Whoops, the week got away from me! We will wrap up the campaign very soon (tonight, as I write this), so let’s see what happens in this mystery that stretches over two sessions.
The hunters have returned to Dallas. Based on their “improvements”, Cordelia hones her axe, as well as her axe skills, and Ophelia practices a bit of divination with a “bag of bones”. (No extra credit for guessing what kind of bones…) Andi has connections to the Dark Young cults and, now, her own relationship with the Order of Fallen Night, albeit not as an initiate per se. Alice has tapped into an inner reserve and can now power through a fight even more than before.
As has occurred before, Ophelia and Alice both have similar dreams. Ophelia dreams she is in a swamp, and her right arm turns into a tentacle (as it occasionally does when she taps into her dark power in a fight) but then detaches from her and rampages through the swamp, hurting everyone. Alice dreams of the same swamp, but she encounters a box in muck. Upon opening the box, she finds a woman with a gun that she instinctively recognizes as a friend (although she doesn’t actually know the woman’s identity).
During the night, Ophelia wakes up from her dream, tells Cordelia to chop her arm off if it misbehaves (with an extremely brief description of said dream). In the morning, Cordelia is not okay with any of this or what it implies. Back at their apartment, Andi continues studying her other magic books (not the family grimoire) and stress baking, though she constantly checks her phone while pretending she isn’t. Her father will be calling soon, and that always puts a great strain on her. Alice is a bit lost in her own head, processing her emotions about what her Chosenness really means.
The group chat fires back up.
“If Florida, then plane.”
Followed by Disneyworld images and heart emojis, then Shrek memes. ((This group makes my job so easy, just playing off each other for long stretches.)) It turns out that Andi, who is Italian, has never actually seen Shrek. The women plan a movie night with lots of food – and this means a LOT of food, as Alice and Ophelia have huge appetites. In the middle of the first Shrek movie, Andi’s phone finally rings: her dad is on the other end of the line.
He tells her that the cultists have all taken a trip and wants to know how she’s mixed up in this. She tells him a little about the Dark Young and missing people, after which he notes that they have all flown to Houston to go further into the woods and further from reality. (He’s a very imposing, intimidating, and shady man who assumes that his daughter is just like him and will take over the family “business” when her time comes.)
Time to investigate! The group debates whether some courses of action might be too much (you can’t just call hotels and ask, “Do you have a bunch of Italians there?”), but Cordelia notes that she has a connection in Houston: her counterpart Titania who commands the Order’s Houston branch. When she explains over the phone what they’re working on, Titania says she’ll be there early in the morning to discuss in person rather than over the phone. They meet up at the Dallas office and head to the wine cellar to discuss in person. Titania uses a sort of “dousing rod” to find the empty bottle with a specific prophecy, which indicates that when the Great Mother comes, she will be satisfied with thirteen thirteens of souls: 169 in total, sacrificed to her. She has come before when summoned, and that is the primary way to send her back. Difficult rituals may exist, or occasionally past generations have been able to “annoy” her enough that she decided to leave.
Cordelia confides in Titania about her relationship with Ophelia, who has some sort of connection to this Great Mother, and the recent request to “chop her arm off” if it causes trouble. Ophelia wryly observes that this sounds almost Biblical.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life [j]maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where
‘Their worm does not dieMark 9:43,44 (NKJV)
And the fire is not quenched.’
Cordelia does some research in the Order’s archive, trying to determine what happened in these cases to the previous warlocks connected to the Great Mother. She consumed some directly; others apparently survived her incursion, and were left alone by the Order as they no longer posed a threat.
Andi and Alice look at maps for nearby swamps and leylines, and eventually identify the cultists’ general destination: Caddo Lake, on the Texas-Louisiana border. After reviewing her notes on previous experiences in her own past, she determines that (apart from the sacrifice of 169 souls), a “ritual” consisting of advanced hypergeometry and the life force of one person, willing or otherwise, would accomplish this task. She doesn’t have the details on this hypergeometry, though perhaps the professor they met in the first mystery could help, or the one cultist she knows with wavering faith.
Cordelia spends some time shuffling her oracle cards in the armory, and emerges several hours later with (she hopes) a better sense of how to manipulate the future. Alice goes back to her own previous knowledge about her status as the (a?) Chosen. She is the one who is fated to send the Great Mother back, and in fact her special sword can hurt this hyperdimensional deity (bypassing her armor).
Ophelia casts her bones upon tarot cards, seeking to know what she can gain from the Great Mother? This reveals the true name of the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, Sheol-Nugganoth. By invoking this name and giving into the dark power, she could gain a form of regeneration (effectively, immortality) and the ability to hold a victim helpless. Temptation!
Andi texts her cultist “friend”, Demetrio, pretending to consider joining up. They discuss the “party” before the summoning, which she learns will take place at the group hall in the State Park. The two have a brief discussion of whether this is the right thing.
After the group learns all this, they stare at her. Time to plan! Cordelia asks, “are we going to tailgate an Elder God summoning?” Ophelia puts a book away using her tentacle arm (she’s mad) and informs the group she knows the Mother’s true name and could siphon her power to doom the rest of humanity. Andi knows some of the required hypergeometry, and knows someone who knows more. She might be able to cobble together the ritual, but that would still require a sacrifice. Both Ophelia and Alice start to argue which of them should sacrifice themselves (each wants to do it), but finally agree that they are, at most, plans B and C.
Cordelia proposes severing Ophelia’s connection to the Mother; that would remove most of her powers, but potentially save her partner. Ophelia pulls out a skull that she claims is just a replica, a series of black gems, and a weird tentacle monument, then draws on her own fate to understand how to dispossess herself. The answer is simple: every time you do what she asks, she grants you power and embeds herself a little more. Simply refusing to do those things and not calling upon that power will reject her, but it’s a choice Ophelia must make anew each day. Also, therapy would help.
As an aside: yes, HP Lovecraft used a different name for the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young. However, he based the story in which she appears on Lord Dunsany’s “Idle Days on the Yann“, which uses the name I included above. It seems likely that Lovecraft intended the altered name to refer to a horrible racial slur, and I have no interest in perpetuating that harm. My solution was simple: use the original name (which has more cultural resonance in the Western world anyway).
As for the group: Andi’s player really enjoyed the interaction with her father (even if the character did not), and the players enjoyed the wide variety of study scenes. We also revisited the original bond with Andi and Ophelia and different methods of divination.
For the last session, they can’t wait for the final big fight. Ideally, Ophelia would survive and live a happy life, and the group would find a way to push out the Great Mother.
Tonight, we’ll play to find out what happens!