Call of Cthulhu (2020-05 to ?) notes

This campaign is ongoing and this memo contains spoilers.

Player characters

  • Alton “Dill” Dillinger: Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks - U.S. Department of the Interior. Formerly a senator for the state of Pennsylvania, he fell from public favour by opposing U.S. entry into the First World War. He did not win re-election. Perhaps out of pity, perhaps just trying to get him out of the way, political friends of his arranged for him to have a rather unimportant and out-of-the-way position.

  • Rachel Summers: librarian. A recent high school graduate, who was inspired to a love of books by her school’s librarian. Rachel is a bit of a bookworm, particularly focussing on nonfiction, with a good working knowledge of Latin and biology.

  • Penelope Temple: librarian / parapsychologist. A co-worker of Rachel’s, though she didn’t always work in the library. Penelope and her now-deceased husband were once burglars, until one fateful job which ended in the foiled robbery of a secret society’s headquarters and the death (or, at least, disappearance) of her husband Percival.

Notable possessions

  • Penelope’s spooky book: which she stole in the job which claimed Percival. On the surface it appears to be a regular book of fairy tales, but they’re rather darker and more grim than usual. The book is bound in a type of leather Penelope has not been able to identify.

  • Revelations of Gla’aki, vol. 1: found in Howard’s study, beneath a false section of flooring. An encoded telegram with it says it was lent to Howard by Dr. Armitage. One of 9 volumes.

    Describes, in a high level of detail: Gla’aki (along with an illustration: a large oval creature rising from a lake and covered in spines); its arrival on Earth (trapped in a crystal prison, which fell to the Earth and shattered, trapping Gla’aki here until the shards can be destroyed); its lifecycle (dormant for centuries, wakes up occasionally); the duty of the cult (to grow populous and widespread enough to acquire all the shards and to free Gla’aki); and their motivation (eternal life, and to ascend to the stars with their god).

    Also contains a ritual to contact Gla’aki.

  • Signet ring: found in a safe in Howard’s study. A silver signet ring with a design showing a country house and the full moon.

  • Code book: found in a safe in Howard’s study. A key to decode his telegram exchange with Dr. Armitage.

Spells

  • Contact Gla’aki: Penelope can attempt a Hard INT roll to learn this once every few days.

Lore

Gla’aki and its cult

Gla’aki is Loch Morar, which was created by the impact of the crystal prison. The cult is widespread throughout Scotland, extending as far south as the Yorkshire Dales.

The cult consists solely of undead Servants of Gla’aki, which are little more than mind-controlled puppets.

The cult has difficulty spreading around the world because Gla’aki cannot leave the loch, and its fluid and spines drastically lose potency as soon as they are removed from its body, so creating new Servants elsewhere is difficult. Gla’aki can create avatars even from this weak fluid, but it takes years for an avatar to become capable of creating Servants.

Furthermore, in the centuries during which Gla’aki slumbers, it cannot create new Servants, so the cult inevitably shrinks as Servants pass away due to accidents.

There is an avatar in Derwentwater in the Lake District and in Lough Leane in Ireland.

The spines that the gang retrieved from the Squatter’s Lake Motel are inferior avatar-spines.

Notable NPCs

  • William and Robert Brophy: Servants of Gla’aki, on the loose somewhere in New England with an Avatar of Gla’aki.

  • Howard Carter: contact from Penelope’s criminal days, who poses as an author. Was investigating the spines for Penelope, later found dead. Seems he knows more about this sort of thing than Penelope initially suspected.

  • Dr. Clayton Armitage: contact of Howard’s, he knows something about the spines and their power.

  • Carl Stanford: leader of the Silver Twilight Lodge. “Carl” and “the Lodge” were mentioned in Howard and Dr. Armitage’s telegrams.

Session 1, 2020-05-03

We played Servants of the Lake (in Doors to Darkness) as a one-shot. Then the players wanted to continue the investigation, so I had to turn this into a campaign.

I didn’t take any notes in the session, but the gist of it is that they found some zombies, ran away, and returned the next day to find the motel burned down, everyone and everything gone, and a large trail leading from the lake (as if something the size of a boat had been dragged out and into the forest).

The only hard evidence they found were some large metal spines.

Session 2, 2020-05-17

Prep

Penelope sent some of the weird metal spines you found to a discrete acquaintance, Howard Carter, to have them examined. Howard sent frequent, excited, letters: the spines are biological, but don’t correspond to any earthly biology he knows of; when submerged in water they slowly convert it into a cloudy yellowish fluid; and this fluid, when injected into lab rats, kills them promptly but, after they are definitely dead, they undergo violent muscle spasms, sometimes even jumping and running for minutes.

Then the letters stopped.

Two weeks later, Penelope saw an obituary in the newspaper:

Handout: Obituary

Mr. Howard Carter—of Providence, Rhode Island—was discovered dead in his home by the local mailman. Mr Carter was an author known for his fantastical short stories sold to the literary magazines. The coroner has ruled this as a death by natural causes. Mr. Carter has no known living relatives so, in accordance with state law, if no heir comes forward in the next three months, by July 21st, his home and possessions will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

The situation

  • HC had been corresponding with a Dr. Armitage in England via telegram about the spines:
    • Dr. Armitage and HC are both members of the Silver Twilight Lodge: a secret international society dedicated to the investigation of strange occurrences (Penelope did not know this)
    • These telegrams are in a hidden safe, along with the codebook to translate the telegrams, the remaining spines, and a Silver Twilight Lodge ring (silver signet ring with a house and full moon design).
    • In a rolodex on his desk is a business card for Carl Stanford, Purveyor of Antiquities and Rare Books
  • Gla’aki spotted what was going on, and where, because of the briefly-magically-reanimated rats.
  • HC was killed by servants of Gla’aki magically (he drowned while sat in his office)
  • The coroner just reported natural causes, because what else could he say? Nobody would accept “he drowned, despite being nowhere near a body of water, no evidence of water outside the body, and no signs of a struggle”
  • The house is currently empty. There are a few reanimated rats roaming around inside.

Handout: Signet Ring

A silver signet ring with the design showing a country house and a full moon.

Dr. Armitage and the telegrams

  • Dr. A. had encountered one of these spines before, found in Northumberland. It had the same property of stimulating corpses, but far more potent.
  • No idea where it came from originally, someone found it in an abandoned motel near a lake.
  • It’s got properties of both organic and inorganic materials, and neither seem of this world.
  • Since it kills and briefly reanimates anything it’s stabbed into, best guess is some sort of defence mechanism… but what sort of creature would grow spines like this he can’t even fathom a guess.

Handout: Telegrams to Dr. Armitage (summarised, translated)

It’s a conversation between the two men about the spines. Dr. Armitage has seen such things before: he has in his possession one found “somewhere in Northumberland, near a lake with an abandoned motel”.

Dr. Armitage has been investigating the spine for years but without much luck: he is the one who suggested Howard look into its chemical composition, try putting it in water, and try injecting the fluid into small animals. Your spines and Dr. Armitage’s spine seems to be the same sort of thing, but his is more potent: the injected mice seem to “live” for weeks after their deaths. He’s also successfully performed the procedure on cats, dogs, chickens, and one badger.

So far, Dr. Armitagehas been unable to fully analyse the fluid and determine what exactly it is doing. But he suspects that it doesn’t just cause muscle spasms which imitate life, he believes that it is actually reanimating the dead animals. This is apparently fairly clear to see when you have weeks to study a single specimen.

Occasionally they mention a “Carl” and “the Lodge”, it seems that they’re referring to sharing information with this Carl.

Carl Stanford and the Silver Twilight Lodge

  • Carl will acknowledge HC as an occasional customer (holding something back)
  • If shown the ring, he will tell about the Silver Twilight Lodge, describing it as an international society of ghost hunters and occultists - he’ll make it sound like kind of a game, rather than an ominous secret society
  • He knows everything that’s happened but won’t let on (he has a magic mirror with which he can spy on any room that contains a STL ring)
  • He can point the investigators to Dr. A
  • He’ll also offer membership. Joining is normally invitation-only but, since they knew HC and are evidently interested in this sort of thing… Membership is $1/mo, the conditions are to keep the society secret and to share any information they encounter, in retun Carl will pass on gossip to them.
  • Secretly, the STL has some of the spines and are trying to figure out how to control the zombies they create. But the investigators have no way to discover that.

Investigating the murder

The mailman:

  1. Neighbours can give his name and address: Mr. James Feist lives in a small house a few streets away with his wife and daughter.
  2. He’ll tell the investigators his story if they inform him they’re friends of Mr. Carter.

Mr. Feist’s Tale

I liked Mr. ‘oward, ’e’d often stop and chat wi’ me when I came ’round. ’E always ’ad parcels and letters coming from ’round the world: research for ’is stories ’e said.

Well one day I shows up with a parcel, and ’e ’adn’t collected the last lot from ’is doorstep yet. There were bottles of milk untouched too. “Well that’s a mite queer” I thought, “Mr ’oward ain’t the sort of man to forget to cancel ’is deliveries when ’e goes away.” So I got a bit worried like.

I pounded on that door of ‘is, but ’e didn’t answer. I went ’round the ’ouse lookin’ in the windows, and there ’e was! All laid out on the floor. I shouted ’is name and knocked some more, but ’e didn’t move. I ran to Mrs. Maple’s ’ouse and told ’er to ring for a doctor, and I went back to Mr ’oward, smashed the window, and ’opped inside. ’E was cold, I’m no medical man, but I could tell it was too late. So I just sits there until the police and the doctor show up, and take ’im away.

’E was a good man, I’ll be sad to see ’im gone.

The coroner:

  1. Police / hospital / newspaper can give the name of the coroner who determined the cause of death (Mr. James Sutton)
  2. The coroner hasn’t gone to work for a few days
  3. The coroner’s address can be found in the office records - but the staff won’t just give it away to a random member of the public
  4. The coroner is at home, very drunk, and has been drunk for days: he’s been trying to forget what he saw.

Mr. Sutton’s Tale

Mr. Carter… he’s why I’m in this state. Trying to forget, you see. In my profession, you see a lot of horrible things. Not everyone dies peacefully in their sleep. Injury, murder, even disease can leave horrifying marks on the body which we coroners must soon become comfortable with. It is not a trade for squeamish men.

Nevertheless, here I am. Trying to forget.

I left my report suitably vague, merely saying that the cause of death is not suspicious, and that is the truth, in a sense. The manner of Mr. Carter’s death is perfectly common, and could happen to me or to you, if we are so unfortunate. You see, he drowned. And it appears he drowned in freshwater: for when I cut into his bloated lungs, out poured the water, some small fragments of freshwater plants, even a tadpole.

But answer me this: how could a man drown, on dry land, miles away from a large body of water, with no other signs of being submerged? No exterior marks, no traces of the same water in his stomach or mouth, not even a wrinkling of the fingertips! No signs that the body had been moved after death, and no signs of a break-in to his house. It is utterly impossible that he could have filled his lungs with water, returned home, locked his door, and only then succumbed… I cannot explain it, and it scares me.

Notes

The players did almost nothing in my prep, and spent almost the whole session in the house, before deciding to immediately travel to England and talk to Dr. Armitage in person.

Well, plot never survives contact with players… they enjoyed it, at least.

  • Players go to the house:
    • They check the front door: it’s locked
    • They walk around the building, and find the smashed window (covered in a tarp):
      • See it was broken from the outside
      • Look around for neighbours (neighbour house looks occupied, but nobody visible currently)
    • Rachel clambers into the study
    • She goes to find the back door (in the kitchen): it’s locked
      • Finds key rack
      • Unlocks back door and lets the others in
    • All proceed to study to examine it:
      • Dill tries to figure out if the tarp was there before or after the murder (did someone break in and kill him?), but there’s not enough information to tell
      • Desk is covered in books about biology and folklore:
        • One book about germ theory looks particularly well-used
        • The folklore books are all about the living dead: vampires, zombies, kharisiri, etc
        • Inside one book is a slip of paper with 7 numbers written on it
      • Behind a painting on the wall is a safe:
        • The code is the 7 numbers
        • Inside the safe is the signet ring, the code book, and the encoded telegrams
    • Dill and Penelope head upstairs
      • Rachel stays in the study to work on decoding the telegrams
      • Penelope has been here before, so she knows the layout
      • Nothing particularly exciting, but there is a big bundle of cash (enough to survive on for a few weeks at least) beneath the mattress of the master bedroom
      • There are rats in the walls, everywhere
    • Dill heads into the attic with a candle and a lighter
      • Rat shadows dart out of sight
      • Lots of boxes of dusty books, mostly nonfiction
    • The sun is starting to set
    • Rachel translated enough to know the telegrams are talking about the spines
    • Everyone goes to check out the basement:
      • Dill goes down first, ends in a wooden door and a light switch
      • Opens door, flips on light
      • Lots of rats in cages, aggressive, squeaking
      • One cage empty, has been gnawed through
      • Wooden workbench with the spines and a jar of yellow fluid
      • Rachel examines the rats: they’ve all got big tab wounds—the size of the spines—and should barely be moving, let alone aggressively jumping around
    • Everyone decides the house is infested with zombie rats, and has to be burned down
      • Spend the next few hours searching
      • Find Revelations of Gla’aki beneath study floor
      • Fill basement with dusty books from attic
      • Douse basement, stairs, and ground floor in lamp oil
      • Carry everything off to the car (including some nice silverware to fence)
      • Dill drops a match on the lamp oil, drives off as the house starts to burn
      • The house doesn’t explode, thankfully; the neighbours will notice, but not immediately
  • Everyone wonders if Howard got infected with a zombie virus by the escaped rats
  • A few days later:
    • Penelope rings the newspaper, asking for details about Howard, posing (truthfully!) as a friend of his:
      • Get funeral details (a few days time)
      • Get contact details for the Providence coroner
    • Rachel shares the translated telegrams
  • At the funeral:
    • Arrive early
    • Penelope thoroughly distracts the priest and one other attendee with a discussion about the nature of religion and the religion of nature
    • Dill lifts up coffin lid
    • Rachel examines body: Howard seems pretty dead, no obvious wounds
  • Afterwards:
    • Telegram Dr. Armitage about meeting
    • Hop into a boat
    • Penelope spends the crossing studying the book

Next session

In England meeting Dr. Armitage.