In the London fog in 1921...from left to right: Gwyllgi, Galen, Charlie Longwood, Joel Pearce, Harry Bishop, and Cypher
Image by Ulysses0302. Please do not use without permission
Angels, and ministers of grace, defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn'd.
Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell.
Be thy intents wicked or charitable.
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape,
That I will speak to thee.
The year is 1923. With the horrors of the Great War still fresh in most memories, a new terror stalks the smog-filled streets of London. Strange apparitions loom without warning from the sulfurous fog, quite literally scaring some unfortunates out of their wits. Already, three people have died from pure fright. These mysterious specters take many forms, from monstrous beasts to ghastly animated corpses. One German tourist, barely coherent in his panic, claims to have been pursued by Count Orlock from the newly released silent movie, Nosferatu. Survivors of the trenches have seen animated skeletons wearing gas masks. Arachnophobes have been chased by giant spiders. The most primal fears of London's population are coming to horrific life.
The police suspect foul play. Initially, they had no clear idea of either motive or means. The officer in charge of the case, Inspector Lucas Richardson, is a veteran of the trenches. Based on his experiences there, he has a hunch that the "means" involve some kind of poison gas, but pathological and medical examinations of the victims haven't revealed any exotic chemicals to back up his theory. Finding a motive looked like a fool's errand at first. The people who witnessed the apparitions were so diverse a group - different ages, sexes, classes, occupations and even nationalities - that there didn't seem to be any possible reason for anyone to target them all. And if the hauntings were random acts of terrorism, why had nobody stepped forward to claim responsibility for them?
Then a privately funded psychic research organization, the Haywood Institute, started to pursue its own parallel investigation of the hauntings. Richardson, being a self-consciously rational and scientifically-minded man, dismissed them as harmless cranks at first. But when representatives of the Institute approached him, claiming to have had "premonitions" of several future hauntings, he grew suspicious. Supposing the Haywood Institute were somehow staging the attacks - if they were attacks - so that they could claim the credit for "solving" the problem? Suddenly, he had his motive - the Haywood Institute's desire for publicity, credibility and the funding that would flow from them. His suspicions only increased when the premonitions proved accurate, but he didn't have a shred of proof.
Just as he thought matters couldn't get any worse, the Haywood Institute's two alleged psychics vanished from their rooms at the Midland Grand Hotel, in the middle of the night. Their windows were smashed from the outside, from three stories up. At the same time that they disappeared, the rest of the hotel's guests and staff were plagued with terrifying nightmares and hallucinations.
Richardson now has a couple of locked-room mysteries to contend with, in addition to numerous breaches of the peace and three murders apparently committed by ghost or ghosts unknown.
He is not a happy man.
In 1900, the fourth Doctor defeated a Rutan scout which had crash-landed in the sea near Fang Rock. But he never discovered what had caused the crash in the first place.
In fact, the Rutan ship had been damaged in a fight with a Sontaran scout craft, a single-occupant vessel manned by Field Major Sekhor of the G3 Intelligence branch. Sekhor was badly injured in the battle, and lost consciousness as his wrecked ship fell out of orbit. The vessel's computer, following its programmed disaster protocols, placed him into long-term medical stasis and attempted to make an emergency landing. The best it could manage was a controlled crash into the river Thames, where the ship buried itself in the mud of the river bed.
The scout ship's star drive was little more than molten metal, and its communications systems were shattered beyond any hope of repair. The osmic projector was scrap. Sekhor's medical pod was badly damaged and only barely functional. It took the computer more than two decades to fix his injuries using the crippled unit.
Sekhor revived a couple of months ago. He was far from pleased with what he learned of his situation, but absent any other options, he did what any G3 Military Assessor would have - he obtained subjects from the local population and started assessing. Perhaps, he thought optimistically, the primitives on this miserable little excuse for a planet might prove to be of some use as a labor force, if he could somehow reestablish contact with the Sontaran Empire.
Sekhor used standard G3 equipment to conduct his investigations, including a neurological stimulator that provoked hallucinations and fear responses in its target. His first victim died from heart failure, and the next two were left catatonic from the psychological trauma. His fourth subject, a publican named Harry Myers, proved far more promising. Under the influence of the neural stimulator, the human projected the terrifying visions he was experiencing into Sekhor's own mind, albeit in weak and diluted form that Sekhor believed, somewhat over-confidently, was easy for a Sontaran brain to ignore. The primitive had a latent talent for telepathy which the stimulator had brought to the surface; a potentially useful tool if it could be controlled and directed. Perhaps it might even be used to send a distress signal to a star-faring telepathic race.
Sekhor's initial experiments on Myers were disappointing. The unfortunate man was able to create horrific visions and intense fear in any subject within a radius of a few hundred yards, but only on a random and completely uncontrollable fashion that would be of limited use as a weapon, let alone as a means of communication. Nonetheless, Sekhor reasoned, where there was one human with latent telepathic powers, there were bound to be others; perhaps he could obtain a more promising test subject from the local population. But it would be far easier to conduct a systematic programme of research if he could obtain a secure base of operations and some native lackeys. Myers' pub was a haunt for many of the East End's less salubrious characters; interrogating him gave the Sontaran a reasonably good working knowledge of London's criminal element. While he had neither understanding of, nor interest in, the cultural nuances, the city's rival gangs were organized, violent groups locked in a perpetual state of war over territory; and that was something that Sekhor could comprehend instinctively.
Sekhor chose a gang leader named Albert Mitchell as his ally; the man seemed more intelligent and more disciplined than most of his ilk, but was struggling to make his mark against better-established and more powerful crime bosses. Preferring to bargain from a position of strength, Sekhor had his scout robot abduct Mitchell, and made the man a classic offer that he couldn't refuse; Sekhor would help to eliminate Mitchell's rivals if Mitchell provided Sekhor with a place to work undisturbed, and more test subjects.
The partnership was surprisingly successful. Sekhor found it amusing to plan, and sometimes participate in, a lightning series of raids against Mitchell's rivals. With most of them now dead or in hiding, Mitchell is well on the way towards dominating London's underworld. Sekhor has figured out the brain wave pattern that characterizes a latent human telepath from his experiments on Myers, and supplied Mitchell with half a dozen small sensor modules, programmed to detect that particular mental signature. Over the past couple of weeks, Mitchell's men have found and kidnapped five people, three of whom have shown encouraging - from Sekhor's point of view - responses to the neural stimulator.
Unfortunately, Sekhor has underestimated the effect that repeated exposure to his captives' mental projections is having on him. They don't overwhelm him the way that they would a human, but he's fast developing an addiction to the "rush" of terror created by each new haunting. He's rationalizing his actions, telling himself that the constant "experiments" are necessary to test the power, range and effectiveness of his victims' psychic abilities, but the truth is, he's chasing the next high.
A day ago, the Haywood Institute's psychics wandered into the East End, looking for the source of the hauntings. They were unfortunate enough to get too close to one of Mitchell's thugs, whose telepath detector promptly went berserk.
The two psychics, forwarned by their extrasensory perception, managed to escape from Mitchell's goon, but not before his sensor module had transmitted its findings to Sekhor. The Sontaran had programmed the devices to alert him if they picked up a strong enough reading; not being a complete fool, he didn't trust Mitchell an inch.
Hastily, Sekhor sent his scout robot after the two escapees. If the sensor's reading were accurate, he'd found two actual, active telepaths, not latent ones whose abilities had to be stimulated by artificial means. He had no intention of losing such valuable prizes. When the robot tracked the pair to the Midland Grand, Sekhor used psychic projections from his latest test subject to create a diversion, and then had the machine kidnap them.
For all the dangers they face in their travels, the characters' TARDIS is usually a safe haven. Not this time. As the adventure begins, it's "night" aboard the ship, and the PCs are getting some well-deserved rest. They're awakened by a mounting and inexplicable feeling of dread. As it builds up, they find themselves starting to hallucinate. The specific hallucinations should be tailored to whatever each PC finds the most terrifying - Jo Grant, for example, would probably see a Drashig rearing up at the foot of her bed.
Both the fear and the hallucinations dissipate after a short time, leaving the characters shaken but unharmed. A check of the TARDIS' system logs shows that they've experienced some kind of mental projection, picked up and relayed through the ship's telepathic circuits. The psychic broadcast originated in London in the early twentieth century, a time and place where the technology to create such a signal shouldn't exist.
The TARDIS can trace the origin of the signal to within a few thousand yards - an area centered on the Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancreas station. It seems like a good place to start.
The characters' TARDIS materializes a short distance from the Midland Grand. The hotel is an impressive example of Victorian Gothic architecture, rather like a cathedral built from red brick, surrounded by bustling crowds and vintage motor vehicles. If any of the characters succeed in an easy perception roll, they'll notice that a couple of third-floor windows have been broken.
As the PCs approach the hotel, they'll see two figures emerge from the front entrance. The first is a tall, dark-suited, broad-shouldered man in his late thirties, with a square-jawed face, piercing pale blue eyes and short, prematurely graying black hair. This is Richardson, although they don't yet know that. The second figure is a burly, mustachioed man in his fifties, wearing the uniform of a police sergeant. The characters will catch a snatch of conversation between the two men as they climb into their car.
Sergeant: But if the Haywood institute are behind the hauntings, sir, why kidnap two of their own members?
Richardsont: To add credence to their story? Because our two kidnap victims got cold feet at the thought of lying so blatantly to the police? I don't know, Sergeant, but it leaves the Haywood Institute in a bit of a fix. It'll be difficult for them to report any more "psychic premonitions" to us with both of their supposed psychics missing. I wonder how they plan to talk their way out of that?
At this point, the characters have several options.
The Haywood Institute is a private psychical research organization dating from the Victorian era. Its origins are somewhat mysterious - its founder, "Rupert Haywood", doesn't appear to have existed before he created it in the 1880s, and its sources of funding are likewise obscure. A partial list of its membership is easy to obtain from the archives of any newspaper, and will reveal an eclectic mix of publicity-addicted poseurs, eccentric fringe academics, and wealthy dilettantes, but a comprehensive roster - particularly one including the identities of its ruling Board - isn't available anywhere. Its headquarters is a matter of public record - a small private club just off Pall Mall. There are several ways that the characters might choose to approach the Institute, from breaking in to applying for membership to openly offering help. How well any of those options succeeds depends on what the GM wants the Haywood Institute to be. A few possibilities are:-
The nature of the help that the Haywood Institute can offer will likewise vary. Whatever its true nature, it's been mapping the hauntings and discovering that they've been taking place in an expanding series of concentric rings, centered around an area of the East End, near the docks. As a Torchwood front, it may have been using its rudimentary understanding of alien technology to scan the area for signals or anomalous energy signatures. It's picked up traces of both at the scenes of the hauntings, but it hasn't managed to identify or triangulate them. It's sent agents with portable detectors to check out the East End, but they've either returned without finding anything, or not returned at all. The Haywood Institute as a criminal conspiracy has had a similar experience. It's sent some of its more capable psychics into the area, with teams of armed toughs acting as bodyguards, and all have either returned empty-handed or vanished. If it occurs to the PCs to look for the missing Haywood Institute operatives, the Institute will be able to supply descriptions and photographs of at least some of them.
The characters can gain access to the hotel room either by sneaking in, or by making some appropriate social rolls with the hotel staff, perhaps by taking a cue from the fragment of Richardson's conversation that they overheard, and representing themselves as police officers.
The rooms show relatively few signs of a struggle apart from the broken windows, suggesting that the occupants were taken completely by surprise. If the Haywood Institute is a Torchwood front, the PCs may find a few minor items of alien technology lying around - scanners or communicators. There will also be maps of London with the sites of the hauntings plotted by date, again showing them expanding out in rings around a dockside area of the East End.
One of the rooms contains a set of sketches, presumably of visions experienced by the psychic who drew them. Most are of mythological horrors or twisted, bizarre creatures that none of the characters - not even experienced Time Lords - recognizes. One, however, is instantly identifiable as a portrait of a sadistically leering Sontaran. Any character with any knowledge or experience of Sontarans will be able to tell that the detail of the armour and weapons is exactly right; the picture isn't just a random nightmare that happens to look like a Sontaran, it is a Sontaran, down to the last detail.
Richardson has had his fill of self-proclaimed experts in Mysteries That Man Was Not Meant To Know. His initial reaction to an approach by the PCs will be cool, bordering on brusque. If they can't win him over, he'll dismiss them with a stern warning about the penalties for wasting police time. However, he's honest, diligent, and intelligently open-minded. He'll make it clear to the characters that he's willing to take them seriously if they give him a good enough reason to. Any demonstration of technology that's visibly beyond what the 1920s considers possible - a video communicator, say, or a sonic screwdriver, or any kind of holographic equipment - will at least convince him to take them seriously - although it may also make them potential suspects. But with a few moderately difficult social rolls, the PCs should be able to persuade him to share what he knows.
Richardson is as capable of drawing lines on a map as the Haywood Institute, and has made the connection to the East End docks. Although the police's intelligence on the rougher element in the East End is sketchy, he's also unearthed rumors that several of its most prominent and least respectable denizens have vanished recently under mysterious circumstances - even though their associates aren't the kind of people who report disappearances to the police.
The PCs may consider interviewing those associates. Richardson will regard that as akin to walking into a lion's den, although he has no legal authority to stop them if they insist. The PCs will need some very difficult social rolls to get any information from anyone in the East End, although the difficulty will drop to moderate if they're able to apply a large infusion of cash.
"Well, maybe we should go find him"
"And how you gonna do that?"
"Easy. I'll just scan for alien tech"
"Finally, a professional"
- Rose and Captain Jack, The Empty Child
Especially if they've realized that they're dealing with a Sontaran, it may occur to the characters to track him down by attempting to scan for his technology. With moderately difficult technical rolls, they'll be able to put together some detection instruments that can recognize the distinctive signature of Sontaran technology. A K9 unit could do this automatically, as could the more advanced sonic screwdrivers of the post-2005 era. Unfortunately for the PCs, what little technology survived Sekhor's crash-landing is operating at a very low level when it's operating at all. The most easily detectable items are the sensor modules being carried by Mitchell's toughs.
An encounter with Mitchell's thugs can occur either if the PCs track the Sontaran sensors they're carrying, or if they fail their social rolls while investigating the East End.
Mitchell doesn't employ these men for either their social skills or their initiative. The moment that the characters display either an interest in Mitchell's erstwhile rivals or technology that looks too much like Sekhor's (which is to say, anything beyond the 1920s norm), his enforcers will decide that their boss needs to "have a little word" with them, and they won't take "No" for an answer. The PCs can choose to try to fight the men off and escape, or they can decide to take their chances talking with Mitchell.
If the characters go with Miitchell's enforcers - whether willingly or otherwise - they'll be taken to a tobacconist's shop in the East End. If the encounter is taking place at night, the shop will be closed, but lights will be showing at the base of a locked inner door, and any PC with an appropriate background will be able to recognize the smell of opium wafting under the door. The characters will be taken up a set of narrow wooden steps to a comfortably furnished lounge on the upper floor, where Mitchell will be waiting for them.
Mitchell will be calmly matter-of-fact. He wants to know who the PCs are and what interest they have in his business, and he makes it clear that, in the event of his failing to receive satisfactory answers, the characters will soon be experiencing a great deal of physical pain. His threats are perfectly sincere, but he'd rather not carry them out if he doesn't have to - not for any moral reason, but because he doesn't trust Sekhor. He wants some type of insurance against a possible betrayal by the Sontaran, but he's seen gruesomely convincing evidence, during the campaign against his rivals, that he and his men are no match for the alien and his mechanical servant. If the PCs have a psychic in their party, or are carrying any kind of advanced technology, Mitchell will see them as potentially useful allies against Sekhor, and won't want to alienate them too badly. He'll certainly listen carefully to anything they can tell him about Sontarans in general, although he'll refuse to answer any questions about his own relationship with Sekhor. In fact, Mitchell knows very little about this nominal ally - only that Sekhor is from another world, that he crashed here, and that his experiments are supposedly intended to create a psychic "distress flare" for any space ship near Earth. Sekhor has refused to share any more information than that. Mitchell, not the most trusting of men under the best of circumstances, is very suspicious.
Ultimately, Mitchell will decide to lock the characters up until he decides what he's going to do with them. The basement of the tobacconist is an opium den, with several private rooms that serve quite well as makeshift cells. In most other cities of this era, the local Chinese underworld has a near-monopoly on opium dens, but Mitchell, in his own way, is an innovator. He's shrewdly seen than supplying opiates isn't just a source of profit in itself, but a means to blackmail wealthy and influential people through their vices. Mitchell will take any obvious technology that the PCs are carrying, so the sonic screwdriver won’t get them out of this one, but his goons won’t search them thoroughly enough to spot small, concealed items.
Mitchell won’t see any point in putting a guard on the cells themselves – the opium den is in a cellar with only one exit, which is carefully guarded by his thugs, and the cell doors are sturdy and secured with both bars and locks. Once out of the side-corridor which holds the cells, the characters would have to cross the main area of the den, in full view of the patrons and their attendants, before they reached that guarded exit. This isn’t the first time the rooms have housed involuntary “guests”, and Mitchell is quite confident that they’re escape-proof.
The PCs could try to figure out an escape plan on their own. Alternatively, they could send Harry Bishop (see below) with a message for Richardson, asking him to raid the opium den.
If the PCs decide to take a cautious approach to their investigation - sneaking though the East End scanning for technology rather than asking people questions, or trailing Mitchell's thugs rather than approaching them - they may notice that they're being trailed in turn. If they don't notice their shadow, or don't attempt to confront him, he'll eventually pluck up the courage to approach them.
If the PCs end up locked in the opium den, they may hear the stealthy sound of bolts being withdrawn and locks being picked about an hour after they’re locked up. Whoever is doing it is obviously doing his best not to make a noise, which should give the characters a clue that it's not one of Mitchell's people.
Either way, they'll find themselves meeting Harry Bishop. Harry is a professional burglar, one of the best in London. Until a week ago, he worked for Andrew Tucker, one of Mitchell's rivals, and witnessed Tucker's murder by Sekhor and his scout robot. He fled from Tucker's house, escaping only because Sekhor and the robot were preoccupied with slaughtering Tucker's guards.
The experience was terrifying, and common sense told him that he should run and keep running, but curiosity was one of his besetting vices, and he'd counted Tucker and several of the other men who'd died that night as his friends. It wasn't difficult to guess that Mitchell had been behind the attack - the underworld grapevine was abuzz with talk of his aggressive takeovers of his competitors' territories - but where had Mitchell found a superhumanly strong dwarf dressed like a medieval knight, or a floating mechanical killer? Bishop has been lurking on the fringes of Mitchell's operations for several days, trying to find answers for those questions without getting himself killed in the process. If he sees the characters surreptitiously prowling around Mitchell's turf - especially if he spots them using anachronistic technology - then he'll mark them as potential allies, the first he's had since Tucker's gang was wiped out.
Bishop is a short, slender man with tousled brown hair. He's wearing plain work clothes instead of the more fashionable, but also more conspicuous, attire that he prefers, and his garments are showing some wear after several days on the run - as is Bishop himself, who's unshaven, haggard-looking, and sporting dark circles beneath his bloodshot eyes.
If the characters haven't already realized that they're dealing with a Sontaran, then Bishop's account will be more than detailed enough for them to guess. He'll also be able to describe the scout robot. A moderately difficult Knowledge roll from a character with an appropriate background will tell the PCs that this Sontaran is likely a scout operating alone, since robots of the that type are typically used to provide backup and muscle for Sontaran military intelligence operatives on solo missions.
Once they've heard Bishop's story, the PCs will know for certain that Mitchell and Sekhor are allies, which will make dealing with either of them a lot more difficult and dangerous. Bishop wants justice for his dead friends and revenge against Mitchell, and he'll be willing to help out in any plan that's not blatantly suicidal. He can supply the characters with a wealth of information about Mitchell's haunts and associates, and help them to sneak into the crime lord's turf undetected. As an accomplished burglar, he can also help them break into - or out of - Mitchell's headquarters, a high class gambling den hidden above a large and rowdy East End pub - which might be useful if the characters want to get their stolen equipment back.
Depending on how the adventure has played out until now, the PCs have a number of options for tracking down Sekhor.
Sekhor's temporary headquarters is in the cellar of the pub that used to be owned by Harry Myers. Mitchell staged a fire there, and had his men transport Sekhor's scout ship there under cover of the work to restore the place.
The tavern is set in a cramped and seedy maze of back alleys leading towards the Thames and the warehouses that line its banks. It used to be a sturdy, two-story building with a slate roof. It's now a burned-out shell with boarded-up windows and half its roof missing, although the walls themselves are still more or less intact. A maze of scaffolding surrounds the building, and there's evidence of considerable reconstruction already under way.
The denizens of this area tend to be wary of strangers, especially ones associated with the police. With successful social rolls, the PCs will be able to persuade them to discuss the tavern fire, although they know very little. The fire started around 3am, so the tavern was empty apart from the Myers himself. A body, burned beyond recognition but presumed to be Myers, was pulled from the wreckage after the fire died down, and the place has been boarded up ever since. Nobody knows who owns it now that Myers is gone, but someone obviously does, judging by the amout of effort they've already put into the repairs.
If they approach the tavern by day, the characters will be intercepted by several large, burly toughs with vacant expressions. If they obtained pictures or descriptions of the missing Haywood Institute operatives, the PCs may recognize some of them among their attackers.
The men have been subjected to Sontaran hypnotic conditioning. The characters can try to subdue them by violent means, but if they realize what's happening, they could try to break through the mental control, perhaps through counter-hypnosis or telepathy.
If they try to approach the tavern under cover of night, the conditioned toughs will be joined by Sekhor's scout robot. The robot is impervious to the small arms of this era, but its sensors were damaged in the crash. Loud noises and bright lights are likely to confuse and disorientate it, giving the PCs a chance to lead it away. Robots of this type are vulnerable to high-frequency sonic attacks, so a sonic screwdriver could be used to disable it.
If they can get past the hypnotized guards and the robot, the PCs will be able to get inside the burned-out tavern. Sekhor is hiding in the cellar, along with an assortment of equipment from his scout ship, including his medical pod - which now contains the unconscious body of Harry Myers.
The two Haywood Institute psychics are strapped to rough trestle tables nearby, with neural stimulators affixed to their foreheads; Sekhor was just about to start running tests on them when the PCs burst in.
The PCs could try taking Sekhor on in a straightforward physical confrontation, which can be played out using the normal rules. It's possible that the characters could be assisted by Sekhor's guards, if they managed to free them from the Sontaran's hypnotic control.
Another, and perhaps more poetically just, solution would be for the characters to awaken the three psychics and get them to combine their mental abilities against Sekhor. The Sontaran's is already addicted to the mental "rush" of the humans' psychic broadcasts; three telepaths working in concert could give him the equivalent of an overdose, leaving him stunned and distracted for long enough for one of the PCs to strike a blow against his probic vent. If the PCs have planned it in advance, they could even have one of their number standing by in the TARDIS, ready to boost the effect using the telepathic circuits.
If things seem to be going against him, there's a chance that Sekhor might be willing to negotiate. He wants to get off Earth and return to the war with the Rutans. He's already started to suspect that his experiments with human telepathic potential are a dead end, and absent any other options, he'll be willing to abandon the research and simply leave if the PCs can supply the parts and equipment that he needs to repair his ship - or so he believes. The chance of capturing a TARDIS is too tempting a prize for him to give it up lightly, though. He won't stop trying unless he really has no other choice. If he can't defeat the characters himself, he'll try to get away and enlist Mitchell's help. Any bargain the PCs make with him will have to include stringent precautions against being double-crossed, not least because the prospect of leaving Earth will force Sekhor to confront the psychological addiction that he's been denying until now.
Nonetheless, helping Sekhor repair his ship could be the characters' best option. It removes Sekhor and all his anachronistic technology from 1920s London, without needless bloodshed. The data he's gathered on human telepathic potential probably isn't something the PCs want making its way back to the Sontaran Empire, but it's something that Sekhor is willing to bargain away, since he's reasonably certain that a Rutan mind is too alien to be affected by it.
Needless to say, Mitchell - and the Heywood Institute, if they're a Torchwood front - will be strongly opposed to letting Sekhor leave. Ironically, the characters and Sekhor might end up as temporary allies against either or both of them...