealing with slow zombies!

A second eyewitness mentions details about the zombies that offer another “what” clue. Miss Dinkley rolls against Thaumatology at an effective 12. A roll of 11 establishes that these zombies were animated by magic, likely cast by no more than one or two witches.

After a few more interviews, Mr Jones compares the accounts and gathers a “when” clue. A roll at -3 (-4 starting modifier, +1 for the clue) against “Detective!” gives an effective skill of 13, another easy roll, made by 3. The zombies always attack late in the evening after a cricket game, and the violence of the attacks seems to be increasing, indicating an increased sense of urgency to whatever purpose they serve.

This prompts the champions to speculate. Perhaps the witch behind the zombies is someone attending the cricket games?

After some diplomacy, the champions gain access to the scene of the last zombie attack, where a man was killed. Madame Blake uses her Spirit Communication to contact the lingering spirit of the dead victim. (Herr Rogers grumbles about spooky powers.) Questioning the victim reveals that he had been distracted on the night of his death after a business argument. With good roleplay and lucky Psychology rolls from several members of the team, this counts as both a “who” and a “why” clue, but nobody is able to make a deduction roll. Still, those clues will modify future rolls.

That’s not good enough for Mr Jones, who has really been enjoying being the best detective at the investigation. He taps his Intuition to get another try at that “who” deduction. Before the GM rolls, Mr Jones’ player mentions a willingness to devote 2 “Detective!” bonus points towards turning a regular success into a critical success. The GM rolls an 11, just enough for a success. After conversion to a critical success, that’s enough to reveal Orson Bonefat by name!

Mr Jones makes an intuitive leap. The ghost’s description of the circumstances before his death, plus various incidental pieces of information gathered in previous interviews, points towards Bonefat as the Big Bad. But why?

… and the question of why matters, since Bonefat is a living human being. Nobody makes too much fuss when you chop up a zombie or stake a vampire who “died” two hundred years ago, but they tend to take active interest when a bunch of scruffy murder-hobos bust in and chop the head off a member of the peerage. No fair foiling the plot by murdering humans. Herr Rogers curses with feeling.

Well, if the champions can’t get a stand-up fight, they’ll settle for a caper. They pull off a complex series of actions that puts Miss Dinkley in Bonefat’s private study. There, she goes through his personal papers, using Administration to uncover financial records, a “why” clue. She uses a couple of unspent character points to make sure it’s a good clue, worth +2 to deduction rolls. Still, nobody makes the deduction roll. Even with a couple of clues, a -10 is hard to overcome.

As the team goes over the purloined papers, Madame Blake uses her own Intuition for a second chance, and offers to use all three of her destiny points to make this roll count. The roll fails, but 3 points is enough to turn that into a critical success. She puts together several lines in a ledger and puts together the whole plot. A few nights of bad luck led to an unexpected debt. Favors were called in, but too little, too late. Payments to buy an antique Celtic goblet, just before the first appearance of the zombies. Speculation in the airship business. Notes on the need for a local mooring tower. Property purchases, and offers made on other plots.

With the whole plot revealed, the champions come up with a solution that might not require an unacceptable level of anti-social behavior. With a little more investigation into Bonefat’s estates, the teams turns up a “where” clue and locates the place where Bonefat keeps the enchanted goblet: an old Roman ruin in a quiet corner of his estate.

Finally in his element, Herr Rogers takes the lead. The team loads up for a fight, sneaks onto Bonefat’s estate, and approaches the ruin. There, they encounter a party of slow zombies defending the goblet, and it turns into a fight scene. Rogers spends most of his bonus points being awesome in the battle. In the end, the zombies are put down, and the goblet destroyed.

As a final touch, the next day, Mr Jones calls upon the Earl. In a diplomatic way, he takes responsibility for the destruction of the goblet and Bonefat’s zombie minions, and politely communicates that the team will be keeping an eye on him in the future. No more evil magic, or they will take certain unspecified but ominous “steps”.

And then it’s off to Paris, to see about these reports of a rogue gorilla…

 

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