Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cthulhu Gaslight: Das Boot

Dramatis personae:
Daffyd (Dai) Ifans, retired soldier of the British Indian Army (Rifle Brigade), now part-time writer for a Socialist newspaper, with an interest in the East End
Catherine (Cat) Kincaid, journalist and daughter of a well-known scientist

The place: London
The time: April 1890

Last time, Cat and Dai were left with a handful of clues and the worrying feeling that things were far from over.

They decide to try and talk to Sir Reginald at the Anathaeum Club, but the club is very, very exclusive. Cat thinks she can get an invitation for Dai from a friend of hers, Sir Howard Kendrick, a well-known sculptor. Dai is not fond of the idea, but agrees and goes to buy himself some appropriate clothes. While those are in the making, he visits the Millenia Club where he and many other soldiers of the Rifle Brigade are members. He meets with Frank Ross, the partner of Malcom Grant, who is willing to talk about Malcolm. Ross cannot solve the mystery why Malcolm has sent the bullet to Dai of all people, but he does know that he was a technical genius with an interest in the occult that they shared. He offers to show Dai Malcolm's workshop.

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Cat has meanwhile been talking to Howard Kendrick, who agrees to write a letter of recommendation for Dai after worming much of the truth out of her. He warns her that there is no Sir Reginald. It's a alias of Sir Archibald Phillip Primrose, Earl of Rosebury, who owns the premises of the Savile Club and who has been involved in quite a few suspicious projects. Talking to him may well mean waking sleeping dogs.

Cat, Dai and Ross visit Malcolm's workshop later that day and find themselves in a room filled with models, blueprints and machines that are way ahead of their time, if not totally incomprehensible. One is striking in particular, looking like a zeppelin make from thin wires shot through with white strands. With a little searching, they turn up a book filled with notes and more sketches and a clear crystal that may fit into the zeppelin machine. The book mentions von Junzt, a name that sends shivers down Dai's back (he has had an encounter with the Nameless Cults before). Malcolm also had another workshop under the Savile Club, right where Cat was held hostage. Most disturbing is probably the detailed sketch of a submarine that, if the notes are to be believed, is in the last trial stage.

Ross tells them that he has been guarding the workshop for years now, afraid to either sell or destroy it. It's clear that the machines gathered here can be of great benefit, but also very dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands. Both Dai and Cat want to investigate further and Ross finally gives them the key to the workshop along with a pendant showing the sign of the Leopold's Society. He seems more than relieved at sharing the burden or rather at passing it on.

With the book, the crystal and the zeppelin machine, Cat and Dai take a cab to Dai's flat where he fits the crystal into the machine. Apart from a deep hum and a green shine from the crystal nothing happens, but they realise that the machine is only a small part of what is shown on the circuit diagram.

Dai would happily destroy the workshop and be done with it, but Cat insists upon investigating the Savile Club workshop. Since Dai understands that she will go alone if need be, he agrees but makes her promise that they will destroy the workshop if they find anything similar under the Savile Club. Dai doesn't trust the government or humanity in general one bit when it comes to such machines.

The iron door to the club's cellar opens nicely with the key Ross gave them. Like the workshop, the passage could be lit with electric light, but they rely on their lantern instead. The stairs lead down into a huge cavern and now they switch on the light. A looming shape in the dark turns out to be the submarine, moored to a dock and floating in one of London's many underground rivers. It's about the size of a railcar and when Dai, to Cat's horror, takes a look inside he finds that it's made for one person to operate. There are occult symbols all over the walls and it has clearly been abandoned for years.

When Dai is on his way back to the stairs, the water next to the submarine starts to froth. They don't wait to see what happens but run, slamming the door shut behind them, cutting off a deep sound like the howl of some huge animal. This has convinced Cat and they drive back to the workshop to destroy it, taking the zeppelin machine with them. However, they only find an empty room with an arc painted on one wall, in green paint with a sun on top and more occult symbols. They leave and Dai, who's carrying the zeppelin machine, watches in astonishment as it crumples in his hands, falling to pieces and turning into rust and ashes. Cat looks over his shoulder to see a figure pausing on the quay before jumping into the water. It's humpbacked, with a huge head and webbed fingers.

After a night of disturbing dreams, they meet again at their usual tea shop, Mason & Standers, to talk things over. The newspapers report a fire at the Savile Club that destroyed the building and took the life of Sir Archibald. A much smaller article notes that ex-soldier Frank Ross took his own life with arsenic. Dai find that less than convincing and says that Ross would have never chosen that method if he wanted to commit suicide. He also asks Cat if she would be interested in learning to shoot. She does own a gun, but she's the first to admit that she's not very good with it and that worries Dai.

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This was a classic Cthulhu adventure: we saw nothing and we feared everything. We could have found out much more and things could have gotten much more dangerous, I guess, but we tiptoed around because the threat of what was hiding below the surface of things was more than enough to scare us to death.

As a player, I of course wanted to investigate the Savile Club. Dai would have been happy with just destroying the workshop, he was not about to draw attention to them by poking around under the nose of Sir Archibald and thus the government. It may have been different if he didn't have Cat to think about, but I doubt it. Cat however was much more adventurous and he wasn't about to let her go alone. Part of it probably is that Cat is twenty years younger than Dai, but he's also much more cynical when it comes to the British government.

We took the shooting lessons into a play by email because this will not only be about learning how to shoot a revolver. I suspect they will learn quite a few things about each other. Although they have known each other for some time now, Dai has only recently begun to talk about his time as a soldier at all and what they will do at the gun range will be revealing, I think. Not to mention the erotic subtext involved here. If you don't believe that teaching someone to shoot can be erotic, take a look at this. No, this is absolutely not what Cat's shooting lessons will look like, I can promise you - Victorian times, remember. But still, Dai is in love with her and despite his considerable self-control, I'm fairly sure it will show.

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