During the winter of 1927-28 officials of the Federal government made a strange and secret investigation of certain conditions in the ancient Massachusetts seaport of Innsmouth. The public first learned of it in February, when a vast series of raids and arrests occurred, followed by the deliberate burning and dynamiting - under suitable precautions - of an enormous number of crumbling, worm-eaten, and supposedly empty houses along the abandoned waterfront. Uninquiring souls let this occurrence pass as one of the major clashes in a spasmodic war on liquor.
And so begins the fateful tale of one Robert Olmstead the narrator of this yarn first published in April of 1936. I’m not sure what it is exactly that endears this story so close to my heart. Perhaps it’s that of all of Lovecraft’s stories the main character is one that I can really identify with. There’s something about staying in a creepy backwater little town and then having to flee in the middle of the night that just captures my imagination. The entire tale is just so well written that it makes you actually believe that this mysterious and horrific place really does exist on the coast of Massachusetts.
The first time I read this story it was because my friend had invited me to play the Call of Cthulhu RPG for the first time. I was super excited and he handed me his beat up well read copy of The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. I remember eating that book up, and hungering for more. Today it’s still one of my most cherished collections of Lovecraft’s stories.
The campaign that we were playing was of course Escape From Innsmouth. My friends excitement at running this thing was super high, and soon we had all created a team of investigators. My character if I remember right was Jim Dickson, a photo journalist that lived in a boarding house in the city Arkham.
One of the things that I’ll always remember about this campaign was all the stupid little things that came out of it. Little sayings and one liners that are only funny only to the small circle of us who had been there at the time. There was almost a palpable mystery and tension in the air during those game sessions. Part of that I chalk up to the newness of everything for me.
Perhaps one of the funniest moments of the campaign was when my girlfriend (who I would later marry) decided after a long run of me pestering her finally caved in and created a character. She was the daughter of an Irish mobster, and carried two violin cases with Tommy guns inside them. A couple of the group had broken into the local grocery store to gather some clues. While the rest of us kept watch the local (and corrupt) law enforcement showed up to investigate why a bunch of nosey outsiders were lurking around the closed grocery store. Hoping to buy our buddies on the inside some time in the store poor old Jim decided to cause a scene. He started spouting off about his civil rights, and how it was his God given right as an American citizen to go about were ever he damn well pleased. I knew Jim had it coming to him. The Sherriff started to beat the shit out of him, and that was when my wife decided it was a good time to bust out the Tommy guns. Well things escalated pretty fast from there. Pretty soon the whole town was coming down on our asses. That was more or less when we put the “Escape” in the Escape from Innsmouth campaign. Poor Jim didn’t make it unfortunately. As he hid in an ally he was wasted by a local with a well aimed spray of buck shot. Good times. Oh did I mention that Jim never took any pictures. He wasn’t a very good photo journalist either.
The coolest thing about Escape From Innsmouth in my opinion was how it doubled as both a collection of adventures as well as a sourcebook on the town of Innsmouth in Lovecraft country. In addition the actual raid on Innsmouth is divided into several scenarios (six of believe). Each scenario was one objective of the Federal Governments plan to secure the town. What was neat about this was that each of our main characters became leaders or advisors for the mission. Then everyone else got to play the soldiers and federal agents that were apart of that group, so you didn’t feel bad when the body count started to rack up. Let me tell you, the sanity checks and body count were huge.
Yet despite how cool this campaign was, for some reason it seems to get short shrift when compared to some of Chaosiums other campaigns. Masks of Nyarlathotep and Beyound the Mountains of Madness seem to be talked about a lot more. I’m not really sure why that is. Regardless, this would be an important next step in my Call of Cthulhu career. Tomorrow I’ll explain why.