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.

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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

Related Links

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

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Tactical Objectives in Trail of Cthulhu

Knowing that the Thing could surely overtake the Alert until steam was fully up, he resolved on a desperate chance; and, setting the engine for full speed, ran lightning-like on deck and reversed the wheel. There was a mighty eddying and foaming in the noisome brine, and as the steam mounted higher and higher the brave Norwegian drove his vessel head on against the pursuing jelly which rose above the unclean froth like the stern of a daemon galleon. The awful squid-head with writhing feelers came nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly.

  • The Call of Cthulhu

The Trail of Cthulhu combat rules work perfectly well when dealing with small numbers of human-scale foes – a lone Deep One or Byakhee, a few cultists – but they’re less suited to coping with gigantic creatures like shoggoths, vampirish vapours or dark young, or hosts of horrors like ghoul packs or flocks of bat-things. Now, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that such encounters are more the province of pure narrative, or out of keeping with the mood of the game, but sometimes – especially in Pulp adventures – you want to be able to blow up the shoggoth by luring it onto Professor Frank’s experimental electrical generator.

These rules are (very) loosely inspired by the Ashen Stars space combat system and the Yellow King RPG rules.

At the start of an encounter, the players collectively choose one of the starting goals (Retreat, Drive Away/Break Through, Hide, Wound, or Lure). They then make ability tests as normal, trying to rack up successes collectively to meet the number required by a goal.

 

Goal Format

Here’s the format for goals.

Description. What you’re trying to do achieve by pursuing this goal.

Leads-In: What goals you need to achieve before attempting this one.

Leads-Out: What goals you can try for after completing this one.

Successes Required: How many successes you need to achieve this goal.

Abilities: What General Abilities can be used to score successes. One successful General Ability test grants one success.

The difficulty for these tests depends on the monster you’re fighting. In general

Human-size foes: Difficulty 4

Huge creatures: Difficulty 5-6

Cyclopean monsters: Difficulty 6-7

Great Old Ones: Difficulty 8+

Abilities may be tagged asRisky or Vulnerable.

Special: Any special rules that apply to this goal.

Effect: What happens if the group achieve their goal.

Risky & Vulnerable

If a character uses a Risky ability, then if that character fails, the monster gets to make an attack on that character.

If a character uses a Vulnerable ability, then that character gets attacked by the monster after the ability test, regardless of the outcome of the test.

The monster can attack as many times as opportunities present themselves – if six investigators attempt something Risky and fail, the monster gets to make six attacks.

Defending Others

Instead of making an ability test to accrue successes, an investigator can defend another investigator. This requires a test of Scufflingor Shooting; a kind Keeper might also allow the use of Athletics orDriving in some circumstances. Defending others is Risky – if the defender fails the test, they get attacked by the monster.

Switching Goals

If you change goal midway through an attempt, you lose all your accumulated successes. You can only switch to a starting goal.

Investigative Spends

If the player can justify it, an investigative spend might allow:

  • A different general ability to be used to generate successes towards the goal (I use Physics to tune the radio into the star vampire’s frequency – now I can lure it with Electrical Repair)
  • Increase the number of successes yielded by a successful test (Can I use Chemistry for a bigger bang from these Explosives tests?)

Armour and Vulnerabilities

Some Mythos entities are incredibly tough, or even immune to some forms of attack. Others are unusually vulnerable to a particular weapon or substance. Adjust the Difficulty for attacks using Shooting, Scuffling or Weapons as follows:

The monster’s magically vulnerable to this attack: -2

Low armour, big gun: -1

Most attacks: +0

High armour or partial immunity: +1

            Chances of injuring the monster are slim: +2

No chance of hurting monster: Ability cannot be used.

Example: (The Dunwich Horror) In the end the three men from Arkham—old, white-bearded Dr. Armitage, stocky, iron-grey Professor Rice, and lean, youngish Dr. Morgan—ascended the mountain alone. They began with the Hide goal, racking up some successes by trying to spot the invisible monster, then switched to Lure (“through the lenses were discernible three tiny figures, apparently running toward the summit as fast as the steep incline allowed.”) before finally attempting Banish on the mountain-top.

 

Tactical Goals

Flee

You’re trying to get the hell out of there! Everyone just turns and runs at top speed. It’s undignified, but it might keep you alive. Devil take the hindmost!

Leads-In: Any. You can switch to this goal at any time.

Leads-Out:

Successes Required: Successes are tracked individually. The first character to escape needs one success, the second needs two successes, the third needs three and so forth. Add one to the total needed if a character’s bringing a non-combatant along.

Abilities: Risky: Fleeing, Athletics

Special: You can reroll a failed test if you describe how your panicked retreat leads to some misfortune – you drop your weapon, you fall over a cliff, you get separated from the rest of the company.

Effect: You escape. There are no guarantees about your condition or situation when you make your escape – you may fainting, or get lost in the wilderness, or suffer some other humiliation – but at least you’re out of immediate danger.

 

Retreat

You intend to retreat in good order, staying together and leaving nobody behind.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: If you switch to Flee, you can keep half your accrued successes.

Successes Required: Two per investigator.

Abilities: Risky:Athletics, Stealth, Stability, Riding (to maintain discipline)

Vulnerable:Fleeing

If the group’s in a vehicle, then add Vulnerable: Driving, Piloting (but successes count double)

Effect: The group escapes the encounter with the monster.

 

Hide

You try to observe the monster

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: Retreat, Lure, Drive Away/Break Through

Successes Required: 0.

Abilities: Vulnerable: Shadowing, Sense Trouble, Preparedness

Special: You must move on from this goal once the enemy is aware of your presence.

Effect: You may apply half your successes from this goal to your next goal.

 

Drive Away/Break Through

You try to force your way past the enemy, or force the monster into briefly retreating.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: None or Wound

Successes Required: Target’s Health /4

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special:Track the number of natural 6s rolled during ability tests. If the group wishes to immediately attempt the Wound or Hold Out goals after completing this goal, they start with one success in Wound or Hold Out for every six rolled.

Effect: The monster retreats. Add another d6 successes to the number required if the investigators try for the same goal again in a future encounter.

 

Wound

You attempt to actually damage the monster.

Leads-In: None

Leads-Out: Maim, Retreat

Successes Required: Target’s Health/4

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special: If a character rolls a 1-2 on an ability test, their next action is automatically Vulnerable.

Effect: The monster’s hurt. This doesn’t affect the creature’s abilities, but it’s the first step in destroying the horror (and analysis of the ichor or blood spilled might provide vital clues).

Lure

You try to draw the monster towards a particular location.

Leads-In: None.

Leads-Out: Trap, Bind/Banish

Successes Required: 6

Abilities: Risky:Athletics, Shadowing, Riding

Effect: The monster follows the investigators to a particular location nearby.

Hold Out

You secure yourself in a safe, defensible place and try to hold out for as long as possible. This might involve barricading the entrances, securing all entry points, or trying to endure this monstrous siege.

Leads-In: Retreat, Drive Away/Break Through

Leads-Out: Trap

Successes Required: 4 per investigator

Abilities: Vulnerable:Electrical Repair,Mechanical Repair, Preparedness.

Effect: The investigators hold out until dawn, or until help arrives, or until the attackers depart.

Maim

You attempt to kill the monster. If dealing with a host of horrors, you try to slaughter the greater number of them.

Leads-In: Wound, Trap

Leads-Out: None

Successes Required: Target’s Health/2

Abilities: Risky:Shooting, Weapons, Explosives

Vulnerable: Athletics, Scuffling

Special: If a character rolls a 1-2 on an ability test, their next action is automatically Vulnerable and they cannot benefit from another investigator defending them.

Effect: The monster is destroyed, or at least discorporated.

Trap

You’re going to trap the monster in a physical or magical prison.

Leads-In: Lure, Hold Out

Leads-Out: Wound, Bind/Banish

Successes Required: 4; 6 if the monster is especially strong, fast, agile, can fly, or moves through alien dimensions; 8 if it falls into multiple categories

Abilities: Vulnerable:Athletics, Electrical Repair, Explosives, Magic, Mechanical Repair

Effect: The difficulty of tests in the next goal is reduced by 2.

Bind/Banish

You’re going to use eldritch sorcery or hypergeometry to dismiss the monster.

Leads-In: Lure, Trap.

Lure is only necessary if the monster can only be banished at a particular place (within a magical sigil, atop Sentinel Hill, in direct sunlight).

Trap is optional, but unless the monster is constrained, then it may be able to flee instead of being banished.

Leads-Out: What goals you can try for after completing this one.

Successes Required: Spell’s Inertia/2

Abilities: Vulnerable:Stability

Effect: As per the spell


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 print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A Bookhounds of London adventure seed by Adam Gauntlett

The Bookhounds are asked whether or not some broadside ballads found by a builder really belonged to famed diarist Samuel Pepys, only to discover that the ballads might get them killed.

Broadside Ballads

This information is a 0 point spend, Bibliography, History, Library Use or similar:

So called because they are printed on broadside sheets, these single-page narrative poems tell gossipy stories, spread political news, and promulgate scurrilous lies. Broadsides are early children of the printing press, popular from the 16th century, and reach their apogee in the 18th century. They’re cheap to make and easy to distribute, and though they’re very disposable some collectors prize them. Samuel Pepys was one.

Also a 0 point:

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was Chief Secretary of the Navy and a Member of Parliament, but he’s most famous for his Diaries, which tell a colloquial tale of London life during the Restoration. His book collection is justly famous, and was donated to Magdalene College, Cambridge, after his death. He once lived in a house on Axe Yard, near Downing Street; the exact address is unknown.

This information is a 1 point spend:

Pepys had a passion for order and conformity. He wanted a definite aesthetic look for his collection, and to achieve it he cut down ballads to the appropriate size for his albums, arranging his finds in identical album sets. He obsessively catalogued everything he collected, and his broadside collection was given to Magdalene College, along with the rest of his library.

Also a 1 point:

The Pepys Club, founded 1903 by a small group of Garrick Club members, is the best place to find out odd and obscure facts about the life of Samuel Pepys. Cultivating a member, say through a 2 point Flattery spend or similar, creates a 2-point dedicated pool concerning the life, times and loves of Samuel Pepys.

Bob Chapman’s Lucky Find

Bob’s a builder, a subcontractor for Bentley’s, a general contracting firm. While on the job – a renovation at Axe Yard, in Westminster – he ‘recovered’ some items from the rubble skip, including this old bag with funny papers in it. Is it worth anything?

Assess Honesty (0 point): Bob’s not lying, exactly, but he’s being very careful with the truth. He did get it from the Axe Yard job site, but not from the skip. It was hidden behind the wall he was meant to be repairing, and one careless swing with the sledgehammer revealed the hidden alcove. He knows his boss, Mr. Bentley, would take it for himself, if he knew about it. Bob admits as much, if pressed.

Bob Chapman, Lucky Builder: Athletics 6, Fleeing 6, Health 4, Scuffling 4; Architecture 1, Craft (Bricklaying) 1. Tall, slim, shock of curly black hair, eager as a puppy. “Well I’ll be blowed!”

Broadsides: This collection doesn’t conform to the Pepys standard. Pepys cut his sheets down to fit inside a leatherbound book approximately 340 by 358 mm, usually about 70 mm thick. Most of Bob’s find are older broadsides, which would have gone into Volume 1 of Pepys’ bound books. Bob’s find is unbound, uncut, stuffed loosely inside a battered leather folder. They could be papers Pepys didn’t bother to put into his main collection, but it’s difficult to imagine why, since Pepys was an obsessive collector. Condition’s not good, not after several centuries stuffed inside a damp wall alcove, but the ballads are interesting. Some are quite scurrilous tales about prancers [highwaymen], lascivious pricklouse [tailor, pejorative], roaring boys, and rigges [wanton women] playing with correl [toy dildoes]. Law (0 point): It’s just on the edge of prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act, but it would have been tame stuff for Pepys’ generation.

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 0 point: Some of the sheets have been annotated, whether by Pepys or someone else is anyone’s guess. Still, if it could be proved it was Pepys, the price goes up. Not that Bob realizes this …

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 1 point: The paper’s genuine and of the period. There’s odd insect pattern damage on some of the sheets, as if a collection of small spiders got caught between the pages and decayed there. No solid matter, just liquefied imprints on the paper.

Bargain gets it from Bob, cheaply. No spend, no broadsides. Filch gets the most interesting sheets, without Bob noticing.

Axe Yard

If the Hounds go to Axe Yard, they find the house Bob’s working on. Some of the twenty-five houses on this lane have already been swallowed up by the Government for offices, but the general outline of the Yard can still be seen. Nobody’s sure which of these would have been Pepys’ ‘poor little house.’

Streetwise or Sense Trouble Difficulty 5 notices a beggar hanging round near the skip, a pasty gent in ragged clothing, who retreats as soon as someone notices him. In a Fleeing contest his parting trick is to vanish down a drain or sewer outlet, leaving his clothes behind. There’s an odd, wet residue on the skip near where he stood – and a tiny, spidery creature that runs off quick.

Bentley’s Drama

However the negotiation with Bob goes, Bentley’s finds out about it, somehow. If Bob sold the papers, it’s because Bob talked too freely at the pub. If Bob didn’t sell, it’s because he blabbed to his foreman, bragging about how he’d get rich from his find.

Mr. Bentley is outraged. He thinks the Hounds put one over on Bob, and stole property that rightfully belongs to Bentley’s. Mr. Bentley is a devotee of the Pepys Club; one of the reasons he took this job was so he could work at Axe Yard. If Bob didn’t sell to the Hounds then Mr. Bentley now has the broadsides, and accuses the Hounds of stealing the best ones, when they inspected the bundle. If the Hounds have the broadsides, then he demands their return.

Mr. Bentley: Athletics 3, Filch 3, Health 6; Architecture 3 (Restoration era). Melancholic, pipe smoker, unkind to animals, especially cats. “Dear me! My solicitor will be here any second, and then you’ll be for it!”

If things get unpleasant. Mr. Bentley knows a lot of builders willing to do him a favor. Treat them as Rough Lads for combat purposes.

Further Examination

Several of the broadsides deal with Mythos subjects, in particular a series called ‘The Beggar’s Daughters.’ This is the most insect-stained and annotated set of broadsides, and there are four of them, all variations on the same theme. A pale, blind beggar has four daughters, all of whom wish to marry. They go out in search of swains, but their chosen beloved – the gallant young knight, the gentleman’s son, the merchant and the publican – are horrified on their wedding night, when they discover their pretty maids are not what they seem. The scenes at the church during the wedding are gruesome, but water damage makes the worst bits unreadable. Study confers 1 Mythos, concerning Eihort and its Brood.

Whoever collected this was making a study of variant Beggars in different broadsides, and drew a map on the back of one of them. The Knowledge realizes these are streets near the Hoop & Toy pub, Kensington. The Hoop & Toy, built 1760, is said to be haunted by five specters; priests, according to the legend. Their crypt, in the Hoop & Toy’s basement, was long forgotten until rediscovered, and destroyed, during the construction of the Circle underground tunnel in the 1870s. The ghosts wander eternally, looking for a way back to the church they once served. Occult spends can work out where the ghosts are most often seen, and what they look like – pale, nondescript people, with skin like wax. They leave a strange, wet residue wherever they go. The basement of the Hoop & Toy, it’s said, is alive with peculiar spiders.

The map on the broadside shows a church, where the Hoop & Toy currently stands.

The Ghastly Brood

Eihort’s strange children are the ‘ghosts’ at the Hoop & Toy. The crypt that the underground workers disturbed all those years ago once belonged to a blasphemous church which held strange ceremonies in its crypt, in honor of the Pale Beast. Those who wished to learn hideous secrets sought to parley with the creature, but Eihort is only interested in its Bargain, and spreading its Brood.

After the destruction of the church Eihort no longer visits its Fane, but its Brood remain. They use it as a kind of meeting place, where hundreds of thousands of Brood gather in the basement to mingle, and share secrets. Seeing this massive wave of Brood in one place is a Stability 5 challenge, possibly going as high as Stability 7 if the Brood attack.

The Brood are very interested in the broadsides, for one of several reasons:

  • They want to establish a final link with those of the Brood whose physical form became imprinted in the broadside paper.
  • They want to see if humans are still interested in making a Bargain with Eihort, as they did before.
  • They want to prevent anyone from finding the location of the Fane.

They will seek out the Beggar’s Daughters broadsides, injuring or killing the ones who have them, as needed.

The Last Word

It’s impossible to determine beyond question whether the broadsides, and their annotations, are Pepys’. However it’s a nice find, and counts as 1 point book stock, History (Restoration London).

Though Pepys was superstitious, he’s not known for being anything other than conventionally superstitious. Charms for luck, or against disease, yes. Rollicking battles against the Mythos, no. Still, they had peculiar notions in Pepys’ day. Perhaps that library at Magdalen is worth a visit, to see what Pepys really did believe …

The basement of the Hoop & Toy is a Fane, a place of power, and can be drawn on by necromancers and would-be magical power places. See Rough Magicks for further details. If not using Rough Magicks, assume the place provides 1 point of Magic potential/year, and can be used as a Megapolisomantic lever. Of course, the Brood will have something to say about that …

Bob the brickie would never bargain with Eihort, but Mr. Bentley might.

   where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself    imaginary walls collapse    

– Allen Ginsburg, Howl

Cthulhu City slides into The Fall of Delta Green like a cartridge into a chamber. As written, Great Arkham’s a nightmare reflection of the 1930s, but updating it to the 1960s is relatively trivial. The sinister gas-masked Transport Police and oppressive surveillance state fit perfectly; mistrust of the government resonates even more after the Kennedy assassination and Kent State. Some specific suggestions to bring the city to the era of the Fall.

  • Old Arkham hasn’t changed – so it’s now an absurd throwback, a foolish or desperate attempt to turn the clock back to a pre-war era.
  • The Depression-era Hoovertowns and hoboes in rotting Salamander Fields become drop-outs, dope fiends and draft dodgers.
  • Hippie communes and flower children dance amid the standing stones out in Billington’s Woods near Dunwich.
  • Mayor Ward is more of a Kennedy-esque figure – young, handsome, inspiring, as compelling and sinister as the Black Pharoah of Nyarlathotep.
  • The city’s textile industry has given way to the military-industrial complex – the Northside factories churn out cryptic, obscure machinery for the war effort, but it’s never clear if the components are for Vietnam, or for some other facet of the Cold War, or some stranger conflict.
  • The international jet set, cosmopolitan and jaded, fly in to the new Danfort Airport in Kingsport from Monte Carlo and Milan, London and Beirut, Baharna and Celephais. The airport crawls with Transport Police, and its bizarre hypergeometic topography means that some would-be travellers have ended up lost in its endless shifting concourses for years, roaming naked and starving past departure gates that never open. Stephen Alzis summers in Great Arkham.
  • The raid on Miskatonic University resulted in the shooting of a half-dozen students by Transport Police. Protests and riots have wracked the city since then; there are regular clashes between Transport Police and students. Anarchist cells meet and plot in the attic of the old Witch House.
  • The Marsh gang import and distribute heroin shipped in the holds of the infamous Black Freighters.
  • The battle between the various cults and factions is no longer so covert. Fringe scientists from the Halsey Institute (formerly the clandestine Halsey Fraternity) openly advocate for experimentation in necromancy and revivification; pamphlets and graffiti on the sides of cyclopean towers advocate for the Witch Cult or the Silver Lodge. Mayor Upton was shot by a brain-washed assassin.
  • Armitage wasn’t a librarian or occult expert – he was a chemist, experimenting with drugs that altered human perceptions to enable them to see the true nature of reality. After the Raid, he went underground, moving from one hidden lab to another, sheltered by the Black Panthers and other groups, manufacturing more potent solvents to dissolve the great illusion and reveal the ultimate truth.

And what is that ultimate truth? The DELTA GREEN setting suggests some new options for the ultimate reality behind Cthulhu City…

  • The Revolution Will Be Dematerisalised: Curwen and his allies mastered hypergeometry and fractured reality in the 1750s. We’re still a colony – it’s simultaneously the 1960s and 1770s, the Transport Police are Redcoats, the revolution is always coming. DELTA GREEN’s a conspiracy founded by Captain Whipple and the “band of serious citizens” who raided Curwen’s house; the characters flicker back and forth between the Mythos-conjured hallucination of the 1960s and the ‘reality’ of the 1770s.
  • Interzone: Cthulhu City’s a surreal nightmare. Monsters on the streets, monsters under your skin. Gangs of shrieking cultists roam the night, pursued by agents of absurd alphabet-soup government departments. The city’s accessed by drugs, or by trauma, or by psychic reflexes triggered by the right poetry. It’s Al Amarj on the Miskatonic.
  • The Vorsht Letters: A DELTA GREEN Agent, Isaac Vorsht, vanished in 1962. His car was found abandoned on a back road near Salem; he hasn’t been seen since. Somehow, though, he’s still sending reports to the DELTA GREEN Steering Committee about his experiences and investigations in ‘Great Arkham’. Vorsht’s reports never seem to acknowledge the bizarre nature of the city, or describe how he got there. It’s as though he’s slipped into a parallel dimension – but if he has, how are his letters getting into the conventional US postal service? Oh – his most recent letter thanked DELTA GREEN for assigning the Agents to his operation. The Steering Committee don’t know what to make of it, but clearly the Agents are fated to investigate the case…
  • Project PLATO: PLATO’s mandate is to prepare a defensive posture for humanity in case of alien invasion. “Great Arkham” is a PLATO construct, a simulation designed to determine how the population might behave if the Mythos were to become more public. Are the Agents under hypnosis? Brainwashed with LSD and subliminal messaging? Critically injured and comatose Vietnam veterans in an electronically generated shared hallucination? Or did MOON DUST just salvage some Mi-Go technology? Are those cyclopean towers actually gigantic brain-cases…

 

Enter a place born from all of Lovecraft’s creations, and governed by servitors of the Old Ones.­­ Great Arkham – the Cthulhu City.

We have produced just 100 copies of this faux-leatherbound limited edition of Cthulhu City. 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 Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, which you can add to your book.

There is – by certain unreliable and maddening accounts, and now by your own dreadful experience – a city on the eastern seaboard of the United States, in northern Massachusetts. You do not recall seeing it on maps when you were growing up, and no-one of your acquaintance ever admitted coming from that place until you found yourself living within its eerie confines. It is a city of windowless cyclopean skyscrapers, of crumbling baroque buildings and ruins that must, impossibly, predate human habitation in this part of the world. At times, you can see remnants of familiar small towns which have grown together into this monstrous conurbation – Dunwich in the west, beyond Sentinel Hill; quaint Kingsport, by the sea; industrial Innsmouth, the engine of trade and commerce; and the city’s heart, Old Arkham.

You know that this city is monstrous.

You know that the city government are in the thrall of – or in league with – alien horrors.

You know better than to go out at night, when the clouds roll in from the sea and shapes move in the sky. You know there are occasional, unpredictable streets that come and go according to some unearthly schedule, that strange black ships dock at Innsmouth to trade with the squat, ugly denizens of that neighbourhood. You know, too, that not all of your neighbours are sane – or human.

But you’re trapped. There’s no way to escape the city.

Because the city is the world.

Cthulhu City is a setting for Trail of Cthulhu, usable for a full campaign in its own right or as a nightmarish intrusion into an existing game. The Investigators find themselves in a strange, corrupted Arkham, a ghastly metropolis. People – humans – live in the city, and seem bizarrely normal on first encounter – their concerns are the same mundane, day-to-day passions and trials of anyone in the modern world – but scratch the surface, and the Mythos spills forth. Motorcars drive down streets lined with sullen-eyed basalt cyclopean buildings raised by no human hand; at night, loathsome and titanic shapes move behind the clouds. It’s a city where priests masked with yellow silk proclaim the majesty of God from the churches; a city occupied by alien powers. The old-money families have names like Marsh and Whately and Curwen, and the worst crime imaginable is defying the will of the living gods.

Humans shouldn’t survive here, but they do, blindly adapting to the horror all around them. Are the Investigators dreaming? Insane? Have they travelled in time? Is this an alternate reality? An illusion? Or have they somehow had their minds swapped with denizens of the city?

Or has it always been this way, and they can no longer deny the truth?

The Great, the Old, the Terrible City of Unnumbered Crimes

In this surreal nightmare supplement for Trail of Cthulhu, discover…

  • The heart of Lovecraft’s urban fiction. Arkham, Dunwich and Kingsport, but also R’lyeh, the Nameless City, and the City of the Elder Things…
  • The vertiginous terror of inverted order! Worshippers of the Great Old Ones rule from City Hall, while investigators are wanted criminals! After the infamous Miskatonic Raid which put an end to the “anarchist plots” of the Armitage Inquiry, who dares challenge the authorities?
  • Intrigue and action in the twisted streets! In a campaign of urban horror, evade the watchful eyes of the authorities with the new Suspicion rules! Smash the cults – or conspire to pit one faction against the others!
  • The hidden ways of the city. Use District Knowledges to find help, but beware – any of the dozens of NPCs could be a stalwart ally, a doomed victim, or a sinister servant of the Mythos…

Includes The Whispering Light, a full-length noir-flavoured adventure set in Great Arkham that takes investigators on a tour of the mysterious city… and into the beyond! 

 

Stock #: PELGT44L Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Gislaine Avila, Jesús A. Blones, Marine Cegalerba, Jen McCleary, Kennedy Cooke-Garza, Lauren Covarrubias, Lee Dawn, Nyra Drakae, Marisa Erven, Quintin Gleim, Jérôme Huguenin, Ethan Lee, Erica Leveque, David Lewis Johnson, Amanda Makepeace, Valentina Filic (xAngelusNex), Georgia Roan, Anna Rogers, Karolina Wegrzyn. Pages: 224pg casebound

Buy now

 

A scenario seed for Trail of Cthulhu by Adam Gauntlett

The return of a Deep One infected with bubonic plague causes a public health crisis in 1930s Hong Kong.

History

Hong Kong in the 1930s is a sophisticated and wealthy British colony, administered largely by British Ta-Pan. Its laws are British, its culture is Chinese, and there is a demarcation between the two: British Tai-Pan control the east portion of the territory as a kind of Little England, while Chinese culture dominates the west portion. The territory lives under British law, enforced by European, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian policemen. By the 1930s the law is stricter and more effective than it was during the bad old days of piracy and bribery, but Hong Kong is still Hong Kong – mercantile, and willing to do all kinds of business.

The territory suffered greatly during the Third Pandemic of bubonic plague, which broke out in China in the mid-1800s. More than 12 million died in China and India, and at its height 100 people a day died in Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the territory when plague hit, and plague continued to be a problem for many decades after the initial, deadly sweep.

If the Keeper doesn’t want to play a scenario set in Hong Kong, the action could be moved to a coast city with significant Chinese population, like San Francisco.

Hungry Ghost Folklore

A hungry ghost is the soul of someone who died with bad deeds or evil intent staining them, and thus ended up in the hell of hungry ghosts. This is rare, and should not be confused with the more common ancestral dead. The bad deeds the hungry ghosts committed in life transform them into animalistic spirit-demons, obsessed in death with whatever it was that they committed crimes for in life. So a man who drives children away from water, keeping it all himself, will become a hungry ghost obsessed with water. Anything a person might have coveted or become gluttonous for – food, drink and sex are common drivers – can inspire a hungry ghost.

Hungry Ghosts are portrayed as emaciated corpse-like beings, often with shrunken throats or needle-point small mouths, as this prevents them from consuming the one thing they want to consume. The object of their desire might disintegrate or burn to nothing when they try to devour it.

The chief difference between ancestral ghosts and hungry ones is that an ordinary ghost will fade over time and vanish, if not properly taken care of. This is why, at ghost festivals, people take care to offer sacrifices, food, drink, hell money, to care for their dead. Whereas a hungry ghost will never fade, but it will bring bad luck to whoever attracts its attention. Some traditions have it that a hungry ghost is a beloved ancestor who was ignored after death, or whose descendants didn’t pay the proper respect during ghost festivals – all the more reason to be generous.

Ghost Festivals

These happen in the 7th month of the lunar calendar. The realms of heaven and hell open up and disgorge their dead, and the living celebrate the return of beloved souls while at the same time fending off the attentions of unclean spirits, Representations of physical things – houses, clothing, money – are sacrificed, or burnt, to help the beloved souls, and keep them safe and happy. Prosperity incense is burnt to guarantee a bright year ahead. Miniature paper boats and lanterns are let loose fourteen days after the end of the festival to guide those spirits home again.

This scenario takes place shortly before the festival.

The Return of Zhao Fei Hong

The family Zhao have been shipbuilders since time immemorial, and from the early 1800s onwards some of the family have succumbed to Deep One promises. The minions of Cthulhu said they would show the Zhao the secrets of shipbuilding, and in particular the right rituals and magics to perform in order to ensure theirs were the best and fastest chuan afloat. There was a price, and from that alliance came a number of Deep One hybrids who settled in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Docks.

During the plague outbreak one hybrid, Fei Hong, fled the colony, but was too late to avoid infection. As a hybrid, Fei Hong could not be killed by the disease, but a quirk of his hybridization meant he became a carrier, and was subject to crippling, painful symptoms.

After many years in isolation – for not even his fellow Deep Ones welcomed the poor sufferer – Fei Hong has returned to Hong Kong seeking a cure. Medicine has improved since he ran away in the 1860s. Surely there is something that can be done to purge him of this hideous taint?

Some of the family Zhao have taken him in, out of familial loyalty, while others reject the prodigal. However none of them will betray the family secret. They seek a solution, one way or the other.

Pernicious Rumor

Two tales circulate.

The plague has returned! This story is particularly common among dock workers, sailors and those who work in Kowloon opium dens and boozers. According to popular report there have been several small outbreaks of plague, which the colonial authorities are either ignoring or covering up. Some doctors are taking this seriously and carrying out their own investigations. Some of these so-called doctors are no better than quacks, which doesn’t help credibility.

 Hungry Ghosts Haunt Kowloon! Spending 1 point Oral History traces this tale to members of the Zhao family. According to rumor, hungry ghosts have returned to plague honest citizens in Kowloon, only a few days before the Ghost Festival. People are terrified, crying out for spiritual aid. Anyone who can settle this unquiet spirit is welcome. Many charlatans and would-be exorcists flood the district, promising anything and everything in exchange for cold, hard cash. Keeper’s note: this rumor is being spread by the dissident Zhao, who are treating Fei Hong as a hungry ghost. Even those friendly to Fei Hong are superstitiously afraid of what he represents – a cursed immortal, in great pain, who cannot die.

The Kidnap

Doctor Victor Richard, a French researcher and philanthropist, is seized at his clinic by armed gunmen, an event that shocks the colony to its core. The Tai-Pan are outraged, and the colonial administration goes into action. Police raid the usual suspects – any would-be Chinese Tongmenghui revolutionaries, known Triad hangouts, anyone who hasn’t paid enough bribes – but nothing is found.

Enquiry either among police officers (Cop Talk) or the employees and patients who were at the clinic when it happened (Oral History), or diligent study of news reports (Library Use) notices this core clue: the gunmen were wearing many luck amulets and charms, intended to ward off evil spirits and hungry ghosts. A point spend further discovers that they weren’t your usual Triad thugs, but were roughnecks, manual laborers and, judging by tattoos, dock workers.

Doctor Richard’s specialty is treatment of infectious diseases, and bubonic plague in particular. In the most recent outbreak in India, he achieved fame by his brave and relentless fight against the disease. When he came to Hong Kong he acquired notoriety because he offered to treat poor Chinese for free, behavior his Tai Pan neighbors thought eccentric.

Plague Spreads

Investigators who check find that there are isolated incidences of plague, particularly in or near Kowloon Docks. So far there haven’t been more than a dozen, but they are documented, genuine cases of plague. The media’s been told to keep quiet to avoid panic, but doctors are pressing for full disclosure so people can take some preventative action. Any investigator who checks (Medicine, Evidence Collection) can trace the outbreak to a particular section of Kowloon Docks, where the family Zhao have their shipbuilding business.

Hungry Ghosts

Tracing the rumors, evidence concerning the criminals, or evidence concerning the plague, leads to the Zhao dockyard.

Only some of the family support Fei Hong, and it’s those who captured Doctor Richard and are keeping him in an old junk tied up at the wharf. He’s guarded by two armed men at all times. His patient is Fei Hong, who finds movement difficult and breathing painful. However for purposes of combat the hybrid Deep One has the same statistics as any other Deep One. Fei Hong knows a spell, Wrack, which when he casts it makes the target feel as if they’re suffering the final stages of bubonic plague.

There are from three to six other Deep Ones at the dockyard; the precise number is up to the Keeper, and should depend on the investigators’ fighting strength. If they come well-armed with high-caliber firearms, add more Deep Ones. These are Fei Hong’s companions, and are also members of the family Zhao. None of them know spells.

If the investigators try to win the support of those Zhao who want rid of Fei Hong, this can be done through Streetwise spends. For every point spent, remove one Deep One. In story, the rebel Zhao take care of those Deep Ones so the investigators don’t have to.

In total, there are a half-dozen dedicated, armed human cultists willing to fight to keep Fei Hong safe, or cover his escape. None have any weapon more dangerous than a handgun, and most have knives or clubs.

by Adam Gauntlett

The Vampire

The opening of a new Odeon cinema sparks a vampire craze, and presents the Bookhounds with an unusual opportunity for profit.

This is nominally set in 1936, the year Dracula’s Daughter is released, but could be restaged at the Keeper’s convenience.

Odeon

The Odeon chain of cinemas get their start in 1928, when founder Oscar Deutsch opens his first cinema in Brierly Hill, West Midlands. Deutsch’s empire accelerates rapidly when he joins forces with architect Harry Weedon, and together they designed and built 257 Art Deco picture houses, becoming the dominant face of cinema in the United Kingdom. New builds sprang up like weeds. In 1936 alone, Odeon opened 33 cinemas across the country.

Hook

It has been a quiet month for the store. People just aren’t buying, because building works have thoroughly gummed up the whole street. The noise and dirt killed walk-in trade. However the worst is over, and the new Odeon cinema a few doors down, gleaming and modern, is about to have a gala opening night. Universal Pictures’ Dracula’s Daughter shall be the first big show, and already crowds of eager teens flock to the place like a shrine. It doesn’t matter that the film’s got an A certificate, which means under sixteens need a parent or guardian; the cinema doesn’t care who it lets in, so long as they pay. The whole street’s going to be swarming with non-book buyers, and all any of them will be interested in are vampires. The queue to get in the Odeon snakes right past the Bookhounds’ front door.

Do the Bookhounds lean into it and become expert in all things Vampire, or do they buck the trend?

No Sale

The Bookhounds can ignore the Odeon. If so, the store suffers a Reverse. Old friends are put off by the queues of people, and none of the vampire crowd spend more than a few minutes in the “musty old mausoleum.”

Shenanigans!

The Bookhounds might try to interfere with the Odeon somehow. Exactly how is up to them; pranks, complaints to the Council, summoning supernatural allies, or anything in between.

However the Bookhounds may not realize that architect Harry Weedon has innate megapolisomantic ability; this is discoverable on a 2 point spend, Architecture and/or Occult, and anyone who makes this spend knows the cinema must have megapolisomantic significance. This is why the Odeon chain has been so successful; the characteristic Art Deco design, use of faience (tin-glazed pottery), rounded corners, vertical feature for adverts, all contribute to create a kind of megapolisomantic engine, a new lever. Weedon’s innate talent, in combination with Deutsch’s enormous drive, create these minor places of power. Each cinema is a magical shrine, and the audience are its worshippers. If Weedon and Deutsch realized this and played upon it, they might achieve miracles. As this is an accidental partnership, and since Deutsch’s premature death in 1941 ends their collaboration, what could have been a significant change in the city’s landscape becomes a brief fad, soon forgotten.

However when a cinema is first built its power is at its strongest, and it creates a megapolisomantic guardian to keep it safe. The guardian only lasts a few years, and is always based on the first film showed at that cinema – in this case, Countess Marya Zaleska, Dracula’s daughter.

Attempting shenanegans brings the Bookhounds in direct conflict with the paramental entity.

The ‘Vampire’: Abilities: Athletics 10, Health 8, Scuffling 6; Hit Threshold 4; Alertness Modifier +0; Stealth Modifier +2; Weapon: ‘bite’ attack, +1; Special Attack: Mesmerism holds enemies in place, helpless, at a cost of 2 Health per target. Helpless enemies are automatically hit, if attacked; Armor: non-silver physical weapons do minimum damage, and it can re-form 1 Health point per round. If reduced to 0 Health it dematerializes for 20 minutes. Only magic can kill it; Stability Loss -1. Weakness: any arrow shot from a bow affects this paramental as if the arrow was made of silver. Appearance: pale, black-clad.

New Blood

The Bookhounds might try to engage with the Vampire crowd by bringing in vampire related merchandise, making standees to draw people into the store, or some other clever stunt.

This has a chance of bringing in a Windfall. The sudden interest in vampires is a temporary thing; eventually the Odeon will go on to different films and the magic will fade. This means the Windfall is unsustainable, but even as a temporary benefit it still raises the Credit Rating of the store by 1 so long as it is active.

Exactly what triggers this Windfall is up to the Keeper, and player initiative. The more involved the players get, the more likely a Windfall should be; half-hearted attempts shouldn’t be rewarded. Any spend from the Bookshop Stock pool definitely gets the Windfall, as customers flock to the shop that has just the right stock. This represents the Bookhounds coming up with Genuine – or ‘genuine’ – vampire related merchandise. Potential high-priced items include:

  • A complete set of the periodical The Dark Blue in which Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla first saw print.
  • Copies of the Boy’s Standard 1886 Victorian penny dreadful Spring Heeled Jack.
  • Le Capitaine Vampire (1879) by Belgian writer Marie Nizet. As it’s not in translation this will be difficult to sell to casual buyers, but collectors love obscure material. The bragging rights are greater.
  • Pulp magazines like Weird Tales often feature vampire stories, and cover art.
  • Illegal copies of the 1922 silent film Nosferatu, or stills from same.
  • Copies of the latest pulp fiction, Vampires Overhead (1935) by West Indian Alan Hyder.

Most of this stuff is cheap to get, but given the spike in demand can fetch double or triple the usual price. It probably isn’t the Bookhounds’ usual stock in trade; it’s more modern, pulpy, fare. However it gets the cinema goers through the door, and that’s the main thing – particularly if they buy.  Illegal items, like the Nosferatu stills or any forged item, might provoke police interference.

The Collector

The Keeper should introduce this antagonist while the characters are deeply involved in their own machinations.

The megapolisomantic nature of the Odeon design wasn’t lost on Doris Bidwell. Bidwell is an amateur megapolisomancer with ambition, looking for something to use as a power base. Recent squabbles within the magical community have put Bidwell on the defensive, with an urgent need to strike back.

The Odeon looks to Bidwell like a chance at salvation – but for that to work Bidwell needs to avoid the attentions of the Vampire while at the same time getting close enough to the Odeon to start the working.

As it happens there’s a bookshop conveniently placed close by.

Bidwell poses as a customer, a moneyed collector, always poking around the shop, never buying. Bidwell’s after something special, and seems to have good Credit Rating in spite of her peculiarities. To look at, Bidwell’s the sort of person Scrooge might dream up after a bad bit of cheese: always dresses in black, down-at-heel, Bohemian without the charm. Bidwell clearly knows a lot about books, and can talk intelligently on public affairs and international relations, which makes Bidwell seem like a Radical. Bidwell does have Radical friends, and is often seen in Soho and North London fleshpots, but his real allegiance is to Crowleyite wannabe black magicians and offshoots of the occult group Ordo Templi Orientis. It’s thanks to arguments with this fraternity that Bidwell’s looking for a new power base.

Bidwell’s plan is to get enough material from the Bookhounds – bits of clothing, hair, even blood if possible – and make that into a lure, which Bidwell will hide inside the shop. That lure, Bidwell thinks, should be enough to draw the Vampire away. It doesn’t have to be distracted long; a few hours is enough. Or so Bidwell thinks; if Bidwell had any real intellectual acuity she wouldn’t be sniffing round the Odeon looking for a power base.

Bidwell has two problems. One is the Bookhounds, and the other is her former friends who now oppose her schemes. These Occultists have no love for the Bookhounds, but they may interfere, to frustrate Bidwell.

If Bidwell succeeds then her next step is to take revenge on her enemies, which may or may not include the Bookhounds. She sets up shop in the Odeon, going to the cinema night after night, sometimes in the company of a pale woman dressed in black.


Bookhounds of London is an award-winning setting for 1930s horror roleplaying game Trail of Cthulhu by Kenneth Hite. Bookhounds’ London is a city of cinemas, electric lights, global power and the height of fashion, as well as the horrors – the cancers – that lurk in the capital, in the very beating heart of human civilization. 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 Bookhounds of London in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Trail Cover

The Trail of Cthulhu Keeper’s bundle is a quick and affordable way to get into our award-winning Mythos RPG. It features the core book, an adventure collection and a Keeper’s screen and resource book: everything you need to run the game at a tasty 15% discount from the retail price. Buy the Keeper’s Bundle in print   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 encyclopedic 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. 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 Mythos creatures and cults that makes even the most familiar Mythos elements surprising and scary at the gaming table 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?” […]

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This quick Trail of Cthulhu adventure first appeared in the Dragonmeet 2018 program book, and is based on genuine historical events that took place within a few minute’s walk of the convention centre. 

The Window on Standish Road

  1. What was reputed to be the appearance of the mischievous person?
  2. In white sometimes, and sometimes in the skin of a beast; a calf skin, or something of that sort.

In 1804, Francis Smith was convicted of the murder of a bricklayer named Thomas Millwood, having shot him on Black Lion Lane in Hammersmith, only a few minute’s walk from this very convention centre.

Smith offered a novel defence, arguing that he had not intended to kill Millwood, but that his real target was the ‘Hammersmith Ghost’, a phantom that haunted the churchyard. He mistook Millwood for the supposed ghost and shot him in the face.

Several accounts describe the ghost, which was said to be the spectre of a butcher who committed suicide several years earlier. For example, Thomas Grove testified that: “I was going through the church yard between eight and nine o’clock, with my jacket under my arm, and my hands in my pocket, when some person came from behind a tomb-stone, which there are four square in the yard, behind me, and caught me fast by the throat with both hands, and held me fast.” Some described the ghost as a figure in white; others claimed it had eyes of glass and an animal’s head.

Two days after the shooting, a local shoemaker, John Graham, came forward and admitted that he was the ghost; he’d dressed up as the phantom to scare his apprentice. Smith was initially declared guilty of murder and sentenced to hang, but in light of the intense public interest in the affair, the case was referred to King George III, who mercifully spared Smith’s life and sentenced him instead to a year’s hard labour.

The Hammersmith Ghost was consigned to the history books and to the legal texts, where it remained as a precedent regarding the consequences of mistaken action for 180 years. Case closed… or is it? For Gamemasters who want to bring the horror out of the past and into their game, we present this quick scenario for Trail of Cthulhu.

The Horrible Truth

Sorcerer and necromancer Jerominus Cornel still haunts London, more than a hundred years after his death in 1802. He hid himself away into a mirror dimension using a magical lens, emerging infrequently to steal occult knowledge from other scholars, using books and intimidation to drag them into the mirror world.

The Hook

Scene Type: Intro

Leads-Out: The Graveyard, Background Research

1937. In an obscure second-hand bookstore, the investigators find an incredible prize – a battered copy of Balfour’s Cultes de Goules, a 1703 work describing the ghoul cult throughout Europe. Such a rare occult book is worth a considerable sum to the right collector.

Tucked in the back of the book are a handful of loose pages, covered with almost illegible handwriting. Close examination with Languages reveals that it’s the confession of one John Graham of Hammersmith, written in 1810.

  • Graham talks about his neighbour, an eccentric chemist called Jerominus Cornel, who lived on Standish Street. He often saw Cornel visiting a nearby butcher’s shop, buying jars of blood from freshly slaughtered cattle.
    • Library Use/History/Occult: It might be worth looking into any records of this ‘Cornel’. See Background Research.
  • Cornel complained bitterly that there was too much to learn, that one lifetime was not enough to encompass the knowledge of the universe.
  • The butcher committed suicide in 1802; Cornel vanished the same year.
  • The tales of ghosts and spectral figures began after that. People saw pale figures at night, out of the corner of their eyes. One coachman nearly killed himself and his passengers when the ghost attacked him as he drove past the Black Lion inn.
  • In 1804, after the murder of Thomas Grove, Graham himself encountered the ghost of Cornel. The spectre appeared in his window and told Graham that if he did not allay suspicion, Cornel would devour Graham’s children. Terrified, Graham went to the magistrates and confessed; soon afterwards, the King interceded and put the whole matter to rest. Everyone thinks that Graham was the ghost; but it was Cornel. Cornel haunted Standish Street.
  • Graham dares not tell anyone, except this confession, but he’s buried proof of his claims in St. Paul’s churchyard. He gives the location – twelve paces south, forty east of the main gate. See The Churchyard.

There’s one other clue – Flattery or Bargain (for a small bribe) gets the bookseller to recall who sold him the copy of Cultes de Goules. He recalls the seller was a young man, very pale and sickly, who seemed nervous – he kept looking over his shoulder, as if someone was watching him through the glass window of the bookshop.

 

Background Research

Scene Type:Alternate

Leads-In: The Book

Leads-Out: The Churchyard

History or Oral History gets accounts of the Hammersmith Ghost.

Library Use digs up a few scant records on Cornel:

  • He was originally Dutch, but lived in Paris for some time before fleeing to England in 1784.
  • He was a chemist and glassblower; he made tools and equipment for chemists and doctors.
  • Oddly, one diary by the physician Francis Willis describes how Cornel offered to treat King George III’s madness in 1788; as a price, Cornel demanded access to “certain books in the possession of the King’s Library that were previously owned by Doctor John Dee”.
  • A later entry in the same diary talks about how Willis was called to the King’s Library to treat one of the clerks, who fell out of a window in Buckingham Palace.
  • The next page of the diary is missing, as if erased.

 

The Churchyard

Scene Type: Core

Leads-In: The Book, Background Research

Leads-Out: The Survivor, the Face in the Glass, Image of the Sorcerer

The old churchyard isn’t the same graveyard where the Hammersmith ghost was seen all those years ago – that graveyard is long since gone. The gardens of St. Paul’s, though, are still much as they were in King George’s day. Searching, the investigators quickly discover the right spot.

  • Archaeology:This is odd – there’s something buried here, all right, but it was recently This ground was dug up in the last few months.

As the investigators dig, they hear a disturbance on the road nearby. Shouting, and the breaking of glass – and then a gunshot rings out across. There’s a man, his features hidden by a white sheet, shouting wildly at the investigators. He’s got a gun in his hand – and he’s aiming it at them! “Don’t look at it!” he shrieks, “don’t let him see you!”

If they pursue, the man runs, firing wildly in the air. He never shoots directly at the investigators, just in their direction. A bigger danger, though, is the risk of being run-over by a car that swerves to avoid the gunshots (just like the coachman spooked by the Hammersmith ghost). If the investigators chase down the attacker, see The Survivor.

The Buried Cache

Buried in the churchyard is a bundle of pale, rotten leather attached to a mask made from the skull of a calf. Embedded in one of the calf’s eye-sockets is a curious glass sphere.

  • Chemistry:It’s not glass at all, but something much harder. It’s indestructible according to any test or tool available.
  • Astronomy:There are tiny symbols carved into the sphere – although how they were made is a mystery, given the sphere’s apparently harder than diamond. They include Arabic symbols for various stars, most prominently the Hyades.
  • Evidence Collection: The sphere seems to have some sort of image embedded in it, too small and faint to be discerned with the naked eye. Some sort of strange optical phenomenon, no doubt.
    • Craft orPhotography (Core Clue): Maybe a sufficiently bright light and the right arrangement of lens could project the image. If the investigators try this, see The Image of the Sorcerer.
  • Underneath the bundle are several more occult tomes, of roughly the same age and condition as Cultes de Goules, and likely from the same collection. They mostly deal with optics and alchemy.

After exposure to the sphere, the investigators are in danger from The Face in the Glass.

The Survivor

Scene Type: Alternate

Leads-In: The Churchyard

Leads-Out: The Face in the Glass, The Image of the Sorcerer

The attacker flees through a maze of alleyways. En route, he drops the white sheet he was using as a disguise. Finally, the investigators corner him in the yard behind a furniture shop. He raises the gun and attempts to shoot himself in the face. The nearest investigator can make a Scuffling test (Difficulty 5) to grab the gun before the man kills himself.

If successful, the investigators can Interrogate their prisoner.

  • The attacker is Edgar Smith, formerly a student at Imperial College.
  • He had a friend, Philip Black, who dabbled in the occult. Philip found an old book with a weird diary tucked in the back, and convinced Edgar to help him break into this very churchyard by night.
  • They found that awful mask – and when exposed to starlight, the eyes glowed and Philip vanished.
  • Terrified and confused, Edgar fled. He feared he’d be blamed for Philip’s disappearance, so he hid, renting a room nearby.
  • Since then, he’s seen a strange man watching him from the windows. Sometimes, he saw Philip in the windows, too.
  • A few weeks ago, he saw Philip on Kensington High Street, posting a parcel. His former friend looked bloodless and old, as though years had passed for him. When Edgar tried to speak to Philip, his friend vanished again in broad daylight, like an image from a movie projector that was suddenly switched off.
  • He has no idea what’s happening, but it all started with that damned mask with eyes of glass. Philip must have reburied the mask afterwards.

 

The Face in the Glass

Scene Type: Antagonist Reaction

Leads-In: The Churchyard

After exposure to the glass-eyed mask, the investigators start seeing the face of an old man reflected in windows, mirrors and other glassy surfaces. He might be watching them from an upstairs window or leering at them from a bathroom mirror.

If any of the investigators are ever alonenear a glass, then Cornel acts.

  • If the investigator has a high rating in any Academic ability, then Cornel might attempt to abduct the investigator, emerging from his mirror-lair to abduct the investigator by dragging him back through the mirror. (Scuffling or Fleeing contest against Cornel’s Scuffling). Captured investigators can be seen in The Image of the Sorcerer.
  • If the investigator is no use to Cornel’s studies, then Cornel threatens the investigator, saying that he must bring “men of learning” and show them the sphere so Cornel can devour them (or, if Cornel’s predations have attracted too much attention, that the investigator must bury the mask in St. Paul’s Churchyard again, to await the next generation of scholars).

Cornel

Abilities: Athletics 6, Health 12, Scuffling 10

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: +2

Weapon: Ghoulish claws +1

Armour: -2 vs. any (skin)

Stability Loss: +0

 

The Image of the Sorcerer

Scene Type: Core

Leads-In: The Churchyard

With Craft, Physics and Photography, the investigators can assemble a contraption that magnifies and projects the image in the sphere. Impossibly, it’s moving –it’s like watching a film recording of an old, old man in a small room. There’s no door, just a single flickering window that seems to look out over all of London, the viewpoint jumping from place to place as if the room were flickering across the city. The room’s crammed with books, occult paraphernalia and pages of crabbed notes; there’s also a large stack of human bones, licked clean and cracked open for marrow, in one corner. Hanging upside down from hooks is the corpse of Philip Black; the old man’s drained Black of blood and is slowly, slowly eating the man’s flesh.

  • If any of the investigators were captured by Cornel in The Face in the Glass, they’re visible in the image, hanging from hooks next to Black, but still alive.

As the investigators watch, the window behind him changes, becoming a window or glass surface in whatever room the investigators are in. The man looks up at them and smiles.

Cornel knows they’re watching.

And he’s coming for them.

  • Physics: There’s a clock on the wall behind the old man, but it’s moving incredibly slowly. If this is a window or image of some pocket dimension, time moves differently there. Maybe that’s why Cornel used Philip Black to run errands in our world – if he stays outside his room for too long, maybe Cornel will age to death.
  • Anthropology:Some of the notes on the table look like interview transcripts – the old man’s abducting scholars, questioning them, and then eating them.
  • Cryptography:The sorcerer’s notes can be read through the projection, although they’re reversed mirror-writing. They include a list of names of prominent scientists and occultists – did Cornel make Black send other lures to them? Does Cornel intend to abduct, interrogate and devour them too?

Defeating Cornel

The finale is a cat-and-mouse contest between the investigators and Cornel. The sorcerer is immortal, inhumanly patient, and can emerge from any mirror or glass. The investigators can spy on him, and know what he wants – knowledge. Can they set a trap for him? Might illuminating the mask with starlight from the Hyades create a physical portal? Or should the investigators bury the sphere somewhere it can never be found, stay away from all windows and mirrors, and pray that the Hammersmith Ghost never finds them again?

 

 

“Like all decadents he was exquisitely sensitive to the color and atmosphere and names of things …”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “Medusa’s Coil”

Much of the ironic entertainment of playing in Lovecraft’s universe comes from playing, well, in Lovecraft’s universe, or at least his Earth. Specifically, from playing with his names. And not just the Big Names like Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, but the human-scale names in his world. Meeting a supporting character named Waite, spotting a gunshot-riddled sign for the turnoff to Dunwich, discovering a slim volume in violet buckram by Randolph Carter — these very specific joys come from the very specific associations we formed with those names as readers of Lovecraft’s fiction over years or decades. Crack open your copy of The Lovecraft Lexicon by Anthony Pearsall and salt your campaign with those joys to taste.

The downside is that in order to enjoy them, the players must recognize those names as fictions within your fiction, the equivalent of seeing the “clue glow” in a video game. This endangers immersion, and mitigates against suspension of disbelief. If, as Lovecraft wrote to Clark Ashton Smith, “no weird story can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care and verisimilitude of an actual hoax,” then you damage terror and verisimilitude by introducing people and place names taken straight from fiction, and from increasingly familiar fiction at that.

In a classic Call or Trail game set in the 1920s or 1930s, players tend to adopt an ironic detachment from the running boards and candlestick telephones of the setting even without guest appearances by glittery-eyed weirdos named Tillinghast or Curwen. The past is another country, one that might very well have a seaside town named Kingsport in it.

But in a 1960s Fall of DELTA GREEN game, and even moreso a Cthulhu adventure set in the present day, players’ sense of the game world begins to bleed into the “real” and away from the stage set of the past. Thus, the unreal breaks harder when it breaks: if you know in your heart that Googling “Henry Armitage” gets you a “Fictional Librarians” tag on Wikipedia, it’s harder to play along when your Investigator Googles “Henry Armitage” and gets “Head Librarian, Miskatonic University 1924-1936.” To say nothing of the knowledge that Miskatonic University itself is just a cooler Hogwarts with a slightly better Defense Against the Dark Arts program.

Compare to the national name brand!

“The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

Dragnet, opening narration

Alan Moore, as is his wont, has limned another approach, one that pays increasing dividends the closer your campaign gets to the present. Moore pointed the way out of this box in his comics series Providence (and before that, in The Courtyard and Neonomicon). Moore presents a Cthulhoid world with H.P. Lovecraft in it, a jetée we’ve danced before. Lovecraft’s stories, it transpires, actually happened in that world (which also has Chambers-style suicide temples in them as well) but Lovecraft, one assumes, changes the names, dates, and details when he fictionalizes them for his weird tales.

Elspeth Wade becomes Asenath Waite; the Boggs family of Salem becomes the Marsh family of Innsmouth; Ronald Underwood Pitman becomes Richard Upton Pickman. Moore interweaves real places and people as well: Manchester, New Hampshire becomes Arkham; the (historical) alchemist and Caliph’s son Khalid ibn Yazid becomes Abdul Alhazred (and also, as he did in actual early modern Latin manuscripts, “Hali”); the (historical) werewolf Jacques Roulet takes on a more important role than he did in Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House.” Moore’s “true names” (and lots of spoilers for the Moorecraftian tales) appear here, for the curious.

Presenting various names and places (especially real-world versions) as lightly coded (or de-coded, depending on which direction your epistemology polarizes) versions of Lovecraft’s names and places doesn’t break immersion because the players’ action of de-coding the game names mirrors their Investigators’ action of, well, investigating them. The player deduction that “Weldon Wycherley” is “actually” Wilbur Whateley reinforces and recuperates their character’s realization that the Weldon Wycherley in this picture seems awfully big for an eight-year-old boy. Players become alert for twins and mysterious hills and standing stones, mirroring their Investigator’s discovery of a hidden twin and a strange ruin on Sepulcher Hill. Thus, following Moore and making the various changes transparent ones helps the story and the drama along.

Or start with Earth, but even moreso! Real names and careers of Salem witches, for example, can provide an interesting warp for the Lovecraftian weft: did John Alden, Jr. traffick in other things than guns with the Abenaki? Did his ships bring in mummies and corpses? Or did the remarkably long-lived Jonathan Curwin escape accusation (unlike his mother-in-law) thanks not to his high position but to his necromantically-obtained blackmail material? With a little effort, I bet you can find real-life electrical experimenters and disgraced surgeons who died mysteriously somewhere in New England at some time between 1914 and 1922 — and if they didn’t die mysteriously, that’s where the coverup (or the weird effect of the Mythos on memory and testimony) comes in. Pick your favorite missing U-boat and say it’s the one from “The Temple.” Lovecraft already used real floods and storms for “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Haunter of the Dark,” and a real earthquake for the rising of R’lyeh; shift places and dates until something gameable clicks into being.

Use the same approach for real locations of Lovecraftian towns and hills: if your “Kingsport” is actually Marblehead, maybe the Old Pirate House is the house of the Terrible Old Man.  Feel free to scatter them around, too. Perhaps Lovecraft re-used Arkham to further snarl the trail: the meteorite fell near Oakham, Massachusetts; the witch Ann Foster hyperspatially disappeared from Salem rather than dying (as the records were altered to indicate); and the university with the arcane ambit is actually St. Anselm College in Manchester, or Brown University in Providence, or Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. If you can’t find a real legend or ghost or crime that fits Lovecraft’s story, make one up — and finding out who kept it out of the history books (and off Google) can be another layer of the onion for your Investigators to peel back.

 

 

There appeared certain odd stories of things found floating in some of the swollen rivers

– The Whisperer in Darkness

Some of the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos are composed of ultraterrene matter, or hail from dimensions or angles beyond the ones we know, or cannot die in any way we can comprehend. Others, though, can be destroyed or at least inconveniencedby physical force. Strange things were swept down by the floods from the forested hills beyond Brattleboro, or washed up on the beaches of Massachusetts after the destruction of Devil’s Reef – or were found dead on the floor of the library at Miskatonic.

A maddening of alien horrors march across the pages of Hideous Creaturesbut what might they leave behind if destroyed? What remains… remain? What might the investigators find mounted on the wall of the famous big game hunter who killed himself with his own elephant gun? What relic might they steal from the Thibetan monastery? What tattered robe of hide does the cult priest wear when he capers and howls prayers to the Old Ones?

If the investigators do find a trophy or other preserved remnant of a Mythos creature, examining it might yield vital clues. It’s better to learn, for example, that hunting horrors are rejuvenated by electricity by subjecting a small piece of hunting horror tissue to an electrical current, rather than desperately using the last charge of your stolen Yithian lightning gun on the monster as it pursues you…

 

A Feejee Mermaid: The creature was of substance similar to ours – it dies when you shoot it, and the body doesn’t vanish or sublime or turn to slime. The creature might be mistaken for an especially grotesque example of fanciful taxidermy, a chimera made by sewing together bits of different animals; the wings of some Patagonian bat, the head of a malformed goat, crocodile teeth…

Likely candidates: Bat-Thing (obviously some sort of bat), Byakhee (a pterosaur, clearly), Serpent Folk (a genuine Feejee Mermaid)

The Bones Might Be Human: There are physical abnormalities, of course. Take the care of John Merrick, the famous elephant man of London! Or those suffering from certain extreme skin conditions, worse than leprosy. These remains are bizarre, yes, likely mangled post-mortem by some accident, butthey’re clearly human. Maybe some animal bones mixed in, but they’re human. What else could they be?

Likely candidates: Deep Ones, Ghouls, Medusa, Rat-Thing (the bones of children, I fear, mixed with the rats who ate the remains), Raktijiva (the head’s been destroyed, obviously), Spawn of Yog-Sothoth (Human Son), Tcho-Tcho (the poor stunted creature!), Wendigo (some sort of primitive throwback or degenerate, I’ll wager) Y’m-Bhi (my god! It’s a mass grave!)

A Patch of Hide: Keeping the entire carcass is impossible, unless you happen to own a convenient aircraft hangar or refrigerated warehouse. The investigators might find a small patch of leather carved from a vast huge, a single impossibly huge claw, or a pickled eyeball the size of a man’s head.

Likely candidates: Bhole (impossibly tough worm-leather), Dark Young (clearly some sort of wooden sculpture), Hunting Horror (a rare breed of elephant or hippo, perhaps)

 It All Evaporated: The remains decay almost instantly into foul-smelling liquids or noxious gases, leaving nothing behind. With extensive experimentation, a knowledgable chemist might hit on the right conditions and mix of chemicals needed to preserve the remains.

Likely Candidates: Flying Polyp (explodes into cloud of cancerous cells), Gaseous Wraiths (deflates under pressure), Mi-Go (alien matter dissolves), Moon-Beasts (dissolve into star-jelly; contact with decaying remains is agonisingly painful), Vampirish Vapour (rapid deliquescence into rot and slime)

Mysterious Stains – and Echoes: The creature’s remain vanish, but they don’t just dissolve into slime or sublime into mist. Something of the entity remains in the place where it died. Not a haunting, exactly, but a stain upon the land. An unhealing scar, a place that echoes the horror over and over.

Likely Candidates: Black Winged One (hauntings, sick building syndrome), Colour Out Of Space (blasted heath), Great Race of Yith (remains drawn back through time-gate; temporal distortions persist), Hounds of Tindalos, Lloigor (dreams and nightmares), Night-Gaunts (hideous tittering from no discernible source) Ultraviolet Devourer (‘thin place’ where higher dimensions can be seen) 

That Is Not Dead…: Some creatures do not die so easily. The Elder Things dug up by the Miskatonic Expedition revived after millennia buried in the ice caves; shoggoths are virtually indestructible. These ‘remains’ might revive under the right conditions.

Likely Candidates: Elder Things (preternatural resilience), Hounds of Tindalos (what is an ending to an entity who moves through time?), Shoggoth (every shoggoth cell is a shoggoth), Star Vampire (still exists in a dimension we can’t perceive, can be called up by blood), Worm-Cultist (every worm recalls the totality…)


Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos is a collection of thirty-one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated – and most cryptic, some of which have never taken stat form in an RPG – creatures, written up with full stats, clues, mythic echoes, adventure seeds, and in-world documents for Trail of Cthulhu. Purchase Hideous Creatures in print at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

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