Three of us playtested tremulus on Thursday, trying out the Lovecraft-ized version of the Apocalypse World game rules being put together by RealityBlurs. Aside from myself, there was Jess, who took the role of the journalist Daniel Bach, and Adreanna, who played the doctor Martin Kensington. After going over character creation and the Ebon Eaves checklist (which determines two possible scenarios, “Lost Promises” and “The Black Grove”), we were ready to play. In retrospect, I should have had the players go over the Ebon Eaves checklist first, so that I could have read over their choices in more detail while they were making their characters…in the end, I chose the “Lost Promises” scenario, as it was a bit easier for me to mentally visualize.
It was a pretty fun game, though would have been improved had I been a bit more familiar with the rules and the playset document. I should have also been asking more pointed questions of the players, and I didn’t use as many Keeper Moves as I should have. But all in all, the game made for an enjoyable evening, and I’m pretty convinced tremulus will be my default choice for running Lovecraftian games in the future.
I apologize in advance for how rambling my APs can be.
The story began with Doctor Kensington receiving a telegram from the Reverend Bartholomew Green a month previous, followed up by a couple of other messages, asking the good doctor to attend him in the town of Ebon Eaves, Georgia. Hearing through the grapevine that the Rev. Green is one of those hysterical bible-thumping faith healers, the Doctor ignores the telegrams but finally acquiesces a few weeks later.
Meanwhile, the Doctor’s long-time associate, Daniel Bach the crime reporter, has been on the hunt for a two-bit low-life forger and con-man named David Dobbins, who up and disappeared from the
Boston crime scene a few weeks before. He
caught a lead that Dobbins had run down to Georgia, and he decided to see if
there was a story in it (while telling his editor that he would be writing up a
feel-good fluff article).
Kensington and Bach renew their acquaintance while on the long bus-ride to
where they also meet Pastor Balthasar Oastler, who also had been contacted by
Rev. Green. While Oastler seemed quite friendly to Kensington (“A man of
breedin’ and cult’re, despite his godless profession”), he snubbed Bach, who he
deemed to be beneath his notice.
As their bus got closer to the town of
Ebon Eaves, Kensington and Bach took note
that the nearby farms all seemed to be barren, despite it quickly approaching
the harvest. As the bus finally pulled into the depot in the early evening,
Oastler mentions to Kensington that he will be staying at the fine Leafy Grove
Hotel a block away, and takes his leave. The doctor and his associate decide to
check in at the Sandy Palm Motel across the street, and noticed that despite
the early hour, there weren’t many people wandering about, and the few they did
see seemed listless and slightly malnourished.
They talk a bit with the motel manager, Blaine, about the goings-on in town, and learn that Rev. Green died a week or so ago. His health had been failing for the last several months, and with his decline, the crops similarly were dying and the livestock sickened. His nephew, Dobbins, has since taken over his church until a replacement can be found. Intrigued, Kensington decides to head over to the Church of the Starry Sky to talk to Dobbins, while Bach heads to the nearest bar to see what information he can dig up.
Kensington notices quite a queue of townsfolk waiting at the back door of the church, and when he reveals that he had been invited originally by the late Rev. Green, they let him in to the front of the line. Upon entering the church sitting room, he runs across Pastor Oastler again, who is sitting enjoying some brandy with Mr. Dobbins, and learns that he had been offered the position as the new Reverend. After some discussion, Oastler asks Kensington to stay around town to provide his medical services to the citizens, who seem to be suffering from some minor malady. Kensington agrees to set up a temporary office at the church, and heads back to the motel. In return, Kensington gets permission to examine Rev. Green’s corpse, which is lying in state upstairs in preparation for his funeral. He finds it odd that a hale and hearty man, old though he may have been, who lived on a vegetarian diet and took hikes up into the hills to drink “holy water” from a secret spring, would suddenly die when the local farms were suffering mysteriously.
Bach mostly gets a cold shoulder from the people he speaks to, who are suspicious of all the questions he’s been asking. He does dig up a little more on Dobbins, but not enough to figure out his purpose in town.
The next day, Bach goes along with Kensington to the Church, acting as an assistant so that he can snoop around. Dobbins is immediately suspicious of Bach, and quickly excuses himself to call some of his contacts while Bach looks around. Kensington discovers that most of the people who are ill live near the river on the edge of town, near the foothills where there used to be some old
They all exhibit the same symptoms of mild but persistent abdominal pains,
pains that they say the old Reverend used to be able to cure them of.
Bach goes upstairs to the church proper, where the townsfolk are paying their last respects to Rev. Green, laying flowers upon his body, while listening to the preaching of Pastor Oastler. Dobbins is off to one side, examining a tattered old journal, which Bach was unable to get a closer look at before he was noticed and confronted. It is soon revealed that Dobbins knows who Bach really is, and Bach makes no attempt to hide that he knows about Dobbins.
Later in the day, after Kensington is invited to the church in the evening for Pastor Oastler’s ordainment, he goes off to the river to inspect the water supply. Though he doesn’t notice anything immediate, after taking some well-water samples to the local pharmacy (to use their lab facilities), he discovers that it is indeed contaminated with some kind of sulphuric mineral compound, and surmises this is probably the cause of the illness, and possibly why the crops are poor.
Meanwhile, Bach wanders town talking to some farmers, but otherwise doesn’t get very far with his investigation.
The two meet up again that evening in front of the church. Kensington is welcomed, but some senior villagers try to take Bach aside, as Dobbins has branded him an enemy of the church. Kensington plays interference so Bach can sneak in with the rest of the crowd, and then ducks down the back stairs to avoid further notice. Kensington seats himself to watch the ceremony, which is about as grand and pompous as he feared, while Bach looks around downstairs, and discovers a hidden chamber behind a bookcase! In his explorations, he finds that it leads to a secret altar room, but thinks that it served as more a place of esoteric Christian ceremonies, rather than something dark and sinister.
After the service, as Oastler is busy speaking with enthusiastic citizens, Dobbins tries to have one of his lackeys restrain Kensington because he no longer trusts him. Kensington, however, seemed to have gain the trust of the townfolk, thanks to his medical treatments, and Dobbins is forced to do his own dirty work. He forces Kensington downstairs, and into the hidden chamber, where Bach was still investigating. After a brief exchange, though, Kensington manages to make a deal with Dobbins – he’ll try to get his friend Bach to leave town, in exchange for curing the illness. Dobbins agrees, and they leave. Bach waits a while until he thinks the coast is clear, and moves the bookshelf aside…only to run across one of Dobbins’ lackeys coming down the stairs, who cries out for help! Bach makes a run for it, and after avoiding pursuit, manages to hide out in a barn for the night.
The next day, Kensington returns to the church to look after some more of the ill, and learns that Dobbins and Oastler had left that morning to search for the “holy water” spring that Rev. Green would supposedly drink from. By lunch time, Dobbins had returned, but without Oastler.
Meanwhile, Bach goes to the town hall to look through the records, to dig up more information on Green and Dobbins. He doesn’t find much, but after going through some old photo archives, finds that Rev. Green has been around since at least 1865, and didn’t seem to age at all! He decides that he wants to see these springs for himself, and hikes up the foothills to the old springs, which have long since dried up. Looking around, though, he accidently falls into a gulley, where he is cushioned by the entrails of Oastler! Climbing out, he finds a torn page of Dobbins’ old journal in Oastler’s clenched fist, and a bloody altar in the wilderness, near a small bubbling spring that smells strongly of sulfur. He pulls out his trusty camera and takes pictures of what he believes to be the scoop of the decade!
Kensington decides to call it a day, and wants to see of Oastler has returned yet. The church attendant claims to have not seen him since the morning, and he’s getting worried. Before he leaves the church, Kensington hears a strange scratching sound from the main hall where Rev. Green’s body is being kept. He looks around, finding nothing but the pews and the closed casket…but after searching the nooks and crannies, turns around to find the casket has been opened, and the body missing! He finds a trail of dried flower petals just as he hears the attendant scream. He discovers his unconscious body, and the back door wide open with more flower petals littering the ground. He follows in hot pursuit, but is stopped by Dobbins. After a brief confrontation, Dobbins tells Kensington to get into his car, and holding out his old journal and a knife, slices Kensington’s hand and demands he places his bloody palm upon the pages. Kensington refuses, and pulls his sword cane out, stabbing Dobbins in the shoulder and quickly gains the upper hand. Now a prisoner, Dobbins directs Kensington to the old
hot springs to find Oastler.
It isn’t long before Kensington and Bach are reunited, and pry an explanation from Dobbins. It seems that the journal belonged to Rev. Green, and was the only way he knew of finding out who had the “power” to take over the church and keep an ancient evil sealed away. Because Dobbins was so long removed from his uncle, he never really understood the powers Green had, and the few snippets he gleaned from the book and other teachings led him to believe that blood upon the book would confer holy power to someone who was worthy. Discovering that Oastler didn’t receive the power, he killed him in rage, and sought out Kensington to test his blood.
As he speaks, the bubbling spring erupts violently, and from out of it pours dark grey fluids that start to take form, looking like something between a gorilla and a lizard. In a panic, Kensington tries the book, placing his bloody hand upon it…but he does not have the power either! Dobbins goes insane and starts to crawl backwards down the hill, and Bach, believing it was better to run and fight another day, runs for the car and drives off, leaving Kensington behind! Racing down the road, he passes a grayish-looking old man on foot…only too late does he realize that this was the animated corpse of Rev. Green!
Following too late, Kensington starts running down the road, while the grayish monster kills Dobbins. He runs into Rev. Green’s body, which grabs Kensington by the shoulders and, with luminescent tendrils extending from his mouth, asks “Do you want the power?”
A few months later, Bach finds a report about the town of
Ebon Eaves, and how, under
the leadership of its new priest, Rev. Kensington, they were recovering from
the malady that had been plaguing it for so many months.