The Haunting (aka The Haunted House) (Scenario)

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Details

The old Corbitt House at dusk.

Pages: 3-22 pages, depending on version (7th Edition quick-start is 22 pages including handouts and example of play)

Author(s): Sandy Petersen

Artist(s): 7E Quickstart illustrations by Rachel Kahn, floor-plan by Sandy Petersen(?)

Setting: 1920s

Appears in: Call of Cthulhu Rulebook, Quick Start Cthulhu. Originally entitled "The Haunted House", but retitled to avoid confusion with The Haunted House in The Trail of Tsathogghua.

Campaign: None, by default, but "The Haunting" is designed as an introductory scenario that can appear at the beginning of almost any campaign, and some versions of this scenario (e.g., 6th) include optional links to other published scenarios that can be linked into a loose mini-campaign.

Summary

The investigators are asked or hired to examine an old house in Boston, where the tenants recently suffered a family tragedy. The house is rumoured to be haunted, and the landlord wishes to set everyone's minds at ease about the case.

Links

Spoilers - Keepers Eyes Only

Players should not read any further.

Synopsis

Corbitt House, alternate floor plan.

 Spoiler Section (Highlight to Read)

The investigators are called to look into an old house where a series of tragedies have occurred. The most recent tenants, the Macario family, went violently insane and reported haunting by a sinister presence. The landlord of the house has no idea what is happening, but wants the rumours put to rest.

The source of the tragedies is an early resident, Walter Corbitt, who was secretly buried in the basement. He was a member of a Mythos cult, the "Chapel of Contemplation and Church of Our Lord Granter of Secrets". Despite protestations and legal action from neighbours, his final wishes were carried out and he was interred under his house. He is slowly transforming into an undead monstrosity, though not one that complies with any particular legends. Corbitt has been using his magical talents to leech energy from the inhabitants of the house, but his main desire is to keep anyone from learning his secret and to kill or drive insane anyone who discovers him. He uses his powers to mislead and bewilder trespassers, and sometimes to kill them.

Various archives report a series of tragedies in the house across many years, involving madness, death, illness and injury. These are the source of its reputation, and almost certainly due to Corbitt's influence. They also report Corbitt's burial, the objections, and the dubious history of the Chapel of Contemplation.

The Chapel of Contemplation was shut down by police in a violent raid, after claims of kidnapping. The event was hushed up despite numerous deaths, and most of those arrested were mysteriously released, apparently because of corrupt intervention by an official. The Pastor escaped prison and was never recaptured. The ruins of the Chapel contain a mysterious symbol that disturbs investigators; two skeletons; cult records indicating Corbitt's burial was decreed by some sinister entity ("that one who waits in the dark"); and a rotting copy of the Book of Eibon called Liber Ivonis. By default, none of these people or items play any further part in the scenario - they are intended instead as plot hooks for keepers to write additional scenarios.

The old house is abandoned, though old junk and some of the family's belongings are still there, including rotting food and personal items, and many Catholic symbols. The doors are heavily locked and the windows nailed shut. Corbitt's diaries are locked in a cupboard, and describe his occult experiments, as well as the spell Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler. Corbitt's old bedroom is a focus for his power, and he can manipulate items here to attract, distract and attack visitors. Rickety stairs lead to the basement, which seems empty. The main basement also holds a ritual knife, which Corbitt telekinetically controls to attack investigators. A wooden wall conceals a second basement, where Corbitt lies hidden, as well as a pack of rats.

Corbitt has some awareness of what is happening in the house. As well as manipulating items in the bedroom, he can use magic to dominate and control investigators, ward himself, and even summon a Dimensional Shambler. If disturbed, he can reanimate his body to confront the intruders.


Follow-Ons

Additional material related to this classic scenario has been published in other places:

References

Corbitt House map, edited for use as a handout.

Player Handouts:

  • Invitation/Job Offer
  • Seven clippings from various sources, including the Boston Globe
  • Symbol of the Chapel of Contemplation cult
  • Map of the Corbitt House (not presented as a hand-out, but could be printed/copied and used as a hand-out by omitting the basement)
  • Illustrations: The 7th Edition Quick-Start guide includes five illustrations by Rachel Kahn which can be used as hand-outs:
    • the investigators enter the Corbitt House
    • the iron bed
    • the strange knife
    • an infestation of rats
    • Walter Corbitt

Locations:

  • The Corbitt House
  • the Chapel of Contemplation
  • areas of research (newspaper office, police department, hospital, city records)

Creatures:

Tomes and Artifacts:

  • Corbitt's Diaries,
  • Liber Ivonis,
  • magic dagger,
  • pendant of +1 POW (deleted from 7th Edition Quick-start version of scenario)
  • Optional: 6th Edition provided for an additional dog-eared book on Demonology, mentioning the Knights of the Silver Twilight, meant as a plot-hook to another adventure (see Keeper's Notes below).

Organizations

Campaigns / Scenarios: (6th Edition Quick Start version only) Pickman's Student, Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, Return to Dunwich, Adventures in Arkham Country, H.P. Lovecraft's Kingsport.

Comments

Trivia: According the the 5th Edition core rule-book, more people have played The Haunting than any other, and it has been included with the game since the beginning. It has appeared in most versions of the game since the earliest editions, when it was called "The Haunted House". (One of the exceptions is D20 Call of Cthulhu).

Trivia: As part of the 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu Kickstarter project, Mike Mason and Charlie Krank used “The Haunting” as the basis for a serialized story, one new entry for each day of the project. The story is included in the 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu quick-start rules as an example of how the scenario can vary depending on what the investigators choose to do.

Keeper Comments

The scenario officially includes the Liber Ivonis, though a damaged copy. It isn't necessary to the story, and can easily be removed or ignored for a scenario that's supernatural rather than Lovecraftian. It was apparently written as an optional element (Sandy Petersen). The Dimensional Shambler is frequently omitted, but in a supernatural game could represent some other monster.

The 6th Edition quick-start rules included some optional plot hooks, but these were omitted from the 7th Edition quick-start rules. For Keepers wishing to make use of them, the hooks are:

  • (Marcario Family at the Roxbury Sanitarium) While at the sanitarium, the investigators learn that the Macarios’ doctor is out of town. Filling in for him is a visiting doctor from Arkham Sanitarium, Doctor Hardstrom. While speaking with the investigators, Doctor Hardstrom mentions that he has a similarly traumatized patient at Arkham Sanitarium. The keeper should note that this is an adventure hook that leads to the Chaosium supplement Arkham (CHA 2342).
  • (Boston Globe Clippings Morgue) While investigators are prowling through the clippings morgue, they discover a clipping that describes a raid that took place on the Congregational Church in Kingsport, 1731. Although this event is unrelated, the similarity should attract the investigators’ attention. The keeper should note this information leads to an adventure in the Chaosium Supplement Kingsport (CHA 8804).
  • (Ground Floor Room 1) Also located in this room is a book about demonology. The title is faded and indiscernable, but the majority of the pages remain legible. Several of the pages are dog-eared in a section about the Knights of the Silver Twilight. The keeper should note that this leads to an adventure in Chaosium’s supplement Shadows of Yog-Sothoth (CHA 2397).
  • (Ground Floor Room 4) On the wall in this room is a bizarre painting (no other description provided). Investigators who observe it feel inexplicably unsettled. The artist’s name is Nelson Blakeley. The keeper should note that this picture leads to an adventure in Chaosium’s supplement H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands.
  • (Upstairs Room 3) Snooping investigators will find a business card inside one of the dresser drawers. It bears the name of Doctor Henry Armitage, and on the back is a telephone number. The keeper should note that this leads to an adventure in Chaosium’s supplement Dunwich (CHA 8802).

The 6th Edition quick-start rules also included as a reward a +1 Power pendant: "Around Corbitt's neck is a black gem fastened on a chain. If the stone is fished out of his dust by an investigator, the stone dissolves in the investigator's hand and adds 1 POW to his characteristic. This magical stone helped fuel Corbitt's undead might." This artefact was deleted from the 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules, leaving behind only the reference "some sort of chain rests around [the lich's] neck", which suggested to some readers that the lich was mysteriously chained up in the basement, an interpretation that an inventive keeper can use to provide an interesting variation on the story: who chained Corbitt's body chained up in the basement, and why? (This creepy interpretation is discussed in the YSDC forums here.)

Troubleshooting

Some alternative options to library research and other alternatives from the standard scenario were offered in a YSDC forum discussion (link):

  • Changes to the investigator plot-hook:
    • The exact location of the house has been lost! The investigators will need to do some research to actually get to the house.
    • Rather than investigating a haunted house, the investigators might instead be hired to find the dagger, with the trail of clues eventually leading to the house.
    • The investigators might be hired to provide a detailed history of the house for a curious and eccentric new owner, a collector of haunted houses, as part of their investigation.
    • The investigators might be hired to debunk the haunting, with research suggested as a way to gather information to debunk the haunting with.
    • Gangster/Criminal characters might be hired to "case the joint", looking for valuables and suitability for a hide-out, site for a criminal enterprise, source of "protection" income, etc.
    • Law enforcement might conduct a "stake out" and search of the house for signs of criminal activity.
    • Whoever hires the investigators, perhaps a mentor/lead investigator who will not be in the house whom the investigators report to, can provide important clues at the same time. Provide a short, dramatic description of the history of the house and its haunting, as described by the quest-giver, at the beginning of the scenario, during character creation perhaps, hand the clues summarized by this history directly to the investigators, and start the scenario immediately with the group arriving at the house.
  • Chapel of Contemplation cult:
    • Clues can be moved from external libraries into Corbitt's diary, scrapbook style, with a suggestion to move the diary (and any tomes from the Chapel of Contemplation) to the Corbitt House attic or basement, or alternatively to move the ruin of the Chapel of Contemplation onto the Corbitt property and place the diary/scrapbook there.
    • Optionally, place clues in the diary or in the Liber Ivonis to indicate that the dagger is Corbitt's only weakness, so that it's impossible to kill Corbitt through blind, dumb luck. Corbitt might not directly interact with the players until they obtain this clue, or the dagger.
  • Atmosphere and mood:
    • Dial up the haunting aspect with creepy, cinematic "whammies" (evidence of hauntings, such as strange figures waving from windows, creepy moving dolls, cold spots, etc.) This seems to encourage the investigators to be more cautious....
  • Alternative source of clues:
    • In a modern setting, investigators can always be encouraged to look up information on cell phones / tablets / etc. on the trip to the house, or while at the house.
    • Whoever hires the investigators can provide important clues at the same time. Provide a short, dramatic description of the history of the house and its haunting, as described by the quest-giver, at the beginning of the scenario, during character creation perhaps, hand the clues summarized by this history directly to the investigators, and start the scenario immediately with the group arriving at the house.
    • Just have the group choose a lead investigator and one or more official researchers, and assume that they have done the basic research from the beginning, dividing the clues between them as appropriate.
    • Begin the investigation in the house with a seance.
    • Ghosts and psychic impressions and visions can provide a few clues that would otherwise be gained through interviews with former occupants of the home. (These visions and apparitions can be some fairly atmospheric and attention-getting ways to provide vital clues!) See "whammies" for ideas.
    • Instead of libraries and so on, clues can be provided in diaries, scrapbooks, tape recordings, film strips, and so on hidden in the haunted house where investigators can find them.
    • Veiled clues, backstories and legends, and ominous warnings can be provided by weird and eccentric neighbors, locals, creepy old guys/kids/deformed imbeciles/hoboes/whatever met in the neighborhood, outside the property, or even in the grounds or house itself.
    • See "Haunted House and Cabin In The Woods Tropes" for some additional ideas.
  • Adaptations to alternative settings:
    • Modern: The cast of a "Ghost Hunters" style TV show investigate a haunting as part of their documentary series.
    • Modern: A group of college kids are helping their best friend out with renovating her first house... it should be a lot of fun, but something seems to be wrong with the house...
    • Cthulhu Dark Ages: The Church commissions a group of investigators to explore and exorcise a haunting in an abandoned castle on a disputed border, so that the castle can be occupied and the border defended as quickly as possible.
    • Weird World War: In war-torn WWII Europe, a team of Allied specialists find more than they bargained for when they search an abandoned bunker for intelligence that German officers may have left behind in the short time they occupied the labyrinthine tunnels of the creepy underground fort, built partly into the ruins of a far older structure.
    • Cold War: The NKVD or KGB has assigned the investigators to infiltrate a house in the independent country of Ruritania and set it up as a base for a communist cell there in preparation for the coming glorious Ruritanian Revolution... the investigators have all the training they need as saboteurs, spies, infiltrators, propagandists, and more, all the spy gadgets they need to install in the house, and an enthusiastic support for the Cause... what could go wrong?
    • The 1970s: The new owners of the Corbitt Hotel, a luxury hotel with a long and sordid history and connections to criminal and occult organizations in a remote and uninviting location, hire the investigators to spend the winter season snowed into the hotel, renovating it and investigating disturbing reports from guests about strange things seen within the twisted hallways of the hotel's eccentric construction; the owners have gathered papers and confusing blueprints relating to the hotel, stacks of newspapers stashed in the basement by former caretakers contain other clues, and the investigators get to stay alone in a luxury hotel with all expenses paid for a scenic winter vacation while they work and follow the clues to the revelation that the investigators do not walk alone within the walls of the Corbitt hotel....
    • Criminals and Gangsters: A gang of crooks occupy an abandoned mansion near a bank vault in preparation for the perfect crime... it shouldn't hurt to have a look around for a few "souvenirs", should it?
    • Cthulhu Icarus: The Corbitt, an experimental star ship that disappeared without a trace when testing an experimental hyperspace drive in some gods-forsaken corner of the Solar System, suddenly re-appears without explanation after transmitting a disturbing and distorted message, and the investigators are sent out to retrieve the ship's black box and find out what happened....
    • Weird West: Something strange is going down at the old Corbitt mine, closed under mysterious circumstances during the American Civil War. A group of intrepid war veterans, prospectors, gunslingers, drifters, and other western adventurers are hired to find out what is happening, and fix it, so the mine can be re-opened....
    • Cyberpunk: A corporation hires investigators to "sanitize" a "legacy virtual reality asset acquired in a recent merger" for public consumption, one in which a handful of company engineers and hackers have disappeared, died, or gone mad; the virtual reality space might (as an expedient) resemble an old dark house in the woods, but could look like pretty much anything that you like (virtual reality being what it is). The investigators' research before entering the virtual world and what they find after entering it reveal that the eccentric developer, long vanished, had been delving into some sinister things while programming the virtual environment, and the investigators are not alone in there....