Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Session Report: Canopus Rising

I've had a bit of a gaming hiatus lately, after my group of six years recently disbanded.  Nonetheless I had a great one-on-one Call of Cthulhu Skype session with Shane Mangus, guru of the Outer Dark.  Talk about pressure - maybe for my encore I should present a physics lecture to Stephen Hawking.  Anyhow, much fun was had and, for once, no player character died or went insane (but nearly all the NPCs did).  I present for your consideration: Canopus Rising...

The hills west of Arkham shelter deep valleys thickly-wooded and secret.  Farms dot the gentler slopes with moss-covered cottages and sagging barns, and the stillness of a languorous afternoon is filled with the thick droning of flies.  Richard Rafferty, freelance journalist, arrived in this torpid, lonely country to to investigate a recent report of cattle mutilation in the area.

Rafferty was met at the train station by local veterinarian, Dr. Peter Cross, who drove him out to the farm of Harley Jenkins, the farmer who just a few days earlier discovered one of his cows dead by unusual circumstances: three deep incisions on each side of the body, and a three-inch-diameter hole drilled into the top of the animals skull.  The brains had been completely removed.

Nor was this the first time that Jenkins had suffered such a loss.  Five years earlier he and his neighbour, Nate Kavanagh had lost animals to similar circumstances.  Indeed, as Harley Jenkins was happy to disclose, such mutilations had been occurring every five years, like clockwork, for the past fifty years - starting around the time that big meteorite crashed in the Sawnee Creek valley.

After photographing the scene, Dr. Cross dropped Rafferty off in town to check into a hotel, with a promise to pick him up first thing in the morning.  At a local diner Rafferty gossiped with the waitress about the incident and she told him that fifteen years ago two local boys, Mark Tilson and Billy Dufresne had been seen hiking up Sawnee Creek towards Crater Lake and the desolate surrounding area known locally as The Scar.  Neither boy was ever seen again.

After supper, Rafferty checked in at the police station and introduced himself to the sheriff, Al Corrigan, who was clearly frustrated by the recurrence of the mutilations and his lack of leads as to their perpetrators.  "These cows weren't killed by no animal I ever seen, and I can only guess it must've been a man that did it.  But I just can't imagine anyone from hearabouts doing something like that," he said.

The next morning as Rafferty and Dr. Cross were driving out to visit 'The Scar' they were pulled over by the sheriff, who asked the doctor to head out to Nate Kavanagh's farm - four of his sheep had been killed in the night.  Kavanagh found the dead sheep, killed in exactly the same way as Jenkin's cow, early that morning in their pen near the house with the rest of the herd.  Kavanagh said he never heard any sound of commotion or alarm from the sheep during the night.

After leaving Kavanagh's farm, Rafferty and Cross drove out to Jack Tilson's place - his son was one of the boys who disappeared fifteen years ago.  Over several glasses of home-brewed whiskey, Tilson told the story of how he'd led the search party looking for the boys.  He'd been scouting ahead, alone, along the shore of Crater Lake when he felt a strange compulsion that drew him towards a cave entrance.  At the mouth of the cave he smelled something like the musty, acrid smell of a snake hibernaculum combined with rotting meat.  So great was his fear and loathing that he shook off his torpor and fled the area without investigating further.  To his lasting shame, he was so unmanned by the experience that he never told anyone else about the cave and he's never ventured down into The Scar ever since.

Rafferty convinced Tilson to lead them to Crater Lake and show them the cave entrance, and perhaps gain some closure on his son's disappearance.  Tilson took his .30-.30 off the wall and guided Rafferty and Cross on a hike over the ridge to the west and down into Sawnee Creek valley.  They spent several hours hiking north up the creek bed to the shore of Crater Lake.  The thick vegetation abruptly died off, as did the droning of flies when they entered the desolate area known as The Scar - a broad swath cut through the valley where the meteorite had plowed through fifty years ago, which had never regrown.  Sure enough, concealed by rock outcrop was a cave entrance on the cliff face on the lake's eastern shore.  Approaching the cave the party was overwhelmed by the sickening smell from within, though Tilson said he didn't feel the same pull in his mind that drew him there the first time.  They entered the dark cave and Rafferty heard crunching beneath  his feet.  Shining the electric torch down, he saw that the cave floor was littered with animal bones - birds, rabbits, foxes, cats - and Jack Tilson suddenly gasped then fell to his knees and picked up a small human skull with a hole drilled in the top.  Next to it was another adolescent human skeleton.  Mark's and Billy's fate was finally discovered.

The party collected up the boys' bones and hiked back to Tilson's place.  Upon arrival they found that Dr. Cross's truck had been vandalized: the hood and doors had been torn off, and the engine and battery was missing.  Just then Sheriff Corrigan arrived and reported that John Crenshaw's tractor had been vandalized and destroyed.  They were able to make out where the truck engine had been dragged into the bush, and the sheriff, along with Jack Tilson, Dr. Cross, and Rafferty followed the tracks north along the ridge parallel to Sawnee Creek.  By early evening they had followed the tracks to north of Crater Lake towards Ashton Butte.  They began their ascent of the butte, and reached the summit just after sunset.  There, they found a pile of mechanical parts that had been assembled to form what looked like some kind of battery-powered transmitter pointing directly at the skyline due south.

Just then, Rafferty heard a soft scratching like claw on rock and turned to see an enormous, white-carapaced spider like creature scuttling toward them, snapping its pincer-like claws.  Dr. Cross feinted dead away at the sight of the creature, Rafferty and the sheriff drew their pistols and snapped off quick shots while Tilson drew a bead on the creature with his rifle and hit it, cracking the carapace badly.  The creature veered towards Tilson and grasped him in its pincers, lifting him, screaming, off the ground.  Rafferty and the sheriff continued to fire their pistols at the creature, to little effect - their bullets ricocheting off the hard bony carapace.

Tilson's screams increased in pitch and terror as the creature lowered a writhing, toothy proboscis onto his head and began to bore into the bone.  The sheriff dropped his pistol and grabbed Tilson's abandoned rifle and continued to shoot at the beast, producing some more small cracks in the carapace.  Tilson's screams suddenly cut short as the creature began to feed - the proboscis bulging sickeningly as it sucked up his brains.  The creature dropped Tilson's lifeless body then advanced on the sheriff who swung his rifle like a club to fend the beast off.

Meanwhile, Rafferty, who had fired his pistol empty, dragged the unconscious Dr. Cross behind a rock outcrop and spent a few moments reloading.  By this time, sheriff Corrigan had run out of luck and had been caught up in the monster's embrace.  His brainless corpse soon joined that of Jack Tilson's.  The creature's proboscis probed the air, as if smelling for the other two intruders, then it began making its way toward the outcrop behind which Rafferty was hidden.  His pistol now reloaded, Rafferty braced his arm against the outcrop and took careful aim at the creature's fleshy proboscis.  He pulled the trigger and the proboscis erupted in a sickening slew of green ichor and partially-digested grey matter.  The creature collapsed, rapidly hemorrhaging from its maimed proboscis, and quickly died.

Rafferty slapped Dr. Cross awake, and the two of them made carefully made their way back to Jack Tilson's place, where they notified authorities of the deaths of Jack Tilson and Sheriff Corrigan.  The next morning they accompanied a party back up to Ashton Butte and found that the creature had dissolved, leaving only a pile of disarticulated pieces of exoskeleton.

Later, back in Arkham, Rafferty read, in the Boston Herald, of a rare astronomical event: the star Canopus would be visible in the northern hemisphere for the first time in centuries and could be seen as the brightest star on the southern horizon.  Exactly where the jury-rigged transmitter was pointed.

Creatures from Canopus - Lesser Independent Race

It had a narrow, segmented torso from which extended eight long, multi-jointed appendages, each terminating in claw-like pincers.  The thing was wholly contained within a bone-hard carapace and, instead of a head, its proximal end bore a long, flexible proboscis, pale white, which writhed like a maggot, with a toothy serrated maw at its end.

These large spider-like creatures are native to the Canopus system, located in the Carina constellation.  They spread from world to world, stripping it of resources and their scouts travel the galaxy, hibernating in stasis within meteoroids for millenia, until chance brings them to a new world.  Should that planet have suitable resources for their needs, the scout will construct a transmitter and send a signal back to Canopus so that colonization can commence.

The creatures feed by luring their prey within reach with a hypnotic psychic siren call, then hold it tight with their pincers while boring through the skull with its rasp-like proboscis.  This creates a three-inch-diameter hole in the skull through which the victim's brains are sucked out.

STR      5d6 (17-18)
CON    4d6 (14)
SIZ       6d6 (21)
INT      4d6 (14)
POW    3d6 (10-11)
DEX     3d6+6 (16-17)
Move    8/10 (swim)

Avg Damage Bonus: +1d6
Weapons: Claws 40%, 1d6 + damage bonus
                  Proboscis 100% 1d4 boring, 1d6 brain sucking on the subsequent
                  round and each round thereafter.
Psychic Siren Call  (Roll POW vs. POW on resistance table to hypnotize prey and lure it close)
Armour: 6-point carapace
Sanity Loss: 0/1d6

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter

The much anticipated (at least by me) Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter has finally launched, and in the first day the initial funding goal of $40,000 has been exceeded by more than three times.  So, this has clearly caught the attention of Lovecraft fans.

The bad news is that most of the funding levels allow only a limited number of backers and they've sold out quickly.  You know how most crowd-source projects offer greater rewards at successively higher levels?  Not so much, here.  Instead as each funding level sells out, you have to pay more to get the same stuff at the higher funding levels.  I guess this is a way of rewarding people who jumped on board early, but unless you were one of the lucky ones who got in during the opening minutes of the campaign, you're going to be paying more for the game, which kind of rubs me the wrong way.  So the earliest backers got the complete game with a pledge of $110 and as of this post, you now have to pay $125 (and that level is  nearly sold out, too). Each successive pledge level costs you more, topping out at $150 for the game (plus $45 shipping if you live outside the US).  The game will retail for $169, so backing the Kickstarter isn't such a great deal.

I'm still pretty jazzed about the game - just look at the awesome miniatures - but I'm going to pass on the Kickstarter and wait to buy this retail when it's released.  I'm pretty gun-shy of crowd-source projects to begin with, and the reward doesn't seem to be worth the risk on this one.