GM's Corner 11: The Nethescurial Fragment

I hope you enjoy this Call of Cthulhu one-shot! It seems like this is our go-to format when one of us can't make a session. CoC is a nice flexible system that works for very few players, and doesn't usually require a ton of prep.

Of course, I say that, but I've technically been prepping this scenario for about 8 years now. "The Nethescurial Fragment" is actually the first RPG scenario that I ever ran! Way back in 2008 or 2009, I first inflicted it on my brothers over our dinner table. I'd say it's improved a great deal since then. I've taken the trouble to draw a map, get pictures for all of the museum artifacts, and develop the details of the university setting and the cultist opposition. Fun fact: the PCs that Aaron and Laura play were actually NPCs in the original version. I think the story is a lot tighter now that the characters are insiders to the exhibit, rather than outside investigators.

The basic inspiration for the scenario comes from the Thomas Ligotti story "Nethescurial," which can be found in the recent one-volume Penguin reissue of his early collections Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. That's where the poem comes from, too. Later, I realized that the "monster" I got from Ligotti is in many ways similar to Lovecraft's classic Colour Out of Space. So I guess that's a good pedigree! The various historical details of the inscriptions and artifacts in the exhibit are the product of some very simple Wikipedia research.

 In the bits of .jpgs and beyond their filters...lurks the horror of amateur photo editing

In the bits of .jpgs and beyond their filters...lurks the horror of amateur photo editing

My take on present-day Miskatonic University as a has-been institution -- trading on its glory days, teetering on the brink of insolvency, and desperate for grant money -- is partly inspired by my experiences in real life higher education, and refined by a conversation on the forums of the Miskatonic University Podcast about using Miskatonic as a modern-day setting. I think it fits with Lovecraftian nostalgia for the past and his theme of degeneration and decay. And I added in a little Delta Green wrinkle for extra fun. (By the way, The Miskatonic University Podcast is a great show about Lovecraftian gaming. Check 'em out!).

I hope you enjoyed this one-shot as much as I enjoyed running it. And I hope eight years of development has had some improving effects!

-Ethan