1879: Actual Play: Session 4 – The Amphora

When we last left our intrepid explorers, they had an appointment to meet Fish Hook Matilda at a bar called The Amphora, up 11th Street from 35th Avenue, after work hours. Since that’s only about six blocks from the Ravenswood tunnel project, they’ve got some time to kill.

Rivka: Can we find someplace where we could spend some time, maybe get a coffee, with access to telegraphic lines?

Yang: Have they got internet cafes in the 1880s?

GM: Not exactly, but there are coffee houses, and some of them have private rooms in the back or upstairs. You could check out a few in the area and see if maybe one has telegraphic lines to the building, or within reach of an upstairs window.

Rivka: Abraham, can we explore a few blocks please? I need to find a coffeehouse with telegraph lines.

Abraham: Sure, not like we can go talk with the sandhog families. I need to roll Streetwise or something?

GM: Nah, this is a gimme. It’s New York. You travel a few blocks, you find a coffeehouse that’s got telegraph lines running conveniently close to an upstairs window, you spend forty cents each for a coffee service with a tray of slightly stale pastries, and you get the use of the upstairs room for a while. Time limit’s not really set, but you don’t wanna overstay your welcome.

Rivka: So we have at least an hour.

GM: Yeah.

Rivka: Okay. Once we’re in the room, and we have the service laid out, and the door is closed, I set up my telegraphic terminal and reach out the window to clip onto the lines.

GM: Make a Knowledge Telegraphy Test.

Rivka: 19.

GM: Okay, you get a good signal. What are you doing here?

Abraham: Yeah, I’m interested too. I watch over her shoulder.

Rivka: Um, okay? Maybe off to the side a little instead of right behind me? Michael said that the numbers weren’t adding up on the job sites. I want to see if I can get into Ravenswood’s accounting system.

GM: Make an Awareness Test to see if you spotted the location codes on the site office.

Rivka: 11. Do I need karma?

GM: No, you’re a Byron, you’d have been looking for that sort of thing. Make a Knowledge Telegraphy to connect to the station.

Rivka: Ouch, only 7. I’m going to put karma on that, since it’s a Core Skill. Ooo, a six, and a two, total of fifteen.

GM: A false start, but you recovered, and you’re in. You have connectivity to the Ravenswood transmission point.

Rivka: Okay, let’s get into their reporting and look at time and materials, that sort of thing.

GM: Make an Engine Programming Test.

Rivka: Rollup on the d6, total of eighteen.

GM: You’re in. Make a Knowledge Finance Test.

Rivka: Ten.

GM: You spend the better part of an hour digging through their labor time reporting, bills of lading, and such, and you’re not sure, there’s something fishy here but you can’t put your finger on it.

Abraham: They cooking the books?

Rivka: Maybe. What’s it going to take to figure it out?

GM: Access to the central records for the project, which aren’t going to be at the job site. You need to get into the architectural firm, or the construction company.

Rivka: (biting lip) Hm.

Yang: While she’s doing all that, I’m gonna take the time to check over my gear. Make sure my guns are ready for action, do an ammo check, that sort of thing.

GM: Okay, make a Craft Firearm Test.

Yang: Ten.

GM: (shrugs) About as ready as you’re going to be. It’s busy work, not any real maintenance or anything.

Yang: That’s fine. I need to keep my hands occupied so I don’t get bored.

Abraham: We have about an hour while Rivka’s hacking the site Engine, right?

GM: Pretty much.

Abraham: I’m going to make a Transitory Duplicate of a dollar coin.

GM: Okay? Make a Spellcasting Test.

Abraham: I got maybe half an idea here. Got an eighteen.

GM: Okay, that beats the Mystic Defense of a dollar coin, which is a little higher than you might expect.

Abraham: I expect it to be pretty high. I figure the mint has got some way of keeping people from casually counterfeiting.

GM: Yeah, and there’s laws against fairy gold in specific. Take your Strain.

Abraham: Yeah, ow, that’s a Wound.

Yang: This better be worth it.

Abraham: Like I said, I got half an idea here. I put the fake coin in my vest pocket, keep it separate from the rest of my cash.

GM: Bethelie, you doing anything during this time?

Bethelie: I am sipping this dreadful coffee, and trying to eat this horrid pastry, and wishing for a croissant and a cafe au lait, and watching out the window in case anyone approaches our coach or the building in an untoward fashion.

GM: Make a Streetwise.

Bethelie: Perhaps an Awareness?

GM: Not quite what you need. I’m going to raise the Target Number.

Bethelie: Fifteen.

GM: Okay, you’re staying reasonably alert. You spot a couple of guys casing Abraham’s coach, but before you can lean out the window and yell at them, one shakes his head, and they move on.

Abraham: And this is another reason I drive such a beater. Not worth their trouble to steal it.

GM: So time passes. Rivka, you come to the conclusion you can’t get what you need from here, and you pack up your gear.

Rivka: (sighs) Fine. (to the group) Looks like we have another target for later tonight.

Yang: Breaking and entering! My favorite!

GM: And you swing by someplace for a decent meal before going on to the bar.

Bethelie: Matilda said there was a Greek eatery at Eleventh and Thirty-Fifth.

Abraham: Gyros are good.

GM: Turns out to be your typical hole in the wall eatery, a few tables, does a lot of carry out and delivery business.

Yang: Has it got a red and white striped awning? That’s how you spot the good Greek places.

GM: Yeah, it does.

Yang: (raises a fist in a victory salute)

GM: Everybody spend fifty cents for a good sit down meal. That’ll pass enough time for the five o’clock whistle to blow.

Yang: Yabba dabba do!

GM: (pauses a moment to let the reactions die down) Yeah. So the whistle blows, the workers come pouring out of the tunnel project, and you see Matilda walk by, heading up Eleventh.

Abraham: Give her a few minutes, then I’m going to move my coach up the street and park it a couple doors down from the bar if there’s a spot.

GM: You end up halfway back down toward Thirty-Fifth after going around the block.

Abraham: Damn, parking’s as bad in 1881 as it is now.

GM: Yep. But you get the coach parked, and the four of you head up the street to the Amphora.

Yang: I’m across the street from the rest of the party, where I can provide cover fire if needed.

GM: Okay, you going to rejoin the party at the door or hang out across the street?

Yang: Across the street. Somebody needs to make sure we have a way out of here if things go weird.

GM: Noted. The Amphora is on the ground floor of a three story brick building, like most of the block, apartments on the second and third. It used to have a big window, but the opening has been boarded over from the inside, and there’s a bad rendition of a Greek urn painted on the boards.

Abraham: This place feels skeevy already. I take point going in.

GM: Okay. You head in, followed by Bethelie and Rivka. Down the left side is the bar, nine or ten seats mostly occupied, most of them laborers from the dig site or local factories, a passed out drunk on the last barstool propped up in the corner between the bar and the wall. Down the right side are tables with benches, big heavy furniture, a couple of tables of snarks and one of trolls.

Abraham: Yeah, we gonna stick out real bad here. I see Matilda?

GM: Yeah, she’s at the table with the other trolls, sitting facing the door. She sees you come in, picks up her beer and slugs it down, then stands up.

Abraham: I walk over to her. No point in trying to be discreet here.

GM: She waves her mug at the billiards table in the back. Buy me another round, and yourself one, and a rack of balls. She doesn’t wait for an answer, just heads on back, leaving her empty mug on the bar as she goes.

Abraham: I do what the lady said. Three regular beers and a troll sized one.

GM: Twenty five cents for the beer, and ten cents for the game.

Bethelie: I will carry Abraham’s beer as he probably has his hands full with the larger one.

Abraham: It’s just a double sized stein, right?

GM: Yeah.

Abraham: Good, that leaves me a hand free if I need to cast.

GM: You deliver Matilda’s beer. She takes a sip, then sits it aside, and gestures to the table. Rack’em up, she says.

Abraham: Eight ball?

GM: You got it.

Abraham: I put a quarter on the edge of the table and rack the balls. Lady gets the break, I say, and gesture to Matilda.

GM: She blows the chalk dust off the end of her cue, which is a lot bigger around at the back end to fit in her hands but narrows down to regulation, puts a quarter next to yours, and breaks. The five ball goes into the center pocket. Solids, she says, and walks around to take her next shot.

Abraham: She ain’t even botherin’ to hustle me, just cleanin’ the table right in front of me.

GM: She sinks the two ball, and gives you a wink.

Bethelie: What is the reaction of the room to us and to what is happening?

GM: You’ve got some interest. A few people watching, most of the attention on Abraham and Matilda.

Bethelie: Anyone moving to take a position of advantage?

GM: Make an Awareness Test.

Bethelie: Eight.

GM: Not that you can tell. Matilda’s third shot doesn’t pocket anything, but it leaves the eight ball in the middle of most of the stripes.

Abraham: I ignore that and go for the straggler. Since I’ve got a bet on here, can I use my Gambling Skill?

GM: Sure.

Abraham: Ooo, and look at that, rolling up. Eighteen total.

GM: You sink the twelve, and line up the fifteen nicely.

Abraham: I wink back at Matilda. Only an eight on the next shot.

GM: You miss pocketing the fifteen by a quarter of an inch. Matilda nods to you, a little more respectful, and sinks the one, the seven, the nine on a two cushion shot, and ends her turn with the cue ball up against the eight.

Abraham: Okay, now she’s just showing off.

GM: As you do.

Abraham: As you do. I can’t use Impressive Display with Gambling because Gambling’s not a Core Skill. Got a fifteen though.

GM: You sink the eleven and send the eight down to the other end of the table.

Abraham: Eleven.

GM: Almost had the ten. Matilda knocks in the three, the six with another two cushion shot, then misses the four.

Abraham: I got one more chance here. Crap. A five.

GM: Almost scratched there.

Abraham: I take a drink of my beer to cover that.

GM: And Matilda scratches.

Abraham: Yes. I take a minute to walk around the table and think about where I’m putting the cue ball. And an eleven.

GM: Nice try. Matilda still can’t get that four ball down.

Bethelie: Is this generating more interest?

GM: Yes, quite a bit.

Rivka: That’s not a good thing. I make sure I’ve got a clear route to an exit.

GM: Easy enough to fade to the back and keep a clear line of retreat.

Abraham: Sixteen.

GM: That’s the thirteen sunk.

Abraham: And a seven.

GM: Matilda sinks the four, and salutes you with her cue.

Abraham: Dammit.

GM: And she misses the eight.

Bethelie: I put a quarter next to Abraham’s.

GM: That starts a flurry of betting.

Abraham: What are the odds?

GM: Two to one against you.

Abraham: I’ve fought clear of worse. Eighteen.

GM: That’s the ten.

Abraham: And a six. Crap.

GM: Matilda hits the eight too hard, and it bounces out of the pocket and rolls across the table.

Abraham: Sixteen.

GM: You have only the fourteen left.

Abraham: Ten.

GM: Matilda takes a minute for a pull at her beer and to chalk her cue before engaging the eight for the third time. Third’s the charm, she says, and misses the shot. She cusses about that.

Abraham: Fourteen ball, you and me. With a nine, that’s a no.

GM: And Matilda sinks the eight. There’s some cheering, a little grumbling, a few bets paid off.

Abraham: Hey, she won, and I gave her a hard fight to make it look good.

Bethelie: You may try to claim that this was a diplomatic maneuver, but I will not believe it so

Abraham: Cut me some slack here. I go around the table, shake hands with Matilda, and ask her if we can talk here.

GM: She says no, then louder, I need a smoke after that, and she heads for the door. A couple people joke with her about yeah, take that outside, hard enough to see in here as it is.

Rivka: We go with her, or at least I do.

Abraham: Yeah, all three of us.

Bethelie: (nods)

GM: Outside, Matilda pulls out a pipe the size of a stillson wrench and starts loading it, walking slowly away from the bar and comes to a stop three doors down. When you catch up, she holds up the pipe. Trolls have to smoke outside cause we make such a big cloud when we do, she says. She lights the pipe and proves it.

Yang: I’ve seen people vaping who made a smaller cloud than that. Behold my cumulus of righteous pineapple.

Abraham: So, what couldn’t you tell us in the bar or at the dig site?

GM: Matilda takes another pull at her pipe, and glances up and down the street before replying. So the sandhogs have been talking about unionizing for a while now. Last time it came up to a vote, Pinkertons showed up and there was a hell of a fight. That was before I started, you understand. Before the Rabbit Hole opened. I read about it in the Brooklyn Eagle. Pinkertons claimed the sandhogs were plotting against the city government, and went in and busted heads. Everybody knew it was horseshit. No charges ever got filed.

Bethelie: A handy excuse to break up the voting meeting and hurt people.

GM: You got it, sister. Only next time it come round, it was after the Rabbit Hole, see? Pinkertons showed up and we handed them their asses.

Rivka: You were working with the sandhogs at that point?

GM: Yeah, first woman on the job. Made the papers. I went down to the hiring office after I recovered – she waves a hand at herself – and they said they weren’t hiring secretaries. I said that was okay, I wasn’t no secretary, I was there for the dig. Well, he gave me a looking over and said they didn’t hire no damn skirts for labor, and that pissed me off, so I asked him if he was jealous cause I swung a bigger hammer than he could. Most everybody laughed. He didn’t. Come up from behind his desk with a crowbar in his hand, called me uppity and raised it to me. I took it away from him, bent it with the end between my teeth and told him it made a mighty fine hook and I might use it to go fishin’ on the weekend. Everybody else’d took a couple steps back. Right? He told me you gotta prove yourself like everybody else, you start out haulin’ brick from the trucks down to the tunnel for the lining. So’s I picked up a skid of bricks, heaved it up on my shoulder and asked him where he wanted it. By the next week, there was three more troll women on the job and two snarks, and it just kind of spread from there.

Rivka: Go you.

Bethelie: So you carry the bricks down into the tunnel for the lining still?

GM: I do, and that’s where it gets funny. And I don’t know if this all lines up or not, but I’ll tell it to you and you can figure it out, okay? There’s more brick going down than is going up on the walls. I don’t know where it’s going. I get paid by the hour, right? But I get a bonus if I haul enough skids of bricks in a day, and I’ve been making that bonus every day. That’s a lot of bricks. And they’re not piling up. Somebody’s doing something with them.

Rivka: And this ties in to the union vote how?

GM: Right, see, Karol, he’s up for shop steward, we were gonna hold another vote, this time with no Pinkertons cause they got bounced outta town, and Karol’s one of the masons doing the bricklaying. So he’s up on the scaffolding, working on the roof, and something just reaches down out of the ventilation shaft and grabs him and drags him up.

Abraham: You saw this?

GM: She shakes her head. I was halfway down the tunnel with a skid, didn’t get there for a few minutes, but I heard the ruckus. Let out a shriek like the Devil himself had got hold of him, Karol did, and I saw him run straight up on a Pinkerton with a revolver and beat that man down like a dog. I got there, and there was some around the scaffolding, and a couple about halfway up, nobody wanted to go all the way up and look in, right? And then Karol’s boot drops out the shaft, top of it ripped up and bloody. His foot was still in it.

Rivka: This is starting to sound much too familiar.

GM: So a bunch of the men ran, like scared rabbits, right? Only I stuck around, figuring anything that could eat Karol might choke on me, and I wanted to get some blood back from whatever had ate him.

Abraham: You keep saying what, not who.

GM: Right, says Matilda. Anybody have Danger Sense?

Abraham: Oh hell. No.

Bethelie: Nope.

Rivka: No.

Yang: We’re screwed.

GM: You’re player characters. It’s your natural state. Something dark reaches up out of the sewer grate, and grabs Matilda’s ankle. She goes down, her leg yanked out from under her. Everybody roll initiative.

Abraham: Of course there was a sewer grate right by where she was standing, all convenient like.

GM: Of course there was. Nineteen or better?

Yang: Yeah right.

GM: I’ll take that as a no. On nineteen, the whatever it is pulls Matilda off the sidewalk, then reaches up with another big arm or something like one, grabs her knee, and pulls. (rolls dice) Matilda’s knee breaks with a sickening crack and she screams like a steam whistle. Ten or better? Nine?

Yang: Nine.

Abraham: Nine also.

GM: Yang spoke first. What do you do?

Yang: Pull a revolver and put a True Shot into that thing. Not going to take a chance on firing into melee and hitting Matilda.

GM: Roll it.

Yang: Step thirteen, d10 and d12, plus karma d8, fourteen.

GM: That hits.

Yang: No staging? Damn. Tells us the range for its Physical Defense. Okay, I’m going to throw in an Exploding Ammunition on that. Bumps it up from step 10 damage to step 12, plus karma. Crap, thirteen points. Screw it, it’s a Core Skill, I’m throwing a second point of karma besides the required one. Brings it up to seventeen.

GM: You put a round into whatever it is, the bullet explodes, and there’s a spray of black that dissipates into smoke.

Abraham: I knew that bastard was conjured!

GM: What are you doing?

Abraham: To banish it, I need Summoning, and I don’t know jack about that. Did it let go of Matilda?

GM: Yeah, it did.

Abraham: I grab her and drag her down the street away from the sewer grate.

GM: Strength Test.

Abraham: Better idea. I toss a Gravitic Suspension on her and get her up out of the way.

GM: Spellcasting.

Abraham: Eight, and a rollup on the six for fourteen, twenty, twenty two total.

GM: You float Matilda up and out of melee range. Eight?

Bethelie: I’m on three.

Rivka: Same here.

GM: Okay, Rivka first, then Bethelie.

Rivka: Can I get a good look at it? Or at least the bits that are sticking out of the sewer?

GM: Not really. Street lighting is poor around here, just a few gaslights down the far sidewalk. Even an elf is going to have trouble getting a clear look at a black creature down a sewer at night.

Rivka: Fine, then I pull my knife, drop to one knee, and stab it.

Yang: Huh?

Rivka: If it’s a summoned creature, a melee attack may be more effective than a ranged one. It’s a matter of Willpower.

GM: Roll your Melee Weapons.

Rivka: Twelve.

GM: You hit it. Roll your damage and use Willpower instead of Strength.

Rivka: Aha. Further proof. Fourteen with a rollup.

GM: The thing down below you hisses, kind of like a crocodile, kind of like a radiator, and pulls its, well, let’s call it an arm, back down.

Bethelie: I stand over the grate and fire straight down. Maybe I hit, maybe I do not, but at least I will let it know it is not welcome here. Twenty-two with a rollup on the twelve.

GM: Roll damage and stage up twice.

Bethelie: Merde. Only seven.

GM: Okay, two things happen. One, the thing down there hisses again, and two, a big puff of blue flame comes back up through the grate. Bethelie, you take three points of damage and now smell like singed hair and burning sewer.

Parker: Okay, important safety tip. Don’t ignite the methane. Got it.

GM: And that ends the combat. The thing, whatever it is, goes away, and you have a crowd emptying out of the Amphora to see Matilda floating in the air and three of you shooting down a sewer grate.

Bethelie: It is tempting to use Graceful Exit here, but I think Slough Blame and Diplomacy would be better, and we need to get Matilda to a hospital.

GM: Roll’em.

Bethelie: Fourteen on the Slough Blame and sixteen on the Diplomacy.

GM: Bethelie convinces the crowd that whatever killed Karol tried to take Matilda, and you rescued her. Most of the crowd leaves, not wanting to be around this kind of thing. Then the Metropolitan Police shows up, having heard gunshots, and there’s more explaining, and you get to take Matilda to the hospital after giving your statements.

Abraham: I have a Connection with a Promethean. We’re taking her there instead of the hospital. It’s going to take magic to fix a broken knee.

GM: Good point. Your Promethean Connection can take care of Matilda, but it’s going to take a couple of weeks, and you’ll need to pay for her care and upkeep.

Bethelie: I have this. I give the Promethean twenty dollars, and let him know where he may find me should the costs exceed that.

GM: He’s impressed. Okay, you’ve got Matilda seen to, the police decided it was more trouble than it was worth to run you in for shooting down a sewer after Matilda caught her foot in it and broke her knee, told you to go home and sleep it off, and you’ve got more information.

Abraham: Yeah. Enough to know we need a spirit worker.

Tune in next time when we’ll hear Rivka say: “I might know somebody!”

Tally Ho!