Saturday, October 7, 2017

So I'm Related To An Ax Murderer (A "Betrayal At House On The Hill" Story)

I love roleplaying games, and part of what draws me to them is the story component. Because sure, it's fun to find feat combinations and spell interactions that can give characters new powers and strange abilities, but it's the potential for story arcs, character development, and unique narratives that always keep me coming back to the table with my dice in hand.

It's that love of story that made my first round of Betrayal at The House on The Hill so much fun, and made it a game to remember for me. And I figured that since we're officially in the spooky part of the calendar, this would be a good gaming story to share this month.

A super-casual RPG if ever there was one.

The Return of Crimson Jack

Now, I had never played Betrayal before, but some friends sat down and gave me the run-through. You pick one of the game's pre-made characters, who have all chosen to come to this creepy old manor house for one reason or another. Every turn, a player can explore new parts of the map (using modular map tiles to create a new house to explore every time you start a new round), and when you draw a card, your movement stops. You can draw items, events, and omens in rooms marked with their symbols. Every time an omen happens, you grab six of the game's special dice, and roll. If the number of pips that come up are less than the number of omens at the table, then the Haunt begins. Characters will also have to regularly make checks based on their four abilities, which will fluctuate depending on events, items, combat, and other factors.

In short, it felt more like a pick-up-and-play RPG to me than your average board game does.

So what awaited us in this creepy ruin?
The character I was driving that night was Ox Bellows. Big as his namesake, and about half as smart, Ox was a solid starting choice for someone used to the barbarian. The party immediately splits up, with most characters exploring the ground floor. Ox, being too dumb to be afraid of the creaky old manor, goes upstairs to poke around.

In the first few rounds, we found all kinds of stuff. A junk room with an abandoned syringe in it, a safe in the wall, a moldy laundry room, and a coal chute to the basement. Ox even found an old fire ax laying around upstairs. He didn't really need it, but it eased that little specter of doubt in his mind that maybe, just maybe there was something he should be afraid of.

Then Ox opened a door, and was looking around, when he heard a creaking downstairs. A hulking figure with a tattered mane of black hair stood in the entryway. His square-toed boots were crusted with mud, and blood, and in his hand he held a massive, bloody knife. Crimson Jack, the man who'd killed half-a-dozen sorority girls in this tumble down manor before he was finally brought down, had come home.

Stack 'Em Like Cordwood, Boy

It doesn't take long for bloody Jack to set about his grim, gruesome task. He found the psychic woman in the kitchen, and cut her throat before she could so much as scream. He left her gurgling out her life essence into the hungry sink drain. He met the professor in the foyer, and rammed his blade into the old man's chest like a railroad spike. The little girl shrieked, and ran up the stairs clutching her teddy bear. Before she could decide which way to run, the gleaming blade of the fire ax whistled through her neck, and sent her little head bouncing down the stairs. Her little friend was aghast, and he pelted down the stairs, away from the ax-murderer in the letterman jacket. He swung hard with everything he had, but Jack picked up the boy by the front of his shirt, and cut his throat.

That was when Ox smiled his dopey, aw-shucks smile from the top of the stairs, and gave his Uncle Jack a wave. It had been years since he'd seen him. Jack stepped over the bodies in the foyer, and looked up at his nephew with a proud grin. What a big boy he'd grown up to be. It looked like the party had died around this place, but the night was young. Wasn't there a sorority shin dig going on down the road?

"Yeah, Uncle Jack, I think there is. I know a girl named Suzie that should be there. She could get us in..."

That's all for this month's Table Talk. A snacky little story, but it shows how one good experience can hook you on a game forever. If you'd like to see more gaming content from yours truly, then check out my Gamers archive over at Vocal. It's growing a little every month, and there should be new stuff there all the time. If you want to keep up-to-date on all my latest updates, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative, just head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. If you pledge at least $1 a month, I'll also toss you a bunch of sweet gaming swag as a thank you for your support!

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