Sunday, 18 June 2017

Needles: The Huiquing's Cargo

A short while back I promised that as part of the Needles Kickstarter I'd publish a short scenario here, if certain conditions were met.

So here we are!

The Needles rules stipulate a scenario must not go over 2,500 words. In this instance the word count is 2,495.

CoC 7e rules are used throughout.


The Huiquing is a 1980s build container ship, 42 meters long by 8 meters wide, allegedly constructed in Shanghai and nominally registered in China, though anyone following up on that registry will discover just how flimsy that record is. The Huiquing exists on the shipping registry of several different flag of convenience nations - Panama, North Korea, Lebanon - always under a different name and with a different paint job, but a dedicated investigator can track it down through the years, back to its actual port of origin, South Korea.

It was built there in 1986 and registered under the name Man Seong, and it had a ten year career carrying cargo to and from Australia before it was captured by pirates in winter 1996. Its captors, a criminal ring based in the Philippines, kept it for about two years before passing it on to another gang, and it's had just shy of half a dozen owners since 1996.

Each group used it as a cheap transport, ferrying off-the-books cargo and occasionally human traffic between countries in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the West Coast of the United States. Whenever the authorities in a particular jurisdiction got to close it changed its name, paint job and often owner, and resumed trade as if nothing had happened.

In 2002 a Malaysia-based human trafficking group was using it - then called Bunga Kenek - to transport cargo with a sideline in soon-to-be sex workers, when it was taken by a gang based in China. The takeover was very informal; surviving crew and passengers were herded into the ship's refrigeration unit and left to suffocate. The Chinese group then repainted it, named it Huiquing, and used it to smuggle cut-rate Chinese goods to Long Beach, California.

After a while the Coast Guard, Homeland Security and Department of Transportation (Maritime Administration, MARAD) had enough information between them to make life difficult for the Triad that operated the Huiquing, so the ship suffered an unfortunate accident off the coast of California. Lost with all hands, the Huiquing sank leaving behind only an inflated insurance claim and lots of confusing paperwork.

That would have been the end of it, had not the Huiquing's carcass - stripped bare of its oh-so-valuable cargo - survived scuttling, and ended up aground not far from Cape Disappointment, Washington State. Now it's the center of a legal battle between various State and Federal authorities as to who has responsibility for removing it.

This battle became all the more contentious when the bodies were found in the refrigerated compartment, but tracing their deaths to the criminals responsible proved impossible and the corpses ended up in a Potter's Field.

Unfortunately that wasn't the end of it. One of the dead was a Daughter of the Old One Atlach-Nacha, the Great Spider, He Who Binds the World. These unfortunate women are 'chosen' to become the Old One's companions, and marked by the spider's bite. After a time they transform into a monstrous spider, dwelling for a brief while in the world of men before making the long journey into Dream, and Atlach-Nacha.

The Malaysian group that assisted in her creation was taking her to Los Angeles, where she would be worshipped as a God by cultists before being transformed into a God's companion. However her death changed all that, and now the Huiquing traps her soul, while her body rots.

This is causing many unusual side effects, but the most obvious, and the one that will attract the investigators, is a new breed of subsocial or cooperative spider, which has established a sizeable colony at the Potter's Field where the bodies are buried. This heretofore unknown species causes a scientific stir, but Cthulhu Mythos or Hard Occult links the markings on the spiders' bodies to the Old One. The spiders' unusual markings have been widely reported in the media, and can be found online without a check.

The spiders gather in large groups, creating enormous complex webs that cover the entire cemetery. They show no interest in people who invade their territory, and though they bite if disturbed their bite is harmless. However pushing through the colony is an eerie experience, and costs 0/1D2 SAN.

The center of this unusual outbreak can be traced to the grave where the trafficked woman from the Huiquing is buried.

Possible avenues of investigation include:
  • Tracing the Huiquing's history.
  • Investigating media reports concerning the Huiquing's wreck.
  • Obtaining autopsy records or speaking with the people who work at the cemetery.
  • Boarding the remains of the Huiquing.
Tracing the Huiquing requires Hard Law, several Languages and patience, and will take weeks. However at the end of that time the investigators will have a clear picture as to what happened to her, and will know that the Malaysian group which used her from 2000 to 2002 is known to work closely with Mythos related cults across the Pacific and on the West Coast. The investigators will also discover from notes taken by law enforcement surveillance that the group supposedly lost 'an idol of supreme value' in 2002, at about the time the Huiquing was captured. 

If the investigators make a Law check, but not Hard, then they get all the information as above but attract the attention of the cult, which sends its killers to deal with the investigators; see below.

Investigating media reports requires Library Use and Hard Computer Use. Library Use gets the information; the Hard Computer Use is to see whether or not the investigators realize that their internet searches have infected their computers with a very specialized virus. With a successful Computer Use check the investigators deal with the virus before it does harm; without it, the Malaysian cult tracks them down and sends killers to deal with them, as above.

Media reports show that the Huiquing was wrecked as part of an insurance fraud, and the Federal Government is pursuing the Huiquing's owners through the courts. However this is likely to take several years and may never be resolved, since there are complicated issues of international law at stake. Blogs and local feeds published at the same time indicate a disquieting pattern of nightmares and disturbances which began after the ship beached. People living near the spot where it beached suffer disturbing dreams, at least one person has gone insane, and a workplace shooting has been blamed in part on stress caused by lack of sleep, traceable to what's described in the blogs as the 'Doom Ship effect.'

Some of the blogs say that relief can be had through a treatment offered by 'Doctor' Michael Chin and his BioWellness device, a beam ray machine patterned on the pseudoscientific cancer cure offered by notorious quack Royal Rife back in the 1930s. The Doctor is anything but, and the whole thing's a scam. However Chin takes extensive notes concerning his patients, their sleep cycles, dreams, all of which can provide useful information to the investigators. Obtaining this data means dealing with Chin; a hefty bribe would do it, or breaking and entering.  Studying Chin's notes takes a week, costs 1D4 SAN, and confers +1/+2 Mythos, Mythos Rating 8, no spells.

Obtaining autopsy reports requires law enforcement contacts or possibly Hard Computer Use if the investigators decide to hack a database. The reports are very slender, and say only that the decedents died of suffocation, that an accurate date of death could not be determined but is tentatively put at late 2002, and that the remains indicate twelve people, eight males and four females, died in the refrigeration unit. There are notes on one file, Jane Doe 02.3, that indicate an 'unusual deformation of the skeletal structure,' but the notes are inconclusive.

The cemetery staff have all suffered disturbing dreams, repeatedly. Several are well on their way to permanent insanity, and all have a spider obsession. They will not willingly let the spider colony be harmed. Psychology indicates an outside influence, slowly dominating each individual; Cthulhu Mythos notes that each of them refers to Dreamlands imagery and creatures, particularly Leng Spiders, more than once. Leng Spiders, like the Daughters, have an extensive history with Atlach-Nacha.

Obtaining a legal exhumation will be impossible without some form of formal credentials and a court order. Illegal exhumation is relatively simple, as the cemetery hasn't got the strongest security. Stealth checks get a Bonus die. However if the infiltration fails then someone - cemetery staff or a passer-by - calls the State Police, who will throw the book at any captured and arrested investigator.

A Medicine check on the exhumed remains shows the decedent was undergoing some kind of mutation event when she died. Ultimately there isn't enough left to make an informed diagnosis, but her spine was beginning to warp and her limbs, particularly her legs, elongate at the time of death. The skull is also significantly deformed, which the autopsy passes off as normal aftereffect of blunt force trauma, but which Cthulhu Mythos indicates is the first sign of transformation into a spidery Daughter of Atlach-Nacha.

Investigators who stay in the area for a prolonged period - more than two or three days - begin suffering disturbed dreams, like many other people in the local area. This is especially likely if the investigator has high POW or has visited the Dreamlands before.

Images include:
  • Wandering aboard a ship crewed by the decayed dead. The ship changes from moment to moment; at times it is a modern cargo vessel, while in the next moment it seems to be a ghostly sailing ship.
  • A woman with a spider living in her head, that directs her every move.
  • A vast and fathomless chasm, bridged by thin spider webs.
  • A human skeleton with spider limbs crawls across the deck of an abandoned container ship.
Each dream costs 0/1D2 SAN. Fumbling a SAN check means the dreamer loses 1D6 SAN, but gains 1 point Cthulhu Mythos for every 2 SAN lost.

The dreams are growing in intensity, as Psychology on a sufferer can determine. This information, in combination with Cthulhu Mythos or Hard Occult, allows the investigator to work out that the increase in dream intensity coincides with what significant dates in the Dreamlands, and that the dreams are following what would ordinarily be considered a medical astrology or iatromathematical pattern.

Medical astrology states that various parts of the body and diseases are associated with astrological bodies, and that a disease can be treated or identified through astrological means. In the Dreamlands this is actually true, and when certain Dreamlands stars are in alignment physical effects result. In this case the Daughter is being stimulated by Dreamlands astrological events, and eventually this will result in what's left of her passing over from the Waking World to the Dreamlands.

Finally the investigators can board the Huiquing. The remains of the ship are still under Federal lockdown, but what this means in practice is the Coast Guard occasionally checks in to make sure it's still there. No Federal or local authority is tasked with looking after it. No Stealth rolls required to board, but if the investigators do this during the day a Coast Guard ship will turn up in a couple hours to turf them off the derelict.

The Huiquing is solidly wedged on shallow rocks within sight of Cape Disappointment State Park. It's been stripped of valuables and its fuel tanks have been drained, but it still poses a significant environmental risk, and when it first wrecked protest groups gathered to insist it be properly removed. However the state lacks the money, and the owners can't be traced, so for the moment it stays where it is. After a month or so of this the protesters got bored and moved on. Now it's mostly ignored, except by visitors to the park who complain about it and leave unpleasant comments on TripAdvisor.

The strange spiders seen at the cemetery are here in force. The refrigerated compartment in particular is infested with them, and judging by the rat carcasses that can be found dotted in their nests these spiders are more dangerous than the ones on shore. If provoked these creatures swarm over their target for 2D6 minutes, causing 1D4 damage per minute. 0/1D3SAN to witness the spider swarm.

Even without the swarm, spider bites are likely. LUCK check to avoid being bitten; those who are need to make a SAN check. Failing the SAN check incurs no SAN penalty; instead, the affected's consciousness slips between the Waking World and the Dreamlands, seeing the Huiquing one moment and a wrecked sailing vessel under alien skies the next. Those who are affected can also talk to the Daughter, whereas those who are not cannot.

The Daughter is still here aboard the Huiquing, but exists only as a shadow in the Waking World. In this form she can attack, but not communicate. In the Dreamlands she can communicate, which means she can be reasoned with. Investigators who talk her down - perhaps by Persuading her that she really is dead, and can go on to her father in darkness - can get her to retreat into the Dreamlands permanently, which ends the insect infestation and the nightmares. Otherwise she can only be dealt with in combat.

If the Daughter is not dealt with then eventually the Dreamlands astrological signs come into alignment, and she is forced to retreat to Atlach-Nacha. In the Waking World this is represented by a terrible storm that sweeps the wreckage of the Huiquing out to sea. It is accompanied by awful nightmares that plague all dreamers within 20 miles, inflicting SAN losses of 1/1D8. This drives several people indefinitely insane, and the cemetery workers, who suffer the worst effects, commit ritual suicide.

A complete win assumes the Daughter is permanently dealt with, and is worth 1D8 SAN. A loss assumes the storm occurs, people go insane, and the cemetery workers die. This incurs a 1D10 SAN penalty.  

Daughter of Atlach-Nacha (Shadow Form)

INT 75 POW 90

Attack: POW vs POW, where success means the Daughter drains 3D10 POW from the victim and failure means the Daughter loses 2D10 POW.

Armor: cannot be harmed by conventional or magical weapons, can only be defeated in POW vs POW combat.

Appearance: half-human, half-spider hybrid, only seen in shadow.

SAN loss: 1D8 

Daughter of Atlach-Nacha (Dreamlands Form)

STR 115 CON 95 SIZ 95 INT 75 POW 90 DEX 75 HP19

Attack: Bite 75%, damage 1D10 plus Poison, CON test or target is paralyzed for 1D6 hours, in which time the Daughter slowly devours the target's brains if given the opportunity.

Armor: 5 point shell.

Spells: Contact and Call Atlach-Nacha.

Cult Killers

Number: P+2, where P = number of investigators.

Nationality: A mix of Malay, Chinese and Filipino
STR 75            CON 55           SIZ 55              INT 60            POW 65          DEX 70          
APP 50            SAN 00            EDU 65           Luck 45           HP 11              Age: 19 to 25
Move: 8
Build: 1
Damage Bonus: ­+1d4
Education: High School and up.
Weapon:         Fighting (Brawling) 60%. Stiletto 1D6+DB
Firearms (Handgun) 55%, Silenced .32 pistol, 1D8.
Skills: Own Language  65%, Other Language (English) 40%, Credit Rating 10%, Dodge 45%, Listen 30%, Spot Hidden 30%, Stealth 30% 
Defenses: None above base
Spells: None
Note: Each of these has an extensive criminal record in his or her own country, and some appear on terrorist watch lists.  

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