So, I’ve been putting together a campaign for Call of Cthulhu based around a periodical called ‘Darkest Tales’.
The campaign is intended for one-on-one play and in our case my daughter, Yasmin, is the Investigator and I’m the Keeper.
It’s been a long time since I last played Call of Cthulhu, probably 1st or 2nd Edition, so really it’s new to both of us. Yasmin is a big horror fan and loves the Lovecraftian Mythos, so I think she should feel more at home with this than she was with D&D.
Last week I’d managed to formulate enough of the campaign to make a start – once I’ve got all the basics together I’ll post it as a complete campaign. I decided to add a few beginner scenarios into the campaign to get us used to the game’s mechanisms, and so we began.
The premise was that Yasmin’s character, a parapsychologist called Genevieve Click, had just accepted a new job working for the occult and paranormal periodical, ‘Darkest Tales’, based in Arkham. For the opener, I used the solo supplement, ‘Alone Against the Flames’, but obviously running it with a keeper.
This saw Genevieve setting out from her home village of Conway with the intent of reaching Arkham. From here on in there are spoilers for this scenario, so be warned if you intend to play it yourself…
Genevieve boarded the local bus bound for Ossipee, where she planned to spend the night before resuming her journey to Arkham vie several buses or, if money could stretch, by train.
The journey was idyllic, at least initially, but things got a little shook up as the driver swerved to avoid a tractor and took to the grass. Genevieve proved too dexterous to take a fall and clung on to the seat as they bumped to a stop.
The driver gave a few choice words, backed the bus out and continued on.
A short time later the bus rolled to a stop with the driver, introduced as Silas, wearing a concerned look on his face – the old bus had broken down, “Probably due to that little incident earlier!” he exclaimed. Yasmin failed a psychology skill roll and so Genevieve carried on blissfully unaware that anything could be amiss.
As directed by Silas, she took up a room in the nearby village of Emberhead. The landlady, May, seemed a helpful soul, if a little talkative, and provided Genevieve with a hearty meal and a little information regarding the village.
The following morning, expecting to meet Silas with a fully repaired bus, Genevieve was pretty annoyed to find that he, or his bus, were nowhere to be seen. Returning to the lodging for help, she was disheartened to learn that the chance of finding transport anytime soon was slim, but May did point her in the direction of some locals.
Trying the local tradesmen came up blank – Yasmin failed on all rolls to try and draw information out of them (a sign of what was to come). The general store provided some hope, just as long as she was prepared to wait week for the next delivery!
With things not going well and the prospect of spending some time in the village, Genevieve was faced with a choice. She could dig a little further to see if anyone could provide a means out of there, gather her belongings and start walking, or accept that things are just a little slow here and make the most of her stay, after all, there was the Festival to look forward too, which she had been told would be quite exciting!
She decided to check out some of the village’s sights and headed for a large metallic structure at one end. It appeared that the village converged on this structure (Yasmin passed a spot hidden), as though it had grown up around it. An old gent commented that it was the beacon and would prove quite a sight when lit at the festival.
From here she headed to the old church. A dilapidated place that hadn’t seen any use in decades, if not centuries, which should have indicated something about the people of the village, however, Genevieve found bliss in her ignorance and once more failed to notice anything amiss.
Feeling a bit peckish she looks for somewhere to eat, but the place is devoid of anything remotely resembling a cafe. She then bumps into May and her daughter, Ruth. The young girl rushes up to her and squeaks out what appears to be a warning, ‘Get out before the festival!’ and then scurries back to her mum.
May is her usual buoyant self and is keen to hear how she got on looking for transport; she even offers her food, directing her to help herself to any food in the house. She also points her towards Mr Winters in the village hall as someone worth a try.
Genevieve smiles and bends down to the young girl and asks what she meant about the festival. “It’s scary… bright and hot and the flames go all over!” Foreboding words from one so young!
A quick bite to eat and she’s off to the village hall and Mr Winters. Looking around the place she reads the notices but fails to spot anything of importance – another failed roll!
On speaking with Mr Winters she learns that the telegraph is out of order and has been for a week or so. He’s happy to offer to put in a word with the repair crew and see if they can give her a ride to the town, but it won’t be for another couple of days at least.
After discussing the local library she decides to leave before the day draws to a close and heads back to the lodgings. During supper the atmosphere seems a little tense. Ruth’s eyes flicking to hers and then away again – May ushers the girl to her room.
Wanting an opportunity to speak with the girl, Genevieve tries to persuade May to run an errand for her. She turns on the charm, but no matter how much she purrs and panders to May, she can’t get her out of the house – after a little role-playing to determine which skill to roll against, she once again missed by a country mile!
Sitting in bed, thinking things over, Genevieve decides it would be best to stay awake. Her vigilance pays off as she hears a creak out on the landing – slowly the doorknob starts to turn.
Leaping out of bed she grabs the knob and wrenches the door open to find a very startled May standing on the other side. Making some excuse that she was worried about her and wanted to check up, May retires back to her own room. Genevieve, meanwhile, heads for the kitchen to borrow a chair, which finds itself firmly wedged under the knob and a few hours of sleep are welcomed in.
In the morning Genevieve finds that the Ledbetters have left early, leaving a note and some breakfast. After having eaten she slips out into the village and decides to spy on the activity around the beacon.
To get a better advantage she finds a spot out of sight, but it means edging around a house with a drop looming to one side. One particularly narrow part causes her some concern. The scenario called for a size to dexterity comparison. Genevieve isn’t particularly big, unfortunately, she isn’t particularly dextrous either, and so she had to make a roll against dexterity to avoid falling…
…Down she went. As she fell, a climb check was called for to see if she could grab hold of anything on the way down, again she failed – not Yasmin’s day really. I knew that there was a good chance that the fall could prove fatal – 2D6 damage, if greater than half Hp (11) then a major wound would occur and a Con roll must be made to stay conscious. I decided to allow her to push the climb roll, which she justified by saying that she was scrabbling at the sides as she fell, disregarding the pain from wrenching her fingernails in an attempt to gain a hold. She made it… just!
She lay, watching the villagers construct the beacon. A chain was formed and bundles of kindling and firewood moved from one person to the next. Considering it was for the festival she noted that there was an air of dread, some looking dazed or resigned, and nobody seemed to be enjoying it.
Knowing that the Ledbetters were out, Genevieve though it might be a good time to take a look around the house and try to find out what May was up to last night.
She slips into the bedroom and has a rummage around, finding nothing out of the ordinary – Yasmin then failed a spot hidden roll, but was given the chance to push it, but warned that it would take precious time to search more thoroughly. Guess what… she failed that too!
May catches her at it and she’s not alone!
Genevieve is quickly overpowered and before she knows it she’s shackled up in some small room. The light fading as evening draws in.
After some time, which was spent considering the implications of that very large beacon outside, the villagers returned. This time they are wearing heavy black cloaks. Their heads and hands black with a red triangle around the left eye. They drag her out into the street where they force her forward, struggling, towards the beacon.
Before she knows it she’s chained to the centre of the beacon and, after a bespectacled man gives a short recital, torchbearers step forward and flames begin to rise. Three times she throws her weight against the shackles, hoping against hope for them to break. Alas, the flames creep up her ankles, her legs, her body, all engulfed. She screams and then falls silent.
Three times there Yasmin failed a strength check to break the shackles (I allowed an extra one for pity’s sake!), it had been one of those days. I feel a bit guilty, not that she died, hey, this is Call of Cthulhu you expect that kind of thing, but because she was using the dice set I gave her for Christmas… obviously duds!
Interestingly, she had taken an almost identical route through the scenario as I did when I played it solo. The only difference being that I made the final strength check and managed to escape the fire. It also meant that she missed a lot of the interesting stuff, which all seemed to be hidden behind dice rolls. Failing everything made the scenario a bit, well, boring. For instance, if she’d made the spot hidden roll in May’s bedroom she would have discovered a trapdoor, behind which a discovery that would have sent her scurrying off down the road as fast as her legs would carry her.
So, how does that affect the campaign?
Being Call of Cthulhu I was expecting a glut of new characters to have to be created as went along – maybe not right after the intro though – and had briefed Yasmin to be prepared. Okay, things didn’t go well, but it gave us both some experience in playing the game and getting to know its mechanisms.
As for the campaign? Things will move on as planned. The new character will be taking up a recently available position within the offices of the Darkest Tales, and Genevieve might just be heard of again.
At the moment, I’m just creating the history of the periodical whilst also developing the overall story plot. This should unravel slowly and come as a surprise/shock to the player much further down the line.
Next time, though, the new recruit will need showing the ropes, and for that I’m turning to the scenario included within the quick start rules – The Haunting. It’s fairly straightforward and should help to cement the game rules, at which point I can start stretching my creative side. Mwhahaha!