1879 Actual Play NYC: The Vault Battle
When we last left our intrepid explorers, they had found the smoke demon, and a conjurer trying to control it. That didn’t go so well. Now our heroes are in a secret vault underneath Blackwell’s Island, with a smoke demon, a failed containment circle, and the conjurer’s on the floor way over there where the spirit threw him. Doesn’t look good.
We have Yang, a Brassman from Chinatown, something of a gunslinger; Abraham, a Galvanic Mage, essentially fire support; Bethelie, a French aristocrat with a ready sixgun; and Rivka, a Byron from the Lower East Side who showed surprising initiative with a knife the last time they faced off against the smoke demon. She’s brought along an NPC contact, Tsilla, described as a spiritworker and something of a rebel within the Jewish community,a woman who studies the Books. Various preparations have been made by each character. Now let’s see if all this pays off.
GM: Everybody roll initiative.
Abraham: Yeah, it’s gonna be one of those sessions.
Yang: Dang, a five.
Rivka: Seven here.
Bethelie: And you were complaining.
GM: So Abraham, on seventeen?
Abraham: I’m gonna pop its ass. Galvanic Arc, spellcasting with a Step of 16, d12, d8, d6, and now is not the time to spare the karma, so I’m gonna buy that extra d8 up front here. 23.
GM: Its Mystic Defense is 26.
Abraham: We’re gonna have to step up our game.
GM: (turns to Smoulder, p.458 of the 1879 Game Master’s Guide): And on sixteen –
Yang: Scuse me?
GM: It’s got an Initiative Step of seventeen.
Rachel: Obligatory Firefly reference made.
Parker: Hey, my parents didn’t teach me Chinese like Yang’s parents did. I had to pick up mine on the street.
Rachel: On tv anyway.
GM: So on sixteen, the spirit makes a Perception Test to see if it can tell who the most dangerous players are. Step 14 and it gets a 17. It fires off a Confusion at Rivka, Step 24 against your Mystic Defense of?
Rivka: Ten. FML.
GM: The spirit gets an eleven, and that hits, but it’s only one success. The spirit’s going to throw a karma on this, Step 23, 2d20, 2d10. So that’s another 18, total of 29, which is one point short of a fourth extra success.
Rivka: Aw poor baby.
GM: So Rivka, you’re at minus four to your Perception and Willpower base Steps for, well, enough minutes that this combat will be long over.
Rivka: Oh yay. My favorite thing.
GM: Also on sixteen, it fires up its Elemental Aura, and is now visible as a swirling vortex of black smoke, occasionally shot through with tiny lightnings.
Bethelie: They sound adorable until one strikes you.
GM: Everybody within four yards is going to be taking damage each round. Right now, the spirit is still in the diagram, you folks just charged into the vault so you’re over by the door, and the conjurer is in a small uncomfortable pile at the base of the wall back there. The demon takes this moment to leave the diagram, close with Tsilla, and go for a grappling attack. It’s got no Unarmed Combat Skill, definitely an oversight on the designer’s part, and so it makes a raw Dex Test. A seven, so it lunges at Tsilla and she gets out of the way without having to make a Test herself. That however puts it in range of (rolls dice) Bethelie and Rivka. You each take Step 10 damage, reduced by Physical Armor. That’s eighteen for Bethelie with a rollup on one of the d8s.
GM: And eleven for Rivka, rollup on the d8 with a one on the next throw.
Rivka: Again, poor baby. That’s still five points getting through. Not a good start.
Bethelie: Trade you for my wound and thirteen points getting through.
Rivka: No thanks.
GM: That’s three actions for the smoke spirit. At seven, Rivka.
Rivka: Stabbing stuff is a Dex Test. That thing is right next to me. I’m gonna knife it. Got a sixteen on a Melee Weapons. Free Skill, no karma for me.
GM: You take a poke at it but all you get is air. Tsilla’s on a six, but player moves before GMC.
Bethelie: I shall taunt it, now and a second time if necessary. Is that the best you can do, you pitiful little zephyr? Thing of borrowed soot from rookery chimneys? Total of 13 without karma.
GM: Nice try, but you’d need to roll an eleven on your karma die to make it.
Bethelie: Well, I have made only the Simple Action, so I may still take a poke at it myself. I should have specified that I was bringing my uncle’s cavalry saber. I did not say I was, I shall assume I do not have it.
GM: A fair assumption.
Bethelie: So, with only the revolver, which I saw was not very effective last time, I shall cross the room behind the spirit, and see what I may do to protect the conjurer, at least until Tsilla may arrive, and if there is a pointy thing like a ritual sword I will appropriate it.
GM: You keep well back from the tiny cyclone –
Yang: I wanna call it Taz.
GM: You keep out of Taz’s way, get over to the conjurer, he’s non compos mentis right now, bleeding a bit. He was using a wand, not a knife, for his ritual work. Make an Awareness.
GM: You spot the bulge at his ankle and now have possession of a sgean dhu.
Bethelie: So the little knife a Scotsman carries in his boot.
GM: Correct. And you’re out of motion here. Tsilla gets out of the spirit’s way, moves around to the far side of the containment circle, and starts digging in her bag. Keep it busy, she says, I have to reset the circle.
Yang: Keep it busy? It’s barely even going to notice us.
Abraham: Step up your game, I told you.
GM: Tsilla pulls out a metal vial, pops the cap one handed and gets a dab of what’s in it on her thumb, then kneels down, wipes the stuff on the candle and says something over it, you can’t hear over the roar that spirit is making in this underground brick vault. Yang?
Yang: That’s me. I’m like, mister firearms over here, and those don’t work well against this sort of thing. If you’ve got an unstoppable superweapon, use it early and often. I’m pulling the knot on those cords Brother Chang put around my wrist.
GM: Spend three Karma.
Yang: Ouch. This better be good.
GM: There’s a swirl of lavender coloured mist, that smells vaguely of peaches, and someone you can’t quite see, some old man maybe in like Song Dynasty court garb, hands you a burlap bag. It’s tied closed with a blue woven cord.
Yang: Aw geez, does the bag of the north winds come with a user’s manual?
GM: Make a Chinese History Test.
Yang: I can do that. Step 12, that’s 2d10, and it’s a Free Skill so no Karma, sixteen, booya.
GM: You remember that the bags of the winds are always opened pointing away from the user, aimed at the problem area, and that capturing an errant wind requires the command, come home. You think there might be more to the phrase but that would take a Magic Theory Skill Test to remember.
Yang: So basic idea. Was that cord pull a Simple Action?
GM: Yeah, you could try to use the magic item.
Yang: I point the bag at the spirit, and say Come Here in my best Mandarin, in the form used by a priest speaking to an errant child, and pull the bigger cord.
GM: Make a Willpower Test at plus eight Steps.
Yang: That’s a Step 14, and a 15 on the roll.
GM: The bag seems to inhale slightly, a very weird feeling, but the spirit is unmoved. Perhaps you were not forceful enough.
Yang: Not my fault I only get karma for Dex Tests.
GM: Yeah, well, that puts you at the bottom of the round, and time to roll again.
Bethelie: Five, I am in the empathy with you.
Rivka: Three. Not looking good for the home team here.
Yang: Two. We are pathetic.
GM: The spirit has a 14 and Tsilla has a five. So the spirit dives at Tsilla again. It gets a 13, beats her Physical Defense, grapples her successfully, and uses its second Action to make an Engulf Test. Oh dear. Rollups on both the d10s. Total of 45. Tsilla is knocked down, hard, I’m not even going to roll for it. Also not going to roll for breaking out of the Engulf, no way she’s beating a 36 on a Strength Test. She takes a Wound, and is semi-conscious for the rest of the round, loses her Actions. She’s hurt pretty bad. The spirit uses its third Action to fire off a Confusion, let’s make a Perception Test here, got an eight, it has not realized that Yang suddenly gained considerable firepower, so it lets off at Abraham. Against your Mystic Defense of 11, it gets a seven, and says what the heck, let’s try to save this, and pops a Karma on it. Total of 47 on the Karma Test –
Abraham: Matthew 24:21.
GM: – for a grand total of 54. That’s a total of eight successes, there. You’re zoned, dude.
Abraham: Did you ever have the feeling like you were sitting at the controls in your head and couldn’t remember what that lever did?
Yang: Last Friday night.
GM: So Bethelie, it’s your turn now.
Bethelie: <bad Monty Python French accent> I taunt it a second time. <regular accent> With Karma, I have only the 17, is not sufficient, no?
GM: Is not sufficient, no.
Bethelie: And then I try this little knife from the man’s boot. And with a three I am lucky I am not cutting a friend by accident.
GM: Only one point away from a fumble there.
Bethelie: I will perhaps not be so useful in this.
Abraham: Well, I have a case of the duh, so spellcasting is not in the offing. I don’t have melee weapons as a Skill, or anything to hit it with, so I’m just gonna punch it. 18 on an Unarmed Combat, Free Skill no Karma.
GM: It might have felt the breeze on that one.
Yang: Guys, we’re getting our butts kicked here.
Abraham: Try pulling the string again.
Rivka: First, I will try my knife again, but with an eleven probably not so much.
GM: Yeah, not so much.
Yang: So me again, yay. I try that Willpower Test again, and get a five. So tempted to look into the bag and ask if this thing is on.
GM: Probably not your best idea, but go ahead if you want to.
Yang: No, I think I’m good here. I’ve got a real tried and found wanting vibe going here, I think I’ll stop while I’m at least not behind.
GM: Initiative time once more. Spirit gets a 16, Tsilla gets a seven.
Yang: Wrong direction, guys.
GM: Spirit does an Engulf on Tsilla, 13 points, not quite a wound after Physical Armor. She’s still in pretty rough shape though. She makes her Strength Test against the Engulf, with a rollup, and crawls away from the spirit, trying to recover. The spirit still has two more Actions, so it uses one to try and grapple her again. 22 with a rollup on a d6. It’s glommed onto her again. The spirit makes a 17 on its Perception Test, and fires off a Confusion at Yang, with a 26.
Yang: So now I got a case of the duh and a Divine instrument in my hands. This cannot end well.
GM: Yeah, you’re at minus three Steps on all Perception and Willpower based Tests. On 7, Tsilla rolls a Strength Test, is at a minus because of her second Wound, still gets an eleven, but that does not beat a 22, and so she does not break free of the grapple.
Yang: Me? Yay. Prayer is Charisma, last I checked, so I’m praying to the Eight Drunken Gods, touching that charm with one hand and waving the bag at the spirit with the other.
GM: Spend a Karma, make a Charisma Test at plus 8 Steps and throw your karma die on it.
Yang: Okay. Total of eleven.
GM: Spend another Karma.
Yang: Ouch. Seven.
GM: Total of 18. Spend another Karma.
Yang: Um, that’s starting to dig into the stash a little heavy there.
GM: That’s the idea.
Yang: A one.
GM: 19. Again.
GM: 24. Again.
Abraham: You gonna be weeks getting over this.
Yang: I know. Another five.
GM: That takes it up to 29, which beats the spirit’s Mystic Defense. Ghostbusters trap, engage. The spirit gets sucked into the bag, the cord ties itself, and the bag begins struggling.
Yang: That was not a Great Throw. We need to stash this thing and fast before the bag pops.
GM: Okay, you’re out of combat. The confusion lifts, now that the spirit that caused it has been bagged. Let me just go around real quick, and put forth your ideas, and then we’ll resolve the group actions. Abraham?
Abraham: What shape is Tsilla in?
GM: She’s close to unconscious and has taken two Wounds. She’s rough.
Abraham: I don’t know healing magic, not my bag. Anybody got a potion?
Rivka: I wish.
Yang: Yeah right? Those things are expensive?
Abraham: So our spiritworker is probably not up to renewing the containment circle.
GM: A fair assumption.
Bethelie: I am right next to the conjurer, how is he now?
GM: He’s got his eyes focused and is sitting up, but looks like the morning after the night before, with cheap booze.
Bethelie: I offer him a nip from my flask and nod to the containment circle.
GM: He accepts the flask, takes a bit more than a nip, squares his shoulders, picks up his book, and says, “I can try, but it’s going to be risky. Best option, let me tell you a couple of things, then you huck that bag into the middle of the circle and close the door on your way out. The door’s warded, and the vault itself is astrally opaque, bedrock and stuff behind the brick.”
Bethelie: You have more to say?
GM: He nods. Yeah, I’m sorry. They brought me in to conjure elementals to guard the vault, and then when they ran into trouble with the sandhogs, held me to the letter of my contract and demanded I conjure up something against the strikers. I was tired, I couldn’t afford the lawsuit or the loss of reputation if I broke the contract –
Yang: So you conjured up a smoke Pinkerton to kill the union organizers.
GM: He shakes his head, tiredly. No. The damn thing got away from me when I conjured it, I never tasked it. Once it was loose, it took the parchment I’d written the task out on, read it, laughed, and burned the parchment. Look, you don’t have much time.
Rivka: I’m not good with locking you in here with it.
Abraham: He conjured it. His problem.
Bethelie: What other options do we have?
GM: The bag takes a serious lunge to the side, and Yang, you’re pretty sure you saw the knot slip a little.
Yang: Guys, we have to go now.
Rivka: I impulsively throw my arms around the conjurer and give him a gentle hug, mindful of his ribs.
GM: He looks kind of startled, doesn’t seem to quite know what to do.
Rivka: I tell him, God loves the repentant. I have nothing to give him. I back away, two quick steps, then turn sharply and head out, not looking back.
Yang: I put the bag down gently in the middle of the circle and get out.
Abraham: I’ll assist Tsilla in reconsecrating the candles if that’s possible.
GM: Yeah, with you helping her move from one to the next, she’s able to get them done. The conjurer starts lighting them and chanting.
Abraham: I get me and Tsilla out.
Bethelie: I am the last to leave then. There are no chairs to put up on the tables. I nod to the conjurer, and make my leave.
Yang: Do I need to make a Test to close and lock the vault door?
GM: No, that’s easy, although you and Abraham both have to put your shoulders to it to get it closed. Thing’s seriously heavy. You spin the wheels, feel the vibration as the locking pins go home, and give the combination dial a couple of random turns.
Abraham: How does the door look astrally?
GM: Make a Test.
GM: It’s warded, and the wards have gone live. Other than their being heavy duty, though, you can’t make out much about them.
Abraham: Not my Order. Got it. We beat feet. I wanna be out of the tunnel and back to my coach before that thing gets out of the bag, cause it’s gonna be pissed.
Rivka: I ask Tsilla if she needs to go to the hospital.
GM: She sighs, and nods yes, resigned. Knickerbocker, she says.
Rivka: Not the Jewish hospital?
GM: She shakes her head. Knick, she says. She passes out.
Yang: So how fast do we get out of here and back to the car carrying an unconscious woman?
GM: It takes you a few minutes. Let me check how things go in that vault. (rolls dice behind screen) You get back to the coach without the smoke demon chasing you down.
Abraham: Let’s push it a little getting to the hospital, if traffic will allow. That’s all the way up in Harlem.
Bethelie: I will cover bridge tolls, and pay for the faster lane if there is such a thing.
GM: Bethelie, you pay two dollars in tolls and bribes, and Abraham, you get to Harlem faster than the police might really like.
Rivka: I will go in with Tsilla.
Bethelie: The rest of us should not clutter up the place. We need to let our employer know of this as quickly as we can.
Rivka: Go on over to Brooklyn, I can make my own way from here if I need to. There’s always the bus.
Abraham. If you’re sure?
Rivka: I will be with Tsilla, until she is done at the hospital. If I will be there overnight I will send a messenger to my parents. Check at my home, and if I am not there then I am still here. Fair enough?
Abraham: If you’re not safe at the hospital, you’re probably not going to be any safer at home or with us. Okay. Your decision.
Yang: I guess we mount up and head back over to Brooklyn then.
GM: Yep, and that’s a good point to break. We’ll pick up there shortly.
How will Mike react to the news, and to the team not quite up to the task of taking on the smoke demon directly? Did the conjurer restrain the spirit, or did it break free of him again? If so, is the vault holding it? What happens when workmen arrive in the morning and open the vault to continue construction inside? Tune in next time for the next thrilling episode of Actual Play NYC!