Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Catspaw & Paper Tiger: "Betrayal at House on the Hill"

To get in the mood for Halloween this year we really wanted to go creeping around a dark, musty, old building, risking certain doom at the duplicitous hands of a secret, power-mad conspirator.  No, I'm not talking about Parliament Hill, I'm talking about the tile-laying, co-operative, RPG adventure game Betrayal at House on the Hill.

In Betrayal you become one of twelve archetypal characters cribbed directly from an entire host of horror movie cliches.  Using lovely pre-painted miniatures to keep track their progress, players explore the creepy-ass mansion hoping to gather clues and resources before all hell breaks loose.  The house is randomly constructed with a sizable stack of tiles, all of which feature evocative artwork and cool in-game effects.

Every time an Omen card is drawn, players must roll to see if the game's main threat is revealed.  When this so-called "Haunt" is triggered, one of the players turns against the others and the game's scenario details get revealed.  The action continues until either the remaining allied players or the newly-revealed traitor fulfill their customized victory conditions and win the game.  

Since Betrayal is the perfect game to play this time of year Mike, Chad, his son Mac and I all gathered at Andrew's place to get our spook-on.


Andrew...Brandon Jaspers
Chad...Heather Granville
Me...Vivian Lopez
Mac...Professor Longfellow
Mike...Darrin "Flash" Williams

I sent Vivian through a door right off the main Entrance Hall, which ended up depositing her in the Junk Room.  After drawing an Omen card, Vivian found a "Skull" which would allow her to take Physical damage in place of Mental damage.  I then got a ton of pips on the Haunt roll, staving off any quick revelations.

Mike used Darrin "Flash" Williams' six Movement points to haul ass upstairs.  He crept into the Library and eventually gained a point of Knowledge.  After drawing an Event card, Flash heard a "Closet Door" in the room creak open.  Unfortunately, while trying to search it, Mike rolled two blanks, ushering in another Event and sealing up the closet door forever!  Flash turned away from the now-featureless wall only to catch a spectral "Groundskeeper" charge at him with a shovel!  With a successful Knowledge roll of "4", Flash resisted any harmful effects of the illusion and ended up finding a lucky Rabbit's Foot.

Armed with Speed of "4", Heather joined "Flash" in the Library and gained a point of Knowledge.

As Professor Longfellow, Mac moved two spaces and proceeded to poke around in another room just off the Entrance Hall.  After entering the Statuary, Longfellow witnessed a particularly heinous "Bloody Vision" event.  Forced into a three-die Sanity roll, Mac got a "4", allowing the skittish Longfellow to steel himself against the awful sight and gain one Sanity.

Brandon Jaspers moved three spaces, through the Creaky Hallway and into the Ballroom.  Suddenly Brandon's flashlight gave out ("thanks" to the "Lights Out" Event) plunging him into total darkness.  This condition would keep him limited to one movement per turn, unless he could hook up with another member of the Scooby Gang!

Vivian failed to move through the Junk Room without incident, losing one Speed point in the process.  Undaunted, she inched her way into the Abandoned Room.  After drawing another Omen card, Vivian located a mysterious "Book" which gave her two Knowledge (so long as it remains in her possession).  The subsequent high Haunt roll kept us all in the clear.

Still upstairs, "Flash" moved into the Master Bedroom where he found a weapon "pulsing with power".  It was a "Spear", you perverts!  And, no, not that kind of "spear".  It was the kind that of "Spear" that gave him two additional dice when making a Might-based melee attack.  After a brief intermission filled with infantile snickering, Mike rolled a "6" for the Haunt, keeping us safe.

Heather, with her Speed of four, moved through the vacant Research Lab and into the upstairs Gymnasium, prompting another Omen draw.  After adding a one-point bump in Speed thanks to the tile, he suddenly incurred a nasty "Bite" from Mike, whom we henceforth decided to refer to as the "L'il Nibbler".  Mike rolled a four-die Might attack and got a "5" versus Chad's roll of "4".  As such, Heather ended up receiving one point of Might damage.  Chad then made a frighteningly low roll Haunt roll, triggering the dire dire event!  

The Haunt we got was "Small Change".  For this particular scenario, the designated Traitor was the character with the highest Knowledge, which resulting in a tie between Heather Granville and Vivian Lopez.  After investigating a little further we discovered that, in case of a tie, the Haunt Revealer becomes the traitor!  As a result, Chad went into another room to read over his victory conditions and prepare a strategy.  After he made himself scarce, the rest of us breezed over the scenario details:

Now that your experimental subjects are all safely in the house with your cats, it's time 
for the real fun to begin! Dropping the beaker of Shrinkital, you watch as the silver 
liquid turns to gas. Miraculously, it shrinks you and your subjects down to the size of 
mice. Already you hear your cats padding towards the frightened subjects. It looks as if 
you and your cats will really enjoy this little experiment, one you like to call 'The 
Digestive Response of Domestic Felines to the Introduction of Homo Sapiens Minutus.'              

The rest of us were horrified to discover that we'd all been are shrunk down to minuscule size!  Our new goal was to locate a toy airplane located somewhere in the house, figure out how to fly it and then escape through one of the mansion's windows before being eaten by Chad's feline flunkies!

Our new mission started promisingly enough as the now-teeny Professor Longfellow managed to crawl up the Himalayan-like staircase.

Meanwhile, Brandon Jaspers stumbled into the worst possible room: the Coal Chute!  This dropped him into the Basement, making his retrieval via airplane a real challenge!

In quick succession, Vivian Lopez moved into the Gardens while "Flash" found the toy airplane!        

On his turn, Chad's furry goons flanked out, pouncing on both Vivian and Professor Longfellow.  His seven-die Might attack against Vivian turned up a "5".  Since Viv only had two Might dice at her disposal, the cat was soon batting her around like a catnip-filled bag of potpourri.  Another cat rolled a solid "7" against the Professor and began painting-brushing crap out of the venerable scientist!

Longfellow attempted a Knowledge roll to try and get away but rolled a lousy "3"!  This insured that he was now officially destined for the litterbox on the Traitor's turn!  Meanwhile, down in the basement, young Brandon wandered into the Servant's Quarters.  Vivian's escape attempt fared considerably better with a roll of "8" but Chad's pussy (?) proved wilier, rolling a "9".  Just like the Professor, Vivian was now destined to become a bowl of Meow Mix!

"Flash" moved four spaces, trying to free Professor Longfellow from this catspaw.  Although he conjured up a "6" point Might roll (nicely augmented with two bonus dice courtesy of the "Spear"), the cat still managed to counter!

On Chad's turn, his kitties got their snack-on, first gnawing on Vivian:

And then chowing down on some prime USDA Longfellow:

In order for the explorers to win, Flash had to survive the cat attack, figure out how to start the newly-discovered plane, fly down into the Basement, pick up Andrew and then fly out of the window!  No problem!  After Brandon fumbled his way blindly into an adjacent room, Flash tried to get back to the toy plane.  His four-die Knowledge roll proved fruitful and he soon the plane was all fired up and ready to go!

Chad's lead cat then pounced on Flash, rolling seven Might dice for a nasty total of "9" versus Mike's diminutive result of "5".  In his one and only escape attempt, "Flash" tried a Speed contest, allowing  him to roll six die.  Unfortunately his result was a paltry "1" versus the cat's "5".  Flash, like his two other companions, was instantly reduced to a human hairball.

Traitor Chad wins the game!!!

This first game went by so fast that we decided to play another one!


Andrew...Peter Akimoto
Chad...Jenny LeClerc
Me...Madame Zostra
Mac...Father Rhinehardt
Mike...Ox Bellows

Madame Zostra marched straight through the first door she saw and promptly slid right down a Coal Chute!  After dusting herself off and getting her bearings she moved into the Operating Lab where she had to contend with "Mists From The Walls".  After rolling four blank faces on her Sanity check she was forced to take one full die of Mental damage, so naturally I rolled a friggin' "2"!  To make matters worse, she had to take two additional die of Mental damage because this encounter happened in a room with an Event symbol!  After sucking up another three points of damage, Madame Zostra was left rendered virtually insane as well as clinically brain-dead.

Meanwhile, Ox tried to navigate through the Collapsed Room.  Despite the fact that he was well-equipped with four Speed dice, he rolled low and took two points of Might damage after falling through the floor.  At least the place he landed in (the Larder) gave up a few consolation prizes in the form of a one-point Might boost as well as an Adrenaline Shot.  Not too shabby!

After closing her eyes and pretending that she was at Six Flags, Jenny LeClerc slid down the Coal Chute and ended up in the Larder for a Might point increase.  

Father Rhinehardt ventured down a Creepy Hallway just off the Foyer and ended up in the cozy-sounding Charred Room.  This prompted the Omen Card draw "Madman" which gave the vicar two Might points while deducting one Sanity.  After scoring this unconventional bodyguard, Mac's high Haunt roll kept us all safe n' sound.

Straight-"A" student and global Starcraft champ Peter Akimoto ended up in the Kitchen just off the Foyer.  He found a trapped Girl there and freed her, gaining one Sanity and one Knowledge as part of his "reward".  After this creepy connotation sunk in, Andrew's subsequent Haunt roll helped to preserve the status quo.

Madame Zostra wandered dazed into the Larder, inadvertently gaining one Might.

Ox boldly struck off into the unknown, searching for a way to get back upstairs.  He did one better by locating the Mystic Elevator!  After piling in, he courteously decided to hold the door open for his fellow explorers.

Father Rhinehardt entered the Chapel, gaining one Sanity.  Unfortunately he didn't notice that there just so happened to be a "Creepy Puppet" hanging around just behind the altar!  It scored a "3" on a four Might dice attack but Rhinehardt's Madman-fueled four-die defense came up one better!

Peter Akimoto and his girlfriend Mary Kay Letourneau wandered into the Games Room to play a quick  match of Betrayal at House on the Hill  (OooOoo, meta!).  Here they encountered a bizarre "Night View" as a ghostly couple drifted by.  Unfortunately, ol' Pete tanked his Knowledge roll and the little sissy turned away in fear, forever missing out on the spirit's off to share their unearthly knowledge.  What a dweeb.

Although nearly out of her gourd, Madame Zostra had the presence of mind to move into the Mystic Elevator.  Unfortunately when it came time to more the 'Vator's I rolled a crappy "1", teleporting all of us to...the Basement.  Wow, yet another awesome, productive turn for me!  Oh well, at least my character didn't get electrocuted, bitten, stabbed, shot, squished or anally violated this turn.

Ox randomly mashed Elevator buttons until he got us to the Upper Floor.  He then stepped out, moved past the Upper Landing and then got mired the Junk Room.  He did locate a Ring, however, which gave him the power to use Sanity in place of Might on attacks.  Mercifully, Mike's follow-up Haunt roll let us off the hook once again.        

Still aimlessly wandering around upstairs, Jenny LeClerc stumbled into the Servants Quarters.  After finding a Dog just sitting there she encouraged the pooch to follow her, gaining one Might and one Sanity in the process.

Rhinehardt left the Chapel, moved into the Abandoned Room, and came across a "Spirit Board".
Mac then rolled under our current Omen total, triggering the Haunt!  After cross-referencing the priest's location with "Spirit Board" in the guide book, we looked up the colorfully-titled "Stacked Like Cordwood" Haunt (#48).  We also determined that innocent, l'il Peter Akimoto (I.E. Andrew) was the dirty, nasty Traitor!  Andrew grabbed the Traitor's Tome and left the room, leaving the rest of us to ponder our newly-revealed predicament:   

"While you were driving to this mansion, you told your companions about a series of 
grisly deaths that took place here five years ago.  A group of teenagers sneaked away 
from the safety of their summer camp to explore the Old House on the Hill.  They 
hoped for an amorous interlude...until a madman slaughtered them one by one.  You 
told them that the murderer couldn't be killed and that his mangled body always 
returned to kill again.  There's a good reason why you know so 
much.  That madman was a distant relative of yours.  He's coming back to the Old House 
again, and he's going to need victims..."

Our goal appeared to be fairly simple: locate the Cursed Weapon and figure out how to use it against the otherwise-invulnerable, supernatural serial-killer Crimson Jack!  As the Traitor, Andrew's goal was even more straightforward: kill every one of the remaining explorers!

Andrew moved the now sinister-looking Peter Akimoto into the Ballroom.  He found a pair of Pickpocket Gloves there, giving the greasy little runt the ability to steal items from the rest of us!  Andrew then sicced Crimson Jack on Father Rhinehardt!  In the resulting fracas of opposed Might, Andrew threw a perfect "6", while Mac rolled "4" pips on four die, taking one point of Might and one point of Speed damage!  Yowtch!

Still drifting around the house like Jody Foster in Nell, Madame Zostra crawled out of the Mystic Elevator, slid down the Grand Staircase and wandered into the Foyer.

Jenny LeClerc hustled back downstairs, getting as far as the Creaky Hallway.  With a Speed of six, her dog (Sir Barksalot) ran on ahead to the Chapel.

Father Rhinehardt managed to beat a 3+ Sanity challenge to avoid Crimson Jack's paralyzing Aura of Fear™.  He ran two spaces to the Chapel where he began to frantically rummage around.  After exceeding the 3+ search requirement with his four Knowledge dice, Rhinehardt managed to locate the Cursed Weapon: a vicious-looking Axe!    

Andrew moved that little wiener Peter Akimoto back towards the rest of us, obviously trying to keep within thieving distance.  Meanwhile, Crimson Jack tracked Father Rhinehardt all the way to the Chapel and attacked the priest in a fit of blood-lust!  Andrew rolled four pips on three dice for Jack but Mac handily countered with a "5" on four dice!

Still operating on a single brain cell, Madame Zostra finally made it to the Chapel and gained a desperately-needed Sanity point!  After noticing the Cursed Axe in a moment of clarity, Zostra picked it up and took a few practice swings.  She rolled five pips on her subsequent Might roll, gaining a matching token in the process.  One down, four more head-scratchings to go!

Seeing the clear benefit of research, Ox joined us in the Chapel, gaining one Sanity.  He tossed a "5" on his five-die Might check, scoring our second token.  Two test-swings down, three more to go!

Jenny LeClerc piled into the room, ran over to the Axe, had a peek at it and promptly rolled over five on her Knowledge check, earning us yet another research token!  The explorers were now only two examinations away from Axe-ing Jack an important question!

Channeling the calming effects of the Chapel, Father Rhinehardt managed to shake off the loathsome presence of Crimson Jack by rolling in excess of three pips on his five-die Sanity check!  Sensing a breakthrough, he tried to get a closer look at the Axe, but his view was blocked by his excited and vaguely ass-holish companions!  After failing this four-die Knowledge roll, the turn then passed to the forces of e-e-e-e-e-e-vil!    

Peter Akimoto suddenly revealed his ninja skills by pouncing on Father Rhinehardt, rolling a "5" on his Might check!  The priests' four-die defense yielded a tie and an awkward standoff ensued between a decrepit old man and a nerdy toddler!  Crimson Jack took full advantage of Rhinehardt's distraction, dealing one point of physical damage to the vicar!          

Madame Zostra managed to avoid Jack's Aura o' Fear by rolling a successful Sanity test.  Unfortunately, she only rolled a "4" on her a five-die Might check, missing the required 5+ benchmark to further the group's research.

Ox rebuked the Aura of Fear but fucked up his Might roll.  All of a sudden, the explorer's communal research was grinding to a halt!

Jenny LeClerc shrugged off the Fear Aura, rolling a total of four pips on her five-die Sanity check.  Her Might-based research attempt also fizzled.

After beating Jack's pall of Fear, Father Rhinehardt experienced an uncharacteristic moment of vindictiveness, rolling an eight-point Sanity assault (via six die) against Peter with his mind-altering Ring!  Peter tried to resist with his five dice of Sanity but turned up a weak-sauce defense of three.  Despite taking five points of Mental damage, the traitorous little larvae was still alive!

Peter responded by stealing Rhinehardt's precious Ring right off of his finger in the middle of the fight!  Man, you can't get any more ninjutsu then that!  Enraged by the theft, the (not so) good Father  inadvertently killed Jack with a four-Might counter attack!  He also beat Sho Kosugi Jr.'s ass after the brat took a pot shot at him with three dice and only produced two pips.  The resulting four-point back-hander sent the little snot reeling back into the altar.  Seconds later Rhinehardt could be heard screaming "I kick ass for the Lord!!!"

Content that we'd placated Andrew enough, Madame Zostra stepped up to the plate and nailed her 5+ research requirement on a five-die Might roll.  Only one final argument about where to find the Axe's on-switch remained!

But it would have to wait.  Instead of finalizing our all-important research, both Ox Bellows and Jenny LeClerc spent the next few minutes arguing about whether or not we should use the Axe to hit Jack in the brain pan or in the knutz.

Still unhealthily obsessed with the little boy (an unfortunate predilection for a small percentage of  priests), Father Rhinehardt went after Peter Akimoto with an eight-point Might attack.  After posting a feeble three-point defense, the kid was finally dropped, fulfilling Father Rhinehardt's secret ambition of murdering a young child with his bare hands.
Crimson Jack popped back up in the Entrance Hall, reconstituted and more powerful then ever!  Seeking revenge for his young ward's death, he charged through the mansion, burst into the Chapel and    flew into Father Rhinehardt.  The priest rolled a four point defense against Jack's five point attack and was forced to take a point of Might damage!

Madame Zostra's four-die Sanity check easily cleared the 3+ hurdle to overcome Jack's spell of Fear.  Unfortunately she followed tis us by completely whiffing her five-die, Might-based research check.

Ox's four die Sanity check was also successful, allowing him to resist the miasma of terror!  He followed this up by determining conclusively that the sharp end of the Axe would definitely be more effective against Jack then the handle, thus completing our research!  He celebrated this revelation by raising the weapon above his head like a Tusken Raider and shouting something profound like "RRRuuuRuuuuOOOrrrrrUUUURrrr GuGuGuGu!!!"      

Jenny LeClerc avoided Jack's "Fear - 50-Foot Radius" spell and then moved three spaces into the Statuary Corridor.  Se was soon freaked out by the sound of disembodied "Footsteps", resulting in the loss of one Sanity after Chad rolled a pitiful "2".

After rolling a "3" and barely avoiding the dangers of Jack's evil Aura, Father Rhinehardt fled to the Organ Room.  This triggered an Event called "The Beckoning", which forced certain explorers to pass a Sanity check or jump out the nearest window!  Madame Zostra rolled four pips with four dice and both Ox and Jenny were similarly successful!

In a final bid to kill / wound / mildly inconvenience the Axe-wielder, Crimson Jack lashed out at Ox, scoring five pips on a four-die Might roll.  Ox could only muster a defensive roll of "3" on five dice, forcing him to take two points of Speed damage.

Still camped out in the Chapel, Madame Zostra rolled a "2" for her Sanity check, falling prey to Jack's stench of Fear.  This caused her to lose one point from her already-crippled Sanity score and one point from Might.  Now nuttier then a Pal-O-Mine bar, Madame Zostra used her remaining three Speed points to run around the mansion, yelling "Whoop-WHOOP-whoop-WHOOPWHOOP!  Whoop-WHOOPWHOO-whoop-whoop!  WHHOP_WHOOP-whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop!"

Ox (barely) avoided Jack's Aura of Fear by rolling a "3" with his four dice of Sanity.  Before taking up the Axe (for a bonus Might die) he jammed an Adrenaline Shot into his dick, giving him a potential four free damage pips.  On the resulting six-die Might roll he got a total of thirteen pips!   With Jack's defense roll of four, the crazed killer took nine points of damage enough to fell Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees combined!

The explorers win!!!


Even with the revised rule and Haunt books provided by the Second Edition, the scenarios for Betrayal at House on the Hill still inspire a lot of chicken-or-the-egg style questions.  Fortunately, the game is so thematically rich that I just don't care!  As you progress through the game you really do get the sense that you're inching your way through a decrepit old manse waiting for something to spring out at you.  The sliding abilities of the characters, the odd effects produced by the room tiles, the traitor mechanic, the evocative flavor text on the cards and the sheer number of unique and varied scenarios really makes this game a fun and memorable experience.

Betrayal at House on the Hill scores a veddy scary four pips out of six!

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P.S. Check back soon for my third and final Betrayal at House on the Hill session report!

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