by Phil Bell and Sean Branney
played May 23-26, 1986 at Lake Maria and the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, CO

Traveling students discover horror at a desert oasis, and trek into the dunes to set things right.

Black Tentacle Awards
This game roped in a record-breaking four Black Tentacle™ awards:
Best Adventure, Best Scenario, Best NPC, and Best Investigator.

The Scenario award went to the Desert Trek portion of the adventure, a grueling experience that none of its participants will ever forget.

Phil Bell won the NPC trophy for his portrayal of Ansep Ma Sa, the merciless and insensitive—yet somehow lovable—Egyptian guide.

Andrew Leman won the Investigator trophy for having survived as Digby Dolmen.

Game Notes
This was another of the highly successful "full-immersion" style weekend adventures in which the players were completely isolated and trapped in a terrible situation for an extended period. Scenarios were actually played IN OUR SLEEP. Coupled with the extreme physical exhaustion of trekking across vast actual sand dunes, it led to a very intense experience. It really might as well have actually been Egypt.

A personal note: the Sam’s Nightmare scenario is the only time in my life when I have been literally paralyzed with fear. When he started screaming I was absolutely frozen into my sleeping bag. I almost couldn’t speak. None of us got much sleep the rest of that night. —AHL

Although the ceremony featured in the climax of the game was originally intended to be performed in the nude, it was simply too cold on the desert at night to go ahead with this plan. Of course, it’s highly doubtful any of the players would have agreed to it anyway... (The desert at night was so much colder than anyone had expected, in fact, that plans to camp out all night were spontaneously abandoned, and the entire group trekked out of the desert in the wee hours of the morning after the adventure was concluded.)

Sean and Phil innovated the use of "codewords" in this game, which has proven useful repeatedly since that time. Since Cthulhu Lives is played without dice, this is one of the Keeper’s few ways of directly controlling player behavior. In a note to the players at the beginning of the adventure, they listed the following five codewords which the players were to remember. If players ever heard one of the codewords used, they were to respond appropriately.

"Fishbone" you are attacked by an alligator
"Crankshaft" you feel increasingly ill, skin turns yellow, etc.
"Dog meat" you are bitten by a snake
"Riverboat" you feel your brain bubbling, agony, meeping, etc.
"Yeeeeg" something nearby is never seen again

In actual practice, all the codewords except for the last one were red herrings. They supplied them so that the players would not be able to guess what might be coming. The only one actually used was "Yeeeeg," which NPC Richard Henshaw said just as he was pulled under the surface of the water at the oasis. Even though Sean Branney, who was playing him, resurfaced to breathe, the players understood that Richard never came up from the water again. A nifty and invisible way to accomplish what might otherwise be a difficult or dangerous stunt.

Of course, the trick in using codewords is to choose words that are not likely to come up in conversation otherwise.

Ansep Ma Sa, whose name in Arabic purportedly means "Never to Give Fruit," was originally going to force the investigators to carry a watermelon with them across the desert. The oranges were bad enough.

The investigators, while crossing the desert, spotted what they believed to be the prostrate form of Nick on a distant dune. They watched the figure for almost an hour through Dolmen’s telescope before realizing that it was in fact merely a tuft of hardy dune grass.

The showers and pizza that the players enjoyed after the game were the nicest any of them had ever experienced.

Set, or Seth, is the Egyptian god of evil incarnate. The jealous brother of Osiris, he murdered his rival by tricking him into a coffin, nailing it shut, and sealing it with molten lead. He is represented as a creature with a human body and the head of an unidentified animal known only as the Typhonian Beast, with a strange down-curved snout and squarish ears. He is regarded as the original model for the Greek monster Typhon.

The Book of Dzyan is a relatively powerful Mythos tome. It is mentioned in Lovecraft’s story "The Haunter of the Dark," and by Gary Myers in "Yokh the Necromancer."

Miskatonic University, home of the Pharaoh’s Scholar Program, is the fictional university invented by Lovecraft and used in many stories and games. See Hell’s Chancellor, The Crawling Chaos, The Sentence, and The Epic.

Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge is a real historical figure, a very noted and prolifically published archeologist and Egyptologist who lived in the 1920s. His texts on Egyptian language and mythology are classroom standards even today. The Keepers took extreme liberties with the circumstances of his death. The real Budge died peacefully in 1934 at the age of seventy-seven.

The "crossing the Atlantic" scenario was played in one evening in the apartment of one of the investigators. The players spent an hour or so together in character simply getting to know one another, much as they would have done had they really spent a week on a ship to Egypt. The Keepers were not even involved in this scenario.