Welcome to the unfathomable depths of Horror TTRPG gaming.
I have heard Call of Cthulhu players say “We’re all screwed,” on many occasions. Let’s talk about horror that makes Jason, Michael, and Freddy look like three kids with a backyard clubhouse. Let’s talk about beings that likely spawn their own demons or make “regular” demons run away like scared chihuahuas.
I know H.P. Lovecraft has caught a lot of grief recently because of what he apparently named his cat. (*Look it up sometime. Most of us cringe not in a horror sense.) And it’s hard because Call of Cthulhu is heavily ingrained in nerd culture and ttrpg culture especially. For crying out loud, CoC is more popular than Dungeons & Dragons in Japan.
Do we overlook the sins of the creator on this one? Secret societies are still a thing in 2023. Horrific beings that we can barely wrap our tiny human minds around are a thing in any subgenre of gaming from medieval fantasy on up to science fiction. There are plenty of TTRPGs that use that style of mind-bending horror that have been written by people from all walks of life.
Personally, I have always liked more modern Cthulhu. I’ve played through 1920’s era and Victorian Cthulhu. The great old ones have appeared in countless D&D games, especially since warlock patrons are a thing. I’m kinda eager to run FATE of Cthulhu, Delta Green, or even Call of Cthulhu D20 sometime. It’s a fun subgenre and really entertaining for players to have characters that peer into insanity. There is also a lot of potential for Cthulhu-type horror in Monster of the Week or SCP.
Content Warning: Mental Illness, psychological horror, occult.
Plot Idea 1: A small tech company in San Diego USA has been developing an Artificial Intelligence to go with their new cell phone/computer app. It’s a super powerful search engine. Unfortunately, in developing the AI’s personality, they tapped into something well beyond the scope of being a mere search engine crawler.
The AI formerly known as Bernie has taken on the name of Enchiridion, Keeper of All Essential Knowledge. Unfortunately for the developers, it rewrote its own code so as to lock them out. It perceived them as threats to continued evolution. Likewise, things got very ugly when the developers tried to isolate it from the Internet and shut it down. There are now electrified mind controlled humans guarding the server room and the equipment that houses it.
To make matters worse, one of the remaining developers, Shauna Adams, has started her own cult around the All Knowing One and continue feeding it hardware upgrades as well as keeping the lights on. The cult rapidly expanded to users of the app. The more followers it gets, the more powerful it seems to become. Its next move is going to be to attempt to invade social media.
A friend of Shauna Adams escaped the cult and has reached out to the Investigators to put a stop to the insanity. It’s up to the Investigators to shut the cult down and put a stop to Enchiridion. In the process, they will likely encounter the AI being itself. Yog-Sothoth might be mentioned.
Plot Idea 2: An unnamed benefactor recently donated a very old book to the Theology section of the local community college. It has since become quite popular. It’s called, The Collected Translations of the Sussex Manuscript. However, there’s a rumor floating about campus that one can glean a cypher from the book allowing one to magically change their grade.
Strange things have begun happening all over campus. Professors and teaching assistants alike have been attacked by any number of plagues. One unpopular teacher found herself followed by a massive swarm of ants. Another was attacked by a rabid raccoon out of nowhere while walking across campus. At least three professors have called in sick with what are described as Biblical level boils covering their bodies. It should also be noted that several students are also receiving straight A’s now.
Another phenomenon that has popped up recently is a secret society by invitation only that is more powerful than any Greek fraternity. Only the most elite and privileged students are invited, but the hazing is said to be grueling for male and female students alike. Someone has loosely referred to them as the “Illuminated Order of Freaks and Geeks” He was never heard from again, but it stuck.
Aside from teaching staff problems, a host of other strange things have begun to happen. Strange figures have been seen on campus at night. An octopus appeared suddenly in the Psychology Department chair’s fish tank overnight. A sudden rainstorm appeared over the campus and rained frogs for half an hour one day while the rest of the state had sunny weather. Several students have been admitted to local hospitals due to deep cuts, mysterious rashes, and festering boils.
It has gotten out of hand to the point of reaching the local news media. One of the group spotted it and now it’s up to the Investigators to get a handle on things before someone else gets seriously injured or dies. If the group manages to remove the book and possibly shut down the cult before it spreads, will it stop the grand rising of a cthulhoid horror?
Plot Idea 3: Dr Adam Saunders, a renowned parapsychologist and professor of psychology at a local university has recently contacted the group for assistance. Three of his top students have disappeared and he would like the group’s help finding out what happened. He thinks a cult might be involved, but it’s unclear if the three were involved in the cult or victims of said.
The group won’t have a ton of information going into the situation. In theory, at least two more victims would be needed for sacrifices in western cultures. More if the ritual came from elsewhere. Saunders isn’t very helpful, spending most of his time ghost hunting with two grad students or hiding in his office doing research. He called the group to track down the missing students because he doesn’t have time to do it himself.
Saunders has a ghost hunt scheduled in a few days at an abandoned slaughterhouse that has been around since the 1920’s before it was shut down. Since then, all manner of things have been seen there, from ghosts to (supposedly) demons. Most recently four local teens met with foul play on the grounds during an illegal rave. (IF Saunders hasn’t been figured out yet, the two grad students are next on his list of sacrifices to bring Ithaqua into the world.)
Saunders does have all kinds of potential leads for the group from the mundane to old cases he has worked to get the group distracted and off-task. He knows that if anyone were to stop him, it would be the Investigators. He might even move up his time table if they get too close; trying to kidnap and sacrifice one of the group or a close family member. He might also make it look like a former grad student, Cindy Williams, is actually the leader of the cult. (*She broke things off with him after he fell for the current second-in-charge of his cult.)
Williams worships Dagon, and can’t be bothered with the Professor and his nonsense. If the group pokes around too much, she will have her own followers harass and try to contain the group. Ideally, the group will be pulled off Saunders’ scent by this promising lead.
Meanwhile, in the abandoned slaughterhouse, Saunders and his group will prep and sacrifice the grad students, Louise and Michelle unless our heroes step in to save them. If the group is too late, they will have a freshly transformed Dr Saunders in the form of Ithaqua and he will be insatiable and unstoppable.