I have been fortunate to be a player in a Leagues of Gothic Horror campaign based on agents of the Ministry of Unusual Affairs. You read that right, I am getting to run a character, not be the GM! Rare enough a treat as that is, the opportunity is made sweeter by who I get to game with, and the choice of game. As the line editor of Leagues of Gothic Horror and its spin-off, Leagues of Cthulhu, there is a lot of waiting and silence-keeping I have to do while these books make their way into production and final commercial release. Getting to take them on as a player, with a good crew to back me up, takes a lot of the pain of that silence away~
Leagues of Gothic Horror [LoGH] is a release by Triple Ace Games for their popular Leagues of Adventure RPG, powered by Ubiquity. The line is already well-supported by information and inspiration-packed supplements covering classic horror elements in even greater depth than the core expansion book does on its own. To date we have Apparitions, Black Magic, Mummies, Vampires, and Shapeshifters. These books delve very deeply into how to use these traditional classifications of supernatural horror, as well as providing story seeds, variations of type and ability, international alternatives, co-conspirators, as well as nefarious agents and Leagues who might be in on the villainy. On the way are a guide to the various types of walking dead, and a guide to running and establishing memorable lairs to explore or serve as a vile tool in the hands of one’s antagonists. Further, the muse-touched pen of line creator Paul Wade-Williams, has been at work creating a setting book covering the mountainous lands of Mordavia, as well as a detailed guide to playing with one of the most popular Leagues of Adventure on offer, the Ministry of Unusual Affairs. With links to the base game, Leagues of Gothic Horror, and to the new Leagues of Cthulhu, this book can form a very strong backbone for one-shot, short-run, and long-form campaign play that will inspire character creation, suggest plots and missions, tie former investigations and investigators together, and provide a model for fleshing out other Victorian bureaucracies the characters might enjoy working within, or against.
The campaign I play in now is being run and played in by old friends from my former home in Canada. Time and distance have slowed the rate at which we get to see each other, but whenever we game together the fun finds a way of happening. The GM, a linguist, martial artist, horror and video game aficionado, life-long roleplayer, and mother of two, has taken to the system like a leech to a fat artery. Her take on this setting and a supernaturally active London is both believable and compelling, getting us all wrapped up in the current mystery we are tasked to resolve.
The conceit of the campaign is that we are under the supervision of Sir Chambers, and tasked by him to investigate whatever it is that poses a potential threat to the common good and the safety of the British Empire. The group is composed mainly of independent operators, but under the direction of Sir Chambers, we are brought together in various combinations to accomplish his assignments.
One of the more forceful characters in the group is one Mr. Krewes, played by Gil (a Jugger and Dodgeball Magnate, and all-around awesome human being). Krewes is a former inspector of Scotland Yard, now new front-line investigator for the Ministry. He is a tight-lipped and serious fellow, who has a strong moral core and an even stronger set of fists. With the character’s ties to the Yard in good order, and with a finger on the pulse of London’s streets, Gil plays him as a highly-motivated and very physical man with a thick accent. His most notable trait is his straightforward honesty.
One of the more colorful characters is a medium of sorts, named Grimhearst. Schooled in the necromantic arts of speaking with, controlling, and banishing the spirits of the departed, she often seems distracted and can be both aloof and rude to the living at times. Some of the members of the group are made somewhat uncomfortable by her vocation and manners, but all seem to respect her acumen and commitment to the Ministry. She is brave and dedicated, and in trying times, that is essential.
A vital NPC member of the group so far in this assignment has been Dr. Hennessey. She was introduced as an undercover contact working with another agent on an assignment to infiltrate the Hellfire Club. The disappearance of that agent launched our own investigation. She is an example of one of those NPCs that take on a life of their own by virtue of the PCs finding her skills and personality to be a good fit for their undertakings.
My character in the campaign is currently known by the alias ‘Nathaniel Ribbon’ and is now a ranked member of the Ministry of Unusual Affairs. He is prematurely greying, and an ostensibly retired spy who has returned to London in poor health after an extended sojourn in a foreign prison. That period of unpleasant confinement was tied to machinations behind the scenes of the Franco-Siamese conflict in the early 1890s, and was caused by a betrayal by his handlers for their own benefit. Once certain of how the betrayal had played out, Ribbon arranged an early release for himself, made his way back to England, and got himself transferred to the Ministry for reasons which suit both his natural desire to find proof to punish those who betrayed him, and the actual mission of the Ministry. In foreign service, Ribbon learned to accept that what the world looks like under electric lights is not the truth. Patient, and unshakably loyal to the Crown, he has thrown himself into his assignments with dedication, finding ways to bring his unusual skill set to the aid of his partners. His other notable trait is his insatiable curiosity.
The current assignment as noted above was to determine the whereabouts of a missing agent, Lem Carrington. He had been assigned the difficult task of infiltrating the Hellfire Club to determine if there were more going on behind the debauchery of that group. Carrington has been assigned a partner, Dr. Hennessey, to serve as his contact in the guise of a sickly sister ‘interred’ in St. Bart’s. Carrington’s visits and coded messages had suddenly stopped after some sort of initiation was to have taken place, and Sir Chambers tasked us with sorting out what had happened.
The assignment was given to us on the grounds of the Crystal Palace during the dramatic unveiling of a large, steam-powered automaton that was to rise up out of a pond and move to thrill the crowds. It turned out, however, that our presence there allowed us to capture a foreign inventor who had sabotaged the huge machine, causing it to explode. Thanks to the quick actions of Ms. Grimhearst and Mr. Krewes, the saboteur was captured and turned over to the Yard. Ribbon quietly ensured the safety of the young creator of the machine, and was later able to parlay that act of selflessness into a benefit to the investigation, as a good spy should. With his new connection to the victim, an inventor named Miss Clarendon, Ribbon was able to inveigle a way into the Yard’s interrogation of witnesses, and use the material overheard there to conduct his own interview of Clarendon to gain deeper insight into the nature of the crime and its perpetrator. While this all seemed all like an unrelated situation at the time, the name of the perpetrator, Dr. Visscher, has resurfaced in the investigation and there hints that suggest there might be more links between this saboteur and the secretive inner circle of the Hellfire Club we eventually found evidence of.
What was not obvious to Krewes or Ribbon at the time was that in addition to the destruction wrought in the sabotage of the steam-powered automaton, a spiritual presence was working with or for the saboteur, Dr. Visscher. While Krewes and Ribbon handled the mundane threats they could see, Ms. Grimhearst managed to dispel the spirit and prevent further deaths – particularly that of Krewes, whose enthusiasm to incarcerate the saboteur made him a special target of the spirit.
The first direct steps, in our minds at any rate, into the investigation of what had happened to the missing agent were to head to St. Bart’s and interview the contact in her guise as the missing man’s sister (and possible love interest?). That guise was both insulting and frustrating to Dr. Hennessey, although the romantic bond between her and Carrington would only grow more obvious as time went on. Sensitive about how men perceive her gender and her occupation, she could not help but feel underutilized in a role that essentially made her a glorified message drop. Ribbon had no trouble commiserating with that sentiment, but found her to be abrasive and too self-absorbed at first. She would later change his mind, but like Krewes, he is a ‘mission first, personal life second’ sort of person.
While gathering up all the notes sent by Carrington and interviewing Hennessey as to the circumstances of his disappearance as she understood them, the room was suddenly flooded by rats crawling in through every available crack and cranny. The rats, it turned out, were under the control of an outrageously-dressed, self-proclaimed, Rat King. Through teamwork, persistence, great risks, Hennessey’s professional knowledge of the building and its stores of acid, the rat threat was driven off and the Rat King was captured.
After a rapid and nasty battle in an upstairs hallway, the King was chased out of a second storey window by Ribbon and an injured Krewes. His getaway in a waiting carriage was foiled by their abject refusal to let him get away. Drawing on his wide-ranging contacts (Well-Connected Talent), Ribbon was quickly able to recruit a constable to aid the pursuit. While that worthy and Krewes tackled the problem of runaway horses, Ribbon leapt aboard and convinced the driver to surrender. The ferocity of Krewes spooked the driver into fleeing, but he was later apprehended. Making his way inside the still-rolling carriage, Ribbon confronted and cowed the masked Rat King, but was too late to prevent the murder of the carriage’s other occupant – a man who would later be identified as the King’s servant. As they two were jostled about in the runaway rig, Ribbon entered into a game of wits with the villain, to learn what he could as fast as he could. Getting him to surrender took willpower, and intimidating mien, and the sudden appearance of a lean gun. From his point of view, the man had to be of great wealth, great family, or both. Ribbon had no expectation of getting to interview the villain later, rather expecting the man to be released immediately once his identity was revealed.
Suddenly, the carriage dragged to a halt. Krewes burst in, saw the battle of wits being carried out between Ribbon and the Rat King, and unconcerned about the victory of the Ministry agent in that arena, smashed the villain into unconsciousness and stripped him of his mask. This was an important wake-up call for Ribbon, a man used to working quietly in the shadows to get vital intelligence. Krewes wanted the man in custody and in irons, then and only then could the interrogations begin. Agents of the Ministry took on a new meaning then and there. When in the right, Ribbon had the authority to interview anyone he liked.
He just had to make sure he was in the right.
As expected, the villainous Rat King turned out to be related to someone of great importance, a Duke, no less. However, he was also a bastard and of no small embarrassment to the family. The police were strongly inclined to let it all get swept under the rug, the family wanted it all covered up, but people had died, officers had been injured, and the Ministry was involved. The family also wanted to be shut of the ‘half-bastard’ and the Chief Inspector was looking for some way to ensure the sacrifices of his officers and the people of London were respected. It soon became evident that Ribbon and Krewes were in a position to shift the outcome either way.
With what they had learned so far, the staunch and honest reporting of Krewes, and the very specific wording of the report by Ribbon ensured that they would have the young man in Ministry custody and disowned by his family. That led to a lengthy and intense interrogation between Ribbon and their captive in the depths of the Ministry’s London HQ, with the glimmer and flicker of an etheric device in the background that the former spy and the former inspector paid no heed whatsoever.
Where things stand
Using the information gleaned from their own sources and the captive Rat King, the agents have learned a lot, perhaps enough to complete their assignment. They have tracked down some London-based addresses the club uses. They have tied the King to the club, and learned that Carrington had been quite successful in his infiltration of the inner circle, a group dedicated to studying the dark art of Black Magic. They learned that most of the club’s events are anonymous in nature, with participants’ identity obscured with animal masks and costumes. They also learned that most of the inner circle new their superiors in the club only by code names. The Rat King knew Carrington by name as they were of a similar status in the club, but the man conducting their initiation was a mystery to them. They also learned a big event was planned for the next night, at the Dashwood estate, in the Wycombe Caves. Putting the clues together, the agents fear that if Carrington has not been turned, he is to be sacrificed at some sort of ritual during the event.
The agents conferred with Hennessey and Grimhearst, then the four of them, with a driver, made all haste to the site of the Hellfire meeting at the caves. On the way there, they stopped to help pull a crashed aviatrix from the wreckage of an ornithopter and learned that it, and a superior prototype of a completely different (and armed) design had been created by none other than Dr. Visscher. The aviators, all women, and most of the American, seemed to be the sales team chosen by Visscher to peddle the designs to foreign powers. Ribbon dug into that as much as he could given the time and circumstances, but other than getting a flight in this new threat to the nation, found out little more than its creator’s identity, that Ferdinand had turned the design down (explaining some of Visscher’s ranting in custody), and that the pilots were guests at the Hellfire event.
Hoping to gain entrance to the caves prior to the party, Krewes signed on with some day laborers to scout the location, but other than the basics, found it too well-guarded to locate Carrington.
Using his contacts again, Ribbon managed to equip everyone with appropriate costumes for the gala. Ribbon went as a fox, Krewes as a very uncomfortable peacock, Hennessey as a devil, and Grimheast as a cat.
At this point in play, the agents are at the party and the clock is ticking. They believe the event they care about will take place at midnight and the party began at 11. They are worried that at the stroke of 12, Carrington and perhaps others will be killed.
Krewes and Hennessey are keeping an eye on the very dramatic host, a man playing the role of a bloody Caligula, but Hennessey is growing impatient. She wants to push the man to action. Krewes, usually the voice of direct action, is counselling patience.
Ribbon and Grimhearst are wandering the caves seeking places where their freedom to wander is checked by guards or other means. Their attentiveness was rewarded by uncovering the location of a secret room, and now they must figure out how to open it.
Here we have a campaign with a mixed palette of characters, science versus magic, espionage versus police investigation, and upper versus lower class, all working for the same Ministry, and all growing to like, respect, and rely on each other. The setting has a plausible basis of peculiar Victorian science and mysticism, balanced out by the problems of rank, privilege, and propriety of the period.
Will we rescue Carrington and foil this threat to the Crown? Will we discover there is more corruption beneath the surface than we can handle?
I cannot wait to find out!
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