Dingo’s Deep Cuts: The Pale God [The Great Old Ones]

The Great Old Ones

Author: Marion Anderson, Phil Anderson, et al
Publisher: Chaosium
Page Count: 126
Available Formats: PDF & Print
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The Pale God
Scenario by Kevin A. Ross

The Great Old Ones is a classic Call of Cthulhu supplement from 1989, featuring six scenarios that it says can be loosely connected into a campaign. Despite the name, they don’t all deal with mythos deities. At least not directly. “The Pale God” is one that does, however, so it stands out for that reason. It should be noted, as always, that spoilers will follow.

The scenario opens with “Scenario Considerations”, which, for the most part, is a standard introduction. However, it does contain one paragraph that stood out to me, in which it suggests changing the description of Eihort’s brood if the players are familiar with the story, “Before the Storm”. The reason it stands out is that in Call of Cthulhu, familiarity with the source material applies to any player who may be familiar with Lovecraft—of which there would be many—so it seems like an unnecessary caution. Besides, if you ask your players whether they’ve read “Before the Storm”, and they have, you’ve then just spoiled your game anyway, so changing the creature description would be pointless.

The scenario’s backstory is a decent one. A sorcerer in 1840s England makes a deal with Eihort to provide sacrifices in return for mythos/occult knowledge. He gets chased out of the country and emigrates to New England, where he then creates a gate spell so that he (and Eihort) can travel between the two locations. He dies in 1884, leaving his house abandoned for 11 years. The next family to move in have a run-in with Eihort in the basement, leading the mother to be falsely accused of their deaths, as well as being pronounced insane for her account of the truth. Another nine years pass before an occult author moves in, hoping to get to the bottom of the bizarre stories associated with the house, but leaves a year later after being impregnated with Eihort’s brood, only to die in New York City upon their “birth”. Finally, another occult author moves in and is once again infested with brood. This author is then referred to one of the Investigators for help, wherein the scenario proper begins.

The meet-up starts the scenario off with a bang, as the author’s body breaks open in front of the Investigators, thousands of brood pouring out before their eyes. There is a great full-page illustration of this scene, perfect for showing players. The scene comes with a hefty 2D6 SAN loss upon a failed roll. This equates to an 83% chance of temporary insanity, which is impressive given that it’s literally the first thing the PCs do in the scenario. Considering that the 1D20 SAN loss for seeing Eihort itself has an 80% chance, makes me think the SAN cost of this initial encounter may be a little too high.

An aspect of this set-up that I find humorous is that the police are said to be investigating it as a homicide. There’s even a newspaper handout saying, “the victim of an apparent murder”. Now, I’ve never personally seen anyone that has been eaten from the inside out by thousands of little grubs, but I don’t imagine it would present as a homicide, even at a cursory glance.

Rifling through the dead author’s pockets, the Investigators’ first lead is to his hotel room, which, if they take too long, will be swarming with police. Strangely, it says a Fast Talk roll will persuade the police to let the Investigators read the author’s notebook. If they’re conducting a murder investigation, I’m not sure why they’d even let them inside, let alone touch potential evidence. Hopefully, most players would be smart enough to either head there before the police do, or wait until the police have left so they can sneak in, so this situation can be avoided. Perhaps a group Luck roll could be called for to determine who gets there first. The notebook is a key clue that has to be found to progress, so the Keeper will have to get it into the Investigator’s hands regardless.

Speaking of the notebook, the scenario includes a full-page handout of pertinent notes from it. There are roughly 1200 words here that need to be read to discern the next leads. At an average reading speed, that means about 5 mins of straight reading, which I feel would really bog down play. Even if read aloud, this seems excessive. What makes it worse, is that about a quarter of the handout details dreams the author was having, hinting at The King in Yellow and Gla’aki (and perhaps a Dimensional Shambler?). None of which have any connection to the scenario in the slightest, so probably could have been left out for the sake of brevity.

The first new lead is a lawyer, who is the trustee of the property. It gives him a description of being disreputable and says he knows nothing of the house, having never been there himself. Some of his disreputable doings are given, but as he would be unlikely to divulge such things himself, and must only be included for the Keeper’s benefit. It seems his only purpose is to provide the address of the house, and perhaps a key, though neither of these is explicitly stated, and could just as easily be placed in the author’s room, avoiding this otherwise dull interaction.

The second lead is the woman whose family died at the hands of Eihort, and whose murders she was accused of. She’s in a Boston asylum and is completely catatonic. It says that she will remain that way unless the Investigators say a particular phrase. The only insight she provides is that “the worm” (Eihort) can be injured, and is also intelligent. It could make for an interesting scene, but only if the players think to use the phrase, otherwise it would be just as dull as visiting the lawyer.

Arriving at the house, the Investigators find it in disrepair. In the backyard is a boarded-up well, which an unlucky Investigator will stumble upon. Strangely, it says that Luck rolls must be made by all present in ascending order, but then says failure means falling in, and success means tripping and warning the others. So why then would everyone need to roll? It makes no sense to me. I think asking for a roll from the Investigator with the lowest Luck would suffice. Taking into consideration the Luck roll, the opposed SIZ vs. STR roll against the well’s cover, and the Hard DEX roll to catch the edge if it breaks, an average Investigator has a 21% chance of falling down. There are bones at the bottom, and it says that four hours of excavation uncovers an opening into Eihort’s labyrinth. That’s a lot of digging, and unless they had an idea that it might lead somewhere, I can’t imagine any player would think to even attempt it.

Coming into the house itself, there is a page of floorplans, and descriptions of each room, which is always handy. One seemingly glaring omission, however, is any mention of the front door. Neither the porch nor living room descriptions (where the door is located on the plans) say whether the door is open or closed, locked or unlocked. Conversely, the kitchen entry mentions a locked outer door that can be forced with an opposed STR roll… yet there is no outer door in the kitchen on the plans.

One thing that gave me an unintentional chuckle is that the child’s room contains a crumpled piece of paper with a drawing depicting “a giant worm-like thing bearing down on four stick-figures.” I can’t say with authority if the “Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book” was a horror movie cliché by the time this was written, but it certainly is now, so I found its inclusion humorous.

The only room in the house with anything of interest is the paint room in the cellar. It contains a large cabinet that can be moved with an opposed STR roll to reveal a secret room with a large trapdoor. It’s here, that leaps in judgment need to be made for the scenario to move forward. The trapdoor opens onto a 30 foot (9 metre) deep shaft that is covered in Eihort’s brood. This includes the rickety ladder that can be used to climb down. While the text says the brood are mostly harmless, the players certainly won’t know this. Their only real encounter with them thus far has been the author at the beginning, who was eaten from the inside out by them, so I can’t imagine a single player thinking it would be safe to climb down. My suggestion here would be to not have any brood visible at all, only revealing them once they’re down in the tunnels. Though even without the brood, going down a trapdoor seems like a very foolish action considering what the Investigators would have learned up to this point. It’s one of those old Call of Cthulhu tropes where the players will end up doing it simply because they know it’s expected of them. It’s a tricky scene to rework with modern sensibilities, but if I were to run this, I would maybe have heavy rain present throughout the whole game (it is mentioned in the opening), and when they reach the house, the basement has been partially flooded. This means that you could either have the Investigators sucked down the shaft by rushing water if they open the trapdoor or a sinkhole could open up in the basement floor. Either way, the players will end up in the tunnels, but at least they won’t have to play their characters as being suicidal to get there.

Inside the tunnels, everything is left up to chance, which seems tedious and boring. The group has to identify a leader, and then that leader rolls their Luck “occasionally”. I’m not sure what they’re expected to do between rolls, as the tunnels are otherwise featureless. Making a regular Luck roll yields a pile of bones, while a failed roll yields nothing at all. They can find a skeleton in a suit, as well as the bottom of the well mentioned earlier, but these are unique events, so they can only be discovered once (and they won’t even know the well is the well unless they dig upwards for four hours). This means that until the leader can make an extreme Luck roll and find the gate, the Investigators will mostly be wandering around doing absolutely nothing. I get that it’s meant to be a labyrinth, and therefore intentionally confusing, but I feel like a map would have been a much better option, so then the Keeper could at least describe where they’re going, and what they find. It could even lead to instances where they accidentally double back. Another option could be to simply ask for a roll up-front, with the result determining how long it is until they find the gate. Longer times might affect their light source longevity, or even incur a loss of CON if they lack food and water. In other words, the Keeper will need to be creative to make this section even vaguely interesting.

Once they’ve found the gate, passing through it, the PCs are teleported to a similar labyrinth in England. There is more to discover on this side, though it once again relies on Luck rolls. Eihort itself can be encountered, though this requires an extreme Luck roll, followed by a 1 on a D20, so the chances are thankfully very slim. While an encounter with Eihort would be exciting and scary, it could also result in a TPK.

As I finished reading the scenario, it occurred to me that it has no true ending. Like every other deity, if the Investigators manage to defeat Eihort, it will simply regenerate and return. If they destroy either of the gates, it will create more. The only final outcome suggested in the text is to defeat Eihort using magic, though that magic is not provided in the scenario itself. There is a containment spell given, but it only lasts a year and requires an opposed roll against Eihort’s 150 POW, so it is not ideal. I’d heard that old scenarios were often unwinnable by design, and this one definitely seems to me to fit that mold.

I’ve always thought Eihort was a cool monster, so I really wanted to like this scenario, yet despite the interesting backstory and exciting hook, I would be hard-pressed to actually recommend it. The investigation phase is trivial, and the labyrinth tedious and unexciting. Coupled with the huge chunk of in-game reading, and the practically unwinnable ending, this scenario sadly has more cons than pros.

~ Dingo

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