A while back I wrote an article recounting my first experience in Call of Cthulhu. Those campaigns were all set in the default 1920s setting, but there’s actually a second available time period: the 1890s Gaslight era. After having a blast with roaring San Francisco, my group chose to rewind the clock. This time we wanted to face our next eldritch threat in London on the turn of the 19th century.
For me, the first curveball came when generating stats for my new character. The online generator gave me one of the weirdest builds any of us had ever seen. The GM quickly offered to let me reroll. But I thought it might be a fun challenge to try and make a low-sanity, low-appearance, high-luck character work. Worst case scenario, he dies quickly and I roll up a new one, right?
Enter Barnabas Nambly, an enthusiastic participant in the Race for Flight (the one the Wright brothers win in 1904). Barnabas spends his days building, testing, and crashing ill-fated aircraft designs. He’s suffered several disfiguring facial scars from wrecking prototype planes over the years. But he doesn’t let that dampen his drive to break mankind’s last major barrier. His only weapon is a sword hidden in his cane. In general I played him as a loud, off-putting, risk-taking eccentric with a thick Scottish accent.
The campaign took place on a weeklong train ride from London to Constantinople. Another passenger, a stage magician with an occult background, was killing passengers and crewmen. We knew who was doing it, but we needed to find enough clues to convince the conductor. We literally spent the entire campaign preparing and learning the right spells to have a chance against this sorceror dude and his burly muscled sidekick. Sadly, for most of the campaign, Barnabas proved to be more of a hindrance than a help. Not only did he fail every sanity check that came his way, the sword constantly put him in melee combat, forcing his teammates to fire their guns at a disadvantage. On one occasion, he went temporarily-insane after donating his blood for a ritual and gave our doctor a major wound. But everything changed on the last day of the trip, when Barnabas accidentally found himself singlehandedly facing the final boss and his strongest henchman.
The Final Day
Partway through this session, the party split up to chase different plot threads. Barnabas sweet-talked a set of keys from the kitchen staff and checked out the baggage car, where a missing crewman was last seen. He walked into a dark room, the lights turned on, and he saw the magician/sorceror stuffing something into a big chest. When Barnabas tried to make an excuse and leave, the sorceror’s right-hand man entered the room and shut the only door behind him. Then the sorceror stepped aside to reveal the chest contained the body of the missing crewman. With a malicious grin, he conjured up a magic silence field to prevent Barnabas from calling for help. Things were not looking good…
But Barnabas realized the sorceror was now standing right in front of a window. So he threw a paperweight he’d been carrying, shattering the glass, and bumrushed him. The sorceror failed his dodge check and straightup got pushed out of a speeding train in the middle of the Rhodope Mountains. After that, Barnabas moved behind the giant chest, waited for the henchman to circle around it, and spilled a bag of ball bearings at the man’s feet before running the other way and reaching the door. But it turns out the man locked the door while entering, forcing Barnabas to draw his sword and fight him 1-on-1. The henchman’s scimitar hit like a truck, but because he kept failing DEX checks on the ball bearings, Barnabas actually managed to stab him to death with 3 health remaining. But then the corpse released an evil spirit, which possessed Barnabas and instantly deleted almost half of his remaining sanity. After breaking free with his first successful POW save of the campaign, he realized it was a hopeless fight and moved to smash open the door. The GM ruled I’d need an Extreme STR check, which I miraculously passed. Now free from the silence field, Barnabas sprinted for safety, screaming at the top of his lungs.
Unfortunately, it turns out the spirit has a move speed of 18 (something no human could ever hope to achieve). So it possessed him anyway, and deleted the last of his sanity on the next attack. This made Barnabas my first character to hit 0 on his sanity meter through pure dice rolls. But I’m pretty happy with any character who solos the final boss and his strongest minion. (Barnabas’ three teammates arrived and made short work of banishing the evil spirit afterwards.) Anyone who’s played Call of Cthulhu knows how insanely lethal combat is, and for a lone man to halfway-survive a showdown like that was nothing short of miraculous. As another player summed up Barnabas’ epitaph: