Old West Horror – The Black Mine of Teihiihan

May 24, 2019

I was drawn back into Call of Cthulhu when one of my friends started running one shot adventures for his teenage son. Suddenly, even old, barely-remembered adventures like The Haunting were magical again, and we were all having a blast tromping around abandoned cabins, fleeing cultists and Deep One-infested lighthouses, and laughing as we inevitably went crazy and died horribly (and in one instance, vice versa). I was inspired to write my own Cthulhu-esque adventure, and set myself four goals:

  1. Historical setting. I love the limitations of the 1920s in Call of Cthulhu. Even more, I love that as you go further back in time, communication gets harder, weapons get less effective, help is further away, and people become more superstitious. I’ve always loved the Old West as a setting, so I picked 1883 and a remote, dusty location for the adventure, set between Kansas City and Arkansas City.
  2. Scary and Unheard Of. I always enjoy adventures where the big bad is something unpredictable, unknown, and freakish, and can’t be easily found flipping through a Monster Manual or Lovecraft compendium. So I spent a few hours researching Native American mythology to find something that I had never heard of, and would surprise my players. I settled on the wonderfully strange, cannibalistic Teihiihan as my foes.
  3. Multiple Threats, Multiple Tools. My own favorite horror adventures are the ones where the PCs are faced by tough odds from different directions — vs a single monster or bad guy driving the threat level. I spent some time thinking about multiple physical threats (the Teihiihan, a wounded and betrayed outlaw), environmental threats (the scorching desert, the caves themselves), and mental threats (the bodyswitching plot of Rufus and Hoowooni). I also enjoy adventures where tools can be found, but not always needed, so I made sure that there were always hidden supplies (bear traps, unpredictable flintlocks, books with legends) were there to be found — but never necessary to finish the story.
  4. Make it easy to run. I did my best to surround the adventure with lots of handouts, premade characters with good diversity and motivations, and optional encounters for GMs who want to customize the adventure, or shorten or lengthen it.

I think the adventure resonated. The PCs’ health (and sanity) was whittled away over the first half of the adventure, motivating them to keep moving. They figured out Hoowooni’s weird plot in the last half, made it to the final encounter in the mines, and then everything went to hell due to poor planning and worse luck. I think only one or two survivors limped back to civilization… which was everyone’s favorite way for a one-shot horror RPG to end.

All adventures have flaws, and The Black Mine of Teihiihan is no different. If I spent some time revising it, I’d make some changes:

  1. Works Best in a Certain Order. It’s possible for PCs to skip Dunker Cabin and head right to the further-south Fort Rufus. While this doesn’t derail the adventure at all, I suspect the mystery would be harder to solve, and the PCs would certainly have less tools to survive. I’d advise GMs to plant a few more clues on the way to Fort Rufus, for those survivors who decide to skip the cabin.
  2. Hosaa is Too Important. Hosaa, the Arapaho medicine man, is a bit too convenient, showing up a the perfect time to fill in the gaps in the story and push the PCs towards the Black Mine. If he gets killed or the PCs mistrust him, the adventure could possibly stall out. In retrospect, some more self-contained clues about the Black Mine, either at Fort Rufus or Dunker Cabin, would help give the PCs more agency.
  3. PC Relationships. The pre-made characters are literally “Strangers on a Train” with no connection to each other. While this setup works fine with players who love to slow down and roleplay, newer players, or players who need some help meshing with each other, could benefit from more concrete, in-character reasons to interact. GMs who run this adventure might give some of the characters familiarity with each other.

So that’s how the inception and design of The Black Mine of Teihiihan went. You can download and give it a try here:

If you run the adventure or play in it, all that I ask is that you let me know what you thought and how it went. Especially if you get blown up by your own stick of dynamite in the mine. Tweet me @SageThalcos

Related: More Historical Horror – Terror in Ancient Rome

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