by Robin D Laws
Flesh out these multi-tentacled story ideas into scenarios for Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, or the mythos RPG of your choice.
Only You Can Prevent Eldritch Fires
Era: 20s, 30s, modern
On May 19th, 1780, the sky over New England suddenly darkened, as if day had turned into night. Panicked residents thought it a manifestation of god’s wrath. Later scientists established its cause as smoke from a huge forest fire in what is now Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario. They were right…and not.
The Algonquin forest did burn that day, but not from natural causes. A troupe of sorcerers, cast out from various Algonquin and Ojibwa tribes, gathered together to rain vengeance down on a world that had scorned them. Burning the forest in an arcane pattern discovered on a hallucinatory sweat lodge vision quest, they sought to awaken the Father of Passageways, filling the sky with his flying companions.
They burned much of the forest that day, but thanks to a team of warriors gathered by the shaman of the nearby Nipissing community, they were slain before fully executing the pattern. A smoky image of Yog-Sothoth drifted down over the skies of Ontario and New England, but failed to coalesce.
Now, either a century and a half or two centuries later, rogue anthropologists expelled from the University of Toronto and Royal Ontario Museum aim to replicate the summoning, and get it right this time. They’ve found a petroglyph on which the original shamans traced the pattern in preparation for their burn, and deciphered its arcane meaning. Disguised as forestry workers performing a controlled burn to forestall an uncontrollable fire, they’ll repeat the summoning.
The PCs come into it when contacted by a practitioner of traditional Ojibwa religion. In his own sweat lodge ceremony, he sees a darkening threat, and a strange group of men and women he must gather to stop it. Unfortunately, that’s all he knows. Can the heroes uncover the secret of the Dark Day, before it happens again—for good?
Era: 20s, 30s, modern
A series of home invasions in rural Pennsylvania attracts the attention of investigators when several of the victims appear to have died by otherworldly means—specifically, by spontaneous combustion.
Canvassing the survivors, the group discovers that some of them were initially approached by a strange man with desiccated skin and a croaking voice. All of the houses he visited were owned by WWI veterans or their survivors/descendants. (In the 20s and 30s many of the veterans themselves will still be around. In the present, they’re deceased ancestors.) The strange man wanted to buy all of their war paraphernalia, but was, for various reasons, refused.
The group can also find families who went along with his offer, trading useless junk they didn’t want any more for antique gold coins.
The buyer is the wizard Heinrich Abendroth, now inhabiting his fourth possessed body since his original mortal birth in 1614. He’s looking specifically for texts Pennsylvanian soldiers may have brought back with them from WWI. Many from this rural area took copies of the mystical book The Long Lost Friend with them to the front, as good luck talismans during the war. Also known as The Pow-Wows, this book, itself a translation from a German original, contained various folk remedies, efficacious prayers, and other wards against evil, blending Christian mysticism with poorly understood native spirituality.
Abendroth knows that, when exposed to the psychic emanations of terrified men in the trenches, certain copies of the commonly available book changed. They became magical palimpsests, overwritten by passages of Unaussprechlichen Kulten. By assembling these copies, Abendroth hopes to cobble together the most faithful possible version of this rare, suppressed text. Already he’s learned to force ghouls to do his bidding, and will use them to harry the investigators as he races for the last copies of the book.
(Cthulhu alumni Dan Harms has edited a new version of Long Lost Friend. His mythos story featuring its author, Georg Hohman, will appear in Stone Skin Press’ upcoming Shotguns v. Cthulhu anthology, edited by yours truly.)
The estranged husband of journalist Danielle Ramirez contacts investigators, sure she has disappeared. Because he is separated from her, and she is known to go undercover in pursuit of a story, police have declined to look into the matter. But she and her ex were on the brink of a reconciliation, and she wouldn’t just cease communications like that. Ryan Ramirez found the contact information of one or more PCs among her notes for a story in progress, and wants to know why. (He broke into her apartment to get them, so can’t share this information with the police.)
After convincing him to let them handle the matter, the investigators can check into Danielle’s story. None of her past pieces so much as touches on the occult. Ramirez specializes in investigative journalism with a progressive, feminist slant. Nor do the rest of the notes for the current piece explain why she was about to contact the PCs. It concerns private labs that perform prenatal DNA testing services marketed specifically to the South Asian community. Under the euphemism “family balancing”, the ads promise to aid clients in sex selection. Ramirez’s notes include the pitch to her editors on the story: the practice uses a won right by feminists in service of a patriarchal principle, one that results in fewer girls being born.
The most recent file in her laptop is a scanned file of a number of company names, all connected with arrows.
Picking up the search from there, the PCs crack a convoluted series of holding companies and offshore incorporations. They discover that all of the supposedly competing chains of laboratories engaged in this practice are in fact owned by a single, shadowy entity. Throughout the entire world, all prenatal DNA testing outfits seem to be connected to this one company! Further, anyone else who’s tried to enter this field has gone out of business, either being bought out, or having to quit in the wake of inexplicable tragedies. These almost always involve drownings or deaths at sea.
In response to their inquiries, the PCs themselves are harassed and attacked. Their tormenters have one thing in common: a wall-eyed, wide-lipped physical appearance.
Finally, at the oceanside head office of this international DNA testing syndicate, they uncover the truth. Its owners are members of a hybrid race anxious to conceal their existence on earth. They’ve cornered the market on prenatal screening to falsify results whenever a fetus turns out to carry the so-called Innsmouth gene. The CEO, Weldon Newcombe, offers to let the group leave unharmed, if they convincingly pledge to keep the secret. To this end, he arranges an interview with Danielle Ramirez. When they see her, the unconscious motivation that instinctively drew her to the story becomes palpable—she herself had the Innsmouth gene, and the stress of the pursuit led it to express itself. Danielle Ramirez, once a journalist who wanted to expose the story, is now a goggle-eyed Deep One, begging the investigators to conceal it.
Do they keep the secret, even though the group behind it has killed to protect it in the past? If so, does this make them complicit in the sex selection epidemic, or mere bystanders to something that would happen regardless? And if they do reveal the secret, is mankind ready to know who swims alongside them?