Yesterday I finished the opening storyline in my new Trail of Cthulhu campaign (this one just me running it and a single player – the Gumshoe One2One rules may not be out yet but we’re muddling along fairly well) and the player and I had a great time. Gumshoe is now firmly established as my favourite system and the simple seeming core concept of giving the investigator their clues without hassle if they have the appropriate expertise helps much more than you’d expect. Adapting to the mentality of giving the player all the clues they could need actually helps things flow so much better and doesn’t detract from the fun – quite the reverse as the more leads there are available the more player agency is experienced.
My plan for the campaign is to start things off nice and small – the player character is a Boston detective on leave after dealing with a traumatic cannibalistic serial killer case (*cough Wendigo cough*) and following up some strange loose ends. The first took him to a missing persons case in Arkham where the missing person in question was an oddly malformed bulging eyed fellow from out of town who had been asking questions and visiting key landmarks for some purpose prior to being scared out of his wits and fleeing his lodging house after someone painted a swastika on the roof facing his room (being the early 30s I decided to go with the swastika version of the elder sign just to throw expectations around a bit). Cue the investigator retracing the missing Mr Visser’s steps, discovering an odd artefact in his room that was deduced to be aiding Visser in triangulating on something, encountering ghouls in the cemetery on Hangman’s Hill and having his mind kind of blown when listening to a wax cylinder recording of Aklo incantations courtesy of an over helpful scholar.
The adventure resolved with the discovery of a captive Deep One in the basement of that helpful scholar’s second house which the scholar and his minions were bleeding to form an alchemical elixir to grant dreams of certain ancient places and beings. Things went to Hell in a handbasket as the Detective tried to arrest the cultists (“On what charge, exactly, Detective?”) and the bloody Deep One managed to escape with the help of a mesmerised minion. The first thing it did was tear out the cables providing light to the cellars where this all took place and a short but ferocious combat took place as the Deep One ripped apart the cultists who had imprisoned it but was shot down by a badly shaken detective in strobe light flashes from his gunfire in the pitch black.
The Detective now has more leads to follow – the missing Visser (who turned up dead, and clearly only half human) had a letter from his “brothers” in the coastal town of Danwick sending their blessings on his search for “the one who was taken”, the Over-Helpful Scholar/Cult Leader had a letter from a co-traveller asking about his experiments, talking about his own radio telegraphy research and bitching about a mutual friend who is rather too enamoured of the play “The King in Yellow”, a typewritten copy of a knowledge lecture “Lesson XI” from some as yet unknown brotherhood and concerning ancient races of the earth and their propensity for interacting with humans, and a photograph dating back a few years which shows seven men including the Cult Leader and, presumably, his buddies.
The framework so far is that those buddies all split from a single occult brotherhood after a change of leadership and each is pursuing their own particular path of knowledge. I’m hoping this will give me the chance to tell a range of Lovecraftian stories with my player with the build up to the discovery that the original occult group is still going and working on something a little bit grander that draws all the threads together.
So far the atmosphere is good, the player is keen to learn more, and I’m pulling in some foreshadowing of things that are still to come (He’s already dreaming dreams of Carcosa which will in fact be triggered in a couple of sessions time when he is exposed to a certain play… because linear timelines are for wimps)
Just for jolly and a desire to show off I’m attaching a document of some handouts I made for this opening adventure – they include:
- Visser’s scrawled notes about his search
- A map of Arkham (the map isn't my own creation!) annotated with Visser's triangulations
- A picture of the scrying device itself (anoint the central spike with blood and the hands move)
- The first page of "Lesson XI" dealing with the elder races. I didn't have time to write the rest...
- A letter to Transome (the cult leader) from Charles Bray
- A letter to Visser (using his real name Conrad Leisher) from his fishy pastor in Danwick
- The photograph of the seven mythos buddies that our hero found in the cult leader’s study. The photo was taken straight from the internet and I’m sure the people in the picture were lovely people who don’t deserve the slanderous and blasphemous abominations I’m attaching to their images.
The full document of handouts is linked HERE