About a year ago I started a (Lovecraftian) one-off based around the (old-time favourite) Tunguska event of 1908. The players were hired by Professor Derrigo Anomaly to accompany him on a zeppelin loaned from the Royal Society on an expedition into darkest Siberia to uncover the ultimate fate of a (fictitious) expedition made by the (non-fictitious) Prince Boris Galitzin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Borisovich_Galitzine
), a contemporary seismologist who (in the context of the adventure) had noticed the seismic activity caused by the event and formed an expedition to find out what had happened. A year later, with no sign of the expedition's return, Anomaly decided to investigate.
Following are some of the encounters/mini-adventures which either happened/were planned for this session. They can be broadly divided into three categories:
1. Flight en route to St Petersburg (of course, the Royal Society zeppelin is quite unusual and attracts a lot of attention, so the Tsar wants a piece of the action and arranges to meet Professor Anomaly on arrival)
2. Moscow (where the Professor and PCs get to meet the Tsar, conduct investigations, then rescue him from revolutionaries)
3. Flight from Moscow to Tunguska region
1. Flight en route to St Petersburg/Moscow
Having enlarged and printed a contemporary map of Moscow, I was disappointed to learn that the Tsar would probably be in St Petersburg. Nonetheless, I devised a cunning plan to divert my PCs to Moscow: en route to St Petersburg they received a Morse code message (there are a number of free Morse code beep-generators online) which they had to listen to, write down, decrypt and reply to, saying the the Tsar is temporarily in the Kremlin in Moscow because of reports the Okhrana (secret police) received indicating a possible revolutionary plot to assassinate him in St Petersburg, so they are to divert course to Moscow.
The flight is otherwise uneventful, but culminates with them landing and tying up the Zeppelin in the grounds of the Kremlin. I used the following Pathe montage (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmfS111dDYE
) for authenticity.
2. In Moscow they are greeted formally by the Tsar, who then entertains the Professor, leaving the investigators free to...investigate. Their primary mission is to find out about Galitzin's expedition, so a trip to his laboratory is in order. This is relatively boring: they find clues about where the expedition was headed (Krasnoyarsk, then up the Angara river by boat), some further eyewitness reports, seismographs etc. More interestingly, though:
SIDE ADVENTURE: THE FATE OF DR YAKOV YAKOVLEVICH YUZOVSKY
At the behest of Professor Derrigo Anomaly (and unbeknownst to the Tsar for obvious reasons), the PCs go searching for his friend and long-time collaborator Dr Yakov Yakovlevich Yuzovsky (henceforth denoted YYY) who has enjoyed a prolonged period of persecution by the Tsar's secret police (the Okhrana) for his Judaism and his Marxist sympathies. Professor Anomaly has not heard from Yuzovsky for a while, even his coded messages have ceased, but believes him to be hiding out in Moscow. YYY's last epistles indicated he knew something of the fate of the Galitzin expedition.
His last letter to Anomaly read "I am now living in secret. There is only one who knows where I live and she can never tell. I continue my researches in the darkness, hiding from the Okhrana who would send me to blasted Siberia. And from the Others. I have resolved to reread certain Books, that will contain the answers we will need when the time comes. YYY"
When they find him he had been living in an abandoned cellar in a slum on a sidestreet off Khitrov market (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khitrovka
) - a well-known haunt of the desperate and criminal.
Khitrov market, encounter table (d12):
1 Pickpocket (noticed on a 1/4 chance)
2 Crazed old woman claims "she knows where he is". She speaks directly to one of the investigators and ignores the others. She will want payment, but she does know where Yuzovsky is and psychically knows that they are looking for him.
3 You get a funny look off a tough-looking man with a beard (a Google search for Khitrov market will provide some contemporary photos of these in situ).
4 A riot kicks off nearby as some Okhrana operatives try to drag off a man (a known rebel leader, Lev Schevshishin). Getting on the wrong side of the Okhrana might just get the investigators on the right side of someone who knows where Yuzovsky is, but it's a risky strategy if they're later recognised.
5 Accosted by a prostitute.
6 One of the investigators bumps into someone burly and is accused of pickpocketing.
7 Someone yells "Go home, Prussians" in the direction of the investigators.
8 You walk past a small rag-tag band busking Russian music (balalaika, violin, garmoni (accordion)).
9 An emaciated child runs up to you and looks pleadingly. Kindness may lead to attention from other emaciated children nearby or from muggers who've spotted you own money.
10 A beggar asks you for money.
11 A tramp vomits on your shoes.
Eventually they find someone who knows where he is. They lead him down an alley into darkness, to the top of a flight of steps which leads even further into darkness. There's a basket of food been left for him at the bottom of the stairs but when they come near a rat runs out from it. He was being looked after by a woman (Izabella Danilovna Yureva) who loved him and found him refuge. She is a mute. However, when his researches started tending towards the weird and he started becoming violent she didn't dare enter his cellar. She leaves him baskets of food but in recent weeks he hasn't even touched those. She fears the worst, and nearly went in two days ago, but heard terrible sounds from inside and fled in fright. It is her love for Yuzovsky and her desire to make sure he is well that will tempt her to lead the investigators to him.
What they find in the cellar: Not pleasant. When they open the door the first thing that rushes out to greet them is a putrid smell. Then a hideous scuttling noise. Then a swarm of rats, disturbed by their entry, their snouts covered in blood. 1/6 chance per investigator of being bitten, 1/12 chance of contracting something if not treated. That leaves the truly nasty experience of entering a blood-soaked room. What remains of YYY sits in a chair: most of his torso and lower body, though it's heavily chewed by rats. The rest covers the walls and the ceiling. This makes reading his books and his work somewhat difficult, especially by candlelight. Lots of strange symbols. Lots of arcane scribblings. A leather-bound book, written in Latin with disturbing illustrations of unpleasant creatures and scenes not unlike the one they see around them. There are also newspaper clippings about the Tunguska event and hand-written reports of dreams in which YYY foresaw terrible things, including the Tunguska event.
Izabella will run off and attempt to commit suicide as soon as she sees the scene (an attempt to stop her would be considered morally laudable).
After some time of investigating there is a gust of wind from outside which sends the door flying open and blows the papers into disarray. The door at the back of the cellar, which is locked, suddenly thumps.
If they don't flee, the hairs on the back of the investigators' necks begin to stand up and it thumps again, then again, then something starts battering at it like a bat out of hell.
If they open the door (for whatever reason), they will be confronted with a crazed and bearded Yakov trying to escape from his cellar. The room behind him is the room they are standing in. It is completely dark but they can just about make out an unseemly shape filling the space, not something vivid but something intangibly horrible. He lunges forward to escape from the room, but he is pulled back into it. In the distance behind him, there is a thud on a door, then another, then something starts battering on it like a bat out of hell. He is sucked into the room and his screams mix with an unwholesome liquid crunching noise. I recommend they close the door now and get the hell out of there.
This is the first clue my players got that it was a Lovecraftian adventure. If they stayed around for long enough to investigate the room then they would find some of YYY's mysterious notes on Shamanism in Siberia and links with qabbalism (in addition to the newspaper clippings etc mentioned above).
Part 2 continued with an intentional historically inaccuracy: the investigators observed a gathering of revolutionaries in the streets, hurrying back to the Kremlin with this information, realising they were too late and that the Okhrana's earlier reports of trouble in St Petersburg had been false: the Tsar had swallowed the bait and come to Moscow where a large popular Marxist uprising was planned. They managed to save the Tsar in the nick of time and escape on their Zeppelin (thwarting the revolutionaries' attempt to sabotage it) with Nicholas II on board.
3. We never actually finished the game, but what was planned was roughly as follows. The investigators were headed for Krasnoyarsk where they would find many refugees from the Tunguska region, fleeing the unspeakable things which are pouring out of the fissure in time and space that has been caused by the event.
The refugees at Krasnoyarsk are using their shamanic magics to fend off the terrible things from the North and to create a protective bubble around the town. This involves a modicum of human sacrifice and that's why the people are so cagey around outsiders. The inhabitants of Krasnoyarsk suspect something along these lines but fear the shamans too much to interfere.
The investigators will have very strange dreams and may be awakened. They will almost certainly hear the sound of a drum and a gong, the sound of dancing feet. They will find the whole camp of refugees dancing around a fire, preparing to sacrifice the madman. The sky is noctilucent in the North, almost like the Aurora and there can be heard a continuous, rumbling under the hills all around.
If the ceremony is stopped somehow (e.g. by investigators who take objection to human sacrifice), the refugees will be angry. But they are more likely to flee in terror than to seek retribution. The shamans are certainly not evil. They seek only to protect their people. Professor Anomaly (who understands what is going on) is willing to step in and help the shamans, even to take their place if they are killed. In the event it's looking like the ceremony's off, a million hideous chattering sounds rise up in a rush over the brows of the nearby hills. Through the inky blackness a million hungry chiton-like life-forms swarm and engulf the town, devouring everything they pass. Time to head for the Zeppelin.
This is the kind of thing the shamans are trying to keep at bay - incursions from the epicentre of the event. There are two other refugee communities, forming in a vast triangle around the epicentre. Their rituals are keeping the world safe, for now. But their magic is not strong enough and somebody needs to close the rift.
Some further encounters:
The airship is attacked at night by a swarm of many-eyed flying creatures with tentacles. They are clamping onto it and will surely drag it down with their weight. It starts to come down into the broiling mass of storm clouds and rain.
The tremor earlier unsettled you, but it seems to have passed now without trace. Indeed it's so quiet now: has the sky absorbed all sound? Grey shadows smoulder across the plains, driven by an unheard wind and the hills resound with deathly silence. A creak of metal breaks the monotony and you turn to see him leaving the empty shell of a warehouse.
``Anything?'' you call, ``Nothing,'' he responds, ``just some tins and sacks. Looks like it was left in a hurry.''
You spotted the mining camp fathoms below from your zeppelin and descended to investigate further. Your other companion runs excitedly out of one of the other buildings, a squat relic of brick and corrugated iron. ``Dynamite!'' he is grinning ``Lot of dynamite.'' It seems they did leave in a hurry.
``It's time we inspect the shaft,'' you resolve. The tall rock-drill sits uncomfortably on a temporary scaffold, mostly submerged in the hard Siberian earth. They must have been drilling for something, you reason, must have had some cause to believe there was a valuable ore here or something. The drill casts a long shadow toward you despite the earliness of the afternoon.
It's about half an hour later when your companions manage to get the pneumatics working and the drill slowly, abradingly disengages itself from the earth. With a screech of steam and an agonised shudder it breaks free, scattering soil all over you. You wipe your eyes and look.
You frown, shut your eyes, open them and look again.
Where there should, by all rights, be a rotating four-piece drill bit with rock-eating cogs and sharp mechanical teeth... there isn't. Instead, there are only tooth marks. An amputated stump of twisted metal. The whole drill bit seems to have been... bitten off. By something.
The tremor earlier unsettled you. This time it's louder and it sends you running for the zeppelin.
There is an abandoned camp along the Upper Tunguska river. The bodies of Galitzin's expeditionaries are horribly mauled and now frozen.
When the investigators finally reach the rift caused by the Tunguska event they will have to come up with some suitably ingenious way of closing it. This should result in their ending up on the Other Side, wherever that may be, with Professor Anomaly missing. It seemed like a (perhaps slightly contrived, but ultimately fun) way of getting them into the setting I wanted, namely travelling the hostile outer multiverse in a Zeppelin looking for a way home, with a powerful ally who could occasionally reappear, Dr-Who-like from the aether... perhaps I didn't mention:
Professor Derrigo Anomaly
Denizen of the Outer Planes, temporarily earth-bound (now freed by the escape through the rift and once more able to roam aetherially). If one had glimpsed his true form, betentacled rather than bespectacled, when he was asking one to sign up for this expedition, one might have thought twice.
to add an idea. It only takes a moment.