The old coastal city of Arkham carries an ill repute, despite its nature as a center of learning and civilization on the northern coast of Massachusetts. Wicked things have been known to happen here ever since the bloody witch trials of the 17th century, but recent events have shocked even the sturdy locals. Children disappear in the night, never to be seen again; visitors known by their friends to be healthy in body and mind leave as gaunt, nervous wrecks; and strange, aberrant cults perform profane rituals in the squalid dockside neighborhoods. Five investigators have been drawn to the mystery. Each would bring light to the darkness that envelops Arkham, but will they stand strong in the face of what it reveals?
In a recent blog we discussed the different inspirations for Stirring Abyss. Among these was the Lovecraftian board game Arkham Horror, a modern classic by Fantasy Flight games. We got together to play a game this Wednesday, and figured we’d give you a glimpse of the crazy antics that were bound to happen. But first, a quick introduction to the game and the group. In Arkham Horror, all players are on the same side: fighting for humanity and trying to preserve the city of Arkham, as it comes under assault from horrors beyond their understanding. Gates to other worlds and dimensions open throughout the city, and the players must race to close these gates while vanquishing or avoiding the monsters that enter through them. If they succeed, the Great Old One behind the assault is once again locked safely away from the rich feeding grounds of Earth; and should they fail they are forced to take on this foul, godlike being directly in a desperate last stand.
We chose our characters at random. Eero would play as Vincent Lee, a doctor who recently arrived in Arkham and chose to investigate the mysterious unsolved deaths he witnessed. Joonas took the role of Professor Walters, an expert of history and archeology with wild theories about outworldly threats. Miska drew Sister Mary, a young nun who found a strange journal that led her down a dangerous path. Dexter Drake, previously a stage magician now dabbling in truly arcane arts, was played by Tuomas; while I had the part of Darrell Simmons, a photographer who saw something unbelievable and was on a quest for proof. For our adversary we drew Azathoth, the Blind Idiot God, worshipped only by madmen for Its arrival would herald nothing but obliteration for all.
Dr. Lee could only watch in horror as the gnarled and misshapen trees of the Uptown woods writhed as if attached to invisible strings guided by a psychotic puppeteer. The magician, Drake, was somewhere in there, but trying to look for him in the utter darkness of the November night would be folly at the best of times. Now, with reports of monstrous fleshy growths among the arborea, it would be sheer madness. Just as he was about to abandon hope and return to the hospital, the doctor saw movement. A single figure, making good speed despite a clearly injured left leg, was sprinting from the treeline towards the yellow glow of the streetlights.
He caught up to Dexter soon, tackling the tall man down after several attempts to rouse him from his fervor fell on deaf ears. Little remained of the carefully groomed appearance he’d witnessed in their earlier meeting at Velma’s Diner; clearly the magician’s journey in the woods had taken its toll both physically and mentally. They exchanged words, though Drake was notably reticent to speak of what he had witnessed. Vincent managed to convince him to head towards the Asylum for treatment, but posed one question before his ally could depart. “How on earth did you escape those ghastly woods alive, Dexter?” The magician turned to him, and a quick grin broke through the gloom for a brief moment. “Oh Vince, you should know this one,” he said. “A magician never reveals his tricks.”
The early game did not go well for us. After only five turns of play, we came very close to losing the game. Gate after gate opened, and we couldn’t get to them on time due to some very rough monster spawns. The panic reached its peak when two gates opened on the same turn. Pure luck had one of them land on the location of an already existing gate, saving us from the wrath of Azathoth for the moment. Horrible luck with dice plagued both myself and Tuomas, as we failed skill checks one after another. A turning point occurred when the magician exited a gate in the Woods, which was crawling with monsters, but managed to evade them long enough to make a daring escape. This was doubly important because he was carrying one of the most powerful unique items in the game, the fabled Elder Sign.
For the third time in ten minutes, Darrell Simmons of the Arkham Advertiser reflected on the quick and irreversible turn for the insane his life had taken in the last few days. Undead monstrosities roaming the streets of Arkham. Reality itself tearing into pieces all around him as he explored the Black Cave, sucking him into this impossible world that vividly reminded him of the paintings of that young Spaniard the Advertiser had covered last week. And now this. The pinnacle of madness, Professor Walters and his plan. He clutched in his hand the ornamental box he’d bought at the strange Curiositie Shoppe on his way to work. If that crazy geezer was right, it would save his life. If not… best not dwell on it.
“Professor, you sure about this?” He wasn’t sure how they were communicating in the first place, but knew better than to ask. There was a strange distortion in the return message: “The spell will transfer the portal between realities, but the gate box allows you to attune your personal chakras to the dimensional-” “Prof, I asked if it will work. I don’t need a dissertation.” He’d learned that if the professor got started, there was no end to the tide of lore-babble. “Yes. It will work, just do as I told you and not only will we close the gate, we’ll get rid of the spawn of Shub-Niggurath infesting the woods!” Simmons took a deep breath and stepped into the swirling vortex of energy.
Later on we finally managed to start closing and sealing gates. Not everyone was so lucky though; Sister Mary got stuck behind a succession of Shoggoths running through the streets and had to sit at Hibb’s Roadhouse for several turns. In the meantime, Professor Walters became a veritable master of magic, gathering a massive array of spells and magical trinkets. His repertoire allowed us to get rid of a bunch of pesky Dark Young while closing a gate in the cool combo maneuver described above. A couple of us also went insane around this time, and at one point three characters were visiting the Arkham Asylum simultaneously!
The threat of defeat still hung over the group though, as Azathoth drew closer to devouring the world with each new gate that opened in Arkham. At this point we were desperately scrounging for Clue Tokens, an important resource, wherever we could find them. While Sister Mary was searching for these clues in the Miskatonic University science building, a gate spawned directly on her and pulled her into the dark and twisted realm of R’lyeh, home to mighty Cthulhu himself. She only just managed to make it through alive and sane. The problem was that she was missing one token from the amount required to seal the gate, which would win the game for the investigators. Without that token another investigator would have to make their way to a gate and through it, and the Doom Track was quickly filling up to signal our demise!
Mary emerged from the portal. The warm air brushed over her skin, but did nothing to stop the shivers. She was clutching her crucifix and muttering to herself. The young nun wanted nothing more than to curl up in a corner and try to forget what she saw on the other side. The crackling of the gate served to remind her of the grim purpose that had driven her out of the convent and brought her to this godless place. If only she’d had the time to finish her studies of the sacred texts the University researchers had uncovered under the Dead Sea! Without the ritual, sealing the gate would not be possible, but the least she could do was close it before more heretical abominations crossed the threshold.
The Sister fell to her knees and prayed. As long as God was with her, she would not falter. The gate twisted, and the atrium shook as if caught in an earthquake. She could feel the sharp edges of the crucifix digging into her palms, the pain serving only to strengthen her resolve. The portal bucked against her will, assaulting her senses with frightful images and sounds. At the last moments, a particularly powerful convulsion blew out every window overlooking the atrium. As razor-sharp glass rained down all around her, Mary saw a piece of parchment float through the air and land before her. The missing verse! With a faint but firm voice, she began to chant.
We thought we would need to make one more trip through a gate in order to gain the final seal necessary for victory. On that turn, a random clue token spawned directly on Sister Mary as she re-entered Arkham after a harrowing journey. Summoning all his luck, Miska grabbed the dice and let them roll. He hit double sixes! The game was over, and we were victorious by the slightest of margins. The game, as always with Arkham Horror, was amazing. We’ll definitely be doing this again, and I can only hope we can create a similar atmosphere and the intensity of these win-or-die moments in Stirring Abyss as well.
IT was angry. The tasty morsel had disappeared. Vibrant life-energy that had shone so brightly would not feed ITS endless hunger.
Azathoth, the Chaos at the Nucleus, the Lord of All Things, had been denied.