“_Provender of the God_” is the second adventure in the Realm of Shadows campaign. It ended with a near total party kill, after which we decided to move on to another campaign.
The players and characters for this scenario were mostly the same as the last one:
We’re still running with GURPS 4th edition. At this point, we’re using most of the basic rules, except for a few combat rules like feinting – I don’t want to fill the players' heads with more options, especially since they mostly use firearms anyway.
The players seem to enjoy the system, and a couple of them picked up the GURPS books for themselves. This is pretty handy since it means there are now multiple copies of the rulebooks around the table.
At the end of the previous adventure, Evelyn and Lloyd Parker – 2 friends of Katherine Quigley visiting from Canada – went back to their home in Ontario, and Anne went somewhere west in order to rebuild her life with her daughter Anne. This would have been the end of it if not for a few details:
The only leads they have to proceed, apart from walking around the main sewer tunnels in order to find more ghouls (“_no thank you_” they tell me) are to figure out the backstory of the documents found in Quigley’s office safe: his “_Transitions_” notes, Montague’s letters, and the unnamed archeologist’s notes.
Skimming through “_Transitions_” confirms what they thought: that Quigley was a ghoul, Anne is a half-ghoul, and ghouls can, to some extent, conceal their appearance and pass for human. They don’t really know what to do with Montague’s letters, but it does hint at a greater conspiracy. As expected, they focused most of their efforts on the archaeologist’s notes.
They tracked down an archaeology professor in the nearby university to get a potential name and, assuming that Carpar (the archaeologist) might have been in contact with the local institution while he was there, I let them get answers. And while they were at it, I threw in a bunch of academic knowledge on ghouls, including one university professor mentioning that some legends feature entire underground societies operating in secret below major cities. I figured it would give them a sense of the potential scale of what they were up against…
While they were doing all of this, it never occurred to them that the ghouls might have gathered intel on them. The last time they saw Dorothy, she was being dragged away by the monsters in the sewers, and although unconscious, she was still alive. Even though they didn’t know about powers and spells the ghouls might have, they should have figured that a quick interrogation of their ex-colleague would have given them their names and addresses if she regained consciousness. So to add some pressure to the situation, I got the bad guys to break into McKee Investigations' office. The characters found the place ransacked, and several documents missing: most of the clues so far (“_Transitions_”, Montague’s letters), Wardell’s and Edward’s notes on the Quigley case, and documents pertaining to McKee’s staff. The characters had the Carpar notes on them so they got to keep that.
Sadly, the players were still optimistic that they could keep operating as usual, even though the bad guy obviously now knew where they lived and worked.
Based on the information they had on Carpar, they tracked down the Beckwith Funeral Home. They did some more research on it, including its history, and going around the neighbourhood asking if there was anything weird about it… and then they decided to show up there. They used their real credentials, and asked very direct questions about Carpar’s disappearance. They even threatened to bring in the authorities if they didn’t get answers right away.
I think they were operating under the assumption that somehow the funeral home was unaware of the monsters that potentially lived under it. They possibly thought that Carpar and Merriweather saw the ghouls and fled the town immediately, leaving the owners of the funeral home to fill up the dig site and forget about any crazy-talk they might have heard. Or maybe they thought (rightly) that the owners were collaborating with the monsters, but that it was a small enough group that they could intimidate them…
They kept researching Carpar and Merriweather’s activities, and tried to devise plans to visit the funeral home at night, while interviewing candidates for a new assistant. They finally hired one, and on her first day she had to work late in order to be the lookout while they infiltrated the cemetery! Worst bosses ever.
The night stake-out didn’t yield any results, however. Besides failed perception rolls, I figured that ghoul activity in the cemetery would be mostly limited to fresh burial sites. The investigators however mostly kept to the area where the archaeologists did their digging, which is one of the older parts of the cemetery. In retrospect, I should maybe have added a ghoul encounter at that point.
Either way, the ghoul cult now knew that the investigators were in on them, and they had to do something about it. Since the break-in in their office didn’t phase them, I figured I needed a more direct attach that would also reveal more about their enemies' resources and powers.
The morning after the night at the cemetery, they were all tired, and decided to have a breakfast somewhere in town before getting back home to catch up on sleep. Because the cult (having stolen employee records) probably knew where most of them lived, I could have had them attack the investigators in their sleep… but I’m not so mean, and I made the attack happen as they were finished with their breakfast. Keep in mind most of them failed their HT rolls and had penalties at that point for being tired.
As they were walking back to their car, they saw, a block away, Dorothy, wandering across the street. She looked traumatized, and was wearing rags. This being very early morning (like 5 or 6 AM) the streets were mostly empty and it was easy to spot her.
Of course, the characters immediately ran after her. And of course, that wasn’t her at all – it was a ghoul who consumed her appearance.
Once they caught her, she started talking crazy and led them to a dead end nearby. As she was keeping them gathered around her, a van came crashing in at full speed. Being a ghoul, she easily jumped over the van, but the characters were not so lucky. One of them got knocked unconscious by the impact, while the other two barely dodged it – still getting injured in the process. A couple of more ghouls (in human appearance) showed up and the fight quickly turned in their favour… that is, until the new assistant, who didn’t quite understand why everybody started running after some homeless woman, finally caught up. She came out of the car all guns blazing and downed all the ghouls. Her excellent gun skills came from being an ex-cop who took a private eye desk job because she wanted less excitement and drama. This was day 2 on the job.
The van attack was meant to give them a lot of new information on the ghoul cult:
At that point, most of them were back at the hospital, and 3 ghoul corpses were lying in the street – soon to be picked up and studied by the county’s coroner. It would have been an interesting turn of event if not for what followed.
I thought the characters would go into full paranoia mode, but instead they went into full offensive mode. They went back to the Beckwith Funeral Home with semi-forged documents in order to exhume one of the graves. They told some of the staff there that they were specifically going to look for teeth marks on any bones they would find in it.
Needless to say, behind the scenes, the important figures of the cult were arguing about how to kill them as soon as possible, in a more effective way than the previous attempt. But the problem was that this was happening in the middle of the day, and several other people were currently strolling around the cemetery.
One of the characters even decided to go into the grave and dig, to see if it led to tunnels. Indeed it did, and he had a quick look at the vast number of intersections before hurrying back up. At this point it was of the utmost importance for the cult to stop those investigators, by whatever means necessary.
The characters were still going back to the office and to their homes at this point, so I figured the cult had to attack in the most violent and effective way possible: rigging the investigators' office door to a whole bunch of explosives. It was done in a very crude way – the cult has a lot of resources but not that kind of expertise – but it was enough. The characters were not trying to be cautious in any way, and when Wardell opened the door, he only had a couple seconds to realize what was going on.
Wardell yelled but not all players made their IQ roll to react right away. Some ran away for a turn before the bomb went off. After the blast knocked them down, only Carl was still in shape to get up. Wardell was killed right away, and the other 2 were unconscious or in bad shape.
Carl tried to help the others but a van pulled up, amid the screaming bystanders. A handful of people wearing masks and carrying guns got out. Carl ran as fast as he could. As he ran away, he heard the shots. One bullet in each head, presumably.
We didn’t fully played out the foot chase but a few rolls showed that Carl managed to find a hiding spot and eventually survived, at least temporarily… so there, near-total-party-kill.
Although the campaign came to a halt with a near-total-party-kill, I think it was still a fun ride. The players are now much, much more cautious in the new campaign – and sometimes even too much!
I’m disappointed that I didn’t manage to get the characters eaten by ghouls in some underground tunnels. An explosion and some guys with guns sounds sloppy, desperate, and mundane. But on the other hand, that’s what the cult was looking for: the quickest way to have them killed, a deal with the consequences later. They were definitely desperate to contain the situation and prevent the investigators from talking about the case to any more people.
In the future, I’d like to actually pick up where we left. Carl survived, and the cult is probably still after him. Ghoul bodies must have been autopsied by the local authorities by now, so who knows what will happen on that front. And the shocking attack on private investigators in broad daylight is sure going to have a sizable aftermath.
GMing-wise, there sure were a few moments where the players reacted with the complete opposite actions than what I had anticipated. In the future I think I’ll have to prepare a few more contingency plans.