The Haunted Clubhouse: The Little Play House of Horrors is the first scenario from new publisher, Trepan, written for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. Designed to be played by between two and four participants in a just a single session or so, it is set in the modern day and takes place in New England, though not in Lovecraft Country. That said, it can easily be reset anywhere to most rural locations and in addition, notes are included to allow the Keeper to adapt the scenario to the roleplaying game’s classic period of the Jazz Age. It comes as a twenty-page, 4.99 MB PDF (with a Print on Demand option to follow), done in full colour with some terrific artwork.
Specifically The Haunted Clubhouse is set in the New Hampshire town of Lincoln on an evening late in October. Even more specifically, it takes place on the date of this review. The investigators—four friends and students at Lincoln High—are out for a walk when they are approached by two young boys, Lineham and Miller, who will beg for their help. One of them will explain that their best friend, Smothers, is dead, his ghost is trapped in their clubhouse and unable to leave without some form of help. Both boys are going back to the clubhouse even if the investestigators elect not to help them.
Some research will reveal that Smothers disappeared in the forests that surround the Lincoln, just over a year ago. Nor is it the first disappearance in the area, a number having occurred over the last century or so… Is this due to hikers simply getting lost in the woods or is there some other agency at work? Of course it is the latter, but the scenario does not really present a means for the investigators to find out what this is, beyond that is, a horror in the woods. What it sets up though, is a survival horror situation which the investigators need to find a way out of. Their efforts will be hampered by the strange events around them, trees that seem to act against them, an oddly enraged moose, visions, and so on.
There is something Lovecraftian behind all this, but ideally what the Keeper should be hinting at is that one of the two boys, Lineham or Miller, are responsible, that somehow they have acquired psychic powers and that their sense of grief at Smothers’ disappearance is causing them to activate their new found abilities in random ways. The hints in the scenario at the abuse suffered by the children lend themselves towards this possibility. Then the Keeper can then bring the Lovecraftian elements in as the scenario proceeds. Unfortunately, The Haunted Clubhouse misses this opportunity as well as ignoring what either of the young boys are doing whilst they and the investigators are trapped in the boys’ clubhouse. Certainly the character of Lineham and what he knows could have been better developed as he really is the primary NPC in The Haunted Clubhouse and the point of contact for the investigators.
Unfortunately, the Keeper will also need to do quite a bit of work to set The Haunted Clubhouse up. The problem is that the scenario is intended to be played by four students from Lincoln who are attending Lincoln High, but it is not written like that. Rather it is written as if outside investigators have come to the town and get pulled into the scenario’s events. Ideally, both approaches should have been presented and presented in a better fashion than they are here, but primarily the scenario needs handouts and prepared information to set the four players of the students (or visitors to the town) up with the information they need—primarily the disappearance of Smothers the previous year, as well as hinting that the forest is not safe with the disappearances down the years. Another issue is that none of the young boys’ first names are given until late in the scenario, so initially it reads as if they have odd names.
Physically, in comparison to the NPCs, the four pre-generated investigators are presented in a pedestrian, even bland fashion. Given that The Haunted Clubhouse is a one-shot, it would have been good if these had been presented as single sheets ready for the Keeper to print and hand out. Similarly, the scenario could have benefited from decent handouts—there are possibilities for this in The Haunted Clubhouse—but there is nothing to stop a Keeper from creating his own. That said, pre-generated investigators aside, the scenario is actually a good looking affair, done in full colour with some excellent artwork. Certainly the influence of Stranger Things can be seen in this artwork. Of course, the scenario could do with another edit or so, but that really is not its problem.
As is, there is nothing to stop the Keeper from running The Haunted Clubhouse and running a good session. To do so though, he needs to do more preparation than it feels necessary, especially for a one-session, one-shot scenario like this. Too many of the scenario’s elements—the set-up, the NPCs and their motivations and reactions in particular—are underwritten or underdeveloped, leaving the Keeper with work to do. Which is fine if just buying the PDF. If buying the Print on Demand version it may not offer as much value given the amount of tinkering required to get the most of The Haunted Clubhouse: The Little Play House of Horrors.