Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hourglass of the Silver Sands: Session 2

STARRING:

Zenith Joanna as Mara, Travelling Monk
Jon C as Spectre, Sorcerer Supreme
Jules as Whisper, Master Thief
Bill as Isandlwana, Travelling Matchmaker

Game Mastered by Krzyś

Release Date: 12th of November 2009



The gun shots reverberate throughout the town and are heard by a figure just on the outskirts of Daiyu. Mara, clad in the attire of a wandering monk, led by a disturbing feeling enters the town. She has to force herself not to be overwhelmed by the utterly disgusting sensation of walking through the town's air. She takes out her flute and begins to play on it to ease her nerves.

The music reaches the ears of Spectre and Isandlwana, who stop in their tracks to see where it comes from. Spectre opens his sight to the flows of Essence but cannot see anything out of the ordinary about the person. Mara comes closer to what appears as a hostage situation while the two Solars wait for what seems like an Immaculate Monk to reach them.

Meanwhile, a shadowy figure climbs up the mayor's house. He peeks into a room situated at the back of the building and finds the mayor praying over an altar in his study. He silently opens the window, walks towards the man and hits him in the head with the back of his sword. The mayor collapses with his head in the sand on the silver altar.

Whisper ties the man up and inspects the room. He finds a book with ancient symbols on it. Recalling such items can get you a nice price, he takes it with him and looks at the altar. It is made entirely of silver, two candles on each side and in the middle a bowl with the same ancient symbols drawn around it. The inner layer of it is made of silver on which sand has been put. He takes the bowl with him before looking into the desk's drawers. Within he finds a strange object, a cross between a hammer and a chain, and other torture weapons. Satisfied with his search, he wakes up the mayor and attempts to scare him with the prospect of torture but his nerves appear stronger than that of a regular person.

Outside, Isandlwana and Spectre confirm that Mara isn't an Immaculate Monk. They explain the situation and call for the mayor's attention. After not getting any reply they decide to enter but Spectre stops them to say that there is a ward in place that would go off if they were to cross the threshold. They go inside regardless.

Whisper hears a door creak at the other end of the corridor. He goes to look, after his eyes adjust to the darkness he sees a slender girl with the tail and pincers of a scorpion. He follows her as she walks towards the stairs leading down and hides on the ceiling above them.

Downstairs, the Exalts go inside. They grab the nearest oil lamp they can find and lit it. When asked, the sheriff tells them the mayor should be upstairs and the Exalts can hear the fear in his voice. They tell him to lead the way, followed by Isandlwana's prodding firewand and the other two Lawgivers. They manage to reach half the way up when a giant scorpion's tail pierces through the sheriff's body. Isandlwana jumps back, Mara shoots an arrow that turns into pure light, illuminating their surroundings for an instant before hitting the unholy creature. The firewand is raised up, a shot is given but the creature moves to the side. Seeing an opening, Whisper leaps forward, spinning through the air with both of his swords drawn. He lunges the blades through the monstrosity and into the ceiling, allowing him to stand on it.

Dropping to the stairs, he pulls his swords out of the wood. The body falls down. Spectre realises that this creature is not a spirit but a halfbreed of human and demon. The girl's last words are a terrifying shriek. Whisper rans back to the mayor, Isandlwana and Mara follow him while Spectre casually walks behind them.

When they reach the room with the mayor still tied up, Mara goes into a frenzy. She takes out her orichalcum direchain and smashes the altar with it. A dozen or so shrieks can be heard from outside all around them. Whisper goes to the window but sees nothing, Isandlwana jumps out and grabs the roof's ledge. Spectre enters the room only to see a creature much like the one before, a half-man, half-scorpion of twice the size of a human being, materialising before his very eyes.



I thought this game session would be a purely combat heavy game. As it turned out, the addition of two more Player Characters changed that and added more investigation and Player-to-Player interaction.

We also had to retcon the previous session's ending due to Nadjib not joining us. We just had Velvet Fist left at the inn guarding the deputies. It's easier than having to run a character without a sheet.

The combat that did result was very fast, as Joanna rightfully noticed. The enemy was on the level of one of the characters and against a Zenith and a sneak attack from the Night, it had little chances avoiding being killed. I was mainly hoping to poison someone, but it didn't work out. Happens...

I'm pretty happy with how this session went. The only thing that didn't work out was communication between me and Joanna. Using British Sign Language alphabet isn't working so I had to write a lot and fortunately, the other players helped repeating my words to Joanna because my accent makes it harder to read my lips. I will just write a lot and use a pen this time, I have no idea why I kept using the pencil...

Next session I'll try to get a grid map or just blank sheets of paper to draw the map of the area. I'd like the combat here to be really epic and I do expect a lot of questions as to who is where and how far. A map usually helps a lot in those cases...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Hourglass of the Silver Sands: Session 1

STARRING:

Nadjib as Velvet Fist, Ex-Prostitute Martial Arts Mistress
Jon C as Spectre, Sorcerer Supreme
Bill as Isandlwana, Travelling Matchmaker

Game Mastered by Krzyś

Release Date: 5th of November 2009



The day started with Velvet Fist, Isandlwana, Spectre and their companions entering the town of Maret. They found it completely destroyed. The stench of death surrounded the whole place. There were bodies and dried blood on the streets and in the houses.

It was then that Velvet Fist found a man who did not die yet. She asked him who is responsible for this.

"The Whirlwind," were his last words.

Velvet Fist stood up and shouted out to the Heavens that he who is responsible for this massacre will be punished, then she took off towards where the trail led her. Her mentor followed her grudgingly.

In order to decipher how this tragedy came to be, Spectre examined the bodies while Isandlwana looked at the footprints left in the sand. She concluded that such footwork could belong to either a group of people of similar build or to one person possessing incredible speed. Spectre noted that many of the bodies where either cut with such a force that even bone shattered when the blade came through or cut several times in the blink of an eye. Other findings were that judging by their clothes, they were attacked at night, most likely two days ago, many tried to flee but they were also killed. Only their livestock was spared, whether by intent or having run away was unclear. Meanwhile, Isandlwana checked the trail leading out and into Maret to see how many travellers passed in the recent days, it seemed like only one person on horseback came in and left about two days ago.

Spectre tried to find if there is any specific pattern to the killings by putting rocks where the bodies were found. He noticed that the rocks vibrated and moved slightly when placed so he opened his eyes to the patterns of Essence. He saw that Maret was built on the crossing of powerful Dragon Lines. They have not been tapped but had a thin layer of silver sand on it.

The Lawgivers and their servants prepared a funeral pyre and as it burned, they set off to follow the trail going in the direction of a town about two days away.

On their journey they discussed what the motive behind this crime could be and speculated whether a geomantic plot was in operation. One that could perhaps change the nature of the energy flow, giving it a deathly taint, and if repeated at other important foci, it would be possible to achieve some large-scale sorcerous effect.

Fortunately for Velvet Fist, who had wandered off the trail, they caught up with her on their second day of travel. They reached the town of Daiyu when it shortly after nightfall. Spectre looked at the essence patterns within the town and noticed it was all covered in silver sand. Even the air itself had them floating around. He decided to look around Daiyu's perimeter while the other two went to warn the mayor of the slaughter.

When hearing the news of what happened to Maret, Isandlwana realised the man was feigning surprise. She was unable to draw any more information out of him. He did offer them to stay at the inn for the night, as a way of thanking them for the warning, but Isandlwana knew he merely wanted them to stay in one place. Confident in their ability to overcome the threat, they went to the inn.

On their way there, Velvet Fist made a speech to inform everyone of the faith of their neighbouring town and that they have nothing to fear for that tragedy won't be repeated here. An old lady raced out of a nearby house, shouting "Sun-born!" and pointing her finger at her. A man in his mid-years run out of the house soon after, apologising he took his mother back to the house. Velvet Fist knocked on their door, the man greeted her and apologised again, saying that his mother has become a little nuts in her old years. The sound of fists bashing the floor was coming from upstairs. After an unsuccessful attempt to seduce the man, Velvet Fist returned to accompany Isandlwana to the inn.

Meanwhile, Spectre's search proved slightly fruitless. There was no source to the unnatural silver sands, they merely seemed to have been put there by someone and slightly tainted the local Dragon Lines. The other thing he noticed was how the townsfolk were not alarmed by the presence of a strange robed figure walking through the night at all.

Ending his survey, he was nearly ambushed by a thug. Fortunately, his bodyguard was fast enough to knock him out before the thug had any chance to hurt Spectre. Spectre told his bodyguard to carry the man and they entered the inn with a very drunk (already!) friend. They sat down at the table occupied by the other Solars and began discussing what to do with him when he woke up.

Not long into the discussion, the place quieted as the law-enforcers entered. The sheriff ordered everyone to leave the premises but not the Solars. He demanded their arrest. He claimed they have attacked the man sitting next to them, hitting him unconscious and dragging all the way here. The Solars demanded witnesses, to which the sheriff replied he has more than enough and he can take the Exalts to them.

Impatient as they are, the sheriff's assistants reach for their flamepieces but they were too slow. The Sheriff found himself staring at the inside of Isandlwana's firewand while the rest stood there in silence. A shot was fired at Velvet Fist, who dodged out of the way with preternatural grace while Spectre turned the table on its side and hid behind it with his bodyguard.

Another shot was fired at the ceiling as Velvet Fist's sashes spun around the weapons, taking them away from their hands. The sheriff tried to grab the firewand in order to wrestle it out of Isandlwana's hands but instead she hit him with firedust hidden in her sleeve. She quickly took his gun and used it to put a display of fire-breathing in hopes they would mistake them for Terrestrials.

Having disarmed the entire watch, Spectre and his bodyguard escorted the law-enforcers. As they walked out, they noticed a lone sniper taking aim at them. Velvet Fist threw a fan at him but he crouched and she only hit the building. After the fan returned to her, Isandlwana reasoned with the man by using a firewand aimed at him and flamepieces aimed at his fellow officers. His weapon dropped to the ground shortly thereafter.

The Exalts decided it would be easier if Velvet Fist and Spectre's bodyguard were to stay behind with the sheriff's deputies while Spectre and Isandlwana set off to have words with the mayor.



It is strange how sessions go. I planned for the players to begin in Daiyu after having witnessed the atrocities committed at a town they previously visited. Before I finished saying the intro, the players started asking me questions about this town and the next thing I know, they are in that town investigating! If I were a more experienced storyteller, I would smack them for interrupting my story! That would teach them their place for sure!

As is, I had to improvise what actually happened there. In my infinite wisdom I even managed to confuse setting information: ley lines are actually called Dragon Lines (sorry Jon! as compensation I may not kill your character next session). I also noticed I should have given Jon some information on the magical properties of the setting, I think I confused him on how common Dragon Lines are.

I also thought there would be some deaths when the cops came in. Instead all I got is thinking they are misguided innocents and lots of disarming attempts. Next fight will be a lot more good vs evil.

Overall, I was quite happy how this birthday session ended up being.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Some Labyrinth Lord House Rules

I've not been gaming much of late, and my Call of Cthulhu campaign seems to have withered, hence the lack of updates. So I thought I'd instead share some ideas I had for a Labyrinth Lord game I was going to run, and still may one day if there's interest. Labyrinth Lord is more or less a clone of Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons, one of my preferred editions of the venerable game but even so, there are some bits I don't like so much, and these are my changes and additions.
  • Armour Class is flipped, so AC0 represents no armour at all and AC14 is as armoured as you get, which makes much more sense to me. Essentially, this means that at first level, a character's to-hit target number will be 10+AC. I won't go as far as a 3.Xe unified mechanic, but I like high rolls to be better, and the old add/subtract AC/to-hit system hurt my brain; I think THAC0 may be the main reason behind me abandoning AD&D 2e for other systems.
  • "Skills" are similarly amended to roll high, so an elf, for example, detects secret doors on a 5+ rather than a 1 or 2. Same probability, more sensible to my mind.
  • The Big d30 is an idea I've stolen from Jeff Rients. Once per session, each player may roll a d30 instead of the normal die, whether it be a d6 to discover a secret door, or a d20 in combat, or a damage die for a weapon or spell. It must be declared beforehand, and is not a reroll, and it cannot be used to roll for statistics or hit points. It also only replaces one die, so if a player wished to use the d30 on a 2d6 roll, they would instead roll 1d6+1d30.
  • Thief Skills are rolled on a d6 instead of a d100, mainly because I've never liked that d100 chart. I've converted the probabilities, which has led to a bit of fudging, but it's close enough. A thief can use The Big d30 for these rolls. As an aside, I subscribe to the school of thought which says that any character can attempt to pick a lock, or climb a wall, and so on, but only a thief can pick a lock without leaving signs of entry, or climb a sheer surface.



    Level PL FT PP MS CL H L
    1 6+ 6+ 6+ 6+ 2+ 6+ 5+
    2 6+ 6+ 5+ 5+ 2+ 6+ 5+
    3 5+ 6+ 5+ 5+ 2+ 6+ 4+
    4 5+ 6+ 5+ 5+ 2+ 5+ 4+
    5 5+ 5+ 5+ 5+ 2+ 5+ 4+
    6 4+ 4+ 4+ 4+ 2+ 5+ 3+
    7 4+ 4+ 4+ 4+ 2+ 4+ 3+
    8 3+ 3+ 3+ 3+ 2+ 4+ 3+
    9 2+ 3+ 3+ 3+ 2+ 3+ 3+
    10+ 2+ 2+ 2+ 2+ 2+ 2+ 2+



    PL is Pick Locks, FT is Find Traps, PP is Pick Pockets, MS is Move Silently, CL is Climb, H is Hide, L is Listen.

The latter is the change of which I'm most wary, since the probabilities have been changed; I don't think it breaks the game, although I do think it will change the way thieves work in play. Until I actually see it in action, I won't know for sure, so if anyone wants to use this (or any of the other bits) in their Labyrinth Lord or D&D games, and would like to let me know how it works out, I'd be grateful.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Yesterday

A modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenario set in the UK. First played 14th May 2009.

Characters:

Kevin Cooper. Ex-soldier. (Stephen R)
Claudia Henshaw. BBC World Service journalist. (Manoj A)
"Mad Frank" Nicholson. Financial consultant/journalist. (Ben F)
Christina Palmer. "Security advisor". (Jon D)
Winston Richards. London cabbie with the gift of the gab. (Ad T)
Archie Tanner. Ex-soldier and Stardust Investigations security guard. (David H)



With the Lamberley Creature sedated and restrained in the back of Frank's van, the team followed Stardust manager Haruki Maru over to the company's storage facility. There, Maru answered some of the investigators' questions about the organisation for which they worked, telling them that humanity itself was in danger from ravenous supernatural entities intent on its destruction, and that he was using the company to find out more about these entities, to discover their weaknesses, and find a way to defeat them. Even having seen the things they had, more than one of the team detected the merest hint of paranoia in the businessman's words, and perhaps sensing that, Maru took them to one of the storage lockers to show them the contents. Inside was a cryogenic tank within which was some kind of unusual insect-like thing almost as big as a man's head. Its size and unnatural number of limbs were disturbing enough, but the oddly expressive face, frozen in a state of palpable, intelligent, fury gave all among them cause to shiver. Returning the creature to the tank, Maru claimed that it had been found inside the head of a madman a few years beforehand. Following up, he then went on to explain the reason for his crusade.

In 1981, shortly after finishing university, Maru and some friends went travelling, stopping in Miami for a short visit to his sister Nanako, a local artist. Arriving at her flat, the group discovered that she was not in, and neighbours had not seen her in at least a couple of days, all of which was not a surprise for her brother, as Nanako had always been somewhat unreliable. With a shrug, young Haruki Maru left with his friends to enjoy some of the Miami nightlife. Returning the next day to find no change, the group managed to convince the building superintendent to let them into Nanako's home, and discovered that the artist had recently been engaged in a frenzy of activity, producing a series of paintings and sculptures all concerned with the same mysterious building or structure. Alessa Langley, one of Maru's friends, and an artist herself, could tell that much more creative energy and inspiration had been poured into these recent creations than any of Nanako's previous works. The group also found a telephone number for a local news reporter, and upon calling it discovered that he and Nanako had met in connection to a story he'd done about homeless children occupying Miami's abandoned Freedom Tower, a local landmark and a good match for the building depicted in Nanako's recent works.

The tower itself had been fenced off and the group discovered that it had been through a succession of owners, none of which had managed to do anything with the property. They also discovered that the architect killed himself soon after the building's completion, throwing himself off a balcony, seventy-eight metres above. At the tower itself, they noticed a scruffy-looking boy giving them suspicious glances and, once their wallets were lightened somewhat, found out that he was one of the street kids who had, up until about a year before, been using the tower as a shelter. The youngster revealed that no one had slept in the place in a while, after some of the children failed to wake up; with something approaching morbid pride, the boy claimed that the Devil himself had been stealing the souls of children while they slept, so the survivors had moved on to other places to bed down.

Maru and his friends were not convinced until a casual enquiry at the local county hospital confirmed that there were indeed a number of children in some sort of mysterious incurable coma, and that they had all been discovered in the Freedom Tower. The whole thing was suspicious and unnerving, and the group decided to break into the abandoned building and see for themselves what was going on, fearing that Nanako had come to harm. Arriving after nightfall, they sneaked in and began to explore, tip-toeing over fallen masonry, discarded food containers and mouldy reclaimed furniture. A strange cold breeze blew through the building, and the nervous among the group likened it to the breathing of some enormous creature, somehow all around them yet unseen. Aside from the breeze, and the sounds of the city outside, the building was silent, until a scraping sound from the basement suggested that something living occupied the building.

Venturing into the lower depths of the tower, the group discovered a series of sub-basements arranged in a loop, and it fell to the history student Stephen Hurst to notice that there seemed to be an unused, hidden, space underneath the centre of the building. Galvanised by this discovery, the friends set about looking for a way into this central space, at last discovering a hidden door opening into a cramped crawlspace. It was Eric Donald, the brash young comedian, who volunteered to go first, scrambling into a large open area, just as his torch flickered and died. A small panic broke out, until Eric took off his jacket and using some paraffin, lit it, providing just enough light with which to explore the room, as Maru and his friend Austen followed. The chamber had all the appearance of a church or ancient temple, a triumph of architecture gone to waste hidden underground away from the eyes of man. In the centre of the vast room, set into the stone floor, was a reflective black ring about two metres in diameter, and in the centre of that sat a hunched humanoid figure clad in filthy grey rags.

Figuring that this was the lost Nanako, Eric walked over and put a hand on the figure's bony, far too thin, shoulder. It turned, revealing itself to be an impossibly old man, withered as if all life had been drained from his body. Despite the wretch's appearance, he proved to be fast on his feet and leaped for Eric, arms outstretched. Another wave of panic washed over the group as Maru produced, and fired, a revolver and a small melee ensued, during which the old man doubled over and began to retch. Those in the chamber stared, wide-eyed as a grey formless sludge erupted from the man's nose and mouth, falling in an unending stream to the stone floor, then beginning to bubble and writhe. As the mass grew far beyond what could have been held within the man's body, it also began to form itself into some kind of nightmarish living shape, spikes and tentacles emerging and melting away even as the friends watched. Then a set of three oily black eyes opened in the mass and looked back at them.

Maru remembered nothing after that, until he woke a couple of days later, back at Nanako's flat. Two of his friends were missing, never to be found, and Nanako too never returned home.

"And that," said a haggard-looking Haruki Maru, back in the modern day, "Is why we do what we do."



With this session, I knew I had to give the players something, some rationale for investigating the unknown, and some payoff for their adventures so far. For about three seconds I considered having Maru giving a speech about his "mission" but I chucked that out in favour of trying out a flashback idea I'd been kicking around for a while. I also had a new player joining, so running the session as a quasi-one-shot meant that if he decided not to come back, the narrative wouldn't be disrupted too much. All in all, I think the trick worked well, and everyone seemed surprised when I handed out new character sheets a quarter of the way into the session. I perhaps should have streamlined the flashback a bit, to make it more of a sequence of highlights rather than an scenario-within-a-scenario, but I also didn't want to railroad the players. This session also saw me running the game for six players, which seems to be just beyond my comfortable upper limit, and I think I lost control of the group a couple of times. Still, all in all it was another fun session, and a successful gaming experiment.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Lamberley Terror

A modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenario set in the UK. First played 30th April 2009.

Characters:

Kevin Cooper. Ex-soldier. (Stephen R)
Claudia Henshaw. BBC World Service journalist. (Manoj A)
"Mad Frank" Nicholson. Financial consultant. (Ben F)
Christina Palmer, "security advisor". (Jon D)



Three months passed, during which Kevin and Frank wandered, lost in a haze of insanity, and Claudia continued her researches into Stardust Investigations, before going on a sanity-soothing holiday to the United States. The team reunited at the Stardust offices, where Haruki Maru asked them to investigate reports of unusual animal attacks in the small Sussex village of Lamberley. He suspected tabloid hyperbole, but requested that the group investigate just in case. They were also introduced to Christina Palmer, a new employee who was on her first job for the company.

The team set about researching the village, finding a small number of notable mentions through the years. The village manor house, Lamberley Hall, had a long history, including use as a prison during the Civil War, and was known as having one of the finest non-academic libraries in the country; Frank's interest was piqued by this titbit. They also discovered that there were reports of a "vampire" plaguing the village in 1896, reports somewhat similar to the latest wave of attacks, as well as sightings of a large grey canine creature across Sussex, including near Lamberley, in 1939. The investigators also got hold of a map of the village and Cooper began to plot the attacks and sightings, hoping to find a pattern; looking at the map, Frank saw what he was sure was the Yellow Sign in the shape of the village, and became quite disturbed, certain that the settlement had some connection to Hastur and the King in Yellow.

After a couple of hours putting together an inventory of investigative equipment, the team headed down to Sussex in Frank's van. Arriving at the village, they split up, with Frank and Christina going to Lamberley Hall to investigate the library, and Claudia and Kevin going to interview the victims of the attacks. At the manor, Frank and Christina considered joining an official tour of the house, but instead made their own way to the library; on the way, the young "security advisor" noticed that one of the windows had been sealed with electrical tape, and taking a closer look, noted that it had recently been forced open and the connection to the alarm system cut. In the library, Frank found a copy of The King in Yellow on one of the shelves, which he then attempted to take, drawing disapproval from the security staff. While Frank caused a distraction with his strange behaviour, Christina palmed the book (which looked like Crop Rotation in the Sixteenth Century to her) into a fold of her jacket and then left the building.

Meanwhile, the soldier and the journalist interviewed two of the recent attack victims. They assembled a rough picture of the creature, literally in Claudia's case as she got out her art materials, and also found out some local gossip, including the recent tragic death of a local girl, Lucy Elton, from some unknown ailment. They were unable to meet with the third witness/victim, so decided to return the next day, meeting up with their colleagues at the village pub, where they managed to secure a room for the night. At the pub, they compared notes, Frank displayed his find (which looked like Crop Rotation in the Sixteenth Century to everyone else), and Cooper noticed a man at the bar watching them. Heading over for a casual chat, the ex-soldier discovered that the fellow was over from the US investigating the animal attacks for his website, cryptoquest.com; he became quite interested when he discovered that the group were also on the same trail, and he and Cooper made a tentative agreement to share information.

The next day, the investigators travelled just north of the village to visit the last of the witnesses, a farmer who had seen something fast and grey bothering his sheep. His recollections backed up those of the other witnesses, and he also showed them the remains of one of his animals, which he had been keeping in order to show his insurance agents. By all appearances, the poor creature had been torn apart by something much larger and more ferocious than the local fauna. Farmer Myles also confirmed the story of Lucy Elton's death, but could not understand why the team were so interested.

Cooper sensed a connection between the attacks and the deceased Elton daughter, and suspected the father of dark dealings. The group then went to Elton's house for an interview, finding the man a distraught emotional wreck. As Claudia And Kevin sat down with Elton, Frank and Christina sneaked off to investigate his home, the former searching the kitchen and garden, while the latter looked upstairs. Christina found a large number of prescription sedatives in the bathroom, a pristine child's bedroom that had all the feel of a shrine, and a bundle of photocopied sheets in an unknown language (Frank later confirmed it as mediaeval Latin) under the bed in the master bedroom. Downstairs, Frank raided the kitchen for something edible, then wandered into the garden, discovering a heavy padlock on the shed. Curiosity got the better of the unsettled financial consultant and he managed to wrench the lock off the door before shuffling inside. It seemed like a pretty normal shed until Frank noticed an area of disturbed earth in one corner, and, getting on his knees, he dug up the ground with his bare hands. In a shallow grave Frank found Mr Twinkles, the missing cat of one of the witnesses interviewed the day before, and deciding that the dead animal was an important clue, stuffed its chewed remains into his rucksack.

The team then left Elton's home and conferred on the next course of action. With the evidence they'd found, and Cooper's dark suspicions, they decided to return and confront the man. Accusing him of corruption, sorcery and other misdeeds, the group managed to break through Elton's haze of misery and he broke down and revealed some of what had been going on, although the grisly details were far from clear. He told them that "she" had "come back" but "wasn't right" and agreed to take the investigators to her. Elton led the team to the woods just outside the village, but Cooper's new phobia of trees paralysed him, and the rest of the group had to venture forth without their most effective fighter.

In a clearing at the heart of the woods, the group discovered the secret Elton had been hiding as they saw a monstrous figure lashed to a tree with ropes. It had a vague humanoid shape, but its limbs were long and thin, its skin was grey, and its head was misshapen and distended; despite the deformities, it did have the recognisable look of a human child. By this point, Elton had collapsed to his knees, his mind gone once more, and his ramblings seemed to suggest that the creature was indeed his daughter, somehow back from the dead. The investigators decided to take both Elton and his daughter back to headquarters, but nervous of tackling the creature without sufficient combat abilities, they went to fetch the waiting Cooper. Gathering his courage, the ex-soldier put his fears aside and went into the trees to see the thing for himself.

In short order, the creature was sedated, and both it and Elton were restrained and bundled into Frank's van for the trip back to London. There they were met by Maru, who, impressed with their success, agreed to allow the team to accompany him as he took the creature to Stardust's storage facility...



A bit of a scrappy one this, as I'd prepared two main plots, but due to the loss of a player, I had to drop the storyline centred on his character and hastily bulk up the other to compensate. It seemed to work, although the joins were obvious from my side of the Keeper's screen. I think the players were a bit surprised by how relatively sedate the scenario was, with no major sanity loss, and the "big" monster trussed up before their arrival, and may have suspected that I was being soft on them following the harsh ending of the previous scenario; however, their success came about mainly as a result of their actions during the investigation and the order in which they did key actions. Had they done things in a different way, they were unlikely to have had such an easy ride. All that said, there were some surprises in the dropped plot, but nothing too huge. I'm not sure if the players were surprised that their request to see Stardust's storage facility was accepted, but I enjoyed seeing them be proactive in their plans, as I've been trying to steer the campaign in a more sandbox-style direction; I think we're all keen to see what happens when they get to the facility.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Why I Don't Use Published Scenarios

As we were packing up after my most recent Cthulhu game, I blurted out, for some reason I forget now, that I'm not using any pre-published materials in the campaign. Stephen asked me why, and I gave a rushed and garbled reason. Since then, I've been thinking about it a bit more, and I thought I'd put it in writing, since that's what blogs are for, after all.

I told Stephen that I don't use published Call of Cthulhu scenarios because most of them are "rubbish", and that one of the regular players has read or run most of them anyway. The latter is more or less accurate, but I at once regretted my sweeping statement about the quality of the scenarios.

A big problem with most published CoC scenarios is that they follow a pretty standard format. The players are called in, they do some investigating, then BAM! they run into some big wibbly thing from beyond space, usually a Great Old One or Outer God. Back in my first run as a CoC GM, I had one book, The Stars Are Right!, which was a bundle of six or seven adventures, all but two of which involved such large scale threats. Azathoth turns up at the end of one of them, for crying out loud! Now this mimics Lovecraft's fiction quite well, as Randolph Carter aside, he wasn't very interested in continuing characters and ongoing narratives. That's not so good for a campaign, though, especially if you want a slower, more subtle curve from blissful ignorance to full cosmic horror.

A related problem is that there is often little invention involved in the published adventures. The entities encountered are almost always straight from the rulebook or one of the stories, which is nice and authentic, but causes disappointment at the table when you go to lots of effort to describe the strange sound of flapping alien wings, just so one of the players can go "Oh, it's a byakhee; these are easy to kill!" Yes, you could change the entities encountered, but in the well-written scenarios, things are tied together in such a way that swapping Y'Golonac out for some minor servitor would make nonsense of the story, which would require a total rewrite, which would make using a published scenario pointless. As for the weaker scenarios, there's no reason to use them in the first place.

So that's why I'm writing my own scenarios for the current campaign. It means that I'm in full control of the pace of revelation, which is what CoC is about, after all. I've also tried to steer clear of using the iconic monsters, or at least to avoid using them in obvious ways, so as to keep both newcomers and veterans speculating on just what that is crawling around on the roof. All in all, it seems to be working out well so far.

All that said, it is only fair to give credit where it is due, and a lot of the published adventures are quite good. The campaigns are also, for the most part, strong pieces of work, and their pacing is much more to my liking. I don't discount their use in the future, but I can't do much with them at this point, and to be honest, I'm having lots of fun writing my own stuff.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Walk Without Rhythm

A modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenario set in the UK. First played 13th April 2009.

Characters:

Kevin Cooper. Ex-soldier. (Stephen R)
Toby Greenberg. Motorbike-riding rabbi. (Rich R)
"Mad Frank" Nicholson. Financial consultant. (Ben F)
Winston Richards. London cabbie with the gift of the gab. (Ad T)



Frank and Toby, undaunted by their previous experiences, returned to Stardust Investigations when the office called about a new job. There they met two new employees, an ex-soldier from Scotland, and a local cab driver, each with their own reasons to investigate the unexplained. The four quickly introduced themselves to each other, then headed in to find out more about the latest mystery.

They were introduced to two men in sharp but unfashionable suits; the pair were quite different, one short, rotund and largely silent, the other tall, slim and chatty, but there were some distinctive similarities, and the team concluded that the two were brothers. This was confirmed as the taller fellow, David Wilson, told their story. He and his brother Scott were "in the import business", he said, and they had recently come into possession of a strange statue that they were unable to sell, because it made people feel "strange". Worse, their night-time security guard, Dave, went missing a couple of days after they took delivery of the item. For various ill-explained reasons, the brothers could not go to the police, so instead approached Stardust to find out more about the statue, whether it could be sold on, and what had happened to Dave.

Arriving at the brothers' warehouse, the team discovered that the statue was in fact some kind of decorated pillar, carved with an unusual sequence of symbols, which may or may not have been a form of writing. Studying it further, they found that it was heavy, and surprisingly free of erosion and wear. Indeed, an attempt by the soldier to mark the pillar using his combat knife resulted in complete failure. Cooper also discovered a small brown stain or smudge on the pillar, and scraped off a sample for analysis at Stardust's laboratory. Meanwhile, Frank and Toby took a more scholarly approach, and after comparing notes, identified an early Mediterranean, perhaps Greek, style to the carving, although the symbols remained obscure in meaning.

On a considerably stranger note, the investigators began to notice unusual phenomena occurring around the pillar. Cooper, initially wary of radioactivity, felt a prickly itching on his back and neck, almost like sunburn, while the financial consultant and the rabbi felt as if they were being watched, a sensation that almost pushed Frank over the edge, as he began a frantic search of the warehouse, convinced that he was being followed. Pulling themselves together, the investigators stepped away from the pillar and out into the afternoon sunshine, and the eerie feelings subsided.

They decided to head over to see "Nick the Greek", the man who sold the pillar to the brothers in the first place, but found his warehouse locked up. Assuming that he'd gone home for the day, the investigators instead went to security man Dave Morris' home to look for clues. He lived in a small flat above the Dog & Bastard pub, a gloomy and forbidding place, but one in which Winston Richards felt right at home, and he soon discovered that not only did the barman have a spare key to the flat, but convinced the fellow to loan it to the investigators for a short while. Upstairs, they found the place a mess, but not unusually so. They discovered a set of football boots covered in dried mud, and deduced that Dave was a large man; they found some other information pointing to his role in a Sunday league football team, and briefly followed that lead by telephoning a couple of his team-mates, discovering that on the day he disappeared, Dave was in high spirits and seemed quite normal. The investigators also found enough personal information for Richards again to bluff his way to discovering some of Morris' medical history, including his blood type. At that point, the team decided to turn in for the day.

The next morning, Toby and Frank went to the British Museum to visit Professor James Hutchinson, an expert on early Greek carving, and showing him a series of pictures of the pillar they'd taken the day before, easily convinced the scholar to follow them back to the lock-up for a closer look. Hutchinson was quite excited by the pillar and set to immediate work analysing it.

Meanwhile, Cooper and Richards went back to Nick's warehouse, and found it still closed. Noticing a video shop directly opposite, they asked the teenager behind the counter if he'd seen anything of Nick of late, and the boy confirmed that he'd spotted him a couple of days previously, when a large man in a dark blue hooded sweatshirt had visited the warehouse. Nick took the man inside, and about ten minutes later the man left, but the boy didn't notice Nick leaving. After answering a call from Stardust HQ confirming that the stain on the pillar was blood, and that it matched Dave's type, the pair headed back across the road and forced the rear door. Inside, they were immediately assaulted by a putrid rotting smell, which got worse as they approached the main office. Covering their faces, they made a quick search for any evidence of the pillar's origins, and while they found a record of its delivery to the Wilson brothers, they found nothing about how Nick obtained it. They also noticed that one of the desks had been moved, and that there was a significant amount of dried mud on the surface, as if someone had stood on it in dirty boots...

Back at the Wilsons' Hutchinson reported the surprising news that the pillar was made of a substance he'd never encountered before in all his time working with stone. He also couldn't decipher the symbols, but confirmed that the general style of the piece was early Mediterranean. At that moment, they heard David Wilson outside, with considerable surprise in his voice, exclaim "Dave!"

Hopping up on the desk, Cooper nudged aside one of the office's ceiling tiles, and discovered a bloated and decayed body stuffed in the cavity. Assuming that they had found Nick, Cooper and Richards were deciding what to do next when Frank telephoned and told them that Dave had returned. Pausing only briefly to make an anonymous call reporting Nick's death to the police, the soldier and the cabbie jumped in the car and raced off back to the Wilsons' place.

Dave Morris shambled clumsily towards the Wilsons' warehouse, putting the investigators on guard, and to everyone's surprise engaged David Wilson in an attempt to buy the pillar. His speech was slurred, and he ignored any discussion of anything other than the item; to Greenberg's eye, Morris seemed as if he were half-asleep or even drugged. Wilson attempted to stall Morris, but the latter became more and more insistent, eventually becoming physically rough with his employer. At this point, Frank and Toby leaped into action, but were interrupted by a wail from behind, as Hutchinson came running out of the warehouse, swinging a crowbar, and with an insane gleam in his eyes!

A brawl ensued, with the professor getting in a number of heavy strikes with the crowbar, and Morris continuing to prove a threat. The timely arrival of Cooper and Richards helped to swing things back in the investigators' favour, and the scholar was subdued, but not before giving everyone a bruising. The group quickly made a plan and told Morris that they would sell the pillar to him; he immediately turned around and stumbled off, apparently to deliver the message to the "buyer". Frank set off in pursuit, while the rest of the team borrowed a rifle and a shotgun from a "special delivery" the Wilson brothers had been looking after.

Rushing after Frank, the team followed Morris back to a rough area of town, and a crumbling Victorian terraced house. Sneaking in behind Dave, the investigators started to search the building, finding nothing in the front room other than a mouldy sofa and a few pigeons; however, the smell of wet earth was strong everywhere. Greenberg felt a pressure on his mind, as he had once before in Ipswich, and began to worry as the team entered another room and found Morris meeting with a large figure in a dark blue hoodie. Sensing danger, the investigators attempted to end the meeting without conflict, but the hooded man lifted his arm to reveal that his "hand" was in fact a bundle of slugs, worms and other unsavoury creatures, the sight of which shook the team's sanity.

A fight then broke out, with Frank and Cooper opening fire on the hooded figure, and Richards attempting to subdue Dave. They discovered that whatever the thing in the hood was, it was rather resistant to firearms, with each strike spattering all kinds of nastiness against the walls, but otherwise having little effect on the thing. Then it drew back its hood, to reveal that its entire body was made up of this oozing, shifting mass of vermin, a confirmation which snapped the investigators' already battered minds. In a haze of madness, Richards snapped poor Dave's neck, and the rabbi found himself drawn to the monster, feeling some kind of kinship with it, and stumbling into Mad Frank's increasingly erratic firing line. Eventually, the monster fell, but Greenberg was badly hurt, and the entire team was insane, going their separate ways as they fled into the night.



An interesting session this, as I had two new players and two veterans, and the split was quite obvious. Frank and Toby were played as having some definite hangups based on their previous experiences, and even though Stephen and Ad were not new to Call of Cthulhu, they did a great job of playing their characters as being unused to such strangeness.

The two halves of the group also separated for the middle bit of the investigation, something which worried me at the time, as it's always difficult to juggle a split party, but I decided to play it on the fly as a series of mini-cliffhangers, so that when one group was just about to achieve or discover something, I'd switch to the others, and so on. I think it worked well enough, especially when things started to go wrong.

Speaking of which, the end of the scenario came as a shock, as the players all rolled quite poorly for Sanity loss, each one of them going indefinitely insane (three months for everyone except Toby Greenberg, who's out for six!). That's not something I've seen in all my years playing or running the game, even during Horror on the Orient Express. The players all approached their characters' insanity in unique and interesting ways, with the standout being Greenberg's vision of the worm-thing as some kind of symbol that God had forgiven him for the murder of a young woman in the previous scenario. I can't wait to see where the character goes now. I also heartily approve of Mad Frank's decreasing sanity manifesting as a type of Rambo-like crusade against the Mythos; I can definitely see him running into a Deep One nest wearing a belt of C4.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Fight On! #4

Fight On! is a magazine for fans of "old school" Dungeons and Dragons, presenting articles, house rules and full scenarios; there's even some campaign setting stuff in there, including a mega-dungeon presented one level per issue.Fight On! #4 There's a particular focus on Original D&D, but there are enough similarities between the various versions of the game that the contents of the magazine are useful for any edition up to 3rd, and even that's probably workable. And of course, the contents are fully compatible with newer retro-cones such as Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry.

Anyway, it's a solid magazine that's improved with every issue, and to me it feels a little bit like White Dwarf before that publication turned into a miniatures catalogue; Fight On! has that same sense of enthusiasm and creativity that made WD such fun. Like the older magazine, not every article is a winner, but there's so much content that the individual GM is bound to find something of use in its expansive 100 pages.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I have some art printed in this issue, but I'd recommend it even if I were not involved, and I've got no input into the first three issues, which are also well worth a look. You can buy it (and previous issues) in print form here, and a pdf edition will be released soon.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Unfilmable

A modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenario set in the UK. First played 19th February 2009.

Characters:

Claudia Henshaw. BBC World Service journalist. (Manoj A)
"Mad Frank" Nicholson. Financial consultant, circling the drain. (Ben F)



After the horror in Ipswich, the team spent time in therapy to try and deal with what they saw. Frank and Claudia were the first to return to active duty, and were assigned to investigate a potential case of spontaneous human combustion reported by the fire investigator working out of the Blackwall station in south-east London. The pair headed over to meet with the investigator, and he took them to the scene, explaining that he wanted them to see everything for themselves before he told them what he thought was going on. The "incident" occurred the day before, in the late morning; neighbours heard a long, piercing scream from the flat in question, tried to gain entry, and upon failing, called the police, who then called the fire brigade.

Claudia and Frank entered a small flat, which showed the signs of a lonely man down on his luck. In the bedroom they discovered a notebook full of ideas, marking the flat's owner as a creative type; Claudia's knowledge of psychology led her to suggest that the individual's creativity was often frustrated. In the living room, they found a vast collection of films, mostly of the horror and suspense genres, and a small library of books on film history and theory. One section was made up of the output of one director, a Terence Masters, who Frank recognised as a fairly prolific maker of horror films in the 60's and 70's.

In the kitchen, the pair discovered a human body curled up in one corner. Although the sight and smell were disgusting, both investigators were hardened after their experiences in Ipswich, and were barely affected. The body was a shrivelled husk, apparently burned in a great heat, but there was no sign of burning anywhere else in the flat, and even the corpse's clothes were whole and undamaged. Claudia and Frank headed back out to chat to the fire investigator, who confirmed Masters' identity and their findings, and expressed his dislike for the spontaneous human combustion phenomenon; it was something they could not deny, but nor could they explain it, and his hope was that the investigators from Stardust would be able to help. He suggested that Claudia and Frank head over to the post-mortem examination, which he had booked and ready pending their investigation of the scene.

The pair then went to see the coroner, who expressed an immediate dislike for them, calling them "charlatans" and "faux psychics", but Claudia turned on the charm and went some way to softening him up. The examination revealed that despite appearances, the body was not burned at all, and rather that it had been subjected to rapid and intense desiccation; if he didn't know the body was new, the coroner would have said it was some kind of mummy pulled from an ancient tomb.

Claudia and Frank then hit the books, and their research turned up two further cases of similar deaths, both in the past year. One was an actor, and another a retired cameraman, and both had worked with Masters on an unreleased 1968 horror film called Curse of the Sign. Digging further, the pair discovered that the film had a reputation as being cursed, and that almost everyone involved in the production had died; certain deaths and accidents during the production period led to the company destroying all existing prints of the film, leading it to pass into fan legend. The investigators pulled two names from their researches: Udo Bellinger, a film enthusiast who saw the unfinished film in a pre-screening in 1968, and Belinda Irons, the lead actor in the production.

Bellinger was by now independently wealthy and spending most of his time on the renovation of the famous vintage cinema in the Hobb's End area of London. Frank became sick at discovering this, as the Hobb's End swimming pool was the scene of his encounter with some bloated malformed creature which ended with the death of his friend; the team passed by the blackened remains of the famous building on the way to the cinema, and Frank's composure was shattered. Arriving at the cinema, the pair gained an interview with Bellinger, and while Frank turned to tea and cakes to soothe his frayed nerves. Bellinger confirmed that he had seen the film, and described it as an intense and disturbing experience that he had no wish to repeat. He briefly sketched out the plot as he remembered it, but explained that many of the details were obscured in his mind.

(He describes an abbreviated version of The King in Yellow.)

Bellinger knew that Belinda Irons retired to Exmoor, where she had become a recluse due to failing mental health, or so the rumours claimed. Bellinger hadn't seen her in person for at least five years. Figuring that someone was trying to kill off anyone involved with the production of Curse of the Sign, Claudia and Frank made plans to head out to Exmoor the next day. They procured a van from Stardust, and spent the morning driving over to Exeter, where they tried to track down Irons' address. They found a rough location, but no exact address, so went to a pub in the area to find out more. Perhaps through luck, perhaps through charm, or perhaps through Frank buying and eating most of the pub's menu, the publican was amenable to the investigator's questions and confirmed that Irons lived just a few miles up the road. Claudia and Frank decided to head over in the morning, and secured a room at a local hotel.

The next day, the pair headed up to see Irons, who turned out not only to be exceedingly paranoid, but armed with a shotgun. The investigators managed to convince the ageing actress that they were of no threat to her and managed to get inside the house, where Irons provided them with tea, coffee and sandwiches, while also keeping them at a distance, shotgun loaded and at hand. During a scattered and confusing conversation, Frank and Claudia came to the conclusion that Irons had a copy of the film, but could not convince her that ownership put her life in danger. The actress became increasingly irritable, but the pair didn't want to leave quite yet, so formed a plan. Frank attempted to distract Irons, while Claudia pretended to leave, instead circling around to get into a position from which to disarm her.

Claudia leaped, and got into a struggle with Irons. The gun went off once, missing everything except the ceiling, and the two women continued to wrestle, until the second barrel fired straight into Claudia's guts, flinging her across the room. Frank entered the fray them, knocking Irons to the ground as she attempted to reload, and retrieving the weapon. Frank quickly applied first aid to Claudia's wound, going some way to stop the bleeding, then called the police and an ambulance. Then, pretending that he'd reloaded the gun, he gave it to Claudia then made a quick search of the house and found a strongbox in the attic in which, wrapped in heavy blankets and curtains, he found an old film canister containing Curse of the Sign. Also finding a small projector elsewhere in the house, Frank chucked both in the van and awaited the emergency services.

Frank and Irons were taken into custody, and Claudia was rushed to hospital. Over the next couple of days, the investigators' stories were confirmed and they were released from the enquiry, Claudia convincing the hospital that she was well enough to travel and check in for treatment at home. Instead, they returned to their hotel, set up the projector in their room, and watched the film, with Claudia making a digital copy.

(The film was a fairly faithful adaptation of The King in Yellow, and the opening credits featured the Yellow Sign, in a Thing style burn-through effect. Frank became quite affected by the viewing, and watched it a second time while Claudia retired to bed.)

Frank tried to convince Claudia to watch the film again with him, as he was certain that it contained some kind of truth, but the journalist was unconvinced; as they argued, Frank's mobile rang, and an Officer Gibson asked if the pair were available to go to Irons' house so that they could put some final details together. Sensing a trap, the pair took the film to Exeter train station and secured it in a luggage locker, while Claudia called the police station to confirm that there was in fact an Officer Gibson, and that he was involved in the investigation at Irons' house. Satisfied, they returned to the moors.

Arriving, they found a police car and a forensics van parked outside, the house lights on, and the front door ajar. Calling and knocking produced no response, and Frank became jittery, deciding to return to the van and the waiting Claudia. Just as he was opening the door, something large slammed into the side of the van, but Frank refused to look around, and jumped into the driving seat. Frank slammed the van into gear and sped down the drive, and a confusing and panicked series of events occurred. Shots rang out, Frank was hit and a number of dog-like creatures assaulted the vehicle, and while Frank crushed at least two below the wheels of the van, he eventually lost control, and it ground to a halt in the scrubland to the side of the driveway.

The pair climbed out of the van, sensing their demise at the jaws of whatever these dog things were, and were hailed by a man's voice from somewhere in the scrub; Frank recognised the voice as "Officer Gibson", but could not place its point of origin. A tense discussion followed in which it became clear that the voice wanted the film destroyed, and nothing more than that, and the investigators managed to convince him that they had the only copy and that they would be happy to have it destroyed. At this, the owner of the voice stepped out from his hiding place and introduced himself as Thomas Church. A dishevelled man with a manic look, Church seemed to be an investigator like Claudia and Frank who had been tipped over the edge by his discoveries; he was aware of Stardust Investigations, and had even heard of the incident at the Hobb's End swimming baths.

Achieving a sort of cease fire, the pair took Church to the train station, and gave him the film canister. A look of great relief passed over the man, then he took out a bottle of some sort of paraffin, poured it over himself and the film, and set himself on fire. He burned in complete silence, and by the time anyone was able to put out the flames, Thomas Church was dead. Claudia and Frank were taken in for questioning once more, but claimed they had been kidnapped at gunpoint by Church, a story supported by the illegal handgun he carried, and the CCTV footage from the train station backed their story of suicide.

The pair then returned home, shaken and disturbed yet again, and clutching Claudia's DVD copy of Curse of the Sign, unsure of whether to report it to the management at Stardust Investigations.



Yep, this scenario is indeed named after the movie forum at yog-sothoth.com. "The Unfilmable" was a nice fit for a story about a cursed film, so I just had to use it.
This scenario saw me use the critical wounds table from BRP for the first time. I'd been wanting to use this for a while, as the collection of mental and physical scars is part of the fun of the game for me; the CoC equivalent of experience points and +1 swords. Claudia only just survived an instant kill from the crazy lady's shotgun blast, but got away with massive organ damage instead, reducing her CON and Move by two points.

In Heaven, Everything is Fine

A modern-day Call of Cthulhu scenario set in the UK. First played 5th February 2009.

Characters:

Dewi Evans. Professional rugby player. (Tony)
Toby Greenberg. Motorbike-riding rabbi. (Rich R)
Claudia Henshaw. BBC World Service journalist. (Manoj A)
Archie "Hacker" Lang. Ex-soldier and dustman. (Stuart F)
Frank Nicholson. Financial consultant. (Ben F)

Frank had been played in a previous scenario I had run, and as a result had developed a fear of water (particularly swimming pools). The rest of the characters were new, but each had a minor experience with the Mythos.



The characters had all responded to an advertisement for supernatural investigators posted by Stardust Investigations Ltd, based in London. They all arrived at the same time, and after a brief interlude for tea and biscuits, were introduced to the man who ran the company, a slim middle-aged Japanese fellow named Maru. He explained why they had been picked, what the job involved, and what they would get out of it; as well as financial rewards, the hope was that in discovering more about the supernatural in general, on behalf of the company, the individual investigators would come to better understand their personal experiences. All of the investigators agreed, although Evans was sceptical and Nicholson was reluctant to go any further without access to artillery. Maru stressed that the company would not assist them in any illegal acts, including the acquisition of firearms.

Their first job was to investigate a haunted flat on the Avalon housing estate in Ipswich, about two hours from London. They set about procuring ghost-hunting equipment such as cameras and night-vision gear, with Nicholson visiting libraries and bookshops to pick up anything he could find on exorcism and spirit contact, and the rabbi consulting his books for advice of exorcism. The rest of the group, armed with a list of names associated with the flat, began a ring-around. They discovered that the Avalon estate had been built on a Saxon burial site, and that a team from Cambridge University were forced to abandon their investigations of the site by Ipswich council, who wanted to build the homes as quickly as possible; the head of that dig was still annoyed by the events, even decades later, but confirmed that there was nothing unusual or untoward about the site, although his investigations were obviously incomplete.

They also spoke to some of the previous tenants. The Lund family were most helpful, describing a series of noises beginning almost immediately after they took up residence, strange smells, and most disturbing of all, finding that while asleep, they had been lifted out of their beds and moved towards the door of the flat. Another previous tenant, a somewhat famous writer, was unavailable, while the third proved to be very unhelpful, unwilling to recall her experiences in the flat. All of these tenants had lived in, and abandoned, the flat in the past six months; before that, a man named Ben Willis had lived there for years, but had disappeared without a trace, leading to the housing association attempting to find a new tenant, so far without success.

The group then headed up to the estate, finding it to be pretty typical. Claudia Henshaw documented the trip extensively with a camera, and it was through the camera's lens that she noted that the tower block containing the haunted flat seemed to be in better repair than the rest, with no obvious structural fatigue, graffiti, or other signs of urban decay. They went to the flat, finding it empty and clean, albeit with a slightly musty smell, and made a thorough investigation of its nooks and crannies. They attempted to set up their surveillance equipment, with little success at first, as none had the requisite training, and the instructions turned out to be in Korean. Eventually, by group effort and trial and error, they got their gear in place, and settled down for the night.

Almost immediately, the presence made itself known to them. The rabbi was tapped on the shoulder, only to find no one behind him, and shortly after, the team heard a slight squeaking sound coming from the bathroom. Investigating, they found that the words "GET OUT" had been written on the tiled wall in permanent marker. Greenberg was setting up an extra camera in the flat's airing/boiler cupboard when the door slammed hard on his back, leaving a nasty bruise, and Evans was hit on the shoulder by some thrown object; looking down he discovered that the object was in fact a dead, and quite decayed, pigeon. The team checked their surveillance footage and saw the writing appear on the wall, and the dead pigeon appear in mid air, but the cameras could not pick up the animating force.

Surmising that Willis was somehow still tied to the flat, the team attempted a sort of seance, setting up a rudimentary ouija board. They made contact, with the "spirit" spelling out "OPEN EYES"; the team responded to this by asking "whose eyes?". They heard squeaking again, and saw the word "YOURS" appear on the wall in front of them, again written in marker. They asked a few further questions, and eventually, the word "14E" appeared on the wall. The team were in flat 8E, and guessed that upstairs, they might find answers.

The door to 14E was opened by a twentysomething young woman, who did not look happy at being disturbed at ten at night by a bunch of strangers. Despite their eclectic appearance, the team managed to convince the woman that they were sent by the council to investigate a potential vermin problem, although Nicholson had started to become unhinged by this point, so it was considerably more difficult convincing the young lady to let them in, but succeed they did, although she warned them not to wake her baby. They discovered nothing untoward, until Nicholson saw a figure on the woman's television who did not belong in the programme she was watching; this unkempt hermit-like figure seemed to be waving directly at Frank, until the consultant touched the screen, and the man faded away.

As Frank started shouting about "the man in the telly", Henshaw tried a more forceful line of questioning and interrogated the young woman about what was going on. Meanwhile, Lang on a hunch headed to the baby's room, pickaxe in hand. The young woman threatened to call the police, and began to do so, until Nicholson tore the 'phone out of the wall. Entering the baby's room, Lang felt an immense force on his mind, pressing from the "outside", and something in him snapped. He ran screaming from the flat and into the corridor outside, on the way finding his perception of his surroundings changing from the tidy, well-managed building he saw before, to a crumbling nightmare of mould and concrete, with unnatural fleshy tentacles snaking along floor, walls and ceiling, all apparently coming from the baby's room.

The rest of the team saw the burly ex-soldier running from the room, but couldn't see what got him so riled. Evans followed Lang, while Henshaw and Greenberg went into the baby's room, and Nicholson continued to threaten the young mother. The journalist and the rabbi were suddenly overcome with a desire to protect the woman, and a chaotic struggle between the members of the group began, as Nicholson entered into a flailing fistfight with the young woman, earning himself the name "Mad Frank", and Henshaw and Greenberg tried to contain him. Outside, Lang heard footsteps echoing up the stairs, while Evans continued to try and comfort the ex-soldier; scrambling up the stairwell came a pair of emaciated figures, a woman and an old man, both emaciated and sickly-looking. Both had a sinewy, throbbing tentacle wrapped around their shoulders and neck, apparently trailing away back into the baby's room, and the tip thrust into a facial orifice; in the man's case, this was his ear, but the woman had the thing inserted into an eye socket. These two leaped to attack Lang while more footsteps could be heard below.

There followed a desperate struggle as the team found themselves fighting each other and the new arrivals. One by one, the investigators came to see the actual reality of the situation, all except Henshaw, who remained convinced that the baby needed to be saved from her apparently insane companions, and ran from the flat with it clutched in her arms. Eventually, the rugby player snatched the baby-thing from Henshaw, and Lang subdued the journalist, leaving Evans to do the final, dirty work.

With the death of the creature, the alternate reality faded away, and Henshaw saw the truth. The investigators found the rest of the building's tenants, either in their homes, or on their way up the stairs weapons in hand, all in a malnourished state, and all in some form of coma after the death of the child. Back in 8E, the team found Ben Willis, Nicholson recognising him as the man from the television, dancing and smiling madly, and apparently unaffected by the child's domination. As the tentacles infesting the building began to disintegrate into a slimy mush, the shaken team packed up and made ready to return home, with Evans in particular considerable less sceptical than before.




This scenario had a number of inspirations. For a while, I wanted to do something with an alternate, underlying, reality like that of the Silent Hill games, but I didn't want to do exactly the same thing. I also wanted to do a classic haunted house scenario, but this group are mostly veterans, and have done The Haunting (my usual go-to for that kind of scenario), and I also wanted to put a twist on the concept. Combining the two, I came up with the idea of the "ghost" actually being a real physical being attempting to warn people, but hindered in this by being trapped in a parallel reality. The baby was partly inspired by a similar entity in a Savage Dragon comic, of all things, and is probably a Whateley-esque spawn of Hastur.

As written, the false reality created by the child could have been broken in a number of ways. Any method of altering perception would have worked, such as drug or alcohol use, and if the worst came to the worst, I had a dream sequence prepared in which massive clues would be given as to the true nature of the situation. As it was, the child's Mind Blast power snapped the mind of one character, instantly revealing the grand deception, and once it became apparent that there was literally more than meets the eye going on, the rest of the players forced their way through the "illusion" with straight POW versus POW rolls. I do think the child's POW was a bit high, which made things a bit more tricky than they should have been, particularly for the rabbi and the journalist, both with a POW of just 9; however, it did work out well this time, as Greenberg's player played him as knowing that something was not right without being able to exactly figure it out. Henshaw's complete inability to break out of the false reality provided a tense finale with her apparently doing the right thing in protecting the child from a bunch of madmen. The maternal implication (all the other investigators were male) was a happy coincidence. All that said, I think I will reduce the child's POW for future runs.