The Eyes of Rudolf Esper

An opening scene for Trail of Cthulhu

Dr. Ellis Brock, a medical doctor acquainted with one of the PCs, asks them to consult on a curious case. A young patient, Rudolf Esper, presented himself to Brock exhibiting the telltale symptoms associated with ocular syphilis: damage to the retina, nerves and blood vessels at the back of the eye. Yet Esper, a student at a nearby Lutheran seminary, denies ever having any sexual contact whatsoever. As Brock says and Forensics confirms, it is possible but very unlikely that Esper’s symptoms came about as the result of inherited syphilis. Brock would simply have written off the boy as a liar but for the intensity of his belief in his odd story.

When the investigators speak to him, the sweating, trembling Esper says he was cleaning out the attic of the seminary’s manse prior to the arrival of its new dean. “I found what had to be an old painting or picture, wrapped in cloth. It was covered in dust so I took the cloth off of it to clean it, and to see if maybe it was of interest to the dean. The previous dean had decorated the place with his own pictures, so the walls were kind of bare, you see. Well, I unwrapped the painting and there was this… I can’t describe it… this awful portrait… human and not human. Next thing I remember, I woke up in my bed, covered with sores, and with my eyes looking like this. Already the world blurs. I don’t want to go blind. And I never want to see that terrible painting again.”

Brock takes the investigators aside: he asked the dean, John Mann, about this, and he had his caretaker search the attic. No such painting turned up. Did the boy perhaps hide it somewhere during the period of time he has forgotten?

A Difficulty 4 Sense Trouble test reveals that Esper has a glinting object hidden up his sleeve—one of the doctor’s scalpels. The next time anything spooks him—and trying to take the scalpel away counts—he tries to stab Brock in the neck and then leap through his office’s large window. This scene takes place on the third floor of the hospital. The character who spots the blade can automatically save the doc from injury; Difficulty 4 Athletics otherwise. A separate Difficulty 4 Athletics test grabs Esper before he can jump out the window. Without it, he falls to a bone-shattering death below.

The rest is up to you, and your players…


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.

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