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**SPOILERS** "Horror on the Orient Express" posts contain spoilers for my group's playthrough and the campaign in general. My ...

Monday, April 23, 2018

Horror on the Orient Express: Session 33; Constantinople 1923, Part One

To recap: I have been running the classic Call of Cthulhu campaign “Horror on the Orient Express” using Trail of Cthulhu rules. Orient Express is an infamously linear adventure, tightly structured around scripted events and determined outcomes. Our group quickly diverged from the planned story in important ways. So I have been using the published campaign mostly as source books and idea sources, though I aim to include many of the locations, elements, NPCs, and atmosphere of the original.

Detailed session summaries are up at Obsidian Portal.

*Spoilers* for the campaign as a whole and our playthrough in particular below.

We are now heading into the final sessions of the campaign, and the characters have arrived in the Constantinople of 1923. One big difference in our game is that the players have not yet found all the pieces of the Sedefkar Simulacrum. Quite sensibly they decided to be sure they knew how to destroy the cursed artifact before reassembling it. This goes along with their keeping the parts they had found safely locked away rather than hauling them around in their luggage. Both of these player choices completely take the published campaign off its rails. Which was fine by me, as it has taken things in very different directions.

This period is the threshold of Turkish independence and while the campaign’s background material mentions that, it doesn’t really incorporate it. I’m trying to add more of a feel of the political turmoil of the time (heightened by the Mythos activity of the campaign). One of my players, whose character is a native of the city, mentioned that, after some calculation on his phone, that the Investigators were arriving during Ramadan. That was an interesting detail which I might have done more with, if I had known it in advance.

Multiple factions are looking for the Investigators, so they are trying to stay undercover. For efficiency I jumped ahead in time a week or so and let the players describe the false identities they created. Then we worked out the Spends it took to establish them. There were quite a lot of a Clues to be uncovered, though really only one Core Clue: the contact who could getting them in touch with the rebels in the evil Cult they were looking for. I let their identities and actions shape who found the information and how. Then the Core Clue was available and we moved on.

This chapter of the published campaign is one of the most problematic. Most of the investigations available are either dead ends or part of scheme that leads to their capture by the villains. As Robin Laws has written, being taken captive in a staple of the adventure genre and can lead to characters showing off their skills, learning important information, or otherwise advancing the plot. In this case though the players are just being set up for frustration and helpless witnesses to scripted events.

In my take on the situation, the players were still being manipulated and tricked, but towards steering them into an infiltration of the bad guys’ lair, rather than being dragged there as prisoners. The narrative goals are still the same: the tension of being in the heart of the villains’ power, awakened horrors, a surprise betrayal, and the resolution of a major plot thread of the campaign. I’ll go into more detail after we see how the next session actually plays out.