Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Call of Cthulhu Campaign Chronicle #1

This Sunday marked my first foray into the madness-inducing world of H.P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu. Specifically, Chaosium's 6th edition version of that world. I'd long been intrigued by this game, and jumped at the chance to play when I saw a "looking-for-players" post on the Austin RPG meetup board.

Character Generation

I really got a kick out of creating my character, "Mike McTigue". Rolling up a "normal" guy was actually something of a treat and a welcome change from making medieval superheroes for D&D. The game is set in the 1920's, and Mike is a former rising star in the pro-boxing circuit. Unfortunately, his passion for betting on the ponies led to a run-in with an angry bookie over debts he couldn't pay. The mob decided to insist on payment in the classic mob fashion, and Mike's resulting broken leg left him with a pronounced limp. This spelled the end for his boxing ccareer, and might have been the end of Mike if his former trainer, Salvatore Finazzi, hadn't taken pity on him. Sal knew some people at Miskatonic U., and was able to find Mike a job there as a librarian. Mike had become engrossed in literature during his convalescence; next to boxing, books were his great passion.

At my first game, two other players showed up out of a possible four. The two missing PCs were a bootlegger and a veteran/student. The two that did play were:

Louise - A flapper with a taste for the sauce, and who's not above using her feminine wiles to get her way.

Parker - A government agent posing as a psychology student. She carries a gun in her purse, and a combination armory/hardware store in the trunk of her car.

 The Game

Mike, Louise and Parker were summoned to Harvey Cecil's law office [the actual name escapes me at the moment, so we'll just go with Harvey Cecil]. Mike was an old friend of Harvey, who had been instrumental in helping him land the job as librarian. Louise and Parker had worked a previous job for Harvey, and had already been exposed to the things which go "bump" in the night. Harvey tasked the three with investigating the appearance of the body of a strange creature that resembled a small octopus with elephant ears. George Flannery, a local pharmacist who dispenses alcohol for "medicinal" purposes, had found the specimen floating in a bottle of red wine he had "prescribed" for himself. George purchased his stock from a new supplier, and assured us that he had gotten a "hell of a deal" on the product, in exchange for not asking too many questions. Among those questions that went unasked were such trivialities as "Who are you?", "How can I contact you?" and "Where did you get this win-- uh, medicine?" Apparently these mystery men would simply show up unannounced with a new shipment of pharmaceuticals, take payment, and then leave.

Since they couldn't immediately track down the source, they took the bottle and its curious passenger to a biologist at Miskatonic U. The learned scholar declared that they had been duped, for such a creature did not, nay, COULD not exist in nature. Apart from that, he could tell them nothing. Next they tried their luck at a speakeasy that Louise frequented, to see if other bottles with surprise contents had turned up anywhere else. Unfortunately the proprietors were decidedly unfriendly, and were in no mood to let the investigators examine their wares. Having reached another dead end, they made their way back to the pharmacy, fully intending to stake the place out until another shipment was delivered. Upon arrival, the place looked deserted. No cars, no lights, and no visible activity inside. Either George had ordered himself to close up shop early and undergo some heavy "treatment", or something was wrong.

They decided to split up, with Mike and Louise going in through the front door, while Parker circled around to the back exit. If the suppliers were here, they didn't want them to give the group the slip. Once they made it through the entrance, Mike and Louise heard the muffled sounds of a scuffle coming from the back room. There they found George and three men in suits. Two of the men were standing by the window and the back door, keeping watch. The other gentleman was working George over, demanding to know what had happened to the shipment. Poor George alternated between spitting blood and wailing that he didn't know where it was.

Mike, who had watched this scenario play out numerous times before, decided he'd seen enough. Three guys wasn't too much for a former boxer like him to handle; besides, the two dames could probably distract one of them long enough for him to take care of the other two. He threw open the door, strode in, and demanded to know who the men were. Mike never did learn their names, but he did learn they had guns. Fortunately, the toughs decided to ask questions before shooting, and merely motioned Mike and Louise inside.

As the leader began questioning Mike, one of the lookouts noticed Parker peering in through a small window. Alarmed, the three jumped to the conclusion that the cops were sneaking up on them, and decided to make a break for it. They crashed through a display window to the street outside, and zoomed off before we could stop them. All was not lost, however, as Parker noticed the original box that the shipment had come in. It was addressed to a "Flannelly", not "Flannery". It seemed George had received a package by mistake.

Tracking this "Flannelly" down lead us to a wealthy residential district, and to our great fortune, we arrived just in time to see "Flannelly" take delivery of a small package from what looked to be the same men we'd seen earlier. Once the men had left, we discussed the best way to find out what Flannelly was up to. Mike wanted to try a plan of misdirection. He wanted to set fire to an adjacent house, then search Flannelly's home after everyone had evacuated. It's not as if those rich bastards can't afford a little renovation, anyway. Cooler heads prevailed, and the gang settled on a plan that had Louise pose as a stranded damsel in distress in need of help.

While Parker and Mike hid in the car, Louise went up and knocked on the front door. Flannelly answered, and Louise breathlessly told him that her car had broken down, and begged him to let her use his phone. Flannelly lead her to a room with a phone, and left to allow her some privacy. Louise took the opportunity to do a quick search of several rooms, and found a small crate that looked the right size and shape to contain a standard wine bottle. Flannelly returned before she could discover more, so Louise turned on the charm. Smiling invitingly, Louise asked if he might like to pour her a drink. [miserably failed Persuade roll] He declined. She then batted her eyes and asked if he might like to show her around his home. [abysmally failed  Persuade roll] He said no, he would be leaving soon for an event he had planned for the evening. Well, then, she purred, would he mind if she waited for here in the house for her friends to come by and pick her up? [catastrophically failed Persuade roll] No, he didn't feel comfortable letting a stranger stay alone in his house. Louise was totally striking out, and there could be but one explanation. Flannelly must be gay.

In desperation, Louise asked if he could at least give her a ride home. Waiting out in the street wouldn't be safe for a young lady; surely he wouldn't let her be exposed to that danger! [successful -finally- Persuade roll]
Flannelly pondered a moment, and grudgingly agreed that since her house was on his way, it would be no inconvenience to give her a lift. Once in the car, Flannelly seemed to relax a bit, and began talking. And talking. And talking. Amazingly, he maintained a steady stream of verbiage, without ever actually saying anything. All Louise was able to glean was that he was going to a private social event, about which he was as excited as he was secretive. No sooner had he let her off at her stop than she hopped into the car driven by Parker and Mike, who had been tailing them closely. The three then resumed the leisurely chase, as Flannelly never suspected he was being followed.

Their quarry passed the city limits, and soon was rumbling down the highway the split farm and ranch lands to the west. Shadows were fast engulfing the land when Flannelly finally turned his silver sedan down a dirt road that led to a large two story country manor. The three investigators continued down the road a short way to avoid attracting notice, then pulled to the side of the road. They made their way on foot back through the cover of dusk to the manor, and a half-circle reconnaissance revealed a small torch-lit shed leading underground, probably to a basement or storm cellar. In the entire rest of the house, they could see only one second floor room was lit.

The three went in through the servants quarters, and soon found themselves in an expansive kitchen. One door lead to the rest of the house, and one large oak door looked to open to an area right above the basement. From beneath this door a dim light glowed, and the soft drone of muffled voices could be heard over the Autumn breeze outside. Mike and Parker determined to investigate the source of the voices, while Louise decided to case the rest of the house, particularly the one lit room on the second floor. When Louise disappeared into the gloom, Mike and Parker turned to the heavy oak portal. Almost as an afterthought, Mike picked up a butcher knife, then carefully eased the door open.

The soft light of a lone gas lamp streamed out, revealing stairs that led down to a stone basement. As the pair carefully descended, they noted three things. First, to the far left of the room was a short staircase to what looked to be the other cellar entrance they saw from outside. Second, the middle of the otherwise empty room was occupied by a large wooden table, littered with coats, keys, and other various personal effects. Third, and most arrestingly, the wall straight ahead was dominated by a large stone archway. The room beyond was obscured by a thick red curtain drawn across the entrance, though the rhythmic surge of chanting voices flowed out from behind its folds. As they inched slowly towards the veiled antechamber, the chanting rose to a crescendo that was shattered by the sound of breaking glass. A heartbeat of silence, and then the chanting resumed. 

Passing the wooden table, Mike and Parker briefly examined the items thereon. Nothing out of the ordinary; it almost resembled what one might leave at the coat-check before going into a party. With a devilish grin, Mike began pocketing the car keys that lay jumbled in a pile. Parker shot him an cross glance, but he merely shrugged impishly in return. With more important things on her mind, Parker moved forward, her hand never straying from the purse that contained her revolver. She stopped inches from the curtain, then slowly lowered herself to lie flat against the floor, trying to look underneath the crimson fabric into the room beyond.Shoes. The feet of a tripod. Maybe the swirl of robes. Try as she might, there wasn't room to see. Frustrated, she rolled onto her back, and with exaggerated motions silently instructed Mike to slowly lift the curtain's folds to give her a better view. Satisfied that he knew what she wanted, she again lay down with her cheek against the dank stone. Her heart raced Mike slowly raised the curtain at a glacial pace. So slowly, it seemed not to be moving at all. "I wanted slow, but not THIS slow!" she thought, and gave Mike a hand signal to speed it up. Once again, Mike overcompensated, and the curtain jerked up several inches, giving Parker a full view of the entire room. Parker's eyes widened, and her mind shrieked at the Madness before her.

Meanwhile, Louise had made her way through the empty dining room, and across the deserted hall to the grand staircase that wound its way to the second floor. With cat-like grace, she padded up the steps, needing only the moonlight seeping through the many windows to guide her way. At the top of the stairs, she quickly glanced down the hall in both directions. Satisfied no one else was around, she hurried over to the one doorway that was leaking light. Breathlessly, she put her head to the door, but the thick wood muffled any noise within. Gently, she eased the door open. Deep breathing became audible, the kind that accompanies peaceful dreams. The door was open almost enough to peer in when the hinges squeaked loudly in protest. Louise froze as the breathing from within erupted into snorts and coughs, then settled down again. Louise lifted up on the door and opened it another inch, then stuck her head in to survey the room.

A large four poster bed stood at the end of the room; the sleeping figure on top was buried in a thick comforter. Wiggling her way in, Louise tiptoed over to get a closer look. It was an old woman, in full bedclothes, including a tightly bound night cap. It was plain that she lived here, and just as plain that she had nothing to do with the mysterious "event" happening below. Seeing no reason to rouse the sleeping granny, Louise exited the room and retraced her steps back down to the kitchen to rejoin the other two. She went inside the cellar just in time to see Parker look under the curtain.

Parker's mind revolted at the scene before her. A large iron brazier stood in the center of the room, smoldering with a sickly green fire. Around it swayed chanting nightmares. Shadowy grotesqueries with visages drawn from the depths of unknown terror. Again the chanting rose, and one of the horrors raised  a clawed appendage clutching a bottle, and brought it down to the brazier with a crash. A brief flash of light filled the room as the bottle broke, and the chanting figures were fully revealed. They were not human. They were not even animal. They were alien, unnatural, the antithesis of logic, each more horrifying than the next. Parker did not make the decision to wrench her eyes away, for her conscious will was gripped by frigid terror. Only some base, desperate will to sanity spasmed the muscles that whipped her head back and sent her rolling wildly away.

Parker's sudden barrel roll took her right through the legs of the unsuspecting Mike. He grabbed for the the curtain as he fell, and luckily grasped only air. He landed heavily, but noiselessly as he bit off grunt of pain. Louise rushed down the stairs to Parker. She smoothed Parker's hair, attempting to calm her down. Parker gulped air like a drowning man, and slowly collected herself. Between gasps, she related what she had seen to an increasingly dubious audience. Louise listened with mounting dread; after the demon she had seen weeks ago, she knew nightmares weren't confined to the realm of sleep. Mike, however, remained skeptical. He still clung to the view of the world he once had, and the stories these broads told of demons and such still smelled fishy to him.

The three held a whispered conference. What should they do? Leave and report this to the police? Who would believe stories about monsters breaking wine bottles? Should they try to stop them somehow? But we can't face monsters like this. At this, Mike again suggested lighting the curtain on fire, and then barricading the two exits from the outside. "After all," he pointed out, "if they're monsters, Shelley and Stoker both would recommend fire." Louise hissed a rejection through clenched teeth. This was no time for the jests of an unbelieving fool. And yet, she could think of nothing to do. Logic demanded action, but no course made itself clear. Perhaps a strategic retreat was in order...

Mike had had enough. He didn't know what those weirdos were doing in there, but he was about to find out what they would do when he upset the applecart. If whatever they were doing involved that burning brazier, one swift kick ought to put an end to it. Setting his jaw, he rose sharply and strode to the curtain as the chanting rose to one more crescendo. He tore open the shroud just as one of the chanters was dashing the last wine bottle against the brazier. The resulting flash illuminated the shadowy figures, who were obviously people in masks. Weird, sickeningly evil masks, but still just masks, one of which looked like the octopus-with-elephant ears. Mike felt a split-second of smug satisfaction that the boogeymen that spooked Parker were, in fact, just men. A thick mushroom of smoke billowed from the coals in the brazier, and rose to join the dense haze hanging above. That was the precise moment that All Hell Broke Loose.

The roiling cloud of black smoke instantly coalesced into a writhing mass of shining midnight tentacles. An impossibly large tree-like tangle shot out at the form who held the remains of the last bottle, smashing it to a bloody paste against the cellar wall. This abrupt demise galvanized chanter and investigator alike, as all ran screaming for the exits. Two tentacles as thick as baseball bats snaked around either leg of one masked figure, and with a jerk, ripped it in twain. A shower of blood rained down on the rest of the panicked group as they fled out of the cellar door, into the darkness outside.

All, that is, save one. Louise, recalling the sleeping woman upstairs, headed for the kitchen exit instead. With each passing moment, the size and number of wildly flailing tentacles grew, searching sightlessly for prey and crushing everything they encountered. As she bounded up the stairs, Louise saw a nest of twisting midnight tear the oak railings from their joints like twigs. One blind appendage swung crazily at her head, and came with in an inch of knocking her senseless. She bolted through the bedroom door and raced over to the side of the bed. The old woman, already quailing in fright, began shrieking hysterically at the sudden approach. Louise desperately tried to drag her towards the window, now the only avenue of escape, but the woman resisted with strength fueled by pure terror. Tentacles, too many to count, exploded through the door and the hallway wall. One grazed Louise's ankle, sending her sprawling to the base of the wall. The old woman wailed madly and buried her head in her covers, before the entire bed was buried by a throng of twisting tentacles. With a sob of pain and horror, Louise threw herself out of the window and plummeted to the ground below. She landed with a sickening pop, and the pain blossoming in her injured ankle signaled it was now broken. A thunderous crash ripped her attention upwards as the four poster bed, now encased in slimy black coils burst through the wall of the house, raining shards of glass and splinters of wood down on Louise.

Parker, Mike, and four chanters had made it out of the house, and had stumbled as far away as they could. They could not flee completely, however, as a perverse fascination took hold as they watched the destruction of the manor. Huge tentacles crashed through windows, battered down walls, and ripped up foundation stones with insane abandon. Then the four poster bed came into view. Until now, the erstwhile invokers had looked on in shock, their masks cast aside in panic. "Mother? Mother!!!" exclaimed one, who then sprinted after the mass of tentacles gripping the bed. Shouting at him to stop, Parker dashed after him. They only advanced about 35 yards when the nightmare brought the bed crashing down on the running cultist, flinging bloody flesh and wood in a wide radius. Parker stopped on a dime and began a desperate retreat.

This scene broke one other chanter from his stasis, and he turned to run away. Mike grabbed him by the collar and wrenched him around. "What is this?! Who are you and what did you do?!" he yelled. "I'm Danvers and it wasn't my fault, it was Benson! He told us they would grant us wishes! Let me go!" Mike tightened his grip. "The bottles! The masks! Where did you get them?!" Danvers began squirming wildly. "DON'T KNOW DON'T KNOW!" came the crazed answer "NOT ME WAS BENSON NOT ME LET GO LET GO LET GO!!!" Mike pulled out the butcher knife. "You're lying, you weasel, now spill it or I'll feed you to that thing piece by bloody piece!" Howling with fear and rage, Danvers spun away, sweeping Mike's good leg out from under him. Mike crumpled to the ground, and Danvers took off at a dead run. Mike pounded the grass in frustration; there was no way he could catch the man now.

He turned his head back to the destruction of the house. Were his eyes playing tricks on him, or were there fewer tentacles than a moment before? And didn't they seem smaller? Sure enough, the nightmare was receding, almost shrinking back into the house. In less than a minute, all the black tentacles were gone, leaving only the jumbled wreck of the house. Mike spotted Louise painfully crawling towards them, and rushed over to help. Parker turned her attention to the remaining two chanters, both female. Only now did she realize that one was screaming. And screaming. And violently shaking her head, eyes shut tight. It might have been painful to hear, but the woman's voice had already gone hoarse. What actually came out sounded more like sobbing wheezes. The other woman lay on the ground, motionless. Parker felt for a pulse, fearing she was dead. No, she was just laying still. Parker asked who she was, and gave her a shake. No response. Parker pulled the head close to her face and repeated the questions. Nothing. Not even a hint that she saw or heard. This one's mind was broken, and neither one would be helping anyone else, tonight or any other night.

When Mike and Louise joined them, Mike lowered Louise to the ground, then went off with Parker to examine the wreckage. Louise took the time to examine the masks. They were made of gold! At least, plated with gold, and they certainly felt heavy enough. Each one bore the likeness of some alien horror; each a jumble of features that had analogs in nature, but combined and assembled in a wholly unnatural fashion. Nothing like the octopus-with-elephant ears, though. The robes the chanters wore were themselves made of some strange fabric, the likes of which Louise had never before seen. Louise was lost in her examination when Mike and Parker returned.

The cellar had been the epicenter of the monster, and the floors above had been blown away from it. They had, with some difficulty, been able to make their way down into the cellar antechamber, and had collected the last two masks. The cultist who had been ripped in two was unknown to them, and the other, the one who died first, was little more than red paste. They had found a right hand, and had removed from it a ring. Louise instantly recognized it as Flannelly's ring; she had admired it on the ride to her house. They then searched all the cars, recording the names of the owners from the registration papers therein. Finally, they turned once more to the two ruined souls curled up on the ground. There was nothing they could do for them that would not jeopardize the group's safety. Figuring that someone would come looking for them in the morning, they piled into Parker's car to leave. Before pulling off, Mike hopped out again. Quizzical looks from the girls turned to rolled eyes as Mike jumped into the driver's seat of Flannelly's silver sedan. "The man's a natural crook," mused Parker. "I wish my ankle weren't broken," thought Louise, as she eyed the other luxury cars.

They trundled down the drive and into the highway, heading back to town. One horror lay behind them; who knew how many lay ahead.


  1. ah! too many words.

    Louise - A flapper with a taste for the sauce, and who's not above using her feminine wiles to get her way.

    That describes every female's character I've ever played CoC with. Two.

    I hope you remember to tell me were/when next game is so I can get in on the action.

  2. Yeah, Great Wall of Text, I know. Though that's going to happen with these campaign chronicles. I'm deciding whether to split them up in parts, or to have one post per session. Now I'm leaning towards splitting them up.

    I emailed you about the next CoC game.

  3. Nice write up on my game, it makes it sound even more exciting! I think you captured the great majority of it pretty well.


    I seem to recall something of a shopping spree in poor dead Flannelly's house. Naturally, but shopping I mean theiving.

  4. I'm a pal of jbharv42. My vote is to NOT split the stories up. Keep 'em flowing just like this one. Although it was lengthy, it was also a very good read.
    Don't let anyone dissuade you from excellent writing.

  5. @jbharv42 - Thanks, I made a few minor changes to improve the flow of the story. For example, you may recall that Mike actually tried first to look under the curtain at the chanters, but failed his Spot Hidden roll. Parker then tried the same thing and made her roll. Instead of describing Mike's failed attempt separately, I combined it with Parker's subsequent success. I think it makes more sense that way, and builds a little more tension.

    And yeah, I did leave out the "shopping spree", though I like to think of it more as a salvaging expedition. I decided not to include it in the writeup because I thought the image of our battered heroes driving down a dark and lonely road made for a better ending. A scene of Mike stuffing candlesticks and silverware down his trousers didn't really fit the mood I was going for. ;-)

  6. @NUKLUK

    Thanks for the kind words; I'm glad you enjoyed it!