Role-Playing 101: The Laundry RPG – Session 2

Hey guys. Going to make this one quick, I’ve got my parents visiting this weekend and I’ve got a lot to do to get ready. It’s time for the report of the second session I ran of Cubicle 7’s game, The Laundry RPG, for my cousin and his friends. You can read the first report here.

A quick recap for anyone just joining us. Over the last year I’ve been occasionally running games for my 14-year-old cousin and his friends in an attempt to get them into tabletop gaming. The endgame is to get them running their own games, but while we work towards that, I’m running games in a bunch of different systems for them so they can decide what they want to play long-term. So far we’ve played Pathfinder and The Laundry RPG, with Shadowrun 5th Edition on the cards next. Before we could do that though, there was one more session of The Laundry RPG to run. It’s a game of Lovecraftian horror, spycraft shenanigans, and bleak humour about the end of the world and British public service bureaucracy, based on The Laundry Files novels by Charles Stross.

The Laundry RPG core book.

The Laundry RPG core book.

So, a week after the first session of The Laundry RPG, I rocked up at my cousin’s house again to run the next adventure. Since I’d had a busy week, I’d decided to stick with the same idea as last time, and run one of the ready to go adventures out of the core book. This time around, I was running The Greys. Everyone already knew the rules, except for one player who joined this session, so we were able to get going with barely any fuss.

Setup for the session is pretty simple. The players are called into Angleton’s office. Anyone who’s read The Laundry Files will know who Angleton is, but for those who don’t… well, to put it simply, he’s the head of the Counter Possession Unit and an extremely prim and proper upper class English type, who happens to have a collection of shrunken heads belonging to those who have betrayed of failed him in his desk drawers. He’s pretty unique in that he doesn’t have a sanity (SAN) score, he takes SAN damage to his Etiquette rating instead. If he ever hits Etiquette 0, well, that’s when things get really bad.  Suffice to say, you do not want to get on his bad side. So the players are called into Angleton’s office, and he tells them about a few incidents in South Croydon that need investigating. None of them seem particularly serious, but they’re worth a look. There’s been an apparition of some kind in a pub, which the locals are attributing to aliens, ghosts, or ghost aliens; a police report about a murder, with the wife saying that the killer was a grey figure with no features that disappeared into thin air; and someone in town has bought a copy of a restricted grimoire. So off the players go to investigate.

So you probably figured out that this is a pretty free-form adventure. With three leads, the players are pretty much able to choose what they actually want to investigate first, with everything eventually leading to the endgame. We’ll get to that in time though. Point is that I wanted to throw something a bit different at the group, so that they weren’t just following instructions handed to them by NPCs. They’d need to think for themselves and decide where to take the session.

First up, it was time to get some gear. Considering how low their status is in the Laundry (since they’re new-ish characters), they got pretty damn lucky with their rolls and were all able to request their favoured firearms (pistols, a shotgun, and a bloody SMG), a Necronomiphone (jail-broken iPhone with basic Computational Demonology calculations, i.e. Magic, pre-loaded on it and ready to run). They also grabbed some banishment rounds for the pistols after one of the guys was flicking through the book and saw that they were an option. Armed and ready, they piled into a van and off they went. Their first port of call in South Croydon was the Red Lion pub (which is a real place according to Google, but is actually in Redhill, while the local pub in South Croydon is actually the Red Deer), where a few of them immediately managed to alienate (heh, see what I did there?) the London Paranormal Club, a group of well-meaning believers who were there to “investigate” in their own misguided way… two minutes in and the LPC are sure the players are government spooks, which, technically speaking, is pretty damn accurate. More time passes, and suddenly the players have managed to a) flash their guns around for no reason, b) steal some darts, again for no damn reason, and c) finally get some info from the bartender, as well as getting the pint glass that the “alien” tried to pick up so they can analyse it. Having successfully harassed the locals, they decided to split the party. Half of them would check out the crime scene, the others would try to track down the buyer of grimoire. Pretty sure some of you will have started groaning at that… say it with me guys: “Never split the party.” Golden rule. Still, all things considered, it went pretty well. They managed to get the glass analysed by the police, finding that it had fingerprints burnt into it by some kind of intense localised burst of radiation, and that the fingerprints matched those of the murder victim’s nursing home  resident father. The other group managed to find their way into the company of a young girl who’d purchased the book and, after an amusing incident where she got the drop on them with a shotgun of her own, convinced her that they were there to help. She told them that the book had been purchased for her aunt, an amateur paranormal investigator who was going undercover at the nursing home.

I was pretty bloody impressed with how things were going at this stage. None of them had tried to murder anyone yet… okay, there’d been a few silly moves like waving guns around, or overtly following a young woman home, but no one, not even Little Miss I’m-going-to-murder-anything-that-moves had actually attempted to harm anyone yet. Seemed like progress to me! Anyway, all the leads were pointing to the local nursing home, so it was the obvious next port of all. After giving the reception staff about five different conflicting stories about why they were there, they finally got in to see the murder victim’s father, a creepy old man who kept repeating what they said and looking at them as if he wanted to eat them… which he did, because SPOILER ALERT, the doctor in charge of this nursing home is trying to cure Alzheimer’s and other degenerative conditions by summoning low-level demons, letting them consume the mind and memories of the patient, then bind them into the patient’s now empty brain to impersonate them. Seems great, except that some of the demons are able to escape confinement for short periods of time, which explains the apparitions and the murder. Anyway, they failed to pick up on the hints I was dropping at this point, thinking the old man was just crazy, so they left and decided to sneak back in at night. This is where the fun really starts.

They got into the grounds okay… at which point half of them flunked their stealth checks. So they’re crashing around in the dark, but they get to the building… and promptly try to open a window without seeing if it’s alarmed. Funnily enough, it is. So they try to hide in the trees… and fail again. They have a standoff with the chief of security, who threatens to summon the Night Nurses if the players don’t surrender and come with him to talk to the doctor. They call his bluff, and which point he summons the nurses… soon as I described the horrific howls and chittering noises that started up a second later, they backed down and told him to call them off. And so they’re off to see the doctor. Once they’re in the conference room, they apparently decided as a group (I say apparently because I saw no discussion of it, it just kind of happened and everyone agreed) that the concept of secrecy could go do something anatomically impossible to itself, and straight up told the doctor that they were from the Laundry. Naturally, he panics. He hits the panic button in his coat, then starts stalling for time, telling the players all about his procedure and research. Not only is it a potential cure for Alzheimer’s, he thinks it’s a way to gain immortality, because you could upload your mind into a new body whenever you needed to. The group’s magic specialist made some rolls, and figured out that hey, it’s a perfectly sound theory, it’s just that you’d have to be crazier than a sack full of badgers to contemplate it, since it involves letting a demon eat your mind and hoping that the bindings are able to force it into acting like you. Technically, you’re still dead, there’s just something that pretends to be you living in your body. So not only is it insane, it’s also highly questionable from a moral/ethical point of view.

At this point I threw them a bit of a curve ball. The doctor had already summoned reinforcements from the company backing him (TLA, a company that’ll be well-known to anyone who’s read the novels, particularly The Jennifer Morgue), and a tactical kill team was on the way… but he offered to let them buy in to his research. Or rather, to let the Laundry buy in, using them as proxies to negotiate an agreement (which they had the power to do). I wanted to see what they’d do here. Started a bit of an argument, but eventually the majority decided to turn him down on the basis that he clearly didn’t have as much control over the demons as he assured them, since there’d been murders and so on. Now’s when all hell broke loose… the chief of security had his own orders, to steal the doctor’s research, liquidate all assets (i.e. burn the hell out of the nursing home with all patients and staff inside, shoot the doctor in the head and, as an after thought, kill the nosy Laundry investigators). So he snuck out, summoned the Night Nurses, and started stalking the players through the now burning building as the staff tried to get the normal patients out… meanwhile the doctor has activated a demon copy of himself that’s possessing the body of a colleague of his, and has handed it a control token for the bindings and spells on the possessed patients and the grounds, thus proving he’s bloody insane. Let’s think about this for just a second. As the book says:

  • Dr Stuart has a control token.
  • Dr Stuart is possessed by a demon.
  • These are two facts that should never go together.

So the possessed doctor immediately releases all the possessed patients. Meaning the players now have a nursing home burning down around them, the demonic Night Nurses closing in on their position, a pissed off security officer with a hand cannon looking to take them out on his way out of the building, and a possessed doctor and a legion of possessed geriatric patients after them, as well as a corporate kill team on the way. Solution? Load up some banishment rounds and shoot the hell out of anything that moves. As one of the players noted, there’s no point trying too hard to not kill the possessed patients, because their minds are already gone. So they’re going to be comatose if they survive anyway.

I tried to interject a bit of horror into this part of the game. The shambling of the patients as worms of light glowed in their eyes and horrific languages spilled forth from their mouths; and the chattering and insectile motion of the Night Nurses, who looked like they had too many joints under their uniforms, had no faces, and were armed with gigantic hypodermic needles in hands that looked like they were disturbingly fluid within their gloves. I think it worked pretty well, the nurses in particular got some pretty strong reactions from the group. A tense half hour of combat later, the players emerge victorious but wounded and scarred, and in some cases less sane than they went in. They call in their own support team to clean things up, and head off for a debrief, ending the session by explaining the situation to Angleton, which I felt gave it all a nice symmetry.

So, what did the whippersnappers teach me this time around?

  • Turns out they CAN be persuaded to move past the “Kill anything that moves and loot the corpses” attitude, just need to give them time and provide other options for them.
  • Give them the chance and encourage them a little, and they WILL start to actually get into character. Which was really awesome, I’d been wondering how to prompt it, and it turns out just talking to them in character helps.
  • I was pretty surprised at how few qualms they had about shooting a legion of old people, even if they were possessed.
  • With a minimum amount of prodding, you can get newbie players to start taking the initiative and investigating, instead of just trying to follow a railroad through the session.
  • Having someone keep on saying “If were were playing D&D we could do this” in a whiny tone of voice is even more infuriating the second session, especially if you end up with a second player doing it as well (the new player had also played D&D before).
  • While they seemed to be getting the hang of the system, I think the setting of the game isn’t quite the right fit for them. They enjoy it, but I think a lot of the humour passes them by unless it’s the obvious stuff. Kind of like how even when I was in high school I loved Dilbert, but it’s only since I started working as a cubicle bound IT desk jockey that a lot of the humour really started to make sense.

All in all, this session actually went far smoother than I expected after the first one. Not that it went badly, but it had its share of snags. This time around it all went smoothly. So much so that we wrapped up about an hour earlier than I expected. Looking forward to seeing how they handle Shadowrun, though I’ll need to do a lot of reading to get ready for it myself. Though the Hero Lab files for 5th edition are available now, so I shouldn’t have too much trouble.

That’s it from me for now, I’ve got to get myself in gear and get my apartment in order so my parents can visit in the morning… going to be up all night I’d say. Anyway, if you’ve got any questions or comments, go ahead and leave ’em below.

Catch you later, til then, keep the dice rolling.

———————————————————————

Written while listening to Welcome to Night Vale, a podcast that walks the line between surreal comedy and genuinely disturbing subtle horror. It’s kind of like National Public Radio as broadcast from the Twilight Zone. You can read my post about it here, and can find out more about the series at Commonplace Books. I’m still working on a Fate game with Night Vale as a setting, but it’s slow going.

Remember, vote The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home for Night Vale Mayor! The city council would also like to remind you: If you see something, say nothing, and drink to forget.

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