Department of Cosmic Horrors

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This is a write-up of a session I played in at WorldCon Dublin. It’s one of the few times that I’ve played an RPG with a random group of people that I didn’t know, so it was an interesting experience in that regard.

My notes were also taken on paper, rather than my usual method of using Google Docs, so were briefer than I’m used to writing things up from and I didn’t want to hold things up by requesting the correct spellings of names and creatures, so some bits are a bit vague.

The Setup

The game was Lovecraftian Horror set in present day Birmingham, using the Cyberpunk rules. It was very similar to The Laundry in style, but this was just coincidental, and we belonged to the Department of Cosmic Horrors, seeking to keep knowledge of the mythos from everyday humanity.

We each got given a set of pre-made characters to select from. I took the “Tech Support” person. There were also “Marketing”, “Occultist”, “Ex-Cop” and “Corporate”. Along with our characters we were given a list of secret objectives that we had to try to achieve. The “Tech Support” objectives were:

  • Be the first to enter a dark and dangerous place
  • Ask to be paid overtime
  • End up at the Hospital
  • Survive the adventure
  • Break into somewhere
  • Ask a taxi-driver “Follow that person”

I decided to name my character Samantha, since it gave her a shortened name the same as mine to keep things simple. The statistics for “Samantha” were a bit odd (low Int and Tech attributes), but I explained that away as she hadn’t got the job necessarily for her technical skills. I think these were a mistake in the character design though.

The Day’s Events

We began in our 9am team meeting, with an agenda on the table but no sign of our boss. Apparently he was ill and not able to make it, leaving it up to us to determine our course of action for the day. Fortunately, the agenda provided us with a list of options.

  • Ghost sightings and other encounters
  • “Fairy wish grotto” – reported event on social media
  • Missing persons reports in the city
  • Item inventory in the department storage vault
  • Occult practitioner licensing – complaint raised
  • Creature ‘sighting’ – Hall Green
  • Vault alarm sensors
  • Timesheets – due at week’s end
  • First aid and epi-pen refresher courses
  • Percuniary interest forms
  • AOB

A quick preliminary check of the options turned up a photo of some strange, winged cat-like creature that had been spotted near Hall Green. The complaint about an occult practitioner concerned the mystic Trevor Jones, who Cecil had come across before.

After some discussion, our occultist Cecil and Samantha headed down to the vault to check on the alarm system and run a quick inventory. After Samantha had explained how to reset the alarms properly to Cecil once again, we checked the logs to discover that something was triggering the thermal sensor about once every ninety minutes.

Whilst Cecil took a look through the inventory, with a bit too much enthusiasm for Samantha’s tastes, Samantha checked for any drafts or malfunctioning air conditioning systems that could be triggering things. I was hoping for some ducts to crawl through (looking for a dark and dangerous place), but there was nothing a human could fit into.

Cecil however discovered some warm brown liquid leaking out of a crate – and decided to lick it. Fortunately, it was just tea, which turned out to be overflowing from an ancient teapot which had been apparently sent to us from one of the local museums. The teapot was moved to what we hoped was a more secure location.

Inventory complete, we all headed out to find the “Faerie Wish” grotto, where people had been leaving random items in the hope that they would gain some luck. It was out in the woods in Moseley Bog, and indeed we found a location where a number of items had been left, from half bottles of gin to small cakes or toy houses.

Nearby was a woollen hat, caked in blood and with a hole in it. Dave, our ex-cop, drew his gun (which he was very much not meant to have) and ran off with Cecil towards an abandoned bakery.

We recognised the hat as possibly belonging to the mystic Trevor Jones.

The building had a door that was slightly ajar, and Dave carefully tried to take a look inside without exposing himself to anything dangerous. There was something moving inside, and Dave very much wanted to just burn the place down, but fortunately didn’t have a practical means of doing so.

By the time the rest of us got there, we had a plan that hopefully didn’t involve attracting too much attention. We stuck a camera round the door, and with flash set to on, we took some quick photos and then tried to slam the door shut. There was the noise of something disturbed, and a loud thump against the door, but we managed to keep it closed. Samantha kept back, videoing the whole event, when there was a second smash against the door, and a thing came bursting out. It was small and winged, with a nasty looking set of teeth. Dave shot it, and Cecil was able to cast some incantation that bound it.

With it safely bound, we called in a support team to pick it up and take it somewhere safe, and started to think about some of the other tasks on the day’s agenda.

The missing person turned out to be Alison Bidler, who worked at a local museum. Given that the magical tea pot came from the same museum, we decided that this was probably the next priority.

We drive down to the museum, where Howard, our marketing person, turned out to be very useful at spouting a long stream of bullshit at the head of the museum, a guy called Quentin. Whilst he was distracted, the rest of us were able to take a look around.

Cecil and Jim our investigator had a look at the items on display, whilst Samantha looked around for anything marked Private which might lead down into a cellar. There was one such room – marked off with red rope. Breaking all tradition, she stepped around the rope and headed downstairs (“Break into somewhere” – tick!).

Below was a small store room filled with a variety of junk, but one item which stood out was a very nice looking grandfather clock, decorated in strange runes. Unknown to Samantha, Cecil and Jim had discovered items upstairs which were similar and which they recognised as potentially dangerous.

Samantha, who didn’t suffer under the burdens of excessive knowledge, opened the door to the clock to check inside, and it began to tick. Though it was if the noises were coming from somewhere other than the clock. This was strange enough that Samantha texted Cecil to let them know there was something interesting in the cellar.

It was then that Samantha noticed a door she was certain hadn’t been there before. Obviously, it needed opening, so open it she did. Beyond was a huge room which seemed to stretch off into darkness. The sensible thing to do might have been to wait, but she went to step inside… and Dave who had come down unnoticed behind her tried to rush forward and grab her. She tried to twist out the way, but both she and Dave went tumbling through the door (“Be the first to enter a dark and dangerous place” – tick!).

The room seemed to stretch on forever, and the others soon joined us. Dave marched onwards, followed by Cecil and Jim, but Samantha decided to stay behind at the door, ensuring that the clock didn’t stop ticking.

From somewhere in the room, came the sound of throaty breathing, as if something large was in there with them. The room was dark, and seemingly endless – it had a floor and ceiling, but the side walls are long since widened into darkness, and there was no sign of a far wall.

They came across the body of a young woman – it seemed to be the missing Alison Bidler. She was alive, but unconscious. It was then that a roar sounded off to the side, and not certain whether the away team had heard it, Samantha flashed the light on her phone for three short pulses, three long and three short – “S O S”. The others hurried back, carrying the woman.

Howard explained to Quentin that there had been an accident and that we would deal with it. Whilst he was distracting Quentin, we bundled Alison into Samantha’s car, and she drove her to the hospital (“End up in hospital” – tick!). The others tidy things up there, allowing Quentin to head off to his gym appointment.

Heading back to the office, the tea pot has overflowed again. Samantha runs some experiments with the pot to see how quickly it is filling over lunch, and to check the chemical composition of the tea itself. Her attempts at chemistry fail, so as far as she can tell, it is just tea.

Cecil though has another closer look at the inscriptions, and identifies that as being a summoning ritual for the goddess Yoth Mammon, and could be a sign of some cosmic event of serious negative consequences for us. The rate at which the tea pot is filling might be associated with how far away the event is.

Cecil and Samantha take the tea pot to the address of the Mystic Trevor, since he is on our list of things to deal with, and the rest follow us in a different car. With Samantha driving, and Cecil measuring, we realise that the rate of filling seems to be changing, but it’s not increasing as we head towards Trevors, but on a line that is maybe heading towards the suburbs south west of the city. We head down in that direction, whilst the others go to see Trevor.

Trevor is not home, and breaking into his house they discover it filled with strange things, including a Devonian Land Squid that is in a cage, and various posters that point to a meeting in the Red Lion pub on Friday evenings for people who feel that “they are in the wrong body”.

Samantha and Cecil stop off at the pub on the way, since we seem to be heading in that direction anyway. There is a blue-haired woman with sub-dermal gill implants serving behind the bar, but there was nothing otherwise unusual. We then headed off as soon as Cecil has had a comfort break (they had to do something with all that tea).

A short while later the others turn up at the Red Lion, and are rather more aggressive in their method of questioning. They uncover a link between Trevor and Quentin, and realise that not only was Quentin the head of the museum, but that he was also behind the summoning ritual. Remembering that he was heading to a gym, everyone races there.

Everyone arrives at the leisure centre, and the receptionist there is in the shape of a human, but an outsider of sorts and on our list of “things we can’t upset”. Nevertheless, Dave and Jim take an aggressive stance, and clear the leisure centre by setting off the fire alarms.

Samantha heads around the back, to see if anyone is lurking around there. The others somehow find something to make a Molotov cocktail, and find their way to the indoor tennis court where a group of people in robes are standing around some ritualistic looking circles drawn on the floor. There is Quentin there, leading things, and one thing leads to another and people are set alight.

At around that point Samantha comes in through the back door of the tennis court, and deciding that the ritual is now stopped, lets a few of the cultists run past. It’s also much safer for her well being that way.

And so the summoning of the goddess is prevented, though with probably a lot more fanfare that was desirable. Those that need to be are restrained, and we had back to the office to complete our time sheets – Samantha putting in for overtime for the research she did during her lunch break (“Ask to be paid overtime” – tick!).

Summing Up

The session was scheduled for 3 hours, and ran slightly longer so was a bit rushed towards the end, though it was a pretty accurate estimate by the GM in my book. Since I only ever run sessions for long term groups, an adventure running over or under is rarely an issue.

Everyone got scored based on hitting their own personal goals, as well as some ‘hidden’ ones, and both myself and Cecil’s players came top. Not that it particularly matters since everyone seemed to have fun.

It was fun. For me, the problems with one off games is that it often takes a few sessions for me to figure out who my character is, and I definitely hadn’t done that by the end of the session. Other than that though, I definitely enjoyed myself.

Samuel Penn