Saturday, October 13, 2018

Roleplaying: Buried Histories (CoC 7th)

Well, its been a very long time since i used this space (blows off cobwebs) but i recently ran a short RPG scenario over skype and as is the modern way I've written it up for my own, my players, and anyone elses entertainment. So read on, and hopefully enjoy! 

Buried Histories
A scenario of Call of Cthulhu (7th edition)

Session 1: Wreck of the Old ‘44
Autumn, 2018. A series for fierce storms have swept down from the north across Central Europe, causing disruption wherever they pass. In the midst of one such thunderstorm in the Sudeten Mountains, a lightning strike unleashes a rockslide that blocks one of the main roads close to the Polish-Czech border, and in the midst of all the rock and soil that cascade across motorway is a more dramatic bit of debris - a World War 2 Reichsbahn Locomotive! News crews flock to the scene, followed quickly by treasure hunters. The train is identified as leaving Krakow in late 1944, as the Red Army broke through the Ukraine and sent the Germans into full retreat. Rumours swirl as to its contents, National Governments start to lay claims based on speculations, and the Polish Army seals off the abandoned mine that rest of the train supposedly still sits in. Frustrated by the delay, French Professor Jacques DuMartin, expert in artifacts stolen by the Nazi Regime, has pulled a small group together to slip the blockage and explore the derelict before the site can be “ruined”.

Heading up the mountain in a hired 4x4, Professor DuMartin is accompanied by his graduate assistance Adrienne Gabri, local guide and outdoorsman Gerhard Lustberger (Neil Benson), along with documentary crew Octavia von Vulcan (Andrew Clark) and cameraman Dieter Rost (Steve Parkinson). They are aiming for what they believe to the covered roof of the Mine’s rail-line, where surface vents previously overgrown now appear to have been uncovered by the landslide. Leaving the car behind they make slow progress up the mountain, but are able to gain entry after a couple of attempts to find secure anchor points on the crumbling brickwork.

Rappelling down into the darkness, their hopes are immediately rewards - long hidden in the darkness is a train, mostly intact, just standing there waiting. Octavia and Dieter home in on the cattle truck near the end of the train, hoping for footage of victims of Nazi atrocity but are disappointed to find merely personal effects belonging to German troops, along with, more strangely, their medical discharge papers. The others walk the length of the train, noting what appears to be a tank on one flatbed, and a couple of trucks containing crated objects on another. On the far side of the train, the entrance into the rest of the mine seems sealed off, and piled by the rusted steel gates is a pile of bodies, in German Uniform, all apparently shot. The Professor and Adrienne start to photograph the site, adding tags to the bodies for later matching, whilst Gerhard, Octavia and Dieter go back to the train.

Alongside the two trucks they also find a large wrapped object, and decide to open it. With the camera rolling it is revealed to be some of black stone obelisk, covered in tiny hieroglyphs. To Dieters frustration the poor lighting conditions make it hard to get clear footage of the writing. Just as they are about to move on, and check the rest of the train, they hear movement, over to the side near the ruined front of the train. And then from the darkness a voice; “Hello? Is anyone there? Please, help me”.

Session 2: Abbott and Costello Find a Nazi Gold Train
(Note: With Neil (Gerhard) unavailable, this follows Octavia and Dieter)

Gerhard, Octavia and Dieter run towards the voice, fearing someone trapped down in the spill where the landslide broke into the tunnel. Dieter loses his footing, but falls bravely protecting the camera from harm, instead ripping up his jacket and cutting his shoulder - better make sure those Tetanus shots are up to date! They quickly find a man camped out in the darkness who introduces himself as Rudi Brandenaur and explains that he was hiking up in the woods when the storm hit and swept down here. He’s been trapped for six days with no phone signal, low on food and cold, but otherwise apparently unharmed apart from a nasty blow to the head that seems to be making his a little hazy as he starts to move around again.

Conscious that they now have a potential medical case to evacuate, the Professor suggests that they split to cover as much of the train as possible, with Octavia and Dieter taking Adrienne, which he takes Gerhard and Rudi. The journalists, keen for a human interest angle, insist of keeping Rudi with them, so the four of them head to the back of train to start poking around. A brief detour to the tank displays Adriennes historical knowledge, and yields some great footage of the carefully stowed equipment inside the long dormant war machine. Then they looking to the rear most carriage of the train, and are shocked at what they discover.

It’s a slaughterhouse. Half a dozen bodies are strewn inside what looks to be a dining and rest area, blasted (or torn) apart. Whilst 70 years old, the area is still noticeable covered in blood and body parts, dessicated and dried rather than rotted and eaten. Adrienne struggles to stomach it, and heads outside, but the journalists are made of sterner stuff, so send Rudi to look after her and start filming. They surmise that the victims were killed with grenade and gunfire, and once Adrienne returns (having sent Rudi to get the Professor and Gerhard) they start to capture the scene, cataloguing and tagging the bodies.

They are interrupted by a burst of orange light from the front of the train, that coincides with a striking vision of the carriage immediately after the massacre, complete with sights, smells and sounds of dying men. It passes, but the shaken journalists step outside to clear their heads and record some narration. The silence is shattered by a shot. Then another. Again they leap to action, running down the train in the darkness, lit only by the camera light. As they reach the fore-most intact carriage, now lit by eerie orange glow, they see Rudi stagger out of the doorway, falling onto the track. Octavia, with a better view, seems him appear to...change...into something else, something inhuman, before rolling under the carriage itself. She urges Dieter to bring in the camera to capture it, but Dieter again stumbles in the darkness, losing his grip on the camera and the moment is lost.

Disappointed and on edge, they head into the carriage which is full of large, thin crates. They find no sign of Gerhard or the Professor, but do find a pair of pistol cartridges, which Octavia is able to identify as .45 calibre, ruling out a German gun being fired. One of the crates is open, revealing what looks like a wall panel, covered in glowing Amber in intricate, curved patterns. They head back out of the train only be confronted with what can only be described as the reanimated corpses of two german soldiers, lumbering towards them. They hurriedly retreat back to the carriage in search of a weapon, pursued by the undead.

Inside, a close quarters brawl ensues as the undead appear intent in grappling the two journalists to the ground. Octavia attempts to pull the crates down to form a barrier but only succeeds in disarming herself, and Dieter is able to slip free of the unnaturally strong assailants at the cost of his already damaged jacket. Eventually, with the inventive use of a mirror, which seems to trigger some atavistic human feeling on one of their opponents, they are able to dispatch them, only to hear a scream - Adrienne! - from the far end of the train.

Once more scrambling to run the length of the train they only get in each others way, falling, rather than leaping from the train and down to the trackbed. There, they find themselves surrounded by more undead soldiers, and leading them, holding a .45 pistol on them, is the Professor.

Part 3:  The Machine Gunners
We start with Gerhard. As the journalists head up to the end of train, he and Professor DuMartain start to move toward the forward end of the carriage. On entering the carriage full of thin crates they start to unbox one, revealing one of the glowing Amber panels, and the Professor becomes noticeably excited at what Gerhard puts down to fame-inducing art find. They are still pulling the panel clear of the packaging when Rudi arrives with the news that the other half of the group have found a pile of bodies; whereupon DuMartin pulls a large calibre pistol and, without warning, shoots Rudi twice in the chest. To shocked to take it in, Gerhard is led outside to the pile of corpses near the mine entrance where, to his horror, the dead start to walk. One of them, now holding Gerhard’s rifle, places it’s dead hands on his shoulders and marches him back to the train with the Professor to confront the two journalists.

Despite a noble attempt to engage him, the Professor is in no mood to “monologue” his plans, and simply makes promises that his captives will not be harmed, something they have a hard time believing. In desperation, Octavia hatches a plan based on the flash of humanity she saw in one of the zombies earlier - barking orders at the “Soldiers of the Fatherland” to resist this “French Communist”. Her remarkable screen presence comes to her aid, and for a moment the zombies freeze, and taking his moment, Gerhard orders the one behind to pass his rifle over, which it does. Dieter breaks back for the train carriage, intent on smashing the amber boards, and Octavia lunges at the Professor.

A brief scuffle ensues, as the Professor calmly fires at Octavia, who dives out of the way, then, feeling discretion is the better part of valour, starts to sprint up the train into the darkness. Dieter leaps into the train and smashes at the Amber, but as he damages it his mind is overwhelmed with a cacophony of voices emanating from the panel, knocking him to his knees in pain. Gerhard is able to fire a shot into the Professors back, injuring him, but the impact is the subject of some sort of strange, protective aura. His disappointment is short lived, as he is pulled to the ground by zombies and, along with Dieter, dragged to the cattle car and locked inside. Meanwhile Octavia, hiding underneath the train in the pitch dark, is confronted by a seemingly unhurt Rudi, who leads her to the Anti-Aircraft truck at the far end of the train.

Everyone starts to hatch plans. Octavia uses her journalistic skills to get Rudi to talk, and he confesses (unknowingly on tape!) to being a German Soldier suffering from “a condition” that had allowed him to survive with the train for over 70 years. He explains that a modern corpse was swept in with the landslide, giving him modern clothes, but she is unable to get more out of him that would explain his apparent ability to resist gunfire. Dieter and Gerhard work to clamber out of the roof of the cattle car after several attempts, where they can see the Professors undead workforce assembling a number of panel in a loose semi-circle around a gilded table and seemingly somnambulant Adrienne. Everyone starts to eye up aged heavy weaponry as a solution to their predicament.

From the rear of the train Octavia convinces Rudi to swing the AA gun around and start firing at the ceiling, to bring it down over the far end of the train where the Professor is. As the firing starts, Dieter and Gerhard scramble over to the tank, where Dieter is able to bring the turret mounted machine into action for Gerhard to use, and then takes their single distress flare and tries to outflank to a better shot. The Zombies start to attack, and a furious Professor starts forward, waving his hands menacingly in the air, and something hard bounces off the side of the tank.

Steadily the AA gun starts to chew away at the roof, but a couple of the barrels jam. Octavia stands card at the armoured cupola, pushing off zombies with a trenching tool and a surprising amount of success. Meanwhile Gerhard is struggling with the machine gun; keeping it firing but not really hitting anything, when another gesture from DuMartin catches him in the chest, tearing at his insides for a moment. Gasping in pain, he registers that as the gestures are happening, the glowing panels are blinking out. He vows to stop firing at the Professor, and start firing at the Amber panels.

After creeping around the side of the train, Dieter takes his best shot with the flare gun, but it rolls hopelessly between the panels and only serves to attract DuMartins attention. Another invisible blast smashes into one of the rail cars but is otherwise fruitless. With three panels left lit up, Gerhard is able to chop another down with (finally) an accurate burst of fire. The roof finally starts to collapse; Dieter darts forward to try and rescue Adrienne from the chaos, shaking her from her torpor and darting back away. Back at the rear of the train, Octavia is finally overwhelmed and disarmed, her forearm shattered and zombies climbing into the gun mount when with a snarl Rudi leaps past her and into the pack of undead. He is not seen again.

With the roof collapsing, his panels dark or on fire or both, the Professor pulls out a knife from his belt and starts chanting in a voice that seems to pierce the cacophony. Slowly, a shape is pulled from the air; unspeakably alien, devoid of rational shape. It envelops the Professor, folding him into the nothingness. The archeology tags hung on the zombies flare in flames at his departure, and the fall back to the ground, at rest once more. At these final, unnatural moments, Gerhards mind finally snaps and he is left gripping the now-empty machine gun, shooting nothing at nothing, as silence once again falls across the train.


Battered and bloodied, the four of them are able to rig back up the ropes to the air shaft they came in from, and climb slowly and painfully to the surface. With the sound and fury echoing out of the mountain, the Polish Army are on the scene; they are taken into custody and looked after whilst main entrance is hastily cleared - diplomatic niceties be damned! - and the site fully investigated. After a week or so the site is opened to journalists, who marvel over the well preserved carriages, although any sign of a confrontation inside the tunnel is not apparent and no bodies are shown; official write ups seem to indicate the trains crew must have abandoned it. Of the contents of the train carriages, nothing is said, and the story quickly fades from the headlines.

The four survivors are handed over the Polish police and held for several days, questioned by several levels of authorities including, in a bizarre couple of hours, a pair introduced as “Art Experts from the British Museum” who seem especially interested in what they’d seen in the crates and train cars. They tell their story but the wilder details are put down to shock and likely contamination of the air in the tunnel from decaying munitions; the dessicated corpses, scenes of decades-old violence and lack of wildlife inside the mine all seemingly evidence. A body of a lost German hiker is found, partially naked and suffering grievous wounds unspecified in the press, only adds to the sense that they are all lucky to be alive (and not in jail, they are pointedly reminded).

Professor DuMartin remains missing, never re-appearing at his his University post. His room is however ransacked in the days following the events in the mine, and many of his private notes are missing. Passed onto Adrienne however, are his things he had in Poland, including a number of journals, some dated as far back as the 1920s, all in the same cramped hand. Much is written in code, or phrased ambiguously, but it seems clear he had been searching for the Amber Panels even before they wound up lost in a mineshaft. Other notes detail his frustration at fruitless searches and abandoned trips, which may have garnered him some small fame and recognition, but clearly not what he was searching for.

Dieter and Octavia are able to keep hold of some of their recordings through integration process - most of the camera footage is unusable, and Dieter suspects some may been tampered with, but the chat between Octavia and Rudi remains intact as does some shakey footage of the Walking Dead. Sadly it is not more convincing than any given high-budget TV show, and they are unable to get anyone to take it seriously. More profitable is the footage of the train, which several news channels are happy to bid for. And then Octavia gets a phone call….Rudi wishes to meet up, to continue their chat.

Keepers Comments

This was my first run at Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition and it’s an interesting evolution for one of the classics of the game. The system feels a little more streamlined (in line with modern design) and tighter, and the “pushing” mechanic (where characters can retry at risk of a negative consequence for failure) is dramatic and interesting. I think I was a little generous at allowing it sometimes, but it's a nice addition. Combat retains it’s somewhat brutal nature and I think the PCs were lucky not to lose someone; my main spellcasting villian let me down with some consistently poor rolls against them. Not totally sold on spending Luck, it feels pretty strong, if situational, so i’m pondering on that for next time.

By design this was essentially a sandbox with three main escalations - Rudi, the “Villain Reveal” and the Final Ritual - that could be trigger either for dramatic effect or just if the game was slowing down a bit. As such I wasn’t too sure how it would play out, and whilst I wasn’t totally expecting that much gunfire it was always a possibility. It mean some of the information around was lost, but thats CoC for you - it meant they weren’t really able to properly defeat the Professor and leaves a few hooks for a follow up.

And then i may get to try the new Chase rules...

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