RPG: Dark Streets & Darker Secrets!

The Old Haunted White House

After several years away, paranormal investigator Joanna C. returns to the city and is in the process of re-establishing herself. One of the items on her check list is meeting up with a Miss MacDonald who says she’s a medium. Joanna wants to check out her credentials as a mystic/medium. It’s always useful to have some contacts who can do what they say they can do.

Miss MacDonald lives several hours away in a little village named Chiddingfold that's south of the city and is a typical little old lady who looks a bit like a kinder, gentler Maggie Smith all prim and proper and you couldn't imagine her saying a cross word to anyone.

As Miss MacDonald is passing Joanna a cup of tea, she says, "Here you are dear..." Their hands accidentally brush and suddenly Miss MacDonald's eyes go all black and her voice changes to a harsh, almost animalistic growl, "YOU ARE MARKED FOR DEATH...." then her eyes go back to normal again and in her normal voice continues, "...would you like some sugar with your tea?"

Joanna is spooked. What's going on?

Miss MacDonald is dismayed when she sees Joanna's face. She knows the effect she can sometimes have on people and reluctantly tells Joanna that she can sometimes pass messages from the other side. Furthermore, most of the bad omens in the village emanate from a derelict house in the next parish, one that borders her own Chiddingfold.

After hastily drinking her tea Joanna makes her excuses and leaves. She just wants to do some light work, calming little old ladies who think there’s a poltergeist in the house... that kind of thing. She doesn’t want to meet up with the real thing again. Not so soon.

However the incident preys on her mind. Was the "you" a general threat... or was it directed specifically at her? Joanna can't get it out of her mind and and visits an old friend who's now a post-grad student named Heidi. Heidi is also an amateur paranormal sleuth. However, she focuses on debunking mysterious phenomena and Joanna plays along, not telling her it’s all real. Heidi does a quick online search and discovers:

A Charles Smith purchased a site from a Elizabeth Street and built Birtley House in 1848. His son William established a brewery in Bramley High Street before 1865. This continued in operation until 1923, when the brewery chimney was demolished.

Then the Smith family just disappears from records.

The last owners of Birtley House were the Whalley family.

However :

- the last owners of the house died 20 years ago. House unsold, fallen into disrepair.

- the last 3 owners all killed themselves by jumping from upstairs windows.

Quite scandalous!

Joanna reluctantly visits Miss MacDonald again and requests for more information. At first Miss MacDonald is hesitant but in the end says, “Well… I never go to the house myself… I can FEEL the negative psychic vibrations coming from that place.” She shivers.

“BUT… when my dear departed papa was alive, he was the local repairman in the village - I know he had to frequently repair the electricity supply to the nearby houses. Since he’s passed on... I think it’s a Mr. Ahmood or something like that has taken over."

Joanna presses her for more information and finally Miss MacDonald agrees. She performs a Conduct Void Entity spell.

Disembodied pupil-less eyes wavering in a face-shaped heat haze. A voice more felt than heard.

Joanna’s skin crawls. Miss MacDonald is the real thing!!!

Joanna asks 2 questions:

- Is there a supernatural entity in the house? (Explicit and complete instructions so no misunderstandings are possible) YES

- Is its power level stronger than Joanna's? (Explicit and complete instructions so no misunderstandings are possible) YES

Joanna thanks Miss MacDonald and pays a visit to Mr. Ahmood... who is NOT pleased that she got his name wrong. It's MAHmood.

Joanna exerts herself to placate him and he's mollified enough to tell her, "Yes... Birtley House. I keep having to repair the electricity around the house you know." He grins. "I didn’t do anything to damage the cables, but it’s steady work. The very strange thing about that place... There’s NO cell phone reception in an area about 100 meters around the house. None. I have measured this."

Joanna’s eyebrows rise.

"The neighbours' power cables keep coming down after a few days. Even backup power generators have been smashed, their parts missing… or stolen."

Joanna: “Anything else?”

"Two boys from the town tried to burn the house down a few years ago. I know them. Their families moved away shortly after that. Neither boy was the same after that. They were… NOT… the same afterwards! One of them… I heard one of them ended up in some sort of hospital."

Joanna : "Anything else?"

"Yes. They said… they said voices in their head told them to do it. I know those boys! They were not the type of boys to do something like that!"

Joanna thanks Mr. Mahmood and drives away. It's late in the evening.

On impulse she turns into the lane that leads to Birtley House.

Joanna stops in front of the old house and wrestles with herself. Was that warning personally meant for her? Or not?

Knowing it’s a stupid impulse but not being able to help herself, Joanna gets out of the car and gets a good look at the place in the waning light.

It’s in a poor state of repair. The ground floor windows are boarded up. The front and back doors have been forced by vandals over the years and no one has bothered to replace them.

A caw sounds in her ears and with a flutter of wings, a gleaming black crow lands at her feet. It turns its sharp eyes on her, then drops something at her feet before launching itself back into the air.

Joanna picks the object up. It’s a rose petal. A silver rose petal.

Cursing, Joanna gets back in her car and drives off.

+ + +

Several hours later Joanna arrives at Montague Mansion, the HQ of the Order of Solace and meets its leader, Argent. Joanna doesn’t know if Argent refers to her hair or her position or it’s actually her name but she looks like she can give Maggie Smith masterclass lessons in hauteur.

"Argent." Joanna bobs her head in place of a curtsy.

Argent flicks an eyelid in recognition.

"I came as soon as I got your message. But I was out of the city."

"Yes. Chiddingfold is such a… quaint… place. But. So glad you could join us again my dear." The last is not said affectionately. "We have a mission for you."

Argent hands Joanna an envelope. It’s deep red with a black seal.

Joanna just manages to resist pushing it away. But she does look into Argent’s eyes.

"Why me?"

"You were the only one available, my dear."

Joanna knows that’s not the truth. But does Argent hate her so much that she would give this particular task to Joanna?

Joanna swallows and accepts the envelope like it’s a live cobra.

"Please see that it’s delivered immediately."

It’s not like I have anything urgent to do… like see if an otherworldly entity has it in for me or not, Joanna thinks. Not trusting herself to speak, Joanna nods briefly and leaves.

+ + +

(I didn't expect that last bit to happen so this is a placeholder for an excursion to the Vampire Courts that will be detailed in another post as I don't want to break this session up.)

+ + +

A few days later...

It's afternoon as Joanna drives back to the old White House with a Companion: Calvin. He's a Tough and the brawn to Joanna’s brains but that means his sanity is … fragile. Thankfully this isn’t his first go round with the weird so he’s a bit hardened now.

The house looks the same as the last time she saw it. Dark, abandoned and utterly eerie. Joanna attempts to sense something mystical/evil in the house. She just gets a vague sense of unease.

(The entity has used its superior level to mask itself as Joanna fails the spell.)

Joanna and Calvin go up the rickety stairs and onto the porch. The floorboards are broken and full of holes. Dirt and filth is everywhere.

The door is gaping open. It’s been forced by vandals over the years, and no one has bothered to replace it.

They enter into a long foyer. Cobwebs. Dust. It’s dim. Light enters a little bit via the boarded up windows. But it’s not great for seeing. The foyer is long. Immediately in front of them are stairs going up and a door facing them. It’s hanging on half hinges. At the far end of the foyer is a half broken door.

“Great. Looks like your typical Hollywood slasher house,” says Calvin. Joanna shushes him. Something feels wrong but she doesn’t know what.

Calvin has shotgun at the ready. Brushing the cobwebs out of her hair, Joanna signals she will go in first and he is to back her up. She has her Taurus in one hand and the other is gripping her flashlight in the “ice pick” grip underneath the gun with both hands back to back. They enter the door facing them.

It looks to be a study. The desk is a solid oak table with carved claws for legs but badly scarred over the years. Its drawers were at some point forced with a crowbar and emptied. The bookshelf has quite a bit of rot, including mouldy books scattered here and there. A fire-place is blocked with a squirrel’s nest. A cow skull hangs above the mantle. There’s nothing here but Joanna can’t shake the oppressive feeling.

Her flashlight shines into the next room as the double doors separating them are long gone. It looks to be some sort of games room. The room has a gaming area set up that dominates the room. There’s another blocked fireplace along the left wall with a mantle running along the wall with a broken cabinet at the opposite wall.

In the gaming area is a circular wooden table that’s broken down. In the centre of a tabletop is a raised area with a round depression. Several broken wooden chairs are scattered around. Dust motes sparkle in the stray light beams from the boarded up windows.

Joanna moves to the cabinet. As she does so, her foot hits something that rolls into a corner. She jumps and her flashlight shows a badly-scarred crystal ball rolling to a stop.

The cabinet is empty but scattered on the floor around it are some torn up tarot cards, some dice carved from human knuckle bones with odd symbols, and an ouija board that’s broken in two.

“Nice. Now it’s the haunted spooky slasher horror flick.”

Joanna wants to clunk Calvin on the head but realises this is his way of coping with the weirdness.

They move to the room on the left. It seems to be a parlour, with the faded magnificence of a century ago. There's another impressive fireplace, surrounded by two once-expensive couches and what looks to have once been two fine chairs. There is also a shattered tea service and a massive curio display that’s nearly burned down.

Standing in front of the destroyed curio display, Joanna's warning senses tingle and once again she tries to make sense of the psychic /magickal disturbance here. This time she succeeds but...

She screams soundlessly as images assault her mind! Flashes of fire. Smoke. Death. Blood. Maniacal laughter. More blood. Splashing all around her ankles. Death. Skulls…

A slap brings her out of it.

(She passes her roll and the event doesn't trigger her PTSD.)

Calvin holds her shoulders tightly allowing Joanna to get her composure back.

Joanna curses and tells him what she’s sensed. Strong negative emotions. Like anger. Hatred. A desire to kill.

"What do you think it is?"

Joanna hesitates. "Some sort of … " She shakes her head. "You've faced things like this before. As long as they manifest in this physical world... we can kill it."

When she's back to normal, they move back to the games room and turn left towards the dining room. There's a badly scarred and half-burned long oak table here. Joanna touches the charred parts rubbing the black carbon between her fingers. There's no sign of the chairs. There are wall sconces that once held candles.

Calvin swears. Somehow, despite the ravages of the decades, a mug made from a human skull still remains near the head of the table. There is are broken cabinets everywhere. Examining closer, they see the table has been gouged with heavy tools, and then stained with blotches of black paint for some unknown reason in a fit of madness. A huge chunk looks to have been... chopped out of the table.

Seeing nothing else, Joanna and Calvin move back to the foyer. They ignore the bathroom that's at the far end of the foyer due to the stench it emits from the half broken door and move into the room opposite the dining room.

It proves to be nothing more than a storage room with a large open shelf in the middle of the room and some additional shelving along the walls. All broken alas. The house is eerily silent. There's not even the normal rustle of insects or rodents that should be in an abandoned house like this.

They go to the final room downstairs. It's the kitchen that's dominated by a large brick hearth with a pair of iron arms swinging on hinges that used to hold pots and cauldrons. All long gone. The walls are covered in shelves and broken cupboards. Shards of broken plates and cups lie everywhere. There is a counter on an island with more broken shards.

Calvin turns away in disgust. "There’s noth- "

Without warning, Joanna and Calvin are attacked by a swarm broken shards suddenly flying at them!

Joanna tries to dodge behind the counter but not before several broken shards hit her! (2DAM; 8HP left)

Calvin is quicker as he is almost out the door and dodges most of it. But not all. (1DAM; 14HP remaining.)

"Damn! There’s really something here!"

"Must be upstairs." Calvin finishes tying the bandage on Joanna's head.

"It’s powerful. Be careful."

Calvin grunts and readies his shotgun. "If you can touch it you can kill it."

They go up the stairs to the next floor, treading carefully.

There are no windows in the long corridor here so it’s much darker than downstairs. There are rooms on both sides of the corridor. They turn to the first door on their left.

It’s the master bedroom, evidenced by a broken-down four poster bed. Beside it are two damaged nightstands. A miraculously undamaged wardrobe is in one corner, and a vanity with a shattered mirror in the other.

Calvin points at the last item. "See? That’s 7 years bad -"

Something jumps them from a hole in the ceiling!

The duo are stunned for an instant and in that instant the Demon of Hate that's as large as a fully grown boar attacks Joanna. Its claws slash across her midriff, and she flies back and hits the wall behind her! (5 DAM; 4HP remaining.)

Calvin fires his shotgun at the demon. The powerful blast sends it staggering backwards but he can see it's just a light wound. (3 DAM; Demon has 13HP remaining.)

Groaning, Joanna's mind is shockingly clear as she feels the broken light armour that protected her from the worst of the demon's claws. Her fingers are slick with blood. Joanna makes her decision. If she casts her Imprison spell, with her injuries she might very well pass out... or worse. But if she succeeds, the spell will bind the demon long enough for Calvin to finish it off. Making up her mind, she yells some arcane words and a bolt of lighting flies from her fingertips, hitting the demon square in its chest! (8DAM; Demon 5HP remaining.)

Joanna stumbles out the door, leaving Calvin to block the way.

Enraged by the black hole in its guts and the green ichor freely pouring out, the Demon screams. "You shall die! You should never have come here!!!"

The demon tries to attack Joanna but Calvin is in the way. It snarls and attempts to compel Calvin to turn his shotgun on Joanna. But Calvin is having none of it!

Fury fills Calvin's face as he drops the shotgun and unsheathes his machete in one smooth motion and swings at the extended head of the demon.

The demon's head flies off !!!!!!

The head rolls in front of Joanna. The demon’s eyes are still open and it speaks in a horrible gurgle: You should not have come here Daughter of Bast. Only death awaits you... Then its eyes dim and roll up until only the whites show.


Joanna is bandaged, shot full of painkillers and all she wants is to sleep. After killing the demon, she and Calvin searched the rest of the house and discovered a weird contraption that the demon was building from all the electrical parts and bits and cables it had stolen all those years. they couldn't figure out what it was for. Lastly, she still can’t help wonder. Why was the demon specifically targeting her? And why did it call her "Daughter of Bast"?

+ + +

This is my first go at role-playing some urban horror and it was fun. 

However, since horror movies and shows aren't my favourite genre, I've not much experience to go on, that's why I'm digging out all my old comics. Think Neil Gaiman's Sandman or John Constantine, Hellblazer for reference. That's what I'm going for. No Mythos monsters for me thank you very much. It's been done to death many times over.

Verdict: I like Dark Streets & Darker Secrets. The tests are different in that you need to roll high enough to beat the difficulty level (typically 1-5 but could be higher in exceptional circumstances) but at the same time the roll needs to equal or be under your stats. So there's a narrow band of success. However if you roll a number within the difficulty level doesn't mean you failed, but it could mean limited success AND something bad happens to you. Rolling a natural 20 is a critical fail and not only do you fail, really bad things can happen to you.

The other part that I like (based on my limited RPG experience) is how spells (or psychic abilities if you don't like magic) works. Instead of being limited in the power level of the spell according to your PC's level, you can choose the power level yourself. However, spell casting is fuelled by your vitality or hit points. So for every power level you chose to cast at, you lose 1 Hit Point. AND the difficulty level corresponds to the power level of your spell. I like that a lot! You're not artificially limited in spell-casting as the only limit if your PC's capacity to cast the spell. That's why my initial plan for Joanna to cast the Imprison spell sent flying out the window when she was wounded so badly she only had 4HP remaining. To imprison a demon, you need to cast the spell at the same level of the demon. In this case it was level 4. That would have left her with 0HP and even though that doesn't necessarily mean Joanna was dead... bad things happen when you're down to zero or less HP.

Most other elements from other RPGs are present here. Roll with advantage/disadvantage (although here it's called positive/negative dice). The game is firmly based in its Old School roots where you are encouraged to role play rather than look at your character sheet for the answer. All the character sheet does it give you tools and ideas to get out of the predicament you're in. Which is why I had Calvin drop his shotgun and take out his machete. He has what other games would call proficiency in wielding a machete, giving him advantage in melee attacks. Which I meant I could roll 2 dice and choose whichever number I wanted. Which was good because my 2 rolls came out a 9 (good) and 1 (bad!). 

Lastly, the solo aids I used for Dark Streets and Dark Secrets (a specific one entitled Dark Stalker) and DM Yourself (mostly for D&D but broadly applicable to almost any game) were really invaluable in helping me play this session solo. 

I hope I can return to this setting again soon to chronicle the further adventures of Joanna C. the traumatised paranormal investigator. I do need to work out what happened in the Vampire Courts after all. And also why was that Demon of Hate after her? Could that be the seed for a short campaign?