"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Every Halloween, my players and I do a one-shot horror scenario.  This year, we took a break from The Dracula Dossier to revisit an old favorite, Call of Cthulhu.  What follows is "Awoken," the Halloween one-shot.  The Dossier's influence should be obvious, as well as my wink and a nod to Brian Lumley.  

HOOK:  A team of Investigators in the employ of Lawrence “The Uncanny” Underwood—escape artist, stage magician, and outspoken skeptic—is sent to the rural Massachusetts town of Shiloh.  It is 1932, and the countryside is in the grip of the Great Depression.  The team has been working for Underwood for some time; they have investigated (and debunked) dozens of hauntings, seances, mediums, and spiritualists.  This time, they are set to the home of Emily Putnam (36) and her two children, Susan (12) and Tommy (7).  For the last two months, their remote farmhouse has been in the grip of a haunting.  Doors open and close.  Objects move.  At times the water runs red as blood.  There are nocturnal moans, thumpings, rattles.  And in little Tommy’s room, a cold spot has developed.  Emily wants help.  She cannot afford to leave the house in such perilous times.    

LINE:  The secret to this investigation is a little Geology and Library Use.  A few days before the haunting started, Massachusetts was affected by a rare earthquake.  It cracked the bedrock beneath the house and subterranean, iron-rich springs are bubbling up under the house.  The icy water has created the cold spot; the iron in the water makes it red; the trapped gases from the spring cause the moanings, the thumpings, and at times are violent enough to shake the little farmhouse, shutting doors and moving objects.  Case closed.

But while they are investigating…

The local undertaker, Martin Crane, vanishes from his mortuary.  Blood is everywhere, but there is no sign of a body.  The next evening, his daughter, Mary, vanishes from her bedroom.  His assistant, the gravedigger Paul Rudlidge, vanishes from his cottage the same night.  

And all across town, a stillness has fallen.  No birds sing.  No crows caw.  No insects buzz.  The farmers report their animals seem panicked.  At night, dogs incessantly howl.

Constable Parker Goodman, knowing the Investigators solved the Putnam House mystery, turns to them for help.

SINKER:  The same earthquake that that shifted the ground under the Putnam House cracked an ancient slab of shale at the edge of the woods bordering the Shiloh Cemetery.  This slab was covering an old well, long since run dry.  Just days after the well was exposed, Crane started dreaming of it, of something calling to him.  His journal speaks again and again of the Caduceus, of the Bronze Serpent that protected the Israelites.  He scribbles in the margins over and over again “the wyrm, the wyrm.”  During the day, he started walking along the edge of the cemetery searching for the well and the voice.  When he found it, he tied a rope around a nearby tree and went down.

His meticulous journal records nothing beyond this point.  His wife, however, reports him locking himself up in the mortuary for days.  When she peeked in on him, against explicit instructions, she saw him hovering over something she describes as a “leather ball, but a funny sort of thing…it looked more like a ball of string than anything else.”  During this time, his neighbor’s dog, Silas, vanished.  

In that well, Crane found the remains of a vampire…a Wamphyri leech coiled up into a shriveled ball in the rib cage of a male skeleton.  An iron stake had been driven through it.  Crane removed the stake, took the leech back to the mortuary, and fed it the blood of the neighbor’s dog.  The leech awoke, regenerated, and then snared him in its barbed coils before sliding down his throat.  Now it dominates him, slowly transforming him into a full vampire.  He has already turned his daughter and employee into Thralls.  More will die soon.

THE WAMPHYRI (Mythos Vampires): are a race of leech-like aliens born in the fetid swamps of an alien world.  Neither plant nor animal, they are most akin to a sentient fungus.  Their gelatinous, protoplasmic flesh can change shape at will, extending barbed tendrils and feeding suckers, membranous wings, or thinning to squeeze through even the narrowest of fissures.

On Earth, they are rarely encountered in their natural forms.  Brought to this world millennia ago, they survive in our atmosphere by forming a parasitic relationship with a human or animal host.  The leech coils around the heart, sending a fine network of feeding tubes throughout the cardiovascular system, and sending forth feelers into the nervous system and brain. Seizing control of autonomic and motor functions, as well as accessing memories and experiences, the leech comes to completely dominate the host, which is eventually driven mad.  This hybrid creature is known as a vampire.

Vampire Powers and Weaknesses 
The vampire lives on blood, and reshapes the host’s body into a perfect predator for the purpose of obtaining it.  The leech’s metamorphic properties are partially transferred to the host, allowing it to extend its teeth into ripping fangs, its fingers into grasping claws, and even to sprout wings for flight.  The skeleton and muscles are reshaped and reinforced, increases the monster’s strength and stamina.  A human host no longer ages, is immune to sickness and disease, and regenerates damage at frightening speed (each combat round the vampire heals 1d4 hit points).

In addition to these formidable physical powers, the vampire possesses potent psychic ones.  It can communicate telepathically and read minds; if the target is awake and alert, the vampire must overcome the target in a contest of POW vs POW.  If the target is asleep, the vampire can slide quietly into its dreams.  By making eye contact with a target, the vampire can attempt to mesmerize him or her (again with a contest of POW).  Success means the vampire can paralyze the target for feeding purposes, issue simple, one  or two word commands, or even cloud the victim’s memories.  

Vampires are not indestructible, however.  The parasitic infection transfers many of the leech’s alien weaknesses to the host.  Silver burns and scars the vampire, doing 1d3 points of damage per round of contact which cannot be regenerated.  Damage from fire is suffered normally and cannot be regenerated either.  Exposure to sunlight is the most lethal of all, however, doing 1d6 per round of direct exposure.  Again, this cannot be regenerated.  The only way for the vampire to heal any of this damage is to enter a deep, coma-like sleep.  In this state it recovers 1d4 HP per day. 

Additionally, garlic causes weakness and nausea to the vampire, causing it to flee.

Piercing the main body mass of the leech (the coils around the heart) paralyzes the creature.  It will be held in place until the stake is removed.

The best way to destroy a vampire is to catch it while slumbering.  Vampires do this during the daylight hours, particularly between 9 AM and 3 PM.  Or, the creature can be caught while in a longer, regenerative slumber.  Either way, driving a stake through the heart “pins” the leech.  This is traditionally followed by a beheading, and the entire remains are burned.  Any of these alone may not guarantee the destruction of the beast.  A stake will only paralyze it; and beheading a vampire will cause the leech to rip free from the host, slithering away to seek a new one.  Fire can reduce the human host to ash, but the leech will coil into a hard, leathery ball the size of a fist.  This is immune to further further damage, save from sunlight or silver.  Dormant, it still possesses the power to slide into the dreams of those nearby, especially the weaker willed.

Vampires can be identified by their failure to cast reflections or shadows…a byproduct of their alien, protoplasmic flesh.  They are usually pale, and their eyes have a reddish caste that glows in darkness.  

Vampire Reproduction
Vampires reproduce by means of an egg.  It takes decades—even hundreds of years—for a leech to generate one.  Once an egg is formed the leech will keep it indefinitely, until a subtable host is selected.  The leech will then inject the egg into the target, where it nestles against the heart and starts to grow.  The transformation can take weeks or months.  As the infection spreads through the victim’s system, it feeds first on his or her flesh and blood.  The victim grows thin, pale, and weak, developing a hunger for raw meat and blood.  Sunlight causes extreme pain and red welts like hives.  Garlic becomes revolting.  As the leech takes over, the victim loses time, sleepwalking under the control of the leech.  Eventually, he or she “dies,” and over a three day period transforms into a full vampire.  The host’s consciousness remains trapped in this body for years, unable to resist the domination of the leech.

Finally, vampires are able to create Thralls.  A Thrall is a reanimated human or animal victim that the leech infected with spores while feeding on it.  A Thrall is a lesser vampire, an infected victim without a leech under the psychic domination of the vampire that created it.  It has no will of its own, and can act as the eyes and ears of the leech that dominates it.  A Thrall possesses all the powers and weaknesses described above, but is not as physically powerful as a true vampire and can be killed by simple decapitation or burning.  In addition, reducing a Thrall to 0 Hit Points destroys it.  Thralls are immobile during daylight hours, lying in a trance-like sleep.  They are not always human; a vampire can create them from bats, canines, or birds as well. 

Vampires Thralls (Human)
STR  3d6 x 2 (20-22)  3d6 + 2 (12-13)
CON 2d6 + 6 (13)        2d6 + 6 (13)
SIZ      3d6 (10-11) 3d6 (10-11)
POW 2d6+6 (13)         2d6+3 (10)
DEX 3d6 (10-11) 3d6 (10-11)
Move 12                    10
DB        +1d6         +0
Armor 2 pts none
Bite 50% 1d4 + 1d2 blood drain each round after; Claw 50% 1d4 + db
Human Psychology 60%, Scent Blood 75%
Tombs, ruined manors
Sanity Loss:  0/1d4 to be attacked, 1/1d6 to fully comprehend what the vampire is, 1/1d8 to see the leech pull free of a host.

THE VAMPIRE IN QUESTION:  Samuel Cartwright was a Puritan minister in London.  Born 1598 to a prominent barrister, he later attended the heavily Puritan Emmanuel College in 1613 where he became a minister.  Austere and fervent in his beliefs, he nevertheless harbored a dark secret.  Rumors surrounded him of assignations with young men and boys.  As time wore on, the whispers became more sinister, linking him to the disappearances of children.   

In reality, while at Emmanuel the young Cartwright drew the attention of Adorján Ferenzcy, a centuries old vampire.  The creature was amused by the young man’s torment. As a homosexual living in an age and culture when such a thing was abomination, the struggle between his faith and his flesh proved irresistible to the vampire. It saw in him dark potential, and decided to infect Samuel with its egg.  As the leech inside grew, Cartwright’s hungers grew dark and more intense.  Homosexual impulses became pedophiliac, and these turned sadistic and murderous.  Terrified by what was happening to him, he fled to the New World.  There, the leech consumed him.

The monster Samuel Cartwright had become prowled the Massachusetts Colony feeding its obscene hungers for blood and flesh.  In 1683, it came to Shiloh.  Mutilated livestock and vanishing children convinced the local minister, Andrew Morton, that he was struggling against the Devil.  Morton travelled to Boston seeking help.  There, he enlisted the aid of scholars Edward Garrison and John Lich, who along with a 22 year old Cotton Mather, returned with him to exorcise Shiloh of its demon.

The details of their hunt are vague—supposedly Mather wrote of it in his lost work, A History of the Devil in the Massachusetts Bay Colony—but it ended with the quartet tracking the young and inexperienced vampire to its lair, where they drove a stake through it.  Instead of burying it in holy ground, they dumped the remains in a dried up well on the edge of the vampire’s property and covered the makeshift tomb with a slab.  The rest of their lives they apparently believed they had destroyed the vampire.  Garrison and Lich went on to found Arkham College in 1690, which eventually became Miskatonic.  Cotton Mather, of course, went on to play a pivotal role in the Salem Witch Trials.

And Cartwright…slept.     

The Spine of the Investigation

  • Arriving at the Putnam House, they meet the family and begin to experience the “hauntings.”  Geology, or Idea Rolls in a pinch, reveal the haunting symptoms could all have underlying geological causes. There was an earthquake in this part of the country just three weeks ago, before the haunting started.  Of course Geology is necessary to confirm this theory, and if no one has it, an NPC geologist will need to be brought it.
  • At some point before they conclude at the Putnam House, stage an atmospheric scene at night where suddenly all the crickets, the peeping frogs in the marsh, and the birds just suddenly fall silent.
  • After they have confirmed the geological source of the haunting, have them stop for fuel on the way out of town.  Here Constable Goodman stops them and asks for help.  The timing of this is the day after Mary Crane and Paul Rudlidge go missing.  To sell it, have him tell the players he has the coroner’s journal, which is full of “weird, spooky nonsense.”
  • Reading the journal reveals Crane’s dreams of the well, the voice in his head, and the sudden obsession with divine snakes.
  • Speaking with his distraught wife (Persuade, Psychology) reveals Crane’s odd behavior and the existence of the leather ball.
  • Following the hints in the journal and exploring the property will lead to the well.  To discover more, someone will need to descend into it.  The darkness, cold, and stench grow greater the further the Investigator descends.  At the bottom of the well the earthen floor is covered in a weird, sickly white mold that looks suspiciously like veins and capillaries.  Half concealed in this filth is a skeleton.  Medicine or Biology identifies it as male and at least 200 years old.  It has recently been disturbed.  A wrought iron stake lies beside it (SAN roll 0/1d3).  There is evidence this was in the skeleton’s chest.  Examining the weird mold more closely requires Spot Hidden and triggers a second SAN roll (1/1d4).  The mold covers a vast carpet of bones and insect carapaces…rats, birds, snakes, desiccated beetles.  It is almost as if the mold was feeding on all this.
  • Shiloh has nothing resembling a library.  The nearest one is twenty miles away in the county seat of Arkham.  Using the Library there turns up the volume Towns and Tales of the Miskatonic River Valley.  Shiloh is mentioned in this book, as is the “witch scare” of 1683.  It includes rumors that the town minister, Andrew Morton, enlisted the aid of Cotton Mather, Edward Garrison, and John Lich to investigate rumors of witchcraft behind the mutilation of livestock and the disappearance of young boys.  
  • The first night after they interviewed her, Mary Crane will come to her mother and vampirize her.  She will vanish like the others.  If the Investigators are with her that night, they will encounter their first vampire.
  • The next day, two local boys—Jack Draper and Rummy Boyle—will also be discovered missing.
  • Towards the end of his life, Andrew Morton (d. 1716) built a home in central Shiloh that still stands.  It is now owned my the town doctor, Stewart Hughes.  There are papers in the attic dating back to Morton’s lifetime, and these can be found with Library Use or Spot Hidden.  In very poor condition, badly faded and with many missing pages, they tell the same story as Towns and Tales above but from Morton’s point of view.  He mentions Samuel Cartwright by name, and mentions he hails from London.  He also mentions Garrison and Lich discovering the “nature of this fiend” in “the book of one Ludvig Prinn.”  There is a strange passage about the “wyrms of the Earth having their origins in the Stars.”
  • Miskatonic has a copy of Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis of course, but this will require Credit Rating, Persuade, Fast Talk, or something similar to be allowed to see.  It cannot be removed from the library.  It would take weeks of study to read and comprehend.  However, Library Use and a period of 2d4 hours will track down Prinn’s references to “the blood drinkers” and “the leeches from the Void.”  It describes these as “demon wyrms coiled round the heart of corpses giving them horrible life and hunger for blood.”  SAN loss 1/1d4, Cthulhu Mythos +03%.  Apparently the “traditional remedies” have basis in truth, but Prinn warns not to “put your faith into the devices of the Church.”  He advocates staking, decapitation, and burning, lest “the wyrm survive the corruption of the flesh, coiled into a ball in slumber.”
  • Library Use, either at the town library in Arkham, the Miskatonic University library, or the Miskatonic Valley Historical Society (also in Arkham) can track down the location of Samuel Cartwright’s old farm.  It once stood adjacent to Martin Crane’s funeral home.  The farmhouse is long gone—it is all woods now—but conducting a search of the forest beyond the well (which once stood on the edge of the property) will reveal (with Spot Hidden) a set of stone steps that descend into a hole in the ground.  This is partially covered in brush, and the steps themselves are carpeted in leaves.  Descending reveals a root cellar hewn into the rock with a dirt floor.  This was the cellar of the Cartwright house.  It is here that the vampire lairs, surrounded by his Thralls.  Between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM, all will be completely immobile.  Beyond those hours, the vampire will appear to sleep but can awake and attack instantly.          

THE QUICK: I like to use a fairly simple rubric for NPCs in Call of Cthulhu.  Unless the NPC is a main antagonist or critical ally, I simply assign it a single “stat,” usually between 1 and 20.  This serves as an average characteristic, like INT, STR, or DEX, and also represents hot many hit points and magic points the character has.  Doubling it gives you a damage bonus.  “Core skills” for the character are assumed to be stat x 5%; “secondary skills” are stat x 3%.  For example, a (12) night watchman might have Blackjack and Handgun at 60% and Dodge, Listen, and Spot Hidden at 36% each.  If I need the character to have higher skills, I just assign them.

Emily Putnam, Concerned Mother, (10).  Emily’s husband, Ernest, died young, having been wounded back in the Great War and never fully recovered.  She is a simple, plain-spoken woman with little or no book learning but a lot of common sense.  She doesn’t understand what is happening to her family, and though religious has never believed in ghosts.  She just wants the disturbances to stop, unable to afford relocating her family.

Constable Parker Goodman, (13).  Another veteran, Parker is a husky bear of a man…but like so many with his inherent size and brawn is really a bit of a teddy bear.  He is a good cop for so small a town; drunk and disorderly he can handle with his big brother charm, but multiple murders and disappearances is way out of his wheelhouse.  He doesn’t know what to make of what is happening in town and is more than happy to ask for help.

Doctor Stewart Hughes (9, First Aid 80%, Medicine 65%).  With Crane missing, it is very likely the players will reach out to the town doctor if any medical mysteries or exsanguinated bodies turn up.  Hughes is semiretired; he’s 68, though still sharp-minded and vigorous.  Trained in Boston, he is a highly educated man (EDU 20), literate in both Latin and Greek.  he is not a believer in the supernatural, but presented with evidence of things beyond is ken is open-minded and inquisitive enough to accept them.  Note that he currently owns Andrew Morton’s house.           

AND THE DEAD: The only full vampire is the leech formerly inhabiting Samuel Cartwright, now nestled in the body of Martin Crane.  The most important thing to remember here is that this leech grew from an egg in the body of Cartwright, so it identifies completely with the Puritan minister.  Despite now being hosted in Crane, it speaks antiquated colonial era English, and finds the brave new world of the 20th century terra incognita. In addition, the Keeper shoulder bear in mind that Cartwright is a very young and inexperienced vampire; he was active only a few decades before Morton, Garrison, and Lich condemned him to the bottom of the well.  Older and experienced vampires have far greater powers, such as access to Mythos magic and spells.  Cartwright has only his strength, enhanced senses, and telepathic abilities.

Mary Crane, Paul Rudlidge, Jack Draper, and Rummy Boyle are all undead Thralls.  Ravenous, the leech inhabiting Martin Crane drained all of them, infecting them with wamphyri spores to reanimate them.  He did so primarily out of fear; he is alone in a strange new world, not fully adapted or come into his powers, and needed servitors to protect him.  Mary Crane and Rudlidge were easy targets…the two boys fell prey to the vampire because he still carries the perverse appetites of his previous host.  

The Thralls are essentially mindless revenants.  They can speak, and possess a low cunning, but they are no longer remotely human and the only thing they are after is blood.  Cartwright dominates them utterly, and if he wills it can speak through them and see what they see and hear what they hear.  As of now, they nest with him, sleeping on the dirt floor of his cellar (see above) around him.  It is up to the Keeper whether or not he creates more Thralls—he wants and needs their assistance and protection, but creating too many draws attention to himself and is more competition for the food supply.  

Perhaps the best way to use the Thralls is to have the players encounter one or more of them first.  Because these seem like more or less standard vampires—reanimated, blood-drinking corpses—it will make Crane/Cartwright and his leech all the more shocking.

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