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Call of Cthulhu: A Method to Madness, Part 1

February 11, 2016

straightjacketWe started our Kingmaker campaign in the Fall of 2013. Over 2 years later, we had just finished book 2 and I wanted to take a bit of a break from DMing before starting book 3. And so they put me in an insane asylum! Not literally, of course. Satampra’s player volunteered to run a Call of Cthulhu scenario for the group, and that sounded like a fun little diversion to us. He chose to GM “A Method to Madness,” a convention-friendly investigation that came with pre-generated characters, from the collection Terrors From Beyond: Nightmares Unraveled in Six Scenarios.

Welcome to Where Time Stands Still

Away from the hustle and bustle of our hectic 1929 lifestyles, nestled amidst the idyllic woodlands of New England, the Wormwood Asylum provides rest and relaxation for the most exhausted of nerves. Come get away from it all, and, with the help of our talented staff, find your way back to yourself. Notable current residents of the facility include:

  • Alina, a “noted stage actress” from Boston. Alina had been sent to the asylum by her super-controlling manager/lover after she had a nervous breakdown. Which maybe had been triggered by her cocaine abuse. (played by me)
  • Waldo, a German factory manager who had come to Wormwood to cure his nervous exhaustion. In reality, he was a private eye who had been hired by Alina’s manager to keep an eye on her. (played by Joe)
  • Colonel Butler, a veteran of the Great War who was now in his 50’s. The Colonel suffered from shell-shock, had nothing good to say about Krauts, and thought that the staff was putting something nefarious in the tapioca. (played by Thomas)
  • Mia, a young artist. She had an unfortunate run-in with the notorious play, “The King in Yellow,” which tends to drive those who read it to madness. (played by Robert)
  • Elliot, a “mentally deficient” man with an incredible knack for machinery and electronics – what they used to call an idiot savant, although I assume such a person would be classified as autistic in modern times. Presumably Elliot was placed in the facility by his family so that someone could look after him. (played by Antony)

(there was also a “delusional millionaire” character who was not chosen by anyone)

Despite its ominous name, Wormwood was a well-regarded home for the mentally ill. The player characters, in this scenario, were voluntary residents who were afforded private rooms and a degree of freedom. They could, in theory, leave at any time. But the sanitarium also took in indigent patients on behalf of the state, who were held there for treatment, lest they injure themselves or others.

The facility was headed by a Dr. Shelly, a surgeon who had recently developed a revolutionary new and less invasive method for performing lobotomies. There was also an alienist (i.e. a psychiatrist) on staff, Dr. Rice. The nursing staff was supervised by the peculiar head nurse, Stephanie King… Wait, what?! Is that really her name?! It turned out that all the NPCs in the scenario were given gender-swapped names of horror authors. This made their names easy to remember, but it definitely took us out of the game and inspired a lot of joking around. Which maybe wasn’t a great move for a horror investigation.

Moon is Full, Never Seems to Change

At the start of our tale, rumors are flying about the Wormwood Asylum as to why the beloved alienist, Dr. Rice, stopped showing up for work several days past. The most popular theory among the patients, supposedly overheard from the nurses, was that the doctor had had an affair with someone on staff, and that the torrid tryst was behind his departure. But with whom? There were only a few nurses working at the institution, and it certainly couldn’t have been Nurse King, who all agreed was passing strange in both looks and manner.

Alina, sensing some prime drama to be uncovered, tried to cozy up to the nurses and get the scoop. But she turned up nothing. Actually, she caught the attention of Nurse King, who tried to channel Alina’s energy into something less nosy, like having her stage a play performed by and for the patients.

An interrogation of the inmates revealed little artistic talent, however, aside from the young painter named Mia. And Mia was in no shape to help with a play. She had achieved some measure of peace at Wormwood in practicing the art of photography, but the staff had recently confiscated her camera and wouldn’t give it back, leaving the young lass despondent. Supposedly it had been taken for her own good, but it was plain for all to see that she was better off with the camera than without!

Days passed without further incident, until one evening Alina was surprised to discover that her after-dinner pills had been changed without any warning. And it wasn’t just her – many patients also had different dosages. Many found it difficult to sleep that night on account of the less effective medication. Several patients were additionally kept awake by a strange, slight buzzing noise. The sound appeared to originate outside the building and seemed perhaps mechanical in nature. Although Elliot stayed awake throughout the night listening to it drone on and on, and thought that the variations in the buzzing’s frequency did not have a regular pattern, as he would expect from a machine-generated noise.

In the morning, the medication issue was brought up with Dr. Shelley, the head of the asylum, and the doctor appeared surprised to hear of it. He promised to look into the matter, but nothing changed. The buzzing noises in the night also continued, and the combination of the two meant that good restful sleep was a rarity, leaving many of the patients on edge.

But on one bright Spring day, a distraction arrived in the form of a newspaper reporter! He had visited Wormwood to do a piece on Dr. Shelley and his new lobotomy technique. After interviewing the doctor, some staff, and even a few of the patients, the journalist took several photographs with his camera. Waldo witnessed the fellow take a picture of Nurse King, who looked even more displeased than usual at having her likeness captured.

The next day, the Colonel spotted a tragic item in his newspaper. The reporter had been found dead in his automobile, which had crashed into a tree on a country lane. The article said that it looked as if the car had been hit by a freak lightning bolt. The electrical strike had started a fire in the auto, and the fire had destroyed all of the man’s possessions.

Natives Getting Restless Now

A week after the journalist’s visit, there was an incident at the asylum. One of the indigent patients, Roger we believe his name was, became greatly distressed during lunch time. He was angrily insisting that today was tapioca day, even though it wasn’t, and demanded to be brought his dessert. The Colonel tried to sooth him, telling him he was better off without that poisoned pudding, but Roger was having none of it. When the orderlies moved in to restrain Roger, he became agitated, and produced a sharpened stick from God knows where.

The orderlies cautiously approached the inmate before pouncing. But Roger managed to evade them, and sprinted for the front desk. There he grabbed the receptionist, and, holding his shank to her neck, started to back up towards the front doors. All eyes were on the action, and so naturally the PCs took the opportunity to cause some mischief.

Keys (and a kitchen knife) were snagged from the empty nurse’s station, and the group snuck upstairs to Dr. Shelley’s office. The keys opened the door, and everyone hurried inside. Mia quickly located her confiscated camera, and entrusted it to the Colonel for safe keeping, in case they noticed it was gone and searched her room. Alina looked for some hint of Dr. Rice’s fate in the director’s files, and the others poked around. But aside from the camera, no items of interest made itself known.

Mia glanced out the window and saw that the orderlies had managed to separate Roger from the receptionist and wrestle him to the ground in the parking lot outside. Knowing that time was short, the group hurried out of the office, locked it, and rushed back down to replace the keys before anyone noticed they were missing. Waldo held onto the knife.

He’s Getting Better, Can’t You Tell?

The next day, Roger was back in with the general population. Even with the expectation that he would be heavily medicated after his violent outburst, he was unusually subdued. Non-responsive, even. He shuffled about, or sat down staring at nothing, or mechanically ate his food while looking at nothing in particular. He did not respond to conversation, and did not speak, but he did seem to understand the directives of the staff, and followed them without complaint.

While trying to engage with the poor wretch, the Colonel noticed a strange red line that followed the man’s hairline. The sight tugged at a recent memory – ah, the journalist! The fellow had been talking about Dr. Shelley’s new procedure, and how it didn’t have the usual tell-tale signs of a lobotomy; just some slight scarring… around… the hairline. Putting 2 and 2 together, the Colonel realized that Dr. Shelley had punished poor Roger for his outburst by… removing part of  his brain! How ghastly!

Next: the buzzing! Oh, the buzzing!

  1. Pinkius permalink

    Lobotomies ahoy!

  2. Mei Yu Lian permalink

    Can I assume the sup-headers being Metallica references is intentional?

    • They’re all lines from “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, naturally. 🙂 It’s the only asylum-themed song that I could come up with…

      • Mei Yu Lian permalink

        nostalgia sent me straight to youtube 😉

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