Keeper Doc’s Top 5 Cthulhu-ween Picks

So I missed getting this list of Halloween scenario picks out in time for the holiday. Am I distressed? Not in the least. First, there’s no bad time of year to play a Halloween-themed scenario. Second, in right around 11 months’ time, there will be blood-thirsty Keepers querying social media about the best one-shots for Halloween. And here we are. Waiting for you. In the dark. With some opinions. I will offer up five top picks, including some classics, a couple of Miskatonic Repository gems, and a phenomenal Delta Green recommendation.  To wrap things up, I’ll toss out some honorable mentions, as well as an out-of-print solo adventure. What I’m not going to talk about is “The Dare” since I’ve covered that in another post. If you haven’t run that nostalgic treasure by master scribe Kevin Ross, you should consider starting there. If you and your players are still hankering for more haunted houses, I’ve got you covered with this list. 

Top 5 Picks:

  1. “The Haunting” by Sandy Petersen: The prototypical Call of Cthulhu haunted house scenario. This bad boy started it all. It’s a great introductory adventure for new gamers, a reliable romp for veteran roleplayers diving into investigative horror, and a mandatory module for Call of Cthulhu fans. While not explicitly set on Halloween, there should be no difficulty in establishing the appropriate seasonal trappings for Boston, MA. Most importantly, this scenario is free with the Quickstart Rules, and a trove of handouts, reviews, and actual plays is available to aid Keepers. On top of that, there are some great sequel scenarios available on the Miskatonic Repository, including “The Dream House”, “Of Wrath and Blood”, and “Cat’s Cradle.” Pick them all up at a discount in this bundle.  

  1. “Trick or Treat” (from Blood Brothers) by Scott David Aniolowski: This 6th Edition scenario appears in the 1990 non-Cthulhu Mythos one-shot horror scenario anthology and draws heavily upon folk horror influences, most notably “The Wicker Man.” While the text doesn’t credit it, I personally get some strong “Children of the Corn” vibes as well, and I feel like the scenario really wants to include some creepy kids. Unlike “The Haunting,” this is (surprise!) explicitly a Halloween scenario set in a sleepy New York state town in the mid-to-late ‘80s. Oddly, the investigators are adults, rather than teenagers; however, given that the scenario will require a bit of tweaking to bring up to the 7th edition, this can be addressed by revising the pre-gens. Andy Miller did some this leg work and graciously provided his resources for you to download here. Of note, excluding the stat blocks, this one-shot is comprised of only five pages of text, which facilitates prep, but may require a little improvisational work by the Keeper to get a full four-hour session out of the material. 

  1. “Souls of Briarcroft” by Joshua Callanta: This is something I would love to see more of…Gaslight Cthulhu Hallowe’en scenarios. Set on Halloween in 1891, this rich historical scenario brings players to a small village in England’s Black Country immersing them in period-appropriate traditions as they hand out soul cakes at their local parish. With attention to detail, this one-shot scenario hits 24 pages of text and features a plethora of handouts and maps, as well as four pre-generated Investigators. Intended to run around five hours in length, this scenario establishes an appropriate atmosphere while deploying tense pacing after a slow start. As the hideous mystery unravels and the body horror ratchets up, the investigators uncover a familiar, but fun Mythos threat that pairs nicely with the traditional rituals. This is a great module for seasoned roleplayers looking for something different. If your players enjoy engaging with a setting and inhabiting historical everyday folks, the somewhat protracted start will allow them to really settle into their roles. If you enjoy this sophomore effort by Callanta, you might want to check out his first adventure, “Xebi Co.”

  1. “Music from a Darkened Room” (for Delta Green) by Dennis Detwiller: A present-day haunted house scenario with some ruthless stakes and investigator/agent dilemmas. Even if you don’t play Delta Green, this scenario is worth picking up. It easily runs as a modified Call of Cthulhu adventure with some skill check and stat block adjustments. Instead of Delta Green agents, the investigators could be ghost hunters, private investigators, or members of the local history society. It’s very much a modern evolution of “The Haunting,” and I like it a whole lot more. Personally, I run this in Delta Green and it proves exceptionally creepy, deadly, and psychologically horrific every time. Detwiller provides a riveting investigation paired with a frightening collection of spooky events at 1206 Spooner Avenue. The complexity of the house’s features and the Will Power interactions make this a more suitable module for practiced Keepers and Handlers. To best savor this experience, I prefer running it over a couple of 4-hour sessions in one weekend or a single, intense long session. Be sure to have Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” ready to go.  

  1. “First Night” (from The Grindhouse Ultimate Collection) by Alex Guillotte and Ian Christiansen: Of all the brilliant scenarios featured in The Grindhouse Ultimate Collection, vol. 1-3, this one called to me when I read it…1980s sorority slaughterhouse? A perfect premise and another wonderful addition to our haunted house repertoire. Read for yourself:

“The Keeper should begin running the scenario like a 1980s sorority horror or haunted house movie, and by the second act, things should devolve into a full grindhouse meets Evil Dead-style slaughter fest.”

I ran this for a group of friends just after Halloween. This scenario has Halloween and fall vibes all over it. Our playthrough began the week after the sorority’s big Halloween bash, which they threw as a goodbye to their old chapter house. This allowed the players to gossip about some drama that went down during their slumber party at the new digs. The scenario comes with six pre-generated characters. I established that four of them were sorority chapter officers, while the remaining two (I went with Beauty Queen and Artist) were hand-picked junior members. This allowed for some hazing and asymmetric power dynamics. My three buddies were so delighted to play trope-y ‘80s sorority girls. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the Pumpkin Spice Lattes they showed up with were wildly anachronistic (but bitchin’, nonetheless).

Running this for three players was perfect, as we had a stable of backup characters when things went really sideways in the second half of the scenario. If you’re running this for a larger group, consider including some additional characters as this really is best run as a survival horror slaughter fest. There are certainly investigative elements in this adventure, but the real mystery and key is recognizing where they actually are. I won’t delve into spoilers, but I spoonfed my players the scant clues available to discover. They were so busy trying to stay alive that it took them most of the four-hour session to come up with a survival solution. In the meantime, we ran through all of our backup characters. I expect to get a lot of mileage out of this scenario and run it at future cons. It is an absolutely incredible one-shot with tons of potential blood-soaked outcomes. 

Honorable Mention: 

“Hell in Texas” (from The Things We Leave Behind) by Scott Dorward: Another Modern scenario by the talented Dorward. The investigation centers around a Hell House leading up to Halloween. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a Hell House, here’s a Wikipedia snippet:

“Attractions typically run by evangelical Protestant churches or parachurch organizations designed to act as moral instruction. They depict acts which the organizers deem sinful and their consequences, including the torments of the damned in Hell, and usually conclude with a depiction of Heaven.”

This one comes with some serious Sensitivity Disclaimers, and it doesn’t really line up with my personal aims for a fun Halloween horror game. I wouldn’t deploy this as your go-to scenario to introduce unsuspecting noobs to Call of Cthulhu. Your mileage may vary. 

“Trick or Treat 2” by Andy Miller: If you enjoyed Trick or Treat, consider this Miskatonic Repository sequel set in 2017. I have not played or run it and have only read a portion of the 62-page PDF. 

“Halloween in the Time of Covid-19” by Oscar Rios: A free Halloween scenario written by the unstoppable Oscar Rios. Some may say “too soon.” Some may say “too late.” And you may say “just right.” Features an uncommon Mythos threat, useful investigator hooks, and a dangerous drive-in. 

“Halloween in Dunwich” (Eldritch New England Holiday Collection) by Oscar Rios: A Lovecraft Country treat from Oscar set in 1928. Originally released in the Halloween Horror monograph, it is now available through Golden Goblin Press. Investigators are pre-generated adolescents visiting Old Grandpa Silas’ farm with an opportunity to tell ghost stories in character. Other Halloween scenarios (of variable reported quality) are available in the now out-of-print and difficult-to-find Halloween-themed MULA monographs.  

Out of Print:

“Alone on Halloween” by Scott David Aniolowski: This 1992 solo adventure for Call of Cthulhu was released by Pagan Publishing. The single player takes on the role of Chris Grant, a Miskatonic University student. This rare tome also features “The Old Dark House” a one-shot Call of Cthulhu scenario. This is going to be a tough one to track down. And it won’t be cheap.