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.


  1. Now there is a classic CofC campaign. Played and died in this in the 80's, happy if distant days.

    Cheers, Ross

  2. Hi Ross, thanks for looking. I'm glad I'm not the only one who remembers it!