The following is a writeup of the first part of the infamous “Masks of Nyarlathotep” campaign which I am running with a group of friends and this first post is part of the introduction chapter which was added to the most recent release of the Masks campaign. The post is pretty spoiler heavy so if you’re planning on playing the campaign at any point I’d leave now.
Good. If you’re still here it means you’re either a bot or actually want to wade through this epic wall of text. You may have noticed I have a bit of a Cthulhu things going on but for those that don’t know, I also play pen and paper RPGs and one of the them is based on the works of HP Lovecraft, quite often as a keeper which is the games version of a GM or DM. The writeup that follows is for the ‘Masks of Nyarlathotep’ which is a pretty epic campaign for the Call of Cthulhu RPG from Chaosium. I won’t try to explain either Masks or the CoC RPG as theres plenty of other information online.
A couple of notes.
-Firstly I’m hoping we can keep playing and posting on a regular basis but we will see, just don’t expect a new writeup every two weeks.
-Second, we are playing with the pulp rules so as such, you’ll see mentions of psychic powers used by the players and other feats which may not be normal for standard CoC games. I like the pulp rules as it allows for a little more relaxed gameplay while still keeping the core elements of CoC at heart.
–Thirdly, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules. Like
all good most keepers, I forget stuff, or wing bits, or improvise. Not everything in my games follows the campaign exactly for one reason or another. If you see a part that is a bit different to the campaign, chances are I twisted it for one reason or another.
-Lastly, I’m not a writer so bear with my clunky prose and over use of ‘and’ all the time. I am also be open to feedback about typos, errors or any feedback in general. I may update as I go back round and reread this so please excuse any wonky moments but helpful feedback is appreciated.
So without further ado, we begin.
Masks of Nyarlathotep
Part 1 – It’s the truth
Arriving from different parts of the globe, five individuals journey to Lima in Peru, South America. They are answering an advert looking for brave souls to join an expedition to find a lost pyramid in the highlands of Peru. Each of them has a different reason to join but none of them have met each other before.
James McTavish from Scotland is seeking historical knowledge about ancient engineering methods. Guido Constanza, a Peruvian tribesman who has a mysterious power but a desire for a more modern life. Robert Bolan, an English publisher who is a member of the Society for Psychical Research and with an interest in the paranormal as he feels he may be ‘gifted’ with some form of power. Pranit Singh Dhillon, a Punjabi ex-soldier struggling to live outside the military and selling his skills as a security expert. Knut Gerbil from Austria and studying mathematics in Princeton.
They arrived early in March and have been booked into the Hotel Maury by the expedition leader, Augustus Larkin, and have received instructions to meet with him at the Bar Cordano at 7pm on the 18th March.
Friday 18th March
Bar Cordano – 7pm
The Bar Cordano is a popular restaurant and bar in Lima District. The restaurant is simply but tastefully furnished, with wood paneling and fixtures and a tiled floor and is quite busy being a Friday night.
The group arrived individually at the requested hour and are shown to a large table where three men are already seated. An African-American man of average height and build, with short hair, a pipe clamped in the middle of a slight grin and wearing a tweed suit and fedora hat. Opposite him is a gaunt man with pronounced cheekbones and deep-set, piercing blue eyes which are currently fixed in an unsettling glare at the man opposite. His medium-length dark brown hair is unkempt and he makes no attempt to style it. His clothing is clean, if old and frayed. At the head of the table is a pale, thin white man with greasy blond hair and pale blue eyes. Despite his relative youth, his skin is saggy and he has noticeable bags under his eyes. He also appears to be sweating despite the mild temperature in the room.
On their approach, the pale man rises to his feet and greets them cordially while introducing himself as August Larkin. He then introduces the other two as Jesse Hughes, an American folklorist who has also just arrived and Luis de Mendoza, his personal aide. Hughes greets the group in a friendly manner while Mendoza nods a curt greeting but continues to watch Hughes with open disdain.
Larkin bids the group to sit and indicates to a passing waiter to bring drinks, they begin introductions to get to know each other and some polite small talk follows as they settle. Over the course of the next hour, Larkin explains more about the journey into the highlands of Peru close to Lake Titicaca where he and Mendoza met an alpaca farmer some months before who told them the tale of a lost pyramid, filled with gold and jewels. The farmer said that his grandfather had found the pyramid but never went back after taking some items from the site.
Glancing around the room, Larkin pulls a pair of golden artefacts out of a bag he had hidden under the table. One is a pendant in the form of a man holding two rods or staves, embellished with rectangular shapes. The other is a golden cup, carved with geometrical patterns and circles and inlaid with turquoise. He explains that the alpaca farmer gave them to him to prove the legends of the pyramid are true and that there are many more to be found there. Almost sensing the eyes of Constanza on him, he hastily adds that they will be carrying out an archeological study and not looting. The site, plus any artefacts found there, will be treated with the utmost of respect.
At the mention of money, Singh asks about how much they will be paid, which slightly shocks Larkin who tries to explain that the group will be paid upon completion but it will be based around the level of success at the site.
Bolan picked up the golden cup to examine it and his psychometry flashed briefly. A wave hit him with feelings of rituals and ancient rites but the vision was too weak to draw any real information. He knew he would have to focus longer on the item to divine any deeper meaning from the artefact. Not wishing to tip his hand as to his power, Bolan quickly returned the cup to the table just as the waiter started to head over to the table with drinks, quickly hiding the items away to ensure that they didn’t get seen, Larkin then explains the plan ahead.
Firstly they would travel in trucks via road to Puno, which will take three or four days. Once there, they will hire some pack animals and hike up into the hills to the region where the pyramid is rumoured to be. The area is shunned by the locals so it’s not very well explored but Larkin explained he has an idea of the rough location of the pyramid based on the description from the alpaca farmer.
Throughout the evening discussions Larkin kept mopping the sweat from his face and Mendoza growls out short answers to any question put to him. He also seems to take a special dislike any questions put to him or Larkin by Hughes and there was an obviously antagonistic mood growing between the two. When challenged about his complexion, Larkin explains he had a bout of malaria but is recovering. He explains he has medicine to deal with it at the moment and will be fine to travel. When Guido asked Mendoza in Spanish if Larkin is ok, Mendoza growls out an answer in English so everyone can hear, that Larkin is fine and will be ok to travel, earning a curious glance from Larkin.
Hughes asks about seeing the research that Larkin has on the area and the pyramid. Tapping the side of his head with a chuckle, Larkin replies that he destroyed all of the research to stop it being stolen but that all of the information is safe.
Making an excuse to go to the bathroom, McTavish located the waiter and asks about the three men at the table before they arrived and why there was a feeling of tension between two of them. The waiter, with his palm suitably greased, says that the Englishman and the Spaniard had been there for most of the afternoon and the American joined them about an hour before the rest of the group arrived. He seemed to be early and shortly after arrive there was some shouting between him and the Spaniard, mainly from the Spaniard. Unfortunately it was too noisy to make out what was said but it was calmed down by the Englishman intervening.
The rest of the evening passes with some small talk and discussion about the journey ahead. After a while, Larkin stands and says he is leaving as the day has been tiring for him and he is still not fully recovered. He reminds the group that he will be expecting them on Monday at 8am at the hotel España, tell them to have another drink and that Mendoza will pay the bill.
As Mendoza goes to pay, Gerbil escorted Larkin to the door and spoke quietly asking if everything was ok with his health. Larkin again reassured Gerbil everything was fine but that he appreciated the thought. Mendoza appears next to them and escorts Larkin away.
Returning to the table, Gerbil sat down with the rest of the group as Hughes puffed on his pipe, leaned back and asked what the group thought of Larkin and Mendoza. Sensing a degree of suspicion among the group he reveals that he didn’t entirely trust them as well. Pondering the end of his pipe, Hughes revealed that his real name is actually Jackson Elias, a writer who came to South America to investigate the stories of a possible death cult. He explained that while he had been spending time in the highlands, he had come across stories of Larkin and Mendoza who had been there shortly before him and how they may be asking about a pyramid in the mountains. There was even a rumour among a few of the locals that Mendoza was a creature called a kharisiri and at the mention of this word, Constanza grew pale and said that he knew of the legends of the kharisiri from his tribe. He warned the group about them and explained they are creatures that look like white men and stalk the land killing to drain their victims of their fat.
“It’s the truth.” he cried.
Elias dismissed such stories as being nothing more than legends that are based in some form of facts but nothing supernatural. The legends started with the arrival of the conquistadors and that Larkin and Mendoza are mixed up in some form of death cult, or trying to reform a cult, which is somehow connected to the pyramid had to be at the bottom of it. He points out that Larkin seems to hint that he knows exactly where the pyramid is so must have been there before.
After some more discussion Elias says he is going to head back to the hotel as Larkin had booked him into the same hotel as the others and that he has a meeting the next day with a professor at the university. The professor has been assisting him with his research into the cults and that there are some documents which they had uncovered that could be useful. He extended an invitation to the group to join him if interested.
Finishing up for the night, they went back to the hotel and each went to their own room to sleep.
Saturday 19th March
The next morning Singh rose early and found he had been left the kit list at some point in the night by Mendoza, so settled down at a table in the slightly dilapidated dining room to check through the list. He soon realised that a number of items that should be added and started to note down these extras before being joined by McTavish, Constanza, Bolan and Gerbil. They began to discuss their plans for the day as Elias arrived with coffee in hand and pipe in mouth. He took a seat at the table and joined the conversation.
Bolan announced he wanted to get another look at the cup so he could try to focus more directly on it and try to decipher the strange flash of insight from the previous night. He suggested going to the hotel that Larkin was staying at and trying to persuade him to let him have another examination of it, so Elias suggested he takes the list of new items to him as an excuse to visit. Bolan agreed, so taking the list from Singh, he left to go to the hotel España.
Constanza leaves to go to the markets and try to find some extra supplies and equipment. Shortly after trying to buy a few items he comes to realise he is short of funds, so spends the time roaming the streets mentally listing any extra items which he wants ofr the trip.
Singh spent some time in prayer and checking over his equipment before heading to the museum for the meeting at 2pm.
Gerbil, McTavish and Elias headed to the museum early to have a walk around the displays and to try to learn a little more about the history of the region of the area they would be heading to.
The hotel España
Bolan arrived at the Hotel España and entered the front door, glancing around he saw a small, thin old woman, wrapped in a black shawl and headscarf sitting in a chair in the foyer. She looked up at him and greeted him as he walked in and grinned with a grin that was missing more than a few teeth. Bolan greeted her politely and enquired if Larkin was in.
“No Señor Larkin left early this morning with Señor Mendoza. They come and go at all times of the day.”
Bolan asked if he could go in Larkins room to leave the list in there for him but this seemed to enrage the old woman. She pulled herself up in her chair and waved her stick in his face in a threatening manner.
“What kind of hotel do you think I run, where I allow any gringo to wander in off the street and go into my guests rooms? I should call the policia to come and take you out of here!”
Bolan tried to calm her down and explained carefully, that he was working with Larkin on an expedition and had some important paperwork for him that he needed urgently.
The old woman humphed and wrapped her shawl around herself tightly then settled back in her chair. She eyed him suspiciously but finally relenting she pulled a key from her pocket.
“It is on the second floor, room número 10. Be quick or I will have the policia on you.” she threatened as Bolan headed for the stairs.
Bolan found the room at the top of the stairs and, checking the corridor was clear, opened to door only to be assailed by the foul smell of sweat and sickness. Stepping into the room and shutting the door behind him, Bolan was enveloped in gloom as the curtains had remained closed with only a soft glow coming from where they hadn’t been closed fully. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness Bolan scanned the room but saw only clutter all over the floor and items scattered on every available surface. Suitcases had their contents spilled all over the room and the bed was a crumpled mess of sweat soaked sheets.
Knowing he could only spend a brief amount of time in the room before the old woman became suspicious, Bolan searched for the golden cup but was unable to find it, but as part of his searching he found a bottle labeled heroína along with a syringe on the side table.
Leaving he locked the room up and slid the list under the door to make it appear as if nobody had been in the room and headed downstairs. The old woman eyed him as he came down the stairs, an open hand sliding out of her shawl into which Bolan dropped the key.
“I hope Señor Larkin does not find his personal items have disappeared.” she warned as the key disappeared back into her clothing. Bolan smiled his most charming smile and glanced at his watch. He left the hotel smartly and headed off towards the Museum to meet the rest of the group.
The Museo de Arqueología y Antropología of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos
Gerbil, McTavish and Elias arrived at the museum and walked around the exhibition. Elias spent much of the time taking notes and pointing out a few of the more interesting beliefs mentioned in the displays to the other two while chatting about the book he is currently working on.
After each of the other members of the group arrived a little before 2pm, Elias led them through the main university building until he reached an office on the ground floor in a side section of the main building. Knocking on the door, Elias opened it up to an airy, tall-ceilinged room with white walls and shelves full of books and artefacts. A large hardwood desk dominates the room, piled high with papers, books, and journals. Behind the desk a slim and dapper man, with neatly oiled hair and a well-groomed beard was seated. Upon seeing Elias enter, he took off his glasses, put them on the desk and quickly walked round the desk to hug Elias in greeting.
Elias introduces the group to Professor Sánchez and explains how he has been assisting him with trying to find out as much about the pyramid and the death cult as possible. It was mentioned that Sánchez had contacted Larkin a number of times to try and join the expedition but was ignored or rebuffed by Mendoza. Sánchez quickly explains that he wants to ensure that anything that is found belongs in a museum and that he wanted to get there before Larkin but lacks the funds. His current plan is to try to locate the pyramid after Larkin has uncovered it and try to persuade the museum to fund a trip to it as long as Larkin hasn’t taken everything of note.
“I have asked one of my assistants, Trinidad Rizo, to bring up the translation she has been working on. We believe we have found a document from a conquistador who was at the pyramid but it has been a difficult document to translate. She went down to the storeroom in the basement some time ago but she probably was distracted.”
After a few discussions and some time had passed, someone from the group suggested that he goes and looks for her, as it wouldn’t be very good if they went wandering the building unattended. Sánchez says that she will probably return any minute and she would be confused if he left and six men are sat in the office waiting. Three of the group offered to go look for her so Sánchez gave directions to the basement store room.
McTavish, Constanza and Gerbil leave to find her, leaving Elias, Singh and Bolan with Sánchez in the office.
Easily finding the storeroom in the basement, Gerbil called out for Rizo but there was no reply. He pushed the door open gently and they went in. It was a large room but made to feel cramped with high bookcase and shelves lined with artefacts. Exploring further in they found a pile of books and smashed antiques covering what looks like a pile of clothes on the floor…
In the office, Elias and Sánchez are chatting about some notes that Sánchez has pulled together when the sound of a scream echos round the room from outside. Throwing open the window Sánchez looked out and says that he can’t see anything. Elias heads for the door to investigate while Singh heads for the window and climbs out. Elias, seeing this, stops and muttered “Well we could go that way.” follows Singh out through the window…
In the basement, Gerbil reaches down to the clothes on the floor and carefully removes a few of the bits of debris from it, revealing the shrivelled husk of a woman with a large disc shaped wound in the middle of her chest. The edges of the wound weeped blood around the edges, indicating this was a recent attack.
Constanza froze in place, a look of shock and fear frozen onto his face as Gerbil cleared away more around the corpse. McTavish bent down and began to check around the body for signs of what had caused this to the victim where he found a notebook and noticed a box that it looked like it had been dropped by the woman. The sides of the box where smashed and inside there was a glimmer of gold buried in packing straw. Carefully picking up the piece of gold, McTavish found he was holding a 2 foot long piece of solid gold which had a number of shapes carved into the sides. Carefully assessing it with his engineering experience, McTavish noticed the ends of the piece looked rough, as if they had been pulled away from some other section but couldn’t tell what.
Coming back to his senses, Constanza backed up towards the door and said he was going back up to let the others know about their grizzly discovery…
Singh, with Elias close behind, was rushing towards where the scream had come from only to find a young woman crumpled on the flood with blood over the side of her face. He quickly assessed the wound and made sure it wasn’t serious while trying to stop the flow of blood. She began to groan and tried to rise. Stumbling up with Singh’s help, she managed to describe her attacker when questioned.
“He was a thin man with medium-length dark brown hair and a moustache. He attacked me with what looked like a cane, or a sword in a sheath.”
Singh and Elias gently helped her into the main building and then headed towards Sánchez’ office, only to see a shadowy figure disappear through the door. At that moment, Constanza reached the top of the stairs and met them in the corridor…
Bolan was peering through the window to see if he could spot Singh and Elias outside. He heard the door open and Sánchez say something to the person in the doorway. Turning back into the room, something struck the side of Bolan’s head and he crumpled to the floor as unconsciousness washed over him…
Singh, Elias and Constanza reached the office door and found someone hunched over the prone form of Sánchez in the middle of the room, his back to them. Elias called out in shock as there was a sucking gurgling noise. The figure rose, turned and revealed itself to be Mendoza, his mouth stretched into an unnatural round shape. He snarled at them and crouched, ready to attack…
…to be continued.