Local Man Dies under Mysterious Circumstances!
One man arrested. Another fled and sought by authorities.
Asylum alienist questioned!
That was the headline of the Arkham Advertiser that day after my group’s first Call of Cthulhu game session.
It was not an auspicious start to what I was hoping was going to be a long campaign in Chaosium’s Lovecraftian universe.
But before I tell you about it let me introduce you to one of the primary party members. His name was Leroy and he was the PC of a gamer friend of mine who specializes in playing nonhumans in fantasy based campaigns. Since there were no nonhumnas in CoC we had worked together to design a PC that he could enjoy playing. We came up with a classic good guy with a tragic string woven through his story. An Arkhamite butcher, haunted by experiences that he had suffered through in France during the Great War, Leroy was in possession of a book in a language he didn’t understand. He had kept it secret from the rest of his party because it held clues to a past that he couldn’t quite recall, a past that gave him horrifying yet exciting dreams.
All the PCs in this campaign were similarly developed with co-created back stories and supporting NPCs.
We pride ourselves on being role players.
But….It’s hard it break out of dungeon crawler mode and that kind of attitude simply does not work in a Loveraftian game.
Leroy was with a group asked to lay to rest a shadowy horror sealed away in an old house outside the Arkham city limits. The rest of the group consisted of a Private Investigator, the PI’s Brother and the Alienist. They had been given a journal that provided them with the necessary clues and information about what lurked in the house. The Private Investigator decided that the journal wasn’t all that important and tucked it in his coat pocket for later.
I think I was speechless for several long seconds following this decision.
Reaching the house Leroy and the Alienist took a walk about the grounds before entering, encountering a couple of clues that might have made sense had anyone read the journal. At the door to the house the Private Investigator and his Brother noticed some runes carved into the door frame and began to inexplicably wonder….What will happen if we kick this door down?
While I didn’t actually face palm then I wanted to. Leroy had the keys to the house in his pocket.
Inside the house the party found several more meaningless items that might have been clues had anyone read that pesky little journal. And an open cellar door with a noises of moving coming up from it. Now that was something these intrepid adventurers understood. Weapons drawn they charged into the darkness.
And promptly beat up an old hobo.
Flush with that success the group looked up to an attic trapdoor with a rune inscribed frame. Surely there was something worth fighting in there.
“Leroy”, said the PI, “take a look.”
Not having actually seen anything of a supernal nature or having read the journal that warns about what is sealed in the attic, Leroy replied, “Why certainly, old chap. Hoist me up. I’ll stick my head in that dark, scary opening.”
Or something to that affect.
That weren’t exactly his last words but they were close. His last words were, I believe, something like, “What the—glu-ack!”
His head bounced down into the room and much hilarity ensued as his body was dropped next to his head and the party fled screaming from the house.
Mind you, it wasn’t hilarious at the moment. It took some time and reflection for us to appreciate the humor in how their disastrous attempt to report the incident to the police sounded a lot like a confused murder confession. No one was laughing though during the brawl that occurred between the Private Investigator, his Brother and a local beat cop.
To her credit though the Alienist did not participate in the brawl. She merely walked away, returned to her office and hid behind her desk.
In retrospect I realized that the conclusion of that first CoC session was a very Lovecraftian ending. A strange death. Panicked night time flight. Confused authorities. Lives changed in horrific ways. Lovecratian perfection.
The party—those that survived anyway—regrouped and did eventually lay to rest that terrible evil festering in the attic of the abandoned house and our Call of Cthulhu campaign was born. Lessons were learned and the campaign grew into one of my all time favorites. I have learned since that other groups have had similarly disastrous evenings playing CoC and I get a good laugh whenever I hear them.
So, if you’ve got a story about how a CoC game ended in a spectacular fail, pass it along. I’d like to hear it and maybe I’ll tell you about the time the Alienist and friends inadvertently unleashed a floating abnormality from a dark dastardly dimension upon a sleepy English village or the time that they accidentally shot a bystanding party goer while fending off an attack from an undead cultist.
Until next time,
First Edition Dad
Oh, and 47 bonus points to anyone who can identify the CoC scenario in which Leroy lost his head and his life.