Chaosium publishes a set of solo adventures for Call of Cthulhu as gamebooks. These function somewhat like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I grew up with, but with character sheets and dice. A short one, “Alone Against the Flames”, is included in the CoC 7e Starter Set or available as a PDF for free.
This log uses a somewhat longer scenario called “Alone Against the Dark”.
Alone Against The Dark is an adventure for one player, set in the fall of 1931. Your goal is to solve strange disappearances and to forestall a calamity about to beset the world. You will journey from New York City to Greece, Egypt, Germany, and Antarctica.
Beginning with the theft of a priceless relic, four friends are drawn one by one into a dark web of mystery and horror. As the darkness grows, only you can hold out against the dying of the light. The fate of the world is in your hands.
This experience works significantly differently than many of the other solo games I’ve played. While the scenario leaves plenty of room to imagine my character as I wish, its structure obviously provides significant constraints.
The core structure is that you start with a single investigator who receives a letter from a friend in trouble. Of course, given that this is Call of Cthulhu, that means trouble related to ancient artifacts and mysterious cults - which can cause you trouble as well. It is highly likely that your investigator will die, at which point you activate the next investigator in line. The game assumes that each investigator is keeping the others apprised, such as through daily telegrams.
This informs the structure of this log. Each in-game day (more or less) is journaled as if communicating to the other investigators. That said, I’m not writing in telegraphese, as that would become quite tedious. The scenario begins in September 1931 and tracks time by the day and even hour. My journal here will account for each (well, most) of the days.
Another result of this structure is that this log contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the published scenario.
I can’t emphasize this enough. If you think you’ll ever play this scenario yourself, don’t read past the foreword.
But if you’re interested, we’ll get started.
Professor Grunewald is a stereotypical Call of Cthulhu investigator. As a middle-aged professor in the Literature department at Miskatonic University, he has knowledge of Latin, Norse, and (Egyptian) hieroglyphics as well as a decent knowledge of history and of course Library Use. Each character has a budget of an additional 150 points to add to skills as the player sees fit. For my playthrough, I chose the following:
I have decided to play him according to the typical tropes: a quiet, mild-mannered, bookish man who knows little of the wider world and the people in it beyond his academic career. He is not a hero in any typical sense, other than the loyalty required to rush around the world to help a friend in trouble. He has no partner or children at the time of this adventure.
Professor Grunewald’s notes are all addressed to Ernest Holt, “a wealthy New York financier and a good friend”.
I have received frightening news. My friend and colleague, Tibor Gliere, has been arrested in Athens for antiquity theft. He has requested my assistance by travelling to Athens and speaking with Corporal Ilionas in the Athens Bureau of Investigation.
I will leave at the first available opportunity and keep you informed.
The boarding house where Gliere resides would not let me inspect his room, not even under dire circumstances. I was able to speak with the department chair and the Dean. After a frank discussion of my resolve, the Dean agreed to allow me to take leave to visit poor Gliere. The University will cover my travel expenses.
It appears that Gliere is researching some artifact known as the “Karpathos Device” as well as myths of the cataclysm in various cultures around the world. I assume the theft of which he’s been accused, no doubt falsely, relates to this Karpathos Device.
A liner departs New York for Athens on Saturday. I will wrap up business here in Arkham and depart as soon as possible. If there is time, I will visit you while in New York, but please understand that travel schedules may not permit.
I have withdrawn sufficient cash for the trip according to my moderate tastes and in good stewardship of University funds. Additionally, after explaining the situation in greater detail to the woman who manages Gliere’s boarding house, I was allowed to visit his room for the afternoon.
Apparently he was seeking historical and physical evidence for rumored ancient lands that disappeared in climate catastrophes, such as Atlantis, and found overlap in the corresponding dates.
My train leaves tomorrow morning and I hope to be in New York City by nightfall.
A long day of travel leaves me weary. I rang you in town but you were unavailable. I depart from Pier 56 on Cunard Lines at noon tomorrow.
This liner is surprisingly spacious. We departed as scheduled and I spent the day finding my cabin, stowing my few belongings, and resting. It has been many years since I have undertaken a journey of this magnitude.
While I cannot easily send telegrams while en route, I can still compose them and have them sent together when we arrive at our destination.
I spent the day touring the ship and acquainting myself with its many offerings before reading in the library. Yes, I know, boring old me, but of course this is a work trip not a vacation.
As a learned man, of course I’m quite comfortable with people of foreign cultures and aspect. But two particularly unusual fellows, one Turkish (or perhaps Arabic), seemed to monitor me as I worked in the library. They make me quite uncomfortable.
Apologies for not writing in the last few days. Well, not that you’ll notice since these will arrive together! The previous two days were as uneventful as could be, but today I had a dreadful experience. A small Egyptian man attacked me with a knife! I am recovering in the ship hospital for the remainder of our time at sea. I hope this isn’t related to Gliere’s troubles. If it is, he must be in great danger indeed.
The ship’s hospital was quite comfortable and took excellent care of me. My wound has healed nicely, a surprise for my aging bones. We arrive in Athens tomorrow and I will be well-rested, if a bit stiff, to see about getting Gliere free. Hopefully he can regale me with tales of what is surely a misunderstanding on our return home.
Tibor is dead. I write this words and yet I find them difficult to believe. Upon arrival in Athens Harbor (worthy of the ancient stories), I headed directly to the Bureau. It took little time to meet with this Corporal Ilionas, the officer who was in charge of Gliere’s case. The Bureau claims that he took his own life and that there were signs of “self-mutilation”, although the pathologist responsible for the determination is currently vacationing in the Alps.
The report says that Gliere would not talk freely but made “libelous statements” about the director of the National Museum of Archaeology, a Dr Pisistratos, and begged that the Karpathos Device not be sent to Cairo. (It’s odd that such a crown jewel of history that remains so poorly understood would be sent in any case!) Gliere demanded protection in his cell, did not receive it, and then supposedly committed suicide. Altogether unbelievable in my opinion. The device has already been sent to Egypt.
I found an interpreter, a young man by the name of Christos, who assisted me in finding a hotel. Tomorrow I will look further into this. Gliere deserves an accounting.
The Hall of Justice informs me that Gliere’s body is already en route back to the United States for burial. They did have a sealed letter for me, however, in which Gliere made extraordinary claims that “our world is doomed”.
According to Gliere, the Karpathos Device (named for the home of the sorcerer who built the thing) is sought by a cult of Aten. They will use it in some sort of ritual to construct a special crystal octahedron and take it to Antarctica. Supposedly, from there they can change the rotational axis of the Earth to restore that frozen continent to life but dooming the continents on which humanity resides.
Ernest, you may not be aware, but a Miskatonic expedition there ended in great tragedy, and there is currently an expedition forming in Bremen to return there and follow up on that research.
I do not know whether any of this is true. Quite outlandish tales! But I do know that my friend was murdered for this device and I must find those responsible so that they may face justice.
No further updates were sent to Holt, as Grunewald was killed by strange cloaked figures with hollow eyes and fetid, hungry eyes.
The next part will resume 72 hours later with Holt deciding to follow Grunewald to Athens and do something about this affair.