This short campaign is meant for the Call of Cuthulu system, although can be modified to fit any modern setting game with supernatural elements. It is designed for a maximum of four players.
Players will take on the role of modern paranormal investigators with a channel on YouTube called the Pair ‘O Normals. They are taking on the challenge of investigating a mansion that is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in America. For the sake of making things interesting, I would recommend that the group be divided between the true believers and skeptics. Additionally, make sure that the players have a day job. The ghost hunting is a side gig that pays out a bit, but not enough to make a living.
The Setup – Characters
Here are my recommended archetypes for the game. It will provide a nice foundation for characters without stepping on any toes:
The Creator – This character created the show and has the greatest investment in it’s success. This character would be best suited as skilled in the tech field (think silicon valley nerd), and perhaps less charismatic.
The Face – This is the face of the show. They should be attractive, charismatic and have some related job like a salesperson.
The Camera – This is person behind the scene. It would be recommended that this person have a higher perception and willpower. After all, they have to be constantly filming while the show is going on. Perhaps a blue collar job wouldn’t go amiss here.
The Heir – This is the Heir to the MacMillan estate and could have any career. Use them as the x factor, and have them fill any role you want. As will be noted below, the other characters truly don’t know this person.
The Setup – Motivations
In any story involving horror elements, the big question is why don’t they just book it out of there? So here are some motivations to keep all of the players interested.
The Creator – They are motivated by the likes and view count. For whatever reason, there could have been a slowdown in views or even content (perhaps lockdown?). They need this episode to be uploaded to keep sponsors and remain relevant. If successful, they will also be the first people to have footage from inside the home.
The Face – They are motivated by a new job offer. A big time channel or network has offered them a contract on the condition that the footage of this hunt make it to the network before it is uploaded. In a sense this will also motivate the face to get more solo screen time, and to take a sudden interest in editing (or something that would get them access to the raw footage).
The Camera – They are motivated by both a paycheck (add revenue) and perhaps a challenge. In my humble opinion, the cameraperson would be the better suited as a skeptic, and perhaps they get a thrill from debunking.
The Heir– They are motivated by two things: Finding the body of their cousin, and to not get arrested (again) for trespassing. The Heir has been arrested before while trying to gain entry. Lastly, the Heir knows that this is the last chance to find what they need, because in X days the estate/fortune will be absorbed by the State (explain with fake legal mumbo jumbo).
External Motivations – This abandoned mansion is still considered private property and has been the bane of local law enforcement due to numerous calls about “seeing people in the house/windows.” As such, any officer sent out there on another wild goose chase will certainly arrest on the spot. The Heir knows this and also knows that if caught another time, it certainly means jail time and potentially losing out on their inheritance. Also, if set during the time of a COVID19 statewide lockdown order, the penalties for being caught would escalate.
Most importantly! – Remember that the crew is here to film a show. They are unaware that they are trespassing, and were convinced by the Heir that this is all legit. The Heir may occasionally wander off, but the crew will generally stick together, especially while filming.
The Setup – Finishing Touches
In order to help create the group dynamic, go around the table and ask the characters the following questions.
The Creator – What “authentic” footage has garnered the most views? What was it about?
The Face – Since you joined the show, views have gone up dramatically. What did you do to make it better? What is the format of the show like now?
The Camera – One of the funniest videos on the channel was when you debunked something very quickly. What did you debunk? How did you do it, and what was the reaction? Also, what extra equipment (or items) do you always bring with you that the others do not know about?
The Heir – Aside from the body of your uncle, what else do you need to find in this house to ensure that you are able to gain hold of the entire estate?
Starting Equipment – It can be assumed that the characters have everything they will need to complete this investigation. Cameras, batteries, extra power sources, flashlights, IR goggles, “typical” ghost hunter specialty equipment, microphones, laptops, and smart phones just to name a few. Instead of thinking of a huge list of items, instead use “the trunk” method. Basically just say that they brought a trunk load of equipment (takes 2+ people to carry). Anytime a character needs something that could have been packed (within reason) just have someone make a luck roll. Failure means they are completely out of X (like batteries).
Cell signals and the internet – The PCs can have a mobile hot spot for internet, and cell signals are strong in this area. Just refer External Motivations should one of them call for help.
Background – This is the history the characters know
Mansion – The MacMillan Mansion was built in 1805, along the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a plantation house that was expanded upon throughout the years, with the last upgrade in the mid 1990’s. The estate itself is currently abandoned after the death of it’s owner, Trevor MacMillan.
Trevor MacMillan (1923-2000) – Father to William MacMillan and grandfather to Alexis MacMillan. He was a well respected man within his community, and noted as charitable, having donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the less fortunate. He was a well educated man, and even served as a guest lecturer at many a prestigious university. On the day of June 2, 2000 he was brutally murdered in his home with no sign of forced entry. It has been listed as a cold case ever since.
Alexis MacMillan (1976-) – The last known heir of the MacMillan fortune, Alexis went missing after her grandfather passed. Like her grandfather, she is a scholar with a gift for mathematics. Alexis was in her last year of graduate school when she received word of her grandfather’s passing. After meeting with the police to identify the remains, she was not heard from again.
MacMillan Estate – The entire estate is in a sort of legal limbo. Alexis has not been declared officially deceased. However, if she does not turn up in the next two months, all of the assets will be given over to the State of Virginia.
The Hauntings – Since the disappearance of Alexis, neighbors in the area have reported hearing strange noises centering around the estate. Police have only ever caught a few attempting to loot the home, but find that all of them are too eager to leave once they enter. Some think it’s a hoax, while others think that the place is cursed and should be avoided all together.
The Connor Tape – On June 2, 2015 a YouTube star and urban explorer named Chad Connor informed his followers that he would be entering the MacMillan estate to obtain footage of the home. After a week of inactivity his fan base held a campaign to urge Virginia law enforcement to look into the home. What police found was a camera with exactly two minutes and forty eight seconds of his time in the home. The last minute is of Chad dropping the camera and running down the stairs. He has listed as a missing person ever since. The footage was uploaded to the internet via anonymous source.
Arrival – The story will begin on June 1, 2020, and the crew will have already made it to the estate and begun setting up equipment in the main hall. The van that transported them all to the estate is several blocks from the Mansion. It’s a hefty 10 minutes to walk from the door of the estate to the road, and another 10-20 to get back to the van. They are free to explore, and may wish to do so if they are going to be setting up recording equipment. Aside from the trunk of equipment, there will be a small folding table with the Creator’s laptop on it, used as makeshift command center.
The Storm – After the initial setup, it will be obvious from the sound of the winds outside that a big storm is rolling in. It will darken the skies somewhat and bring with it high winds, and torrential rain. The mansion has been without power for 20 years, so the crew are now reliant on what light sources they have brought with them.
Creating the Atmosphere
The Dig – The players will find a series of letters and journals (apparently never sent home) from the late 1800’s detailing work that was done under the house. Each one is from a different worker. If read, the start off simple enough, but soon detail a giant chasm found under the home. There are no other details after that.
The Whispers – Players will begin to hear voices calling out for help, or accusing them of not being able to leave. These are the many voices of the workers who perished.
The Shadows – Residing within the halls of the mansion are creatures waiting in lurk. They are able to hide in any shadow and will “peel off” from their hiding place when they are able to stalk their prey. When taking solid form, they resemble a somewhat elongated skeletal form. The make no sound, but are able to slice into their victims with surprisingly sharp appendages. When in solid form they can’t take physical damage, but are disoriented and frightened by UV light (They will flee at the sight of it). It can be assumed that the players could have a UV light of some sort in the chest.
Alexis – Occasionally, the voice of Alexis will call out to the Heir. Only they will hear it. It will guide them should the group get lost.
Finding the clues
From here the story will move at the pace of the players. They will explore things as they see fit, so this next section is a list of encounters and clues that they will find (in any order that the GM wishes). If something is listed as a plot essential, there is no need for a spot hidden roll to find it.
Library – There is a massive Library that covers many topics including: History, the Occult, Electronics, Engineering, Music (especially piano), and books on languages and cyphers. A massive fireplace resides in the corner, the fire long died out. Additionally, there is a grand piano and a grandfather clock in different parts of the library. Despite not being wound, the grandfather clock still chimes every hour.
Clue 1 – There is a letter from Trevor to his son William discussing the grandfather clock. It mentions a sequence (not specified) that must be performed at the stroke of midnight should his son wish to truly understand the family business. The rest of the letter is a response to Williams concerns that Trevor has been growing ever more distant. From what can be deciphered, Trevor was trying to persuade his son to come visit for the explanation.
Clue 2 – There is a page (possibly from the same letter) of hand written sheet music. Just a few bars (Somewhere between 3-6) for someone to play on the piano.
Clue 3 – There is what looks to be a specially made key lying in an ornate box. It must have been a spare, as there is a space dedicated to another.
Putting it all together
Once the crew has collected all of the evidence it will be clear that something lies beneath the mansion. With the clues in hand they are able to open the hidden door to what lies beneath. It will require them to wait until the stroke of midnight to play the notes on the piano, and use the special key on the face of the grandfather clock. They must do this before 12:01, or they will have to wait until the next day
Read the following text when the crew decides to enter – As you descend the stone staircase, a smell of acrid air rises from depths below. It’s about twenty minutes before the spiral stairs let out to a great stone platform. In the very center stands two obelisks with a great glowing energy flowing between them. A machine surrounds both obelisks in a cage like fashion, operated by a haggard looking man with an unkempt beard. He turns to face you.
Chad – He explains that Alexis saved him on the day of his “urban exploration” and since that time he decided to stay and help make sure the device continues to work. He also mentions that the device requires constant recalibration, so it becomes hard to leave knowing that the machine can fault at any time.
Alexis – By this point the characters will have many questions, with the whereabouts of Alexis on the top of the list. If prompted, Chad will explain that Alexis became obsessed with the portal, and one night she decided to venture in despite his protests. She has not returned since. Additionally, Chad will point out that Alexis left a video will for her family (on his smartphone). It grants the entire estate to whomever is next in line in her family with the hope they are able to “run the family business.”
The Obelisks – Standing roughly 20 feet tall and covered in ornate carvings, these stone obelisks give off an ominous vibe. The energy flowing between them gives the players a feeling like it is almost beckoning them to venture in. Additionally, the crew notice that the energy is powering all devices (phones will be recharging, etc.) and giving off a sustaining vigor to everyone in the room. If asked, Chad will mention that he has not had the need to eat, sleep or drink since he first encountered this device, it has sustained him (and Alexis before her death).
The Device – It is clear that this device was first installed some time in the early 1900’s and has been added too ever since. It looks like the purpose of the device is to keep the energy of the portal at bay. Chad was told that this portal is like a beacon to the shadow creatures, and likely their cause. It is not known what will happen if this device is left unchecked.
Beyond the Platform – There is a great chasm beyond the platform, but there are the occasional glowing lights from beyond. Staring out for too long gives the player a sense of foreboding causing them to turn away.
The Choice – If the Heir is still alive, they will now have the evidence in hand to claim the family fortune. This however comes at a price, the device will now be in their care. Additionally, the crew will have to decide what to do with this footage. Do they air it for the world to see, or do they bury it? Lastly, Chad will point out that he too is becoming tired of this and admits to hearing the siren’s call of the portal. He is worried of sharing the same fate as Alexis.