Kidnapped Investigators in Call of Cthulhu

Captive Investigators can increase excitement and tension without locking up player agency. Image by Vagabond.

Investigators will face a wide variety of threats throughout the adventures, and, per the campaign book, cultists will frequently attempt kidnappings to allow their superiors to question meddlers before sacrifice or summary execution. While kidnappings can serve to forestall death and increase the drama, they can disrupt player agency and engagement. Removing an Investigator from the game almost guarantees player dissatisfaction, and trying to concurrently run events for the kidnapped and the rescuers during a session can be a real nuisance for everyone. We offer three potential methods to smooth these challenges and create interesting scenarios for your players. 

To the Rescue:

A lone Investigator pleads in fear, awaiting their saviors. Image by Krisofher

The first option removes the kidnapped player from active gameplay and operates under the assumption that they lack the skills and/or opportunities to escape their captors. This works with situations like the basements of the Ju-Ju House, Blue Pyramid Club, or Empire Spices, where the Investigator may be isolated in the dark and chained to a wall or locked away in a cage. In this instance, you can provide the player with an NPC profile, such as Lt. Poole or Millie Adams in New York, or Barrington or Yalesha in London. Allowing the player to take on an NPC provides the opportunity to play recklessly but at the expense of a potentially valuable game resource. 

You could also offer to let the player select an already existing backup character. If the kidnapping occurs at the end of a session, the player could create another setting-appropriate Investigator to be involved in the rescue. This allows the player and group to establish a relationship with a backup PC for future use. In some situations, a player may even elect to sideline their primary Investigator in favor of their new Investigator. We encourage these decisions at our table, as it reflects the significant effect the abduction may have had on the Investigator. 

Once recovered, you may wish to convey a clue by recounting an overheard cultist conversation or secretive whispers with another captive. 

The Great Escape:

In this option, the kidnapped player remains in control and the remainder of the group assumes the roles of cult captives. This can work well for escapes from the Misr House or the prison cells in M’Weru’s Caverns. If China does not mark your campaign climax, the Cage on Gray Dragon Island may also present a harrowing opportunity for a Great Escape while potentially disrupting the cult’s plans or obtaining a valuable scouting report. This also works well when several party members have been kidnapped and held captive by enemies, and you only need to substitute in one or two replacement characters. If other Investigators manage to fend off their attackers, you can bag useful NPCs, like Jack Brady, to round out the escape team. 

You may choose to stage this a prison break by a group of captives or you can have a reluctant cultist offer to free the group in exchange for their safety. One of your players could assume the role of a low-level, disillusioned cultist seeking freedom from their brethren. 

If escaping from Misr House, you can include Yalesha as a party member. Sometimes players may attempt to meta-game the situation by sacrificing their disposable captives to save their fellow Investigators, while other kidnapped Investigators may be more interested in freeing innocents at the risk of their own safety. The escaping cultist may be able to provide damning evidence of testimony against an otherwise untouchable leader, such as Gavigan. 

Split the Party:

Sometimes the best choice is to go both ways. Image by b|m.

The final option requires more time and effort on the part of the Keeper to execute but allows all players to maintain control of their characters throughout the kidnapping episode and rescue/escape. When we split the party, we prefer to break the separated Investigators into discrete groups for sessions. This might mean running a solo escape episode for a single Investigator, while the other members of the team attempt to gather resources, locate the hideout, and even begin a rescue. 

When running parallel sessions, we prefer to run the large group first to determine the direction of the party in their investigations and efforts. By seeing how far they get, we can determine where to direct the escaping Investigator. This allows us to define a dramatic convergence point for the separate groups. We attempt to avoid Investigator deaths during our split party sessions, but we do not remove all danger, as we like our Investigators to return with a harrowing tale to share. 

Kidnapping as a Keeper Tool:

If you have a player that will be missing a predetermined number of sessions, you could arrange for them to be kidnapped and the group can focus on recovering the player in time for their return to the table. Alternatively, you could use kidnapping to set up a solo session for someone with a scheduling conflict, which would allow them to return with some useful clues and intelligence. Of course, another solution could be to kidnap the whole group, which could work to fast-forward a stagnant plot. 

While removing an Investigator from play may initially create frustration for a player, a thoughtful Keeper can use the options described here to create an entertaining experience for everyone at the table. You may even wish to present these options to your group and allow them to discuss and decide which choice sounds the most exciting to them. 

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