Orpheum Lofts is one of our system-agnostic Giallo settings, these books are collections of characters and circumstances, adventure kits rather than out-and-out adventures. Here’s a bonus adventure by the author – Miguel Ribeiro. Buy our Giallo RPG books HERE. They are more directly useful with Actual Fucking Monsters, but easily adaptable to any system.
HER HEART WAS A LOCKED ROOM AND NOBODY HAD THE KEY
This is a short scenario to be combined with Postmortem Giallo: Orpheum Lofts, or even played without it. It’s a clichéd giallo story, which features several of the tropes associated with the genre and starts with the murder of a Loft’s resident, the jazz singer Stephanie Armitage. The players can choose among a list of pre-generated characters or come up with their own. By default, the scenario uses Actual Fucking Monsters mechanics,but it’s easy to adapt it to any other contemporary horror role-playing game system.
The Orpheum Lofts were built in the 1920s and, long ago, they were upper-middle-class dwellings. Over time, there has been an enormous change in the surrounding area, which led to extreme property devaluation. Consequently, the building has decayed, the beautiful Art Déco façade is now in shambles, the lift rarely works, the sewage pipes, old-fashioned and rotten, taint the air with the foetid odour of waste and, in the basement, a deepening sinkhole will probably cause structural damage to the whole building. It’s not a nice place to live anymore.
The cast is divided among Playable and Non-Playable Characters. They all have attached giallo tropes. If you would like to connect the clichés to game mechanics, there are penalties which can be used attached to certain tropes. For instance, an Outsider character should have increased difficulty when dealing with authorities and in most social rolls. The Prime Suspects’ relation with the police should also be rather strained. The same holds true for other Suspects and Unreliable Witness; but, as Witness only, a failure shouldn’t get a character detained, more likely moved up to Suspect level. Possible Victims should have increased difficulties when dealing with tense situations, or when being pursued by aggressors. Lesbians may have a hard time dealing with male characters, especially if they are authority figures or conservatives. Unwilling Investigators may even get a downgraded difficulty when gathering clues, but this will lead them to become either Possible Victims or Suspects. Maybe even both. Weirdoes should have high penalties to all social rolls and are on their way to become Prime Suspects at the first failure. These trope mechanics could work also in a similar way as Consequences do in Actual Fucking Monsters (p. 63).
BILLY BRUBAKER: he’s a small-town boy recently arrived in New York. Young, handsome and athletic, at first he wanted to be a model, an actor, a singer or some other kind of star. Then he watched Midnight Cowboy, in a late night movie screening, got scarred, and found a job at the Stardust Café, waiting tables. He has worked there for little more than a month and he’s in lust with Stephanie Armitage, a jazz musician who plays at the Café every Friday night. She doesn’t give him the time of day but, luckily, he found a vacant apartment near her place. He watches her undress at night and dress in the morning. She doesn’t seem to care about being watched by the neighbours, her bedroom curtains are always open, so jerking-off to Stephie has become his nightly ritual. He’s an Outsider, a Voyeur and the Unreliable Crime Witness. He could become a Suspect too. He lives in the 8th floor of a building with a view over the Orpheum Lofts.
Mask: Waiter d4
Skill: Service d8
Skill: Small Talk d8
Skill: Weightlifting d8
OLIVIA WATSON: a year ago, Olivia Watson was a name to be reckoned with, a shining star in New York’s journalistic milieu. An investigative reporter for the NY Times, she had a reputation for being absolutely ruthless and sharp. In other words, she’s the worst kind of bitch. For two years, Olivia managed to deliver the most sensationalist news articles. Amoral and ambitious, Olivia is capable of anything for a good story. A well-placed lover in the Mayor’s office passed her exclusive and confidential information about the city’s affairs, a mutually beneficial relation that did wonders for Watson’s career. However, she wasn’t content to publish only the dirt that suited the Mayor’s political agenda. Olivia wanted more. Everything! Perhaps she was blinded by ambition… Olivia began to dig deeper than she was allowed to and, when she tried to write about the web of corruption in New York City, all doors slammed in her face. Her blazing career crumbled in seconds. Now, she works for a sleazy tabloid and had to move to the decaying Orpheum Lofts building. That’s how she met Tracy Cates, an Anthropologist. Olivia was following up a story about sadomasochist nightclubs and had – what was expected to be – a one night affair with the Columbia University assistant professor. It turned up to be more than that; they are engaged in a relationship and Tracy almost moved to her flat. She’s an Outsider. At 30-something, she’s still beautiful enough to be a Victim, but probably too old to be the giallo star. She’s also a Lesbian Lover. Olivia lives in the 7th floor.
Mask: Reporter d4
Skill: Write d8
Skill: City Secrets d8
Skill: City Knowledge d6
JOE DOBBS AND/ OR MURIEL DOBBS: the Dobbs couple owns the Stardust Café. Joe and Muriel’s dream is opening a bigger place, located in a better and busier part of town. For now, they have to make do with what they have and cater to their clientele, consisting mainly of students and intellectuals, who enjoy Tribeca’s nightlife. Joe is a sensible guy and most of his clients see him as a friend and a confidant. Muriel helps her husband managing the Stardust Café, and waits at tables. She isn’t as solicitous and charismatic as her husband, but the male clientele loves her. Joe and Muriel are very close to the first victim, so they are potential Unwilling Investigators and, most likely, Murder Suspects. Muriel could also be one of the next Victims, especially if she’s a non-player character. They live both in Tribeca, but not that close to the Lofts.
Mask: Cafe Owner d4
Skill: Diplomacy d6
Skill: Service d6
Skill: Music d6
Mask: Ex-Military d4
Skill: Unarmed d6
Skill: Firearms d6
Skill: Melee d6
Mask: Cafe Owner d4
Skill: Service d8
Skill: Barrista d8
Skill: Cook d8
PETER STONE: though he hasn’t lived in Orpheum Lofts for several years, he occasionally calls Andy, the janitor, to talk about life in the old neighbourhood. That’s how he comes to know about Stephanie’s death. Peter, a retired NYPD detective, hasn’t seen her for more than three years, but still has a certain fondness for the girl. Not the kind of grandfatherly affection, but something carnal. He maintains a connection to the NYPD, but he’s too old to be of use and there are rumours that he’s lately becoming senile. He lives in Jersey now, and will stay at a fleabag hotel to help with the investigation, so he’s an Outsider. If Peter gets too involved in the story he may become a Murder Witness, and his old age and nosey attitude will turn Pete into an Unreliable Witness.
Mask: Retired Detective d4
Skill: Firearms d8
Skill: Bureaucracy d8
Skill: Investigation d10
STEPHANIE ARMITAGE: red-haired, green eyed, dresses in an exceptionally elegant way, has a melodious voice and a seductive, hypnotising look. She is a gorgeous and alluring woman. She also dies right at the beginning of the scenario and all that will mean very little then. Stephanie was a jazz singer and acted frequently at the Stardust Café. The first victim lived on the 7th floor.
KARL HUGHES: an intellectual type, who studies at a local university and majors in Art History and Music. To pay for his studies he does bartender work and gigs with his jazz group in some bars, including the Stardust Café. He lives in the Orpheum Lofts and has a kind of relationship with a jobless actress, Julia Lowell. He doesn’t like her that much, though. In fact, he was in love with Stephanie, but the singer never cared for him, though they had a short affair in the past. Karl’s the Prime Suspect. The fact that he looks like Jeffrey Dahmer doesn’t help a bit. Karl lives on the 6th floor.
Mask: University Student d4
Skill: Art History d8
Skill: Music Theory d8
Skill: Musician d8
TRACY CATES: a 30-something Anthropologist who works at Columbia University, where she’s an Assistant Professor. Tracy is preparing her PhD thesis on the cultural relevance of alternative sexual practices, such as bondage and sadomasochism. She’s bisexual and fell in love with Olivia Watson a couple of months ago. The strange thing is Olivia moved to the same building where Tracy used to live with her former boyfriend, George, a weird fellow fascinated with Coney Island amusement parks, who mysteriously vanished a while ago. She’s a Lesbian Lover, too old and not attractive enough to be a giallo star. Perhaps not even a Victim. She lives in Chelsea, but spends a lot of time in Olivia’s apartment, on the 7th floor.
Mask: Assistant Professor d4
Skill: Anthropology d10
Skill: Body Modification d6
Skill: S&M d8
THE MYSTERY TENANT: Tall, slim, always wearing a black Mackintosh, a dark fedora and sunglasses. No one at the Lofts has seen his face yet. He appears from time to time in his flat and stays there for only a few days. No one knows his real name, how old he is or what’s his job. He rented the apartment almost three years ago, but he rarely goes there. The neighbours gossip about him and spread imagined stories about the man’s true identity. The local kids are also rather curious (and frightened) about the Mystery Tenant and call him The Living Vampire. They fantasize he’s a rare type of bloodsucker, who’s still alive, but has monstrous powers and can even walk in sunlight, but still has to take special precautions, like wearing a hat and sunglasses. He may become a Prime Suspect if the characters convince the detectives of that. Or else, later in the scenario, when Karl is arrested. He has rented an apartment on the 9th floor.
ANDY MCDUFF, THE JANITOR: Andy is bearded, out of shape, has short thinning hair, rarely talks to the tenants – just casual conversation –, and spends most of his time reading horror novels or staring at the lobby walls, sitting by his desk. He looks kind of creepy and he was known to have a fixation on Stephanie. The singer surely didn’t feed his interest; she avoided him like the plague. He’s a widower and some of the tenants suspect he murdered his late wife or that he has an unhealthy relationship with his teenage daughter, Charlie. He’s a Weirdo, not very likely to be a Prime Suspect. Andy lives in the ground floor, at the janitor’s flat.
Mask: English Teacher d4
Skill: Teaching d6
Skill: English Lit d6
Skill: English Language d6
Mask: Janitor d4
Skill: Cleaning d8
Skill: Plumber d8
Skill: Electrician d8
LOUIS BROWN: nobody knows where he works, or even if he works at all. Since the man is black, his neighbours assume he’s a drug dealer. The strange visitors who regularly come by his apartment seem to confirm everybody’s suspicions. His trope is the Weirdo. In another genre, he would be the Token Black Man, and that put him among the first victims, but that’s not giallish at all. Louis Lives on the 9th floor.
Mask: Moody Loner d4
Skill: Sneaky d10
Skill: Drug Dealer (?) d8
Skill: Creepy d8
JOHN BURTON: tall, dark, rough looking, he looks about 40 years old and is in very good shape. John is an ex-military, who currently works as a security guard. He has no ties to the other tenants. Sometimes, when he’s drunk, he gets aggressive. John may become a Suspect and he lives on the 7th floor.
Mask: Security Guard d4
Skill: Firearms d6
Skill: Unarmed d8
Skill: Melee d8
DETECTIVE ALBERT TORELLO: an old and rough Homicide detective, Torello is nearing the age of retirement. He thinks he’s wise and clever, but he was never a competent cop. The years on the force turned him into a bitter man, twice divorced, no kids, with just an ulcer and an old dog to keep him company. He makes up his mind about guilty parties rather quickly and, since he’s a veteran, partners usually indulge him. But that gets innocent people in trouble. He’s the Veteran Cop and the Incompetent Detective.
Mask: Homicide Detective d4
Skill: Firearms d8
Skill: Command d8
Skill: Investigation d6
DETECTIVE TONY DELGADO: unlike Torello, Delgado is a family man. He likes his job, but would rather spend more time with his beautiful wife, Rosie, who is a very busy nurse in a Brooklyn Hospital, and their daughter, young Iris. Tony tends to be more careful about handling investigations, but Torello is the senior detective and, most of the times, Delgado just gives up. He’s a Family Man.
Mask: Homicide Detective d4
Skill: Firearms d8
Skill: Drive d8
Skill: Investigation d10
THE FIRST MURDER (FRIDAY NIGHT)
As it often happens, Billy Brubaker is by the window at 2.30 AM, with the lights off, waiting for the “show”, the time when Stephanie comes home and undresses in her bedroom. She’s late, though, and he peaks at another one of the 7th floor windows. He notices two women having rough sex, not close enough to the window for him to have a good peak, but still. He may as well watch them while he waits…
Things get quite wild and steamy in Olivia’s bedroom; there are whips, nipple clamps, huge dildos, among other fun toys. Twenty minutes later, at 2.50 AM, Olivia closes the curtains on that particular show. Billy will probably look back at Stephanie’s window. If not, have him do a perception related check. The lights go on the singer’s flat and Stephanie appears by the window, preparing to take off her blouse. Meanwhile, someone, apparently a man, wearing a dark hat, a black Mackintosh and sunglasses, is about to attack her with a knife, from behind. She suffers multiple stabbings and dies at 3.15 AM.
AND THE GIALLO KILLER IS…
Julia Lowell, the wannabe actress, madly in love with Karl Hughes – who mistreats her frequently –, went insane with jealousy and killed Stephanie, for whom Karl was obsessed. She had been planning the murder for long. Julia isn’t as vapid, nice and harmless as everybody thinks, there’s an evil streak in that small-town girl. And after starring in so many slasher flicks, gore fests and erotic thrillers, she has a few tricks up her sleeve.
A week ago, Julia found Stephanie’s apartment keys on the lobby and she knew it was her chance. She entered the apartment disguised in an old Mackintosh and fedora she stole from a neighbour’s closet (retired movie star Dorothy McLane). The leather gloves and the sunglasses are Karl’s. The knife is new; she bought it in a small store in Chinatown. Julia has heard the neighbourhood kids blabbering about the Living Vampire and the way he dresses, and she is trying to pin the guilt on that enigmatic figure who, allegedly, rents a flat on the Orpheum. Meanwhile, she also has noticed that several men on the opposite building – not just Billy Brubeck – have the habit of staring into 7th floor’s windows. When she murdered Stephanie, Julia made sure she would be seen in disguise through the bedroom window. And, indeed, she was.
What happens next?
- No matter what Billy does, Stephanie dies.
- If he just stares, he will see the killer calmly stabbing Stephanie, while holding her mouth shut with a gloved hand. He will stab her repeatedly and violently after the first cut.
- The lift in the Orpheum Lofts is working tonight. The lobby and hallways lights are on, but they are flickering.
- Billy will not see anyone on the building’s lobby or stairs. The killer may still be inside the Orpheum.
- If he runs up to her flat, he will find her already dead, lying in a pool of blood, with a look of agony on her pale, dead face.
- If he alerts the neighbours, some will come: Ben Harker, an old, retired History professor who lives on the same floor, will rush to help; John Burton may open the door, but will get right back inside; Ron Taylor, an handsome former athlete, runs up the stairs from the 6th floor; Karl, who is (apparently) entering the building at the time hears the noise and goes straight up to the 7th floor; Tracy Cates might come at the door, but unless Olivia is a player character, she won’t care about what’s happening; Alice White, the religious freak who lives on the 8th floor, comes outside to praise the Lord and sing some hymns when she learns the harlot was killed. If Olivia isn’t a player character, she will come to the hallway alone, Tracy will stay inside. Eventually the janitor will come up, but not for several minutes. Given time, most people in the building will be on alert.
- In New Jersey, Peter Stone was sleeping and had a nightmare about a beautiful woman being murdered by a disguised person. It could be a premonition, or just a retired Homicide cop who still dreams about murder. If he decides to call Andy, have him be informed by the janitor that Stephanie was killed. He may drive to New York as soon as he wants. He is a widower and no one cares about what he does with his time.
- While closing shop, Joe and Muriel notice that Stephanie forgot her wallet, or some jewellery. Anything relevant enough for them to call her. She will not answer, by that time she will already be dead. If they decide heading for the Orpheum Lofts, they may arrive before or after the cops, game master’s choice.
THE COPS ARRIVE
Either summoned by a character or an NPC, the cops will show up soon enough. First the boys in blue, then the two detectives, Delgado and Torello. Some of the clues the detectives will uncover the characters may also want to investigate. Almost all of them will be available for regular citizens, but Peter Stone can lend a hand with some of the more difficult clues to obtain.
- No one in the building seems to have heard strange noises. Most people were sound asleep. Olivia and Tracy were wide awake, but they had been doing their own strange noises for some time. The reporter claims she fell asleep around 3 AM. Tracy says she was showering around that time.
- No one saw a person in a fedora and a dark Mackintosh enter or leave the building that night. There were no strangers dressed in any other way spotted inside the building either.
- Andy McDuff went to bed around 11 PM. The lobby was unattended for a long time, but the door was kept closed, and the lock is intact.
- There were no fingerprints in Stephanie’s bedroom other than the victim’s and Ron Taylor’s. The man claims he was there two nights ago. They slept together once in a while, though they had no steady relationship.
- When lab results show up later, there will be record of some fibres in the body. They are from the killer’s Mackintosh, but for now there are no other clues. The lab report will probably arrive too late to be of use, but the Mackintosh was a relic from the 1930s. It was worn by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in Beijing Express (1930), a movie co-starred by Dorothy McLane, an ageing Silent Era star who lives in the Loft’s 4th floor. The Mackintosh and fedora had been hanging for decades inside her closet and were stolen by Julia days ago. Dorothy would never notice it; her house is like a movie museum. Stephanie wasn’t raped; all of the blood and other body fluids found were hers. The door lock wasn’t forced. No clues at all at the murder scene.
- Stephanie Armitage lost her apartment keys a week before. She mentioned it to the janitor and other people in the building. It very likely the killer used them (and she did).
- Everybody knows Karl Hughes was obsessed with Stephanie since their brief affair. The night of the murder, Karl was bartending in Greenwich Village. His alibi can be confirmed until around 2.30 PM. From then on, his word is all that’s left. Though he sometimes sleeps with his girlfriend, the wannabe actress Julia Lowell (who lives on the 4th floor, with roommate Monica Ashton Greene, a former socialite, turned into call girl), she dozed off in her own sofa while watching a Honeymooners marathon. Torello immediately identifies the prime suspect. Even though Delgado has reservations, Karl Hughes will be detained for further interrogation.
- The killer’s description will bring to mind the tall tales of the Living Vampire, aka Mystery Tenant, who is supposed to show up at the Orpheum Lofts once in a while, carrying strange packages. The kids swear he carries parts of human bodies, maybe internal organs. Torello thinks it’s all a load of crap, but he will still contact Paul Abramowitz, the building’s owner. Abramowitz isn’t good at record keeping, but he has some documents signed by a certain M. Tenant. “M.” is for Michael, Abramowitz thinks. But it could also be for Murder. As Torello wants to frame Karl with homicide, he will simply connect the two things: Hughes has been planning this for long, rented the apartment on the 9th floor and sometimes carries around grocery bags, while disguised. The kids and the old gossips imagine there’s a spooky undead on the building and Karl can get away with murder, literally. No, he won’t! Torello is smarter than any musician.
- If someone checks the apartment on the 9th floor, where the Living Vampire is supposed to live, he isn’t there. It’s just an empty flat.
- The missing tenant’s story about sociopathic accountant George Wesley, can be introduced here as a red-herring. Perhaps George was, after all, the first victim? Or maybe he is hiding somewhere, even inside the Lofts, and he’s the real killer?
THE FOLLOWING DAY (SATURDAY)
Since there’s no incriminating evidence, the cops must let Karl go. Back in the Lofts people don’t trust him anymore. He was never loved, now he is despised. Tracy still believes his innocence, though, but she’s one of the few remaining. Julia, of course, knows he didn’t do it, and shows her support.
Any red-herrings should be introduced at this point, before Karl is incriminated. Louis Brown and Andy McDuff, the two Weirdoes, may become suspects. Someone will mention the Mystery Tenant, and the kids will tell their creepy stories. One of the neighbours may recall that John Burton was infatuated by Stephanie, or any other suspicious thing that happened in the past. You can use all that later, but for now the cops still need to listen to the characters; later, not so much.
This could be the end of the story, Julia feels relieved, now that her rival is gone, but while she is trying to cheer her boyfriend up, he slaps her and tells her it’s all over. This time, Julia really snaps. Now she will kill someone just to frame Karl and have her sweet revenge. There’s one easy and obvious target, Monica. Karl hates her, and the call girl hates him back. She’s Julia’s roommate, so it will be easy. Allow some time for the players to try following up on the clues and then…
THE SECOND MURDER (MONDAY)
Monica gets home by 2 AM, after attending to a client in a nearby hotel in Tribeca. While she is showering, Julia stabs her with a knife. It could be the same knife and she could be disguised, even if she isn’t expecting to be seen this time. She stashed the murder weapon and the disguise in the basement before the cops arrived on the scene, while everybody was still in shock. Nothing was found. She can stash it again in the same place, following the second murder.
After killing Monica (2.15 AM), Julia plants some compromising evidence: a piece of cloth ripped from one of Karl’s shirts and some of his hairs. Then she quietly goes to the basement, hides a bag with the murder weapon and the disguise, returns to her flat, bangs her head against the living room cupboard (to appear she was beaten), and calls the cops. Julia claims that someone entered the flat that night. She heard noises, Monica was in the shower, and she thought it might have been her. Suddenly, she was shoved against the cupboard and lay there, almost unconscious, for a while. She heard a muffled cry and someone left, in a hurry. She swears it was a man in a fedora and a Mackintosh, wearing sunglasses and black leather gloves.
THE COPS ARRIVE, AGAIN
This time there are no surprises; Torello and Delgado immediately detain Karl, as suspect of both homicides. If the characters have clues that point elsewhere, the detectives will give them a couple of minutes, but Torello’s mind is made up. Karl was home that night; he worked an early shift at a restaurant in Tribeca. He’s angry and shouts a lot when arrested. After all, he’s a creep, but still innocent of these crimes… The compromising evidence in the bathroom, though too obvious, is corroborative and that’s more than enough for Torello. Even Delgado is starting to agree with the older detective. Monica Ashton Green had a terrible relationship with Karl. She may have found out something about the Stephanie killing, or she was just pestering the Jeffrey Dahmer lookalike. Whatever it was, he killed her. For the cops, that’s final.
- Again, no one saw the Mystery Tenant (who isn’t at home, by the way).
- In fact, no one saw anything out of the ordinary, except for… Clayton Cox, a punk everybody in the building hates, thinks he saw a blonde woman going to the basement. He was coming home after a gig with his band, The Cunts, around 2.20 AM. He really saw Julia, but he will not say anything about it, unless questioned.
- Julia’s version seems accurate.
- Karl has no alibi; he was already sleeping when the murder occurred.
NEXT WEEK ON…
From this point on any unavoidable event will probably fail, appear silly or look a lot like railroading. So, let’s stick to optional events. If you’re in a hurry, just plant seeds of suspicion about someone else’s involvement in the crimes, and wait for the characters to dig up more clues, or find a fault in Julia’s plan.
If they get too close to the truth she may try to kill again, this time perhaps one of the player characters. Maybe the Janitor (or his daughter, Charlie) finds the stash in the basement. The Mackintosh, the fedora or the knife will certainly have some DNA material capable of identifying the real killer. Or perhaps Dorothy McLane decides to rearrange her closet and notices the Mackintosh and fedora of her beloved Doug are missing. Andy and Dorothy may come public with the clues, or they may be murdered by Julia before having the chance to talk about it.
If you want to prolong this, add another killer, the Mystery Tenant. There’s no reason for Julia to keep killing after Karl is arrested. She got rid of her rival and framed her unloving boyfriend. Even Monica was only collateral damage, they were friends. The only motive for the wannabe actress to kill again is to avoid being found. But the Mystery Tenant may have his own reasons. Among the possible victims of the deranged Giallo Killer are:
- Julia Lowell herself, an obvious choice if the characters suspect she had something to do with the murders.
- Have Andy and Louis Brown been prowling around the Lofts? Kill them now!
- Olivia Watson, especially if the reporter is digging too deep into the murder investigation.
- Peter Stone, for the exact same reason as Olivia. But it’s much less sexy to kill a retired detective, so keep him for later.
- Muriel Dobbs, whatever she’s been doing, Joe’s wife is rather good looking and will turn into a beautiful corpse.
- Joe Dobbs, the ex-military can be a dangerous man to cross, and the Giallo Killer may target him just to make sure he will not turn into a menace.
- Tracy Cates, she is a sadomasochist, the Giallo Killer can make her killing a work of art.
- The two detectives and the player characters may become victims, but not too soon.
- If you own Postmortem Giallo: Orpheum Lofts you have a fuller cast of possible Victims for your Giallo Killer.