The Hammersmith Haunting
Author: Kat Clay
Publisher: Chaosium [Miskatonic Repository]
Page Count: 39
Available Formats: PDF
PDF (DTRPG) – $4.95
The Industrial Revolution dominated English life in the late 19th-century, commonly referred to as the Gaslight Era. Its impacts were most apparent in large cities like London and Liverpool. For some, it was hard to keep up with the rapid social, domestic, and industrial changes. A time when gas lighting replaced candles as a means to illuminate streets, shops, and homes. The Gaslight Era is so far removed from our modern sense of normalcy that it tends to fascinate many Call of Cthulhu gamers.
There is no “Official” Gaslight Era sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition at the time of this review. There are earlier editions of Cthulhu By Gaslight which are still relevant. For 7th Edition, Stygian Fox’s excellent setting book, Hudson & Brand, Inquiry Agents of the Obscure (read our review), is the closest thing we have. Only a few Gaslight Era scenarios are available for 7th Edition through third-party publishers or the Miskatonic Repository. I find this era very interesting; when scenarios get published, I am keen to check them out.
Note: Kat Clay provided Rolling Boxcars with a review copy for this article. If you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review, please visit our Product Review Request page.
It is the 14th of October in the year of our Lord 1890. The Vicar of St Paul’s Hammersmith writes to his acquaintance (one of the investigators) regarding an exciting discovery he’s recently made due to the ongoing renovations to the church. Scheduled to give a talk at the A Priori Club, a club for free thinkers, on the 18th, he asks the investigator(s) and their friends to join him for afternoon tea and a chat. The letter sent to the investigator(s) hints that the news he wishes to impart could rewrite history.
As the investigators gather at the A Priori Club for their meeting with the vicar, he uncharacteristically doesn’t show up, nor does he give his talk. Known for his punctuality, investigators set off for the London Suburb of Hammersmith, home to St Paul’s Hammersmith and its vicarage. Hailing a closed carriage, they rush off for Hammersmith leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind. The carriage and its driver are greeted by dense fog as they cross the Thames into Hammersmith; horses whinnying, the carriage lurches into the gutter, cracking the wheel.
On foot, they walk into the enveloping fog. The fog is as thick as pea soup, the visibility is greatly reduced, but they continue. An unwelcoming committee crosses paths with the investigators. It’s here they get a sense of what might be going on. Once they arrive at The Black Loin Inn, they learn Vicar Collins’s fate and that ghost fever grips Hammersmith. These opening scenes build the foundation on which the rest of the story hinges. The investigators will have to use their wits and skills to find the clues and piece together the events of the last few days if they hope to save Hammersmith and return home themselves.
The scenario takes inspiration from actual events that took place in Hammersmith in 1803, where many residents claimed to have seen or been attacked by a ghost and where one resident was mistakenly shot by a ghost-hunting mob who mistook him for a ghost. The Hammersmith Haunting is a Gaslight scenario for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition published through the Miskatonic Repository. Designed for three to five players and ideally suited for one to two sessions of gameplay, depending on your group’s play style. Written with a classic “three-act” structure, it features both combat and investigative elements. A set of five pre-generated investigators is provided, each well suited for the investigation at hand. For those preferring to create investigators from scratch, advice on which skills may come in handy is provided.
The Good, The Bad
The scenario’s design is relatively linear; as with most things, there are several ways investigators can arrive at the endpoint. It’s my opinion that Clay is relatively new to Call of Cthulhu, or at least this side of the Keeper’s screen. This is evident in several ways, but as it relates to the scenario’s linear construction, we see it in her assumptions of what the investigators will or are most likely to do. However, there are a few instances where the assumptions are dialed back, and the players are given a little more free rein.
Kat Clay is by no means new to writing. In fact, she’s an established and lauded writer and novelist, with an artist’s eye, and skilled with layouts. The Hammersmith Haunting was written as part of the Fall 2021 cohort of the RPG Writer Workshop and published through Chaosium’s Miskatonic Repository. It shares some of the shortcomings we often see from this combination. During these paid workshops, authors have only 30 days to conceptualize, write, edit, layout, produce, and publish a scenario. This accelerated timeline breeds technical errors or shortcomings of some kind.
As I noted above, Clay’s inexperience with Call of Cthulhu can be seen in other areas. After reading The Hammersmith Haunting, it is clear that the accelerated timeline and her inexperience with the game’s mechanical and technical jargon both contribute to the scenario’s shortcomings. In particular, the scenario needs some copy and minor developmental editing to address minor grammatical concerns, developmentally address some of the “assumptions,” and most importantly, address the style of the Call of Cthulhu technical jargon used.
I want to make it abundantly clear that although I feel The Hammersmith Haunting has some shortcomings, none of them negatively impact the scenario’s playability in any way.
The Hammersmith Haunting’s layout and presentation warrant being highlighted. Starting with the cover, it is downright gorgeous! It captures the scenario’s essence with the chosen colors and minimal visual elements. The layout is clean, well-executed, and looks great on the faux-aged paper. The art used within further captures the essence of various parts of the scenario. The maps used for site locations are functional and straightforward.
I want to call readers’ attention to the accessible version of the scenario included with your purchase from the Miskatonic Repository. The accessible version is a Word document with plaintext, which provides those with impaired vision a means to read the material more clearly. Furthermore, it more easily facilitates the use of screen readers. This is a wonderful addition, and I hope to see more publishers do this in the future.
The Hammersmith Haunting is a nicely crafted scenario despite the shortcomings I feel it has. It is fully playable with a compelling narrative, and Clay’s prior writing experience shines bright. With just a bit of polishing, this already engaging scenario has the potential to further capture the feel and flavor of the period and give it a similar look and feel to material released by Chaosium.
Its Mythos connection will throw Keepers for a loop. While I didn’t connect the dots until the climax, I was pleasantly surprised that it worked so well—setting creative Keepers up nicely for further adventures if their investigators wish to embark down those dark trails.
If you’re a fan of Cthulhu by Gaslight or of Stygian Fox’s Hudson & Brand, Inquiry Agents of the Obscure, you’ll want to grab The Hammersmith Haunting.
A postscript to this review, I contacted Kat Clay after writing this review and releasing it to Patreon subscribers, but before publishing publicly, to provide feedback on my observations about the editing. As a result, I was hired to edit The Hammersmith Haunting. The changes resulting from my editing have polished the copy and clarified the developmental concerns I noted above. My thoughts regarding the scenario have not changed.
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