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Welcome to Tales of Terror

Monday, 29 February 2016

Couch Potato

Darren Richards, aged 13, is not a happy boy. Neither is he an unhappy boy. At least, not so far as you can tell. He sits vegetatively, occasionally rocking to and fro, unresponsive to external stimuli - even his favourite TV show. His parents spoon feed him mush. "The lights are on, but nobody seems to be home," as Doctor Clarke says.

Darren was found in exactly that state, sat in front of his computer game console plugged into the wide screen TV in the family home, a little over a week ago. Prior to that he was a perfectly normal lad of his age.

Questioning the family reveals a seemingly irrelevant detail, that the computer game had malfunctioned, the screen looked "odd". If pursued it emerges that Darren was video taping his progress to enter a "game glitches" competition in a magazine. The tape shows the player's character in the game moving through a seemingly solid mountain range in the game environment into a "wrongly" coloured surreal landscape where moving images leave strangely blurred after-shadows.

Possibilities

1 The game provides an entrance into the dreamlands. If the investigators play the game and retrace Darren's route (requiring hours of frustrating practice), they are also drawn into the dreamlands, leaving their unconscious bodies behind. Getting out of the dreamlands is a little more complicated, but if they manage it, they restore Darren and themselves to normality.

A larger issue remains to be solved. Is it only Darren's copy of this game that has this potential, or will there be an epidemic of dreamboys amongst fanatical players of this new game?

2 The game's effect is caused by a combination of its addictive gameplay and hypnotically flickering lights. It has induced a form of catatonia. Darren is not the only player affected, and while medical hope remains, he may remain unresponsive for years.

3 The effect is deliberate and has the same effect on any weak minded player. After a few days, Darren starts to come out of his catatonia, and returns to normal. However, he has now been reprogrammed by the game. In response to broadcasting a further subliminal signal (teenage computer gamers always watch too much television) the affected feel a compulsion to carry out some great and terrible task.

One of the programmers at EtherTec, the game manufacturer, has been corrupted and seduced by an agent of the mythos. He has added unnecessary code to the game, and although he now swears allegiance to his new master, he has no real understanding of the additional code.

© Jon Freeman

Friday, 26 February 2016

The Dee Signet

The signet is a heavy gold ring with an oval of jet stone. The stone has been inscribed in silver with the image of a stylized skull. The signet was commissioned by John Dee, the Elizabethan court astrologer and was supposed to have been blessed with magical powers.

According to records, Dee never wore the ring and instead kept it in a locked cabinet in his Mortlake home.

For a short while the signet ring was in the possession of Sir Isaac Newton, and it has been mentioned in the collected papers of the Order of the Silver Thistle. The signet has also been unreliably linked with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The signet now resides in Blenheim Palace, in a locked cabinet in the Yellow Room.

Possibilities

1 The signet is older than it seems - it was old when John Dee owned it. The signet was forged in Greece by an unnamed necromancer. The ring allows the wearer to communicate with the skeletal undead, and it's maker used it to command a private army of skeleton warriors.

Unfortunately, the wearer of the ring is only able to communicate via the language of the skeletal undead - although it sounds like they are speaking normally, to everyone else sounds like harsh, brittle sounds. And everything the wearer hears sounds like gibberish, unless it is from one of the skeletal undead.

Of course, with the art of constructing skeletal undead artefacts now lost, the ring is of little use.

2 The signet ring is magical, protecting its wearer from edged or cutting weapons. The wearer's skin simply can't be cut with a knife or blade. However, as tough as their skin has become, it has also become quite brittle which makes them more vulnerable to blunt weapons and crushing blows.

Also, rather strangely, the wearer of the signet finds that their mouth tastes of peppermint.

3 The signet ring is magical, its origin unknown. Dee knew of the signet's secret, which is why he never wore it...

As soon as the signet is worn, it contracts painfully and cannot be removed. If it isn't somehow removed (and the only way of removing it is to remove the finger) then the wearer goes through a horrible transformation - although it doesn't seem like that at first.

To begin with, the wearer feels refreshed and invigorated. They lose the need to sleep, eat or defecate. They also no longer tire, and the sensation of pain is dulled and distant. However, after a month or two things take a turn for the worse: their hair starts falling out, and their flesh becomes dry and withered. Their eyes glaze over, as if they have cataracts (which is most peculiar because they have never had better eyesight in all their life). After three months, they have such a ghastly appearance that they cannot be seen in public. By six months the transformation is complete: they have become a living skeleton.

© Steve Hatherley

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Mr Feste's Old Curiosity Shop

London is dark, mists are swirling around cold feet and the street is deserted. Deserted, that is, except for a soft glow from the lights of a small shop halfway down the street. In its doorway stands a small, portly man who, despite his baldness, has the appearance of a child. In his hand is a steaming mug of soup. He waves and beckons to passers by to take shelter on this cold and dismal night.

Once inside the investigators will find that Mr Feste (as he introduces himself) is an affable, eccentric old man. The shop itself has the appearance of a rubbish tip with all manner of items strewn about tables and shelves. However on closer inspection the rubbish turns out to be an impressive collection of antiques and curios from around the world.

While examining these the investigators may discover something of particular interest, maybe a book or an effigy or even a stuffed and mounted Zoog. Mr Feste can give a brief but intriguing history of any item in his shop and will negotiate with the investigators if anything takes their fancy. Payment may take many forms.

Mr Feste himself is very much like his Shakespearian namesake. Outwardly he is a bumbling eccentric but this only masks the wise and shrewd man within. He is a fine judge of character, it is almost as if he can see into their very soul. He talks in riddles but these often disguise important and enlightening information.

Possibilities

1 Mr Feste is a servant of Nodens and the shop exists outside of normal time and space. He assesses his guests and if he thinks they are capable, presses them into service as investigators. Because of the nature of the shop there is no guarantee that the investigators will leave the shop where, or even when, they entered it.

2 Mr Feste's shop is located in a hidden, forgotten part of town. It is practically impossible to find but relatively easy to stumble across when lost. The whole area, close to Crouch End, is dimensionally unstable and on occasion unwary travellers are lost forever. Sometimes terrible things and places are superimposed onto our reality. Mr Feste is its appointed guardian, a 'Watcher at the Gates' and will gladly direct any lost souls to safety.

3 Mr Feste is an aspect of Nyarlathotep. He finds brief distraction and slight amusement in the games he plays with his customers - although his information is both reliable and useful and his books and artefacts are genuine. Secure in the knowledge that any gains made by the investigators are ultimately insignificant, he throws his knowledge around quite liberally, while steering them away from where they might do most harm.

© Garrie Hall

Monday, 15 February 2016

Black Book of the East


The Black Book is eventually sold, after much hard bidding, for over £1000 to an unknown bidder operating through an agent. The book was originally written in French, although that has been largely annotated in a number of languages since.

Possibilities

1 The book is a fake. Kirby was known for his practical jokes, and this was his last. He wrote largely nonsense inside, much of it made up. Despite this, the book contains several passages which appear to be uncomfortably prophetic.

2  The book is not the Black Book, but is an original version of the Bible. However, the Bible has changed much since this was written and its tone is completely different. It tells of the Lord being defeated by Satan and cast to earth in the form of Jesus, only to be crucified by the Romans. It is a blasphemous work, but it is so horribly plausible.

3 The Black Book of the East was written by the French sorcerer, but when he died his soul was imprisoned in the tome. The book can only be opened by satisfying his hunger and spilling human blood across the covers which is quickly absorbed into the material.

© Steve Hatherley

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Into the Darkness

One of the investigators begins to suffer from blackouts. Short at first, they get gradually longer. Each time the investigator cannot account for his movements and can remember nothing except afeeling of darkness and extreme cold.

Any attempt to psycho-analyse the investigator draws a blank. He can only recall the dark and the cold. During these 'blackouts' the investigator undergoes a personality change and does not recognise his friends. He is possessed.

Possibilities

1 The Revelations of Yuggoth is a rare book that only a few have seen. Supposedly brought to Earth from Yuggoth aeons ago, the book is a translation telling of the ecstasy brought by the Crawling Chaos. The book contains a prayer which binds the soul of the reader to The Haunter of the Dark, who possesses the body for his own means during the blackouts. One of the investigators has been unfortunate enough to read it.

Eventually the investigator is completely possessed, and then the Crawling Chaos loses interest in the body and destroys it.

2 The blackouts are caused by a member of the Great Race looked in an ice cavern in Alaska. It has been unable to flee to the future but can still take over the minds of men. The creature is trying to organise an expedition to Alaska to free itself. Once free of the ice it can build a machine and send its mind into the future.

It has no malign intentions towards the investigators unless they try to interfere with its plans.

3 In a previous year, the investigator participated in an archaeological excavation which uncovered the mummified remains of several corpses. One of these corpses, a sorcerer, is not quite as dead as it seems and is able to mind swap with those who have come into close contact with it.

The blackouts are caused by the corpse slowly exercising control over the investigator. As they get longer it can be predicted when they will be permanent. At that point the sorcerer will be free.

The sorcerer has tried this with others, but their weak constitutions have failed before the mind swap was complete. These deaths are recorded in the papers (the 'Curse of the Tomb') and may alert the investigators to the trouble.

© Garrie Hall

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Welcome to Tales of Terror

When I read roleplaying game scenarios, I am usually stripping them for ideas, hunting for the flashes of inspiration behind them. And because I have seen other GMs and Keepers treat scenarios similarly, I wondered if there was a market for a collection of short ideas that would be used rather than ignored or stripped down for spare parts.
Cover of Tales of Terror
Tales of Terror - the first edition

And so Tales of Terror was born, a showcase of ideas, thoughts and flashes of inspiration - ready for use. Each Tale is a scenario idea stripped clean of dead meat, rotting statistics and wretched prose.

The original collection, a badly-edited mess of assorted ideas for Call of Cthulhu, was mostly the work of myself and Garrie Hall. It was fun, it almost got us into trouble with Chaosium, it eventually sold out and I vowed never to do another.

Yet the monster will not die.

Cover of Tales of Terror #2
Tales of Terror #2
Tales of Terror lived on in the pages of the erratically-published The Unspeakable Oath, and two collections were published by Pagan Publishing.

Then there were the websites, which I curated for a while. The last one stagnated for years, but I have decided to revisit it with this blog.

The original Tales of Terror books were specifically written for Call of Cthulhu, most of them are now completely systemless.

While I am not sure if Tales of Terror succeeds in its original brief (whatever that was) it produced an interesting effect.

While many scenarios (and this is especially true of campaigns) are Earth-shattering romps of cosmic significance, most Tales tend to be quite the opposite, concentrating on the personal horror and quieter weirdness encountered by our poor heroes.

Cover of Tales of Terror #3
Tales of Terror #3
If scenarios can be compared to horror novels (and campaigns to trilogies), that makes the humble Tale of Terror a short story. And while I've enjoyed horror novels, it has always been short stories that send shivers down my spine. Hopefully, when you drop these Tales on your poor unsuspecting players, they will feel equally unsettled.

Above all, this collection is yours to do what you will. Adapt them, twist them, steal them. But most of all, please use them.

Steve Hatherley

The Carpet

It's odd, but you never really noticed it before. Until one of your acquaintances suddenly knelt down and studied it, you had never given the carpet a second thought. In fact, now that you are thinking of it, you can't even remember where it came from in the first place. Try as hard as you like but you just can't remember how (or when, where or why) the carpet came into your possession.

It is a small carpet, barely eight feet long by three wide. It is threadbare and worn, and of indeterminate middle-eastern style. In the centre of the carpet is an oval of abstract design. Surrounding this is a long fluid line of wavy characters, possibly letters from an obscure alphabet.

Things are sometimes seen in the oval pattern in the centre of the carpet. A flicker on the edge of vision, a suggestive shape or threatening shadow. They are slightly unsettling, but vanish upon closer inspection: a trick of the light.

Possibilities

1  The carpet is an ancient cult weapon. The words on the carpet are known as the Circle of Suggestive Deaths. If chanted within earshot of someone standing upon the rug, that person will surely die. Whether by bullet, knife, monster, accident, disease or injury, the result is always the same.

2  The carpet contains the immortal soul of Kastajhan, a sorcerer originally living in Constantinople in the fifteenth century. Legend has it that no sooner had Kastajhan discovered the source of true immortality than he was sentenced to death. One hundred assassins were sent to his house, and when the dawn light fell across Constantinople none remained alive - there were only shadows on the walls. Of Kastajhan there was no sign.

The script around the edge of the carpet describes a short spell, the casting of which allows communication with Kastajhan's spirit. Unfortunately, the spirit is now quite insane and babbles only nonsense.

3  Al Azif contains an illustration of the carpet and describes the words as "The Summoning of the Blood." Although it feels new, the carpet is actually older than that ancient tome. In order to summon the blood, all someone has to do is chant the words while standing on the carpet.

Nothing immediately happens, but over the course of the next few nights the carpet drains a small amount of blood from the caster. Upon wakening, they feel weak and unwell.

No matter, it only lasts a few nights - for then the spell is complete and the Blood is summoned. The Blood is a vaguely human figure, with ropy limbs and fluid movements - and is composed completely of blood (actually far more than the caster has supplied). The Blood obeys one command, before returning to the carpet.

© Steve Hatherley

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Can I touch the angel, mummy?

Everyone sees them from time to time, but nobody knows why they do it. What does it all mean? Why do those white and silver rag-shrouded street performers with benignly vacuous faces stand motionless in city centres like shabby angels? When someone drops a coin in their box they move, open their eyes, smile, turn, wave. Then as suddenly as they activated, they return to a motionless pose. No one ever hears them speak.

Things are changing. No longer just the occasional angelic visitation, they are seen with increasing frequency. No longer solitary, they sometimes appear in twos and threes. Their motion is no longer gentle, and sometimes when “activated” they writhe and gyrate frantically while remaining unnaturally rooted to the spot. Their expressions are tortured, and small children run crying from their baleful red-rimmed stare.

When at rest their heads are cocked to one side as though listening to something that no one else can hear. They fix on a spectator and mouth indecipherable messages with horrible urgency. To a lip reader they appear to be saying “the waiters in the light” over and over again.

Possibilities

1 The white angel people have been touched by Gabriel, a deranged lone sorcerer under the sway of a little known demonic entity. The entity is referred to as Lumen Formidolosus (the terrible light) in an obscure Roman text, Concoquere Nefandis (the deplorable digest). Gabriel believes himself to be an angel serving this being of pure light, winning converts to the cause of universal light. Those who watch the street performer feel strangely calmed - and are compelled to gather in a secret location where Gabriel awaits them. Exposed to the power of the terrible light, they serve it by becoming a tortured white angel-person, their sanity slowly slipping away as they mime.

2 The weird street entertainers are converts of a profitable cult that uses hypnosis to win members at public meetings. The new members make little money for the cause in their miming, but (more importantly) donate all their worldly wealth when they join. The leader of the cult is a charismatic guru, known as Lumen, who mixes woolly new age philosophy about “universal light” with a healthy dose of capitalist enterprise.

3 The angel-people are sub-human. These beings are the product of an infection passed to ordinary people by touch - so don’t get too close when you drop those coins. Those infected then undergo a painful and sanity blasting metamorphosis. Is a cure possible, or is eradication the only solution? How widespread is the problem, and why is it only manifesting now?

© Jon Freeman