Postgame Ponders are an excuse to think out loud about how running published scenarios went. Also, they function as a review and advice post sort of, maybe, probably.
What is it?
Missed Dues is a scenario written by Mike Mason for Call of Cthulhu 7th edition. The scenario is included with the Keeper’s Screen Pack alongside Blackwater Creek. The Keeper’s Pack itself is great. There are location map handouts, keeper’s rules notes, a map of Arkham and pre-gen sheets, as well as the two scenarios and keeper’s screen itself. The keeper screen could perhaps be better laid out, with some information that could be a bit clearer. Perhaps even a panel larger but that is relatively minor, as it is still good. It is well worth the money and other screen makers should probably follow suit for their games. Before playing the scenario, I checked out what comments people had about it who had run it. I incorporated some of their ideas, so if an idea is uncredited, I apologise. I can definitely recommend Seth Skorkowsky’s video on this scenario here. Seth’s channel is great in general and his advice helped a lot when running this adventure. Let’s move on to the adventure itself and follow that with our play through (including notes), take aways and a verdict.
It’s morning of Thursday, October 26, 1922, and the investigators have been summoned to the office of Mordecai ‘the Hammer’ O’Leary on South French Hill Street, in the French Hill district. They are tasked with finding ‘Sticky Jack’, a thief that has crossed O’Leary by pulling three recent robberies without paying his cut to O’Leary. Sticky Jack was last seen after he had made his thefts at the Miskatonic University, the Miskatonic University library, and the house of a Miskatonic University professor. The players must find Sticky Jack soon or face the wrath of Mordecai O’Leary and the sharper end of his claw hammer.Call of Cthulhu Keeper Screen Pack, Chaosium Inc.
Beware! Spoilers for this scenario follow so turn back now if you are a potential player!
Our Play Through (with some notes)
Missed Dues is a short scenario that I imagine could be played in one session relatively easily. For our group it took two sessions but each session was around 2.5-3 hours max. We also had some pre-amble chatting and looking up the rules in places during play. Our group have only played The Haunting prior to this, so we don’t yet know the system inside and out. As a Keeper, I feel I can also get much better at handling scenario flow, timing, scene management and how long things are likely to take. We had three investigators and used the pre-gen characters for ease, which are a good selection. Some of the pre-gen’s back stories provide nice hooks if you or your players pay attention to them. ‘Hopeful’ Doyle’s connection to his grandmother was particularly unfortunate due to the encounter with Marge for instance. The criminal backgrounds also lead to fun interactions, such as when one investigator realised that old stuff and books could be valuable in the museum. Most of the comments are designed with a one shot play through approach. Let’s see what happened when we played.
On advice from a reddit thread I think, I had the investigators arrive and meet outside Hogan’s Bakery. This let them briefly introduce themselves to each other before going in. Inside, the baker eyed them dispassionately and told them they needed to wait as ‘The Hammer’ was sorting out some business. Not long after, the investigators heard a loud bang and a scream. A gambler they recognised came out clutching his hand with obviously broken fingers. This allowed the PCs to realise why Mordecai was called ‘the hammer’ and set a suitably ominous tone. ‘Nails’ came out from the back, looked menacing and then escorted them down the stairs to the basement and Mordecai’s office.
Following some more advice, I had The Hammer have his claw hammer on the desk beside a bowl of walnuts. Nails wiped a faint trail of blood off the desk while Mordecai cracked nuts with the hammer and kept the PCs waiting for a while. This also built tension and gave them an opportunity to embarrass themselves by speaking. I summarised the information in Modercai’s speech as it is too long in my opinion. However, I made sure to restate the objectives clearly after the encounter, which I think was helpful. I think the beginning could be a little dull if it’s not dealt with promptly enough. The investigators don’t have standing to interject with Mordecai but he could also give them advice on what angles to pursue. This would at least give them a lead to work with. Tell them to ‘Hit the usual joints’, ‘Get out on the streets and ask some of your buddies’ etc. I didn’t do this and after Mordecai’s Office, I had to prompt the PCs a little about the ways they might search for information. Their new roles as criminals meant they were a little unsure.
After checking a local newspaper and realising it wouldn’t have any stories from a week ago, the investigators decided to go to the university. It seemed reasonable that they wouldn’t go to the papers so I went with this. I also don’t think that the handouts associated with the newspaper are very interesting. It was fairly easy to reveal the scant information in them via other sources. I did find the university a little challenging, due to them being fish out of water and obviously criminal in looks and attitudes. Tension was maintained by having guards and security types notice and keep an eye on them. This made them a little more cautious and hinted at consequences if they screwed up. They went to the campus museum and the library. In the library, they had fun breaking into the rare books section whilst avoiding a guard’s attention. Here I had the check out cards show the name of the lecturer who had last checked out the stolen scroll: Professor Stanley David. As a result, they went looking for him in the faculty office. The staff there were suspicious and told them he wasn’t in. After slight confusion about what to do, a requested group luck roll resulted in them seeing a student running up to professor David. The gang asked him some questions ‘politely’ for criminals but failed to persuade him to give them anything additional such as his notes. I feel that here I could have played up the gibberish David translated from the scroll to add a sense of foreboding. Overall, they enjoyed roleplaying these areas.
Following their adventures in the university, the gang went to talk to criminal contacts. They ended up at Sycamores the speakeasy and here I combined some of the available information. This location provided great roleplaying opportunities as criminals particularly squeezing/negotiating with ‘Spider’. I made ‘Spider’ a fence some the PCs had dealings with before. They ended up plying him with some pricey whiskey after a failed attempt at intimidation. Spider gradually fed them information but they had to work for it, which was fun. Whilst they got the name of Smith and something of his connection to events, they opted to go and look for Greasy Spoon instead. Whilst some Keepers have recommended not giving up Greasy Spoon too easily, which I support, I needed to push the scenario along. This was a shame and I would definitely push the importance of finding out about who hired Jack more in future. I think it is good that, as written, the investigators can find Jack’s location through breaking into Smith’s house.
After finding Greasy Spoon, they obtained Jack’s address from him. This was a nice encounter that allowed the players to role-play chasing and shaking down the fairly pathetic Spoon. They also took all the cash and valuables he had pickpocketed that day, which made them feel suitably thuggish. Following this, they decided to head to Jack’s apartment.
I decided not to introduce Smith’s cultists to the end scene/location. This is suggested by the scenario but I felt I was struggling slightly to keep track of everything. Weird geometry and brushes with Azathoth can do that to you. Entering the apartment was fairly easy. They went in through the front after picking the lock. They didn’t try to knock the door but well, they are criminals… Marge shuffled into the corridor as they rummaged around. It’s worth mentioning that I made a mistake here. I let the investigators find some of Jack’s mail in letter boxes by the door. That in itself is not the problem, the problem was giving an apartment number 30 for Jack… This implied too many apartments in the building and also gave them an exact address to head towards. If I did this again, I would have the number be lower and appear to change under inspection by the investigator. The numbers shifting up and down as the apartment ‘moves’ through the building. Never being the wrong floor but the exact number being uncertain.
For Marge, I recommend playing up her missing husband. Have Marge refer to her husband or tell them that he will be along in a minute. You can also, as I did, tell them that the husband has information about Jack if they ask. It makes the discovery of his corpse hit a little more. One investigator managed to subdue Marge fairly easily, she is an old lady after all. This then led to another investigator quickly murdering her…Ouch. Well it felt in keeping with character and criminal intent but was perhaps a bit over the top. Later this tied in with him receiving a murderous mania. So it all worked out…sort of. I probably should have asked for a sanity check following her death but being unfamiliar with the system and considering criminal backgrounds I didn’t.
The Geometry of the building warping was fun and daunting to play with. As the investigators climbed the stairs, they saw the numbers on the doors repeat. In effect, I made this necessary due to giving them Jack’s apartment number. However, in the end this worked well. They were heading straight for the top but the building had other ideas. First the numbers looped round which encouraged them to explore some of the doors on that floor. Here I used the ‘piping void’ and ‘the Thing from Outside’ from the provided rooms. ‘The Thing from Outside’ was particularly effective. They stuffed things in their ears to avoid the maddening music and the monster grabbed a PC. Another investigator tried to shoot the monster with its pistol, missed, hit the wall and blood and pus oozed out. The third investigator had enough and shot the thing point blank with his shotgun. The gaping wound closing over slowly was a horrific moment mentioned several times after the scenario. At this point they freaked out a bit and decided to flee and check for a fire escape to climb the outside of the building.
The scenario suggests that when looking out a window they see only a ‘vast blackness broken up with pin pricks of light’. I recommend my take on this, which was quite effective. I described them seeing a fire escape outside the window that would allow easy descent but more difficult ascent. Only once they unlocked and opened the window did they encounter a deep howling blackness, a dim pulsing star in the distance and the faint sounds of haunting music. This provided a better subversion of expectations than simply looking out the window to see darkness. They returned to the stairs but the apartment numbers scrambled on the next floor e.g. 3, 19, 25, 12 all on one floor. Seeing this they decided they should breakthrough to apartment 30 from the apartment below, which they reckoned to be number 26. This seemed like a cool, if impractical, plan so let’s bring on the finale. When they entered apartment 26 they were greeted by a narrowing, shrinking perspective corridor that appeared longer than the width of the building. Sensibly suspicious, they tied a firehose around ‘Hopeful’s waist in case of danger and he clambered down. Opening the small door at the end he found Jack’s apartment.
Jack’s apartment – Here I gave plenty of warning about the door to Azathoth. Strange sound, visuals and foreboding feelings etc. near the door. I didn’t feel like an un-hinted, potentially instant descent into madness would be that fun for the players. ‘Lurch’ investigated it and decided better than to open it. Investigating the cultists sent for Jack burnt into the walls led to an interesting idea. One of the players was worried that the shadows may be the investigators themselves. He asked whether the shadow’s weapon matched any they were carrying. I said yes it matched Lurch’s weapon. So they made Lurch line up with the shadow and were relieved when the height and build were off. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to play off matching shadows but I think this could be a cool idea to lean into. It would certainly create weird worries in the minds of the players…’WHY are there shadows of us on the walls?!’ I like the idea that whoever, or if someone, opens the door to Azathoth they would have their silhouette burned into the wall and that this could happen back in time or something. Maybe next time!
Jack was discovered with the paper notes and scroll floating around him to try and draw attention to those. They shot him in the head to try and stop whatever was going on but of course he didn’t die. Next, they tried to destroy the papers. This of course removed one way to stop the effects by reading the sacred verses but thems be the choices they made. This is where things went fairly off the rails in a good way. Somewhat stumped for ideas, ‘Hopeful’ opened the door to Azathoth and promptly went insane. Blocking vision of the mad god by standing in the doorway, he was overcome with a murderous rage and fired wildly into Jack. ‘Lurch’ attempted to disarm him, ‘Hopeful’ instead saw a tentacle grasping for him and fought back, narrowly failing. ‘Lurch’ pulled him out of the way and slammed the door shut. The piping music then gradually sent everyone else insane, ‘Pug’ indefinitely so. ‘Lurch’ was overcome by a deep melancholy and let the still mad ‘Hopeful’ attack him. Stabbed with a breadknife he took a major injury and went unconscious. Meanwhile, ‘Pug’ lost all memory of how he got there, grabbed Jack as a human shield and totted his shotgun at the breadknife wielding ‘Hopeful’. Just in time, ‘Hopeful’ came to his senses, received an insane insight into how to stop what was happening and convinced ‘Pug’ it was going to be ok. He then dismembered Jack, eww. ‘Lurch’ regained consciousness as the piping music faded and the building slowly returned to normal. Disheveled, bloodied and with still unhinged ‘Pug’ they set fire to the apartment and fled into the night.
Post script – They gave the dagger and parchment to ‘The Hammer’ but had destroyed the translation notes. Smith’s cult then tried to get the items from the hammer but lost a bloody shoot out. ‘Lurch’, took on more and more dangerous and bloody jobs as an enforcer but gradually got put out to pasture due to drawing too much heat with his murderous rages. ‘Pug’ ended up convalescing in the asylum before moving away from Arkham and trying to retire to the beach. ‘Lurch’ went back to his criminal life but was beset by periods of melancholy and regret that he couldn’t shake.
Don’t provide a map of the apartment block to the investigators. However, I think the keeper having an idea of the layout helps. I had fun twisting the scenery but a little more prep of ideas would have made it less stressful.
Marge might need toned down slightly if you only have a couple of PCs. She has fairly considerable HPs etc. In the end, it didn’t matter too much for my group…
Other Keepers have suggested needing to chase any PCs into the building who remain outside. I think this is right and like Seth Skorkowsky’s idea of having Mordecai turn up and try and hurry them along. In my case it wasn’t an issue as they all went in.
Using the Baker and the office scene a little more is good and helps set the feel of not wanting to displease the boss. I think this could be hyped a little more if the adventurers are slow or taking several days. Have a goon pop round and remind them that Mordecai said they had ‘a week’, with the implication that it should be quicker than that.
I don’t think the handouts add much unless the investigators are not sure where to look. Mordecai straight up tells them: the university library, museum and a professor so this wasn’t really an issue. I would consider tweaking the handouts a bit so they had additional useful details.
There could be more obvious connections between the cult of Jacob Smith and the scenario. As my investigators didn’t visit Smith, several items and events were still quite mysterious. The solution to the ‘Jack’ problem was also not obvious. Not that it needs be but I don’t think there was sufficient hints that they could have reasonably guessed it. Revealing the solution through insane insight was certainly thematic but didn’t feel ideal.
Keep a note of the nice tie-ins in the backstories of the pre-gens and leverage them if you can. This is something I could have made more of during play and should have encouraged my players to do also.
I think five rooms to explore on the way to Jack’s apartment is too many. I didn’t use that many as other events had taken up a good amount of time. Pick the ones that interest you or that will stimulate the players and leave the rest. I also think coming up with other rooms would be fairly simple e.g.
- A twisting chute that goes on for miles before exiting the PC at a higher level of the building than they began on.
- A room that is hard to exit due to its warping geometry. The door seems to get further away when you move towards it. Investigators must walk backwards to move closer to the exit.
- When entering the room, the investigator will fall towards the ceiling and may take minor damage.
- A room that echoes with the voice of Jacob Smith’s congregation: ‘IA! IA! Lord of Hope! Ftagn Ia! Azathoth! Ia!’. The walls contain versions of the scroll’s text painted in blood. A man in the bedroom lies wrapped in blankets like a mummy. Written on the blankets are the ‘gibberish’ sections of the scroll. His body appears to have aged immensely, like he had lain there hundreds of years. Beside the bedstead is a diary that has an entry for the night Jack read the ritual.
This is an excellent scenario for running as a one shot. I would happily run this again for a different group and could easily smooth out the few bumps I encountered. There are some problems with potentially skipping to the end via ‘Greasy Spoon’ and the trapped in nature of the building could be problematic. However, the geography of the building shifting and the horrors inside are very fun to play out. The conclusion is also suitably grisly. The potential for total sanity loss in the scenario is pretty serious, and this is particularly keenly felt by pre-gens such as Marty ‘Pug’ O’Connor. With a low sanity going in, I would prepare for indefinite if not permanent madness. As the scenario suggests, you should probably tone this down for campaign play. However, as a one shot my players had a really good time despite or maybe as a result of them all going a bit crazy in the conclusion. The chance to play criminals was also thoroughly enjoyed by my players. It’s definitely worth a look if it interests you and your group. I give it a solid thumbs up. Have fun! IA IA IA IA IA IA!