The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars is now available!The original publication of Canal Priests Of Mars cut slightly over a third of author Marcus L. Rowland's manuscript to fit GDW's adventure format. The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars restores the cut material, features all new artwork by Paul Daly, and adds many useful player handouts. Enjoy the "author's cut" of a classic Space 1889 adventure, or experience it for the first time!
Old news is still available on the News Page.
This short scenario is set in and around Fort Delaware, an American Army coastal defense installation on Pea Patch Island, located on the Delaware River below Philadelphia. The players are contacted by an old Army acquaintance, Captain James Erasmus Sharps, who asks them to accompany him to the fort to investigate several strange occurrences he experienced while visiting the fort and the island on a recent inspection trip. Though this adventure is set in 1888, with some changes, the Keeper or GM could modify the adventure to be set in the 1920s or the modern day. We recommend, however, that the adventure be set in the period 1867-1895 as this time frame will provide both the most suitable setting, but also modern contrivances will not intrude on the loneliness and solitude of the island and its mysterious occurrences. Though this adventure may ultimately prove deadly to the players, the GM/Keeper should remember that his players want a challenge, and that death is occasionally necessary to overcome that evil. Good hunting!!!
It was a letter in the post that set off our recent adventure into the unknown. One morning, I received a letter from a old military acquaintance, Captain James Erasmus Sharps, postmarked Delaware City, Delaware. It took a few minutes to find an atlas and to discover where this god forsaken place was located. The nearest military installation was something called Fort Delaware, and it appears that Captain Sharps had recently returned from an inspection of the island's fortifications. While spending the night in the officer's lodgings on the island, he wrote that he had been awakened in the middle of the night by a strange croaking sound.
"At first, I thought it was the sound of a thousand bull frogs, but the croaking got nearer, and as I moved to the windows, I saw figures moving outside the fort. Looking into the interior of the fort, I saw more figures, and their strange, lopping gait set off memories of Confederate injured moving in columns after their defeat in Gettysburg. My mind began to play tricks, and I though I heard a rebel yell break through the croaking coming from below. The figures charged each other, and then a horrific crash and burst of light followed, knocking me unconscious. I awoke, laying on the floor, covered in a cold sweat. I washed, dressed, and went down to the courtyard to see if there was any evidence from the occurrences of last night. Looking around, nothing seemed disturbed and there was no trace of intruders or of the horrific violence I glimpsed before fainting. Gathering my gear, I left the fort, passing through the cool, wet, stone entrance-way when I noticed a glint in one corner. There laying on the ground were two shiny brass buttons, and as I turned them over in my hand, I noticed that they were stamped "CSA"!!! I think my mind snapped at that moment, and I know I ran pell mell for the docks were the boat was just arriving to take me to shore and safety. The Captain greeted my dishevelled and distraught person with dismay until I ordered that he immediately set for shore. When he failed to move quickly enough, I drew my revolver and put a round through the pilot house. The boat moved off, and we arrived on shore some minutes later, where I retired to a local tavern to calm my nerves. I am writing to you, my old friend, to gather yourself and any of your acquaintances to help try and save my grip on sanity. I must return to the island, prove that nothing happened, and try and salvage my reputation, career, and honour. I await your rapid response."
What was I to do? I gathered a few on my friends, some equipment and a change of clothes, and took the first train from Philadelphia to New Castle. From there, we plan on hiring a coach to take us to Delaware City, and meet with my old friend. Together, we will confront whatever awaits on that horrid island.
From the 1888 Diary of Dr. Otis Clarke, of Philadelphia, discovered by US Army Corps of Engineers, 1895 (Now held in the Delaware Historical Society Library, Wilmington, DE, 1989)
Fort Delaware (A; please refer to map locations) is located on Pea Patch Island, in the Delaware River, one mile east of Delaware City. The 178 acre island got its name from a colonial-era legend that a boat loaded with peas ran aground on a river shoal and that the peas took root and sprouted in the sandy loam. Though the story is only local legend, it will prove to be at the center of the adventure's mysterious events. In our version of history, a ship did run aground on that Delaware river shoal and this was the source of the name for Pea Patch Island. The ship, the Susanna, was captained by the Dutch South Seas explorer, Christen Van der Meir when it ran aground in 1681. The Susanna and her captain were returning from the South Pacific with a cargo of peas and carved native trinkets, and having rounded the South American peninsula, they were sailing for the North Atlantic, hoping to arrive in Holland before winter. However, the wind and weather turned against them, and the captain changed course and attempted to take refugee in New Amsterdam (present-day New York) for the winter. Sailing up the Atlantic seaboard before an approaching stormfront, the ship was driven up Delaware Bay and further up into the Delaware River. Nearing the Dutch settlement at New Castle, the Susanna ran aground on what was to become Pea Patch Island, spilling her cargo into the soft loam. The crew vanished in the storm and the ship's broken hull was discovered by fishermen the following day. Soon thereafter, the seeds took root in the soil, covering up the ivory trinkets. The land changed, becoming oddly depressing and gloomy, and the locals began to avoid the island's brooding emptiness. Years passed, and with the peas' roots and vines as anchors, a more substantial island was created by silt, small trees, and sand dunes and grasses.
The island, even to this day, dominates the shipping channel that leads from the ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington. As a result, the island has been fortified on and off since 1813. The British attacks on Washington and Baltimore convinced the army that a fort needed to be built on the island to protect the two ports. The present fort was built between 1849 and 1859 on the ruins of the earlier fort, which was partially destroyed by fire in 1831 and demolished in 1833. The island is only accessible by boat, and the only sheltered anchorage is at the pier (C). A protected anchorage was constructed during the Civil War on the opposite side of the island, and a small railroad track was laid to help move Confederate prisoners and supplies to the Fort. However, this anchorage is tidal, and without constant maintenance, it tended to fill up with silt, as is the current situation.
The fort has five sides and is surrounded by a moat (see #1 on the map). The walls are three stories tall, and constructed primarily of brick, with masonry at the corners. The only obvious way into the fort is the main gate (#2), which is equipped with a drawbridge. Note that there is another way in, of course. It is through the grated slipway between the protected anchorage on the island and the moat. At the base of the southern most corner, the masonry has given access to the old jail cells, which are beneath the fort and water table. Cannon are mounted in the four walls, on two levels, other than the wall containing the main gate. These are 32 pound breech-loading seacoast artillery pieces that date from the completion of the fort in 1859. Mounted on top of all walls that face the river are more modern pieces of artillery, 15 inch Rodman guns, meant to protect the channel. Stairways to the upper levels are at each corner of the walls and near the entrance gate. Living quarters are located in brick buildings that line the interior courtyard. (#3 is the enlisted quarters; #4 the officer quarters).
The rest of the island is unremarkable. Only about half of the island is solid ground, the rest is marsh and mud flats that offer no firm footing for those wishing to travel across or through them. See shaded areas on the map for these dangerous locations. The only other man-made structure on the island is a small revetment and hut on the north side of the island, where a control station for the remote control mines that defended the shipping channel are located (B). This lightly wooded area is extremely gloomy on the brightest of days, mirroring the general feel of the fort itself. The fort is quiet as there are no soldiers stationed at the fort between 1867 and 1895, a garrison coming from shore installations during wartime. During daylight hours, a small maintenance crew is at work keeping the fort in operating condition. They are all locals hired to do the upkeep, and they return by boat every evening to Delaware City. During the day, the GM should point out the strange emptiness of this huge fortification. When the sun is shining directly over the courtyard, the gunports and bricked gun emplacements remain cool, damp, and clammy. The gun emplacements, lit only by their small embrasures cut in the wall are forever dark, and at night the fort is down right spooky. Since the fort itself is surrounded by water, and technically, the river runs directly under the masonry and brick fort, the place is in a continual state of decay despite maintenance. Rooms are damp even with roaring fires, woodwork quickly begins to rot in the dampness, water floods the lowest levels during storms, and the main gate's archway into the fort, constructed of stone and brick, drips near continual streams of water, the stone glistening with wetness.
Below ground, old cells where Confederate prisoners were kept during the Civil War (the reader is reminded that Pea Patch Island was known as the Andersonville of the North) are often flooded, and remnants of their stay occasional can be found: buttons, spoons, bones, etc. Birds, stray cats, rats, and other animals contribute to the fort's odds sounds, create shadows that move, are the source of fouls smells, and are the perfect devices to scare the beejeezus out players. Remember, this adventure is set between 1867 and 1895. The Rodman guns were installed in 1878, so replace them with more 32 pounders if set before that date, and it is not recommended that the adventure be set before 1867 because of the Confederate prisoners and large garrison still on the island. The latest date, 1895, was chosen because the following year a large military garrison and Army engineers move onto the island to modify the fort. The southern walls of the fort were replaced with large concrete emplacements designed to hold 12 inch "disappearing" coastal guns. The guns really didn't disappear, they just swung down behind a parapet while being reloaded, and thus could not be seen. Construction would continue for the next several years, and the fort would continue to be manned, on and off, until 1943 when it was deemed redundant and unnecessary.
The players arrive in Delaware City late in the afternoon, around 5 PM. It is recommended that the time be adjusted according to the season in which the adventure is set. The trip to the island takes about fifteen to thirty minutes and the players should have about two hours to explore before it gets dark. Captain Sharps will greet them at the waterfront, where he is holding a boat to take them out to the island. The small steam powered vessel will just fit the investigators, their luggage and Captain Sharps. The pilot is a stoop shouldered local who is travelling out to the island to take the maintenance crew home for the evening. Captain Sharps has brought along some food and water, and assures the players that they need only spend a single evening on the island. They will be staying in the officer's quarters on the island which has been kept in sufficiently clean condition. Sharps will answer any questions he can about the island and the events that occurred on it. He knows most of the background information related above, except for the story of the Susanna's grounding. He does know the colonial legend, however, and the military history of the island. He proves to be an affable host and he seems much less stressed than his letter would lead the investigators to believe.
The boat will slowly steam towards the island, and a wooden pier that provides the only safe anchorage currently. Waiting on the docks are a group of five men wearing work clothes and carrying tools, and they seem relieved now that the boat is approaching. They will silently exchange places with the investigators, before departing. With a successful Listen roll, the players will overhear one of the workers mutter "You couldn't pay me enough money to spend a single night on this cursed island." If the players confront the speaker, he will not say anything else and the others in the boat will begin to push off from the dock. Sharps is waiting for the group at the end of the dock, and will lead them off through the marsh across a dirt and sand dike/pathway to the fort. The fort is impressive in the dimming light, and the players should have the fort described to them with an attention to its apparent sturdiness and strength. Only as they enter the fort should the GM present them with the dampness, dark, and cold.
In the entrance-way, placed at the base of the stairs leading up to the rooms over the moat entrance, is a wet satchel and blanket, items that Sharps flung away in attempting to escape the fort. Within the satchel are Sharp's notebook, pens, pencils, a bottle of ink, pouch of tobacco, and a pipe and pipe cleaning kit. The player who discovers the equipment (a successful Spot Hidden) will earn a hearty thanks from the good Captain. A second Spot Hidden roll will discover the pair of brass "CSA" buttons discarded by Sharps as he fled the fort. Sharps will blanch if he sees the buttons as the full realization of what occurred returns to his mind. He is not insane, just scared, and from that moment will be of little use to the players. He will become slightly paranoid, and his odd activities should be used by the GM to contribute to the overall spookiness of the upcoming events. Whatever occurs, he will lead the investigators to the officers' quarters and their rooms on the second (and if necessary, third) floor, and then will begin lighting lanterns in the rooms. Allow the players the opportunity to explore the fort and their rooms, but remind them that it has been a tiring day and they will probably want to turn in for the night soon.
If the players explore the fort, allow them to go anywhere but into the lower level prison cells on the south side of the fort. Come up with some plausible excuse (the door's locked and you don't have a key should work!!!), but keep them from going in there. However, give all the players a least one Spot Hidden opportunity while exploring the fort. Roll a d10, on a 1-8 they discover some innocuous Civil War relic (button, spoon, Minnie ball, knife, bullet mold, etc.), and on a 9-10 they discover hidden in the dark recesses a carved ivory trinket. The trinket is carved in the shape of a man sized octopus like creature, which seems to stare into the soul of the holder. You know it, a Sanity roll: 0/1 if failed. The ivory is damp, and remains so no matter how hard the players try to dry it off. If the players explore their sleeping quarters, on an impaled Spot Hidden roll they will discover beneath a loose floor board a small notebook bound in leather. The book is the journal of Sergeant Raphael Simmons, CSA, who was held prisoner in the fort between 1863 and 1865. The journal reports the removal of a loose stone block in the Sergeant's cell which was discovered in an attempt to escape. Behind the stone were two small ivory statuettes and part of a rotting log book partially preserved by an oiled cloth. The book was the log of the Susanna and it relates the ship's last days before it crashed on the shoals. Sergeant Simmons copied the log into his journal and hid the statuettes around the fort before his release. The last page of the book has a scrawled note, dated 1 January 1865, which states that this book is now in the possession of Lieutenant Harrison after the shooting of Sergeant Raphael Simmons, CSA, as he attempted to escape from the island. The book has no sanity loss, but it should allow the GM the opportunity to provide whatever information they feel is necessary and relevant. Also, it is recommended that the journal take several hours to read, giving the players sufficient time to become acquainted with the fort's mysterious visitors.
Some time around 2 AM, the players will hear a horrendous croaking from the courtyard and from outside the fort. The croaking is unearthly, and requires the listener to make a Sanity roll: 0/1d4 if failed. From within the courtyard, the investigators can see dozens of shapes cavorting around, and they appear to be wearing the remnants of Civil War uniforms. If the players expose a light, or go down to investigate, have them make a Sanity roll: 1/1d6 for seeing dozens of Deep Ones dressed in Civil War uniforms. The Deep Ones will attack anyone who touched the ivory statuette, or currently has it in their possession. If the players overcome the twelve Deep Ones in the courtyard, they will notice a strange glow coming from an open doorway which leads to the below ground prison cells. There they will hear chanting coming from below. If they continue down to investigate, Sharps will refuse to follow, and if forced, will faint dead away. If the players do go below ground, they will discover a dozen more Deep Ones surrounding one of the statuettes. If the Deep Ones have gotten the second statuette, it will be alongside its companion, and the Deep Ones will be in the process of casting a version of Contact Cthulhu. If the ceremony is not interrupted, you know the consequences; if it is stopped, and the Deep Ones killed, the statuettes can be taken and sold for a significant amount of money, say $5000 for the pair. The statuettes aid in the casting of a Contact Cthulhu spell, but they also leave a residue that any Deep One can detect. If the players are ever again confronted by Deep Ones, those who touched the statuettes will be attacked before their compatriots. If they keep the statuettes, they will be subject to repeated Deep One attacks to recover them.
If Sharps survives the adventure, he will submit his report of the
incident to his superiors, and will recommend that immediate money and
workers be sent to the island to demolish the collapsing south side of the
fort. His report will state that the work needs to be done because of water
seepage which has damaged the masonry and brick. Nothing will be done
until 1896, when construction begins for the disappearing guns, but if the
players ever check the plans or visit the fort itself, they will notice that the
old Confederate prison cells still remain intact!!!
Artwork by Robert Fontenot ©1999
Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:49:02 EDT