Terra Antarctica (campaign)
Theses are our marks upon the wide, white page.
These are our maps of a land with neither trace nor boundary.
This is the record of our voyage to the Silent Place.
This is what we heard, in the silence, in the wind.
Down to the Sunless Sea
Terra Antarctica is a roleplaying campaign centred upon a secret Australian military expedition to the southern continent in late 1945.
Our base will be Call of Cthulhu, though other systems (Cthulhu Dark) may get a periodic look in. We have spots for five players, and we will be meeting every second Sunday from 3.00pm till not too late.
Players not adverse to a little boundary pushing and deeper characterisation will get the most out of my storytelling GM style. Focus will be small group psychological horror set within an epic voyage, with frenzied though occasional outbreaks of pulp violence and uber-secret post-WWII shenanigans. In truth I’m more ghost than gunfight, so I’m hoping the campaign will be as much Ramsey Campbell and Shirley Jackson as Lovecraft. There will be terror within, terror in the landscape, and terror in glimpses of cosmic truth.
I’m aiming for distinctly Australian epic Lovecraftian SF, a tale of discovery and cosmic horror/wonder. There will be tentacles however, and U-boats aplenty. All with a broad, laconic Oztralian drawl.
Inspirations include At The Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft, the Antarctic journeys of Douglas Mawson, and the Beyond the Mountains of Madness and Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign packs for Call of Cthulhu. I have also glimpsed at GURPS Weird War II. 🙂
Session Zero: Character Concepts
In our first meeting we discussed the historical background and generated player characters . Not by rolling stats from the rulebook, but by talking about Australia in World War II, life during wartime, the personnel that might get chosen for a military Antarctic expedition, and the demands and possible themes of the coming campaign.
Our touchstones were history and character depth. The first step was to forget we were playing Call of Cthulhu.
Terra Antarctica begins in the last days of World War II, the morning of August 8 1945 to be precise, in Sydney Australia. Player characters are military and intelligence officers who have been transferred to the Southern Oceans Desk (SOD) of Central Bureau, the joint American-Australian signals and intelligence organisation whose primary role was to research and decrypt army and air intercept traffic. SOD’s role has been primarily tracking German raiders and u-boats in the Indian Ocean, but Germany has been defeated. With Allied eyes looking northward and contemplating an imminent invasion of Japan, it seems an odd time for SOD to be taking on extra personnel.
Once players had generated base character concepts, I asked them a series of questions to flesh out the characters and their life histories. We explored family, upbringing, relationships, sexuality, beliefs, loyalty, outlook, and experiences and traumas of war – all of which generated possible campaign hooks.
Every campaign is an exercise in storytelling, and every story shapes itself by focussing on certain things and excluding others. In talking about our characters, I was able to glimpse emerging themes that we will focus down on as the campaign develops.
War touches everyone. It brings out the best and worst of our common humanity. Families are torn apart or destroyed, identities are abandoned and assumed, there are acts of courage and horror, stupidity and outrage, Players should begin to develop a personal backstory touching on their experience of war, with perhaps a secret or trauma that can be explored in campaign flashbacks. Beliefs, motivations, relationships and failures will all be explored. When the expedition begins, character, courage, leadership and compassion will be tested at every step.
Capt. Christine ‘Clancy’ Turner (Pip Hughes)
The hunger has always been with you.
Born and raised on a cattle station in western Queensland, a pioneer of inland aviation, Captain Turner is a former personal pilot to Senator Harry Holl, Minister for the Interior and member of the Advisory War Council. She has an Ultra security clearance and has acted as a political liaison between key members of the Australian Government and Allied Command.
Lt. Archibald Davies (Luke Jordan)
The darkness has always been with you.
Archibald Davies studied botany and geology at Melbourne University in the late 1920s before traveling to Japan, where he resided for over a decade. When he returned shortly before the outbreak of war, Davies was a changed man – gaunt and sombre with a terribly scarred face. Commissioned to Central Bureau as a Japanese translator and strategic analyst, Davies security clearance is constantly red-flagged, and his loyalties appear ambiguous to some.
Major Alan Wicker (John Machin)
The lights have always been with you.
A photographer and war correspondent with a strong interest in Theosophy, Wicker spent several years in Weimar Germany. Accepting a commission as a war artist, he saw service in North Africa, then was recruited into British Intelligence as a German expert. With the end of the war in Europe, Wicker has returned to serve in Australia.
Warrant Officer Collin Michael Kelly (Peter Rousell)
The cold has always been with you.
An uncommonly large young RAN commando, Kelly left Broken Hill as a 15 year old young man and signed up as a deck hand on a Russian whaling vessel. He spent several years based on South Georgia antarctic whaling stations. After commando training , Kelly became involved in intelligence work tracking ship movements in northern Asian waters.
Lt. Reggie Crookwell (Mark Ashcroft)
The fire has always been with you.
A sports-loving math prodigy from a New England farming family, Crookwell’s gift for abstract reasoning took him from the University of Sydney to Cambridge and hence to Bletchley Park. Returning to Australia (a moved that has created marriage difficulties) as a code breaker, Crookwell has been instrumental in cracking several Japanese military codes.
Capt. Theo Willett (JamesHaughton)
The xxxx has always been with you.
A Kiwi geographer who studied under Sir Douglas Mawson in South Australia. Willet returned to NZ on the outbreak of war and enlisted, serving in North Africa as a navigator in Bagnold’s Long Range Desert Group. Wounded in action, Willet is now engaged in planning military surveys of Australia’s still unmapped interior.
PDF Form Character Sheet
The link below provides a PDF form character sheet for the campaign. I have modified some of the basic skills in anticipation of an Antarctic expedition, and use the skill of ‘Service Tradition’ as a catch-all for military training.
Captain Ross Wheeler, RAN: OC of the Southern Oceans Desk at Central Bureau.
General Douglas MacArthur: Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area.
Dr Herbert ‘Doc’ Evatt: Australia’s Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs, and a key member of the War Cabinet.
Background documents and references
Military history of Australia during World War II – Wikipedia.
Supermarine Walrus (Shagbat) -a key member of the team!
Session One: The Dancing Man
Sydney Morning Herald, 8 August 1945 – available from Trove.
‘In the name of God. In the name of our common humanity…’
August 8 1945. As newspapers detail the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, PCs report for duty to their secret new posting – the Southern Oceans Desk (SOD) of Central Bureau. Located in the basement of the Queen Victoria Building in Central Sydney, SOD is staffed only by the hard-driven Captain Ross Wheeler, RAN (NPC) and Warrant Officer Collin Kelly (PC). German and Japanese activity in the southern oceans has dropped off almost entirely, and as HQ-SWPA prepares for the seemingly imminent invasion of the Japanese mainland, SOD has been almost forgotten. And it seems that Wheeler is operating outside normal chains of command.
PCs set to work on a variety of SIGINT tasks involving
- German uboat sightings off the Kimberley coast of Western Australia,
- Encoded radio messages from the same area
- Tally of missing German uboats (nearly one hundred!)
- Missing whaling vessels in the southern ocean
- Lists of high ranking Germans who have disappeared since the end of the European war
- Reports of recent Antarctic expeditions, including the tragic 1931 Miskatonic expedition and the 1939 German exploration of Neuschwabenland.
Players learn that General MacArthur, Supreme Commander SWPA, has been centralising SIGINT operations to his own command, and closing down or denying resources to Australian and other Allied units he cannot control. There is growing resentment amongst the Australian military about the way they are being increasingly sidelined by their American allies in the war effort. Wheeler is engaged in activities being kept hidden from the Americans relating to a possible Operation Tempest – an exploratory Australian voyage seeking possible German bases in the Antarctic.
15 August 1945. VJ Day – Japan has surrendered! One hundred thousand people descend into central Sydney in a riotous celebration of war’s end. Wheeler receives a document from an American contact in the OSS. It appears to be the long-sought, secret report of the Miskatonic Antarctic expedition long denied through official channels.
Joining in the celebrations in Martin Place, the members of SOD are enchanted by a dancing man whose display enthralls the boisterous crowd. Wheeler disappears. When PCs locate him in a city alleyway, he is severely wounded: his arm has been severed at the wrist, and his cuffed briefcase containing the newly acquired documents stolen. RAAFNS nurses who attempt to assist Wheeler (and the PCs) are shocked to discover he is wearing a swastika under his military jacket. The dancing man is fired on by PCs, but escapes in a vehicle down Elizabeth Street. He has bright red hair, and an large Pacific Islander companion.
Kelly accompanies Wheeler in a military ambulance. As Kelly removes the shameful swastika, Wheeler goes into convulsions and dies. Back in SOD, PCs ponder the meaning of events as riotous celebrations continue outside. Perhaps the swastika is an occult protective charm known as an Elder Sign? Discussion of the Miskatonic Expedition helps PCs connect a cryptic note of Wheeler’s – “Douglas Arham!” to the former captain of the USS Arkham, one of Expedition’s ships. That man – Douglas – has recently berthed in Sydney.
Session Two: “Pain is the Gate’
Disbelief and chaos reign in the aftermath of Wheeler’s murder. The squad quickly search their office for any clue as to why Wheeler was targeted. Interogations by military police begin, often in the presence of an unnamed American army colonel.
Lt. Crookwell burns the midnight oil, combing wartime knackeroo (coaster watcher), navy and air force logs for vital huff-duff radiosonde directional reports. He knows that someone is transmitting in code from the middle of the Great Sandy Desert. Logs of a C47 Goonie bird flight from Tennant Creek to Jigalong mission provides the vital cross bearing. The transmissions originate at 22°3′14″S 125°0′39″E, one of the most remote and desolate places on Earth!
Stunned by Wheeler’s death, most of the the squad drink to his memory as Sydney riotously celebrates the war’s end. And why do the Yanks seem so eager to shut the whole shop down?