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!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Chaosium Digest Classics: Woods Haven

by Ricardo J. Méndez Castro
Originally presented in Chaosium Digest v29.04, Wednesday, December 15, 1999

PROLOGUE

Daniel Matheson stumbled into a familiar clearing, the five-pronged rock sculpture stretching out of the ground like the hand of a buried-alive god.

"Oh Christ," he thought, "I have been wandering around in circles."

He took his compass out of a pocket, damning the moment he had made a wrong turn. Holding it carefully in his left hand, he used the fingerless glove in his right hand to wipe off the muck covering the glass. It was a little difficult, since he was also holding his flashlight in his armpit, but he managed. He stared at the compass for two seconds before his gaze wandered around the darkened woods for an aeon and he had to force himself to stare at the useless instrument again. He was sure that fifteen minutes ago it was indicating a different north.

That was impossible, of course. Even an inexperienced indoorsman such as he knew that. He must have just taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in the same place. Maybe when he thought he heard something behind him and stumbled when he looked back.

Surely it would be easier to judge the direction if his hands weren't shaking as much. The compass would be a far simpler instrument to manipulate if he could just keep his eyes on it instead of peering at the shadows for predators that didn't inhabit this area. And everything would be just a damned lot simpler if he hadn't taken the stupid assignment or had been wise enough to listen to the townsfolk and take the shots earlier.

But no, he wanted to have some interesting lighting: the sun setting behind the strange rock formation was sure to catch the eye of some major newspaper from out of town, and then he would be on his way! Up and away, on to bigger things than those which he could find in a small town newspaper in backward Arkham.

Dan muttered a curse and threw his compass into his backpack. If the damn gadget wasn't going to be useful it might as well stay out of the way. He gazed at the sky for a few minutes, trying to put his non-existent knowledge of astronomy to good use. If the moon was that high in the sky and those shadows over there on the horizon were the hills he had seen, then that little bright thing had to be the something-or-other that sailors used to guide themselves and south should be that way.

Absolutely. He didn't even know the name of the blasted stars, much less how he was going to guide himself by them.

Heaving a resigned sigh, Dan sat at the foot of the claw-like monolith and tried to think straight. His mind refused to just sit tight and kept running around in circles, smacking into walls every now and then. Nevermind you, Dan decided, I'm going to get out of here whether the forest wants it or not.

He took another long, hard look at the compass. Sure enough, the needle pointed towards him, past the monument and back into the hills. Just as it had when he had started out of here countless hours ago. Dan decided that he needed a plan. He gathered all his wandering thoughts for a conference. All but one, that is, one that just kept staring out the window and pointing at something nasty coming up the road that nobody else could see. Fair enough, he was allowed to be scared to be here.

After thinking for some time, Daniel picked up his backpack, faced straight south and went back into the woods, his splitting headache just a step or two behind him. He was using his machete to mark the trees he passed, a brilliant plan that he should have thought the first time around. Cruising along in a straight line, Dan chopped those branches that were closer to where he was going to pass. That way, if he for some reason turned and stumbled from his southbound vector, it would be easy to set the correct course again by just finding the original path. Yes indeed, this plan was surely going to work.

At least he thought that until his machete got stuck in a branch. Dan tried to wrestle it free, but the branch whipped out of reach and took his tool with it. Dan just stared at it while another two branches hurtled towards him, one grabbing him by the waist and the other one getting hold of an arm. His flashlight fell onto the ground, illuminating something like a goat's foot. However, what Dan really noticed was the scores of sharp, dirty teeth that were rushing to meet him. A moment before the thing's mouth egulfed him, Dan finally found the will to scream.

The scream didn't last long.

INTRODUCTION

This scenario was originally created to bring some new investigators into a running campaign of Walker in the Wastes. It deals with a Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath, an old Mi-Go mining area and experimental breeding ground, and a town that may just convince the investigators that they are all cultists.

While it is certainly short and rather straightforward, this scenario could prove to be deadly for your players, so exercise caution when deciding which items to include. It is also a scenario that I'm sure will work best with experienced players. Since the strange happenings in the forest near Woods Haven would be easier to investigate using the technology from the 1990s, it is suggested that this scenario be played only in the 1920s.

A word: I'm not aware if there are any areas like the one I've described near Boston. The only reason I set the adventure there was because my players were in the area and I needed a small scenario set there. In any case, it's generic enough that it can be moved to the wooded area of your choice.

BACKGROUND

That old mining town...

Indeed, the Mi-Go are here. They are looking for those strange minerals that they can't find anywhere else but on our planet, located in those strange dimensions that overlap with ours.
Three thousand years ago, give or take a year, a group of Mi-Go found a large amount of said minerals in the small woods near what would later become Woods Haven. Since proper exploitation of the area could take them years, the Mi-Go set into transforming the area into something a little more suitable to their purposes. Transportation was accomplished using their gate technology. The Mi-Go set up a gate squarely in the center of the mining area and a simple, by their standards, magnetic perimeter and there they operated for years.

Eventually the zone started drying down. The Fungi, however, had further plans for the area.

The experiment...

The Mi-Go can't normally reproduce on Earth, since Earth's gravity would crush the larvae. Fungi scientists decided to experiment with altering the gravitational field in a small area and a team-entity of five Fungi set to the task.

When they were finished, the scientists had set five magnetic pilons in a circle one kilometer in radius around the central area where the gate had stood. In the gate's place now was a concentrator which would amplify the energy from the other pilons and make it flow in a cycle.
The pilons had been created with special metals brought to this dimension, so that the energy they generated worked not only in our plane of existence but it also reached through the dimensions and altered the materials present there too. When activated, the area would become an environment much better for Mi-Go than the one they had setup for themselves on our moon.

In unison the Fungi scientists carved the last rune into the stone and the soldiers sacrificed the last worker whose life energy would serve to feed the stone batteries. A small, low hum perceptible only to the Mi-Go started coming from the rocks.

And then something went wrong. One of the counterparts for the extradimensional pilons exploded, its shockwave was felt in our plane. The energy balance around the pilons suddenly shifted and a great gravitational push crushed the unsuspecting Mi-Go at the site. At the same time, an energy wave flowed from the central hub towards the satellites, altering or killing any living thing in its path. And then it was quiet.

Fungi scientists who weren't at the site concluded later, through repeated simulations of the experiment, that something must have interfered with the flow of energy on one other dimension and unbalanced the hub, a problem that echoed in the pilons. With typical Mi-Go rationale they decided that the experiment could be affected by outside sources and was unpredictable by nature. Mi-Go don't like random, unpredictable results, and they decided to abandon the area for good, leaving behind the structure they had built.

For years the pilons were silent. But slowly the vegetation started growing again. First some specks of grass, then a few bushes, then trees started sprouting and their seeds spread. Their roots reached deep into the soil. Sooner or later they were bound to collide with the bases of what the Fungi had left. The malfunctioning Mi-Go apparatus started slowly to drain the life energy from the area and brought itself to life again.

The Ceremony...

Move forward a little over two thousand years. It's 1862. Sol Goodman, who has spent most of his 47 years of life looking into the occult, believes that he finally has something that will work. He found a scroll with a description of how to summon the Life-Giving Mother, whose milk shall make him immortal.

Any good occultist knows that a place of power greatly improves the chance of any given spell working, and Sol has got just the right place. He mounts his horse and rides north of Boston, towards the place that he found by accident so many years ago. He still shivers remembering the hideous shape of the trees, how the branches embraced each other and how vines ran from branch to branch, mixing the whole forest into one pulsing, twisted organism.

He slows his pace as he enters the normal area of the woods, that section where he can still he the sky. His horse feels something already and making it go forward is getting harder and harder. The bag he carries with him has started twitching again. Sol dismounts and ties his mount to a tree. He'll be back soon, a new, immortal man.

Carefully he walks forward. Careful of the treacherous roots and low branches, dragging his sack behind him. He knows that he is nearing the area where it begins. He can feel it in the back of his head, in the marrow of his bones.

Fearlessly he enters the place where the trees start twisting into unrecognizable shapes. Sure-footed, he strolls the distance towards the center of the cancer that has been deforming the woods. He knows that much now at least, the structure in the clearing has been causing the damage for God knows how long.

But that doesn't concern him as he enters the clearing, his twitching, shrieking package behind him. Sol doesn't pay attention to it as he carefully unfolds the parchment and starts reciting the words in Latin, half of which he doesn't understand. He puts aside the throbbing in his temples while he chants, and he manages to ignore the yelling until it's time to take his cargo out to continue with the ceremony.

Sol removes the newborn baby and, for lack of a better place, balances him on the five-pronged thing in the center. He recites the dedication facing his makeshift altar and digs his filthy nails into the child's neck, the soft flesh parting before him as easily as if he was using an obsidian knife. The little creature gurgles and kicks aimlessly as Sol lifts it above his head, letting the blood stream into his face. "Iä, Iä, Shub-Niggurath," he chants, "liberame de morte aeterna." A clamor of drums inside his head, he brings the little boy down before the life finishes flowing out of him and swiftly bites into the throat.

His knees fail him, the strength leaves his arm. The lifeless lump he was lifting falls soundlessly to the ground. Sol's head is spinning, his gaze unable to focus on just one thing. And then he sees the baby.

"Oh my God," he thinks, sobering up, "what in Hell have I done?" God doesn't answer. Sol covers his bloodied face in his hands and is about to start weeping when he feels the presence. He opens his eyes and sees the blasphemous thing in front of him, all drooling mouths and cloven hoofs and dripping udders.

She has come.

Sol throws himself forward, reaching towards one of the glistening teats. He will drink of her milk. He will live forever.

WOODS HAVEN

The Disappearance...

Woods Haven is a small farm town twenty miles north of Boston. Its population as of 1929 is 39 people and growing. The town is usually quite calm. People there mind their own business and don't meddle with anybody's affairs. And if people like to go into the woods, well, they warn them. If they don't listen then it's none of their business.

In January, 1928, a young photographer from Arkham named Daniel Matheson came to Woods Haven to look into a story about an old apparatus hidden in the woods. The local folks, who know that there is something wrong with that forest, tried to warn Daniel against going there. But he just wouldn't listen to them, too proud and cocky to pay attention to old fairy tales.

Daniel left his horse in the care of a farmer called Elijah Jackson, walked into the forest and was never seen again. The towns-folk, who have lived in awe of the forest all their lives, decided that nothing more could be gained by losing some policemen to the thing in the woods. When the police came asking about Daniel, they all told them that Daniel had come out of the forest, taken his horse and rode back to Boston.

The police didn't ask any more questions.

In April 1928 Robert Mathias inherited a small plot of land in Woods Haven from a relative. Old Elijah Jackson was chosen to let Mathias know about the thing in the woods, a thing that walks amidst the trees and howls in the wind. Mathias had spent some time living in Canada, and the stories they told him sounded to him a lot like the Wendigo myth. He wasn't a superstitious man, so he decided to spenda night in the woods to prove that it was just an old folk's tale. Luckily for him he found the southernmost Mi-Go pilon and the night caught him examining it. Thus he was near the edge of the creature's influence area when it came at him. Mathias ran screaming back to town and barely made it back alive.

The next day he went to the Boston Courier and told his story to a reporter names Harrison Ligotti. Mathias was sure that the thing that had chased him was the same thing that had killed Matheson and that the whole town was covering up the murder. The Boston Courier was having a slow week and Ligotti humored him by publishing a small note about the Wendigo myth and mentioning Matheson as thes ource.

And there the article lies waiting to be found by the investigators.

The Forest Today...

The forest north of Woods Haven covers an area of roughly twelve square miles. However, walking from the town about a mile into it the visitor will notice strange changes in the configuration of the trees. Everything starts twisting and decaying, as if it was just about to die. The branches mix above the trees in a way that makes judging where the sun is a tricky proposition, even for those with experience in guiding themselves in the outdoors, and the grass has a mush-like consitency like the area had just flooded.

The cause is the Mi-Go machinery, discarded by its creators ages ago but still active. Nearly five hundred years after being abandoned, the device started draining energy from the plant life around it. It turned itself back on after some years, but due to its malfunction it has been leaking its own energy into the forest for the past two thousand years. This unwanted energy has slowly poisoned the area around the pilons, twisting the forest into the shape that the locals fear so much.

The apparatus is made of five pilons placed in a star shape around a central hub. Each pilon is about 5-feet high and 2-feet in diameter. The central hub consists of a 5-foot base from which sprout five arms, each one pointing towards a pilon. Every piece of machinery is covered in Mi-Go runes.

This machine has also altered the state of the forest in away the Mi-Go didn't expect. When one of the pilons tore through the dimensions another plane crashed into ours. Now the properties of the whole area are in between those of our world and the ones of that unwanted plane. Its very nature doesn't allow photographic cameras to work and will make using Geiger counters and other such devices difficult, since particles can escape towards other planes as easily as they stay in ours.

The Magnetic Fields...

The machine has also had a side effect undesirable for humans. There are magnetic fields flowing between the pilons and the hub that are harmful to human life, and any human that spends too much time in them is bound to be affected. While in this area, humans feel a throbbing in their heads that intensifies by each hour they spend there. This has both a disorienting effect and lowers the mental capabilities of those affected.

These strong magnetic tides also affect any machinery that has iron in it, including watches and (most obviously) compasses. Within the contaminated area a compass will always point towards the nearest pilon, and when between pilons it will spin wildly.

For every hour a person spends in the area of effect of the magnetic fields, which is also the tainted section of the forest, they must make a check against their Power. If they fail, the apparatus will drain 1d4 magic points from them. People who reach 0 magic points will faint and be at the mercy of the inhabitant of the forest.

The Inhabitant...

One of the worst dangers waiting for unwary investigators is Sol Goodman, to whom the milk of Shub-Niggurath has indeed granted eternal life. Unfortunately for him it also turned him into a Dark Young who is now bound to the forest. The creature can't leave the area of influence of the Mi-Go machine, which bound him to the area while he was transforming. This and the dim recollection of his lost humanity enrages the Dark Young, who vents its anger on anyone who trespasses in its territory.

The Dark Young is active through both day and night. However, it is able to feel its prey much better after dark, when the sun's energy isn't interfering with the flow. During the day, a fumbled group Luck roll will make the investigators run into it. However, as soon as the night falls it will start feeling the magnetic tides for interruptions which it will investigate, and will track its prey through them like a shark tracks a moving victim.

Getting the Investigators Involved...

The most obvious way to get the investigators involved is through the article in the Boston Courier. Other possibilities include hiring them to look into Matheson's disappearance or writing an article about how a myth has traveled from Canada to the United States. I'll leave that to the imagination of the Keeper. If you're running Walker in the Wastes, however, the obvious link is the mention of the Wendigo. This should attract your investigators like moths to a flame.

If they contact Mr. Harrison Ligotti, he will certainly remember writing the article. He will insist, however, that the investigators don't pay it a lot of attention. It'sjust the sort of stuff that gets published when you have nothing else to run.

A trip to Woods Haven itself will prove fruitless unless they speak with Robert Mathias, since the rest of the town is hell-bent on keeping outsiders from knowing what's going on in the forest.
Mathias has been turning into a paranoid convinced that the whole town is against him for revealing their secret, and will talk with the investigators if they follow his paranoid talk about the Wendigo and the town that worships it. He is convinced of this and believes that the only reason why he is still alive is because his name got published in that newspaper article a year ago. In reality the rest of the town is as afraid of the creature as Mathias is, but he believes it so strongly that he may manage to convince the investigators.

Serious cross-examination of the townsfolk is bound to detect some inconsistencies in their stories of what happened with Daniel Matheson. This is certainly explainable as muddled memories but it should serve to unnerve the investigators.

Investigating the Magnetic Fields...

Once they have their first encounter with the magnetic fields, and if they don't encounter the prowling Dark Young, the investigators are likely to want to know why those magnetic fields are there.

They have two main options: they can look for a physics professor at the nearby MIT or they could take the drive towards the good old Miskatonic University. In both universities they will be met with disbelief and told that magnetic fields that large can't be stable. However, Lazlo Berenger at M.U. may prove of help.

If they insist on how a theoretic magnetic field created by such machinery would function, he will tell them that magnetic impulses between two magnets tend to flow as waves. Normally the energy would flow on a somewhat straight line from one pilon to another. However, assuming that energy flow from pilon 1 flows towards pilon 2, the central hub will likely attract it. If it is not absorbed by the hub and continues until it reaches pilon 2, it will create a curve. The same would be true about pilons 2-3, 3-4, 4-5,and 5-1. Berenger will then scribble on the back of a napkin a diagram to explain the way it would work. This will form a shape that is much like a hand-drawn Elder Sign.

The Symbol...

While this may not be the way it is really working, the purpose of the image is to give experienced investigators the idea that the magnetic field might be protecting something either from coming in or from going out.

If they don't know anything about the Mythos, anthropology personnel around Miskatonic Campus may tell them that the five-pointed star has traditionally been a symbol of warding and protection, usually carved on items to protect them from being stolen by demons. It was also drawn on the floor when summoning an extra-planar creature, who would then be bound by its limits until dismissed by the summoner.

Investigating the Woods...

If the investigators wish to dig into myths surrounding the woods north of Woods Haven, they may run into some asking around in Boston. While there isn't any written story over the Ligotti article, old men will remember stories told about one Sol Goodman who wasn't exactly well in the head. If convinced that the investigators really wish to hear the story and won't make fun of them, they'll tell them that Sol was a warlock who is suspected with having kidnapped the newborn Rogers's baby with some unholy purpose and fled. Some people went looking for him and finally found a lead from a farmer who had just established himself in what was to become Woods Haven. The posse went into the forest to get Sol back and hopefully rescue the child but they never came back.

Destroying the Dark Young...

There is more than one way to skin a cat, and such is the case with the Dark Young. The main options that the investigators are likely to explore is, of course, firepower. But there are subtler ways to accomplish the same goal.

While the investigators don't know that the creature is bound to the land and is one with the Mi-Go machine, a successful Idea roll may suggest that. Destroying the machine would make the forest slowly return to normal, slowly killing the Dark Young in the process.

This, however, must be done carefully. The hub must be dynamited first or destroying one of the pilons would upset the already delicate balance and cause a repetition of the original accident, which the investigators would be lucky if they survive.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

For more information on the Mi-Go, the only book I can think of right now is Pagan Publishing's Delta Green, Eyes Only Volume 1: Machinations of the Mi-Go. It's a 52-page booklet that deals with all you wanted to know about the Mi-Go but had your brain put into a metallic jar before asking. (Editor's note: The collected Delta Green, Eyes Only is now available from your favorite rpg vendor.)

The short Latin phrase I lifted from a text by Ricardo Christe, who in turn had taken it from Faurè's Requiem (I think).

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