Tinkering with Call of Cthulhu: The Auction – Part 2

As I mentioned before I like the Auction from The Asylum and other Tales. It’s got some clunky parts though, notably how the auction plays out. The other is somewhat the greater mystery that presents itself later. For new fans of CoC, it’s a great adventure and one I highly recommend. If you’ve got interest in playing it, go shoo and let the rest of this grumbling be for just the keepers and GMs. Spoilers ahead.

What trips up the scenario for me is you have this excellent set up with somewhat of a mystery. However you have 8 suspects that aren’t really suspects. It’s clear to the players some kind of creature took the Brass Head. And even after all the investigation the PCs do, it’ll rely on Ausperg stating three of the participants tried to buy it from him before the auction. That’s sort of a waste of session time.

I don’t have a complete fix for this. Even with my changes it’ll railroad the story some. But at the end of the auction night, at least players will have 2-3 suspects that they can track down based on clues they found themselves (allowing Ausperg’s information available as a backup if players miss out on key points). So there are two main aspects I changed. One was how the dumbwaiter operated. The other was how the auction progressed in the evening.

I had the dumbwaiter have call buttons on at the top floor, while in the basement there was only a button to close the door. The critical point was that for the dumbwaiter to reach the upper floor someone had to push the lift button calling it up. The second part was allowing a 6-8 minute break in the auction. At that time four of the participants would leave the room one at a time. PCs could ignore half of the auction guests and focus only on the ones that left during the break.

So the auction played out with about half of the items being bid on. Then a break was taken in the bidding where most of the guests stayed in the auction room. Some would leave and remaining guests would try and engage with as many of the players as possible in idle conversation. Everyone would return for the second round, with one of the lot items in tow. After bidding for the item, Ausberg would ring for the Brass Head. Time passes. Eventually one of his staff investigates and finds bloody remains and the item missing, just as the scenario describes. Now onto the clues for the investigators.

The Dumbwaiter As mentioned it only has call buttons on the second floor. The second floor has 3 buttons. One to close the door, one to send it down to the cellar, and one to call it back up. The basement only has a button to close the door. So the waiter could only have been called up from the basement from the second floor. The dumbwaiter will also only move between floors if the door is closed. However the door can be closed and opened from the inside by manually doing so (or being quick enough to push the button and draw back their hand inside the dumbwaiter). There is blood and gore in the dumbwaiter. It takes about 2 minutes for the waiter to move up or down to the cellar.

The Auction Prep-room The door to the room does not appear to have been forced open (it was never locked as a servant is supposed to be inside at all times). There is gore and blood everywhere, including in the dumbwaiter. One of the surviving prep-room servants will state when they retrieved the lot for the second round of bids, everything was in order. They will admit sheepishly they had stepped out for a smoke when they were supposed to be in the vault during the break. The other servant had slipped downstairs for a cup of coffee. The servant will state that his fellow servant was in the room when he returned from a smoke. He cannot recall if the dumbwaiter was in use then. So there was a time when the prep-room was unlocked and possibly no one was inside during the break. The dumbwaiter could have been activated during that time when no one was in the room.

Auction Break Only 4 people left during the break. They did so in a specific order with about 20-30 seconds in between each person leaving:

– Lesek Czernin was the first person to leave during the break.
– Klaus Hunderprest (the ‘murderer’) was the second person to leave the room.
– Margaret Jameson left the room third during the break.
– Sir Martin Murray was the last person to have left the room.

The important bit is that Hunderprest was the 2nd person to leave, openly claiming to needed to use the toilet. Sir Martin Murray was the last to leave during the break quietly planning on doing the same. Yet Sir Murray entered an empty bathroom, and saw Hunderprest enter when he left the toilet. This is a small clue that there was some lost time in the events described by Hunderprest (Hunderprest left first claiming the need to use the restroom. Sir Martin Murray enters an empty bathroom only to see Hunderprest enter as he was leaving it).

As players make their rounds of investigation of the four, some additional information is gleaned from each one.

– Lesek Czernin will be secretive on what he did during the break. He appeared agitated and tense once the break in bidding was called. Lesek actually leaves the house to approach a car parked outside. If tailed and observed by a PC, Lesek will have a conversation with a man in the back of the car (there are two others in the car, a driver and another person in the front seat). The car will drive off leaving Lesek to return to the house. If PCs are relying on statements from the house staff, a servant will only state that the Lesek was directed outside of the house and they saw them leave and return (but not see what they did outside). Lesek is a red herring. He was simply conversing with his patron on the status of the auction.

– Margaret Jameson (3rd person to leave the room during the break) will have claimed she needed to speak on the phone. Margaret went downstairs to make a call. When she returns, she will be rather agitated. If not observed by a PC, a servant will state she went inside a downstairs room. If players investigate further, sure enough in Ausperg’s office the telephone will have shifted from its proper place on the desk as if someone had used it. She will not initially freely speak of whom she was calling and be rather deflecting if pressed. In reality it was to her father to beg for more money for the auction and she was refused.

– Sir Martin Murray (the last person to leave during the auction break) will also claim they need to use the washroom. He will be rather defensive if asked what he did during the break, simply stating that he was answering nature’s call and be rather standoffish about any details. The truth was that the food during dinner was rather rich, he had a horrible bout of the runs and was exceedingly embarrassed to mention it. After some intensive questioning he will grudgingly admit he may have heard some footsteps in the hall while in the toilet but was unsure. After washing and stepping out of the toilet, he noticed Klaus Hunderprest entering the same bathroom.

– Klaus Hunderprest (the second person to leave during the break) will have announced to other guests as he leaves he need to visit the washroom. During the break, he will slip into the empty auction prep-room and activated the dumbwaiter. After calling up the dumbwaiter, Klaus will enter the bathroom and see Sir Martin Murray leaving. In the cellar, a ghoul will have broken in and be waiting inside the dumbwaiter. The ghoul will go up the waiter and wait for the commotion of people outside to go to a lull. It will stealthily exit the waiter, kill an assistant, take the Brass Head, and then take the dumbwaiter down to the cellar (pushing the buttons and closing the door while inside it).

Through conversation, Klaus Hunderprest’s story should not add up. If cornered in questioning, he will finally claim that he will no longer take part in any further investigation. He’ll stand by the notion that he surely did not rend the poor servant limb from limb and steal away the Brass Head. The incompetence of the police will back up this statement from Klaus. It’s a bit of railroading but at the end of the night, Hunderprest will be free to go. However players should have him as suspect number one in being involved with the murder.

If things fall short with the investigation, Ausperg can drop a hint that Margaret Jameson, Lesek Czernin, and Klaus Hunderprest were all people that approached him to buy the Brass Head. If another nudge is needed to guide players to Hunderprest, a confession from one of the house servants selling the floorplans of Ausperghaus and the staff assignments to Klaus can also be utilized.

At the same time, Klaus will likely know the players are suspicious of him. This can allow for Hunderprest to be more proactive hiring thugs to tackle with the PCs. This situation can then help kick more adventure into the investigation if needed (and interrogation of the thugs leading back to Hunderprest is also another clue if needed).

These changes in events really helped tighten up the entire murder investigation some. It’s apparent that something got into the house and stole off with the Brass Head, but the players will have a much more solid notion that Hunderprest was somehow involved. It also makes the follow up investigation to find him a more direct affair. Additionally by framing the events more as a murder mystery, it also allowed my group to work out their detective chops and stretch their investigative legs some.