Most unspeakable Call of Cthulhu RPG scenarios.
June 15, 2007 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Most unspeakable Call of Cthulhu RPG scenarios.

This summer I intend to get some old friends together to play some Call of Cthulhu. I'd like you to suggest some really good scenarios and tell me why you've liked them; describe the premise, perhaps give some creepy anecdotes from your own play, etc.

Scenarios with lots of readily usable detail are particularly welcome, as are ones that are freely downloadable, from fan sites and such, as long as they are well written.
posted by Anything to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and I will especially appreciate scenarios which have player characters with some well thought-out motives and interests for the players to grab onto and to drive the story. Out-of-the-blue telegrams from long-lost uncles are fine, but if the PCs actually have credible reasons to follow up, I'll be truly satisfied.

Not saying that everything has to be perfect. I will probably have to patch some things up in any case, if only to better suit my players, but the less such work I have to do, the better.
posted by Anything at 12:28 PM on June 15, 2007

Check out Delta Green. Not freely downloadable, but well worth the money. The core supplement just came back in print.
posted by Snyder at 12:34 PM on June 15, 2007

Wasn't there a multi-part adventure that went with the 2nd or 3rd Ed? Gads, it's been a long time. 20 years or more. I'll ponder this and get back to you. But whatever it was, it was a great module.
posted by GuyZero at 12:36 PM on June 15, 2007

Followup: But it's not available on Try here. (Don't worry, it's dual-stated.) The second main sourcebook, "Countdown", is on amazon.

Basically, the setting is a small, secret government agency that investigates and "deals with" Mythos phenenoma, the writers also include more modern day folklore like like UFO's, conspiracies, and such. It deals alot with the moral questions that can arise from being a sworn public servant and having to put down occult related problems in an extreme and extra-judicial and illegal manner. "Countdown" also has details on chaging the tone of CoC from the standard "Cthulhu Mythos" themes of insanity, death, and insignificance to the "Hasutr Mythos", based more on insidious corruption, destruction of the self and impossible knowledge.
posted by Snyder at 12:42 PM on June 15, 2007

Beyond The Mountains of Madness.
It's hard to find, but it's out there. Possibly even in PDF format.
Best. Campaign. EVAR.

Three words to describe: Epic. Arctic. Campaign.

Now go make your sanity roll.
posted by willmize at 12:52 PM on June 15, 2007

A couple years ago, my good buddy Cthulhu Keeper, Dan, watched Cannibal Holocaust and whipped up a truly chilling CoC adventure. To this day I get the crawlies thinking about.

His modules were always tailored to our characters, so I haven't got any docs to send you - but if you can stand watching this bloody, ugly film, then you might tap into the same dark inspiration as my friend.

willmize - I've heard of that one! Back when I was playing, we heard it was WONDERFUL, but called for a LOT of railroading on the Keeper's part. Since we couldn't find the book, Dan did up an arctic module of his own (where I lost shit-tons of SAN)
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:02 PM on June 15, 2007

I wish I knew where this was so I could make it available, but we played a CoC game (GM'd by yours truly, which we audio taped) which has become infamously referred to as the "Frank Must Die/Creamed Corn Pentagram" game session.

IMHO, there are two ways you can play CoC; you play it as the insanely lethal game it was designed for, or you play it as a kind of Comedy of Horrors. I prefer the latter. Horror games are rough on the players, and CoC particularly. Pick whatever scenario you like and rather than actively try to kill off as many players as possible, throw in a sense of silliness that actually allows them to persevere.. for example, making an Elder Sign out of a can of creamed corn.

Lets face it, the universe of CoC is so dire that short of spending your time crying or babbling in incoherent nonsense, you just have to laugh at it. You can still kill off your players, but have some fun doing it.
posted by elendil71 at 1:24 PM on June 15, 2007

Three words to describe: Epic. Arctic. Campaign.


Not quite the best of the Chaosium-published scenarios, IMHO; that would be "Spawn of Azathoth", which was deeply psychological in a way that no other game scenario has ever been.

All of these things are available via BitTorrent one way or another, although I'm not recommending that you go that route if it is illegal in your jurisdiction. I mean, I'd do it anyway, but I can't recommend it.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:32 PM on June 15, 2007

A CoC scenario based on the sinking of the Titanic or the Lusitania would be cool. The Lusitania has the added advantage of its alleged "secret cargo," but both have the lovely combination of claustrophobia & isolation that you get from being trapped on a boat in the middle of nowhere.
posted by juv3nal at 1:49 PM on June 15, 2007

After reviewing the Chosium web site, it was Shadows of Yog-Sothoth that I played. That was a FANTASTIC campaign. Lots of fun. The best thing I liked about it was that it had several parts and took a good long while to play with some plot points that took a while to develop. It's nice playing a multi-part campaign that has some story arc.

Per elendil71, the way we always played CoC was with a pretty high character turnover. Part of the fun was trying to concoct a new PC and explain why they're suddenly part of the party. One player managed to survive three or four group turnovers by essentially running away from everything, but this was good as it allowed for a certain level of storyline continunity.
posted by GuyZero at 2:01 PM on June 15, 2007

In the North End of 1920's Boston, unsavory folks begin to just disappear in a 4 square block area. First bums, then whores, then alcoholic local artists and writers down on their luck. A couple mutilated bodies turn up - missing parts - involving the local doctors and police. A Harvard prof's mistress vanishes, last seen in the neighborhood bar.

The last straw is when a local liquor wholesaler's truck is hijacked and the driver and loader vanished, leaving the truck on the street full of illicit moonshine (it's Prohibition, remember) with a cabin full of blood. That suggests Organized Crime muscling in on Vinnie's turf. Vinnie doesn't like it.

The prof, the doc, the cop and the gangster know each other via a local social club and get to talking one night. What the hell is going on? Each has his theories, but none of them match up.

They decide to find out. Better bring your Sanity Points, boys.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:43 PM on June 15, 2007

a pretty high character turnover

You know, when we played, there was this player who always managed to survive. It was uncanny.. if not actually squamous! ;-) He made every roll, survived every sanity check. I was actually trying to kill him (he wasnt the notorious 'Frank' - thats a much longer story) and I couldnt. It was he, however, who created the 'Creamed-Corn Pentagram', which left us laughing so hard I had to give him credit for it. That's the root of my choice of humor over despair in dealing with CoC games.
posted by elendil71 at 3:59 PM on June 15, 2007

Here's one I ran:

The three characters were searching for a missing seven year old girl. Two of the characters were related - the girl's adopted father and her real (also adopted) sister - and the other was a detective investigating her disappearance. The characters were assisted by an NPC, Dr Arthur Nile, a professor at Mikatonic U and an external consultant to the police about cults. Three of us had played before - one had not.

The main plot (looking for evidence, following up witnesses, researching clues) were interrupted by very brief one-on-one sessions in which each character, apparently unbeknownst to the others, came across evidence linking one of the other to the girl's disappearance. The investigation began to disintegrate into paranoia, and the characters turn to Dr Nile for advice.

Dr Nile always lends a helpful and sympathetic ear to each character when they're alone, but he is indifferent to the group as a whole, leading each character to believe they have a special relationship with him. Dr Nile is also very good at finding objects the characters appear to have lost, and he suggests privately to each that the others have a hidden agenda.

As the players began to research one another (in isolation - even when they teamed up they really were hiding information from their 'partners') they find that two of the characters have a terrible secret - each has murdered the person nearest and dearest to them. The stepfather had murdered his wife when she threatened to reveal his ritual sexual abuse of the sister (who had repressed the memories, but which are slowly surfacing), and had since sunk into a deep despair. The detective had murdered her ex-partner who threatened to reveal a history of bribe-taking and extortion. Both want their lives back, and both are haunted by their victims.

Only the sister seems to have a clean conscience. She also gets the best clues about the other two, often 'watching' their supposedly one-on-ones with the narrator through the crack of a door or from behind a tree (in game, obviously - she wasn't hiding in my hallway), and eventually with the aid of a mysterious mirror provided by Dr Nile. Research with Dr Nile, evidence in her house and the detective's, and the mirror reveal that each has made a terrible pact with a dark force - offer a girl in sacrifice, and the force will undo what they have done.

The detective met the father during the investigation of the wife's murder, and both met Dr Nile at the same time. Dr Nile (who appears in the mirror as nought but a shadow and a voice) offers them a way out - surely the father would prefer to be rid of a child not even his flesh and blood to have his beloved wife back? Surely one child is worth a clean start for the detective? Imagine the good she can do, the lives she can save for just one like.

She realises that the time of sacrifice is near, but does not know the place - she must watch her father and the detective closely, then try to save her sister at the last moment. She has already lost her mother - she will not lose her sister. She will punish the man who abused her, and the woman who covered up the abuse and the murder.

Anyways, you can probably guess the rest. Dr Arthur Nile is Nyarlathotep. The father and detective have kidnapped the girl, and kept her in a hidden chamber beneath the university. As the sister cowers behind a pillar with the detective's gun, Dr Nile brings forth flaming images of what the father and detective want - his wife, her partner. Where is the sacrifice, he asks? They gesture toward the girl bound on the table. And where is the other, asks Dr Nile? The father and detective slowly turn, raise their arms, and point toward the pillar, grinning. The sister opens fire with the detective's revolver. Click. Click. Click.

The girl playing the sister cried, if it matters.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:50 AM on June 16, 2007 [7 favorites]

Call of Cthulhu, if you're willing to bend a little, plays a surprisingly good horror-western. The western CoC games I have played were by far more fun than the 1920s ones. People can have great fun with familiar western-style characterizations, and there's more room for extremes. Take a look at this really terrific rules-agnostic horror western scenario, Cray Canyon Cold Snap, by RPG guru S. John Ross. There's no direct mythos references in it, but there's also no reason the creepy stuff happening SHOULDN'T be Mythos-related. I played it as a CoC scenario and had a great time.
posted by raygan at 11:33 AM on June 16, 2007

obiwanwasabi, do you still have the notes for that game? I would LOVE to run that for my group.

email is in profile.
posted by Snyder at 12:56 PM on June 16, 2007

Sorry, no - it was 1993, and my notes were in Amipro on a long-dead hard drive. It's really just a thinly-veiled rehash of 'The Wicker Man'. Dr Nile looked pretty much exactly like Christopher Lee ;)

I didn't really talk much about the horror / sanity elements above, but briefly they were:

- flashbacks and sleepwalking for the father and detective, who found themselves deep in the woods near the university beside a mysterious well, or awoke with dirt under their nails. The father awoke with bloody scratches in his face, which nobody else could see; the detective always had five rounds in her revolver, not six, no matter how often she reloaded her weapon.

- the father finding the wife's finger (with wedding ring) in a box under his bed; the detective finding bloody rags under the liner of her car's trunk when changing a tyre;

- the detective being called to examine a body in the morgue, which turned out to be the decayed, suddenly animated corpse of her ex-partner (followed by the 'it was just a dream', followed by 'if it was just a dream, why am I missing a round and why is there a bullet hole in the door of the morgue freezer?')

- apparitions of the murder victims, who tormented and punished the father and detective for their actions ('where's my ring, baby?'), but also manipulated them into doing Dr Nile's bidding (with typical 'angel / devil on your shoulder'-esque dialog). Think 'An American Werewolf in London'; and

- the sister's resurfacing memories of ritual abuse. At first there was a sense of being watched, then chased; dreams in which the watchers / chasers slowly took form followed, although it was never clear when she was dreaming and when she was awake; sudden waking flashbacks of being tormented by a goat-thing came next ("IT'S OUR BEAUTIFUL SECRET, PUMPKIN!); it was only when the father began to say things the goat thing had also said that she clicked and the mirror revealed the truth.

The mirror was just a bit of deux ex machina that let me hand out clues the players hadn't picked up on (like the fact that a much younger Dr Nile had witnessed the girls' adoption papers - more flashbacks of Dr Nile waving at the car, telling the older sister he'd see her soon.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:16 PM on June 16, 2007

That's pretty awe-inspiring, obiwanwasabi.
posted by juv3nal at 8:24 PM on June 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks a bunch for your answers so far, and keep 'em coming!

Obiwansabi, did I understand correctly, that the players of the stepfather and the detective did not initially know their own characters' involvement in the stepsister's disappearance or even the earlier murders. How did you work out explaining this gap in their knowledge? Or did the characters know all along, with the revelation being basically a dramatic effect for the players?

In any case, sounds like a scenario very much to my taste. I've been writing some short scenarios in quite a similar spirit, but the ones I haven't run yet still lack a lot of important detail. I'm not really a fluent improviser, so I need a lot of well prepared material.
posted by Anything at 3:30 AM on June 17, 2007

Response by poster: Uh, apologies for the missed 'wa' for your alias.
posted by Anything at 3:31 AM on June 17, 2007

Response by poster: And, yes, sister/stepdaughter, not stepsister. Staying awake for 30 hours straight messes with my mind, but with these bright northern summer nights I can't seem to avoid such streaks..

Which brings me to mention that we will probably be playing on a tiny island, by the fire, in the middle of the night, with the sun casting red light over the sky from beoynd the horizon, and the screams of seagulls just barely audible through the sounds of crashing waves all around us. The place is perfect for roleplaying, and I can't believe we've never done it before.

posted by Anything at 4:05 AM on June 17, 2007

No, they didn't know. At first, they began to suspect each other, and both tried to gain the sister's support for their cause. Later, they suspected themselves, and did everything they could to hide it from the sister.

When they (the players) put it together that both were in it up to their necks together, I told them (the players and the characters) the whole shebang, and they proceeded to plot and plan to get the missing girl's sister to the altar on time.

Three of us were co-players in an Amber campaign, so we were used to plotting. Alas, the girl playing the sister was relatively new to roleplaying - she really only got involved because we weren't playing something with swords or giant robots. It was a nasty shock to find out she'd been duped pretty much just like the end of The Wicker Man. Can't have been too bad for her though - she started playing Vampire shortly after.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:45 AM on June 20, 2007

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