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JHarris

Game report: The Secret of Castanegro

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JHarris

We went through The Secret of Castanegro in two sessions. The second one was particularly entertaining for everyone, partly because the adventure went so far off track, so I figured I'd write it up here. I have to admit the session was a bit light on Lovecraftian atmosphere, but it was a lot of fun for everyone involved so I think I can allow the players a good Pulp-flavored bash-the-evil-cultists session for a change.

 

One of the things I've been worrying about in our sessions is that perhaps I haven't been a harsh enough keeper. We've done about six or seven adventures now, and before Castanegro there has only been one fatality (in the very first scenario, The Edge of Darkness). A another player, in the second adventure, got sickened to within an inch of his life in The Haunting by Corbitt's disease-ridden claws (he kept failing the CON rolls until he had only 4 left).

 

After that, there had been no deaths until Castanegro. Part of the reason for that is that the players were used to playing D&D and so bring a survivalist's attitude to the game, part of it is that I've chosen adventures carefully to this point, and part of it is that, for all its reputation for lethality, I find that many Call of Cthulhu adventures (the more modern ones at least) are actually quite fair. There may be some impossibly powerful monsters in the rulebook, but adventure designers don't bring them out on a whim. The worst I know of is an early adventure where, purely on a die roll, it's possible for several shoggoths to descend upon the town of Arkham. There isn't a lot that I can see a group of investigators can do against even _one_ shoggoth, so I don't like to think of what happens against a group of them. But this is getting off the subject.

 

-----

 

The players tend to be a little gun happy, which I have not discouraged much, yet, because I know there are plenty of monsters in the game that firearms are ineffective on. In two recent adventures, in fact, they went against the horrible slime creature from The Crack'd and Crook'd Manse and another such monster from The Sanatorium. In both cases they managed to defeat the monster fairly handily. (In the first case one of the players had taken, as a character quirk, to sprinkling salt everywhere for good luck, so he was already prepared for the monster's weakness! In the second, they managed to draw out Princess Annaphis and things went fairly well from there.)

 

This one, however, proved a bit more of a challenge, and the player's gun-happy behavior served to strike back at them quite nicely. The week before, in the town of Castronegro, one of them decided that, rather than turn his gun to the local law enforcement officer, that he would shoot him with that gun.

 

The group was split at the time (the other two had begun investigating the obelisk outside of town), and the investigator, who we'll call Rodney, immediately fled the scene. I used a Luck roll to determine if anyone was on the street of the (rather quiet and sparsely-populated) town, and luck held out for him. But luck only goes so far so soon an organized manhunt started going from building to building looking for him.

 

Meanwhile the other investigators found Shepherd's Barn, and more importantly found the Thing waiting beneath Shepherd's Barn, a Servitor of the Outer Gods. They had been spooked by its resemblenance to the creatures from Crack'd and Crook'd Manse and The Sanitorium, and by the fact that it was wholely invulnerable to their firearms. Rather than risking using the scythes found in the barn above (which was in their pack along with one of the robes the cultists were using), they fled back to town. One of them used his binoculars (an unexpectedly useful bit of kit) to notice a manhunt was going on in town, but not wanting to leave their possessions (which included a possibly illegal weapon) they decided to try sneaking into the hotel to retrieve it. Unfortunately the door was guarded, and they failed to sneak up on the guard, who called for help. There was a tense moment with the guards holding them at gunpoint at which they decided, rather than pull a Rodney, to surrender. The guards took their weapons and searched their packs... at which point they found the scythes and robes they had taken from the Barn.

 

At that point I had to think. What was the story behind these policemen? The adventure implies strongly that they are in the back pocket of town leader and 300-year-old sorcerer Bernardo Diaz. They likely know about the cult activities, that they engaged in some pretty shady practices (such as the kidnappings and cattle mutilations that led the investigators to the town in the first place) but these seem to be fairly low-level flunkies. There were plenty of folk in the town of 600 who weren't in the cult after all. Would they know if the investigators weren't in the cult? Would they risk the wrath of the Big Man to bring the matter up with them? I decided with a Luck roll... and the players were quite shocked to be told by the guards that they were free to leave, sorry for the bother! They took advantage of the lapse by getting their stuff and getting the hell out of town, which was probably the best thing they could have done; such a lapse in security could only benefit them briefly.

 

Rodney had already managed to escape by his own means. He snuck into the hotel through the back door, made it to his room and created a Gate back to Arkham so that he could establish an alibi in Massachusetts.

 

What happens to a Gate after it has been made? Does it vanish when the person who made it says it does? Does it require extra effort to hold it open? Can it be reopened again more easily later? None of these issues are covered in the rulebook. Thinking fast, I decided that the person who made it could open and close it again at will at the cost of a magic point per occasion, provided that he invested an additional point of POW upon creation. Rodney's high POW had proven a bit of a problem concerning Luck rolls, so it was at least a good opportunity to knock that down a bit.

 

Further, we had moved onto another session by this point, and one of the players who investigated the obelisk and monster couldn't make it this time while two other players who couldn't make it the last time were available, so the gate provided a way to get their characters changed out. As it happened, Rodney and the new characters decided to travel back by plane (one well-to-do character had a biplane and Pilot Airplane skill). A couple of confused phone calls later and the players managed to touch base with each other by calling a common party in Arkham.

 

Because the new guys and Rodney were in Arkham now and Rodney was reluctant to use the gate to come back, figuring that the cultists might have magical means that would allow them to detect his gate, it was a couple of days before the characters could make it back to Castanegro by plane. The manhunt had not extended beyond the town, I decided, since Bernardo Diaz basically ruled the place, the police there were in his pocket, and he decided not to risk outsiders coming to the place and possibly finding his degenerate relatives or magical experiments. He could attack Rodney, however, using the dream sendings that are listed in the adventure. Every night Rodney would lose a point of sanity from horrific dreams until he did something about it or went insane. (The adventure only lists this ability as applying to people staying in the hotel, but we were moving further and further off the rails and enjoying it, so it didn't seem like a stretch.)

 

When the group reunited and made it back to Castanegro, they decided not to just go into town, but instead to skirt along outside and make it to the obelisk. (They had had back luck with the bear traps in the woods before, so they were extra careful to probe the ground ahead of them along the way.) I decided that Diaz had had some time to prepare for their return, so I went with the mysterious angle. The Barn had been burnt to the ground (which the adventure says would happen), but the Servitor had been removed elsewhere. Further, on their way back out by the obelisk, Bernardo Diaz himself took the opportunity to open a Gate, using the same mechanism that Rodney had used, to show up personally and attack. Well rather, order some of his degenerate relatives, hiding in the woods to attack. The gun-happy investigators had gotten a good shot at him, but his ring protected him from all damage (the hand has to be specifically severed from his body to kill him) and he immediately fled through the Gate, closing it behind him, while dog-like degenerate cultists attacked from all sides.

 

They managed to destroy the degenerates without taking causalities, then turned their attentions to that gate. After dispatching the degenerates, they went to the obelisk, specifically to the point the gate had been. It was then the players asked me an interesting question: could they reopen the gate from this end? Hmm... they hadn't made the gate themselves, but they knew it was there, and they knew it was of a similar kind to the one they made earlier. I ruled, perhaps a little foolishly, that they could if they made a Cthulhu Mythos roll and spent five magic points. Rodney had a low Cthulhu Mythos skill, but managed to roll just under his skill.

 

That made possible the awesome moment of the night. They got things prepared first, then Rodney opened the Gate, another player threw in some dynamite, then Rodney immediately destroyed it by sacrificing a pre-made Elder Sign. Honestly I was so taken with the idea that I had them hear a surprised "what" through the gate before they sealed it, followed by an explosion from the direction of town.

 

The other end of the gate I had decided was Diaz's lab. Further, upon looking at the plans for the house the lab was right next to a coal furnace, starting a raging fire. It meant the maps for Diaz's home that I had already drawn for use were worthless. But because of Diaz's ring, he himself survived the conflagration. (Rodney failed the Luck roll to see if Diaz's hand had been blown off, which made me chuckle to myself.)

 

Not knowing for sure what happened, they decided that it was time to go after Diaz personally, and were surprised to see everyone in town running to the Diaz residence. That was where Rodney met his end, finally. Deciding to sneak into the chapel in the confusion, he was rather shocked to encounter Diaz himself, again, there to consult with the priest as to the best way to destroy the interlopers. He had with him the Servitor from before, and looking through his spell list figured he would have summoned a Byakhee and a Fire Vampire, the last significant because it was invisible. The Fire Vampire proved the end of poor Rodney, and as his blood made the outlines of the creature visible the other characters ended up having to make sanity rolls for seeing the thing. Fortunately for them they were already in the car and high-tailing it out of town, and the only one who took substantial loss wasn't the driver.

 

So, Diaz is still at large, he has a horde of degenerate cultists at his command, and he knows some pretty dire spells besides. He's as angry as only a 300-year-old Spanish colonial sorcerer can get. And our remaining heroes are still in New Mexico, and will probably start receiving their won sanity-sapping dreams in short order. The question isn't if he will seek revenge on the investigators, but when.

 

---------

 

Any ideas? I already have an idea for an interesting and sanity-blasting result for all this, but what do you guys think? Was I too easy on them? I don't feel bad for giving them chances to survive and escape because we all enjoyed it so much, but I am a little worried I'm not living up to the Cal of Cthulhu Keeper reputation. What would you have done differently?

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Max_Writer

In my own game, and from what I've read, gates can't simply be opened and closed. If I remember correctly, they usually have some physical marking as to their existance (painted symbols, carved symbols and sigils, or a stone circle). They can be set to only open if a special word is spoken (again, if I remember correctly). They are also not terribly hard to close, merely by destroying the markings and wrecking the symbols. Again, at least in my campaign.

 

I also figured that living flesh has to touch them to activate them and allow someone to pass through. Therefore, trying to fling something through never works, nor does prodding them with a shortgun or shooting them with a bullet. As it takes actual magic points to make them work, in my own campaign at least, you had to physically touch them with flesh before you could pass through them with anything - giving up that magic point (or more).

 

Again, that's just how I interpreted them in my own campaign. To each keeper his own. Sounds like an interesting adventure and if you and your players had fun with it, that's what matters.

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JHarris

Aaah, come to think of it, I think you're right, I did it wrong. The Sanitorium had a gate that was a drawing on a walll, and it was closed simply by being smudged. Well, live and learn.

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dredstar

I wouldn't worry too much about not having killed enough characters at this stage in your campaign. It is not very becoming for a GM/Keeper, etc to actually be looking to kill characters, IMHO, especially in CoC. I am of the opinion that in this game, any Character Deaths should be Character Generated. Players who go looking for trouble should find it....

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Mailer

I ran Secret of Catranegro recently for my current group--it was the second time I have run this scenerio. We did not complete it because this group I am currently playing with tends to sometimes overthink things sometimes, and they spent so much time analyzing the clues and debating the next course of action that I finally had to end the session because it had been going on for nearly SIX hours!

 

Brief breakdown of the events that occured in my second running of Secret of Castranegro.

 

--Players investigated in Silver City and nearby towns, eventually figuring out that the missing people they were looking for had spent time in Castranegro.

--They took the bus to Castranegro and began their investigation. At this point we were already about two hours into the game.

--The went to the church and some of them found the basalt "reaper" statue in the steeple pointing toward Shepard's barn. Unfortunately--one of my wierder players noticed the old priest was reading what appeared to be an occult book--this book is just some dark ages ciphers or something meant to flavour the priest as "into the occult"--and the player became obsessed with the book, deciding that it must be some arcane tome full of spells and knowledge. Every discussion about what to do next usually included a suggestion from this player that they somehow steal the priest's book.

--They went into the library and researched more clues about the case, but surprisingly failed to take any interest in the stack of ACTUAL arcane tomes full of spells and knowledge stacked in private reading room. They did, though, manage to get a lot of clues. One thing this group did not do was miss a SINGLE clue.

--As evening approached they went into the speakeasy. My female player, "Trixie", a wealthy debutante, decided to get tanked. She was at the bar while the others were at the table quietly discussing how to question the Speak easy's customers without blowing their covers as investigators. The female blurted out--"Do we want to keep pretending we're tourists?". Since she wasn't sitting with the other investigators, and was drunk, I ruled that she blurted this statement out loud across the room. A lot of the patrons got real quiet at that point and the players started getting a lot of funny looks.

--They did manage to interview the old drunk, who told them about strange rituals and wierd lights and the "horrible thing they take with them out to Sheppard's barn"

 

Wife is calling for me, will complete this play description shortly.

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PoC

I think this kind of report would work really well in the new Blogs section.

 

There's even a "campaign journal" tag, too. :cool:

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Mailer

Secret of Castranegro play report continued:

 

--After finishing up in the Speakeasy (and blowing their covers), they retired to their rooms. After about a half hour of discussing sleeping arrangements and rotating guard duties, they finally got some sleep.

--Next day they decided to set off in the direction the "Basalt Reaper Statue" was pointing. This ended up being a pretty vigourous hike through dense woods, and Trixie failed her luck roll and managed to step on a bear trap! She was injured pretty badly. One of the characters is a doctor, and he did his best to treat Trixie, then helped her hobble back into town where she could recover in her room. The other players continued on.

--They came across the clearing with the black obelisk. Spent some time searching for clues and eventually spotted the trail leading to Sheppard's barn.

--Meanwhile, the Doctor and Trixie staggered into their boarding house, her leg still bloody and bruised. After going up to her room, the boarding house owner went and told the local constable. The constable came to investigate, and found the doctor and Trixie laid up in a room with a couple of rifles leaning against the wall. Trixie managed an incredible Fast Talk roll and convinced the Constable that the rifles were for hunting purposes only.

--The other players made their way to Sheppards barn. The rickety barn wasl locked up, and they could barely hear a mysterious flute sound playing inside. None of them could pick locks, so instead they stood around outside Sheppard's barn for a good half hour debating what to do next. During all this debating, the wierd player, "Mr obsessed with the Priest's book", decided to blast the padlock with his shotgun. This did nothing to the lock, but it did upset the other players, who decided they had now lost the element of surprise. They all then headed back for Castranegro, leaving Sheppard's barn unexplored and uninvestigated.

--Once back in town, someone fired a random pot shot at the players with a rifle. The shooter was somewhere in the hills and the bullet went very wide. The players immediately ran for cover and a vigorous debate about what to do next ensued.

--Eventually they returned to their room and the evening's drawn out discussion about sleeping arrangements and rotating gaurd duties began. One of the players--a professor--grew tired of all the debating about sleeping arrangements and retired to his room alone.

--That night, footsteps were heard in the hall and there was some scratching on their door. The player who was currently awake for gaurd duty--a cop--spotted a face in the window. It was one of the degenerate, devolved family members of the local cult who had climbed up to the second story to get a look inside. After being spotted, the degenerate sub-human jumped down the ground and ran off. This freaked the cop out and he woke everyone up.

--They went to the professor's room and found that he was missing. (poor guy, he was just trying to get the adventure moving forward and it ended up causing him to go missing.)

 

more to come

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Mailer

Castranegro play report concluded:

 

--When the sun came up, the players decided they needed to try to find the missing professor quickly before he was murdered/sacraficed/eaten/raped/etc. A vigorous debate ensued about where to begin the search, and eventually they decided to go back to Shepard's barn--at last, they were going to encounter "The Thing in the Hole"

--But, once arriving at Sheppard's barn, a new debate ensued, and for reasons I will never understand, they concluded that instead of entering Sheppard's barn, they would go back into town.

--They got back into Castranegro around noon. At this point, their companion, the professor, had been missing for nearly six hours game time and about an hour of real time.

--The players then decided to head out to the Diaz mansion--this incidentally is where the Professor was actaully being held hostage, and is also where the main bad guy and his minions reside. I thought--maybe they are going to complete this scenerio after all.

--Trixie came along as well, though her leg was still injured, she had recovered somewhat.

--After a bit of a hike through the wooded hills, they reached the Diaz mansion. They encountered four big black dogs loitering around the grounds, and as the players approached, the dogs took notice and started barking.

--The dogs gaurding the Diaz mansion are some sort of line of devolved humans--though they are basically nothing more than a few fierce dogs, their faces and snouts have a bit of a human appearance and their eyes are bright green, a trait shared by the degenerated, cultist Diaz family.

--Upon seeing the dogs, the doctor--my most over analysing, debate over every action player in the group--decided that these dogs must be some sort of werewolves! He starts pushing for the players to go back into town and explaining how they would go about making silver bullets! I quickely ruled that none of the players had the tools or knowledge necessary to make bullets of any sort. The doctor's player seemed dissastisfied with this, but one thing I will say about my players is that they tend to accept my rulings without a lot of bitching.

--In the end they decided to go ahead and approach the house and brave the dogs.

--The four dogs charged them as they came closer. The cop started popping off shots and managed to take one of the dogs down. The wierd player obsessed with the priest's book pulled a knife and Trixie started popping off shots as well. The doctor, however, still convinced these are werewolves, starts backing off and bracing to dodge any attacks that come his way. Basically he has decided not to participate in the fight because he feels it is a bad idea.

--The fight is quick and brutal. A dog latched onto the cops forearms and tore it up pretty good, but he and book obsessed managed to kill the dog. Meanwhile the Professor was still hanging back and two dogs had ganged up on Trixie. The dogs knocked her to the ground and tore into her throat.

--The cop and Mr. book obsessed killed the two dogs ravaging Trixie and the Doctor continued dodging the nothing that was attacking him. Trixie was unconcious and close to death, but the doctor managed to apply first aid and at least stabalize her. She was alive but out cold and in need of hospitalization. The cops forearm was also severely injured.

--So there they were outside Diaz mansion, one investigator in critical condition and another wounded. A debate about what to do ensued. When the book obsessed player started suggesting that they go back to town and steal the priests book, I decided this was a good time to conclude the session.

--though it all ended on a dark note, overall the players really enjoyed it and wanted to complete the scenerio in another session--except the cry baby, overanalytical Doctor player who has since been reluctant to resume the session, so it is back to the doctor player's favorite game--Vampire, which seems to be this player's one true love in life.

 

The bleak end.

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JHarris

Glad to see someone else trying this one. Honestly I did Secret of Castronegro against my better judgment, and was almost grateful when the investigators jumped the rails as bad as they did. It is the very definition of a generic, D&D-style adventure. Oh, it's got some good encounters in it, and Diaz is nice (especially his ring), but it's mostly it's just that, a set of encounters. I think it's one of the earlier adventures, and it shows.

 

We didn't get to conclude the adventure last time (two players couldn't make it so the remaining two brought out alternate characters and I ran Paper Chase as a quickie) but I have a weird idea for how to conclude things this Tuesday. Maybe I should be writing this in the blog journal....

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Mailer

I don't really think the scenerio is at all like Dungeons and Dragons. A huge portion of it is straight out investigation. Then it moves into a creepy territory with the "degenerates" stalking the players in their rooms but not attacking directly (unless one is alone, then it simply directs the Keeper to have that player vanish). The townfolks start becoming hostile once the players start poking around, but other than potshots from the hills also do not attack.

 

Then the encounters--The thing under Shepard's barn is an excellent encounter. It isn't at all like a Dungeon crawl--They simply enter a barn, hearing this spooky flute music, then when they crawl down the hole, they encounter a horrible ball of tentacles, which uses magic to kill all lights in the chamber and attack. The encounter is definately more horror oriented than adventure oriented.

 

Lastly comes the Diaz mansion. Here is the one part that I might agree with you on as playing out like a Dungeon Crawl--I can't really say, because both times I ran this, neither group actually made it inside the mansion. However, my reading of the mansion part doesn't strike me as particularly DanD style, as there aren't really any combat encounteres in either of the main floors of the mansion--in the basement there is one encounter with a group of degnerates and then Bernardo Diaz himself. Either way, even if the Diaz mansion does play out a bit on the "D and D side", that is only one small portion of this scenerio.

 

Run correctly, this episode should have a lot of dread hanging over it and not that much combat--running from the thing the hole, the dogs outside the diaz mansion, a skirmish with Bernardo and his degenerate family members.

 

The disturbing dreams plus the degenerate family member's faces appearing the player's room window was pretty scary to both seperate groups I ran it with, and neither time did it lead to combat.

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JHarris

It's not that the scenario isn't creepy, or that involves combat. Or that it's meven bad I guess, it's that there's no overriding plan for the adventure, which I've found helpful in the past. It's a bunch of places. The keeper has no information on what happens when Diaz finds out about the investigators, the situation in town doesn't change much, and there are weird things scattered about haphazardly that don't amount to much, like the pagan statuettes and the cross-shaped bootprint. (Yes, the latter points to Diaz. But by that point it should be fairly obvious he's responsible. There are not that many cultist-leader-size red herrings in Call of Cthulhu.) The scope for investigation seems to primarily be a set of things to see.

 

Yeah, that leaves a lot of room for improvisation, and that actually helped me out a lot in running it. Maybe I should let go of expectations.

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Mailer

You are definately correct in that the path of the investigation isn't spelled out as clearly as it could be, but it is all burried in there. Pointing Statue in church steeple or interview with old drunk in speak easy leads to obelisk, which in turn leads to Sheppard's barn, where the players (if they survive the Servitor) will discover Arthur's skull as well as all the skulls of the babies who have gone missing over the years.

 

As far as what the cultists are supposed to do when they realize the investigators are snooping around--Start out with the occaisional pot shot fired at them from the hills, also the degenerate family members stalk their rooms at night, becoming more aggressive with each passing night. Investigators who sleep alone will vanish in the night. If the investigators linger long enough in Castranegro without killing Diaz, it is my assumption that the degenerates will eventually stage an assault on one of the rooms and try to slaughter everyone in there.

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Mailer

Basically, it's all about the horrible, green eyed degenerates. The encounters and the investigation are kind of the static, set pieces in the adventure, and the degenerates are the flexible, active force that can be used to terrorize, harrass, and eventually try to kill the investigators at night.

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