[Various SOLO + GURPS] Semiotic Apophany

Coorlim

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This is an epistolary Actual Play in which I play a bunch of solo RPG modules, with three twists:

  • One, I’m converting them all to GURPS as I play, for the sake of consistency.
  • Two, I’m tying them all together with a framework world-hopping narrative.
  • Three, I’m playing them as a (barely) autobiographical 50-point version of myself, a middle-aged out-of-shape guy with a sedentary job.

The reasonings behind these twists are interconnected, and it’s partially for the challenge of the thing. 50-point-me is significantly weaker than the protagonist characters these solo games provide, even the Call of Cthulhu ones, and significantly weaker than a first level character in almost any leveled system. Almost all of the protagonist's points go into irrelevant academic skills. Rather than trying to accurately recreate myself, I'm creating a character who is, at least superficially, like myself.

I plan to award the character bonus CP to spend after each module. That’s the reason why I’m going with GURPS; it offers a sort of gradual character development that works well with the framework scenario I’m wrapping all the games in. These CP will be spent to increase skills used in the scenario, or saved to purchase more expensive advantages that represent growing experience and fitness.

I’ll be playing 3 kinds of game: Solo modules, gamebooks with RPG-mechanics (Fighting fantasy, etc), and group modules slightly tweaked to be more solo friendly.
 

Coorlim

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Chapter 1: Our opening gambit has tentacles

I don’t know if anyone will ever read this, but that’s not the point, is it? I’m a writer - it’s what I do. It’s how I process. How I think. It’s really the only thing I’m ever been any good at, as the events of the last 24 hours will attest. I’m in a place of relative safety now, but I’m still shaking. Everything still has that sense of surrealism to it, but by this time I’m fairly sure I’m not dreaming. I don’t know what I am. Or where, in this strange non-space.

Let me start at the beginning, before I forget, while it’s still fresh.

Okay.

So I’m sitting in a car in a ditch on the side of the road in the middle of a storm, with no idea how I’d gotten there. I hadn’t just suddenly appeared, it was more like I’d been there for a few minutes, just staring at the rain splattering on the windshield, until I noticed that I was there. Like when you wake up but you don’t want to admit you’re awake. Maybe this is what coming out of a fugue is like.

I’m alone in the car. It’s old, too. Boxy. At first I think it’s a jeep, but it’s more like a model-T. Not a model-T model-T, but I don’t know what that kind of car is called. A roadster? A 1920s-30s passenger car. I hope it’s a replica because it looks like I just drove it into a ditch.

Maybe I hit my head hard enough to black out, to forget what I was doing here, that I’d been driving. Amnesia. I get that ‘oh shit’ stomach drop because I know how serious even mild head trauma can be. I’ve never had a concussion so I don’t know what it feels like, but other than that sense of disorientation I feel fine. Physically

My ‘oh shit’ moment continues as I wonder how much time I’ve lost, how much I’m not remembering, how long it’d take me to go from living a practically hermetic life in my apartment in Chicago to taking a solo road trip in a classic car. The life of a novelist is pretty routine - I get up, I write all day, I go to bed. Sometimes I go shopping. I don’t have a car, I haven’t driven since 2010.

Yet here I was. Did I still live in the city? Was I still with my girlfriend? How were my books doing?

I take off my hat. I was wearing a hat. Not my newsboy cap, this is brimmed. A fedora, maybe, or a trilby - I’m nerd enough to know there’s a difference, not nerd enough to know what the difference is. Goes with the suit jacket I’m wearing. I’m dressed nice. Nicer than I’ve dressed in… since my brother’s wedding, probably. No phone in my pockets, but I’ve got a wallet. Too dark to see what’s in it.

There’s a warm thermos and a newspaper on the passenger seat. I take a nip from the coffee and hold the paper up to the window, to see the date, to see how much time I’ve lost, but it’s too dark. Other than the car’s headlights beaming off into the forest it’s pitch black out, and a quick fumbling on the dash and above my head doesn’t reveal any overhead light switches.

A peal of thunder, a flash of lightning. I pick up the paper and wait for the next one, eyes fixed on the masthead. It takes three flashes before I can get a good look, and until the fifth for me to confirm what I’ve seen.

October 30, 1923. I mouth the words.

Paper’s not yellowed, not old. It’s fresh. Not a gag paper, I can smell fresh ink. It’s real. Car’s real. I didn’t feel any keys when I was fumbling at the dash, and I remember that cars didn’t have keyed ignition until the 40s. Even if this was a restoration, they’d have had it keyed.

Time travel.

That’s my leap of logic. Maybe a Quantum Leap thing. I’m a science fiction writer, and this makes as much sense to me as any other reason I’d be wearing a suit and driving a classic car in the rain. Maybe I jumped into some poor bastard and made him drive off-road into a ditch. I still feel like me, and the face in the rear view mirror during the lightning flashes looks like me, but that’s how it worked for Scott Bakula, right?

Spoiler: Show
All of the above just to set up the scenario, to get my character to the same relative place as the module’s protagonist. Not entirely; the scenario informs the player that there’s a tire iron and flashlight in the trunk. Unless I have a good reason to go digging around back there, I’m not going to discover that.

I’ve rolled a Fright Check even though the rules don’t call for it. I figure that realizing you’ve traveled through time justifies it.


I don’t know how long I’m sitting there, feeling numb except for that steadily growing ‘oh shit’ in the pit of my stomach, before I notice the lights. A group of them, out in the rain, bobbing along through the woods alongside the road, like someone carrying glow-sticks. Only its apparently the 20s, so I figured they’re probably lanterns.

Spoiler: Show
The scenario called for a Spot Hidden roll, but since we’re playing GURPS I’ll parse that as a Perception roll with a penalty for the storm.


I watch for a few seconds, put my hat on, stuff the thermos and paper into my jacket, and head off after them. I was thinking… I don’t know. People. If I’m stuck in the past, maybe I can find some help, find some light. Better than sitting in the car in the storm.

The rain is cold and sobering and this is definitely real and not a dream.

The woods are thicker than they looked, and I lose sight of the lights before I catch up to them. I don’t panic, I haven’t gone far, I can still find my way back to the car, but I don’t want to have stomped off into the cold of the rain and muck of the forest for no reason.

I go a bit further, looking for the lights, and that’s when I notice the drums.

***​

I’d been hearing it since I got out of the car, but had been ignoring it as thunder until now. It was too regular, too rhythmic. Brought to mind the Full Moon Jam - an event they’ve done down at the beach near my apartment for the last decade. Fire spinning and a drum circle. They don’t do it in the rain, for safety reasons.

When I catch up, I can see these folk don’t care too much about safety. No fire spinning, but they have a bonfire in the middle of a clearing. I hang back at the edge until I can make out what’s going on, and… oh boy.

There’s a dozen men and women dancing around the fire, naked in the rain. Past them are three guys on kettle drums, and past them are a trio of stone pillars. The ones on the ends are tall and carved from white stone into strange and unpleasant shapes. The middle pillar is shorter than the others, and serves as a pedestal for a black stone statue.

It’s fucked up. Makes me uneasy.

There’s a scream. Two big naked dudes come in out of the woods, dragging a woman with them, dressed like - I swear to God - a flapper. They haul her over in front of the statue and tie her arms to these big iron rings on either side of its pillar. She’s crying and begging but they clearly do not care.

I want to write that I did something. I want to say that I ran up and saved her, that I fought them all off, kicked them all in their naked balls, that I untied her, that we ran into the woods. But even if this was fiction that’d feel fake.

I stood there, in the rain, starting to shiver, unable to do more than watch. If I want to give myself credit, I’ll say that I was watching and waiting for an opportunity to help, but the truth of the matter is that I’m an out-of-shape writer who hasn’t been in a real fight since grade school, and I haven’t even thrown a punch since I stopped taking karate almost ten years ago. I’m not going to fight my way through a mob of naked dancing lunatics.

Maybe, I think, I don’t have to. Maybe I can sneak around, get close enough to untie her…

The drumming and chanting reaches a climax and I see this distortion in the air between the two big columns, like a mirage or heat haze, but then it gets worse, and it rips and… god. The best I can do in describing it is comparing it to the visual aura I sometimes get with my migraines. Like there are dead pixels on my internal monitor, only in this case it’s not in my field of vision, it’s hanging there in the air like a cloud of irrationality.

The woman starts screaming, and I swear to god tentacles come out of the damn thing, reaching for her, and here things… it’s hard to remember. Hard to write about. I don’t want to remember. Fuck it.

Spoiler: Show
A Sanity check is called for. I’m rolling a GURPS Fright check using the Stress and Derangement rules from GURPS Horror, which I think is a good alternative. After assessing penalties for darkness, the tentacles, my prior check in the car, etc, I roll against my Will of 12, and fail by 5.

The scenario includes consequences for failing the check, so I’ll use them instead of rolling on the GURPS Fright Check table.


Had to stop writing for awhile. Think I can continue now, though my memories aren’t clear.

I see the thing, I lose my shit, I puke my guts out - largely liquid, probably coffee - and I’m screaming. Puke-screaming, and the dancers are on me, grabbing me, dragging me towards the hole in the sky. As soon as I’m able to comprehend what’s going I start thrashing, but there’s just so damn many of them.

Spoiler: Show
Strength check to break free. I’m only average, but I pass the roll.


Somehow, by some miracle, I manage to kick free and I’m running before I hit the ground. I can still hear the woman screaming, and then there’s this sound, and she’s not screaming anymore, but I don’t look back. I just run. I’m in shit shape and I haven’t “run” run in so long and my lungs are screaming, but I don’t stop until I run out of ground.

Then I’m falling.

And I hit water. Cold water, a river swollen by the storms, and I’m in this frigid void where there’s no such thing as up or down. The cold is shocking, and I worry about hypothermia, and I worry about my lungs burning, and I worry about tentacles coming from the places my eyes won’t see.

Spoiler: Show
Swim skill check. Fortunately this is a skill I actually possess, and I pass.


I kick against nothing and my face breaks into air that’s somehow colder than the water, and I take a big breath, and realize how close I came to drowning, but it doesn’t matter. I tread water, and the water calms as it leaves the forest. I don’t leave the river, though. I don’t dare. I don’t care that I’m probably catching pneumonia. The water feels safer than the shore.

Eventually I see the bridge up ahead. Bridge means a road, road means civilization, and things like that *thing* in the woods can’t exist in civilization. I crawl out onto the shore, under the bridge, and I just lie there, staring at the stars.

After awhile - an hour, I don’t know, but the sun is rising - I see headlights coming down the road, and I flag down an old couple of farmers. They ask me what happened, and I tell them something about an accident and getting lost in the woods and falling in the river. I don’t mention anything about the cultists - too much to explain - and I sure as hell don’t talk about being from the future.

They take me to the nearest hotel in the college town up the road.

Arkham, Massachusetts.

Arkham isn’t real. Lovecraft made it up. I know this as a fact, but I’m here, in this hotel, writing in a notebook the desk clerk gave me, and I don’t know what any of it means. There’s a driver’s license in my wallet, and it’s my picture, but the name - CJ Young - means nothing to me.

I’m going to bed.

Spoiler: Show
This adventure was The Lonely Road from the freely downloadable Protodimension #9. I went with it because the scenario was written for *literally anyone*, and lacking any real adventuring skills, it’s appropriate. Most games suitable for untrained characters are in the horror genre, so expect a good deal of trauma.

A short adventure, but I survived it. I’ll give myself 2 CP. I’ll be following GURPS guidelines for spending character points, only improving skills used in the adventure. In this case the only real skill I used was Swimming, so I’ll bump that up a point.

Taking a page from the Call of Cthulhu rulebook, I’ll also use my failed Fright Check as an excuse to put a first point into Hidden Lore (Mythos). This will remain largely irrelevant outside of Call of Cthulhu adventures, but hey - it’s there.

I’m looking for more beginners/unskilled protagonist/non-adventurer solo scenarios! If you have any suggestions, post them to this thread. I’ve already got a few Call of Cthulhu scenarios that work - the Alone Against Whatever series - so non-horror is preferred if possible.
 
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Hituro

Eager Critmouse
Validated User
Subscribed, because this is cool, and also Solo Roleplaying (which I am doing myself at the moment), and also (did I say?) cool!
 

Coorlim

Registered User
Validated User
Glad to have you aboard!


New notebook. New situation. This might be a little disjointed - it’s a while since I’ve had a place to write things down, and a lot has happened. I’ll try to go chronologically.

I was able to find the apartment listed on CJ’s driver’s license in town, and spent a few days there trying to figure out what to do, trapped in the 1920s. The fake HP Lovecraft 1920s, in a town that didn’t exist, haunted by Cthulhu Mythos creatures. No idea how I got there, and without any idea of how to get back, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I’d just have to live out my life in a fictional past.

I had a few hundred dollars cash, enough to get by for about half a year, and a PI’s license, but to be honest? I don’t know the first thing about the job. Best idea I could come up with was try to get into writing the era’s weird fiction for the pulps. Hell, maybe it’d be easier in the 20s, save up a nest egg for the inevitability of the 1930s. Even went down to the newsstand and bought some Weird Tales issues as “research.”

Mostly, I think I was trying to distract myself and not think about how much I missed my life, or worry about the downsides of knowing that the Mythos was hiding just around the bend. What if some of the naked cultists recognized me in town? What if they decided I knew too much?

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry about any of that.

Spoiler: Show
Begin new scenario… now!


I wake up, and I’m not in my apartment. I’m in a dark, dank, stinking ship’s hold, lying on and shackled to a wooden bunk. And I’m not alone down here, there’s a couple dozen others down here with me, each in their own bunk, each in their own misery. Again, I looked like myself, and no one appeared to have noticed me replacing whoever had been there before… if that’s how it worked. All of us, me included, dressed in rags.

Time travel. Again, that was my first thought. Now to the 18th or 19th century, and I’d jumped into a slave ship.

Or maybe not. Most of the others were as pale-skinned as I was. Prison ship? Something with vikings? Were we convicts headed toward Australia? That it was a shitty situation was a given, but I felt the desperate need to know the exact flavor of shitty situation.

That’s when I noticed the pointed ears of the guy in the bunk across from mine. Motherfucker was an elf. I looked away before he could catch me staring. I’m not blind without my glasses, but I do a lot of squinting, and it’s kind of obvious.

Okay, so not time travel. A parallel world? No - that was ridiculous. Not that parallel realities can’t exist, or that I might not go to one… but would a real parallel world be so dripping with pop culture trappings of Tolkeinesque fantasy fiction? Or Lovecraftian horror? Maybe I was in some metafictional literary reality. I think there was a doctor who episode about that.

Or maybe, perhaps most likely, I was probably locked into my own mind in a fantasy-fueled coma. Maybe dying. Maybe dead, in some kind of writer’s purgatory.

I was looking at the elf again. This time he’d caught my gaze. “Uh. Hey.” I waved as well as my shackled wrist would allow.

He hissed something in response, low and urgent, in a language I didn’t understand. Elfish, probably.

“What?”

His eyes darted down towards the stairs leading up to the deck above us.

I got the picture. No talking. Guards would probably come beat us. I lay back on my bunk, letting the motion of the ocean rock me, waiting for… I don’t know what. An epiphany? Some kind of reason for all this? No. I was waiting for something to happen. If this was a literary reality, there’d be a structure to it. Or at least, I hoped there would be - shitty things happening just because was for the real world.

But goddamn if this didn’t feel like the real world. It wasn’t completely silent, though. I would catch occasional snatches of conversation in languages I couldn’t understand. You’d think that if this was a coma dream I’d at least let myself understand what was going on around me, but no, I have to be all about the verisimilitude.

Later - how long I can’t say - conversations ceased as heavy footsteps clunked down the steps from the above deck. A big ugly dude was made his way down the aisle, indiscriminately slinging slop from a bucket he was carrying into prisoners’ wooden bowls. I searched the bunk behind me and found one myself, holding it out like I saw the others doing. The portion the guard served to me splashed half-way up my arm, but it thankfully wasn’t hot.

It stank, though, like body odor. Or sewage. I almost gagged, holding the bowl further down my body. The other prisoners ate it like they hadn’t been fed in days. Maybe they hadn’t been. I’d had a decent dinner the night before… maybe I’d hold onto my bowl for awhile. The slop couldn’t get much worse.

Eventually, I got hungry. Eventually, I ate it. I’m not going to dwell on that.

I don’t know how long I was down there before the storm hit, but it was long enough that I no longer felt sick from the bowl of slop, so I didn’t puke all over myself when the ship started rocking. I don’t get seasick, but I didn’t much enjoy the pitching of my bunk, and liked it less when the guard opened the hatch to the deck and sprayed us all with icy seawater.

He yelled something I didn’t understand and went around unlocking manacles - and at first I thought we might be abandoning ship - but he only took half of us up top.

He came back a few hours later and grabbed another group. This time, he was less belligerent. More grim. More… scared. He took the elf across from me. He took pretty much everyone except for me and a girl on the other side of the hold. I gave her a look, she gave me a look - she looked as uneasy as I felt.

Time passed. Eight hours, maybe twelve. The storm continued. Nobody came back down from above, nobody brought us food. I even tried yelling to get someone’s attention, but there was no answer. With how hungry I felt… my belief that this was a delusion or a dream started to fade. Dream hunger was never this real.

The girl was human, far as I can tell. Vaguely European ancestry, if I had to guess, red hair, pale skin. About twenty, though it was hard to tell from all the grime. I made a few attempts to talk to her, but we didn’t seem to share a common language. Of all the tropes to be absent, everyone not speaking modern English was going to cause me the most trouble. We lapsed into silent waiting, me trying not to dwell on how much it’d suck to starve to death manacled down here.

Spoiler: Show
This isn’t too far off from the module’s actual opening, to be honest. The major difference is that I don’t share a common language with anyone - in this case, the literal Common language. This isn’t as big a deal as it seems, for reasons that will become clear later.


***​

A sudden crash jolted the ship, throwing me off my bunk with a wrench of the manacled arm. It’s a miracle I didn’t break anything. We’d struck some rock hard enough to tear a huge hole in the front of the ship’s hull, beyond which I could see a dismal storm-wracked beach.

The girl called to me, pointing at my bunk, and I noticed that the collision had buckled it in the crash, splintering the beam my wrist was manacled to. Bracing myself against the hull and pushing with my legs I was able to wrench the chain the rest of the way free to dangle from the manacle closed around my wrist.

Picking up a hunk of wood broken free from the hull I was able to leverage free the girl’s chains too.

I climbed up to the hole in the hull and looked out, buffeted by icy wind borne by a cold wind that immediately penetrated my thin rags. The ship had crashed into the rocky shore of a desolate gray beach bordered by cliffs that rose high to my right, tapered to sea level at my left.

The girl crouched next to me, saying something and pointing.

There, down on the beach, marching back and forth, was the guard from the hold. He was singing and taking big swigs from a bottle. From his unsteadiness, I guessed he’d been at it for awhile.

“Okay.” I knew the girl couldn’t understand me, but planning out loud made it easier to work through a plan. “Let’s see if we can get past him.” I’ve never been one to seek out conflict, and he was a big guy, tough looking, with a sword at his hip. Drunk as he was, I didn’t think I could take him.

The girl tilted her head at me.

I lowered my voice into a whisper, then made walking motions with my fingers. “We sneak.”

She nodded.

I took a long deep breath and waited for the guard to turn. Given how far we’d have to run to get past him, I didn’t think it was possible that we’d be able to completely avoid his attention - but maybe we could get past before he realized what was going on. Like I said, he was really drunk.

“Let’s go.” I lowered myself from the hole in the hull, landing softly on the sand, checking the girl only briefly before taking off running.

I didn’t get far before the drunk guard noticed me. He shouted and started towards us at a lumber, faster than I would’ve thought.

It was clear he was going to intercept us, so I tensed up and tried to bowl into him hard, using my weight to bowl him over. I hit him solidly, but found myself bouncing off, back onto the sand.

The guard towered above me, slurring and shouting drunkenly, fumbling at the sword at his hip.

Spoiler: Show
In the scenario as written there’s no way to sneak past the guard, due to the distance you need to cross. Of course, our protagonist doesn’t know that at this point.

I make an All Out Attack, a Slam, at +2 damage. It’s Telegraphed, giving me +4 to hit and giving him +2 to defense - he can see it coming a mile away.
Halfric, the guard, has a -2 to DX because he’s drunk, lowering his dodge enough that he fails to get out of the way. I hit him square, and we inflict 1d-1 damage to each other. I get a +2 from my All Out Attack, but roll minimally, and he gets lucky, doing 3 damage to my 2. Since he did more damage, I need to make a DX roll or get knocked down, and this time I blow it.

As his action, he readies his broadsword.


I lashed out with my foot, kicking towards his knee, instinctively trying to rely on karate training from years and years ago.

The blow glanced off his calf ineffectually, and he fumbled, trying to grab my foot, brushing off the girl’s attempt to grab his arm, trying to shove her away and raise his sword.

Spoiler: Show

I kick from a prone position, making an All Out Attack (+4 to hit), targeting a random hit location. As an untrained combatant I’m going to rely almost exclusively on All Out Attacks and All Out Defense maneuvers. Not the smartest tactical choice, but in the heat of the action I’m not necessarily going to make smart tactical choices. I’m unskilled, and my Karate skill is only an 8.

With the +4 bonus I manage to land my kick despite the penalties for shock and fighting while prone, hitting his right leg, but a ST 10 kick only does 1d-2 damage, so I didn’t do any actual damage.

Halfric makes an All Out Attack and tries to grapple my foot, but misses. Luckily.

The girl makes a grapple attempt to try and restrain Halfric, but he manages a dodge.



I kicked out again, abandoning any pretext towards training I no longer remembered, just trying to bring the guard down. My foot hit him just below the knee hard enough to break through his alcohol fueled haze, eliciting a yowl of pain. I lashed out again, hitting almost the same spot, harder.

He stumbled back, clutching his shin, howling, falling to the ground as the girl dragged him down.

Spoiler: Show

I make an All Out Attack (Two Attacks), switching from Karate to just roll DX-2. The kicks are both Telegraphic, but since he made an All Out Attack himself last round he gets no defense so his +2 bonus doesn’t matter. I manage to hit both times, doing 2 damage the first time and 4 the second. He’s down 8 hp at this point, halving his Dodge.

More luck: He critically fails his attack, and falls. The girl dragging him down is poetic license.


I scrambled back up to my feet, gathering the length of chain dangling from my wrist manacle. It wasn’t much, but it was the only weapon I had. “Stay down!” I yelled, hoping my voice would convey the meaning behind the words the drunk wouldn’t understand.

He rolled to his side and started to rise.

“Stay… down!” I brought the chain down across his back with all the effort I could muster. He gave a grunt and collapsed onto his belly, breathing heavily.

Spoiler: Show

I get up during rounds four and five.
Halfric recovers from stun during round four, starts standing in round 5.
In round 6 I make an All Out Attack (+4 to hit, Telegraphed for another +4) with the chain. Since it’s attached to my wrist, I give myself a DX roll to Ready it as a free action.
The chain counts as an improvised Kusari, -1 to hit, giving me a shockingly low default of 3. The +4 for the Maneuver and +4 for Telegraphed Attack raise it to an 11, but that’s still slim.
I hit, Halfric fails his dodge due to posture, drunkenness, and injuries, and I do enough damage to bring him below 0 hp.
He fails his next HT roll to stay conscious.


I watched him for a few moments, but he didn’t rise.

“Shit.” I put my hands on my knees, breathing heavily, adrenaline fading, heart pounding. I hadn’t been in a real fight in twenty… almost thirty years. I hated it. Hated conflict, hated fighting, hated hurting people.

But fuck this guy.

The girl said something, holding her arms, and I noticed how cold it was, with the rain and the wind. “Yeah, okay.” We could go back to the ship, out of the wind… but unless I killed the guard, he’d be after us. And I didn’t think I can do that. Kill him. Certainly not in cold blood.

I looked up the beach. “Let’s go.” I removed his belt and scabbard, slinging it over my shoulder.

Spoiler: Show

Broadsword acquired. This is a good point to break as a “session.” This is a much longer scenario, probably a three parter. It was also designed for a full party of 0-level characters, so I’m at double disadvantage going it alone.

Awarding 2 CP for the session. I used Karate, Brawling, and Kusari; I’ll put 1 point into Brawling and save the other.

 

Hituro

Eager Critmouse
Validated User
Ahh the Kusari ... played a Monk for years with a Kusari (actually a bit necklace of stone beads) as my main weapon. Brings back memories!
 

Coorlim

Registered User
Validated User
What came to mind for me was the Chain Whip in Castlevania. I think there's a scene where Michael Meyers uses his manacles as a weapon in one of the Halloween remakes.
 

Coorlim

Registered User
Validated User
The cliffs circling the beach tapered off at one end, so we headed that way, barefoot in the cold sand.

Once we reached the top of that short ridge I got a better look at the island through the rain. It was rough. Very rough, and almost devoid of vegetation except for patches of scrub. It was a little more level to our right, though still pretty broken. It was bleak, dismal, with no signs of habitation or shelter.

“Let’s go right.” I gestured. It wasn’t any more promising, but the going would be easier, and the cold had my feet hurting.

The girl nodded, panting slightly.

Off we went.

After ten to fifteen minutes of walking we were passing through a depression between two hills when we heard the sounds of metal on metal, stifled shouts, grunting. A fight, happening on the other side of one of the the hills. I climbed it carefully, my bare feet scraping on the dirt, keeping my head low as I reached the crown.

In the ravine on the other side I saw a fight between, well, orcs and goblins. Or what I took to be orcs and goblins. The bigger ones looked like the orcs in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movie, the goblins like, well, little green goblins. The little guys outnumbered the orcs two-to-one, fighting with spears and bows against the glaives and axes, but I couldn’t tell at a glance who was winning.

What I did notice was that they had cloaks. Warm looking cloaks. The cold had me regretting not taking the guard’s armor, though I doubt it’d have kept me very warm. Those cloaks looked like they’d help, though. I was thinking at first, maybe if I crept down after the fight, there’d be some corpses with cloaks, and it’d take me slightly longer to freeze to death.

Beyond the fight, a couple dozen yards down past the orcs, I noticed an old man, hands tied, obviously a prisoner. My thoughts immediately jumped back to the girl in the woods back in Massachusetts, sacrificed to the tentacle monster, and how I couldn’t save her. How I hadn’t even really tried.

A took another look at the fight, then turned to the girl. “Wait here.” I gestured low with my hand, palm flat.

Spoiler: Show

Gesture default (8): Success.


She nodded, shrinking back a bit down the slope.

I pulled the guard’s sword out of its scabbard. It was lighter than I expected, a bit heftier than a pool cue. I was never in the SCA or fencing, but I did play padded-weapon boffer-larps a few time… this wasn’t like that. I hoped I wouldn’t have to use it, but it was better than my chain.

Spoiler: Show

I have ST 10, enough for a broadsword. My default with it is only a 5, though that’s better than the 3 I have with the chain.


At the base of the hill I crept as quietly as I could to the old man. The goblins and orcs were busy with their own affairs, but if any of the archers happened to glance my way…

Spoiler: Show

Stealth default = 5. Rolled, failed. However, the module notes that the goblin archers only have a small chance of noticing PCs trying to be stealthy, regardless of Move Silently skill (which 0-level PCs won’t have). I give them a penalty, roll a Perception check, and they blow it.


As soon as I reached the old man he started babbling, pleading I guess, holding his bound hands towards me. I didn’t like the idea of trying to cut them with the two-foot-long sword while avoiding the goblins’ attention, so I just grabbed him by the arm and helped him to his feet.

He kept trying to talk to me while I led him back behind the hill, but fuck if I could understand any of it. The girl scrambled to join us, and he turned his attention to her, babbling away quietly while I led the two of them away from the battle, sheathing the sword I felt lucky in not having to try to use.

They talked for a bit - mostly him, a word in edgewise occasionally from her. At one point she stopped me with a hand on her shoulder, said a word, gestured towards the old man. He nodded, and pointed off to the distance, chattering again.

“Okay.” I got the message that he wanted to lead us somewhere.

He took point, crouched, keeping an eye out to the sides. We followed.

By the time we reached our destination, a dilapidated two-story structure built into a hill, the already dark skies had grown dimmer, and the air somehow even colder. The place’d been impressive, maybe, decades ago. Most of the window shutters were gone, but the walls were more intact than not - it’d do more to protect us from the wind and rain than standing out in the open.

The old man led us right up to the gate and pulled it open with a loud screech. It was pitch dark inside, but he seemed to be able to find his way through easily enough. He took my hand, and I took the girl’s, and he led us into what felt like a larger room, babbling all the while.

After a bit, he let go of my hand and shuffled off into the dark. It wasn’t exactly warm inside, but sheltered from the wind and rain. I could feel the sensation returning to my fingers and toes. Began to think that hey, maybe I wouldn’t freeze to death.

I could hear the scraping of wood, a rubbing sound, and realized the old man was trying to build a fire. Good thing too, because I hadn’t started a friction fire since Boy Scouts when I was fourteen. And I wasn’t great at it then. After a warm glow and some blowing he had it, a little flame that soon grew into a little campfire. The girl and I huddled close, trying to get warm.

The light showed off the interior of the place a little better. It was a large chamber, reaching up to the second floor of the building, littered with chunks of wood from broken chairs and tables. To the right of where we’d entered were a pair of closed double doors, opposite of which are a steps leading to a pillared hall ending in ratty hanging tapestries serving as a partition.

The walls were decorated with a faded Greek-style fresco, faded all to hell and marred with cracks and gouges.

“Melisana,” the girl said, patting her chest. “Melisana.”

I pointed at her. “Melisana?”

She nodded and smiled.

I indicated myself. “Michael.”

“Michael.” She repeated.

“Yes, good.”

The old man looked up from his fire. “Keestake. Keestake.”

Keestake.

I’d had a building sense of deja vous since our arrival, and with the old man’s name, it crystallized into stark realization. I knew that name. I knew this island. I knew this temple.

There’s an old DnD module - first or second edition, I don’t remember which - designed to introduce new players to the game. I’ve run it several times, though oddly never in the edition it was written for. I do this thing where I run older games in more modern systems, and the module - whose name escapes me - makes a good “zeroes to heroes” adventure.

The module starts out with the players captured by slavers until the slave ship crashes on an island. They have to get past one of the slavers on the beach, rescue the old man - named Keestake - and make it to the temple of the goddess before they freeze to death. There’s a manor inhabited by orcs and goblins, and the goddess plans to sink the island, so you have to find some mcguffin to escape before it goes.

I was here. This was that module. “Shit.”

Spoiler: Show
Specifically it’s N4: Treasure Hunt.
One of the skills I’ve got is Games (Tabletop RPGs), representing all the stuff I know about the games I play. It’s going to see very particular use in the course of this Actual Play.

When I pick a module to play through, I’m going to jot down everything I remember about it off the top of my head before I play it through. When I hit one of those points, I’ll give myself a Games (RPGs) roll. The more I succeed, the more list items I allow myself to remember.

This will help mitigate the added difficulty running through multi-PC adventures solo.


The details escaped me, but this was it. The odds that I was in some stupid coma-dream had increased - though admittedly, I was fairly sure I’d never played through that first Lovecraftian scenario. Maybe I had, and my subconscious was the only part of me that remembered.

Keestake was going on again in whatever language they were speaking - Dungeons and Dragons Common I guess - and it struck me that while the adventure wasn’t particularly difficult I had three major disadvantages. One, it was designed for a group of characters and I was just one guy. Two, while it’s for classless 0-level players, they’re still young people in their physical and mental primes, and I’m an out of shape middle-aged writer. My stats would be 9s and 10s down the line, maybe a thirteen or fourteen in Intelligence or Wisdom. If I were being charitable.

And of course, Three, Common wasn’t English. I had no idea what the old man was going on about.

That’s not true.

I knew the module. Not in detail, but I got the gist. I knew that the Goddess would give me the plot hook at some point. I knew that there was a ghoul hiding somewhere in the temple. I knew that I’d have to go to the old manor on the island and avoid patrols of orcs and goblins while I looked for what I think was some kind of magic wand. And I knew that the Old Man would try to betray me at some point.

So that wasn’t nothing.

But what did it all mean? The thing in the woods with the tentacle monster… that had the hallmarks of a Call of Cthulhu adventure, but not one I recognized. Which didn’t mean much - there’s a lot of Call of Cthulhu material. Eventually I’d jumped from Lovecraft 1923 to Dungeons and Dragons year… whatever year it was. But why? What triggered my jump? And how did I get started?

What were the rules here?

Well, I knew DnD rules weren’t in effect. Or at least, it didn’t feel that way. It all just felt… real. Were the mechanics behind the scenes? Was I gaining XP? Would I earn a class if I behaved like a member of that class, like in the original module?

Too many questions. I rubbed my hands, spreading them towards the fire. “Computer, end program,” I said, playing a long-shot hunch, only getting a look from Melisana in return.

Okay. Eventually the Goddess would show up and give me the plot hook. Until then, I could search the temple for anything that could help me. A good pair of shoes. Something to store things in. Wait, except for the darkness. If I had some fuel I could try turning a table-leg into a torch, but I didn’t. Besides, if I recalled correctly the temple had been ransacked by orcs, so they’d have taken anything of value.

The simple fire the old man had built didn’t illuminate much more than the hall we were in, so I just huddled next to him and Melisana for warmth. I strained my ears for the sound of the ghoul moving around - wherever it was - but didn’t hear anything.

Spoiler: Show
The character has both Light Sleeper and Insomniac, but neither come up this time around.


Eventually I must have drifted off to sleep, because I was awakened to sound of a bell. The fire had gone low and both of my companions were asleep, but I could see by a glow coming from the pillared hallway. This was it, the plot hook.

I rose unsteadily and approached. The tapestry that had been partitioning the hall had been moved, revealing the statue of the Goddess, Greek in style, sitting on a throne. While damaged, it repaired itself as I watched, broken off arm floating back up, cracks healing.

The statue stood, marble moving as smoothly as flesh, hands at its side. “Mortal man, why have you come to my temple?” It spoke English, surprisingly.

“I, uh…” I wavered between telling the truth and sticking to the script of the module. “I came from another world. I don’t know how. I found myself on a slaver ship, which crashed on this island. I escaped and the old man, Keestake, led me here.”

She swept an arm in gesture. “You see about you the results of the raid of the Hak-Kubra, pirate orcs. They have defiled my sanctuary.”

I nodded, and she went on with her hook, the pitch, as if I hadn’t said anything. I wondered if she had agency that extended beyond the module. Blah blah blah, the orcs smashing up the temple had offended her, and she wanted to cleanse the island by sinking it into the sea.

“There’s no reason for you to perish for another’s offense,” she continued. “So I will stay my vengeance this night, and lay waste dusk tomorrow. If you are fled by then, the storms will do no harm to your craft.”

“Thank you, oh Goddess,” I said. “But how might I escape this fate?”

“That is a test of your worthiness,” she said. “But there are three magical artifacts on this island. Should you find them, I will enable you to use them despite your inexperience. Use it wisely.” She moved back to her throne, sitting, becoming inert once more.

“Yeah,” I sighed. There was probably info I could get from Keestake, if I spoke the language. All I could really do, though, was search the manor for an answer. Frustratingly I couldn’t remember what the way out of here was, only that it was something there.

I slunk back to the remnants of the fire, stoked it a bit, and tried to get back to sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a difficult day.

I was woken from a sound sleep a second time, this time by the wiry frame of a howling, gibbering creature trying to bite my face off, long sharp teeth snapping, leathery tongue thrashing. I rolled away from it with a shout, over the fire’s embers, getting up to my knees and reaching for the scabbard, feeling the creature’s claws snag in my tattered rags.

[spoiler = Round 1]Combat. With a ghoul! I’m using these DND to GURPS conversions.

Round 1:
It attacks. I’m prone, but manage to dodge.
My action: Rise from prone to kneeling.[/spoiler]

I pulled the weapon free, getting it between myself and the creature, the alpha and omega of what I knew about swords. Melisana was behind me, screaming, and Keestake was cowering in the corner.

The creature hesitated now that I had the sword out, watching me, waiting for its moment with a gurgling hiss, visible only in the dying embers of the fire.

“Fuck off!” I shouted, brandishing the weapon. “Get!” Like it was a dog, and not an undead monstrosity.

Spoiler: Show


Round 2:
It attacks, misses, and I ready my weapon, using my Step to go from kneeling to standing.

Round 3:
It evaluates.
I go all out defense.



It screamed again, dashing forward, reaching for me with its horrible claws.
I ducked away with a curse, almost stumbling over Melisana, and swung back at it wildly, more of a warding off gesture than an attack.

It took advantage of my wild swing, darting forward with its terrible jaws. Its fangs easily pierced my dirty rags, through the flesh underneath, perhaps all the way to my collarbone, ripping out a hunk of my flesh, of me.
The pain was exquisite, excruciating, like nothing I’d ever felt, and then I was on my ass, sword falling from my hand, and all I could think that that was me, that it was eating me.

Spoiler: Show

It attacks, I make a retreating dodge.
I make an all out attack, but miss.

Round 4:
It attacks with a bite, I have no defense. I take 6 damage.
Rolling vs shock and knockdown: Failed. I’m stunned, prone, and drop my sword.
I pass my HT roll against Paralysis, though.
Melisana is attacking it with a table leg club, but I don’t notice.


No time for that. I scrabbled for the sword I’d dropped, finding it and rolling away, once again trying to get to my feet, almost slipping in the blood pooling from the ragged bite in my shoulder.

Spoiler: Show

The ghoul attacks Melisana and misses.
I Ready my sword and rise to kneeling
Melisana attacks and misses again.


I made eye contact with the ghoul. The fucker was chewing. How fucking dare it eat me? “MotherFUCKER!”

It tried to twist away just a little too late, and the edge of my sword tore through its side, splattering the floor with its fetid blood. It turned back to snarl at me, only to be caught upside the head as Melisana hit it with a table leg.

Spoiler: Show

It Evaluates me.
I make an All Out Attack, but only do a few damage.
Melisana hits it in the head with her club, temporarily stunning it.


It staggered towards me, and I brought the sword down on the back of its neck. It wasn’t skillful and it wasn’t dramatic and I didn’t cut its head off, but I hit it solidly, cutting into the spine, knocking it to the floor. I didn’t stop, whaling on it with the blade, chopping away until my arms were too tired to continue.

Spoiler: Show

The Ghoul recovers from stun.
I make another All Out Attack, hitting it hard enough to down it. Combat ends.


I sunk to the floor beside Melisana, wiping the sweat from my brow. My shoulder was still bleeding freely, and my arm felt stiff. Was that from the injury? Or the ghoul paralysis? Wasn’t that instant?

The girl gasped and started chattering, clearly about my wound. I just shook my head. I had some first aid training - enough to know that I didn’t have any clean bandages. I remembered something about cobwebs being used in the distant past, but the details escaped me.

Was the wound bad enough to bleed out? Was I going to die? What about rabies? Tetnus? Whatever else ghouls carried? If I died, I’d become a ghoul, wouldn’t I?

Melisana was helping me up and towards the temple door. “What? Where are we going?”

She answered something, and brought me out into the rain. Gently, very gently, she moved my rags away from the wound, letting rain wash over it.

“Oh.” I tilted my head, baring it fully. The rain was the cleanest water we were going to get. I didn’t know if it’d do much good… but it was all I had.

I stood out in the freezing cold as long as I can stand, with Melisana letting water pool in her hands and dumping it over my shoulder. We returned to find that Keestake had built the fire further away from the ghoul’s corpse. I stared at it while Melisana wrapped cloth around my shoulder, past my neck, under the shoulder. No idea where she got it - her clothes, maybe, or mine. It all felt strangely distant, and I wondered if I was in mental or physical shock.

Spoiler: Show

First Aid is one of the skills I have a decent default in - courtesy of the Dabbler perk - but using first aid (on yourself) has severe penalties. I let Melisana use her skill at default instead, and she passed, so I recover 1 hp. I’m now at 5/10.


I went to bed, wondering if I’d wake up again.

Spoiler: Show

End of the “session.” Currently I have 4/10 hp. This is the worst injury the character has ever received. 2 CP earned.

Skills used: Stealth, broadsword, both by default. Picking up a new skill from default requires a roll against IQ. Both rolls pass, so I put one point into each, learning both at 9. A massive improvement over their defaults of 5.
 

Coorlim

Registered User
Validated User
In the morning, somehow, miraculously, my wounds were healed. Not just the bite, but the scrapes on my feet, the abrasion from the shipwreck. Melisana’s too - she stared at her arms in wonder, exclaiming to me.

I rubbed my neck. Not even sore. A gift from the goddess? I couldn’t remember if that’s how it worked..

It was nicer outside. Overcast and gloomy, but not nearly as cold as the night before. It didn’t feel as threatening. Far from comfortable, especially barefoot, but I didn’t feel like death from exposure was on the table.

Keestake stopped Melisana as we left, talking at some length.

She turned to me, said a word, held her hands about half a foot apart. Trying to pantomime something? Maybe this was where Keestake tells the PCs about the wand.

I nodded. “Got it. Wand.”

She’d kept the table-leg club from the night before, and I had my sword. It was the best we could do, and better than we’d had yesterday.

Keestake climbed to the top of the hill the temple was built into, waving us over. I joined him, and he pointed down towards an H-shaped building in the distance, jabbering on in Common. The manor. I remembered the shape, didn’t remember anything about the layout. Made of stone, granite likely.

Nearsighted as I was, I couldn’t make out much from a distance, but it looked like it was in far better condition than the temple. Figures were moving around at opposite corners of the structure, but with my eyes I couldn’t tell if they were orcs or goblins.

Keestake spoke again, pointing at a depression leading up to the manor, almost to one of the wings.

“That’s the way in, huh?” I remembered something about the PCs having to sneak up close. “Let’s go then.” I gestured for him to lead the way.

Moving quickly and using the local terrain for cover, we made our way to the end of the depression, some hundred yards away from the manor. It’d run alongside the figures I’d seen from the hill - not close, but near enough that they’d hear us if we made too much noise.

It wasn’t too difficult, even untrained, to creep along barefoot - halfway there, though, the scabbard of the sword I was carrying scraped against the dirt, making a small noise. We all froze, and I heard footsteps approached. Quietly as I could I drew the sword, laying the scabbard and belt carefully on the ground, poised to try and stab whoever it was if they took a look into our hiding space…

Spoiler: Show
Another Stealth check, vs the Orcs Perception. They won, but there’s a second opportunity to remain undetected, which we succeed.


After a few minutes, the footsteps retreated. I let out a breath I’d been holding, and we continued on.

The end of the depression was only a few feet from the wall, and after taking a look around, the old man crept out and up to one of the windows. Up close now, I could see that they were heavily barred, but Keestake managed to dislodge the entire frame quickly and quietly. He slipped inside.

We followed, emerging into what looks like it might have been a dormitory at some point. Rows of cots lay scattered about, and I thought briefly about how nice one of them would have been the night before, before moving quietly to the door and giving a listen.

Nothing.

I pushed the door open and took a look. An empty corridor, dim, lit only by light filtering in from the rooms along either side.

Keestake immediately made for the next door, jabbering about something quietly to himself. He disappeared inside, and I followed to the doorway.

The old man knelt in the midst of a pile of smashed furniture, picking up pieces, examining them, putting them back down and moaning to himself. His stuff, I guess.

“Keestake,” I said.

He looked up, burbling about a shard of broken pottery.

“Keestake.”

Tears were streaming down his face.

“Let’s go, old man.”

I don’t know if it was the tone in my voice or just the walking away, but he followed, complaining softly.

Melisana and Keestake followed as I led the way, poking into the rooms on either side of the hall. They all seemed to be the same - dorm rooms and shoddy little bedrooms that had probably been servants’ quarters. I remembered that the manor had some rich backstory that Keestake could have told me, but I couldn’t remember any details.

There were solid wood doors at both ends of the hall. We made our way to the one that didn’t lead outside, and after a quick listen, I slipped it open.

We were at the corner of two halls here, the crossbar of the ‘H’ and - calling where we’d entered the lower left leg - the upper right branch. Both halls were more ornate than the one we were leaving, but in as much a state of repair. I gave a look up the H, then down the crossbar - no sign of orcs or goblins. I turned a questioning look to the old man.

He shrugged and shook his head.

I went up the leg, leaving the crossbar for later. Some of the figures I’d seen outside would be out the door at the end of the hall, orcs or goblins, meaning that they’d be inhabiting this section, but I’d have to search it eventually anyway. Might as well limit my backtracking - check out this hall, then the upper right branch, then the lower-right.

Was that the right way to go about it? I didn’t know. Seemed orderly.

The first doorway led into half of a suite, what looked like it’d been a sitting room… richly appointed, in terrible repair. Looked like big gouges had been taken out of the walls, through the plaster, to the granite underneath.

I started towards the door to the suite’s second room, then stopped, tilting my head, holding up a hand to stop Melisana and Keestake as well.

There… a low gutteral muttering from the ajar door to the room ahead.

I crept forward.

Inside was a lone goblin, spear in one hand, short crimson wand in the other.

That was probably it, the treasure I remembered from the module. What it did, I didn’t remember, but I had the sense that it was important to finding a way out. That meant the goblin had to go.

Could I do that? Attack him, just for the wand? I’d killed the ghoul, but that wasn’t in cold blood - he’d taken a big bite out of me. I’d beaten up the slaver guard, but he’d just been knocked out… I tried not to think about the fact that he’d been left, drunk and unconscious, exposed to weather that probably killed him… and he’d attacked me first.

I didn’t have to kill the goblin. But was it really alive in the first place? Was any of this real? Wasn’t he a fictional character from a role-playing game?

I looked sidelong at the girl next to me, Melisana. She looked real. Felt real. And after god knows how long in a slaver ship without hygeine, she smelt real… I didn’t have time to consider the psychological implications. My dunk in the river had taught me that the consequences of this were real. I’d “finished” that scenario by escaping. If I failed here - didn’t get away by the time the Goddess washed the island away - would I die?

I needed the wand. I couldn’t let the goblin call in reinforcements. I had to go up, beat him down, take his shit, in true old-school RPG tradition.

Spoiler: Show
Stealth roll: Failed.

Incidentally, the character does not have Cannot Kill. Theoretically, he can. He does, however, have Cannot Harm Innocents.


Unfortunately it heard me coming as soon as I slipped through the door, looking up in surprise for a moment before dropping the wand and readying his spear.

It took me three steps to cross the bedroom to the goblin, bringing the sword down in an overhand chop that it easily deflected with the shaft of its spear, side-stepped, and stabbed back at me.

I moved away, too slow, and the tip of the spear sliced up the back of my right arm, wrist to elbow, leaving a scarlet trail in its wake. It hurt almost as bad as the ghoul’s bite.

I was bigger than the goblin, sure, but it was faster. And it actually knew how to use the weapon it carried.

Melisana slipped past me into the room, bringing her table leg down on its side, and I could see Keestake out of the corner of my eye, gripping a dagger tightly in his clenched fist.

I shifted my stance to keep my injured arm away from the goblin’s spear. The goblin kept its eyes on me, the guy with the sword, taking occasional darting glances towards the girl and the old man.

Spoiler: Show

The goblin readies its spear.
I make an All Out Attack (Determined) and hit, but the goblin parries.
Melisana moves into the room, followed by Keestake.

Round 2:
The goblin attacks, hitting me in a random location - the right arm - for 4 damage.
I go All Out Defense (increased dodge).
Melisana makes an All Out Attack (Determined) and hits the goblin in the torso for 2 damage.
Keestake readies his dagger.


Wary, but not yet concerned, the outnumbered goblin jabbed out towards me with his spear. I flinched, but it didn’t come near me.

Melisana stepped behind him and swung her club at his arm.

He tried to pivot to keep us both in sight and deflect her swing, but she connected solidly, drawing a wince. I stepped forward with another swing of the sword, but the goblin ducked under, right into Keestake’s knife. A soft gasp escaped the creature’s mouth, and it sank to the floor.

Spoiler: Show

Goblin made a defensive attack, but misses.
I attack, but miss.
Melisana hits him for another 1 damage.
Keestake makes an all out attack to its vitals, and hits the goblin for 9.

It fails its HT roll and passes out.


I took a moment to assess the laceration on my arm. It wasn’t deep, but it was long, and bleeding. “Shit.” I looked from it up at Melisana. “Can you?”

She nodded in understanding, wrapping cloth around my forearm. No way to clean it or wash it this time… I had to hope that the goblin’s spear was cleaner than the ghoul’s claws.

Ha.

Spoiler: Show

Melisana’s First Aid default succeeds. I’m at 7/10 hp.


After Melisana wrapped my arm up she traded her table-leg for the spear, and I crouched by the side of the bed, finding the wand the goblin had dropped. I could see Keestake stiffen out of the corner of my eye, but he looked away when I glanced at him.

His inevitable betrayal was tied to the artifacts. I’d have to watch him from now on. Him and his knife. I still had no idea what the wand did, but Keestake had apparently explained it to Melisana. I handed it over to her before taking a minute to search the room, the rotted bed, the terracota tub, but anything of value had decayed decades ago.

We crossed the hall to the suite on the other side. If anything, it was more luxurious than the last - or at least, it had been. The first chamber was filled with the shattered remains of broken couches.

I carefully took a look into the second room before entering it. This looked like a den or office, full of broken chairs and a desk. I sifted through it a bit, but didn’t find much.

Melisana gave out a gasp. The wand, held in her left hand, was vibrating. She held it up, and it stopped. Lowered it, and it started again.

I held my hand out, and she handed it to me. It was warmer, vibrating faintly. The stronger I brought it to the desk, the stronger the vibrations. It seemed strongest when brought to a particular chunk, which I picked up and examined. Turning it over in my hands, I found a hidden panel that slid open, revealing a dagger and a crystal vial.

That’s right. The wand… it detected the other magical artifacts. The dagger must be the second - despite its age and neglect, the blade was clean and pristine.

I’ll admit it. The knife didn’t feel as “safe” as the sword. I’d have to get close - real close - to stab someone with it. But it was magic somehow. Even if it was just a +1 weapon it’d make me more skillful, and given my utter lack of training? That was a good thing.

I offered the sword and belt to Melisana, but she shook her head, so I just kept it slung over my shoulder for the time being. In case the knife turned out to be a dud.

The potion on the other hand… no idea what it did. If I was lucky, it was a healing potion. I uncorked it, gave it a sniff… sweet. Candy. Caramel, actually. Sort of. A small sip… it’s a syrupy liquid, very sweet. Almost too sweet. Almost immediately I felt the rush of confidence and energy.

No idea what the potion did, exactly, but it didn’t seem to dull the pain in my arm. I decided to keep it for later, holding it in my off-hand for now, handing the wand back to Melisana.

Spoiler: Show

The wand is a Wand of Detect Magic. The dagger is +2, +3 vs larger than man-sized opponents. The potion is a potion of super-heroism. That last - in DnD it adds a number of levels temporary hp and increased to hit bonus. I’m interpreting this as a potion of battle (+d6 DX) that bestows extra temporary hp.


The next two rooms we checked out were like smaller versions of the suites, single-roomed bedrooms, richly appointed, decayed all to hell. The wand stayed still in both, so we moved on to the last pair of doors. Likewise, richly appointed, likewise ruined, but in the last the wand led us to some crumbling papers.

I took a look at it. High quality vellum, clear ink unvarnished by time, a single paragraph of careful calligraphy - somehow, even though I couldn’t read the text, I knew it was a scroll for some kind of paralysis spell. And I knew, just as instinctively, that I could cast it just by reading the text aloud.

Spoiler: Show
A scroll of Hold Person.


I folded it up and slipped it into my rags.

Keestake didn’t look happy. Looked less so with every item we found. That was definitely the trigger.

We headed back to the crossbar of the H, and headed towards the wings on the other side. How long had we been here? Hours, probably. My spear wound had gone from stinging to achey, and all I wanted to do was finish up and get home… I think I had some antibiotic ointment in the medicine cabinet. Tired, too, but even though I felt we were making great time, I didn’t dare rest - not with the Goddess’s Doomsday approaching.

I was breathing hard, though. And my bare feet were sore from walking on the granite.

The first room we hit, on the left side of the hall, was a study. Smashed furniture, ruined tapestries, no vibrations from the wand. Across the hall was a small chapel to the Goddess. The furnishings were similar to those in the temple, but the damage was less severe here. Pews had been pried up, but nothing had been smashed. No treasure, though.

As we were crossing to the next set of rooms, a pair of orcs rounded the corner at the other end of the hall. I turned to run, only to see a trio of goblins coming around the bend from behind us.

“Quick!” I grabbed Melisana by the arm and pulled her through the nearest door into a room containing a busted up oak table and a bunch of smashed chairs. Keestake followed, and help me hold the door shut.

From the other side we could hear the orcs and goblins fighting, grunting, cursing in their gutteral languages. The room we were in had a second set of doors further down the hall, past where the two groups were fighting. I headed over there, calling the others, and we slipped out the hall down to the corner where the orcs had been. Ignoring the doors we passed, I turned the corner and started looking for a better place to hide.

Keestake went to one of the doors and gestured towards it urgently, chattering fast and low. I looked to Melisana.

She bit her lip and nodded once, curtly.

Inside we found a pair of broken down desks and a bookshelf. Keestake walked immediately to the shelves, felt around on top, then stepped back, staring at the books expectantly. He reached up top, felt around, then seemed to grow agitated.

Keestake turned to us and said something. Melisana nodded and joined him, gesturing that I should follow. Together they started pulling at the bookcase, and I joined.

At first, I thought it was simply heavy, but as it began to shift saw that there was some mechanism joining it to the wall. Working carefully and quietly we were able to pull it out without causing too much commotion. Where it’d been sitting was a small shaft, two by two, with rusty iron rungs leading down into darkness.

Oh, right. The catacombs. I didn’t remember much about them, but there was a boat or something down there. A way to escape the island. The climax of the module. Somehow, I’d survived long enough to reach this point.

Keestake started down first. I followed, and Melisana went down after me.

Forty rungs, fifty… I didn’t really count, but we descended quite a ways into the dark earth in pitch darkness. When I’d finally reached bottom, Keestake had started a small fire, lighting a reed torch. He started to speak, only to be interrupted by the sound of deep voices and booted feet on the rungs above us.

Quick as anything he reached out and pulled a lever, causing a rumble in the shaft we’d descended. It collapsed to the screams of the humanoids descending towards us, sending a cloud of rock and dust into the chamber.

Keestake resumed speaking, a rambling monologue that rose in pitch and cadence as it progressed. Melisana seemed grimly fascinated, but I didn’t need to speak common to know that he’d finally lost his shit. Something about us disrespecting his dead master, I think.

It went on for awhile, so I popped the top off the potion I’d found and drank it. Almost immediately, I felt a serene confidence spread through my body, a surity of action I hadn’t felt since my twenties. I was powerful. I was immortal. I was me, again. Which probably meant full of shit.

Spoiler: Show

DX +3. +10 hp, temporarily. Lasts an hour.


Still I waited for the end of his speech, for the appearance of his hidden knife, for the inevitable attempt to stab me in the jugular. Aided by the magic of the potion, I deftly parried his attack and followed up with a sharp snap-kick to the shin, possibly breaking it, and sending him crashing to the ground with a howl. “Stay down.” It was the same order I’d given to the slaver back at the ship.

Keestake didn’t listen either, swinging his torch at me, screaming. I stepped in past his arm and delivered another kick to the side of his face, maybe a little stronger than I expected.

He lay still.

Spoiler: Show

With a DX of 13, my Brawl is currently 13, my Karate is 11, my unarmed parry is a 9.

Round 1:
I go All Out Defense (increased parry) to let Keestake make the first attack.
He does, with an All Out Attack, and I parry.

Round 2:
I perform an All Out Attack (strong) targeting the shin, hitting, doing 6 damage. His leg is cripled, he falls.
Instead of getting up, he swings his torch at me. I dodge.

Round 3:
Telegraphed kick to the head - it’s a critical hit. He takes 5 damage, fails his HT roll, and passes out.


I picked up his torch and knife, then turned to Melisana, who was staring at me. I shook the empty potion vial at her, and she nodded.

I didn’t want to kill Keestack if I could avoid it. He was sick. Not well. Whatever the details were. Hopefully I’d incapacitated him long enough for us to find the way out.

As for me? I felt limber. Smooth. Like my every step was a glide. I didn’t know exactly how well the potion had empowered me - beyond being able to summon up the karate skills I hadn’t touched in almost a decade, at a level I’d never known them - but I wanted to get use out of them before it wore off.

Besides, I didn’t feel tired anymore. I could go on for days.

With Keestake dealt with - for the moment - I could take a better look around. We were in a large chamber roughly hewn from stone, with a passage heading off opposite the chute we’d descended. The left half of the chamber had been partitioned into three storerooms.

The first was largely empty, except for some mold. The second held ratty fabrics - the linen was cleaner than the rags we were using as my bandage, so I had Meliasana change my dressing. If this torch started to run out I could make another - if I had a source of fuel. I also wrapped strips around my feet as a crude sandal.

The third room was full of crates, stacked high. I went in to take a closer look, only to nearly trip on a wire strung at ankle-height. Some mechanism caused the wall of crates in front of me to collapse towards me, and only my potion-enhanced agility enabled me to dive back and out of the way.

Spoiler: Show
Dodge roll to avoid the traps: Passed.
.

When the dust cleared I saw that the crates - packed with bricks - were only stacked in a single wall, with an empty chamber behind them. A trap. But for what? People investigating storerooms? Some weird idea that the insane Keestake had had?

I picked up my torch.

Melisana ran to my side, concerned. I waved her off, and we went on, through the passage south. The passage was blocked by a hanging tapestry, which I examined carefully, bringing the torch close, looking for further traps, finding none. I pushed it aside.

The passage continued for another twenty feet before another tapestry blocked the hall. I examined this one as well, carefully, and found another wire mechanism attached to the top. Moving the tapestry would do… something. Something bad, probably.

I’m not even sure how a thing like that would be disarmed, so my best guess was to try to get around it by carefully lifting parts of the tapestry out of the way without disturbing the wire. I moved carefully, taking my time at the opposite lower corner, folding it just enough for Melisana to slip through, then widening it a little further for myself.

I was ready, at any time, to cut and run in case the trap triggered to do whatever it did. Somehow, I managed.

Spoiler: Show

My default Traps roll here is a 7; somehow I make it. I’m not going to risk a roll to disarm, but I allow myself a DX roll to avoid triggering it, and Take Extra Time for a +2 bonus and succeed.


The next chamber was similar to the first. Large spacious, the left side converted to storage bins. I ignored them for now, not really interested in finding more traps while scrounging around - I was ready to leave. I just wanted to find the boat and get out, hopefully back to the real world, back to my life.

We continued south. The floor was different here, less hewn stone, more tile, though sagging and with a bit of give. I moved slowly, carefully, trying not to put too much pressure on any tile, wary of-

The floor dropped out below me, the tiles collapsing. I fell, down, down into a cold dark underground stream, my torch snuffing out immediately. The shock of cold, the sudden immersion made me gasp, introducing water to my lungs, and I began to choke, began to drown. It was the worst feeling in the world.

Spoiler: Show

It’s here that my luck runs out. I get two DX rolls to land on a ledge as I fall, then a Swim roll to avoid drowning, but I fail all 3.


And then I wasn’t there.

I sit, bolt upright, almost falling out of the cushioned office chair I was sitting, gasping great big gulps of air.

“Whoa, hell, Chris, you okay?”

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a sedan. There’s a young guy, maybe in his twenties, driving, and glancing at me with some concern.

I think fast. “Yeah, yeah, uh, just a little carsick. Can you pull over real quick?” I’m not lying. I feel terrible.

“Sure, don’t ralph all over the upholstery.” He pulls over, and I open the door, getting halfway out. It’s dark out, and the wind blows a light rain against my face. The pain in my lungs fade, but it’s all I can do to choke back a sob, face in my hands, just so tired of it all, so relieved to be out of the river. I wanted out. I wanted my girlfriend, my cats, my mom, my life, my boring routine.

Spoiler: Show
Death is no reprieve, just a sudden jump into the next adventure. Who’s Chris? Who’s driving? Where are we going?

For now, we’re awarded 2 CP. Skills we used are Stealth, Broadsword, Search, Traps, and Brawl. The most good, at this point, will go into Search and Traps, I think, bringing us from the defaults of 7 to a more respectable 11.

We spent days on the slave ship listening to the other prisoners, then another two days listening to Keestake’s rambling. Let’s count that as 16 hours towards learning the very basics of Common. Since this takes about 200 hours, we’re not going to be chatting up a storm any time soon.

I'm taking a break from this thread for NaNoWriMo, but I'll be back in December.
 

Coorlim

Registered User
Validated User
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“You okay there, buddy?” the driver asked.

“Yeah, gimmie a sec.” I was not alright. I slid my license out of my wallet and gave it a covert look. According to it I was Chris Grant, of Arkham, born in 1952. The license expired in 1996.

Arkham. Lovecraft again. That meant that this was a Call of Cthulhu scenario. I’d played a few, but there were so many out there… and many of them started the same way, with an inheritance or a letter from a colleague in trouble. There was nothing signifying what I’d be up against, yet.

Putting my wallet back I noticed that the back of my forearm was still lacerated, oozing blood into the sleeve of my dress shirt. Shit.

I got back into the car. “Okay, let’s go.”

“Right on,” the driver said. I needed to figure out a way to learn his name. “You excited, man?”

“About what?”

Spoiler: Show
Our character interviews a lot of people, and in such a casual social situation getting people to talk about themselves is well covered by the Carousing skill of 10. We pass.


“The Sabbat, what else?”

The Sabbat. My gut reaction was vampires, but no, wrong game. In the real world, it might mean almost any kind of pagan ceremony. Here in Lovecraft Country, things had a little less nuance. Did that mean we were warlocks?

“Are you?” I asked.

“You kidding?” He drummed the wheel of the car. “Man, I got to thank you again for inviting me. This is a hell of an opportunity.”

“How so?” I asked. “I mean, for you.”

“First outsiders invited to a Sabbat in Salem?” He sounded amused. “Man, this is going to be my thesis. And it’s a slam dunk for your grant proposal.”

Thesis. Grant proposal. He was a student, and I was either a grad student or a professor. And we were invited to go write about witches. Were we parapsychologists? Cultural anthropologists? I guess it didn’t matter - things were about to go horribly awry.

The sudden booming of thunder punctuated my grim internal proclamation. The god sending me on this adventure was a ham. Maybe I’d died and gone to hack hell.

I did a more comprehensive self-inventory as we drove on down the road. Physically I felt the same way I had before my dunk into the underground river, complete with injuries. First gas station we passed, I had Corey - I learned his name asking him how he wanted his name credited on the paper I’d be writing - pull over so I could hop out, buy some gauze, and wrap my arm up in the bathroom.

I was dressed in middle-class professional-casual - sweater, slacks, loafers. And importantly, glasses. Nice being able to see again. My beard was well trimmed, I’d had a hair cut not too long ago, and I found a Miskatonic University student ID card in my wallet. Back in the car, I found I’d brought a note pad, tape recorder, and camera.

So not a professor then. Just a super super super senior, finishing up my grad classes at 40.

[spoiler = GM Notes]This marks the official start of our scenario, Alone on Halloween, a solo Call of Cthulhu adventure.[/spoiler]

After our pit stop we consulted on the best route to Salem and I took over driving. I live in a big city with great transportation so I haven’t been behind the wheel much over the last decade, but it came back to me quick despite the stormy conditions.

Spoiler: Show
Perception roll passed.


An hour or so later we were driving through a forested area, and I’d just spotted the lights of an old house on top of a hill, when I heard a sudden sharp report very different from the rolling thunder. I barely had time to register it as a gunshot before the car started fishtailing off the road, off the shoulder, on one end sideways into a tree.

Spoiler: Show
After assessing penalties for the conditions, drive roll failed. Damage for passengers in a car accident is treated like a fall at the velocity you were traveling; assuming we were going 40 mph, that’s 2d for each of us. Wearing a seatbelt counts as DR 5, so I end up unharmed, and Corey takes 2 damage. Since I’m still injured from last time, I’ll note that I have 7/10 hp.

For the record, Corey’s stats are

ST 12
DX 9
HT 14
IQ 13

We’ve also gained 5 Journalism Points for hearing the gunshot. These are special scenario currency used to gauge how successful we’ve been in taking notes on strange goings on. They can be spent to counter Sanity loss at a rate of 10 per.

While our protagonist doesn’t care about taking good notes and SAN loss isn’t part of our system, we will track JPs and spend them to mitigate the accrual of long-term failed fright checks.


“Christ, are you okay?” Corey asked.

“Yeah.” I looked at the car. Wrecked to shit. Honestly, we got off lucky.

He turned back towards the road. “Long way back to the gas station, but it’s closest.”

I looked up the mountain towards where I’d seen the lights, no longer visible through the trees and let out a long sigh. “No, I saw a… lights through the trees. There’s a house. Maybe we can call for a tow.”

“Yeah,” Corey said.

I walked to the car’s trunk, popped ajar, and rummaged through it, coming up with a tire iron. Corey gave me an odd look, but didn’t question it.

Spoiler: Show
The scenario says you can start with any one reasonable weapon. So hey, I’m picking a tire iron. Not the most practical choice - as an improvised mace it’s used at -2 to skill from my already low default of 5 - but it makes the most sense.

Total JP: 6


The house came into view as we made our way through the wooded hillside, huge, with a steep peaked roof and high arched windows. A high tower jutted up high into the sky, and in a flash of lightning we got a good look at the grounds, twisted trees contained within a spiked iron fence. A stereotype of a parody of a haunted house.

Grimly determined, I used the tarnished knocker to rap on the splintered door.

“This place gives me the creeps,” Corey said.

The door was opened by an honest-to-God hunchback with long stringy white hair. “Yes?”

“Hi, I’m Corey, this is Chris,” Corey introduced us. “Our car just spun out and wrecked down below, mind if we use your phone?”

“We’ll just say where we are… then go back to the car,” I added with all the cadence of Brad Majors.

“Come in.” He stepped back, letting us pass him into a large open foyer filled with dusty antiquities. “My name is O’Brian.” He had an Irish accent. “Let me take your coats.”

Corey and I shrugged out of our jackets. I did my best to hide the tire-iron behind my leg. If the butler noticed it, he didn’t comment.

A cackle from above caught my attention, and a no-shit red-headed maid descended the stairs from the second floor.

“You gotta be shitting me,” I muttered.

“Visitors?” She asked. Her accent was different. New Zealandish. One of the audiodramas I’d produced had required the accent, and I’d grown familiar with it during the casting process.

“These fellows have a problem with their vehicle,” O’Brian said. “They’ve come to escape the storm, and to see about assistance.”

The maid strutted up to us, almost catlike, dark eyes unwavering.

“Miss Quinn, won’t you fetch our guests something to warm themselves with?” O’Brian said.

“Follow me,” the maid purred, heading towards a pair of double doors from behind which we could hear the murmuring of voices.

“This is some Rockey Horror Show shit right here,” I whispered to Corey.

He elbowed me. “We don’t want to intrude.”

“You’ve arrived on a very special night,” O’Brian said.

“One of the Master’s affairs?” I asked.

Corey elbowed me again.

O’Brian fixed me with a steady gaze. “Our employers are celebrating the holiday in the splendor of Old Germany. Do not concern yourselves… the Baron and Baroness would love to have you, and wouldn’t hear of sending you back out into the storm.”

Miss Quinn threw open the doors, revealing a ballroom furnished with more antiquities. I was actually disappointed it wasn’t more of a Rockey Horror Picture Show pastiche, but instead the dozen or so guests were dressed modestly, in black, clustered around a regal looking gentleman and a beautiful woman. He did, actually, have a monocle, but that’s cold comfort when you’re expecting Tim Currey.

As O’Brian led us up to their employers, I noticed that the guests were all wearing some kind of amulets - vaguely foreign, though I couldn’t place the designs.

Spoiler: Show
We’re given the choice of a Spot Hearing, Listen, or History roll; I go for the first option, and score a Perception success, noticing the amulet. Details require a half-Spot Hidden roll (call it Perception at a steep penalty), make it, and an Occult or History roll, which I fail.

We have 13 JP.


O’Brian introduced us and explained our situation.

“Pleased to meet you.” The Baron shook first Corey’s hand, then mine. “Baron Birlad Tecuci VonReischt. And this is my wife, Baroness Deva Oradea VonReischt.” Something about accent was off. Not German, as O’Brian had claimed, more Eastern European. Probably fucking Transylvanian. I didn’t bring it up. “Please. Make yourself at home. Join us in our celebration. Oh, how I miss mother Germany.”

Spoiler: Show
We made a pair of IQ rolls, first to identify his accent as NOT GERMAN, and then to decide it was probably Romanian. We now have 15 JP.


Jesus. Talk about trying too hard. I considered - briefly - digging into his story about mother Germany, but in the end decided I didn’t really care, and this wasn’t the internet. Besides, it’d be rude to call him out. Instead, I shifted into superficial networking mode, chatting with him and the wife without really paying too much attention. While he was charming and outgoing, she was curt and withdrawn in her responses.

It wasn’t long before Miss Quinn arrived with a pair of hot mugs of some kind of alcoholic brandy drink. Mulled cider, maybe. Maybe drinking it was a mistake, but it was the first real warmth I’d had in me since the slave ship. A few minutes after I finished drinking it I noticed that time was blurring around the edges, that the drink was hitting me harder than it should have. I spun, looking for Corey, saw that he’d passed out in a chair.

The fuckers had drugged me. That definitely wasn’t in Rockey Horror.

Spoiler: Show
A will roll at a -5 penalty is called for. I fail.
JP = 18


I spiraled into a terrifying delirium, full of beasts and fire, being burned alive, unable to save myself no matter how hard I tried. I awoke with memory of smoke in my nose, alone in the ballroom, without a good idea of how long I’d been out. I pulled myself out of the chair I’d been seated in, and after a moment’s dizziness started searching for any sign of Corey.

Spoiler: Show
During the dream sequence I lost 2 SAN, which I’ll interpret as -1 to Stress using the expanded Fright Check rules in GURPS Horror.

The roll to look for clues as to Corey’s disposition is a success. JP = 28.


There - under the chair. His watch. I think. The face has been smashed. Clearly some sort of struggle was involved.

Part of me wanted to just say ‘fuck it’ and leave. I didn’t know Corey. Chris did, but I wasn’t really Chris, was I? And as real as Corey seemed… was he? Was any of this? Were they all just figments of my dying brain’s imagination? Whatever. Even if he was real I didn’t owe him shit.

I slipped the watch into my pocket. Granted. But to just abandon the guy without even looking… I wasn’t so much a coward. Corey might be a stranger, but I wasn’t in any real danger here, right? If I died, I’d just wake up somewhere else. The stakes were about me, and who I was.

And besides, who’s to say that if I didn’t run something wouldn’t kill me in the forest? There was no sure path to safety here. Not in Lovecraft Country.

I let out a long sigh. What I really needed was rest. I’d gone right from the chill of the island to drowning to Corey’s car to here. If something killed me… I’d just be thrown into some other fucked up situation. And dying hurt! These modules sometimes punished cowardice pretty severely… my best bet was to find Corey and escape with him.

It was going to be a long night. I pulled the tire iron out from under the chair I’d been in. “Looks like it’s just you and me, Tirey. Let’s go find us an Eddie to bash.” I’ll admit, it was bravado. I was terrified.

Spoiler: Show
End of this session. 2 CP awarded. Driving probably got the most use, but I’m going to save both of them with the aim of buying off Unfit. All this running around is building up our cardio. We have 29 JPs.
 
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