I was about to put my game of Lamentations of the Flame Princess – and thus the excursions of the Five-Hour Energy Denver Mattress Explorers of the University of Amsterdam (FHEDMEUA, I guess?) – on hold, but a very enthusiastic showing at last Sunday’s session made me decide otherwise. In fact, the players want to show up next Sunday at 9:30 AM, since I have a beerbust at the Wrangler to attend over our normal gaming schedule.
Has anyone else ever heard of tabletop roleplayers chomping at the bit to game that early? I know I haven’t.
I consider my LotFP game to be my “wing-it” game, and I pride myself in how well I’ve been winging it so far. But as it turns out, Maze of the Blue Medusa isn’t something to be winged. So I’ve kept busy by developing plotlines in Amsterdam 16XX, keeping the party occupied while I finished reading the damn thing.
This plotline in particular is extrapolated from the decadent world implied in Kiel Chenier’s Blood in the Chocolate.
La Venganza de Montezuma – a caravel owned by Spanish chocolate merchant Anselme D’Cruz – pulled into the Amsterdam harbor, dumping thousands of gallons of Mesoamerican chocolate drink into the water through a breach in its hull, obviously caused by corrosion.
Anselme had his crew scrub the ship clean before abandoning it at a dock to rid of the evidence. What’s odd is how frantically the crew was scrubbing the ship – skin peeling from bone in the damp – and how suddenly they got up and left in unison, with purpose.
The Weird Truth
There is a curse upon the chocolate. Anselme wanted to crush Lucia through the power of cheap labor, but instead of using slaves in West African plantations, he cherry-picked a ship full of Mesoamerican slaves to build a plantation of his own.
Unfortunately for Anselme, cocoa doesn’t grow that far north of the equator, so he forced one of his new slaves – a high priest of Chalchiuhtotolin, the god of disease and plague, Clementé – to beg his gods for cocoa growth, or to forfeit her miserable life. The cocoa did grow, but Anselme did not make any specifications as to the ingredients used in the chocolate drink. Clementé, being a proficient alchemist, used this to her advantage.
On the way to Amsterdam to offload the first shipment, Anselme’s chocolate drink grew black and tar-like, and began leaking from the seams of the barrels, rotten. Anselme was furious, but didn’t consider jettisoning the product; in his greed, he thought he could still pass it off to his uneducated buyer, even when it had melted a hole in his ship (the pumps were able to handle the breach). Anselme kept a steadfast exterior, but took to Mesoamerican mythology to satisfy his superstitions in secret.
The knowledge he consumed in paranoid isolation on that voyage transformed him into a perfect receptacle for Clementé’s schemes.
By the time La Venganza de Montezuma reached the harbor, the infection had taken hold on its crew, and Anselme realized what he had wrought; historical precedence in the Black Plague gave Anselme and his crew reason to abandon ship. All Anselme could do was ditch the toxic substance in the water, scrub the ship clean, and wait out in the country until this all blew over.
Anselme did not plan on taking up the mantle of a cultist of Chalchiuhtotolin, but his slave interpreter Xiomara was Chalchiuhtotolin’s whisper in his ear, influencing the formation of The Disciples of the Jewelled Fowl. Anselme became the puppet-prophet that Clementé had promised.
The Disciples of the Jewelled Fowl
A caravel like La Venganza de Montezuma is commonly crewed by 25 people, while also transporting 100 or so slaves.
First, the slaves: they are in on Clementé’s plan for revenge. When they are purchased by new masters, they bide their time until using stowed vials of Anselme’s chocolate to infect them with the disease. Once free, they band together in cabals, striking high-value targets at night. These could be meddlers in their affairs, particularly cruel Dutch, or merchants who won’t acquiesce their holdings.
The first mate is Landsknecht Gabi Sorge. She is wary of Xiomara, and the 3 other Landsknechts she brought onto the crew will follow her until death. She will be ousted from the crew before it officially becomes a cult, after which she may seek the characters’ assistance. They are never seen without their shiny plate, masterwork weapons, or peacocky fixings.
Anselme’s navigator and VOC representative Harm Teunissen betrays his duties to the company in order to make a king’s ransom off of the cult’s operations. As the chocolate plague continues to decimate Amsterdam, Harm will ensure that holdings remain protected and that services continue to run, so long as he gets a lion’s share.
Xiomara was brought on as a slave interpreter, but is in actuality Clementé’s lover. They share a bond that is near-telepathic. Clementé entrusted Xiomara with a ritual known as Chalchiuhtotolin’s Receptacle: the victim (typically a “prophet” like Anselme) is completely dismembered – including the removal of eyes and tongue – and becomes an undying test tube for alchemical products, which can then be excreted from the victim on command. Xiomara can not only synthesize an antidote for the cult (and for Harm to pilfer and sell), but can come to control the plague as the victim cultures a connection to Chalchiuhtotolin, their brain eroding as they become a veritable cosmic oracle.
There are 18 sailors who are well trained and booned, being crew aboard a slaving ship and the devouts closest to Anselme and Xiomara. They have been totally brainwashed, but giving up one’s free will to Chalchiuhtotolin has its benefits.
If a character comes in contact with Anselme’s chocolate or infected creatures, they make a saving throw against non-magical effects. If they fail, their stage of infection increases every 3d10−3 days:
- Incubation; no visible symptoms.
- Bubo appear all over the body, squirting infectious chocolate drink when tampered with (or if the host takes damage). The bubo are painful, removing Ability modifiers from Armor Class and counting for 1d3 encumbrance points.
- The character also begins to be wracked with seizures. When a player rolls a 1 on a die (besides damage), their character loses their turn and is considered helpless.
- The character’s entire body becomes soggy with chocolate gangrene, losing a point from all ability scores each day during this phase. These points cannot be restored except through greater magic. Touching the character is infectious, as their debilitating diarrhea is actually near-continuous expulsion of the chocolate drink.
- The character explodes into infectious vapor. The immediate area becomes permanently tainted, and all creatures within 30’ get the plague without a save.
In addition to the above symptoms, if an infected individual sees chocolate, they must make a non-magic saving throw, or they will ravenously eat all chocolate in sight. Given enough chocolate, they will eat until they explode. These hysterics cannot be stopped until all chocolate is removed from the premises.
Every 1d3 months, the disease evolves, rendering useless whatever cures for the disease have been used so far. Cure disease works, but not on a mass scale, and whoever is caught using it may be mistaken as an agent of the pestilence.
As the Plague Spreads
All this should be ever-so-painfully slow and subtle, window dressing that will continue to accumulate as the characters ignore or succumb to it. Amsterdam’s total annihilation would only result after at least a year, and that’s assuming total inaction on the party’s behalf.
- As the plague ravages the economy, Harm restructures it in Anselme’s favor. This could mean anything from buying out entire services overnight, to peddling a “cure” in exchange for assets (which is really just Xiomara delaying the inevitable).
- Martial law descends upon the city as people are prevented from entering or leaving, bodies are burned, and a clumsy investigation begins to tear the player’s investments and investigations apart.
- Anselme’s cult grows. Pestilence is god now, and if properly worshipped, perhaps the plague can be survived. The presence and operations of the cult become increasingly bold, culminating in Clementé’s arrival from Spain to sit at the throne of her new domain.
- A waste management company has been contracted out to scrub the sticky mess from the harbor and the waterways before it attracts more pests. What happens as they interact with the toxic sludge? What is the extent of the seepage in Amsterdam?
- The old crew of La Venganza de Montezuma are holed up in a rural inn, far away from the epicenter of the disease, performing strange rites in the forest by night.
- Customer Filibert van Achtoben has yet to receive his shipment of chocolate drink. He knows Anselme is in town, and is looking to hire debt collectors.
- Lucia de Castillo (of Blood in the Chocolate fame) cannot allow this middling plague to interfere in the reputation of chocolate, and will exercise her will through massive bribes to the VOC. She may even use the meddling characters as her fall guys. Alternatively, The Disciples of the Jewelled Fowl may pin the blame on her, being an aristocrat who enslaved and mutated many of their brethren. Either way, French merchants will pounce on the opportunity to finally bring Lucia to her knees.
- Famed explorer Reinold Penner – irritatingly handsome, heroic, and philanthropic – may voyage to Mesoamerica in an attempt to find the cure from a tribe he once visited. This could lead to a version of World of the Lost that is teeming with jungle and sparsely populated with Aztec tribes.