Trail of Cthulhu

Trail Cover

Mythos Investigation and Horror in the 1930s

You have to keep the doors to the Outside from swinging open – no matter what the cost in life or sanity. You have to piece together clues from books bound in human skin, from eviscerated corpses covered in ichor, and from inscriptions carved on walls built before humanity evolved. You have to go wherever the answers are, and do what needs to be done to protect humanity. But do you dare to follow … the trail of Cthulhu?

Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning roleplaying game of investigative horror, powered by the GUMSHOE system and produced under license from Chaosium. Acclaimed expert on the eldritch Kenneth Hite weds his encylopaedic knowledge of vivid historical detail to his mastery of H. P. Lovecraft’s classic horror tales to bring their cosmic malignity forward into the 1930s—a time when the creeping madness of the Great Old Ones intermingles with the sweeping cruelty of global totalitarianism.

Trail of Cthulhu is designed for investigative play: the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. The game also offers:

  • Two modes of play: Pulp (for the “desperate action” feel of Robert E. Howard or Indiana Jones) and Purist (full of philosophical horror and cosmic dread)
  • A new take on Lovecraft’s creatures and cults that makes even the most familiar Mythos elements surprising and scary at the gaming table
  • Innovative rules for sanity and stability
  • A Drives mechanic that addresses the perennial horror RPG question, “Why don’t we just forget we saw anything, and go home where it’s safe?”
  • GM advice on how to run a horror adventure
  • Detailed notes on designing an enthralling, cohesive investigative adventure using the GUMSHOE system’s clue structure.

Buy the standard print edition
 
Buy the Starter Kit print bundle

Trail of Cthulhu won two ENnie awards for Best Rules and Best Writing, as well as receiving an honourable mention for Product of the Year. It’s now in its third print run, and currently available in five languages.

Support for Trail of Cthulhu includes award-winning adventures, supplements, and campaigns from designers such as Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, Jason Morningstar, Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball, Adam Gauntlett, Graham Walmsley, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Bill White.

You are among the few who suspect the truth about the mad gods at the center of the universe, about the Great Old Ones who dream of clearing off the Earth, about the extra-terrestrials who use mankind in their experiments, about the ancient legends of undying evil that are all coming true. You have to make sure nobody else ever finds out — or the world will wake up screaming…

Review Highlights

See the complete reviews to date here.

.…I was concerned that my traditional style of low prep freeform gaming would have trouble with the GUMSHOE clue system included here… I quickly discovered that this was not an obstacle at all, … it was very easy to constantly push new clues through different Investigative Abilities. In fact, I found that the game worked spectacularly well with this style as the nature of these Abilities encouraged me to constantly engage each of the players thereby resulting in a mystery that was continuously moving forward to its PC driven conclusion. My play experiences have been far more satisfying than I would have expected, though my group has largely avoided physical conflict whenever possible.

CW Richeson on rpg.net

Overall, this is a masterful melding of the Gumshoe system with classic Cthulhu Mythos gaming, an inspired match. There’s so much goodness in this that I’ll be back again and again, not just to play but to mine for ideas whatever I am doing.

Megan Robertson on rpgnow.com

By now it should be evident that I really love Trail of Cthulhu. I think it manages to capture the feel and style of HPL’s stories, particularly when played in Purist mode, with rules built to complement the stories. GUMSHOE is a perfect fit for investigative type adventures, and well-suited for a plotted out set of scenes. It also is simple enough to be run in a more “off-the-cuff” improvisational style and doesn’t require a great deal of prep on the part of the Keeper.

Michael Harnish on RPG Geek

…the section on the Cthulhu Elder Gods/Outer Gods is superb and packed with so many incredibly insane ideas for running plots it is hard to talk about it without waving hands around incoherently. One small sentence about Elder Gods as meme loads was so compelling it was a hot topic in my house for three days. If you’re into CoC at all, this is worth getting to juice up campaigns and take them to 11.

Emily Dresner

The Gumshoe system is an investigation-oriented one, and this orientation is well suited to many Mythos scenarios. We enjoyed playing our characters and didn’t have too much trouble picking up the system. I’d recommend it.

Duncan Hunter on rpg.net

This book is gorgeous; my copy is a lovely 248 page hardcover. Jérome Huguenin does a masterful job with art and layout. That art is consistent throughout– something not to be underestimated as a key to make a game feel complete … Worth buying for any gamer interesting in horror or Lovecraft.

Lowell Francis on rpggeek.com

With enough for everyone and a system flexible to have from a purely investigative adventure to a action fuelled Indiana Jones style game, if you like Lovecraft, you simply can’t go wrong with it

Paco G Jaen of G*M*S Magazine

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Stock #:PELGT01D Author: Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws
Artist: Jerome Huguenin Format: 248-page, two-color, smythe-sewn hardback

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As the dog days of summer approach, thoughts turn momentarily from game publishing to the quaffing of celebratory cocktails.

When Pelgranes gather for their winter summit in London, host and Pelgrane co-honcho Simon Rogers plies us with wines as sweet as our plans for the coming year.

But in the the summer heat the cosmos screams for more quenching beverages reflecting Pelgrane’s love of literary horror.

These Lovecraft and Chambers-themed cocktails may make it look like I’ve entered into some kind of unholy co-promotion with San Pellegrino. Alas, this is not yet the situation. So send me a case, San Pellegrino marketing wizards.

You may have seen these on one of my social media feeds, but a blog post will preserve them for posterity, or at least until such time as the King in Yellow shatters our reality for good.

Serve all of these on the rocks.

STAR VAMPIRE

1½ oz Kraken spiced rum

½ oz sloe gin

San Pellegrino blood orange aranciata

FLOWER OF CARCOSA
1 ½ oz cachaça
½ oz red Lillet
Limonata

 

THE KINGSPORTER (pictured)
1½ oz bourbon
½ oz ruby port
San Pellegrino Clementina  

Please expose intruders to vengeful pirate ghosts responsibly.

To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing, such a danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the night. 

– Nyarlathotep

The lurid heightened reality of Cthulhu City, with its gasmasked police, impossible skyscrapers, mad scientists and hordes of cultists works perfectly for a masked-vigilantes vs the Mythos campaign. In this setup, each of the player characters is a pulp hero, possessed of either astounding physical and mental fortitude or some supernatural talent that gives them an edge in the battle against the city’s horrors. Choose one of the following options:

  • Action Hero: +15 build points for general abilities
  • Expert: +5 investigative ability points
  • Supernatural Gift: Either convert the psychic abilities over from Fear Itself 2nd Edition, or work with your Keeper to come up with a suitable weird talent like invisibility, precognition, the power to pierce supernatural disguises, a telepathic bond with a deity, a stolen Yithian gadget or two…

Each character has a lair or hideout of some sort, located in a district you’re familiar with. Players can pool together for more elaborate secret hideouts, like stately mansions or fathomless caves with magical defences against discovery or the Mythos. Players are also encouraged to use the Organising Resistance rules (p. 48) to build networks of informants and allies. (A generous Keeper might even let a player invest some build points in such a network at the start of the campaign.)

Some of the existing characters in Cthulhu City already work perfectly in this paradigm:

  • Renegade Transport Policeman Miles Grieg (p. 66) retains his human sanity – if not, entirely, his human form – and fights against his former colleagues using their own sinister weapons against them. He is… The Watchman!
  • Elizabeth Venner (p. 80) might turn her gifts of ophidian hypnosis and witchcraft towards fighting crime and the Mythos. By night, she wears the mask of… the Serpent Woman!
  • Professor Armitage (p. 92), exiled from the university he loved, might seek his revenge from the sewers and ghoul-tunnels where he keeps his laboratory. Armed with occult lore and stolen sorcery, he is… Ibn-Ghazi!
  • Thomas Kearney (p. 163), his soul set afire by the Colour, could wield this alien radiation as a weapon. He may glow with the nameless Colour Out Of Space, but he calls himself… the Green Flash!
  • Tallis Martin (p. 177) needs only a few more points in Athletics and Scuffling to go full-on two-fisted archaeologist. She’s the Adventuress!
  • Charlie Zhang (p. 198) is already called out as a possible vigilante hero battling the forces of darkness – and his own destiny as architect of the Cruel Empire to come. He is the Master of Tsan Chan!

The Suspicion rules adapt neatly to a masked-hero campaign. Suspicion accrues to the group of masked heroes, not to their civilian secret identities. The city police have no idea that the Serpent Woman is secretly the alter ego of society heiress Elizabeth Venner, or that Thomas Kearney puts aside his overalls and dons the mask of the Green Flash – but the Serpent Woman and the Green Flash have a high Suspicion score, with all the penalties and problems that entails (p. 23). At the start of each adventure, the Keeper rolls a d6; if the result is equal to or lower than the group’s Suspicion score, then there’s a risk in this adventure that one of the investigators will be unmasked, or there’ll be a perilous cross-over between their secret identity and their actions as a Mythos-fighting hero (“oh no, my aunt Gertrude’s about to be sacrificed by the Cthulhu cult! If I rush up and free her from the altar, she might recognize me!”)

Little else needs to be changed – the monsters, cults, sinister masters and malignant forces of the city work as foils for a group of vigilantes. After all, a city ruled by monsters needs whatever heroes it can get…

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Carnivals have always exuded a faint fetor of menace. Itinerant strangers come to town, some of them dressed as clowns, and try to trick you or exploit the basest depths of your curiosity. They exist to break down boundaries, give you permission to indulge, and then move on, leaving you, the seemingly innocent townsfolk, to reckon with what you got up to under the garish light of the midway.

When you set a scene in a Fear Itself, Trail of Cthulhu, or Esoterrorists scenario at a sideshow or circus, the players know to expect creepiness.

You know what the real story is. But what are the rumors the investigators encounter before parting the wrong curtain and finally beholding that terrible truth?

Here are 7 rumors for townsfolk and carnies to spout at the PCs before the real horror surfaces.

  1. “They did a test on the corn dogs and found that 1% of the contents were human flesh.”
  2. “Last year when the carnival came by Mamie Jones just up and vanished. The sheriffs caught up with them down in Dixville but they said they’d never laid eyes on her.”
  3. “Before the authorities clamped down on the freak show, they had an alligator man who was a little too real, if you know what I mean.”
  4. “Some of the most prominent people in our town worship the devil. And their high priest and priestess are the owners of this carnival, who travel from place to place renewing the vows of apparently ordinary folk to Satan himself.”
  5. “They stopped using their old Ferris wheel. Ten years one of the cars came loose and a girl fell to her death. That old ride was haunted. People who rode by themselves would sometimes look over and see her, weeping gluey tears from her faceless head. I don’t suppose a ghost could transfer from an old Ferris wheel to a new one, could it?”
  6. “Last year one of the roustabouts lost an eye in a bar fight. Guys from the local mill started it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some bloody revenge broke out later tonight.”
  7. “A friend of my cousin’s went into that hall of mirrors back in the 90s. He stepped outside and he coulda sworn he was in the 1890s! He turned around and ran back in and says he can’t even look at a mirror nowadays.”

And as always, if the players care more about a tall tale than they do about the main plot line, why maybe it’s not so untrue after all…

Since the first outbreak in 1905, the city of Great Arkham has struggled to contain the spread of an unusually virulent and dangerous form of typhoid. All vehicles leaving the city must be inspected by the transport police. These officers wear heavy gas masks and protective clothing to minimise their exposure to the toxic disinfectant sprays they use; they have the authority to detain anyone they deem to show symptoms of infection. Take a train to Boston, and you’ll see those masked figures swarming outside the carriage, spraying the underside and searching for vagrants who try to hop the train. Drive out of the city, and you’ll find every road blocked by transport police inspection points.

More and more, the transport police can be seen in the city proper, too. They appear suddenly, as if materialising, cordoning off buildings or neighbourhoods and marking them as infected by painting a yellow warning sign on a wall. They’re also used to put down riots and disturbances, spraying crowds with caustic chemicals to disperse gangs of troublemakers.

Obviously, all this is a transparent tissue of lies. Whatever the mysterious disease is (assuming it exists), it bears no resemblance to actual salmonella enterica infection, the ‘symptoms’ are justification for the police to arrest anyone they wish (like your investigators), and they use the excuse of ‘quarantine’ to section off parts of the city that the authorities wish to temporarily remove.

So, how best to use these sinister enforcers in your Cthulhu City games?

No Escape

The transport police aren’t the only way to stop the investigators leaving the city, but they’re the most blatant and mundane expression of the city’s desire to keep its prisoners trapped. The transport police can shut down railways (“sorry, madam, tonight’s express to Boston is cancelled. Come back tomorrow… or maybe the day after…”), block roads, arrest hitchhikers, and hunt runaways across the countryside with masked dog-things and flashlights if the investigators try fleeing through Billington’s Woods or the marshes south of the city.

Investigators trying to escape the city’s clutches need to find ways to evade the police. They must identify the neighbours and so-called friends who are informing on them to the authorities; they must find ways to move across the city without being spotted by transport police surveillance; they need to cultivate contacts and spies of their own who can warn them about police activity.

It’s possible to get past the transport police. They’re not infallible; they’re just the first set of jailers. Beyond them are other, stranger prison walls.

No Evidence

The transport police swoop in to erase evidence of the Mythos. If a mindless god-thing lazily reaches out a tentacle and scoops up a tenement block in the middle of the night, then the transport police will be there by dawn, telling people to stay away from the ‘typhoid outbreak’ and ordering journalists to report on the tragic gas main explosion. Investigators trying to plumb the mysteries of Cthulhu City and discover what’s really going on need to act quickly to find clues before the transport police disinfect them away.

Similarly, if they wait too long, the transport police intimidate (or disappear) vital witnesses. (The transport police rarely speak, but they loom very effectively in the background while a regular Arkham Police officer or other emissary of the authorities explains why it’s a bad idea to talk openly about what happened…)

No Place To Hide

Several powerful Mythos cults vie for control of the city; they have their agents and minions conspiring in the corridors of power, and have carved up Great Arkham between them. Other cults and factions are on the outside, and get suppressed and attacked by the transport police. The Armitage Inquiry was shut down when the transport police raided Miskatonic. Similarly, the Yithian-worshipping Pnakothic cult is treated as a criminal group. Transport police raid the homes and businesses of Yithian agents; they erase any Yithian technology or relics they find.

The transport police, therefore, are a very visible barometer of which cults are in the ascendance and which are losing influence in Great Arkham. When the Gilman House political machine collapsed, the transport police suddenly showed up in Innsmouth in huge numbers, impounding ships and quarantining buildings near the river. So, if the investigators see the transport police sweeping the wooded isle and the old Witch House, they might guess that the Witch Coven has fallen from grace. On the other hand, if the police raid Miskatonic’s medical department and St. Mary’s hospital, then they might discover that the city’s cracking down on the Halsey Fraternity.

Of course, if the investigators become powerful and influential enough to warrant it, they’ll be targeted by the city’s secret police too.

No Truth

What if there really is an epidemic? What if the transport police really are trying to contain a threat – not typhoid, but something far more bizarre and alien? If the investigators bring down the transport police (say, by blowing up the Chemical Works at Salamander Fields, or police headquarters in Fort Hutchison), what new horror might they set free? A mi-go fungal infestation that consumes the whole city in alien growths? Primal tissue of Ubbo-Sathla, swelling up from the sewers? The Black Blood of Yibb-Tstll?

Or maybe the disinfectant spray is actually a hallucinogen that creates visions of the ‘real’ world? Perhaps Boston and Salem and all the world outside Great Arkham is born of visions breathed into the nostrils of would-be travellers, who only dreamt they left the city…

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“But let us turn to the Tyrrhenians while they still remain; for under the maddening power of Dionysos the forms of dolphins are creeping over the Tyrrhenians — not at all the dolphins we know, however, nor yet those native to the sea. One of the men has dark sides, one a slippery breast, on the back of one a fin is growing, one is growing a tail, the head of one is gone but that of another is left, the hand of one is melting away, while another laments over his vanishing feet.”

— Philostratus of Lemnos (ca. 220 CE)

Philostratus purports to be describing a painting here, but read it through a Lovecraftian lens and wonder with me about the other big-brained mammal that washes up against Y’ha-nthlei. Note, by the way that the forms the Tyrrhenians metamorphose into are “not at all the dolphins we know” and also not “those native to the sea.” What could he be talking about? Why, the Deeper Ones, of course.

Kkkrrrkkkk-thulhu fhtagn!

The Deeper Ones are to dolphins what the Deep Ones are to humans: the result of a hybrid breeding program that produces a blend of the two phenotypes. Since dolphins are already aquatic, the changes mostly come inside it: gills emerge, pressure-resistant scales form beneath its blubber, the eyes distend, the flippers lengthen. The most visible difference is a thick bristly crest along the Deeper One’s spine, but it can lay that down voluntarily. The Deeper Ones behave more brutally and ruthlessly than regular dolphins, with a much stronger and more violent sexual appetite — one not limited to the delphinoid species. They are as intelligent as human-hybrid Deep Ones. If a Deeper One has not fully shifted into hybrid form, or is deliberately subduing its Deeper One “tells” then it requires a spend of Biology, Outdoorsman, or the equivalent to notice something uncanny about the beast.

Edward P. Berglund’s “The Sand Castle” names the Deeper Ones the Laniqua Lua’huan, who serve Tsur’lhn, a high priest of Cthulhu who resembles an enormous razor clam filled with tentacles and shadowy protrusions. James Wade’s wonderful Lilly-derived tale “The Deep Ones” goes still farther and indicts even regular dolphins as willing servants of Cthulhu and the telepathic amplifiers, coursing hounds, and sacred beasts of the Deep Ones. Dolphins as amplifiers of Deep One telepathy and/or Cthulhu’s dream sendings evoke the hypnotic songs associated with mermaids and Sirens. The concept also provides a wonderful opening for all manner of horrible stories — mass mind control, hypnotic suicide, dream attacks, cult frenzy — made still worse by the sunny refusal of everyone else to believe anything bad of the ocean’s perfect companion. I used this duality in my own game several years back, and I still cherish the players’ flinch when the sunny NPC docent announced “There has never been a recorded incident of a dolphin attacking a human.” As one of my players muttered in response: “Not recorded … because they kill all the witnesses.”

Trail of Cthulhu Keepers should look into Marine Studios (later Marineland) south of St. Augustine, Florida, which became the first public dolphin exhibit park in the world in June of 1938. It opened with one bottlenose dolphin, attracting tourists and literati. The Creature From the Black Lagoon was filmed at Marineland in 1954, and the dolphinarium remained extremely popular well into the Fall of DELTA GREEN era. However Flipper, filmed between 1963 and 1967, drew crowds to Marineland’s rival, the Miami Seaquarium. Perhaps a failing marine park desperately promotes its particularly intelligent dolphin, and covers up the surely unrelated rash of deaths.

• In addition, Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers might consider involving the Deeper Ones with the Navy Marine Mammal Program. The NMMP starts in 1962 at Point Mugu, California; in 1967 the program becomes classified, transfers to the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center at Point Loma near San Diego and adds a second facility at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. Dolphin teams deploy to Vietnam in 1965, tasked with minesweeping and anti-frogman security. The Navy prefers the more aggressive dolphins with Deep One genetics; DELTA GREEN differs.

Deeper One

“Though the ordinary Delphinus delphis is a cetacean mammal, unable to subsist without air, I watched one of the swimmers closely for two hours, and did not see him alter his submerged condition. … the peculiar dolphins were still about us, even at a depth where the existence of high organisms is considered impossible by most naturalists.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Temple”

Abilities: Athletics 16, Health 10, Scuffling 12

Magic: 7; spells connected with Cthulhu or the Deep Ones.

Hit Threshold: 4 (big but agile)

Alertness Modifier: +1 (+2 vs. moving objects underwater)

Stealth Modifier: +2

Attack: bite (-1), bash (+0 or more)

Armor: -1 vs. any (subdermal scales)

Stability Loss: +0

Charging Bash: If a Deeper One can charge its target, it can convert more of its 500 kg of momentum into impact damage. A Deeper One that attacks from Near or farther can spend 2 Athletics to add +1 to its damage (max. +3). It must spend at least one round swimming back out to Near distance to launch a charging bash attack the next round.

Fully Aquatic: Deeper Ones, unlike dolphins, don’t need to surface or breathe air.

Orca Hybrid: Orcas, or killer whales, are a very large and aggressive genus of dolphin, and may also interbreed with the Deep Ones. For an orca Deeper One template, increase Athletics, Health, and Scuffling by +6. Its bite does +4 damage; its bash starts at +2; its Armor is -3. The orca hybrid can also grab and hold with its bite: by paying 2 Scuffling points, the Deeper One clamps down on its foe and automatically hits with a free bite attack each round thereafter. It and its victim take -1 to their Hit Threshold against each other.

Regular Dolphin: A regular, non-hybrid dolphin has Athletics 9, Health 7, Scuffling 6, and no Armor. (Increase these abilities as above for a regular orca.) It may or may not have Magic, or a pod of dolphins may have a common Magic pool, depending on the Keeper’s view of dolphin intelligence.

Telepathy: A Deeper One can read the mind of, and send its thoughts to, any Deep One, Deeper One, dolphin, hybrid, or dreaming human within a mile. (Stability test against the Deeper One’s roll+spend (of Magic) total to resist; the Deeper One may add +1 to its result for every five telepaths assisting it.) Alcohol (drinking enough to cost 2 Health) may block the Deeper Ones’ telepathic abilities.

 

“He handed me a chunk of green stone, almost too heavy to hold in one hand. … The inscription was in curved characters, not unlike Pitman’s shorthand; the face in the midst of them could have been a devil mask, or a snake god, or a sea monster.”

— Colin Wilson, “The Return of the Lloigor”

This is the kind of mystery that I love, because the clues are just far enough apart that there is no way to rationally solve or prove anything, but their shape — or the shape they point to — is so clear that the intuitive spark jumps across the gap regardless. This is the very meat and drink of Lovecraftian mystery investigation: the clues exist, and they unambiguously point to something insane. And there is no way to know more. Herewith, then, the clues, every one of which is real and as accurate as I can manage without knowing Chinese or taking a month to write this column.

Jade bi incised with taotie, unknown provenance

Here’s a story about jade. Around 750 BCE a pilgrim named Bian He sees a feng (a composite creature usually translated, inaccurately, as “phoenix”) land on a mountain, travels to that spot, and finds a stone. He brings it to King Li of Chu and offers to sell him this stone, which he knows (because it drew the feng to it) contains jade. (Side diversion: jade is full of yang, attracting the yin-charged feng.) King Li’s jeweler examines the stone and decrees it worthless, so Li chops off one of Bian He’s feet. Bian He waits until Li’s successor Wu comes to the throne, repeats his offer, and gets his other foot amputated. Finally King Wen comes to the throne and one day sees Bian He weeping tears of blood. Wen buys the stone, which when split reveals a jade disk, the He Shi Bi, which  eventually becomes the Imperial Seal of China, until it disappears during the Jin invasion around 950 CE.

So what is the Bi in He Shi Bi? The word bi means a specific kind of jade disk, one with a hole punched in the middle. Its character is made up of the characters meaning “jade” and “beheading.” Bi were buried on the chests or stomachs of the dead, or placed atop their graves. Nobody knows what they signified. One theory postulates the bi represents heaven or the great cycle of the stars, which implies return from the dead, or immortality.

The Chinese word for jade is yu, originally the same character as wang (“emperor”). Paleographers now believe the character originally depicted an axe. At some point, scribes added a blemish to the yu character to distinguish it from wang, much like the hole in the middle of a bi. Yu was originally pronounced ng-iog, the first consonant being a sort of trilled uvular. Maybe lliog is a better transliteration.

The earliest known makers of bi were the Liangzhu culture, which had a very impressive urban civilization at the mouth of the Yangtze River from 3400 to 2250 BCE. They used diamonds to carve jade, even making corundum axes for the purpose; diamond tools would not come into common use again until Minoan Crete around 1500 BCE. Liangzhu designs spread all over China, and in the case of the bi, lasted for millennia. Weirdly, genetic tests indicate the Liangzhu were Pacific Islanders, not Chinese. Even more weirdly, all the cities of the Liangzhu now lie beneath Lake Taihu — which may have been a meteoric impact crater, or something just as catastrophic.

The Liangzhu didn’t just invent the bi. They may also have created — or first depicted — the taotie, one of the “Four Evil Creatures of the World.” Sort of a looping geometric demon, it somewhat resembles staring eyes under curved, symmetrical horns (or tentacles) and the top of a mouth. Taotie are bodiless and even mouth-less, but apparently represent greedy hunger. Around 239 BCE the Qin chancellor Lu wrote: “The taotie has a head but no body. When it eats people, it does not swallow them, but harms them.” Another possible meaning of that last line: “Before it could swallow the man it devoured, its own body was damaged.” Perhaps Lu wrote both meanings, that being one advantage of a logographic script.

And of course the Liangzhu carved taotie into bi, although more often they put them on the corners and faces of cong, hollow jade cylinders found with bi in graves of the period. Topologically, of course, it’s the same thing: eyes in a ring around a central hole.

That’s all the clues I have right now, although I am certain as death that I could find a dozen more in Chinese legend and archaeology, or in the mineralogy of jade.

So we have a bodiless devouring creature associated with amputation, immortality, greenish stone, Pacific Islanders, the sudden destruction of cities, and cruel imperial rule. By an odd coincidence Colin Wilson’s lloigor ruled in Mu before it sank, destroy cities leaving greenish-blue lakes behind, amputate their slaves’ extremities, are made of energy (yang energy to boot: aggressive and cruel) and dwell in charged stones.

So here is the solution to our mystery. Mu left a colony or an outlying post on the coast of China, ruled by the lloigor dwelling in their jade stones. Their emperor was jade, so the glyph lliog could be the same — the glyph of the axe representing the power to amputate limbs of human rebels. Their hideous half-faces and monstrous symmetries infected the stones, emerging as the taotie. Then someone figured out how to step down the lloigor charge, or perhaps ground it entirely. Take a diamond tool and cut a hole of a certain geometric proportion into the lloigor stone, “beheading” the “jade” … in a word, bi.

Such a stone becomes the symbol of authority, not just because of its echoes of lloigor rule, but because it shows the king (or emperor) can break the lloigor-taotie to his will. (“Better a broken jade than an intact tile,” as Confucius reputedly said.) But the lloigor do not look kindly on this lèse-majesté. They call on the deep yang currents of the earth and destroy the cities of Liangzhu, drowning them under the new Taihu Lake. Chinese civilization only re-emerges centuries later, in the Huang He river far to the north. The Shang and later Zhou and Qin and Han and Tang carve taotie and bi, rote and ignorant reminders of the rebellion against the lloigor that created China while weeping tears of blood.

On November 2nd, 1936, the world died.

Only 100 copies of this faux-leatherbound limited edition Cthulhu Apocalypse exist in this reality. 50 will be made available to customers in the US & Canada, and 50 will be made available to customers outside the US & Canada. The books are faux leather with gold foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed book plate signed by Graham Walmsley and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, which you can add to your book.

Cthulhu Apocalypse takes place after the stars had come right; and things that lurked under the seas for eons rose to claim their rightful place. Now, they rule the earth, stalking it like titans.

Millions of women and men died—yet you survived, doomed to wander the ruins, searching for answers. What went wrong? Are there others like you? How can you stay alive? And is there a way to put this right?

Cthulhu Apocalypse is a survival horror supplement for the Trail of Cthulhu roleplaying game that takes Investigators into a terrifying post-apocalyptic world.

Using the award-winning Apocalypse Machine, GMs can destroy the world any number of ways—including the death rays of alien tripods, a plague of white flowers, or the rising of Great Old Ones—and run adventures of investigation and survival in a land transformed beyond recognition.


Cthulhu Apocalypse
includes:

  • The Apocalypse Machine, an award-winning GUMSHOE sandbox setting that gives you the tools to create your own global catastrophe—from the first strange rumblings to the final, cataclysmic event—along with Drives, Occupations, and more for adventures among the ruins.
  • Five adventures in the aftermath of disaster, taking Investigators through Britain, across the sea to America, and beyond the veils of reality as they struggle to survive. (Previously published as The Dead White World.)
  • Three adventures set years later, as the few survivors find their humanity cracking and moulting in the process of becoming something new. (Previously published as Slaves of the Mother.)
  • Eight all-new scenarios that give your players the choice as to whether—and how—humanity survives in this strange new world.
Stock #: PELGT40L Author: Graham Walmsley, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Alessandro Alaia Pages: 216, hardback book – includes PDF

Buy

Ever hungry for new sources of terror, we just received seven gods and titans for use in any Trail of Cthulhu campaign, from player Nick Ingham. He says:

“Some have been mentioned in supplements like the Bookhounds of London, but not properly described like the ones in the core rulebook. Others I just like. In order to avoid “Great Old One creep,” each deity’s entry contains several options tying it to existing beings – or laying a rival claim to another’s characteristic – and at least one option explaining it away as a myth, metaphor or even lie. Following them is a section offering one or two myth, metaphor, error, or lie options for each deity from the core book – barring a couple that already have them – as well as Rhan-Teggoth from Bookhounds of London.”

Thanks, Nick!

 

Byatis

 

“Beware St. Toad’s cracked chimes!” I heard him scream
As I plunged into those mad lanes that wind
In labyrinths obscure and undefined
South of the river where old centuries dream.
– The Fungi from Yuggoth

 

  • Byatis, the Serpent-Bearded, is a vast toad-like entity whose face is obscured by a mass of reaching tentacles.
  • Byatis is trapped in a vast chamber beneath a ruined castle in the Severn Valley. Apparitions caused by its presence have given rise to the legend of the Berkeley Toad.
  • Some regions are subject to Byatis’s unceasing gaze, creating pools of eldritch energy accessible to sorcerers; such regions are cursed with a bloody history, and haunted by both past and future. One such pool is said to be located beneath the London.
  • Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis describes Serpent-Bearded Byatis as one of a triad of divinatory deities, together with Father Yig and Dark Han.
  • Those confronting Byatis’s blazing eye lose their minds and wills and walk to the god to be devoured.
  • Byatis is an avatar of Tsathoggua.
  • Byatis is the greatest of the Xothians not trapped in R’lyeh, and dreams of winning control of his race from Cthulhu.
  • Byatis is the greatest of the Nagaäe, the race of creatures that serves Cyaëgha.
  • Byatis’s essence is the ultimate power that animates vampires.
  • In return for sacrifices, Byatis can offer fragments of its being to act as familiars to witches and sorcerers. Fed on the blood of victims, these familiars can grow to vast size.
  • Byatis is a myth, a conjectured demon from which the toad-like familiars of witches are said to descend.
  • Byatis, based on the legend of the Berkeley Toad, was a claim made by Severn Valley Sorcerer Gilbert Morley to bolster his occult reputation.
  • Witnessing Byatis costs an additional +3 (1) Stability pool points and +2 Sanity pool points.

 

 

Cyaëgha

 

I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down daemons from the stars. . . . I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness.

– From Beyond

 

  • Cyaëgha, the Waiting Dark, resembles a vast staring eye surrounded by a mass of writing tentacles. The whole entity floats above the ground, reaching down for prey.
  • Cyaëgha appears as a vast eye superimposed over the Moon, around which rifts open in the sky. Pure darkness flows through these rifts, shaping itself into shifting bodies and appendages.
  • Cyaëgha is both worshipped and imprisoned by a cult in the Jura Mountains, near the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and France. The essence of the god is trapped behind five mystical statuettes, the Vaeyen.
  • Cyaëgha is the genius loci for the whole European continent. A similar entity, Othuyeg, embodies North America.
  • Cyaëgha is one of the Great Old Ones associated with the element of Air, and serves Hastur on Earth.
  • Cyaëgha is served by the insectile, toad-like, and fathomlessly cruel Nagaäe. The god itself is sometimes represented as an even more warped version of these creatures.
  • Cyaëgha is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the processes of entropy in the universe, including its eventual heat death. It cares nothing for worship, seeking only the destruction of all that touches it.
  • Cyaëgha is a manifestation of Byatis’s gaze focussed upon a locality.
    Fragments of Cyaëgha’s essence live independent, seemingly-human lives. These beings are instinctively drawn towards the Jura Mountains, where they seek to free the god.
  • Cyaëgha is the brother of Nyogtha.
  • Cyaëgha is a mythical demon worshipped by a single cult in Germany.
  • Cyaëgha is a metaphorical personification made by a cult in Germany of the place of power near which its members reside.
  • Witnessing Cyaëgha costs an additional +4 (2) Stability pool points and +3 Sanity pool points.

 

Eihort

 

I knew that I was alone—horribly alone. Alone, yet close to sentient impulses of vast, vague kind; which I prayed never to comprehend nor encounter.
– The Green Meadow

 

  • Eihort resembles a pale oval shape walking on many skeletal legs. Eyes, mouths, and other appendages form out of its surface when needed.
  • Eihort dwells in caverns beneath the Severn Valley in England. These caverns may touch the surface in New England and other places as well.
  • Eihort offers its “bargain” to visitors and others it encounters. Those who accept are implanted with a horde of the spider-like grubs that make up its brood; they may also have their memories of the event erased from their minds. Those who refuse are generally killed.
  • Eihort is an avatar of Hastur.
  • Eihort is one of the Million Favoured Ones of Nyarlathotep.
  • Eihort is a powerful Shoggoth, far evolved past its kin.
  • Eihort is the collective name given to an ecology of parasitic beings that infest both Earthly and alien life, even some Titans.
  • Eihort and its brood dislike the touch of sunlight.
  • Eihort and its brood partly resemble plant matter; the touch of sunlight is required for its brood to grow within a host.
  • Eihort is a myth, a mistaken origin posited by occultists for “its brood.”
  • Witnessing Eihort costs an additional +2 Stability pool points and +1 Sanity pool points.

 

Ghroth

 

Yet when I looked from that highest of all gable windows, looked while the candles sputtered and the insane viol howled with the night-wind, I saw no city spread below, and no friendly lights gleaming from remembered streets, but only the blackness of space illimitable; unimagined space alive with motion and music, and having no semblance to anything on earth.
– The Music of Erich Zann

 

  • Ghroth is a planet-sized entity composed of rock, dust, and gas, which periodically opens itself to reveal a vast staring eye.
  • Ghroth, the Harbinger and Maker, travels ceaselessly among the stars commanding or embodying the cosmic turns that mark stages in the lives of the gods.
  • Visions of Ghroth are a psychic reaction to the witness sensing the gaze of Azathoth on their world.
  • Ghroth is an example of the ultimate evolution of the Sons of Yog-Sothoth; had Wilbur Whateley and his twin succeeded, they and the Earth would have become another entity of similar kind.
  • In the early 20th Century, a small order located in Britchester, England designed a special telescope capable of detecting Ghroth and its movements.
  • Ghroth is the wellspring of magical energy in the universe. Sorcerers seek it out to draw such energy to the Earth. Its great eye is the sorcerer’s own, reflected back at them.
  • Ghroth is a premonition of the Earth as it will be far in the future.
  • Ghroth is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the existence of matter in our cosmos. It wars ceaselessly with Azathoth, the embodiment of chaotic energy.
  • Ghroth is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the fundamental force of gravity in our cosmos.
  • The myth of Ghroth was invented by a faction of the Cult of Cthulhu to lend weight to their specific predictions of R’lyeh’s rise.
  • The myth of Ghroth arose from the misunderstanding of human occultists when shown Mi-Go images of the planet Jupiter (the red spot being the source of its great eye).
  •  The myth of Ghroth is a recent occult extrapolation of the Nemesis Star theory.
  • Witnessing Ghroth costs an additional +6 (4) Stability pool points and +5 (2) Sanity pool points.

 

 

Nyogtha

 

My disordered fancy conjured up hideous and fearsome shapes from the sinister darkness that surrounded me, and that actually seemed to press upon my body.
– The Beast in the Cave

 

  • Nyogtha, the Thing That Should Not Be, the Black God of Madness, appears as a fluid mass of impenetrable darkness. It is formless and amoeboid, putting out pseudopods to interact with its environment, and is accompanied by a sickening reptilian odour.
  • Nyogtha dwells in a network of caverns deep beneath the Earth. These caverns touch the surface in only a few areas of occult significance.
  • Nyogtha was created by witches as a soul symbol for humanity. This link to humanity makes it vulnerable to religious trappings such as the ankh and holy water.
  • Nyogtha is the blood of Cthulhu, possessed of independent life.
  • Nyogtha is the venom of Yig, possessed of independent life.
  • Nyogtha is tied to certain human bloodlines, most notably the Prinn family – including Ludwig Prinn, author of De Vermis Mysteriis, and Abigail Prinn of Salem. It can grant longevity, immortality, and resurrection to such people.
  • The Earthly Nyogtha is a facet of a greater entity dwelling on a dark world orbiting Arcturus, and summoned here by the Serpent Folk of Yoth.
  • Nyogtha is the larval form of a true god. It sought power from the Elder Things who imprisoned it beneath New Zealand. Manifestations of Nyogtha elsewhere in the world are only tiny fragments of its substance.
  • Nyogtha is the greatest of the Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua.
  • The first shoggoth-matter was drawn from Nyogtha’s substance by the Elder Things.
  • Nyogtha is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the vacuum between solar systems. Only in areas of great power is it safe to draw any of its substance to Earth.
  • Nyogtha grants necromantic power to its worshippers, which makes it an enemy of Mordiggian. Ghoulish worshippers of the two gods have warred for centuries.
  • Nyogtha is the same entity as the Titan Mordiggian, at a different stage of its existence.
  • Nyogtha is a living curse, the embodiment of a sorcerer’s desire to punish or destroy a community.
  • Nyogtha is a myth, a personification given to black magic.
  • Witnessing Nyogtha costs an additional +3 (1) Stability pool points and +2 Sanity pool points.

 

Ubbo-Sathla

 

He has on rare occasions whispered disjointed and irresponsible things about “the black pit”, “the carven rim” … “the original, the eternal, the undying”, and other bizarre conceptions
– At the Mountains of Madness

 

  • Ubbo-Sathla, the Unbegotten Source, the Source and End, resembles a vast and shapeless mass of protoplasm that continually calves off its spawn into the mire (or caverns, or ocean floor) around its bulk.
  • All Earthly life descends, both physically and spiritually from the spawn of Ubbo-Sathla.
  • Ubbo-Sathla is surrounded by an uncountable number of stone tablets on which the secrets of the “Elder Gods” are inscribed.
  • The first shoggoth-matter was drawn from Ubbo-Sathla’s substance by the Elder Things.
  • Ubbo-Sathla is not an entity in itself, but a vat of inert and undifferentiated biomass from which other life forms may be created.
  • Ubbo-Sathla has only ever been perceived through the Orb of Eons, a mystical gem that allows the viewer to cycle back through their incarnations until their first existence as one of the Titan’s many spawn. Those who undertake this journey vanish out of memory, as if they had never existed.
  • Ubbo-Sathla and Quachil Uttaus are metaphorical representations of the extremes of chaos and order as represented within biological structures.
  • Ubbo-Sathla was destroyed long ago by the Elder Things in order to allow their biologically oriented technology to function without interference.
  • Ubbo-Sathla is part of the same metaphorical “source code” as Shub-Niggurath. Where the latter describes the processes of biological change, the former represents the raw states of biomass on which they operate.
  • Ubbo-Sathla a myth, conjectured by human occultists as an origin for Shoggoths.
  • Witnessing Ubbo-Sathla costs an additional +5 (3) Stability pool points and +4 (2) Sanity pool points.

 

 

Yidhra

 

I began to see a hideous relationship in the faces of the human and non-human figures. He was, in all his gradations of morbidity between the frankly non-human and the degradedly human, establishing a sardonic linkage and evolution.
– Pickman’s Model

 

  • Yidhra is a gestalt entity with no true form, but many constituent bodies spread around the world – some resembling natural creatures, others more monstrous. All of these bodies are linked with a telepathic mind.
  • Cult centres of Yidhra exist, or have existed, in Mesopotamia, South-East Asia, West Africa, and the south-west of North America. Cults of Yidhra are granted a humanoid avatar to serve as their leader; worshippers display progressive genetic mutation as their biology combines with hers.
  • Yidhra’s Mesopotamian cult was led by the Oannes faction of Deep Ones, who helped build the first cities. All Deep Ones once worshipped Yidhra, but the dream-sendings of Cthulhu have drawn most away from the true faith.
  • Yidhra is a parasitic entity that combines its genome with other organisms to ensure its own continuation. It retains the capabilities of creatures it infects or devours.
  • Yidhra is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) evolution in our cosmos.
  • Yidhra is known as the dream witch, due to the telepathic illusions with which she hides her (and as time goes on, their) true form from her cultists.
  • Yidhra’s genetic substance partakes of all life that has ever been native to the Earth. She can adopt the semblance of any such organism – though never completely, always with a few elements of some other creature mixed in.
  • Yidhra’s genetic substance is present in all organisms on Earth. All terrestrial life is part of the goddess’s substance.
  • Yidhra is the body of all beings in the universe, the same entity as Nyarlathotep which is their soul.
  • Yidhra is a myth, a misunderstanding of the Million Favoured Ones of Nyarlathotep, in telepathic communion with their master.
  • Yidhra is (or more likely was) a presumptuous high priestess of Shub-Niggurath, who falsely claimed the goddess’s power to be her own.
  • Witnessing Yidhra in a monstrous form costs an additional +4 (3) Stability pool points and +3 (2) Sanity pool points.

 

 

Mythical Options for Existing Deities

 

  • Chaugnar Faugn is an almost-comical misconception that stemmed from the confrontation with a cult of Yog-Sothoth that had hidden itself within a temple of Ganesh, and grew in the telling.
  • Cthugha is a conjectured origin for the Fire Vampires.
  • Cthulhu is a religious figure among both Deep Ones and humans, conjectured and exaggerated from interactions with Xothians.
  • Dagon is a grain-god from Near Eastern mythology, which has become associated with Deep Ones through their membership in an ancient Yidhra (or Shub-Niggurath) cult from that part of the world.
  • “Daoloth” is part of an ancient invocation for seeing the future, misconstrued as a name by later occultists.
  • Ghatanothoa was the mythical “Son of Cthulhu” claimed by the cults of Mu to bolster their status among worshippers of the god of R’lyeh.
  • Ghatanothoa is the Muvian Naacal word for petrifaction. Later occultists misinterpreted this descriptive term for a powerful curse as the name of an originating source.
  • Ghatanothoa is simply one of many legends told about the mythical continent of Mu – perhaps derived from cross-referencing with tales of Cthulhu and R’lyeh.
  • Gol-Goroth is a mythical demon invented by a cult that coincidentally practiced their rites at a true site of mystical power in Mediaeval Hungary.
  • Hastur is a metaphorical figure created by the author of the (quite mundane) play The King in Yellow, to symbolise the death of spirit he feared would result from civilisation.
  • Ithaqua is a mystical “password” used by members of a North American cannibal cult who revere the condition of windigo.
  • Mordiggian is a religious figure among Ghouls, no less mythical than the gods of any human religion.
  • Mordiggian is a metaphorical name given by human necrophages for the process of becoming a Ghoul.
  • Mormo is occult conjecture derived from conflating the many lunar goddess cults (of varying levels of similarity) that existed around the Mediterranean and Near East.
  • Nodens is a human legend conflated with Shub-Niggurath through occult error.
  • Nyarlathotep is a myth that’s grown up among opponents of Mythos forces, and other occultists who have brushed up against its truths: a comparatively understandable devil-figure set against the unknowable cosmos.
  • Nyarlathotep is a fringe-historical hypothesis from the early Twentieth Century; a faceless primal god lying behind all the various cults of Egypt.
  • Quachil and Uttaus were two powerful necromancers of the ancient world, whom later legend conflated, then deified.
  • Rhan-Tegoth is the greatest triumph of George Rogers, waxwork-maker extraordinaire.
  • Tsathoggua was a toad-like totem figure in the barbarian precursors to Hyperborea (no different from Yhoundeh the reindeer god), which Eibon associated with the Formless “Spawn” in order to mislead his rivals.
  • Y’golonac is a figure created by the “Five Fingers” cabal of decadent hedonists to lend license to their debaucheries and definition to their wider “Devouring Hands” servant cult.
  • Yig is a religious figure among Serpent-Folk, no less mythical than the gods of any human religion.
  • Yig is a term in the language of the Serpent-Folk, denoting the right order of things. Humans who heard the word mistook it for the name of a deity.
  • Yog-Sothoth is an ancient symbolic term for travel between worlds, times, and dimensions; the lore of Yog-Sothoth is the body of algebra and geometry needed to describe such journeys, couched in more and more occult terms over the centuries, and eventually personified.

One of the suggested campaign frames in Cthulhu City casts the investigators as journalists on Newspaper Row, working for one of Great Arkham’s competing newspapers. Let’s borrow a page (yellowed, and a little stained) from Bookhounds of London and look at the mechanics of playing a journalist.

Newspaper Credit Rating

Each newspaper has a Credit Rating of its own, reflecting both its financial status and its reputation in the city. Investigators working for a newspaper can draw on that Credit Rating by showing the proper credentials – but if they abuse this power by staining the newspaper’s reputation, they’ll face the editor’s wrath. Saying you’re from the Advertiser might get you past the police cordon into the murder scene, but that doesn’t mean you can start poking at the corpse without permission or stealing evidence.

Arkham Advertiser – 10

Arkham Gazette – 8

Arkham Cryer -5

Worker’s Voice – 3  

Dunwich Chronicle – 3

Kingsport Messenger – 4

This Credit Rating is a shared pool among all the investigators. It refreshes at the start of a new investigation, minus the cost of any ongoing investigations (see below).

Research Resources

A newspaper’s Credit Rating pool can also be spent as any of the following investigative abilities, or on Preparedness, reflecting access to the newspaper morgue, regular sources, on-staff experts and expense accounts.

Accounting, Art History, History, Law, Library Use, Cop Talk, Art, Forensics, Photography.

I’m Working On A Story

At the start of the game, and at the start of any investigation, the players can roll a number of d6. Each die represents a story that the newspaper’s working on. These stories aren’t necessarily related to the Mythos – the vast majority are going to be the usual political scandals, news reports, human-interest stories and so on. The players can leave these stories as abstract bundles of points, or describe them as they wish (“I’m working on a piece about survivors of the city orphanage”).

Each die costs 1 point of Newspaper Credit Rating, and this point doesn’t refresh until the story’s published or killed.

The roll of the die determines the size of the story – that’s how many investigative ability points need to be spent to finish the story. So, if a player rolls a 5, then the players as a group need to spend five Investigative points from their pools to finish that story.

These points are spent during downtime between investigations, but before investigative pools refresh. Therefore, the players only get to spent the points that are left over after the adventurous, Mythos-fighting part of the game. (The one exception, of course, is where a Mythos investigation crosses over with a newspaper story. In this case, any points spent in the course of the Mythos investigation count towards completing the story, but the story is now Tainted).

The standard journalistic abilities are: Cop Talk, Evidence Collection, Languages, Oral History, Photography, Assess Honesty, Reassurance and any one District Knowledge related to the story.

Other investigative abilities might work, as long as the player can justify the more obscure choices with a plausible story. (“This is a story about politics in the University District, but of course that’ll spill over into City Hall, so I’ll spend some points of Sentinel Hill Knowledge.)

At any point during the game, a player may convert two points from an ongoing story into a pool of any Investigative Ability (including District Knowledges), representing a contact or fact discovered in the course of a journalistic investigation becoming suddenly relevant to a different Mythos mystery (“I’ve been writing an expose about tenements in Westheath, so I’ll trade two points of that story into a point of Streetwise so we can track down the thief who stole that grimoire.”).

Publish or Be Damned

During downtime between adventures, the players may look to publish any story they’ve completed (i.e. they’ve allocated as many leftover Investigative Ability points to that story as the story’s size).

For each unfinished story, roll a d6. On a 1, it’s Scooped and the story’s lost.

For each possibly-ready story, roll a d6.

1: Scooped! Some rival newspaper got there first! The story’s lost!

2-5: More investigation is needed. Add the value of the roll to the story’s size.

6: Print it!

Players may spend investigative abilities to boost the roll (Art to improve the prose of the piece; Flattery to convince a suspicious editor etc). However, a natural roll of a 1 is always a Scoop by a rival, regardless of point spends.

If a story is Tainted by the Mythos, apply a penalty of the Keeper’s choice to the roll. (-1 or -2 for a vague hint of the supernatural, -3 or -4 if there’s no rational explanation, -5 or -6 if publishing the story as is would anger the city authorities. If this penalty drops the result to 0 or less, the publisher kills the story.

The players may also choose to drop a story – remember, each active story costs a point of Newspaper Credit Rating to maintain. Players may also hold a story back, but if they do so, the chance of being Scooped rises by 2 per downtime (so, Scooped on a 1-3, then Scooped on a 1-5, then automatically Scooped after three downtimes.)

Feed The Beast

A newspaper needs to publish stories of a total size equal to at least half its Credit Rating to maintain that rating. So, if a newspaper has a Credit Rating of 10, it needs to publish at least 5 points worth of news each downtime. If it fails to do so, drop its Credit Rating by 1.

If a newspaper published a single story with a size greater than its Credit Rating, its Credit Rating increases by 1. A newspaper’s Credit Rating can only rise or fall by 1 point per downtime. So, the investigators need to have a mix of stories: short, easily-publishable pieces that pay the bills and feed the beast, and maybe one or two big, prestigious stories to build the paper’s reputation.

Just pray they don’t get Scooped before you’re ready to go to print…

An Example

The players are all working for the Arkham Herald (Credit Rating 5). At the start of the game, they agree they’ll have 3 ongoing stories, leaving them with 2 points of Newspaper Credit Rating to spend during the game on research resources or as actual Credit Rating.

They roll a d6 for each story, and get a 6, a 4 and a 2.

After their Mythos investigation, they can work on these stories with left-over investigative points. Between them, they’ve got 10 points of suitable points to spend, so they fill up the Size-6 and Size-2 stories, and put the remaining 2 points into the Size-5 piece.

Now, they roll to publish. For the Size 2, the Keeper rolls a 1 – it’s been Scooped! The points are lost.

For the Size 6, they roll a 5 – to get that story over the line, they’ll need to double-check everything and make it a huge Size 11 piece. That level of journalistic diligence might fly over at the more prestigious Advertiser, but this is the Cryer, and they’ve got bills to pay! The players spend a point of Flattery on their editor, turning the 5 into a 6 – they convince him that even if they can’t back everything up, there’s still enough there for a front page piece. The harried editor relents, and the Size-6 story gets published. As its Size is bigger than the Cryer’s Credit Rating, it enhances the newspaper’s reputation, bringing its Credit Rating to a respectable 6.

The Keeper also rolls for the unfinished story. He doesn’t get a 1, so it’s not Scooped.
At the start of the next investigation, they’ve still got that size-5 story with 2 points allocated to it. They can keep following this story, or maybe spend those 2 points in the course of their next Mythos investigation.

 

 

 

 

The Armitage Files is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking adventure of improvised Mythos investigation.

Cthulhu Confidential is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking game of solo Mythos investigation.

Putting two groundbreaking products together is hazardous for Gamemasters. You run the risk of collapsing the ground beneath you.

However, the risk can be worth it: improvised play supports the deep investigative dives of one-on-one play.

Improvising On The Run

In a Trail of Cthulhu game using the Armitage Files, the Keeper can take advantage of the times when the players are arguing or speculating amongst themselves to plan ahead and decide on what the players might find when they follow the next clue. While the players argue whether or not they can trust Austin Kittrell, the Keeper feverishly reads over the Sinister and Stalwart versions of the Kingsport Yacht Club that Kittrell mentioned and decides which incarnation the players will encounter.

There are few such downtimes in one-on-one play. You can stall the player by giving them a handout such as a new Armitage Letter, but mostly the game will be relentless investigation and action. (There’s a reason that Cthulhu Confidential scenarios tend to be longer and more intricate than regular Trail games.) The best approach is to study the Armitage Files material thoroughly in advance, internalising it as much as possible so you can decide on the fly to connect the Yacht Club to the Nophru-Ka Panel, which of course means a visit to the Anthropologist and he can see invisible horrors clinging to the investigator which means you’ll need to set up an invisible horror encounter before the player gets there…

Sketch out potential plots and connections in advance. Identify (or ask your player) which clues are most likely to come up in the next session, work out two or three follow-ons from each clue and then pick the most appropriate one in response to player decisions. It’s a gamemastering high-wire act.

Where possible, bend the plot around the protagonist. The Armitage Files includes several handouts that reference player characters by name (Document 3, Document 4, Document 6, Document 9) – but is otherwise light on personal connections to the investigators. After all, in a regular Trail of Cthulhu campaign, there’s every chance that one or more investigators will perish before the end. That’s not the case in Cthulhu Confidential, so take advantage of the protagonist’s privileged status to ensure that the mystery revolves around them. (For those fill-in-an-investigator’s-name gaps in the handouts, put the investigator’s name in one of them and fill the others with Sources and compelling GMCs.)

Look For Solid Ground

Cthulhu Confidential uses cards to track Problems and Edges and to give detail and texture to the character’s experiences. Instead of just losing four Health, the investigator might have been Clawed by a Deep One or Punched by Butcher Brown or Fell Down A Hole – each of which causes an injury, but has different consequences and solutions. In a regular scenario, these cards can be designed in advance because the GM knows the likely encounters lying ahead. In an improvised campaign, this approach is reversed –  design the cards, and then improvise encounters that lead to those cards. For example, if you’ve prepared the Fell Down A Hole problem or the Mob Tie edges, then look for ways to push the protagonist into a pit or get a favour from a mobster. Prepare a stack of Problems and Edges in advance and look for ways to bring them in (start with the Mythos Problems articles by Robin, as well as the Generic Edges and Problems in the Cthulhu Confidential appendix and build from there.)

Of course, improvised games always include unexpected events, so have a stack of blank cards to hand that you can fill in when warranted. Mark important plot twists and consequences by turning them into Problems and Edges.

For Problem cards, include specific ways to remove each Problem. For Edge cards, note exactly what benefit it gives and when it can be cashed in. Be as concrete as possible – if that Mob Ties edge gives you a bonus when dealing with mobsters, then that’s a prompt for the Gamemaster to include some mobsters to justify the Edge’s existence. (Improv thrives on constraints and prompts.)

Problems and Edges usually arise as a result of challenges; have a copy of the Challenge Difficulty table on p. 45 of Cthulhu Confidential to hand while running the game.

The Armitage Sources

The various academics and scholars in the Armitage Inquiry make excellent sources for most topics. Between them, they cover virtually every academic investigative ability imaginable, with non-academic assistance provided by the redoubtable Mrs. Pickman and Dr. Sprague. With so many professional abilities available through sources, the obvious route for the protagonist is to concentrate on practical investigative abilities like Streetwise and Evidence (although any of the usual Cthulhu Confidential protagonists could be used in an Armitage Files campaign by transplanting them to Arkham country.)

Dreadful Correlation

To reiterate – running an improvised One-2-One game isn’t easy. Don’t pick up the Armitage Files and assume that you’re good to go. In a conventional improvised campaign with multiple players, the Keeper has a whole group to riff off and steal ideas from. Here, it’s just you and one player, alone in a whirlwind of possibilities. Running this sort of game will be tough and exhausting – but it will also be a genuinely terrifying experience for one lucky player.

 

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