This week I'm reminiscing about my favorite "Call of Cthulhu" scenario, "The Condemned". It's been published several times, I found it in the supplement "H.P. Lovecraft's Arkham".
"The Condemned" was the fourth published scenario that I chose to run.The first three were "Edge Of Darkness","The Crack'd and Crook'd Manse" and "The Sanatorium".It was the most complex in terms of plot and also the first that ran across two sessions.
What makes the story special is the villain,"Sermon Bishop". Bishop is a wizard from 17th Century New England, a truly foul character who makes a deal with "The Treader of Dust".The deal grants him immortality in exchange for his soul and the cost of a deformed neck.Bishop is captured and imprisoned by seven locals who entombed him in the support structure of a stone bridge.Fast forward two hundred years and a lightning strike to the bridge releases him.He stumbles upon two college students camping by the river and uses magic to perform a body swap with one of them.He kills the other student and buries him with his own seventy year old body,which is now "home" to the mind of the other student.
The players enter the story having been asked to track down the missing student as his colleague, now possessed by Bishop, has wandered into town claiming amnesia.The players interview the student and notice he has an odd accent (it's Bishops).There is another thread to the story of course.Now that Bishop is free,he scours the local libraries to trace the descendants of those who had imprisoned him centuries earlier.Once his list of the seven is compiled,he goes on a rampage killing each in different ways.
I finished the first session by hitting the players from three angles.First,they find the body of the student and also Bishops body.Interviewing "Bishop", they figure out the body swap.Second, the possessed student breaks out of hospital and starts the revenge killings.Third,they put the pieces together and get hold of his hitlist of victims.To add a bit of urgency, I handed over the list which I'd altered from the one in the published scenario...I replaced two of the victims names with two of the player characters! A great way to wrap up a session with the players knowing that the villain is coming after them.
The second session was much more aggressively played with the players decided to take the fight to Bishop. This resulted in an underground showdown in which "The Treader of Dust" himself is summoned.One of the players took the chance to do a deal himself with the Treader,thus cancelling Bishops deal! Bishop was swiftly dealt with,and we had the unusual situation going forward of a character being immortal.There is much more to the game that I've skimmed,but it's a special scenario that has all the elements you'd hope to see in a "Cthulhu" game...a deadly villain,complex mystery and a lethal old book.I highly recommend it.