Adding “The Auction” to Your Campaign

The Brazen Head. Source image courtesy of Matt McCloud.

SPOILERS FOR “THE AUCTION” BELOW!

Released in 1983, The Asylum & Other Tales contained a collection of seven adventures and opened with “The Auction” by Randy McCall. We love this classic scenario, as do many other Call of Cthulhu fans. The combination of the 40th Anniversary Call of Cthulhu Kickstarter and exquisite corresponding HPLHS prop set makes running “The Auction” even more appealing, and we feel it fits beautifully into a Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign either as a prelude adventure or as a compelling campaign-linked sidetrack. In addition, we offer a few suggestions to enliven the investigative trail for any run of this scenario.

Prelude Scenario:

Peru serves as a perfect jumping-off point for the campaign, and investigators develop a burgeoning relationship with Jackson Elias. Following their South American adventure, Jackson begins to seek additional information about the ill-fated Augustus Larkin and discovers his correspondence with a well-known English explorer Winston Rhys-Smith, which draws his attention to an auction held in Vienna at the prestigious Ausperghaus.

The mercurial and eccentric explorer, Rhys-Smith, who hid secrets in an African drum.

Running the scenario in Vienna places continued emphasis on the global scale of the investigators’ adventures. It continues to cement their relationship with Elias and provides them an opportunity to rescue him from great danger. 

With Jackson acting as a patron of sorts, he facilitates negotiation with Ausperg, and suggests investigating the mystery and recovering the stolen item in exchange for access to Lot Five, which contains Rhy-Smith’s hidden writings for Jackson’s continued research into Larkin’s past. Depending on Keeper preference, the contents of Lot Five potentially resurface again during future chapters of Masks of Nyarlathotep.

A trapped Lady Jameson tries to stir unconscious Jackson after escaping a coffin.

To prolong the mystery regarding the culprit, we have Lady Jameson hastily disappear before the police arrive. Jackson volunteers to accompany one of Ausperg’s agents to Jameson’s hotel. If investigators insist on sending a party member to accompany Jackson, we recommend inserting a chase to separate Jackson from the investigators. Once separated, the cloaked figures surprise Jackson and kidnap him. Depending on the circumstances, the ghouls potentially take Lady Jameson as well before disappearing into the complex Viennese sewer system. The ghouls then stow their kidnapping victims in locked coffins beneath Hunderprest’s apartment, as described in the scenario. This places Jackson in peril but removes him from direct harm for the majority of the adventure while raising the stakes. At the end of the adventure, Jackson departs to pursue his confidential agenda.

Post-England Scenario:

To initiate this sidetrack, the investigators discover Edward Gavigan plans to attend an upcoming auction in Vienna with an interest in purchasing one of the lots. This information may be found at Misr House, Gavigan’s Flat, or relayed by an NPC ally, such as Inspector Barrington (or Zahra Shafik!). The content of the lot depends on Keeper preference, but an Eye of Light and Darkness fragment offers an interesting possibility. If investigators choose to take this route, remove or alter the encounter with Nuri of El Wasta (p. 310). Using two different Egyptian lots during the auction provides an element of intrigue and uncertainty for the investigators, as they attempt to work out what Gavigan sought. This potentially offers additional motivation to seek answers in Egypt. 

Photo of Lot 1 from Auction Program, the Broken Ward

As for adjusting the backstory, Ubaid (p. 320) sold the fragment to Faraz Najjar (p. 304) to care for his mother, which drew the attention of the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh toward all of them. Once Nuri learned of the sale, she angrily demanded its return, but Najjar already sold it to the prestigious Ausperghaus. This creates a trail for the investigators to follow back to Nuri and learn the significance of the broken artifact. 

The auction also serves as an opportunity to introduce Ali Kaffour (p. 305), who attends the event in hopes of recovering precious artifacts for the Egyptian Museum. Due to his travel schedule, Kaffour returns to Cairo after the investigators and provides the group time to explore before turning to the knowledgeable museum director for additional answers. 

Scenario Suggestions:

In general, “The Auction” requires some minor tweaks to update for a 7th edition run, such as converting communication to social skills rolls, but converting old scenarios to the current system is an easy task. If you wish to abbreviate the auction itself, consider reducing the number of lots by selecting the ones that NPC bid maximum amounts. Geek Ken provides some additional useful suggestions for modifying the auction in this post.  

We recommend removing the POW roll to leave the Auction room as it interferes with player agency. To inject additional intrigue, Borsavin remains after questioning and offers to help psychically contact the Brazen Head for Ausperg. He serves well as a red herring cultist and depending on player responses potentially acts to undermine or assist the investigators.  We felt Hunderprest’s civil servant neighbor Horst deserved to offer some useful information, and he serves the investigators by mentioning that Hunderprest frequents the Voltassebar. 

If aiming to accelerate the pace of the scenario, Ausperg or a servant helpfully provides Hunderprest’s contact information. Cutting the content about the midnight stroll and conflict with the local police also helps move the investigation along. To extend the hunt for the villain, we suggest delaying the discovery of his apartment. Instead of Hunderprest supplying Ausperg with his actual address, he offers up a pawn shop where he sells his stolen articles. Visiting the pawnshop reveals more about Hundreprest’s activities and potentially provides a second node pointing to the Voltassebar or the apartment.

A gourmand preparing a sit-down dinner for some ghouls.

If running this as a Masks prelude or side-track scenario, following the ghouls in the tunnels and sewer beneath Vienna at any point should serve the investigation and create tension rather than expose the investigators to deadly combat. Depending on the progress of the investigation, allow Track and Navigate rolls, which potentially lead to crypts Hunderprest is in the process of plundering or to the tunnel beneath his apartment. 

Once in Hunderprest’s apartment, consider removing the roll to recognize the basement was dug from below, as this should be an obvious clue. If looking to punch up the horror surrounding Hunderprest, consider adding sharp knives, cleavers, and medical saws to the kitchen in his apartment. This along with unusual cuts of meat in the icebox points to Hunderprest’s descent into cannibalism. 

With a little work, “The Auction” easily moves to other locations, including the New York Chapter, and provides great inspiration for a rare book auction involving Roger Carlyle’s collection. Whether or not it fits into your Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign, we highly recommend this scenario to all Call of Cthulhu Keepers and the increasing availability of The Asylum makes it readily accessible once again. 

If you don’t have time to sculpt your own exquisite Bronze Head liking Lurking Fears Keeper Matt McCloud, Type40 offers an excellent digital version of the prop. 

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