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.