I was dabbling in prep for a theoretical Call of Cthulhu game I may run. The classic settings of 1920 don’t really draw me, but a modern horror game is really appealing. I’ve been working on a setting for Call of Cthulhu, “Class of Cthulhu,” focused on college students set in the present day, and this is a sample of the sorts of adventure it would include.
The players take the role of college students. Any grade level from incoming freshman, to grad student is appropriate. They have signed up for a summer course. Grad students are required, but the trip is opened up to any who can make a reasonable claim for their major.
The course consists of a two month period in the swamp taking various environmental samples. The class will split up into small teams and be given various locations to take samples, and days to take the samples on, and be expected to travel about the swamp via canoe and camp in provided tents. Each group will be provided a tour guide, but students are advised to research the associated risks with swamp travel.
The players are randomly assigned to the same group, and set off with their guide to their first way point. Our adventure is a slow burn, so we should spend some time having fun the first night. Describe the canoe portion out to the way point as serene, and spend a lot of time talking about how calm and relaxed it is out there. After an hour’s travel, you can’t see the park entrance, and after two, you’d never know there was a building nearby. Call for perception checks as though you are running a fantasy trek to spot ambushes, but highlight awesome crane sightings, and neat little frogs. That sort of thing.
The guide should start out very friendly, if backwoods. He can point out some cool animals, or an alligator or something, and when they make camp he can even ask something like “None of y’all gonna narc or nuthin’ are ya?” while revealing a 30 pack of beer he had hidden. “I like to start a camping trip out right” comment. First night is a little celebratory bonfire for the first night out.
After the party, you start to up the creepy level a bit. Animal noises going off, but call for checks to identify them. There will probably be a few they can’t place, and that might just be because they are “City Folk”, as the guide would say, or because it’s something else. Leave it open ended, and encourage the players to guess. They know it’s a Call of Cthulhu Horror game after all. You may even ask leading questions, like “is someone staying up to keep watch?” Ultimately there is no threat here, but the potential of a threat can get them going.
The next morning, one of the players will spot the guide slipping a pistol into his bag discretely. Let them take that where it goes, but if asked, he will say he has never had to use it, but sometimes it helps out here… or something mysterious and ambiguous. The point here is to let them know this guy is armed, and we are starting to ramp up the tension (if it comes up, revolver with 4 shots).
As they depart, describe today’s journey a little differently. They are no longer excited to see cranes, and frogs. Sure they’re still around, but now they are noticing things like the cawing of crows, or loud splashes as resting gators slip into the water. The jovial guide has also gotten a lot calmer, and seems to be taking his job a lot more serious. He isn’t calling out about cool animals as much, but on a few occasions has to warn folks to get their hands out of the water, and will point out a submerged gator or other hostile animal laying in wait. Cell phones don’t get service, and most battery operated electronics “have a way of dying out here”, he can say with a chuckle.
Two days out from the second way point, highlight that the guide has been quiet, more reserved, and tenser every day. Finally, just after lunch he will break a long silence, and bring the group in. “From here on, until the marker, we are traveling through private land. The state has an arrangement that we can travel through, but we can’t get on shore or out of the boats. You may not see anyone, but folks around here sure see us. And they do not take kindly to trespassers.” Up ahead he sees the pre-arranged camp ground. Midway between the region they have to traverse, and agreed upon as a safe space they can camp. That night is eerily quiet.
When morning comes, the party realizes the guide is dead. His body is stiff, and to all accounts it looks like a snake bite. Unfortunately for the players, there is no map, and he was the guide. If they set out on their own, during the day it’s clear after an hour or so that they are not only lost, but in an area they are certainly not allowed. They have found residents, standing on the shore, unmoving and watching. If they ask for help, they get mute stares. If they start to take their boat to shore and force a conversation, they disappear into the swamp as it’s clear what the players are doing. Let them play around with this until nightfall. Nightfall, they will find a ramshackle house around the bend, with a locked shed next to it. Decision Point.
If the party chooses to approach the house. The residents are hostile, if understanding. They are unwelcoming and mean, but willing to let them have dinner, and spend the night. The residents (5 or so) are a motley crew, covered in scars from self stitched wounds, and it’s clear none have seen a doctor, let alone dentist, or even barber, in their lives. There is no phone or “any of that nonsense” at the house. Dinner is a long silent affair of some sort of stew. If asked about it, one family member will say wild hog as another says gator, getting louder when he realizes two are speaking. “Sorry bout that, Jr. here was lying to you folks, cause he thinks city folk too good for gator. You isn’t is you?” The group is allowed to sleep upstairs.
The upstairs is half attic, half bedroom with some cots and nothing much else. It’s as finished as the rest of the house, but that’s not saying a lot. During the night, it comes about that the food is drugged, and the players fall deep asleep, even if they don’t want to (include some checks, and if someone stays up, it’s fine). When the moon is full, the family make their move. It turns out these are a band of cannibals and the party will have to fight their way out. The cannibals seem to have supernatural resilience, and are able to survive what would be otherwise lethal wounds on most folks. You can even have one demonstrate sewing his arm back on, or make a point to grab it, if you have the chance to dismember one. For weaponry, they have a couple of hunting rifles, but mostly use cleavers and a supernatural strength to grab and bite their prey.
If the party avoids the house. Our friendly neighborhood cannibals still make an appearance. The only difference is that they are sneaking up on the party while they sleep. Instead of poison, they will bring hunting rifles, and open fire on the sleeping party from the shadows, engaging only if they score some wounding hits. Even though supernaturally tough, they don’t enjoy a fair fight.
One of the family has a key to the shed which contains a decent map of the area, dotted with what must be the names of other families. Also inside is a small fishing boat with an outboard motor, and a cb radio. With some mechanical skills they can probably get it working (each check should take 20 minutes). With the map and boat, our party can hightail it to safety, but they better do it quickly. All that fighting has brought some more attention. For every half hour the party spends around the area, another family approaches (4 families in total do this).
Or is it…
If you are planning on using these characters again, and would like to tie it into a larger campaign, during the “ride home” portion of the game, subtly let one of the players know that a wound they suffered during the fight is heating up and looks infected. if they ask what that means, demure, and say nothing … right now. You have now sown the seeds for a future plot hook. Maybe the person transforms during another adventure, or the transformation and a search for the cure is your next adventure. Heck, maybe they want to start gaining Wendigo powers on their own. Or maybe, it’s nothing at all…
*Corrected for grammar and typos 7/26/2020