The M-Files: Session 2 Recap

The second session of our “Monster of the Week” campaign used another pre-written adventure from the Tome of Mysteries, albeit customized somewhat for my group. Spoilers for “Necromancer’s Gambit” follow, so beware!

Narrative

The player characters in this mystery included:

  • Cordelia Miranova, the Initiate
  • Miranda “Andi” Caruso, the Spell-slinger
  • Ophelia Graves, the Spooky
  • Alice Everly, the Chosen

At the beginning of the session, three players have to make for opening moves. Ophelia receives clouded images of something bad and has a dream vision of a woman being devoured. Alice gleans a useful detail about the coming mystery and knows she would want a bag of salt. Cordelia’s Order would ask her to do something bad, which would come up later.

Importantly, Cordelia gets an improvement from the XP on that 6- roll, and she is now in command of her chapter of the Order of Fallen Night. So for our opening scene, she goes to the local headquarters. The Dallas HQ for her sect is in a strip mall between a knock-off Chipotle and a dry cleaners. It looks like an unassuming tattoo parlor in front, but in back and in a lower section they have an armory, a small library, etc.

She meets with the current leader of this chapter, a young-looking woman named Phoebe Child, to turn in the Hand of Glory recovered the night before t the Bellairs home. With this artifact, Phoebe says she can gain some additional favor with a member of the Council that administers the order and will get promoted up a level. She recommended Cordelia as the next commander, although they’ll assign her some sort of assistant to handle the administrative tasks of scheduling, handling the finances, etc.

We then turn to the introduction to this mystery: Phoebe tells her that some ritual murders have taken place in a small city called Tyler, about an hour and a half east of Dallas. The graves of the murder victims were robbed and their corpses stolen as well. A contact in the FBI has more information for them. Cordelia presses a bit to learn a bit more about the specific ritual symbology involved (a pentagram carved into the victims’ chests, and a four-pointed star-like symbol in their foreheads). Clearly that’s what drew the Order’s attention.

The group likes to kick off their planning at brunch, to which Alice inexplicably brings a large bag of salt. Cordelia lays things out; when she tells them of her promotion, Andi decided she would bake a congratulatory cake upon their return from a road trip!

They meet with Agent David Schniepp, a profiler with the FBI, in another coffee shop. After he explains the basic information again, he notes that the bodies were found at home, splayed out. Both victims lived alone and were found via welfare checks by the local police. He also notes some information about the subject based on the profile he’s worked up: the individual seemed to practice some sort of heretical “Christian necromancy”, was likely a white male in his 30s or 40s, and had familiarity in working with dead bodies. One of the victims was a retired FBI agent named Reed Ball, and that was part of why the FBI cares (even though the agency was de-prioritizing the case). The other was a former councilwoman named Bryce Gardner.

Cordelia decidesto use an “oracle deck” from her Order to look at what the future holds. ((This gives her the ability to do some specific things later to help in the investigation.))

To start the road trip, the group decided that they had a Mystery Machine: a black conversion van with an airbrushed vampire on the side, tons of throw blankets and fairy lights inside, and SO MANY SNACKS. Andi grabs some books from Cordelia and Ophelia’s home library to research on the drive. ((While I won’t recount the whole thing here, these goths had a huge amount of fun RPing the road trip; it was really a highlight of the session!))

In these, she finds the four-pointed star symbol connected to a book known as the “Christian Book of the Dead”, an ancient grimoire used by a medieval sect in England that worshipped the Black Death. An abridged translated version is relatively available that contains spells to conjure and speak with spirits, to reanimate the dead into zombies, and to create a Hand of Glory. The original version in Latin, much more difficult to find, also has details on a ritual to create an instrument known as Gabriel’s Horn, which would summon the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to end the world (hence the four-pointed symbol). This actually was the title of the fake book in the Bellairs library used to open a secret door, and it contained a pamphlet for the Sunset Prayer Group that had a phone number in Tyler!

Cordelia’s divination oracle earlier helped her have a useful item: she had indeed grabbed a copy of the abridged edition of the CBoD from the Order’s local library. Andi leaves a voice mail at the phone number listed for the SPG, stating that she’d seen the pamphlet and needed a new prayer group.

Upon arrival in Tyler (and arranging for lodgings at a local Holiday Inn), the group heads to the mortuary where the bodies were handled. This turns out to be attached to the graveyard where they’d been buried. As they enter the funeral home, they meet a young woman named Jessica and inform her they are family and friends of Reed Ball. Several of the hunters have difficulty maintaining their composure, cracking up, but Cordelia remains stone-faced. Ophelia dons sunglasses as they head outside, and she turns on The Sight to see what she could see.

Unfortunately, Jessica interrupted things because she disapproved of Alice’s behavior in a cemetery (laughing and giggling). After exchanging some words with Cordelia, she relented slightly. The grave site itself was obviously disturbed: it had been dug out with great precision, and the coffin had been broken open (though it still lay at the bottom of the grave).

Andi and Alice carry out a small ritual, disguised as a prayer. (Jessica assumes that means they are Catholics and does not interfere.) This lets her observe the actual grave robbery, and she can see a man matching the description Agent Schniepp gave them, carrying out some sort of blood ritual and reaching down to help the reanimated corpse up out of the grave. They get in a white van and leave.

The group returns to the funeral home and Cordelia asks to examine the guest book from the funeral. It was well-attended, as Mr. Ball was something of a community leader, but among the hundred or so signatures, Cordelia notices the name of the other victim. This doesn’t make sense, since both victims died the same night. Comparing with some of the marketing material for the funeral home, she realizes that the handwriting for that signature matches that of the funeral home owner, Nathan Coin. Andi realizes from that same material that Coin is the grave robber in her vision!

Cordelia then tries to swipe Bryce’s guestbook, but Jessica catches her and asks them to leave. They drive out to a relatively quiet wooded area. Ophelia and Alice try to use some big magic to locate the undead. She gets a sense of a vector (direction and distance), but something in her ritual disturbs the local flora. A nearby tree temporarily shifts into a black, slimy tentacle that reaches out to her; she is burned with some kind of arcane energy. Messing with dark powers carries risks!

Andi and Cordelia drive back to the mortuary to look for Coin or his van. After staking it out for a while, they see him getting in an old Chevrolet sedan and leave at the end of the day. They follow him to his home, an old isolated house with a storm cellar on a county road. They pull back up to their other two hunters and roll down the window: “Get in losers, we’re going zombie hunting!”

White and gray concrete house under a cloudy sky
Photo by Derek Torsani on Unsplash

They park the van in the woods just off the road, then distribute salt around the van and in baggies. Most of the group (minus Ophelia, who hangs back at the van) manage to sneak back to the storm cellar behind the house without Nathan apparently noticing, then pour a salt line in front of the cellar in hopes that it will slow down or block the zombies in some way. When they open the door and shine a flashlight down into it, sure enough, two zombies rush up the stairs! Cordelia and Alice slam it back closed, although the zombies punch a hand through to try to grab them. After a struggle, the group jumps in a salt circle and let the zombies out. At this point, Ophelia comes running up, her arm temporarily transforming into writhing tentacles (think Princess Mononoke). She and her partner Cordelia destroy the two zombies without a great deal of trouble.

All this commotion alerts Nathan Coin, who runs out the front door to the van. Andi, Alice, and Ophelia give chase, although they get tangled in a garden hose in the front yard. They unleash hell on his white van, destroying a tire and leaving a big gouge in the side, but he still manages to drive off into the night.

Wrap-up

This session ran a little long, and we didn’t quite wrap up the mystery. Ending on a bit of a cliffhanger gives some good energy when we start back up next week, though.

Because these two mysteries touched a little more than usual on real-life religion, I checked in with the players (especially those who had expressed related heritage). During the game, we emphasized that any NPC religious beliefs discussed belonged to individuals (and extremely heretical ones at that). As someone also raised in a Christian family, I felt particularly capable of navigating that line, but of course I can’t speak for anyone else. Players are comfortable so far, and one of them is occasionally referencing her own religious background. That sort of material coming from a player, of course, usually plays well, particularly when others may not have the same background.

The group’s vibe is gelling extremely well: goth lesbians, sassy young women, injection of lots of modern material relevant to our daily lives, etc. That road trip provided so much fun roleplay: throwing books around in the van while researching, exchanging snacks, trying to summon rare magical tomes while driving down I-20 in East Texas, etc.

In the upcoming session, we’ll try to see if they can catch the necromancer. And I’ve got a new mystery to write, based on the arcs that are evolving.

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