Narrative replay of Matthew Sanderson’s Call of Cthulhu scenario, Amidst the Ancient Trees.


Amidst the Ancient Trees Narrative Replay – Call of Cthulhu

This is a narrative replay of the Call of Cthulhu scenario Amidst the Ancient Trees, written by Matthew Sanderson and published in Chasioum’s Seventh Edition Keeper Rulebook. You can find the written review on as well as the written version of this replay. And credit to CryoChamber for use of their album ‘Cthulhu’ and ‘Nyarlothotep.’

This is a narrative replay of Matthew Sanderson’s Amidst the Ancient Trees for Call of Cthulhu, one of the two scenarios included in Chaosium’s Seventh Edition’s Keeper Rulebook. You can also read or listen to my review of this scenario here. You can get the Call of Cthulhu 7e Keeper’s Rulebook on DriveThruRPG, Chaosium’s website, Amazon, or your friendly local game store.

This narrative replay is completely full of spoilers. If you are a player, I would suggest not reading any further – but do share it with your friendly keeper!




Call of Cthulhu Spoilers




The air stank of coffee and cigarettes. Bleary-eyed volunteers idly chatted as they waited for sheriff. Among them was Clyde Palmer, Esq., a Lawyer worried for a friend, Ms. Doris Noel, a Dilettante with something to prove, Professor Aaron Edwards, a Historian struggling under debts, and Dr. Rudolph Good, a Psychologist here to help his family. They’d come at the call for volunteers to search for a kidnapped girl, somewhere bundled away by criminals in the old forests of Southwest Vermont. Gossip on the streets of Bennington of gunfire and dead police and gangsters didn’t dissuade the four investigators or the other volunteers. Either personal reasons, or the $5,000 reward, were enough cause to brave whatever risk dangerous men posed.

The sheriff and a haggard Lucas Strong, local businessman, brother of Dr. Rudolph Strong, and father of the kidnapped girl, strode to the front of the room. With a quick look over what sort of folk answered the call, the sheriff nodded then matter-of-factly recounted what had happened the night before. Sidney Harris and his gang kidnapped Jane, Lucas Strong’s daughter, and demanded a $10,000 ransom. The hand-off was supposed to happen last night, but something spooked the kidnappers and a firefight broke out between them and the police, leaving two officers dead, and Sidney’s gang fled back into the woods with the ransom money.

Lucas Strong quickly followed-up after the sheriff, waving a handful of bills in a clutched fist and shouting that he’d pay everyone and anyone to help find his little girl, and a payout to whoever brought her home safe. Red-faced and sputtering, he also said anyone who brought back the damned bastard Sidney, dead or alive, would receive his gratitude in full as well.

Nonplussed by Strong’s outbursts, the sheriff looked at his watch and told everyone they had a few hours to prepare, then meet up at the scene of the shootout before heading out into the forest. The volunteers were organised into posses, with the Lawyer Mr. Palmer, the Dilettante Ms. Noel, the Professor Edwards, and the Psychologist Dr. Strong assigned together. After a promise to find his niece to Lucas from Dr. Strong the four went out to get supplies for a trek through the woods, complete with some shotguns and revolvers. Just in case, of course.

They were the first to arrive at the scene of the gunfight, and so took sometime to look over the scattered casings and bloodstains while waiting for the other posses to arrive. Evidently quite the fight, and determining that the gangsters had at least a shotgun and a hunting rifle, the party was glad to have brought their own firearms. The other volunteers soon arrived and the sheriff restated each group’s assigned search area. Then, following the kidnappers’ trail they set off into the wilds, amongst the ancient trees.

In the early afternoon, now slightly winded after hours of stomping through the underbrush, Ms. Noel heard snapping branches ahead. Crouching, they waited, and Professor Edwards spotted two figures ahead. A man and a child, wearing hunters’ clothing and carrying rifles. With hands raised the party called out, startling the hunters but otherwise no harm was done. The hunters, father and son, were surprised and horrified to hear why the posse was in the woods, and hurriedly told them that another father-son pair were out in the woods still, as well as a group of young artists from the University of Boston that they had run across a couple days ago. Wanting to get his boy out of harms’ way, the father asked the party to keep an eye out, and started to head off, but the boy’s expression caught Dr. Strong’s attention. After some prodding, the boy admitted to have been having nightmares of drowning, and given the father’s ashen face, he wasn’t enjoying his night’s either. They hurried off, and the party took up their march again.

Night fell, and not keen on fumbling blind through the dark, the party set up camp, taking turns at watch. Dreams came to them. Yellow leaves crackling underfoot. A Black lake. Gaping open door of an dilapidated cabin. Cracked ribs splaying wide around a glittering spine. Clyde Palmer woke with a scream, startling Dr. Strong on watch and nearly getting a bullet through the chest in return. He took the last shift, and before the sun roused itself over the tree tops, Mr. Palmer heard the far-off rumbling of a vehicle, and later the cracks of rifle fire. Tired and ill-rested, the party packed up and continued their hike come first-light.

Silence. Despite the forest being its densest not a bird nor a bug flapped its wings. Only the crack and crunch of dead brush beneath the investigators’ boots interrupted the mute woods. Professor Edwards and Noel found this especially uncomfortable, starting at the shadows and compulsively humming to break the quiet.

Noticing disturbed foliage and speckled blood crossing their path, the posse broke off to follow this new trail. At its end, an old knife, sticky with blood, no doubt that of a dead man beside it. Young, shirt flecked with paint and soaked through from a gut wound, the young man had crudely dressed the savage cut, but not well enough. They had expected something of this nature, so none of the party were overly disturbed by the scene. Dr. Strong determined he had bled out from exertion only a day prior. Indeed, had they been faster, they might have even come across him with blood still pumping through his veins. No doubt one of the student artists mentioned by the hunter.

Heading back to their original path, the party had to decide whether to follow the artist’s tracks back to wherever he’d been stabbed, or keep along the kidnappers’ trail. They briefly entertained splitting up, but realising this would mean having to somehow find one another in the middle of the woods again, they decided finding the missing girl was more important and so set off back down the original path. Firearms now firmly in hand.

The source of the distant engine heard the night before returned early that evening. A service road, little more than a two yard corridor with deep tire ruts cutting through the road, appeared through the brush, barely visible a dozen paces away. Without much time to think, the party heard the mechanical coughing of a coming truck, and they scrambled to hide in the brush. An errant root tripped Dr. Strong though, sending him tumbling back onto the road – right in front of an oncoming truck. Still off balance, Rudolph tried to duck to the side as the truck driver slammed on the brakes, just barely managing to get clear of the churning tires.

Brushing himself off, Dr. Strong start talking with the driver, the taciturn man turning out to be a worker for Lucas Strong, transporting material to a worksite up north. Despite being oddly unconcerned about all the commotion with the kidnappers, Dr. Strong didn’t notice anything otherwise of concern, and let the driver be on his way. His compatriots came out of the bushes once the truck was out of sight, and once again decided to continue along their original path rather than follow the service road.

Their silent trudge through the forest continued into the dying light of dusk, when it was shattered by a gunshot, the round cracking through the air and sending the party scrambling for a cover. Ms. Noel spotted the next muzzle flash, pointing out a position on a ridge overlooking a nearby clearing. The party made a few shots and ducked under the return fire, but with the distance and cover, there was little prospect of anyone actually landing a shot.

The shooter yelled out for them to get away, and Mr. Palmer recognised the voice, to the surprise and suspicion of his fellow investigators. Mr. Palmer yelled his name back and asked Eugene to stop shooting. Bewildered, Eugene told Clyde to come up alone with his gun holstered. Doing so, Clyde made his way up the ridge, finding his old gang-mate wounded and training a hunting rifle on him. At the sight of his old friend, Eugene lowered the rifle, and after a short chat eventually set it aside when the rest of the party showed up, saying he only had two bullets left anyways.

In exchange for Professor Edwards patching up his bleeding leg as best he could, Eugene told them of the gunfight with the police, and how Sindey, his gang-leader, left him behind the day before when Eugene couldn’t keep up with his shot-through leg. Sidney had probably already reached the cabin where the last breathing gangster, Christopher Dobbs, was holding Jane Strong. Seemingly fevered from his injury, Eugene also spoke of shooting at someone prowling around last night. He swore he plugged the bastard right in the chest, but the guy just walked off back into the woods!

With Eugene pale from blood loss and the sun slipping under the western treetops, the part made camp for the night, once more taking turns at watch. And once more, the dreams came. Stronger. Vivid. True. The lake’s cool waters lapped at Dr. Strong’s ankles, growing colder with each step. Yellow leaves cracked under Clyde Palmer’s feet. A spine glittered, rammed through Professor Edwards’s chest. A voice whispered out of the gaping mouth of an old cabin to Ms. Noel.

Doris and Edwards woke in screaming fits. Edwards rolled in the dirt, jibbering and clutching at the gore-streaked spine jutting out of his chest, while Doris sprinted off into the woods after the voice and its irresistible whispers. Mr. Palmer and Dr. Strong could only stare in disbelief. Follow the mutterings of the already out-of-sight Ms. Noel, or stay with Professor Edwards, who was pawing at his shirt and screeching about spines or some nonsense. Deciding once again that splitting up would help no one, they stayed with the professor. After some time, Dr. Strong managed to shake his companion out of his fugue state. Though he could still see the glistening spine protruding from his chest, and indeed his companions were also speared through, Professor Edwards could follow Dr. Strong’s train of thought, and understood that what he was seeing wasn’t real. After dragging their frazzled friend to his feet and hurriedly packing up their camp, the three made haste after their fleeing friend, following her trail and the ever quieter sounds of her bashing through the underbrush. They left Eugene where he lie, dead. He had bled out during the night.

His voice was buttery smooth, and whispered of knowledge and delights that frightened and enticed her. Doris could only follow those promises, her feet moving on their own, unmindful of the branches and thorns obstructing her path. When the voice finally fell silent and she regained her composure, Doris found herself on the edge of a clearing with a cabin some ways away. She took a few steps into the meadow, perfectly silent, and stopped to look around. The cabin was in rough shape, even from a distance she could see it was riddled with bullet holes, its windows long shattered.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

A pool of blood matted the grass at the foot of a tree a few paces away. Following the red streaks up the trunk, Ms. Noel’s gaze came to rest on a corpse in the high branches. More accurately, the branches were in the corpse. Three yards up, impaled with force.

Twin blasts and the whiz of buckshot cut her inspection short. Ms Noel hurled herself to the ground, scratching into the dirt and grass to put something between her body and the clouds of shot screaming at her from the cabin. Tufts of earth blasted up around her as she crawled back to the treeline, and once she had a solid tree trunk between her and the shooter, she fired off half her revolver cylinder in frustrated response.

Following the sounds of gunfire, the other three quickly met up with Ms. Noel. Given the distance, most of the shotgun pellets harmlessly peppered the trees around them, but the party still took cover and readied their weapons. Crazed shouting could be heard from the cabin, and Mr. Palmer recognised the voice of that of Sidney, the gang leader. Clyde crawled as close as he was willing to risk, then tried talking down Sidney. Another volley of blasts was his only answer.

With the pistol and rifle-armed members laying down cover fire, the shotgun-totting Professor Edwards sneaked around the edge of the clearing, then quickly sprinted across open ground to the cabin door. No gunfire greeted him, evidently Sidney hadn’t noticed him, so Edwards shouldered his shotgun and booted the door open.

Edwards shouted for Sidney to drop his gun, but the gangster whipped around, eyes-crazed and jabbering wildly. With Sidney still off-balance and seemingly planning to fight, Edwards fired, taking the kidnapper’s arm almost clean off. Somehow clinging to consciousness and with deadly focus, Sidney fired both 12-gauge barrels back.

By a stroke of luck, Edwards slipped on a shell casings, the cloud of 12-gauge shot slicing through the top of his hat and blasting the door behind him off its hinges. Landing hard on his ass Edwards slammed another cartridge into his shotgun and fired wildly back, only succeeding to punch a hole in the wall over Sidney, himself awkwardly trying to reload his double-barrel with one hand.

Hearing rapid gunshots from the cabin, the three investigators sprinted out of cover to the cabin, shotgun blasts booming the whole way. Being the fastest, Dr. Strong reached the cabin door first. He lurched inside to see the two men on the floor, frantically reloading, Sidney wailing and screaming. With one well-aimed revolver shot through the head, Dr. Strong ended Sidney’s suffering.

Searching around the cabin, the party concluded that the kidnapper up in the tree must have been killed and Jane taken away, and the night earlier a group had tried and failed to do the same to Sidney. Following footprints leading to the east, the party once again set off.

The footprints merged with another familiar trail – the service road. And a little ways down the road, a walking path branched out and led to an old cabin perched on a low hill. Thinking that the path might lead them closer to the lake, which they had become rather curious about given the dreams, they walked up the hill. Getting a close look at the cabin with its open door, Doris immediately recognised it from her dream. Familiar too was the silky voice whispering from the shadows within, and who was she to deny it? Her compatriots scrambled after her as she once again jolted forward as if bait on a string.

Before they could stop her, Ms. Noel had plunged into a damp cellar, ignoring the main room of the cabin. They followed down, weapons drawn, and found it full of stone rectangles. Coffins. Most were open, while heavy slabs still covered two. As Dr. Strong calmly talked Ms. Noel out of her fugue, Professor Edwards and Mr. Palmer started poking through open coffins. They found a journal. They read it. They looked at each other and blinked, disbelieving.

The journal was written by a Civil War Union Army deserter – but recently written. The deserter and his squad had fled into the forest heading to Canada, but something called out to them in their dreams. It lead them to a lake, where they found something fallen from the heavens onto this planet. They stepped into the waters, and that thing from beyond the stars, now a prisoner on this planet, took their heart beat. With the gift of immortality and their new god whispering in their sleeping and waking dreams, they began serving it, working to free it from its prison. Crystals had fallen with it across the world, binding it in its deep prison beneath still waters. Other groups worked tirelessly to destroy these crystals and free their master, and the deserter squad searched for one such primordial meteor known by their lord to have crashed nearby. And but a few weeks earlier they had finally discovered it and begun their excavations.

A grinding thump startled the investigators out of their concentration. The lids on the two coffins had been pushed aside, and two figures rose from the stone. Emaciated, pallid, papery skin stretched over bone, eyes flat, ragged uniforms hanging tattered from stick-like limbs, the two skeletal men stepped out from their domiciles. The investigators raised their weapons, but the men – if you could still call them men – raised their hands in the universal gesture of ‘don’t kill me, please,’ and some expression returned to their dead faces. Shaken by these seemingly-walking corpses showing human gestures, the party didn’t fire, though they did not lower their firearms.

The two, evidently of the Union deserters, in raspy, reedy voices, tried to calm the investigators. They said they were harmless. They said they were friendly. They said they were faithful. The investigators demanded answers – who were they? Did they know where Jane was? What was in the lake? And the deserters answered all their questions, if cryptically. They were soldiers, once. The girl was safe at the work camp. God was in the lake, of course.

Throughout the conversation the two had slowly edged closer to the investigators. Doris waved her revolver, screaming for them to stand back, but they only splayed their spider-like fingers and said they meant no harm. But they stepped closer and closer, imploring the investigators to just come down to the shore to hear God’s whispers. Locking his dead eyes with Ms. Noel’s, he said, you do hear God, don’t you?

Her answer was a clean bullet through the thing’s eye, spraying flakes of skin and crumbling skull fragments. Dr. Strong sawed the other one down with three shots as the first corpse crumbled to the floor in a heap of dry cracking bones and tearing skin. As if a dusty rug being shaken out, the room clouded with the blasted remnants of the creatures, and once again Doris couldn’t handle what she was seeing. Her vision tunnelled, her hearing muffled, and only the sultry whisper in her head gave her focus.

The shore. She had to go to the shore. She had to meet that voice. The three men groaned as their comrade once again sprinted away without a word, swirling gunpowder and corpse-dust in her wake. It wouldn’t be such a bother if she hadn’t been so damned fast. She was well down the path by the time the others squeezed out the door.

It wasn’t far, only over a gentle hill, and Doris found herself padding through the sands before the black lake. The voice had faded again, blown away by a gentle breeze whispering up the beach. And before the gently lapping waves a row of bodies stood tied to wooden stakes. Young men and women, heads hung down, chests driven through with reflective, metallic spikes.

As Doris stepped closer to inspect the corpse of a woman, she noticed paint stains on her apron. One of the art students. And at Doris’ touch, the corpse’s head snapped up. Face stretched into a pained howl. Eyes flat, unseeing, or seeing some unseen horror. Screeching like a wild animal, bleeding out in a snare. The woman cried for death, for release, for salvation from the darkness beneath the surf slowly dragging her soul into a cold, eternal embrace.

The others reached their companion, but staggered back in fright as the other pinned students cried out in a dreadful chorus. Their young faces pierced deep through Dr. Strong, reminding him of his old grad students. His own cry joined theirs as he rushed forward and began ripping out the spikes one by one. The metal chilled his scrambling fingers, his palms slicing open on jagged ridges, and the blood of students mixed with his own. With the removal of the spikes, the students would let out one last howl before collapsing in the sands.

The last pained cry faded, and Dr. Strong, gasping for breath, knelt down in the sand amongst the students, now all mercifully, truly dead. His companions waited for him to collect himself, then they stalked along the beach towards a further off encampment. The dig site, no doubt. Well within hearing distance of the terrible cacophony.

A handful of cabins and sheds, and a pit with an extensive crane and pulley system about it, made up the camp. And attending the camp, a half dozen workers, now turning from their duties to watch the investigators’ approach. Seeing their weapons, the lead worker raised his hands and announced he and his men were of no danger.

By this time no longer trusting of anything or anyone, the investigators kept their guns trained on the workers, who walked forward to meet them despite Mr. Palmer and Ms. Noel’s warnings not to move. The workers slowed, but with hands raised would continue to approach, two breaking off to circle around the party. All the while the lead worker explained that they were the survey team of Lucas Strong, testing the ground water for pollution.

His story immediately fell apart as the investigators demanded to know about the sacrificed students, about the undead civil war soldiers in the cabin, and where Lucas Strong’s daughter was held. The lead worker’s face fell flat, so unnaturally flat that Dr. Strong realised he, and all the workers, were in fact not even breathing. The workers continued approaching as their leader changed tact and started speaking straight. This night they had been preparing to raise a meteorite of crystal, a key of sorts, from the pit and deliver it to their Lord in the lake. A key, one of many, that would starting opening the lock that had held their Lord in chains for so many millennia.

But now the investigators had killed – permanently – two of the old servants, and prevented the awakening of new servants. He didn’t sound angry, in fact, he sounded hopeful as he reached a hand out in offering, and asked the investigators to help them raise the crystal. There was no need for violence – there never was. They could all share in their Lord Gla’aki’s gift and glory.

One of the servants had reached Professor Edwards, close enough to gently rest a hand on his arm, and asked the Professor to lower the shotgun and come at least look at the crystal. Nerves frayed but not wanting to start a shoot out, Edwards nervously complied, letting the servant take the gun from his hands and lead him towards the pit, his companions watching horrified. And in the pit was indeed something from another world. All edges and dancing light.

Another servant asked Ms. Noel to drop her revolver and join her companion. In answer, three bullets through the skull. In quick succession Clyde and Dr. Strong’s pistol and shotgun popped off, dropping two more servants. The servant with Edwards’ shotgun spun around, but his shot was fouled by the Professor lunging for the gun. He failed to pry it from the undead creature’s steel grasp, and so fled into the woods, a blast of shot tearing bark apart in his wake.

The other investigators fled from the frenzy, finally deciding that they were in over their heads. Ms. Noel disappeared into the woods and Dr. Strong sprinted down the beach and back up the trail. Mr. Palmer, less quick on his feet, also pounded his way back down the beach, but he could hear one of the servants gaining on him fast. He spun and emptied his revolver, sending the pursuer sprawling in the sand.

And so they fled. Perhaps all the servants had been destroyed, or maybe more waited in the cabins. Perhaps the Strong girl still lived, or maybe she had been impaled and turned into a breathless servant to a drowned God. But the four did not care any more, and so they fled, and one by one they emerged from the woods back into Bennington. In the following days police searched the sites described to them by the investigators, finding enough to corroborate their stories to an extent, but finding no evidence of anything unnatural.

The investigators returned to their daily lives as best they could, but what they experienced would never leave them, and in their dreams they’d find themselves walking on crackling yellow leaves, past old cabins, to a dark lake, all amongst those ancient trees.



If you enjoyed this replay, you can see how Amidst the Ancient Trees goes for your own group by picking up the Call of Cthulhu Keeper’s Rulebook on DriveThruRPG, Chaosium’s website, Amazon, or your friendly local game store.

Before you go, though, maybe take a look at some more scenario replays?
MJRRPG: Branches of Bone
Seeds of Terror: The Mummy of Pemberley GrangeEndless LightOne Less Grave, Hand of Glory
Chaosium: Amidst the Ancient TreesThe NecropolisWhat’s in the Cellar?The Dead Boarder
Japonism: Do Gods Dream of Digital Drugs?
Bibliothek 13: A Cup of Horror

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