Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cthuesday: Inhabitants of L'gy'hx

In the fiction of Ramsey Campbell, the L'gy'hxians are squat, cube-shaped creatures of living metal, native to the planet Uranus.  They briefly played host to the Insects of Shaggai following the destruction of their homeworld, but ultimately drove the Insects off-world as a response to their religious rites.  Some L'gy'hxians may have come to Earth with the Insects, possibly as slaves.

I'm kind of surprised at how many times I've seen these creatures pop up in scenarios, given the fact that they're metallic cube-creatures from Uranus.  They appear in the adventure "Death by Misadventure" in the book Terrors from Beyond, in which they are missionaries looking to spread the worship of their bat-like god Lhrogg.  One also appears in the MULA monograph "The Big Book of Cults," associated with an unscrupulous plastic surgery clinic.  I feel like I've seen a third appearance, but I'm not recalling it right now.

So right away we have an interesting dichotomy for these creatures: religious fanatics or consummate scientists? Either way, they don't want anything to do with Azathoth, at least in the form that the Insects from Shaggai worship it, which seems wholly reasonable from both angles - both as a competing religion and as "they're worshiping an atomic explosion.  Maybe we don't want that in our backyard."

Let's take a look at the stats before we go any further:

STR = (6d6)x5 = 105
CON = (3d6+6)x5 = 82
SIZ = (2d6+10)x5 = 85
INT = (2d6+10)x5 = 85
POW = (3d6)x5 = 52
DEX = (2d6+3)x5 = 50
Move:  8
HP: 16-17
Av. Damage Bonus: +1d6
Build: +2
Attacks: 1 attack using an alien weapon (most commonly a thin slashing blade capable of cutting through metal as readily as flesh, or an electrical whip).  Other weapons are possible, even likely.

Fighting 30%, dmg 1d8+DB (knife) or 1d4+2d10 electrical damage (whip; on an Extreme success, the whip wraps around the target, dealing an automatic 2d10 electrical damage each round thereafter until the target is killed or manages to escape the coil)

Armor: 19 points of metallic "skin."

Spells: On a successful Extreme Intelligence roll, the L'gy'hxian knows as many spells as the number shown on the dice. One of these will always be Contact Lhrogg.

Skills: Electrical Repair 50%, Mechanical Repair 50%

Sanity Loss:0/1d8 to see a L'gy'hxian.

So what do we do with the Inhabitants of L'gy'hx? Well, let's take a look back at that dichotomy I mentioned earlier.  The L'gy'hxians have strong religious beliefs and advanced technology; as noted in the Malleus Monstrorum, they're not necessarily hostile, but they are curious.  

To that end, I'd equip them with spells that tie into these ideas of proselytizing and exploring.  Gate spells are going to be the big one, because this lets you bring the L'gy'hxians to Earth without relying on the Insects.  Spells like Mind Transfer would allow them to wander undetected among humanity, observing and studying, Suggestion lets them plant the seeds of L'gy'hxian ideas into human minds, making people more tractable for the purposes of conversion - either spiritual or physical.  

Another point I'd like to make here is - look at the literature of the UFO world, especially cattle mutilations, abductions and the various Contactee movements that have sprung up here and there since the 1950s.  People tend to only associate flying saucer lore with the Mi-Go, but I think it offers a lot of good, gameable ideas that can be used with any aliens.  The Malleus Monstrorum uses an altered image of Ezekiel's Vision as the image associated with the L'gy'hxians, and the description of "wheels within wheels" described in the Bible is often cited as evidence of a UFO encounter in the Bronze Age Mediterranean by ancient astronaut proponents.  

Here's a quickly-sketched out idea for a scenario that would play off the UFO ideas as well as the religious/scientific dichotomy mentioned earlier:

A ranch in an obscure corner of Utah begins experiencing a series of cattle mutilations over a series of weeks; the cows having been literally taken apart, the pieces neatly arranged around the main part of the carcasses.  The owners of the ranch begin reporting strange lights and nocturnal encounters - noises on the porch or the roof, like something heavy moving around slowly.  UFO investigators begin to investigate the area, interviewing the owners, setting up motion cameras, etc.  

Cuboid being by Michael Bukowski
Then the owners of the ranch begin claiming to have been contacted by aliens, having been given a message of "perfect peace" to deliver to the world.  The aliens are spiritually superior to Mankind, and are willing to serve as Messiahs to lift us out of our current benighted state.  The ranch metamorphoses into a church, preaching the message of salvation via alien intervention.  The aliens' god, an angelic creature of wings and eyes, is praised and venerated.  The church attracts converts and devotees the way any new religious movement does, drawing in the lonely, the forgotten, the ill and desperate.  

There's an undercurrent to the message, only given to those who have served the church faithfully and done their part to spread the teachings of Lhrogg.  For the chosen, there is a special heaven that awaits - they will be whisked off to the aliens' homeworld, to dwell in beauty and wonder forever.  

The ranchers-turned-preachers are no longer human; their bodies have been taken by L'gy'hxians, their minds consigned to a slow death inside the alien metal bodies of these invaders, kept securely locked in the storm cellar under the ranch, slowly asphyxiating in the thin, oxygen-rich atmosphere of Earth.  Whether they are looking for converts to take to L'gy'hx as slaves (surgically altered and mechanically augmented to survive the pressures and atmosphere of Uranus) or to Uraniform Earth into a colony world for their own kind to inhabit I leave to other Keepers.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

Cult of Chaos Report: "The Crystal of Chaos"

Things have been progressing beautifully with my biweekly Cthulhu games at Just Games Rochester.  I had a nearly full table this week for "the Crystal of Chaos," the second scenario from the collection "The House of R'Lyeh."  All the scenarios in this book are sequels to stories Lovecraft wrote, in this case "The Haunter in the Dark."

Cast of Characters:
an Archaeology grad student from Harvard
a Folklore grad student from Miskatonic
a Librarian from Miskatonic
a Private Eye from Arkham
a Mineralogist from Arkham

The PCs are hired by Professor Ronald Galloway of Miskatonic to locate the Shining Trapezohedron, a reference to which his assistant, Professor Jonathan Engels, had found in passing.  The Trapezohedron had been discovered by Professor Enoch Bowen in 1843 in the tomb of Nephren-Ka, the Black Pharaoh of the Third Dynasty, and brought to Providence.  It's location in the nearly hundred years since then has been unknown.  Miskatonic University is offering the PCs $50 a day, plus expenses, plus a bonus of $200 apiece to locate the stone, which will become the centerpiece of an Egyptian display and a feather in the cap of the Archaeology Department on campus.

Searching through the library at Miskatonic (and failing to convince the aging Professor Armitage that they should be granted access to De Vermis Mysteriis), they find a few interesting tidbits about the Trapezohedron and its connection to a demon called "The Haunter in the Dark," then board the train to Providence to continue their search there.

From the archives of the Providence Bulletin, they learn that Dr. Bowen purchased an old church upon his return from Egypt, and started a cult there.  The cult, known as the Church of Starry Wisdom, was vastly unpopular with its Irish and Italian Catholic neighbors, and rumors circulated of the cult's connection to certain disappearances over the years, and finally, in the 1870s, police officials caved to public demand and forcibly disbanded the group.

Locating the old Free-Will Church where the cult held session, they broke in and began to investigate.  Helping themselves to some gold accouterments of the Starry Wisdom cult and marveling at the still-intact (and horrifying) stained glass windows, they soon found the Trapezohedron, reposing in an open gold case atop an altar inside the church's steeple.  They closed the box - AND THUS ENCLOSED THE TRAPEZOHEDRON IN THE PERFECT DARKNESS IT SO CRAVED - and took the case out of the church.

After some experimentation, in which the mineralogist could not identify the makeup of the stone and he and the archaeology grad student both felt a hypnotic pull from the stone, they turned it over to Dr. Engels, collected their fee, and went on their merry way.

A week later, having noticed a news article in the Providence Bulletin about hordes of rats pouring out of the Free-Will Church, they realized something might be off and went to Engels to negotiate for the stone back, hoping returning it to the Church would stem the rodent plague.  Engels, no longer the stuttering, nervous man they'd met previously but smug, confident and for some reason studying physics and chemistry textbooks in his free time, brushed them off.

When they tried to push the issue, he led them to the workroom where the Trapezohedron and its case were being cleaned.  As soon as they were in the room, he slammed the door and turned off the light, summoning a snakey entity that, from what little they could see of it, resembled the images on the stained glass in the church.  This beast encircled the private eye and nearly tore his arm off with its jaws.  The entity vanished in a puff of black, foul-smelling smoke when the PCs got the lights on, only to learn that Engels had vanished during the confusion and the private eye was rapidly going into shock and needed to be taken to the hospital.

Months later, the mineralogist noticed a news item about a "Dr. Jonathan Engels" who was touring the country lecturing on the benefits mankind would reap from splitting the atom, and wondered what had been unleashed on the world.


I think this is the first time I've run a scenario where the PCs have really "lost." It's also the first time in years I've run a published adventure without extensively rewriting it.  Overall everyone had fun, especially the private eye's player - a teenage girl and daughter of one of the other players, expanding beyond the D&D/Pathfinder paradigm for the first time.  She kept wanting to check the rooms of the church for secret passageways and traps, but eventually she worked out of that mindset into the more investigative Cthulhu mindset.

I was a little disappointed that the PCs never went into the basement of the church, and thus never encountered the animated mummy that was hiding down there - I love mummies, and was excited to get to use him, but it just didn't work out that way.  C'est la vie.

I think the biggest issue I ran into is that I feel like the adventure presumes that one of the player characters will end up sucked in by the Trapezohedron and possessed by Nyarlathotep's Haunter in the Dark avatar, which just didn't happen here.  The players kept rolling really well on their POW rolls to resist possession, so it fell to Engels, the NPC, to be possessed - I think this is mentioned briefly in the adventure notes as a possibility, but isn't really elaborated on.

Next week I'm off, as the other guy's Horror on the Orient Express campaign is picking back up after a brief hiatus, and I'm not sure yet what I'm running the week after that.  I'm currently writing an adventure for the Gaslight Era set during the Klondike Gold Rush, but if that's not ready in time I'll pull out a published adventure - for some reason "A Happy Family" from the book "Adventures in Arkham County" is kind of calling to me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cthuesday: The Scions of Tsathoggua

Thusfar, Cthuesday has focused on entities that investigators can overcome with brute force and a bit of luck.  I think it's time for a change; there are plenty of monsters in Call of Cthulhu that require a great deal of smarts and specialized tools (i.e., magic) to overcome, and are best dealt with via a good set of running shoes.  One of my favorites, despite its association here with Clark Ashton Smith's toad-god Tsathogua, is a creation of Robert E. Howard, a man best known for his sword-and-sorcery tales.  Never named in the stories but dubbed the "Scions of Tsathoggua" by Chaosium, these giggling, elephantine beasts are also associated with the toadlike entities Gol-Goroth and Ossadagowah, both entities being speculatively identified as an elder member of the species in the Malleus Monstrorum.

I like the nebulosity this creates; if the investigators are going up against a cult of Gol-Goroth, are they going to ultimately be fighting against the Great Old One, or a Scion misidentified by its worshipers as Gol-Goroth? It makes a big difference and can keep the players on their toes.

The story most strongly associated with the Scions of Tsathoggua is "The Thing on the Roof," in which a Scion follows an adventurer home to retrieve a stolen amulet from an ancient temple.  According to Von Junzt, author of Nameless Cults, the Scion is both the treasure and the god of the ancient temple, furthering the association of these creatures accepting worship on their sire's behalf or being flat-out misidentified as gods themselves.  Personally, and I say this as no dedicated Howard scholar, I identify the creature that appears in "The Fire of Asshurbanipal" as another Scion.  A slightly more controversial, perhaps, identification on my part is to identify Thog, the entity that Conan slays, or at least banishes, in the story "Xuthal of the Dusk" (aka "The Slithering Shadow") as a Scion of Tsathoggua as well.  There is precious little in the story to differentiate Thog from the temple guardians in the other two stories, so I see no reason not to treat them as members of the same species.

The description given in "The Thing on the Roof" is amazing, telling us everything we need to know while also telling us precious little of concrete substance - only hints and insinuations, as is best for Call of Cthulhu:

"Gathering my shattered nerves, I broke down the door. A foul and overpowering stench billowed out like a yellow mist. Gasping in nausea I entered. The room was in ruins, but nothing was missing except that crimson toad-carved jewel Tussmann called the Key, and that was never found. A foul, unspeakable slime smeared the windowsill, and in the center of the room lay Tussmann, his head crushed and flattened; and on the red ruin of skull and face, the plain print of an enormous hoof."

Let's see what these stats would look like in 7th edition:

STR = (6d6+34)x5 = 275
CON = (3d6+6)x5 = 82
SIZ = (6d6+42)x5 = 315
INT = (2d6+6)x5 = 65
POW = (3d6+6)x5 = 82
DEX = (3d6)x5 = 52
Move: 7/10 Flying
HP: 39-40
Av. Damage Bonus: +6d6
Attacks: 2d6 tentacles OR 1 bite OR 1 trample

Fighting 45%, dmg 1d6 (bite), 1/2 damage bonus (tentacle) or 2d10+DB (trample)

Armor: because of the mucus-like makeup of their bodies, Scions of Tsathoggua suffer minimum possible damage from physical, non-enchanted weapons.  Fire, chemicals, electricity and spells and enchanted weapons harm them normally

Spells: all know Contact Tsathoggua, Call Ossadagowah and Contact Formless Spawn spells.  These entities may know 1d6 other spells as well if an Extreme INT roll is made on 1d100.

Sanity Loss: 1d2/1d10 Sanity Points to see a Scion of Tsathoggua.

So now what do we do with one of these? They've got a strong association with being the guardians of sacred sites and the avengers of slights to the Toad God, which I think is a good starting point for pulpy, globe-trotting adventure scenarios, but what if we want something a little darker?

Maybe for a modern (or, I suppose, a classic) era scenario, one of these creatures takes up residence in the sub-basements of a major museum; a globe-trotting adventurer 80 years ago brought home an idol he shouldn't have, the Scion showed up, killed the adventurer -- but decided that leaving the idol here could allow for the formation of a new and revitalized cult.  It has made itself comfortable in a sub-basement among the dusty crates of past expeditions and has begun to call out to the minds of men, summoning the weak-willed to serve it.

First, a janitor or two.  Just as a warm up.  Nobody notices much when these guys start spending their lunches down there, and working extra late.  Then a security guard.  Presented with a living god, driven mad by its presence, what is there to do but to serve? Now the cult has a little muscle; a man with a gun can sometimes accomplish what an alien monster cannot.  One by one, the museum service crew and security are taken under the Scion's guidance before setting sight on the curators and scientists working upstairs.

Eventually, there's a Mistake.  Someone goes mad and flees gibbering from the scene.  They manage to make it up into the museum proper before the cult can stop them.  The madman is seen before they can be dealt with.  This is messy; the cult moves to start covering up the escape.  The madman was working too hard, had a nervous breakdown, they start to say.  If there's a police investigation, they try to deflect it away from where the Scion is hiding, or separate the cops and bring only one at a time into the Scion's presence.  After all, members of law enforcement would be handy for the cult to control.

And then there are those pesky Investigators who start poking around...

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Frostgrave Major Demon

This figure, Reaper Bones' "Balor, Fire Demon," was my first purchase at my Friendly Local Gaming Store, Just Games Rochester, and the inspiration behind the creation of my Summoner warband, "Belphegor's Diabolists." The D&D Balor being based on Tolkien's Balrogs (the name changed to keep the Tolkien Estate from suing Gary Gygax's pants off), I wanted to emphasize the imagery of a creature of fire and smoke for this figure.  I think I succeeded pretty well.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cthuesday: The Swine-Things

You know the way some geeks fan-boy out over Lovecraft? Lovecraft himself fan-boyed out of William Hope Hodgson, an early Weird Horror author whose life and career were cut tragically short in the trenches of the First World War.  I will admit that at this point, I kind of feel a bit jaded on Lovecraft's own work, having read and reread his stories so many times; but I still get the same Weird thrill from Hodgson that I no longer get from Lovecraft.  I'm sure time and familiarity will dull that thrill, but for now, man, Hodgson's the best.  Today's Cthuesday Creature comes from his 1908 novel The House on the Borderland, which Lovecraft admitted as an especial favorite.

Here's the description given in the novel:

Thus, I saw the thing more completely; but it was no pig—God alone knows what it was. It reminded me, vaguely, of the hideous Thing that had haunted the great arena. It had a grotesquely human mouth and jaw; but with no chin of which to speak. The nose was prolonged into a snout; thus it was that with the little eyes and queer ears, gave it such an extraordinarily swinelike appearance. Of forehead there was little, and the whole face was of an unwholesome white color.

For perhaps a minute, I stood looking at the thing with an ever growing feeling of disgust, and some fear. The mouth kept jabbering, inanely, and once emitted a half-swinish grunt. I think it was the eyes that attracted me the most; they seemed to glow, at times, with a horribly human intelligence, and kept flickering away from my face, over the details of the room, as though my stare disturbed it.

It appeared to be supporting itself by two clawlike hands upon the windowsill. These claws, unlike the face, were of a clayey brown hue, and bore an indistinct resemblance to human hands, in that they had four fingers and a thumb; though these were webbed up to the first joint, much as are a duck's. Nails it had also, but so long and powerful that they were more like the talons of an eagle than aught else.

The creatures are intelligent yet savage, human-like yet powerfully inhuman, and seemingly drawn to areas of instability in time and space.  The titular House of the novel sits on what appears to be a nexus point between our world and another dimension, a place called the Plain of Silence, ringed by mountains upon which strange, bestial faces are carved.  It is here that the narrator of the novel first encounters the Swine-Things, though they soon follow him back to our world, eventually collapsing much of the ground under and around the House into a vast sinkhole to entrap him.  The Malleus Monstrorum also suggests that these foul creatures could be encountered both in the Waking World and the Dreamlands - perhaps the Plain of Silence itself is part of the Dreamlands, bordering on the Vale of Pnath or the Plateau of Leng?

I'm not going to get too much into Dreamlands material here; if I wanted to run a Dreamlands game I'd probably use D&D or similar rules instead of Call of Cthulhu, to be honest, but it's also just not my style; I much prefer "realistic" horror games set in the real world to trying to run swashbuckling fantasy adventure in a world for which the players have no base of reference to ground themselves in.

Let's update the Swine-Things' stats from 6th to 7th edition before we go any further, shall we?

STR: (2d6+8)x5 = 85
CON: (3d6)x5 = 52
SIZ: (2d6+8)x5 = 85
INT: (3d6)x5 = 52
POW: (3d6)x5 = 52
DEX: (3d6)x5 = 52
HP: 12-13
Move: 8
Av. Damage Bonus: +1d4
Build: 1
Attacks: two claws OR one bite OR one tusk gore (for Swine-Things with tusks, most likely older males) per round.

Fighting 30%, dmg 1d6+DB (claws), 1d4 (bite), or 1d8+DB (tusk gore)

Armor: none

Spells: Normally none, but a Swine-Thing with an Intelligence of 85 or higher may know 1d4 spells.

Skills: Climb 80%, Listen 60%, Scent 80%, Sense Time/Space Instability/Gate 75%, Track 65%

Sanity Loss: 0/1d6 to see a Swine-Thing.

So what are we looking at here? Physically, the average Swine-Thing is a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger than the average human, but not outrageously so.  Their bodies are relatively soft and defenseless, with enough hit points to take a rifle bullet or two before falling, but not much more than that.  And they tend to arrive in groups, making them an ideal alternative to cultists for your Thompson-trigger-happy players.

The odds are very much against Swine-Thing knowing spells, but in the off chance they do, the Malleus Monstrorum suggests spells relating to Yog-Sothoth, Daoloth, Chaugnar Faugn or otherwise relating to movement through space and time.  These are very sound choices, given these creatures' connection with the membrane between worlds, if a little unimaginative.  At one point in the original novel, a Swine-Thing infects first the narrator's dog, then the narrator himself, with a luminous fungal infection - sure sounds like the spell "Green Decay" to me!

A couple ways of presenting these creatures in a scenario spring to my mind.  The first is as a sort of fourth-dimensional parasite; these creatures are drawn to and feed upon anything that disturbs the integrity of the barrier between dimensions, leeching off the energies released on both sides of that barrier.  This could take many forms; a Gate spell, sure, but also perhaps the summoning of a Dimensional Shambler or Hound of Tindalos.  An attempt to contact Yog-Sothoth could have disastrous side-effects as a horde of shuffling Swine-Things take up residence in the vicinity.  In such a situation, the Swine-Things would take on a similar "canary in the coal mine" role as the Tunnelers Below I examined last week; a good Cthulhu Mythos roll could identify the presence of these creatures as indicative of a time/space breach.

Of course, in such a situation there could be a "bigger, badder" horror lurking right around the corner; this should not devalue the Swine-Things as a menace by any means.  Remember, while the parasites dropped by the CLOVERFIELD monster couldn't push over buildings, they were a much more immediate threat to the cast of that film.  A manifestation of Yog-Sothoth might not ever notice the Investigators; the Swine-Things entering our world in its wake, though...!

The other option that presents itself is to focus on the near-humanity of the Swine-Things; suppose these are the human beings of another dimension.  The references to a Plain of Silence bring to mind Ramsey Campbell's short story "The Plain of Sound," inhabited by intelligences that in our reality manifest as sound-waves, but have form in their own dimension.  Perhaps the Swine-Things exist as disembodied intelligences or sentient sound-waves, or gases, or whatever in their reality, coterminous to our own, but when the barrier is breached and they enter our dimension, a dimension of matter, the piggish form is what their sound-waves or whatever translate to in matter.  Perhaps the investigators discover an old cabin where a reclusive scientist was working, accidentally broke open the barrier, and the Swine-Things emerged.  The scientist is dead, the Swine-Things are working to bring more of their kind through, and it's up to the investigators to piece together the scientist's notes and figure out a way to seal off the barrier and deal with the Swine-Things that are already here.

I think that's it for this week; I'm not sure where I'll go with the next installment, but I'll think of something.  I'm definitely open to suggestions as well.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cult of Chaos: "The Haunting of De Morcey House"

This past Tuesday was my second outing as a store GM for Just Games Rochester, once again running Call of Cthulhu 7e with a one-shot adventure at the big front table right by the register.  I had four players this time around, and we had a couple people wander up to the table to ask what we were playing - though I think they were mostly just confused and looking for a D&D 5e game that was taking place in the store's back room.

The adventure this time began life as an updating of the classic introductory adventure "The Haunting" to the modern day, and quickly took on a life of its own - I think less than 30% of the original adventure was left when I was done with it.

The investigators were the cast and crew of "Haunt Hunters," a third-rate ghost hunting show on a fifth-rate cable network (the players decided it was "MTV 8"), gearing up for the fourth season premiere, in which they'd gotten permission to check out the De Morcey House, long reputed to be the most haunted residential building on the East Coast.  They first tracked down the "kids" of the last family that lived there, now in their fifties, for some on-camera interviews (and, out of character, as fodder for anything bad in the house) and then checked out the Chapel of Contemplation, a spiritualist group, now long-disbanded, that De Morcey had been a member of back in the 1920s and which had maintained his estate after his passing.  In a buried basement of the ruined church, they discovered evidence that De Morcey had been buried somewhere on the property and that the Contemplationists worshiped something referred to as "The Caller of the Black."

Once in the House (I used a Clue - Cluedo to those in the UK - board as a layout, just for fun) they soon began to experience strange things - doors closing on their own, for example, and rats pouring out of a mattress once disturbed.  Then one of the "Haunt Hunters" tried looking out a window in one of the upstairs bedrooms...at which point a bed suddenly lurched and slammed into him, hurling him out the window.

In another room, the Haunt Hunters' "team Psychic," actually an eye-liner wearing conman, spotted a gold ring in the shadows under a piece of furniture, but when he tried to pick it up it transformed into a worm that burrowed into his arm.  After a few seconds of trying frantically to get it out, he suddenly spaced and came to with no recollection of the incident,

Perhaps most interestingly, when the investigators tried calling the name "Caller of the Black," the production assistant had a sudden vision - of a weird, alien jungle, and a clearing in which slowly rotated the floating form of a bat-winged, slug-tailed entity, covered in breasts, with a pulpy, oversized yet feminine head, covered in mismatched eyes.  The entity, in her rotations, smiled as she faced him.  [Keeper's Note: I gave them calling on Yibb-Tstll a 1% chance of doing anything - and then rolled a 001.]

In the Lounge - the room William De Morcey had died in in 1928 - they heard voices, first a man bellowing "Caller of the Black, Reverser of Fortunes! Observer of All, Past Present and Future! I beg of thee – Return my children to me!" followed by another man laughing and saying, "I know how we can get De Morcey - run over his kids with a car! Then tell him we can help..." Consulting their history of the House, they recalled that De Morcey joined the Chapel of Contemplation after his three young children were killed in a freak auto accident - a car hopped a curb and hit the three of them all at once.  They realized that De Morcey had been manipulated into joining the Chapel as part of some sinister plot.

Investigating the Library looking for more information on the Chapel, maybe a "Cult Bible," they instead notice some strange imagery in the grimy stained glass windows.  Cleaning the windows, they found images of the Zodiac sign of Aquarius, flanked by two knights or saints holding banners, the banners bearing seemingly random jumbles of letters.

Deciphering the lettering, they found a coded message - "Bury me where the water is drawn." To the old well out back!

Descending into the well, they found a bricked over doorway that they were able to kick in.  Here, they found a chamber containing not one, but four human skeletons - one of average size and three little ones, as well as a statuette carved from some black mineral, shot through with veins of amber-colored crystal, a perfect likeness of the entity the production assistant saw in his vision.  When he picked up the statue, the ground suddenly began to boil and churn, as hundreds of thousands of worms - nightcrawlers, bloodworms, maggots - began to force their way up out of the soil.

To their horror, the worms began to coalesce, clinging to each other to form a rough, humanoid shape.  Panicked, the production assistant smashed the statuette to shards - and the shape raised a squirming "arm," pointed at him, and a bolt of crackling, black energy shot forth, The PA, caught in the blast, began to shrink, blacken and wither, until he was reduced to a skeleton covered in too-tight, dried out skin, cracking and flaking.

The rest of the investigators fled at this point, content that they had enough footage for a two-part episode to open season 4, and made a call to the police to report what had happened - and getting told that prank calling the police with reports of hauntings was no laughing matter - before leaving the area for good.

Their last glimpse was of the worm-being carefully arranging and polishing the bones, and the realization that the worm-being was De Morcey, his consciousness still alive somehow, and had collected the bones of his wife and children at some point in the preceding eighty years, a happy family reunited at last.


I had four players this time around, mostly familiar faces but a new guy as well.  Everything went pretty smoothly - I went through two bottles of water during the course of almost three hours of play, so I wasn't too scratchy afterwards, Several of the players had Cthulhu experience, and one of them is actually running an unmodified version of "The Haunting" in a couple weeks at a convention.  I'm pretty happy to say it took him about a half-hour of play to realize this was the Haunting underneath all my tweaks, and he was really impressed at the revisions I'd made.

The big challenge that this session presented was actually with scheduling.  The store announces events on Facebook, and at the owner's prior suggestion and reshared this game on a local Meetup group to try and get a full table.  At one point it looked like I might have as many as twelve people showing up, which is way too many - twice what I'm generally comfortable as a maximum for running for, and no place in the store to seat that many.  When I posted about this on both sites, it led to a pretty spirited discussion on who expected to be seated, as well as a number of people deciding not to attend.  So I'm looking into better ways to present an online sign-up sheet for players.

Overall, however, good session and I've got people looking forward to my next session on March 22nd.  I'm giving myself a bit of a challenge there - I'm running an unmodified published adventure for the first time since probably 2009.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Cthuesday: The Tunnelers Below

Paul Carrick is likely the only person who
has illustrated these obscure creatures.
Greetings, readers, another Cthuesday rolls around and with it we have another creature, this time from the pen of author Fritz Leiber, perhaps better known for his stories of the fantastic heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser - though personally I consider his novel Our Lady of Darkness to be one of the most amazing pieces of Mythos fiction ever penned.  I'll be covering his "Paramental Entities" in a later installment.  This week I wanted to give myself a little bit of a challenge, with a creature that's a bit harder to work with.  Let's get a description and then we'll dive into the meat of things:

"They were worms about as long as a man and as thick as a man's thigh, cylindrical and untapering.  From end to end, as many as a centipede's legs, were pairs of tiny wings, translucent like a fly's, which vibrated unceasingly, producing an unforgettably sinister low-pitched hum.  They had no eyes - their heads were one circular mouth lined with rows of triangular teeth each like a shark's." - Fritz Leiber, "The Terror from the Depths"

These creatures are essentially a form of psychic parasites, imbued with a powerful form of telepathy and an insatiable desire for Mythos-related knowledge.  They invade dreams, leech off the subconscious mind, and congregate in great numbers in cave-systems connected to Mythos locations; they can be found beneath R'lyeh itself, or Dunwich, or Innsmouth.  This makes them a convenient entity for the Keeper looking to catch jaded players off-guard, and can even serve as a weird variation on the "canary in the coal mine" - encountering Tunnelers can be a sign that worse things are afoot in the region.  Normally I'm disinclined to include multiple monsters in a scenario; I really dislike "Monster Mashes" in Call of Cthulhu as a matter of personal preference unless they are reasonably connected - such as a Serpent Person using zombies as guards, for example.  So we may come back to the idea of Tunnelers as "canaries," or we may not.

Physically, Tunnelers are not outrageous by Cthulhu standards; they've got a good chunk of hit-points apiece (averaging 16-17) and take half-damage from non-magical attacks, as well as regenerating two hit points per round.  So, like many creatures, you're not going to want to go head to head against one unless you're very well-prepared; spells like "Shriveling" and "Bless Blade" are going to be your friends here, and chances are if you are encountering Tunnelers, you've likely got a good bit of Cthulhu Mythos knowledge under your belt already - and if not, you will.

The dangerous thing about Tunnelers is that they radiate Mythos knowledge; spending time in a region infested with these creatures can lead to massive sanity losses and an involuntary gain in Mythos knowledge as things you never wanted to know seep into your brain.  It begins slowly, 1d4 SAN points lost per week, but it ramps up until you're losing 1d6 points of SAN per day.  That's brutal!

Likewise, every Tunneler knows 2-8 spells, which will likely run the gamut of the Grimoire.  Besides making the far more dangerous than their physical stats alone would, this also presents the possibility of a deranged sorcerer seeking them out, offering to hunt down the knowledge they seek in exchange for specific spells he desires.

Let's get those updated 7th edition stats up before we go any further:

STR: (3d6+6)x5 = 82
CON: (3d6+12)x5 = 112
SIZ: (3d6)x5 = 52
INT: (3d6+6)x5 = 82
POW: (6d6+12)x5 = 165
DEX: (2d6)x5 = 35
HP: 16-17
Move: 4/2 burrowing
Av. Damage Bonus: +1d4
Build: 1
Attacks: one bite per round

Fighting 80%, dmg 2d6+DB

Armor: suffers only half damage from normal, non-magical weapons and attacks, round down any fraction; regenerates 2 hit points per round after being wounded, but dies immediately upon reaching zero hit points.

Spells: 2d4 of the Keeper's choosing.

Sanity Loss: 1d3/1d10 to see a Tunneler Below.

So what do we do with these creatures to make them the basis of a scenario? I touched briefly on using them as a sign of darker things afoot - in which case I would probably have them drawn to "big" castings like Gate Spells and summonings like a moth to flame; imagine them as the remoras attached to the underside of a Hunting Horror or Servitor of the Outer Gods.  I would have them especially attracted to things that weaken the barriers between dimensions; Sentinel Hill in Dunwich I would honeycomb with their tunnels in response to summonings of Yog-Sothoth there over the years, for example.  Likewise if I were to run the Shadows of Yog-Sothoth campaign again, I would make them a hazard in the "Look to the Future" chapter.  I might treat them as creatures of another world that were accidentally brought into ours through injudicious spellcasting; Lovecraft's "From Beyond" might not be a bad place to look for ideas about using these monsters as well (and the gelatinous "Terrors from Beyond" will be appearing here one of these weeks as well), replacing the Tillinghast Resonator with a Time Gate or the like.

But to make them the focal point of a scenario? That's a bit trickier.  I think the way to go about it would be to use them at the midpoint, or a little later, in an ongoing campaign.  Once the Investigators have begun gaining the knowledge they need to combat the Mythos, they've also, paradoxically, gained the knowledge they need to be appealing to the Tunnelers Below.  In a campaign like Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, I'd use them once the Investigators have become a serious thorn in the human villain's scheme - the sorcerer reaches out to the Tunnelers and offers them some big, juicy bit of Mythos knowledge (which he may or may not have) in exchange for the destruction of the Investigators.  Then the Tunnelers are off to collapse the Investigators' house into a giant sinkhole or drive them crazy.

In fact, I think it's even more interesting if the sorcerer doesn't have the knowledge he's bartering with, and is bluffing the Tunnelers; maybe he's found a way to protect himself from their psychic probings.  This gives the Investigators, maybe, the ability to bargain with the Tunnelers and maybe turn them back on the sorcerer.  These are not unintelligent parasites, after all; their average intelligence is that of a very smart human.

For that matter, they would make an interesting alternative to Nyarlathotep for a more Mephistophelean take on the Mythos; present them as tempters and makers of bargains, offering power to the powerless, revenge to those who seek it, maybe even presenting their relationship with their victims not as parasitism but as symbiosis.  "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours," as it were.

Let's run with that for a minute, shall we? What if we declare the Tunnelers drawn, not to "Mythos energy" or "Mythos knowledge," but to human suffering - which is, perhaps, the same thing.  They would be found, then, in places of human atrocity, feeding on the misery and despair and feeding back even more of the same into the area, creating an intensifying loop of suffering.  Here and there, they find "points of darkness" - human beings who rage instead of despair, human beings who seek to strike back at any cost.  These, the Tunnelers make contact with.

This, I'm realizing more and more, is the key to the horror of the Mythos; it's not the monsters or the tentacles, its the depths of cruelty and ignorance humans will gleefully plunge into; the Mythos is at its most frightening when it's a tool in the hands of an all-too-human figure with recognizable, even sympathetic, goals.  Use the Tunnelers to facilitate that plunge.  Whisper the name of Azathoth in the ear of a child soldier in Africa.  Offer to undermine the homes of Wall Street's elite.  The rewards reaped never justify the price one eventually pays.

The price may seem innocuous - to borrow an idea from Leiber's fictitious magic system of Megapolisomancy, maybe all the Tunnelers want are certain signs chalked or painted in a certain pattern of specific buildings throughout the city - individually, they are nothing, just a few lines.  But in conjunction with all the other signs, they could open a massive rift into the realms of Yog-Sothoth.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Frostgrave Warband: Belphegor's Diabolists

Another band of cut-throats and dastards seen among the ruins of Felstad.  I wanted to go for a darker, more Goetic look for my Summoner and his gang, so I went with Reaper's Cultists for my Wizard and Apprentice, and kept a very muted, unified color scheme - black, dark red, blood red, tarnished steel - throughout the group.  The two half-fiends, my Thief and one of my Knights, as well as the two Imps and two Warhounds, received a highlight of Phoenix Red to make their skin tones pop a little bit.  Reaper's "Vandorenda, Snake Demon" is my Minor Demon, because it's going to be a few levels of play before she's no longer the biggest baddest thing I can summon.  The Coral Snake color scheme on her lower half is my default for these kinds of demons - when I painted another copy of this figure many years ago, that was the color scheme I went with, and again when I commissioned artwork for a similar monster for a D&D campaign.

Things I'm really pleased with in this bunch - the free-hand on the book and shields, how nicely unified everything came out, Vandorenda's flaming hair, and the albino skin-tone and hair for my second knight, the anti-paladin Cassiatta.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Frostgrave Warband: The Undying Host of Sutekh-Ra

They do not sleep.  They do not eat.  They feel neither mercy, nor compassion, nor forgiveness.  They are driven by a will not their own, a will that seeks the arcane treasures of Felstad.  Tremble if you catch sight of them, for they are the Undying Host.

Called up from untold centuries of death, they emerged from their tombs and pyramids at the command of Sutekh-Ra, the Ever-Living, the Thrice-Damned, the Wizard that Dies Not.  The Necromancer, his empty eye sockets glowing balefully, gave the command to march, and his legion of the damned did.  By his side, the acolyte Skelos-Ptah, of an older vintage than his master but less schooled in the ways of sorcery.

By the signs of Sutekh-Ra's ancient sorcery will you know them.  When the ice turns to shifting desert sand and black-shelled beetles the size of a man's fist flit through the air, you will know you have entered the presence of Ancient Spirits of Evil...

three Thugs for Frostgrave.

three Men-at-Arms.  Did you expect Sutekh-Ra to employ Thieves and Treasure-Hunters?


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cthuesday: The Reptiles of the Nameless City

"To convey any idea of these monstrosities is impossible. They were of the reptile kind, with body lines suggesting sometimes the crocodile, sometimes the seal, but more often nothing of which either the naturalist or the palaeontologist ever heard. In size they approximated a small man, and their fore-legs bore delicate and evident feet curiously like human hands and fingers. But strangest of all were their heads, which presented a contour violating all know biological principles. To nothing can such things be well compared - in one flash I thought of comparisons as varied as the cat, the bullfrog, the mythic Satyr, and the human being. Not Jove himself had had so colossal and protuberant a forehead, yet the horns and the noselessness and the alligator-like jaw placed things outside all established categories. I debated for a time on the reality of the mummies, half suspecting they were artificial idols; but soon decided they were indeed some palaeogean species which had lived when the nameless city was alive. To crown their grotesqueness, most of them were gorgeously enrobed in the costliest of fabrics, and lavishly laden with ornaments of gold, jewels, and unknown shining metals." - H.P. Lovecraft, The Nameless City (1921)

This story is most noteworthy for being the first reference to Abdul Alhazred, the Mad Arab, and his "curious couplet" that all Lovecraft fans know by heart: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, yet with strange aeons even death may die." Here, the phrase is applied to these strange reptilians that are entombed in this lost, nameless city deep in the least-accessible regions of the Arabian peninsula.  While the narrator of the story at first encounters mummified versions of the creatures encased in glass, the crowning horror is when, from the depths of the underground city, he is swarmed by a half-transparent mass of creatures not precisely like the ones encountered under glass, but at least close cousins.  I've seen these half-transparent versions described variously as the unquiet ghosts of the mummified creatures, or as pigmentless, cave-dwelling descendants.  Personally, I prefer the latter, and Chaosium has graciously provided stats - first in, I believe, the first volume of the Keeper's Companion, and later in the Malleus Monstrorum - for a physical encounter with the Nameless Reptiles.  To the best of my knowledge, the only adventure they appear in is "Nameless City, Nameless Terrors" in the book The House of R'lyeh, where they appear strictly as ghosts.

If you want to tie these creatures into real world mythology, take a look at the Zuni Emergence Tale.  In it, a pair of culture heroes lead humanity out of the darkness of a series of underground worlds, eventually emerging to the surface.  Here, humans are dismayed to discover they have scales, tails, horns, and webbed hands, which the culture hero removes over the next few days.  What if the Nameless Reptiles are these "First Men" the Zuni myths speak of? Ancestral horrors are a staple of Lovecraft, after all.

STR (4d6)x5 = 70
CON (3d6)x5 = 52
SIZ (4d6)x5 = 70
INT (3d6)x5 = 52
POW (3d6)x5 = 52
DEX (3d6)x5 = 52
Hit Points: 12-13
Move: 6
Av. Damage Bonus: +1d4
Build: 1

Attacks: 1 (bite or claw, or weapon)

Fighting 50% damage 1d6+db
Spiked club 40%, damage 1d8+db

Armor: 2 points scaly hide

Spells: None, normally (my emphasis)

Skills: Listen 35%, Scent 50%, Spot Hidden 50%, Stealth 50%

Sanity Loss: 0/1d6 to see a Nameless Reptile

What, then, are we to do with these Nameless Reptiles? How do we put them into a scenario? I think the easiest way is to substitute the Nameless Reptiles in for the Serpent Men or David Icke-style Reptilians (same difference, really) in a scenario. Think about it – the Nameless Reptiles have been around since 250 million years ago, give or take; give them a long racial memory or a Great Race of Yith-style library and they could easily have access to whatever knowledge they need to become big-time behind the scenes power brokers in the modern day. Imagine the players’ surprise when they track down and finally confront the “big boss” behind an insider trading (or organ trafficking) ring, and it’s a five-foot horned crocodile in a tailored Armani suit! This is a fantastic bait-and-switch to pull on veteran players who are expecting Serpent Men as well.

While the stat block says Nameless Reptiles normally don't know spells, I absolutely would give a few to a leader or high-priest.

Spells like “Cloud Memory,” “Consume Likeness” and “Mental Suggestion” could be very valuable to a Nameless Reptile in this sort of scenario. For that matter, take a page from Ken Hite’s Madness Dossier – maybe the Nameless Reptiles have access to the memetic control-phrases coded into human language and can reprogram a human psyche with a few well-chosen words. Either they have this by dint of having enslaved the earliest protohumans and having done the memetic coding themselves (and if you want to tie this deeper into the Madness Dossier, there’s always the sirrush, the odd, horned reptile that appears in Babylonian art) or they’ve scavenged the knowledge out of the ruins of an Elder Thing city.

 (As an aside, I’ve been working on an Elder Thing-centric scenario using this sort of memetic command and control; it’s easy to see the Elder Things as “good guys” in the Mythos, but really, it’s just a matter that their self-interest doesn’t conflict with our existence…for now. Humanity is a product of Elder Thing science, or at least a byproduct, and I bet those command phrases designed for Shoggoths work pretty well on us too.)

If you want a more bestial take on the Nameless Reptiles, maybe take a look back to my connection of them to the Zuni Emergence Tale. If that story is taken as true, then the Nameless Reptiles are those who turned away, who refused to follow the rest of humanity out of the underground (a portal to another dimension, perhaps?) and maybe they resent us for what we’ve become – or for what they failed to become. With more savage versions of the Nameless Reptiles, a great way to end the scenario is to take the ending from the story – a horde of the creatures in hot pursuit of the investigators!