tremulus – A Night at Primrose Manor

Part 3 – A Night at Primrose Manor

The characters are led through the door into the dining room. Servants are placing food on the table under Hearst’s direction and Sir Nigel stands by the door, welcoming each of the players by name as they enter. His skin is creased and wrinkled and his hair is snow white but his voice and handshake are strong.

The characters, Sir Nigel and Hearst are seated at the table. There is one empty place set and Sir Nigel questions Hearst about “our other guest”. Hearst dismissively responds that “Mrs. Blaine has apparently chosen not to respond to your gracious invitation.” Sir Nigel seems momentarily angered at this but quickly regains his composure and proposes a toast to his guests.

“The reason I have invited you hear tonight is twofold.” he tells them as the servants bring the food to the table. “The first is to welcome all of you to the town of Ebon Eaves. The second is a celebration. Today is my birthday.”

The characters politely wish Sir Nigel a happy birthday and toast him and he graciously accepts their well wishes. Dinner is served and the players make small talk with Sir Nigel and Hearst. During the meal the players notice that there is one servant who’s only job seems to be keeping the candles and lamps lit. Whenever one starts to flicker or goes out the servant immediately rushes to it and replaces or relights it. The players comment on this but Sir Nigel dismisses it by saying “Please forgive an old man his foibles.”

The meal ends and drinks are served, then Sir Nigel suddenly announces “I am 100 years old today.”

The players immediately express surprise and start questioning, but Sir Nigel waves off their questions. “This meal is thus my birthday dinner. It is also… my last.” He hesitates, regains his composure, then continues. “Many years ago I made an agreement. That agreement guaranteed that I would have a long, successful life. That part of my agreement ends tonight.”

The players look at each other, uncertain. Sir Nigel has to pause to regain his composure again then again starts his tale. “The other part of my agreement was that I would provide a pool from which a… successor could be found. That is why you are here. Before this night ends, one of you will be granted a power which you cannot imagine.” He pauses a final time, then continues softly. “And I shall be no more.”

The players express shock at this statement and demand to know what is going on. Sir Nigel refuses to give any more details. “Let us go to the parlor.” he says. “I will tell you my story and you can decide for yourself.”

((All of the players want to attempt “Convince” rolls at this point but I point out that none of them have anything Sir Nigel could possibly want (at this point he’s convinced he is going to die tonight anyway) so they have no leverage to Convince him with.))

Archer and Father White make “Read Person” rolls on Sir Nigel and determine that he is scared but also resigned to his fate. Ricky Bobby thinks to do the same to Hearst and discovers that even though Hearst claims to be saddened by Sir Nigel’s “delusion”, he seems secretly pleased. Hearst denies this when confronted.

Father White stands up and announces that he wants nothing to do with this and starts towards the door. Ricky Bobby says that he is going with him. Sir Nigel seems angry that they are leaving and demands that they stay. “You cannot leave!” Hearst seems as if he doesn’t care, but says that the two can leave “If ‘they’ allow it.”

Archer asks who “they” are and Hearst shrugs, saying that they will find out soon enough.

The group moves from the dining room to the parlor. Archer and Greenleaf try to get more information out of Sir Nigel or Hearst but Father White and Bobby stride through to the entryway and out the front door.

I tell them that the grounds outside the manor are pitch black, darker than they would expect. The two stop to see if the other players are following. Archer and Greenleaf want to question Sir Nigel further so the two start to leave.

I tell them. “The lights from the manor cast flickering shadows out onto the lawn. Suddenly, several of the shadows seem to take solid form and start moving towards you. What do you do?”

Both hesitate and the Shadows start moving towards them. I tell them that they see four or five of them and call for “Act Under Pressure” rolls before they can react. Father White succeeds and runs back into the house while Bobby fails and freezes at the sight. I tell him that one of the shadows falls across his chest and he feels icy cold as the front of his shirt and jacket are torn away and ragged cuts appear across his chest. He runs into the manor after Father White and slams the door shut.

The two stagger into the parlor. Ricky Bobby yells at Sir Nigel and Hearst demanding to know what is going on.

“You are being judged.” says Sir Nigel. “The spirits have come here to find a worthy successor to myself. The one so judged will be granted physical, mental and spiritual abilities far beyond those of normal man. As for the rest of you…” he pauses. “Well… there is always a price.”

Archer pulls a revolver and points it at Sir Nigel, demanding that he let them leave. Sir Nigel replies by saying everything is out of his hands at this point. Archer could kill him and everyone in the house and it would make no difference. The Shadows will judge one of them and the one they choose will gain immortality. At least, until they reach 100. Archer fails a Read Person and cannot determine if Sir Nigel is serious and shoots him. Sir Nigel looks down at the wound in his chest as it heals almost instantly.

“Sit.” Sir Nigel tells them. “Let me tell you my story.”

8:00 PM
Greenleaf treats Bobby (recovering his wound) and gets him a drink (recovering his sanity loss). The players talk among themselves for a while. Looking out the window reveals moving shadows and they decide that they cannot leave the manor until morning. Eventually they decide they need more information and ask Sir Nigel to tell his story.

Sir Nigel says that he was an archaeologist and an adventurer. He travelled to Egypt, the Middle East and South America, among other places. He spent a lot of time with the locals, “going native” in order to find out more of their rites and religions and started noticing certain similarities between different cultures in different parts of the globe. All of them kept various parts of their rituals secret, but it was not always the same parts and eventually he started getting an idea of the secrets kept by the priests.

Then, he reached a small village in the mountains of Peru just as it’s chief had died. He used the knowledge of the rituals he had learned from other places to convince the local priest that he had been sent as a replacement for the chief. The priest was uncertain, but allowed him to join the other candidates.

He spent the evening in a sweat lodge. He claims he does not remember the details but when the sun rose he was the only one left alive. The priest declared him to be the new chief and marked him.

He pulls his shirt open. On his chest is a tattoo of a vaguely human shape but one with a long tongue or tendril extending from its face. He says that the priest tattooed it on his chest and this marked him as the chosen chief.

He also learned that he was essentially immortal. He never got ill and could instantly heal from any wound.

As the chief he had access to and the full support of the village. He spent nearly a year there, exploring the nearby ruins, before taking all of the gold and artifacts he could find and shipping them back to the States. The find made him famous in archaeological circles and was directly responsible for his becoming the head of the museum in New York.

For years he ran the museum and continued his adventuring. Though he continued to be in perfect health, he realized that if he stayed in one place too long people would start to recognize his longevity as unnatural. Thus, when his colleagues started looking at him askance, he announced his retirement and moved to Ebon Eaves, telling the locals here he was far younger than he really was in order to maintain his cover.

He had planned to move on again but suddenly he was visited by the priest who had marked him all those years ago. He had no idea how the priest had found him or how the priest was even alive after all these decades. He was afraid that the priest was going to seek revenge for his abandoning of the tribe but he did not seem to care about that. The priest simply said that his time as “vessel” was coming to an end and that he needed to gather a group of candidates from which the next would be chosen.

9:00 PM
Sir Nigel had been drinking heavily during his story and as he finishes he leans back in his chair and falls asleep. The players had only asked a few questions during this time and turn to Hearst, asking what is going on. Hearst claims that he only learned this information recently himself but that they should be safe as long as the rooms remained brightly lit. “They can only show up as shadows.” he says. “As long as there are no shadows, they cannot appear.”

Hearst and Winchester help Sir Nigel to a sofa where he lies down. Hearst tells them to stay in the parlor. “We’ll keep the lights on in here and you’ll be safe. I need to check on the rest of the staff. Stay here!” He leaves the room. Winchester tells them that he needs to check on the kitchens and leaves as well.

Father White thinks to “Sanctify” the house. He succeeds at an “Act Under Pressure” (since the house is already under attack) and at his “Sanctify”. This makes the main part of the house safe though they still are trapped by the Shadows outside. They take the opportunity to explore the main floor.

((I somewhat arbitrarily decided that the Sanctify did not affect the basement (the source of the evil) since the scenario would have a rather anti-climactic ending otherwise. Father White started with 9 stock and spent 7.))

The parlor connects to the dining room and the entry hall and the dining room connects to the kitchen. They decide to cross the main hall and enter the room beyond it, which turns out to be a game room with a billiards table, a table for cards and more bookshelves and display cases.

Everyone makes “Poke Around” rolls. Ricky Bobby is still looking for weapons and finds a hunting rifle over the fireplace.

Archer wants to find anything having to do with Sir Nigel’s visit to Peru and finds a shelf of Sir Nigel’s journals. He looks through them and finds the record of the events Sir Nigel described. It specifically talks about a set of tattoo needles, a hammer and a box of pigments that the priest used on him and mentions that he brought it with him when he left Peru.

Greenleaf “Pokes Around” in the journals to find anything that describes a weakness of the Shadows. He finds a section that mentions that they are often kept at bay by light and heat, but not always.

Father White looks for something to replace the Stock he expended casting Sanctify but comes up empty.

A second door from the game room leads to what looks like some kind of display room. This room is entirely handed over to display cases and larger statuary and the like. Prominent in the center of the room is a case holding a set of needles, a small hammer and a set of pigments. The case is locked. Archer makes a “Poke Around” to find a key, fails and simply smashes the case. The group takes the entire kit but then decide to throw the pigments into one of the fireplaces. The pigments cause the fire to blaze up in bizarre colors but nothing else.

About this point Hearst appears and demands that the players return to the parlor. Bobby levels the hunting rifle at him and Archer pulls his handgun and they demand that he tell them what is going on. Hearst insists that they know as much as he does and that they will be safer if everyone stays in the parlor instead of wandering around the house.

Bobby “Threaten”s Hearst and Archer immediately assigns Trust to Bobby to allow him to “Help”. Archer fails his roll and gives up a Hold. Bobby succeeds at his roll anyway and orders Hearst to leave them alone. Hearst retreats from the room, but not before telling them that “all of us are doomed!”.

The players hear Sir Nigel calling from the parlor. They go back there to find Hearst and Winchester helping him up. He tells the players to “Explore the house. Explore the basement. You will find the answers you seek.” Hearst and Winchester then help Sir Nigel upstairs, leaving the players alone in the parlor again.

10:00 PM
The players debate among themselves for a bit whether to go upstairs and force answers from Sir Nigel and Hearst or to search the rest of the house. They go through the rest of the downstairs and find nothing new though Dr. Greenleaf takes the dagger from the case that Bobby had unlocked earlier. They then decide to check out the basement.

The basement is dark but they take a collection of candles, torches and electric lanterns and go down. The basement turns out to be a large, open room with a smaller, enclosed room in the center. The walls are stone and are carved with pictographs reminiscent of Incan art but with differences. Prominent among the pictographs are depictions of a bat-like winged creature with a single, large three-lobed eye and a large, naked man with a long tentacle where his face should be.

The players move to explore the inner room when the shadows cast by their lights start behaving oddly. Then, shapes form from the shadows and move towards them.

Both Archer and Ricky Bobby “Resort to Violence” and open fire on the shadows but they seem unaffected. (This caused some argument as the players thought their success meant they should have done something to the shadows. I pointed out that they had protected themselves from harm even if they had not harmed the shadows.) Father White and Dr. Greenleaf “Acted Under Pressure” and retreated to the doorway.

The next round Archer and Bobby “Act Under Pressure” to retreat themselves. Father White “Resorts to Violence” and throws the oil lamp he is carrying after loosening the oil container. He gets a full success and one of the shadows is covered in flame and seems to be destroyed at the cost of leaving a puddle of burning oil behind. Fortunately the basement is stone and the fire does not spread. The players realize they have a (potentially quite dangerous) weapon against the shadows.

The players return to the main floor to regroup (and to get a few drinks to recover sanity loss). Hearst arrives from upstairs and tells the players, somewhat gloatingly, that he will be the one chosen. He has learned the secrets from Sir Nigel is his obvious successor.

“Acquiesce to me and I will allow to leave freely after the dawn.” he tells them. “Oppose me and you will be my first sacrifices.”

Ricky Bobby points the rifle a Hearst and “Threatens” him, ordering him to tell them what he knows. Hearst offers to show them but says they will have to go into the basement to see “It”. The players refuse. Hearst (now with both Ricky Bobby and Archer aiming weapons at him) calls out for the staff. When they arrive, he tells them to “Go to the basement and into the inner sanctum. Bring the iron box to me.”

The players object but Hearst insists that “when you see what is in the box you will understand”. All players try to “Read a Person” and are told that Hearst is concerned (he has several guns pointed at him, after all) but is also extremely confident and seems to be telling the truth. They tell the staff to go ahead.

Several members of the staff go downstairs. Nothing happens for a while, then there is a loud scream from somewhere beneath them. Hearst looks at the players and says “There is always a price.”

Four of the staff come back upstairs and stand, facing each other, on either side of the door. The fifth man then arrives, clothes and skin flayed as if from dozens of claws are knives; both hang in tatters from his body. Dr. Greenleaf realizes that there is no way the man should be alive and the players all make sanity checks.

The flayed staff member places a large, iron box on the table. He then collapses onto the floor.

At this point Ricky Bobby suddenly asks if the players had gone downstairs with Hearst if what happened to the staff member would have happened to one of them. Hearst shrugs. Bobby shoots him without warning. As he had been keeping the rifle levelled at Hearst since “Threaten”ing him and since he had made his Sanity check he pretty much kills Hearst instantly.

The remaining staff in the room attack but the players are armed and the staff are not. Greenleaf and Archer both take damage but Greenleaf treats them both.

At this point the players are at a bit of an impasse. Father White’s “Sanctify” is protecting them inside the house, but they cannot safely leave or enter the basement.

They search the bodies of Hearst and the staff but find nothing of use. They then turn to the iron box. They open it and find an egg-sized gem inside. It looks like a deep red ruby and is suspended in the middle of the box by an intricate web of thin wires. The inside of the box is lined with black velvet. I tell them the lights in the room flicker when they open the box.

Archer wants to examine the gem more closely and I tell him that he seems to see movement within it. He looks closer and I tell him he suddenly sees a burning, three-lobed eye looking back at him. He makes an “Act Under Pressure” and breaks away.

The players aren’t sure how to proceed and decide to try to “Puzzle Things Out”, saying they will use the journals and books they have found to help their research. They are able to determine that the gem they have is somehow extremely important and that they can use light as a weapon. Their opponent is the dark man with the tentacle for a face. It is here to find a replacement for Sir Nigel and if it cannot find one by dawn it will leave.

Several hours have gone by by this point. The players leave the box holding the gem open on the table (no one wanted to pick up the gem) and set a number of lamps around it to keep it as brightly lit as possible. They then go upstairs to confront Sir Nigel.

They find Winchester standing outside of Sir Nigel’s room holding a large revolver. He tells them to stay away unless one of them has come to take Sir Nigel’s place. Bobby and Archer are both still armed and attempt to “Convince” him to let them talk to Sir Nigel. (Winchester knows what has happened to Hearst and the other staff but is afraid of what is in the basement.) They tell him that they can protect him from the shadows and finally get him to lower the gun and back away.

The bedroom door is locked and they hear Sir Nigel talking wildly within. Listening they are able to determine he is praying and begging for his life. They force the door open and go inside.

Sir Nigel starts alternately yelling for them to leave and begging one of them to take his place. “Read a Person” tells them that he is frantic and on the edge of sanity. They learn that he believes that if someone chooses to take his place then his soul will be freed when he dies, but that if no one does then it will be taken by “the dark one”.

Ricky Bobby seems to be thinking about what Sir Nigel is saying and asks what will happen to the others if one of them does volunteer to take his place. Sir Nigel repeats “There is always a price.”

The players decide they must get rid of Sir Nigel somehow. Archer grabs a blanket from the bed and uses it to beat out and smother the fire in the fireplace (incidentally filling the room with smoke) while the others grab the lamps and torches in the room. Sir Nigel attempts to leap from the bed to stop them but Ricky Bobby shoots him repeatedly. He heals but the shots keep him back long enough for them to escape the room and slam the door, trapping him in the dark room. There is a horrifying scream, then silence.

Almost immediately there is a knock at the front door. The players try to ignore it but I use the hold I had on Bobby and tell him he feels compelled to go see who it is. He does, with the others following at a slight distance.

At the door is a large, muscular man with dead black skin. The man holds out an open book to Bobby with one hand while offering him a quill pen with the other. Bobby sees that the book contains a list of names and that the last name on the list is Sir Nigel’s. Bobby feels compelled to write his name in the book but “Acts Under Pressure” and slams the door in the figure’s face instead.

At this point the lights in the house start flickering and shadows start moving around despite the Sanctify. They decide that whatever is happening is centered on the house and think if they can get far enough away then they will be safe and pretty much decide to just run for it. They fill the iron box with lamp oil and ignite it (figuring that will help keep it distracted) then dump oil around and set the house on fire. Then they run for it.

I rule that everyone has to make three successful “Act Under Pressure” rolls to run the gauntlet of shadows outside the house. Failed rolls mean they take damage. Dr. Greenleaf falls but Ricky Bobby makes two extra rolls (one to go back for him and one to get out again) and drags him to safety. All of them took some damage (both physical and mental) but in the end all of them make it to safety.

Greenleaf is injured enough that he was hospitalized but the other players returned to the site after dawn. The house was gone, having apparently collapsed into the remains of the basement. They attempt to search for the gem but never found it.

In the after action review the players all said they enjoyed the game but were a little frustrated by the scenario. They felt it was a no-win situation and that it seemed to be designed to kill them. I pointed out that they all escaped but they felt that a single roll should have been enough to let them escape in the end instead of the three I chose. My thought was that it obviously should be possible for them to escape but that it shouldn’t be easy; there wouldn’t be much of a threat otherwise.

They also felt that they didn’t have enough direction or idea as to what to do. They did wait until fairly late to try to “Puzzle things out” but felt that they didn’t get enough information when they did.

Still, they thought they would like to try the game again at some time though probably with a different set of characters.

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