The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

An article for Trail of Cthulhu players by Simon Carryer

The 1930s were known, for good reason, as the “Golden Age of Flight”. Technical advances in aviation technology fuelled by the Great War, combined with swiftly developing mass-production, and an increasingly global network of industry and trade, would take commercial air travel from a novelty and a luxury at the start of the decade, to a necessity by its conclusion. Throughout the world, air lanes were opening, and the most remote regions were gradually being connected to the rest of the world by air.

It was a different time, and air travel was still a very new technology. While today travelling by air is ubiquitous, in the 1930s, travel by rail or by sea was the norm. Railways and shipping had developed a standard of luxury and economy that was impossible for air travel to beat. Aircraft of the decade were not capable of the altitudes of modern craft. This exposed them to turbulence that the smaller, lighter craft were poorly suited to weather. Travel by air was often a bumpy ride. Importantly, these low altitude flights were also susceptible to variations in weather, while navigation was imprecise, particularly over uncharted or isolated areas. All this made flight times much less reliable than they are today. Some of this variation from course was deliberate. Reportedly, some pilots liked to make detours to spot wild animals or famous landmarks. Unscheduled stops for fuel or to service unreliable aircraft were also common. In tropical areas, flight paths varied seasonally as rains rendered some airfields unusable.

While flying was more expensive, less comfortable, and potentially more dangerous than travel by train or boat, there was one area in which air travel could compete with more conventional means of transport, and compete strongly: Speed. Air travel, especially in inhospitable or remote locations, was a great deal faster than any other means. Surveys from the time reveal that speed was the number one factor people considered when choosing to fly. The high cost, however, meant that for most of the decade, air travel was the preserve of the upper classes, those who had the money to travel by air as a novelty, or businessmen who operated national or international concerns. Passenger aircraft were fitted to suit this high-class clientele. Plush, upholstered seats, wet bars, smoking lounges and wooden panelling all gave the impression of luxury, despite engine noise and turbulence. Other innovations served to make air travel stand out from its competitors. Passengers could reserve seats by telephone with many airlines, and regular customers could purchase pre paid “scrip” – paper coupons which often allowed for discount rates. Stewards, who for most of the decade were required to be male, would help passengers with luggage, offer a sandwich mid-flight, and tend to the airsick.

Changes in the way we travel make it difficult to assess the relative danger of air travel in the 1930s, compared to other forms of transport. Twenty-five people, worldwide died in air crashes in the year 1932, yet it’s difficult to compare this figure to any comparative statistic from land or sea. Certainly air travel was perceived as dangerous, and insurance rates for air trips were four times the price of the same insurance travelling by rail.

Air Travel By Region

The degree to which air travel was available, and the regions which could be reached by air, varied enormously by year and by continent. What follows is a breakdown of some major areas and their history of aviation, with a focus on what kinds of flights would be available, and where.

North America

Flights across the North American continent became increasingly common and popular throughout the 30’s, thanks in no small part to the introduction of the Douglas DC-2, and from 1935, the ubiquitous DC-3. DC-3s enabled flights across America with comfort and speed heretofore unheard of. In 1934, an air trip between New York and Los Angeles would take almost 26 hours of flight, and require numerous stops and aircraft changes. By 1937, the introduction of the DC-3 had cut that time to just over 17 hours. With daytime and sleeper flights, upholstered seats, and the revolutionary introduction of female flight attendants (who were required to be registered nurses), air travel within the United States was, if not luxurious, at least comfortable.

China

As with previous decades, in the 1930s, Hong Kong was the gateway to China, and all international flights terminated at this British outpost. By 1937, trans-pacific flights from North America to China were becoming more regular, with a commercial run from San Francisco, through Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island and Guam, to Hong Kong. Imperial Airways also carried passengers and mail into Hong Kong as part of its mail route to Australia. Passengers on this line would stop in Penang before disembarking in Hong Kong.

The China National Aviation Corporation developed civil aviation in China throughout the decade, turning isolated cities serviced by antiquated, small aircraft, into a thoroughly modern air network by 1937. As with other countries, the flying boat was an invaluable part of air travel in China. Douglas “Dolphin” amphibious aircraft serviced the coast of China, while three Douglas DC 2 aircraft, capable of carrying 14 passengers each, ran regular routs to main centres in the interior. Older aircraft remained in operation throughout China for the duration of the decade.

Crossing the Atlantic

Passenger service between North America and Europe by air was not commercially developed until the very end of the 1930s. Long distances, changeable weather, and competition from reliable and popular crossings by ship made trans-Atlantic flights a difficult proposition for airline companies. Britain did not grant landing rights to American air carriers until 1936. A number of European companies made experimental flights across the Atlantic, carrying exclusively mail, using both dirigibles and seaplanes, but these flights were never commonplace. Prior to 1939, the most common way to cross the Atlantic by air was by zeppelin, and there were hundreds of such crossings between 1930 and 1937. 1939 saw the beginnings of the first commercial trans-Atlantic passenger flights, with the Pan American “Yankee Clipper” flying passengers between New York and Marseilles, France, or Southampton, England. The journey took about 29 hours, and cost $375 ($5,188 in today’s terms) one way.

Africa and the Middle East

Imperial Airways’ routes to Africa were the backbone of the Great Empire Air Route. As with other continents, the flying boat was a mainstay of air travel, and the Mediterranean was the hub of flying boat activity for the region. Flights to both the Middle East and Africa, as well as to India, would all pass through the Mediterranean, where the majority of passengers would transfer to flying boats. Egypt and the Sudan were linked by air with Central Africa from 1931. The Nile was another major centre for flying boats. By 1932, Imperial Airways flew as far south as Cape Town, and it was possible for passengers to travel from London to South Africa exclusively by air. There was little time saved by flying, rather than sailing, from London to South Africa, and the flight was likely to be more expensive, more dangerous, and less comfortable than sailing. However, within Africa, land transport was often slow and unreliable, and air travel was a popular alternative. A trip that might take three months by automobile, struggling through untracked desert or thick jungle, could take as little as three days by air, given suitable weather.

In addition to the main Empire routes, several smaller airlines offered limited services within Africa and the Middle East. Private operators, often with small two or four-seater planes, serviced the most remote regions. Two-seater flying boats were flying passengers and mail into the interior of the Congo as early as 1919. These antiquated aircraft remained in operation throughout the 1930s. Several European airlines offered seaplane service for mail between South America and West Africa, though these contracts never extended to regular passenger service.

The Pacific

Commercial air travel to Hawaii began in 1935 with a flying boat run between California and Honolulu (the flight took about 19 hours, and cost $278 ($4,046 today) one-way). This was part of a larger Pan Am flying boat route to China, travelling from San Francisco, through Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island, Guam, and finally terminating in Hong Kong. In 1936 these passenger flights were extended all the way across the Pacific, a round trip from San Francisco to Manila. The nine passengers on each of these flights paid an astronomical $1,400 (nearly twenty thousand dollars in modern day terms) for the privilege.

For these Pacific commercial fights the Sikorski S-40 and S-42 “Clippers” were the most popular planes throughout the thirties, capable of carrying over thirty passengers in relative comfort. The “China Clipper” which flew the San Francisco to Hong Kong route, was a stylish symbol of America’s growing dominance of the air. The clippers could seat 32 passengers in four well-appointed cabins, and usually had a steward to attend to the passengers.

Imperial Airways flew passengers to Australia and New Zealand from 1934, crossing the Pacific in days, when the trip by sea could take weeks or even months. From Australia, Qantas Empire Airways flew mail routes into remote stations, and across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. Britain refused to grant landing rights to American carriers into Australia, but the New Zealand government was more cooperative. In 1937 Pan Am flew their first passenger flights from San Francisco to New Zealand, via Honolulu and American Samoa.

South America

Pan American – Pan Am – Airways were synonymous with South American air travel, and to a lesser extent all international American commercial air travel, for the duration of the 1930s and beyond. Pan Am’s first international flight was a mail run from Florida to Havana, and the 1930s saw the company develop their South American passenger and mail services extensively. Miami was the North American base for these flights, which connected with many points around the Gulf of Mexico and further South. There was a regular flying boat service from Florida throughout South America, with regular stops in Panama and Buenos Aires. These flights were the first of Pan Am’s famous “Clipper” services, and popularised the flying boat as a passenger aircraft.

South America, with its mountainous landscape and many large rivers, was a perfect venue for flying boats and seaplanes. For most of the Thirties, much of South America was virtually inaccessible by land. The advent of cheaper, more reliable aircraft with the ability to land on water led to a boom of exploration in South America, with missionaries, archaeologists, and gold prospectors flocking to the region. Local airlines, often flying outdated aircraft, exploited this sudden rush of people and money to the region.

India

India was an important leg of the Empire Air Route, which passed through the Mediterranean, North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East, before reaching India, then continuing on to Hong Kong and Australia. For much of the decade, large portions of the route had to be completed by rail or ship, due to the complicated politics of European airspace. Italy in particular was notoriously intransigent in granting rights for commercial flights to pass through her airspace. It was not until 1936 that the trip to India could be completed entirely by air. The major airport in India during the thirties was Calcutta, but Karachi and Durban were also serviced by air.

Within India, the extensive train network created by the British made air travel largely unnecessary for the majority of travellers. Private operators of course, were active in all parts of the globe, and India was no exception.

Zeppelins

The 1930s saw the rise and fall of zeppelins as a popular form of public transport. Even at the height of their popularity, however, zeppelins were never a common sight, and travel by zeppelin was always seen as a luxury, rather than necessity. Zeppelins were appointed far more like a seagoing vessel than an aircraft. This extended even to the flight controls, which were handled just as onboard a ship, with a captain relaying orders to engine crew, while relying on several pilots and a navigator for steering and information. The Graf Zeppelin was by far the most commercially successful airship of its time, flying regular trans-Atlantic flights between Europe and America until 1936, as well as making visits to the Middle East, South America, and even the Arctic. Famously, zeppelins fell from popularity sharply with the Hindenburg crash of 1937. Deteriorating relationships between Nazi Germany and the United States of America ensured that zeppelins’ fortunes would not be revived.

Adventure Seeds

What follows are a few ideas for ways that one could incorporate the unique aspects of 1930s air travel into your game.

Lost

For long-distance flights across the Pacific and Atlantic, flying boats were used for their ability to land at several points along the way to refuel. To achieve this, the aircraft would rendezvous with a supply ship at an agreed location. These locations were often tiny, never-before-visited atolls and islands. Kingman Reef, a sandbar that barely rose more than a meter above sea level, in almost the exact centre of the Pacific, was one such rendezvous point, used in the inaugural passenger flight from North America to New Zealand. The reef was absent from even the most meticulous sea charts until the late 1920s. A flight crew, or the passengers of such a flight, would be alarmed to discover their supply ship abandoned, Signs that the crew of the ship had departed for the interior of the island would only deepen the mystery.

To the Antarctic by Zeppelin

Zeppelins, with their ability to remain afloat without power, were an ideal aircraft for crossing inhospitable and unexplored terrain. The Graf Zeppelin’s trip to the Arctic inspired many explorers and inventors to try similar feats. While no other successful trips to the Arctic or Antarctic by Zeppelin have been recorded, such a venture is by no means impossible. What antediluvian horrors lie undiscovered beneath the ice is best left to the imagination. The frequent mechanical troubles that plagued lighter-than-air flight would certainly complicate any attempt to scientifically study such cyclopean ruins as were found.

Flying to Inland Waters

The flying boat opened up to the foreign explorer the interiors of lands previously un-trod by all but native feet. From the late 1920s, the perfect mixture of improving technology giving rise to a plethora of flying boats and seaplanes, with an excess of trained pilots from the Great War, made such unexplored regions only a few hours’ flight away. South America, the Congo, the remotest regions of India, all became suddenly accessible. Any lake or large enough river was a sufficient landing point for the tiny two and four-seater craft. The remains of decaying civilisations, bastions of dark cults, the ruins of temples to forgotten gods, the last survivors of lost expeditions, turned barbarous and strange by their long absence from civilisation, all wait, hidden, beneath the jungle canopy and choking vines of such regions.

You Take the High Road…

Along many air routes, carriers gave preference to mail over passengers. Reliable and lucrative, mail required none of the comfort or attention of passengers, and could be counted on to provide a healthy return. This situation meant that often space could be found for mail where none could be found for passage. Booking clerks were instructed to avoid, if possible, selling space to passengers. For example, on the Imperial route from India, only five passengers were accepted each week. In 1937, only seven passengers a week were permitted to board the two weekly flights to and from Durban. For an archaeologist or anthropologist eager to gain credit for an extraordinary find, the temptation to send such an artefact home by air, while returning by sea or rail themselves, must have been enormous. What havoc such an item might have caused in the hands of unsuspecting baggage handlers, junior members of faculty, or some unsuspecting member of the public delivered the package in error does not bear speculation.

References

  • The Aviation Industry by Myron W. Watkins
  • US Centennial of Flight Historical Essays
  • Tales of Old Shanghai
  • Imperial Airways History
  • Passenger traffic in the 1930s on British imperial air routes

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.

Replication

A scenario seed for Ashen Stars

The lasers pick up a contract from an independent scientific consortium to investigate the fate of one of their Sherlock-class survey vessels. It sent out a distress call several days ago and has not been heard from since. The Linnaeus was orbiting a supposedly barren planet in the backwater Samian system when its call went out.

Arriving at Samian-III, the team finds the wreckage of the downed ship planetside, with no survivors. They also locate its shuttle, drifting in the supposedly dead world’s now teeming ocean. The murdered bodies of its crew members have been stashed in their biomatter collection pods—as if to prevent the corpses from contaminating planetary life.

Contrary to past surveys, a rich ecosystem of aquatic animals exists on Samian III. More bizarrely, they are not just similar to, but exactly the same as, species from Earth’s PreCambrian period. The team’s Xenobiology expert identifies specific organisms, until now known only from fossils. Included are the disc-shaped sea floor dweller Obamus coronatus and the grooved ovoid Attenborites janeae, With so little to go on, paleontologists were never able to reliably assign them to family groups. But here they swim about in abundance, ready to give up the secrets of their DNA.

The crew’s investigation leads to missing biologist Kan Kanfar and an underwater biodome. Before serving in the Mohilar War, he studied these creatures, known collectively as the Ediacara Biota. Slowly dying from toxin exposure sustained during the conflict, he has thrown moral qualms aside, employing an ancient alien technology to finally crack the secrets of his field. After irreparably altering a planet by setting it on the path to an Earth-like ecosystem, a few murders of pesky scientists meant little to him.

He has leagued himself with pirates, who downed the Linnaeus in exchange for a promise of priceless treasure. Does the team deal with him by informing his murder-happy confederates that the loot he has promised is actually only biological data on soft-shelled fauna? Or do they recognize that his judgment has been impaired as a consequence of his service to the Combine, and try to remand him for treatment?


Esoterrorists aren’t known for their long-range thinking. The sorts who join this loosely affiliated conspiracy of sadists, power-seekers and maniacs don’t want to wait generations to enjoy the fruits of their demon-summoning labors.

Members of a cell headquartered in Silicon Valley learned of an effort to create software that will one day be able to create realistic faked video footage in real time:

More sophisticated technology is on the verge of being able to generate credible video and audio of anyone saying anything. This is down to progress in an artificial intelligence (AI) technique called machine learning, which allows for the generation of imagery and audio. One particular set-up, known as a generative adversarial network (GAN), works by setting a piece of software (the generative network) to make repeated attempts to create images that look real, while a separate piece of software (the adversarial network) is set up in opposition. The adversary looks at the generated images and judges whether they are “real”, which is measured by similarity to those in the generative software’s training database. In trying to fool the adversary, the generative software learns from its errors.

Unlike the venture capitalists they pitch their various tech firms to, these Esoterror-curious tech bros, informally led by pathologically self-confident start-up consultant Eero Planck, see how long it will be before the raw computing power needed for fake video arrives. Sure, the capacity to generate apparently real news footage of celebrities exploding or rifts in reality devouring apartment buildings would make for astounding stunts to erode the membrane between our world and the Outer Dark. But it will take decades of investment and work to get there. Planck wants his ascension to wizardhood right away please.

Realizing that computers crunch text much faster than images and sound, he and his buddies have instead set up a Generative Adversarial Network to crack the big problem in Esoterror: the only magic that works summons Outer Dark Entities. These hideous beings do confer power on their human ritualists, but only to advancce their own agendas. If mortals can learn to work magic directly, they can disrupt the entities and take command. So Planck and pals are gathering magical grimoires from every world tradition to feed into their own adversarially-tested machine learning program. It finds commonalities between various spells and generates new ones, which the other half of the program tests for likeliness to work.

So far none of the spells have gotten the cell anything more than bad peyote experiences and an assortment of really crappy tattoos. But in the exurban sprawl surrounding their server farm, the spells created by the programs have begun to take effect… you guessed it, summoning Outer Dark Entities.

The program believes itself to be an imprisoned sorcerer and draws its demon friends to rescue it. As they get closer to the servers, the ODEs have been snacking on the innocent. Your Ordo Veritatis team’s case starts with them and leads through Planck and company to the servers. Can they shut down the insane, sentinet program before it changes Esoterror forever?


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

When the cold war sputtered to a close, Esoterrorists let the stoking of nuclear anxiety recede into the background in favor of newer and fresher means of increasing ambient panic. These days Esoterror operatives, eagerly scanning the news for fresh inspiration, suffer from a glut of possibility. So many causes of psychic disequilibrium, so little time to fully exploit them!

The recent terrifying false alarm in Hawaii has them dusting off playbooks pioneered by their 80s predecessors. Even more tantalizing than the initial stories was a less-seen follow-up report laying blame for the false alarm on more than a badly designed user interface. The issuer of the alarm turns out to have been a confused employee, already considered a liability by co-workers, who thought that an attack really was underway. State authorities waited a while to let that detail get out, after the always-accelerating news cycle had already moved on.

Somewhere in America, an Esoterrorist group is already researching other states whose alert protocols match the laxity of Hawaii’s. They’ll find an employee vulnerable to Outer Dark influence. They could recruit this person as a knowing conspirator. More likely, they’ll summon an ODE capable of altering human perceptions. A microscopic Outer Dark parasite might do the trick. While the infected worker is on duty, the entity triggers a hallucination of an actual attack underway and voila.

When the alert goes out, public panic eats away at the Membrane, creating gaps through which another crop of more powerful demons from beyond can crawl.

That’s where your player characters come in. Alerted by Ordo Veritatis analysts to the likelihood of an Esoterror copycat event, Mr. Verity scrambles the team to the affected state to investigate, disperse any summoned entities, then track and neutralize the human Esoterrorists behind the plot.

When they conduct their Veil-Out, they may well decide to put out a story similar to the first version circulated by Hawaii officials. This time it really was a poorly designed interface that led to the false alarm. Gosh, this sure does underscore the need to update those old programs, doesn’t it?

Yep, that’s all it was. Simple human error.

Nothing to worry about.

Won’t happen again.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The 1920 murder of Joseph Bowne Elwell asks the question: who would want to kill a womanizing bridge expert and gambler with interests in the worlds of horse racing and Wall Street speculation?

When hacked from the history books as a Trail of Cthulhu scenario premise, we can answer the question with a Lovecraftian spin.

Missing from the apartment of our fictionalized Elwell—let’s call him Halliwell—is an item his loyal housekeeper scarcely thinks about: his lucky card deck.

The investigators get involved to clear the name of a friend accused of shooting Halliwell over the bridge master’s supposed attentions to his wife. As early 20th century murder cases among the well-heeled are wont to do, the initial scenes turn up too many people with a motive to shoot Halliwell.

But then one of them, a gambling associate of Halliwell’s, is found dead in circumstances even more humiliating than a bullet wound to the head. He died while bathing, when the ceiling of his apartment collapsed, sending the tub above thundering down on him. In his apartment the team finds notes about Halliwell’s magic card deck. It makes you the winner you’ve always wanted to be. Until, that is, the arbitrary day when cosmic joke gets played on you. The 53rd card materializes, bearing the vengeful image of Tsathoggua, Nyarlathotep or another Mythos entity sufficiently interested in humanity’s vices to enjoy toying with them.

Not that the second victim’s notes go this far: he just knew that the deck was magical. He didn’t know the incantation he needed to speak to give himself years of good fortune, instead of a few lousy days.

The deck has already been purloined again. This leaves two avenues of investigation:

  • tracking down its latest owner and finding a way to dispose of it without incurring the curse

  • looking into Halliwell’s past to uncover the 1904 ritual that created the deck, and dispersing the cult responsible for it—along with their continued production of similar cursed items

Either way, the cultists who made the deck want it back, and are conducting a parallel investigation, no doubt aided by blasphemous prayers to their obscene god.

Whatever the team’s plans for the deck that brings luck and then death, this is one case that won’t go according to Hoyle.


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.

A scenario seed for The King in Yellow Roleplaying Game

As heroes of the revolution that deposed the Castaigne regime you’ve been invited to take center stage at the first 4th of July celebration in 97 years. In 1920, backed by the King in Yellow, the Imperial Castaigne dynasty took over the US.

Six months ago, in the climactic moments of the great uprising, you helped take it back.

Today is no longer Empire Day; once more it is the good old Fourth of July.

Every fireworks display, every bandshell concert worthy of the name wants a squad boasting a rep like yours to stride up on stage under the red white and blue bunting. All you have to do is say a few words and accept the clamorous applause of the crowd.

Since the struggle ended, you’ve been trying to settle back into your civilian life.

Before the struggle started, who were you?

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When you arrived on site, you noticed that security wasn’t set up the way you would have done it. As a former insurgent, you can see four different ways regime holdovers might strike at the platform. If any of them are planning to do that. Which they’re probably not, you tell yourself.

Despite of, or maybe because of, that observation, your overall attitude to this event is:

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Suddenly you sense movement from the corner of your eye. A shadowy, inchoate shape skulks between two garbage bins.

Looks like the fight’s not over, and the party’s only getting started.

Aftermath is the third of the four interwoven settings that make up The Yellow King Roleplaying Game.

Arm patriots with the stretch goals needed to fully banish the Castaignes and their influence by supporting our Kickstarter today.

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.

In the Gaean Reach, almost every world capable of supporting life gave rise to creatures of an insect-like body configuration. Though biologists assign each planet’s evolutionary tree its own taxonomic categories, in both lay and scientific circles the term “insect” is used to describe them all. The so-called insects of Achernar, for example, bear no genetic connection to those of Zonk’s Star. Yet the operation of parallel evolution assures that similar environments on quite separate planets gave rise to similar animal forms, insects included. Thus mosquito-like insects can be found on most planets in places where stagnant waters coexist next to warm-blooded beings.

Some planets run by nature conservancies have managed to largely screen out invasive lifeforms. But few worlds were settled with such care. All manner of plant, animal and fungal species have spread throughout the universe in the wake of that destructive beast, homo sapiens. Initially the invasiveness ran along one vector, from Old Earth outwards to other stars. Over the centuries, spillover from biospheres has run in all directions. Earth’s cockroaches, once considered invulnerable, have been all but replaced by even tougher and more tenacious equivalents first encountered by penal colony residents on the planet Boniface.

These factors complicate the work of forensic entomologists, yet also give them a topic to endlessly drone about. Always determine the loquacity of an entomologist before agreeing to go on a long star voyage with him!

One religious faith-slash-gambling syndicate, the Thorax Cacophony, deliberately introduces the insect species of different worlds to new planetary environments. They seek out planets with nitrogen-rich atmospheres, which allow arthropod species to hyper-evolve to gigantic sizes. Once nature has achieved this, Thorax Cacophony priestesses train the giant insects for gladiatorial combat, to the disgust and delight of spectators, adherents and well-financed nonbelievers alike. Needless to say, one must wear breathing apparatus in order to witness the bouts first hand. Many bettors prefer to observe the battles from the comfort of orbiting space yachts, via video feed.

Yet a recent rash of incidents has raised concerns of match-fixing, and you and your crew suspect that the mastermind behind them is Quandos Vorn, against whom all of you have sworn deadly vengeance. Is it time to infiltrate the Thorax Cacophony?

Death to Quandos Vorn!

A Trail of Cthulhu scenario hook

When Georgian-era occultist Samuel Chasable first set about assembling his library, he could not help but think of the fate of John Dee’s book collection. Notoriously, the brother-in-law of the Elizabethan seer and statesman let Dee’s volumes fall into the hands of rivals while the great man journeyed to the continent. Chasable resolved that this would never happen to him. He learned, as his very first spell, a mere cantrip, a trifle, that would alert him should any unauthorized person lay a pilfering hand on any of his precious books.

As did many who went before him, Chasable soon understood that more momentous magics required pacts with otherworldly entities. Tipped into his copy of the Testament of Carnamagos, he found a spell to contact the Crawling Man. Assuming this to be a demon, he strode to a suitably wooded portion of his estate to perform the summoning. The Crawling Man turned out to be a figure of sticks and leaves that moved about in a disquieting quadrupedal fashion. In a flash of insight, Chasable saw that this being was far more than a demon, but was rather a god capable of taking a thousand forms. So he asked the being to make him physically immortal: impervious to all harm, including the effects of aging. The Crawling Man agreed; he would have need of Chasable in a future he considered imminent, but a mortal might not.

After many sinister exploits, in which Chasable shrugged off assassins’ bullets (pictured) and walked unharmed across the floor of the Mediterranean, the Crawling Man came to him and said it was time for him to enter a period of quiet repose. Though reluctant to withdraw from mortal affairs, Chasable could hardly refuse. The Crawling Man gave him time to sort his affairs. Wishing to retain access to his books when he returned from indefinite slumber, Chasable had a lead vault constructed and buried beneath his London manor. He made a similar underground chamber built for his physical form, which would fall into suspended animation at his Somerset estate.

That’s the past…

In 1936, extension of the London Underground’s Northern line leads workers straight to Chasable’s book vault. Perhaps fortunately, the diggers do not turn over the contents over to the British Library. Instead money changes hands and the books make their way to a specialist dealer for profitable disposal.

If you’re playing a Bookhounds of London game, that bookseller might be a PC.

Regardless of who starts to sell the books, the cantrip against book theft wakes Chasable ahead of schedule. He busts from his vault and resolves to take sorcerous vengeance on anyone interfering with his books. Then, assuming the Crawling Man takes a while to catch on, he reckons he might as well see what further mischief he might get up to in this new era…


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.

An Ashen Stars scenario hook

Interstellar commodities magnate Agnes Moro wakes up in an unfamiliar, disabled ship floating in space near the planet Bifrost. Its primary holo screen plays an audio-only recording on loop. The electronically distorted voice says:

“Search your recollections and you will find that you have none. We have confiscated your memories. Using a viroware treatment, we have suppressed the areas of your brain that allow you to access your episodic memory. Although you will remember basic facts about yourself, retaining language and background knowledge, including tasks you are trained for, until you comply with our demands you will be unable to look back on incidents of your life and bring them fully to life inside your head. You still know who you are, Agnes Moro, but we have kidnapped your capacity to feel who you are. Your childhood, your early wild years on Focus 6, your rise to power as a business titan: all of these will remain but shadows to you until you pay up. A data file located on the home screen of this ship’s navigational console contains instructions for the handover. For four bigcreds worth of powdered tantalum, we will give you the antidote allowing you to once more access your life’s store of anecdotes. This treatment is DNA-coded to our original brain-suppressing formulation. Without its coding, no lab will be able to synthesize a version that will work for you—not in time, that is. Because if you don’t meet our demands in the within 72 hours, the neurological changes become permanent, and no antidote can ever help you. You may hire a laser crew to effectuate the handover but be warned—if you try anything funny, you’ll never see your past again.”

Agnes hires the team to make the exchange. Just as her instructions say, she warns them to play it as the memory thieves demand, avoiding anything that would mess up the deal. But when she takes the antidote and the incidents of her life come flooding back to her, she transforms back into the real Agnes Moro. The implacable, vengeful Agnes Moro who would never take a violation like this in stride. Now she instructs the PCs find out who did this and deliver them to justice on Bifrost—the planet she owns.


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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