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Subject: "Ashcan" Pete's luck is changing at last rss

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Robin Munn

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I ain't never had no luck in my life -- 'till now. But now, things might just be lookin' up for ol' Pete. But I'm gettin' ahead of myself -- I'd better start at the beginnin'.

It started a couple o' months ago. I'd just moved on from another job -- a man can only take so much o' the ol' daily grindstone routine before he'll just up an' quit. Leastwise, a man like me will. Some folks seem to be able to put up with it, but I've always felt like I had some purpose, and poundin' railroad ties ain't it. It seemed like I weren't goin' nowhere, and the nightmares was gettin' worse. Every night I'd wake up in a cold sweat, dreamin' about some weird creature tryin' to devour the world. The night I saw it lookin' straight at me, and woke up screamin', was the night I couldn't take it anymore.

If'n ol' Duke hadn't been by my side, I don't know what I would have done. But he started lickin' my face and hands while I sat an' trembled, and pretty soon I got to thinkin' about that Harvey Walters feller I'd met the previous week. He'd sounded real interested in my dreams, and said I should come look him up sometime at the university in Arkham. I ain't never been much good at book-learnin' myself, couldn't rightly see the point of it to tell you the truth. But I figgered, wouldn't hurt to go see him, and I was startin' to have this uncomfortable feelin' about my dreams. Like that thing I kept dreamin' about was startin' to wake up or somethin'. So I hopped the next boxcar I found that was headin' to Arkham, and there I was.

Professor Walters was real pleased to see me, and he asked me to come talk to a scientist named Mandy Thompson, who did research at the university. On the way over, I overheard some girl arguin' with one o' the administration clerks 'bout her sister who'd disappeared from the school earlier. The clerk was tellin' her he couldn't do nothin' to help her, and from the way she was carryin' on, that was the first time in her life anyone'd said "no" to her. Spoiled rich girl, I thought, and didn't think nothin' more of it at the time.

Now when I'd heard the name Mandy Thompson, I'd been expectin' another ol' fart like the professor, or maybe some up-an'-comin' young man with some newfangled theory 'bout the world and a hankerin' to prove it. I hadn't been expecting a gorgeous dame! An' she listened to me talk 'bout my dreams like she actually thought what I was sayin' was important! Ain't no woman ever listened to me like that before. She said she thought I was "sigh-kick" or some such word I'd never heard before, and asked me to come tell her 'bout any other dreams I had. Well, I didn't rightly know what she was talkin' about with that "sigh-kick" business, but I weren't goin' to turn down such an invitation. I may not have much book-learnin' but I'm no fool.

Well, I had another weird dream that night. I'd bedded down over by the river docks, in a vacant lot next to some weird shack. An' I dreamed I was standin' in front o' some door, with markin's all over it. Whatever they was, they weren't English. But somehow, I was readin' 'em! Leastwise, I was passin' my hand over 'em and mutterin' some kind o' nonsense words, so I guess I was readin' em.

Then suddenly I got woken up by a bunch o' screamin' comin' from the street right in front o' where I'd been sleepin'. I opened my eyes just in time to see the most ugly critter lurchin' out of the shack I'd been sleepin' next to! Folks was climbin' over each other to get out of its way, and I could see why. That thing looked worse'n a polecat smells! There was a couple o' policemen there who started takin' shots at it, but their bullets just bounced right off the thing like it was made o' steel or somethin'. Didn't seem to do the thing no harm, just made it mad. Then it grabbed one of the policemen an' ripped his head right off his shoulders, poor feller. The other one just dropped his gun and ran away at that, and I can't rightly say I blame 'im, neither. Then it turned an' started comin' straight at me.

I still don't rightly know what came over me then. By all reckonin', I shoulda run fer my life. But I was just damn tired of it all. First the dreams keepin' me awake at night, and now some damn ugly critter rippin' decent folks' heads off. I'd had enough. Maybe I was a dead man, but damn it, I'd die like a man. Like that policeman fellow had died -- tryin' to protect the folks around him. I pulled out my grandpappy's old knife, the one he used to swear was lucky. An' maybe it was -- he'd gotten through the Civil War without a scratch, even when men was dyin' like flies around him. Maybe its luck would hold for me; I just had to hope.

Well, I dodged the critter's first swing, an' stabbed at it with my grandpappy's knife. An' I got the surprise of my life! I'd just seen the thing's skin stop bullets, but my grandpappy's knife went through it like butter! It never made no sound, just dropped in its tracks like a puppet with its strings cut. But that weren't the strangest thing. My grandpappy's knife, that I'd had ever since I was eight -- why hadn't I ever seen those weird symbols carved on its blade before?

The screamin' had stopped when I killed that thing, but the silence was even creepier. Dozens and dozens of people, starin' at the thing I'd just killed, and lookin' at me like I was some kind o' hero. I'd never gotten those kind o' looks before. Made me feel kind o' good, to tell you the truth. Then someone pointed at the shack behind me an' said, "What's that?" I turned around an' looked, an' the door o' the shack was standin' open, and there was some kind o' weird glow comin' from inside it. Well, the admirin' looks were goin' to my head, and I said I'd check it out. I walked up to the shack, stepped through the door, and just like that, I was somewhere else.

An' I really mean somewhere else. I weren't inside that broken-down old shack no more; I was in some weird canyon, 'bout ten times taller'n the Grand Canyon out West. I turned around, but the shack, the door, and the street beyond was nowhere to be seen. I was stuck here, wherever "here" was. Well, I'd been in nasty places before an' survived. I set out to find a way out of the canyon, an' maybe, if I was lucky, there'd be another glowin' place that would take me back home.

The canyon was weird an' twisted, and I didn't want to look too long at the walls. But that weren't the worst of it. The worst of it was the wind howlin' through the canyon. It weren't no normal wind; it almost sounded like there was words in it. Mutterin', whisperin' secrets that would drive a man insane if'n he listened. An' I made the mistake of stoppin' and listenin'.

I don't know how long I stood there, but I'd probably still be standin' there now if it weren't for my grandpappy's knife. I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my right foot, and looked down. There was the knife, stickin' straight up out of my boot. I'd been listenin' so hard to the words on the wind that I plum forgot I was holdin' a knife, and let my hand open up. And that lucky knife dropped onto my foot and broke the spell of the words.

I still don't remember how I got out of the canyon, but somehow I did. An' at the end of the canyon, there was another weird glowin' place. I hadn't been to church since I was a boy, but I started prayin' then. "God, if'n you'll get me out of here, I swear I'll start goin' to church again. Just please, let this place take me home." Well, I guess God can hear prayers anywhere, even in weird, hellish canyons, because when I stepped into the glow, I found myself steppin' out o' the shack back in Arkham. Let me tell you, that was just 'bout the happiest moment o' my life.

I turned around and shut the door to the shack, to make sure nobody else stumbled through it. It didn't seem to want to close somehow, and fought like a livin' thing. But diggin' ditches, poundin' railroad ties, and haulin' crates will put muscles on a man, an' I got it closed in the end. And got another shock -- I recognized that door! I'd just seen it the night before, in my dream! Them symbols I'd seen was right there too, coverin' the door. An' just like that, the nonsense words I'd been sayin' in my dream started comin' into my head. Before I could think clearly 'bout what I was doin', I was runnin' my hand over the door just like in the dream, and speakin' the words. When I got finished, there was a flash o' light so bright I was blinded for a bit, an' when I could see again, the symbols on the door was different. Instead o' all them nonsense words, there was somethin' like a big figure of a star inside a circle on the door, only the sides o' the star weren't even, and there was writin' around the edges o' the circle.

Well, I figured I'd better not stick around, in case somethin' else started comin' out o' that shack. The policeman who'd survived the monster's attack wanted me to come down to the station and explain what happened, but I told 'im I needed to go talk to the Professor and Mandy Thompson first. I asked him what the name of that shack was that I'd just been in. Or not been in, or whatever the heck the right words were. He told me the shack didn't have a name. It had just always been there, squattin' there like some unnameable creature, he said. Gave folks the creeps, so they started callin' it "The Unnameable" and stayin' the hell away from the place if'n they possibly could. I could understand that: I wanted to get the hell away from the place myself.

It was still the dead of night when I got back to the university, but Mandy Thompson and the Professor were both still awake. They was talkin' to that girl I'd seen earlier, the one who'd been lookin' for her missin' sister. Jenny, her name was. The girl, I mean, not the sister. She told 'em her sister had gotten involved with some place called the Silver Twilight Lodge, an' the Professor started gettin' a real concerned look on his face. "We've got to go immediately," he said. "They're probably planning to use her in some twisted summoning ritual. We've got to stop them!"

Mandy Thompson grabbed a bunch o' books out o' the library, while the Professor headed back to his office. He came out with a gun an' a big leather-covered book he said was called the Necro-something-or-other. Mandy Thompson got the strangest look on her face when he said that name, and said was he sure it was the real Necro-whatsit, and where had he gotten it anyway? He said he didn't want to talk about it, and all any of us could get out o' him was that the former owner had been usin' it to commit the most horrible crimes. "He's paying for his crimes now," was all the Professor would say, and nobody could get him to say another word.

On the way over to the Silver Twilight Lodge, I told Mandy what had happened to me at that unnameable shack, and she started huntin' through the books she'd brought. I'd wondered why she wanted to bring so many books with her, but then she started tellin' us 'bout all kinds o' stuff that she'd found in old books, like how whether the moon was full or not had an effect on some kinds o' creatures, an' how magic spells could stop other kinds o' creatures that bullets wouldn't stop. I hadn't never paid no heed to talk o' magic an' suchlike before, I'd just figgered it was hocus-pocus to fool people. But after seein' my grandpappy's lucky knife kill a creature that bullets didn't stop, I started payin' real close attention.

An' was I ever glad I did! On the way, we ran into all kinds o' nasty critters. I don't even know names for half the things we met on the streets that night -- if'n I tell you that the meetin' the vampire was a relief, because it seemed so normal compared to what we'd just seen five minutes before, will that give you an idea of what it was like? All's I can say is, thank God for Mandy! Her skill with research saved us time and time again. I'd run into some weird critter I'd never seen before, but her books would tell her just exactly what would hurt it. An' sometimes it was better to use my magical knife, but sometimes the things we met were magical enough that the knife couldn't touch them, an' it was better to shoot 'em. The Professor loaned me his gun, an' I took care o' the rest o' the critters. We made a pretty good team, actually -- me fightin' the critters, an' Mandy tellin' me what to do. A couple o' the things gave me a real good fright, an' I was on the ragged edge o' my nerves by the time we reached the Lodge, but I was still holdin' it together.

When we got to the Lodge, it was deserted. The Professor told us to wait for him outside, and snuck in. I was impressed: the ol' coot was a pretty slow mover, but when he wanted to move real quiet-like, he didn' make no sound at all. He came out with a couple of books he'd snuck out o' the Lodge's library, an' told us that it looked like we was too late. He'd found Jenny's sister's clothes, but the girl weren't there. He'd also found some notes that said the Lodge folks had been plannin' to start their spell at midnight (it was already at least one o'clock by then), an' they were goin' to use the poor girl in their sick ritual. He wouldn't tell us what they were goin' to do to her, what they'd probably already done to her, but the look in his eyes said it all.

It's funny, though. I'd thought Jenny was just a spoiled rich girl, an' that she'd rant and rave and scream, or at least break down cryin'. And she did gulp, an' it was obvious she was takin' the news real hard. But then she got a hard look in her eyes, and said she was goin' to go after the men who'd taken her sister. I was impressed, an' so was Mandy an' the Professor.

We split up then. I headed to the police station, to tell them 'bout the critter earlier at the shack. Jenny wanted to go with me, to tell them 'bout her sister, but the Professor said she should go talk to the newspaper folks instead. Seems they'd been meanin' to write a story 'bout the Silver Twilight Lodge, but the Lodge was just too secretive an' they couldn't get any evidence. But with the notes the Professor had, an' Jenny right there to be interviewed, they'd have what they needed to get the Lodge shut down. Jenny might be too late to save her sister, but she'd get her revenge. Mandy said she'd head back to the university library to do more research.

When I got to the police station, the policeman I'd saved earlier was there, tellin' them all about the fight an' how I'd killed the critter "easy as pie". An' they'd heard about how I'd fought with the vampire, an' all the other hell-critters, an' even how I'd closed the door at the shack. An' they went an' deputized me, right there! They gave me a badge an' a gun, the policeman I'd saved earlier offered to let me ride in his car, an' they even gave me a salary! It was a generous one, too. First thing I did was head over to the asylum an' talk to one o' the doctors over there. Made me feel a lot better; when I left, I weren't nearly so nervous, an' I felt ready to take on any monsters that poked their ugly heads in.

I was kept busy for a while drivin' from one place to another, fightin' monsters and such. It weren't 'till later that I heard what the others had been up to. Seems the newspaper had hired both the Professor and Jenny to go out an' find them more stories to print, but the first thing Jenny wanted to do was go shoppin'. Rich girls. Who can figger 'em? The Professor went with her to the ol' curiosity store, and found some kind o' weird symbol he called an Elder Sign. He showed it to me later; it was a misshapen star inside a circle, exactly like the one what had shown up on the door o' that shack, back when this crazy night was first gettin' started! Meanwhile, Mandy heard 'bout another one o' those glowing places (she called 'em "world gates") openin' up at the Historical Society on the south side o' town, and went to check it out. She got it closed, and remembered somethin' from her research about how to actually "seal" the gate so it couldn't open again, just like the gate at the unnameable shack. I swear, I'll never say a word against book-learnin' again -- that woman's research saved us all that night. Wait, I already said that, didn't I? Well, I'll say it again -- if'n you ever find yourself facing nightmarish creatures from hell, you'll want a good researcher like Mandy helpin' you out.

Right about the time that Mandy was lookin' into that gate south o' town, I had gone to find the Professor. While he was showin' me the Elder Sign he'd found, an' explainin' what it was an' why it was important, someone came runnin' up to us to tell us a very disturbin' rumor. It seemed he'd come across the place where the Lodge folks were doin' their ritual, and had somehow managed to get away without bein' seen. It was in an alley in the French Hill district, right behind the Lodge! They'd been there the whole time, an' we hadn't found 'em! Well, the Professor an' I headed over to stop them as fast as we could. But when we got to the alley, we hit some kind o' invisible wall. There was no sound comin' out o' the alley, either, which explained why we'd missed it earlier. Well, the Professor said somethin' 'bout fightin' fire with fire, an' magic with magic, an' he pulled out his Necro-something book an' started reading it. Reckonin' by what he'd told me about it, it seems just 'bout any other man would have been driven mad by the spells what was written in that book, but the Professor was a tough ol' feller. He was lookin' pretty tight around the lips by the time he finished readin', but he was still holdin' onto his mind, which was a lot more'n I woulda been able to do if'n I'd read that book.

An' then the Professor started chanting, an' things started happenin'. First the sound from inside the alley came back. Then the invisible wall dropped away, an' we was able to move into the mouth o' the alley. The wizards inside noticed us then, and started chantin' an' gesturin' in the Professor's direction. He was keepin' up with them pretty well, though, and eventually they were so focused on him an' what he was doin' that they stopped payin' any attention to me. I snuck up behind 'em, and I was goin' to knock 'em all out and haul 'em off to the police station. But then I saw the girl's body. No, I'm not goin' to tell you what they'd done to her. All I'll say is that after I saw her, I changed my mind, pulled out the revolver the police had given me, an' put a bullet in the head of each an' every one o' those wizards before they could turn an' stop me. It didn't trouble my conscience none at the time, an' it still don't. An' that's all I'm goin' to say about that.

We couldn't rest after stoppin' those wizards, though. There was a glow comin' from the ol' witch house across the street, which the Professor headed off to investigate. In the meantime, I took the girl's body down to the church to let them give her a decent burial. I also took time to talk to the priest down there 'bout what had happened to me in the canyon, an' what I'd said to God. I also told him 'bout what I'd done to the wizards. But he'd seen the girl's body too, an' he told me that what I'd done weren't no sin, but justice. Then he prayed a blessin' over me, an' darned if'n I couldn't feel it! The rest o' the night, that prayer protected me.

After that, the worst o' the night was over. I went back to patrollin' the streets, an' it seemed like the flow o' monsters was slowly goin' down. Later I learned why: the others had been closin' an' sealin' gates 'bout as quick as they popped up. Mandy sealed one at Independence Square in the north of town, Professor closed another one at the graveyard, an' even spoiled rich-girl Jenny got up the courage to explore a gate at a place called the Unvisited Isle, and seal it somehow. I guess she weren't so spoiled after all, maybe I'd better stop callin' her that.

By the end o' the night, the monsters was pretty much all gone, an' the mayor o' the city came out to thank us for what we'd done. He made a big speech an' gave Jenny the keys to the city. Seemed to me I'd been killin' most o' the monsters, but apparently she'd killed quite a few that I hadn't heard about. An' besides, she was young, pretty, an' rich, and made a much prettier picture on the front page o' the newspaper than I would have.

But the Professor, Mandy, an' me weren't left out. We all was seated in the front row as guests of honor. An' during the speechifyin', Mandy leaned over to me and told me that as far as she could tell, I was the real hero o' the night. So I got up my courage an' asked her if she'd like to go an' have a drink or two with me after the speeches an' such were done, an' she said yes, she'd love to! An' as we were walkin' back to the university afterwards, she let me hold her hand.

I ain't never had no luck in my life -- 'till now. But now I got a job, a good one, that really means somethin'. I'm not poundin' railroad ties anymore; I'm protectin' folks. An' there's this gorgeous dame who thinks I'm a real hero.

Yes, I'm tellin' you, ol' Pete's luck might just be changin' at last.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Author's note:

When I first met the famous author of horror fantasy, I didn't even know he had written those books. Once I'd gotten to know him better, he explained. "I published under a pseudonym, of course," he said, "because I knew nobody would believe my tales, and I didn't want to deal with the ridicule. And, in fact, some of my stories are fictionalized, or at least mostly so, although there's a kernel of truth in all of them. But the one I've just told you is completely true."

I didn't believe him, naturally. At least, not at first. Even when he showed me the old newspaper article, I tried to remain resolute in my doubts, although it was getting harder. There were just too many details that matched the story he'd told me. Still, the article was a little vague on exactly what the people being honored at the ceremony had done, precisely. "Meritorious service to the city of Arkham," "valiant heroism in the hour of our greatest peril," and other such florid phrases littered the speeches, but nobody seemed willing to say exactly what those heroes had saved the city from.

I had just about decided that he'd taken a true story, probably about someone who'd stopped a kidnapping gang or some such mundane danger, and added in fantastical detail to turn it into a gripping horror story. And then the famous author went over to his safe and showed me his mother's research notes, and his father's knife. The knife that had saved his father's life, on numerous occasions besides the one he'd just told me, and that had once gotten his great-grandfather unscathed through the Civil War.
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Robin Munn

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I was inspired to write this by Denise Patterson-Monroe's excellent session report, The Disappearance of Mandy Thompson ( The fact that two of the main characters appear in both reports is just coincidence -- we played our game with the "deal two at random, pick one of them" method of character selection. I got dealt "Ashcan" Pete and Amanda Sharpe, and I'd already played Amanda Sharpe in a previous game, so I wanted to try out a character with better fighting stats.

In a comment below Denise's session report, someone said, "I love games that can generate session reports like this." I echo that sentiment. The events of the game just flowed so naturally, I hardly had to change anything to make it a good story. The only liberties I took were as follows:

1) It's been a couple of days since we played, so I don't quite remember the order in which events happened. The Great Ritual rumor card may have come out after we sealed the second or third gate rather than the first, and the exact details of who sealed which gate may be wrong. I also left out some of the events in the various locations, and most of the items that we acquired (we ended up very item-rich at the end of the game), since they were basically distractions from the main story anyway.

2) Although "Ashcan" Pete did get delayed as he entered the canyon, the event that he had to make a lucky roll on wasn't a howling wind but something else -- I forget exactly what. Fortunately, he'd picked up enough clues before entering the gate that he made his roll (by spending a couple Clue tokens) and still had five Clues left at the end with which to seal the gate. The enchanted knife he started the game with had nothing to do with Clue tokens, but I thought it made for a better story that way.

3) The investigators didn't ever stick together as a group during the game, but split up and went every which way right from the start -- which is usually the most efficient way to play anyway. We met each other on the street a few times to exchange weapons and spells, but that's about it. However, I needed to have some way to explain how Mandy's research could allow everyone else to make their rerolls (which were usually used to allow "Ashcan" Pete to beat the monsters without taking damage), and portable radios wouldn't really fit in a 1930's-era story.

4) The Great Ritual rumor card only requires spells to be burnt in order to discard it; there's no mention of physical violence. But "Ashcan" Pete is supposed to be the hero of the story, so I had to give him something to do!

That's pretty much it. The rest of the story is pretty much exactly how our game played out. Nobody ever hit 0 sanity or 0 stamina, and there were only a couple trips to the asylum (and no trips to the hospital, I think). We ended up winning with a victory worth something like 26 points; it was really a blowout.

What we had going for us:

A well-balanced set of characters. One strong fighter (Pete), whom we gave all the best weapons to, and a second decent fighter (Jenny), who served as backup. Two good researchers (high Lore) with great secondary abilities. Mandy's Research ability was what really won us the game, as several times I rolled badly on combat rolls (once, for example, I needed three successes, and on nine dice only rolled a single success). But every single time, the reroll her ability granted turned a failed roll into a success. And we didn't waste her ability on minor rolls, but waited until it really counted.

We got a good selection of starting items. Our main fighter (Pete) started with the enchanted knife, a +3 magical weapon. And of all the people to draw the Necronomicon as a starting item, it was Harvey Walters, who reduces lost sanity points by 1. And the Necronomicon card text doesn't say sanity "cost", it says "lose" 2 sanity. So Harvey's power applied to it, and he could get a spell simply by spending 2 movement points and 1 sanity. (And a Lore roll at -2, but the Professor's Lore stat stayed at 5 or 6 pretty much the whole game). And he starts with 7 sanity, and it just costs him $2 at the Asylum to get 7 again. Ye Olde Magick Shoppe? Who needs it? That man was a spell-card-drawing machine.

We were facing Azathoth. Sure, if he comes out he devours the world, but his Doom track is 14, so there's a lot more time to seal gates.

We got our first gate at the Unnameable, which we sealed right away, and then several gates tried to open at the Unnameable. So we were never overwhelmed with gates: I think the most we ever had on the board at one time was three.

Clues kept on piling up in the same locations. Instead of having to travel all over the board to pick up three clues, we could just go to the Unvisited Isle once and grab three Clue tokens in one fell swoop. (Then a gate opened up in the Unvisited Isle, and so we were able to close and seal it quite promptly).

I shouldn't close without mentioning the mood music our host brought out for this game: the A Very Scary Solstice CD, put together by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. (You can check out MP3 samples, and a couple of complete songs from the CD, over at It was just about perfect -- I still had "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fish-Men" running through my head about an hour later.

Thanks for reading this far -- I hope you enjoyed my session report.
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