Tidings of Thule

Forward

Horror.  The genre has captured my imagination and sent chills up my spine since I was a child.  In the beginning it was the classic Universal Monsters I loved.  I couldn’t get enough of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, or the Wolfman.  It was a rotten seed that had been planted in my brain, and its corruption bloomed and spread its vile roots, perverting and twisting my thoughts and imagination.

Yes, and it did all this before I had even rolled my first die.  After fantasy roleplaying games discovered me, the mephitic leaves of horror that had shaded my thoughts began to whither and receded, for a while.  However, it was still there, dormant but festering, waiting for the opportunity to germinate and spread its rancid tendrils back into my imagination.

The first substantial opportunity came a full five years after I had begun roleplaying.  A new game was in town that allowed you to take on the role of the things that go bump in the night.  Vampires, Werewolves, and Wraiths. OH MY!  While it is certainly horrific to become these things that inspire fear in people, true terror lies in becoming the helpless and weak that these monsters prey upon.

Enter Cthulhu.  A few years after being initiated into the gothic-punk genre of roleplaying, I was introduced to the Call of Cthulhu.  I was a sophomore in high school when the elder evil touched my mind.  It was truly horrific and far exceeded anything in the horror genre I had experienced.  The hopelessness and fatalism inspired by the game was liberating.  Gone was the race for power.  Gone was the attempt to excel at a chosen discipline.  I embraced character flaws and indulged in character development.  I watched while sanity fled my character and madness took root.  I embraced the inevitability of the destruction of my character.

Shadows of Cthulhu (C) Reality Deviant Publications
Shadows of Cthulhu (C) Reality Deviant

Cthulhu Mini Carnival

On the RPG Bloggers Network’s Google Group, Ed Healy inquired about bloggers who would be interested in participating in a mini Blog Carnival dedicated to Cthulhu.  This is my contribution to the effort.  For those of you who do not know who Ed Healy, he is currently the owner of Moonstew which does the well known Atomic Array and he is also the Advertising Manager for Kobold Quarterly at Open Design.  He has a long list of contributions to the RPG industry from freelance editing and writing to co-founding Eden Studios (All Flesh Must Be Eaten) and The Forge.

It is a shame I did not have time to flesh this story out to a full fledged adventure, but I find myself starting this in the evening after work and it must be done by the following morning!  I hope I can pull off a quality contribution in such a short time.

The Tidings of Thule

This story outline for use with Shadows of Cthulhu, a True20 Call of Cthulhu game published by Reality Deviant Publications.  I created this story with new players in mind, as a sort of introduction.  I wanted to expose players to elements of the game and the Mythos in a controlled manner.  As such, it may appear at first glance that it has a railroad quality to it, but I lay the task of maintaining the veil of choice and non-linear progression in the hands of the Narrator.  If you think about it, that actually fits the Cthulhu Mythos.

I have also branded this story with my own take on Lovecraft’s world.  I love the esoteric conspiracy theories that surround the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler’s obsession with the supernatural.  I am strongly influenced by Hellboy, Wolfenstein and a little bit of Indiana Jones in this.  I love twisting real-world phenomenon, events, and locations into Cthulhu stories.

Background

This introductory story takes place in the summer of 1933 in the American Southwest, specifically Mesa Verde, Colorado.  The repercussions of the Great Stock Market Crash of ’29 are in full swing as the economy has collapsed, people are jobless, homeless, and worse.  The world climate is not much better as Germany’s government, still reeling from its defeat in the aftermath of the Great War, has just undergone a coup as a charismatic upstart, Adolf Hitler, is establishing the Third Reich and rearming the nation.

The premise is that the characters have been in and out of work since the Crash, but have all accepted job offers to come work for an archaeological outfit at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado.  The first clue that something strange is afoot would be the outfit’s name: The Archaeological Society for Germanic Antiquity (ASGA).  The outfit is not picky about which Roles or Archetypes it employs, so players should feel free to develop the character of their choice.  After all, it doesn’t take specialized skills to dig around in the dirt and sand (or to be sacrificed).

Mesa Verde National Park is home to the remnants of a cliff dwelling pueblo people, the Anasazi.  The Anasazi mysteriously disappeared over a thousand years ago, and it is unclear why.  The Archaeological Society is investigating the reasons behind the strange disappearance.

The Society of Thule
The Society of Thule

Overview

The Archaeological Society for German Antiquity is actually a cover name for the Society of Thule, a German secret society that helped establish the Nazis.  Hitler publicly banned all esoteric groups but has secretly enlisted the Society of Thule to gather information and supernatural relics to help him in his future endeavors for world domination.

The scholars of the Society of Thule have discovered documents in Scandinavia and artifacts recently discovered at Mesa Verde that lead them to believe that Hitler’s super race, the Aryans, had connections to the natives of the American Southwest.  Specifically they think that the “Keys to the Origins of the Aryans” are hidden in Mesa Verde.

They believe the “Keys” are a formula that will help Hitler reconstitute the fabled super race.  However, they erred in translating their findings.  It actually reads “Keys to the Lands of the Aryans.”  There is actually a gate that opens to the homeland of long dead Aryans hidden within the mesa.

The truth of what happened to the Anasazi is disturbing, as the Aryans transformed them into Ghouls to guard the gate for eternity.  The Anasazi Ghouls have slept in a deep slumber, hidden deep inside the subterranean complex, but now the excavation has awakened them.

The characters discover the entrance to the gate and soon find themselves caught in a struggle between the Nazi Society of Thule and the Ghouls.  Along the way, they encounter a Navajo warrior, that explains that the term Anasazi means “enemy ancestors” and that disturbing the ancient site has grave consequences.  He says his people have a legend of a hole in the ground, that when opened, will suck the world into it, destroying the universe as we know it.

So the characters become embroiled in a race against the Thules to find the keys to the gate and destroy them before the Society tries to open the gate, possibly destroying the world.  Or perhaps the characters will work with the Society to further Hitler’s goals?

Story Outline

The story is divided into three Acts: The Beginning, The Race, and The Endgame; these are further divided into scenes, all of which may not come to play.  This is just a simple framework which the Narrator can take and fill in the details he or she sees fit.  I have detailed all the NPCs, equipment, and special locations in the Appendix at the end of the outline.  Mechanics and Monsters located in the Shadows of Cthulhu or True20 Adventure Roleplaying books have been bolded the first time they are encountered.  I have also bolded any DC checks.

Act I: The Beginning

The Beginning is where the characters first discover that world is not the decaying, turbulent place they once thought.  Oh no, it is far worse.  There is a reason for that primal fear of the dark.

Scene: Digging into the Past

The characters have all jumped at the opportunity to work at a federal funded job, which provides some piece of mind.  The characters are assembled into a team to work a dig site and collect, study, catalog, and safekeep any artifacts they uncover from the excavation.  Their instructors, Herr Deitrick Eckart and Fräulein Heila von Westarp, all speak with a heavy German accent, and if questioned about their nationality, origins, or why a German Antiquity group is studying the American Southwest they respond by saying that times are tough in the fatherland, and they are willing to study anything.

The characters are given short courses where they are taught how to go about surveying, excavating, and doing preliminary analyses where special attention is given to symbolism.  Of particular importance is a symbol that is an equilateral cross with arms bent at right angles.  The final instruction is to report the discovery of any new rooms immediately.  The characters are then assigned to excavate a room at the base of a cliff dwelling.  They day soon grows long, and dusk begins to settle upon the mesa.

Just as the characters begin to wrap things up for the night, while excavating and making a DC 15 Search Check, they either uncover (success) or fall (fail) through a hole in the floor of the room they are assigned to.  The hole leads to a round room carved into the sandstone base of the cliff.  Strange paintings adorn the walls of the room.  A single tunnel leads deeper into the side of the cliff.  It requires a DC 20 Climb Check to get out.

The characters now have a choice, follow instructions and report the discovery immediately, or delve deeper into the subterranean complex.  If the characters report their findings, then go to Scene: Under Lock & Key.  If the characters decide to explore the underground complex go to Scene: Cries in the Dark.

Scene: Under Lock & Key

The characters are led to the ASGA headquarters building where they are asked to wait in the debriefing room.  The characters soon realize that they have been locked in with armed guards posted outside their room.

If the characters attempt an escape, they have an encounter with the guards.  After the characters defeat the guards, or they are subdued themselves, there are aberrant sounds of yelps and whining cries coming from outside.  The door to the outside is nearly rattled off its hinges as the entity or entities outside try to force their way in, but the banging eventually subsides.

If the guards are still in control, they rush outside, where automatic gunfire is heard, but abruptly ends with short shrieks of terror as blood splatters on the small window of the door (inducing a Fear 17 Save).  Once the characters break out of their room, they will find nothing but bloody marks where the bodies were dragged off.

Either way, the characters can acquire two MP34 submachine guns, with 20 rounds of ammunition each, and two Luger Parabellum pistols, with 8 rounds each.  These weapons are detailed in the Appendix.  Proceed to Scene: The Anasazi Return.

Scene: Cries in the Dark

The characters stumble through a seemingly abandoned system of tunnels, but eventually find a strange chamber deep in the heart of the mesa.  Imbedded in the northeastern wall of the chamber is a strange metallic arch, inscribed with even stranger markings, only one is familiar, the equilateral cross symbol (which, if you haven’t figured this out, is a swastika).  The wall enclosed by the arch appears to be a dark stone polished to a near glass finish.  There is a podium chiseled from stone in the center of the room with three indentations.  The paintings in the first room showed objects being placed into these notches.  An oddly shaped spear tip, a disc shaped amulet, and a white orb.

Perceptive characters will have sensed that something is pursuing them, but keeps to the dark.  The characters’ light source is unnaturally extinguished, and a whining cry pierces the darkness.  The creature in the darkness begins to assault the characters, clawing at them with hit and run tactics (inducing a Fear 17 Save).  Then, two armed members of the ASGA arrive; a firefight begins with the characters caught in the middle.  The ASGA manage to eliminate the Ghoul, but not before it leaps upon one them and begins to eat the flesh from his face (forcing a Sanity 10 Save to not acquire Cannibalism, but also gain 1 Awareness Point).

The remaining ASGA guard is mortally wounded and dies quickly, but may provide some vague background information about how the ASGA is actually the Society of Thule, which is connected to Nazi Germany and in service to Hitler.  They are here about uncovering the secrets of the master race.  He doesn’t know the specifics of why they are here, as he is just a soldier.  The characters can scavenge two MP34 submachine guns, with 20 rounds of ammunition each, and two Luger Parabellum pistols, with 8 rounds each.  These weapons are detailed in the Appendix.  Once the soldier dies, anyone affected by Cannibalism need to make a Will 10 Save or feed.

If the characters decide to explore more of the complex they will encounter another Ghoul, and upon searching its remains they will find the Mother Spider Dagger, which is detailed in the Appendix.  Once the characters exit, go to Scene: the Anasazi Return.

Scene: The Anasazi Return

At this point, darkness has set and they can hear the screams of other victims in the work camp as well as in the cliff dwellings.  More gunfire is heard, but is swiftly silenced.  The characters may decide to hide or barricade themselves inside a building.  To remain hidden from the Ghouls, a DC 15 Stealth Check is required.  To successfully barricade themselves, they must make a DC 15 Survival Check to cover all the entrances as well as DC 17 Strength Check to place something large enough, such as a desk or large cabinet to keep the Ghouls out.

This scene actually re-occurs every night and lasts until morning; it may coincide with the scenes from Acts II and III.  It requires a DC 20 Stealth Check to sneak about the camp or dig site without the Ghouls noticing.  It is a DC 15 Notice Check to spot Ghouls before they get too close and initiate an encounter.  An encounter will include 1-2 Ghouls.

If the characters wish to escape, they will find all the vehicles either missing or sabotaged, which requires a DC 20 Craft: Mechanics Check and 2 hours to repair one.  More likely, the characters will wish to uncover more information about their employers.  Thus they will begin searching the work camp for more clues.  Proceed to Act II.

Act II: The Race

During The Race, the characters discover who they are working for, and though WWII doesn’t begin in earnest for another six years, they can see the writing on the wall, and worse implications than needing to learn to speak German.  After they decide to find the “Keys to the Origins of the Aryans” they will find out they are in a race against the remnants of the Society of Thule to recover the Keys to the gate, which kicks off Act III: The Endgame.  Characters may decide to look for the Keys before going to every location.

After the first location, the characters enter Scene: Charge of the Countess.

Location Scene: ASGA Headquarters

Within the ASGA Headquarters they find evidence of a slaughter as blood and not a few body parts are mingled with a mess of paperwork and destroyed furniture.  Under a severed hand, they find missives with Nazi regalia emblazoned in the letterhead.  If the characters can read German, they will find they are working for the Society of Thule, which have instructions to “find the Keys to the Origins of the Aryans at all costs.”

A DC 10 Search Check reveals a map of the excavation hangs in tatters on the wall.  One of the dwellings is circled in red with the text “disc” scrawled next to it.  A DC 15 Search Check reveals one 32 round magazine for an MP34 hidden under some paperwork in a drawer.

Location Scene: Herr Deitrick Eckart’s Quarters

Within the austere accommodation of Eckart’s quarters, the characters find a military uniform fitted with jagged “SS” emblems on the collar.  They also find a rough manuscript entitled Mein Kampf.  There are letters with the official Nazi letterhead as well as a Luger pistol with 8 rounds in the desk drawer.  A DC 20 Search Check reveals a hidden compartment in his foot locker, storing two M24 stick grenades which are detailed in the Appendix.

Location Scene: Fräulein Heila von Westarp’s Quarters

Heila’s room is richly furnished with a wardrobe full of expensive dresses and a single uniform adorned with a red armband with a black swastika set in a white circle emblazoned upon it.  A DC 15 Search Check uncovers a journal between the mattresses, written German, but detailing the excavation.  A hand-drawn map of the dig has a location circled with the word “orb” written next to it.  The same check result also allows the characters to find a rapier, detailed in the appendix, in the back of the wardrobe.

A DC 20 Search Check reveals love letters written in English addressed to a Countess von Westarp from what must be an aristocrat named Winston Churchill (who was most likely unknown to Americans in ’33 as he didn’t become British Prime Minister until 1940).

Location Scene: The Barracks

The characters will find the barracks a bloody mess, the premises decorated with entrails as if they were birthday party banners.  This forces a Terror 15 Save.  The characters will find German soldier uniforms as well as four MP34s with 15 rounds of ammunition each, and a pair of binoculars.  Not much else if of use here.

Location Scene: Worker Dorms

Blood is splattered everywhere in the dorms, and most of the furniture is overturned or destroyed.  However, a DC 20 Search Check reveals project notes that state one of the dig workers encountered an old Navajo man who seemed to be monitoring the excavation from them bluff just east of the mesa.  The man had only said “light will be your strongest ally when the dwellers of darkness rise.”  Characters can keep the Ghouls at bay if they bring enough light with them (at least four flashlights, lanterns, or torches).

Scene: Charge of the Countess

After finishing the first location scene, the characters are ambushed by Heila and five guards.  Heila maintains cover behind a car, demanding the characters to surrender and hand over everything they have found.  If they do, proceed to Scene: Oblivion Comes.

Otherwise the guards will throw smoke grenades to cover their retreat once a single guard falls.  The characters can recover another MP34 with 5 rounds of ammunition as well as Luger pistol with 4 rounds.

Act III: The Endgame

The characters know that Heila and a few guards are out there looking for the Keys.  However, once they recover one Key, Nazi reinforcements arrive and recover the second key, and finally the characters are defeated while trying to reach the third key, which ends the story with Scene: Oblivion Comes.

Scene: The First Key

The players can only possibly know about two Key locations, as the third is still an unknown.  Which Key they wish to pursue is of little consequence.  If the players recovered the binoculars from the barracks, with a DC 10 Notice Check, they will be able to see that Heila’s contingent is working in the suspected location of the other Key.

With a DC 20 Search Check, the characters find a buried trap door that leads down into a dark room.  A tunnel leads deeper into the cliff.  The tunnel eventually opens up into a large cavern, with the stone podium located across a wide chasm.  Upon the podium is a Key, glowing with its own malevolent light.

A DC 15 Jump Check or a DC 20 Climb Check is required to make it across.  Once the key is removed from its podium, a Huge Ghoul climbs out of the chasm and attacks the characters.  This encounter needs to expend much of the characters’ resources and possibly drop a character.  Anyone who fails and falls will plummet to their death, or worse.

Once the encounter has lasted long enough, the Huge Ghoul emits a high pitched whine as a gore covered spear ruptures its chest cavity.  The Ghoul falls unlifeless to the cavern floor revealing the characters’ savior, an old Navajo man gripping a spear with an odd shaped blade.

The man speaks in a gravelly voice, demanding the characters leave this foul place before they uncover something worse.  It requires a DC 15 Diplomacy Check to coax more information out of the Navajo.  He reveals that he is a warrior for the local Navajo tribe, and they have had the duty of keeping the bad spirits here buried, but the white man knows no bounds.

He explains that Anasazi means “ancestor enemy” in their language, and there is a legend that there is a hole in the world located here.  If that hole is opened, it will suck all of existence into oblivion, destroying the universe as we know it.  When the characters turn their back, he mysteriously vanishes.  Proceed to Scene: Apprehended.

Scene: Apprehended

Upon exiting the tunnel that leads to the Key, the players are ambushed again by Heila, but this time she has fifteen soldiers under her command.  The characters could decide to fight, and most likely die, or they could do as Heila asks, and surrender and be witness to the greatness of the Aryan Race.  Maybe they would rethink their loyalties, as Germany could use magnificent agents like themselves.

Heila confiscates the Key and all of the characters weapons (unless one of them managed a DC 25 Sleight of Hand Check to conceal a pistol.

Scene: Oblivion Comes

Heila drags the characters back to the original location they were assigned, down the hole, and through the tunnel.  The come to the gate room and find that the Nazis have run electricity and brought down large work lights.  The lights all shine outside of the room, most likely to keep the Ghouls at bay.

The characters are forced to a kneeling position around the podium, with the guards behind them, burying the muzzles of their submachine guns into the backs of their heads.

She begins reciting a ritual in some ancient, better left unspoken language.  As she does so, she reverently draws the Keys out of a drawstring bag.  First the Orb, and as she fits in its slot upon the podium, the markings on the gate begin to glow faintly.  Second is the Disc, she inserts it into its proper place, and the marking glow brighter.

Finally she pulls the third Key, the spear tip, which looks exactly like the one that sat atop the Navajo spear that saved their skins.  When she places the third Key upon the podium, the polished stone in the gate begins to glow white.  It is apparent now that it is an enormous vein of crystal.  The crystal pulsates and then begins to shudder and crack.

From the behind the crack, large purple tentacles slither out and grasp Heila at the waist. They begin to drag her towards the gate; all the while she is screaming and clawing at the floor.  Her fingernails crack and tear as she tries desperately remain in this world.  Her screams stop when her back snaps as she is folded backwards and pulled through the crack.

The soldiers let lose bursts of machine gun fire into the crack, yelling in German.  The tentacles lash out and start attacking the soldiers, but this leaves the characters free to act.  They may flee and try to escape the tentacles and watch as the cliff dwelling collapses in upon itself.  They may attempt to fight the tentacles and lose.

Or if they read the advice found in the worker dorms about the light, they could turn the work lights on the tentacles, which promptly shrivel up and recede as the gate closes and the podium cracks and breaks.  If they inspect the podium afterwards for the keys, they find the disc and orb, but where the spear should be, there is only dust, maybe it was the wrong spear tip?  Regardless, this is an Sanity 20 Check and characters receive a random Disorder on a fail.  The characters also gain 1 Awareness Point.

Other Outcomes

The characters could have attacked the Navajo shaman, if they recognized the third Key as his spear.  If they possessed two of the Keys when they were apprehended, then the Narrator can determine what happens when Heila attempts to open the gate.  Perhaps it was the end of the world…

The characters could have repaired a vehicle and escaped.  But if they tried to explain what happened to authorities, there is a good chance that they would all be committed to an asylum.  They were well on their way to insanity anway.  The Society of Thule would also be hunting them, to maintain their secrecy.

The characters could have attempted to destroy the Key in their possession or maybe toss it down the chasm.  Once Heila discovers this, in Scene: Apprehended, she will fly into a rage and order the characters to be fed to some captured Ghouls.

Appendix

Equipment

MP34 Submachine Gun: +3 Dmg Bonus/20+3 Critical/Ballistic, Autofire/30′ Range/Medium Size/17 Cost

Luger Parabellum Pistol: +3 Dmg Bonus/20+3 Critical/Ballistic/30′ Range/Small Size/15 Cost

Monsters

Huge Ghoul: same as Ghoul except: Size Huge, +5 Str, Att +2, Dodge/Parry +0/+2, Toughness +4

NPCs

Heila von Westarp
Human Expert 4/Cultist Background

Lvl 4, Dex +2, Cha +4, Bluff +7, Diplomacy +5, Knowledge (supernatural) +5, Mythos Knowledge (History) +3, Mythos Language +1, Att +2, Dmg +3 (pistol), Dodge/Parry +3/+6, Initiative +3, Toughness +2, Fortitude +1, Reflex +4, Will +2, Sanity +2

Heila von Westarp is actually a Countess in Germany.  She sits on the inner circle of the Society of Thule and enjoys special missions that involve the seduction of foreign officials.  She is fanatic in her belief of Hitler’s doctrines.  She has long blond hair, blue eyes, and towers above many men at 6′ tall.  She has an athletic build is an excellent fencer.

Deitrick Eckart
Human Expert 3/Military Background

Deitrick has his own agenda, but is willing to ride the coat tails of the Third Reich to get them done.  He actually coached Hitler with public speaking, and Mein Kampf is dedicated to Deitrick.  He is currently a commander in the Nazi SS and is still at large after the conclusion of this story.

Guard

Lvl 1, Intimidate +2, Notice +4, Att +1, Dmg +3 (submachine gun), Dodge/Parry +1/+2, Initiative +1, Toughness +2, Fortitude +2, Reflex +1, Will +0, Sanity +0

Navajo Warrior
Human Warrior 5/Primitive Background

Lvl 5, Str +3, Dex +2, Con +2, Wis +2, Cha +1, Climb +5, Jump +5, Knowledge (supernatural) +4, Att +7, Dmg +5 (spear), Dodge/Parry +4/+8, Initiative +4, Toughness +5, Fortitude +6, Reflex +2, Will +4, Sanity +4

The token mysterious figure.  Yes, he still has the last Key.

Want to learn more about Shadows of Cthulhu? Read on…

Listening to: Tiamat – A Deeper Kind of Slumber – Cold Seed

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