Monday 22 May 2023

Eldritch Rabies

Yesterday evening saw the latest installment in our Call of Cthulhu campaign. The protagonists:

Scott: early-mid 20s, served in WW1

Isobel: early 20s, journalist with a "colourful" background

Morris: early 20s, waste of space dilettante

Violet: Morris' other body (it's a long story), 18 years old

The characters return to Morris' family mansion outside Grand Rapids for some much-needed downtime and to catch up with the family druid (another long story). There is some debate about what to do next: should they go and confront Mr Blobby, aka Eihort, and try to banish it using a ritual Morris found in his copy of Nameless Cults, or should they see if anything needs doing in Michigan? There has been a lot going on in Arkham, their other main base of operations, and they feel like a change of scenery.

It still feels odd conversing with a house that talks back, but the disembodied voice of their druid fills them in on local happenings, confirming that indeed something odd has been happening. He has detected an especially malevolent presence out in the wilds, a few days' drive away to the north west, something that feels shamanistic, but twisted and powerful. So they call in a favor from the Gorgon Sisters and acquire a WW1 surplus truck for all their camping equipment, weapons etc. Suitably tooled up, they head off with Violet driving because he/she has the best skill; Morris' body is left sleeping in the care of the druid. Basically, if it looks as though physical adventure is on the cards, Morris switches to Violet because she is much more co-ordinated than him. Time for me to use "The Hills Rise Wild" from my venerable original of Arkham Unveiled, re-purposed for Michigan. The druid has noticed the strangely invisible acorn insignia imprinted other left palms, saying "That's Nodens' work, that is" and then filling them in about that particular ancient deity/being/whatever.

The further they go, the wilder the country becomes, the worse the roads, and the more sullen and unfriendly the people. Violet makes every single Drive check, so there are no untoward accidents. On the third day of driving things are becoming really slow, which gives them time to look around at the scenery. They spot a group of locals waving pitchforks and shouting a lot, then stabbing something on the ground. One of the lads sees the truck, waves, drops his pitchfork and wanders over. He asks if they want to see an abomination, so off they troop. The thing they have just killed is a newborn two-headed baby calf; the excited locals babble about "Weird things happening, strangers" like there being suddenly too many fish in the rivers then not enough, or a massive gathering of crows and so on. Scott says this sounds interesting; do they know of anyone who might be able to tell them some more? It turns out that, yes, there's the Stone family. They live right out in the wilds and mostly keep themselves to themselves, which is good because nobody likes 'em.

Violet drives very carefully along the rutted path that passes for a road around here and eventually spots a slightly beaten grass trail leading off in a northerly direction; this must be where the local outcasts live. Violet coaxes the truck into the wilds and then suddenly they find themselves in a lovely little valley, with a homely log cabin tracing smoke lazily into the sky. The door is flung wide open and out strides Levi Stone, a bear of a man with an overbearing personality: incredibly expansive and relentlessly cheerful. He hollers "Howdy, strangers!". 

Violet is heard to mutter "Eldritch rabies". The other two look at her: what!? "Eldritch rabies," she repeats. "He's either a foaming mad cultist or is going to be Victim Number One." Someone's been playing too many role-playing games! By the way, this is their default setting: extreme paranoia punctuated with lots of humour.

Levi tells them to stow their stuff and park their truck; he looks a bit surprised to see a young woman driving a truck, but doesn't say anything. He motions them towards the small hay barn. "It's going to be dark soon, so you might as well get comfy; you can bed down in there. I'll tell Hannah and 'Zekle that we have visitors. Dinner in half an hour!" And off he trundles. Violet's opinion is unchanged.

Dinner is enormous with Levi dominating the room. Hannah is very meek and mild and says little; their 12-year old son 'Zekle says even less, sullenly whittling away at some piece of wood. Isobel decides that they are probably normal enough: one overbearing parent plus one very quiet parent = withdrawn son. Besides, they probably don't get to see strangers very often out here. Conversation turns to what the three city folks (although Scott is actually from a farming family) are doing here. They discuss the tales being told by the locals and Levi agrees; "There's definitely something odd out there," he says. "But if you're determined to take a look regardless, I can guide you. Nobody knows these woods and hills quite like I do;" he helps himself to another side of hog. They agree to meet up for breakfast - "Well, first breakfast anyway," says the irrepressible Levi - and then go and tramp across some hills.

After breakfast, Levi casts an appraising eye over their equipment; he obviously realizes it's worth quite a lot, especially considering the truck. He then leads off at a merry pace (for him) and soon has Isobel in particular falling behind. By early afternoon she's beat (low CON with a poor roll) and Levi agrees to take her back to the homestead and then return for the other two; they'll meet at a good camping spot where they had lunch. In the meantime, Scott and Violet can scope the terrain a bit more.

As the other two leave, Scott and Violet consider their options. Their weird acorns are giving off even weirder vibes, acting almost like a directional beacon; their hands want to keep pointing in a north-westerly direction. Their own sense of direction makes them feel that Levi has been keeping them away from that area. It's difficult to tell if it's deliberate or unconscious, but they definitely feel something is out there. 

A few hours later they make their way back to the agreed rendezvous. Levi comes running not long after; "Is she here?"

"Isobel?" asks Scott.

"Yes. She went to lie down in the barn and when I went to tell her dinner was ready she had gone. I figured she was feeling better and came out here to find you two."

Scott and Violet exchange glances. "Eldritch rabies".

After some discussion Levi heads off home while the other two camp here, the plan being for Levi to come and meet them again in the morning. As night falls, they let off a flare, the agreed sign if they should become separate, but there is no answering light. They settle down.

Explanation: Isobel went back with Levi and had lunch at the homestead, falling unconscious from some "herbal tea" specially prepared for her. Levi then ran off to lie to the others before returning home and carrying the supine Isobel off towards his favorite place, a dodgy bit of swampland in a bowl-shaped depression, which is exactly the location the characters' directional acorns have been pointing towards.

Isobel wakes up with her hands bound behind her back and her feet tied together, with Levi merrily setting up camp at the edge of his swamp. He hasn't noticed that she is now awake, so she plays possum. This is just as well because he comes over and checks her. Deciding to keep her under, he dribbles some more of the special tea into her mouth and heads off to sleep. Behind his back, Isobel is able to spit the stuff out and then has a good look around; Levi is snoring already. 

Isobel notes the strangely regular shape of the depression and also sees quite a few jaggedly sharp stones lying around the place - "Meteorite impact" she thinks. She wriggles over and grabs an especially large, sharp stone and starts worrying at her bonds. She does enough damage to them that she will be able to  free herself quickly, but decides against making a break for it. Levi has made sure she has no boots and she doesn't fancy her chances out in the wilds on her own, with the obviously dangerous cultist/serial killer/whatever over there. Her inclination is to act, but she decides to bide her time and has a rather uncomfortable night.

Cut back to Violet and Scott. They wake up in the morning and, surprise surprise, there is no sign of Levi. They have some trail rations and then head determinedly towards the area Levi was avoiding, guided surely by their palm prints. Toting rifles, of course.

Cut to Isobel and Levi. He wakes up cheerily enough and chatters away to Isobel. He says he won't bother drugging her again because after all she and her friends don't have much longer to live anyways. He keeps up the cheerful banter as he carries her across a safe swamp route he has obviously long since memorized, happily pointing out the various traps he has laid to keep interlopers away. Isobel sighs to herself; this guy just won't shut up. Must be the cheeriest cultist she has ever met. He dumps her on the ground on a central island and then waits happily for the others to arrive.

Which they do. Scott and Violet manage to avoid the traps, which delights the watching Levi no end. He has arrayed his own weapons on the ground - two hefty cudgels and a couple of well-used and exceptionally sharp wood axes. Now that it is daylight everyone can see the results of Levi's work:

Foolish investigators find Levi's garden at night. Probably previous victims...

Insults are exchanged, although Levi is too polite to say anything truly nasty. He just asks the other two to "Come quietly, now. I have your friend. Just throw your weapons into the swamp and then I'll take you to my god back there in the trees. Don't worry, I'll make sure your deaths are quick and painless. Of course, if you don't do as I say I might have to hurt your friend here a little." He obviously thinks he has the upper hand; he doesn't even bother to look at Isobel.

Big mistake. She's mentally tougher than she looks, a result of her rather interesting past among the bootleggers. She makes her move, quickly slicing through her last remaining bonds and then jumping Levi from behind. She slams into him with her jagged stone and with a bellow he throws her off. However, this is enough of a distraction for Violet and Scott to put two bullets into him, one in the right arm and another in the stomach. Levi goes down, out of it but somehow still alive. Isobel gets up and dusts herself off. At least he isn't talking any more!

Violet checks Levi but fails to do any proper First Aid; the guy is just going to have to bleed to death, then they can dump him in his own swamp. There is a wave of pure hatred being directed at them from the centre of the grove and their acorns are going crazy. They decide that Violet is probably going to be the person least able to see whatever is back there and keep her sanity, so they decide to blindfold her and lead here there, trusting in their Elder Signs to do a repeat of the trick they pulled in London. They are not going to let whatever it is fester and maybe ensnare more victims in the future.

It's just as well Violet doesn't see the thing. Half-buried in muck is an ancient totem; it looks possessed or something because it has an incredibly malevolent face that silently beams evil at them. This doesn't bother Isobel or Scott too much, so they present Elder Signs and get Violet to do the same. Instead, though, their left hands raise themselves and green light flashes at the thing in the bog. It slowly pulses green veins from the inside and then cracks and falls apart, disintegrating completely. Their palm acorns return to their normal invisible state.

Keeper's Notes
The acorns appeared on the palms of the characters after they encountered a druid back in Norman England as part of their recent Hastur cycle; I decided at the time this would come in handy, something to be used in an appropriate environment. I only have three players, so they need the occasional bit of help to deal with the Mythos. 

Levi was fun to play - the world's most cheerful homicidal maniac. I decided he was too confident and this is what led to his doom; he underestimated Isobel. Beth had a real crisis when Isobel was able to loosen her bonds. As an investigator, she is used to taking action, but decided against her natural inclinations to do a runner during the night and stayed instead. This worked out brilliantly in the final confrontation; Levi simply was not expecting an attack from that direction. He was so sure of himself that he didn't even check her bonds. 

The players have no way of knowing this, but basically the meteorite was carrying Something From Beyond The Stars that possessed the main totem of the local folks; fortunately, though, they managed to deal with it. At least, that's my interpretation; I changed the hook to suit the characters. The scenario as written does end in a major disaster with the thing going on a horrific rampage, but I wanted to give the characters a fighting chance. Removing Levi without any blood going onto his "god" stopped this from happening. And, finally, they were able to rescue Hannah and Ezekiel, who were completely dominated by the horrible patriarch. Talk about toxic masculinity.

Eldritch rabies!


  1. Very entertaining an unusually cheery psychopathic cultist!
    Best Iain

  2. Cheers, Iain. This is the first time I've run a sort of survival horror scenario for them; the various possibilities in Cthulhu give a lot of variation. Paul