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, April 10, 2008

Chaosium Digest Classics: The Lighthouse

by Shane Jackson
originally presented in The Chaosium Digest v29.10 on Friday, December 31, 1999

It's my opinion that there is a shortage of Call of Cthulhu adventures designed to bring a new party together. At one point, rather than try to come up with some explanations for how everyone knew each other, I decided to run an adventure that would bring them together for the first time without any additional explanation being necessary. I also wanted to expose them to enough spookiness that they would have some motivation to stick together and continue as investigators after the adventure was over. I thought it would be fun to insert the players into some situations where they could make some choices that would later turn out to be bad choices.

This is the scenario I ran to attempt to accomplish those goals.

The scenario can be set at any time period, although I'm sure it's much more appropriate to the 1920's as the players will feel more isolated. It could be set anywhere there could be a lighthouse on an island, although I assumed a location in New England.

The PC's have received a letter from a friend with whom they have corresponded for years on varied topics:

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My dear friend,

Over the past few years of our correspondence we have discussed numerous aspects of our existence: philosophy, science, religion and medicine. We've covered the gamut of topics that have confounded man since the dawn of history.

I'm now ready to show you some of the fruits of my own personal labors. I'd like to invite you to come and visit me at the lighthouse so that I can show you my success in defeating the ultimate enemy of all mankind, Death.

I hope that statement startled and intrigued you. I've taken the liberty of inviting a few others that I correspond with and, hopefully, they will join us. The best time for you to visit would be next Tuesday, as that is the day that supplies are delivered to the lighthouse. If you could be down at the docks on that day at 6:00 p.m. sharp, the men who bring the supplies will be happy to ferry you across to the island. You're welcome to stay until the following Tuesday supply shipment, or you can make arrangements with them to be picked up at some other time.

I hope to see you soon.

Dr. Aaron Bradley

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If the players don't take the bait, then they really need to be playing another game. Things go just as the doctor said they would and the PC's meet each other for the first time down at the docks. They can take some time to introduce themselves. Perhaps the doctor would have mentioned a few of them by first names in some of his letters?

A few minutes before 6:00 P.M. a few men arrive by truck. They are Dale Stanton and Chris Parker. They take some supplies from the back of the truck and load them onto a boat that is just barely large enough to accommodate the party. If the party is exceptionally large, perhaps Chris can volunteer to stay behind if the PCs will promise to help unload the supplies at the island. If the PCs don't initiate a conversation, then the men will ask if they are the people Dr. Bradley invited. Once the PCs have announced that they are, everyone can get underway and head out to the lighthouse just visible on the horizon.

In the event that the PCs attempt to hire their own boat, anticipating some future desire to get off the island with some haste, try not to let them. It seems that most of the boats are out currently and there isn't much in the way of recreational boating done here. If the players are insistent, let them rent out a rowboat too small to accommodate the whole party and let them arrive at the island an hour after the rest of the party, dog tired and ready for bed (-10% to all actions). Anyone not taking the rowboat gets to the island in good time in the motorized supply boat.

Upon arriving at the island, the supplies are unloaded and the investigators are free to make their way to the lighthouse. It's still a few minutes stroll down a well-worn path as the island is rather large with the lighthouse on the seaward side. The supplies are dropped off at this end as this side is the only part of the island with a beach. The rest of the island slopes up to a cliff face overlooking the Atlantic. The supplies, which mainly consist of nonperishable foodstuffs, candles, kerosene and the like, are stored in an unlocked shed. There are no weapons of any kind present, although there are some picks and shovels. The men drop off supplies, get back in the boat and go, just as they always do. Hopefully, the players remember to remind them to pick them up sooner than next Tuesday's scheduled supply drop.

The island itself is rather peaceful looking. For the most part it is covered in grassy fields with a few small patches of trees. Making their way up to the lighthouse, the investigators pass a few dairy cows that roam around the island grazing. To anyone who would know allow an Idea roll: The cows don't appear to have been milked today.

The lighthouse structure itself is a simple tower containing a spiral staircase that stands about thirty feet from the house. It's getting dark now and some storm clouds can be seen rolling in over the horizon. The lighthouse beacon is unlit.

The front door is open. Investigators calling out to the doctor hear no reply.

Entering the darkened lighthouse, the investigators may notice (they can rustle up a candle if they have no light source with them) that the living room is a little messy with some books on the floor, opened haphazardly. There are books present on all of the various subjects that the doctor has corresponded with the PCs over the past few years. As could be expected, there are several books on anatomy and medicine. No Mythos books are present. There seems to be no pattern to the books that are on the floor. It appears that they may have been knocked off of a table. There are also folded up cots and sleeping bags here in anticipation of guests.

In the kitchen a chair has been knocked over, but nothing else is amiss. The doctor's bedroom is also untouched. The bed is made.

Of course it's in the basement that things get really interesting.

The basement is as large as the level above it, and the doctor lies face down at the foot of the stairs. The other half of him lies over by the door to a small storage room. Something has torn the doctor in half! Blood has been sprayed and spattered everywhere and there is an overpowering stench of death and chemicals. The blood has dried, and those with the appropriate knowledge, along with a successful roll, will estimate that whatever happened occurred sometime last night.

The room has all of the normal medical equipment that one would expect a doctor experimenting with life after death would have, with the exception of a Tesla coil. There are scalpels and bone saws and scary looking hypodermics strewn about. Lots of bottles of pills and powders and odd colored liquids have been smashed to the floor, creating all sorts of noxious combinations. A table with torn leather restraints sits in the middle of the room. Somewhere in the sopping mess of chemicals and blood on the floor is the doctor's journal.

DR. BRADLEY'S JOURNAL

The journal contains notes relating to Dr. Bradley's experiments with reanimation. He has been getting cadavers from a nearby university, under the table so to speak, for purposes of his experimentation. For some time, the doctor has been able to reanimate dead tissue, but until recently he was unable to recover any of the intelligence of the subject. He describes the results of the experiments as horrible, mindless things. Disturbingly, it seemed only of clinical concern to him that these things also appeared to be in great pain.

Recently, things seemed to have taken a turn for the better when the doctor managed to purchase a specimen from a Mr. Darke in Boston.

Using a serum (serum "B") derived from this purchase, he was finally able to preserve the intelligence of one of his subjects. It was his joy at this success that prompted him to invite his friends out to the lighthouse.

However, last night things took a turn for the worse and the subject began to devolve. The doctor speculates on problems with the formula and suggests possible changes to the next batch. The journal ends abruptly at this point.

THE STOREROOM

A door in the far wall of the basement leads to a small room that holds some additional supplies. Here the PCs can find extra vials of serum "A" and "B" as detailed in the journal and another marked "C". Also, in a cage on one of the shelves the PCs will find a creature. It appears to be a huge toad, about the size of a large rabbit. Gray, tentacular growths protrude from the back of the creature's head. Cthulhu Mythos (if anyone has it) may suggest that it resembles a Servitor of the Outer Gods, although it is small. It seems to be in a state of hibernation. This is the specimen purchased from Mr. Darke, and extracts from this creature were what made it possible to preserve the intelligence of the reanimated subject for as long as it was maintained.

The creature continues to sleep, oblivious to the PCs throughout the adventure. [It's worth noting that when I actually play-tested this adventure, one of the PCs wouldn't leave the frog-thing alone. He kept poking it and prodding it with sticks, trying to get it to wake up. I finally did let it wake up when the other PCs were out of earshot and had it tell him something that blasted his sanity and resulted in his being institutionalized. To this day the player still wants to know what the frog-thing told him, but, just as Lovecraft understood so well, nothing I can come with will be as horrible as what the player imagines it might be.]

THE DILEMMA

It's almost a certainty that there is something not very pleasant on the island with investigators and there should be much discussion about how to deal with the situation. Assuming the information in the journal is true, how exactly will they handle the thing on the island? How do you kill a man who is already dead? And if the doctor was mad and hasn't reanimated a dead man, who or what _did_ tear him in half? I think the skeptics in the group will have a hard time arguing their position.

At this point, it's up to the players to decide what they want to do. Here are some possible courses of action they might follow:

REANIMATE THE DOCTOR AND ASK HIM WHAT HAPPENED

The PCs should have some motivation to do this since only the doctor has any first-hand knowledge of what they are up against.

As the journal described, Dr. Bradley reanimated his latest experiment a few days ago. Dr. Bradley had kept the subject restrained for the past few days and had almost decided to call the experiment a complete success when the subject began to rapidly devolve last night (although the doctor has no way to be sure of how much time had passed). As the doctor monitored the rate of decay, the subject began thrashing and straining against the leather straps which held him to the table. Eventually he broke them and attacked the doctor. He doesn't remember anything else.

He can tell them that the subject is superhumanly strong and resistant to pain. He doesn't know of any way to kill the creature outright. He has always dismembered his subjects and cast their remains into a pit on the island.

Disturbingly, the doctor seems untroubled by his current state of dismemberment, instead finding the whole thing fascinating. I imagine some very creepy scenes could be played out by having a torn-apart, reanimated doctor carry on otherwise innocuous conversations with the PCs about their personal lives.

Additionally, one could have an interesting conversation with the doctor about the morality of his actions. He could argue the point that it is immoral for medicine to allow people to continue to die if it can be stopped, even if his test subjects have to suffer in the process.

GO OUT AND FACE THE THING ON THE ISLAND

If the players go out and face the thing, you could surround the lighthouse with some fog, or perhaps unleash that storm. Either way, you can give the party a few scares by having a cow run out of the darkness at them. They could also find a cow that has been brutally torn apart. That's when the thing that once was a man finds them . . .

WAIT FOR THE THING TO COME AND GET THEM

If the PCs try to board up the house and wait till daybreak, the monster gets to pick the most appropriate time to attack. The house's construction isn't that great, and a dead, groping hand punching through a wall is certainly possible. Try to separate the PCs and attack them one by one. Have the monster attack for a few rounds and then disappear again. That should make the PCs nervous.

If there is a storm outside, what do the PCs do when they hear the horn of a ship approaching the rocks with no light from the lighthouse?

THE REANIMATED

I prefer not to include stats in adventures, as I tend to change them to suit the situation. I would suggest that the Keeper imbue the creature with extraordinary strength and endurance. It also seems appropriate that impaling weapons would do minimum damage as the thing is already dead. The only way to deal with something like this would be to hack it into pieces, and wouldn't it be disturbing if those pieces never stopped moving?

FINAL NOTES

Some GMs may feel particularly sadistic and may have the creature kill several of the PCs, forcing the players to use the serum to bring each other back in turn. Of course, once the creature has been put down, the PCs will have to decide what to do with the reanimated PCs (and their half-doctor/mad-scientist friend). Perhaps batch "C" may actually work permanently. It might be interesting to have a dead guy travel on investigations with the party for a while. Of course, it might not be worth taking the chance that he will devolve as well . . .

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