My first game session as a GM after the obligatory “*I’m having kids*” hiatus was the Trail Of Cthulhu adventure “*The Murderer Of Thomas Fell*” (available for free from Pelgrane Press). The group got together on Meetup and we played it in one big night (around 4 ½ hours of play).
There were 4 players in the session. We used the characters from the adventure text, of course. I took care of the 5th PC, which I then handed over to the first player to die horribly.
The players were all more or less experienced with RPGs, but only one, I think, ever played a Cthulhu game. This was actually one of the reasons I picked this adventure: it’s short, well defined, and limited in scope, but still exhibits most of the landmarks of a Cthulhu game (roleplay, investigation, alien artifacts and places, and dying horribly), so I figured it was ideal for newbies. It worked very well.
We used GURPS 4th edition, because that’s the system I plan on using throughout all the campaigns and one-shots we may play in the future, in various styles and genres. But since I tried to run this adventure like a convention scenario, i.e. with minimal dice rolling, and since none of the players were familiar with GURPS, we basically stuck to the very easy GURPS Lite rules. This went pretty well, I think, with just enough rolling to keep things interesting, and only a few pauses to explain rules or penalties/bonuses. It was pretty nice of all the players to get along with using an unknown game system!
The first part of the scenario went by pretty quickly. The group spent some time getting inside their characters' skin by doing some nice roleplaying, but didn’t do a lot of investigating. They briefly searched through Thomas' office (in the den) but didn’t find the secret library. Shortly after that, they went down to the cellar and found the stele, which one of the players immediately decided to touch.
In addition to what was already written in the adventure, I had a contingency plan in case the players decided to leave the house. I figured the stele being unstable would start teleporting various parts of the house at an increasing rate – starting with the front deck, including the door. I thought it would be a bit nicer than just force-teleporting them, as suggested in the text. I ended up not needing it at all.
After the teleportation, seeing Thomas' kitchen spread out on the ground, the players understood well enough how the stele worked. They rummaged through the remains of the kitchen to get some basic weapons – kitchen knives, pieces of wood – for the PCs that didn’t have a gun. Then they followed the blood trail into the maze.
There are many ways to pace this part. The adventure, as published, leaves this more or less open to the GM. I improvised based on the mood around the table. You may find some of my choices interesting in one way or another if you’re planning to run this same adventure.
The PCs walked through the maze for a while, getting at one point to the edge of the mountain. This was a way for me to warn them that there is a cliff, which I planned to use later when they would surely be running madly away from the Mouth In The Stone.
Then, they got to the train car – one of the suggested “alternate” scenes. They approached it very suspiciously at first, but eventually got inside and found the body, along with the message written in blood. Then they heard some noise outside. A couple of characters went after the noise while the others stayed near the train car. Eventually, the “noise” circled back and the characters who stayed saw a crazy looking man running towards them with a kitchen knife in his hand. There was a bit of clumsy fighting and the noise alerted the two characters who had left to come back to the train car. One of those characters being Detective Norman Wright, and thus having a gun, the fight was put to a halt quickly. The mad man, one of the survivors, ranted for a bit, delivering a few bits of information along the way: the players learned that Thomas was still alive, but had killed several of his crew members. They also learned something about “the creature” and “the eggs” but it was all very obscure… then the crazy man seemed to sniff the air, got extremely frightened, and ran away.
The players ran after him but lost him for a while in the maze. They then heard some screams, mixed with other unidentified – but frightening! – noises. By the time they found the man again, he was dead, and partially fused into the stone. The players decided not to dwell too much here and resumed walking through the maze.
Then they ran into a tunnel going into the ground – the creature’s lair. Two of the investigators went down in the cave, which was completely dark. They heard some noises which, they quickly realized, were calls for help. They had only a limited number of matches to light the cave. As described in the published adventure they saw a pile of petrified bodies – most of them partially eaten. However, I added on top of the pile another one of the survivors. Most of his body had turned to stone – at least the parts that were not already missing – but he could still move his head and one of his hands. He begged the characters to kill him, while warning them about the creature and the smell that comes with its proximity. He also mentioned that “*if only I had carried one of the eggs, it would have spared me*”.
Eventually, Detective Wright put the guy out of his misery. When they came out of the cave, the characters who stayed at the entrance, having heard only a gunshot, asked what happened. Wright only replied “*you don’t want to know*” and kept walking.
At this point, it was time to get the players' blood running. As they were progressing through the last bits of the maze, I mentioned that they smelt something, like animal urine. Of course, having been warned by the survivor in the cave, the players decided to run like crazy. And of course, they almost fell down the cliff after a couple failed IQ and DX rolls… but the one character that definitely fell down managed a good success on his last DX roll and therefore grabbed one of the vines at the last second. The characters got together to pull him up. At this point, I might mention that Jan Joyce-Cleveland, who was the only character with Norman Wright to have a gun, didn’t notice that she lost it in all the commotion. Professor Knox Makepeace picked it up and kept it for himself.
After this, they kept running, although more carefully.
Finally, they emerged from the maze on the other side and found the shrine, along with the other stele. By then, the urine smell had decreased so they would get some time to catch their breath and look around a bit. They found Thomas' personal effects next to the shrine, and one of the players – the one playing Kenneth Fell – decided to take his jacket because I mentioned it was quite cold up there.
There was a lot of debating going on about what to do with the stele and the eggs, and about what was going on with Thomas Fell. It was time for the creature to make an appearance! When they started smelling it again, Knox and Kenneth decided to run and hide in the maze, while the other 2 players (and therefore 3 characters) stayed around the shrine.
They all watched in horror as the creature came out of the walls, slithering through the air towards them with erratic movements. Norman Wright had an egg, and the creature looked at him for a few seconds before turning its attention to the other player. His character – Jan Joyce Cleveland – tried to draw her gun to defend herself… only to realize her gun was missing (remember it was stolen by Knox when one of the characters almost fell from the cliff). “*Awww shit*”. The creature then cut her body in half and left, while the other character who had the egg on him collapsed to the ground, shaking, but otherwise OK (due to a very successful Will roll). This was probably the most memorable moment of the evening. In retrospect, the creature should have carried the body away into the stone, but I just forgot to do that.
Kenneth and Knox witnessed the attack from one of the maze’s entrances, hidden behind a black stone. They decided to run back inside the maze to try and find something else that would help them get away from the mountain… so I needed to get them back to the shrine in order not to split the party. It was time to introduce Thomas Fell at last anyway so as they started running back inside the maze, they heard someone whistling. They couldn’t see who it was, but he was definitely whistling the melody to some popular jazzy song – something completely out of place given the circumstances. They decided to follow it and ended up hiding again at the entrance of the maze.
Out of the maze came Thomas, still whistling. There were still 2 characters around the shrine (Norman Wright and Roger Fell), with Jan cut in half on the floor (I gave the player Roger to play, as he was the spare PC nobody picked at the beginning). Thomas completely ignored the characters for a while, walking towards his pile of stuff next to the shrine, still whistling. The players were completely at a loss, which was incredibly satisfying.
Then Thomas turned to Roger and smiled: “*Roger! So good to see you here, kid!*”. And he gave him a big hug. I tried to play Thomas in a completely deranged way – which is always a fun thing to do. “*What are you doing here, son?*”, he said. “*I’m, err, I’m here to help you, dad*” replied the player. “*Great! Wonderful news! You were always so thoughtful, Roger. Not like your brother Kenneth, who’s only ever thinking about himself! Here, take an egg. You can help me with this.*”. And he hands over a stone egg to the character.
The whole conversation was surreal, but crucial to get the last important piece of information: that Thomas’s body contained a piece of stone necessary to travel back to his house. Roger tried to play along with his dad’s ranting: I would frequently change the subject, like when Thomas suddently realized his jacket was missing. “*WHERE THE FUCK IS MY JACKET! HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU BOYS TO STAY THE FUCK OUT OF MY OFFICE?!*”. Roger’s player still managed to get Thomas back on track and get the whole story: Thomas wanted to place another piece of stone inside Roger’s body so he could also teleport to various places and help him spread the eggs around the world. When Roger asked why it was so important to bring those eggs to various places, Thomas paused for a second and replied “*So that it will love us, of course…*” – obviously referring to the creature.
Knox, who was still hiding in the maze with Kenneth, decided that he heard enough. He stepped out from behind the black stones and fired on Thomas a few times. Thomas fell down and took a couple minutes to die from choking on his own blood – one of the bullets hit him in the neck. He died happy to be surrouned by both his sons, making them promise they would take the eggs. There was a bit of arguing between the characters, with Roger saying that Knox didn’t have to kill Thomas. Then Roger left in a grief induced rage. Kenneth ran after him.
Knox and Norman tried to figure out how to use the stone but it became pretty obvious that they would have to cut it out of Thomas' torso, especially when they smelled the creature coming back. They raced to get the stone out, as the creature emerged again from the black stones, and teleported just in time before the creature reached them.
Kenneth and Roger Fell were last seen running into the maze.
Everyone had a blast, I think. There were several questions about the stele and the creature, which were basically answered in revelatory ways such as “*you don’t care what the creature is, really, it’s just something horrible and mysterious that you can’t ever beat, as is the case in many Cthulhu games*”.
Also, when I concluded the session by saying that we, at last, know who the Murderer Of Thomas Fell is, and that’s him (pointing to Knox’s player), there was a collegial “*Ooooooooh I see what you did there*” kind of moment, with much nodding of heads. Good job by Will Hindmarch, the author, on the title!