Character sketch from a Call of Cthulhu game

I’m playing in a game of Trail of Cthulhu (it’s like Call of Cthulhu but uses the Gumshoe rules from Pelgrane) We are in Arkham Massachusetts in 1938. The rest of the group is a Doctor, a Scientist, an Artist, and an Antiquarian. I went with Criminal.  For each player character you need to note their drives and the NPCs who are their sources of stability. I was inspired because I’d just rewatched Brawl In Cell Block 99 (fantastic movie, where Vince Vaughn is the world’s most efficient redneck killing machine), so I decided to write this little character sketch.  I found the pic from google searching “1930s mugshots”. 


Massachusetts Bureau of Prisons. Parole Hearing Record.

Location: Black Gate Penitentiary, Arkham Massachusetts

For inmate: Vaerst, Vincent Thomas   Prisoner No: 9371/45

DOB: Jan 2, 1905. POB: Florence, Alabama  Trade: Laborer  

Eyes black Ht 6’3” Wt 230 Hair

Marks   Scars, rt face, extensive arms & knuckles, both. Tat, large cross on back

M.O. etc. battery and various classes of larceny. A general thief and bad character.

Known Associates: 828/45, 765/38, 1256/32, 223/45

Partial Transcript of Parole Interview

Thank you for taking the time to hear my story, honorable members of the parole board. I, Vincent Vaerst, am terribly sorry for the crime of which I was convicted. Incarceration has given me the opportunity to reflect upon my many poor choices.

Yes, sir. I believe that I am fully rehabilitated. Chain gangs build a strong constitution, and I spent my evenings in rigorous study of the Bible. If set free, I shall endeavor to never again fall to wickedness.

No, ma’am. I would never again strike a police officer in the mouth with my fist and knock out several of his teeth. That was uncalled for and I am greatly ashamed of my actions.

No, sir, I will never again associate with the likes of Big Tony Delgado or his gang ever again. Like many men in our great nation at the time, I was out of work and desperate to take care of my young family. Mr. Delgado offered me money, and in a bout of weakness I took it. I swear that was the only time I’ve ever performed such deeds, and I will never do so again.

Sorry. As I told the judge and the police detectives, I’m afraid that I never got the names of the other criminals who were involved. Nor do I remember their faces. It was very dark. Mr. Delgado did not order us to crack that safe. We came up with that scheme entirely on our own. The police pressured me to testify against Mr. Delgado, but since he had nothing to do with it, that would’ve been dishonest, and I would not add perjury to my crimes.

Oh, these? (–prisoner holds up hands to display disfigured knuckles to the board–) I was accused of knee breaking for Mr. Delgado’s loan sharks, but never convicted—because I’m innocent of such violence! These here were ‘cause I was a bare knuckle boxer for a time. These scars were earned honestly. Or sorta honest. I swear.

My people? That’s a curious question. What do you mean, sir?

Oh, you’re a professor. So that’s why this is being recorded. I understand. You’re probably trying to comprehend the… what is it… socio economical whatever of my upbringing…I’ll have you know, sir, that I’m no malformed half-wit of poor breeding… Yes, eugenics you call it now. Well, professor, my crimes are not a result of my blood. I come from a proud line.

My family has been here a long time. I’m not some kraut off a boat. I know Massachusetts is rich in history and y’all probably trace your lineage back to the Mayflower, but my forefathers were Hessians, arrived not too long thereafter. Brought here to fight against George Washington, but they stayed, as rebellion… I mean a love of freedom… was in their nature.

They ended up in the south. My grandfathers were confederates. Not because of commitment but rather geography. I come from coal miners, steel workers, and timber cutters, there’s even some Cherokees in there somewhere, but all were honest hard working types, despite the many accusations of thievery, moonshining, and bootlegging alleged against us.

Yes… that file you got there is correct. Of my five younger brothers one was convicted of bootlegging. He was an anomaly. My older brother died in the Great War, in France, a noble sacrifice and example to us all. I would’ve emulated him, but I was too young and missed the war. Upon release from this place I will proudly hang an American flag over my front door.

The mark upon my back? The Vaersts are Roman Catholic, sir. My parents are exceedingly devout, good people and stern. We were raised to keep an eye out for evil doings. There’s a spiritual darkness in some of the far back woods of the south, strange folk, and rumors of worse in the swamps where the moss hides unspeakable things… not too different from some of the places around Massachusetts if the more superstitious prisoners here are to be believed.

Sorry, sir, I was rambling. To answer your question, the tattoo was for protection against temptation and a reminder for me to do my best.

Well, yes, ma’am, obviously it didn’t work last time. But as a reformed man and penitent sinner, I will continue to seek counsel from Father Matthias, who is respected local clergy. Oh, you know him too, ma’am? I have built a friendship with Father Matthias over the last year because he serves one day a week as the Black Gate Prison chaplain.

What would I do if paroled? I have been a boxer, a lock smith, I’ve cut trees, and worked in a Bessemer steel mill. During the worst of the depression I rode the rails to whichever town there was rumor of work to be had. Should you show mercy to me this day, I shall go directly to the docks and apply for membership at the Stevedores Union, for a recent letter from my wife told me that they are looking for men with strong backs.

Yes, sir. I figured my wife had something to do with this. Normally I would not be up for parole for at least another year, but since you called me in today I assumed my wife must’ve begged her daddy to put in a good word with the warden.  That must’ve been difficult for her. She’s a very proud woman.

No, ma’am, I shall not lie. For I have lived a life of poverty and challenge, Lauren is my bright and shining star. I love her very much, and she has waited faithfully for me.

She comes from a line of French aristocrats, and her father, an educated man like yourself, Professor, did not approve of her marrying someone he termed a backwoods cracker German. But that’s just how things go sometimes. They threatened to disown her, I’ve caused a great many arguments in her father’s mansion, and she’s still on the outs with her family.

She was pregnant with our first when I was incarcerated. – Why, yes, ma’am, since I was out of work and unable to provide for my family, her pregnancy did contribute to my desperation when I took that ill-fated safe cracking job. No. I have not yet met my son. All I have is this photo of them which she mailed me…. Here you go. Yes, ma’am, they are beautiful. This tragedy weighs heavily upon me, and has caused me great and considerable guilt. Please don’t cry, ma’am.

Should I be released, I shall do my best to provide for and protect my family. Upon my family name and with god as my witness, you have my solemn oath.

Parole Status: Granted     Date: March 20th, 1935

Photo from


Mike Glyer is a Scumbag, Part II: An Opinion Piece
My House of Assassins Book Tour Schedule

26 thoughts on “Character sketch from a Call of Cthulhu game”

  1. Very nice. Shades of one of my toons. I had to forgoe CoC the last time as the others were newbies and I knew more of the mythos than the GM. I can normqlly restrict my use of player knowlege…but the others grew to rely on the advice of my poor Voodoo accursed Smuggler for Every possible encounter…because they wanted my player knowlege at each turn. I finally had to just bow out…with the fratitude of the GM as he was growing frustrated with them..and my ongoing aggrevation with their badgering me for info my character would not know.

    Your format reminds me of the CREY (Hero) and FREEDOM FORCE (Villain) dossiers of my COH/V characters. I would use this format style too.

  2. “Mr. Delgado did not order us to crack that safe. We came up with that scheme entirely on our own. The police pressured me to testify against Mr. Delgado, but since he had nothing to do with it, that would’ve been dishonest, and I would not add perjury to my crimes.”

    “She comes from a line of French aristocrats…”

    If he can say both those lines with a completely straight face, he might have a good future as an attorney and/or an actor.

  3. “Yes… that file you got there is correct. Of my five younger brothers one was convicted of bootlegging. He was an anomaly.”

    There’s always one black sheep in an otherwise saintly family.

    1. Many of my RPG characters have eventually shown up in novels. 🙂 Toru, Jagdish, Krasnov, etc. So you never know.

      1. So how did you get a copy of Uncle Frank’s wedding picture? Him and his bride got into a fight so that they could commemorate their wedding night with pictures. They couldn’t afford a camera or hiring a photographer so they used their mug shots as wedding pictures. Unfortunately the police officer wouldn’t let them have their pictures taken together.

  4. Reminds me of the time I was in pickup game of Call of Cthulu and decided to play Dr. Strongfort Stern, AKA Mr.Monster (a great humorous indy comic book from some years back.) Imagine a cheesy over the top 50’s type superhero made in the Doc Savage vein but he’s the latest hereditary protector of Humanity. The other players were not prepared for him at all.

  5. I love that your character was born in Florence, Alabama. I’ve been there several times visiting relatives.
    The part about the moonshining and bootlegging is actually true for a lot of families who lived in that area in times past. My grandmother was right beside my grandfather at their still and I have a photo to prove it. 🙂

  6. MA criminal defense lawyer here… and forgive the pedantry, but the Commonwealth* did not have chain gangs until 1999 when the Bristol** County Sheriff controversially introduced them. In those days they were more of a Southern thing- with the unpleasant implications. (Speaking of which, the man’s race and ethnicity would surely have been mentioned in the description. ‘Racial studies’ were only just beginning to become unfashionable in the US at that point in time.

    Sorry to be so anal, but it matters to me.

    *Massachusetts officially refers to itself as a Commonwealth.

    **Arkham would most likely be in Essex County.

    1. Real life also doesn’t have giant squid gods, so that will probably not be the most inaccurate thing to happen. 😀

  7. If he was a careering criminal you’d have to decline prosecution because he was unbalanced.

    And this is why we had to put Larry on top of a mountain. It was the only way to protect society from him. Parole boards would he useless.

  8. I’ve only recently been breaking into CoC keepering. Using 7th e rules, had a character lose worrisome amounts of sanity and go indefinitely insane in the first session, which lives up to expectations.

    Trail of Cthulhu, as I recall, was the system involved in the infamous Old Man Henderson player revolt and plot derailment.

  9. Back when I was just out of college I went to work as a fingerprint examiner for the Dept of Justice in the days before computers. It was always interesting to see the mugshots out there in the files and thinking that people in the old days looked really rough. That guy looks like a cop took a nightstick to him

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