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Cthulhu Week: Inmates by Robin D. Laws

Posted on August 18, 2010 by Flames

Cthulhu Week continues with a new Campaign Frame for the Trail of Cthulhu RPG from Pelgrane Press written by game designer and author Robin D. Laws.

This series concept uses the Trail Of Cthulhu Campaign Frame format. The idea can easily be ported to your Cthulhu RPG of choice.



    Play begins within the confines of Butler Hospital, a Providence, Rhode Island mental institution. This real-world facility was founded in 1844 and is still operational today. H. P. Lovecraft’s father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, died there in 1898 after succumbing to psychosis in a Chicago hotel room.

    The PCs are all inmates, committed to the hospital’s high security wing. As the campaign begins, their memories are scrambled. They remember their lives up to a point, after which everything retreats into a nagging, ill-defined swirl of doubt and fear. Each believes that he or she has been wrongly incarcerated here, but can’t remember the circumstances leading up to their committals. Further, they can’t shake the feeling that all knew each other before they arrived at Butler, although the staff deny it. During the first scenario, a triggering event brings on a series of haunted by dreams, hallucinations, or perhaps fragmented recollections. In increasingly terrifying flashes, they receive confusing glimpses of harrowing adventures in which they encountered obscene monsters and battled worshipers of ancient, indifferent entities. They remember places called Arkham, Kingsport and Dunwich—none of which appear on the atlases available in the hospital library. The name Dr. Henry Armitage, who teaches at Miskatonic University, nags at them.

    During the first session, they escape the asylum and head out into the world to investigate their shared delusions, concluding that they must in fact be a buried reality. They find that neither Armitage nor Miskatonic University seem to exist any more. Nor do the towns that provide the setting for their eerily intense dreams. They do, however, find out what got them sent to Butler: their implication in a spree of gruesome, ritualistic murders.

    The PCs set out to prove that the seemingly real world around them is the illusion, and that what they remember really happened—and, unless understood, poses a deadly and imminent threat to mankind’s continued existence. Pursued by the authorities, accused of awful crimes they’re sure they didn’t commit, the investigators slowly start to find evidence of a cosmic cover-up. If only they could truly remember…


    Paranoia runs rampant as the characters must elude the police while uncovering the greater menace. This frame is ideal for a group able to shoulder relentless pressure, without resort to friendly authorities, pillars of sanity, or a home base.


    At first, the familiar outlines of the Mythos prove elusive. As the PCs follow their shattered memories, the outlines of the Lovecraftian continuity slowly emerge—though perhaps twisted into unfamiliar forms. The Deep Ones might be the result of government breeding experiments, while ghouls are discarnate aliens who possess human bodies to feed on the flesh of the dead.

    Gradually they grope toward the ultimate revelation: when they were sane, they helped weave a great ritual to delay the rising of R’lyeh for generations. When cast, the spell removed from the world any trace of Mythos activity. What was once real is now merely the fictional world created by a reclusive, eccentric pulp writer named Howard Phillips Lovecraft, whose father died in Butler Hospital.

    By discovering their true selves and past activities, the investigators have been unraveling the spell, impelled by the dormant consciousness of Azazoth.

    At campaign’s end, they must decide whether to again extinguish their identities for the greater good…if it’s even possible to put the Old Ones back in the bottle again.


    The Keeper creates the PCs, only slowly allowing them to regain the abilities on their character sheets as they unconsciously get up to their old tricks. As they encounter situations requiring those abilities, they recover them…along with horrific flashbacks of the last times they used them.

    Continuing NPCs

    Constantly on the run, the PCs are unable to build a cast of supporting characters around themselves. The sole recurring character is their chief pursuer, Special Agent Joe Curwen of the federal Department of Investigation, the precursor to the FBI. As the investigators unwittingly undo their ritual and restore the Mythos, Whateley undergoes a transformation from intrepid law enforcement officer to immortal, body-snatching wizard Joseph Curwen. At first, he pursues them because they’re escaped, insane criminals. As his true identity comes back to him, he wants them as sacrifices, so that the apocalypse they averted might now be finally enacted, making him lord of a ruined world.


    A Cthulhoid One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets The Fugitive.

    Robin Laws – 2010

    Robin D. Laws’ Cthulhoid credits start with rules design for Trail Of Cthulhu; he wrote the silver Ennie-winning campaign The Armitage Files, as well as Stunning Eldritch Tales and half of Shadows Over Filmland. Among his less tentacled roleplaying game designs are Feng Shui, HeroQuest, The Esoterrorists¸ Mutant City Blues, and Skulduggery. His six novels include Pierced Heart, The Rough and the Smooth, and Freedom Phalanx. Other career adventures have taken him into the worlds of collectible card games, computer games, and comic books.

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    2 Responses to “Cthulhu Week: Inmates by Robin D. Laws”

    1. Steven Dawes says:

      Excellent! I’ve been a fan of Robin’s work for years (Esoterrorists and Fear Itself are personal favorites of mine).

    2. Lisa Padol says:

      Oh, that’s brilliant.

    Leave a Reply

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