The Sanitorium – Part One: A Dark Crossing

A small jetty leads out into the dark waters. Tied to a mooring post, a rickety old boat bobs lazily in the calm waves, creaking in time with the undulations. An old man, weathered from years spent at sea, sits on deck enjoying a smoke and reminiscing on days gone by. The sound of footsteps on the jetty boards yanks him grudgingly from his memories, and he glances over the side to see who approaches.

Five individuals, strangers to each other and to the old man, walk towards the boat carrying suitcases and other assorted luggage. Their attire, tailored suits and pressed dresses, marks them as visitors. The rural isolation of this place seems to have cowed them, and they step lightly on the wooden causeway.

“Are ye lot lookin’ t’head out to the island? The group Dr. Brewer is expectin’?” he calls to them. Nervous nods and muttered confirmations meet his questions. “Alrighty then. Lets get those bags aboard, and I’ll get you lot off to the asylum as soon as I can.”

Out over the waters, storm clouds begin to broil.

The five unfortunate Investigators looking for passage are:

  • Hannah – a journalist for a publication focussing on scientific research, she has been invited to Bardsey Island Sanitorium to follow up on Dr Brewer’s latest discoveries.
  • Christine – part of a large pharmaceutical distribution company, she’s here to discuss the possibility of supplying the sanitorium with its medication.
  • Sarah – an archaeologist, specialising in ancient Egyptian artefacts, recently returned from a dig. Dr. Brewer has called upon her expertise to help him with some interesting revelations in his work.
  • Tim – the owner of a prosperous hat factory, visiting the sanitorium to inspect its facilities, due to the worsening mental health of his ailing father.
  • Diana – sent by the government, she is a mental health nurse here to review Bardsey Island’s standards and practices to make sure they are up to regulation.

The old man introduces himself as Ebenezer, and helps the Investigators load their luggage onto the boat, storing it below decks to avoid it falling overboard. The group clamber aboard, finding seats where they can on the rickety vessel. With a belch of acrid blue smoke, the boat’s engine thunders to life, and the journey begins.

[My players were all very adamant about letting me know exactly where they were sitting – more specifically, right in the centre of the boat, away from the edges. I don’t know why they were all so mistrustful of me from the very beginning, but it was probably safer for them that way.] 

Travelling to the island is a long and boring trip, a two-hour journey with only the unending ocean as company, not even a coastline in sight after a few minutes. Happily, Ebenezer is keen to chat with the group, telling them about the sanitorium and Dr. Brewer. “I’m no man o’ medicine,” he tells the Investigators, “but the patients all seem happy enough. Dr. Brewer treats us staff jus’ fine. Ferryin’ passengers and collectin’ supplies is much easier than some o’ the jobs I’ve had in the past.” Disappointed they can’t glean any insider information from Ebenezer, the group complete the rest of the crossing quietly.

Cliffs Storm

The weather takes a turn for the worse as Bardsey Island comes into view. Winds howl and waves get higher as the approaching storm makes its presence known. The ship rounds the northern tip of the island, where grey beaches give way to black cliffs. Christine notices the old lighthouse first, especially that there’s no beam shining. She questions Ebenezer about it, who explains that the thing can never be relied on to work properly. The cliffs get taller and taller as the boat sails around the island, and eventually the ship reaches a boathouse and jetty. The Investigators disembark, and Ebenezer points them towards a stairway carved into the cliffside. He tells them the sanitorium is just at the top of those stairs, and that he’ll bring all their luggage up once he’s finished stowing the boat in preparation for the storm.

The group begin their ascent up the narrow stairway, now made more treacherous by the arrival of a heavy rain that makes the stone slick underfoot. Christine starts to get more and more shaky as the path reaches higher – a fear of heights she tells the others, and they begin to worry about what will happen if she suddenly decides to freak out during the last part of the climb; the trail is dangerous enough as it is without someone pushing and panicking. Luckily, Diana the nurse manages to calm Christine with a few soothing words, and carefully leads her to the top without any commotion.

[I had two great opportunities to cause proper havoc here; Christine’s character suffered a fear of heights, and Hannah’s had an abject terror of falling into water. Unfortunately, successful Sanity Rolls from both of them meant that they managed to keep their heads. Just think of the chaos I could have caused, having Christine push her way back down the slippery steps, or our journalist freaking out and rocking the boat in the stormy seas! I wasn’t too bothered though – those moments of insanity would just be a drop in the ocean compared to what else was in store.]

The top of the stairs reaches the highest point on the island, giving the Investigators a decent view of the little outcrop. Before them stands the sanitorium, more an imposing manor house than a hospital, though its warm lights spill invitingly from the windows. Behind it they can make out some smaller structures – a bunk house and a small shed. To the north, the cliffs slope downwards through a small but densely packed copse, leading to the beach and the lighthouse they had seen on approach. Not many places to run, they note, but many places to hide. The lashing of the wind and rain encourage them to stop admiring the scenery and make for the asylum doors.

Bardsey Island Map No Annotations

After a quick debate on proper etiquette regarding just barging into a mental institution, Diana steps up to ring the doorbell. The group strains to hear any sounds from inside, but Hannah hears something else over the sound of the storm – the sound of running footsteps. She turns just in time to receive a full-body tackle from a scrawny, red-haired man wearing beige clothing and no shoes. The man shouts and spits, pulling at Hannah’s hair until Christine reaches down and yanks the man off her. She is surprised at how light and thin the man is, and wonders if he could have done any real damage if he hadn’t gotten the drop on them.

[It actually took a few minutes for the man to be pulled off Hannah. The team discussed potential responses, including tapping the man on the shoulder to ask his name, or just waiting until he tired himself out. It took a little while for the idea of just ‘yanking the bugger off’ to be suggested. They’re all so polite.]

The sound of the asylum doors opening distracts the Investigators, and a wiry-haired old lady steps out onto the porch. “Leonard! What do you think you are doing?!” she cries at the struggling man, who immediately drops into submission. She grabs him by the ear and pulls him into the house, berating him the whole time on his treatment of guests. The stunned Investigators follow the old lady sheepishly into the lobby, where Diana manages to ask the lady her name.

“Oh, sorry deary, I’m Blanche,” she replies, “I help out around the home here. Cleaning and whatnot. You must be here to see Dr. Brewer. Take a seat in the library and I’ll let him know you’ve arrived.” She indicates a door to the left, and begins to drag Leonard through a door marked ‘Staff Only’. Before she disappears from sight though, she turns about and tells the players not to go into the living room; they’re having some decorating done. With that, she vanishes through the door, and the Investigators go through to the library as instructed.

The library is well shelved, books covering all the walls. Rain lashes against the tall windows, and a door leads east, marked “Living Room’ by a bronzed plaque. In the centre of the room, sprawled on a long couch, a young lady reads Dante’s Inferno. She doesn’t even glance up as the group enter the room. Someone tries to strike up conversation, and she storms out of the room, curtly adding “You don’t talk in a library!” With that, the Investigators are left alone with only the sound of the ticking clocks and lashing rain to keep them company.

Old Clock

Thirty minutes pass.

Bored of waiting, Diana decides to head back into the lobby to see if anyone is about. She opens the door, and walks right into Blanche who is waiting outside. This gives her a fright, but she manages to compose herself and ask where the Doctor is. Blanche smiles, and informs her that Dr. Brewer is currently having a nap, and will be with them as soon as he wakes up. Asked about guest rooms and where they’ll be staying for the night, Blanche says that the rooms are currently being prepared, but she’ll go check on them. Diana slowly backs into the library, as Blanche smiles sweetly, and stares. The group listen carefully, and hear her footsteps moving away.

More time passes. The clock strikes 8pm.

Hannah and Sarah decide they’ve had enough of waiting around, and decide they’re going to go check out what’s really happening in the living room. Ignoring the protests of the others, who are unhappy with the idea of disobeying Blanche in case she comes back, the two ladies head over to the door and peer through the keyhole. The room beyond is dark though, so to discover the truth, they’ll need to go inside. The door swings open easily, and Sarah feels the wall for a light switch. Electricity hums as the lights come on, bathing the room in yellow light. There’s no sign of any redecorating, but the furniture is at odd angles, and a lamp lies broken on the floor. But they don’t notice these things. They’ve been distracted by the two white-stockinged legs, sticking out from behind one of the sofas.

Sarah carefully heads over, and finds a young woman lying face-down. She’s wearing a blue nurses uniform. Turning her over, Sarah discovers a pair of kitchen scissors, embedded in her left eye-socket. The lady, whose name tag reads ‘Nurse Ames’ is dead. The two Investigators quickly rush back to the library, making sure to turn off the lights and close the door behind them. Breathlessly, they tell the groups what they’ve found. Diana puts her fingers in her ears, adamant not to be a part of the flagrant rule-breaking. Everyone else looks at one another; it seems that something is definitely wrong at Bardsey Island sanitorium. But will they find out what it is, before it finds them?

—–

This is my Halloween 2013 event write-up, where we played through Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG. By this point, you may have realised it will contain spoilers for the adventure, so read no further if you want to enjoy the rest of it yourself! I had an excellent time running this for everyone, and I hope that they enjoyed it as much as I did. The whole session took us nine hours, so expect this to be the first of many parts I’ll post over the next week or so. Happy Halloween!


One comment

  1. There are a few spoilers in this part, but most of the main ones are still to come. So, watch out if you ever want to appreciate this adventure yourselves in future!


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