Saturday Seed ~ 52 (Call of Cthulhu)

This week’s seed is for Call of Cthulhu. It is more suitable for a small group or single investigator than a large group, and it works best as the opening of a series of investigations rather than one later in a character’s career. The story itself calls for a linguist and an expert in antiquities – preferably one person who can serve in both capacities.

The Seed

A poker game at a posh gentleman’s club with very exclusive membership requirements has ended in a death about which none of the supposed witnesses can talk – they have all been rendered powerless to communicate in any fashion. They are conscious and able to carry out actions, but the act of communicating in any form, be it pantomime, writing, or speech, is denied to them.

An investigator is called in to assist with the investigation while the authorities discuss how to proceed.

Planting the Seed

Quite simply, plainclothes detectives show up at 4am and strongly request the Investigator’s assistance with a matter of utmost importance and discretion. They look worried. They will come armed with an understanding of the character’s predilections and disposition and will be appropriately polite and persuasive. They will not discuss the case unless the character is willing to swear an oath of secrecy.

The Details

The background revealed to the character and any associates he or she feels the need to recruit and have duly sworn to secrecy will simply be that the creme de la creme of elite and privileged society stands on the brink of scandal, and unless something can be done, the whole country will reel from its devastating effects.

They reveal that many sons of the nation’s top families gathered together at an exclusive club and on this night chose to play poker for unlimited stakes. Fortunes were won and lost, but in the end the game concluded with the loss of life for one of the players. The bet at the time was an entire line of passenger ships, a string of hotels, and 1 ‘old looking parchment.’ The character is there to identify the parchment and supervise its safe removal.

As the investigators finally arrive at the scene, they reveal one last thing: none of the other players can speak, write, draw, pantomime, or in any other way communicate information.

What’s Going On

The scene is not as grisly as one might fear and is simply a dead man, laying across the top of a lavish poker table with the side his face, and his upper torso, mostly obscuring the deeds and the parchment beneath him. His face, frozen in a rictus of shock (try use this expression only once per campaign), is on the parchment, and only the title and the upper right corner are visible without moving the body. His hands are up near the level of his face and have clawed through the green felt of the table covering to scratch the mahogany beneath.

The first impression of an observer will be that the man stood to rake in his winnings and simply collapsed onto the table. where he died in painful, and apparently terrifying spasms.

The other players, the only witnesses believed to be present for the death, seem to still retain intelligence and do normal things like fidget, smoke, adjust clothing, and the like, but cannot in any way initiate or respond to communication attempts.

The lights were off when the waiter entered the room after a long period of silence. Almost an hour had passed since the last time he had entered the room to refresh the buffet table in the corner. The players, all extremely well-known and highly placed, preferred to play the game undisturbed, without an audience even of serving staff.

The police have not been able to investigate fully until the detectives returned with the PC(s). Someone high-up is trying to be very cautious and careful about this. There are no signs of reporters or other busy-bodies. A sharp-eyed investigator will notice a large number of extra chairs in the room, and small signs that things have been rearranged a little bit about the fringes of the room. Small things like a larger number of water stains from glasses being present on the table than the number of glasses present on the table may lead a clever investigator to realize that people, probably women (the character might spot some beads, or maybe an earring), were here but now are not.

The parchment is extremely old and will crumble if touched. A small corner of it has already done so – presumably at the touch of the person who found them. The title is in latin, but the rest of the manuscript appears to be in a coded script which could take some time to decipher. As the character investigates, the script on the parchment seems to move each time they glimpse it from the corner of their eye. It almost seems to say, “I – humble servant of the outer and inner darkness, command you all to silence,”  but when looked upon directly, remains nothing but the same obscure code.

Expertise and care will be required to lift the corpse from the table without destroying the parchment. The parchment itself will not survive attempts to lift it from the table intact, so it must be examined where it lies, or copied in order to decipher it as quickly as possible. Once removed it will crumble into small pieces, obliterating some of the text and requiring it to be pieced back together in order to decipher it.

The text is written in a complex replacement code of unique symbols which simply takes time and patience to unravel. The base language is a very archaic style of Greek, but some troubling sections will ultimately prove to be direct quotations of a Sanskrit source, reproduced phonetically. By the time this level of decryption and translation can be completed, the official police investigation is very likely to have been suppressed, forgotten, and the case buried. Despite this, a person or persons unknown still wants to what happened, and continue to send regular weekly messengers to the investigator to enquire as the their progress, even if it takes months. When it stops, it will be sudden and without explanation.

The ink on the original will prove to be very odd, and when the investigator is alone, he or she may come to believe that the ink itself absorbs light. Proof of this to others will prove to be impossible.

Once translated, the piece is essentially harmless and is little more than a set of three verses praising the wisdom and beneficence of the messenger of the outer and inner darkness. The name is given, but makes no sense. The imagery, should the investigator choose to dig deeply and widely across many disciplines will reflect that used to describe Nyarlathotep, but there will be no trace of the name used in the verses connecting these images and the Crawling Chaos. If this is a link to an as yet ‘undiscovered’ avatar of Nyarlthotep, some scholars and collectors would possibly pay dearly to possess it, others to destroy it, but many mysteries remain:

  • How did the parchment get there if it is too old to be moved
  • If it changed once in the room, why and how?
  • What killed the victim, and struck the others dumb?
  • Who else was in the room and where have they gone?

Analysis of the verses will suggest that this is an ode to a god and leads up to a sacrifice – an ultimate sacrifice. The poet believes that all manner of wishes can be granted to supplicants who truly offer all that they are and all that they have to the god. Strangely, each rereading of the passages seems to suggest more and more detail to the investigator, coaxing them deeper and deeper into research.

A few nights after being summoned to investigate, the investigator will begin to have dreams about travelling toward his family home down a long, warm, undulating tunnel filled with laughter, whispers, and sharp teeth. Many of these images will be found in the text when it is translated.

A few weeks after beginning work on the translation, the investigator will begin to hear whispers from other rooms when they are alone. No explanation will manifest.

A few months after the investigation the witnesses afflicted with silence, will slowly begin to reenter society, but no mention of that night is ever made. None of them seem to remember it, and the investigator may come to feel shut out of their formerly welcoming loop. No one wants to deal with it anymore or even admit it happened.

A few weeks after the witnesses’ return to the public eye, the victim comes to speak to the investigator. The death was never announced, and now it is like it never happened. He greets the investigator warmly and thanks him for his efforts. He inquires about dreams and whispers and seems to be quite knowledgeable about the subjects related in the parchment’s writings. He is full of mirth and seems to genuinely enjoy life. He leaves a small gift, an innocuous lapel pin, and excuses himself as soon as is polite.

If the investigator presses the point if him ostensibly being dead, he will  thank him for his concern, but simply laugh and state that he seems to have gotten over it. It was just a passing thing. He will alternate between explanations of, it was the effect of a rare African drug, but then spoil his perfectly believable delivery with a deliberate and maddening wink.

Should the investigator go to lengths such as exhuming the supposed corpse, he will find it. It will still have that awful look of terror on its rotting face.

Huh?

The parchment contained an enchantment which transfers the intelligence of one person into another at the cost of their original life. The victim assumed that he would be able to choose the recipient of his intelligence, but was wrong. The transfer is between the victim and the god. The god learns all the victim knew in life, and then is free to assume their place whenever it feels like it.

The women were metaphysically consumed as a part of the price.

The investigator is now in a position where from time to time they hear voices which are actually there, but that no one else can hear, has investigated a murder that seems to have never happened, and that no one remembers, and may have entertained a cruel god for a casual conversation.

Tailoring this seed to fit the needs of a new campaign can go a long way to keeping the players guessing about what is and is not real, is and is not madness as they start their journey in opposition to the forces of the Great Old Ones.

Enjoy!

Comments
2 Responses to “Saturday Seed ~ 52 (Call of Cthulhu)”
  1. BF Wolfe says:

    wow. throw them straight into the deep-end of the madness pool, eh? no teasers or plausible deniability, but an introduction to an old one and half of their sanity points 🙂

    • Runeslinger says:

      If you are not going to use the Sanity Score, why have it on the sheet?! 😉

      Actually, this is more for helping the players get into the swing of things than it is about undermining the Sanity of the characters. The SAN losses represented here would be drawn out in stages, including for realizing that they may have met a supposed ‘god,’ and that particular loss would be better represented as Cthulhu Mythos Knowledge. The character has good reason to question their own sanity, but remains quite functional, but the player…. if handled well, they can be left wondering almost as much, and should be both hungry to prove their own sanity, and discover what is to happen next. That is a good place to start. Afterall, if everyone claims that a thing did not happen, except for you, and the event you claim happened includes a murder, but the victim tells you that he is fine… you have some real thinking to do.
      😉

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