Horror: The Thing In The Cellar
Copyright © 1996 by Richard Lunsford
This GURPS Horror adventure is written for the modern day. Designed for 3 to 5 characters of 100 points each, the adventure is playable as a one-shot or part of an ongoing campaign. Good I.Q., Dex and skills in the natural sciences and firearms are recommended, with Danger Sense, Luck or Precognition critical for a small group. It works to best effect in a secret magic campaign.
The adventure begins with the disappearance of Dr. James T. Higgins, instructor of Chemistry, Computer Science and Physics at the University of Boston at Ohmsford, a modest community of over sixty thousand. Dr. Higgins left the university last June to pursue unknown private research, and hasn't been heard from since. It is now late August and several classes may have to be cancelled.
Characters may hail from a wide range of backgrounds. U.B.O. students and faculty know Dr. Higgins as an excellent instructor and academic advisor. The university has a stake in him too, and can employ private eyes for $500 advance, $2,000 when he's found. Alternately, a PC can be a cop assigned to the case. Character motives may conflict; if the students find Higgins first, the P.I. doesn't get paid . . .
Getting There's Half The Fun
Finding the Trail
To find the good doctor, investigators must first learn where he went. Campus administration hasn't a clue. Science faculty and students may know Higgins planned a Florida trip (I.Q.-4), and share this fact on a good reaction. A check with the post office shows Higgin's bills are forwarded to a post office in Dade county, Florida. Investigators with Law Enforcement or Fast-Talk-2 may veiw mail records. Higgins received a curious mix of chemicals and occult paraphenalia. The Dade county post office has no address or phone number; Dr. Higgins picks up his mail personally.
A check with area travel agencies verifies Higgins disembarked a plane at Orlando June the 13th and bought a used car from Floyd's Auto Emporium. Sam Floyd remembers the sale, and on a good reaction adds that Higgins was tense and excited about something. The car was paid for in advance through the travel agency and picked up the 14th.
Finally, either the I.R.S. (requiring Law Enforcement), Dade County Court House or Florida Housing Dept. show the exact location of a two story house near the Everglades, sold in 1985 to Dr. James Higgins for research contributions to the Florida Game and Fish Department. Blue prints and a description are available.
The Hunt Begins
Police, P.I.s and other official investigators get free plane tickets and may bill travel expenses to the police dept. or university. Otherwise, plane tickets run roughly $200 apiece round trip, hotels $50/night. Resourceful PCs may arrange to drive cars to Florida for people flying.
Once in Florida, a call to any government agency handling land or housing places Higgins in Dade County. Maps are available everywhere. Police may solicit aid from Florida authorities.
Welcome to Dade
The house is in the southern portion of the Everglades National Park on the outskirts of Dade County, about a 60 mile drive from Orlando. Dade is predominantly rural with a few small towns, most built around small logging or mill industries. Few locals have ever heard of Higgins (Area Knowledge -6) but can direct investigators to the Dade County Court House. From there PCs with Law Enforcement or a neutral reaction are refered to Crawley.
Welcome to Crawley
Crawley is a small town of two thousand located just south of the Everglades. Food, a modest hotel and fire-arms are available here. Locals have a southern accent despite the influence of t.v.. Most know of Dr. Higgens and can direct PCs to his house. On a neutral or better reaction, the local mentions Higgin's occasional trips to Charley's Dime Store on Main Street.
Charley Smythe tells inquirers Dr. Higgins came in twice this summer, once in late June and again about mid-July. Charley arranged for Higgins to buy two calves from an area farmer for 'nutrition' testing, and a couple of month's supplies. Charley adds that Higgins was preoccupied and in poor health. He draws a map to the house on request.
Almost There . . .
The drive to Higgin's place goes from bad to worse, the roads narrower and more trecherous as they approach. The oak forest gradually gives way to thick cypress swamp and dense thickets. Wildlife is visible, with deer, rabbit . . . even an alligator.
Two miles from the Doctor's house the road is blocked by a ten foot aligator. It shows no signs of moving in the near future. PCs with a Zoology roll know alligators are seldom dangerous but may flee or attack if provoked. Law or I.Q.-2 recalls they're a protected species.
The alligator just wants to be left alone and won't start trouble. It is obviously awake. 'Bluffing' the gator with a vehicle works if they charge. Anyone trying to shoo the gator is chased back to his car. It leaves on its own after an hour or if offered food. PCs with Animal Empathy get a character point for kind treatment or saving the gator from other PCs.
The House Of Higgin's
The investigators find the large white two story house in an overgrown five acre yard surrounded by oak and cypress. Out back is a satellite dish and toolshed with riding lawn mower, shop tools and a gas powered generator. Behind the house lies what locals know as the Black Swamp.
All the windows are shattered. An I.Q. roll notes all the glass blew outward in a uniform pattern. A Foresics check confirms it wasn't smashed with a hard object. The damage is not fresh.
The whole area is deathly quiet. Checks with Ecology, Naturalist or Zoology skills show an absence of wildlife. Neither birds nor crickets chirp, and very few animals live within a mile of the house. Close inspection discovers abberances like extra legs or antennae, unusual size and deformities. Microscope samples contain unknown microbes, possibly mutations. Fish tend to be misshappen and covered with bizarre growths. (See Appendix-D: Mutations).
The front door is locked, but entry through windows is easy. Once inside, PCs make I.Q. rolls (+4 for housewives) to notice a thin layer of dust throughout the house. The power is out but may be supplied for three days with the generator. Otherwise the decor is odd but comfortable. Glass items inside the house are not broken.
CC-1 Entry Room
Plain and unfurnished, this room has a mat by the front door. Its south wall opens into the Den.
CC-2 Coat Room
This room holds the Doctor's coats and shoes, all hung neatly on a rack. Also present is a large dip net, pair of waders and tackle box with two cane fishing poles. The tackle box contains a .25 pistol and survival knife.
A spacious den holds a pair of Lazyboy recliners and a Hide'a'Bed sofa facing an out of use fireplace and big screen t.v. Its the only room in the house with plush brown carpeting. A t.v. guide has a British soccer match dog-eared. The phone is out of order.
The kitchen has a bar, cabinets loaded with canned goods, microwave, Whirlpool refrigerator, oven, stove and a year's supply of Coors and beef jerky. Perishables in the fridge are moldy and the milk is sour. Dirty dishes have lain in the sink over two weeks.
CC-5 Dining Room
A large, antique cedar table and chairs sit coated with dust (Higgins never ate here). A set of elegant tableware is laid out, centered about a vase with plastic flowers.
CC-6 Stair Room
Twin sets of stairs are here, one ascending, the other descending. The ascending lead to the second floor, the descending to the cellar. At the bottom of these stands a reinforced iron door barred and sealed with a deadbolt from the outside and built into the rock. The door is D.R. 8, Hit Points 40. The stone is D.R. 8, Hit Points 90. Removing the door at the hinges requires tools from the shed, four hours and a combined strength of 40 minus each additional hour. PCs may notice the door is made to keep something from getting out (Architecture, Engineering or I.Q.-2).
Furnished with ornate dresser (with clothes) and a queen size water bed with an overhead mirror, this room looks lived in. A huge mounted gar hangs from the wall facing the bed.
CC-8 Computer Room
A beautiful mahogany desk contains Dr. Higgin's 386SX IBM compatible computer and extensive software library. A modem runs into the extension phone (which is dead). Unfortunately, the same forces which blew out the windows ruined all software and the hard disk. The system won't work again without new hardware. However, in the desk is a listing of all files and passwords, including those at Boston University. What investigators find there is the GM's option.
A mildew has taken root in the shower and the sink drips. The medicine cabinet packs a large supply of toothpaste and razor blades.
An extensive private library contains Encyclopedia Britanica, science journals and a large body of occult literature. Several books are dog-eared or written in. Sporadic notes indicate Higgins was compiling a database. Some indicate failed attempts, but a very few pages are marked as functional magic (GM may provide minor spells as desired, such as Apportation or Levitation). At the east end stands a massive timber wolf, mounted in mid-leap. A plaque indicates Dr. Higgins shot the beast in Canada. The Cellar
Investigators should be encouraged to spend the night before exploring the cellar. In any case, PCs may be startled periodically by heavy scraping sounds from beneath the floors and a deep, gurgling rasp. The Gutergthra won't escape for two more nights, after which the basement door is completely corroded.
Should PCs remove the iron door or stay three nights, it comes for them while they sleep. Sleepers get Smell rolls +2 and Hearing if it fails a Stealth roll. Victims are seized by the throat while corrosive covers the head.
Beyond the iron door, a stone stairway descends into darkness. A strong oder of ammonia lingers. An I.Q. roll +2 notices the inside of the door, eaten away by an unknown corrosive (Chemistry can only discover it's acidity).
Roll one die for each character; on a 1 he or she steps on a concealed trap (I.Q.-4 to notice, Dodge to avoid). The trap is a knife blade set in a hole (1die cutting damage to a foot, D.R. 1 for shoes, 2 for boots; Damage over 1/3 Health cripples the foot).
This is where Dr. Higgins did research. A table and cabinet lie against the north wall, stocked with chemicals and equipment to run most analyses. He also kept a portable pH meter, water testing kits and other field implements. None show recent use.
Several crates of canned goods, pistol and shotgun shells are stored here. One crate contains a dead calf, putrid with decay (Health -2 to stay in the room). A Veterinary roll finds it drained of blood and dead about a month.
The passageway is behind a hidden panel (I.Q. roll to find, -4 if not searching) which is locked (D.R. 4, Hit Points 6). The acrid stench from earlier is stronger here. Tracking detects tracks larger than human with two toes, possibly claws and covered with viscous slime. The passage shows frequent use.
Open gas cans litter the passage, much of it spilt. When the investigators enter, it's ignited from the other end (Fright Check), causeing 1-1 damage. The gas is consumed.
CC-15 Altar Room
At the end of the passage is a huge, gothic altar room wrought from surrounding bedrock. The workmanship is crude and ancient (appropriate skills place it at least a century old). Purple curtains cover the far wall, and a small wooden door lies in the southwest corner. In the center of the chamber is an alter. If Dr. Higgins is dead (GM's option), his body is sprawled on the altar (Fright Check -1, -2 if an aquaintance), throat torn out and drained of blood. The body is two weeks old.
Carved from the bedrock floor, the alter is a 5x6x4 granite structure with three crude stone drawers. The smooth surface is stained reddish black from countless sacrifices (Veterinary or Physician roll to identify as blood stains, some spilt in the past month). The bottom drawer contains occult paraphenallia (beladonna, bat wings etc . . . ) and Higgin's diary. A blood-stained sacrificial dagger sits in the middle drawer, handle inset with rubies and gold. It hails from the time of the Ming Dynesty (Archaelogy -4 or Chinese History -4), and worth 1.5 million to a collector. For those with Psychometry or like magic it radiates evil too strongly to touch (Fright Check -6 if tried). The top drawer contains the Grimoire of K'Shan, also known as the Book of Night (See Appendix-B). It bears the weight of time but no evil.
The wooden door is a trap openning on a sawed-off shotgun whose trigger is strung to the door by string and pulley. The blast catches the hand and perhaps face (3 dice damage, avoided by Dodge -2). Danger Sense or Precognition may warn potential victims.
The thick purple curtains along the far wall cover an open passageway.
CC-16 Bowels of the Earth
The narrow passageway descends sharply before openning into a vast natural cavern liked to an underground cave system. Great stalagmites rise from the floor. A blackish pool lies in the center. The stench of ammonia is overwhelming.
If Higgins is alive he's bound to a side wall by rusted manacles, withered and fouled with excrement. He shouts "Look out!" and looks at the ceiling.
The Gutergthra drops from overhead stalacites with a hideous screech, landing in front of the party (Fright Check -4, -2 if warned). It sprays one PC with corrosive and closes with claws and mouth, fighting to the death. This fight should be brutal, ugly and conclusive. One PC may be kept alive, shackled alongside Higgins (Str 12+ or critical success to break the rusted bonds); others are drained of blood. Should the PCs slay the beast, go to Appendix A, Aftermath.
Once characters have killed the monster and freed the professor, there's little else to do, right? Well, there are a few loose ends . . .
If the Professor is Dead . . .
Once slain, the Gutergthra dissolves into a viscous, running smear within four hours. If the professor's death is reported, the authorities question the PCs as possible suspects. If they tell the truth they could end up on trial for murder or in a psychiatric hospital. In any case, after a lengthy investigation all charges are dropped (the PCs couldn't have done it), though the University may dismiss students implicated in the investigation. After veiwing Higgin's notes, most assume he led a cult. State authorities will remember the investigators.
If the Professor is Alive . . .
Higgins is dehydrated and half-starved. His lungs rattle with congestion and mild pneumonia. Mentally, he's exhausted but rest and food restore his vigor. Higgins makes a few phone calls to clear up his departure, arranges a semester leave and asks the PCs to stay a month to aid his recovery and research, offering $2,000 apeice plus college credit to Chemistry or Biology students.
Dr. Higgins is obsessed with the environmental effects of the summoning. After seeing the damage he orders new computer equipment for delivery to Crawley, breaks out a microscope and sends the PCs after samples (he can't walk yet). He's also obsessed with bank fishing, beer drinking and beef jerky.
Higgins knows what went wrong with the control spell and wants to try again (with armed PCs in case of mishap), but will settle for studying area plants and animals.
Unknown to the Professor, the old bookseller in Chinatown (where he bought the Grimoire) is dead. Police reports file it as a multiple stabbing . . . twelve times by a sharp, bladed weapon.
A secret cult of mystics seeks the Book of Night for knowledge and power. The cult heads are powerful men, weak magically but strong financially and politically. The eight members of the inner circle include a mayor and police commisioner. Nameless, the cult is held together by an understanding . . . to leave is to die.
Whether the cult divines the whereabouts of Higgins and the PCs is the GM's decision.
The Grimoire of K'Shan, also known as the Book of Night, was penned by an Oriental mystic over four thousand years ago. The writer vanished shortly thereafter, perhaps in the claws of some otherworldly thing he summoned. His name was A'cuchi Mahg. The Grimoire is bound in human skin with papyrus pages. Mahg took precautions to insure that were it ever stolen, the thief would die, and over the centuries it has claimed many lives. Though written in an ancient Chinese Dialect (Chinese Languages -2 to read), several key passages contain English or Latin translations. The Book of Night contains whatever spells the GM wishes (most untranslated), but the two main spells are those to summon and control a Gutergthra.
The Grimoire is filled with knowledge of things from 'other' places. The Gutergthra is described as a very wise and evil thing from an endless flat plane beneath a black sky. Other spells found herein might be Aura, Shield, Death Touch, Pentagram, and Summon Spirit (see GURPS Horror 20-23, 25). Banish is an excellent choice (Horror 21).
Sold to a museum, the Grimoire nets about $5,000. A mystic recognizing it for what it is might pay millions.
Attempts to 'read' vibrations (by Psychometry or spell) open the caster to a sea of alien concepts no human mind should bear. I.Q. increases a point, but the price is paid by a Fright Effects Table effect (GURPS Horror 6-7) chosen by the GM. It's repeatable once, after which any human mind is hopelessly destroyed.
Occult (the preferred one)
The Gutergthra is described as coming from a land with no hills and a black sky. It appears misty, a flat, featureless obsidian plane stretching to all horizons beneath a black void. There is visibility but discernable light source. Creatures here exist in an ethereal state, unable to affect any save their own kind. Travelers may roam for days and see nothing, until they are sensed and the hunt begins. Other inhabitants of this reality are unknown.
Gutergthrae have been summoned to earth on occasion by the powerful and the foolish, learning from mankind. Information is shared with others of its race should it return, thus slowly building their store of knowledge. Old and wise from millenia, these horrors may someday overwhelm the earth and all life upon it.
Gutergthrae inhabit a planet whose red sun is soon to go nova, and seek to colonize a new one. Their world is a wind-blasted waste whose peculiar atmosphere does not reflect light, leaving the void of space visible. The creatures cannot breath earth's atmosphere (unless magically altered) and are located too far away to reach it. Should they aquire warp drive all sentient life would suffer for planets, technology and prey. The Gutergthrae are Tech level 7.
The Gutergthrae were created by an evil sorcerer in Sahud (see GURPS Magic) as guards and servants. The Mystic was crucified by the Sahudese as a dealer with evil spirits, and mages banished the creatures to a barren limbo. They seek to regain their foothold on Yrth.
Conversion to Autoduel is not easy, but it can be done. Assume that Gutergthrae were created by pre-war German scientists through recombinant D.N.A. techniques using human, animal and synthetic materials. The experiment was cancelled due to budget cuts, and when the things proved too intelligent and malevolent they were used in an experiment with a dimensional gateway machine. In this case, the summoning spell and book might be replaced by a high-tech device (the alter itself) and a set of manuals.
Unknown to the Doctor or PCs, the spell is grabbing innocent people who disappear anywhere on earth and are driven insane by the experience. The alterations are irreversible.
The mind of the Gutergthra is alien and incomprehensible to our own. Attempts at Telepathy or Telereceive on one cause Fright Checks at -3. Add 10 to rolls for effects. Their auras are unreadable. Guterthra see other life as prey. They lack all emotion save hatred and need. Think of the movie ALIENS. Prisoners are often kept and tortured for information about science and the world. Death is slow and horrible.
Whatever their structure on their native plane, the Gutergthra are altered and solidified for survival here. Once slain, the life force departs and forces maintaining its body dissipate, leaving a putrid, viscous ooze after four hours, smelling of rotted pork. Tissue samples show strange anomalies such as copper-based blood (like a mollusk's) and compounds never found in normal lifeforms. Anatomy-wise, the organ systems are completely different from human and impossible to comprehend. The corrosive spray is produced from chest glands and contains a variety of acidic and corroding agents. The strong ammonia oder is from mucus secreted by minute pores which neutralizes the spray on contact, thus protecting the creature from its own emissions.
No sensory apparatus is apparent within or without. Perhaps it perceives through psychic means or vibration detection.
On their native plane Guterthrae are unable to feed, but hunger horribly for centuries. On earth, they appease their insatiable appetites with human or animal blood, which must be from a fresh kill. The monster nourishes its body with blood while replenishing the energies holding its alien body together with lifeforce. This insane bloodlust knows no limits, but the creature need feed only once per month.
Many magics contained in the Book of Night involve alien energies unknown to our world. Such magics warp dimensional space and splice elements of seperate realities to form new life. Native forms may be altered by side effects, from radical D.N.A. reprogramming to changes in psychology. For reasons unknown this process does not effect sentient beings or plant life.
Animals are affected down to single-celled organisms within a mile of the casting site. The majority die within a week of complications, but as the nature of the spell is to sustain life a select few survive. Viable lifeforms are gross modifications of pre-existing ones, usually larger and more predatory. The most extreme modifications are those altered in the womb. The length of time an area remains contaminated is debatable; some believe the effect is instaneous, others that a dry charge lingers for decades. The products are seldom beneficial to mankind.
The One That Got Away
If characters fish near the Higgin's house, they'll catch normal and deformed fish for awhile. The PC with the best Fishing roll hooks the catch of a lifetime.
The line goes taunt and the fight is on, a contest of Str vrs 10. Whether the PC wins or not, a huge bass over five feet long rises from the water. A Fishing roll -2 and a net are needed to land the fish (Higgin's boat has a net). It weighs in at over eighty lbs, a world's record. Dr. Higgins requests the fish for vivasection, which reveals high hormone levels, system modifications and an enlarged brain. It also shows that the fish recently spawned.
The following may be worse that the Gutergthra. It happens when the characters (minus Dr. Higgins, who hates boats) are out on Black Swamp in the Doctor's wooden flat-bottom, guiding it with poles and paddles. Read.
The old wooden boat moves slowly between huge cypress trees, guided by your poles and paddles as you swat mosquitoes and dodge cottenmouths. Suddenly, the boat is struck from below with jarring force. A log? It strikes again, harder. And you realize that you are alone in the deep water, fifty yards from shore. There is no seeing through the muddy black depths . . .
If someone explores with a pole or long paddle, it comes up broken off, splintered and jagged. The bumps continue, getting worse. A hand placed in the water is taken off at the wrist (Dodge to avoid). Anyone diving in won't come up. A person easing over the side lifts halfway up, screams in pain and is pulled down before he can be helped. Blood and air boil to the surface and there is silence.
Each time hereafter roll when the boat is struck. On a 17-18 it falls appart. Everyone rolls against Swimming skill; whoever fails by the most or wins by the least doesn't come out. If PCs try to paddle ashore, they take four more hits.
These attacks are due to a monstrous, mutated Alligator lurking below (use stats in GURPS Horror-41, only I.Q. is 9). This thing was old and mean before Higgin's spell, and now has fiendish intelligence, Danger Sense and a cold, malevolent nature. It has already killed six humans and knows about traps, poison and guns. It no longer leaves the water, which it can now breath.
Ordinarily, the beast tears a boat apart from below and devours the occupants. This was play (it ate a poacher in the backcountry today). It is huge, powerful and crafty with miles of Everglades to hide in. The PCs should never have an oppertunity to stop it, an example that they can't win them all.
The GM may choose to introduce other mutants . . . a cougar, twice normal size turned savage maneater, ten foot snakes and giant snapping turtles . . . Many altered animals are young, and characters may be called back to deal with new problems. Others may be more curious than dangerous (twelve-lb bullfrogs, a raccoon the size of a bear, etc . . . )
Appearance: 7' 400 lb rough-hewn humanoid with six fingers/hand and two toes/foot. Resembles granite superficially. Head w/o neck an amorphous mound w/o evident sensory organs; may slit into a horizontal maw with two rows of three inch teeth. Excessive acidic saliva drips from mouth (+2 to Track). Very massive, muscular build. Makes rasping sound. Rakes clawed hands over rock.
ST 18. DX 12. IQ 15. HT 19.
Advantages: Immune to blinding (psionic 'radar' jammable w/Telesend; Contest of Skills vs 13); Project corrosive spittle (1d damage/round @ -1 pt/round until washed off); Phase through solid matter (except metal or near magnetic or electrical fields); Understand any language after about a day's exposure.
Disadvantages: Monstrous Appearance; Sun Death (optional).
Skills: Most science skills at 14. Brawling-12. Shadowing-13; Stealth-12; Tracking-13. Other skills per GM.