The Iron Ghost
Author(s): Geoff Gillan
Appears in: Fearful Passages
"Wherein the investigators board an ordinary-seeming train, and learn that evil extends beyond every boundary of time and space."
An overnight journey on a sleeper train is accompanied by strange hallucinations. As the journey continues, their situation becomes ever more sinister, and their surroundings ever more peculiar. Can they solve the mystery of the train, and avoid the appalling fate planned for them?
Spoilers - Keepers Eyes Only
Players should not read any further.
The adventure is planned as an interlude between other scenarios, particularly in a campaign where long journeys are called for.
The train the players enter is actually a trap, a living spectral vehicle that prowls the multiverse, collecting victims to feed the endless hunger of the demon sultan Azathoth. The visions the Investigators see are attempts at warning by the remnant souls of previous sacrifices. The train itself is part of a multidimensional entity that stretches throughout space and time, perpetually harvesting human fodder.
The human-seeming train staff are actually Mythos beings in rough human guise, and try to keep passengers just contented enough to avoid trouble. They discourage investigation, to the point of rudeness, so Investigators must judge how much trouble to cause and just how worrying their situation is at any point.
Investigators find their sleep troubled, as sinister faces carved into the cabin drain their magic points to power the train, and they dream of hideous beings. The doors between carriages are kept locked, the staff surly, and new carriages appear behind them without the train stopping to collect them. They encounter a misplaced traveller from the First World War, raising suspicions further, and may glimpse the conductor's ability to cross between times. Exploring the train, they discover it is some kind of living entity, and may discover other cars linked to other times, or the horrific corpse-car where the remnants of previous victims are hung to feed the inhuman conductors.
Unless the Investigators escape, they will either be drained to husks by the train, or devoured by the conductors. Jumping to the endless plains outside will strand them, with no option but to board another of the train's incarnations or be devoured by predators. The only way to return to their own reality is to destroy the train’s monstrous driver and shut down the engine.
Player Handouts: None.
Locations: The Train That Ever Was
Creatures: Spectral Traveller, humanoid servitor, Vapor Mask, Prowler on the Threshold, Driver-Thing
Tomes and Artifacts: None
Campaigns / Scenarios: designed as an interlude between scenarios
- Suggested further reading
- Diagrams of full sleeper train
- Image of ghostly passengers
- Discussion of 1920s railway travel
- NPC portraits
The scenario is quite deadly, with a strictly binary win/lose outcome that may cause problems for campaign play. A TPK is reasonably likely. The Investigators are stranded with limited resources, and confronted with a large number of enemies. The conductors are individually more dangerous than a human, while the prowlers and Driver-Thing can easily kill an Investigator with a single strike and are extremely tough. Keepers using this as an interlude may need to provide a source of weapons, strictly curtail the conductors’ capabilities and the number present at any time, and be cautious in using the prowlers.
The scenario allows plenty of scope for a large group, and this would also alleviate the deadliness.
Because of its living nature, Investigators who meddle with the train's interior may be able to affect its function, and possibly gain an advantage.
While the scenario contains a lot of background detail, there is not much chance of Investigators (or players) ever finding out what is actually going on, which may be a drawback. There is a nuke button, in the shape of a vision of Azathoth trapped in the engine, which the Driver-Thing can reveal. Since Investigators have no way to predict this or know anything of the train's purpose, it's likely to come out of left field, and also to make little sense to players if they don't know what's really going on.
Planned carefully, the scenario could be used as a way to transport Investigators to a different time or reality for the next stage of a campaign, such as stranding them in the Gaslight era.
This is a very effective standalone game, as it doesn't need to offer any possibility of escape. It can be run as a con game (see the link above), though as it has a relatively slow build, investigation and the multiverse aspects must be limited to reach a resolution in a short session.