Train to Shanghai: A Call of Cthulhu Adventure

By Steve Rosenstein

This is the scenario that I ran to act as a transit from London to Shanghai during Monday Night Heroes’ play through of Masks of Nyarlathotep. With a few modifications, this can be adapted to any extended train setting. The scenario was designed using the Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition ruleset. I lifted the train interior from the “A Sourcebook for the 1920’s” supplement ppg 16-17, using the European-Style Car (bottom diagram). The appropriate station stops are listed at the end of each section, with the names in bold representing a day’s travel. I certainly would appreciate feedback on this, so leave a comment if you are so inclined. You can watch the video below.

If you prefer, audio versions of the AP are here:

The player’s will be housed in the last passenger car which accommodates the first class passengers

[first class]-[dining]-[second class]-[second class]-[commons]-[third class]-[third class]-[third class]-[baggage]-[engine]

London to Moscow: 3 days

This part of the Journey will be very simple , allow for 1d3 HP recovery (2d3 if a doctor is present), allow players to recover luck (1d10) or SAN (1d6), as there will be no cultist/mythos activity. On this part of the trip there could be a few NPC’s that get on at some part of this leg that remain through the scenario. These are red herrings that should serve to heighten the investigators’ paranoia.

London -> Brussels-> Berlin -> Pozan -> Warsaw -> Brest -> Minsk -> Smolensk -> Moscow

Moscow to Chita: 5 days

A number of Russian nationals will get on the train in Moscow. They have booked berths in the third-class car closest to the Investigators. Their goal is to place a Color Out of Space egg into the Dining Car’s water supply. The Russian goons are members of the Cult of Baba Yaga, an avatar of Nyarlathotep. Each has a tattoo of a mortar and pestle with chicken legs. They will plant the Color during the night, one or two players (CONx3 rolls; failure means character is hungry) should wander into the kitchen just in time to see them leaving.

They should then be seen sneaking around the player’s car, acting suspicious. They can be going through personal effects or in the storage, looking for any Mythos artifacts that the investigators have with them. Have players make Listen rolls to detect them. If these fail, a spot hidden roll can determine whether they can determine if anything was stolen. This pilfering is a secondary goal, and it is designed for them to get caught so that the players feel that they caught the bad guys. If the cultists are not caught by the investigators, then they get off of the train at Kirov, after about a day.

They speak no English, but they do speak Russian and French. If they are interrogated, they will gladly say that the Comrades of the Divine Yaga have been tasked with recovering certain artifacts stolen from her various servitors in New York, London and Essex. OF course, if Russian Nationals are murdered on the train, the perpetrators will be apprehended by security and taken off of the train at the next stop.

Once the seed has been planted, the Color will gain 2d6 POW/Day draining the passengers. Players will make a INT v Pow roll or lose 1d6 MAG and 1d6 SAN. Everybody on the train will display these symptoms: listlessness, ashen complexions, nausea, flu-like symptoms…possibly the result of food poisoning. Any idea roll will (if the investigators saw the Russians in the kitchen) will cast suspicion on the Russians.

By the end of this leg, there should be more passengers who are getting ill. Any doctors will not be able to diagnose anything beyond “Probably food poisoning”. If a doctor (somebody with first aid) makes a critical success on a medicine roll, ask for a spot hidden roll. With a success, a faint glow in patients can be noticed. It can be described as the nacre effect, or the iridescence of oil on water.

Moscow-> Yaroslavl (Volga River)-> Kotelnich (Vyatka River)-> Overyata (Kama River)-> Pervouralsk (Iset River/Asian Boarder)-> Yusala-> Nazyvayevsk (Irysh River)-> Ob (Ob River)-> Kransnoyarsk (Yenisei River)-> Irkutsk->Selenginsk (Selenge River)-> Chita

Chita to Beijing: 4 days

At this point, the Color in the tank will have enough power to become a real threat. Characters should now be able to see the “glow” in any of their fellow passengers and any food that they come into contact with. Food will begin to taste bitter. If players decide to stop eating, progressively difficult CON rolls must be made (CONx5, CONx4…) at the start and at the end of each day. Failure will result in -10% skill penalties that are also progressive (-20%, -30%…) for every failed CON roll.

Starting on this leg of the journey, NPC passengers will begin to die. The examining the body will reveal a dried out grey husk that will start to flake away 1/1d8 SAN loss.

The players will now become targets for direct attack. Each night, everybody makes a luck roll, successes are proof against being targeted. Take the character who failed by the most and they will be the victim for the night. All victims make subsequent luck rolls at -10% (cumulative), as the Color will re-feed on previous victims.

Victims must make a Current MAG v (Color’s) Current POW roll. A failure will decrease 1 point STR CON POW DEX and APP (permanent) for every 10 points of failure. Also 1d6 HP. Seeing the Color costs 1/1d6 SAN

The Color will defend itself if needed, but it is immune to all but magic attacks (mythos magic only), so it will flee if discovered. If followed, it will retreat to any of the water tanks (kitchen car, bathrooms…).

The Chinese authorities will refuse departure from the train and it will effectively be under quarantine. The dead will not be removed from the train, and no one will be allowed on or off of the train. If the sickness continues to Beijing, the Chinese Government will arrest and quarantine all passengers. One or more characters may overhear train personnel speculating about the ultimate fate of the train once it reaches its destination.

Of course the most obvious way to get rid of the thing is to uncouple the kitchen car from the rest of the train. If any of the characters have operate heavy machinery then warn the players that the loss of the weight of the two end cars will increase the speed of the train, allowing for a chance for a derail. If they attempt this without the cooperation of the train’s engineering staff, then have the character with the lowest luck. A success allows the engineer to realize what has happened and the breaks can be applied to slow to a safe speed. Failure can lead to derailment. A Drive (train) skill roll must be made (if no one has that skill, other Drive skills can be substituted with a -10% penalty, if nobody has Drive, then Operate Heavy Machinery -20%, or DEX+POW/ 2 x 3) needs to be made or the train will gain momentum and add +1 to the train’s speed, a success will slow the train down -1. A critical failure will add +2 to the speed and a critical success will subtract -2. The train starts out at speed 6, slowing it down to 4 will steady the train out, if the train’s speed reaches 10, then it will de-rail. Doing nothing will cause the train to crash in 5 minutes. If the engineer is either dead or the luck roll fails, then have the players make an idea roll, with a success having the realization that the train will crash.

The other option that the players have is to get off of the train. Once in China, the train will not stop at stations, if the players mutiny and force the conductor to stop the train at a station, the Chinese Imperial Army will not hesitate to wipe out every person on the train. Stopping the train between stations, players will find themselves in the Gobi desert. The same if they decide to jump themselves, but they will also take 3d6 damage for jumping out of a moving train.

If the Color is defeated, a fast talk roll can get the investigators on their way; failure will mean a week’s time lost dealing with the bureaucracy. If the Color remains on the train, passengers must make a MAGx5 roll, failure results in refusal to exit the train…this could lead to characters being executed on the spot. At the very least, have an NPC get executed for refusing to leave the train. Once the passengers are removed to the quarantine hospital, they should start recovering, but all attribute points lost are permanent. A 5 acre radius around the train will start to drain and the Chinese authorities will eventually take the train out into the desert and scuttle it. There will be an area in the Gobi from there on in that is even more of a blasted wasteland than the desert itself. Nothing will grow there, and animals skirt around the area. Eventually the Color will return from whence it came.

Chita-> Zabaikalsk (Sino-Russo boarder)-> Manzhouli-> Changchun-> Beijing

Here are the beginning stats for the Color (pg 153 6th Ed CoC):




INT 16

POW 24

DEX 18

Skills: Feed 85%


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