This was a tremulus session I ran a while back with my local group. They are primarily Pathfinder players but I had run Call of Cthulhu with them previously and they had enjoyed it. We had finished our latest Pathfinder scenario and they had expressed interest in running CoC again, so I suggested that we try tremulus and they thought it sounded interesting.
This is a lot more detailed than my normal AARs because I took notes during the to post on another forum as a playtest report.
We started to generate an Ebon Eaves but then I decided to run Primrose Path within it as a way of introducing the characters to the system and to each other (making our Ebon Eaves the most messed-up town since Twin Peaks). I had a couple of CoC scenarios queued up that I could have used but I decided to just jump straight into the deep end of the player-driven story pool to see what happened. I came up with an idea as to what the thing in the basement was and how it gave Sir Nigel his long life but deliberately tried to not fill in the details. The results of this were mixed. The players did eventually start getting into the story-driven aspect of the game but it was a bit of a slog at the beginning; they kept looking to me for direction and I had to guide them around for a while.
I explained how tremulus worked and handed out the playbooks. They looked through them and eventually settled on the Detective, the Devout, the Dilettante and the Doctor. (Weirdly, all the “D”s.) We wound up with Sam Archer (Detective – Methodical and Tough as Nails), Joshua White (Devout – Divine Inspiration and Sanctify; the player defined him as an Episcopal priest), Ricky Bobby (Dilettante – Athletic and Ready for Anything; the player wanted a “Big Game Hunter” and this was the best fit) and Doctor Greenleaf (Doctor – Field Medic and Forensic Expert.
I arbitrarily decided that the characters had recently arrived in Ebon Eaves after finding work there. The Doctor wanted to have his own office but I pointed out that that was a playbook “Move” that he didn’t take. This led to a bit of an argument and eventually I allowed him to have an office but said that since he was just now establishing his practice he didn’t yet have enough patients to gain the playbook benefits from it (no assistant, no income, etc.) I made a similar ruling for Father White, saying that he had a newly-established church in a run-down building but that he had not built up his congregation enough to get the benefits of a Place of Worship.
I did allow Sam Archer to set up a private detective office (part of the reason for the argument) since there is no playbook Move or benefit associated with his having one.
Ricky Bobby is just visiting, wanting to do some hunting in the area.
We then set up Ebon Eaves. I just had the players discuss and decide what they wanted as a group and they came up with ADE and DEG. This locked in the town but I stated that the characters did not actually know any of the information yet and that they would uncover it through actual play, adding to the mystery. For now, it was just a sleepy, unremarkable and somewhat run-down southern town. (I had thrown the location of the town out to the players as well and they decided it was a coastal town about a half-hour drive south of Savannah.)
Part 1 – Welcome to Ebon Eaves
I opened the session by stating that the players had received an invitation from Sir Nigel Primrose to visit him at his home, Primrose Manor. Sir Nigel was inviting them to a dinner to welcome the new residents of Ebon Eaves to town. The players immediately wanted to know what they knew about Sir Nigel and I asked how they were planning to get the information. The general answer was “just ask around”. I had to push them a bit towards more role-playing/story-telling actions by trying to get them to say where they were going and who they were talking to and to get them to engage in actual conversations with the NPCs. It was a bit awkward at first but they started to get the hang of it after a while. They also had a bit of trouble adjusting to the fact that they could just talk to an NPC without having to make a die roll. Several kept wanting to make “Read a Person” rolls after every question and I had to convince them to stop.
Sam Archer talked to Ellen Geddings, the waitress at the diner near his office, and asked about Primrose. He learned that Primrose was a respected member of the community. He used to be a world traveller and had helped run a museum in New York at one time but decided to move south after retirement to enjoy the warmer weather. He used to hold lavish parties at his mansion but hadn’t had one in a while. She speculated that it was because he was getting older; he must be over 90 by now.
A “Read a Person” indicated that Ellen was holding something back and Archer made a “Convince” to get her to open up. She sighed and said that the townsfolks had hoped that a big important person like Sir Nigel coming to town would convince others to move in, but after “that business with the Wayne girls” the folks from Savannah just didn’t come down any more and they didn’t have tourists like they used to.
Archer immediately zoomed in on the “Wayne girls” comment and asked about them. Ellen tells him that “folks around here don’t like to talk about it… but it was so long ago!” She tells him how Jessica Wayne killed her parents and was hanged, then how several years later her younger sister Gossamer killed her adoptive parents as well. “Someone said that there was something in the water here that was making people crazy and that’s when the folks from Savannah and Atlanta stopped coming down.”
Ellen has no other information about Sir Nigel or the Waynes, but Archer does find out that Gossamer is still alive and in an asylum just outside of town.
Meanwhile, Ricky Bobby has gone down to the waterfront. He finds a group of fishermen unloading a shrimp boat and strikes up a conversation with Bryan Meister. Bryan is initially suspicious of this stranger but Bobby tells him he is new in town and is interested in chartering or buying a boat for sport fishing. This gets Bryan’s attention but he tells Bobby that they really don’t have anything like that since “no one comes here any more”. “Read a Person” tells Bobby that Bryan is holding something back (he seems afraid of something) but he fails a “Convince” and he can’t get him to tell him any more.
((The player couldn’t think of how to continue the conversation and kept wanting to just “make a Convince roll to make him tell me more” without telling me what he was saying to Bryan or how he was going to convince him to say anything. He eventually resorted to trying to bribe him and failed a second “Convince”. I threatened to take a Hold if failed again and he dropped the subject.))
He then asks about Sir Nigel. Bryan knows him and says he’s seen him around town but that he most often deals with Sir Nigel’s personal assistant Hearst, who occasionally comes down to the waterfront to buy seafood. It’s apparent that he doesn’t like Hearst much and when asked he says that Hearst is “weird” and that he seems to talk to himself a lot. He also says that Hearst has been acting a lot more “arrogant” the last few times he had seen him.
Bobby asked more about Sir Nigel and Hearst and Bryan tells him that Primrose employs about a dozen people at his mansion; maids, servants and housekeepers. He has never been inside Primrose Manor himself, but from what he has heard it is quite extravagant inside, with numerous artificts and other items that Sir Nigel had collected during his travels and from his tenure at the museum. He also tells Bobby that Sir Nigel was supposedly once a hunter himself but that he gave it up some time ago.
Moving on, Father White is talking to some of his new parishioners, Henry Marchant and Nora Altman. Both of them know Sir Nigel and say that he was friends with their former minister, Father Heatherwood. Sir Nigel is not a believer but Father Heatherwood enjoyed debating with him and both had interests in history and archaeology. Father Heatherwood always spoke highly of him.
((I was expecting a “What happened to Father Heatherwood?” from the player but he decided he was done and passed to the next player at this point. No one else ever followed up on it.))
For some reason Greenleaf decides to start by “Poking Around” in his new house/office just to see what he can find. He “finds” that he should stock up on basic supplies and the like for his new practice and I suggest he either go downtown to find a pharmacist or other supplier or to the hospital. He decides to visit the hospital and finds that there are two; Grayson Memorial medical hospital downtown and the Weeping Angels asylum several miles outside of town. He is intrigued by the mention of the asylum but decides to go to Grayson instead.
((Maybe not an exactly appropriate result from “Poke Around” but it at least pushed the plot forward.))
At the hospital he makes arrangements to have the supplies he needs delivered to his office and encounters Herbert North, the head resident and administrator. North welcomes him to Ebon Eaves and, after a bit of shop talk, Greenleaf asks about Sir Nigel.
North says that he knows Sir Nigel casually and has been to the mansion a few times. He comments that Sir Nigel is in amazingly good health, stating “He easily has the health and physique of a man half his age! I’d love to give him a full examination, but the man never gets sick!”
Greenleaf asks about Sir Nigel’s health and North claims not to know its source. Sir Nigel himself attributes it to his active youth.
He asks about the Manor and North tells him that Primrose had it built to his specifications when he retired to Ebon Eaves over 20 years ago. Part of the house is a museum holding artifacts that Sir Nigel collected over the years. He brought workers in from Atlanta to build it and sent them home afterwards so no one in town knows exactly what is in it. He also hired all of his staff from outside of town.
Greenleaf asks about the staff and North grimaces a bit and says that he sees members of the staff more often than he would like; about once a month one of them shows up with cuts or lacerations. “Always ugly, ragged cuts. They claim that they’re always kitchen or landscaping accidents or something, but they seem to have so many of them!” He shakes his head. “Makes you think there’s something to the ‘bad water’ they talk about around here.”
Greenleaf asks what he means about “bad water” and North dismisses it. He tells Greenleaf about the Wayne girls but dismisses it as unimportant. “Small towns like this always blow things out of proportion. In New York or Boston it would be just another murder. Here, it’s evidence of a curse or something. Violence like that, it runs in the blood. Probably something in their family triggered it.”
Greenleaf goes back to talking about the injured staff from the manor and asks if there is anything else North can tell him. North thinks then says that one time he was examining one of them when the lights went out in the exam room. He says the man became violently agitated and was obviously afraid of the dark and he had to give him a sedative to calm him down. He wasn’t able to figure out the cause of the incident though. “I’d expect that sort of thing from the locals here.” he said. “They’re afraid of everything. Like the water, like I said. Or thunderstorms. Claim they see things out flying in the clouds whenever there is a storm. They’re seeing clouds.”
At this point North excuses himself but claps his hand on Greenleaf’s shoulder as he leaves. “Glad to have you here!” he says. “These locals need men of science like us to help them! More than they realize.”
The players now had a number of things to think about and started talking about what they should do first, but I told them that it was getting late and they needed to get ready to go to Primrose Manor. Everyone agreed and the plot moves on to part 2.
Part 2 – Arrival at Primrose Manor
The players arrive at Primrose manor where they are greeted by Sir Nigel’s assistant Hearst and the head of the staff, a man named Winchester. They are shown to the parlor where they are told that Sir Nigel would be down shortly. Other staff members offer them drinks (despite Prohibition) and hor-dourves while they wait.
The parlor has numerous chairs and small tables and is lined with bookshelves, display cases and framed photographs and paintings. The bookcases contain mostly the classics with scatterings of more current writing but nothing that would be considered scholarly or “unusual”. The photos show Sir Nigel in various exotic locations; hunting in Africa, climbing in mountains somewhere, standing on a boat somewhere and so on.
The cases contain a small selection of archaeological artifacts. Some pots, small carved statues, a few pieces of jewellery and the like.
The parlor (and indeed the entire house) is brilliantly lit. There are candles, gaslights and oil lamps hanging from the ceilings, along the walls and on every table.
This is the first point that the characters have actually met, so I have them introduce themselves and to assign trust. Ricky Bobby and Greenleaf decide that they know each other from the Great War and assign trust in each other. They also give a point to Father White. Father White gives trust to Greenleaf but negative trust to Ricky Bobby, expressing a distaste for hunting.
Archer doesn’t want to assign trust, saying that as a detective he doesn’t trust anyone. I agree to give everyone until the end of the session to decide how they want to allocate trust.
As they settle in the players comment on the number of light sources and ask the reason. The staff does not answer (in fact, none of them speak to the players except for Winchester) and Hearst says that Sir Nigel’s eyesight is failing him and that they must keep the house as brightly lit as possible in order to accommodate him. Successful “Read Person” rolls from Archer and Father White indicate that he is lying. Archer confronts him but Hearst gets offended, says he needs to make sure the meal preparations are proceeding and leaves.
Greenleaf and Bobby take the opportunity to “Poke Around”. Greenleaf looks for anything unusual and finds a note tucked into one of the books. It is from someone named Daniel Caldwell and seems to involve something that was shipped to the manor. Caldwell seems to be unhappy with the shipment, saying that “I know you were the one who found it, but it needs to be here in the museum, not hidden away in that basement of yours.” The note is dated several years in the past and there is no indication as to what “it” is.
Bobby was looking specifically for a weapon and finds an old bronze dagger in one of the display cases. The case is locked and he does a second “Poke Around” to try to find a key. He fails but gives up a Hold to try again and on his second try finds one hidden on the top of a nearby bookcase. He unlocks the case but then decides to leave the dagger there (but leaves the case unlocked and keeps the key).
Archer tries the second door in the parlor but finds it locked.
Time passes and the players start wondering if something is going to happen. Winchester apologizes and says that they are waiting on a final guest. They later hear an argument in the hall and are able to overhear Hearst and Winchester. Hearst is asking where “Mrs. Blaine” is and is accusing Winchester of not delivering the invitation. Winchester assures him that he did and offers to send someone to extend the invitation again. Hearst angrily says that “It’s too late! We can’t wait any longer. *They* won’t wait any longer.”
A few minutes later the locked door opened and Hearst told the players that Sir Nigel was waiting for them in the dining room.