Saturday Seeds ~ 18 (Call of Cthulhu)

I haven’t planted a dark seed for Call of Cthulhu in quite some time, so this entry shall rectify that.  The pace of this game is to be very fast, and the focus needs to be kept firmly on dealing with matters at hand. The group should feel time pressure, irritation, and confusion at first. As the story shifts into the supernatural, they should feel dread about what is to come, and horror over the implications about their involvement.

The seed:

One of your Investigators will be mistaken for someone else, and once that initial mistake is made, a series of strange events will continue to crop up.

The seed begins in the rain. People are passing by with their heads down, collars turned up, hats pulled low, umbrellas held like shields against the elements. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a man will walk right into one of the Investigators, and grope for his hand, as if to shake it… or to press something secretly into it.  The suddenness might cause the two to stumble, and be pressed close together. It will be difficult to make out details. The stranger is wearing a sodden pea coat and a dark wool cap, pulled low. His fingers are cold, and as hard as marble. Due to the impact, and the rain, the Investigator is most likely to see the stranger’s hands – each finger tattooed and the back of the hand traced in scars and tattooed lines.  His face, should a concerted effort be made to see it, is contorted in pain, scarred and tattooed like the back of the hands, and wreathed in a wild salt and pepper beard. He is more than 50, perhaps more than sixty, weathered from sea air and hard living, but his motions are quick and certain, his muscles hard and powerful, like a man in his prime… or in a panic.

As the impact, the strange fumbling at his hands, and the shock of it all begins to register on the investigator, the man breaks away, takes a few steps into the darkness, past a few other pedestrians scurrying about their business, and then inexplicably falls over. Dead.

What he tried so hard to press into the Investigator’s hand is a small crumpled piece of thick notepaper. If the character was surprised as anyone would be, the note should be in the palm of their hand. If they are hardened, or the player reacts with fear or suspicion, the note will probably be dropped by their character and be on the sidewalk, easy to spot.

Due to the number of witnesses, the usual sort of things will happen: police, coroners, investigations, and interviews. No one knows who the man is, where he came from, or what he wanted with the Investigator. Once the character has been questioned (with whatever sort of approach the PC deserves from the local police at this stage in your game… respect, friendship, animosity, suspicion, etc) they will be released.

For no reason, the coroner’s office will contact the PC and inform them of the cause of death. Later, the man’s personal effects (clothes, hip flask of awful rum, and the note – should it have been entered into evidence, or lost/left at the scene) will be delivered by mail.

One or two strangers on the street (pedestrians, vendors) and perhaps one or two normally faceless others (waiters, bus drivers, etc) will offer their condolences on the Investigator’s loss. When pressed, they will not give up anything. This is not easy to do, especially if the players feel balked. If you do not think you can pull it off as atmosphere, rather than a clue, or worse – taunting, then give it a miss. If you want to discuss how to pull it off, leave a comment below.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the body is delivered to a funeral parlor and they in turn contact the character to come and discuss the burial arrangements. The character can deal with the body in any way they like. The cost has already been paid by an anonymous donation. There are no ties from the donation to the Investigator. The donation was made in cash, in a valise found on the steps of the funeral parlor. No witnesses.  Remember, keep the pace quick, both to increase pressure, and to minimize the effect of what might be taken as railroading.

The dead man:

tattoos are all over his body and seem to be nothing more than lines and whorls, with infrequent, random-looking dots in groups of 3 or 5. The cause of death was a heart attack. No identification, and simple investigation can trace him from the cheapest bus into town, to his demise just a short time later. It would be possible to determine his precise route from his first port of call, to the series of buses he would have taken to reach the Investigator, but only after the events of the day have come to a conclusion.

Investigation of the tattoos may reveal on an Occult or  Mythos Knowledge roll with a penalty of 20% for Occult or 30% for Mythos Knowledge, that he clearly believes very strongly in resurrection. With that clue, or with the right linguistics research, the note is a phonetic transcription of an invocation which, while in a language possible to be traced to the South Pacific, seems to share tonal and rhythmic qualities with necromantic rituals for animating or raising the dead. He was very likely the member of a cult.

If the Investigator should read the note in the presence of the corpse, the tattoos will somehow realign to leave the suggestion of lines of faces curving downward from the chest to the abdomen on each side of the torso. Reading it again, will cause them to appear to become representations of the Investigator’s face on the left line, aging from childhood to dotage, and the corpse’s face, aging backward from dotage to childhood, on the right. A third time…?

Where you go from here is up to you and what sort of role you envisage for cults in your campaign. I feel this seed makes a good entry for less-experienced investigators, and could easily remain rooted in human occult traditions with just the barest traces of Mythos influence.

  • Why was he so desperate?
  • Was he on the run from someone, or did he sense the nearness of his own death?
  • What is the connection to the investigator?
  • What will happen next?

How you answer such big questions should be considered carefully. I, for instance, would likely use this seed as a setup for possession, and theft of identity, as the dead man’s memories slowly surface in his chosen target, and as the Investigator’s body slowly begins to change…

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