This session concludes The M-Files, and it was a riot. A banger, if you will. (I’m going to miss this group!)
The group considers how to deal with Ophelia’s connection to the Great Mother, Sheol-Nugganoth, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young. ((I explain that it’s really a “pact” – Ophelia makes the choice to draw on the power and do the bidding of the Great Mother.)) Andi is unable to find any other way to sever that connection. Ophelia literally needs to make the choice not to do what Sheol-Nugganoth desires and the powers will fade.
In terms of how to deal with the ritual, Andi goes to see Professor Westervelt, the astrophysicist they met in the very first mystery. She tells him that they’re looking to get a head start on writing some stories in the university paper about Halloween and spooky topics. Could he tell her a bit about “advanced hypergeometry research”, with maybe a Cthulhu-esque eldritch being vibe? ((So meta!))
He talks about how a creature entering our plane of existence from another dimension would only need to come to wherever we exist their extra dimension. The professor compares it to a creature that only existed in two dimensions on a surface that suddenly saw us drop in from above: to them, it would appear as though something just apparated. He tells her that, in the story, they could lure this being to our coordinates and push the energy “at right angles to the universe”.
We discuss the Big Magic they’ll need. They have already completed the research required, but they will also need to use magic at the summoning location, plus contribute the life force of one person, willing or otherwise. Should things go wrong, other people (not just the sacrifice) could get pushed out of our dimension. Alice considers whether that life force should come from a cultist or herself. But that’s a problem for Tomorrow Alice, not Today Alice!
Last road trip of the campaign, let’s go! Everyone is stress eating the whole way, although Andi continues scribbling out hypergeometric mathematics and somehow Alice picked up a stray dog at a gas station somewhere along the interstate. Cordelia and Ophelia have a bit of an uneasy dynamic, as the Initiate processes the fact that her partner isn’t “infected” by the Great Mother: it’s not a physical being inside her. Ophelia could leave behind her alliance with a dark power at any time but hasn’t, although she’s trying to pinpoint the moment when she made this connection. They’ll be okay but it will take some time.
The group arrives at Caddo Lake at sunset. First, they head to their own cabin to drop off their stuff and hide the dog, then discuss their plans in more detail. It suddenly occurs to them that they could bar the way for Sheol-Nugganoth pre-emptively. In the meantime, Andi will go to the party and try to gather more information.
The group doesn’t like the idea of her going alone, so Alice decides to go with her. First she thinks of pretending to be a “Christian girl” but ends up going with “Florida hooker” instead. ((Determining the difference between these two is left as an exercise for the reader.)) Cordelia gives her substantial makeup advice, but Andi doesn’t want to mess with makeup and hair. She continues to fiddle with the math as long as possible, then dons a robe. Cordelia drops them a little ways off, “call me if you need anything!”
Inside, it’s total bacchanalia: drugs, drinking, music, other activities. Andi sees her friend Demetrio across the way and introduces Alice as “my friend Ashley Elizabeth Catherine”. “Ashley” goes off to mingle but the two try to stay in eyesight of each other. Andi pretends to accept the drinks and other substances proffered, but she doesn’t actually partake. They find out that the ritual will take place at a campsite deeper in the woods. Andi quietly suggests to Demetrio that they could sneak off to the campsite. They get to the site and discuss why she might want to help as well as what’s going on with her dad. After spending a little more time there, they head back.
Meanwhile, “Ashley” has struck up conversation with some cultists who are really nothing so much as frat boys. She feels like one of them might be useful in their plan, so she talks “Chad” ((because of course I named him that)) into coming back to the van. Ophelia and Cordelia provide the hard liquor when they get there, a drinking game starts, and he ends up totally drunk rather than whatever else he had in mind. During all this, Ophelia feels an arcane compulsion to sacrifice him. But instead they drop him back off, propped up against a tree, smeared with lip gloss and an empty bottle in his hand. Andi rejoins and they go back for a little bit of rest at the cabin.
After a quick nap, they return to the site shortly after sunrise. For a moment, they start to think that two cultists have arrived to prepare the location in advance of that night’s ritual. But Cordelia uses her fortunes to shift reality a bit, playing three of her divination cards from earlier (the Traveler, the Labyrinth, and the Weaver) such that their jeep didn’t work and they never arrived.
The plan has changed: they want to use magic to bar a place to a specific person or type of creature: the Great Mother herself. Based on the power involved, we upgrade this to Big Magic, with the danger that they could accidentally summon her right now. But instead they succeed, or it seems like it anyway. Ophelia suddenly feels a crick in her neck and her right arm is a little sore; it feels like when she sleeps on it wrong. They decide to come back and observe the ritual just to make sure this worked.
That night, Andi and Alice (as “Ashley” once again) go in undercover. Ophelia and Cord drive a little ways in, then park the van behind some trees and hike in about half a mile before hiding in some observation points. Ophelia fails to act under pressure while trying to remain stealthy, and a Park Ranger taps her on the shoulder asking what’s going on. This is the woman Alice saw in her dream, a “stout athletic Black woman” who would help them. ((Originally I thought I’d have the cult already dealing with her, but things didn’t work out that way…))
Thinking quickly, Ophelia says that she and her friend are trying to stop these people from starting a forest fire. The ranger marches out and yells at everyone to stop. The cultists murmur in anger, but Alice grabs the altar and cracks it over the leader’s head; after they realize that there are more people in the woods (though not as many as they seem to think), the cultists break and flee. The summoning has been stopped, and the world is safe from this particular cycle!
Ophelia, no longer having her connection to the Great Mother, becomes a witch (Hex playbook). The magic was inside her all along! Cordelia is working her way up in the Order. She gets a special ops team from the Order under her command, focusing on prophecy and divination. In a touching moment, Ophelia gets engaged to Cordelia and everyone rejoices.
Alice’s life is always up and downhill, as trying to stop another apocalypse can create a bit of a roller coaster of a life. She remains connected to her friends but tries to have some sort of normal life and ends up dating a werewolf. ((The player will be taking a version of this character into another game, it seems, which I think is fantastic!!))
Andi finishes studying her family grimoire. After what the cults see as a debacle, she talks Demetrio out of the cult and they end up in a relationship. She stays in Dallas for a while, but travels back to Italy more often to deal with familial obligations and to attempt to repair her relationship with her dad. He even comes to visit and tries to be a bit more understanding of her new life… but only a bit. After all, she’s also more like him than she maybe wanted to admit.
I enjoyed this campaign so, so much. When I first decided to run it, I had no idea how complicated my real life would become this summer, but it has turned out to be the sort of comfort food game I needed. Sometimes groups just click together extremely well, and this definitely felt like one of those times.
Later, I will publish a pair of linked mysteries based on the Dark Young and Great Mother from this game, hopefully helping other Keepers who might want to include some Lovecraftian nonsense without the real life horrible bits.
That said, this probably wraps up my PbtA gaming for a while. I intend to focus more on OSR games in the foreseeable future, whether that’s Mothership, Into the Odd / Electric Bastionland, Troika!, or something else.