Friday 1 November 2019

Esoteric Enterprises - actual play!

So I ran Esoteric Enterprises for my sweetie. Here's how it went down.

We used non-random character creation. The character she ended up making was a bit odd. She went for a ghostly spook, with very high charisma, good intelligence and wisdom, and completely shit physical stats. Inhuman Beauty as her starting power (improving her Charm skill even more, and shifting reaction rolls in her favour). For gear, she basically put everything into social advantages; among other things, all the wealth-based advantages meant she came in with a ridiculous starting Resources of 7, as well as being bilingual and some other stuff.
The character's backstory was where the weirdness came in. Effectively, Katarina was the soul of a wizard from a parallel world who, upon dying in weird circumstances, found herself thrown into this world, taking over the life of one of her parallel selves. 

The game is set in Kuersberg, a little industrial town in Northern Russia, where they mine uranium and make weapons. Major factors in the town include various shamanic cults reflecting indigenous arctic beliefs, lots of Dero, a hospital where occult weirdos experiment on the patients, and a brood of mosquito-vampires.

So, the session began with a little narration about the experience of dying, her soul falling helpless into the maw of oblivion, reality falling apart, and then being spat out into a new reality.
She wakes up in bed in an unfamiliar apartment. Realises very quickly that she can't physically touch anything, as she passes through the blankets on getting up. A little investigation of the flat reveals that it seems like she lives here; there's a doctorate certificate framed on the wall with her name on it, and a few pictures of her and her family. Putting everything together, she concludes that this person must be some sort of neurosurgeon, probably doing OK for herself.
She finds an envelope on the counter. Written on it is her emergency code-word for any situations where she might have had her memory altered. This is intriguing; whoever wrote this knows her secret code-words and contingencies. Unfortunately, she's a ghost, and can't touch the envelope to open it.
Exploring the apartment fully revealed a 'space' between rooms which no door led to. Concluding that there was a hidden room there, she promptly walks straight through the wall, and finds herself in a pitch black space. Groping around, she gets a feel for the boundries of the room and where the furniture is, before locating a coil of rope that's fully physical to her and which she can pick up. (In EE, magical things are completely tangible to ghosts, so they can hold/be hurt by magic weapons, etc. She's just found an enchanted rope). Wrapping the rope around her hand, she switches the light on and finds herself in a hidden laboratory/surgery theatre. As well as the magic rope, there's a few occult tomes here, and a big ominous surgical slab with restraints to hold down a victim.
Leaving the hidden room via its secret door, she reads the letter to herself; it details whose flat this is (a parallel version of Katarina who became a surgeon rather than a wizard), the assets available to her, and a brief overview of occult activity in town. In particular, it mentions that she was an employee at the local hospital, where there are a few other supernatural workers.
This being done, she goes and reads those occult books. They are: The Vivinomicon, Madotsuki's Dream Diary, and The Engines Of The Gods. In quick succession, these cause her to re-roll her physical stats (she gets lucky here, and her dump-statted str/dex/con re-roll to be pretty good. Still useless when she can't touch things, though), allow her to astrally project while dreaming (giving her all the properties of a ghost while she does so; basically useless), and lastly to rip holes in reality (spend a HP, roll on the table And Hell Shall Follow for what happens). Her nature warped by the horrible things she knows, she settles in to get used to her new ghostly form.
She also concludes that, since she can physically touch her magic rope, this will let her touch things, and so unravels its fibres to make a glove woven around one ghostly hand, letting her actually hold stuff. Smart.

Her next step, then, is to travel to the hospital and meet with these occult hospital-workers.
She introduces herself to them, and makes contact with Petra (a latant psychic), Ivan (a cultist of the Coyote), and Ilsa (a banshee). She learns that this world's Katarina has put herself into a medically-induced coma while doing experiments with Dero blood, in an attempt to astrally project into the Dero hive-mind. It seems this world's Katarina was a franken-fran tier mad scientist. Since it seems this world's actual Katarina isn't coming back from her coma any time soon, she's told she can basically take over the comatose woman's life for the time being. She is, at this point, on pretty friendly terms with the Hospital, and I alter her reputation score with them to reflect that.

The next week is spent laying low and insinuating herself back into the occult underworld here. She makes some contacts, picks up some rumours. Learns about an entrance to the buried undercity that's just been found. Learns that an irritatingly persistant detective has been investigating the hospital for crimes they didn't commit, but is coming close to uncovering the ones they DID commit.

With not much else going on, she decides to go explore the undercity. Going to an old abandoned mining-site, she finds a shaft leading down to a now-abandonned uranium mine, and explores down there. It's mostly abandoned, although she does meet an urban shaman in the mines offering a little tribute to the uranium-spirits. Contact is brief and wary, but not hostile. A little later she meets the various undead bits of a miner who died in a cave in (a torso and two hands), which crawl after her. Walking away at a brisk pace, she finds a crack in the rock leading to a natural cave system, and flees into it.
This leads her deeper into the undercity, and eventually she clambers from this now-dry underground river into a buried tomb complex. The first room she finds contains various skeletons laid out on slabs, and as she investigates their bones, their rest is disturbed and all 20 of them reanimate to punish her for her trespass! The fight is brief; they can't hurt her (she's a ghost) but they can snatch the torch she's been carrying (in her magic-rope-glove). She wriggles free of their grasp and flees the room, slamming the door behind her, and finding herself alone in the dark.
This is a problem. Re-opening the door, she quickly snatches her torch back and slams it shut again, fleeing and hoping the angry skelingtons won't come after her.
A little further exploring in these tombs brings her to a room where a single huge book stands on a lectern. Katarina concludes it's probably magic, maybe cursed, and decides not to poke it yet but instead to come back to it.
Deeper into the tombs, she finds another room, with sarcophagi lining the walls, and feels a looming spiritual presence here. Searching the place, she picks up a few scattered coins, before hearing the voices of people approaching!
It turns out, the voices approaching are Sergai (a cultist of Dionysus) and Ida (a fairy slaugh). She greets them cheerfully, and the pair seem friendly. A chat is had - it seems the two are new to town and not really affiliated with anybody - and the three of them decide that it would be a great idea to get drunk and make out in this OBVIOUSLY HAUNTED tomb (it turns out Ida has some Fairy Wine that can even get ghosts drunk! lucky!). Sergai's shirt is just coming off as the gestalt ghost haunting the chamber notices what's going on, and is PISSED.
Combat begins with a howl of "WHO DARES DEFILE MY RESTING PLACE?" as the gestalt-spirit gets a surprise round to act in, lifting a stone slab poltergeist-style and hurling it at the trio. It passes harmlessly through Katarina, but Sergain and Ida are both hit; Sergai is knocked unconcious and crumples to the floor, while the slab catches Ida in the gut, and she collapses, coughing up massive amounts of blood and starting to bleed out from internal damage.
Ida Sergai's unconcious body from the room, and Katarina follows, slamming the door behind them. At this point, Ida has maybe a minute to live unless something can be done to slow her bleeding; luckily, Katarina has her magic-rope-glove so she can at least touch Ida enough to try staunching the bleeding, albeit at a penalty. She rolls, gets VERY LUCKY, and Ida's bleeding slows down, giving her maybe 20 minutes before death claims her. Sergai wakes, and the trio flee back to the surface (it turns out Sergai and Ida have an exit to the surface not far from here, which they lead Katarina to). A taxi is called, and Kat brings the pair to the hospital so her buddies can treat their wounds.
In the end, the hospital ends up recruiting Sergai and Ida to join their little coven. Katarina's reputation with the hospital is raised again, and she's now closely allied with them.

At this point, she turns her attention to the other problems facing her allies, namely the cop investigating the hospital. Meeting with him - still drunk on fairy wine - she pretends she's a potentially useful witness, and works out what the guy's up to. Turns out, he's been finding the exsanguinated and mutilated bodies of the mosquito-vampire's victims, and thinks the hospital is to blame, concocting a theory that the hospital is involved with organ harvesting.
A few Contacts skill rolls later, and she makes contact with the Mosquito Vampires, and explains what's going on. The mosquitos thank her for her information, give her a big wad of cash so everybody is square, and promise to deal with the issue. A few days later, the cop is infected with Mosquito Vampirism, and joins the vampire brood as a plant in the police force. Her reputation with the vampires improves from this little service.

Katarina lies low for a few days; after all, she's been seen getting a taxi with two people COVERED IN BLOOD, and been talking to the cops, so she doesn't want to attract too much more attention.
During this time, she witnesses a traffic accident, where the victim just sorta snaps, and starts lashing out with telekinetic power. Kat decides not to intervene, and watches as the latant psychic is eventually shot down by police marksmen.
A little later, she sees some kids fleeing from an abandonned building, and goes to investigate. Within, she finds a Collector of Eyeballs, one of the weirder creatures inhabiting the undercity, and establishes friendly contact! The two have a chat, and decide that they have a lot in common (Katarina also collects eyeballs, as it turns out). They arrange a meeting between Katarina, the Collector of Eyeballs, and the Collector's friend, a Lurking Lamp.
Three days later, not expecting an ambush, Katarina goes back down to the abandonned uranium mines, to meet the eyeball collector and the Lurking Lamp. And, surprise, it's NOT an ambush! The three discuss eyeballs and trinkets, to some trade, and chat about the state of the undercity. Katarina learns about the Dero, as well as hearing about various subteranean monsters such as the lithic courts, the morlocks, and so on. Overall, this is a productive meeting.

This is where I end the session.

The meat of the game came down to the various factions in the underworld, with Katarina's actions mostly being attempts to curry favour with the Hospital and potential allies. She's engaging nicely with the reputation & police attention systems, which is good, and really exploiting her good Contacts skill. The undercity's there to provide diversions with dungeon-crawling, although she's not found the most interesting and dangerous spaces down there yet.
It's going pretty well. Kat's half way to level 2 already, and making friends and allies. Apparently, she wants to find somewhere safe in the undercity to make her subterranean lair, and find some way to start clawing back magical power, as not being a wizard anymore is a pain in the neck. At some point, she'd like to work out where this world's Kat has astral-projected to, or to go back to her home reality, but those are a long way off.

But yeah. That's how the game tends to play. It's going how I hoped, and seems to produce a good mix of weird and grittiness.

I will leave you with some page-shots of the PDF, to show off my fancy graphic design. These pages can be quite busy, so the PDF will come bundled with a bonus art-free version that's more dyslexia-friendly and won't bankrupt you if you try to print it.


  1. This is great stuff! Loving the use of photography for the mood illustrations. I don't want to denegrate the work at all by saying this, but this has a cool "Creepypasta: The SwordDream" quality to it that my players would eat with a spoon. GREAT WORK!

  2. This looks absolutely amazing.
    (if you need bookmarks and hyperlinks added to pdfs, feel free to contact me.)

  3. An update: Katarina has hired Ida (the slaugh), to co-manage the uranium mine she explored. She's directing cultists of Ursus the Bear to mine out the remaining uranium ore and selling it to the cartels (who are selling it on the black market to various dodgy sorts).
    She's made 670,000 roubles of this, which will start to appear over the coming weeks, and will be granting her fuck-tons of XP. And established herself as a major player in the black market.
    I was not expecting this. Fair play to her, though.

    1. Some schmuck just tried to mug Katarina, and she responded by jamming a knife through his neck and dragging him into the sewers to bleed out. And then taking his body apart, saving the eyeballs for her friend the Eyeball Collector, and dismembering & scattering the rest.
      Girl's a stone-cold killer.

  4. When will the new version of Esoteric Enterprises be released on DriveThruRPG? (I have the Player's Book and am looking forward to this new version). Thanks, - Brian C.

    1. I don't have a firm date, but I think that EE should be in print by the end of november. I'm working with people to get a proper hardcover done.

    2. That sounds great, Emmy! I am hopping from foot to foot to get my paws on this book.

  5. Katarina sounds badass! Looking forward to the book.

  6. Great play report! Can't wait for the master book. I'd really like to run a EE game in the underworld of my home town, Genoa, (Italy).

    1. Once I played a one-shot in the underworld of my town (Pisa) in Changeling the lost. Players did not really like it. Party was continuesly getting split.

      But I'm proud of the fact that their first action was not "go burn university down"

  7. Over the years I have written/stolen several urban monsters. I'm too lazy to start my own blog so I will post them here hoping you might scavenge them for ideas:

    >Undead treant made of ikea furniture.
    Azenwrath (stolen from a ravenloft module) . From its head dangles a curious assortment of wooden amulets, rings, and bracelets. He searches for pieces of his body, when 50 miles close the parts aniamte and start whispering (I will kill you).

    >Cockroach lich
    A giant swarm of cockroaches that can take the shape of a man. It is actually an evil sorcerer who transferred his consciousness into the cockroaches. It wants to continue his research into forbidden magic.

    >An oriental dragon under the Chinese district (a not quite dead Koi fish that recovered and jumped over a "waterfall" in the sewer).

    >Dust Bunny
    Typically found in ill kept magical institutions, Dust bunnies are clumps of dust given life and proper form by ambient magical energies. Apart from being a symbol of poor housekeeping, Dust bunnies help keep their homes clean, by absorbing any future dust created. Their appearance depends on the magical energy surrounding them, exemplified in the necromancer's dust bunnies, which are shambling horrors of the dust of undead flesh.

    >Teapot salamander.
    Set a teapot on it and it will boil the water. It eats tea leaves and sugar/milk and has scales that shed easily and can be used to make tea. The tea tastes like whatever combination of leaves and flavorings you feed it.

    >Sea Hole
    A sea hole is created when a sea star manages to survive for thousands of years, feeding and feeding and growing ever larger. At a certain point it suddenly transforms into a sea hole, a tiny marine echinoderm whose exact form is impossible to pinpoint due to a cloud of ink that surrounds it permanently. It perpetually sucks enormous amounts of sea water into itself together with whatever lives in it, be that a whale or a school of little fishes, but nothing ever comes out. Sea Holes are particularly dreaded by sailors for creating deadly whirlpools.

    1. Great monsters! Changeling the Lost is cool, but my personal favorite is Changeling the Dreaming, i'm in a great CtD larp near Milan, with the Aeterna Nox group, really good stuff.

    2. OK I might have to nick these for my home game, these have some really cool imagery.

  8. Short review of EE.

    Since I was introduced to modern day RPGs, in particular to nWoD, I wanted to run such a game. I never managed, for the lack of an interested group and the percieved amount of work I would have to do.

    Thanks for creating a multi splat system that looks better then World Of Darkness. At least to me.

    I have only one comment. IMHO the reason VtM remained popular and had a comeback while VtR died (I started with VtR so it really saddened me) is the existence of a setting and a metaplot.

    Even D&D while providing rules relies relies on an additional setting (forgotten realms) to introduce people into the hobby and sell the products.

    What I'm trying to tell you is that in addition to the rulebook you did consider creating a setting book as well.

    1. There's a loose setting implied in the book, but nothing concrete. Rather, a lot of hints and suggestions to build off. The game's much closer to VtR than VtM in terms of approach to canon and stuff. Like, there's no set thing called a 'vampire' with a precise origin and nature. Rather, anything that looks human and feeds on human blood comes under the umbrella category of 'vampire', and different vampires encountered can be wildly different to one another.
      The point is to be brain-fuel for the GM to build their own setting with, not a rigidly defined world.

      That said, there ARE bits of the setting that didn't get fully mapped out in the book, but which are in my head. Like: who actually /are/ the Men in Black and what are they doing? There's no 'canon' answer in the book, but I know what /my/ canon is.