The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars is now available!The original publication of Canal Priests Of Mars cut slightly over a third of author Marcus L. Rowland's manuscript to fit GDW's adventure format. The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars restores the cut material, features all new artwork by Paul Daly, and adds many useful player handouts. Enjoy the "author's cut" of a classic Space 1889 adventure, or experience it for the first time!
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Round up them Deep Ones!!! Ride those bucking Shoggoths!!! HUH? What do you mean that you really don't want to do these things? OK, so only an insane cultist would find these activities enjoyable, but in Cthulhu Rodeo you'll get the opportunity to halt just such crazy stunts. The Call of Cthulhu supplement, Cthulhu By Gaslight, allows players to role play in the 1890's, rather than the more traditional 1920's where most of Lovecraft's works were set. However, Cthulhu By Gaslight assumes that most player characters would be English in origin, and that the adventurers would be primarily set in England or on the Continent, rather than in the United States. Though I personally would rather play in England no matter what the time period, I think that the American West in the 1890's provides a traditional campaign with a much needed change of venue. For characters from Victorian England, the American West will seem as foreign as the African veldt or the jungles of South East Asia. So here we go, off to the wild and wooly world of Cthulhu Rodeo!!!
Though the adventure in this issue is set in December 1893, the date for Cthulhu Rodeo adventures can be varied ten years either way without making much difference (the Wild West was around for some time). If the Keeper so desires, players may choose to be ranch employees (a good Keeper should easily be able to put together a set of occupational skills for a Cowboy) or to be members of the local Indian tribe (see the Tribal Warrior occupation in the new 5th edition Call of Cthulhu rules). However, most of the party should be English or Continental investigators; this provides plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings and humor. Finally, with the Cthulhu 1889 rules from TRMGS #1, there is no reason why this adventure could not be used with a Space: 1889 adventuring group, or even more strangely, change the setting to Mars, near the city of Thymiamata.
The players are gathered together in late December 1893 in the home of one of the players, basking in the warm comfort of another successful investigation. Just as afternoon tea is being served, there is a sharp rapping at the front door. The servant excuses him or herself, answers the door, and a short while later arrives with a telegram for one of the players. The telegram has been sent via Western Union from Abilene, Texas and was received in their London offices earlier this morning. The telegram is brief, inviting the players to travel to Texas for an all expense paid vacation, and it is signed by Lord Aubery St. Clair, owner of the Circle Y Cattle Ranch. Lord Aubery St. Clair could be an old friend or a former employer of the players. The Keeper should come up with whatever ties they feel are necessary to get the players to go the United States, if they don't immediately jump at a free, expense paid vacation. Tickets are awaiting them at the central London offices of Thomas Cook and Sons.
A brief historical note for Keepers and players alike: the fact that an English lord owns a cattle ranch is not without precedent. In the late 1880's and throughout the 1890's, many members of the English aristocracy became enthralled with the American and Australian frontiers, believing that investment in cattle and sheep ranches were sound and would provide them with large returns on their invested capital. Occasionally one of them would move to their overseas ranches, fall in love with the countryside, and then stay as a full-time manager. At least a half dozen American cattle ranches were owned by members of the English nobility in 1900.
Anyone conducting research in London or the surrounding metropolis before they are scheduled to leave, with a successful Library Use roll, will discover that Lord St. Clair moved to the United States in August of 1888 to oversee a business partnership with his partner, Mr. Donald Worthington, the founder of the Circle Y Ranch. In December of 1891, Mr. Worthington was declared dead by a Texas court six months after his disappearance. He had been on the annual cattle roundup with the cowboys and ranch hands from his ranch, when his horse returned to their makeshift camp one afternoon without him. The employees spent several days looking for Mr. Worthington before giving up and continuing with the cattle drive to the Kansas railhead. Mr. Worthington's body was never found and Lord St. Clair, as the only surviving partner, assumed control of the entire ranch. A successful Credit Rating roll (or an Accounting roll for adventures set in the 1920's or 1990's) will show that the ranch has been extremely profitable for the past ten years, making Lord St. Clair a wealthy individual. There appears to be no connection between Worthington's disappearance and Lord St. Clair's arrival.
Those who go and pick up the tickets will find that they have been booked first class accommodations on the SS Caledonian Queen, travelling from Southhampton to New York, and leaving the day after tomorrow. Upon arrival in New York, they are scheduled to travel by Pullman car to Texas, where they will be met in Abilene by Lord St. Clair. The players should have the opportunity to make whatever arrangement they feel are necessary before leaving, and to purchase any items, within reason, they believe they need. A good Keeper should play up classic European misconceptions about the American West, especially the threat of Indian attacks and the excellent opportunities that huge herds of buffalo provide for those wishing to go hunting. The American West should be made to appear savage, untamed, and very, very violent to the players and their characters, though in reality, many areas of the wild west were quite settled and peaceful by the mid-1890's. Also, the last of the Indian Wars, at Wounded Knee in 1890, had ended in the slaughter of defenseless Indian women and children, and buffalo herds hadn't roamed free since mid-century. The cattle ranch, on the other hand, should prove able to fulfill any expectation of those seeking the true "wild west."
The trip to Abilene should be relatively peaceful, though Keepers might want to make the trip an adventure in and of itself. An excellent example of a shipboard adventure and mystery can be found in the Chaosium adventure, "The Mauritania". Nevertheless, the Keeper should emphasize the transition from modern, industrializing New York to the wide open spaces of the American West. When they finally arrive at the Abilene train station, they will find themselves at a loss for there is no one to greet them. By the time they have collected their luggage and discovered that Lord St. Clair is absent, the train will have already left the station. The station master, a rather tired looking elderly gentleman, will inform the players that Lord St. Clair's ranch is about ten miles outside town, but that they would do better if they attempted to call the ranch from the town's only telephone, located in the lobby of the Lone Star Hotel. The hotel is only a short walk down the main street that stretches from the front of the train station towards the horizon. The players should attract a great deal of attention, either from the staid, upper class suits and ties they are wearing, or because of the outrageous and overdone Wild West clothing they bought in Europe. However, they will quickly reach the hotel before anyone can do anything more than smirk at them.
In the hotel lobby, which really isn't up to even the lowest of European standards, a tired and bored looking clerk will greet the players with little enthusiasm. When the players ask to use the telephone, he will inform the group that the phone line is not functioning due to a freak winter thunderstorm which probably cut the lines somewhere. If they mention that they need to get to the St. Clair ranch, the clerk will tell the players that one of the ranch hands usually stops by in about four hours (4:00 P.M. if they really want to know) to pick up supplies from Avery Osgoode's General Store, and that they should ask him for a lift to the ranch. Until then, they can leave their luggage here and explore downtown Abilene.
If the players explore the town, they will find that almost everyone they meet is extremely listless and few will say more to the players than a brief "hello". There are a few exceptions, however, and the players should immediately notice them with a successful Spot Hidden roll. The first is old Doc Cassidy, who will be outside on his porch, treating a number of patients complaining of being "unnaturally" tired and feeling somehow "drained" of energy. Doc Cassidy will confide to anyone who claims to be a doctor, and is able to answer a few simple questions (makes a successful Medicine roll), that he is truly perplexed because of the half-dozen patients he has seen so far, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them as far as he can tell. All report the same general symptoms, but there is no obvious cause for their complaints. He has also noticed that most of the town seems to have been effected, but have not come to see him yet. If asked where he was last night, the Doc will respond that he spent the night on an outlying farm helping to deliver a baby.
About this time the players should be getting hungry, and the Keeper should direct them towards one of the saloons in town. There they will easily spot the next encounter, a group of four miners staying in the Yellow Rose Saloon, who are present whereever the players decide they are going to have lunch. The miners are boisterously celebrating their discovery of silver in an old mine they thought had been played out years ago. They will be evasive about where the mine is located, unless one of the players shows interest in becoming a partner. They will promise to show the player(s) where the mine is if they become a partner in the Deep 1 Mine for the paltry sum of $250 in gold, payable in advance. If the players don't want to become partners but they ask where the miners spent the night, they will admit that they spent last night in the mine working their recently discovered seam of silver. If the players survey the rest of the saloon, they will notice that the staff and other patrons all appear as tired as the rest of the town folk they have already encountered.
The last person the group will encounter who also seems unaffected by the mysterious illness, and perhaps the most helpful NPC in the long run, is the returning Deputy US Marshal, Samuel Slade, who will be seen riding into town later in the afternoon. If the players talk to the Marshal, they will discover that he has only just returned from turning over a wanted prisoner to the US Marshal in the neighboring town. He spent the night away from Abilene, but will quickly admit that the players appear correct when they point out that there is something odd about the town's citizens. He will look into the situation, and will try to get in contact with the players at the hotel or at the ranch if he finds anything out. He will confirm that the phone line often does not work, and there is nothing odd about it going out after a freak storm. Only if they players ask will he mention that it seems odd that Lord St. Clair did not keep his promise to meet them at the train station, but he will point out that the storm could have frightened the cattle kept on the ranch into stampeding and that they could be spending the day gathering up the spooked animals. If the supply wagon doesn't arrive, he will venture out to the ranch to see what is going on there.
Just like clock work, however, the Circle Y Ranch's supply wagon arrives in town. Ranch hand Billy Taylor is driving the wagon and he appears to be unaffected by the mysterious illness gripping the town's residents. He will quickly spot the players (or find them if necessary) and apologize for Lord St. Clair's absence, pointing out that they have been busy at the ranch all morning gathering up cattle that stampeded during the night. He is here to pick them up and drive them out to the ranch, along with some necessary supplies. He hopes that they haven't been too inconvenienced by their short stay in town. If asked about the strange illness, Billy will seem briefly confused (a successful Psychology roll will determine that he is hiding something), and then he will say that he really does not know. "Maybe you should ask Ol' Doc Cassidy about that now?" will be his answer if the players persist. If they are hesitant to leave, Billy will tell them that it will be getting dark soon and that they should leave before it gets too dark to see the road. If they still refuse, Billy will state that Lord St. Clair will be quite upset that they have spurned his hospitality despite coming all this way. He will not leave without them, and will do his best to get them to come. The hotels in town are full, so the players have little choice but to go with Billy.
As the players ride in the buckboard, they will soon notice that Billy is whistling the same tune over and over again. If asked about, he will refuse to admit that he was whistling, stating that they probably heard the wind whistling through the sage brush. In a few minutes, he will continue his whistling, resuming from the point from where he was interrupted. The trip will take about two hours, and by the time they reach the last several hills before the ranch, it will be completely dark. Clouds are gathering in the sky, and Billy will mention that it appears that they may be in for another severe storm tonight. About fifteen minutes later, it will begin raining, quickly growing into a continual downpour with lighting lacing the air and thunder shaking the ground. Billy will mention that there is some rain gear in the supplies he bought, and that they should put it on before they become soaked. After another fifteen minutes, as they are approaching the last rise before the Circle Y Ranch, a huge lighting bolt will arc out of the sky and into the valley where the ranch is located. Momentarily blinded by the flash and stunned by the massive thunderclap which followed, as their vision and hearing clears, they will see the ranch glowing with an eerie green light. As they strain to see through the darkness, the wagon will continue moving, and Billy will be chanting some tune too complex too understand. The wagon will continue to move forward, accelerating down the hill towards the ranch.
The ranch will get closer and closer, and through the driving rain, the players will notice that the buildings don't seem right. Call for a Sanity roll, 1d4/1d8, and describe the angles of the buildings as being all wrong. Running into, behind, and through the buildings are things loping, shuffling, and crawling, things too inhuman to describe. The cattle are screaming, charging around in their pens, the ranch hands are shouting and running around insanely, and throughout it all the storm is continuing to grow in intensity. Billy will turn towards the players, his head will split open, and out will pour a million maggots (heh, heh, heh; oh, and call for a Sanity roll: 1/1d4). From the surrounding hills, the chanting grows louder and louder, and out of the storm will come cowboys riding bucking shoggoths and deep ones with lassos around their necks. If the players shoot, they will hit just about anything they aim at, but it will appear that the darkness swallows their targets as soon as they are hit. Don't worry about Sanity rolls; with the storm and the lighting, the players will only half-glimpse the numerous horrors all around them, and anyway, we don't want them to go really insane yet.
If some of the players run towards the main bunkhouse, they will see the door tilt open before them as they stumble in; if they run towards any of the other buildings, the doors will remain closed and they refuse to open no matter what force is used to open them. For those players who remain behind in the wagon, they will briefly glimpse a huge shape coming towards the wagon, threatening to crush those inside. For a brief moment, the main bunkhouse will appear to return to normal and they will glimpse a light in the second floor windowdescribe it a briefly as a hint of saneness, or as an island of calm and stability amidst a turbulent storm of inSanity. When the players reach the building, the same thing will occur as for those who arrived earlier. Somehow, incredibly, the players will all step through the door at the same time, no matter when they arrived, and step into the foyer of the bunkhouse. Before them stretches a stairway leading to the second floor. Once they step onto the steps, the building begins to change, the stairs begin to stretch into the distance and turn and twist around the group. The players have entered the Non-Euclidean Bunkhouse.
If the players turn to exit, they will notice that the door is no longer directly behind them, but instead appears far off in the distance, glowing with the same eerie green light that surrounded the bunkhouse earlier. The stairway, and the walls glow with an strange fluorescent blue light. If they hesitate, they will hear a series of resounding booms coming from the direction of the door, as if something is trying desperately to break in. Ahead of them, those who make successful Listen rolls can hear a repetitive chanting coming from the top of the stairs. If they make an Idea roll, they will remember it as the same tune that Billy was originally whistling in the wagon on their way to the ranch. It appears that the only way to proceed is to climb the stairs.
The stairs stretch seemingly forever into the distance, but it will only take the players a half-hour to reach the top. While climbing, point out to the players that they can see strange doors and gates hanging on the walls, all just out of reach. Sounds, and occasionally brief glimpses of floating cities or deep underwater trenches, come from the gates. The doors all seem to pulse with the eerie green light seen earlier, and all seem to bulge and strain, as if they were holding back some titanic force. Occasionally, the doors should be seen and heard to crack, forcing the players to speed up their progress. None of the doors or gates should open, but the keeper should describe them as threatening to do so immediately, with the eldritch horrors behind them spilling out and engulfing the players. Really cruel Keepers can call for the odd 0/1 point Sanity loss for seeing the images in the gates or hearing the sounds behind the doors. If they should succeed in reaching the doors and try to open them, or attempt to pass through a gate, sock it to them: Cthulhu's tomb or the city of R'yleh are always good spots to dump players who haven't yet learned to avoid opening "Door Number One".
When they reach the top door, however, the Keeper should do everything in his power to encourage the players to open this door. The door doesn't glow, but a soft yellowish-white light comes from beneath the door, and inside they can hear a gramophone softly playing music. If and when the players open the door, they will be presented with an utterly jarring scene: a traditional English parlour, but with some American fixtures (a set of cattle horns over the fireplace, and a black bear rug before the same). Seated behind the desk is Lord St. Clair, staring dully into space. Those who approach closer will notice that drool is escaping his lips and has formed a puddle on the top of the desk. By careful examination, the players will discover that most of Lord St. Clair's brain has been carefully removed through some unknown surgical process. If they attempt to move him, St. Clair will simply collapse into a drooling heap.
Just then, the players will hear a tremendous buzzing sound coming from behind a set of curtains. The curtains will begin to stir with some unseen force, eventually blowing wildly around the open window behind them. If the players look out, they will be in for a major shock: they appear to be floating in space, as only the stars surround the bunkhouse (Sanity loss: 1/1d4). From the depths of space comes a tremendous buzzing sound, as two Fungi from Yuggoth stream towards them. Eagle eyed players (a successful Spot Hidden roll) will notice that the Fungi are carrying a metal container. If the players shut the window, they will break the gate, closing it to the Fungi, and setting in motion the process that will restore the bunkhouse and the ranch to their proper spatial dimension. However, by doing so, they will have doomed Lord St. Clair to mental idiocy.
If the players retreat from the window, they can look for hiding places in the room. There are several available (a standing closet will offer space for two, for example) and from there they can watch what occurs in the room when the Fungi arrive. The Fungi will take Lord St. Clair, place him on a table, open one of the canisters, remove a brain, and place it in Lord St. Clair's skull. When they finish, they prepare to pick up Lord St. Clair and fly off through the window with him. Now is the players chance to kill the Fungi and save Lord St. Clair. If they successfully drive off the Fungi, they have rescued Lord St. Clair from a horror worse than death.
With the window closed and the Fungi gone, the ranch will gradually return to its proper location in the time-space continuum. Lord St. Clair will remain unconscious the entire time the players are within the Non-Euclidean bunkhouse. If they explore the room they will discover food, water, and another strange metal tube under the desk. This tube is still sealed, unlike the one from which the Fungi took the brain. But what, or who, is in this tube? Smart investigators, and there is always one in any group, may have already guessed what will come next. Just pat them on the top of their heads and say "You are a good little investigator, aren't you?" When the bunkhouse returns to the outskirts of Abilene, Lord St. Clair will awaken and seem quite confused for it isn't Lord St. Clair but Donald Worthington!!!
What are the players to do? Is Lord St. Clair's brain in the other canister? If it isn't, where is it and who is in the other canister? Worthington/St. Clair is quite insane (a successful Psychology roll will confirm this) though he appears only somewhat in shock about what has occurred. He claims to have no memory of his disappearance or what has happened in the meantime. However, since for some strange reason he is now in Lord St. Clair's body, he hopes that the players will help him in several ways. First, he asks that they remain quiet for the time being, allowing him to act as Lord St. Clair for the good of the ranch, and until such time as they discover his body or another body for him to "move" into. Second, he hopes to get the players to discover the means to restore Lord St. Clair to his proper body as well as finding a body for him to inhabit, and is willing to pay the player-characters for as long as it takes to find a solution to the current predicament. If they players agree, they should immediately set out to find a "cure" for Worthington/St. Clair. Stay tuned for more adventures in the same genre in later issues. If the Keeper and the players can't wait, the Keeper should devise some suitable method for solving the problem. Remember, some ancient book somewhere probably has the solution; it only takes time to track it down.
Players should receive 2d4 Sanity for surviving this adventure and successfully defeating the Fungi from Yuggoth. If they allow Lord St. Clair to be taken, but they still have his brain in the canister, give them 1d4 Sanity when they eventually realize they have partially succeeded.
OK, by now you are asking yourself what the hell have I gotten myself into? What the heck is going on? It's very simple, if you just give me a minute. You see, Worthington stumbled onto and into an abandoned Indian pueblo during that long cattle drive. There he was confronted with the image of a dead Serpent-Man priest who whispered to him the secrets of summoning the Mi-Go. Driven to the brink of madness by the trapped priest's spirit, he summoned those repellent Fungi from Yuggoth, who in turn removed his brain for experimentation. The Fungi took Worthington's brain to Yuggoth where he learned new business techniques (stock-options, limited partnerships, equity swaps) which he hoped to employ in buying out St. Clair. Yet his long absence served to defeat these schemes, forcing Worthington to come up with a new plan. He would send the Mi-Go to torment St. Clair, convince him to create the time/space distortion, allowing Worthington to return and assume the identity of St. Clair with no one being the wiser for it. Everything worked according to plan, with the Mi-Go and St. Clair both contributing to the casting of the spell. The only thing Worthington did not take into account was the actions of some outside force, i.e. the players. It should be obvious by now that Worthington will do everything within his power to eradicate the player characters as soon as possible and that all his promises are empty. It's up to you to decide how to deal with the reappearance of Worthington; he would make a good ongoing "cultist villain" for the players to deal with.
These two can be deemed to have identical statistics.
STR 14 CON 16 SIZ 13 INT 15
POW 12 DEX 17 Move 7/9 HP 15
Weapons: Nippers, 30%, 1d6 plus grapple
Armor: None, but the extra-terrene body causes all impaling weapons to do minimum damage
Spells: each has INT x 2 chance to know 1d3 spells (each knows Create Time/Space Distortion, a new spell, in addition to any other spells they may know)
Sanity Loss: 0/1d6
This spell is extremely powerful, but very limited in application. The spell can only be cast during some sort of storm, preferably a thunderstorm, during which the caster expends one hundred magic points in creating the time/space distortion. The magic points may be gathered previous to the casting of the spell and can be stored for up to twenty-four hours at or in the focus of the distortion. Some variants of the spell include a drain magic point spell as well, which, when successfully cast, drains all but one magic point from any human being within a ten mile radius of the caster. This drain magic point sub-spell costs four POW, and it is only applicable to the time/space distortion spell. When the main spell is successful cast, the area around the caster warps for 2d6 hours, and creates a centralized hole in the time/space continuum in which time and space have no effect. Strange creatures from the past, present, future, and alternate dimensions intermingle through the hole, causing a loss of 1d6/1d20 Sanity for witnesses to the casting of the spell. Once the spell has been successfully cast, the caster may search for one specific person, place, or object and once, located, they can try and keep the item with them once the gate closes. They further the item is away from the caster's reality, the less likely the item will remain behind with the gate's closing. Also some people or things may resist the caster if given the opportunity, and death here carries a strong penalty. If the caster should die in the middle of a time/space distortion, they will become part of the distortion, forever lost to their own reality, and eventually driven insane by those things caught within the distortion.
Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:48:52 EDT