Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Horror at Hedge House

The Secret Cellar of Hedge House - shut for 70 years

This past weekend, a group of friends met to finish a a Call of Cthulhu game that I had started some five years ago.  For various reasons (rusty referee, discompatible player characters, etc.) the first session failed to "gel" and so a reboot was conducted last month, with the concluding episode played last night.

It was a basic "Haunted House" scenario, with the original owner disappearing some 70 years in the past, and a team of Investigators being dispatched from the local newspaper to do a story on the subsequent history of the house. That history includes violence, madness and murder.

The action and setting of the story took place in early 1970's West Philadelphia, where the relics of grand old houses, now crumbling, can still be seen today.  One of my players ran the address through Mapquest and found a small factory is there today, so the house was probably demolished sometime after the players cleansed it.

The scenario was taken and adapted from Last Rites, by Ian Winterton and published by Chaosium. It is now out of print. It has four adventures set in the 1990s, which are easily adaptable to the 1970s.


If you think you might play an investigator in a Cthulhu game (probably set in the Modern Period - 1990+) and might play this scenario, continue reading ONLY at your own risk.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Seventy-five years ago, an English sorcerer named Cedric Hedge moved to West Philadelphia, built a grand old house, and settled in to practise black magic.  Hedge created a life-sized idol of his favourite deity - Tsathaggua, the Great Toad - and after sacrificing some cats, rats, dogs, raccoons and a couple of his neighbours, brought said idol to life, with the notion that it would serve his will.  Things went agley, as aft they will do, and the idol instead tried to sacrifice Hedge. Landing a lucky blow with an enchanted Bengali war mace, Hedge knocked the idol into the cellar strongroom, where it shattered into nearly two dozen pieces. Hedge, mortally wounded by the fight, was just able to shut the strongroom door and throw the bolts, before shock and loss of blood took him. He died in that drear and dreadful cellar.

Over the next few years, the idol's fragments re-animated, but lacked the power to rejoin into a single form. Instead, they reformed into nearly two dozen tinier idols, homonculi, each a miniature clay replica of Tsathaggua, but a part of a greater whole. Unable to escape the strongroom, they instead would try to influence subsequent tenants of the house, with chittering whispers and evil visions, sent by the power of their inhuman group mind.

After 70-odd years, the house stands, decayed and empty. Several banks have substantial liens on it. The property tax collection has been suspended. Vagrants, drifters and addicts squat in the upper levels. Some of them have nightmares, and an odd compulsion to find the secret way into the hidden cellar.

Then, the player characters arrive...

"That looks like a locked door..."

The stairwell and the antechamber yielded a few clues - skulls of small animals, and a couple from Homo Sapiens, left over from those  sacrificed to Tsathaggaua.

Halloran and Knox go first
Beneath an arched vault, a strange mosaic was discovered.  A symbol of Tsathaggua, still charged with necromantic energy that gave the Investigators the tingles as they walked across the ivory and obsidian surface.  Static electricity built up on their polyester-fibred clothing, and anyone wearing a mood ring could watch as the stone turned black.

As they entered the next room, they found the skeletal remains of Cedric Hedge, Bengali mace at his side - his left ribcage stove-in. His remains seemed to be facing a locked door.

The Thrice-Barred door is opened. 
The Investigators also found Hedge's journal, where he detailed how he created the idol from clay, and how it could be deactivated. They settled in to try and learn the deactivation spell, as periodically they would be plagued by the whispers and chitterings from behind the thrice-barred door.

One of the Investigators, Halloran the Private Eye, tried to damage the mosaic sigil with a hammer and chisel, receiving only static shocks and the attention of the Idol's Fragments, who sent visions of darkened vaults where shapeless things oozed along obsidian troughs, venerating and worshiping an obscene, bloated toad shape. As the sanity left the investigators in slow drips,  the first feeble rays of dawn began to filter in from the upper stairs, and they were ready to cast the spell.

Only something was missing.

The Games a-foot.
As the Thrice-barred door was opened, the horde of homonculi poured out, some leapt at the investigators, biting and scratching, while some ran for the mosaic sigil. The players had their hands full, as it was nearly impossible to shoot the little clay demons and only slightly easier to hit them. Fortunately, they had bought some baseball bats from a local department store (Lit Brothers - Market and 8th Streets), which proved effective against the tiny horrors, if they scored a hit.

The Idol, quickened.
Meanwhile, the five or so homonculi that reached the mosaic sigil
merged together into a larger image - the idol was reforming itself.

PI Halloran found himself squared off against a miniature monster, about the size of a large child, which raked him with its claws. Halloran had retained the Bengali mace, and he now struck hard and true.

The statue fell and shattered, a few pieces laying inert, while more reformed into homonculi and raced upstairs to attack the vagrants.

"Wow, you're bigger up close..."
The Reporter, Carl Boughman, who had first read the journal and learned the spell, now understood what was amiss - the spell of deactivation would only work against the single statue. They would have to let it reassemble.
Stepping aside, the players either kicked or hurled the snapping homonculi at the sigil, where they began to reassemble.  Now was their chance, and joining hands, they lent their will to Boughman.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh N'kai T'sath'aggua wgah'nagl Gluy-VHO!" 

And the player rolled his dice.

And he rolled just under what he needed.

And the Idol collapsed, fell over and disintegrated.

Gain ten points of Sanity.  And lose five points as the screams of the vagrants having their faces chewed off by the couple of escaped homonculi filters down to the cellar.

Bring the baseball bats.


Great Tsathaggua is from RAFM's Cthulhu Mythos line.  He was a joy to paint, mostly with Vallejo paints. I painted him as he would be in life, and not a clay statue. Also, iparticularly like the human skull behind his right foot. Tsathaggua doesn't strike you as all that big a monster, until you realise his mouth is the size of a car boot/trunk, and he could easily swallow a human, whole. His is a personal menace, unlike Cthulhu's more abstract, cosmic peril.

The Homunculi are from Khurusan Miniatures.  I have had issues with Khurusan in the past, but my wife noticed I liked these figures and bought them for me as a present. I asked her if there was any issue, given the source, and she told me that the order ran late, but he was pretty apologetic and included a free, not-yet-released miniature as an apology.  Really?  I might change my mind on Khurusan Miniatures and feature some of his stuff on this blog in future...possibly.

The Investigators are a mixed bunch, from Crooked Dice and Brigade Games. Both are excellent sources for that difficult to find "70s Look"

The cellar piece is part of the Terra-clips Sewers, for the Malfaux game. I don't really like the set as presented, and will probably give it a review on my Victorian Sci-Fi blog "The Burning Sands of Syrtis Major".  Suffice to say, I cut up portions of the set to make it conform to the cellar floorplan, provided in the Last Rites supplement, and this was the most use I've had for the set to date.

And so, the end, to a very enjoyable episode of my 1970s Philadelphia Chronicle Campaign...Ω