[guest author] Royale Arms 2: The Case of the Vile Vial
This was the second InSpectres tale from the gentlemen of the Royale Arms. The first being The Case of the Peripatetic Pharaoh. It was also the first InSpectres game I had ever GMed since so far I’ve been a happy player in the InSpectres in Spaaaace! games. In addition to the game summary, I discuss a few lessons learned about this game.
The Honorable Professor Phineas K Boss, III, Esq.: professor of law and former judge, lover of The Hunt (view halloo!) – Chris
Sir Percival Walsey Kichner: expert in linguistics, timepieces of the world and sporting a monocle but only when there are no other men with monocles – Ben
Colonel St. John Blythe Stockton: handlebar mustache, “stocky” build, butterfly enthusiast – Jem
At the Royale Arms, relaxing over a glass of port and a cigar, the three old friends recount their adventures to the ever-suffering butler Montague:
In their younger days, the three gentlemen were on holiday aboard a steamship in the Mediterranean, on its way to Crete. They enjoyed the company of the other passengers, often dining at the Captain’s table as gentlemen of distinction and good breeding. One evening, the Captain interrupted their brandy and cigars and asks them discretely to come to the first-class cabin of one Madame Merriweather, a passenger who for the most part kept to herself. They rushed to the the cabin where they found the Madame dead on the floor, a vial of poison in her hand. The Captain asked the gentlemen to investigate and find the killer before they reached Crete. Both his reputation and the reputation of the shipping line were at stake… Thus began The Case of the Vile Vial…
Sir Kichner immediately notices the vial was put in her hand after she died to make it look like suicide. Ah, foul play, most foul. Investigating further, he thinks he hears something in the hall, but alas, a bad roll results in a bump on the head for his trouble and the shadowy figure runs down the hall. Our man of action with the revolver, Colonel Stockton, immediately gives chase huffing and puffing after the figure, but oh no! he slips on the deck and loses sight of the culprit, but luckily he left behind a mysterious letter fragment with a strange sigil.
Ben then leaps in with a confessional that all of this brought back bad memories for Colonel Stockton (Jem) who is haunted by the circumstances surrounding the death of his wife.
Later, Sir Kichner, no doubt nursing his head in the lounge, strikes up a conversation with another passenger, young Charles, who as it turns out is so love struck for Madame Merriwhether that he’s followed her onto this passenger ship. Charles is particularly distraught because he’s sure that the good Madame, recently widowed, is meeting her new paramour in Crete, probably some Greek shipping tycoon he thinks.
Professor Phineas continues to search the room and finds nothing but the dead woman’s little poodle dog. Using his keen canine training skills of the The Hunt, he shows the dog the scent of his master and follows him deep into the bowels of the ship. The dog yips up to a woman he knows. The woman turns around and Phineas is shocked when it’s none other than the dead Madame Merriweather! Still in awe of this revelations, Phineas doesn’t notice the blackjack above his head. Fade to black.
Back in the parlour, the gentlemen enjoy a nightcap ice bags in one hand and brandy in the other. This is half-time when the characters get together and discuss the case so far. Never, ever forget half-time. Sir Kichner has the idea that perhaps Charles can identify the body to be sure that it is Madame Merriwhether herself, but before they can do that, he takes a look at the letter with the Sigil and immediately identifies it as the sigil of a mystic cult of the dead known to be from Crete, and the letter was clearly addressed to Madame Merriweather herself.
The gentlemen regroup and decide to investigate the cargo hold and steam engine area since that’s where Phineas saw the other Madame. Colonel Stockton already knowing the layout of the hold from the Captain leads the way and sees a light from one of the cargo rooms — but he’s distracted because the memories of his wife are flooding back, the dead Madame Merriweather, the dead Mrs. Stockton! He kicks in the door and they realize they’ve interrupted some sort of mystic ritual! A scuffle ensues but the gentlemen are outnumbered and soon they find themselves tied up in the back witnessing the ritual’s completion. Luckily, dogs really are man’s best friend and Phineas has the pooch well-trained as he (the dog) bites through the rope. Meanwhile, Sir Kichner realizes that the mystic ritual is no real ritual, it’s a fake! And just he is going to announce it, the Captain and the crew rush in and all the cult members are arrested on site.
It turns out that the imposter cult members had convinced Madame Merriwhether they could resurrect her husband through their mystic rituals. They also convinced her to fake her own death so that she and he husband could disappear untraced intending most likely to gain control of her fortune.
This was my first time GMing InSpectres. I confess to having watched a lot of Agatha Christie recently and was thinking about (unduly influenced by?) Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express type mysteries. Unfortunately, this thinking led me astray when it came to the Royale Arms. Even though it’s set in the same relative time period, I didn’t realize the genre was off. The gentlemen of the Royale Arms don’t investigate ordinary murders of kitchen cooks or heiresses, and on top of that in Agatha Christie the detective is usually hired or is familiar with the suspects. Still, the game turned out pretty well because the players made the game into something interesting — a sure sign of good players who make their own fun. I only wish I had given them a starting premise with more meat so they didn’t have to make themselves dive in and use early franchise dice to make the story strange enough to be an actual mystery.
So what I learned from this game is that the mystery has to fit the genre of the characters and there has to be enough of the right information to make it interesting to them. You don’t need a ton, but just enough to put it in the “huh, I want to know more” category. In this game, a dead woman with poison in her hand didn’t quite get there. Anything can be made to be enticing with good players as evidenced by this game, but you’re better off starting off well rather than making the players dig out of a hole right off the bat. You want the players to be excited and be thinking of potential solutions when they first hear the mystery, not 4 franchise dice in.