Wednesday, May 15, 2013

First story in my "Howard and Lovecraft. Timeless horror through ages undreamt of." series. Starting off in WWI


Thunder clouds loomed overhead like the wrath of an angry God as elements of the 8th Brigade, Charlie Company entered the remains of the French village of Rouseaux near Thiaucourt. If it weren't for their pocket watches, the platoon would not have known that it was well past dawn on that dark September morning. Droplets of rain began to fall as a somber prologue of the torrent that was about to follow. It was almost as if heaven openly wept for the young dead that blanketed the soil of the western front. It would be worse at Verdun.

The dozen or so buildings that made up this small village were all but destroyed. Flashes of lighting would backlight the remains and for an instant the silhouette of the village itself appeared to mimic the form of a rotting corpse by the side of a road. The buildings were shattered and burned by artillery, the smell of death and remnants of mustard gas filled the air. Most striking of all was the silence.  Only the soft pitter pat sounds of rain and the distant roar of thunder filled the air.  For the doughboys of Charlie Company who have heard nothing but the constant cacophony of bitter warfare for the past few long and brutal days the silence and calm was eerie and disquieting.

The men of Charlie Company moved slowly into what remained at the village square. The past few days had instilled a healthy and life preserving dose of paranoia. The church bell tower was the only part of the building still intact. A strange iron crucifix made of serpents topped the tower and was suddenly struck by lightning as the rain began to fall in earnest. Nothing but the rain moved. Almost as if the moment was framed and hanging on some lonesome wall.

Suddenly the moment broke as a young soldier pointed out a single figure moving in the darkness. Instantly, rifles came to bear and tension filled the air. The figure was small and moved clumsily. The young private who spotted the figure first spit out his soaked cigarette and motioned for the men to stand down. Rifles were still up but slightly lowered. The young solder moved tentatively towards the small form and shouted back, “It’s ok fellas it’s a little kid!”

The private pulled out a Hershey’s bar from his pack. Those were like gold out there. He slowly unwrapped the candy and showed it to the young girl.  As she stumbled forward the young man noticed how pale she was.  He then noticed how her features looked bloated and distended almost as if she been stung by a giant insect. They both walked towards each other arms spread for an impending embrace. Suddenly the American’s smile changed to a look of unspeakable horror as the young girls mouth opened unnaturally wide to expose the head of a giant Adder. The thing sprung fourth and bit the dumb stricken soldier in the eye as he screamed in terror.  The girl thing then leapt on the fallen doughboy’s body as her hands split into multiple serpent heads which repeatedly ripped at their victim’s green uniform leaving blood and venom soaked wounds. The soldiers body began to spasm and convulse then suddenly lie still.

The platoon was initially too shocked to act, but soon at least one of the men got his wits about him and the loud retort of a carbine broke the spell.  Then all the men began to break loose with their weapons shooting at the atrocious wolf in sheep’s clothing. Round after round exploded into the girl’s body as chunks of her flesh ripped away and her head careened and fell back at a right angle to the rest of her body.  It seemed like the corpse was still, but the men were still too horrified to inspect the remains of the thing and their friend. Lucky thing since the corpse of the young girl exploded into a flood of writhing serpents that lashed out and spit at the shadows about them before they slowly began to slither away.

Strange things are afoot in Thiaucourt

My story begins after Pershing and Patton secured the St. Mihiel Salient and began to regroup.  The player characters will be a group of American soldiers from the 8th brigade who are tasked with scouting out the outlying villages of Vigneulles, Thiaucourt and Hannonville-sous-les-Cotes. These characters can link up with stranded airmen and tank crews who are working their way back to the lines at St. Mihiel.  There are also possibilities for French and surrendered German PC’s as well.

The Story

Before you read on, please consult my previous blog entry on the concept behind these stories so that you can better understand the meta-plot. These stories are linked by its primary antagonist, Yig (the father of serpents). In this installment, the German army stumbles upon an ancient pre-gaelic cult to Yig that had secretly survived countless generations in rural France. Elements of German infantry enter a small village and stumble upon the cult of Yig which use their connection to the ancient being to protect themselves. The German soldiers are horrified by things from beyond the outer dark and end up using artillery and mustard gas to destroy the serpents and ultimately themselves. The destruction of his minions angers Yig, who then protects the area around his hidden shrine from further intrusion.  When the player characters come to investigate the town and rescue any French citizens that may be hidden amongst the rubble they fall into the clutches of an angry Yig!

The player character’s souls are forever involved in a cosmic struggle against Yig and this is yet another chapter in this epic struggle. I will have a large platoon of NPC soldiers accompanying the PC’s to provide some "death and disappearances of friendlies" moments to intensify the horror. In fact they may have to fight their own fallen compatriots! You can probably tell this is going to be a horror/survival and investigation game, but then again most Lovecraft style games involve those elements.

The main manifestations of Yig are going to be:

Snake Corpses: Yig commands his serpent minions to infest the corpses of the fallen. These bloated creatures are basically zombie like monsters that are filled with snakes that give the corpse mobility and articulation. When destroyed these creatures burst open and release their serpent infestation. There are three main types: soldier, initiated and villager.  The soldiers are the corpses of fallen German soldiers and have the benefit of the soldier’s weapons and tools. That’s right, zombies that shoot mausers. The initiated are the corpses of the fallen cultists that have been resurrected in part by their serpent infestation. They are tougher, have magical edges and retain most of their human intelligence. The last form is infested villagers who are more of your traditional zombie type, but have a nasty poison attack as their hands are made up of venomous serpent heads.

Serpent Men: Underneath the shrine of Yig is a passageway to the underground civilization of the Serpent Men. When the PC’s discover the shrine and try to destroy it, these creatures will come forth to defend it. These creatures are similar in description to the serpent men of the Kull setting.

In between fighting off these monsters, the PC’s must uncover the cult in the town by investigating the ruins.  The church has a strange wrought iron cross made of intertwined serpents. A cellar is filled with strange books and idols. The players can also capture and interrogate an initiated to gather information.  They have to do that at their own risk since they will have hypnotism powers.

Ultimately, they must find out two crucial bits of information. First, they have to find out that the shrine to Yig is his gateway to this world. Second, they must destroy the shrine or Yig will fully waken manifest an army of the slain to conquer the world.

First American Offensive at St. Mihiel Salient (WW I)

Background History. You can skip over the italics part if you aren't at all interested in the military history, but I am setting this story during real life historical events!

“The Battle of St. Mihiel (12th - 16th September 1918) was the first large-scale, separate offensive by American forces on the Western Front. By late summer 1918 the strategic importance of the German-held salient south of Verdun had was not so prominent as it was in 1917, when the newly arrived American Staff officers arrived on the Western Front. Their desire at that time was to carry out a separate offensive by American forces against the danger posed by this salient. Marshal Foch, commander of the Allied forces on the Western Front in late 1918, had to be convinced it was still relevant to make the attack. He did agree, although he was also wishing to use the American forces for an assault west of Verdun in the Meuse-Argonne sector. 

The German forces were in the process of evacuating the salient when the American First Army attacked them, supported by French tanks and artillery and 600 Allied aircraft. The offensive successfully cleared the Germans from the salient and 15,000 German prisoners were captured with 250 guns. A few days later the American First Army transferred to the Meuse-Argonne sector in preparation for an attack.

South-east of Verdun the Front Lines were positioned along a ridge of high ground on the hills east of the Meuse river as far as the town of St. Mihiel. The town is located in the Department of Meuse in Lorraine. It was captured by the German Army in the first weeks of the war. At St. Mihiel the Front Lines turned at a 90 degree angle in an easterly direction across the low lying hills from the eastern Meuse river bank into the plain of the Moselle River. This created the bulge of a salient held by the German Army, protruding into the French-held territory. The battle area became known as the St. Mihiel Salient. In September 1918 the United States Expeditionary Force launched an offensive to break through the German line at St. Mihiel.

The Front Line on the ridge, fiercely defended by the German Army, protected the views to its rear over the German occupied territory of Lorraine and the Imperial German border, which was approximately 30 miles (48 kilometres) east of St. Mihiel.

The weather corps of Corps I Operation Order stated: "Visibility: Heavy driving wind and rain during parts of day and night. Roads: Very muddy." This would pose a challenge to the Americans when the order to advance was given. In some parts of the road, the men were almost knee-deep in mud and water. After five days of rain, the ground was nearly impassible to both the American tanks and infantry. Many of the tanks were wrecked with water leakage into the engine, while others would get stuck in mud flows. Some of the infantrymen developed early stages of trench foot, even before the trenches were dug.

Several towns in France were never rebuilt after WWI because of the fact that the towns were so thoroughly destroyed by heavy shelling and were so littered with unexploded munitions that they were labeled unsafe.”

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