Story

This game did not have the linear narrative style of most Cthulhu Lives games. The vast bulk of the evening’s action consisted in guests mingling and talking with each other, and slowly coming to understand the background story. There were a few set action pieces, but they did not include much Investigator involvement.

The Investigators receive the following formal invitation in the mail:
(crest)
His Royal Highness, Borovan, Duke of Transylvania, cordially invites you to attend a gala Masquerade Ball at the Royal Domicile, Castle Dimitrov, Transylvania, commencing at Eight O’clock, P.M., October Twenty-Sixth, Nineteen Twenty-Eight. Repondez Sil Vous Plait

Duke Borovan is known as a playboy and a numskull, just one member of an increasingly irrelevant European royal aristocracy. He had inherited the title from his father, who had died under suspicious circumstances in 1908, when his older brother vanished. It was commonly believed that the older brother, Zvance Yasovir Dimitrov, had killed their father and fled the country.

Though Roumania had fought on the side of the Allies in the Great War, it was common knowledge that many of the region’s powerful men felt great sympathy for the defeated Austro-Hungarian empire, and disagreed with King Ferdinand’s policies and western outlook. Ostrov, the aged adviser to Borovan’s father, continued to have an official appointment and some sway with the family. But Borovan was increasingly under the influence of Count Valpovo Zagora, a local nobleman whose family line went back many generations in the region. It was an open secret that Zagora had helped to arm and supply the Austro-Hungarian forces in the war.

The investigators arrive separately at Castle Dimitrov, all in elaborate costumes. Among the guests were Zelda Fitzgerald and Charlie Chaplin, along with some of the well-known occult investigators of the day. When all the guests had arrived, Duke Borovan made his grand entrance with his wife, the lovely Duchess Serena, and his daughter, the spoiled and surly Sovata Cindesti Dimitrov. Also in attendance is Count Zagora himself, dressed as a pirate.

The guests all mingle and snack, there is dancing in the ballroom, etc. The aged Ostrov, wearing an owl costume, discreetly approaches some of the noted occult investigators in the crowd. He takes them aside and explains that he personally put them on the guest list because he wants their help. He tells them that he believes there is some evil plan afoot involving the Duke’s family, which ties in with the death of Borovan’s father, Duke Yasovir, many years ago. He tells them that he ordered the room in which Duke Yasovir died sealed just after the death occurred, and it has been undisturbed since that time. He tells the investigators that he wants to unseal the room that very night and ask them to inspect its contents, to determine how Duke Yasovir truly died. They agree.

The investigation is carried on behind the scenes, while the party is still in full swing. Ostrov tells the investigators that he believes some of the guests at the party may have been involved in Duke Yasovir’s death, and may be involved in the evil plot which is still unfolding, and that they will have to be discreet. Ostrov and a few key investigators slip away from the main gathering places and open Duke Yasovir’s sealed study.

Inside they find Yasovir’s desk, just as he left it. It is covered with books and papers worm-eaten and rat-gnawed with time. The room immediately betrays a sense of cold fear: it’s obvious that the Duke’s death was not natural. Going through the Duke’s papers, they find a journal written in English. Here is what it says, in part:
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March 20, 1908
Although I keep my personal journal in German, there are certain subjects I have judged not suitable for the possible, albeit accidental, reading of by others. As pertains these subjects I will write my thoughts in English, a language none in the household but my sons speak, and them only some, and of course Ostrov; but it is from and through him that many of my more refined thoughts come.

March 21
The legacy of Vlad is very strong in this country, despite my attempts to modernize and, to some degree, westernize the region. Although Zagora, an able man, now lives in the Impaler’s castle, its shadowy aura cannot be dispelled.

April 30
Seventeen peasants were found dead by the coast yesterday morning. Their bodies were drained of blood and horribly mutilated. I am simultaneously horrified and encouraged, as, although it is a ghastly deed, it provides a solid starting point against which to brace a campaign of reason; such a point elusive rumour and fairly tale provide not. I have dispatched Ostrov to investigate the incident and report to me his observations.

June 2
Ostrov has returned to the castle, and has confirmed my fears. He tells me the killings bear the signs of a vampire cult; worshipping some obscene water demon and letting blood in their bizarre rituals. The murdered peasants were under the Earl of Bolarad. ...Zagora, when I asked his advice on the subject, explained to me his belief that it was not, in fact, related to a cult, but some more pedestrian crime arranged so as to incriminate non-existent parties.

June 8
Bolarad is dead. Apparently he lost his footing and fell from the staircase balcony of his home, and fell to the lobby, where his body was pierced through by the sharp spire of a wooden dining chair.

June 27
Zagora came to me today and held a short and private conference. He urges me to break off the investigation and recover my failing constitution. He believes that the death was, as it appeared, an accident. He further believes that my philosopher, Ostrov, is perhaps so advanced in years that his perception is not so completely trustworthy.

July 6
Zvance has offered to relieve me of my investigation by taking it upon himself. The boy continues to please me well.

July 25
Zvance and I traveled together to the coast, to the place specified in the Bolarad letter. I beheld there a testimony to an unthinkable carnage, the now stilled remains of some dozen dozen men. ...I swear by the cross and silver swords that are the symbol of my family to drive out this occultism and blood crazed fiendishness from my country.

September 6
I have been visited by strange dreams of bizarre creatures and humans in profane ritual. The vision has been most disturbing. It is indescribable. I fear my health may be failing.

October 22
The dreams now worst of all. Death, complete destruction, huge creature rising from the sea. Too monstrous. Horrible.

October 23
I see now the cult is everywhere. Vampirism is not a myth. I see that now. It lives in Transylvania. I am powerless.
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(Click here for complete text of journal)

The investigators must carry on their work with extreme discretion. Ostrov warns them that neither the Duke nor Count Zagora should know what they are doing. The castle is a pretty big place, but Borovan is a gregarious host and he makes it difficult for them to hide. The attentive butler also makes things difficult, yet he also can provide information. They are able to read through the journal only in bits and pieces.

Meanwhile, the party goes on around them. A guest named Abed Al Katif and his wife perform a shocking magic trick called The Eye of Al Hazred which amazes everyone present. The investigators chat with other guests, hoping to get additional information. One guest they are unable to engage in coversation is a man dressed in a harlequin costume. No one seems to know who he is behind his mask.

Consulting with Ostrov and other guests, a picture of the events surrounding Duke Yasovir’s death begins to emerge through the evening. It seems clear that Zagora was involved, and may be involved in still more desperate plans.

Finally, the Investigators reach the end of Yasovir’s worm-eaten journal, which says, in part:
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October 25
Zagora. Zagora has betrayed me. The creature his castle. His the letter. I see it now.

(no date)
The walls close in around me. There are demons at the window. They will not suffer me to live. I must call my son. Zvance my last hope.
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Ostrov decides that it’s time to confront Zagora. The old man battles the Count in full view of everyone. Both seem to be using sorcery, and Zagora is superior. After a fearsome contest, the aged Ostrov is killed. Everyone is traumatized, and some of the investigators rush to his side.

Then, the mysterious harlequin figure unmasks himself. Borovan, Zagora, and many of the other guests are shocked as they realize that it is none other than Zvance Yasovir Dimitrov, the elder brother and rightful heir to the Duke’s throne. Borovan quivers in cowardice as Zvance pulls down one of the silver swords from the family crest hanging in the ball room. He lunges at Zagora, who is also armed with a sword as part of his pirate costume. They have a genuine sword fight through the rooms of the castle, as the guests scatter right and left to get out of their way. Zvance is victorious, and the evil Zagora is run through the heart with a silver blade.

When the dust settles, Zvance explains what happened. The Transylvanian region of course has a long history of Cthulhoid activity. Certain royal families have been there since time immemorial, and they belong to various unspeakable cults. The Duke of Transylvania, Yasovir Georgi Dimitrov, was not involved in these cults, however. He had been on the throne only since the early 1900s, inheriting the position through distant relatives. Shortly after moving into his castle in Transylvania, he caught inklings of the region’s occultism and, not knowing any better, decided to look into it.

The Duke’s investigations alarmed and irritated various barons and counts of long standing in the region, most notably Count Zagora, the man who leads insane cult worship. Zagora decides that Dimitrov must be eliminated. Conniving with Dimitrov’s wife and younger son, one night in 1908, when Ostrov was traveling abroad, Zagora and his forces overpowered and killed Dimitrov in his study through the use of Cthulhoid magic. Zvance fled into hiding that night, to await an opportunity to return. Sensing the danger, Ostrov rushed back to Transylvania to discover his master dead and his eldest son missing. He ordered that the Duke’s study be sealed.

The Duke’s younger son, Borovan Kristaca Dimitrov, assumed his father’s title, and ruled with the cooperation and friendship of Zagora and other powerful men of the region. Borovan is easily manipulated. Zagora takes particular interest in Borovan’s children, who are in the line of succession to the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. His long-term plan was to prime them for world leadership, then assassinate Borovan and reignite the still smoldering fires of the Great War.