Saturday, 21 February 2009

In Heaven, Everything is Fine

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


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.

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