Sunday, February 14, 2021

Ghastly Going-ons in Galena

     I started writing this Call of Cthulhu adventure up back in October and already posted a few items from it, I finally ran it last night and went perfectly!  Good role-playing, plot immersion, rarely needed to roll the dice.  When the players went in unexpected directions they actually we're productive shortcuts to information the characters needed.

     The adventure is set in Galena Illinois between April 27th and May 1st 1920.  I wrote two hooks into the adventure, one is a spring turkey hunt with Ed Hopkins, a Chicago stock broker, who's parents own a farm in the area and the other was an invitation to a dig at a reported Sac and Fox (Meskwaki) Indian site with Professor Stanley Bernard of the Anthropology Department at Northwestern University.  I figured this way I had reasons for both toughs and brainiacs to be in the area and observe mysterious sights.

    The first hurdle was that my CoC book is 3rd Edition.  This proved to be trivial as the biggest difference is that the Characteristics are pre-multiplied by 5 in the subsequent editions, so where I had written test against Int * 2, it was you need a hard success.  Swapping skills around on the fly was easy and the additional skill points were diluted by the all the skills the players wanted to have.

    A bigger difficulty was the new professions or backgrounds available to the players included some that simply didn't fit.  Drifters wouldn't have been invited to tag along to the scenes of action; a cowboy I might have been able to make work in the hunting party, but why would they be there.  Also, all the player made tough guys at first, until I pointed out that they really needed someone with an academic background, so a quick trip to the computer generated a grad student mentored by Professor Bernard.  The players used The Dhole's House to generate their characters, we ended up with the grad student, who had interrupted his studies and joined the Lafayette Escadrille during the Great War and a Irish Chicago bartender with an amateur interest anthropology as a member of the Chicago American Anthropological Association, and a former US Marine who had seen action at Belleau Wood; and the hunters were another farmer and an English big game hunter who had been knighted during the war for services with the King's African Rifles in German East Africa.

     As their rooms at the Desoto House were unavailable due to an electrical fire, they had been set up with rooms at Igman's Boarding House.  There Letty, the serving girl, informed them that the Professor, the soldier (Captain Graham, USA Corps of Engineers), the Polack (a plumber named Melnik from Chicago) and the Sneak (a man named Donald French, representing himself as a tractor salesman for Minneapolis Moline) were also in residence.Walking through the conservatory, Herbert, the farmer, spotted the mandragora being grown; he didn't have great success so he only knew it was a variety he didn't recognize.  He (the player) did remember the toxicity of the plant and that caused the first consternation at the table.  Repairing to a nearby diner for coffee and a plate of soup, the Englishman began to feel the place might be civilized when the waitress said they had tea and asked him if he wanted sugar and lemon.  He rethought that a bit when she brought out the the big glass of sweet tea, instead of a nice cuppa.  But in the end decided he liked it.  After a long discussion on the possibility of being poisoned by eating at the boarding house, they returned, met the afore mentioned NPCs and the proprietress, Mrs Igman.   Afer the brainiacs discussed the digging with the professor, the bartender and the farmer played poker with Melnik and his flask of rather raw whisky; the grad student sat down and shared his flask with Captain Graham and offered to help him organize the papers he'd brought up from Jefferson Barracks.  The Captain being in the process of writing a monograph on the Army administration of Mining Leases in the the first half of the 19th Century.  While organizing the papers by date for the Captain, the grad student found a Clue!  The last sheet of an undated army report describing the sealing of a man named Swithin with his creature in a hole by rolling three barrels of gunpowder into it and blowing them up.  [A great first day from my point of view, they had discovered two clues, drawn one badly mistaken conclusion and were quite baffled by the other.]

      The second day was more scene setting, after breakfast they split into their respective groups, seeing French driving away in a car and Captain Graham riding off on a horse.  The hunters getting picked up by Ed Hopkins and taken to his parents farm.  They walked the field trying to flush some turkeys, got off one shot but no bird.  At the end the field, they had an encounter with Melnik and a guy named Joey, who had heard the shot and been sent to see what was happening by Mr Hayes.  They found out that there was an old lead mine across the road where Melnik was working.  Joey asked them to settle a bet about crocodiles in the Mississippi, based on his knowledge of bible stories and having seen "the guy at the Baptist church pick up the snake and use itas a cane, like Moses" [The players completely missed that clue.]   The diggers met Mr Allen and his family who owned the land the dig site was on.  They walked up the ravine to it, saw the exposed petroglyph and set out marking off the dig site.  After lunch, the hunters moved to a nearby wooded creek, where the Englishman scored an extreme luck roll and blasted a turkey at less than ten yards, plucking and dressing it and making it completely immune to radiation in one leaden blast.  The bartender at the dig site wasn't so lucky, while clearing underbrush he failed a Luck and a Listen roll, getting bit by a rattlesnake for his misfortune.  They got him back to the farm and shipped into the local doctor, so he ended up being treated in time.  The grad student continued at the dig site and uncovered the second petroglyhs before wrapping up for the day.  [he also made a geology roll when I told him the rock wasn't local stone.  That made me scramble to the internet and look up 'rare Illinois minerals'.  Turns out it's a porous quartz called tripoli, found only in extreme southern Illinois.  I didn't know that until he asked.] After supper, they took a walk and discussed the day's findings.  Snakes were definitely involved as the hunters had tracked a couple of snakes moving in parallel through the brush and into an adjoining field.  The first petroglyph translated as 'bad' the second was a rather demonic looking horned head with spiral eyes.  It's meaning was obscure, although it looked similar to buffalo head petroglyphs in other locations.  Much of the discussion revolved around why a plumber would be employed at a mine.  Earlier questioning of Ed Hopkins had revealed that Mr Hayes had bought the mine only a few months before and the locals all thought he was crazy, as the mines had been closed for at least a dozen years in the area.   [Another good day, they players knew they were obtaining clues and the speculation on how they fit together was free wheeling.  They were very concerned about the petroglyphs and coming up with ways to tie them into the mine and old Army report that I had never considered when writing the adventure.  They didn't take note when I remarked that the French, the tractor salesman, hadn't been at supper.  I should also mention that I was giving them daily headlines, baseball scores and snippets of stories that would have been in the papers, ranging from "Polish President Pilsudski signs alliance with Ukrainian rebels' (a real happening that I think would have been noted in Chicago papers.) and 'Twenty women's heads found in home of Cairo [IL] blackbeard'. (A real headline of the day from a local newspaper.)  I like dropping in background news to raise the immersion level.]

     The third day, the hunters got up early, to get back to their blinds in the creek bed before dawn.  Both of them bagged turkeys, but the Englishman heard a metallic rattle, which when they investigated turned out to be a car driven off the road and into the bushes by the creek.  Tracking determined that it had been driven in, not skidded off the road and one person had walked away back up to the road.  They couldn't remember the license plate, but it looked like French's car so they assumed it was.  Searching found a surplus pair of binoculars, a box of pistol ammunition and a traced map with the area from the hamlet of West Diggings to the mine circled in red.  The farmer decided to start (read steal) the car, but couldn't get it to start.  The Englishman thought French might still be in the area and that it was his tracks walking away.  They didn't bother to search for him, but having bagged their birds, decided to call of the hunt for the day and head back to town.  The morning dig started later, but uncovered another set of petroplyphs, thunderbirds flanking a triangle over a downward pointing arrow,  The afternoon dig was interrupted by a visit from a local boy looking for Miss Lucy, Mr Allen's (the owner of the dig site) daughter.  A brief, and frustrating conversation where they learned he wasn't in school because “Pa says, there’s only one book with the truth of the world.  School marm’s a wastin’ time talkin’.”  He disappeared through the brush with a parting admonishment not to dig too deep and disturb Old Tom.   They uncovered the final petroglyph, a headless human figure wrapped by a couple of lines that terminated in a wavy ball of lines[All the petroglyphs I used are based on or direct copies of real North American petroglyphs.  Some are from the Great Lakes region, some just show up in different charts of native American pictograms on the internet.  Meanings are ambiguous at best.]  The hunters inspected the fuse box at the Desoto House and determined that 'electrical fire' seemed to have outside help from the symmetrical burn marks below and to the sides of the box.  The Englishman also managed (surprisingly considering his low Library skill) to find an early land claim for a Edward Swithland that encompassed the area circled in red on the traced map.  When they all ended up back at the boarding house, they found a cold supper laid for them and a note that the staff would be out late at a church meeting.  [The pace really picked up at this point.]  Captain Graham showed up with French's body over his saddle.  French had a gunshot to the chest, the barkeeper volunteered to show Graham where the doctor's office was, although they ended up being directed to the local mortuary as there was no need for the doctor to interrupt his supper for an obviously dead man.  While carrying the body in, the bar keeper noticed puncture wounds on French's hands, his recent experience allowed him to identify them as snake bite wounds.   They searched French's room, found that he did have a well used sample case with a pristine model Minneapolis Moline tractor in it as well as a book of sample plates and tractor specification - oddly it's spine wasn't even cracked.  Searching the rest of the house, they found Mrs Igman's room was locked, but in the kitchen they found a number of dolls, one of Letty, one of Mrs Igman, one of French (with no ears), one of the Professor (also with no ears, although I don't think I mentioned that) and a number of others they didn't recognize.  Picking up Letty's doll, the grad student knew that she was located a distance to west and a bit north, and inferred that she was at the 'Baptist' Church.  All the other dolls where in the same location, except for French's (no feeling) and the Professor's (in the parlor).  Ripping open French's they found the it was built around a mandragora root.  Ms Igman's felt different, as the bottom was a single long root, rather than bifurcated into legs like the rest.  Showing the Professor his doll, he announced it certainly was similar to a Caribbean voodoo doll and that he was going upstairs to pack and catch the 11 pm Chicago & Northwestern - and they should too.  His grad student followed him upstairs and was given a brief expurgated discussion of the Professor's occult knowledge and again urged to leave dealing with it to the locals who losses would be unfortunate, but who wouldn't make the connections to the obscene knowledge of reality.  Bringing Captain Graham and Melnik into the discussion as the Professor departed, Graham declared them mad until they convinced him to hold Mrs Igman's doll which left him stunned to know where she was.  Melnik was more concerned about what they had found in French's car.  He stormed upstairs and trashed French's room, including the display case which contained notes on Prohibition violations in Jo Davies county.  He immediately announced that these had to be shown to Mr Hayes, the mine owner.  When questioned why he informed them that the mine contained a distillery and was also used as a transshipment point (in shorter words) to move bootleg and locally distilled spirits out of Chicago, upstream to St Paul and downstream to St Louis using the barge traffic on the Mississippi.  The whole operation was under the control of the North Side Gang - coincidentally the suppliers of the 'special drinks' to the barkeeper in the party.  Deciding to search Mrs Igman's room, they found a nasty odor of snakes, more a nest than a bed and an extra large shed snake skin.  At this point they realized they had never seen her other than when she was sitting at the dining table.  A concealed door into the adjoining dining room explained how she moved between the two.  Checking Mrs Igman's doll, they determined that she was moving in their direction, probably about twenty minutes away.  The only discussion at this point was whether to burn the whole town (the framer's position) or just the boarding house.  What passed for sanity prevailed, Captain Graham recommended they start the fire in the kitchen, but asked them to wait ten minutes while he collected his papers.  Graham rode off on his horse with his papers, They set fires in both the kitchen and Mrs Igman's room.  Melnik led them to a nearby warehouse to wait for the 2 am truck from the mine.  They heard the fire department come and go, when they departed on the truck there was no sign of Mrs Igman or the rest of the staff.  Right now they are hiding in the mine and just checked the doll, finding out that Mrs Igman is in the church on the next property.....

[They've essentially solved the mystery with 36 hours to spare, in a way I hadn't anticipated.  We broke at this point, as I had an hour long drive in ten below weather to get home.  I have to say this may be the best gaming session I've ever run.  Now I have to time to incorporate some of their speculations into the final scenes and determine what happens then.]


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