His business with the magistrate complete for now, Enrico retired to the inn for some celebratory steins of lager and a well-deserved rest. Unfortunately, his sleep was disturbed by a blood-curdling scream from Katrina’s room next door (not yet ready to travel back to their hometown, she and Herr Schulze were also staying at the inn.) She awoke screaming from a terrible nightmare, the details of which she shared with Enrico the next morning at breakfast: she was being pursued through a great, dilapidated castle or mansion by a hooded, black-robed figure. She woke just as her sinister assailant had cornered her and wrapped its skeletal fingers around her throat. She also remembered that one of the hands wore a ruby ring, finely cut in an octagonal shape.
After breakfast, Enrico visited Magistrate Schmidt and received some distressing news — Rudolf, the bandit captured in the church cellar, had been killed while trying to escape. The jailer recounted that, during last night’s interrogation/beating, Rudolf’s eyes became engulfed by blackness and, with a burst of superhuman strength, tore loose from his bonds. In the ensuing struggle, the jailer was slashed with a knife and Rudolf was killed, skewered by several sword thrusts. Examining the body, Enrico noticed the blacked-out eyeballs and the blackened veins spreading away from the eyes (which gave the face a mask-like appearance.) Magistrate Schmidt gave his official approval to Enrico’s investigation of the mysterious cult or coven responsible for Katrina’s abduction; with the full moon only days away, Enrico immediately went into action. To summarize the next two days’ investigations:
- Clara the wise woman and Brother Demetrius independently noted that Rudolf’s symptoms suggested mental domination by a witch or sorcerer, not a demonic possession, and that the power of said domination depended on the power of the sorcerer, the connection/relationship between the sorcerer and subject, and, to a lesser extent, the physical distance between the two. Brother D. gave Enrico a blessed crucifix as a supernatural protection against this form of domination.
- Several sources spoke of tension and dissatisfaction between the mayor, Burghermeister Hartmann, and Magistrate Schmidt, but nothing that suggested motives for supernatural or physical violence by either party. During his interview with Hartmann, Enrico noticed that the mayor wore a ruby ring similar to the one described in Katrina’s nightmare.
- Meister Hartmann, a longtime resident of the village, had traveled to the Interior (as the cursed central region of Anderavia is commonly known) in his younger years in search of adventure, and married a woman from a mountain village. Clara informed Enrico that the young M. Hartmann, the illegitimate son of a minor noble, may have gone in search of his roots. The ruby ring was among the treasure he claimed in his adventures and brought back to the village.
- Clara and Brother D. also mentioned that Frau Hartmann is a fortune-teller and professed medium. When asked about his wife, Meister Hartmann told Enrico that she no longer practices dowsing or clairvoyance due to her weak physical constitution.
- During the night of the first day’s investigation, Enrico is wakened from a dream to see Katrina standing in his room, apparently possessed by sorcery. Wielding a kitchen knife, she attacked Enrico and managed to lightly wound him before he could bring his blessed crucifix to bear. Once the holy symbol was revealed, the psychic connection was severed and Katrina collapsed unconscious on the floor.
Keeping his suspicions closely guarded and unvoiced, Enrico decided to roll the dice on a risky plan: He and his group (Hans, Brother D., and three militia volunteers) would pose as bandits and bring a “maiden” (the slender Brother D. in a dress, wig, and hooded cloak) to the church in hopes of drawing the cult and its leader into the open. When seven robed figures entered the ruined sanctuary, a brief parley quickly devolved into battle. In the initial chaos, one cultist (the speaker, presumably the leader) dashed out of the sanctuary and took cover in the nave. Musket and pistol shots rang out on both sides, and the melee fighters quickly closed. The tide quickly turned in the heroes’ favor as Enrico and Hans joined their blades to the effort; despite their losses, however, the cult was not done yet. As Enrico ran one cultist through the chest with his saber, he felt a strong hand grasp his ankle — some fell sorcery had animated the corpses of the cultists and militia who had fallen! Enrico’s band managed to slay the last of the living cultist fighters and, with the aid of Brother D’s prayer of negation, put down the animated corpses. Their victory was hard won: Brother D. and Hans were both wounded — the latter grievously so — and one of the militiamen was killed. Enrico raced out after the cult leader, who made a break for the woods when the animated corpses were slain. Slowed by Enrico’s desperate, lucky pistol shot, the villain met his doom after a short chase. Clubbed in the head, the cult leader fell and was impaled on a broken tree stump. The hood was removed to reveal the face of Meister Hartmann, his all-black eyes indicating sorcerous possession. Brother D., arriving on the scene, touched his blessed crucifix to the dying man’s forehead and dispelled the magical domination. Confused and in mortal pain, he whispered his wife’s name several times before expiring.
First aid was administered to Hans, litters were prepared for Hans and Hartmann’s corpse. By the time the party arrived back in the village, dawn was breaking. Enrico left the mayor’s body with Magister Schmidt and gave the official an accounting of what transpired up at the ruined church. Enrico and Brother D. then went to pay a visit to Frau Hartmann, but found only an empty house that appeared to have been vacated in a hurry…
Now that the village is saved and the cult’s plan is foiled, we’re going to be pausing the PS&S game for a few sessions for a little change of pace. I’m definitely looking forward to picking up again and seeing where the loose ends lead! Some other thoughts on the session:
The reanimated cultist corpses (Tough Rabble) were done on the fly, they basically had the same stats (except for Mind, reduced to -2), combat abilities and Lifeblood as when they were alive. I also completely forgot to roll Terror checks for Enrico and his hirelings when the corpses rose up again, I was too caught up in the action….
I realized later that I’ve overlooked another aspect of black powder gun combat — the obscuring effect of smoke from the fired weapons, especially in enclosed/poorly ventilated areas. If I had to spot rule something right now, it would probably go something like this: If a black powder gun is fired, all ranged attacks in the vicinity during the following round suffer a -1 penalty for each weapon discharged; for each subsequent round of black powder discharge, an additional -1 (cumulative) penalty [per weapon?] is enforced. (Depending on the size and ventilation of the space and the number of firearms discharged, prolonged exposure to the smoke itself could prove dangerous as well.) I don’t want to get too crazy and “realistic” with this, so it’s not going in the rules until I can play around with it a bit more.
The evening’s soundtrack provided further evidence that, as far as I’m concerned, Voice of Eye’s Transmigration is one of the greatest gaming albums ever. It’s consistently dark, ominous and spooky, without being obtrusive or distracting, great for sustaining the atmosphere and mood.