This Sunday I will be playing in a freeform Live Action Roleplaying Game set in the thirteenth century. Given how geeky I am, and how much I love roleplaying games a lot of readers of my blog may be surprised to discover I have ever only played in two or three LARPs, though I have written and run as referee more than a dozen now. However, given my interest in the paranormal, and the writings of HP Lovecraft, it will surprise few of you to find that I have written quite a few games with those themes central to them, and one that holds a special place in my heart took place over seven weekends in 2000, culminating in January 2001.
When I moved from Suffolk to Gloucestershire a lot of my friends moved down with me – 16 people I knew in Suffolk have ended up living here over the years. Back in 2000 it was slightly less, and this game series was born when I wondered what would happen if the people I knew in Suffolk came and played a game here in unfamiliar territory, with the town serving as a backdrop for an X-Files influenced espionage thriller game set in the world of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.
I had up to 24 willing assistants from the Student Parapsychology Society, who played bit parts, major non-player roles and in fact almost everyone the players interacted with through the game. The players were supposed to be members of the British X Files team, unfortunates who had experienced something supernatural in their lives and had been recruited in to a mysterious agency called Cassandra 23, devoted to protecting the Nation from occult hazards. The field agents team were they guys from Bury who drove down having designed characters using the “Cthulhu Live” roleplaying game rules, and remained in character for the whole game, investigating “crime scenes”, breaking in to houses and reading prop books etc we had made specially for the game.
What followed was fun, and deeply atmospheric, indeed at times almost genuinely frightening! The two teams, the players and the actors and games staff, bit had a fantastic time. The “script” was a branching scenario, and there was no right or wrong way to solve it, and as in reality certain events happened at certain times, and indeed player characters could be killed or driven mad and forced to sit out of the rest of the game if they messed up badly. It was “murder mystery” gone mad – instead of occurring at a single dinner party, it took place over a whole town, and a whole weekend ( or in the case of the first two games one day and night) and the players had to piece together clues, shadow villains, do computer research, read old books and work out what was really happening in the game, and come up with a plan to solve it.
Armed with a thirty page script and pages of notes on their characters the actors had to act out their roles, and work out how to foil the players. The players had to solve the mystery. They had a few resources to call on, and each players character had unique skills like lock picking, forensics or occultism they could bring to bear on the mystery. But they did not know which skills they would need when they designed their character, and the whole game was played in real time, so they had to improvise when they lacked a vital skill.
It’s all a game, and nothing more, needless to say. But it was huge fun, and while in today’s more paranoid world we might not be able to do it, as even blatantly fake guns and people dressed as monsters may upset the public, back then the police just laughed out loud and were happy we warned them where and when it would all occur. They were fantastic, and we went to huge lengths to ensure the public were not disturbed: something many larp groups have failed badly, indeed potentially tragically at. I won’t name the players, as many of them are now “respectable”: I doubt anyone can recognize them from these pictures, but if you want to be removed just let me know. What follows is a piece written by one of the players after the first game, in character — it should give you a very real idea of how it all worked out! Although it looks terribly amateurish it’s actually a lot more intense than it sounds. 🙂
Cassandra 23: To Play The King
January 21st, 2000 – South West England
To: section 9, records
Subject: Transcript of audio recording made by subject Savage, 23-01-2000
Note: certain references made while subject was in rem sleep may impair efficiency as field operative. As per regulation 13/a/lambda surveillance operatives deleted portions of recording before returning to subject. Low probability of tampering being detected.
Excised portions have been presented in different font for emphasis.
It was a typical January morning, cold and grey. As arranged I’d met up with the other Cassandra 23 agents in a small Suffolk town and then the four of us, using a pool car provided by the agency, began heading west as instructed. We knew that we would meet up with a fifth member of our cell on arrival at our destination.
Previously I’d only done some unclassified research work for Cassandra and I was surprised to be selected for a field operation – my surprise only grew when I discovered that my new colleagues professed to have no field experience either. At the time I suspected that Cassandra 23 preferred to use operatives who had no connection with the fields of security and intelligence but events were to prove that supposition untrue. Although we were all somewhat tight – lipped about ourselves it was clear that we were an eclectic bunch. The driver, Jones, was apparently a “Rock Ape”; I took this to refer to the RAF regiment as he bore only a passing resemblance to a simian. The other two agents seemed to come as a matched pair, one, Patrick Harper, was a historian from Northern Ireland and his fellow Irishman, Billy claimed to be a psychic. I would like to say that an immediate rapport developed amongst the Cell but the truth was that the two Irishmen took it upon themselves to bate Jones, who replied to their good-natured taunts with equally good-natured threats of death or serious disfigurement. I was silent, unsure what to make of my new companions.
During the journey we played a briefing tape which Jones had been provided with – it was as useful as any other piece of government information I’ve come across.
We arrived at our destination just before three that afternoon. Outside the climate had improved, the oppressive clouds had been left behind and the weather was now clearer but still January cold. The others had some knowledge of Cheltenham, our destination, and navigated us through the outskirts with unerring skill. The city was bigger than I expected and had an air of slightly faded grandeur, an impression reinforced by the imposing nature of our ultimate destination, the Queens Hotel – a proud apparition in white.
The Cell had been told that we would meet up with our briefing officer inside the Hotel so, leaving the car in a safe locale, we made our way there. Awaiting our arrival outside the Queens was the final member of our select group. The man, whom we later knew as Agent Fox, stood out, dressed smartly in a dinner jacket and tie more suited to the gaming tables of Monte Carlo than the wind–blown streets of Cheltenham. It later transpired that he had indeed been called away from the Riviera to join the investigation.
It wasn’t Fox who felt out of place when we entered but the rest of us, who were wearing gear designed to protect us from the cutting wind and, consequently were under-dressed for our surrounding.
Our briefing officer awaited us in the bar, where drinks were purchased by those with a mood to partake. Mr Johnson (or Mr J as he would otherwise be known) cut an imposing figure, tall and lean with a neatly trimmed beard and metal–rimmed glasses. He awaited our arrival at a small corner table and sat with his back to the wall, a habit gained from years in the field I have no doubt. As we sat down and arranged ourselves he introduced himself as Mr Johnson (or Mr. J) and handed out our identity cards. After a brief exchange of pleasantries he then provided us with a brief summary of the mission.
We had been summoned to Cheltenham to clear up discrepancies which had arisen in the routine security vetting of one Alec West, a high-ranking scientist at the Gilman Foundation, a local research institute which did a good deal of classified research. In the course of the vetting a possible link was established between West and the mysterious leader of a local religious cult, the Church of the Amber Light, one Sebastian Lux. Two operatives from another agency, Agents Scott and Baines, were assigned to carry out a routine surveillance on Lux. This routine operation became anything but when Baines died in unusual circumstances while following the cult head. Our task was to discover what happened to Baines, what the link between West and Lux was and if Lux had compromised the security of the Gilman Foundation. Mr J warned us that the work carried out at the Foundation was of a highly sensitive nature, so sensitive that we were to make no inquiries about it and were to report anything we learnt to him immediately. The rest of the briefing would have to wait until we reached a more secure location.
Led by the efficient Mr J. we departed the Queens. Our first stop was the safe house on [DELETED FOR SECURITY REASONS] Road, which would act as our ‘home base’ for the rest of the mission. On the way I quizzed Fox on his role and was somewhat gratified to learn that he at least was a professional, who normally worked for one of the nation’s more regular intelligence organisations. I gathered that he was a little ‘miffed’ at having been dragged away from sunny climes of the south of France for the bracing winter air of Cheltenham.
When we arrived at our destination we found that it boasted all the facilities necessary for the task, namely a sizable library and a powerful mainframe computer with immediate access to the World Wide Web. The Cell was introduced to Agent Scott, Baines’ partner who was to assist us during the operation. She seemed capable but a little distracted – I took this to be grief at the death of Baines. Mr J. then issued firearms to the team, explaining that, as this was primarily a surveillance operation, they were not to be used except in the most exceptional situations. Furthermore, to avoid entanglements with the local authorities the standard codeword TOYS should be used when referring to them. Henceforth, when confronted with moments of physical danger it became common practice to send for the TOYmen (Jones and Fox). The basic operational rules having been outlined Mr Johnson took us to one of Cheltenham’s prestigious higher education facilities, apparently the security services made use of it as an inconspicuous base on rare occasions. Tight security was in force on the site and we had to pass through a number of security checks, including an encounter with an efficient but officious guard who delayed us momentarily.
The heart of the facility was a high–tech briefing room where Mr J undertook the remainder of the briefing. In outline the situation was much as we had already been told but further details were now provided. Most notably we were shown a series of security camera photos taken at one city’s parking lots late on the 12th of January which showed the final moments of Agent Baines. Apparently Baines had been trailing Lux when the cult leader turned and confronted him – the images provided no firm evidence of an attack, only showing Lux gesturing towards the agent, who then fell to earth, clutching his chest. The moment of death was apparently accompanied by a burst of unidentified radiation, which badly affected the cameras and remains unexplained. An autopsy revealed that Baines had died of a massive Myocardial Infarction – in laymen’s terms from a devastating heart attack. There were no wounds apparent on the body. !
Lux was a mystery man, he had no records of any description, no clue to his true identity. During their observation of him Scott and Baines determined that he possessed a considerable knowledge of surveillance and counter surveillance techniques and probably had an intelligence background. He only appeared in his present guise a few months ago, as the founder of the Church of the Amber Light. Did he come here to make contact with the scientists at the Gilman Foundation. We could only speculate.
The rest of the briefing gave us details about West and his social contacts, featuring most prominently his current girlfriend, a legal secretary called Sally Nichols who also lived in the city and was also a member of the Church of the Amber Light.
Patrick Harper and Agent Fox asked Mr J. a number of questions concerning our ‘rules of operation’ and our security clearance. It was no great surprise to discover that this mission was being run on a ‘need to know’ basis and we plainly didn’t need to know. The first alarm bells began to ring at this point – in such situations that which you don’t know can well kill you if you’re not very careful.
Our mission objectives were outlined to us and Mr J. made it clear that on no account were we to interfere with West – he was not expendable, we were. He’d probably have been wise not to point that out, professional intelligence operatives might be willing to put their lives on the line for Queen and Country but historians, journalist and psychics have a different take on the matter.
At the end of the briefing Mr J. provided us with dossiers on the central players in this little ‘drama’ and departed, leaving a number if we needed to get in contact with him.
Scott then led us to the mortuary attached to the facility where the deceased agent’s body was being held. An autopsy had already been carried out by a Home Office pathologist but revealed only what we had already heard from Mr J.
We were shown into the examination room where the body lay waiting. Agent Scott and the facility director, Mr Benjamin, maintained their composure but the corpse made the rest of us distinctly nervous. Obviously in my time as a journalist I’ve seen many unfortunate sights and dead bodies have been among them but that was with the backdrop of war and distant lands, not laid bare (so to speak) on a sterile slab in the heart of Cheltenham. My comrades seemed equally reluctant to make a close examination of the body, even Agent Jones, whose strong soldier’s stomach wasn’t up to the task. We were preparing to leave when Billy asked if he could be left alone with the body – Fox, Jones and I were a little surprised at this but Patrick persuaded us to leave the Psychic alone while he employed his own special methods.
I questioned Agent Scott about the autopsy while we awaited the quiet Irishman’s return and learned that small particles of a foreign substance had been found on the body. I surmised that Lux must have thrown some powder or dust at Baines, though what its nature was and how it related to the radiation burst was still unclear. We were also given a flyer found on Baines when he died, which indicated that the Church of the Amber Light was holding a meeting at six that very evening. Scott expressed considerable surprise at this, in the past the cult had only met on Sundays.
Moments later Billy returned, looking pale and haggard. He needed a few moments to recover before telling us that the unfortunate agent had been destroyed by a terrible occult force that had burnt out his very soul. Billy’s eyes darted furtively about and had clearly been seriously disturbed by the whole event.
A few years ago I would have dismissed this tale as mere gibberish but, having seen what I saw amid those dark stones in the jungles of Borneo, I could not dismiss it out of hand.
Ushered out of the facility by Mr. J we repaired to the college diner to make our plans.
Plans and Plots
In the corner of the large local eating-house we examined the documents which Mr J. had provided us with and laid our plans. The files indicated that West would be at work at the Gilman Institute until seven, a fact which would allow us time to break into his rooms before he returned. There should also be time to get to the Gilman Foundation in time to follow him when he left work. It was also felt that we needed to know more about the Church of the Amber Light and their strangely scheduled meeting would provide the perfect opportunity to discover the nature of the group and Lux’s role within it.
It seemed logical to split into two groups, one to handle the break–in at West’s and the other to infiltrate this increasingly sinister cult.
Given the allegedly New Age nature of the cult it seemed logical that Billy be the one to infiltrate their meeting. Unfortunately whatever it was he saw when he ‘sensed’ the body still had him seriously upset and more than a little frightened. He would only agree to go in if he had company and this would logically be provided by Patrick, the two of them having been thick as thieves throughout the day so far. The jittery Billy was still not reassured so it was decided that Agent Jones should wait outside the meeting place, ready to leap to their assistance should anything go seriously wrong.
That left Agent Fox and I to deal with the break-in and the tailing of West. In order to balance out the teams Agent Scott agreed to assist us. It was clear that with my skill at electronics and Fox’s array of intelligence techniques we should have had what it took to get the job done.
As the Light meeting was taking place quite close to the hostelry Patrick, Billy and Jones remained there. Meanwhile Karl, Heather and I made our way back to the safe house to pick up the pool car which had been issued to Fox and collect the first aid kit which had been provided.
Before we set out for West’s apartment I made use of the computer at ‘base’ to check out West and the Gilman Foundation. It was obvious that we wouldn’t find anything on either on official Website so I made a quick check of ‘conspiracy theorist’ ‘sites. I could find nothing on West but mention was made of links between the Gilman Foundation and the [[Censored]] a covert project dedicated to the development and exploitation of psychic abilities. In view of what had already occurred a very disturbing pattern was beginning to appear.
The Church of the Amber Light
While Fox, Scott and I did our work amid the shadows the others made their way to the meeting of the Church of the Amber Light. Their plan was for Patrick and Billy to attend the cult meeting in the guise of interested newcomers while Jones remained outside, ready to rush in and help or make a quick getaway as the situation required.
The two Irishmen arrived fashionably late at the ‘Church’ meeting, which was also located on the college campus. On entering they found a group of cultists, including the chief suspect, Sebastian Lux, and West’s girlfriend, Miss Nichols. There were four others, two of whom appeared to be regulars. Lux came across as a quiet, reasonable individual who led his group of followers through a combination of charisma and sheer force of will.
Billy used his psychic gifts to investigate the other cultists, learning that one of the regulars had a dark aura that indicated a terrible history of abusing the innocent and other such foul acts. Nichols was also interesting for Billy could sense in her a kindred spirit – a young lady possessed of psychic gifts similar to his own. Unfortunately her aura was also twisted and bore the marks of recent corruption and deviance – indications that would become clearer when we knew more of her history.
The two agents listened as Lux expounded the philosophy of his Church, explaining that they believed in total freedom. It quickly became clear to my colleagues that this meant not merely personal or political freedom but total freedom from the constraints enforced by society and the morality of the common man. The investigators could tell that the seductive lure of this code, combined with church leader’s own sinister presence created followers who were dedicated to this later day Mephistopheles.
At this juncture Lux asked if the two agents would like to take place in one of the cult’s meditations, which involved the use of what appeared to be New Age crystals. Both men were distinctly wary of Lux’s invitation and politely refused, asking if they could watch instead. As the meditation went on Billy could detect the flow of precious soul energy leaching out of the Church’s initiates and into the crystals, a sight which disturbed the psychic considerably.
After the meditation the Church meeting wound down but Lux extended an invitation to the agents to join, informing them that the Light already had branches all over Europe. After that he departed and the Irishman lost sight of him. Sergeant Jones saw him as he entered the college car park but the ‘rock ape’ could do nothing, he had no gun and couldn’t leave before joining up with Patrick and Billy.
Misdemeanours and Misdirection
While Billy, Patrick and Jones infiltrated the cult Fox, Scott and I made our way to West’s apartment. We had to make use of the pool car issued to Fox, a serviceable enough vehicle but a far cry from the BMWs and Aston Martins which he was more familiar with. Agent Scott recommended leaving the car a short distance away and proceeding on foot, partly due to the mundane problems of parking and partly to avoid linking us with the car, should we need it to avoid pursuit.
A short walk through the city’s night enshrouded streets brought us to our objective, West’s apartment building. As befitted the home of a well – paid government scientist the security was formidable – indeed Fox had a great deal of trouble with the sophisticated door locks. Fortunately I’ve been called on to defeat such things in the past and our combined efforts gained access to the building.
Luck remained with us, for we didn’t encounter any of the building’s other residents as we quickly made our way to his first floor flat. The security on the flat wasn’t as formidable as that at the building entrance and was easily bypassed. The three of us entered the flat and began a quick but thorough search. Agent Fox quickly discovered a collection of badly damaged papers in the top of West’s waste paper bin. They appeared to be the text of a play, “The King in Yellow”, and were covered with scrawled notes, equations and diagrams. We were in two minds whether we should take the notes, if we did then West would certainly know someone had been in his flat but ultimately we had no choice – there was simply to much information to assimilate quickly. I did consider taking photos of them but there would be no time to develop the pictures and so dismissed that plan. A further search revealed a hastily scribbled message on a pad by the phone which indicated that Lux and West were due to meet up at Taylors at eight that evening. Although no further immediately relevant information was found we did discover further notes referring to Bonisagus, Tremere, Tytalus etc – apparently the names of medieval hermetic orders. West’s bookcase was also stocked with tomes on the Undead and other tomes which indicated an interest in the occult unusual for a physicist with his apparently high reputation. I paused briefly to place a bug under West’s sofa and we then departed.
Fox passed the information about the meeting at Taylors to Jones and the others and we returned to the car to see what we could make of the tattered notes that had been discovered. In the limited time we had available we could make out little concerning the play itself but the scribbled sidenotes proved a revelation. Many of them were complex mathematical equations whose meaning proved impossible to fathom but others referred to a ‘summoning’ and seemed to indicate that it would occur sometime between eleven and midnight. A chill ran down my spine, for I could not help remembering the terrible rituals used by the witchdoctors of Borneo to summon their dark gods. Much of what appeared on the tattered pages before me reminded me of those madmen and the bloody horrors they practised. References to Schrodinger’s Cat indicated that West’s field of work involved exploration of the Quantum universe. This presented the terrible possibility that a brilliant scientist whose field of work was multi– dimensional physics might be devoting his twisted intellect to breaching the barriers between our world and more alien realms.
A number of diagrams were also present, they meant little to me but Fox divined some occult significance in them. Patrick would later identify them as a representation of the Cabalistic Tree of Life and then that same pattern reversed. Other marginalia contained astronomical references and the phrase “Goodbye Norma Jean” appeared more than once. It took me some time to realise that this may be a veiled reference to psychic phenomena … Goodbye Norma Jean … Candle in the Wind … – a tenuous connection but not too far fetched given the muddy waters which we were now navigating.
There was more to be discovered but Agent Scott pointed out that time was marching on and West would soon be leaving work and we’d have to hurry to be in place to follow him.
The three of us abandoned the car once again and made our way out onto the darkened streets of Cheltenham, rapidly making our way to the Gilman Foundation. Scott felt that the research centre might have valuable secrets to reveal and suggested we try to gain entrance. I was dubious, it was only a little before seven and West would be emerging shortly – there didn’t seem to be the time to learn anything before our target appeared. Not daunted by these difficulties Karl Fox strode boldly up to the Foundation’s entrance and tried to bluff his way past the two security guards who barred his way. He tried to persuade them that he was making an important delivery but the lack of any appropriate paperwork, not to say any form of package, made this story a good deal less credible. He rejoined me having failed to gain entrance.
We were continuing our watch on the building when we saw a beautiful young woman leave. She approached us as we loitered by a strategically placed phone box, ostensibly looking for a light for her cigarette. Both Fox and I realised that this was an ideal opportunity to find out more about the work carried out at the Foundation – therefore Karl rushed over the road to buy her a box of matches while I made small talk. It was at this point that West emerged from work and managed to evade our eagle – eyed surveillance. His ability to slip by us so easily proved that he was a master of disguise, a veritable man of a thousand faces, clearly possessing a formidable range of counter- espionage skills.
Although our target had eluded us initially I regret to say that we allowed ourselves to become side-tracked by the female stranger from the Foundation. In a distinctive American accent we were informed that her name was Alice and she was one of Alec West’s co-workers. Posing as old college friends of West’s from Cambridge we attempted to discover what she knew.
Karl used his suave charms to try and pry information out of the young American but every question was parried with a cunning counter-thrust. I must say that I had no greater luck with my queries, although Alice did hint that she might see West later. While we questioned her, trying to discover what she knew about Alec West and his work, we were led away from the man we were actually supposed to be following. The dark–haired American asked if we would like to go for a drink and Karl, motivated only by a desire to further our investigation I’m sure, accepted on our behalf. We were on our way to a nearby pub when Agent Fox received a desperate message from Billy, warning us that we were in terrible danger from whoever we were with and imploring us to get away from whoever it was immediately. Given the direction the investigation had taken we were in no mood to question Billy’s mysterious hunches so we made our apologies to a slightly puzzled Alice and departed.
It later occurred to me that we had been the victims of a cunning piece of misdirection, a classic honey-trap with the alluring Alice tasked with drawing us away to discover what we knew while West made his escape. I also realised that I’d missed an opportunity to gain more information by bugging the matchbox, which Fox could then have given to the young woman.
We decided to meet up with the other team back at the safehouse in order to compare notes and make further plans.
Taylors and Tailing
When we arrived at the safehouse we found Billy, Patrick and Jones awaiting our return. They’d apparently been there for some time, employing the comprehensive library for the purposes of research. Their diligence had unearthed a number of important facts, in particular that the College campus where we had received our briefing had been the site of a Neolithic temple to an ancient deity called Hazzur. The site had been adorned with pillars in a layout that closely resembled that which West had scawled on the back of his copy of “The King in Yellow”. It seemed possible that this could be the site where this midnight ritual may occur.
We still didn’t possess enough information to work out what was going on – clearly West was heavily involved with Lux and his cult but their overall objective was still shrouded in mystery. To try and pierce this shroud we decided to split up again. We realised that we must observe the meeting between Lux and West at Taylors but the task of close observation must fall on Sergeant Jones. Lux had seen Billy and Patrick and West might well be accompanied by Alice, who would definitely recognise Karl and I and probably wonder why we hadn’t approached our old college friend.
Billy and Patrick decided to go along with Jones in case he got into difficulties. Meanwhile Karl, and I decided to take this opportunity to check out the home of West’s girlfriend, Susie Nichols, rejoining the others at Taylors in time to follow West and Lux when they left. Agent Scott concurred with this plan but warned us that, although Susie Nichols shouldn’t be home there was a good chance her flatmate, Sheena, would be. This could have presented difficulties so I suggested making our way to their flat and ringing them while we waited nearby, telling Sheena that her flatmate had been in a terrible accident and had been taken to hospital. When she left to rush to her friend’s side we’d break in and search the place. Unfortunately it seemed that their phone was ex-directory, so that plan had to be abandoned.
As we made our way along the city’s night-enfolded highways Karl and I continued to work on a coherent approach to the problem of the flatmate. We eventually settled on a solution close to the truth.
On arrival at the flat we knocked and waited for a reply, the moment it was opened Karl and I quickly presented our Cassandra 23 credentials. Karl informed the alarmed young lady that we were government representatives and needed to talk to her about her flatmate. Ushered into a comfortable living room the smooth-talking secret agent explained that we had reason to believe that her flatmate, Susie had been involved in a possible breach of national security and we needed to search her room. Not unnaturally Sheena was unhappy about letting total strangers gain access to her friend’s belongings but was ultimately persuaded that the consequences of denying our request would be serious indeed.
We were led up a short flight of stairs and shown into Susie’s room. The room was then searched by Karl, I assisted with suggestions but didn’t want to get in the way of the professional. Our search was a little tentative, neither Karl nor I were entirely comfortable examining the belongings of a woman who might well be totally innocent of any wrongdoing. The initial examination revealed nothing of relevance to the case so Fox decided, after a helpful suggestion from Agent Scott, to search around Susie’s bed. A glance under her pillow revealed a neatly kept diary, which, after only a moment’s reading, promised to be a valuable piece of evidence against West.
Sheena protested when we tried to remove the diary but was cowed into submission by Fox who warned her that her friend was in serious trouble and she would be too if she stood in the way of our investigation. As we prepared to leave I took a last glance around the bedroom and realised that the banner affixed to the wall above the bed was very familiar. The sign on it was almost identical to one which West had drawn on the back of the “King in Yellow” play notes. I began to feel dizzy as I gazed at the strange ideogram and I remember nothing else for some time.
At this point subject savage appears to have lapsed into sleep. The following is a transcript of the incoherent babblings he made during this period of rest.
The Yellow sign. THE YELLOW SIGN.THE YELLOW SIGN Lost CARCOSSA. HAzzUR, HAZTAR, HASTUR ………… THE STARS ARE RIGHT, THE STARS are RIGHT. Hail the KING in YELLOW. Fortunate are those who will serve the Yellow King.
Subject Savage appeared to regain consciousness and the transcript becomes more lucid.
Apparently the mere sight of the … Yellow Sign … temporarily unhinged my mind. According to Karl I spent the next ten minutes or so babbling incoherently to him as he and Scott led me towards Taylors where we were to rendezvous with the others.
Eventually I shook off the madness that had gripped me and regained my senses. I had not, however, emerged unscathed from the experience, for the world around seemed colder and more hostile and casual looks from strangers sent shivers down my spine. Memories of Borneo came flooding back and with them a feeling of dread that I should encounter such madness in the urbane streets of Cheltenham.
Karl told me that diary we had found contained disturbing material concerning Lux and West but he felt it would be better to read it through carefully when we met up with the others. That decided we hurried to the rendezvous at Taylors bar.
While we were searching Susie’s flat the others had made their way to Taylors and a later meeting with the other three agents allowed me to fill in the details of what occurred before we arrived.
While we continued our careers as burglars the other agents made their way to Taylors to await the arrival of Lux and his compatriots. The plan was for Jones to wait in the main area of the bar, watching the door for the Cult leader’s arrival, while the other Cassandra 23 agents would go to a side area and wait for Jones to fill them in on what was occurring.
While Patrick and Billy were waiting two strangers, one a seductive young American girl and the other a personable local, joined them at their table. The Irishmen quickly struck up a rapport with the two newcomers and Billy in particular was taken with the young woman, who seemed very taken with him, continually taking hold of his arm and stroking his hand.
Meanwhile Jones had decided that the best way to blend into the background was to get a drink in hand and watch the bar’s television. Unfortunately the RAF soldier became so engrossed in his role that he failed to notice Lux and the others entering the bar.
The first the two other agents knew of the cult’s arrival was when they sat down at a table directly behind the two of them. This caused a good deal of alarm as both Patrick and Billy had assumed that Jones would warn them of Lux’s arrival in good time.
Shortly after this their conversation with the two newcomers also took a disturbing turn, when Patrick asked the woman her name. She replied that she was called Alice. Patrick realised that this might be the same woman who had sparred with Karl and I only an hour earlier – Billy seemed oblivious to this fact as he continued to chat with the two strangers. Not wishing to raise a false alarm the cautious historian used their mobile to contact Karl, gaining a description of Alice from the spy. It confirmed Patrick’s worst fears and he quickly extricated Billy and himself from a situation that was becoming very disturbing. He phoned Karl and I to inform us of their plans and then the three of them left Taylor’s.
It was after eight when Karl and I arrived outside the plush exterior of Taylors and out arrival was timely for moments after Billy, Patrick and Jones emerged from the bar, closely followed by Lux, West and a number of others whom I later learned were other cultists. After a quick conference we decided to follow them, splitting into two teams to watch from either side of the road as they moved off. It was at this point that Agent Jones tried to get in front of them by cutting down a side street, unfortunately his limited knowledge of the city’s streets played him false and he became lost for a short while.
Left short handed the remainder of the cell continued to tail the cultists, using what cover there was to avoid being seen. Although our quarry made no effort to lose us the wide and well–lit streets of Cheltenham provided little cover for the pursuers and we were often at risk of losing them as we dropped back to avoid being observed. Our numbers decreased further when Karl had to go back to locate Jones and re-unite him with the rest of the Cell, leaving only Billy, Patrick, Heather and I to continue the pursuit. Heather and I kept as close as possible to the cultists as they followed their winding path through the darkened streets while the two Irishmen hung back. At a corner they turned down a narrow alleyway and I hurried to catch them.
Given the shock I had already received I was beginning to feel a little on edge and the site of this narrow alleyway with ample spots for anyone waiting in ambush began to worry me intensely. My fears grew when it appeared that Patrick and Billy, who had been only a little behind Heather and I apparently disappeared – we waited as long as we could but were eventually forced to renew our pursuit, now unaware of the location of the rest of the Cell.
It was past nine and darkness surrounded us but as the cultists past through the pools of light thrown by pathside lamp posts I was aware of how many of them there were and the fact that Heather and I were the only members of Cassandra 23 left on their tail. My fears grew when they crossed a large open area that I took to be wasteland until Scott told me that it was in fact the very spot where Agent Baines had perished, not ten days ago. I didn’t fully trust her and the fact that she was my only help if the cultists turned to attack was cold comfort indeed. As Lux and his followers reached the edge of the ‘wasteland’ they appeared to meet up with two figures that passed them by and began walking straight towards Heather and I. For a brief moment I feared that we were about to be attacked by further servitors of the sinister Lux but, as they came closer, we could plainly see that the two figures were none other than the missing Irishmen.
Apparently Patrick and Billy had decided to try the same ploy as Jones, reasoning that they should be able to get ahead of the cultists by cutting up the road rather than turning down the alley after Heather and I. They planned to take the first right turn they came to, believing that this would put them in front of our quarry – unfortunately there were no right turns. Nonetheless they persevered, racing up the road and eventually walking straight into Lux and the others and they turned the corner from the Wasteland onto the main drag. The two Irishmen congratulated themselves on their brilliant ploy, I personally felt that they been very lucky but, on reflection, it may have been Billy’s psychic abilities leading him along the correct path.
After ascertaining which of the houses the cultists were headed to we awaited the arrival of Jones and Fox.
When we all got back together Karl got out Susie Nichol’s diary and read it out to us. It was a revelation, confirming our suspicions about the Church of the Light and its leader. The journal was a shocking account of an innocent’s descent into degradation and sexual depravity and proved beyond doubt that West was involved in these dubious activities up to his well-educated eyes. The diary also made mention of Alice, whose role seemed to be that of acolyte or priestess to Lux’s Pontifex Maximus. It ended with the once innocent legal secretary apparently praying devoutly for the coming of a person or creature called the Yellow King who would release her from her worldly cares and change everything. The Cell was, to a man, sure that the arrival of this King in Yellow must be halted at all costs.
The diary showed that we had entered some Conradian heart of darkness, where the promise of forbidden desires sated and terrible lusts fulfilled had stripped away the veneer of civilisation from a group of seemingly normal people. Is that all it took to regress these individuals five thousand years and send them screaming chants of worship to the dark powers that dwelt in an unforgiving sky? What a terrible thought!
Pondering these disturbing thoughts we were led by Agent Scott back across the car park. She pointed out to us the spot where Baines had been slain by the mysterious Sebastian Lux. While Billy meditated in an attempt to regain some of his composure the rest of us examined the scene. Unfortunately the fact that we had neglected to bring torches with us made a detailed search difficult but we did eventually discover that the ground had a fine covering of some form of dust, presumably the foreign substance found on Baines’ body. It seemed clear that this was a component of some form of weapon that had been hurled or projected at the unfortunate agent in order to bring on a massive heart attack.
Guns in the Darkness
Agent Scott had assured us that the cultists’ house was under surveillance while we examined the crime scene but when we turned to check Lux and his followers had apparently made their getaway. Both Patrick and I were now very suspicious of Scott and resolved to keep a careful eye on her.
Having missed the cult the Cell decided to break into their meeting place and see if they’d left any clues to their intentions. We approached the building cautiously with the TOYmen to the fore. Sergeant Jones led the way with Agent Fox dogging his steps. While Patrick, Billy and I watched the street the two other Cassandra operatives entered the darkened terraced house that was apparently acting as the cult’s temporary headquarters. A narrow hallway opened out beyond the door, with stairs straight ahead and two doors on the left – Jones made his way down the dimly lit passageway, followed a little distance behind by Fox. A brief glance into the first room revealed nothing. Upon opening the second door, Jones was met by the sight of strangely garbed man and a room, illuminated by ceremonial candles and decorated in a most disturbing fashion. The robed figure demanded to know why his house had been broken into and who we were, receiving know answer he picked up a wicked looking blade and charged at Jones.
The cultist’s blade flashed in the candlelight as he rushed forward … Fox’s gun roared but a single bullet could not still the mad intent of the attacker … a blade honed to razor sharpness sliced through flesh and muscle, a scarlet rain fell to the floor … Jones’ fired, committing the madman’s soul into the care of the dark creatures he worshipped … faint from loss of blood the Sergeant slumped to the ground.
The first screams sent Billy and Patrick rushing into the house to help – the sight of the bloodstained bodies and the terrible Yellow Signs, which adorned the walls, proved too much for Patrick’s overstrained psyche. He swept up Jones’ gun and, speaking an unintelligible gibberish, emptied the clip into the supine form of the corpse.
By the time I entered the room the others had already begun to search. I assisted them but the Yellow Signs exerted an oppressive menace and somewhat clouded my thoughts. The other decorations were no more comforting … the works of De Sade, the Devil’s Bible, a human skull, all spoke of minds broken by prolonged exposure to the monstrous, to the unearthly. Agent Fox stumbled on a more complete copy of the “King in Yellow” but found its contents so disturbing that, within moments of reading it, he was shacking uncontrollably, apparently afflicted by delirium tremens. Fortunately Patrick managed to control the affliction by striking the quaking Fox about the face a number of times.
The others were more successful in their searches, discovering a number of documents, apparently written in blood, which indicated that the Cult planned to carry out some ritual or other within an hour on Crickley Hill, overlooking the city.
At the time the obvious course seemed to be to get up to the Hill and prevent them from carrying out their sinister plans. Unfortunately, because we’d tailed the cultists for quite a time we were now some distance from the pool cars, which would probably prevent us from stealing a march on our foes. Without the first aid kit it was impossible to treat Jones’ wound so we decided that he and the two Irishmen should leave first to give them enough time for the crippled soldier to get to their car. As Jones shuffled off we three remaining agents examined the remaining documents which were scattered around the Cultist’s hideout. None of them were immediately relevant to our investigation but they were, nonetheless, most disturbing. I read through the diary of a child who apparently lived in the West Virginia coalfields in the early 1920s, at about the time of Coalfield Wars. Much of it seemed innocuous but there were certain passages … certain passages that …
At this point subject savage apparently lapsed into unconsciousness again. The following is a transcript of what he said while he slept.
Mother took her AXE and gave the MINERS forty whacks … WhoSE fOr DINNER TONight MuMmy ???
The DaRk OnE watCHES over us ALL … The thOUsand FACed MAN …
ThE ST A RS AR E Right … The STARS a r e Right !!!
Subject regains consciousness at this point.
Ehm … Er … Where was I? Oh yes … the diary … very disturbing indeed … that poor child.
… Unfortunately although the diary spoke of the Cult’s interest in the macabre it was of little use to us at that moment, but I did take it with me for further perusal. There were many disturbing images found between the covers.
Having given the others a little time to get on their way Agents Scott, Fox and I made our way back to our own pool car and Fox began the drive towards Crickley Hill.
Hills of Madness
On our way to the Crickley Hill rendezvous Fox and I discussed what we had learnt and it struck us that the cultists had probably been aware of our interest in their activities ever since we burgled West’s flat. Therefore anything we had learnt since then might be a plant, an attempt to trap us by drawing us to a location of their choosing for a confrontation. This belief was reinforced by the fact the all of the earlier information we had pointed to a ceremony being held much closer to midnight and probably down at the ancient Neolithic site beneath the college’s student bar. The more we thought about it the more sure we were that there was something suspicious about the ease with which we’d discovered their hilltop meeting place. However we ultimately decided that, although it would be worth mentioning it to our fellow agents when we got together again, we couldn’t ignore this meeting because we would risk loosing track of them if our guess about the college was wrong.
Agent Scott suggested that we meet up with the others at a pub called the “Air Balloon” before we actually made our way to the hillside. When we did meet up Fox and I outlined our fears concerning the possibility that a trap awaited us. The others were not convinced, Billy in particular felt drawn to the hill by some mystic guide and was sure that terrible things might occur if we didn’t intervene. Fox and I agreed but felt that some sort of plan might be in order, but the others didn’t share this view so we settled on the “muddling through” policy once again.
A short drive took us to a viewpoint high above Cheltenham and its near neighbour Gloucester. The constellations of warm yellow street lights provided a welcome link to civilisation but they were mocked from above by the naked stars, continually emerging and fading back into the scudding grey white clouds. I had never looked at the heavens with more trepidation than I did now, knowing that once sane men and women believed that forces dwelt among those distant suns, forces god-like and terrible. Still less comforting was the baleful, unblinking gaze of Aldeberaan, located exactly where West had predicted.
Our unease turned to dread when faint plaintive cries were carried to us on the wind. We made our way towards them but as we did so they changed their tone and became a strange, inhuman chant. Speed was now of the essence so we made our way over small hillocks and around obstructing trees, ever following that terrible sound. Creeping over a low rise we could see them at last. The cult was clustered together on a strange wooden platform and were screaming blasphemies into the night sky. From the distance I was it was difficult to make out numbers but, silhouetted against the star filled sky, with their arms and voices raised in praise of dark things there seemed all too many.
Equipped only with my trusty Kodak there was little I could do but once again the TOYmen came to the fore. Jones, Fox and Scott used the nearby bushes as cover to creep closer to the cultists. As they did so the cult’s ceremony seemed to reach a crescendo and indescribable alien sound echoed across the lonely English hilltop.
Jones later told me that it was at this point that he, Fox and Scott were waylaid by an “alien” who seemed to emerge from nowhere, almost within touching distance of Jones. They described a terrible beast, vaguely anthropomorphic but with long ropy tentacles in place of arms and a huge bestial head. This horror shuffled slowly towards the wounded Jones, reaching towards him with its terrible limbs but, with a supreme effort of will the Welshman ignored his maimed leg and ran from this apparition. As he fled the hillside echoed to the crack of pistols being rapidly fired, for both Fox and Scott pumped round after round into the shambling creature, with little initial effect. The horror absorbed enough punishment to stop ten men but, thankfully, the bullets began to have some effect, first slowly it and eventually dropping the creature in its tracks. Its haunting alien cry sounded once again as it faded slowly from sight.
While the TOYmen battled the Shambler the other cultists scuttled off, having successfully sprung their trap. Before the Cultists could escape they were waylaid by Billy who hurled a psychic attack at Alice, who was among their number. Unfortunately Alice was apparently no mere cult member but some form of priestess or high acolyte for her own occult might was more than a match for the plucky young Irishman and she sent him away, momentarily stunned by the backlash from his failed assault. As Patrick dragged Billy away I saw the cultists departing in a tightly packed group, I considered waylaying them but didn’t like the odds so I watched as they departed and then went to join the others.
Although we had triumphed over the creature it was obvious that our devious opponents had led us into a trap. Luckily we’d managed to survive their terrifying hunting beast and were now more resolved than ever to stop these deluded lunatics before they could do any more damage.
Quickly making our way back to the cars it was decided that we should head back to the safehouse to prepare for our final confrontation with Lux and his followers. The climax to this evening of terror would come at midnight, where we were now sure the cult leader and his followers would attempt to stage the “King in Yellow” in order to summon one of these terrible star creatures from whatever distant hell it hailed. They must be stopped!!! Billy and Patrick believed that disrupting the ceremonial aspects of the play would be even more important than incapacitating the participants … an assumption that seemed reasonable enough.
The Play’s the Thing
As the midnight hour approached the Agents of Cassandra 23 gathered their courage and strode out into the cold, clear night for their rendezvous with destiny. Fortunately the college was only a short walk from the safehouse so we arrived in time to foil their dreadful scheme.
As we approached the curtain clad exterior wall of their makeshift theatre we could see that they must already be within, for shafts of yellow light escaped from chinks in the curtains and the rhythmic metre of that play could be heard. We crept in through a sidedoor and surveyed the scene before us. The student bar had been converted into a cross between a temple and a theatre, with a black, shroud bedecked stage at the back and seven pillars decorated with the mark of the Yellow Sign.
Creeping forward Jones and I went down the shadowed left side of the area while Billy and Patrick moved onto the central stairway which faced the stage, hoping to distract the players from their purpose. Across on the other side of the room Fox and Scott were moving towards the stages. As we moved forward we tore the Yellow Signs from their places, our actions accompanied by the eerie cadences of some sinister chant and the play’s haunting music. The players were clad in costume as befitted their roles and had their faces covered with theatrical masks, which made them seemed even more detached from the normal people we actually knew them to be. Despite our efforts the play seemed to have a life of its own and the players moved like automata, simply fulfilling their parts…
All of the Signs had been cast aside but the play still moved inexorably towards its climax … both Jones and Fox believed that the time for quiet action was over and prepared to shoot the cultists off the stage. Fox leapt out into the central aisle, directly in front of the stage and levelled his gun, he warned the cultists to stop but received no reply so once again a gunshot reverberated into the night. One of the players slumped to the floor but the play continued on without a pause, apparently beginning to reach its climax.
In desperation Fox glanced around and saw a pattern of strange crystals arranged on a table just in front of him. He swept his arm down and scattered the crystals and as he did so the summoning collapsed. Some of the weaker cultists collapsed but, before we could apprehend him, Lux pulled off his mask and muttered a few words of an antediluvian tongue then leapt backwards through an mind-numbing ‘tear’ in the air behind him and disappeared.
We had succeeded in preventing the arrival of the “King in Yellow” but Lux had escaped. Furthermore some comments were made by the local authorities about a number of suspicious deaths in the Cheltenham area that evening but Cassandra 23 dealt with them. Most of us look forward to meeting Mr J. again to express our gratitude for all the help he and the Department had provided.
The fate of the Cultists is not totally clear. We couldn’t prove that they’d committed any serious crimes but most of them were so badly affected by the failure of the summoning that their minds were broken – these we had no difficulty in getting them sectioned. Unfortunately the innocents who had been corrupted by Lux were now beyond saving.
What really concerns me is what happened to West and Alice. They were taken away by the authorities but I’ve been unable to determine their fate. Both of them are cunning and manipulative and could well escape their just deserts if they’re not carefully watched.
Concludes transcript of subject Savage’s recording. Suggest judicious alterations be made to reinforce subject’s paranoia concerning supernatural connections – case study 27a/mu indicates a high level of paranoia increases operative survival rates by 12.5%
File reference: cf23/bse/1 alpha/tptk/22-1-00
Well that was Pete’s excellent write up of the first game. If anyone has read this far and would be interested in playing in a similar game, do drop me a line, and maybe, just maybe, one day we will do it again!