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Guest House: Writers Write

Marching Goes Johnny Home

by Darren MacLennan
December 14, 2001

 

Marching Goes Johnny Home is a highly surreal Call of Cthulhu adventure designed for 3-6 investigators, preferably of beginning experience.



GM SUMMARY :

The Great War was one of those real-life horrors that are difficult to portray in the course of a scenario—the experience of actually being in war is so unique that the standard trope is that only those who were in it can properly understand what it was like. This scenario deals with the aftermath of the Great War, rather than the Great War itself.


Scott Wainsworth, the son of an English aristocrat, had always had a romantic notion of war—when he was a child, he played at being a knight of King Arthur's court, and that idea stuck with him. He was in military school when World War I began, and joined in the fight in 1917, having graduated as a commissioned officer.


And then he was thrown into Hell.


World War I shattered any illusion of honorable or chivalrous combat—it was a ceaseless fury of men dying for no reason. When he returned, he was a member of the Lost Generation and then some, no longer willing to live, but lacking the energy to kill himself.


Just prior to his return Stateside, Wainsworth was reunited with two of his closest friends, who also had served in his regiment. Hoping to snap Wainsworth out of his funk, his two friends decided to postpone a trip back home, electing instead to visit Africa. In Tangiers, they found a Moroccan merchant who was notorious for dealing with antique curios and supposedly ancient objet d'art.


Through some dealing with the merchant – which involved the loss of Wainsworth’s little finger, on his right hand – the trio acquired a strange object known only as the “Box,” a small, plain cube crafted of dark wood. The most unusual aspect of this object is the perfectly preserved human eyeball set into the interior of the box. There is no record of such a box existing in any historical record, even those involving the Mythos.


The original intent of the box was a form of primitive psychotherapy, translating the internal demons of the user to the world around him. However, the magic’s original intent has grown flawed, until it now acts as a spiritual bomb, transforming the surrounding terrain into a reflection of its users psyche.


PLAYER INFORMATION:

The players have decided to take in a quick dinner in one of the more bohemian parts of town, where an economic recovery has taken place. Towards the end of supper, a British soldier stumbles through the door, acting as the advance force for the terrible manifestation of the Box’s influence.


THE AREA OF THE TOWN:

An old warehouse has been converted into a sizable department store. Some of the more narrow streets have had streetlights, or lanterns installed on the walls, illuminating the narrow and crooked streets that run between buildings. The noveau rich, riding the economic wave of the 1920s, have made this their place to slum, and it's common to find bands of drunken, Gatbsy-esque youths roaming from store to store, trying to find something new to pique their more decadent interests. A few local merchants have made small fortunes selling opium, bootleg liquor, and some of the more outre forms of pornography to those interested. This area can be anywhere, in any large city, such as in Boston, New York City or Los Angeles without difficulty, or even smaller towns like Arkham. (The smaller the town, the less the effect of the Box; six blocks in a town like Arkham or Innsmouth is about half of the city.)


INITIAL TROOP MOVEMENTS:


The investigators are finishing their meal when the door breaks open, and a man wielding a gun storms through the door. Before the investigators have a chance to react, he straightens up, obviously bewildered - a young British soldier, wearing a muddy greatcoat and a bandage around his left hand. If nobody says anything, one man will querulously ask the soldier what he's doing. The soldier will open his mouth as if to say something, then turn around and run back into the street. Those succeeding in a Spot Hidden roll will realize that a pair of men dressed in similar greatcoats just ran past the window. A few seconds later, the investigators realize that the dull pops that they’re hearing are rifle shots.


As the investigators step outside, they'll realize immediately what's going on. The street has gone from a solid sheet of cobblestone to a mixture of patches of cobblestone surrounded by thick, sucking mud. A nearby tree has barbed wire liberally piled on its branches, dangling down like a willow tree. There's gunfire in the distance, as well as the occasional shriek of falling mortar shells – but no accompanying explosions. The investigators have stepped into the Box's conglomeration of a major American city and a World War I battlefield.


If they decide that staying where they are is a safe option, check if they want to stay there every hour or so. After four checks—four hours, in other words—the situation outside suddenly ends, and the investigators are once again thrust back into reality. However, the battlefield will be claiming more and more victims as the night goes on, and the investigators will lose 1d3/1d6 SAN for survivor's guilt, as well as the knowledge that they might have been able to stop it.




RECON MISSION:

The investigators can try to find a way out, but they're going to find their way blocked by rubble, fire or barbed wire—the only way to escape is to find a method of transportation that wasn't present in World War I, such as an elevated train, or through the sewer tunnels. A decent adventure could be gotten out of the investigator's attempts to leave; however, this scenario will assume that the investigators will attempt to either find the cause of the bombing or to track down the mysterious solider, and will use any means of escape only to evacuate the wounded and insane.


The Box, rather than simply bringing the Great War to the city, has taken the city and the Great War and mixed them together, producing a surreal experience for those within it. Making a detailed map of a constantly shifting setting is pointless; instead, allow the investigators to make their way through the city in search of the cause, periodically hitting them with some of the below encounters.


Try to avoid making the investigators feel as if they're simply moving from encounter to encounter, helpless to affect their fate. Throw them small victories—a child taken from a dangerous situation and put into a safer one, a man pulled out from the rubble of a fallen wall, a choice that lets the investigators avoid a potential threat. Give them as much freedom of movement as they want – most of the below scenarios will happen no matter where they go.


Shell-pigeons: The investigators are walking along a narrow street when they hear the shriek of incoming shells. Before they have time to duck, a pair of shells drops to the ground, gliding in on wire-mesh wings and settling onto wire feet. They act just like regular pigeons, grazing on spent shell casings instead of breadcrumbs.

If attacked, they fly off. If somebody happens to score a critical success when shooting one of them, it explodes into a shower of pigeon feathers. If the Keeper wants to keep investigators on their toes—which shouldn't be difficult, but just in case—one of the pigeons turns out to be live, and explodes like a mortar shell. One of them might even tag behind the investigators, ominously hissing, waiting for some delicious bullet casings. SAN loss is 0/1 for their comical nature, 1d3/1d6 if one of them blows up.


The Firefight: A firefight breaks out two blocks up, complete with rifle fire and grenades. When the investigators arrive at the fight, bodies are strewn everywhere, and the blood coats the street in shallow pools. A closer inspection will reveal that the bodies are actually department-store mannequins—but the blood, oozing from the wounds, is very real. SAN loss is 0/1d3.


The Plane: One of the most surreal encounters of the entire adventure. The characters will become aware that there's something on the rooftops, about the size of a car, but disturbingly nimble—seen from the corner of their eye, it looks like a giant red kite. It'll stalk them for a while then descend to the street in a flurry of red panels and twisted metal rods.




THE PLANE
Independent Monster

STR 14
CON 10
SIZ 22
INT 6
POW 8
DEX 10

Move 10

Hit Points 18

Damage Bonus: None, due to its fairly lightweight construction

Weapon: Airplane Strut Rake, 50%, 1d6 damage Grapple, 50% - Special

SAN Loss: 1/1d6 SAN for seeing the Plane for the first time.


The Plane looks like a World War I biplane, reconstructed so that it resembles a cross between a snake and a butterfly—the wings spread out on both sides, most of the panels missing, with the wingtips ending in jagged struts. It moves in a sinuous, half-slithering, half-flying motion, like a kite jerking on the end of a string in a high wind.


If the plane succeeds in a Grapple roll, it can seize an investigator between a pair of struts and lift him off the ground. A successful STR vs. SIZ roll allows the Plane to lift its victim off the ground and into the air, where it'll fly to about three hundred feet and then drop its victim, which will likely kill him.


The Choosers of the Slain: The investigators are making their way down a narrow, twisting street when one of them spots an old woman clad in thick robes, like what a medieval peasant might wear. She's carrying a sizable basket with her, and occasionally stoops to the ground to pick something up and put it into the basket.


If spoken to, she looks wearily at the investigators, then moves down the street without doing anything more. If anybody stops her, she disappears, leaving the investigator with an empty robe—and a basket on the ground, with the lid closed. The basket is full of severed human body parts—eyeballs, fingers, a piece of chest with the nipple still attached, unidentifiable pieces of fat.


SAN loss is 0/1d3. A successful Occult roll connects the old woman to the Norse legend of the Valkyries, the Choosers of the Slain. If left alone, she slips down an alley and disappears. Either way, the investigators won't be able to find the old woman afterward, although they may catch glimpses of her out of the corner of their peripheral vision.


The Gas: The characters step around a corner, only to find themselves confronting a solid wall of sickly white smoke. No matter how fast the investigators run, they'll find themselves swiftly buried in the smoke, and their visibility is reduced to zero. Despite the fact that it's obviously poison gas, nobody encounters any ill effects. Ask everybody to roll Luck; the unlucky soul whose roll is closest to 100 spots one of his compatriots in the mist. Drawing closer, the compatriot turns toward them, every exposed surface covered with thick blisters—it's a British soldier, suffering terribly from the effects of mustard gas. The soldier is suddenly swallowed by grasping tendrils of the smoke, and disappears. Shortly thereafter, the fog lifts away. SAN loss is 1d3/1d6 for the unlucky investigator who saw the soldier.


Glossolia: Have every character make an Own Language x 3 roll. Failure indicates that the victim suddenly begins to speak Russian, German, Italian or French instead of his native tongue; if he happens to have any of these languages at 50% or more, then he immediately gains 1d10 points in them to reflect the sudden influx of knowledge.


Strange Lights in the Sky: Yellow lights shine in the sky, drifting behind banks of clouds. They disappear after 1d6 minutes; shortly thereafter, a light snow begins to fall, which melts as soon as it hits the ground.


The Knight of Bones and Rags: This is one of the more important scenarios, as it provides insight into what is causing this. A man wearing battered peasant's armor walks out from an alley, leading a horse with a lame back leg. He's bleeding rather copiously from a wound in his stomach, which a successful Medicine roll will identity as a gunshot wound. The language that he speaks is most likely unfamiliar to the characters, but if anybody speaks French, they'll be able to identify it as the medieval variant of the language.


The knight will look at them, pleadingly, hoping that one of the investigators can bandage his wound. If they offer even the slightest medical attention, then the man points toward where the men of the Society have gathered. Shortly thereafter, he mounts his horse—no longer lame—and rides off into the night, evading anybody who tries to stop him. He's a representation of Scott Wainsworth's belief in the chivalry of war, lamed and wounded by his experiences in the Great War. Despite all that he's been through, he still has the Knight of Bones and Rags in his head.


The Butcher's Shop: The characters wander past a butcher shop, whose proprietor has taken a morbid glee in hanging the corpses of various animals in the front window. As the investigators pass, ask everybody for a Spot Hidden roll. Failure indicates that one or more of the investigators saw a human corpse, skinned and hanging upside down, in the window, but closer inspection reveals that it's just a cow's carcass. SAN loss is 0/1.


The Department Shop: A hole has been knocked into the wall of the department store, and the investigators can see rows of dresses and men's suits arranged in a clean, well-lit environment. Compared to the insanity of the streets, it's like a beacon to the investigators, and they'll probably try to find other supplies once they're inside.


But the madness is here, too. Initially, it's subtle—there's a single military uniform among a row of flowery dresses, a Purple Heart glinting in the earth of a potted plant. As they move through the building, the signs become more obvious. Dresses weep trickles of blood onto the floor, or have bloodstained bandages tied around the sleeves or waist. Men's shirts turn khaki, and acquire a thick layer of dried mud. The ground acquires a coating of grit and broken glass. The nearby candy counter shifts from selling lollipops to selling empty rifle magazines. The investigators can find what you'd expect to find in a department store—think of it as a brief, but disturbing rest stop. SAN loss is 1/1d3 for every fifteen minutes the investigator stay here.


Other Survivors: There are a lot of people downtown tonight. Most of them are huddled in safe places, convinced that they're under attack from anarchists, or from a foreign country; others have decided to begin looting, or are trying to find medical help for injured companions.


When the Keeper feels that the investigators have had enough wandering, then he can move them to the next stage of the adventure.


THE CONFERENCE

When the characters have gone through enough weirdness, they find the current owners of the Box. The investigators round a corner to find a building—a small hotel—that's been totally unaffected by the war—there are no broken windows, there is no fire damage, there are no fires nearby. It's incredibly out of place, which will prompt most investigators to check it out as a matter of course.


The first two floors are deserted, the residents having fled for safety. The third floor is similarly deserted, except for a room in the back. There, sitting around a circular table are the veterans who decided to test the power of the Box. Five of them are withered corpses, drained by the Box's magic. The sixth is the Knight of Bone and Rags—Scott Wainsworth. He's been shot dozens of times, but there's enough clothing to make him still recognizable as the Knight of Bones and Rags. In the center of the table is the Box that's caused so much trouble.


All that it takes to stop the manifestation is to close the Box, with its perfectly preserved human eyeball; this shuts it off until another ritual is performed. Removing the eyeball ruins the magic and the box both, which, given the circumstances, may be exactly what the investigators are after.


Wainsworth's journal is tucked into the left pocket of his jacket, which is draped over the chair; it can be found with a successful Spot Hidden roll. Wainsworth acquired the Box from a gentleman in Morocco, but he wasn't the only one. Two more veterans managed to acquire their own Boxes, and they're still out there, just waiting to be opened.


UNANSWERED QUESTIONS


Two hundred miles away, in an isolated forest, one of Wainsworth’s friends opens his box again and stares into it. Nearby, the forest, already blighted from the influence of the box, begins to warp yet again.


A famous Hollywood actress shows her friends her box again, dropping sly hints about what’s going to happen when she opens it up in two weeks. She refuses to say if she’s done anything with it just yet, but there’s a faceless, malformed mannequin in the attic of her house, creeping around and looking for a way out. It’s wearing one of her favorite dresses, and wants the glamourous life that it remembers having back from the usurper downstairs.


In the back alleys of Morocco, a merchant finishes another box. He opens the lid, plucks an eyeball from the shaved ice in the jar next to him, and places it inside. His task completed, he waits for another box to arrive.

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