Lord Beresford's Travellers Campaign 3: Via the Orient Express to TibetEdit
The PCs were asked by Lord Beresford to escort a friend of his, Mr. Gideon, and his new wife to visit her family in Constantinople. The family are involved in a feud, and she feared that if just the two of them went home, her husband would be drawn into it. Lord B offered to ‘sponsor’ the PCs as an escort. They would take the new Orient Express train.
This led to lots of jokes in the group about zombie attacks – we are very fond of Cheapass Games’ The Great Brain Robbery™, in which zombies rampage through the train eating passengers’ brains and banging on the couplings to break the train up. Little did they know that as soon as they mentioned the Orient Express, I decided to run just that scenario…
Things started to go strange on the cab ride through Paris. The PCs noticed that they were being watched by gargoyles on the buildings as they passed. In the Gare de L’Est snatch-thieves attempted to snatch a particular case, which one identified with a wand. This attempt was foiled and the bags recovered.
They confronted the Gideons and Mrs Gideon confessed that the family feud is not with another faction of Constantinopolean politicians, but with a Chinese cult Grandfather had fought in Tibet many years ago. In the case the thieves targeted is an artifact he brought back with him – a jade amulet.
Since it looked like growing more dangerous, Christina and Theo announced that she is in a ‘delicate condition’ – about three months pregnant, she is under doctor’s orders to avoid stressful situations. Some hope!
Flying Monkeys on the Orient ExpressEdit
The Orient Express was attacked by ‘le train Fantôme’, a ghost-train full of zombies with a reputation for eating the brains of all the passengers in the trains they attack. The PCs fought as best they could, but kept having to retreat further forward.
They chose to make a stand in the restaurant car, made a hasty barricade of chairs and defended it with weapons purloined from the baggage car. Soon it was a fierce hand-to-hand battle with the zombies, who are slow, but seemed indestructible and in overwhelming numbers.
Meanwhile, one PC (Swift) had been left up in the forward carriage with the Gideons. It was crowded with people moving forward away from the zombies, who suddenly screamed and ran in the opposite direction. Swift stepped out with knife in hand to see winged monkeys with red fur, flying down the corridor. And because she stood her ground the first one began to attack her, venom glinting on its claws…
Back in the restaurant car, the fighters brawled with the zombies over their barricade, and started smashing the windows and throwing zombies out, but they were still being overwhelmed and gradually worn down. They were growing more desperate, so the train staff came to the rescue. One of them shouted "It's ready, messieures et mesdames, run now for your lives!", and led the way out of the carriage. The players trusted him and legged it.
With the PCs clear of the carriage, the train crew used a fire-hose they had rigged to open the kitchen door. They'd blown out all naked flames in there before turning on all the gas-taps. The gas escaped into the dining-car and met the flames of the gas-lamps, resulting in a massive explosion which derailed the restaurant-car and the rest of the train ran into it, blocking the line and stopping le train Fantôme.
Relieved, the PCs returned to their carriage.Where they found an unconscious Swift, but no Christina... When she woke up, Swift could only tell them of flying monkeys, gargoyles, and a mysterious karate-kicking Chinaman.
(For more details of the story, see the 'Flying Monkeys on the Orient Express' page)
Interlude in ConstantinopleEdit
Arriving in Constantinople, the PCs found a ransom demand delivered by telegram – they were to bring the amulet to the House of the Hairy Red Men. From Mrs. Gideon's late grandfather's journal, they established that this is in Tibet. A little research found that the quickest route is a ship to Alexandria then the Imperial Airways dirigible to Calcutta, so off they set, pausing only to do as much research as possible on the region.Which isn't much – Tibet in 1874 is a very secretive place.
A Diversion amongst the Greek IslesEdit
Sailing through the Greek islands, a raiding-party of Fishmen dragged three crewmen overboard and carried them off into the deep.
Then a Merman surfaced and called for help. He could guide them to where the prisoners were taken: a grotto under a nearby island. He had scouted it and seen that it led to a dry cave. The PCs agreed to help and went ashore.
They fought their way into the caves below the island, going into a long pitch-black corridor. Two hurricane lanterns lit their way. This made them perfect targets for Fishmen waiting in a dark guard-station. Sudden well-aimed shots from the darkness inflicted yet more damage before the party managed to throw a lantern forwards to illuminate them and blast them with more modern weaponry.
That gave them a warning – it's not a good idea to advance into a dark tunnel carrying the only light-sources around when the opposition have guns! They progressed more cautiously. The end of the system was a spherical artificial cave a hundred yards across. It was partly filled with water, in the middle of which stood a finely preserved Ancient Greek temple, whose eternal-flame door-pillars provided the only light in the vast space. A rough wooden walkway spiralled around the edge of the sphere to run from the tunnel exit to the water's edge. In a tense battle in the darkness, the PCs managed to beat the rest of the Fishmen. For a longer story of the events, see 'Into the Depths'.
I found this a great way of evening the odds and presenting the players with a tactical challenge. If you fancy running something similar, read The Fishmen in the Sphere.
Our heroes took to the skies on the Imperial Airways dirigible to India. It turned out that there were two flying red monkeys aboard. They had to be following the PCs, and the inference was that they could be tracked by the Red Men. So their capture was imperative, and after several farcical attempts to pursue them around the gasbags, they were tempted into taking pieces of fruit soaked in gin and bowls of red wine. Supernatural and linked to Chinese sorcerers they may have been, but they were still monkeys. Half an hour later the party came back up and found them drunk and incapable, easy to net and transfer to cages. Partly out of scientific interest but mostly to foil attempts to follow them by scrying for the monkeys, the PCs promptly paid for them to be air-freighted back to the Royal Society in London while the party moved on.
In 1874, Tibet is closed to foreigners. Not so easily put off, the party talked to any Tibetans they could find, telling them the full story of their mission. Sure enough, late one night heavily-muffled figures came to their quarters and offered to sneak them across the frontier, warning them to travel light as it was going to be a hard journey. The Travellers followed these mysterious guides up into a high pass. Thanks to GURPS' comprehensive rules, it soon became clear to them just what hard work it is to cross the Himalayas on foot. When Stanley came down with altitude sickness and it became clear that he was not fit enough to make it any higher - and many others weren't much better off, they reluctantly turned back, discouraged to the point that they nearly abandoned all hope of entering Tibet. Indomitable Laurie refused to be beaten. He questioned their guides and established that the only real barrier is the presence of Chinese border guards in all the villages , and the practical impossibility of going far enough around the villages in such terrain to escape notice. The guards were bribable to look the other way about things like smuggling luxury goods, but for something that could get them into big trouble - six foreigners who might be about to attack Chinese citizens, for example - they would probably be incorruptible.
So he turned things around. If they can't be persuaded to look the other way, perhaps they could be distracted? With the help of local guides, messages were sent ahead to trigger incidents that would get the border guards looking the other way - a child down a well in one village, a domestic dispute in another. All the way into Tibet, the Travellers saw the smiling faces of those conspiring to put one over on their occupiers.
Dealing with the Hairy Red MenEdit
In Xigaze they decided to try an honest deal first - actually deliver the amulet in return for Christina. What happens afterwards might not be so polite. And so they sent a message into the House of the Hairy Red Men, offering the exchange. Much to the bafflement of the priest in charge, who apparently didn't know about the ransom demand. He sent a message for guidance to his superiors in another temple up in Dakelangsi. The reply was unexpected – Christina isn't available, but is on a ship somewhere on her way here. They expect her to arrive in another five or six months, depending on the winds.
Being rich British adventurers, of course, they had headed straight here by the fastest 'conventional' transport: an Imperial Airways dirigible and Indian Railways. They hadn't considered that a group who had kidnapped a pregnant British lady might not have that option! They will be aboard a ship that has to take the Cape route (to avoid land travel through nominally independent but in fact British-controlled Egypt) right round to China (avoiding British India) and up the very much slower transport systems there. The PCs had expected that the bad guys would have Gate magic allowing instant travel across most of the distance.
The cult offered, in exchange for the amulet, to send orders to their agents to have their ship put into the nearest port where they could put Christina on a ship bound for the nearest British territory. Naturally, the party didn't trust them to keep their word...
Several messages later, the party finally had a face-to-face encounter with someone with the power to negotiate directly, a senior priest from the Dakelangsi temple. In a tense meeting in a remote valley, the talks came close to breaking down several times, but Laurie doggedly kept negotiating, earning the respect of even the Chinese, until something he said gave the senior cultist an idea. The deal was offered, and accepted: the party would take one of his agents to Africa themselves by their fast methods, the ship would put into a mutually agreed port, and the exchange made, the amulet for Christina.
After the cult's negotiating party retreated, Swift climbed up a nearby rocky pinnacle to watch their retreat – only to discover on the far side of it an ambush party – four gargoyles carrying shotguns, and several of the venom-clawed monkeys. Overlooking the site of the negotiations, something looked wrong about a snowbank next to it. She shinned down and they investigated. There was definitely something odd about that snowdrift, but the See Illusions spell Sienna cast pinpointed four other areas that were covered by illusions, on the far side of where the negotiations had been.
Deciding to avoid triggering what was obviously intended to be an overwhelming attack of some kind from the cultists if negotiations had broken down, the PCs retreated without investigating further.
Later came the twist: the Chinese chose their agent, and he was the man who'd smuggled them into Tibet. The Chinese only knew that he was a trader who worked in India, and they hired him since he speaks English. Since he was both handy and expendable, they had the Chinese police arrest the translator's relatives on spurious charges of spying for the British. If the amulet isn't brought back, they will die.
Through gritted teeth, the party went through with the exchange. Smuggling themselves back out of Tibet, by Raj Railways and Imperial Airways to Cairo, through the teleportation Gates they know about from their African adventure, to the agreed port. Where they waited over a month for the ship to sail in, whiling away their time by training in various skills. Christina was exchanged for the amulet, safe and sound, and the translator sent back on his way by the fast route to save his family.
Time for RevengeEdit
The Travellers escorted Christina home to England on the first available dirigible. Now they had time, and determined to get their revenge. Before, they were working on the cult's initiative, rushing to rescue Christina. So back in England they consulted magicians and Sinologists so that their return is backed up with much more intelligence.
They investigated the mysterious rod brought back by Grandfather and discovered that there were nine hairs embedded under the lacquer: eight at one end, from the ancestors of a Chinese man who was in the cult, the single one at the far end belongs to Shia Wai-Sun, the Goddess herself. Much more investigation revealed that she is probably a Yao Nien, seductress-ghost who draws life-energy from her lovers. This led to the plan of using Soul Trap to contain her long enough to cast a Final Rest spell and send her to Yen-Wang-Yei. So now they're looking for a skilled necromancer to come along on the mission. They have already turned down the best necromancer in England on the grounds that, at nearly 70 years of age and admittedly growing fragile, he might not make it as far as the battle!
To deal with the hopping zombies and other guardians, they consulted the Exterminator General to the Archbishop of York, who recommended a Kynaston & Chattaway Model-6 Harmonica Shotgun with solid ball ammo.
A diversion for Lady Victoria involved an evening at a Ball to celebrate her brother's birthday, where Mama tried to matchmake her with the highly eligible Lord Hardwick, under the impression that Lord H was enamoured of her through reading of her exploits in Theo's books. Unfortunately he seemed as disinterested in her as she in him – unknown to both, Christina in a mischievous moment had arranged for the letter saying that to be sent to Mama.
However, at the Ball she met the Hon. Charles Berman, who has his own dirigible and is a fan of the party's adventures. Sadly, after researching the matter he had to confirm that dirigibles cannot make it as high as the Himalayan passes, so he couldn't take them all the way. But through his contacts in the Royal Dirigible Society (patron: HRH Prince Albert) he has managed to secure them a letter of introduction to a contact in Persia who can arrange flying-carpet riders to transport them the final stretch of the way.
While awaiting the construction of the Soul Trap and the shotgun, they had some good news: Christina was safely delivered of a baby girl. After recruiting a necromancer who can summon spirits and having another write a scroll of Trap the Soul for him, and acquiring three harmonica shotguns, Our Heroes set off – hurrying at the last as their sinologist consultant realised that the ceremony they want to disrupt will probably happen at the December solstice and they only just had enough time to get there.
Travelling via Persia where they picked up two carpet-flying magicians for hire with six-person carpets (the largest available), the party avoided the whole business of smuggling themselves across the border by simply flying across and avoiding the roads. After a night at their former contact's home, where they learned that the cult is assembling and will probably all reach the Dakelangsi temple by nightfall next day (on the Solstice Eve), the party set out very early and flew to the temple on a gloriously sunny day
Two gargoyles posted on a nearby pinnacle dropped into flight to investigate the incoming carpets. Despite their resolve not to raise the alarm too early, the party blasted them from the sky, nervous that they were approaching with shotguns at the ready. This allowed the defenders of the temple time to react, and they began shooting back, but from good cover, as the party made their approach. A quick exchange of fire proved that the PCs' marksmanship, prone with rifles from flying carpets, was superior to that of gargoyles with shotguns – and the multiple layers of clothing necessary for flight in the Himalayas in December took most of the sting out of the pellets that did hit.
One gargoyle in the top floor of the temple died spectacularly from a hit with an elephant rifle, the other retreated into cover. Small monkey-heads poppped over the balcony to report the party's direction of flight, so although they lost a couple of monkeys the defenders knew which way they were coming. The party flew into a prepared gauntlet.
The party flew in, jumping off the carpets so that the non-combatants (carpet pilots and necromancer) could carry straight on through and get out of the danger zone. Stanley failed to land properly, sprawling on the ground and making an easy target for two gargoyle shotgunners at point-blank range, who took him out of the fight immediately. One flying monkey dropped onto the necromancer and carried on with the carpet, scratching him with envenomed claws before the pilot zapped it. (The players were surprised by this, not realising that of course the pilots were Air magicians and had Lightning spells!)
A furious melee ensued, with the gargoyles' shotguns blasting people at close range and, being apparently the bigger danger, everyone concentrated on them, leaving the monkeys to fly around scratching at people. Luckily, the heavy flight clothing blocked much of both the shotgun pellets and the monkey-scratches, but two of the party were still down and several of them (including Caesar, Laurie's dog!) suffering the effects of the venom. Fixing this has taken its toll of both Sienna, the party's healer, and the necromancer on whose magic the whole enterprise relies.
So for sixteen precious minutes, the sorcerers were practicing their disciplines to regain fatigue, while the cult members in the temple below prepare their defences... While the sorcerers breathed heavily down below, the sharpshooters were up on the roof, making sure that no-one approached the central Temple building or went for help by the simple expedient of shooting anything that moved.
Eventually they were ready, and advanced down the stairs. A critical Stealth roll allowed a swift look around for the situation below without coming under fire. Nine Chinese monks were well-distributed around the room, each equipped with a rifle and leaning it on the pillars holding up the roof to brace their weapons. A dozen hopping zombies waited against the wall for the order to advance into melee combat, no doubt to be backed up by the Kung-Fu monks when the rifles were empty. A really tough killing-ground to penetrate.
“What were the stairs made of?” Lady Victoria asked. They were wooden, as it turned out, and so the dynamite that had been brought along to blow open doors, should that become necessary, was fixed to a frame by Laurie so that it could be slid down the stairs without exposing themselves. Slipped into place, with the addition of the oil-lamps that had been handy up on the top floor to add a bit of fire-excitement, the dynamite was blown and the stairs demolished.
Three zombies were destroyed by the harmonica shotguns as they beat out the flames. More were damaged while trying to fix a plank to begin repairing the stairs. Realising that they would be outgunned trying to climb the stairs even if they could replace them, the monks backed off and began a ceremony of summoning. Thus the floors were effectively separated, and the PCs' hired necromancer could do his work undisturbed.
Just as planned, with the aid of the PCs' joining in the ceremony, the necromancer managed to summon Shia Wai-Sun and imprison her in a Soul Trap. Back on the magic carpets, the PCs flew off back to India, where the Bishop of Calcutta sent her soul to its rightful judgement with a Final Rest spell.
The PCs then separated: some back to England by Imperial Airways dirigible, some to wait for Charles Berman to bring his own dirigible to them and return by the scenic route. Along the way, Lady Victoria became engaged (she chose him because he seemed particularly... suggestible) and thus freed herself from her mother's endless pressure to marry well.
The Lord Beresford's Travellers campaign takes an indefinite break now, while the GM tries to work out where they are going next, and why. Meanwhile, the players' next characters will be travelling rather further afield, in a GURPS Uplift campaign.