Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Darkness Beneath the Hill

"Oh, I'll run a Call of Cthulhu one-shot," I thought. "It'll be fun, just a little taste of Cthulhu and we'll move on to something else." Well, below is the recap of our fifth session. We were all having such a good time that the one-shot grew into a mini campaign. Here's how it all wrapped up. What follows is a write up of "The Darkness Beneath the Hill," the last remaining adventure we hadn't played in the book Doors to Darkness. If you plan on playing through the adventure, skip this recap! Spoilers ahead.

The Characters

Sirus Mean, former boxer and hobo

Leslie Cowell, antiques dealer

Hazel Murphy, flapper

Tony Tunacelli, wiseguy


While the Arkham Historical Society was holding their weekly meeting, they received a phone call from a man named J. H. Winscott. (Sirus recognized the name: he knew that Winscott was a writer whose lurid tales frequently appeared in the pulp magazines he favored as entertainment.) Winscott introduced himself and explained that he had recently inherited a house in Providence, Rhode Island. He related that during the restoration of the house, a tunnel was discovered in the basement. At first he assumed that the tunnel was part of the old sewer system, but he had begun to wonder if the tunnel was part of the slave smuggling operation always rumored to have taken place in Providence in the Colonial era. 

As a New England historical society, Winscott thought they might be interested in traveling to Providence to help document the discovery. He said that even though the Arkham Historical Society operated a state away, they came highly recommended. When asked who had recommended them, Winscott said that he had run into a man named Larry Croswell at the Athenaeum who put him on to the Arkham Historical Society. This shocked the group, as they had seen Larry's death firsthand.

Despite their trepidation, they agreed to travel to Providence and help document the tunnel under Winscott's house. When they arrived, Winscott explained what little he knew about Providence's role in the triangular trade. Then, it was time for a preliminary look at the tunnel. From the excavation hole, they could see that the old brickwork tunnel eventually turned to a more roughhewn tunnel at either end. One end proved to be blocked by collapsed stone. The investigators found a pile of human bones while exploring the other end of the tunnel. Some of the skeletal remains still had Colonial-era shackles around their wrists and the remaining fabric seemed to be from the same period. It was also bloodstained.

They also found a further tunnel branching off the main one; this tunnel sloped downward into darkness. The group decided to regroup and come back the next day to delve into the tunnel in earnest, a proposition that Winscott readily agreed to. In the meantime, the investigators headed to the Athenaeum. Hazel charmed a librarian into leaving the library's subscription book where they could take a look at it. Sure enough, Larry Croswell had signed the book, but the group knew that his signature did not match what they saw before them.

They also obtained the purported address of this "Larry Croswell." The house turned out to be a half-burned down wreck. The investigators decided to stake out the house. Once night had fallen, they spotted a hooded figure moving around inside the house--someone they hadn't see approach the house. The group stealthily entered the house, but did not find the person. However, they did find a letter left behind by the figure. The letter read: 

Dear Arkham Historical Society,

You have already begun The Process. You have reached The Epiphany. You have opened The Portal. You have received The Gift. Come forth, and experience The Ascension.

Larry Croswell

The next morning, the investigators returned to Winscott's home, only to find that the front door was already open. There was no sign of Winscott in the upper floors, but they did find a cup of lukewarm coffee by the entrance to the tunnel and the butt of one of his Turkish cigarettes near the pile of bones. They ventured into the downward sloping tunnel, hoping to find Winscott. One thing they noticed as they proceeded through the rougher sections of winding tunnel was that the walls were riddled with smaller tunnels--too small for a human being to traverse. They also discovered that the walls deeper in the tunnel system had patches of luminescent lichen clinging to them. Still, they chose to keep their flashlights on for maximum illumination. 

Several unsettling things occurred while they explored. The found further skeletal remains, but they did not belong to human beings. They were certainly human-like, but too small to be human. Worse yet, they had been gnawed upon by something larger than conventional vermin. They also heard inhuman whispering coming from some of the narrower tunnels. They also found a chamber etched with images of serpent-like bipeds worshiping an enormous snake with a white crescent decorating its brow.

The tunnel they were following culminated in a pit leading further down into the depths. The investigators tied a rope to a stalagmite to repel down. Leslie was the first to descend. However, something happened and Leslie found himself pitching headfirst into the darkness. The rest of the group actually saw what had happened: while Leslie was climbing down, a pale white hand emerged from one of the small tunnels. The hand was holding a tomahawk made of bone, which it used to sever Leslie's rope! Leslie was badly injured in the fall. His compatriots tied their own ropes and climbed down to help him without incident. 

Exploring further, they happened upon two of the pale, degenerate creatures living within the tunnel complex. The creatures were human-like, but unnaturally pallid and small. The two creatures they stumbled upon were busy fighting each other. The investigators watched in horror as one slew the other and began cannibalizing its remains. The group edged around the feeding monster. They discovered more of the creatures tending a vast garden of mushrooms in a further cavern, but those creatures showed little interest in the interlopers as they gathered fungus in small baskets.

They also discovered a chamber with a massive statue of a serpent, in front of which was a bloodstained altar. They refused to go further into that chamber.

Their exploration of the tunnels culminated in the discovery of a strange laboratory deep within the complex. A hooded man had his back to them as he worked with the chemicals, alembics, and alien machinery strewn about a scarred table. In an alcove, another man lay sleeping on a pile of furs; his back was also turned to the party. Tony managed to duck into a hiding place, but the man noticed the rest of the group. He turned around to address them--he had the face of Larry Croswell!

"Larry" told them that their encounters with the supernatural had brought them to the attention of certain parts of "the cosmic consciousness." The creature admitted that he had used Winscott and his discovery of the tunnel to lure the investigators to this spot. When challenged with the supposition that he wasn't really Larry Croswell, the creature admitted to the ruse and pulled the skin away from his face, revealing a squamous, serpent-like face beneath the fleshy mask. 

The creature offered to show them something miraculous. The investigators hesitantly agreed. The creature walked over to the man on the furs, pulled the chain attached to the man's collar, and bid him rise; the man was Winscott, gagged and bound with an iron collar. The serpentman brought Winscott and the investigators into a chamber where leathery sacs hung from the ceiling. Each sac was filled with liquid and a dark shape lurking within. 

(Tony remained hidden and followed silently.)

The serpentman told the investigators that they too could be ensconced in one of the sacs; doing so, he said, would plug them in to the cosmic consciousness and grant them a heightened understanding of all the horrors they had hitherto experienced. They might also change into new forms and gain access to strange sorceries--this was The Ascension promised in the letter that the creature had left for them.

The group contemplated whether to accept the serpentman's proposition--perhaps the stars had aligned to bring them to this point. Hazel made up their minds for them as she leapt forward and stabbed the serpentman with her switchblade. The serpentman retaliated with a curved knife of his own, but he was soon put down when the rest of the group (including the hidden Tony) opened fire on him. 

Winscott was released from the collar. The group returned to the serpentman's laboratory. Winscott told them that he had seen the serpentman walk through one of the walls and reappear hours later. They figured out that touching a series of carvings on the wall in a certain sequence made a portal appear. Each of them walked through the wall in turn.

Winscott traversed the door to find himself in one of his favorite European resorts.

Tony emerged in an Italian restaurant in New York City where the mafia was known to hold court.

Leslie appeared in the tunnel by a wall they had determined was near the river. He lit a stick of dynamite and ran for it. The resulting explosion flooded the tunnels, hopefully killing whatever else was lairing within it.

Leslie ran out of the house and met Hazel, who had emerged at the front of Winscott's house.

Sirus found himself in a trainyard. He hopped a train, hobo style, and felt relief at getting out of town...until a fellow hobo in his car scurried out of the darkness and asked, "Tell me, brother, have you see the Yellow Sign?"