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.

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