Thursday, November 5, 2020

Something Strange in Your Neighborhood

Continuing my tale from the previous post, I will recap the second half of the four and three quarter hour Ghostbusters one-shot I ran on October 17th and then get to why this game worked so well in a third installment.

Bear with me please as this might be a little long. OK, really long. Thanks. 

Now sit back, relax, and enjoy...

We last left our blue collar boogie battlers driving their 'Ecto-Mobile' to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where an exhibition entitled 'The History of Halloween' was causing a massive spike in the already high Psycho-Kinetic Energy readings of this time of year. 

Pulling up to the front steps of the world famous 'Met', our heroes saw dozens of people fleeing from the area, all dressed to the nines. Some had burns on their clothes, some were soaking wet, and still others appeared to be coughing and weak.

The boys hurried up the steps, calling out to museum personnel and a few cops on the scene to get the civilians clear of the area. They then entered the Met to a conversation that made us all smile more than it should have. 

I described the layout of the place and posted the image above. Nearly all of the players had, at one time or another, been to the Met in real life, though for some it had been 15 years ago or more.

We got into a brief disagreement over the location of the Coat and Bag Check area, a room not clearly visible in the picture. Eventually, we realized that changes post 911 - and depending on where you entered the building - facilitated the need for two different areas for Coat/Bag Check that caused the initial confusion. This all lasted no more than a few minutes or so.

As soon as we cleared that up, with no further visual information (no more photos, no maps, etc.), my friend Will said, "So, if this is a special exhibit and it includes both costumes and objects, it's probably in the rotating exhibition gallery space straight head a bit and then on the left. Let's go!"

Here is a map, the actual floorplan of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's first floor and mezzanine areas from the official website. Note Exhibition Gallery 199, it's location identified exactly by someone who hadn't been in the Met in over 15 years and hadn't seen this map. 

THIS is the group I gamed with in my formative years. These guys!

As the Ghostbusters raced towards the exhibit room they passed and were then joined by the Met's Head of Security and the Chief Maintenance person, as well as the exhibit's Curator. The Met employees filled the guys in on what was happening so far.

Beginning about an hour and a half ago (coinciding with the PKE spike the Ghostbusters detected earlier), strange things had started to transpire. At first they were minor and mentally written off as being spooked by the exhibit and the season. Eventually things escalated, with objects flying about, lights flicking on and off, electronic devices dying, and [only moments before the Ghostbusters' arrival], four elements of the exhibition taking on ghostly qualities. Now, a whirlwind of supernatural force blew relics and patrons in multiple directions, pinning a security guard against the wall near the entrance. 

As the PCs aided the remaining attendees in evacuating the room (though they couldn't seem to free the security guard) they became aware of the four Spectres of Halloweens Past! Based on the names of the exhibition pieces they were called: (Left to Right): The Witch Ghost, The Skull Girl, The Creepy Clowns, and The Turnip Jacks. 

Robert Stadler, realizing these items were part of the donated Francine Lawson Collection, does a leap of logic and surmises that the Witch Ghost costume was one Lawson herself actually wore as a child. In fact, he believes that if he can get close and communicate with the entity he can get it to call off the entire incident. 

Dave Nelson immediately vows to cover Rob's moves into the room and Pedro Preguntas vows to cover Dave because if anything happened to him Pedro is sure he'd be blamed and near hear the end of it. 

Meanwhile, Alexander Thorton deduces that if this haunting and the paranormal activity at the Firehouse are related, these ghosts must be drawing power from the building to put on such a showy display. He and Gabriel Zimmerman decide to run down to the basement, accompanied by a few Maintenance workers, to shut down the electrical energy in the area, thereby limiting the Halloween ghosts' abilities. 

Rob Stadler goes into the room and prepares to 'fake out' the Jack O'Lantern Turnips and then dodge to his left. The Turnip Jacks fly right towards him and one breathes forth a jet of fire. Robbie does a flip, Dave moves in and blasts at the Jacks, and Pedro runs into the room to face the Jack O' Turnips up close and personal. The good news is Rob avoids being broiled alive and Pedro gets within punching range. Unfortunately Dave misses, creating a massive hole in the wall and getting the attention of the Creepy Clowns. In addition, some exhibition stands catch fire, creating a short wall of flames that prevents Dave from moving further into the room. 

In the meantime, Thorton and Zimmerman have run down the stairs to the lower levels, Maintenance personnel in pursuit, when they come across two more employees of the Met discussing the taking down of 'The History of Halloween' exhibit once the festivities are over. Apparently, someone didn't get the memo! Thorton instructs the two of them to gather the cases for storing the items back up right now and place them at the entrance to the exhibit gallery. 

Just then, the Skull Girl ghost, scared by the noise of the fighting upstairs, phases through the ceiling some distance in front of the group. She hangs in the air blocking them from reaching the door to the main 'fusebox'. As Alexander and Gabriel step towards her and in front of the various Met personnel, the girl begins to cough and wheeze as she asks seemingly innocent and curious questions about the pretty lights on their gear.

Powering up their Proton Packs they frighten the ghost, who responds in an eerie little child's voice followed by a whooping cough that blows Zimmerman a good 200 ft. backward! Thorton stands his ground and is only pushed back a tiny bit. The Met employees travel some 30-50 ft. back, some falling over. Within seconds, the Met employees begin to cough and wheeze themselves, some claiming to be short of breath, while others complain of a fever, chills, and/or feeling very weak. It was as if the Skull Girl's hurricane cough carried the side effect of Depression Era influenza. 

Back upstairs in the exhibit room, Robbie readies himself for a dash deeper inside and towards his target but waits until Dave can give him an opening. One of the Creepy Clown boys points at Dave and gets one of his brothers to join in as well as they start laughing at the Ghostbusters. The laughter is nearly deafening, causing fear and confusion.

Pedro charges the Jack O' Turnips, physically striking one with his Neutrona Wand and then shoving the weapon into the violent vegetable's 'mouth'. Firing his Proton Stream, the Turnip flash cooks from the inside out and falls to the ground inert, a disembodied green and orange mist floating where it had done so previously.

This distracts the Clowns, enabling Dave Nelson to grab a fire extinguisher off the wall and put out the flames in front of him. He then fires his cannon-like Particle Stream Thrower. It causes a huge hole in the back wall and two of the the three Clown ghosts start to rethink laughing at a former US Marine turner Ghostbuster. 

Rob then makes his move, ducking and weaving around objects sailing through the air, avoiding the remaining Turnips, and shouting to the Witch Ghost, "Francine! Mom says it's time to go home!"

The Witch Ghost turns and tilts her head as if trying to crane to hear someone far away. "What?"

"You heard me! Trick or Treat is over. It's time to say good bye to your friends and come home", said Rob, projecting loudly over the din of the action but less yelling then speaking calmly and a bit sternly. 

The Witch Ghost asked for ten more minutes in that way that children do when they don't want to go to bed. Robbie Stadler would have none of it and said so, though he added she could help her Mother set the table and after dinner they'd go through the treats they'd gotten. This seemed to please the Witch and she called to the others that it was time to go home. Halloween was over for now. 

Unfortunately, Skull Girl wasn't there to hear this and her visage became even more horrifying (and she wasn't exactly adorable to start with!). Unable to reach the electrical switches and reduce the entity's power level, Thorton came up with a mad idea. He made quick alterations to his Neutrona Wand, the Quantum Incarcerator, and attempted to generate an EMP blast to knock out the power. Meanwhile, Zimmerman was running back into the fray, charging up his Positron Field Generator to give himself a shield against the ghost. 

Thorton released the EMP and after a blinding flash of blue-white light, everything went dark. The other thing that could be seen was the largely transparent, red/orange-tinted, glowing sphere of Zimmerman's Positron Force Field. As he reached the others he switched the lever from defense to attack and tried to catch the weakened Skull Girl in a Positron Bubble. 

He missed. The Skull Girl shout/shrieked "PRETTY!" as she started draining energy from Zimmerman's Proton Pack! Just then, Thorton managed to restart his own Proton Pack and fired at the ghost, grabbing it in the peculiar pull of the Quantum Incarcerator's inverted stream. As the Skull Girl was forced to stop absorbing Zimmerman's power to fight against Thorton, Gabriel was able to drop and slide a Ghost Trap into place below her. He then added his own stream into the mix, finally catching the little horror in a Positronic Field. Between the two of them and some quick thinking (getting the Skull Girl to look into the light of the trap), the pair was successful in capturing the wayward wraith. 

Back in the exhibit room, after the Ghosts briefly say their good-byes, the Witch Ghost, confirmed as some sort of spectral impression of Francine Lawson, confides in Robert Stadler her love of Halloween and how sometimes she never wants it to end. Rob shares her fondness for the holiday but wisely notes that if it occurred every day we'd tire of it and it wouldn't seem as special as when it comes around once each year. 

Fading from this world, their manifestations laid to rest in a manner of speaking, the costumes and turnips revert to the common if historical objects they were and are quickly but carefully packed up in their proper containers. At that point Thorton and Zimmerman come up from the basement carrying a steaming Ghost Trap and the paper mache mask and old dress of the Skull Girl. As those too are secured, overseen by Stadler and Thorton, the Met Director, Exhibit Curator, and Marsha Krane, horror writer and current owner of the Lawson Collection, arrive to thank the Ghostbusters for all they've done. 

Pedro and Alex are suspicious that one of these people may be behind the event, knowing the consequences of having the items united at midnight on Halloween, but are convinced the group are more uninformed and careless than evil. Krane says she should have known, having done extensive research on Francine Lawson but her own love of Halloween may have clouded her judgement. She just wanted to share her affection for All Hallow's Eve with the public. Stadler comments on how much they have in common and after a bit of flirting the two decide to see each other again sometime soon. Robbie you ol' dog. 

In the background, while all this is happening, Nelson and Preguntas, with some help from Thorton and Zimmerman, try to figure out a way to get paid for all their work. Out loud they discuss things like 'paranormal negligence' and a failure to purchase 'ghost insurance' while setting up a supernatural themed exhibit during Halloween...


Next time, a behind-the-scenes look at why this was one of my best RPG sessions of 2020.

Barking Alien

Extensive research was done by yours truly to authentically depict the Met, the exhibit, and various other aspects of the story. I thought you'd all be particularly interested in some of my notes regarding the haunted costumes.

The Witch Ghost is a homemade witch costume with a paper mache mask and a hat and outfit made of good quality materials. Likely belonged to the child of a family of mild means, circa late 1800s.

The Skull Girl, aka The Tenement Ghost, was a homemade paper mache skull mask and a little girl's dress. The dress quality, style, and other elements indicated it was from a very poor family in the Depression Era, late 1920s to early 1930s.

The Creepy Clowns, also called 'Clown Bullies', were likely store bought costumes, among the first commercially available Halloween costumes in the US, average, middle class family, circa mid-to-late 1950s or very early 1960s. 

Finally the Turnip Jacks, also Jack O'Turnips and Burning Turnips, date back to the earliest history of the Irish settlers arriving in what would become the United States. Jack O'Lanterns were originally made from carved out turnips, based on the old Irish folktale of the clever but doomed 'Stingy Jack' who reneged on several deals with the devil. Using pumpkins didn't win favor until the 19th century. 

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