Saturday Seed – 35 (Call of Cthulhu)

This week’s Saturday Seed is being planted for Call of Cthulhu, and in celebration of hated winter, it is being planted in permafrost and snow.

The seed:

Investigators of the macabre and mind-shattering realities of a beleaguered world which will one day return to the overwhelming grip of the Great Old Ones are often not strangers to the visitations of long-dead friends. Sadly for most, these are hardly ever joyous visitations, and usually end up with someone being fed, boots and all, into a wood-chipper or blast furnace, or laid to rest with blasphemous incantations. As it is a cold, and disjointedly muttering universe that cares even less for us than it does for itself, all too many of these end up with the Investigator being the main course at an impromptu banquet of blood, souls, and shredded meat.

This is one of those nights.

Planting the seed:

This seed is intended for use when the Investigators are far from home, far from civilization, and worse – close to one of the perverted sites that house the horrors at which the stories encoded in the mad whispers and scribbled pen scratches of forbidden mythos tomes only hint. A wily Keeper will resist encouraging this seed to sprout until the players have every reason to suspect that their characters have already gone out of their minds.

When I first crafted this little seed, I planned to use it during an expedition into the Antarctic. Recent gaming events and even more recent RPG releases have brought it once more to mind, and so I wish to share it with you. I will write it here as I intended to run it, in the frozen wastes, far from anywhere, on the very bottom of the world.

The details:

It is really very simple, and as initially set-up, was an opportunity for the players to spend an evening together, in-character, discussing their progress, their successes and failures, and their feelings about the future. I had prepared it in case my hopes that the group would bond and rise to the challenge of investing themselves in such frail and doomed characters as those provided in this great queen of games. Through the vehicle of a great and paralyzing storm, I had hoped to trap them in a barely tenable shelter, and leave with them with a dread of a more mundane kind: that of being trapped under ice, never found, their quest incomplete.

In that sea of white, frozen, fear, I intended to plant a question, and see where they ran with answering it. The question was, ‘What would people talk about if they thought their last few hours on this Earth would be to die like this?’

Against the backdrop of their roleplay, if it should start to falter, the second layer of this seed could be brought into play – if need be. In it, as the players discuss fallen comrades, and their own fears of what will happen to each of them, a voice might be heard calling just over the howl of the wind – a voice from the past. A voice belonging to a companion from long ago, far away, and whose body has been in the soil of a distant land for far too long for its owner to be asking to be let in out of the cold antarctic night.

As the story goes on, keep track of the cold and remember to apply its numbing and deadly effects to the Investigators. One by one it may take them into its chill embrace of dream-filled slumber… or worse, to the very threshold of death.

What’s going on

By now, the players should be in the right mood, so whatever happens will be what you are looking for. Do they cower? Do they respond? Do they let the speaker come inside their shelter? Do they believe it is really the friend, and the death so many years ago was a delusion? Do they believe that this is the delusion? Where will the influence of the characters they play, take the characters? Privately, make sure each player know that they can have no reasonable certainty that any of the others are experiencing what they are, and that for all they know they are dreaming of madness while freezing to death.

As the scene passes, note the players’ reactions to a very telling line of questions from their visitor: “Won’t you come back to us and give up this delusion of being trapped in the antarctic? We all miss you so much! You have been here so long… have the doctors given you no benefit at all?”

When the stars feel right, introduce more of their dead friends and relatives, as well as victims of the worst horrors the group has faced, either alone or in pairs. Imply that what they believe is real is just delusion. Entreat them to leave their madness behind and return to the people who love them.

With luck or fiat, as the scene progresses, the Investigators will lose their battle against the cold, and will lose consciousness. If that happens let them have a moment to ponder if you have just committed a total party kill by windchill, and then have them regain consciousness one by one, to the light of a new, storm-free, and just warm enough day.

In their shelter… they notice a shoe print, in a size matching none of theirs, in a land that has not seen moist, rich, unfrozen soil since the dawn of time.

Were they rescued by a friend from beyond the grave? If such a thing is not possible… are they in fact, insane? Is there really a group of investigators on a mission in the Antarctic, or is this all the delusion of a single, mad man?

If player ingenuity or hardiness foils this curious ending to a night of fear and the bewildering touch of insanity, you will still have accomplished much. The characters will have much cause to doubt the sanity of their characters, and even their very location… are they in the antarctic, or are they in an asylum…?

Enjoy!

For other Call of Cthulhu Seeds look here.

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