Sunday, 31 May 2020

Horrible House playtest

I've written a procedural OSR-style adventure in the vein of Emmy Allen's Stygian Library. Having just come off a Shadowrun campaign, my Tuesday night gaming group are letting me run a playtest game. We're playing via Roll20 at the moment, our rooms at the local university having been shut down as a coronavirus measure.

The idea is that the characters enter a generally normal-seeming Victorian mansion with a chained angel at its heart and things get stranger and more threatening as they move further inside. I copied Emmy's depth mechanic almost unchanged.

This is all being done using Ben Milton's Knave as the system, with a few houserules. The characters are starting the adventure at level 3 because I'm not sure the players are ready to embrace the cheapness of life in OSR games just yet.

The characters are:

Maximus (Max) Johnson, played by James K. A student, mostly of ways to make other people's property into his property. Has been exiled in the past.

Adelaide, played by Tim. A gambler, who has been disowned.

Iris MacLeod, played by Theo. A herbalist who is suspected of crimes.

Castor, played by Mila. A poverty-stricken magician who carries around a hen named Eggrietta.

Karros Shepherd, played by James C. A tracker who has been replaced in his job.

The party started on the front porch. They needed to enter the house to find out what happened to the delegation of clergy they were supposed to accompany as a cover. They also had instructions to retrieve the magic tome Ivan Vantig (the owner) used to snare an angel.

There was no-one visible from the porch, just a swing seat creaking in the morning breeze. Adelaide and Iris approached, and the seat cast Charm. Adelaide successfully resisted but Iris sat down and the swing seat launched her into the air, inflicting 1d6 damage. She picked herself up and the party entered.

At depth 1 they found themselves not in a foyer or entrance hall, but in a portrait gallery. Max tried taking one of the several brass candelabra lighting the paintings, but it squirmed out of his grip. It backed away from the party, but stayed close, helpfully attempting to illuminate whatever they looked at. They were distracted from examining the paintings by their shadows, who were doing their own thing rather than mimicking the characters' actions. The shadows were miming their normal morning routines, so the characters wrote it off as odd but harmless. They proceeded into the next room.

Depth 2 found them in the house's private theatre, which the Vantig children had clearly been using as a playroom. There was a small pile of toys on the stage. Looking through them, Iris and Adelaide found a pair of earrings and a necklace. They might be costume jewellery, but they have the weight of the real thing, so they split the pieces between them and wore them to save inventory space. They also found a sheet of paper which had symbols scribbled on either side. The characters recognised one as a name in angelic script: Nelphael. The other is the demonic glyph AGA, meaning confinement.

(I made a mistake here. I made the players roll to recognise the symbols when I should have just given Castor the magician's player the information.)

There were a couple of (non-creepy) dolls in the pile, one with a button eye hanging loose from a thread. Castor repaired it as a gesture of good will in case the dolls came to life and tried to stab them in their sleep later. That took long enough for a random encounter roll and they found themselves attacked by three Wig Beasts. Springing from among the costume equipment, I gave the beasts surprise. It took two full rounds to put them down, during which Iris took more damage. (I took the Wig Beast damage die down to 1d4 when I realised these creatures which I intended to be just an annoyance were a genuine threat.)

Iris and Adelaide (who were co-incidentally the front line for the battle) both lost big tufts of hair to the beasts' attempts to sink tap roots into their scalps. Iris was hurt badly enough to take 10 minutes to prepare a dose of her healing herbs. There was no encounter during that turn. The candelabrum, which had followed them from a previous room, accidentally set the stage curtains on fire. They managed to pull it down and stamp it out before it spread.

It was a game with a lot of prep, so that was as far as we got. Tonight's session continues from there.

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