Tacticular Cancer: We'll have your balls

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Cthulhu Dark

Discussion in 'The Gazebo' started by Lithium Flower, Apr 20, 2017.

  1. Lithium Flowergender: ⚧ Savant

    Lithium Flower
    Nov 29, 2016
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    Cthulhu Dark is a rules-light system by Graham Walmsley for Lovecraftian roleplaying, available for free at http://catchyourhare.com/files/Cthulhu Dark.pdf

    My current roleplaying group is pretty crunch-averse, and one of my players in particular was infatuated by the elegance of this system, so I decided to run a oneshot. I have never tried running horror games before, and have zero experience with Cthulhu PnP games, although I am somewhat familiar with the mythos. Despite all that, the oneshot turned out to be one of the best roleplaying sessions we've ever had, and I definitely see myself running more of them whenever we can't get our full group for our regular game.

    There are two works by Graham Walmsley that can be considered supplements for the game. One is Dark Depths, which provides a structure for creating a horror scenario - it looks interesting but I have not used it so far. The other is Stealing Cthulhu, an awesome book of ideas that helps Keepers "remix" Mythos stories to create something fresh (for example, using the structure of the Shadow over Innsmouth except set in a mountain town and with Mi-Go instead of Deep Ones). Both can be used for any Cthulhu game, not just CD. The latter is especially inspiring, and helped me write my own scenario (as unfortunately there are not many that I found online, although apparently scenarios for other Cthulhu games work just fine).

    The system has flaws. Because of the way rerollling your dice works, it seems that it is always optimal to roll w/o your insanity die, then to add it and reroll if you don't like the result. Thus I decided that one can only reroll if they have already included an insanity die in their original roll. Also, all actions succeed by default, although a bad roll might lead to heavy consequences (this is to prevent dead-ends). However, if a player decides that it would more interesting for their fellow investigator to fail at something, they may roll against them, and upon beating their roll a failure happens. I expanded this rule so that the Keeper may also roll against the players, but must give a good reason for why failure is an option.

    Then there are the combat rules, which are simply "don't do it; you will die". I mostly like this, however it seemed like investigators should have a chance against humans, animals, and other mundane creatures, so I treat combat with those opponents like any other situation when it comes to the rules (with equipment being used for fictional positioning - you can't shoot someone without a ranged weapon, for example). Combat with "strange" creatures is still almost always lethal, however I added a caveat that an extensively prepared investigator armed with an esoteric weapon (such as a spell or a weapon the creature is weak against) might be able to drive back, hurt, or even kill such creatures.

    The system is also lacking when it comes to character development (in that there is none), so it seems that long-term play would get old. Oneshots seem to my inexperienced ass to be the best way to play horror games anyway, but I decided to include optional rules for campaign play, that include character development.

    Optional Campaign Rules (open)

    : between scenarios, the Insanity (and/or Exposure, Ruin) of each investigator resets to 1, as long as it is plausible that they may have taken a long time to rest and recover. Additionally, each investigator expands their bio with a sentence or two, detailing the hardships they suffer as a result of the horror they have witnessed (such as phobias, broken relationships, etc) and a new skill they have picked up in preparation for the challenges ahead (gaining a new area of expertise).

    Ruin and Exposure are some ideas I found on the internet. They are trackers similar to insanity, only the former measures harm and the latter stealth (or lack thereof, I guess).

    The scenario I put together takes place in a Scandinavian-American town whose denizens have turned to the worship of old Norse gods (and darker powers by proxy). I can share the summary of the oneshot and share the full scenario if anyone is interested.
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  2. The Game Analistsgender: ⚧ Arcane

    The Game Analists
    Oct 8, 2014
  3. Lithium Flowergender: ⚧ Savant

    Lithium Flower
    Nov 29, 2016
    I apologize in advance if this comes off as rambling or disorganized, as I never really wrote down the scenario as something comprehensive, but rather as a set of loose notes to supplement my ideas for the session. Thus I added some commentary before my notes and a short overview of how it actually played out afterwards.

    The premise is that the investigators are hired to look into the disappearance of Catherine Winston, a girl from the richest family in the state of Rhode Island who married a soldier who returned from WW2, moved to his hometown of Hamnstead, before disappearing in October 25th, 1945. The case has been cold for 10 years, but recently the callous head of the Winston family died (who didn't care enough for his daughter to fund a private investigation), and his son, the sole receiver of the inheritance, promised the investigators an astronomical sum to either find Catherine, or find out what happened to her.

    Hamnstead is a small fishing town, extremely isolated as it does very little trading with the outside, mostly trying to be as self-sufficient as possible. Its inhabitants appear to be of Scandinavian descent, and the few that are willing to talk to outsiders will end up mentioning the hardships that their ancestors went through in the prior centuries, how discrimination forced some of them into insular communities and towards their "old ways". Some of it rings true whereas other parts sound like a peculiar nostalgia, and this is more or less a common Lovecraftian theme of ethnic minorities self-segregating and reverting back to the old occult ways.

    The no-brainer saying that is "all things must be fed" is brought up frequently by the natives, but takes on some troubling implications as more of the mystery is uncovered. Dagon should eat too, right? The locals mistakenly believe him to be Ægir, the deity of the sea and ocean, and worship him at a shrine built into a lutheran church (itself a mere facade to hide their pagan religion). I decided to keep Deep one infestation to a minimum, so that the players wouldn't be immediately tipped off by the tell-tale unblinking eyes and flabby constitution - out of the named characters, only the vulva Lizna responsible for taking care of the Shrine is a hybrid, and so are a few other unspecified townspeople. Taking inspiration from the Stealing Cthulhu book, I decided to present the relationship Hamnstead has with Dagon as mutually beneficial - the town grooms "chosen dreamers" that later become food for Dagon, while Dagon sends fish towards their shores and his Deep Ones protect the hamlet.

    When the investigators spent their first night in Hamnstead, I told all of them to roll an insanity die. The "winner" ended up getting dream sequences each time he went to sleep. He would find himself in the thick woods, where a great bell would toll somewhere above, its sound not sharp but somehow muffled, as if absorbed by the thick canopy above. A procession of a dozen cloaked figures pushes forth a carriage down a road that cuts through the woods. Each night, the dream progresses, bit by bit, until the full dream is revealed: the chosen dreamer is caught by the cloaked figures, who are seemingly made entirely out of thick, tentacular appendages, who grab them and shove them into the carriage. The carriage somehow contracts and quickly fills up with a caustic liquid which burns their skin. At the end of the dream they awake on the shore, in a progressively worse state, and they gone missing without a trace after seeing the entire dream, mirroring Catherine's fate. The significance of the dreams is the "shocking revelation" common in Lovecraftian stories - whichever way the scenario culminates, it should end with a quip from the old man on the shore, who says that when one is swallowed by some great beast, their heartbeat sounds like some great, swollen bell. Thus Dagon had been swallowing, partially digesting, and spitting out the chosen dreamer throughout the scenario, and the dream was merely an allegory for the beast's digestive tract.

    The investigators arrive in Hamnstead in the evening of October 21st. The scenario ends at the morning of October 25th at the latest, so that makes time management for the oneshot very easy, as I knew to allocate no more than 1 hour for each day. Also, from what I've read horror scenarios should be fairly linear, and being used to run mostly sandbox campaigns I thought of a compromise - the PCs can choose one location to investigate per day. So if they drive down to the General Store and buy some supplies, that doesn't really count as investigating, but if they then drive to the church and start making some rolls to look for clues there, the day will be coming to a close by the time they are done. This turned out to work pretty well.

    Here are the notes I used:

    Map (open)

    I found some nice concept art of Innsmouth on a random deviant art page; http://www.deviantart.com/art/Innsmouth-Waterfront-HP-Lovecraft-Concept-Art-530815411
    I then labeled random houses with the names of the locations below. I figured that was more atmospheric than having the players choose from a list.

    Player handouts (open)

    These were available to the players from the start. This information could have been picked up as rumors from other travelers:


    You may investigate one location per day.

    Blake House
    Home of Joseph Blake. This house stands a good distance away from the others.

    The largest building in town. The size of the structure may be impressive for a town this small, but somehow the construction seems sloppy. The crucifix is crooked and no one has bothered to fix it...

    General Store
    Surprisingly, the second largest building in Hamnstead, after the Church. A general store needs space, but somehow the structure seems too large for the modest needs of the town. Built on higher ground relative to the rest of Hamnstead, on the hills.

    Despite the town's proximity to larger cities, it appears that its denizens are intent on being completely self-sufficient. With no other industry to speak off, the shore is busy with fishermen who supply the entire town with their produce. None seem to be eager to speak to outsiders save for the old codger, however...

    Town Hall
    Essentially just the house of Edmond Lundberg. Larger than other dwellings, but still small for a "town hall". The few people that travel through the town are offered shelter and sustenance here.


    Blake, Catherine - formerly Catherine Winston. Disappeared without a trace on October 25th, 1945.

    Blake, Joseph - WW2 vet that married Catherine. The poor man should be in his mid thirties.

    Edmond Lundberg - the "administrator" of Hamnstead, for the lack of a better term. Generous, providing food and lodging for free to travelers at the Town Hall. According to other travelers, he is rather mercurial - jolly one moment and resigned the next.

    Lars Osmundson - the curt owner of the general store.

    Lizna - the woman that looks after the church.

    Old Man - the elderly person that often comes to the shore. Appears to be blind.

    Winston, Alfred - rich, callous industrialist, once the richest man in Rhode Island. Father to Andrew and Catherine. Deceased.

    Winston, Andrew - Catherine's concerned brother, with the money to fund the search for her.

    My Notes (open)

    These were only available to me, ofc.

    Throughout the hamlet, themes of hard living, people returning to the old pagan ways in the face of hardship, and the theme of "all things must be fed" should be present.

    October 21st, Day 1
    : the investigators arrive in the evening. That night one of them dreams of being in a lush forest and coming across a strange procession. Somewhere a bell tolls. Cloaked figures approach them, and as it becomes clear that their movements are not human-like, they wake up. They find themselves sitting on the shore in the early morning, propped up against a rock, their boots completely drenched. (Insanity +1)

    Edmond is jolly.

    October 22nd, Day 2: the dream progresses to the point of the figures (who appear to be made entirely out of appendages) grabbing the dreamer and shoving them into the carriage, where they find it hard to breathe. They awaken and find themselves lying in the shore in the early morning, the soil around them disturbed as if they were rolling all over, their clothes muddy. Their entire lower body is drenched in water. (Insanity +1)

    Edmond is nostalgic.

    October 23rd, Day 3
    : the dream progresses to the point of the dreamer being locked in the carriage, which suddenly fills up with a caustic liquid, burning them. They wake up on the shore once more, now entirely drenched with salt water (and upon further examination, a clear slimy substance which stinks of rotting fish). Their clothes bear signs of corrosion, but it is unclear if that is due to salt water or something else. (Insanity +1)

    Edmond is depressed.

    October 24th, Day 4: unless they resist in the dream, the dreamer dies in the carriage. In the real world they simply disappears without a trace. (Insanity +1)

    Edmond is bitter, brooding, and will angrily snap when pushed (the presence of the investigators itself may push him).

    October 25th, Day 5: In the morning the homicidal Edmond chases the investigators out with a shotgun, if they haven't left already.

    At the end is a quip about how when one is swallowed by some great beast, their heart beat is perceived as a tolling of some gigantic bell.

    Blake House
    Blake is haunted and afraid to cooperate and pretends not to now anything as he is afraid of the hamlet's residents, but when pressed he may explain that Catherine has started to become increasingly more withdrawn from him and involved in the activities in the Church, unusual as typically the residents of the hamlet do not interact much with outsiders. If Catherine's old room is searched, the investigators might find a few pages of her diary that have been torn off but have fallen into the floorboards, detailing that her new diary is going to be kept "in the base of the statue at the shrine."

    Lizna worldessly delivers food to this house at noon every day.


    Lizna is secretive and does not reveal much about her relationship to the church. If pressed she may reveal that the original Scandinavian-American settlers of this town built a shrine to the lesser old Norse gods at the back of the church, effectively disguised the faith that they have been drawn to due to the disenfranchisement they felt. She will also add that the shrine (which is located behind a locked door behind the altar) is closed to outsiders and it would be a grave insult if they were to trespass. However, Lizna takes frequent walks around town, so the key to the door may be stolen or the back room may be broken into. Inside is a strange hole going straight into the ground, barely a man's width. There are also three stone statues attached on high bases, dedicated to the lesser gods of the Norse pantheon:
    - Aurvandil - the star child, son of Thor.
    -Ægir, king of the sea, husband to Rán the mother of waves.
    -Andhrímnir - cook of the gods, slayer of the great boar.

    Underneath the statues, it may be seen that the tops of the metal bases have rusty metal hinges. Trying to open them without taking care to be silent or oiling them up first results gets Lizna's attention, who will go to investigate. If Lizna spots the investigators or two bases are opened up, she bars the door and something really bad happens. The investigators may escape this, though chances are slim.

    Underneath the second statue, stacked into the hollow base, are many books. On top is Lizna's journal, which appears to be a log of how she grooms "Chosen Dreamers" for the God of the Sea. The next book underneath is Catherine's "new diary" which includes sketches of the strange dreams, and the final entry as a reference to her spending much time by the "old well above the town" (which does not appear to exist, but it does - in the General Store) and how she will soon "descend into it and venture forth" until she hears the tolling of the great bell. Other books are a dozen or so other such writings, each penned by different people but containing similar dream-journals, and the sketches are near identical, though made by different people.

    If the adorable fat cat is gone from the Town Hall (see: Town Hall), its remains may be found here, bones scattered evenly throughout the three sacrificial bowls.

    General Store

    May serve as a general vendor of items. However the back, which may be broken into easily and quietly via back entrance, contains the old well. When one climbs down it using supplies from the store, there are two possible scenarios.

    1. If the players chose to come here before finding much clues. They find themselves transported to a strange forest and come upon a stranger procession. Somewhere a bell tolls. The cloaked figures, made up entirely of appendages, grab them and deposit them into a carriage, which suddenly fills up with caustic liquid, burning/drowning them. At the end is a quip about how the god of the sea had quite a feast this year.

    2. If enough clues were discovered to understand that Catherine went down this hole, they instead find themselves in an underground grotto. An overpowering, stinking, ragged wind blows in their direction. If they've illumination, they will eventually realize that they have left the grotto and are now within the mouth of some great beast. They must escape before the jaws close. This is the "true end", so to speak. At the end is a quip about how when one is swallowed by some great beast, their heart beat is perceived as a tolling of some gigantic bell.


    Investigating the shore may allow the investigators to find many dead fishes in the secluded parts of the shore - the town is getting an abundance of fish and simply leaving some to rot. This may be linked to the unusually high tides that are a result of the coming supermoon on the 25th of October. The investigators might know that ten years ago there was also a supermoon. Also there is the old man who might give some roundabout information about the town to the investigators, including about the old well. If the investigators reveal themselves as outsiders to the old man, he might clamp up, refuse to speak to them, or trick them.

    Town Hall

    Besides Edmond's reminiscing about the hardships of life and his large collection of books (and documents from which the peculiarities about some buildings in the town and his own ambitions to become the chosen dreamer may be gleamed), the town hall is home to a many stray animals which Edmond feeds, including one adorable fat cat. After one day's stay in the house, the cat is gone. It can be found sacrificed in the shrine to the lesser gods at the church.

    On the first day, the investigators did the predictable thing and decided to seek shelter in the Town Hall (I made sure to emphasize that they were cold, hungry and tired, and that it was very dark and windy outside.) On the first day, Edmond was incredibly jolly and talkative. One of the PCs was a German-American who quickly befriended him, which was awesome. Edmond appeared to be extremely sympathetic to that PC and asked him about his experiences with anti-germanic sentiments. There were some interactions with the fat orange cat as well, which was nice as it made it gave its eventual demise some punch.

    They went to the Blake house on the second day. I decided that Joseph is a wretched man, spending most of his day sitting by the window with his Garand and M1911 in his lap, looking to get the drop on the townsfolk that he thinks are sure to come and kill him. Presumably this was his life for 10 years after Catherine's disappearance. Joseph B refused to let the German investigator in his home - again, that character concept fit the scenario incredibly well. After Joseph (badly) lied about not really remembering Catherine, the other investigator, seeing as the veteran is a shaky man with graying hair and arthritis (despite apparently being in his mid thirties) decided to wrestle the rifle away from him and extracted information the hard way. Meanwhile, the German character searched the house. Shortly before the session I got the idea to include some sort of crumpled up photograph from 1945 showing Joseph, having just returned from the war, as being a well-built, happy-looking young man (with the implication being that it was not the war but the 10 years in fear and isolation in Hamnstead that reduced him to his current self) but I forgot to include it, sadly. Another idea I spontaneously got during play was to have Joseph Blake become overwhelmed by the stress of the situation, point madly behind one of the investigators (who was at that point holding poor Joseph at gunpoint) and shout something incomprehensible before falling over, breaking his own neck . This turned out to work great as the PCs became pretty paranoid. One of them pocketed the 1911 and they promptly fucked off. In the evening, they found Edmond crying over some old pictures of his family members that have all passed away, and had another pleasant conversation with the investigators.

    On the third day, they went to the Church. They got information from Lizna, nicked her key, then explored the locked room behind the altar that was the shrine to the three gods. Instead of cat bones I simply decided to mention an orange pet divided evenly among sacrificial bowls, which they eventually connected with the cat (and were rather upset about). One of the investigators correctly deduced that Catherine's journal is hidden under Ægir's statue, so they made minimal noise (and when Lizna went to investigate it, they hid behind the bases on which the statues stood). I also decided that Deep Ones dwell down the hole (presumably in some subterranean cave or grotto with access to the ocean). I knew that I could only pull off a suspenseful encounter with them in a dark room, as at this point Deep Ones are the most recognizable and cliched Lovecraftian creature, second to maybe Cthulhu. Fortunately for the investigators, they fucked off before attracting too much of their attention. At the town hall, Edmond was rather uncooperative, mostly staring at the fireplace and giving a lot of one-word answers. After reading the journals, the investigator who had been having the strange dreams began to recognize the gravity of his situation and started freaking out.

    The fourth day is when they fucked up. They decided that the old well is either at the General Store or the Church, but decided to go with the "safe option" of shoving a gun in Lizna's face and forcing her to talk. So they returned to the Church, where Lizna laid a trap for them. They went to the shrine once more, and she sprung out from a hiding spot and shut the door loudly behind them, alerting the Deep ones. One of the investigator fired Joseph Blake's 1911 through the door, killing Lizna. The rest struggled to break down the door as increasingly loud croaking and scurrying noises came from the hole in the room. They barely made it out, ran to the exit of the Church, and as they turned around they saw Lizna's flabby body get pulled through the door by a huge, scaly arm - their first glimpse of something outwardly nonhuman. The investigators got into their car and drove the fuck away - an ending that, while not entirely satisfying, is Lovecraftian through-and-through. The last scene before the Old Man's revelation was an image of Edmond's suicide (I don't think I actually mentioned this in my notes, but he wants his life to end "nobly", as Dagon's lunch. Which is why he becomes increasingly more bitter as days pass, since he slowly realizes that it is one of the new arrivals that are chosen as opposed to him).


    Anyone can recommend published scenarios for other Cthulhu systems that would work well with Cthulhu Dark rules?
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2017
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