Guest Author - Jay Shaffstall
I was lucky enough to get to run a Call of Cthulhu scenario recently, and wanted to share it with you. This is an all original scenario, like all the ones I run. If you've read my article on On The Fly Role Playing, you'll know that it doesn't take a lot of preparation for me to run a scenario, so running original ones isn't that hard.
Note that this scenario is a long article, due to the amount of information needed. GMs might want to print it out for easy reading.
Here's the background the players received via email so they think about character concepts ahead of time:
The time is September, 1940. The Blitz has started, and London is being bombed. The United States vows to stay out of the war. You are all United States citizens, in England for reasons of your own. Maybe you went to enlist to fight against Germany, maybe you're tourists with bad timing, maybe you're spies, or reporters, or diplomats, etc.
Whatever you are, you are all patriotic, and you each have a reason to respond when Bill Donovan, a New York lawyer, summons you to a remote coastal town on the English Channel. If you're a soldier, perhaps you receive orders to respond. If you're a reporter, you might receive a promise of an exclusive story, etc.
You meet Donovan in the only tavern Birling Gap.
We'll be using the 1920's occupations, with any updated skills that seem suitable.
The characters we ended up with were Daniel, an American diplomat to Paris who is currently in London, his nurse and companion Lucy, and Marybeth, an American woman who signed up in the British armed forces as a mechanic. Daniel was a veteran of World War I, and is confined to a wheel chair due to injuries received during the war.
Marybeth was giving an unexpected three day leave, and then instructed by the American embassy to drive Daniel and Lucy where they needed to go and to assist them in whatever they needed to do. Daniel was asked by the embassy to meet Bill Donovan, a New York lawyer with contacts in the State Department, to help him with a problem.
Everything below this line is for GM eyes only! If you are a player, and this scenario sounds interesting, forward the link to your GM.
I'll start with some basic background that won't hurt if players see it. After a paragraph or two, I'll get into the meat of the scenario, so if you're a player, stop reading now!
Birling Gap is a small village on the Channel coast. The residents are primarily farmers and fishermen. There's a pub and a local store, and a few houses, and that's about it. The road leading through Birling Gap is a one-lane dirt track, hardly suitable for automobiles.
The group arrives in the afternoon on Saturday, September 14th. The Blitz has been going on for about a week now, so getting out of London is probably a relief. Donovan is the only person in the pub apart from the proprietor. In our game, Daniel and Donovan went into a back room to discuss what Donovan wanted, because Daniel didn't know Marybeth, and Lucy wasn't very good at keeping secrets.
What Donovan shares is that Birling Gap is the site of a British Radar installation. These are quite new, and have been put together as part of the war effort in an attempt to get an early warning of German planes heading inland. Every minute could count when trying to get civilians into shelters.
The installation at Birling Gap has consistently reported that everything is functioning perfectly, yet they have also consistently failed to provide any warnings of German planes heading toward London. As Birling Gap is in the German's primary approach, this severely limits the amount of warning civilians are getting and increases civilian casualties.
The British sent a military intelligence agent to investigate, a Lt. Jenkins. He reported back that everything was in order, but has repeatedly ignored orders to return to London. And the installation continues to fail to report German planes.
Donovan was asked by a friend of his in British intelligence to discreetly look into the affair, since official inquiries were getting nowhere. There are suspicions that German spies may be tampering with the reports, but nobody can really imagine how they could manage it.
Donovan can offer no support, and he himself must return to London. He has, however, arrange for an official tour of the radar installation to be given, and he will return Monday afternoon to hear their report. If the group encounters anything that requires immediate action, they are to return to London early and contact him at the American embassy.
Historical note: while I play fast and loose with history in the interest of a good story, Bill Donovan is a real person. After the war, he will be chosen to head the newly formed OSS, which will be in charge of American intelligence efforts. Any GM who wants an ongoing campaign with an early-Delta Green flavor can use this scenario as a jumping off point. The survivors will most certainly be recruited by Donovan after the OSS is formed to investigate any strange incidents that pop up.
What is really going on?
Quite a bit actually, and much of it may never come to light. Here's the full story:
The high frequency emanations from the radar installation are broadcast in all directions. They pay attention to the return only from the channel side, but the broadcast is spherical. A colour out of space was attracted to Earth by the emanations from this particular installation, and found it to be a nice little feeding ground in which to spawn.
It started by taking a cow every few days a couple of weeks ago, in the general area of the radar installation.
Meanwhile, Eric Johansen, a local farmer, was also the hereditary leader of a cult. The cult had lost most of its knowledge over the years, and went through the empty rituals out of habit. Much to their surprise one day, they found themselves in tenuous contact with the colour out of space. They immediately worked to see what advantage they could get out of this relationship.
Johansen was worried about the personnel at the base discovering the colour, and perhaps destroying it. So he negotiated through the tenuous contact of the rituals, and convinced it to cloud the minds of the base personnel. The personnel now knew that everything was fine and in order, and no reports needed to be made about anything out of the ordinary.
If Johansen suspected that this would prevent word of German planes from reaching London, he may have chosen a different path.
When the group takes their tour of the installation, they are met by a Pvt. McElroy, who fetches Lt. Smythe to actually take them on the tour. At one point, McElroy slips a piece of paper to one of the group. It reads:
"German spies have taken over base. Meet me at the field north of the base at midnight."
McElroy has slipped the colour's mind control enough to know that something is desperately wrong. He has also discovered that one of the base personnel is, in fact, a German spy. Pvt. Connells is really Karl Grueber. McElroy's clouded mind put those two facts together and concluded that the Germans have control of the base.
At midnight, whoever meets McElroy can see him in the field, waiting and fidgeting. The full moon shines around him, with bits of the light strangely colored. When they are about 200 feet away, they hear him scream and drop to the ground. When they get to him, he looks as if he's been laying in that field for months, a dessicated corpse (do I need to say "sanity check"?)
The base personnel will all deny knowing McElroy, and claim that he must have been on leave from another unit and died in the field. The only one who even slightly remembers him is Jenkins, the military intelligence officer sent to investigate the base. He hasn't been there long enough for the mind control to completely take. He is of little use, though, since he is completely under control in the important areas, such as not seeing German planes.
The group is likely to wrangle their way into the control room during the evening watch, around the time that German planes can be heard coming over. A listen check is needed to hear them early, around the same time that the radar printouts start showing anomalous readings. In our game, Marybeth managed to talk during lunch to some of the technicians, and got a private tutorial in reading the printouts, so she could tell that planes had been detected.
The control room personnel all refuse to recognize the planes, and will pass off the sound of their engines as a faulty compressor pump.
The group will probably end up back at the pub in town Sunday for a meal, in order to get one or more of the base personnel to themselves. Our group invited Smythe and Jenkins to lunch. While there they'll overhear a couple of local farmers talking about old Johnson losing another cow, and one will remark that the leeches must have been working hard to drain it that dry.
Farmer Johnson is a nice enough fellow, and has lost the most cows in the area. Some skillful interrogation will show that the cows have all been lost in a direct line between the radar installation and Johnson's farm, with the majority being on Johnson's end of the line. None have been lost beyond Johnson's farm, where Eric Johansen has his farm.
Farmer Johnson hasn't seen Eric lately, and will mention the fact if they ask about people disappearing. Eric is fine, but has been holed up on his farm trying to improve his communication with the colour.
There are lots of ways this could play out. The cult's headquarters is in Eric's barn, and there are the usual sanity reducing books there and a ritual circle with dried blood, etc. There are four members of the cult, including Eric.
Our group did not investigate Eric's farm beyond making certain that he wasn't disappeared. Sunday night, they slept at the base, and were roused by Jenkins and two soldiers. Jenkins claimed that he had discovered that Smythe was a German spy, and that he needed to get the civilians to London to report. They all clambered into a truck, with the soldiers up front driving, and started toward London.
Before too long, Lucy made a Know check and realized that they'd turned off the road to London and were now headed to Eric Johansen's farm. The truck stopped there, with Jenkins claiming that they'd have to rest the night there because the rain had washed out the road. He even has his coat collar up and is hunched over as if it's raining, even though the sky is clear. This was the cult's attempt to capture the Americans who asked too many questions. The intent is to question them and then feed them to the colour.
Our group managed to get control of the truck, and had to veer off the road onto the fields to avoid the colour. A good half dozen excellent driving rolls saw them away and back in London, reporting to Bill Donovan at the American embassy. I was fully prepared to have them break an axle, but you have to reward great rolls when they happen in a streak.
The colour can be destroyed, if the group reads enough of the books in Johansen's barn to understand that energy is its weakness. The only source of significant energy around is the radar installation, and the power generators there would have to be gimmicked to blow up while the colour was near them. This would also render the radar installation useless until repairs could be made.
However your group goes through this Call of Cthulhu scenario, remember that the important bit is for them to have fun!