After Action Report – Cthulhu: Now – Light of Darkness (Part 1)

The Virtual Geographic Society

This was a group of players who (with one exception) had never played Call of Cthulhu before and in fact had only started role-playing in the past few months (Pathfinder, which had been run by the one experienced player). They had played Arkham Horror and so had at least a grasp of the general concept but that was it. With the one exception I don’t think any of them had even read Lovecraft.

I had planned to run Crack’d and Crook’d Manse from Mansions of Madness but the group suddenly decided they wanted to run a modern-day campaign. Literally the only modern thing I had with me that the experienced player hadn’t played was a tournament scenario I had run a couple of years previously. I didn’t consider it to be a good introduction to the game but, despite being warned of that, they decided they wanted to go for it. And so, a playthru of…

Light of Darkness

A Scenario for Cthulhu: Now

Introduction:
It is late at night. A group of travellers are proceeding north on I-95 from Jacksonville to Savannah and passing through southern Georgia when they encounter a detour. Road construction. They need to detour along a back road for about 25 miles before it intersects the Interstate again.

They quickly leave the Interstate behind and find themselves driving through dark, empty countryside; alternating pine forests and stretches of swamp (the Okefenokee swamp occupies this part of Georgia) with an occasional abandoned and overgrown farmhouse. The sky is brilliantly clear but moonless so the darkness becomes a bit oppressive and several cars have bunched up together (as they are wont to do) as if to provide company and protection from the infinite skyey void overhead.

They have gone about a dozen miles and have not seen any sign of other people (except the few cars ahead of and behind them) since the gas station at the Interstate exit, so it is almost a relief when they crest a hill and see a light shining on a sign ahead. Distracted, almost none of them see the shooting star overhead.

Suddenly, the cars die. Lights, engine, sound, nav system, everything. Dead. The cars coasts to a stop beside the road and, as the player looks around, they notice that the other cars that were around them have coasted to a stop as well.

The Action:
There are several attempts to restart cars (which fail). Several players attempt to use cell phones but all of them are dead as well, as if their batteries are dead. They notice the phones are quite warm. At this point players start exiting their cars and talking to each other. The characters are:

David Hefford – Biologist
Hal Dawson – Police Detective
Jerome Neyland – Park Ranger
Montgomery Branford – Surgeon
Veronica Tyler – Author

At this point the players spent a bit of time shuffling around trying to figure out what to do.

[INDENT]((Keeper’s Note: As I said, they were relatively new to role-playing and completely new to Call of Cthulhu. Even the experienced player seemed inexplicably lost until I prompted them with “What would you do yourself if your car suddenly broke down in the middle of nowhere and your phone didn’t work. Look at your skills.”))[/INDENT]

The players started checking their cars and made their first skill checks!

Mechanical Repair: The batteries in the cars are completely drained.
Electrical Repair: The electrical systems in the cars are burned out. Same with the cell phones.
Navigation: They were about half-way along the detour. To get back to the Interstate is about a dozen miles in either direction or 5-6 miles cross-country through pine forest and swamp. In the dark.

One player asks if it could be an EMP. I answer yes. This led to a question asking if they saw a flash or anything. I asked for Spot Hidden and told anyone who made it about the shooting star.

Keeper’s Note: This conversation immediately ensued.

Experienced player: “Ah-ha! It’s a Colour!”
Keeper: “You think a Colour is the only thing that falls from the sky?”
Player: “What’s a Colour? Is that bad?”
Experienced player: “Yes. Very bad.”
Player: “Oh sh*t.”
Keeper: “You think a Colour is the worst thing that falls from the sky?”
Experienced player: Oh. Sh*t.”

A player asks about the lighted sign and are told that it is now dark. The players then check their vehicles for anything of use. Any batteries are drained and anything electrical is burned out and useless. Neyland has a rifle and Dawson and (inexplicably) Hefford have handguns. The others are unarmed but I allow Branford to have a medical bag containing scalpels that he can use as a small knife.

The players are still aimless and I call for a Listen. All who made it were told that they had been hearing the normal nighttime sounds; crickets, cicadas and the like. Suddenly, the sounds cut off. It is as if a wave of silence washes over them, originating from the northwest (the location of the sign). Everything is eerily quiet. All they hear is the trees waving in the wind.

A (prompted) Idea check tells them there is no wind. The trees are just waving.

Keeper’s Note:

Experienced player: “It is a Colour!”
Keeper: “No. It isn’t. Trust me.”
Experienced player: “Then what is it?”
Keeper: “I’m not going to tell you that!”
Experienced player: “I bet it’s a Colour.”
Keeper: “Sigh.”

The players (who have obviously never played Call of Cthulhu or seen a single horror movie in their lives) decide they are going to wait for another car to come by. A few game minutes pass and everyone hears a shotgun blast from the northwest. A few seconds later there is a second, then silence. Listen checks reveal nothing more.

After a bit of prompting the players decide to investigate.

Keeper’s Note: One player insists that it is stupid for them to do anything other than wait by the cars. In a sense he is probably right but not in keeping with the spirit of Call of Cthulhu. I explained that one concession you had to make playing CoC was that the characters had to have some sort of drive to make them want to investigate things that were probably best left alone (one of the things I like about Trail of Cthulhu is that Drives are built into the system even though much of it has never really grabbed me). I suggested he wait at the cars but eventually he went along because “that’s what everyone else wants to do”.

The players make their way up to the sign and find that it is for the “Perkeston Agricultural Experiment Station – A Part of the Georgia University System”. A gravel road leads through the trees and they cautiously follow it about a hundred yards at which point it opens out into a clearing. The following map is revealed.

The players mostly attempt to Sneak and start moving towards the first building. As they start to pass the cars I call for a Spot Hidden, revealing something between them.

They investigate and find a body of a young man sprawled on the ground. His skin is oddly loose and greyish and alternately pockmarked and lumpy. Sanity checks ensue.

The players search the body and find his name to be Parker Davidson, a student from Georgia Southern University. Neyland and Hefford examine the body (using Medicine and Biology) and find the body surprisingly hot. They determine that the reason for the odd state of the skin is that the proteins in the body had basically cooked themselves. The chemical energy normally stored in the body had released itself in a very short period of time.

Someone asked about Spontaneous Human Combustion. I told them that this could cause something like that but that the energy was apparently drained away somehow because it did not start a fire.

There was a double-barrelled shotgun beside the body, recently fired. Tyler took it for herself while the others were examining the body.

The players searched the other cars and found some camping gear (including a Coleman lantern) in the back of one. They then entered the building.

The first room is a reception area, with a couch, a couple of chairs around a table and a long desk with a chair behind it. There is a computer on the desk but there is no power. The room is otherwise empty. There is a closed door to the north and an open corridor behind the reception desk.

They decided to check the closed door first. It led to an office with a desk, files and shelves, but of more interest was another body lying on the floor in the same condition as the first. This one was a woman in the same condition as the man outside. A second round of Sanity checks ensue.

The woman was Catherine Fowler, another GSU student. She was still holding a revolver and investigation showed that all six rounds had been fired. The players checked the room and found six holes in the wall. They get creeped out a bit at the fact that she apparently missed all six shots in a 10 by 10 foot room and that whatever killed her either closed the door behind it… or didn’t use it.

At this point I called for Spot Hidden from everyone. Anyone who made it got the sense of “something” moving around outside. A quick check outside the window followed by several characters running outside revealed nothing.

The players searched the contents of the room but found nothing out of the ordinary. (There was a box of bullets for the revolver in the desk; they and the revolver were appropriated by Branford.) The players wasted some time trying to determine if anything sneaky was going on at the station. Hefford was able to determine that the facility was used for teaching agricultural science as well as doing some research on increasing crop yields in non-optimal conditions but that nothing underhanded or suspicious seemed to be going on.

The players then started down the corridor. The first pair of doors led to labs. Investigating both revealed nothing that would be unexpected. They did spend some time trying to figure out if they could make explosives out of the chemicals there and Tyler took several flasks of acid.

The players exited the second lab to find a ball of light floating in the corridor. When asked what color it was they were told “You don’t know. You’ve never seen or even imagined that color before.” Sanity checks. (And yes, Tyler’s player complained about having to make a Sanity check, claiming that a weird color wouldn’t bother anyone. Assume they complain for the rest of the scenario and that the rest of the players just ignored them.)

Everyone stands confused for a moment and Hefford steps forward and tries to talk to it. The ball of light extends “tendrils” of light towards him (and the others). A tendril touches him and (after a POW vs POW check) he takes damage, being told that he feels both extreme heat and intense cold at the same time. It is extremely painful. (1d6 damage)

The players open fire on the light with everything they have to no effect. (It’s a ball of light; everything just passes through it.) Hefford starts backing up down the corridor but fails another POW vs POW check and the tendril stretches but remains attached (another 1d6). A second tendril attempts to touch Branford but he makes his check.

When a second round of gunfire (and a thrown flask of acid) produces no effect the players turn and run out the front of the building. Hefford makes his third check and the tendril drops free. They run out to the parking lot and stop to see what will happen but the light doesn’t follow them.

Branford checks Hefford and finds that he has a large, greyish, pockmarked and lumpy scar. He performs First Aid. There is a long discussion as to if they should just run for it but they don’t know if the light can catch up to them or not. The eventual consensus is that they need to stay and see what they can find.

((To Be Continued…))

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