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Thoughts on having run Dead Man's Stomp (Starter Set)


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Spoilers abound here, for Dead Man's Stomp, and for Edge Of Darkness to some degree (the third and second scenarios from the Starter Set respectively).  This will probably make little sense unless you've read the DMS scenario.

So this is the third of the three Starter Set scenarios I've been running for some new players - and by far the one that asks the most of the Keeper.  I decided I wanted to link this scenario to the first two, if possible - despite the different locale.  I suggested that in playing Dead Man's Stomp it'd be interesting to have a Black investigator (given the recent interest in the Black Lives Matter movement, the racially sensitive aspects within this scenario seemed particularly interesting).   So Luke Chan (of Chinese ancestry) was sidelined, and Obiri Mtumbo (a very wealthy aristocratic man from the Kingdom of Burundi) was introduced.  We discussed how he was educated in public school in England alongside Heath Montgomery-Chadwick (the dilettante who'd been through Paper Chase and Edge Of Darkness).  Heath's wild tales of what had happened to him in Arkham had spread, but he wasn't widely believed - but his old school acquaintance Obiri was intrigued and rich enough to join him in America to see for him self.  Heath had now a camera, and was determined to capture evidence of his exploits to give credence to his tales when he returned home.  Rupert 'Bare' Knuckles (the gung-ho chef, ex-military) returned for his third adventure, having just about recovered from the beating he took in the farmhouse at the end of Edge Of Darkness.

In order to link DMS to EOD I told my investigators that Warren Rice (the n.p.c. Languages Professor at Miskatonic University that they'd met in EoD) had made enquiries about the sarcophagus markings he couldn't translate and said that he'd contacted an old buddy (Julius Cockburn) he'd been at university with, who now specialised in exotic languages had said he might be able to help them.  He asked them to meet him in Small's Paradise - the Jazz Bar in Harlem that plays host to the opening 'scene' of DMS.  Within EOS the investigators had heard tell of a mysterious wealthy collector of the exotic from New Orleans (Mr Barnabas).  I'd ad libbed this plot point, and nearly lost one of my investigators to a week long round trip to Louisiana!  Fortunately they didn't go there, as I let chose that point to let them know Merriweather had died and the investigators thought the farmhouse might be a more pressing destination at that time (leading to the climax of that scenario).

It might be worth noting that I deliberately didn't tell my players the title of this scenario was "Dead Man's Stomp" - as it highlighted something in the story that I wasn't sure I wanted to give them that 'meta-clue' to.

Harlem, 1925:

Having been seated at the table in the club (alongside Pete Mansuco, to whom they were not introduced) one of the investigators (Rupert 'Bare' Knuckles), immediately asked if there were any pretty women in the bar.  Typical 'Bare'!  A 'spot hidden' and he saw someone at the bar seemingly eyeing him up.  So he went over to introduced himself to (my first hastily ad-libbed n.p.c.) Lorelei.  He bought her a drink, and they danced (DEX roll, to make sure he didn't embarrass himself).  Back at the table Leroy Turner asked Manusco to move so he could get to the stage, and got put in his place - Black men don't ask White men to move - the investigator Heath tried to engage Manusco in conversation to diffuse the situation, eliciting a nod of thanks in recognition from Leroy Turner, who got to the stage where the band started playing 'their newest new number'.  While this happened Julius Cockburn came and introduced himself to the other two investigators.  He looked at the photograph they showed him of their mysterious sarcophagus - as a precaution they'd left the actual sarcophagus at their hotel, much to his disappointment.  It was at this point that gangster Joey assassinated Manusco - with Obiri getting a particularly messy view.  The band played on, as Mansuco's reanimated body started movning and all hell broke loose in the club.  Julius Cockburn and Joey made their escapes - with Knuckles following Joey, and Obiri losing Julius in the crowd.  Knuckles was sharp-eyed enough to spot the Packard leaving had no licence plate.  The dead Mansuco made his way to the exit, being trampled in the panicked crowds, and Knuckles then witnessed him run over by the police car that arrived, after hearing him muttering 'Joey'.   Written n.p.c. Roger Daniels (federal agent) rounded up Lorelei (along with many others who'd obviously been drinking away for questioning).   Knuckles, not obviously drunk, charmed his way out of this.

Inside the club Leroy Turner, still grateful to Heath for de-escalating the situation with Mansuco earlier, said the Police were 'bound to be here soon, follow me and I'll show you a quiet way out'.  Which he did, leaving Obiri and Heath in the street out back - accidentally dropping the business card for the funeral directors - that the investigators found with it's "be there at 11am sharp!" note written on it.

The investigators met up again, now not knowing where Julius, Joey Lawson (the hitman who they got a good look at, but didn't know the name of), Peter Manusco (the victim, who they didn't know the name of), or Leroy (who they didn't know the name of, or that he was significant) were!  Heath slipped back inside and bribed a barman to see if anyone called 'Joey' had left anything in the coat-check.  No, they hadn't - but did I mean "Joey Lawson"?   He'd picked up his coat before he left (unlike a lot of people who'd left their coats in a panic).  Apparently if one leaves ones coat your name is recorded in a ledger.  The investigators hypothesised that "Joey Lawson" might be the hitman, as he'd left slightly earlier and had had time to get his coat - unlike most of the fleeing crowd.

The next day the team split up to cover more ground.

Obiri set off to the library to find out what was going on, Knuckles to the police station, and Heath to the funeral directors.

Obiri made some headway in scouring the local newspaper archive (eventually), finding out that the funeral scheduled for today at 11am was that of Frederick Fayette, and the details of his hit-and-run death and his surviving wife (Elizabeth Johnson Fayette).  Knuckles confirmed it was Manusco that died, and got his address from the police by befriending Roger Daniels (the policeman he'd met last night - getting coffee for an exhausted police officer gets you a long way in this town!).  He also heard the name Archie "The Boss" Bonato for the first time, a local mobster kingpin.  Lorelei wasn't at the station - she had been released without charge - there'd been far too many drunks for Daniels to process them all, and she was clearly small fry.  Heath met a frosty reception at the funeral directors - they didn't take kindly to a rich white Englishman asking about their business.  Whilst waiting for the funeral to start he had more success in a local cafe, where a kindly owner explained Freddie Fayette was popular and she knew him he as he was a delivery driver.

The funeral, as written in the scenario, went down - with Leroy Turner arriving, and playing his horn, thus waking the dead man in the coffin.  Heath witnessed this and got caught up in the scuffle as the funeral-goers turned on the funeral directors ("They nearly buried  him alive!").  Only the police clearing the area avoided a major fracas in the street.  Heath recognised the gunman from the club, (but still didn't know who he was at this stage - unless he was the 'Joey' that the zombie Manusco had muttered about).  He did manage to get a few photographs of the chaos that he hoped would come out when he developed them and returned home.

Knuckles set off to see Manusco's apartment, and found it in a state - clearly someone had searched the place (all the 'B' files from the cabinet were missing).  The scrap of paper he found in the bin suggested it was Joey who'd arranged to meet (and kill) Manusco. 

It was at this point that we finished for the evening.  It gave me pause to think about how and where I could make sure they found out who Leroy was (and his importance).  They still didn't even know his name!  They'd not intuited that he was important - and they were still thinking about the Sarcophagus translation from 'Julius Cockburn' that I'd added to 'link' the scenarios.

By the next session I'd concocted a plan for how this would work - and how I could linked the scenario and my n.p.c.s back together.  They were clearly going to visit Columbia university to try to find Professor Julius Cockburn...

[Session 2]

On arriving at his office they found Marie, Julius's secretary, who told them Julius was in Egypt - and had been for months.  He wasn't due back for another six months and she had had very little to do now, "...since his message."

I presented them with the prop postcard she'd received, a few weeks after he'd set off.  An extreme charm success clearly meant she liked the investigator Knuckles, and was happy to chat to him at length, about anything.  Lonely and bored, she really didn't want him to go.


A Spot Hidden made them notice a photograph of a young Professor Warren Rice (the person from Edge of Darkness scenario - at Miskatonic University - who'd spoken to Julius and arranged the meeting) on the wall, with his arm around a similarly aged fat man.  Not someone they recognised.  Who was it? they asked.  THAT was Julius Cockburn?!  That's not the man they met at Small's Paradise.

When asked why she had nothing to do now (aside of watering the plants, which she was doing when they arrived) - she showed them the telegram she'd received about a month ago.  [I was relying on the picking up on that she said that, but I'm sure I could have forced it quite easily].


Gadzooks!  It looks like the Barnabas (the collector from New Orleans that I'd ad libbed in Edge of Darkness) had potentially been involved and was having Julius's post redirected!  Upon them describing the 'very small man' that they'd encountered at Small's Paradise to Marie - and if anyone she knew fitted that description we had some light relief when she directed them to Jack Waters - a small, and clearly quite simple, cleaner who worked at the university.  Knuckles spoke to him (as he'd never met him at the club) as Heath and Obiri hid and spied to see if they recognised him.

Marie also told the team that it was quite nice to have something to do, as aside of these couple of enquiries for Julius Cockburn this week she'd had very little to do.  Other people asking about Professor Cockburn you say...?  Yes, "There was that Trumpet Player came in, asking about the markings on his trumpet - seeing if he could get them translated.  ... He left his address."

Phew.  In doing so I felt I'd managed to get the investigators back on track, give away Leroy's name and address AND close down my macguffin link to the previous scenario, all without the players feeling railroaded (hopefully).  Using the down-time between sessions was a godsend here, and playing over a couple of sessions really improved the narrative for that (there's no way I'd have been so tidy in my thinking if I'd done it all on the hoof).

With renewed purpose they set off to visit Leroy's place.  He wasn't home, but Obiri did the talking, and got them into his shared apartment.  They learnt he'd got a gig (the funeral) and "knowing Leroy, if he's being paid he'll probably go and drink it away straight after."  They also saw the photo of his beloved Marnie, and - in his suit pocket found the sheet music to "Dead Man's Stomp".

Leroy returned at this point, and they went for a drink with him - and discussed how he came by his trumpet (given by Louis Armstrong.  Allowing me to do my best Satchmo impression).  They didn't question this story at all, but quizzed him about the sheet music.  "Oh it's a new tune of Charlie Johnson's, we debuted it the other night at Small's.  We recorded it last week, that's why I've got the music."  The investigator's suddenly panicked about the recording - using the trumpet - but I decided Johnson had asked for it played on cornet for the recording.  "Why cornet, not your new trumpet?" "Cos he's the boss."  I didn't want the investigators fearing the recording!

Leroy was eager to go - and left after taking mild offence to a question.  The investigators were delayed in having to pick up the tab, thus getting to the street they saw him being kidnapped. (As the scenario dictates).

A "Follow that car" cab chase later, and they were at The Old Garage.  Here they got the keys the Packard from outside, and overheard the conversation between Joey and Archie "the boss" Bonato ("Shoot yourself Joey!  If he can play the horn to make you come back to life, what's the problem"). I also had Lorelei there - by now I'd decided she was Archie's moll, and had witnessed Joey killing Manusco (not as planned).  I was pleased to bring her back in.  The vans in the garage contained bottles of bootleg hooch.  Bonato ordered 'Jimmy' to do the deed, and Joey got shot - with Leroy then being told to play under pains of being shot.  This was the only section where my investigators did take it rather passively - and the scene played out with them in the main bit of the garage - and Zombie Joey being shot at by Archie and Jimmy as he stumbled out into the main garage.  A deranged looking Leroy ran out, and Archie saw our investigators urging Jimmy to 'kill them, they know too much!'.  Jimmy's obvious shock at what'd happened to Joey (resurrection!) was enough time for the gang to jump into the Packard and set off after Leroy who ran straight towards the cemetery.

[A player having to leave meant there was another session break about here, which gave me a good chance to plan the conclusion]

Arriving there just after Leroy they chased him to Marnie's grave where his playing woke some of the dead around about.  They tried to stop him playing, but to no avail.  A few Zombie injuries later and Jimmy the mobster turned up wildly firing his machine gun at them.  

They now had Zombies, Jimmy and Leroy playing his trumpet to contend with.  Injuries were sustained.  An investigator, and Jimmy knocked unconscious - then Jimmy killed by a Zombie.  Uh oh!  And them rising again in Zombie form.  I was fairly lenient on the investigators - especially after the session break I didn't want to have them immediately killed.  Obiri managed to lure some of the Zombies to Jimmy's van - still full of hooch, and set it alight killing some of them that way.

Heath was eventually the one to kill Leroy Turner - who himself had now died and been resurrected by his own playing - was raising more dead.  Heath used the film from his camera to wrap around Leroy, and then threw a flaming bottle of hooch (made into a molotov cocktail using his pocket square) on to Leroy and elbowing his trumpet into (and through) Leroy's skull.  A suitably epic climax!  The Zombies collapsed, and Police sirens were heard.  The investigators scarpered, not wanting to be caught up in the aftermath and explanations.

As a conclusion (and after character development), we learnt of what happened (the police blamed vandals, Small's Paradise reopened).

As my 'conclusion' I said that Rupert 'Bare' Knuckles received a package through the post at his bakery a few weeks later.  From Marie, Julius Cockburn's secretary who'd clearly been somewhat smitten with him.  It was the new single by Charlie Johnson's orchestra - "Teddy Bear's Picnic".  It made Maria think of him.  Ahhhh.  But look at the B-side!  Arghhh!




(The unintended gap between sessions 2 and 3 had given me time to make those record labels to wrap the story up like that - which I thought was quite sweet).  I was pleased to find Teddy Bear's Picnic was written in the early 1900s, but didn't get words added until the 1930s, so was not period inaccurate in 1925.


The next day via whatsapp I received...(from the player who was controlling Knuckles)


Knuckles has been humbled by his impulsive act! He needs to remember he’s not the same man he was 10-15 years ago! And he can’t just be a wrecking ball in situations!
He’s contemplating how lucky he is in the hospital; not withstanding the lovely nurse he’s managed to charm whilst there! 

(and from the player who had Heath)...


Not wanting to stay in Harlem any longer than required, Heath checked out of the hotel, took a cab to The Plaza by Central Park where he checked in using an alias. The concierge arranged a safety deposit box for the duration of the stay as well as securing a first class ticket back to Southampton on the RMS Mauretania, due to depart  from New York in a week.
Heath took tea in his room and wrote to Luke Chan to update him on events, and wrote a letter to his father in England informing him of his pending trip home and that upon returning he would be taking some time in the Family’s Norfolk retreat to recuperate. Heath also asked his father to inform Dr Klein to prepare a room at the rehabilitation facility as time there would certainly help in his recuperation.
The next day, Heath called to visit Rupert at the hospital and was pleased to see Bare Knuckles looked to be recovering well and seemed to be back to his charming ways with one of the nurses on the ward. The feelings of jealousy and contempt that he had held towards Rupert seem to have dwindled and had been replaced by a sense of respect and camaraderie that he hadn’t expected.
After visiting time had ended, Heath stopped by the administration office at the hospital and made sure Rupert’s medical bills were taken care of.
Heading back to The Plaza, Heath was hoping he’d return to find a message from Obiri, with details of where his friend was staying. He was keen to catch up before leaving for England, as Obiri might also want to join him on the ship next week...




All told we had an excellent time with it.

As a comment I did find the Harlem map having different key numbers on the handout to the version the keeper had in the scenario a silly inconvenience.  (And I didn't like having the funeral directors already labelled before they knew it was important).  Instead I gave the players a version of the Harlem map from the scenario (with all 10 locations on it numbered, but redacted the Key, so I could tell them things as I saw fit.  If it suited my purpose for locations to be near or far apart I could change them on the fly then, as I introduced them).

The map of Small's Paradise had Peter Manusco on the key!  Which I wasn't having!  I clipped that off, and only let them see the main area of the club unless they went down the passages at the back.

Similarly the Old Garage (having gang thugs on there) didn't suit my purpose as I had Lorelei as well - so I just used the front of the garage (and no key) again.

I prefer blank maps I think!


Despite these tiny misgivings I found this an excellent scenario and we had great fun within in.  The criticisms about railroading in this story that you see is only true if the Keeper lets that happen.  Being flexible to the investigators, letting them split up and not being too precious where the key. information they need comes from will get you through this without it feeling like an 'on rails' story I found.  My players (who I talked with this morning) were amazed that Julius and Marie, and Lorelie were not part of the written scenario, and didn't feel they were on rails at all apparently.  Which is the biggest complement they could pay me I think.  If I have any advice with this scenario (and any), it's use the down time between sessions to react to what has happened, and plan what might happen as a result.  And don't be inflexible in your thinking/planning.

Anyway this scenario was GREAT fun.  I look forward to handing the keeper job over to one of my players next time... he wants to try a modern setting scenario, and I'm eager to be an investigator for a change.

Edited by uglifruit
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