Spawn of Azathoth – Ulthar and Beyond

A lone Cat of Ulthar observes. Source image by Victor Bezrukov.

From the Mind of Keeper Jon Hook

Welcome back to the Cult of Azathoth. As noted in the previous articles, this series about the classic Call of Cthulhu campaign, Spawn of Azathoth, by Keith “Doc” Herber. This article references the 2005 version of the campaign; the PDF is available now on Chaosium’s website.

The rest of this article is full of SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

Previously, I described how the Spawn of Azathoth campaign is comprised of seven chapters, with only the first and last chapters set in place. The players and their investigators explore the mystery however they desire. This article describes the Ulthar and Beyond chapter since it was what my investigators wanted to explore when I recently ran this campaign.

The investigators first learn about the existence of The Dreamlands from Philip Baxter’s dream journal. The dream journal was included in the packet of information the investigators received during the reading of Baxter’s last will and testament. In the journal, Baxter details a Dreamlands encounter where he claims to have seen the investigators, which explains the recent update to his last will and testament claiming the investigators as trusted allies.

The investigators also learn that Baxter’s older brother, Father Julian Baxter, who encouraged him to keep a log of his dreams. Julian is a retired Catholic priest; he’s described as being in his early 60s, infirm, and wheelchair-bound. According to his backstory, Julian had attempted suicide a few years ago. Personally, I found this part of his backstory distasteful and unnecessary. I removed it from the game because it seemed like a potential “X Card” trigger for players. It’s been my experience that players in a game of Call of Cthulhu expect and enjoy the fantasy horrors of the Mythos and accept human horrors when they are victims of the Mythos and their cultists. But the more visceral human horrors of suicide, rape, and child abuse, (just to name a few), can usually result in diminished enjoyment of the game.

In my game, Julian was in his early 70s, and his frailty and need for a wheelchair results from his weak constitution. To help Julian with his day-to-day activities is Matthew White. White is presented as Julian’s chauffeur, but he serves as his companion, manservant, and personal nurse in my game. White is young and strong, but mute in the real world – The Waking World. But, in The Dreamlands, White is a powerful councilman in the city of Ulthar. A man of great charisma with a strong voice for the people.

Julian retired from the church because his work was too physically demanding for him. But his mind remained sharp, so he focused his energies into a new direction – the study of dreams. It was in this quest to understand dreams that Julian discovered how to concoct the “Dream Brew.” Julian gave his brother several doses of brew to help him sleep and dream better. Unfortunately, Julian is convinced that his brother’s death is his fault. He believes that his brother mistakenly overdosed on the Dream Brew, and that’s why he died. If the investigators approach Julian and talk to him about his brother’s fears and adventures in The Dreamlands, as noted in the dream journal, then Julian is convinced to help the investigators explore his brother’s dreams. Julian gives the investigators several doses of dream brew so they too can explore The Dreamlands.

In my game, the investigators met with Father Baxter, and as he spoke to them the guilt and grief he feels for his dead brother overwhelmed him, and he gave the investigators the remaining vials of Dream Brew that he had. The investigators were very kind to the elderly man, and his manservant, White, observed the kindness the investigators extended to Julian. This act of kindness would be the linchpin that endears White (and his Dreamlands counterpart, the Burgomaster Kranon) to the investigators should they meet up with him in Ulthar. I think it’s important for Keepers to have a scene like this where Father Baxter is vulnerable, and for White to quietly observe how the investigators react to the grief-stricken brother, so the Keeper can establish White’s disposition towards them.

With the Dream Brew, the investigators can enter The Dreamlands. The scenario advises that only investigators whose Sanity and Cthulhu Mythos values sum up to 75 or more may enter The Dreamlands. I find this far too restrictive. All investigators should be allowed to enter. As the investigator’s dream selves descend the many steps of deep slumber, their appearance shifts into that of a medieval farmer, merchant, musician, or scholar. The many steps of deep slumber end at a door, and, as the investigators pass through the door, they find themselves in the middle of a forest. A mighty tree is marked with a strange glyph that has a subtle inner glow. It should be obvious to the investigators, that the tree is their doorway in and out of The Dreamlands.

A forest trail in a strange vibrant land.

This chapter of the campaign can be drawn out for as long as the players are enjoying the investigation. The investigators notice a faint trail that leads away from the tree. Following the trail leads the investigators to a cart-rutted road. It’s on the road that the investigators can hitch a ride with a friendly family on their way to Ulthar.

Ulthar is a large walled city. It is a well-designed sandbox with many places for the investigators to discover. The Keeper should allow the investigators to explore anything and react to their lead. There are many points of interest for the investigators to visit, including the bridge that spans across the River Skai on the north side of Ulthar, Burgomaster Kranon’s Palace, a weird carnival, a tavern known as Gordian’s Knot, Ulthar’s harbor, the marketplace, the Temple of the Elder Ones, a tavern known as The Tilted Windmill, the White Whale Inn, and Woth the baker. The Keeper is even provided a special encounters table for when the investigators are traveling through the streets of Ulthar.

Eventually, the investigators learn about the Castle of the Sacred Fount located deep within the Jungle of Kled. My players greatly enjoyed this portion of the campaign. The journey from Ulthar to the Jungle of Kled was made by an elephant caravan. I believe the players enjoyed this portion because it was a nice blend of Call of Cthulhu and Dungeons & Dragons.

Yibb-Tstll. Art by Astanael.

The journey through the Jungle of Kled is quite treacherous. Once the investigators reach the Castle of the Sacred Fount, they may discover a Dreamlands version of Philip Baxter being tortured by strange creatures. It is then that the investigators may realize that while Philip Baxter’s physical body is dead, his living essence – his soul – still lives in The Dreamlands. And if the investigators have previously visited the Temple of the Elder Ones, they may have learned that an entity known as Yibb-Tstll might have the ability to restore Philip Baxter to life. But to do so would require the sacrifice of another life.

Now, the campaign was trying to suggest that the investigators should consider who would be a “fair” sacrifice to restore Baxter’s soul, with the most logical answer being the madman who murdered Baxter’s physical body, Mr. Silas Patterson. If the investigators come to this conclusion, then that would lead them to another chapter in the campaign called The Eternal Quest. In that chapter, the investigators would find the Dreamlands version of Patterson, and take both him and Baxter before Yibb-Tstll so the two men could be fused into one. Baxter’s mind would then inhabit the physical body of Patterson in the Waking World. But that is not how things transpired in my game. No, in my game, one of the investigators sacrificed himself to become Baxter. It was an unexpected and amazing turn of events in the game.

So, for most games, the rescue of Baxter from the Castle of the Sacred Fount will be the end of this chapter of the campaign. For some, investigators choose stay in the Dreamlands to find the dreaming version of Silas Patterson, but for my group, they awoke to pursue leads concerning the observatory in Garrison, Montana where we will also turn our attention next. Until then, keep your eyes to the stars, and watch for changes.

Take a dive into Jon’s most recent Miskatonic Repository adventure, The Hole, as well as his other titles over at DriveThru RPG

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