Sessions 6-8 of the Harbingers campaign took place in Dunwich. I always tell my players that story arcs are usually three to five sessions long, but it's actually quite rare they're only three--this one ended rather abruptly due to all the PCs dying in a shootout with hillbilly cannibals. These things happen.
Here are some notes on each session.
SESSION # 6
* As the recap implies, several of the PCs had been receiving strange dreams since the beginning of the campaign. I hadn't put them in the recaps since the other players didn't know about them, but now that they're all dead (the characters, not the players), it doesn't seem like secrecy is an issue. The Harbingers tended to receive dreams about a labyrinthine city full of geometrically absurd architecture. In some of the dreams, they took part in a strange theatrical production before a violent crowd of thousands on an island with jutting stone monoliths. Meanwhile, the non-Harbingers received dreams that all had to do with Dunwich and that contained imagery and cryptic hints that aided them in some way. To give this a mechanical effect, I let them draw from a deck of tarot-like cards that carried a minor pre-determined bonus to a skill or action that worked for just that session. Interestingly, none of the bonuses were ever actually used in the sessions, nor did these PCs discover who was sending them these dreams or why (as a director, I always find it fascinating and usually unpredictable to see which story threads are followed and which are neglected by the players) .
* Whereas the first story arc (Aylesbury) had an ever-changing cast of PCs due to players coming in and out, this story arc settled down to a stable three: Scarlet Warren, Barnabus Gallowsong, and a new PC, Dr. Otto Konig (a life-saver, as there were some days I thought the campaign would have to be abandoned due to not enough players). Having a stable and predictable cast made for better story-telling and role-playing, and made my life as a director much easier. I had forgotten though, how a smaller number of PCs means that the story can progress much faster, as there's fewer opinions on what should be done, fewer character-driven side encounters, fewer people rolling dice and reporting results, and so forth. I had to scramble to keep up at some points and stay one step ahead of them.
* I liked the scene with the impoverished family traveling along dusty roads and going from town to town trying to find work and being turned away by locals with dogs. Not exactly original, but I felt I hadn't given much period flavor of life during the Depression because Aylesbury was depicted as (mysteriously) thriving and at that point the PCs hadn't yet ventured elsewhere. Speaking of them, the PCs really showed themselves to be extremely kind and generous, a reaction I wasn't sure I would see.
* Dr. Littlestreet was introduced for both a long-term reason (which hasn't yet come to pass) and the short-term goal of seeing how the PCs would react to a theory that described all the strange phenomena they had encountered in purely naturalistic terms (a "miasma" of "bad air" causing hallucinations and delusions in the Miskatonic Valley). Suffice it to say, they didn't buy it.
* The encounter involving the farmhouse with the murdered family is a slightly-altered version of "Earth, Sky, Soul" from the Dunwich: Return to the Forgotten Village sourcebook. The first time I read the mini-scenario, I thought it was kinda dumb--there's not much for the PCs to do, no problems to really solve, no challenges or risk of failure. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to see it as a great mood-setter as it portrays human tragedy better than probably any other scenario I've seen.
* As for Dunwich itself, I actually found it much harder to prepare because it was so thoroughly detailed in the sourcebook. I felt a strange duty to "accurately" portray the NPCs and lay-out of the village and its surroundings! (it's not like sourcebook author Keith Herber is going to call me up and yell at me for saying the blacksmith lived at the wrong house . . .) However, I knew the PCs weren't going to stay in Dunwich for the whole campaign (what a dismal and depressing campaign that would be), and I had some time limitations in prepping the story arc, so I tried to focus on a few key NPCs (Osborn, the Whateleys, Mother Bishop) and plot points (the caverns under the village and the menace of the Potters). The PCs never did follow up on the lead they had about who had sent the telegram luring the original characters to Abraham Gilmore's farm in the first place (way back in Session # 1), but at this point only one of the original PCs was still in the campaign.
* During the Aylesbury story-arc, I spent a lot of time having NPCs talk about what a mean, dangerous lot the Dunwich villagers were--so much so, that after this session one of the players accurately observed that the locals were much nicer than they thought they would be. This was probably a combination of the Dunwich NPCs they happened to meet and some not-so-awesome role-playing on my part, but I tried to improve things in the next couple of sessions.
SESSION # 7
* Scarlet Warren's abrupt disappearance "off camera" at the beginning of the session was due to The Wife being seven months pregnant and needing a nap. I can't blame her, and when she woke up she gave new life to "Official Party Back-Up Character", Pete the Drifter (since deceased). I rolled Pete up using the character "Ashcan Pete" from the Arkham Horror board game as inspiration, and he came in quite useful in this session and the next one. It was quite amusing to see how his personality and Southern accent changed depending on who was running him.
* I knew those Potter boys would be up to no good and come into conflict with the PCs, I just wasn't sure how or why. A couple of failed Navigation rolls gave me a good excuse to introduce them.
* For the caverns under Dunwich, I stuck pretty close to the material in the sourcebook. I found I had to do a lot of work to translate the maps into a format I could use, as they're rather confusing in the book. Even now, I'm of two minds about whether it was better to use the caverns as they were in the book or whether I should have created my own; as is, they have a nice feel of mystery, but they also don't contain a lot that engages the PCs in danger or problem-solving (at least on the upper level).
* The PCs did a great job role-playing the rescue of Sister Olivetti, and I was happy how her story and that of Gabriel Knight tied together the Aylesbury and Dunwich story arcs.
* A dramatic family emergency cut this session short, but the upside was that it gave me more time to prepare more of the caverns for the next session.
SESSION # 8
* This time I had much more prepared than necessary, as the PCs encountered the pentagonal complex but couldn't be lured to go further into the Greater Caverns and stumble upon the true source of Dunwich's degeneration and misery (those who know what I'm talking about know what I'm talking about; I'm 75% glad they didn't find it and therefore survived, and 25% regretful I didn't get to present the awesome, instantly memorable scene that would have resulted).
* I was a little chagrined to realize that two of my players recognized the name Gabriel Knight and had actually played the mid-90s computer game. I remember reading about it in computer game magazines when I was a teenager and it seemed cool, but I never managed to play it. Still, the name stuck around in my mind all these years and it seemed a natural moniker for a missing private investigator. I'll have to be more careful next time!
* I've already talked about the TPK ending some here. For Temple Potter's farmhouse, I used the layout and interior of the Woodie House from "The Worm That Walks" chapter of the infamous Shadows of Yog-Sothoth campaign. I think it worked really well. In the Dunwich sourcebook, the Potters are serial killers but aren't actually cannibals (that's another NPC, David Ray Condon); for expediency and horror, I decided to combine the two.
* I briefly entertained the thought of the players' new characters arriving in Dunwich to sort out what happened to their former dead characters, but I quickly realized I had already told most of the story I wanted to tell in Dunwich--and that there would be no guarantee the new PCs could defeat the Potters either. Moving the campaign on to the Crescent City seems like a lot more fun, picking up with some of the long-term story threads I've planted there.