Planning Parties for Erica Carlyle

Just another elegant Carlyle party with an impressive guest list. Photo by Underwood Archives.

The New York chapter allows the investigators to revel in the excitement of America’s Roaring Twenties, and the millionaire magnate Erica Carlyle offers some of the best opportunities to experience the decadence and splendor of this setting. You can use a party hosted by Erica Carlyle as a vivid set piece for your campaign. The Old Ways podcast crafted a glorious chapter climax set at Erica Carlyle’s eclipse party. We chose to present our social event as a mid-point diversion from the brewing danger in the New York chapter. You can use Erica Carlyle’s soirees as a venue for violence, a source of sordid Carlyle expedition rumors, a setting for a daring book heist, or an opportunity to enchant the hostess. 

To craft a memorable event, we will rely on key four elements: location, guest list, conversation topics, and the main event sequence. Once you have decided the timing of this party in your chapter sequence, you can begin crafting your answers for each of these four topics. We will provide some suggestions from our own experiences. 

Location:

Where will Erica be hosting this exclusive social event? Some clear choices include the Carlyle Estate or a posh hotel. 

We elected to hold our party in the penthouse apartment of the Roosevelt Hotel. At the time of the campaign, the grand 19-story Roosevelt Hotel had recently opened in the fall of 1924. We opted for this choice as the Men’s Grill at the Roosevelt to admit women, and we felt Erica Carlyle may have taken umbrage at this. In an act of defiance, she bought the penthouse apartment and threw a lavish party where she intentionally excluded all members of the Men’s Grill. 

Erica and Victoria enjoying a rare fun and candid moment outside the penthouse suite. © The Roosevelt Hotel

In imagining the layout of your social event, you will want to include several different locations where your Investigators can interact with different NPCs or engage in varied activities. For the penthouse, we included an entryway, a large ballroom, a well-stocked bar, a heated outdoor patio, and a quieter parlor, as well as an exclusive residential area for Erica and her entourage to meet privately. By including a private area, you will provoke intrigue and potential hijinks. If hosting an event at Erica’s mansion, you can use a map as a reference when planning these party locations. 

Erica’s Guest List and Topics of Conversation:

As a high-profile social event, you will want to provide an interesting guest list. While the party can host up to hundreds of people you will want to plan for around 10-20 NPC guests (2-3 guests per Investigator). This will begin with Erica Carlyle and her associates, Bradley Grey and Joe Corey. You will want to craft your guest list based on the progression of your chapter and your players’ investigations. When planning our party NPCs we ask ourselves, what information might our Investigators be seeking and who can provide it for them. The campaign book provides some potential NPCs, which may include:

  • Olivia de Bernardesta – Friend of Hypatia and society rumor mill. Can reveal Hyaptia was pregnant by Raoul Luis Maria Pinera, had an abortion, and fled the country. 
  • Victoria Post – Erica’s well-traveled friend and companion, who accompanied her to Kenya, and can provide whispered information about Roger and the search for him. A friendly interaction can lead to an introduction to Erica, Post warns of being extremely private.
  • Raoul Luis Maria Piñera – Despite his communist leanings, he cannot refuse the invitation of his beautiful companion and aspiring writer, Frances Leighton. May be used to set up a later encounter to discuss delicate matters revealed by Olivia.  

You may provide your players with contacts leading them to additional clues in the New York chapter, including Huston’s medical records. 

  • Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris – New York Surgeon and long-time Carlyle family friend, who may recall Huston from prior events: “It’s been a while since I’ve seen another doctor at one of these affairs, not since the disappearance of that gasbag, Huston.”
  • Albert Throckmorton – One of Roger’s old drinking buddies, misses the old days of scotch and billiards in Roger’s library before he got so secretive and started hanging out with “that woman.”
  • Charles Vandergriff – One of Erica’s business associates with an interest in Australian opal mining, who may have attended Cowles’ lecture and can express interest in MacWhirr’s explorations
Another Chaosium campaign you can interlink with yours. © Chaosium 2004

Some example characters with connections to other Masks of Nyarlathotep chapters and other Chaosium campaigns (Shadows of Yog-Sothoth spoilers below): 

  • Dr. Edward Call (Shadows of Yog-Sothoth) – A pompous Anglophile, who received medical training at King’s College and looks out of place in his professorial tweed suit and waistcoat. Can provide information about Huston, and may be able to help with medical records.
  • John Scott (Shadows of Yog-Sothoth) – A wizard, and leader of the Silver Twilight Lodge in Boston. If holding an auction for Roger’s books, he may be interested and attends Erica’s party to find out more about their existence. In truth, he is a stooge for Carl Stanford (China Chapter), tall and thin with pock-marked skin he carries a silver-headed sword cane.
  • Ethan Vane (England) – You may have noted that Roger shares a middle name with the Vane family from the Derbyshire Horror, and you may choose to emphasize this connection to draw your investigators into that sidetrack scenario. This distant young cousin may be visiting America on business, and can casually mention attending Oxford with Lawrence. 
  • Richard Council (China) – Another Carlyle business associate with industrial concerns in Shanghai. May recall seeing the Stumbling Tiger Bar en route to one of his company’s factories, but would certainly never be caught in such a tawdry locale. 

You may wish to include encounters with some historical figures from the 1920s to realistically flavor the event. For our campaign, we decided that Erica threw her party to celebrate the occasion of two women, Nellie Ross and Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, becoming the first female state Governor in early 1925. 

Gershwin could steal the spotlight at a Carlyle party.
  • Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney – Member of the Vanderbilt family, art patron, and collector, who devoted significant efforts to promoting and advancing women in the arts. MIght be a plausible connection to Hilton Adams’ associate and sculptor, Douglas Fells.
  • George Gershwin – Perhaps visiting New York on a brief return from his time in Europe, we like to imagine that Gershwin rubbed elbows with Jackson Elias in the vibrant Parisian expatriate art community. Perhaps Jackson offered some notes about Gershwin’s one-act jazz opera set in Harlem, Blue Monday (1922). 
  • Louise Brooks – In 1925, this iconic actress was performing as a chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies at the Amsterdam Theater on Broadway before she came to the attention of Paramount Producer, Walter Wanger. She eventually joins the elite social circle of Hearst and Marion Davies, but perhaps Wanger provides the 19-year-old performer with her first taste of high society at Erica Carlyle’s party. Or maybe Erica picked this future star out of the crowd to attend her party…

The Evening’s Entertainment (or Schedule of Events):

Once you have the location and guest list set, you should select a sequence of events for your party. Determining this schedule depends on the party’s relationship to the progression of your chapter. Since ours occurred in the middle of our New York chapter, the climax occurred with our Investigators meeting Erica and arranging a more intimate conversation at the Carlyle Estate. If you intend to use the party as an opportunity for a book heist or an action-packed Eclipse party climax, you will want to arrange a linear sequence of events building to the main action. Alternatively, you can present the party as a sandbox of NPCs encounters that work towards various events, such as a meeting with Erica or an impromptu tour to the library by one of Roger’s old buddies. Of course, you cannot incorporate a violent cultist invasion featuring M’Dari, his minions, and any variety of terrifying Mythos creatures depending on your preference and Pulp level.  

In preparing a linear event schedule, a Keeper can look for pre-arranged moments that can prompt new NPC encounters by moving the Investigators to a new room (“everybody come dance”), bringing them in contact with a different NPC (a fainting woman), or allowing an established NPC to point out another (“see that fellow over there, that’s Bradley Grey”). Here’s an outlined example:

  • Investigators arrive at Penthouse with party in full swing
  • Tip Palmer immediately accosted by a New York lobbyist 
  • Bradley Gray spotted
  • Member of Jazz ensemble ejected
  • Woman faints on dance floor
  • Erica appears for speech
  • Fight breaks out over spilled booze – Corey intervenes
  • Erica socializes with guests

We avoid organizing our party schedule as an Investigator railroad but use it to structure player choices by introducing opportunities and characters. Players may choose to abandon their conversations and turn to the events or continue their own activities. When they spot Bradley Grey walking through a closed door at the back of the ballroom, they may choose to follow him or they may continue to socialize. When they successfully spot a wait staff with a piece of red fabric in their pocket, they may rush to neutralize him or continue to observe. Even when we have a linear framework, we expect to adapt it to our player’s unexpected choices. If action starts to lag, inject another event, as planned or at random, to keep the party going. 

Olivia de Bernardesta tries to liven up a party at the Carlyle estate as things have started to wind down.

Party Planning on the Fly

If you find yourself in a situation mid-session where the players have arrived at a social event, be it a Harlem rent party, Erica’s lavish penthouse ball, or Jackson’s funeral, you can turn to the basic structure for running the event by jotting down some quick notes behind the Keeper screen. We will use Jackson’s funeral as an example. 

  • Locations: 3-5 (graveside, mausoleum, parked car, under trees)
  • Guests: 2-3 characters per Investigator (Carlyle, Kensington, Willa Sligh, Shosenburg, second-string reporter, reverend, cemetery worker, loitering gentleman)
  • Conversation Topics: 5 (Jackson, Carlyle Expedition, Murders, Will Reading, New York Police)
  • Events: 3-5 (Arrival, Funeral, Reporter Encounter, Car Trouble, Moving Coffin to Mausoleum)

These spontaneous lists should be very simple for easy reference while you let your imagination and players fill in the gaps. Using a mixture of known and improvised NPCs keeps things interesting and allows you to create new avenues for exploration in your campaign. Allow the conversation topics to overlap between encounters. 

Whether prepping a multi-NPC social event in advance or winging it, approaching the occasion with a structure in mind helps you successfully provide your players with exciting campaign events, intriguing social encounters, and interwoven investigative leads. 

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