A Convicts & Cthulhu Campaign

It’s been several months since we’ve released anything new for our (much-loved) Convicts & Cthulhu RPG. A few people have contacted me asking me if we’d somehow stopped supporting it … fear not, we would never do that. But, even before the current world events had come to disrupt everyone, real-life complications were (temporarily) biting deeply into the free-time of our normal C&C writers. This has slowed down the production of the next Ticket of Leave supplement *and* also preparations for our annual GenCon Convicts & Cthulhu game — the latter of which might depend a lot more on exactly what shape GenCon 2020 takes.

While talking with our small crew the other day, someone suggested that now that there are a LOT of Convicts & Cthulhu scenarios written — scattered through some 400 pages of free/PWYW content that is available to everyone — why don’t we stitch some together to form a campaign? Given the way that downloads of our free scenarios (and especially our free Convicts material) has skyrocketed in recent weeks, having a longer-form Convicts tale that people could just pick up and run seems like an idea whose time has come.

So — between Geoff and myself — we’ve created an eight-chapter “ready(-ish)-to-run” campaign which binds together a selection of scenarios and seeds from the core Convicts & Cthulhu book as well as scenarios from:

All up, the campaign has 8 chapters (six core “campaign arc” chapters and 2 optional chapters). We estimate it will take an Investigator group 10-15 sessions to play. It’s an open framework which would also allow a few extra optional chapters to be inserted if you wanted something longer.

You can download the 33-page PDF which contains the campaign outline as a free download from here on the Cthulhu Reborn blog. We will also put the same file up on DriveThruRPG as a Pay-What-You-Want title (in case you would like to chip a small donation our way to help us keep making new Convicts supplements).

We’ve called the campaign notes a “String-A-Line” supplement to distinguish it from our original Convicts & Cthulhu scenario/sourcebook releases (“Tickets of Leave”) and our NPC-specific supplements (“Musters”). The term “stringing a line” comes from the “Flash Talk” slang spoken by convicts in the colony — it refers to the practice of spinning a long and elaborate story to someone to keep them occupied and distracted while one’s accomplice(s) silently robs them of their goods. It seems like a good analogy for running an RPG campaign (except for the stealing bit, obviously :)).

The campaign we’ve created is called “New Dawn Fades (or The Testing of New South Wales)” and concerns itself with a string of peculiar events which begin at the time of the Investigators’ arrival in the colony in early 1803 and extend through the next 2 years. The odd occurrences are linked thanks to the involvement of a shadowy group who are subtly (and not-so-subtly) pulling strings in NSW to fit their own agenda.

What’s In The String-A-Line?

Given that each of the scenarios themselves exist already in published forms (in the C&C core and the different Ticket of Leave supplements, respectively), we haven’t reprinted them but have instead created some “glue” to stitch these individual tales into a larger narrative. The String-A-Line supplement is thus a kind of framework or playbook that allows you to take those pre-existing publications and mash their component parts together into a harmonious whole.Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve described in the String-A-Line:

  • Description of the shadowy organization who is at the heart of this campaign
  • An option to involve a well-known historical figure in the machinations
  • A summary of several ongoing linking elements that bind the stories together. These include NPCs both friendly and adversarial, colonial organizations that recur through the campaign, and some running mysteries
  • Six brand-new “campaign handouts” that can be given to players as Investigators begin to unravel pieces of the underlying backstory.
  • Eight chapter descriptions (each describing changes/additions to the vanilla published scenarios, how the action ties into the ongoing campaign arc, and the outcomes and loose-ends from each scenario).
  • Six ready-to-play Convicts & Cthulhu investigators

Spoilers Hereafter

If you think you might one day be a player in this campaign, perhaps stop reading here. For everyone else, here’s a quick summary of how the New Dawn Fades campaign unfolds through its eight chapters.

Chapter 1: Un-Fresh Off The Boat

The Investigators begin as passengers (and convicts) on a pair of ships which has just arrived in Sydney Harbour from England. A mysterious illness has broken out onboard meaning the ship is refused permission to dock until after it has served a period of quarantine. One person on board simply can’t wait and makes a break overboard, breaking quarantine. The Investigators – as the only uninfected people on board – are asked to give chase. When they track down the missing man, they find that disgusting Mythos creatures were being smuggled into the colony inside his body. But who could have wanted to bring such terrifying monstrosities to New South Wales?

Chapter 2: Night Terrors

As “reward” for their quick-thinking actions in Chapter 1, the Investigators are drafted into the Sydney Night Watch — the motley group who enforces the curfew and patrols the streets at night. This chapter introduces life after dark in Sydney. As the Investigators run their patrols they have a range of  colourful encounters. Many of these are mundane but help to paint a vivid picture of what life on the streets of Sydney is like. However, others relate to the trail of havoc created by an unbound Mythos Creature – following up on these will draw the Investigators towards eliminating the menace it poses to the colony.

Chapter 3: Shyneth as the Gold

As part of their Night Watch duties, the Investigators must pretend to be criminals to meet with an American ship off the NSW coast so they can take possession of smuggled distilling equipment as part of a ‘sting’ operation. A criminal gang was supposed to deliver these items to a remote location near Banks’ Town. In order to find out who receives the illegal items the Investigators must make the rendezvous. When they do, they find a weird group who are happily using distilled essences for some rather unorthodox purposes.

Chapter 4: Night of the Convict Dead

An unusual spate of deaths has been reported on the streets of Sydney Town. In each case a pair of corpses is located adjacent to one another – one looking fresh, the other oddly decayed. Investigating these strange discoveries puts the Investigators on the trail of a dark-hearted man with ambitions to become a necromancer. His designs for the dead in Sydney’s burial grounds needs to be stopped, lest he accidentally trigger a mass zombie resurrection that he has no chance of controlling.

Chapter 5: The Lights of Botany Bay

A strange man in Black Robes has appeared in Sydney calling himself “Solander”. He urgently wants to reach the unsettled shores of Botany Bay and apparently has (somehow) swayed Governor King to arrange a military expedition at short notice. King has ordered the Investigators to “volunteer” to help since they already have experience of the Botany Bay region from their earlier smuggling ‘sting.’

Chapter 6: The Dispensatory of Doctor Macdead

Strange tales have recently been reaching Sydney about bizarre medical conditions reported at the hospital at Parramatta. Looking into these reports of mutations and such, the Investigators quickly establish a common link – all the patients had been treated by a private (highly unqualified) doctor named Macdead. Finding the good doctor, however, proves more complicated than expected. In recent weeks he has been arrested (for passing a forged promissory note) and was sent as punishment to the remote secondary punishment settlement of Coal River. But even in his absence, someone (or something) seems to have ambitions to continue visiting horrible medical alterations upon innocent settlers and convicts of the Parramatta region.

Chapter 7: The Orphan School Horror

The Female Orphan School is one of the few charitable institutions to be created in the harsh colony. Girls at the school have begun to report mysterious and eerie phenomenon in the weeks leading up to Christmas, prompting some to think that the school is haunted.

Chapter 8: The Death Knells

Sydney Town awakes one morning to news of a terrible night of carnage that has left three members of the Night Watch dead and a curious axe left embedded in the Harbour Bell which is used to signal the arrival of new ships. The dead are people who the Investigators knew well from their own service in the Night Watch, so the foul murders strike home in a personal way. But who could have wanted to carry out such an apparently motiveless spree of killings right on the shores of Sydney Harbour?

Getting the Campaign

Convicts & Cthulhu String-A-Line #1: New Dawn Fades is available right now, as a free download using the link below.

33 pages; 8.3MB PDF

In order to run the campaign, you will also need the C&C Core book and the six Ticket of Leave supplements from which the scenarios are drawn. Links to the latter are included at the top of this post. You can get the C&C core either from DriveThru RPG (“Pay What You Want”) or from here on the blog (see the C&C Downloads page). The DTRPG page also offers softcover print copies.

Playing the Campaign

We hope that existing fans of the Convicts & Cthulhu setting will consider using (or adapting) this campaign framework to create hours of amazing entertainment for their gaming group. Equally we hope that some folks who haven’t yet dipped their toes into the gritty world of Convicts might find this lengthy campaign just the ticket to inspire them to transport a group of friends to the penal settlements of early Australia to do battle with shadowy adversaries and save the colonies from an even more brutal fate.

If you and your friends give this campaign a spin we’d love to hear how it went. And if you decide to record and share your online games as “Actual Play” recordings, we’d definitely like to let other C&C fans know so they can check it out!

May the New Dawn never fade on your version of New South Wales!


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