Masks of Nyarlathotep Session 7

When the narrative last left the investigators[1], they had arrived in London and begun making inquiries with Jackson Elias’ known contacts in the city. Noontime found them pondering their next move over meat pies. What could be accomplished while waiting to hear from Inspector Barrington? Review of the clippings gathered from Mr. Mahony at The Scoop[2], including one Ryan helped himself to from the desk, prompt Jake Spadowski to suggest visiting the artist Miles Shipley, noted in an article as having gained some amount of note with the visceral, repulsive imagery in his paintings.

A stroke of luck in perusing the Times‘ art section revealed that while Mr. Shipley’s exhibition had ended, the artist himself could be found in Holbein Mewes. The investigators cabs it there without delay, to find themselves deposited before a decaying two story brick house. The eldery woman who greets them at the door is wary at first, but eventually ushers them in when von Fasselstein hints at interest in buying some of Shipley’s work. The artist just so happens to be on break at the moment, so the party marches up to the third floor garret, in which Miles creates his works of art.

The rows of paintings leaned against the wall shared in common unsettling scenes filled with figures and landscapes not known on Earth. While Ryan is preoccupied by a portrait of an amorphous figure that bore a strong resemblance to the horror he confronted under Juju House in Harlem, the piece that stands out among all others was a landscape of a black mountain with a tentacled figure rising behind it, one long, red tentacle in particular waving in the air. And most tellingly are the figures on the ground, all wearing red headbands just like those found on the mysterious assailants in New York City, seeming to worship the tentacled figure.

This catches everyone’s attention. While Sophie Hawkins compromises her feminist ideals a bit to show Miles some attention, Lothar runs bargaining circles around Mrs. Shipley to secure three paintings for the near-steal price of fifty pounds each. Ms. Hawkins and the professor hustle the Shipleys downstairs to the patio to talk about a German gallery opening for Miles, leaving Ryan and Spadowski to “stow” the purchased works.[3]

“Don’t actually do it! You’re fucking burglars. Taken ze hint.”
— Lothar von Fasselstein

The sudden urgency for getting the Shipleys out of the room came from everyone noticing almost in unison a small, unregarded door in the corner of the garret. With the artist and his aged mother distracted in the garden, Ryan and Spadowski kick the closet door open after a moment of dithering over the best approach to impromptu burglary[4].

Inside the closet, the pair find a huge canvas, covered by a tarpaulin. Spadowski and Ryan stare at each other, then the canvas in disbelief then resignation. Spadowski declares “not it” by touching his finger to the tip of his nose, to which Ryan responds, “Oh fuck you!” However, they reach forward together to pull the tarpaulin down.

Meanwhile down in the garden, Professor von Fasselstein and Ms Hawkins continue to buy time for their compatriots, beguiling Mrs. and Mr. Shipley with fabrications about gallery showings and the undoing of a topmost button, perhaps the momentary glimpse of a shapely ankle bone. An errant gust of wind raises the awning over the patio, causing Mrs. Shipley to cast a curiously inhuman shadow in a momentary ray of sunlight. Lothar and Sophie aren’t quite sure what they saw in that instant.

In the garret, an enormous painted prehistoric landscape stands revealed in the smoky kerosene lamplight. In a swamp filled with serpents, a stone altar rises above the morass on an island. Taking it out into the sunlight pouring through the now open, but curiously painted over skylight, Spadowski and Ryan find the painting takes on a three dimensional, living quality the longer they stare at it. The effect entrances them until they struggle against it, eventually losing hold of the painting as it falls face-up to the floor with a smack.

Downstairs, Mrs. Shipley insists they return inside despite Miles’ protestations, as he clearly enjoys the attention from Ms. Hawkins. The elderly mother leads the group back up to the garret, only their footsteps providing warning to Spadowski and Ryan. The latter, haunted by the things he’s seen in the painting as well as Juju House in New York, decides he’s had enough sneaking and unanswered. He brandishes his gun at the door. Spadowski decides to back up his fellow veteran and readies his own sidearm.

Mrs. Shipley reacts poorly, ignoring shouted demands for explanations and uttering an inhuman, snake-like shriek. The situation escalates from the threat of violence to actual violence, which is perpetrated on poor, unsuspecting Lothar. The two veterans promptly begin firing.[5] Miles and Sophie scuffle on the stairs. The lady’s knee misses the mark of the artist’s groin, but the net effect sends him falling down the stairs, followed by his mother.

Miles barricades himself in a room off the ground floor hallway, the door to which Ryan promptly breaks down. They find the artist frantically trying to inject himself with a dark green substance in a glass syringe, swiftly knocked away to shatter in the corner. Lothar tries briefly to reason with Shipley, but gets stabbed by a shard of broken syringe for his effort.

Police sirens wail in the distance. The investigators know without thinking they have only a few moments to escape the house. Unfortunately, they are torn about what to do. Ryan insists on taking Shipley along, now beaten unconscious. Sophie pushes for common sense, taking nothing and escaping with alacrity. Spadowski slices the three purchased canvases from their frames, rolling them up to carry under his arm. The bizarre animate painting is deemed too large and too far away to retrieve in time. Just as an insistent rapping comes from the front door, the four investigators and their prisoner bundle out of the Shipley house, slipping into an alley behind the back garden to make for the street at the far end.

At the end of the alley, a police car passes, then doubles back. Ryan unceremoniously dumps his burden in a convenient garden, then vaults the wall himself. Spadowski follows suit. Ms. Hawkins and von Fasselstein head off the police officer, inquiring as to the reckless gunfire ringing through the neighborhood. The deceit works and the officer goes on his way.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the garden wall[6], Ryan and Spadowski are confronted by the terrifying sight of two small children. Spadowski tries to engage them of Ssh!, but they call out, bringing their father to the garden. Ryan stares the man down, saying nothing. Despite his ire clearly being up, the father retreats inside the house.

Talking over the wall with Sophie, she agrees to find a taxi while Ryan briefly attempts to interrogate Miles, who is gradually coming ’round. The man’s confused moans about the drug and “she” are useless. Ryan works out some aggression by beating Shipley into listlessness. The two investigators then begin hopping from garden to garden with their respective loads, artist and art, to meet Hawkins and von Fasselstein in the street with a waiting cab in which to make good their escape. Leaving the neighborhood, Ryan glimpses the man he stared down through the front window, now talking into the telephone.

“Tell no one Professor Lothar von Fasselstein voz here!”
— Lothar plays it subtle with the cabbie, hurling a hail of banknotes at him

Sophie directs the cab to the hospital, under the pretext of taking their “friend” who’s under the weather. Once there, the group splits up. The professor and his assistant take a different cab back to the hotel to disassociate themselves from Ryan and Spadowski, burdened as they are with the bedraggled and beaten Shipley. They discuss how best to handle Shipley, perhaps checking him into the hospital under a false name. In the end, they settle on taking him to a discreet flophouse to “interview.” After Shipley tries again to break free and Ryan vents some aggression on him, Jake notices the man’s breathing has stopped. Ryan revives him there on the pavement and they haul him along to the taxi rank.

At the Albert Victoria Hotel, Lothar receives a call from Inspector Barrington of Scotland Yard. Barrington was a London contact of Jackson Elias[7]. And, Lothar learns, a contractor of Elias’, having brought him in as a consultant on a case. The inspector invites Lothar to visit him at the Yard later that day.

“Please insert thirteen more shillings.”
“I don’t know how much that is!”
— Ryan struggles with British Telecom

On finding a flophouse in which to stash Shipley, they secure him to a chair with cut-up bedsheets.[8] Once Ryan works out which foreign coins work in a payphone, Lothar and Sophie join them later to extract information. The best they can get, aside from the obvious implication that Shipley is deep in the throes of withdrawal and only wants “the drug,” is that the serpent-thing posing as his mother has provided him with the drug for some time, which brought on the dreams that inspired his series of bizarre, unsettling paintings. Shipley doesn’t know anything more about the serpent creature or why it wanted the paintings made, particularly the animated canvas, which seemed to be the only one it cared about, since it was hidden away from prying eyes in the closet.

Furthermore, Shipley reveals he habitually brought “ladies of the night” home, who subsequently were not there in the morning. Discussion ensues about what happened to them, from casual murder to being shoved into the bizarre landscape of the swamp to feed the snakes.[9]

Miles lapses into a haze, muttering only that he needs the drug. The professor and Ms. Hawkins depart to avoid the business of disposing of Shipley. Ryan and Spadowski debate abandoning the wreck of a man right there, but Ryan elects instead to go back to the house to find more of the drug. Jake stays behind to watch their captive.


[0] On beginning to write this post, I was startled to learn I had only posted two sessions of Masks of Nyarlathotep. I knew I was behind, but not that behind. In keeping with my practice, I will go back and fill in previous sessions as best I can from memory and my notes — which are rather more copious than those for Scions of Time, thanks to my less-burdened attention span as a player compared to when GMing.

[1] I had to miss the sixth session of the game due to real life, so I can’t say much about what happened, beyond that the investigators concluded the New York chapter, were underwhelmed by the restful merits of an ocean-going voyage[1.5] and made some in-roads in London, primarily in talking to a newspaper editor named Mahony, which resulted in a sheaf of potentially pertinent clippings, and making contact with Inspector Barrington.

[1.5] Lothar showed off his skill at the pickelhaube game in the bar, mainly.

[2] Perhaps best known for its page three illustrations of women on Cornish holiday.

[3] We players engage in quite a bit of communal metamind in this campaign, dropping out of character to discuss courses of action and how to play out a scene, especially in this scene, as it seemed important to get some time alone in the garret. In the narrative, it must appear as though the investigators have a beyond uncanny sense of what the others are thinking and how to act to support their current goal or deception. Our Keeper’s forgiving that way, I think.

[4] Another example of how the narrative conceals the metamind conversation. Ryan’s player and I actually engaged in a discussion about going to find the key, but once we realized the bedrooms were on the ground floor, we opted for speed over subtlety. This choice proved to set a tone for the rest of the evening.

[5] Having perhaps unwisely used the element of surprise to ask questions of the Shipleys, rather than, say, fire their guns wildly. Also, see the end of note 4.

[6] Described by Keeper Dan in a very cool cinematic fashion: the camera passes through the wall from the alley to the garden.

[7] You remember him, don’tcha? That poor, murdered non-player character one of us was supposed to care about enough to pick up his unfinished, undefined work?

[8] On making a joke about interrogating Shipley Casino Royale-style, I realized my character was maybe becoming a little more sociopathic than I might have liked. Ryan’s a deeply traumatized war veteran, whereas I’d been playing Spadowski more lightly and devil may care, which could also be seen as a coping mechanism for whatever he saw in the war, but still. I started backing off from the darkness.

[9] And suddenly we all felt better about washing our hands of the wretched sack of crapulence named Miles.

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One thought on “Masks of Nyarlathotep Session 7

  1. The posts you have written are pretty neat. I also sympathise with your earlier statements about how the game does expect a certain amount of dangerous behaviors that most folks wouldn’t do without a greater degree of provocation.

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