This is the first in a series of articles produced by the team of Steve Reynolds and Jose Manuel Caballero. They’ve paired painstaking research with their immense creativity to create an even more expansive and intriguing New York chapter. We will be sharing just a fraction of their efforts here at Prospero House for your consideration and use. In their first article, they will be helping Keepers integrate the classic Call of Cthulhu scenario, Dead Man Stomp. This is perfect timing as the latest version of this Harlem adventure is available in PDF for less than a dollar as part of the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set.
Warning: Spoilers for Dead Man Stomp below!
Building a Better Mystery
A key to making Masks of Nyarlathotep a fun experience for all is making every chapter different. Beyond the geographic and cultural differences, distinct chapter moods and themes play a big role in keeping the campaign fresh. New York stands out by presenting a genuine murder mystery as the core of the chapter. As written, though, it’s actually not much of a mystery. Every clue provided pertaining to New York either directly or indirectly leads to Ju-Ju House. Sure, we get it; MoN is big, and including dead-end leads in the published campaign is just more content in an already mammoth story. On the other hand, training your players to believe that every handout and named NPC is connected to the story risks breeding lazy investigative habits while inviting violence as the go-to solution. Savvy metagamers can spot a Keeper making up characters on the fly, potentially dismissing the scene as irrelevant or turning it into a skill check session.
This is the first in a series of articles providing more material for the New York chapter of MoN. Each one adds flavor, characters, connections, and clues to make the chapter richer and deepen the aforementioned murder mystery. As with all content here at Prospero House, Keepers are free to use, adapt, or ignore any/all of it. We encourage any Keeper of this campaign not to even entertain the word ‘canon’. You can and should change the campaign any way you wish to make it the game you and your players enjoy the most.
A Less Direct Path
The Emerson Imports business card is the most potent clue pertaining directly to the New York chapter. For a richer experience, ditch it. Making it harder to piece together Elias’s movements in New York prioritizes investigating the Adams case and the Carver killings (our name for the Bloody Tongue murders for which Adams was falsely convicted). We will explore investigations into all of the Carver killings in another article, but here we concentrate on adding Dead Man Stomp to the plot of MoN.
Why Integrate Dead Man Stomp?
Dead Man Stomp is a fun scenario already set conveniently in Harlem in 1925, and readily available in the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. It provides an introduction to a Prohibition Bureau agent and an Italian organized crime gang. Both present possibilities for conflict or collaboration once the players suspect the Ju-Ju House crew. Nyarlathotep is present, ‘masking’ himself as Louis Armstrong, and all of the above is accomplished without changing a thing.
Now consider Leroy Turner being Millie Adams’ cousin AND a witness to the most recent Carver killing, the one for which Hilton Adams was arrested. Leroy has been scared out of town by the police and told not to come back with unsubtle threats. Finding Leroy Turner is now an important part of the PCs’ investigation into the death of Jackson Elias.
Timing and Leads to Leroy
Since the investigators are looking for Leroy, they have adequate reason to pay a visit to Small’s Paradise, and the Keeper decides when Leroy plays there. Why is he returning now? Perhaps Turner’s encounter with Nyarlathotep has given him the courage to come back and do the right thing, perhaps it is the will of the Crawling Chaos to test his pawns. Regardless, Leroy is a person of interest only after the investigators start pursuing the Adams case, which typically follows the meeting with Rebecca Shosenberg, and likely not before the Monday following Jackson’s murder. In following up on Rebecca’s information a new NPC can be introduced—Hilton Adams’ lawyer, Clayton Dolittle.
Art v. Leroy
Leroy Turner works as an addition to Hilton’s group of friends or can replace Art Mills (who can then appear as an NPC in a later chapter-stay tuned). Unlike the others, Turner is not a Harlem Hellfighter, but his family connection to Hilton Adams and the group’s sympathy for Leroy’s troubles make them far more tolerant of his ways. They know Leroy saw something that night that scared him so bad he hasn’t been seen in months, but he should have had the stones to stay and help Hilton fight the charges. Art would have…if he were around.
Getting to Talk to Leroy
Dead Man Stomp does a good job of adding events and obstacles that prevent the investigators from getting one-on-one time with Leroy. Even if they manage to corner Leroy and get him talking before Dead Man Stomp wraps up, any hope of Adams’ release depends on Turner staying alive and sane. Hearsay has no weight in court.
Added details about each of the Carver killings will be discussed in a forthcoming article, but the most important information Leroy imparts is that he witnessed veteran African American officer Sam Battle go chasing after someone, followed by a white policeman (“maybe a lieutenant or captain”) shoving Hilton Adams to his knees beside the body of Linda Cooper, After violently forcing Hilton’s hands into the puddle of blood, the white officer approached Leroy and said in a threatening tone: ‘I know who you are and I know where you live. I know you’re cousins with that man’s wife. If you plan on living, and you plan on your cousin living, you best get out of town. You never say a word, and you don’t ever come back. You get that, Leroy Turner?’
Developing Mob Connections
Archie Bonato runs his operation within the umbrella of the d’Aquila family. Given that he’s not actually the big cheese, we suggest Archie’s tag of ‘Boss’ is short for ‘Big Boss’ a joke name gifted to him by Salvatore “Toto” d’Aquila on account of Archie’s weight. There are other tie-ins we will develop in another article, so it’s possible the investigators may have had earlier run-ins with Archie and his boys.
If the investigators are involved in Archie Bonato’s death or demise due to insanity, or incur significant damage to Archie’s operation during Dead Man Stomp, then Toto D’Aquila will want a word. Thanks to the d’Aquila reputation, the investigators should be terrified. At least two of the PCs will be “invited” (or just straight kidnapped) to dinner at Toto’s. Upon entering the restaurant, they will have any weapons removed from their person. A number of heavies and bodyguards stand and sit nearby. While Toto won’t explicitly talk about guest-right, a successful Know roll recognizes a shared meal means they are not under immediate physical threat while in his home. Keepers are encouraged to build on the atmosphere that this is a last meal. Throughout dinner, Toto makes small talk about the snow, the eclipse (and any weirdness if the eclipse has already happened). Toto exhibits excellent manners. Being a good Catholic, he prays over his meal and crosses himself. He quickly shuts down any discussion of gruesome or violent things. After dinner, however, over cigars and whisky in his library, he wants to know what happened to Archie. Toto has eyes and ears everywhere, so if investigators have been snooping around other criminal operations in New York, working with police or prohibition agents, or rumbling with other crews, Toto exploits that information to expose lies. With the upper hand, Charm, Fast Talk, and Intimidate are of no value against Toto unless an Extreme success. If any of the investigators have gangster connections of their own, Toto knows and respects the obligations, but wants to know what impact it has on his own operations. Depending on the effectiveness of roleplaying, the degree of honesty paired with a Persuade roll or other meaningful successes, Toto pauses and ponders while looking at his armed men in the room, building the tension dramatically, and either:
Bursts into laughter at the craziest thing he’s ever heard, tears streaming as he slaps his thigh and looks forward to telling this one to Joe (Masseria), Vito (Genovese), and Tommy (Lucchese) – ushering the group out, fits of laughter still bubbling up…just as they walk out the door he stifles laughter long enough to provide threat #2 (see below).
Becomes upset at their disrespectful lies even though he invited them into his home, fed them a beautiful meal, and sought to hear their side of the story before passing judgment.
If an investigator was directly responsible for Archie’s death, Toto declares their life forfeit. That investigator has three days to leave New York. After that, there will be an active hit on the PC.
If the investigators are later seen talking to law enforcement after this, and there is any action taken on Toto’s operations, there will be hits out on all of them.
Crosses himself and talks about the day of judgment coming soon, that the trumpet is one of the signs. Admits they’ve given him a lot to think about and accept that Archie’s death or madness cannot be laid on them. He allows them to go in peace. Reckless players may try and bargain more from him. On an extreme success, Toto offers them a favor. On a fail, (b) above applies.
If the players seek information about Ritchie Cederecci’s murder during the post-dinner conversation, Toto will recall he was part of Archie’s outfit and that there was some unpleasantness after Ritchie’s death. There was an arrangement with an African gang that ended back then. He doesn’t know who, that was Archie’s business. Toto won’t explicitly describe any criminal activities related to this.
Zombies are not Ciimbas
The dead raised by the horn is very different from those enspelled by Mukunga. Keepers are encouraged to celebrate the differences between all forms of the undead and keep the SAN loss fresh for each variety!
A young freelance attorney hired by Hilton’s friends to defend him. He failed miserably in the courtroom and his business has suffered as a result. Name provided by Millie Adams, Rebecca Shoshenburg, or Hilton’s friends.
Description: a thin, serious African American man in his early 30s, Clayton has a mustache to add gravitas.
Traits: wears glasses for reading that he cleans when agitated. The closest he will come to swearing is ‘Sweet Jesus’. Clayton is a religious man and uses a preacher’s voice and repetition in the courtroom. Thinks the guards at Sing-Sing are making fun of him, speaking of visits he has not made. Clayton has no vices except wounded pride. Faith is a bulwark to brace you for challenges.
Is an avenue to see Hilton Adams, and is keen to build a case for the appeal, if only Millie could pay their outstanding bills.
Is aware that Leroy was likely a witness to the murder, but could not locate him. Can point the PCs to Teddy’s Bar and the friends of Hilton Adams if the PCs are now looking for Leroy.
Millie continues to make appointments to see him, and he knows she still goes to see Adams.
Knows details of the Carver Killings, able to access the court records and evidence (see future articles)
The Botched Adams Case
Players may wonder how Adams got railroaded so quickly into prison. The American criminal justice system has a long history of unfairness towards African American men, and Hilton Adams was no exception. In fact, certain factors exacerbated the systemic racism.
The time between arrest and trial in the 1920s can be very short. In Adams’ case, it is less than two months between arrest and conviction. This is no time at all to thoroughly investigate and link all the murders to Adams. Working backward from the obvious murder of Cooper, there was sufficient evidence to conveniently link Adams to a second Carver killing. This was enough for the prosecutors to indict on charges and make it a problem for the defense. A conviction on any one of the murders would guarantee a death sentence.
With the community divided on Adams’ innocence, mostly due to the general belief in his guilt for the murder of Reverend Johnson, the NAACP and legal aid refused to take the case. The lawyer that the patrons of Teddy’s Bar paid for was Clayton Dolittle, a promising young criminal defense lawyer, but this would be his first murder trial.
In the week leading up to the trial, Dolittle suffered unsettling dreams of a raging Adams brutalizing Cooper and then turning to stab Clayton as he witnessed the girl’s last breath. He also had dreams of being ridiculed, of being set up to fail. His performance in the courtroom suffered as a result. The prosecutor’s wit in finding ways to play on Clayton’s name visibly rattled him and by association made the jury distrustful.
With visible anguish Dolittle recalls the following taunts:
“This fellow is a genuine Clayton. I’m curious what he’s selling.”
“There’s Little he can Do at this point to refute my case.”
“Look at this young lawyer’s face, even he doesn’t believe his client.”
The Masks of Nyarlathotep Keeper’s Support Group on Facebook has a photo portrait file for all characters in Dead Man Stomp.