by Andrew Leman
played November 1 - December 20, 1998 in the Mojave Desert, at the seismology lab of the California Institute of Technology, in various Los Angeles locations, and New York City via videoconference.


Local law enforcement officers investigate the mysterious appearance of a mummified corpse, and discover the unbelievable truth about a 70-year-old crime, resorting in the end to dastardly measures to save themselves.

Game Notes

At last the video clips from the videoconference scenario are online! Check them out by pressing the "media" button on the left.

This game featured some very interesting and rich character development from the Investigators. They made several very unexpected but perfectly legitimate choices, and no one could predict how the situation would resolve itself: the Keeper told his NPCs repeatedly right up until the final scenario that he had no idea how the game would end. And even when he thought he had it finally figured out, they still surprised him. It was a great example of Keeper and Investigators playing together to create a game experience bigger and better than the sum of its parts. The character of Herman Winesap, for example, was never originally a part of the story: he was created solely in response to one of the Investigators’ decision to hire a lawyer. And he turned out to be a pivotal character in the game.

In many ways this game was a sequel to Game 32, The Black Man, and is an example of the kind of richness that Cthulhu Lives can offer as a form of storytelling by operating on at least two levels of reality at the same time. The characters of J.D. Titan, Melanie Forrester, Sam Buchannan, Roxy Ross, and others mentioned in newspaper articles were all well known to player Sean Branney, who was the co-Keeper of The Black Man. That game had ended in defeat for the Investigators, and J.D. Titan was shot in the face with a shotgun. Part of the fun in this game, for Andrew and Sean, at least, was in revisiting these favorite old Investigator characters from a very different perspective. Liz Stanton, who had played Melanie Forrester in several previous early games of Cthulhu Lives, reprised the role of Melanie as an extremely old woman. It had been hoped that she could fly to LA and play directly with the Investigators. When that proved impossible, the idea of doing a scenario via videoconference was born, and it proved to be a huge success, with shades of Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter.”

The “earthquake” effect was created simply by giving each investigator a sealed envelope containing a very brief note informing them that they had just felt an earthquake. The Keeper asked his players to open these envelopes and read the contents at 3:47 in the morning of November 1, which they quite obligingly did.

The helicopter ride scenario was played in an actual helicopter, flying from the Van Nuys airport to a spot 100 miles away in the Mojave Desert. Thanks to John Nielsen, the pilot, for really playing along and contributing a special kick to the game experience. The Keeper’s team drove out to the site hours in advance to bury the mummy and make the giant symbol, and coordinated with the airport via cellphone.

The giant symbol on the desert floor was created by Andrew Leman, Chris Lackey, Brody Condon and Phil Granchi, using a few shovels, a rake, plenty of rope, a measuring wheel, and hand truck, and a lot of elbow grease. It was 300 yards long, and was completed just about fifteen minutes before the Investigators arrived in the helicopter. What the Keeper did not know was that there was already a giant symbol on the floor of Lucerne Lake, which can’t be seen except from the air, and we made our giant symbol right next to it. So when the Investigators arrived in the chopper, they saw both symbols side by side. The Keeper was somewhat nonplused to learn of the existence of the second symbol, but we all agreed to ignore it, and it was digitally erased from photos used as evidence. There was of course no way to provide enough fake blood to fill the entire symbol, so just one small part was actually dripping with blood, and the players all agreed to imagine that the rest of it was also bloody.

The mummified body was made from a plastic prop movie skeleton, on which were layers of foam rubber flesh covered by a modified paper-mache skin devised by the Keeper using acrylic polymer emulsion. The skeleton was borrowed from some Hollywood special effects friends of Chris Lackey, and was returned to them after the game. (The Keeper kept the head, however, which he had provided himself using a standard plastic model kit of a skull.) Titan’s glass eye was a genuine antique found in an L.A. boutique. The velvet robe worn by the body was likewise a genuine antique, a theatrical costume acquired in Iowa and used previously on the King in Game 55, The Epic.

The Keeper would like to effusively thank John Marquis of the seismology lab at the California Institute of Technology for his amazing help. In addition to meeting the Keeper and NPCs in distant locales and tutoring them in earthquake science, he also wrote and posted information about our fictional game earthquake on the real CalTech website, and hosted a scenario in the seismology lab, which is an incredibly cool place, and played an NPC role. (He would have played in the very first scenario, but he was involved in a minor fender-bender on his way to the desert location.)

The antique Edison cylinder phonograph used by the players was loaned to the Keeper by an incredibly helpful antiques dealer, Scott Corbett. He also assisted in the recording of the wax cylinder found by the Investigators, and even stood ready to play himself in a scenario had it been necessary. His location in the city of Ontario, CA, about 45 minutes away from LA, made it inconvenient to play there, and the scenario was staged in the Keeper’s apartment with another NPC instead.

The statue of the Blind Ape of Truth was sculpted by Chris Lackey. It was modeled in polymer clay and rolled in sand for surface texture.

Thanks to Jamie Anderson for story development feedback.

Thanks to Phil Bell for his coaching on pronunciation of ancient Egyptian.

Thanks to Brigitte Mahaney for standing in as Melanie Forrester in the pre-game photo session.

Thanks to Shawn Simons for helping the Keeper with location scouting, and finding the Lucerne Lake site.

The scroll of Nitocris was a digital montage made from scanned sections of the Papyrus of Ani, along with original artwork by the Keeper. It was printed from a Macintosh onto actual papyrus using a large format inkjet printer. The finished piece was baked in an oven to make it dry and crispy and fragile.

The ruins of the Twobears house in Solstice Canyon really were the ruins of an old house. Thanks to Carolyn Palmer for alerting the Keeper to the existence of this excellent location. The glowing symbols in Solstice Canyon and elsewhere were created using a kind of ink that really does fluoresce in the presence of ultraviolet light. It can be purchased at some novelty shops. The Keeper painted the symbols on rocks, on the statue, on Investigators’ skin, and the symbols really were only visible when the UV light was shined at them.

The videoconference scenario, which was incredibly effective and brilliantly played, was a real videoconference between players in New York and players in Los Angeles. Because of the time zone difference, the NPCs in New York were playing at about one in the morning. The facilities were provided by Kinko’s at both ends.

The final ritual, like most final rituals in games of Cthulhu, was understaffed. There should have been more cultists, but the Keeper needed his available players to serve as kokens to create the special effects of the portal opening. Sadly, those effects turned out not so special. Short on time and not knowing until the last moments what the Investigators were going to do, the Keeper didn’t have time to prepare a very interesting doorway to the underworld. It was made hastily out of some black fabric and plastic tubing, painted with glow-in-the-dark paint that didn’t glow very much, and decorated with lame plastic snakes. And the fog machine failed to produce much fog at the critical moment. Ah well, that’s what imaginations are for. Eric Drachman’s stereo system and the incense and the hot tub (not to mention Eric’s naked body) created plenty of atmosphere. Chris Lackey could have been a cultist, but he was dressed and ready to appear as The Black Man once more if Investigator behavior required it: luckily for them it didn’t.

The blood effects in the final ritual were achieved through a rigged rubber knife with a blood reservoir in the handle, coupled with large syringes concealed in the sleeves of Marjorie Flanders’ robe. The blood from the throat cutting came from the knife itself, and subsequent blood was pumped from the syringes through plastic tubes up the player’s arms. Sadly, as frequently happens, the Investigators were not well positioned to see the startling results (although it was certainly quite viscerally effective to the Keeper, who had to draw a symbol using the warm, sticky stuff).

Like Game 62, The Call, this adventure was set in the present day. The Keeper wanted to take advantage of additional modern resources that had not been utilized in The Call: helicopters and video technology in particular. This game also made substantial use of websites as sources of game information: some of them were real websites, and some of them were created specifically for the game. Thanks are due to Richard Longcoat, who maintains the Miskatonic University website at http://www.miskatonic.net, for his cooperation. The Keeper regrets he could not get himself together enough to take advantage of Richard’s generous willingness to put up some pages for this game on his site. Maybe next time....

This game was originally scheduled to begin the day after Halloween and last for about a week and a half. Shortly after the first scenario, however, the Keeper had to go to Chicago to be with a dying friend. After the friend’s death, the Thanksgiving holidays added more delay. Role-playing was not resumed until the first week of December, and the game concluded on the night of the Winter Solstice. The Keeper would like to dedicate this game to the memory of his friend Steve McCarroll.