Wednesday 2 August 2023

Cannich Scots

Also known as part two of the Shadows of Yog-Sothoth segment in our Call of Cthulhu campaign. Arriving in Scotland, our three intrepid investigators take the train to Inverness then hire a car and drive to the nearby small town of Cannich. They know that the cultists behind the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight are up to no good here on the shores of Loch Mullardoch.

They lodge at the only hotel in town and cautiously scope the place. Violet (Cate's character) decides that everyone is a cultist until proven innocent: the guy who runs the place; the barmaid; and three men staying there, one of whom is English. [GM note: she isn't far wrong!] Playing the part of cheery, innocuous Americans, they strike up conversations with everyone regardless. It turns out that one of the three guests is an archaeologist from Edinburgh University called Andrew Kennedy. He tells them he is leaving tomorrow and after some cajoling he admits that he has been involved in an impromptu dig on the shores of the loch with Henry Hancock and his friend Adam Chisholm. They have not long returned from an expedition to Africa which Kennedy says ended in some tragedy or other (he doesn't know the details). Hancock has purchased a large house in the area, but both men have disappeared after some initial findings at the Loch. The locals are saying that Chisholm has returned to Africa, but Kennedy is spooked. He doesn't believe Chisholm would leave without Hancock and thinks something nefarious has happened - hence his imminent departure. Smart man. The characters offer to drive him to Inverness the next morning so he can catch the train, and in return he passes them some notes in Hancock's hand about local legends involving an ancient Pictish temple and a Roman expedition during which the centurion uses a magic sword to chop a golden disc into three parts. He explains this is what piqued their interest, mainly because there is no archaeological evidence for any Roman involvement in this part of what was once Caledonia. Violet muses about Hancock's name - maybe they have mutual family connections? It later transpires she is right; Hancock is a cousin on her father's side. [GM's note: pure coincidence! He happens to have the same family name as her own as established in a previous scenario. I just took advantage of the chance happening.]

The second guest is a supply teacher from the borders, here to take over from the recently retired schoolmaster (who is also the town's medic). They strike up a conversation that doesn't really go anywhere. "Cultist!" decides Violet. The characters do, though, make a note to talk to the former teacher.

The third guest is an English guy called Tommy Hayes. He says he is taking a break from work to travel around the Scottish highlands, but Scott (played by Thomas) tells his friends that this guy looks far too physically capable and is packing some sort of pistol, which is completely illegal in this country. The characters themselves have wangled shotgun licenses from their police connections in London, but proper firearms are another thing. Tommy realizes that have spotted some of his weaponry and comes clean when Violet mentions her family name. Tommy is an officer with Special Branch and is here to look for a serial killer and cannibal who goes by the stage pseudonym of 'Belphegor'. Violet decides this has to be another cultist and theorises that he has taken the name of some sort of magician or is one himself. They tell Tommy that they are going to call on Hancock to see what is going on here. He tells them to be careful; since Belphegor fled to this area, a young baby has gone missing - probably not a coincidence.

After taking Kennedy to Inverness the next morning, they return to Cannich and go to check out Hancock's house. They get the feeling from some African artefacts that Hancock and Chisholm encountered something nasty and Mythos-related while in Africa. It looks as though they came across similar happenings here in Scotland, though, because they find Hancock's mutilated body stuffed into a crawl space behind some wooden panelling; he was clearly tortured to death. There are also signs that many rooms in the house have been searched. They have the obligatory encounter in the basement when Hancock's ghost tries to scare them away, but Isobel (Beth's character) drives him off. [01 on a Power roll!] They reckon he is protecting something and give the basement a through going-over, finding one segment of the golden disc mentioned in Hancock's notes. It is part of the sun disk they saw in previous visions; an artistic representation of the same thing adorned an altar panel at the Silver Twilight 's Boston headquarters.

[End of first session in Cannich. There was a lot of roleplaying in the town hotel, followed by the now traditional creepy house investigation.]

Friday 21 July 2023

Shadows of Yog Sothoth

...well, sort of. I played in this campaign when it first came out then bought it off the guy who owned it. Since then, I've run it sixteen times, almost all of them in the '80s. The latest was for my current group, who have just finished it.


As a campaign, it has a lot to recommend it, especially in the adrenaline department. After all, how often do you get to have a finale on R'lyeh itself, with the possibility that Great Cthulhu will appear in person? It is, though, showing its age, especially in the movement between episodes. These can be a little contrived and railroady (apparently this is now a fully acceptable gaming term); they also do not take into account player agency. 

I changed out several elements, primarily to provide more foreshadowing. The 'chapter' set in early Hollywood would make a good scenario in itself, but my players have a disconcerting habit of going straight for the main payoff. I know this from their Stormbringer campaign. I had a feeling they would want to move straight from Cannich to Easter Island, thus cutting out California and the attempt by the Silver Twilight to kill them that forms 'The Worm That Walks' scenario. This is why I introduced the Yellow Sign/Elder Sign hybrid before running Shadows, as well as providing quite a bit of foreshadowing in earlier scenarios.

The other issue is the sheer lethality of the thing. I only have three players and the death rate promised by a faithful run-through of the campaign would wipe out any continuity. I'm happy for one of them to die or go mad when the time is right but I don't want a Total Party Kill and that is something that could happen quite easily. So I toned it down a little. That plus the re-ordering of chapters made it into quite a memorable experience.

This is the reprint; I still have my old original in its ratty state.

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

Boston, June 1922

For a while now Morris has been attending the grand lodge of the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight in Boston, a fraternal club with more than a passing interest in the occult. Morris was originally invited to join by Dr Edward Call, a physician friend of Henry Armitage at Miskatonic University. Armitage is the characters' contact with the so-called Gorgons, a sub-unit within the Bureau of Investigation that deals with mythos-related incidents. Call felt that something wrong lurks behind the club's gentlemanly facade and asked Armitage if he knew anyone who would make a likely candidate for an invitation to join, while also being up for some behind the scenes investigation. Morris fits the bill because of his social class. 

Morris has attained enough Occult knowledge to progress to the second rank of the three levels of the Order and he now feels he knows the building well enough to continue the investigation. He has observed that the first two floors are freely open to members, although the library holdings are carefully tailored to each level of progression. The first floor (in American - ground floor for everyone else) constitutes the main area for members, including reading and dining rooms. The second floor is mostly comprised of a large lecture hall in which investitures take place. The club building closes at midnight.

The place is run by the so-called Grand Magus John Scott, a pimply, pock-faced man of indeterminate age with a strangely archaic twist to his words. He is helped by a staff of grim-looking, efficient stewards; Morris is certain they carry .45 revolvers in shoulder holsters and also have batons of some kind in their rear waistbands. These servants are always on guard in various locations, stopping anyone going up to the top floor or down to the basement area. According to John Scott, the top floor is out of bounds because it is being renovated. After-hours snooping around the outside of the building, however, convinces the three characters that the top floor is often occupied (lights on) and that neither Scott nor any of his impassive goons ever seem to leave the lodge. The characters are already convinced that Scott has been resurrected because they have come across references to a ritual that does this by reducing the target body to 'essential component salts' and then enacting a spell over them. The results are at best imperfect and successful resurrects often have a pock-marked look to the their skin. The three investigators have already found the grisly results of failed resurrections.

Morris pretends to leave the Order building, but instead hides in a store cupboard. He lets in Scott and Isobel and they case the first floor - nothing to be found. They do the same to the second floor and finally make their way to the topmost level. Here they come across a variety of rooms that clearly indicate there are three further, hidden levels to the Order, each of which requires advances in Cthulhu Mythos knowledge. They find the books for all three levels in an especially well-stocked Occult and Mythos library on the top floor. They sweep the remainder of this level, finding various rooms dedicated to each of the three top cult levels. There are altars and drapes that probably hide some horrible murals or something, so they leave those well alone - no need to lose Sanity! Finally, they encounter John Scott himself in a strange room that has been plastered to resemble a white womb with no angles of any kind anywhere. Scott disappears through a Gate drawn onto the floor, scuffing some of the symbols as he vanishes in order to ensure there will be no pursuit. 

Somewhat perturbed by the absence of Scott's goons, the three characters go down to the basement. Here they find a series of archaic chambers, including some vast cavern-like rooms carved from the rock, as well as a guardroom with little jars of salt marked "Custodes". So this is where the guards go to sleep! They find another library with even more seriously dodgy books, including a Greek translation of the dreaded Necronomicon. Here they grab a letter to Carl Stanford, a senior member of the Order, from one Duncan MacBain in Scotland, reporting a dig at a sacred Temple site by some Americans. MacBain says he is going to wait until the Americans find It, whatever It is, and then kill them to take It. It seems to be an artifact of tremendous significance to the Order or rather, the Cult, as the characters now call it. The Boston Lodge seems to be just one of many tentacles of a large, perhaps even worldwide, conspiracy; a Frenchwoman named Anne Chantraine is mentioned, as are several European occult organizations. Another unpleasant surprise is an altar to Cthulhu and a bas-relief on the wall behind it that shows Cthulhu triumphant, with a strange disk-like representation of the sun as a sort of halo around his head. This is exactly the image they saw on the Mauretania via the Glass of Mortlan artifact.

The last thing they find is an enormous artificial chamber with weird noises coming from cells set into the floors and sealed with what look almost like manhole covers. The words of the resurrection ritual are chiseled into the walls in huge letters in Latin - so the things in the pits will be failed experiments. They manage to rescue a member of the Order who is sitting in a side-cell counting flies.

Emerging at last from the building, they realize that Scott has fled and contact Armitage to ask for a clean-up crew to deal with the place, especially what lies beneath. They now have a sense of urgency about them, since whatever is happening in Scotland needs to be stopped, so they will use their Gate to Gloucestershire to hop over quickly and then get the train northwards. Before they leave, they see newspaper reports saying that the renovation work on the Lodge building seems to have caught fire and the whole place has collapsed, falling into and permanently sealing its own basement.

Monday 5 June 2023

A Moral Dilemma

 The next scenario is "The Condemned" from Arkham Unveiled, in which an entombed sorcerer finally gets free and tries to wipe out the descendants of those who read him away. So don't read on if you are going to play this one yourself.

The characters have arrived back in Arkham after their survival horror escapade in the Lake Michigan hinterlands. A few days later, Isobel's newspaper is running a story about events that have befallen two Miskatonic University students who went camping near the river after semester ended. One is missing and the other currently resides in Arkham Asylum.

Basically, the premise of the scenario is that a final lightning strike has finally taken out the middle of an old ruined bridge upstream that housed the paralyzed body of Sermon Bishop, an immortal sorcerer who was entombed alive over 100 years ago by various Arkham worthies (the Mythos has a long history in this town). He is deposited on a sandbar near the campsite of two students and uses a mind swap spell to take over the body of one of them, Henry Atwater. In this body he ambushes the other student and bludgeons him to death. He then buries his own previous body with Atwater's mind in it, together with the body of the student's best friend and heads off to put in motion his plans for revenge on the progeny of his oppressors. Modern life has changed everything beyond recognition, though, and he is found rambling by a motorist. Realizing he needs more information about this strange new world, Bishop pretends to be insanely incoherent and is taken to the Asylum. The newspaper states that something horrible has happened to the two students and notes that a search is being organized for the one who is still missing.

Isobel gets herself assigned to the case as a reporter for the Arkham Gazette and heads off to the campsite, along with Scott and Morris. They have arrived later than the rest of the locals, who have been up since dawn and are quite far into the woods in their search pattern. That explains why they haven't spotted the large number of crows gathered on a sandbank at the riverside, so the characters investigate that and find two bodies, one of which is still alive, although a bit mad. They don't know this yet, but Henry Atwater in Bishop's immortal body has just spent a couple of days buried alive and staring the battered, decaying corpse of his best friend in the face. He jump scares the three characters, screaming "Atwater - Henry Atwater" before collapsing. The party notices fragments of some sort of sigil that appears to have been around the neck of this unknown man, now falling apart.

There then follows a series of events as Bishop escapes from the asylum and continues his killings and the characters do a lot of research at the Arkham Historical Society. They figure his plans quite quickly and Morris realizes that Atwater has actually been body swapped. As Violet, Morris visits Atwater and calls him by his real name; the man is still mad from his experiences, but will start to recover (albeit slowly) now that someone has recognized who he actually is. Violet feels sorry for the student because she knows almost exactly how he feels. The group is too late to stop the first death, an old woman who is beaten to death with a fireside poker; Bishop then uses the same item to carve the numeral 1 in her forehead. 

However, the group has pieced together the so-called Sign of Barzai that was used to paralyze the sorcerer. They also find the location of Bishop's house and get the police to surround it while they go inside. The plan is to surprise him and use the Sign on him. They are somewhat surprised when Bishop emerges from somewhere secret inside his old house but manage to capture him; basically he surrenders when he sees all those firearms pointing at him. In this body he is not immortal.

This creates a moral dilemma for the characters. To the outside world, it seems as though they have captured the mad murderer Henry Atwater when in fact they are holding the old magician Bishop in Atwater's body. In the meantime, the student is alive in Bishop's immortal body. Cue a long discussion about what to do. They have a Mythos tome that Bishop was looking for, courtesy of one of the old families Bishop was trying to attack - basically, it's his book from all that time long ago and contains the ritual he used to achieve immortality. Technically, they could use this book to summon the strange entity that conferred immortality on Bishop so that it can take his soul, but that would mean a dangerous ritual followed by seeing whatever that thing is, which would not be too good on one's sanity. Instead, they decide to keep Bishop paralyzed. He will be executed for double murder, which he certainly deserves, and also provides  a way out for them. This way he gets what is coming to him, but they don't have to deal with a powerful and unpredictable Mythos entity. Atwater, who will eventually recover in Bishop's body, is given over to the Gorgon Sisters at the FBI and they say they'll take care of it. There should be some way for them to transfer Atwater back into his old body after Bishop has been killed.

The characters then go off to investigate the secrets of Bishop's house. They find a hidden tunnel that leads to the Miskatonic River and also links up with another tunnel from an old farmhouse which, according to records, belonged to Bishop and his partner in magic, one Simon Rousell. Here they find a secret alchemical laboratory, long since trashed and emptied, apart from the remains of an experiment in a cellar:

It looks like two intermingled bodies, both completely mindless, one of which has been eating their own slowly regenerating flesh for one hundred years. They don't know how to destroy this thing, so they head off to consult Henry Armitage.

It turns out that he has news for them, and it may help shed some light on their current experiences. The professor whose life they saved on the Mauretania has sent a report from Jerusalem. He says that he has identified a strange resurrection ritual in a terrible place hidden in the ancient city. There is a way to reduce a cadaver to component salts via some sort of complicated alchemical process. Apparently, a ritual is then enacted and the person comes back to life. Most often, according to the professor, these things often go wrong and the salts are contaminated or incomplete, in which case the resurrectee turn out to be some sort of blasphemous thing - similar to the one the three characters have just encountered. Atwater says he will arrange for it to be dealt with (it's amazing what you can do with gasoline nowadays). At best, whoever is resurrected often looks as though they have had a bad case of acne - the skin doesn't usually reform perfectly. He also says that the last piece of the professor's report is encouraging: apparently if you can memorize the ritual, you can say it backwards and so destroy a person who has been resurrected. The characters realize the description of John Scott at the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight exactly fits the description of a resurrected person provided by the professor. Morris goes off to continue his long term infiltration of the organization, and is now a Level 2 member out of the 3 full levels.

Monday 22 May 2023

Idea for Modular Kzinti Base

 TT Combat makes a really useful box set of bits that can be used to construct space station models:

It occurred to me this would be useful for my embryonic Star Fleet Battles collection. I want each power's stations to have a specific look to them and I have now finally completed my Kzinti stations:

This is my attempt at a Battle Station. The plastic can be a little difficult to glue properly, so after several attempts I settled for a sort of "Y" shape as opposed to equidistant. Multiple tries were starting to obscure the details, so I cut my losses. There are still a few gaps, but at tabletop distance you can't really tell.

Three extra pods. Add them to the Battle Station and it magically transforms into...

... a Starbase. From pod to pod across the length is eight inches. At the nominal scale of 1/3788 that makes it 840 yards or around 770 meters end to end for those of a metric disposition.

To get an idea of the relative size of the thing, here is a Strike Carrier with accompanying Escort Frigate. Starbases should be big, after all.

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!

Saturday 20 May 2023

Fly Me to the Moon

 With a Shapeways omniscale Battle Station in orbit:

The moon, planetoid or whatever is over 6 inches in diameter.

Monday 15 May 2023

The Vanishing Conjuror

 Now that our initial series of interlinked scenarios is over (at least for the moment!) I'll try to post a bit more often in shorter bites. The three characters' ship, the Mauretania, docks at Southampton and is boarded by a group of police from Scotland Yard. They are led by the rather stolid and ineffably boring Inspector Henry Long, who insists on questioning them personally in private. In a monotone, he thanks the Captain for his time.

 Once inside, the Inspector throws off his external demeanor and turns out to be incredibly quick-witted and incisive. He says the Gorgon Sisters gave him advance warning to look out for the investigators, but he had no idea of the things they would end up doing on board the liner. A conversation ensues about Bolsheviks and cultists before he thanks them for doing their jobs and saving the three academics from Miskatonic University. He also says he will be their main contact in London from now on, giving them his card with direct telephone number. He then resumes his persona as the efficiently dull inspector and leads them out onto the deck. He tells them in trademark monotone to stay in London for a couple of weeks in case he has any further questions, but they are free to go. 

Once they have settled into their rather lovely hotel (courtesy of the Gorgons via the Inspector) they receive a handwritten note from the concierge. It's from Howard Horne, one of their favourite drinking companions from the trip. He is a theatrical agent and entrepreneur and his note is asking them to go to a performance that evening at the Mermaid Theatre; he will join them at the interval.

So off they troupe and boy is it dull: a series of mediocre conjuring acts topped off by the rather middling "Amazing Karl". Afterwards, Horne treats them to a visit to one of his well-known Soho haunts, a bar where another American is waiting for them. Horne introduces him as one of his acts, an up and coming stage magician named Will Crowther. He is from Boston and has been living in London for the last two years.

Horne asks the characters what they thought of the evening's entertainment and the consensus is not a good one. This pleases him because the one he really wanted them to see was Karl. One of his promising acts, Philip Leclair, mentioned to Horne that he was working with Karl on a new apparatus designed to revolutionize the vanishing act. However, on returning to London Horne has found that it is Leclair who has vanished and the police have found nothing. The thing is, there's quite a major charity gig at the same theatre in two nights' time and Karl is due to perform; Horne wants to know if he has stolen Leclair's ideas as well as finding out if the man is still alive.

This is where Crowther comes into the picture. Along with Karl and Leclair, he is a member of a gentleman magicians' club, rather a fine one run by a Chinese conjuror going by the name of Ching Lung Soo. The club is situated in the lower floors of a large townhouse owned by Ching Lung; the upper floor is his apartment. It's a big house for London, so Ching Lung must have made a lot of money abroad at one point. Crowther apologizes to Violet and Isobel and turns to Scott (Thomas' character), asking him if he has any sleight of hand tricks that he might be able to use to gain entry for himself to the club as a performer. Scott has a relatively high skill at throwing things, courtesy of his time in the ancient Roman army, so he shows Crowther a possible way to sleight his way through a performance of the throwing knives trick. His new found friend tells him to be at the clubhouse at 11.00 the next morning for an audition. If he fails, the group will just have to rely on Crowther to do some snooping on their behalf.

Scott gets in with no problem and is in fact complimented on his technique by one of the members of the admissions committee. He spends an amiable afternoon wandering around the place, although as a new first level member he is not entitled to go upstairs. He notes that all of the flunkies are Chinese members of Ching Lung's personal staff. They all wear a robe with a dragoon motif on the back, which is incidentally also inscribed on the plaque at the front door:

After a while, Crowther appears and falls into conversation almost naturally with the newcomer. Scott has found a storage room while wandering around the ground floor; it contains lockers for the use of members, one of which has Leclair's initials on it. He wasn't able to pick the padlock, though - could Crowther perhaps oblige? He does so surreptitiously and returns. The two of them converse for a while under the guise of Crowther showing Scott around the main library, then decide to go to the pub where they met the previous evening, which is going to be the rendezvous point while they are in London. Crowther passes Scott a notebook belonging to Leclair that includes more notes for his mechanism and mentions that he has been working on it with Karl. which makes the young German a possible accessory if indeed a crime has taken place.

In the meantime, Isobel and Violet have decided to pay a return visit to the theatre to see if they can find anything interesting or indeed incriminating in relation to Leclair's disappearance and/or the upcoming charity event. Isobel fails to pick the locks on the exits to a side alley, so Violet forces one of them. Unfortunately, this makes a lot of noise, so Isobel runs into the lobby of the theatre to warn the bored woman she meets there that she heard something at the side entrance. Violet slips inside while Isobel keeps their day manager talking and makes her way to the back of the stage and down into the large basement area under the stage. She finds an impressive dressing room with the name of one Ching Lung upon it, along with several smaller rooms, including one for Karl Weiss. 

Ching Lung's room is surprisingly empty, but Karl's contains three large packing crates. They are not locked or anything like that, so she lifts the lids to see what is inside: three stone components that will fit together to make an impressive archway (a gate), with a Chinese dragon sigil carved into the lintel. The room goes decidedly cold all of a sudden and this is what she sees:

Poor old Leclair is suspended in midair, surrounded by blue flames and in agony. He catches sight of her and manages to squeeze out a warning, something about releasing him by opening the gate and also needing to stop the Chinese man. He then fades from sight. This costs Violet a point of sanity.

She replaces everything and makes her way back upstairs. She definitely feels spooked by what she has just seen and makes quite a bit of noise on the way. Fortunately, though, Isobel covers for her with the manager until Violet has safely left the building. The two meet up again and head off to their rendezvous pub.

Everyone fills in everyone else on their various escapades that day. They have dinner in the pub and then head off to their hotel. Violet has no knowledge of gates from her Mythos knowledge, but starts to look through the various books she was given on the Mauretania. This is going to take a while, so she sets the morning aside to do more research while the other two head off to Leclair's lodgings (address obligingly supplied by Horne), but this turns out to be a bit of a dead end. Returning to the hotel, they find that Violet has enough information to realize that the archway she found is a very particular form of gate, one that is keyed to a specific place or creature and that requires a ritual to open correctly. This is completely unlike the gate they found under an abandoned house in America. Violet thinks that Leclair must have been shoved through the gateway without the ritual and so is stuck between worlds. This tallies with Scott's ideas about the magic circle he has just joined - it really does look like a front for a cult. Maybe Leclair found out something a bit too sensitive?

The implications are worrying - if the Chinese magician is really the leader of a cult, and if his summoning arch is at the theatre, then presumably his act is only going to become rather too real. They call Inspector Long and he agrees to infiltrate the theatre with armed police on the grounds of subversive activities. The plan is for his people to wait long enough for Leclair to materialize and then take out the magus; subordinates will apprehend the rest of the cultists and shepherd out the crowd. This is a rather well-known charity occasion, so there will be some of the aristocracy present, even perhaps minor royalty. The presence of armed police there will not be too unusual, even for Britain. It will be the job of the investigators to use their Elder Signs to stop whatever is coming through that gate.

In the event, it actually works. The Inspector and his two armed compatriots wait until the gate pulses ominously and then put three bullets neatly straight into Ching Lung's torso. He goes down and out. Panic breaks out but the players, whose seats are nearest the stage, manage to rush up the stairs and force back whatever that thing is. Leclair's smoldering yet strangely unburned body is lying in the middle of the floor, twitching, so at least he's alive. Something very large but, fortunately, as yet unseen, is trying to slurp its way through the gateway, tittering obscenely. However, all three characters make it in time to present a united front and whatever it was returns whence it came.

This is the second time in quick succession that the group has foiled a ritual summoning. They still don't know exactly what either thing was, and probably don't want to know. In her books, Violet manages to find an illustration of a blobby thing with lots of tentacles and mouths, about twice the size of a human, that can apparently only be seen once it starts to feed on the blood of its victims...

Monday 8 May 2023

A campaign rationale

 An ongoing campaign of Call of Cthulhu can be rather an episodic affair, which makes it really good for running over the net. Published campaign supplements can of course be inserted as you like, but keeping player involvement and interest fresh (and I do mean the players, not the characters) requires something more than simply "This is what you're doing this week".

I remember a conversation with the dad of a prospective student at a university where I worked previously. His daughter had mentioned her love of tabletop roleplaying and we had a short conversation about our various games. We were joined part way through by her dad and it turned out he was a very experienced Cthulhu GM. He said something that stuck with me: "I've put a lot of effort into turning Cthulhu into a worldwide sandbox, where the players decide where to go." I was impressed - it sounded like a lot of work, and a whole load of fun. 

Ours is now becoming something like this, pretty much due to player choice. Following our fun time with "Dead Man's Stomp", I ran another one-shot, "A Mother's Love" from New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley, which they enjoyed immensely. It ended with Isobel (Beth's character) shooting the main bad guy in the arm; he spun around and fell into the water in Innsmouth, which he found most welcoming (I'm avoiding spoilers as much as I can!). Suffice to say, no body was ever found...

I then ran "The Pale God" from my old copy of The Great Old Ones. The hook was a certain Captain Harvey Walters (ret.), Scott's old commanding officer from the war. This started what has become something of a habit for me now: slipping character links into different scenarios in order to give the move from one to another a bit more coherence. Scott (Thomas' character) lost contact with the Captain after being reassigned to some R&R behind the lines along with the rest of what remained of his regiment. It turns out that Harvey and a group of soldiers had encountered something horrible in the basement of a bombed-out house and the few survivors formed a group against the Mythos that they call the "Wipers' Pals", which is based on some ideas from the 7th Edition Investigator Handbook. After seeing the rather spectacular death of one Harvey's men, the characters found out what was going on, but needed more research time to decide how to deal with it. 

Morris, Cate's character, contacted their rather ghoulish bookstore "friends" in Arkham to ask if they knew of a tome that might help. They were pointed in the direction of a certain Mr Corbitt, who had purchased an English translation of Nameless Cults. Normally the bookstore wouldn't give out the names of its rather peculiar "select" clientele, but this was one guy they really disliked. They had some acquaintances keep an eye out for Mr Corbitt in Boston, and these said the guy really stinks - as in, he's a sorcerer. 

In terms of the scenario, Corbitt has barricaded himself in his house and has hasn't been seen for days. Time to run "The Haunting". They managed to end the thing they encountered, snagging a rather nice dagger enchanted with an elder sign for their trouble, as well as the copy of Nameless Cults they were looking for in the first place. I deliberately enhanced the dagger; I reckoned an elder sign would be a very useful thing for them to have.

This led to some downtime for Morris to read the thing, so I had Dr Armitage introduce them to an old friend, Dr Henry Call, who has joined a gentleman's club with a sophisticated air of the occult: the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight in Boston. Dr Call met with the characters and said there was something odd about the place, especially the man leading the group, a certain John Scott, who "Looks as though he had a bad case of acne when he was a teenager". Being the only man in the group with high enough social status, Morris joined the Order, sponsored by Dr Call, with the idea of infiltrating it over the longer term. He'll need to use its library to improve his Occult skill in order to move up the ranks.

Morris was then disturbed by a separate development, a series of newspaper reports on the current New Orleans Mardi Gras season, with a feature on the rich sponsors of one particular "Krewe" - their chosen badge is the Yellow Sign, a symbol that flashed before his eyes when he previously encountered a dream version of Louis Armstrong with black, smoking eyes - the "person" laughed malevolently before disappearing. This happened in relation to the nasty trumpet from "Dead Man's Stomp", which Armitage has identified as associated with a certain entity called Nyarlathotep. Even he shuddered when he told this to Morris.

Off to New Orleans, then, for "Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?", another offering from The Great Old Ones. Again, I'll try to avoid spoilers, but in the course of their investigations they found a bookshop with an Elder Sign carved into a tree trunk outside its door. Morris spotted a copy of the dreaded King in Yellow with an especially malevolent Yellow Sign on its cover and went into a trance. Isobel waved her enchanted dagger over the sign, and all three of them ended up in a small town on the Bay of Naples in Roman times. They foiled the plan of a bunch of Hastur cultists here and were then whisked off to Norman England, where they saved an entire region from being sucked into Carcosa. After this, they woke up again back in the bookstore in New Orleans a second after they had blinked out; nobody else in the place had even noticed that something had happened. The two scenarios were from Tatters of the King

I had made the main protagonist of each time swap, or whatever it was, an absolute dead ringer for one of the sponsors of the Krewe being investigated, and strangely enough the characters had played themselves in the past - previous lives, or something. Except they remembered everything, including the skills they had at that time: they are all now very good at Latin, for example, and have also acquired some rather useful melee skills, especially Scott. He is very good with a pilum. They realized that Hastur's cultists were planning Attempt To Do Something Nasty number three, which they foiled. Their timeslip experience remains unexplained and slightly weird, which suits my idea of how Hastur does things.

This is where the players invented something I didn't foresee.  They assumed there must be some sort of link between their experiences, and sort of triangulated the locations on a map based on the whorls of the Yellow Sign. They pinpointed a location: the Azores, specifically Flores Island. Fully expecting to find something really nasty festering there, they reported back to Henry Armitage by telephone, asking him to find out more about Hastur and the Yellow Sign for them. He promised to do so, and also swung some first-class tickets for them on the Mauretania, due to leave New York City in a week's time for London, with a two-day layover in the Azores.

Dr Henry asked them to pick up a donation to the Orne Library from a family not far from New Orleans: scenario number three for them from The Great Old Ones, "Still Waters". It took them a while to investigate this one because they were being really careful, having realized very early that whatever the big nasty might be, it was seriously powerful. So they did not actually meet their enemy. They did, though, pick up the donation for the library as well as quite a lot of Mythos-related items. Morris had a weird vision of Great Cthulhu striding across the world in triumph, with a sort of Aztec-looking shining disc behind his head in place of the sun, a carved representation of a stylized phoenix surrounded by glyphs and sigils. And yes, this will matter later. They also come across a puzzling letter referring to the Silver Twilight as a powerful organization with great occult resources of their own.

Interrupt. The characters are interviewed by three brilliantly intelligent, no-nonsense women working for a shadowy part of the FBI called the "Unusual Incidents Unit" (Beth's idea!). Their codenames are Stheno, Medusa and Euryale, the names of the Gorgons (my idea; after all, why not?). Their group has only recently been formed, and they work by trying to play off elements of the Mythos against one another. For example, they know that Hastur's and Cthulhu's cultists don't exactly see tentacle-to-tentacle. The three agents are obviously very knowledgeable about the Mythos, and offer to cover up the aftermath of events in "Still Waters" for them. They tell the characters that their contacts will be Dr Armitage (surprise, surprise); their field agent will be their old friend Matt Peabody, an investigator who helped them in Innsmouth, taking out a gang member with a tommy gun by the simple expedient of shooting him in the head. Matt is now going out with Lucy Stone, another acquaintance from Arkham ("Red Letters"). The Gorgons give Scott and Isabel an Elder Sign each of their own. End of interrupt.

The characters finally made it back to Arkham and Dr Henry gave them their tickets for the Mauretania. He asked them to watch over a group of three academics from Miskatonic University: a professor and two of his graduate students who are on the run, funnily enough from the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight. It seems they stirred up a lot of trouble there and are now on the first part of a trip to Jerusalem to escape the organisation's clutches and to do some research into them in a special archive. 

This led to the scenario on the liner from The Asylum, with Morris as Violet this time so that she wouldn't be recognized - Morris might be a problem due to being a member of the Silver Twilight. This initially seemed mostly like a break from the Mythos, although the group met another occultist, a retired history professor from Harvard. He showed them an item he had found, leading to Isobel and Scott experiencing exactly the same vision of Cthulhu previously seen by Morris: the same vision for all three of them on two separate occasions. The professor was shocked into forswearing the occult ever again and gave Violet his paraphernalia and books.

The next event was their foiling an assassination attempt, which provided a distraction for the obligatory group of cultists to kidnap the academics from MU. The characters managed to intervene by the simple expedient of interrupting some sort of ritual summoning. The cult tried to swarm whatever thing was starting to come through the void, so the characters dragged the three academics out of the room and held the door shut from the outside. Various horrible screaming noises were heard from inside the room they had just vacated, but strangely enough whatever it was that was causing the grief made no sounds of its own. Opening the door after a sensible wait revealed the mangled bodies of the cultists, apart from their leader, who was nowhere to be seen; all that was left of him was a foul stench and the ritual dagger he was using in the summoning, which actually belonged to the professor on the scene - presumably he was going to be sacrificed first. This was the item they had taken from the Silver Twilight. The crime scene was very odd: all of the cultists had been killed by something very strong with unfeasibly sharp claws, but every single wound was inflicted from behind - on all six of them at pretty much the same time. The only casualty for the good guys turned out to be one of the graduate students who rolled 99 on SAN of 40, so he will be spending a bit of time in a nice quiet room in London with lots of rubber wallpaper. Good thing nobody actually saw that thing! The professor confided afterwards that the enigmatic John Scott talks like someone from 150 years ago or something; his English is definitely not in the contemporary idiom.

Flores Island provided more Hastur-related weirdness, which appropriately enough remains entirely unexplained. The characters experienced some extreme paranoia in and around a single tower in the middle of a clearing - exactly the one that Morris/Violet remembered seeing in their visions of Norman England. Passing through a feeling of great malevolence, they found a room at the top after encountering the squished remains of a Roman legionary and a medieval knight, reminders of their time in past. In the room was a pedestal holding a rather large, unadorned wooden box; Violet could see silver filigree filaments running down the pedestal from the box and disappearing into the floor. She was the only one who could perceive them, probably as a result of her earlier visions of this same tower. After a lot of deliberation, Violet opened the lid of the box and found a beautifully disturbing golden filigree ornament. A concave covering over two feet in diameter and around four inches deep. It has obviously been designed to go on top of something else and consisted of three interrelated sets of glyphs: a large, powerful Elder Sign intertwined with an equally impressive Yellow Sign, superimposed on a representation of the sun disk the characters remembered from their vision of Cthulhu triumphant. The whole thing was made of delicately unbreakable gold filigree. Violet shut the lid, grabbed the box and ran.

The characters fled the disintegrating tower, with Violet lagging behind (a spectacularly failed DEX roll). The other two trend around to see her emerge unscathed as the tower fell on top of her, disappearing block by block into nothingness as it did so. There was no sign the place had ever existed.

Any resemblance to a Fritz Leiber short story is purely intentional!

A useful map of Miskatonic Repository scenario locations

Saturday 29 April 2023

Spatial Anomaly thingie

Gravity rift marker from Combat Zone Scenery

Just painted this. A 1" counter marker with Kzinti fighters should help with the scale. It will do nicely for a collapsing star or something like that - just don't get too close. It also occurs to me that it would be a great way to represent a major intrusion or gateway for RPGs that use figures - say a doorway to the dungeon dimensions being created by some foolish sorcerous person, with tentacles just waiting to come through from the other side. Maybe an extrusion of Azathoth in a Call of Cthulhu game? 

Monday 20 March 2023

In medias res

 It's been quite a while since I updated anything on here. Moving to the UAE has been an experience and required a lot of effort, so gaming had to go on hold until I became used to work life and stuff. I have been playing my solo version of Federation & Empire/Star Fleet Battles and painting some ships, but no tabletop gaming with people. I did try to run my Stormbringer campaign but it doesn't work too well across the void of the net because the plot lines have become rather intricate. I may well pick it up again when I see my players (aka them pesky kids) when I am home for several weeks in the summer.

To fill the void, I decided instead to try running Call of Cthulhu for them. The good thing about Cthulhu is that it lends itself well to episodic play, plus my three offsprung are a bit older now, so this game has more appeal. Beth has been into SCP for a while now anyway, so we decided to take the plunge.

It has worked better than I anticipated over Zoom, and we now have several sessions under our belts. The game is set in the early 1920s and their characters are all relatively young. Thomas plays Scott, the eldest of the three, a man in his early-mid twenties who saw action on the Western Front during the Great War. Beth is playing Isabel, a journalist with something of a checkered (i.e. criminal) past. Cate is playing Morris van Laaden, who is based on a patron NPC from a published scenario. She wanted to try something really different this time, and Morris is a bit rubbish. The characters all come from Grand Rapids in Michigan.

The premise is that Morris is the last of his family, his parents having died recently in a boating accident; Scott had been employed as a sort of bodyguard to the younger dilettante by his parents in a vain hope to keep the little waste of space alive or something. Isabel tags along because she likes a good story, and I suppose it's fair to say she has become rather attached to the mismatched pair. 

I won't say too much about what is happening in case anyone reading this is worried about spoilers. Suffice it to say that so far they have made a deal with a (friendly?) druid who is at least 1,000 years old and encountered something like three different kinds of animated dead. They usually deal with those by liberal use of molotov cocktails. The most recent (last night) was from Dead Man's Stomp, a scenario included with the 5th edition rules. Conversational highlights:

Morris (to Isabel): "If we piss this guy off the worst that can happen is we become known as the trumpet thieves. Because whatever we can do to that trumpet is less morally reprehensible that letting little kiddies see uncle Jimmie's corpse jump out of its coffin."

Slightly later (same conversation), Morris to Isabel: "Let me see. You're against me stealing the trumpet, but you're happy to break into a funeral home and stab a corpse!?"

Later comment by Scott: "He's gonna start sleep-tootin'."

And, lastly, here's a photo of a birthday card and some items Cate made from wire for me:

From the top left: a little Cthulhu; a Yellow Sign; and an Elder Sign. Maybe she has been touched by Hastur!