Running “The Dare” – Some Tricks and Treats


As the leaves begin to change and the smell of apple cider and pumpkin spice waft through the air, many a Keeper commence their annual search for an excellent adventure to capture the Halloween spirit. Surprisingly, Chaosium offers no dedicated Halloween Call of Cthulhu scenario for the 7th edition. For our seasonal scares, we must turn to third-party supplements, out-of-print modules, the Miskatonic Repository, and alternative systems for dedicated selections. In this post, we intend to spotlight our second favorite Halloween adventure while offering some constructive analysis and posing suggestions to optimize the experience for your players. If you’ve already played The Dare,” you can look forward to a follow-up post of our Top Five In-Print Alternatives followed by a few Out-of-Print options. 

“The Dare” is a classic one-shot scenario for Call of Cthulhu by Kevin A. Ross published by Sentinel Hill Press in 2020. Originally written for the GenCon Call of Cthulhu Masters Tournament sometime in the early ‘90s and first published in 1996. Bret Kramer lovingly revised the work and packaged it beautifully with exquisite ‘80s evocative cover art by Ian MacLean and a delightful set of Kid-thulhu mechanics. 

Did Roger steal a precious item or a trove of secrets to lure the gang to the Barnaker house?

The premise places a group of 1980s pre-teens in the local haunted house on a Halloween dare by the neighborhood bully, Roger. As it turns out, Roger is very dead and now a bug-infested flesh puppet serving the whims of Evelyn Barnaker, a centuries-old witch with a sweet tooth for pre-pubescent kiddos. If you were hoping to play this one with young fans of Stranger Things, have no fear as Kramer offers up suggestions for PG and R-rated versions of the scenario. To further capture the tone, “The Dare” includes 10 pre-generated Kid-thulhu single-page characters with a stripped-down set of skills including “Spooky Stuff,” “Gym Class,” and “Play with Matches.” Options include useful middle school archetypes such as the bookworm, athlete, boy/girl scout, and weirdo. Between the player-facing content and resurgent ‘80s nostalgia, this scenario just hits the ground running and the table will quickly immerse themselves. This is superlative Halloween one-shot material, and we will defer a detailed review of plotting and content, as many others have tackled this from Seth Skorkowsky to Rolling Boxcars to RPG Nook. Instead, we will focus on a few suggestions to maximize the experience and unlock the full potential of this creepy adventure. 

Trick – Baiting the Investigative Hook

Honestly, the beauty of the scenario’s hook is its simplicity and the title says it all…it’s a dare. That said, the titular dare provides limited motivation for the kids to actually stick around and even less for them to investigate. “The Dare” certainly contains elements of mystery and dark horrors to uncover, but it relies on trapping the kids in the house and expecting players to do investigator-type things in the face of apparent danger. This might prove particularly challenging if running this for an inexperienced group or cautious investigators.  Roger functions as a useful goad, but aggressive nudging (or frank railroading) arouses suspicions quickly and subverts the tension. 

Roger, the one who sets it all in motion.

The relatively open-ended nature of Roger’s dare allows for some creative massaging to provoke action. We think Seth offers a strong suggestion in his review. A brilliant rendition of this scenario by Ain’t Slayed Nobody sends intrepid members of the Trouble Trio into the Barnaker House in search of Roger and their club’s stolen secrets. We highly recommend giving this outstanding version a listen. For our playthroughs, we endanger a younger sibling as bait. Our scenario began as follows:

You’re all sitting in your clubhouse comparing your trick-or-treating hauls when Billy’s best friend, Hobie, climbs the ladder to breathlessly report that Billy left with Roger to go to the old Barnaker House. You hop on your bikes and immediately pedal to the edge of town to meet up outside the Barnaker House. Out here houses are fairly sparse and vacant lots surround the home on either side of the block. The few homes in the area are a little run down, and the Barnaker place is the worst of the lot. As darkness fully engulfs the street, you hear the streetlights down the block struggle to come on. A low rumble of thunder echoes down the street as raindrops begin to fall…

Once in the house, Roger appears and mocks the kids. He reveals that kid-brother Billy has already begun his brave ascent to the attic without them. Involving the younger sibling drastically raises the stakes and provides the incentive to ascend to the top of the house. Searching for traces of Billy offers additional investigative opportunities for the players. By the time they reach the attic, Billy has been captured and taken to the basement by Evelyn’s verminous minions. To facilitate transit between the upper floors and the basement, feel free to add a treacherous laundry chute or child-size heating duct. A torn scrap of Billy’s costume or faint cries point to the lower reaches of the Barnaker House. 

Instead of overt railroading or prodding the investigators to the basement with Roger or various threats, the kidnapped brother encourages the gang to actively seek out the witch’s lair beneath the house. 

Another option is to begin the scenario in media res with the investigators. Perhaps the action begins as Roger locks the door behind the unsuspecting kids. Or the investigators are already deep within the house, but completely unaware of their surroundings as suggested here:

You stand in the cupola of the old Barnaker House catching your breath as the sun drops below the horizon. That jerk Roger dared you all to reach the top of the abandoned home before dark. So you ditched your bikes, raced through the front door, and pounded up the sagging stairs to reach the top of the house. You litter the mildewed floor with candy wrappers as you peer through boarded-up windows to watch storm clouds roll in. A powerful thunderclap shakes the house as the sky blackens and rain begins to fall. It’s time to leave… 

From this point, Roger can appear to lead them in any direction or the sense of dread can build as they descend through the darkened home to discover the locked front door and lit candles below. As the scenario suggests have the grandmotherly visage of Evelyn reach out to lure or direct the children to various locations, as needed. 

Treat – Maps

Many reviewers note the discrepancy between scenario texts and the included maps, which were intentionally crafted in the mid-90s Chaosium style. We took the time to create some alternative, full-color maps for reference and VTT use. Of note, the Second Floor map contains an open panel to the small attic space, which also serves nicely as the laundry chute or ventilation shaft noted above. We have refrained from adding a map of the attic, as we prefer to keep this space undefined and darkly nebulous. During our playthroughs, our players’ imaginations dictated the nature of the space in terms of its size and difficulty to traverse. Since the attic has so many various entry points from below, we placed objects of interest and danger in shifting locations to encourage movement and promote frightening encounters. 

If you’re looking for maps of the Attic, the Yard, or just something a little bit different check out these maps over at Sanity Free Adventures (they also have some solid Rivers of London content). 

Optional route from attic to basement hidden in Girl’s Closet circled in red.

Trick – Consolidating Information

The scenario provides a wealth of suggestions, including the PG and R-ratings, as well as how to best use Evelyn and her various minions. However, this is a scenario we would avoid running straight off the page. We suggest reading and digesting these valuable ideas while stripping down the content to key elements for each room and location. 

The scenario features many low-impact Sanity rolls. We highlighted the most interesting ones for our playthrough and used the rest as suggestive guidelines. Finally, we created a concise and abbreviated set of stat blocks for Evelyn, Rastis, and the various vermin. We selected a single stat line for our bat and rat things despite twelve varied profiles for each. Personally, we felt the vermin played best in the attic and basement locations. The Living Room encounter with Rastis is a great set piece.  You will find this effort dramatically reduces the length of material necessary to run the module while reducing your cognitive load, especially if you are a newer Keeper. 

Treat – Handouts

For such a high-quality, beautifully produced scenario, “The Dare” sadly falls short in the handout department, especially given the soaring standards set by many recent Miskatonic Repository adventures, like The Dragon of Wantley,”“Al-Azif Unearthed: The Unraveling,” and Viral.”

Briggs family portrait from the Living Room

The trove of clues tucked away in the attic calls for some immersive newspaper articles. The only handout offered in the scenario is neat, but borders on unreadable. The frightening content is very much lost in the effort to decipher it, and it’s more Mythos fluff than investigative grist. Below are a few additional, middling-quality handouts that could enhance your game. Also, if you don’t already have one, consider picking up a used copy of Witchcraft and Black Magic by Reverend Montague Summers, and bookmarking some useful pages. If you’ve created some of your own handouts, we’d love to see and share them as a Prospero House Resource.

An impressive watercolor Hand of Glory by little Donna Briggs…could something have guided her hand?
An old news clipping from the Attic.

Trick – The Boss Fight

Evelyn lurking in draft of cover art by Ian MacLean

Some reviewers note the final encounter with Evelyn is lackluster since she possesses a mere 18 hit points. By including an unconscious captive like little Billy, the terror and risk of Evelyn’s 100% Devour attack is very high. During our runs, we employed Rastis and waves of wicked rodents to divert the party’s efforts while Evelyn inexorably waddled toward Billy. Placing conspicuous sentries next to the Hand of Glory lures investigators into Evelyn’s alcove. By splitting the group’s attention, the climax becomes a mad effort for survival and makes Evelyn a bit more challenging to overwhelm. Don’t forget to employ the environmental elements, such as debris piles, scattered bones, and collecting water. 

Treat – Sequels

Inspirational viewing for “The Dare,” which begs the question…is this just the beginning? © Warner Bros.

If some or all of the investigators survive “The Dare,” the players may be thirsting for more. Sadly, there are no additional Kid-thulhu scenarios readily available, but word is one is in the pipeline from Sentinel Hill Press. Of course, you can homebrew your own, but some fun published options with slight tweaks include “Mr. Corbitt” from Mansions of Madness, vol. 1, Paper Chase” from the Starter Set, or “Camp Sunny” for free here. If the kids failed to defeat Evelyn or they managed to escape before the encounter, they could be drawn back to the Barnaker House a la Stephen King’s It. If you want to catch up with them as teenagers, I highly recommend “The Hoodlums” a bonus scenario in The Grindhouse Ultimate Collection, vol. 1-3Finally, we jumped systems and had our players create Delta Green agents using their kid investigator. The Program brought them in as a team, which led to some interesting dynamics, deep bonds, and creative backstories. We kicked our short campaign off with the thematically-suited A Victim of the Art.”

“The Dare” is a must-play Call of Cthulhu scenario. If you haven’t had the pleasure, don’t hesitate any longer. Now is the perfect time. As you prepare to run (or re-run) this spooky adventure, consider your players, what gets them excited, and how to best shape the set-up for their foray into the old Barnaker House. Use the rich trove of ideas offered by Ross, Kramer, and friends while sorting through our tricks and treats to craft an engaging, nostalgic experience.