Daniel R. Lackey and Scott Josephus
"The Wheel of Fortune" is a Call of Cthulhu scenario designed specifically to be played in a 1990's setting, although (in theory) very little modification should be needed to run it in other eras. In "Standing in the Shadows," all of our player-characters started the game as FBI agents, and the scenario assumes that at least one investigator is employed as a law enforcement officer or has some sort of authority in that area. Again, certain changes will need to be made if this is not the case.
While this scenario attempts to explain as much about the Tarot deck as is relevant to the story, it would probably be a good idea to have at least basic familiarity with the subject (and perhaps a deck of one's own to provide those all-important player aids).
A wave of interest in spiritualism and the occult swept Europe and the United States during the late nineteenth century, and many secret societies were formed during that era. Many were shams instigated by frauds serving no forces save the leaders' naked self-interest, but a scant few were genuine. One of these was the Hermetic Order of Ebon Wisdom, founded in 1887 by two Londoners, Josiah Flynt and Jessica Fisher, and a Japanese expatriate, Leonard Ito. Their ultimate purpose was to achieve immortality, and they ultimately did -- although it was not the immortality they had expected to find. Through Ito's contacts in Eastern Asia, Ebon Wisdom came into possession of an untitled text written in a medieval Japanese dialect which described a deity known as the "Black Man" and the proper way to worship him. In return for faithful service, the Black Man would grant his worshippers immortality by constant reincarnation through a ritual during which the cultist spiritually identified himself with a specific Greater Arcana of the Tarot deck. Upon death, the soul of the cultist would be reincarnated as a newly born member of his family line. All of the Ebon Wisdom cultists eventually underwent this ritual.
Ito's nameless tome also described a ritual for taking that immortality away, by the ritual sacrifice of the cultist in the manner of the Tarot card that cultist had chosen. When Josiah Flynt abandoned the Ebon Wisdom in 1895 and took up the worship of an obscure fire deity called Cthugha, the Black Man demanded that his cult take his former acolyte's immortality away. Unfortunately for the cult, the ritual was interrupted by the police, and while Josiah Flynt was dead, his soul continued to live on.
The Hermetic Order of Ebon Wisdom lives on and is currently based in Manhattan, seeking only to serve Nyarlathotep in his guise as the Black Man and to protect their precious immortality. Leonard Ito, nominal leader of the cult, is now Kenjo Yamaguchi, a real-estate developer with ties to the Yakuza (the Japanese equivalent of the Mafia). Jessica Fisher is now Special Agent Robin Nashe, a rising star in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York field office. And Josiah Flynt now has partial control of his great-great-grandnephew, Andrew Waite, a struggling electrician living in the Bronx. Flynt has been using Waite's body to track down the Ebon Wisdom cultists who sought to destroy him and is using their precious soul-destroying ritual against them; he has destroyed three of the original six so far. Waite has no idea what's going on and does not know what happens to him during his frequent blackouts. Yesterday, an FBI team, led by Agent Nashe, finally tracked him down and placed him under arrest. While Waite continues to proclaim his innocence, Nashe is preparing the Ebon Wisdom to strike . . .
The performance of this ritual allows the caster to gain an odd form of immortality. Upon death, the caster's soul will be reincarnated within a year into the body of a newborn infant of the caster's lineage. Between the ages of twenty-five and thirty, this person will come into knowledge of all the past events involving the caster. When this person dies, the cycle will start again, and this will continue until the original caster's family line is no longer extant. The caster has no control over who he or she is reincarnated as.
To cast this ritual, the caster must first choose one of the Greater Arcana of the Tarot deck to signify him or herself. The caster must then sacrifice a mammal of at least SIZ 6 on an altar consecrated in the name of Shub-Niggurath (see the spell "Call/Dismiss Shub-Niggurath" from the Call of Cthulhu Greater Grimoire) using an enchanted blade of some sort (see CoC again, this time the "Enchant Knife" and "Enchant Sacrificial Dagger" spells from the Lesser Grimoire). The caster must then write the number of the Greater Arcana he or she has chosen in the blood of the sacrificed animal and meditate for thirty minutes per point of POW possessed by the caster (stronger wills require greater effort to enter the cycle) and sacrifice all but one Magic Point while chanting the names of Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth, along with any other entities or deities worshipped by the caster. Sanity loss for performing this ritual is 1D10.
This spell, usually performed by the covenmates of a cultist who has undergone the Great Cycle of Reincarnation ritual, but has betrayed the cult or somehow proven unfit, removes -- with the ritual sacrifice of the victim -- that person from the Cycle. Only the leader need know the details of the spell. The casters must murder the victim by stabbing him to death with an enchanted weapon. The victim must then be displayed in the manner of the card the victim has chosen, while reciting a chant to Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth, along with any other deities they may serve, and the casters must between them sacrifice enough Magic Points to equal the POW rating of the victim. After the target is dead, the leader must carve the number of the victim's chosen card into the victim's forehead with the same sort of dagger required for the casting of the Great Cycle of Reincarnation. The victim's soul is then removed from the Cycle and will never again be reincarnated. This ritual costs 1D10 Sanity Points for the leader of the ritual and 1D8 points for each other participant.
The investigators are somehow alerted to a series of brutal homicides, committed in Manhattan, which seem to be ritual in nature. If the investigators are FBI agents, they are requested by Special Agent in Charge Ethan Kirkland, who works at the FBI's New York field office, to take over the case from Special Agent Robin Nashe, who he has pulled from the case because he feels she is "taking it too personally." Nashe is taking some vacation time and is presumably out of town.
The victims were all stabbed to death with a long knife before being "displayed." They are all affluent Caucasians in their early to mid-thirties; there appear to be no other obvious connections between them. The victims are:
Bloody fingerprints were found at all the crime scenes: incomplete prints at the Margita scene, complete prints at the others. The incomplete prints have been identified as belonging to either Andrew Waite, an electrician living in the Bronx, or Timothy Ryder, an occult-bookstore owner living in Manhattan. The complete prints have no known match.
A Tarot card was left at each scene: the tenth card of the Major Arcana, the Wheel of Fortune. The card depicts a spinning wheel with arcane symbols drawn on it, and traditionally represents fate and the fickle nature of fortune. No prints were found on any of the cards.
The primary suspect in the investigation is the aforementioned Andy Waite, currently in custody at the New York County Jail. The contractor Waite works for has maintenance contracts with the landlords of both Goldsmith's and Margita's apartment buildings, and he does not have corroborated alibis for any of the nights in question. However, he does not own a Tarot deck, none of the knives in his possession are believed to have created the stab wounds, he is not believed to posses the upper-body strength required to throw someone out a window or crucify someone upside-down, and there is of course the matter of the other prints. In addition, the results of a polygraph test (reproduced below) have been inconclusive. His fingerprints are on file with the Bureau due to an arrest four years previous for consumption of alcohol by a minor. The FBI has little to go on and has not yet decided whether or not to formally charge Waite; they have about sixteen more hours in which to decide.
Timothy Ryder, the second suspect, has been ruled out, but asked not to leave town without informing the Bureau. He owns an occult bookshop called the Four Corners, which is located in Manhattan near Central Park. His fingerprints (which are similar, though not identical, to Waite's) are on file due to several arrests for "disturbing the peace," and is believed to possess the required upper-body strength. However, he has produced airtight alibis for all the nights in question.
Interviews have been conducted with all the witnesses; Veronica Prudhomme, Waite's ex-girlfriend; and Waite's co-workers and neighbors. None of these interviews are actually on file, however.
A transcript follows of a polygraph test administered by Vincent Randall, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation, upon Andrew Thomas Waite, suspect in three separate homicide cases.
- Randall: Is your full name Andrew Thomas Waite?
Waite: Yes. (Statement evaluated as true.)
- Randall: Do you live at 818 Stuyvestant Avenue, in the Bronx?
Waite: Yes. (Evaluated as true.)
- Randall: Is it your intent to lie to me today?
Waite: No. (Evaluated as true.)
- Randall: Did you know, or did you knowingly meet, Kimberley Gary Goldmsith?
Waite: No. (Evaluated as true.)
- Randall: Did you kill Kimberley Goldsmith?
Waite: No. (Evaluated as false.)
- Randall: Did you know, or did you knowingly meet, Thomas Richard Pehl?
Waite: No. (Evaluated as true.)
- Randall: Did you kill Thomas Pehl?
Waite: No. (Evaluated as true.)
- Randall: Did you know, or did you knowingly meet, Kathleen Marie Margita?
Waite: No. (Evaluated as false.)
- Randall: Did you kill Kathleen Margita?
Waite: No. (Evaluated as false.)
- Randall: Are you employed as an electrician for Sachs Electric?
Waite: No. (Evaluated as false.)
- Randall: Does the name "Josiah Flint" mean anything to you?
Waite: No. (Evaluated as false.)
- Randall: Are you afraid that you will not pass this test?
Waite: Yes. (Evaluated as true.)
- Randall: Why is this?
Waite: Uh, because . . . because I didn't kill anybody. (Evaluated as false.)
Frankly, I don't know what to make of this. Certainly questions five, eight, and nine point to Waite's possible guilt, but questions four, six, and seven seem to contradict this. Then there is the anomalous result of question ten: I am informed that Waite is, in fact, employed as an electrician by Sachs Electric. I was requested by Agent Nashe to ask question eleven; even though I complied with her request, its validity as a control question is certainly dubious.
Waite will probably be the first person questioned by the investigators. He will, if questioned, assert his innocence. He truly believes that he is innocent and a Psychology roll will back this up. He also does not remember delivering the strongbox to Veronica Prudhomme (see below).
Prudhomme lives in a loft a couple of miles off Broadway. She is currently employed as a catalog model for several of New York's department stores.
Prudhomme and Waite dated for about ten months, but broke up about six weeks ago because they "began to drift apart." The have seen each other a couple of times socially since then. She claims to know nothing about the murders (true) and that Andy exhibited no odd behavior (false). If the agents manage to trip her up on this last point, she will reluctantly reveal that Waite visited her two days before his arrest; he had a metal strongbox that he wanted her to keep for him, which she will produce if asked. She has no key for the box.
The box contains the following evidence:
Should the Initiate fail in his faith or duties, or prove unsatisfactory in some way, or bring Impurity to the Coven, the Cycle may always be reversed. This shall be done by smiting the Initiate with a blessed weapon. The appropriate Masters must be invoked -- Nyarlat-Hotep, Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Niggurath, and any others the Faithful may serve. Then, the remains of the slain one shall be displayed in the manner of the card he has chosen: one who has chosen The Tower may fall from an extreme height, or be burned; one who has chosen Strength may be mauled by a wild beast. Iä Shub-Niggurath! In this way the Unfaithful may be removed from the Cycle and the Coven shall remain Pure.
Prudhomme claims that she does not know the significance of any of these items (true). A handwriting test on the handwriting determines that it is not Waite's handwriting.
The address turns out to be an abandoned warehouse owned by a company called Katana Holdings, owned by a wealthy Japanese immigrant named Kenjo Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi is not available to speak with the investigators, as he is "away on business," and nobody else at Katana knows what the connection between Waite and the warehouse is. Katana will not allow the investigators to search the property without a search warrant, which might take some time to procure, and breaking in should be made as difficult as possible.
The investigators can call a stakeout on the warehouse, or stake it out themselves; either way, nothing of significance happens until much later.
All the witnesses have similar stories to tell: they saw a man dressed in what appeared to be Victorian garb fleeing the scenes. If shown a picture of Waite, they state that it could be him, but they weren't sure because they didn't see the perpetrator clearly. If shown a picture of Ryder, they're sure it's not him.
Anyone who tries calling her will get her answering machine, because she's not home. A check on her credit cards will reveal that she has, however, recently booked a room at an economy-priced hotel in Brooklyn, which turns out to be within a mile of the Katana Holdings warehouse.
Nashe never leaves the hotel room by conventional means. There are, however, two Gates set up in the bathroom -- one which leads to an auxiliary Ebon Wisdom meeting place well outside New York City, and one which leads to the Katana warehouse.
The Four Corners is open from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. and Tim Ryder can be reached during business hours. He sleeps little -- from about midnight to 5 A.M. -- and can be found at his apartment, which is above the store, or within the store, tidying up and tending to business matters.
The Four Corners is a small establishment, selling power crystals, Tarot decks, runestones, and other "mystical" items alongside rare and commonplace books on occult, mystical and paranormal matters; "Simon"'s dubious mass-market Necronomicon is sold alongside theological novels by C.S. Lewis, studies of the prophecies of Nostradamus, and Whitley Streiber's texts on alien abductions. The scent of freshly-burnt incense fills the air.
Ryder himself is a friendly (unless the investigators attack his religious beliefs -- Ryder is an openly practicing Wiccan) if enigmatic man who is more than willing to answer any questions the investigators have. He has, as has been stated, airtight alibis for the nights of the murders.
He knows almost all of his regular customers by name, and will confirm that the three victims had purchased copies of an extremely rare book entitled Occult Societies of Europe, written by Victor Chess and published by Golden Goblin Press in 1907, from him. He doesn't currently have a copy of this book in stock, but will be more than happy to try and special-order a copy for them (he can't guarantee when it will come in, though).
He does not know any of the specific details of the murders, but if given the information, he will identify "0", "XVII" and "XII" as signifying cards of the Major Arcana of the Tarot -- The Fool, The Sun, and The Hanged Man, respectively -- and that each victim was displayed after the murder in the manner of each card. He will also supply the traditional meanings of the cards, as stated earlier in this scenario.
He is also willing to comment on one of the comments of the strongbox, the torn page which mentions the Mythos deities. He cannot identify which book it had been taken from (though he's sure it's not from Occult Societies of Europe), but states that "the Cycle" may refer to a ritual used by several mystical societies in Europe during the 1800's. In such societies, a cultist chose a card of the Major Arcana to represent him or herself. The "Cycle" may have the power to bestow immortality of a sort, reincarnating the cultist's soul into a newly-born infant almost immediately after death. Knowledge of one's past lives would return as the reincarnated cultist reached his or her late twenties. The only society that Ryder knows of that may have possessed the ritual was the London-based Order of Ebon Wisdom, which was disbanded in the late 1890's for some reason that Ryder is not aware of.
A local library may have a copy of Occult Societies of Europe on its shelves, but it will prove to be of little worth to the investigators if they don't know what they're looking for. The book provides a broad overview of the secret mystical societies which were all the rage in the late 1800's, primarily focusing on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and its offshoots, going into particular detail when discussing the rivalries between its members.
The book does, however, contain a brief nugget of information on Ebon Wisdom:
"Josiah Flynt, whom Yeats personally expelled from the Golden Dawn in 1888, went on to form a new society, the Hermetic Order of Ebon Wisdom in 1889 with fellow Londoner Jessica Fisher and Japanese expatriate Leonard Ito. Very few details are known about this shadowy society, but it is generally believed that each member selected one of the Greater Trumps of the Tarot deck to signify himself. Ito is believed to have selected the fourth (The Emperor), Fisher, the second (The High Priestess) and Flynt, the tenth (The Wheel of Fortune).
"In 1895, London police, responding to complaints of a disturbance in the area, broke into the Ebon Wisdom "temple" (an abandoned factory dubbed "Nephren-Ka") to find a strange sight: Flynt had been crucified on a spinning wheel, while black-robed cultists, including Ito and Fisher, chanted in an unfamiliar language. All the cultists were arrested; Ito and Fisher were tried for murder, and three other Ebon Wisdom principals -- Ashley Garvin, Michael Barber, and Deborah Parsons -- were tried for conspiracy to commit murder. All five were convicted, and Ito and Fisher were duly hanged."
Reading this book grants an experience check to the reader's Occult skill.
Waite's employer, Matthew Sachs, states that Waite was a friendly if rather quiet man, and a very good worker. Waite's neighbors say that he kept to himself but was a good neighbor, never causing any sort of disturbance. In other words, these people have no reason to believe that Waite is anything other than a normal human being who possesses no aberrant tendencies whatsoever.
At some fortuitous point during the evening when the investigators are not at the county jail, Flynt manages to re-possess Waite, overpower the guards, and escape. The investigators are somehow informed of this fact and may be invited to join the manhunt, but this will turn up nothing for quite some time; Flynt has decided to lay low for a couple of hours before confronting his next victim . . .
Deborah Parsons, who selected Justice (which represents harmony and balance), is next on Flynt's list. Her current identity is that of wealthy socialite Lisa Haslett. Several hours after his escape, Flynt manages to track her down and kill her, but is discovered before he could complete the ritual. He is briefly captured by the police, but manages to whip up a quick Summon/Bind Fire Vampire spell when one of the officers lights a cigarette. Flynt runs off, and the one officer not to fall victim to sudden spontaneous human combustion pursues, but the two find themselves cut off by a group of Asian youths in the employ of Kenjo Yamaguchi. Unfortunately for Flynt, none of them smoke. Flynt and the officer are savagely beaten, and the gang takes Flynt to Yamaguchi, who begins to prepare to reverse the Cycle on Flynt . . .
Eventually the investigators are informed of a bizarre sequence of events: Waite turned up again, apparently wearing his Victorian formal dress, and was interrupted while preparing the corpse of Lisa Haslett, local socialite and recognized Daddy's Girl. Waite was pursued and captured by four police officers, three of whom mysteriously went up in flame while reading Waite his rights. Waite and the surviving officer were then jumped by a group of young Asian men who savagely beat the officer and carried Waite away.
At the crime scene, Haslett's body -- clad only in a red terry-cloth robe -- is sitting in the living room of her apartment. In addition to the requisite stab wounds, a large sword was rammed through her stomach, a set of pan scales placed in her left hand, and a Valentine's Day greeting card and a long black crow's feather were placed at her feet. (As stated before, this represents Justice.) Waite was presumably in the process of carving the Roman numerals when interrupted.
Sanity Loss for this sight is 1/1D4.
The investigators should then get the bright idea to go to the Brooklyn warehouse. If a stakeout has been initiated, the investigators are informed of activity there. (Yamaguchi, Nashe, and at least six other cultists have used either underground tunnels or Gates to enter the facility, so no one is seen entering.) Presumably, the agents arrive posthaste and attempt to break into the warehouse.
The ritual is intended to run as follows. When the investigators decide to interrupt the festivities, run the scene accordingly. Whether or not the ritual is actually completed is entirely dependent on the investigators' actions, and how tough you decide to make it for them.
All the cultists undress and don black robes. Yamaguchi's has a large arcane symbol on the front.
Waite is tied to an enormous wheel, which begins to spin. Yamaguchi begins to lacerate, stab and otherwise smite him.
Nashe begins the chant: "Proclaim the praises of Those Who Wait! The praises of Nyarlathotep, of Yog-Sothoth, of Azathoth and Great Cthulhu, of Tsathoggua and Him Who is Not to Be Named . . ." (Feel free to insert the names of some of your favorite Mythos deities here.)
Yamaguchi: "Ever Their praises, and abundance to Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young!"
All the cultists in unison: "Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young!"
Nashe: "We beg the indulgence of our Masters, to see fit that the Cycle be broken for this Unbeliever, Josiah Flynt, that he not be permitted to deliver more Impurity to the Sacred Servants. Eternal death to Josiah Flynt, and eternal death to all Unbelievers!"
All the cultists in unison: "Eternal death to all Unbelievers!"
The wheel stops spinning. Yamaguchi delivers one last final stab to the heart: Andrew Waite is dead. Yamaguchi withdraws the blade, licks the blood off of it, and proceeds to carve the Roman numeral "X" in Waite's forehead. Now Josiah Flynt is dead, too, and won't be coming back.
If the ritual is interrupted, the crony cultists (that is, all of them except Yamaguchi and Nashe) will form a skirmish line between the investigators and Yamaguchi, Nashe and Waite. They are not armed, but are willing to sacrifice their lives to keep Nashe and Yamaguchi safe from harm so the ritual can be completed. If you feel that this isn't difficult enough for your players, you can always have Yamaguchi or Nashe cast a quick Summon/Bind spell and cause some mind-numbing horror to show up and harass the investigators, just for fun.
If Andy Waite's life is saved, he stands trial on four counts of murder and is convicted on all counts. Any crackpot theories about reincarnation or possession will be rejected by the jury. Waite is executed four years later.
Kenjo Yamaguchi and Robin Nashe stand trial for murder (if Waite dies) or attempted murder (if he doesn't die), are convicted, and may also be sentenced to be executed. In addition, Nashe is dismissed from the Bureau without any hope of reinstatement. The cronies stand trial for conspiracy to commit murder, are convicted, and serve lengthy prison sentences.
Sanity gains are up to the individual Keeper, but we suggest +1D8 for saving both Waite and Flynt's soul and +1D6 for saving Flynt without saving Waite.
Andrew Waite, bewildered electrician, age 20
STR 12, CON 10, SIZ 16, INT 11, POW 9, DEX 13, APP 9, EDU 14, SAN 75, HP 13
Weapons: Fist/Punch 59%
Skills: Dodge 24, Wonder What the Hell is Going On 99%
Josiah Flynt, murderous reincarnated cultist, age 134 (inhabiting body of Andrew Waite)
STR 17, CON 10, SIZ 16, INT 16, POW 19, DEX 15, APP 9, EDU 18, SAN 0, HP 13
Weapons: Fist/Punch 86%; Bowie knife 78%, damage 1D6+db
Skills: Dodge 76%
Spells: Great Cycle of Reincarnation, Reverse the Cycle, Contact Cthugha, Summon Fire Vampire, in addition to any number of spells or powers that he can use to affect Andy Waite only. These include the ability to increase Waite's body strength and alter his fingerprints. The Keeper may invent other spells or effects as needed.
Special Agent Robin (The High Priestess) Nashe, FBI agent and Ebon Wisdom cultist, age 28
STR 12, CON 12, SIZ 9, INT 15, POW 17, DEX 15, APP 16, EDU 17, SAN 0, HP 11
Weapons: Fist/Punch 77%; 9mm auto handgun 71%, damage 1D10; Sacrificial dagger 69%, damage 1D4+db
Skills: Dodge 68%
Spells: Great Cycle of Reincarnation, Reverse the Cycle, Create Gate, Contact Nyarlathotep (Black Man avatar).
Kenjo (The Emperor) Yamaguchi, investor and Ebon Wisdom high priest, age 32
STR 11, CON 14, SIZ 12, INT 17, POW 20, DEX 16, APP 13, EDU 17, SAN 0, HP 3
Weapons: Fist/Punch 78%; Kick 68%; Sacrificial Dagger 71%, damage 1D4+db
Skills: Dodge 83%, Martial Arts 63%
Spells: Great Cycle of Reincarnation, Reverse the Cycle, Contact Nyarlathotep (Black Man avatar) and perhaps one Summon/Bind spell of the Keeper's choice, preferably for a race in servitude to Nyarlathotep, just to keep things interesting.
Created: April 10, 1998; Updated: April 11, 1998