1879 Actual Play NYC: Down the Tunnel to the Dybbuk
GM: So when we last left our intrepid explorers, they had taken the day to see to less perilous business, handle the mundane tedium, and get some sleep in preparation for tonight’s breaking and entering. Anything specific you want to have accomplished before you arrive at the Ravenswood Tunnel project?
Abraham: What kind of specific preparations do you make to go demon hunting?
Yang: I’m gonna go see Brother Chang at the corner temple and get a writ of protection.
GM: So like a protective charm?
Yang: Close enough for game purposes. It’s a written blessing that grants the person carrying it some degree of divine attention. What that means after the Rabbit Hole is probably anybody’s guess.
GM: Tell you what, you have anything like a Knowledge Religion Skill?
Yang: Closest I got is either Chinese History or Chinatown Politics.
GM: Make a Chinatown Politics Test.
Yang: Seventeen. So close to rollup on both of those.
GM: Brother Chang asks a couple of pointed questions, obviously suspecting you of wanting protection from bullets for Tong business, but you convince him that no, you’re really seriously going after something supernatural. He tells you wait, offer another stick of incense and pray until he comes back, and goes down the stairs past the shrine, leaves you out on the sidewalk with a couple of old men who come round every afternoon to sit on orange crates and sell pamphlets to the tourists.
Yang: Whatever a stick costs, I drop twice that in the donation box, light one up and put it on the altar, and try to summon up whatever reverence I got left out of what my parents tried to teach me.
GM: Yeah, you go through the fragments of prayers you remember a couple of times. Brother Chang comes back up the stairs looking dead serious. He puts a little brass case on a chain around your neck, tells you tuck it in your shirt so it can hear your heartbeat. Give me your hand, he says.
Yang: I put out my left.
GM: He nods, and ties a cord around it. One strand is woven together out of yellow and green silk thread, the other is pure white, and they’re bound together with red thread wound around them. He says, you really need protection, you pull the knot loose, but Heaven will determine what you need in that moment.
Yang: Oh yay, that thing about the gods having a plan is part of why I don’t mess with this stuff any more.
GM: You do now. He also says, if you don’t use it, come back here to have it removed and burned on the altar. Spend a Karma point. When he ties the knot, you feel it pull a little on something that’s not physical.
Yang: It’s too late to go back to working on the folding machine, isn’t it.
Abraham: It was too late for that when you took Mike’s five bucks.
Yang: Okay, so other than that, checking to make sure I’ve got a full load of ammo, my guns are in good shape, and I’ve told my mother I respect her.
GM: She gives you the same sad look she gives your brother when he goes out on Tong business, and says she always thought you would be the one who was respectable.
Yang: Ouch. Okay, that hurt.
GM: Yeah, she meant it to. Rivka?
Rivka: I make the same basic preparations. I go to the shul, I say my evening prayers, I ask for protection, and I make sure my tools are all there and I’m not low on anything.
GM: Tsilla meets you at the door of the shul, and goes in to prayers with you. She gets some funny looks, but nobody says anything. At least not tonight.
Rivka: I’m sure there’s going to be a discussion at the dinner table tomorrow.
Bethelie: Be grateful that you have the family that is so concerned about you.
Bethelie: It should not be hard to find a Catholic church in this city, non?
GM: This is New York. Half the city’s Catholic, the other half’s Jewish, and everybody else lives in the cracks in between.
Bethelie: Like the others, I go to make the prayers, and go to confession.
GM: How honest are you being?
Bethelie: (laughs) I do not want to take up the priest’s entire evening. I will confess to no more than a few Hail Marys and maybe a lighting of a candle.
GM: Okay, no problem. The priest asks if there’s anything else you want off your heart. This is New York. People usually got a lot more than that they’re carrying around.
Bethelie: I only arrived a few days ago. Give me time and I will need greater absolution, I am certain.
GM: He’ll let that one slide. He gives you penance to do and tells you to go forth and sin no more.
Abraham: My turn then. I’m gonna hold off on any mystical preparations, so I don’t go into this with Strain or Wounds already accumulated. Make sure I’ve got anything from the other night cleared.
GM: You didn’t use any Recovery Tests during the session.
Abraham: Yeah, I already did the rolls and the paperwork, just putting it out there that it’s done.
Abraham: Little religious preparation wouldn’t hurt either. I go see Brother Thomas the holy roller at the storefront church my mama attends, lay it all on him and see what he’s got to say.
GM: Make a Magic Theory Test.
Abraham: Twenty-one. Pay the player.
GM: Brother Thomas is kind of in the biz himself, and when you tell him what you’ve already seen, he takes it serious. He asks you, you got that gold crucifix around your neck still, the one your mama gave you at your baptism when you was thirteen?
Abraham: I nod, and touch it through my shirt.
GM: He puts a hand on your shoulder, tells you, you got everything you need then. You got your mama’s love, and you got the Lord Jesus watching over you. Go forth and do great works in His Name.
Abraham: I will go forth as commanded. And pick everybody up on the way to Ravenswood.
GM: Okay. Nickel toll, twenty cents fuel and water, and you get to Ravenswood about what time?
Bethelie: After midnight is always good.
Abraham: This’s New York. Three in the morning to make sure the coppers are busy with the last rush of drunks from the bars. (nods of agreement from the others)
GM: Three it is.
Abraham: Unless anyone objects, I’m parking about four blocks away, find a quiet residential street.
GM: Make a Knowledge New York City Test.
Abraham: Damn, a four. Get those bad numbers out now, better than later.
GM: You end up about six blocks away before you can find an empty parking spot.
Bethelie: It will do. Two more blocks on foot will not make that much difference if we must make the hasty escape.
Abraham: I’m gonna put a ward on my car, just in case.
GM: Okay, just take the Strain for it. You’re not in combat, I’ll make this a gimme.
Abraham: Fine with me.
Rivka: I look over at Tsilla. Has she done anything yet?
GM: No, but she’s got the nervous tension of a hunting dog that knows it’s about to be unleashed.
Abraham: Let’s go.
GM: First obstacle is the boundary fence.
Yang: Is there a night watchman?
GM: There’s a guard shack just inside the fence.
Yang: Sneak up and see if I can get a look.
GM: Stealthy Stride Test.
Yang: Rivka sneaks up and tries to get a look.
Rivka: (sighs) Seventeen.
GM: There’s a guard in the shack, but he’s snoring.
Yang: Ten on a Lock Picking?
GM: You want to throw Karma on that?
Yang: Dammit, six on the karma die, total of sixteen.
Yang: Okay, ease the gate open just enough for us to get in, put the chain back with the lock in place, but leave the lock open.
GM: And the five of you are in the construction project with hopefully a fast way out set up.
Bethelie: Always a good thing to have, the fast exit, but now we are more interested in the entrance, are we not?
Yang: Yeah, any issues getting from the gate to the tunnel entrance, and then down into the tunnel?
GM: Stealthy Stride all around please.
Yang: We had to ask. How is it that Brassmen don’t learn Stealthy Stride?
GM: Too busy learning how to build stuff?
Yang: That’s no excuse. I’ve got an eight, and since it’s a DEX only Test, I can pop karma on it, and that makes it a ten.
Abraham: Roll up on the 8, total of 23 here.
Yang: Show off.
Abraham: When you got it, you got it, and you ain’t got it.
Bethelie: Seven. Alors, I am the weakest link it would seem.
Rivka: 22 with an exploding D12.
GM: And Tsilla’s got a 22. Bethelie, that leaves you being the one that makes the noise. A watchman swings his bullseye lantern around and catches you in the beam.
Bethelie: I am in the spotlight like the can can dancer. I wonder if I should give him a show?
Yang: That’d require you to be wearing a dress, wouldn’t it?
Bethelie: This is true. I shall turn on the charm, then, and see if I can talk my way out of this. Or perhaps not. I have the six on the First Impression Test. It is a Core Skill, so I shall add the karma, and voila, the six becomes the eleven. Excusez-moi, I call softly, have you seen my dog?
GM: The watchman pauses, looks briefly around. Dog, miss?
Bethelie: Oui, Baudois, a small and poorly behaved spaniel who has slipped his collar yet again and run into this place, I must find him before he comes to harm.
Abraham: Casting, got a 14 against the watchman’s Mystic Defense, and a 29 on the Effect, got a 19 on the D20.
Yang: One point shy of a rollup.
Abraham: I know, right? Psychic Apparition, the watchdude hears barking from somewhere behind him, away from Bethelie.
Bethelie: Oh! There he is! Quick, catch him before he gets away again!
GM: With those rolls, he believes it. Stay right there, miss, he tells Bethelie, not safe for you to be running around here, I’ll get him. And he runs off after the barking.
Abraham: And we run off into the tunnel entrance.
GM: You make it into the tunnel without further ado. After just a few minutes of walking down a thirty degree or so incline, your ears stuff up and you have to yawn to pop them.
Bethelie: I recognize the pressure change symptom. We are not hopefully deep enough to require decompression to avoid the caisson sickness.
GM: Good question. You know from talking with the sandhogs that they don’t spend more than an hour and a half at the drilling face, due to the pressure needed to keep the water out, and then they have to spend an hour in a Siebe chamber before they go home.
Rivka: So we should keep our time down here as short as we can. It might be difficult to explain why we need to decompress.
GM: The tunnel is about ten feet in diameter, and more or less finished for the first hundred yards or so, with brick lining the walls and ceiling, the steam pipes already laid and bolted into place. There’s wire strung along the ceiling and electric bulbs every ten feet, so no shortage of light. The floor is unfinished, just bare concrete and with tram tracks bolted to it. There’s traces of mining spoil, gravel and greasy-looking clay, and an occasional spray of sand, at the junctures in the track where the rails aren’t aligned as well as they could be.
Yang: It’s temporary track, for the mining carts, why bother with precision engineering for it?
GM: Yeah, the precision comes in a little further along. The tunnel lining ends about three hundred yards in, although there’s pallets of brick waiting to be set, and now you can see the concrete walls of the tunnel, metal ribs showing flush with the concrete.
Abraham: Plastering with concrete in between the steel spars that hold up the walls?
GM: Pretty much so. Another fifty yards on and you find where they’re still putting up concrete, and you’ve got bare rock back in behind the curving metal ribs.
Yang: Like being inside a submarine.
Rivka: One made of stone? I don’t think that would work very well.
GM: The air pressure has gone up along the way, and you’ve had to pop your ears a couple more times, but the slope seems to have leveled out.
Bethelie: Good, we do not want to go any further down. I memorized the Henry Tables when I was traveling aboard the airship, but I hope I do not have to use that any time soon.
GM: About another fifty yards further on, you’re up where you can see mining cars and seriously heavy equipment another hundred feet ahead, and you find a side branch.
Rivka: The one that’s not on the original plans.
GM: Nope. And it’s already got brick up on the walls. And that big steel security door is probably not in the plans either.
Yang: Great, more lock picking.
GM: No need. It’s hanging open.
Rivka: That can’t be good.
GM: Awareness Tests all around.
Rivka: Sixteen, and I’m letting Tsilla go first if we go in there.
Yang: Ooo, look at you, roll up, and 21 on a raw Perception Test!
Bethelie: Eight, I am again bringing up the rear.
Abraham: ‘Fraid so, I’ve got an 18.
GM: Okay, so everyone but Bethelie notices a faint smell of incense.
Yang: Guns out.
Abraham: Galvanic Arc to power.
Rivka: I have a knife? I’m hiding behind Tsilla!
Bethelie: I do not know what has raised the hackles but if they have guns drawn then so do I.
GM: Marching order?
Abraham: That’s a phrase I didn’t expect to hear.
GM: Single file from here, double if you want to risk blocking somebody’s swing, the tunnel’s only eight feet wide.
Abraham: I’m point then. If it’s mystic, I’m either going to kick its ass or piss it off, and either one’s fine by me. I owe it for Matilda.
Rivka: I suggest Tsilla go next, then maybe Bethelie or Yang, someone with a gun, then me, then the other person with the gun in case someone gets behind us.
Bethelie: Oui, putting the Byron in the middle would give her the more protection as this is not her forte, n’est-ce pas?
Abraham: Works for me. I lead the way in.
GM: You pass the security door, and it’s a big sucker, six feet wide and seven high, eight inches thick.
Yang: Got locking pins in the edge every foot or so, about two inches in diameter?
Yang: Vault door. This is a secure storage facility.
Rivka: A really big safe?
Yang: Yeah, only was it built to keep stuff in or keep it from getting out?
GM: You move maybe thirty feet down the corridor. It curves slightly to the left, just enough to keep you from seeing what’s at the end when you come through the door.
Yang: Of course it does.
GM: The light bulbs are in sconces on the walls, behind frosted glass.
Bethelie: Expensive. This is beginning to smell like money.
GM: Smells more like incense, kind of stinky stuff, pungent, got kind of an undertone of body odor or something.
Abraham: Magic Theory?
GM: Go for it.
Abraham: 31, damn, best roll all night and I use it on this.
GM: Asafoetida. Generally used when you want to banish something.
Abraham: I was afraid you were gonna say something like that.
GM: So you come around the curve and the corridor opens up into a bigger chamber, maybe thirty feet across and deep, twelve foot ceiling. Wooden desks on either side have been pushed up against the wall to make room for a big magical diagram on the floor in the middle, smudge pots burning at the cardinal points, candles at the junctions.
Yang: Big smoke demon in the middle of it.
GM: Yep, and a guy in a business suit embroidered with magic symbols off to one side, reading frantically from an old book. Both he and the book look kind of singed. You walk in, and he glances up like a deer in the headlights. I can’t hold it, he says, the formula’s not, and then the smoke demon reaches across the diagram with a big spray of sparks and slaps him fifteen feet into the wall. He goes down and the candles all go out.
Will our intrepid heroes survive the encounter? Was the conjurer trying to contain something he captured, or something he summoned? Find out in the next thrilling installment of Actual Play!