A Nightmare Reborn: Mark Morrison’s Deadwave

The name Mark Morrison is one of those iconic ones that should be familiar to anyone who has followed for any length of time Chaosium’s two flagship roleplaying lines, Call of Cthulhu and Elric/Stormbringer.

Those who were around in the early days of CoC history (say, the late 1980s and early 1990s) would certainly recognize Mark’s name from his numerous superb scenario contributions to books from that era — perhaps most famously his still-much-referenced scenario from Mansions of Madness (Crack’d and Crooked Manse) and the scenarios in Terror Australis. Many would also remember the long-running column that he wrote for The Unspeakable Oath, titled “The Case of Mark Edward Morrison” and his contributions to a couple of classic campaigns (Horror on the Orient Express and At Your Door).

Even new-comers to the game would likely have run across Mark’s work — his introductory scenario Dead Man Stomp has been printed in all editions of the Call of Cthulhu rulebook since 1992.

[for a more extensive bibliography of Mark’s Cthulhu work, as well as a summary of his contribution to Elric, check out this page on the Cthulhu Wiki]

What fewer may know is that Mark wrote quite a lot of additional material for Call of Cthulhu, mostly for convention play, that has never been published. The “vaults” of the Cthulhu Conglomerate (the Melbourne-based group of writers in which Mark was a key contributor) have taken on almost legendary status.

In 1994 Mark published a (non-convention) scenario in the Chaosium Digest, called Deadwave. It’s my understanding that this was something that had been submitted to Chaosium for consideration on a couple of occasions, but which for whatever reason had never been published by them. Which really is a shame, because it is a superb — and in many ways innovative — piece. When I first read Deadwave back in the day, my mind was literally swimming with its possibilities … because, unlike traditional scenarios, Mark’s scenario is designed to be slotted into an ongoing campaign in a way which factors in prior events in the campaign and uses them to turn the Investigators’ world on its end. It provides a series of quite detailed events, but in a way that is designed to be flexibly customised by the Keeper, all with the ultimate goal of corroding whatever safe and mundane world the players’ characters have built around themselves. Had Trail of Cthulhu existed 15 years earlier, you might have described Deadwave as a unremitting attack by a Mythos force on the Investigators’ Sources of Stability.

When I first started adapting old scenarios from the Chaosium Digest as free high-production-value PDFs, Mark’s scenario was one of those that immediately sprang to mind as being worthy of (finally) being published in such a form. I’m very pleased that I have finally been able to produce such a layout for Deadwave … and even more thrilled that Mark agreed to contribute a brand-new short introduction to the PDF.

In producing the PDF version of Deadwave, I have exercised a slight editorial hand (which those who have read the plain-text version from the Chaosium Digest will notice). Mostly all I’ve done is a little reorganisation and the addition of some bridging text. However, I have made one significant augmentation. At the time when Mark was writing the scenario there was exactly one time-period/setting for Call of Cthulhu — what we would today call the “classic era” (ie the 1920s). However, due to the remarkably flexible way that he had constructed the scenario, it works pretty much just as well for any era of the game where there is some level of Industrial-age technology or later. That means, with just the substitution of a few words here and there, Deadwave could be a Gaslight scenario, or a modern-day scenario … or probably even a near future scenario. I recognized this fact while copy-editing, and decided to include some notes throughout the text to help Keepers take advantage of this flexibility.

My PDF for Deadwave runs to twenty-nine pages, made up of seventeen pages of scenario, a couple of covers and three separate collections of high-quality (double-sided) newspaper props. All up it’s about 15MB in size. Scroll down to the bottom of this posting for the download link, or scoot over to my Downloads page where you can get this and numerous other goodies, all for free.

To give you an idea of what you’ll be getting if you download this PDF, here’s a montage of a few of the page-layouts:


The multi-era nature of the scenario also ended up being reflected in the graphic design of the PDF, starting with the covers (above) — the idea for those was to include a “strip” which looked like it was printed in the 1890s, another from the 1920s and a third one from modern-day. The internal art is similarly schizophrenic when it comes to era — samples representatives of all the eras are present throughout:

(above pic, courtesy of the talented AlwaysDisconcerted: check out her page on DeviantArt)


One of the interesting challenges of producing a scenario which can be run in three different eras of the game was deciding what to do about handouts: Mark’s original text described two newspaper handouts which are quite important to the early phases of the adventure. Now, obviously a handout which renders these in a 1920s newspaper style isn’t going to be very useful for either Gaslight or modern games (when newspaper looked quite different). I could have just produced some generic non-period-specific handouts, I guess … but in the end I decided to take the plunge and design three separate layouts for each newspaper article, one for each era. Here’s a montage of one of these articles rendered in the three different styles:


To download the PDF adaptation of Mark Morrison’s Deadwave, click the link below:

Download Mark Morrison’s “Deadwave” (29 pages, 14.7MB)

As always with all content that I publish here on Cthulhu Reborn, this is provided as a copyrighted file but freely distributable under a Creative Commons license. That means basically, you can do whatever you want with this material … except make money out of it. In case it isn’t blindingly obvious, the copyright holder here is Mark Morrison for the text and me for the layout.

Now … go forth and create The Deadwave

I hope that some folks out there get some use out of this rendition of Deadwave — a lot of work has gone into both the writing (a long time ago), and the design (more recently). But I am very happy that finally, a couple of decades after its writing, Mark’s work is finally out there in a version that (hopefully) does it more justice than the plain text of the Chaosium Digest.

Given the unique and flexible nature of the scenario, there are an endless number of ways that Keepers might weave Deadwave into their scenarios … I’d be fascinated to hear how it infects people’s games (and would encourage anyone who runs it to post on Yog-Sothoth.com or elsewhere to share some details of their own rendition of this poisonous little tale of revenge).

Pleasant nightmares!

2 responses to “A Nightmare Reborn: Mark Morrison’s Deadwave

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