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.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Hateful Place Play Report: Hey Sugar-Boobs, This Bellhop Just Called Me an Asshole!

Part 1 is HERE.

"There is a hateful place, somewhere in my mind..."

Cast of the Cursed:
  • Terka the Profiteer - Cheerful, animal-loving traveling companion of Anya. Not the brightest bulb in the can.
  • Anya the Profiteer - Has had it up to HERE with everything. Increasingly distrustful of strangers.
  • Alexandria the Profiteer - Fast-talking con artist. Ain't afraid of no ghost.
  • Rory the Witch Hunter - Seeking fiends to fell with her friend Boobs. Additionally seeking shelter, as they are lost in the mountains.
  • Boobs the Witch Hunter - Rory's partner in the monster-slaying business. Hails from a distant jungle. Hence her exotic name.
  • (Not appearing in this part: Abdullah Khalid the Barbarian. His player could not make it this time, unfortunately. One can assume Abdullah fell into a trance and wandered off down the halls for the time being.)
On our last visit to The Hateful Place, our plucky heroes were beginning to explore the remarkably well-preserved Lakeview Hotel (sans lake, one may observe). We return to them as Alexandria scouts the basement and Anya and Terka follow the sound of a commotion to the hotel's side entrance in the "Employees Only" area. Rory and Boobs, a pair of witch hunters from distant lands, kick the snow from their boots and shuffle through the door only to find Anya's fancy new firearm pointed at their faces.

Terka wants to make friends with the newcomers, but Anya insists that they leave. Her job is to guard the hotel, after all. Brushing snow from their cloaks, the warriors tell her that it would be a death sentence to go back out there. Couldn't she see how quickly this winter storm was coming in? And there's nothing to eat out there, and no other signs of civilization for God knows how far. Anya wants to know what part of "I've been charged with guarding this place from all intruders, and I have a deadly weapon aimed at your thick skull" they have trouble understanding. Terka gives Anya her saddest puppy-dog eyes. The hunters shrug; they can die quickly, in a warm hallway, or slowly in the frigid, demon-haunted wilderness.

Or perhaps, they offer, they can take up a new profession as bitch hunters, starting with the ornery specimen that stands before them.

Meanwhile, Alexandria continues her circuit of the basement to the liquor storage room. It is empty, save for the cobwebs. She moves to the kitchen. It is coated in dust, unlike much of this place, but it is as well-stocked with ancient artifacts as the kitchen upstairs. She notices a door on the other side of the room and passes through into a place marked "Venus Tears" on the map.

A man in the uniform of a well-paid hotel bartender stands behind a bar polishing a glass. He introduces himself as Milo and asks if Alexandria would like a drink. She asks how long he's been here and if he gets a lot of customers. "I've worked here for many years," he said, "although the patrons of this fine establishment have dried up, as of late." He is unfailingly polite, and acts as if everything about the state of the hotel is perfectly normal. As the two of them chat, he again offers her a beverage, then some peanuts, but Alexandria cordially declines. She calls Anya on the radio.

Keeping her weapon trained on the two visitors, Anya lets Alexandria inform her about Milo. They discuss how odd it would be for a living person to be tending bar in an abandoned hotel, and a person who remembers the days of the ancients, at that. Anya asks Alexandria to put Milo on the walkie-talkie.

Alexandria hands the device to Milo. She clearly hears Milo say "Hello," into the radio several times, but Anya hears nothing. Milo frowns and gives the device back. Anya hears Alexandria talking, apparently, to herself for a moment, before asking Anya and Terka to come meet her downstairs. Anya says that it will be a few minutes.

Alexandria asks Milo more questions, but although his answers seem to be straightforward, they reveal little. Milo worked here when there were many patrons, and he still works here with few patrons. Customer service is of the utmost importance to him, and he greatly enjoys his conversations with such a diverse array of guests as one naturally finds in a hotel bar. Is the young woman sure she wouldn't like a drink, or some peanuts? Very well. Alexandria excuses herself as Milo whistles and cleans more glasses. She slips out through the kitchen and paces the hall, thinking.

Back on the first floor, everyone argues back and forth for a while, until Anya finally tires of the way absolutely no one is listening to her. She radios Alexandria again and confirms the presence of a foul monster in the pump room, then asks the witch hunters "Hey, you like fighting monsters, right?" They agree that this is indeed their profession.

With Terka in tow, Anya marches the two strangers downstairs at gunpoint. Alexandria meets them outside the pump room. Despite Anya's desire to toss the hunters out the door, alive or dead, an agreement is soon reached among all those present: Boobs and Rory will enter the pump room by themselves and kill its abominable inhabitant. If they succeed, they will be allowed to join the group on their mission to protect the hotel, even receiving a share of the reward money, and they will have free reign of the hotel just like the others. If they fail, they will die, one way or another.

Rory and Boobs draw their gun and bow, respectively, and kick open the door.

The black, rubbery face smiles at them. It licks its lips as they take up firing positions. The web of mucus strains as the slimy head reaches towards them.

The hunters fire. Strands of the web snap where they are hit. The glistening head hangs askew, much of its support severed. With a crack, one strand lashes out like a whip and thrashes Boobs, leaving a nasty gash in her chest. They fire again. Boobs' arrow goes awry, but Rory's bullet fully severs the head from the web.

Huge tarantula legs sprout from the sides of the head. It springs at Boobs, latches onto her cloak, and tries to sink its ebon teeth into her shoulder. Rory turns and fires.*

The head is propelled from Boobs' shoulder as the bullet perfectly hits it in the dead center of its right pupil. It bounces against the wall with a wet THWACK and rolls across the floor, lifeless. Both it and the viscous web of foulness begin to disintegrate before their eyes. The others watch through the door in amazement as the monster's semi-solid remains fall apart and vanish over the course of half a minute.

No longer jammed by the wretched mass, the pumps begin to operate of their own accord. The adventurers wonder aloud if the water supply will be clean soon.

Anya sighs and puts away her gun. The newcomers are welcomed to the team. Nursing their wounds, the hunting partners smile and nod to each other. Even bloodied, this turn of affairs seems preferable to wandering in the cold, hungry darkness of the approaching blizzard.

Anya turns to Alexandria and asks if she can be introduced to this Milo fellow now. Everyone proceeds to Venus Tears.

They find no one inside. Alexandria swears he was right there. "You heard him on the radio, right?" No, no one did. Alexandria can practically see Anya's thoughts on her face, and desperately tries to convince her that she's not lying, not this time, and she's definitely not crazy. Anya rolls her eyes, but something about the sincerity in Alexandria's voice, tinged with panic, makes her reconsider. She has an idea.

Everyone but Alexandria goes back to the kitchen and listens through the door. Alexandria briefly hears the sound of running water, then Milo walks out from behind a shelf of wine bottles, drying his hands on his half apron. "My apologies. I had to use the little boys' room." Alexandria leans over the bar and peers behind the shelf. No bathroom. Alexandria asks about this, and Milo deftly dodges the question.

Anya hears Alexandria talking to herself again and decides to reenter.

Milo drops a glass, seemingly by accident. He bends over to clean it up, ducking completely behind the bar, as the kitchen door opens. Alexandria tells Anya he is back there. They lean over the bar. A shattered glass lies on the herringbone floor. Alone.

This time, Alexandria goes to the kitchen. As soon as she does, Milo stands up from behind the bar and greets Anya. Could he offer the young woman a drink this evening? Anya suppresses her frenzied urge to draw her gun and settles for a startled yelp. She questions him for a minute or two, to no real effect, then rejoins the others in exasperation.

While the others discuss the phenomenon that is Milo, Terka walks into the bar. Milo offers her some peanuts. She happily grabs a handful and starts nibbling. They are salty and delicious. Milo ducks behind the bar again to retrieve a bottle. The others come in together. Milo fails to reappear. Anya admonishes Terka for eating nuts from a ghost, but like the broken glass they seem perfectly real to everyone. Terka keeps eating her ghost nuts. They are too good to waste.

The group proceeds through the other door of Venus Tears into an unexplored hallway. They find another pair of restrooms and stairs going back up to the first floor. The women's room is spotlessly clean. In the men's room, every toilet sports a maimed corpse, face down in the bowl as if drowned there.

Everyone goes up the stairs. Everyone but the witch hunters recognizes this hall as the place they first entered the hotel. Alexandria enters the "Toluca Cafe" across from the Lake Shore Restaurant, while the others search the nearby storage rooms. Alexandria finds a nice leather bound journal filled with notes, maps, and sketches from a self-proclaimed "adventurer." There was no name given by the author, but the first page bore the title "Book of Great Crimes and Old Memories." The information in the journal hinted at several locations where great treasures could be found. Alexandria slipped the book into her pocket.

The store rooms are stocked with countless supplies and artifacts. Boobs takes a drill, and the others take some assorted tools, as well. Pleased, the group notes the location for later and meets Alexandria in the hall before moving on to the west wing of the first floor. Here, they find eleven rooms marked from "101" to "111".

The door to Room 109 is wide open. They peek inside. It appears to be a bedroom, with some office furniture to one side and a small bathroom to the other. Terka runs in and flops on the bed. It is amazingly comfortable, and she promptly falls asleep.

The others start going down the row. The rooms are all identical, except in any noted manner.

107: Anya wanders the room a bit, until she realizes that her footsteps, and indeed all of the noises in the room, echo loudly and resoundingly, as if the room is much bigger than it looks. She quickly flees.

108: Boobs opens the door to find chains hanging from the ceiling, with gore-soaked hooks on the ends. The floor and bed are heavily stained with blood and other bodily fluids. The sheets look especially crusty. Boobs declares that this is her bedroom now. The others are unable to talk her out of it. She starts concocting a plan to drill through the back wall into the stairwell in case she needs to make a "hasty" escape.

105: A typewriter sits on the room's desk. The page poking from the top assures Alexandria that it is "Feelin' fine." She plays with it for a while, typing a string of profanities once she figures out how the device operates.

106: Every square inch of every surface is covered in broken glass. Boobs takes some of the glass back to Room 108 and spreads it on the floor by the bed, in case anyone tries to sneak up on her while she sleeps. Then she removes the door from the bathroom of Room 108 and nails it horizontally over the inside of the room's main doorway. She tucks herself into the putrescent bed. She sleeps soundly.

103: An elaborate pillow fort fills much of the room. In her sleep, Terka hears someone down the hall say "pillow fort," and her eyes snap open. She rushes to Room 103. After studying the exact details of its construction, she disassembles it, takes the pillows back to Room 109, and perfectly reconstructs the fort there.

104: The room sports a collection of sewing and knitting supplies. Anya smiles at the thought of being able to make something nice over the course of the next month or two, instead of merely struggling to survive.

101: Rory finds a massive stockpile of lanterns, lamp oil, candles, torches, flashlights, and batteries. She takes a flashlight for herself once she discovers its function.

102: Games and books of all sorts fill this room. Anya becomes even more elated, despite herself. She figures that boredom will be the least of her concerns during her stay.

While Terka works on her pillow fort and Boobs snores in her foul bedding, Anya, Alexandria, and Rory go to the other end of the hall.

110: Everything is damp in here.

111: This room is deathly cold. Painted in red on the inside of the door and all of the walls are strange glyphs. In the corner, between the bathroom and the broken, shoved-aside bed, is a mound of dozens of pale blue bodies, frozen together. As if the mass were one organism, it slowly uncurls, centipede-like, the frost cracking and shedding from limbs that begin to sluggishly grasp at their surroundings. The mass of icy, interlinked corpses begins to crawl toward the door.

The group employ their now-standard tactic of closing the door and backing away from the room. They can hear the thing scraping against the walls, circling the floor heavily. They hear it throw itself against the door, but despite the size and weight of the abomination the door does not budge. After a few minutes, all is silence again, aside from Terka humming in one room and Boobs snoring in the other.

The trio in the hall deliberate on several different ways to kill the monstrosity before finally deciding that it just is not worth it. It seems to be trapped in the room. A confrontation would be unnecessarily dangerous. They grab some lumber and nails from the storage rooms and go about constructing a barrier over the door to Room 111, as they did with the freezer.

Alexandria joins Terka in her pillow fort. Rory and Anya find beds of their own among the safer-looking rooms. Everyone sleeps for a few hours. Alexandria has a vivid dream of typing a wonderful short story on the typewriter in Room 105. When she awakens, she can still remember the details of the story well enough that she feels confident she could actually type it out in reality. She ponders doing this later, perhaps after more exploration.

As everyone wakes up, they each realize that they had experienced a much more rejuvenating rest in the hotel than they would normally be able to achieve, even with a full day of rest. Maybe this place isn't so bad. There are monsters and demons everywhere, right? At least this place had nice mattresses.

The door to Room 109, where she and Terka had slept, was hanging open again when she climbed out from among the pillows. She could have sworn she closed it last night.

Boobs checks her bathroom, but it is as filthy as the rest of the room. She meets Terka in the hallway, and the two of them head to the women's locker room on the other side of the first floor. Terka finds a beautiful, fluffy, pink bathrobe. She wraps herself in the soft fabric, perfectly content. She decides that she still believes in happiness and love.

Boobs turns on a sink faucet. The water is still a little dirty, but not pitch black like she heard Anya describe it. She turns on all of the sinks and showers, figuring that with the pumps operating and the crud being flushed out, the water might actually be clean soon. Boobs and Terka stop by the security office so the former can get a walkie-talkie for herself and one for Rory.

Everyone meets up in the Lake Shore Restaurant. The leftover food that had mysteriously appeared at the ring of a bell yesterday was still laid out on the tables, but much of it had gone bad on account of being left sitting out for hours. Alexandria rang the bell a second time, and even more food appeared, exactly like before. She tried to ring the bell a third time, but it made no sound, and nothing else appeared. Alexandria, Terka, and Boobs dug in, while Anya and Rory retrieved some food from the pantry and ate that instead.

Rory finished her meal first. She was curious about a few rooms on the second floor that she saw on a hand-me-down "Map for Guests" given to her by Alexandria, so she left by herself to find the stairs. As soon as she was alone, a red rubber ball came bouncing down the hallway. It bumped into her foot. She looked up to see a little boy staring back at her expressionlessly. She picked up the ball and started walking toward him, hand outstretched to give it back. The boy turned and ran up the stairs. Since that was where she was headed anyway, she cautiously followed.

There is no sign of the child in the short hall she finds on the second floor, so she goes into the lounge. There is nothing too interesting - just a lot of tobacco. She figures she could sell it for a pretty penny if she wanted to, but she leaves it there for now. She wanders over to the reading room. She finds detailed maps of the area. Could be useful.

Next is the cloak room. Two cloaks in particular catch her eye. The first is black with gold trim, and the second is green with white trim. She tries on the black cloak and looks down at herself to find that she has become invisible. Amazed, she folds the magical garment and stows it in her pack to experiment with later.

She tries on the green cloak. As soon as it is wrapped comfortably around her frame, the cloak fills with caustic lime, scalding her flesh. She peels off the cloak, an outer layer of skin sloughing away with it, and makes the agonizing sprint to the nearest women's restroom. She strips off the rest of her clothing as quickly as possible and turns on the sink. Luckily, the water is finally clean, the pumps having done their job. She frantically scoops water onto her scalded skin, doing her best to remove any trace of the lime. Bloody water pools on the tile at her feet. She tries and fails not to scream in pain and horror.

After the rest of the group had finished eating, they had gone back to the women's locker room to check on the water. Finding it clean, they shut off all of the sinks and showers, then went to one of the elevators. They experimented with the buttons for a while, riding up and down between the floors, until they heard Rory screaming. They stopped on the second floor.

Now they run to the bathroom to find Rory naked, wet, bloody, and burned. It looked like her clothing underneath the cloak had prevented much of the lime from touching her flesh, but enough of the poison made it through to leave her seriously wounded.

A knocking comes from the nearest stall. Like someone is inside, rapping their knuckles on the divider. Alexandria strides over to the stall and flings it open. It is empty. The knocking comes from the next stall. She flings that one open as well, again finding no one. The knocking starts coming from all of the stalls at once. Everyone retreats.

Back in the women's locker room, the others help wash and bind Rory's wounds as best they can. She finds some new clothes easily enough. The group decide to resume exploration of the second floor. They head back upstairs to the west wing.

Past the restroom of the ghostly knocking, they find more bedrooms, this time labeled "201" to "210". The door to Room 209 is wide open. The room looks perfectly mundane, until it suddenly fills with the brightest light they had ever seen, other than the sun's brief interludes between the nights. They manage to look away before it can totally blind them. After a time, the light dims. Someone fishes for the door and swings it shut, in case the phenomenon repeats. Once their vision readjusts to the hotel's strange electric lighting, they start down the hall. They peek into the rooms, but do not go inside unless noted. This time, they start at the far end of the hall and work their way back.

201: The wind howls against the walls of the building much louder here than anywhere else.

202: As soon as the door is opened, a black cat runs out. It sniffs at Terka's shoes, and to her great delight it allows her to gently lift it and cradle it in her arms. It appears to be healthy and well-fed. Everyone else is immediately suspicious, but Terka is simply overjoyed. She breaks off from the group to go back to Room 109, where she plays with the cat in her pillow fort.

203: The remaining group members open the door to see a battleaxe resting on the bed. Almost as if sleeping. Boobs strides over confidently and hefts it. Instantly, she finds herself transported to a pitch-black room. A spotlight turns on somewhere overhead and beams at a nearby wooden stool, where she takes a seat. A second spotlight illuminates a second stool. Leaning against it is the battleaxe. It speaks to her.

"Okay, here's the deal. I'm a cursed axe, see? Now that you've picked me up, you won't be able to get rid of me until we reach a certain quota of dead people. I need you to kill at least one person a month for the next year if you want to get rid of me. Plus I make it harder for you to defend yourself in combat. But hey, it's not all bad. You'll find it easier to hit your opponents when you use me."

Boobs actually reveals a great enthusiasm for the axe's "work," and expresses interest in using the axe to end many more lives, human and otherwise, than a paltry twelve. They have a downright friendly conversation about the exact details of the "deal." It turns out that the axe is also beholden to some higher authority in terms of enforcing the curse, but it does have some small amount of control over the exact details. Boobs successfully bargains for a higher "attack bonus," and for the penalty to her defensive abilities to turn into an actual "defense bonus" after her first three monthly victims are slain.

The deal made, Boobs suddenly finds herself back in Room 203, holding the axe. The mystic weapon telepathically informs her that it can speak directly into her mind, but she has to actually talk aloud for it to hear her. From her companions' points of view, Boobs had not disappeared or conversed with a talking weapon. As they turn to leave, Boobs says something to the axe about killing someone this month.

"What was that?" asks Anya.

"Nothing," says Boobs. "Just talking to myself."

204: Even from the doorway, the room feels a bit drafty, but it is otherwise normal for this place.

205: The bed is covered in photographs. Everyone starts looking through them. They depict the party members in various locations throughout the hotel, as well as back in jail in the village of the brown-cloaked cult, and in the wilderness, and even in the mysterious cabin. There are even pictures of the adventurer's sleeping faces.

206: A collection of porcelain dolls. They close the door on this one immediately.

207: A clean, normal room.

208: Much the same as Room 207.

210: This huge room is much more luxurious than the others they've seen. The decorations look like they would be worth up to ten thousand silver pieces to the right buyer in some decadent fortress-city, but would be heavy and awkward to transport. The mattresses are stained and crusty, like in Room 108. Everything is left alone for now.

The group head over to the east wing, skipping several rooms to get to this floor's other set of bedrooms.

Two young girls, identical twins in blue dresses, hold each other's hand at the end of this hall. They walk steadily towards the group. Guns and bow are drawn, and the girls are warned to stay back. Their stride does not waver. Everyone opens fire, but in their panic they all get in each other's way and miss every shot. Two more salvos, and amazingly, every shot misses. The girls reach out in unison to Alexandria with bloody hands and smear twin streaks of crimson down her face and chest. The girls vanish.

Anya tells the others to wait right here while she goes to get Terka. Who knows what those creepy ghost girls just did? Better they all stick together.

Anya finds the door to Room 109 closed. She can hear Terka and the cat playing inside.

Standing right outside the door, face inches from the oak surface, is Alexandria.

"Hello?" Anya says to her back.

Alexandria slowly starts to laugh, quietly and tonelessly, almost without emotion. Anya draws her gun. Alexandria collapses into a pile of sand, which blows down the hallway despite the lack of wind.

Anya calls Alexandria on the walkie-talkie.

"Are you still upstairs?"

"Yep. Waiting on you."

She calls Rory to confirm.

"Yeah, we've all just been standing here."

"That's what I thought."

Anya hauls Terka upstairs with the others, leaving the cat to explore the pillow fort. Anya fills in the others about what just happened. They decide to keep checking rooms.

211: This is another unusually large room. The inside of the door and the walls are painted with the same red symbols as in Room 111. Toys for young children and human bones are scattered across the floor. A balding man in a uniform similar to Milo's stands ramrod-straight in the middle of the room. None of the adventurers step inside.

The man introduces himself as Mr. Kubrick, the caretaker of the hotel. Anya greets him from outside the doorway and asks what is going on with the hotel. Mr. Kubrick explains that he believes the hotel was built on a nexus of supernatural power, and that a cult murdered many people and performed blasphemous rituals here in order to tap into that power. The result is that the building is haunted, and the imprisoned ghosts and living visitors alike are being tormented and driven insane by demons that have taken residence here.

Anya asks if there is any way to banish the ghosts and demons. Kubrick replies that the easiest way to do it would be to destroy the hotel. If they were to skip the daily boiler maintenance, the ancient machine would explode, starting a fire that would consume the whole structure. Unfortunately, the hotel remains frozen in time when no living people are inside, so at least one person would have to wait in the building while the boiler explodes and the flames bring down the structure. Kubrick adds that if they specifically wanted to free him, it would merely be a matter of erasing the red symbol from the door. His dying wife trapped him here, you see, while under the influence of a demon.

Anya thanks him for the information and closes the door.

213: The door is jammed. Rory rears back and blasts it open with a mighty kick. It appears that a chair had been stuck under the handle. It now lies in pieces. A guillotine-like blade hangs over the window, some kind of booby-trap. Anya carefully investigates. The blade looks to be primed to drop if the window is opened. Anya looks through the glass to see that a massive snow drift forms a ramp which could allow exterior access to this room, and if one were willing to climb a short distance, to the windows of Rooms 215, 217, and 219 as well. Lying on the dresser are five thousand silver pieces worth of jewelry, which is divided among the group.

215: Alexandria opens the door only to be confronted by a shadowy figure. Its head is split almost in half by a massive crack; otherwise, it is just a featureless, inky humanoid. Everyone draws a weapon, but the figure quickly turns into smoke and flows into Alexandria's body through her nose and mouth. Controlled by the spirit like a puppet, Alexandria turns to the group with a crazed grin and begins to swing her dagger wildly.

Being experienced in such matters, the two witch hunters warn the others about Alexandria's possession. Rory opens a vial of holy water and splashes Alexandria in the face with it, while dodging a thrust of her dagger. Alexandria's shadow becomes unmoored from the movements of her body for a moment and flails manically.

"That hurt it," says Rory, "but it'll take a little more to cast it out."

Alexandria slashes at Boobs, who avoids the attack and shoves the possessed profiteer back a few steps.

"Does anyone have a holy symbol?" asks Rory. "Something they truly believe in, with all their heart?"

Terka steps forward. She sheds her fluffy pink bathrobe. In both hands, she thrusts it forward.

"GET OUT OF MY FRIEND!" she commands the monster.

Alexandria cringes and backs away. Smoke pours from her nose and mouth. She collapses to the floor, and the smoke reforms into the monstrous silhouette with the cracked head. Rory opens another vial of holy water and douses the creature. It disintegrates with a high-pitched scream that echoes through the building.

Alexandria climbs to her feet. She is herself again. Terka wraps herself in her bathrobe, savoring its decadent softness.

217: When this door is opened, faint harpsichord music emanates from inside. It is entrancingly beautiful. Anya realizes that something about the music makes her just want to stand there and listen to it forever. She slams the door shut, cutting off the sound and instantly breaking everyone's reverie.

219: Every inch of every surface is painted white. It is as if someone just painted everything in the room without moving it.

220: A thick layer of dust. Otherwise relatively normal.

218: Filled with children's toys. Two items catch Alexandria's eye. One is a wood and copper bangle with abstract carvings on the inside. The other is a flat green stone, smaller than her palm, with red rings running through it. She puts the stone in her pocket and the bangle around her wrist. Something about the bangle brings a smile to her face.

216: The door is boarded up. A sign says in red paint "DON'T OPEN!" They obey the sign.

214: An expensive-looking dress is draped over the bed. They leave it there.

212: Two corpses, woman and man, lie on the bed wrapped in each other's arms. They are dressed in expensive clothing, the man's black suit similar to the one Alexandria found on the frozen body under the floorboards in the manager's office. Between the corpses, practically hugged by them, is a sword. Boobs is satisfied with her axe, and the others do not want to risk disturbing the bodies, so everything is left alone.

They revisit Room 211. Anya asks the ever-stoic Mr. Kubrick about Room 216. He warns her that the Red Death is sealed inside, and it should remain there. She asks about Room 212, and Kubrick says that the bodies on the bed belonged to a pair of lovers who carried out a suicide pact long ago. Finally she asks about Room 312, which was marked "Waiting for you" on the original map given to her back in town. Kubrick tells her that a cruel succubus is sealed in that room. The fiend had tried to tempt him away from his wife, once upon a time, and he had barely resisted her. Now she is seen as a sort of leader among the demons of the hotel, from what he hears. It is so difficult to obtain information from inside this room, you must understand. This could be remedied by just removing the red mark from the door. Anya thanks him again and, as is her tendency, shuts the door.

Even though they have only been awake for a few hours, six or seven at the most, everyone agrees that they are too tired to continue for the moment. It will be daylight soon, marking the end of a full day in the hotel for most of the group, and no one particularly wants to be conscious at that time. Why worry about doing something foolish under the influence of night madness, or let the sun shining on the pure white snow outside hurt their night-adjusted eyes?

Everyone goes back to bed. They have a restful eight hours of sleep. The cat sleeps curled up next to Terka.

Alexandria and Terka awaken in the Room 109 pillow fort. The electric lights have gone out. Something else seems different. They peer around the darkened room with their flashlights.

The walls are scorched, as if a fire has ravaged the room. All that's left of the bed beneath Terka is a blackened frame covered in ashes. The pillows that were not burned to a crisp appear to have melted instead. Almost everything around them is ash and soot.

Terka feels for the cat beside her. She feels something hard and leathery. She shines her flashlight on the cat. It resembles an overdone pot roast more than anything.

Alexandria has a sudden realization. She forgot to reset the boiler.

Terka clutches the cooked animal to her chest.

"This is hell," she cries.

And yet, this story is not quite over. Join me again soon in The Hateful Place, won't you?

NOTES
In case I forgot to mention it before, I should disclose that I helped proofread the first volume of The Hateful Place and offered some suggestions, as I did with Sirenswail. I'm in the credits under "Feedback". I did not ask for or receive any money from the author, but I would consider him to be a friend, so I am admittedly predisposed to enjoying his work. That said, I truly think his books are well worth checking out if you're into the kind of stuff I am.

A lot happened during this second game, with a larger group of players, and a good bit of time has passed between my running the game and writing the play report. So I feel fairly certain that I've gotten a few details wrong, or maybe mixed up the order of some events. On top of that, I did take some small creative licence here and there to hopefully make the story resulting from the players' actions easier to follow, or perhaps just to retroactively explain how or why the characters were able to do certain things that I didn't think about too much at the time. This is reconstructed from my memory, after all. The three players who read the last play report told me I represented things very well, and no changes were needed, but again, I just don't feel as confident about every little detail this time.

I tried to keep both inaccuracies and deliberate changes to a minimum, and especially tried to keep the latter category of changes confined to very minor things that I don't feel undermine the choices made by the players during the game. I will ask my players to read this, if they are so inclined, and correct any mistakes or misrepresentations. I'll offer corrections if necessary.

The next game is scheduled for this Saturday night. I suspect this will be the last session of this adventure. I originally thought this was going to be a one-shot or two-shot affair, but I was pleasantly surprised to have more material and more gameplay than I expected.

If we finish up next time, I plan to add a scan of my map/notes. (Maybe I can convince a few players to let me add their character sheets, too. No promises.) When you get a peek behind the curtain, you'll see how bare-bones my preparation was! So far, I find it very easy to ad-lib while running The Hateful Place, in a way that feels fair and logical enough, instead of being arbitrary bullshit that makes it impossible for players to make good decisions based on what they know. I consider that a hallmark of any good rules-light tabletop RPG.

I do need to do some additional prep work for the next session, though. They triggered an effect I didn't expect, and I want to be ready to roll with it.

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.

*I did have to make one correction here. I had originally written that the spider-head had latched on Rory, and Boobs had killed it. It turns out I had that backwards. Rory's player informed me that it was her character who landed the killing blow. I apologize for the misinformation.

Part 3 is HERE.
House Rules are HERE.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Hateful Place Play Report: Our Barbarian Was Eaten By Wolves On the Connecticut Turnpike

"There is a hateful place, somewhere in my mind..."

Cast of the Cursed:
  • Terka the Profiteer - Not very intelligent. Friendly and trusting. (Dangerous traits in the darkness.)
  • Anya the Profiteer - Has had it up to HERE with everything. Presumably longtime traveling companion of Terka. Perhaps from the same Thieves' Guild?
  • Abdullah Khalid the Barbarian - "Dwarf" from a far-off land. Easygoing (for a barbarian). Favors the straightforward approach. Has a brother with the same name (and perhaps the same personality).
  • Alexandria the Profiteer - Fast-talking con artist. Bold, but not afraid to run when the odds are bad. Impulsive.
At the beginning of our story, Terka, Anya, and Abdullah Khalid find themselves in jail. Apparently, their crime is that they naively wandered into this nameless town without wearing one of the sacred brown hooded cloaks which "adorn" all of the citizenry. For their trespasses, they are to be executed during the single hour of daylight which begins once every twenty-four hours in this benighted world.

A little over three hours before dawn, a prominent citizen of the town visits the party with an offer. He would ensure their release and overturn their execution sentence, and pay each of them one thousand silver coins, if they would but perform a simple favor on the town's behalf. That is, if they would only ascend the mountain pass to the northeast before the first major winter storm renders it impassable for the next one to three months, and then - if they could be so kind - explore the ancient structure at the end of the pass, noting any surviving artifacts in working order before finally occupying and safeguarding the edifice until the weather clears and his compatriots are able to arrive.

The hooded man withdraws a map from his voluminous sleeve and tries to hand it to Terka through the prison bars. She stares at him blankly until he awkwardly offers the pages to Anya instead. She takes them and gives them a once-over; the first page shows the basement of a structure labeled the "Lakeview Hotel" on one side, and the ground floor on the reverse side. The second page likewise shows the two upper floors of this "Hotel." Figuring the job is preferable to execution by whatever strange method this cult-enthralled town considers appropriate, the prisoners accept.

Abdullah additionally demands a brown cloak of his own, but the mysterious authority figure responds that only those who have taken the First Oath of Tsathothogoth may wear such finery. He offers Abdullah a chance to repeat this sacred oath, as all of the townspeople have presumably done, but Abdullah declines. Anya requests animals to ride, so that they may make haste in their mission. The hooded man gives them each a mule. She then asks about food, but the strange man simply says that the hotel should be well-stocked with provisions for them. Anya is skeptical about this, but does not press the matter far. Finally, she demands part of the reward money up front. The hooded man tells her that he is already granting her an up-front payment in the form of her life, but the prisoners sit stubbornly in their cell until he acquiesces with an exasperated sigh. He hands them each one hundred silver coins, and they are on their way. If only we had able-bodied trespassers more often, he thought, I could have smiled and left them to their appropriate fate.

The group is released from their cell and escorted to their new mounts at the town gates. The items they were carrying when they entered the town are returned to them. Terka is immediately smitten with the beautiful white fur of her adorable new mule. As the party rides away, they see large orb-shaped silhouettes approaching the town from the southern horizon, floating through the air like quick-moving storm clouds. They do not wait for the spheres to drift close enough for them to observe the details in the dim moonlight. They make for the pass.

After three hours of travel, the sun rises. As people who live in these perpetually dark times are wont to do, Anya and Abdullah suffer a minor bout of Night Madness with the coming of the brief daylight. Their minds dull and their bodies tense, and they become slightly more prone to recklessness. Terka smiles at her mule's sunlit fur and remains oblivious to the growing edge of mania on her companions' faces.

Thus, it comes as no surprise when Abdullah and Anya decide to pick a fight with the creatures they soon encounter. In the middle of the road, a pack of wolves with the heads of crows, half a dozen strong, tear at a human corpse. The party could have perhaps circumvented the monsters via a forested hollow to their left, and simply rejoined the main path later. But why abandon the road to these foul scavengers?

Abdullah aims his bow and releases an arrow that sinks into the flesh of a feasting wolf-thing. Anya draws her gun and opens fire. Terka does nothing, as she cannot throw a knife far enough to strike one of the monsters a hundred feet away.

In the following moments, Abdullah and Anya fire more projectiles at the now-rapidly-approaching wolf-things, wounding one or two but failing to deliver a fatal shot. The beasts savage the calves of Anya, injuring her badly, and tear at Terka's legs as well, to lesser effect. Nearly dead, Anya spurs her mule to flee, and Terka follows. Abdullah draws his scimitar with a hearty war-cry and hacks at a bloodied wolf-thing, to little avail.

Riding into the forested hollow along the path, Terka and Anya flee toward their objective as best they can. Up on the path behind them, they hear Abdullah screaming ferociously, accompanied by the mule's terrified braying. The barbarian's scream is cut short, replaced by a gurgling sound and a thud, then the unmistakable tearing of flesh.

Unbeknownst to the others, a passing demon bears away Abdullah's soul, presumably to some unknown Tartarus.

Anya and Terka flee at full speed through the trees. This proves to be a mistake, as both of their mules step heedlessly into a deep rut. Their ankles break at the same time. Both riders are flung from their crippled mounts. As they quickly gather their supplies, they hear the crow-wolves abruptly stop feasting on man and beast and start crashing through the foliage toward the pained and panicked cries of the injured but still-living animals.

Terka prepares to put the animals out of their misery, but Anya protests they they don't have time, they have to move now. Bleeding from their legs, profusely in Anya's case, the pair leaves the mules to their fate. Despite their agonizing injuries, they move quickly enough, powered by adrenaline and fear. Soon the sun sets again, and the sounds of death fade behind them in the darkness.

When their pace drops from a run to a walk, Terka checks that her belongings are secure. She realizes that she had a gun this whole time. She had simply forgotten about it.

The women travel for an amazing six hours after the battle. Anya finally collapses in exhaustion and pain, unable to take another step. They have not rejoined the road yet. Terka peers at her surroundings in the darkness. There is a small clearing that could accommodate a tent.

On a nearby hill, there is also a cabin, its new coat of white paint gleaming in the moonlight.

Anya tells Terka not to even think about that cabin. A structure in perfect repair, appearing in the wilderness right when they most need shelter? The most beautiful cabin they'd ever seen? Unguarded? Too good to be true.

Terka pitches the tent and begins collecting branches for a fire.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Khalid, brother of the late Abdullah Khalid, walks through the forest. He comes across Terka piling branches outside her tent. He asks Terka if she's seen his brother. In the tent, Anya nearly jumps out of her skin. Terka informs him of his brother's passing and offers him a seat at the fire. Once she gets it going, that is.

Alexandria, another profiteer who also happens to be wandering at this high elevation, secretly listens from the bushes. Deciding that she probably will not be attacked on sight, she walks up to the group and introduces herself. Even though she has never seen it before in her life, she confidently informs the trio that she owns the cabin on the hill, and invites them to spend the night inside.

Anya wants no part of this at first, but Terka and the new Abdullah instantly perk up at the suggestion of relative warmth and safety. Anya is in agony, and so weak she can barely move under her own power, so against her better judgement she lets the others talk her into it. Terka and Abdullah carry her up to the cabin once the tent has been broken down and stowed.

Alexandria leads the way. She checks the door. Unlocked. They enter.

They find a living room with a large, fluffy couch and a fireplace. Off to the right is a kitchen and a hallway, the latter of which has four closed doors. Anya is placed on the couch, which she finds incredibly comfortable. Abdullah begins to start a fire. Alexandria, figuring she had better take a look around and familiarize herself with the place before anyone can catch on to her ruse, strides down the hall and opens the first door. She finds a bathroom, featuring a strangely-designed basin, a tub of similar design, and a chair filled with water, all made of marble. She realizes that these are ancient artifacts, seemingly in good condition. From the couch, Anya asks Alexandria if she has any bandages for her wounds. Alexandria quickly searches the bathroom and finds a box with a red cross marked on it. Inside are bandages and strange ointments and unguents. She brings Anya the box with a smile.

One of her guests asks Alexandria if she has any food. "Of course," comes the reply.

The kitchen is equipped with more of the strange devices of the ancients. One is clearly a type of stove, but Alexandria cannot figure out how to light it. Another is a basin with a pipe hanging over it, like the one in the bathroom. Yet another is a rectangular metal cupboard of sorts, divided into two chambers. The first is empty, save for cool air. The second contains six flat red boxes labelled "Pizza." Inside are some kind of frozen pies.

Alexandria searches the kitchen cabinets: plates, cups, silverware, mousetraps, mothballs, matches, a transparent container of little wooden sticks...aha! Pots and pans. She crumbles up all of the pies into a huge pot. Abdullah now has a fire going, so she hands it over. He starts cooking the "stew." Anya binds her wounds in the meantime. She considers using one of the strange ointments, but decides against it. Terka watches all of this contentedly, and with no shortage of awe.

Alexandria goes back to the hallway. Opening the second door reveals a bedroom decorated with hunting trophies. Behind the third door is a bedroom with a floral theme. Alexandria checks the last room and finds yet another bedroom, with an abstract and colorful pattern on the carpet.

On the bed in this last room is a body, covered with a sheet. A corpse, presumably. Or perhaps someone lying very still. Covered head to toe.

Alexandria wants to make sure the body is dead. This is her house now. She draws her knife, walks over to the bed, and stabs the body through the sheet. Right in the chest.

First, a slowly spreading stain of blood across the linen.

Then, a high-pressure jet of blood, blasting the ceiling. The others hear a noise like a rushing river. One of them asks if everything is okay. Alexandria shouts some excuse that pacifies them for the moment.

Then, gallons upon gallons of blood. It pools on the ceiling, as if gravity has suddenly decided to reverse where the subject of gore is concerned.

Then the discharge ceases. The figure under the sheet sits up. Alexandria stabs it again. An arm snakes out from under the sheet. It is pink, bright pink, and swollen, and fleshy, and entirely too long to have fit under the covers. It claws at Alexandria with ragged yellow nails, drawing blood. She swings her knife at the arm, to little effect.

The arm reaches out again and firmly grasps Alexandria's forehead. Suddenly, Alexandria finds herself sitting down. There is something over her head. A sheet. Her left arm is the only thing poking out from under it. Through the linen she sees her own body standing there, with a deranged look on a face that should be hers. Panicked, Alexandria swings her new, demonic appendage at her old body, flinging her doppelganger across the room, but it is back up on its feet in an instant. A familiar hand grabs the pink, swollen wrist on the end of her long, fleshy arm.  A familiar knife saws into her alien wrist with wild abandon.

Terka, having finally decided to investigate the noises from the bedroom, slinks over and takes a peek. She sees what she believes to be Alexandria holding a bloody knife in one hand and an inhumanly long limb in the other. Blood floats on the ceiling. "Alexandria" lowers her mouth to the wound in the monstrous arm and begins to suck.

Terka walks back to the living room. She tells the others that Alexandria is busy.

Alexandria finally manages to yank her arm away. An idea bubbles up through the horror flooding her mind. She pulls her other arm out from under the sheet. Grabs her old body. Pulls it in close. Puts her swollen palm on her rightful forehead.

Alexandria is instantly back in her proper body. Enfolded by the horror under the sheet. Said sheet finally slips off of the creature's head. Its entire face is nothing but one huge, wet, human mouth.

Alexandria stabs at the monstrosity again and barely manages to wriggle free. The figure leaps from the bed, barely missing her, and with a moist POP its gaping maw latches onto the wall like a leech. Alexandria manages to avoid tripping over her feet long enough to flee the room.

In the hall, she looks back into the bedroom. Empty. No blood on the ceiling. No demon. The bed covers are not even ruffled. She looks down at herself. Her injuries are quite real. She staggers back to the living room. Anya demands to know what all that commotion was about.

"There was a fucking demon in the bedroom!"

"There's a demon in your fucking bedroom?"

"It's not my fucking bedroom! This isn't my house!"

For reasons which may forever remain a mystery, they all still agree to sleep in the cabin. To be fair, at least half of the group is too exhausted to do much more travelling without rest. More mysteriously, no one truly turns against Alexandria after her deception is revealed. Perhaps everyone is too tired to raise their weapons, either, although Anya has no problem raising her voice. Soon, they curl up in the living room to sleep.

Abdullah takes first watch. He checks on the "stew." It has yet to really warm up, so after eating a little bit he decides to let it simmer until morning. He then decides that having someone stay up on watch while everyone else is asleep is an overrated tactic - after all, everyone else looks so comfortable now - and purposefully allows himself to nod off.

All four of the cabin's guests experience the same dream, although they do not realize it until they talk it over upon waking. The dreamer lies in a field of tall grass, looking straight up into the daytime sky. The grass is growing so quickly that the dreamer can hear its growth. Suddenly, a giant eyeball appears, hovering directly above the dreamer's face, only a few feet away. Under the careful scrutiny of the orb hanging in the air, the dreamer is wrapped in the rising grass. Swallowed by it.

The travelers awaken on the cold ground. It is daylight again, although the sun is going down. The cabin is gone. They are on the same hill, but the hill is no longer in the same place. They rise to discover the Lakeview Hotel looming over them. They decide to look on the bright side: their mysterious teleportation (if that's what it was) saved them about twelve more hours of walking, and they feel surprisingly well rested.

It begins to snow.

The four travelers are facing the back doors of the hotel, so that's where they enter. Darkness. Silence. The travelers realize right away, from examining both the exterior and interior, that the place certainly does not look ancient. There isn't even any dust. Anya consults the map, which is labelled "For Guests," and thus does not detail the employee-only areas of the ancient hotel. They are near a room labelled "Restaurant 'Lake Shore'" (although the hotel does not appear to be by any lake), so they head there in hopes of finding food.

The restaurant is empty and spotless. A little bell sits on the counter. Alexandria rings it. Instantly, a huge feast appears, spread across several tables. There is everything from turkey to potatoes, bread to cranberry sauce. Abdullah and Anya are skeptical as to the safety of eating food that appears out of thin air, so they watch as Terka and Alexandria dig in. The food is delicious and filling. There is plenty left over. They leave it on the tables for now.

They wander into the kitchen, which is full of complicated ancient devices similar to those in the cabin's kitchen, but more numerous. Next is the dish room, with a sink full of fancy dishes soaking in filthy black water, and the employee cafeteria, in which the tables bear old, rotten food, and plenty of dust to make up for the lack of it elsewhere in the building so far.

They start exploring the hallways of the employee-only area of the ground floor, noting doors and briefly peeking into some rooms. It is pitch black in the interior, windowless spaces of the building, so they light torches and a lantern.

The first door they open reveals a stairwell going down. Next is the laundry room. Then they find the manager's suite, an apartment large enough for a small family. Next are the women's and men's locker rooms. They do not enter any of these rooms. Then they locate the security office. This they investigate in detail.

The corpse of a security guard sits in a chair. It appears to have been chewed all over, then left in the office for a few weeks. Among the papers on the guard's desk they find a map of the hotel labelled "For Employees" which bares a layout of the rooms missing on the map they received in town. They also find a set of keys and a complicated-looking ancient device which they nevertheless quickly identify as some kind of gun. Another treasure is soon discovered in the form of ancient devices known as "walkie-talkies." They fiddle with these magical items for a moment and to their delight quickly grasp their purpose as invaluable communication devices. They each take one. Likewise, they find light-generating cylinders known as "flashlights," which immediately replace their torches and lantern as their light sources of choice.

Finally, they find a note sternly warning that the hotel's boiler must be reset at noon once every twenty-four hours in order to avert some unspecified catastrophe. Anya and Alexandria consult the new map and find that there is a "boiler room" in the basement. At this point, Alexandria breaks off from the group to explore on her own.

Terka, Anya, and Abdullah make their way to the main lobby. A music box, easily two or three feet to a side, sits expectantly on a pedestal in the center of the common area, between the main entrance and the grand staircase. They leave it alone and go to the gift shop. It is mostly filled with strange, seemingly purposeless artifacts - perhaps decorative? A back room sports a safe, which the profiteers easily break into. They find ten thousand silver coins inside.

They return to the main employee hallway. Anya peeks behind three more doors. Door number one hides a pantry full of dry and canned foodstuffs. It bears the packaging of the ancients, but it seems brand new.

Door number two opens on a room-sized freezer. Thirteen naked people stand inside, their backs to the door. They slowly begin to turn toward Anya. She slams the door shut. It locks from the outside, but she does not want to take any chances. Terka and Abdullah spend the next half-hour helping her construct a barricade from materials in the other rooms, so that the freezer cannot be opened. They hear banging from inside the freezer for the first few minutes of work, but it soon ceases.

Anya opens door number three. It is a room-sized refrigerator. This ancient marvel is amazingly still in working order. The food inside appears fresh, like in the pantry.

In the meantime, Alexandra has taken a different path. Her first stop is the manager's office. She finds little of interest at first, just old files and unfamiliar office supplies, but she notices some loose floorboards behind the desk. She pries them up to find a hole dug in the ground. A corpse in fancy black clothing reposes within, hands crossed over his chest. His fingers bear obvious cyanosis, and the face is frostbitten - Alexandria gets the impression he may have died from hypothermia. She tells Anya about the body via radio and replaces the floorboards.

She finds the staircase they passed earlier and descends to the basement. The first room she finds is another storage room. This one has miscellaneous supplies as well as more nonperishable food. Alexandria notes that the pantry can be locked from the outside.

The next room she comes across is the boiler room she saw on the map earlier. Inside is a large cylindrical machine and a thick manual labelled "Boiler Maintenance." The cover has two more notes stuck to it: the first reiterates the importance of resetting the boiler at noon every day, and the second explains that the step-by-step procedure for doing so can be found on pages fifty-six and fifty-seven of the manual. Alexandria takes a few minutes to read these pages and performs the steps outlined therein. The boiler shudders to life and begins to heat up.

Alexandia then peers into the pump room. The machinery is jammed with a black, gooey web reminiscent of the black water in the dish room upstairs. The web has a glistening black face, which begins to slowly stretch across the room toward her. She closes the door.

The last room she explores is the electrical room. Among the weird old machines is a large lever that is too tempting for Alexandria not to flip. Throughout the hotel, the electric lights turn on, to everyone's amazement. Using their radios, Alexandria and Anya discuss the miraculous lighting and the barricade on the freezer door. Alexandria takes another quick peek into the pump room. The face in the web turns to her and once again begins straining toward her, the mucous-like web stretching like taffy. Alexandria shuts the door once more and tells Anya about the pump room situation, too.

This is where we must leave our cast of misfits for now. Fear not, for their story is not quite over. Join me again soon in The Hateful Place, won't you?

NOTES
If I forgot any major details or got anything wrong about what happened, I apologize. I will ask my players to let me know if they notice any mistakes. We plan to play again late tomorrow night.

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

The name and layout of the Lakeview Hotel are borrowed from Silent Hill 2. This adventure was also heavily inspired by The Shining (both the novel and the film), John Dies at the End (again, both book and movie), "1408" (you know the drill), the video games Bloodborne and Manhunter: New York, the work of William Hope Hodgson (especially his Carnacki series), the work of H. P. Lovecraft, and the work of M. R. James. I have admittedly barely read the work of M. R. James, but it has recently fascinated me thanks to A Podcast to the Curious, so I should probably get on that soon.

Part 2 is HERE.