Bloodheist: The Clearlake Sanitarium

I run my vampire heist game Bloodheist fairly regularly, but I don’t often post the play reports, which I think is a mistake. I was lucky enough to playtest the game with a small new group this weekend, so I’ve decided to offer a brief summary of the proceedings.

The playtesters rolled up completely random thieves, to see where the dice would take us. We ended up with the following criminals:

  • Ernest Jackson, a human Shadowjack (super sneaky thief). Burly and muscular due to his past life as a blacksmith, but also an expert contortionist.
  • Claus “Hell” Hill, a human Gearhead (gadget-focused thief). He was also trained as a clerk, and had a knowledge of Vampire Script (their secret language).

The players both rolled a random Ritual, and then I dealt them their Secrets. Bloodheist‘s Secrets are playing cards that are given to each Thief at the start of the heist. You then refer to a master list to find out what your secret objective is. I’m not able to reveal what the Thieves’ Secrets are yet, as we’re only halfway through the heist, but I was pretty amused by what they drew.

I then outlined the set-up for the heist, which ran as follows: the Undying Empire has recently found itself enthralled by the works of Professor Jordache Peterman, a mystical psychotherapist, mesmerist, and personal improvement speaker. Peterman’s treatise, 12 Rules for Unlife, rocketed him to literary fame and the top of the bestseller charts, and he quickly signed a contract with Bunkum & Blott, London’s most feared publishing house, to deliver a sequel. However, perhaps due to the pressures of fame, Professor Peterman began to suffer nervous spells and disappeared from public eye. He is now two years overdue on his contract with Bunkum & Blott, and the publishers want their manuscript. Rumours swirl about the Professor: many claim that his daughter Michala has had the great man interred in a very expensive sanitarium, the Clearlake Revitalisation Clinic, where he is undergoing experimental treatments. Bunkum & Blott have hired the thieves to infiltrate the Clearlake sanitarium, locate Peterman, and return to London either with the Professor in their custody, or with whatever draft manuscript pages he has produced over the past two years.

I must stress that none of the NPCs in this heist are based on real public figures; any resemblance to such figures is coincidence.

After this briefing, we joined the thieves on the only train into Clearlake Town. The moon was rising, the lake was indeed clear and calm, and the thieves could see the Clearlake Revitalisation Clinic itself, sitting tall and pale on a forested island in the midst of the lake waters. There was no bridge to the CRC, so Ernest and Claus surmised they must arrange their own clandestine method of transportation across the waters. They walked into town, looking for a public house, and found one: a dingy, thick walled building, with a painted sign that showed an armoured knight beheading a long, limbless dragon that seemed to be rearing up out of a lake. Both thieves decided there was no way this was foreshadowing of any kind, and headed into the pub.

The interior was smoky and dim, but not totally unwelcoming. The regulars were gruff, bearded lake fishermen who had little to say to the strangers. After sampling the local brew – a beer with the colour and consistency of lake mud – Ernest and Claus sought out ‘the weirdest person in the pub’, who turned out to be a fisherman who didn’t wear trousers, only an oil-skin slicker, hat, and boxer shorts. He introduced himself as No-Trousers Nathan, a name that didn’t require elaboration, although they received it anyway. Nathan drunkenly regaled them with stories of eel-fishing on the lake, how his father had always warned him not to let eels slither up his trousers, and his ingenious solution to that problem. Eventually the thieves convinced Nathan to show them how eel-fishing on Clearlake’s waters went down, which he agreed to – so long as they removed their trousers.

Claus was unkeen on this notion, and instead used his Beguiling Breath spell on Nathan, essentially charming the pantless fisherman into believing they had always been close friends. Nathan decided not to insist on the ‘no trousers’ rule, and rowed the two thieves out to the island in the middle of the lake. They asked Nathan to wait offshore until they needed him again, and quietly made their way through the trees that blanketed the island’s southern shore.

Ernest climbed a tree and took in the lay of the land. The Clearlake Revitalisation Clinic comprised of a large domed central building, a spartan-looking western block that presumably housed staff members, some charming chalets on the eastern side of the island that looked like they housed patients, and an imposing manse at the northern shore of the island, complete with a windowless stone tower. The two human thieves decided their best bet was to approach the staff building, and attempt to steal some uniforms in order to pose as orderlies or handymen. They snuck across the moonlit grounds of the Clinic, but before they reached the western building, they saw two figures in white uniforms pushing a wheelchair, which held a blanket-wrapped patient. The two thieves attracted the attention of the white-uniformed orderlies, who were both hairless and glassy eyed, although they did not appear to be vampires. The thieves managed to subdue these orderlies, using a combination of ropes, a lucky horseshoe, and the re-animated corpse of a seabird, and stole their uniforms. During this conflict, Ernest developed a Folly (a mania or compulsion that grips a thief as their Doom Score rises). His Folly was the Butcher’s Folly, which compelled him to wanton acts of destruction or violence.

Now disguised as orderlies, the thieves took custody of the vampire patient in the wheelchair. To their surprise they discovered they knew this vampire: he was none other than the entertainer Johannes du Nox, who along with his Travelling Jackanapes had amused the world with his stunts and pranks, seemingly heedless of danger to life and limb. Nox was disoriented and confused, apparently believing the thieves to be his friends ‘Bram’ and ‘Stephen’. Ernest and Claus played along with the entertainer’s ramblings, wheeling him towards the large central domed building, which they reasoned was likely the treatment centre.

They wheeled Johannes into this central building, finding it furnished with gleaming white tiles and heavy, stainless steel doors. The thieves made their way through the lower levels, examining the treatment cells and the patients within. They saw many perplexing sights: a burly naked man, kept with a group of chimpanzees and gorillas; a dishevelled woman in a cell painted half blue and half pink, who seemed to be talking to pieces of driftwood with faces on them; an elegant and refined caucasian woman, surrounded by objects from the Far East; and a young blonde man who seemed to be having a temper tantrum in a cell littered with chess pieces, broken backgammon boards, and various other toys and children’s entertainments. The thieves found these sights curious, and wondered at the identities of these patients, but were unable to guess. They saw that each door was marked only with a coded number, rather than a name; they wondered where they would find the code that had been assigned to Professor Peterman, as this was surely key to locating him and his manuscript.

Moving further into the facility, they found themselves before a central clerical device: a towering stack of filing cabinets that stretched from the floor of a great hall all the way to the ceiling, ministered by a steam-powered hydraulic arm. A single female clerk sat at a desk before this contraption, reading a racy novel. Claus offered her his expensive fountain pen in exchange for her looking the other way while he attempted to get some patient information from the filing machine, which she agreed to. Claus used his technical knowledge to hijack the machine, with a partial degree of success. He was able to retrieve Professor Peterman’s patient code and room location, but the hydraulic arm went haywire and began filing and re-filing the same information, faster and faster. Smoke began to issue, ominously, from the base of the mechanism. Ernest releasing Johannes du Nox from his restraints at this point, and Nox immediately played a ‘prank’ on the female clerk, killing her in the process, before grabbing onto the malfunctioning arm and swinging away into the shadows. Claus and Ernest agreed that Nox’s presence in the Clinic would cause chaos and provide them with cover.

They went to the second floor of the building, finding the treatment room where Professor Peterman was being held. Peering through the window, they saw two vampires, deep in conversation. One was Michala Peterman, who turned out to be a nine-foot tall undead beauty, clad in a form-fitting dress and large white hat. The other vampire was equally large, but he was unkempt and wild eyed, resembling a shaven bear crammed into a tweed waistcoat and lab coat. They knew this figure to be Dr Coleslaw Zinek, the infamous psychotherapist and philosopher (I stress, once again, that any resemblance to well-known public figures is totally coincidental). Behind these two figures was a tall glass cylinder, filled with water, in which Professor Peterman floated, seemingly in a trance. Knots of silver eels swirled in the water around him.

If you’ve never seen A Cure For Wellness I entreat you to do so; it’s a schlocky, hilarious marvel.

The thieves, still disguised as orderlies, entered the room, attempting to eavesdrop on the conversation between Dr Zinek and Michala Peterman. The two vampires paid no attention to Ernest and Claus, who began to sabotage the pipes connected to the tank that imprisoned Professor Peterman.

‘Thish proshedure ish taking, huh, too long,’ Dr Zinek said, spraying spit in a wide arc across the room.

‘Father’s mind is strong,’ Michala replied, ‘but it will break. You will have what was promised.’

At this point, all hell broke loose. Three more orderlies, hairless and glassy-eyed, burst into the room. Two of them gave an urgent message to Dr Zinek, while the third, examining Ernest and Claus, realised they were not genuine staff members and began to scream, pointing directly at them. Ernest decided to solve this problem by lighting his dynamite and bolting for the door. The two thieves managed to exit just before the dynamite blew the door off its hinges, and took out most of the cell wall in the process. They raced away down the hallway, ears ringing, smoke pouring from the destruction they had left behind them. Looking back, they saw Michala Peterman striding through the wreckage, totally unharmed, with long blades now extending from her fingers.

As they reached the staircase down to the lower level of the treatment building, they were shocked to see a stampede of mules, yaks, llamas and alpacas, adorned with colourful ribbons and bells. Riding the lead alpaca was none other than Johannes du Nox, who yelled with, wild abandon, ‘Hi I’m Johannes du Nox and this is the indoor stampede!’ before sweeping the two thieves off their feet and charging straight for Michala Peterman. With this stunning twist, we ended the session on a cliffhanger.

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