The Dreadful Secrets of... Candlewyke Isle?

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The Dreadful Secrets of... Candlewyke Isle?

Postby MysteryCat » Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:46 pm

The Candlewick family can trace its lineage back to the Mayflower, to the first arrival of civilised man on the shores of what would eventually be called America. But what about before that? Where did that cursed line originate, in the old world they fled so hurriedly?

Here, in Candlewyke Isle, some indeterminate distance from the grim and fog-bound west coast of Scotland. Where Dr Miles Candlewyke has recently imported a second batch of creepy and maladjusted orphans into his Home for the Unwanted and Unloved (after the tragic death, insanity or mutilation of the original cohort).

This is an Actual Play of my attempt at an alt-Candlewick, ‘porting the setting over to Britain and mixing it up a little. Mostly I’m doing this to keep me honest and help me remember what happened from week to week, but hopefully it’ll provide mild amusement along the way. A fair bit of the setting should be fairly familiar, as it’s Candlewick with the serial numbers filed off, but there’s a whole bunch of new people, places and monsters to make things interesting. I’ll touch on them as we go along…

So without further ado, may I present:

The Pathetic Children
Naseem Ratti Vishuraman – a smiling, cheerful eight-year-old of Indian descent – simply never shuts up. There’s a nervous, brittle edge to his chatter, though… as if he’s afraid of something.

Well of course he is. He’s seen what happens when silence falls… he’s seen what’s waiting. And he’s seen what it does to people.

So he talks and talks, inanely and endlessly about whatever crosses his mind and his tongue. He’s a naturally curious child, and his constant questions often step over the boundary between inquisitive and nosy. Most people eventually find themselves searching for an excuse to flee, or some errand he needs to be doing – just so they can get a moment’s peace.

He hasn’t yet started to wonder what happens when he falls asleep. But when he does, oh poor Naseem. And poor everyone else.

Adelaide Stonebridge is ten, and completely blind. Not that you’d know it, when you find her sitting shut in the cupboard in the middle of the day, reading a book – and not a Braille book, a regular one. Dr Faustus is her favourite, but she also quite likes Jekyll and Hyde.

Because Adelaide has a friend who whispers to her, tells her what’s going on, guides her through the world. At least it says it’s her friend, though sometimes she wonders – it really doesn’t like the light, and when it’s unhappy it can get really really mean. Better to stay in the darkness and keep it happy – and know you can trust what it’s telling you.
Most of the time.

Nathaniel Beckinsfield, a well-favoured, polite and friendly boy of eleven. It’s a curiously robotic politeness, however, and his smiles are like something learned from a series of diagrams. He’s been adopted and returned, adopted and returned, adopted and returned… because there’s something broken about young Nathaniel, and kids and animals can sense it. Adults, not so quickly – but when they find the family cat crushed beneath a fallen bookshelf, or his foster brother is irrevocably scarred in a freak accident involving hair gel, denture adhesive and a soufflé browning torch… Nathaniel is always there.

He genuinely wants to be liked, and doesn’t understand what he’s doing wrong. But when he’s afraid, distressed or frustrated – which is increasingly often – bad things happen. And as he gets more and more desperate for attention, they’re getting worse.

Olivia Frost is one of the world’s foremost scientific minds. She’s also eleven, and gets seriously pee’d off when grown-ups take her chemistry set away. Don’t they understand what she’s trying to achieve?

Well, no. No one does. Least of all Olivia, unfortunately, who would probably have constructed a Grand Theory of Everything by the age of seven if her disturbing ability to bend the laws of physics hadn’t wrought such merry hell on her data sets. They say sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic – or something like that – but isn’t that always the sort of thing they say? The people who just don’t think sensibly about things?

It’s not magic. There’s no such thing. And Olivia is going to prove it. Oh, the fun she’ll have on Candlewyke Isle.

Carl Morris, a very outdoorsy nine-year-old who smells terrible. Even if you clean him up, the stink never quite goes away, and he’ll be covered in mud and filth as soon as he’s out of your sight. He loves animals… loves them, and they love him. They love to be around him, and they’ll do anything he asks… he can even take on certain aspects for a short period of time.

But the longer the animals hang around, or the more he draws on them, the weaker and sicker they get. Feathers and fur fall out, they lose their appetite, tumours appear and swell to appalling size, and still they love him. Even as they struggle to breathe.

Ezekiel Ngyen is a nice kid, but you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. He’s nine, but big for his age. Really, really big. He’s a quiet, shy lad, and stoops to try and keep from drawing too much attention to himself. He’s a strangely calming presence, though, and people around him feel safe. That’s all he wants, really – everyone to be safe and happy, and to get along.

His moral compass points due Justice, however, and it seems to be stuck there. He’ll leap to the defence of anyone being mistreated, or he thinks is being mistreated… and when the red mist fades, and they’ve picked up the pieces of some short-changing shopkeep or stingy tipper, you’d wonder how the hell a nine year old could ever do so much damage.
But Ezekiel isn’t nine, at least not while his temper’s got the better of him. Whoever or whatever finds itself the target of his anger will catch a glimpse of the man he might one day grow up to be – and that man is scary.

Although at this rate, he’s unlikely to make it to double figures.


The game's first full session is tomorrow evening, and the plan is to try and write it up before this time next week. Watch, as they say, this space...
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First Night

Postby MysteryCat » Sun Jan 20, 2013 10:14 am

I wanted to take it easy with the mechanics in the first session; none of the players had used ORE before, and I’d only run it online where you have more time to think.
At the same time I wanted to give the players a proper feel for the Candlewyke tone; we’re all friends and as a group we tend to crack wise near-constantly, so it was going to be hard to maintain a suitable sense of doom and gloom.

The only way I could see to make it work was to keep up a constant barrage of creepy and gothic description, and hope the jokes would take on a black comedy vibe.
So we started at the start: the orphans’ arrival on Candlewyke Isle. I’d scribbled up some fluff to try to set the tone, and opened with that:

You’re travelling for a long, long time. The bus is not the most comfortable of vehicles, with hard, black leather seats which smell faintly of polish and faithfully transmit every bump. Outside the windows, the terrain becomes wilder and more mountainous, until it feels like you’re leaving the world behind.

The ferry crossing is a welcome respite from the bus’s rattling, bruising passage through the untamed, unnamed mountains. Welcome, but not precisely welcoming, as the sea does its very best to overturn the small, rickety-looking ferry and claim every soul aboard.

Even yours.

At some point the sea begins to calm, and the ferry passes into thick, thick fog. You can see nothing, hear nothing outside the narrow confines of the tiny vessel.

Eventually, suddenly, shadows loom out of the fog. Cliffs, rising high to either side. The ferry grounds itself with a scraping, screeching crash, and the driver – leather-skinned, scarred, a clenched fist of a man – herds you all back into the bus.

The fog is still all-encompassing as you drive off the ferry and up a steep, switchback road. After a while the road levels out, and straightens out, and you head down the arrow-straight length of it for what feels like hours. Nothing to see, nothing to hear, even the bumps of the road seem to have disappeared. You feel like you’re floating.

You pass into a town, and the road begins to curve again. To twist, even. Slate-grey houses pass on either side, all looking the same. On the far side of town you’re assaulted by the smell of the sea, fierce and fishy. You think you might be able to hear the crash of waves on the shore, dulled almost to nothing by the oppressive fog.

The road begins to climb again, gently. At some point, reacting to some imperceptible sign, the driver pulls sharply into the side of the road. There’s a rumbling, and the fog ahead of you lights up like the sun. Something huge and heavy roars past, setting the bus and your teeth to rattling, leaving you with an impression of vast headlights and gleaming metal.

Further up. The scent of pine filters into the bus, and you sense more than see the trees pressing close on either side. Through the fog, the sunlight is beginning to fade.
The bus slows, turns sharply left, rattles along a painfully uneven road for several long minutes, and draws at last to a halt before a great looming edifice – a dark and twisting tumbledown mansion. “We are here,” the driver calls cheerfully, and the doors crash open.

There’s a man and a woman standing there, waiting. For you, it would seem. A tortoiseshell cat with enormous ears is winding sinuously around the man’s ankles.

Borrowing a leaf from the character gen section, I had the players describe themselves leaving the bus. Naseem was first off, excitable and full of questions which the man – Dr Sotheby, the orphanage’s director – stonily ignored, ordering Naseem to stand by the side of the bus.

Nathaniel was second, and being a robotically polite little toady he introduced himself and offered his hand, which Sotheby shook before lining Nathaniel up alongside the fidgety Naseem.

One by one the other orphans came off the bus and lined up, before Sotheby introduced himself and gave a little speech laying down the letter of the law – one ripped straight from the quote section of his Candlewick doppelgänger, Dr Dravenfirth:

“Your erudition has been entrusted to me, and with due care and attention I will shepherd you into new realms of social adroitness and cognizance. Under my guidance you shall beat back the forces of ignorance which occupy your minds and together we shall crush benightedness, sciolism, mumbliness, sassmouth, fidgetism, and noisesomness.”

Naseem immediately got himself in Sotheby’s bad books by raising a hand and asking what all those words meant; Sotheby smiled coldly and promised he’d find out in the morning.

All through Sotheby’s speech his cat had been watching Carl with interest; the boy’s Creepy Skill, a kind of beefed-up, vampiric animal ken, was working its magic. As Sotheby headed back into the manor the cat wandered over and Carl introduced himself.

More tone-setting fluff, to give them an idea of the place they’d come to – and its scale:

Behind you, the bus doors crash closed, and it departs in a spray of gravel.

And just for a moment, the fog parts and the whole Isle is spread before you. Trees all around the well-kept grounds. A wide green valley, with the town nestled at its southern end. Across the valley the mountains, one rising like a spear as the sun sets behind its shoulder. Further south, a vast expanse of dark green forest. And in the sea far distant, the last of the light glimmers on something metal.

Then the sun disappears, and the mist rolls back in…
and Mrs Silverdale, the head of housekeeping, whisked all the children into the manor and up to their dorms. At this point I gave the players a map tube with some blank A3 sheets in them, and a large pot of oversized wax crayons, and watched Nathaniel’s player happily start scribbling up a childish map as they moved through the manor.

Naseem was again full of questions, most of which Mrs Silverdale brushed aside, but a few were perfect for laying a little foreshadowing… in particular, regarding the huge portrait of the late Mrs Candlewyke which hung in the entrance hall.

The boys were led to the grim, cluttered east wing of the manor, past a statue of the building’s original architect Boyar McRath (more foreshadowing, this time for the If-You-Love-It-So-Much adventure I wanted to work into the game a little later) and a variety of disturbing objet d’art. Mrs Silverdale had to shoulder-barge the door to their dormitory in a most unladylike fashion just to get it open.

The girls were taken into the bright, well-lit, fresh-smelling west wing, which Adelaide’s Friend – the dark-loving voice in her head – took an instant dislike to.

The orphans immediately set to arguing over who got which room, despite the boys’ rooms all being identically cramped little cells. The girls managed to resolve their differences first, with Olivia taking the two rooms with the largest windows – one for sleeping, the other for Science! – while Adelaide settled unhappily into another still airy and well-lit room.

After that Mrs Silverdale reappeared and insisted they dress for supper, reluctantly (or in Nathaniel’s case enthusiastically) changing into the identical uniforms laid out for them. Their own clothes were taken to be ‘washed’ , though the players glumly (and accurately) predicted the orphans would never see their clothes again.

Supper had been pre-made by Guiseppe the Michelin-starred chef, and consisted of the finest sandwiches ever prepared by man. Ham and white truffle, or quail’s egg and fresh watercress. After liking what he tasted Carl started surreptitiously cramming the spare sarnies into his trouser pockets, while Naseem announced he didn’t like the crusts, and just started eating the fillings. Olivia tried to smuggle some of the silverware out to use in her experiments – ‘silver’s antiseptic, so it makes for awesome surgical implements’, but was rumbled by Mrs Silverdale and sent to bed.

The rest of the orphans weren’t far behind, and the ominous click of the key in the lock of the dormitory doors behind them suggested they were in for the duration. Naseem, hating the quiet, announced he’d be sleeping on the floor in Nathaniel’s room, and dragged all his bedding in so he wouldn’t be alone.

Carl was getting fidgety from being locked in a box, and started looking for a way out. Naseem and Ezekiel soon joined him, as Nathaniel pointedly went and tidied his room rather than be caught up in Being Bad. Among the junk under the bed he found a strange bladed puzzle ball, inscribed with runes, and began to play. Meanwhile the other boys found that the windows were tiny and heavily barred – more like prison cell windows than something civilised, and the door was a huge heavy iron-bound thing. There had to be some other way…

In the girls’ dorm, Adelaide’s Friend wanted to explore the night-time manor. She convinced Olivia to help, and after some debate about the best way out of the dormitory Olivia concocted some powerful acid from a lavender pouf, hand soap and a few items she’d brought with her – and applied it to the lock on the door.

The boys had become distracted. Ezekiel and Naseem were re-enacting the mating jousts of stags, charging at each other with porcelain chamber pots on their heads. Carl, however, had attracted a ratty little friend using bits of the sandwiches left in his pockets. He instructed the rat to find a way out, and after searching the dorm it eventually led him to a grate under Nathaniel’s bed.

Naseem volunteered to be first scout, and wriggled down into the narrow tunnel with Carl close behind. After considering greasing himself up with butter from the remaining sandwiches, Ezekiel wisely decided he wasn’t going to fit down the hole and retired for the night.

The girls were sneaking out through the half-melted door when out of the window Adelaide’s Friend spotted something moving along the landing of the floor above. A light, and a pale figure… the Late Mrs Candlewyke’s ghost! Heading upstairs, they started to follow it.

Disapproving Nathaniel closed the grate up and shifted his bed back into place. He sat and played with the puzzle ball until the ball clicked and started emitting a loud clockwork tick. Startled, he tossed the ball into Carl’s room and dived into his bed for cover… but nothing happened, and the ticking wound down. On closer inspection it looked like a piece of the ball was missing; he set it aside, resolving to find the missing piece later, and went to bed.

Naseem and Carl, meanwhile, had negotiated the winding passageway and only got stuck a couple of times. Following the rat, they found themselves outside the manor. Little Ratty scuttled over to Carl and looked up at him adoringly, before curling up in his lap and quietly expiring.

A little shaken, Carl opted to bury Ratty in a nearby copse. Then the two boys went off to explore around the manor grounds.

The girls headed upstairs, and began to sneak along behind the ghost of Mrs Candlewyke. It seemed oblivious to them, and after drifting along the landing it disappeared into a room at the end… though Olivia, ever the sceptic, noticed it opened the door like a normal person rather than floating straight through it.

They followed the ghost into what turned out to be Candlewyke Manor’s chapel, where she was kneeling before the altar – the curiously unadorned altar – and muttering something under her breath. She also had her eyes closed, and the girls finally realised she wasn’t a ghost but a sleepwalker.

Nathaniel was awoken by something landing on his chest. He freaked out and pushed it off, but it scratched him… and he realised it was Dr Sotheby’s cat, come looking for Carl. It looked most disappointed to find Nathaniel instead, and began cleaning itself at the foot of the bed. He went to pick it up, but it just looked at him and he thought better; instead he opened the door of his room and tried to shoo it out into the dorm hallway; after a little persuading and several more scratches, he managed to shut the cat into one of the empty rooms.

The girls left the mysterious sleepwalker in the chapel and headed down to the manor’s entrance hall, to look again at the big painting of Mrs Candlewyke and make double-definite it was her. As Olivia stumbled about in the dark she started wondering how exactly it was the blind girl didn’t seem to be having the same problem.

Out in the grounds, Naseem and Carl were getting tired. Carl wanted to spend the night up a tree or burrow into the leaf litter, but Naseem managed to talk him into coming back into the manor so they wouldn’t get into trouble. On their way back to the grate they’d come in through, they noticed a light moving on the top floor of the manor and – assuming it was a member of staff – hustled back to the entrance and crawled inside.

Nathaniel was trying to go back to sleep, but a drip drip drip from somewhere was keeping him awake. He started looking around for it, eventually narrowing it down to somewhere above the ceiling in Carl’s room. There was a big mouldy waterstain down one wall, running behind a painting entitled The Destruction of Pompeii; the mould and the water damage had done very strange things to the painting, and Nathaniel was sure he could see leering demonic faces descending on the ancient town’s hapless inhabitants. Unsettled by the painting he reached up to take it down… and the whole thing fell on him, along with a sizeable chunk of the plaster behind – revealing the wattle bones of the wall, and behind those, a mummified, grinning corpse.

Down in the entrance hall, Adelaide was fending off awkward pseudo-scientific enquiries from Olivia when light began to filter down the stairwell towards them. The girls hid, but the light appeared to stop at the landing of the floor above. They snuck upstairs to see where the sleepwalker was going, but Olivia botched her roll and tripped over the top step, stunning herself as her chin hit the floor with a bang… and woke the sleeper.

Carl and Nazeem had managed to navigate their way back to the east-wing dorms, but were unable to get back in with Nathaniel’s bed on top of the grill. Luckily he heard them calling, and after shutting the door on the mummy he moved the bed away and let them back in. Carl headed for his room… and freaked out when he saw the mummy coming through the wall. After they’d eventually calmed him down, Nathaniel and Nazeem helped him cover up the hole – and the mummy – with furniture and canvases, and they all settled down for the rest of the night. As Carl was falling asleep, Dr Sotheby’s cat jumped onto the bed and curled up next to him, purring contentedly.

The girls were faced with an awakened – and somewhat disoriented sleepwalker, who rapidly went from confusion to anger, demanding to know who they were and what they were doing in her house. She seemed younger than the woman in the painting, now that she was awake, and laughed when Adelaide asked about her husband – but swore the girls not to tell anyone that they’d seen her, before sending them back to their dorm with a severe tongue-lashing.

Miserable and worried, the two girls settled down to bed. And there endeth the first session.


The Dreadful Secrets of Candle(wyke) Manor is very much a sandbox setting, and I hadn’t been sure which direction the players would go – so I had major swaths of material prepped, just in case. As it happened I didn’t need any of it, with the players mostly just bouncing off one another and enjoying being kids again… albeit somewhat messed up ones.

Ezekiel’s player had to beg off early, hence his absence from most of the plot, but the main sticking point was Nathaniel. He’s such a goody goody that he wouldn’t get involved in any of the others’ adventures, so I had to manufacture some drama to keep his player from getting bored in the dormitory. Meaning I now have to work out what to do with a walled-up mummy and a Hellraiser-esque puzzle box before next week…

The girls’ plot I was happier with. Readers familiar with The Dreadful Secrets will no doubt recognise ‘Mrs Candlewyke’s Ghost’ as Wisteria, daughter of the Candlewyke dynasty and cruel tormentor of orphans… but why was she in the chapel? A double dash of red herring worked fairly nicely, and I plan to surprise them with her true identity at Breakfast the following day… before Dr Sotheby sets the orphans a range of unusual punishments to atone for (among other things) the damage to the girls’ dorm door.

All that and cricket, church... and Monsters. Stay tuned...
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Re: The Dreadful Secrets of... Candlewyke Isle?

Postby Shane Ivey » Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:17 am

Nicely done. I love it.
Shane Ivey
Site Admin
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Re: The Dreadful Secrets of... Candlewyke Isle?

Postby MysteryCat » Wed Jan 30, 2013 4:51 pm

Cheers Shane. Here's the latest instalment...

Sunday Bloody Sunday

The last session ended with the pathetic children tucked up in bed on their first night in Candlewyke Manor, after a fairly eventful night involving rats, tunnels, ghostly figures and a mummified corpse emerging from the walls.

In the gloomy, poorly-lit east wing, the boys are woken by the unlocking of the dormitory door by one of the maids – or by her struggles to get it open. The girls are woken by quite the opposite.

“Time to get up, children. Breakfast will be served in- ‘ere, what’s happened to this door? Girls, come out here.”

Uh-oh. The product of Olivia’s patented door-opening acid isn’t hard to spot, and the maid calls them out on it. They almost convince her they knew nothing about it when the sharp-eyed servant notices that all the burns were on the inside, rather than the outside of the door. Shaking her head, she tells them she’d be reporting back to Dr Sotheby on the matter and leaves them alone to dress for breakfast.

The door swung shut… and against the wall, presumably pushed there when the maid opened it, is an envelope containing a hand-written note.

If you tell anyone what you saw, I’ll know. And you’ll pay.
- Mrs Susannah Candlewyke.

In the east wing dorms, another maid – having called for backup – finally manages to get the door open. “Time to get up, children. Breakfast will be served in six minutes!”
When Carl went to bed, it was with Dr Sotheby’s cat curled up at his side. The cat is gone now… but where? Clearly it has some way in and out of the dormitory…

Breakfast is served, and the manor’s experimental chef Guiseppe is keeping things relatively traditional – at least to begin with. The orphans tuck in, but are interrupted by the arrival of Miles Candlewyke Jr., the hulking, over-friendly and low-wattage son of the manor’s owner. He greets them all like long-lost friends, and extorts a promise to engage in a friendly game of cricket on the lawn later.

[I changed my mind about revealing the true identity of 'Mrs Candlewyke' at breakfast, and decided to string it out a little longer. The orphans will most likely meet Wisteria on Monday morning before school, but until then it's just another mind game...]

Dr Sotheby arrives then, carrying his cat and stroking it like an evil genius. He’s displeased with the stories he’s heard about the orphans’ comportment since arriving, and arranges a series of fairly low-key punishments for Olivia (for trying to steal the silverware), Naseem (for poor table manners and answering back) and Carl (for poor hygiene and table manners).

They’re banished to the kitchens after breakfast, where they run into Guiseppe (already busy organising Sunday lunch); he sets Naseem to washing up the breakfast things, Olivia to polishing the silverware and Carl, after a moment’s thought, to gathering vegetables from the garden.

Dr Sotheby sends the other three orphans down into the kitchens as well, to observe their peers’ punishments “as an object lesson in cause and effect.” Guiseppe sits them on stools and brings them spoonfuls of sauce, sweets, treats and delicacies for “taste testing” as he zips around the kitchen, haranguing his staff. By the time the orphans chores are done, Ezekiel, Adelaide and Nathaniel are positively full to bursting.

The orphans report back to Dr Sotheby, who thanks them for carrying out their chores like good, obedient little children and dangles the carrot of a sailing trip next weekend… if they can be well behaved for the whole week. Now, though, it’s time for church.

Naseem‘s shirt is sodden with dirty dishwater, while Carl is filthy from rooting around in the vegetable garden, so the two boys are sent back to the dormitory – reluctantly – to change. Naseem checks on the mummy in its empty room; still there, and still undiscovered by the look of things. He half expected it to have moved…

Dr Sotheby drives them down into town. It’s a bright cold day, and the orphans get their first proper look at Candlewyke Isle.

The manor is on the lower slopes of the Isle’s eastern mountains, surrounded by unnamed forest. Below it is a wide glacial valley which is mostly farmland, with Candlewyke Town nestled at the downhill, southeast end. After emerging from the forest, the car turned onto the clifftop road and followed the coastline down into town.

[Both Carl and Naseem’s players started drawing a map in crayon as I described the journey, and neither map looked anything like the version I’d knocked up in pre-game planning. One had them travelling clockwise along the coast to the town, the other anti-clockwise, and they each picked completely different landmarks from those I reeled off… it’ll be interesting to watch how their maps progress, and if they converge with ‘reality’ or become their own unique versions of the island]

There’s a sense of inevitable decay to Candlewyke Town, that the sea is devouring it by inches, and the residents fight this pervading gloom through a fierce community pride. The streets are spotless, the cobbles gleaming and glistening in the ever-present fog. No rooftop slate is out of place, no white-painted shutter peeling. Every house looks the same as the last, and only the black iron sigils – tankard, letter, razor, boot –swinging silently overhead mark the town’s businesses as anything other than just another residence.

Sotheby’s a slow, careful driver, but luckily the church’s little car park is far from full. They’re just in time to slip into the Church of All Angels before the verger closes the door. They take the pew closest to the door, and Reverend Cricken’s sermon begins.

[The Church of All Angels is my first substantial deviation from vanilla Candlewick; I’ve included the rewritten fluff at the end of this post.]

For the orphans, church is dull dull dull. Nathaniel does his best to pick up a few talking points he can parrot back to the adults later in order to get a pat on the head, and latches onto the general theme of fortitude in the face of temptation. The others, though, are incredibly bored. Carl gets fidgety from being trapped indoors; Naseem gets fidgety because it’s just. too. quiet. Even Dr Sotheby is nodding off. The pressure starts to build…

Luckily for everyone around Naseem, the orphans start to notice something’s happening. Heads are turning, and a little mutter of outrage is circling the church. Yes, heads are turning (and frowns being directed)… towards them. What’s going on?

Something hits the back of the pew in front of Adelaide with a splat, and sticks there. Her Friend describes it to her with glee: a squidgy, pulpy mass of bible passages. Yep, someone’s firing biblical spitballs into the churchgoing crowd…

The orphans are getting the brunt of some serious passive-aggressive glaring now, as they try to identify the culprit. Carl spots her first: a skinny girl, maybe thirteen or fourteen, on the other side of the church. She’s sat next to a middle-aged man with a thin moustache, who is drooling down the front of his elegant three-piece suit. As they watch, she hawks up another spitball onto the end of a wooden ruler and twangs it high into the air…

The girl notices Carl noticing. She rolls her eyes and yawns outrageously wide, then jerks her thumb at the door of the church. Raises her eyebrows. Carl doesn’t need a second invitation, and nods enthusiastically. The girl slithers down and disappears from view, only to pop up again at the end of the orphans’ pew. “Come on!” She army crawls to the church door and slips out; Carl, eager to get out of this claustrophobic hole, follows her immediately.

Adelaide and Nassem do the same, but one or the other is less than stealthy and Dr Sotheby wakes up; seeing his charges slipping out of the church, he silently calls them back with angry eyes and exaggeratedly-mouthed threats of dire punishment.

When that doesn’t work, he sends goody two-shoes Nathaniel to fetch them back in. There’s a whispered argument in the church porch, as the girl tries to convince them to come with her and Nathaniel encourages them to come back and behave themselves.

[This was the game’s first real Conflict, with Nathaniel rolling Face+Charm and the girl – Londina Pike, wildchild daughter of the Isle’s senior policeman – rolling Face+Putdown to persuade the others. Nathaniel’s player opted to try and scare the other orphans with imagined punishments if they didn’t do what they were told, while I had Londina go for the ‘if you’re too chicken…?’ route – hence the Putdown roll.]

Nathaniel’s player won handily, but I gave the other players an optional Guts+Courage roll to overcome the fear of punishment. Most of them declined, but Carl – who hates being stuck inside – rolled and succeeded, opting to follow Londina into the car park.]

Chastened, most of the orphans shuffle back into the church. The girl rolls her eyes, hissing “You’re like so much more boring than the last lot…” – and heads outside, with Carl hurrying in her wake. She leads him to a huge red car – a lovingly-polished Jag, and dangles the keys in front of him with a mischievous grin. “You want to drive, or shall I?”

Inside, the orphans sit through the rest of the windy, boring sermon in obedient silence. All throughout they feel… watched. That special kid sense of adult disapproval is working overtime… but Dr Sotheby’s concentrating on the sermon, and very pointedly not looking at them. There’s only that weird statue of the hooded angel at the back of the church…

Carl’s not a bad kid; he just doesn’t like being shut up inside. He gulps as he realises what Londina’s got planned, and hastily starts making excuses. She huffs and calls him chicken, and there’s another battle of wills as he tries not to rise to the bait… and succeeds. His pride’s a little wounded, but he turns his back on her and heads for the trees nearby. Climbing up, he gets a great view as she climbs into the car, guns the engine and lurches out of the car park, bouncing off a couple of neighbouring cars along the way. Seems she’s a quick learner, though, and by the time she’s out on the street she’s mostly got a handle on the steering. She screeches away, narrowly missing a passing couple, and disappears in a cloud of blue-grey smoke and burning rubber…

After the service is over, the churchgoers start to file out. One of the first is the dapper gent who’d been sat beside Londina; from his tree, Carl watches as the man discovers his missing car. Rather than raise the alarm or go looking, the man hot-foots it out of the car park before anyone notices him standing around. Interesting…

Meanwhile, Dr Sotheby has stopped in the church porch to talk to Rev. Cricken for a while, congratulating him on the sermon and chatting about its philosophical and moral implications. Under the wrathful gaze of the Guardian Angel, he mentions the possibility of Rev. Cricken coming up to Candlewyke Manor to tutor the orphans in ethics and moral fibre. The stuttering Reverend clearly isn’t keen, but folds under the pressure and agrees to visit later in the week.

As Dr Sotheby and the orphans emerge and head for the car, Carl somewhat gingerly rejoins them. The Doctor ignores him until the rest of the orphans are all aboard, before giving Carl a thorough and extensively polysyllabic piece of his mind. Smacked down in front of his peers, Carl just about manages to keep from crying (and embarrassing himself still further).

The drive back to Candlewyke Manor is awkward, as Dr Sotheby somewhat pointedly tries to discuss the sermon with the ‘good’ orphans; eager beaver Nathaniel is the only one to engage, and reels off the talking points he carefully memorised. Sotheby is pleased, and calls the boy “a most exemplary icon of obedience; a role model for the rest of you.”

On the clifftop road not far out of town Olivia starts to notice the tyre marks on the road; not having seen what Carl did, she’s puzzled. She’s even more puzzled – and not a little alarmed – when the skidmarks appear to disappear off the edge of the cliff…

Back at the manor, Miles Jr. is warming up on the lawn; he’s got the cricket stumps set up ready. Carl is singled out for further punishment by Dr Sotheby, and forced to help the Doctor with cataloguing in the library. The others change into their sports kit, though they’re cautioned by one of the staff that it won’t be long before lunch.
Cricket ensues. Miles takes the girls on his side in the interest of fairness, and is deeply puzzled when poor blind Adelaide – with a little help from her Friend – catches Naseem out from the first ball. But the game continues.

In the library Dr Sotheby takes pity on Carl, sending him out to join his fellow orphans – though he warns that the boy will still have to work off his punishment later. Carl makes it outside just in time to see Nathaniel catch the ball beautifully… and send it arcing straight through a narrow window on the Private Wing’s ground floor.
There’s a glassy crash and then, a heartbeat later, an explosion of squawks.

Out of the window come maybe a dozen multi-coloured birds – some of them quite large. Out the window, over the lawn and the children’s heads, and over the wall of the estate and into the forest to the west.

“Dad’s birds!” Miles Jr cries, appalled.

And from around the corner of the building, from the door of the Manor, one of the staff calls the children in for Sunday Lunch…

[Once again the players kept me on my toes this session; I’d really played up the boringness of Church, and droned pseudo-religious nonsense at them for a couple of minutes before it kicked off with Londina. As a result I’d expected the PCs to go along with whatever mad plan she had, just to get away… but for a bunch of creepy weirdoes this batch of orphans appear to be surprisingly law-abiding, and my plans for a wild joyride around the Isle – ending with an Italian Job-style climax, a long walk home and a first encounter with one of the Isle’s monsters – had to be ditched.

Fortunately I’d given the cricket scene some thought before the game, and was able to wing it at least this far. But it’s been a while since I ran a game and I’d forgotten how much you’re forced to adapt… something about ‘surviving contact with the enemy’, isn’t it?

Next session: Sunday lunch, scaling the estate walls, big game hunting … and finding something unexpected in the woods.

Stay tuned, folks…]


Located in the western end of town, not far from the Fleur-de-lis public house, the Church of All Angels is a more modern building than its Catholic counterpart. A stately, steepled church of well-cut stone, All Angels once housed an enthusiastic congregation of believers, and an artificial pond fed by channels from the river saw regular use as a baptismal. The windows of the church are large, and unusually frosted rather than stained, giving the whole church an airy, well-lit mien. Founded by a fiercely evangelical visionary who came to Candlewyke to convert the island’s staunchly catholic population, the church is filled with an unusual number of statues depicting its namesakes in a variety of poses. There’s the Praying Angel, who kneels before the altar; close to a dozen Sitting Angels of various sizes, dotted about the pews in the body of the church; the armed and armoured Guardian Angel in the vestibule, its sword drawn and ready to strike; the stern and hooded Watching Angel who stands at the back of the church; and several more. Who knows what others wait unseen by the church’s general populace?

The church has calmed down a fair bit since its founding, going in more for potlucks and raffles than fiery sermons and fire-and-sword conversions. The current vicar is a southerner, over-educated and possessed of a terrible stammer when he’s nervous… which seems to be most of the time. He’s not the most inspiring of speakers, and church attendance is dwindling. Most of the Town’s authority figures still attend, however, for the sake of appearances if nothing else.

COLOR: The gentle snores of parishioners lulled to sleep by Reverend Cricken’s droning, philosophically obtuse sermons. The unyielding chill which seems to issue from the heavy stone walls. The creak of ancient wooden pews, polished smooth over the centuries by the arses of the faithful. The out-of-place squawk of the electronic organ Rev. Cricken brought north with him; his only concession to modernity, it seems. The sense of the Watching Angel’s disapproving gaze on the back of your neck.

HOOKS: Just how many angels are All of them? Is it true what the other kids say, that sometimes they’ve moved between one Sunday and the next? And if all the good angels are up here in the light of God’s graces, what the hell is that ugly, misshapen statue in the crypts all about?
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Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2012 1:10 am

Big Game Hunting

Postby MysteryCat » Fri Feb 08, 2013 7:45 am

So the last session ended with the birds escaping from a room in the private wing, and the orphans – as well as a woebegone Miles Candlewyke Jr. – wondering what to do about it.

As one of the staff comes out to call the orphans in for dinner, they duck away behind a small outcropping of trees. Only to become aware of a cockatiel looking down at them from a high branch. Carl works his creepy magic and the big white bird drops down onto his shoulder, following which the orphans formulate a plan to recapture the rest of the birds.

Naseem sneaks into the kitchens and talks at one of the sou chefs until they give him a bag of seeds and nuts. Ezekial takes off his jacket and carefully wraps it around the cockatiel, to hold it safely tight, and Adelaide carries it back into the house with Miles Jr and Olivia.

The plan runs into difficulties, however, when the Candlewyke scion refuses to let Adelaide take the bird into the Manor’s private wing; he’s been told in no uncertain terms by his father that the wing is Not For Orphans. So Adelaide talks him into taking the bird back to its room himself, but during the awkward handover it becomes agitated and bites a sizeable chunk out of Miles Jr’s thumb. He shrieks and lets go of the cockatiel, which flies off up the stairs…

Outside, Naseem returns to the other orphans with his sack of birdseed, and he and Carl start making preparations for an expedition – over the wall of the Candlewyke estate and out into the big bad forest beyond. They shimmy up the closest tree to the wall and tie off a rope, before tossing the other end over the glass-studded top of the wall. Carefully they make their way across and down…
At this point Ezekiel notices an old, whiskery man with a big walking stick and an eye patch watching them from a nearby flowerbed. At first he’s worried the man will try and stop them, but after watching the two boys go over the wall the old guy just goes back to pruning the roses.

Members of the household staff find Olivia and Adelaide trying to stem Miles’ bleeding; they dispatch the girls to their dorm to change for lunch and Miles to Matron Skene, the manor’s nurse, for patching-up.

Another of the staff finds Ezekiel and Nathaniel, out by the wall, and after a bit of scolding sends them in for lunch as well. Ezekiel distracts her, and in an uncharacteristic moment of generosity Nathaniel scrambles up the tree and yells out into the forest: ‘LUNCHTIME!’

Out in the forest, Naseem asks Carl “Did you hear something?” The other boy frowns and shakes his head, and the two of them continue in their search for Dr Candlewyke’s escaped collection of brightly-coloured birds.

On the way back in for lunch, Ezekiel notices the grizzled old man raking leaves on the lawn and wanders over to make sure he’s not going to tell on them. The old man – groundskeeper Grooner – expresses his deep ambivalence on the matter of tree-climbing and estate-escaping, and leaves Ezekiel much reassured; apart from one small issue. “What’s out there in the forest?” the boy asks. Grooner shrugs. “Trees,” he says. “Squirrels, maybe a few birds. And some traps I laid for game.”

Luckily Naseem’s sharp eyes catch the tripwire in the undergrowth a moment before Carl blunders into it, and other than that narrow escape they manage to avoid most of Grooner’s surprises.

In the dining hall, Adelaide, Olivia, Nathaniel and Ezekiel are served Sunday lunch… with a military theme. A Beef Wellington fortress with marzipan rather than pastry, and platoons of toasted marmite soldiers laying siege. A moat of gravy. The roast potato siege towers, on investigation, turn out to be quartered and roasted lemons, with all the tartness somehow removed. As for the Yorkshire puddings, Guiseppe’s somehow managed to whip it into this light and airy froth – formed into abstract shapes which nonetheless seem to evoke cavalry on manoeuvres. At the far end of the table there’s a tiny working mangonel, with a sizeable supply of minted pea ammunition.

And the orphans are not allowed to play with any of it. They sit and watch while a couple of young women of the household staff serve them slices of battlement and besieger. There’s far more food than they could ever eat, and their plates are piled high. Nathaniel, Ezekiel and Adelaide start to regret all the goodies Guiseppe fed them after breakfast, while the other orphans were doing their chores…

Out in the forest, Naseem spots a flash of colour high in a nearby tree. Bright red, long-necked, large of beak… it must be one of Dr Candlewyke’s escaped collection. He tries to call it down, or tempt it with handfuls of seed, but to no avail. Carl works his creepy magic, and coaxes the bird down… but it’s huge, about the size of a goose. And there were about a score of the animals, in various shapes and sizes. How are they going to get them all back?

Carl has a plan. Drawing on the life of the big red bird snuggling so adoringly against his chest, he takes on a certain… birdiness. His calls are… convincing. Very convincing. Too convincing. When Naseem looks up, there isn’t a single inch of empty branch around them. All the birds of the forest (and quite a few more exotic examples) are perched overhead… watching. A thousand beady black eyes. Five hundred beaks. Called, ready, waiting.

Naseem gulps.

In the dining hall, the orphans are struggling with the temptation to play with their food. All of them but Olivia are struggling with their overfull stomachs, too… and starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable. And at some point, Adelaide’s Friend tells her that there’s a big white bird watching her from the top of a nearby picture frame. The escaped cockatiel! She nudges Olivia, who nudges Nathaniel, who nudges Ezekiel, who clumsily knocks a gravy boat – an actual boat, floating on the castle’s gravy moat – as he turns to look. The boat breaches the wall of the moat, and gravy starts to (sludgily) pour across the tabletop. The serving staff panic, and divide their attention between stemming the tide and scolding the hapless Ezekiel.

With the staff distracted, Nathaniel seizes his chance and slips away from the table. With a selection of foodstuffs wrapped in a napkin he tries to call the bird to him… but he’s no Carl. It squawks loudly and launches away from its perch, dipping across the table and vanishing out the door in the manor beyond… but not before messing heavily down the side of the cooling beef fortress. And seconds later, Miles Jr returns from the infirmary with his hand heavily bandaged; he takes a seat, and the servers carve him a slice of castle…

Beneath a thousand watchful, unforgiving avian eyes, Naseem slowly (so slowly) reaches into the sack of birdseed. The birds all move as one, heads snapping to follow the movement. Carefully (so carefully), he nudges Carl and begins to back away, back towards the wall of the estate, sprinkling birdseed in their wake to sate the hungry horde. Inch by inch, they lead the birds back to the manor… but how to get over the wall?

In the dining hall, Ezekiel takes pity on Miles Jr and stops him just before he takes a big bite of Beef Fortress avec Bird Droppings. The Candlewyke boy is incredibly grateful, and the two of them hit it off even more when Miles realises Ezekiel is a sporting type.
They chat for a while about cricket and rugby, while Nathaniel is scolded by the servers for getting down before finishing his dinner. He can’t, of course, because he’s stuffed full of treats from earlier – but he manages to charm them, and they grumblingly relent. He asks if it’s possible to see the library, and is directed to Dr Sotheby who keeps the key in his office – so he sets out for upstairs.

Ezekiel and Adelaide manage to slip most of their food to Miles Jr, who seems to have a bottomless stomach and happily eats it all up. Ezekiel once again manages to knock something over – this time a water jug – and the servers, convinced he’s doing it on purpose, send him up to Dr Sotheby’s office for disciplining.

In the woods just outside the wall of the estate, the massive flock are beginning to get antsy – Carl’s getting a serious headache from projecting love and reassurance vibes at so many creatures, and Naseem is running out of birdseed. Moving around the estate, looking for some way in, they find a carefully concealed hunter’s hide overlooking the manor grounds, servants quarters and house… and ohmigod the wall is lower here, and crumbling. Neither boy has a thought to spare for the hide – they scramble over the disintegrating wall make a break for it across the lawn. The birds launch themselves off their branches in pursuit, darkening the sky…

[The hide in the woods, suspiciously overlooking the grounds (and the manor itself), was supposed to be a hook for a long-running mystery plot. Unfortunately I made a right hash of selling it to Carl and Naseem's players, who were focused on their avian issues anyway, and they breezed right past it. Which leaves me a couple of options: jettison the sub-plot entirely, or have it progress quietly in the background. I was tempted to just dump it, but on reflection perhaps this isn't a total disaster.
I've always disliked settings where it feels like everything's just standing still, waiting for the PCs to trigger the plot hook and throw everything into motion; if the drama continues to build in the background, getting messier and messier until the orphans can't help but notice, it'll help build the impression of a dynamic, less PC-centred world. Unless I cock that up as well, of course. :)]

The birds are fast. Faster than a couple of orphans. But the house is so close… and there’s the broken window. Carl is trailing… he can feel the flap of their wings, feel the beaks begin to bite… And Naseem hurls the last of the birdseed in through the broken window. The boys dive down against the wall of the house… and the hungry angry birds pour in through the window en masse. There’s barely room for them all, and they turn on one another in a frenzy of beaks and claws and feathers.

Carl grabs the abandoned cricket bat off the lawn and flails wildly at any bird which tries to get back out, while Naseem runs to the groundskeeper’s tumbledown shed. Grooner is elsewhere, and the door is unlocked – the boy scavenges up a hammer and nails, and several sturdy planks, and staggers back… between the two of them they manage to board up the window, trapping several hundred birds – rare and common alike – inside the aviary. High five!

Nathaniel knocks on the door of Dr Sotheby’s office and is permitted in. Sotheby is busy with some paperwork, but smiles warmly at the orphan’s request. “The key’s in that bureau, over there.” Nathaniel follows the Doctor’s pointing finger and opens up the bureau, which contains several labelled keys hanging on pegs… and a stack of neatly labelled files. Olivia. Adelaide. Naseem. Ezekiel. Carl. His own file, which is much fatter than the rest. And below those, six other files. He doesn’t recognise the names, but they’ve each been carefully struck through…

Just as Naseem and Carl are celebrating their narrow escape, they’re grabbed by the ear by one of the household staff. “Where on earth have you boys been? We’ve been looking all over! Dinner will be cold, and let that be a lesson to you…!” They’re propelled inside, to the dining hall, and served a plateful of congealed Sunday lunch. Even stone cold, though, Guiseppe’s food is delicious.

Nathaniel only wants to be a Good Boy. The approval of adults is all he’s ever wanted. But to make them like him, he needs to know what they’re saying about him. He needs that file. And he tries to take it, hoping Dr Sotheby’s attention is focused on his work.
Not focused enough. “Boy. Bring that back here, expediently. And hand over the key to the library, too. Thieves and miscreants don’t get to enjoy the rewards of good, right-thinking citizens.” Sotheby sighs. “I had hoped you were the exception, Nathaniel,” he says. “The sole and lonely virtuous child among this cohort. And once again, inevitably, I am disappointed. Remove yourself to your dormitory, if you please, and remain within to ponder your misdeeds. Do not emerge until I give you leave to do so. Avaunt!”

Nathaniel scuttles out, passing Ezekiel. The big black kid looks surly, and he’s none too pleased at being punished for something he couldn’t do anything about. When Dr Sotheby asks why he’s been sent to the office, he shrugs angrily… and things only escalate from there.

In the face of a tongue-lashing, and on the verge of flipping out, Ezekiel storms out of the office and runs down the corridor to the library… not noticing Nathaniel, who’s been skulking around the corner, eavesdropping. Dr Sotheby follows him, still demanding answers, and Nathaniel takes the opportunity to slip back into the Doctor’s office and skim through his file. It's a psychological profile, and doesn't make for pretty reading; the word 'lickspittle' is used. Twice.

The library doors are locked, of course. Ezekiel is trapped, and his temper is rising. He starts to freak out… and Dr Sotheby has a sudden attack of common sense. “Okay, let’s be grown-ups here,” he says, stepping back hastily as the hulking manchild turns with fire in his eyes. “You should take five minutes – take half an hour – to come back to your senses. Then return and we’ll discuss this like responsible adults… are we in accord?” He retreats to his office without waiting for an answer… and bolts the door.

Naseem, Miles, Olivia and Adelaide are outside again, with Miles Jr trying to convince them another round of cricket is in order. They’re… unkeen, but the weight of Miles’ enthusiasm is like a tidal wave. But they’re saved – in a manner of speaking – by the arrival of a big black car. The car is big, but the man inside it makes it look tiny. Olivia can’t quite figure out how he managed to fit into the driver’s seat… “Who’s that?” Naseem says. Miles looks scared. “That’s Constable Taggart…” he whispers. “What’s he doing here?”

Up in the dorm, Nathaniel is twiddling his thumbs and wondering how to get himself back into Dr Sotheby’s good graces when he remembers the weird puzzle ball he stashed in his bedside table drawer. But when he opens up the drawer… the ball is gone. Where it sat, there’s a weird religious pamphlet there instead. The Gatehouse. He flicks through the cheap rag, and a crudely printed image catches his eye. It shows a king or high priest or something, lording it over his court… in one hand he holds a sword, and in the other an sceptre… and atop the sceptre is an orb which suddenly looks very familiar.

[To my amusement, none of the boys (in their passing visits to the dormitory) bothered to check on the wall mummy they'd tried to hide behind furniture in one of the spare rooms. They might've been surprised to find... well, maybe that ought to stay secret for the moment. Don't want to spoil anything...]

The car pulls up outside the front of the manor, and Constable Taggart manages to unfold himself from the driving seat. Mrs Silverdale is coming out to meet him, a sharp expression on her face. “How can I help ye, constable?”

The PC clears his throat, a great mountainous rumble. “I’ve come for them orphans,” he says.

Dum dum DUH!

Next week: An Inspector Calls.
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