Sunday, April 24, 2016

Cult of Chaos Report: "Stern as Death is My Sway"

"Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway; From my ruthless throne I have ruled alone for a million years and a day." - Robert Service, "The Law of the Yukon"

August, 1903.  Elsie Thorne, an adjunct professor of anthropology at Miskatonic University, along with her uncle Charles, a retired soldier, her father's lawyer Jackson Watt, and a hired Canadian guide, Frenchie Sinclair, arrive in the small town of Fort Yukon, Alaska, on the banks of the Yukon River near the Alaskan/Canadian border.

They are looking for Professor Wendell Thorne, Elsie's father and an ethnographer employed by Miskatonic University.  He'd come up to Fort Yukon to record the folklore of the local Inuit people, but his letters had stopped arriving home.  Fearing the worst, Elsie organized a small expedition to look for him.

Their first stop was Haly's Roadhouse, the center of life in the small town.  Arranging beds for themselves for the duration of their stay and food, from proprietor Jim Haly they learned that "the Professor" had not been seen in town in at least two weeks, and that he mostly kept to himself or talked to the local tribal elders.  He also mentioned that one of the local prospectors, a man named Amos Phillips, had struck it big the night he last saw the Professor.

Further inquiries around town netted them the information that the Professor had purchased large quantities of volatile chemicals through the mail (three pounds each of ammonium perchlorate and potassium perchlorate were awaiting pick-up at the post office) and that Amos Phillips had been acting very strangely since his big strike.

Investigating Professor Thorne's cabin, they discovered his journal, in which he correlated Inuit legends of "star people" with the "Old Ones" spoken of in the Pnakotic Manuscripts.  They also learned that Amos Phillips had been by on more than one occasion, and that the prospector's big strike had also opened up a cavern, buried for millions of years, which the professor expected to yield evidence of the "star people."

Checking out Amos Phillips' claim, five miles up the nearby tributary of Porcupine River, they find a bag of dynamite and are shot at by a member of the Billy Boys, a local gang of Inuit teens.  Shooting back, they force him to surrender.  Interrogation yields that he's working for "the Master," and if they want to see the professor they'll need to go through the Master.  They force him to lead them to this so-called Master.

They're brought to a cave in a cliff-face; the cave discovered by Amos Phillips, they realize, and are ushered inside.  They're taunted by a few other members of the Billy Boys, then "encouraged" at gunpoint to go deeper into the cave.  In the next chamber, they discovered a "temple," with a pentagonal altar, a five-sided throne and two rows of pews.  The pews, carved out of the living rock of the cave, are littered with the bones of pre-human creatures, and two mummified examples, still clad in ancient finery, squat in niches on either side of the throne.

In the next room they meet Amos Phillips, squatting with shotgun at the ready, and the Professor, who is working out complex chemical formulas in charcoal on the wall of the cave, near a carefully carven pit, half-filled with bubbling, milky fluid - water mixed with certain chemicals, they learn, as Professor Wendell Thorne takes the ammonium and potassium from them and adding it to the pit.

Wendell Thorne begins to rave joyously about how the "Master" will save the world from itself, and how the investigators will be so happy to serve the Master as agents, advancing his agenda through the world until he is ready to make his presence known.  When they try to argue against this, he gives them a smile, shakes his head and explains it's not their choice to make - the Master's race created humanity, as it did all life on Earth, and "our gray matter is as sculptor's clay to them, to mold as they see fit."

They demand to see this "Master."  Professor Thorne ushers them into the next room, where squats what at first glance is a barrel-shaped, plant-like growth...until its eyes open and it rises up on five spidery legs, tentacles unfurling and raising a glowing, crystalline rod...

The thing whistles and chirped, and Jackson Watt fell to his knees before it, eager to serve his new Master; meanwhile, Sgt. Charles Thorne lit the dynamite on a very short fuse.  Elsie and Frenchie began to make a run for it, narrowly avoiding a shotgun blast from Phillips.  The chemicals and vapors in the cave ignited when the dynamite went off, and Elsie and Frenchie were blasted off their feet just as they reached the mouth of the cave, sending them flying into the river below.  The cave and its inhabitants were no more.


All in all, I think this turned out to be a really good session.  The older players liked the change of locale and time period that the Alaskan Gold Rush provided (one of these days I'll run something set in Dawson City, Yukon -- kind of the last no-holds-barred "Western" boom towns) while my youngest player, Katie, went from being kind of ho-hum regarding the choice of characters to really engaged and eager for the next game.

I really liked being able to use the Elder Things finally in an adventure; I played around with an idea that I think I pulled from an episode of the Unspeakable Oath podcast, that the psychic commands used to control the Shoggoths would work on lifeforms derived from the byproducts of Shoggoth-generation -- including humanity.  I liked the idea of an Elder Thing setting itself up as a god to lesser beings - originally Voormis (the pre-humans whose bones and mummified priests were discovered) and now restarting its cult with humans.

Next time, May 3rd, I'm actually going to be starting up the "Time for Harvest" organized play campaign that Chaosium is putting out in installments to members of the Cult of Chaos, and I'm lucky enough to have a full table - six players, including my fiance, who will be playing Call of Cthulhu for the first time.


  1. What a terrific write-up Bill. Thoroughly enjoyed this and its good to see all your hard work, from your previous postings, coming to fruition. I love this setting and your adventure really captured it well. Very much looking forward to your May 3rd write-up :-)

    1. Thanks Blax! I'm hoping to paint some figures to represent the players somewhere down the line as well.