by Gareth Hanrahan[This is an extract from the introduction to the forthcoming installment of the Cthulhu Apocalypse series. Previous installments are The Dead White World, a set of three linked adventures, and The Apocalyse Machine, the rules engine for creating your own apocalypse.]
It is now the summer of 1939. The decision that the characters made in the alien city of Shk’hrnwr continues to haunt England. Horrors now stalk the empty and overgrown streets of the civilisation that once existed here. The passage of three long, strange years has transformed the world into an unrecognisable landscape of horrors. There are a few survivors, living in the ruins of the past, but under the unfathomable pressure of the Mythos, their humanity is slipping away, cracking and moulting in the process of becoming something new.
Three Years Gone…
What has happened to the player characters in the last three years? Presumably, they are all still alive (though if any of the players wish to retire their previous characters and create replacements, let them) and have found some place of refuge. This refuge must have
- A source of fresh water, untainted by the Flowers
- Easy access to scavenged canned food (or some other food source)
- A place to hide from the Creatures.
- Several other people beyond the player characters live there
- The existence of the refuge is a mystery – there is no clear reason why the Creatures rarely come here
- The refuge is a well-known landmark, perhaps a former police station, country house or hotel
Even if other people live at the refuge, the player characters are the leaders and defenders of the settlement.
The refuge should not be
Do not spend too much time detailing the refuge. It won’t last long (and let the players know that).
Alternatively, it is possible that there is no refuge. The characters might survive for years as scavengers and nomads, criss-crossing the wreck of England as they strive to avoid the ever-present Creatures.
It is worth reviewing The Decaying Earth section of The Apocalypse Machine for ideas on presenting the crumbling remains of human civilisation.
Ask the players what transpired in the last three years. Did they run from the rise of the Deep Ones at Blackpool and flee to higher ground in the Yorkshire Dales? Perhaps they wandered in terror until they found a miraculous place of safety, or were scattered and travelled separately until they met up again recently.
Optionally, allow the players to each spend up to three points from Investigative Abilities of their choice, representing their characters’ activities and efforts during these three years. Benefits for spending these points are noted below. If a skill is not listed, then we couldn’t think of a suitable benefit – maybe you or your players can, though!
Skills marked with a * give one Affliction point if a character invests time in them, if you are using the Affliction rules from The Apocalypse Machine.
Anthropology: You’ve studied how human society has changed under the pressure of the Mythos, and heard rumours about other settlements and sanctuaries across England. A 1-point spend lets the character find out about the ‘safe zone’ in Brighton; a 2-point spend picks up rumours about a secret military project preparing to fight back against the Creatures. A 3-point spend gets the characters a rumour about another settlement of your choice.
Agriculture: You were able to grow food even under these harsh conditions. For each point spent, one character may permanently increase his Health by 1.
Archaeology: You put your expertise in excavating ancient civilisations to work in recovering the remains of your own. For each point spent, the character gains a temporary 2-point pool of Scavenging.
Architecture: You have learned to find hiding places and safe areas in the ruins where the Creatures rarely go. For each point spent, you may nominate a safe place in an urban area where you can rest and recuperate.
Art: You’ve channelled your horrific experiences into your art. You may increase your maximum Sanity by 1 for each point of Art spent. However, anyone who looks at your art must make a Sanity test at a Difficulty of 2+the number of points of Art spent.
Assess Honesty: If you were part of a refuge, you were responsible for vetting newcomers. For each point spent, you may describe a suitably reliable and stalwart member of your refuge.
Astronomy*: You’ve watched the stars twist and change as the years passed by. For each point spent, the character gains a temporary 1-point pool of Cthulhu Mythos.
Biology*: You’ve studied the Creatures, and know more than most about how they kill – and how to kill them! For each point spent, you gain a +2 bonus to any one General Ability roll to avoid danger or inflict damage. For example, you could invoke your Biology studies when making a Sense Trouble roll that involves the Flowers, or say that you know where to shoot a Deep One with Shooting. This bonus applies only once, but if you’ve got multiple bonuses, you can stack them or split them between rolls.
Botany: You’ve made a study of the Flowers. This works just like Biology, above, but only applies to the Flowers. The bonus per point spent is increased to +3.
Bureaucracy: You’ve collated records and made notes about places where you are likely to find supplies, such as old military bases, canning factories, warehouses and the like. For each point spent, the character gains a temporary 2-point pool of Scavenging.
Craft: You spent your time fortifying your Refuge. For each point invested, you may describe an improvement to the Refuge’s defences or amenities.
Cryptography*: You managed to salvage a working radio, and spent many sleepless nights listening to the strange squeal of radio messages passing through the ether. With a 1-point spend, the character hears horrible messages of the destruction of Helsinki, when a ‘great eye opened and the city burned’. A 2-point spend lets the character detect and decode the ramblings of a madman in a lighthouse off the coast of Wales, whose fevered transmissions speak of mysterious black ships, possibly some sort of refugee transport, travelling west. A 3-point spend means the character catches the tail end of a transmission from HMS Hood, a British warship that was in Portsmouth when the apocalypse struck. Apparently, the ship survived and is communication with someone called Cavendish. The radio transmission confirms that some cargo from the ship was successfully delivered to this Cavendish.
Cthulhu Mythos*: You suffer from blackouts and strange nightmares. Sometimes, you’ve woken up in strange places outside the Refuge with no memory of how you got there. Alien words rise unbidden to your lips on certain nights. There is no immediate benefit to this spend, but a kind and benevolent Keeper may decide that your somnolent wanderings brought you some secret advantage. Maybe you found something while sleepwalking, or dreamed something that may benefit you greatly.
Forensics*: You spent several years studying the victims of the Creatures, and now know a great deal about the curious natures of their deaths. For each point spent, the character gains a 3-point pool in First Aid that can be applied only to injuries caused by the Creatures.
Geology: You surveyed the land around your Refuge, and identified useful geographical features. A 1-point spend allows the character to describe a cave nearby to hide in; a 2-point spend discovers an underground spring uninfected by the Flowers; a 3-point spend lets the character find signs of a vast sigil drawn across the whole country in the folds of hills and valleys. This troubling revelation is worth a 3-point Sanity test.
History: You have invested time and energy in preserving the culture and learning of a rapidly vanishing age. For each point invested, you may gain 1 point of Sanity. You also gain the Pillar of Sanity “Preservation of Learning”.
Leadership: You became the leader of your little band of survivors. For each point of Leadership invested, you allow another character to invest an extra point in downtime activities.
Locksmith: You fortified the Refuge. For every point spent, you can describe an improvement made to the Refuge’s security.
Navigation: You mapped the region around your Refuge. For each point invested, you gain a temporary pool of 2 points in Stealth when moving around the immediate area.
Oral History: You’ve picked up various useful rumours. A 1-point spend lets the character find out about the ‘safe zone’ in Brighton; a 2-point spend picks up rumours about a secret military project preparing to fight back against the Creatures. A 3-point spend gets the characters a rumour about another settlement of your choice.
Outdoorsman*: You’ve learned how to survive in this strange new world. For each point invested, you may increase your Stealth, Preparedness or Fleeing rating by 1.
Pharmacy: You’ve stockpiled medical supplies and other useful drugs by ransacking pharmacies. For each point invested, you gain a 2-point pool that can be applied to Preparedness, First Aid or Scavenging rolls related to drugs.
Photography*: You spent months photographing and documenting the movements of the Creatures. You now have a library of ghastly photographs depicting their weird behaviour. For each point of Photography spent, you gain a 1-point pool that can be substituted for any Cthulhu Mythos, Medicine, Forensics or Intuition spend.
Physics*: You have studied how the fundamental laws of physics have changed since the Apocalypse. A 1-point spend has no benefit. A 2-point spend increases your Cthulhu Mythos score by 1. A 3-point spend lets the investigator formulate a new theory of physics that may be of interest to certain parties in the second scenario…
Strategy: You plotted escape routes and lines of defence around the refuge. For each point spend, you may describe one such preparation you made in anticipation of the day when the refuge was no longer safe.
Theology: Since the world ended, you have devoted yourself to eschatological studies, in a vain attempt to justify this horror to yourself. You may either gain 1 point of Sanity for every point invested, as well as the Pillar of Sanity ‘Faith in God’, or deliberately crumble one of your Pillars of Sanity (to protect you from the psychological damage of having it smashed).
Sources of Stability, Pillars of Sanity & Drives
Optionally, player characters who lost Sources of Stability in the Apocalypse may choose to switch to new, living Sources in the form of other survivors. Two sample Sources are described below. Any such non-player character Sources of Stability should not be on a par with investigators – they may be able to survive in this strange new world, but they cannot find clues or take an active part in these scenarios.
Similarly, player characters may choose to replace lost or meaningless Pillars of Sanity with new ones more suited to the post-Apocalyptic environment. For example, a character whose Pillar was “England Prevails” might change it to “England Can Be Reclaimed”; one who formerly valued God might lose her faith and become focussed on her own personal survival.
Finally, Drives that no longer fit a character can be exchanged for something else. See The Apocalypse Machine for post-Apocalyptic Drives.