Adding “The Vanishing Conjurer” to Your Campaign

Warning: Vanishing Conjurer Spoilers Below

Presented as an introductory-level investigation, The Vanishing Conjurer is suggested as an “intermission” in the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign during the England Chapter. The Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion also notes it as a suitable sidetrack adventure. We thoroughly enjoyed this scenario as a one-shot featuring a stage magic act, but we also incorporated elements and easter eggs tying it to our larger Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign. In particular, we used it as an opportunity to introduce our players to both Mickey Mahoney and Carl Stanford, as well as foreshadow the importance of the Order of the Bloated Woman. In this post, we share our experience in running this scenario as a prelude to the Masks of Nyarlathotep involving Jackson Elias, as well as some suggestions for incorporating this into various points in your campaign.  

For more general discussion and introduction to the Vanshing Conjurer, please see our earlier post.

Timeline Incorporation:

According to the scenario, the investigation begins sometime near the end of June during any year in the 1920s. This allows for a fair amount of flexibility. Adherence to the summer timing is in no way important to the events of the scenario. This easily slots in sometime after Peru, including early June 1923 when Jackson arrives in London en route to Paris to begin his research on August Larkin. Alternatively, it can occur in late November to early December when a much more addled Jackson returns to London with knowledge of the great plot. Finally, as suggested in the Companion and scenario, this works as easily as a sidetrack, best deployed if traveling to London ahead of China. 

If running this before the New York launch, Jackson need not participate, but simply bait the hook by asking his friends to speak with either Mickey Mahoney at The Scoop or Howard Horne as a favor. Perhaps Jackson even offers some preliminary investigative assistance before disappearing into Africa. 

Should you choose to add this to the London chapter, the investigation of Howard Horne’s missing illusionist could be another sidetrack seed found in The Scoop’s archives, a direct quid pro quo request from Mahoney, or a tip from Barrington, who has a “bad feeling about this one” but lacks the resources.

In our playthrough, we added Jackson as a playable investigator in the guise of Jesse Hughes tagging along with the stage magic act as an arrangement with Mickey Mahoney. This was part of our great campaign reboot effort, where we began introducing new players to our paused campaign. One of our veteran players took the reins as Jesse and steered him clear of danger while providing solid support to our stage magic act. For our purposes, we placed this playthrough in June 1923.

Involving Mickey Mahoney & The Scoop 

The infamous tabloid rag is located on Fleet Street not far from Ludgate Circus and less than two miles from London’s West End. While other London newspapers steer clear of what could simply be a magician’s publicity stunt and don’t investigate Leclair’s disappearance, The Scoop is exactly the kind of publication that would feature speculation on the whereabouts of Philip Leclair or print tawdry theories about the potentially nefarious nature of the Brotherhood of Magicians (or, as we renamed it, The Ancient Order of Sorcerers). This provides several avenues for involving Mickey Mahoney, including a direct introduction by Jackson, as suggested above. Alternatively, the investigators could stumble upon a useful Scoop article in their hotel, on the street, or through Horne. Perhaps, Horne runs promotional advertisements in The Scoop. Once in the door, Mahoney quickly recognizes investigative talent and eagerly invites them to return to his offices any time they are in London.

Carl Stanford: 

The most substantial addition to our version of the Vanishing Conjurer is the insertion of Carl Stanford posing as Ching Lung Soo. The evil sorcerer capitalizes on the recent 1922 death of famed magician Ching Ling Foo in Shanghai. 

Outsized facial hair, dark glasses, and racial stereotypes allow Stanford to easily execute this charade without the use of magic. He capitalizes on his developing relationship with Ho Fang and his cult to establish the Ancient Order of Sorcerers. He replicates some of Foo’s favorite tricks including breathing smoke and fire, extracting a 15-foot pole from his mouth, and producing large bowls of water from beneath his robe to small, handpicked audiences of wealthy Londoners to grow his private magician’s club. He uses Order of the Bloated Woman cultists as operatives and protection as he prepares to execute his elaborate scheme. 

His mission in London is to extract both material wealth and psychic power from the English elite. While his Ancient Order of Sorcerers extracts extravagant dues and donations from affluent seekers, his greater goal relies on the terrible Mermaid Theatre plot. He intends to harness a Star Vampire to harvest rich and vain aristocratic blood and then conduct a ritual sacrifice of the bloated creature to his master Cthulhu in an attempt to expand his capabilities.

Stanford’s efforts rely on his study of extracts from The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan. In this ancient text, he uncovers the secrets of interdimensional gate magic, which allows him to summon and hold the Star Vampire, as well as imprison the young Philip LeClair. This is the same magic that allows him to create his Gate Box, which appears later in Ho Fang’s Mansion. 

We think the inclusion of Stanford fits nicely into the scenario as originally written since Ching Lung Soo’s study contains The R’lyeh Text and The Seven Cryptical Books since Stanford later gifts a copy of The R’lyeh Text Commentaries to Ho Fang and seeks to recover The Seven Cryptical Books from Jack Brady. In our version of the scenario, we suggest Stanford began translation and study of The Seven Cryptical Books but did not have a complete copy or it was stolen from him. Instead of containing the original scrolls which appear later in the copy, Stanford possesses a personal and incomplete translation in English. This version of the text has the following profile and spells:

The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan, excerpts

  • English Translation, inside it reads property of “Carl Leighton Stanford” (Idea roll – recognizes it same initials as Ching Lung Soo;
  • Sanity Loss: 1D8
  • Cthulhu Mythos: +2/+4 percentiles
  • Mythos Rating: 15
  • Study: 6 weeks
  • Spells: Find Gate & View Gate incantations (easy to learn 1D6 x 10 minutes and 1D4 hours, respectively); Open & Close Gate to Crimson Star (difficult to learn 1D3 days & POW 70 unless performing Stanford’s blood sacrifice variation (requires a victim)

As discussed in our earlier post, we included Stanford’s gate box in the scenario. Most groups identified this box after identifying and casting the easy-to-learn Find Gate spell in Ching Lung Soo’s study. The use of Stanford’s gate spells and box serves to reveal hidden secrets and transport the investigators to interesting locations while advancing the plot. If the investigators do not steal or destroy the gate box, Stanford either places it on stage or in his dressing room at the Mermaid Theatre to facilitate his escape should his grand plan fail. 

The Order of the Bloated Woman:

This replaces the ho-hum Star Vampire cultists from the original version of the scenario with far more deadly and goal-directed agents of Nyarlathotep. This allows Keepers to foreshadow the appearance of the cultists for the Shanghai chapter, as the servants and bodyguards at the Ancient Order of Sorcerers wear yellow and black voluminous robes, which conceal their wicked sickles and cult tattoos. The appearance and nature of the cultists help increase the level of menace from the original scenario. 

In our playthroughs, the investigators never reached the cult’s ceremonial room in the attic, but should the group ascend through the bunk room trapdoor into the hidden space, they find several dim Chinese lanterns casting an eerie red glow across the room. The floor is covered by a darkly stained rug embroidered with a black fan, a symbol also adorning the walls. A single window is covered by a curtain and secured by a strong lock. There is a powerful stench of iron and death in the claustrophobic room. If the investigators make it to this room, consider adding some worn and blood-stained excerpts from The Goddess of the Black Fan.

A fun historical tie-in is the inclusion of one of Ching Ling Foo’s signature acts where he uses a sickle to decapitate a young boy, who then turns, headless, and exits the stage. A variation of this act with an actual beheading during the Mermaid performance adds a nice grisly touch and appropriately employs the Order’s signature weapon. 

Leaving Loose Ends:

During our playthroughs, our investigators tightly focused on thwarting Stanford’s scheme once exposed. They often left LeClair for dead or surrendered him to the Star Vampire. The public performance at the Mermaid Theatre never took place. This allowed the crafty Stanford to retreat to the shadows to regroup. Thwarting his plans in London leads Stanford back to Shanghai in search of another solution and a complete copy of The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan

You may choose to run this adventure as a one-shot and then fold some of the pre-generated magic act investigators into your campaign as backups. Perhaps, they are in search of answers in Shanghai when they run into the primary investigative team. If running this as part of the London chapter, you may find your group itching for adventures in China. If you wish to lead them on the more conventional African route drop some Stanford breadcrumbs leading elsewhere. Perhaps the sorcerer departs for Oceania to contact Great Cthulhu before returning to Shanghai. 

By presenting Stanford earlier in the campaign, he gains some relevance aside from a dangerous cameo and introduces the highly sought-after Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan. In addition, his inclusion as an impersonator adds to the investigative mystery as the team uncovers the true identity of Master Soo, but leaves them with unanswered questions they can pursue in later chapters.