For the first time ever, we had the good fortune of having a guest GM at Nerd Night. Here’s how it went down.
Urien and I had an event in Anchorage at which an old friend, Alex St. John, was delivering the keynote. Alex was then headed to Fairbanks for a series of talks on Monday which Urien and I had organized. It was all part of a devious plan. Some months prior we began scheming as to how to get in a night of Cthulhu among these official presence events. We succeeded. The three of us stepped off the plane into a waiting car, drove straight to gaming central where Lilia and Silverwind awaited with CoC character sheets, a bit of cask strength Macallum, and a beer or two. We got right down to business making some characters for a 1940’s CoC game Alex was working on for the following evening. We completed sheets for ourselves, Nobo, Arcturas, and Felkin before calling it a night and heading to our various RL homes.
Alex researched his subject and setting late into the night. He came across some excellent actual events and historical characters against which to paint our story. The setting was Portsmouth Naval Yard in later 1945. U-Boats were surrendering at the end of the war and Portsmouth was their final destination. For various reasons, each Player Character was invested in the contents of the boats and the process by which they were surrendered.
Saturday dawned a bit rough and early. But, with a few naps, and an errand to fetch the sacrament, we gathered later that evening, at about 16:30 hours, around the table at Felkin’s Secret Nerd Hangout.
Having a guest GM is an interesting and valuable experience – especially a GM with some depth of experience. A gaming group develops its own culture and language, not to mention house rules and narrative expectations. We spent some time, about 30 minutes probably, talking through some ground rules and laying out a plan. We were going to role play; speaking in character at all times with only two exceptions. This would stretch us a bit – we normally tend to digress into innumerable asides and distractions – a good stretch. The only exceptions where “meta” discussion would be allowed would be to strategize during combat situations and breaks. I wasn’t sure how the group would manage this, it is essentially something we’ve never tried before.
We agreed to play for an hour or so and then break for excellent burritos con carne Felkin had prepared for us. It took a bit, but the rusty wheels of our role-playing locomotive began gaining momentum as our character’s stories were woven together and our varied paths converged on Portsmouth and an eagerly expected U-Boat surrender. There were several craft headed out to intercept, but one particular destroyer held the CO in charge of the boarding team, a Major, played by Felkin. There was a great moment where I tried to bribe Nobo’s Polack navy thug to get me aboard – he proceeded directly to the Major in charge and said, “uh, there’s this guy…he want’s to come…can we bring him…might be something in it for both of us…” much laughter all around. It was Urien’s character, a former Priest with ties to occult investigations and actual Cthulhu mythos knowledge that got me (occult antiquities dealer) and Lilia’s character (a rare book collector) aboard in a hasty, dockside negotiation.
We arrived at the designated rendezvous – oh, did I mention that Lilia’s Bookworm had the hots for a chick from the typing pool? She got aboard when some forward thinking NPC pressed his influence and brought her along. She was schmoozed and cuddled, all the while, Bookworm could only watch in frustration.
Quite a bit of discussion about how to get the enemy submariners aboard. Do we leave them on the deck of their submarine while we check it for top secret contraband, booby traps, etc? Or do we search them, then off load them, interrogate them, then check out the sub… We discussed various permutations for quite a while. Finally, the Major weighed in and we searched the Krauts on the deck of their submarine, then transported them to two different destroyers. We set in on the interrogation of the U-Boat captain, but quickly caught him in some kind of lie about his identity. He grabbed a pistol from one of the marine guards, but several of us were faster and disarmed him – but not before Nobo’s polack plugged the bastard between the eyes with his .45.
Donuts! We broke (frosted, fried) bread with Alex, thus initiating him into the faith.
The sub’s crew were sickly and many had strange circular sores on their arms and along their spine. We had a hard time finding an actual officer and there was much interrogating and some beating. Nobo’s polack scored another kill when one of the prisoners insulted him while being interrogated in his cell. The Major had some sodium pentathol which helped us a bit – but the mystery of what was going on aboard that sub only thickened. We finally made some more headway with the second in command. The Nazi’s allegedly had some sort of top secret revolutionary drive system powering the sub? Something that inhabited the ballast compartments and yet provided great energy. Through all the rough translations, it was hard to figure out exactly what it was – but possibly something alive? Oh yeah, and the SS Nazi party officer had stayed aboard ship.
We had a bit of inter-party conflict around the subject of who was actually going aboard the sub. Some of us wanted to – but one member, Silverwind’s engineer character, decided such duties fell outside of his contract. After some reflective time in the brig, he finally decided to come.
We set off in assault boats with a contingent of marines. Well, all except Lilia’s bookworm who had by now finally cozied up to Ms. TypingPool and couldn’t be torn from her side. Once aboard the sub, we began exploring the outside and determining how best to descend the vertical shaft leading below – knowing there was a likely hostile SS officer below.
Suddenly, the destroyer we departed erupted in a deafening explosion! Seconds later, the other destroyer was hit as well! We were under attack – a second U-Boat was lurking nearby! With some effort, those of us on the sub began readying its deck guns while we considered blowing a breaching charge on the outside of the sub’s hull and taking our assault boats to search for survivors and head for shore…
Curiosity got the better of us, however, and we coaxed the polack into going below. The Major followed hard on his heels and I (antiquarian looking for German artifacts of the occult) was right behind. Meanwhile, Ms. TypingPool and Bookworm were rescued by an assault boat and brought to the sub – but only Bookworm boarded the sub. The crew absconded with his Typist – although she was reluctant to be separated from his obvious virility (not).
Soon, we were all below decks on the sub, leaving most of our contingent of marines on deck. Our plan was to get the sub running and drive it on into Portsmouth if we determined it safe for transport. First we had to find that Nazi bastard – we searched the ship toward the stern first. At some point, that bastard got the jump on us from below through a metal grating. Some fools dropped their guns and raised their hands. Nazi and The Major had a conversation that, as might be expected, ended with The Nazi deciding he was going to kill us and/or blow up the ship. Luckily, the Major was pretty quick on the draw and plugged the bastard twice through the floor grating. He went down but we weren’t sure he was dead – we sent in The Polack. He had to climb down in the crawl space and slither along toward the disabled german. The Nazi wasn’t quite dead, however, he got off one shot – which hit the Polack’s flak vest – before he finally died in a hail of bullets.
About this time, machine gun fire rained across the upper decks of our U-Boat. We went up to find that our marines had all been killed and another U-Boat had drawn up beside us. It was obvious what should happen next. I ran for the main deck gun, we radioed a circling blimp to drop a flare, and I tried to plug that enemy sub at point blank range. I nailed it – but to no huge effect. The Nazis on the deck of the other sub were about to machine-gun me and some of our other crew into oblivion when The Priest threw a grenade and landed it near the other sub’s conning tower – fragging some of the enemy and sending the rest ducking for cover.
We retreated below decks. We meant to close that hatch, locking it, but we didn’t. Later, when the enemy started to open it, we “remembered” we had locked it. Whew. That was close.
Finally, our reluctant engineer got the sub going, and we started to pull away from the enemy sub. But then, there was some horrible knocking noises from the ballast below – we opened the tanks to peer in and there was some horrible, bloody, tissuey, goo down there… We slammed it shut and put on the steam toward shore. We had a bunch of Nazis on the outside of our hull, however, so we decided to dive, just a bit, to see if we could scrape them off. The Engineer made a horrible roll and sent us on an uncontrollable dive to the bottom. Great.
Only one hope. We had to blow air into our ballast tanks. We had to divide into two teams. The forward team included the Polack, the Bookworm, and the Engineer. The aft team consisted of the Priest, me (Antiquarian), and the Major. As the forward team made their way to the bow, they noticed the ships bunks held emaciated corpses of dead sailors – that started to move and claw at the three as they went past. Standing near the ballast control switch was a man in robes, facing away from the group. They fired and fired and Bookworm tore himself away from the clawing corpses as the man in robes went down. But, as the Bookworm went for the switch, a hundred thin spaghetti-like tendrils emerged from the robed man and pulled him to the floor, stinging and sucking the life out of him! Luckily, Polack had his fire-axe and was able to hack him free – they managed to pull the switch and blow ballast!
Seconds later, we did the same aft and with some luck, we rose to the surface. It was a bit rough, however, and the Bookworm took a blow to the head which knocked him out. The rest of us readied the escape boat and rowed away (with unconscious Bookworm). From a safe distance, we detonated our breaching charges on the outside of the hull and sent that bitch to the bottom. (I did manage to retrieve some personal effects of some of the officers).
There we sat – adrift in our little boat in the Atlantic. Alex did some rolling and luck was with us – hours later, just before dawn, we washed up on a secluded New Hampshire beach. It wasn’t long before we found a passing car and hitched a ride back to the naval base. Debriefing all around. The Bookworm’s fantasies finally came true as he dreamed in his hospital bed. Then he woke. We were all shocked and saddened to hear Ms. Typist had died in a machine gun attack from the U-Boat. Worse, Bookworm’s nurse was some horrible behemoth with a sadistic streak.
That was the night. We were less than heroic – but we survived. We still had piles of unanswered questions and all wanted more. Great setting – the nazis and u-boats were entertaining. Starting from a position of great power: we had the US Navy behind us, any weapon we could want, etc… and slowly working towards being confined with something horrible in a sinking submarine kept the tension ratcheting up and up.
It was also a rare evening in terms of how much ground we covered. We’ve had a few occasions before where we steamrolled through that much content, but often we don’t get through half that much. Our suspension of disbelief was also greater than usual – by far, I would say. It leaves me with questions? What are our lessons learned? Do we want to shift our evening events more in the role playing direction? Do we want to institute some house rule or “Bylaws of Iowe” where we stay in character more and only slip in asides during breaks? Only “meta conversations” during combats? For my part, we sink fucking U-Boats – without even thinking about going aboard.
Some of you may find this footage of actual U-Boat surrender and capture inspirational. Note the men searching the crew members on the decks of the sub.