Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Smoke and Mirrors

This scenario wraps up the first part of the new series, taking the heroes to London and the heart of the Cabal's territory.


Recently a troupe of entertainer-adventurers discovered a cache of ancient Egyptian scrolls from the fabled Library of Alexandria, hidden in a secret chamber beneath the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania. In doing so they also met and earned the respect of two holy warriors, the brothers ibn Ibrahim, who recommended an Egyptologist to help with translating those texts. After all, they know him to be a man of honor who is part of the Royal Society in London. Of course, nothing is ever quite so easy as it seems.

Adventure Synopsis
This adventure begins when the PCs arrive in London and head to the home of the Allen family. Along the way they can learn of others who are interested in their business, including the local ravens. All the while, a notorious London smog settles in over the city. At the Allens' home they find that Sir Kenneth has been kidnapped, leaving behind his daughter, Lady Katherine, along with an unpleasant surprise. A ransom note instructs them to bring the scrolls to a pier down by the river. They are also invited to a production at the New Globe Theater, where they can learn more about the greater conflict in which they've become involved, and might be confronted by enemies posing as local constables. Once they're ready, they can meet the agents of the Cabal and make their move. While a full-on battle against that organization is not advisable at this time, they can put themselves in a place for doing so in the future.

For the Gun Master
For once the nature of this business is pretty straightforward; the Cabal is using Sir Kenneth as leverage to obtain the scrolls from the Library of Alexandria. Rescuing him should prove a daunting task, but also gives the heroes to take the measure of the Cabal and its operatives in London—information that should be important when the time for a larger confrontation arrives in the future. Of course, the Cabal has a contingency plan in place, too—something that may only become apparent later.

Involving the Heroes
This adventure assumes that the PCs participated in the events of the scenario “Lead or Gold,” and possibly “Fortune and Glory” and “Truth or Consequences” before that. If that is not the case, then the GM may need to devise another means of introducing them to this business. For example, they could be traveling to London by steamship and can intervene when Cabal agents try to steal the scrolls from Lady Katherine, who is delivering them to her father.

Scene 1—The Big City
Given that London boasts some six million inhabitants, it should be about the biggest city that the heroes have ever visited. It also boasts the newest and best of technological innovations. For that reason, the PCs might also want to do some shopping while they're in town—especially for those who've been doing a lot of traveling with little chance for a break. 

This scenario assumes that the PCs arrive by ship, and thus begin making their way from the banks of the River Thames deeper into the rest of the city; as they do so, a couple of events take place that help to set an ominous mood. Refer to the map below for a rough layout of the city. 

The Smog
For one thing, a thicker-than-normal London smog begins to settle in over the city. This combination of natural fog and smoke from innumerable coal fires reduces visibility to half of a city block or less, creating an eerie atmosphere in which the PCs can hear other people coming long before actually seeing them. This can both help and hinder the characters, helping to conceal their own movements while also making it more difficult to notice those of their enemies.

At the same time, the PCs should also make notice checks opposed by the Stealth efforts of a few different ravens that are watching them. Such birds are not unusual in London—in fact, they are a regular sight at the Tower of London—but these ones in particular are act as spies and messengers for Small Raven, who shall be introduced below. They fly away rather than fight if attacked, but return again later to continue spying.

These birds are smarter than most, known to collect shiny objects and even to use simple tools in order to acquire food or other desired items.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6(A), Spirit d4, Strength d4-3, Vigor d4
Skills: Athletics d4, Fighting d4, Notice d6, Stealth d6, Survival d6
Pace: 8, Parry: 4, Toughness: 2
Special Abilities
  • Bite: d4 Damage.
  • Size -3: Ravens are large for birds, but pretty small in general.

Scene 2—The Egyptologists
The Allens' home lies on the edge of town, out where there's enough room to have a bit of a yard; refer to the map above for the following location descriptions. The house has a main entry (1) from which doors lead into the parlor (2) and dining room (3), while stairs lead to the basement and upper level. There's also a kitchen (4) with a well-stocked pantry (5), and quarters for Bartholomew the butler (6). On the second story there are numerous bedrooms (7), of which one is occupied by Lady Katherine, along with the master bedroom (8), which Sir Kenneth occupies. The chief feature of the basement (9) is the coal-fed furnace, and stairs that lead out into the back yard.

The Scene of the Crime
When the PCs arrive they find that the front door of the house has been forced open; this should be the first sign of trouble for them. From there they can easily find Lady Katherine, along with Bartholomew the butler, in the dining room. In fact, she has pulled him up onto the table; he has been rendered unconscious because of his wounds, while she has been poisoned and might succumb to it if not given medical assistance. Finally, a pair of poisonous snakes—asps, in fact—have been let loose in the room, and lash out at newcomers, possibly catching them off-guard.

Poisonous Snakes (2): Refer to page 188 of Savage Worlds for stats.

The Facts of the Matter
As long as the PCs can dispatch the two serpents, then they should also make Heal checks to assist the lady and butler. From them they can learn the following details.
  • Lady Katherine was out shopping at the time when the kidnappers first arrived.
  • Bartholomew was home then. The kidnappers arrived at the door dressed in the garb of local constables, and insisted that they had orders to arrest Sir Kenneth. When he refused, they used their billy clubs and pushed their way into the house.
  • He was knocked unconscious during the ensuing scuffle; when he recovered, Sir Kenneth was gone. Lady Katherine returned at that point, but both were surprised—and attacked—by the asps that had been left behind.
  • They were both bitten; he fell unconscious again, because of his previous wounds, but she was able to pull him up onto the table.
Both Bartholomew and Lady Katherine thank the PCs for their aid. What is more, she agrees to help them decipher the scrolls, to the best of her ability—“Although my father is the real expert.” At the same time, anyone who looks around the room can find the ransom note left behind by the Cabal mercenaries, stuck into a bit of woodwork with a knife.

The Ransom Note
The note reads as follows.

If you wish to see Sir Kenneth again, then bring the scrolls to the south bank of the Thames between
the Westminster Street Bridge and the King's Arms Stairs at midnight tonight.
Failure to cooperate will result in his death.

There is no signature. If the PCs haven't come to suspect it already, though, then they should have an idea of the enemy they face.

The Ravens, Again
Not long thereafter, two ravens alight on the windowsill outside; one of them taps at the glass with its beak, and then both wait. A moment later another bird, this one bigger and with, perhaps, a keener eye, also lands. Flanked by the other two, then, it flutters into the room and lands on the table. It surveys the PCs for a time, and then with a squawk speaks one word: “Greetings.”
This newcomer is the spirit of Small Raven, an Indian boy who was killed trying to steal back some of his tribe's prized relics from a collector. Now he uses this raven as his host, and has come to London via the Winding Way on behalf of the Black Stars—a special branch of the United States Marshals dedicated to investigating strange events and occult practitioners. The other ravens follow his commands, and have been monitoring the heroes' movements for him.
Communicating with Small Raven should be a bit of a challenge, since the bird cannot speak more than a few words at a time. Even so, by answering yes-or-no questions and muttering short answers he can provide a good deal of information, including the following details.
  • It is indeed agents of the Cabal who have kidnapped Sir Kenneth.
  • Small Raven has come as an agent of the Black Stars, via a path that he calls the Winding Way. They are interested in the Cabal, and consider it to be a threat to American interests.
  • The Black Stars are aware of the heroes' activities—he suspects through magical means, but he doesn't know just how—and would like to meet with them as soon as possible.
  • He knows of an entrance to the Winding Way in London.
Finally, it should be noted that any character who has the Ghost Sight Edge can see, when looking at the raven, the spectral image of an Indian boy who is missing his right hand, that seems to hover around his host. He is unable to communicate through words, but might be able to use gestures more effectively than the bird.

The Handbill
Once Small Raven has communicated, to the best of his ability, what he wants the PCs to know, one of his fellow birds flies back out the window, and then returns a few minutes later clutching a rolled-up piece of paper in its talons. This is a handbill advertising a play, Macbeth, which is being performed at the New Globe Theater over the course of this month. If asked about the Theater or those whom the PCs might meet there, Small Raven squawks the word “Friends.”

Small Raven
For more information about this bird and the spirit that possesses it, refer to the following supplement.

Scene 3—Friend or Foe?
Although the PCs don't have a lot of information with which to work, they should have a few possible directions in which to head next; each of these likely situations is detailed below.

The New Globe Theater
As long as they do go to the theater, the PCs find that it is bustling for the performance. Given the layout of the theater, they can find a place to stand where they can watch the stage along with the rest of the attendees. Once the play starts, the lights go down, followed by flickering along with the roll of artificial thunder. Then the three actors playing witches come out on stage for the opening scene.

First Witch: When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning or in rain?

Second Witch: When the hurlyburly's done, when the battle's lost and won.

Third Witch: That will be ere the set of sun.

While that is happening, Zerelda Williams approaches the PCs and introduces herself by saying, “Methinks the hurlyburly will be done, this time, ere the rising of the sun.” Then she bows. “Zerelda Williams, at your service.” This should give the heroes an inkling that she knows of their business, even if it isn't too reassuring to them. They are soon joined, however, by an American who discreetly shows them his US Marshal's badge, whom Zerelda introduces as Marshal Gareth Hildebrand, Jr. Together, the two of them can relate the following information.
  • The acting company that runs the New Globe Theater is led by members of the Invisible College who are working to combat the Cabal's takeover of that organization.
  • To that end they are working together with the Black Stars, who recognize the Cabal as a threat to American interests, too.
  • For that reason Marshal Hildebrand, Jr. came to London to work as a liaison between the two groups.
  • He traveled via the Winding Way, led and assisted by Small Raven.
  • Working together these allies have learned that the Cabal's local base of operations is a merchant ship that lies at anchor on the Thames, the Indomitable.
  • They suspect that the kidnappers took Sir Kenneth there.
After sharing these details, Marshal Hildebrand and Miss Williams offer to aid the PCs as much as they are able. While not willing to engage in an all-out attack against the Cabal at this time, they will help provide equipment for some kind of effort to rescue Sir Kenneth. Williams is pleased to assist any action that harms the Cabal, while Hildebrand asks that the Black Stars be given a chance to study the scrolls from the Library of Alexandria, too.
The help that they can provide could include the following: access to rare equipment, such as dynamite; preparation of disguises; use of magical Powers; and possibly other things at the GM's discretion. Hildebrand will accompany the PCs if they want to have a look at the Indomitable, as detailed below. Finally, Williams offers to help the PCs make their escaped, as long as they can find their way back to the theater, and even goes so far as to show them the entrance to the Winding Way from the preparation area beneath the stage.

For more information about the New Globe Theater and the women who run it, refer to the following supplement.

The Indomitable
If the PCs want to take a look at the Cabal's base of operations—and especially if they decide to storm it—then refer to the maps below for the following location descriptions. 

This three-masted vessel rides at anchor with its sails furled. While a bit of a relic, given the advent of steam-powered travel, it is not such an unusual sight on the Thames. The Indomitable has an open main deck (1) with passages heading fore and aft, short stairways leading up onto the fore- and sterncastles, and hatches with ladders leading belowdecks. There is also a broad hatchway that opens into the decks below, for loading and unloading cargo. Toward the aft there is a companionway (2) flanked by small personal cabins, two each for the lieutenants of the mercenary and occultist leaders. Those two individuals, in turn, are quartered in the divided main cabin (3 and 4). In the bow there are quarters for the lower-ranking occultists (5), with access to a small open area at the front of the ship (6). The forecastle is a raised area in the bow (7), while the sterncastle (8), aft, is where the captain and helmsman would be stationed while the ship is under way. The middle deck consists of two sections, with sprawling quarters for the mercenaries (9) and a room in which the occultists can practice their magical rituals (10). Below that is the cargo hold (11), which is filled with crates, barrels and sacks of foodstuffs, equipment and other supplies, along with the galley (12) in which food is prepared. 

The Opposition
The following Cabal agents are present aboard the Indomitable.
  • They are led by a Heroic-rank occultist, Lord Roger FitzMorgan, and a Veteran mercenary, Captain Raymond Moore (areas 3 and 4).
  • Those two, in turn, are assisted by two Veteran occultists and two Seasoned occultists, respectively (area 2).
  • There are six Novice occultists in area 5, and twenty Novice mercenaries in area 9.
  • At any given time, pairs of mercenaries are stationed on the sterncastle (7) and forecastle (8).
  • Finally, it should be noted that Sir Kenneth is imprisoned in the cargo hold (11), shackled and chained to the mainmast.

The Cabal and the Invisible College
Refer to the following supplements for more information about these two organizations and their members.

Scene 4—Fight or Flight
Detailed here are suggestions for some of the more likely events that might occur as the heroes move forward with their plans.

Delivering the Ransom
Perhaps the most direct means of approaching this situation is to visit the location mentioned in the ransom note at the time specified. This is a pier some eight feet long and twenty feet wide that just out into the Thames. True to their word, the Cabal sends two rowboats to the rendezvous; the one that pulls up to the dock is crewed by two Novice mercenaries and a Veteran occultist, while the one that lingers further out on the water is crewed by two more Novice mercenaries and their Seasoned lieutenant. The latter boat also holds the shackled and blindfolded Sir Kenneth. The occultist insists that the PCs hand over the scrolls before they bring Sir Kenneth to the pier. As long as the PCs cooperate, they remain true to their word.

If the PCs choose not to cooperate, on the other hand, then things take a turn. This is likely to require some adjudication on the part of the GM, since it's never possible to predict all of the PCs' decisions. It's important to keep in mind here that neither side of the rift in the Invisible College commands the full weight of government authority, and so the PCs should shy away from wholesale destruction as they are fighting their battles.

Making an Exit
Unless they want to make this into a final confrontation with the Cabal, it's in their best interest to rescue Sir Kenneth and then depart. As mentioned above, the production company at the New Globe Theater has offered a good means of escaping, via the Winding Way and back to American soil. (For his part, Marshal Hildebrand advocates strongly for this proposal, since his organization would like a chance to sit down and discuss the heroes' discoveries with them.

As long as they can rescue Sir Kenneth and make their escape, the PCs have won an important victory. They have seen just how dangerous a foe the Cabal can be, and that many other brave individuals are interested in seeing them defeated. While this might not feel like a complete victory, they have won an important battle in a much bigger war.

Further Adventures
Detailed below are a few of the possibilities for business in which the PCs can become entangled.
  • As mentioned above, the Black Stars have lots of questions about their recent activities—as well as potential use of their services.
  • They could encounter all manner of things if they venture into the Winding Way, including other places, times and possibilities.
  • There is also the question of what lore the scrolls contain.
  • Finally, they've become embroiled in a conflict even larger than they know. The agents of the Cabal are certain to seek revenge against them, and that is only the start of escalation that could eventually explode around the world.

Presented here are stats for Sir Kenneth and Lady Katherine Allen.

Sir Kenneth Allen
One of the most renowned scholars in the field of Egyptology, Sir Kenneth is also a widower who takes great delight in the fact that his daughter is following in his footsteps. While he has performed considerable field work of his own in the past, age and easy living now make that harder for him than it once was. Even so, his mind is as sharp as ever.
Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d10, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Academics d10, Athletics d4, Common Knowledge d8, Fighting d4, Language d10, Notice d8, Persuasion d8, Research d10, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Stealth d4, Survival d4
Pace: 6, Parry: 5, Toughness: 5
Edges: Rich, Scholar (Academics)
Hindrances: Curious
Gear: None.

Lady Katherine Allen
Although she's lived a comfortable life as part of a well-respected family, Lady Katherine is no debutante. In fact, she has accompanied her father on some of his expeditions in the field. Some say this is because she lacks a mother's influence, but the truth is that she is just as fascinated by the secrets of ancient history as her father.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Academics d8, Athletics d4, Common Knowledge d8, Fighting d4, Healing d4, Language d8, Notice d8, Occult d4, Persuasion d6, Research d8, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Stealth d4, Survival d4, Thievery d4
Pace: 6, Parry: 5, Toughness: 5
Edges: Attractive, Rich
Hindrances: Curious
Gear: Knife (Damage Str+d4).

Appendix—Ransom Note
This item can be printed and given to the players; it is the ransom note left behind by the Cabal agents.

If you wish to see Sir Kenneth again, then bring the scrolls to the south bank of the Thames between
the Westminster Street Bridge and the King's Arms Stairs at midnight tonight.
Failure to cooperate will result in his death.

Appendix—The Handbill
This item can be printed and given to the players; it is the advertisement for that evening's performance of Macbeth at the New Globe Theater.

The Tragedy of Macbeth

By William Shakespeare

Performed each night of the month
Excluding Sundays
Curtain rises just after sunset
At the New Globe Theater
On the City Road, at Old Street

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