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!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chaosium Digest Classics: Cat Song

by Andy Clements
Originally presented in Chaosium Digest v29.06 on Wednesday, December 15, 1999.

Introduction: The police department of the town in which the PCs live has once more been puzzled by odd murders. Again, the trade-mark sign of bones found seemingly having had the meat gnawed from them by small animals. This time, two bodies have been found in the woods near the house of an old widow, in a similar state of fleshlessness. Weirder still, the nights have been filled with an eerie song,which though beautiful to hear, is also strangely unsettling.

Keeper Information: The old widow is not a sinister agent of the Mythos, nor a priestess of Bast. She is completely innocent of the deaths. However, she does own an inordinate number of cats, about twenty, give or take a few. The two bodies belong to a couple of vagrants who decided to burgle the old lady, having noticed she lives an easy ten minutes outside town and therefore is more isolated than most.

Bast,in the true Christmas spirit [Go with me on this one. It is a seasonal adventure after all...] sent her children after the vagrants who had broken in. The old lady didn't even know she'd been burgled until the police came to ask her about the bodies near her home, which had been found with a few of her belongings. The eerie song in the night is the collective sound of the town's cats all meowing in time, preparing for the coming of Bast. Everytime the players go to sleep, describe the eerieness of the song. If anyone in the group owns a cat, it will join in the song, which will require of its owner a SAN check, for 0/1 SAN loss.

By the way, not all the adventure info is in this section... I've left a little twist at the end, which I'll explain then... Keepers should get the joy of some surprise, just like the players...

The Adventure: If the players are quick, they might arrive at the old lady's house while the police are still there, on a final sweep to see if any other clues can be found. This is more a forlorn hope of the police than anything else, since (especially if this is Arkham) they are used to weird unexplainable stuff happening. If any of the players turn up and introduces themselves as a professor 'interested in this sort of thing', the police will sigh in relief and turn over any useful facts they can think of. Professors who solve weird crimes are also a matter of deja vu for them.

The bodies will already have been taken away, but some good role-playing, plus a few fast talk/ persuade rolls should let the characters see some autopsy results. If any of the characters have taken part in previous adventures involving cats such as Cat's Cradle, or Cats Eyes, then they will experience a horrible sense of familiarity. This will require a Sanity Check for a loss of 0/1. (It's more a vague dread than anything else). However, this will probably tell them what they should be looking out for.

If the players have not taken part in the other Cat adventures, they may well find it useful to examine occult books down at the library, especially Egyptian ones (where Bast had the greatest hold...). The books may add up to 3% to the character's Occult ratings, if they take a few hours to study them thoroughly. They will also learn that Bast was rumored to send her children to kill those who mistreated cats. They may also find that some people may also send these cats for their own purposes. This will probably mislead the players somewhat...

If the players manage to persuade the police-woman leading the investigation (a Semitic woman named Ashari Elisha - her grandparents emigrated to the USA from Egypt) to show them the items found on the bodies, (This would take a *lot* of role-playing. Ashari is not at all comfortable about letting civilians run around police investigations, despite what her colleagues advise.) they will be shown the rags that were once clothes, and some golden jewelry which the widow had been given by her husband when he came back from Egypt. He was posted there in the second world war. Unless one of the characters has a reason to be familiar with the culture of Egypt, they are unlikely to realize the origin of the jewelry.

If the players talk with the old widow, she will seem slightly senile, although a nice enough person. She has a tendency to call male characters Harry, and, if there are any females in the party, will probably randomly match up people and say "You'd make a nice couple." This is entirely for comic effect, if this would annoy your players, don't bother. Another comic device will be the twenty odd cats milling around. The widow will enlist a random party member to help her feed the cats, ask another to help with the kitty litter, etc. Players will have to clean cat fur off anything they want to sit on or examine, and at one point or another, a cat or two will recline upon the players. Players mistreating the cats will get no help from the widow, and will result in the entire party being asked to leave.

While the players are talking to the old lady, she will insist on making tea for the players, regardless of whether or not they want it. Biscuits will be offered slightly less forcefully. During this, a letter will pop through the letter slot. The old lady will ask one of the characters to get the letter for her, her legs are not what they were. As the old lady reads the letter, a look of absolute horror will cross her face. If the players ask what is wrong, the widow will show them a letter from the Town Council, saying that the police noticed that her house looked unsafe, and that they recommended that she move to an apartment in town while the council examines the house, to judge how safe it is.

The old lady hasn't left the house for years, not since her husband died, and is completely against the idea. At this stage of the adventure, the players can go two ways:

1) Persuade the lady to leave the house for her own good -it might be dangerous to stay.
2) Defend the widow's right to stay in her house, and investigate why on earth the council is so anxious to examine the house, when ordinarily they would put the widow on a five month waiting list.

Because this is Call of Cthulhu Cthulhu, naturally there is a sinister reason...

A bit more Keeper Information: Someone has read the police reports and noticed certain cat like designs in the jewelry, and decided to organize a search of the house, to see if anything else belonging to the worshippers of Bast resides in the house.

If the players decide to help the widow (which they should... try to appeal to their better nature), they might want to investigate the origin of the council letter. If they want to do this, they will need to organize several meetings with council members, most of whom know nothing about the letter. One of the members of the council is an Egyptian middle-aged woman, who refuses to speak to the PCs. If the players dig a bit more, i.e. break into the town hall at night and look through relevant records, they will find a letter signed by her, asking an unnamed member of the police force to request a safety inspection. The reasons are left very vague, players will have to fill this in using their imagination.

Other players who have relevant skills, may want to launch their own study of the safety of the house. ALternatively they could hire a construction worker to examine the structure. This will cost $300, and will take a week. The old lady can pay for about 200 of this. The worker will say the house looks safe, but he can't look at the cellar because there's a big padlock on a oak door. The widow will express puzzlement and after a few minutes thought, finally remembers that her husband had the key but she doesn't know where he kept it. A few good rolls on Spot Hidden, and four hours of searching, will finally find it taped to the back of an old oil painting.

At about this time, there will be a knocking on the door. Keepers should try to get characters to investigate the origins of the safety letter before they examine the safety of the house. It's the police, lead by Ashari. There are ten officers in total. They say that they are responding to an emergency call. Specifically, someone called 911 and said that the widow and anyone with her was in grave danger.

When the players open the door, gunshots will erupt from the woods, and two of the officers will be gunned down. The others will either take shelter behind bins outside (three of the survivors), the others (five of the survivors) will pile inside the house and slam the door shut as soon as they can. Gun shots will echo from outside, from both the police and the surprise attackers. The widow will panic for a few moments, and then go hunt for the shotgun in the cupboard. Outside there is a hideous screaming sound, coming from the police officers. If the players want to know what happened, they can look outside. If they do look, they will probably be shot, but not before they see the mangled remains of at least one officer, requiring a SAN check for a loss of 1/1d4.

The assailants outside will start trying to smash down the door, so now would be a good time to see what is down in that cellar. The old lady will have come back by now with a shotgun, but it'll be clear to anyone with a brain that the old woman is the last person who can be trusted with a gun.

Down in the cellar is a large and battered chest, covered in strange Hieroglyphics, which translate roughly to: 'Hail all, mother of [battered and scraped beyond recognition], Hail all Bast'
The padlock on it is severely rusted, and can be easily smashed off. Inside can be found a strange book, accompanied by a letter from the widow's husband. It will reveal that while in Egypt, he came across a dying priestess of Bast, who entrusted him with the book, for there were those who would use its knowledge to serve 'Nyarlathotep', for it teaches of strange gates which can reach into the past, when the stars were different. The letter further says that the priestess wished the book to be passed to her descendent one day, who would use the book to repel these servants. The book is written in Egyptian. Anyone with an ounce of intelligence will hand the book over to Ashari, the only Egyptian around. If the players are hesitant, now is a goodtime for the front door to be smashed down, accompanied by unholy howls of triumph [SAN check, 1/1d6].

When the book is passed to Ashari [If the players don't hand over the book, everyone will die], the cat song will become once more clear to the players. As Ashari opens the book, the mysterious assailants will start to smash down the heavy oak door. I do hope the players remembered to bolt it. Be sure that the players never see the assailants, otherwise part of the potential fear will be lost.

As the door is burst open, and *something* dark stands screaming in the doorway (fortunately the lights upstairs in the house have been smashed, or the electricity has failed), Ashari begins to chant loudly in Egyptian. The cat song now seems to echo out from the shadows of the cellar and a loud purring seems to reverberate from the room. At this point, gunshots flash from around the door, for the 'human' servitors of Nyarlathotep have arrived, seeking the book. The players have a few rounds of trying to provide cover for Ashari. Firing at the doorway should force the cultists to stay away, out of self-preservation. The thing, undaunted, will start to move down the steps, but it will content itself with killing a few policemen. Malevolent Keepers may force players to come up with a distraction to prevent the thing killing everyone. (I won't stat the creature, as I'm sure most Keepers will happily select their' preferred denizen of the cold universe). The old lady will try to do her bit with the shotgun, but she will generally miss (10% in shotgun), and will have to see a doctor for recoil-bruises. Also, she only has two rounds.

About three or four rounds of combat will allow Ashari to finish her spell. Hundreds and hundreds of cats will pour from the shadows, and run upthe stairs. Screams will come from the doorway, from all too human throats, accompanied by futile gun-shots. Ashari will then face the thing and in the darkness she will seem to grow taller. Anyone shining a torch on her will see a manifestation of Bast, and a spear will appear in her hand. Ashari will then run the creature through, followed by a blinding flash. Electricitywill be restored, allowing the players to take in the scene.

Ashari will be lying on the floor, in her natural form, a spear in her hand. On the end of this spear, is a blackened skeleton of something grotesquely evil (SAN check, 1/1d6), and there will be three more officers lying on the floor, either strangled by the thing, or shot by the cultists. (1/4 SAN loss). Anyone checking Ashari's pulse will see that she is still alive, although she has a hideous scar across her right cheek, in the shape of a paw.

The old widow will be looking for her glasses, which are lying smashed by the hideous creature. This would be a good time for a kindly player to usher her somewhere clean, tidy,and SANE.
Anyone going upstairs will see a huge pile of cats (all healthy and fine, thank you) perched on the cultists (about six of them), fighting for position, their heads bowed towards the bodies. As players walk past, a few will lift their heads to reveal red-stained muzzles. (SAN loss 1/1d6).
It will take any survivors a few days to heal in the hospital, and Ashari won't be up for a few weeks. Even then, she won't say much, except that her great-grandmother explained a lot of things to her. Players should draw their own conclusions. Ashari adds that she's taking a holiday to Egypt this year, to visit the house of some relatives, and that she's re-considering her career in the police.

The widow will suffer from amnesia, and not remember anything of the horrific night. She'll keep asking players and NPCs if she will be allowed to stay in her house, and will want reassurance from everyone present, including people she has never met before.

Note to Keepers: Despite this being Call of Cthulhu, you should try to make this hospital scene as happy (if in a melancholy way) as possible, with hope for the future.

Players going home will all find a small box wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper, depicting cats playing with balls of yarn amongst x-mas presents. The card on the box is marked 'from an old friend', and inside each box is a small gold figurine of a cat, with obsidian eyes. Apparently Bast has a sense of humor, because each has a small black sticker on the bottom saying "Made in Taiwan".

That night, the cat song sounds for the last time, but it sounds awfully like "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

Players who made it through to the end of the adventure recover 1d10 sanity, and get a fetching statue.

Those who decided to persuade the widow to move into an apartment won't lose all of the sanity that resulted from the general mayhem, but will deeply regret it when the cultists get their hands on the book in the cellar... Although to be honest, they won't regret it as much as everyone else within a three mile radius.

I hope you enjoy this adventure of semi-festive cheer.

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