Trail of Cthulhu: The Final Revelation – The Watchers In The Sky

watchersNews: Last 48 hours for the RPPR Kickstarter for Boiling Point! Thanks to everyone who backed it.

The Friday Group continues their investigation into the supernatural. They uncover documents related to an avian threat that another group of investigators tried to tackle. A madman feeds the birds, paranoid they are watching him. Later, the same strange birds stare from the rooftops, warping the laws of physics and chemistry. And, when the Investigators dissect one of the creatures, they find something monstrous inside.

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  1. god damn it Ross I need to be up at a reasonable hour tomorrow

  2. I agree with Crawlkill. Why do your actual plays have to be so good, Ross and Caleb? Why do we have to stay up so late to hear them? To hear them howling at the space where then moon should have risen. To hear them rushing on the wind that blows dead leaves out of sight. To hear them whispering from corners of the room we cannot see. To hear them chiming a death toll in our cracked ear canals, where no other sound will ever fall again. Why, Ross and Caleb? Why?

  3. Holy crap…

    My immediate reaction to being asked what I thought of the bird would have been to spend all of my scuffling to throw Patrick off the roof.

    Then burn down the store.

  4. Personally I’ve always loved the fact that Watchers defies rational explanation. The way the clues fit together into something beyond human understanding is really creepy to me, and it all still seems to make sense on some intuitive level. It’s one of the most alien, unsettling games I’ve played.

  5. I’m just happy I did not notice this was up. God damn it Ross, we are but mortals!

  6. I love how “No REAL scientist believes in relativity” is becoming the ToC-specific “You have to tell me if you’re a cop.”

  7. Yeah, I’m with Ross on this one – St. Margarets was a much stronger scenario. It had a really freaky build-up and the endgame was pretty terrifying.

    This one was kind of “oh, that’s weird” and then craziness.

  8. Man. Creepy birds.

  9. I thought this scenario had some incredibly well-done moments and was quite creepy, but I am leaning with Ross and Levi; as a player I wouldn’t be entirely satisfied with how the scenario ended. Having said that, I do like that a scenario like this exists to offer this type of experience for players.

  10. hrm. it would make an interesting weird short film. to me it just doesn’t quite imply enough to be truly unsettling. “there are weird things out there and they don’t make sense” is a fact of the Mythos we’re all long since at home with. lot of good moments in there, but it doesn’t quite come together into the “a glimpse of a bigger picture just clear enough that you can see there’s something to understand but know that you’ll never be able to” (this is what Preemptive Revenge did so well, and, like, in the first five minutes).

    I do find it interesting that the events in these stories are so, like, public? it’s an unusual but to my mind not out of place take for a CoC scenario, where the monstrosities are basically just hanging out, not occulted at all. and I do generally like horror games that the investigators absolutely cannot win, so in those terms it’s a nice change of pace.

  11. I have to agree with you Ross. While I appreciate the creepiness and the concept of these mishmash nonsense entities/worship, a writer that doesn’t bother to create a reason behind the clues of a mystery is being intellectually lazy. Players and readers want a resolution; a reason for spending their time unraveling the mystery. Graham Walmsley isn’t a bad writer and I understand the “point is there is no point” which emphasizes the despair as humans are exposed to the raw indifferent universe. However, even Lovecraft with his masterful Colour out of Space gave a resolution to the story even though the Colour was unknowable and frankly unstoppable. Writing a bunch of spooky details with no underlying logical plot takes much less effort than trying to write a mystery were all the pieces fit together cohesively but obscurely enough that the readers can’t guess the ending until the author rends the final veil.

    If Walmsley bothered to link a few threads of this adventure as machinations of the entity in The Rending Box, then I would be more satisfied.

    However I acknowledged this is an argument of taste. I didn’t like Lost either, for the same reasons as I didn’t like this adventure. I prefer stories like Babylon 5 where the author has an ending in mind when he writes the plot and the foreshadowing and clues make sense in retrospect.

    Regardless of my criticism, you gents, as always, delivered another entertaining and fantastic podcast.

  12. Very creepy scenario & like the fun film The Birds, while it seems to get the creepy setting right, gives the Keeper/GM some more work to do at filling in some details. I like it, just will have to do a few things when running it to connect the dots some.

  13. Another fine Weird Tale Radio Programme

    Slightly different than the others, in that, instead of the players having to act like they don’t know what’s going on in the Weird Tales of Lovecraft (‘we are supposed to act like our characters aren’t supposed to be doomed, doomed I tell you’), the players actually are experiencing the Weird Tale

    Which is, as everything else, from marriage through kids to sentience, not for everyone

    But it is already too late

    The program was activated the moment you listened to the Programme; pleasant…screams…

  14. Hopefully we get dance next, which was always Grahams favorite of the scenarios, though St. Margaret is the strongest in my opinion

  15. I was on the completely wrong track. When I heard “they come and come again” and that they come from the stars to land on a planet that is not earth. In combination with their fungal nature I immediately assumed they were some kind of Mi-Go drones.

  16. I was pleasantly surprised. In to UK, birds that aren’t birds, “they’re in my head”, I totally thought this was gonna be the Shan.

    I didn’t even mind that there was no conclusive “and here’s exactly what was going on” explanation at the end. There was enough recurring themes that the monsters here didn’t feel like they could arbitrarily do anything and the atmosphere that the scenario was great.

    I honestly don’t see the Colour from the previous scenario as being any less “arbitrary” than the monsters here. Reading the Colour Out of Space I never got the impression that Lovecraft had clearly written out an expansive background for them. We really only saw what their effect on the environment was. Even then everything completely changed at the very end of the story, so it’s not like anything we saw up until then could have been regarded as hard and fast rules.

  17. Darthrex, what makes you think that’s the wrong track? To me, they clearly seem directly inspired by the Mi-Go in “The Whisperer in Darkness”. And I find this to be an incredibly effective reinterpretation of the Mi-Go idea (also: Mi-Go=worst monster name in Lovecraft). The twist is that there’s no way to the PCs to find any kind of helpful explanation of what they are or what they’re trying to do. Which makes perfect sense, because how would anyone figure it out? The dumbest thing about “Whisperer” is that the monsters somehow feel the need to beat around the bush and leave all kinds of clues explaining what they are and what they’re doing. But the birds here certainly aren’t telling anyone.

    I especially love that this scenario actually does something horrifying with the idea of fungus. In Lovecraft, the “fungi from Yuggoth” are only fungi as a way of saying that they’re weird and otherworldly. They don’t actually do anything fungal. But…these guys sure do.

    Though I also prefer scenarios with a “win condition” that give the players some sort of narrative payoff reward for clever play, these bird guys are absolutely going to be my favored interpretation of space fungi from now on.

  18. It is worth noting that the purist scenarios are very much written to explore specific elements of lovecrafts story telling.

    St margarets is hopeless cosmic horror.

    Dance is the you are the monster

    Watchers is the inherently unknowable nature of the mythos.

    It isn’t that graham is being lazy. It is that it is the best way to highlight that theme.

  19. Man I loved this scenario, it’s like the nightmares I have every other night. Nonsensical and hopeless when you boil it down. Unless you follow through for a long time/ for consecutive sessions then a story begins to show it’s self.

  20. I didn’t find it nonsensical at all. The fact that we don’t immediately know the vector doesn’t mean there isn’t one… or that we should necessarily understand it. Even if you can’t trace it back to the moment where you touched the wrong thing or looked at the wrong book, we already know there are horrible things in the air in the world these scenarios take place in. It doesn’t make sense that there are connections to the creatures, the deformations or wounds found in both the PCs’ family members and the birds, that predate the PCs’ involvement in the story itself, but we’ve just been to a hospice where none of the patients die and every day is the same date, and a clock store where none of the clocks work, led there by a man who finds nothing strange with that, and another who knows everyone’s life story and doesn’t know why.

    There’s a fatalism to the scenarios, which is kind of deeply ingrained in cosmic horror the way I see it: the non-supernatural clockwork of the universe is so cold and uncaring and mortal that even as we’re horrified by it, we’re simultaneously tantalized and tempted by something that gives it more meaning, even if that something is a horrible monster.

    A common theme in mythos or cosmic horror stories is the infectious supernatural taking over the characters’ human experience in some way, leading to madness and death, and each has its own vector, something in the human environment that is infected. It can act like an actual disease or STD like in Lover in the Ice, it can be something in the water, something in the air. Nyarlathotep gets you through culture, through a play, it’s often in books, in the senses. In Pontypool it’s in language. I think in this campaign we’re going to discover that time as an environment in which people operate (TIME IS A FLAT CIRCLE!) is the vector, what’s infected with mythos-ness.

    This particular scenario had kind of a refreshing reversal: it’s not just about the monster infecting you and turning you into a monster (although they do put goo in your head), it’s about the monster stealing parts of you to build itself for its own unknown alien purposes. Kind of like the forced uploading in Eclipse Phase, perhaps.

  21. As much as the Mi-Go make sense in this scenario, I like that the monster is undefined. I think it is wrong to try and Identify a specific Mythos entity as being “the monster.” It falls into the mindset of the earlier, more ludic version of CoC. The pulpy “meet a monster, shoot it until it dies or, more likely, kills you” version of mythos horror. The kind of scenario where the monsters have an entry in the manual, and a predefined number of hitpoints.

    This is very much a representation of the more modern version of Mythos gaming, where the interest is less in achieving a mechanical win condition, and more about creating an authentic cosmic horror story and atmosphere. In such a case creating your own, new and undefined monster that has no real mechanical existence. Most players interested in playing these sort of scenarios will likely have a substantial amount of metagame knowledge. Even if they are capable of not acting on it, knowing that the terrifying insectofungus from beyond the stars has 4 armour, 16 hitpoints and will likely hit you with a lightning weapon fundamentally changes the way that the player approaches the encounter.
    Sure, when you throw a Haunting Horror at an experienced group of players they will be Worried, because they know that it can and will probably kill them all. But the players are not really “scared” the monster is lacking one of the the most fundamental aspects of what makes Mythos entities scary. It is not “Unknowable” because it is fundamentally known. The players know exactly what it is, down to the number of rounds it would take to kill with a shotgun dealing average damage per round. At that point the monster is a math problem, not a terrifying unknown.

    This is also why I don’t really see the scenario not having a “win condition” to be a problem. The Final Revelation follows a different gaming style. It is story based, rather than mechanically based. The goal of both the players is not to win exactly, but to create a story.

  22. St. Margaret’s did have more of a cohesive story, and it did still have an ending in which the characters don’t win anything. Very strong first scenario.

    The scenario was ok, there’s some weird birds and then you run away or die, and then end up in the future or something. The monsters were quite nebulous in their presentation, somewhat Shan-ish and somewhat Mi-go-ish.

    And I thought Tom was doing a smashing job avoiding the plot. Kudos, Tom!

  23. Walmsley names both the Mi-go and the Shan as influences on the bird-creatures in the scenario text. Either of them would make for a good red herring against Mythos-savvy players, though the scenario as written doesn’t address that idea.

    Also, I just realized that early on Professor Wright tells his wife he’s working on a monograph on plate tectonics. At this point in history Wegener’s theory of continental drift is just as much laughable fringe science as Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and it isn’t until the 1950s, when scientists discover plate tectonics (the mechanism for how continental drift works), that it becomes widely accepted. Not trying to nitpick an off-the-cuff comment: I like to think Professor Wright’s sanity is saved when he gets to see his own crackpot beliefs vindicated!

  24. Since this is the “final revelation,” are there other recordings which cover the earlier portions of the scenario, or is it that we just get to hear the climax of the story line? Sorry if this is a dumb question, but I’m new to the site and my scan through several months of of the Archived Podcasts didn’t reveal earlier recordings

  25. Ahhhhh! Cool, I was unaware that those scenarios had been combined into a single story arc. We’ve played through the Dying of Saint Margarets. Heh, herre I thought you had simply titled the podcast thusly to indicate the end of a series of recordings. I even thought the Friday Group was just a name for the game group itself. Sigh. Ah well, I catch on eventually–at least when told!

  26. I thought the Latin word for alien was Kayne.

    I also would play a call the midwife – trail scenario. Would make a good way to get my wife to play at least one game.

  27. I’m going to agree with Ross in the strictest sense of what he said, Watchers isn’t as tight a scenario as St. Margaret’s. You get to the end of this weird, horrible unnatural rabbit hole and you can only ask “what does it mean”, and then the guy dressed like an english professor pulls the pipe out of his mouth (Disclaimer: I don’t know what Caleb and/or Graham Walmsley looks like, I’m just visualizing over here) and says “It means nothing. The entire purpose of the scenario was to create this scenario. It has no further purpose or reasoning”, which to a lot of modern audiences I think can easily interpreted as being “Fuck you, it means nothing”. Climbing all the way to the end only to just have it be “it’s meaningless” ranges from feeling like the writers are just shrugging and going “ehh” so slapping you in the face and saying “haha, got you bitch!”. Most people don’t want to come to the end of an idea only to have it be effectively a void experience.

    Ross is right, HPL (at least in my experience) always had some kind of source. It was always some arcane place or ancient race or eldrich god (or associates thereof), who you could vaguely point at and say “They did this”, but being able to point fingers doesn’t guarantee that you can stop them or fix anything, or understand any reason to why and how it is done. Even Caleb’s No Security scenarios are the same, there is a thing going on here, and it has some definite source or actor, even if the entirety of the thing is beyond your comprehension. This is also much more in-line with reality and the kind of scientific discoveries that drove/drive a lot of Cosmic Horror, to. We can probably find a source or force which causes all phenomena in the universe, but we will most likely not find any greater reasoning than “that’s just how it is mate” for the foreseeable future. Watchers takes it a step too far in forming a vague picture of elements without connecting any of them, which makes it literally arbitrary. It’s like being given a jigsaw puzzle that you think will form a solid picture, but when you put it together it forms a blurry image. It’s an interesting concept, but for consuming as entertainment, it has an unsatisfactory conclusion.

  28. I actually felt like this scenario did provide plenty of explanations, and was much more satisfying than “The Dying of St. Margarets”. Sure, we think there’s a good explanation for St. Margaret’s because we all know, metagaming, what a Color Out of Space is. Or do we? Not really, it’s an inexplicable phenomenon somewhat similar to radiation, and there’s no explanation for how it would create a portal to another dimension. And in the end, there’s nothing to do, or that can be done.

    Maybe I see this differently because I’m a biologist in real life. The investigators found a number of very interesting clues that make it possible to draw up at least one comprehensive theory explaining the phenomenon. It remains to test it exhaustively, and in the process probably find an even better explanation, but that’s as good as truth or knowledge gets in reality, particularly the sciences – unlike the killer of a murder mystery, God never breaks down and confesses all the details about how he did it.

    Thinking in a purely rational manner and ignoring the metagame knowledge that there may not be a rational explanation, here’s what I came up with, and what I think the scientists doing the investigation could have figured out from all the clues:

    It’s obvious that there’s a form of radiation detectable by the cloud chamber but not the Geiger counter. This might be a fluke of the different design of the two instruments, but it might also be a sign of a new phenomenon unknown to physics – something extremely exciting.

    A form of infectious “black fungus” exists that naturally captures and retains an element capable of emitting this radiation particularly strongly. Whether this is an adaptive trait (just as vertebrates capture and retain large amounts of calcium to build skeletons, the fungus might have some use for this element in some cellular process) or a neutral or maladaptive one (such as the tendency of plants to take up and retain heavy metals from the surrounding soil) remains to be seen. This kind of thing isn’t uncommon; for instance, the human thyroid gland absorbs a lot of iodine, while the rest of the human body does not, so humans exposed to radioactive iodine will have high concentrations of radiation in their thyroid but not necessarily elsewhere (leading to thyroid cancer).

    Either the radioactive form of the element is widespread, but the “black fungus” originates in one particular mine in the Lake District, leading to higher concentrations there, or the “black fungus” is relatively common but the mine contains a particularly high amount of the radioactive form of the element, so only infected animals that have visited that area have a noticeable effect on cloud chambers.

    What is the “black fungus”, and how does it explain birds developing human structures?

    In the 1930s, the mechanisms of inheritance were less well understood. A biologist encountering the black fungus would be overjoyed with the realization that here might lie the answer to the nature vs. nurture debate. Was the black fungus somehow capable of altering the factors of inheritance (not yet proven to be DNA – but perhaps careful study of how the fungus acted on a cellular level could identify the factor once and for all)? Or was it proof that development was largely driven by environment, that all the fungus had to do was produce the right environment for a human hand to develop and any animal cells would immediately take that shape, that the only reason humans are shaped like humans is that we develop in a human womb? Thrilling stuff – while a simple explanation for the black fungus might not exist yet, the explanation for the fungus would also be the answer to an incredibly important question about the nature of life – this would be the research opportunity of a lifetime (although modern biology has realized that nature vs nurture is a false dichotomy, but that’s another story).

    Modern biology would find the fungus even more improbable, but given that it clearly exists, that’s just a synonym for “exciting”. The first thing I’d think was that the “fungus” was actually a transmissible cancer. Not just any transmissible cancer (those are rare enough – you can look up Devil Facial Tumour Disease for the best-known example), but the first to jump across species lines. Some cancerous cell in a human being evolved enough independence (and enough tendency to leave its host and spread) to cross into both the avian population of the Lake District and the goats (suggesting it might also be the first airborne transmissible cancer). Even more interestingly, some of the cancer cells in their new hosts occasionally, for some reason (coincidental environmental triggers?), reverted to their original function, building human bone structures in the birds and goats. The unusual behavior of both the infected birds and the infected villagers suggest that the cancer also caused mental illness, which is actually far more likely than anything else about it (brain tumors can cause all kinds of things, but even a cancer that reduced the ability of the digestive system to take up a particular vitamin from food could eventually have severe mental effects).

    So if it’s a cancer, why do the infected seem to have fungus growing in them? Simple, the cancer suppresses the immune response to fungal infections; the fungus is actually an opportunistic, secondary infection.

    There’s no evidence that such a cancer could even exist in reality, but once we’re talking about a world where the black fungus does exist and has been observed to do what it does, it’s clear that something new to biology is going on and the “transmissible cross-species cancer” theory provides a way to explain it with several things we already know can happen.

    Stepping back from the biology to a narrative point of view – I also felt like the narrative still gives a satisfying explanation. What’s going on is that something regularly comes from space to visit the planet, and where it lands, it starts turning animals, people, and ideas into patchwork amalgamations of all the animals, people, and ideas in the area. And this spreads until it decides to leave. Sure, we could call it X’yog-ctha, God of the Spreading Patchwork, but that’s just tacking a name onto the concept.

  29. After listening to this over recently, a part of me wants to rationalize (And I understand that’s not the point of this scenario) that this was just one big psychological experiment performed by the Mi’go. certain details in the scenario seem to suggest their involvement.

  30. I spit out my drink when Tom made the “bird is the word” reference.

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