Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission020

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Dramatis Personae

Protagonists

  • James Darkwood, Poltergeist
  • Annie Harper, Metamorph (revenant)
  • Carlos Hayaté, Wisp
  • Tom Knox, Haunter

Supporting Characters

Phoenix

  • John “Blink” Carruthers, Wisp
  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Carlos Hayaté, Wisp
  • Hoyt Masterson, Haunter

NYPD

  • Rick Padelecki, Narcotics (a contact of Tom’s)

Independents

  • Stephen Matthews, Jayne Jonestown’s agent
  • Ms Charlotte McKennedy, collector of curios
  • Pete Stark, a tattooist
  • Various concertgoers


Mission Twenty – Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Part One – Preparations

Forty-eight hours after evicting their unwanted tenants (Monday), a group of Phoenix spooks drive by the hotel. They’re all in the flesh, rather than projecting. [1] There’s no sign of any spectres, so they decide it’s safe to start moving in. First, however, they carry out a couple of experiments to see if the supernatural barriers block vitality spikes. It turns out that the lowest level spikes [2] are just detectable from outside the building, at least if a spook knows to listen out for it. They’re definitely muted, though, and the degree of shielding increases with the number of walls the signal has to pass through. They still probably don’t want to throw around more powerful pulses with gay abandon, but partial shielding is better than nothing.

The Phoenix spooks decide to occupy the top floors of the building. After some discussion, they decide to relocate the cradles from the truck to the hotel. This cuts down on their mobility, but increases their defensibility. The cradles won’t fit in the lifts, so getting them up to the designated sleeper room requires Tom and James to project and use juggernaut, assisted by various people’s benefits. Once the cradles are out of it, they park the van near the docks. If it’s going to be their emergency get-away/mobile base, they figure it should be somewhere other than the hotel; somewhere it’s not likely to draw attention. If they do have to get the hell out of dodge, the plan is to rendezvous there.

During the chaos of the move, they manage to set aside some time for an attempt at fixing the watch. They know it’s not going to be easy – it was pretty fragile to begin with, and Tom did a good job of smashing it to tiny pieces. Still, they have nothing to lose by trying. Hoyt, with his experience of fixing things, has their best chance of success. However, even with assistance from the others – including Kate, despite her injuries – that chance isn’t enough. With their best shot shot down, Tom and Annie both try, but also fail. They’re not going to get their deposit back. Tom calls Ms McKennedy the next morning to apologise. She takes the news rather well, and even mentions hoping to do business with them again in future. Maybe her lack of ire is due to the fact that she’s now three grand better off...

Now that they have their base, the Phoenix spooks make a start on the preliminary research for the cases that have been piling up. One of these is the Jonestown job. On Tuesday, some of them go to check out the venue. There are a few low-level spooks (blips and drones) wandering around outside the building, but nothing that appears to pose a threat. The inside of the building seem to be completely free of spooks and supernatural weirdness. [3] Looking at the place from a security perspective, however, James rapidly realises that this gig is going to be a major headache. Anyone up on stage will be easy pickings for someone armed with a ghost-shot gun. There are lots of places where someone – spook or flesh – could lurk out of sight. If they’re going to reduce the risk to manageable levels, they’re going to need a security team of at least two people, in addition to the performers. James starts putting together a plan. [4]

On the morning of the concert, the team pays another visit to the venue. No spooks appear to have moved in over the past few days, and there are no signs of anyone else casing the joint. (Not that they would expect there to be, of course. It still isn’t paranoia – people and other entities really are out to get them.) Carlos checks out nearby buildings, looking for vantage points and hiding places. There isn’t time for a thorough examination, but he manages a quick scan. As an added precaution, Annie channels vitality into forebode, wanting to know if anything bad is going to happen to them if everything goes ahead as planned. The answer she gets isn’t the one she was hoping for. The vision pulls her into it, swallowing up the world around her as if it never existed. She finds herself dragged across a bloated wasteland, towards something dark and ancient and hungry. No matter how much she struggles, she can’t break free as it gets closer and closer and closer. Just when she thinks all is lost, she’s abruptly back in the real world. The experience has left her severely shaken. But what does it mean? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Keeping her voice as steady as she can, she briefly describes what she saw – what she felt – to the others. It gives them pause, but they decide to go ahead with the job. They’re being paid a lot of money for this. And what if it’s going to be another Bounce Night? They need to be here, but they’re going to bring a full combat team.
      “I’m not going,” Annie says, tightly. No one tries to change her mind. [5]

The final team consists of: Tom, James, Carlos, Blink (who’s back in the tank), Ben and Hoyt. (They figure that Annie, Chet and Zoë should be able to provide adequate spook power to defend the new base, if necessary. Given Annie’s vision, they really want the heavy hitters there at the venue.) Blink is on stage, and will be providing most of the visible special effects as well as directing the others as necessary. Ben takes up position near the stage, both to act as bodyguard to Blink and to cast a beady eye over the crowd. Carlos keeps an eye on the main entrance and Hoyt does the same for the back door. Both of them take the occasional peek outside. (Carlos does contemplate using one of the outside vantage points he identified during the earlier pass, but decides it would be more valuable to have another pair of eyes – and horror potential – inside.) James is on the floor, planning on mingling with the crowd. Tom initially takes up a position outside, where he can keep an eye on the people queuing to get in. As well as the usual touts, he spots some earnest-looking young people handing out leaflets for a rehab centre called ‘First Steps’. Being something of a cynical soul, he is instantly suspicious, making a mental note to check them out when this job is finished. (In fairness, it isn’t exactly unusual for such people to target the audience of a Jayne Jonestown gig. Jonestown’s own drug use is public knowledge, and something he shares with a significant proportion of his target audience.) When the doors open, Tom follows the herd inside and patrols the building, checking in with all the others as he does so. James and Ben are already loaded for bear, having congealed weapons that will last all night. (James has a submachine gun and Ben is hefting a battleaxe.) [6] It’s almost showtime.

Jonestown’s agent has given the Phoenix spooks a script. There are specific points in the performance which they are supposed to ‘enhance’ with appropriate spooky effects. In addition, Jonestown wants them to maintain a constant atmosphere of spookiness with random weirdness. He want the works: moving objects, slamming doors, strange chills, spooky noises, ghostly figures... He even wants them to occasionally possess random members of the audience for a few moments at a time. Naturally, whatever they do, they are under strict instructions not to outshine Jonestown himself. After all, he’s the star here – they’re just technicians.

The performance starts as soon as people start to fill the floor, with the spooks performing a few minor tricks here and there. They keep it low key and infrequent for the moment, but the reaction is electric; out of all proportion. The milling people are so wound up that imagination alone is enough to set some of them off. (“I just felt a cold draught!” “You’re standing by the door.” “No, I’m sure it came from ‘The Realms Beyond’...”) Jonestown’s publicity machine has been working overtime, and the ‘haunted show’ gimmick really seems to have got people hopping. Who knows how people are going to react when they take it up a notch...

The opening act comes on, but the crowd doesn’t pay them much attention. There’s a constant low hum of conversation – and the odd shriek – as people chatter excitedly about the ghosts, and about how much they’re looking forward to the man himself, Jayne Jonestown. The spooks keeping an eye on the crowd notice that, in addition to the usual array of merchandise for sale, there are a couple of stalls offering what appear to be henna tattoos. After watching for a while, James and Tom become aware [7] that the people leaving the stalls seem to be acting drunk. Once tattooed, they start reeling and slurring their words; demonstrating lowered inhibitions. Tom heads over to take a closer look. He isn’t sure whether or not the newly-tattooed individuals can actually see him, but he does notice something strange. (Something else strange, that is.) Whenever someone touches one of their tattoos they become even gigglier, twitching with what looks like pleasure. As an experiment, Tom walks through one of them. The teenager definitely reacts, jumping and exclaiming. More unusually, Tom also feels something – a chill, the kind described as ‘someone walking over your grave’. This is definitely something he needs to look into.

A closer examination of the dyes and inks reveals nothing obvious, apart from a vague feeling of strangeness. Choosing the stall whose materials give him the strongest vibes, he requests a boost from James and then puppets the tattooist. He gains control of the man easily enough, turning off his consciousness and going through what he knows about the tattoos. Apparently, this is the new drug on the scene; it first hit the streets within the past few months. The tattooist – Pete – thinks it’s fairly harmless, although he doesn’t do it himself. Pete gets his supply from someone he knows only as Darius (the man’s surname, apparently). (Tom gets Darius’ phone number from Pete’s mobile phone, giving it to James.) Pete’s customers know to come and ask him for the special tattoos. It looks like Phoenix now has something else to investigate, when they next have the chance. For the moment, however, they have a show to put on. This could well be a night to remember...


Part Two – We Will Rock You

Before leaving his host, Pete the tattooist, Tom gathers up the man’s collection of inks. They’re definitely going to want to study these later.
      “Where should I put them?” he murmurs to James, who’s hovering nearby.
      “Head over to the stage. I’ll shove ’em behind there somewhere.” They make their way through the crowd. Spotting their approach, Blink comes over to ask what’s going on. He frowns as they explain.
      “He’s going to have a blank space in his memory, isn’t he?”
      “Yeah. The first thing I did was shut his consciousness down.”
      “Spill some of the ink on his hand,” the Wisp suggests. “Maybe he’ll just think he had an accident.” Tom does what he suggests, also finishing off the half-drunk beer standing inside Pete’s booth. Hopefully, that should be enough to divert any suspicion from the resident spooks.

The opening band has finished warming up the crowd and Jonestown takes the stage. He immediately commands the audience’s full attention, his raw charisma making up for any shortcomings in vocal talent. It’s surprisingly easy to forget that the man’s a murderer. As the first notes of his new single – ‘My New Nightmare’ – scream through the air, the Phoenix spooks kick up their own performance. Blink takes the lead, creating an unearthly lightshow on the stage. James juggles glowsticks in the crowd, sending them swooping towards delighted audience members. Tom performs a few minor possessions and hauntings, but focuses most of his attention on keeping a wary eye out for trouble. Hoyt, Ben and Carlos concentrate on watching the exits and the crowd.

As it happens – and much to the spooks’ surprise – the gig passes fairly uneventfully. No gunmen, no deaths. It comes as something as a shock when the show ends without a single attempt on their lives. If only more of their jobs were like this. Once the show is over, they meet Jonestown’s agent as agreed. Tom gets to be spokesperson, materialising so Matthews can see him.
      “That was great!” Matthews pumps Tom’s hand enthusiastically, beaming from ear to ear. “Mr Jonestown is very pleased. He was planning on thanking you personally, but I’m afraid he’s a little busy with the wrap-up.”
      “I’m glad he’s happy.” Tom extricates his hand, somehow managing not to ask whether the ‘wrap-up’ involved groupies, drugs or both.
      “About the payment...”
      “Yes?”
      “Do you want cash?” Matthews looks a little uncertain. “I can probably pull together most of it now, if you’re able to wait.”
      “Bank transfer will be fine. We’ll send you the details.”
      “Oh. Right.” The man looks oddly disappointed. “I hadn’t thought... Yes, I suppose you do have a business account, don’t you.”
      “No,” scoffs Ben. “We keep our money in a hole in the ground.” He shakes his head. “Guy was probably gutted to find out he didn’t have to contact us by Ouija board.” Thankfully, the snark can’t be heard by the subject of it, who is now making his goodbyes.
      “Thought he was never going to leave,” Tom mutters once he’s finally gone. As Hoyt calls Adrian – their ride home – Tom quickly retrieves the ink canisters from behind the stage. At least they’ve got something useful out of this. Other than the money, of course. It would be nice if all their jobs paid so well for doing so little...

Everyone else is shocked that the job went off without a hitch. It has given them something else to investigate, but that seems to be par for the course these days. Sometimes it seems like every time they turn around there’s a new loose end, or something they have to look into. At least this particular matter is something they can pass on to someone else for the time being. The next day, Tom takes one of the ink canisters and pays a visit to one of his friends in the NYPD.
      “We ran into something on the street recently that might be of interest to Narcotics,” he says, once the greetings and small talk are out of the way.
      “Might have known you didn’t come over just to see how I was,” says the cop, grinning to take the sting out of the words. “So, what is it?”
      “This.” He pulls out the canister. “Ink for a surface tattoo, mixed with a little something extra. From our observations, we think the magic ingredient is something like pigment.”
      “Not more of this shit,” Rick groans. “We’ve just about managed to stamp out the pigment trade, more or less. Now you’re telling me these fuckers have cooked up something new? Fan-fucking-tastic. Like we’re not overworked enough as it is.” He mutters some angry, uncomplimentary and anatomically improbable things about the dealers of New York.
      “You want this or not?” Tom is used to Rick’s outbursts.
      “Give it here.” Rick snatches the canister from Tom’s outstretched hand, glowering at the object as if it’s just insulted his mother. “If this shit’s new, maybe we can cut off the supply before it has a real chance to spread. You never know – if we’re really lucky, we might even be able to catch the bastards who are cooking it up. Where did you get this?”
      “The Jonestown gig last night. One of the tattooists.”
      “Name?” Rick starts rooting through his pockets until he manages to dig out a chewed pen and a battered scrap of paper.
      “Pete Stark. I don’t have any other details on him. His supplier’s called Darius – last name, I think. I can tell you their phone numbers if you want.”
      “I don’t want to know how you got this information, do I?” Rick asks as he scribbles down the names and numbers.
      “Probably not.” Even if Rick could accept the spook stuff, it’s probably best if he doesn’t have to deny knowledge of something that might eventually end up being classified as a crime.
      “Fine. I’ll get this to the boys in the lab.” He sighs heavily. “Thanks, I guess.”
      “You’re welcome, I guess.” A slight pause. “I don’t suppose you could...”
      “I’ll get you a copy of the analysis, don’t worry. Although you might need a lab monkey to decode it.”
      “Thanks, Rick. I owe you one.”
      “Don’t worry about it.” Rick gestures expansively, all smiles again. “If this helps us stop the fuckers, I’ll probably owe you.”
      “It all balances out eventually.”
      “Very philosophical.”
      “I’ve been meditating.”
      “You?” Rick looks at him askance. “Really?”
      “Yes.”
      “Huh. Who would’ve thought it?”


Footnotes

[1] Spectres don’t tend to notice the living. There are some exceptions to this rule, but not many that the group has encountered or heard about. [Back]

[2] Spending 3 vitality or more on a single action sends out a pulse. The Phoenix spooks only use 3 point spikes for these experiments, as they don’t want to risk drawing more spectres to the area. [Back]

[3] James and Annie get 3 and 0 successes, respectively, on the [Perception + Awareness] roll. [Back]

[4] The tactics roll gives James’ player a number of successes he can bring at relevant points later. For example, if someone does start shooting, he could add successes to his (or someone else’s) dodge roll by narrating that he set up cover, or escape routes, or something along those lines. Another example would be an athletics roll to catch a fleeing target – adding a success here could be justified by the fact that he’s thoroughly scouted the place out and knows where all the exits are. From what I’ve seen in play, the ‘success pool’ mechanic does a good job of modelling the fact that the characters are supposed to be good at what they do. Essentially, it’s allowing for: ‘But my character would have thought of that.’ I also think that having to justify the successes you’re adding encourages more interesting descriptions, therefore making conflicts more interesting. [Back]

[5] I actually got a double botch on the roll to use forebode, which put me in something of a dilemma. Annie doesn’t know the forebode went awry. As far as she’s aware, that vision was the answer to her question. She’s absolutely not prepared to risk it coming true, so she’s going to stay away from Jonestown’s gig. I guess that means I’ll be playing an NPC for that mission. [Back]

[6] 8 hours for the equivalent of 5 points of vitality. Naturally, they each boosted the other with anathema to reduce the vitality cost by 4. [Back]

[7] 1 success each on the [Perception + Empathy] roll. [Back]