The Crack'd and Crook'd Manse, Part One
SPOILER ALERT: The following text contains information about a certain estate in Gamwell, Massachusetts, and its owner, Mr. Arthur Cornthwaite. Perusal of this text is strongly discouraged for all except those Keepers who wish to conduct their own investigations into this matter. Investigators wishing to visit Gamwell in connection with Mr. Cornthwaite should, under no circumstances save an irrational desire to ruin their own enjoyment, read any further.
Session Date: Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Session Location: Six Feet Under Games, New Holland, Pennsylvania
* Elspeth Marsh, a librarian at the Miskatonic University
* Stephanie MacLeod, an archaeologist at Cambridge University
* Lynn Conners, a stage magician in Arkham, Massachusetts
Friday, February 6, 1925
Stephanie MacLeod is contacted by her mother, who has received a letter addressed to her late father. The letter, dated January 30, 1925, is from an attorney named Walter Dodge. Dodge is requesting assistance in locating Arthur Cornthwaite, a prominent archaeologist and philanthropist. Recalling that her father knew Mr. Cornthwaite (the two of them were often rivals), Stephanie decides to look into this matter and travels by rail to Arkham, Massachusetts.
There she meets Dr. Fenton, head of archaeology at Miskatonic University. Dr. Fenton confirms that Mr. Cornthwaite has donated several valuable artifacts to the Miskatonic Museum during the past decade or so, and is eager to lend assistance in discovering Mr. Cornthwaite's present location.
Dr. Fenton introduces Stephanie to Elspeth Marsh, a librarian who works at the Miskatonic University. It turns out that Stephanie is already acquainted with Elspeth, the two of them having met at an equestrian club when they were younger. Stephanie agrees to assist Elspeth in finding Mr. Cornthwaite, and asks if her friend and roommate, Lynn Conners, may join them. Lynn is a stage magician; the final performance of her act is to take place this evening, after which she will have no commitments for the next two months or so. Lynn agrees to accompany the others, if only to keep Elspeth out of trouble.
Saturday, February 7, 1925
Stephanie, Elspeth, and Lynn meet at 8:00 a.m. for a quick breakfast before boarding the train to Amherst. The journey is comfortable, as Stephanie has secured a private compartment. Stephanie asks Lynn about the magic tricks she performs; Lynn is unwilling to divulge her secrets, and feels compelled to inform Stephanie that she does not actually perform true magic. While they chat, the view outside the train gradually shifts from cities and small towns to pastures and woods.
In Amherst, the ladies hire a taxi to take them to Gamwell. The driver is a friendly but quiet young fellow named Pete, who agrees to wait for them while they conduct their business. A small rural town in western Massachusetts, Gamwell provides amenities to the local farmers, several of whom have significant wealth.
At the law office, they are escorted to a conference room where they soon meet Walter Dodge, a short man in a drab grey suit who looks uneasy and barely introduces himself before launching into an explanation of the task they are to perform. As mentioned in his letter, Arthur Cornthwaite has been missing for almost a month now, and the attorneys require his guidance regarding the administration of his affairs. Dodge explains that his office manages Cornthwaite's finances, and he agrees to provide copies of the accounting ledgers. He also provides keys to the Fitzgerald Manse, Cornthwaite's residence located ten miles north of town. Dodge invites the women to take up residence in the Manse while they conduct their search, but stresses that no damage should be inflicted upon the property, as it is quite valuable. He also mentions that he has made arrangements for them to stay at the local boarding house if necessary.
The investigators decide to travel to the Fitzgerald Manse immediately, as it is still early in the afternoon. As they depart, Lynn notices a policeman watching them from across the street, and the expression on his face is not at all friendly.
On their way to the estate, Stephanie and Lynn begin to examine the ledgers. Though they have little experience with accounting, Lynn does notice something odd about the records concerning Cornthwaite's last expedition to South America. There are several records concerning the hiring of men and the transportation of equipment - but passage for only one person was booked for the return from South America.
A winding drive leads them into the expansive grounds of the estate, but they soon encounter a locked gate. The lock does not respond to either of the keys provided by the law office. Lynn tries unsuccessfully to pick the lock, and her tools become damaged in the process. Stephanie finds her Webley revolver and fires it at the lock, blasting it to pieces. Pete begins to wonder what he has gotten himself into.
The Fitzgerald Manse is a large building surrounded by overgrown trees and gardens. All of the windows are shuttered, and the house has a strange, somewhat crooked look about it, which makes them uneasy. Asking Pete to wait for them again, Stephanie walks up the steps to the front door and unlocks it. The door opens to reveal a dark hallway. As they enter, Elspeth squeaks with alarm as she is showered with plaster debris from the ceiling. There are cracks in the walls and several dark spots on the ceiling indicating significant water damage. Lynn comments that they may be staying at the boarding house after all.
Opening the first door, they find a library. Stephanie lights a candelabra, and they start to examine the books - many of which have become moldy and stained. The titles indicate a variety of subjects - history, archaeology, anthropology, and so forth. Elspeth notices that none of them pertain to South America, and the many gaps on the shelves suggest that some books have been removed. On their way out of the room, she also spots a bulge in the wood paneling on a wall. Prying the knot hole off, she finds a few pieces of old, yellowed parchment inside. The writing on the pages is miniscule and erratic, almost completely illegible, and the ladies suspect that the writer may have been somewhat unhinged. All that they can make out are the initial letters of the final signature - A.C.
In a nearby study, they find an open book on a reading desk: The MIssing People, by Thomas Pratt. Stephanie and Elspeth recognize the author's name; his works are of questionable validity, often concerning myth and folklore. Nevertheless, they decide to keep the book for later review.
Returning to the hallway, Stephanie receives a shock when she opens a door to find a huge, menacing dark figure - but it turns out to be merely an overcoat hanging in a cloak room.
The next door reveals a storeroom full of crates and barrels. Stephanie and Elspeth begin to investigate their contents, while Lynn crosses the hall to find an empty dining room with a table set for one. Her candle reveals a glint of broken glass under the table, and she finds the shattered remnants of a glass container - possibly a salt or pepper shaker, or perhaps a decanter. Hearing a crash from the other room, she rushes back to find that the floor beneath Stephanie has collapsed, and she is barely hanging onto the edge. Wary of weakening the floor further, Elspeth and Lynn help Stephanie up. Peering down into the hole, they see complete and utter darkness. Lynn cautiously lowers her candle until she sees piles of coal - at which point she hastily withdraws the flame.
The three of them make their way to the kitchen, where they immediately notice a horrible stench. Lynn goes to a closed door and finds herself unable to open it. Stephanie and Elspeth approach the pantry, where the foul odor seems to be strongest, nervously wondering if they will find spoiled food or perhaps the rotting remains of Mr. Cornthwaite. At that moment, all three of them hear a loud creaking sound - at first, it seems to be coming from the walls, and then above them. It sounds as though something rather large is moving somewhere, perhaps on the second floor.
When the noise subsides, Stephanie quickly returns to the car and retrieves her pistol. She advises Pete to start the car and to keep it running. Before he can ask any questions, she returns to the house, and the three women cautiously climb the staircase, worried that the steps may collapse beneath them.
Reaching the landing, they see no footprints, and all is quiet. The enter a den and find a shotgun on the wall above the mantel. Lynn quickly grabs the shotgun but finds the barrels empty. Stephanie anxiously searches a nearby desk, but there is no ammunition. While the others are searching, Elspeth notices a crumpled paper in the fireplace. Carefully unfolding it, they read the following.
"To whom it may concern,
"I am writing this statement in the event of my joining my staff and my expedition members in death. I, Arthur Cornthwaite, being of sound mind and body
"No time for formality or legalisms. It is the thing I must tell you of. What is sanity, when faced with this? I thought I had fled from it in that foul green place, the accursed temple, yet somehow it has followed me here. I know the signs, there can be no mistake. It is with me. It is a thing so clever, so terrible that
"MELODRAMA! What's the point! Notes to myself in an empty house! Whoever reads this knows, or will know, of it, but what you must also know is that it has a weakness so simple, so"
The investigators immediately decide to leave the house and return to Gamwell. It is starting to get dark, and they want to show this paper to Mr. Dodge tomorrow.
Returning to Gamwell, they give Pete a generous $15 gratuity and ask him to stay in Gamwell for another day. Against his better judgment, Pete agrees.
At the local boarding house, they are greeted by Edith Haggerty, who sternly warns the ladies that no nonsense is tolerated here. After changing their clothes, they enjoy a nice dinner with Edith and her husband, Hank, who inquires about their business in Gamwell. When they mention Cornthwaite, Hank informs them that the Fitzgerald Manse has quite a history to it. He seems eager to tell more, but a threatening look from his wife convinces him to remain silent on the subject. Instead, he asks if they've heard about the horse that's gone missing from a farm north of town. A valuable animal, apparently, and there are no clues about what happened to it.
The ladies retire for the evening. They have a big day ahead of them.
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I've wanted to run this scenario for years, but had a hard time finding players. Previously, I ran through half of The Haunting (the group I had at the time disintegrated) and Edge of Darkness (one of the players didn't care for Call of Cthulhu; he prefers the standard sort of combat and treasure that other RPGs provide). I finally decided to post an open invitation at a local gaming store, where I was told that demand was high. I wanted to limit the group to three or four players, fearing that more than that would be unwieldy for this sort of game. Even with only three players, there were times when I found myself thinking of ways to provide each of them with opportunities to shine and not get left out of the action. Two of the players had played "homebrew" Call of Cthulhu games before, and one had never played. They put a lot of great thought into their characters, which almost makes me reluctant to conduct the final horrific encounter. It seems to me that there's a lot of leeway in how lethal that encounter can be. I could probably slaughter everyone with little difficulty, or I could allow them ample opportunity to escape, barely.
I had heard that players do not always do what you expect them to do, and this was certainly proof. I thought they would travel around town in search of information, but they headed straight to the Fitzgerald Manse. They didn't even enter the garden.
To prepare for the scenario, I created index cards for each location, as well as typed notes with greater detail. It turns out that I didn't use the index cards at all; I had read the scenario so often that I remembered most of the details. I only had to glance at my notes a few times. I sketched out a map for each floor of the mansion, filling in details for each room as they explored it.
None of the investigators has lost any sanity yet!