The Corpse-Eating Bride
In Occult India, the monsters that hunt monsters call themselves The Four Arms of Vishnu. They're a sprawling conspiracy of men and women from government, industry, law enforcement, academia, and even the criminal underworld. They see themselves as the guardians of India's future.
To those on the bottom rungs of India's economic ladder, the Four Arms are an ill wind: never seen but ever felt. They are shadows cast by the rich and powerful, lapdogs to corrupt politicians and babysitters for foreign money. At worst, they're just another oppressor, no better than the Raj.
A tech billionaire's new bride has been making headlines by demanding that her husband sleep in a separate room one night a month. No one knows why, but someone inside the Four Arms must suspect it's supernatural.
Ananya Malik was already a media darling when she and Ritvik were married. They're both followers of the controversial self-help guru Baba Tambe. It's how they met, about a year and a half ago. Their romance was tabloid catnip.
Before that, Ritvik Malik was the most desirable bachelor in Mumbai. Worth billions, he runs his own multinational and resides in the world's most expensive private residence. He's currently defending his company from a hostile takeover by rival Harappa Tech, a drama the tabloids have been slurping with a spoon.
Their romance was tabloid catnip.
Ananya seemed to spring out of nowhere: an orphan with no job history or social media presence, who lived and worked at Baba Tambe's temple. She was beautiful, but prone to fits of anger and melancholy. Single women all over India loved to hate her.
She's notorious for giving both her bodyguards and paparazzi the slip. Rumors about what she does with her one night a month range from the scandalous (she indulges perverse sexual appetites) to the brazenly far-fetched (she's a werewolf).
A Four Arms handler codenamed BAGMAN contacts each of the protagonists and gives them the following assignment: surveil Ananya Malik on her special night and get to the bottom of all this nonsense...
CODENAME: TEA TIME
The Lotus is the public relations branch of the Four Arms. It got its start during the British Raj, when influence peddling became a full-time job for connected Indian collaborators. Now, they specialize in covering up the messes made by the other three branches.
TEA TIME is a recent recruit whose skill at handling flighty foreigners caught the conspiracy's attention. She works as a PR agent for musicians and actors, but a famous billionaire isn't too much of a stretch. Her bosses are confident she can talk her way into Shambhala (see below).
The secret of her charming personality isn't her looks or any spiritual power, it's that TEA TIME is a sociopath. She sees other people as noisy objects she can manipulate with words and gestures. She's an excellent liar because she feels neither fear nor remorse.
She sees other people as noisy objects.
Having said that, she's a perfectly nice person. If she can get what she wants without hurting anyone, fine and dandy. She hates making enemies, because enemies complicate her life. Violence isn't interesting to her, but she's quite capable of tricking suckers (aka her teammates) into fighting her battles.
TEA TIME's other superpower is an embarrassingly bottomless expense account. She needs to keep the rich and famous happy, after all. Whoever said "money can't buy happiness" didn't understand how money works.
CODENAME: NEVER SLEEPS
The Chakra branch handles all the conspiracy's covert ops needs. Mostly surveillance with a little wetwork here and there. They also grew into a separate branch during the Raj and have successfully defended their niche from the ever-growing power of The Mace (see below).
NEVER SLEEPS is a traceur and tech specialist who can install a camera or microphone pretty much anywhere. All those eyes and ears give her effective clairvoyance over a mission area, so she often acts as central dispatch for the rest of her team. She's also an excellent driver who can handle anything from a crotch rocket to a cargo plane.
Unlike other Chakra operatives, NEVER SLEEPS prides herself on not needing gear to access a building. She doesn't repel down ropes or impersonate window washers. She just climbs everything: skyscrapers, elevator shafts, sewers, limos cruising down the freeway... everything.
Her acrobatic skills don't stop at parkour, either. She also knows Thai boxing, wushu, and little Shaolin kung-fu. Fighting is never her first choice, though. She'd much rather leave that to an encounter specialist, particularly when things with claws are involved. Her flying fists just need to buy her enough time to run the hell away.
The mission is what keeps NEVER SLEEPS loyal to the conspiracy. Magic and monsters are part of India's past. She's invested in India's future. Literally. Her stock portfolio will be worth millions by the time she's ready to retire.
The Mace was only formalized as a branch in the 1960's, when much of India's military and law enforcement was organized. The conspiracy has always yoked the strength of whatever armed forces were at hand, from the redcoats to the Mughal Army. During the 1980's, the term "encounter killing" entered Indian vernacular and The Mace was quick to extend these extrajudicial executions to supernatural threats.
THUNDERBOLT isn't your typical encounter specialist. He's honestly in it to help people and prevent suffering. Trained as a marksman by India's National Security Guard, he gravitated toward the most merciful and precise forms of combat: sniper rifles and knives.
He's never killed or injured a civilian.
Tricks of his trade include a sophisticated set of remote-operated rifles that THUNDERBOLT can position on walls, ceilings, or vehicles. He can switch between them on his rifle scope. Speaking of which, his personal rifle is a Chey-Tac Intervention. With computer targeting assistance, it can tick the prayer beads off a Buddhist from over a mile away.
When you need discreet military assistance and minimal collateral damage, there's nobody better. His service record includes a dozen registered kills, but what he prides himself on is a big zero. THUNDERBOLT has never killed or injured a civilian and he intends to keep it that way.
The Conch was once the entirety of the conspiracy, a collaboration between Mughal scholars and Hindu mystics to fight the forces of darkness. They're still prime among the Four Arms, if only because their knowledge of the supernatural enables everyone else's work.
ATHANOR is a Sufi mystic whose meditative dedication to Allah has helped him unlock the lesser siddhi. He's also an expert on every breed of supernatural creature, which is why he's been assigned to this team. If there's something inhuman about Ritvik's wife, they'll need reliable and immediate identification.
He's also the junior member of the team. Putting the conspiracy's most prestigious branch on the bottom of the totem pole is awkward, to say the least, but ATHANOR keeps himself above the political fray. Like all Sufis, he cultivates his most noble qualities.
What ATHANOR doesn't know is that he's on the cusp of unlocking a greater siddhi: Turning Back the Wheel. For the moment, his not-quite-enlightened awareness manifests as a talent for picking out crucial details and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Everyone but his mentor thinks it's just blind, stupid luck.
If ATHANOR needs a cover identity during this mission, he can claim to be researching the cult of Baba Tambe. He consider it a heresy, if not an outright con, but can keep such things to himself in the interest of objectivity. He's not really big on lying.
Ananya's Special Night
It should be a foregone conclusion that the protagonists can successfully track Ananya during her after hours excursion. This is what they do. Instead of running this opening scene as a conflict, use it as an opportunity for the player to introduce their characters and show off their skills.
Start by describing Shambhala and its security systems, then call for one of the players to describe how they circumvent those systems to get eyes on Ananya after she secludes herself in her bedroom.
After Ritvik retires to a guest room, Ananya makes a show of getting ready for bed, but she doesn't change into her night clothes. Instead, it looks like she's dressing for a night on the town.
Around two o'clock, she summons a servant into her room... and drugs the poor girl. She leaves the servant in bed and switches RFID tags with her. Now, call for one of the players to describe how they track the "servant girl" as she takes the elevator down to the garage, checks out a service van, and leaves the estate.
Note: Ananya's using a very weak illusion to make herself appear as the servant girl. It'll fool the guards inside, but anyone watching from afar will only see the servant's features flicker in and out when Anaya's interacting with someone. ATHANOR, or anyone else with the lesser siddhi, will see right through it.
She stops under a bridge in Central Mumbai and switches cars, then drives an hour north on the Eastern Express Highway to a bar in Thane. Call on a player to describe how they stay on her trail.
After a few minutes in the bar, she slips out the back and makes her way to a nearby cemetery. If anyone hasn't had a chance to introduce their protagonist, start some trouble with the bouncer and let them resolve it.
Photo by micadew
So, she's obviously a ghoul.
Any lingering doubt will be erased by the large family of ghouls she joins in the cemetery. They gather inside a recently exhumed grave to pick over the remains of a desiccated corpse. Most ghouls prefer fresher meat, but the truly feral ones can eat just about anything.
The Four Arms has an arrangement with Mumbai's ghouls: If they register their names and addresses, the conspiracy leaves them well enough alone. These ghouls, however, are not acting assimilated. Standard practice would be to drop an incendiary grenade down the hole and shoot anything that tries to climb out, but that's not a great resolution for Ananya. Rounding them up and giving them a chance to ID themselves first would also be acceptable.
The Dancers in Sorrow
Before the team takes decisive action against the ghouls, two more players will appear on the scene: a pair of Shiva's Dancers. They've been tracking the ghouls all night, so they're spoiling for a fight.
Most "howlers" hunt alone, but this aravani couple hasn't spent more than a few hours apart since they met. They're most comfortable presenting as a pair of women, but often disguise themselves as a hetero couple when they need to blend in or shake a tail.
The shorter one, Siya, fights with a pair of elephant knives. They're essentially halberd blades mounted on clubs. Great for lopping off heads. Sara, the taller one, uses a broad-headed spear called a vel. She can twirl it fast enough to deflect automatic weapons fire, which is pretty sweet.
Like all Dancers, they've mastered the Still Mind and several secret martial arts, so let slips the dogs of wuxia!
Photo by Tropenmuseum
Once the players have decided what to do about the ghouls, roll your dice and bid low. A win entitles the players to resolve the ghoul situation, but you can use your extra dice to introduce the Dancers in Sorrow as an obstacle to executing their plan.
Throughout this vignette, you can use the Dancers in Sorrow to add a third side to various conflicts. They can show up at inconvenient moments to make sure your players don't succumb to planning paralysis. When the howlers show up, they'll be forced to take decisive action.
And if they're not floating your boat, just skip them and resolve the scene according to the players' plan.
A Plea and a Bargain
The only adversary who can't escape into the night is Ananya. She'll assume the men-in-black followed her from Shambhala, that they know who she is, and that her marriage is over unless she can make a deal.
"I know how this looks, but you have to understand... I'm rehabilitated! Mostly. I'm off the wagon, right now, but it really works. I was human, for a while, completely human. No powers, no disfigurement, and I can do it again."
If they press for details, she'll tell them the following story...
"Three years ago, maybe four, I was captured by some humans. Organized hunters. I thought it was you guys, actually, until they let me live. Instead, they took me to this facility, somewhere underground, and they locked me in an a tank of some kind. An empty tank.
"They drugged me, kept me sedated. It was still excruciating. After a while, they put me on an IV drip. As I regained strength, they began feeding me fruits and vegetables. I refused it, at first, but hunger has its own will. As I ate, my body changed. New teeth, new flesh. My bones broke and shifted.
"I was born a ghoul, nursed on dead man's blood, but they made me human. They rehabilitated me."
After that, the mysterious rehab facility just dumped her on the street. Members of Baba Tambe's temple took her in and helped her adjust to life as a human. She doesn't think the cult has anything to do with Rehab and she doesn't know if any other members are former ghouls.
This should all sound very fishy to the protagonists. No one's ever heard of a cannibal-sorcerer being reformed before. No one at the Four Arms will admit having any knowledge of such a facility.
Ananya says she can point them to the man in charge. She's seen him at Baba Tambe's temple. She doesn't know his name, but she can give them a detailed description and all they have to do is promise not to tell her husband about the whole flesh-eating thing.
Back at the Ranch
While Ananya is away, some serious shit goes down at Shambhala. A commando team parachutes onto the roof from a stolen Cessna, blasts their way inside, hauls Ritvik from the guest room, and shoots their way out using him as a hostage.
Ananya's servant is discovered in the master bedroom, unconscious, which places her under heavy suspicion. Should the protagonists allow her to return to her life, she'll be immediately arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). If not, the Four Arms will be in possession of a major intelligence asset.
If the protagonists had cameras in place, they can watch the entire incident unfold for themselves. If not, they'll have to use their Four Arms influence to insinuate themselves into the official investigation. In either case, it's easy to ID the perpetrators as The Shindi Gul Gang, a notorious group of former Afghani soldiers.
The NIA detectives have set up shop inside Shambhala, waiting for a ransom demand. They've already failed to keep the press out and Ritvik's company's stock is expected to take a nosedive. That places his chief competitor, Harappa Tech, under suspicion as well.
Ritvik's fate has little to do with their current assignment, but the team is well-positioned to intervene and BAGMAN is anxious to get the CEO back in the saddle. If your players don't take the bait on their own, give them new orders: Recover Ritvik by any means necessary!
The Shindi Gul Gang has gone dark, so finding Ridvik will require information from their known associates, mostly other Pashtun gangs. Over a decade of war in nearby Afghanistan has created a generation of battle-hardened criminals who now prowl Southeast Asia. They maintain loose affiliations with each other and various terrorist organizations, whose crusades they support with weapons and cash.
The most well-connected Pashtun criminal in Mumbai calls himself "Ghorzang the Panther." If you're using Trust Networks, your players will have three ways to approach him...
- 2 Dice - The ghouls they (may have) captured above have relatives who traffic with Pashtun gangs. They could set up a meeting. Better hope the players earned some trust during the Howler attack.
- 1 Die - The Four Arms can manufacture cover identities and arrange an introduction, but the protagonists will have to do him one mean favor before Ghorzang will rat out fellow Pashtuns.
- 3 Dice - The protagonists won't know about this one, but they may discover it if they investigate Harappa Tech first. The company is in communication with the kidnappers and helped them plan the crime! Roll these dice if the team goes straight to the Shindi Ghul Gang via Harappa Tech.
- Good - Ghorzang believes the agents are criminals and is willing to trade information for a favor (see below).
- Mixed - Ghorzang is willing to trade information for favor, but will insist on sending one of his own men along, which may cause complications for the team (see below).
- Bad - Ghorzang will offer to trade the information for a favor (see below), but will plan on double-crossing the agents once his goods are delivered.
No matter how the trust dice fall, Ghorzang will ask the protagonists to prove themselves by hijacking a military convoy. That's the price of admission.
The convoy will drive north along the Western Express from the airport. A semi-truck full of guns and ammo will be escorted by two jeeps full of soldiers, one ahead and two behind. Have fun.
If the players got lucky on their Trust roll, they have the option of bypassing the crime and using their Four Arms influence to have the military just hand over the weapons. If that doesn't sound fun, and it probably shouldn't, just tell your players there's not enough time.
With a mixed result, the players will have no choice but to actually commit the crime, because Ghorzang's chaperone will need to see it. He's a run of the mill thug, colloquially called a "goonda," whose itchy trigger finger will need to be kept under control.
Jewelry-wearing gangster glitter ponies.
When they're done, Ghorzang will have them take the cache to a tiny river dock in Dongri Galli. If they had a bad Trust roll, this will be an ambush. As soon as Ghorzang sees the goods, armed men will emerge from nearby buildings at the end of the dock, cutting off escape.
Should the team fight their way out, they can still get what they need from Ghorzang through good, old fashioned extortion. He'll be happy to give up the Shindi Ghul gang in return for his freedom (or his life). Just don't expect a warm welcome from the kidnappers (roll an extra Paranoia die).
The Shindi Gul Gang
Shindi Gul means "one who spreads flowers," as in at a funeral. These aren't jewelry-wearing gangster glitter ponies like Ghorzang and his goondas. They've been fighting American invaders for over ten years. They're grizzled, disillusioned veterans who've decided to ransom their way to retirement.
They'd already carried out several operations in India when Prisha Gupta recruited them (see "Harappa Tech" below). It's a true partnership, not work for hire. Prisha provided intelligence on Shambhala's security and the Maliks' schedules, but she hasn't paid the criminals a dime. She gets a disruption in Malik's stock price and Shindi Gul gets the ransom. It's win-win!
The Shindi Gul gang is holed up in an abandoned farm north of Mumbai. Its outskirts are peppered with improvised boobytraps: grenades on tripwires, bells and razor blades in tree branches, tiger pits, etc.
Starving dogs are lashed to the front and back doors. A rifleman is positioned on the roof around the clock, concealed beneath a plastic tarp. The 3-4 men inside are heavily armed, tense, and unburdened by any aversion to violence. They'll use Ritvik as a meat shield and try to negotiate an escape before they'll surrender, even to a superior force.
Stealth infiltrators may not be able to find Ritvik easily. He's lashed to a bed frame that's been bolted to the back wall of a closet. The gang keeps him gagged and the closet closed except for about five minutes a day, when they force feed him and spray out his mess.
Despite the mistreatment, Ritvik is relatively unharmed and will be extremely thankful to the protagonists. If they hadn't wormed their way into his confidence already, they'll have it now.
The Cult of Baba Tambe
The team will want to stake out Baba Tambe's temple to identify Dr. Sarin, but there's plenty about the cult to pique their interest. Several missing persons cases revolve around the cult; members who achieve moksha (there's actually a ceremony for it) are never seen again. Beyond that, Baba Tambe claims to have many spiritual powers and may constitute a threat to the Four Arms if he ever used them publically.
Baba Tambe's temple is a lavish, modern retreat in Goregaon, not far from celebrity-infested Film City and the Royal Palms. It's set back from the road and surrounded by thick woodland, but otherwise unsecured. Baba Tambe has no camera system or security guards; most of the doors aren't even locked. Rather, security is provided by the dozens of devotees who live and work there.
Strangers are welcomed warmly and immediately, unless they turn out to be tabloid reporters, in which case they're chased off the property. Otherwise, every new face is treated as a future member of the cult and love bombed to within an inch of their lives.
The only non-accessible portions of the building are Baba Tambe's private quarters and the charnel pits beneath (see below).
The protagonists are free to stay as long as they like and even invited to join Baba Tambe's daily meditation. If you want to cut to the chase, make that a moksha ceremony (see below) and have Dr. Sarin show up right away. Otherwise, consider this step one of a multi-part investigation.
Each session begins with an offering to Ganesha, whose statue sits behind the sadhu's prayer matt in the main temple chamber. Sticks of incense smolder in every available nook and cranny, filling the space with a heady fog. Ganesha is bathed while Baba Tambe offers a short prayer, then it's time for the meditation.
After a few minutes of silence, Baba Tambe performs a miracle. This could be as simple as levitation or as elaborate as making the building disappear so that cosmic energy can rain down on the assembled. Whatever it is, remember that it's all an illusion. Cannibal-sorcery doesn't impart any power over reality, just influence over unenlightened minds.
Anyone with a Still Mind can try to see through the illusion. Roll a few Trouble dice and see what happens. Even if the players win, you can spend extra dice to keep the sadhu's true face concealed or even make the protagonists think one of the innocent acolytes is the rakshasa.
The Moksha Ceremony
One of Baba Tambe's articles of faith is that he has the power to usher people to moksha, or liberation from the cycle of rebirth. In short, he claims that he can guarantee enlightenment.
Every few months, one of the devotees is chosen to ascend. It's usually someone who's been with the cult for a long time and is already close to death. It's a major event for Baba Tambe's devotees. Even the rich neophytes show up; that includes Dr. Sarin, who the protagonists will recognize from Ananya's description.
After a meditation session and a few miracles, the chosen one renounces all of their remaining links to the world, including any friendships they've made with other cultists. The congregation symbolically turns away from the chosen one as they approach Baba Tambe. They chant a mantra in unison and, when it reaches a fever pitch, the chosen one vanishes in a flash of light.
Photo by darkseed
Observers with a Still Mind may see something slightly different. Instead of the flash of light, they see a trap door open beneath the chosen one, who drops through. Their screams can be heard through the floor, but none of the cultists seem to notice. Everyone files out and Baba Tambe retires to his personal chamber.
Not long thereafter, the rakshasa descends into his lair via a concealed door in his bedroom and devours his acolyte.
Fighting a rakshasa on their home turf is no easy feet. Be sure to roll at least 3 Trouble dice per player. The creature's first priority will be escape, with murdering the interlopers simply an expedient means to that end. A cannibal-sorcerer doesn't live over a thousand years by standing their ground. Spend extra dice to pull any of the following tricks...
- Fake his own death by letting the protagonists "kill" an illusory decoy.
- Endanger the innocent acolytes by causing a fire or cave-in.
- Make the acolytes think the protagonists are rakshasas.
- Create several decoys and have them flee in different directions.
- Stun enemies with a flashbang of illusory light and sound.
- Target anyone with a Still Mind, to make the whole group more susceptible to illusions; clawing out their eyes is a good start.
Soft Power Approach
More subtle players can use Baba Tambe as a way to get close to Dr. Sarin, because they have a strong trust relationship. The team can transfer one Trust die to Baba Tambe from Ananya or Ritvik, if the Maliks are willing to provide an introduction.
There are a few ways to earn more of the sadhu's trust...
- Join his cult, confess all of your character's bad karma, and donate a hefty chunk of change.
- Get the cops off his back. Mumbai Police have started to investigate all those people he's made disappear.
- Chase the Maliks' damn paparazzi away once and for all.
Dr. Sarin trusts Baba Tambe so completely that the players can transfer any and all Trust dice they've earned. That doesn't mean he'll just walk them down to Rehab and give them a tour. They'll still have to invent some pretext to get Sarin talking about monsters.
And then they can come back to kill the cannibal-sorcerer.
Humanity has always dealt with cannibal-sorcerers the way it deals with rabid dogs, minus the mercy or compassion. Ghouls and rakshasas are not a different species, though. They're human beings with profoundly bad karma. What would happen to them if the chains of their transgression were broken?
Dr. Arnav Sarin wanted to find out. He used family money and personal connections to build his own black site beneath an industrial facility on Mumbai's east side. It uses empty tanks as holding cells for up to a half dozen "patients" at a time. He medicates them into oblivion and uses a combination of drug therapy and ayurveda techniques to neutralize their karma. It doesn't always work. Long-term, it may not work at all.
Ananya points the protagonists in Dr. Sarin's direction, because she's seen him with Baba Tambe. He's not just a devotee; the guru's teachings are what inspired him to attempt this experiment in the first place. Ananya wasn't supposed to recognize him through her drug-addled amnesia, but she did. She's kept it to herself until now, mostly because she appreciated what he did for her.
Now that she can trade his secret for something... well, it's not like the rehabilitation stuck or anything.
Once they identify him through the cult, getting next to Dr. Sarin won't be difficult. He relies on security through obscurity. Plus, he thinks the Four Arms are on his side. Members of the conspiracy actually helped him set up the black site and taught him how to hunt monsters (see below). BAGMAN, unfortunately, isn't one of them.
If Dr. Sarin finds out the protagonists are with the Four Arms, roll three Trust dice for his initial reaction. Once he has time to check with his contacts, he'll turn against them for sure, but he'd prefer to let the conspiracy handle its own.
A Place for Healing
Security at the black site isn't particularly tight; they're less interested in keeping people out than keeping monsters in. A numerical keypad inside a fake fuse box causes a section of wall in the service tunnel to retract, exposing an empty cistern. Formerly empty.
Old pipes have been cleared out to make room for offices, a kitchen, and what looks like an operating room. Reinforced vault doors seal off the empty tanks, but touchscreen panels provide camera views of the interior. About half are empty, but deeply blood-stained. The other half contain ghouls in various stages of rehabilitation.
One tank, recently reinforced with a larger lock, holds a rakshasa. Its broadly-set eyes lie closed in its horse-like skull. Sickle teeth peek out from a maw that can't quite close. Its spine is painfully arched and its limbs seem to fold the wrong way. A plastic hose connects it to a device on the wall, which presumably keeps it sedated.
Photo by Scott Wylie
There's always at least one medical tech on duty. If surprised by a group of gawking interlopers, they've been trained to lock the place down and release sedative gas. (They'll have a gas mask, but they'd rather break it than let an intruder take it from them.) Lockdown will automatically alert Dr. Sarin and his Four Arms collaborator, who will converge on the scene with plenty of armed backup.
If the players approach either Dr. Sarin or his assistant as members of the Four Arms, they'll get a much warmer reception. (This should be a tip-off that their superiors know more than they admit.) Let the players roll three Trust dice, but Sarin will have them checked out right after they leave. When his Four Arms patron finds out, she'll take action to silence them (see below).
In any case, the players have an interesting moral dilemma on their hands. They've been trained to believe that cannibal-sorcerers are irredeemable and here they have an opportunity to take out a rakshasa with minimal risk.
Beyond that, is this kind of experimentation morally defensible? Should they just shut the place down while they have the chance?
Wheels Within Wheels
Whatever the players decide to do, there will be repercussions. Powerful financial interests have invested in Dr. Sarin's research, not because they care what happens to rakshasas, but because they want to unlock the secret of immortality.
Despite their physical deformities, cannibal-sorcerers have phenomenal regenerative abilities. Ghouls can live for hundreds of years and rakshasa claim to live forever. If there's a way to harness cannibal-sorcery for medicine and longevity, without turning oneself into a horror show... let's just say people wouldn't ask how the drugs are made.
These powerful financial interests have an agent inside the Four Arms, a well-connected fixer codenamed VARUNA. She investigates spiritual healers, debunking the quacks and finding ways to commercially exploit the real deal. She knows few within the Four Arms would support the research, so she's kept it under the radar.
They want to unlock the secret of immortality.
When she finds out about the protagonists, her first instinct will be to put pressure on their handler, BAGMAN. She'll threaten him personally and insist that he order his team to leave Dr. Sarin and his personal project alone.
When that doesn't work, BAGMAN will be found murdered (and possibly cannibalized), with the protagonists clearly implicated by (falsified) DNA evidence. They'll find themselves wanted by the legitimate authorities and, far worse, hunted by The Mace. SWAT teams and snipers will be hot on their heels.
You should weave these events in between the rest of the team's investigations, turning their own conspiracy against them when they they need its help the most.
The protagonists may want to investigate Malik's biggest competitor for a variety of reasons. If they do, they may discover that Occult India has a new major player.
- If they have trouble infiltrating the Pashtun gangs, they may need to find other ways to stabilize Malik Systems' stock price. By infiltrating Harappa Tech, they could at least put a lid on the hostile takeover attempts.
- If Ananya Malik is still a suspect in her husband's kidnapping, finding out who really hired the Shindi Ghul Gang is an expedient way to clear her name.
- If they do rescue Ritvik, he may ask for their help wreaking horrible vengeance on his (presumably responsible) rivals.
Two things make Harappa Tech dangerous to the Four Arms. First, the founder and CEO, Jankatesh Gupta, is an ultranationalist who rejects the notion that India needs foreign money to thrive. That's why he named his company after the original Indus Valley civilization.
More significantly, all of Harappa Tech's innovations come from recovering and exploiting impossible objects created through the siddhi of Limitless Wealth... dangerous objects that the Four Arms collects and destroys.
War of Succession
Mr. Gupta has two children, one boy and one girl. He considers the son his heir apparent, but he knows his daughter got all the good genes. He made sure Prisha was well-educated and even gave her a job in Marketing Communications (she's aggressively multilingual), but she knows it's not a real career path.
Sanjay is a lawyer in corporate finance. Among other things, he's been trying to engineer Harappa Tech's stock buyout of Malik Systems. It hasn't been going well. Prisha saw an opportunity to one-up her brother. She found the Shindi Ghul Gang and helped them plan Ritvik's kidnapping. If that goes well, she'll take credit for the take-over.
If it goes south, she's laid the groundwork to frame her brother. All of her communication with the Shindi Ghul Gang has been through a series of burner phones that were purchased by Sanjay's assistant. (Prisha ordered them via email using Sanjay's laptop, then intercepted them at the assistant's desk.)
- If the kidnapping has been resolved, a very cursory examination of the Shindu Ghul Gang's burner phones will connect them to Sanjay.
- If the kidnapping is ongoing, an (illegal) examination of Harappa Tech phone records will at least turn up some suspicious phone calls leading up to the night of the crime.
You can take the investigation further and eventually unmask Prisha as the true mastermind, but I'd let her simmer instead. By taking Sanjay out of commission, the protagonists become part of a potential super-villain's origin story. If you want to keep Harappa Tech around as a recurring adversary, that'll make their future conflicts more personal.
After "Ananya's Special Night," the players can wend their way through this scenario in any order. They might take after Rehab like a dog with a bone. If they rush to Ritvik's rescue, they could end up focused on either Harappa Tech or the Pashtun gangs. Ideally, you should be able to keep all those balls in the air at once, cutting from one investigation to another as each scene plays out.
Keep raising the stakes by compounding the consequences of the players' actions. If they rescue Ritvik first, the Dancers in Sorrow might have time to infiltrate Baba Tambe's cult ahead of the protagonists. Handling their attempt to kill the rakshasa will make the team's investigation a lot more complicated.
Should the Dancers trail the team to Rehab, rest assured they'll find a way to burn that place to the ground.
If the players go after Rehab first, their own conspiracy will turn against them while they're trying to rescue Ritvik. Suddenly, they're wanted criminals! That might help establish credibility with The Panther, but it's not going to grease any wheels with Harappa Tech or make hijacking a military convoy any easier.
Clearing their names will likely become the climax of the adventure. There are many ways to go about it, but bringing VARUNA to justice probably isn't one of them. She acts through others and is best kept on the table as a recurring villain.
Instead, the players will have to prove that the DNA evidence against them was falsified (it was; the lab tests were never actually performed) and/or frame someone else for the murder. There are plenty of baddies at the players' disposal: Baba Tambe, the Dancers in Sorrow, Dr. Sarin, even the Four Arms team sent to assassinate them. Turnabout is fair play, after all.
Try to dovetail these events with whatever investigation the protagonists leave for last, so everything reaches a synchronized crescendo. Crashing multiple enemies into each other is a great way to end a conspiracy game.
What started as a paparazzi mission could leave political debris strewn across Mumbai like the set of a John Woo movie.
- Rehab's pet rakshasa may have been accidentally set loose, either by the protagonists or the Dancers in Sorrow.
- Harappa Tech should have emerged as a serious rival for the Four Arms (and potential protagonists for future games).
- The Cult of Baba Tambe has probably been destroyed, sending dozens of disillusioned yogis out into the world.
- Baba Tambe himself may still be out there, harboring thoughts of revenge.
- A cache of military weapons may be in the hands of criminals and terrorists, thanks to the protagonists.
- (And I'm sure there are countless other ways to fuck this shit up.)
Take notes about these things after each session. They'll be excellent seeds for future adventures.