Orient Express is a fun little adventure that gives the GM a lot of freedom regarding happenings during the game session, with many interesting hooks. It could be played by many different groups in completely different ways and with different results. I could easily see it serving as a one-shot scenario for Chronicles of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu. As it was a birthday surprise session for zasvid, I tried a minimalist mechanical approach, Roll for Shoes.
The year is 1912. Europe is boiling with the fever of imminent war. Broniwoj Żelewski is a man passionate about two things: freedom and his home country, Poland. As many true patriots, he left the occupied Polish territory many years ago to work on its independence from outside. Now he lives in France, the land of opportunity — and he has found just a perfect one! Orient Express, a luxurious train going from Paris to Constantinople will have, this time, most interesting passengers, one of which will be in possession of The Grimoire! The Grimoire, a book that surely contains spells powerful enough to aid Polish people’s quest for independence. is to be exchanged during the journey by a mysterious seller. Broniwoj decides to seize the book for himself by any means necessary.
He convinces his friend, Jean-Paul, to help. They both book tickets for the train, each in different class to make sure they have the whole train under observation. Broniwoj enters his couch and finds a man there, already comfortably lying on the bed. The man introduces himself as Antonije Bogdanovic, a Serbian writer. Broniwoj decides he will behave like a true bon vivant during this trip, and talks at length about fashion sense, good food and bridge. Bogdanovic turns out to be a pleasant companion and they talk at length until dinner.
The food is exquisite and the companions at the table turn out to be quite pleasant. Broniwoj, who at no point forgets about his goal, announces that he would like to organize a bridge tournament for everyone in the first class. A perfect opportunity to spend a pleasant evening and meet new friends, he explains. The idea is met with enthusiasm and the tournament is decided to be held next day right after dinner.
At midnight, Broniwoj sneaks out of his coach to meet with Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul is clearly unhappy with how Broniwoj carries himself. He cautions Żelewski not to forget about his anarchistic ideas just because he has tasted some good food and spoke with a Russian princess. After all, weren’t they both in anarchistic organization for years?! Didn’t Broniwoj even set up a bomb (and got injured by said bomb when it exploded prematurely, harming only its creator)?
Broniwoj dismisses Jean-Paul’s concerns, telling him that he just pretends to be a bon vivant, and the only thing he dreams of is freedom for all. Convinced that his friend’s intentions are pure, Jean-Paul shares with him what he learned: the Grimoire will be sold tomorrow at 3 AM in the morning. By whom and who will be the buyer – this Jean-Paul could not learn.
Broniwoj has a whole day to plan how can he get the book – but also a tournament to organize. He befriends an American spiritualist, Ms Jessica Brooks. Ms Brooks confides in Broniwoj that she feels a sinister presence nearby, a strange temptation, but does not know what its source is. Broniwoj does not disclose any information about the Grimoire, but rather tries to comfort the spiritualist, saying that whatever this presence is, he is sure the train will soon leave it behind.
Another passenger and tournament participant, Tobias Brahms, an antique dealer, turns out to be interested in obtaining the book as well. Broniwoj decides to keep an eye on him.
During the night, Broniwoj sneaks out of his room and hides in the dining room. He hears two voices making the deal – one of them weirdly familiar. Broniwoj recognizes Antonije Bogdanovic as the buyer! After the deal is done and the men leave the room, Broniwoj follows the one who goes to the first class coach. In the corridor, he meets Tobias Brahms, who, as it turns out, also was trying to learn who is currently in possession of the Grimoire. Broniwoj strikes a deal with him: they can cooperate to get the book together, Broniwoj will use it once to cast a spell and get his goal, and then Mr Brooks can take it and sell it, or do whatever else he pleases. The antique dealer is pleased with this proposal and they shake hands in agreement.
Broniwoj goes back to his room and notices that Bodganovic only pretends to sleep. He decides to do the same thing and the two men spend hours laying in bed with closed eyes but awake and fully aware, observing each other. At one point Broniwoj hears Bodganovic’s snoring and jumps at the opportunity to seize the book. First, he gives Bogdanovic some chloroform to make sure he’s fast asleep and then takes the Grimoire out of his pocket. The Orient Express arrives in Budapest at 5 AM and Broniwoj jumps out of the train the moment it stops. Jean-Paul sees him through the window and leaves the train as well. They will be long gone before Tobias Brahms realizes he has been tricked.
In Budapest, Jean-Paul urges Broniwoj to use the Grimoire to bring equality and justice for all, but Broniwoj has another idea. He takes out the derringer out of his pocket, aims at Jean-Paul’s head and orders him to read from the Grimoire a spell that would bring back Poland in its former glory! Jean-Paul opens the Grimoire but it sucks out his soul, leaving behind an empty body. Broniwoj, believing that is just a side-effect of a well-casted spell, runs away from the scene.
Two years later, when Gavrilo Princip assassinates the Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand, Broniwoj figures it’s all thanks to his spell. He decides to travel to Polish territories in anticipation of Poland winning back its independence.