Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Trail of Cthulhu Mythos Expeditions: The Icy Tomb

By now you've probably heard that Mythos Expeditions is out, or soon to be out, depending on exactly where you live. I hope anyone who picks it up enjoys my contribution to that book, Lost on a Sea of Dreams. It was fun to write!

In honor of that Trail of Cthulhu supplement, as well as a tip of the hat to the recent discovery of the Franklin Expedition's lost ship, I thought I'd give you a taste of what's in Mythos Expeditions. This scenario seed is based on a real event, recorded in Mysteries of the Sea by Robert de la Croix.

In 1931 the Hudson's Bay Company sent out the Baychimo, a steel-hulled and thoroughly modern 1,300 ton ship, to collect furs. In October it got caught in pack ice and its captain, Cornwall, decided not to risk wintering aboard, preferring the safety of huts ashore. At the end of November a blizzard broke the Baychimo free of the ice and she drifted away, nobody knew where. Cornwall assumed she'd broken up in the ice. The crew were eventually rescued the following year, and reported the Baychimo lost, only to be told by the Hudson's Bay Company that the Baychimo had been spotted adrift many hundreds of miles to the east of her last known position.

A month later, de la Croix writes, in April 1932, a young explorer named Leslie Melvin also spotted the Baychimo. He succeeded in boarding her, and was astonished at the quantity of furs piled up in the hold. But as his position was more than 3,000 miles from his base at Nome in Alaska and he was badly off for equipment, possessing only two sleighs drawn by dogs, he could not salvage any of the cargo ...

Without going into too much detail, the Mythos Expeditions rules state that the protagonists have a Survival Pool, and these pool points represent a factor roughly analogous to a character's Stability. Yes, Survival represents food, medicine and trade goods, but it also represents morale, will to live, and any number of intangible factors as well. Loss of Survival operates in much the same way as loss of Stability; lose too much, go into negative Survival, and you suffer penalties to actions. Lose enough Survival, and the expedition disintegrates.   

In this scenario seed, the protagonists are playing the part of Leslie Melvin, except that where Melvin was acting on his own you, as Keeper, may have half a dozen characters to consider. It's reasonable to assume that each character contributes 2 Survival pool points, with no opportunity to hire extra bearers. That means, assuming a team of 6, that 12 Survival's on the table. Already you can see that Melvin, with his pool of 2, didn't have many options when he found the Baychimo. The group's going to be traveling via dog sled, probably two sleds per protagonist. They have minimal equipment - you don't want to take anything you don't need, though warm clothing's an absolute must - which would include at least one rifle, to scare off wildlife. The team isn't out looking for missing ships; it has its own objectives, and probably includes geologists, naturalists, explorers, and perhaps a photographer.

Terrain is the next thing to consider. This is the Arctic, so terrain is Bleak. That means +1 Survival loss per Travel Increment. The Travel Increment is an abstraction that basically says it takes X number of increments to get from point A to point B, and in each increment there's a chance of Survival pool loss. This chance is represented by what amounts to a damage roll for each travel increment, modified by terrain. If this damage roll represented travel along a beach, the damage would be modified by -3, so there's a decent chance that no actual Survival loss would accrue. That isn't the case here. Assuming maximum damage, an increment might cost the team 7 Survival which, even if the team started with 12 Survival, is a very significant loss. Melvin, with his starting pool of 2, would already be at -5, or Ragged, with all the appropriate penalties.

It is possible to refresh Survival while out in the wilderness. In this instance the most likely source of a refresh is an Investigative spend, probably Outdoorsman or Navigation, and there's a small chance of finding friendly Inuit. Theoretically the Investigative spend might refresh 1 or 2 points, while friendly Inuit could refresh 3 to 4 points. Finding the Baychimo could also refresh 3 to 4 points; Cornwall probably took most of the ship's supplies ashore when he abandoned ship, but there's bound to be something left behind.   

It's likely that one or two Challenge scenes will occur. Challenge scenes are those moments in a travel increment when something exciting and dangerous happens. As this is an Arctic expedition, any Challenge scene takes place in an extremely Cold environment, which means the character is treated as Hurt for the purposes of Difficulty and spends. Potential Challenges include frostbite, animal attack, an unexpected crevasse hidden by snow, and injury to the sled dogs. Assume a minimum Difficulty 5 for tests, modified to Difficulty 4 if the group has an Investigative ability that might assist, like Outdoorsman.

So far we've just talked about the expedition and Survival, without mentioning the Mythos element. In this instance the most likely Mythos element is Ithaqua, the Great Old One who stalks the Arctic wastes. Possibly in its Death Walker form, it may have torn the Baychimo free and made it drift to this point, either because Cornwall and his crew skinned something Ithaqua didn't want skinned, or because Ithaqua wants the ship for other purposes, perhaps as a floating temple for some kind of ritual. In the latter case, cultists could be drawn to the spot, preparing for the great ceremony to come. There are other intriguing possibilities; perhaps the protagonists find those strange and impossible pelts in the Baychimo's hold, or one of the Challenge scenes could have the protagonists huddle inside the derelict ship as Ithaqua batters it with storms.

The Keeper may prefer other options, if the players are already nodding their heads and muttering wisely about Ithaqua the instant Arctic exploration is mentioned. Ubb, the Father of Worms, is a unique Chthonian Yugg meant to haunt the Pacific, but that doesn't mean Ubb is the only massive sea worm out there. Suppose one haunts the Arctic waters, and has picked on the Baychimo as a target for whatever reason. Picture a scene in which the ice holding the ship at bay cracks under immense pressure, as the titanic creature lunges upward. It could pursue the protagonists in other Challenge scenes, as they try to escape across the ice. Why is it here? Well, Ubb is meant to be guarding the final resting place of a God; perhaps this entity is a guardian, and the Baychimo, by great misfortune, managed to drift too close to its location. When the investigators clambered aboard they earned the wrath of the Worm, not for anything they did, but because they're getting too close to the protected location. Maybe after they leave the Baychimo they find that forbidden spot ...

Hope that helps you Keepers out there! Have fun with Expeditions; I certainly did!

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