The Alecton Encounter
Once a month here on the Molten Sulfur Blog, I run content taken from our book Archive: Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs. This post is one of eighty entries in Archive, each more gameable than the last!
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The Alecton Encounter
Challenging the Kraken
In late November of 1861, the French corvette Alecton was cruising about 120 miles northeast of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, en route to South America. The Alecton was 167 feet long, 40 feet wide, had aboard a crew of 66, and was powered by both a 120 horsepower steam engine and sails upon two masts. Bored lookouts scanned the horizon, waiting to be relieved, when their monotony was broken by something strange in the water. Concerned by the large, unknown shape, the lookouts alerted the captain, Commander Bouguer.
The mysterious shape looked like it could be sea monster, with countless arms and a long tail. Bouguer decided to investigate. Upon approach, the crew could see the color of the creature. It was a bright, brick red with huge, glassy eyes black as bottomless pits. The body of the creature was about eighteen feet long, and its tentacles stretched at least another eighteen. The crew was shocked, but Bouguer had heard rumors of such beasts. He knew that the existence of gigantic squids was still disputed, as only a few dead monsters of a similar type had washed ashore, but before him was confirmation of their existence. He couldn’t resist trying to claim the discovery for himself.
The Alecton, being a warship, was not lacking in armament. The ship attacked the creature with cannon fire and harpoons, but it seemed as though the projectiles were just slipping off the squid's slick flesh. The monster didn’t even pay much attention to the violence being aimed at it. It dipped under the surface three or four times, disappearing into the deep, only to resurface each time after only a few minutes. The harpoons that did sink into it slid out quickly, but after three hours of naval warfare with nature, a cannonball struck some vital spot in the squid, causing it to vomit.
After the squid’s defeat, one of the sailors threw a noose around the body of the beast. The rope, like the projectiles, slid along the slippery sides of the squid, but it caught a large rear fin and remained in place. The crew tried to haul the creature aboard, but it weighed so much that the rope sliced through its body, severing the hind part. The rest of the squid sank back into the depths. The hind portion of the squid was taken to the French Consul at Tenerife. From there, the tale and the literal tail of the squid made their way to the French Academy of Sciences.
The report was widely ridiculed at the academy. No serious scientist could believe in such a creature, even with a portion of it in front of them. It was against the laws of nature, according to some of the members. The existence of giant squids wasn’t confirmed until sometime between 1870 and 1877, when at least a dozen of the monstrous creatures washed ashore in Newfoundland. Until then, Bouguer and his crew only had an incredibly exciting tale.
The Alecton Encounter in Play
A combat encounter based on the Alecton’s experience could provide great color for an ocean voyage. The difficulties the crew of the Alecton endured trying to wound the squid could be a fun twist around which to build the monster’s stat block. While the squid is large enough to reach onto the deck and pluck off hapless PCs, it’s too small to stop the ship from fleeing. Unlike many nautical encounters in RPGs, if this combat goes south, retreat will remain an option. And such a combat encounter could be more than just a fight. The lead-up might be an intriguing puzzle. Just what is that object in the water, and how should it be treated? The aftermath of the fight could cause social complications. If the PCs stand by their claim of encountering a giant squid, it will earn them the scorn of some scientists who travel in high society, but if the PCs change their story, it makes them look like liars.