When preparing a campaign I’ll often read through various sources, jotting down ideas that can be developed into full adventures at a later date. The advantage to this is that you can pick the best of the bunch, avoid having repetitive adventures and find connections between the stories you want to tell.
During my brain storming I’d made a note of the missing colony of Roanoke, as detailed in my write up of ‘Croatoan’, and quite by chance I later jotted down some ideas about the Mad Gasser.
In 1933, a few days before Christmas, a family in Haymaker town, Botetourt County (part of the Roanoke Region of Virginia), were repeatedly gassed at their homes. The gas induced headaches, nausea, facial swelling and the constriction of the mouth and throat. All round a nasty experience.
It wasn’t long before there was another ‘gas’ attack targeting other people. Most of these subsequent attacks were most likely caused by mass hysteria as any strange smell was mistaken for an imminent gas attack.
The attacks died off in February the following year, only to begin again in 1944 in Mattoon. This time people actually saw the Mad Gasser, describing him variously as a tall thin man or a woman disguised as a man. There could even have been more than one gasser as some victims claimed to have heard voices talking before gassed.
Just how many of these attacks actually happened, along with the identity of the gasser (if he existed at all) has never been confirmed. It is an interesting tale and I saw the potential in reusing the location of Roanoke.
My first thought was ‘why were these people being gassed?’
The gas didn’t kill anyone, it just made them sick. I could have changed this but felt it a little grim. So if the gasser didn’t want to kill his targets then why do it? The answer I decided upon was the people weren’t the targets.
Any smaller creatures, such as insects, probably would be killed by any gas that could produce such nausea in a human. I imagined then that the people were inhabited by an insect race. I could have given this alien race a funny name but decided it would be best to be straightforward and just name them the Roach.
So why did the gasser want the Roach dead? The gasser could have been someone who had found out that the Roach were taking over peoples bodies and actually be a hero, eliminating this alien threat.
The problem with this idea was that there was no place for the player characters. There was potential in them trying to stop the gasser only to find out he was a good guy but what then? Let him keep doing what he was doing?
Aside from the possibility of contriving circumstances so that the player characters adopt the role of the gasser it made more sense that this figure should be the villain. The gasser would indeed be several people alien mercenaries hired by the Roaches enemies to eliminate them. This gave a good backstory for why the Roach were hiding in a small American town, they’d been forced to flee their own world.
I decided that outwardly the mercenaries, named the Fumigators, would look like a picture I’d found while researching the gasser. Clad in long raincoats, cape and gas mask they would be mysterious and intimidating, recalling the creatures in ‘The Empty Child’.
Inside the costume I thought it would be ironic is they were a gaseous race. A gas race that use gas weapons. I imagined that this would make them a particularly resilient race. If you shoot them all you do is puncture their suit, allowing them to drift away and get a new costume.
I did consider using the Gelf from ‘The Unquiet Dead’ but it didn’t seem to fit. We don’t know much about what the species were like before the Time War (which is when my campaign is set) but they include themselves in the number of higher races that were aware of the conflict between the Time Lords and the Daleks. Mercenaries didn’t really strike me as a higher race.
There was also the issue of the Gelf possessing people. I felt this would confuse the issue with one race of aliens already possessing people in the town. Although if the Fumigators ever return in my game I might borrow the Gelf’s ability to reanimate dead bodies. It would make a neat twist on a zombie adventure.
The adventure was taking form. The Roaches are in the bodies of several people in Haymaker town, their host largely unaware of the alien insect within them, when the Fumigators arrive. Having finally found their quarry they begin to gas them.
The player characters would arrive, rescue a family from a gas attack and get caught up in the investigation, finding out the true nature of the Fumigators and the people they were gassing. I pictured something along the lines of a 1930s X-files, a small American town find itself the battlefield for two alien races.
For the climax I decided that the Roach would take control of their hosts and leave the town in a max exodus, across the only bridge out of town. Anticipating this the Fumigators would have rigged the bridge to explode, dropping the vehicles into the icy water.
I was more than a little inspired by ‘The Moth Man Prophesies’, itself based on supposedly true events. In doing so I was diverging greatly from our history but this is, after all, a separate time line.
My intention was originally to just have it be a curious coincidence that the events of ‘Croatoan’ and ‘Pest Control’ took place in the same place. It would simply show the span of time that the TARDIS covered and was no more unusual than the Doctor’s time machine repeatedly taking him to London or Cardiff.
When ‘Croatoan’ required that story line to continue and the rewriting of ‘House of Mirrors’ I saw an opportunity to continue the plot. Now the return to Roanoke would be necessitated by the player’s actions.
As things turned out the plot again developed in an unexpected way and hinged on an incredible sacrifice made by the players.
To be Continued…