I’m… surprisingly well equipped for this. Platemail armor. Shield. Broadsword. Dagger. Backpack holding a coil of rope, waterskin, lantern, torches, oil, a few sacks, and a vial containing a thick red liquid. It’s… it’s not a light loadout, but it’s not more than I can handle. And after my earlier adventure, I think I can swing the sword without hitting myself.
It takes me a few seconds to get up from the rock I’m sitting on.
What I don’t have here is context. What’s in that cave? Could be a dragon, I don't know.
What I do know is that I can’t avoid it.
The tinderbox had a built in flint and steel set. After a few false starts I used that to light one of the torches, held the shield in my off hand, and strode on in.
In GURPS terms I’m under Medium encumbrance, slowing my Move, cutting my Dodge, but hopefully the Shield and Armor will compensate. I’ve got a torso DR of 5, and a 3 everywhere else.
Counting the passive bonus from my shield, my dodge is 8, parry with the sword is 9, and shield block is 7.
We’re playing through the solo adventure that came within the DnD red box basic set.
The cave is unnatural, square, though the walls and floor look unworked. It’s perhaps twenty yards across, with an old statue sitting in the middle of the room. Passages leading off to the left and to the right, each about ten feet wide. Exactly, probably. I can almost smell the graph paper. I go right, following the passage straight for twenty paces or so before it opens up into another room, somewhat smaller than the first.
As soon as I enter, three rats the size of large dogs rush at me out of the darkness. I twist away from their snapping jaws; the first rat goes skidding past me, and I slice into it with my sword, delivering a solid blow.
Using these stats for the giant rats. Turns out they’re quite a bit tougher than they are in DnD!
Rat A: All Out Attack (Strong). Hit.
I roll to make a retreating dodge (11); critical success, turning the attack into a critical failure. It loses its balance and cannot act until its next turn, and defenses are at -2.
Rat B: Move and Attack. Miss.
Rat C: Move and Attack. Hit. I dodge.
Me: I make a Telegraphed attack against Rat A; it has no defense and takes 6 damage. It fails its HT roll for the wound and is stunned. (HP 4/10)
The rats thrashed at my feet, teeth like small hatchets coming for my legs and ankles. I backed away, keeping my shield between them and myself, jabbing at the closer of the two with my sword.
Rat A: Does Nothing, recovers from Stun.
Rat B: Attacks, I make a successful retreating dodge back into the hall.
Rat C: Attacks, I dodge.
Me: I make a Defensive attack against Rat B, missing - but this increases my parry next round.
The first rat, the one I’d hit, had recovered enough to join its litter-mates in trying to eat me. I try to deflect its attack with my sword, but the little bastard leaps up in an attempt to bite my face. I lower my head at the last second, giving it a mouthful of helmet, but the wicked sharp teeth manage to penetrate and scrape my scalp.
The second rat takes advantage of my distraction to dart in beside it, and I hear its incisors scraping my helmet as well. The third comes in low, biting at my calf, getting a mouthfull of chainmail for its trouble.
Feeling a little overwhelmed I lash out with a kick at it, but miss.
Rat A: Attacks. I fail to parry. Random hit location: Skull. It does 4 damage, enough to penetrate my helmet DR, but not my skull.
Rat B: Attacks. I fail to dodge. Random hit location: Skull again. It does 2 damage, not enough.
Rat C: Attacks. I fail to dodge. Random hit location: Right leg. 0 damage rolled.
Me: Brawling kick against Rat C. Misses. DX roll to avoid falling: Success.
They keep coming and coming, all fur and hate and hunger and fury. I try to avoid their teeth, but only my armor protects me from their bite - where I was at first resentful of its weight, I know love its durability.
I manage a sudden strike towards the injured rat, dispatching it.
Rat A: Attacks. I fail to dodge. It fails to penetrate my leg’s armor.
Rat B: Attacks. I fail to dodge. It fails to defeat my torso armor.
Rat C: Attacks. I dodge.
Me: I attack rat A, hitting it for another 6, bringing it to -2 hp.
With only two rats remaining the intensity of their attacks faded somewhat, but they seem to have figured out they couldn’t get through my armor and started snapping at my face. Startled, I pulled back, then took a swing, only to have it dodged.
Rat A fails its HT roll and passes out.
Rat B makes a called strike to the face, and hits. I make a retreating dodge.
Rat C makes a called strike to my face, missing.
Me, I attack Rat B. I hit, but it dodges.
They leap upon me again, and I manage to fend one off, but the other - I feel its incisors slice into my cheek, deep, and pull back in fear and pain. I bring my shield up, pressing my forearm against the wound, trying to staunch the bloodflow.
Rat A bites my face, I fail to dodge. It inflicts 4 damage, dropping me to 5/10.
Rat B bites at my face, but I dodge.
I go All Out Defense (increased parry).
One of the rats comes close again, but I’m ready for it this time, slamming it out of the way with my sword, not enough to injure it but deflecting the attack. Given their speed, this may be the key to defeating them, and I keep my guard up.
Rat A misses.
Rat B hits, but I parry. This gives me a free, undefendable follow up for parrying an unarmed attack with a weapon, but miss.
I go All Out Defense (parry) again. Eliminating their high dodge is the way to go.
They attack again, and again I’m ready, straining myself to intercept their attacks with my blade. The first rat, I hit squarely, slicing into its snapping jaws, knocking it down. The second is more clever and bites me right below the eye, giving me a matching wound on the other side of my face. It’s all I can do to stay standing from the pain and shock of the attack.
Rat A hits. I roll Will for Extra Effort, making a retreating Feverish parry. The followup attack hits it, doing 7 damage to the face. (3/10 hp remain) It fails its HT roll and is stunned.
Rat B attacks. I make a retreating dodge, but it hits, biting me in the face for 3 damage. I’m now down to 2/10, and my dodge is halved.
I go All Out Defensive again, due to the shock penalty.
I sense, more than hear, the rat attacking me again, and almost wearily swing my sword in a fan-like arc in front of my face. Somehow I hit it, somehow it falls instead of finishing me off, to lie bloodied at my feet.
I can see the other living rat limping away, crawling, trying to escape. I wonder if it knows I’m almost as dead. I give its partner a finishing blow first, then walk up and dispatch it as well before sliding to sit on my heels against the wall of the cavern. I slide a hand out of my gauntlet and put a hand up to my face. It comes away bloody, a constant stream that splashes on the cavern floor.
Rat A recovers from stun.
Rat B attacks my face, hits, but I manage a parry and the followup, doing 9 damage to it. It fails its HT roll and is stunned.
I make a telegraphed attack and hit it again for 6 damage.
Rat A fails its combat morale check and tries to flee.
Rat B fails its HT roll and passes out.
I make an all out attack and finish Rat A off.
If I die, will both wounds vanish? Or just the last one?
I don’t want to find out. I dig the red potion out of my pack, uncork it. It smells medicinal, and tastes like cherry cough syrup. Almost immediately, I feel a warmth spreading through me, and the wounds on my cheek tingle. The blood-flow stops, and I almost felt well again.
I used my dagger to cut one of the sacks in my pack into strips, using them to try and bandage what wounds remained on my face, light lacerations on my cheek and under my eye. I’m not sure it helped much.
The minor potion of healing restored 4 hp of damage, bringing me back up to 7/10, reducing the severity of the injuries to my face. The First Aid attempt failed to recover any further damage, and now I have a strip of sack wrapped around my head.
I left the rats bleeding out and returned to their chamber. A glint caught my eye… coins. For some reason, the rats had silver and copper coins scattered around their chamber. Their nest. I ignored the copper coins and scooped up what I could find of the latter, putting them into one of the sacks that I’d brought.
The tunnel ran north from the rat warren, and I followed it cautiously a dozen paces until it turned, then another dozen paces before opening up into a larger room.
Almost immediately upon entering, I was beset by two goblins flanking the entrance, waiting for me, alerted by the clanking of my armor and the light from my torch. Only my chainmail protected me from their initial onslaught.
Goblin A attacks, hits my leg, but his damage does not penetrate my armor.
Goblin B misses.
I attack Goblin A but miss.
Their swords batter against my armor. I can feel the impact, but the good steel protects me. The first goblin isn’t so lucky - I swing my sword under its guard, slicing deeply into its leg, sending the creature falling and wailing to the ground.
Goblin A hits my torso, but does not penetrate my armor.
Goblin B hits, but I dodge.
I attack Goblin A, hitting him in the leg for 10 points of damage, crippling the limb. He fails his HT roll and is stunned
The second goblin gets a little frantic now, swinging its sword with perhaps a bit too much exuberance, the weapon flying out of its hand.
I level my sword at the creature. “Give up.”
It eyes its weapon.
“Don’t you dare.”
It dares, lunging for the weapon.
I strike, cleaving into its side, almost batting it into the wall with the force of the swing. It lies still, while its companion weeps wretchedly and crawls away from me.
Goblin A recovers from stun.
Goblin B critically misses, dropping its weapon.
I Wait, triggered by the Goblin going for its dropped weapon.
Goblin A tries to crawl away, passing its HT roll to stay conscious.
Goblin B goes to pick up its sword, triggering my wait.
I make an All Out (strong) telegraphed attack, hitting, which it fails to dodge, roll maximum damage, and do 13 damage to the goblin’s torso. It fails its shock roll.
(Both try to flee but fail their HT rolls to stay conscious while I ignore them)
I think back to the goblin that stabbed me with its spear back on the island, my first real scar, my first real battle wound. We only beat it three on one, Melisana and Keestake and I, but then I didn’t have any armor and could barely swing a sword. I still sucked with the sword. I’d still mostly just been lucky. I had to get better. I had to get good.
I look up and see a trio of the green humanoids coming into the room from its other entrance. We stare at each other.
They look down at their fallen companions.
“You want some?” I scream, beating my sword against my shield. “Come and ‘ave a go, if you think yer 'ard enough!”
Attempting a spurious intimidation. Fast-Talk roll succeeds despite the lack of a common language. I get +3 for that, +1 for being bigger than they are, +1 for having just defeated two of their boys. That just about buys off the penalty for using the skill at default.
They did not, it turned out, want to have ‘a go’, running back the way they came. I took a moment to search the goblins I’d beaten, finding pouches full of gold and silver coins, which I took before departing opposite of where the others had run to. The passage took me back to the statue room, where I rested for a bit before heading down the third hall, the one I hadn’t been down before.
It opened into another room, this one filled with piles of reddish dust. Rust, I noticed, getting closer. A scuffling noise at the opposite entrance to the chamber caught my attention, and I looked up to see a weird armadillo-looking creature. I’d never seen it before, but I knew instinctively what it was: A rust monster.
“Shit.” My armor was the most valuable thing I had, even counting the gold I’d found. But if I ran to protect it, that might cut the time before the next jump short. “Sorry, Rusty.”
It trundled forward like a big friendly dog, trying to rub its antenna things on my shield. I pivoted out of the way and whacked at it with my sword, hoping that hitting it wouldn’t ruin the weapon. I hit it solidly, and the beast gave out a peculiar sort of squeal as I cut it to the bone.
It attacks my shield. I dodge.
I attack it with my sword. It fails to dodge. I roll 9 damage, and it fails its HT roll vs stunning.
Huh. I supposed it’d have had better armor, looking like a weird armadillo lobster. But I guess it didn’t need it. The creature lay there, sort of rocking, so I hit it again, even though it kinda made me feel like a bit of a bully. This time it lay still.
It fails its HT roll to recover from stun.
I hit it again, and it fails its dodge. 7 damage inflicted.
It fails its HT roll to stay conscious.
A cursory exploration of the room turned up a number of valuable looking gems. I slipped them into my bag, and moved on, away from the weird dead bug thing. The corridor turned at a right angle, back around, and opened up into a large chamber in which a pair of skeletons stood with the weird funhouse logic of early Dungeons and Dragons adventures
As soon as I saw them, they moved to attack. I ducked away from the first, but the second hit, pounding its fist against my armor.
“Really?” I swung my sword at the first, missing.
They came after me again, flailing their fists, and I ducked back out of the way before striking back, hitting the first as hard as I could in the ribs, sending bone chips and rib splinters flying.
I manage to down the first, but the second - in a replay of my battle with the goblin earlier, I swing too hard and the sword goes flying out of my hand.
If it wasn’t already grinning, I’d have sworn the skeleton was smiling at me.
We start the dance again, it swings at me, I duck away, but this time I clip it the leg with the rim of my shield, hard enough to shatter the femur and send it crashing to the ground. From there I’m easily able to crush it with my shield before recovering my sword.
Using these stats: http://gurpswiki.wikidot.com/m:skeleton
Skeleton 1 attacks. I dodge.
Skeleton 2 attacks. I fail to dodge. It hits me in the torso for zero damage.
I attack 1, missing.
Both attack, but I manage to dodge.
I attack 1, hitting, and it fails to dodge. I roll 6 damage; it resists knockdown and stunning (4/10).
We all attack each other. We all dodge.
Both attack me, I make both dodge rolls.
I attack 1 again, doing another 7 damage (-3/10). It passes its knockdown roll.
Skeleton 1 misses its HT roll to stay active and falls.
Skeleton 2 attacks. I dodge.
I attack 2. It dodges.
Skeleton 2 hits me in the leg for 1 damage. My armor protects me.
I critically miss and drop my sword.
Skeleton 2 attacks, I dodge.
I attempt an All Out Attack shield bash… and get a critical hit. Random hit location is the leg. Skeletons take double damage from crushing attacks, and any crippled leg is destroyed, so this puts it down.
I stepped over the remains of the skeletons and over to the door. Finding it locked, I used the rim of my shield to whale away on the lock until I’d bashed it out. “That one was for you, Tirey.” I missed my tire iron.
Beyond was a small room containing a large chest. A bit more excited than cautious, I popped the lid to take a look, only for a concealed blade to swing out, through my gauntlets, cutting deep into my hands.
“Shit! Fuck!” I pulled off the gauntlets and examined the damage, deep cuts that had thankfully missed any tendons. Working as well as I could I wrapped them in strips of the sack I’d cut up, then took another look at the chest. It was full of coins, hundreds of them - many copper, but plenty of silver and some reddish ones I’d later learn were electrum. Rather than take all of them, I scooped out as many of the silver and reddish coins as I could, putting them in my sacks, leaving the copper for the goblins.
From there I made my slow way back to the entrance, feeling the full weight of my armor, of my injuries. There was a path leading away from the cave. I hope it led somewhere civilized. I hoped I wouldn’t jump again too soon.
Session end. We get 3 cp for the equivalent of a one-shot, and used the skills Broadsword, Shield, Forced Entry, Brawling, and Intimidation. Let’s put one in Broadsword and save the other two for our Combat Reflexes fund.
Following the path led me to a small town, very fantasy-medieval in character. Temple, blacksmith, inn, you know the deal. I might not speak any Common, but the locals certainly spoke Bags of Coin, and I just happened to bring some with me.
Did my performance in the cave satisfy the secret masters keeping me here? Enough to leave me alone for awhile?
As I write this I’m set up in the inn with a more or less permanent room, and I was able to get some magical healing down at the temple. No idea if the locals are ripping me off, because the economy here is all screwed up to begin with. I can’t imagine that my spreading gold around is doing it any wonders.
I think the general perception of me is an eccentric foreigner who is tolerated because he spends a lot of money. I think I’m starting to pick up the gist of Common - or at least, I’m starting to recognize common sounds. Mostly, I hang out in the inn’s common room, listen to people talk, and drink wine. It’s not so bad, but I’m back to constantly expecting to be jumped away into some new dangerous situation. Makes it hard to relax.
I think we can safely say, at this point, that my “downtime” after a jump is tied to my participation in it. Or maybe my performance. As long as I engage. I haven’t figured out the exact relationship yet, but I'm not being punished for leaving the cave. That's kinda the way with old DnD adventures, though - there's no real plot to follow, no goals other than explore dungeons and get loot. And I did.
I’ve been to Lovecraft Country twice, DnD World twice, and some kind of Cowboy something once… though Mad Mesa might have been Lovecraftian too, for all I know. I think my priority now should be to pick up as much Common as I can, just so I can communicate. If that IS the language we’re speaking, and all DnD-verse Commons are the same. That wouldn’t really make sense, but none of this does. So I'm not going to sweat it.
It was a month and a half before I Jumped again. Long enough to relax. Maybe in a world where I can communicate and don’t feel so isolated living in month-long chunks will be enough, but my Common is… uneven. I know a word or two. That’s all.
I spent enough time around Common to have picked it up with Broken comprehension. Me Tarzan, You Jane. Fire bad!
We enter our new scenario, the Call of Cthulhu adventure Alone Against the Flames. I'm doing a lot of Call of Cthulhu because the rules don't assume that you're particularly skilled or experienced, wheras even a 1st level Dungeons and Dragons character has something like 125 character points in GURPS.
I’m in an automobile again. A 20s-era car, only… longer. Later I learned these are called motor coaches, and they’re a sort of cross between a cab and a bus. I’m back in Lovecraft Country. What is it with these worlds and cars?
It’s not raining, and I’m not driving. I’m a passenger, back a few seats from the driver, and this gives me the privacy to do a quick inventory and assess the situation. I’m wearing a short suit jacket, slacks, loafers, dress shirt, suspenders, and a hat. Middle-class, I think. Wallet has a few bills and a Massachusetts driver’s license, and I’m here under my real name, which is a nice surprise. Residency isn’t in Arkham, though, it’s in a place called Nashua, in New Hampshire.
Maybe it’s not Lovecraft Country? I look out the window. We’re driving through cornfields and orchards, and the leaves have just started to turn.
A sudden yell and the driver swerves. I instinctively grab the seat in front of me to keep from falling as we go off the road. The driver jumps out of the car, cursing, storming off towards a tractor blocking the road.
I sigh and prepare myself for a long walk to the nearest farm. At least it’s not dark and storming this time.
To my surprise, the scenario doesn’t start out that way. Instead, the driver returns to the car, muttering, and drives it back onto the road. “Sorry about that back there.” He says, not taking his eyes off the road. “That fella was dumber than a hog. I’m Silas.”
The coach turns onto a side road, threaded through the woods.
“Going to Arkham, huh?” Silas asked, and I curse inwardly. “Can’t say I ever been there. Been to Boston once. Didn’t care for it. What you got in Arkham? Family?”
“Oh, you know,” I tried to play it off, because I really don't have any idea why I'm heading there. “Uh. Looking for work.”
“Job, huh?” he asked. “What do you do?”
“I’m a writer,” I said. I didn’t know how… completely… I fit into this world. I had a name, an address, a birthdate in 1884. Why was I going to Arkham? Maybe my luggage would tell me, but that would have been stashed in the trunk somewhere.
Up ahead the coach crested the top of the hill, giving me a gorgeous view a beautiful river valley bordered by mountains in the distance. Was that river the Miskatonic? I didn’t see any settlements, or even houses.
The driver lapsed into silence as we drove down into the valley, the sky darkening behind us. After maybe an hour a settlement on the crest of a hill came into view, too small to be Arkham.
A sudden harsh stuttering came from the engine, and the coach faltered in its climb up the hill. Silas cursed and struggled with the wheel, and we barely made it to the first rough red stone buildings. The driver barely managed to drift us into a small bay off the road, then scrambled out of his seat to check on the engine.
I’m not a car guy. I know little about mechanics, and even less about early 20th-century manual transmission. But to my uneducated ears, it sounded like a problem with the gears, like the driver’d suddenly forgotten how to drive stick.
And yet here we were, stopped on our way to Arkham by mysterious car troubles in some out of the way community. A contrivance of plot, or of an untrustworthy driver? I thought back to his early questions about whether I had family or anyone waiting in Arkham.
Lovecraft made me paranoid. Narrative structure made me more so.
“Not sure what’s wrong,” Silas said, shutting the engine compartment and wiping his hands on a rag. “Maybe oil pressure, maybe somethin’ askew when we took that sudden turn. Can’t do much until the engine cools… and with the light failing, we’ll be here for the night.”
I was neither pleased nor particularly surprised. He could probably see it on my face.
He gestured towards the small community. “This here’s Emberhead. Miles from anywhere. I pass through twice a week, though, these’re good people. May Ledbetter keeps a room, she’ll take care of you.” He pointed. “Up that alley, take a right, first house on the left.” He looked around, spat on the ground. “Meet back here at eight in the morning, and we’ll see what’s what.”
I didn’t bring up how shady everything was. Maybe I’m too avoidant. “What about you?”
“I know people enough for bed and breakfast,” he said sourly.
Without many other options, I get my bags - the only bags - out of the baggage compartment. When I got to this room - if it existed and wasn't just a trap - I’d dig into who I was.
Silas’s directions were good enough, though I moved through the alley expecting to be jumped at any moment. I came to a modest building with a slate roof, with a nameplate reading LEDBETTER and LODGING ROOM.
I wondered how much I needed to participate in the obvious trap for it to ‘count’ with the forces that kept me here. To ‘earn’ a month’s respite. Would staying in the town but finding a place to hide for the night suffice? Probably not… I’d be avoiding the scenario. Caution was fine. Cowardice was not.
I knocked on the door.
It was opened by a woman of around my own age in a plain housedress. “Hello. Should I take it as you’re looking for a room for the night?”
“How much?” I asked.
“You’ll find my rates quite reasonable. Come inside, have a cuppa, you look exhausted.”
Her home was cramped, with a low ceiling and simple fixtures, but well kept. She handed me a cup of tea and I thought about the drugged drink the Baron had given me. “You here for the festival, then?”
“What festival?” I did not drink the tea, but held it, warming my hands.
“Oh, I supposed that’s why you were here. The Beacon. It’s the only reason anyone comes to Emberhead. Night after tomorrow. One night a year there’s a torch procession to the cliffs, and we light the Beacon. They say it keeps the spirit of the village alive for another year… quite the celebration…” She blinks. “But you didn’t come here for a story. Would you like a bit of stew?”
“No, thank you,” I said. “But what were your rates?”
“Eighty cents per night. Dinner included.”
“Sounds good to me.” I had twenty dollars in my wallet.
“Let me show you the room, then.”
It was small but comfortable. By my watch, it was only seven, so I had a few hours to kill. I decided to have a walkabout, in case May was part of whatever plan the coachman had.
“Be careful,” she said “Emberhead’s surrounded by cliffs, and we don’t have fancy streetlights lighting the way. Take the lantern and watch your step.”
I could see what she meant - it was overcast out, and without the lantern I’d have been in near total darkness. The small community’s structures were low and squat, with wide thoroughfares. The lantern’s light picked up a crude low fence, and stepping closer I could see this was a barrier at the edge of one of the cliffs.
Turning away I saw a dark figure standing in the road, about ten paces from me, and for a moment I thought for sure that it was going to rush at me and hurl me off the cliff - it stopped when it noticed that I’d seen it, and started towards a nearby alley.
My first instinct was to go back to the boarding house. I didn’t think that’d get me a ding for non-participation - it was a reasonable course of action. But this figure was tied to whatever plot was going on here, and following it might bring me to a resolution more quickly.
As soon as I started towards it, it ran, disappearing into the alleyway. I followed, but it was fast, and silent, and when I emerged from the alley into an open courtyard it was gone. I looked around, but could find no signs of it.
With no recourse and feeling a bit unnerved, I returned to May’s.
“I’m going to turn in,” she said. “What time would you like breakfast?”
I heard a clunk behind me. Turning, all I could see is a securely closed wooden door.
“The young lady of the house. Evesdropping, no doubt.” May raised her voice. “Ruth! Come and greet our guest!”
After a pause the door creaked open again, and two wide eyes peered out at us through the gap.
“What do you say?”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Now off to bed.” May turned to me. “My Ruth. Ten years, this summer. A delight and torment all in one. Don’t worry, she sleeps in with me, and’ll not disturb you. Good night now.”
Probably a Deep One, I decided, heading to my room. This place might be an Innsmouth thing. I looked through my luggage, not finding much other than a letter offering me employment with the Arkham Gazette, and a scapbook of clippings from a paper I'd worked with back in New Hampshire. A reporter again? Guess it was sort of close to the kind of writing I actually did, especially in a Lovecraftian world.
I went to bed, sleeping fitfully, tossing and turning. When I did dream, I dreamed of fire.
Insomnia roll failed, meaning I got two hours less sleep that night. However, I also have the Less Sleep advantage - I habitually function on 6 a night, so this isn’t as much an impairment as it might otherwise seem.
The sun was up and streaming through the window when I woke. And I wasn’t tied up, or surrounded by cultists, or any of that. May severed me a hearty breakfast - which I ate - and I was ready to go by seven thirty. I have to admit, I was surprised nothing had gone horribly wrong yet.
Until I got to the coach and found it gone. Of fucking course. I returned to May’s. She seemed surprised.
“You can store your things here while you look for transport… nobody here has a car, though a horsecart might be possible. I’ll ask around, but you can check with Mr. Winters at the town hall. Or among the artisans on Silbury street. And worse comes to worse, I’ll not see you sleeping on the street.”
“Thanks.” I left May, leaving to see the village, thinking about the movie Hot Fuzz.The village itself was built flat, between the mountains to the north, and a large lake to the south. It only took five minutes to cross, edge to edge. I could see a ruined church, and an odd black metal structure in the northeast.
My first stop was the general store. The keeper, a large woman with a hard face, told me she wasn’t expecting a truck with supplies for at least a week, so no luck there. I browsed her shelves, looking for any tools that might be of use when things went to shit. They didn’t have much in the way of weapons, but I did buy a baseball bat for a dollar.
I considered May’s advice, but I wasn’t really looking for transport out of town. There wouldn’t be any. Best thing I could do right now was gather intel, so I decided to check out the abandoned-looking church. It was half-collapsed, in sorry state. It looked like the steeple had collapsed into the main building when it fell. And the locals had left it like this… of course, why bother fixing up the church when you can just worship Dagon or whatever?
I wrinkled my nose. It smelled like horses inside. I looked around and found a hoof-print and fresh horse shit in the corner. Someone had been using the church as a stable not too long ago.
I left the church and started walking towards the big metal thing, noting that the main thoroughfare pointed right at it. Maybe the streets were in the shape of some weird magical rune, centering the local Feng Shui on the iron tower. Oh, wait, wrong game.
Closer I could see that the iron had been singed, and supported an enormous curved platform at eye level. At one point it may have been a sculpture, but the whole thing had been melted beyond recognition.
An older villager stopped. “You here for the festival? That’s the Beacon.”
“Oh, I figured the Beacon was, like a Bonfire.”
“No, that’s it! When they light it, night after night, you can see it ten miles away!”
I looked up at it. “So is this like a Wicker Man deal?”
“Wicker? No, Beacon’s made of iron.” The old man sounded confused.
I noticed that cords of wood had been stacked up alongside the structure. They were going to try to burn me alive. I just knew it.
Not a lot of skill use early on… mostly just Drive (Automobile), Tracking to follow the dark figure, and Ride to identify the smell of horses. I’m going to bank the CP. Combat Reflexes fund is at 8/15.
As I turned to go, I noticed that the buildings closer to the Beacon were stone and clay, and generally older than the rest. The newer, wooden buildings, were further east. Did that mean that construction had spread from this point? That the Beacon was the reason why the town was built?
Next step was to check out the Town Hall, as May had suggested. I doubted they’d be able to help get me out of here, but there might be some clues or plot hooks to discover along the way. I found the building backed against a cliff at the end of Silsbury Street, the largest structure I’d seen so far, but locked and shuttered. One of the windows was bricked up, and I could see no hours posted.
“Can I help you?” an old woman passing by asked.
“Yeah, I need to talk to, uh, Mr. Winters?”
She tutted. “Mr. Winters doesn’t open up mornings. Best come by this afternoon.”
Feeling a bit hungry I set off through town, looking for a diner, but it didn’t look like they had any. As I was considering buying something at the general store, I spotted May and her daughter Ruth coming up the way.
The little girl ran up to me with a big smile. “Get out before the festival,” she whispered. “Get out!” She then scuttled back to her mother.
“How are you getting on?” May asked. “Have you found transport?”
“No. Still looking.” I wondered if Ruth’s warning gave me a real ‘out’ to try and get out of the situation, to start really treating the festival like a death trap without breaking kayfabe.
“I’d try Mr. Winters in the village hall - he’s in afternoons." May smiled. "Are you hungry? Help yourself to what we have at home. Door isn’t locked.”
Ruth was trying to hide behind her mother, but her eyes were imploring me to silence.
I gave her a slight not. Yeah, kid, I get it.
I took May’s advice, went to their home, had a little leftover stew and bread, and pondered my options. I could buy some supplies at the village store and try to make it down the road on foot - but as that had been suggested to me by the girl, it wouldn’t be an uneventful trip. Or I could go talk to this Winters, a hook that had been dangled in front of me twice.
What if I did something else? Something crazy out of character? Set the town on fire? Would that work? Would I be punished with an abrupt jump for leaving the rails? I didn’t know. And for now, didn’t want to risk it. Every new scenario was a sudden rush of the unknown where I had to scramble for a context and figure out the plot as fast as I could - at least here, I was comfortably sure I knew how things were going to go down.
For now, I’d go talk to Winters.
The hall is open when I arrive. Inside I find two rooms - one a large bright meeting hall, the other a closed door with a PRIVATE sign.
I cross the meeting room floor to take a look at a pair of noticeboards. The first is full of standard community nonsense and doesn’t get a lot of use; there’s nothing here about THE FESTIVAL. The second smaller board is about kids, I guess, and covered in their drawings. Before I can peer too closely I hear the PRIVATE door scrape open.
A balding man of about my age in spectacles emerges. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, hi,” I say. “My coach driver stranded me here, and I’m looking for a way out of town. May Ledbetter suggested you might be able to help?”
He brightened at that, and invited me into his office for coffee. It’s been a long damn time since I’ve had coffee. Since before Mad Mesa.
Winters office was cramped, stuffed with filing cabinets, and very orderly, as was the man himself. I noticed a telegraph set while he started the coffee. We made some small talk, and he went on about duty and responsibility and how great the town was, all the justifications you make when your job involves sacrificing strangers to the crawling fucking chaos.
I asked about the telegraph and he said the line was down. Of course. Oh, and they wouldn’t be here to repair it until the day after the festival, super convenient.
I indicate the books in the corner. “That’s an impressive personal library.”
He seemed proud of them. “Well, really, they’re the villages. It’s our own library - the sign out there is just to keep people from wandering in during meetings. Just our own little collection.”
I crouch and check out the shelves, looking for books bound in flesh or other sorts of Necronomicon. “Mind if I take a look?” I ask.
“Go right ahead.” Winters pulled out a chair for me.
“Got anything about your Festival?” I asked.
“No books on it, but…” Winters sifted through his files, then handed me a yellowing sheaf of papers. “A monograph written by a friend of my father’s.”
I settled down with the papers, written by a Dr. Aniolowski. It suggested that the Festival had roots in pagan rites brought over by pagan settlers, and I could see some connections drawn to the high holidays of Imbolc and Beltaine. It wasn’t an easy read, and the paper terminated mid-sentence on page 28.
“Where’s the rest of it?” I asked.
“Misplaced, I’m afraid.” He glanced out the window, then cleared his throat. “I’m afraid I have some errands to run before dark. You’re more than welcome to come back tomorrow.”
The scenario called for a Credit Rating roll. Parsed this as a general Reaction roll from Winters, and got a Poor result.
I head back to the Ledbetter home for a light supper. Several times during the meal Ruth gives me a look, but before I can talk to her May ushers her off to bed. I come up with some blarney about having her check with the people Silas stayed at last night to see if he said anything, because don’t you know it I have to start this job in Arkham or my career is ruined, blah blah blah.
She goes to check, and I rush over to ask the kid what’s up. She tells me a yarn about how ‘they’ve’ been watching me since I arrived, about how they take someone every year, how I’m marked, how they took her dad. Who’s they?
May gets back and the kid hides. May’s pissed because Silas’s friend is a prick, or whatever, but I’m still thinking about what Ruth said, basically confirming my suspicions.
The household goes to bed.
I can’t sleep, running over everything in my head. I think I have just cause to try to strike out on foot, now, dangerous as trying to escape may be. Festival’s tomorrow, that means town won’t be any safer.
A creak from the hall. Someone coming to my room’s door. I slip out of bed and grab the bat I bought before wrenching the door open to get the jump on whoever is coming to get me.
May’s there. I hide the bat behind my bed.
“Sorry, you seemed not yourself,” May stammers. “I wanted to check in on you.”
“Insomnia. Real bad.” I gaze at her. “Probably up all night, tossing and turning.”
“Ah.” She goes back to bed, closing her door.
I grab a chair from the kitchen and wedge it under my door. If I’m going to get out of this place, I’ll need at least a few hours of safe sleep.
May was out in the morning, with her daughter, leaving me a note to say as much. I took the bat with me, concealing it in my jacket as best I could, and performed some quiet observation of the villagers as they went around their business preparing for the festival. Most were engaged in carrying wood to the Beacon, giving me a bit of leeway in my activities.
I was considering leaving, but what if the amount of downtime I get between adventures depends on how much progress I make? How well I do? My best bet is to give it my all, because then I have more time to just live before I get pulled into more bullshit.
I went to the village hall, using side streets and skirting the cliff, scrambling in through an open window to avoid using the door facing the Beacon. Back to Winters office, to poke around a bit. Inside I notice something odd about the bookcase that I hadn't seen before, the way it’s pushed all the way to the side, and find that it’s actually concealing a hidden alcove with more books. It’s too dark to make any titles out, so I crack the window a little to let in more light.
One of the books, lacking a title but possessing a red triangle on the front, seems to be an alchemical treatise on the nature of damnation. I give it a quick read, and in the back find two rituals - Call Ye Celestial Flames, and Command Ye Celestial Flames. Given that they may soon be consuming me, I quickly try to memorize the Command ritual. It’s not complex - just a simple chant - though I’m fuzzy on some of the pronunciation.
As I’m putting the book back, I hear the scratch of a key in the hall door and bolt for the window. I’m not fast enough, though, and the room is swarming with villagers before I can get out - I don’t have the elbow room to even bring my bat up.
“There you are,” says an older gentleman I’ve never laid eyes upon. “We were wondering where you’d gotten to.” He waves his hand and the villagers grab me, haul me away.
I spend the rest of the day in a dank room, shackled. At one point an old woman I’d never seen comes in to give me water, but I refuse it.
She doesn’t mind.
I get thirsty. I should have left when I had the chance.
I want to come up with a plan. I try. But really, the only info I have is that the villagers are building a giant bonfire, and the chant I memorized may or may not actually help me escape it. As night falls, every so often a passing glow informs me of another torch being carried to the Beacon.
Eventually two big goons in black cloaks come and get me, marching me out to the village. Everyone is there, in black cloaks with red triangle motifs, their faces coated with soot. There’s no way I can break free and run, so I just go with it for now. I want to say I was defiant, but mostly I was just scared. Burning alive sounds like a shitty way to die, even if I jump immediately afterward.
There’s more ritualistic shit as they bring me up. Torches. Chanting. Girls dance up and kiss me on each cheek, three of them.
“Through your sacrifice the village will be reborn,” says the first dancer.
“You pass from earth to air for all our sakes,” says the second.
“I’ve weakened the chains,” says the third. “Don’t try to escape until the flames are high enough to
I blink. The third girl is Ruth Ledbetter.
The villagers lift me up into the Beacon among a tremendous amount of kindling, shackling me. They’re singing a weird chant-song now, as they arrange three red-wrapped bodies in a triangle around my feet.
I look at the village laid out before me. They’ve taken my glasses, but I’d imagine that both May and Silas are there, waiting to watch me burn.
Winters steps forward and speaks, thanking me for my sacrifice to the Ones From Above in their stead.
“Go fuck yourself!” I respond. They don’t seem to care.
Torches are brought to the kindling, and the fire is lit. I resist the urge to try and break free, remembering Ruth’s words. It catches fast, though and soon the smoke is in my lungs as the fire consumes the bodies laid out around me. The stench is awful, but I think I can feel the chains weakening. I pull against them with all my might, even as the heat and smoke start to kill me.
They snap! I stumble away, barely conscious, almost tripping over one of the bodies. Getting to the end of the Beacon, I leap off it to the ground, rolling when I hit to put out any burning in my clothes.
I took 6 damage in the escape attempt. Now at 4/10.
The villagers haven’t noticed my escape through the smoke. Most are watching the sky. I stumble away to the darkness between buildings. In front of the General Store I find a bicycle, and climb into the seat - my singed skin is agony at the contact.
I look back up the avenue towards the Beacon and see that the chant is faltering. Something’s gone wrong. There’s a sudden blast and something fire-y shoots out of the iron to crash into the crowd so hard that the ground shakes. People start screaming, and it happens again.
Time to go. I haven’t ridden a bike in years, but it comes back quick, and most of the road out of Emberhead is downhill. I stop only once, on the next hill, to sit and watch the town burn for a spell.
I get 2CP plus a bonus 2 for survival. The only skills used this session were Fast Talk and Research. I’ll bank them, for now.
After an hour or so I arrived in the small town of Ossipee, and stumbled into a doctor’s office, making some sort of story about an explosion over in Emberhead. Told them enough of the truth to stand up to the cops and get the treatment I needed; it took the bulk of what was left in my wallet to take care of the bill.
I made a call to the Arkham Gazette and told them an abbreviated version of what happened, promising an exclusive report when I arrived if they could send a car for me and put me up until I got paid - the fire had consumed everything I owned. The editor agreed enthusiastically, and in a few days I was well enough to travel.
One, I have a big list of solo adventure modules for various systems. I put them all in a table segregated by approximate power level, and whenever I jump, I roll for one randomly.
I've got a second table that I use to see if any metaplot elements come up during that adventure. What's the metaplot? Here's a secret: I don't know. The table has a lot of potential revelations, but I don't know for sure which, if any, are true, or will ever come up.
Once an adventure starts I play through it and convert to GURPS as I go. This is simple if it's an entry-based solo module, but for something like N4 - a GM'd group adventure, I need to be vigilant to keep player and character knowledge separate. This is made simpler by the fact that my goal here isn't to "win" the scenario, but to play out an interesting story to entertain you fine folks.
Finally, there's another table to govern NPC reactions, especially in combat - what combat options they choose, how optimally they're fighting, that sort of thing. Mostly they'll make good choices, but they're not 100% efficient, and there's a chance they'll fail to capitalize when they have the advantage. That chance is higher with less well trained or experienced enemies.
Then while I'm playing through I take sparse notes, which I fill in when posting the actual writeup later.
So, funny story. I don't write these entries as I post them, I work ahead a bit. Okay, quite a bit. I was about a dozen entries "ahead" in case I got sick or busy or couldn't quite get around to playing during a given week. At my planned pace of 2-3 updates a week, that's about a month lead time.
All of its gone. Had some technical problems over the weekend, and I lost a lot of data. Including the written Semiotic Apophany episodes and most of my notes.
So no episodes this week. I need to replay some modules.
I'm also considering rebooting. After having done this for half a year, there are a few things I'd have changed.
1. Focus on a group of PCs rather than a solo protagonist. Why? Easier to express the characters thought process through dialog if they have other characters in the same situation. I also have a bigger/better selection of group modules than solo, and it's a bit easier to try things that are off the rails with modules that aren't entry-keyed.
2. Slightly younger characters, with a bit more time between adventures. Why? Because it gives them slightly more time to learn languages, train, improve. Constant danger takes a toll, emotionally, but give them a few months downtime to reflect, grow, and change, and evolve. Breathe in, breathe out.
3. It's really frustrating to lose all that data and I know I won't be able to replicate those scenarios as well. As with point 1, I don't have a big enough collection of solo adventures that I can just run different ones that the protagonist has a chance to survive. I'd have to play the same games all over again, but knowing how I did the first time would change the experience.
I want your opinions, though. Should I soldier on with this current story? Or should I reboot as a group solo actual play?
For sure, you should do whichever option is easier. But since you asked for my opinion, I think a group solo AP would be an interesting option. Although you'd have to keep track of multiple characters, it'll open up options for modules like you said. Not to mention, it'll give the characters a bit more survivability. Maybe have them not be so handicapped to start with, too?
After giving myself a few days to think about it and relax about how much work I lost, I think I'll continue here. Thank you for your opinions on the matter.
I'm enjoying both playing and writing this, and if it wasn't for the IP issues I'd be tempted to turn it into a web serial. I still might take the base idea and strip out all the references to published games and modules and settings and come up with "fake" published games to jump between and turn that into a novel or something.