I'm about to run Masks of Nyarlathotep for the first time. In the very first scenario, Jackson Elias is murdered by cultists, which kick starts the adventure. However, the scenario assumes that the cultists will either be killed or escape.

My group are likely to try to capture and question one of the bad guys, and this seems reasonable to me, but the adventure doesn't cover this possibility. What's to stop the cultists just spilling the entire plot, or a large chunk of it?

Cyanide capsule (or eldritch equivalent) seems like a cheat to me - if the players have gone to the trouble of capturing someone, taking that away from them seems arbitrary and punitive. Any suggestions?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Knowing CoC I wouldn't expect the PC's to get much out of the cultists beyond mad rambling or your typical "cthulhu ftagn" gibberish. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cobalt
    Apr 30, 2014 at 17:51

5 Answers 5


Cultists don't let themselves be taken alive

Their madness means surrender will not happen. Even if you manage to knock one out and capture them without killing them, what is to stop them from trying to attack the players again and again. Straight jackets and muzzles are used on dangerous prisoners and psychotics for a reason.

Even if they accept their capture without further violence, the players have no leverage

When you serve and worship an elder god of incomparable power and horror, there is little that can be done to shock or scare you. What possible incentive or threat could the players offer to a cultist that would compare to those of Nyarlathotep?

Any information gained is suspect

Whether the cultist voluntarily reveals information or does so under duress, that information is incredibly suspect given the source (a cultist) and the likelihood of the source's insanity. Even if the cultist is completely sane, they may end up sending the players off on a goose chase with false information.


There are different editions of Masks and I don't know the differences between them, but in the one I have the cultists have, respectively:

  • English 10%, Mythos 3%
  • English 55%, Mythos 4%, a "New Yorker cocaine fiend of negligible skills"
  • English 1%, Mythos 5%

There's only so much information they could give up even if they wanted to, which they don't. Also, they're fanatics.

They're members of the Cult of the Bloody Tongue, but that doesn't necessarily mean they know what occurred in the ritual of 1916. The oldest of them is 26, so was 17 at the time, and none of them necessarily was even there, they could have joined the cult later or been elsewhere. I would say mythos <=5% means they probably don't know the big picture, but they might be capable of giving away a key identity or two. And the big identity that they might know is in any case spoilered by the title of the book ;-)

They will at least know about the local cult setup in New York, so if the investigators successfully interrogate a prisoner they can learn the relevant location and roughly what to expect inside. That is arguably reward enough. These cultists needn't know anything much about the Carlyle Expedition, so as far as I remember (I've just re-read that scene but not the whole New York chapter) there's still some significant work for the investigators to do. They might well know M'Weru's movements in and out of New York, I can't remember whether learning that now would spoiler the campaign immediately or if it would just help the investigators piece things together later.

However, you should decide the details for yourself -- how much do you want to reward taking captives? Whatever you decide I don't think there's any need to blow the campaign plot wide open. It could be a short-cut through the chapter, or if you want to be stingy you can justify giving away very little. It is extremely difficult to successfully interrogate a cultist for the reasons others have given. I agree that a cyanide capsule is a bit tacky, but even without that how quickly can they get hold of a Swahili-speaking interrogator compared with how quickly can a cultist in captivity do himself a serious and grisly mischief?

Or for top comedy, the first available Swahili-speaker off the roster is also a cultist (on stand-by for just such an eventuality), and helps the captive(s) either conceal information, escape, or die!

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the tranlsater being part of the cult - having a seemingly friendly & helpful NPC turn in to a psychotic cultist without any hint will add to the atmosphere of terror! =) \$\endgroup\$
    – link64
    May 1, 2014 at 1:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent use of the material. \$\endgroup\$ May 1, 2014 at 5:29

You are making two assumptions: First, that the cultists are sane. They are not. they are insane. Second, that the cultists know what is going on. Again, they are insane and may not have been told anything of use apart from "Go there, kill this block, and anyone who gets in your way".

However, if the players go to the trouble of having their character capture a cultist, they should get something good for it. It's been a long long long time since I played the Masks, so I cannot remember much. However, the capture cultist could reveal the name of high magician, the location of an artefact, or help them onwards to the first clues. That is, of course, not to say that this information is not drowned in a sea of crazy...

If that still bothers you, just make sure the cultists are done killing Jason Elias and gone by the time the PCs arrive...


Disclaimer: this is a somewhat generic answer, not specific to this scenario (which I don't know).

They aren't clerks, they are cultists for a reason.

It's entirely reasonable to expect them to suicide (or mutilate), endure (or enjoy!) torture, or simply being unable to be useful due to their insanity.

So, suicide is boring? Have them cut their own tongue, so that it will be much more difficult to give useful informations, and have them being quite mad and rambling, so that it will be difficult for the players to understand what they mean.


Outside Forces

I'm not familiar with the specific scenario, but in a capture event if a semi-mad cultist was about to 'spill the beans', perhaps the elder forces he was devoted to might intervene themselves, speak a few words from the captive's mouth (in their voice not his) as his eyes roll back into his head and his neck contorts and snaps of its own accord. Good horror effect, better than a suicide pill and a fun scene - lends a certain seriousness to the Powers you are thinking about messing with. And if you wanted to the Voice itself could say something that was a sideways clue of some sort.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is cool, adds to the horror, however it isn't good if you aim for ambiguity at first instead (a la x-files). \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Apr 30, 2014 at 18:49

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