Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cthulhu Gaslight: Fungal Infection

Dramatis personae:
Daffyd (Dai) Iffans, retired soldier of the British Indian Army (Rifle Brigade), now part-time writer for a Socialist newspaper, with an interest in the East End
Catherine (Cat) Kincaid, journalist and daughter of a well-known scientist

The place: London
The time: April 1890



The beginning of the adventure finds Dai and Catherine at the Dravot's Head, a regular haunt of theirs. Since the news business is slow, they are grateful for once to see Charles McLean, who may be obnoxious, but who always knows all the latest gossip and rumors. He tells them about a break-in at the British Museum that for some reason has not been reported at all. The object stolen was an amulet, showing a heptagram.

McLean also remarks that more people than usual seem to disappear in the East End and says to watch the rats before he pockets the money that made him remember all this and leaves. Investigating rats and vanished people in the East End - where to start? The British Museum definitely is the easier target, but their planning is interrupted by screams outside and the sound of a bobby's whistle.

A woman bursts into the pub, screaming her head off about a body in the street and while the land lord attempts to calm her down, Cat and Dai go outside to see for themselves what's happening. There is indeed a body, that of a man, so disfigured as to be almost unrecognisable, with strange growths all over him and grey, waxen skin. Dai has seen the man before: his name is Alan Lake and he's a steelworker and the husband of the woman in the pub. He looked perfectly normal and healthy when Dai met him two weeks ago.

Back in the pub they find Samantha Lake sitting with a glass on gin in front of her and a gentleman next to her, whose clothes and demeanour make him stick out like a sore thumb in this rather poor area. He introduces himself as Elmar Chapman and claims that he had business in the neighbourhood to take care of. Now that Samantha has calmed down, he excuses himself. Cat notices his signet ring, showing a cross, a rose and a pentagramm, and that he's limping.

With another gin in front of her, Samantha explains that she hasn't seen her husband for a few days and had been looking for him, the Dravot's Head is a regular meeting place of theirs. Cat and Dai accompay her home and meet a colleague of her husband who tell them that Alan hasn't been at work for three days and has of course been sacked.

While Cat concludes the evening at a soiree (and makes enquiries about Chapman), Dai goes for a visit to the city morgue for another look at the body. The coroner's assistant who shows him around remarks that it seems to draw quite a lot of attention and describes a man looking very much like Chapman who had been there earlier. Which fits neatly with the heptagramm cut into the skin of the body. Dai hasn't much of a chance to think about this, however. He has breathed in some sweet-smelling substance that sends him on a nice, colourful trip that lasts all night. He does make it home and enjoys the pretty pictures there.

The next morning Cat and Dai (a little worse for wear) meet at the British Museum and ask Carl Fisher, an acquaintance of Cat's, about the jewellery that accompanied the stolen amulet. He tells them that it's Egyptian and that the treasure had been lost for almost 100 years after it was discovered by an expedition. It's fairly clear that he is holding something back, especially since Dai is told by a friend with Scotland Yard that Fisher is corrupt, although nothing has been proven yet.

So they decide to keep an eye on Mr. Fisher and follow him to a municipal building in the East End. They are distracted by the appearance of Alan Lake, who looks a lot better and much more alive than last time. Cat and Dai loose sight of him and turn the corner just in time to see him pull someone into the sewers. Neither of them carries matchsticks and Dai notices the sweet smell again, so they decide against following him and return to the building Carl Fisher went into.

Inside, they overhear a meeting between Chapman, Fisher and a man called Slater and it becomes clear that Fisher has stolen the amulet and given it to Slater and Chapman, for some sinister purpose that isn't elaborated upon. Fisher intends to replace the amulet and threatens to blackmail his partners, but backs down when he's promised the return of the amulet.

The men leave, giving Dai and Cat the chance to explore the cellar where they met. They find an empty room, with a mystical drawing as the only decoration, but before they can make any sense of it, they are found out and forced at gunpoint to accompany Fisher and Chapman into the underground tunnels.

The walls are covered with a grey fungus and lead further and further away from the entrance. Someone has dropped a book of matches and Cat feigns a stumble to pick them up. The cave they finally arrive in is filled with pillars that are also covered with the fungus and it seems that humans are caught in the fungal webs. Chapman takes a piece of the fungus into another tunnel, leaving Dai and Cat with Fisher. Fisher prepares to gloat, but he is grabbed by a tentacle that suddenly forms out of the fungus. Seconds after he has been pulled into the grey mass, a sort of doppelgänger is formed and comes alive.

Cat fails to evade another tentacle and it's all Dai can do to grab her, but he cannot pull her free. She manages to light a match and the fungus rapidly goes up in flames. Cat and Dai make their escape to the street, luckily only slightly singed, and see that apart from a few buildings that have caught fire, more than a few people are spontaneously combusting.

The whole thing is glossed over and explained away as a gas explosion in the newsletters. A few pages further in the interested reader can find an article about the Egyptian exhibition at the British Museum, featuring a picture of the amulet. When Cat and Dai return to the Dravot's Head, they are given a package that has been delivered for them. It contains Chapman's signet ring.


Did you pick up on the moment when our GM was going "argh - you're kidding?" inside? He kept a poker face, but I'm fairly sure he was when both players said that we didn't have any matches. Probably even worse: when he told us about the matches in the tunnel, neither of us reacted at all for a few moments. I have no idea what would have happened if we hadn't picked them up because the fungus was incredibly strong and there's no way we could have fought our way out of there.

The GM did a great job of creating a gloomy, creepy atmosphere and getting across that the East End is a squalid place where life is hard and dangerous (even without cultists and monsters). The characters play very well together and I'm looking forward to their next adventure.

Here's a very cool map of the East End in 1882 that I found useful. The Dravot's Head is located on Shandy Street in Stepney. And in case you are wondering: yes, it is named after Daniel Dravot, the man who would be king. I read that story while I was creating Dai and it's one of the most impressive short stories I have ever read. Danny Dravot is also a character in one of my favourite books, Anno Dracula.

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