Sunday, February 22, 2015

Manifest Destiny Session 3: Death on the Farm

We had an excellent session last night, and not just because the meal my girlfriend and I put together was spectacular.  Let's dive right in to the write-up, shall we?

Dramatis Personae:

Dr. Rowan Ryder, alcoholic inventor and surgeon
Liza Ripper, spy and occultist
Amity Crawford, art thief and cat burglar
Moses Packer, ex-Quaker and tracker

Following a final sweep of the Griner Stand, the Investigators packed up and moved downstream to the Griner Farm, proper.  While scoping the site out from the nearby woods, Liza decided to move closer and investigate the small grain silo on the property.  As she was doing so, Amity noticed a shambling, loping figure emerge from one of the farmhouses and shuffle towards the barn.  She let Liza know.

Moses and Dr. Ryder, also noticing the figure, decided to investigate the building the figure had emerged from.  The building was full of mold and mildew, and in one of the rooms they encountered two more human figures.  As they debated what to do about these two unresponsive figures, Amity and Liza joined them, and then they sicced the dogs on the figures and began shooting and clubbing the figures.  Finally responsive, the figures turned around and attacked, with one of the figures - Liza tentatively identified them as "zombies" - slamming the dog Bandit into Moses.  Eventually they managed to blow both figures' heads apart, at which point flailing, fungoid tentacles emerged briefly from the stumps of their necks before they slumped to the ground.  The tentacles matched the one that had emerged from the chest of the man they'd killed in Clark's house. 

They decided next to investigate the barn.  Liza snuck in the door and encountered a horrifying sight - a pile of carcasses - cow, horse, pig, even chickens, and worse still a pair of skinless human bodies - over and through which grew thick, ropy tendrils of fungoid matter, culminating in a a tumorous mass, three or so feet in diameter, crowning the mound of meat. 

Liza reported back to the rest of the group what she saw, and they determined to go in and try to destroy the fungal mass, with Dr. Ryder fashioning the axe handle he'd been carrying into a crude torch. 

They quickly learned that firing bullets into the fungus just made it angry, as it pulled a tendril loose from the pile of meat and began swinging at them, eventually catching Moses in a python-like grip as the tendril, as thick as one of his arms, coiled around him, constricting as it lifted him into the air.  A wet, membranous orifice dilated open on the main fungal mound and it lowered him into it, sealing around his head.  Moses twitched twice and then went limp. 

At this point, Dr. Ryder thrust the torch into the pile of corpses and ran, and they set fire to the barn from the outside before backing even further away. 

Hearing a call of "Griners, you'll pay", they turn, and see a native American man, dressed in European-style clothing but wearing warpaint and carrying a hatchet, charging at them, followed closely behind by a white man in a buckskin shirt.  Amity and Liza called out that they weren't Griners, and the white man tackled the native to the ground, shouting, "You hear that? They're not the Griners!"

Once the dust cleared, the white man introduced himself as Major James Neelly, a name the PCs recognized as having been Lewis' traveling companion, and the native American as Nashoba, a local Chickasaw.  Neelly explained that he'd had his own doubts about Lewis' death and decided to investigate further himself, and found his investigation dovetailing with Nashoba's search for truth regarding a sickness that's come over his village, one he believes Robert Griner deliberately spread.

One night, Nashoba explained, everyone in his village got up, walked out into the woods to the nearest burial mound, and began digging with their bare hands.  Come sunrise, they sit or lay listlessly, then once dark again they resume digging.  He believes this sickness came among his people during a visit from Robert Griner, selling grain and tools to the Chickasaw.  Nashoba believes he was unaffected because he was away from the village during Griner's visit. 

They realize there's one more building to investigate - the main farm house.  Dr. Ryder eases the door open with a stick, while laying flat on the ground; Amity, Liza, Neelly and Nashoba stand to the side of the door.  There's a brief noise like a puff of air and then a half-dozen darts or quills are sticking in the ground behind where Dr. Ryder was laying.  He manages to look up and sees a fungoid, insect-like creature, identical to the one that had been wearing Priscilla Griner's face, clinging to the ceiling, drawing back its scorpion-like tail to throw more spines.  Amity and Neelly open fire on the thing and, wounded, it crawls out through the doorway, up onto the roof of the porch and unfurls a pair of vast, leathery wings with which it takes off clumsily, flying away. 

The PCs decide investigating the house is more important than following the wounded creature.  Exploring the inside, they discover that the building's been pretty much cleaned out except for one room; in it, there are two tables, one supporting a trio of leaden cylinders, about a foot across by eight inches tall, as well as an assortment of unfamiliar scientific equipment, while the other has a couple bundles of paper on it.  A burlap sack sits on the floor in one corner.

The sack contained an assortment of copper goods - arrowheads, pectorals, bracelets, and tools - dug out of the local mounds.  Nashoba pulled a similar copper arrowhead from a pouch on his belt and explained that these simply aren't made any more - the existing ones are passed down, father to son, generation to generation since time immemorial, as amulets of protection against the Nota'mingo, a race of men who live underground and steal men's voices. 

Experimentation with the scientific equipment and the cylinders led to a startling discovery - that the soul, or essence, of Meriwether Lewis appears to be in one of the cylinders, and the equipment, when plugged into the cylinder, allow his essence to see, hear and speak.  He managed to explain to the PCs that he'd been on his way to Washington to deliver evidence that "the Damned Things" existed, had been in America for centuries, and were looking to exclude human beings from North America...but then he realized that he couldn't see his hands, he had no sense of having a body any more.  And then Meriwether Lewis, or whatever was left of him in the cylinder, began to scream. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Manifest Destiny Session 2: Terror in the Woods!

Please forgive the lateness of this recapping of last session (which took place over a week ago now).  Life gets in the way sometimes, but here we are:

Dramatis Personae:

  • Dr. Rowan Ryder, disgraced alcoholic surgeon and inventor (whose player was absent this session, and relinquished control of Dr. Ryder to Eliza Ripper's player)
  • Eliza Ripper, P.hD, spy and occultist
  • Moses Packer, an ex-Quaker who's renounced nonviolence and now lives in the woods as a tracker
  • Amity Crawford, thief and artifact-collector

Arriving at the house of Brigadier-General William Clark, Dr. Ryder and Eliza were swiftly introduced to Moses Packer and Amity Crawford, who would be rounding out their investigative team.  They were also introduced to Pernier, a small, bushy-bearded Frenchman who had been traveling with Lewis at the time of his death.  While Clark strongly believes Lewis committed suicide, Pernier holds to the theory that Lewis was murdered.

That night, the Investigators are awoken by screams from Pernier's room.  They find him on the edge of death with his throat slashed, a blood straight-razor in his hand.  With his dying breath, Pernier manages to wetly wheeze "murder" and gesture vaguely towards the chimney.  Looking up the chimney, the Investigators spot the retreating boots of someone worming their way up the chimney.  Drawing her blunderbuss, Eliza takes a shot and then Moses pulls the man down into the room.

It's the shabby, unkempt fellow Ryder and Eliza had encountered earlier that day, now looking shabbier and more unpleasant then ever - some sort of skin affliction, resembling athlete's foot, coats his hands and lips.  As he dies, his chest erupts open, and a pair of fat, squirming, nobbly tendrils, each about a foot long, emerge and writhe about - one of them spraying Dr. Ryder with a puff of dusty material.  After taking a sample of one tendril, the Investigators swiftly cremate the body and its infesting, fungus-like material.  Disturbed by this, Clark admits that there may be more going on then he'd previously believed, and while he won't say much, he does urge the Investigators to get a few big dogs - "wolfhounds, or similar" - before they investigate further.

Before setting out, they buy a trio of mastiffs - Fang, Killer and Bandit.

A day's travel away from the Griner Stand where Lewis died, the Investigators are awoken in the night by a huge fireball streaking across the sky overhead and exploding somewhere nearby.  Deciding to investigate, after a few hours of exploration they encounter Levi Stone, a big, balding woodsman, "built like a factory that pumps out brick shithouses," is how I described him.  He's extremely friendly and offers to help the Investigators find the fireball-site, but urges them to join him and his family for breakfast first.  His wife Hannah serves the PCs some excellent biscuits and gravy, but the Investigators get a whiff of trouble when they notice a chain and shackle attached to the foot of the franklin stove in the corner.

They accompany Levi into the woods cautiously, as he gives them a tour of the region - pointing out local birds and animals as well as sites of interest such as an Indian burial mound.  "And here's the best sight of all," he whispers reverently as he leads the Investigators into a swampy clearing.  In the center of it stands a hideous, age-blackened totem pole with a single grotesque face snarling out of it.
"This is the Lord around these parts," Stone continues, "and he will have blood..." and he swings the hatchet he'd been using the clear brush, catching Eliza in the shoulder.  Amity drew two pistols and shot Stone twice in the back of the head, spraying Eliza with blood and gray matter.

After brief discussion, they decided to drag Stone's corpse into the clearing and lay it against the totem.  The ancient wood soaks up the blood like a dry sponge, and in a few minutes the totem is gnashing its teeth and pulling itself up from the ground.  Moses attempts to hack away at it with an axe and gets his arm nearly bitten off for his trouble before Dr. Ryder manages to rig up a molotov cocktail from a bottle of whiskey and toss the flaming bottle into the totem's mouth.  Before long the ancient wood is burning merrily and the Investigators manage to flee the scene without seeing the totem's ultimate fate.

From there, they found their way south to Griner's Stand, where they interviewed Priscilla Griner - she barely spoke above a whisper, apologizing for this claiming she'd taken ill.  Curiously, the dogs went nuts, barking and straining as soon as they got near the cabins, and the Investigators noticed a "fairy ring" of fat white mushrooms surrounding the property.

Eliza snuck around the back of the property as Amity and Moses talked to Priscilla and Dr. Ryder held the dogs.  Letting herself in the back door, Eliza discovered a room with smudged, occult-looking chalk drawings on the floor and a stack of books - Cotton Mather's account of the Salem Witch Trials, Joseph Glanville's Saducismus Triumphatus that inspired it, and a bound manuscript, clearly newly-written, written in scrawling block letters in row after row of overlapping text interspersed with carefully-traced diagrams of occult sigils and summoning circles.  The text is very hard to read but there's a note tucked in as a bookmark, big block letters spelling out:


The bookmark is at the 375th page of the manuscript, opposite a complex diagram of circles and triangles.  Eliza compared it to the chalk marks on the floor and found them different.

Confronting "Priscilla Griner" with the note, her tone changed from a whisper to a grating buzz, "You can't stop us," she droned, "We've already won."

Eliza and Amity opened fire, blasting "Priscilla" back in a spray of fluorescent yellow fluid.  Another blast and one of her arms separated.  Heaving its way out of Priscilla's dress and skin, a pinkish, fungoid creature resembling a man-sized dragonfly attempted to flee but was brought low by a final bullet and Moses' hatchet.  Oozing its yellow lifesblood out on the rough floor of the cabin, the thing shuddered and lay still.

Eliza went back to where Dr. Ryder was standing with the dogs, taking the leashes and trying to drag Fang, Killer and Bandit across the fairy ring.  Once they were across, the dogs went mad, rushing into the cabin and tearing the thing that was wearing Priscilla's face to oozing shreds.

The Investigators explored further but found little save directions to the Griner Farm, a ways downriver.  They resolved to go investigate that location as well.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Interlude: Convention Gaming, "Dead Light"

This past weekend was my home gaming convention, Running GAGG - put on by the Geneseo Area Gaming Group of SUNY Geneseo, my alma mater.  This year was the 19th annual Running GAGG, and I've attended almost every one since the 10th - I missed last year because I was moving my girlfriend from Maryland to New York that weekend, and I think I missed the 14th or 15th as well, but other than that I've hit every one, usually running at least one session of Call of Cthulhu.

Between work and some family stuff, I was only able to be at the convention on Friday night this year, and I'd decided to run the first 7th Edition CofC module released, "Dead Light," a survival-horror scenario taking place over the course of a single stormy night on the road between Arkham and...I think the module has it as Ipswitch, I might have done Aylesbury because I read over the module a time or two before running and then pretty much ran it from memory with a heavy mix of making it up as I went along.

I had five players, at least three of whom I'd run for at past Running GAGGs -- I'm not sure if Mike had played in my games before, but I knew the two Daves and Ben had both played in my con-games in the past.  Everyone was familiar with the game from 6th edition, and I walked them through character creation under the new 7th edition rules.  Our investigative party ended up consisting of:

A Speakeasy Owner (Ben)
A Bootlegger (Dave)
A Photographer (Dave)
A Jazz Musician (Mike)
A Chauffeur (George)

On a stormswept night in late April, on the road from Arkham to Aylesbury, the party had to quickly slam on the brakes to avoid running over a pale, half-dressed young woman who stumbles into the road.  She's barely responsive except to mumble "the light," and "Granddad" over and over.  Recalling a diner and gas station up the road, they take her there to try and find out who she is and to get her a doctor.  One of them notices a flicker of silvery light, like the after-image of a lightning strike, out of the corner of their eye, but when they turn their head, see nothing.

The gas station is half-blocked by a still-running pick-up truck, its door hanging open.  Inside, they meet a grouchy, half-drunk farmer whose truck it is, and he mutters something about "you'd be in a hurry too if you saw the light."  He's resistant to saying anything more.

As for the girl, they find out she's Emilia Webb, the granddaughter of a retired local physician, Dr. Cornelius Webb.  She lives with him at his cottage up the road.  Forcing a little bit of whiskey and then coffee past her lips, they manage to revive her enough that she can tell of a break-in at her grandfather's house, two masked men forcing their way in.  She can't remember anything past that, however, and they decide to investigate the house.

They soon find that the power's out at the Webb house (the speakeasy owner and chauffeur working together manage to get it working again), and stumble across - literally - the scene of a horrible crime.  They find Cornelius Webb dead, apparently of blood loss from a gunshot wound.  They also find one of his attackers - or half of him, anyways, his lower half having been seemingly burned away.  The upper half was worse - every blood vessel in his body had burst as if the blood had boiled in his veins.  On the ground between them is an overturned casket, like a jewelry box of wrought iron, its edge sticky with black sealing wax.

They also find a series of strange, deep burn marks at about waist-height on a line of trees on the property.  The bootlegger notices a flicker of silvery light, like the after-image of a lightning strike, out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned his head, saw nothing.

They clean up the area as best they can and decide to get Emilia back to the house and asleep - they found some powerful sleeping pills and discharge papers from the Sandhill Institute for Girls, a high-end sanitarium, in her bedroom.

Once she's in the car again back at the diner, a lighting flash reveals a figure standing on the edge of the road.  The bootlegger and speakeasy owner (I was a late night game) investigate the figure and find he's the second masked assailant, now out of his mind and babbling about "the light."  They quickly subdue him, tie him up and shove him in the trunk of the car, then take him and move him to the basement of the Webb house for interrogation.

Emilia drugged and asleep and the masked man too insane to give sensible answers, they decide to leave him tied up in the basement and catch a few winks of sleep themselves.  They're awoken by screams coming from the basement, and discover a silvery light, flowing like liquid, pouring in through a hole in a ground-level window into the basement, coiling around the masked man and burning its way into him.  Soon it's inside him, burning its way out, pouring, syrup-like, from his mouth and eye sockets as his flesh collapses into fine, white ash.

In a panic, the bootlegger fires three shots from his shotgun at the light, and while it seems to flinch back from the flash of gunpowder going off, the shots themselves do nothing.  The party runs upstairs and barricades the basement door behind them.

The jazz musician starts trying to wake up Emilia and get her out, while the bootlegger and speakeasy owner tear through Webb's study and bedroom looking for information on this strange light.  They manage to find a diary in which only a few pages are written; a brief history of the light as a "sin eater," passed down from physician to physician in Arkham since the 1600s, used to quietly dispose of stillborn children, especially those born out of wedlock or deformed.  There's also a page of dates, initials, and fees paid that sends a brief shiver down the speakeasy owner's spine as he realizes that these are dates and fees paid for the sin-eating light's service.

They do however find phonetic instructions of how to talk the light back into its casket.  They run back in the room just as the chauffeur, holding the casket out to try and catch the light in it, is consumed as the light burns through the basement door and flows over him.

They say the words and the light coils its way back into the casket.  Sealing it shut, come morning (and the end of the storm), they take it out into the deepest part of the woods and bury it, along with the remains of the half-eaten burglar and Dr. Webb.  They leave Emilia asleep and get back on the road to Aylesbury.


The session went really well I thought, especially since it was way past my bedtime these days when we began play.  Everyone had a good time and I got to hand out a bunch of custom D6s I'd had printed up by Chessex with Elder Signs in place of the "1"

I also got to talk to Meghan of Chaosium who was there working a booth and got to express my love of Call of Cthulhu directly to a representative of the company that makes it and asked her about if there was still any support for Chaosium's old "Cthulhu Cultist" GM program, because I'd love to have the company's blessing to do outreach for my favorite RPG and spread the love at conventions.  There's a lot of small college gaming conventions in my area because every local college has their own gaming club and their own convention, so it's a fairly easy thing for me to go around to Simcon, UBCon, etc and run games.  I mean, I'm probably going to do that anyways, but I'd love to have Chaosium catalogs or something I can give to players at the end of sessions.