Solo Skald |||

Last time, Memo Rodríguez, a New Mexican cowboy, arrived in the Texas border town of San Rafael to follow up on the relatives of Los Díaz, a dastardly clan of Devil-worshiping witches back in his home state. After poking around a bit, he found that the relatives here, Juan and Victorio, are up to some sort of supernatural-related evil in league with the local priest, Father Felipe Canalejas, which was enough of a twist for me to end that chapter.

Quick Overview

Summary from ChatGPT:

  • Guillermo Memo” Rodríguez continues his adventures in the Down Darker Trails” setting, arriving in the town of San Rafael on the Texas-Mexico border.
  • Memo narrowly avoids a cattle stampede at a ranch owned by Hector Sandoval and attempts to assist in controlling it, but fails.
  • In the Longhorn Saloon, Memo inquires about the Díaz brothers but faces hostility and an altercation, leading to his departure.
  • At the Black Rose Cantina, Memo observes a suspicious statuette and tries to gather information, but fails to engage the locals.
  • Memo visits the church and discusses his concerns about the Díaz brothers with Father Felipe Canalejas, but the priest dismisses his suspicions.
  • Outside the Díaz Funeral Home, Memo notices an unusually large number of crows, a potential supernatural sign.
  • The local curandera, Jimena Méndez, confirms Memo’s suspicions about the Díaz brothers plotting to steal treasures from the mission church.
  • At the mission church, Memo’s warning to Father Felipe is dismissed, leading to a stakeout where he discovers an unexpected alliance between the Díaz brothers, Father Felipe, and the sheriff.

Hero Development Phase

Before I roll into the next chapter, that means a little bit of mechanical bookkeeping in the Pulp Cthulhu rules. Fictionally, it’s not really enough of a time break to recover Sanity, but he does recover some Luck (2d10+10 => 29) and improves two skills, Persuade (+3) and Stealth (+10).

Looking Ahead

What do I expect this chapter to look like? That is, what’s the rough shape of the arc that I think will happen?

The first scene will be a visit to Jimena Méndez, the local curandera, for advice. He sort of trusted the priest over her, and that turned out to be a mistake. (At least, the priest turned out not to be trustworthy; whether she truly is remains to be seen.) He’ll want to get a sense of what they could be seeking to do, and how he might stop them.

From there, he might try to go to the Sandoval Ranch. He met Inés Sandoval, who expressed some interest in all of this. While the sheriff has started looking into this matter as well, Memo killed a sheriff in the previous adventure and would rather not give anybody any reason to look into his identity.

He’ll also try to determine why Father Felipe is involved with the Díaz brothers. This may turn into a thread on its own, depending on how that plays out.

Scene 1: Jimena Méndez

Sra. Méndez lives not far away on the same side of town, albeit on the outskirts. It’s late at night as Memo slips away from the San Benito Mission and heads over there. First I’ll test the scene against the Chaos Factor of 7: no alteration or interrupt.

The night is windy as he makes his way through the San Benito Camposanto that lies between the church and the curandera:

This old Mexican cemetery lies not far from the mission church. It is a labyrinth of graves, from simple wooden or metal crosses to traditional headstones and aboveground crypts of adobe and stone.

Given everything else that’s happened, I think this might be a good place to test an expectation with a Fate Question: Does Memo encounter any supernatural phenomena in the cemetery?” (Unlikely, CF 7): Exceptional Yes.

After a moment’s thought, I decide to reinforce what happened during the day: he is surrounded by a gauntlet of crows, lining the graves, fences, and benches. They watch him silently as he passes through. This is enough for a Sanity roll (0/1d4): success, no SAN lost.

Once he arrives at Jimena’s home, I don’t know how she’ll really react to him. He tells her what he observed, including the fact that the priest seemed to be cooperating with the Díaz brothers. She listens impassively as he speaks. This doesn’t seem like something he’s trying to convince her of; instead, he’s looking to her for guidance and direction. But he does need some of her trust for her to bring him into her confidence about this; I decide to roll his APP with a bonus die because of their related ethnicities: success.

So now what does she say? There are a few local legends I could draw on:

  1. They are considering selling some of the treasures to some buyers from far away for a high price, effectively robbing the church.
  2. The Díaz brothers are looking to summon a demon” to help them with their plans.
  3. The treasures of the mission church could be related to one of the Mythos entities in the nearby wilderness.

I’d expect that, of the three, the second is likely what they’re doing. The demon” might be any of several different things, from a servitor of the Outer Gods (as seen in Aguas Blancas) to something a little more expected by the locals. First I want to test that assumption: Are the Díaz brothers and Father Felipe intending to summon a demon?” (Likely, CF 7): Exceptional No, and in fact doubles (100).

That injects a Random Event here! ((Note from later: it shouldn’t have, because the single value of the number has to be less than the CF, but I’m rolling with what I wrote.)) First I’ll roll for the Event Focus: Move Away From A Thread. Randomly, I determine that this is thread 1, Evade the law”. This might not have been the best-worded thread in the first place, because it’s essentially phrased as a negative. There’s no obvious way this is successfully achieved, which is what I need here. I’ll rephrase it as Find a way to clear his name with the law”. In theory, that’s something that could be achieved concretely rather than something to be avoided perpetually.

But the Random Event here makes this more difficult, because the Event Focus means that there’s a new hurdle or setback that hinders the PCs progress toward closing a Thread.” That could mean that the sheriff has received word somehow that a wanted fugitive is in his town, or just that the Díaz brothers did.

I like this second option, actually, because it ties in the context here. And in fact, given that Sheriff Mateo was last seen showing up at the church in the middle of the night, these two could tie together: the Díaz brothers found out somehow that Memo was responsible for shooting the sheriff (but not the deputy) back in Aguas Blancas. This could be how they distracted the sheriff from investigating what was going on.

So Jimena knows about this and is warning Memo that he must be careful; in fact, she’s aware that they’re in some form of communication with their family back in New Mexico. He needs to hole up someplace safe.

Memo has two obvious routes: flee into Mexico or go seek refuge with the Sandovals. Going into Mexico as a fugitive would mean an entirely new scenario, I think, but heading to the Sandoval Ranch continues the basic shape of how I envisioned this playing out, albeit for different reasons.

That will end the scene here. The Chaos Factor ticks up to 8, as finding out that the local law enforcement is looking for him definitely means things are not under his control. No new characters here, but I’ll rewrite the thread as noted.

Scene 2: The Sandoval Ranch

Shortly after sunrise, Memo heads out of Jimena’s home to the ranch north of town. Testing the scene against the Chaos Factor of 8: Interrupt Scene. This means Mythic needs another Random Event. The focus this time is Current Context. So his trip to the ranch, or his arrival at it, has a new layer. The Action Meaning Tables give me 51 Imitate, 31 Failure. Somebody knows who he is and he’s not going to be able to claim some other identity.

Seems like word is getting around about Memo! Hector Sandoval has him shown into his study in the hacienda. He already knows who Memo is, and he’s not particularly surprised. As a man with his own history as a scofflaw, and in fact a powerful individual (he doesn’t mention that the Sheriff is more or less on his payroll), I expect that he doesn’t judge Memo. I’ll phrase this as a Fate Question: Does Hector Sandoval offer to help Memo?” (Likely, CF 8): Exceptional Yes.

Not only is he willing to help, he’s already suggesting a plan. But I don’t know what his plan is, so I’m rolling on the Character Actions (General) Meaning Table: 35 Expose.

Hector wants to help Memo show what the Díaz family is up to. Given that this is an affair from another state, the local US Marshal must really be the one they need to deal with. It’s way above the local sheriff’s power to handle directly. But Marshal Kirby was sent here largely in part because of the Sandoval’s power and corruption - or, as Hector would say, because of the meddling American government that won’t leave Texas and hard-working ranchers like himself alone.

Ultimately, they still need to identify whatever the Díaz family is doing in the service of demonstrating that Sheriff Garcia back in Aguas Blancas was part of a major criminal conspiracy. If they can do that, then Marshal Kirby will have to take action that clears Memo’s name.

I’m changing the first thread to Clear his name by showing that Sheriff Garcia was part of the Díaz conspiracy.” That’s even more concrete and achievable.

Memo mentions cautiously that Inés is aware of what’s happening. Hector strikes me as exactly the sort of man that overprotects his daughter and would suspect (incorrectly, in this case) that a handsome but dangerous stranger might have ulterior motives. Memo will need to roll a Persuade check to convince him that that’s not the case at all: hard success. Hector is mollified for the moment and calls in Inés to join them.

Previously, I’d established that her interest was material in some way and that she saw this as an investment opportunity. There’s absolutely no way that Hector would allow his daughter to have anything to do with taking over the Black Rose Cantina, given that it’s a brothel (and anyway he and his men prefer El Toreador Cantina). So she’s going to make a pitch of something to do with the funeral home. Not only would it provide a different income to the family, it could be useful in case any of her father’s men find themselves in trouble.

After this long discussion, Inés makes a pitch to her father: let her help Memo find evidence of what the Díaz brothers are doing (and that the sheriff back in New Mexico was in on it), and they can use that to get the bank to foreclose on the funeral home in some way. That’s a Fate Question: Does Hector approve of his daughter’s participation in the plan?” (Likely, CF 8): Exceptional Yes. He approves and he’ll get things started by sending messages to the bank manager and the sheriff.

That wraps up this scene. The Chaos Factor reduces to 7, as Memo finds things getting a bit more controlled. He and Inés will work together to investigate the Díaz brothers’ communications.

Scene 3: Back to the Funeral Home

Memo and Inés head back to the funeral home. They intend to surveil it for a bit and see what happens. Inés could potentially try to talk her way in; not only is she a known member of the community, her father is possibly the most powerful man in or around San Rafael and is unlikely to run into physical danger. I tested the scene against the Chaos Factor of 7: no alteration or interrupt.

It’s a warm afternoon and there’s enough traffic in the plaza across from the funeral home that the two of them draw little attention. (Of course, the locals will know who Inés is and greet her accordingly.) I’ll give Memo a bonus die on his Spot Hidden to represent the two of them working together: success. The Actions Meaning Tables give me 07 Assist and 82 Riches. Someone arrives with money, perhaps someone that appears to have a lot of it. Is this someone we already know?” (Likely, CF 7): yes. I’ll roll on the Characters List: Bob Sutton, the saloon owner. He runs the Longhorn Saloon, and Inés knows that he’s connected somehow to some cattle rustlers, but he’s not associated with her father.

This web has gotten a little tighter somehow. The fact that Sutton is visiting the funeral home isn’t necessarily suspicious, but it’s something that the two will want to know more about. Memo will try to sneak into the funeral home through the business behind it (a livery stable and blacksmith shop). Neither he nor Inés are particularly stealthy, so he’ll just need to roll normally. On a failure, they won’t necessarily be noticed, but they won’t be able to get in without that. With a bit of a Luck spend, he succeeds.

Time for a Fate question: Is Sutton having a private, suspicious conversation with Victorio Díaz?” (Nearly Certain, CF 7): Yes, so I’ll roll on the Character Conversations Meaning Table: 95 Simple, 19 Cheerful. Something is making them happy, and it’s not particularly complicated. In theory, the Black Rose Cantina is sort of competition to the Longhorn Saloon, but the fact that they’re in cahoots means something is really up. Happiness in a funeral home is a bit out of place, I think, and to me that indicates that something went well for them. They got the sheriff out of the way for now and the priest is still on their side.

The conspiracy now involves Juan and Victorio Díaz, Father Felipe Canalejas, and Bob Sutton. That doesn’t mean everyone has all the same interests or knowledge, but they all want some of the treasures from the church archives. Memo rolls a Listen check to hear the details, and he succeeds by spending a few Luck points. My expectation is that they’re planning to go to the church tonight and take what they want. That’s a Fate Question: Are they planning to go to the church tonight?” (50/50, CF 7): Yes.

Memo and Inés have enough to know what to do tonight. That will end this scene; I’ll decrease the Chaos Factor to 6, as things are getting more under control. No changes to the lists.

Scene 4: Back to the Church

San Benito Mission San Benito Mission (Down Darker Trails p. 207, originally from a Public Domain photo)

As they head back to the church, I expect only the priest to be present. I don’t have any expectation about how he’ll react, but first let me test the scene against the Chaos Factor of 6: interrupt scene.

Interrupt Scenes basically start with a Random Event. The Event Focus here will be New NPC, not somebody we already have on the NPC list. I’ll roll on some Character-related Identity Meaning Tables: Healer, Clean, Meek. I decide to interpret this as a doctor, and San Rafael has one:

Doctor Collins is pushing 60 now, and looks considerably older. He still treats most locals, but some are beginning to question his skills. Eighteen years ago he was sorely affected by the death in childbirth of the wife of a local rancher, and he hasn’t been the same ever since.

He’s balding with round spectacles and a thin-lipped smile. His motivation here is Help”, but it’s unclear to me who he’d be helping and how.

But that’s something Memo and Inés want to know as well, so they’ll start the scene by greeting both of these pillars of the community. Father Felipe and Doctor Collins know Inés quite well, of course, and the Father already has met Memo at least. Memo’s goal here is see if people are aware of the Díaz brothers’ associations and plans, so he’s going to take a chance and lay out some of what he knows: he came here because he’d dealt with some of their family in New Mexico that was involved in devil worship” and things even darker than that. He knows that Victorio and Juan have been up to something and he’s concerned that the community may be in danger.

Can he convince them of his sincerity, at least? He’ll need to roll Persuade, and I’ll give him a bonus die due to Inés: failure. But did he fail because of his identity or skill, or because the priest is in league with the Díaz brothers? That’s a Fate Question that I’ve avoided until now: Is Father Felipe really in league with the Díaz brothers?” (50/50, CF 6): Exceptional No! That’s a good ground truth to know, even if it doesn’t help Memo with this specific conversation. It also twists what happened in the prior session, where Father Felipe was walking with Victorio and Juan back to the church. Memo interpreted this as meaning that they were working together, but that doesn’t seem to be the case after all. He made an assumption based on their association, but it was incorrect.

That said, the doctor and priest just don’t believe that the Díaz brothers are up to something quite that dark, although they don’t have any particular love for them in general (particularly Juan running that den of iniquity, the Black Rose Cantina). Is the priest willing to discuss the nature of their visit the night before, which didn’t appear to be a request for spiritual guidance? (Likely, CF 6): No, it would be inappropriate for him to discuss conversations with his parishioners.

Still, Memo and Inés have warned him that the brothers are up to something and he has at least some evidence that they’re planning to go to the church tonight; somehow, Bob Sutton is involved as well. I expect this surprises them (Likely, CF 6): Yes. Father Felipe will at least be aware that something is up.

What’s Doctor Collins make of all this? Given that his house is directly across from the two businesses of the Díaz family, I expect he’s at least a little wary (Likely, CF 6): Exceptional No. Wait, is he in league with the Díaz brothers? (50/50, CF 6): Yes! That’s perhaps why he’s here; getting things set up.

So there’s a conspiracy between the Díaz brothers, Bob Sutton, and Doctor Collins. Father Felipe is not involved, but he’s been made aware that something is going on. Jimena Méndez, Hector Sandoval, and Inés are all in opposition to this, and Sheriff Mateo has some suspicions.

That strikes me as particularly thematic: the real antagonists have lined up support from the white settlers, while the Mexicans are the ones that are trying to stop them. Does Memo even realize this about the doctor, though? He’ll roll Psychology, again with a bonus die due to the help from his young friend: I decide to spend 11 Luck for him to succeed, as this feels important. Doctor Collins is giving him a suspicious look and then speaks condescendingly to Inés about not trusting handsome strangers.

Does this anger her (Very Likely)? Exceptional Yes. She tears into him, threatening to bring down the power of the Sandoval family, getting red in the face. In fact, I’m going to have her make an Intimidate roll: failure. The doctor steps back a bit and tries to calm things down, but it doesn’t seem like he’s going to fold.

I think this is where this scene ends. The Chaos Factor increases to 7, as things are getting a bit out of Memo’s control. Doctor Collins goes on the Characters List.

Scene 5: The Church at Night

I expect this to be the climax: the Díaz brothers, aided somehow by Bob Sutton and Doctor Collins, will try to get the treasures from the church. Memo and Inés will try to stop them, likely with the aid of the Sheriff and maybe a few of Hector Sandoval’s men. I’ll test the scene against the Chaos Factor of 7, and the result is an Altered Scene.

What’s the next most likely scene, or a small tweak to change up the expectations?

I think the change is that there’s no backup unless they call for it explicitly (and then there’s no guarantee that any reinforcements would arrive in time). It’s the cowboy and the daddy’s girl and maybe a priest against two cultists, a saloon owner, and a doctor. That’s not a great situation.

Just to set the scene, I’ll roll on the Descriptor Meaning Tables: Loudly, Historical. I’ll take that to mean that the bad guys are not quiet in their approach at all as they make their way into the church archives, talking about how they intend to take these artifacts. What conversation are they having? Fierce, Mundane. Nobody is talking about what they’ll do with the artifacts. This is enough to convince the priest that they’re up to no good, and he sends off Inés to get the sheriff. (This has the additional consequence of hopefully taking her out of harm’s way.)

Memo could try to shoot them, but one gun against four (or at least three, depending on the doctor) is pretty dicey. He’ll try to find a way to block them in, but I’ll make a Fate roll to see if there’s something convenient nearby to do so (50/50, CF 7): Yes. He’ll need to make a Strength roll to do it in time; on a failure, they see him and a confrontation will ensue. But he rolls a hard success, so he’s able to block the door to the archives with a heavy table.

There’s shouting on the other side, and this is when things might get dark. I’ll test to see if the Díaz brothers can conjure up some Mythos magic against him (Likely, CF 7): Yes. The stat blocks for them don’t include any spells, but to make things fit the fiction, I’ll have them summon something akin to a Crawling One. With four people inside, attempting to summon a creature gives them a 10% chance of success per Magic Point expended, and while I’m not tracking game time all that precisely, I think 10 minutes is long enough to give them a chance before the cavalry arrives. So that’s an 80% chance to summon the creature: success. A writhing mass of worms and maggots crawls from under the floorboards. Victorio needs to roll to bind the creature to his will, however — and this fails! The creature begins to devour one of them; I roll randomly and determine that it’s Bob Sutton.

The cultists begin firing their weapons at the creature, which does little damage to it due to the soft and resilient quality of the crawling one’s body” (Keeper Rulebook p. 286).

Without digging too far into the mechanics, I decide to resolve this with a Fate Question: Can they defeat the creature before the sheriff arrives (Unlikely, CF 7): No.

And so, as Inés arrives with the sheriff and a few of her father’s men in tow, they find Father Felipe waiting for them while the three survivors scream in terror - and Memo nowhere in sight.

Wrap-up

That’s the end of this adventure and probably the end of my time with Memo Rodríguez.

Down Darker Trails fits into Call of Cthulhu spectacularly well. It doesn’t fit the play style of examining documents and doing library research, but in terms of rules and the Mythos itself, it does so in a way that really works. The book itself has lots of adventure seeds and material to work with, as does the follow-up supplement Shadows Over Stillwater.

For the Mythic GME and CoC, I really recommend using the Thread Progress Track (which works very similarly to Ironsworn’s Progress Tracks). Otherwise, it’s easy to keep dragging things on and not reach a climax. In this case, eventually I just decided to end it because I’ve actually been playing this session for nearly four weeks.

Finally, I think that I should have had a sidekick for Memo all along, partially for mechanical purposes but mostly because it’s easier to see a character in contrast and in relation to another. That’s a lesson that can carry over into other solo games for me as well.

Characters List

  1. The Díaz Family of Aguas Blancas
  2. Juan Díaz, cantina owner
  3. Victorio Díaz, undertaker
  4. Hector Sandoval, rancher
  5. Ricardo Mateo, sheriff
  6. Doug Kirby, US Marshal
  7. Bob Sutton, saloon owner
  8. Black Rose Cantina
  9. Father Felipe Canalejas, priest
  10. Inés Sandoval, daughter of Hector Sandoval
  11. Jimena Méndez, curandera
  12. Doctor Alan Collins, physician

Threads List

  1. Clear Memo’s name by showing that Sheriff Garcia was part of the Díaz conspiracy.
  2. Stop the Díaz brothers from stealing the treasures from the mission church
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