The Chaosium Digest

The Chaosium Digest supports the role-playing games produced by Chaosium Inc. and all content is fan submitted. Begun in 1994 by Shannon Appelcline who passed it to myself in 2000 and previously distributed via email, this is the newest incarnation of the Chaosium Digest. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chaosium Digest Classics: Halloween 1923

by Geoff, Susan, Alex & Isaac
Originally appearing in Chaosium Digest v28.11, October 18, 1999

One of the investigators receives the following invitation a week or two before Halloween.

You are cordially invited to experience the wonders of Professor Lee DeForest's incredible Audion and the unveiling of his newest invention PhonoFilm. The theme of this year's Halloween Ball is the Ancient Pharaohs of Egypt, our guest of honor will be the famed Egyptologist Howard Carter. Dr Carter is just back from the sands of mysterious Egypt where he, along with the Earl of Carnarvon discovered the remains of Tutankhamen, greatest pharaoh ever to reign in the land of Cleopatra.

October 31st 1923.
Festivities begin at 8:00 PhonoFilm at Midnight! 1
302 149th Street.

RSVP with number attending.

Have each investigator decide what they will wear to the party. Many costumes will not allow them to tote weapons along. Guns are of course discouraged among high society gatherings.

Professor Lee DeForest is an inventor with a knack for coming up with great ideas, starting a business around them and then having that business fail. He is now trying to raise money to build a company around this newest invention, which makes talking movies possible. This time around he's brought in the aid of a promoter, Harold McIntyre, to help him raise the money. McIntyre is an extraordinarily outgoing fellow who insists that everyone call him "Mac". Anyone who has or may know someone with money has been invited, including the investigators. Although, they had only the smallest of commitments from Howard Carter to be at the party Mac thought it would be a fantastic idea to tag along on Carter's fame to raise attendance.

The main goal of the party is to raise money. DeForest (dressed as Anubis) talks up his invention and all the interest he's gotten from Hollywood, but never raises the topic of money. Mac (dressed as the Sphinx) pumps anyone and everyone for money. No amount is too small. He constantly refers to DeForest as "The Father of Radio" and talks about the opportunity for getting in on the ground floor. He is the consummate salesman and flatters constantly. He plays on people's vanities promising acting opportunities to some or the chance to own a piece of Hollywood to others.

Carter may or may not show up. If you prefer, replace any references to Carter with Dr. David Pierce a colleague of Carter's, who was hoping to see the more famous archaeologist here tonight. Pierce was one of the lucky ones who was able to go inside Tutankhamen's tomb after it was opened. If Carter does show up (dressed in full archaeologist gear), admirers almost always surround him. At some point he (or Pierce) will have a coughing fit and later one of the investigators or someone else that was near Carter at the time will start to develop a cough. This is nothing but a red herring, but feel free to hint at the Curse of the Mummy.

Professor DeForest mentions at some point when talking with the group that the "screening" will take place in the room behind the black curtains. Of course, he says, they must promise not to go poking about in there until Midnight.

The investigators get a chance for action when at about 10:30 anyone who makes a Spot Hidden notices a figure wrapped up like a mummy (one of eight mummies at the party) slip behind the black curtain. If they take no action a smashing sound comes from the room as an enraged John Detweiller smashes the PhonoFilm projector to pieces. Prompt action will get them there in time to stop him. Lethal force should be discouraged and will result in the investigators being jailed for murder. Detweiller was a partner in one of De Forest's earlier ventures and lost everything he had. After he's smashed the machine he won't put up much of a fight, but will scream and swear at De Forest until dragged out by force. If asked DeForest will say that the man is insane and stole from DeForest when they were partners.

If the PhonoFilm projector is smashed DeForest brings out an earlier prototype which while cruder in design, functions identically to the other. When midnight comes everyone is ushered into a large sitting room with a white sheet hanging on one wall. The PhonoFilm runs for about four minutes. Starting with a barber-shop quartet singing on stage at Coney Island and ending with various shots of the rides at the amusement park.People on rides scream as they whirl and tumble about. The whole thing is amazing up until now there have been only silent pictures. However, the sensitive investigators alsofind the film somewhat curiously disturbing. There are moments when the screams seem horrible, not the delighted screams of thrill seekers, but the damned and terrifying screams of insanity. Carter (or Pierce) turns ashen after watching for a short time and runs from the room with the film still going.

If an investigator follows, they find the badly shaken Carter out on the front steps smoking a cigarette. Carter seems to have heard something that no one else did. If asked to describe it he says it sounded like the dead screaming for revenge. He remains agitated and intent on leaving and welcomes any offer for a ride home.

Does the PhonoFilm pick up sounds that normally go unheard? Is Carter (Pierce) under the Curse of the Mummy or is he just exhausted from his travels? Perhaps the investigators befriend Carter (Pierce) and he later asks them to accompany him on a dig in South America or Egypt. The truth is left up to the Keeper to decide, depending upon the tone you wish to set for your campaign.

By the way any money invested in The De Forest Phonofilm Corporation is lost when it folds in 1925.

(Note: DeForest and Carter were actual people and although such a party never took place, if you're willing to be within a couple months of reality, it could have)

- Picture of DeForest at
- Various DeForest bios at

Monday, October 29, 2007

Chaosium Digest Classics: Cat's Eyes - A follow up to Cat's Cradle

By Andy Clements
Originally appearing in Chaosium Digest v28.10 on October 3, 1999

The home city of the investigators is being plagued by more bizarre and grisly deaths, similar to those occurring during Cat's Cradle. People are being found as mere piles of skeletons, the bones picked clean of all flesh with scratches on the bones. The strangest part is that evidence from witnesses suggest the 'murders' occurred within a time period of about ten minutes - surely not long enough for a serial killer to strip away the flesh and make his/her escape? This should be enough to draw most Investigators into the adventure, but it should be especially the case for any who played in Cat's Cradle.

Keeper Information:
These latest acts against humans are not the work of vengeful cats, as in Cat's Cradle. In this case, a priestess of Bast is sending the Holy Children (slightly more vicious and larger versions of modern cats) to kill people who have wronged her. There are three victims before the events come to the attention of the Investigators. The first is the ex-husband of thePriestess (unaware of her secret vocation) who divorced her after an affair with a co-worker. The second is the lawyer who helped the ex-husband gain custody of their children. The third was the co-worker. However, this will not be the last of the murders. The Priestess is slightly unhinged at losing everything that life had to offer, and is more than a little vindictive. Which is why she isnow picking more random victims.

1) Mortuary reports: These will reveal little information, other than the suggestion that the victims were eaten alive by fairly small, maybe cat or dog sized, animals.
2) Personal effects of victims: These will also reveal very little, except who had the *motive*. The lawyer's writings will not reveal much - he did not bother to look into the Priestess's feelings. However, the diary will show that the ex-husband got custody of the kids. The mistress's diary will show that she thought the Priestess was jealous and vindictive - which she feels is justified, but still scares her. The ex-husband's diary will suggest he left her because he never knew what she was doing, and that she held people in contempt.
3) Occult writings: Investigators will more than likely run across nothing but the same works that appeared in Cat's Cradle, which suggest that cats are sent to punish those who are cruel to Bast's children.
4) Mythos writings: Investigators who know where to look will find a Mythos book entitled The Book Of The Cats (imaginative I know). This book grants +3% to Cthulhu Mythos, but most importantly, tells of a prophecy, where the cats shall rise in times to come, to eat man, and to rule over the survivors. (It wouldn't be Cthulhu without an apocalyptic prophecy).

What Can The Investigators do?
The only way to deal with the priestess is to kill her, although an especially good group of investigators may have the skill to talk sense into her. This, however, would have to be a remarkable feat of role-playing.

The Priestess:
I suggest that Keepers give statistics to the Priestess as suits their own campaign. However, she should not be given an excessive level of spells: A spell to summon Bast, as well as one to send the Holy Children against people should be entirely sufficient. In campaigns where Investigators are gun happy, equip the Priestess with a shot-gun.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chaosium Digest Classics: Cat's Cradle

by Andy Clements
Originally appearing in Chaosium Digest v28.08, August 15, 1999

Over-view: This adventure is not so much concerned with the mythos as it is with a fringe element of Cthulhu, Bast (although strictly speaking she does not appear in this adventure [not to the investigator anyway]). It may be helpful to read 'The Cats of Ulthar' short story (by Lovecraft, for those who don't know) in order to understand the tone of this adventure...

Anyway, the adventure takes place at a cat boarding home (located in or near the investigators home town/city), where a series of bizarre and grisly murders are puzzling the police. This adventure is set modern day but can be adapted to other eras with a bit of effort.

What the Investigators can be told before the adventure: The cat's home (feel free to select a name for this location which demonstrates the human ability to find a silly pun for any business proposition) has been the site of three grisly murders, where the victim in each case has been a worker found with all the flesh stripped from his bones. The workers have been identified by their dental records. The police are confused... Evidence suggests that the flesh (which has never been found) was stripped from the bodies while they were still alive, and yet took only ten minutes at most in each case (due to window of opportunity of other people passing through etc.).

What is going on: The cat's home unscrupulously hires people who can't find work anywhere else (immigrants are a favorite), and pays them incredibly low wages. The cats are not well treated, partly due to conditions at the cat home (prospective clients are only shown a nice area, where they believe their cat will be looked after in a luxurious manner...), and partly due to low standards and poor training. As a result, the cats have been getting annoyed, to say the least (especially when several of their number became afflicted with malnutrition), which has come to the attention of Bast. She has granted the cats the power to escape from their cages on full moons and to subsequently feast upon one victim on that night. So far, only minor employees have been attacked while the manager, who most deserves this punishment, has been left unmolested since he works from an office elsewhere in cat home, not in the cage area.

Looking for Evidence: Here are some summaries of what players may be able to find - feel free to add to or edit the information given here depending on how hard you want your players to work to get to the truth.

* Autopsy results: characters in the police force, or forensic scientists may be able to find records of the autopsy results. These suggest that the bones recovered have many small scratch marks upon them. A comment is added (in writing) by the police officer in charge of the investigation that no animals were loose in the area. The players will probably need to do some espionage and sneaking around, as this document will quickly be recovered by Delta Green and placed in classified section.

* Interviews with workers at the cat home: These should reveal the lack of skill and experience among the workers at the cat home, but is unlikely to reveal anything else, other than that most are scared and would quit if they could find work anywhere else. Some extreme cases may beg the players to offer them manual work (e.g., mowing the lawn).

* Interview with the manager: He will claim that he follows high standards at the cat home, and if the players manage to see the location of the cat cages, he will try to bribe them to keep quiet about what they've seen (this is how he prevented the police from calling in the authorities in respect to animals). He will be willing to pay up to $500. However, the players may need to make ethical checks if they accept.

* Research in an occult library (probably a firm favorite for experienced players): Will turn up very little, unless a player is clever enough to search for references to cat deities, in which case a reference to Bast will be found, as well as modern claims by authors that Bast sometimes punishes those who mistreat cats. Make sure the players are aware that these latter claims are in the league of people who claim that Elvis has been abducted by aliens...

What can the characters do?: The only way to prevent the deaths (as they'll never be able to convince the police of the truth) is to somehow bring the manager to justice. If the players are moral, this will involve trying to find non-corrupt police officers and showing them the state of the cat home. If the players cannot do this, they might want to contact the cat owners when they return from holiday, who will either sue the manager (thus ending the business), or take the law into their own hands (some owners have been known to kill for their pets...). However, it is more poetic if the players work out from the dates of the deaths that this occurs only on full moons, and then trick the manager into being a victim of the cats, which will finally end the killings.

The method of ending the suffering of the cats is not particularly important, so long as it occurs. If the players fail to solve this mystery, the following murders will cost them 1d4 sanity per case, until about the 4th, when they will gradually become callous to the murders. Of course, the continued suffering of the cats may eventually bring them to the home of the Investigators... If the players do succeed, Bast *may* be grateful enough to reward them with a SMALL gift. Remember that Bast is more likely to send the players pet cats to care for, than a spell which causes wide spread death... at most the spell might offer some protection to the owner from mundane (or possibly mythos) threats.

Hints to the Keeper: The horror in this adventure mostly occurs off stage. If you want to bring the horror to the investigators, casually comment on the increasing numbers of alley cats in their neighborhood, and the way they always stop to watch the players. When they go to the cage area, comment on how the cats make a tremendous amount of sound before they go through the door to the cage room, but become completely silent when they enter the room. Little things designed to make the players scared to death of cats...

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chaosium Digest Classics: Ethical Dilemas in Call of Cthulhu

byMichael Schwartz
Originally appearing in Chaosium Digest v28.07 on Sunday, August 1, 1999

A thread on the DELTA GREEN mailing list concerned the resolution of ethical dilemmas and matters of conscience in CALL OF CTHULHU campaigns. Without delving too deep into the so-called "angsty" White Wolf style of play which many DGML subscribers seem to abhor, I would like to offer this quick-and-easy mechanic, based around pre-existing CALL OF CTHULHU rules, with which gamemasters may adjudicate the psychological consequences of characters' actions.

CALL OF CTHULHU uses Sanity as a gauge of the character's absolute psychological health. As part of the mechanic, a character who loses sufficient Sanity to warrant Temporary Insanity must then make an Idea Roll to determine if he or she, in fact, is aware of the implications of whatever events caused the Sanity loss. A successful roll reflects the character's sudden recognition of the inherent"wrongness" in that which occurred, with a corresponding retreat into blissful insanity. A failed Idea Roll reflects the character's incomprehension of that wrongness, although Sanity still decreases. The character does not lose control of his or her faculties, even though he or she is rather unsettled by the situation.

The mechanics for resolving ethical dilemmas and matters of conscience are more-or-less the reverse of the Sanity mechanics. The character first must make an Idea Roll. Failure implies that the character is unable to separate right from wrong *for the moment*, and can proceed as he or she chooses. The truly fiendish gamemaster will bring the matter up again, once the character has opportunity to reflect on his or her actions. Success means that the character recognizes the morally dubious nature of his or her behavior, either intended or acted-upon.

If the Idea Roll succeeded, a Sanity Roll becomes required. Success on this roll indicates that the character experiences a crisis of conscience and is wracked with guilt. The rules effect of this anguish is a variable loss of Sanity, the amount lost being dependent on the severity of the moral lapse. Failure indicates that the character feels little or no remorse for his or her actions, representing a sort of "depraved indifference" toward morality like that displayed by psychopathic or sociopathic individuals. Only the minimum Sanity is lost.

Witnessing a friend or relative's violent death costs 0/1d6Sanity, but inflicting a friend or relative's violent death personally might cost 1/1d8 or 1/1d6+2 depending on how close a tie the character felt toward the victim. A sense of proportion is vital, as penalizing the character too much or too little will ultimately undermine the delicate balance of fairness vs. responsibility which these rules require.

I recommend using the "Sanity Loss Guide" from page 78 of CALL OF CTHULHU 5th Edition for inspiration, but be prepared to fudge when necessary. These guidelines comment that "few experiences other than Resurrection should so mangle the Sanity of any investigator" as to inflict a 1d20, 2d10 or 3d6 Sanity loss, while "single-handedly and willingly causing the destruction of the entire human race" *might* qualify for a Sanity loss of 3d10.

I found the Madness rules from John Tynes' and Greg Stolze's splendid game, UNKNOWN ARMIES, to be very inspirational in the writing of this piece, and would recommend it to those who may be interested in an alternative mechanism for Sanity. The rules presented therein could be fairly easily adapted for use with CALL OF CTHULHU.

Thoughts? Opinions?
Michael Schwartz

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