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House on Crane Hill at North Texas 2019

Jerry Stratton, February 13, 2019

Belle Grove through cypress

The sky is grey toward the sea. The water beats steadily against the high grass, and a low mist rolls across the waves toward you.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

Recently, you have each been contacted by Dr. Jean deMontagne, some of you directly, some of you after a friend recommended you, to take a seaside vacation at Delarosa Manor, which the locals call Crane House, forty miles up the coast from Crosspoint between King’s Head and Jackson Village. You should set out on Monday, November 2, and thus arrive on November 3 or 4.

This is a working vacation. Dr. deMontagne asks that you search the house for a small, brass coffer once owned by Louis Merrikitt and marked with two strange symbols. He offers you ten shillings each to compensate you for that small task, and he offers another hundred for the coffer, should you find it. He tells you that the manor is yours for the month of November as you wish, although the actual task should take no more than a day or two.

House on Crane Hill is a haunted house adventure inspired not just by Shirley Jackson’s amazing story but also by her many imitators1, some good, some bad, and some horrorble. I have been fascinated by haunted house stories ever since I read the Hell House rip-off in Werewolf by Night back in the seventies—a comic I still read from time to time. These stories don’t just hint at a fundamental weakness in reality. They shove it down our throats. It took a long time for me to get around to reading the source for them all, but once I read The Haunting of Hill House I was hooked on Shirley Jackson, too.

One of my favorite adventures from the old Dungeon magazine was an adventure in issue 35, The Ghost of Mistmoor, but issue 35 was 1992, and I was going through a gaming downturn. I didn’t get a chance to run it until about ten years later. Reading through it preparatory to running it, I was so disappointed by its lack of seriousness that I scrapped it completely, and took the best elements—it’s less a Hill House horror than a Gothic tale—and created The House of Lisport. That gave me free reign to pull in a bunch of other faves, such as Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott and the fascinating story of Lizzie Borden.

Which all has nothing to do with House on Crane Hill except to say it’s been a long time coming, and the 2019 North Texas RPG Con is a great convention for old-school gaming. It’s being held June 6-9 this year. If you enjoy old-school gonzo gaming, I strongly recommend it.

There will be eight pre-generated characters to choose from in Crane Hill:

  • The battle-ax-wielding warrior from Pirate’s Cove, Constance Jackson
  • The expert swordsman Will Stratford
  • The excellent climber and thieves guild escapee Sam Stevens
  • The wandering Dwarf Toromeen
  • The enigmatic Watertown thief Lionel Hough
  • The mysterious and ageless Charlotte Kordé
  • The prophet of God (and damned good cook) Colton Evcot
  • The self-taught Biblyon sorceror Gralen Noslen

You round a bend in the road and the house is there, rising on a low hill out of the festering marsh. It is covered in gables and windows reaching to the sky. Parts of the house jut about from the mass in a variety of styles, brooding over the bog.

Three warriors, two thieves, a monk, a priest, and a wizard walk into an abandoned manor… into a mashup of Hill House, Phantasm, and just a touch of Scooby Doo.

No living organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

So if you’re looking for a haunted house adventure this June, sign up now! Bring dice, pencils, and your Barrett’s Electromagnetic Field Generator.

Because some houses are born evil.

Gateway to Adventure!

North Texas RPG Con: Your Gateway to Hell… House.

  1. I’m not sure there wasn’t a predecessor to Hill House, too. Both Hill House and the wonderful Vincent Price movie House on Haunted Hill came out at the same time, almost literally so. I know Castle is famous for the speed of his productions, but it seems as though even he could not have come out with a simultaneous copy. The movies are similar enough that I suspect some ur-House inspired both of them. Or that Castle had spies in Viking. I’m not even going to contemplate the possibility that Jackson was a speed-writer, saw the movie in early 1959 and had it written and published by October.

  1. <- Was D&D inevitable?