Campaign of the Month: July 2008

Beyond the Mountains of Madness

Chapter 2: Death of a Sea Captain
Sept. 6-7, 1933

The Investigators, sans Meyer, made their way from Dr. Carrington’s home in Arkham to the train station, preparing to catch a train back to New York. On the way, a headline stopped them in their tracks. It seemed that Commander J. G. Douglas, who was to captain the S. S. Gabrielle for the Expedition, had been murdered!

The late Commander J. B. Douglas

At the docks, they found no evidence of either Captain Starkweather or Professor Moore about the Gabrielle, but there were plenty of very pushy reporters. Returning to the Amherst hotel, they armed themselves both figuratively and literally. While Roylott quickly “endeared” himself to the Press (in particular, a female reporter named Dixon from the New York Times), he was able to determine that Starkweather and Moore were mostly trapped in their suite of rooms giving statements to the press and trying to secure a new captain.

Everyone eventually had the opportunity to meet Detective J. J. Hansen of the NYPD’s Homicide Squad. Hansen questioned them all and seemed to be testing them to see if any of them knew where Douglas had been staying. He admitted that none of them were serious suspects, and, when Dr. Carrington asked him a few questions, he admitted that robbery didn’t seem to be a motive, as Douglas had plenty of money on him when his body was recovered.

Detective J. J. Hansen

As Meyer and Morgan discovered through eye-witness testimony, Douglas’ body was recovered from the water near Battery Dock. Two seamen, Gregor and Jones, had heard a struggle and a splash. One had tried to rescue whoever had fallen, while the other pursed his assailant, but lost him. Douglas died on the way to the hospital, and initial assumption had shown that he’d been bludgeoned about the head. As Dr. Carrington was able to ascertain through the morgue, however, Douglas had, in fact, died from drowning.

While Roylott and Nordhagen worked to continue preparations for the voyage south, Meyer, Morgan, Carrington, and Dezense went to the Westbury Hotel where Douglas had been staying. The desk clerk turned very talkative after being bribed a small fortune, and he revealed the following:

  • Douglas checked in on September 3 and reserved his room for ten days, paying in advance.
  • Douglas made several phone calls from the front desk. At least one call involved the name “Lexington”.
  • Douglas had no visitors during his stay. He spent most of the days and evenings out.
  • Douglas’ room, #23, had an adjoining door to Room 21.
  • Room 21 had been rented by a German-accented, large-framed fellow named Sothcott, who checked in on September 4 and left in the morning.
  • In the log book, next to Room 21, someone had written “Lucky Number”.

Thinking quickly, the Investigators rented room 21 from the clerk in order to enter Douglas’ room without alerting the uniformed officer outside. They entered room 23 through the adjacent hotel room and found what appeared to be some clues.

  • Phone numbers for Starkweather, Acacia Lexington, and a Gerald Brackman .
  • The names Wykes, Grimes, and Brewer and the phrase “Purple Cup”.
  • The name Philip and a series of (assumed to be) train times.
  • A partially written message from Douglas to his brother Philip.
  • Douglas’ log books, which were missing the time period of the M.U. Expedition.

The letter was quite informative, showing that Douglas never had any intention of returning to Antarctica. It also revealed that Douglas was irritated by a largish German-sounding fellow, presumably Sothcott, who pestered him about a lot of nonse regarding savage races of men in Antarctica, statues in the pack ice, and the names Tsalal and Pym. The Investigators took all of the evidence and hid it in a crate on the Gabrielle.

That night, Professor Nordhagen received a threatening, type-written note, indicating that the Expedition was doomed and that they must not go. Undaunted, the Investigators continued investigating. Brackman turned out to be a lawyer that Meyer knew personally, and some evidence showed that, although Brackman didn’t wish to reveal anything Douglas came to speak to him about, he sort of let slip that he was revising Douglas will.

A phone call to Acacia Lexington revealed only a bored young man, making her guests work through him. There is some discussion of visiting Acacia’s house in Queens before too much longer. Also, they hope to meet the three sailors who quit and Douglas’ brother Philip at Douglas’ funeral.

Chapter 1: Arrival in New York
Following interviews in the sweltering heat of a New York summer, the Investigators arrived in New York on September 1, 1933 to become part of the historic Starkweather-Moore Expedition to the Antarctic. Our investigators include Buffington Meyer, a wealthy American socialite, Tanj Desenze, a chain-smoking Ghurka mountaineer of Nepalese descent, Dr. Walter Carrington, a somewhat bookish physician, Valentine Roylott, a veteran of the Great War with experitise in engineering fortifications and radio communications, Alan Q. Morgan, a sharpshooter and big game hunter, and Dr. Mikkail Ivar Nordhagen, a professor of polar archaelogy from the University of Tromso and photographer.

Captain James Starkweather

Professor William Moore

New York City, circa 1933

Once they arrived, they checked into their rooms at the Amherst Hotel and found a note asking them to meet aboard the ship that, in a couple of weeks, would be their home for some months, the S. S. Gabrielle.

The S. S. Gabrielle
There, they were met by Professor Moore and welcomed. They quickly met the team’s polar guide, Peter Sykes, who measured them for their extensive kit of Antarctic clothing. They were also given a chance to meet the team physician, Dr. Richard Greene and each other.

At a meeting on the morning of September 2, 1933, Captain Starkweather and Professor Moore outlined some of particulars of the expedition. It would be departing from New York on the S. S. Gabrielle on September 14 and traveling via the Panama Canal to Melbourne, Australia. Once reprovisioned and refueled, it would then sail south to make the first base camp on the shore of the Ross Sea. The plan was to leave the Antarctic on or before February 1, preferably having recovered the reamins of the 1930-31 Expedition.

Moore began handing out work assignments. These assignments quickly showed that the Expedition was plagued by various small incidents, including items not being labelled properly, items not being built to proper specifications, and items simply not having arrived.

Moore asked Dr. Walter Carrington to be ready for a special task. Commander J. B. Douglas, who had captained the brig Arkham during the 1930-31 Expedition, had agreed to be captain of the Gabrielle for the voyage. The Commander had not wanted press and publicity, and so Moore asked Carrington to put himself at Douglas’ service and help make his stay in New York a pleasant one.

Early on September 3, despite the stated preference of Commander Douglas to avoid publicity, the morning papers had news of Douglas being involved in the Expedition, much to Moore’s concern. He downplayed it, saying that Douglas and Starkweather must have reached some kind of accord. More errors and difficulties were discovered, and steps were taken to fix things.

In the wee hours of the morning on September 4, the Investigators were awoken by Starkweather pounding on Moore’s door and eventually breaking it in, much to Moore’s shock. The early papers indicated that another Expedition was headed to the ice, this one led by Acacia “The Shark” Lexington, a long-time rival of Starkweather’s. Starkweather blamed Lexington for the ills that were plaguing the expedition and moved up the timetable. The Starkweather-Moore Expedition would not depart on September 9, in an effort to get to the ice ahead of Lexington.

“And Moore…” Starkweather said in a parting yell, “Get me a woman!”

Acacia Lexington

In order to try to keep hold of the attention of the press and to mollify Starkweather, Moore hired a newcomer to the Expedition, Miss Charlene Whitston, a rising star in the field of botany. After showing Miss Whitston around the ship, Professor Nordhagen expressed some concerns about whether or not a woman belonged on the ice, fearing that, no matter how qualified she might be, a woman’s presence might become a distraction to the crew. By contrast, Valentine Roylott sent a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, attempting to solicit further attention to the fact that not one but two women would now be heading to Antarctica.

Charlene Whitston
Early on the day of September 5, Alan Q. Morgan was handed a sealed envelope by a man who said he was paid 2 bits to deliver it. This note contained a mysterious warning not to travel to the ice and a plea not to “wake the Sleeping One there”. Signed only “A friend”, the note warned that, if they went, everyone would die (including, by the phrasing, the note’s author.)

Disturbed by the note, the Investigators pondered on the survivors of the previous expedition. Of these, only two could be located and were able to help.

Professor Frank Pabodie was still teaching geology at Miskatonic University, but he was still happy to help. Likewise, Arthur McTighe was working at a radio station in Kingsport Head, but also agreed to meet with them. The Investigators took the day off and hopped on a train to Arkham, Mass.

Once in Arkham, they met with Professor Pabodie. As the inventor of the Pabodie Drilling System, he was intimately involved with the 1930-31 Expedition, but he is not returning with Starkweather and Moore. He was able ot help the Investigators gain access to the University exhibit about the previous Expedition and to the Miskatonic Library. Roylott purchased a copy of the Summary Report of the Expedition, penned by Professor William Dyer, one of the Expedition leaders.

Professor Frank Pabodie

A bus ride to Kingsport Head put the Investigators in touch with Arthur McTighe, a Miskatonic alumnus who had been the Expedition’s radio operator. He was able to describe the Miskatonic Mountains, which he said were unnaturally tall and evil-looking. He also described the pitiful way in which the graduate student Paul Danforth returned…screaming, moaning, cursing in strange languages, and ready for a rest home. “He needed a lot of rest,” McTighe confided in them.

Arthur McTighe

The Investigators returned to Arkham, where they spent the night at Dr. Carrington’s home. Dr. Carrington was able to contact Danforth’s family physician and was assured that Danforth had been released six months previous with a clean bill of health. Everyone was assuming that Danforth was now residing with his family in Boston, but no one was willing to disturb the family to find out.

Paul Danforth
Is Danforth the author of the mysterious note? Is Acacia Lexington the cause of the Expedition’s strange mishaps? Is Starkweather completely incompetent, or is there actual sabotage afoot? Will Tanj Dezense ever give up smoking? To find out the answers to these and other questions, tune in for Chapter 2: Death of a Sea Captain.

Reminders from January 23 session

Everyone got together and created their characters. After standard character creation, the players each got 20 skill checks, to make them more advanced characters. I offered 6 possible Mythos backgrounds, and 5 of them ended up being chosen.

We skipped equipment purchasing, with everyone understanding that it would be fine for them to prepare equipment lists off-board before the next session, as well as having chance to purchase equipment before they “hit the ice”, as it were.

After that, we adjourned to watch The Call of Cthulhu by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Intrepid Explorers Ready Expedition

Arkham Advertiser, May 30, 1933

(Cont. from P.1)

“We’re going back,” Starkweather said. “The job’s not done. We’re going back, and we’re going to finish what was started and bring the whole lot out to the world. It will be a grand adventure and a glorious page in scientific history!”

Professor Moore, sitting quietly to one side, was less passionate but just as determined.

“A lot has changed in the past three years,” he insisted. “We have technology now that did not exist three years ago. The aeroplanes are better, bran new Boeing craft, sturdier and safer than before. Professor Pabodie’s drills have improved. And we have Lake’s own broadcasts to draw upon. We can plan ahead, with better materials and a knowledge of the region that none of them had when they prepared for their voyage. Yes, I am optimistic. Quite optimistic. We will succeed in our goals.”

When asked what those goals were, the two men looked briefly at one another before Starkweather answered, leaning forward intently.

“Leapfrog, gentlemen!” he smiled. “We shall leapfrog across the continent. A base on the Ross Ice Shelf; another at the South Pole. One at Lake’s old campsite, if we can find it; and, gentlemen, we plan to cross over those fantastic mountains described by Dyer and Lake, and plant our instruments and our flag right on top of the high plateau! Imagine it! Like a landing strip atop Everest!

“We’ll have the finest equipment, and skilled men. Geologists-paleontologists-we’ve got Professor Albemarle from Oberlin, he wants to study weather. Glaciologists, perhaps another biologist or two; the team’s not all made up yet, of course. We’re not leaving for another five months!”

“It is important,” added Moore, “to try and find Professor Lake’s camp and bring home whatever we can from the caverns he discovered. The prospect of a wholly new kind of life, a different taxonomy, is extremely exciting. It would be a shame if, having found it once, we were unable to do so again.”

The two explorers plan to land thirty men on the southern continent, half again more than the Miskatonic Expedition. The expedition is privately funded and owes no allegiance to any school or institution.

Keeper’s note: The page 1 part of this is essentially a repeat of the information from “Antarctica or Bust”. The rest revolves around a press conference held by Starkweather and Moore a few days later.

What the World Knows about the M.U. Expedition to Antarctica, 1930-31

Most of the following came to the world via the Arkham Advertiser’s powerful radio installation at Kingsport Head, Massachusetts.

The expedition landed at Ross Island in the Ross Sea. After several tests of the drilling gear and trips to Mt. Erebus and other local sights, the land party, consisting of 20 men and 55 dogs plus gear, assembled a semi-permanent camp on the barrier not far away and readied their five big Dornier aircraft for flight.

Using four of the aircraft, the fifth being held in reserve at the barrier camp, the party established a second base camp on the Polar Plateau beyond the top of the Beardmore Glacier (Lat 86d7m Long E174d23m) and did a lot more drilling and blasting in that vicinity. During December 13–15, 1930, Pabodie, Gedney, and Carroll climbed Mt. Nansen. Many fascinating fossil finds were made using the drill rig.

On January 6, 1931, Lake, Dyer, Pabodie, Daniels, and ten others flew directly over the South Pole in two aircraft, being forced down once for several hours by high winds. Several other observation flights were made to points of less noteworthiness during the week before and after.

The published plan for the expedition at this point was to move the entire operation eastward another 500 miles in mid-January, for the purpose of establishing once and for all whether Antarctica was one continent or two. The public also received word during this period that Lake, the biologist, campaigned strongly for an expedition to the northwest before moving the base camp. Therefore, instead of flying west on the 10th of January as planned, the party remained where it was while Lake, Pabodie, and five others set out via sled to probe overland into unknown lands. This expedition lasted from January 11th through the 18th, and was scientifically successful and marred only by the loss of two dogs in an accident while crossing a pressure ridge. During this same period, many supplies and barrels of fuel were airlifted by the others up to the Beardmore camp.

The expedition’s published agenda was changed once again when it was decided to send a very large party northeastward under Lake’s command. The party left Beardmore by aircraft on January 22nd, and radioed frequent reports directly to the Arkham for rebroadcast to the world. The party consisted of 4 planes, 12 men, 36 dogs, and all of the drilling and blasting equipment. Later that same day the expedition landed about 300 miles east and drilled and blasted up a new set of samples, containing some very exciting Cambrian fossils.

Late on the same day, about 10 p.m., Lake’s party announced the sighting of a new mountain range far higher than any heretofore seen in the Antarctic. Its estimated position was at Lat 76d15m, Long E113d10m. It was described as a very broad range with suspicions of volcanism present. One of the planes was forced down in the foothills and was damaged in the landing. Two other craft landed there as well and set up camp, while Lake and Carroll, in the fourth plane, flew along the new range for a short while up close. Very strange angular formations, columns, and spiracles were reported in the highest peaks. Lake estimated the range peaks may top 35,000 feet. Dyer called back to the ships and ordered the crew there to ready large amounts of supplies for shipment to a new base which would have to be set up in the foothills of the new range.

January 23rd — Lake commented on the likelihood of vicious gales in the region, and announced that they were beginning a drilling probe near the new camp. It was agreed that one plane would fly back to the Beardmore camp to pick up the remaining men and all the fuel it could carry. Dyer told Lake that he and his men would be ready in another 24 hours.

The rest of that same day was filled with fantastic, exciting news that rocked the scientific world. A bore hole had drilled through into a cave, and blasting had opened up the hole wide enough to enter. The interior of the limestone cave was a treasure trove of wonderful fossil finds in unprecedented quantity. After this discovery, the messages no longer came directly from Lake but were dictated from notes that Lake wrote while at the dig site and sent to the transmitter by runner.

Into the afternoon the reports poured in. Amazing amounts of material were found in the hole, some as old as the Silurian and Ordovician ages, some as recent as the Oligocene period. Nothing found was more recent than 30 million years ago. Fowler discovered triangular stipple-prints in a Comanchian fossil stratum that were close cousins to ones discovered by Lake himself in Archaean slate elsewhere on the continent. They concluded that the makers of those tracks were members of a species of radiant that continued significantly unchanged for over six hundred million years—and was in fact evolved and specialized at a time “not less than a thousand million years ago when the planet was young and recently uninhabitable for any life forms of normal protoplasmic structure. The question arises when, where, and how that development took place.”

Later that evening — Orrendorf and Watkins discovered a huge barrel-shaped fossil of wholly unknown nature. Mineral salts apparently preserved the specimen with minimal calcification for an unknown period of time. Unusual flexibility remained in the tissues, though they were extremely tough. The creature was over six feet in length and seems to have possessed membraneous fins or wings. (More detail given, too much for this synopsis.) Given the unique nature of the find, all hands were searching the caves looking for more signs of this new organism type.

Close to midnight — Lake broadcast to the world that the new barrel-bodied animals were the same creatures that left the weird triangular prints in fossil strata from the Archaean to the Comanchian eras. Mills, Boudreau, and Fowler found a cluster of thirteen more of the specimens about forty feet from the entrance, in association with a number of small oddly shaped soapstone carvings. Several of the new specimens were more intact than the first, including intact head and feet samples that convinced Lake that the creatures were his track-makers (an extremely detailed anatomical description followed at this point). Lake intended to dissect one, then get some rest and see Dyer and the others in a day or two.

January 24th, 3 a.m. — Lake reported that the fourteen specimens had been brought by sled from the dig site to the main camp and laid out in the snow. The creatures were extremely heavy and also very tough. Lake began his attempt at dissection on one of the more perfect specimens, but found that he could not cut it open without risking great damage to delicate structures, so he exchanged it for one of the more damaged samples. This also gave him easier access to the creature’s interior. (More details — vocal systems — very advanced nervous system — exceedingly foul smell — weird and complex sensory organs.) He jokingly named the creatures the “elder ones.”

Last report, about 4 a.m. — Strong winds rising, all hands at Lake’s Camp were set to building hurried snow barricades for the dogs and the vehicles. As a probable storm was on the way, air flight was out of the question for the moment. Lake went to bed exhausted.

No further word was received from Lake’s camp. Huge storms that morning threatened to bury even Dyer’s camp. At first it was assumed that Lake’s radios were out, but continued silence from all four transmitter sets was worrisome. Dyer called up the spare plane from McMurdo to join him at Beardmore once the storm had subsided.

January 25th — Dyer’s rescue expedition left Beardmore with 10 men, 7 dogs, a sled, and a lot of hope, piloted by McTighe. They took off at 7:15 a.m. and were at Lake’s Camp by noon. Several upper-air gales made the journey difficult. Landing was reported by McTighe at Lake’s camp at noon; the rescue party was on the ground safely.

4 p.m., same day — A radio announcement was sent to the world that Lake’s entire party had been killed, and the camp all but obliterated by incredibly fierce winds the night before. Gedney’s body was missing, presumed carried off by wind; the remainder of the team were dead and so grievously torn and mangled that transporting the remains was out of the question. Lake’s dogs were also dead; Dyer’s own dogs were extremely uneasy around the camp and the few remains of Lake’s specimens. As for the new animals — the elder ones — described by Lake, the only specimens found by Dyer were damaged, but were still whole enough to ascertain that Lake’s descriptions were probably wholly and impressively accurate. It was decided that an expedition in a lightened plane would fly into the higher peaks of the range before everyone returned home.

January 26th — Early morning report by Dyer talked about his trip with Danforth into the mountains. He described the incredible difficulty in gaining the altitude necessary to reach even the lowest of the passes at 24,000 feet; he confirmed Lake’s opinion that the higher peaks were of very primal strata unchanged since at least Comanchian times. He discussed the large cuboid formations on the mountainsides, and mentioned that approaches to these passes seemed quite navigable by ground parties but that the rarefied air makes breathing at those heights a very real problem. Dyer described the land beyond the mountain pass as a “lofty and immense super-plateau as ancient and unchanging as the mountains themselves — twenty thousand feet in elevation, with grotesque rock formations protruding through a thin glacial layer and with low gradual foothills between the general plateau surface and the sheer precipices of the highest peaks.” The Dyer group spent the day burying the bodies and collecting books, notes, etc., for the trip home.

January 27th — Dyer’s party returned to Beardmore in a single air hop using three planes, the one they came in and the two least damaged of Lake’s four craft.

January 28th — The planes were back at McMurdo Sound. The expedition packed and left soon after that.

And so it begins...
An expedition in the making?

from the May 26, 1933 Noon Edition of the Arkham Advertiser

“Antarctica or Bust!”

Renowned Adventurer Sets His Sights on the Bottom of the World

New York (AP) - World famous explorer James Starkweather announced today that he would lead a party of scientists and explorers into uncharted parts of the Antarctic continent this fall.

Starkweather, accompanied by geologist William Moore of Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, intends to continue along the trail first blazed by the ill-fated Miskatonic University Expedition of 1930-31.

The Starkweather-Moore Expedition will set sail in September from New York City. Like their predecessors, they intend to use long-range aircraft to explore further into the South Polar wilderness than has ever been done before.

“This is not about the South Pole,” Starkweather explained this morning, in a prepared speech in his hotel in New York. “Many people have been to the Pole. We’re going to go places where no one has ever been, see and do things that no one alive has seen.”

The expedition intends to spend only three months in Antarctica. Extensive use of aeroplanes for surveying and transport, according to Starkweather, will allow the party to chart and cover territory in hours that would’ve taken weeks to cross on the ground.

One goal of the expedition is to find the campsite and last resting place of the twelve men, led by Professor Charles Lake, who first discovered the Miskatonic Range, and who were killed there by an unexpected storm. The mapping and climbing of the mountains in that range and an aerial survey of the lands on the far side are also important goals.

“The peaks are tremndous,” Starkweather explained. “The tallest mountains in the world! It’s my job to conquet those heights, and bring home their secrets for all mankind.

“We have the finest equipment money can buy. We cannot help but succeed.”

Starkweather, 43, is a veteran of the Great War. He has led expeditions into the wilderness on four continents, and was present on the trans-polar flight of the airship Italia, whose crash near the end of its voyage on the North Polar ice cap received worldwide attention.

Moore, 39, a full Professor of Geology, is also the holder of the Smythe Chair of Paleontology at Miskatonic University. He has extensive field experience in harsh climates and has taken part in expeditions to both the Arctic and Himalayan Plateau.

Keeper’s Note: Similar articles appear over the next few days in all major U.S. and European newspapers. The articles are flashy photo spreads, with pictures of a heroic looking Starkweather in adventuresome poses, sometimes with a sled or dogs.


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.