Nuke-Con 2018 - The After Action Report

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Harl Quinn

Veteran of the Clone Wars
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So, now that I've recovered from my return to Nuke-Con, I'm posting here my after-action report for Nuke-Con 2018.

Pre-con prep did not go as well or as quickly as I had planned. My computer was vastly bloated with files (I'm a pack rat when it comes to articles and PDFs), so its functionality was slightly impaired. Tasks that should have taken it a second or less dragged out quite a bit, so I had to resort to penciling in the back sheets of my Pendragon pregens. Getting the CoC pregens was much more efficient however, thanks to Byakhee and the Casting Call of Cthulhu monograph.

Day One: My Thursday night ends with me working through part of Friday morning to get my Pendragon pregens ready. While I have the front sheets of the pregens readily printed, I make the decision to save time and sanity by penciling in the skills and other info on the back sheets. It's not perfect, but at this stage, I'm not anticipating any players for my Pendragon event. After a two-hour power nap, I get to the convention in time to set up for my 2:00 pm slot and wait... and wait... and wait. In the interim, I discover that I have forgotten several maps that I originally thought I had printed out (but a post-con search revealed I hadn't printed them at all). My one pre-reg for my Pendragon primer event pulls a no show, but a passer by keeps me company for a short time. We chat amicably about Chaosium games in general and our shared interest in Pendragon and the forthcoming spin-off, Paladin.

Otherwise my time is spent watching vendors set up and reading through my material in the event someone shows up to play The Bear of Imber. After my first slot ends, I start to feel my eyelids droop, so I make a judgment call. It's Friday, which is naturally going to be sparse for players except for the die-hard Pathfinder Society and D&D Adventurer's League folk; I'm operating on two-hours of sleep; and, after checking the con schedule online, I find that I have five players pre-registered for my first Call of Cthulhu adventure, and another four pre-registered for the second one.

I pull the sheet over my two remaining Pendragon events and pack up. I let the front desk staff know I'm calling it a day and will be back and loaded for shoggoth the next day. I go home, stumble into bed, and sleep for a few hours before getting up again to work on finishing up prep for my CoC events. Once I've revived myself enough to form coherent thoughts, I start to get work done on my CoC pregens.

Struggling to find a form-fillable character sheet for fifth or sixth edition CoC, I decide to try and fall back on a familiar, but long lost stand-by: Byakhee. I race online to find a PC version. Having secured and installed it, I stumble through entering the pre-gens into the program and getting the character sheets ready. Then I retreat back into the shadows to regenerate for the next day.

Day Two: Day two starts with me printing off my pre-gens and having to dash away to get some more printer ink before packing up and heading to the convention. I set up and lead a band of five intrepid investigators through a modernized version of “The Edge of Darkness”. It was a bit of an adjustment for the group as they were currently playing the new seventh edition and I was running the older fifth edition. Still, they caught on quick, and I was able to flip through the seventh edition Keeper's Rulebook; I made both a vocal and mental note to read through my PDFs of the seventh edition rulebooks for future games. The adventure's climax consists of Major Brett Armsby (U.S. Army, retired) narrowly avoiding getting attacked by the lurker at the threshold, followed by the group confronting (and decapitating) the lurker's undead thrall, and exorcising the spirit through alternate means.

One of the PCs was an Episcopalian minister (the Rev. Marlise Wilson), and we used some house rules I wrote years ago when I was a member of the Christian Gamers Guild. As they weren't playtested when I wrote them 20-some years ago, using them in my games revealed a number of holes and glitches that need to be worked out. Despite the rough prep and the untested house rules, the adventure was a rousing success. Little did I know the next one would be even better.

Between my two CoC events, I play in a friend's Traveller scenario. As the pirate Huan Tannist, I helped a scion of the Dark Goddesses pirate crew to recover a lost treasure of zuchai crystals. Our contact, her great-nephew, died before we arrived at the spaceport, so we move on to meet with the great-aunt of one of our crew. We met with none other than the infamous Bette Noir and found that our fellow adventurer had inherited a highly-modified fat trader. Now that we had a ship at our disposal, we inspected and restocked it for the adventure at hand.

We have a brief run-in with some ne'er-do-wells who wanted to intimidate us into sharing the profits of our venture. We refuse and later deal with one of their lackeys who installs a tracker on our ship but fails at stealth. We deal with him and turn his corpse and the tracker over to the starport authorities. We then meet with another group who make us a much more profitable offer – including repair and refit services at their corporate facilities. Gladly accepting the offer, we dust off and begin the long journey to claim our employer's treasure.

During the trip, we make a little profit, find and disarm a second tracking device on the ship, and have a brush with the Imperial military. Jumping into the target system, we quickly refuel at the system's gas giant and find ourselves being watched. We quickly get down to brass tacks, land as close as we can to the derelict our employer once served aboard, and load up the zuchai crystals. Making orbit, we are quickly confronted by our old friends from the starport.

At my character's suggestion, everybody dons vacc suits and we decompress the ship to prevent any trauma from holes in the hull. We then charge up our weapons and make a run for it. The enemy punches a few holes in our ship's hull, damages our drives and fuel tanks, and takes out the dorsal turret (which my character was manning), forcing him to retreat to the bridge and man the missile launcher. In turn, we take out both their jump and maneuver drives and leave them adrift. We continue our retreat as my character helps the engineer and one other NPC patch the holes in the fuel tank. Reaching home, we generously turn over our shares of the money to our employer in exchange for ship shares.

My second CoC adventure that night, a modernized version of “The Haunting”, is a roller-coaster of banter. This time a completely different group stumbles and second-guesses themselves to victory against the insane Walter Corbitt. Going through the house room by room, they open windows and curtains to bring in light and fresh air in an attempt to weaken the power of the haunting. Meanwhile, Corbitt bides his time, waiting until they enter his old bedroom to turn on the terror.

After the mummified wizard slammed the window shut in the final bedroom, the investigators thought it best to head to the basement and confront him. Unfortunately, Will Jenkins, the group's rail-thin nerd, wasn't quick enough. Corbitt propelled his old metal bedframe into Will, pinning him to the wall and breaking a couple of his ribs. Hauling him out of there, the other investigators move on to the basement. There, Corbitt assaults them with his magic flying dagger. Digging through the wood wall concealing Corbitt's resting place, the investigators dodged some rats and broke through.

As Dr. Elliot Jurgens, the group's medic, examines Corbitt's apparent corpse, the hibernating cultist makes his move. A quick swipe of his claws puts the doctor down for the count. Everybody loses some Sanity points and Will loses his cool as well and starts screaming. Rachel Hemingway, the resident reporter, swiftly deals with Corbitt's magical armor (provided by the Flesh Ward spell) and puts a 4-point hole in his left shoulder. The group's private investigator, Arthur Gambolputty, also opens fire and punches a small hole in the wizard's chest.

Will, having come back to his senses by this time, decides to be a man of action. Flicking open his switchblade, he charges the undead horror, only to trip over his own feet. The fumble is fortuitous as the young investigator narrowly misses meeting his end at Corbitt's claws. Realizing his armor is gone, Corbitt quickly tries to recast Flesh Ward. Unfortunately, he fails to consider the tenacity of the group's puniest member. Will reaches out, plants the switchblade firmly in Corbitt's left foot, and takes his last two hit points. His spell interrupted, Corbitt looks down at Will, curses his bad luck, and crumbles to dust.

Checking the convention schedule online one last time, I'm surprised to see that the number of pre-reg players for my final event has grown from five to eight. I leave the con that night a very happy camper.

Day Three: Day three starts with me trying to corral enough chairs for eight players around my table. Once I things are set up, my players start arriving. We have a short wait for one returning player who is inbound, but things start rolling once everyone is there. A modern-day version of “The Rescue”, this scenario has a greatly expanded group of investigators looking into the untimely death of a patron of the Theron Marks Society and searching for his missing daughter.

After quite a bit of hasty research and discussion about whether they were dealing with a wendigo or a werewolf, the crew makes tracks to Kent, CT. The group briefly engages in searching for the daughter of their deceased patron alongside other searchers, and finds a number of large wolf-like tracks leading to and from the point where the patron's remains were found. The tracks cross a set of railroad tracks, and, after landing a few feet away from the other side of the tracks, appear to become smaller and more human-like. The tracks lead back into the forest and are quickly lost from there.

Inquiries are made of the locals and authorities. The group's retired Army major makes contact with a Native American man who agrees to help provide information and possibly some arcane guidance. In meeting with their contact the next day, the Army major is presented with a flint-napped fire opal dagger. The enchanted dagger is “on loan” to them with the understanding it would be returned if the blade survived the final fight. Meanwhile, the private investigator and Episcopal minister have a run-in with a couple of local girls – Deborah and Rebecca Pelton – who are revealed to be living on the fringes of society with their father. After questioning the Pelton family and snooping about their farm, the group determines the Peltons are the culprits in the incident and makes preparations to effect a rescue.

Still unsure if they were dealing with a wendigo or werewolf, they buy some silver jewelry at the local pawn shop, find someone to melt it down for them, and coat some bullets with silver. A purchase of some bear mace, a hunting knife, and some gasoline is also made and the group sets out.

The investigators arrive at the Pelton family farm to find it completely dark. After some brief discussion about their next course of action, the group decides to burn down the ramshackle barn as a distraction to draw the suspected werewolves/wendigos out. So, after shooing the family's few farm animals out of the barn, the building is lit – but the Pelton's don't bite at the bait.

In the distance, Will Jenkins (played by a different player this time) and a couple of other investigators hear what sounds like a young woman calling for help. Knowing a wendigo can easily mimic someone's voice, the group at first ignores the screams and storms the farmhouse. Finding the house empty, they decide to follow the screams to their source.

Several hundred feet away, they find their patron's daughter tied and dangling from a tree limb. Knowing it's a trap, Will, Marlise, Rachel, Arthur, and Tara Makowski (the group's parapsychologist) try to move quietly down into the ravine to free the girl while Major Armsby, Professor Warren Bedford (the group's academic), and John Stevens (a member of the society and lawyer with the patron's law firm) take up positions with rifles to provide an overwatch.

Professor Bedford finds his vantage point blocked by a hulking, dark mass. Judging it to be a lurking werewolf, he firmly plants a wood axe in Rafe Pelton's hairy back. Surprised and hurt, Pelton turns to confront the professor. Maj. Armsby tries to get a shot but has to reposition himself to draw a bead on the wolfen patriarch.

Meanwhile, the five in the ravine set about freeing the kidnapped girl. Will shimmies up the tree and begins sawing away at the rope while Marlise holds onto the girl's legs and offers some well-meaning moral support. Rachel and Arthur keep a sharp eye out for the Pelton girls with their guns drawn. Tara brings up a rearguard action with bear mace at the ready.

Maj. Armsby gets Rafe Pelton in his sights and opens fire, catching him off guard with staggered regular and silver rounds. Hearing her father howl in pain, Rebecca dashes into the fray, confronting her prisoner's rescuers. Will cuts the rope in the nick of time and Marlise begins leading the girl to safety when Tara jumps in, spraying the bear mace. Unfortunately, she fumbles on that roll and catches a backdraft. Fortunately, she makes her CON checks and isn't too badly affected. So, Marlise has to shepherd two people out of harm's way.

Continuing in his role as clumsiest investigator, Will fails his roll to climb down and winds up falling onto Rebecca Pelton's back. Surprised, the teen werewolf tries to shake him off, but Will holds on tight and stabs her as they fall to the ground. Arthur fires a couple rounds and hits, and Rachel quickly moves in and makes the coup de grace against Rebecca with a silver round to the head.

As the rescue team beats a hasty retreat, Major Armsby, John, and the professor concentrate on Rafe Pelton. Now forced to go hand-to-hand with Rafe, the professor is in serious trouble. He is initially horrified – and then surprised – when Deborah enters the fight. As her wolfen form comes crashing through the undergrowth, Dr. Bedford looks away while trying to fend off Rafe's jaws. Suddenly, he feels the weight of Rafe lift from him as Deborah tackles her father.

Professor Bedford wastes no time in making his escape while John Stevens and Major Armsby move in. John Stevens takes his shot and hits Deborah, while the Major opens fire with his AK-47 and managed to kill Rafe. Upset by her father's death and fearing for her life, Deborah flees into the woods with Arthur and Major Armsby on her trail. They find her in human form, leaning up against a tree.

“Why,” Arthur asks her, “did you attack your father?”

“I can't live like this anymore,” she says. “Moving from town to town, living on the fringes.”

Arthur makes a bargain with Deborah – she will be allowed to live as long as they take her into the society's custody and work to find a cure for her lycanthropy. She readily agrees.

In the aftermath, Marlise asks her young charge why she had been kidnapped. The answer? Pelton wanted sons, as childbirth is a death sentence to any woman infected with lycanthropy.

This event is a bit of a new experience for me, as I had never ran a game for such a large group. In addition, we had two youngsters in the mix – a high school boy and his younger sister, who was new to the hobby. At the end of the game, she shakes my hand and tells me I was the best GM she had in the entire convention. The rest of the group quickly inquires if there are going to be more Call of Cthulhu adventures next year, and I gladly answer in the affirmative.

I advise the players I will try to look them up for some pick-up games at one of our local FLGS in the near future, and pack up my gear. Before I leave, I turn in my prize tokens for a few dice as well as a copy of the CoC monograph “Strange Songs”. I briefly reconnect with an old friend and gaming buddy I haven't seen for a few years and discuss the possibility of going to some out of town cons with him in the future before deciding to call it a night...

All in all, the best con experience I've had in a long time.
 

Voros

Doomed Investigator
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Great stuff! I'd be tempted to brace a Con just for the opportunity to play Pendragon.
 
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