The Dead Boarder, by Todd Gardiner, from Chaosium’s Gateways to Terror.

The Dead Boarder Replay – Call of Cthulhu (Gateways to Terror)

This is a replay of the Call of Cthulhu scenario The Dead Boarder written by Todd Gardiner and published by Chaosium as the third scenario in Gateways to Terror. You can find the written replay on You can purchase Gateways to Terror on DriveThruRPG, Chaosium’s website, Amazon, or your friendly neighbourhood game shop.

The following narrative replay is for Call of Cthulhu scenario, The Dead Boarder, the third and final scenario in Chaosium’s Gateways to Terror.  If you’re a player, or just don’t want to know everything about the scenario ahead of time, you can read or listen to the first, spoiler-lite section of my review of The Dead Boarder instead. Gateways to Terror is available on DriveThruRPGChaosium’s websiteAmazon, or your friendly neighbourhood game shop

And now, on to The Dead Boarder.




Spoilers Call of Cthulhu




The landlady Sarra Maddox, the bookstore owner Elaine Heath, and the business associate Pierre Lavoie crowded the narrow hall in their boarding house, waiting outside the door of Mr. James Gardiner. For the two days no one had heard from Mr. Gardiner, and the three each had reasons for checking on the recluse.

Sarra rapped her heavy knuckles on the door, calling out the name of the man she had been sweet on for the past two years. She’d been desperately lonely since the death of her husband years ago, scraping a living together for her son by managing the boarding house. When she first met the quiet, serious Mr. Gardiner, she fell for him instantly, and while they don’t speak often, she is the only one he really talks to, and she oh so treasures those talks.

The giant of a landlady looked down at Elaine, her worried eyes searching. Elaine urged her to just open the door. The depression had not done well by Elaine’s bookstore, and sooner than later she feared she’d have to shutter the small business to find work elsewhere. To get at least some money she loaned a handful of books to Mr. Gardiner, who turned out to have rather eclectic tastes. Then, by the grace of God, a collector offered a handsome price on one of her books. Unfortunately, that book just happens to be one held by Mr. Gardiner, who Elaine hadn’t managed to talk to for a week.

Pierre Lavoie likewise nodded eagerly at Sara when she looked at him, his sweaty hand in his pocket grasping and releasing, grasping and releasing, the slick handle of his little .25 Derringer. He was in debt to the mob, and he’d been counting on Gardner to help with that. In exchange for obtaining a pair of obsidian knives – a weird request, but ‘no questions asked’ was Pierre’s motto – Gardiner would cook some books to temporarily cover the debts. Gardiner had both the accurate ledger, and the hopefully completed cooked ledger.

The door swung open, and Sarra bellowed a surprised and anguished roar at the scene. James Gardiner lay in on a tarpaulin, curled as if having fallen over while kneeling, and completely covered in blood. Tommy, Sarra’s young son, piped up from down the hall, asking what was wrong. Sarra shouted back for him to go get the police, and quick!

Elaine peeked around Sarra’s bulky shoulder, spotting the gruesome form of Mr. Gardiner, and had to turn around, hand to her mouth. Pierre, meanwhile, recovered quickly, and slipped around the landlady. Too bad about James, but if he wasn’t going to object, Pierre had a little bit of time before the coppers arrived to find those ledgers.

Perhaps sensing Pierre’s intentions, Elaine took a deep breath and stepped past Sarra. If the police came, they might lock down the room, and who knows how long it would take to get her books back?

Sarra watched her companions start poking about the room with disgust. A fine man was dead, and they just cared about his possessions. Her great fists creaked with barely supressed rage. But it wasn’t their fault. Someone did this. She stomped up to her dead would-be-lover and tried to understand what horrors had befallen him.

Deep cuts carved a spiral into his head and neck, evidently the cause of most of the blood. Beneath his shirt, Sarra found the rest of his body also scarred with small spirals. Her basic understanding of first aid led her to believe the cuts on his torso and limbs were older, some already healing over, while those on his head and neck were fresh, maybe only a few days old. She also found a blood-caked obsidian knife under his body, as well as two keys among the various nick-knacks in his pockets. One room key, one smaller key.

Around Gardiner were a few burnt down candles, as well as a blood-soaked piece of paper that Sarra couldn’t make heads or tails of. Some sort of foreign language.

Elaine quickly spotted a book on a nightstand next to a tightly made bed. The Dreamer’s Dictionary, one of the texts she’d lent Gardiner. She tucked it under an armpit, then popped open the nightstand, just in case he’d hidden another in there. No book, but there was a thin journal along with a small bottle and a vial holding a white powder. With a hint of disapproval, she gathered the bottle held laudanum and the vial cocaine.

But ever curious, she leafed through the journal. Written by Gardiner no doubt, it described how he had experienced the most vivid dreams, travelling in a place he called the ‘Dreamlands.’ He seemed to have lost the ability to travel in his dreams, though, and became obsessed with regaining it. Near the last pages, Gardiner writes about dreaming repeatedly of a being of great power that promised him access back into the Dreamlands if he performed a ritual. To complete the ritual, he would need some tome. Disturbed, Elaine snapped shut the journal and set it back in its place.

Sarra called Elaine over, waving the blood-stained paper, asking if she had any idea what the writing said. Greek, Elaine soon discovered, for once paying off the Greek classes she’d spent far too much time on. It was clearly a ritual, calling upon an entity name ‘Yog-Sothoth’ to open a gate through a prepared vessel. Elaine explained as such, then met Sarra’s stare. They grimaced.

Pierre had gone to an ornate bookcase, thinking it might have the ledgers in it. At first glance it didn’t contain what Pierre wanted, but an odd bookend drew his eyes. A heavy, greenish thing in the monstrous form of a human-like squid thing. Thinking it valuable, Pierre picked it up, at once feeling something horribly off about the cold thing in his hands. Even while acknowledging he could pay for a few months rent if he hawked it, he couldn’t stand holding the thing – the idol, he suddenly thought – and slammed it back on the shelf.

As the wardrobe rattled, he noticed the bottom of the bookcase seemed to big. Knocking with a knuckle, he grinned like a wolf. A secret compartment. Soon he found a hidden button, and with a press the compartment ground open, revealing not only the ledger’s Pierre so desperately needed, but also one of the obsidian daggers, along with a textbook on the Greek Language, and another book wrapped in silk.

Removing the silk, Pierre found a thick tome, its title in Greek. It looked old. And valuable. With his ledgers, one dagger, and this book, he might be able to keep the mob off for a while and make a pretty penny…

The two women looked over as Pierre started walking out the room. Elaine saw the book in his arms and started to get up to stop him. Then she stopped, turned. Sara furrowed her brow at Elain’s expression, then followed her eyeline. And shrieked.

Gardiner’s limbs dragged through the blood covered tarp, then slammed down and the dead man jerked up to its feet. With a sound of tearing paper and ripping meat, the skin and flesh peeled off his head in a spiral. The strips of flesh splayed out like wet, discarded wrapping paper, unveiling the grisly present beneath. The gore-slick skull turned to Pierre, who spun to lock gazes with the lidless, blood-shot eyes of the undead Gardiner-thing.

Its eyes slid down to the book.

Pierre and Elaine stumbled and shrieked, but Sarra kept her head. This was not her James. She swung her club-like fists down on the thing’s bloody egg-shell head.

It wobbled under her blow, wounding on her and letting loose an ear-drum bursting piping from its open throat. As Sarra fell back, hands held over bleeding ears, the creature attacked. She managed to protect her face, the thing’s hardened nails raking across her forearms, splashing blood and flesh on the floor.

Turning from the still wobbling Sara, the creature turned and launched itself at the still-staggered Pierre. It grabbed for the book, but Pierre managed to stumble out of its grasp.

Elaine shook the fuzz out of her head and eyes, and realised what the creature was going for. She cried out for Pierre to throw her the book.

He did so, and she managed to catch it. The Gardiner-thing spun its crazed eyes on her and charged with a screech. Its claws slammed into Elaine’s shoulder, tossing her to the floor.

Regaining her balance, Sarra rushed the creature, pummelling its kidneys. She cried out as her fists cracked against the thing as if it was a brick wall. Its skull had been softer. Her eyes went wide. She screamed at Pierre. The skull!

Drawing his Derringer, Pierre fired off a quick shot, chipping the side of its temple. Bone splintered, and the thing reached for the book again, but even bloodied and bruised, Elaine rolled out of its grasp.

Sarra tried to rain down pain on the thing’s head, but it whirled about, its claws rending a red path across her stomach. She slid to the floor, curled around the leaking wound, her blood pooling atop the dried mess of Gardiner’s.

As Pierre reloaded and stepped closer to the creature, Elaine tried to slip around Gardiner, earning another slash across a forearm. The creature hissed, its skinless grin inches from her face.

Then its forehead burst, splinters of skull cutting her cheeks.

The limp remains of Gardiner toppled to the floor. Pierre stood a step behind it, Derringer smoking.

Between the two of them, they stopped Sarra’s bleeding long enough for the police to arrive along with a terrified Tommy, shocked by the site of his nearly eviscerated mother. And as Sarra was loaded onto a stretcher, she looked down with despair at the man of her dreams. She tried to take comfort in him finally resting. But was he?

Through teary eyes she watched Pierre slip out of the room, ledgers tucked under his coat. And Elaine waved her off, saying she’d come to the hospital as soon as she could. But as the truck started carrying her off down the road, she saw Elaine opening the tome.


If you want to try running The Dead Boarder for your group, you can purchase Gateways to Terror on DriveThruRPG, Chaosium’s website, Amazon, or your friendly neighbourhood game shop.

And before you go, maybe take a look at some more scenario replays?
MJRRPG: Branches of Bone
Seeds of Terror: The Mummy of Pemberley Grange, Endless Light, One Less Grave, Hand of Glory
Chaosium: Amidst the Ancient Trees, The Necropolis, What’s in the Cellar?, The Dead Boarder
Japonism: Do Gods Dream of Digital Drugs?
Bibliothek 13: A Cup of Horror

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