This quick Trail of Cthulhu adventure first appeared in the Dragonmeet 2018 program book, and is based on genuine historical events that took place within a few minute’s walk of the convention centre.
The Window on Standish Road
- What was reputed to be the appearance of the mischievous person?
- In white sometimes, and sometimes in the skin of a beast; a calf skin, or something of that sort.
In 1804, Francis Smith was convicted of the murder of a bricklayer named Thomas Millwood, having shot him on Black Lion Lane in Hammersmith, only a few minute’s walk from this very convention centre.
Smith offered a novel defence, arguing that he had not intended to kill Millwood, but that his real target was the ‘Hammersmith Ghost’, a phantom that haunted the churchyard. He mistook Millwood for the supposed ghost and shot him in the face.
Several accounts describe the ghost, which was said to be the spectre of a butcher who committed suicide several years earlier. For example, Thomas Grove testified that: “I was going through the church yard between eight and nine o’clock, with my jacket under my arm, and my hands in my pocket, when some person came from behind a tomb-stone, which there are four square in the yard, behind me, and caught me fast by the throat with both hands, and held me fast.” Some described the ghost as a figure in white; others claimed it had eyes of glass and an animal’s head.
Two days after the shooting, a local shoemaker, John Graham, came forward and admitted that he was the ghost; he’d dressed up as the phantom to scare his apprentice. Smith was initially declared guilty of murder and sentenced to hang, but in light of the intense public interest in the affair, the case was referred to King George III, who mercifully spared Smith’s life and sentenced him instead to a year’s hard labour.
The Hammersmith Ghost was consigned to the history books and to the legal texts, where it remained as a precedent regarding the consequences of mistaken action for 180 years. Case closed… or is it? For Gamemasters who want to bring the horror out of the past and into their game, we present this quick scenario for Trail of Cthulhu.
The Horrible Truth
Sorcerer and necromancer Jerominus Cornel still haunts London, more than a hundred years after his death in 1802. He hid himself away into a mirror dimension using a magical lens, emerging infrequently to steal occult knowledge from other scholars, using books and intimidation to drag them into the mirror world.
Scene Type: Intro
Leads-Out: The Graveyard, Background Research
1937. In an obscure second-hand bookstore, the investigators find an incredible prize – a battered copy of Balfour’s Cultes de Goules, a 1703 work describing the ghoul cult throughout Europe. Such a rare occult book is worth a considerable sum to the right collector.
Tucked in the back of the book are a handful of loose pages, covered with almost illegible handwriting. Close examination with Languages reveals that it’s the confession of one John Graham of Hammersmith, written in 1810.
- Graham talks about his neighbour, an eccentric chemist called Jerominus Cornel, who lived on Standish Street. He often saw Cornel visiting a nearby butcher’s shop, buying jars of blood from freshly slaughtered cattle.
- Library Use/History/Occult: It might be worth looking into any records of this ‘Cornel’. See Background Research.
- Cornel complained bitterly that there was too much to learn, that one lifetime was not enough to encompass the knowledge of the universe.
- The butcher committed suicide in 1802; Cornel vanished the same year.
- The tales of ghosts and spectral figures began after that. People saw pale figures at night, out of the corner of their eyes. One coachman nearly killed himself and his passengers when the ghost attacked him as he drove past the Black Lion inn.
- In 1804, after the murder of Thomas Grove, Graham himself encountered the ghost of Cornel. The spectre appeared in his window and told Graham that if he did not allay suspicion, Cornel would devour Graham’s children. Terrified, Graham went to the magistrates and confessed; soon afterwards, the King interceded and put the whole matter to rest. Everyone thinks that Graham was the ghost; but it was Cornel. Cornel haunted Standish Street.
- Graham dares not tell anyone, except this confession, but he’s buried proof of his claims in St. Paul’s churchyard. He gives the location – twelve paces south, forty east of the main gate. See The Churchyard.
There’s one other clue – Flattery or Bargain (for a small bribe) gets the bookseller to recall who sold him the copy of Cultes de Goules. He recalls the seller was a young man, very pale and sickly, who seemed nervous – he kept looking over his shoulder, as if someone was watching him through the glass window of the bookshop.
Leads-In: The Book
Leads-Out: The Churchyard
History or Oral History gets accounts of the Hammersmith Ghost.
Library Use digs up a few scant records on Cornel:
- He was originally Dutch, but lived in Paris for some time before fleeing to England in 1784.
- He was a chemist and glassblower; he made tools and equipment for chemists and doctors.
- Oddly, one diary by the physician Francis Willis describes how Cornel offered to treat King George III’s madness in 1788; as a price, Cornel demanded access to “certain books in the possession of the King’s Library that were previously owned by Doctor John Dee”.
- A later entry in the same diary talks about how Willis was called to the King’s Library to treat one of the clerks, who fell out of a window in Buckingham Palace.
- The next page of the diary is missing, as if erased.
Scene Type: Core
Leads-In: The Book, Background Research
Leads-Out: The Survivor, the Face in the Glass, Image of the Sorcerer
The old churchyard isn’t the same graveyard where the Hammersmith ghost was seen all those years ago – that graveyard is long since gone. The gardens of St. Paul’s, though, are still much as they were in King George’s day. Searching, the investigators quickly discover the right spot.
- Archaeology:This is odd – there’s something buried here, all right, but it was recently This ground was dug up in the last few months.
As the investigators dig, they hear a disturbance on the road nearby. Shouting, and the breaking of glass – and then a gunshot rings out across. There’s a man, his features hidden by a white sheet, shouting wildly at the investigators. He’s got a gun in his hand – and he’s aiming it at them! “Don’t look at it!” he shrieks, “don’t let him see you!”
If they pursue, the man runs, firing wildly in the air. He never shoots directly at the investigators, just in their direction. A bigger danger, though, is the risk of being run-over by a car that swerves to avoid the gunshots (just like the coachman spooked by the Hammersmith ghost). If the investigators chase down the attacker, see The Survivor.
The Buried Cache
Buried in the churchyard is a bundle of pale, rotten leather attached to a mask made from the skull of a calf. Embedded in one of the calf’s eye-sockets is a curious glass sphere.
- Chemistry:It’s not glass at all, but something much harder. It’s indestructible according to any test or tool available.
- Astronomy:There are tiny symbols carved into the sphere – although how they were made is a mystery, given the sphere’s apparently harder than diamond. They include Arabic symbols for various stars, most prominently the Hyades.
- Evidence Collection: The sphere seems to have some sort of image embedded in it, too small and faint to be discerned with the naked eye. Some sort of strange optical phenomenon, no doubt.
- Craft orPhotography (Core Clue): Maybe a sufficiently bright light and the right arrangement of lens could project the image. If the investigators try this, see The Image of the Sorcerer.
- Underneath the bundle are several more occult tomes, of roughly the same age and condition as Cultes de Goules, and likely from the same collection. They mostly deal with optics and alchemy.
After exposure to the sphere, the investigators are in danger from The Face in the Glass.
Scene Type: Alternate
Leads-In: The Churchyard
Leads-Out: The Face in the Glass, The Image of the Sorcerer
The attacker flees through a maze of alleyways. En route, he drops the white sheet he was using as a disguise. Finally, the investigators corner him in the yard behind a furniture shop. He raises the gun and attempts to shoot himself in the face. The nearest investigator can make a Scuffling test (Difficulty 5) to grab the gun before the man kills himself.
If successful, the investigators can Interrogate their prisoner.
- The attacker is Edgar Smith, formerly a student at Imperial College.
- He had a friend, Philip Black, who dabbled in the occult. Philip found an old book with a weird diary tucked in the back, and convinced Edgar to help him break into this very churchyard by night.
- They found that awful mask – and when exposed to starlight, the eyes glowed and Philip vanished.
- Terrified and confused, Edgar fled. He feared he’d be blamed for Philip’s disappearance, so he hid, renting a room nearby.
- Since then, he’s seen a strange man watching him from the windows. Sometimes, he saw Philip in the windows, too.
- A few weeks ago, he saw Philip on Kensington High Street, posting a parcel. His former friend looked bloodless and old, as though years had passed for him. When Edgar tried to speak to Philip, his friend vanished again in broad daylight, like an image from a movie projector that was suddenly switched off.
- He has no idea what’s happening, but it all started with that damned mask with eyes of glass. Philip must have reburied the mask afterwards.
The Face in the Glass
Scene Type: Antagonist Reaction
Leads-In: The Churchyard
After exposure to the glass-eyed mask, the investigators start seeing the face of an old man reflected in windows, mirrors and other glassy surfaces. He might be watching them from an upstairs window or leering at them from a bathroom mirror.
If any of the investigators are ever alonenear a glass, then Cornel acts.
- If the investigator has a high rating in any Academic ability, then Cornel might attempt to abduct the investigator, emerging from his mirror-lair to abduct the investigator by dragging him back through the mirror. (Scuffling or Fleeing contest against Cornel’s Scuffling). Captured investigators can be seen in The Image of the Sorcerer.
- If the investigator is no use to Cornel’s studies, then Cornel threatens the investigator, saying that he must bring “men of learning” and show them the sphere so Cornel can devour them (or, if Cornel’s predations have attracted too much attention, that the investigator must bury the mask in St. Paul’s Churchyard again, to await the next generation of scholars).
Abilities: Athletics 6, Health 12, Scuffling 10
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +2
Stealth Modifier: +2
Weapon: Ghoulish claws +1
Armour: -2 vs. any (skin)
Stability Loss: +0
The Image of the Sorcerer
Scene Type: Core
Leads-In: The Churchyard
With Craft, Physics and Photography, the investigators can assemble a contraption that magnifies and projects the image in the sphere. Impossibly, it’s moving –it’s like watching a film recording of an old, old man in a small room. There’s no door, just a single flickering window that seems to look out over all of London, the viewpoint jumping from place to place as if the room were flickering across the city. The room’s crammed with books, occult paraphernalia and pages of crabbed notes; there’s also a large stack of human bones, licked clean and cracked open for marrow, in one corner. Hanging upside down from hooks is the corpse of Philip Black; the old man’s drained Black of blood and is slowly, slowly eating the man’s flesh.
- If any of the investigators were captured by Cornel in The Face in the Glass, they’re visible in the image, hanging from hooks next to Black, but still alive.
As the investigators watch, the window behind him changes, becoming a window or glass surface in whatever room the investigators are in. The man looks up at them and smiles.
Cornel knows they’re watching.
And he’s coming for them.
- Physics: There’s a clock on the wall behind the old man, but it’s moving incredibly slowly. If this is a window or image of some pocket dimension, time moves differently there. Maybe that’s why Cornel used Philip Black to run errands in our world – if he stays outside his room for too long, maybe Cornel will age to death.
- Anthropology:Some of the notes on the table look like interview transcripts – the old man’s abducting scholars, questioning them, and then eating them.
- Cryptography:The sorcerer’s notes can be read through the projection, although they’re reversed mirror-writing. They include a list of names of prominent scientists and occultists – did Cornel make Black send other lures to them? Does Cornel intend to abduct, interrogate and devour them too?
The finale is a cat-and-mouse contest between the investigators and Cornel. The sorcerer is immortal, inhumanly patient, and can emerge from any mirror or glass. The investigators can spy on him, and know what he wants – knowledge. Can they set a trap for him? Might illuminating the mask with starlight from the Hyades create a physical portal? Or should the investigators bury the sphere somewhere it can never be found, stay away from all windows and mirrors, and pray that the Hammersmith Ghost never finds them again?