Sunday, September 20, 2015

Call of Cthulhu Report #2: The Get of Belial

This was the second adventure of the day yesterday, and was begun at 7pm and wrapped up at quarter after 10; I'm honestly really glad it didn't stretch all the way to 11 - as is, I didn't get home until almost midnight, and I'm quickly turning into an old man who gets cranky when a 9pm bedtime is missed.  I was both surprised and pleased to have a couple people coming around asking if there were any open slots in this game, and while it was a disappointment to me to have to turn people away - the plain fact of the matter was I simply didn't have the resources to add two players to the game, nor would it have been fair to the people who did get signed up for my game on time.

This adventure was based on a scripted-but-not-filmed episode of the classic '70s TV series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker."  There are a couple unfilmed scripts floating around, for episodes rejected as either too similar to prior episodes, or too expensive to produce; "The Get of Belial" is officially considered too expensive, but was actually written around pre-existing sets.  Common thinking is that the religious elements in the script made some network executives uncomfortable, and so the episode got cut.  I moved the events from the 1970s to the 1920s, which works well given the history of the Labor movement in the United States in that era.

The adventure began with the PCs questioning the circumstances surrounding the murder of Glenn Maynard, president of the Associated Anthracite company, which manages the coal mines around the small town of Hopkinsville, West Virginia.  Maynard had been found dead, half-out the window of his totaled car, his chest caved in, marked with savage puncture wounds, and his head mostly severed.

The investigators, three miners (including the leader of the strike, an anarchist looking for opportunities for chaos, and an undercover Pinkerton agent), a muckracking reporter, and the local priest and schoolteacher, found themselves hitting dead end after dead end, even after finding a mysterious two-toed track.

A new lead surfaced when they attended Maynard's wake and funeral; his widow, Jennifer Maynard collapsing into a sobbing wreck at the wake, she was comforted when a thin, pale, plain woman touched her hand and loudly asked the Lord to ease Jennifer Maynard's sorrows and burden.  The woman, identified as Sarah Blackshear, then got into a nearby pick up truck and was driven off.

Following, the PCs soon learn that the Blackshears had been squatting at the abandoned schoolhouse - Sarah, her husband Henry, and adult sons Michael and Henry Jr.  They also had a large iron cage with them.  And for their trouble, Carl McGavin, the reporter, got a bullet in the shoulder from Michael Blackshear.  Having discovered their hideout, the PCs soon learned that the Blackshears were relocating - into the currently-abandoned mine.  They also learned that Sarah Blackshear had a third son: David, or "Sonny" as he was known, used to be a beautiful, sweet boy.

But everything changed for the Blackshears when a voice rang out from empty air - the voice, Sarah believes, of the Devil.  The voice promised the Blackshears that so long as Sarah continued to use her ability to lay on hands and heal the sick and suffering, Sonny would transform into a fiend more hideous than any in Hell.  Only by renouncing her healing powers would she be able to keep her beloved son.

Believing that "Man's extremity is God's opportunity," Sarah defiantly continued to use her gifts.  And Sonny changed, first emotionally, then physically.  Every time she lays on hands, Sonny flies into a berserk rage, breaking out of his cage and seeking out a victim to mutilate.

this is not the image I showed the players - but apparently
Tom Sullivan's illustration of the Ghast from "Sandy
Peterson's Field Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos" is not

Having learned this from the Blackshears, the investigators team up with them - with Sarah healing the ragged bullet hole in Carl's shoulder - to track down Sonny and hopefully either lure him back to Sarah to calm down and guide back to his cage, or if necessary, destroy him.

They stumble across the bodies of Al Bialek and Gracie Peters, which Sonny Blackshear had surprised as they were enjoying an adulterous midday tryst, and then murdered.  Figuring that Sonny's bloodlust being sated, he would probably head back to his mother, the investigators, with the Blackshears, head back to camp, where they find Sarah Blackshear softly singing a lullaby to a hulking subhumanoid creature as she cradled it in her scrawny arms.  Motioning her back, the union leader opened fire on the beast with his shotgun - only to see Sarah Blackshear erupt in stigmata matching the peppering of shot in the creature's pebbled hide.

Thinking quickly and hoping that the connection worked both ways, he turned his gun to Sarah and gave her the second barrel.  Sarah died, her placid face erupting in a spray of crimson, but the monster that had been her child remained standing.

(And at this point, I allowed the union leader's player to see my notes, where I'd noted: "Any damage that the Blackshear Creature takes, Sarah Blackshear experiences as well. The reverse is not also true – shooting Sarah in the head won’t kill the Creature." I had run this adventure before, and the last time I'd done so the players killed the monster by shooting Sarah in the head.  I was nervous that one of the players from the last time I'd run the game would be present this time around, and I wanted to ensure metagame knowledge would help no one)

At this point, the anarchist lit the fuse on a pipe-bomb he had handy, tossing it at the creature's feet.  It exploded, and the monstrous thing slumped to the ground, where it transformed back into the tattered remains of a 14 year old blonde boy.

The Blackshear men grudgingly acknowledged that Sonny Blackshear's suffering was at an end, and Sarah's as well.  The investigators put together a cover story for what happened to feed to the reporter's newspaper and the Pinkerton agency, while the surviving Blackshears packed up and left town.

This adventure needed some more work on my part.  I think I definitely fell into a bad habit of mine with convention games - I never expect my games to fill up, so typically I have four "core" pregenerated characters who have really strong ties to the adventure and two "secondary" characters who are less tightly tied to the adventure.  In this case, those were the schoolteacher and the priest; the player who ended up with the priest had never played Call of Cthulhu before so I was scrabbling at the table to make sure he was included and having fun.  Everyone told me that they had a lot of fun, but I feel like I could have done better to tie the characters into the adventure.  So that's something for me to work on for the next convention game.

Speaking of, I'm not sure when my next gaming convention is - probably nothing until Running GAGG, my alma mater's annual convention, which typically falls on Superbowl weekend.  I'm hoping to do Origins in Columbus in 2016; I would absolutely do Queen City Conquest in Buffalo as well, and I'm sure there's other gaming clubs at colleges in the area who put on conventions.  UBCon at the University of Buffalo I've had bad experiences with in the past, so I probably would not try that one again, but the University of Rochester hosts Simcon every year.

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