Prep & Play Journal: Weathermay Estate part 1

You know that rule I set for myself about only writing two pages per post. Well, it ain’t been 24 hours and I’m already gonna break it, and even worse, I‘m just gonna free write, no editing so good luck reading it folks! This one is especially for my notebook here on the web, where I can reflect on games and describe prep. Very few folks actually like reading this stuff, but considering that I’m 3 games behind I have to start crunching them out so that I can just write about the new games.

Anyway, about six months ago, I discovered “Masque of the Red Death” and it really invigorated me to pick up the old Poly-dice and create rpg stories again. Our play schedule is every 3rd Monday. I currently have 3 and a half characters. My sister can’t play entire sessions, so I think that I’m just going to keep giving her NPC’s to play while she’s there. My fiancée, Tala, has played since she was a little girl, and is probably the most experienced player. Shannon and I have played tons of games together, he’s part of my original D&D group, and he invited his roommate whose name is Ricky, he’s played 3.5edition but hasn’t ever found a DM that was any good, so thankfully he decided to give 2e a try with me as DM and he’s turned into an excellent player!

Masque is a completely different system that is based on 2nd Edition AD&D and the Ravenloft setting, but since it takes place in the 1890’s, lots of stuff had to be completely revamped and it really pushes 2e to its limits. All new classes, all new weapons and items, all new magic system, all new nonweapon proficiencies (NWP).

I had a general idea about where I wanted this to go, but I had more prep then usual. I marked off all of the pages that I wanted to give to the players, as they’d need them to build their characters and get an idea of what the game was about, and had them copied off into packets for each of them. I seriously overestimated the creation time, I thought that it would take a couple of hours to create these things, but it only took about half an hour, which is awesome!

I had them roll up their characters with a system that they throw 6d6 and add each die to a base ability score of 8 in any way that they wanted as long as they didn’t exceed 18, with 1 total reroll if they hated the original roll. I didn’t want any super characters, players have a tendency to think that high stats are needed to play the game, this is a myth. Personally I like playing characters that have to struggle some. High stats make the game a little bit easier, but really they don’t put too much impact on the game at all. That and super characters really have no place on Gothic Earth, guns are the great equalizers of all men. I did warn them to pay some attention to their Dex score as Armor is outdated and is no longer made, so your reflex adjustment is your only Armor Class to speak of.

We started at first level and I gave them all max hit points for their class. Warriors have turned into Soldiers, Wizards have turned into Adepts, Thieves are now Tradesmen, and Priests are Mystics. All classes are built with easy to customize kits. REALLY EASY!!! Like I said, after all was said and done, it only took a half hour to roll up the characters, and that is including creating a custom kit and figuring out how the new magic system works.

My sister chose to play a Female Doctor . . . With as little effort into the process as possible, there is always at least one player who acts like they don’t want to be there but says that they do when you ask them about it later.

Tala chose to play a Mystic named Charlotte, a prostitute from London’s White Chapel District whose been cursed with the gift of Mediumship (Mystic Kit: Medium) we did customize it some because she felt that her character should have backstab, but I refused because that is out of her class, but instead gave her Pugilism NWP for free, because being a whore, she would need to be able to defend herself from the vermin that haunts that side of town.

Ricky chose to play a Tradesman named Kurt Goldberg, a Jewish cop from New York City (Tradesman kit: Detective) whose heart has been broken by his inability to make an impact through legal means, and is now drawn more towards vigilante justice.

And Shannon chose to play a Soldier named Sam White, a rough gunfighter from Georgia. He wanted to play a cowboy-gunslinger which I think is awesome! We had to create a brand new kit for him because he was going to use the Dandy kit, but it just didn’t fit with the character that he wanted to play.

All of the characters (with the exception of my sister’s) turned out to be awesome and fun to play. . . But now I had a problem. The extent of my DM prep only detailed how the party would all be brought together, my main NPC, and my setting. That’s it! No maps, nothing written down. Baptism by fire!
We had to teach Ricky 2e rules, so I set up a quick fake battle, just so that he could understand THAC0 vs. AC. He did really well and Shannon helped him out, but this also got everybody used to shooting guns and how they work. Nothing too advanced, just a small mob of Zombies that had the party cornered in a deadend alley. None of the zombies survived long enough to reach them, unfortunately, but the scene worked just to get everybody to shake off the years of rust that we’ve all collected from not playing since the 1990’s.

My scene opened in London, (my sister went home right after creating her character, she had to get up early the next day) each of the PCs received a mysterious letter about possibly receiving a very large inheritance from a George Weathermay, a man that they had never met. All of them were in some form of financial dire straight, and each a bit of a dreamer who entertained that this was possible. Both of the Americans had grown disenfranchised by America anyway and after months of throwing the idea back and forth, decided (were led by a power bigger then themselves) to use the last of their money to purchase boat tickets to England. The Prostitute, while closer to the house then anyone else, also had to choose between eating and affording a nights rent, or a cab ride to Upper London.

Many people had showed up for this will reading. George’s eldest son, Steven (an opium addicted murder investigator employed by Scotland Yard), the Lawyer representing George’s youngest son (Indisposed in a German mental hospital indefinitely), Stephan and his wife Linda Clauph, plus all of the help to run the giant Victorian mansion.

George’s Lawyer informed everyone that the house and all it contained was going to his youngest son, and that his fortune (4 million pounds) was to be awarded to the PC’s and the Claugh’s if they could locate a specific item within the time frame of one week, if they failed to materialize this object within the time allowed, then the fortune would go to his eldest son.

Needless to say, Steven Weathermay was pissed! He pretended to leave, but returned secretly and hide inside of the house to hinder the PC’s effort to discover what this object was, and to locate it. Steve didn’t know what the object was either, but his plan was to spy on them until the object was known, at which time he’d quickly take the object so that they couldn’t locate it. Unfortunately for poor Steven, a darker power had other plans and began to play on his addiction to Opium, increasing the withdraw symptoms to unbearable levels and driving him crazy. Throughout the first play session he begs the cook to go buy him opium, he refuses and Steven stabs him to death with a knife. This is witnessed by a maid, and on day 2 he kills her as well. By this point Steven Weathermay is totally insane, trapped in a vicious cycle created by the murder.

Mr. Peal, the head butler, is absolutely loyal to the Weathermay family, he sees that Steven should get the money which is due to him, he doesn’t suspect that Steve is behind the murders. He mistrusts the PC’s, and while he'll do as he is instructed by the lawyer and his dead boss, he will also aid Steven with feeding him, but won’t buy him drugs. He sees his abstinence as a good thing.

I had to manage this old school, drawing the Mansion map as the rooms were explored. I used Stephan (the German doctor) as my main NPC that guided the PC’s who were having a difficult time remembering how to play. He, of course, wasn’t what or who he said that he was. In reality he was working for his fake wife, she was a member of an evil cabal called “The Six Fingered Hand” who had murdered the Claughs, and knows exactly what the object is, however she doesn’t know where it is hidden. She constantly stays in the background, while Stephan (an easily despised failed actor and thief) intends to find the object and take all of the money for himself, and he even verbalizes this to the PC’s, but they are still forced to work with him. This was REALLY effective, they focused all of their attention on Stephan, while the real mastermind behind this hook was completely ignored.

I built distrust for Stephan out of frustration. Ricky’s character Sam felt out of place and asked the Butler if he could borrow a nice suit, Mr. Peal lent him one of Steven’s old ones that were left behind after George kicked him out and disowned him because of Steven’s secret lifestyle. In the suit pocket was a key to every room in the house, which was locked up tight and Mr. Peal had given all of the keys to Steven. Ricky didn’t even bother checking his pockets so I had to have Stephan pick it and claim that Kurt Goldburg was hiding it the entire time and wasn’t worth trusting. From that point on I
got the Stephan character, and really enjoyed role-playing him to the hilt. MAN! The players hated that guy!

I also like to run multiple storylines at the same time, and I had quite a few running, even with no prep. Scotland Yard was brought in after the first murder, a Detective Ramses headed the investigation, however he didn’t have enough time or energy to really focus on it, as he was also trying to catch a serial killer who was stalking the streets of London, killing strangers at random with a poison tipped cane. It was up to Kurt Goldburg to warm up to him and prove himself worthy as a Detective by solving this case. Ramses started out rude and misinformed about American Justice by reading Penny Dreadfuls, but Ricky played Kurt so meticulously that he was actually writing down suspects and clues and sharing information with the Detective that he quickly gained the respect of the man, and I dare say a very powerful friendship by the time this story ended.

After the murder, however, Ramses closed the house up and nobody was allowed to leave, effectively containing my setting. I already had to make up the house as I went, I didn’t want to make up parts of London, especially since I have plans for the city itself and I’m just not ready to go there yet.

I also ran into problems with Tala’s character, she has a NWP that allows her to touch an object and be able to see things from it. Well, she grabbed the knife that was used to kill the cook and instantly became aware that it was Steven Weathermay who killed him. WELL!!! That killed that mystery, so as punishment, and fun the next day I had Ramses return with a fingerprint expert to interview all of the suspects and get everybody’s fingerprints. Tala had a lot of explaining to do about why her fingerprints were on the murder weapon even though she didn’t do it, which was a great pure roleplaying session. There were lots of these, the players were really into it and spent lots of time talking among themselves, giving me time to construct a story around them.

They discovered some important rooms, the most important turned out to be the Nursery. In order to tell a good ghost story you need ghosts, and I had 4 of them in the house. None of them appeared this day, but they did uncover evidence of one. While in the nursery they discovered a doll house, a girl’s toy when both of the Weathermay offspring were boys, and they had no idea why the youngest was in a mental hospital. The dollhouse surprised them, and Tala tried that pychomitry trick again . . . Boy was that a mistake. I had given the clue that it had been repainted at one point, but instead of scratching off some of the paint she touched it and sensed it and got,, “MURDER!!!!!” A little girls blood was splattered all over the thing, and the crime was covered up. She got to roll a fear check, and utterly failed it. Her mediumship grew out of control, she saw everybody as if they were coming to beat her brains in with a toy. To make matters worse, I chose that time to murder the maid. Intense roleplaying followed where Tala freaked out and wouldn’t let anybody touch her as she felt the ghost of the girl.

After she calmed down and regained her senses, she found herself exposed as a freak to Detective Kurt Goldburg whose character does not believe in magic or ghosts or anything but science and logic.

At this point we closed the game session off. They had not discovered the object or identified what it was, they had not explored all of the mansion yet, but they did discover each other and logically and slowly built trust among their ranks. Now it was time for me to REALLY start some seriously heavy prep. Probably the most prep that I’ve ever attempted in my life!


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