Saturday Seed ~ 74 (Call of Cthulhu)
This week’s seed is one of the rare Infectious Plots which spring up from time to time here. This one is for Call of Cthulhu, and can be used as a one-shot, or the lead in to a globe-trotting, ice-bound campaign of discovery, tragedy, and dawning horror.
A convicted multiple-murderer has escaped his jailers and is headed into the arctic wastes with a young kidnap victim. A manhunt is being formed to track them down, rescue the child, and bring the killer back to justice.
Set in the late 20’s, on and around the North coast of Baffin Island in moderately fictionalized environs, this scenario involves survival challenges, deductive reasoning, immersive roleplay, strange environs, and the burgeoning threat of sudden death.
Planting the Seed
This scenario is suitable for inexperienced players and characters, and as such can serve as a framework for a campaign, or a simple one-shot, making the staging of events easier than with other story seeds. The simplest route for a one-off session is to have characters be RCMP officers, but longer-term campaigns should employ greater variety of experience and background for the investigators.
Our villain, while a younger man, served as a seaman and travelled to many odd parts of the world. His return to the land of his birth eventually brought him to its farthest Northern reaches. His travels while far-ranging, did not span many years – they did, however touch many lives, as his depredations and growing homicidal tendencies first manifested while out from under the watchful eyes of friends and family. A possible route to bringing characters together initially is in following his trail into the icy grip of the Canadian arctic.
Settlements of the necessary type for this sort of scenario began forming primarily around mission churches and good hunting and/or whaling grounds about the turn of the century. This necessitates a date late in the 20’s or early in the 30’s with which the Keeper will need to fiddle to prepare for the rest of any subsequent campaign. For added mystique, a winter time frame, particularly after the 22 of November will allow Keepers the pleasure of describing the effects of nights without, with but the barest hint of day for weeks on end.
If you do not use a fictional community, the most appropriate actual settlement is Pond Inlet. In terms of this scenario, the community itself is just a staging ground for the investigation and manhunt ahead. For a one-shot, I would advise beginning the tale with the investigators’ departure from town, giving each player a chance to fill the others in on what they learned in the town as they travel.
Things will really start to happen at a small, entirely fictional island off the north coast of Baffin Island, formed by meteor impact millennia ago. The island contains an ice lake with a low, rocky island inside it. Known as ‘Thunder’s Nest’ to local people, and believed to be the site where, according to local legend, the Trickster, Raven, laid the great eggs which birthed the wind, the thunder, and the lightning. Due to the distance, the lack of good hunting at the island, and the dangers of northern travel, most members of the community have only seen the island through the lens of their elders’ stories. These stories claim that in the dead of winter you could make the trip to Thunder’s Nest by dog sled if you were fast and clever, but few of the local sailors find it easy to credit such tales. The ice is pervasive, but it lives to crack, and split, grind, and crush those who venture out on it too far. Of course, every one knows, but no one talks about, what the ice does to those who wander too far, and lose their way. Such ghost tales are not fit for the ears to hear.
Patrick Ducat, the former 1st mate on the reinforced vessel Narwhal, and known murderer of 8 people, has escaped from holding. He is believed to have kidnapped a ninth potential victim, set fire to his home – perhaps to destroy a vast mud sculpture hidden beneath his floor – and fled into the wilderness. Those who know him best believe he is headed for Thunder’s Nest. The physical evidence supports this theory.
The kidnap victim is a young cousin of Ducat’s, a girl in her early teens, Paulette Sadluyok. His previous victims were evenly split, with half being relatives by blood and half being what the locals unerringly think of as newcomers – those with no roots of blood in the community yet. Paulette, is feared to be the ninth victim as her mother is a local, but her father arrived in town barely a year before she was born.
Ducat put to sea as a very young boy and returned in his 20’s a sadder and darker person than he was remembered to be. He had trouble fitting in to life in the community, but was a hard worker, and skillful. He stayed out of the usual sort of trouble, and was quickly earning a solid, if not beloved reputation when his rampage started. That rampage, running over 8 nights, took the lives of 8 people, and was brought to an end mostly by the community banding together in the Church and denying Ducat the sort of target he seemed to need. He did not resist when RCMP officers came to collect him at his home. Once in their custody, the townspeople relaxed their vigilance, and after a week or so, Ducat was able to capture Paulette and head out into the frost-bitten night, leaving nothing but a taunting message written in Mandarin Chinese in his own blood, which states [none of the locals have been able to decipher it] “Death does not come for all”
Under the floor of his cabin, officers were disturbed to find a massive mud and stone sculpture which reminded them in many ways of a city, but one whose geometry was utterly alien to human thought. It struck many as seeming familiar, but like dreams, the details kept slipping away. [Much of the border of the ‘northern’ edge of the sculpture mirrors the coastline of Thunder’s Nest to a high degree, while the ‘southern’ edge bears a striking similarity to that of this community. Investigators with a good grounding in local topography can see this on an INTx3 roll]
In order to bring the human face of this situation to light, including a cast of NPCs from the community can work wonders.
Useful NPC Cast Members:
John Claymore, Captain of the Narwhal
- late 40s, heavy-set, powerful, known to be lucky
- superstitious seaman, does not suffer fools gladly
- Ex-wife is Phyllis Ducat, the 6th victim
- Ducat is the former 1st mate of the Narwhal
- Now believes Ducat took something (a stone carving, and notes) from a derelict vessel they found in the ice a few weeks ago, which may have affected him
- Believes Ducat is seeking to summon the Devil
- Wonders if Manette knew something…
- Has only seen Thunder’s Nest from the Sea, hates the place
Manette Freman, 2nd mate of the Narwhal
- late 20s, solid build, known to be loyal
- hard-worker, loves the outdoors, recent widower
- Ducat’s sister-in-law, husband was the 8th victim
- Having an affair with Ducat until his arrest
- Had discussed divorce and marriage with Ducat
- Noted he was very secretive about a small statuette he suddenly started to carry all the time
- Believes she is next, and doesn’t want to wait
- Has never visited Thunder’s Nest, but knows Ducat loved it, and claimed to know it better than anyone alive
Joe Burns, Sergeant, RCMP
- late 50s, retiring soon, awaiting transfer to Bathurst, known to be tenacious
- culturally aware, well-travelled, loves the North, very competitive
- Believes Manette has inside knowledge about Ducat’s killings
- Unwilling to let this case go unresolved before he heads south
- Has been trying to hide the ritualistic nature of the killings from people
- Has been to Thunder’s Nest once, but saw nothing special except an island in a lake on an island
Vaughn Kramer, Constable, RCMP
- early 30s, replacing Sgt. Burns, known to be impatient
- from the area, never been anywhere, hates the North, very competitive
- Jealous of Ducat since childhood
- Doesn’t believe Ducat is guilty
- Believes that Burns doctored the evidence to go out with a bang, but cannot prove it
- Has never finished the trek to Thunder’s Nest
Iluak Sutton, GP, Dentist, Mortician, Dog Breeder
- somewhere between 50 and 80, very fit with sparkling eyes
- speaks many languages badly, beloved but a jack of too many trades
- delivered Ducat and his siblings
- buried his parents and autopsied and buried his victims
- taught him first aid, and was a mentor after his father died
- often hunted with Ducat before the lad went to sea
- Ignored the changes in him, and his obsession with folklore
- Helped Burns cover up the ritualistic nature of the killings
- Has only been to Thunder’s Nest once and never returned. He does not like the place, and feels his ancestors felt it was a source of evil – “The Popular Story is Wrong.”
- Claymore and Sutton are good friends
- Sutton and Burns are good friends
- Claymore and Burns do not associate with each other
- Kramer and Burns do not get along, but keep up appearances
- Claymore and Freman work well together, but have new trust issues from this terrible case
- Sutton knows everyone, and generally likes anybody until the prove unlikable , more or less
Thunder’s Nest is not easy to reach; and the vessel in town with the best chance of braving the ice and other perils of the trip is the Narwhal. Normally, the coast is icebound at this time of year, but the ice has been slow in coming this year. Strengthened against the ice, and rigged for cold running, the ship seems the most convincing argument that a manhunt can match or beat Ducat’s mad plunge across the ice presumably with dogs and kidnapped cousin. The expedition to the island will take sleds and dogs along, just in case. Other locally based options for travel include dog sled, and marching, but with the quality of ice and Ducat’s growing lead these seemed destined to fail. Ducat’s chances are not seen as being likely, so it is widely hoped the manhunt will find him trapped on the ice, prevented from reaching whatever bizarre goal he has fixated upon.
Arrival at the island by whatever means will confuse the locals as what they were expecting to find is not to be found. Instead, stone projections, rimed in ice, and smoothed by the timeless flow of water have risen across the face of the island and out into the frigid waters, looking like nothing so much as a city when seen at just the right angle.
The island as it was remembered featured two minor peaks, and put viewers in mind of ripples on the surface of the water. Now, rising up from the centre of the island is a massive stone monolith of rounded edges, with some sort of cup or recess at the top, from which strange lights and emissions of white gas loft at irregular intervals.
Without needing to be told, or to find a trail, all present will know that it is to that place the investigators must go.
For the locals, folklore begins to take root, and precautions and advisories come to mind unbidden, demanding that each member of the group leave a small token at the shore, and only approach the cruel, and nearly featureless new mountain from the south side, slowly, and with prayers to Raven. To do otherwise, is to invite the attention of the ‘Scavengers on the Wind’ from whom they cannot hope to escape.
What’s going on
As I feel it is important to take special care when plotting out Mythos involvement, this entry will end with just the barest hints of what is going on, but by this point, I am sure you can fill in the blanks in appropriate fashion for your group.
I recently ran this session and support documents can be accessed here.
Ducat has, of course, fled to this very eerie location, and is hard at work doing something which Man was not meant to do. As the villain, that is his duty. How deep that connection is to the Mythos will depend on many things, but I would limit it to supplication of a servitor race for aid, or the initial stages of a brutal cult set to bring about the rise of things which ‘can eternal lie.’ The alien city itself can serve as a backdrop for further scenarios in the far North, and begin the inevitable split between the investigators and the wholly sane, as few others who may come to look at the site will see anything other than rock formations.
Can Paulette be saved from the cruel death which awaits her? Can Ducat’s vile plotting be brought to an end, and more importantly… can it be understood and used to combat further madness in other inhospitable places unloved by Man, but host to all the strange things which wait to eclipse us all?
These things lie in the hands of your Investigators…
I ran this as a One-Shot here in Seoul with players drawn from the first 6 gamers to sign up from the English-Speaking Boardgamers and Roleplayers of Seoul Meetup Group, on October 22, 2011.
We used the NPCs listed in this entry as pre-generated PCs rather than local colour for a PC party to interact with, and with roughly three hours to play began aboard the Narwhal in pursuit of Ducat to Thunder’s Nest after a brief discussion of the publicly known facts, and a chance to establish the voices of each character. I will make the traits of these characters available in a day or two, once I type them up.
The backstory generated for Ducat was that since leaving Pond Inlet as a teen, he had fallen in with strange and often vile people. He was guilty of many crimes in many parts of the globe, and as he came to feel more and more trapped and hunted, he became more and more obsessed with flesh and the means to change or exchange it. He had been convinced in the orient by cult-affiliated gangsters that such things were possible and was certain that he himself had seen such a transformation at a bizarre tong ritual. It preyed on his mind.
When he eventually came to ground in Pond Inlet again he was unable to deal with people and reveled in perverting their expectations and behaviors. He had learned most of what he needed to learn, and was prepared to do what was needed in order to learn the rest. He began to isolate himself, only appearing to spread discord with subtle words and revealed secrets, while he located his targets. He visited Thunder’ s Nest often through powerful drugs and chants, supplicated the beings of Wind and Flashing Light that dwell there between the walls of the Wind, the Thunder, and the Lightning, wreathed in aimless droplets of Time. In time, they shared with him the means to access their city in a more significant and tangible way. In return for his efforts, they would help him learn the means to free himself of flesh and the limits it holds. For a one-shot, I did not want to reveal these beings, but if the Investigators took things in this direction I intended to relate all of this initially to a shrine to Cthulhu, Ithaqua, and Dagon in which reside Flying Polyps of a particularly vile outlook.
The island within an island, by the time the Investigators reached it, had expanded and been transformed into shapes which resembled the Gate Houses of the city sculpture under Ducat’s floorboards, and the central tower showed signs of strange blue and green lights, and was wreathed in an almost volcanic mist. All of these melted mountains or buildings looked featureless, but upon closing it was revealed that they were actually made of concentrically aligned passages allowing many ways in… all going to the same central room, but not all exiting it in the same place, or even time.
The central room was a massive domed basin, with blood seeping from the oddly tiled, warm and pulsating room into the bottom. At irregular intervals the blood and whatever else was in the basin would be lifted up and transported through the dome to the supposed top of the structure where rituals could be most efficaciously held under stars right for the caster’s purpose.
Here they found Paulette, mindless and bleeding out, with a babe in good health, but lacking a navel….
With time running out, we left the horrors to come to the future and the imagination.