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Delta Green: Days of Infamy (2013 – Present)

Special Collection, Session 1

Scenario Author: Allan Goodall
Write-up Author: Allan Goodall
Run Date: March 2, 2013
Game System: Call of Cthulhu, 5.5 edition with Delta Green optional rules
Keeper: Allan Goodall
Characters: Marine Cpt. Barnabas Gentry (Logan Carpenter), a young officer who has tackled his share of "Fish Boys" (Deep Ones) since joining P Division; Professor Edwin Lawrence (Jason Gallagher), expert in folklore and the occult; Dr. Elinor Tweed (Alana Goodall), civilian biologist working for P Division.

Introduction

P Division is the U.S. government's organization tasked with investigating the paranormal. It was transferred from the Office of Naval Intelligence to the Coordinator of Intelligence — a civilian intelligence agency under William "Wild Bill" Donovan — in late 1941. This created an odd mix of civilians and military that was still finding its place within the government's structure when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

The U.S. was now at war with Japan and Germany, and P Division had lost some of its members to active service. The head of the department, Navy Lieutenant Commander Martin Cook, stopped the attrition with promises that P Division would soon be heavily involved in the war. Nevertheless, in early 1942 P Division was clearly understaffed. Lt. Cmdr. Cook worked to improve the situation as an even bigger reorganization was rumored to be taking shape.

Tuesday, 3 March 1942, 0920 EST

Office of Naval Intelligence, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Elinor Tweed was in the office of Navy Lieutenant Alvin Foresyth pleading for a chance at a field operation. Casual sexism of the kind common in the 1940s reared its ugly head as Foresyth questioned whether or not a field operation was any place for a woman. Elinor shot daggers at Foresyth as she insisted that she be allowed to operate in the field.

Lt. Cmdr. Cook arrived at Foresyth's office with Marine Capt. Barnabas Gentry in tow. Barnabas wanted to investigate something in New York. It may not amount to anything, but Cook agreed to send Cpt. Gentry, anyway. The young Marine officer had good instincts. For safety reasons, Cook preferred to send his agents out in pairs. He stopped by Foresyth's desk to ask if anyone was available. With a sidelong glance at Elinor, Foresyth nodded in the affirmative. A few minutes later, Elinor found herself in Cook's office listening to Barnabas' briefing.

Barnabas read a newspaper report to Cook and Elinor. A book had been stolen from the New York Public Library's rare book collection. Barnabas did some investigating and determined that the book was The Supernatural History of New York by Alton Sands, published by Roanoke Publishing in 1884. The person who stole the book apparently had a German accent.

It was probably nothing, but Barnabas thought it best to check out the incident. The country feared German fifth columnists working to undermine national security. P Division had heard some rumors of German interest in the paranormal. Again, it might not be anything, but he thought it was better to be safe than sorry. He had a hunch that this was more important than it appeared on the surface. Cook okayed their investigation.

Barnabas and Elinor went home, packed, and were on the train bound for New York as it departed the station at 3:45 pm that afternoon. The train arrived in New York at 8:40. The two agents checked into their hotel.

The next morning, Barnabas and Elinor showed up at the main branch of the library just as it opened. Barnabas asked to speak to the library's head of security. Instead, they were met by head librarian David Bell, and special collections head Rose Tyler. They were escorted to Bell's office.

The appearance of a Marine officer investigating a stolen book had the librarians confused. Barnabas explained that German spies might be using an old book to somehow send coded messages. The fact that the book was possibly stolen by someone with a German accent — per the newspaper report — had the Office of Naval Intelligence concerned. He failed to mention that he no longer officially worked for the ONI, in spite of what his ID said.

His cover story had the right effect. The two librarians told them all that they knew. A woman in her early thirties asked for the book. Miss Tyler had the woman sign for the book and then went to fetch it. She's not sure where the woman was from but she thought the woman's accent was German. She left the woman with the book in the special collections room. A short while later Miss Tyler looked up from her desk and the woman was gone, and so was the book. She caught sight of the woman hurrying out the front door. She ran after her, but by the time she got to the street the woman had disappeared into the crowd.

Miss Tyler showed the agents the sign out register. They couldn't read the woman's signature. Miss Tyler described the woman as tall, with dark brown hair and high cheek bones. She wore a grey coat and brown skirt that was well made but a couple of years out of fashion. The woman was distracted and in a hurry.

Elinor asked who else had an interest in the book. Mr. Bell had pulled those records for the police. No one had even looked at the book in five years. The last person was a Professor Edwin Lawrence at Columbia University.

As Barnabas and Elinor were about to leave, the librarians casually mentioned how it had been a very exciting couple of days. Elinor asked what they meant by that. Miss Tyler explained that there was another strange incident that day. When the police arrived to investigate the theft, they asked other patrons of the rare books collection if they saw anything. One of the patrons, a regular, got all nervous and ran. The policeman grabbed the man and snagged his coat. The man — an older gentleman who visited the library regularly — ran off with unexpected speed. The police confiscated the jacket. However the man had dropped one of his business cards. Bell had not yet given the card to the police. The card was grimy and worn. It said "S. Smith, Bookseller" and gave an address in the Bronx. Barnabas took the card with a promise that he would give it to the police.

Barnabas and Elinor decided they first needed to talk to the professor, then they would hunt down the bookseller. They thanked the librarians and left. They hailed a taxi to take them to Columbia University.

The agents arrived at Edwin Lawrence's office less than half an hour later. They knocked on the open door and Edwin Lawrence invited them in. After introductions, Barnabas used the same cover story as before: that a German woman stole a rare book for unknown reasons, and that they were investigating the theft as a potential threat to national security.

Edwin, a man of focused attention, immediately connected the book's theft with that of another book a few years earlier. That book was the Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New England Canaan. The theft of another occult book intrigued Edwin. After a short discussion, the three decided that the thefts were not connected. Lawrence agreed to help the federal agents with their investigation, anyway.

He looked through his notes and told them what he remembered, and what he wrote down, about A Supernatural History of New York. It was a limited octavo edition. It was filled mostly with anecdotes and not a lot of original research. The writing style was very "scholarly". In other words, the book was of limited interest as it wasn't original enough for academics and wasn't written with the fluidity needed to appeal to the general public. Its main appeal was a series of color plates. These plates were detailed maps to several areas of peculiar supernatural activity, as indicated by the book.

Edwin's notes listed the five chapters featured prominently in the color plates: the Bronx Witch House, the Haunted Tenement, the Long Island Murder House, the Mortuary of the Restless, and the Disappearing Lighthouse Keeper.

They asked Edwin if he knew of "S. Smith, Bookseller". He did. The man was Stuart Smith and his store was in the Bronx. Edwin had purchased something from the store previously, but he last visited the store several years ago. Smith must be over 70 years old by now. Elinor asked Edwin if he would accompany them on a visit to Mr. Smith, and Edwin said he would.

Stuart Smith's bookstore in the Bronx was a sad, dilapidated structure that looked like it was sagging in on itself. The main window was cracked and caked with grime. Nevertheless, the sign on the door said the store was open. The trio walked into the store. Edwin called for Mr. Smith. A voice from the back cried out, "Just a moment!" Soon an old man appeared in the central aisle.

It was a little hard to make out Stuart Smith as he stood in the shadow. He was in his 70s, or so the agents guessed. He had angular features and thinning white hair. Edwin recognized him as looking exactly as he had several years ago.

Edwin introduced them and told Mr. Smith that he had been in the store in the past. Smith seemed not to recognize Edwin, but smiled pleasantly. Barnabas asked if he knew about the theft of A Supernatural History of New York from the library, and indeed he had. Elinor said, "You don't have a copy of the book by chance, do you?" Smith nodded. He did, though it was not for sale. When Edwin expressed a strong desire for a copy for his collection, Smith corrected himself. The book was for sale, of course, but at a price of $300. It was clear that Smith didn't want to part with it.

Edwin asked if they could at least look at the book. Smith was uncertain, but Edwin brought out cotton gloves and promised not to damage the book. Smith finally relented. He told them that the book was on the top shelf nearest the cash register. He asked Barnabas to get it down. Edwin and Barnabas went to retrieve the book while a suspicious Elinor stayed with Smith in the central aisle.

The book was just as Edwin remembered. The plates were well done, surrounded by unremarkable text. He quickly checked the book for library markings, but there were none. Smith was, apparently, telling the truth. So why did he leave the library so quickly?

Before they could ask anything else of him, Smith apologized to Elinor and said that the light was hurting his eyes. He quickly shuffled to the front of the store and lowered the blinds. Elinor wandered up to the front counter where the others were looking at the book.

She found Edwin and Barnabas staring wide eyed at Mr. Smith. They quickly thanked Mr. Smith for the quick look through the volume, and then hustled Elinor out of the shop. As they hailed a taxi, the relatively calm Barnabas and the visibly nervous Edwin explained that Smith's shadow was quite a bit different in shape than it should have been. It wasn't just a trick of the light or shadows, either. Elinor had seen too much in her days autopsying weird entities for P Division to argue. They left the shop, and the mysterious Mr. Smith, at least for now.

They returned to Columbia University to do some research. Edwin had an assistant handle his classes for the day, and then he took the agents to the university library. They spent the rest of the day — between meals, at any rate — looking for information on the five mysterious locations found in A Supernatural History of New York on the assumption that at least one of the locations contained a clue. The book itself would have helped immensely, but they didn't want to spend any more time with the strange — and possibly dangerous — Mr. Smith.

They found information on two locations that afternoon. It took all of the next day to uncover information on another two locations. By Friday morning their research was complete:

Of the five locations, two (the light house and the tenement) no longer existed. The trio decided to concentrate on the other three. The closest was the witch house, so they decided to go there first.

Friday, 6 March 1942, 1100 EST

The Bronx Witch House, Bronx, New York

A cab took them down a street where residential housing was giving way to light industry. Although more than a couple of miles from Smith's bookstore, the homes on the street had the same sad, dilapidated feel. They pulled up to a gabled house made of dark brown stone. It seemed to lean to the left, as though it were barely holding itself upright. Several windows were broken. A few were boarded up and the boards were themselves broken. There were no vines on the home, though. In fact, there was little in the way of vegetation. Perhaps it was simply because it was early March and there was still snow on the ground.

A black five-year-old Ford sat in the driveway. Elinor suggested to the cab driver that he pull up behind the car. The cabbie did as she asked, unknowingly blocking the Ford in the driveway in case its owner tried to leave in a hurry. Barnabas and Edwin noted the license plate number.

They walked up to the front door. The door was locked. Barnabas rapped on the door. There was no answer. He looked around, then shouldered the door. With the splintering of rotten wood, the door swung inward. The house creaked as the door opened, as though sighing at the disturbance. He and Elinor drew their pistols, making sure that the cab driver didn't see them. Edwin brandished a large flashlight he had thought to bring along.

Elinor called out, "Hello!" but all they heard in response was the faint howl of wind.

Barnabas checked the second floor while Edwin and Elinor searched the ground floor. Anything of value was gone. There was an old, empty, rusted ice box in the kitchen, but the stove was gone. The paint was peeling from the empty cupboards. What was fine hardwood in an earlier time was now water stained. The upstairs floor creaked ominously with Barnabas' weight. All he found was a mildewing mattress and the long abandoned remnants of a bird's nest.

Barnabas joined the others on the ground floor. As they stood quietly in the living room, he heard something downstairs. It was a door creaking backward and forward as the wind gusted. Elinor proceeded to the basement stairs, followed by Edwin and Barnabas.

The stairs took them down into an empty basement. The only thing present in the basement was the carcass of an ancient boiler, squatting hulking in a corner. At the bottom of the stair, facing the stairs, was a wooden door. Debris beside the door hinted that for much of its life, the door was disguised as a set of shelves. Whenever that disguise failed, it wasn't just in the last few days.

The door swung back and forth slowly and casually. Elinor looked under the stairs as Edwin shone the flashlight to let her see. There was nothing there, nor was there anything else in the main part of the basement. Barnabas slipped past her so that he was now immediately in front of the door. He opened the door and Edwin illuminated the room.

The stone-walled chamber beyond the door was ten feet wide by twenty feet long. In the middle of the room was a book splayed open, cover up. A dark smear stained the stone floor — and the book — in a crimson arc. There was no body, nor anything else that could have made what they assumed was a spray of blood.

At the far end of the chamber was a crumbling wooden dais with a box on it. The box glinted as the light played over it. It was hard to tell if the box was made of metal or lacquered wood.

Barnabas looked at the others, shrugged, and walked into the chamber. He reached the book and knelt down to look at it more closely.

It was Edwin, and only Edwin, who saw the tear in reality that manifested between himself and Barnabas. Not knowing what it was, Edwin simply shouted, "Look out!"

The tear resolved into some thing vaguely human in shape. It appeared within an arm's length of Barnabas. Its body was of pale, inhuman flesh. Its misshapen head lolled from side to side. A long, clawed hand reached for Barnabas.

At Edwin's shout, Barnabas swung around, pistol in hand.

Seeing the fully resolved creature, Edwin gasped, screeched, and backed away as the flashlight fell from his hand. It hit the floor but miraculously stayed on. It spun around and around, like a strobe. Edwin bolted up the stairs in a panic.

Elinor, who hadn't noticed the tear in reality, couldn't help but see the thing now blocking her view of Barnabas. Her eyes rolled up in her sockets, and she fainted dead away.

Barnabas was alone as the thing reached for him.

Barnabas' Marine Corps instincts kicked in. He raised his .45 caliber M1911 pistol and shot in one smooth motion. The slug slammed into what passed for the thing's left eye. Ichor sprayed out, striking Barnabas' uniform. The thing let loose an inhuman howl. It swung wildly at Barnabas, but it wasn't even close to hitting him.

Another tear in reality appeared and the thing stepped through, apparently returning to whatever hell had spawned it. Barnabas let off a second shot. A long spray of ichor hit his shoulder as the thing let out a gurgling cry. A second later, the thing was gone.

Barnabas blinked, breathing heavy, as the flashlight stopped twirling. Elinor lay on the ground, unconscious. He rushed to her. She looked unharmed. As Elinor started to regain consciousness, Barnabas ran back into the room and scooped up the book, keeping a finger holding onto the open page.

He ran to the dais and lifted the box. It was lacquered cherry wood. Something shifted inside. He tucked the box under his arm and ran back to Elinor. She was getting to her feet. "Come on!" he called, and the two ran up the stairs and out of the building.

Edwin waited for them in the sunny but chilly March air. He hadn't heard any of Barnabas' gunshots; the basement was apparently too well insulated. Barnabas showed them what he had recovered after he had dispatched the "thing". The thought of the "thing" caused the other two investigators to shudder, but Barnabas took its existence in stride.

They quickly shuffled back to the cab, where they could see the driver casually put down his newspaper, oblivious to what happened in the house.

Before climbing into the cab, Barnabas flipped the catch on the box and carefully peered inside. It contained a knife with a black blade. He closed the box.

They got into the cab and headed back to Manhattan.

 

Scenario Notes

In past write-ups I have been reluctant to break the narrative with metagame comments. I intend to make these comments more often in Days of Infamy. Let me know if you'd rather see fewer of them.

This adventure was Logan's first experience with the Cthulhu Mythos, unless you count the few times I talked about it, or the time as a kid he claimed my plush "baby" Cthulhu (one of the originals without wings). It was very cool that in his first session he had a quintessential RPG moment during the encounter with the monster in the basement.

In case you didn't figure it out, the creature was a Dimensional Shambler. While its combat stats weren't that great, if it managed to grabble Barnabas it would haul him off to another dimension, eliminating the character. The stakes for his character were pretty high. Logan figured that out. When I described the tear in reality forming behind Barnabas, he said, "Oh, crap! There goes my character."

Things didn't look any better when I asked the other players to roll for Sanity. Both Alana and Jason failed their SAN rolls. They both lost 5 SAN points, which triggered Idea rolls. Of course they both had high INT scores, so they made their rolls; their characters went indefinitely insane as they fully understood exactly what they were seeing. I decided that the P Division agent would have only a short term insanity, but the professor would be affected for a longer period of time. Jason's character was going to have a phobia of basements for 30 hours while Alana's character fainted for 14 combat rounds.

At this point things didn't look good for the home team. There was a very real chance that Barnabas would be dragged into another dimension, and that another (or the same) Shambler would come back for Elinor.

But now it was Logan's turn to roll the dice.

Barnabas swung around. Logan rolled for Sanity and succeeded, losing nothing. Gun fire occurs before melee combat, so Logan got to fire first. He rolled an impale! He rolled for damage, doing 18 points with his .45. The creature had lost most of its hit points, even after taking armor into account!

I rolled for the Shambler's attack. I rolled a 00, a critical failure. Talk about sudden reversals.

I decided the thing had had enough. It started heading back to its home dimension.

On the next round, Logan hit it again. It wasn't an impale this time, but he still did another 9 points of damage. With a last blast of ichor, the thing died trying to return to its home dimension.

It was a fun, and very heroic, combat scene. And, I think it turned Logan into a Call of Cthulhu fan for life.