Scenario Seed: The Mystery of UB-85
Here’s a scenario seed to get the week started, most likely for a Cthulhu Mythos game. It’s based on true events (for a given value of true, anyway) and could conceivably work in any historical setting from the First World War onward.
The Actual History
On the 30th of April 1918, the German submarine UB-85 was engaged off the Irish coast by the Royal Navy vessel Coreopsis II. The German vessel was partially flooded in the engagement and the crew were forced to surface and abandon their craft while under fire. All 34 of the crew were taken as prisoners-of-war.
This is the official record. However, there are reports in circulation that the captain of the UB-85, Gunther Krech, revealed under interrogation that the previous night, when the submarine had surfaced to recharge, it had been attacked by a mysterious sea creature, and been so badly damaged it was impossible to submerge again.
It’s worth pointing out that there are no reports of the sea monster story in circulation prior to about 2005. The wreck of a submarine matching the specifications of the UB-85 was found in the right area in October 2016, but investigations have revealed no clear evidence of a monster attack. However, that’s no reason not to use the idea as inspiration for a scenario.
The Sub That Time Forgot
One obvious idea would be a one-shot scenario actually set aboard a German submarine during the Great War – Lovecraft himself wrote a story with this theme, The Temple, in 1920. The characters would obviously be officers and crew of the sub. To give the scenario a bit more plot than a random sea monster attack, maybe the UB-85 was in that location for a specific purpose, looking for something? Could the Germans have been looking to stir up the powers of the Mythos in Britain’s back yard, the Irish Sea? Did their attempt go badly wrong?
Obviously, we can depart from the actual history (and legend) a bit – rather than a single large sea monster, perhaps the UB-85 was assaulted by Deep Ones, perhaps even captured by them. Perhaps it was taken by them to one of their cities on the sea-bed, in which case the objective of the scenario is for the crew to escape and retake control of the vessel. This would probably end up with an atmosphere not unlike that of The Temple, perhaps with a dollop of The Land That Time Forgot Stirred in, if you wanted a pulpier feel to the scenario.
All the crew of the UB-85 made it off the sub alive, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t left marked by the experience. One riff on the legend would involve making the lost submarine a British or American vessel, and have the surviving crew plagued by something years or decades later. The events on board the sub (again, you have the fun of deciding exactly what happened) resulted in the crew being ‘claimed’ by something unnatural living in the depths of the sea, and now it has come to collect.
Perhaps the characters are contacted by one of the survivors, concerned that several of his old mates have dropped out of sight – or, to keep the central mystery of the UB-85 intact until later in the scenario, someone unaware of the initial events makes the approach – several of their father’s old comrades have recently disappeared, and the father himself is increasingly terrified, but of what?
It’s probably best to kept the actual Mythos power an enigmatic demersal nightmare and have the various abductions and killings (or sacrifices) made by a land-based cult. The objective is obviously to uncover the connection between the men who have disappeared (and with it the legend of the lost sub) and stop the cultists before they can commit any more crimes in the service of their patron.
Salvage and Secrets
The ‘real’ UB-85 was found by engineers working on sea-bed cabling, and the discovery of the wreck could also form the basis of a scenario. Depending on what you decide actually happened to the submarine, either the wreckage itself or something carried aboard it could have significance to cultists or Mythos creatures.
Perhaps attempts are underway to salvage the wreckage of the UB-85, but several key personnel have met with suspicious (and perhaps unnatural) deaths. The investigators could become involved in trying to work out just why someone (or something) wants the wreck to stay where it is.
Alternatively, perhaps naval archaeologists have brought items from the wreckage to the surface – but something wants them put back, and it (or its emissaries) will not rest until this has happened.
In both cases the hook would be a series of mysterious and sinister events on the mainland, with the legend of the UB-85 only coming to light as the scenario proceeds. In either case this may well involve the characters going well and truly out of their comfort zone and venturing into the ocean’s depths, either in a submersible of their own or diving suits. If so, it is almost obligatory to have something nasty waiting for them in or near the wreckage.
I hope you find these scenario ideas useful! (Subscribers to Near Window get a PDF of twenty Lovecraftian horror scenario seeds as a thank-you for signing up.) If you decide to use one of them, let me know how it goes!