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Masks of the Dreamer: Recovery of U-571: Part 2What lies belowThis excellent piece of concept art comes from a very exciting upcoming horror video game, called Soma.

When I last left this game, the investigators had broken into the ships cult “Idol” room, with the two statue fetishes of Father Dagon and Mother Hydra. After seeing the statue move and even excrete some liquid like stuff, they were now faced with the prospect of confronting some of the crew in here. Thankfully for the investigators it was actually not an entirely angry bunch of fishy crew, but rather the confused but stern face of the expeditions lead, Joleen. I allowed the investigators to bluff their way past Joleen, but only to an extent and she did give them some further information. Most importantly, Joleen was surprised about how much they wanted to know about Father Dagon and Mother Hydra, so I used this as a chance to give the investigators a little more information about them.

After this scene and the investigators being escorted back to their rooms, while also being forbidden to return to the lower decks without permission, attention turned to Zachary. Zachary was the fellow in charge of the discovery channel crew and they did get some time to roleplay interactions with him. These interactions revealed some important clues about Zachary’s purpose on the ship and his past. Here I made a reference to my previous campaign and the origin of one of the villains, where Zachary had led a group down into South America to go looking for missing archaeologists. Although Zachary didn’t reveal much about what they found, the investigators gathered it was bad from the evasive answers and haunted look he gave.

Unfortunately, here I let myself down a bit because I didn’t emphasize how odd this behavior was strongly enough. In reality, I wanted to get the investigators really curious about what happened to Zachary and start asking questions of his crew. This is particularly important, because one of the discovery camera crew Anitas, has a particularly interesting “hobby”. As I mentioned in the previous session’s write up, the lack of emphasis on Zachary and the discovery channel crew’s odd behavior, meant I gave little motivation for the investigators to dig into them more. The net effect of this is that something that happens towards the end of the investigation feels very “out of left field”, instead of being more set up and alluded to.

The Descent

Eventually it became the big moment in this investigation, where after several weeks of scanning the sea floor in the area suggested by the map Joleen found it: The precise location of U-571. Confusingly, U-571 was not the only thing that was found, as there were also several strange dome shaped objects nearby. These dome shaped objects were definitely not natural and this opened some unsettling questions straight off: Did someone find the submarine first? Could they be evidence of some kind of mythos related threat or creature settling in nearby? In any event, one thing that Joleen instantly discovered was a powerful field around the U-Boat itself – none of her hybrids or… “friends” could go anywhere near it.

This meant that the only group who could approach the U-Boat were the investigators, giving them a considerable amount of leverage over Joleen. Most importantly, it meant that they would be able to find where the location or artifacts from R’leyth were first, then plan how to deal with Joleen and her hybrids later. Especially as there was every chance their “allies” would betray the investigators at the first opportunity, given the not-so-subtle hints I had been continually dropping about how the crew were only tolerating the investigators presence in general. With tension rising as the core moment of investigating the sub drew closer, I decided to ramp it up some more by having the investigators choose who was going in what sub.

As there were 5 investigators and 4 discovery channel crew, with each sub only seating six people each, they had to divide themselves between the two vehicles. Aside from the fact the investigators don’t trust one another that much, it did make for some interesting moments when the engines began “failing” as the subs delved ever deeper (and at a slow pace) towards the sub. Black strange “oil” leaked into the engines of both subs, in one case firmly disabling the submarine and causing it to start rapidly sink. Thankfully a clever burst of inspiration by Eva in using a hot wired battery with an electric charge jumpstarted the engine of the submarine again! Additionally it also oddly caused the strange black substance to recoil and seemingly flow by itself back out of the engine…

Eventually the submarines – problematic black goo in the engines aside – managed to get to the site in question. One submarine almost slammed into the first of the large metal domes, which was only narrowly avoided due to them being strangely illuminated by aerial like strobe lights. While this near miss was fortunate, the investigators soon realized their luck had run out when they saw the clearly Russian writing on the side of the dome. It seems the Russians had beat them to the punch in getting here and the copious lighting on the now visible U-571 indicated that. Determined to forge ahead, the investigators decided to ignore the Russians for now – especially as no movement could be seen from any of the four domes – to go investigate their original target, the German submarine.

Before continuing, to give you an idea of what is going on this is the general map of the area the PCs were exploring I drew for them:

Seafloor Map

I’m not about to say I’m the greatest artist in the world, but even if you aren’t great at drawing a simple map like this can make the game much easier for players to follow. It was clear how the domes were interlinked, where the sub was in relation and the long “Stringy” things were underwater cables for powerful lights (thankfully still working), which helped illuminate the region (a tiny bit, but enough to get by).

When the investigators settled the submarines down and put on their specialized equipment to explore outside, I wanted to emphasize at all times the incredibly eerie “stillness” of this place. There were no fish, crustaceans or other wildlife anywhere to be seen around the area, with only some strange coral growing in odd patches. One of the investigators trained in biology also knew that to be very strange, because coral cannot grow at this kinds of depths normally and so it was sustaining itself in some other way. Essentially between the unusually inky water, the odd coral and the fact nobody seemed to be greeting them from the Russian side of things made the entire affair extremely unnerving.

At this point I really wanted to play up the difficulty of moving through the water, the eerie silence and that there was potentially something unseen in the darkness “reaching” for them. Unfortunately, one of the players who had the most “expertise” in diving, was actually not at the session and so I decided to reduce this element. My decision was largely about plot and pacing firstly, but it also didn’t really make sense to keep the bit that was designed to reward a player for their investment who wasn’t there. Especially because it would be a difficult encounter for the other players at the time. In any event, they eventually reached the submarine to be greeted with the first main obstacle: A large airlock built into the side of the damaged U-Boat.

Airlock DoorAnother terrific piece of concept art from the game Soma, which I felt was a very appropriate visual for this scene in the game.

The U-Boat itself looked like it had been repaired, though the large claw like marks on the hull were still visible and it had a considerably large hold in front left portion (this corresponds to the torpedo room ripped open during the Dread game). After waiting a while for the airlock to cycle, they finally entered the U-Boat itself and come to the surprises inside.

The Interior of U-571

One of the great things about running the Dread scenario in this same submarine before, is that my players (not their characters) know exactly what happened. So I can reference events, such as the moldy old looking skeletons and dusty uniforms in the main hallway. This is of course where they know that was Schmit made a desperate last stand to prevent the crew letting in the Deep Ones. Here is where my decision really paid off, because it helped my players just instantly get what was happening and what was different. Most notably, the more “recent” Russian corpses strewn about the submarine and where someone had written “Spirit” on one of the walls. It seems that a terrible fate befell them as well….

The submarine offered a few clues as to what was going on, but the most important thing that the players picked up was the strange glowing stone previously held by Helga (before she was eaten by a shoggoth anyway). Here they met the “spirit” that the Russians mentioned and she informed the investigators they were going to die down there – charming! Of course the spirit, identifying herself as Serena, had a few other points of interest to the investigators. Most importantly Serena mentioned that the Russians had taken most of the artifacts and things of interest off the ship. Unfortunately, they had also reawoken the “guardian” and she could sense it approaching. It was about this time that a quick headcount revealed that one of the discovery channel crew, Anitas had gone missing!

Unfortunately before there was any time to do anything about Anitas going missing, a sudden rush of black oozing liquid into the submarine indicated the arrival of the “guardian”. Black liquid that rapidly expanded in size, to reveal numerous gross distended mouths, innumerable eyes and then an enormous flowing size – all heading right for the investigators! At this point there was a mad rush through the submarine to get back out before the shoggoth* caught up to them. Here despite my policies of open dice rolling, I got exactly the result desired and one of the discovery channel crew lagged well behind any of the investigators (or the other NPCs).

Shoggoth

This meant that Maxine, one of the discovery channel camera crew, tripped over before getting into the (sealable) air lock. Here I gave the investigators a choice if they tried to go out, hold off the shoggoth and attempt a rescue or seal her in to her fate. In what was a terrific nod to B-movie horror on multiple levels, the investigators nobly shut the airlock door and left her there to die instead of facing off against the shoggoth. The screams and terrible sounds to follow being the “reward” for the investigators actions, which in fairness were pragmatic more so than “blatantly evil”. This isn’t a heroic adventure game like DnD after all and what would you do with a shoggoth seconds away from eating you?

Honestly, it just doesn’t pay enough to be an NPC in a horror related game these days.

Either way, they cycled the airlock and then quickly got away from the sub as fast as they could swim. This time heading to the one place they hoped the original German papers and artifacts would be: The Russian underwater base. Entering into here proved to be fairly difficult, as the airlock door had been firmly sealed and it wasn’t budging. Here Eva saved the day using preparedness for an underwater torch, which soon allowed them to cut away the obstructions and open it up. None the less, I made sure to emphasize again that it too some time and this led to some distinct agitation, especially now there were higher stakes: A shoggoth was around after all. Eventually they made their way inside, where a loud speaker soon informed them that they had definitely been noticed.

A man with a thick Russian accent informed them that “Capitalist spies” would be put down and that he represented the last vestige of the Soviet Union. The voice on the speaker then started ranting about the cold war, the cuban missile crisis and traitors in his own ranks, before telling the investigators to “leave or suffer the consequences”. Naturally the investigators didn’t listen and entered the base, where like the German submarine in many ways, they found copious old Russian corpses (one who had been crucified in front of the entry airlock in fact). Whatever battle happened in this place occurred a very long time ago and it was a bit of a mystery how the base was still operational (or even intact).

Investigation of papers and the corpses themselves revealed that they had a schism around 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. One faction, which was led by a man called “Karochevick” felt that the Russian government had betrayed the ideals of the USSR and communism, “caving” to the capitalist west. They started an armed uprising and usurped the facility from the group still loyal to the USSR. In the end the net result seems to have been a massacre, which left both sides devastated and the lack of any current opposition to their progress through the domes indicated that.

Eventually the players came to a dome that had an extremely strange sight in it: A large obelisk like structure, which had a large number of wires all flowing into and from it. Clearly not of earthly construction and providing a strange glow to the center of the dome it was in, Keith felt inextricably drawn towards it. Once near enough, Keith placed his hand on it and then gained some strange insights from the obelisk (which remain secret from the other players). The best thing about this moment with Keith was I didn’t have to “encourage” anything, because the player of the investigator entirely spontaneously decided to touch the obelisk. It was something I was hoping that at least one of the players would do, but thankfully it ended up being far the most appropriate investigator (due to Keith’s unusual heritage to say the least).

In any event, they continued on exploring until they tried entering through Dome 3 where the changes in pressure and vibration finally proved too much. The corridor began to collapse behind them and the ocean started to rapidly flow in! Like with the Shoggoth before, this led to a mad dash through the corridor and into the other dome at the end. Once again the dice were just singing for me from a narrative point of view, because another NPC Tyrone the cameraman rolled shockingly on his athletics. Falling behind by a large distance, he was caught by the column of water and as the investigators closed the door, there was only an immense final sickening thud to indicate his final fate.

I really want to say we don’t pay these poor NPCs enough to travel around with the investigators in horror games!

In any event, with time to recover and check out the dome they had entered, they found it brightly lit and covered with old CRT television screens in all directions. Huge wires led from each of the array of screens right up to a chair in the center of the room. A chair that was still clearly occupied by a living person…

*I really wanted to introduce a proper shoggoth to the game as it is, in my mind, one of the most “iconic” of the monsters that Lovecraft created.

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