The first entry of the campaign, written by the Keeper, John Coffield.
This campaign diary for Masks of Nyarlathotep will (hopefully) be an entertaining read and be a useful resource, both for GMs in particular to see one route this campaign may take if they are thinking of running it, and for people who just want to get a feel for a Call of Cthulhu game. If you are a player then you read on at your own risk, as it is contains many spoilers. You have been warned!
1. Capt. John Hickman, an officer and a gentleman
2. Arthur Dwight, speculator and financier
3. Prof. Johan Braun, linguist and seeker of knowledge
4. Everett Carter, curator at the British Museum
5. Dr. Barnaby Jones, surly archaeologist
6. Harlow Greeves, man of underhand business and dubious connections
7. Jesse Hughes, folklorist and occult expert
Augustus Larkin was not what our investigators expected. The wastrel scion of a wealthy English family, he suddenly purported to have an interest in archaeology, and called together a diverse group to aid him in discovering a ‘lost pyramid’ in the Andean highlands of Peru.
Whatever images our cast of characters had of this daring expeditioner as they entered Bar Cordano in Lima, on a sultry night in 1921, it is unlikely they bore any resemblance to what greeted them.
A pale man with lank straw for hair sat perspiring through a linen suit, flapping ineffectually at himself with a Panama hat (apparently seeking to emulate the entirely useless ceiling fans rotating above) smiled broadly and gestured expansively for each newcomer to sit. As his eyes glittered strangely, he ordered the drinks and talked at length of the riches to be found, while the tall, swarthy man introduced simply as ‘De Mendoza – knows the lingo and very handy’ sitting at his right hand simply glared round at everyone from under deep-set brows – but particularly noticeably at Jesse , for some reason.
Initial skepticism on the part of the group was swiftly overcome when Larkin produced trinkets of enormous value apparently recovered from the pyramid by a third party, and informed them all that trucks would collect everyone on Monday morning to take the expedition on the first stage of their journey. He then retired, citing tiredness, and was escorted out by the towering De Mendoza in a waft of rank air.
Jesse, who until the moment had kept his counsel, suddenly spoke up, pipe in hand, offering to buy everyone a round if they’d stay a while – he had some misgivings about the whole scheme, and was wondering if anyone would care to hear them?
The thought of a free drink, along with the ‘too good to be true’ nature of the offer dangled in front of them – not to mention the sinister De Mendoza – prompted the other investigators to face Jess, ready to listen. With a lopsided grin, he revealed that Jess was a pseudonym, and that he was in fact one Jackson Elias, a respected author fairly well-known in learned circles for his books on the occult and cults (indeed, some of those present had heard of him or read his works). He believed that De Mendoza – and by extension, Larkin – were heavily connected by some sort of Andean death-cult known as the Kharisiri, and he’d concealed his identity as he was sure De Mendoza had been made aware that an African-American man was asking a lot of questions about his comings and goings. Jackson made it clear that he was still planning on going along – after all, he made a living out of infiltrating cults and getting into dangerous situations – but perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do some digging first. They had the whole weekend, after all. He knew a prominent professor at Lima’s university who had been combing the archives for anything to do with a lost pyramid, and they were due to meet tomorrow to go over what had been found by the Professor (Nemesio Sanchez) and his assistant, a Miss Trinidad Rizo.
Harlow Greeves, ever the cautious smuggler, and growing ever more concerned about what he’d signed up for, made use of his web of contacts and local know-how and set a gang of street children to watch and report on Larkin and De Mendoza at their fairly modest hotel, while the group retired to their somewhat more palatial accommodation at the Hotel Maury.
Saturday dawned, and after some expedition outfitting, the group arrived at Prof. Sanchez’s office just after lunch. He gave an impassioned speech, conveying his dislike of men like Larkin who were taking advantage of the lack of laws governing national treasures being removed from the country, and how he had been turned down several times for the expedition, despite his acknowledged expertise in the field and with the area of the lost pyramid. His assistant, the glamourous and up-and-coming Trinidad Rizo, appearing in many photos with Sanchez round his office, was down in the basement storerooms locating an artefact mentioned in an old journal she had translated about the pyramid. Time passed, and still she did not appear. Growing concerned, several of the investigators went downstairs, leaving Barney, Jackson, and Sanchez to discuss the finer points of some aspects of the upcoming trip.
And that’s when it all went to hell.
The crew downstairs found Rizo – or at least her emaciated corpse, seemingly mummified and bearing a hideous chest wound and a frozen rictus of fear upon her face. She lay scattered amongst broken storage boxes, a strange golden rod lying alongside her and a handwritten page in her jacket that Everett was able to retrieve. Prof. Braun, unable to cope with this horrific sight, fled in horror, his screams echoing through the basement as he vanished from sight, the aging Arthur Dwight unable to catch up with him. The group took a moment to read the note they had found – it was Rizo’s summary notes for a manuscript purportedly about the pyramid, telling of conquistadors who became deathless monsters filled with a terrible hunger after removing part of a golden ward that kept some form of evil contained.
Upstairs, the three intellectuals were interrupted in their discussion by a student collapsing in a puddle of blood outside the door – he seemed to have been stabbed! Barney and Jackson rushed to help, but in the chaos now filling the corridor and the gaping stomach wound they were confronted with, they were unable to stop the boy’s death.
Distracted as they were, they didn’t notice what had been going on in Sanchez’s office behind them until there came a scream and a crash. Panicking, they rushed in, only to find the window broken, a dark figure disappearing into an alley, and Sanchez writhing in agony on the floor, able to say only the words, “He-he kissed me…” before falling into a troubled unconsciousness.
Jackson surveyed the carnage. “Go,” he told Barney. “I speak the language, and I’m known here. Wait outside and I’ll cover for you guys.”
Barney slunk out of a side exit, and was soon joined by the traumatized-looking basement party bearing a length of gold. On the way back to the Hotel Maury, they related their sides of the story to each other, before collapsing in the bar (thankfully Larkin had left a tab open to go with their rooms). Soon they were joined by Jackson, now aware of Rizo’s fate, who told them Sanchez had been taken to hospital.
Conversation was just turning to what had become of Braun, when he suddenly showed up – bedraggled and unkempt, with no memory beyond moments ago. In his hand was a crude golden mask of unknown provenance, with the inside polished to a mirror-like sheen.
Ever the archaeologist, Barney decided to take a closer look – and almost lost himself, for the mask showed him strange visions of the investigators and other figures in strange places and situations. Exhausted, the mask slipped numbly from his fingers, and he was left with only a name: ‘The Crawling Chaos.’ AT this final disturbing incident, Arthur Dwight resolved to turn in, and headed off to bed.
Now thoroughly spooked, the group resolved to go to Larkin’s hotel nearby and confront him – they knew De Mendoza was out, and Larkin was in (thanks to Harlow’s local watchmen). Braun and Jones stayed behind in Jones’ room, with a chair under the doorknob and a shotgun readied, to allow the linguist to further study the length of worked gold, which they now believed to be a part of a mystical ward or barrier.
Bursting into Larkin’s room, the rest of the party found it in filthy disarray, with the paraphernalia of an opium addict visible, and the expedition’s organiser in a drugged stupor – only now they could see he bore a strange tattoo on his chest. It was a swirling design that made the skin crawl to look upon it. Captain Hickman, wasting no time, slapped the recumbent Englishman smartly across the face – only to have Larkin suddenly draw himself upright, his eyes black orbs that seemed to reflect infinity. “You will show me some respect!” he commanded, in a deep, authoritative voice that was not his own.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel Maury, the doorknob to Jones’ room began to rattle ominously…
Cover art by Sam Lamont for Chaosium