The Ilsley Variant

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Pages: 12

Author(s): Rick Hudson

Artist(s): (none)

Setting: 1920s Arkham and Texas, Halloween

Appears in: Dead Leaves Fall and Other Halloween Horrors

Campaign: (none)


The player characters are invited to a Halloween cocktail party, where they see an unusual painting which includes some suspicious-looking runes. Further research into the runes and their origins drive the investigators onto the trail of a dead Texas historian's bizarre theory about the antediluvian origin of Nordic civilization.


Spoilers - Keepers Eyes Only

Players should not read any further.


 Spoiler Section (Highlight to Read)

The artist Miles Gedney has always been sensitive to strange influences, and after one particularly vivid dream he painted The King on the Throne. In many ways this painting, despite its quality, is unremarkable; it depicts a sombre ancient king sat upon a stone throne and there are no overtly supernatural or unrealistic elements depicted in it. However, the painting portrays an inscription above the throne in an unknown language. This language is the lost language of Hyborea, a civilisation that predates any in commonly known history. In investigating the language the investigators learn of the historian Ervin H. Roberts who committed suicide after his career was ruined due to his claims regarding the existence of a Hyborian civilisation being mocked and discredited in academic circles. The Roberts connection will lead investigators towards the manuscript of an epic poem The Road of Kings which details the rise of the king depicted in the painting: an actual Hyborean ruler. The manuscript provides the investigators with a wealth of information that will assist them in the future in their on-going struggle with the Cthulhu Mythos. Nevertheless, the investigators are not the only parties interested in the dead language: a Nyarlathotep cultist also wishes to lay his hands on The Road of Kings as it contains the spell Kiss of Ishtar which he needs to free the soul of a prehistoric sorcerer.


Player Handouts: (none, though there are portions of text meant to be read aloud which can be copied/printed and used as handouts, including...)

  • A couple pages of text about "The Mirror of Zthul-za Dûm" quoted from The Road of Kings
  • Descriptions of four paintings (one at the beginning of the scenario, three seen at the cultist's house)
  • Results of research about Ervin H. Roberts
  • Results of research about "The Ilsley Variant"
  • Results of research about "The Road of Kings"
  • Results of research about the cults interested in the runes



Tomes and Artifacts:

  • Painting King on the Throne by Miles Gedney (contains Hyborian runes)
  • Epic Poem The Road of Kings
    • Spell Kiss of Ishtar, which can cancel certain imprisoning spells
  • Mirror of Zthul-za Dûm
  • Misc. Paintings (containing Mythos references):
    • Painting Unhallowed Vortex, by Clive Kern. ("A swirl of green, grey and black, this painting is completely abstract.")
    • Painting Utopia, by Marcel Du Croix. ("This painting is a futurist representation of a city in which vast block like buildings are portrayed with no regard for perspective or a realistic regard for proportion. The sky above the city ripples as if it were the underside of the surface of a large body of water.")
    • Painting The Dreams of the Dead, by Henrietta Lloyd. ("Surrealist, Dali-inspired desert landscape in which mollusc-like creatures and strange crustaceans appear to be dancing about a large grandfather clock which is incongruously placed in the centre of the painting.")
  • Journal of Spencer Wade (not a tome, but does contain some occult information)
  • Book of Skelos
  • Of Evil Sorceries Done in New England
  • Remnants of Lost Empires

Organizations: (mentioned only in background information)

Campaigns / Scenrios: Reference is made in this adventure to "H.P. Lovecraft's Arkham (Supplement)" and "Miskatonic University (Supplement)", however neither of these books is essential for play.


List dedication, trivia, images, anything else of note.

Trivia: "Does this remind you of anything?" The NPC maverick historian from Texas, Ervin H. Roberts, his theory about antediluvian civilizations in the Hyborian Age, and his tragic suicide may sound familiar to some fans of pulp fantasy and weird fiction.

Keeper Comments

Comments to Keepers about this scenario; Possibly how to run it successfully. Keep general DISCUSSION on the talk page.

According to the scenario's author: "This adventure is set in Arkham in the classic 1920s Call of Cthulhu period, however there is little to prevent a keeper from changing the geographical and chronological setting. Dates and the exact chronology of events have been left open so that Keepers may adapt the scenario to fit their on-going campaigns. The plot concerns a prehistoric language that comes to the attention of the investigators which points to a prehistoric civilization that existed on Earth some 12,000 years ago. On solving the mystery there will be plenty of questions left unanswered that can be exploited in further adventures into this area should keepers wish."

Special Notes: The scenario contains some eccentric punctuation, vocabulary, and grammar habits that might make the scenario a bit hard to follow in places. The scenario's "hook" for the investigators, relying on their curiosity about a painting they see at a party to drive them through the scenario's plot, could be a bit weak and uncertain for many groups; keepers may prefer instead to have the painting's owner hire the investigators outright to find out more about the painting.

Dependence on Halloween: Virtually non-existent. The investigators are invited to a Halloween party virtually off-screen in the scenario's introduction, where they see a painting and are expected to investigate it out of curiosity, but the scenario could just as easily begin with its curious owner offering to pay the investigators to look up more information about the painting (which would ensure a smoother "hook" to move the investigators directly into the story than relying on their curiosity).

Sequel Plot Hooks: The scenario includes almost a full page of detailed plot hooks at the end.