Solo Skald |||

The Children of Aguas Blancas - Session 1

For this solo game, I have decided to give Mythic GM Emulator (2nd Edition) a try, together with Call of Cthulhu. For the latter, I’m also using the Pulp Cthulhu ruleset and the Down Darker Trails setting, because this is a Mythic Western game. That is, it doesn’t adhere to the historical reality of the American West, and I’m making no pretenses about that. (This is not to ignore the reality of the genocide and oppression of native peoples, but rather to say that I’m not going to be using this game to explore those issues.)

I will also be drawing heavily from The Secret of Castronegro,” a scenario from the 1983 publication Cthulhu Companion” by Chaosium as republished in the Classic boxed set, together with the material focused on that location in the Shadows Over Stillwater campaign book. If you’re interested in playing that scenario, there may be spoilers here (or maybe not, I don’t know how this will go). It doesn’t use any specific material from the campaign itself, as the Castronegro material is in a separate Adventure Seed” section.

Setup

I’ve created a character named Guillermo Memo” Rodriguez, a New Mexican cowboy who grew up near Santa Fe and now lives in Silver City. The time is sometime in the 1880s, during the classic Western” period. I’m going to try this with a solo character rather than give him a sidekick. Memo is somewhat fatalistic in his outlook and still checks in on his grandmother. He’s calm, honest, and stubborn.

Photo of a cowboy in 1880s New Mexico with Mexican descent. He has long dark hair tied in a ponytail, brown skin, and prominent cheekbones. He’s wearing a serape and is camping in the mountains at night. The ambiance is somber and heroic, with the moonlight casting shadows on his face as he looks determined, preparing for a challenging journey ahead. Image generated by DALL-E 3

Everyone in the area knows that children go missing from time to time, whether due to natural predators or other dangers. But occasionally there are whispers of even darker reasons for this horror, and Memo has heard these whispers pointing to the tiny town of Aguas Blancas (“White Waters”). So, in the Mythic GME structure, he has one thread, Find the missing children of Silver City”. CoC has a backstory character for him, but I don’t think his grandmother will show up in this adventure directly, so instead his Characters list just has The town of Aguas Blancas” on it. (When he reaches town, I have several locations and characters in mind that I can add to it from the scenario materials.)

Scene 1: Camping outside of town

Memo hasn’t reached town yet; he’s been riding for a couple of days through the Mogollon Mountains. He expects to reach Aguas Blancas the next day.

To see what happens here, I’ll generate a Random Event. The focus is Ambiguous Event”, which Mythic GME says this is something that happens which is neither harmful or helpful, at least not initially.” I want this to be something he can see as an omen while he’s camping, so I roll on the Vision and Dreams” meaning table and get Death”. That’s definitely ominous. I imagine he sees a long shadow as the sun sets and it looks like Christ on the cross at first, which he’ll interpret as meaning that death could be near, but with a tinge of hope or at least redemption.

After he looks a bit more closely, of course it’s just a tree and the shadow doesn’t have any particular shape. But he remembers the words of the grandmother who raised him, grips the cross his father gave him that now hangs around his neck, and says a prayer for protection.

The Chaos Factor starts at 5, and nothing really happened in this scene, so I will decrease it to 4.

Scene 2: Arriving in town

Memo reaches the outskirts of Aguas Blancas. (As I rolled above the Chaos Factor, the scene will begin as expected, no alteration or interrupt. From here on, I’ll only mention this if the roll indicates one of those happens.)

Memo rides up and looks out at the town ahead of him. He can see a few small buildings, including a chapel, a tavern, a small hotel, and a few residences of varying sizes and states of repair. I’m going to roll for a Random Event again to get things going here: Move Toward a Thread”. There’s only one thread right now, so no need to figure out which that could be.

This is a lot like a first scene, since not much happened in the previous one. I’m going to use the 4W approach that Mythic GME recommends:

  • Who: Powerful
  • What: Imprison
  • Where: Entrance
  • Why: Prison

This seems fairly straightforward to interpret: someone powerful in town is arresting someone else, perhaps at the entrance to town, and taking them down to the jail. That’ll be Sheriff Fred Garcia. Who’s he arresting? The Character Identity table gives me Power”. Given the tropes in play here, I don’t think he’s necessarily putting someone who has social or political power in jail, so instead I’ll take a literal reading here and assume it’s someone who runs a windmill or similar. Their random Character Trait is Odd”, so this is a bit of an eccentric type, maybe an inventor or mechanic. Likely the poor guy is drunk or otherwise causing a bit of trouble, but I want to test that expectation with a Fate Question. Is the person being arrested by the sheriff causing significant trouble?” (Unlikely): Yes, in fact. So what could they be doing?

I’ll roll on the Character Actions, Combat” table to see what’s going on, and the result is Lead”. That’s got multiple meanings, especially in this sort of setting, and I go with the idea that the drunkard was firing off his gun and presenting a bit of a danger.

Memo needs to do something to keep this from being too passive, so he rides up to the bystanders and asks what happened. Somebody mentions the drunkard’s name, Whitlock,” and that he got started drinking a little too early (it’s still mid-morning). Memo asks if this is the kind of place where drunks get started at this hour and start shooting the place up (Unlikely); the Fate Chart says no”.

Memo decides he’s going to follow along and see what has Whitlock so worked up. Once the sheriff has him in a cell, Memo tries to talk to Sheriff Garcia. He tells him he just rode in from Silver City and wanted to introduce himself, since he can see this is the kind of place where the law takes things seriously and he doesn’t want any trouble. I’ll use the Call of Cthulhu rules here and decide that he needs to roll Credit Rating; the stakes here aren’t too high, since he hasn’t done anything, but on a failure the Sheriff will keep his eye on him and on a success he can get some kind of information: success, surprisingly (cowboys aren’t known for good social standing).

Garcia tells him that James Whitlock was jabbering about some kind of craziness. The Cryptic Message table gives me Innocent”, which I interpret as meaning something about the children that Memo is looking for.

He makes a note of this and decides to talk to Whitlock for a bit once the sheriff heads out. There’s a deputy here, but he doesn’t care much about two nobodies talking to each other, and anyway this stranger from out of town seems to have made a good impression on the sheriff.

That feels like a good place to close the scene. The Chaos Factor drops to 3, and I’ll add the people and places that have come up so far to the Characters list. The Threads list still only has the one thread, Find the missing children of Silver City”.

  • Characters
    1. The town of Aguas Blancas
    2. Sheriff Fred Garcia
    3. James Whitlock
    4. The Changeling
    5. Town Jail
  • Threads: Find the missing children of Silver City

Scene 3: Interviewing Whitlock

This scene should play out as a bit of an information dump as Whitlock opens up to Memo about strange occurrences here in Aguas Blancas. Here’s the description of the character from the scenario:

He is short and lumpy with unkempt brown hair and a wild unshaven face. He is 40 years old, but looks like he is in his late 50s. He drinks heavily because of what he has seen and begun participating in before his natural horror rose and forced him to stop.

First, Memo will roll a Persuade check with a bonus die (since he’s going to give Whitlock a cigarette) to try to get him to talk: Hard Success! This time I’ll use the Character Conversations Meaning Table: Betray”. In the context of the Persuade roll, Whitlock is going to betray his former friends:

Those disappearances in Silver City and thereabouts were sacrifices by the old guys from Aguas Blancas. There’s still lights and dancing in the hills. If you go up that way on the wrong nights, you can hear awful yelling and screaming. And the screaming ain’t just kids having fun. I seen em. And I seen what comes with em — and what comes with em out to Shephard’s Barn. I know you don’t believe me. You don’t care. You don’t know nothing. You climb up them foothills to Shephard Barn and see what you think then! Take a gander at the old Diaz vault. Then you’ll know it ain’t just the drink talking in me!

That feels like a good place to close this scene. The Threads list stays as it is, but I’ll add Shephard’s Barn and the Diaz vault to the Characters list, and the Chaos Factor will decrease to 2.

Scene 4: More information

Before Memo heads to the barn or the vault, he’ll see if he can find out anything else here about either of those places.

Since he’s a cowboy, I think it’s perfectly natural for him to ask around about the barn. He’ll make up some excuse about looking for work and ask around in The Changeling. This is another Persuade roll, and he’s not really good at this: it would be a failure, but it’s so close that he’ll spend a little bit of Luck and make it a regular success. With that, he talks to Gilberto Diaz, a tall indigenous-appearing man with black hair and bright green eyes who owns the tavern.

Gilberto scoffs at the mention of the barn, which he says is all that remains of a deserted farm a half mile south of town. He says no work is to be found there, but he doesn’t know anyplace else that might have work for a drifting cowhand.

But Memo also notes that this man’s name matches that of the vault that Whitlock described. He doesn’t want to push his luck too much; asking about a family vault could raise suspicion more than asking about a barn might, so instead he’ll let this drop. He doesn’t know where the vault is, but he can get a sense of where the barn might be. That seems like a sensible place to head.

The Chaos Factor drops to 1, given that things were under Memo’s control, and I’ll add Gilberto Diaz to the Characters list.

Scene 5: Shephard’s Barn

This half-ruined gray old building isn’t far off from the road that Memo used to get to Aguas Blancas. He finds his way to it and looks around at the state of the land, making a Natural World roll: a failure. The plants are dry, but that doesn’t even register on his mind given the high desert terrain. He’ll also roll Spot Hidden and get a Hard Success, so he finds prints of large bare feet with long toenail scratches and booted feet with a cross imprint on the heel.

The barn itself is padlocked, which is unusual for an abandoned farm structure that’s literally falling down. He’ll need to use his pistol to break it open, and I roll Luck to see if anyone hears, but no, he seems to be undetected.

Inside, the barn is full of rotted straw with no animal stalls remaining. There is a pile of crates in one corner, so Memo checks around there by rolling Spot Hidden: again a Hard Success, so he finds six black velvet robes, a couple of silver sickles, and three small statuettes of unknown origin. He’ll grab one of each of these items. (He also fails a Listen roll.)

Is this all Whitlock meant - some creepy objects? They strike Memo as vaguely devilish, maybe some kind of witchcraft. But why would they be here? I decide he keeps looking and, with the Hard Success a moment ago, finds the trapdoor under the crates’ location. There’s a long dirt ramp leading down, and now he can hear distant flute music. He’ll scoot down on his ass and end up in an underground chamber.

That’s a scene change, with the Chaos Factor remaining at 1 and no changes to the lists.

Scene 6: The Thing

In the center of this room is a horrifying creature that vaguely resembles a frog or snake with dozens of twisting tendrils”. It’s constantly changing shape slightly and playing a flute-like instrument. Upon seeing it, Memo must roll Sanity, and he fails, losing 8 SAN (down to 52). He loses control for a moment, and (given his Quick Draw talent) I decide it makes the most sense that he fires his Colt Peacemaker at this thing, to no effect. The bullet simply passes through the thing as if it weren’t even there.

That’s enough emotional trauma that he needs to roll INT as well, which he succeeds - leading him to a bout of temporary insanity! For this situation, I decide for a summary approach, meaning that for the next seven hours, he flees in panic.

That definitely spins the Chaos Factor back up to 2, and I’ll add Horrifying Creature” to the Characters list.

Scene 7: The Wilderness

When Memo comes back to his senses, it’s sundown and he’s in the mountains someplace. I’m not sure he’ll have mounted his horse to flee, so I roll Luck: yes, he did. That’ll help once he needs to get back to civilization, but for now he’s going to try to locate himself with respect to Aguas Blancas and make a Navigate roll: a failure. He’s lost, at least at this hour, and will need to scout out a bit more when the sun comes up.

But what he saw confirms at least some of what Whitlock said about the barn. Looking back at the sickle, robe, and statuette, he has a sinking thought that the sacrifices” that the town drunk mentioned were more than just rabbits and coyotes.

In fact, this makes me think that there might be some activity out at the barn this night. Can he hear the screaming and yelling”? This time he succeeds at the Listen roll, so yes, somewhere off in the distance he can hear the revelry of what he now knows are devil-worshippers of some sort. I decide that’s worth another SAN roll, but he succeeds this time and only loses 1 SAN (down to 51).

He definitely is not in control of this situation, so the Chaos Factor goes up to 3. He’s making progress on his Thread; I don’t think this is a new one.

Scene 8: Back to town

In the morning, he’s going to try to find his way back again. He fails his Navigate roll again, which would lead to him taking all day, but he’ll spend a bit of Luck to make it a success.

As he heads back into town, he’ll try to find Whitlock in jail. Rather than make this a Luck check, I decide to ask a Fate Question: Is James Whitlock still in the drunk tank (unlikely)? That’s an Exceptional No; not only is he not in jail anymore, he’s dead. Somebody must have realized he was talking too much and killed him. Memo realizes this means he’s in danger as well.

Now that Memo is here, he’ll try to find out about this vault. It’s got to be either some sort of storage (like a bank vault) or a burial site. Given that the Diaz family clearly has some wealth and power, he’ll assume the former and try to go looking for a bank in town, but he also wants to do so inconspicuously. I’ll roll Stealth; on a success, he gets there without being recognized, but on a failure, somebody marks him: failure.

I’m not sure who this will be, so I’m going to treat this as a Random Event with a PC Negative focus and roll on the Character Identity Meaning Table: Dependent”. I’ll interpret that as somebody in town who is somehow beholden to the Diaz family, and I expect that in the next scene, Memo will be confronted somehow.

The Chaos factor is up to 4, as he’s not in control and well aware of it. I’ll take James Whitlock off the Characters list, which now looks like this:

  1. The town of Aguas Blancas
  2. Sheriff Fred Garcia
  3. The Changeling
  4. Town Jail
  5. Shephard’s Barn
  6. Diaz Family Vault
  7. Gilberto Diaz
  8. Horrifying Creature

Scene 8: The Bank

While I expect Memo to try to find some sort of deposit or other storage at the bank, this ends up being an Interrupt Scene. I need to roll a Random Event and interpret it in the current context.

The Event Focus is Current Context”, so something unexpected happens at the bank. I thought they might get recognized there or perhaps the Diaz family might have someone waiting, but this should be outside of that. I’ll roll on the Action Meaning Table: Outside”.

That could mean there’s an event outside the bank, as in he gets confronted even before he arrives, but it could also mean that the creature from under the barn (an outsider” in the truest sense) is here. That last one seems less likely, so I’ll ask the Fate Question, Is Memo confronted in the streets by the Diaz family or their allies?” (Likely): Exceptional Yes.

The Sheriff is here, along with two family members who he’s deputized”. Is his intention here to try to kill Memo (the yes” answer) or simply arrest him? I don’t really know and so I’ll call it 50/50: Exceptional Yes again. The Sheriff draws his weapon immediately.

However, Memo is a Quick Draw (DDT Pulp talent) and therefore the first to act. The initiative order looks like this:

  1. Memo Rodriguez
  2. Fred Garcia
  3. Diaz Family Member

Round 1

Memo comes around a corner and sees the ambush waiting for him. Even as the Sheriff starts shouting at him and pointing his gun, Memo knows there’s no chance of a peaceful surrender. He draws his .45 Colt Peacemaker and fires at the Sheriff, spending some Luck to ensure a hit. That’s 4 points of damage, taking Fred to 8 HP.

Fred returns fire, but misses. The Diaz rushes towards Memo but won’t be able to attack this round.

Round 2

Memo ducks behind cover. That gives him a Penalty die on his shot this round, but also means there’s a Penalty die for any firearm attacks against him as long as he’s concealed. He’ll still fire on the Sheriff, and he hits again for 7 damage. Fred is badly wounded and goes down, unconscious.

But that Diaz reaches Memo - black hair, green eyes, and clearly something that is almost, but not quite, human. It claws at Memo (who doesn’t get the benefit of cover here), doing 6 damage (dropping him to 22 because he’s a Pulp hero).

Round 3

Memo fires desperately at this creature that’s upon him. In fact, he’ll fire twice (meaning each shot has a Penalty die): only one of the bullets hits, but it does 11 damage, meaning the Diaz takes a major wound. Unlike the Sheriff, though, it remains conscious.

The fight is over and Memo flees, knowing that the sound of gunshots will draw the worst kind of attention.

At the end of the scene, the Chaos Factor increases to 5 (an ambush is the opposite of being in control). The Sheriff comes off the Characters list; this Diaz creature isn’t important enough individually but clearly is part of a group that is, so I’ll add the type Degenerate Diaz Creatures” instead.

End of session

This has been a lot of fun! Incorporating elements from an existing scenario worked well, and I’m changing things up a bit as I go so that it isn’t too predictable for me. I’ve had this game floating in my head for a bit and really enjoyed taking the time to make it happen, solo or not.

I feel like I’m missing something in Mythic, though, with the Lists: are they really only used for random events? Also, perhaps next time I will use the Thread Progress Tracks which function very similarly to progress tracks in Ironsworn.

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