The Conqueror Worm

The Conqueror Worm

This was written for the spooky season to be played kind of slowly and to be finished in about two hours. It is short. I played it using Cthulhu Dark, but Call of Cthulhu, Unknown Armies or Trophy, to name a few, will also do. It can be played in a dark fantasy setting also.

The scenario makes you use of the „ask everyone around the table“-technique of collaborative storytelling. Without it, the adventure is not going to have the same effect. If you’re not into that kind of thing, this probably isn´t for you. If you have a bit of experience, I guess you could turn this into a somewhat more ordinary mythos adventure quite easily, but honestly, there are enough other one-shots for Cthulu-ish systems, so.

Inspiration for this adventure was drawn from „Ligeia“ by Edgar Allan Poe, which contains the poem „The Conqueror Worm“, as well as Laird Barron’s novel „The Croning.“

This adventure has a recurring theme of strong smells and the sense of smell. If you are so inclined, you may prepare the gaming table with cozy smelling things like tea, candles, fresh baked goods, fruits etc.

The investigators are part of a club in which the members outdare each other with outlandish and crass bets. It may be an academic thing, a gentleman’s get-together, a circle of old friends. Tonight, a man named Simon Melanchton has outdone everyone else by proposing to have himself buried alive at the local cemetery and to be dug up again at midnight. The cemetery nightwatchman was promptly bribed for his compliance and some tools. He also promised to watch the safety grave that was employed for the endeavour, i.e. there is a bell on the grave with a cord going into the coffin, so that Simon would able to ring and be freed in an instant. Then Simon’s friends went to work. The adventure starts with the PC in front of the cemetery close to midnight as the other group upon which it fell to dig their friend up again.

Go around the table and ask everyone what their character’s favorite smell is. Where do they encounter it in their everyday lives?

The nightwatchman does not show up to let the group in and the gates are locked. They will have to find some other way in.

The cemetery is dark except for the small candle flickering on Simon Melanchton’s grave and the light from the watchman’s ramshackle house, where the tools are stored in a shed. The emergency bell on the grave is silent.

Approaching the house, the PC will note the overpowering stench of alcohol. Through a window, the warden can be seen fast asleep, probably drunk. The shed is open and the tools are still there.The shed also contains some derelict furniture, broken tombstones, canisters of lantern oil and dozens of bottles, some empty, some filled with alcohol of the highly flammable kind, and a handful of suprisingly clean bedsheets.

If the PC dig up Simon, they will find the casket empty. It is filled with a gooey substance. There is a ragged hole in the bottom big enough for a man to squeeze or be pulled through. Under the casket, matching the position of the hole in the casket, there is a hole in the earth, obviously the mouth of a tunnel or a cavity of some sorts.

A foul stench wafts from it, strong enough to rob a person of their senses: decay, rot, death.

The emergency bell starts ringing. The cord hangs down the hole in the ground.

The Warden
Neatly dressed, very clean, shaking hands, steady voice. Reeks of alcohol. Not that old.

„Ah, too bad. Seems like the Conqueror Worm got him. Hate to break it to you, but he’s probably gone. If you want to go after him, I have a rope, though.“

„Weapons? No. What for, anyway? No use against the Conqueror Worm.“

„I hear the same stories from other wardens and diggers. It’s under every cemetery. Under the earth, everywhere. The mining companies know. But they don’t tell. The worm is everywhere.“

„It eats at the world is what it does. Once you caught that horrible smell, you can’t smell nothing else. I practically drink turpentine these days. I can still smell it.“

From the police or from the PC’s club, one other grumpy, unbelieving person can be recruited. Their name is either Frank Mallable or Susan Collins. They smell of onions and sausage. They smoke cigars.

Not many people climb down a strange hole in a grave. Characters in RPGs often do. If not, everything down there in the hole can be a dream later on. After all, the players left a friend down there with the worm and the stench, which warrants a couple of nightmares.

Go around the table and ask everyone how they recognized during the last weeks that Simon Melanchthon was deeply unhappy and why they didn’t tell anyone about it or did anything about it.

The hole goes down a couple of meters and then turns into a tunnel that is big enough for a person to just about stand in. It is dark, damp and filled with a sickening stench. The ground is slippery with goo. Shreds of Simon’s clothes are here.

The tunnel takes some turns.

At one point, a voice can be heard from further ahead.

„Finally…finally. It’s almost over. I can’t … no. No. Just let me … just a little more. I can smell it. I can smell…“

It sounds eerily like Simon’s voice, or rather, like someone or something imitating Simon’s voice in a gleefully evil way.

There is a lower tunnel coming from the left. A dark shape is in there, unmoving, on the ground. The smell of perfume drifts over from it.

It turns out to be the shell or husk of something that looks like a man-sized earth worm. Its made of a papery substance with thicker rings in it. It has tiny hands and feet. On one end, a woman’s face shines through the paper like a ghost or worn-out copy. The face shows a blissful smile. Pieces of women’s clothes stick to the thing. It seems to be dead. Rummaging through the clothes, the PC may easily crush it or step into it.

In the pockets and on the ground, a matchbox with two matches can be found, as well as the photo of another woman, adorned with a lipstick kiss, sliced by several cuts of a knife, and a handkerchief apparently drenched in perfume.

Deeper down, there are several small tunnels, too small, in fact, to even crawl into. Voices can be heard coming from above, and faint smells hang in the air, drifting down here from the streets, apartments, underground train stations etc. above.

Go around the table and ask everyone what familiar person(s) their hear talking, what secrets these persons reveal uninintentionally, and how the smell from above changes, when it comes into contact with the stench from below.

At the end of the tunnel is a cave or hollow the ends of which can not be seen in the light of a lantern. In the darkness, a constant munching and gnawing can be heard. The stench is tangible, like an oily film on the skin.

Between the light and the dark, there is Simon, lying on the ground. He pushes himself out of the light towards the sounds and the source of the smell. He doesn’t seem to be able to use his arms or legs. He is also thicker and rounder than when the PC saw him last.

„Do not come closer. I have long wanted this. You are right, I am not a happy man, for all the reasons you suspect. The smell has found me and I long to be part of it.“

„But you did help me! You put me in the earth tonight where I could be transformed.“

„Don’t you smell it? Don’t you smell it, too?“

„I am coming, my Lord Conqueror. I am coming. I am sub huluth aq mewet dar hnam ek …“

In the dark, there is the Conqueror Worm. Will the PC keep Simon from becoming one with it? Will they burn him? Will they join him?

The cave starts shaking. Earth rains from above. If this is a dream, they PC claw their way through the dank earth that slowly fills their mouths to awaken.

In any case, after all is said and done, go around the table and ask everyone, where in their lives they encounter the stench of the worm in later years.

Then light your candles, drink your tea and eat your fruit.

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