Saturday, January 13, 2018

D10 Fighter Advancement Table for LotFP

This is just a quick and dirty idea I had for making level advancement for fighters in Lamentations of the Flame Princess a bit more interesting. It's basically an extremely simplified, stripped-down version of this random advancement system by "Zak S., Reynaldo Madriñan, Jeff Rients, Chris Wilson, Nick Kuntz, Matt Halbauer, and lots of other cool people," but specifically for LotFP fighters only.

Beyond level 9, most classes continue to get better at their main class feature in some way: magic-users continue to get spells per day, specialists continue to get skill points, etc. However, fighters don't really get anything special beyond that point other than additional HP and better saves (which other classes still get as well, to some extent). This is just a rough idea for giving fighters something class-specific to look forward to if they survive past level 9, with the added benefit of potentially differentiating individual fighters a little more, if you feel the need for that.

Every level, the fighter chooses to either take their normal +1 base attack bonus, or roll 1d10 on the table below. If the fighter's base attack bonus is maxed out at +10, they must roll on the table.
  1. Nice try, but you still get a +1 base attack bonus anyway. But, if your base attack bonus is already maxed out at +10, you get to choose any result from this table instead.
  2. Do you even lift? It takes five additional items to gain the first point of encumbrance (as per the dwarf class in LotFP). If you have already gotten this result once before, see Result 1 instead.
  3. Your hit die increases from d8 to d10, and if you have a positive constitution modifier, you continue to add it to your HP after level 9 (as per the dwarf class in LotFP). Go ahead and reroll all of your hit dice. If the result is greater than your previous maximum HP, keep the new result. If it is equal to or less than your previous maximum HP, your new maximum HP simply becomes your old maximum HP plus 1. If you have already gotten this result once before, see Result 1 instead.
  4. Nothing gets past you. You are only surprised on a 1 in 6 (as per the elf class in LotFP). If you have already gotten this result once before, see Result 1 instead.
  5. You've got the touch! If an enemy can normally only be hit by a magic weapon, or by some other special kind of weapon (silver, for example), you can instead hit them with any kind of weapon. If you have already gotten this result once before, see Result 1 instead.
  6. FIGHTER SMASH! You gain the ability to enter a state of RAGE, as per Vacant Ritual Assembly #4, page 18. If you have already gotten this result once before, see Result 1 instead.
  7. Increase the amount of damage you do with any weapon (including your bare hands) by 1 die size, following this pattern: 1-->d2-->d3-->d4-->d6-->d8-->d10-->d12-->d20 (the maximum for mundane weapons). If you have already gotten this result once before, see Result 1 instead.
  8. Show us your moves! You get a second attack per round. If you have already gotten this result once before, you now get a third attack per round. If you have already gotten this result twice before, you can either make three attacks per round or you can make one attack against every enemy within melee range that has 1 HD or less. If you have already gotten this result at least three times before, see Result 1 instead.
  9. Roll a d4: 1 equals Charisma, 2 equals Constitution, 3 equals Dexterity, and 4 equals Strength. Increase the corresponding ability's modifier by +1. (For example, if you have a Charisma of 16 and you roll a 1, your Charisma modifier increases from +2 to +3.) Each ability modifier can only be increased this way once, so if you roll the same ability again, re-roll until you get a new one. If you have already increased all four of these ability modifiers before, see Result 1 instead.
  10. You paid attention to something beyond your big beatin' stick. You gain 2 skill points.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Candy Swordcane

A type of weapon crafted by the Boreal Elves as part of their war effort against the Mouse Emperor of Babylon, this walking stick smells strongly of peppermint and bears a striped pattern reminiscent of the heraldic flag of the legendary 7th Automated Regiment, the "Nutcrackers." In its "cane" state, it functions as a standard quarterstaff.

If someone spends an hour licking the end of the cane, it will gradually sharpen into a thin, sharp, sticky blade. Each additional person who helps lick the cane subtracts ten minutes from the time required to sharpen it, down to a minimum of ten minutes to complete the process. Anyone who participates in this licking process will be unable to smell or taste anything but the peppermint and sugar coating their mouth for the next hour.

Once sharpened, the Candy Swordcane becomes a magic weapon, granting +2 to hit and damage against most targets, and +4 to hit and damage against vermin, children, and creatures with huge open mouths.

When the first successful, damage-dealing hit is made using the sharpened Candy Swordcane, there is a 1-in-12 chance that it shatters, losing its magical properties and becoming nearly useless as a weapon - at best, one could use a fragment of the broken weapon as a brittle makeshift dagger. If the Candy Swordcane does not shatter on the first successful hit, the next such hit results in a 2-in-12 chance of it breaking, then a 3-in-12 chance on the third such hit, and so on, giving the weapon a maximum of 12 damage-dealing attacks before breaking.

Rumour has it that the Boreal Elves have begun designing Candy Lance-Canes for the Turtledove Cavalry of the 2nd Gingerbread Regiment.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Specialist for My "Separate Race and Class" System in LotFP

This is the first draft of a Specialist class for my system of house rules for separating race and class in Lamentations of the Flame Princess. If a player wants to make an Elven Assassin or a Dwarven Ranger or (heresy of heresies!) a Halfling Bard or something weird like that which doesn't quite fit into a class that is already available, this should hopefully be enough to cover most such cases, along with the addition of new skills to the game if necessary.

I originally approached this as a sort of variant on the Fighter class in this system - I figured that if the Fighter is "balanced," then maybe I could balance a new class (well, "new" for this purpose) by starting with the Fighter and tweaking things from there. I don't know if it shows at all, beyond the experience table. I was caught between the Fighter and Specialist Saving Throw tables - I picked the Specialist table for now, in order to make the Fighter a bit tougher than the Specialist, but I'm still not entirely decided. If anyone would like to share their thoughts on improving this version of the Specialist, or some other aspect of these house rules, I would appreciate the feedback.

The Specialist

Hit Dice and Minimum First-Level HP: As chosen race
Saving Throw Table if Human: As original Specialist class
Saving Throw Table if Not Human: As corresponding original LotFP race-as-class

Experience Table if Human: As original Specialist class
Experience Table if Not Human: As corresponding original LotFP race-as-class

Alignment: Any

Class Abilities

Skill Points: In addition to any Skill Points gained due to the character's chosen race, the Specialist gains 4 Skill Points at first level and 1 Skill Point per level after that.

Combat Options: At the cost of 2 Skill Points, the Specialist can gain the extra Combat Options of the Fighter class (i.e. Press, Defensive Fighting, and the superior version of Parry). If the Specialist wishes to gain these extra Combat Options after first level, a Skill Point can be "saved up" - the Specialist can choose to gain one less Skill Point at one level in order to gain one extra Skill Point at the next level.

Non-Human Skills: Humans can spend the Skill Points provided by this class on any skills, just like the Skill Points gained due to their race. Other races, due to the way they advance in specific skills at specific levels, may have restrictions on how they allocate Skill Points. The Referee should choose one of the following 3 rules to apply to the Specialist class (ideally at the beginning of the campaign or adventure) and inform all players of that choice.
  1. Non-human Specialists cannot spend Skill Points on any "racial skills" - the Search skill for the Elf race, Architecture for the Dwarf race, Bushcraft and Stealth for the Halfling race, and any skills that increase in a similar manner for any other Player Character race added to the game.
  2. Non-human Specialists can spend Skill Points on "racial skills" (as defined above), but any ranks gained in a "racial skill" beyond 6 are lost. (For example, if an Elf Specialist puts 2 extra Skill Points into Search at first level, for a total of 4 ranks in Search, and does not put any additional Skill Points into Search after that, then the Elf will have 5 ranks in Search at fourth level, and 6 ranks in Search from seventh level on. The Skill Points that the Elf would ordinarily gain at tenth level and thirteenth level for the Search skill are lost.)
  3. Non-human Specialists can spend Skill Points on "racial skills" (as defined above), and any additional ranks  gained in a "racial skill" beyond 6 become extra Skill Points that can be spent on any other skill of the Specialist's choice. (For example, if an Elf Specialist puts 2 extra Skill Points into Search at first level, for a total of 4 ranks in Search, and does not put any additional Skill Points into Search after that, then the Elf will have 5 ranks in Search at fourth level, and 6 ranks in Search from seventh level on. The Skill Points that the Elf would ordinarily gain at tenth level and thirteenth level for the Search skill can be spent on other skills instead.)
EDIT ON DEC. 4, 2017
Here's a quick design note I just posted over on Facebook:

I should note that I was HEAVILY considering making this a demihuman-only class, since humans already get skill points just like the original Specialist in this system of house rules. Using my little system here, a human assassin or ranger or whatever could easily just be a human fighter with points in the appropriate skills. Demihumans couldn't do that, so I figured I would throw them a bone: if they want to specialize, they can, but at the cost of losing out on being a decent Fighter or being able to use magic. BUT...then I thought back to how a friend of mine convinced me that restricting classes by race kind of sucks a little bit, and I thought that, hey, maybe a player might want to run a non-magical, non-violent human specialist of some kind, like a doctor or a scholar or something, and who am I to tell them they can't send their poor first-level librarian down into a filthy hole in the ground to die? So I decided to allow human Specialists, too. At least for now.

EDIT ON DEC. 19, 2017
I made two major alterations to this class.

First, I changed the "Experience Table if Human" from the "original Fighter class" to the "original Specialist class." The Human Fighter has the advantages of increasing base attack bonus, free "Combat Options," better saving throws, and faster firearm reloading (Rules & Magic p. 159 and 161). The Human Specialist is trading all of that away for some extra skill points. I figured I could at least throw this type of character a bone by cutting down the experience requirements a little.

Second, under "Class Abilities," the "Skill Points" section originally read "In addition to any Skill Points gained due to the character's chosen race, the Specialist gains 4 Skill Points at first level and 1 Skill Point per level at second to ninth level. (This class does not provide extra Skill Points beyond ninth level.)" I thought that was a bit too harsh, so now the Specialist just gets 1 Skill Point per level after the first, without limit.

Update to Optional Race and Alignment Restrictions
As I said before, I probably wouldn't use these kinds of restrictions, but just in case:
  • Humans can choose any alignment. They can be Fighters, Specialists*, Clerics (if Lawful), Magic-Users (if Chaotic), or Fools (if Neutral).
  • Dwarves are always Lawful. They can be Fighters, Specialists, or Clerics.
  • Elves are always Chaotic. They can be Fighters, Specialists, or Magic-Users.
  • Halflings are always Neutral. They can be Fighters, Specialists, or Fools.
*If the DM wishes, Humans could be disallowed from being Specialists, since they already get Specialist-like skills as a racial ability. This would make Specialists the only standard class specifically restricted by race, rather than alignment.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Alice/Fool for My "Separate Race and Class" System in LotFP

One thing I didn't care for when I wrote my method of separating race and class in LotFP was the limited number of classes included. Four races seem like enough, at least to start with, but I would have liked to include at least four classes as well. (You can always add more, of course, but I wanted four of each by default.) So, here's how I would use the Alice/Fool class from A Red & Pleasant Land with my race-and-class house rules.

The Fool

Hit Dice and Minimum First-Level HP: As chosen race

Saving Throw Table if Human: As original Specialist class
Saving Throw Table if Not Human: As corresponding original LotFP race-as-class

Experience Table if Human: As original Specialist class
Experience Table if Not Human: As corresponding original LotFP race-as-class

Class Abilities

Exasperation: As per A Red & Pleasant Land p. 30-31

Level-Up Table: At first level and every time the Fool levels up, roll d30 twice on the following table and reference the corresponding result on the original d100 table from A Red & Pleasant Land p. 32-33.
  1. Result 71 on the original table: "She noticed the Red Knight always feinted to his left..."
  2. Result 72 on the original table: "Alice liked pies..."
  3. Result 73 on the original table: "She closed her eyes and said the words..."
  4. Result 74 on the original table: "Oh, I do so apologize..."
  5. Result 75 on the original table: "Her sister had mentioned they were dreadful people..."
  6. Result 76 on the original table: "All that hiding..."
  7. Result 77 on the original table: "It seemed nearly everything was dangerous..."
  8. Result 78 on the original table: "It was very shiny..."
  9. Result 79 on the original table: "She was not such a mouse..."
  10. Result 80 on the original table: "Alice then did something quite astonishing..."
  11. Result 81 on the original table: "The blue one certainly did make the Alice taller..."
  12. Result 82 on the original table: "She could be very charming..."
  13. Result 83 on the original table: "It really was curious..."
  14. Result 84 on the original table: "She knew to curtsey..."
  15. Result 85 on the original table: "It was so lovely..."
  16. Result 86 on the original table: "She had not known her mother's cousin very well..."
  17. Result 87 on the original table: "They kept talking..."
  18. Result 88 on the original table: "She knew from school what the word meant..."
  19. Result 89 on the original table: "Alice quite liked drawing..."
  20. Result 90 on the original table: "She thought it might be a saltcellar..."
  21. Result 91-93 on the original table: "She did seem to offend people..."
  22. Result 91-93 on the original table: "She did seem to offend people..."
  23. Result 91-93 on the original table: "She did seem to offend people..."
  24. Result 94 on the original table: "They all listened attentively..."
  25. Result 95 on the original table: "They began to throw stones..."
  26. Result 96 on the original table: "She began to feel somewhat neglected."
  27. Result 97-98 on the original table: "She tried to remember what she knew about stoats."
  28. Result 97-98 on the original table: "She tried to remember what she knew about stoats."
  29. Result 99-100 on the original table: "Alice had seen so many unusual things lately..."
  30. Result 99-100 on the original table: "Alice had seen so many unusual things lately..."
Alternative Level-Up Table
If no one at the table has a d30, or if the DM wishes to exclude certain results, a d20 table could be used instead. Here is one possibility*:
  1. Result 71 on the original table: "She noticed the Red Knight always feinted to his left..."
  2. Result 72 on the original table: "Alice liked pies..."
  3. Result 74 on the original table: "Oh, I do so apologize..."
  4. Result 75 on the original table: "Her sister had mentioned they were dreadful people..."
  5. Result 76 on the original table: "All that hiding..."
  6. Result 77 on the original table: "It seemed nearly everything was dangerous..."
  7. Result 78 on the original table: "It was very shiny..."
  8. Result 80 on the original table: "Alice then did something quite astonishing..."
  9. Result 81 on the original table: "The blue one certainly did make the Alice taller..."
  10. Result 82 on the original table: "She could be very charming..."
  11. Result 83 on the original table: "It really was curious..."
  12. Result 84 on the original table: "She knew to curtsey..."
  13. Result 87 on the original table: "They kept talking..."
  14. Result 89 on the original table: "Alice quite liked drawing..."
  15. Result 90 on the original table: "She thought it might be a saltcellar..."
  16. Result 91-93 on the original table: "She did seem to offend people..."
  17. Result 95 on the original table: "They began to throw stones..."
  18. Result 96 on the original table: "She began to feel somewhat neglected."
  19. Result 97-98 on the original table: "She tried to remember what she knew about stoats."
  20. Result 99-100 on the original table: "Alice had seen so many unusual things lately..."
Optional Race and Alignment Restrictions
I prefer to allow any combination of race and class, and to ditch alignment altogether. But if someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to use race- and alignment-based class restrictions, I'd probably do this:
  • Humans can choose any class and any alignment.
  • Dwarves are always Lawful, and are thus restricted to being Fighters or Clerics.
  • Elves are always Chaotic, and are thus restricted to being Fighters or Magic-Users.
  • Halflings are always Neutral, and are thus restricted to being Fighters or Fools.
  • Clerics must be Lawful, Magic-Users must be Chaotic, and Fools must be Neutral. Fighters can choose any alignment.
If anyone actually cares, I can explain my reasoning for this alignment setup later. Hint: Check out this post at METAL vs. SKIN.

From the Nintendo Power Link to the Past comic by Shotaro Ishinomori.. Image borrowed from here.


*Personally, I would probably use this table instead of the d30 one, because it removes some of the results from the original table that I don't particularly care for.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Tower of Worlds - A Campaign Concept Based on "The Final Fantasy Legend" AKA "Makai Toushi Sa·Ga"

This is inspired by The Final Fantasy Legend (Makai Toushi Sa·Ga in Japan), the Dark Tower series by Stephen King (and related stories), THIS POST over at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, and the Tower of Babel (naturally). It is also a follow up to THIS POST, and could perhaps work well with THIS ONE.

Image is from HERE

This is basically a framework for a Dungeons & Dragons or Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign, or the fantasy RPG of your choice. The idea is that there's a magic Tower which (possibly among other things) allows travel between different "worlds" or planets or universes or alternate realities or...something. No one seems to be quite sure, especially since the Tower is imperceptible and intangible to most people - the few who can see and interact with it have little in common, and may be "chosen" at random - and there are conflicting reports about exactly where the Tower is located. Pretty much everyone who even knows and cares about the Tower in the players' starting world is working from old legends and theories and such. The few who have entered the Tower and returned report that the way up is blocked, and the way down leads to some strange, hostile places.

Oh, and the legends claim that God lives at the top of the Tower, and He loves to grant wishes for anyone who can make it to the top to come see Him.

The players begin in the world of Floor 1. They quickly discover that they are among those "chosen" to be able to perceive the Tower, which they find in the middle of an unsuspecting town. If the players choose to enter the Tower, they find that the staircase to Floor 2 is sealed off by a magical barrier, but the stairs down to the first basement (Floor B1) are unobstructed. The first floor also contains a clue as to how the players can find the key to unsealing Floor 2, located somewhere in their own world on Floor 1. If the players ever make their way to Floors 5, 10, 16, and possibly 23, they will similarly find the way further upward sealed off, with keys to breaking the seals in those worlds.

The players can set their own goals if they want, naturally, such as exploring one or more worlds or getting involved in various conflicts throughout the multiverse or discovering the secret meaning or purpose(s) behind the Tower or just killing things and taking their stuff. But the most obvious possible goal would be to climb the whole Tower and meet God, and maybe get some wishes granted. If the players are feeling especially fond of JRPG tropes, or just feeling really Metal, they could even try to kill God and take His place or something.

One more thing: the magic "seals" between Floors 1 and 2, between Floors 5 and 6, etc. actually only block traffic in one direction, namely upward. Strange people (and stranger creatures) sometimes travel down the Tower and find themselves unable to return from whence they came. The starting world on Floor 1 is home to some such travelers, as are most or all of the other worlds. A really tricky DM could add seals on Floors B3, B5, and B6, so that players who explore downward cannot return upward without completing some kind of quest(s) to break one or more seals. I listed these floors as "once sealed" below, but there's no reason you couldn't have those seals still be active.

You could use all kinds of campaign settings and modules to flesh out the Tower's multiverse. If I were to use the rules and materials from LotFP, for example, here's how I would probably arrange the various worlds of the Tower:

Floor B6: This is the base of the tower, rooted in the Veins of the Earth. (Maybe the bottom of the Tower could be the Deep Carbon Observatory, hanging from the ceiling in a giant cavern in the Veins.) There could be other Towers accessible throughout the Veins. Other worlds than these. There is evidence that the Door to Floor B5 was once sealed.

Floor B5: Exits to Narcosa. Drug-using NPCs who originally hail from higher in the tower constantly make lame jokes about "The Underground Drug Trade." (Ha ha! Get it? Snort.) There is evidence that the Door to Floor B4 was once sealed.

Floor B4: Exits to The Gem Prison of Zardax. If there used to be another world here (outside of the Prison), it's gone now, replaced by the technicolor void.

Floor B3: Exits to Towers Two. There is evidence that the Door to Floor B2 was once sealed.

Floor B2: Exits to the flower plantation of The Pale Lady.
Note that there can sometimes be alternative methods of travelling between worlds other than climbing or descending the Tower, but that these "shortcuts" may be dangerous, unpredictable, or time-sensitive. For example, you could allow the players temporary access to this world as per The Pale Lady, but if they miss their window of opportunity to return the way they came, they may have to climb the Tower in order to get back home.

Floor 1: Earth, or Oerth, or Mystara, or Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival map, or whatever you want the "normal" world to be. Door to Floor 2 is sealed.

Floor 3: Exits to a town known as Pembrooktonshire, where the residents insist everything is practically perfect just the way it is. Heavenly, even. After all, didn't you climb up to get here? And isn't this the top of the tower? (They all seem to be convinced it is, even though there's clearly an unblocked path to Floor 4.) Some "halflings" were recently run out of town - see Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess. There are also dangerous "monsters" in the mountains - see No Dignity in Death and Hammers of the God. Could also tie in nicely with the adventure "In Heaven, Everything is Fine" from Forgive Us.
Alternatively: If you want to make Pembrooktonshire and its surroundings the starting world on Floor 1, you could have Floor 3 exit to Hot Springs Island.

Floor 4: Exits to Weird New World. The elves are not native here; they descended the Tower from another world, and now believe they are in Hell.

Floor 5: Exits to The Driftwood Verses. Door to Floor 6 is sealed.

Floor 7: Exits to the Isle of the Unknown.

Floor 10: Exits to A Red & Pleasant Land. Door to Floor 11 is sealed.

Floor 12: Exits to the city of Vornheim.

Floor 13: Exits to Bad Myrmidon. Currently undergoing a bad drought.

Floor 14: Exits to Scenic Dunnsmouth. If something is done about the Time Cube, it starts raining again in the world connected to Floor 13.

Floor 16: Exits to Carcosa. (Maybe the titular city is abandoned due to something involving the Tower? Maybe the Tower is in the city, or is the city, on this Floor?) Door to Floor 17 is sealed.

Floor 21: Exits to Qelong.

Floor 23: Exits to The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia. Maybe throw in some material from The Hateful Place, since things have gone so incredibly wrong in this world.

Things could go one of two ways from here. Either the door to Floor 24 is sealed, and the Tower continues upward for a while longer, in which case we have...

Floor 31: The top floor. This is supposedly where God dwells.

...or Floor 23 is actually the top floor...inside the Tower, that is. In this case, Meatlandia is actually the same world as the one where the campaign started out on Floor 1, except far in the future. Now a new path can be traveled up the outside of the Tower, leading to...

The Roof (a.k.a. Floor 24): This is supposedly where God dwells.

Either way, if the party actually makes it to the top of the Tower, it should be within the realm of possibility that they can kick the ass of whatever so-called God dwells up there and take His Most Holy Stuff. It doesn't have to be easy. Success could be so remote that calling it a long shot is like saying the trip to Alpha Centauri is a long flight. But if they make it this far, I think I, as the referee, owe it to the players to prevent the ultimate boss fight from being completely hopeless. I mean, look at the video game I swiped this Tower business from. Take it from Jackie Kashian: deicide is a great way to end a fantasy game.

If the party vanquishes God or "God" or whoever the man in the funny hat turns out to be, a big magical door is revealed. Where does it go? Beats me.

Image is from HERE

P.S. I would assume that all PCs are among the "chosen" who can find and enter the Tower. As for hirelings and other NPCs that the players may want to bring with them between worlds, you could handle this in a few ways. The DM could roll randomly to see if a given NPC is "chosen." The players could discover a way to grant "chosen" status to normal people (at some kind of cost, of course). The DM could decide that being "chosen" requires being controlled by a real-life player, i.e. being a PC, as a sort of "meta" element to the game, and any NPC who becomes a PC suddenly becomes "chosen." Or you could use a combination of these elements, or do something else.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Hateful Place Play Report: A Momentary Loss of Mercenary Coordination

Part 1 is HERE.
Part 2 is HERE.
House Rules are HERE.
"There is a hateful place, somewhere in my mind..."

Cast of the Cursed:
  • Terka the Profiteer - Relatively innocent cosmic chew-toy and traveling companion of Anya.
  • Anya the Profiteer - Not impressed with this hotel's level of professionalism. Some room service would have been nice.
  • Alexandria the Profiteer - Fast-talking con artist. Tends to bite off more than she can chew.
  • Abdullah Khalid the Barbarian - "Dwarf" from a distant desert. Previously lost wandering the halls in a trance. Reunited with the group when the boiler "exploded."
  • Boobs the Witch Hunter - Freelance inquisitor from a distant jungle. Hence her exotic name.
  • (Not appearing in this part: Rory the Witch Hunter. Her player could not make it this time, unfortunately. One can assume Rory was separated from the group when the hotel's layout shifted. Perhaps we will see her in a future play report?)
Anya digs herself out from under a pile of burnt pillows and blinks at her darkened surroundings, trying to grasp what happened. Nearby, she finds Terka crying and Alexandria looking uncharacteristically stunned, even shell-shocked.

"Alright," says Anya. "Fuck this place. We're leaving."

Feeling dimly surprised that it has taken so long to come to this conclusion, Anya hauls Terka and Alexandria out the fire-scarred door of Room 109, Terka still sobbing as she parts ways with her crispy kitty friend.

Things are not as they once were. Instead of the hallway of bedrooms, the door opens into a small T-intersection. On the left is a small storage room, followed by a short hall terminating in the door to Room 108. Straight ahead, the other hall ends with an alcove on the left and the door to Room 211 on the right. The carpet is soggy, and the wallpaper is scorched and tattered. The only illumination comes from the trio's flashlights.

The door to Room 108 bursts open. Boobs stumbles out and scrambles across the carpet. Behind her, the others can see that the hooked chains hanging from the ceiling are now waving back and forth wildly, seemingly of their own accord. Several of the hooks are caught on the arms of another familiar figure: Abdullah Khalid, the strange wanderer who had quietly disappeared from the group a day or two ago, almost unnoticed. With a cry of pain he pulls himself free of the hooks and throws himself out of the room after Boobs, barely dodging the rest of the swinging chains. Blood running down his arms, he kicks the door closed with a grunt.

They climb to their feet. Boobs brushes herself off and shrugs.

"I woke up and he was in my bed," she says.

"I was as surprised as you were!"

"You get lost, Abdullah?" asks Anya.

"These halls are very twisty and confusing. And the carpet and wallpaper were very distracting."

"I'm not usually into short guys..." mutters Boobs.

"And I'm not one for whips and chains!"

Finding no sign of Rory, everyone agrees that the group is as collected as it is going to be. They start toward Room 211. Kubrick steps into their path from behind the alcove wall.

"Greetings once more."

"Oh, hi, Mr. Kubrick," says Anya. "Would you kindly do us all a huge favor and tell us what the fuck is going on?"

Kubrick explains that the boiler had exploded from a lack of maintenance, as expected, but because of the spectral and temporal properties of the hotel, things had not quite burned in the usual fashion. Instead, the hotel's ties to conventional reality had burned, at least in part, and it was twisted and transformed on some unfathomable, metaphysical level, resulting in its current state. Still, Kubrick now has free reign of the hotel, as he had hoped, since the runes binding him to his room had been destroyed by this process.

"For that, I must thank you," he tells them, "and in gratitude, I am willing to offer you a deal that might help you to be free of this place, as well."

"I'm listening," says Boobs.

"My prison has expanded to the entire hotel, but I am still a captive. Likewise, all of you appear to be ready to check out. If one of you could assist me in leaving, I could arrange for your wounds to be treated, so that you will be in less pain and danger as you search for a means of egress."

"You could heal us? What would you need us to do?" asks Alexandria. Anya notes that she is already starting to seem like herself again.

"I need one of you to make an agreement with me: if you die on your way out, I get to have your body. Cloaked in flesh, I believe I would be able to escape this place with the rest of you. I just need an empty vessel."

Alexandria and Boobs exchange a look. They are clearly the only two willing to entertain the idea.

"I mean, if I die," says Alexandria, "I won't need my body anymore, anyway."

"Let me see this deal in writing," Boobs tells the spectral caretaker.

Kubrick takes a pen and notepad from his suit pocket and hastily writes a contract. He hands it to Boobs. It reads as follows:

"Upon death, I hereby forfeit my soul for use in establishing a metaphysical bridge between the soul of Mr. Jack Kubrick and the body of myself, the undersigned. In exchange, Mr. Kubrick shall heal our injuries upon the signing of this contract, and Mr. Kubrick will not cause deliberate harm to the undersigned or the people listed below (maximum 6) prior to the death of the undersigned."

At the bottom, there is a line designated for one's signature, and six more blank lines where the "undersigned" can list other people to be healed (and exempted from any deliberate harm) by Mr. Kubrick.

Alexandria reads it over Boobs' shoulder.

"What's this about forfeiting my soul?" she asks.

"It is simply a requirement in order for me to carry out the process of possessing your newly-vacated body."

"Sure..."

Boobs furrows her brow, takes out a pen she had found somewhere, and makes a few quick edits. Then she signs it - her signature being two pairs of concentric circles, one tiny "o" in the center of each of the two larger ones - and hands it back to Kubrick. He reads it and frowned.

"Upon death, I hearby forfeit my soul for use in establishing a metaphysical bridge between the soul of Mr. Jack Kubrick and the body of myself, the undersigned. In exchange, Mr. Kubrick shall heal our injuries upon the signing of this contract, and Mr. Kubrick will not cause deliberate harm to the undersigned or the people listed below (maximum 6) prior to the death of the undersigned. The parties hearby agree that this contract shall be construed against the drafter (Mr. Kubrick) and that all disputes shall be resolved in favor of the undersigned as existed prior to the dispute."

"I'm sorry," Mr. Kubrick tells her, "But I cannot accept this contract in its current form. For one, that clause you added would never hold up in Demon Court, and furthermore, neither your signature nor the changes you made were written in demonic ink, so this contract is not currently able to be magically enforced"

Anya rolls her eyes.

"Wait a minute, are you a demon?" asks Alexandria.

"Yeah, and why does it have to hold up in Demon Court?" says Boobs, fixing the ghost with her steely gaze.

Kubrick laughs. "How do you think magic works? The universe gives not one whit for the laws and covenants of humans. Your race is insignificant, powerless. If you want a spiritual contract to be enforced, you must appeal to a higher power."

"And you just happen to carry demon ink on you?" Alexandria says incredulously.

"And be friendly enough with demons to know how their courts work?" says Boobs.

"And why do you need a body and a soul again, exactly?" Alexandria asks.

Kubrick sighs. "Look, I'm sure we can come to an agreement. Let's just negotiate something we can all be happy with, and then I'll rewrite the whole thing properly."

"Nope," says Boobs. "It stays as is. Give me the demon pen, let me trace over what I just wrote and sign it, or I walk. Final offer."

Kubrick raises an eyebrow. "Alexandria?"

She shakes her head. "No deal."

"Very well. Best of luck to you. You'll need it." And with that, Kubrick steps back around the corner into the alcove.

Anya peeks around the corner. No one there. No obvious exit from the alcove. As expected.

While these negotiations were underway, Terka had decided to distract herself from her grief by doing a little exploration of her own. She opened the nearby door to the small storage room. It turned out to be the cloak room. Terka rifled through all of the pockets and discovered a note.

"Use the closets for a hasty exit.
-Milo"

Terka passes the note around once Kubrick disappears. No one is sure what to make of it. Everyone agrees to press on.

Alexandria has the bright idea to try and knock down a wall and see if a shortcut to the outside world reveals itself. Clearly the layout of the hotel had changed. Why wander around aimlessly? She talks Boobs into hacking at a nearby wall. When she pulls the axe back from the opening, everyone can clearly see that the other side of the wall is full of...nothing.

Nothing after nothing comes pouring into the room. Before their very eyes, the room begins to fill up with nothing. Terrified, everyone crowds through the doorway into Room 211. Anya slams the door and locks it, hoping that nothing will be stopped by it.

Room 211 looks much the same as before, with toys and bones scattered on the floor of Kubrick's old haunt, but there are some new features. Namely, a closet door hanging open on the opposite wall, and another door on the wall to her left. She opens the latter door and finds a long hallway ending in yet another door, this one unmarked. Behind her, Boobs examines the closet. It is empty, save for a few wire coat hangers. Everyone proceeds down the hall and through the next door.

They find themselves back in the Lake Shore Restaurant, but the glass doors on the opposite end of the room are replaced with another unmarked wooden door. The food that had been left over from the two previous feasts is still on the tables, but it is badly rotten, as if it had sat there for weeks. The little bell sit innocently on the counter.

"Hey Abdullah, when was the last time you ate?" asks Alexandria.

Abdullah's stomach growls in reply. "I believe I ate a morsel or two in the cabin."

Alexandria rings the bell for the third and final time. No food appears.

"Is this thing broken?"

"Shh!" hisses Anya. "Listen."

There is a strange howling sound in the distance, accompanied by faint chimes.

"What is that?"

The noises quickly grow much closer. And much louder. It is as if all the demons in hell are shouting in unholy jubilation and baying for blood and stomping madly to the clanging of massive bells.

The door shakes. Maybe that's exactly what it is. The deafening crowd slams into the door, again and again. A million claws and teeth seems to scrape the other side of the wooden barrier.

No one wants to see just how long the door will hold. Boobs is the first to run back down the hall and into Room 211. Recalling the note from Milo, she ducks into the closet and closes the door. The rest of the group arrive just after it shuts, and Alexandria flings it open again. Boobs is gone.

They can hear the door in the restaurant begin to crack.

"Everyone into the closet!" commands Anya.

They barely manage to squeeze in together. Abdullah sucks in his stomach and reaches up for the knob. His fingers brush against it. The cacophonous horde barrels unseen down the hallway toward him, mercifully just out of sight. He grasps the knob and slams the door. Silence.

Boobs emerges from the closet in a twisting series of corridors. This area looks somewhat more intact. A little smoke damage, maybe, and the lights are off, but overall it isn't quite so dilapidated. She is alone.

She turns the corner and almost walks right into someone's naked back. There are thirteen nude people crowding the hall, backs turned to her, blocking any obvious means of progress. Their skin is clammy and bruised. They start to turn.

Boobs runs the way she had come. It seems the safest option. She steps into the closet and closes the door once more. She waits a few seconds and opens it a crack. Now it leads to another bedroom. She listens. Nothing. (And not the bad kind.) She steps out.

It is Room 213. The door that should lead to the hallway has been replaced by the door to the closet, from which she had just emerged. Across from her, the window overlooks another room instead of the hotel exterior. The guillotine trap is still primed above the window. Boobs cuts the rope, allowing the blade to fall, then climbs out the window.

This room turns out to be another hallway. There is a door at each end, as well as another window. She looks through the latter. It is Room 212, where the newlywed corpses entwine themselves around the sword.

"Come on, you don't need that hunk of junk. Let's keep moving," her magic axe whispers. She nods.

She goes through the nearest door and finds another hallway ending in a metal ladder going down through a square hole in the floor. The door to Room 205 is the only other exit. Looking down the hole, she sees that the ladder ends in a pool of water. She can't tell how deep it is.

Nothing appeals to her here, so she turns back and tries the last remaining door in the previous hallway. This leads to a short, L-shaped hall ending in another descending ladder. She looks down. More water. She has a feeling she'll have to get her feet wet eventually. Might as well get it over with. She climbs down.

The water turns out to be a little higher than her calves. She finds herself in a long, flooded corridor. At both the end of the hall and halfway down the right wall are short staircases leading to doors. She trudges along to the farthest door, opens it, and finds a small lobby and an elevator door.

She pushs the "open doors" button. A torrent of blood comes rushing out. It picks her up and carries her down the steps and halfway down the hall before she can manage to resist the current. The flood ceases after a moment. The blood and water are now above her waist.

She awkwardly wades back to the gore-soaked stairs and drags herself to the elevator. Inside, there are only two buttons: one to open the doors, and one to close them. She suddenly has an overwhelming urge to put her axe to good use, but there aren't any interesting targets. She wades through the blood again and tries the other door.

It leads to even more steps. This time, it is a spiral staircase. She climbs it and finds another door. Behind it, she is surprised to find the living room of a rather beautiful cabin. Beautiful, that is, except for the two graves dug in the floor.

She hears someone or something coming up the stairs. Quickly, she closes the door, pushes the couch over next to it for cover, and ducks behind it, axe at the ready. She waits.

In the meantime, the others tumble out of the closet into a maze of hallways and rooms. Over the course of the following journey, they cannot tell how long they spend exploring these passages, and for the most part they do not know for sure if they are making any progress toward some kind of exit. They try to be methodical in their search, but on several occasions they have unnerving encounters or find dangerous-looking places which make them seek out the nearest closet, resulting in their teleportation all across Kingdom Gone. Naturally, this makes it difficult to keep their bearings. The most notable events, in no particular order, are as follows:
  • In a passage filled shin-deep with water, a porcelain doll comes swimming straight at them, eliciting a cry of "Nope!" from Anya. Back into the closet.
  • From around a corner, they hear an echo of toneless laughter. It sounds like Alexandria, but it clearly is not, because she is right here next to everyone. Anya remembers the doppelganger standing outside of Terka's room and shudders. Back into the closet.
  • Another flooded hallway dead-ends in a men's bathroom. One of the toilets is filled to the brim with black water. Gross. Back into the closet.
  • Atop a set of carpeted stairs they find the reading room. Remarkably, it is still intact. They collect the maps of the area, just in case they ever do get out of here and need to know the quickest and safest way down the mountain, and where to find another town besides the one that started this mess. Across the room is another door, leading to...
  • ...the jail cell where Terka, Anya, and Abdullah's brother (the late Abdullah) were held captive for execution by the brown-robed cultists. There is a key sitting on a table on the guards' side of the bars, which Anya pockets. Abdullah finds a stool and places it below one of the windows so he can look outside. It appears that the jail is suspended high in the daytime sky. Below is a sea of clouds. The sun is beginning to set, but straight ahead of him Abdullah can clearly see an orb of some kind approaching him, floating through the air like a balloon. Not just an orb. A colossal, cyclopean eye. Abdullah hops down from his perch and warns the others what is coming. Back into the closet.
Eventually, they emerge from the closet for the last time to find themselves in Room 212. Giving a wide berth to the bed upon which the dead couple embrace the sword, they climb through the window one-by-one out into the hallway. Looking through the other window into Room 213, Anya notes that the guillotine trap has been disarmed. Maybe Boobs had come this way? They continue through the nearby door and peer down past the ladder at the end of the L-shaped hall. The water at the bottom is crimson. The smell is unmistakable. But people do strange things in strange situations. Everyone climbs down the ladder.

Lumbering down the flooded hall, they find both an elevator and a spiral staircase going up. They choose the stairs. At the top, they come through the door into a familiar cabin. Before they can react, Boobs stands up from behind the couch and swings her axe at Abdullah. Realizing it's just her companions entering the room, she stops her swing at the last moment, a hair's breadth from touching the barbarian.

"Whoops, sorry."

"Ah, nuts. So close. Better luck next time!" the axe whispers into her mind.

"Don't worry, you'll get your blood," Boobs assures it.

"Pardon?" asks Abdullah.

"Don't worry about all that blood. Downstairs, I mean. It came out of the elevator, that's all."

Everyone examines the room. The hallway leading to the bedrooms and bathroom is gone. Two graves, one in each of the far corners of the room, tunnel right through the floor and the soil beneath. Each is adorned with a tombstone. The one on the left reads "Anya", and the one on the right reads "Jack Kubrick".

With some trepidation, Anya approaches her own grave. It is actually a long tunnel, with a ladder leading down to a carpeted floor. There is a large hole in the carpet around the bottom of the ladder, revealing cement underneath. Something about the pattern on the carpet looks vaguely familiar, as if she had been in that room before.

She looks in the other grave. It is also a tunnel with a ladder. At the bottom, the floor is also cement, but lacking any carpet whatsoever.

Anya turns back to her grave. Terka gives her a fearful, pleading look. Anya sighs.

"I'm going to try this one."

"I'm coming, too," says Alexandria.

"Count me out!" says Boobs. "I've been through too much to just climb right into my grave, or anyone else's!"

"I agree with the Boob Lady," Abdullah says. "I think I shall stick with her."

Anya and Alexandria turn to Terka. She looks back and forth between the two groups, panic setting in. What to do? She doesn't want Anya to go away, but the hole is so scary...

She shakes her head and looks down at her boots. Her fear wins out in the end.

"Alright, Alexandria and I will just scout ahead, I guess," Anya says, putting as much authority in her voice as she can muster.

Anya is the first down the ladder, followed by Alexandria. They find themselves in the hotel's main lobby. Unlike nearly everywhere else they've been since the boiler "exploded," this huge room is unburned and mostly undamaged - the main exception being the staircase leading to the second floor, which has been reduced to splinters, as if a wrecking ball had hit it a dozen times. In addition, all of the normal doors have disappeared, save for the glass double doors which should lead outside. Instead, they open upon a very long hallway, which ends in a single door.

The door to Room 312.

Anya and Alexandria both remember what was written on their first map of the hotel, right on top of that room.

"Waiting for you."

"Come on," says Anya.

"Hey, wait," Alexandria says hesitantly. "Kubrick said that a succubus lives in that room. The leader of all the demons in the hotel."

"So? It's the only way to go."

"Look, why don't you go on ahead and listen at the door? I'll hang back here and keep an eye on you. If there's trouble, I'll signal the others up above."

She points back up the ladder. Terka, Boobs, and Abdullah can be seen leaning over the grave, watching them carefully. Alexandria waves. Terka nervously waves back.

"Alright. Suit yourself."

Anya pushes her way through the glass doors and treks down the hall. She presses her ear to the door of Room 312. Inside, she can hear a woman softly humming a lullaby.

In the lobby, Alexandria hears a song, as well. She turns to her right. A mouth has opened in the floor. It is the size of Alexandria's torso, and it seems to grow right out of the carpet. Ruby lips frame a crimson mouth containing a set of immaculate white teeth and a pink tongue. A human mouth, more or less.

And it sings. Everyone can hear it. Anya, Terka, Abdullah, and Boobs feel a slight pull in their minds, which they are able to resist with a little effort. But Alexandria, who is right next to the mouth, watching the dance of lips and tongue as they create this intoxicating melody, more beautiful than anything she has ever heard, finds that she simply cannot, will not resist.

Anya starts to run back down the hall, shouting a vain warning.

Smiling like a contented babe, Alexandria walks over to the mouth.

The lips close for an instant, halting the song. When they part, the teeth are now those of a shark.

Alexandria steps right into the mouth. As she falls forward, she regains her senses for a moment, just long enough to realize her mistake as the jaws in the floor snap shut on her right thigh. Her leg is torn off in a monumental spray of blood. In shock, Alexandria tries to crawl away, but the pain and massive blood loss cause her to pass out almost instantly. Anya stops short at the glass doors, staring in horror at Alexandria's ragged stump.

Terka screams up above.

The singing begins again, slightly muffled by the mouthful of food. Anya knows that if she opens the doors and takes even a step into the room, she might not be able to resist the siren call.

The lips stretch over to Alexandria's other foot and pull her body in closer. The mouth takes another bite. Alexandria does not even react. It is too late for her.

Unseen by the living, a demon swoops down to collect Alexandria's soul. She is part of the hotel now.

In the cabin, Boobs and Abdullah grab Terka by the shoulders so she does not accidentally tumble down into the grave in her fit of grief.

"What should we do?" asks Abdullah.

Boobs has no answer yet. They wait.

Anya turns her back on the lobby as the mouth continues to pull Alexandria's body in closer. She runs back down the hall. Gathering her courage, she opens the door and steps inside.

It is a typical bedroom, like most of the others. There are no red runes on the walls like in Room 111 and Room 211. A naked woman with long blond hair hanging past her waist sits on the bed with her back to Anya. She brushes her hair and hums her lullaby.

"Hello?"

The woman turns to Anya and smiles pleasantly.

"Oh, hello! I haven't had a visitor in quite some time. Welcome."

"Uh, thank you. Do you...get a lot of visitors?"

"Not so many, as of late," the woman says wistfully. "Not since my husband and I were forced to part ways."

"Your husband?"

"Oh! Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Mrs. Julia Kubrick."

"I...I've met your husband," says Anya. "He said his wife was possessed by a demon, and trapped him in another room. Then she died. Or something."

"I have tried many a time to convince poor old Jack that honesty is the best policy. It would seem he still has a penchant for half-truths, unfortunately."

"Can I...may I ask you a question?"

"Of course. Please do."

"How do I get out of this hotel?"

With a slight turn of the wrist, Mrs. Kubrick motions gracefully toward another door on the opposite side of the room.

"Through there, you can find the Lake Shore restaurant. From there, walk through the glass doors, et voilà, you should be on the dock outside."

"That's it?"

"You have my word."

Anya walks over to the other door. She turns the knob. Locked.

"Oh, silly me," says Mrs. Kubrick. "It seems I've locked it."

They are both silent for a moment.

"I don't suppose...you could unlock it for me? Please?"

"I would be more than happy to...in exchange for a small favor."

Her deep brown eyes seem to bore into Anya's soul from behind her screen of hair.

"I simply need...a kiss."

Anya runs her fingers over the door knob. So close. She does not dare take her eyes off of the demon.

So close.

Anya quickly assesses her options. She can go back the way she came - assuming the demon does not attack and kill her on the way out of the room to punish her for saying "no." And assuming she can make it past the abominable thing that ate Alexandria. But then what? Is there another exit? If so, can she find it in that maze?

Maybe she can fight. Kill the demon, take the key. But where is the key? Is there a key? What if the demon locks and unlocks the door with sorcery of some kind? Besides, Anya is injured. Her opponent is not. Sure, the creature looks like an ordinary person, but Anya can practically feel the danger radiating from the nude figure.

The demon could be lying. The locked door could lead anywhere. But that does not really change her options much, does it? She cannot know until she opens it, and it seems as likely an exit as anywhere else. And something feels oddly...final about this room. Perhaps because of the note marked on Room 312 on the map. Perhaps because of her name on the gravestone.

She can try to get the others to come help her fight. But they have probably already fled. Even if they are still at the top of the ladder, can they make it past that damnable mouth? Does she trust them any more than the demon in front of her? The hotel has already shown a propensity for doppelgangers and illusions. Besides, whether she runs back to the lobby and screams for help, or calls over the walkie-talkie, what is stopping the demon from pouncing on her in an instant? What is this thing capable of?

She can try to trick the demon. But how do you fake a kiss?

She can just do what she is told and kiss her. And when she gets close, will it tear her throat out? Swallow her whole? But why would she need to go to it? Maybe it really does want a kiss. Why? To inflict a curse? Or maybe for some other, inscrutable purpose?

Maybe she is jumping to conclusions, and this is not a demon. That gut feeling of wrongness in the presence of this thing could just be an effect of her fear. Maybe this is a run-of-the-mill ghost, a lonely victim trapped here, just hoping for some small demonstration of affection?

Which is the least dangerous: To fight, to flee, or to acquiesce?

Why was it "Waiting" here for her?

She looks down at her hand and realizes that she is gripping the door knob in a painful, white-knuckled clench. So close.

"Very well," she says.

Mrs. Kubrick makes a come hither gesture with the delicate fingers of her right hand. Anya walks over to her. Mrs. Kubrick leans toward her, hands clasped behind her back, and closes her eyes. Anya leans in as well, wide-eyed and wary.

The demon's soft, dry lips touch hers for just an instant.

Deep in her abdomen, Anya feels a sudden twitch. A sort of quickening. It is gone as soon as it begins.

Mrs. Kubrick smiles and slowly leans back as her eyes flutter open.

"That's all I needed. You have my thanks. Excuse me for a moment."

She turns away from Anya. With a mighty retching sound, she vomits a large iron key into her palms. She offers it to Anya, who snatches it and moves to the door in one quick motion.

The key is ice cold and bone dry. It slips into the lock easily. The door clicks open.

"Safe travels," says the demon.

Anya finds herself in the Lake Shore restaurant, which is now unburned and unruined. Beyond the glass doors opposite her, she can see a wooden dock attached right to the building. Beyond that is a clean, blue, sparkling lake. The sun is just rising.

Anya flings herself across the room, pulls open the door, and runs along the dock. The temperature has risen to slightly above freezing. The winter air fills her lungs. Several canoes are moored nearby. She practically jumps into the nearest one.

Meanwhile, in the cabin, Abdullah suggests a course of action.

"Let us try the elevator."

Boobs shrugs.

"Sure, why not? Beats getting eaten."

They drag Terka away from the grave and offer her some vague reassurances. The three of them head back down the spiral staircase and wade through the hall of blood again.

Boobs sticks her head in the elevator. Where there were once only two buttons, an additional fifty-five have appeared: one for each numbered bedroom in the hotel.

The witch hunter, the barbarian, and the profiteer step inside. They look at each other, their mutual question hanging in the air. After a moment, Abdullah speaks.

"On the first map we had, there was something written on Room 312." He eyed the panel of buttons. "Waiting for you."

Boobs presses the button marked 312. The elevator doors meet silently, then part again a moment later.

Off to the left, a woman sits on a bed facing away from them, brushing her hair and humming a cheerful tune. Across from them stands a door with a big iron key in the lock.

Boobs leans out of the elevator. The woman shows no sign of having noticed them. Boobs jerks her head toward the door. Let's go.

They creep silently to the opposite door. The woman demonstrates no awareness of them. Gathering her last shred of courage, Terka quietly catches Boobs' attention and mimes opening the door. Of the three of them, she knows she is the stealthiest, when she really tries. Boobs nods. Terka slowly tests the door.

It is unlocked.

She gently pulls it open. They look back at the humming woman. Still oblivious.

They dash through the door and slam it behind them. They are in the restaurant. Outside, sunlight sparkles on water. The glass doors hang open. They hear splashing.

"Hey! Anya!"

Anya looks up from her oars. Behind her, Terka, Boobs, and Abdullah sprint along the dock. Anya turns around and rows back to them.

Terka hops into the canoe with Anya, a huge grin on her face.

"We made it! We made it out!"

Abdullah and Boobs clamber into a second canoe. Everyone starts rowing for the far shore.

"Wow...I guess there was a lake after all," says Terka.

In the other boat, Boobs and Abdullah squint in the sunlight. They both feel a familiar nervous tingling as their thoughts become muddled and their muscles tense. Night madness.

"Hey Boobs," says the axe. "You can feel it, can't you? Look over there, at Anya."

Boobs stares at the figure in the other boat. Yes, something is wrong. There, in her belly...she can't quite see it, but she can sense it somehow. Smell it. Feel it.

"Yes. In her guts," mutters Boobs.

"There's a demon growing in her. She let the dark forces befoul her body. It's why they let her out."

"She's pregnant," says Boobs. "Anya is pregnant with a demon."

"What?" asks Abdullah. "Really?"

"Yes, I'm sure," says Boobs. "I know a witch when I see one."

"It is your job, after all," the axe tells her.

"If that is true, what should we do about it?" Abdullah asks.

"Do what you do best," the axe says. "Put me to good use."

"We must destroy the vessel. It's the only way."

Abdullah grunts in agreement. They start to row closer to the other boat.

Anya looks across the shimmering lake back at the ancient hotel. It is pristine. No apparent damage from fire or water or time. Utterly innocent in appearance, if not for its anachronism.

Fanned across the sky, about a half-dozen orbs can be seen hovering in the air, lazily making their way to the hotel. They are still quite distant, but after what Abdullah had seen she figures she can make out the brown and blue irises on the white spheres. Those brown-robed bastards, she thinks. They knew what would happen to us. Forget it. I'm not going to be here when their masters show up, and I'm never going back to that town.

Boobs' boat rams into hers.

"What the hell?"

Boobs is struggling to stand, axe hefted over her head. The boats are already drifting apart again, Abdullah wrestling with the oars in an attempt to stay nearby.

"You've got a demon in you!" Boobs roars.

Anya draws her fancy ancient pistol and points it squarely at Boobs' chest.

"I don't know what the fuck you think you're doing, but I've got you dead to rights. Back off!"

"She says you've got the demon seed!" shouts Abdullah.

"Bullshit! Back off, and we'll talk about it on the shore, okay? Or else I'm going to show Tits here who the real bitch hunter is!"

Wobbling on the unsteady boat, axe held aloft, Boobs holds a staring contest with the barrel of Anya's gun. The gun wins.

"Okay," says Boobs. She carefully lowers the axe and sits down.

Terka eyes everyone nervously, head bobbing from one face to another. Anya waits until the other canoe is a good distance away again before lowering her own weapon.

After a silent minute or two, both canoes scrape up against the shore. Everyone gets out.

Anya waits with her pistol at her side while Boobs and Abdullah come over. Anya watches them carefully.

"I'm sorry," says Boobs. "It was night madness. It caught us in its wicked grip."

"My apologies," says Abdullah. "We have regained our sense."

"See?"

Boobs and Abdullah hold their empty hands up as they approach.

"Promise you'll be nice!" commands Terka.

They both nod. They stop a few feet from Anya and Terka. Everyone looks each other in the eyes, searching for omens.

Anya sighs and holsters her gun.

"Okay, whatever. Let's get down the mountain before something finds us."

As she starts to turn away, Anya catches movement out of the corner of her eye. Abdullah.

She deftly avoids a downward swing of the barbarian's scimitar. In an instant the gun is back in her hand and pointed at his heart. His eyes widen.

Boobs' axe whistles through the air and whacks Anya's head off with one clean blow.

"Nice job!" the axe tells Boobs. "Holy shit, that was smooth. One down, eleven to go, eh buddy?"

"Yeah! We did it!" screams Boobs. "We beat the demons and the ghost and that damn building! We won!"

Terka's knees give out. She collapses next to her headless friend and weeps. Abdullah and Boobs spend a few minutes dancing around in triumph. The sun nears its apogee.

"Now what is to be done?" asks Abdullah as he stops to catch his breath.

"We go down the mountain!" says Boobs. "We have those maps. Let's get far away from this awful place."

"And her?" The barbarian gestures toward the sobbing heap near the witch's corpse.

"She can come too! We can all escape together!"

The witch hunter and the barbarian each grab an arm and haul Terka to her feet. Grinning ear to ear, they heedlessly drag her down the snowy slopes as rapidly as possible. They do not see the demon that conducts Anya's soul back across the lake.

Several hours later, long after the sun has set, an enormous eyeball breaks away from the rest of the group examining the hotel and drifts over to a headless corpse on the shore of the freezing lake. It comes to rest a few feet directly above the body's abdomen and waits, curious.

Something stirs in Anya's dead womb.


NOTES
As usual, I apologize if I got any details wrong, and I ask that you please excuse my little bit of creative license. Again, I will seek my players' approval, especially for any dialogue I may have put in their character's mouths to represent what happened at the table.

EDIT: On August 9, I added the section beginning with "Anya quickly assesses her options." and ending with "[...] white-knuckled clench. So close." Anya's player and another friend of mine both gave me feedback to the effect that Anya's decision to kiss the demon seemed to have been made too hastily in this play report, both in comparison to how long the decision took at the table and in terms of how the events are paced in this narrative. In other words, I originally gave the impression that little time or thought passed between her meeting the demon and her kissing it, which was not my intention and not quite how Anya's player remembered it. I hope this new section fixes the problem appropriately.

Speaking of my players, they all seem very happy with how things ended. I sure was. It felt like the perfect ending to this kind of horror story. Not that it's impossible that we will revisit some of these characters some day, but even if we don't, I think this is a nice conclusion. These last three games have seen some of the most enthusiastic responses I've gotten in a while. I think it was a nice reprieve from playing a longer campaign with a huge accretion of details to keep track of.

As for the system, my friend who got into AD&D before I was born wasn't particularly impressed with the mechanics, but he admitted he had a lot of fun with the game itself. I can ask the others if they wish to give more detailed opinions, but I got the impression that everyone had a blast. I personally wouldn't run The Hateful Place when I'm in the mood for something even a bit crunchy - Basic D&D is downright mechanically complex compared to this game - but when I want something that's easy and quick to run with very little prep and a high rating on the grimdark scale, I love it. The implied setting(s) and cool random tables gave my creativity a real boost - although I admit that I didn't really roll on the tables all that much. I mostly picked ideas off of the tables that were well suited for an adventure based on The Shining, among other things.

Speaking of inspirations, I should add This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It by David Wong and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski to the list of works I borrowed from for this adventure. EDIT: Oh, and Mother 3, of course!

As mentioned previously, I plan to post some maps and notes and such. Also, I might run one more game for Rory so we can find out what happened to her. In the meantime, I hope you've enjoyed the story my players and I crafted in and around our little Silent Hill 2 ripoff fun house. If you want, please drop me a line and let me know what you think.

The Hateful Place was written by Dave Mitchell, author of Sirenswail. All three volumes of The Hateful Place, along with Sirenswail, can be bought from Lulu.com.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Hateful Place House Rules (Some In Use, Others Under Consideration)

A lot of my players couldn't make it to the game on Saturday night, so I ended up postponing it until Tuesday evening. In the meantime, I thought I'd share the house rules/rulings I'm using, as well as some I've thought of but haven't tested yet.

Class Options and Mappers
I'm not exactly using "Mappers" as a separate thing a PC can have on top of their class (and maybe even on top of their "type" or subclass.) Other than a source of steady payment and a formal structure for their adventures, the two advantages of being a Mapper are that you get an extra +2 to two of your stats, and you get some nice starting equipment. (And I don't think there are any disadvantages to being a Mapper formalized in the rules, although this is The Hateful Place, so no matter what class or type or profession you have, your life is probably going to be terrible.)

I decided that characters who do not pick a "type" or subclass, like "Paladin" or "Necromancer," but just stick to being a plain Fighter, Profiteer, Believer, or Magician, get the +2 bonuses of the Mapper. Meanwhile, all characters start with the Mapper's equipment package on top of their normal starting items. "Mappers" aren't a formalized profession, but adventurers of all stripes could theoretically be commissioned for that kind of work. I figured this might make the choice between having a subclass and not having one a bit more interesting. And I think the added equipment gives players slightly more freedom to pick creative or unusual starting items instead of the usual necessities, which is fun. See Rory's holy water in my second play report, for example.

I haven't been using any subclasses from Book B or 3 yet, but I'm open to allowing them in the future, in one form or another.

Profiteers
I've been allowing Profiteers to apply their bonus "if trying to steal" to disarming traps and locks, as well.

Mind and Soul
In the rules as written, defense rolls against most magical effects use the Mind modifier, but some use Soul instead. Meanwhile, Mind is also used for non-magical "mental based actions." It seems to me like Soul is way less important than Mind and Body. Soul deals with a few supernatural matters, while Mind deals with most supernatural matters plus all mundane mental activities that require a dice roll. This isn't necessarily a problem, per se, but it bugged me. It would be easy to accidentally call for a Mind roll where the book would have recommended a Soul roll, since Soul has so few applications. Most of the time that wouldn't even matter, since the ability score bonuses are so small in this game and are often just +0, but if it would make a difference, and I killed a character that would otherwise have had a chance to live, I'd be a little bummed about it upon noticing my mistake.

I could have just rolled Soul into Mind and only used two ability scores, but I love the whole Mind/Body/Soul theme, and there are already so few stats in the game that I thought ditching one might be overkill. So instead, I've been using Mind almost exclusively for non-magical things of a mental nature, and Soul for all (or almost all) magic-related rolls.

Date and "Year Now"
I've been keeping the exact date vague, and even the era that the game was taking place in was something of a plot twist, and remains a little mysterious. I told my players not to worry about this. They still came up with birthplaces and ages.

Seed
This hasn't come up in play yet, but I decided that this demonic ability can work on pretty much any character, not just women.

The Campaign Experience
This hasn't come up yet, for two reasons. One, the players haven't finished the first adventure yet. Two, I originally pitched this as a one-shot or two-shot. It's already going to be a three-session adventure, and I don't know if they would want to continue this into a full-blown campaign (assuming at least one of them survives) or play something else next, or what.

But assuming I do run a campaign of this, I want to use the rules for character advancement from 3, with some modifications. First, I think this is implied in the rules, but it's not 100% clear to me, so I'll go ahead and say that characters start at Level 0. Since one's level equals the number of adventures one has survived, it would make sense that even the title of "Outlaw" would need to be earned.

Second, as much as I get a kick out of the nasty trick regarding bonuses pulled at Level 6 - it's perfectly in keeping with the tone of the game, and it's pretty funny in a trolling, faux-mean-spirited kind of way (I would just say "mean-spirited," but this is just a game, after all) - I think it might be a bit too much on top of the other, more interesting effect that happens at that level. Heck, considering that you need a 15 to succeed at pretty much any roll in the game, it might be a bit much, period. Plus, I think it might take away from the impact of the screwjob twist that happens at Level 7 if Level 6 was already a total screwjob. So I think that I would just follow the pattern of AR/DR bonuses at previous levels, with +3/+4 at Level 6 (still keeping the "benefit" for that level, of course), and +4/+4 at Level 7 (assuming bonuses apply at all once the big thing happens at Level 7). Also, I might make the "Reward" for Level 6 200,000 CUR, if that matters.

Resting
I haven't used any house rules for this yet, per se. The PCs have been getting more HP back than usual, and under less strict conditions, but that's the result of one or more specific magical effects and not a change to the rules themselves. I am thinking of a major overhaul to this system, though. Characters are already so fragile at full health that I don't see the point in making it very difficult or tedious to regain health.

I considered just letting any surviving characters regain their maximum HP at the end of every encounter, since "maximum HP" generally means "dead after an average of two hits," and nothing outside of a unique magical effect or a change to the rules allows characters to increase their maximum HP. I'm not sure I want to go that far, though. HP attrition can be a good way to scare players, after all.

I'm more likely to allow PCs to regain 2 HP per 4 hours of rest. HP can be regained even with less than a full day of rest, and if you do rest for a whole day you'll get 12 HP back. I think I would also have HP lost from spellcasting recover at the same rate as HP lost from normal damage.

Weapons
Here's another thing I've been running as written, but might consider changing in the future. Since all weapons do the same damage, there isn't a whole lot to differentiate weapons mechanically - which is mostly fine, since this is a rules-light game. But since nicer weapons are sometimes presented in the book as potential rewards for successful adventures, it might be helpful to have a way to make some weapons clearly and mechanically better than others, at least in some situations. I mean, there's the obvious, common sense stuff - ranged weapons let you hit stuff without getting close, but may require you to keep track of ammunition, daggers are easier to conceal than rocket launchers, etc. But it would be nice to have something solid and mechanical to point to if a player asks "how is this weapon different from this one?" Especially since "common sense" and "realism" don't always match up with how a referee chooses to run things. I haven't cared to make my players track ammo in this game, for example.

Some things to consider:
  • Different AR bonuses for different weapons. Perhaps no extra bonus for fists and improvised weapons (as is already the case), +1 for knives and small weapons, +2 for swords, big melee weapons, and bows, +3 for crossbows and pistols, and +4 for bigger guns. I want to keep the damage the same for all attacks, though, as per the book.
  • Maybe some weapons can be used to block instead of attacking. If you block, you get the weapon's bonus to your DR instead of your AR, but then you can't block on your next round, and if you attack on your next round then you don't get your weapon bonus.
  • I probably won't do this, because it starts to leave "rules-light" territory as far as I'm concerned, but it might make sense to give different ranged weapons different effective ranges and ammo capacities. Rifles would shoot farther than pistols, and a revolver could fire more rounds before reloading than a musket.
  • Some weapons could be "high-quality," meaning that the attacker rolls 5d10 and subtracts the lowest die for damage.
  • If bombs or other area-of-effect weapons are introduced, they could hit multiple targets with one attack. If machine guns show up, maybe the attacker could choose between attacking normally (costing 1 bullet), or making an area-of-effect attack with a penalty to hit (costing a whole bunch of bullets).
Ability Modifiers
Again, I've been going by the book, but I might alter things later. The chances of having anything other than a +0 modifier seem slim, and the range of bonuses and penalties is only -2 to +2. I might switch to using the modifiers from LotFP if I want ability scores to be slightly more consequential or varied.

FLESH
3 introduces all kinds of cool stuff pertaining to the sale of human flesh. The books imply that the main uses of this product are as food, ritual or spell components, implements for the mysterious activities of demons, and perhaps raw materials for strange magical or scientific experiments. But why stop there? 
  • Maybe human flesh isn't just an abundant or tasty food, but some kind of super-food, thanks to the demonic influence of the darkness.
  • Maybe it is highly addictive, but also gives supernatural abilities to those who eat it.
  • Maybe it can even be used to heal injuries and replace lost body parts - for a price, of course. (And I'm not just talking about money.)
  • Maybe human flesh is like "the spice" from Dune: once you eat it, you'll die without it.
  • Maybe someone has discovered how to convert human flesh into something that keeps monsters and (most) demons away, allowing cities and other bastions of civilization to remain somewhat intact, and now that this technology (or whatever it is) has spread far and wide it has rendered human flesh the number one most important resource for humanity's survival.
  • Maybe some demons have made a pact with humanity: now that the sun only comes out one hour per day, the only way that plants (and thus the entire ecosystem) can survive in the perpetual darkness is through demonic power, and the demons need sacrifices of human flesh in order to generate this power.
  • Maybe there's nothing special about human flesh, but demons have convinced everyone that it's the hot new commodity. The flesh market is self-perpetuating.
I should add that the game has already been very enjoyable with very few house rules. But like a lot of people who run RPGs, it's just hard for me to avoid tinkering.

If you want to catch up on my previous play reports with The Hateful Place, you can find them HERE and HEREThe Hateful Place was written by Dave Mitchell, author of Sirenswail. All three volumes of The Hateful Place, along with Sirenswail, can be bought from Lulu.com.

Part 3 is HERE.