Monday, 14 May 2018

Experiments in Horror - Call of Cthulhu (part 1)

In an old Lone Wolf thread about preserving the mystery for the player in a solitaire Call of Cthulhu adventure, I hit upon the idea of keeping clue tallies for two or more entities, and using these totals to eventually determine what monster the PC is facing. This experiment will be putting that into practice.

Rather than front-loading this post with tons of set-up, I'll leave the mechanics of the experiment to be explained at the bottom, when the first clues are found.

I decided to use a single investigator. Since I had no idea about the adventure other than the above-mentioned Experiment, I rolled up a starting PC and even randomised (1d6: 1-3 his, 4-6 her) her choice from amongst the most likely Occupations.

Investigator Name: Julia Quigley-Ffoulkes
Occupation: Dilettante
Colleges, Degrees: Trinity University College Carmarthen, MA
Birthplace: Cardiff
Sex: F Age: 25

STR: 10  DEX: 10  INT: 13   Idea: 65
CON:  8  APP: 16  POW: 13   Luck: 65
SIZ: 12  EDU: 19            Know: 95
HP:  10  SAN: 65  Damage Bonus: none

Credit Rating 80%
Dodge 20%
Drive Auto 60%
Hide 30%
History 40%
Other Language: French 80%
Other Language: Greek 25%
Other Language: Latin 60%
Own Language: English 95%
Persuade 75%
Psychology 40%
Sneak 40%
Spot Hidden 75%
Shotgun 55%

EquipmentContents of cloisonné handbag: pretty little gun*, compact mirror, lipstick, eye pencil, monogrammed hip flask containing good gin, naughty salt, passport, mostly empty gold cigarette case, half-used matchbooks from several fancy hotels, chequebook, Parker no. 15** & ink, datebook, £20***

*   .32 Automatic: Skill 20%, Damage 1D8, Ammo 6, RoF 3, range 15yds,
    Misfire 99, HP 8
**  a ladies model with a mother-of-pearl barrel and covered in gold-filled
*** worth approximately £820 in 2018

My toolbox for the experiment is:

As this was to be a typical horror tale (as opposed to the more hybrid/exploratory/D&D-esque ones I've been running), I wanted to use the Horror Theme rules from Mythic Variations, but they didn't quite fit with the changes in my MCSV. I decided to track the CF as in Mythic, and roll 1d10 for scene set-up according to the horror theme (1-3: Altered Scene, 4 or higher within the CF: Interrupt). For consulting the Oracle, I used my MCSV chaos die normally, with the following equivalencies:

CF  Chaos         Chaos Die
--  -----         ---------
4   Under control   d12
5   Average         d10
6-7 Out of control  d8
8-9 Madness         d6

According to the Horror Theme, the first scene always starts on an Ambiguous Event, so...

Scene 1

Chaos: Under control (CF4 - d12)

Setup: Ambiguous Event - begin / favour

NPC List: -

Threads: -

[Maybe it was messing about with Byakhee, but the first thing that came to mind when I rolled the scene start was a telegram (there's a template for making them as props). Using UNE to decide what it says:

NPC Relationship: neutral
Conversation Mood: neutral
mysterious - secrets - enemy

The sender is an old friend: Alexandra Bishop (Byakhee has a random investigator name function. Unless otherwise stated, assume all NPC names were generated with it, which saves me the trouble of noting it each time.)

The year is 1919+1d10= 1924
The month is 1d12= October]

Julia Quigley-Ffoulkes is sitting in her aunt's parlour and pretending to listen to Geoff Grantham's story about his latest safari in Kenya when the arrival of a telegram gives her the excuse she's needed to leave the room.


Alexandra Bishop isn't the sort of person to need rescuing, so what, Julia wonders, could have her so agitated as to request it? Or perhaps the troubles are nothing more than the usual sorts of dramas that dear Alex is wont to find herself embroiled in. But then, Alex's boy troubles would be ever so much more distracting than that miserable Geoff Grantham's takes of shooting zebras or wildebeest or whatever it was he was droning on about.

Julia throws some things into an overnight bag, and her favourite handbag [see equipment list] and has Jones call her a cab to take her to Cardiff Central Rail Station at once.

She wires Alex to pick her up from Paddington, and is on the next express train to London.

[Q: What sort of person is Alex?

Personality: Motivated, Nasty

1. seek lies (a blackmailer)
2. communicate dissonance (loves nasty gossip -- about other people)
3. secure military (always chasing after Capt. Simon Rudge)

The Chaos Factor increases due to Alex's involvement. If you have to ask why, it's obvious that you don't know her very well, darling.]

Scene 2

Chaos: Average (CF5 - 1d10)

Setup: 1d10=2, Altered (was: meet Alex at station)

NPC List: Alexandra Bishop

Threads: help out old friend

[Q: Does her train get in on time? Doubtful (6): O5 C3 - No, but... only 1d20=17 minutes late.]

Julia glances at her watch as her train arrives at Paddington. "Only a quarter of an hour late," she thinks.  "Alex is probably not even here yet."

With exceeding nonchalance, Julia collects her bag and waits until the crowd has left the platform before getting off the train. She wasn't expecting Alex to meet her on the platform itself, so she wanders into the station proper, but Alex is nowhere to be found.

"Late, as always," sighs Julia, and proceeds to the station café. She finds a table with a view of the concourse, orders a coffee, and vainly wishes she had rum in her flask; the gin is lovely, but wholly unsuitable for jazzing up one's coffee.

She waits.

And she waits.

And she waits some more.

There's only so long one can nurse a cold cup of coffee, so in the end Julia finds a phone box and rings Alex's flat.

[Q: Is there an answer? Doubtful (6): O1 C2 - No, and... ]

"Sorry, ma'am," says the operator, "but that number's been disconnected."

Julia sighs. "Trust Alex to forget to pay her telephone bill."

Julia notices the last of the station shops has shut, and glances at her watch. [1d12+12=] "Eight o'clock already!" She digs through her bag to find what coins she has at the bottom, and begins ringing up every mutual friend in Town she can think of.

[Q: Anyone answer? 50/50 (4+): O4 C3 - Yes, but...

NPC Relationship: friendly
Conversation Mood: neutral
inquisitive - interest - last action]

She tries Roo (Sir Rudolph Dailly), Gingy (Rebecca May), and Tuppy (Tim Richardson), but none of them are in. Finally she gets through to Chuffers (Karl Dobson), but he hasn't any good news.

"Sorry Jules, haven't seen her lately. I heard she has some new scheme or other, very hush-hush. Can't really say more. I've late dinner reservations before the opera, must dash."

Julia sighs again, and goes to find a taxi to take her to a hotel.

[Q: Any unusual problems? Unlikely (5+): O2 C10 - No.

In that case she needs to make a Credit Rating (80%) roll: d%=13, success.]

She was expecting that Alex would put her up, so hadn't made a reservation anywhere. She explains her little plight to the concièrge at the Ritz, who of course cannot countenance that a Miss Quigley-Ffoulkes might stay anywhere beneath her station. Right this way, mademoiselle!

[CF increases again as, other than the hotel, nothing went her way.]

Scene 3

Chaos: Out of control (CF6 - d8)

Setup: go to Alex's flat

NPC List: Alexandra Bishop

Threads: help out old friend

Julia dumps her bags on the bed, has room service send up a bottle of scotch, powders her nose (in both licit fashion and otherwise), then sets out in another taxi to Alex's flat in Belgravia.

[Q: Anything unusual about the building from outside? Unlikely (5+): O1 C1 - No, and...
+Event:  NPC action - declare / Corse (it didn't seem that Alex, currently the only real NPC, was the appropriate Actor for this Event, so I interpreted it thus:]

"I'm here to visit Miss Bishop," says Julia to the doorman. "No need to ring up, she's expecting me."

"But... but miss," stammers the doorman. "She can't have..."

"I have her telegram right here."

"Sorry Miss, haven't you heard? Miss Bishop is dead!"


"Yes, it's... it was awful."

"There must be some mistake. Out of my way! I'm going up to see her. Out of my way this instant!"

"You can't, miss. The police said--"

"I don't give a damn what the police say, or what you say, or what anyone else says for that matter! I'm going up straightaway to see my friend."

"Her flat's been cordoned off, miss. It's a crime scene. No one is allowed--

[Persuade 75%: d100=47, success]

-- oh, please, miss, don't cry. There's a guard on her door and he won't let anyone near, not until the inspector comes back."

"Please," sobs Julia, "may I talk to him. Just a few words..."

"Of course, miss."

[She'll need a Persuade roll at half skill level (38%) to get past the copper: d%=15, success.]

Julia's slightly flirtatious tears are more than a match for the police constable guarding the door to Alex's flat.

"I really shouldn't be allowing this, miss..."

"Don't worry. I won't touch a thing."

[N.B. She just means she won't disturb any items. Fingerprinting doesn't yet exist in 1924.

Q: Is the body still there? Doubtful (6): O5 C3 - No, but... lots of blood and a random body part (via
Q: Other than blood, is the flat a disaster? 50/50 (4+): O2 C6 - no
Q: Is the window open? Unlikely (5+): O5 C1 - Yes, and... wide]

When Julia slips into the flat past the constable and switches on the light, her first reaction to the sight that greets her eyes is shock, and incredulity: the flat is perfectly neat and tidy, not a thing out of place. For the briefest moment she allows herself a glimmer of hope. "There must be some mistake; this can't be Alex's flat. She could still be alive!" Then the familiar lines of the furnishings and the posters stuck up on the walls settle into Julia's brain, and hope vanishes. It is Alex's flat; the housekeeper must have just been.

Julia shivers a moment, then notices the window has been left wide open to admit the cool October breeze. She pushes the heavy curtains aside, and looks out at the landscaped courtyard and the windows on the far side. "Too bad everyone here keeps themselves to themselves, or somebody could have seen something. Oh, for a block full of gossips! But I suppose that's why Alex loved it here."

Julia goes from room to room, and everywhere there reigns the same unusual order. "Alex can't have been home long before..." Julia cannot bear to finish the thought. She was expecting to find a chalk outline on the rug in the bedroom, but all she sees there is Alex's green velvet shawl and Chinese silk handbag -- the one she always carries with the shawl and won't believe doesn't go even though Julia, and everyone else for that matter, has been telling her for years -- tossed casually on the floor so very near the bed. She's smiling, almost laughing at the marks of a very-much-alive Alex when she walks into the kitchen.

Blood has splashed from floor to ceiling. Sticky, congealing streaks have dripped down the walls, and still-wet pools cover the ground. There is no body, and the confused smears and splashes give no indication of where it might have lain. A little lump of meat sits in the perfect centre of the little oval table, the one where Alex and Julia were wont to share a 7am nightcap after an evening on the town. Julia recognises it as a human tongue.

She feels faint, and puts a hand out to steady herself against the wall, then stops short lest she touch the gory wall. She steps back into the parlour, slumps in an armchair...

[According to the rulebook, being surprised to find a body part calls for a Sanity roll, with a SAN loss of 0/1D3. Julia has SAN 65; d%=28, success, so she loses 0 SAN points.]

...then takes a long pull from her flask. The gin burns on the way down, but redoubles her resolve. "Right. I'm going to get to the bottom of this. Alex, darling, to you." Julia takes another nip off the flask, then sets about a methodical search.

[There will be three potential clues, so I'll interrogate the Oracle to see what they might be:
Q: Is there diary? 50/50 (4+): O3 C4 - No.
Q: Are there footprints? 50/50 (4+): O6 C2 - Yes, and...
Q: Is there something unusual? Likely (3+): O5 C1 - Yes, and...
Q: Is there something obviously missing? Unlikely (5+): O6 C5 - Yes.

Julia needs to roll Spot Hidden (75%) for each to find it. 87, 74, 40: She doesn't spot the footprints, so I won't ask the Oracle about those. For the other two clues, I rolled on the artefacts table in the adventure creation section of the d30 Sandbox Companion.
unusual: d30=wand
missing: d30=mirror]

Julia isn't sure what she is looking for. The housekeeper has spent so many years cleaning up after Alex that the place barely looks inhabited once she leaves. Julia makes a quick survey of Alex's bedroom, rifling all the drawers in the armoire and finding nothing but folded linens. She thinks to check under the bed, but there' nothing there at all. She then lifts up a corner of the mattress, and giggles when she sees the long, slender black rod there concealed. "Been shopping in Soho, have we, dear Alex?" She is about to let the mattress fall, but a closer look at the thing sheds a shiver up her spine. It seems to be a horn of some sort, twisted in a loose spiral, and incised with all sorts of strange figures or symbols. And not at all, ehem, the other thing. Julia is loathe to touch it, but knows instinctually that it must be a clue, and quickly conceals it under her coat.

She is about to leave when she notices one strange fact which up to now had escaped her notice. She even rechecks the powder room just to be sure she's not mistaken, and is somewhat bewildered to find her suspicions proved correct. There isn't a single mirror in the flat. They've all been removed. Julia allows her consternation to come to the surface -- it's easier than she'd like to admit, so shaken are her nerves --  and goes back into the corridor with the nervously-pacing policeman.

"It's all too horrible! Why oh why did you ever let me in there, you beastly man! Tell the doorman to call me a taxi at once."

- - -

Counting up the Points

This experiment was to see how my points-based mechanism for determining the Ultimate Horror would work, but I was essentially making it up as I went along. I hadn't quite figured out how the points would be tallied or how the final result would be decided at this stage of the adventure, but as I write this the adventure has already been played through to conclusion. I have compiled the rules HERE in a PDF, which includes some (untested) options. But now it's time to attend to the first lot of Clues.

Before starting the adventure, I flipped through the monster section of the CoC rulebook to pick five potential enemies:

hound of tindalos
dimensional shambler

Each Clue will grant a number of points to one or more of these monsters according to the following schema:

only vaguely related +1
related +2
if only 1 is possible +3
if all or none, +0
if none seem likely, but one is definitely improbable -1
if none seem likely, but none are particularly counter-indicated, then it is a red herring.

If lowest total is ever 5 points less than highest, that entry is removed from the list.

So, to look at each Clue in turn...

Open window: Byakhee and Mi-go both have wings, so this relates to them; they get +2 each. A ghoul could conceivably climb in and out of the window, which seems vaguely related enough for a +1.

Wand: I actually looked at all the summon/bind spells for the creatures, and none of them require a wand. Since it doesn't really seem to be for or against any of them, +0 (no points for any).

No mirrors: Could Alex have been afraid of extra-dimensional forces? Hound of Tindalos and Dimensional Shambler +1 each.

Tongue: This also doesn't hint at any of them, but a ghoul certainly wouldn't leave a snack behind, so -1 point for ghouls.

The totals after this scene are thus:
0 ghoul (+1-1)
1 hound of tindalos (+1)
2 mi-go (+2)
2 byakhee (+2)
1 dimensional shambler (+1)

The CF remains unchanged as she got a fright but came away with some clues.

to be continued...


  1. I dig the investigation mechanism leading to the discovery of a the monster. I just played my first ever Coc solo adventure (Alone Against the Flames), so this is a great post to stumble across (from Discord) as I'm keen for a non-guided CoC experience already. Bookmarking the *#%?! out of this.

    1. Excellent! Let me know if you post your adventures.

  2. It appears there are a lot of questions that have yet to be answered. However, the one I am most intrigued by is this: What on earth is the purpose of "naughty salt"?

    1. I'm afraid it's not the arcane mystery you might be hoping for, though it can be sanity-blasting in its own right: 'naughty salt' is a euphemism for cocaine.

    2. Ahhh. Have not heard that particular turn-of-phrase before.