Tuesday, 19 August 2014
Free USR Mythos adventure: The Serpent Ring
Posted by Scott Malthouse
To celebrate H.P Lovecraft's birthday tomorrow I have written a short, free adventure for USR under a new setting USR Mythos. It's a pretty straightforward one, but hey, it's free so enjoy.
Characters in USR Mythos
True to the stories of Lovecraft, characters in this adventure should be ordinary people. They will likely be of an academic bent or perhaps a detective or journalist. The adventure is set in 1920s Massachusetts, so choose a suitable career for the time period.
A Note on Lovecraftian Creatures
If you're familiar with the works of Lovecraft, you will know that his cosmic terrors aren't to be trifled with. It is unlikely that you will be able to kill one, even with firearms so it's best not to even try. Usually the players' best bet is to run away to somewhere safe and try to keep their sanity in tact. Statistics for the creatures used in this adventure are included, but honestly, players don't stand much of a chance if they come up against them in a fight.
USR Mythos uses a sanity system to emulate the players going insane at the sight of evil Lovecraftian monsters and other unknowable horrors. Whenever a player encounters a creature or has to recite a ritual they must roll their Wits die and get a 4. If they get under 4 they begin to descend into madness. Should they miss this roll three times throughout the adventure they are driven insane and cannot act again until they seek psychiatric help for 1d6 weeks.
Dr Barnarby Willis is one of the world's pre-eminent Egyptologists. He has just returned from an expedition to the Valley of the Kings where he was excavating a tomb belonging to an unknown Pharaoh. While he was once an outgoing and flamboyant man, none have seen him since his return. He has become a recluse, locked away in his house, declining to answer to visitors. What's more is that neighbours have heard strange sounds in the dead of the night. Chanting, gibbering and harsh human barking. They fear that Dr Willis has been driven mad, perhaps by a poison imbibed on his expedition.
Dr Willis did actually unearth the tomb of an unknown Pharaoh - one bearing the name Nyarlathotep. He and his assistants from the Miskatonic University brought the mummified body back to his house for inspection. Deep in the night Dr Willis began to have dreams of vast sandscapes, of great otherworldly pyramids much larger than the ones on Earth. He dreamt of a great cloaked figure wearing a golden band on his head. Every morning he would awake in a cold sweat and note his dreams down in his diary that he kept on his bedside table. Soon he became maddened by these dreams and didn't dare leave the house. Something, he said, was keeping him indoors - a dark voice in his head.
When the police finally arrived at his house they found him prostrate on the floor, mouth agape, in a pool of his own blood, strange hieroglyphics carved into his flesh. They made arrangements for the sarcophagus containing the mummified body of Nyarlathotep to be moved to the museum archives. They did not speak to the public of how they found Dr Willis and allowed no journalist into the house, but many speculated that he may have been murdered.
Months later the Arkham Museum put on the exhibition of The Unknown Pharaoh, placing the sarcophagus in a lit glass display case in the Egyptology room. People flocked from all over America to see the strange tomb - it became the museum's number one attraction.
One day Penelope Andress, the curator of the museum, was found dead in her home in the same way Dr Willis had died. This time journalists found out and it became front page news. There have also been reports of a disturbance in the museum - a possible break-in. Something evil has arrived in Massachusetts.
Part One: The Serpent Ring
The players should have some reason to get involved in the investigation at the museum. Perhaps they work in the museum, or were friends of Penelope and want to uncover what really happened to her. Have one of the players discover news about her death in the local newspaper. The article doesn't go into full detail about the hieroglyphics, but it does assume that a murder has taken place and that she was found in her home in a pool of blood. It is likely that the player will make contact with the others to tell them the news and allow the investigation to begin. They have a few routes to go down.
The Police Station
There are a few officers on duty when the players arrive. Officer Connolley will respond to questions, but will not mention the hieroglyphics found on her body unless someone makes a difficulty 7 Ego or Wits check in order to get that bit of information from him. He will mention that they are definitely thinking it was murder and are continuing their investigation. If he is asked about Dr Willis he says that it could be related, but cannot answer any more questions. If they press for answers Officer Connolley becomes aggressive and tells them to leave or face arrest. Officer Connolley was one of the officers at both scenes and has ties with the Cult of Nyarlathotep.
Penelope's house is taped off and the police will not allow anyone to enter. The body has been moved anyway and if the players did manage to get inside all they would find is a large pool of blood on the living room floor.
The Arkham Gazette
Players visiting or making a call to the Arkham Gazette about Penelope's case will be told that she was found with hieroglyphics carved onto her body and a knife in her hand. However, the police have threatened to arrest editors if they printed this detail, and instead they had to make out that it was a simple murder. They say that there was a similarly strange cover-up with Dr Barnaby Willis, who died under mysterious circumstances a few months ago but the police wouldn't allow journalists to enter his home.
The museum is full of people crowded around the exhibit of the Unknown Pharaoh. There is a plaque near the unaccessable glass case that reads the following:
The Unknown Pharaoh
Discovered in the Valley of the Kings by Dr Barnaby Willis, the Unknown Pharaoh is one of the great mysteries of the modern age. It is believed he lived around the year 2520 BC, but almost nothing else is known about him. Archaeologists are currently further excavating his tomb to shed more light on who he might have been.
The sarcophagus is made of stone and covered in faded carvings which are too difficult to make out. There are other artefacts around the room, from gold plates to ornate vessels for placing organs in, but it is the Pharaoh that is fixating everyone's attention.
After they have spent a bit of time looking around, the new curator, Evan Cobb, will approach the players, recognising one or more of them as people he has seen with Penelope in the past. He offers his condolences, but has a haunted look on his face. He tells them he must speak to them in private and leads them into his office where he explains to them that before Penelope's death there was a break-in at the museum. He came in in the morning to find one window smashed and one of the exhibits gone. The item was an ancient book called the Y'Tal Manuscript, an ancient Mesopotamian tome containing strange occult literature. Cobb has asked the police to look into getting it back but they are paying it no importance. He asks that if the players can return the book then it might shed some light on Penelope's death.
Investigating around the area of the break in, a difficulty 4 Wits check will uncover a ring with a serpent engraved on it. A difficulty 7 Wits check will reveal that this is an occult symbol, the Serpent of Chaos. Cobb is unsure of what the symbol means, but says that it wasn't stolen from the museum. If they do not come across the ring, Cobb tells them that he remembers the caretaker said that he saw a hooded figure leave through the window with something in his hands. There was a serpent on the back of his cloak.
Part Two: The Cult of Nyarlathotep
The players will likely now want to investigate the cult that escaped with the book. The University Library holds much of the information they will need to investigate the cult. A difficulty 4 Wits check and three hours of research will allow the players to unearth some more information about the Serpent of Chaos. However, what they find is enough to begin to drive them mad. Anyone researching must make a Sanity roll. They find out that the Serpent of Chaos was an ancient god that went by many names. He is said to have existed at all times in all places. The Mesopotamians revered him as the Crawling Chaos, or the Doombringer. The Egyptians called him Nyarlathotep. There are still cults today who worship him and would see him display his true form once more and bring pestilence on Earth. They say that to do this they must recite various passages from the Book of Y'Tal.
Players will now be aware that the cultists are wanting to bring about Nyarlathotep's true form and have probably worked out that the Unknown Pharaoh is actually one of he avatars. Unfortunately for them, they have been followed by some members of the Cult of Nyarlathotep, who confront them in the library. They are wearing plain clothes and up until now have been perusing books around the players. They have cottoned onto the fact that they are trying to stop them and decide to attack with daggers. They shout in a strange ancient language while attacking. There are three cultists.
Weapon: Dagger +1
Specialisms: Occult Lore + 2 (Wits)
Should a cultist be taken alive for questioning, a suitable interrogation Action roll of difficulty 7 will get them to spill the beans on their activity (it's much more effective if violence is involved, so lower the difficulty to 4 if so). They tell the players that there is no stopping Nyarlathotep and that tonight at midnight they will be enacting the rite of Thoss in order to bring about his true form into the world. If persuaded, the cultist will tell them of their ritual location - the museum, as they believe that the players are already too late to stop what's coming. He will quickly retrieve a small vial from a pocket (as long as he's not bound) and drink it before foaming at the mouth and dying.
If the players have killed all the cultists then they discover a map of the museum on one of their bodies with a red circle around the Egyptian exhibit and today's date along with the word 'midnight'.
The Rise of Nyarlathotep
If the players make it to the museum before midnight they wait until the museum is closed. The curator allows them to stay past closing time. Just before midnight the door of the museum clicks open and the robed cultists enter, lead by Officer Connolley. When they discover the players, they will attack straight away while Connolley chants a passage from the book in front of the sarcophagus. There are 6 cultists plus Connolley. The cultists will swarm the players while Connolley recites the passage.
Weapons: Handgun +2
Specialisms: Occult Lore +2 (Wits), Policework + 2 (Wits)
If Connolley goes 2 consecutive rounds without being attacked he manages to finish the ritual. The actual plan is to get Nyarlathotep to show his true form, so it will be an anti-climax if he doesn't achieve this.
Once Connolley has finished the glass case shatters all over the floor and the mummied Nyarlathotep slides open the lid and crawls out. All players must make a Sanity check at this sight. Nyarlathotep will begin with drawing a blade and plunging it into Connolley's eye, killing him instantly. Nyarlathotep will then begin to undulate, his skin becoming blackened as he begins to grow into a mass of tentacles and maws. Sanity checks all around again.
Nyarlathotep, The Crawling Chaos
Weapons: Tentacles +15
Specialisms: Fearsome +5 (Ego), Ancient Lore +4 (Wits)
The players are incredibly unlikely to survive a fight with Nyarlathotep and, if they haven't been driven insane, they will probably flee from the museum. If they stay in Arkham, they soon find a raging tempest erupting over the city. Rioting begins in the street as normal people snap and are driven to murder under the influence of Nyarlathotep. It is likely that the players themselves will come under this influence too unless they make daily Wits checks of difficulty 7. If they leave the city or the country, they hear news reports of the rioting in Arkham and elsewhere as Nyarlathotep's influence grows. After 1d6 weeks the rioting calms down as Nyarlathotep goes into seclusion, biding his time to form his next plan.